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Paris A Traveller in Paris

Doug Phillips

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By Doug Phillips from Canada, Fall 2006
October 21-28, 2006. A very enjoyable week in Paris in a great location in the Marais, featuring a different restaurant each evening, an afternoon mini-GTG, very smooth transportation connections and local travel. A real bonus was unexpectedly good weather.

This trip report was originally posted on SlowTrav.

Why Paris?

BW (aka Beautiful Wife, picture on the right) & I never planned on any European travel from our home in Eastern Ontario in 2006. One of our daughters got married at the end of July. We had spent most of the past year squirreling away any funds that we could to prepare for the financial shock. We did such a good job that we had some money left over after the last bill was paid. Most people find that hard to believe.

Why Paris? To many people the answer might be “Where else but Paris for a week?” but there’s a bit more to it than that. I had been to Paris twice, back in the early 1970’s. BW had been once, over a Christmas break at university around the same time - to visit a friend who was studying in France for a year. My memories were quite pleasant. Her experience was horrible – including lost luggage, stereotypical rude Frenchmen and miserable weather. She never had a good word to say about Paris for most of our marriage. When we planned our trip to Tuscany in 2004, we flew to Paris, then on to Florence. I asked her if she wanted to spend a few days in Paris on the way home, such as we had done in London on our way back to Canada from the Algarve on a previous trip. “No!” was her immediate and emphatic reply.

However, as we were planning our September 2005 trip to Provence, which also involved flying into Paris, she suggested that we spend a few days in the city on our way home. We only had three full days in Paris, but had such a great time and knew there was much more that we wanted to do and see that Paris was an easy choice for our “reward week” to ourselves. So that’s “Why Paris?”

I am a retired History teacher/teacher-Librarian. Our three days in Paris in September 2005 stimulated me to find out more about the city and its history, especially when we decided to return. In particular I liked three books. The first was My Life in France, Julia Child's memoir of her years in France, mainly in Paris, beginning in 1949. The second was Things Seen in Paris by Clive Holland. While the book was published in 1926, I enjoyed the photographs, descriptions and perspective of the book.

The third book I enjoyed was Seven Ages of Paris by Alistair Horne. I was especially impressed by the influences of Henry IV, the Second Empire and the leadership of Charles de Gaulle in the post-war years on modern Paris. I can never think of the beautiful Place des Vosges without associating it with the tragic death of Henry IV. The influence of the 19th century's Baron Haussmann is everywhere to be seen in the Paris of the 21st. Another influence that I saw everywhere I looked in Paris was the effect of de Gaulle's inspired choice of André Malraux as France's first Minister of Culture from 1960 to 1969. To me, the most unexpected revelation in the book was how important the German occupation in World War II looms in the long history of Paris. According to Horne, this was the saddest period in the history of the city - even more devastating than the l'année terrible of 1870. I became aware of the numerous plaques, especially in the Jewish section of Paris, commemorating this very difficult period.

This was the first trip we planned with the aid of Slow Travel from the outset – and the first trip we planned without consulting a travel agent. Since we live in Canada, the most economical air carrier to Paris is a newer airline, ZOOM. We began by looking for a one-week return flight to Paris sometime in September, but the earliest we could book a suitable flight was from Friday October 20 and returning on Saturday October 28. We rented an apartment in the Marais through Paris Bestlodge, thanks to a recommendation from Steve and Linda Jones.

We decided to get around in Paris by using the Batobus water taxi for the first two days and purchasing a Carte Orange for the Métro and RER beginning on Monday. Both of these decisions were the result of SlowTrav discussions. We also made a list of restaurants based mainly on SlowTrav recommendations and our previous experience. I made restaurant reservations for the first three evenings while still in Canada. Similar to our previous visit, I planned my phone calls around 6:00pm local time. I figured there would be staff in the restaurant, but it would not be open yet for the evening meal. I wrote out a script before I made the phone calls and tried to conduct the conversation entirely in French.


BW enjoying a gelato on Île St. Louis on our last night in Paris
October 20-21 : Toronto to Paris via Montreal; Batobus; Le Petit Niçois

On Friday morning we drove to Toronto where we met up with our friends, Bill and Sandra. In the past they had expressed an interest in visiting Paris, so we had approached them early on about joining us. This was to be a new experience for us – travelling with another couple.

