Chartres. One hour southwest of Paris by SNCF train. Cute little town, famous for the most beautiful cathedral I have ever seen, Notre-Dame de Chartres.
On Sunday morning, I woke up at around 6:30 (after spending a grueling day traveling between London and Paris and all that tour-bus-hopping) and got ready for Chartres. I went with Maria and her friend Isabel, a Spanish PhD candidate, doing her studies in gothic architecture (hence the trip to see a cathedral).
We got there and immediately were shocked by the difference in pace from Paris. There were almost no people on the streets. All the shops were closed. Dead calm. And all the way uphill, we could see the towers of the cathedral, guiding us toward it. Not a very long walk, but still quite uphill. And, of course, the tallest structure in the town.
But first thing's first. Must talk about the craziest bathroom I have ever seen. Of course, as a tourist, the first thing you do when you reach your destination is use the public bathroom. This was an outdoor structure, with three stalls for women. Each stall had a light above it, green signifying empty and red signifying occupied. I went into an empty one and was immediately confused by the glistening floor. Is it wet? Or is the shine an effect of the blue ceramic tiles? Took a chance and put my bag down.
On my right was a silver touch pad on which there was a button I had to press to lock my bathroom stall. I pressed it and voila! Locked my door and turned on the red light outside. Genius. Did my thing, went to wash my hands. But this was no ordinary sink. No. This thing had three separate holes. On the left, an automatic soap dispenser. In the center, an automatic faucet. And on the right, an automatic hand dryer. So. Frickin. Cool. And this from a girl who has gone to the bathroom in at least fifteen different countries. And then, to exit, I had to push the button on the silver pad again which a) opened the door and b) flushed the toilet. AMAZING. I know. I sang its praises so much that Maria decided to give it a try. Haha.
Okay. On to the actual town. First was the Office of Tourism, where we got a map that outlined the most efficient walk to take through the town so as to see its cutest and most historic buildings. But we decided to walk up to the cathedral first, stopping several times along the way to take a ton of pictures (you would have too--this place was uber cute!!).
We get to the cathedral and see that it's being renovated at the front, so the effect of the facade is lost on us. Still, the main attraction is inside. We go inside to find that we've walked into Sunday Mass. Um, okay. So we found some chairs, sat down, and listened to the sermon (which Maria and I actually understood almost all of). At one point the priest asked the congregation to pray for "those who have walked into the cathedral simply to witness its attraction but have not felt the power within." Maria turned to me and said, "They're praying for us!!" Haha.
After Mass, we walked around a bit and discovered more photo ops, in the cathedral's garden, a museum just next to it, and the many, many steps leading up to the several entrances to the building.
Okay that's enough. The album is on Picasa. Afterwards, we went looking for tour information (Maria really wanted to have a guided visit by some random English man who came here 40 years ago to do research, ended up staying, and now gives very entertaining tours; alas, it was his day off). Bought tickets for the French guided tour at 3pm and decided to use our time to eat lunch and take a walk through the town. Tried to have lunch in the gardens by a tree but were covered in a tiny tiny bugs within seconds. So we left and had a walking lunch, then went on our walk through the empty, empty, very adorable town, guided by the highlighted route in our tourist brochure.
We also found several more churches...how many churches does a tiny town need, really?
And another one:
There was more cuteness, but that is for the web album. Finally, we walked back up to the cathedral for our guided tour. And man, did it last a while. The guide just kept talking and talking and talking. And the cathedral was even bigger than I thought! We just kept finding random nooks and crannies and small praying areas that I had not seen. Every sculpture, window and column had a story. It was a very long tour. As I said, the place is magnificent but I was not able to capture its magnificence on film, as there is basically no lighting inside. Sorry! Just imagine beauty. Or Google the cathedral. My apologies.
After the tour, we sat in on an organ concert. Beautiful ambiance, lots of somber audience members, very grandiose music. I started falling asleep, so within 10 minutes I left. Isabel had gone to explore the crypts and towers when we went to the organ concert so she met up with us twenty minutes later. At this point, I had already secured a very cheap location to get a drink, sandwich and dessert for only 6,50. I got my much-needed meal (with some fabulous coconut and raspberry sorbet, I might add) and Maria got a baguette and we were back on the train, back to Paris.
And that was my Sunday. Sorry it took so long to post. I have to actually work, you know. And go do more interesting things so that I can capture you all with my stories.
Tomorrow: Louvre, pt 1 and Lunch with an Alum, pt 2.