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Saturday morning I set off on another day trip from An Hour From Paris: to La Ferté-Milon in the Aisne, followed by a 4-1/2 mile walk along the Canal de l’Ourcq. I bought my tickets from a human being at the Ile-de-France ticket office, which worked beautifully except for a tiny flaw: I would have had to go the Grandes Lignes office to get the 25% senior discount for destinations outside of Ile-de-France. Since the train was about to leave I paid about six euros to save waiting for the next one. Will I ever get train travel completely sorted out? Probably not!

Like almost everywhere around Paris there’s tons of strange history in La Ferté-Milon: It’s dominated by the ruins of a 13th century castle that would have been — had it been completed — the largest in France. Construction was interrupted in 1407, however, when Jean Sans Peur‘s henchmen assassinated the Duc d’Orléans; what remained was ordered demolished by Henry IV in 1594, but the imposing facade was preserved.

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Ruined château at La Ferté-Milon, from the banks of the Canal de l’Ourcq

As far I could see I was the only foreign tourist in town; the only other prospect appeared later walking very slowly with an elderly woman, no doubt his aged mother. Avoiding the “tourist track” was a pleasure but the fact that everything revolved around the locals had a downside: The barber shop was completely booked, the restaurant recommended in the guidebook was filled with a wedding party, and even the bakery had no lettuce or tomato (crudités), just chicken, mayo and bread. All three women I interacted with were «désolé» that they couldn’t give me what I wanted, but that was cold comfort.

Racine was born there, and there’s a little museum that you should certainly visit if you’re ever in town. The stained glass windows in one of the churches are curious, and the other church, while almost in ruins itself, is impressive.

Eglise Nôtre Dâme, La Ferté-Milon

Eglise Nôtre Dâme, La Ferté-Milon

Last but not least, the town boasts a tiny footbridge, designed by a then-unknown engineer named Gustave Eiffel.

Footbridge built by Gustave Eiffel.

Footbridge designed by Gustave Eiffel.

From tiny acorns!

After exhausting the town’s quirky points of interest I ate my just-ok lunch and headed off for a 4-1/2 mile walk along the tow path of the Canal de l’Ourcq. I did not see another human being for the first half of the walk.

Canal de l'Ourcq between La Ferté-Milon and Mareuil.

Canal de l’Ourcq between La Ferté-Milon and Mareuil.

The second half was equally beautiful but dozens of cyclists — obviously a French outing club of some kind — inflected the bucolic charm. Still a great place to further stretch my already-pretty-well-stretched legs. The walk passes several bucolic locks but the most photogenic was the one at the end, with a castle in the background.

Château of Mareuil-sur-Ourcq from the lock.

Château of Mareuil-sur-Ourcq from the lock.

Here’s a link to my photos: La Ferté-Milon and Canal de l’Ourcq Photo Set

Saturday night I had dinner with a new friend (found, I blush to confess, through a sketchy web site). Kevin is from Normandy and works on the TGV fast trains. He loves America, and Americans, but speaks limited English. I was delighted to make another friend who speaks French with me, not as a favor, but because it’s our best way to communicate. We ate at a nice neighborhood café on Montmartre, Le Relais. The service was a bit frazzled but the food was good and it’s on a lovely shady courtyard running between rue Lamarck and a stone stairway.

Kevin and me at dinner, at Le Relais on Montmartre.

Kevin and me at dinner, at Le Relais on Montmartre.

I think it’s fair to say that I have solved the mystery of why I lose weight on my stays in France, despite eating up a storm: 12 miles on Friday; 13 miles on Saturday; only 7-1/2 miles on Sunday, true, but still the equivalent of 60 flights of stairs.

Mot du jour: « désolé »   The English cognate is misleading; the three women in La Ferté-Milon were each “sorry,” but nothing like “desolate.”