No Bubbly For Me in Reims

Today was my train ride to Reims/Epernay. The train to Reims was much nicer than any train I’ve been on so far. The day started kind of blech, with cold temps and a dull grey sky. I hopped off the train at 8:44AM. It’s too early for champagne so I went to the travel center outside the station to get a map, then I was pulled by an unknown force down a small alley and found this restaurant. I would have come back for lunch but the menu, strangely enough, was all burritos, quesadillas, enchiladas, and tacos. Fitting, I guess, since it reminds me so much of Old Town San Diego.

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On to the Reims Cathedral. When the townspeople started building this cathedral, they knew they would never see it completed, they could only hope it would be finished in their grandchildren’s lifetimes. I can’t imagine anyone starting a project like that today, that wouldn’t see completion in their lifetime. I was inside taking pictures and acting like a tourist, I heard a tone, then beautiful singing. There was a group of maybe 20 people, also tourists, standing in the center of the main aisle singing. It was beautiful. I started to record it, but soon had to shut off the camera, and I just sat at the base of a column and let some tears leak out. It wasn’t so much a religious experience as one of beauty. The singers stopped and became tourists again, walking around snapping photos. I loved the window just above the door

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DSCN2031The Marc Chagall windows at the back of the church.

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The ceiling

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The rose window, which is the original glass from 1255, although it was removed during WWI to save it.

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Some windows that were damaged in the war were replaced by the champagne makers in the area, and show harvesting scenes.

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This is actually a historically important cathedral, as most of the kings of France were crowned here after 1027. Joan of Arc famously led Charles VII here. Almost forgot, here are some pics of the outside.

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Beside the church and about a block away is a library donated by one of my favorite Scotsmen, Andrew Carnegie.

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Beautiful Art Deco.

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Chandelier.

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Now I have never seen such a huge card catalog, nor such a pretty one.

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Now that some morning has gone by, I decided to sip some champagne. Unfortunately the travel center in front of the cathedral was so busy that by the time they made my reservation, left me standing at the counter waiting to pay, while an intern said she couldn’t do anything, watching her colleague run all around yelling at people, I finally told them I thought there wasn’t any more time for me to get to the champagne house. The woman apologized profusely, saying she has been trying to get help all morning, but…I have a train to catch and taking the next tour is cutting it too close. By now I’m hungry so I walked to the main drag with all the restaurants and decided on an Italian place I saw earlier. I couldn’t help it, they had a gorgonzola pasta and I couldn’t resist.

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After I ate, I walked to the Museum of the Surrender, to see the actual room where the Germans signed the surrender papers to begin the end of WWII. Apparently there’s a ticker tape of the news, and the walls still have maps with troop positions. Unfortunately I didn’t notice that it closes from 12-2 so I could only photograph the building. 😦

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On the way back I swung by the Porte de Mars, a Roman gate from the 2nd century. The. Second. Century! Sorry, but as a history geek, this stuff really thrills me. It was one of 4 gates into the city and the only one left standing after WWI. You can see the different levels of construction by the deterioration of the columns.

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My time in Reims was strange. Usually I am a planner, but being on an extended journey (56 days), it can become all planning and no doing if I’m not careful. This was the closest trip to the city and I had had the itch to travel for a while so I planned it last minute and didn’t have time to obsess over schedules and such. 🙂 I think I paid the price, not getting to do 2 of the 3 things I wanted to do there, but I did see enough to know that I am not interested in going back. Here are some random shots I took around the city.

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Epernay is another story, and another blog post. It’s 12:30PM already and I don’t want to stay inside all day writing.

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Rick Steves’ Historic Paris Walk (or part of it anyway)

Today I decided on a self guided walk from my Rick Steves Paris 2013 guidebook. I had done some things around the apartment in the morning, so it was after 3PM when I ventured out. I stopped at a grocery store nearby for wine and cheeses, then a boulangerie for a baguette. As I walked towards Notre Dame for the starting point of my walk, I spotted a place where I wanted to eat my late lunch-early dinner and made a detour.

