A Solitary Happy Birthday in Provins

November 27, 2011 § Leave a comment

I often try to spend my birthday by myself. I am not sure when I started the tradition, but I really enjoy using my birthday to take time alone to visit a new place and to do exactly what I want to do. It helps that my birthday is in the fall, which is by far my favorite season. As much as I enjoy spring flowers and winter skies, as far as I am concerned, nothing compares with the colors, smells, tastes, and changes of the fall.

This year was no different. I took a morning train to the medieval town of Provins about an hour from Paris and spent the day wandering.

There can be a fine line between being solitary and being lonely. Many writers far more articulate than me have pondered the question. For myself, I really enjoy being alone, and only feel aloneness in moments, which fortunately, are usually fleeting.

But Provins! It is beautiful. And on a clear, cool, fall day in November, it is almost empty. Devoid of tourists, the sites are closed down, the town was literally already in its winter hibernation. Which made it even more pleasurable for me. Wandering the ramparts alone, walking up and down cobblestone streets alone, inspired me to let my imagination take over. Without other people on the streets I could amuse and entertain myself by visualizing what Provins might have been like throughout its history. When Joan of Arc stopped in the cathedral to pray. When guards with bows and arrows carefully watched over the towers and walls, protecting the road to Paris. When the famous rose bushes were planted. When the town began to expand beyond its original walls.

As a bonus, it was pretty good exercise to walk up the hill to the old city center, to climb the ramparts, to circle the walls three times, once on the outside, once on the inside, and once along the top (though only small parts are open).

As a treat, I began my day at a Paris boulangerie that I have long been wanting to try, Du pain et des idées. It is a must-visit. It is beautiful. It smells incredible. The breads and the viennoiserie are gorgeous. It is the perfect blend of traditional and brand-creative-new, especially in terms of flavor experimentation (much like Gontran Cherrier which is maybe a bit more hit or miss but generally YUM). I bought a chunk of the pain des amis and a chocolate and pistachio escargot (literally snail because of its spiral shape) and a banana and chocolate croissant. A lot, even for birthday indulgence, but that’s all I ended up between 8am and 10pm, during which time, apart from 3 total hours on the train, I was constantly walking. Oh, I also enjoyed this rose flavored lollipop on the ride home.

Talk about a sugar overload. Happily, a good friend staying with me had a delicious dinner waiting for me back in Paris, roast pork with leeks and garlic. Many thanks C! And much appreciation for Provins, a town I had never even heard of before, but that really merits a visit. Especially on a beautiful off-season day.

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