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02 May 2020 - Day 21 – Reims; Luxembourg

Coming downstairs, breakfast was machine-made hot beverage options of coffee or chocolate, or one could get a bag to have tea. Carafes of orange, pineapple and tomato juice. Milk for cold cereal or muesli. A board of thinly sliced versions of ham and cheese, with quarters of baguettes. So I did a hot chocolate and added milk, got OJ mixed with pineapple, and a piece of bread with cheese. This is why I usually decline to have a 6€ charge added for breakfast.

After retrieving my gear, I checked out and left my bag with the front desk for the morning. My plan was to return and collect before heading to the Gare (train station) for the first train at 2pm.

Getting out the door onto the streets of Reims on a gray Saturday morning, my objective was the cathedral. Doors opened at 7:30, and I needed to be there by 9:30 to book a place in the first tower tour at 11:15. In addition, I would be joining the guided tour of the cathedral interior at 10. La Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims/Paroisse Notre-Dame–Saint-Jacques, its full and proper name, is the cathedral where French royalty are crowned as kings and queens. If not coronated here, then they are not considered to be official. Since Henry I in 1027, all but 7 French kings have been crowned here, and a 2016 plaque cites 31 coronations. My photobook #CatherdralsToTheGloryOfGod includes a photo of this church (as it does those in Rouen and Amiens also visited on this trip). I’d spent part of a week in the Champagne district in May 1993, based in Epernay. On a day trip with a staff member at the CIVC (Champagne regulatory institute) and a Taittinger staff member from California to #Reims, we’d spent most of the day at Taittinger, but also had drinks at a café on the Rue Libergier down the street from the western façade. A straight-on shot with scaffolding, I’d hoped for better composition this visit.

Last night’s shot had turned out well. After getting tickets for the two tours, I headed outside. Walking along the north side, I marveled at the 7 flying buttresses between the front and the transept. Continuing to the east end, the curved apse borders a park of trees and grass. As I attempted to return along the south side, a building which I determine to be the Palais de Tau, the episcopal residency, blocked my way. I walked around this palace, with the building continuing until level with the front of the cathedral. There was very limited access to the south side. The front or western façade is covered with statues. Information revealed that there are about 2300 statues about the building, a number second in count only to the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Chartres.

Time for the inside tour approached, so I headed to the rendezvous point. Our guide Françoise took the dozen of us around the nave, to the crossing and both transepts, and behind the altar via the ambulatory. The floor layout is shaped like a mushroom, with the 9 columns of the nave creating side aisles, passing into a transept-like space at what might be considered a crossing. The eastern end is a rounded apse with an ambulatory and 5 circular chapels which surround the quire and high altar space. Rose windows face to the cardinal points. We heard of the coronation ceremonies and the politics and scandals of the royal courts. In English, it was a nice introduction to the building, and she got us back in time for half of us to join a handful of Germans and a Japanese couple for the tower tour.

Advised that we would climb internal stairs to the third level and be able to look back over the buttresses from within a narrow porch, about a third of those waiting bailed. Not me, I was ready to explore yet another tower, my fear of heights be damned. Up the stone staircase in the south tower, we climbed to the level of the gallery of kings on the west façade front, however, we were directed out to a meter-wide platform facing east along the roofline of the nave crossing the length of the tower. We had two guides, similar to what I’d experienced in Britain last year, the lead giving the talk, the rear being a guard for stragglers. There were three of us (of the 8) who were real cathedral nuts, armed with good cameras. Our guide, Jean-Michel, offered to take just the three of us down the north roofline (within the wood super structure) for a shot back to the towers while his colleague escorted the other 5 downstairs. Major score as far as I was concerned.

Back to street level, I got a few parting photos and headed back to the hotel. Collecting my roller, I asked for a suggestion for a “fast food” place on my way to the station. Takeout places were practically next door, and Le Grand Café was considered to be better. Collecting a four-cheese pizza (crème-reblochon, chèvre, mozzarella and gorgonzola), I headed to the gare, arriving 15 minutes before scheduled departure. Checking, I found I needed an upgrade ticket for one of the four legs of this trip, which I secured.

