Thursday, February 6, 2014

Chateau Fontainebleu With the Kids And Some Yellow Jackets

 
This summer we went to visit the Chateau of Fontainebleau.  It was beautiful and full of history,  yet an encounter with some yellow jackets is most of what made this visit so memorable.
 
 This is one of the oldest royal chateaux in France.  It was lived in by rulers ranging from Francois the First in the 16th century to Napoleon III in the 19th century.  This is where Napoleon I signed his abdication before leaving for exile on the island of Elba. 
 
  I was really excited for this part of the trip because I love the history of France.  I love seeing the rooms all arranged and decorated with historically accurate detail - not to mention sometimes the actual belongings of these people I've read about. 
 
  The famous horseshoe staircase:
 
 
   Inside, the chateau is divided into subject-specific mini-museums, like the Chinese Museum featuring the collection of Empress Eugenie (circa 1863).  I wouldn't want to be in charge of the dusting here:

 
This room was set up to mimic war campaign life for Napoleon I.  This is what his camp tent would look like: 

 
 This next room is devoted to Napoleon I's son, known from birth as the King of Rome, and later as the Duke of Reichstadt.  When Napoleon abdicated, he had designated this boy as his successor, but this designation was rejected by the forces that had brought about Napoleon's abdication.  So, technically the son can be referred to as Napoleon II because of the 1 week (when he was 3) before the new head of state of the French Empire was established.  This is why years later Napoleon I's nephew became Napoleon III when he become the ruler of France in the mid 1850s.
 
  This area was dedicated to Napoleon's son's babyhood.  On the walls are paintings of him.  Check out that baby bed:

 
Gallery of Francois I.  This part of the Chateau was really bright and warm:

 
The beautiful ceiling:
 
 
 Cute little door knob:

 
 One of many courtyards at Fontainebleau:

 
 Back inside, the Salon des Cerfs:

 
 Marie-Antoinette's bedroom.  You can see how the chairs and stools are set up for conversation time.  Behind the stools would be more people standing because they just didn't have the right to sit down in the royal presence:

 
 Marie-Antoinette's boudoir: 

 
This gorgeous room was created just three years before the French Revolution.  Marie-Antoinette didn't get to enjoy it for long, but the ladies who came after her, like Josephine (Napoleon's first wife), Empress Marie Louise (Napoleon's second wife), and Empress Eugenie all used it.  It's pretty remarkable that it wasn't at all damaged in the wild times after the French Revolution before order was restored like other places were. Pictures don't do this room justice.  It's spectacular and on its own is worth the visit to Fontainebleau.
 
  And now,  the part of the visit starring the yellow jackets. 
 
  Fun fact: in French yellow jackets are called "guepe," which is pronounced like "Gayp." 

  So, we spend the morning walking around Fontainebleau.  We decide it's time for lunch and we exit the Chateau grounds into town.  First we sit at a café right outside this exit, but after about 20 minutes of waiting to get just drinks, let alone ordering lunch, we decide to cut our losses and find a new restaurant.  We said, "Thanks (for nothing), but we have to go," and since no order had ever been taken, there was no problem.
 
  We walked another block and found a place that had enough room for the 6 of us- that was probably our biggest challenge in France:  finding a place to eat that had a table for our party of 6.
 
  Cute place, food looked decent: we order and wait.  Drinks came, yellow jackets came.  We tried to look brave (and not move) as one yellow jacket investigated our table.  It leaves, and our food comes.  We start to eat, and what shows up but two more yellow jackets! 
 
 The girls were really freaking out at this point, and I can't say that inside I didn't feel the same.  As Mom, however, I had to pretend I wasn't just as panicked.  What else could I do?
 
   With feigned calmness I told them, "Eat fast!  The only way to get away from the guepes is to be done eating so we can leave!"
 
  Controlled panic prevailed at this point: we ate like animals, paid our bill and then ran away.
 
  We returned to the Chateau to walk the grounds, and observed that the Chateau is in a state of partial disrepair.  This blocked off area below appeared empty inside with broken windows and weeds everywhere.  It takes a lot of money to maintain these places, and it's not possible to tend to everything:

 
 The garden areas of Fontainebleau are pretty small and basic compared to someplace like the Chateau of Versailles:
 
 Fontainebleau was always known as a place for hunting, and there is still a pretty big forest around the area.  Here we are at the end of the gardens of the Chateau, looking over a road and then on to the forest:

 
Looking back at the Chateau: 
 

 
 In the other direction there is a small body of water next to the chateau filled with fish.  It looked like you could also rent a little row boat to go out onto the water.

 
The highlight for the kids was when we went on a carriage ride through part of the forest courtesy of these pretty horses:
 
 
 
This was the kitchen pond where live fish was kept fresh and handy for the cook:

 
  One of the paths through the forest.  There were people on horses, people walking in pairs and mothers pushing their babies in strollers:
 
 
After this we went and had hot chocolate at the Chateau's café and headed back to Paris. It was a nice day. 

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