Getting out of Paris wasn’t easy, but I (luckily) avoided crashing our rental car and we eventually found our way out of the city. I’d never driven a car with a navigational system in the dash (I realize they’re standard these days, but I am a hick). It definitely would have been a help. Once we figured it out, a couple of days later, getting around became much easier.
We stopped for lunch in Chateau-Thierry, a town on the Marne.
Afterwards, just outside of town we stumbled upon a monument in honor of American WWI soldiers who fought nearby.
All week we passed through beautiful and well-tended farmland. France is an agricultural nation, with one of the world’s leading agricultural economies–the largest in the European Union. France is second only to the U.S. in agricultural exports. Unlike the U.S., however, the French countryside is not dotted with farmhouses. Instead, French farmers live in villages and work the farmland that surrounds the village. I’m guessing that this way of living dates to the Middle Ages, when gathering in villages improved security. I regret not having taken more pictures of the farms and countryside.
The first stop on our journey was Reims, famous for its 13th Century cathedral and for its champagne.
The kings of France were crowned here for nearly 1,000 years, anointed with sacred oil said to have descended from heaven when the bishop of Reims baptized Clovis, the king of the Franks in the 5th century. Probably the most famous coronation was in 1429, during the 100 years war, when Charles VII was led into the cathedral by 19 year old Joan of Arc. Wearing her armor and carrying her white pennant, it was the climax of Joan’s amazing campaign to defeat the English and restore the crown to a French king.
Joan of Arc’s story fascinates me. Many years ago we visited Rouen and the saw the place where she was executed, burned at the stake. Convicted of heresy, her principal crime seems to have been that her example challenged the authority of the church hierarchy, and that she dared to wear men’s clothing. She remained a hero to the French people, nevertheless. In 1920 she was canonized.
The cathedral was badly damaged by German bombardment in 1914 but has now been largely restored. Some of the most beautiful stained glass is by Marc Chagall.
At the end of a long day, we got a hotel room near the cathedral, intending to finish our visit the next day.