Quiet Places in Paris: The Swiss Valley

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This garden is next to the imposing Palais de la Decouverte

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The garden’s actual name is Jardin de la Nouvelle France

Quiet Corners of Paris: The Swiss Valley

One of the pleasures of wandering around Paris is finding small squares and gardens in unexpected places. These quiet green spaces add another dimension to this beloved city, which can feel frenetic and over-run with people at times.

Each time we visit, Rod and I try to find another out-of-the-way quiet garden or small park. On our latest visit we found this one, thanks to Elaine Sciolino’s “Hidden Gardens of Paris”.

Sciolino calls this La Vallée Suisse (the Swiss Valley)—not sure why. A sign at the edge of the garden tells us it’s actually called Jardin de la Nouvelle France. Its history dates from 1616, when Marie de Medicis decided to create a country-style path on marshy ground. It was updated in 1859 in the Haussmannian style.

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Large sculpture with Alfred Musset

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Steps down into the garden are to the right and behind the sculpture

We got out the Metro Line 1 at Franklin D Roosevelt and walked down Avenue Franklin D Roosevelt towards the River Seine. First we passed the very imposing Palais de la Découverte, in the rear section of the Grand Palais. It’s a wonderful interactive science museum now.

After that we found a large outdoor sculpture of Alfred Musset, the romantic poet. He is gazing on a group of his admirers and muses: probably the most famous of them was George Sand. Just to the right of the statue are some narrow, uneven stone steps that lead down to a small hidden garden, or “valley”.

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Note the miniature waterfall

path2It’s quiet, green and leafy, and a very soothing place. A path runs along a small stream, into which a miniature waterfall gently cascades. Old weeping beech trees shade some large rocks on the edge of the pool. Flowering bushes add to the feeling of quiet beauty. The whole is surrounded by tall evergreens and maples, through which we can just see the outline of the Palais.

There were very few people in this tiny park, so we really did feel a kind of solitude, and it’s almost a shock when you walk back up on the other side and find many people walking around, workmen coming to the back of the Palais and trucks parking.

 

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Vannes: Crêperie St Vincent

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Another creperie in Vannes

We discovered galettes while living in Paris and have always loved them as a pleasant lunch. We knew that the probable origin of this tasty dish is Brittany, so on our first visit to Brittany we were eager to try them there too.

Our first stop was Vannes and while wandering around the old city the first day we passed a couple of crêperies, including Crêperie Saint Vincent. We took note, as it looked attractive from outside and was easy to find again as it’s on rue Saint Vincent, which leads directly to the St Vincent Gate and through to Place Gambetta that faces the marina. See my earlier post on St Vincent in Vannes here https://vivsfrenchadventures.wordpress.com/2017/07/05/vannes-st-vincent-ferrier/

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Inside Creperie St Vincent

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Rod M at our table

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Poster about ble noir (buckwheat)

On another day for lunch we decided to eat there and it was a great choice. It’s a pretty place in white and blue with interesting pictures and posters, with seating downstairs and upstairs inside, and some seating outside too. We opted for inside as it was quite windy but some people sat outside and the wait staff happily ferried food out.

Our galettes and a dessert crêpe were very good, so we were very happy that we came and tasted “from the source’, as it were. Galettes are a kind of crepe made from buckwheat flour (farine de blé), sometimes mixed with regular wheat flour (maximum 30%). Buckwheat is not actually wheat as it is not a grass. The plant is related to sorrel, knotweed and rhubarb and it’s the grain-like seeds that are eaten. Its origins appear to be in Southeast Asia many thousands of years ago, and it is still very popular in Japan, China and Russia. It spread to Europe and apparently has been known in France since about the 12th century.

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Cider poster

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Viv M about to enjoy the galette

Vivscrepe2I had the special galette (shrimp, and vegetables in a curry sauce), Rod a galette complète (cheese, ham, egg), and we each had a small green salad. Galettes are traditionally served with (hard) cider, served in large ceramic cider cups, but we opted for a pichet of wine. We finished off with a shared flambée crepe and a coffee each. The total for all of that was only 38.10 euros. Very well priced we thought.

A great crêperie we thought, with the added bonus of helping us learn about St Vincent in Vannes.

