The Medieval Town of Provins

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Ramparts and Fortified Gates, Provins, May 2016

Located two hours southeast of Paris by train, Provins is a UNESCO heritage site due to the historical architecture dating back to medieval times.

Particularly impressive were the massive ramparts that stretched for kilometers around the city. It was interesting to think about the history of these walls, with archer’s holes every other step, it used to stand strong against attacks. Now greenery grows in the cracks, birds nest in the holes and stones crumble from the top with age. Let’s also consider that these walls were built way before they had the tools we do today.. I couldn’t help but wonder how many builders toppled off the edge of these high walls. Thank goodness for modern safety precautions!

Venturing into the heart of the medieval town, the experience becomes a little more tourist oriented. Small trains loaded with a handful of tourists on this mild Monday drove through the streets and  the main square’s restaurants and souvenir shops were bustling. Nearby you will find the Église Saint Quiriace, dating back to the early 11th century, and the Tour César from the 12th century.

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Église Saint Quiriace, provins, May 2016

A little architectural history fact about the Tour Cesar: It is the only known medieval keep that uses an octagon on top of a square base (or so says the plaque at the base of the tower!). The Tour César was used as a watchtower and prison, but now houses the bells of the church.

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Tour Cesar, Provins, May 2016

This was a nice day trip from Paris – it provided an escape from the busy city to travel back to medieval times. It was interesting to just walk down any street of the medieval part of town and see layers of generations past in the old houses, although I did feel slightly awkward taking photos of houses because I had the sneaking suspension the homeowners were looking on from inside.

 

 

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The Chateau de Fontainebleau

With the beautiful weather, it was the perfect time to go on a day trip to the Chateau de Fontainebleau with two of my friends. We didn’t know much about the chateau but were intrigued enough to climb aboard the train for an hour to get there.

It turned out to the perfect day trip. A picnic lunch. A history lesson. And a bunch of laughs.

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Presumably the ‘blue fountain’ the Chateau was named after? May 2016
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The Library of Fontainebleau, May 2016

The Chateau de Fontainebleau was owned by many important figures throughout the centuries, and each had their own ideas of what it should look like. Notable owners include Francis I, Louis XII to Louis XVI, Napoleon and Napoleon III. The Chateau became a hodgepodge of all their ideas, with each addition denoted by adding their coat of arms or insignia.

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The salamander of Francis I. Yes, salamander.
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The Ballroom, Chateau de Fontainebleau, May 2016

The building itself contains many different styles, but so do the gardens. Although there are traditional French gardens, they also included an English garden and of course left a large swath of land untouched for hunting grounds.

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Constructed lake, May 2016

The Auvers-sur-Oise Trail

With the beaming sun and cloudless sky this past weekend, I wanted to spend my days outside. I began researching potential hiking trails near Paris and uncovered the gold mine of Vexin Francais Regional Natural Park northwest of Paris. Composed of over 70,000 hectares and containing many small suburban towns, it has endless hiking opportunities.

The place I decided to start was Auvers-sur-Oise, which was an hour and a half train ride from Paris, with the bonus of being covered by my transit pass! It also turned out to be the town where Van Gogh died, after having completed many paintings there. The whole town seemed to center around Van Gogh’s activities there – I counted four small museums dedicated to him and other impressionist artists.

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Spot the differences! The Church at Auvers, May 2016 compared to Van Gogh’s painting from June 1890.
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Auvers-sur-Oise, May 2016

The whole town was charming, especially with the lilacs in full bloom. There was even a Chateau, that has since been turned into a museum for the impressionist artists and restaurant (plus they have a hedge maze!).

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Chateau d’Auvers-sur-Oise, May 2016

The town was a nice surprise when really all I had intended was to hike through the forest. After touring around Auvers-sur-Oise, I began my trek. It has been a long time since I was surrounded by trees and fresh air (it’s not too common in downtown Paris…).

For the majority of my hike, I was the only one on the trail, only passing a couple other groups in the total of three hours I was out there. It was refreshing to escape the hectic city environment for a few hours.

I look forward to returning to continue to explore the expansive Vexin Francais Regional Natural Park – not just to hike on the various trails, but also to visit these sweet little towns… I wonder which important figure the next town will be celebrating.

The Parisian Fondation Louis Vuitton

Located in the Bois de Boulogne (a large park in the west of Paris), the modern building emerges from behind the treetops. Designed by Frank Gehry, the Fondation Louis Vuitton is a modern art museum. So naturally, the building itself is a modern artwork as well!

In classic Gehry style, it is composed of wild curves to create a radically obscure building.

For me, it had a slight resemblance to a water park. A pool of water surrounds the entire base of the building, with the brightly coloured, curved exterior structure looking an awfully lot like water slides. (It could also be that I am excited for the hot summer weather and ready to go swimming!)

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Fondation Louis Vuitton, May 2016

The Palace of Westminster and Westminster Abbey

The Palace of Westminster

Or rather, the Houses of Parliament. I am not entirely versed in the inner workings of English government, so I am not entirely sure what happens within these buildings. All I know is that the buildings look impressive and important, so I took a photo.

The Westminster Abbey

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Westminster Abbey, April 2016

Westminster Abbey, the place of royal weddings. Coincidentally, while I was visiting England, Will and Kate celebrated their 5 year anniversary.

 

The London Shard

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The Shard, April 2016

One of the newest buildings by Renzo Piano, the Shard is distinct in the London skyline. Probably because it is 95 levels high.

And if you hadn’t already guessed, the name is due to the fact it looks like a shard of glass. Naming buildings based on the objects they look like is a common past time in London, like the Walkie Talkie or the Gherkin (both of which can be seen from the top of the Shard!).

The Shard is mostly office space (I am led to believe) however the public can access the 68th and 69th interior floors and the 72nd exterior floor, with the promise of a champagne bar at the top!

When I went up to the top, a storm was rolling in. Seeing the menacing clouds rolling in over the tall buildings was a great view, however the concern of lightening did limit the amount of time on the exterior top deck.

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View from the Shard, April 2016
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View from the Shard, April 2016
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The Shard, April 2016

The St. Leonard’s Church

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St. Leonard’s Church, April 2016

Off the beaten track, somewhere in the countryside of West Sussex in England, this church seems to appear out of nowhere. This being my second time visiting (the last time was in February) I get the impression that this church is always vacant – however this time there were sheep grazing in the graveyard! They were afraid of us, their wide eyes staring at us if we took a step towards them, as if we were ghosts or something!

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St. Leonard’s Church, April 2016