Ah, the freedom of a monthly navigo pass.
On Thursday, a cold and wet day, with a bit of a snow flurry, we boarded the RER A2 and went to St. Germaine En Laye to rendezvous with Hedwig, the third member of the jolly retired travelers, for a visit to the national museum of archaeology, housed in the chateau-vieux.
The site of the chateau has a long history beginning in 1122. The knocking down, burning, rebuilding, renovating and demolishing of this chateau went on until 1682 when the royal court moved to Versailles. Jacques II, King of England, lived here during his exile. The castle was used as a prison during the revolution, then a hospital, back to a military prison and finally a national museum.
The museum was established in 1862 by Napoleon III. The chateau was in poor condition and required extensive renovations before it was inaugurated by the emperor in 1867. The most recent renovation occurred in 1962. Due to economic difficulties, the two floors of the museum are available to the public separately. You visit one floor in the morning, find somewhere for lunch and return for the second floor in the afternoon. The museum exhibits almost 30,000 artifacts as well as information about how the various rooms in the chateau were used and by whom. It was a really interesting museum, even though Tom and I were hampered by a shortage of English guides. We looked for, but did not find Astrix in the Greco-Roman rooms.
The chateau’s gardens were redesigned in the mid 1600’s by Le Notre (a name we are meeting very often). Our walking in the park was limited due to the weather, but we did make a short walk to admire the view of western Paris which can be seen from the terrace 80 meters above the Seine. Past the gardens is the forest with 3,500 hectares. We plan to return with better weather for some hiking.
We had a really delightful lunch of savory and sweet organic crepes at Papa Made.
The church of St. Germaine, built 1766-1827, is the 4th church built on this site since 1028. There was a delay and a reduction of the volume of the church due to the revolution. Decoration was lavishly financed in 1848 with a former pupil of Ingres, Amaury-Duval, commissioned for the work. A major 4 year renovation is currently underway and was quite impressive.
Final visit of the jolly retired trio in St. Germaine en Laye was the small museum of two rooms in the birthplace of Claude Debussy. There were many personal items displayed to recreate the composer’s study which were donated by the composer’s daughter-in-law. This was a very interesting visit as well. It is a bit uncomfortable to see the death mask and art work portraying the dead person. I know this was common, but does anyone know why?
It was another successful outing for the jolly retired trio. Now we consider where to go next!
The next morning Tom and I packed up and rode the RER R to Fontainbleau for a long weekend. Another trip included in that magic navigo pass. We were invited to join a small group on Sunday morning who have been regularly hiking together in the forest of Fontainbleau for 10 years. It seemed like a good idea to also spend a day in the chateau and park.
We arrived at the train station and walked to our hotel. It was surprisingly cheaper to stay at an IBIS a block away from the chateau, with breakfast, than to reserve an Airbnb. The IBIS is in the midst of renovation and only one floor is complete. The room was very fresh, but during the day there was no temptation to have a nap in the room.
Our first stop, after the hotel checkin, was the tourist office. She was very friendly and gave us some maps. Until dinner we used one of the maps to take a tour of 17 historic buildings in downtown Fontainbleau. The map and discussions were only in French, so I was doing a lot of guessing, but it was a good way to get a feel for the town. We had dinner of pizza on one of the pedestrian walkways and returned to the hotel to crash.
We were at the gate of the chateau when the ticket office door was unlocked Saturday morning, collected our audioguides, and began our tour.
The brochure tells us that “this is one of the largest chateau in France. The only one inhabited by all of France’s sovereign rulers from the 12th to the 19th century. The most lavishly furnished of all French Royal chateau. Three remarkable gardens on an estate of 130 hectares.”
We advise you to plan a full day for this visit and listen to all of the audioguide options. Tom ranks this chateau as the best we have visited so far. The history here is really a lot to take in all at once. The pope’s apartments consisted of 11 rooms where a pope was held on house arrest and later the rooms became the dowagers quarters. It makes for fascinating historic pondering. The gardens, even on a drizzly winter day, provided a lovely walk. There were carpets of snowdrops blooming and swans on the 1200 meter long canal.
At the completion of our visit it was too early for dinner, so we had hot wine on the place Napolean Bonaparte and returned to the hotel for a short nap. We did not have a dinner reservation so our choice was booked. After wandering around reading menus we had dinner at Raj Mahal. Pinky, you would have been horrified at the bland preparation. We miss your good cooking!!!
Sunday morning we are picked up by Laurence. We met the rest of the group near the Franchard Hermitage to hike an area near the gorges de franchard trail. The forest of Fontainbleau is about 110 square miles and is made up of numerous ecosystems. On our 10 km hike we passed through at least four different systems. Helen, who was our leader is very knowledgable about the trails. It was lovely to hike without a care or a worry about where we were, and if we could ever find the car. We passed and climbed huge boulders, heath, overlooks, forest, waves of golden ferns, snowdrop carpets. It was glorious. We were fortunate in our companions, all of whom we knew from proquartet, except Helen.
At the finish of the hike we were all invited to the home of Laurence for lunch. She and Mhairi had prepared a fantastic afternoon lunch of 5 leisurely courses. She lives in a village along a canal and we were all entertained during lunch with the antics of the pheasant who has recently taken up residence in her garden. There were ongoing battles with other birds over territory. It was surprising to see sparrows harassing the pheasant.
Laurence drove us back to our hotel and we spent the evening like two beached whales. There was no need to search for dinner.
What a wonderful day of hiking, food and good company. We would love to hike with the group again.
Monday we packed up and returned to Paris. We met Annie for dinner and caught up on her recent trip to Germany.
Tuesday was spent on laundry and grocery shopping. Alas, poor Tom, who just recovered from a cold, ended the day in bed with flu, and in bed he stayed until this morning.
The positive consequence of Tom being sick in bed is that it was the final impetus needed to get both of us connected with mobile phones. I needed to run some errands, and wanted him to be able to call me from bed if needed. We are almost always together, but it is really useful to know that the first time since we left the USA, we can call each other if needed. This is pretty exciting.
Another great week, and we send Bisous to you!