It's been 400 years since Samuel de Champlain sailed from France to the "New World," and on Wednesday, a group of Vermonters embarked on a trip that retraces his route. The delegation — including Burlington City Arts director Doreen Kraft, Marcelle Leahy, wife of Senator Patrick, and former St. Mike's prez Marc vanderHeyden and his wife Dana — will visit Champlain's birthplace, Bourage, the port city of Honfleur, and, of course, Paris.
Burlington City Arts organized the tour as a fundraiser in honor of the Quadricentennial. The group be sightseeing, and doing the tourist thing, but they're also charged with presenting a plaque honoring Champlain to officials in Paris.
This photo shows the lot of them in front of the Champlain statue at Isle La Motte before they left. Journalist Fran Stoddard is embedded with the group — that's her, fourth from left. She'll be sending updates on their progress as they rediscover the Old World.
I've received a couple emails from Fran since she left. Not surprisingly, she's encountering some technical difficulties. But I'm hoping that she's able to upload videos with the Flip camera we sent with her.
While we wait for video, here are her notes about the journey so far...
Wednesday, May 20
Two van loads of voyagers left a St. Michael’s College parking lot to begin Burlington City Arts’ Quadricentennial Voyage: a Search for Samuel de Champlain’s France. We headed to Montreal’s Dorval Airport via the Edmundite settlement at St. Anne’s Shrine on Isle La Motte, where Champlain may have paused on his lake journey 400 years ago. There is a statue of Champlain and an Indian guide there, created by a Barre sculptor for the 1967 Montreal Expo. The massive monument was returned to Vermont a year later and settled at this spot on the Lake.
Crossing the border at Alburg was quick, so we took another detour to Noyan, Quebec to stop at its fabulous cheese factory. What better way to prepare for France than a lunch of artisan cheeses with gourmet crackers! The lack of a bakery (and baguette!) was only mildly disappointing, since the cheese passed around the van was extraordinary as we continued to roll through farmlands toward Montreal.
We arrive in Paris and fly on into Bordeaux (see photo from the airport), where we climb aboard the burgundy bus that will take us up the west coast then northwestern Coast of France over the next few days, before dropping us off in Paris next Thursday.
The land is lush green, full of blossoming poppies, roses, shrubs and fruit trees. We stop first at Saintes, a town begun 2000 years ago by the Romans. Puts 400 years in a different light.
This area was a swamp, rich with salt — which has been much more than a spice for local residents over the last 2000 years. It was the principle preservative and an economic driver of the region. That's part of the tale of many towns here.
We also stop at Rocheford and the Royal Rope-making factory which dates to a generation after Champlain. Here they made Hemp rope, built ships and supplied the New France colonies. A lot is packed into this jet lagged day as we meet up with the Mayor’s representative for a small reception.
Our final destination for the day is La Rochelle a stunning port city where we check into a hotel, try to figure out the technology, stroll down through 18th century arcades to the ancient stone waterfront packed with luxury yachts and enjoy a Croque Monsieur.