Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Fontainebleau, France: Our Road Leads to Paris

After our grind through the Jura Mountains we assumed a general northwesterly path across the wheat fields of a much flatter France.  Our goal is Paris, where roads radiate out like rays of the sun. In the countryside the rivers can’t seem to make up their mind on the path to take, so engineers have dug channels to shortcut connections between them.  As is our style, we stayed on the minor roads and along the river and canal bike paths when possible, stopping briefly for baguettes or sleep, and pausing longer in places with a concentration of interesting features.
A wet morning on the streets of Dijon.
The first pause was in the city of Dijon in the Burgundy region, a place of antiquities, architecture and art.  The municipal campground was clean, secure and within walking distance of the old town.  The afternoon we arrived we visited the Musée de la Vie Bourguignonne.  Housed in a refurbished 17th-century convent, it was an artful display of what is really a big collection of Burgundy antiques from the last couple hundred years.  What enchanted us the most was a monitor showing a promotional film made in the early 20th century about Pernot, a local cookie (called biscuits here) showing how they were manufactured in the industrial manner of the 1920‘s -- men dumping baskets of flour into huge mixers, women stacking by hand the biscuits into trademark cardboard boxes and tins.  They had examples of many boxes on display, and even a few old biscuits oddly preserved under glass.  I looked at the grocery store and could not find the brand on sale, so a taste of the past was not to be had.
A magnificent half-timbered building in Dijon, with a pharmacy occupying the bottom floor.

Mail is delivered by bicycle in the city center of Dijon.
It was a rainy day the next morning, and we wandered about taking pictures of the old structures and then escaped for a couple of hours in the Musée des Beaux-Arts.  As with almost every museum we have visited, the building is as wonderful as the contents.  This one was the wing of the Palais des Ducs, the palace of the old ruling class.  Although we are a bit weary of the flat religious paintings of the Middle Ages, this museum’s collection had only a selective few, restored to bright colors and nicely displayed.  And best of all for thrifty travelers, all the city museums have free admission.
Middle age art on display at the art museum in dijon

Colorful glazed tile roofs are typical in this part of Burgundy.

Just can't seem to get enough of gargoyles, here on the cathedral in Dijon.
Continuing on our northwestern trend, we biked the next day along the Canal de Bourgogne on a stunningly clear day.  Once used to transport firewood to heat Paris, the canal now supports mostly pleasure craft.  As we approached the town of Pouilly-en-Auiox the canal disappeared underground .  The bike trail continued on the earthen cover, punctuated occasionally by large stone cylinders.  We learned later that barges could pass through the covered canal, and these pipes offered some ventilation.  Where the canal popped out at the north end was the continental divide -- we now were looking at the watershed of the Atlantic and leaving the Mediterranean behind.  The canal went underground for over three kilometers to keep the flow moving across the small rise of this divide.  A large crowd was gathered, but not to admire the wonders of engineering but to watch a car get fished out of the water.  Earlier in the day a driver lost control and went over the embankment.  He survived unscathed and is undoubtedly now a local hero for bringing entertainment to the small community.
What a lovely day to follow the Canal de Bourgogne.

Stone vent hole where the canal is underground.

For the record, Renaults do not float.
And lucky for me the campground was small and quiet and had a picnic table, because I came down with a bit of a respiratory infection that kept us there for an extra day that consisted of laundry, bike maintenance, and naps.
On the Atlantic side of the Canal de Bourgogne.

A forgotton church in a small village where we ate our picnic lunch.
Onward from there we ventured off the river routes and into the surrounding plateaus of grain fields.  We crossed the line of the French high speed train, a silver bullet through the amber fields, too fast to get the camera out for a photo.  The day was getting hotter, hitting a high of 90 degrees and probably as much humidity.  We stopped in the quaint town of Noyers, a neighbor of the famous Chablis and a mandatory stop for tourist buses, it seemed.  A spring flowed in town under a roofed structure.  So I ducked in to take off my shirt and dunk it in the icy water.  Just then a worker came to fill his water truck, so I am hoping he was not too shocked by my alabaster middle-aged midsection and sports bra.  The afternoon stop for groceries was disappointing -- I was looking forward to an extended time in the refrigerated section to cool down, but the skylights made it warm in there, too.  Arriving at the campground, people were limply sitting in the shade outside their camper vans trying not to move.  It was a muggy night, but while we slept the wind started to blow and cool air moved in and those same campers were wearing fleece jackets in the morning. 
This wayside marker stood still long enough for a picture.

Through the wheat fields towards Noyers.

Don't let the cool blue waters fool you -- it was hot and humid in Noyers the day we passed through.

Ping-pong tables work as dining tables, too.

Wheat fields for miles and miles.

Morning in Troyes.

A visit to the Maison de l'Outil (Museum of Craft Tools) in Troyes was a highlight.  There was glass case after glass case of tools for multiple crafts, displayed like art.

Between the cases hung old photographs -- here are the wheel-makers.

Some of the tools were personalized. 

Here are the tools used by the glove makers.

Sweet shutters in Troyes.

A bit distorted, but still standing after centuries, in Troyes.
The strong wind would persist for the next five days as we visited the city of Troyes and then followed the Seine river to near Fontainebleau.  We were now in the industrial corridor leading to the great city of Paris.  There were nuclear plants, barges, factories, traffic, water treatment plants.  But a short bike ride from our campground on the Seine took us to the château at Fontainebleau, where French royalty and aristocrats separated themselves from the grimness of the real world since the 12th century.  We only passed through a few of the 1900 rooms.  I have to admit that I experienced the word “breathtaking” walking into a few of them.  Ornate, gilded, over-the-top -- not what I  would want around me all the time, but the artistry and craftsmanship are things to admire.
An unusual house built with local volcanic rock in the town of Nogent-sur-Seine.

Another in the series of nuclear power plants in France, this one in Nogent-sur-Seine.

Empty sand and gravel barge, near Fontainebleau.

The Chateau Fontainebleau i just a modest little place...

...modestly furnished...

...a bit cramped in places...

...but a nice place to visit.

The Reillys at Fontainebleau!

Our northwest trajectory to Paris is near its end.  We are only a day’s ride from the suburbs where we plan to stay.  We have been introduced to the industrial underbelly which supports the city, and had our first taste of the splendor, too.  We are not city dwellers, just city visitors, and one of the world’s greatest is within range.  We are ready.
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Joe Blommer said...

Still enjoying your posts, looking forward to Paris!

frogworld said...

Love those gargoyles! Amazed at the variety of them. Have a bon temps in Paris! Bon, having a bon temps in Yosemite

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