the commuter's eye

On Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle

Posted in cityscapes, mindscapes, trips by martzipan on March 13, 2012

As last year we haven’t actually got the chance to see anything of the beautiful surroundings of Paris, we’ve decided to catch up on this spring. So, after buying a pocket guide about Ile-de-France and few quick searches over the Internet, the first choice was… Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle. For several reasons: we’ve had only few hours available on this Sunday afternoon, it was more than easy to get there by public transportation and not expensive at all. Not to mention that it’s one of the most significant places for France and its history.

the castle - seen from north

Former residence of the kings, since the 12th century, the castle currently houses the National Museum of Archeology, which this year celebrates its 150th anniversary. The beautiful gardens are probably just perfect during summer and an ideal location for picnicking. When we’ve got there, plenty of kids were having the time of their life, so you should seriously think bringing yours if you decide to visit it.

the splendid parksome of the kids ;)

A spectacular panorama over the river Seine and western side of Paris reveals as you approach the eastern side of the domain where Louis XIV – the Sun King – was born in 1638, although we didn’t enjoy it too much as it was a bit overcast.

panorama over river Seine and Paris La Défense

The castle itself is a precious gem of (mainly) Renaissance architecture and the collections of the Archeology Museum would at least stir anyone’s curiosity, if not cause sudden crushes (we’ve fell for the queen Arégonde, wife of Clotaire I, her story and elaborate apparel). From the artifacts of early Paleolithic to the delicately crafted golden jewels of Bronze Age, and from the vestiges of Gauls’ daily life to the early Franks’ amazing mastery of science, everything in the museum reminds you that the distance between our times and those of our ancestors may not be as long as we ought to believe.

paleolithic toolsbronze age golden jewelsceltic ornamentVercingetorixhoroscopeglass from the 9th century A.D.

And since I’ve previously mentioned the kids, we’ve somehow managed to accidentally get into the middle of a “dramatized visit” (in French, of course). Three costumed folks were playing hide-and-seek, running barefoot all along the castle’s corridors with the children and parents in search for clues to solve a riddle. Of course, to the amusement of the kids, the answer was inscribed on a large parchment hidden in the great chimney of the museum’s last hall. Dedicated to “comparative archaeology”, this hall comprises a spectacular assembly of unique exhibits from allover the ancient world.

the big chimney

Before leaving, it’s worth crossing the courtyard and admiring the beautiful and delicate chapel in rayonnant Gothic style. Built in the 13th century by Saint Louis, this is the place where the King Francis I married in the spring of 1514 and Sun King was baptized on 21 April 1643.

the castle's courtyardthe chapel - western wallbeautiful inscription

Last stop, the museum’s shop. It is garnished with plenty of books, post cards, replicas of the main artifacts and, of course, games and books for kids.

Special thanks to the staff for the warm welcome. By the way, don’t forget to bring an extra memory card and some batteries along with your camera, as you’ll undoubtedly need them.

Quick Facts

Time Kids Difficulty Cost
3-4 hrs Age 5+ Easy Economy

 

Web site

http://www.musee-archeologienationale.fr

Opening hours & fees

Monday to Sunday, from 10 to 17. Closed Tuesday.

The domain and park are free of charge; museum ticket is 6 EUR (discounts for kids, under 26, students etc.).

Why should you go?

Want to enjoy an afternoon in a splendid park and spend about two and a half hours in a delightful castle turned into a museum? Saint-Germain-en-Laye is definitely the place where to go. Your kids will love it too.

Why not to go?

If you’re not that into archeology and ancient/old history, probably you may not want to get there, but if you are at least curious to see who the ascendants of present day’s French people were, you should however give it a try.

Furthermore, after seeing Versailles and marveling at the grandeur in display, the castle of Saint-Germain-en-Laye may be a surprise for you. It’s warmer, livelier and, subsequently, a bit eclectic, because it reflects so many styles and trends. Still, you can easily imagine the splendor that once reigned here in its glory days.

How to get there?

