Going to Poitiers and my first Destination Wedding

When I mentioned to French friends that I was going to my first Destination Wedding, most of them looked blankly at me.  I had to explain that it was the latest trend among young Americans to pick a beautiful or exotic place to be married, invite all your friends and family and pray they liked you enough to spend the money and plan a vacation around it.

Blakely, younger sister of my Goddaughter, Elizabeth, chose a chateau outside of Poitiers: St Julien de l’Ars.  By the end of the weekend, I learned it was actually her father who did the choosing.  But never mind, how we all got there, 65-70 people showed up to wish Blakely and her fiancé, Josh, a champagne drenched Bon Voyage on their new adventure of marriage.  I was impressed by the amount of people that flew from Boston, Florida, Tennessee, New York and New Jersey as well as California where I’m from.

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Blakely, the night before the wedding

I was the only invited guest who lived in France.  It’s a quick trip on the TGV (France’s speed train) to Gare de Poitiers.  I had booked an AirBnB and had the opportunity to walk around the Centre Ville before meeting the shuttle that would take many of the guests out to the Chateau.  Poitiers seems to be a sleepy town.  In the three days I was there, I never saw many people out and about.  Even when I found the Saturday morning marché at Place Charles de Gaulle, people were scarce.

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Hotel de Ville, Poitiers

The wedding party and immediate family stayed at the Chateau St. Julien de l’Ars. The rest of the invited guests stayed in hotels and AirBnBs in Poitiers.  We were shuttled out to St. Julien de l’Ars in one of the comfortable buses that tourists often use for traveling in Europe.   We were greeted by a Chateau, hundreds of years old, not in great shape, but I imagine would be high on every little girl’s dream of where to have a story book wedding.

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A french friend told me there are a couple of thousand of these old Chateaux in France.  They are expensive to keep up and a large percentage are for sale.  The immediate history of St. Julien is that the owners are an American couple.  He was in a theatre group years ago and they used to come to the Chateau for practice and entertainment.  When it went up for sale, he and his wife bought it.  It was full of antiques which disappeared the same year the Americans purchased the property.  The antiques are probably in hiding or have been sold.  The Chateau is rented for large events like destinations weddings.

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There is an enormous amount of work that now needs to be done and the couple cannot afford it.  So after owning the chateau for eighteen years, they have put it up for sale again.  Anyone have a couple million euros?

It was old home week for many of the guests.  And also for me. I had not seen Blakely’s mother, Darcy, in a long time.  Once she moved away from the Bay Area it was harder to keep up constant contact.  She and Blakely’s dad were divorced and I hadn’t seen that side of the family since I’d been to Maine for a big birthday party for Blakely’s uncle.  Time really does smooth away a lot of wrinkles.  Things that seemed so important once upon a time seem completely irrelevant now.  I was very grateful that I’d made the effort to get to Poitiers.

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Even though the weather report called for rain, nature smiled on Blakely and Josh.  Chairs were set up in a grove covered by towering trees that seemed an endless archway.  A duo of string musicians played music while the wedding party walked from the chateau to the grove.  Blakely, ever resourceful and a strong proponent of recycling, wore her grandmother’s wedding dress that she, herself, worked on so that it fit her perfectly. The service was lovely, short and sweet.  The champagne toast that followed was highlighted by a “Cheese Cake” which Blakely promised had no sugar and no flour.

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I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling that these weddings of close ‘family’ that one has known their entire life are bitter sweet.  I kept looking at this  beautiful, enchanting and friendly woman with such composure and saw the little girl that I had known.  In 1991, when she was 5 years old, my home in Oakland burned down in the Big Oakland Firestorm.  Blakely made me promise that I wouldn’t rebuild a house in wood.  I didn’t.

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Blakely and Josh with the western sky in St. Julien

I felt so happy for her and so proud of her.  Yet this feeling of ‘where has the time gone?’ surrounded me.  It didn’t last but I had to work at it.

