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France I - 3-8 May: Lille, Amiens, Paris

Updated: Nov 6, 2023

The first Wednesday in May found me transiting through Tournai in Belgium to reach my destination of Lille in northeast France. Out of the station I was quickly at the hotel, where I checked in and had my gear up more stairs to room 25. A small room, I got my toiletries out and into the bathroom before heading out onto the streets. I found the Tourist Office, which was closed for lunch, and then, armed with Maps, proceeded to head away from the cathedral (not intended, believe me.)

Interior of FFA sandwich shop, Lille
FFA sandwich shop, Lille

Charcuterie lunch

Wandering back streets, I found a tiny FFA-sponsored (Fédération Française de l'Apéritif) sandwich shop (using farmer-produced and supplied foods.) I had a chorizo and local goat cheese platter with a glass of Cotes du Rhone. Sandwiches were only to-go, and he had run out of baguettes, so only platters for in-house consumption could be ordered. I sat inside, watching the prep show, while outside was rather busy with folks eating and enjoying the sun. The music, he explained, was Puerto RIcan/Caribbean (English language lyrics) with a strong beat. He offered a single beer, from Normandy, which had a smoky preparation similar to whisky.

Sated, I continued my wander, spotting a men’s wear shop which was going out of business, which I browsed but nothing appealed. (Not that I need any more clothing!) As I entered the Lille Cathedral / Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-la-Treille de Lille, my camera required a battery change.

Facade view through trees, Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-la-Treille de Lille
Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-la-Treille de Lille

As I carried two spares, I only charged them (at the hotel) when fully discharged. When entering, one is faced with a plain white stone wall. Once inside, that stone is translucent, probably travertine? The building is a combo - modern with turn of the 19-20th century Neo Gothic, with the theme of the Resurrection. The Stations are a series of 15 square paintings that filled a side aisle wall. [Traditionally, there are 14 stations, which represent the path Christ took from His sentencing by Pontius Pilate to the entombment. I have been encountering more churches where a fifteenth is added, His resurrection.] With the gallery about 5 stories above the nave floor, this relatively new (100 years old) church has a high vault. However, the windows are filled with colorless glass rectangular panels. Mosaics fill the shrines along the ambulatory.

After returning to the hotel to drop the camera off, I headed out and entered Les Bistronautes. I started with a Dutch amber, Hout Hakker. For dinner a canard and poive vert saucisson. My second beer, bière du moment, was called saison - it was darker, hoppy and had more flavor than the first.

Up, checked out but leaving my gear at the hotel, I had to call the front desk for assistance with the large bag to bring downstairs as my back was still sore. I headed to the station to return to Tournai (which I included in the Belgium blog.) Sitting on the train before recrossing the border for a “day trip,” I added a “macabre observation” from the day before to my journal. While getting my outside shots of the Lille Cathedral, I’d seen a squad of perhaps a dozen or more soldiers, fully armed with assault weapons, patrolling the square and cathedral grounds. No one seemed to take notice. A soldier I’d approached said it was a regular operation.

Back in Lille after my morning trip to Tournai, after using the head I collected my gear and returned to the train station. The carriage was dual level, so I got my bags and me down three steps and found a seat to watch the Picardy countryside roll past for 5 stops. My phone was at 40% and I’d hoped to charge on the train, but not an option for that service. Once in Amiens, the journey was short to the hotel, but the route was one of stones and tiles, all uneven. My room, number 42, was on the top floor. I’d passed 3 lavandières, all unattended; I’d hoped for a wash, dry and fold operation so I didn’t have to spend 2 hours watching my clothes spin around.

[When I was working my itinerary for Amiens, I referred to my 2020 plans, which had been developed using the ViaHero concierge, Vivienne. Deciding to spend two nights on this trip, I was able to spread my rather ambitious agenda over a day and a half.]

First stop on my day’s agenda was the Tourist Office, adjacent to the cathedral square. My note says “no joy”, but I don’t recall if it was closed or just staffed with unhelpful workers. Off to the St Leu district and then into the University district, where I approached security and asked if it might be possible to go to the roof and take photos of the Cathedral. Feeling blessed, I was escorted up and took 4 shots. The building hadn’t been there in 1999 when I took my night shot of the cathedral that I included in Cathedrals to the Glory of God.

