A Travellerspoint blog

June 2007

Château de Amboise and Le Clos Luce

"Art is never finished, only abandoned." Leonardo da Vinci

overcast 17 °C

Wednesday morning we enjoyed a nice breakfast in the cottage and watched a little news on the satellite TV, since we were up so early because we had a full day ahead of us. One thing we noted was that, in France this year and in Scotland the previous year, other countries have a much more international flavor to their news, as opposed to the United States. In 30 minutes, we would see stories on France, Great Britain, Spain, Russia, Japan, China, Vietnam, Portugal and the U.S., instead of mostly French news and one or two pieces on other countries. It was really quite refreshing and reminded me that I should go back to watching BBC news when I'm home, to get a fuller picture of world news.

Every Wednesday in Loches is "Market Day", a tradition dating back to medieval times. In fact, all of the towns in the Loire Valley area have Market Days on various days of the week, but the Loches market day is the oldest, largest and most renowned. Area farmers, craftsmen (and women), bakers, wine makers and businesses all bring their wares and set up stalls that fill the center of the town and nearby smaller streets each Wednesday from 8am until 1pm.

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And of course Cindy and her mom wanted to go to it.

As it turned out, I didn't mind because I had plans as well. We had lost Internet access at the cottage, so I was going to drop them at the market and take my laptop to a copy and printing business I had seen in town that advertised "Internet Access" to post my blog and check e-mail. Unfortunately, when I arrived the young lady on duty told me they no longer offered that service, even though a sign stating they did was plastered on their front window. So I had to go looking for Cindy and her mom in the mass of people at the market ahead of our pre-arranged meeting time. On the plus side, we had activated the "international roaming" feature on our cell phones for just this sort of possibility, so I simply called Cindy, found out where they were, and soon we were reunited.

After about 2 hours, we left to drive to Amboise, which was about 40 minutes away. The Château at Amboise was originally built in the 11th century and the surrounding land was expanded and added onto through the years. In 1434 it was seized by Charles VII after its owner had been convicted and executed for plotting against the King. In 1492 extensive rebuilding of the castle began, first in the French Gothic Flamboyant style and later in the Renaissance style.

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The Château at Amboise is probably most famous as the childhood home and favored royal castle of King François I who was crowned King of France in 1515 and reigned until 1547. François I is considered to be France's first Renaissance monarch and it was during his reign that France made impressive cultural advances.

But Amboise, and the nearby (500 meters) manor house Clos Luce, are also famous as the places where Leonardo da Vinci spent the last 3 years of his life. In December 1516, da Vinci accepted François' invitation to live at Clos Luce free of charge in exchange for simply being available to talk to the King, who had a great interest in the arts, sciences and philosophy. Leonardo lived and worked at Clos Luce until his death on May 2, 1519.

Upon his death, da Vinci was buried in the church of Saint-Florentin, which was part of the Château Amboise. During the reign of Napoleon the church was in such a ruinous state that the engineer appointed by Napoleon had it dismantled and used some of the remaining stonework in remodeling Château Amboise. Some 60 years later, during excavation of the land where the church had stood, workers found a complete skeleton of a man along with pieces of stone which were inscribed with letters found in da Vinci's name. That skeleton was entombed in the Chapel of Saint-Hubert, which is next to Château de Amboise. Below are photos and a video of the chapel and his tomb.

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Here is another view of Château de Amboise. Unfortunately, as in most castles, photo and video cameras are not permitted inside the castle. However, you'll see in the video clip after the photo, that I snuck a little shot inside later.

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Château de Amboise is built on a small stone mountain, overlooking the Loire River. This shot is from the courtyard looking down river. You can see the bridge, which replaced the original ford, and observe how the small village grew up around the castle and crossed the Loire River.

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Looking upriver in the background, with Cindy standing at the edge of a high castle turret.
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A small memorial garden and statue to Leonardo da Vinci near the back of the castle grounds. History says that the King had an underground tunnel built in the mountain upon which Château de Amboise sits that ran from the castle to the manor house, Clos Luce, where da Vinci lived, and used it often to visit the Renaissance Man who had become his friend. Twenty years after his death, François was quoted as saying, "No man ever lived who had learned as much about sculpture, painting, and architecture, but still more that he was a very great philosopher."

