Today you have a straight-forward travelogue because we spent yesterday being straight-forward tourists. We caught the train to Chartres - only a bit over an hour from Paris - to visit Chartres Cathedral. Chartres was and is a pilgrimage cathedral, and its steeples and hilltop location ensure its domination of the surrounding landscape. The little guide to Chartres has a slightly different version - it says the Cathedral 'capture(s) our attention from the plain and continue(s) to guide pilgrims today'.
[By the way, I love travelling by train. Apart from the fact that I can knit on a train without feeling sick - something I can't manage with cars - I'm happy spending endless hours just watching the landscape pass by].
Majestic Gothic cathedrals are the very antithesis of the architecture of the Place des Vosges I wrote about yesterday. They shout at you 'Look at me! Look at how beautiful and imposing and powerful and dominant I am. Don't think about the everyday, but about eternity. Realise just how small and powerless humankind is!'
But you can't resist them - well, at least I can't. I do marvel. I do wonder, but in my case the wonder is usually at the skill and craft and persistence of the workers who built most of the present-day Cathedral more than eight centuries ago. Chartres Cathedral is undoubtedly very beautiful; some claim the most beautiful of the grand Gothic cathedrals. Sorry for the lack of photos of the stained glass that adds such warmth to the interior - my poor little point and click camera just can't do it justice.
I'm always astonished at how such buildings can give such an impression of symmetry, but are often accretions of differences over time. The two cathedral steeples were built around three centuries apart in time - one rather plain, the later one very flamboyant - and yet they look perfect together.
The Cathedral also has some very humanising characteristics. Thousands of exquisitely carved figures of saints and sinners, fauna and flora, and generally devilish creatures embellish both the inside and outside of the building
and the Cathedral has a human-scale labyrinth in the centre of the nave. It was constructed around 1200 and is still in its original state. Flagstones of black and white marble create a path you can trace while meditating and praying - a symbolic pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
We also explored the old town that clusters around the Eure River and has mills and houses dating from the sixteenth century. Even towards the end of a cheerless winter, the town has great charm.
We're falling into a pattern of having our main meal at lunch-time and very little to eat in the evenings. This suits both of us, and also allows us to take advantage of the lunch-time fixed menus offered by so many restaurants. Yesterday in Chartres we lunched in a charming, very bourgeois restaurant with groups of people giving the impression that this was their 'local'. The star of the lunch was the entree of oeufs en meurette - eggs poached in a rich soup of red wine, onions and lardons of bacon and served with croutons in its own little pot. Yum, but,in normal circumstances, enough for a meal by itself.