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Vannes: St Vincent Ferrier

 

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Walking towards Cathedral St-Pierre

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Old city gate at Place Gambetta has a statue of St Vincent

I wrote a general introduction to Vannes earlier (see here https://vivsfrenchadventures.wordpress.com/2016/11/16/vannes-a-beautiful-town-in-brittany/ ). It’s a lovely place, for many reasons, as I explained.

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St Vincent at the top of the gate

Another interesting feature we noticed all around the city is the frequent reference to St Vincent, and he seems to be part of the fabric of this city. For example, we found a statue of the saint high on the gate, at the end of rue St Vincent, which leads from the city to Place Gambetta and the marina. So we decided to try and find out who this saint was and why he is important here.

We started at the Cathedral St-Pierre, built in the Flamboyant-Gothic style but with neo-Gothic additions. At the ornate front entrance is a statue of St Vincent that welcomes people in, telling us that he is obviously important here. Inside we got a pamphlet on St Vincent Ferrier, which was pretty informative.

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Cathedral St-Pierre

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St Vincent welcomes all to the Cathedral

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Bust of St Vincent in Cathedral St-Pierre (on his tomb)

Turns out he was a Spanish monk born in Valencia in January 1350. He was obviously very intelligent, studied hard, and joined the Dominicans of Valencia, taking his first religious vows at age 18. By age 28 (1378) he was an ordained priest, with a doctorate in theology and knew Latin, Hebrew and physics. In those times (1378-1415) the church was divided between three rival popes (one in Rome, one in Avignon, one in Pisa), a situation that Vincent realized was not good for the church. So one of his missions was to try and heal the schism. At this time, too, the One Hundred Years War between the kings of France and England was wreaking havoc on the country. So, Vincent’s other mission was to travel the roads of Spain and France, calling for reconciliation and peace.

Vincent travelled extensively in both countries, getting as far north as Franche-Comte and Savoy in France. In 1418 he arrived in Brittany, preached in Vannes and then all over the province, finally arriving back in Vannes in 1419.

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St Vincent’s house in Vannes

StVhousesignHe was tired from all the walking and preaching and felt that he wanted to get back to Valencia before he died. But, a storm on the Morbihan Gulf forced his craft to return to Vannes. The city gave him a small house on Place Valencia, close to the Cathedral. Sadly, after a few days he died there, on April 5, 1419.

Vannes and the surrounding area organized a very solemn funeral for him in the Cathedral, as he was already considered a saint here. The location of his grave changed several times in the Cathedral but since 1956 it has been in the rotunda Renaissance Chapel. Its official name is the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament. We visited it, and it is still very solemn as it is a place of pilgrimage in his honor. It’s a circular space, all in grey stone, with a high ceiling, and little decoration other than the bust of St Vincent on his tomb. In the Cathedral there are some pictures and stained-glass windows depicting scenes from his life, but we have no photos of those. We did, however, see this banner/panel on the pillar near the entrance to the chapel.

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Rotunda chapel with St Vincent tomb

We then found Place Valencia near the Cathedral and the house that he lived in briefly. It’s another pretty square in Vannes, with timber-framed houses and small streets leading off it. Standing there quietly, it is possible to imagine life those hundreds of years ago and to imagine an old priest coming here to rest.

Apparently the city has embraced him as their own.

We also had lunch at a creperie called Creperie Saint Vincent one day (see next post).

 

 

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Vannes is a Ville Fleurie

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Vannes, along the river

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Vannes—flower box on bridge

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A one-flower town

Background: What are Villes Fleuries?

The ‘towns and villages in bloom’ award (ville fleurie) is given to French places that make a special effort to create a pleasant natural environment for both residents and visitors by focusing on plants, flowers and open areas within the town.

The awards range from 1❀ to 4❀❀❀❀ (4❀❀❀❀ is the highest). There are many places that have received 1❀ and 2❀❀, fewer receive 3❀❀❀, and about 200 that have received the prestigious 4❀❀❀❀ for their efforts. Generally, 4❀❀❀❀ ‘towns in bloom’ in France have made significant long-term efforts to improve their gardens and parks and are worth visiting for this reason alone. Many of these towns are also tourist destinations in their own right, with churches, museums, other historical sights and so on, which is probably the reason that tourists are visiting there anyway—the flowers become a bonus.

