Friday, May 29, 2009

Arcs et Senans, Baume les Messieurs, Source of the Lison et Ornans

We decided, since there was a four day weekend – we would have an adventure on Saturday.

There are 2 saltworks in the area – we visited Salin les Bains way back in November.   We decided to visit Arc et Senans because, with the advent of Mr. Liberty, we have been spending time exploring what is ‘cool’ to do in the Franche Comte.  Well, practically every review mentions 2 places, Besancon and Arc et Senans.  So, we decided to stop by on Saturday morning (and then hit 3 other sites – in one day – OK – we are overly ambitious – you should be used to this by now).

mini_P230509_09.56We got to Arc et Senans a bit after 10 am wmini_P230509_10.56hen it opened.  This site was created, initially to help out the overloaded and fuel starved Salin les Bains.  The two towns were connected by 15 km of wooden pipes to conduct the salty water.  The new site was envisioned as a utopian society.  Well, that never really happened – but the beautiful buildings remain to show the attempt.  They were amini_DSC00450rranged in a semi circle and emini_DSC00451ach had a different purpose – barracks, salt barrel makers, governor’s house etc….  Now all the buildings have been mini_DSC00452transformed into various other things – we saw a hostel, administrative buildings, and art museums, architecture, paintings (Courbet) and information about the salt making industry – past and present.  It was fun – but I preferred Salin les Bains.  There, they still had original equipment etc… so we could better imagine what it was really like.  Around mini_DSC00453the outside they had an amazing sculpture garden where we hung around for awhile.  We really enjoyed this world of blue – the artist was so creative.  He used wicker for sculptures, record albums and shotgun shells in another section and even potty seats, suitcases and pieces of an automobile to showcase the blueness of his work.  The only thing that was missing was this soundtrack! Zander was amazed – as you can see!  They also enjoyed this red bridge over a small swamplike area featuring a giant nose and (not pictured) a giant wicker mosquito.  Modern art is so interesting!


Then we left to head over to a village I had read about online – Baume les Messieurs.  It is one of the “most beautiful'” villages in France.  There are 32000 villages in France and only 152 are “Le plus beaux”.  They are rigorously selected, apparently (see  so it’s not just any old village that gets to be given this designation.   We drove on winding roads through the wine country.  We were amazed at the amount of grapevine fields, as far as the eye can see for almost the entire drive.  I’m glad I don’t drink.  Trying to do cheese tasting is already overwhelming – never mind trying to taste all the wines!

mini_DSC00457Finally, famished, we got to Baume les Messieurs – it is a little villamini_DSC00459ge nestled deep in a valley surrounded by limestone cliffs.  After a picnic lunch in a stream bed, we headed toward the signs for grottes (caves).  Yes, we are hiking again folks! Look at that view!!!  This was an amazing place.    There was a beautiful river and waterfall.  The river bed had many, many little downturns, but the strange thing about them was, they were all made of mud!  I think it must change with every storm.  Then we decided to mini_DSC00461hike to the top of the ridge – it took us 25 minutes of heavy climbing.  Zander discovered a snake – it was the mini_DSC00462first time we've seen a French snake – it resembled a giant earthworm to me—maybe 18 inches long.  Ahead of us on the trail were some other climbers who apparently had some sort of incident.  The firefighters put the victim on a stretcher and carried her right up the mountain – man those guys are in shape.  I, after biking 2.5 hours with Andre’ the day before, then having a riding lesson, had very tired legs and could barely get myself up the hill – never mind carrying another person!  Once we got to the top, the view was well worth the hike.  We spent about 10 minutes looking around and then headed back down the hill again so we could go to the 2:30pm cave tour (the camini_DSC00468ves were closed between noon and 2:30 – of course – it was time mini_DSC00464for lunch!!!)  Going down was harder than going up – it was so steep and the steps, carved right out of the rock face, were slick and dangerous.  All the kids wanted a hand to hold – but the trail was so narrow – it made it very difficult to hold hands – especially with 2 kids at once.  But, we all made it down without incident and just in time for the tour as well.


This is the second cave we’ve been in so far in France – the Jura region is full of them – it was very different and fun to see another cave.  We saw bats flying around in this one – and it had vaulted ceilings, blind shrimp and lots of different rooms to wander through – Griffin does not like caves – he thinks they are boring.  Callie gets too cold and Zander wants to run ahead of the group since he gets bored – so I don’t know that we’ll be doing too many more cave adventures! Pictures didn’t come out well because we didn’t have the ‘real’ camera – only our phones.   

