Dwight Peck's personal Web site

Summer 2005

A quick visit to Chambéry


You may not find this terribly rewarding unless you're included here, so this is a good time for casual and random browsers to turn back before they get too caught up in the sweep and majesty of the proceedings and can't let go.

Raining in the Savoie Alps. Let's go to Chambéry instead.

Just as we were suiting up for a hike near Champagny-en-Vanoise, it rained! So here we are trotting about the pedestrian Old Town of historical Chambéry, August 2005.

Chambéry lies at the hub of lots of ancient trade routes through the mountains -- the north-south route from Geneva through Annecy to Grenoble and the Mediterranean, and east-west routes through the Tarentaise and Maurienne passes out of Italy to the French markets of Lyon and Clermont-Ferrand.

Perhaps that's why the medieval counts of Savoy (Savoie) made it their capital in the 13th century (1295). We all would have done the same thing, in their place.

Count Amadeus V of Savoy made a good start on this château early on, and Chambéry was the capital of the Duchy of Savoy until the 16th century, during which time the Savoie ruled, at various times, a lot of southeastern France, much of what's now southwestern Switzerland (Geneva and the canton of Vaud), and a nice piece of northern Italy (to this day, the waitresses in the restaurants above the Val d'Aosta are more likely to speak quasi-French than quasi-Italian).

The Dukes of Savoy moved their capital to Turin in 1563, but nevertheless the present narrator, having spent a fair amount of time poring over the dispatches of English agents in the region during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, really really wanted to see Chambéry for himself. So, with sleety rain in the Savoie Alps, here we are. A Dream Fulfilled.

And that's the famous château and its humongous chapel. Let's barge in and roll all about on the floor of history!

Or Not! It's the "Vigipirate". Somebody's been listening to the Bushies again -- with their fixation on dark, shadowy, turbaned ideologues with agricultural fertilizers strapped all about their waists and BIC lighters in their evilly-grinning fists. Vigipirate ("vigilance against pirates" (pirates meaning Arabs)) is a Tom Ridge sort of 17 colors of alert system so you can always know exactly what the level of terrorist threat is. Like "today it's orange/burnt umber" -- how bad is that?? -- slightly less bad than just orange, but better than amber, but way less bad than RED!!! Oh, well, that's all right then.

Well, it was a Vigipirate Red Alert and the château was closed for the weekend, and we'd come all this way for Nothing (except a nice lunch at an outdoor café, much of which however the narrator spilt on his lap in his excitement at an article in the International Herald Tribune and had to go sponge off in the men's loo. He still blames Bush for that.).

As you might expect, we inquired of the tourist officials about what had caused this "Red Alert" for this very weekend, unluckily for us!, but the perplexing answer was that it's a Red Alert for EVERY weekend. The French are so orderly! You can plan your Red Alerts weeks in advance!

It's a little hard to guess of whom the Vigipirate was so frightened -- everybody just seemed to be going about their business, which was mainly eating at outdoor cafés and restaurants, and we never saw a single armed raghead. Just some embarrassing American culture.

It's still a lovely old town, though, and makes you wonder what it would be like to live there, in these 14th century alleys. Pretty dark.

Well, at least the Petit Train was working, and the art museum had a very fine collection of third-rate late medieval and Renaissance unknown artists. With late medieval artists, you can always fall back on judging which of them painted the ugliest Baby Jesus' face.

And of course, here in the centre of the French Resistance during World War Two, we got to view the historical displays and photographs from that terrible time. Black-and-white pictures of this very street with the nasty storm troopers marshalling the local population in rows.

And it was a nice day in the old town, and probably still sleeting in the mountains.

Street scenes

The street market

Kristin views the late medieval city prison as a cautionary tale, hopefully still in time.

And then we're back to Champagny in time for dinner, and then -- ooooff, bad news --- one of us has to go back to America and the other has to go back to work, equally unlovely prospects.

Champagny-en-Vanoise

Col de la Vanoise hike

Chambéry visit


Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 8 September 2005, revised 20 March 2008, 29 August 2014.


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