 

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It’s the tip of the Ile de la Cite. It’s a gray and cold day today, and it started raining as I crossed Pont Neuf to my destination.

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I ate for a few minutes under an arch at the end of the steps, but soon it cleared so I walked to the park and finished my dinner on a bench, noting that great minds think alike.

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You can’t really see the details, but they are also having wine and snacks. Here’s Henry IV’s horse’s ass. 🙂

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I took a last look around….

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then  packed up the leftovers and headed to Notre Dame. Plenty of wine left.

 

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I didn’t do the climb today because of the weather, I will save that for a sunny day, but there were plenty of photo ops inside. I found Point Zero, the center of Paris, which I had overlooked last time I was here, and motioned a photo exchange with another woman.

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I spotted St Denis carrying his head, and the gargoyle propped on his elbows, watching all us tourists.

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Because there was a service going on, I couldn’t see all of the inside, but I saw as far as the nave. I found it unconventional that the confessionals here are made of glass! I couldn’t get close to the transept to see The altar, the Pieta, Joan of Arc, the rose window….Here’s what I did see:

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After leaving Notre Dame, I walked across the street behind it to the Deportation Memorial. This place is so stark and desolate. By the time I left here I had a huge knot in my chest. I don’t want to get too heavy, but sometimes it hits you that not too long ago, people suffered untold horrors that seem so far away. Then you go somewhere like this and realize how recent these events were, and as horrific as it seems, what you experience seeing it is nothing even close to what they experienced. No matter how much we complain about our day to day lives, we have no idea of what real suffering, real fear, real hopelessness is. As you descend, the city disappears and all you can see is bars, thick walls, and a tiny bit of the Seine.

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The passage into the main part of the memorial is only wide enough for one person at a time. There is a plaque in the floor that reads, “They went to the end of the earth, and did not return”

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The hallway is lined with 200,000 crystals. One for each French citizen who died. At the end of the hallway is an eternal flame. There is a tomb of the unknown at the beginning of the hallway. It’s amazing to read (at the top before entering) what constituted reason for identification, persecution, deportation. I knew it wasn’t only Jews, but the list seems exhaustive, and at times so undefined as to allow anyone at any time to be stamped with a triangle and imprisoned or worse.

Up out of the darkness and across the bridge to the Ile St Louis, where I did not go to Berthillon for ice cream. Last week our driver on the D-Day Tour, a lifelong Frenchman, said he had never heard of Berthillon. When he was asked what kind of ice cream he ate, he replied that he buys ice cream from Italy! Because of this, and because I knew he had lived in Paris for a time, I didn’t bother.

I did, however see the Tour d”Argent, the restaurant that was the inspiration for the movie Ratatouille.

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At 200 euro a person I didn’t eat there, but if I had, I most likely would have seen the same sight as from the bridge below.

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I walked through the Square Viviani to see the oldest tree in Paris, an acacia tree planted in 1602. Here’s Square Viviani and Notre Dame beyond taken from the base of the acacia.

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I saw some kids excitedly jumping around pointing at the ground. Looks like Remy the rat has finally met his end.

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Next was Shakespeare and Company Bookstore.

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No pictures are allowed inside, although I did see quite a few people taking illegal pictures, but it was open mic night, and I spent much time here listening to songs, poetry, and short stories before the heat and discourteous literary geeks who were practically climbing over me as if I wasn’t trying to see the same exact thing they were trying to see, drove me away. If not for the heat and the impertinence I could have stayed there all night. 🙂

I walked past St Severin church and into the Latin Quarter, noting the skinniest house in Paris, at #22 rue St Severin.

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Here in the Latin Quarter the owners/waiters stand outside and try to lure you in to eat, sometimes by telling you you’re beautiful and sometimes even by offering you food! This street is the worst offender (or best, depending on your point of view).

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I was still full from my Seine-side dinner so I was able to resist the enticement of all those men, and one woman who appealed to my tummy rather than my vanity.

I went home instead of continuing the walk as I have seen all the rest of the sights listed already. I went by way of St Andre-des-Arts, stopping at a market for a simple bar of chocolate as the patisseries were all closed by now.