Side view, Basilique-Cathédrale Notre-Dame d'Amiens
Basilique-Cathédrale Notre-Dame d'Amiens

Once in the St Leu district I had a bit of a wander, crossing several canals and enjoying the buildings and trees. Next on the itinerary was the cemetery, but after 30 minutes of walking and Maps telling me I’d barely made a dent in the route, I bailed and went into the Jardin aux Plantes. The hot houses were closed to the public, but the layout showed the multiple herbs, flowers and ornamentals well, and was rather calming.

Heading back towards the station, I was finding much fascinating public art on exterior walls. At the major canal, I stopped at Green Corner for a beer. With a fine view of the cathedral, I ordered a plate with cheese, radishes, two spreads and bread - a “petit planche”. With partial clouds, the sun kept trying to break through, albeit light spritzing didn’t discourage anyone. I relaxed with a decent French craft beer, to music with a pleasant beat. Then Happy Hour triggered, with 3-euro beers, so I relaxed a bit more.

Thinking to get some shots of the cathedral with the late afternoon/early evening light, I crossed the canal and headed to the square. After a handful of outside shots, I entered the building to take a picture of the rose window, only to find that it was being restored and completely covered by canvas. I did get a few shots inside, to add to those I’d take the next day for my “formal” visit.

On my way back to the hotel I stopped at Carrefour for bananas and juice. Seeing Fresh Burritos, I decided I’d get takeaway. The young woman server was surprised when I told her pico de gallo was Mexican. That made for an interesting conversation. Back at the room I found the burrito passable. Backing up the photos, I started rearranging the room to allow for safer passage to the bathroom from the bed. (Since I don’t drink a lot of water while wandering, I consume a lot of water after dark.) I sorted my laundry. After doing some email, I read for a bit before lights out.

Friday morning weather was a light drizzle, so I decided to tackle the laundry issue first. Two loads (light and dark) with the dryers on a 10-minute cycle, so I really was staying put. I made use of the folding table when all was dry, and brought my clothing back to the room over the wet pavers.

Bulding facade, Basilique-Cathédrale Notre-Dame d'Amiens
Basilique-Cathédrale Notre-Dame d'Amiens

Onward to the cathedral, where I hoped to arrange for a tower climb. At the Basilique-Cathédrale Notre-Dame d'Amiens, I searched for staff for about an hour, getting pictures. Once I spotted the store, I was told climbs were canceled for the day due to the weather. (Thunderstorms were expected in the early afternoon.) The stations were placed in the side chapels, many of which were behind locked gates; I asked a guide for access to the 13th station to add to my photo collection.

Returning to the room, after a pit stop, I grabbed the copy of Cathedrals to the Glory of God I’d brought with me. With a 4pm tour of the Treasury, I was able to pass along the photobook, donating it for the cathedral’s library. As I was early, I sat and watched a priest make arrangements to say mass in a side chapel for the group of Chinese he was accompanying. The tour guide appeared and after talking at the top of the nave, we crossed into the sacristy. Portraits of eveques, historic robes and vestments, processional crosses lined the larger room. Into a smaller room where the sacred highly-prized treasures: a 1220 cross-shaped reliquary contains a splinter of the True Cross; a gold crown houses a thorn; a gold-leaf casket has the remains of the 4th century bishop who first converted the citizens of Amiens, being martyred by beheading. The most valued was the skull of John the Baptist, preserved in crystal. The guide, aged 43, works for National Restorations, and this was his only job for 23 years. Two women also joined us, a local in her 40’s and 25yo woman from southwest Virginia; they added some knowledge of Catholicism to our discussion.

Interior, La Brasserie Jules, Amiens

Out and wandered, looking for dinner. Found La Brasserie Jules, and was delighted to have an aperitif of Suze to sip on, once my order had been placed and an amuse bouche appeared: a shot glass with tomato bruschetta and a slice of toast. My starter (that I ordered: pan-fried asparagus, soft boiled egg and black garlic espuma) turned out to be a delightful surprise: a cool cream-based soup with white asparagus pieces and a whole soft-boiled egg. A light portion, good seasoning, it was smooth and tasty. The fisherman’s casserole (salmon, king prawn, cod, seafood, baby vegetables and cream) was much like a chowder, loaded with seafood. Peas, carrots, potato pieces, with pieces of salmon and cod in a thick cream sauce. It was delicious. A half bottle of Muscadet de Sevre et Maine sur Lie ‘20, and a pichet of water accompanied my meal. On a roll, I asked for the dessert menu, selecting entremet choco framboise (sable au grué de cacao, insert framboise, cremeaux chocolat au lait au the Earl Gray, ganache chocolat noir, sauce chocolat vanille.) Chocolate and raspberries - sure fire choice, and a stellar dessert!

