Thursday, November 03, 2011


I already told you where I was on Monday night, but if you asked me on Monday day the question my blog perpetually poses, the answer would have been 'in Poitiers'! I was determined to go somewhere over the Toussaint long weekend, especially since I have my new 12-30 discount card for the trains. I looked into a couple of mid-range destinations where it would have made sense to do it as an overnight trip, but I couldn't find any hotel rooms cheaper than about 35 euro, which seemed just a leetle bit high to bother with. So I settled on Poitiers, which is about 45 minutes on the train from Tours, and I saved 20 euros on the ticket which made me a happy bunny. I knew nothing about Poitiers other than a vague sense that it was a historic place and had ties to Eleanor of Aquitaine and a couple of suggestions from blogger Eyelean at A Landscape Selected at Random. So I turned up about 11 am ready to explore!

My first impression was "wow, hilly!" I didn't realise until now, but evidently my brain (and my calves) have adapted to living in super-flat Tours and having expected Poitiers to look much the same, I was literally surprised to have to climb a flight of steps from the train station up into the city. (Where they were digging up the road, which is exactly like Tours!) I had no clue where I was going from there, and I first wandered into the neighbourhood around the Préfecture, which seemed to be mostly 19th-century buildings. With the buildings made of the local white tuffaut stone and the pavements and even the road surfaces white to match, I had the impression that the whole of Poitiers had been recently waterblasted, but turned out it was only that neighbourhood.

The whitewashed-looking 19th-century part of Poitiers, looking back from the Préfecture towards the town hall

Just hangin' out

After a bit more aimless wandering, I managed to find the tourist office where I picked up a map, a brochure of the city's sites and filled up my water bottle (aces). I don't know how many tourists Poitiers gets, but they seem to do a good job of putting information plaques up on lots of buildings and outside the main landmarks, and they have three tourist walking routes which are helpfully marked out with painted lines on the pavements - much easier to follow than trying to trace it out on a map. I was impressed! I think Tours could do a better job in this department - there are lots of old half-timbered and stone buildings around which are clearly medieval or Renaissance, but there is no information about most of them.

11th century palace of the Ducs of Aquitaine. I think everything in Poitiers was built either in the 11th, 15th or 19th centuries

I started out with the Notre-Dame-la-Grande church, which Eyelean had told me was well worth a look. It dates from the 11th to 13th centuries and is beautiful from the outside, but I loved the inside! I love painted churches! Unfortunately, I had checked my camera in the morning, and since I didn't have any battery warning, I decided not to charge it. Next time I'm going to do it just in case, because halfway through the church, the battery died. After letting it rest a bit I managed to get a few more photos later in the day, but I was a bit bummed out by that. On the other hand, I feel like sometimes I take too many photos and forget to just really look at things, so maybe it's for the best.

Notre Dame la Grande

The main façade

Carved capitals on the façade

The information plaque said the figures here were 'embracing or fighting', which I kind of liked. You could probably use that for the title of a rock album as well.

Inside NDLG

Painted columns in Notre Dame la Grande

This is hard to see, but I swear they've got Christ wearing a beret!

One of the stained glass windows in NDLG

Ceiling fresco in NDLG

After the church, I went and had lunch at the Cafe du Theatre in the square by the town hall. The food was average and the service VERY slow (lunch took over 2 hours) but it was a glorious sunny warm day and I had come armed with 1Q84 on my Kindle, so I was quite happy sipping wine and soaking up the sunshine while I waited for my food. I sometimes have to remind myself to take the time to relax and enjoy things instead of trying to rush about the place, so this was a very nice occasion.

After lunch, I followed the 'blue' route on the pavement around the Episcopal Quarter. This took me first to the cathedral, which is unusually wide and squat from the outside - apparently this is the Angevin (I think) or Plantagenet style, dating from the time of Eleanor of Aquitaine (12th-13th centuries). Inside, on the other hand, it was amazingly light and spacious. I kept thinking that it's exactly what people mean when they describe a space as being 'like a cathedral' - nothing like the heavy gloom I remember from the inside of Notre Dame de Paris, for example (many years ago now though).

