Palaces and Chateaux, in The Beautiful Loire

Enjoying a cafe in the beautiful gardens at Le Clos d’Amboise

We decided to have a sleep in day, and I had a nice quiet morning drinking my french cafe in the beautiful gardens of Le Clos d’Amboise.  This also gave me time to go through our to do list of Palaces and Chateaux that we wanted to visit in our 2 full days here. On our list was Chambord, Chenonceau, and Cheverny, which had the added bonus of watching La Soupe Des Chiens- feeding of the dogs, which was something I was really looking forward to as a result of my research. Plus I wanted to explore Amboise.

Breakfast at Le Clos d’Amboise

Soft Boiled Egg Boiler

Before starting our day, we had a beautiful breakfast at our Chateau. The variety of offerings were quite extensive, and even included a soft boiled egg bar; something I have never seen before. It took me back to my childhood as this was something my Mom made for my sister and I regularly, and we even had our own special soft boiled egg cups.There are many great reasons to travel, but one of my top reasons is to meet and speak with different people. At breakfast we sat next to a lovely family- Mother (Mary), daughter (Lilia) and Lilia’s Grandmother. I had conversed briefly with Lilia the day before at the pool, and in my broken french had commented to her that she was a fish like my daughter was when she was little. Lilia did not really understand, but her Mother smiled as she got the gist of what I was saying.  We ended up having a nice, long conversation with Mary and Lilia at breakfast, explaining where we were from, where we had traveled to so far, and where we were going. Kalyna also explained why her french was so good, and they were kind to me when I tried to speak french. They were a lovely family from a city close to Amboise and were on a mini vacation to one of their favourite places- Le Clos d’Amboise. It was a highlight for both Kalyna and I to have met this family, and I am still in contact with Mary via Instagram.

It was now late morning, and we were off to start our day and driving through the Loire Valley to Chambord.  The country side in the Loire in beautiful. The roads are windy, and vary in speeds, but not as fast as the major highways. We followed the river for most of each trip, which was nice. The Loire has many towns, and many of them have a Chateau in them, so if you are an enthusiast of Chateaux, you will have MANY to visit.

Many sights to see driving in the Loire Valley

We arrived at the entrance to The Estate of Chambord, a huge forest that surrounds the Palace of Chambord; it “is the largest walled and enclosed park in Europe, with the same area (about 13500 acres) as Paris proper.”

They say that “It is a magical atmosphere as soon as you arrive”, and they weren’t kidding!

The Magical Chambord

The architecture is extraordinary, as is its size. Then as you get closer, we then saw the meticulously manicured French Gardens, which were even more impressive to view from the balconies a top of the palace.

We wanted to explore the inside of this palace and it was instantly confirmed as we got closer, that it is “radically unique”, and that it is “perhaps the equivalent in architecture of Mona Lisa in painting.” At least from the outside.

Rick Steves had recommended to rent the audio guide and skip the “useless” HistoPad, but when I went to the counter to rent the audio guide, it was not available anymore, and only the L’HistoPad was available. Hmmm. Kalyna wasn’t interested, so I just rented 1, and it was immediately frustrating figuring out how to use this. It was designed to be interactive, which is great if that is what you want, but what I really wanted was an explanation of what I was looking at. It also used GPS, so the rooms it had information on, it would automatically start and stop the room description as you entered and exited each room that it had information on.

Inside Chambord with my L’Histopad

The spiral staircase in the center was the most impressive part to this palace as it was no small feat to be able to build this masterpiece! Here are some highlight pictures of our self guided tour. There aren’t a tonne of pictures as honestly, the inside was a bit lack luster. It was hardly furnished, and had a contemporary art showing going on, which I had appreciation for, BUT was a bit confusing in this setting. Also there were very few plaques with explanations which was disappointing, and caused our tour to be WAY faster than we thought it would be.

