When last I wrote on Friday… the smog was setting in. There was great debate here about who should do what. I am not fully fluent yet but from what I was reading on the internet, the mayor of Paris was demanding the restriction of cars into Paris but she didn’t have the authority and those in the district and the federal government were hesitant to take action. The RATP (rapid transit – bus and metro) responded by free journeys for everyone on Saturday and Sunday as incentive to not drive your car. Friday the air was bad. Saturday it got better over the day. In the afternoon I saw blue sky. But apparently the particulant count was still high? So I decided to get the heck out of Dodge and looked about for a nice train ride. Fortunately I found a map that showed the smog situation across France – I would have picked Reims – smoggy there too!
So instead I jaunted up to Caen. Interesting pronunciation, Caen. Just Ca… or Ka… Heck, I never made it around the room in second grade with the phonetic cards – don’t trust my French. Leisurely trip. Took a train at 10, got there at noon and made my way to the Tourist Office. I had checked them out briefly the night before. Best place to start a visit.
Except in Caen. Except in March. Except on Sundays. Did they bother to update their website? Nope. But they had a nice typed note on their door saying they would not be open on Sundays in March.
Instead, tasty lunch at the Tourist Café with the Chateau Caen in view. Not your Loire Valley Chateau – this really was a medieval castle. It was built in the 1000’s. Reminded me of Carcassonne. Except before Viollet-le-Duc refurbished it. (Interesting aside – he was an architect from the 1800’s who was responsible for restoring many medieval structures. They say he did much research and was true to the age… but I think he added his own touches from time to time.)
The castle had a donjon – it’s the name for the tallest tower in a castle – often surrounded by another moat. I have seen three now – Chateau Vincennes, Paris; Loches, and now Caen. Vincennes is still in good condition – floors and stairs. Loches is a hollow tower but with stairs and walking platforms of steel grillwork set into the walls, and here at Caen, simply the foundations visible.
Caen is a fairly “new” city as most of it was demolished during the D-Day preparations. Canadians flew bombing missions to prepare the way for the landing forces. Clearly, from all the plaques and monuments, the citizens were so happy to have the Allies show up and free them from the Germans, they were ok with the destruction.
Which leads me to an aside – Just finished In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson – about William Dodd, the US ambassador to Germany in 1934… Now I am on a kick to read all I can about WW2 and the Resistance – so if you have any recommendations –fiction or non – please let me know.
Then the train back to Paris to a clear evening sky with the quarter moon (or some fraction) in plain sight. Where did the smog go?
But the free bus and metro continued through Monday – and if you had a car with an even license plate number, you couldn’t drive it in Paris on Monday (23). Today: rain. No restrictions.