Archive for the ‘Paris Neighborhoods’ Category

Paris Street Markets: rue Mouffetard (5e)

September 3, 2012

Get your little string shopping bags ready for the rue Mouffetard

Dear Readership you must wonder where we’ve been all summer.  Nurse underwent the first of two knee surgeries in July and we’ve been working through her rehab and adjustment to being home again.

So we delved into the archives to bring you a short report from a visit Melinda and I made to market in the rue Mouffetard.  

At home, the Experienced Travelers endure the weekly food shopping.  They clutch their coupons and wheel the grocery cart through crowded aisles, wishing they were treading the cobbles of a Parisian street market instead. (note: coupons for items you need are *found money*!)

The rue Mouffetard market is one of the oldest in Paris.  But like the holy grail,  it eluded the ETs because we couldn’t actually find it.  Somehow we always wound up near the Mosque and settled instead for a delicious couscous lunch which is very affordable at it’s restaurant.

So I was bound and determined that Melinda and I would overcome my faulty map reading and get from the Place Monge metro station to the market.

Lost!

But determination doesn’t guarantee success.  Soon we were dazed and confused in a maze of cheap Greek restaurants and second-hand stores.

Another wrong turn

Melinda relieved me of command and in very short order we were poised at the top of the rue Mouffetard with stalls of tasty goods arrayed before us.  I was confounded again, but delighted to see what lay before me.

Anyone have a cracker? Cheeses at the Fromagerie Vernon

Once the Roman road to Italy, the rue Mouffetard is replete with everything you’ll need for a five-course meal and something to wear as you serve it up.  Hemingway lived nearby at 74, rue du Cardinal-Lemoine, and like the fantasy in the movie Midnight in Paris. We hoped he would appear so we could help him with his shopping which we assumed meant getting drunk, debating the meaning of art, and having fistfights.

Baguettes, gros pain, pain au levain, pain de ménage. How to choose!

Many French families shop every day – even office employees who go first thing in the morning, and again after work.  During the day, you’ll meet an army of dapper ladies, nannies with strollers and retired gentlemen who can browse at their leisure thanks to the generous French pension programme.

Knowledge and experience at your service.

Anyone who leaves the rue Mouffetard hungry must be an ascetic in an extreme state of self-denial.  I was lost again – lost in my hungry thoughts of those scallops, that loaf of bread, and this bottle of wine.

A little something to keep the ancient Romans from getting thirsty on the road

I think that the Romans chose the rue Mouffetard for their road because they could pick up tasty victuals for the trip on their way out of town.  While all roads may lead to Rome, this road will also satisfy any appetite, ancient or modern.

Generations of dedicated shop owners and purveyors of fine foods have kept the rue Mouffetard vital. Salut!

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The Rue Daguerre Street Market

May 7, 2012

Hard at work at the Boucherie Brossard – Rue Daguerre is indeed a moveable feast

The Experienced Travelers are home again after a wet but wonderful trip to Brittany and Paris.  We saw, we shopped, we drank and we dined.  These are our  ET core competencies and we exercised them with vigor.

While Nurse tended to domestic affairs, I made a foray to the rue Daguerre market in Montparnasse to channel the hunger pangs of Hemingway and other Lost Generation writers.  It didn’t do much for my literary acumen, but it certainly inspired my appetite.

The Brasserie Chope Daguerre was an alluring way to stay dry and I know Hemingway would have stopped.

Just around the corner from the Denfert-Rochereau metro stop, the rue Daguerre has real neighborhood shops, and fewer of the trendy boutiques that are squeezing out small merchants in other markets.  The cobbled street and cries of the vendors make this a fun stop, even in the rain.

This is a cheese plate just waiting to happen.

The aroma from the Fromagerie Vacroux et fils beckoned me in out of the downpour.  This is a very friendly establishment with a wide selection of cheeses that would top off an ET dinner at home perfectly.

I was drafted into counter service, but you’ll notice he didn’t offer me the knife

My apprenticeship as a cheese lady ended shortly after the picture was taken.  I knew it wouldn’t last when they didn’t give me the white coat.  Not to mention that recommending a comté or a chèvre is not among my core competencies and I know my limits, dear Readership.

Pasta in all it’s forms – homemade and ready for the ETs pot of boiling water.

