Chartres

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Twenty-six years ago, we spent our three week honeymoon driving around France, stopping wherever we picked out of our Fodor’s France. I remember driving  through a flat landscape, and seeing the spires of Chartre jutting up from a distance, just as medieval pilgrims must have seen it from the 12th century.

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Chartes is an easy trip from Paris. We caught a 9 am train from Montparnasse and were there at 10. (It almost felt as long tunneling through the Montaprnasse Metro station to get to the SCNF station) We walked the short distance up to the cathedral, then picked up a town map at the tourist office around the corner. There’s a pretty walk down along the river, where you can spot many old houses and remains of the tannery washing-sheds.

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Be aware it’s a long walk uphill back to the Cathedral. You can stop at the outdoor Labyrinth.

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And admire the flying buttresses, that medieval innovation which allowed for the Gothic large windows and vaulted spaces..

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The Cathedral has been undergoing restoration for several years, you can clearly see the enormous difference where centuries of grime have been cleaned off the stone. There has been some debate over this cleaning–as Malcolm Miller, longtime guide and scholar asked us, “Do people like dirt? The builders certainly didn’t put it there.”

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Here you can see the uncleaned portion of the choir screen next to the cleaned.

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Here’s the ceiling keystones, looking as they din in the 12th century.

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Speaking of Malcolm, 26 years ago we chanced into one of his daily tours, and so we timed things to again walk the Cathedral with him. He meets up with those interested at 12 and 2:30 every day but Sunday. Ten euros gets you a little headset so you can hear his commentary. He changes his talk every day,as he says, in 56 years he’s still learning things about Chartres.

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We learned about the history of the Cathedral, the architectural innovations, and what it looked like as built. For instance, the interior was painted–you can see some of the original paint high up in this photo, and on a column in the photo up the page.

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We also were guided through the meanings of some of the stained glass windows, and then outside, to the sculptures around one of the doors.

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After the tour, we had a fast lunch in a cafe. Unfortunately we didn’t make time before our train back to visit the interesting-looking stained glass museum, hopefully we’ll get there before another 26 years have passed.

Back in Paris we rested up a bit, and then went out for our reservation at Spring. We had eaten here in October, and it had been a spectacular meal. I’d been somewhat hesitant to go again, wondering if it could measure up a second time. As it turned out, it did not. While the food and service was extremely competent, the flavors lacked the liveliness that they had when owner Daniel Rose was in the kitchen. (He’s now in NYC setting up a place there)

We began with a little dish of sea bass sashimi, nothing unusual; then had skate wing (everything on the plate was so subtle the whole thing was bland); then a lobster dish that was the best thing of the evening, in a silky, deeply flavored broth; finally duck breast with an accompanying dish of duck leg with mushrooms (last time the duck was with foie gras!). Dessert was three little seasonal desserts based on rhubarb and strawberries, OK, but again, nothing special. Ah well.

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