Get Out of Town to Cergy-Pontoise and La Défense

The connection between Cergy-Pontoise and La Défense Sometimes getting out of town means just going to the suburbs. Here's two daytrips Cergy-Pontoise and La Défense, both just outside Paris to the west that are linked by monumental art, villes nouvelles construction and that you can see one from the other. L'Axe majeur at Cergy-Pontoise In the 1960s, faced with the fast development of Paris and its suburbs which lead to a housing crisis and people living in shantytowns, it was decided to control and balance the developement by creating several new cities around Paris. These were Évry, Cergy-Pontoise, Marne-la-Vallée, Sénart and Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines. There were some smaller projects too like our town center in Villepreux. The site chosen for Cergy-Pontoise was selected for its interesting and unusual landscape which is around and above a meander in the Oise River. The town was created in an amphitheater around the curve of water. The horseshoe shape gave it a unique …
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Who was Christopher Oberkampf?

Oberkampf. You know the metro station, which was named for the street. The street was named for Christopher-Philip Oberkampf in 1864. But do you know who Oberkampf was and why there is a street named after him?

Christopher was a German Protestant immigrant to France in the 1700s under the Ancien Regime. He was a man who climbed the social and financial ladder by his own grit. He came from Germany and spoke only German when he arrived in Paris as a trained, but young, textile printer and dyer. He died a millionaire, head of an empire of 1300 workers and fashion trend-setter. The odds were against him, but his tenacity, creativity, technique, innovation, intuition and thick skin makes him one of the best immigration success stories in history. And that's why Paris has a street, metro and neighborhood named after him. But in fact though he did not live and work in Paris but in the nearby (now) suburb of Jouy-en-Josas. You probably know this town as the location …

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Get out of Town: Parc de Saint Cloud

Bike or run the Parc de Saint Cloud and Bois de Boulogne Sometimes getting out of town means just going to the end of the metro line. There are really nice places to explore just beyond the edge of Paris in the banlieue*. Here's a super bike ride or run of about 10km that takes you through the Bois de Boulogne, across the Seine on the Aqueduct de l'Avre footbridge,  through the Parc de Saint Cloud, past the Cité de la Céramique to end at the Pont de Sèvres metro station in Boulogne. Starting from the Fondation Louis Vuitton in the Bois, head down avenue Mahatma Gandi then turn left on the bike path heading south. This bike path starts on the right side of Allée de la Reine Marguerite. Continue on the bike path past the Rose Gardens of Bagatelle, follow the bike path and it's wiggles through the intersection of la Grande Cascade and continue towards the Longchamp hippodrome. Circle around to the right the south end of Longchamp on Route de la Seine À la Butte Mortemart. Pa…
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Get out of town to Bordeaux

Bordeaux. Nice. City. It took us way too long to get there for a visit. We had a lovely time there over 5 nights. There's a lot to see and it seems like a very liveable place. I would seriously consider it if I were planning to move. Great bikes paths which will be even better once some of the many construction sites are done, lots to do, lots of culture, a great river front walk and a really nice mixture of old/historic and new.

One of the new masterpieces is the Cité du Vin leading the gentrification of the area called “Le Quartier des bassins à flots” or wet docks.

The ceiling of the Cité du Vin's panoramic view tasting bar

The Cite du Vin is a new generation cultural center, unique in the world they say, and, obviously, focused on all aspects of wine. Wine is presented in its cultural framework, its relationship to civilization, scientifically and agriculturally, its heritage and history and the future. The Cité is a cultu…

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The Seine – A fleuve, part 1

A specific word in French indicates rivers that end in oceans : fleuve. Getting my hair cut the other day in Boulogne Billancourt not far from the Seine I asked my coiffeuse, an immigrant like myself, if she knew anything about the Seine. « I know it’s a floose » she replied. Everyone in the salon erupted in laughter. This fleuve is no floose. Traversing Paris under 37 bridges on it’s 776 kilometer run from a plateau north of Dijon to the English Channel at Le Havre, the Seine, steeped in history with a capital H, is one of five principal ocean-flowing rivers in France. The Loire is the longest at 1010 kilometers. La Garonne, Le Rhône and Le Rhin are the others. Until joined by the tributary Aube, the river carries the first of its noms-de-fleuve, the Petite-Seine. Farther on, augmented again by the Yonne at Montereau, it is the Haute-Seine until Paris. Then it is the Basse-Seine to Rouen and, finally, the Seine-Maritime to the sweep of the sea. The Seine everybody sees is in …
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Saint Denis: Two types of kings

Follow the red line from the sacred to the profane in the town of Saint Denis where there are two types of kings; from the Basilique Saint Denis, the burial place of the kings of France to the Stade de France where the kings of football play.

