Trees are lovely

Down underneath Paris, in the Hauts de Seine, there’s a botanical garden called the Vallée-aux-Loups. There are no actual wolves, but there are a zillion different trees, and a bonsai collection (closed to the public due to covid restrictions right now), and the house of the writer François-René de Chateaubriand, now a museum.

La Maison Chateaubriand

While Chateaubriand’s house is currently closed, you can visit it in 3D here if you so wish. Chateaubriand saw himself as “the greatest lover, the greatest writer, and the greatest philosopher of his age” – I think we’ve all known dudes like that. (Confession: “Atala” is one of those books I’ve been meaning to read forever, but never getting around to. One day. One day I’ll do it.)

trees!

I must admit that for me, the trees were the main attraction. I went here this morning with a friend I hadn’t seen in a very long time, and with her son. This week she told me she’d never been hiking in her life and wanted to try, so we pencilled in a hike for Sunday. The weather forecast disagreed and warned us that there was a storm due around 3pm, but before 3pm would be glorious sunshine and intense heat. So we picked this garden instead.

what are these little stumpy things, anyone?

We walked happily around the gardens telling each other gossip about people the other person didn’t know (“but you DO know him! He worked at that bar for ages!” “No, but I didn’t ever go to that bar, so I haven’t actually met him.” “Well never mind, anyway, he has a kid now!!” “…Yay!”) and catching up on life and making frantic plans for after-covid, which still isn’t quite a thing, but it’s on its way.

a house, but not chateaubriand’s house, another one I think

So many sentences these days start “When Covid is over” and there’s now a concrete plan for covid to be over: museums, theatres, cinemas, and outside seating in bars and restaurants reopen on 19th May with the curfew being pushed back to 9pm that day too; gyms and whole restaurants reopen on 9th June, with the curfew going to 11pm; and on the 30th June the curfew is lifted entirely. This is not due so much to the figures (our death rate hasn’t shifted much since November, honestly) as to the fact that the economy needs to be kickstarted, and that everyone is pretty much bored with covid now, at least that’s the way it seems. I don’t know how this is going to go. But it’s going to go.

i could have read the plaque to see what kind of tree this is, but i did not.

In personal news: well, nothing really happens during the Covid Era to me, nothing I can blog about anyway. I switched out my Coke Zero addiction to those San Pellegrinos with fruit juice to see if I would feel healthier and it would make me sleep better; so far I feel exactly the same, but I suppose it’s nice to have a change. The cat and I fight a lot. I went to some of those outdoor exhibitions in the middle of Paris because my brain was starved for it.

bamboos!

And I saw some pretty trees and plants with a friend that I like a lot, and caught up on her life, and this kind of thing does make you feel like a human being again, even when during the week it’s just work-at-the-computer-in-your-living-room all day until the work day is over and the curfew arrives, when it becomes sit-in-your-living-room-alone-with-cat with a book or a movie or a videocall with someone or a course (I am supposed to be studying in this time; I am not particularly assiduous, and have exams coming up), which is a very restricted version of life. [chateaubriand enlightened philosopher voice] “We have BECOME the shadows on the wall of the cave” etc.

a bit of a lake and some plants idk

The 19th May is a very exciting date to me.

Creepy abandoned castles

Apparently, a lot of people who have castles near Paris just leave them to the weeds. Maybe they got murdered and now haunt the premises, making life uncomfortable for potential buyers. Maybe they just couldn’t deal with the electricity bills, and absconded to live happily in reasonable 2-bedroom apartments in Corbeil-Essonnes. Who knows?

a creepy abandoned castle hiding in the trees

You should not visit these places. It is illegal and dangerous and very ill-advised. Obviously, I did not visit any abandoned castles today. What an idea! But if I had, maybe it would have looked like this.

If I had hypothetically explored an abandoned castle, I might have had to dig through the plants to get to it. For some reason, the fields around it aren’t too congested, but immediately around the castle is a leafy profusion of trees and bushes, meaning it kind of lurks in there secretly.

archways

The abandoned castle has an outside courtyard with a covered passageway around the edge of it, and a mosaic-y pool or possibly old fountain in the middle.

it also now has an extra bath

If you are idiotic enough to go into the basement of an abandoned castle, you will find an ancient kitchen which looks just about ready to explode.

do not turn on the gas

The abandoned castle also has abandoned outhouses, and its own private lake as well as a lot of sweeping fields. I do not understand why anyone would ever abandon this castle (aside from the obvious haunted/electricity bill reasons mentioned above). But I will admit that it has a very hushed, creepy vibe.

