Archive for January 6th, 2019

January 6, 2019

A bit of Normandy in Alençon!

Ok so let’s move out a bit as this is a part that I have passed many times, stop by several times, but never really went in deep as to say saw something. Did I told you that a Mr Hemingway wrote a postmortum book on the Movable Feast of Paris and he felled short, as the longer life would have made him write a second volume , France is a movable feast! So much beauty to see, already the world’s most visited country and we have just touch the surface on things to see, really. So, therefore bear with me please.

This town is one example, a wonderful city center or downtown ,beautiful historical buildings and great architecture not quite Norman even if in Normandy. I like to tell you a bit about Alençon. Alençon is in the Department of the Orne,no. 61 in the region of Normandy. It takes an advantage of its position on the Paris-Brest axis (route RN 12) when entered a period of dynamism, then, the route A11 autoroute puts Le Mans in a strategic position on the Paris-Brittany axis, which confirms at the end of the 1980’s by the opening of the LGV Atlantique train service. Alençon is again doomed to be only a relay city on a north-south cross-section, in this case the Rouen-Le Mans A28 autoroute. The town is situated between the Normandy-Maine Regional Natural Park and the Perche Regional Natural Park. Alençon is also located about ten km from the forest of Écouves to the north, the forest of Perseigne to the east, and from the Mancelles Alps to the south. The town of Alençon is located at the confluence of the Sarthe and Briante rivers which descends from the forest of Écouves.

The city is located 119 km from Caen, and 161 km from Rouen, the regional capital, while Le Mans is only 54 km away. It is located between Paris and Rennes, 192 km and 158 km respectively. Alençon is at the crossroads of the national road RN12 connecting Paris with Brittany with the old national roads RN 138 and RN 155. In addition, a few kilometers from Alençon you can connect respectively the old RN 158 and RN 176. In this way, Alençon is located at a road crossroads which departing routes to Caen, Rouen, Dreux, Paris, Chartres, Orléans, le Mans, Laval, Fougères, Rennes, Le Mont-Saint-Michel and Saint-Malo. Alençon is served by the A28, a north-south cross-section which is part of the Grand bypass of Paris and allows you to leave Calais and join Bayonne using only the autoroute network and avoiding Paris. It allows for the town of Alençon, in addition to a logical opening, a quick access to the cities of Le Mans, Tours, Angers, Rouen, Le Havre, Lisieux and Deauville. 20 km north of Alençon, at the level of the city of Sees, the A28 gives birth to the A88 leaving to connect the towns of Argentan and Caen.

Alençon ,also has a SNCF train station, the station is located on the line Caen-Alençon-Le Mans-Tours. Daily connections to the stations of Caen, Le Mans, Tours and Saint-Pierre-des-Corps are therefore offered. Connections to the Gare Paris-Montparnasse are organised via the Gare de Surdon or Le Mans stations, respectively thanks to intercity trains and regional express trains (TER) or the TGV Atlantique. The station of Alençon, rebuilt in 1952 after the bombardment of 1944, was originally a standard station of origin in the west of France.

A bit of history I like

Mentioned in the form Alencione at the time of the Merovingian. Its meaning would therefore be that of “nourishing place”, “fertile place”, which corresponds well to the situation of Alençon in a fertile plain that slices with the harsher lands of the surrounding hills.

Erected in Duchy, in 1414, Alençon is the place of residence of Marguerite of Angoulême, who married, in 1509, at the age of seventeen, the Duke of Alençon Charles IV, first marriage. Even after Charles ‘ death in 1525 at the Battle of Pavia, Marguerite of Angoulême, maternal grandmother of the future Henri IV, sister of King François I, establishes, after her widowhood, her court in Alençon, where she remained after her remarriage with the king of Navarre.

The Protestant Reformation was preached in the Duchy of Alençon, as early as 1524, and the spirit of tolerance of Marguerite de Valois, which also allowed the preachers to penetrate the new ideas in Alençon, made many proselytes among its inhabitants, during the first half of the 16C. The first city of Normandy acquired with Calvinist ideas, it quickly became a hotbed of reform, to the point that, in 1530, a German reformist called Alençon ,the Little Germany. The Protestants then took over the city, pillaged the churches and forbid Catholic worship.

