And this is the post I always do about odds and ends of things we’ve seen in Paris outside our neighborhood. Those little things that are not Post-worthy, but may be of interest to Francophiles. So let’s get started (or “Let’s go!” as the GPS lady always says enthusiastically).
We met Cliff one day at the Embassy and he gave us a quick tour of his workplace. It’s a stately building in a beautiful area. The U.S.’s Ambassador to France, Denise Campbell Bauer, was out of the building but her secretary allowed us to see her stately office. Of course we had to turn in our cell phones when we entered the building, so the few photos we have are the ones that Cliff was kind enough to take for us.
Well here we are at the end of the trail once again. We’ve managed to pass our Covid tests so we’re ready to hit the road. We’ve had a good time and we hope you’ve enjoyed our trip too. We’re planning a Viking European river cruise for October and we hope you’ll join us. Until next time, au revoir.
We made a quick run through the Garden of Plants, 70 acres of beautiful gardens and a couple of museums. We’ve been here before but it never ceases to amaze us. Here are just a few photos of what we saw.
The Alpine Garden is a little hidden garden within the Garden of Plants. It’s always been one of our favorites but we agreed it didn’t look quite as good this year as it has in the past.
L’Atelier des Lumieres is a unique art center presenting classic pieces of art in immense and video- and music-accompanied exhibitions. We came here in 2018 when they first opened and then also visited their sister site in Provence in 2019. Both of those shows were of art by Van Gogh and Klimt. The current presentations are of Cezanne and Kandinsky. And as always, it was breathtaking.
When Cliff drove us to L’Atelier des Lumieres on Sunday, we noticed that the police on motorcycles were busy closing off streets and traffic in the area was becoming challenging. Often after the police closed off a street, 4 or 5 of them would line up along the tape at the end of the street and just sit there on their motorcycles. After we came out of the theatre, we decided to find a sidewalk cafe in the area where we could have lunch outside and do some people-watching. That’s when we noticed there was a huge protest group gathering about 1/2 block down the street preparing to march. That huge ribbon of people marched through the intersection at the end of our street the entire time we were at the cafe. There were lots of people carrying different colors of flags but it was too far away to read what they said. Sometimes there were women speaking on loudspeakers and occasionally women sang songs over loudspeakers. Periodically there were loud booms and several times they set off tear gas bombs and we could see huge clouds of smoke. A middle-aged couple went into our restaurant briefly and when they came back out we could see the side of the woman’s face was very red and she was wiping it with a damp cloth. She had obviously been tear gased and was in a lot of discomfort. When then came out, they headed back to the protest. According to the news later in the evening, the marchers were protesting the government to lower the retirement age to 60, although I think there were also several other issues they were protesting too. May 1st, Labor Day here, is a traditional day of protest. My photos are too far away but here’s what I got.
Claude Baudard de Vaudesir, Baron de Sainte-James and wealthy financier, bought this estate in 1772. At this point, this land was just countryside. In 1777, the Count of Artois had a folly (a pleasure pavilion – a small house) built for himself in what is now Park Bagatelle right down the street (see last week’s post on the folly at Park Bagatelle). So Baron Sainte-James wanted to have a folly to compete with the Count of Artois’ folly. Unfortunately, after it was finished, the Baron went bankrupt and the house and grounds changed hands and the property was subdivided several times in the years after. Originally the house and all of its adjacent buildings and grounds covered 30 acres. But after the property was subdivided several times, the house, remaining few outbuildings and grounds were only 4½ acres. In 1952 the house was sold to the State and eventually passed to the city. Later the house served as the administrative building for a high school that was built on part of the property. In 2006, the gardens were opened to the public. The entire estate is still in disrepair and the house and the grounds are in a long process of renovation. But in spite of all that, it’s still a lovely little park in the center of the city.
