Château de Chenonceau

31 12 2011

Cheonceau seen from the tree-lined driveway

One of the last places we visited before heading back to Paris was the Château de Chenonceau. Which was AMAZING! Truly a fairy-tale castle.

Built across the River Cher in the Loire Valley, Chenonceau is the châteaux de femmes (ladies). The original Château was rebuilt after the 100 years war (one Tower from the original Chateau still remains). Henry II gave it to his mistress Diane de Poitiers in 1547, who designed the extension of the new Château to include the extension across the bridge but didn’t get it built. Diane also insisted on purchasing the Château legally, so it was undisputedly hers. After Henri II died, his widow Catherine de Medici through machinations and manipulations, forced the return of Chenonceau and fled there with the young king, Francois II and his Queen, Marie Stuart (1559). (Marie Stuart was better known in England as Mary Stewart – Mary, Queen of the Scots.)

Fast forward thirty years and following the murder of Henri III (they turned over pretty quickly in those days), his widow Louise de Lorraine remained at Chenconceau (which was where she had received news of his death and his final words asking her not to “leave this place”) (1589). One of the upper floor bedrooms has been restored to reflect Louise’s mourning room.

The next grand madame was Madame Louise Dupin who, despite her advanced age of 83 years old at the outbreak of the French Revolution, managed to protect both the Château and her family from the destructive forces. With the assistance of Abbe Lecomte, the priest of Chenonceau, the revolutionary forces were convinced of the strategic importance of maintaining the bridge across the River Cher (and hence the Château itself). Unfortunately a large number of paintings of the royal family over the centuries were destroyed at this time in the effort to prove the loyalties of the château did not lie with the royal family.

In more recent history, Chenonceau was a military hospital in WWI, where apparently soldiers recovering in beds in the long gallery which crosses the river, would hang fishing lines out the window. In WWII Chenonceau literally straddled the line of demarcation and served as a river crossing for refugees fleeing south away from Nazi-occupied France.

Today Chenonceau is spectacular, set in stunning gardens. The tree-lined driveway beautifully frames the shining white Chateau. The maze off in the forests to the left, and further up the formal gardens, visible from the balconies of the Château. The rooms have been restored to show both the luxury and grandeur and the original fittings. The worn and faded floor tiles remain so that you can step in the paths of history, but also see the original bright patterning around the edges. The kitchen is amazing – gleaming and spacious with copper pots and a huge wood-fired oven and stove.

The historical information in this posting comes from memory, from “Château de Chenonceau: History, Architecture and Gardens” (Beaux Arts Edition) and from the Chenonceau website.

Cheateau de Chenonceau, viewed from the driveway

the remaining tower from the old Chateau


entrance to Chapel

vaulted ceiling in the chapel

faded floor tiles in the entrance hall

Fireplace in Catherine de Medicis' bedroom, with her portrait over the fireplace

grand hall across the river. this was where the WWI soldiers hung fishing lines out the windows when the Chateau was a military hospital



view of the kitchen

kitchen - the wood-fired oven and stove


main hallway

indoor staircase (one of the earliest examples of a straight-line staircase as opposed to a spiral staircase)

the remaining portion of the old Chateau, viewed from the top floor of the new Chateau.

the formal gardens from the upper story

view of the links across the river from an upper story room

the bedroom of Louise de Lorraine. The entire room on the top floor is in black.

The Orangerie (now a restaurant)

the tree-lined driveway (looking away from the Chateau and towards the gates)

path to the maze

the maze in the gardens

folly in the forested part of the gardens

If you liked this post you might also like some more posts from France…..
Arrival in Paris
Caves of Lascaux
Notre Dame
French menus
Standing Stones of Carnac
Les Grottos en France
The Louvre
Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel)
Streets of Paris
Arc de Triomphe
Napoleon’s Tomb
Galeries Lafayette

Les Grottos en France

31 12 2011

One of the surprise tourist sites we visited in France was the grottos (caves).

While I was very happy looking around les châteaux et les musee, in the interests of entertaining and possibly educating the children we tried to include a range of other attractions, including the Caves of Lascaux , the Catacombes in Paris and the Standing Stones of Carnac.

Along the same lines, we also visited a number of grottos.

Mostly the grottos seemed to have been discovered by accident when they were half filled with silt, and dug out. Often they were on the side of cliffs of ancient floodplains.

The most surprising thing was a number of them had remarkably fast build-up of limestone into stalagmites and stalactites – sometimes as much as a centimetre per year – and the cave owners had found a way of putting this rapid calcification to profitable use.

