Day 16 September 26, 2015
Going Out with a Bang
We bid farewell to out lovely cooking instructors and headed north to Sens. Last year we were able to see the tomb of Henry II and we wanted to see the Thomas Becket connections in Sens. The church has a stained glass window telling his tale, he was banished to Sens at one point, and they have some of his vestments on display. Sens seems like a delightful town. Our visit was much too short.
Our final target of the trip was the Veaux Le Vicomte. http://www.vaux-le-vicomte.com/en/ Jim had an art history professor in college who did his PHD work on this chateau and we were looking forward to seeing it. The story behind Vaux is that Nicholas Fouquet, the finance minister of Louis XIV, built himself a pleasure palace and invited the king and the rest of the French upper crust to a party to inaugurate his chateau. The king was enraged at Fouquet’s lovely new home and promptly arrested him on trumped-up charges, then locked up Fouquet for the rest of his life – but used Vaux as the inspiration for Versailles.
Somehow, the home survived the French Revolution and today it is in private hands. We toured and trekked all over the chateau and it’s very extensive grounds. On Saturday nights in the summer and early fall, they light the chateau and grounds with over 2000 candles. We ate a lovely candlelight dinner, enjoyed the sights of the chateau by candlelight, and watched the fireworks. Now that’s the way to end a delightful vacation in France.
This email won’t be sent until tomorrow morning because our new room is in the turret of Chateau de Courtry with very thick walls. The internet doesn’t reach up here and we’re just too tired to climb down the winding and very narrow stairs tonight.
Some Final Thoughts
- There are a lot of eyeglass shops in France. They are more common than nail salons or Walgreens are in the U.S. The National Health Service in France must pay for lots and lots of eyeglass frames.
- The toys shops here are not loaded down with electronic gizmos. The toys are simple and require imaginative play.
- English is the international language often used here when the French speak to people of other nationalities – even to other Europeans. More and more, people are willing to speak English, and they speak it rather well.
- Really good cheese can be obtained readily – and it’s quite cheap. You’ll find high-quality cheeses in farmers markets, in fromageries in small towns, and even in the immense hypermarches that ring many French towns.
- It seems every French town has a war memorial. The monument was built to honor WWI losses and then names for people lost in World War II, Indochina, Algeria, and other conflicts involving the French are added to the existing World War I monuments. It’s the WWI names and dates that face the street. World War I took an immense toll on France. There were many instances of four or five names with the same last name listed for WWI and then none of that name showing up for any other conflict. So sad.
- French schools seem to start rather early and go late – letting out around 5:00. The life of a French child feels highly structured during the school year.
- Shoes are amazingly expensive in France. When passing shop windows, you’ll routinely see shoes priced over 300 euros a pair, and very few priced under 100 euros. The high prices were for children’s shoes as well. People walk a lot here, and they value good shoes.
- Car colors in France are “different” – there are some colors in France that you never see in the U.S. Lemon chiffon yellow is quite eye-catching. Some colors don’t work so well – puppy poop brown and great-granny mauve, we’re looking at you…
- Of course, “historical” in France has an entirely different meaning than it does in the U.S. For Americans, the late 1700s is almost ancient. In France — depending on where you are — pre-Roman times are the reference point for ancient history. “Medieval” feels rather modern by comparison.
- Little French girls in scarves are just too cute. No offense to the children of the U.S., but French kids are cuter. Dressed to the nines and very well behaved, for the most part. This doesn’t necessarily translate to being cuter adults, however.
- Some things are universal. You always exit through the gift shop.
- A collection of houses with a boulangerie is a town or hamlet. A collection of houses without a boulangerie is just a collection of houses.
- French food is very regional. At least in the US people have heard of regional specialties from other areas even if they aren’t served. In France they seem to not know or care about food from other regions of France. They have adopted some foods from other cultures though. Kabobs seem very popular, as are pizzas.
- Old pastures, of which there are many, have hedges “planted” on the fencerows by many generations of birds. The effect is very pleasing for both the passerby and the birds.
- There is more farmland in France than one usually has in mind. There are huge expanses of land, as far as the eye could see, in production and not a barn, farmhouse, or piece of farm equipment in sight. We were told that it is not uncommon for farmers to not live on their land but to live in the town and commute to the farm to work.
- Having a GPS, especially one as charming as our beloved Stephen Fry, made traveling much less stressful and encouraged us to just “head out” in search of interesting places.
- The non-American visitors at the US cemeteries in France equaled or outnumbered the American visitors. Their comments in the guestbooks were expressions of eternal gratitude.