December   2004
VOL. 8          NO. 4
  The Independent Traveler's Newsletter

  POITIERS :  A Realm of Romanesque
                                                                by Arthur Gillette 

   A Realm of Romanesque
   by Arthur Gillette

Paris Enigmas
    by Arthur Gillette

Ici et Là

Designing an Itinerary

A Mule in Rouen 
  by Rob Silverstone

Lyon’s Festival of Lights
   by Maxine Rose Schur

   The Prehistoric Southwest 

 French Wine Report: 
  by Panos Kakaviatos 

A Review:
  Ski & Snowboarding Travel DVD

A Mule in Rouen by Rob Silverstone


During the French Renaissance and subsequent Age of Reason, the gaudy colors traipsing across the sculpture and window panes of cathedrals and other major medieval churches came to be looked on as pagan, even barbaric – worthy of the Goths! So the term "Gothic architecture" was originally far from a compliment.  And the colors were scraped and scrubbed away, leaving today's often ivory-hued pristine stone and clear, or 19th-century-stained, glass.

The pendulum is beginning to swing back, however.   Nowhere is the polychrome revival more stunning than in Poitiers. At its Romanesque flowering, Poitevin religious architecture was a riot of color, now returning thanks to ingenious and state-of-the-art light technology.

Perch on the esplanade before the western façade of 11th-12th  century Notre Dame la Grande collégiale church of a summer evening.   At 10:30 sharp the meager monochrome diet suddenly bursts into a bright, rich and varied feast of reds, blues, yellows.  Etched against the dark night sky are "comic strip" renderings of Old and New Testament episodes, used in the Middle Ages to impress and instruct an almost totally illiterate population.
Trinity Sculpture
In fact, Poitiers offers visitors three "menus" for self-guided visits to its Romanesque and other architectural treasures.  Although a drivers’  hell, old central Poitiers is a strollers’ paradise – even the dogs seem more careful than, say, their Parisian counterparts.

And there's a lot to check out.  By my count, there is about one officially listed historical monument per thousand inhabitants. 

Three itineraries, materialized by color-coded strips on sidewalks,  begin at an intersection near Notre Dame la Grande. You can follow them using a map guide available free of charge (in English, too) from the Office de Tourisme just across the esplanade from that church.  Explanatory plaques abound, as do, with English summaries, informative lecterns. 

Let's first sample the Red Route. It takes you, for example, to the handsome 11th century belfrey-porch of St. Porchaire church, cheek-by-jowl with a wall of its 10th century predecessor. 

From there, it's just a few minutes’ walk to St. Hilaire, named for Poitiers’ first documented (in the 4th century) bishop, Hilary.  Dating from the 11th and 12th centuries, this church's vast naves still welcome pilgrims (although they no longer sleep there) on their devout way to the shrine at Santiago de Compostella – literally " St.  James' Star Field" - in northwestern Spain.                          continued on page 4 

Look inside

  to read about the Prehistoric France Tour April 12 -22, 2005, that will not only take in significant sites telling the story of early mankind, but will include visits to medieval villages and bastides, fine regional cuisine and luxury stays in both a classical château and an ancient priory. 


>   for a sampling of Rob Silverstone's exquisite prose as he takes readers through Upper Normandy in an excerpt from his book, A Mule in Rouen.


> to hear about the first-hand experiences of Maxine Rose Schur at Lyon's Festival of Lights ~ just one of the winter delights in France's gastronomic capital.

[Due to space constraints in this edition, the article on the stonemasons of the Creuse will instead appear in the March issue.] 


PARIS ENIGMAS  . . . A Quiz on Your Knowledge of Historic Paris
                                                                                                                      by Arthur Gillette

Question from the last issue:   France officially calls the region around Paris 'L'Ile de France'. True, when viewed on a map, the area of Greater Paris does look like something of an oval island.  But, that's probably not the 'L'Ile' in question.  What is the real etymology?

Answer:   When the Vikings started up the Seine from the English Channel to raid France in the mid-9th century, they expected to find a vast kingdom to plunder.  So, it was with some disappointment that they discovered the French King's real domain was limited to a few hundred square miles around the capital:  in Scandinavian languages lille ('little') France.

Our new question:  An 18th century English visitor to the French capital noted, "Why, there are more tennis players in Paris than drunkards in England!"   In the Robert French dictionary, 'tennis' is listed as an English-origin word first used in 1836.  What is its real etymology?

Contact Arthur Gillette,  and take advantage of his amazing knowledge of Paris by enjoying
one or more of his Paris Through the Ages Strolls.  Email:

[See the answer to this edition's question in our March issue]


Hear's a Journey - Provence

 Well, you've made your reservations for a lovely stay in Provence, you've rented a car, and
now what?  Where will you go and what should you absolutely not miss?  A click on the above banner
will take you to Hear's A Journey where you'll find a wonderful pocket guide and cassette tape for your car
~ an audio guided tour by two narrators taking you to the most interesting sites in the region. 

[If you are interested in advertising in FRANCE On Your Own, contact]

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