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Blakely at the end of the evening.  Photo by Darcy Hartmann
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Sara and Darcy, Blakely’s mom

Amazingly enough, everyone who made the trip to come to France to celebrate Blakely and Josh’s wedding thought it was well worth it.  It showed me how loyal their friends are.

A bientôt,

Sara

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The Scarred Woman

It’s about time for another book review of a favorite author.  So while I prepare my blog on my very first ‘Destination Wedding”, get out your reading glasses and prepare yourself with one of the earlier books while waiting for the release of the The Scarred Woman.

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The Scarred Woman

by Jussi Adler-Olsen
Pub Date 19 Sep 2017

After I discovered and read, along with the rest of the world, the Dragon Tattoo Trilogy by Steig Larsson, I scarfed down every Scandinavian mystery/crime thriller I could find. I didn’t care if I’d never heard of the author, experience was teaching me that the books were sometimes good and often great. I don’t remember reading a poor one.

I was excited to discover two books by an author I’d not heard of, Jussi Adler-Olsen, a Dane, at a neighborhood book sale. They were both in practically perfect condition. Either the owner prior to me took extraordinarily good care of paperbacks or s/he was put off by the length of these mysteries. Her loss.

The two books I picked up happened to be the first two books in the series about Department Q. One certainly doesn’t have to read them in order–there are seven in all including The Scarred Woman–but I have loved being witness to the evolution of the main characters and Department Q itself. The first book details the beginning of Department Q, a demotion for Carl Morck who, although an excellent detective, is surly and on the outs with many of his colleagues. Department Q is created, in the bowels of the basement, for him to work on cold cases. He is given an assistant, Assad, a Muslim Dane, with a mysterious and dubious history. The two attempt to solve unsolvable cases.

As the series moves on, Carl and Assad get another member of the team, Rose. Rose is as off beat as the other two and the interactions between the three of them provide a levity much needed to balance the gruesome Nordic mystery and murders.

By the seventh book, years have passed, Carl and his team have become famous for solving hideous past crimes. They have saved each others’ lives and there is a strong if unspoken affection between all the team members that keeps the reader involved in these lengthy books. A fourth member has joined the team. Gordon has a serious crush on Rose and, as The Scarred Woman moves along, is traumatized by the fact that something is seriously emotionally wrong with Rose. The Chief of Police has retired and he, too, is falling apart after the death of his wife. However, a recent death looks to him like a murder as it is so similar to one seventeen years ago that he worked on. He is intrigued and asked Carl to look into it.

Meanwhile, another story of three beautiful but lazy, entitled girls, determined to marry rich men while living off their lies to their Social Worker, seems completely unrelated. Nothing happens without a reason and nothing happens quickly. For me, this is part of the charm of this series. We think along with Carl and Assad and sometimes the murderer. There are many many threads going at the same time much as life and the juggling of priorities and time are not unfamiliar to most of us. We are amused by the repartee between Carl and Assad especially and astounded by the many sides of Rose. The books are long, 500 to 600 or more pages but Adler-Olsen is such a good writer and so adapt at bringing the reader along far a wonderful ride that one feels we’re reading about distant friends. I never wanted any of the books to end.

I’ve always wondered how authors like Ruth Rendall, Adler-Olsen and a number of the Scandinavian writers come up with people and crimes that are pure evil. Some authors spend time making sure the reader understands that the murderer is a victim also, hostage to his or her past. I wouldn’t call Adler-Olsen’ books psychological thrillers as a number have now been labeled. He entertains us, he scares us and, often, he provides background to explain some of the horror but doesn’t dwell on it. As someone who worked in a psychological profession, I can say that he has definitely done his research. But then to create these masterful jigsaw puzzles from his research and extraordinary mind is true literary genius to me. One of the books says he is the No 1 bestselling author in Denmark. I didn’t know that as I’d never heard of him before this summer but I don’t doubt it.

