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In the interior of Finistère, Brittany, about 20 miles south of Morlaix and hidden in the Parc d’Armorique, you will find the small town of Huelgoat and its bizarre landscape.
Hundreds of huge, moss-covered boulders cover the floor of the Huelgoat’s forest, just outside the town center. A number of well-marked paths allow you to explore the area–whether you are out for a quick stroll or looking for a longer hike.
Ladders and railings also help you to explore caves such as the Devil’s Cave and descend to the stream that has formed the valley, the Rivière d’Argent.
Celtic legend has it that the giant Gargantua once visited Huelgoat. He was hungry, but not given enough to eat. Angry, he left Huelgoat and walked towards the coast. When he arrived, he plucked boulders from the sea and threw them towards Huelgoat. These are the gigantic boulders we see today.
You can learn more about Huelgoat, including practical information on how to get there and where to stay, from the official Brittany Tourism site.
This summer, I visited France’s National Assembly in the 7th arrondissement, just across the Seine from Place de la Concorde.
The Assemblée Nationale is the lower house of the French legislature (the upper house being the Sénat or Senate), and home to the 577 députés (the members elected to the Assemblée).
As an individual, the only way to visit the Palais Bourbon, the home of the Assemblée, is by guided tour. Visits are conducted only on Saturdays, when the legislature is not in session. Click here to see the reservations calendar. Although you may be able to slip onto a tour last minute, I highly recommend reserving in advance.
For English, Spanish and German-speaking visitors, an audioguide is available so you can follow along with the guided tour, which is offered only in French. This seems more than fair to me–it’s the French legislature after all!
While I was thrilled to finally see the inside of this building I had walked by every day on my way to work for five years, this building that is so key to the governing of the République, I was not so impressed with our tour. The tour guide seemed to enjoy the sound of his own voice a bit too much. He kept making jokes that no one laughed at and before every piece of information he delivered, he asked if we really wanted to hear it: “Are you sure? You really want to hear this?” It turned the 90-minute tour into a 150-minute tour. I was counting on the tour ending in time for the French lunch hour, which is all but legislated to start at 1pm, but no such luck….
So be warned, the tour may not be the most fun couple of hours of your life, but it’s worth enduring the talk to get into the building. And the good news? The tour is free of charge (well, paid for by our tax dollars, I suppose….)
If you do not want to bother with the tour, take a look at the videos on the National Assembly website to get a sense of the interior of this heavily-guarded, gated landmark.
Bricolage is defined by Wikipedia as “tinkering” but I’d say it’s closer to do-it-yourself home improvement. But it is more than a pastime or a chore. In France, it is an institution, a sacred art form.
I don’t know the exact statistics, but from my empirical research, I am certain France has more Home Depot-esque stores per capita than any other country. There’s Leroy Merlin, Mr. Bricolage, Castorama, Bricolex, Bricomarché… the list of warehouse-sized home improvement chains goes on and on. My personal favorite is the basement of the Bazaar de l’Hôtel de Ville, better know as BHV. I have yet to look for something in there that they don’t carry (although sometimes I am delayed in finding what I am looking for as I don’t know the name of the item in English, let alone in French!)
At BHV… unless this is a British thing, I believe there’s a typo in this sign
So as a true French homeowner, I decided this Fall it was time to do a few home improvement projects. I didn’t get too far without professional help. But I did succeed at one small project of which I am very proud: I stenciled a pattern around the door handles of my bathroom, adding a bit of color and texture to an otherwise all-white door.
Then came the professional assistance. I asked my new contractor to come in and basically fix the multitude of things the original contractor had screwed up. On the list for this time:
I can always find something more to do if I look hard enough, but I’m happy to have this list completed. Now time to start my list for next year!
Earlier this month, I was invited by Discover Walks to join one of their Paris walking tours. I chose the Montmartre and the Impressionists tour because I was not as familiar with this neighborhood as I am with some of the other parts of the city where they conduct tours.
We met our guide, Guillaume, at metro Blanche in the 18th arrondissement, just outside the famous Moulin Rouge cabaret. He was easy to pick out with his demonstrative pink vest. For about two hours, we toured the back streets of the Butte de Montmartre. Guillaume is fairly new to the tour guide business, but between his deep knowledge of and enthusiasm for the neighborhood and his ease in connecting with visitors, I never would have known he was a novice had I not asked. In fact, Guillaume was born and raised in Montmartre, so not only did he know the facts well, he was also able to include personal anecdotes and local legends not recorded in any history books.
We visited the sites of buildings where many of the famous artists and other notable residents lived at one time, many back when Montmartre was just a village in the suburbs of Paris. We caught a glimpse of the Montmartre of today, including our guide’s favorite cheese shops and the café of Amélie fame. But this was not just a tour of a collection of landmarks. Guillaume presented a story, the history of a community and of a culture, and repeatedly tied new information back to the history he had presented earlier in the tour. The presentation of the tour was clearly very well thought out. We ended the tour at Guillaume’s favorite Sacré Coeur-viewing spot. I won’t give it away–you’ll have to take his tour to find out where it is!
Because Discover Walks aims to present a story and not just point out the various sites, they include in the price of the walking tour a skip-the-line ticket to the Musée d’Orsay (valid for a year), along with a packet of other useful tips and discounts that they give each guest at the end of the tour.
The one downside? The tour is not cheap at €40 or U.S.$54 for adults. But remember, this includes the €11 Musée d’Orsay entrance and most importantly native insider information you cannot find anywhere else.
Other Paris Adventure walking tours include a Night Tour, a Photo Tour, a Cooking Class, a Flea Market Tour and much, much more. Discover Walks is dedicated to helping you experience Paris and not just see it as an outsider.
If the price is too high for your budget, Discover Walks does offer free tours in a number of neighborhoods, including Montmartre. These free tours run every day except December 24th and 25th, rain or shine. Of course, they are not entirely free, rather tip supported. The website indicates that the average tip is €12 per person, so it’s still a fantastic deal for a 1 hour 40 minute or so tour given by a native. The free tours are generally limited to about 20 guests, while the Paris Adventure tours are generally limited to groups of 10 to 12.
If you try one of the other Discover Walks tours, I’d love to hear how it goes!