Who Won Le Village Préféré des Français 2021?

The French village of Sancerre (in the Cher department and Centre-Val de Loire region) got the most votes and was named the winner of the 2021 edition of the FRANCE 3 program, “Le village préféré des Français” by host, Stéphane Bern on June 30, 2021.

Fresnay-sur-Sarthe (Sarthe department/Pays de la Loire region) came in second, followed by Hérisson (Allier department/Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region), a charming French village that won my heart many years ago! ❤️

To see how all 14 finalists ranked, read this article (en français).

I’m so happy for everyone in Hérisson! Félicitations for making it in the Top 3! 🥳

Photo: Le château d’Hérisson (1995) | Hérisson, France came in 3rd place out of 14 finalists in the 2021 edition of “Le village préféré des Français” competition
Hérisson, France (1995)

My related posts about Hérisson

Bein’ Green in 2020: the Châteloy Lavoir

My experience at an international volunteer project in Hérisson

Vote Hérisson for Le Village Préféré des Français 2021

The Louvre Museum in Paris

[Updated March 2021]

I went to the Louvre in May 2018, the same month that Beyoncé and Jay-Z, performing together as The Carters, filmed their now-iconic “APESH*T” music video.

The Louvre is definitely on my list to visit again because one visit was not enough! The next time I go, I will start the day at the Louvre. When I went in 2018, I ended my day there and I felt rushed to see everything, especially the must-sees like Mona Lisa, Winged Victory, and Venus de Milo.

Next time, I’d like to visit the museum with my family, see water in the fountains, see the Mona Lisa with the midnight blue background (the wall was repainted in October 2019), and, of course, see more of the art collections!

It makes me happy to learn that the Louvre has put its whole art collection online to view for free!

On March 26, 2021, the Louvre announced that it has added over 480,000 works of art from its database to its website, including those on public display at the museum, as well as those in storage. It’s part of the museum’s mission to be more accessible.

Check it out: collections.louvre.fr

Originally posted June 2018:

I’m going apesh*t at the thought that I could have caught a glimpse of Beyoncé and Jay-Z in Paris. I was at the Louvre in May 2018, too!

Ignore the bone-dry fountain

Lately, it seems everyone’s talking about the Louvre, possibly the world’s most famous museum. According to its website, it’s currently the world’s most visited museum, too!

souvenir bag

It just so happens that two of its most recent visitors are world famous in their own right. Not only did Beyoncé and Jay-Z stop by the Louvre, they filmed a music video there. At the Louvre! People are quick to say that only a power couple, such as The Carters, could shut down the famous museum. It’s true – their influence is undeniable. But let’s be real – the museum isn’t open 24/7. Isn’t it possible they filmed the video after hours or on a Tuesday (when the museum is closed)?

I didn’t like “APESH*T” at first, but it’s growing on me. I don’t get most of the references on the song (skrrt, skrrt, skrrt), but some of the lyrics speak to me:

“Sipping my favorite alcohol (alcohol), got me so lit, I need Tylenol (Tylenol)”

Oh, that Beyoncé, so relatable!

People want to say they’re trying to make a political statement in the video, or that they’re talking about their marriage in the song. Well, I won’t get into any of that, because who really knows? It’s none of my business.

But like everyone else, I will gush about that video. Beyoncé and Jay-Z did what they did: they created a remarkable work of art!

Another artist who recently evoked Le Musée du Louvre is New Zealand singer-songwriter, Lorde, whose second album, Melodrama, features a song called, “The Louvre.” My favorite lyrics from it are so cheeky, I can’t help but love it:

“We’re the greatest, they’ll hang us in the Louvre, down the back but who cares, still the Louvre”

Watch Lorde perform “The Louvre” in Oakland, California here (March 2018).

When I went to the Louvre, it was mid-afternoon. The sun was high and I was sweaty from walking, so I took a little break before I entered the museum.

Orangina and me

I enjoyed the shade and light breeze while I admired the Pyramide.

This painting is one of my favorites. It reminded me of my own sweet daughters.

Self-portrait with Her Daughter by Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun.

Could I take these home? Emerald is my birthstone, after all!

Necklace and earrings of Empress Marie-Louise

As I descended the staircase in front of Winged Victory of Samothrace, I stretched out my arms and imagined I was Audrey Hepburn in the movie, Funny Face. I felt like I was flying.

