Lovely Nancy, Regal Reims

“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.  

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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.

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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.

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How beneficial to wildlife is a question much debated;  renewable less polluting ‘green’ power weighed against the uncounted tens of thousand of migrating birds yearly chopped down by gigantic spinning arms.   Yet there is hope avian denizens will learn to avoid the giant turbines.  It’s a recorded fact that decades ago migrating northern European songbirds that for millennia had flown a path above Italy, on their way to North African wintering grounds, in time learned to modify their inbred path and veered off to fly above the Adriatic.  Although a perilous journey when confronted by storms with no place to find  shelter, it was nonetheless safer to avoid the deadly gauntlet above land.  Hunting had become a passionate past-time and songbirds were not spared in the least.  The carnage was such that even the birds figured it out and made the course change needed to survive, not bad thinking for ‘bird brains’, you’ll agree.  A long aside to express the hope that today’s winged creatures will figure it out too and learn to avoid the perils inherent in flying through the gauntlet of wind farms. 
As I mentioned I had the good fortune to come across these several ancient windmills astride a hillside above the town of Consuegra, a smallish but historic town some 60 kilometres north of Toledo.  The  unmistakable silhouette on the wall was an immediate reminder of hapless Don Quixote who according to Miguel de Cervantes’ account, mistaking these same  windmills for threatening giants mounted a valiant charge that met with predictably appalling results, sad to say. A direct reference to that absurd event, you’ll surely remember,  is the wise admonition to refrain from ’tilting at windmills’.
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I might also reveal here I read the book still in my teens and was utterly saddened by the story but more than that I hated each and every episode when the benighted “Knight of the Sad Countenance’ was not only defeated but humiliated over and over again.  The only reason I kept on reading was to at last discover a victory, no matter how small, just one,  but alas, not even that was to be found.  I came to hate Cervantes as a cruel writer with not a drop of the milk of human kindness to be squeezed from his implacable Spanish heart.  Yes, of course, it’s been hailed as a monumental novel of great literary significance but search me if I know why.  Then as now I didn’t see any rational for piling on when the victim was already down and out, even in fiction.   
The windmills have been restored and grace the hillside with dignity.  In the background the remnants of an ancient citadel.  

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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’. 

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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.  

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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.

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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.  

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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.  

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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.  

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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!

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The central nave is a perfect blend of a light airiness combined with the massive power of massive columns that hold the roof up.  

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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.

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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 .  

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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!

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8 responses to “Lovely Nancy, Regal Reims

  1. Once again, old pal, well done! A nice read. How are you? As regards green power, I’m just now having 40 solar panels installed on my roof. It’s an interesting project that will reduce my carbon imprint by tons over the next few years.
    Jim

  2. Solar panes on your roof is a great idea; hope your example will influence friends and neighbours to emulate your splendid social consciousness. Hope you’ll visit this particular post in a few days as it’s not yet complete – a snafu on my part. A bientôt, J-M

  3. Lovely photos! And I agree with you on what you said about Don Quixote. When I read it I was also wondering what the writer was tying to say by unrelentingly showing Don Quixote’s miserable defeats over and over again. Might be interesting to reread it. I might understand the story better now that I’m a little older. Thank you for this lovely travelogue!

    • Thank you. Incidentally I’ve had the same thought, perhaps I should pick up Don Quixote again and try to discover why it’s deemed such a literary masterpiece. And then I have a much better idea, why should I depress myself? I’m not going to victimize myself as the poor man did over and over again, so no thank you, there are stories to be read that will uplift my spirits and not drown them in Cervante’s dark and cruel world.

  4. By the way, the bubbly looks good. A glass of that would do me a lot of good right now when I’m in my office…..

  5. Hibou des Neiges

    Another place I enjoyed visiting with you thru your magnificent photos and writing. It is all so seductive and inviting. Thank you again . I always look forward to discover a new horizon with you.

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