For my last outing in France I took a day trip to Compiègne, about an hour away from Amiens to the south-east. I hope you like pictures because I took plenty.

Compiègne looking towards the modern Louis XV bridge

It was at Compiègne that Joan of Arc was captured, as mentioned in my last post. Of this event there is not much left to see. A small portion of the bridge she tried to retreat over can still be seen, it now serves as the foundation of an apartment building, hidden down a dark alley (which through the artifice of photography we can make look brightly lit).

Remains of the old Pont Saint Louis
“And I, while withdrawing from the field on the Picardie side, near the boulevard, was taken.”

She was actually captured on the other side of the river from where this remnant exists, in a place now called Generic Parking Lot.

Near this bridge are the remains of la grosse tour du Roi or the “large tower of the king” dating from the 12th century. In May 1430 the captain of the garrison one Guillaume de Flavy stood on the upper section of this tower observing the battle across the river and ordered the gates shut as Joan tried to retreat across the bridge.

La grosse tour du Roi

There are also two churches in town which she was known to have visited. There are statues of her in both today (I won’t bore you with pictures). The first church is Saint Antoine where Joan came to pray when she traveled through town with the king after the coronation. Today it features a half-dozen large stained glass windows installed in the 1920s that illustrate her life.

Saint Antoine
Saint Antoine interior
The taking of Joan of Arc outside Compiègne, stained glass at Saint Antoine

The second church is Saint Jacques. It was unfinished in Joan’s time and still had a temporary thatched roof over portions of the nave. She came here multiple times for mass including on the morning of her capture.

Saint Jacques
Saint Jacques interior

The inside of this church is incredibly beautiful and features an unusual mixture of stone and wood decoration. There were several priests here this morning, on their knees praying before the altar in the front row. I don’t know if I have ever seen anyone on their knees in my entire life until I started attending Catholic mass. It is a humbling sight.

Nearby is the 16th century town hall, usually called Hôtel de Ville in all the places I’ve been so far, but here called the Mairie. Just when you think you’ve learned a word for something, you realize there are also any number of synonyms… In front of city hall is a statue of Joan of Arc carrying her banner. Guys believe me when I tell you I am not posting pictures of all the Joan of Arc statues in this town! There are a lot, including another replica of the Frémiet equestrian statue that we saw earlier in Paris.

Mairie de Compiègne

I also wandered about two small parks in the downtown area, the first is the Jardin de Senteurs (garden of scents) just next to the dilapidated tower and right along the banks of the river (the Oise). Even though it is still technically winter there were flowers blooming here, and I’ve recently seen them being planted around Amiens as well. It would seem the weather here is mild enough, or maybe we are close enough to spring, or maybe they just like things to look nice even if they have to replant them again in a month after they freeze.

Jardin de Senteurs

Right next to this garden is a small museum which I did not go into but which had this interesting statue on the back wall.

On the back wall of the Musée Antoine Vivenel

The second garden is tucked away in the middle of town and is called the Jardin des Remparts (garden of the ramparts). It is nestled within the remains of the 9th century city walls and is the kind of place I would like to spend my last moments on earth.

Jardin des Remparts

Probably the best-known attraction is the large Palais de Compiègne. A royal palace has existed here from the 7th century but the current château dates from the 14th. It was one of the three seats of royal government, the other two being of course Versailles and also Fontainebleau. It was gutted during the revolution but Napoleon had it refurnished.

Palais de Compiègne

You can tour the building but I had arrived so early it wasn’t yet open. I decided to pass the time wandering the immeasurable and limitless gardens and woods to the rear of the residence. As at Versailles, the palace looks out along a perfectly straight boulevard plowed through a never-ending forest. Versailles has a massive water canal along its “royal alley,” something Compiègne lacks, but what it does have that Versailles does not is a large hill at the very end of the lane called Beaux Monts (beautiful mountains). The alley at Compiègne is also a full three miles long, whereas the one at Versailles is only two. I wasn’t planning to walk the whole distance but after traipsing around on forest paths and finding myself about halfway there I decided to just do it.

Avenue des Beaux Monts, Palais de Compiègne

The only other people I saw were joggers and I wondered what they thought about some weirdo walking along in polished shoes and an overcoat. But if they thought “that’s a dumb American tourist,” well then they were right.

Finally after ten eternities we made it to the top of the so-called mountain. I’ll let you judge whether the view was worth it or not (but I thought so). The palace is the white thing at the end of the boulevard.

At the top of the “beau mont”

The only problem with walking is that every step you take away from somewhere, you also have to take again going back. I’m sure my legs and lungs could trudge along all day but my feet are known to have limitations. In the back of my mind I knew I was taking the stupid risk of finding myself immobilized with pain miles from the train station. But you only live once, and in that one lifetime there are not many days you get to walk in a royal garden.

By this point we have shed the long coat

On the way back I skipped the woods and just took the straight alley, which I found creates an unusual illusion of nearness. You can see your destination clearly from the very beginning, yet after an hour of walking towards it you still aren’t quite there. But to make a long and very uninteresting story short, I obviously did make it and by some divine miracle my feet held out.

In all I did over 11 miles on this day which is by far the most I’ve walked in a single day since my injury over a decade ago. My feet are not in great shape, every morning before I put my shoes on I put on half a dozen band-aids and moleskin, and many days my left (bad) ankle is swollen beyond resemblance to its twin on the right. How I survived this trek when lesser exertions have previously bankrupted me I don’t know, but if I had divine assistance then I am very grateful to have been given the opportunity to experience such a beautiful morning in nature.

Afterwards I toured the palace which I can say is nearly as good as Versailles, and a lot less crowded. In one section they did have some kind of car display going on, and while I do like fancy cars I’m not sure I think it’s necessary to put them in royal castles. I also don’t know how on earth they got them in there in the first place.

A Jaguar Series 2 E-Type in the courtyard
Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider in the emperor’s dining room

Thankfully most of the palace was still sans-voiture. Here is the ballroom built by Napoleon (he didn’t personally do the work), used as a dining hall and during the first world war as a military hospital. Try getting the entire hall of mirrors to yourself at Versailles!

Galerie de Bal

At one end of this large room stands a statue of Napoleon which my earlier American Amienois twin took a good picture of; at the other end we have a statue of his mother. Her name was Letizia Ramolino but after Napoleon became emperor she was known as Madame Mère.

I tell you what, we need more statues in America.

Madame Mère

And here is a bust of Marguerite Bellanger, one of Napoleon III’s many mistresses. It is said he met her while on a carriage ride and saw her standing under a tree in the rain. He had a reputation for picking up chicks anyway, but with a face like that who wouldn’t have stopped?

Marguerite Bellanger

So ends the final field trip of my stay in France; my visa is about to expire and I need to be out of the country next week. I have traveled every weekend for the last two months which for a guy who doesn’t even like to go to the grocery store, and I mean even in America, that is quite a lot.

It has all been worth it.