The Spiral Staircase is in the center of the Palace

Ceramic stove (1749)

Chamber room

My obsession of antique chamber pots continues…

Modern Art installation inside Chambord

There was one room that was fully furnished and was quite evident it was a tribute to the hunting that was done on these grounds many years ago. It was very unique and showed the great respect that we see for dogs in this area.

Hunting room artwork and trophies

As there was very little to read, and in english, and the lack of furnishings, we ventured outside to explore the extensive balconies, and take in the views of the beautiful grounds.

Architecture is Magnificent!

Courtyard

The architecture is Amazing, with yet another spiral staircase

One thing that was disgusting to me was all of the graffiti that we saw in all of the stone outside. It is disgusting to think that so many people thought they needed to leave their insignificant, and ego filled mark on this beautiful structure! It was everywhere!

Graffiti on Chambord

As our tour of the Palace did not take long, this left us time to have lunch, which we were surprised to see was very affordable on the grounds, which would be rare in Canada or the U.S. to find delicious food at a low price at any tourist place. I had an AMAZING salad, which is one of the things I really miss about France- their salads!  And it was rare that any of the salad choices contained Gluten, unless you needed to ask for no croutons, which they did not use a lot of. They have an art of mixing, fresh, seasonal produce, with proteins and potatoes! And the lettuce is both sweet and tender, as it was grown on the grounds!

A fresh, salad with vin blanc that was SO delicious!

We had accomplished so much today, and we still had more time for another Chateau, so we ventured off to what I would discover to be my favourite- Chenonceau.

 

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Saint Malo in 2 Nights

(Please check back to see new pictures for this post- having technical issues in France, so will update when I get home)

So our trip was planned- where to go, flights, hotels, car rental, train tickets all booked.  Next research. Or not.  

I love Rick Steves guide books, but when you are going to several places it is overwhelming the amount of work- time and patience it takes to make everything come together. Then there can be information overload on learning the history, what to do, etc about each place. I don’t know about you, but as I have gotten older I retain less information, so what I started reading months ago, was lost in my memory bank when I had time for a quick refresher the week before our trip- AND with limited vision. So, all that said, in advance of our arrival in Saint Malo, I knew that  they were famous for Gallettes- buckwheat crepes, and mussles, and had a beach. Was good enough for us!

On arrival via train, we took a taxi to our hotel, and boy am I glad that we did. Aside from it being quoted as a 30 minute walk, it actually could have taken us hours to find it in addition to the far walk from the bus station to the Old City, where our Hotel was located.  The old city is like a maze, and it was confusing us just riding in the taxi, let alone us dragging our luggage behind us on the cobblestone streets.

We were extremely pleased with the location of our hotel- Hotel St. Pierre as it was only steps from a popular beach because of the interestingly designed and executed Ocean Pool that even has a diving board. And also the wall that you can walk on around the perimeter of the city was also steps away.

I was also pleasantly surprised with the shopping close by, and picked up a few treasures for myself, and my boys. Kalyna spent her own money on some Berkinstocks that you can not get in Canada, so she was as happy as a pig in mud!

BUT, one of the best parts of staying in the walled city of Saint Malo is that there is  a crepe shop- literally on EVERY corner, that also sells Gallettes! I was in gluten free heaven!!! Also the rest of the food was reasonably priced in most restaurants (make sure to check the menu before entering a restaurant), and the Mussles were one of the cheapest items on the menu and some of the best I have EVER tasted!!! If you aren’t a mussle fan (I still suggest you open your mind and try them just one more time here), there is also a great variety of other food, including fresh seafood, which is what I love the most, so that is what I was always looking for.

An interesting fact to learn was about the Canadian heritage and history with this city. Jacques Cartier, who was credited as &discovering& Canada, lived and sailed out of Saint Malo. There is a statue of Jacques, a small Quebec museum and also the Quebec flags are flown in tribute to Quebec being the twin city.

