This past weekend has been amazing and shown me another part of the beautiful country that is Paris. We headed down to the Loire Valley on Friday morning as a class for a weekend full of castles. We arrived in Amboise just in time for a 2-hour lunch – typical of the French. We enjoyed a break from the usual jambon et fromage (ham and cheese) sandwiches and picked up some pretty good pizza. We walked around through the souvenirs stores before it was time to meet up with the group.

The first castle of the trip was Amboise. It is made in a part-flamboyant Gothic, part Renaissance style. It was stunning. Charles VIII lived there until he died as well as Louis XII, both married to Anne of Brittany. Leonardo da Vinci is buried in the chapel, and it was really cool to see his grave (unfortunately the picture did not come out very well). Our guide was very knowledgeable, and the castle offered a very comprehensive brochure to take home as well.

DSCN2375-sm.jpgWe spent another hour exploring the gardens (almost never any flowers – as in this case – only beautiful plants and trees and grass you can’t walk on!) and taking multiple pictures. The picture here is of the entire group at Amboise.

We headed to Blois to check into our hotel, The Mercure. It was a nice change of pace; I shared a triple with Britt Raetzman and Jennifer Smart, and the rooms seemed so big and nice (with marble bathrooms) compared to our current accommodations. We got up on the NBA finals with some French commentary before we headed out to dinner at the fabulous Le Bistro de Cuisinier. Friday night I sat with some people I hadn’t really gotten a chance to talk to much, and it was a lot of fun sharing stories of home, the trip, etc. Dinner was delicious. I had shrimp souffle for an appetizer, salmon for my entree, and a chocolate pistachio molten souffle for dessert. Yum!

We headed back across the river toward the hotel but stopped in a local cafe to catch the end of the France vs. Holland Euro Cup “football” game. France lost but it was fun to see how excited the French get about soccer.

The next morning we headed to the Chateau of Blois. The Chateau of Blois is quite different because it was greatly destroyed during the time the military lived there (1788-1867) as well as because five different people worked on the castle, thus creating four different looks. It is made up of a medieval fortress in the Gothic style, Louis XII’s wing in the Flamboyant Gothic style, Francis I’s wing in Renaissance style, and Gaston d’Orleans’ wing designed in the Classicism style.

Blois was my least favorite castle because of all of the different styles it was designed in, and many of the rooms are lacking the original qualities or furniture. I did enjoy seeing the studiolo room because it is the only room in the chateau that has kept its original decoration. There are 237 sculpted panels that cover the walls, some even functioning as cabinets. We were treated a bit like VIPs as we were able to gain access to the terrace through rooms that had been closed off to the public. After the castle, we were released for lunch.

Lindsay and I explored the market in town before we found a little cafe that had really good quiche Lorraine and salad. We were able to pick up a copy of the Herald Tribune (the international version of the New York Times) to catch up on the news and catch a quick nap back at the hotel before we headed to Chambord.

Chambord was absolutely unbelievable. It is a huge castle, and its beauty stands out from miles down the road leading to it. Francis I originally wanted to build it to be used as a hunting lodge, though eventually it became so massive it appears quite extravagant. The double spiral staircase and the terrace were my favorite parts of the chateau. The land surrounding the castle is mostly forest, and it is truly a beautiful view. There was a hunter’s festival going on, so it was fun to catch some of the action, whether watching skeet shooting or dancing from the period.

Saturday night we headed back to Le Bistro de Cuisinier … it was just too good to resist! I had the steak instead of the salmon and an apple turnover; both were absolutely delicious! Almost everyone headed out to experience the nightlife of the Loire Valley. We found a really fun pub that ended up having a discotheque downstairs, so we spent the rest of the night dancing the night away!

Sunday morning we checked out of the hotel and headed to Chenonceau – also known as the Castle of the Women. My favorite rooms were the hall and the kitchens. The hall has a beautiful ceiling consisting of rib vaults as well as statues in a few recesses. The kitchens were fun to see because it was rare to have a kitchen in a house due to the risk of fire. From the bridge you can see the platform where boats would drop off supplies. Even though it was raining, the gardens were stunning as well.

We had lunch in Amboise again Sunday afternoon, but more importantly we got a chance to go to the Chateau du Clos Luce – the house of Leonardo da Vinci. It was neat to see the house where Da Vinci lived as well as much of his original furniture. In the basement we were able to view many of his inventions, such as the first tank or the paddle boat.

DaVinci-House-sm.jpgThe gardens were the most beautiful part of the tour. Unfortunately we missed the majority of the gardens where there are displays of his drawings and paintings as well as interactive moving scale models. We were able to see the new part of the garden where we were able to cross the big double-spanned oak bridge that was designed by Leonardo. The picture here is of me, Jessica, Meredith and Courtney in the garden with Da Vinci’s house in the background.

It was a fun, educational, relaxing weekend but I am definitely glad to be back in Paris where we only have two weeks left before class ends and many of us return to the States. We are definitely savoring every moment we have.