Thursday, September 13, 2012

Paris: Day Eleven (Thursday)

At long last, this was our day for a day-trip, to see the great cathedral at Chartres.  As both Readers well know, this was a challenge in and of itself, but I thought the wait would be worth it if we could just get some sunshine.

We got up relatively early, knowing that we had a train to catch.  I was still a bit uneasy, think about how easy it would be for some train conductor to decide that 'non' our tickets were not valid.  In fact, the first thing I did when we got to the Gare Montparnasse was to go to the Information center and ask for reassurance.  Interestingly, at first, the woman said 'non' then, when I pointed out the dates (as I had done the day before) changed her mind and said 'oui'.  She helpfully pointed out that I needed to validate the tickets in a machine prior to boarding, so once we did that, we had to wait for a few minutes until they announced the quai.  We found the train and made our way to the front, since I had actually paid for first-class tickets.  I've noted before that on this trip I wanted to explore the other side of traveling, one that hadn't been available to me back in the student backpack days, and this included, for the first time ever, a first-class train ticket.

It turned out to be a rather poor deal.  In fact, the only difference between first class and second class was the color of the velour on the seats.  The first class compartment was just a part of the second class, and although we were comfortable and there were only a couple of other people in the compartment with us, there was nothing special about the journey.  For one thing, this was just a commuter train, so it wasn't really the kind of trip where a first-class ticket was likely to make a difference, and for another, it was going the other way, so any advantage of having a reserved seat was essentially moot.

When we got to Chartres, it was turning cold, and the clouds had rolled in.  It gave us some concern, but as we turned to make our way up the hill to the cathedral, the sun peeked out a few times.  We stopped in a cafe in a square near the church to warm up and get some energy, and when we came out, the sun was actually shining.  They were planning for some kind of festival that day, setting up carnival rides in several squares and a big sound and light system around the cathedral, which we heard them testing as we walked up.

Before going in the cathedral, however, we decided to have lunch in a restaurant right on the cathedral square.  I had been to this restaurant several times with Francesca, and then with Lynda and Pierre when we were here in 2004.  It was sunny but a bit cold, so we elected to go inside.  It was as delightful as I remembered it.  I had yet another version of the soupe a l'ongion gratinee, and this was the best of the trip, soft and fragrant, with the taste of onion but the savory aromas of other herbs and just enough bread and cheese to fill it out, not swell it up into a glutenous mass.  My steak was also wonderful, as was Valery's salad and Madelaine's chicken sandwich.  The folks sitting next to us were American (I could hear them order in English) and by odd coincidence, ending up sitting near us on the plane ride home. Small world.

The cathedral did not disappoint.  The sun was intermittent but enough to fill the space with light of all colors and hues.  The rose window, so much smaller than the one at Notre Dame, is nonetheless much more dramatic, and we had a few moments to see it in all its glory.  The space in Chartres is delightful and integrated in a way that not other church (except Conques) even approaches.  It was nice that it wasn't crowded, so we were able to amble through slowly and appreciate the wonder of the light and space.

The tour of the church didn't take long, and after a brief walk around to see the place where I had finished my bike ride from Paris--that was my first trip to Chartres, in 1976--we said goodbye to the church and headed home.  Madelaine bought herself a souvenir here--a delightful little charm bracelet with little French pastries strung along it.

The trip home was uneventful, but after a brief nap on the train, we were not quite ready to head home, so we elected to walk from the Gare Montparnasse down to the Cafe Select, where I had hung out with my friends back in the day.  I made a point of taking Pierre here in 2004, so this was another reason to make it by for a coffee and/or a beer.  We sat outside and opted for the beer, while Valery and Maddie indulged me by allowing me to tell all my stories of life back in those long-ago college years.

With the sun going down, we headed back to the train station.  A vendor outside was selling wonderful silk and cotton scarves out front, so we picked up a few for all the girls back home.  In fact, we had to come back here just to round out the gifts once we realized just how nice they were.  It's amazing, but the one fashion accessory that all people, of all ages and races and body types still wear in Paris is still the scarf.  Men and women, young and old.  Maddie and Valery both acquired one at the market on day three, and had been wearing them every day since.

Dinner that night was at the room.  We stopped at the butcher on the way back to the apartment and I bought some veal chops.  I thought it was pork, but the butcher corrected me as he packed it up.  It was Valery's first time to prepare veal, and it was wonderful, simply sauteed in butter with herbs and onions with a touch of cream.  That and some fresh garlic pasta and a beer and we were done for the day.

It was hard to believe that our trip was coming to an end.  After so many days and so many things checked off our list, we had had a wonderful time, all agreed.  The last things on our list the modern art at the Pompidou and shopping for Madelaine and Valery, both scheduled for Friday, our last full day in the city.

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