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Tuesday, January 04, 2011

France 2010 - Day 7, Part 1 - Provins - Upper Town

"If it turns out that there is a God, I don't think that he's evil. But the worst that you can say about him is that basically he's an underachiever." - Woody Allen

***

France 2010
Day 7 - 9th October - Provins - Upper Town
(Part 1)

Since I was once again travelling on my own today, I started out really early (about 7) as I was going to Provins, Town of Medieval Fairs.

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An especially long-winded message on the importance of recycling your towels (read: saving them money)

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An even more long-winded (but at least amusing) "Do Not Disturb" sign

I got breakfast at the train station.

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Strange pricing: 3,10€ for a Viennoiserie or 2 Tartines and a large hot drink, but 5,30€ (down from 5,60€, no less) to add a 33cl Minute Maid. I wouldn't pay 2,20€ for a Minute Maid, much less 2,50€. I pointed out to the counter woman that Orange Juice was very expensive, and all she had to say was that it was already discounted. Thanks.

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Provins posters

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Croissant aux Abricots, Pain au Chocolat

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Old technology for winter - perhaps in case of a strike

When I stepped out of Provins train station, I realised I had done something very stupid - I had not brought my fleece. Or my jacket. I was cursing, but luckily it warmed up later in the day. Even more annoyingly, there was no toilet in the gare, so I had to get to Provins itself.

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"Le p'tit oriental. Pour votre santé, évitez de grignoter entre les repas"
("The small oriental. For your health, avoid snacking between meals")
This is very extreme advice, but perhaps just as only Nixon could go to China, only McDonalds can tell people not to snack.

The bus services in Provins had just been reorganised, so everything was in a mess:

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On the one hand, the old bus routes were displayed on a map of the town

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On the other, the new bus lines did not correspond to the map, and due to wrapping errors it was hard to tell which bus lines went to the tourist office (I ended up asking someone for help)

Actually, from the town map the tourist office was only 1.5km away, and the way seemed to be well-signposted, but I decided to save the walking for later. Happily, the bus came a few minutes after I made this decision. Even more happily, the ticket/coin swallowing machine was spoilt, so the bus driver gave me a free ride. I love countries with nice people!

Transport in the towns of the Ile-de-France (the area around Paris) seems privatised. Fontainebleau had Veolia buses, while Provins used Procars minibuses.

When I got to the tourist office, I found out that their toilet had no seat cover. Worse, there was no soap - like in Japan.

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"L'ensemble urbain de PROVINS est le témoignange le plus authentique et le plus abouti de l'histoire médiévale des XIe, XIIe et XIIIe siècles"
("The whole city of PROVINS is the most authentic and successful testimony to Medieval History of the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries")
I'm sure many other settlements would like to dispute that claim.

There would be a guided tour, but payment would be necessary, I'd have to wait 1.5 hours and it would be in French. Nonetheless I sprung for it and decided to plan my day and walk a little around town first. The helpful tourist guide provided a duration for each attraction, which aided planning.

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Cartoon map of Provins - or the Upper Town, at any rate (that's where all the good stuff was, though the Lower Town is UNESCO-listed too; its walls were dismantled in the 19th century, so that speaks to its relative poverty of attractions)

The Upper Town was about 1.5-2km by 500m - very walkable (notice the walking trails), though less than half of the whole town.

There were also going to be some shows in the afternoon. Some genius had scheduled "The Legend of the Knights" at 3pm and "The Eagles of the Ramparts" at 2:30pm and 3:30pm. Both shows lasted 45 minutes, and you'd have to walk at last 500m to get from one to the other. Perhaps this was a subtle attempt at undermining the competitor; Knights were more interesting than Falconry, so I stumped for that. Luckily for me, at this time of the year, "The Legend of the Knights" was only on weekends and public holidays, so I was able to catch it.

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Coat of Arms of the Count of Champagne

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Purple flowers and bee

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The beautiful French countryside: "Vieux Chemin de Paris" ("Old Paris Road")

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La Porte St-Jean ("The Gate of St John"), 12th century

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"Cimetière militaire de Provins" ("Military Cemetery")

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UNESCO plaque - in 4 languages

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Walls from the side. The Upper Town is bounded on 3 out of 4 sides by the walls

The enclosure for "The Legend of the Knights" was outside the town walls.