In the base of the caves, situated under waterfalls and in pools, were a variety of tourist paraphernalia – ceramic statues, fake flowers, and rubber moulds. Over the course of a six-month period these would calcify, providing a steady stream (pardon the pun) of stone objet for sale as souvenirs. The rubber moulds fill with stone and when the mould is peeled off, they produce plaques that have amazing detail – looking as if they have been cast in ceramic or carved from stone. (A photograph of one such plaque is below)

a stone plaque produced by calcification in a French grotto

Now in Australia, the calcification process takes decades if not centuries – this process is unheard of and unviable. But the steady production of products in French grottos seems to have no ill effect on the natural wonders, with the exception of perhaps delaying the build up of calcium on the floor of the grotto. The products are piled up and require regular turning to ensure they don’t calcify together into a mass.

more objet beneath a cascade of stalactites

a cascading "curtain" of stactites

the backs of the rubber moulds filling with limestone to produce plaques

some of the objet undergoing calcification under a cascade of stactites

If you liked this post you might also like some more posts from France…..
Arrival in Paris
Caves of Lascaux
Notre Dame
French menus
Standing Stones of Carnac
The Louvre
Tour Eiffel (Eiffel Tower)

Is it EASTER already?

30 12 2011

DATELINE: 30th December

TIME: approximately midday

PLACE: the check-out of the local branch of an unnamed (but possibly identifiable) multinational supermarket brand

ITEM IN QUESTION: Easter Eggs, for sale. It’s not even the New Year yet! Commercialism gone mad.

(surely this must be some sort of record?)

Is New Year’s Eve the most disappointing day (night) of the year?

30 12 2011

Is it just me?

Bah Humbug! to New Year’s Eve.

In our collective culture, New Year’s Eve is supposed to be the most exciting party of the year. A night of possibilities, when everyone is celebrating the old year and looking forward to the New Year! In my experience it is an over-hyped fairly ordinary evening where everyone has raised expectations, the streets are crowded with amateur drunks, and it ends with a bang and a fizz – the fireworks display. (I really don’t get the excitement of fireworks displays. A few pretty lights and a display that lasts for ten minutes or so. Sometimes they try to coordinate the lights to the music – but then the bangs aren’t in time. I’d rather watch two minutes of highlights on the news.)

Fireworks audience. photo credit Waldo Jaquith

Decades of movies also celebrate New Year’s Eve’s romantic possibilities – but luckily a few of them show us the down side. Here are a few of the more memorable appearances of New Year’s Eve in movies……to raise and dash your false expectations.

The Godfather II – Michael Corleone discovers his brother Fredo was the one who set him up and gives him the kiss of death. Gotta love a Family NYE party.

The Hucksudder Proxy – Tim Robbins has a New Year’s Eve to forget when he is fired as CEO, finds out his girlfriend is trying to expose him as a fraud, and a board-member was trying to have him committed to an insane asylum. (but it works out OK….) Gotta be up there with all-time BAD NYE.

When Harry met Sally – not the most memorable scene, but the most romantic scene. Heavy with false expectations.

Trading Places – the ummmm non-consentual scene between the man in the gorilla suit and the gorilla……we won’t go there.

About a boy – Hugh Grant meets the woman of his dreams at a New Year’s Eve party. And we know how that turned out. No mug-shots were involved this time.

Bridget Jones’ Diary – Bridget’s New Year’s resolution is to keep a diary. Seems do-able. And she seems to meet her goals. Tick! Mark Darcy. Tick tick!

Sunset Boulevard – faded movie star Norma Desmond attempts suicide when her toyboy gigolo leaves to attend a friends’ New Year’s Eve party. Seriously Norma, it was probably a pretty crap party. This is a serious over-reaction to being stood up.

The Poseidon Adventure – well, we all know what happened there, don’t we? It was a wash-out. (OK, I couldn’t resist the pun and I accept it probably isn’t original.)

Boogie Nights – New Year’s Party ends with a triple-homicide

Ocean’s 11 – the gang plans a robbery on New Year’s Eve by blowing up an electrical transmission tower at midnight and blacking out the city. No-one will notice a power blackout in the middle of the night on the one night of the year when the majority of the population is awake at midnight? Will they?

Forrest Gump – apparently there is a New Year’s scene (1971) which is pretty depressing but with the uplifting tail that this movie seems to have. I don’t know, I didn’t watch it. But I recognise that pretty much everyone else in the western world has seen (and apparently loves) this movie.

And now, the much-hyped New Year’s Eve (the movie). Can’t say I am racing to see this one – it seems to be a remake of Love Actually and Valentine’s Day – mix and match ensemble of big-name actors for multiple small parts, a handful of stories so surely one story will hit the mark with everyone who watches it, and make sure there are over-wrought tears and uplifting but unlikely happy endings.

So is it just me? or did I just get out of bed in a grumpy mood today.

Top Five New Year’s Resolutions

30 12 2011

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the top five New Year’s resolutions are:

1. Lose weight / get fit

2. Give up smoking and/or drinking

3. Achieve financial security

4. Spend more time with family

5. Get organised

Yes, sadly, we are not unique, everyone comes up with the same resolutions. And somehow we aren’t all thin, fit, smoke-free, financially secure and living well-organised lives with our lovely and loving families.

The stats also show that 35% of New Year’s resolutions are abandoned within the first week – or not actually started at all.

But some people do make resolutions (New Year’s or otherwise) and succeed. How do they do it?