We dropped the car off at the Park’N Fly and got to Pearson Airport in plenty of time for our 3:40pm ZOOM flight. The plane was less than ¼ full until we landed in Montreal where it filled up. We left a few minutes before our scheduled 5:55pm departure. The flight was the smoothest, most relaxing plane trip we have experienced. We arrived at Terminal 3 at Charles de Gaulle at 6:20am on Saturday morning – 20 minutes early. The shuttle bus delivered us to the terminal where we had only a minute or two wait until our luggage appeared. We passed through Customs and made the short walk over to Terminal 1 where we bought our tickets for the RER train into Paris. By 6:45am, we were on the train, making our way into the city. Unbelievable!

In Paris we arrived at the Chatelet stop, where we purchased our Cartes Orange for use beginning Monday. The friendly clerk had some difficulty believing that we actually wanted the Cartes Orange. I assume she’s more accustomed to dealing with commuters, rather than tourists. We exited the Métro at Hotel de Ville and made the short walk to our apartment on rue de la Verrerie. The scheduled check-in time was noon, but I had emailed Eric, the owner, indicating that we would likely be there around 9:00am and would it be okay if we arrived a few hours earlier? No problem. Eric wrote that everything would be ready by the time we arrived. We followed his directions to the apartment, entered the number code on the keypad to get us off the street and into the courtyard, entered another set of numbers to get us into our small apartment block, climbed two flights of circular stairs, where the directions stated there would be a key under the mat. No key – finally a glitch. The problem was that we were at least an hour earlier than the time I had told Eric that we would arrive.

I was delegated to try to find a phone to call Eric. I exited the courtyard back onto rue de la Verrerie. Now, I don’t know how many of you have been on the streets of Paris at 8:00am on a Saturday morning in late October, but my experience is that they are pretty deserted. I turned left towards rue du Renard, passing a man going in the opposite direction. I waited a few seconds, turned around and noticed him at the large dark green doors of our apartment building. “Eric?” I called. It was the owner of the apartment coming to drop off the key at this very early hour, by Parisian standards.

We had seen very few people at the airport, on the RER train or on the streets of Paris. The rest of our first day in Paris there were increasing numbers of people wherever we went. Shortly after 9:00am we left the apartment and made a short walk down to the Seine where we found the Batobus stop. We were about 45 minutes too early for the first boat of the day so we walked over to nearby Île St. Louis for un café et trois cafés creme, at a café on the tip of the island. I wanted to spend some time on the island this trip. I had seen a TV program about the island and had read about this quiet oasis in a couple of books. Fortunately, our apartment location meant the many of the places we wanted to visit, as well as the Batobus, were within a very reasonable walking distance.

We returned to the Batobus stop, bought our 2-day tickets (€13 each) and took the water taxi all the way down to the Eiffel Tower. If we had brought our Cartes Orange with us, the price would have been €8 each - but, figuring they wouldn't be any good until Monday, we had them back at the apartment. It was my first view of Paris from the Seine. I enjoyed it very much, passing under the various bridges and getting a different perspective on some of the major landmarks of Paris.

We spent the next few hours in the vicinity of the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs Elysées. This was a new experience for Sandra and Bill and one that we were repeating from the previous September. We walked back to the Batobus stop at the Eiffel Tower, returned to the Hotel de Ville, and stopped in at Boulangerie PAUL at the corner of rue du Renard and rue de Rivoli to get something to take back to the apartment in the late afternooon.

Our reservations at Le Petit Niçois (10, rue Amélie, 75007) were at 8:30pm - early by Parisian standards. The restaurant is in the area between Les Invalides and the Eiffel Tower. The nearest Métro station is Le Tour Maubourg. Close to 8:00pm, we walked down to the Hotel de Ville Métro station and bought a carnet of 10 tickets from a machine. There was a long line-up behind me, and I was unsure what to do. I turned to the gentleman behind me and asked "Aidez-moi, s'il vous plait?" Everything went smoothly and we were soon walking through a different part of Paris looking for the restaurant on the narrow streets of the district. Le Petit Niçois was less than half-full when we arrived. We enjoyed a very good meal with friendly service. By the time we left around 10:30pm the restaurant was completely full of French speaking patrons.


