It was someone’s crazy idea to wake up before 6am to catch a train to the city of Troyes (pronounced Twa). Bleary-eyed we ran out of the apartment at quarter past, caught the metro to Gare de l’Est in plenty of time to get a hot drink and a couple of croissants from the patisserie in the station. Unfortunately the server only gave us one croissant so we were deprived the full buttery and chocolatey goodness.
I’d suggested going to Troyes, once the capital of the Champagne region, after hearing it was this very old medieval city where things were still done, or shown, in a medieval way. I must have misheard as it wasn’t exactly that, as we found when the train arrived at about quarter past eight.
Expecting it to be a warm day, we wore only our shorts and tshirts. It was cloudy and a little chilly when we arrived so we were concerned we’d be cold. Fortunately the sun came out and the city warmed up. It took a while though, and being so early, none of the sights were open. In fact, we struggled to find a place for breakfast. This did, however, mean we got to look at a lot of old buildings as we searched.
Troyes is about 2000 years old but the majority of the old houses probably date from about the 1200s. Coming from Paris, where stone is in the majority, Troyes has a surfeit of wood and brick (or was it gypsum?) buildings in the centre. There were a couple of narrow alleyways where the buildings lean towards each other. The streets are slopes with a gutter running down the middle. The whole place gives off a feeling of medieval charm, though the reality would have been a stinking, sweaty mess. Thank god for sewerage and sanitation!
We stopped in at one of the few open cafes near the Hotel de Ville and had another croissant, some bread, orange juice and a hot drink, while we waited for the tourist office to open at 9:30. From there, we bought the Troyes Pass for €12. Included is entry to a number of museums in the city, two-hour bike hire, free chocolates and a quarter-glass of champagne, an audio guide and a tourist video. All for €12! I only knew about it from looking at the Troyes tourism website and strangely there was no signage in the tourist office to advertise it. According to the stamps on the booklets, we had number 103 and 104. Obviously big sellers and a product they’re wanting to push.
The first museum we wanted to see was La Maison de l’Outil (the tool museum), which opened at 10. We walked past more old buildings, snapping away at the different styles. A Troyen man stopped and commented on how beautiful the building was and told me the name of the wood and how strong it was and how beautiful. I nodded and struggled to form anything interesting to say in response but it was unnecessary as he’d said his piece and moved on. It was nice to see someone so proud of their town.
The tool museum was excellent. Two floors of tools from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, arranged in professions such as blacksmith, cooper, basket weaver, cobbler and seat bottomer. The audio guide for €1 was a must have as otherwise we’d have zipped through it in no time at all. The guide was pretty good though after about 40 cabinets you start to skip things. I laughed when the narrator said, “it was invented 4000 years before Christ” as it sounded like Christ had been invented (though in a way he had been).
I wrote down a few notes on what I saw and heard, and I think some of it will come in useful when I edit a book I’ve written. It definitely gave me a few ideas.
An hour and a half later, which is a long time for us to spend in a museum, we headed out in search of our next cultural fix. We walked across town and over the water to the apothecary museum. This one wasn’t as interesting as the signs were all in French and I didn’t really have the inclination to translate so much text. There were two rooms which we looked around and then headed out to find lunch.
By now the city was bustling with people. Tables in the square that we’d seen set up were now occupied with locals and tourists enjoying the sunny weekend. We settled on a place down the main street. We had to ask what the salad of the day was as it contained a word we hadn’t seen before. Turns out it was beetroot. We had that. Glen had beef and I had chicken as a main. He then had a crepe while I waited for cheese. It eventually came, after I asked, but it was just two slabs of cheese with nothing to eat it with. Strange. The cheese was good though.
After lunch we went to get our free chocolates and then our free champagne (that we drank in Champagne haha) before going to watch the free tourist movie at the tourism office. They put on the English version for us but the guy must have started the sound before the video because the sound was incredibly out of sync with the action, to the point I was wondering if it was some sort of avant garde tourist video.
Despite this, we learned a bit about the town, including how important it had been over the centuries as a location for trade and religion. I’m surprised the old buildings have lasted as long as they have as I would have expected someone in the 18th century to have knocked them all down and build something ‘modern’. Glad they didn’t though.
We then went and got our bikes and cycled around a bit more of the old city, checking out cathedrals and then the mediatheque before returning the bikes after about an hour and a half. We went for crepes next, sharing two that were quite delicious. Might had banana and Nutella, Glen’s had peaches. Mmmmm. With about 40 minutes to go before our train back to Paris, we walked once more down streets laden with visual history to the train station.
Our train got into Paris at about 8pm. We returned to the apartment, packed, then went out for a late dinner at Sanukiya, the Japanese restaurant down the road that we’d wanted to go to the other night but had been closed. There was a short queue when we got there, eventually getting a space at the sidebar. The menu was in Japanese (or as we’d understand it) and French, but familiar enough for us to understand. I think what was difficult for the waiter to understand was our Australian accents saying the Japanese words that he’d normally hear in a French accent.
We ordered a selection of foods, getting the usual favourites of tempura, agedashi tofu, karaage and edamame. I know, I know, we should be having French food on our last night in Paris, but this hit the spot. We also thought about going to a nightclub but we’re happy that we’ve done enough and can sit on the couch watching the Simpsons in French without feeling guilty. Tomorrow we return to Toronto and start packing up our Canadian lives. Very sad about that.