The Castles of Loire

I have been meaning to write this travelogue for a long time – almost since the day I began the trip to Paris. But things dont go as planned, circumstances forced me to change the plan a bit. Its almost a month since I set foot here, and I think if I start from the beginning, I will keep losing some facts and emotions in the fog of recollection. So let me start with the latest and then may be I will tumble down forward and backward once in a while. This weekend, we went to the Loire valley. In India, I would call it as I write it here, but this being France, I am obliged to call it Luah! Whatever be the name, the place is beautiful. We covered only two chateaus in the region, and saw two more from outside..but the trip itself was amazing. We began from Paris on Saturday Morning – there is a train which leaves at 9:20 in the morning to Tours. While I thought the timing was extremely ambitious (I am a late riser, especially on weekends), I managed to stumble on the platform at 8:50. The rest of the bunch was coming from the exteriors of Paris and was supposed to meet me at 9, which they didnt (On the hindsight, I am surprised why I didnt expect this!). I waited patiently, which doesnt come easily on saturday mornings, and saw the train depart right before my eyes. They finally made the delayed entrance at 9:50! Well, one should be late in style, whats a margin of 5 minutes anyways? So we caught the 10:40 train and decided it was too late to get to Tours and then set out to see a castle, so got down at Blois. As our luck would have it, the youth hostel at Blois was full for the weekend, and there was no bus going to Chambord on that day. The lady at the Tourist Information Center (And she was a very nice and helpful person by the way) booked us on a youth hostel in a place called Amboise, to solve our stay problems, but we were supposed to reach the place by 6 – so we could be in Blois only upto 5:45 and had to see the castle before that. Amboise is a small town on the same route – Paris to Tours, and with our train passes, it wasnt a trouble getting there. She said we could take the bus next day to see the castle, but none of us was in a mood to waste the particular day. We suggested cycles to go to the castle, which she said would take too long because it is at least 1 and a half hour either way, and we wouldn’t be able to get on the right train for Amboise. The last resort was a taxi. On a shoestring budget – a strategy which we inherit by the virtue of being students, taxi seemed quite expensive. But since we were six, and since we found a seventh guy – a Romanian, we could hire an eight-seater van that costed 50 euros for the trip. The trip was well worth the expense, because the Chateau of Chambord is truly majestic. It is totally white – though of course a white that is of a slightly graying nature after all this standing. It stands in the middle of lush green fields, and the surrounding greenery adds to the charm of the huge castle. If you ever set out to see French castles, make sure never to miss this one, which we dubbed the mother of all castles. We paid to go inside- and purely a personal opinion – the inside of any chateau is way less impressive than its exterior. The charm, in my case, was in totally gazing at the beauty in its entirety from outside. So if you have seen any palaces from the outside – you can save the money! We travelled to Ambois and reached the Auberge de jeunesse at 6, and managed to get a room – a six bed room for the whole gang, and it costed us only 9 euros per person for a night! They youth hostel is truly the best I have been to considering the amazing location and the low expense. It is situated right next to the river on an offshoot from the bridge that leads to the Amboise chateau. It even has a pool table, a fuseball and a TT table! It was of course a delight for the guys and I tried my hands at pool too after a long time. We roamed around in the night – the sunset at the river was very pretty. It is a quaint little place, where you can comfortably settle down. We went to the super market, which was close and bought some food stuff (because remember, we hadn’t taken a lunch break in the whole day!). We then looked at the castle of Amboise – though only from the outside. Frankly, being a native of Rajasthan, the forts do not fascinate me too much as I have seen a bucket load of it from very early in life. In the morning, we planned to visit the chateau de dames: Chinonceau (I hope I am spelling it right!). We woke up late (as expected) and set out at 11:30 for the trip. We hired bicycles to make the trip and luckily (bless the old guy!), the cycle shop was open even on a sunday. He charged 9 euros per cycle for half a day for etudiant (otherwise the rent was 11 euros for half day). We set out on the most wonderful part of my trip till now – it was a 12-13 km track, most of it overlapping with the highway, and I was cycling almost after 10 years! I was convinced I wouldnt be able to make the length of the journey and that we would soon be looking for a train station where I could load my bike 🙂 We started with Da Vinci’s house – he had stayed in Amboise in the last part of his life and had died there. His house is a small castle, with a small museum inside. Its amazing how the whole of europe comes together to preserve small bits of histories, while in my own country – an old and rich civilization, I see numerous monuments unnamed and defaced. I will stop here and right about the cycling trip to Chinonceau later, because I am tired after the 26 km of cycling yesterday and the ensuing train journey, but more so after the six hours of lectures today.

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