Monday, January 28, 2013

To Reims, Ste Menehould and Nancy

A beautiful drive from Paris to Reims across the countryside. This is the Cathedral de Notre Dame at Reims, rebuilt after a fire in 1211 destroyed an older church.  From the fire arose this incredible Phoenix.  Part of the celebration of the 800th anniversary of the church is a light show that begins about eleven o'clock every evening in the summertime.  We waited, along with a hundreds of others, in the plaza at the main door.  And waited.  Until a voice came over a speaker system announcing that there was a malfunction, and the show would not go on, not, at least, that night....

Our own photos would hardly have done it justice, but here are a couple of links to the show.  There is a short version.  Bear with it, the first part is black and white, and it gets a lot more dramatic.  Then it gets dramatic.  And there is a 360 degree version.  By far the coolest version of this light presentation gives the complete show, more than twenty minutes.  It's amazing.  All was not lost --- a few days later, we spent a night in Nancy.  Jody and Kevin saw a similar light show at the Cathedral there, which was pretty fantastic.  But we are getting ahead of ourselves.  We loved Reims, and stayed at a little hotel just off the main square.  Here is the view from our window.

There was also a movie theatre, and one evening while Jody and Kevin explored, Carol and John went to see the new Woody Allen movie. To Rome With Love.  The show was in English with subtitles--- however, much of the dialogue was in Italian and the French sub-titles didn't help us!  Probably if we'd seen it in Portland there would have been English subtitles.  As it was, we had to guess a lot, so a pretty funny experience.

We loved the streets, because they were always filled with people.  The center of the city is for people, not cars.  People strolling, meeting over coffee or beer or a sandwich, people driving, playing, or just sitting and watching.

Like everywhere we'd been, we could have stayed longer.  But we had a plan... on we drove to Obernai, a UNESCO World Heritage site, in Alsace Lorraine.  On the way, we stopped in the town of Sainte Menehould and had lunch near the City Hall, with the most amazing pastries ever....

Nearby we saw a statue in a little park by the river which turned out to be of Dom Perignon, the monk who invented champagne!

We ate our sandwiches in the shade of the good friar --- without champagne, and in fact without wine-- but with a great deal of gratitude for being where we were, where we had been, and where we were going.  Not surprisingly, having chosen back roads rather than the freeways, we got lost a few times, which was wonderful since we saw surprising amazing sights!  It did mean that we didn't get to Obernai as soon as we'd planned so spent an evening in the city of Nancy, which has an impressive square, where the nightowls Kevin and Jody saw the light show at the Cathedral, similar to the one we had not been able to see in Reims.  

 Here is a picture of the most elegant gated Plaza as we say goodbye to Nancy and on to Obernai...

Saturday, December 15, 2012


On we travelled to Paris, the Eternal City, City of Lights.

Paris, the ancient and enormous metropolis with roadsigns in French --- which we mostly deciphered, but not always. With no city map except on John's trusty ipad, we made our way to our Airbnb, which was a houseboat on the Seine.


We were docked off the little Chemin de Halage, in the NW quadrant of this map, right near the D7.  Here is the view from our window, opps! porthole.

This riparian accommodation was not the world's --- or even Paris' -- most exclusive location, but remember, we are Peace Corps.  It was relaxing to be away from the hustle and bustle of the city, and who gets to Paris and can watch the scullers row by, a few feet from where we were having cafe au lait and croissants?
Just a few blocks' walk from our lodging to the train and into downtown Paris in twenty minutes. It was not a long drive south to Chartres. And what serendipity to be in Chartres on a day when bikers were  starting the last leg of the 2012 Tour de France.

After an incredibly jovial lunch with some British celebrants (their team came in first place!) we maneuvered around the Tour roadblocks and made our way into the Cathedral at Chartres. Seeing it for the first time was astonishing for Jody and Kevin.  And astonishing for Carol and John, who had been there in the early sixties, long before some amazing restoration had cleaned decades, if not centuries, of grime from the stone and from the stained glass:

Back then, the facade was dark and gray, the windows covered with soot.  Still, it was glorious then, just more glorious today. Jody took the picture on the left, of Kevin, John and Carol contemplating the main entrance; Kevin took the picture of the stained glass.  The incredible beauty of this sacred place speaks for itself.

Our good friend from Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Gus Maffrey, and his lovely wife Liz live between Chartres and Paris, and we were able to spend an evening with them, not only remeniscing about the sixties but discussing current international politics, as well.  Dinner was delicious, and our only home-cooked meal in our three months since leaving Botswana!

We had a few more days in Paris, and we spent them walking the streets which we experienced as open, living museums. not even the Louvre.  Being in Paris was more exciting for us than looking at pieces of it displayed on a wall.  The parks are as magnificent as any museum as you can see below.