On the death of the Queen of Navarre in 1549, the Duchy of Alençon, despite the disputes of the collateral heirs of Duke Charles IV, was definitively attached to the Royal domain of France. After the death of Francis II, Charles IX ceded the duchy to his mother Catherine de Médici, who enjoyed it until 1566, when she handed it over to the king, who gave it to his younger brother Francis, then twelve years old. It was in Alençon that Henri made his comeback in the Protestant church, publicly denying the Catholicism he had embraced under duress a few weeks after the day of the massacre of St. Barthélemy.

In 1605, Henri IV ceded the city and the duchy to Duke Frederick I of Württemberg, to whom Marie de Medici bought it in 1613. Later included in the privilege of the brother of Louis XIII, Gaston d’Orléans, the Duchy of Alençon passed, in 1660, to his second daughter, Elisabeth d’Orléans, wife of the Duke of Guise. During the definitive proclamation of the Edict of Fontainebleau, the pastor of Alençon addresses his flock his letter of a pastor banished from his country to a church that did not do his duty in the last persecution, following which not a single Protestant will remain in Alençon. This strong emigration of the lively forces of the alençonnaise economy, occupied in lace and printing, will flee to England, the Netherlands or the Channel Islands, leaving the city without traders or basically empty.

Alençon soon submitted to the authority of the Convention. In the same year, after the defeat of the Vendéens at Le Mans, a large number of insurgents were taken and led to Alençon, where they were executed. Later, the surroundings were ravaged and bloodied by the Chouans, under the guidance of Cadoudal and de Frotté, their last chief, who was arrested while negotiating with General Guidal at the Hôtel du Cygne (Swan Hotel) in Alençon before being shot, after which the city found the calm.

During WW II, Alençon was occupied by the Nazis from June 1940, after they bombed the city on 14 June, making 31 casualties. The Gestapo arrives in Alençon during the summer of 1943 and had   executed several resistance fighters. During the occupation, 38 persons are sentenced to death and executed for resistance. A Frontstalag (Camp of prisoners of the Nazis army in occupied area during WWII) was created in Alençon. On 12 August 1944, coming from Champfleur, the 2nd Armoured Division of General Leclerc returned to Alençon and liberated this city from the Nazi yoke before leaving after a few days to Argentan and then to Paris

Things to see that I like

The Castle of the Dukes was built under Peter II, Duke of Alençon between 1361 and 1404, dismantled in part under Henri IV, serving as a begging depot from 1768 to 1824, the existing buildings represent only 10% of the original. There remains the Châtelet, a curtain, the crowned tower and a posterie; The courthouse dating from the first Empire (Napoléon I) is next door. The castle of the Dukes became an arrest or prison house where during WWII many people were tortured by the Gestapo. The Alençon arrest house was transferred to Coulaines and Le Mans in 2010.


The City/Town Hall (place Foch) was built in the shape of an circular arch from 1783 to 1788 Originally, the city/town hall occupied only the central part. Done in the style of Louis XVI. It was not until the 19C that the town of Alençon acquired the right and left parts which were the property of private individuals. Before the end of the 20C, the city/town hall occupied only 60% of the total area. In 1966, during the renovation of the mayor’s office, we found in the ceiling 297 posters of Charles Éléonor Valazé from1793, member of the Orne in 1792 and who suicide in 1793. One could read on these posters “I am arrested without knowing why, without even having an accuser”. In front of the city/town hall you can see a bronze statue of Louis Derbré.


The House of Ozé from the 14C ,(1449 exactly) with renovations by the Alderman Jean de Mesnil in 1450 Charles de Valois, Duke of Alençon and his wife, Marguerite of Navarre lived there and even invited the future Henri IV in 1576.   It is now home to the tourist office. At its feet is the conservatory of the House of Ozé which is not strictly speaking a public garden because if it can be a place to walk, it is rather a place of learning and experimentation on plants and other plants. This 585 m2 Orchard is managed for maintenance by the town of Alençon and the Orne Horticulture Society.


The Halle au Blés or wheat market is a circular building, built 1801 and a glass dome built on top in 1865.   Originally dedicated to the grain trade, this place is used today for various exhibitions and events.


The pharmacy Pesche, at 4 of the place aux Cornes. The dispensary was created under the Directory (French revolution) in a building that belonged to a canvas merchant, then prosperous industry in town. Inside, the fully painted ceiling reminds, by its palms, its serpents, its amphoras, its hive and its bees and the sham of a military tent that its first holder was a pharmacist to the armies returning from the campaign of Egypt. In addition to two monumental vases in Italian ceramics showcases, the pharmacy has a beautiful collection of Empire jars .

