Sunday, June 28, 2015


Our next two days in France were replete with fortunate events. Sure, the weather could have been better but the unforeseen bonuses we encountered on those days more than made up for the dull skies and chilly temperatures.
Rear view of Reims Cathedral
The Hotel de Ville in Reims
We had chosen Reims to spend our Saturday morning. Unlike Troyes, this city suffered greatly during the wars of the 20th Century. Even its famous cathedral endured some destruction, although it has been restored since.
Porte de Mars, a Roman triumphal arch in Reims
Reims market on a Saturday morning. Dan would have loved it.
Cities, like Reims, which have been bombed, still have many beautiful monuments and buildings but they are not necessarily in one area. This was the case here. As we strolled though the town, we saw a Roman triumphal arch very close to a rebuilt market. There was no consistency to the architecture.
The smiling angel is on the right. It looks like she is pumping her fist. Good for her.

Marc Chagall windows in Reims Cathedral
We spent most of our time in two magnificent churches, Reims Cathedral and the Basilica of Saint-Remi. The Cathedral is one of the most important in the country, since it is here that twenty-three French kings were crowned. The façade was under scaffolding but other parts of it were magnificent to behold. I loved the Chagall windows in the choir and was enchanted by the smiling angel in the central portal.
Mythological creatures are among the carvings on the exterior of the Cathedral
Outside Reims Cathedral
The exterior of the church is full of gothic features like flying buttresses and fascinating gargoyles. We spent a lot of time in this place.
The bride and groom are driven away in a classic Citroen.
Before we left Reims, we visited the Basilica Saint-Remi, an ancient monument (much damaged during WWI, but since restored) marooned in a modern neighbourhood about 1.5 kilometres south of the Cathedral. Here we encountered two weddings, one after the other. They added a great deal to the charm of the place.

The relics are here.

As I was about to exit the church, the second bride was escorted in.
The romanesque Basilica is adjacent to a former Abbey and since the 11th century has contained the relics of Saint-Remi. These are housed in a beautiful monument in the centre of the choir of the church.
I bought my champagne here - at Cazenove Champagne in Reims.

Beautiful little church in champagne country
We escaped before the second marriage rites began and headed on a brief road trip through nearby champagne country. Earlier in the day, I had purchased two small bottles of this local beverage. How could I travel through Champagne and not buy champagne?
  Gate into the Medieval Quarter of Laon

Laon Cathedral
Inside the cloister
In the late afternoon, we stopped in Laon, with its medieval quarter perched high atop a promontory. This city deserved much more attention than we were able to give it. We only had time to visit the Cathedral and its partial cloister. Had we done our research beforehand, we would have planned two hours in Laon. There is lots to see there.
Amiens Cathedral
Another view of the Amiens Cathedral
The next morning, we set out to explore Amiens, another city with a beautiful cathedral. Because there was a Mass taking place when we were there, we did not spend much time inside, and instead opted to take a walking tour through the oldest part of the city, the Saint Leu neighbourhood.
On my way to the old town
Crowds cheer the folks in the boats
This led to another instance of serendipity. Once a year in Amiens, market gardeners dressed in traditional costumes travel up the Somme in flat bottom boats called "barques a cornet": June 21 was that day and we were just in time for the festivities. There was cannon fire and a band playing to add to the atmosphere as citizens cheered those in the boats. Once they arrived at the dock, they unloaded their produce and set themselves up for business. What a fun way to celebrate the local harvest!
Bridges instead of sidewalks.
Our walk took us by the homes of the former working class in Amiens. One set of very old (and small) homes were only accessible by individual bridges. In fact, the area was a warren of canals, and as we explored, we were never far away from the water.
The submarine shaped Jules Verne Science Building
Also in this sector of the town is the local University. The science building, named after famous author, Jules Verne, who was a resident of the city, is shaped like the Nautilus. All in all, our walk was something a little different: we got away from magnificent buildings and saw how the ordinary folks lived.
An Irish school group visited Theipval while we were there
Because we were in the Somme region, close to many WWI memorials, we wanted to visit a place that I had not yet seen. We chose Theipval, a memorial to the dead and missing of the British Commonwealth and to the many French who died in their homeland. When we arrived at the site, I realized that our bus had stopped at the reception area of this site in November, but we had not seen the memorial.
Crosses for French soldiers
It is interesting that the graveyard is divided evenly between granite slabs and crucifixes, the former honouring the British, the latter, the French. There are nearly 73 000 unidentified and missing soldiers remembered here. Much of a generation was lost in these lands.

Poppies near Thiepval.
The Art Museum in Lille
Our next stop was in Lille, and again, we chanced upon a special event - lucky a third time. The city was pulsing with life on this Sunday afternoon, and everywhere we went, we heard music in the streets. At times, I thought we had entered an episode of "Battle of the Bands", although there were all sorts of music around, from live jazz and rock bands, to a choir, to a pianist, to a marching band, and, booming speakers playing recorded music. Eventually, I asked a local policeman if Lille was like this every Sunday, and he informed me that on June 21, they celebrate "la fête de la musique". That made sense. We were glad to be part of the party.
Salsa music to my left. The beautiful bourse building behind me in Place Géneral du Gaulle.
Rocking in the street
Lille is a young person's city, with several universities housed there. All these students were out and about that day. They were dancing in the street, lying in the grass, and just enjoying the music, and each other.
Grassy areas were an invitation to sit and take in the music.

No music this day at the opera house.
Lille is also a beautiful city with a definite Flemish flare. The Place du Géneral de Gaule is particularly lovely. We took photos from several angles of this gathering spot.
The Lille Chamber of Commerce.building. 
Another view of the Place du Géneral du Gaule
In a little over 24 hours, we had happened upon two weddings, a once-a-year market ritual and an exciting fête Is it any wonder that we love France so much?

Eventually, we left musical Lille behind us, and crossed the border into Belgium. That will be the subject of the next blog post.

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