There she is, the Greek goddess of love and beauty, Aphrodite, or Venus de Milo.

yeah, baby, she’s got it

From March 29, 2018 to July 23, 2018, there is a special exhibition at the Louvre celebrating artist, Eugène Delacroix. He’s the one who painted “July 30, 1830: Liberty Leading the People” (La Liberté guidant le peuple). It’s sometimes called the Marianne painting as she is the symbol of liberty.

Finally, I saw the actual Mona Lisa, behind a velvet rope, in a frame, underneath thick glass, never blinking, looking good at every angle. She’s looking at all of us probably wondering what the fuss is all about.

La Joconde by Leonardo da Vinci

I was only at the Louvre for a couple of hours and I know that is not enough time to see everything: the walls, the ceilings, the floors, the stairs – they were all works of art. I felt grateful just being there.

“I can’t believe we made it, this is what we’re thankful for…”

Same.

Oh, that Beyoncé, so relatable! 😉

[Originally posted June 2018]

Have you been to the Louvre? Tell me in the comments below!

Vote Hérisson for Le Village Préféré des Français 2021

[Note: Voting has ended. The winner will be announced on the show on June 30, 2021!]

Congratulations to the French village of Hérisson, which has been named one of 14 finalists in the 2021 edition of Le Village Préféré des Français, the FRANCE 3 show hosted by historian, Stéphane Bern!

Since the program is called France’s Favorite Village, it sounds like only residents of France and France’s overseas territories are allowed to vote by phone.

But… there’s also a link to the ballot, so it appears everyone can vote! See below:

✅ Vote here: Le village préféré des Français (Note: voting ended on March 25, 2021.)

If everyone can vote, then I’d absolutely cast my vote from California for Hérisson, the charming medieval village in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region. It’s located in the heart of France, which is fitting because when you visit the tiny village, it will simply win your heart! ❤️

That’s what happened to me after I spent a month there while I participated in an international volunteer project, where we did light landscape work in the area, including the Châteloy lavoir!

Château d’Hérisson (1995)

Fun facts about Hérisson 🦔

  • About 600 people currently live in Hérisson
  • The feudal Château d’Hérisson (above) was built between the 11th – 13th centuries and restored by Louis II of Bourbon in 1380
  • The Aumance river calmly meanders through it
  • Hérisson is a popular summer vacation spot, especially among families, hikers, and bicyclists
  • The oak trees from nearby Tronçais Forest are used to make wine barrels

How to get there: Hérisson can be reached by car or by connecting bus from the Montluçon rail station.

The winning village will be announced during the broadcast of the show on June 30, 2021.

Bon chance, Hérisson!

Have you been to Hérisson? Tell me in the comments below!

Bein’ Green in 2020: the Châteloy Lavoir in Hérisson, France

🌿Bein’ green: respecting the environment, keeping it clean, and free of trash

In the summer of 1995, I participated in an international volunteer project. I went to Hérisson, a charming commune with about 600 residents, located in the Allier department in central France. We were tasked with simple landscaping projects, like clearing brush from the castle’s garden. One of my group’s other project sites was the Châteloy lavoir.

What’s a lavoir?

Starting in the 17th century, many towns in rural areas built communal wash-houses, or lavoirs, for the purpose of improving hygiene. The washing would be done exclusively by women. The three-part process called the “big wash” would take place only a few times a year.

First, linens and clothing would be soaked in a wooden tub in the home. Then they would be laid flat and covered with ash. Next, hot water would be poured over the layer of ash. After this process, the washerwomen would bring the linens and clothing to the lavoir for rinsing, beating, rinsing again, and then brought back home to dry on a clothesline. To protect their knees, the washerwomen would kneel in a box that was open on one side. The lavoir became a social gathering place as it provided women the opportunity to visit with their friends.

Lavoirs can be found in countries, like Italy, Spain, Finland, Portugal, Switzerland, Costa Rica, India, Côte d’Ivoire, Laos, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka.

With the invention of washing machines, lavoirs were eventually abandoned. Some were vandalized or destroyed. However, many places in France still have the structures intact, like the one in Châteloy (pictured below).