Eric, owner of Paris Verrerie apartment, very early on a Saturday morning
Sunday October 21 - a walk through the Marais; L'As du Fallafel; La Fontaine de Mars

Early Sunday morning I looked at my watch, noticed it was 7:30, thought about getting up, and the next thing I knew it was 10:30am. The previous day had caught up with us. While the coffee was brewing in the apartment and while the hair dryer was doing double duty, I made what would become a daily excursion around the corner and down the block to the corner of rue du Renard and rue de Rivoli to buy the fresh croissants at Boulangerie PAUL.

By the time we left the apartment it was after noon. By tacit consent we decided that this would be a very relaxing day. We walked in the direction of the Place des Vosges, walking by the Musée Carnavalet and passing along the rue des Rosiers where we lined up at L'As du Fallafel for a novel taste treat for the four of us. A short time later we entered the Place des Vosges where a jazz group was playing under one arcade and another group was playing Baroque music across the gardens under another covered walkway. We enjoyed the experience of being there for a while before heading down to the Seine where we took a one-hour Batobus tour. In the late afternoon we strolled around the nearby Île de la Cité and visited the Cathedral of Notre Dame with its stunning Rose windows.

In the early evening we took the Batobus to the Champs Elysées stop, walked over the beautiful Pont Alexandre III in the direction of Les Invalides. We turned right onto rue Saint Dominique and made our way to La Fontaine de Mars restaurant (129, rue Saint Dominique,75007). We asked to be seated in a non-smoking area and were shown to a small room up the stairs and at the back of the restaurant. I have read that Paris is introducing a very extensive non-smoking policy within the next year. Good luck! We again enjoyed a very good meal with friendly, attentive service. Our plats included magret de canard, cassoulet and cotes de saumon. Combined with kir aperitifs and one bottle each of a white Cassis Val Bruyere and a red les Garrigues wine we were very relaxed when we returned to our apartment in the Marais later in the evening. Just what we needed on our second day in Paris.


Classique Metropolitain playing in the Place des Vosges
Monday Oct. 22 - Pompidou Centre; Louvre; Montmartre; Chez Nenesse, à la prochaine

Croissants from Boulangerie PAUL at 8:00am, returning to the serenade of the hair dryer echoing in the courtyard through the open window. We have noticed (he says, somewhat grimly), that our neighbours directly above us are night owls, sometimes interrupting our sleep patterns. I am reasonably certain that we returned the favour for the rest of our stay by our early rising and associated normal movement and noise each day. It made us feel much better.

After breakfast, our friends went off to see the nearby Picasso Museum, while BW and I set out to explore more of the Marais and check the location of a couple of restaurants as well as the Café des Musées, the site of our much-anticipated mini-GTG with Casole, a fellow Slow Traveller, the following afternoon. Later in the morning, we met Bill and Sandra at the Centre Georges Pompidou and had the first and only disappointment of our week in Paris. Our Museum Pass got us into the Centre, but the only floor open to us without an additional payment was the fourth. I don't know exactly how to describe the exhibits on display. I liked some ... well OK, only a few, but found most to be beyond my appreciation. We thought that one room was a construction site, until we realized that the debris was the exhibit. One room contained a single, gigantic, red, high-heeled shoe. But for those of you who may like that sort of thing, there certainly is a lot of it. For me, the best features of the Centre are the escalators going up the outside of the building. They provide excellent vantage points for some panoramic photos of the city.

We followed up the letdown of the Pompidou Centre by taking the Métro a few stops to a guaranteed highlight of any trip to Paris - a visit to the venerable and overwhelming Louvre Museum. Our friends were more than just a bit impressed by the structure itself. Since this was their first visit, we headed to the first floor of the Denon wing to see some of the stars of the collection. We passed by the Winged Victory of Samothrace on our way to the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo and Vermeer's The Lacemaker. Even this modest agenda took a couple of hours as we were drawn in by the masterpieces in every room we entered.