I was lured south of the border by the homemade pasta at La Maison de la Pâte.  The proprietor didn’t offer me a job here, but that didn’t stop me from browsing the mounds of ravioli, linguini and gnocchi.  I came this close to phoning Nurse and telling her to put the water to boil.

I know what won’t be on the menu tonight

Butchers who sell horse meat advertise using handy signs, like the happy horsies above Davin Julien.  While this isn’t standard fare in the US, the French, among others, do consume it.  Well, I had just seen the movie “War Horse” and there was no way it was going to feature on the ET table that evening.  I ate raw oysters in Brittany and that was eating adventure enough. I am, at heart, a conservative diner.

So if you’re staying in the 14th arrondissement or want to spend a morning browsing a friendly market, the rue Daguerre is a recommended stop.  Then you can walk a few minutes to the boulevard Montparnasse and spend the afternoon over a bottle in the spiritual company of the Lost Generation at La Rotonde or Le Dome.

A friendly thumbs up from les fils at Varcroux et fils

Paris Neighborhoods: Rive Gauche – The 7th

March 4, 2012

There's lots to see in the 7th arrondissement

The Experienced Travelers slip into comfy shoes to continue our tour of Paris neighborhoods.  All aboard the Batobus to visit the left bank’s elegant, aristocratic 7th.

The 7th arrondissement is bounded by the Eiffel Tower and the Musée d’Orsay, with the Seine along it’s curved spine.  There is real life here in the 7th, which is well-served by bus and metro. It’s an oasis of normalcy when the Euro-mall atmosphere of the Champs-Élysées makes you long for the madness to cease.

Hotels in the 7th run the gamut from budget accommodations to more luxurious digs, with many in the mid-range. We like the Hotel Muguet, where rooms range from 115 – 180 euros. (we must do a write-up on this ET favorite).  Apartment rentals are numerous and Paris Perfect has many flats in the area.

The brilliant gold dome of the Hôtel des Invalides is a hallmark of the 7th. In addition to Napoleon, it has a fine military museum. If you visit and locate Napoleon's stuffed dog, please write us immediately with details.

What’s Nearby:  Eiffel Tower, the Hôtel des Invalides, Place de la Concorde, Le Bon Marché department store and la Grande Épicerie, the Musées Rodin, d’Orsay and Louvre, UNESCO, the École Militaire,  Gare Montparnasse, the Paris Sewer Museum and shopping at Sèvres-Babylone.

Le Bon Marché, a 7eme alternative to "les grandes magasins" in the boulevard Haussmann. Photo by François Rejeté

So let’s have a look around.  Near the edge of the 6th at Place Saint-Germain is the Sèvres-Babylone shopping mecca.  This is a welcome alternative to the crazy crowds at the Galeries Lafayette and Printemps.  Scores of boutiques and specialty shops hover like flying buttresses around the legendary Le Bon Marché department store and it’s enormous gourmet specialty store, la Grande Épicerie.  One-stop shopping, dear Readership!

Along the Seine, the 7th is a nerve center of French government and foreign affairs (in a manner of speaking).  Dominated by the forbidding walls of embassies and ministries, the Assemblée Nationale and the Prime Minister’s Hôtel Matignon, it’s a  sea of suits, smartphones and sunglasses.

If you want to confer with the political elite, go at noontime when they’re busy legislating the Fifth Republic over lunch.  The ETs  don’t bother them much and they reciprocate by granting us tourist visas and dispensation from the V.A.T.

Cafés, food stores and restaurants on the rue Cler. You won't leave hungry!

Come with us now to the ET Paris power base – our center of operations near the rue Cler, where we habitually stay. Within walking distance to Napoleon’s tomb (and stuffed dog) in the Hôtel des Invalides or the Eiffel Tower, this neighborhood has a comfortable pace and the convenience of food stores, groceries, local cafés, restaurants and shops on our doorstep.

The ETs profess complete loyalty to our preferred cheese and baguette ladies, Monsieur charcuterie, the mean fish man and the hearty smoking guys at the fruit-and-veg.

Does anyone have a knife? Cheese and other goodies in the rue Cler. This is *not* the mean fish man.

We like having the post office on the corner, where we buy the “whatever fits in this box can be shipped for one price” mailers.  We’ve used them twice, and our treasures arrived the following week – in great shape.