The islet Aveline (between the rue du Collège and the Rue Julien) in the Carré de la Dentelle brings together buildings set up from 1675. This site first sheltered the Jesuit college, then the Central School of Orne, then a college, then in 1848 a high school , until the transfer of it in 1963 in new buildings by Boulevard Mézeray, then Aveline high school from 1963 to 1975. The buildings of the 17C were then restored and renovated to bring together the cultural activities of the city such as the Museum of Fine Arts and Lace, library and bookcase, Lace Workshop, municipal Archives, Conservatory, and Auditorium.


The Museum of Fine Arts and Lace of Alençon, adjoining the library, is devoted, in addition to lace, to schools of French, Italian and Nordic painting of the 4C to the beginning of the 20C and to the arts of Cambodia. Temporary exhibitions, especially on famous fashion designers, are organized regularly.


The birthplace house of Sainte Thérèse, located 50-52 Rue Saint-Blaise, was reopened after extensive works of accessibility and scenography. It has a foyer, a gallery exhibiting personal objects of the family Martin. An auditorium with film presentation, and the various furnished rooms of the house such as the living room, bedrooms, and kitchen. The parents moved here in 1871 and she was born here in 1873 for the first five years of her life before moving on to Lisieux. There is a chapel added on the house next door in 1925 very nice. For an anecdote before purchasing the house where Saint Teresa was born, the parents lived at 35 rue du Pont-Neuf  where the father Mr Martin had a jewerly store. the parent Luis Martin and Zélia Guérin are Saints too.


Built in 1679, the former St. Joseph’s Church of the Collège of Jésuites, characterized by its imperial roof, became a library. Its 18C carved oak cabinets from the Val Dieu Abbey contain, among other things, rare editions dating back to the 16C, and medieval manuscripts. There is a library from 1779, today is the Mediathéque of the city opens to all

The hotel of Préfecture of the Orne is originally a mansion built around 1630 by a catcher of sizes in the election of Alençon, Charles de Fromont de Bouaille, Lord of the Besnardière. In 1676, Elisabeth d’Orléans, half-sister of the ” Grande Demoiselle”, and cousin of Louis XIV, Duchess of Guise and apanagist of the Duchy of Alençon, took possession of it. Since 1815, the Hôtel Fromont de La Besnardière  has become the Préfecture of the Orne department 61. Located behind, were erected gardens on more than three hectares contributing to the embellishment of the whole. They are open to the public only on heritage days.


The Tribunal du Commerce or commercial court with its polygonal turret, this elegant construction of the mid-16C described by Balzac in the Le Cabinet des Antiques was the seat of the finance office from 1640.

The Palais de Justice (courthouse) built from 1818-1824 in neo classic style. It was built due to the visit of Napoléon 1er in 1811 to Alençon.


The Grande Rue is a main thoroughfare of Alençon which leaves from this district to end at the crossroads of Saint-Blaise district streets, where the prefecture, the rue Cazault and the cours Clemenceau are located. It passes through the Place de la Magdeleine, whose name comes from Mary Magdalene, a Saint who witnessed the burial and resurrection of Christ. Until 1789 there was a cemetery there. Today, this place serves as a match to the lines of the bus network Alto and a market is held on Thursdays and Saturdays. This place has become a major part of Alençon over time. This area is entirely pedestrian except for buses.


The Basilica of Notre-Dame has a 15C nave, flamboyant porch, early 16C. Following a fire, the choir and bell tower were rebuilt in the middle of the 18C. The Church of Notre-Dame of Alençon was elevated to the rank of basilica on 6 June 2009 by Pope   Benedict XVI by a decree of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. The Tribune organ is from1535.

The Church of Saint-Léonard of Flamboyant Gothic style of the 15-16C, St. Martin’s Tower of the 12C, very reworked in the 17C following the collapse of the vaults of the nave and restored outrageously in the 19C.

The park of the promenades of more than 4 ha is the preferred place of the Alençonnais and visitors alike. Built in 1783, renovated in 1999, located close to the city/ town hall and the courthouse, it offers a music kiosk (1888) , a pool, playgrounds for children and animal pens. It also offers a bowling ground as well as a snack bar.

The Alençon Racecourse is located in the Croix-Mercier district not far from the Écouves area. It is run by the Alençon Racing company. An average of eight trotted or mounted trot races are included in the program six annual races.