 

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Madonna and Child statue guarding the Châteloy lavoir (photo taken August 6, 1995)

 

🌿Bein’ green: to be of the color between yellow and blue; color of grass, plants, duckweed

While we did not touch the lavoir itself, we cleared the lavoir area of weeds and we trimmed the grass. We also painted the rusted gate a dark shade of green.

 

Châteloy lavoir gate “Before” we began work (1995):

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Signs welcoming us and describing our work plan were posted around Hérisson:

 

“After” we finished working at Châteloy lavoir (1995):

Notice the gate hinges painted dark green!

 

Fast-forward 25 years

 

In January 2020, French public television channel, France 3, filmed a segment on Hérisson for their Hors Sentiers series.

Host Stéphanie Vinot and tour guide Chrystelle Blanchard went on a short hike (8 km/ 5 miles) through the picturesque medieval Bourbonnais village.

They featured the 10th century château and its towers and dungeons, as well as l’Aumance, the river that runs through Hérisson.

Before proceeding to the Église St-Pierre in Châteloy, they made a quick stop at the Châteloy lavoir.

 

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© France 3 TV (2020)

 

As the lavoir appeared on my screen, it was instantly familiar: a rectangular cement structure in the ground filled with stagnant water covered in bright green duckweed.

The statue of the Madonna and Child (installed in the late 1970s) was still standing protectively over it.

Even the gate we painted makes a brief appearance in the video:

© France 3 TV (2020)

 

🌿Bein’ green: to be gullible, naive

Perhaps other volunteer groups have come to repaint the gate over the years. But if you told me that right there is my group’s original green paint on the gate, I’d believe you!

I couldn’t help but get misty-eyed and gush: The gate is still there! And it’s still green! How it warmed my heart to see it. Sentimental me.

Take a virtual tour

For a less sentimental and more practical view of Hérisson in 2020, watch the video by France 3 TV ▶️

(Video) Randonnée : dans l’Allier, à la découverte du sentier de l’Aumance | © France 3 TV | All rights reserved.

For more information:

🌿 🦔 Hérisson means hedgehog!

citizenM Hotel at CDG Paris Airport

[Originally published in 2018. Updated in 2020]

What can I say? The reviews I’ve read about citizenM Hotels are pretty persuasive! They’re often described as high-tech, modern, and quirky. Sounds good to me!

Currently, there are three citizenM Hotels in Paris. Since I had an early flight from Paris to SFO via LHR, I decided to book my stay at the one conveniently located in Terminal 2 at Charles de Gaulle (CDG) airport. It was perfect for my last night in France.

This is the magic tablet that controls nearly everything in the room…

the table lamps…

the mood lighting… (lavender, light blue, green, pink…)

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the HD television…

…and my favorite, the window blinds! When I first entered the room, the blinds automatically lowered!

Rise and shine… with a few taps on the tablet, the blinds slowly rolled up, and voilà, the view from my room:

The huge hotel lobby featured several living rooms, each with its own décor.

These were my favorites:

imagine a bench made with stool seats | May 2018

May 2018

The writing on the pen says: steal this pen and write to a loved one back home

I enjoyed my stay at citizenM. Merci! A bientôt. See you next time…

Updated in 2020:

I’m so happy “next time” came sooner than I thought!

From Berlin, my daughters and I returned to Paris CDG. Since we had an early flight to SFO via LHR, we spent one night at citizenM!

Everything seemed familiar to me. The rooms, the décor, and furniture in the huge lobby appeared the same.

In a world that’s constantly changing, it was comforting to know that some things stayed pleasantly the same.

February 2020

Note: the rooms at citizenM are intended for two adults maximum. By adult, they mean age 11 and up. As my younger daughter was 10 at the time, we were able to share one room.

the best seat(s) in the house | February 2020

We enjoyed our overnight stay at citizenM. Merci! A bientôt. Someday, when it’s safe to travel again, I hope to see you next time…!

For more information: citizenM

I’m probably drafting a blog post

Meaningful Photos: a Mindfulness Practice

Photo collage made with MOLDIV

Meaningful Photos is one of many science-based practices for a meaningful life curated by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley.

For this mindfulness exercise, the how-to states:

“[Take] 15 minutes per day for one week to take the photos.”

Instead I did the following:

From my phone’s camera roll, I selected nine favorite photos that were taken over the past year or so. I figure I hadn’t deleted them for a reason – the photos are meaningful to me!

