FIELD TRIPS! (The Other “sur-Seine’s”)

As much as I loved being in Marnay-sur-Seine at CAMAC, it was always nice to get away for a bit. During my two months there, I visited the other “sur-Seine” towns quite a few times (Pont-sur-Seine and Nogent-sur-Seine, neighboring Marnay to the east and west).

Pont-sur-Seine is east of Marnay about 45 minutes walking (or 20 minutes biking) along the canal…

 

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(Did I mention that we were able to borrow CAMAC’s bicycles while staying there? Most of them were a little worse for wear -more on that later- but I was lucky to pick out one in pretty decent shape)…

 

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My European friends at CAMAC got a kick out of the fact that it was a purple “Milka” bike. Apparently “Milka” is a popular chocolate brand in Europe – I had never seen it before, but maybe we have it in the States (?) Regardless, it certainly is odd that the makers of chocolate bars also made… umm… bikes. Huh?

 

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But I digress… back to Pont-sur-Seine! It’s cute and quaint like Marnay, but a bit bigger…

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There’s a sweet little church, an old cemetery, and their mairie (town hall) is pretty adorable…

 

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This being Pont-SUR-SEINE (“on the Seine”), there are, of course, nice views of the river…

 

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The most exciting thing about Pont-sur-Seine, though, is that there are actually STORES there! What’s that, you say? Businesses at which one can purchase goods!? Indeed, there’s a small supermarket, a boulangerie (fresh bread! hooray!), a boucherier (butcher shop), a small restaurant, AND a tabac. (Found all over France, tabacs are small stores where you can buy – yep, you guessed it – tobacco products. They sell other things too, like stamps, postcards, newspapers, and the like. Larger tabacs usually have small tables and also serve as a sort of neighborhood “dive bar.” Don’t ask me why, but I found that they were almost always populated with cranky old French men. Again, the reason for this remains a mystery to me)…

 

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Having a few beers at the tabac’s outdoor tables…

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Photo by Maja Pegan

On the way back to Marnay with our goods, mostly just wine and bread – “When in France!”…

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 Photo by Maja Pegan

A bit over an hour on foot (or 30 minutes biking) to the west of Marnay, you’ll find the ‘big’ town of Nogent-sur-Seine (where you catch the train to Paris). One of my favorite things about visiting Nogent was simply getting there – I took two different routes on my many trips, one through farm fields, the other along the canal and eventually the Seine. Both routes start with this beautiful country road leading out of Marnay…

 

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This road was often crawling with these little guys – it certainly made it a bit of an ‘obstacle course’ on the bike, but no matter.  Even though they’re a little gross, I think they’re kinda cute…

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Beautiful views from the path along the canal and river…

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Of course, you run into The Nukes along the way…

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Here are some shots from the route through the farm fields (having lived in a city for so long, I really loved being in this wide open space – so free!)…

Before entering the fields, you first have to cross over the canal and the railroad tracks…

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And then you make it out into the open…

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And of course, you’ll find The Nukes on this path as well…

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Ironically enough, wind turbines dot the landscape in the other direction…

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Eventually you come to the end of the road, and are fed right into the west side of Nogent…

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Compared to Marnay and Pont, Nogent-sur-Seine is a ‘mega-metropolis’ with actual distinct neighborhoods, schools, a ‘downtown’ area, parks, a cathedral, and LOTS of stores! (Oh – and, of course, that pesky nuclear power plant). But you know… perspective is everything! Compared to Paris, it’s not so much a ‘mega metropolis’ as it is just a mid-sized town (And a fun fact about Nogent: It was once the home of Camille Claudel, the French sculptor and (in)famous lover of Auguste Rodin)…

 

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One Saturday, Maja and I biked to Nogent together – we checked out the cathedral and weekly outdoor market, walked around the lovely park on Île Olive (a tiny isle in the middle of the Seine), took a ton of pictures, and laughed at duck butts (all will be explained below)…

The market…

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Talking macaroons (YUM)…

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Photo by Maja Pegan

The cathedral…

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This cathedral had a lot of interesting little details that I enjoyed – like this guy with the awesome hat made of moss (I want one!)…

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… and this adorable Sunday-school set up in one of the side altars…

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… and this great old prayer kneeler…

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… and these carved images in the floor – I’m guessing the white heart shapes come from where precious metals were removed, maybe during the War?

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There was a lot of great art here in general…

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After visiting the cathedral, we moved on to Île Olive – the tiny isle in the Seine that serves as a public park.  To get there, you cross the river where it has been dammed…

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Then you reach the lovely wooded isle…

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Peche Interdite (Fishing Prohibited)…

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When we approached the water’s edge, these ducks came tearing across from the other side of the river at top speed – methinks they are fed by park-goers A LOT!  (Good old Pavlov will get ya every time).  I was sorry to disappoint them…

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And speaking of ducks… DUCK BUTTS!  I mean, come on… how cute and funny is that?!

