At the end of the harp guitar festival (the first and hopefully not last in France!), most of the performers went out for one last dinner together.  I had to pass, as I was following Philippe back to his home in Nouzilly.  He’d be putting me up for the night, and needed to get home to see his family (dinner, a story, then putting his daughters, followed immediately by me, to bed).

Oh!  First…I forgot to tell you of our “boy’s night” when Philippe and I stayed over at Gwenael’s (the previous 2 nights).  For some unknown reason, Gwenael was dying to share with Philippe (and his unsuspecting American friend) some unusual beverage he had picked up in some godforsaken east European country or somewhere.  I don’t recall the name (no one does, after drinking it), but it was apparently 120 proof (that’s 60% alcohol by volume).  Gwenael carefully poured us each a mere thimbleful…and we couldn’t finish our portions.  Amazingly, Philippe and I – despite our vast differences in wine preference – agreed exactly on this new taste treat: “rubbing alcohol mixed with cow manure.” 

Noting our reaction, Gwenael next had us try a similar, but more palatable version.  This was a mere 100 proof.  We managed to get this down, both agreeing, “It’s nice, but the cows**t’s a little weak.”  We were soon in hysterics, our eyes streaming with tears – whether from crying laughing, or caused by the violent chemical reaction of our bodies trying to void the foreign substance through our tear ducts, I couldn’t say.

Oh, and I also forgot to mention my new coffee discovery – originally at Gwenael’s and duplicated precisely the next morning at Philippe’s.  This blew me away.  In Paris, no matter where I tried to get an actual “cup” of coffee, the best I could manage was a microscopic double espresso with milk, which I needed 5 or 6 of (until I got the first tab).  But it seems that for “country style,” they actually make a pot of it, and drink it out of a humongous bowl with two hands.  I could get used to that!

OK, back to real time.  It was delightful to meet Philippe’s family: his wife Sophie and his two darling daughters. Laure (the eldest) was a bit shy, but young Masami was anxious to share the news of her day with me the second I walked in the door up until her parents bundled her off to bed.  She seemed to be telling me her whole life story, with non-stop, running commentary – I don’t know, it was all in French.  It was so adorable that she clearly had no clue that I didn’t understand a word of it.  I actually think I’m a better listener when I don’t understand a word; I’m great at smiling and nodding, with the occasional wide-eyed “Oui?

I was sad that Sophie had to rush the girls off to school the next morning before I could wake up.  After the aforementioned mega-bowls of coffee, I took a quick and scalding shower (Philippe later apologized for the hair-trigger faucet control…I think his plumber used the same fine tuners as those on his harp guitar’s super-trebles).  He then kindly did a load of laundry for me, though I later came to find that an errant sock would remain hostage (he thought Sir Gregory’s sock would be not only collectible but also make the perfect sub-bass mute).

Philippe had the day off (we’re now at Monday, May 6), so he next took me (via our 2-car caravan) to Amboise, a beautiful town that featured, among other things, a Leonardo da Vinci museum (in his actual home).

(Above and below) Throughout the 30+ minute journey, I was simultaneously attempting to keep track of Philippe up ahead, “rubber-neck” the new scenery to my left and right, and snap the occasional photo of same while in motion (I have many blurred, useless photos to show for my efforts).

(Above) Crossing the bridge to Amboise, on the Loire River;
(Below) The Chateau d’Amboise

(Above and below) We parked and stretched our legs along the Loire…

…then took a walk, looking for a bite to eat

(Above and below) You’re not a real tourist if you don’t take pictures of your meal at some point (I got this from Hiro Takai…). This simple ham & cheese crepe was about the tastiest thing I discovered so far on my trip.  Philippe Googled “Galette de sarrasin” to learn that it was made from buckwheat, rather than plain wheat (as in our dessert crepes, below).

(Above and below) This part of town was dominated by the Chateau d’Amboise (the backside looks more castle-like)

One last gargoyle sighting!

When I remarked on the magnificence of the imposing edifice, Philippe responded with something like “sure, unless you happened to be one of the unfortunate souls unjustly imprisoned and tortured there…”  Touche’! 

We next headed off by foot to the Da Vinci home/museum/park.  I soon noticed something unusual with some of the homes’ facades…

(Above and below) Philippe explained that these were “troglodyte houses,” so named because they were built right into the cliffs.  They’re still occupied or utilized today (sure, few windows, but great for wine storage…).

…always on the lookout for interesting architectural elements…like this zoomorphic water pump.

The outside wall of the home of Leonardo da Vinci (red brick = newer, section beyond is original)

Built in 1471, Chateau du Clos Luce was originally used as a residence for kings and royalty for two hundred years.  In 1516, Leonardo was invited to live there by King Francois I (having accepted, he traveled from Milan over the Alps by mule).  Here, he would live out the last three years of his life, as the “first painter, architect and engineer” of the king.

A view of the 2nd-floor gallery and medieval watchtower

From the above landing, looking out over the vast Parc Leonardo da Vinci

This was Leonardo’s bedroom, though the furnishings are from slightly later tenants.

It’s still a fantastic original Renaissance bed!

This was the bedroom of Francois I’s sister, Marguerite de Navarre. Again, the furnishings are from slightly later.

An early Renaissance bed in amazing condition

Downstairs, the Oratory of Anne de Bretagne: a chapel built by Charles VII for his wife

Its ceiling frescoes were painted by artists from Leonardo da Vinci’s studio

This salon and its furnishings date from the 18th century, when the chateau belonged to the d’Amboise family

The kitchen, run by vegetarian Leonardo da Vinci’s cook.  He would have warmed himself at the huge fireplace.

(Above and below) The basements and outbuildings are used for the museum, which houses small and life-size models of Leonardo da Vinci’s many inventions.  I had no idea he was so multi-faceted (beyond his art, even).  He dabbled in civil and military engineering, mechanics, optics, hydraulics, and even aeronautics – creating, for example, the first tank, the first automobile, the swing bridge, the forerunner of the airplane, the helicopter, the parachute – to name a few!  While he didn’t necessarily invent each of these concepts, his designs were beyond anything that had come before.  He was said to be 5 centuries ahead of his time, using modern materials like steel and inventing ball bearings to reduce friction.

(Above and below) I was struck how the guy who painted Mona Lisa was so good (and prolific) at inventing so many devices for warfare.  A flying machine, OK…but early tanks and machine guns and a host of other death-dealing creations?…Leonardo was obviously into it.  As a (home-grown) engineer, I was fascinated by the concepts, but particularly the detailed models created from his sketches – both small and full size (many of the latter were out in the park).

There were also a few equally interesting computer-animation simulations playing in rotation throughout the exhibits

(Above and below) A cool paddle boat (he also did “double-hull” inventions) and one of his pivoting bridges

A recognizable bike and unrecognizable car

(Above and below) A room containing several dozen miniature models made from his drawings
(Hey, there’s that tank again!)

(Above and below) Life-size paddleboat models out on the lake…and children playing with his machine gun (the full-size tank in the background)

Looking back at the chateau from the park’s lawn

It was a spectacular day and a wonderful couple of hours soaking up Da Vinci’s world, but it was time for me to get going.  A quick hike back, Philippe making sure my Navigation was properly programmed, a final embrace, and I was off!  I would be continuing roughly southeast and had a meandering 2-hour drive to my next destination…

Next: A Visit with Sinier de Ridder