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Warning: Plan Ahead to See William Penn

September 22, 2009 by · Comments Off on Warning: Plan Ahead to See William Penn 

William Penn on City Hall

William Penn on City Hall

The City Hall Tour Requires Reservations

The City of Brotherly Love proved itself quite the opposite when my daughter-in-law, two grandchildren and I set off to view the statue of William Penn above City Hall.

We knew observation desk tours were available and researched the Internet for details, checking Will Penn’s homepage. The website boasts, “This is where you will find everything you ever wanted to know about Philadelphia City Hall (and then some!) A second page stated,” Tours of the tower run every 15 minutes from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm, Monday through Friday. A group interior and tower tour of City Hall meets at 12:30, Monday through Friday. All tours are free.”

We also checked a few other tourism websites to confirm. Then, off we drove, paying the toll to cross the Delaware River from New Jersey. Unable to find street parking, we pulled into a lot charging $5.75 per 30 minutes for the first two hours, or $27 per day.

We walked to Penn Square, entered City Hall and were directed to the gift shop to purchase tickets. What happened to free? An employee explained fees were $5 per adult and $3 per child and reservations were necessary. Reservations? Did we want the next available time slot in an hour and a half? An hour and a half?

I wasn’t upset by the cost, but waiting over an hour with a five and six year-old wasn’t an option. The kids wanted to see the statue up-close and I expected to take a few photos. Thoroughly frustrated, we returned to the car, paid for parking and drove home.

Come on Philadelphia tourist bureau– please give your visitors a fair shake if you can’t bestow a little love. Update visitor information websites now.

Next time, if there is a next time, I’ll know to make reservations over the phone. Call 215 686-2840, but another warning–they are only offered on the day of your visit.

France ~ Chateau de Chambord, a da Vinci Design

September 16, 2009 by · 2 Comments 

Part III- Day-Trip to the Loire Valley

Chateau de Chambord

Excitement grew as our bus approached the last stop of the day–the famous Chateau de Chambord. To me, even the name sounded majestic. This grand dame, a UNESCO World Heritage site, remains closely linked with Leonardo da Vinci and his imaginative designs.

The sheer size of the chateau tips the scale. Chambord rests within a 13,500-acre national forest, surrounded by a twenty-mile-long wall. The fortress contains an awesome 426 rooms, 77 staircases and 282 fireplaces. But, the guide told us, “King Francois I, who ordered construction of what he called a hunting lodge, spent only 72 days there.”

At first glimpse, the immense symmetrical wonder (almost as long as two football fields) flaunts a fantastic array of towers, windows, dormers and hundreds of decorative chimney stacks. The roofline resembles an Old World town whose buildings hint of Seusical whim. Certainly an ideal place for a game of hide and seek.

Rooftop and Chimney Stacks of Chambord

Rooftop and Chimney Stacks of Chambord

The architecture consists of a central square, called a keep, with rounded corner towers, two wings and courtyard. A medieval curtain wall encircles the building and beyond that, a partial moat. I’d say a cross between a fortified, ancient castle and the timely, delicate flourishes of Italian Renaissance.

Begun in 1519, the massive construction project was interrupted by the King’s Spanish imprisonment (1524-1526). After his return, plans were scaled back, truly hard to imagine, since it took twenty minutes just to walk to the entrance.

Francois died in 1547, leaving the royal residence unfinished. His son, Henry II, ordered work to continue, which it did until his death in 1559. One hundred years later, King Louis XIV, who loved hunting, made a few changes but used Chambord just nine times. The French government bought the decaying estate in 1930, and it remains under renovation.

Researchers credit Leonardo da Vinci (whom Francois brought to France) with conceiving the general design and famous double spiral staircase. The structure comprises, “two concentric spiral flights of stairs that wind independently around a hollow central column, so if two people each take one flight, they can each see the other through the opening in the center, but never meet.” Like most visitors, we tried this for ourselves-fun!

Lantern detail on the roof of Chambord

Lantern detail on the roof of Chambord

Needless to say, our tour visited only a small portion of the rooms, but highlights included the ornate carvings on the vaulted ceilings, the grand staircase, king’s chamber, lantern and the chimney stacks. Laura liked the winding stairs and rooftop best. I enjoyed looking out at seemingly endless vistas from the terrace, originally planned as a vantage point for hunt spectators.

 

As with the other stops on our day-trip, we didn’t have nearly enough time to absorb Chambord. I understand the mansion and park dazzle with lights, lasers and fireworks on summer nights. How I would enjoy that! If planning a tour of France, I suggest a stay in the Loire Valley to include the grand illumination of Chambord.

Aerial View of Chambord

Aerial View of Chambord

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