Day 4: Chartres
May 3, 2012
|Today was the first day I spent outside Paris. Michael and I left before 08h30 for Gare Montparnasse but our journey through the metro took almost an hour and coincided with the peak hour rush. The trains were packed and stations such as Chatelet were swarming with thousands of people: running up and down stairs, hurtling along corridors, dragging along cases, and squeezing into carriages. Surprisingly everyone was quite polite. By the time we reached Montparnasse the train had left and we had to wait for the next one at 10h09.
The train ride through the French countryside was a highlight for me. Everything was emerald green apart from the vast patches of yellow canola crop in flower. The steeply pitched roofs of the neatly arrangled French farm houses and their ordered gardens were also charming.
At one stage we could see Versailles in the distance. I thought it looked an ungainly pile. Michael was more enthusiastic.
Being on a TER train with a number of stops, our journey took us about an hour and a half. We finally reached Chartres at about 11h36 and headed straight for the cathedral via the tourist information office.
Chartres, like many medieval towns is situated on a hill, which could be fortified. The walls and ramparts are still evident, especially behind the cathedral. The city takes great pride in it appearance and everywhere there are small gardens filled with flowering annuals and perennials such as tulips, forget-me-nots, fennel, etc.
The cathedral is located on the city's highest point. Its most striking feature externally are its two spires, one Romanesque and the other taller one high gothic. As we did not trust the we agreed to initially concentrate on photographing the exterior. The so called Royal Portal is the earliest dHere the figures are most refined and elegant.
The figures and ornamentation on the north and south portals is less refined but wonderful in it's own way.
Before going inside we decided to have lunch. Michael had onion soup and a rabbit cassoulet, while I had a chicken cassoulet. Accompanying this was a bottle of white burgundy. Was it a Givry?
On entering the church, and looking briefly atvthe stained glass, I decided to climb the tower. 260!steps later I was pooped. The views from so high up made it worthwhile.
The interior of the church is undergoing extensive renovation, so from the choir to the ambulatory is closed to visitors. Much of the early stained glass is still viewable.
The interior of the cathedral is notoriously dark because of the number of stained glass windows. Apart from the enormous rose windows, the single, large lancet windows that line the side aisles of the nave stay in my mind as particularly wonderful, with their exceptionally vivid scenes of medieval life. Unlike later gothic lancet windows, these are very wide and not particulrly pointed. In other words the lance shape of the arch is not very pronounced. This indicates that the architecture is early gothic in that it is only slightly moving away from the rounded arches typical of Romanesque architecture.
Surprisingly, I took very few photographs of the windows. The photos I took of parts of the window called 'The tree of Jesse' from the western portal came out vividly.
After spending a great deal of time examining and viewing the interior, we revisited the facades, then, using the map, began the historic walk of historic Chartres. The streets followed the contour of the hill on which the cathedral was built. There were often little gardens placed at corners of streets, and as in the rest of Chartres, the tulips were a prominent feature of horticultural displays. Many of the medieval houses we passed were quite substantial half timbered structures, including towers. At the foot of the hill we walked beside the Eure River with its stone bridges before arriving at the C13th abbey church of St Pierre with its earlier C11th romanesque tower. The interior had been much altered over time. It was here that the battery of my camera gave out.
On our walk back to the cathedral we stopped at the smaller St Aignan's which was interesting largely due to its interior painting which was completed in the C19th. All the walls, columns and ceiling were covered in patterns, tromp d'loeil draperies etc. These were not brightly colored blues and golds as in Saint-Chapelle but rather muted greens, browns and reds.
Our return on the train was a welcome opportunity to rest our feet. It was still light when we got back to Paris, only to then descend into the darkness of the Metro and the labyrinth that is Chatelet (station) with its corridors, stairs, moving walkways and corridors. Mercifully, it was less crowded than earlier.
Finally we reached my apartment where after a scotch or two, and a shared baguette stuffed with pork sausage, Brie, fennel and mustard, Michael staggered out into the night.
Then after a fruitless search for an adaptor plug for my camera battery recharger, which I had clearly left in Melbourne, I fell into bed. The dishes could wait.