So here are my nine photos and my nine answers to the question:

“What does this photo represent, and why is it meaningful?”

Top Row:

Left: This is a picture of the sky over Paris, taken from the Meudon Observatory and Park. It is meaningful because it reminds me that my attitude can make or break my day. People will sometimes say, “It was a perfect day, not a cloud in the sky” as if clouds were bad/ugly things that mar an otherwise good day. I was feeling pretty good and positive being in Paris, so no amount of cloud cover could get me down!

Center: This is a picture of my Navigo Découverte transit pass. It is meaningful because it represents freedom. I could tap on and off on various modes of public transportation in Paris. It made me feel like a local and less of a tourist. Plus the lady who sold it to me said the pass was good for 10 years. She told me, “That’s good because you will be back within 10 years!” Did she know something I didn’t? I certainly hope to return to Paris!

Right: This is a picture of a sunset over Toulouse. It is meaningful because it reminds me that beauty and art are everywhere if you only pay attention. When I snapped this picture, my friend, Rachael, jokingly asked me, “Aren’t there sunsets in California?” Well, of course, but I hadn’t seen a pink sunset from the Pink City of Toulouse, which, for me, doesn’t happen every day!

Middle Row:

Left: This is a picture of homemade beef empanadas I made. It is meaningful because it reminds me that the younger me who dreamed of being a pastry chef is alive and well in me!

Center: This is a picture of me with lavender. It is meaningful because it reminds me to be original. They say, “stop and smell the roses.” Why not say “linger with the lavender?” (Read the health benefits of lavender here.)

Right: This is a picture of a margarita. It is meaningful because it represents life and fun with family and friends because they give me one for my birthday each year.

Bottom Row:

Left: This is a picture of the Louvre WiFi login screen. It is meaningful because it serves as a reminder of how dependent I’ve become on my phone and other electronic gadgets. I was in the world famous museum for goodness’ sake! Yet, there I was — sitting criss-cross applesauce on the floor — charging my phone because it didn’t have enough juice for me to take and share pictures of my visit to the Louvre! Had I brought a battery-operated digital camera, I would have had more time to enjoy the museum. In our so-called wireless world, why do we constantly find ourselves tethered to power outlets?

Center: This is a picture of home from a plane. It is meaningful because it reminds me not to take anything for granted (OMG, oh my gratitude, I am able to travel and on a plane!?!) Also, no matter how wonderful your travels have been, there’s nothing better than your own place with your own bed and stuff at home!

Right: This is a picture of “This too shall pass” on a crosswalk button. It is meaningful because it reminds me to live in the moment. Don’t worry about the bad moments because they won’t always be bad! Also enjoy the good moments because they won’t last forever either!

Now it’s your turn. I encourage you to do this Meaningful Photos exercise! If you do, I hope you’ll share your thoughts and reflections!

Whether or not you snap a photo today, I wish you a good, happy, and meaningful day!

Why I’m Not Donating Money to Rebuild Notre-Dame Cathedral

A little after 11 o’clock, on the morning of Monday, April 15, I received a text from my Mom. She sent me a picture of her television screen with the message: “Oh my!!! Spire collapsed!!!!”

a text message from Mom

I enlarged the image. I couldn’t believe it. Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris was in flames. During Holy Week, no less. What does it all mean?

For the next 15 hours, I was tuned in to France24. During that time, I experienced a bunch of emotions. I was sad as I followed the news intently. Next, I grew concerned: was anyone hurt or trapped inside? Puzzled, I wondered how the fire started. I also felt nostalgic and grateful for the times I visited Notre-Dame.

Then I feared the worst: that Notre-Dame would burn to the ground and be gone forever. But thankfully that didn’t happen. It suffered major damage to its roof and lost its spire, but Notre-Dame is still there.

Inside the nave of Notre-Dame (2018)

On social media, links to organizations collecting donations started to pop up. One after another. Reposted. Retweeted. Repeated.

But guess what?

I won’t be donating any money to rebuild it.

Maybe you’re thinking:

Say what? Don’t you love everything French? You’re Catholic. Aren’t you supposed to help others?

I know, I’m surprised at myself, too.