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Gate

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Photos of the show

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Poster of the show. There're no shows from 2nd November to 2nd April

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Trebuchet

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Ducks preening


Preening ducks at Medieval Show: they know they're not going to be eaten. Or they're grooming themselves so they can be roasted.

While I was looking at something else, something spooked them and they all ran away with wings spread out

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Ticket booth

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Show writeup in English.

"Fantastic medieval equestrian show, unique in Europe!... For you greatest pleasure, let yourself travel back into the time of the knights and the beautiful ladies. For your comfort :COVERED STANDS"

I really doubt this is the only one of its kind in Europe. Maybe they have many knockoffs in China, though. Also, presumably the ladies nowadays aren't beautiful anymore.

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Rue St Jean ("Road of St John")

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Overgrown well

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Gîte (holiday home you can rent) and carpark

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Beautiful Beasts. I'd like one. J'aime bien les cheveux des chevaux


Nothing like church bells ringing in the cool, crisp morning air of a quiet medieval town to make you feel at peace

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Le Petit Train ("The little train"). Apparently many French towns have this stupid thing. Luckily it passed quickly.

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House and Wall - Rue de Jouy

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Rue de Jouy

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La Porte de Jouy ("The Gate of Jouy"). I like the sportscar framed in it - modernity mixing with the medieval.
If I understood the tour later correctly, this was restored 40 years ago, but the stone has aged well.

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Letterbox

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Shuttered gate down alley

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Through the Peephole. Gate warns of "chien méchant" (large dog)

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Rue de Jouy

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Rue Couverte. I'd have investigated the bubbles in the background but I had to rush back for the tour

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Sweeping wench and leering dog

While waiting for my tour to commence, I watched the promotional videos for the shows that weren't on at this time of year.


Show of Summer 1: Arkhangaï, les cavaliers des steppes ("The horsemen of the steppes")

For some reason, the clip featured 馬, the word for Horse in Traditional Chinese. Maybe it attempted to portray a counterfactual Mongol Invasion.


Show of Summer 2: Au Temps des Remparts. Tribunes couvertes ("Time of the Ramparts. Covered benches")

The Siege (Ramparts) Show had ended in July and the Steppes Cavalry one had ended in August. There was some overlap in the shows, though - the trebuchet and jousting featured in both Legend of the Knights and Time of the Ramparts

The Eagles weren't as interesting (and my tour was starting) so I didn't bother filming that clip.

The tour was an interesting exercise in studying the integration of minorities in France. Of the 27 of us, I was the only non-white - those of immigrant origin don't seem to be interested in the history of their [adopted] country.

The guide said the oldest restaurant in France was in Provins. He also said Provins was much bigger than Carcassonne, and another fortified city whose name I missed, with 5km of fortified walls (of which 1km remains)

There's a Provins rose, but this was the wrong time of the year so there was only one miserable flower left. I think the rose was related to the Rose of Damascus.

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Towers of white stone, like this, date to the last restoration 10 years ago. Note the pigeons.

The town now has 12,000 inhabitants, and the last mayor promoted it as a tourist destination.

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It's not quite Constantinople, but it's nice nonetheless

There were 4 types of towers here: round, square, imperfectly round and one more I missed. I think it was polygonal. There was a moat - but only for the Lower Town


The beautiful French countryside

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Guide on restoration, showing the "trous de boulin" (the reason why we see holes in the wall). Basically the holes supported scaffolding.

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"Commonwealth War Grave. Carre Militaire. Tombes de Soldats Morts pour la France"
("Military Square. Tombs of Soldiers who died for France")
WWI cemetery. I'm not sure how many Commonwealth soldiers saw it that way

It was the proverbial beautiful day with not a cloud in the sky

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Towers

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A doll paying homage to the French Revolution

There're many stone buildings in Provins, which is unusual in a medieval town. This is testimony to the town's riches in the Middle Ages, as a major fair hub for merchants from all around Europe: they had 6 fairs a year in the region, which meant there wasn't much of an off-season.

