Holi, Colours, New Arrivals and A Boat Trip with Eagles – Travels with Allie.
Woke up after a great night’s sleep at the Hotel de France, packed up and went down for breakfast. It was an excellent continental affair: ham, cheese, baguettes, croissants, pain au chocolat, yoghurt, an egg boiler, fruit, conserves….. We had a delicious start with the croissants which were flaky heaven and the homemade conserves, plus the ham and cheese. Excellent coffee – Bob had orange juice too. It was so interesting to look at all the many photographs going back over 100 years of all the famous people who have stayed here. Nearly every racing car driver you could ever name of course but also film stars – Steve McQueen, who of course filmed and drove at Le Mans, Paul Newman and many others – politicians – Jackie Kennedy…. just so many. And now The Bolers…..
After breakfast, I wandered across the square to the boulangerie and bought 2 sticks of country baguette and 3 croissants. I moved to the butcher to buy an extra beef steak for tonight as Lucy is coming to stay. My dinner plan for tonight is to start with a slice of some delicious country pate we have discovered, bread and pickle, then steak with rocquefort cream sauce, creamed spinach and potato wedges. I had an option for dessert/cheese but I was pretty confident we wouldn’t get there. The steak purchase was a bit of a disaster because he cut me a good steak off the piece but then before I could even speak, he attacked it with a rolling pin, flattened it and beat it to a pulp……. clearly at this point, it was totally unsuitable to be grilled. I mentally consigned it to another meal where we would have beef with a gravy or something….
Our first stop today was the old town in Le Mans. We’d had no intention to go there until our conversation with the English couple late last night, when the lady told me how exquisite it was and how we should definitely go there. Well….. thank you so so much! An amazing place. We set the gps for the cathedral, as advised, and as we approached the end of the route, the market was being set up which we had to wend our way though. Le Mans is a big city….. but the old town – The Plantagenet City – as they call it, is pretty small, up on a citadel hilltop. It as easy enough to park right near the cathedral in an area surrounded by 17th century stuccoed houses. As we walked towards the cathedral, that changed to cobbled middle ages and timbered houses, crooked as they come, seperated by narrow courtyards and lanes with drains down the middle. So amazing and interesting to see. Most of these houses have had the bottom floor convered to restaurants and it would clearly be an amazing, buzzing location by night when the old town is illuminated by lamplight and projections and all the restaurants are going. The old town is amazingly colourful and scenic. Straight out of a Disney movie. Gorgeous.
We wandered around and found a place eventually to sit out for coffee and a rest. Then we went inside the cathedral: St Julien’s. This cathedral has been in place since around 1000AD but there has been a structure here since the 4th century. The whole area is extremely ancient, layer on layer. Noticeable to me are the stones on either side of many of the doors, reminiscent of herms in Roman or Greek cities. There is also a massive stone near the cathedral which dates back to prehistoric times which is believed to be an object of worship, a linga in Indian terms, an embodiment of male godhead.
The cathedral is not particularly attractive from the outside, however, inside, it is exquisite. Oh just go there if you have a chance. The stained glass is extraordinary, such intense colour, all original back to the 13/14th century. Amazing stone masonry and carving….. just jaw dropping.
We had to move on. Le Mans is well worth much fuller exploration = a weekend, for sure. We headed north/ north east towards Chartres. The scenery is wooded, interspersed with plains of maize and sunflowers – huge fields, a veritable cornbelt. We arrived in Chartres at about 2pm. Easy to park in the large underground car park near the cathedral. We really only had time to visit that, this time. Notre Dame de Chartres is the apex of Gothic construction in France, surpassing even Notre Dame de Paris. A truly amazing structure built in the late 1100s through around 1220. So, yep, a THOUSAND year’s old! If we thought the stained glass at Le Mans was amazing,…… wow…. this blew it away. Such colour! Such detail!. All original and intact for all this time. It was amazingly beautiful as were the stone carvings inside and without. There is a huge carved frieze around the choir, maybe 100m long of incredible detail showing the life and sufferings of Christ. We wandered around marvelling until it was time to leave. Chartres again is another place well worth exploration and a full weekend, we barely scratched the surface.
Headed on back towards the Marriott on the back roads, which became a bit more busy as late afternoon on a Friday progressed. We stopped at the nearby Casino supermarket to pick up a few bits and then got back to the hotel, where Lucy was waiting. So wonderful to see her again. We had a good dinner starting with the pate, then the steaks with blue cheese cream sauce etc and then we watched tv having had a good catch up on all the news. We will take her to the airport tomorrow to go back to Dubai. I, at least, will see her again soon when I go to stay with her.
So, a really good day 2, and a very good road tip in general. Loved our rural routes…. nice to stray off the beaten track. Highly recommended as a way to travel around. Obviously, if you have a long distance to travel from one part of France to the other, the autoroutes are the way to go. But… if you want to see the real, rural France, just find the D roads and stick to them. I also hope that perhaps you will find a way to stay at the Hotel de France some day. We certainly hope to go back again. It’s not expensive – 93 euro for our room – and the experience is priceless.