Summer and early autumn are very much the months of Jules Verne. Born in Nantes, the iconic writer spent most of his life in the city of Amiens, where he is also burried at La Madeleine cemetery.
Amiens has long prided itself as the town of Jules Verne. There are streets, commercial areas, a building (Cirque Jules Verne) and university (Université Jules Verne) named after him. Some streets even bear the names of his famed characters, like Michel Strogoff. There are several statues honoring the grand father of science-fiction, and by extension steampunk.
As if this weren’t enough for any fan of the literary grand master, the city has upped the ante with their Aronnax celebration. Named after Pierre Aronnax, one of the lead characters of Verne’s probably best known novel, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas, it’s best described as a three-parter.
First there is the expo: 20000 lieues sous les mers, which in a small part takes place at La Maison de Jules Verne (yes, you can absolutely go and visit the home the writer lived in!) and for the most part in Musée de Picardie.
So that’s two parts, or perhaps part 1A and 1B?
Note that Musée de Picardie is closed on Mondays, and La Maison de Jules Verne is closed on Tuesdays, so plan accordingly.
The other is a trail through the city, encouraging people to (re)discover the author. You can pick up the A5 multipage flyer at the Tourism Office (or click this link to get the PDF), just outside of the infamous cathedral. (That church is a story all in itself, which we’ll leave for another day.) In total there are eighteen stops, and all of them will tell you something about the writer.
Funnily his bust in town is not one of the stops, but it’s easy enough to find. Once you hit the main shopping street, Le Rue des Troix Cailoux, with your back to the cathedral, simply turn right and you’ll walk straight toward it. By the by, the pub on right of it, Au Bureau, also offers excellent fare and a very dieselesque decor.
Having visited on a Monday (don’t make our mistake!), I only visited the expo in La Maison de Jules Verne.
Having previously visited the writer’s home a few years ago, I will say that some things have changed. There’s a small cafetaria section in the entrance room, which is a strictly a “get stuff from the vending machines” affair. But it’s cozy nonetheless. There’s a wide variety of books for sale. If you’re looking for a specific title, in French, there’s a very good chance you’ll find it there. Although editions are mostly the current ones you can also find at places like Le Furret du Nord and the dreaded French Amazon. Prices are not hiked up, however, so you if you’re in the market for some books, you’re better off having a look at La Maison’s gift shop first.
La Maison de Jules Verne is a beautiful house, with steampunk decor avant la lettre, all sorts of super fun features (portholes for windows) and definitely well worth the visit, even if you’re not a huge Jules Verne fan. The man really did know how to decorate and have a home built to his specific wishes. It’s just a marvelous piece of both architecture and interior design, from the flower tile details to the outside walls, the winter garden, hot air balloon cabinet and more.
The Aronnax exhibition at La Maison isn’t really worth the entrance fee in my opinion. The visit to the entire house is, 100 procent. But the expo is a display of under fifty items in a few display cases, one larger model of what is supposed to be the Nautilus in just the one room and that’s it.
Now, in all fairness, it does seem that the lion share of the expo is happening at Musée Picardie, but just going to La Maison for the temporary expo is not something I recommend unless you’re a diehard fan.
Other fun things to do in Amiens if you’re not nuts for Jules Verne:
The zoo, a small conservation zoo that absolutely puts the wellfare of its animals first. It won’t take you all day to get through, the entry price is very reasonable, and you get to see a ton of animals in nice enclosures suited to their needs.
St-Leu, across the bridge from the cathedral, a little town in an of itself on the other side of the canal, with tons of fun little streams, bridges and a joyous mishmash of architecture that would make Wes Anderson weep with joy. Not for fans of bright colors!
The cathedral, one of the oldest in Europe. Home to the skull of John the Baptist and sporting a leaded glass window with an inverted pentagram (best seen from the back of the cathedral) and one of the most documented labyrinth designs in the floor. Yeah, it’s a weird one as far as churches go.
There are tours to both the cathedral and treasury, but they don’t go many times a day and usually are in the morning, so probably show up at 9:30 to get booked on one. And wear sturdy, closed shoes. They’re sticklers for proper footwear.