Published normalement (normally) bi-weekly on Sunday
A dusty keyboard is waiting for my fingers to weave new stories and just simply function once again. Almost daily our friends and family have asked, “Are you going back to France?” Ever tactful, they didn’t say: “When are you going to write a story again??” Well, maybe a few nudged me in that direction. Thanks to all of the family of readers who have supported me with their kind words and interest. My trembling fingers are finding their way on the dusty keys and gathering strength after their inactivity and after another energy-sapping reason. I am gradually recovering from an illness with flu-like symptoms of initial high fever and then a pro-longed, severe cough. Husband Jim had it first and then I was sick one day later. Our illness began about four days after we returned from France. Now some would blame the sickness on France, but where can anyone travel, or stay at home for that matter and be free from exposure to disease? On the first day of our joint illness, I called a mini-summit of the Ambrous Health Board and asked Jim among other questions, “Do you think we have ebola?” He answered without reservation, “No, I think I have escargot.” I knew right away there was nothing wrong with his brain. It was working like usual.
Writing in journal-type format, I hope to share our experiences in the Burgundy region of France in a diary-like format with the events from each day. Previously, I have written blog stories focusing on certain castles, towns, celebrations etc. With this explanation out of the way, I will begin the story-telling of the Burgundy journey.
We had been in New York with our friends Jeremy and Heather for a few days, enjoying their plush bed while they slept on the sofa. (Thanks again for your sweet hospitality!!) On the rainy, cool day of May 19th I was ready early in the day and Jeremy teased me about my eagerness to leave and fly to France. He was right since my enthusiasm was building with the thoughts that we would be in France the very next day! After quick hugs and a teary-eyed farewell to our friends at the airport terminal we were on our way to walk many long corridors and sit long hours to reach our destination. How can you endure the annoyance, tiredness and general lack of creature comforts? Keeping focus on the enjoyment that lies ahead, almost like a personal movie drowning out the ilk around might just do the trick. Otherwise, resort to an in-flight movie and a big bag of M&M’s.For the flight over to Paris we had reserved window seats with Jim in the row behind me, allowing each of us room to cocoon against the wall for more potential of sleep during the long flight. I heard Jim settling in behind me with a mother and daughter returning to Paris, their home-town. Now, how about claiming the City of Lights as your personal stomping ground? The ladies were laughing at Jim’s Alabama humor, comfortable with him after chatting in the airport departure lounge. On my row of three seats there was an empty seat between me and the comfortably, but stylishly dressed young lady in the aisle seat. I spend more time planning my airport departure clothing than any other outfit, hoping to feel like I’m lounging at home by the television, but not look like a wrinkled, old sweat suit. I wore a pair of black, light-weight knit Michael Kors pants (outlet store bargain) with no metal zipper and a heavier weight navy blue sweater over a cotton shirt with my vintage blue Vera scarf, inherited from my mother-in-law. I broke the ice and introduced myself to the seatmate that would accompany me on the flight, the first leg of my journey to France. She surprised me by saying she was from Birmingham, Alabama, which wouldn’t have been surprising if this was a connecting flight in New York, joining an originating flight in Alabama, but that was not the case. So, by coincidence I sat with a lady with a common thread. She indicated that we could share the seat between us for more lounge area and personal items. I liked her already. She was on a business trip to Russia, a much larger venture than mine! We weren’t as chatty and lively with laughter compared to Jim and his ladies behind me, but we shared our space together in companionable silence, thankfully, sleeping for part of the flight.We arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport around 5:00 AM, Sunday, May 20th. But according to our previous time zone we felt it was 11:00 PM, Saturday, May 19th. My short nap helped and I felt fine. While we were waiting for passengers up the aisle to gather their belongings, I decided I would go ahead and get my carry-on suitcase from the overhead bin. Usually, this is Jim’s chore but I like to pull my own weight when I can. I reached for the case and started bringing it down, not realizing that Jim had packed this case with the laptop and both of our cameras including other equipment. In other words, it was HEAVY! Usually, when I bring down a case from the overhead bin I carry the weight to seat-level and then to the floor. But this was in a space with no seats directly below, so I was taking the weight beyond my ability. Suddenly, I had sharp pain in my wrist, and I knew I had to allow the case to drop or risk serious injury. Someone offered to help at this point, but it was too late. There was no damage to items in the case since the drop was very close to the floor, but the pain in my wrist was another matter. I had insurance coverage, but thoughts of finding medical care and what would happen if I had to wear a cast and all of those thoughts rushed through my mind. The pain continued for awhile and then there was a numb-feeling that spread through the area. I wasn’t sure whether that was good or bad, but it helped for the moment. I knew that Jim would scold me for attempting this task by myself, so I ignored him while I pushed the suitcase up the aisle. He was distracted enough with gathering the other luggage at the carousel at the lower floor and finding our way through the airport to the Avis counter. So I missed my scolding narrowly.
