One of the things Priscilla and I have enjoyed the most so far on our Parisian adventure is meeting the locals (who sometimes aren’t as local as you might think). Early on Priscilla met Rasmus and Elisa, the owners of the Zone Nordique store that is directly below our flat. Rasmus is a Dane from the Copenhagen area and Elisa is an Italian from Milan. They have a one-year old boy, so their lives are quite busy. The lingua Franca in their relationship is English. She doesn’t speak Danish and he doesn’t speak Italian, so English it is, although they certainly speak French as well. They’ve been helpful steering us to the right store to find a step stool for granddaughter Cora during their visit last week.
Then there is Claudia, who goes by the moniker Miss Lunch. She is a Canadian from Ottawa who came to Paris for Art School twenty-some years ago and never left. She runs a lunch only restaurant near the Aligre market as well as a vegetarian stall in the market itself. Claudia gave us a private tasting of capers that she prepares as well as artisanal olive oils. We picked up the capers tapenade and a bag of the salted-cured capers. The tapenade is to die for by the way. We had it on hearty bread with wine yesterday for our late-afternoon repast. While at Claudia’s stall we also got to know her brother-in-law, Charles, who is an American from Indiana who spends most of his time now between Paris and Italy. We decided to have lunch yesterday at Miss Lunch. We had a marvelous time. The conversation flowed between all of the few tables in her dining area, so it was a bit like a big family lunch. We met a woman named Eileen who retired from NYC to Philly, and now lives half the year there and half in Paris where she owns a flat in the Marais. She was able to get an Irish passport because her Grandmother emigrated from there to the U.S. That is how she is able to stay for such a long time.
Another activity Priscilla and I have been undertaking to get to know Paris better is to get out to visit neighborhoods we are unfamiliar with. Yesterday it was the Belleville and Buttes-Chaumont area. The Belleville/Buttes-Chaumont walk started with visiting the Butte Bergeyre hilltop neighborhood. This small neighborhood is deemed a micro-quartier, and is accessed via a stairway that seems to go to the heavens. Priscilla asked me to assure her that we weren’t going up that set of stairs. I could offer no such assurances. She counted 81 steps. This little enclave on top of a hill overlooking Paris was a wonderful find. If you lived here you’d certainly have no trouble getting your stair steps in each day, as you have to go down the steps to get to any shops.
After walking the Butte Bergeyre neighborhood we walked to the Buttes-Chaumont park, which is built up among all the hills in the area. This area used to be a pretty shady spot where executions were held and those killed were left to hang. Nowadays, it is a beautiful park with aggressive hills and sweeping vistas. Leaving Buttes-Chaumont we walked the lovely shopping street of rue de la Villette. The quaint Villa l’Adour alleyway runs off rue de la Villette and is a picture postcard like street that apparently has a cat for a watchdog. At the end of all our walking, we caught the 11 Metro at Jourdain and switched to the 1 Metro at Hotel de Ville, which takes us to our primary Metro stop, Saint-Paul.
One of the key things we’ve been learning in our time in Paris is how to get around. The main modes of transportation for us have been the Metro, Paris’ fabulous subway system, and the regional trains, called RER. There are a myriad of passes a traveler can get for transportation in and around Paris, but I will let you in on a secret...just get the Navigo Decouverte pass. They sell them in weekly and monthly versions. The cost is 20 Euros for a week and 75 for a month. That gives you unlimited travel on all the Metro lines, busses and trains in all 5 zones, which covers Paris and the surrounding areas. You pay 5 Euros for the physical card, which is good for 10 years, so when we come back to Paris we can just reload our cards with a new weekly or monthly amount. As you will notice in the image below, you have to give them a photo of yourself when you purchase the pass. There are photo booths conveniently located near the ticket offices that will give you photos that meet the size requirement for the Navigo pass. The signs posted in the photo booth give explicit instructions about how to pose for your photo, hence the charming “forced not to smile” look I’m sporting in my Navigo photo. The Navigo also covers travel to Charles de Gaulle Airport, which would normally cost 21 Euros round trip. We’ve already made two round trips to Charles de Gaulle. It will also cover our travel to outlying communities that we plan to visit. So, the Navigo Decouverte pass will definitely pay for itself, plus, it’s mighty nice to just walk up to the turnstile, scan your pass and be on your way.