When we had completed our mission, we met at the base of the glass pyramid and headed for the underground Métro stop. Our way was blocked for some unknown reason, so we proceeded above ground to catch the Métro there. However, the rue de Rivoli running along the Louvre was also impassable, this time by yellow police tape and a cordon of officers. We decided to walk around the obstruction but found that the tape extended over a wide area. We took this as a sign that it was time for lunch, so we sat down at two small tables at Le Café de la Comédie, on Place André Malraux opposite the Comédie Francaise. I asked our waitress what was the problem. "Suspect car," she whispered. We were at the outside edge of the police perimeter. Pedestrians and vehicles were being turned back directly in front of us, while we sat outdoors eating sandwiches and drinking beer. Hmmmmmm?

However, as quickly as the bottleneck built up, it evaporated as the tape was removed and the police allowed cars and pedestrians to pass. Within a few minutes the police presence had disappeared and the busy life of that part of Paris returned to normal.

We spent most of the remaining daylight hours exploring la Butte, the hilltop area of Montmartre. We took the Métro to the Blanche stop quite near the Moulin Rouge. From there we roughly followed a guide book walking tour, climbing up rue Lepic "past tempting delicatessens and cafés." We passed Van Gogh's apartment at #58 where he lived from 1886 to 1888, "Taking his inspiration from the windmills and gardens of Montmartre." Last year, BW and I had visited the mental hospital just outside St. Remy where Van Gogh spent another year, a few months before he committed suicide. We have taken notice of any references to Van Gogh since then.

The weather had deteriorated during the day and we were walking in a light rain all the way to the top of the hill. Along the way we passed the remains of Le Moulin de la Galette, the setting of one of Renoir's most famous works, and Montmartre's only other remaining windmill - Moulin Radet. Eventually, we reached the top of the hill, approaching Sacre Coeur from the back. We walked around to the front and were rewarded with some excellent views of Paris. Too bad about the rain.

After exploring the interior of the church, we decided to take the bus back down the hill. The streets were wet and the footing was uncertain. I planned to take the Métro at Abbesses and get a photo of one of only two remaining Art Nouveau Métro entrances in Paris. But the stop was closed and the prospect of walking to the next stop was unattractive so we stayed on the bus to Pigalle where we took the Métro back to the Hotel de Ville.

Last year our most enjoyable dinner in Paris was at Chez Nenesse (17, rue de Saintonge, 75003; tel. 01 42 78 46 49), so it was an easy decision to book another visit before we left home. The restaurant was less than a 10-minute walk from our apartment. When we arrived the same family staff seemed to remember our previous visit. They likely don't get many phone reservations from Canada a couple of weeks in advance by an anglophone trying to speak French.

We had dinner at seven different restaurants during our week in Paris. In retrospect, we probably should have booked Chez Nenesse for several evenings. It is where we felt the most welcome, enjoyed the best food, and appreciated the friendly neighbourhood ambiance. When we left, the parting words from our hosts were "à la prochaine." I sincerely hope so.


Alain le Meur and the staff of Chez Nenesse - à la prochaine
Tuesday Oct. 24 - GTG!!!; Panthéon; Sainte-Chapelle; La Fontaine Gourmande

Shortly after 8:00am I had to phone Eric. "Il n'y a pas de l'eau chaud," I informed him. He arrived about an hour later and got the hot water heater working.

BW and I were on our own for the day. Our friends planned a day at Versailles and the Musée d'Orsay. We spent most of the morning and early afternoon over on the Left Bank, pausing at a street market where we purchased some foie gras to bring back home and visiting the Panthéon, Sainte-Chapelle and the Conciergerie. On rue Valette on our way to the Panthéon we encountered a real life drama. A group of fireman were breaking into an upper floor apartment using a ladder and a pry bar to open the closed shutters. As one fireman broke the window and entered the apartment another one entered the building from the street level. We didn't linger, but the possible scenarios suggested a personal tragedy.