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Then we spent about half an hour gazing at this moss covered waterfall – it looked like it belonged on a movie set.  Griffin loved it – he kept saying “This is a beautiful place.  i never want to leave”  Here is a shot of Zander with his new haircut and no glasses.  (He is supposed to be wearing his rec specs but it is a constant battle – sigh)

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mini_DSC00484mini_P230509_18.04Finally we bid adieu to Baume les Messieurs and since time was running short, decided to skip our next destination (the Cascades du Herrison) and go straight to the Source of the Lison (or Lizon – depending on which sign we saw).  We passed ANOTHER most beautiful village (which basically looked like it was hanging off the side of a cliff and featured the ruins, right).  But, no time to stop – have to see the Lison!  This was reportedly much more impressive than the Source of the Doubs and it did not disappoint.  As you can see – it just pours right out of a mountainside cave. Zander finally got the chance to launch the paper boats he and I had constructed a few days before.  It was a mini_P230509_18.07lmini_P230509_18.57arge paper boat, with 2 small paper boats inside, with 2 even smaller paper boats inside those.  The idea was, when the first boat got soaked, the other layers would continue to float – lengthening the time the boats could survive.  It was fun to launch it but it kept getting stuck!  Then the kids tried to play a bit in the water – but it was too cold.  Griffin wanted to get out and was being helped by his big brother and sister – unfortunately Zander lost his balance and ended up crashing down the bank into the frigid water!  He is covered in mini_P230509_19.08[01]bruises – poor guy!   I got him changed and then we explored a bit more around the source.  Apparently this is such an extensive underground river people regularly vimini_P230509_19.08sit to scuba dive within it – how awesome is that!!    Then we splashed around some more in the water and Andre raced up the hill to see en couffre d’effrondrement (a 5 minute walk for him) while I got the kids dried off and shoes on.  This was a large ‘billiards hole’ formed by an underground waterfall.  We headed back to the local town for dinner – but – at 7pm on Saturday nothing was open!  So we soldiered on to Ornans – a town we hadn’t planned on visiting and had a lovely dinmini_P230509_20.20ner on the terrace near the river bank.  The kids loved that and it looked like such a cute riverside town – I would love to mini_DSC00488return. In typical French fashion, however, dinner took a couple hours and we didn’t get home until around 10:30pm.  This has thrown their schedule off for the past week.  I hate how I can’t keep them up for just one night without impacting the next!  It’s so unfair!  When will they start being more flexible with their sleep?  Predictably, we were all exhausted on Sunday and hung around the house all day – Daddie left around 3pm to go to Paris for the XP France conference and Claire and Arnaud came over to play for a few hours – it was nice for the kids to have friends over.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Parc Polaire

Well, last Tuesday was a field trip for Callie’s class.  There were lots of parents who wanted to chaperone (including me) and they had to pick names out of a hat.  Luckily, I was chosen and got to attend.  Daddie had to come home for lunch a bit early to pick up the boys and Cecile came early to take care of Griffin for the afternoon.  They don’t seem to have as many field trips in France as they do in the US.  Griffin had 2 (a horse stable and a circus) Zander has had about 3 (afternoon trips to see shows) and, for Callie, just this one – it was very very important to her that I come along so I was grateful it worked out. 

We got to school very early as the bus was supposed to leave by 8:15am.  Unfortunately, it actually didn’t even show up until 8:30.  This gave the teachers time to put the students into groups with the chaperoning parents.  My group was to be Callie, Timothe’, Rohan and Camille.  (I knew them all but Rohan).  We got on the bus and we were off.

Well, folks, it took over 2 hours to get to Parc Polaire. That’s right, about 60 kids between 5 and 6 stuck on a bus for over 2 hours.  Needless to say they got bored, and more unfortunately for everyone involved, at least 6 of them got sick enough to vomit. It reminded me of that scene in Goonies where Chunk is telling the Fratelli’s about the worst thing he ever did.  (thanks to

[the Fratellis are interrogating Chunk]
Francis Fratelli: Tell us everything! Everything!
Chunk: Everything. OK! OK! I'll talk! In third grade, I cheated on my history exam. In fourth grade, I stole my uncle Max's toupee and I glued it on my face when I was Moses in my Hebrew School play. In fifth grade, I knocked my sister Edie down the stairs and I blamed it on the dog... When my mom sent me to the summer camp for fat kids and then they served lunch I got nuts and I pigged out and they kicked me out... But the worst thing I ever done - I mixed a pot of fake puke at home and then I went to this movie theater, hid the puke in my jacket, climbed up to the balcony and then, t-t-then, I made a noise like this: hua-hua-hua-huaaaaaaa - and then I dumped it over the side, all over the people in the audience. And then, this was horrible, all the people started getting sick and throwing up all over each other. I never felt so bad in my entire life. 

Luckily, my group all had strong stomachs.  I also discovered a few things that were fun about kids in France.  One, they clap in syncopation when they are excited.  Hands straight up, clap, clap, clap. Eerie….  Two, they like to sing – it was amazing to hear Callie singing along with the other children in perfect accent and harmony.