Dinnertime shopping near the Place de l'Ecole Militaire. Grab an inexpensive alfresco meal at the numerous grocery stores or the rue Cler market.

If you want to dine out, try Christian Constant’s trio of restaurants on the rue Saint-Dominique, or our favourite Le Florimond.  For a quick lunch, there’s the Café du Marché or Café Central where we had the best burger on earth.  Enjoy an affordable full breakfast at Le Petit Cler which has the largest café au lait on the street.  This doesn’t scratch the surface of the dining possibilities in the quartier.

Rodin's The Thinker. We surmise he is pondering which 7th arrondissement restaurant to book for dinner.

Don’t overlook the exquisite Musée Rodin  located in his workshop, the Hôtel Biron (which once housed the Academy of the Sacred Heart, an ET alma mater). This compact museum features a delightful sculpture garden where you can contemplate “The Thinker” contemplating you.

We would be remiss not to mention that ET hero-author Nancy Mitford entertained DeGaulle’s Chief of Staff at her home in the rue Monsieur.  One day we’ll write up our pilgrimage to Nancy’s digs and my brush with literary greatness.

We’re ecstatic that we’ll be returning to our haunts in the 7th next month. Watch for “as-it-happens” reports from our habitual table at La Terrasse du 7eme.

The ET version of "The Thinker". Definitely pondering dinner....

Paris Neighborhoods: Rive Gauche – the 5th and 6th

January 28, 2012

Saint-Médard in the rue Mouffetard market in the 5th

The Experienced Travelers cross the Seine to the Left Bank to continue our exploration of Paris neighborhoods.  (Click to read our post about the Right bank.)

Two arrondissements stand out as Left Bank favourites.  The justly popular 5th and 6th arrondissements between Place Maubert and Place St-Germain are perfect bases for first-time visitors or returning fans.

The RER from Charles de Gaulle airport stops at the Place St-Michel, which is convenient for both the 5th and 6th.  Emerge from the RER into the Paris morning light and settle at one of the cafes along the Seine for your first café -au-lait.

Browse the bouquinistes along the quai, just like Audrey Hepburn!

Oh, dear Readership, my friend Marylynn and I took our first trip to Paris when we were impressionable girls in our 20s.  Our one unforgettable Audrey Hepburn evening unfolded in these quartiers, thanks to a charming (and well-behaved) Irish literature student.  Arms in arms, we three splashed along the foggy Boulevard Saint-Michel in teeming rain. With our spirits soaring (and coiffures stylishly soaked) we wandered into the wee hours until our Gallic poet gallantly led us to a café table across from Notre Dame, floodlit in the mist.  Ah, youth.  Let me collect myself and return to our tour.

Among it’s many delights, the 5th arrondissement has your picture-perfect view of Notre Dame, the Pantheon, the rue Mouffetard market and the Sorbonne.

Notre Dame seen from the 5th. The ETs gaze upon her over their morning coffee for spiritual renewal and to pray for found money.

The ETs like to explore streets near the river,  like the rues Galande and Maître-Albert where medieval Sorbonne students attended open-air classrooms.  Today you can shop the small boutiques and health food stores in the neighborhood and feel justified because you’re learning history.  How easy it is for the ETs to find continuous self-improvement from our mercantile inclinations.

The Pantheon crowns the hill. Contribute 7 euros to the patrimony of France and visit Hugo, Voltaire, Zola and Foucault's Pendulum.

Walk away from the busy quai and make the gentle climb up the rue Saint-Jacques hill, past the church of St-Séverin to the rue Soufflot.  Stop at the Pantheon where you can visit Foucault’s Pendulum and several French immortels including Victor Hugo.

If you stay here, there are many hotels and restaurants and you won’t be disappointed.  It gets quiet at night unless you’re near the Seine or on the Blvd.  Saint-Michel.  The 5th is centrally located with good transportation, especially along the Blvds. Saint-Germain and Saint-Michel.

  • What’s nearby: rue Mouffetard and Maubert markets, 13th century St Julien le Pauvre and it’s lovely square,  Shakespeare and Company bookstore, the Pantheon, college life at the Sorbonne, the Roman arena, Jardin des Plantes and the Paris Mosque and yummy couscous.

The 6th arrondissement - food, sights and plenty of shopping. A great location!