Oh my! We made a visit to the Paris Flea Market, officially called Le Marche aux Puces de Paris Saint-Ouen (trans: the market of fleas in the Saint-Ouen area of Paris), and it’s amazing! It’s the largest concentration of antique dealers and second-hand dealers in the world, totaling more than 5 million visitors per year. The entire flea market covers 17.5 acres and includes 2,500 shops. It currently consists of 15 covered markets (Antica, Biron, Cambo, Dauphine, l’Entrepôt, Jules-Vallès, l’Usine, le Passage, Malassis, Malik, Paul Bert, Serpette, and Vernaison), five shopping streets (Rue Jules Vallès, Rue Lecuyer, Rue Paul Bert, Rue des Rosiers and Impasse Simon) and “merchant unpacking” on the sidewalks, each with its own identity. We spent a couple of hours at Biron Market which consists of 220 stores arranged in 2 huge parallel alleys totaling about 1/4 mile. Alley 1 in this market included antique furniture from all eras and origins, chandeliers, earthenware, rare paintings, mirrors, etc. Alley 2, which is covered, was more eclectic and more flea market. The whole flea market is a fabulous place and you could spend days there and not see it all.
I’ve discovered a store just a couple of blocks down the street from the apartment called Picard. Picard is my new best friend!
I first heard about Picard when we stopped in the bread shop for baguettes and I suggested we get some croissants too. Cliff said he gets them frozen at Picard and he has some in the freezer. You bake them fresh and they’re much better and much cheaper. And we’ve had them for breakfast every day since. They are amazing and the best croissants I think I’ve ever had. And he’s right: croissants in a bakery are 2-3 Euros apiece, while a bag of 8 from Picard sells for 3 Euros.
So of course I had to find a out about Picard, most importantly, do they have them in the U.S. The answer is no and apparently they have no plans to in the near future. Darn! (I read somewhere that the closest thing we have to Picard is Trader Joe’s and I think they’re right.)
Founded in 1973, Picard sells frozen foods, and for the most part, only frozen foods. And with very few exceptions, they make almost 100% of the products they sell. They have 1,050 stores in France and a few more in just 4 or 5 other European countries. Their stores are very simple – just a large room full of aisles of waist-high enclosed freezer cabinets. They offer more than 1,100 frozen products ranging from simple products to very elaborate recipes. And they add 200 new products every year. The variety of the food is a major selling point, which goes beyond frozen fruit, vegetables, meat, and fish to include options such as minced ginger, various chopped herbs, sauteed shallots, peeled chestnuts, wild mushrooms, pumpkin puree, and various sauces such as beurre blanc. Frozen prepared foods are also big sellers, including items like croissants, brioches, salads, galettes, hors d’oeuvres, entrees, and various desserts. Their biggest seller is thin green beans and they have many, many different kinds and styles of green beans, just like many of their other products. Like American freezer food, it’s easy and it’s cheap. Unlike most American freezer food, it’s delicious and for the most part lacks the incomprehensible ingredient list. A big part of their success lies in the total control they have with the production and distribution of their products which allows them to benefit from being kept at an even temperature once they’re frozen.
Albert Kahn (1860-1940) was a French banker and philanthropist who was known for initiating a vast photography project. In 1909, Kahn travelled with his chauffeur/photographer to Japan on business and returned with many photographs of the journey. That prompted him to begin a project collecting a photographic record of the entire Earth. He then sent photographers to every continent to record images of the planet using early color photography: autochrome plates, and early cinematography. Between 1909 and 1931 they collected 72,000 color photographs and 183,000 meters of film. These form a unique historical record of 50 countries, known as The Archives of the Planet. In 1893 Kahn purchased a large property just outside of Paris, where he set out to create a 10-acre garden that incorporated elements from all around the world. The garden includes an English garden, a Japanese garden with a traditional house and tea-room, a rose garden and a conifer wood. Kahn lost his fortune during the Wall Street crash of 1929 and was left bankrupt. The gardens were turned into a public park where Kahn himself continued to take walks. Albert Kahn died in 1940.
La Défense is Europe’s largest purpose-built business district, covering 1,400 acres with 1,500 businesses, 2,600 hotel rooms, 180,000 daily workers, 20,000 residents, and 72 glass and steel buildings of which 19 are skyscrapers (over 490 feet tall). It’s home to 8 of the 10 tallest buildings in the Paris region. And it’s within walking distance of our apartment so we got off at their Metro stop when we were coming home from a garden and then just walked home when we were finished.