Unfortunately when we arrived it was cloudy and cool outside and was spitting off and on.  A unique part of this area is its tides. They are some of the largest in Europe, and when I looked online for what the high and low tides were over the 2 days we were there, it was a difference of 27ft from high to low tide! That is huge in numbers, but our pictures and video of when the tide was out, and we were able to walk to another island, or of how big the beach was is incredible to compare to when the tide was high, and there was a very small beach, and in other places no beach at all, the ocean pool had disappeared and you could only see the very top of the high diving board that is on top of the wall that forms the pool.

You can only see the top of the diving board!

You can walk on the sea floor at low tide

The sea floor is coverd and the beach is small

At low tide we walked out to the 2 islands

The bay empties at low tide

I would absolutely recommend going to Saint Malo again, as there is a lot to do in this area for all types of people, but be prepared for cooler weather!

I saw DEAD People in Palermo! And so much more!

Dead people? YES we did see them, but first we eat and drink café!

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After a busy first day in Sicily, and even though we were exhausted by the time we returned to our room the night before, we still stayed up until almost 2am, so when I awoke after 8am, I felt refreshed, and HUNGRY! We were very happy when we entered the breakfast room to see a spread of Amazing food all set out for us at our own table! The day before, when we checked in,  I had told Rosario that I was “Celiaca” and ate “Senza Glutine”. I could see that he understood, and was MORE than accommodating, as the selection for me to eat was above and beyond my expectations! 20160917_020252In addition to the regular pastries, meat and cheeses, he had gluten free cookies, rice cakes, 2 kinds of GF crackers, and a soy drink that also was labeled as gluten free!

20160917_02124720160917_020602We felt like queens with the delicious and generous spread of breakfast items, and whatever kind of café we desired!

On our agenda for the day were 2 important things plus a couple bonuses: Visit the Catacombe dei Cappuccini, the Cattedrale, revisit Quattro Canti, and the fountains from the night before before we pick up our bags then pick up our rental car at 4pm.

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Our needs are quite simple, but I must say that we are very easily distracted by some shops we were looking forward to seeing in Italy! We did take at least 1 quick pit stop to shop, AND a stop for café and an Affogato, after which we continued to get our sight seeing done.

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From the small amount we had seen so far, we didn’t feel that Sicily was much different from other places we had been in Italy, but then we came across the Cattedrale. It was different from other churches we had seen, including the lofty palm trees. The Normans started to build it in 1185, and also has Gothic, and medieval influences. It is said to be a pantheon for the Normans, and has 6 royal tombs inside the church, a museum, and crypts in the basement.  We paid the full admission price to be able to also climb the stairs to the roof, so that we could experience the breathtaking 360° views.

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The inside of the church was was beautiful and different from any other church we had seen in Italy before- evidence that Sicily absolutely is more of a melting pot of ethnicity than the rest of Italy.

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Cattedrale: √  Now to go and see dead people!

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We used our app City Maps2Go to supplement the signs that we periodically found to direct us to the Catacombes.

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You may be shocked to hear that once again we were distracted! This time by Yummy food!

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One of the Sicilian ‘street foods’ that I was wanting to try were Aracini balls, and as we passed by this nice looking Café with some yummy looking deserts, we went in to see if they had anything gluten free. Just my luck their Arancini balls filled with ragu were senza glutine! YUM! I was hooked! For those of you that do not know what Arancini is, they are rice balls that are filled with a variety of fillings, including cheese, ragu, meat and peas, etc, then deep fried. Another ‘food’ that is from Sicily are granitas, a semi frozen desert made from ice, water, and a variety of flavours, somewhat similar to sorbet, but better because it is Italian….. We each bought one to go, and continued on our way to find the Catacombes.

dsc_0225The Cappucin Catacombs, is the place where the living meet the dead! Not kidding!

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The pictures shown were found on Google Images! I DID NOT take them, as they were very specific about NOT taking any pictures or video once inside. That said, I was very annoyed to see others sneaking pictures.  I am a bit of a rule breaker, but when it comes to showing respect for other cultures, I try my best to observe and follow the rules. Yes, Mom, I would make you proud in this instance!