If you are a true mystery/thriller fan and also like good writing, read this book and oh by the way, read the other five books also so that you became part of Department Q!.

 

B10GlZr+VYS._SY200_.jpgBiography

Carl Valdemar Jussi Henry Adler-Olsen (born August 2, 1950) is a Danish author, publisher, editor and entrepreneur. Jussi Adler-Olsen’s career is characterised by his great involvement in a wide range of media related activities. In 1984, he made his debut as a non-fiction writer. 1997 saw his debut as a fiction writer. His latest novel is The Boundless (Den Grænseløse) (2014) is the 6th volume in the Department Q series.
Bio from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Photo by Lesekreis (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons.
A bientôt,
Sara

The further adventures of Bijou, the cat

While I was in the United States, January through May, Bijou was living the life of Riley.  She stayed with a friend who has quite a large apartment, consisting of three large bedrooms, a living room plus and a dining room plus.  Bijou had the run of the place.  And she literally could run in a circle going through almost every room.  She loved hiding under my friend’s bed, she would go to sleep on the kids’ book bags, she would sit on the back of a sofa for hours making those funny kitty noises every time she saw a bird and she made herself at home wherever she could.  She knew she was only a guest and never jumped up on a table or workspace as she did at my apartment.

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Hello

Once Spring came, things started to get a bit dicey.  The apartment is on the 6th floor.  Each room has a minimum of two ceiling almost to the floor windows.  And every window had a little balcony where healthy plants were waiting for the sun. The windows would be thrown open and Bijou, with tons of cat curiosity, would go exploring.  Just sitting on the little balcony was not enough.  She would jump up on the railing and when any of the family walked by, she would just look innocent.  While the family member had a small heart attack terrified Bijou would fall to the pavement and use up all her nine lives at once.

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One very hot in July night, my friend decided to leave all the windows open.  She could see that Bijou was near the balcony but opted for taking care of herself first. The next morning, when she called Bijou, Bijou was nowhere to be found.  She went looking everywhere and, after an hour, she was formulating a conversation with me to tell me that Bijou had disappeared.  Just as she picked up her phone, she saw Bijou looking pathetic outside her son’s window.  That window was not open the night before.  Neither of us even wanted to think how Bijou managed to get to that balcony from the opposite side.

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Phew, I’m glad she found me.  I’m tired

When I finally moved into my own apartment in early August, I came and got Bijou and, for the first time in eight months, we were living together.  I have a large terrace with a railing.  The top of the railing is 4″/10cm thick.  I’m on the 7th floor.  Each room has glass doors that open up on the south side of my building and it is necessary in warm weather to have them open.  Bijou loves the terrace and spends a lot of her time there.  At first, she would jump up on the railing and I was the one having a heart attack.  If I screamed or did something panicky, I was afraid I would scare her and she’d fall.  I would clap my hands very loud which has always been my signal to her that said “No”.  She would jump down.  As soon as I went inside, she’d jump up again and nonchalantly go walking over to the next door neighbor’s apartment.

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Are you talkin’ about me?

Bijou always comes when I call her.  She is basically a very good cat.  She is learning not to jump up on the railing and does it rarely now.  I’m still too nervous to leave the doors to the balcony open in the night when I’m sleeping or when I leave the apartment.  I don’t know why.  I truly don’t think anything would happen to her.  Cats have such an innate sense of balance and perspective of distance.  But……I don’t ever want to be in the position of saying “If only…..If only I’d done the right thing”  So doors stay closed at night, open during the day. Sara, the police, periodically wanders the apartment looking for any cat trouble Bijou may have gotten in.

