Sunday, June 22, 2008


Yesterday, we finally had a bit of blue sky in Paris so we decided to tag along with my great aunt, who happens to be visiting Paris this week, and jumped on a train to Provins.

I'll admit straight away that I had never heard of this place. My aunt originally just wanted to know how she might get there and I did a bit of research to see if I really thought it would be worth her while. Once I started reading up about the place on the internet, I was baffled as to why no one I knew in Paris had ever mentioned going there. It is incredibly easy to get to- you just get a trancilian train from Gare de L'Est, paying for a zone 6 metro ticket, and since this particular train only makes about 6 stops, its a pretty uneventful hour and twenty minute ride out to the Provins train station. Once you get off the train, you walk across a flowered cover bridge over a bubbling stream, and wander through the old streets til you get to a magnificent 12th century town which is so well preserved that you practically expect a count to come galloping down the street on his horse.

We visited the underground caverns from the Hotel Dieu (if you decided to go visit, I would recommend travelling with your own flashlight as the visit was almost done in the pitch dark); St Quiriacs Cathedral; Ceasar's Tower (behind Ella in the photo); the Tithe Barn, with great audioguides to explain the history of the place in English; St Jean's Gate and the ramparts; and the Rosarie. The only bad thing about our day is that the SNCF wedsite said that there was a train leaving for Paris at 16:45. We were lazily sitting in the Rosarie gardens under a tree, sipping lemonade while the breeze blew the scent of roses over us, when we suddenly realized the time. We grabbed our bags and ran to the station- which is quite something in this town which is built over a series of pretty steep hills- only to arrive sweaty and exhausted at an empty train station, where we were informed that the next train didn't leave for another hour. Oh well.

Before dashing out of the Rosarie, I managed to find the time to buy some essence of rose that has the most beautiful rose scent I have ever found. It smells incredibly fruity, like raspberries, which is what I like about fresh roses. Generally, I find rose scent to be really cloying and not at all nice. This must be made from the special roses of Provins because it is so original, even though it is marked as simple rose essence. I had scented lining paper in Ella's drawers but it had lost its scent ages ago. Last night I put this essence in a spray bottle, covered the paper with a good layer of water, and this morning when I picked up the dried papers, it smelled like a rose garden. I wish I had bought two bottles so that I could do something similar in my room! I did pick up a bottle of bath salts as well, which is equally nice, but I might be tempted to go back out there just to stock up on rose water products. I think its especially nice because it seems like it is made locally and definitely not a mass-produced product.

The day was so much fun, and actually, if you exclude climbing up and down hills with a 30 pound toddler in a stroller in the scorching heat, it was an easy day out from Paris. I think that it would definitely be worth a return trip next year during their Medieval Festival, something that appears to be a sort of Ren Fair on steroids, with the whole town dressed up in costume. One of the shop owners also told me that they do a really great night tour of the old town on Saturday nights over summer, with giant candles lighting up all the monuments. It must be absolutely beautiful.

I funny side note- as we walked through town, my aunt kept remarking on how wonderful it was to smell bread baking every where we went. She said that French women must be wonderful bakers. I had to point out that they hardly baked at all, since there was a great bakery down the street where bread could be purchased fresh for next to nothing. Well, we figured that there must be an industrial bakery in town to explain the constant yeasty smell in the air. Then, at the end of the day, we happened to pass a tour group who was hearing a lecture about the ethanol factory in Provins. It turns out that this gorgeous smell of fresh bread wasn't bread at all, but the smell of grain ethanol being produced! I almost felt bad translating to my aunt and ruining her 'Frenchy' explanation. Well, I think she was a big enough girl to take it on the chin.

Anyways, we did eventually make it back to Paris. Ella burned up every last ounce of energy that I had in me by turning into some sort of hysterical crazed monkey child on the train. She was climbing on me then hanging on me then wanting to bounce on my leg for a horsey ride. "Want to lay down, mama- no! Look out the window! Let's sing a song! No!!! Only me sing!!! " We spent about 15 minutes playing catch with the scarf I had thrown in the backpack and balled up so that she could use it as a pillow on the train. Of course, after every catch, it had to be re-tied. And re-tied. And re-tied. And although I love my daughter, I thank god that someone else was there to intervene or during minute 16 of this game I would have tied it around her scrawny little neck to just have a bit of peace. It is absolutely astounding how much boundless energy small children have. If mothering is difficult, then being a schoolteacher for this age group is only for veritable saints.

By the time I got home I could barely stand upright. This sort of put a kink in my plans for Fete de la Musique. I had been invited to a party at the Saut du Loup, in the gardens of the Tuileries. Everyone was to be dressed in white, there was live brasilian music til midnight, when a DJ took over, and I was going be able to dance and drink outside under the stars with beautiful people who didn't ask me why there was no more apple juice. I was really looking forward to it. Instead, old lady that i am, I fell asleep as the pathetically early hour of 11:30 with my ear plugs in. When I talked to my aunt the next day, she told me that they were at the Hard Rock Cafe and then wandered around that neighborhood, not getting home til after midnight. Honestly, when a 70-year-old woman has more stamina for partying than you do, its time to do some lifestyle evaluating. Or possibly see a doctor?
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Samantha said...

Thanks for posting this - I just got an email from a fellow blogger living in Provins, inviting me out there for the day. And now I have a good idea of what there is to do there!!

Marianne said...

It sounds like a great trip- I'm dying to get out of Paris. I too went to bed about midnight on the fete, but then had to endure three hours of the techno music in my street!

misschris said...

Sounds like fun. Thanks for the tip.