This is the second part of a post detailing my afternoon in the downtown area, or “centre-ville,” of Chaumont, France. To read part one, click here.
After a deliciously French lunch break, our group split in two, leaving the older kids to roam around the city and stroll back to the hotel on our own time. We took to the streets, weaving in and out of shops and markets and drooling over colorful pastry displays around every corner. I was delighted to find a used book store, and flipped through a few faded editions before moving on to the next destination.
A post office, bank, chapel, and several shops lined up neatly in what appeared to be the city center, prompting a few more snaps. One thing that I still cannot get over is the appearance of every building. The French in this area spend a lot of time on maintaining their homes and communities, resulting in buildings both crumbling and beautiful. Vines climb the walls in some places, while others are darkened from accumulated moisture. Yet every building is uniquely beautiful, some with freshly-painted aqua shutters or meticulously-cleaned glasswork. I love the shared sense of pride and community that holds the city together.
We stopped inside the Jesuit Chapel to browse a temporary art gallery, with art themed around the Zodiac and the ways in which we are all guided through the universe. We had seen flyers pasted all over the city, and when we approached the ornate blue doors housing the exhibition, we couldn’t resist. I expected to pay a few Euro in admission fees, but the exhibition was completely free and open to the general public. We wandered at our own pace, often clustering to admire a particularly beautiful painting. We each had our favorite pieces, all from different artists – here are some of mine.
This appears to be a wandering exhibition, and if you would like to see more of the pieces and artists involved, you can check them out here: http://www.libelluleart.com/english/shows/ZO.html. I also have to share a picture of the chapel housing the collection – it was beautiful on its own.
I could have easily stayed in the city for a few more hours, taking in the impressive buildings and peering into shop windows, but it turns out that croissants and éclairs aren’t known for their hunger-curbing properties. After an hour or so, we said goodbye to the city center and continued on, with a few stops in mind en route to our hotel.
First up was this lovely little park, blooming with its abundance of bright flowers and lush green grass. The city was hosting an event for children, complete with toy car races and bounce houses. Public restrooms seemed to be in short supply, so I was relieved to finally stumble upon one in the middle of the park. Not so charming? The screaming child occupying the women’s single stall, and the filthy hole I discovered in place of a toilet in the men’s stall. Hey, at least it was free! My dad knew of an old hospital nearby, and we walked in the hopes of seeing the inside. The teal-topped dome of the hospital shone brightly as we came closer, and we ogled at the building from the fence-lined sidewalk. The outside of the building was gorgeous, with pearly white stonework, sculpted arches and tall windows – I can’t believe the care that goes into even the most mundane of French buildings! Unfortunately, we were unable to see the inside of the dome, since it was still a working hospital.
No matter. The homes we saw on our return journey were stunning, many with vibrant wrought iron fences and gates, and blooms reaching over the fence to wave as we passed by. I cannot tell you enough how much I love the simple charm these centuries-old homes possess. I lagged behind with my sisters, stopping frequently to take photos and rest our feet – why wear sensible walking shoes when we have boots, Converse, and ballet flats? My dad and brothers, with their long legs and practical athletic shoes, kept stopping and waiting for us, and my dad pointed out things that I never would have noticed. We were all transfixed by the home of a doctor, his name and title engraved on a plate for any passersby to see. Finally, we reached the street that would take us to our hotel, passing once again by the grocers and pharmacists who had been so bemused by Jennifer’s request for cigarettes the day before.
With aching feet and full memory cards, we made a pit stop at our hotel before reconvening with the rest of the family. Our grandparents had generously put my father, myself, and three siblings up in the Hotel Restaurant Le Grand Val. The room I shared with Jennifer had two twin beds pushed together, two side tables, one small closet, a desk and a narrow bathroom (if you look at the photos in the link, ours was the one with the Zoo poster). I loved our simple room and its large windows, which we swung open at night to invite a cool breeze into the room. After our rest, we piled into our Peugeot rental van and drove down the hill to our grandparents’ house to relax and eat a lengthy, delicious dinner, and to share our stories of the day.