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A two-flower town

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Strasbourg

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Colmar

Each year towns can apply for a “Ville Fleurie” rating. This rating includes the best use of green space, quality of life in the town, ways of conserving water, planting of trees and flowers. The places with a 4❀❀❀❀ rating always seem to have an abundance of flowers with vivid colors, or clustered together in striking groups of colors, all begging to be smelled, photographed and admired.

Flower plantings of various kinds are everywhere in these towns, from parks to small gardens to flower boxes on the “ponts” (bridges). The changing of the flowers seems to happen every few months and it’s fun to see what will show up in the gardens next.

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Strasbourg

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Luxembourg Gardens, Paris

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Paris

I cannot even begin to imagine what the flower budget must be in each town or village in France—obviously significant, as is also the time and effort that must go into creating the floral beauty. The French appear to appreciate—and use–their green spaces, which is very obvious when you wander around the wonderful gardens and parks in Paris (where most people start a visit to France). Over the years we have been in Paris at all times of the year and loved the gardens in all seasons. We’ve also enjoyed watching gardeners at work planting in the spring, pruning trees in the summer, replanting for the fall etc. This is especially notable in the Tuileries Gardens, Luxembourg Gardens and Park Monceau.

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Vannes—lovely gardens in the former moat

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Vannes

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Vannes

Now, when we travel around France we take note as we enter a town or village whether it has a Ville Fleurie sign and always end up with masses of flower photos if it does.

Vannes has been a Ville Fleurie with a 4❀❀❀❀ rating, and it wanted to keep that rating, hence its special event Les Jardins Éphémères (which I wrote about here https://vivsfrenchadventures.wordpress.com/2017/03/01/jardins-ephemeres-a-first-in-france/ )

But, besides the Ephemeral Gardens, we noticed many other instances of the love of

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Vannes—living picture frames

flowers. Here are some examples.

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Vannes

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Agapanthus sale

Posted in Brittany, flowers, gardens, Paris, signs, Vannes | 3 Comments

Now Always on a Sunday

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Note the banners

Open on Sundays

Galeries Lafayette is an upmarket French department store chain, the flagship store on Boulevard Haussmann in the 9th arrondissement, very close to Opera Garnier. From January 8, 2017 it is now open on Sundays 11am-7pm (Mondays-Saturdays 9:30am-8:30pm), which marks a huge change. This came after a long and painful battle among its owners, trade unions and employees, showing how difficult it is for France to reform its labor market. Interestingly, 92 per cent of its employees voted in favor of Sunday trading.

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The beautiful dome

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Africa Now theme

Until recently French law did not allow Sunday trading for many stores, but that has now changed. Two years earlier French president Francois Hollande pushed through a reform package of more business friendly policies, to help boost the French economy. It’s named La loi Macron, after the economy minister at the time—now the new president. Bon Marche and Printemps, among others, have followed suit.

Going to the huge department store, the Galeries Lafayette, is an event in itself, a tourist attraction in its own right and most times we are in Paris we do pop in there, mostly to see what special decorations they have, or to have lunch in one of the eating places on the top floor.

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insideGo there to do shopping, as thousands do, or just to gawk at the throngs of shoppers, and at all the merchandise in every segment from fashion to accessories, from beauty to home decoration, and fine food. I’m not really a shopper, and very soon the crowds get too much for me. But, we also go there to look especially at the lovely architecture with the gorgeous glass and steel neo-byzantine dome built in 1912. You can get a good look at the dome from any of the lower floors.

Built in 1898, Galeries Lafayette sprawls over three buildings and takes up whole city blocks. In the heart of Paris on Boulevard Haussmann, this flagship store is considered by many to be the second most visited attraction after the Louvre. Some say it’s also one of the world’s leading department stores, with more than 100,000 visitors each day and 70,000 square meters of sales area.

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Africa Now

africa3We were there in late April on a Sunday and there were, indeed, thousands of shoppers, many of them foreigners, so the open-on-Sunday policy seems to be successful!

