Cimetière du Père Lachaise

 

‘Hey you – Kangaroo…allons…catch up.’

We were in Pere-Lachaise Cemetary – the most visited cemetery in the world – and had managed to get ourselves hopelessly lost. Of course, we could have booked ourselves on one of the tours of the cemetery, but that clashed with being able to visit the Bastille Markets – and we really wanted to do that. Besides, booking a tour would mean we’d need to be there by a certain time and what if we saw something interesting on the walk on the way there?

No, a tour, whilst tempting, would be way too constrictive – we’d do it ourselves instead. How hard could it be? I’d uploaded a map – okay I’d taken a screen dump of the map showing the important graves – but nothing had prepared us for the sheer number of them – and the size of the cemetery.

Although Paris residency was the only qualification you needed to be buried here, among the notable are the writers Proust, Gertrude Stein and Colette; the composer Chopin; Edith Piaf. Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison; painters Seurat, Modigliani and Delacroix; and the dancer Isadora Duncan.

We quickly found Colette’s resting spot but from there we struck trouble and I had to admit the unthinkable – I had no flipping idea where to find Edith Piaf or Oscar Wilde, let alone Jim Morrison.

Just as we were approaching the first of the hills in the cemetery – which sits quite high over Paris – we come across a middle-aged man with long black hair and wild eyes holding a worn clipboard holding equally worn papers. He’s talking to an American couple outside Chopin’s grave and he reckons he has a shortcut to Edith Piaf and Oscar Wilde.

We tag along – him calling me Kangaroo the whole time. Of course, we know that he’s an unofficial guide and that he probably ropes people like us in all the time, but he’s hilarious so we don’t care.

Along the way, he points out graves of people of interest and tells us about the history of the cemetery. There have been a million people interred here over the years, but, he says, not that many here now.

‘You know what happens? Kangaroo, do you know?’

‘No, why don’t you tell us.’

‘Barbecued,’ he says, indicating his head towards the crematorium. As an aside, that’s not strictly correct – and not at all respectful – but we’re getting the idea that neither respect nor accuracy is that important to him. Besides, we’re too busy trying to keep up with him.

‘Allons Kangaroo,’ he says again. I wave his words away and continue to take my photo.

‘How much do you reckon this will cost us?’ asks hubby under his breath.

We see another American woman looking for Edith Piaf. ‘She died,’ our “guide” says, completely deadpan. She doesn’t smile.

At Monsieur Noir’s grave we all – except for hubby – rub the….okay Mum and Dad, if you’re reading turn away now….we rub the very worn stone at his, well, crotch. Apparently, it’s good for one’s sex life and fertility.

‘How many children do you want?’ our guide asks the American couple who he calls Chicago.

‘We want twins,’ says Mrs Chicago.

‘You both better rub very hard then,’ he tells them. They each place one hand on his crotch and one on his foot – no, I don’t know why either – and lean in to kiss each other. I hope their wish comes true.

Judging by the worn nature of the ahem area, plenty of other people have tested the theory. I could tell you a story about how the legend came about – it has something to do with when Victor Noix, a 21-year-old journalist, was shot through the heart by Napoleon III’s nephew in a botched duel, a certain part of his anatomy – but no, I won’t go any further because I suspect my mother is still reading.

Eventually, we find Edith Piaf and Bugatti – who has a seriously tiny headstone for someone who invented such an expensive car.

At Oscar Wilde’s grave – which has a glass screen around it now to protect against the lipstick –  he leaves us and heads back down the hill to find more tourists needing a shortcut to Edith Piaf and Oscar Wilde. He’s 50E richer (we gave him 20E) and we’ve laughed steadily for the last half hour or so.

As for us, we went looking for Jim Morrison…and found him.

Getting there…

We walked up via the Bastille Markets (more on that next time). It was an easy walk through a part of Paris we otherwise wouldn’t have walked through.

You can, however, catch the metro – Père Lachaise or Phillipe Auguste.

If you want to take the tour – a friend of mine recommended this one – it takes 2 hours, runs on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday and costs around $25USD per person.

It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishWrite of the Middle50 Shades of Age,  and, of course, me.


OEuilly

The capital O and E together is not a typo. In French, it looks as though the two letters are joined. I’m typing in English, though, so you’ll need to trust me on that.

This dinky little town might be difficult to pronounce (it’s something like wee-yee) but it’s seriously cute in a grey-stone quintessential French village sort of way. It’s one of those towns that make you want to see what’s behind the shutters, what’s on the kitchen tables, why there is fake grass used as fences. Yes, fake grass on fences. Bunnings is missing out on a whole market there.

There’s a well and a centre of town that I like to imagine was just like the tiled pictures in the photos below.

OEuilly has a 13th-century church that sits on the top of the hill and has views all down the valley. In the churchyard are five white marble gravestones – for RAF airmen who died on May 4, 1944. They must have been in the same plane or the same formation. There was the pilot, two gunners, the air bomber and the wireless operator.  It doesn’t bear thinking about.

