February 1-2, Chartres, John

We landed at Charles De Gaulle, Paris on the first, picked up our leased car and headed for Chartres.  On the way we stopped at IKEA to pick up a few kitchen items and pillows and a fleece blanket.  Heidi sleeps a bit like the Princess and the Pea and pillows are important.  Because we are here for 3 months having a few kitchen items will help us enjoy picnic dining off the wonderful food to be found in the town markets.

Because we arrived in the early morning, we also wanted a good strong cup of coffee and a bit to eat.  We found a boulangerie, Angie, next to IKEA that exceeded our expectations and as it turned out is a chain concept.  We have now seen them from Paris to Bordeaux and they are a sure bet for coffee and high quality French baked goods and a great antidote to McDonalds and other American chains seen in every town.

We arrived in Chartres about 2:30, checked in to the Grand Monarque, a Best Western Affiliate, and immediately took a walk to the cathedral for a quick look inside.  We wanted to get a bit of exercise, keep sleep at bay, and see how the city unfolded.  A note about Best Western hotels in Europe.  This is the 3rd one I have stayed in, Paris, Delft, and now Chartres and they have all been in charming historic buildings.  They are quietly elegant and there is a 1-star Michelin restaurant at the Grand Monarque as well as a luxurious spa.  The service and rooms were impeccable, though not lavish.  Understatement and sophistication is a description that comes to mind.

Chartres exceeded our expectations, but we could see being there in high season would not appeal to us.  It is a day commute from Paris and so attractive to high density tourism.  We did not run into another English-speaking visitor and foot and car traffic was relatively modest.  The off season is proving to be our cup of tea.

The city has an antique core around the cathedral and during the Middle Ages it was a walled city.  There are still some ruined walls and gateway strongpoints to see, but largely it has been modernized during the 19th century though retaining a few half-timbered buildings.  It has enough of the old about it to make our walks fun and romantic.

The cathedral is magnificent.  Its mass, height, beauty of design and overawing sense of antiquity emanating from its stones is the starting point for a transformative experience which is heightened when you enter and study the famous stained-glass windows.  We were fortunate that during our visit to the cathedral, on the second day, we encountered a procession of pilgrims praying and singing.  This expression of faith has happened here for more than a millennia.

It is worth doing some background reading before visiting to understand the cathedrals history and construction and how it was the center of the life of every woman, man, and child for over 1,000 years.  In my estimation the gothic cathedrals are the pyramids of Europe from the standpoint of effort and wealth expended and unfathomable mastery of height, weight, and accuracy with only man and animal power, and the most rudimentary tools to achieve square, level, and plumb.  Perhaps one detail; the windows are almost 80% original from approximately 1,000 years ago and survived two world wars by being removed and hidden in the limestone caves under the abbey at St. Emilion.

In closing this portion of our diary, I want to express my admiration for Heidi’s French language skills.  Because of her we can enter into conversations and therefore a much richer experience and we can also look forward to traveling the rural areas without trepidation, and that is where we are going.

Chatres Cathedral Exterior

Chatres Cathedral Exterior

Chatres Cathedral Interior

Chatres Cathedral Interior