By RER – The fastest way to get to the castle from Paris downtown is by RER A to Saint-Germain-en-Laye. The trip takes 25 minutes from Chatelet-Les Halles. Fare/person: 4 EUR

By bus – You could also take the bus 285 from La Défense until the end of the line. The trip is about 45 minutes. Fare/person: 1.75 EUR

The domain and castle are just across the RER/bus station.

To plan your trip by public transportation, go to http://www.vianavigo.com/.

By car – A 13, RN 190, RN 13, N186. There is also a parking.

Get a coffee, grab a bite?

If you didn’t make plans for picnic, you can get a coffee (2.20 EUR) at Brasserie Amnésia (2 place André Malraux, 78100) just across the street, with a beautiful view to the castle’s chapel and southern wing from the terrace. A beer is around 5 EUR, a generous Caesar Salad – 11 EUR, just as a pizza. Steak with fries – 14 EUR. Friendly staff and great service.

the castle seen from south

What to do after?

If you don’t like to follow the same road back to Paris, you could take the bus 258 and enjoy a short ride along the river Seine to La Défense, as we did. Get there before evening and you can still have a dinner or some quick shopping spree at Les Quatre Temps or CNIT. My tip: check out Decathlon for incredible sportswear and other casual outfit on sales.

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how to get in and around paris the economic way

Posted in cityscapes, how tos, trips by martzipan on July 15, 2011

a quick guide to travelling fast and cheap

as three of my friends asked me in less than two days how could they get to paris fast and cheap, i thought that it would be a good idea to post something about it for further reference for anyone who might ask.

first of all, it depends on where you come from. second, it matters a lot if you can fly or not.

if you do come from the western side of the europe, it could be much easier to get in paris by train. from london, amsterdam, brussels, cologne and other cities you can get to paris by high speed trains in less than three and a half hours. booking in advance on http://www.voyages-sncf.com/ can save you a great deal of money (sometimes you get to pay less than you would normally do for a plane ticket) and time (no 3-hrs before flight check-in and stuff). to give you an example, for one-way ticket to amsterdam, booked a month in advance, i paid about 50 EUR (the trip took 3:20 hrs, from paris nord station to amsterdam centraal).

however, if you plan your trip from the central and eastern side of the old continent, then you should probably check the low cost air operators, as this is the fastest and cheapest way to get in paris. they run pretty much the same type of planes as major carriers (i.e. airbus a318, 319, 320 or boeings – at least the two companies i frequently fly with from bucharest to paris and vicevera), they ask you to print your own ticket and they let you carry as many pieces of 32-kilos of checked-in luggage as you want, if you pay 15-20 EUR/bag. they don’t give you taste-like-plastic-food or any beverage for free, but you can buy stuff to eat or drink while on board (a bit expensive, true, but you can get a workaround by making your own toast sandwich at home or bringing a few packs of crackers). as always, as usual, booking in advance is crucial, so you may want to check their web sites at least a month before your trip, although the prices you get for last minute bookings are substantially below those of large carriers. my favorite is wizzair ( http://wizzair.com/?language=EN ) – i’ve flown with them ever since they entered the romanian market, in 2006 or 2007, and i’m still a very big fan – although i’ve heard all sort of stories (same kind of complaints and rubbish you can hear about bigger names in the industry) and people are criticizing them for the peculiar color scheme they’ve painted they jets. second choice is blue air ( http://www.blueairweb.com/ ) – i traveled with them occasionally, mostly because it happened to have cheaper tickets. there are probably some other companies, depending on your origin country, and, by now, you probably know them better than i do.

