A Pilgrimage to Chartres
Monday, October 18th, 2004: Tours, France.
Paris via Chartres to Tours: 255 kilometres
The sun finally shines today as we sadly say goodbye to the city that we love so much. We both agree on our fondness for Paris and actually talk about re-routing our trip and staying here. Alas, it is not to be. Paris is comfortable and familiar; we wear her like a much loved warm, intimate and favourite sweater.
We are up early and take our last metro ride to Stalingrad and the Quai de la Seine to pick up our car, and François greets us with a lovely breakfast of croissants, brioche, coffee and some of his mother’s homemade preserves (sorry John J, you had to go to work!). We say our sad goodbyes and take the car back to St. Germain and our favourite garret and lug the bags down those Parisian stairs and are on the road by 11 a.m.
Merci , merci, François and John for your hospitality during a very busy week for both of you. We had fun!
Into Le Loire
The beautiful drive to the Loire Valley is full of sun-drenched vistas of fall beauty. Occasionally, a chateau pokes its turreted head out of the trees as if to entice us on. At this point we have no idea of the beauty that awaits us further along the valley. We stop at Chartres and its magnificent cathedral. The city of Chartres sits on a vast agricultural plain, freshly-ploughed and ready for the spring. You can see the two spires of the cathedral, one Gothic and the other Romanesque, rising above the plain from miles away. The odd recognizable maple is turning a familiar orange or red and it is easy to spot the poplars turning yellow and losing their small leaves. I feel somewhat nostalgic for a Canadian fall but it is just enough for me to feel a little homesick and get over it. We arrive in Chartres just after 1 p.m. and find a typical French restaurant that (obviously) caters to tourists. Americans, Germans, Americans, two Canadians (us) and a spattering of local flavour make our lunch of soupe a l’oignon, salade verte, and le club sandwich full of conversation and gossip.
Those Ancient and Beautiful Windows
Fortified, we make our way into the cathedral and stare at the vast gothic space. We quickly decide to buy the guided audio tour and are rewarded with a wealth of wonderful information, particularly about the beautiful stained glass windows, most of which are still the originals from the 12th century. It is said the Cathderal of Chartres is an optical history of Christian chronology: the carvings and the stained glass serve as a testament and teaching narrative of the history of Christian teachings. Our audio guide is full of beautiful and specific information concerning the life of Christ. I am particularly moved by the history and presence that the stained glass windows bring. At one point I find myself on the verge of tears, not knowing entirely why.
It is well after 3 p.m. before we make our way out of Chartres and we still have a 2 hour drive to Tours, our next stop. We are driving the RN or Route National today which takes us through quaint towns and back roads. Again, more chateaux coyly hide behind their walls and high hedges and trees. The landscapes and houses are different here: long stone rowhouses facing internal farm courtyards. The towns have thin brick and stone houses, many with tall, steeply pitched roofs. Many houses appear to be build around a dyke, to perhaps protect them from the flooding River Loire. We pull into Tours just after 5 p.m. and find our hotel for the next four nights. We are staying at a quaint and old “hotel particulier” named the Hotel du Musée, on a small square call Place François Sicard. By now we are used to hauling the baggage up tight, winding staircases and here is no different. We do a little unpacking, John heads to the tourist office and by chance discovers an internet café.
We find a local and very busy restaurant and have a late dinner. The two businessmen beside us engage us in a lively discussion (mostly in French) about George W. Bush and are delighted to eventually discover that we are Canadian.