Chartres in the Light!

Monday, June 14 – Chambord: It would be hard to exaggerate our disappointment this morning to wake up to very overcast sky and the obvious promise of a rainy day. This is because our last visit to Chartres, our objective this morning, was some years ago as a day-trip from Paris. When we arrived by train in Chartres, it was very nasty weather but we made our way the cathedral nonetheless. Once inside it was clear that the entire trip was a colossal waste. Not only could one not see the stained glass windows, there wasn’t even enough light to see the large series of 16th century sculptures which surround the choir. So, the idea that our current attempt to appreciate Chartres would also come to naught was a real downer. Not improved by the rain which began the moment we hit the road at the record time of 8:45a. (Our chambre d’hote was the first unsatisfactory one we’ve had and we said as much to our stingy hosts.)

By the time we arrived in Chartres at 11a, the rain had stopped and started several times but the sun was shining brightly! We parked in the underground garage in front of the cathedral (the French are really good at this sort of thing — we also parked underground just in front of the Strasbourg cathedral) and looked around the cathedral waiting to join the guided tour at noon by Malcolm Miller, now in his eighties with more than 50 years of being the go-to guy for the history and interpretation of the cathedral. A revelation for us was the use of a microphone and headsets which we’d seen in use at other sights over the years but had never experienced. It was a revelation and should be required on every tour; not only does it protect others from the shouting of the guide, it actually makes is possible to hear every word of explanation clearly.

And Miller was a master at it. (It made me fantasize about becoming the similar expert on Bernini in Rome. Multiply the fee of 10 euros/person by the average 20 people on a tour (often more; it doesn’t go if fewer than 12 show up) and you can see one of the attractions of the hour and a half spent.)

Following the tour we found a bustling bistro in the old town where we got the last seat (of perhaps 60) outside. We had a nice lunch of a tarte flambee imitation (we remarked how lucky we were to have had so many wonderful tarte flambee in Alsace) and a salade perigord (foie gras, smoked magret, etc.).

Note how reasonable these dishes are compared to the boissons:

We then sat for a long time reading Miller’s excellent book describing the cathedral — especially good at describing what’s going on in the windows. Then we went back for another look at the cathedral.

One surprise was that the choir (including the windows) had recently been cleaned and it made an enormous difference; particularly striking was the painting of the parts of the ribbing.

Here’s a color photo of the sculpture series I mentioned earlier: it’s very grey stone!

We left Chartres at 4p headed for a hotel which sits just opposite the chateau of Chambord, which itself sits in the middle of a vast hunting preserve (20 miles of ancient fence surrounding the whole). We sat for three hours on the terrace of the hotel so don’t think that the iPad was able to divert me from enjoying the view! (I was reading the Sunday Times.)

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