The Panthéon may not appeal to everyone, but I was very moved by the large underground crypt accommodating many of the great public figures of France - including Emile Zola, Voltaire, Rousseau, Louis Braille, Marie and Pierre Curie, André Malraux, Jean Monnet, Victor Hugo and, Jean Moulin, the leader of the French Resistance in World War II. In fact, it was Jean Moulin's tomb that had the greatest effect. While he was executed by the Germans in 1943, people still leave personal mementos and messages on his tomb, much like at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC.

The Panthéon was also the place where, in 1851, the astronomer Jean Bernard Léon Foucault first held his famous experiment, proving that the world spins around its axis. Foucault's pendululm is back on display at the Pantheon, accompanied by a short video.

From the Panthéon we walked back in the direction of the Seine and stopped for a light lunch at Le Soleil d'Or Brasserie (15, Blvd du Palais) before walking over to Sainte-Chapelle. The line-up was short, in contrast to what we had been led to expect. I am not a huge fan of church interiors. I walk through most I come across, but it is usually the exteriors that make the strongest impression. However, Sainte-Chapelle is the exception. The upper chapel has to be seen to be believed. It is surely Paris's most beautiful church - "a veritable Sistine Chapel of shimmering stained glass," in the words Teresa Fisher in Spiral Guide Paris.

Almost next door to Sainte-Chapelle is the Conciergerie which was a prison from 1391 to 1914, most notably during the time of the French Revolution. It was from the May courtyard outside the building that the prisoners were escorted onto the tumbrels for their appointment with the guillotine across the river to the present-day Place de la Concorde. For a retired History teacher the Conciergerie was well worth the visit. For others, perhaps not so much.

From the Conciergerie we walked back to the Right Bank, strolled though the Marais, making our way to to the Café des Musées (49, rue de Turenne) and our mini-GTG with Casole. BW and I shared a very pleasant time with Casole and mother-in-law along with an equally pleasant bottle of Beaujolais - note the empty glasses in the photo. We had a great time, one of the highlights of our week.

In the early evening BW and I walked along rue des Archives and paused at a brasserie for a drink before dinner. There are many places to have a beer along rue des Archives but most of them are packed entirely with rather attractive younger men. BW commented that usually when a woman walks by, at least some men pay attention. "But here, nothing." she noticed.

Eventually, we arrived at La Fontaine Gourmande (11, rue Charlot - 75003; tel. 01 42 78 72 40), a small restaurant with stone walls in the Marais run by two women. We enjoyed an excellent meal, including a Grand Marnier soufflé for dessert. When we first arrived there were very few others in the restaurant, but at 9:30 we were joined by a single party of locals who filled all the remaining tables, carrying on lively conversations the rest of the evening and lighting up cigarettes from time to time. It was a very friendly convivial atmosphere.

Today, we spent the whole day within a 15 minute walking radius of our apartment. What was it like? Perfect.


casole, m-i-l, BW at the Café des Musées
Wed. Oct. 25 - Louvre; Arc de Triomphe; Café le Zimmer; Trattoria Roma

Early Wednesday morning the four of us made a return visit to the Louvre. This time we headed to the Richelieu gallery where we spent a couple of hours on the first and second floors. I have a continuing interest in French history of the 19th century. The Napoleon III Apartments and the displays in the July Monarchy and Restoration rooms on the first floor sated my interest this trip. Following our visit, we walked through the Tuileries where we saw a rather disconcerting sight - French soldiers in combat gear and automatic weapons searching the gardens, pausing every few seconds to poke their weapons under the shrubbery. A normal occurrence or a response to a threat? We don't know and didn't hang around to find out. At the Place de la Concorde we caught a bus, took it partway up the Champs Elysées, and walked, talked and window-shopped all the way to the Arc de Triomphe. We climbed to the top, enjoyed the views, snapped a few pics and came back down. I counted 194 steps on the circular staircase. Would somebody please check that for me the next time you're there?

