Saturday, August 24, 2013

A Journey to Camelot

Ugh.  I've been sick all week and haven't had much energy to get out and do too much or see much.  Luckily for you (since I know you're just dying to read something) I managed to get out the week before on the holiday they have here in Aug., but hadn't written about it yet (though photos have been up for a while).  Not sure what the holiday was for, but everyone was off of work, most of the stores were closed and the tourist sites were even more crowded than normal.  I took the opportunity to get out of town, with a small group from my French class, and head an hour and half northeast of Paris by car.

Here is my Journey to Camelot:

Okay, so it's not actually Camelot, which should be a given considering Camelot would've been in England not France, but some of you might recognize it as the legendary castle of Arthur due to the recent BBC series (also shown on Syfy in the US, and now on Netflix) called Merlin.  Actually there have been several other TV shows and movies to use this site for filming:
I think I've seen all of these (with the exception of Wizards of Waverly Place) and did find myself with a sense of deja vu (a French term, which ironically the French don't use).

(all TV/film references taken from wikipedia,


You can see why they choose this place to film.  It is picturesque and in remarkable condition.  That is not an accident, of course.  The castle (which is actually Chateau Pierrefonds) was mostly destroyed in the early 1600's and not rebuilt until the 1850's when Napoleon III intended it for a royal palace.  Alas, it wasn't destined to be inhabited by any royals and instead ended up as a museum when it was completed.  That's great for us since it has kept the reconstruction open to the public and well maintained.
Here is the guardian awaiting you as you climb the stairs to enter the palace.
There are now a bunch of empty stone rooms that are pretty standard castle stuff - cool to see, but not very photogenic.  After walking through several of those mostly empty stone chambers you wind up in the great hall.  This photo is taken from the middle looking toward one end, meaning this is only half the room.  Unfortunately this room, while brightly colored and well painted, is pretty empty.  Originally the great room was lined with suits of armor from various periods in history, but they have since all been removed.  Bummer, I dig that stuff.  Maybe I'll have to take a visit to Les Invalides in Paris to get my fix, but not until after tourist season is over.
Below is a picture of the chapel.  The base of this statue actually sits about 8ft. off the ground.  I couldn't take a picture of the whole room due to the giant Japanese tour group that always seemed to stand in front of anything that I wanted to take a photo of (including the one thing that was worth seeing in the great room - a giant model of the castle).  Thus the downside of being in France in Aug. - you are never alone, not even close to being alone.
After several minutes of waiting for the crowds to pass, I did get a picture of the entrance to the crypts.  Since this castle was never really lived in after being reconstructed, the crypts were never used.  If you didn't know better though you'd think you'd stepped into the burial ground of several hundred years of French royalty.  Apparently kings, and other nobles, would choose their coffin design well before they actually died.  They would hire a sculptor who would then make a prototype (or maybe a few), the king would give his blessing (or not) and the sculptor would then make the final version.  The "prototype coffin" would then just sit in some dusty corner, I guess.  Thankfully, historians located many of these prototypes, spanning a few hundred years and several families, and put them in the crypt of Pierrefonds Chateau.  The lighting is poor and no flash photography is allowed so this is the only photo you get.  This was probably the most impressive part about the tour.  I wish my French were better, as they had audio playing in the crypt at certain stations, supposedly voices of the "inhabitants".  Oh well, another reason to go back someday.
Here's a view of the town looking from the castle ramparts.   
Here's a better picture of the town taken after leaving the castle and getting some delicious coffee and creme brule ice cream.

Well, that's about it for now.  I am happy to report that I didn't find any signs of the invasion spreading to the country side.  The invaders seem to be content to inhabit large population centers for now.  If you're looking for a place to escape their reach, the country side seems to be a safe place ... for now.