I'm always fascinated at how a trip that from our point of view is just random wandering, tends to take on a focus. This time it seems to be Louis XIV, the "Sun King" as he modestly called himself, who "shone everywhere" -- or at least everywhere John and I go.
In England we visited Blenheim Palace, a cozy country cottage that was Queen Anne's gift to the Duke of Marlborough for defeating Louis in a battle near the German town of Blenheim. It's England's largest private home, located just outside Woodstock where I reminisced about Leonard Earl Lesourd's heralded arrival at the Bear Hotel. (The Bear's motto is "The inn that was old when the palace was new.")
Then in France, avoiding Paris in a brand new, much-TOO-new car, and looking for diesel fuel, we found ourselves in Versailles and I had to visit the palace Louis built for himself, inspiring every other king, duke and count to build one as nearly like it as his lesser funds allowed. I'd taken a course about Louis here in this palace in 1949 and had to stop and pay my respects to the man himself and his marvelous wigs.
And now today we're in the small Alsace town of Neuf-Brisach. We were astonished, arriving here last night just looking for a place to sleep, to cross TWO of the deepest moats we'd ever seen. The town is just a tiny dot on the map.
A second surprise was to find the streets laid out in a grid! Where were the narrow winding streets of every other French town?
Next day, asking questions, we learned that Louis had lost the town of Breisach to the Hapsburgs, pulled his troops back over the Rhine, and summoned his favorite military architect to build an unassailable town, New Breisach (Neuf Brisach) on the French side. They don't talk about either Blenheim or Breisach in Versailles: there Louis never loses.
What especially delighted John and me was that we'd encountered the work of this architect, Vauban,
20 years ago in the south of France, where we'd spent a day touring one of his incredible fortresses and reading about his flowering in the Sun King's rays.
Neuf-Brisach was his last project. It's considered his masterpiece, the "ideal city," with its straight streets following ancient Roman models, and its walls forming a perfect octagon (it was Louis who chose the octagon shape, copied since then everywhere, like his palace) with outer defenses forming a star-burst.
The star, of course, was never seen by Louis or Vauban, but today aerial photographs reveal the beautiful symmetry of this stunning little town still entirely enclosed within its walls.
Louis, where will we meet you next?
Click here to read more about Neuf-Brisach.