We took the Métro back to Chatelet where we enjoyed a late lunch at Café Le Zimmer (1, place du Chatelet, 75001). BW and I spent the rest of the afternoon strolling through the busy commercial district, BW checking out potential stores for the shopping day tomorrow. I was quite content to wait outside and admire the passing scenery, if you know what I mean. At one point we saw a large gathering of people assembling for what appeared to be a protest march in the area of the Hotel de Ville. The focus of the marchers appeared to be anti-poverty. Interestingly, there were several banners proclaiming a cahier des doléances, an apparent reference to the lists of grievances that were brought from all over France to the meeting of the Estates-General in the spring of 1789. A few years ago somebody observed that "the past is never really the past. It is always with us." Believe it.

Around 8:30 BW and I walked over to the Left Bank and had an Italian meal at Trattoria Roma (44, Blvd St.-Germain). We had an enjoyable dinner there the previous year. This one was okay, but we likely won't return on another visit to Paris. As we were about to leave, we had a short conversation with two Americans at the next table. One of them had just finished moving into an apartment in the area. She is on sabbatical for a year. I tried to recruit her for Slow Travel. We had a very pleasant return journey across the Seine and back to our apartment in the Marais.


French soldiers in the Tuileries Gardens
Thursday Oct. 26 - Cluny Museum, Musée d'Orsay; Île St. Louis; Le Florimond

We awoke to blue skies and warm temperatures which continued to rise throughout the day. The distaff pair decided to do some shopping along the rue de Rivoli until the early afternoon. Bill and I headed over to the highly recommended Cluny museum where we were suitably impressed by the collection of medieval art and history on display, especially the magnificent tapestries. The remarkable building itself is the architectural embodiment of the period of the collection. When Bill headed off to Les Invalides, I spent the next several hours on my own, first visiting the nearby St.-Séverin church with its magnificent organ, which enticed me to linger for about half an hour.

Next, I took the Métro to the Musée d'Orsay, where I first rented an audio guide before heading to the fifth floor and the wonderful collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works. With the audio guide, I found myself immersed in a particular painting while about me there was a steady stream of people walking into a room, making a slow circuit, then moving on. I highly recommend the audio guide when visiting the Musée d'Orsay. Now that I know so much about the period, I think in my spare time I'm going to become a world-famous Impressionist painter. I'll let you know how it works out.

We had agreed to meet back at the apartment, but our spouses decided to hang out at La Pause Beaubourg brasserie on the corner. We all met up with each other and enjoyed a light lunch, including a glass of Gamay Premier from the Ardèche region. It was an acceptable and inexpensive substitute for Beaujolais Nouveau which doesn't appear until the third week of November.

We spent the rest of the afternoon on Île St. Louis, a very pleasant part of the city. The smaller of Paris's two islands it has a relaxed atmosphere with tree-lined riversides and elegant stone buildings. One of its principal attractions is its main street, rue St.-Louis-en-l'Île with an unbroken line of shops, stores, restaurants and small hotels most of its length.

Our dinner plans should have been a disaster. For the third time we returned to the 7th district, exiting at the Ecole Militaire stop and making our way to Le Florimond restaurant (19, Avenue de la Motte-Picquet, 75007). I thought that I had made reservations for Thursday, but they had been expecting us on Wednesday. While Laurent of Le Florimond graciously accepted the blame for the mix-up, I am reasonably certain it was my mistake. I must have booked the restaurant for mercredi, but recorded it under jeudi in my journal. There was an outside table available; the evening was warm and pleasant; and Laurent brought us each a complimentary kir royale.

We enjoyed a very good dinner, beginning with two entrées - Ravioles de hommard, brunaise de légumes and Veloute d'aubergines, farcis au bacon. For our plats two ordered Filet mignon de porc, aux reines des renette violine de riz aux baies de sereau and one tried Onglet de veau parmietière de champignons sauvage, sauce au vin jaune. My plat, called Face en Face, was excellent, consisting of two types of beef - a fillet mignon and a beef stew - along with légumes and potatoes. Our liquids were one litre of l'eau gazeuse, a very good bottle of Chinon wine, deux cafés. L'addition was €125.50.

The evening was very pleasant, thanks to the staff and food at Le Florimond. We will certainly plan a return visit the next time we're in Paris. On the back to our apartment we were entertained by a saxophonist playing in the Métro.