The store was also spotlighting Africa with their Africa Now—art, fashion, music, design with an African theme and flair. We’d read about that earlier and wanted to see what this special idea was—because we come originally from Africa, we are always interested in anything with an Africa theme. It was a lot of fun, and will continue until June 25. They also had strings of black banners with sayings in white writing, on different levels all across the central atrium.

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Banners

Some had a love theme (“Let’s dance until we die”, “aimez moi comme un beau reve”); others a travel theme (“le grand voyage”); some seemed to be linked to Africa (“Brazzaville Libreville”, “Your eyes tell me stories of N’Djamena”); while others seemed a bit random (“ une fenetre, une porte”, “L’air du soir”, “My Hero”).

I wasn’t able to find out the significance of these. Any ideas?

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Sculptures in the Tuileries Gardens

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My hand shows how realistic these hands are

The Welcoming Hands 1996, in the Jardin des Tuileries since 2000, by Louise Bourgeois

Bronze patine, granite

The Tuileries Garden, one of the oldest public gardens in Paris, always impresses visitors with its orderly design along the city’s historical axis, with its ponds and lovely gardens, but also with numerous outdoor sculptures. One we had not seen before is “The Welcoming Hands”. Walking along that path recently we noticed the hands, and were fascinated, thinking that perhaps they were some of Rodin’s work, as he loved to work on hands (and there is another of his works near the Orangerie).

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Part of the Tuileries Garden, just beyond the Welcoming Hands

hands3But, this is a different artist, Louise Bourgeois, French-American (born Paris December1911, died Manhattan May 2010). It consists of five sets of intertwined bronze hands and arms, varying in size from 20-30 inches wide and high, on rough-hewn granite pedestals. Located near the northwestern corner of the garden, these delicate hands and arms tell, and ask, so much. Who do they belong to? Why are they cut off? These hands hold each other tightly, as though to prevent the other one from leaving, or as a sign of solidarity.

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I admire another set of hands

parkferrisOne also notices the historical reference that the sculpture as a whole might be making to its surroundings; it looks out at the famous Place de la Concorde, forever associated with the guillotine since the French Revolution, and therefore probably with severed limbs. However, for me, these arms are not gruesome at all, but rather more loving, and the artist herself called them “Welcoming Hands”.

These days, the Place de la Concorde is a busy traffic thoroughfare and has the giant

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A game of boules

Ferris Wheel close to the edge of the park. We were there two days after the terrorist attack on Champs Elysees in April, and it was a quiet, peaceful Sunday, warm in the spring sunshine. It was very nice to see that ordinary Parisians were going about their usual Sunday activities: walking in the gardens, playing boules, relaxing on one of the many metal chairs, buying icescreams etc.

 

 

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Where to Eat in Vannes

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One of the murals inside

Brasserie Les Halles et des Arts

9 rue des Halles, Vannes

This brasserie is on a side street, just up from Les Halles (the Covered Market Hall, just inside the old walls on the east side of Old Vannes) and is obviously very popular, as each time we walked by it was pretty full. On our last evening, we decided to try it and were very happy with our choices and our meal.

You can sit inside, both upstairs and downstairs, or at a few outside tables. The inside is decorated with attractive large murals.

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Roysters

musselsWhen we first got there, the large glass door between inside and outside was open and we opted to sit at a table just inside, to benefit from the outside air without being outside totally, as it was a little cool. Soon after we sat down though, the staff closed the door, as the breeze got really cool. We didn’t mind actually, as the people at the table just outside had started to smoke and the smoke was drifting inside, which we dislike intensely!

A chalkboard advertised the Menu of the Day for 16 euros—a appetizer plus a main dish, R3fishor a main dish plus a dessert. A good deal, but we opted for the menu, as we wanted more choice. I had a wonderful mussels dish, Rod some oysters to start and then a house special of a dish with 3 fish. Plus a bottle of rose wine. All great, with good service in spite of the place being busy, and the total was only 58.80 euros.

You can pick up a business card with a punch card on the back: after 10 visits, the Brasserie will offer you a free aperitif for the whole table (kir, sangria or fruits juice). A nice idea, if you live there.

 

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