Sometimes it’s the unplanned and unexpected pleasant surprises that become the most memorable holiday moments. Despite months of careful planning our European adventure, many things have not gone to plan. A flight delay cost us a day in Paris and a cycle tour I was really excited about whilst bad weather in Cassis lost us our kayak tour of the Calanques. Clearly, we have lost favour with the exercise gods, as less active bookings have all gone according to plan.
We have, however, been fortunate to stumble across a couple of amazing musical experiences, providing welcome additions to our plans.
As we drove through Orleans, enroute from Versailles to Amboise, we were in need of a meal break. Being mid-Sunday afternoon, very little was open and we ended up at a Cafe directly opposite the famous Cathedral. After enjoying a huge meal from their ‘snack’ menu including the best croque monsieur of the trip, we decided to take a look inside the Cathedral. We soon noticed people starting to arrive and find seats facing the back of the church, where a large pipe organ was situated on a mezzanine level; a free organ recital was about to begin. Being an opportunity too good to ignore, we found seats towards the back of the allocated seating area. Local parishioners and organ enthusiasts sat side by side with curious tourists like ourselves.
A screen afforded a view of the organist, flanked by two assistants. Their task was to open or close certain pipes, thus changing the volume and tone of the music produced. With all the pipes opened, the sound was phenomenal, reverberating throughout the stone building and could be felt in your chest, much like at a stadium rock concert. We sat, entranced, silent onlookers, as the incredible music breathed life into the old Cathedral.
Our second musical surprise was late at night in the small Haute-Provence town of Forcalquier. Having finished dinner, we wandered past the church and were drawn in by the haunting sounds of medieval chants. Standing in the doorway, we were ushered in to join the silent audience. Although almost over, we were honoured to hear the final chants. The four voices, two male and two female, harmonised to perfection. The melodies were otherworldly, sending shivers up my spine and leaving me covered in goosebumps. The performers used no amplification, yet the combination of their projection and the 12th Century church’s acoustics provided considerable volume. The simple, unadorned stone church was dimly lit and combined perfectly with the hauntingly beautiful chants to provide an unforgettable musical experience.
It really is little surprises like these that make truly memorable holiday experiences.