Thursday, July 17, 2014

Bonneval, the "Little Venice of the Beauce": Weekend Getaways from Paris

Bonneval is known as the "Little Venice of the Beauce" for its charming waterways.

Can you believe that it's Thursday? With the Fête Nationale (Bastille Day) on Monday, this week has gone by much more quickly than normal. It's already time to start making plans for the weekend!

If a relaxing afternoon boating on the waterways of a charming medieval village sounds appealing to you, I highly recommend making the short trip to Bonneval. Nicknamed the "Little Venice of the Beauce", this town located a mere 75 minutes by train from Paris is a surprising gem of a destination.

A washerwoman figurine in Bonneval

A stronghold since the Middle Ages, Bonneval is completely encircled by water from the Loir River (not to be confused with the Loire River). More than 100 outdoor washrooms, many of them part of the town's outdoor museum, line the banks. As we navigated past a mother duck proudly leading a long line of baby ducklings, the sight of washerwomen pounding clothes in metal basins and a 1905 hand-crank washing machine made me thankful for my modern-day appliances. Without them, I wouldn't have the freedom to discover some of the lesser-known attractions of the Loire Valley.

Heads down! Passing under one of the many stone bridges in Bonneval.

As we crouched low in the boat while passing under one of the many arched stone bridges, we marveled at the perfect reflection cast upon the water by the King's Tower. Used as a dungeon in the 13th century, it's a reminder of Bonneval's long history dating back to 857 when the town was founded under the auspices of Charles, King of Provence.

Leaving the medieval village behind, we were greeted by fishermen and couples picnicking next to the river. The pastoral scenes and lily pads floating on the surface of the river made me feel as if I had somehow fallen into one of Monet's paintings.

I can't wait to make a return trip with Stéphane. Bonneval is the kind of place that you want to share with someone special.

Practical information: It is not required to have a boat license to rent the 4-5 passenger self-drive electric boats. Boat rental for the 30 minute tour of "Little Venice of the Beauce" is 15 euros. The 60 minute tour is 25 euros. Kayaks are also available for rent.

June, July and August: Weekdays from 2:00 pm, weekends and holidays from 10:00 am. The last departure is 6:00 pm.

April, May and September: Weekends and holidays from 2:00 pm. The last departure is 6:00 pm.

As the electric boats are in high demand during the weekend, it's recommended that you call in advance to reserve one.

Electric Boats at the Capitainerie 
During the weekend, it's recommended that you call in advance to reserve a boat)
Direction rue d'Orléans
28800 Bonneval
Telephone: 33 (0)6 22 91 63 82 or 33 (0)2 37 47 29 94

For a special weekend getaway, combine your trip to Bonneval with the spectacular Lights of Chartres on Saturday night and a visit to the "Big Windmill" of Ouarville on Sunday.

Please click here to see more photos of Bonneval, the "Little Venice of the Beauce", on Facebook.

Bonneval's electric boats, environmentally-aware tourism since 1996

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Don't let a pickpocket or scammer spoil your trip to Paris. Some tips for staying safe.

Working as a team: the spotter at Paris Montparnasse and the young woman with the sleeping bag.

Paris is a wonderful place to visit. But, it's also a big city. By definition, that means that you have to be on your guard. Always.

I was recently reminded of this when I arrived at Paris Montparnasse train station flustered and worried that I would miss my train to the Loire Valley. After grabbing a quick cup of coffee and afternoon snack to bolster my flagging energy, I placed my purse somewhat haphazardly on the bench next to me. Within seconds, a young woman with a large sack and rolled up sleeping bag was by my side. Feeling an instinctive warning tingle at the back of my neck, I resolutely moved my purse to its normal place. Securely on my lap.

Wondering if my suspicions were correct, I followed the woman with my eyes. Not surprisingly, she rotated towards a man standing with his back against a large cement column. He was her spotter -- surveying the busy train station and almost imperceptibly directing her towards their next victim. Most harried travelers would never have noticed him. It made me furious that he had selected me as an easy target. In retaliation, I snapped a photo of him with my phone.

