We left Tours on Friday, June 23rd and took the TGV to Paris Montparnasse which took a little over 1 hour. Said goodbye to Lisa and Rich at the train station and we went our separate ways. It was great to have spent six days with them as we simply do not see them enough.
We took a cab to our apartment which is in “Le Marais”. Historically we have always stayed in the “Quartier Latin” but the last time we were here we spent some time in The Marais and in the tiny sector of St. Paul (within Le Marais) and really enjoyed it.
“Le Marais” – It wasn’t until the 17th century that the Marais (meaning marsh) became one of Paris’s sought after neighbourhoods. This was thanks to Henri lV who commissioned the building of Place des Vosges in 1605. The success of the square made the Marais a fashionable area for the aristocracy and led to the construction of many hotels in the area. The popularity began to wane toward the end of the 17th century when the court was moved to Versailles. After the Revolution , the once elegant hotels deteriorated into working class tenements. In 1969, the Marais was the first district of Paris to be declared a historic district and this led to the restoration of its hotels, which are today museums, archives and libraries.
Today, the Marais which covers the 3rd and 4th arrondissement is sought after again with trendy boutiques, galleries and eclectic stores. One area where stores are open on Sundays. It is also the centre for Paris’s Jewish community and the gay and lesbian community..
We have a comfortable apartment in an building that was a former convent (Couvent des Mimines). It was 27C degrees when we arrived on Friday; was a bit of a relief after the 37 degree temperature we were experiencing in Tours for the last week. Although the apartment is not air conditioned, it has two fans and with the slight breeze and windows opened, is comfortable.
Always know we are back in Paris when you hear the “klaxons” of the police and ambulances….a very distinctive sound!
Once we get settled in, we find the local grocery store and get provisions for our last four days here in Paris. We then head off to discover Le Marais. Out for a couple of hours just walking through the streets and getting to know our way around the neighbourhood. Hot evening, so many people sitting in the cafes’ enjoying an aperitif, and parents and kids in the many “mini” parks in the area. I love the shop windows and signs and can’t help but take pictures of them. I also enjoy peeking in courtyards and through entrances to see what lays behind the doors! I also love the fact that there are all these neighbourhoods gardens and playgrounds, a real must when most people live in apartments. Walked by this incredible “shirt shop” and I took a couple of pictures of the shirts in the windows, but when I saw the shirts inside, I couldn’t resist; I went inside and asked permission to take a picture of the shirts….Incroyable!
Find a Muji store and Robin bought himself some toothbrushes, he really likes them. As I once wrote in a previous blog…..my husband buys his toothbrushes in New York City, Rome and now Paris! Muji is a Japanese retail company which sells a wide variety of household and consumer goods.
Saturday morning finds us heading off to the local market that I had read about and especially wanted to go to, “Le Marche des Enfants Rouges”. The market is the oldest covered market in Paris and was established in 1628. The name translates as “Market of the Red Children” and refers to the children clothed in red (the colour of charity) who were cared for in a nearby orphanage. Not too busy as we were quite early. A nice size market with fruit, vegetable, meat and flower vendors and a few eating places. Stopped for a coffee/tea along a side street and always love just taking the time to look at life happening around us. Locals with their baskets going to the market, at the cafe for their morning espresso and croissant, people running errands on a Saturday morning and merchants plying their trades.The Marais is quite a trendy area and one sees many different personal styles, very interesting. We also saw many parents with their children heading off to the local elementary school as seemed to be a celebration for the end of the school year.
We visit the local “boucherie” (meat market) and have to stand in line as seems to be a locals favourite. The display cases are filled with all sorts of meats (including lamb,rabbit and horse meat), pates, prepared meats/meals, prepared salads, rotisserie chickens and meats prepared to be cooked (brochettes, breaded, etc). Watching the butchers prepare cuts of meat is very interesting, they are very quick and use very sharp knives; do not get in their way.
After a quick stop at the apartment we head off to explore Paris with the end destination being the Petit Palais. Towards the Seine, through the area of St.Paul and Le Marais, by the Hotel de Ville and the Tour de St. Jaques. I always like walking along the Seine were you find all the booksellers, some interesting characters there…..sometimes I think they have been sitting there since the last time we visited! Walk behind Notre Dame, but do not venture onto either Ile Saint Louis or Ile de la Cite, as we have been there many times on previous trips. Many tour boats going up and down the Seine. Can see the Eiffel Tower in the distance, in the same direction we are heading. Pass the Musee d’Orsay, one of my favourites in Paris, and walk pass the Louvre. Spend some time in the Tuileries Gardens and decide to have a quick lunch there.
As we were waiting for our lunch, a young boy about six years old, who had been sitting with his grandfather, got up and went to each empty table and rearranged the menus and ash trays. He was doing this with great concentration, Robin says a future waiter…. very fun to watch.
Continue on, pass L’Orangerie (visited here the last time we were here, beautiful Water Lilies by Monet) and head toward the Champs Élysées.
