On our first full day in France, we walked three miles from our hotel in Chamarandes-Choignes to the city center in Chaumont. It felt wonderful to stretch our legs after so many hours of being sedentary, and I was delighted by how distinctly French the roads and buildings were along our route. Every few minutes, I lagged behind the group to photograph colorful street signs and window shutters.
I knew from a quick stroll the day before that each shop in the area had a very specific purpose. My sister’s quest for cigarettes took us to a grocer and a pharmacist, both of whom stared at us in shock and shook their heads. Finally, we spotted a large red sign advertising “Tabac,” and we stopped inside to find that cigarettes are sold exclusively in tobacco stores.
I laughed at the previous day’s exploits as we passed by the tobacco shop in question and continued on to downtown Chaumont. I thought the roads might widen up as we walked closer to the city center, but the opposite was true. We crossed over the railroad tracks and found ourselves in a city seemingly forgotten by time.
We walked along narrow cobblestone sidewalks and gawked at ornate, time-worn buildings, all in varying shades of beige and ivory. A single strip of pavement wound through the city, the only indicator that time was in fact still passing us by. Cars and motorcycles vied for space along the side streets, out of place in the old city.
We wound between shops and restaurants, many of which were closed while their owners were on summer holiday, finally arriving at the steps of the Basilique Saint Jean-Baptiste. We spent half an hour or so roaming between the stained glass windows. I am not a religious person in any way, but the building was beautiful, and I would have liked to spend more time inside.
After leaving the basilica, we planned on visiting a historic dungeon and museum, located by the Palace of Justice. The dungeon, it turned out, was closed due to disrepair, so we stopped to take in the views of the city.
After our rest, we continued on in search of lunch. In France, it is not uncommon for shop owners and employees to take two hour lunch breaks, and many stores close between noon and 2 o’clock. We wound up settling for pastries from one of the cafes in the town square, although settling probably isn’t the right word in this case. My lunch consisted of a coffee-flavored eclair and a fizzy lemon drink, while my siblings snacked on lemon bars, chocolate eclairs, and fruit tarts. The younger kids, feet aching and bellies grumbling, were ready to go home, so our group split up after lunch, allowing those who were interested more time to explore.