Travel memories. They are those wonderful soft blankets that wrap your mind in warmth. And they are whimsical, often selecting little moments that have nothing to do with the spectacular sights for which a place is known.
My memories of Chartres are like that, focused far less on the renowned Cathedral of Chartres than on petite sights. Yes, the cathedral, the spires and gardens are extravagantly beautiful. My friend and I chose a little spot right across from the side of the church to have our lunch in the shadow of its grand façade.
Stronger memories, though, include wandering along streets with half-timbered houses and brightly painted homes. We stepped down the charming stairways of Tertre Saint-Nicolas and rue Chantault to arrive at the 12th-century Collégiale Saint-André. We were surprised to find a delightful exhibit of large, colorful metal figures suspended from the ceiling – pure serendipity and not at all what we expected in the Romanesque church.
A little history lesson filled us in. The church closed in 1791 and suffered severe damage in the early 1800’s and again in 1944. Today, it is far smaller than its original size and serves as an exhibition centre.
Down by the quiet flow of the Eure River, we crossed little bridges and wandered along riverside pathways lined with flower gardens. Our grand finale experience before catching the last train back to Paris was dining at a quaint restaurant on the water. We enjoyed a wonderful dinner and experienced the amazing hospitality of Chartres’ residents. Two gentlemen at an adjacent table knew an event had filled the city’s hotels and offered us a room, should we miss the last train.
With all deference to the unrivalled beauty and depth of history of the Cathedral, I felt privileged to have absorbed the many faces of Chartres’ penetrating charm.
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