On our trip from Amsterdam to Paris we decided to stop along the way and see parts of the French countryside. It was so hard to choose which parts of France to see. Paris is obvious, but there is so much more! There is Provence (next time, I promise), the Loire Valley, Normandy, the French Riviera, but this time I really wanted to see the countryside.
Amiens was along our train route and had a few special things worth stopping for. We wanted to get there in the evening for one of them. We stayed at a bed and breakfast, which was a nice change. After we arrived and checked in, we had a lovely dinner at a restaurant right next to the church, Chez Lafleur.
Amiens is known for two things. The first is the cathedral. When they were cleaning the exterior, they found paint remnants and realized that the front used to be painted.
So in the summer months, and again at Christmas time, they have an evening light show where they project the colors onto the cathedral to show what it looked like. Along with the light show, there is also narration. There is one speaker that broadcasts in English, but you have to sit right next to it to understand it.
Since the show doesn’t start until after dark, we walked around a bit.
Even though this was late July, it got pretty chilly once the sun went down, so we went into a cafe and asked for some hot chocolate. Because I am so fancy, I decided to ask for it en francais. “Chocolat chaud, s’il vous plait. Deux.”
This is what they brought us. Two crepes smothered in melted chocolate. Adam and I were laughing so hard we were crying and could hardly breathe. The servers were so confused. Why are crepes funny? In my mostly forgotten high school French, I was finally able to communicate that we wanted beverages. Not crepes. "Je bois. Nous boissons." Or maybe I said poissons. When in doubt start conjugating verbs, and they will figure it out. Anyway, once they realized their faux pas, they were also laughing. Not ones to let perfectly good chocolate covered crepes go to waste, we ate what was offered and headed back to the cathedral. I might say we rolled to the cathedral because we were stuffed from dinner. And crepes. And chocolat chaud.
The light show starts with the rose stained glass window being lit up, and continues on with the story in French that probably made so much sense with the lights and everything. We didn't find the English-broadcasting speaker until the end. The precision of the light show was incredible. I like how the white lines were projected to outline the facets of the building, too. Click on the pictures to see the full-size image.
Ta-da!!! There are no chairs. Most people sat on the ground.
There is even a part that calls for the night sky to be cast upon it. No idea why, but it looks cool! I feel like a 4-year-old narrating my own story to a picture book, but I think this story has gargoyles and maybe vampires in it. Also possiby werewolves because the whole clouds-hiding-the-full-moon thing seemed important.
Once the narration is over they leave the lights on and you can inspect up close. Even up close the whole thing looks intricately painted in such detail. It was incredible. You’d never guess that is just a projection.
It was definitely worth the stop and overnight stay. The cathedral was walking distance from the B&B we were staying at.
TRAVEL TIP: Think outside the hotel experience. We've stayed in B&Bs, chateaux, AirBNB, and historical landmarks. Each one provides a unique experience, but the B&B types are usually very personal, have excellent service, great breakfasts, and take a lot of pride in their work because it is their home and their livelihood. Especially in these small towns and more rural areas, look for this type of lodging for a unique and often quite affordable experience. We had an excellent experience here.
After a French breakfast of yogurt, pastries, juice and charcuterie, we headed out for the second reason Amiens is famous. Amiens has a series of floating gardens that you can tour by boat with a guided narration in French. It's called Les Hortillonages.
“Alors…” and off he went with his witty reparte.
Lack of intelligible narration aside (though the French speakers seemed to enjoy it very much), it was very cool. These small parcels of land are little islands that people own and garden on. There is no electricity (aside from generators, if desired) or running water, so people don’t live on them. They can camp on them, but without utilities, it's a short-term escapade. The only access is by bridge from your own backyard to your parcel, or by boat from a public dock.
Some of them are mostly food raising. Others are for flowers and leisure. But most are a combination of both beauty and function, which is very much the French way. There is no reason your vegetable garden shouldn’t be beautiful, well laid out and full of flowers as well. In France this is called a potager (po tah JAY).
The boat ride lasts an hour. This isn’t something you book tickets for in advance, but do go a little early so you get on the first boat available. You wouldn’t believe how many pictures I took, but I only posted a few. Adam loves it. You can tell. I LOVE gardens. I have several in my own 1-acre yard. I love to look at them, tour them, plant them, design them, everything. Flowers and vegetables and plants thrill me. If you are a garden lover, this is a must-see. Even if you aren't, it's just cool. I wanted to get out of the boat and take pictures of every inch of every island. Also, this is our third destination in a row that we saw a swan. Did you know swans mate for life? Random fact.
After the floating gardens we went back to the cathedral in the daytime so we could see the interior. When we got there a homeless guy was acting the part of parking attendant and directing the (nonexistent) traffic. We gave him a euro anyway. At least he’s making an effort.
This is the tallest and largest cathedral in France. It was built in the 11th century in the Gothic style. Most of its original stained glass was destroyed in WWII. It was so beautiful. I love stained glass.
Here you can see how dirty the church was before the cleaning.
We had a quick lunch at a place called Delissimo. It was meh, despite good reviews.
We walked through town toward the car rental agency so we could leave for our next adventure. I love how even the medians are beautifully landscaped.
TRAVEL TIP: There are various modes of transportation in Europe. From Amsterdam to Bruges and then to Amiens, we took the train. At this point we decided to rent a car because the next few places we wanted to visit weren't reasonably accessible by public transportation, so we decided to rent a car. Don't be afraid of driving in a foreign country. Some of our best adventures have been in a rental car, driving from one place to the next. Google Maps will take you the fastest, though not the most populated, way. We've stumbled upon several cool places this way and seen some spectacular countryside and beautiful villages! Driving through western France does not disappoint.
TRAVEL TIP: Do research the local traffic laws. Being ignorant of the law won't get you out of a ticket. For example, turning right on a red light isn't legal in some countries, and just because a police officer doesn't see you doesn't mean you are off the hook. Six months after we came home from Italy we received a ticket for running a red light, though I'm sure it was yellow when we started through. There was a traffic cam at the intersection, and the police sent it to the rental car company who ratted us out. Regardless, we were busted and had to pay up.
Amiens is an easy day trip from Paris and provides two unusual experiences. I've seen more cathedrals, duomos, monasteries and churches than I can count, and this was a unique way to experience one. There is more to see and do in Amiens, but we only had time to sample these two things. It was definitely worth the overnight stop. Have you been to Amiens? What were your favorite things?
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