Anyway, all of this is obviously hypothetical, as I did not visit any abandoned castles, as that would be a very bad thing to do.

why would anyone give up a private lake? (actually it did smell quite bad)

Weird sculptures and an ice forest

Back in February, after I’d got through the bulk of moving in and some of the tiredness that comes with all of that, I went to visit a place I randomly found on Google Maps, the jardin de sculptures de la Dhuys.

It was a freezing, sunny weekend, and all week it had been either sunshine or snow with no in-between. The rivers had overflowed and frozen over, and I had to take a couple of detours driving because some of the little roads were flooded.

I met this horse on one of the detours, so it was an excellent detour in general

When I finally got to somewhere near the sculpture garden, I walked down a little flooded street to get there. All the flood puddles had turned to ice, and the little forest I was walking through was making a lot of noise. At first I thought there were people working there, building something or cutting down trees, and then I realised it was just the forest itself. The river had overflowed into it and the whole forest was frozen, and the ice was thawing and breaking and making a lot of noise while it was doing it. You remember in Titanic, where the ship is sinking? (That’s like half the film; you remember that.) It sounded pretty much like that.

The noisy ice forest

The sculpture garden itself is very small, and pretty wonderful. It’s a fairly modern creation – it was made in 1987 by a sculptor named Jacques Servières, who decided to make art from the stones from the old bridge that used to stand there, but that had been bombed during the second world war.

the little child statue here is very relatable
not sure what’s going on here but it looks fun

The sculptures are abstract but very human. The river had overflowed into the fields, and some of them looked like they’d been frozen into place.

statues!!

This isn’t a hike or anything – the garden is tiny. You can walk around it in about a minute, probably. It’s just such a weird place, and I don’t think it’s very frequented – I didn’t see anyone else at all while I was there, although it’s possible that nobody else was dumb enough to want to go and risk their bones walking on the ice.

relatable

I stayed hanging around in the sculpture garden for a while, but it was already the afternoon and curfew was happening at 6pm, and also it was freezing, so I went on my way rejoicing.

goodbye ice forest!

You see. I told you there were things to look at near Paris. I TOLD you.

A Parisian forest

My goodness, it’s been a long time since I wrote here. Before I get down to business, here are my excuses: moving is hard; I’ve been working so much you guys; we’re locked down so my brain has turned back to cottage cheese and all I do when I’m not working is look at Twitter and watch movies in a gape-mouthed kind of way; I am a lazy blogger as well as a lazy hiker.

So, sorry about that! But in the meantime, I moved back home and actually have managed to do a few Parisian hikes. We’re under lockdown again and have been curfewed since October, but are allowed to go out for exercise within a 10km radius. I measured my 10kms on the map and found a few places to go.

a forest pathway

Here is the Sénart forest, which is (pretty much) within my 10km (at least the beginning of the hike is; and nobody’s going to ask me for papers in the middle of a forest, or at least, I hope not). When I got there, it seemed busy. There was a fairly full car park and people walking all over the place. But walk a few hundred metres into the forest and you’re soon completely alone with just the sound of the birds.

birds: cheep cheep cheep

This was so lovely! You can hear woodpeckers, and a deer ran across the path in front of me at one point. There are all these little ponds and pools, and it seems very distant from all the noise and energy of Paris – not that I’ve seen much of that since I’ve been back, I’ve mostly been staying in my apartment, trying to avoid the whole pandemic thing. Hiking in an empty forest seems safe enough, though; there are patches where you run into people, but you can just switch out from the path and walk between the trees and never see anyone any more.

wild daffodils all over the place!

One day, I hope that life comes back to normal and Paris can come back to being the way it’s best at being, full of excitement and night-time and energy. But even with the lockdowns and the rules and the curfews, you can still find little patches of beauty and tranquillity.

a little pond in the trees!

I won’t lie – I miss it, a lot. It’s strange to be back in Paris without actually being back in Paris. But the springtime has arrived – because time goes on even in times of Covid – and the flowers are opening, and the sky is surprisingly frequently blue, and things are good.

flowers!!