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Photo by Maja Pegan

Me taking pictures of duck butts and all…

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Photo by Maja Pegan

 

 

Unfortunately, our return trip wasn’t as easy as getting there. Maja’s (admittedly adorable) vintage bike started having mechanical troubles just when it was time to leave, rendering it virtually unrideable. As the both of us had just been introduced to “Honey Boo-Boo Child” through YouTube clips earlier that day (you know, the sad and misguided seven year old beauty pageant contestant / reality-TV star?), Maja dubbed the bike her namesake. I suppose she did this because “Honey Boo-Boo” is awful, annoying, and always throwing temper-tantrums, which of course, was Maja’s experience of her bike at the time. We got a good laugh out of it all, anyway…

 

Happy Maja and her cute bike on our way out of Marnay…

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…and a not-so-happy Maja with the newly dubbed “Honey Boo Boo”…

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Me attempting a fix “in the shadow of the Nuke”…

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Photo by Maja Pegan

And of course, there was the time when all the “CAMACois” headed to Nogent-sur-Seine for a large street festival in October. It was an interesting scene indeed, complete with local foods, carnival games and rides, all sorts of kitschy merchandise to buy, live music, an oddly American-themed petting zoo, and the most unenthusiastic marching band I’ve ever seen…

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Veeeerrry large wheels of delicious cheese…

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Want some worthless merch?  We got it!  How about something from this hideous mass of balloons?

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These creepy heads reminded me of the scary mannequins I saw in Kathmandu – they haunt my dreams still…. (shudder)…

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Come one, come all!  We’ll fill all of your celebrity coffee mug needs!  Patrick Swayze?  Got it.  Michael Jackson?  Got it.  Kate Middleton?  Got it!  We could go on like this all day…

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Umm.. okay.  I thought I was in France, but sure.. yeah.  Whatever.  We can go with this, I guess…

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Amongst all the kitsch, I managed to find possibly the quirkiest, most original, and simply sweet souvenir ever.  The artist hand-cuts the shapes of countries and regions within France out of wood, handwrites the names of cities on them (nothing fancy, just marker), and then makes them into clocks, magnets, thermometers, etc.  For some reason, I found these simple (yet kind of ridiculous) objects incredibly charming, and decided that I MUST have one.  I picked a magnet of the Aube department of France (where we were), but since it did not have Marnay-sur-Seine marked, the artist was kind enough to do so for me there on the spot…

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I’m not big into souvenirs, but I think this one is pretty precious.  Truly one of a kind…

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There was a variety of live music stationed throughout the town.  This little jazz band was actually quite good…

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And when we saw this naval marching band warming up, they sounded great (and their little Popeye-esque uniforms were preeetty cute, I must say)…

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… but once they started marching, it looked like they were being held at gunpoint.  They seemed to be having no fun at all – it was just so sad!

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We found them a bit later as we warmed ourselves in a café before heading back to Marnay.  The played a little ‘private concert’ through the window for the café owners and staff, with whom they were clearly friends.  After they finished, they came inside and took over the back room, where we heard them ‘jamming’ the afternoon away.  How lovely it was to sit and listen to the horn section play songs like “Stand by Me” by Ben E. King and “So Happy Together” by The Turtles.  HERE was their love of music – finally!  (Perhaps it’s just the marching part they hate?)  “We’re in the right place at the right time,” Laurie said.  AND HOW!

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And of course, there was the strangely American-themed petting zoo (particularly the horse and pony section – naturally!)  I never got the full story, but you know…there it was – a pen of horses surrounded by American, Confederate, and state flags of Southern ‘horse country’ states, like Tennessee and Texas…

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Is it just me, or does this French horse look depressed because it’s forced to pose as an American?

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Apparently some sort of French ‘Ameri-phile’ organization was responsible for the horse pen decorations.  You can see some of their activities on this poster – playing ‘cowboys and Indians,’ horseback riding, dressing in Antebellum-era clothing, and generally doing the whole Southern American stereo-type thing… (Yup, I think it’s a bit weird too).  Because my French is terrible, when I tried to learn more, the conversation went something like this: “I am American, and I would like to know: Why all of the American things?” (No answer)  “Is it because you like ‘les cowboys’?” Momentary pause and then the explanation: “Yes.”  Umm…Well okay, then…

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And just for fun, here’s a quick shot of Maja and Raquel in the petting zoo – Bird Paparazzi…

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And the carnival – oh yes!  Talk about sensory overload:  Colors, lights, and sounds everywhere… plastic toys, candy, and games – oh my!  A kid’s heaven…

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Apparently some of the games were for adults only (yes, those are thong panties you can win from this machine – oh my)…

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Everyone, save Maja (the SMART one), decided to give this ride a go WITHOUT EVER SEEING IT IN OPERATION (this is a key point)…

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At first it was just fine – a little circular, undulating track that took you round and round, up and down at a nice, fun pace.  But as the ride accelerated faster and faster, it quickly became clear that this ride was actually HELL ON EARTH!  It goes so fast and around the loop so quickly, the centrifugal force makes the person on the outside seat of the carriage smash into the person on the inside who is, of course, consequently crushed for the duration of the ride.  It goes on for entirely too long (both in forward motion and… just when you think you’re done… in reverse – oh goody!), and at certain points, the conductor raises this red tent-like apparatus over your head to increase the terror juuuust a bit more.  And of course there’s the issue of this being a rickety, probably-not-so-well-maintained ‘carnie’ ride – I just kept thinking, “Really?  Is this how I go out?  On a French ‘carnie’ ride?!”  Oh man.  Although part of me is happy I tried it, I’ll never do it again!

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Inside the red ‘tent-o-terror’…

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Even with the terrifying ride, the festival was a fun (and sometimes strange) experience.  I’ve never been much for carnivals and fairs here in the States, so it was all sort of new to me in a way.  On top of that, experiencing it in the context of a quaint EUROPEAN town was certainly interesting, the contrast between the event and the setting a bit jarring at times…

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CONTINUE THIS POST IN “FIELD TRIPS! (Troyes, Provins, and the ‘Champagne Cave’)”

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