First leg took three stops and 12 minutes, and I changed at Champagne-Ardenne; I kept the lunch in the bag. Twenty minutes later, I boarded a TGV (bullet train) for 3 more stops and 70 minutes, then to sit for 20 more minutes in Bar Le Duc before the first of two more local trains. Nearly an hour and 3 more stops, I had 40 minutes in Metz before that last 50-minute ride and 6 stops when I finally arrived at the Gare Centrale in #Luxembourg. Yes, for four and three-quarter hours, I had arrived in my second new country for this trip.

Arriving in the capital city of Luxembourg at 7:30pm, I had about 90 more minutes of natural light. I was booked into The Park Inn by Radisson, a straight shot north 210meters, a 3-minute walk: even I couldn’t get lost. Looking pretty much like every other Radisson Park Inn I’d ever stayed at, and there have been a few since retiring, the check-in was quick and efficient, and I was soon looking out the back to the west. With a two night stay here, I was grateful for plenty of floor space to open my roller.

Unloading the backpack first, I started charging the netbook as I’d used it to begin writing my post while sitting on the trains. I still had enough juice in the phone for tonight, and the camera battery had run out with a photo of one of those train stations. So it went into the charger. I’d eaten half the pizza on the TGV, scraping the toppings from the uneaten side to the eaten side – yes, a lot of cheese! Not overly hungry, I figured I’d take an exploratory stroll and have a late light supper.

Knowing that the cathedral, which I’d visit tomorrow before my 11am free walking tour with Twenty Tour, I figured I’d explore to the west of the train station. North out of the hotel, I made a second right at the corner and walked three blocks until it T-ed into Rue de Bonnevoie. Another right and down a slight slope, I walked past a building with a circular footprint, Rotondes, now a cultural center and meeting place, but formerly the train roundhouse. Turning west, I found myself in a mixed commercial-residential area, so I jumped on a #3 bus heading northerly, and got off at the stop nearest the cathedral (because it was there.)

Walking along the boulevard I’d rode in on, I turned right and walked to the Hotel de Ville, the City Hall. With sunset approaching, I got a brilliant shot of the cathedral, which was built on a north-south axis, with the entrance being north. I pulled up Google to help locate a restaurant and Batucada, a Brazilian restaurant bar sounded inviting.

Busy, as it is Saturday evening, they found me a small table. After advising that I wasn’t very hungry, we settled on the antipasto platter, with shrimp, sausage, prosciutto, olive, cherry tomatoes and cheese on tortilla wedges, with herbed sour cream and a guacamole dip. But there’s always room for dessert: I ordered their variation on the chocolate volcano, which came with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and bits of fruit. Froufrou drinks seemed to fit the exuberant atmosphere of the place, so I opted for a small pitcher of their signature red sangria, which has rum Cachaca instead of brandy, and slices of sapoti, and jaboicaba.

With the dark skies starting to clear of clouds, and relatively straight route of less than a kilometer to get back to the hotel, I decided to walk back. A small stream (it’s hard to call a river) called the Pétrusse slides through the city, and there is an urban park which allows a greensward to scroll through. After passing the Palais de Justice, a skateboard park in the park itself sounded busy. With the park across the boulevard, it ended abruptly and the area started becoming more densely commercial, with shops and restaurants. Spotting the Saturn symbol, the logo for a department store chain, I knew I was “home”, as the Park Inn occupies the space above.

Once in my room, I copied the photos from the camera and phone (I didn’t use the little camera today) and set them both to charge. The netbook was charged, but I left it plugged in while I typed in my thoughts into this blog posting. Once uploaded, I’ll pull some photos to elucidate details, do a little journaling and call it a night.

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