July 18, 2013

Last Weeks in France

“Traveling tends to magnify all human emotions.”   Peter Hoeg

Carol writes: 
HONFLEUR:  As we left the emotional scene of the D-Day beaches, we continued to drive along the scenic northern coast of France, along the English Channel, and stopped for the night in picturesque Honfleur.  We had read that because of Honfleur’s beauty and partial resemblance to a German village, Hitler decided not to destroy it in WW II.

In any case, Honfleur was very picturesque.  The natural unusual lighting found there has fascinated many artists over the centuries, most notably Impressionists Claude Monet and Eugène Boudin.  We found that the art scene is still active, especially along the quaint harbor where we saw several artists working away at their easels,


in front of an old-fashioned carousel.

Once again, I was intrigued by displays all around town that pointed out a specific viewpoint that was captured in a painting by one of the Impressionists.  Boudin and Monet both painted the bell tower and the unusual wood-sided exterior of Ste. Catherine Church.
Monet's Bell Tower of Ste. Catherine

…and Ste. Catherine was a unique church, especially on the inside where the wooden architectural features looked like the interior of a Scandinavian ship.

The kneelers were interesting—miniature chairs turned backwards toward the “pew chair,” with high backs to rest hands and arms and woven straw-like seats for the knees (ouch!).

Before we left town the next morning, we couldn’t pass up a stroll through Honfleur’s huge Saturday market.  We left quite happy with a 3-pack of local cider (sweet, not sweet, and rosé) and a bag of madeleine biscuits which we thought would serve as the perfect shortcake with our fresh strawberries.

 We spent that night in one of the nifty small-town airies that are so prevalent in France.  Aires are little ‘freebie’ campgrounds that usually have water and sewage dump facilities that are set aside by small communities for camping travelers wishing to spend the night as they are passing through—quite a nice custom!  Our shady spot in front of an old stone wall next to a grand weeping willow tree was a welcome respite from the heat and was a great spot for doing some catch-up work on the blog.

 CHARTRES:  We headed inland from the coast for a slight detour to Chartres for no other reason than to see its famous cathedral—“arguably Europe’s best example of pure Gothic,” according to our Rick Steves guidebook. 

In addition to the grand Gothic exterior, for me Chartres Cathedral’s highlights were the Blue Virgin window from the mid-12th century, with Mary’s dress in the highly-prized “Chartres blue,”

and a framed reliquary of what was purported to be a fragment of the Blessed Virgin’s veil, although the truth of this claim has been disputed.

 PARIS:  Eight years ago, Al and I spent a delightful week in Paris and so we had already seen many of Paris’s wonderful sights.  Nevertheless, I just couldn’t leave France after 2 months of travels without seeing Paris one more time, even if just for a day.  For me, Paris has a mystique like no other city I have ever visited.  So…we picked a convenient campground outside the Paris traffic ring and made our visit to the city as a day trip by train.  We got off the Metro at the Tuileries

and made our way to our morning’s destination at the Orangerie Museum, best known for its collection of Impressionist paintings, the most famous being Monet’s water lilies—eight gigantic paintings displayed along the walls of two oval rooms, exactly as Monet intended for them to be displayed.  OK…we saw the water lilies, and they were impressive—indicative of an obsession on Monet’s part--but it was the rest of the museum’s collection that pleased us the most, especially the temporary exhibit of Italian artists of the Impressionist era, the co-called 'macchiaioli.'

Our day in Paris continued with a stroll to see Notre-Dame Cathedral once again.  This time, however, right away we noticed how beautifully clean and pristine the cathedral stone looked, both inside and out.  “Our Lady” had been thoroughly revitalized for her 850th anniversary this year, and there she stood in all her medieval Gothic splendor, with all the saints around her façade staring out into the crowd. 


 We continued our meander over the famous bridge that crosses the Seine River behind the cathedral at its most photogenic viewpoint, and had our picture taken in the same spot as we did 8 years ago. 

This time, the bridge railing was covered with thousands of locks left linked to the bridge railing by couples from all over the world who have chosen to symbolize their undying love with a simple lock.  I sort of get it…

We continued our walk through the Latin Quarter where we saw the Pantheon, France’s monument to its people and history,

 and the Luxembourg Garden, home to the present-day French Senate which meets in the regal Luxembourg Palace. 


Around the palace gardens were large and welcoming areas of shade where Parisians and tourists alike were relaxing and waiting out the heat of the day in their preferred manner—reading, snacking, dozing, socializing, dining or having a drink.  We chose the ‘gelato’ method.  On one of the park benches a very nice lady, who told us she splits her home between Paris and London (wow!), strongly advised us to wait out rush hour when she heard us discussing getting on the Metro nearby.  She told us to linger for a few hours over a drink at a local tavern because she knew from experience that rush hour in the underground Metro would be extremely crowded and unbearably hot.  That seemed to be excellent advice, so we took it and had a hassle-free, no-crowds train ride back to our campground. 

My last thought as I drifted off to sleep that night was that I was very happy with one more day in Paris.
"I am the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris, and I have enjoyed it."  John F. Kennedy, May 31, 1961


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