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  • Day28

    Goodbye Leonardo

    September 17, 2019 in France ⋅ 🌙 16 °C

    Five hundred years ago, in 1519, one of the greatest geniuses the world has ever known breathed his final breath. In the same year, a short distance away, work began on a hunting lodge for the reigning king - Francois the FIrst. That lodge is now known as the Chateau de Chambord, the largest of all the chateaux in the Loire Valley. Although it is the largest, it is certainly not the most beautiful.

    When I first laid eyes on this building in 2013, I thought that it looked like the work of a manic imagination. I have now seen it twice since and my opinion has not changed. There is no argument that it is a collosal work of engineering, but the scale and opulence do little to make up for the sheer lack of any sort of good taste.

    It took many years and an incredible amount of money and resources to construct, but it is worth noting that Francois only spent a total of 7 weeks there. After his death it was left abandoned for 80 years. It proved to be unpopular and highly impractical for either a hunting lodge or a place of residence and it is easy to see why.

    The enormous rooms were impossible to heat and all the furnishings and decorations were taken away whenever the king was not in residence. Its existence is just another example of the way that French royalty lived in a profligate fantasy world, completely removed from their poor subjects. The sheer ego and arrogance of Francois is reflected in the way that his iniitial F is prominently displayed everywhere in the design.

    And what exactly was the role of Leonardo da Vinci ? The scholars seem divided on how much input the aging Leonardo had in the design of Chambord, but the consensus seems to be that the distinctive double helix staircase was his idea. It is certainly the most startling feature of the building and one that would be worthy of the creative genius of the great man himself. The architects who designed the rest of the monstrosity have very little to be commended for.

    Our ride today took us from Beaugency to Blois and the Chateau de Chambord was the most significant highlight of the day. Earlier in the morning we had ridden past our third nuclear power station of the trip so far. This one had the same huge cooling towers that we have become familiar with, although it was a little disconcerting that it also seemed to be leaking steam from the base of one of the towers as well.

    Perhaps it was because of the excellent navigational skills of Gordon, or maybe it was because we are all getting stronger each day. Whatever the reason, we managed to complete the day's ride without even raising a sweat. We were also pleased to be staying in the modern Mercure Hotel, right on the banks of the Loire. When we stayed here in 2015, our hotel had been unkindly situated right at the highest part of the city. We were very thankful to be spared that final climb.

    Blois (pronounced like Loire, but with a B at the start) is a beautiful city with a lovely old bridge spanning the river. The most striking feature of the inner city area is the huge staircase that has now been decorated with a reproduction of the famous Mona Lisa.
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