2nd November 2013, Pontoise, Val d’Oise, Île de France
I’m going to keep this short and sweet (teehee: no pun intended!), since otherwise D’Artagnan’ll never get his cup of tea!
So, on Saturday I sent off for Auvers-sur-Oise, otherwise known as last town where Van Gogh lived (the house where he killed himself is now a restaurant). I was armed with my audioguide to sites nearby painted by various people, and a heated TripAdvisor debate over whether the château’s multimedia history of Impressionism was a work of genius or a tourist rip-off.
Blissfully absorbed in writing chapter three, I barely noticed that we kept stopping for increasingly long periods in odd places, as the train manager announced that there were problems with the electricity, and the main sat a few rows in front of me took to swearing louder and louder, before eventually storming somewhere (I’m not sure where: presumably not off the train in the middle of the tracks!)
Arriving at Pontoise, I noticed delays on the line to Auvers, and thought I could take advantage for a quick pootle. Somehow I never quite got round to leaving… Audioguide of historic city, leaflet guided tour of key Impressionist sites: I had a great time wandering around a fairly sleepy little town (with lots of hills!), taking photos of cute little buildings, strolling along the river…
And then I decided to head on, and it all got a bit mad. Never encouraging when there’s announcement that there’s been a signalling problem, and no trains can leave the station. Nor when you ask the woman in the bright jacket inviting you to ask for help if you can grt back to Paris, and her response is ‘not from here’. Never has cake been more needed!
The sweet treat in question was a coffee mille feuille, bought from a boulangerie by the station with a strange automatic payment machine (an actual woman gave me my cake, but I had to put the coins in a slot: my first experience of that!). Having learnt from previous mistakes, I had a handy plastic spoon in my bag, and having taken one look at me the bakery woman handed me a wad of serviettes: clearly I look like the messy type!
So, stranded on a train that couldn’t move, I tucked in:
My first mille feuille in France. Did it have a thousand leaves of pastry? No, I reckon the extras were on the line (the French have an excellent approach to Autumn problems: expecting there to be delays due to leaves on the line, they cut down the train services, effectively ‘cancelling them in advance’!). Flakiness wasn’t bad though, plenty of different lines, and the pastry had stayed nice and crunchy. I also loved the generous splodges of coffee-flavoured custard (we all know I love a good custard!). The top was pretty, too, with two bands of flaked almonds and one band left plain. A pretty passable pastry. I just couldn’t help but feel that it was missing something, though, perhaps another texture or another taste: bits of chocolate, or walnuts, or something else crunchy or… Or maybe I’ve just been spoilt by other, fabulous, pastries. After all, I did eat it all!
The story ends well too: five minutes after finishing my mille feuille, an announcement came that one train would be leaving the station for Paris Saint-Lazare. I’ve never seen a mob like it: old women smacking people out of the way with their sticks, girls taking off their heels to be able to run faster, people hoisting buggies over their arms… We all made it, and we all made it home. Maybe Auvers-sur-Oise next week?