There are 60 modern art sculptures and monuments scattered throughout Le Defense. Below are a few we came across during our walk through.
The Louis Vuitton Foundation is an art museum and cultural center that opened in Paris in 2017. And when you see it, it just screams Frank Gehry, the American architect who designed this deconstructivist building. The 2-story structure (2 stories? really?) takes the form of sailboat sails inflated by the wind. It has 11 galleries of different sizes and a voluminous 350-seat auditorium on the lower-ground floor and multilevel roof terraces for events and art installations. The exhibitions rotate and on the day we visited there were no major exhibitions, just a smaller one called Coming of Age. It was strange as was the demographic in attendance. It’s not your usual exhibition hall; the pieces of photographic art were not lining the walls in the room in the traditional way, but were hanging by wires from the tall ceiling or fastened to little stakes on a square raised platform. Hopefully it will become clearer in my photos below. Actually we thought the attendees were more interesting than the art.
The Louis Vuitton Foundation is adjacent to the Jardin d’ Acclimatation, a 47-acre children’s amusement park built in the 1860’s. We took a turn through it and it’s a fun place. It’s obviously very popular with families: it has lots of rides, plenty of food venues, a pretty little lake in the middle complete with boats, and some beautiful garden areas.
On Saturday, Cliff drove us out to a little village called Chateau-Landon, about 65 miles from Paris to have lunch with an old work mate of his at his country house. Cliff’s friend has been retired for several years and he and his wife have a high-rise apartment in Paris and a few years ago also bought this century-old house in the country. Since then they have spent much time beautifully restoring it with the help of an amazing Ukrainian family of construction workers who speak only Ukrainian. Cliff”s friend is an expat, born in Germany and raised in Boston, and his wife is from Venezuela; they are 4 years into the process of getting their French citizenship. Cliff’s friend teams up with a few random others from among a big group of other unaffiliated musicians to play in rotating jazz clubs in Paris. They’re an interesting couple.
The house is amazing. Also amazing is the fact that neither Chuck nor I managed to get a good photo of it, which we didn’t realize until after we had left. How is that possible?! The house is 2 stories plus a walk out basement and a full furnished attic. The front of the house is very close to the street and has a big tree in front of it, hence it’s difficult to photograph. The back of the house has the biggest sloping lawn I’ve ever seen and includes the back lawns of a couple their next door neighbors (not sure how that happened) and by the time we got to the back property line, you could barely see the house. But all of the houses on that street are built on the side of a hill where their back yards slope down to a little river with fabulous walking trails along the river and through the adjacent wooded area.
It’s a lovely little picturesque village with a whole lot of history. For example, there’s a huge basilica which was built in in 545(!) and later became the Royal Abbey of Saint-Severin. Today it’s a retirement home. The business district is on the top of the hill where there are 2 large churches, a city hall, 2 pharmacies, a flower shop, a grocery store and a handful of restaurants.
After lunch, we went for a walk down the back lawn through a gate into a stone wall and into another walled area with fruit trees and then through another gate to the river. From there we went along the river and then up through the main village. It’s got natural fortification since it’s built into the side of a hill and the streets are interesting and steep and all the houses have great views. Here’s a bit of what we saw.
The lovely 65-acre Bagatelle Park is within walking distance of the apartment where we’re staying. The property was originally home to a chateau that was built in 1777. After changing hands several times, in the 1830’s the then English owner of the park had it redesigned in the English style and added a second residence called the Trianon for his son. The estate was purchased by the City of Paris in 1905 and the park is one of four sites of the City of Paris Botanical collections. The Park boasts two rose gardens: the landscape rose garden and the classic rose garden. Over 4 acres of rose gardens include 9,000 rosebushes and 1,200 varieties. Although the roses don’t begin blooming until May, lots of other flowers were blooming, including lilacs, clematis, irises, narcissus, hyacinths, tulips, magnolias, peonies, and perennials, not to mention many blooming trees. The place was beautiful and smelled delicious!