When it comes to getting around on the Metro, once you’ve got it figured out, it’s a snap. First there are the apps you will want to use, the free RATP app which is put out by the organization that runs the transportation system around here, and then there is Apple Maps, which includes decent public transport directions in Paris. Frankly, I wouldn’t bother with the fold out maps we all used to carry around. The RATP app is great because it includes up-to-the-minute information on line closures and maintenance. I have my sister Karen to thank for the great tip about the RATP app.
Whichever application you use, it will tell you which line to take and which direction to take it and which station to get off at. It will also tell you which exit number to take when leaving the station. The last stop in each direction is listed along with the line. In the photo above, you’ll see that the number 1 Metro line has terminuses in La Defense (to the west) and Chateau de Vincennes (to the east). So when you get into the Metro station you’re looking for your line and direction. You have to be careful to watch for the signs all the way. The stations that transfers within them are a warren of tunnels. A wrong turn isn’t catastrophic, but you will have to double back, which we’ve had to do a few times. We’re getting much better about paying attention to signage when tunnels split off.
Once you’ve selected the direction you want to go, a final check is to ensure that the station you desire, in our case Saint-Paul, is listed in the upcoming stops. When you arrive at your destination, you’ll want to pay attention to the exit (sortie) number recommended by the app you’re using. Some of the stations are quite large, and coming out the wrong exit will throw you off the trail for wherever you are trying to get.
While we’ve been making extensive use of the Metro system, we’ve still been racking up the miles walking, averaging around 6-1/2 miles a day. The way we look at it, using the Metro allows us to cover an awful lot more ground in a shorter period of time, and certainly for a lot less money. Priscilla has an equation in her mind that only she knows, which equates miles walked with pain chocolats eaten. The math fails me.
While I can imagine that this might seem confusing, it truly is easy to navigate once you’ve got it down. Each line runs every three minutes, so if you miss one, it’s no big deal, another will be along shortly. As far as cleanliness, there are no issues on the Metro. The stations are clean and the trains are clean, plain and simple. They do warn you to be aware of your belongings and to be careful about pickpockets. This is a big city after all.
Yesterday morning we accompanied Kirstin, Derek, and Cora out to the Charles De Gaulle Airport on the train. This time around the RER B was running all the way to the airport, so there was no getting herded onto busses for the last portion of the trip. They all got off with no troubles and made it home to Indianapolis at a time of day to our bodies that I choose to not think about. We hope Kirstin and Derek are able to get some rest today before heading back to their teaching positions tomorrow.
After two weeks of having our children and their families giving us a send off in Paris, Priscilla and I are now on our own. I think it will help with communication back home having them know a bit about where we are staying. It has been wonderful having Anna and Kirstin et al with us these first two weeks. We sure enjoyed our time with Cora, who for most of the time thought Paris was a person, and was wondering when we were going to see Paris. I think by the end of their week with us she had it figured out.
On our way back from the airport we stopped at our favorite coffee shop, The Beans On Fire, for brunch and a hot beverage...hot chocolate for Priscilla and a latte for me. While walking there from the Richard Lenoir Metro Station, we came upon this wonderful community garden out in front of the Saint-Ambroise Church. This garden is a memorial to seven Trappist monks kidnapped from their monastery in Algeria and murdered in 1996.
Most of the rest of the day was spent around the flat, catching up on washing and straightening up a bit. We did get out for a walk on the Seine in the early evening. Coming back up from the Seine, we walked a pedestrian only street called rue des Barres, which is filled with outdoor dining and galleries. We stopped in at a photography gallery which was closing in five minutes. The photographer told us if we bought one print, we could stay an extra fifteen minutes...two prints would get us thirty minutes...and four prints would get us the whole night. Unfortunately for him, we didn't buy any. It's not easy selling photographs to a photographer.