Just across the Blvd. Saint-Michel from the 5th,  the 6th arrondissement has the most expensive real estate in town with an average cost of €11,631 per square meter. (oodles of Found Money needed.)  It runs from the incomparable Jardin du Luxembourg to the Seine and over to Melinda’s  favourite table at the Café de Flore in the Place Saint-Germain.  After all, it’s not  just for existentialists anymore.

This convenient quartier has it all, and it’s busy from morning till night.  Ambiance, gastronomy, antiques and antiquarian books, Sorbonne student hangouts, upscale boutiques and excellent transportation by bus, metro or RER.  It’s no wonder it’s one of the most popular areas for visitors.

You can stay in the 6th and eat all day without leaving the quartier

You’ll find loads of hotels between the Place Saint-Michel and the rue de Bucci market.  No matter where you stay, it’s easy to get a languorous glass of wine on a made-for-watching café terrace, or a quick picnic lunch.  If you have just one trip to Paris in you, stay in the 6th and we can recommend the Hotel du Lys.

Jardin du Luxembourg - Marie de Medici's backyard can be yours too.

What’s nearby: Left-bank quais on the Seine, Luxembourg gardens, Louvre, Orsay and Cluny museums, Sorbonne, Place St-Germain, rue de Bucci market, rue de Seine antiques, many, many restaurants and cafes that teem with busy cutlery, and much more.

Nurse, in dashing earrings, eyes the Velibes bicycles - what *can* she be thinking..

And so, dear Readership, your choices for a Paris base continue to expand. But there’s more – watch for our overview of the 7th and 15th arrondissements in a later post.  Happy travels!


Paris Neighborhoods: Rive Droite

November 7, 2011

The Musee d'Orsay and the Louvre are across the river from one another. Art lovers take note! Photo by Associate ET Felzer

An previous post regaled you with the Experienced Travelers Paris Hotel Tips. (Read it here)  Now we’ll take a whirlwind tour of a few Paris neighborhoods so you can settle on a handy address for your sojurn.

Left bank?  Right bank?  Montparnasse? Montmartre?   It sounds like a Piaf ballad, n’est pas? The choices are bountiful dear Readership, and we assure you that you’ll find just the right spot to suit your mood and itinerary.  (tell us you do have an itinerary… oh dear me,  that’s another post.)

The ETs recommend staying in a central location that's nearby major sights.

Some travelers will trade a central location for cheaper digs on the outskirts.  The ETs believe that there’s something to be said for proximity when you get the yen to walk along the Seine in the moonlight. So we recommend the city center, and there are perfect neighborhoods on both banks of the Seine with hotels in virtually all price ranges. Each area has it’s fans, and aspects that make it unique.  Go get your map and a glass of wine and lets start with a few arrondissements on the rive droite, or right bank.

Staying near the Louvre is central and convenient if you have just a few days in Paris. Photo by Associate ET Felzer.

The Louvre-Palais Royale area (1st arrondissement) is smack in the center of Paris, between the Place de la Concorde and Châtelet -Les Halles.  If your inner Rembrandt yearns for the major museums, this could be the spot.  The Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay are across the Seine from each other.  The Jeu de Paume and the Orangerie are at the edge of the Tuilleries.  You’ll find busy restaurants – including the legendary Angelina’s –  and tourist shops selling sno-globe Eiffel Towers under the arcades on the rue de Rivoli.  Nearby restaurants tend to be more expensive because of the proximity to the museums.  If you’re hungry venture north to the trendy rue Montorgueil street market where you can get a cheaper meal, and browse delicious kitchen stores like E. Dehillerin on the edge of Les Halles.

It’s worth noting that the Louvre-Palais Royale area lacks the “lived-in” feeling of other quartiers, if that’s important to you.  You’re also dependent on Metro line 1, which serves many major sights, but as a result it’s jam-packed most of the day.   And avoid the Châtelet metro correspondence – it’s enormous and confusing.  Consider staying in this area if you have a limited time in Paris and you want to be central to most major sights.

  • What’s nearby:  Place de la Concorde, Madeleine, Tuilleries Gardens, Musée d’Orsay, l’Opera, grandes magasins (Printemps and Galeries Lafayette), Place Vendome, Ile de la Cité and Notre Dame, Les Halles, Châtelet.

Ile St-Louis. If you stay here, don't worry. They all go home at night and leave you alone with beautiful 17th century buildings.

