Saturday, 12 November 2011

Chartres, and back to Paris again

The next morning we woke up in our castle (will never get tired of saying that), and sleepily listened to the birds outside the window. The hum of early morning activity was settling over the house as the stairs creaked and showers were turned on in adjoining rooms. We stretched and talked about our plan for the day. I had bought a giant map of the Loire Valley with pictures of all the many (many!) castles and we decided we had time to visit one more before starting the long trip back to Paris if we wanted to avoid the autoroutes. Bingley saw the picture of Chambord and decided that that was the place he most wanted to see, and we went down for breakfast planning our route. 

The sky outside, for the first time since we'd been in France, was bright blue, drifted with sugar spun clouds and we chose a table near the window to enjoy the view. We chatted over our eggs and yoghurt and decided to head for Chambord as soon as we'd packed up our room, followed by Chartres to see the famous Gothic Cathedral. Then, bags packed and ready to go, we loaded up the car, bade a wistful goodbye to Montbazon and headed out on our next adventure. 

As we drove, the weather became again, grey and misty, threatening to rain as we headed north, weaving in and out of the trees. I followed our route on the giant paper map, trying not to obscure the windscreen as Irene lead us through tiny villages and farming hamlets. I saw that we were going to go through the ancient town of Blois and I wished that we had time to stop, as it was picture perfect, elegant lamp posts lining the streets, and the austere castle overlooking it all. In fact, as we crossed the river and I spied the view I forced Bingley to stop so that I could take a photo - to remind myself that one day we would stay there and explore the streets. 

Eventually the signs began to point the direction to Chambord castle, and we entered a massive National Park through heavy gates to take us there. I had read of the history of Chambord, and that it had been barely used except as a hunting lodge but we were still unprepared for the size as we approached it in the misting rain. Like every other major monument, it was not done by halves, and we circled it through the grey mists to approach from the main gate. It was wet and the rain was increasing as we trudged through the interestingly laid out rooms. Being as we were now audioguide fanbois we switched on and listened for interesting bits of history, but missed the scripted banter of the Amboise guide. We were also completely unprepared for how much time it would take do do the castle properly, and after 2 hours felt that we'd barely scratched the surface. Luckily it was still raining, so my usual preference to spend a good deal of time exploring the park was stymied. Instead, we headed for the bleachers so that I could line up a perfect photograph in the reflecting water.

The next two hours after this were spent visiting every town, hamlet or collection of greater than 3 houses that connected to form the alternative route to the autoroute to Chartres. It was a beautiful, winding road through the countryside of France, where little has changed in hundreds of years in the small farming communities. We drove through bright yellow fields of Canola and saw a field of lavender blue on the horizon. About 20km out from Chartres, we saw the spires of the Cathedral jutting up above the landscape, and at that time the clouds started scattering to the four corners of the globe to reveal a cornflower blue sky. It was actually hot as we reached the city centre, spiralling into the underground car park and thanking all that was Holy for the size of our vehicle as we zigzagged into an impossible park, Paris style. 

The city of Chartres is very cute, and I wish we'd had more time to just (hey, that could be my catch cry for this trip!) explore, but our plan was to check out the Cathedral and then find some lunch. The Cathedral itself was amazing, but it is difficult to grasp just how old it is. Reading numbers on the little pamphlet doesn't quite convey that the place is nearly 1000 years old, because after a while old is hard to quantify. But the stained glass windows were absolutely incredible, and the labyrinth on the floor as mystical as promised. Not being affiliated with a religion any more, I did not have the spiritual association I would have had as a teenager, but I found myself instead intrigued by the small details, the intricate carving and the phenomenal masonry. It made me curious as to the hundreds of men who had built this monument to God, and whether they were true believers, or if they, like many of us today, were spurred by the need for employment. 

After lunch in the brilliant sunshine watching the tourists ebb and flow, we set our course for Paris once again, and the apartment that was to house us for our final week in France. It was a long drive, and we were quite tired by the time we pulled onto the Peripherique, looking forward to a quiet night with a warm shower. However the energy and the buzz of the city, as we pulled off onto the first Parisian street was completely infectious and I nearly forced Bingley to drive into a barrier as I excitedly pointed out the Eiffel Tower and the mini Statue of Liberty. It was afternoon peak hour as we navigated through round abouts, across bridges and into the centre of Paris once more. The brilliant blue skies having followed us all the way and the golden sunlight bouncing off the gilding of every monument we passed. 

We finally arrived at our apartment, where we found that we had not organised a meeting time properly, so decided to drop off the car before coming back. Once there at the designated times, we sat on our bags like little lost orphans and checked out our street - close to the Metro, a Cathedral at one end whose bells rang every hour, with a playground in its forecourt. A Franprix around the corner and more restaurants than you could shake a stick at. Once let into the apartment, through the creaking doors with the locks that had to be jiggled just so and walked into my bedroom, with the rocking chair under the window, and the last of the sunlight filtering in, it felt like home. My whole body singing home home home. 

Bingley unpacked and started to do some laundry (hot tip, washer dryer combos may be called that, but do not actually do either very well) while I went to the Franprix to buy supplies. Standing in line with my 2E bottle of wine in amongst the toiletries and fresh fruit and vegetables. I came home and cooked dinner in our little kitchen, then we laid out in front of French Simpsons and smiled until we went to bed. Everything else we had done in France was amazing, but being there, in our little apartment, actually feeling like we were living and not just visiting, still holds as perhaps my most amazing memory of the whole trip. 

Saying goodbye to la Tortiniere

Driving through Blois

Beautiful Blois

First glimpse of Chambord and her Constantinople roof

Inner courtyard

Posing at the parapet

View down to the formal entrance

In Sepia, just because

Smoke stacks on the way to Chartres

Wind farms and patches of blue
Imposing Chartres Cathedral

Beautiful blue skies and the discordant spires

Stained glass rose

Eiffel Tower as we headed back into Paris

Cooking dinner in our apartment

Home Sweet Home

1 comment:

Neroli said...

I am loving reading about your travels, Jenn! We were in Paris about 3 years ago, and I am desperate to go back. We always get an apartment in foreign cities now, it's the perfect way to feel like a resident, even if just for a few days - and forces you out to find the little supermarkets, communicate with shopkeepers, attempt conversation with unusual people in laundromats... So fun! Your trip sounds wonderful, and I hope it's not too hard settling back in at home.


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