Science, my lad, is made up of mistakes, but they are mistakes which it is useful to make, because they lead little by little to the truth.
Jules Verne, Journey to the Center of the Earth
Let me go where no tourist goes. There I will find what is truly France.
These days it is hard to travel without running into fellow travelers. Cars, trains, and planes have all made travel to foreign countries easy. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy swapping stories with my English mates, American buddies from back home, and the occasional Aussie, the less frequent New Zealander and South African.
Amiens was a pleasant surprise. Amiens, pronounced “Ah-mee-on.”* Compact enough to walk, better to bike, Amiens is a gem of green gardens and quaint cafes, of ordinary French going about their daily lives.
Mes aimes, Ameniois ils s’appellent eux-mêmes.
Amiénois, they call themselves.
My friends, a little French goes a long way to make a friend in France. And if one makes a mistake in trying, all the better to becoming better friends and learning little by little.
Amiens was pleasant, nice enough for Jules Verne Jules Verne and his wife Honorine and to make it their home in 1882. It was just two blocks from the charming hotel where I stayed. Not a hotel really, but a bed and breakfast run by a most helpful couple who converted their three story flat and courtyard into an upscale place to stay. No air conditioning, but who needs it when the evenings are cool and one can leave the window open at night. No elevator, but again one is here to live the way the French do. A charming dining area, a pleasant courtyard, gracious hosts, who can ask for more.
The city is capital of the Somme Department (destination of those wishing to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the battle of the same name) and part of Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie (if you are a Sakespeare fan, not far from Agincourt). It is known for its floating gardens; its cathedral, the largest Gothic church in France (don’t miss the evening illumination of the cathedral); its Christmas market; a lovely park where you can still catch “boaters” sailing their powered craft across the lake to the delight of children; and of course, its food, “pâté de canard d’Amiens”, duck pate in pastry, and its sweets, “macarons d’Amiens”, half biscuit, half cookie; “tuiles amienoises”, chocolate and orange curved treats.
Two things to surprise you about Amiens – first, the best restaurant and the one the locals eat at is the Brasserie Jules, near the train station and far from Saint-Leu where the tourists gather. Seafood is what you want. Second is the Amiens cathedral. Impressive on the outside, on the inside it is immense. Then what is truly surprising is the illuminated show in the evening. One comes to find out that the cathedral was originally painted in vibrant colors an hues. Over the hundreds of years the colors washed away, but for 2o minutes each evening, a light show recreates the look.
There is so much to take in. And, if you have the time, bring a book and spend an afternoon in the park reading, or in a lovely café along the river, drinking café au lait and eating a macaron.
The book – something by Jules Verne, who made Amiens his home. My choice – Around the World in 80 Days.
* The French hardly ever pronounce the “s” at the end of a word. That is unless the following word begins with a vowel, in which case, the “s” gets added to the following word.