The next morning, 6 May, I had a later train selected, so got up late, leaving the hotel in Amiens just before 10. At the station, the up escalator worked (I needed to go down) and the lift was also broken, but station staff graciously assisted with getting the big bag down a huge flight of stairs to the lift to Platform 3. The carriage I picked had 8-person cabins, so the smaller bag went up in the overhead rack, and the larger placed in front of a seat. A young man joined me, then another solo before a family of 4 filled the space. For 80 minutes I watched the countryside roll by. At Paris Gare du Nord, I had some fellow passengers assisting with the bags, and then headed out to the streets.

The walk to the Hotel Marena was okay, however I noted it was a longer walk than I expected. Room 507 on the top floor was ready for me when I checked in. It had plenty of floor space, so the big bag was open for the three night duration of my stay. A single twin bed, a mini shower. The wifi was too slow for Maps, so I waited until I was on the street before getting my bearings. At the Cadet station, I purchased a carnet of 10 tickets, returning to the street intending to take the bus to my first destination. The status sign indicated it was running late, so back into the Metro on line #7, with a change to the #9 and exiting at Place Alma.

Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, Paris
Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, Paris

Walking up the chic Avenue George V, I came to the closed Anglican “American Cathedral”, the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity. The chestnut trees were in bloom, with both pink and white flowers, enhancing those outside shots I took from both up and down the avenue. Back down the slight incline to the Seine, I crossed the river admiring the very new Russian Orthodox Cathedrale de la Sainte-Trinitie (Moscow Patriarch) with its golden dome and stark white walls, with the Eiffel Tower in the background.

Across Seine River, Cathedrale de la Sainte-Trinitie and Eiffel Tower, Paris
Cathedrale de la Sainte-Trinitie, Paris

A baptism was concluding, so I, along with several other tourists, waited until the photographer was finished and the priest began returning the space to the traditional empty floor. The cathedral has a very small footprint, seemingly disproportionate to the height of the walls. (Yes, I’d just been in Notre-Dame d’Amiens with a vault probably three or four times higher, but in Amiens it had an immense floor plan.)

Realizing that I needed to cross back across the Seine, I next visited the Armenian Catholic Cathedral: Cathédrale Sainte-Croix-de-Paris where a wedding was underway.

Armenian Catholic Cathédrale Sainte-Croix-de-Paris
Cathédrale Sainte-Croix-de-Paris
Nave with wedding underway at Cathédrale Sainte-Croix-de-Paris
Nave with wedding underway

I snuck a pair of shots down the main aisle of the kneeling couple. Crossing the street to the Bar des Theatres, I had a coffee and used their facilities before returning to cross the Seine to the left bank. While at the Russian Orthodox cathedral, I’d told the guard of my obsession, and he stated that there was a cathedral downriver from his location. So I began walking the lovely tree-lined avenue, discovering a non-denominational church that he had been referring to.

Pont Alexandre III over the River Seine, Paris

Being along the Seine, I spotted my favorite crossing, the Pont Alexandre III with its gold statues along the balustrades. As I reached the military base/headquarters known as Les Invalides, I found the entrance to the parade grounds, across a wide expanse of grass and walkways. The courtyard has five-story tall offices boxing it, with the entrance opposite the actual Military Ordinariate Cathedrale Saint-Louis des Invalides.

Front facade, Cathedrale Saint-Louis des Invalides, Paris
Cathedrale Saint-Louis des Invalides, Paris

Behind it is the magnificent gold-ribbed dome of Les Invalides, where the mausoleum of Napoleon Bonaparte rests. In the first Cathedrals to the Glory of God, I’d included my picture of that dome, not realizing that the actual cathedral is much less ostentatious and backing on it.