This picture isn’t the hike – it’s just the cherry tree by my new apartment. Do you know there are little green parakeets here? They fly in little groups and make so much noise. But anyway, those are all things for a different time. I promise to be more assiduous about writing here; my camera roll is filling up with pictures of places and I never even share them, and that is a bad thing.

Ohmygordes

Jesus, it’s been a while. This has been CRAZY. I moved across the country with the cat, and four huge dudes lugged my piano up six flights of stairs (sorry, dudes), and the cat is having the absolute worst fortnight of her existence ever, despite having gone to stay with the loveliest catsitter in existence who spent the entirety of the time combing her, giving her treats, and sending me photos to show me how she was doing. Ungrateful wretch.

Anyway, I live in Paris again, and it snowed last weekend, and I am going to take this opportunity to… write about a small, adorable village in the south of France. You’ve probably heard of this one though: this is Gordes.

Gordes, perched on the side of a hill

Gordes is in the Vaucluse, surrounded by lavender fields, smelling peacefully of grandmothers and fresh air. This is basically the tourist hotspot of the region. It’s considered one of the most beautiful villages in France, and during the lavender season, this is where you’ll find everyone else in the world.

Lavender fields

The lavender is basically the image of Provence. It’s kind of what you imagine when you think about the whole region, and between June and July it’s in full bloom and the whole road network around here becomes a slow-moving tourist destination.

Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque

The nearby abbey, the Abbate Notre-Dame de Sénanque, is both a working abbey and a boutique. They sell lavender-based products made by monks: lavender honey, and lavender hand cream, and lavender essential oils – and also pear eau-de-vie, because that’s another very symbolic local product.

The view from Gordes

Anyway, this is one of those bucket-list places – you’re supposed to go to Gordes, because it’s insanely beautiful and because the lavender fields are iconic, so you should go.

I promise to start doing some hikes near Paris soon so that I can write about those and also stay vaguely healthy instead of just staying in my apartment eating all the time (I have Uber Eats here!! I couldn’t get that before!!), but right now I am very busy unpacking and decorating and combing the cat to solace her. Maybe this weekend. Maybe.

The Abbaye St Félix de Monceau

Over here in France, we’re still in lockdown. I thought about writing a post about my immediate radius, as that is the place I see the most at the moment – although the radius has now been extended to a 20km circle, rather than the 1km we had at the beginning. But then I came across some photos of a place I’ve been to a few times, and decided to write about that instead.

The St-Félix-de-Monceau abbey

This is the St-Félix-de-Monceau abbey, sitting up on the Gardiole uplands near Gigean, in Hérault. Nobody really knows when this abbey was built – it was definitely standing in 1104, and old documents put its construction date somewhere around 1025. But it’s all pretty hazy.

View from the hike

These pictures are from the second time I did this particular hike – the first time was the day after I tried CrossFit the first time and my muscles were absolutely killing me, and I Googled what I should do to make them feel better. Most of the Google results said to take ibuprofen and a hot bath, but one search result suggested a light hike, and I was in an intensely active phase then, so I did the St-Félix hike and regretted it bitterly the day after. I couldn’t even get up from the chair without levering myself up, gingerly, with lots of complaining.

A path through the forest

That day was pretty grey. These pictures, though, are from the second time. This time was different – I was with some friends, and we were all depressed and unemployed, and none of us had really done much exercise or got any sunshine in a while. I kind of nagged everyone into coming too, and we did the hike, and felt virtuous, as though it was good for us.

A little pool

Every hike you go on carries with it a certain amount of circumstance-based nostalgia; in this case, it was supposed to be the First Hike of the Depressed Unemployed, with many more to follow, but in the end everyone’s paths diverged in different ways. You can do the same hike several times, and it can be different every time: you notice different things, the weather makes different effects, and whatever you’re going through at that particular moment plays into it as well.

View from the monastery garden

And then you have this abbey that’s been there for a thousand years, looking out towards the sea in what must be a pretty similar view to how it looked back then – it makes me think about how interesting it is to be alive, just objectively. Anyway. This is a nice hike, with beautiful views. You should probably not do it if you are suffering from DOMS.

A message left by someone

And Guillaume Reau is a pauvre type.

A rocky sea

Sauve

This is the adorable village of Sauve, in the Gard department, and near Sauve is a place called la Mer des Rochers – the sea of rocks. It’s a geological formation that is described as almost lunar; I mean, that’s a bit of a leap for mankind, but I do see where they were coming from when they wrote it.