Some webpages to help you plan your trip to this nice city and you should are

City of Alencon on heritage

Tourist office of Alencon

Tourist office of Orne dept 61

Tourist office of the Normandy region on Alencon

There you go a summary of what is best about the wonderful Alençon, in south just limits of Normandy and worth the detour with easy road connections . I always passed it stop by going on the in N12 national road from my house. Hope you enjoy the recap

And remember, happy travels, good health, and many cheers to all!!!

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January 6, 2019

Question, how to get by at Versailles!

Ok so on this cold day of Jan 2019 and cloudy wintery day I like to bring about a eternal question. How to see Versailles with quicker entry and less crowds? I mean less crowds because to the world most see castle , easy visit are history indeed. Even for locals!!! Any more detail question, ask me ::)

I have read many blogs, newspapers, magazines, etc of people telling about how difficult is to get to Versailles past its lines and a even more crowded place. Well, I admit do not have the magic formula but after living almost 10 years in the city, been friends of the Castle ,and visited upteen times even taken folks there as touring, believe I can have my five cents worth on the subject.


Avenue de Paris from near tourist office to the Castle

First, you need to get here from whatever you are from, even folks living in Versailles! Many people go to the cram parking at Place d’Armes because it is in front of the castle and voilà they made it. However, for just a pleasant walk among historical buildings you can park at  Parking Sceaux ,avenue de Sceaux next to train station RER C Rive Gauche at end you find the gardens jardin des Etangs Gobert. You come by car on the A13 direction Rouen and get off at exit/sortie 5 Versailles Centre, followed it all around until castle.

The parking on my fav site Neoparking is here: neoparking on Sceaux Versailles


Avenue de Sceaux from castle towards parking

Perhaps you like to come by bus, many folks like this way of public transport than again most take the more hazarduos way of the train or RER C. You can come from Paris by bus no 171.  Bus 171 of the RATP system runs between Pont de Sèvres and the Chateau de Versailles.  Metro line 9 to Pont de Sévres and also Paris RATP bus lines 17, 40, 42, 39.34, 26 ,160 ,169 ,179 ,279, 291, 389 and 467 reach the Pont de Sévres stop.

This is the schedule to check for after october: RATP bus 171 schedule as of Oct18

You can take the bus express on tours with ticket included from this service. Granted never use it myself. The shuttle provides transfers between Paris (leaving from the Port de la Bourdonnais  near Eiffel Tower) and the Chateau de Versailles. More here: Versailles Express bus

Once in the city, there are ways to get around to the main sight of the Château de Versailles domain; and I say main sight because as in my previous posts, Versailles has a lot more things to see.

The nice thing we even did to get from the center of Versailles to the shopping at Parly II mall or even to get inside the domaine by the Porte Saint Antoine was to take bus no 19 of Transdev line. The Allée Saint-Antoine begins to the south in front of the Grand Canal , and ends about 1 350 meters to the north on Boulevard Saint-Antoine, where is the Arc de Triomphe of the Porte Saint-Antoine. The bus is taken from Avenue Saint Cloud almost to the corner of Avenue de l’Europe and you need to get off at Parly II or Arboretum and walk back down about 300 meters to the entrance at the Porte de Saint Antoine. Right next is the Hameau de Marie Antoinette and follow by the Petit Trianon and Grand Trianon,the gardens and a whole world of Versailles!

Here is the schedule, just get it updated when you come. transdev idf bus line 19 to Porte Saint Antoine Versailles


From corner Avenue de l’Europe to Avenue Saint Cloud stop of bus 19 waiting

For info, the Parly II in Le Chesnay, our favorite area mall ever! and I have written a previous post in my blog: My previous post on shopping center Parly II

For travel in Versailles, the best is the Phebus Versailles bus network TRI bus .It goes from all major train stations in the city to the Castle, and Trianons. The TRI bus is part of the Phébus network in Versailles and can be used to get to the Trianon Palaces. From to train stations “Versailles Château Rive Gauche”, “Versailles Chantiers” and “Versailles Rive Droite” In service from April to October, (high season) check for schedules.

