Just when Spring was getting into full swing in Besançon, I headed up North for a lovely brisk weekend to remind myself of what I was leaving behind!
19.03.2015 - 24.03.2015 12 °C
I spent this last weekend on an ESN trip that consisted of a power-visit to the city of Luxembourg on Saturday (we arrived at about 11am, then hit the road again at 5pm) and Metz, in the Lorraine region of France, on Sunday (we arrived on Saturday evening, and left on Sunday evening). This sort of visit is obviously not very conducive to the find-a-good-map-and-wander technique that I have been perfecting over the past few months – it’s a bit more like find-the-special-tourist-map-and-run-from-highlight-to-highlight. But it is fun to travel with friends, too. It’s nice to actually have people to talk to every once in a while…
In Luxembourg it was chilly and cloudy most of the day, which make for a few hazy photos. But the city was quite beautiful, and must be gorgeous in the summer. The city is sort of divided in half by a big valley, which is mostly park space and old neighborhoods.
With four friends, I ran around to churches, the ducal palace, and ate a lunch which was perhaps indicative of the fact that we were in the second-richest country in the world – we ordered a carafe of tap water for the table (free in I think every restaurant I’ve eaten at), but here it was 8 euros! That’s more than what “fancy” carbonated water costs in France. Kinda crazy.
After lunch, we ran into some others in our group who told us that we had to check out the old casemate fortress. We had actually seen it from afar – it’s sort of carved into the side of the valley. It was pretty cool, lots of maze-y stone cave spaces and some spiral staircases with incredibly tiny and uneven stone treads, which is always a nightmare with my giant feet.
Then a few people in the group wanted to check out a quarter that had some cool modern development. It was kind of bizarre, because we had to hike through some woods to get there from the town center. We took a minor wrong turn and ended up wandering through the trees for a few minutes, but then we came across this gem of modern art, which served as our entrée into the development.
It was strange; this seemingly isolated neighborhood was highly developed and very West Omaha-feeling. It’s hardly something that I have missed, but I saw my first 10-lane street in about seven months.
We arrived in Metz around 7pm and were let loose to find dinner. We walked from the hostel to the centre-ville, and passed through a bunch of charming dark and narrow streets lined with shutters on the way. I was a bit disappointed when my group decided to eat at Subway. (In general, I have been quite successful in avoiding American and even large French companies. There are just so many small businesses here, and the quality and atmosphere is always heads and tails above anything from a chain. Like anywhere, really.) But it ended up being an interesting experience. It’s probably been about a year since I’ve eaten at an American Subway, so maybe some things have changed. But here I was able to order a veggie patty on my sandwich, and get a yummy Thai sauce. And here, they toast the bread automatically. For some criminal reason, they use the same bread as in the US, which is like a sad gluten marshmallow compared to anything that any self-respecting French boulangerie would sell. So my guess is that the auto-toast is an attempt to make our American pillow-bread more appealing to the French palate…
Anyways, Metz is home to about as many churches as cafés. So that was a good chunk of what we saw throughout the day on Sunday. There was a good variety of periods represented, and wide range in their states of conservation.
Also, perhaps a reflection of the religious inclinations of the city, we walked down - literally - Hell Street. That would definitely provide for a fun address!
The whole centre-ville was dominated by the enormous cathedral on a hill in the centre. We couldn’t not go inside, but it was Sunday morning, so there was a mass going on. As would make sense, the atmosphere of one of these cavernous and ornate buildings is entirely different when it is in use. Those gothic architects really struck a balance between wonder and oppression. Only about two-thirds of the nave was taken up with seats, and the back third was open for people to go in and out during the mass. But there were still a good two hundred people in attendance, and I would have been curious to know how many were Messiens and how many were tourists.
In addition to churches, we checked out the deserted Sunday centre-ville, a part of the city’s old fortress, the Governor’s palace, and the new Centre Pompidou, Part 2.
Besançon seems to be waking up after winter. There are all kinds of events going on everywhere. I also feel like I’m starting to discover a whole new side of the city, thanks to my artist conversation partner. On Friday, we went to a Hot Shops-style (art studio/gallery/showroom space in Omaha) collective, then a bar that specializes in absinthe and regionally-produced beer. I think I’m due for a stay-cation this weekend to just check out/revisit some of the museums and markets and things that I’ve started to take for granted!