10 June 2011

It's closed, go away

As one wiseacre commenter (LOL Bill) has pointed out, CHM and I have spent an awful lot of time in churches on this trip. That's ironic, because neither of us is particularly religious, at least not in an organized way.

Yesterday's starting point was the town of Châlons-en-Champagne. There were two churches in the town that we wanted to see before heading south to Troyes and Auxerre. The first one, we learned when we got there at 8:30, didn't open until 10:00 a.m. Bon, we said, we'll go see the second one — the cathedral — and then come back to see this one. Too bad we had already wasted our money by paying for parking.

This church was closed when we got there.

At the cathedral, we again paid for parking. And that church turned out to be closed to the public too. It was closed all day, if I remember. It's open only on weekends at this time of year. Normally, churches in France — especially big ones — are open all day, with no admission fee. If you'd been in Châlons yesterday, you might have heard some cursing, not of religious but tourism authorities. We decided the town doesn't really want tourists to visit, so we hightailed it out of there.

A few hours later, we were driving toward Troyes on little back roads and stopping whenever and wherever the Michelin map showed that there was a château in the vicinity. One was at Vitry-la-Ville, and getting there required following a long detour because of road construction blocking the direct route. It was a pretty drive, back and forth across the Marne River and its lateral canal in the middle of a wide river valley.

A modest little château at Vitry-la-Ville
in the Marne River Valley

Farther on, at the town of Dampierre, in the middle of nowhere, we saw the château symbol on the map again. We got a little lost in the village but we finally backtracked and managed to find the place. We pulled up and parked outside the front gate, which was wide open. We took a couple of pictures and then stepped inside the big iron gate (see picture below) to get a clearer shot of the entry tower.

Far and near views of the unfriendly château at Dampierre

Soon a little white car came racing out on the gravel road from the château behind the tower. We didn't think much of it until the car stopped abruptly in a cloud of dust and the man started manifesting severe signs of hostility. "Would you like it if I walked into your front yard and started taking pictures?" he asked, rather heatedly. CHM told him: "You couldn't do that because I keep my front gate closed!" The man was not amused.

There was no private property sign, chain, or "no pictures please" notice posted anywhere. And the fact is that the existence of this man's château, unlike that of CHM's or mine, is depicted on the Michelin map of the region. No matter. We quickly hightailed it out of there too. The châtelain had no sens de l'humour at all, and no politesse for that matter. Dampierre — that's the name of the town. Avoid it. Or at least the château and its owner.

In Troyes, the cathedral was closed but this pizzeria was open.

Finally we arrived in Troyes. Nice old city, but full of cars and blocked-off streets because, again, of road work. We finally found a place to park the car, right in front of a little pizzeria. It was twelve o'clock so we went in an had pizzas for lunch. Everything was good, including the chianti. The restaurant owner (I assume) was pleasant and helpful, giving us a map of Troyes and explaining how to get to the cathedral.

We drove to the cathedral after lunch, and this time we didn't buy a parking pass before we went to see whether the church was open. It wasn't. It was going to re-open in about 30 minutes, but we didn't feel like waiting. So we departed from Troyes, spending a lot of time trying to figure out where we were, how to get to where we wanted to go, and sitting in traffic. At one point, I turned the wrong way into a one-way street. Horns blew. What a maroon!

Houses across from the cathedral in Troyes

Next we drove thirty miles west to Sens to see the cathedral there. Again, there was a lot of traffic in the town and one of the main streets was blocked off by a construction project. We drove into narrow lanes and wound around and around to try to get the car close to the cathedral and find a place to park. At the end of the winding streets, we ended up on a pedestrian square right in front of the church.

Most of the square was occupied by tables and chairs in front of cafés, with quite a few people sitting out and "consuming," as they say in French, as well as enjoying the afternoon sunshine. It didn't feel right. We were the only car moving about on the square. I saw one of those international traffic signs picturing a tow truck with a car hooked up to it above a "no parking on the square" notice.

We inched forward, avoiding the pedestrians, and then did a few balletic three-point turns. I tried not to back up over any people walking around or sitting and consuming. I nosed the car into every corner of the cobble-stoned square — without turning off the motor and getting out, though, for fear of having a tow truck rush in and spirit the vehicle away — and saw that the only legal way out was a street that was barricaded, again because of some kind of let's-dig-up-the-pavement city improvement project.

Nice iron work at the Château de Vitry-la-Ville

The only visible exit was the street we had come in on, and it was a narrow lane that was one-way in the wrong direction. Just then, one of the roadwork crew came out and started up his little Renault, which had been parked on the edge of the square but had obviously not been towed away. "Let's see what his solution to the riddle is," I told CHM.

He proceeded to exit via the one-way street, driving up it in the wrong direction. So I followed him. At the first intersection, there was only one way to go that was not a pedestrian street, and it was also marked as one-way in the wrong direction. The worker turned his car that way, and I kept following him. It all worked out in the end. Either the police didn't care, or they hadn't yet come back from their lunch break.