Today was spent exploring more of the Marais. The big park in our area is Place des Vosges. On our way through there we bumped into the woman who runs the shop where Priscilla had a hat made and where we bought a hat for Anna back in 2009. She was there with her husband, granddaughter, and the other grandma. We had a nice chat with them. Place des Vosges is one of the few parks in the city that allows people to walk and lay on the grass. Clearly, the locals take full advantage of that, even the unicorns among them (see below).
In the late afternoon, Priscilla and I walked to the Coulée Verte, which is a greenway on top of what used to be a railway line on a viaduct that runs through the city, similar to The Highline in NYC. We had a wonderful time on the Coulée Verte. Below is a slideshow of photos from that walk. You get a fascinating perspective on a city when you are looking on from an elevated position.
One thing that has become clear to us after 15 days is that we will be doing a boatload of walking here in Paris. In our first two weeks we've been averaging 6-1/2 miles a day. Today came in right at 7. Priscilla is hoping she'll earn some brownie points with her personal trainer, Brenda!
It's hard to believe we are coming to the close of our second week in Paris and the departure of Kirstin, Derek, and Cora. We've had excellent luck with the weather these first two weeks. It has been cooler this week than the first, but the rain has had the good manners to fall mainly during the evening, leaving our daytime wanderings dry.
Kirstin and Derek have been exploring parts of Paris they remember from their visit here three years ago. Cora has been a real trooper, going pretty much everywhere with them. Two days ago we had an early supper at another favorite restaurant of Kirstin and Derek's, Frenchie To Go. Priscilla and I took care of Cora that afternoon, taking the Metro (subway) with Cora to meet Kirstin and Derek at the restaurant.
This is a good time to write about the hospitality of the French people. You've probably all heard the old saw that Parisians are rude. We've found the opposite to be true. When we took Cora on the Metro, we had to tackle three flights of stairs with her in a stroller. A nice man assisted us down each flight by holding the front of the stroller while I held the back. Another time Priscilla and I were trying to locate a walking trail when a woman called out to us from the third floor wondering if she could help us. She then came all the way outside to help us. A final example took place on our trip with Anna back to the airport when she was leaving. The RER B train line normally runs all the way out to Charles de Gaulle airport, but last Sunday it stopped short for some reason. A nice man explained to us that at the last stop that day we would get on a bus to finish the trip. The French are justly proud of their language, and do so appreciate it when you make an attempt to speak French. They will often change to English, but you can tell they appreciate the effort to speak French. If people see me mumbling to myself walking down the street, it's because I'm practicing what I'm going to say in French at my next stop, not because I've come unhinged.
Well, back to what we've been up to around here. Yesterday we checked out the Bastille Market, which is only a few blocks from our flat. The selection of all manner of foods is quite extensive there. With some planning ahead, I'm sure we will be able to make good use of this market. In the afternoon, Priscilla and Kirstin had a shopping outing while Derek and I stayed back at the flat while Cora napped. Last night, Grandma and Grandpa had babysitting duty so that Kirstin and Derek could go out to a favorite avant-garde restaurant named Dilia. They had a wonderful night, and we had a great time with Cora.
Today we had lunch at what is becoming our favorite neighborhood bistro, Chez Mademoiselle. We had a wonderful meal and they were so good with Cora. Felix and his wife, Alexia, are the owners. Felix and René run the front of the house, and I mean run. They are constantly moving. Neither of them will put on any weight as long as they keep this up. They do a brisk business at this "off-the-beaten-track" location on rue Charlemagne.
Tomorrow we will be off earlier to take Kirstin, Derek, and Cora back to Charles de Gaulle airport for their return to the States. I'm hopeful that this time, the RER B will be going all the way to the airport.
No sooner had we bade farewell to Anna than we were saying hello to Kirstin, Derek, and Cora. We've loved having our kids visit us these first two weeks in Paris. I was saying tonight to Kirstin that it will be strange having both our kids on the other side of the pond from us. Already, it's feeling strange to have Anna seven time zones away from us.
The Indy crew has been busy visiting neighborhoods in Paris they recall from previous visits. This is Cora's first time in Paris. I suspect she'll be back many more times. With her funky fashion sense, she fits right in over here.