I just don’t have the heart to donate money to rebuild Notre-Dame because seeing it engulfed in orange and red broke it a little bit. 💔

It’s not that I don’t believe in supporting worthwhile causes. I do. In fact, I have previously written posts about two that I support. (If you’d like to take a look, read those posts here and here.)

It’s not that I think Notre-Dame is less important or not important at all. Without a doubt, I have only respect and admiration for all of the people who built the remarkable structure and maintained it throughout the centuries. Not only years, but hundreds of years! That fact blows my mind.

I believe it’s not cool:

  • for some media to capitalize on, exploit people’s sentimental feelings, and extract money from fans of Notre-Dame/Paris/France when they/we are emotional wrecks at the moment!
  • when there are some people who only do good when it can be seen or when they can be recognized for their generosity. This is Holy Week and a Bible verse comes to mind that roughly means “don’t give oneself credit for providing charity to others; just give and forget about it” (Matthew 6:3).

For example, some corporations have made huge pledges, which will certainly help expedite the rebuilding of the beloved cathedral. But why be showy about it by disclosing the amount? It feels cheap to me. Can you imagine various corporate logos somewhere on the Notre-Dame of the 21st century? I hope that won’t happen.

What I’d like to see happen

In France, cathedrals are owned by the state, not the Catholic Church, so it bears the financial responsibility of repairing and rebuilding it. Since it’s no secret that the Catholic Church is worth billions, in my opinion, the Catholic Church should make a generous charitable contribution to rebuild Notre-Dame. The action would also help repair the Catholic Church’s tarnished reputation.

Like a gargoyle protecting Notre-Dame’s cultural and historical importance from being watered down and eroded of its sanctity, by not donating, I’m not giving in to cheap, manipulative tactics by some to crowdsource funds.

There are far wealthier sources. I have faith the Church will do the right thing by making a generous charitable contribution to rebuild Notre-Dame.

Whether damaged, in the midst of rebuilding, or fully restored, I’m looking forward to experiencing the cathedral again. In the meantime, I’ll be thinking of the hundreds of courageous firefighters who extinguished the blaze and wishing the injured individuals a speedy recovery!

🕊

View of Notre-Dame from Vedettes du Pont-Neuf Seine River Cruise (1995)

16 Music Videos That Were Filmed in Paris

Bonjour! Did you know? These music videos for songs in English were filmed in the French capital!

Watch these music videos for a virtual trip to Paris and take in famous Parisian sights, including the Eiffel Tower, Sacre-Cœur, the Louvre, the bridges along the Seine River, and more…

The Carters – APES**T

Taylor Swift – Begin Again

Lana Del Rey – Born To Die (filmed in the Palace of Fontainebleau)

Hailee Steinfeld & BloodPop – Capital Letters

Lenny Kravitz – The Chamber [Warning: Explicit images – NSFW]

Migos – Cross the Country [Warning: Explicit language]

The Chemical Brothers – Go (filmed in the Beaugrenelle district – Front de Seine)

Faith Hill & Tim McGraw – Let’s Make Love

John Mayer – New Light (although it was filmed on a green screen, I love how cheeky it is!)

Sinéad O’Connor – Nothing Compares 2 U (filmed in Parc de Saint-Cloud)

Lizzo – Paris [Warning: Explicit language]

Tyler, the Creator x A$AP Rocky – Potato Salad [Warning: Explicit language]

Carly Rae Jepsen – Run Away With Me

Mariah Carey (ft. Snoop Dogg) – Say Somethin’

Austin Brown – Smile

Shawn Mendes – There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back

Savage Garden – Truly Madly Deeply

Can you think of other music videos for songs in English that were filmed in Paris? Let me know in the comments below!

[Disclaimer: All images belong to their respective owners.]

French Perfume

As I walked to my bus stop, someone outside the Alma-Marceau métro station in Paris handed me this perfume sample of Nomade by Chloé.

It got me thinking: For how many people will this perfume become their favorite or maybe even their signature scent? For how many people will this fragrance be life-changing?

Do you remember your first perfume?

When I was about 14 years old, I got a sample of L’Air du temps by Nina Ricci. I don’t recall exactly whether I was drawn to the fragrance or its French name.

Photo: Amazon

I do remember feeling chic and grown-up as I spritzed some on my wrists. The nasal pronunciation of temps (“tAHn”) also delighted me as I was learning French in high school at the time. So maybe it was both: the fragrance and the name!