Laurent of Le Florimond between Sandra & BW
Friday Oct. 27 - Canal St.-Martin; Musée Carnavalet; Shakespeare and Co; Mon Vieil Ami

On our final day in Paris, BW and I began by taking the Métro to the Place de la République, a very familiar area from our previous visit, and walking over to the Canal St.-Martin, one of Paris's "hidden delights" according to one authority. The five kilometer stretch of waterway links the Seine with a network of waterways on the outskirts of the city and the area is apparently a thriving commercial district. However, not in the morning, when most places are closed. The area is picturesque, but the water was green and there wasn't much to see or do so early in the day. We made our way over to the Gare de l'Est and took the Métro back to the Marais for a much more rewarding visit to the Musée Carnavalet and its extensive collection of historic paintings, sculptures, maps and costumes which detail the history of Paris over the centuries. The museum is easily worth a two hour visit.

We walked over to rue des Rosiers, paid a second visit to L'As du Fallafel for our lunch, strolled through the Marais down to the rue de Rivoli, where we paused at a fromagerie to buy some fromage du chèvre to bring back home. From there we crossed over to the Left Bank where we were rewarded by a rather unusual sight. At Shakespeare and Co (37, rue de la Bûcherie), the English language bookstore founded in 1922 by the legendary Sylvia Beach, the present owner, George Whitman, was checking out the day from an upper floor window. The stock of the bookstore is an eclectic mixture of new and used books, completely filling every available shelf space from floor to ceiling, overflowing to the courtyard in front of the store. The aisles are very narrow, usually allowing only one-way traffic. We had a great time there and bought two travel-related titles difficult to find in North America.

In the early evening the four of us made the short walk over to Île St. Louis and enjoyed our last dinner in Paris at the slightly more upscale Mon Vieil Ami restaurant (69, rue St. Louis en l'Île, 75004). The chef, Antoine Westermann, "brings his zesty Alsatian touch to hearty French cooking. A chic contemporary decor adds to the restaurant's appeal." It may be chic and contemporary, but what it means is that you sit on high chairs, at a long table, side by side with complete strangers. A chilled glass of Alsatian pinot blanc presented soon after being seated was a very nice touch. The service, while friendly, was a bit inefficient. The food, including two plats each of poulette farcie and paleron de boeuf was very good, as was the bottle of Chateau le Roc 2003.

A highlight of our evening came when a chauffeur-driven car deposited four elegantly dressed and coiffed beautiful people at the entrance to the restaurant. They were turned away because there was not yet room inside. They waited on the street outside while a family of Brits on a half-term holiday, four Canadians staying in a small apartment in the Marais, and many similar groups of diners continued their meals at a leisurely pace.

We skipped dessert at the restaurant and walked to the nearby and very popular Amorino gelato bar (47, rue Saint Louis en l'Ile). From there, we made a slow walk back to Île de la Cité. We lingered on the bridges, listening to musicians, watching people stroll by, looking at the light reflecting off the Seine and the glow of the Eiffel Tower in the distance. We passed in front of an illuminated Notre Dame. There were people everywhere enjoying the highly civilized life of this most beautiful city. Sans doute, if you aren't in love when you arrive in Paris, you will be when you leave.


George Whitman of Shakespeare & Co.
Saturday Oct. 28 - Return to Canada

Q. How do you really know that you're not in Paris any more?
A. When you land at Pearson Airport in Toronto.

The ZOOM flight back to Canada was about two hours longer than the ride over, but was otherwise pleasant and uneventful. The real shock came when we arrived back in Toronto. We had in excess of a half-mile walk from the plane to the baggage carousel. Once at the crowded room we waited for our luggage ... and waited ... and waited. We got caught up on other people's trips to Orlando, the UK and the Caribbean. At one point I looked at my watch and realized that if I had landed in Paris, I would be at the apartment in the Marais by now. When our luggage finally appeared, we were funnelled along a narrow corridor to the Customs area. The officers were friendly enough, but there could easily have been twice as many to handle the crowd. Once through Customs we had a pleasant (chuckle) stroll through the terminal searching for an exit door that wasn't locked. We almost made the first shuttle bus back to the parking lot and only had to wait another 10 minutes. And then we had to deal with the traffic on the 401 - Canada's busiest highway that runs across the northern part of Toronto. Give me Charles de Gaulle airport and the RER any day.

