Monday, April 8, 2013

Le Mans

My train rolled into Le Mans at 11 and I headed out to explore. In the snow. I had no set agenda for Le Mans; I just wanted to spend a couple hours wandering around. Le Mans happens to be the "sister city" of Paderborn, Germany, where I did a summer internship. Apparently it's the oldest such partnership in Europe, dating to the 800s. At first, I was a bit confused as I looked around. Le Mans felt a lot bigger than Paderborn (although it turns out they're roughly the same size), and I was having trouble seeing a connection.  And then I walked into the old part of town, and I was like, Aha! I get it. This is the old town of Le Mans:

Awesome stairway up to the medieval section

Narrow streets lined with timbered houses

An open courtyard with a great view

The aforementioned great view

Winding stairs connect different streets

Far more decorative than the ones back home

Wave to Teddy!

Awesome carvings

A typical street

I had fun meandering down streets on a whim, and slipping into cathedrals when I got too cold. The Le Mans cathedral reminded me a lot of many others I've seen, especially in terms of architecture, but it did have two outstanding features. First, it has about 50 wood carvings showing different scenes from Jesus' life and teachings dating from the Middle Ages, which are pretty impressive. Second, it has a chapel that is painted as it would have been in the Middle Ages. Back then, these cathedrals would not have been left just plain stonework; much of the walls and ceilings would have been brightly painted with angels, saints, and biblical figures. The gloomy old churches we see would once have been bright and festive.

The old clocktower on the cathedral

The tourism office was closed; no free brochures :(

Middle Ages, much?

The main Cathedral

And its impressive entrance

The house across the street

Front of the cathedral

The "newer" section

One of 50 wood carvings

The painted chapel

At one time, the whole cathedral would have look like this

The bare white walls of the sanctuary

The town hall looks practically
 brand new compared to its neighbors

Buildings in the newer part of Le Mans

It was snowing when I left Caen, and it was snowing while I explored Le Mans. It made for a lovely picturesque train ride through the French countryside; it was not fun to walk around in. I was basically a popsicle when I ducked into a cafe for lunch. House specialty: Boeuf bourguignon. It was delicious, and warm. 
Boeuf bourguignon

Leon Bollee
Before catching my train to my next destination, I ran into a statue of Leon Bollee. He was a French automobile manufacturer and inventor around the turn of the century. He invented and built various simple calculators, a steam locomotive, and started a car company in Le Mans. He was the first guy to put rubber tires on his vehicles. He was also pals with the Wright brothers; when they came to show off their planes in France, they used his factory for prep work.

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