OEuilly is located on the Vallee de la Marne Champagne Route (you’ll have to imagine that the accents that should be over some of these letters are actually there) it’s about 13kms from Epernay and 27kms from Reims in the heart of Champagne.

The town also has plenty of champagne producers and a museum devoted to wine-growing – the Economusee d’OEuilly. Again, you can put the accent thingies over the “e” yourself. Early in the morning as we walked through town, these strange tractors moved from field to field. They looked like monster trucks but in an agricultural form – so designed to be able to drive through the vineyards without damaging the vines.

Although we came to the region for the champagne, it’s not why we were here in OEuilly. OEuilly was the first stop on our foodie road-trip and we were here for Jean-Eric’s cooking. Well, not just Jean-Eric’s cooking…but it’s as good a reason as any.

road-tripping

L’Oeuillade en Champagne

This charming little gite in the heart of Champagne was to be our home for the first night of our road-trip – and it didn’t disappoint.

Choosing accommodation for 3 people when 2 of them are a couple (me and hubby) can be a tad difficult – as well as we get on together, we do also need a certain amount of our own space.

L’Oeuillade had plenty of living space and 3 good sized bedrooms. If we’d been inclined to cook, we had all the facilities to do so. Cooking, though, was the last thing on our minds.

What would be on our mind? Champagne, of course…in the garden.

We’d dropped in for a sneaky bubbly tasting at Epernay on our way in – to pick up some supplies for the evening – and this is where we settled…pretty much for the night.

And why not? It was a glorious Spring evening and we had plenty of champagne, portable speakers, comfy chairs, and views like this.

Best of all, because we’d reserved dinner in-house, Jean-Eric, our host, and his lovely wife brought our meal to us. Bliss. Great food with no washing up. Their house was across the road, and that’s where they brought each course of our meal from.

We started with champagne which Jean-Eric had hubby open sabrage style – with a champagne sabre. The video was on Instagram, but essentially the sabre breaks the neck and the cork of the bottle away. It’s all very dramatic.

not the bottle we opened with the sabre

The meal that followed was one of the best we had in France. It was, without a doubt, the best value one we had too.

What did we eat?

Parmentier de Foie Gras sauce au vin – sliced potatoes with pate and a red wine sauce. I would never have thught of this combo in a million years but it worked.

Papillote de Rouget au Champagne – Red mullet with champagne sauce cooked “en papillote” ie in paper. THE best fish dish we had in France. I’ve found a recipe I’ll be experimenting with, but I doubt it will be as good as this one on a warm Spring evening in Champagne with champagne.

Sorbet au Marc de Champagne – the marc is a brandy made from the discarded skins and seeds in the process of making champagne. It was poured over the sorbet as a very tasty palate cleanser.

Joues de Porc à la Bière de Marne – pork cheeks cooked in local beer. Sorry, no pic…but very yummy.

Assiette des Trois Fromages – a selection of cheese. I especially loved the cream cheese which was similar to the cervelles de canuts that we would later taste in Lyon.

Sabayon de fruits et ratafia – a sabayon served with berries and a glass of the local ratafia, a spirit that is essentially a fortified grape brandy.

And all washed down with the “supplies” we’d purchased in Epernay. It was the type of meal that memories are made of. And all for 35 euros a head*

If you’re heading to Champagne and want to know more about L’Oeuillade en Champagne, you can find Jean-Eric’s website here. We, however, found him on Air BNB. Hde and his wife were brilliant hosts.

*Price was as of April 2018.

Next time: A Day in Champagne…

It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishSeize the Day ProjectWrite of the Middle50 Shades of Age,  and, of course, me.


La Grand Tour of France

Morning mist in Burgundy

After three fabulous weeks in France we arrived home last night – exhausted. We’ve crammed a lot into our time away and come back richer for the experience.

On the road-trip leg of our holiday, we travelled over 3000 kms – from Lille into Belgium, the Netherlands, down to Champagne, Burgundy, Lyon, the Loire Valley, and finally to Paris.

I put my Fitbit back on for the trip, and we racked up a massive 238,900 steps. Given that my 5km morning walks usually measure out at just under 5000 steps, that’s an awful lot of kilometres walked.

We consumed about the same number of litres of wine as kms that we walked…ok, a slight exaggeration…and almost as much again in baguettes and cheese.

We visited about a hundred churches (another slight exaggeration), took more photos than I have time to download at the moment, and bought a daggy tea-towel at every stage of the journey.

We also learnt a lot about France, it’s foods, it’s culture, and it’s quirks – and that is, I think, the best part about staying and travelling with friends and talking to a number of expats. Aside from the laughs and the company, you learn about a country from those who live there.