As I approached Cathedrale Saint-Louis des Invalides, another wedding was concluding, with the bride and groom being escorted by dapper uniformed military. Entering, I found half the north side was blocked off, and there was little of my anticipated ornamentation. The organ looked nice. Continuing more-or-less along the river, passing the vicinity of the Musee Rodin, I came to the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral: Cathédrale St. Volodymyr-le-Grand de Paris.

Ukrainian Catholic Cathédrale St. Volodymyr-le-Grand de Paris.
Cathédrale St. Volodymyr-le-Grand de Paris

Simple Romanesque facade, a woman was peering in the door as a service was underway. I took two shots over her head and continued my journey. My next stop would be in the heart of St-Germain-des-Pres, passing Deux Margot and Cafe Flore, the 1920’s watering holes for the bohemian expat crowd in Paris.

Cafe Aux Deux Margot

Cafe de Flore, Paris

My goal was Église de Saint-Sulpice, the second largest church in Paris and the designated pro-cathedral while Notre-Dame de Paris continues to recover from the April 2019 fire. A pro-cathedral is designated by a bishop when their cathedral is not functional, to act as a base for caring for the parishes in a diocese.

[Pro-cathedral] Église de Saint-Sulpice, Paris
[Pro-cathedral] Église de Saint-Sulpice, Paris

While dark inside (like the cathedral was,) it was less crowded and the art and ornamentation was gothic/neo-gothic, most in need of conservation. I searched for the cathedra (bishop’s throne) which I’d expected to be relocated from N-D, but after asking, found it had not been moved. The sacrament was in exposition, at which I offered prayers for my mother and her father, and I noted that the queues for reconciliation (confession) were rather long that Saturday evening.

Exiting out to the square in front, with a large fountain at its center and more blooming chestnut trees adorning the border, I headed onward, towards the Jardins de Luxembourg.

Entry, Cathédrale Notre-Dame-du-Liban de Paris
Cathédrale Notre-Dame-du-Liban de Paris

View of nave towards presbytery
View of nave towards presbytery

With a business-like entry off the street in the cinqeme arrondissement, the Maronite Cathedral: Cathédrale Notre-Dame-du-Liban de Paris had open doors. Mass was in process, and I was completely surprised to find a traditional gothic interior having passed through a modern portal. I stayed for the Gospel and sermon, leaving quietly and deciding to head back to the hotel. A #7 Metro stop was close by, meaning no changes, and soon I was back in the tenth arrondissement. I stopped at Carrefour for supplies: bananas, fruit juice, chocolate bars. Dropping them off, I returned to street level in search of dinner. The pizza place was “complet”, so not an option, but several doors down was the Paris Thai House. Starting with Tom Yam Kha Khai (chicken soup with lemongrass and coconut milk), I had a half bottle of a Cotes de Provence rose with Kegne Phat Kam (red chicken curry with coconut milk) and their house Thai rice. Gingembre confit for dessert, which I took back to the hotel room as I was seriously full.

Sunday morning I dawdled and left about 10 for the bus to the Greek Orthodox Cathedral: Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Paris.

Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Paris
Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Paris

I arrived and services were in process, so I decided to attend. I learned that the Metropolitan was in attendance (equivalent to a bishop) and the two hours passed quickly. Fortunately, the Greek Orthodox believe in seats! As the congregation cleared the nave, I was able to get my pictures. While some conservation would be advised, I really liked the iconostasis (the screen in front of the sanctuary.)

I was approached by several folks inquiring as to my purpose. Learning I was originally from New York City, they connected me to a woman who had immigrated from there after marrying a Frenchman. Her son, Clemente, had been an acolyte during the service - he intends on being an aircraft pilot. Over coffee and a biscuit, I had a chance to speak (in English and rather broken French) with some others. It was the most welcome I’d felt in a while.

Facade, Cathédrale Saint-Alexandre-Nevski de Paris
Cathédrale Saint-Alexandre-Nevski de Paris

From St Stephen’s in the 16th, I headed along a kilometer long route to the other Russian Orthodox Cathedral: Cathédrale Saint-Alexandre-Nevski de Paris. The ROCOR (or Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia) was established 100+ years ago by Russian emigres who didn't want to follow a Moscow-based (and Communist controlled) Patriarch. Situated mid-block in the 8th, the priest was in front at street level dialoging. Along with two other visitors from Quebec, the priest’s wife was gracious to allow us up into the nave, and allowed me to take pictures despite the signs to the contrary. Beautiful icons, but the cathedra is put away pending a visit from the metropolitan or patriarch. The church has been active for over 100 years.