The upscale Ile St.-Louis is a coveted address for visitor and resident alike.  This lovely island in the Seine is awash with tourists during the day, but quiet and village-like at night.  Alongside the aristocratic townhouses, there are a few hotels and some excellent restaurants.  The lower Marais, the edge of the Latin Quarter and it’s sister island, the Ile de la Cité are within easy reach.  It is necessary to cross a bridge to reach a metro stop, but there are several in the area. This is a good choice if you want to be centrally located in an area that’s pleasant and peaceful in the evening.  We don’t recommend the Ile de la Cité next door. It’s not convenient as a base.

  • What’s nearby:  Villages St.-Paul, the lower Marais, Ile de la Cité and Notre Dame, Sainte-Chapelle, the Latin Quarter, Berthillion ice cream.

The Marais is a popular location that's convenient and shop-worthy

The Marais (3-4th arrondissements) runs from the Seine to Temple, and Beaubourg to Bastille.  This quartier is fresh from a gentrification which started in the 1980s, and attracted small hotels, chi-chi boutiques, artisan studios and Gay residents (suffice it to say “le clubbing” must be good!)  The centuries-old streets off the rue des Archives aren’t dormant anymore, with lots of walking-shopping on the narrow sidewalks. But you quickly get a sense of old Paris in the side streets and courtyards.  The jewel in the Marais crown is the exquisite Place des Vosges featuring Henry IVs arcades.  Stay in the Marais and it could be your neighborhood garden.

  • What’s nearby:  boutique shopping, the Musees Carnavalet, Picasso and Pompidou, the St-Paul quartier with antiques and very old architecture, the Ile-St.-Louis and Ile de la Cite, Place de la Bastille, Hotel de Ville (and the fabulous BHV department store)

The legendary Avenue des Champs-Elysees has plenty of places to spend your Found Money

The vast, chaotic Champs-Elysees (8th arrondissement) is riddled with hotels in all price ranges, but the noise and traffic make the ETs grateful to hurry back to the residential 7th.  Perhaps you’re made of stronger stuff and will thrive on the energy.

Many people choose the Champs-Elysees as a home base and the quantity of major hotels attests to that. It’s a shopping haven.  Global brand names line the wide avenue.  The grands magasins are nearby.  High-end retailers fill the Golden Triangle, and the elegant stores of the Place de la Madeleine and the rue Royale are just off the Place de la Concorde.

Associate ETs Joanne and Clare strike a pose before the monumental Arc de Triomphe on the Champs-Elysees

If you are superhuman and have a shred of energy left after shopping, nightclubs like the Lido abound. There are five metro stops on the Champs-Elysees (Line 1)with convenient correspondances to other lines.  Be warned that a glass of wine or a meal will cost much more here.   We think the visitors who stay here do so for access to shopping or major hotel brands.

  • What’s nearby: High-end shopping; The Arc de Triomphe, Grande and Petit Palais, stores in the rue Faubourg St.-Honoré, Golden Triangle and Place de la Madeleine.

We need another Paris trip to explore the 9th, 10th and 11th arrondissements. These neighborhoods are gaining in popularity with young singles, particularly the 10th along the Canal St-Martin.  I spent an afternoon in the 9th wandering from the Place St-Georges to Place Pigalle (in search of Simenon’s Maigret, of course).  I thought it was an unremarkable area and feel that I must have missed something.  Do please tell me what it was.

I haven’t visited the 10th or 11th, so I don’t  recommend for or against them as a base for visitors.  But I have read that new up-and-coming super-chef restaurants are opening there.  I hope we’ll get informative comments from fans of these areas who will enlighten us.

  • What’s nearby: 9th – Opera Garnier, grandes magasins, Gare St-Lazare. 10th – Place de la République , Gares du Nord and L’Est. 11th – Place de la Bastille, eastern edge of the Marais, Père Lachaise cemetery.

Marketing in the rue de Levis near the Parc Monceau.

May we make a plug for a residential area on the south-eastern edge of the 17th arrondissement near the beautiful Parc Monceau?  In the bloom of my youth, I rented a room overlooking the market in the rue de Lévis.   I often return for a sentimental visit, hoping to catch a glimpse of my eccentric Algerian landlady.  The market here is authentic, with fewer fashion boutiques and more food and services stores.  If you want a true residential experience in Paris, I can recommend this neighborhood.  Do not stay further north or east than Ave. Villiers and Ave. Wagram.  Stick close by the Parc Monceau. Convenient metro stops are found along the Ave. de Villiers.

