|Not that we disliked
Mont-St.-Michel, but apart from the abbey all there is to see is the
main street, which is une grande piece de fromage worthy of Disney
World. So we left it behind the next day and caught the bus back to
Rennes, where we had about a four-hour layover before our train to
Paris has a reputation for being full of rude people, but let me be the first to nominate Rennes as being far more worthy of that distinction. First there was the train-station teller (they're a mixed lot, but the gal in Rennes was particularly snotty), but much worse was the waiter at the creperie where we went to kill a little time. Upon finding out that all we wanted was coffee, he refused to serve us, and sent us to the brasserie next door. The guy who checked our bags at the train station wasn't exactly rude, but he didn't go out of his way to help us either.
Fortunately, we were only passing through Rennes on our way to a much better place. Located in the Loire Valley, Amboise was a favorite hangout of Francois I, who built one chateau in town for a residence and one a bit further out for a hunting lodge. Francois' chateaux aren't quite of the magnitude of Versailles, but they're still ridiculously huge and impressive. He also invited his buddy Leonardo da Vinci to live in Amboise, just down the street from the royal residence, at Clos-Luce. This house is now a museum; there are scale models in the basement of 40 of Leonardo's inventions, built from his sketches in his notebooks. Perhaps you didn't know it, but Leonardo invented ball bearings, a parachute, an airplane, a helicopter, the automobile jack, the armored tank, multi-gear transmission, a car, a bicycle, an extension ladder, and improvements on the catapult and drawbridge. Unfortunately, visitors aren't allowed to take pictures inside Clos-Luce, so you'll just have to take my word for all this.
One of the few things we regret about Amboise is the fact that we didn't take a taxi from the train station to our hotel. Perhaps the half-hour walk would have been nicer if we weren't tired and carrying a violin and a computer as well as our bags. In fact, under those circumstances it might not have taken half an hour, either. And while the hotel is on the rue Chaptal, as purported, our map neglected to mention that the rue Chaptal is called the rue Voltaire when you first come to it. Ah well, as we say in Europe when things don't go quite right, "It's an adventure!"
|Amboise as seen from the north end of the bridge on the way into town from the train station. Chateau d'Amboise, Francois I's home, is smack in the center of the photo.||A closer view of Chateau d'Amboise. Just your basic small-town palace.||Like Paris, Amboise straddles a river with an island in the middle—the Ile d'Or in the case of Amboise. Not that you can really see the island in this photo of the Pont Vieux (old bridge).||Churches in France come in all shapes and sizes. Sarah takes a breather at Notre Dame d'Amboise, which is the first building you come to on the other side of the bridge.|
|The exterior of Clos-Luce. Not a bad place to retire.||Perched high on one of Clos-Luce's walls is this statue of St. Sebastian, the patron saint of archers. Which is odd when you consider that he was martyred by being shot full of arrows.||On the whole, the French love
dogs and hate cats. This little stray looked sick and hungry, and it was
wandering around the garden at Clos-Luce, meowing piteously. It so
happens we had some leftover Camembert with us, so we gave some to the
cat, just to see whether, as in Monty Python's famous "Cheese
Shop" sketch, a cat will indeed eat Camembert.
|Flower beds in the Clos-Luce gardens. Afraid that's it for Clos-Luce, because unlike some tourists, we honored the proscription against taking pictures inside.|
|The chapel at Chateau d'Amboise, our next stop, as seen from below.||Taking closeups of flowers with a digital camera is very difficult. Try it sometime if you don't believe me.||Getting closer to the chapel. Again, you can't take pictures inside Chateau d'Amboise, which is why I spent more time on the chapel.||As much of the chateau as I could get in one shot. Believe it or not, a lot of the chateau was torn down. What's left here is a small portion of what once was.|
|Gargoyles aren't just scary
decorations to scare off evil spirits. A lot of them have channels cut
down their backs and through their mouths so they can serve as
downspouts. But we've had pretty good luck with rain so far, so I don't
have any photos to prove this.
There's a very interesting gargoyle at Amboise (I guess my photo of it didn't turn out); it's a man clutching his head and screaming in pain. Rumour has it that this gargoyle is a portrait of Charles VIII. Chuck was living at Amboise and had an appointment for an nighttime tryst with his lover. He was on his way outside to show her around the tennis courts when he hit his head on a low beam across a doorway. His medical advisors deemed it unwise to move him, so Chuck was left lying in the gutter where he'd fallen (the same gutter into which the royal chamber pots were emptied). A couple of days later, mercifully, he died.
|The stained glass windows in the Amboise are not original; they're modern, almost neo-Cubist panels depicting scenes from the life of Louis IX (that'd be "Saint Louis" to you and me, although he was a king, not a cardinal).||Saint Louis works a bread line.||Louis is often depicted in his crusadin' garb.|
|More scenes from the life of Louis. Hope you don't mind all these; it's just that they turned out better than most other stained-glass photos I tried to take at most other churches.||Your basic Gothic ceiling inside the chapel ...|
|... supported by your basic Gothic columns. The chapel is tiny but still architecturally impressive.||The French flag at half-staff over the courtyard at Chateau d'Amboise.||Like any good chateau, this
one's up on a hill that affords a nice view of the town.
Some of Francois I's rooms are open for visitors; Charles VIII's are not (Chuck had his own Gothic-style wing added to the chateau to house his apartments). When the Huguenots were massacred at Amboise, their bodies were hung out the windows of Chuck's rooms.
|The chateau's rampart with the town and the Loire in the background. The rounded tower at the left end of the chateau, toward the center of the picture, is the horsemen's tower. It has a five-story spiral ramp inside, just like your basic airport parking garage. A fellow could ride his horse from the town, through the tower, and up to Francois' front door in a minute or two. Just the thing for pizza delivery.|