Mainly Metz

Wednesday 18th April 2018, Metz, Lorraine
Tonight we are camping in the heart of the city of Metz which we intend exploring tomorrow. We are settled beside the river Moselle within sight and sound of the cathedral bells which are ringing as I write. Metz is in the former Duchy of Lorraine on the border with Germany and has changed nationality regularly throughout its history.

The weather has now turned really hot. It is completely draining. This evening when we arrived the temperature inside Modestine was 29 degrees while outside it was a sizzling 32! Now though it has cooled to a comfortable level to sit beside the Moselle with our glasses of wine, read our emails and make a few notes for the blog. Travelling can be exhausting and at the end of the day I prefer sleep to blogging so our coverage is sketchy.

We left the Jura, with our usual sense of regret, on Monday morning after a mere four days with our friends. Modestine is beginning to show her age even more than I do and I wonder whether we will cope with coming this way again.

By 10am we had said our farewells, left the village behind, and set off northwards towards Nancy. It is a beautiful city filled with amazing Art Nouveau treasures. We both love Nancy and finding ourselves so near, we could not resist the temptation to return for a third visit. I felt very weary when we reached the campsite and was asleep by 8.30pm. Next morning we caught an early bus into the city centre and wandered the square Stanislaus with delight, stopping for breakfast coffee on the Place, surrounded by stunning buildings dating from the first half of the 18th century. Seven golden gates lead into the cobbled square and beyond lies the Parc des Pepinièrs where the deposed king of Poland, Stanislaus Leszcynski, grew shrubs and trees on a grand scale to line the roads of the dukedom bestowed on him by his Father-in-Law, Louis XV as his kingdom in exile. Now it is a large public garden and zoo, freely open to residents and visitors.

Stanislaus Leszcynski, Nancy, Lorraine

The hot weather was delightful but draining, we picnicked in the parc for lunch and made our way to the Musée des Beaux Arts. Here we discovered to our great disappointment, that all the museums in Nancy and nearby Luneville are closed on Tuesdays! Happily I have a couple of excellent blogs with all the photos I need already loaded up. They are amongst my favourites.

Musée des Beaux Arts, Nancy, Lorraine

Hotel de Ville, Nancy, Lorraine

Having spent a couple of hours seeking out some of the Art Nouveau buildings in the centre of the city we took the bus back to the campsite where I slept for an hour before supper.

This morning we left Nancy and drove to nearby Luneville. We visited this little town on our last visit but dismissed it as having little of merit. We did not realise at the time that Stanislaus had his personal residence there. It had been damaged by a bad fire and was closed anyway on our last visit. Now it has reopened. Really it must be rather a financial liability for the town, being a huge building, set in gardens that Stanislas hoped would rival those of Versailles.

Although the chãteau has now reopened following its restoration, there is little about it that is awesome or particularly impressive. The self-service audio-guide lead us around the house and grounds, tempting us on with talk of the wonders of the Turkish architecture, or the little houses on the banks of the river which were used by the duke’s friends who could play at rural living in exchange for them growing and tending his vegetables in their gardens! Nothing was as exciting as we were led to expect. It was though, a very pleasant morning walking through the palace and amidst the formal gardens, along beside the lake with its fountains surrounded by formal flowerbeds. Stanislaus was a man of the Age of Enlightenment and amongst the frequent visitors to his château at Luneville was Voltaire, also a leading spirit of the age.

Approach to the Château, Luneville, Lorraine

Château seen from the gardens, Luneville, Lorraine

We found a pleasant bar for an omelette lunch back in the town but little was happening and the sunshine was hot and glaring. So we returned to Modestine and made our way to Metz where we have been whimping under a tree for the last half hour seeking respite from the searing heat. We are just not used to these temperatures in Britain. 35.5 outside and a chilly 29 inside!

Friday 20th April 2018 Metz
The roads of Metz were busy – the French rail strike continues, adding to the traffic on the roads. Eventually we were swept into Metz and Ian’s sense of direction deserted him leaving us completely lost in the city with no idea as to how to find the municipal campsite. Somehow, we did eventually find it despite the one way systems and crossing the Moselle back and forth several times. It’s not the nicest campsite we’ve used but it is central for the city and hopefully the cathedral bells won’t continue ringing all night!

Yesterday we spent a pleasant day around Metz. It has some lovely buildings and is a clean, smart town filled with young people. It’s not our favourite city but worth spending a full day. It has some very impressive buildings. The campsite proved to be an excellent base for sight-seeing. Within a ten minute walk we were exploring the interior of the impressive cathedral with its mediaeval stained glass windows. There are also some very modern ones by Chagal which we greatly admired, very different but just as impressive. The cathedral boasts the second highest nave in France, after Beauvais.

Opera Theatre, Metz, Lorraine

Nouveau Temple, Metz, Lorraine

West front of the Cathedral, Metz, Lorraine

Cathedral, Nave, Metz, Lorraine

Stained glass window by Chagal, Cathedral, Metz, Lorraine

Stained glass window by Chagal, Cathedral, Metz, Lorraine

Rose window, Cathedral, Metz, Lorraine

Next to the cathedral is the covered market. This is something we can only dream about for Exeter. It has spectacular restaurants serving local produce and the ice-strewn stalls have artistic displays of crustacia, fresh fish and fruits-de-mer. meat, vegetables, breads and cheeses. All are works of art beyond anything we have ever seen anywhere in Britain.

Nearby we discovered the house of the writer Rabelais.

House of Rabelais, Metz, Lorraine

We made our way to the Imperial quarter stopping for a coffee beneath a shady umbrella in one of the pedestrianised thoroughfares before cutting through one of the parks to reach the railway station and post office dominating a huge square which is also the bus terminus.