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Cindy and her mom on a turret on the opposite side of the castle which overlooked the main town of Amboise.

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Here's a shot of the cafe across from the castle where we ate lunch before going to Clos Luce. The black arrow points to where we sat.

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Rather than take the tunnel, lol, we walked the quarter mile to Clos Luce up this street.

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The route we were taking ran parallel to the mountain that the castle sits upon. If you look closely, you can see past this entranceway to where a home was built into the side of the mountain..We saw several of these, some much older than others, along the way,

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Here is Clos Luce, the manor house where Leonardo da Vinci lived the last years of his life. I could not get a good photo, so this is from a post card that I scanned and it allows you to see the entire front of the house. To the right you can see a portion of a hallway that is shown better in my next photo and the video clip below it, and there is another wing of the house behind what you can see in this first post card scan.

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Again, no photos or videos allowed inside the house (and they even had cameras monitoring each room), but the house is full of da Vinci's notes, paintings and scale models of his inventions, as well as showing how he and his entourage lived while at Clos Luce. It was, for me anyway, awe-inspiring to walk through rooms he had walked in, touch walls and doors he had touched and stand in the study this great thinker and artist had worked in during the last days of his life.

You know how, on those psychological tests they give (I've taken WAY too many of them, lol) they always ask, "What person from history would you like to meet and talk to for an hour?". Well, ever since I was a young child, my answer has always been either Albert Einstein or Leonardo da Vinci. I stood in those rooms at Clos Luce and, in my mind's eye, watched him working and living and felt, in some small way, like I HAD been able to meet him.

500 years have passed since he lived, and we still view him and his genius with awe.

Here are two photos showing the other wing I mentioned above.

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The gardens around Clos Luce are full of beautiful flowers. Here, Cindy and her mom admire some of the stunning roses.
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Though the castle marathon is more for Cindy than for me, I absolutely enjoyed this tour of Château de Amboise and Clos Luce, and the insights it provided into the last years of da Vinci's life. Now, more than ever, I want to go to Florence and Milan in Italy to view his life and work there.

Next post: Château de Chambord

Posted by WorldQuest 19:20 Archived in France Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

Chateau de Chenonceau

sunny 23 °C

Tuesday morning we awoke refreshed and relaxed, ready to explore and tour one of the most beautiful chateaus in the Loire Valley region, Chenonceau. Chateau de Chenonceau is about an hour's drive from our cottage and we wanted to get an early start so as to try and avoid the crowds that typically arrive in tour busses.

One interesting thing occurred before we left the cottage. Cindy got up first to get a shower and while I laid in bed waiting for her to finish, I heard footsteps and creaking of the stairs on the stairway that went downstairs. When Cindy came out I told her that her mom was up because I heard her go downstairs. Cindy opened our bedroom door and, seeing her mom's bedroom door still closed across the small hallway, lightly knocked and called out "mom?". After a few moments her mom answered the door and when Cindy told her that we thought she was already up because I heard her on the stairs, she told Cindy she had just been awakened by Cindy's knocking.

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Now Cindy's convinced the cottage is haunted. But wouldn't a ghost just float down through the floor, rather than walk down stairs? And even if it did walk, it wouldn't have any weight to cause the sound of footsteps or creaking because it's a ghost, right?

Anyway, after some lively breakfast table conversation about that subject (between the two of them; I just rolled my eyes and shook my head), we were off to visit Chenonceau. Cindy had figured out how to operate the onboard GPS system and programmed in our destination, though I still brought along the map just in case. However, no worries, we arrived without a problem except for where a new roundabout had been installed and the GPS didn't know about it. But it was well-marked and we stayed on course and DID arrive before the loaded tour busses.

In 1243 the original castle was built on this site on the banks of the River Cher. The Royal Treasurer Thomas Bohier bought the old castle in 1512 and destroyed it to build on the site. While Bohier was in Italy on business for the King, his wife Catherine Briconnet was in charge of the beautiful design and construction in the Renaissance style of the Chateau and completed it in 1521. Chenonceau is not the largest or the most historically significant castle in the region but it has touched the hearts of many across the centuries.

