Thanks for hanging in there with me. For the moment, I don’t have any classes on Thursdays (or Fridays for that matter). I decided to take advantage of this with my friend Mia by going on day trips each week. People said we were crazy, that we didn’t have enough time, that it was too expensive, and to them we said… maybe. But we bought a student train discount card and have been traveling easily and on the cheap.
But that didn’t matter. Our first trip, last week, was to a town called Chartres. Chartres is mostly known for its gigantic Cathedral Notre Dame de Chartres (Our Lady of Chartres… You’ll soon notice that the French are not that creative with cathedral names). We didn’t really know what to expect. How small was this town? What else is there to do for 8 hours? Why are we getting there at 9 in the morning?
The day started with waking up at 6:30 AM and going to the train station. I have never had much experience with trains. In fact, I’ve really only been on a couple before and I’ve never had to navigate the station myself. It turns out that at train stations, there’s not much to navigate. The ticket counter is about 10 feet from the giant open room where all of the trains are. I, unknowingly, got there 45 minutes early and froze to death in the train station. It was a less than pleasant experience. And they don’t tell you what train you’re on until 5 minutes before it departs.
The train ride was a quick hour and relatively warm. As we arrived into Chartres, we did not see much. It was the coldest day since we’d been there and we felt it. We walked the 5 minutes across the tiny city of 40,000 people from the train station to the cathedral. I was worried we weren’t going to be able to find it, but it’s visible from everywhere in the town. It’s massive. None of my pictures will do it justice.
I could talk about the Chartres Cathedral for hours, but instead I’ll give the spark notes version and my 4 favorite things about it. The cathedral itself was built in 1200 AD (so old!) and is at a site where there have been churches since 800 AD (even older!).
4) The Cathedral is famous for its “Chartres Blue” stained glass windows. They are some of the most famous stained glass in the world and it definitely deserves that title.
3) In the crypt of the cathedral (that we took a tour of), we saw this awesome underground chapel, a magical well that was built by the druids, and a mass Viking grave.
2) The reason that the Cathedral was built is that around the 9th Century, Charlemagne was given a gift. This gift was the original veil that the Virgin Mary wore when she gave birth to Jesus. Charlemagne then gave this to the unfortunately named Charles the Bald who built a cathedral for it to be housed. The veil is on display very inconspicuously in the back corner of the Cathedral. It’s supposedly 5 meters long and very burka like but it was destroyed by the Vikings so this is what remains.
1) There is a labyrinth. It at first sounds, awesome, and then it becomes lame, and then awesome again. Observe. First, A LABYRINTH! COOL! Then, you find out that it’s just a painted straight path on the ground in a twisty flowery pattern. It can’t be more than 300 square feet and was covered by chairs. Then, you find out that its been there since the cathedral was built and represents a pilgrimage for Catholics to take penance for their sins. You walk it in silence while praying and eventually arrive at the center enlightened and with you sins atoned for. That still might sound lame, but walking it was actually kind of cool… really cool.
Spending time at the Cathedral took up the majority of our morning. We made our way to a tiny crèpe place just around the corner. We then decided to take a walk through the old town. We came to realize that Chartres was what you imagined when you think of a tiny French town. There are lots of cute alleys, tiny churches, potted plants, and a little river. It’s all too picturesque.
After a gentle stroll, we ducked in to the International Museum for Stained Glass. This was a really unique place. The first floor is all about the religious stained glass found around the churches and especially in Chartres. It shows how they are restored and cleaned and gives you a close up look at the windows that you can only ever see from far way. The basement had a special exhibit by a Dominican Korean pastor who became a stained glass artist. It was all very modern, abstract, and absolutely stunning. Not your great great great great great great grandparents stained glass, that’s for sure.
We finished our day with a little more wandering. Mia and I had a great day together and everyone was really jealous as we were the first people to leave Paris and see something new. It was refreshing getting some personal space and fresh air. Paris is a very busy city and Chartres was a stunning complement. It was such a success that we vowed to repeat the experience the next week.