As we cross to go to the Petit Palais, the whole of the avenue between the Grand Palais and the Petit Palais is all cordoned off as is the Pont Alexandre lll (bridge) across the Seine, and we must go through security, including a body pat down (one line for women, the other for men). This area is blocked off and events are happening to publicize the City’s bid for the 2024 Olympics. They want to get the people of the city behind the bid. There are teams of people demonstrating and playing different olympic sports: archery, golf, soccer, hand ball, volleyball, etc.
We enter the Petit Palais and have to go through another security check. Entrance to the Petit Palais is free. There was a trampoline set us in part of the Petit Palais as part of this Olympic bid event. Both the Grand Palais and the Petit Palais were built in 1900 when Paris hosted the Exposition Universelle. It now displays a collection of paintings, sculptures and art objects from antiquity to 1918. The building is magnificent as is its central courtyard. Mosaic floors, the grand vestibule entrance, the painted ceilings and the beautifully painted Cupola. Especially like the art deco art/glass work, even a whole room devoted to art deco furniture.
We venture back out into the busy area hosting the Olympic bid events and make our way over to the Quai d’Orsay and exit the high security area. Some of the security police are heavily armed and all wearing body protection.; and a sign indicating that one is NOT to take pictures of the police. With everything that has happened in Paris and France in the last few years, the security seen today, probably due to this public event and number of people attending, is not surprising and in all honesty, welcome. We have to go through another security checkpoint to go into the grounds of Les Invalides.
As we are leaving the area, we spot a Canadian flag flying; so nice to see, really gives one a good feeling. It is the Canadian Cultural Centre. It is closed, but none the less love the flag!
We decide to take the Metro back close to the Marais area. We get on the train and it says it is leaving in 4 minutes, then 2 minutes. We are all waiting and waiting and nothing happens. Now about 4 – 5 minutes after it was supposed to leave and all the doors are closed. All of a sudden two men run toward the front of the train, unlock the door (o.k., we know they work for the train) and then nothing happens. They have left this door open, so a lot of passengers, including us decide to leave the train. A young employee who assists people on the platforms informs us that some “knucklehead” pulled the emergency stop so everything electric(?) had to be reset and the train would leave shortly. We all get back on the train and eventually it leaves.
We decide to disembark at St.Michel and we walk to Ile Saint Louis……Notre Dame extremely busy as usual and so many tourists around. When I see these crowds and experience the heat (27C today) it continues to remind me never to come to Europe in July or August!
Cross the next bridge and a series of three high speed police pontoon boats are speeding down the Seine. Police patrols everywhere and carrying guns….big guns! As I said before, good to see.
Now late afternoon, so we decide to stop and have a “cold” drink at an outdoor cafe in the 4th arrondissement , our apartment in the 3rd. Well folks, I think we picked the best place we could have, we had free entertainment for one hour. We went to a cafe in a block from the Quai d’Orsay so it wouldn’t be so busy with noise and traffic. The police have just set up a blockade and stopped traffic from entering two streets just by the Tour Saint Jaques. We find out from the waiter that the Gay Pride Parade will be starting later this afternoon, so Rue Rivoli blocked off, and they have rerouted the traffic away from this area.
Well, let me tell you there is a lot of honking going on and very mad people driving as it is hard for all this traffic to get rerouted to the Quai d’Orsay. There is one policeman and one policewoman here. The traffic is crawling around this corner we are at, trying to all merge toward the Seine boulevard. Some try to stop and convince the police that they need to get into the sector, but these two young police guards are having nothing to do with it, whistle at them and wave for them to continue on their way.The funniest thing had to be a local gentleman who was incensed about this blockade, yelling at some of the drivers about how ridiculous being made to detour and sometimes waiving cars on as if to assist the police. In the midst of all this, motorcycles are weaving in and out between the cars and trucks.
At one point, the young policewoman gets tired of trying to stop drivers and motorcycles from getting through as the barricade gates did not block the whole street. She finds an industrial size garbage bin and moves it, by herself, so that it forms part of the blockade…..now, no one can get through! Sometimes it can be entertaining to simply watch the world going by.
Just a little history on the Tour Saint Jaques. This 52-metre (171 ft) gothic tower is all that remains of the former 16th-century Church of Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie. The church was demolished in 1797, during the French Revolution, leaving only the tower which is now considered a national historic landmark. Apparently also part of the Compostela of Santiago pilgrimage route. Have been by here many times on previous trips, but never knew its’ history…now I do.
Paris has a bike sharing program, Velib which seems to be well used by locals and tourists alike. A company called “CityScoot” had now introduced a scooter bike sharing program. It was launches in 2016 and has 1,000 electric scooters. One uses an “app” to find a scooter, get a code and ride (.20 Euro per minute). No, not going to try it! This is one city I for one will not drive in….just too many crazy drivers weaving in and out of traffic…..lots of mangled/scratched cars in this place.