Richard Wiseman, a psychologist from the University of Hertfordshire is quoted in The Guardian as mentioning two factors…

1. Don’t make the resolutions spur-of-the-moment

2. Break the goal down into smaller steps.

So following on from the recent posting on planning …here are a few suggested steps for consideration.

1. lose weight / get fit: aim initially for ten minutes exercise per day. Drink a glass of water before each meal. Cut portion size. Replace one junk food meal a week with something healthier.

2. quit smoking / drinking: this is one area where cold turkey seems to be the best option. However, you are not alone. There are prescription medications available to assist (ask your doctor if they are suitable for you) and over-the-counter substitutes.

3. achieve financial security: set up an automatic pay deduction for savings. Work out a plan for paying off debts. Set up an investment account / share-market account. Read a book to educate yourself about finances. Write a financial plan.

4. Spend time with family: set a particular time to spend “hanging” with the family. Write a list of activities you can do with the family (that they will enjoy as well). Sit down with the family and ask them what they want to do.

5. Get organised: Write a plan on what areas of your life you want to get organised in, and put in a weekly / monthly schedule of what you will do to achieve this. Perhaps it is one room in the house per week / month.

The steps need to be small, doable but meaningful. They need to build – so you might start with ten minutes exercise per day but build in five-minute increments to half an hour a day. But the most important thing about putting the plan into action is that if you skip it on day or week, that doesn’t mean the entire plan goes out the window. New Year’s Resolutions fail when you see them as all or nothing (one lapse means you have failed) or you allow lapses to snowball (I didn’t exercise yesterday or the day before, so there’s no point in doing it today). Pick up where you left off and keep going. Your plan tells you what you need to do next.

That’s how you achieve your New Year’s Resolutions.

This post is part of a series on goal-setting. Others are below:
Goal Setting – Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes!
Goodbye to old (bad) habits
It’s about the JOURNEY (as well as the goal)
Harvard Business School study….or urban internet myths
Being Accountable
Analysis Paralysis

Analysis Paralysis

28 12 2011

Summit of Mt Everest

A friend sent me a blog where the author was saying how he had completed a marathon (from starting as a non-runner), started eating healthier, and got rid of his crippling debt through four easy steps.

And the kicker was, that he had given up setting goals.

Now given the overwhelming focus on goal setting that this blog has had over the past few days, it is possible that she was trying to tell me something……but instead it got me thinking more about goal setting and analysis paralysis.

The author of the blog linked above proclaims that his success is that he gave up setting goals. Instead he focussed on starting small, doing one change at a time, enjoying the process of the small steps he was taking, and being grateful for each step.

Now kudos to him for finding what works for him. He seems to have changed his life in some very significant ways.

But while he may not be writing goals…..he is clearly still setting them. He is looking at his life and deciding what aspects he is unhappy with. And he is developing a plan of small steps to get there. And he is integrating the changes into his life, celebrating the wins and recognising the importance of the changes he is making.

So the question is, do you set big inspiring goals, or do you set little do-able goals? Clearly the answer for me is both, but the downside of the big inspiring goals is they can be scary, demotivating – paralysing. If your goals is so big that you can’t actually see the path there, you might find you don’t do anything. But if they are small and don’t add up to a bigger goal….then are they worth the effort?

PS – this might be an example of confirmation bias – finding things that support your opinion and ignoring those that do not support your opinion – but the following posting on the same blog focuses on the importance of focussing on one thing at a time, and in fact focussing on one aspect that will build to the bigger goal, then moving onto the next. I have to say, that is a plan if ever I heard one!

This post is part of a series on goal-setting. Others are below:
Goal Setting – Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes!
Goodbye to old (bad) habits
It’s about the JOURNEY (as well as the goal)
Harvard Business School study….or urban internet myths
Being Accountable

Notre Dame

28 12 2011

Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris (Our Lady of Paris) is one of the best known landmarks in Paris. Located on Île de la Cité in the Seine, it is easily accessed by foot, metro or tour bus. Built between 1163 and 1250, Notre Dame has many Gothic architectural features, stunning stained glass windows and historic artworks. Notre Dame is visited by over 13 million tousists each year, but is also an active Catholic Church. Despite this, they allow cameras inside the cathedral. There is no charge for access to the main part of the cathedral (although there are of course souvenirs for sale and offering boxes), and there is a small charge to climb the tower and access the roof area, including the bell. You have probably seen many photos of Notre Dame – hopefully some of these views are a little different to the ones you are familiar with.

The series of photos runs: view from the frnt courtyard, views inside the cathedral, views of the southern side of the cathedral (queuing to get into the tower) views inside the tower and from the roof of the cathedral, views of the northern side from a boat on the Seine.


Notre Dame across the courtyard

statue of Charlemagne outside Notre Dame

Jeanne D'Arc (Joan of Arc)

spiral staircase in the tower

If you liked this post you might also like some more posts from France…..
Arrival in Paris
Caves of Lascaux
French menus
Standing Stones of Carnac
Les Grottos en France
The Louvre
Tour Eiffel (Eiffel Tower)