Monday, 10 September 2018

Paris sera toujours Paris (also Troyes, Chablis and parts of Burgundy)

Hello and welcome to another interlude in the as-yet uncompleted story of a trip around Germany. This is a much more succinct story giving plenty/some/a modicum of useful information about Paris and a small amount about Troyes.

Last week, James, our good friend and celebrated author of The Almost Lizard came to visit sunny Les Arcs, with a view to later taking a fairly long road trip to Paris via Troyes. In this piece, I'm going to largely ignore what we did in Les Arcs, as it's essentially home and I probably go on about that enough. Thus I'm going to concentrate on the road trip and fun found therein. We had a lovely old time, and this is what I learned...


What a lovely French city. Full of wobbly timbered buildings, some of which contain really generic shops (like Claire's Accessories, which is apparently a thing in France as well), the pedestrianised centre is very charming and filled with a variety of restaurants and bars. There is a tiny Ruelle des Chats (Alley of the Cats), which isn't as bad as it sounds, loads of old buildings, a ton of churches and plenty more to recommend it. We've been there before and we'll undoubtedly go there again.

Paris (Pantin)
Firstly, driving into Paris is very interesting indeed. Other than the Peripherique (which is really an "inner" ring road) they have tried to belatedly create a system of motorways which vaguely improve travel around the city centre. It means the roadways are quite frankly the most confusing thing ever envisioned. If you look at any online map system during rush hour there will be literally innumerable crashes punctuating the entire road network. When you've driven on them, you realise why.

We were staying at an Ibis Budget (represent) in Pantin, which is just outside the Peripherique in the 19eme arrondissement. Although our direction of approach made it seem a bit rough around the edges, actually the area was pretty cool. It was clearly gentrifying and had a few cool bars without being (at all) pretentious. From near the Town Hall, you can join the Canal de l'Ourcq which travels in towards the city centre, via the Parc la Vilette and outwards to somewhere far, far away. This was a good/great thing as our primary reason for being in Paris was to attend a Janelle Monae gig at La Grande Halle in that very park. It was therefore nearby and accessible.

Anyway, the reasons I thought Pantin (and indeed the positioning of our hotel) was great include:
The canal is an absolute hub of activity. Loads of running, cycling, impromptu fitness groups, daytime graffitti (by very polite and talented artists) and socialising with a beverage at the canalside. The exercise went on from first thing in the morning to very late at night. There is a very bijou bar called Jardin 21 which is a lovely outdoor mix of allotment and bar next to the canal. They do an interesting selection of drinks and can furnish you with pizza too.
Near Pantin station (on RER line E, unfortunately just in zone 2 so slightly more expensive) there is a shop which seems to be called both "Coffee Spot" and, more importantly, "Chicken Spot." That's right, a fairly low-quality (that doesn't mean bad) chicken shop à la South London. But you can get an Orangina with your chicken fillet burger.
The nearby Parc la Villette contains any number of cool buildings and places to visit. In addition to the excellent Grande Halle concet hall, there's a very shiny architectural goliath housing the Philharmonie de Paris, a City of Science and Industry, a cinema on a boat, a cinema not on a boat, a Geode (which is a huge silver ball containing... erm... joy?) and all manner of outdoor installations (from a deconstructed, half-buried, giant bicycle to a garden of mirrors). Awesome place. Also, even before the gig, you could get a pint of Grolsch at the venue bar for €5.
Furthermore, there had been a bit of gentrification along the canal (the BNP Paribas building being possibly the most obvious thing) but not too much. Pantin was definitely keeping it real.
Oh, and the (free) Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, displaying a small but quality collection of modern art, was definitely worth a visit. The building was a nice space and the collection on the theme of Waves (I think) was well curated. 

The Rest of Paris (the real bit)
I tell thee. Paris is not a bad old city. There are a lot of tourists. Some places smell a bit like piss (although with free public toilets being few and far between, and some "luxury toilets" charging €2 for entry, this seems fairly understandable). But generally the boulevards are epic, the buildings are grand, and there is plenty to see.
There's a lot of security around the Eiffel tower. There are also lots of young men selling cheap, tacky souvenirs on blankets at pretty much every tourist spot. Buying a coffee near a landmark is a terrible idea, unless money is no object. There are some free public toilets but they seem to all be "stand-alone" and, especially around the main tourist spots, often have a queue. This is generally exacerbated by the fact that after every "use" the toilet wants to clean itself like an OCD cat who has fallen into a vat of jam. There is a good and interesting selection of trains on both the Metro and RER (a double-decker train underground is a joy to behold. I could watch the traffic going around the Arc de Triomphe endlessly. Which is lucky, because if you want to take a picture in Paris, expect it to contain at least some traffic. Anyway, there's a lot to see. Have some pictures...

Janelle Monae
I feel like I should talk about the gig, because it was very good, but without talking extensively about the music I cannot really do it justice. Suffice to say it was an excellent stage show featuring a very talented artist in conjunction with some highly-skilled musicians and dancers. Plenty of variety of sound, with JM at times channelling both Michael Jackson and Prince. Not 100% sure about the section where members of the general public were invited on stage due to their "having the juice" before then perfoming a short dance whereafter they were, once again, told "you have the juice." But otherwise a very enjoyable evening.

After Paris - Chablis, Fleurie and Burgundy in general
Once we had finished in Paris, and James had headed to the airport to return to England, we went to Chablis. We did this for wine reasons. It's harvest time, so there were lots of tractors transporting lots of grapes to lots of small wine producers. The area around Chablis is fascinating (a point we learned during a cheeky degustation), with specific areas providing the grapes for Petit Chablis, the vast majority of vines falling under the wider "Chablis" grouping, then a selection of particular climes (or areas) yielding grapes for the Premier Crus, and only seven small areas (making up only about 2% of the wine-growing in the entire area) being special enough for the resulting wine to be described as Grand Cru. Chablis itself was a very cute little town and well worth a visit. We enjoy a little glass whilst watching the tractors go by. We stayed at the campsite, unleashing the Robens Fairbanks (tent) for the first time this year.  

The following day, we "enjoyed" another few hours of driving before arriving in Fleurie. There, having noted that the air was flavoured with the pervasive smell of wine, we sampled a few reds and whites from the Burgundy region before retiring to a vineyard near Juliénas which was also a very small campsite. There we were able to have a private wine-tasting involving a number of local wines both cultivated and produced by Franck Besson and his family. This was an excellent choice. We ended up buying a bottle of sparkling Crement (for drinking that very evening) and a bottle of red. These wines are not available in the shops and are exclusively supplied to restaurants and bars in France and America. It was fun. We did wake up when the church bells went mad at 7.30am (is it to get the grape-pickers working?) but that was not bother. Oh, and the campsite was filled with fun plants and trees, like partitions of bamboo, fig trees, pear trees, apple trees and all kinds of other stuff.

Visiting wine-making regions is excellent fun.

It was a fun week. We came home alive with additional bottles of wine. Now to get hold of Django Jane and Cold War by Janelle Monae...

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