Don’t you think it’s fun to check out other people’s homes, especially when they’re quite different from our homes? I sure do.
Like I said, Cliff’s apartment is amazing, eclectic and cool. It has 4 bedrooms and 4 bathrooms. It’s hard for me to count bathrooms in Paris because the toilet is in one room and the sink, shower and/or tub are in a different room. And there’s not always a 1 to 1 ratio. In Cliff’s case, he has 3 toilet rooms: 1 with a toilet only, and 2 toilet rooms with the tiniest sink I’ve ever seen: 8 x 15 with a 1-piece faucet included inside that space. And 3 of the bedrooms have an ensuite bathroom with a shower and the master bedroom has an ensuite bathroom with a tub and shower. He has made one of the bedrooms into an office. He has a large living room with a big dining room between the living room and the kitchen. And like most Parisian kitchens, his is compact but has a little breakfast nook at one end. The apartment has lots of windows with heavy French doors in the living room and each of the bedrooms as you’ll be able to see in the photos. Even the kitchen has a big double window that can be fully open. And nobody has screens on their windows. He has rugs from all over the world, a wide variety of artifacts that embellish his varied collection of furniture, and an especially eclectic collection of lamps and chairs. He lives on the 3rd floor which in Europe is called the 2nd floor since the bottom floor is called 0. It has a tiny little elevator that was added to the building at some point and it holds 3 or 4 very friendly people without packages.
Needless to say, we’re enjoying our home away from home!
I didn’t have time to set up a new blog before we left. And I don’t even have a camera right now. And besides that, I wasn’t sure if I would have time to do a blog while we were here so was hesitant to set one up and send out notices to everybody. So when I was asked if I was doing a blog because somebody wanted to see photos, I felt like a real slacker and thought maybe I could just do a simplified version and post some cell phone photos on top of an old blog. An old Paris blog actually. So what I’m planning to do: just a few photos, not much text, and we’ll see how it works out. So that’s how we got to this place. And remember, once you’ve read down to the 2018 stuff, stop reading and wait for another current post.
Background: We’re staying with Chuck’s friend, Cliff, who works for the State Department and who is about a year and a half into a 4-year assignment here in Paris. (Chuck spent a month with Cliff when he was stationed in Egypt several years ago.) We arrived Wednesday about 3:30 and made our way to Cliff’s apartment. And what a fabulous apartment it is! 4 bedrooms and 4 baths, a huge apartment in a lovely residential neighborhood of Paris. Beautiful old building with hardwood floors, high ceilings, 3 fireplaces and an amazing amount of storage space. He requested an unfurnished apartment and all of the fabulous furnishings are his! Since Cliff has been stationed all over the world during his many years of government service, he has collected some fabulous furniture and artwork, almost entirely antiques. It’s like a museum!
But before I move on to the apartment photos, here are a few photos to whet your appetite.
Well I’ve run out of time so the apartment photos will have to wait until the next post.
Au revoir for now.
(Reminder, the posts below this are not new but are from the Paris blog I did in 2018.)
Well Denise’s first trip to Paris has come to an end and I believe she now loves Paris as much as we do. We saw and did an incredible number of things and a couple of the museums we visited didn’t even receive their own blog posts: the Louvre (Mona Lisa says “hey”), Musee Marmottan-Monet (a fabulous, well-kept-secret collection of Impressionist paintings). We ran out of time and energy to do a few things we really meant to do, but we also saw some things that weren’t on our list before we left. We met and exchanged tips with people from all over the U.S. (tiny bistros with snug tables turn English-speakers into instant friends). And we met lots of nice, helpful Parisians too.
But now we’re home and we’ve moved into the croissant and Nutella-withdrawal stage of our adventure. Of course we can get Nutella at home, but without those croissants, what’s the point?
We thank you for coming along and hope you enjoyed seeing some of what we saw. Hope to see you again next time.