We paid the admission fee and went down the flights of stairs, and instantly you were in a place very unique and eery. There were rows, and rows, and rooms, and corridors of corpses in wooden caskets, display boxes, but mostly they were hanging! Yes, hanging! Some were all bones, and others you could still see some features! I swear that one was watching me! They were all fully clothed.

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There are several corridors dedicated to specific people including for whom this all began for, the Friars. Also were corridors for priests,  women,  families, and professionals including lawyers, surgeons, etc and a chapel for children.  The last body was that of a 2 year old girl named Rosalia Lombardo, who died in 1920. Her body is remarkably still intact as her body lays in a small casket, which is roped off and displayed on her own.  So, yes we did see dead people in Palermo!

Before we left for Italy, I found very little from Rick Steves on Sicily, but the one thing I did find  was of him visiting Palermo and the Cappucin Catacombes. If you want to see more, please watch his YouTube video.

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On we went to see the other things on our list including Quattro Canti, officially known as Piazza Vigliena. The octagonal square is the crossing of 2 main streets in Palermo, Via Maqueda and the Corso Vittorio Emanuele.

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The four corners each have a baroque building, each with almost an identical facade, but each has a fountain and a statue to represent each of the 4 seasons, the 4 Spanish Kings, and of the patronesses of Palermo. As this is not a traditional Piazza, to which is pedestrian only, if you are not paying attention to where you are, or know of any history of Palermo, you can walk or drive past this square without realizing where you are.

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Our final stop before collecting our rental car was  Fontana Pretoria, the large fountain that we briefly saw the night before.  The magnificent Fontana Pretoria is a work of art done by the Florentine sculptor Francesco Camilliani in 1554. One of the things that I love about Italy are the fountains. It is astonishing to me how 100’s of years ago with none of the technology we have today that they were able to build such beautiful fountains, all with unique statues.

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This square was once known as the “square of shame” because of the naked statues around the fountain. It is located next to Palermo’s Municipal building, which is in the heart of the historic center.

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The Piazza Pretoria, which was not shameless at all, was a wonderful place to end our quick 24 hours in Palermo.  I look forward to visiting Palermo again, and exploring the many beautiful sights!

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Spending a day in Siena!

Tuscan Boar in Siena

On our first whole day in Tuscany, we decided to go check out Siena. I was very curious about Siena because Siena is compared a lot to Florence (my favourite), and it is a favourite city to many. We took the bus from the town of Monteroni D’Arbia, which took approx 30 minutes to get to our stop, which luckily in my broken Italian asked a woman on the bus,who spoke no English where to get off, and it was the very next stop (something Francisco). Between what she said and her charades, we got off at the right stop, and found our way to the center of Siena, Il Campo.

The many flags of the Siena neighborhoods

The City Tower- Torre del Mangia

Flags from the last Palio

Il Campo

Restaurants and shops surround Il Campo

The Fountain of Joy

Pigeons everywhere!

Fountain of Joy

Il Campo

Filling our water bottles with Potable water

Tower clock even has date.

City Tower, with Clock

Beautiful buildings

People sitting outside the City Tower

Siena is famous for Palio, which is a bareback horse race that happens twice a year- July and August. There are 17 neighborhoods, or Contrade in Siena, each with their own parish church, well or fountain, mascot, and unique colors as you can see in their flag. Out of the 17 neighborhoods, 10 compete in this medieval horse race, which gives the Contrade winner bragging rights for a year as well as a Palio banner made by a local artist for each race. This race is a HUGE deal in Siena, and it is apparent throughout the city. The square is packed with up to 60,000 people on race day, and explaining this to the kids was difficult until we showed them pictures of the square filled to the brim.

Palio pictures posted near the square.

One of my highlights from many places I have been is usually at the top of a tower and being able to take in the view of the city or town I am at, so we waited in the line (that did not move for 30 mins), to be able to climb up the City Tower.  It was definitely an amazing view. I must show you though, what you can not be in order to climb up the stairs…

No Giddiness Allowed! Lost in Translation?

Walking up to the top

All the windy stairs to the top of the Tower!