Today we all made our way to the Marche d'Aligre, which is a food market that is housed in a covered pavilion. We picked up scallops, and fresh pasta to go along with the white asparagus we picked up earlier. Derek made a Hollandaise sauce, Priscilla cooked up the asparagus and pasta, and I sautéed the scallops. It all made for a marvelous meal. You will notice on the photo below that there is an orange appendage on the scallops. Believe it or not, that's the stomach. Over here it comes with the scallops and they eat it. We did as well. It was all delicious.
If you've read posts made prior to our departure, you'll recall that I'm shooting film on this trip in addition to my digital cameras (i.e. Nikon D850 and iPhone X). I was fortunate to find a photo shop on our street that offers one-day development of film, including making scans to a CD. I've been enjoying the slower experience of making photographs on film this trip. It has been good to wean myself off the instant feedback on the LCD screen on the back of the camera. I find with film that I see a scene and make one photo, that's it, not the multiples I'd make with digital trying to get that just right exposure. Today I got back the first two rolls of film I had developed, one color and one black and white. I was quite pleased with the images. Here are several from those two rolls presented in a slideshow.
The other big news today is Priscilla's first Parisian haircut. On the spur of the moment she made an appointment at the hair stylist right on our block, Charlene Ramon. I can't possibly do the experience justice, so I'm going to have Priscilla write about it.
Bon Jour, Madame! I debated making a haircut appointment before leaving on our trip as my hair was just starting to look really good and I thought I'd just let it grow a bit. Well, we all know what happens when we use that logic....the hair needs cutting the very next week! Every time we walked down our street and saw the salon, Charlene Ramon open, Anna would try to convince me to make an appointment. So, today, I finally walked in there to make an appointment. The owner, Charlene, had time open immediately and after returning home to retrieve my wallet, I was in her chair. What a popular and international environment inside this lovely salon. A wedding party from Columbia was just leaving when I arrived. The bride, her fiancé, her mother and aunt all getting gussied up for a wedding tomorrow. Customers from Argentina, New York and Minneapolis. The gal from New York (Susan) married, as she said, a Frenchy and has lived here for 20 years. Between Susan, my stylist and her assistant, we were able to communicate what I wanted and why. The hardest thing to convey to Charlene was my desire to "live" with my silver hair. She so desperately wanted me to add color. In between the espresso served with a small cup of whipped cream and the glass of champagne, and a complimentary application of makeup, I told her I would "think" about it these next 2 months! Stay tuned.
Today is our last full day with Anna. It feels strange knowing that tomorrow she will be jetting her way back to Minnesota and college and we will be staying here in Paris. We have had a marvelous first week with Anna here in Paris. I do think she's had a great time too. I know for a fact she's enjoyed the shopping.
Tomorrow morning, after seeing Anna off at terminal 2 of Charles de Gaulle airport, we will shuttle our way over to terminal 1 and wait for Kirstin, Derek, and Cora's arrival on Lufthansa. Hence the "Goodbye, Hello" title for this post. We've been busying ourselves today with "Cora-proofing" the flat. I think we're in pretty good shape for the arrival of an active nearly three-year old.
Yesterday, our major outings were the Paris Catacombes and the D'Orsay Museum. We all found the catacombs to be fascinating...not nearly as creepy as we would have thought. The bones were actually arranged in an orderly fashion, with Christian burials provided to those whose original burials could be determined to have been Christian. The original remains entombed in the catacombs were from the Cemetery of the Innocents, which needed to be razed in the late 1700s due to sanitary concerns. I'll let your imaginations run with that one. Later, as other cemeteries were reclaimed for urban expansion, the remains were moved to the catacombs in groups. Each group has its own sign, signifying where the remains came from and when.
After the catacombs we made our way to Musee D'Orsay, one of our favorite museums in Paris. We first lunched in the fifth floor restaurant (Le Restaurant on the second floor was closed), then we made our way through the museum from top to bottom. We had thought about also taking in Monet's Water Lillies at l'Orangerie, but tiredness overruled. We listened to a great jazz trio, in the style of Sidney Bechet, out in front of d'Orsay for a bit and then caught the metro back to the Marais, our neighborhood.
