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Published: January 7th 2012
On our way home - not happy but unfortunately the time does come round and you have to bite the bullet and accept you can do nothing about it. The weather back home was dull and miserable and I knew I would miss the French weather and the way of life that went with it. I would have to resort to Tesco french baguettes and croissants to remind me of a way of life I love and wish I could take more of it in. Work gets in the way of travel unless you are very rich or don't give a damn and throw caution to the wind and set off into the sunset. Perhaps retirement when it comes will give us the opportunity of our missed gap year.
We booked a hotel close to Fontainebleu to enable us to visit the chateau and be just far enough out of Paris. We had both "done " Paris years before seeing most of the major sites - the Eifel Tower, the Louvre with the Mona Lisa, been on a boat on the Seine, walked the Champs Elysee. Most disappointing I had never been up the Eifel Tower nor was I enamoured
with the Mona Lisa. She may be enigmatic but I would her disappointing. Notre Dame was beautiful and Versailles cold and too crowded. The peripheric the most dangerous road in the world - or at least thats how it felt with drivers shunting in and out with little regard for any other fellow driver. Every Parisian must drive a car suitably battered and bruised and showing the scars of Parisian driving.
I thought I would be fed up of chateaux and that Fontainebleu would be yet another one but it surprised me. It lies about 55 miles outside of the city in the forest of Fontainebleu. It started life as another hunting lodge. It is one of the largest of the French royal chateaux built by the french kings and enlarged in the 16th century by King Francis I. The building is arranged around a series of courtyards which makes it prettier than some chateaux we have visited .
Although I dont know what the Italian Mannerist style of building is I admit it looked very stylish and I admired it very much. Each block of buildings were built in a slightly different style to their neighbour. One
wing more stone than brick. The other two less stone but more brick all patterned differently and with what seemed like hundreds of elegant windows to break up the facade. The interior was not a disappointment and had a strangely feminine colourscheme in some rooms of lilac and gold. There was a fabulously decorated library, a throne room and the usual bedroom that Napoleon slept in and of course one that was graced by Marie Antoinette. If I had the choice between visiting Versailles or here again I would have to go for Fontainebleu with its treasure of an interior.
Sunday morning we woke early counting down - Paris this morning and a date with a dead man and then on to Calais and home. We drove into Suresnes a suburb of the city in search of the American Cemetery and Memorial which was near to Mont Valerian with its unique views over the city of Paris. The Eifel Tower dominated the far distance. Originally this was a World War I cemetery but since the 2nd World War has been used to bury the unknown dead from that war. It commemorates the American dead either in the graveyard with
its burials or on a commemorative bronze plate in the memorial chapel on the hill.
The white stone chapel dominates the hill and has been enlarged over the years by the addition of two loggias to either side of the original building. We had read that the complex opened at 9 but when we arrived the gates were locked as we were there too early in the morning. We walked a little around Suresnes waiting for someone to turn up to unlock the complex. At exactly 8.50 a door opened in the lodge across the road and a dark swarthy Mexican looking soldier dressed immaculately in grey trousers and bomber jacket emerged. He walked across the road and we asked if he were opening up as we had come from Wales to look at the memorial and find the name of our American relative who served in the Illinois regiment during WW1 and had died and been buried at sea one month before the end of hostilities. He explained he could not let us in until he had opened the chapel and had raised the Stars and Stripes.
As soon as this was done we walked up the
neat path between rows of neat white gravestones. This was not like the commonwealth graveyards with the riotous flower beds but pristine and bland. The only deviation from plain white headstones were the Jewish ones with the Star of David carved into them. Inside the chapel had an altar, an enormous green,lilac and white mosaic of any angel and tree and enormous bronze panels carved with the names of the dead. We found George easily and felt moved at how many young men died for nothing.
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