Leaving the ROCOR cathedral, I walked about ¾ kilometer to take a Metro into the 3rd/4th to visit the Armenian Catholic Cathedral: Cathédrale Sainte-Croix-de-Paris. A narrow building surrounded by iron fencing, a tree in front blocked a view of the horizontal stripes of the front facade. It was locked, looking mildly unused.

Front facade, Cathédrale Sainte-Croix-de-Paris
Cathédrale Sainte-Croix-de-Paris

Front facade, Basilique-Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris
Basilique-Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris

Turning north towards the river, I cross onto Ile-St-Louis and then to Ile de la Cite. My goal was the Basilique-Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris. As a donor/sponsor for the repairs to this burned edifice, I wanted to observe and record “on film” the state of the church. Approaching from the east, the entire building appeared to be shrouded in canvas, laced over with scaffolding. Plywood sheets cordoned off the work areas, covered with photos and text explaining the work that was required. It was disheartening to read that, while efforts to be completed by the Olympics next summer, work would continue through all of 2024. Blessedly, the western facade, the best known face of the cathedral, is visible, and an arena-like set of seating is set in front for folks to watch and wonder.

Once I completed my circumnavigation of the building under repair, I crossed through Ile-St-Louis into the Marais, my favorite district in Paris. Lots of pedestrians, I was looking to grab a bite to eat: most establishments were full, or just exorbitant in price. FInally I found Cafe Marianne (the representative figure for France) and got a single seat table. WIth a half liter of “Meantime”, a beer, and a plat : Le Shouk Shouk (5 falafel, cut up veggies, hummus - both red and black) I relaxed off my feet. A thunderstorm started as I was ready to order dessert, so I slowly enjoyed the cheesecake as the storm passed through.

Exiting and heading to the Port Marie metro station, I rode to Cadet. Some confusion had me miss a few turns once on the streets, and I wound up down the hill from Sacre Coeur, the great basilica on Montmartre. I was surprised to see that wet, it wasn’t quite as brilliantly white as I recalled. I purchased a baguette and some cheese for later, expecting to stay in. I had the 8-days-at-sea to finish blogging, and wanted to push my photos of Notre-Dame up as well, to share via the blog to FaceBook.

With one more day in the City of Light, on Monday I found that I had seen all 10 cathedrals that were on my list. My back was feeling better, so I decided to walk the route to Gare du Nord which I’d use to leave on the following morning. Not carrying my journal, the string bag was lighter, which must have helped. May 8 is a French holiday apparently, so while I could window shop, most stores were closed. On a chance, since I would be returning to the States in August on Cunard, I decided to visit their office in the 15th. On the Metro, I had to make one change, and came up in an area I’d never visited. Wending through based on Maps, I got to the address Google had provided to find no Cunard presence, and closed businesses. Cutting my losses, I continued towards the Eiffel Tower, coming to a “mall” where I found “free” WCs. I continued to the Champs de Mars (a park), the Tower, Les Invalides, Vauban and eventually St Sulpice. Opposite the Tour Montparnasse (a skyscraper) I stopped and had a 4-cheese pizza at a bistro called Crescendo.

[As I basically rambled through Paris, here are random shots that I took that Monday.]

Crossing the Seine at Pont des Artes, I passed through the courtyard of the Louvre and viewed the Pyramide, and then walked into the Palais Royale park on my way to Montmartre. Stopping for a visit at the Basilica of Notre-Dame des Victoires, I offered up a few prayers. Passages, narrow enclosed street-like walkways with small shops running between larger buildings, filled the areas that I was walking through, giving me lots of window-shopping opportunities, albeit I didn’t add to my collections. I had a beer at the tabac on the corner by the hotel before heading to the room to pack. A blog got posted that evening.

Book: Cathedrals to the Glory of God
Cathedrals to the Glory of God

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Cathedrals to the Glory of God

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