When you've lived in France for 13 years, folks kind of expect that you've been around to all the major towns in France. But there is so much to see! All of France, not to mention all of Europe, to cover. And we tend to revisit places we love, all of which means my knowledge of a lot of French cities is pretty pathetic.
"You DO know Nancy, don't you?", the French will ask us. "You HAVE been to Lille of course? And you can't have missed the cathedral at Reims?"
Non, non, and oui. So I was very happy to check one at least one of these off my list recently, while we were in the Champagne region.
Ron claims to have cathedral fatigue, he has seen one too many of them in our European travels. But even he found Notre-Dame de Reims to be exceptional. It's special because so many of the kings and queens of France were coronated here. And for other reasons, as you will see.
Reims (pronounce it 'rance', unless you want to be terribly gauche), is centered around the cathedral. The first thing that sets it apart is, it's enormous. And every inch of the exterior is carved and ornate.
Before you go in you must of course look for the Smiling Angel (above), the muse of Reims. There were many angels and we were scratching our heads over this when a friendly guard wandered up and pointed her out. She does indeed have a cheerful and slightly enigmatic smile, and her giant visage looks down on you kindly.
Inside, it has the usual reverent elegance of a French cathedral, only bigger. But they've done something very interesting and very French, as the French have no fear of mixing the ultra modern with the ancient (SEE the pyramid at the Louvre). In the rear nave, they've replaced the towering stained glass windows, destroyed when the cathedral was bombed in WWI, with unabashedly modern stained glass by artists Marc Chagall, Imi Knoebel, and Brigitte Simon-Marq. The effect is spectacular.
The museum next door showcases some of the robes and finery of the royalty who began their reign with a march under the hallowed arches.
After your tour you'll be feeling virtuous, so reward yourself with lunch and wine at on one of Reims's lively restaurant rues. We discovered L'Apostrophe, which was stylish and different.
So my French city list has gotten shorter, but my "beautiful villages" list just keeps growing!
Photo right: an artistic, and modern, stained glass window. This one is by Knoebel. Learn more about them here.
Below: The cathedral, outside and in.
And one aside: In Reims we encountered the world's smallest library. The sign said, borrow a book and bring it back, or add a new one. Bonne idée!
And speaking of books: our loyal reader Natalia won Emily Dilling's My Paris Market Cookbook: A Culinary Tour of French Flavors and Seasonal Recipes in our book giveaway, in conjunction with Emily's guest post. (I've just ordered a couple of copies for Christmas presents). Natalia promised to pick a favorite recipe to share, and this week she did just that. I've had similar gratins at French tables many times, they are popular there, and delicious. A big fat MERCI to both Natalia and Emily!
RECIPE: Golden Swiss Chard Gratin (Gratin de Blettes)
Emily says: "This is a simple and nourishing autumn dinner, easy to prepare after work and a great way to use the ubiquitous Swiss chard that arrives with the changing of the leaves. Bake until golden and bring a little autumn sunshine into your evening!"
4–5 stalks, Swiss chard, chopped
1 cup Béchamel sauce (medium-thick white sauce)
1 cup (120 grams) grated Gruyère
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C). Wash and dry each stalk of Swiss chard. Remove the ends of Swiss chard stalks if dirty and then chop each stalk into thirds. Arrange Swiss chard in a large baking dish. Pour béchamel sauce over the Swiss chard. Top with grated Gruyère, salt, and pepper and bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown.
In the COMMENTS: VERY interesting comments this week from our readers, on the election. I’m reminded, by comments from Julie and others, that living in a foreign country gives you a fresh and global perspective that you might not otherwise develop. In my husband’s ideal world, everyone would be required to live a year in a foreign country, to get out of their box!
Ken, I love your timely quote. No matter who you’re supporting, I think we can all agree that election fatigue has set in, and this election has been, as Herm says, a “vicious race”. We are all longing for the “respect and compromise” that’s been lost, as Suzanne discusses, and Michaela already misses the “civil tone at the top”.
Mark and Mel, Lady Liberty was spotted on the right bank at the base of the Trocadero. Michaela, felicitations, at having wine from your own vineyard sitting on the best of tables, at the Obama state dinner! We are dead impressed.