Big rocks

It looks like this. An impressive rocky terrain, with the ruins of a castle in the middle of it, and if you do the hike in the right direction you can read the story of the sea of rocks, and what the villagers thought about it.

Part of the ruins

Obviously, obviously, we did the hike backwards. I do not remember much about the story of the sea of rocks; I remember that the villagers built things to protect them from the hydra they could hear roaring underneath the stones, and that actually the sound they could hear was the river Vidourle, which goes underneath. The hydra story is better, though. Let’s go with it.

A statue with facial paralysis

I wish I remembered the story properly. It involved the villagers protecting themselves from demons, and I think there were battles. There may have been terrible omens. I don’t remember at all any more. My memory is as ruined as that castle.

Ruins and rocks

I remember the rocks, though, and the sunshine in January, and how confused we were when we started reading the signs and found ourselves at the end of the story. I don’t remember if we were any less confused when we read it forwards. Possibly not.

French Jurassic Park

In the village of Mèze, which is somewhere between Montpellier and Béziers down near the coast, there are a few noteworthy things. The Noilly-Prat vermouth cellars, for one. The Thau lagoon, for another. And the dinosaur park.

rraarrrararararrr

When I was a little kid, I saw Jurassic Park. I actually saw it in the cinema when it came out, with my family. I was really scared, and when it got to the scene where the little boy gets electrocuted and falls off the big electric fence, I was scared enough that my mother had to take me out of the cinema, and so we sat outside in the lobby and waited for my father and sister to watch the end of the movie.

ahhhrhaahrhaghghllhharrrrrararrr

Because I didn’t see the end of the movie, I thought the little boy died. I just assumed that the dinosaurs killed everyone. I also assumed that to make the film, the people who made it had done what they described in the beginning and DNA-ed up some dinosaurs so they could film it. We went home, and in my head there was just one thought. What had they done with the dinosaurs once filming was over?

nnnnnnnnnnnnnngggggggggggghhhh

I wondered where the dinosaurs would go next, now that they were free. I lay awake in bed that night, and looked at the window, and through my window I could see the T-Rex’s eye looking in at me. He was pressed right up against our house. I ran screaming into my parents’ bedroom. The next night he was back, and I did it again, and then again the night after, and so on.

shhhhh we are silent dinosaurs

After a while it became very wearing for everybody, because nobody was getting any sleep. At that point I guess I was just exhausted enough to not care if the T-Rex ate me any more, and started falling asleep in my bed again. I would still freak out if anyone talked about dinosaurs, and occasionally I would remember the T-Rex and see his eye looking at me again, and go running in to wake my parents up.

a peeled dinosaur

All that is to say that if you asked my family, they would probably say that I am the least likely person to ever go visit a dinosaur park. But I am old now – as borne out by the fact that I saw Jurassic Park in the cinema when it came out – and I no longer fear the dinosaurs, and so I walked around the dinosaur park in Mèze with a light step and joy in my heart.

ploop ploop ploop he make egg. or possibly she. that might make more sense.

Dinosaur park review: This is an amusing place, mostly just because of the fact that it exists in the first place. You learn basic dinosaur facts, and you see real dinosaur eggs, and mostly you see the big giant dinosaur models all over the place, which is quite entertaining. There are many dinosaur eggs in Mèze, which is why they made the dinosaur park in the first place. Afterwards there is also a Prehistoric Man section, which is kind of funny because there’s a Prehistoric Recreated Hut thing with a widescreen TV in there telling you the story of Prehistoric Men, and like… I don’t even have a widescreen TV, but those prehistoric dudes were all about it, I guess. Enjoy the dinosaur park with all your heart. The makers of Jurassic Park did not actually make dinosaurs, so we are safe.

The greenest green mountains

The place I’m writing about today isn’t really a place I meant to go to. I went there a couple of years ago. I’d been sent up to Grenoble for work, and just as I got to Grenoble the person I had a meeting with cancelled. So there I was, in Grenoble for a day and a night for no reason, on my own, and it was my birthday, and I was pretty freaking annoyed.

