Picture of cheese On Tuesday morning, we checked out of the hotel in Paris, and went to the Musee D'Orsay. Supposedly less crowded than the Louvre, but with as nearly as impressive a collection, it was built in an old train station with each room designed for the works of a particular artist. As it turned out, it was probably as crowded as the Louvre and since our Museum Passes had expired, we also had to wait for about 20 minutes to get in. It was however well worth the wait, and it had collections such as Monet's water lilies, Van Gogh's self-portraits, Whistler's Mother, and so on. The only downside came when we stopped halfway through our tour in the cafe for some light lunch. That's where I discovered one of the few things that can go wrong in Paris, that guide books don't tell you about: Yes, while Melanie played it safe and had quiche, I ordered the assorted cheese tray - which I might note didn't actually look that bad when it arrived. Ignoring the hideously mottled chunky blue things, I selected instead what we were unanimously of the opinion was Camembert and popped the entire thing into my mouth. Well, I dare say it wasn't Camembert, because I've had Camembert many times before and it's never caused my eyes to roll back in my head, followed by dizziness, nausea, and hallucinations. Okay, maybe that's a slight exaggeration. Needless to say I was rather turned off on the cheese thing, and managed only to pick a bit at the other (less toxic) cheeses and eat the grapes. Let that be a lesson to you.
Picture of cathedral After the museum, we returned to the car, and headed northwest out of Paris. We took smaller roads towards Amiens, hoping to see some more of rural France. We did in fact see quite a lot of it. There really were countless quaint little towns that gave off overwhelmingly the impression that they were far older than anything you'd ever see in the United States. Not to say they were dilapidated or shabby, they were just old. Nearly every tiny village had a central church that was at least several centuries old. I can't remember the names of most of them, but Beauvais stuck in our minds as particularly cute and French-looking. Amiens, is the capital of Picardy, and is known mostly for being the home of Jules Verne, and for having a really huge gothic cathedral (seen here).
Picture of front The Cathedral of Amiens, (also called Notre Dame like nearly every church in France), was built during the Crusades in the early 1200s. The claim to fame of this particular Notre Dame is that they have the head of St. John the Baptist (brought back from one of those crusades) in the basement. On June 24th of every year, the head is brought own and paraded around on a pillow (I'm not making this up). As the guide book to the cathedral says, "It's very impressive to be so close to the head of Christ's baptist." We have no explicit reason to doubt this and alas, we're not in Amiens on the 24th, so we'll just take their word for it.
Picture of apse If one has recently been to Notre Dame de Paris, the first and most striking difference one will notice upon entering Amiens Cathedral is how bright it is. There are considerably more windows here letting in enough light to take pictures by, if nothing else. The second thing one might notice, is that one is freezing. It was probably around 70 degrees Fahrenheit outside on the day we visited, but it was no warmer than 50 inside. Apparently, while light gets in, heat doesn't, and the extreme height of the interior doesn't help matters much.
Picture of bishop Amiens is also much more elaborate inside than is Notre Dame de Paris. This picture shows some of the wrought iron gates which separate the central aisles of the cathedral from the shrines around the outside. The concoction attached to the pillar is the seat of the Bishop of Amiens and just above it the insignia of something Crusade-related that I can't quite remember.
Picture of door The outside of the cathedral is similarly ornate. This close up of the main door shows some of the carvings which cover the entire exterior of the building. Inside, Amiens has one more interesting historical piece. The floor in the center of the cathedral is covered in an elaborate maze made of black and white tiles and is known simply as the Labyrinth. Back in the middle ages, traveling to Jerusalem and other holy sites wasn't as easy as nowadays, not to mention it was rather dangerous at the time - so the Labyrinth was sort of a pilgrimage for the non-travelling types. Walking along it while reciting various prayers was supposedly the equivalent of actually going to Jerusalem, except that instead of being drafted into a Crusade, you could remain comfortably close to home and freeze to death.
Picture of shrine After our visit to the cathedral we stopped at a random bakery on the way back to the car. We didn't know the names of most of what they had so we just pointed at things, and Melanie had a custardy flan-like tart thing, while I had a Vosgien (?) which was a little green cake with blueberries in it. Yum. I only mention this since I thought I should say something else about Amiens, and I hadn't yet included the obligatory french bakery scene. We left Amiens and spent the next hour taking every possible wrong road out of the city, before we finally vanquished the unintelligible road sign system and escaped in the correct direction. We continued winding our way north on little roads, eventually reaching the Belgian border. Just before we reached the border, we spotted our first genuine working windmill. Yay.
Picture of window It was starting to get dark when we crossed into Belgium so we started using the major autoroutes. We saw several more windmills, and oddly enough, hot-air balloons as well. We passed through Ieper or Ypres if you prefer, which is a rather somber town surrounded by cemeteries commemorating the various sub-battles of World War II which took place in the vicinity. We arrived in Brugge, which is considerably more festive, about an hour later. Armed with several maps, it still took three trips through the city to find the hotel. For one thing, all the roads are one-way and there's no such thing as a straight road in Brugge. Furthermore, the hotel was largely hidden, and (alas) the parking garage was behind it. Since we still didn't know how to put the car in reverse, we had to make the circuit again.

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