“I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair it to move.” Robert Louis Stevenson – ‘Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes’.
Leaving splendid Strasbourg and meandering westward towards lovely Nancy I came across a hilltop sight now common across Europe, modern windmill farms creating clean electricity.
(NOTE: To improve your viewing experience click on the photos below to enlarge – once for medium, twice to zoom in.)
These modern mechanical structures aren’t ugly by any means but they don’t come close to matching the nostalgic sight I came across in central Spain where several ancient windmills astride a ridge evoked Don Quixote’s menacing giants.
Early two or three story high windmills captured nature’s prolific (and free) winds to power man-made machinery for the general good of mankind.
Clustered in exposed areas known for frequent winds, today’s behemoths can number several hundred with state-of-the-art design and materials, turbines are powered by blades ranging from 40 to 50 metres, and typically rise 50 to 80 metres above ground. One such behemoth in Germany is actually 100 metres high, think of it as a 33 floor high building.
Next time you have the opportunity to do so, spare a day for Nancy, a lovely city on the main east-west axis from Paris to the German border with a long and illustrious history, yet it isn’t often a foreign tourist will make a point to visit and that’s simply too bad. The sprawling, pedestrian square ‘Place Stanislas’ has a well-earned reputation as a splendid example of ‘flamboyant architecture’ and sure enough it burnishes bright in the sunshine. Since 1983 it has been added to UNESCO’s prestigious list of World Heritage Sites along with adjoining ‘Place de la Carrière and Place d’Alliance’.
The statue honours Stanislaw Leszczynski, former king of Poland; the city was a gift from his son-in-law, King Louis XV of France as a consolation prize for having lost his Polish crown. The new Duke de Lorraine et de Bar spent the next twenty years of his life in Nancy and almost immediately embarked on a major urban renewal project and the ‘place’ became its center piece. Place Stan as it’s called familiarly honors his memory has long been used for public assemblies, festivities and a favourite venue for meeting friends.
The child isn’t born who doesn’t love the up and down ride on a carousel pony: I’ll admit to being sorely tempted to join her but didn’t want to give way to my youthful impulse – maybe I should have, no, not maybe, I should have.
Where better to enjoy a ‘quiche lorraine‘ than in the capital of Lorraine? The local beer was the perfect accompaniment. There’s not a city or town in Europe that doesn’t offer a choice of great bistros with outdoor patios to relax and gawk at passers-by.
Feeling rested and energetic, I headed 250 kliks north-east towards Reims, via the autoroute a little over 2 hours drive, admittedly at slightly faster than posted speed limits. The city of Reims for it’s part posseses a glorious past dating to Roman days, St. Joan of Arc and of course famed as the home of several distinguished ‘Maison de Champagne’. Notre-Dame de Reims, is classified a UNESCO World Heritage Site celebrating new architectural techniques in the 13th century coupled with the harmonious marriage of sculptural decoration with architecture. Considered one of the masterpieces of Gothic art the former abbey still has its beautiful 9th-century nave, in which lie the remains of Archbishop St Rémi (440–533), who instituted the Holy Anointing of the kings of France. The cathedral has withstood the desecration of rampaging mobs during the French Revolution with the profane vandalism to statues and severe bomb damage during WWI that destroyed priceless stained glass windows. Like the mythical Phoenix the cathedral rises anew and since my first sight as a very young lad to this day it remains my personal favourite of all buildings around the world. Lucky me, I have admired close-up the incomparable Taj Mahal in Agra, graceful Golden Temple in Kyoto, the inspired restructuring and adaptation of a splendid Moorish mosque to Christian cathedral in Cordoba, the triumphant Piazza de Miraculo in Pisa, to name more would be superfluous – to my eyes all equal in celebrating man’s artistic genius when creating rather than destroying, and yet La Cathedral de Reims dedicated to the Virgin Mary is closest to my heart. Obviously I’m not alone as it attracts one million visitors each year.
Every nook and cranny of the facade, surrounding rooftops and twin towers are adorned by gargoyles, statues, fanciful and airy stone work. I’m always amazed at how such a massive structure, build 8 centuries ago has the feel of delicate lacework.
This famed statue is aptly called ‘L’ange au sourire‘ (Smiling Angel). According to local lore this heavenly visitor sampled a bit too much of the heady bubbly the city is famed for – Champagne. And it shows!
The central nave is a perfect blend of a light airiness combined with the massive power of massive columns that hold the roof up.
Wonderful stained glass windows that adorned the cathedral were mostly destroyed during WWI, however, the shards were collected and stored until the time came to lovingly and expertly restore them by talented artisans. Those that were beyond repair were created anew including a masterpiece contributed by Marc Chagall.
Reims is also famous for having been the site of the coronation of many French kings; the long line was broken by Napoleon who had himself crowned at Notre Dame in Paris. Subsequent history clearly shows it brought him no luck and as his English foe might have gleefully said, “Hard cheese” and I concur, one shouldn’t impudently fool around with tradition. Sainte Jeanne d’Arc of course understood the historic significance and had her king (Charles VII) anointed there in 1424 .
And what is a day without a bottle of bubbly in Champagne? Here’s to all of you my faithful friends. I’ll next travel to Belgium and ask you along. A votre santé mes amis!