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After the deaths of Bohier and his wife. the castle belonged to King Francois I and later King Henri II’s mistress, Diane de Poitier, to whom he gave it as a gift though this was against royal rules. Diane captured the Kings heart completely. A wild and beautiful ‘hunting goddess’, she was said to regularly swim naked at sunrise in the River Cher, and then riding throughout the nearby forest on her grey Stallion. Diane was devoted to her King and the beloved Chateau and it was she who commissioned the arched bridge gallery that crosses the River Cher and the formal gardens.

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When King Henri II died, his wife, Catherine de Medici forced Diane to leave Chenonceau under royal rules, but gave her Chaumont in exchange. After taking possession of Chenonceau, Catherine de Medici had the bridge gallery that was built by Diane covered, and added another two floors above it. She also added her own garden.

This was surprising. Here we are, 4,450 miles from our home of Orlando, Florida, which is in Orange County (so named because the entire region used to be covered with orange groves) and at the entrance to Chateau de Chenonceau in France we find...orange trees!

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More of those swallow's nests under overhangs of the castle. Except these are piled one on top of the other, resembling some kind of swallow condos.

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Cindy and her mom sitting on a bench at the castle entrance with the River Cher in the background.

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As is the case with most castles, no video cameras are allowed and photos may only be taken with the flash off. Some of these will not be as good as they could have been, but they will give you an idea of what the inside looked like.

Here is the chapel/prayer room.

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A royal bedroom. all of the bedrooms (8 or 9 in Chenonceau) in ALL of the castles look pretty much the same, with the only difference being the decor. They all have a canopied bed, an armoire, a fireplace, chairs, heavily draped windows and tapestries or paintings on the walls. Most of them have intricately designed ceilings.
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One of my favorite pictures of Cindy; in fact I have it as the "wallpaper" now on my laptop screen. We were in the study and she was looking out the window to the River Cher. The lighting was absolutely perfect for the environment of the castle and I snapped this when she turned as I called out her name.
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The bridge gallery, looking from the castle side to the end on the other side of the river.

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Here's an outside view of the bridge gallery. The bridge gallery has some interesting history, apart from its construction by Diane and additions by Catherine. In World War I, it served as a military hospital. During World War II, the River Cher marked the boundary between free and German occupied France. The bridge through the castle became both a method of escaping occupied France, and a way for Resistance fighters to sneak back across into occupied France.

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Going downstairs, we entered the service areas of the castle. Here is the room where game was butchered for meals.
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Here is the kitchen, taken from the top of a short set of stone steps.

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And a view of the same kitchen from the opposite corner.

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We then walked upstairs to the second story (which is as high as the public can go) and out to the stone balconies that overlook the entrance at the front of the castle.

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By this time the hordes of tourists were arriving as we left the castle and headed for the gardens. Here's Cindy's mom trying to snag a few grapes off the vine.

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Cindy and her mom, sitting at the entrance to the garden with Chenonceau in the background.

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A still shot of the fountain.

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Looking from the far end of the garden up the River Cher toward Chenonceau.

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On the opposite side of the entrance near the other gardens, Cindy's mom and I with the original medieval tower behind us and the castle behind the tower.

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Cindy and her mom at the entrance to the other gardens.
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Entering the small forest near the front of the grounds, with the garden and castle in the background.
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That is one big Christmas tree!

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Cindy and her mom in front of a decorative arbor.
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Chenonceau also has a wine cellar on the property. Here are three photos I took while we were down in the cellar. We bought some bottles of wine here that were very, very good.
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It was about 1:30 by this time and we were hungry, so we went over to one of the cafes on the grounds and enjoyed a nice lunch sitting in the dining area outside. After that, we took a leisurely ride back to the cottage, enjoying the countryside, before arriving "home" around 4pm.