I adore J’adore

Nearly 20 years later, I fell in love with another scent, J’adore by Dior.

Photo: Amazon

I only wear it during the winter holiday season when I get all dressy! So forget sugar cookies, pine trees, gingerbread, roasted chestnuts, or cinnamon and cloves in mulled wine! At home, Christmas smells like J’adore!

It’s true: a fragrance becomes your brand!

One of my dearest friends (my Sister from another mister) wears Eau des Merveilles by Hermès.

If memory serves me right, we first met when she asked if she could join me at my table in the office break room. I said, Sure, and offered her some of my potato chips. Then I asked her for the name of the fragrance she was wearing. She told me and described it as “the one that’s in a round bottle with stars on it.”

The rest is history, as they say. We’ve been sharing laughs for over ten years now! Although we live almost six thousand miles apart, I think of her (and immediately send her a text) whenever I happen to catch a whiff of her perfume.

Photo: Amazon

Who knew perfume could lead to such a cherished friendship? Life-changing, indeed.

Do you have a favorite perfume or scent? Does it remind you of anyone? Tell me in the comments below!

Les mouchoirs en papier

The last time I’d seen toilet paper in pastel shades, like pink, light blue, and light green here in the U.S. was in the ’80s!

In the U.S., we have many brands of toilet paper, but…

…they come in one color!

So when I noticed most bathrooms in France had pink toilet paper, I couldn’t believe it. How pretty and luxurious, I thought! Talk about La vie en rose!

Les mouchoirs en papier

Another popular personal paper product in France is the mouchoir en papier (literally, paper handkerchief). Considered even more hygienic than cloth, it makes sense that carrying a pack of disposable facial tissues is de rigueur. At stores, they practically give them away!

While wandering around Montmartre, I remember feeling the familiar but annoying sensation of mucus beading in my nostrils. I thought, Oh no, I did not travel all this way to have my selfies ruined by an unsightly crusty boogie. I need Kleenex, stat!

At Supermarché G20, they sold packs of 15 mouchoirs for 0,79€ (about $0.91). Yes, that’s the total price for 15 packs of tissue! Three-ply and 10 tissues per pack! Great deal, right? But guess what? I didn’t get them. Why not? Because at the time, I thought, “I only need one pack, not 15!” And besides, tissue paper implies illness or crying and sadness and somehow I feared carrying a pack of 15 mouchoirs would attract illness or crying and sadness. And again, I did not travel all this way to…well, you get the picture. Clearly, with this logic, I was delirious.

As with many things in life, hindsight is 20/20 (or, as I like to say, 50/50). It’s a little thing, but I regret not buying that 15-pack of mouchoirs. In retrospect, the pocket tissues would’ve made great souvenirs. As an everyday item, I would’ve been reminded of my trip each time I used them. They’re light and wouldn’t have taken up much room in my rolling carry-on bag.

I went to CVS the other day and I saw individual packs of tissues for sale near the register.

pocket facial tissues from CVS Pharmacy

But guess what? I didn’t get them. I got an 8-pack instead! They may not have come from France, but I’m reminded of my trip each time I use them.

La Tour Eiffel

When visiting the Eiffel Tower, please set realistic expectations. Until the bulletproof anti-terror glass walls have been completely installed, don’t expect to find the Eiffel Tower looking as beautiful as she does in your friends’ social media posts.

view from Quai Branly

When I visited La Tour Eiffel in May 2018, it wasn’t a pretty sight. Around the base, there was a sheet metal fence with graffiti all over it. There were streams of orange Caution tape and signs redirecting pedestrians (piétons) all around the construction areas. It didn’t feel warm and welcoming.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time the City of Lights has had to tighten security. In 1995, Paris was the target of a series of terror attacks near the Arc de Triomphe, in train and metro stations, and even at an open market. At the time, the most visible security measures were locked garbage cans on the streets and metro stations. I recall signs on them that said, “Fermé hermétiquement” (hermetically sealed).

View from Voie Georges Pompidou:

View from Pont d’Iena:

View from Champ de Mars:

View from Quai Branly:

I know it’s temporary: the unsightly fence will come down and a glass wall will be revealed. Paris is erecting the barrier not for looks, but for something more important: the peace of mind and safety of both residents and visitors alike. It’s for the best.