It was one of those cases in France where the rules don't apply if you need them not to apply. That situation seems to come up frequently. We hightailed it out of town one more time. It seemed like we had spent a half hour in Sens dans le mauvais sens.

The place where I bought wine in Chablis

So there you go. We ended up driving around in a town called Joigny, which was very pretty. Then we went to visit a Cistercian abbey in Pontigny. And we took a longcut through Chablis on our way to Auxerre, just to see the vine-covered hillsides in the late afternoon sun, and buy a few bottles of the famous Chablis white wine. In other words, our first real tourism successes all occurred after 5:00 p.m. Some days are like that.


  1. Indeed, some days ARE like that. Tomorrow ("today" already in France) will be better. Glad you got a nice pizza lunch, anyway.

  2. Loved your story about Chateau Inhospitalier. It's actually a beautiful place - I like the fairy tale towers. CHM's remark was too funny - he has chutzpah (I'm guessing that's the same word in French). Maybe the owner was cranky because he just paid his impots on the place.

  3. On a touring trip in France 20yrs ago, we missed going to Columbey-Les-Deux-Eglise where there is the simple grave of de Gaulle. I don't expect you'd be chased away from there, but I wished we'd seen it and compared it with that of Churchill.

  4. A marvellous tale - we often had days like that, especially on our motorcycles.

    Thanks for the lovely photos of the places you have seen - they remind me of how much we enjoyed touring northern France, year after year. We stayed in Troyes many times. It is twinned with our home town in the UK, as it happens.

  5. One of the wonderful things about blogs is that you share these experiences, both good and bad, with anyone else who is looking up these towns or chateaux for their own excursions. Troyes is an occasional destination of ours -- we visited the Musée d'art moderne in Troyes last year and it is well worth the detour. It's near the cathedral, which I think we went into, but were not overly impressed. (http://ellenlebelle.blogspot.com/2010/08/august-2010.html) The first few images in the slide show are from the exhibit we saw. Looking for this post has shown me how lax I've been in tagging my posts.
    We've been to Provins a lot recently, with very mixed impressions.

  6. And we are planning an excursion to the Tourraine, our old, old cat has made us housebound, as we can no longer leave him for neighbors to take care of.

  7. I think Sue and I also bought Chablis from the same premises in 2009 on our way to Auxerre as well.
    Are you following us????

  8. In 1998 we had drinks on that square in Sens. I remember it being very crowded and noisy. That year we stayed in a hotel in Joigny and visited Vezelay. Not our best vacation though. The next year we visited the Loire Valley for the first time ... You know the outcome! :)

  9. My all-time favorite chapter & Verse:

    "It was one of those cases in France where the rules don't apply if you need them not to apply." Ken's umpteenth epistle to the Wiseacres 6:9

    ...a wonderful turn of phrase that describes why I love the French.

  10. « Ben mon vieux, si j'aurais su j'aurais po v'nu »,disait le petit Gibus dans le film de la Guerre des Boutons.

    It looks like France-Voyage.com sells the pic of the Chateau:

    and the châtelain must get something out of it and that's why he came after you :-)
    It's not privacy he was defending but euros ..........

  11. I love CHM's response! Perfect and not one of the kind you think up afterwards (l'escalier?), but one said on the spot and just right for the occasion.

    We didn't get to see the Cathedral in Troyes either, but I enjoyed a time in the Petit Bateau outlet.

    Your trip report keeps getting better. Bonne route.

  12. I think I may be the only one who finds humor in a church being closed.

  13. Evelyne, when our 4 kids were each learning to drive, the Troyes outlet center was one of our destinations. It was the only outlet center around, then, and of course, Troyes is the home of Petit-Bateau. We would stop in the town, too, and other tourism sites nearby. It was also a time when we discovered Provins, even closer to us. However, it was always harder to convince them to drive us to a tourism site rather than a shopping site.

  14. Chris, the pizza was pretty good.

    Diogenes, I've never heard "chutzpah" used in French. You can say someone has culot or toupet. That would be "nerve" or, in British English, "cheek."

    Lesley, I've never been to see De Gaulle's grave site. Maybe one day.

    Jean and Ellen, thanks. I'd only been to Troyes once before — Walt and I had lunch there years ago. And I haven't been to Provins in at least 15 years. I have good memories of it though.

    Leon and Sue, was that you? You must have been as lost as we were.

    Ladybird, we're planning a trip to Vézelay in October. It's very pretty over there, but I know what you mean.

    Bill, well, that's the way it works. Or doesn't. Rules are made to be broken, or simply ignored, in France. It's all about logic, I think. And if you understand that, you're smarter than I am.

    The Beaver, thanks for that information. If he's trying to make money selling photos of his castle, that would explain a lot. He should have just said so.

    Evelyn, :^)


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