Jody and her friend Sally Ford waited tables together at Pho Van, a restaurant in Southeast Portland, several years ago.  Sally started a band, Sally Ford and the Outside, which has become very successful in Europe.  And, the band happened to be playing in Paris.  We went to hear her, of course.  They played outside to a big audience of people from their twenty-somethings to sixties-something.   Young and old dancing and jiving.  The world is full of connections and coincidences if we are open to finding them.  

The Eiffel tower is breathtaking from wherever you can see it, as is Montmartre.  The sight of it is always an unforgettable experience of Paris.

The neighborhood around Sacre Coeur is beautiful, fascinating, enticing.  The Cathedral Sacre Coeur was crowded with interesting people.  We walked and walked, inside, outside, and around it.  Alas, we wished, but could not, stay forever in Paris. Other places to go and things to do on this journey beckoned.....


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Jody Kevin Belgium

Jody and Kevin's original plan to visit us in Botswana morphed into a European holiday with our change of circumstances.  What a gift to have them fly instead to Brussels on July 17!  It was incredible to see them after our year-plus away. And Brussels was a wonderful place to meet, in spite of the unseasonably cold and sometimes wet weather.

Although our Airbnb accomodation was not quite the quality we had previously enjoyed, we were in a wonderful central city location --- near the subway, the historic city square, and most everything.

Jody happy to be discovering the joys of Europe!
Such as amazing Belgium chocolate,
A little bit of Botswana:  chocolate hippo

and famous Brussels moules frites - mussels - served with the ubiquitous french fries!

We couldn't eat all of the mussels, not the ones we ordered in a restaurant, and not the ones in the park     

Kevin loving fries!

Jody loving mussels!

The exterior of this cathedral was
as incredible as the shrines within.

We spent much time just wandering the streets
which felt like living museums!
We discovered how people move into
fifth floor apartment buildings!

Incredibly, we found a cartoon museum with the treasure of Barbapapa books inside! Barbapapas are the most beautiful, creative and peace-loving creatures ever. Decades ago we read their stories to our children, and have since found it difficult to get for our grandchildren, especially in English.

Who could resist?
Oh yes, and ice cream sundaes too,
pure heaven!

From Brussels we took an (all too short) train ride to Brugge. We were destined to visit Brugge as one of our Camino friends suggested it and Jody and Kevin on their own research, made the same recommendation!.  Brugge is a designated UNICEF Heritage Site and also known as the Venice of the North because of the canals that criss-cross the city. Both accolades are true and then some --- as you can see here.

We stayed at an amazing Airbnb accommodation at the edge of the old city across from the canal that encircles it.  Here is a picture from our window into the backyard and garden.

Marjan, the owner, has a great and eclectic imagination, which freaked us out just a bit!

We spent a couple of days in Brugge, wandering the narrow streets, took a canal trip, wanted to ride bikes but got rained out, and kept running into this team of waste recyclers, who got to know us.

There were several windmills not far from our lodging, which are now simply for tourists to appreciate, which was easy to do.

In Brugge, travel by water, or.... by stone road!

The great thing about a UNICEF Heritage Site is that everything has to stay as it was, with few exceptions.  No advertising and no chain stores of any kind.  Who knows, it might be challening to live within a historical site (or maybe not, no Walmart, Walgreens or Safeway, hmmm...) It was for sure most awesome to visit!  But Paris was beckoning, so after nearly a year of no driving, we rented a car in Brugge and off we went!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Traveling From the Taize Community

We took the local bus from Taize to Macon Ville, through the incomparable Burgundy countryside, past Cluny, site of the oldest monastery in Europe, dating back to 910 CE.

 We spent  time wandering down a few streets, eating lunch and taking a few pictures with our soon-to-be-lost camera and some with our Ipad.  Macon's latest claim to fame was as a starting point for a leg of the 2012 Tour de France.  The bike theme was ubiquitous.

John enjoying bikes!

Carol enjoying window shopping!

We boarded the train in Macon Ville to take us through Paris and on to Brussels to meet Jody and Kevin.  During our stop over in Paris we had to schlep our bags through the subway from one station to the next. It was incredibly disconcering to see the station teeming with security police and big dogs as well as armed soldiers! Unnerving to be enjoying a cafe au lait and croissants while the soldiers with guns pointed walked by every few minutes.  We never learned whether this was prompted by a security concern or simply standard operating procedure. And it gave us some gratitude for our time in Botswana where we rarely saw an armed soldier or police officer.

Once in Brussels we had an evening to rest, in anticipation of picking Jody and Kevin up at the airport the next day for yet another travel adventure and the last chapter of our incredible time in Europe.