Friday, August 15, 2008

Approaching Paris

Besancon to Vezelay to Troyes

From Besancon we headed towards Vezelay, stopping at the source of the Seine which has had an elaborate grotto built over it and is rather tacky. Vezelay itself was a pretty town, basically one street straight up a hill to the basilica at the top. A pilgrim town, it still supports those setting off for Compostela and there are scallop shells of brass set into the street surface. Our hotel, the Hotel du Post et de Lion D'Or was beautifully decorated with charming rooms and luxurious fabrics. There were swooping swallows outside which have actually been a feature of almost the whole holiday. The had a nest in the corner of our window. The hotel was complemented by a lovely dining room in shades of butter and blue, a lovely terasse outside and excellent food.

The Romanesque basilica of the Madeline has extraordinary light inside

and a beautiful tympanum (the bit over the door) outside of Christ in Majesty and the last judgement.

The angel weighing the souls is being closely watched by the devil who just possibly is trying to tip the scales his way.

Weighing the souls

It actually has two tympanii because after you enter the church you are in a sort of porch or foyer where the pilgrims used to congregate. Then there are two massive doors, normally closed but which they opened at one stage with a view into the church. I spent some time looking for the Adam and Eve capital which I knew was here, finally finding it up very high with the help of a kind lady at the desk. I love Eve's insouciant crossed legs as she passes the apple on to Adam.

Adam and Eve Capital

Much of the church was restored under direction from Violllet le Duc, a young architect who was responsible for restoring chateaux and churches all over France and really led the Gothic Revival style in the mid 1800s. Really, much of Vezelay was ruinous so the work has been extraordinary, but is also explains the excellent condition of the current carvings and capitals, as many have been faithfully copied or fancifully reinvented and replaced.

Other buildings such as the Bishop's house have gone now, but traces remain in the gardens surrounding the church. The view is lovely.

The Bishop's Garden

The little town was also full of pretty, medieval homes and doorways and gardens. A small but lovely place to spend two nights.

Doorway, Vezelay

To Troyes, the last place before Paris. We stopped, despite some rain, in the little town of Noyers to visit the church and admire the half-timbered buildings.


Then we revisited Pontigny abbey which is a serene Cistercian building floating above the plains of wheat.

Inside it has a choir screen, most unusual for a Catholic church and a lovely ambutatory going round behind the altar and choir.

Soaring and white inside and with a beautiful 17th C organ, it is still in use as a local church.People were just completing mass while others were congregating for a wedding when we arrived.


This was a day for churches as Troyes abounds with beautiful and often unusual examples. It is quite renowned for the stained glass in the churches, particularly the grisaille type where parts of the scenes are painted. It is an old style but delicate and lovely.

The church of St Madeline had a beautiful little garden dedicated to still-born children and all done in white. Inside it had a most unusual marble lace screen called a joue and some wooden polychrome (painted) statues.

Joue at St Madelaine

St Pantelon was also very beautiful with a range of statues along the nave that virtually documented the rise of the artistic school in Troyes. They provided really good information in English.

St Pantelon

Our last night before Paris and we wanted somewhere nice to eat. We had heard of Le Bistroquet, which was supposed to be very traditional in food and decor and it seemed like an excellent choice. We arrived just as it began pouring rain and they offered us a place in the square outside. Just joking, and it set a nice tone for the evening.

The place was really every person’s expectation of a French bistro. There were gorgeous mirrors, lamps, polished wood, a stained glass dome, banquettes, cute waiters, traditional menus, and great service.

Le Bistroquet

We loved the sections of the menu that were “a la volonte” ie. take as much as you want, which we have experienced before. Instead of portions in rigid glass cups, such as at Besancon, a feeling of generosity and largesse pervaded. Already we felt cosseted.

Oysters. Six oysters. Big, fresh, French oysters, still stuck to their shells and fragile. The best oysters I have had in France. Perhaps someone should have run the oyster knife under them, but they were delicious, served with a little shallot vinegar on the side. Nick ordered the terrine “a votre discretion”, which came to the table still in its earthenware baking dish with a knife and bread and a big jar of cornichons, and left until he had finished. Good stuff too, he declared.

There followed a brochette of St Jaques and salmon cubes, beautifully cooked and not at all “bouncy”, with an ointment of buttery sauce. Nick had pave of salmon on a seafood risotto. He is not a huge fan of rice dishes so eating it all said something for its taste and quality. I had crepes Suzette for dessert, sadly not cooked at the table, but delicious, traditionally folded crepes in the traditional orange sauce. Having a “retro” menu has distinct advantages, or maybe this place has just never changed from what the customers expect .

Now Nick has a long standing love affair with chocolate mousse and a tendency to order it even when he knows he shouldn’t. So of course he ordered chocolate mousse “a la volonte”. I knew what was likely to come under that heading, but I don’t think either of us were prepared for the huge, pristine bowl that descended on the table. Obviously the first to order that night, he had the pleasure of scooping out his serve. They left the bowl for seconds should he have been tempted, but good sense prevailed.

Look at the picture of a man in dessert heaven!

From here to a week in a Paris apartment.

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