Parc Polaire  ( is a place to go visit wolf dogs (huskies) and deer in their natural setting (or not, since this is not in a polar cap).  The kids have been studying wolves all year so they were very excited to go see the dogs.  It was actually a pretty tiny place.  Once we got there we spent about half an hour going to the bathroom in small groups and then got to walk to this enclosure (about the size of a football field) where they kept two packs of dogs.  Some of them were friendly, others weren’t but the kids got to pat the friendly ones. It seemed a bit dangerous – apparently if we were to accidentally cross into the wrong territory, we would most likely be attacked.  (I believed it seeing how some of the dogs started growling even if you looked at them).  The guide leaped in front of a group of children interested in what looked like a small cave at one point.  Apparently, there was a pregnant mother dog in there – who would bite if we got too close as well.  The whole set up seemed a bit dodgy considering these are 5 and 6 year old kids – excited to pet doggies - but none of them got bit so I guess they know what they are doing.  This part of the activities took about 1/2 an hour.  Here’s lots of shots!


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Then we left this enclosure to head over to where the reindeer (I think they were caribou) were housed.  It was a giant field.  First we all waited at a gate and got to see the deer from about 20 feet away.  They quickly scattered as soon as the gate was open and we followed them around the field for a bit – never getting within a stone’s throw again.  Callie had a great time picking up caribou fur that was scattered on the grass – she got quite a bunch!  Pictured below are Callie (with fur), Ambre, Callie (with Caribou), Michel Alexandre, Timothe, Camille (who was chewing on string all day) and Callie (with antlers) and 4 kids I don’t know gazing at the grazing animals.  It was a gorgeous day.

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mini_DSC08444Then we headed over to a field nearby and had our picnic lunches.  The kids had fun running around, playing tag, looking at giant black slugs (limas) and picking all the cowslips they could find.  You could tell we were up in the mountains since the wildflowers were a few weeks behind what is blooming in Besancon.  My group and I had been doing pretty well, with the exception of Rohan who was very sad.  Finally Valerie switched him with Alicia – which thrilled Callie to death (as youmini_DSC08453 can see). 

OK – so now it is about 1 and we have been out of the bus about as long as we were in it and have finished seeing all Parc Polaire has to offer.   So, we hop back on the bus to go over to the Source of the Doubs.  The Doubs is the large river that rings the centre of Besancon.  It is our ‘local’ river – much like the Schuykill in  Philly so I was excited to see the source of it.  The bus ride wasn’t too long, but I lost my daughter as a seatmate – she was having too much fun with Alicia to sit with boring old mom!

The source of the Doubs was, frankly a bit of a disappointment.  It consisted of a pool of water (no gushing bubbling spring) followed by a waterfall and a nice little stream.  It was beautiful and the kids loved playing mini_DSC08463around the water, of course.   Also there were these giant buttercup shaped flowers growing near the water that I have identified as marsh marigolds. I found it strange that they could just decide to ‘add’ this stop to our field trip.  I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t be allowed in the US.  The driver would have to only stick to the destinations on his plan – and the parents might be angry that we took their kids to an unauthorized location!  But, we had  fun, anyway.  Here are Callie and Alicia in front of the ‘mysterious’ source of the Doubs.  They were in love with the winged mermaid figure pictured on the information board.   I am fascinated by mythological creatures so I tried to do some research and came up empty.  Finally I typed the legend, in French, into a translator.  Here is a great example of how these tools are less than perfect.  Here is what it translates into:

It is said in open source that count are sometimes live for Vouivre, legendary personnage bearing a precious stone, the carbuncle on his forehead. Mouth of a man who was afraid to put anything on the advice one Sorciere take the carbuncle of Vouivre when she drank the neck of beif but it would not share anything changed the sorcerer stone in horse dung…

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Hmmm…. I don’t think that is quite right.  I would say it should be more like…

It is said, in an old story of Franche Comte that this spring was the home of the Vouivre.  A legendary figure, part woman, part bird and part snake she bore a precious jewel on her forehead.  A greedy and fearless man, living in the town of Mouth, wanted the carbuncle for his own.  He took the advice of an evil sorcerer who told him to slaughter a bull and steal the carbuncle from the Voivre while she was busy drinking it’s blood.  He did this, but once he had the jewel, he refused to share its riches with the sorcerer or the people of the town – and it turned into horse dung in his hands.  It was said he smelled of dung for all the rest of his days, and the Voivre, whose power was diminished without her magical stone, went into hiding.  The local people say, sometimes, you can still catch a glimpse of her in this pool, searching for her the carbuncle, and you can always smell the dung, wafting over the fields.

OK – so I embellished – and made some stuff up too.  Sue me.

The shots below are: Callie and Alicia at the waterfall, Timothe and Sully wanting to go for a swim, Marie playing in the water, Callie with her teacher Valerie, Evan crouching by the stream, a shot of another part of the river that looked more like a source to me (see how the water is just seeping out of the ground) a shot of the fun playground the kids played on for a few minutes and, finally the attempt at a group shot! 

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We headed for home, took about 1.5 hours but there was no vomiting.  Most of the kids were exhausted and simply fell asleep.  Others (like Timothe, below) played with their seat mates and I was fascinated by the beautiful lake we drove by for at least half an hour. St. Point Lac, I guess.  It was immense! Must return….

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