Working, skimping and saving, wishing a whole year away only to arrive in Paris, to leave it a few days later seems like an oxymoron but that is what I have tended to do over the past three years or so.
A couple of days spent settling in and then I am off to a not too far away place, generally under an hour out of Paris by train.
This year on the menu was Provins, pronounced pro-va. and let that ‘n’ be swallowed back down your throat. I tell you this because everyone thought I was going to Provence but instead I was about to explore the fortified medieval city of Provins.
Just over 90kms south-east of Paris on a fast train that takes just over an hour to discover a place that seems so far removed from Paris.
My research told me that not far from the train station I would cross a small pedestrian bridge over a water way.
There are three rivers in Provins; the Durteint, the Voulzie which I believe is a source of drinking water for Paris and the false river, which was part of the moat.
I was never quite sure which one it was that I encountered throughout my journey of Provins, but each water-way was certainly a highlight for me.
The plan was to drop off my frugally packed but heavy bag at my accommodation for the night and then explore the city but as I stumbled across water-ways, half timbered buildings and narrow winding streets, I was too excited to stick to the plan and ended up happy but lost, lugging the weight of the bags.
Venturing down quaint alley-ways, some with little locked gates, offering a view of yet another water-way slicing through the buildings only to disappear underground by the next block, I finally consulted google maps, which lead me down this darling passageway and finally …
I arrived at the magnificent Maison Stella Cadente, my home for one night in Provins.
Michel the manager welcomed me at the locked gates to the estate and offered a room to leave my belongings. Pointing me in the direction of a huge hill that leads to the ‘upper town’ he tells me in English ‘it eez not farr urgh, we are right ear’ with his gorgeous french accent. He was right, it was not far from the high town.
But half way up the hill, panting like a dog, I plonked my body on a conveniently placed bench to catch my breath and wondered if the seat was placed at that very interval of the road for weary walkers like myself. Later I pondered that I had not seen one over weight person in Provins. No wonder, with all the hills they have to climb in order to reach the ‘high town’. Clearly it was not called a high town for no reason.
As the 12th century keep, Caesar’s Tower, which served as a watch tower and a prison during the rule of the Counts of Champagne grew in the distance the huffing and panting was all worth it.
The picturesque High Town village with its many medieval half timber buildings was one of the reasons I chose Provins as my out of Paris destination this year and I wasn’t disappointed. It is clear to see why it is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Armed with my dog eared book that I highly recommend; An Hour From Paris by Annabel Simms I headed for my long walk around the outside of the Ramparts with a false start and a slippery adventure.
Arriving at the towering Porte St Jean, one of the gates to the medieval city and noticing that there was extensive work being carried out on the restoration of the defensive wall, I could see I would have to navigate around the fenced off area, cross country through soggy grass, only to find a locked gate.
Trudging back and re-reading the directions much to the amusement of the masons working on the wall, I began my journey of the dry moat on the outside of the wall.
I wouldn’t call it treacherous but the grass was slippery and it was down hill.
Tiny baby steps were required as I gingerly made my way down the slippery slope.
Finally I made it down to the path of the dry moat only to discover a huge puddle, the size of a small pond which stopped me in my tracks. I had come this far and I was determined I wasn’t going to give up but how to navigate it.
I could see a brick in the distance a possible stepping stone but only one. Perhaps the water wasn’t that deep, perhaps I could skirt around the edges.
I look up high to see if the workman have decided to take a cigarette break and sit back from their excellent vantage point where they could take bets on which route the tourist would take and how many seconds in before she ends up on her bum, sloshing around like a pig in the mud.
But I couldn’t see them, however that is the purpose of a defensive wall, I can’t see them but they can see me. I slip to the side and lose my balance, I mustn’t look up again.
There is no turning back, what would be the point, it was equally as difficult to go back as it was to go forward. Attempting the right side, closest to the wall was a bad decision and I head across the path, deciding that trying to navigate the grassy slope might be the best option.
As I take another step, I slip again and remind myself that if I fall I must hold the camera in the air. Another step has me sinking rapidly, the mud gathering around my boot like quick sand.
Fast steps are impossible because the muddy suction that has formed around my boot throws my other foot off balance and it is now me that is placing bets on how long it will be before I am on the ground covered in wet sticky, clay like mud.
Wading through deeper and deeper, I watched the mud sleek over the top of my boot and am wondering how long it will be until I feel it oozing into my socks.
Finally I make it to the grass and decide against doing a victorious high jump, this was already looking like a scene from a Monty Python movie as it was.
But it was still not over, now I had to negotiate the wet grassy slope, one wrong move could still have me sliding down the hill and back into the mud.
Luckily I made it reasonably unscathed, unlike the dead rat. Eeew, what a walk and it has only just begun.
Once I reach solid dry ground, a shiver runs through my body and a giggle escapes from my mouth, shaking my head, I marvel at what an adventure and wonder did that really just happen?
Coming into view in the distance around the bend, I squint. Is that what I think it is?
You have got to be bloody kidding me. A set of perfectly good, wide timber steps leading from the road down to the dry moat. If I keep shaking my head it might wobble off, I laugh out loud.
I can see those workman crouched down behind that wall, peeking through the gun emplacement cackling away like naughty school children.
I shrug it off, thinking hey, if I didn’t take the treacherous path less travelled I wouldn’t have muddy boots and would have missed the golden opportunity of photographing a dead rat! Now where would the fun in that be.
Dwarfed by the ancient defensive wall, I make it the next ‘door’ to the city which would have once had a draw bridge across the moat and I continue my journey inside the wall to encounter spectacular vistas.
Apart from a couple of very young lovers, who appeared to be attempting their first kiss, it was only me, the ramparts and a view worth trudging through mud for.
Descending the step path, the next part of my journey lead me to a canal walk.
Lush and gorgeous as it was in the winter, I could imagine how truly spectacular it would be in the spring or summer with the trees in full bloom offering a shady path or perhaps even prettier in autumn with a riot of colours.