  • What’s nearby: Arc de Triomphe and the Champs-Elysees, Parc Monceau, Proust’s rooms in the Blvd. Haussmann.

Picasso, Utrillo, Modigliani - you! This alluring view of the Place du Tertre might tempt you to book a room here.

And finally on our right bank tour, we come to that  storied butte in the 18th arrondissement.  Lovers of Montmartre are a feisty bunch, and claim that the charm of the place outweighs the long breathless ascent.  The ETs can’t imagine  schlepping back and forth by bus or metro to get to major sights.  And there’s that hill to climb at the end of the day. Again.   But if you have a 19th century, absinthe-ridden artistic-genius fantasy, you’ll find very affordable hotels and restaurants in Montmartre.  Be warned that the area between Sacré-Cœur and the Place du Tertre is sheer tourist madness during the day, especially on sunny weekends.  It gets better at night.

Dear Readership, this is only the right bank!  Imagine what we’ll find when we explore the 5th and 6th arrondissements on the left bank in a future post!

Paris experts – use the comment link below and enlighten us about your favourite right bank haunt!

Enjoying the sun on the Ile St.-Louis, and pondering our exploration of the Left Bank in the next post! Someone needs a haircut....

City of Lights; City of Romance

February 12, 2011

Montmartre is replete with romance. Have a glass of wine at the house of artist Maurice Utrillo.

Happy Valentine’s Day, dear Readership.  The Experienced Travelers wish you hearts, flowers and those hard, chalky candies that say “will you be mine”.

Paris embodies romance, from the grand monuments to a moonlight walk along the Seine.  The spirit of romanticism is everywhere; the dramatic gesture, the poignant word,  the duel to the death.  The ETs have selected a few Romantic sights that will make every day seem like Valentine’s Day in Paris.  

La gloire! Napoleon's Arc de Triomphe at the head of the Champs Elysees. Photo by Associate ET Miss Joanne Felzer

The ETs aren’t fans of the frantic Champs-Élysées, but the Arc de Triomphe that crowns the avenue screams Romanticism We think this dramatic symbol of Napoleon’s conquests is best appreciated from a distance.  Slow-moving ETs are no match for rogue Renaults that circle the étoile like it’s the last lap of the Indy 500.  I caught Nurse taking architectural measurements and expect to see a facsimile Arc over the driveway soon.  

L’église de la Madeleine, former temple of glory, rang with the romantic music of Saint-Saëns and later, Gabriel Fauré

La Madeleine, another of Napoleon’s monuments, is the namesake of a favourite ET square, home to the food stores Fauchon and Hédiard.  There is an affordable café next to Maille that makes a perfectly romantic post for observing shoppers.  Who are these well-heeled habituées with sacks of Found Euros that frequent the rue Saint-Honoré? Our idea of romance is to be French trophy wives with hired help, who tutoyer headwaiters. 

The Île St.-Louis is most romantic in the evening

What could be more romantic than a walk around the Île St.-Louis? It’s best at night when tourists (like us!) go elsewhere, leaving silent cobblestone streets under lamplight shadows.  It’s the perfect place for a stylishly late dinner in smashing new clothes.  We read about the restaurant Au Gourmet de l’Ile which specializes in andouillette. It sounded good until I learned what’s *in* andouillette. Suffice it to say that Nurse, with her passion for parts, will have proper enthusiasm. 

The art of leisure is just one romantic aspect of Parisian life

Daily life in Paris can be a romantic feast.  A leisurely afternoon on a café terrace goes perfectly with flutes of champagne – the most romantic aperitif.  The ETs like Le Bonaparte in the Place St.-Germain.  It’s not famously existentialist like the Deux Magots or Café de Flore but we get the same inspiring view for less money!

The vibrant colors of fresh food makes every market a Monet.  The French tenets of high quality and artful presentation turn an onerous task into a romantic adventure.  Nurse is loathe to push a cart through Wegmans, but in Paris, she relishes the opportunity to look, sniff, squeeze and choose.

Another romantic excursion - a sunset boatride on the Seine

Although we can’t be in Paris this Valentine’s Day, the ETs will open a bottle of vin rouge and a ripe camembert and toast Paris – the most romantic of cities.  In the spirit of the day, here’s 1:17 seconds of ET Virtual Cafe to bring the romance of Paris to your computer.