Next post: Amboise and Le Clos Luce

Posted by WorldQuest 07:36 Archived in France Tagged tourist_sites Comments (2)

The Medieval Town and Castle of Loches - Part 3

The Logis Royale

overcast 22 °C

About 110 meters or so from The Collegiate Church of St. Ours in the Cité Médiévale is The Logis Royale (Royal Lodge).

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As you can see from the map, The Logis Royale dominates the Northern point of the medieval city. What you cannot tell from the map is that it is built on a rocky spur that rises up above and overlooks the city.

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Many of France's historical scenes have taken place in the Royal Lodge. It was built by Charles VI, and later resided in by Agnes Sorel, "Damoyselle de Beauté" of Charles VII (you saw her tomb in the pictures from The Collegiate Church of St. Ours in our previous post), the first "official mistress" of a King of France.

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It was to the Royal Lodge that Joan of Arc came on June 3 and June 5, 1429 to beg Charles VII to go to Reims to be crowned King of France.

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Anne de Bretagne or Anne of Brittany resided in the Logis Royale as Queen/Consort to two French kings; Charles VIII and Louis XII and the lodge contains her oratory with its beautiful stone filigree design.

Here's a photo of Cindy in front of one of the magnificent tapestries within the Logis Royale. Taking photos with a flash is not permitted inside the Royal Lodge due to the damage the light (multiplied hundreds of times each day by tourists) causes to these tapestries, draperies and fabric in upholstery and videotaping is not permitted inside under any circumstances.

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Cindy's mom in one of the reading rooms.

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After touring the inside, we walked outside to the small side courtyard that overlooks part of the city.

Looking up at the top of the Logis Royale.

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Cindy and her mom in the small side courtyard gazing at the Lodge.

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Then I discovered what it was that they were gazing at. There were dozens of swallows' nests built under the overhanging part of the wall.

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And where there are swallows' nests, you'll find swallows. Flying, swooping, darting and performing all sorts of aerial gymnastics. Even at the seemingly fast speed of their flight, by watching the video below you'll see they can unerringly fly right up to the hole in the nest and enter without incident.

After we finished "oohing" and "ahhhing" over the swallows, we walked around to the other side of the Lodge where there is a nice park area with benches. In the picture below, Cindy isn't really sleeping, she just has an uncanny ability to close her eyes when I take a picture. I usually have to re-shoot the picture in order to get one with her eyes open, but this time I just let it go so you could see what I had to put up with whenever I took a picture where she was facing the camera. Love ya, babe!

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Walking back to where we parked the car, we decided to take a short tour of the more modern section of Loches. I happened to look up and saw something that made me stop and laugh hanging from a third story window.

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Can't tell what it is? Ok, here's a close-up.

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It looks to me like some type of lawn gnome and I wondered if he was on a world tour (a few years ago someone stole a lawn gnome from its owner's front yard and took it around the country or the world, taking pictures of it in different locales and sending the photos to the owner over a period of a year before finally returning the traveling gnome back to its home) and was being displayed as a kind of badge of honor by the kidnapper. Whatever the story behind this hanging gnome, the sight alone made me laugh.

I just liked this view of a part of the Indre River, which flows through and around parts of Loches.
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We had lunch at a nice little cafe and walked around afterward looking for a grocery store so we could stock the cottage with vittles. There are only 2 grocery stores in Loches; one in town and one on the outskirts of town. After getting directions to the one in town from the Tourist Center, we drove to it and I parallel parked the car in a very small space on the street in front of the store (no parking lots for hundreds of vehicles like we have in the States) and we walked up to the door and pulled on it, only to find the store (and most businesses in the town, region and country) closes each day from 12:45 to 2:45 in the afternoon. It was 2pm, so we had to wait 45 minutes for everyone to return from lunch and open the store. My mother-in-law had warned me about this, but I thought that in the 18 years since she had been here that this would have been a practice that would have ceased. Why lose 2 hours of income from customers each day? Oh well, one of the things we liked about the country was the slower pace of life, and this was part of that. Just took a little getting used to, that's all.

We returned to the cottage around 4:30 and relaxed for the remainder of the day.

