Lessons in hard to pronounce French city names … We’d been practicing the pronunciation of Reims aka Rheims for days. It’s not ‘Reems’ as you might expect. It’s more like ‘Renz’ … you swallow/roll the ‘R’ and lose the ‘m’ so it sounds more like an ‘n’ and pronounce the ‘s’ which you rarely do in French. Some city names are more challenging than others.
The highlight of Reims is the Notre-Dame de Reims, the Reims Cathedral, and it is pretty spectacular. This awesome French Gothic structure was bombed over 300 times by the Germans during WWI. A testament to human endurance and resilience, it was rebuilt to its original design between 1919-1938 through dedication, gifts, donations and benefactors, including a million dollars from John D. Rockefeller.
We returned to the Cathedral on our day off for a more thorough exploration. It’s the exterior detail that always blows me away and we examined the cathedral from all sides. It’s an extraordinary piece of architecture, all the more so in that it was originally built in 1211, rebuilt in the 13th-15th centuries after a fire, then painstakingly restored after WWI. Click on the thumbnail to enlarge the image.
The Cathedral is famous as the traditional venue for the coronation of France’s Kings initiated by King Henry I of France who was crowned here in 1027 and thus established Reims as the coronation headquarters for future kings.The cathedral hosted thirty-three sovereign coronations in just over 1000 years.
According to Wiki, ‘The coronation of Charles VII in 1429 marked the reversal of the course of the Hundred Years’ War, due in large part to the actions of Joan of Arc.’ And Joan is not forgotten in Reims, in fact she’s been memoralized with a statue in the Cathedral and one in front .
Each city we’ve visited has some iconic symbol with which it identifies. ‘The Smiling Angel [found on the north portal of the west facade) has become the symbol of the martyred cathedral during the First World War, then the symbol of the whole city of Reims.’
I was especially intrigued by the number of statues, gargoyles, grotesques and chimeras … 2,300 statues in all. Take a look … these are amazing.
During the French Revolution, revolutionaries chopped the heads off several of the Cathedral’s statues, a portent of things to come for French royalty. The church and crown were directly linked hence the reason revolutionaries beheaded the statues.
The interior is less spectacular in keeping with the simpler tastes of the clergy at the time. It was spacious in size, but spare in ornamentation, especially when compared to Italian cathedrals.
Of note were the famous stained glass windows by Marc Chagall (1974) and one of the original rose windows. Some of the celebrated stained glass windows from the Notre-Dame de Reims were spared by a family of glass makers who removed the windows they could and meticulously took others apart piece by piece so they could hide them and protect them from the shelling of WWI.
After exploring the Cathedral inside and out for a couple of hours, we had little time left for the Palace de Tau, former residence of archbishops, now a museum. We gave it a pass, mostly because we had a mission… finding just the right place for David’s birthday dinner.
En route, we stopped by the Tourist Info office for a champagne tasting, just to fortify ourselves for the upcoming task. I bought some Rose Biscuits, a specialty of the city, to try. They were pink and kind of biscotti-like, sugar-coated and tasteless.
We wandered around the Place D’Erdon, a hub of restaurant and bistro activity, still looking for the ‘right’ place to celebrate. There was no stone unturned, no restaurant menu unread. David finally decided on L’Excelsior with its elegant terrace and gardens. There were no reservations available until 8:45 pm (late for aging pilgrims), but with a nap, we managed to stay awake for the entire dinner. It was romantic, elegant and lush.
Late, late, late in the evening (11:15pm), the Regalia, a celebrated light show at the Cathedral was taking place and we barely made it on time. It was ‘incroyable’!
Exhausted, but inspired, we walked home with the other Regalia viewers and then as the crowd thinned out, along the darkened, quiet streets of Reims to the hotel. We’d need another nap tomorrow afternoon to make up for our late night excursion.
Day 73 – Reims – Berry-au-Bac
The alarm sounded all too early, but we duly rose, dressed and hit the road. It was quite cool (55F) and blue-gray dawn when we left. It was probably an hour or two before we actually woke up and realized we were walking. We walked along the canal, the Coulée Verte for a short while. The Via takes the same path, then wanders off, rejoins and wanders off. We stayed straight and saved a couple of miles.
We stopped in Pouillon to visit a champagnerie (David’s blog on champagne talked about this). We continued on our way through vineyards and fields.
In the tiny village of Villers-Franqueux, a woman walking her dog asked if we were walking the VF. When we said yes, she suggested an alternative, more scenic route, then proceeded to take us home for a cup of coffee. Helene had walked several great paths and now enjoyed helping pilgrims along the way … a trail angel. We bid our adieus and took her suggested path which was a bit longer, but better than highway walking, for sure.
We reached the little town of Berry-au-Bac mid afternoon and had a late lunch at the only open restaurant in town. We ate hardy as this restaurant was not open for dinner and there were no other options for miles around.
When we make hotel reservations, we always mention that we’re walking the VF and ask for early check-in if possible. Of all the hotels, rooms and hostels we’ve stayed at, all have been accommodating until this one. Check-in at 3pm and not a minute before. We arrived at this MO-tel, not HO-tel, and waited … and waited. At 3:05 a car pulled into the parking lot. The driver was on the phone and came in 5 minutes later … the hotel manager. She took her time checking us in and assigned us a room at the back of the motel. We noted that there was only one set of towels and David went to ask for another set. He came back with a thin, flimsy bath towel, but no hand towel. Only one hand towel to a room, she told him, and we already had ours. Yikes! To make matters worse, when I signed on to Wifi, we found we were allotted only 4 hours. Needless to say, we wrote a less than 4-star review for Hotel (MOTEL) des Nations.
Day 73 – Reims – Berry-au-Bac
14.95 miles walked / 34,758 steps
Leg distance: 15 miles / 268 miles to Canterbury
Coming up next … walking, of course, and yet another layday… this time in Laon. Join us in the third section of the French Via … we like the company!