We had a day off in Saint-Quentin today for two reasons. One, it looked like an interesting city to explore (it is), and, two, we needed to plan a change in our itinerary.
Our original plan had been to walk the first half of the Via Francigena, from Canterbury to the St. Bernard Pass, as spring turned into summer. However, spring seems a little slow in arriving in northern France this year and our thoughts are turning southward. We have now decided to head to Aosta and walk the second half of the route (or part of), in hopes of finding warmer weather and less mud.
We are grateful to have been able to do part of the northern half of the route (with interruptions due to illness, we walked 135 kms, just under half the way from Canterbury to here). We have met up with old friends and met new ones, attended Easter Evensong in Canterbury Cathedral, hiked the ancient North Downs Way, experienced gale force winds along the Côte d’Opale, witnessed the legacy of war and resilience of people in Hauts-de-France, enjoyed the people, history, architecture and great food of an area of France we hadn’t yet visited, eaten amazing cheeses and the best croissants (and the wines have not been shabby either!).
We will take the train to Turin tomorrow (via Paris) and then on to Aosta on Friday.
Saint-Quentin offered a fascinating insight into the Art Deco period of the 1920’s and 30’s. We hadn’t quite appreciated before the relationship between the Art Deco movement and the end of WWI, with its consequent need for reconstruction and the impulses for change, coupled with the developing use and availability of reinforced concrete. Saint-Quentin, like many of the towns we have passed through, suffered damage to 80% of its buildings in WWI. With an audio-guide and pass from the tourism office that gave us access to the exquisite Salle du Conseil in the restored Hôtel de Ville, we also saw wonderful examples of Art Deco architecture in a number of other buildings, including private residences, a pharmacy, a department store, a cinema and the post office. Two of the stained glass windows in the Basilica are also in Art Deco style. In addition, the Basilica has a labyrinth on the floor of the nave, in place since 1495.