On our first full day visiting my grandparents, Mamie and Papy served us a delicious breakfast of carbs and coffee (the holiest of food groups). Dan and I cleaned up and got ready, though for what, we weren’t sure. Our conversations with Mamie and Papy started out pretty rough. Lots of blank faces, eyebrows raised, listening closely for even one word that we recognized; Mamie and Papy exchanging despairing looks of their own as they tried to slow it down for us. I realized on that first day that we embodied the stereotyped clueless Americans, and felt even more embarrassed that we hadn’t practiced the French language before visiting…well, France. I was grateful we got to practice our clumsy language skills with family first, who love us no matter what, before venturing out to Paris.
After a lot of nods, hesitant smiles, and “ouis?” we realized that Mamie and Papy wanted to take us into Chaumont’s centre-ville, or downtown area.
Yes! Once we knew our destination, the four of us were all smiles. I’ve written about downtown Chaumont before, and its charming collection of narrow streets, age-worn buildings, and beautiful front doors. On that first trip, my family spent a few hours wandering, eating pastries, taking in the views, and even visiting a temporary art installation. I loved the centre-ville then, and shown Dan hundreds of photos (mostly of the cute doors, let’s be honest) upon my return to Orlando. I was excited to finally roam its streets, like something out of an illustrated French textbook, with Dan at my side.
Arriving in Chaumont, Papy parked the car and we agreed to split up for an hour or so and then meet for lunch. Dan and I took note of our location, in case we needed Google Maps to find our way back to our meeting point, and made our way across the street. Turns out, we didn’t need Google Maps at all. I remembered Chaumont as a narrow maze, with something new and beautiful around every corner. Fountains, statues, patisseries, shops, markets, homes; even a park and a museum.
And while everything looked the same, I was surprised to discover how compact the city center is. It was easy to navigate our way along the streets, following the towers of the Basilica Saint-Jean Baptiste or turning down random roads only to find we’d been there before. With getting lost no longer a concern, we kept an eye on the time and set about exploring.
I’d left my new camera behind for this excursion, overly conscious of the fact that Dan and I were tourists in a place full of locals. With Dijon, Strasbourg, Paris and even beautiful Colmar a short drive away, Chaumont is kind of off-the-radar. Admit it, unless you live in France or have been following my blog for a while, you probably are wondering what’s in store. All the photos in the post were taken with an iPhone SE.
First up is the basilica, its towers visible in every skyline shot I took. It was practically deserted when we entered, save for an elderly couple and an unseen person filling the stone room with ominous organ music. I suppose compared with the churches we saw in Paris and in Rome, this one would be considered modest. Still, it beats anything I’ve seen back home in Orlando!
I remember being blown away by this church, and the exponentially beautiful churches to follow, on my first visit, but this one holds a special place in my heart. I’m proud of this church, because I associate it with my home away from home, and I loved taking it all in with Dan.
We left the basilica and continued along the side of the building, back toward the very center of town. Here we found the bank, post office, and the town hall, called un hôtel de ville, along with several shops and restaurants. I didn’t realize until this return visit just how close everything is!
After spending some time in town, Dan and I walked along the outer wall, stopping to take photos of the view over the surrounding countryside, with its tidy little homes nestled among trees and pastures.
When the time came, we headed back to our meeting point near the train station and regrouped with Mamie and Papy. We had lunch just around the corner, at the restaurant of the Grand Hotel Terminus Reine.
I find it so interesting that my grandparents eat at hotel restaurants. They chit chat with the owners and the servers, have a glass of champagne, and enjoy their meal without booking a room. It’s just not something I do in Orlando, save for the occasional visit to the nearby Loews hotels. I associate the hotels here with sweaty tourists, all you can eat buffets, and shining tourism strips stuffed with themed mini golf courses, gawdy neon lights, and overpriced chain restaurants. Maybe this is something I need to investigate further now that I’m home. Who knows, maybe a gem like this French hotel restaurant awaits.
The staff at the Grand Hotel Terminus Reine were very pleasant and polite, chatting with my grandparents as they ordered champagne. Our server barely blinked an eye when Mamie asked if there were any English menus available, though I almost died on the spot. Dan and I struggled to understand both the menu structure and the available food options, but I see it as part of the fun of travel. There were no English menus available, so I resorted to using a translator app to make sense of our options..
Clearly, that didn’t help. Eventually, Dan and I just ordered from the seafood section, sure there would be something we liked.
I got a seafood steak of some sort, which turned out to be shark, and some fantastic purple mashed potatoes with cream sauce. Delicious. Dan ordered shrimp and risotto, a safe enough bet, and I tried not to laugh when they arrived looking like this.
All I could think of was the movie Mr. Bean’s Holiday, and that fantastic scene in the train station where Bean dines on a seafood platter.
Poor Dan wasn’t sure of the polite way to crack these juicy little beauties open, so we waited to see how Papy set about eating the very same dish. It made for an amusing lunch, made better by wine and conversation. It was the first time we really managed to communicate with each other, relaxed perhaps by the wine and the realization that we would rather Mamie and Papy laugh at our terrible language skills than be upset that we weren’t even trying.
I tell you what, I could get used to eating the way we did in France. Champagne before meals, wine with the mains, and fresh dessert followed by espresso. Ahhh, espresso. Best of all, we ate like this almost every day of our trip and actually lost weight from all the walking we did. Yes, I could definitely get used to this.
After our wonderful lunch, and feeling much more connected than we had the previous night, we drove out to the Chaumont Viaduct. I wanted to photograph the perfectly symmetrical arches, while engineer Dan admired the structure.
The 654 meter bridge features a railroad track as well as a pedestrian bridge, and every arch is marked with a number. Built in the 1850s, it took 2500 men and 300 horses working round the clock to complete the bridge in about one year. Pretty amazing. We made our way out onto the pedestrian walkway, took a few photos, and decided to head back home.
But there was still one more stop to be made. Mamie and Papy took us back into downtown Chaumont, and Mamie showed us a few of the most noteworthy sites, including the hôtel de ville. I love that she took the time to personally show us around and share her town with us. She also kindly made a stop at the train station to pick up our tickets (traditional tickets as opposed to our e-tickets on regular printer paper) and show us how to use them when our departure rolled around. Happy with the day’s adventures, and excited to see what lay ahead, we all headed home to nap, play games, and just enjoy each others company for a while.