As much as we love Paris, we always try to take a little out-of-town trip so that Tom can get a train ride. This year it was Amiens, just over an hour away.
Via the Internet, a hotel called Maison d’Ulysse agreed to take us in, and we tramped through town looking for it. Using our phones we zeroed in on a block, walked all the way around it, but saw no hotel. Desperate, we re-read the street number, which was 39. Yes, there was a handsome house there, but it was very closed up, the plaque by the door had a doctor’s name on it, and the doorbell didn’t work.
Now super desperate, we actually called the hotel. “Be right there,” said a cheery girly voice, and seconds later the big door of the handsome house swung open, and there was a teeny and drop-dead gorgeous young woman beckoning us in.
Turns out, Maison Ulysse is a two-month-old bed and breakfast in a freshly renovated 1923 house that was gorgeously art nouveau all over—stained glass, leather wallpaper, carved banisters, and mosaic floors.
Our hostess, Amelie, owns the house with her husband Alexis, and lives in it as well. She sat us down with coffee and cookies, gave us a map, and pointed out where we should go. She also shared a delicious bit of gossip not on the map: both French president Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte are from Amiens.
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They met, you may recall, at the Jesuit high school in Amiens where Brigitte was teaching literature and drama. He was her severely-smitten student and 24 years younger. Brigitte’s three children by her ex-husband are still living in Amiens, and her nephew is the fifth generation to helm her family business downtown, the chocolaterie Jean Trogneux. (Married in 2007, the Macrons moved another hour north to Le Touquet to avoid the tongue-wagging in tiny Amiens.)
About twenty feet away was the spectacular Cathedral of Notre-Dame d’Amiens, the largest church in France, built in the 1200s. The cathedral claims to contain the head of St. John the Baptist , which is brought up from the vault twice a year. Actually, Amiens only has his face from his upper lip to his eyebrows. Three other head parts can be found in three other churches around Europe. This is what the Crusades were for: relic raiding. Tom, who was brought up Episcopalian, was puzzled by the whole thing. Of course, relic raiding and indulgence selling were two of the conditions that caused Protestantism.
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In spite of its advanced age, the cathedral sits on the site of a previous cathedral built in the 700s. That would be 1158 years before Oregon became a state. That’s really old. Also, this area on the river Somme was heavily bombed in World War I, (hence its many houses from the 1920s) but the cathedral remained unscathed. Placards in the cathedral tell us this was because of a combination of sandbags, other protective coverings, and clandestine diplomacy.
Amiens was full of surprises, and one of the sweetest turned up when we prepared to check out of the Maison Ulysse and were introduced to Ulysse himself. He is nine months old, smiley, and clinging happily to his dad, representing the future in a town with a wonderfully long past. Ulysee agreed to pose for a picture, below.