1/2 way up, and already great views!

Views of Siena and Tuscan countryside

Windy streets of Siena. Typically easy to get lost in.

View of the Duomo

Us at the top of the Tower

So, we made it up to the top of the Tower, and even though all the kids did not necessarily want to go up, they were glad they did. Now it was time to find the Torture Museum! Yes, you heard me right, the Torture Museum was on Jordan and Noah’s wish list. One thing that I really like in Italy is that in every town there is a TI- Tourist Information, and they always speak English, and they usually know where most things are, excluding the coveted coins Kalyna started collecting.

While at the Torture Museum, Kalyna, Kim and I decided to have a bite to eat while we waited. I was of course eager to check out the area and see how the shopping compared to Florence. While I was walking the streets looking for some shops, something caught my eye- a guy with a tripod, then another guy caught my eye. I did a double take, and can you believe it, but it was Rick Steves! Now if you do not know who he is, then either you don’t travel, you don’t do any research before you travel, or you live under a rock.  Rick Steves has literally helped me travel through Europe with his books, and now I was about to be face to face with him, or I hoped!

Me with Rick Steves!

So, here is how it played out: I saw him, started following him, pretending that I was taking pictures with my phone, because can you believe it, but the battery in my camera died! I was playing it cool, and getting candid shots of him talking to his crew for what they were going to be filming for one of his shows. COOL! Finally he stopped long enough for me to ‘cooly’ catch up and I asked one of his guys if he would mind it if I said hi. He told me that he was working, but to say hi anyways, and of course I did. I said to him, “Thank you so much for helping me to travel through Europe with your books!” He thanked me, sincerely, and was off.   UGH! I wanted a picture with him, but I could not keep following him, at the risk of Kim and the kids not knowing where I was, and losing them. Luckily Kalyna was there, so I told her to stay on the corner so that she could see me, and see if Kim came, and as luck would have it, Kim appeared out of nowhere with the boys. I quickly GRABBED my Rick Steves Italy book from Kim, and literally ran after Rick again. Yes, I had become a stalker! I went up to him again, and once he gave me permission to speak (he was working,  and it was kind of rude for me to keep interrupting him), I asked him if I could get a picture of him with me and his book. He was happy to see me with his book, and was nice enough to say yes to a photo session with sweaty, and sticky me. Now that was COOL!

This is the crowd and street that I spotted Rick Steves on.

Off to the Duomo! I discovered that the shopping is nothing like Florence. There are some shops here, but nothing like the variety you find in Florence for clothes, shoes and leather, and the markets with the variety of goods, especially the scarves I wanted to buy. So we went to discover Siena’s Duomo. Well, I must say that it was Beautiful! The dark green (which looks black), white, and pink marble, along with the statues, was a piece of magnificent art! We all sat and admired its beauty!

Siena’s Duomo

Door to the Duomo

The Duomo’s many magnificent statues and art!

Inside the Duomo (No flash was used in the making of these photos…) There are works of art by Michaelango and Bernini.

Inside the Duomo. Notice all the neighborhood flags.

Library of Centuries old books!

On the back side of the Duomo, we walked down some steep steps to the Baptistery. Kim, Kalyna and I went inside to look at the works of artists like Ghiberti and Donatello.

Steep steps down to the baptistery

At the bottom, looking up.

Baptistery on the back side of the Duomo

Baptismal font

Becoming bored with churches- boys waiting outside the Baptistery

So, what did we think of Siena? We liked it, but the crowds of a city we didn’t like, but that is the nature of the beast when you visit in the summer months. I did not find the shopping as good as Florence, but Jordan did pick up a sweet pair of Geox shoes, and Kim bought a watch, and I found my mom a beautiful necklace. Hmmm, something is wrong with this picture!  I will visit Siena again in the months when the streets will not be quite as crowded with tourists. Next time I will also have more time to just wander the streets getting lost, which can be half the fun of exploring.  Sometimes you just might find a GIANT pizza!

MMMM, Pizza!

Ciao Siena! Until next time!