France 2014 - Chartres
Traffic in the core of Chartres was progressing at a slower-than-walking pace, so we abandoned our quest to get to the most central parking lot and just got into the nearest one. One French innovation I appreciate is that the parking lots tell you how many free spots they have right at the entrance on a live-updating sign: this one had 500 spots, which seemed a lot. It was entirely underground, and as immense as the number of empty spaces implied. Also very clean, and with piped in music - weird.
We walked to the Cathedral through the lovely pedestrianized area surrounding the church. You've heard of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Chartres? One of the most famous churches in the world, and with reason - although the first thing I noticed was that the two very tall towers at the front of the church don't match, are in fact very different, which struck me as odd. We arrived around 1700, and knowing the church closed at 1930, we went almost immediately inside - we could look at the outside later. There is an immense amount of stained glass, including one piece from the 12th century that dates back to a previous incarnation of the church. The carvings around the choir are breathtaking: 40 scenes, stretching in a U shape, detailing the lives of Mary and Jesus, each with multiple figures beautifully done. I think it runs about 100 meters in total. There are multiple chapels around the U, facing that screen. I was taken in by the colours and the spectacular level of detail. A service started around 1830, so we mostly tried to stay back behind the choir: it's a huge space, a long way from the small service. But we did end up near the front door (again, well away from the service), sitting quietly and admiring that awe-inspiring space. We also admired the pair of Japanese women, the older one in full kimono, the younger in some bizarre Gothic Lolita outfit. And another woman who stood center aisle to have her picture taken by a friend while the service was still in progress.
Our next step was a leisurely stroll around the outside of the Cathedral. It has three massive sets of doors on three of the four sides of the building, each of which is surrounded by massive arches, all covered in incredibly detailed carving. I think it's as well that we had an appointment to return to our respective countries the next day: we could easily have stayed there much longer. Inside or outside, take your pick.