Next post: Chateau de Chenonceau

Posted by WorldQuest 20:42 Archived in France Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

The Medieval Town and Castle of Loches - Part 2

The Collegiate Church of St. Ours

overcast 18 °C

Our next stop as we toured the Cité Médiévale was the Collegiate Church of St. Ours.

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Here is a photo of the exterior of the church. Please note that this is not a photo I took, but rather one I downloaded from a website. I'm not sure how this picture was taken, as there was no way I could have been able to get this view when we were there. I'm going to assume that it was taken from a location we did not have access to during our visit.

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The Collegiate Church of St. Ours was originally founded in 962 A.D., but what you see in it's current form dates from the 12th century. Among the church's distinguishing architectural features are the twin hollow octagonal pyramids covering the nave, as seen in the photo above.

Here's Cindy and her mom approaching the entrance.
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Once you step through the entrance, you find yourself in the vestibule where you can make a donation and/or dip your finger(s) in the holy water fount (though it's not really a fountain, just a stone bowl with still water).

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Beyond the vestibule is the main hall or nave.

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And at the far end is the altar area.

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To the left (as you're facing the altar area) is a smaller vestibule containing the marble tomb of Agnes Sorel. You'll find her fascinating story here and here.

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Looking up into one of the hollow octagonal pyramids from the floor of the main hall.
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On the way out of the church, against my advice, Cindy wanted to dip her fingers into the Holy Water. I snapped the photo below just as her hand started smoking and then I high-tailed it out of the vestibule before it filled with thick, black smoke.

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Next post: The Medieval Town and Castle of Loches - Part 3

Posted by WorldQuest 08:06 Archived in France Tagged tourist_sites Comments (3)

The Medieval Town and Castle of Loches - Part 1

If it's Monday, this must be a castle.

sunny 17 °C

Monday morning we enjoyed hot tea and baguettes with butter for breakfast in the cottage and then drove into Loches to tour the medieval town and castle that the modern town has grown up around.

Loches, with a population of 7,000, is picturesquely situated above the Indre, a left-bank tributary of the Loire. On the hill above the town is the Medieval City (Cité Médiévale), surrounded by a circuit of walls 2km/1.5mi long. This town within a town is entered through the Porte Royale, a fortified gate which was once approached by a drawbridge.

And that's where we first see Cindy and her mom, first in a photo and then in a video clip.

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Now, here's a map of the Medieval City. We'll enter through the Porte Royale (as seen above) and explore the Donjon during this first part. In part 2 we'll tour the Church of St-Ours and Logis Royal, both rich in history.

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Here are a couple of photos of the exterior of the Donjon and a couple of videos. The first video is the exterior of the Donjon and the second is my on-camera talent, Cindy, giving a short history of the Donjon. I apologize in advance for the sound of the wind on the built-in microphone.

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Here we are inside at the entrance to the Donjon (also known as "the keep") and this suit of armor looks to be trying to put the moves on my mother-in-law.

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Going down to the dungeon and torture rooms.

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Cindy looks like a jailer, satisfied that she has her prisoner in the bowels of the keep.

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Here I am, in irons and struggling to escape.

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Cindy standing in a fireplace.

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This is the graffiti room, where prisoners had carved various things into the walls.
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I just liked the way the light came through the gate into the room on this one.
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Next, it was time to climb to the top. Again, the stairs are circular and tight. Here's the view from the top down the stairs.
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Below are 3 photos from the top and a video taken at the top. Apologies again for the sound of the wind on the built-in microphone.

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The next photo is from the top looking down. You'll see a white Fleur-De-Lis. That marks the spot where I'm standing in the photo following this one and shows the spot where I was standing to take that shot.

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The black Fleur-De-Lis in this photo shows where I was standing to take the shot above.

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Cindy, standing in one of the arches overlooking the area outside the Donjon.
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Wrapping up our tour of the Donjon.

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This kicks off our week of castles, castles and nothing but castles. So if you plan on returning, do what I did and learn to love them...or at least endure them.

Next post: The Medieval Town and Castle of Loches - Part 2

Posted by WorldQuest 19:41 Archived in France Tagged tourist_sites Comments (5)

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