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A Wonderful Day in Troyes-in-Champagne

 

Like many people, my favorite city in France is Paris. But my second-favorite city in France is not so well known. So please allow me to introduce you to a beautiful, medium-sized city in eastern France, about two and a half hours southeast of Paris, that you really should think about visiting if you haven’t already: Troyes.

Troyes (which is pronounced “twah,” yes, just like the French word for “three”) is the city I go when I want to take the train to Paris (or almost anywhere else in Europe); pick up friends who are coming to visit; consult medical specialists, or go for x-rays if and when I need them; and renew my visa.

It is also a charming and architecturally distinguished city that has been of historical importance since before the Roman conquest; it is a city that was spared the wrath of Attila the Hun in the fifth century, thanks to the protection of its Bishop, St. Loup, but was later sacked by the Normans in 889; it was the city chosen by the Counts of Champagne as their capital, and remained the regional capital until the French Revolution.

Troyes was the home of Rashi, the medieval Talmudic scholar; Chrétienne de Troyes, the twelfth century poet who is credited with having created the character of Lancelot; and it was at the Council of Troyes that the Knights Templar were officially sanctioned by the Catholic church, in 1129. Troyes is the city where in 1420, Catherine of  Valois married Henry  V of England at the parish church of St. Jean; and where, in 1429, after a few days of refusing to let her in, the British surrendered to Joan of Arc and her army as they passed through on their way from Orléans to Reims for the coronation of the Dauphin, France’s rightful king. Troyes was liberated again in 1944, this time from the Germans, by General George Patton and the Fourth Armored Division, along with Free French forces.

Troyes is home to a number of beautiful religious buildings, including a cathedral, a synagogue, and several mosques; and a number of interesting museums, including the fascinating, and intriguingly named Museum of the Tool and of Workers’ Thought, and a  museum of hosiery where apparently you can see stockings worn by the kings of France. (I must confess I haven’t been to that one yet, or if I have I did not remember that detail.) It is also a vibrant and culturally rich university town; and the departmental capital of l’Aube.

Usually when I come to Troyes I am there for one of the above-named specific reasons. I’ve come for an appointment at the préfecture or a medical lab; I’m picking someone up there at the train station to bring them to Essoyes, or I am going there to catch a train myself. Often I walk around Troyes with my visitors to show them some of the beautiful and interesting sights, or to have a meal at my favorite café, but when I do that I am distracted by the stories I am telling them and the sights I am pointing out, while trying very hard (and often not completely successfully) to keep us from getting lost in the maze of ancient cobblestoned streets, with their beautifully restored half-timbered buildings.

So that is why it was such a pleasure to find myself in Troyes the other day, with several hours in which I had nothing to do except wander about and find good places to work from my laptop, while I waited to get a ride back to Essoyes with a friend.

I started out by peeking into my own personal favorite “museum” in Troyes, which is not a museum at all, but the Church of La Madeleine, before it closed for lunch. Unlike most times I’ve been there, this time I was both prepared with a camera, and not hurried, so I was able to take a few pictures to share with you.

 

Afterward, I stopped for a moment, as I always do, in the lovely garden next to the church, the Jardin des Innocents. The light was not right for taking a photo, and in mid-October the blossoms are being to wither and die. (The garden is lovely at any time of year, actually, but it is usually more photogenic than it was the other day.)

It was a beautiful, unseasonably warm October day, so my next act was to buy a sandwich in a boulangerie and take it to a beautiful park called le Jardin de la Vallée  Suisse that stretches along several blocks more or less between the train station and the center of town. After I had eaten my sandwich and enjoyed the beauty of the park for a little while, I made sure to take a photo of the famous ruelle des Chats (“little street of the cats”), which is just a couple of blocks away from the Eglise St. Madeleine, heading toward the center of town.

 

 

Then it was time to find a place where I could work for a couple of hours in peace and quiet, and I found one near the Place Jean Jaurès. There I worked quietly and happily until was time to find the meeting spot where my friend would pick me up.

The meeting spot turned out to be near another little café that promised wifi so I was able to check my mail, and was also offered some classic, traditional French atmosphere (mostly male patrons watching the horse race they had bet on, and alternately cheering and cursing, depending on how the horses (or they?) were doing. But before I left there, one of the men there actually took out an accordion and played a little bit, not bad! (I do so love accordion music, and one does not hear it as often in France as one might imagine.)  I am always so happy when these moments occur.

From there it was a very pleasant ride back to Essoyes–it’s about an hour, through a series of beautiful little villages lying between fields of wheat, sunflowers, and rapeseed. And, as we got closer to home, vine-covered hills.

Here is what I came home to:

EssoyesSunsetOct17_17.jpg

I don’t really think there’s such a thing as “deserving” either good fortune or bad. But I do feel that the closest I can come to deserving the good fortune of living in such a beautiful place, so close to such an interesting city, is to be deeply grateful for it.

And I am.

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the U.S. and France. She leads book groups at the American Library in Paris, writing workshops in Essoyes, a village in the Champagne region, and teaches “Paris: A Literary Adventure” each summer, in Paris, for Queens College, CUNY.

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