Wednesday, April 25, 2007


Chalon-sur-Saône, a town of about 70,000 people, is a significant port even though it is slap bang in the middle of France. In the 1700's the 73 mile long Canal Du Centre was built, connecting the Saône River to the Loire River and completing a waterway from the Mediterranean to the English Channel. The old town has its share of squares, narrow streets and relaxed sidewalk cafes. Claiming to be the birthplace of photography in 1822, there is a museum of photography and cameras and Kodak actually has a plant in town.
Along with every other town we visited, the place shuts down for 1-1/2 to 2 hours each day for lunch. Stores, Banks, Post Offices, everything except bars and restaurants all shut up tight and moreover, the further south we traveled, the longer the lunch breaks became. In need of a couple of tools, we eventually tracked down a Lowes like DIY store, a French chain called Projet. Arriving around midday, we were perplexed to find the store closed, doors locked, shutters rolled down and the parking lot empty. With noses pressed to a window it was possible to read the store hours: 9:00 am until 12:15 pm then again from 1:45 pm until 5:00 pm. Stunning – imagine clearing a store the size of a Home Depot twice a day and performing all of the unlocking and locking procedures twice. This is worse than England was thirty years ago when most stores closed for an hour at lunchtime. Too bad that this closure coincided with the lunch time of working folk, although I suppose, it has the advantage of keeping those pesky customers out so at least the storekeepers are not overly inconvenienced.
The Gothic Cathédrale Saint-Vincent faces onto the main square in town. Begun in the 13th century the building was restored in the mid-19th century having been seriously vandalized during the French Revolution. Over the centuries, Chalon has been the site of 10 church councils, the first of which was called by Charlemagne in 813.
As a comforting point of reference, we did find a branch of that fine American institution, McDonalds, right in the center of the modern downtown. In common with all of the Golden Arch restaurants we encountered, there were the ubiquitous sidewalk tables for the consumption of Le Big Macs and Fries.

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