I’m inspired to return to see what the base of The Iron Lady will look like, glass walls and all!

Fortunately the wait is almost over as the glass walls are reportedly going to be unveiled sometime this month (September 2018).

Meudon Observatory Park

Meudon Park clouds trees blue skies What do Rodin, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Johnny Depp all have in common? They once lived in Meudon, a charming suburb located about 6 miles/10 km southwest of Paris!

In France, there are many beautiful parks and gardens. At the Meudon Observatory, I got to see artfully trimmed trees, manicured lawns, as well as a splendid view of the Paris skyline.

L’Orangerie

L’Observatoire de Paris – Meudon

Le Parc de l’Observatoire de Paris – Meudon

Astronomer Jules Janssen founded this observatory in 1876

You can see the Eiffel Tower and Sacré-Cœur from the park

Watch my short video of the view from Meudon:

visiting with my friend, M. Didier

For more information:

Montmartre & Sacré-Cœur

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The first time I’d seen the Sacré-Cœur, it was from a distance. I was on the first floor of the Eiffel Tower. Back then, I’d had limited time in Paris and couldn’t visit the famous basilica. I told myself that I would come back to explore Montmartre one day!

So when I was planning the itinerary for my return trip, I allocated one full day to Montmartre. It was such a leisurely day: walking around the winding cobblestone streets, popping in and out of souvenir shops, eating only dessert foods, and taking in the sights and sounds of the area.

Le Clos Montmartre

Opened in 1933, this is the oldest vineyard in Paris!

Rue de l’Abreuvoir:

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Place Dalida

One of France’s most beloved singers, Dalida, lived in Montmartre for 25 years before her death on May 3, 1987. I didn’t know it at the time, but I took these pictures of her statue exactly 31 years later on May 3, 2018. What a strange coincidence!

Place du Tertre

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At the Place du Tertre, the silhouette artist told me to sit on the stool and to look “over there” – his hand gesturing to the Sacré-Cœur dome.

EADB1609-2418-4686-87D7-331A004912C6It was meditative as I held my pose. I remember clearing my mind and focusing on my breathing.

Before I knew it, the talented artist had completed the silhouette of my new hat and me!

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Sounds of Montmartre

Here are two short video clips I filmed:

Sacré-Cœur Basilica

Finally, I got to see the white-domed beauty that is the basilica up close! Inside, it was dim, with only soft flickers of votive candlelight. There were two gift shops, but they were located off to the side and far away from the nave so they wouldn’t distract people praying in the pews. There were “no-photography” signs, but apparently many of us translated them to mean, “No DSLRs, but phones are OK.” So, here is my one photo of the inside. I quickly snapped it while I was sitting in the back: “I pray for my family, friends, and I am grateful for this trip and everything.”

When construction began in the late 19th century, this basilica broke tradition in a way. While other basilicas being built at the time were dedicated to the Virgin Mary (Notre-Dame) in the cities of Lyon, Lourdes, and Marseille, this basilica in Montmartre was dedicated to the Sacred Heart (Sacré-Cœur).

Originally, I bought a hat on the way over here due to a bad hair day. Little did I know the Hemingway fedora would come in so handy. It was hot on the steps of Sacré-Cœur, but it was not too bad considering the breathtaking view! And this time, I was at Sacré-Cœur looking at the Eiffel Tower from a distance!

As I snacked on a clementine and nectarine that I picked up earlier from a grocer on Rue Lamarck, I could see other landmarks, like the Centre Georges Pompidou and the Montparnasse Tower, dotting the horizon.

Le Funiculaire de Montmartre

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Since I had a Navigo Découverte pass, I knew I could ride the funicular unlimited times! So I rode the funicular up, down, and back up again.

When I got to the top, I decided to walk down. Along the way, I counted 214 steps, give or take!

Then, I rode the funicular back up again…

All that funicular-riding, step-counting, and selfie-taking drained my and my phone’s energy! As I wandered along, I discovered a Supermarché G20. It was like an oasis in the desert…

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Paris: Strolling Around the Marais

With its street art, colorful doors, and famous square, it’s easy to be charmed by the picturesque and historic Marais neighborhood in Paris.

