Despite several trips, have still not got used to the wonder of driving to Europe! Explored the 13th century Gothic Reims Cathedral today, where Joan of Arc crowned the Dauphin. I think I can never get enough of cathedrals, especially Gothic cathedrals. Noble architecture, and the Rose and stained glass windows, dusty and dark from the outside, full of light and magic from the inside (like the Christian faith!).
Reims, the traditional coronation Cathedral of the Kings of France, is massive–like a forest of noble columns. The stained glass windows were breathtaking. All that love and artistry lavished on tiny figures, 100s of feet above ground, barely discernible by the naked eye. Art for its own sake & for the sake of God. The cold stone cathedral was a monument to humankind’s love for God–& the inspiration that provides!
Spent today in Dijon. Lovely Gothic Burgundian cathedral of Notre Dame, and a renaissance Cathedral of Saint Michel within a stone’s throw of each other. An architecturally dense walking city, beautiful and magical old buildings, lots of eye candy (as well as the gingerbread they are famous for, as well as….you guessed it!
The 13th century Cathedral of Notre Dame was packed with French people of every generation and class, queueing up in various stations for Easter confession. Sweet faced people praying quietly in every church we visited… There is much that is sweet and powerful about Catholicism, and I marvel at its staying power, even in modern Western societies. Now onto Provence and sun (nous esperons!).
Stopped in at the 11th century Romanesque church of St. Apollinaire in Valence on the way to dinner in Avignon, facing the River Rhone, and the Palais des Papes, floodlit, glittering & reflected in the river. Canard and agneau. A bit of a battle of wills here in Provence, between me persistently wanting to try out my French, & the French preferring to speak English!!
We spent yesterday in the medieval walled city of Avignon, wandering around its narrow cobbled streets. Saw a pretty Botticelli, in the otherwise mediocre Petit Palais des Papes. Also enjoyed the Romanesque Notre Dame Cathedral. A French pope relocated to Avignon in the 14th century, followed by 9 popes, not all of them approved by the rest of the Catholic church, which at one time had 3 popes!
Avignon, was a truly beautiful city, something magical about it, much like old Dijon. We are now in Arles, planning to wander on the Van Gogh trail. Many of the flower-beds, buildings, views look (or have been restored to) look as they did when he painted them. I love Provence, so far. Beautiful bright sunny weather, blue skies, neither hot nor chilly. Am in no hurry to return!
Yesterday’s highlight was definitely the Camargue, a watery world of sea and lagoons. We saw whole flocks (flamboyances) of flamingoes feeding, suddenly starting into the air with a graceful symmetry of orange and black wings. Wow, never seen flamingoes in the wild before. Also saw herds of wild white horses, lovely, and herds of their indigenous wild bulls. A lovely unique place.
We saw some bull racing in Arles, and were amused at the very macho spectacle of the matadors and picadors with their smart hats, on their white horses herding the bulls around, followed by crowds of children. Irene was so excited to see the Camargue, since she had memorized a French poem about it, and that world of sea, water, lagoons, flamingoes, white horses and bulls was more or less as she had imagined it!
In St Tropez today. Lovely, lovely fresh bread, pastries and treats from Maitre Julien, Artisan Boulanger. Headed for the beach now, yay! Happy Easter, everyone!
Walked by the beach at St. Tropez. Lovely clear water. Gathered lots of pretty beach glass, for the mosaic stepping stones we like making. Some sort of street fair, enjoyed kebab crepes (yes, really!) Now on our way along the Riviera to Fondation Maeght in Saint Paul de Vence, an amazing art museum. Rented a huge comfy camper van this time, so am able to do some writing now and again. Yay!
Still in Provence. Walked up the narrow claustrophobic medieval walled hillside town of St Paul de Vence yesterd
ay. Full of shops and tourists. Required an effort of imagination to see it as it must have been in medieval heyday, bustling and over-crowded with noisy people, in bright clothes. Watched old Frenchmen in bright cardigans play boules with savage concentration. Could have been in a Pagnol movie set!!
Loved Les Collettes on Cagner-Sur-mer on the Riviera, Renoir’s home, now a museum. V. moving photographs of Renoir, his hands crippled with rheumatoid arthritis, still painting with brushes tied onto them. He painted till the day he died at 78, much like Monet, a faithful practitioner of the religion of art. The gardens were gorgeous, gnarled olive trees, an abundance of wild flowers. Lovely clear sunny day.
Yesterday: best day of this holiday (Irene rated it a 9.5 on 10 of all holidays ever.) We drove to the Gorges du Verdon in Provence, pure Marcel Pagnol country. It reminded us of the Pagnol films we watched 20 years ago, and again last year. The Gorges were dizzying drops, like the Grand Canyon, with the river and lake impossibly thin ribbons far below. Fantastic rock formations carved by the river. Quiet sunny day.