It’s Wednesday, and I’m sitting in a train that has just departed from the Gare de l’Est and is rapidly gaining speed. My initial destination was going to be Reims, but I got home last night and discovered an anxious message from my penfriend – apparently, Paris had been having big and rather violent protests during the day (several of which I appear to have just missed), and the SNCF strikes were on again. I considered my itinerary – Paris to Reims, Reims back to Paris, Paris to Kaiserslautern – and decided that the odds of at least one of these trains being cancelled was quite high. I have been *extremely* fortunate with strikes and everything else in Paris, but there is such a thing as pushing one’s luck. So I cancelled all my Reims bookings and am now headed straight for Mainz a few days early. I’m sad to miss Reims, but I had visions of taking days to get myself to Germany from there if the trains stopped…
I decided that Monday, the day when most museums are shut, would be a good day for walking around the 19th and 20th arondissements and crossing off some of the parks on my list (I had a LIST, oh yes. It had chocolates and patisserie and museums and parks, all sorted by arondissement and by priority, and with the arondissements grouped by proximity, so that on any given day I could choose which collection of items to cross off. It is possible that I am a tad over-organised, but I was a Catherine with an AGENDA, which included at least a brief visit to every arondissement in Paris, and there was no time to waste!), so I started the morning by exploring the park at Buttes Chaumont.
My inner Metro geek was delighted to discover this involved going on line 7 bis, which I haven’t been on before. I spent a little bit too much time on my journey trying to work out which Metro lines I had been on during this trip. Certainly 1, 2, 3, 5, 7 and 7bis, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14. Probably 4 and 6. Probably not 8 and 9. Certainly not 3b. I did a fair bit of walking and bus travel, and didn’t take notes. Next time, I shall be systematic…
This is actually a modern park, and I think a constructed one. It’s very hilly (if you look at the Crypte Archéologique in my previous post, you can see the Butte Chaumont even on the map of the pre-settled area of Paris), very popular with joggers, and has unexpected water features and a gazebo.
It felt like someone’s local park – a very big and impressive local park, but nonetheless a park that was there and being used by the people who lived in the neighbourhood. Actually, in feel and demographic it reminded me a bit of Coburg Lake Reserve.
Though rather more gothic / picturesque, I think.
I rather liked it.
I spent about an hour wandering around the park, then took the bus to Père Lachaise cemetery.
Père Lachaise is a huge, rambling cemetery which contains the remains of famous folk from Oscar Wilde (who has the ugliest memorial I have ever seen) and Chopin to Heloise and Abelard, and also Escoffier.
There were memorials to a lost Air France flight, and to the Russians who helped liberate Paris.
I got utterly lost.
I seriously couldn’t find anything, including the way out.
And (surprise!) my feet were hurting, and I was rather afraid of twisting my ankle on one of the uneven paths I had – and then of not being found for days, because I was so very lost I couldn’t imagine anyone else finding me either…
There was some really lovely statuary, but this was not very comforting when one is wondering if one is also going to become a permanent installation…
So when I finally did find an exit, I decided that Chopin and co could wait for another occasion. I needed to escape.
I had an excellent lunch, and then caught another bus, this time to Vincennes.
This was kind of fun, because the bus took me past the area I was staying last time, and I recognised lots of things, which made me feel (spuriously) like a local.
I love Vincennes, but it was not the goal of my visit this time.
Once upon a time, there was a railway line that ran from Vincennes to Bastille.
But they don’t run trains on that route any more.
Instead, they have turned it into a park.
A 4.5km long, very varied park, that starts at ground level and eventually rises to overlook Paris.
And at this time of year, it is full of roses.
There are water features, too.
Oh, and they’ve made a fair whack of it wheelchair accessible (and, pleasingly, have lots of signs telling you where the last elevator is, so that you don’t get stuck).
I’d rather like to live in this building, I think.
But probably not in this one. What even is that?
And speaking of what even is that, who is that fellow relaxing on the right side of this photo? I wish I’d been bold enough to go and ask…
There were some lovely views over Paris.
And some of the less pretty ones…
And even more roses…
Even with my spectacularly sore feet, it was a walk worth making, in lovely cool (but not actually raining) weather.
I was a little sad when I saw the Bastille column in the distance, and realised that my journey was at an end.
And then I went home to rest my feet, and went out for dinner in the Latin Quarter, where I found an Alsatian restaurant that essentially specialised in cheese, potatoes and apples, and had raclette and super-alcoholic apple tart with Calvados flambée.
(The latter was so very alcoholic that it went straight to my head in seconds – I could feel myself flushing bright red and I couldn’t stop giggling, thus entirely losing the respect of the waiter. So then I went home and drunk-texted Andrew, on the grounds that I’ve never drunk-texted anyone, because I don’t really drink. I fear my drunk texting was mostly ‘Hello! This is me drunk texting you because I had apple tart with CALVADOS!’, which is fairly tame as these things go, but I do feel that I should get a few bonus points for international drunk texting, at least.)
And so to bed. On the bright side, the calvados seemed to finally have got rid of most of my cough…
Yesterday, I had three goals:
1. Visit the Musée des Arts et Metiers
2. Visit the Victor Hugo museum
3. Revisit my favourite chocolate shops with an eye to gifts. Including gifts for myself.
I wanted to get some chocolates to thank my hostess, Elisabeth, who has been absolutely lovely. She is like staying with an indulgent grandmother or aunt, always reminding me about my umbrella, suggesting better bus routes, and being concerned that I might get wet. And giving me chocolate mousse for breakfast every morning instead of yoghurt, and then sitting with me so that I get some French conversation!
