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

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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

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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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Eating Around Gare de Bercy

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Bercy Cafe’s delicious version of Salade Perigourdine

 Bercy Café

On recent trips in France we have quite frequently traveled from, or to, Gare de Bercy—often on our way to Clermont-Ferrand. On a couple of occasions, we’ve arrived at Bercy with a number of hours to spare before our train departure, and it was lunch time.

The station itself has only a couple of take-away food stands, no actual café to sit down for a light meal. So, we wandered around the nearby streets and there are many cafes and restaurants.

We picked the Cafe Bercy pretty much at random the first time, as their menu had

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Perfect with a small pichet of rose wine

good lunch salads. But, the salads were so good that we returned on another occasion.

So, if you are ever at Bercy Station and need a meal, try this café, just a 5-minute walk from the station platforms.

118 rue de Bercy, www.bercycafe.com

Open 7 days a week, 5:30am-2am

Service continu 11:30am-midnight. Service continu (continual service) means they don’t have set hours for serving lunch and dinner, as many places in France do. It wouldn’t make sense to restrict meal times here, as their clientele must often be travelers like us.

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Jardins Éphémères, A First in France

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Rod in the gardens (previously moat) just outside old Vannes city walls

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The first garden we saw

In the summer of 2016, Vannes had a wonderful garden series, called Jardins Éphémères (Ephemeral Gardens).

When we first walked into the old walled city from our hotel just outside the city walls, we noticed a pocket-sized patch of greenery alongside one of the walls and thought “Oh how pretty.”

Next we noticed the “lace” discs on poles in the median strip of the main road in front of the marina when we walked there for dinner. An information board told us it was called “Escape” “It is a reflection on perspective. The garden is caught in traffic, but it must not hide the view of the harbor. It is an open perspective between the town and the port of Vannes.” That was when we began to realize that this must be a series of special “gardens” and we decided to find out more in the next days.

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“Lace” discs at marina

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“Escape”, with old entrance gate to Vannes in background, left

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“Escape”, the garden on the median by the marina/port

Jardins Éphémères (Ephemeral Gardens) has the meaning of fleeting, impermanent gardens. Or maybe the idea of gauzy and misty also comes into it, depending on one’s interpretation, I guess.

We found out that this was was the second year the city held this special event. The first edition of Les Jardins Éphémères in 2015 was one of the most successful events of 2015 in Vannes. In the heart of the old city there were 16 contemporary, classical, modern or offbeat gardens that captivated the locals and the millions of tourists (some estimate 2 million a year).

The concept was the idea of Vannes’ mayor David Robo as a way for the city to keep its 4-flower reputation. France has a system of designating whether a city/town is pretty with many flowers: The city/town gets designated as a Ville Fleurie (a Flower Town) on a board as you enter the town—more flowers on the board mean a more flowery town. Vannes has been a Ville Fleurie with 4 flowers (like 4 stars for a hotel) and the city wanted to keep that honor.

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One sign describing a garden on 2016

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Vannes cathedral

There was no cost to the city for the first Jardins Éphémères except watering costs to maintain the gardens. This is because the garden creations were financed and donated by landscape professionals. These people in turn benefited from a showcase of millions of visitors, and communication media to publicize their work.

Because 2015 was such a success the city decided to do it again in 2016. For this new edition, about forty creations were received from a call for projects. The city retained twenty-one proposals, which became 21 gardens installed on 21 sites in the historic heart of Vannes. The teams were multidisciplinary, composed of landscapers, nurserymen, architects, writers, sculptors or landscape schools. As in 2015, all works were realized and financed by the landscapers.

There was a map with a garden walk to find all 21 gardens, but we only discovered that

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City Hall was the site of a garden (see below)

after the fact, so we missed a few. But it was fun anyway, discovering these Jardins Éphémères dotted all over the Old City and tracking down as many as we could. Some were fairly large, some very tiny, some pretty, some whimsical, some funny, some overflowing with greenery, others with almost no greenery. But, each one had a theme and a story, which is a lovely concept. And, what they planted and and/or where they planted fit into that theme.

