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Trip Report Paris IV: a day trip to Chartres with lots of lessons

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We went to Chartres yesterday to take Malcolm Miller's tour of the Cathedral. I had heard him lecture in Boston 30 years ago, and he is still going strong in his mid eighties.

One meets him outside the gift shop in the cathedral just before noon, he collects €10 per person, which includes headphones, and the tour begins. Scheduled for an hour, he spoke for at least 1hr 20m, mostly about the windows, on which he is the world's expert, knighted twice by the French government. I tipped him another €10 at the end of the tour. It was worth it, though there is no expectation.

Information: I expected it to be very crowded, like Notre Dame. On a Tuesday, nothing could have been farther from the truth. There were a number of small groups, but no whistles or guides with flags. Most guides spoke into microphones and were heard on headsets. No shouting. On the other hand, there is heavy restoration going on in the cathedral, the narthex is full of scaffolding, and before 11:30 and after 2:00, the workers are noisy. The exterior scaffolding is almost all gone, and you can still see most of the windows. Whether you like the restoration will be uncertain. It is at least historically accurate and the unrestored stonework is black with soot and acid pollution.

Getting there: we went by regional train (SNCF TER) from Gare Montparnasse. We missed the 9:06 because of confusion over where to buy tickets. READ Kerouac's description of the different rail services and their ticketing in my "where what post". Our mistake: because we could buy SNCF, RER, and RATP tickets in the same place at CDG, we assumed we could at Montparnasse. No. By the time we sorted it out, our train was gone. Buy RATP tickets just outside the Metro. Buy SNCF tickets upstairs in the "Grandes Lignes Billeterie", which is a hike. On the left end of the ticket room are windows to buy tickets for that day, in the middle are windows for future travel.

Your outgoing tickets are good for any outgoing train that day (we actually caught the 10:09) and the returns are valid on any of the inbound afternoon trains, though the 16:34 runs express for the last part of the journey so is 15 minutes faster than the others. Our train left Montparnasse from track 22, which seems to be usual if not invariable. You can get to it very easily if you use the toilets on the main floor to the right (50 cents), a good idea since we did not find toilets in 2 cl on the train.

When you get to Chartres: it is a beautiful town, refreshing after the crush of the city. We only had half an hour until the tour so didn't have much time. You cross the street in front of the station and walk gently uphill to an open plaza. Cross the plaza diagonally toward the cafe tables, turn right on a narrow street, then almost immediately left at a bakery and walk more steeply uphill. At a municipal building in the next corner, turn right, then up again and there it is!

There are no free toilets, but the gift shop to the right of the Cathedral has clean toilets, and the price is an apparently standard 50 € cents. We ate lunch at a bistro also to the right, quite a nice one. It has glass to protect from wind, but it was still too cold outside, so we had the menu inside along with a lot of local businessmen.

We did not get to explore the old town because we went back to see more of the cathedral inside and out, but on the way back to the station, we continued straight rather than turning at the boulangerie and found ourselves at the other end of the plaza.

There we found what I have to say is the most effective holocaust memorial I havre seen because it was entirely local. All the deportees -- Jews, political deportees, prisoners of war, forced laborers -- were locals, not statistics, and there were posters about how the community kept their memories alive while they were gone and welcomed them home, if they did come home. The mayor of the town, Jean Moulin, was a railway union leader who was executed by the Germans. There is a plaque to locals who died in the liberation, and the role of US troops is recognized. Finally, and perhaps most remarkably, the contributions of the FFI (roughly Gaullist) and FTP (roughly communist) were equally recognized. Well worth the time if you can read some French.

Some personal adventures: for us, the trip began on the opposite side of Paris with a walk to the Gare de l'Est, just in time to meet the hordes of commuters changing from train to Metro. Line 4 was crowded, but not worse than the Boston Red Line. Montparnasse station is vast, and the walk to the trains was very long with lots of ups and downs like Chatelet which would make luggage difficult. Ditto on return. I would say that because if crowds it took us 12 minutes to get from the metro to the correct ticket windows. It's a workout in a crowd.

We probably spent two hours getting across Paris and back and buying tickets and two and a half hours on the train journey out and back. We were whacked.

And for those taking TER trains with luggage, these cars are double decked. The newer outbound trains had lots of steps and an overhead package shelf above the seats but no place to put luggage except at the end of the car. This shelf would not hold a carryon bag. The older return car had no overhead at all and at least two steps up into the train and more to the upper level or three to the lower level. Travel lightly.

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