I’ll be posting more about each region over the next few weeks, but for now here are some of our observations. Settle in…this is a loooong post.

About France

1. France is an absolute contradiction – on the one hand, there’s a formality and structure about things we’re quite laid back about, and on the other, there’s chaos and disregard for many things that we’d consider necessary here in Australia. I’d love a euro for the number of times I heard expats say something like ‘it makes no sense, but it’s how it is.’ It might be frustrating to live with, but I love it.

2. France is pretty much closed on a Monday – so check the opening hours of shops and museums. It’s a weird feeling hitting a village at 1 pm and finding the streets deserted.

3. France pretty much closes for lunch – between 12 – 2 pm. That includes banks, post offices and even police stations in regional areas.

5. You can often park for free between 12 and 2 pm – the parking inspectors are at lunch.

6. Meetings aren’t booked between 12 and 2 pm – business interferes with digestion.

7. French workers don’t tend to run errands at lunchtime – they sit down or go home to eat. Besides, most services are closed anyway.

8. Other than for essential deliveries, trucks are off the road on Sundays (and public holidays). Sunday is still considered the family day.

9. France, in general, is not really disability friendly. Many places – especially in regional France – are not wheelchair accessible.

10. There are also a lot of stairs and not many places with lifts – one of the reasons, I suspect, that French women don’t get fat.

11. Merely adding “le” to the start of a word doesn’t make it French.

12. You can make yourself understood with a few basic French words – the effort is usually appreciated.

13. There is history everywhere.

About Food

1. The French sit down to eat – or stand at a bar. You rarely see locals walking along drinking coffee and eating a croissant from a bag.

2. Lunch is lunch, dinner is dinner, and you don’t eat in between – unless you’re a child.

3. Nothing interferes with lunch – especially not work. Besides, some workers even have restaurant vouchers in their packages. Now that’s civilised.

4. The French really do buy their baguettes daily and really do offer bread at each meal. Weirdly, butter is only offered at breakfast or if you’ve ordered oysters. No, I haven’t figured that one out either.

5. Most supermarkets don’t have chocolates, cold drinks or other snacks at the check-out – if you want these products you need to get them from the aisle. This is not a bad thing.

6. France will never need to spend euros on a buy local program – why would you want to eat (or drink) from anywhere else?

7. Wine is sipped and savoured and often served in small glasses.

8. Cheese is sliced into small portions and often eaten with a knife and fork. It’s can be served with baguette, but not crackers – which are difficult to find in a supermarket. Also, it doesn’t get eaten before a meal, but after it – before dessert (if a dessert is being served) or instead of dessert.

9. Dips are not really a thing. You can usually get hummus, taramasalata and tzatziki from the deli in the supermarket – but see above comments re crackers.

10. The French drink very little fresh milk, and most take their coffee and tea black. They do, however, eat a lot of yoghurts – most of which comes in little portion controlled glass yoghurt pots.

11. Salads are not necessarily a light option and are always perfectly dressed.

12. The French like to talk about food all the time – but especially when they’re eating. My kind of people.

13. You can eat really well for not a lot of euros – even in Paris. Many places have a two or three-course special that is great value.

14. Unlike here, house wine is a good choice – and tends to showcase a region and the restaurant you’re eating in.

15. In many cases you can’t just rock on up to a cellar door for a tasting – many places require these to be booked and often involve a tour.

16. Done well, escargots (snails) are yummy. The garlic butter and parsley sauce with baguette is even yummier.

17. Each region has its specialities – and these are absolutely worth seeking out. Except for andouilettes in Burgundy and (especially) in Lyon. There is no excuse for these.

18. The cheeses are incredible.

19. Shop windows contain airborne calories – and the patisserie really is fabulous…even for this non-sweet lover. As for artisan chocolates – don’t get me started.

20. Especially in regional France, the food on offer is French or the cuisine of that particular region. There is an exception to this rule for Italian food – which seems to be the universal cuisine.

21. Spice is unheard of. We were craving a decent dose of chilli.

22. Some food hygiene things that we take for granted aren’t considered a problem. As an example, on more than one occasion we saw cooked cold meats and charcuterie displayed in the same space as raw meats – and served by the same gloves that had just finished cutting raw meat.

About art and cultural stuff

1. You don’t need to go to museums to see great art.

2. Churches are full of incredible art – and not just on the walls. The windows took my breath away. Reims Cathedral has a Chagall stained glass window that I could have stared at for hours.

3. There are a lot of churches and each of them is different and awe-inspiring in their own way.

the cathedral at Epernay

4. Wineries often have great art.

a sculpture at Moet et Chandon

5. The French nobility seemed to do little more than pose for paintings and sculptures.

6. The chateaus of the Loire really are that big – and that ostentatious. It’s no wonder they had a revolution.

7. There really is such a disorder as chateau fatigue.

8. The Spring flowers and blossoms need to be seen to be believed.