Saturday, 28 November 2015

Chalon-sur-Saone

I suspect I have spent considerably more time in tour buses than in chauffeur-driven limousines.  Yet sometimes it's the rarity of things that makes them enjoyable. In the case of our airport transfer from Lyon to Chalon I have to say that Scenic did us proud. As a result of arriving quite early at the riverboat that was to be our home for the journey to the south of France, we had time for unguided wandering around the town, discovering some of its interesting features for ourselves.


Chalon owes its foundation to a conjunction of navigable river and major roads, though the road may have been more important to the Romans than to later ages since it pointed straight towards a vulnerable frontier.  

Nevertheless there are still picturesque sights that remind you of what the medieval town must have been like.  Here on the right is a photograph of the corner of Rue du Pont and Rue du Chatelet for example. For some reason this sort of thing does not sneak into the usual tourist snaps.

What does sneak in is the history of photography itself, because Chalon was the home of the inventor Nicéphore Niépce who, in addition to pioneering the internal combustion engine a half century or more before the people who became famous for it, also produced the first photographic image, even if it was a negative and he had trouble stabilising it.


The Cathedral of St Vincent has origins in the 8th century though it is the 19th century neo-Gothic facade that attract the photographers.

Inside (left) you can see the beautiful stained glass of the apse, which is still divided into three storeys so that the blindstorey and clerestory carry on right around the church.

I was busy experimenting with my new (to me) 28mm f.2.8 Ensinor lens, which turned out to be capable of pretty decent flashless indoor photographs once I got the hang of it. It certainly conveys the atmosphere of St Vincent's quite well.

I know it's selfish but I find the more commonly visited cathedrals harder to appreciate because the crowds leave so little of the reverent atmosphere and demand such an effort of concentration. Here there wasn't a lot of distraction.

Another interesting feature of Chalon turned out to be trompe-l'oeil decoration on buildings. The one on the left is perhaps a little faded, but certainly it could almost be a real flight of steps leading up to a real statue.  Maybe the artist has made the steps rather too steep and the statue too big, but it's still impressive.

Elsewhere you need to do a double take to check whether the person looking out of a window is a real person (and a real window).

But like any riverside town it is the river itself that dominates the local scene. Writing under grey, rainy skies in late November it is almost incredible to recall that we managed to visit Burgundy just as a heatwave arrived in France.

We aren't always gifted with such prescient organisation!