When I found myself with some extra time at the train station the following week, I decided to do some spotting of my own. The first thing that I noticed was a group of businessmen standing in a circle with their bags placed carelessly on the floor behind them. The unfortunate experience of having my wallet stolen while dining with friends has taught me that thieves are fast. It only takes them a couple of seconds to relieve you of your wallet, laptop or other valuables.

I'll never forget the elderly woman who discovered that her wallet was missing after she sat down next to me on a TGV bound for Geneva. During the entire three-hour journey, she exchanged frantic telephone calls with her son while I tried my best to console her. Don't let that happen to you.

Here are some tips for foiling pickpockets and petty thieves:

  • Be aware of your surroundings. People have had their wallets stolen while riding the metro, dining in a fancy restaurant and looking at the Mona Lisa in the Louvre.
  • Keep your purse and backpack securely next to you at all times.
  • As in all big cities, there are scams in Paris. Some of the most famous ones involve gold rings ostensibly found on the sidewalk, petitions that urgently require your signature and bracelets braided on your wrist. Use common sense if someone approaches you on the street. If it feels like a scam, it probably is.
  • If you hear a public service announcement about pickpockets on the metro, don't automatically pat the pocket where you keep your wallet to make sure that it's safe. A friend told me that reaction actually helps thieves who may be watching you.
  • If you're visiting Paris, don't carry unnecessary items in your purse. A credit/ATM card, some cash and one piece of identification should be all that you need. Make a copy of your passport and the front and back of any cards that you carry.
Do you have some more tips or a story to share? Click here to join the conversation about this post on Facebook.

Keep an eye on your bags. Never place them on the floor behind you!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

"War and Peace" Bastille Day (Fête Nationale) fireworks at the Eiffel Tower. Imagine!

The Eiffel Tower illuminated for the Bastille Day celebrations.

Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the crowds of people singing La Marseillaise, France's national anthem, on the Champ de Mars last night, I fervently wanted to be French. It happens every July 14. A feeling of pride for a country that isn't my own sweeps over me, and I momentarily wonder how difficult it would be to obtain French citizenship. In actuality, it doesn't make any sense because my Swiss passport entitles me to live, work and pay taxes in France ... just like a French person. But, nonetheless, the thought always enters my mind.

That's why I was troubled to hear that French politician Marine Le Pen had recently called for a ban on French citizens holding double nationality. After clashes between police and soccer fans during the World Cup, Le Pen told iTele news channel, "They must choose: they are Algerian or French, Moroccan or French, they can't be both."

Madame Le Pen, I beg to differ ... but it's completely possible to be both. As an American/Swiss resident of Paris, I am deeply and irrevocably connected to the country and people of France. It is my home. I often compare my dual citizenship with having two children. There's room in my heart for two countries, and even more.

While intended to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War, the theme of this year's Bastille Day (Fête Nationale) fireworks was a chilling reminder of all that's wrong with our world today. When the darkened Eiffel Tower was symbolically engulfed in flames, I had a frightening glimpse of what our future may hold.


Wondering how the firework display could end on a positive note, I had an "aha" moment when the first notes of John Lennon's Imagine immediately united the international crowd on the Champ de Mars. In unison, people started singing:

... Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace...

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one...

Bravo and thank you to the city of Paris for encouraging us to imagine what our world could be!

The Eiffel Tower during the firework display on Bastille Day.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Meunier, tu dors! The "Big Windmill" (Grand Moulin) of Ouarville, France

Le Grand Moulin (the "Big Windmill) of Ouarville, France

Meunier, tu dors! is a traditional French song that dates back to the beginning of the 18th century. It tells the tale of a miller whose windmill starts to spin too quickly while he's sleeping. When we visited the Grand Moulin of Ouarville last week, Alain Guillou was doing everything but napping. 

As he surveyed the ominous clouds moving rapidly in our direction, Mr. Guillou explained that he would need our help in rotating the two-storey mill on its axis. The windmill, which was declared an historical building in 1941, is the largest and the oldest of the windmills in the area known as the "Breadbasket of France". With a one, two, three -- and a heave, ho -- our group of four was able to turn the 50 tons (45 tonnes) mill so that its closed sails faced the wind.

