First we walked along sidewalks, then down some steps, lifted the latch to get into the little subway car, then a short ride on a real train, a walk through the woods like Hansel and Gretel eating our sandwiches as we went and the little birds swooped and swirled around us, then a hippodrome and some big moody skies, and finally...
Oh, that's not the castle... it's only the stables! Through that big arch were dappled horses trotting around a courtyard. It's said that the Prince Condé, who lived in the castle during the 1700s, believed he would be reincarnated as a horse and so made sure to have very fine stables waiting for him in the next life.
We walked on a little further, and found the castle floating on the water nearby. A lovely mad mixing of architectural styles. And waiting inside, a candy-land of paintings hung in rooms lit from lights held by cast bronze arms stretching out from the walls, making me think of Cocteau's La Belle et La Bête.
So over a little bridge and through a gate with gilding, then to the top of some stairs...
... and over another bridge and into the courtyard.
And it wasn't long before I stood in wonder in a sky lit, octagonal tower. Our camera was flashing low battery messages to us, so we didn't manage to do anything justice in photos but, the idea of some things remains...
In this room there were some of the loveliest paintings of the museum.
If you go here and search under 'location' 'Musée Condé, Chantilly' you can see a few of them. There are thousands of artworks at the museum, so this is a very small sampling, but there are some very nice things there anyway.
One thing that the Musée Condé is especially known for, is that it houses the gorgeous illuminated manuscript Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry. Unfortunately, only one page of a facsimile of the manuscript sit in a glass case on display. It's unfortunate that more pages are not on display, since it is, after all, a copy anyway, and these copies are still being made, at a price which a museum should find very reasonable. But so it goes.
There was a lovely room full from top to bottom with monkey-themed chinoiserie.
There were monkeys up to all sorts of things. A monkey dressed as an artiste painted a very serious self-portrait, monkeys served people (who were allegories of Europe, Asia, America, and Africa), and elsewhere in the room, people served monkeys. The room had recently been restored and it was immaculate.
In another part of the museum there was a tower room with three wax statues of King Henry IV. I have no photos of this, but you can see two of them elsewhere, here and here. Apparently at the time of Henry IV's death, it was the custom in France to make wax figures of kings who were carried through the streets and also given food and wine at feasts. There was also the death mask of Henry IV on display and a photos of his mummified body. And then there was the gruesome story of his head.
Apparently his mummified body was put on display in the Louvre, in the 19th century I think, and a woman walked up to it and slapped him/it in the face, which caused the head to fall off. Later on a man came and stole the head. Years later another man claimed to have purchased the king's head for three francs at a flea market. He wasn't widely believed and spent the rest of his life trying to convince people that the head was indeed that of Henry IV.
After our trip through the museum we spent the rest of the day strolling through the eerily deserted gardens and forests of the castle. We came across a small heard of deer, all spotted and ginger-coloured, except for one, which was completely black. They stood staring at us until we walked out of sight... only a nearby rabbit was really startled by our presence. Next we wound our way through a labyrinth. And a little ways on we watched a pair of white swans at a circular pool in the forest, they seemed to glow with stark whiteness since the sky had grown so dark. The evening before we had watched Ouliana Lopatkina dancing the dying swan, among other things, at in Marie Antoinette's tiny theatre in Versailles, which felt rather like being in a large jewelry box. She danced it again the following night, and someone seems to have filmed it and put it here.
Then it was back through the gardens to the castle, and through the dancing town (they were having La Fête de la Musique one night early) to the train station, and on to home... where I found my own watery castle is up as the cover image for 'The Mermaid Issue' of Enchanted Conversation, an online journal where writers have been busy reworking Hans Christian Anderson's tale.