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Bijou, who was bought off the streets of Paris 2 1/2 years ago, has grown into a sweet cat. I’m completely aware that the catcapades she gets into are completely in line with her job description.  She also likes to be in the same room as people.  She likes to sleep at the foot of the bed.  When she was very little she discovered a teddy bear of mine and to this day treats the bear like the mother she never had.  She will walk up slowly, sniff it then realizing it is mama bear, she will start kneeding the bear and collapse in pleasure while her front paws go in and out of the bears tummy.  I’m always so grateful it’s not my tummy.  My friend, Fatiha, adores Bijou and makes her toys out of whatever she finds lying around.  She gets Bijou to jump 4 feet high then teases her by pretending to throw a ball.  Bijou doesn’t care.  She adores Fatiha back and if Fatiha wants to play, that’s what Bijou will do.

And now you are caught up with the adventures of the fur ball living with me!!!

A bientôt,

Sara

Chemin de Fer de Petite Ceinture

Two weeks after I moved into my new home here in the 16th, I had some friends visit.  We walked up to La Rotonde at La Muette for a cafe allonge (a long pull coffee as opposed to an expresso).  We sat outside and enjoyed the people watching and street watching.  Across the street sat La Gare.  I knew there was a train station nearby that serviced the RER C but I didn’t think it was that close.  The next day, a friend came in from the suburbs and I asked her about it.  She told me about la Petite Ceinture–literally the little belt.  La ceinture was a rail line that serviced all the main stations in Paris and by the time it was finished construction made a loop around Paris.  It’s heyday was the 1900 Universal Expo in Paris.  It was also the beginning of the end for the Ceinture as the metro lines were being built and introduced.

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Sign as one enters the pathway near my street.

La Gare, which we had been admiring, was one of the little stations for the Ceinture.  It is now a terrace tea room on it’s main floor and a restaurant underneath where the trains would stop.  The architects of La Gare as restaurant saved the signs so one can see exactly where the quays were.  The mezzanine is marked Baggage and houses the toilets and coat service.

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Once a rail station for la Petite Ceinture now a restaurant and tea shop
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Photo of the menu showing the restaurant.  Sunday brunch is 39euros!

The 16th arrondissement has resurrected 1.2 kilometers of the rail line and turned it into a nature path.  It lies directly between my building and Porte de Passy.  At the end of rue de l’Assomption is one of the gates to enter into the path.  It is green, inviting, extremely quiet and shady for our hot summer days.  Along the way are signs inviting us to look at the trees, birds and other natural phenomena telling us what to look for.  You just get started and the walk is over.  I gather there is great and on-going debate about what to do with the 36 kilometers total of the old rail line.

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A waste container made from the wood along the path and a sign begging us not to throw our cigarette butts or any ‘crap’ on the path.

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At the end of the nature path, in the Jardin de Ranelagh, is this insect hotel! with an explanation of why they are so important.

If you want to know the fascinating history of the Chemin de Far de Petite Ceinture, go to:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chemin_de_fer_de_Petite_Ceinture

In a 2004 episode of Poirot “The Mystery of the Blue Train”, Poirot and friends board the Blue Train in London to go to Nice.  On the way, he explains to his traveling companion that they are on La Petite Ceinture to get to the Gare de Lyon where they will turn south to go to Nice.

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Above: One of the last Petite Ceinture de Paris passenger trains in 1933 – its passenger service would close one year later. right: View of the Ouest Champ du Mars station during the 1900 exposition, with the Boulainvilliers bridge-viaduct for Batignolles trains in the background.

Some of my readers know the 16th quite well.  Perhaps this little sign with a map will bring back memories. The three metro stations are Ranelagh, Jasmin, Michel-Ange.

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A bientôt,

Sara

Brittany Part 2–Kerprouet

When we left Perros-Guirec, we went to my friend, Roland’s, house in Kerprouet.  Kerprouet is hard to find on a map.  That’s because it is a small hamlet of six houses. One family lives there full time, Roland comes and goes from his home in Perros-Guirec, there are two English owners who don’t seem to come very often.  The other two homes are owned by members of the family who live there full time.

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Entering Kerprouet

Kerprouet is near the town of Huelgoat and lies on the eastern end of the National Forest in Finistere.  Each day, we lingered around drinking coffee in the morning then made a day trip to somewhere on the coast.  Every trip was a minimum of an hour!