The first drops of rain were starting to fall when we scrambled up the wooden steps of the mill. Following tradition, the ladies went up the stairs last so that the miller couldn't have a glimpse of our ankles. From our vantage point on the second floor, we had a clear view of the golden fields of wheat and the vast skies of the fertile Beauce region.

While Mr. Guillou cranked the handle that opened the wooden slats of the 45 foot (14m) long sails, he told us that the sails were occasionally positioned at different angles to send signals. The sails were set in the form of a cross if the miller was mourning the death of a colleague and at different angles depending on if the miller was taking a longer or a shorter break. Because of their prominent positions, windmills and churches were always the first buildings seized by invading forces during a war. 

Suddenly, the wind caught the sails and the mill shuddered to life. Over the creaks and groans of the wood, which is a good sign because it indicates that the dry oak hasn't become too brittle, Mr. Guillou told us that French novelist and feminist George Sand enlisted the help of Victor Hugo to change the laws regulating the proximity of windmills to roads after her horse was startled by the loud noises produced by one.

Of the 297 windmills that dotted the landscape of the Beauce region in 1830, there are only 12 working windmills remaining today. They are an important part of France's agricultural and cultural heritage.

Le Grand Moulin (82 km from Paris) - on the Route du Blé (Wheat Road)
Open from 2:30 to 6:00 pm on Sundays from Easter to November 1. For group visits, please contact Claude Chatin at 25. 
28150 Ouarville
Follow route D 939 from Chartres towards Angerville. Turn right at the water tower.

To prepare for your trip to the Beauce region you may want to read The Earth by Emile Zola.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Clothing swap (troc tes fringues) event at [freespace] Paris on Saturday, July 12

Free tango classes at [freespace] Paris

Guest post by Sélysette Sanchez. Find Sélysette on Pinterest and LinkedIn.

For those who have contemplated cleaning out their closet lately, you're in for a treat. [freespace] Paris is hosting their first clothing swap (troc tes fringues in French) event today. Bring any gently used piece of clothing, and all types of accessories (scarves, bags, inexpensive jewelry, etc.) and allow it to have a second life, while you scan someone else’s closet. No exchange of money should ever take place at [freespace], just of clothing in this case.
Here's how it works: take an item for each one brought, for instance, bring 7, take 7 items. Participants are asked to bring at least 5 or more. There is no limit to the number of items, although don't expect to swap an entire closet. Only for this occasion, it will be limited to garments only.

It is kindly requested NOT to bring undergarments, this includes no lingerie, underwear, bras, socks, also no footwear or pajamas. As a newly opened space, furniture and home accessories donations are always welcomed and kindly accepted. Any un-swapped items will be used by [freespace] for recreational, upcycling purposes unless the participant choses to recuperate their un-swapped items.

Clothing Swap // Troc tes fringues Event
12:00 - 6:00 pm on Saturday, July 12, 2014

[freespace] Paris
15-17 Rue de Sambre et Meuse
75010 Paris
Metro stops: Line 2 - Colonel Fabien or Line 11 - Goncourt

With its recent opening, [freespace] Paris has embarked on a very ambitious, yet heavily supported mission. It seeks to fill in the “culture gaps” through the free exchange of knowledge. This creative space is powered by the philosophy that sharing is empowering. Sharing with one another, whether it is knowledge, or material resources, is the main currency that cultivates and strengthens the community. Regardless of age, everyone has the opportunity to become a teacher or a student. [freespace] Paris is kept alive by its active community and supporters via proactive leaders and generous donations. Follow [freespace] Paris on Facebook for updates on upcoming events, or even host an event yourself.

This is an invitation to come visit and check out [freespace] Paris, even if you don't wish to swap!

[freespace] is a diverse, multi-discplinary, multi-cultural, free and open platform dedicated to civic innovation, creation, and community building. This global movement currently has 26 locations in 18 countries.

[freespace] est une communauté éphémère autour de multiples manifestations et de projets créatifs et éco-responsables. Berceau de la créativité autour d'une véritable initiative civique et communautaire.