Strolling with M. Didier around the 3rd and 4th arrondissements, or administrative districts, I found myself surrounded by beauty at every turn.

street art on Impasse Guéménée

Rue Saint-Antoine / Lycée des Francs-Bourgeois (private school)

Rue Saint-Antoine

Rue des Tournelles

The courtyard of Hôtel de Lamoignon, which houses…

…the BHVP, public library specializing in the history of Paris

Rue Payenne / Square Georges-Cain

“In an old house in Paris that was covered in vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines…The smallest one was Madeline.” -Ludwig Bemelmans

I’m convinced this is the Madeline house:

Rue du Parc Royal / Square Léopold-Achille

Rue de Sévigné

Place des Vosges

I asked M. Didier what his favorite place in Paris was and without hesitation, he said, “Place des Vosges!” And now it’s become one of my favorites, too.

What’s your favorite place in Paris to take a stroll?

Volunteering in Hérisson, France

In the summer of 1995, I participated in an international volunteer project in Hérisson, France through CIEE: Council on International Educational Exchange (who partnered with Concordia in France).

As soon as I got home, I wrote an article about my experience and it was published in the Spring 1997 issue of CIEE’s Student Travels magazine.

My article had to be edited for length for the magazine, but here is my original article:

I spent last summer on a group volunteer project in Hérisson, a tiny medieval village in central France. Our goal was to spruce up the town’s 10th-century castle.

Three weeks is a perfect length of time for a workcamp, the commonly used term for international volunteer projects like the one I participated in. There was no time to be bored. We all made the effort not to waste a single moment we had together.

Our projects included cutting acacia trees lined up along the road that were blocking the view of the castle, pulling weeds, repainting an old rusted gate, erecting a bench, clearing dead branches from the castle’s rose garden, and clearing ivy from the garden walls.

We worked Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. (8h à 13h), with a half-hour break in the middle.

There were ten volunteers (ranging in age from 18 to 31) working on the project from, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Japan, Poland, Spain, and the United States.

There were two group leaders (animateurs): one leader was from Québec, Canada, and the other leader was from Riom, France. She brought along her dog, Mireille, who became our mascot!

Accommodations were simple, but adequate. We slept in sleeping bags on cots or mats on the floor in a school cafeteria, where we also cooked and prepared meals.

We did grocery shopping in nearby Cosne-d’Allier. Each day, two of us took turns cooking, washing dishes, and cleaning the shared living areas.

In our spare time, my new friends and I played cards and sports, like soccer, and a bowling game called pétanque. We taught each other curse words, tongue twisters, and jokes in our respective languages, sang acapella, and frequented pubs.

While we usually spoke English (since we were all at different levels of French), I did try speaking French as much as possible with the two group leaders. My French vocabulary improved significantly.

Weekends were especially great. We visited two other workcamps in Vieure and Néris-les-Bains, went swimming and kayaking in a lake, and attended the annual Bourbonnais gospel concert.

At a festival in nearby Venas, we saw people folk dancing in traditional Bourbonnais costumes! We saw rope-making demonstrations and how they bake brioche in a brick oven.

There were also animals wandering freely among us in the plaza. At another festival, we danced in the streets to live music.

We spent the night inside the Chapelle Saint-Mayeul in Le Brethon after our hike through the Tronçais Forest, which is the largest oak tree forest in Europe!

When we got back to Hérisson, we helped out with a flea market (antiquités brocante) and I helped direct traffic! It was so much fun helping out with the community event.

The local community in Hérisson was warm and welcoming. Residents would greet us and ask how we were and how our work was progressing.

After work each day, some of the residents would give us tours of Hérisson. We visited the town museum, an old mill, and the Eglise Saint-Pierre de Chateloy. We also visited the home of an older woman who made hats and she let us try them on!

Several community members gave us lots of bottles of wine, homemade baked goods, and jam. Their friendliness made me feel more like a neighbor than a tourist.

It’s a bit of a cliché, but everyone at my workcamp shared the same hopes, dreams, and fears! We all wanted to have a better understanding of different people and cultures. It was the common goal that brought us all together.

©1995 by Darlene 🦔 << Hérisson means hedgehog!

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Note: It appears that CIEE does not offer the international volunteer project program at this time.
To learn more about other educational exchange programs that they offer, visit their website here. (This post is not sponsored.)