Jim waited at the Avis Preferred counter forever despite his elite status. A lady ahead of us had a large family or group with her and she was renting a van. I didn’t know what was happening, but there seemed no end to her questions including repeated returning to the counter, jumping ahead of Jim to insert herself in front of the Avis employee who had remained polite, but finally was losing patience. Jim eventually had his paperwork completed, and I learned that the Avis computer system was down, so they were doing everything in written format with communication a big problem. I already knew that a railway strike was causing trouble in France and realized that many people could be switching to rental cars. I was thankful that our paperwork was in order. Our car was a Volvo, a first-time rental of this type vehicle for us. I didn’t like the side windows that seemed too narrow for maximum sight-seeing, but considering the situation at the counter Jim didn’t think it would be wise to try for an upgrade. We had GPS with this car but another vehicle might not have it. We were not paying the extra for capability of programming the GPS, but it still showed our location and much more helpful information. I am the navigator, telling Jim almost every twist and turn of our trip, and I prefer old-style with my trusty Michelin atlas in my lap. I do refer to the GPS and the Google map on Jim’s tablet at times, especially within cities when I am searching for a location and need street names etc. We were traveling south from the airport on a route that was previously shown to us by the owner of Ferme de Vert Saine Père, a wonderful B&B on a farm. We have stayed with them several times previously on our return home. (The photo collage below shows photos from the farm from one of our visits years ago.) The way to the airport was still marked on my atlas and I knew it was peaceful, a road through fields, wide-open green spaces and clumps of woods, much easier on the nerves compared to the super highways. We stuck with our more peaceful road the D471 as far as we could until we ventured on to the A5 with Jim ramping up his driving style to the fast lane. He seemed right at home, as he should with his experience of driving French-style. Maybe the peaceful road was more for my acclimation, not his. It was somewhere near this time that I reminded Jim, “I don’t know if you want me to say this or not, but it is around 1:00 AM according to our body clock’s current time.” Jim punched in his reply like a punching into work on a time clock, “No, I don’t need reminding. Do you want me to fall asleep at the wheel?” We decided to stop at one of the convenient roadside off-ramps with good facilities, at least they always have been. We decided on soft drinks and a sub to share which we ate at a small table near the window. I noticed that the floor was unclean with crumbs and bits of litter, the windows smudged and streaked and a general unkempt appearance. I went to the ladies’ room and found that the toilets had no seats or lids! Now, who would steal a toilet seat? Maybe the less I know about this is for the best. We were awake, not falling asleep in the sunshine. We had accomplished our mission for this pit stop, so it was back on the road for us.
Our destination was the city of Sens, where I had reserved a new, contemporary-styled Ibis hotel room for one night, hoping we could check in early to shower and catch a nap. Jim loved the name of the city, saying we would be “living in sins” for the day. Sens may appear like sins in English, but it is actually pronounced more like sawns, at least to our ears anyway. There are also cities named Senlis in France. I think we shouldn’t arrange any reservations in sinless – we need not apply! We reached the hotel and it was as modern as I had hoped. The young lady at the counter quickly located our reservation and sharply told us that we could not check into our room until noon. Actually, we were very happy since we expected much later. So much for dampening our spirits, and even better she was gone when we returned later, replaced by a friendly employee.
(Some who know me personally may puzzle at my interest in a cathedral since it isn’t my religion, but the architecture of the buildings can be of great interest plus the history associated with it. I believe you will see what I mean as you read and see for yourself.)
The cathedral built in the 12th century from 1130 onward is the first gothic cathedral built in France and acted as a role model for others in France and elsewhere in Europe. The transepts, added in the 16th century are in the later flamboyant gothic style and also have impressive entrances. Magnificent stained glass windows which date from the 13th-19th century are impressive in the light. We didn’t tour the Bishop’s Palace next to the cathedral, but I have read that the dungeons have walls covered in graffiti by prisoners from the medieval period.
Sens was a major ecclesiastical centre, welcoming St Bernard, Pope Alexander III and Thomas à Becket. Louis IX was married in the cathedral in 1234. The Archbishop of Sens held sway over northern France leading the Gothic revolution. Sens lost its primacy in 1622 when Paris became an archbishopric.
Moving along to the modern day, if you are there at the right time you will be stunned at nightfall when a magnificent, hi-tech, twenty-minute light show brings 850 years of history to life. Imagine standing in the square with the brilliant lights on the towering cathedral and surrounding ancient buildings! (June 28th to Sept 13 on Friday, Saturday and public holidays) Sounds like Disney, but Cinderella probably won’t slide from the top of the cathedral, twinkling fairy dust.
We missed another wonderful feature of the city. Le Parc du Moulin à Tan has been awarded the designation of “remarkable garden” with 10 hectares by the river offering tropical plants, a wild area and a rose garden! I would have loved a long stroll in the rose garden, but not after hours in a plane and tension on A5!We didn’t miss the ancient carvings on the medieval half-timbered buildings and we stumbled around the Place Victor Hugo, trying to decide if we should take a seat in the colorful, captivating surroundings. This oh-so-French setting was what we endured an ocean crossing to enjoy. Scenes like this were in that personal movie that kept pushing me forward, building my endurance for the trip. Yet, we had to admit that our eyelids were too heavy to sit in the warmth of the sun and the lull of the soft breeze even for die-hard French enthusiasts like us. We went to our Volvo and stopped at a McDonald’s, with dirty floors and sticky seats, just like home, but we knew what to expect and it was served quickly. French fries would fortify us until we could get a real meal after 40 winks, or more, at our clean, modern Ibis.
The comforter felt heavenly as we drifted off to sleep. I reminded Jim that I saw an advertisement for a vide-grenier in town for the next day. I think he only answered with snoring, or was that fake snoring?
My fingers are limbered-up now and maybe the juices are flowing. My confidence isn’t very strong after leaving the keys idle for months. Do you like the journal style? I know that much of this is just a jet lag story, much of the tedium of travel, but I do promise more fun ahead now that the dust is clearing. Y’all come back!
Next time we will see the vide-grenier in Sens, explore inside a giant brick covered market with goods better than any “Whole Foods” and travel to our rental holiday home in Arnay-le-Duc, France!
You can read more about France including the history of Ferme de Vert Saine Père, at Crisenoy, France. Just click over to purchase your copy of “A French Opportunity” in paperback or Kindle.