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Underground cellar - basement of a house: "Salle Basse" ("Low Room")

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Rue Couverte

The tour would've ended then, but our very nice guide brought us into La Grande aux Dîmes (tithe barn) for free and even gave some commentary, extending the 1.5 hour tour by 20-30 minutes. Inside were exhibits recreating what one would've seen at a fair.

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From Genoa, Venice or Florence, Italian merchant with spices, silk, dyes and other products of the Orient

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Flemish merchant from Ghent, Bruges or Ypres with furs and wools

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Moneychanger. The money scale is called a "trébuchet". Hah.

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"Provins during the time of the Fairs of Champagne"

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Potter, whose wares were used for cooking, food preservation and eating

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Parchment-maker - his wares were used not just for writing, but also some musical instruments and various knick-knacks

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The Stone Shaper

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La Grande aux Dîmes. If I understood the guide correctly, the protrusions you see strengthened the building as they capped rods stuck into the structure

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Intersection: Half-timbered house, stone building, tourists and modernity


Bonus: Facebook thinks a lantern is a face

I tipped the guide, and he asked me if the tour was slow and clear enough for me (I didn't ask questions so as not to slow down the tour). I said that it was clear enough, and that the tour group was mostly made up of French people, so "c'est comme ça".

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Tour César (Tower of Caesar) from town square (Place du Chatel)


Bubble-blowing machine
I felt cheated that technology had usurped the traditional kids' role of blowing bubbles

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"Menu etudiant 4€. Menu enfant 7€ 90"
It's better to be a student than a kid. Because students are starving and live on allowances, whereas kids are pampered by their parents

I looked around the town square for a lunch place. In general the rule is not to eat in a restaurant on the town square, but this was a small town so most restaurants were there anyway (perhaps the less historic Lower Town would be better). Also I didn't want to miss the Knights show.

Strangely the Upper Town was devoid of kebab shops - so you know it was dedicated to tourists.

For some reason, half of them served mainly or mostly crêpes and galettes. As I was going to Britanny, which specialised in these, I decided to pass.

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A suitably agreeable menu which I chose even though it was Italian (the rest of the places were either crêpe places, or full, or almost full, or expensive, or had disagreeable menus). The dessert sounded better than the entrée so I dropped the latter.

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My first carafe d'eau (pitcher of water) with ice in it. You can tell that I have too much memory.

One mother was gesturing to the paper placement (which had a bilingual writeup on the railway museum) and asking her kid over lunch, "en français ou en anglais ?" ("In French or in English?"). She replied, "en français". Hurr hurr, they start young.

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"Chaque coin de rue évoque le souvenir au temps de la splendeur de l'ancienne capitale des comtes de Champagne... Provins redevint pour longtemps une bourgade isolée dans un terroir rural, ignorée par les grands courants de l'Histoire.

Mais cette disgrâce a permis que Provins soit encore aujourd'hui une ville du Moyen Age merveilleusement préservée"
("Every corner evokes memories of the time of the splendor of the former capital of the Counts of Champagne... Provins became, once again and for a long time, an isolated village in a rural landscape, forgotten by the great currents of History.

But this disgrace let Provins become, once again, a marvelously preserved city of the Middle Ages.")

Provins Propaganda

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Lunch. The meat medallion was alright but the pasta was tasteless.

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Their pizza menu

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Dessert was only alright - not that good. Primarily because it was pre-served and put in the fridge, so the pie was cold and without a crisp crust (though maybe that was more a symptom than a cause)

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100% Naturel scented soaps: Vanilla, Lavender, Iris Milk, Bergamot-Blueberry, Ginger-Basil, Cranberry (l'anglicisme!!!), Blackcurrant-Grapefruit, Rose, Apricot, Fig Milk, Bamboo (I didn't know that had a suitable scent for such purposes)

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Wtf princess shit at the same shop. At least Japanese crap beats Disney in character (and lack of ubiquity)

The actual medieval fair areas were not featured, doubtless because they were temporary exhibition spaces which have not been preserved.


Many places demanded credit cards with chips. This was irritating.

The head of Judas Cyriacus is in Provins, but this wasn't significant enough a fact to be mentioned in the tourist material (which usually over- and not under-sells), for some reason.

French food in Singapore is actually very good (at least if you know where to go), it's just expensive. For example a 3 course at Absinthe will set you back about ~$80++
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