Enlightenment at the Sorbonne

February 2, 2011

The mysteries of medieval Paris and higher learning take the ETs to the Sorbonne

The Experienced Travelers seek enlightenment.  And when the path to knowledge is paved with eclectic food and shopping, they undertake the journey with rigor. So the ETs donned their academic regalia, and set out for the Latin Quarter on the left bank, one of the oldest areas of Paris.

Nurse was in a relaxed frame of mind, so I had to promise more than narrow medieval passages to get her on board. Fortunately, the area is filled with artisan jewelry studios, bookshops, small specialty stores and ethnic restaurants.  The deal was struck:  I admired moldy old stone in ancient streets while Nurse investigated uses for “found money”.

The Sorbonne, where the ETs could be lecturers in Economics on Found Money. Photo by Maggie Durbano

This colorful quartier has long been a center of learning.  During the 13th century, Parisian academics decamped from the Ile de la Cité for the left bank and established the Sorbonne as part of the University of Paris. Their freewheeling students followed, and vigorously upheld the medieval tradition of the endless frat party.  Certain young relatives of the ETs could have written this student’s plea from the Balades of Eustache Deschamps:

“Well-beloved father, I have not a penny, nor can I get any save through you, for all things at the University are so dear:…Moreover, I owe ten crowns in dues to the Provost, and can find no man to lend them to me;…I owe in every street, and am hard bested to free myself from such snares.”

Streets around the Sorbonne like the Rue Galande mix higher learning and inspired shopping. Photo by mbzt

Chief among notable students of the Sorbonne was Dante, who mentions the rue Fouarre in the Divine Comedy.  Rue Fouarre or “street of straw” was named for the straw market that was located here.  Lectures were held outdoors and students sat on the straw balancing writing implements on their knees.  The great scholars of Europe gathered to debate where to go for a beer after class.  The ETs, who require basic creature comforts, would not have embraced higher education in the 13th century. 

Today students still barhop through the Latin Quarter.  We regret that we are not the target demographic for the Caveau des Oubliettes on the rue Galande.  Formerly a 12th century prison, the club décor features oubliettes – dank one-man holes in the ground.  Oublier means “to forget”, which is exactly what happened to the unfortunate occupants. We expect customers of the Caveau still forget — after rounds of shots and a convivial evening in the old dungeons.

In search of chocolat chaud. Photo by Miss Joanne Felzer

By now it was time to distract Nurse from thoughts of wet straw and medieval torture.  The Café Panis on the Quai Montebello makes a perfect chocolat chaud, which bolstered Nurse’s spirits.  The thick melted chocolate and hot milk restored her fine color. Café Panis isn’t the most affordable stop, but the view of Notre Dame enchants the ETs every time.

Madness at Shakespere and Company

Nearby the Café Panis is Shakespeare and Company, a Latin Quarter institution that sells English-language books and serves as a hangout for fledgling American writers. This eccentric establishment is an acquired taste, but certain ETs like the buildings wonderful old bones.

The atmosphere is chaotic, with books piled everywhere.  It’s impossible to find anything, too crowded to browse, and the youthful staff is uninterested in middle-aged ETs when engaging young students need assistance.  On our last visit, we learned that S&C didn’t carry Georges Simenon’s Maigret books. I was outraged.  Thank goodness for Nurse’s Kindle.  In fairness, S&C has legions of fans and it’s worth a visit, if only to explore the interior of a very old building.   

The ETs retreated to Square Viviani after the tumultuous S&C, Photo by tangopaso

Nurse clearly needed fresh air, so we relaxed in the Place Viviani under the oldest tree in Paris. Adjacent to the square, the 13th-century church of St. Julien le Pauvre is as old as Notre Dame and hosts a series of excellent chamber concerts. 

Our Sorbonne adventure was worthwhile.  The ETs found that within a few blocks, you can browse artisan jewelry and used bookstores, meet a vegetarian friend for lunch, relax over a chocolat chaud, light a candle in one of the oldest churches in Paris, investigate fusion cuisine, then admire a spectacular view of Notre Dame.  

A delignted Nurse knows she can parlay her participation into another visit to the Centre Pompidou. Photo by Miss Joanne Felzer


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