Senlis, or I become Chouette

Senlis Travel Blog

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It's been another profitable weekend here in Paris. Yesterday, I have to admit, was one of the best--if not the best--day yet, en fait. Now, I am going to tell y'alls about it, so hold on to your butts.

I woke up before dawn, as I often do here, and I tiptoed out of the apartment so as not to wake Madame, whose presence sometimes reminds me of the giant in the Jack and the Beanstalk story. It was about 7:15 by then. Not many people were out yet--no newspaper vendors hawking their wears in your face, no brasserie patrons crowding your sidewalk, no accordion men with portable amplifiers taking up your elbow room on the train--so overall it was a very peaceful morning in the 17eme, and my spirits were high. Pourquoi? I was headed to the country!

It was surprisingly easy to find Jen at the Gare du Nord train staion, considering the sheer size of the place, and after a brief yet necessary cup of cafe we boarded a train for Chantilly. Still don't know how to pronounce that one. Our true destination was the little town of Senlis, located in the Picardy region north of Paris, and famed for its WWI battles, red brick buildings, and sugar beets. We were going to Senlis for its cute old village vibe, the low price of train fare, and of course for the cathedral, but most of all we were going to, as my father would say, "get the heck out of dodge". Paris is kind of overbearing sometimes, if you couldn't already gather that from previous blog entries. And I is a country gal.

I have a special fondness for train stations now, by the way, as there is something so intimate about the way the locomotives pull right into the station, and you just hop on and off at will. Of course, that also means there is no one to awkwardly ask questions if you find yourself lost and confused, as we did. After 10 minutes on the train we realized no where did anything say that the train was going to Senlis! Nevertheless we prevailed. We were so proud of ourselves--or, rather, Jen was proud as it was she who actually figured it out--when we realized that our tickets took us to Chantilly, and then we had to board a bus--henceforth called the Badger Bus for you Madisonians out there--to get to Senlis. This was great because the bus took us through some genuine countryside, complete with winding roads, little cottages, the occasional chateau, meandering brooks, farm fields with scarecrows, and fields with many horses. Who knew how much I missed the livestock?

The first thing we did once we got off the bus was try and find some foods, which, and I want you all to appreciate this, is a tremendous task in France. The French focus so hard on wining and dining that they pretty much forget about the true "most important meal of the day". It's relatively easy to grab a croissant in Paris, but in Senlis.. well.. after a good 45 min. of searching, we finally found a cute little place with pink chairs (perhaps Madam Puddifoot's? Anyone?) which served a 7 Euro "petit dejeuner", which turned out to be nothing but oj, toast, and chocolat chaud. Nevertheless, it seemed the gods were on our side, and it turned out to be not just any toast, but life-changing toast. It came with fig jam and the best butter we had ever tasted--no exaggeration, and we come from the Dairy State--so despite the exorbant cost, we were content.

We wandered the streets of Senlis for most of the morning, which were dark and grey and gloomy, though in that Romantic 19th century novel sort of way. I probably missed half of it anyway, as I had to stare at my feet most of the time to prevent myself from tripping over the most hazardous rue pavee in existence (cobblestones). We did see some guy jogging through them though. Insanity! There was also a nice little square with a fountain that would be lovely in the Spring:

The cathedral at Senlis blew my mind, as all cathedrals do, though this one was a bite-sized cathedral in comparison to Notre Dame and Chartres. There's a general consensus that I must have been a monk in another life, or at least a pious canon. Cathedrals are beautiful on the outside, so powerful and so obviously trying to send you a message, which I appreciate because it is the same message on repeat for up to 1,000 years now. But the minute you step inside a cathedral, it's an entirely different experience. Cathedrals are always cold. They cool your blood and leave you in the perfect mood for meditation. I feel flooded with respect. Your feet automatically fall in even steps, and your eyes... well, they start on the wide expanse of floor, and then, then the elegant masonry lifts them up UP... straight to the heavens, just as was intended. And way up there is the glass sparkling like jewels, and you feel like John of Patmos, trippin' on something holy:

"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.... It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal." Revelation 21: 1-2, 11

Of course, this cathedral also came with a cranky, slightly crazy caretaker who followed us around organizing chairs, muttering to himself, telling us not to take pictures in the chapels. But that was cool. Notre Dame is a major tourist attraction, and Chartres a huge m-effing deal, but Senlis was just an overgrown town church, and I dug that.

After the cathedral, we tooled around some more. Goal numero uno was to find the bits of original Roman walls, which we did eventually:

We also went to this little museum complex that was kind of trippy and only cost a euro, which was way worth it. I think parts of it were once a royal retreat for various medieval kings, and amongst the ruined buildings of all shapes and sizes were two completely ridiculous little museums. The first was about 3 room thing about the Spahis, or North African soldiers who fought in French wars and wore amazing clothing.

