The Independent Traveler's Newsletter                                 PAGE FIVE
The Barge Lady Cruises in Champagne continued . . .

Chauffeured and guided sightseeing is offered daily. Among the most fascinating visits were to two very different champagne producers; taken together, they provided both a human face to the region and an education into the economics and history of champagne production.

The 'inventor' of champagne:  Dom Perignon at Moët et Chandon.  Copyright The Barge Lady.  All rights reserved.Fallet-Dart is a small, family-run farm producing 200,000 bottles a year ~ most of which is distributed in France. (Among their customers is our barge, which serves this brand exclusively.)  Francine Fallet-Dart was our hostess. We walked among the vines, looked at the old and new presses, and once the tasting was completed, sat down with her for a discussion about the business, which has been in her family for generations.  The intimacy of this visit provided a great contrast to our tour of Moet et Chandon's large corporate headquarters in Epernay. Moet has been characterized by international markets and high-level contacts (Madame Pompadour and Napoleon imbibed their champagne) from its inception.  Our tour guide showed us some of the one billion bottles stored in their tunnels; sixty million bottles are sold yearly to a worldwide market.

Our end point in Reims provided not only the awe-inspiring cathedral (where the French kings were crowned, and, therefore, it was allowed to be built higher than Notre Dame in Paris) but a smaller and surprising visit to a World War II venue that my husband and I had not known about.  La Musée de la Reddition housed General Eisenhower's supreme headquarters in World War II.  We toured the map room ~ original maps and charts still up on the walls ~ where the first unconditional surrender of the Third Reich was signed on May 8, 1945. Also on display were uniforms of Allied forces (and most movingly included uniforms worn by concentration camp inmates) as well as objects relating to daily life during the war.

By the time the cruise ended the following Saturday, we had seen and experienced much, and we had also tasted our way through the region: from village-baked croissants every morning to fabulous gourmet meals on board to all the champagne we could drink!  And, most of all, a dream to cruise in Champagne had come true and had provided us with an experience to cherish always.

Ellen and Nick with La Nouvelle Etoile.  Copyright The Barge Lady.  All rights reserved.

The Barge Lady offers some very "special prices" on 2009 cruises, 
particularly for travelers who can visit France in May, June, July and August.
Go to her web site for a complete, online brochure that
describes every barge cruise - or call Ellen for a personalized recommendation!

The Barge Lady Collection  -  Expert in European Canal Barge Cruises
Phone: 312-245-0900 / 800-880-0071

[Photo credits: Copyright 2009 by The Barge Lady.  All rights reserved.
Please mouse over photos for descriptions.]


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Finally Open to the Public . . . After Eight Centuries: 

                                     Paris' Collège des Bernardins
                                                                         by Arthur Gillette

"Renaissance of an exceptional 13th century building in the heart of Paris" ~ that's how a
press release described the opening to the public on September 15, 2008 of the 
Collège des Bernardins, situated near the Place Maubert on the French capital's Left Bank.
And, for once, an official blurb reflected reality. 
Arthur Gillette visited the Collège for FRANCE On Your Own.

A major intellectual innovation of the European Middle Ages was the creation of universities. Hitherto focused at often rural monasteries, tertiary learning, so to speak, 'went public' in such cities as Bologna, Oxford, Heidelberg, Salamanca  ~ not to forget (second off the mark after Bologna) Paris. In the mid-13th century, Pope Innocent IV urged such monastic orders as the strict Cistercians (discipline, prayer, labor, silence…) to offer university-related education there.  An English monk, and at that time Abbot of France's Clairvaux Monastery, Steven of Lexington heeded the papal pressure and, around 1245, created the Collège des Bernardins whose name recalls St. Bernard, a widely celebrated Cistercian monk.

Building soon began in the then-prevalent simple Gothic style. It left for our admiration the longest hall of that period in Paris.

Collège des Bernardins - simple Gothic - Credit:  Wikipedia
Collège des Bernardins -  Simple Gothic

To ensure that the rigorous rules were observed, a wall some eight meters high was built around the establishment, which also had only one, well-guarded portal.  The goal was to form a Cistercian elite by training some 20 to 30 young monks at a time. Eventually the Collège reached thousands (including Pope Benedict XII who earned his degree there around 1314) over some five-and-one-half centuries.

In 1790, like most religious buildings in France, the Collège was deconsecrated and confiscated by the Revolution; the monks and staff were chased away.  It first became a prison and thereby hangs a tenacious tale: after la Terreur began in September 1792, it is said to have housed 73 convicted criminals. They got wind of an impending 'visit' by some Révolutionnaires and assumed they would all be killed.  Luck was with them, however (or so they thought), since they discovered and donned monks' habits which they assumed would save their lives.

In due course, the Révolutionnaires turned up and became angry, shouting something like "Hey, we came here to free some poor prisoners and what do we find? A bunch of monks who stayed at the Bernardins quite illegally!" According to the legend, the 73 were thereupon slaughtered to the last man.

The Collège des Bernardins’ trials were just beginning: around 1845 it was 'temporarily' turned into a firehouse, but the firemen only left at the end of the 20th century.  It was also used for awhile as a dormitory for the National Police Academy.  Acquired from the City of Paris by the Catholic Diocese in 2001, it was restored over several years for a total of some fifty million euros, funded in roughly equal thirds by the Church, public sources and private sponsors.

Today, under Catholic Church management, the newly-invigorated Collège des Bernardins does, of course, offer to the laity religious courses under its Cathedral School.  But, it is far from an austere retreat.  Quite the contrary.  It views itself as 'an ambitious project for mankind in all its dimensions.'  Its programs include art exhibitions, concerts, movie projections, and symposia on a broad variety of non-religious social themes.  Its overriding aim is 'to enable people of good will to gather and approach, together and in the same place, everything that constitutes the human being it its integrality.'

Concert - photo credit:  Collège des Bernardins
A concert at Collège des Bernardins

At the very least, it is a kind of living monument well worth visiting when you are in Paris.  Open to the public (after eight centuries!), free of charge Monday through Saturday from 10 AM to 6 PM, and Sundays from 2 PM to 6 PM.

  The Collège des Bernardins features on Arthur's “Medieval Sampler” walk, 
one of seventeen personalized, small group strolls he guides to discover Paris Through the Ages.
 For more information, contact him at

Practical Information:
The Collège des Bernardins is located at 20, rue de Poissy in Paris' 5th arrondissement.
It contains a library and boutique as well as a restaurant. 
The map below, provided by the Collège on its web site, shows its location.
Web site:

Map courtesy of Collège des Bernardins web site

Write to Us!

Village scene. Copyright 2009 Cold Spring Press.  All rights reserved.We invite you, our readers, to write to us.  Send an email with your thoughts about our web site or newsletter; tell us about your travels in France; tell us about your plans to visit France in the future.  

Perhaps you have a story to tell that we could include in an upcoming FRANCE On Your Own!  Perhaps you have some great photos you've taken in France that you would like to share with our readers. 

We publish this newsletter quarterly (February, May, August and November), and your fresh perspective added to those of our other contributors and our own will enrich FRANCE On Your Own for our readers.

Send an email to us at  We look forward to hearing from you!

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