The metro runs to the foot of the Basilica then there is a red line traced on the sidewalks between these two monuments so you won't get lost in the spaghetti of Saint Denis and the autoroutes. From the Stade de France there are a choice of well marked metros to get you back home or you can continue to walk along the Canal Saint Denis to Porte de la Villette.

Take an audio guide tour of the Basilica and learn about the kings of France, and funerary monuments  as well as Gothic architecture. The Basilica is a major work of Gothic art, this church was the first to place a great importance on light, a symbol of divinity. It was  designed b…

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Rosa Bonheur

Rosa Bonheur, Broad with a Brush

Does the name Rosa Bonheur mean anything to you ? Hint: She was the most well-known female French painter in the 19th century, the first woman painter to receive the Legion of Honor (presented by the Empress Eugenia herself). Still no bells? She painted animals. Still no idea? Well don't feel bad it seems most French people don't know who she is either. In fact despite being French, born in Bordeaux, growing up in Paris and then living in a château with menagerie on the edge of the Fontainbleau forest, she was in fact more well known and her paintings were more appreciated by the English and Americans. She was so famous at the time that Queen Victoria, who had a love for animals as well, requested Rosa visit her. It is even hard to find her paintings in French museums. Many were sold into private collections and some are now seen in American museums. But she is very much worth knowing especially if you have a fondness for animals…

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Get Out of Town to Bayeux

The city of Bayeux is an easy weekend trip, just 3 hours west of Paris from the Gare du Nord, in Normandy. It is a city which holds lots of treasures. The cathedral is just magnificent. One of the prettiest I have ever seen. I also love another Normandy cathedral, the one in Coutances a bit farther afield. Both of these cathedrals are full of light and life. They are brought alive by their parishes and are true places of worship and spirituality. But also interesting places to visit as a tourist. I particularly like the light airy inside and the stained glass. The exterior dome of Notre Dame de Bayeux makes for a unique silhouette. The Bayeux cathedral was consecrated in 1077 by Bishop Odo of Conteville in the presence of his brother William the Conqueror, duke of Normandy and king of England. It is a gem of Normand architecture, considered one of France's finest and was miraculously untouched during the fighting of World War II. In fact the whole old city of Bayeux surviv…

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The Statue of Liberty in France

The Statue of Liberty, whose full name is Liberty Enlightening the World, was one of the greatest gifts ever given. The original was given by the people of France to the United States in 1886 and was installed in New York's harbor but did you know there are lots of Lady Libertys in France today? There are at least 25 in France and even more throughout the world.

In Paris alone there are quite a few. The one you need to know about is the one on the Allée des Cygnes which was a gift from the American community of Paris to Paris to commemorate the centennial of the French Revolution. On her tablet is the date July 14, 1789, as well as July 4, 1776. Then there's the one in the Luxembourg Gardens, inside a private lobby on rue du Cirque, there is one on the roof of a peniche near the Eiffel Tower and one in the Musée d'Orsay. Yet another is very tiny and hard to see; it is incrusted in the torso of César's Centaure (place Michel Debré Paris 6th) near his le…

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Villepreux a microcosm of French history

During the confinement we had a lot of time to walk around our town, Villepreux, 11,000 people situated in the Yvelines department west of Paris. A usually quiet, non-descript town, we hadn’t thought too much about it before but there were a couple of spots that intrigued us while out walking within one kilometer of the house. One of them was the path that we walked called the Chemin entre Deux Murs or the path between two walls. What two walls? What was that all about? Then there’s the old village with a couple of houses that look pretty old including one with visible half timbers. There’s a chateau, in fact there are two, plus centuries-old farms and a neighborhood called the Prieuré or priory. The new center of town is a 1960s construction out of cement. Town houses and a shopping area that hasn’t worn very well over the years. The first impression is that Villepreux is a rather ordinary suburban bedroom community of Paris or closer Versailles. But once you start lookin…

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