An unexpected road trip

Grenoble is a fairly interesting place, because wherever you look, there are mountains lurking. You glance down the street and there’s a snowy Alp just casually trying to hide behind the buildings. I remember once, staying in a hotel in Grenoble, getting up in the morning and looking at the sun rising over these beautiful mountains behind the city, and thinking “This would be the most spectacular view ever, if they hadn’t gone and built Grenoble in front of it”.

An astounding view ruined by Grenoble

Anyway, though, there I was in Grenoble, on my own with no possible work to do, being grouchy about having to spend my birthday alone in a hotel room ordering UberEats, and so I decided to just go somewhere. Every time I’d driven to Grenoble I’d gone past a bunch of signs to the Vercors regional park, and that seemed as good a place to visit as any.

So green!!

I went up through a little village called Sassenage, which struck me as creepy for no good reason whatsoever, and ended up in the greenest place I have ever seen. It was comically bright green, with giant rocky spurs jutting out of the green. The sky was blue and fresh and it was really hot that day, and this greenness up in the mountains was just dazzling my eyes. After a while, I stopped being grouchy.

The greenest green place ever!

It really is a cure. Anyway, it all ended up alright: I went to a bar and drank tequila with the manager for a while, and then I got sushi. So it could have been a worse birthday.

Greeeeeeen

Provins

Okay, I need to make a confession. Although I have been a sudiste for the last six years, this time is coming to an end. Next month I’m moving back home to Paris, like a goddamn traitor. Hiking in Paris is going to be a whole thing, though. I went up there this summer to buy an apartment, and did a day trip with my friend while I was at it. This post is about an adorable village not in the south of France – I can do this!

Houses in Provins

So, this is Provins. It’s a little medieval village of half-timbered houses, and it seems like it should be closer to Rouen or to Strasbourg than to Paris. But here it is, about an hour or so south-west of Paris, being adorable out in the meadows.

Eglise Sainte-Croix de Provins – this photo looks like a painting kinda

It’s funny, because with this particular friend, we have never done anything like hiking or visiting a village or even stepping outside of the périphérique before. We’ve been friends for almost twenty years (God! That’s terrifying) and 100% of that has been inside Paris, just going to bars or hanging out at apartments, or just random Parisian silliness. I only started really appreciating the outdoors once I moved to the south, and for him, it was when he learned how to drive and got a car and came to the realisation that life outside of Paris was actually a real thing.

City walls of Provins

So this is the first time in all these years that we’ve ever done anything like this, involving getting out, and walking, and being outdoors for longer than it took us to do the Marais -Grands Boulevards trek at 5am. We visited the flower garden in Provins, which is apparently famous for its roses – see! I know nothing! – and then wandered around the village and ate chips.

How adorable is Provins?

Provins is, of course, filled with weekending Parisians, wandering around the village eating chips. It’s one of those adorable villages with a little tourist train that drives around it – speaking of, did you hear about the time that some drunk dude tried to steal the tourist train in Nice? Sorry, but that is the most hilarious crime – and medieval fayres etc. It’s designed to please tourists, and please us it did.

I took this epic photo of my friend and I think this should be his album cover

I’ve been kind of reticent about moving back to Paris, in part because I was like “but nature! I need nature now! Paris is so cold and grey and I will just be indoors all the time” – which, in fairness, is still a worry. But confinement kind of kicked me into action – it felt like I’d been putting it off and waiting for no reason.

This “brasserie” sign is really cool

So I’m going back to Paris. Now I get to discover that whole region, because even though I know Paris itself pretty much by heart and blindfolded, I was one of those people who consider anything outside of 75 a barren wilderness. Turns out Paris is surrounded by forests, and by old castles, and by little villages like Provins. See, and I just thought there was St Denis. (I’m sure St Denis has its hidden gems. I will probably not be exploring it any time soon.)

The Tour César, a 12th century octagonal dungeon, with rockets?

I do feel kind of like a traitor to the south, but I’m still going to come and visit. I have friends that I love here, and if this year has taught me anything, it’s to make the most of the time you have with your friends. 2020: serving up parables right and left. Also I still have about a trillion places I’ve visited to write about, and now I get to find out about the top end of France too. I’m pretty good at Occitanie and PACA, and to a lesser extent Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes – but I have no idea at all about anything to do with the Loire, and Bourgogne-Franche-Comté and the Grand Est just sound blank in my brain. It’s about time to fix that.

I’m honestly way too excited about this.

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