The official Phebus network is here, just check it when coming for updates: Phebus bus network of Versailles and TRI bus line


Phebus network bus TRI

Petit Train inside Domaine property if you want a quick look and rest from walking this is the little train. From the North terrace of the chateau > Petit Trianon, Grand Trianon, Grand Canal (Little Venice) then back (possibility to get off at a stop and then go back to a train with the same ticket, except the last train of the day). More here:

There are different entries to the Domaine of Versailles (the local name given to the castle, trianons, hameau,gardens whole complex) . Access to the park is free for pedestrians and bicycles. Vehicles must pay an entry fee (last was 5€) except for persons with reduced mobility (PMR) on proof. My favorite entry on foot or by car was/is at the Porte Saint Antoine . Access to the gardens, reserved for pedestrians, is free except for the days of Grandes Eaux and Jardins Musicaux ( Water show and musical) from April to October. Some of the entries on foot are Grille de la Reine (Queen’s gate),by the boulevard de la Reine. The Grille des Matelots,by the road of Saint-Cyr L’école D10. By the before mentioned Porte Saint-Antoine,on the side of the town of Le Chesnay ( just to your right is the Hameau of Marie Antoinette and thereafter the Petit and Grand Trianon as well as the Castle from the back of the Grand Canal. By the Grille de Neptune, by rue de la Paroisse/rue du Maurepas crossing rue des Reservoirs (see previous posts on these streets) near the basin of Neptune from which if you take the allée de Trianon you can ,also, go to the Grand and Petit Trianons, and the Hameau of Marie Antoinette.


allée de Saint Antoine to Porte de Saint Antoine inside Domaine de Versailles

To purchase tickets and try to avoid as much as possible the ticket purchase lines (security lines are unavoidable) you can do so at the Counters with staff or automatic machines in the south wing of ministers (Aile des Ministres), the building on the left when you are in the courtyard of the castle.. There is only one entry for all individual visitors at entrance A, Pavillon Dufour!


map showing access points inside the Domaine of Versailles ,this was in the process of changing too


chateau de Versailles inside tiket office aile des ministres

It is possible to avoid the first line by buying in advance its ticket. Purchase at the tourist Office, avenue de Paris by the Novotel hotel ; sale of the ticket Château + 1.80€ of commission, (check if fees have change) avoids the lines/queue to the ticket lines of the castle. Some Cafes and restaurants sell the Château ticket without supplement, non dated, valid two years after the date of issue and without obligation to consume. However, check to see if this practice is still done. Le café Bleu Roi, 7 Rue Colbert, Tel. +33 (0) 1 71 42 85 30. The Brasserie du Musée, 2 Place Gambetta, tel.+33 (0) 1 39 50 18 08. Le Café Place d’Armes, 1 Avenue de Saint-Cloud, tel. +33 (0) 1 39 50 03 60. Le Saint Claire, 2 rue de Satory , tel.+33 (0)1 39 50 11 42.

Another possible area my oldest son worked next to it is the Place des Manéges, located on the Avenue du Général de Gaulle between the City/Town hall and the Château. They are undergoing renovation now that will be finish in April 2019 according to the City.  The building of the Manéges (or merry go around)  was a former military building under Napoleon III. It was demolished in 1988 with the exception of its portal which remained on the Avenue du General-de-Gaulle. A commercial and hotel complex called “Le Manéges” was inaugurated in 1991 on its site. Do not know if with the renovation the office still on but as you come out of Rive Gauche train station is just across the street you can check if available.

Of course, there are many online purchase ticket possibilities that are well recommended such as the FNAC stores, ticketmaster , and may hypermarket such as Carrefour, Leclerc, Auchan, etc on their in store cultural ticket sales.

One last word, best days to come. Huh! well do not come in any French Holidays 2019 or around them if bridges or ponts are available ( New Year Jan 1st, Easter Monday April 22, Labor Day ,May 1st, Victory day (WWII) May 8, Thursday of Ascension May 30, Monday of Pentecost June 10, National Day July 14, Assomption Day August 15, All Saints Day November 1st, Armistice Day (end WWI) November 11, and Christmas December 25) , Wednesdays as it is school children off day and Mom will take them out, weekends as the world comes to Versailles. The rest is up for grabs.

An an anecdote for outside viewing only. This building houses the CRCV or the research Centre of the Château de Versailles, created in 2004. It is interested in research and training on the places and expressions of power in the 17C and 18C. However, as said just for passing by as it is not open to the general public. Located at the Grand Commun building to the left looking at the castle and go to 1 rue de l’Indépendance américaine. More here in English.Recherche Center at the Chateau de Versailles


long building is the Grand Commun

There yo go hope it makes it a bit better coming to my beloved Versailles. Yes there is a lot folks but that is why you want to come too; it is awesome. Anything else is worth it. Enjoy it

And remember, happy travels , good health, and many cheers to all!!!

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