Place St. Louis, Metz, Lorraine

This whole complex is greatly impressive. The station is magnificent with stained glass and heavy carved columns. It is a sight in its own right. This is just as well as it was one of the two days a week the railway workers are on strike and the square was full of neon-jacket clad Cheminots waving banners and voicing their discontent with the policies of Emmanuel Macron. Since the days when this station was first built the railway workers have enjoyed special privileges with regard to working hours, retirement age and pensions. They and their families enjoy free rail transport and they can, and do, hold the nation to ransom at a whim. That said the trains are clean, modern and run perfectly on time. However, the French trade union workers like to believe they hold the real power in France and have few scruples about using it. They are determined that Macron will not succeed in bringing unions into line and carrying out planned reforms to French hours of employment, pension rights and the power to dismiss staff when necessary. They are adamantly against privatisation and the splitting up of the railways, wanting state monopoly retained.

Gare, Metz, Lorraine

Gare, Metz, Lorraine

Gare, Metz, Lorraine

Gare, Metz, Lorraine

Water tower, Metz, Lorraine

Poste, Metz, Lorraine

Poste, Metz, Lorraine

It was quite an experience watching them gathered around their SNCF representative shouting out union rhetoric about workers rights and their oppression by central government. This went on literally for hours as we wandered off to look at the post office and water tower on different sides of the huge square. Their scale reflected their importance as the city was being laid out. Transport, communication and sanitation where the miracles of their time and the size of the railway station, post office and water tower made sure their importance was never forgotten.

Railway workers rally, Metz, Lorraine

Striking railway workers (cheminots) outside the main station, Metz, Lorraine

Then, several hours later, all rhetoric spent, the brightly jacketed Cheminots, having stood listening patiently to their union leaders as they were served hot dogs and beer from volunteer stalls and the police waited patiently for them on the main route out from the square, formed up behind a 4x4 covered in flags and marched out of the square following their union leader around the town with loud speakers, shouting slogans, singing protest songs, setting off massive flares that exploded with a deafening bang every few minutes. All around the city they marched in the hot afternoon sunshine. I was petrified when the first explosion came, very close to us. I remain astonished that the accompanying police made no attempt to stop them, especially given the current threats from terrorism throughout Europe.

Cheminots parading around the streets, Metz, Lorraine

Cheminots parading around the streets, Metz, Lorraine

Impossible to be out of earshot but we climbed up into the public gardens that surround the historic quarter and explored what had originally been army barracks and now represented official residences, the Palais du Gouverneur, luxury hotels and the beautiful Italianate Abbatiale-St- Pierre-aux-Nonnains built between the 4th and 10th century AD.

Porte Serpenoise, c1900, Metz, Lorraine

Palais du Gouverneur 1902-1904, Metz, Lorraine

Abbatiale Saint-Pierre-aux-Nonnains, 4th -10th century AD, Metz, Lorraine

We later walked across the city to the Centre Pompidou. This is supposed to be an outpost of the one in Paris. In fact it struck us a rather silly attempt to produce in wood and canvas a pastiche of the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao! Perhaps Metz has learned that there is little point in building for posterity and therefore has done the job on the cheap. This painted canvas and chipboard structure will be outmoded in a few decades and the site can then be reused for something else; unlike the massive post-office building which is closed up and empty as the city ponders what to do with it and the current service is supplied from a far more modest building elsewhere. The Pompidou Centre is a massive empty tent-like structure with walkways, staircases and modern art installations thinly scattered around acres of empty space. The cost to get in is the same as we paid at the Bilbao Guggenheim last year - which gave us a lot more junk for our money!

Centre Pompidou, Metz, Lorraine

This quarter of the city is currently under development and they seem to be making it up as they go along. Having passed through a long cool tunnel beneath the railway station we emerged into broiling sunshine with no shade where flats are being constructed and grandios plans are on display for anybody sufficiently tough-skinned to withstand the hot sunshine admiring the fantasy land that may one day appear there. Next to the Pompidou centre we found “Muse, Creative Shopping”, an ultra modern complex of 115 shops and boutiques which had just opened. It was all very pretentiously laid out with clothes, jewellery, perfumes, shoes and restaurants. Entire units were dedicated to nougate, chocolates and expensive lingerie. Built on several levels it is set with pseudo artist areas where customers can sit and feel cultured! Thus we stopped to rest in the Bibliotheque des Arts which turned out to be a touch screen that opened up a few electronic volumes to display pages of publicity for the store. Ian followed a sign for the Art Gallery and ended up in the toilettes! All in all an area that was pointless and pretentious. That said, every unit was occupied – but for how long?

Muse, Creative Shopping, Metz, Lorraine

It was too hot to walk further so we returned to our campsite on the banks of the Moselle and snoozed beneath the trees until it cooled down sufficiently for us to eat supper and walk back into the city for a cold beer on the terrace of a shady bar on the banks of the Moselle. It was a very full day, on our feet almost the entire time, which we somehow survived.

This morning we were up and away by 9am heading towards Strassbourg. Passing through one of the villages as we made our way across Alsace we passed beneath a huge stork on its floppy nest balanced in the wires above the main street. She was proudly showing off her rapidly growing chick, quite unconcerned about the traffic passing below.

We have already visited the delightful city of Strassbourg twice and will not be stopping to visit it this time. Nearby though, and on our onward route into Germany, is Molsheim with a delightful campsite with many large, shady trees. Here we arrived around lunch-time and have been sheltering from the heat for a couple of hours waiting for the campsite manager to finish his lunch. Time now to brave the heat and wander into town in the hope of finding a glass of chilled white Alsace wine!

For our full accounts of Nancy, one of our very favourite European cities, follow these links….

Nancy and Domremy, 2007
Nancy and the Vosges, 2011
Ecole de Nancy, 2011