We loved everything about our little 20-room boutique hotel, especially the location. As I said before, it’s on the tiny island that’s next to the island that Notre Dame is on. It’s a very touristy place (although about 4,500 locals live here too) and it’s right in the center of everything. Normally that’s a good thing unless it’s really warm outside so you need to leave your windows open at night, and it’s a Saturday night, or a Friday night, or a Tuesday night, well you get the picture. Even though we’re on the 5th floor (actually the 6th since the 1st floor doesn’t count as a floor), the narrow streets just seem to serve as a megaphone for all that revelry. But it’s still a great place to stay and we loved it. Except for the Internet, that not so much.
I keep an eye out constantly, but we just don’t see that many cats. With a serious rat problem, it seems like Paris needs more cats! I would love to do a big, long post just on cats. Unfortunately, this post includes every cat we’ve seen since we’ve been here . . . a whopping 6 cats!
We commented several times on the lack of mimes on this visit. We only saw one mime and she was in Versailles. We’ve never before been to Montmartre without seeing at least one mime and often several. But this time we saw none up there. Is it a dying art? I certainly hope not. It’s a real mystery. On the other hand, there seems to be no shortage of the other usual street performers, especially on the pedestrian bridge between our island and the island that Notre Dame is on. It’s just constant entertainment and we love it. They really make Paris feel like . . . well, Paris.
There are many transportation options in Paris and I think we’ve taken them all. This is my Transit 101: what we’ve managed to learn, sometimes the easy way, and where necessary, the hard way. The RER trains run both above and below ground and go many of the same places as the Metro. The cars are mostly double-deckers and you’re less likely to lose your arm because the doors stay open for 20 seconds rather than the 10 seconds the Metro car doors remain open. HOWEVER, right now the RER is somewhat on strike so your line may not be running at all today or the trains may simply be running less frequently and the next train may not come for another 2 hours. Metro, on the other hand, is frequent and dependable. However, it can take an engineering degree to figure out how many Metro lines you’ll need to get to your destination, as well as what direction you should take each line, since each line goes 2 directions and is thus named for the street at the end of the line and not an actual direction. Taking the right Metro line in the wrong direction can make your life, temporarily at least, very miserable. And then locating and then reaching the appropriate connecting line in the same Metro station can prove to be very daunting, with long tunnels and multiple flights of both up and down stairs. It can feel like you’re walking more than you’re riding. But the Metro is entertaining. There is often entertainment on board, like an accordionist or a guitar player. And the other riders can be very entertaining too. The Bus, on the other hand, can be a lot of fun. It’s great to be able to see where you are now and enjoy the sights along the way to where you’re going. The only problem with the bus is that some lines and/or at some times of the day they can be breathtakingly crowded. And of course walking, when at all possible, is the very best option. That’s the way you get to see the most.
We mostly took the Metro with a few buses and RER’s thrown in where necessary. We only took a taxi a couple of times. And of course we walked A LOT!
We were in an RER station one day and having problems because our train had been cancelled and the next one wasn’t coming for another hour. This gal from Cuba, named Dai (sp?), was so sweet and tried hard to help us find an alternate, faster route. First she enlisted the aid of 2 transit information officers who went over the maps with her and pointed us in the right direction. Then we switched to the Metro and she actually got on 2 different Metro lines with us to make sure we got to the correct stop. At one point when we needed our bus passes to get into another station, she couldn’t find hers and just emptied the contents of her purse onto the floor in the Metro station and dug around until she found it. Chuck tried to pay her for helping us but she wouldn’t take anything. She was amazing!
Okay we didn’t really go to an opera because there aren’t any playing right now. But we did go to the Opera House to see a modern dance performance put on by the Paris Opera Ballet and backed by the Paris Opera Orchestra. And the whole evening was a real treat. The Opera House is amazing and we haven’t been inside since 1977 so I barely remembered it. It is truly stunning. And the 3 modern dance pieces the Ballet performed were creative and very well done. Of course we’re not allowed to take photos during the performance, but I do have some photos of the Opera House as well as one of the Ballet performances that I borrowed from the evening’s program.
I love all of the little parks we come across as we’re walking to the different sites in Paris. On the way to the Musee Marmottan Monet, we ran across a funny intersection with 3 parks around it. And they were all very different – something for everybody. It was a beautiful day and the parks were getting a whole lot of use by a wide variety of individuals.