As we read, some of the gardens are emblematic, some colored, some innovative, or fragrant, or edible. One, in the Town Hall, was even made of paper, so really anything goes! The city and the creators obviously put a lot of creative time and energy into making these and it was a great addition to the city landscape.

As we wandered around we realized that each garden had an information board explaining its meaning. We read the boards and tried to understand what the creators meant and wanted to convey.

Some gardens: (pictures below each description)

Le Jardin des Ruches (beehives); the board invites “lover of bees you are welcome here.”

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Next to the Cathedral St Pierre is Entre Ciel et Terre (Between Sky and Earth), also described as “between man and countryside.”

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Le Jardin Gourmand; described as a garden to nourish, to honor the richness and diversity of cultivated plants, including a small street library, and various garden tools.

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Le Serpent qui Danse (The Serpent that Dances); “Follow the serpent dancing and undulating with feminine curves along one side of the port. This fascinating reptile from the waters now has a body of straw to better blend it in with nature.”

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La Colline aux Mille Jardins (The Hill of a Thousand Gardens); This garden is just outside the old city walls, next to the Prison Gate. Vannes school children colored the pots, presenting their imaginary gardens. Beautifully done, we thought.

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Reconquête (Reconquest): This garden, also on one side of the port, evokes a winning back/retaking of earth by the fauna and flora in an urban environment.

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La Guinguette des Belles Éphémères (The Outdoor Café of the Beautiful Fleeting Things): Who are the beautiful ephemeral beings, mysterious personages that adorn the Hotel de Ville Square, motionless around the pond?

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Jardin Gourmand

Apparently a few of the 2016 garden installations around the marina/port were damaged (sadly), but the city has decided that they will go ahead with an edition in 2017.

These are the first Jardins Éphémères (Ephemeral Gardens) in France and no other city has copied, so far. Although, the city of Nancy does have a large garden called Jardin Éphémère in the main city square, Place Stanislas, which it has put on every year for 13 years now.

 

 

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Paris: A Restaurant Re-Visited

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Menu

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All the smokers outside!

Les Petites Ecuries

I wrote about this restaurant before (https://vivsfrenchadventures.wordpress.com/2015/04/09/and-testing-the-new-in-paris/ )

40 Rue des Petites Ecuries, 10th arrondissement, not too far from Gare de l’Est. Closest Metro stop: Chateau d’Eau.

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Rod waits for his beer. See the living wall

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Reflectors that make up the side of the bar counter

livingwall We remembered this place from a previous visit to the city when we stayed at the hotel almost opposite. We loved it then and loved it again. What draws you in is the green living wall, then the bar inside made of reflector lights. It’s always crowded and popular, so it must be good.

We sat outside first for a beer near the living wall, but then moved inside to eat—it was too smokey outside! Lots of people in France still smoke, and are allowed to do so outside restaurants, so if there’s an open area with tables, it can get unpleasant for a non-smoker! There’s seating downstairs and upstairs, but we prefer downstairs near the bar so you can watch all the action.

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A decent-sized faux filet

We had great service and food—again. Both times, we had wait staff who were really friendly and went out of their way to be helpful. Plus, that night was the semi-final soccer game of the Euro Cup (France v Germany) and the atmosphere in the restaurant was electric—people standing around watching the big TV screen, oohing and aahing, cheering, being disappointed etc. France won 2-0, much to the happiness of the local crowd!

What we had: an Edelweiss beer each, a bottle of rose wine to share, a huge assiette de charcuterie (charcuterie plate) to share, a faux filet (Rod) and a large special salad (Viv). All for a total of 90 euros, which isn’t too bad for a decent place in Paris.

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The Petites special salad was wonderful

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Happy soccer (football) fans. Note the reflector bar counter

 

A lovely evening. And definitely, we’ve added this restaurant to our list of favorites in Paris.

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