Welcome to Orleans..
After a much quicker drive than anticipated, given that it was the first day of summer vacation in Hessen, we arrived at our accommodation in Orléans, Grand Champs. It’s a rental flat just a few blocks from the city center. The host was nice enough to allow us to check-in 2 hours early and even gave us directions to public, secure parking in the area. Having settled into our flat and parked the car we began to explore the city. We started with a geocaching tour. The cache led us through the history of the siege of the city, the history of Joan of Arc in Orlëans, etc. I like exploring the history of a city, it is a nice way to get to know it.
The photo at right is a memorial that marks the location of the Fort des Tourelles where the English army first encountered the French forces in Orlëans.
One of the stops during the geocache tour was at Maison de Jeanne d’Arc, which is now a museum. Turns out this wasn’t her house, but rather where she stayed while here during the siege. It would seem that when it comes to Joan of Arc ownership rights don’t apply. Whoever owned the house is out of luck. Joan of Arc was there and it is now hers.
In front of the Hotel Groslot, formerly the mansion of the bailiff of Francois II is a statue of…you guessed it, Joan of Arc. The interesting thing about the statue is the holes in it. It was damaged by shrapnel during WWII. Joan of Arc reference aside, the building has a bit of intrigue as well. 16-year-old King Francois II died in one of the ornate bedrooms in 1560. The room is now used for weddings. Hopefully, it isn’t haunted!
A few blocks from our apartment is Place de la Mortroi, a big square with a carousel and plenty of restaurants. We had our first meal at a restaurant called Studio 16. Kathrin ordered beef tartar and I ordered something with “Bon” in its name. Looking forward to my first French meal, I eagerly awaited its arrival. And when it came I discovered I ordered a Thai curry with rice. Don’t get me wrong, I like Thai food, but I didn’t travel to France to eat Thai food. I have been to Thailand many times. I’m very familiar with Thai food. Oh well, it was good and I enjoyed a nice glass of regional white wine.
Perhaps the biggest tourist site in Orléans is the Cathedral Sainte Croix d’Orléans. Built in the late 13th century it is best known as the place where Joan of Arc attended mass when the city was under siege. On the evening of our first day here, I took my camera and walked around the area in search of subjects lit by the setting sun. While at the cathedral I bumped into another American who, with his wife, was on a cathedral tour of France. They arrived in Orléans from Paris. He claimed that Sainte Croix is bigger than Notre Dame, but I can’t confirm that. I can say that it is beautiful inside and out.
I found the architecture of Orléans’ old town interesting. It is the same timber-framed construction that is very popular in Germany. But after looking around the internet it was obvious and should not have been such a surprise to me. This isn’t a german construction style, but rather the common construction method of medieval Europe as well as other parts of the world. Each region developed its own style.
On the next day, we drove to our first château, Chambord. The guide books claimed that this was one of the most extravagant château of the bunch. Turns out they were right. It is ostentatious opulence at its finest. A crowning example of French Renaissance architecture.
In 1519 Francois I built a hunting lodge here, and it snowballed into the biggest, and most expensive of the châteaux in the Loire Valley. It has about 440 rooms and 84 staircases, including a famous double helix staircase that was designed by the king’s buddy, Leonardo Da Vinci. this staircase consists of two intertwining spiral staircases that go all the way up to the castle’s terrace. This design would allow visitors to the castle to ascend and descend without obstruction. One staircase may be used by those going up, the other by those going down, and the two parties would not bump into each other. As big as it is, the château we saw wasn’t completed until sometime in the 17th century, long after Francois died. I’m not sure what it looked like at the time of his death, but it was certainly smaller. As proud as Francois was of his château, by the time he died he only spent 72 days here.
During our visit, there were some horse riders in the “backyard” of the château riding in period costumes. Whether they were practicing for an even or riding for the tourists I can’t say, but it brought the château to life a bit.
If you would like to see more of my photos of my trip just visit my Flickr page.