Monday, November 24, 2014

What's going on

If you noticed the newsiness section last week, you saw that our hedges got trimmed. Ever since I did my back in doing them myself a few years ago, I've contracted the job out. I think this is the third year that a local gardener has done them. The gardener's employees, two or three younger guys, arrive with all the proper equipment to tackle the hedges: several trimmers, including one on a very long pole to reach across the hedge, and a mobile scaffolding that allows easy access to the top of the hedge without using ladders.

The rounded shrub behind the transformer box is a laurier-sauce (bay laurel) which provides the flavorful bay leaves that we use in cooking.

The guys do great work, have the whole job done over two short days, and clean up and haul away the debris when they're done. It's hard to tell from the photo, but this section of hedge is about eight feet high and is, in places, nearly five feet across. The rest of the hedge (see the photo below) is only about four feet tall -- the guys cut it down for me two years ago. I continue to trim those sections myself since there is no ladder work involved.

You can see the difference in height between the short and tall sections from outside our back gate.

So, the job is done again for another year. I'm thinking that next year I will ask the gardener to cut down another large section of the hedge to four feet (the part to the left of the transformer box in the top photo and a similar section on the other side of the house). That will leave only the section along the road at eight feet high. Maybe one day we'll have that cut down to size as well.

The shorter hedge was very bare the first year after it was cut down, but since then it's filled in nicely.

I just thought I'd throw in a third photo because I like it. It's the same sections of the hedge on either side of the gate seen from a different angle. You can barely see the gate, but the difference in height of the two hedge sections is quite dramatic.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Lunch break

By the time my friend C. and I left the château d'Azay-le-Rideau, it was lunch time. There was a festival/flea market set up in the streets of town and we saw a wide variety of street food available, including big steaming pans of paëlla and choucroute. But it was a little too chilly and damp for eating outside and I think we both felt like a sit-down meal indoors. We walked up the street to the main square in town and found a restaurant that looked inviting. They advertised moules et frites (steamed mussles and French fries) for a decent price and that instantly appealed to us both.

View from inside the restaurant La Salamandre in Azay-le-Rideau. Lots of appetizing choices.

And it was very, very good. We had a nice leisurely lunch, including some local Azay-le-Rideau rosé wine, and finished up with a coffee before heading back to the car. Our next stop: the château and gardens at Villandry.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

More than a castle

The town of Azay-le-Rideau is very nice. These days it's all done up for the tourist trade because the château is a big draw. There are all manner of shops with crafts and artsy things, specialty foods, and trinkets for any budget. And there are restaurants to please everybody.

On our way to the castle gates.

This is the street that leads from the main square in town to the gates of the château. I was attracted to a few of the shops, but we had a castle to see, so on we went.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Close up

As you climb the main staircase in the château d'Azay-le-Rideau, there is a balcony on each level that is open to the courtyard below. This is part of the western wing seen from the highest level. The castle is shaped like an "L." I read somewhere (I don't remember where, now) that one of the owners had plans to add to the castle to make it a square, enclosing the courtyard, but the plans were never carried through.

A portion of the western wing and its round corner tower.

There are two options for seeing the interior: a guided tour or a self-guided tour. Visitors can rent headsets to hear descriptions of the rooms for the self-guided tour, or they can do what we did: wander around just looking. There is descriptive information posted in each room, but you have to wait for the person ahead of you to finish reading. At one point in our wandering, we bumped up against a guided tour that had the whole place blocked up. We stood, with other wanderers, in a tiny spiral stairwell for about five minutes before we were able to push and shove our way through to get ahead of them.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Renaissance window

Back in the days before modern techniques made large plate glass windows possible, smaller glass panes were normally fitted between leaded mullions to create intricately patterned windows that, while they let light in, did not provide the clearest of views toward the outside. Stained glass windows are a common example, but clearer glass would be used in the renaissance residences of the aristocracy.

Small pieces of relatively clear glass, but with lots of distortion, allow a decent amount of light into the castle's main stairway.

This is an example of that kind of window at the château d'Azay-le-Rideau. I don't know enough about the castle to tell you whether this is an original window or a reproduction made during one of the many renovations/restorations that have been undertaken over the centuries. Still, it's quite pretty.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Sculp'tcha

As in most of the Loire Valley châteaux, the stone work at Azay-le-Rideau is replete with sculpted elements. Everywhere you look is another example of more or less intricate carving work. From decorative to emblematic, the carvings are a reminder of the amazing skills of those who built these castles.

The salamander and the ermine, royal symbols.

These are just two examples. The first is a bas-relief above the castle's main entrance. On the left is the salamander, symbol of king François Ier, with a banner that includes his devise (motto), "Nutrisco et extinguo" (I nourish [the good] and extinguish [the bad]). On the right is the hermine (ermine or stoat), symbol of the queen, Claude de France. The ermine was the symbol of Bretagne (Brittany) and of Claude's mother, Anne de Bretagne, queen of France. Claude's father was king Louis XII. It looks like there's a banner above the animal with nothing written on it. I don't know if that's intentional or a partial restoration; it looks like some background elements are also missing.

A happy cherub.

The second sculpture looks to be a cherub that adorns the base of a ribbed vault in one of the castle's corridors. There are a lot of these around and whatever symbolic significance they have, beyond the purely decorative reflection of religious idolatry, I do not know.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Mirror, mirror, on the ground...

...Who's got the prettiest castle around? Azay-le-Rideau sits on an island in the middle of the Indre River. The river's flow is controlled to create a slowly moving reflecting pool around the castle. Since the park behind the building was closed (where the best and most famous of views are), I had to try to find reflections in other parts of the river.

The bridge you see is the same one from yesterday's photo.

I took these two photos from the same spot on the river's right bank across from the castle's entrance. Since it's fall, there are hundreds of tiny leaves floating on the water's surface.

Turrets, spires, and chimneys.