Also, my German penfriend definitely needs to know what lemon thyme chocolate tastes like, and rosemary chocolate, so it was back to Franck Kestener for me. I had a fun chat with the chocolatier, who talked about the different sorts of things his three different shops do (the other shops are in Germany), and told me a bit about his training in patisserie. The conversation kept on swapping languages, because he asked me where I was going next, which was when I discovered that any time I said a German place name, the rest of the sentence would come out in German, and I’d have to drag it back to French. Amusing, and odd.
I thought it might be fun to get some very different single-farm-origin chocolates from Pierre Marcolini, to take home and enjoy comparing. And that turned out to be extra fun because the shop assistant chap remembered me, and was once again charming and lovely and super helpful which is a very good strategy for making me buy chocolate. One leaves feeling subtly flattered. And fed – he offered me a chai tea chocolate to taste, which was interesting though not quite my thing, and recommended tablets of chocolate from Cuba, Ecuador and Peru, each with a different kind of bean.
(Even months later, as I transcribe this post, I am still delighted and amazed that I can distinguish the differences of flavour between them – Cuba being intense and smoky, Peru’s criollo-bean-based chocolate somehow smooth and mild even though it has a higher cacao percentage than the others, and the beautiful floral taste of the Ecuador chocolate.)
The Musée des Arts et Méiers was rather fabulous, and I was completely the wrong audience.
It is basically a history of all things mechanical and scientific, by category, and it’s the sort of place that you could take all day at to do properly.
I started off in the old church, which has been converted into a sort of warehouse for aeroplanes and cars from different eras.
They hang from the roof at different levels, and one climbs a long ramp to view them up close.
There was also a model of Foucault’s pendulum, and I listened to a demonstration of how it worked and why it was important in extremely fast French, not all of which I caught, but I did actually grasp the importance of it for the first time, so that was something.
I enjoyed the communications section, which had everything from medieval printing presses to typewriters and teletypes and cameras, then televisions and telephones and early computers.
Some of this section made me feel quite old – there was a computer that looked a lot like the Microbee we had when I was little, and the kind of telephone we had in our house in Balwyn, and of course there were record players and walkmans and the like.
I was rather fascinated by this weaving computer, which used punch cards (I think that’s what they call them?) to program in the design.
I also enjoyed seeing Lavoisier’s lab equipment (but was sad that du Chatelet did not have a similar display).
There were so very many things to look at, and I really was not able to do a thorough visit, but I definitely recommend this museum if you are mechanically or scientifically minded.
Lunch was fettucine with tomato and eggplant and ricotta at a local cafe which knew how to make things taste nice but not how to make them taste Italian. I don’t quite know how that works. It was tasty and had vegetables, however, which was what I needed most at the time!
I then headed for the Victor Hugo Museum, but took a detour on the way. I wanted to visit the Place de la Republique, which I know has become rather a memorial to the victims of the November attacks.
There were already a few tributes to Orlando.
I discovered later that I had narrowly missed the protests there (I also narrowly missed the protests in Montparnasse, by deciding entirely at random that I did not, in the end, need to visit a particular chocolatier on one of the streets where I later learned there had been violent protests.).
The Hugo museum has one floor devoted to the man himself, and another devoted to his descendants, who number in their ranks journalists, artists, photographers and musicians, among other arty things. It’s an accomplished family.
It’s a lovely museum, but a sad one. Both his daughters had rather tragic lives – one died very young, shortly after her marriage, when the boat she was in capsized (her husband died trying to save her). The other, a promising musician and composer, went off the rails at this point, fell unrequitedly in love, ran away from home, and eventually returned, only to be locked up in a lunatic asylum. And Hugo’s son died quite young, too. Hugo wound up raising his grandchildren, and seems to have been an attentive grandparent.
I did rather like this portrait in old age of Hugo’s mistress of 50 years.
Finally, I returned to Jacques Genin, for a final afternoon tea before leaving. There was, alas, no lemon and basil tart on the menu, but the caramel walnut tart was almost as good and the fresh raspberry juice was sublime. I decided that it was absolutely necessary that my penfriend try the beetroot and capsicum and other strange pectin jellies, so I bought some of those to take and share too.
I did not really need dinner after that, so I went home, and began rather sadly packing. I had some thoughts about locking my suitcase up at the Gare de l’Est and then making a quick visit to Vincennes in the morning before heading to Reims, but then I received my penfriend’s message and started wondering if any of this was a good idea.
I presented my hostess with the chocolates I had bought her, and she was so very excited – she knows what MOF means on chocolate, and also, there was a ladybird ‘qui porte bonheur’, and she liked that, too. She immediately had to show the chocolates off to her daughter, who was visiting.
And so to bed.
This morning, I got up early, and read more news about the strikes, and then I texted my friend and asked how she would feel if I turned up this afternoon rather than Friday. She was all for it, and so I started working out how to cancel all my bookings for Reims.
My hostess walked me to my bus stop today, and waited to be sure I got on the right one. She seemed very concerned that I might somehow get lost or confused by the buses. (I think she has been underestimating my age by at least a decade, probably more, possibly because she is the sort of person who makes me go into ‘nice young lady’ mode.)
The bus goes directly to Gare de l’Est, and it was surprisingly easy to change my booking. There was no time for Vincennes in the end, so I’ll save that for next time.
And that brings me to now, where the police are just coming up the aisle. No, they aren’t onto me – we’re about to cross the border into Germany. My passport will be required.
… Or perhaps not – they only seem to be checking the passports of people with darker skin than mine. Not subtle, and nobody seems surprised by this. I find this rather horrifying, frankly. It’s a rather bitter note on which to cross the border…But in a few hours, I will be seeing one of my dearest and oldest friends, who I don’t get to see anywhere near often enough, and that will be wonderful.
I have to say, that thought hasn’t stopped me from getting teary at leaving Paris. I love this city so much.
Au revoir, la France! A bientôt!