It's hard to really see what it looks like. The tower on the right is taller than the one on the left, but neither is very tall, so it just gives a strange sense of being wider than it is tall, not your typical-style cathedral at all

Inside the cathedral - again, this doesn't really do justice to its proportions

12th-century stained glass window of the crucifixion. Unfortunately I could barely get my camera to function at this point, let alone zoom in, but it was pretty neat

After that, it was to the baptistery of Saint John. I was absolutely blown away by this place. It's a small building centred around a baptismal pool from the 5th century, with the rest of the building dating from between the 8th and 11th centuries I think. It, too, has amazing frescoes on the walls, from the 11th century. This was one of those places where I felt really privileged just to be there and to see it. It almost felt to me like places I've seen in the East - in Russia or Ukraine or Istanbul (the Chora church, for example) rather than the usual Western medieval style. I've been feeling a bit "meh, same old" about some places I've been (the inside of Reims cathedral for example) and this was a great reminder that I can still be amazed by new experiences and I am really lucky to be here and to experience all these things that I could never see or do in New Zealand. My camera had totally given up by this stage, so I bought some postcards and photographed them instead! I just had an all-day seminar on copyright and ethics, and so I do realise this is almost certainly illegal. Sorry! They came out surprisingly well though! Go visit the baptistery and buy some postcards.

Exterior of the baptistery (this photo I did take myself)

View of the interior

12th century fresco of the apostles

A knight on horseback

A 12th centuryfresco of a horse. I love this one, it just looks so other-timely, if you know what I mean. No-one would paint a horse quite like that any more.

A knight fighting a dragon

13th century fresco of Christ in majesty

The last place I went to was Saint Radegonde church, built to house the saint's tomb in the 6th century, although the present building dates from between the 11th and 15th centuries. There is a suburb of Tours called Sainte Radegonde, but I didn't know who she was at first. She was a princess from a Germanic tribe who was captured as a kid and later forced to marry a Frankish king (I think one of Clovis's kids, or maybe Clovis himself). Anyway, the info I read in the church said something like she performed her marital duties to the full, but she still wanted to lead a religious life and after her husband killed her brother, she ran away (you would, wouldn't you?) and founded an abbey in Poitiers. Her tomb was despoiled during the Revolution, but it's still there in the crypt and apparently there are some bits of her left. The church also had some nice painted columns, with beautiful decorative capitals showing things like people getting attacked by dogs. That's why we love the Middle Ages!

All in all, I had a really nice day out in Poitiers. It really surpassed my expectations, which I suppose wasn't hard since I didn't really have any, but still. I think I would like to take another trip some time, take some photos in my favourite spots, and see more of the town. After all, it's just down the road really!


  1. I'm commenting in re: to the comment you left on my blog (I can't find your email address). Have you heard of a thing called ?!

    Get on board, sista! Everyone's doing it! : P

  2. I spent 6 weeks studying in Poitiers two summers ago, and I just loved it! Such a great city!!

  3. Hi Shannon, you've been very quiet lately! Yeah, I really enjoyed my day :)

  4. Glad you liked Poitiers! It's true it IS hilly. That's why I never bought a bike. If you do come back, let me know, we could maybe get a drink, or I could at least give you the name of a good restaurant!! The brasseries on the main square are nice for the view but otherwise a little overpriced and nothing special. That said I've been known to eat a croque monsieur there.

  5. More like just too lazy to update my blog. And the longer I go... the harder it gets to pick back up.

  6. Will do Eileen! Yeah, my general philosophy is that places on the main square or really touristy bit are always a bit crap, but I couldn't find much open and just wanted something cheap and to sit in the sun, so it was fine.

    I know what you mean Shannon, it's hard to pick it up again if you let it go for a while...


Feed the Comment Monster! Rawrrrr