these two fly regularly from bucharest to paris and back. they don’t actually land on paris – this doesn’t happen with the big companies either, as they go on charles de gaulle (25 km away from the french capital) or orly (13 km away from paris). wizz and blue land on and take off from beauvais-tillé airport (which is about 80 km north of paris). here’s its web site: http://www.aeroportbeauvais.com/

although located way far than the others, it takes about the same amount of time to get in the city, which is around 45-50 minutes, by bus. as you exit the airport, on your right hand, there’s a bus/shuttle station from beauvais to porte maillot (palais des congres), which costs 15 EUR/ride/person. don’t worry, they’re set up according to the planes’ schedule, so you can’t miss your buss (you can check their service here: http://www.aeroportbeauvais.com/ which is useful especially for your trip back, when they normally leave three hours before your planes takes off). just follow the crowd and the ticket line, as you exit the airport, on your right hand.

as a piece of advice, beware of taxis in the airport area – as we do talk about 80 and some km, chances are for you to end up by paying a small fortune of few hundred euros, so stick to the buss.

there is another convenient option, especially if you have plenty of luggage or if you have to get back to the airport very early am and the public transportation service is not operating (getting a cab + 15 EUR more can actually be more expensive). it is a minivan shuttle service, that can take you from the airport and actually drop you everywhere you want (it goes the same for the other way around – it picks you up from your hotel or whatever address and it drops you in front of the airport). the price is double – around 32 EUR/person/trip, but, again, it could be more convenient if you have a lot of bags or have to leave early in the morning. here’s their website: http://www.supershuttleparis.fr/

as for the regular buss shuttle, after the about-an-hour-or-so trip – which is very comfortable and calming, as you get to see some beautiful pastures and a panorama of the north of paris – its terminus at porte maillot is only three to five minutes’ walk away from the subway station with the same name on the yellow line 1. from here, you can get in (almost) a blink of an eye to anywhere in paris, as it connects you with the main sightseeings and other important transportation services. you can check/plan your itinerary here, on the transportation authority website: http://www.ratp.fr/itineraires/en/ratp/recherche-avancee by the way, from their web site you can download maps free of charge and also mobile phone apps (but i guess the latter aren’t quite for free).

as you won’t probably be the only traveler, be advised that chances are for you to wait in line for buying subway tickets from desk or distributors. i strongly advise you to get some change and head to the distributors, as you can spare a lot of time. currently, one fare is 1.70 EUR. if you plan to stay for two or three days, you should consider getting a ‘paris visite’ travel card instead, as it’s much cheaper – details here http://www.ratp.fr/en/ratp/c_21894/paris-visite/ . however, if you plan staying for a week or two, as well as if you think you will return frequently, then it would probably be better to sign up for a ‘navigo decouverte’ card, for which you will need a standard photo and 5 EUR for the plastic badge (details in french here https://www.navigo.fr/pages/accueil.html#a – section ‘passe navigo decouverte’, in the lower side of the page). you can then charge your navigo with subscription for a week (starting monday morning and ending sunday night – you can’t get a week pass from wed to tue, for instance, only from mon to sun), which costs 18.85 EUR for zones 1-2 (this covers all transportation services, such as subway, bus, tramway and partially rer from center paris up to the city outskirts, with unlimited number of fares between mon to sun). you can download the list of agencies selling the badges from here: https://www.navigo.fr/pages/images/liste_des_agences.pdf

this being said, soyez les bienvenus et bonne visite!

going home… again

Posted in mindscapes, trips by martzipan on June 1, 2011

after two crazy days with only 90 mins of sleep 😀 rocknrolla, ladies and gens, rocknrolla!

meanwhile, enjoy a sadly minimalistic horrorishly numb video for boards of canada’s everything you do is a baloon (the vanitas effect slaps me in the face)

coming back home (i)

Posted in customs, borders and other habits, peripeteia, romania is my country, trips by martzipan on April 25, 2011

andante – on the substantial identity

friday (very) morning, before easter. the 16th arrondissement is mostly asleep, except me and the vis-à-vis neighbor, whose window is constantly lit during night, although i’am unable to tell if he’s actually awake or not. i can never sleep when i have to travel long distances, whether it involves planes, trains, cars or any other more conventional transportation means, usually because i’m delaying until the last minute the packing of the entire small paraphernalia, such pens and ink pens, usb sticks, data transfers, notes and notebooks and other similar minuscule non-senses. as i’ve finished packing around 2 or 3 am, it doesn’t make to much sense to put myself in bed, unless i really wanna miss the plane that takes me back in my home country, in this case. so, instead of counting minutes, i prefer reading something and surfing the net.