The other museum was way in the back of the complex. The door was locked, and when we tried to get in a greying lady with a crazy glint in her eye opened the door for us and gave us a 10 minute speech on the museum's contents. I don't think people came there very often, especially in early March. The museum was about hunting, but not just any hunting, the Fox and the Hound sort, with dogs on horses in fancy outfits and the like. There were stuffed animals everywhere. I managed to get just one photo of the place before the crazy femme caught me on her security camera and told me to arrete:

Personally, I think it's the best photo I've taken thus far. Too bad I didn't get one of the other cool thing we found: sword pistols!! They are just what they sound like, though the sheer coolness of having a sword that is also a gun may be too much to handle. I did, however, snap a few fuzzy shots of the waiting room outside the bathroom that I chilled in for a few minutes. I was all like, look at the funny room, it's like a dungeon! Then we got outside and read the plaque. Oh. It was a dungeon:

After stopping for a ham sandwich (read: french bread with a single slice of ham in the middle), we got back on the bus for Chantilly. I was in no mood to head back to Paris. In fact, all I could do all day was sigh aloud, first because I was in Senlis and I was content, and later because I was leaving and I was sad, much like these trees:

But like I said, the gods were on my side all day, and so even when we got back to Paris, plus de fun ensued. First, we headed down to L'ile and got Grecs, which are basically Gyros that I think would be just mediocre in the states, but here in the land of fancy schmancy are occasionally fabulous. Then we walked down into the Latin Quarter and found the single. best. store. in. all. of. France. Backstory: in French class back in the States we were always learning the vocab word "bande dessine", which means comic book, and for years I was always storing the info in the very back of my brain, thinking that comic books, though amazing, are not really considered that important in most countries, and therefore the recognition of such a phrase would probably be unnecessary. I was wrong, they are MAD about their bande dessines here. The shop, which is just across the street from the Musee du Moyen Age, is room after room of comic books of all shapes and sizes, though of course all in French. I bought a couple of cool Sherlock Holmes-y ones for 6 euro. Score.

We were thinking about going to a movie and then out for a drink then, but Jen got a phone call from her friends that were staying in Paris and so we took the metro stop one over to Odeon to meet up with them at their hotel. Poor dears, staying in a hotel in St. Germain: apparently they didn't get a wink of sleep with all the partying hooligans outside. Instead, we took them up to the Bastille, which is the neighborhood we know best because ACCENT is right there, and apparently it's also kind of "up and coming" as far as places to go out. First we went to Sanz Sans, which is this club we pass all the time en route to class, and it was really classy. We were kind of pissed when they almost kicked us out because we didn't have reservations, though, even after already making us wait for food for an hour when the kitchen opened, but it ended up being alright and they kept us satiated with cheap and high quality wine as well. Jen and I both got the cheesecake instead of dinner as we had already gotten the Grecs, but I tell you this was not cheesecake. Imagine cheesecake flavored whipped cream. Oh, France.

We left Sanz Sans once it started getting too fashionable for us and headed instead about a block over to a nice little brasserie with its doors and windows open, full of patrons but with just enough room, and blasting American oldies music. They got beer, I got wine, and I found out that I was drinking with a local (as in Madison) celebrity! Turns out one of my new aquaintances was none other than Bryon Eagon, former head of Students for Obama in all of Wisconsin, and future alderman for our district 8! I thought it was pretty cool, I mean, I had waited in line for 4.5 hours to hear him speak before (okay, I waited to hear Obama, and Bryon was the one who introduced him), so 10 points for that one.

We drank ourselves into joviality quickly. The place was nice, small, familiar, where everybody knows your name... or at least, they all seemed to know each other's names, they didn't even know my language. It was a cool place in that it was in Paris and I was having a good time, but there was none of that Parisian fashionable pressure, so I was beyond happy. But what was up with the music? It varied between some chouette tunes from the high points of American culture... to Abba. Nothing like sipping wine in Paris on a Saturday night listening to "Dancing Queen".

The night ended around midnight and I almost frolicked back to the metro. I guess I didn't really realize just how starved I was not only for a day outside of Paris, but for that chilled out, group vibe one can have anywhere, with just a few laid back people going out for dinner and drinks and having a good time. I'm not gonna end with some profound statement or anything, don't worry. But damn, man, that was a good day.

Vikram says:
Nice blog - I visited Senlis a few weeks ago myself.
Posted on: Apr 22, 2012
rexvaughan says:
Hello, Rachael. I was captivated by your blog about your visit to Senlis as it is one of the destinations on my wish list. Your writing style is very refreshing and insightful. I hope you have a great time in Tulsa. I was born and raised in SW Oklahoma. I plan to return to your blogs for more inspiration.
Posted on: Jul 23, 2011
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photo by: Vikram