Paris – Laon

On last weekend, those were the European Heritage Days. It means there were opportunities everywhere to visit places of interest usually not opened to the public eyes, and moreover for free.

You can imagine I used this pretext to … bike more.

And there were 3 other crazy guys to follow me on this cultural excuse, to the medieval city of Laon.

The meeting point was the Rotonde de la Villette at sunrise, which happened to take place around 7:29am behind the clouds.

We rode first along the Bassin de la Villette out of Paris and then the Canal de l’Ourcq, as long as there was a bike lane beside it. Which means long enough to be out of the suburbs before having to ride with the traffic. Then we used small roads to avoid the city of Meaux, crossing several times the East European Fast train line and meeting some monuments and cemeteries from the 1st World War.

TGV Est and German military cemetery

Then we reached the Ourcq valley and rode uphill and downhill several times before joining La-Ferté-Milon, where we stopped for lunch.

La-Ferté-Milon

WWI monument

Shortly after the small city, we passed the start of the Canal de l’Ourcq and rode along the huge Forêt de Retz and the ruined abbey of Longpont, destroyed during the revolution.

Longpont abbey

Longpont

Then we reached the city of Soissons, the biggest city on our way, and its ruined abbey too, Saint-Jean-des-Vignes. (I have almost the same picture from a ride there last year). As there was a guided tour, we enjoyed it for a while. Enough to learn that this is the only church in France with the Christ displayed outside on the cross of the window of the left tower (you can guess it on the picture).

Soissons, St-Jean-des-Vignes

Its cathedral looks simple on the outside but is bright and with great stained glass inside.

Soissons, inside the cathedral

The weather went colder and even more cloudy for the last 30 kilometers, but the way up into the medieval city of Laon was steep enough to warm us right at the end (around 6pm). The upper city, our arrival, was actually the highest point of this ride.

Here is the track:

Paris to Laon track

We met our host in a café right on the main street and at the corner where he lives. The evening we had a typical meal from the north of France: Goyère au Maroilles, Carbonnade Flamande and ice cream flavoured with Speculoos, gingerbread and Chicorée. It was worth the ride.

The next day was spent sightseeing the upper city, where all the heritage sights (and there are many) are located. There is a small funicular, which reminds me of a ski resort, that joins the upper and lower cities.

Poma

Lower city

The upper city is surrounded by walls and some of the doors are still standing.

Porte d'Ardon

In a small courtyard, there is this weird sculpture of someone with 6 fingers, supposedly to show the rapacity of bankers, who could count money faster (Sorry,  realize the picture is not focused enough).

6 fingered sculpture

There is a nice church on the west side, next to the porte de Soissons, where we arrived.

St-Martin

But the main and most impressive monument is of course the cathedral, Which has 4 towers on which statues of animals are standing, and is full of unexpected details like gargoyles shaped as rhinoceros and hippopotamus. It definitely became one of my favorite Gothic cathedrals.

Laon cathedral towers

Laon cathedral gargoyles

Laon cathedral from north-east

Laon cathedral from west

We ended the day with a classical music concert (Dvorak and I don’t remember the other).

So this weekend was a good mix of bicycle and culture.

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