Dinner last night was at Capitaine, a newish farm-to-table restaurant which is just a few blocks from our flat. We had a marvelous dinner. Today has been spent in our neighborhood, relaxing, shopping, and taking strolls on the Seine, which apparently is what all of Paris does on a beautiful spring Saturday. Tomorrow will be an early start for us all.
It is now day five for us here in Paris. We've had quite a couple days. Two days ago we took in the Van Gogh presentation at Atelier des Lumieres. Basically, this place is a cavernous warehouse space that has projectors projecting moving images onto every space possible, including the people and the floor. The movies are made especially for this space. It is truly a full-360 experience for all sight and sound. We all absolutely loved the show.
Afterward, we got coffee and hot chocolates at what we all agreed is the best coffee shop we've ever visited, The Beans on Fire. They roast their own beans on site, so the aroma draws you in. The baked goods were fantastic, especially Priscilla's scone. Priscilla and Anna agreed that today's hot chocolate beat out the other day's by a substantial amount. My latte was fantastic. The coffee shop is right next to this quaint neighborhood park, and had outdoor seating on a pedestrian only street. We will definitely be back. Dinner that night was at the Thai Spices restaurant, which is right around the block from us. We had a wonderful meal.
Yesterday was Versailles! After a late morning of sleeping in (needed by all) we caught the Metro at Bastille and then switched to the RER C regional train at the Invalides station, which takes you all the way to Versailles. We picked up Navigo passes, which give you unlimited travel on the Metro, RER trains, and busses. The train trip to Versailles turned out to be the perfect way to travel. There's no chance in missing your stop, because Versailles is the absolute last stop on the RER C. After about an hour wait in line, we gained access to the palace. We had downloaded the Versailles app so we had our own "guided tour" of Versailles as we walked through. Anna definitely got her "Royals" fill for this trip. We all had a great time at Versailles. While it's not something I'd feel compelled to do every time in Paris, it's good to have done it this once. Anna, on the other hand, would probably do this every time if she had the chance, she's such a "Royals" nut!
After a relaxing train trip back, we walked over to another local restaurant, Chez Mademoiselle. This restaurant is in the building that my parents rented a flat in when they would stay in Paris, although the restaurant changed hands in 2013. We got to meet the new owner, who is a real character. Our meals were fabulous, and the service was superb. After our dinners and desserts, the owner treated us to aperitifs of Amaretto and Limoncello. He told us they would guarantee a good night's sleep, and he was right. For all of us, last night was the first where we pretty much slept through the night.
Today has been a day of shopping for Priscilla and Anna, and exploring for me. I've found what looks to be a fabulous open-air market at Place d'Aligre that I'm going to walk to in search of tonight's dinner of roti chicken and roasted potatoes. I'll let you know how it goes. If I strike out there I know just the place on rue de Rivoli, just down the street a bit from us, that has excellent chicken roti to go.
I had a few missions today. The first was to get French SIM cards for our iPhones. Apple Maps took me on a wild goose chase, then Google Maps took me on even more of a wild goose chase. Finally, the app Maps.me, which allows you to download maps to your phone, took me to the right place, the Orange Telecom store. Consider this a definite plug for the Maps.me application.
The second order of business, and the primary one Priscilla sent me out on, was to buy some groceries and household items at Monoprix. I managed to find everything on our list. Google Translate is really handy for trying to figure out what things are in the grocery store. It sure takes a lot longer to buy groceries that way though. I also stopped in at the photography store on rue Saint-Antoine to see if they developed film and scanned the negatives, which I found out they do. By the time I finished all my errands, I'd walked over seven miles and had been gone untold hours, according to the female contingent of this group.
I thought I'd tell you a bit more about the flat we're renting. It is a two-bedroom flat that is fairly decent sized for a Parisian flat. By U.S. standards, it is on the small side. For us, it is perfect for a two-month stay. My sister Karen, and family, stayed in this flat in 2011, and we thought it would be just right for our stay in Paris.
We are on the second floor, facing rue Saint-Paul, which is a quiet side street off of rue Saint-Antoine, a major retail oriented street. The stairway to our flat is off a courtyard that you access through a hallway that you enter through this cool old door on rue Saint-Paul.
