Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Old Orléans vs New Orleans

Joan of Arc. You'll pick up on  a theme here soon...
Alors. Orléans. I hope that cliff hanger made it sound really exciting, because reality is that poor little town can use all the hype it can get. Granted, it may have been more exciting if we had managed to make it on a day that wasn't Sunday (ahem. Alex.) I thought Paris was bad because a lot of things are closed on Sunday. Paris is the 24 hour McDonald's to Orléans' Chick-fil-a.

But anyway, we managed to get a later train at 9:22 instead of 7:30am and still kept the same low ticket price. We got on the train and quickly realized that everyone else had gotten there before us; the only pair of seats we could find was blocked by a window divider, which took all the fun out of getting a window seat. We eventually switched and scared away someone else. See, each car had pairs of seats facing towards the middle of the car (not the aisle middle, but between the front and back middle), and in the center where there are two pairs of seats there was a small table separating them. So we found a guy who had claimed a 4-person table to himself and his book and squeezed into the other side. Within 5 minutes I think he got tired of us talking, so he moved to the pair of seats we had just left and we ended up with the whole table area to ourselves for the next hour. That is officially my new train seat strategy.

An hour later we got off the train and saw...a whole lot of nothing. No stores were open, there weren't even people around...it was a little creepy. But in the distance we could see the top of the cathedral so we headed that way. Along the way we found a little garden that happened to be connected to the Hotel Grislot, the town hall of olden days so we stopped in, and the nice guy behind the reception desk (after switching to English because our French was just intolerably bad, I guess) gave us a map and some information on the building and we went in (free of charge!) to take some pictures.

Left: ruins of a little chapel in the Garden.

Right: cherub statue "pouring" water into what probably used to be a little pool but was now all dried up.
Back of the Hotel Grislot, from the garden

and from the front

(above) Portrait of Joan of Arc; they really like her and she is everywhere.
(right) chair in the sitting room, all the furniture was very elaborate.

(above) Another elaborate chair that I want in my future dining room. The leather looks as though it was painted blue with brown detailing, and the wood carving on the back is flawless. I'm obsessed.
(below) The first flag flown by the city after its liberation in 1944. What is it with these people, constantly needing to be liberated...?

Some fancy official meeting room. I want to have a meeting here.

While we were there there was another small group of French-speaking tourists who kept giving us looks. Alex at one point overheard one of them asking another "where do you think they're from?" (in French of course) and the second immediately labeling us as "des Etats-Unis." Are we that obvious? I've come to be ok with that.

After leaving we realized we were right across from the cathedral that has become famous because Joan of Arc attended mass there (seriously, everything in this town is about Joan of Arc). It was really quite nice, and looks a lot like Notre Dame in Paris on the outside, but the inside is much more open. I was also very impressed with the preservation of the stained glass, but later I found out that it looked so nice because it was relatively new and now tells the story of (big surprise here) Joan of Arc fighting the English.

stained glass
outside of the cathedral
one side, a wooden shrine and a rose window
Organ in the back
another stained glass, I don't know what part
of the story this tells
The front, behind the alter

Tribute to American soldiers who died in France in WWI and II
So after poking around the cathedral for a while, we decided to expose our frost-bitten fingers to the sun (we could see our breath INSIDE the cathedral. It was cold) and search for some food. We walked along the river and through a lot of cute little streets that looked like they belonged in Beauty and the Beast, exploring a little to see what we could find. We found a lot of Indian restaurants open (I guess it's the same as how the main area that stays open on Sundays in Paris is the Jewish Marais) but finally found a restaurant that seemed to be making a nice living by being the only place in town that served on Sundays. Of course, we didn't know what anything on the menu was, but for 14 euros you could get one of about 5 appetizers and 5 entrees, so Alex went for the 2 things we vaguely recognized (salad and beef something) and I took a shot in the dark and hoped for the best.
Attempt 1: Appetizer. Turned out to be some sort of oniony beef stuff on a biscuit type thing. Considering I thought I would be getting some sort of vegetable dish, I was way off. But still good.

Attempt 2: White fish with rice, carrots, and a creamy sauce. Delicious. On the menu it said something about "nage" which means something to do with "swimming" so I probably should have guessed that one. I was really happy I picked this.

                                  The street by the river.               And some other little street.  I just liked 
                                                                                                    the lamps.

                        Alex crashing my picture.                             And a boat I wanted to steal.

And of course, my Day 58: 2-27-11 photo.  I really like the colorful wooden beams.  This is what France should look like to me.

So after a mysterious yet satisfying meal we made our way to what is known as "the Joan of Arc house."  They do not bother telling you that 1) this is not her house, this is a house she once stayed in while visiting here, and 2) it's not actually the real house, just a recreation.  But it was only 1 euro, and there were little recreations of Joan of Arc-time period Orléans.

Miniature Orléans
           Exterior of the house

And even a little paper figure depiction of the battle against the English.  They really thought of everything...

Soon after leaving the Joan of Arc house we decided that since there wasn't a lot going on we'd just catch a 2:30 train back to Paris and call it a day.  All in all, this would have been a significantly better trip if a) it wasn't Sunday and there were some things open other than Joan of Arc stuff (like, say, a bar) and b) the weather was warmer.  A stroll or picnic style lunch by the river would have been a nice way to spend an afternoon, but losing a few fingers to the elements didn't seem worth it, and there weren't any grocery stores open anyway.  But hey, I'm only out 18 euros.

In conclusion, if it came down to old Orléans vs it's newer American counterpart, NOLA wins.
But at least we can all agree: fleurs-de-lis are still pretty cool.

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