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House owned by an Englishman but the gardens done by Yves and Josette who live there full time

The first day we went to Presqu’Ile de Crozon where the Atlantic ocean hits, sometimes with intense savagery, the cliffs of this peninsula that is almost the most western tip of France and Europe.  My photos will not do it justice.  There is heather on the moors that lead up to the cliffs.  The water is turquoise where it comes into safety in inlets and beaches.  And there are lighthouses on almost every tip manned twenty-four hours a day by the French navy.

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Pointe de Pen-Hir on Presqu’ile de Crozon

 

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Walking on the GR 34 out to the Pointe de Pen-Hir

The following days we visited the town of Locronan, named one of the most beautiful villages in Brittany.  It reminded me a lot of Mendocino, a beautiful place completely taken over by retail shops selling souvenirs.  However, we were lucky enough to see a religious procession of Britons in their native costume.

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Town square in Locronan with Church on the left

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We went to Pointe de Raz “le bout du Monde”-the end of the earth.  I love the faience that comes from Quimper. So we went to Quimper one day, did a tour of the Henriot factory, I bought some faience and then went to the Musee which exhibited years of beautiful work.

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The end of the earth with the lighthouse

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The heather on the moors

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On our last full day in the Finistere, we went to visit another friend of mine, Philippe, in Pont-Aven.  Pont-Aven once was the home Gauguin and friends who took advantage of the beauty of this village that sits at the tip of the Aven river.  Philippe took us on a wonderful walk along GR 34 that took us out to the sea along the Aven river, around the tip and back along the Belon river.

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Barbara, Sara and Philippe’s friend, a true Briton born and raised.

There are so many more photos but that’s enough for today.  Time to come back to Paris, to the 16th arrondissement and the further adventures of Bijou the cat!

A bientôt,

Sara

 

 

Brittany (or what I did on my summer vacation)

In Paris, summer vacation is sacrosanct.  From June 15 to August 15-30, the majority of Parisians leave Paris for three weeks to two months.  In August, Paris is dead.  Only the tourists walking around in the summer quiet.  Half of businesses close, either because the owners vacation or for renovation.  The train lines use the summer to do work on the tracks.  Many Parisians have country homes in Normandy and tend to go there for the summer.  An equal number will have second homes down south somewhere in the sun.  And a smaller number go to Brittany.

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The hydrangea or hortensia, as they are known in French, are magnificent in Brittany.  There is a Fete de Hortensia every summer.

I discovered Brittany last summer.  I wanted to go somewhere in France that I’d not been before for my August birthday.  My friend, Barbara, suggested Perros Guirec on the Coast of Pink Granite (Cote de Granit Rose).  She’d been there many, many years ago.  So I found an AirBnB and off three of us went to Perros Guirec.  By the end of our five days there, I was so in love with Brittany that I convinced the owner of the home we had rented to do a house exchange with me.  I would come to Perros Guirec for 4 weeks this summer and he and his girlfriend could have a month in the Bay Area.

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My “home” in Perros Guirec

 

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The view from the bedroom window

Brittany, to me, is an extraordinary place.  It’s not like anywhere else in France.  I’m told that the catholic English, Irish and Scottish escaped there at one point in British history.  I’m guessing it was during the reign of Henry VIII when being Catholic was outlawed.  Not only is Brittany exceptionally Catholic but all the dialects have Celtic in them.  The people are as friendly as they come and love their land.  Only sixty years ago, if a visitor from one village came to another, he was called a foreigner just like I am a foreigner.  It doesn’t mean they don’t like you, it just means in the end, you don’t belong.

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Marker on GR 34

 

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Typical Bretagne home with a beautiful garden

Brittany has a coastline on three of it’s four directions.  There is a hiking trail, GR 34, that follows the coast line and attracts day trippers and backpackers all summer.  Many other trails criss cross Brittany.  But enough, they say a picture says a thousand words so I’d like to share some of my best photos from this summer.