By coincidence October 28, the date of our return, is the birthday of our twins. While our daughter is living and working in Goa, India until the end of January, our son, a mechanical engineer, lives and works in Toronto. We arranged to meet him at a familiar restaurant for a early evening dinner. We noticed that our waiter was a bit brusque and impatient, our main courses were just okay, the mediocre wine was terribly overpriced and the desserts were almost certainly bought off a store shelf. Welcome home!


The Eiffel Tower from the back of a Batobus on the Seine
Observations, Print Resources and HOT TIPS!


This was our second visit to Paris in 13 months. Would we go again? In a heartbeat. Paris is a beautiful city - in Hemingway's memorable phrase "a moveable feast".

Our friends had received lots of "advice" about Paris before we got there. They were expecting a dirty city, full of rude people and pickpockets. Plus, they were told that we were staying in a run-down, undesirable area. Instead they found Paris to be clean and safe with friendly, helpful citizens. The Marais is a perfect district to stay in Paris - a vibrant, colourful neighbourhood full of people, with lots of shops, cafés and restaurants, very close to the Seine with many attractions within walking distance in any direction.

The only thing we agreed on about Paris before we got there was that the weather in late October would likely be poor, especially after checking the on-line weather forecasts before we left Canada. The reality was that we had rain a few hours one day. Most days were perfect for walking around the city. One day it actually got a bit too warm for comfort. On our second last evening in the city, we were able to dine at an outside table at Le Florimond.

Print Resources

When I am travelling I am partial to guide books that I can easily put into my back pocket - ones that open flat, with good maps and suggested walking/driving tours and just enough information to make things interesting - not the larger ones with tight bindings and lots of small print running close to the gutters. The first two books listed below are good "back pocket" guide books. The other three titles are to be read at leisure before you go.

Spiral Guides Paris, Heathrow, FL: AAA Publishing, 2005. My favourite series of guide books.

Moon Metro Paris, Emeryville, CA: Avalon Publishing, 2006. Good maps, very convenient format.

Julia Child, My Life in France, New York, Knopf, 2006. A wonderful memoir, mainly of the years between 1949 and the late 1950's, and centred on Paris.

Clive Holland, Things Seen in Paris, London: Seeley, Service and Co, 1926. I bought my copy on eBay.

Alistair Horne, Seven Ages of Paris, London: Macmillan, 2002. I borrowed my copy from one of my brothers. I'll return it someday. Maybe.


1. We got the Carte Orange for Zones 1 to 5. It would have been more economical to get it for Zone 1 and 2 only.

2. If you have a Carte Orange you can get a discount on the Batobus.

3. Skip Centre Georges Pompidou.

4. Buy the Paris Museum Pass.

5. Plan your visits to the Louvre and the Musée d'Orsay early in the day. Plan on more than one visit to each museum.

6. The Cluny, Picasso, Rodin and Carnavalet museums are all excellent. Remember that the Cluny Museum is officially called Musée national du Moyen Âge - Thermes de Cluny.

7. Get the audio guide at the larger museums.

8. Visit the Panthéon.

9. Once a day stop at a café, choose a table facing the street, order a coffee or a beer or a glass of wine and enjoy the passing parade that is life in Paris.

10. Sainte-Chapelle - WOW!

11. Stay near the Seine.

12. Make reservations.

13. Go to Chez Nenesse for dinner one evening ... and perhaps Le Florimond ... and perhaps La Fontaine Gourmande.

14. If you can, climb the steps to the top of the Arc de Triomphe. Or take the elevator up to the second stage of the Eiffel Tower. Or, preferably, do both.

15. Try to speak some French.

16. Don't plan a walking tour of the Marais on a Saturday. Many places are closed.

17. Be sure to visit Place des Vosges and the Jardin de Luxembourg on a Sunday.

18. Greet everyone you meet in a store or restaurant with Bonjour or Bon soir.

19. Wear sensible shoes.

20. Visit Paris with the one you love.


Late night entertainment on the Métro

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