the moment of departure arrives. while i’m getting dressed, i try to figure out a way to get downstairs my humongous suitcase. six floors, no elevator. the solution was to pull it down the stairs, literally, with me in front of it as a ‘counterweight’, one stair at the time. lifting it was out of the question as it weighted almost three quarters of my weight (27 kilos, to be more precise, as i found out at the airport). mr. picard, our friendly ‘gardien’ – who is generally awake very early a.m. – bickered something involving people, sleep, noise, etc. because it was a case of ‘force majeure’, i hope he eventually understood.

at 6 a.m., paris – or at least my neighborhood – is unexpectedly dormant. but not the buses, which runs with the precision of a swiss watch. half an hour later, i get to the porte maillot, and – thanks to the shuttle driver who was kind enough to stop – the other two guys heading to the same airport and i hoped in (i spare you of the tragic-comic details about the loading of that heavy bag).

although a state of the art vehicle, with a/c and all the comfort, as it was winding through the sloppy entrances and exits of the highway, it somehow reminded me of our old commuter buses and i’ve suddenly got the feeling that we were some high school kids going to a camp or something like that during the not-so-long-gone ‘golden era’. no matter how unbelievable this sounds, i don’t have a (decent) mp3 player to carry with me. therefore i eavesdropped to the exuberant and captivating conversation about construction materials that two folks were having few rows behind until i fell asleep. instead of beauvais, i woke up in beaumont, but it turned out that our bus made a small detour to get some fuel.

eventually, we’ve got to the airport, where it was all fun and games, until i’ve realized two things: one, that i have no lighter, and second, that i don’t have enough change to buy a decent drink (i.e. cola).

meanwhile, i checked in my luggage and got a sparkling yellowish no-name thing to drink for my sole one euro coin. luckily, in front of the airport, there were enough people smoking so i manage to light my cigarette. funny thing, though, as the only planes taking off were heading towards bucharest and the place was crowded with romanian folks, when asking them for a lighter they were all constantly replying me in french. and so did the funky-blingalicious bunch of minority co-nationals when, at his turn, one of them, with a ginormous pair of sunglasses (although it was heavily overcast), has approached me for the same issue. i told the guy in plain-vanilla romanian that i don’t have any lighter or matches, but i can gladly borrow him my cigarette. he understood me perfectly and said thanks in french, scrutinizing me from head to toes. he turned back to the other folks, said something in romani, then turned to me and this time asked me in romanian where was i from. i answered him: bucharest. ‘where from, more exactly?’ ‘north train station (gara de nord)’ they’ve all laughed – ‘hear this (in romanian), “gare de nord” (in french)’. at this moment, another happy fellow asks me if, per chance, i’m not interested in buying a ‘highly performant’ video-camera (actually stolen), for which he’s ready to cut me a great deal. yeah, right! ‘sorry folks, i spent my last euro on this yellow-sparkling thing to drink. but who knows, maybe next time’. the sunglasses measured me again – head to toes – and threw out the verdict: ‘give the kid a break, bro, he’s one of ours’. and they left, as i was exhaling my last smoke and putting out my cigarette.

p.s.: the plane flew smoothly all the way to bucharest or i slept so deep that i didn’t feel any bumps (which is hardly unlikely, judging by the slick way we landed, three hours later). it followed the ordeal of custom check – one foreign kid in front of me was detained because he had no visa, after the border officers spent more than fifteen minutes carefully examining his documents with a philatelic magnifying glass and other state-of-the-art technology, such as an uv lighter and their fingers (which obstinately scrubbed every page of the passport). finally my luggage arrives (with no damage at all), i grab it and i hurry to the exit. i’m home. my ‘home’ home.