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One of my favorites parts of GR 34–the Sentier to Ploumanc’h (the path of the customs workers)

 

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Sentier des Douaniers along Le cote de Granit Rose
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Sara and Barbara in the Perros-Guirec harbor
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Church in Treguier
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One of many harbors

 

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Port of Perros-Guirec in low tide
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Beginning the Sentier des Douaniers trail looking back on Trestraou beach
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Harbor at Paimpol
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The old Washing Area in Pontrieux–the washing women for private homes would come down here and do the wash.  The city and home owners have decorated it so it is quite special

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IMG_6960.jpg Sara and Barbara on the 4th of July headed to Ile de Brehat

If you see that every single house and building is an A frame, good observing.  They do not have flat roofs in Brittany!!!

The last week I was there, I went to the Finistere and stayed in a six house hamlet in a National Forest.  I will put those photos up over the weekend.

A bientôt,

Sara

Bois de Boulogne

If you look on your map of Paris, you will see that the 16th arrondissement is huge.  Many map books divide up the 20 Paris arrondissements into quartiers (neighborhoods).  Very sensible for the 16th.  On the East is the Seine, on the north is Avenue Marceau going up to Etoile and Ave de la Grande Armee going all the way to Porte Maillot.  And along the entire length of the west of the 16th is the Bois de Boulogne. To the south is Porte Saint Cloud and Boulogne Billancourt.

I’m just a smidge further than half way down and two blocks from the Bois.  Sunday morning, I put on my sneakers and went exploring to see what I could see.  Within five minutes, I had crossed over the Porte de Passy and was in the Bois.  Another five minutes and I was at the Hippodrome d’Auteuil which is large.  On one end is a golf course.  On the other is a swimming pool.  I’ve been thinking that I should start swimming again, that my hip would thank me.  It was a Sunday and I saw no one to ask so I left that investigation for another day.

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I came to Lac Superieur.  I started to walk around it.  Runners were everywhere, many doing the Lake circuit a number of times.  And as often happens, everyone seemed to be going the same direction.  This time it was clockwise.  I was walking counter-clockwise.  Arriving at my starting point, I began walking down L’Hippodrome.  Signs kept telling me that Les Grands Cascades were in that direction.  I don’t see them on my map.

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Lac Supérieur

Walking, I was mostly alone on this wide tree-lined street.  The trees had grown into an arbor over the road.  It felt like Fall.  A lot of leaves had fallen so there was green, yellow and that tannish brown that leaves get when they aren’t in Vermont but haven’t drowned in rain. In spite of the runners, it was very quiet.  Surrounded by trees and beauty produced a calm.  There was hardly any wind so the stillness seemed complete.  One could walk and think, solve a few problems, pay attention to what is around me and feel at total peace for a few minutes.

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I believe Ave de l”hippodrome is closed to cars on Sunday

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I passed dirt paths telling me that  if I walked north I’d arrive at Porte Maillot where I lived all May and most of June.  Porte de la Muette was northeast.  I now shop there. Porte de Passy is the next one after La Muette.  Two of my buses stop there and are often easier than taking the metro.  You have to picture Paris before cars. Those who could rode horses.  If you left Paris, you came back in through one of the gates.  These are the Portes that circle the city today.  They are often entrances onto the Peripherique which is the major through-way circling the city.  You have to get on it to go anywhere unless, like in days of old, your road takes you up to the Porte and you keep going because you are already in the right direction.

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I walked for over an hour and was barely inside the Bois.  Just before I entered, I saw  a long stand of city bikes, known as Velib’.  Next week, I will rent one and see how much of the Bois I can cover.

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Walking up to Porte de Passy
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Fountains are everywhere so no one goes dehydrated.

I am not ready for summer to end.  It all goes too quickly.  So though it looked and smelt a lot like Fall during this walk, I’m crossing my fingers that we still have hot days ahead of us.

A bientot

Sara