The stairway is made of ancient wood that is worn down with wear. I have no idea how old our building is, but I suspect it's at least 18th century. For being an ancient building, our flat has all the modern conveniences, including a washer and dryer that with a bit of fiddling, we were actually able to make work. We have these beautiful, big French door windows that open out to rue Saint-Paul. The weather is warm enough over here to leave the windows open, at least part of the day.
I have no idea what I will write about next, but I suspect I won't run out of material. Living in the middle of a big city is adventure enough. Living in the middle of a big city in a foreign country is adventure on steroids.
After a slight snafu with the verification of Anna's new passport, we got on our way Saturday and had a great day of travel. Our flight left on time and arrived almost an hour early, at around 6:25 a.m. We took an Uber in to our neighborhood from Charles De Gaulle airport. At first the ride in was quiet, with nobody talking, then Priscilla broke the ice by asking the Uber driver if he spoke English. His answer was not much. He then proceeded to use Google Translate to carry on a lively conversation with us all the way to our flat. I was also using Google Translate. He was going from French to English, and I was going from English to French. It definitely was a brave new world moment for us all. Anna did get to use some of her French, but when he wanted to make long statements he would use Google Translate. We talked about the Yellow Vest protests and, of course, Trump. My short summation of our thoughts about the orange-haired ignoramus was, "Trump idiot!" Our driver said that he's noticed that people are staying away from Paris because of the protests. He said we were smart for coming to Paris now since the crowds are down. They really do want visitors. As for the protests, we've seen no sign of them.
Our first stop in the Marais was Miss Manon's patisserie. This is my Mom's favorite in the Marais, and I can see why. Priscilla and Anna had a pain chocolat and I had another apricot pastry, the name of which I forget. They were all delicious. We also got coffees. Before leaving I picked up a baguette and a few small quiches for later. We were able to drop off our bags early at our flat. That's when we met Lucy, our representative here. She and her sister were cleaning the flat. They are originally from the Philippines. We bummed around for awhile in the Marais, picking up some groceries that we needed at the flat. We stopped back at the flat around 11:45 to drop those off. Lucy said we could stay at that time. They had finished their cleaning. That was welcome news to us. We were all ready to get off our feet.
After a spot of lunch and some much needed rest, we set out to explore more of the Marais mid afternoon. We found a lovely Madeleine shop that also serves hot chocolate (chocolat chaud). That was our afternoon treat. We continued walking up and down rue Saint-Antoine, the main drag in our neighborhood. Priscilla and Anna would duck into stores and I would meander looking for photographs. Anna found a lovely dress for her birthday gift. We eventually made our way over to the lovely park, Place des Vosges. Children were playing and lovers were, well you guessed it, loving. The late afternoon light was beautiful in the park.
Yes, we're at that stage of our planning for our Paris trip...making a list and checking it twice. No trip worth its salt would be complete without one of Priscilla's patented lists. While we are crossing things off the list, I have this feeling that it'll still come down to a mad dash at the end. When we finally make our way to our seats on the plane, I suspect we will all collapse into them. One thing's for certain, when they come by offering the free wine, my hand will be among the first to be raised high.
It's amazing all the details you have to think about when you're taking off for a couple months. Our trips to Glacier are child's play next to this. One thing we have done for peace of mind is to hire someone we trust to check on the house while we're gone. Her name is Laura Myers. She is the oldest daughter of our good friends, Peter and Karla Myers. Laura lives practically just down the block in Golden Valley, so it is convenient for her to stop over here a few times a week. Opal the cat will be staying with my Mom at her condo. Opal and Giovanni, Mom's cat, got to know each other well while Mom and Karen were down in Florida.
Our direct flight to Paris leaves at 4:50 p.m. this coming Saturday, arriving in Paris at 7:10 in the morning. We plan to Uber it to our flat at 24 rue Saint-Paul. Most of our time in Paris we expect to be using the Métro, but on our first day in Paris, with all that luggage, we're going to splurge on Uber. Anna will be joining us for our first week during her spring break, and then on the day she heads back, Kirstin, Derek, and Cora show up for their spring break. We'll make sure nobody gets hit on the hind side by the revolving door.
I expect we'll be posting updates every few days, so stay posted.