Another great day in Paris, I think Robin’s fit bit is in overtime….not quite as much a Lisa’s though, saw her and RIch’s steps today…yikes!
Sunday we decide to go to the Picasso Museum which is just around the corner from our apartment. When you only have a few days in Paris, you really need to plan your days when it comes to visiting museums as they are closed on various days. As we are entering the museum, a young girl comes up to us and offers us free tickets, she says part of their group did not come and they could not get refunds. We offer to pay her but all I have is a 5 Euro note or a 100 and all Robin has are 50 Euro notes. She takes the 5 and everyone is happy. I told her we would pay it forward when the opportunity presented itself….I do believe in this sort of karma!
The Picasso Museum is located in the Sale Mansion which was built in 1659. It is called the Sale (which meant salty) as was owned by a gentleman who made his money collecting a tax on salt! The museum/mansion was closed from 2009-12 for renovations and they did a glorious job. Our timing was right as we were early so not too many other people around. Beautiful Picasso works covering his career and the top floor had his own collection including works by Miro, Renoir, Matisse and others. It is so interesting to see the evolution of Picasso’s work. We spent a couple of hours at the museum and thoroughly enjoyed it.
Stop for a coffee and Robin informs me that he is going to order a cappuccino. I ask him why, as he has not had a cup of coffee for fourteen years since he overdosed on coffee on a trip to Italy. He says “I just feel like it”, but afterwards he tells me that won’t be happening again anytime soon. Love just sitting in the cafes and watching the people walk by…got some great pictures here of lots of people dressed in their own personal style!
Walking through the Marais in the last few days, we have noticed lots of pop up shops featuring designer clothes for sale, very different styles, definitely not run of the mill shops. Not sure if this is just taking now or if this is ongoing. Interesting to look.
We walk to Place des Voges, which is nearby. This square was commissioned by Henri lV in 1605., and he told the nobility to build their houses around the square, but they had to respect certain rules, such as using brick (quite unusual for Paris). The square was originally called Place Royal until the Revolution. In 1799 it was renamed Place des Vosges after the department of Vosges that had raised the most taxes for the revolutionary wars. This was the first public square in Paris. Beautiful arcades/galleries surround two sides of the square. Spend some time relaxing in the square.
Then a little further we arrive at the Bastille and the Sunday market is underway. We stroll through the market and buy some lunch. Doesn’t seem to matter whether or not we need something, still enjoy the experience of going to the markets. Take in the view of the Opera House as well while we are here.
Decide to venture further out and we take the metro to the Champ de Mars, which is the large garden at the foot of the Eiffel Tower. As we are about to cross a street heading towards the Champ de Mars, we get stopped by a young gentleman. He asks us not to cross the street as there is a film scene being shot and speeding cars will be coming through. One of the bystanders asks who is in the film, but he says he is not allowed to say. The speeding cars do come through as well as police cars an armoured vehicle and several police motorcycles. Not very long and we are allowed to proceed.
Spend some time at the Champ de Mars, walk a while and decide to make our way back to the Marais. We make our way to Luxembourg Gardens. Great to see all the people enjoying the gardens. The Luxembourg Palace and gardens were built in 1612 for Marie de Medici, the widow of King Henry lV. The garden today is owned by the French Senate which meets in the Palace. It covers 23 hectares and is known for its lawns, tree-lined promenades, flowerbeds, model sailboats on its circular basin. The children playing with the sailboats is really an iconic scene. As we are leaving the gardens, we here music. A band is playing in the bandstand so we stay a while and listen to the music, very pleasant.
From the Luxembourg Gardens, we walk back to our apartment down Boulevard Saint Michelle across two bridges and into Le Marais which is packed with people. Another great day in Paris…I think I said this about yesterday as well!
Tuesday, June 26th is our last day in Paris and weather still great, 27C today. We head off and our objective today is to discover the Montmartre area. We have been before, but just to see the Basilique du Sacre Coeur. Take the metro and start off by having a coffee/tea in Place Pigalle; very civilized. At the end of the 19th century, Montmartre was full of painters, writers and musicians, all of whom were drawn here due to the cheap rents. Still today lots of musicians and painters around.
We walk a couple of blocks and come across the Moulin Rouge. It was established in. 1889 and was named after the local windmill and one was built above the entrance. The cabaret gained a reputation for highly provocative dancing, most notably the cancan. The Moulin Rouge was the subject of the famous painting by Toulouse Lautrec and the film by the same name. Funny enough, a taxi driver in Rennes told us we must attend the Moulin Rouge as no one can do the cancan as good as French women….somehow I think it is now probably East European women doing the cancan! All right, big assumption on my part.
Incredible the amount of sex shops around this area, but I guess not surprising. Needless to say I did not take pictures of these picture windows…..only suffice to say that the Eiffel Tower played a role in the “sex” toy department.
Make our way to the Cimetiere de Montmartre. As you walk in there is a chart you can take with you which shows some of the more famous graves and mausoleums. The cemetery was opened in 1825 in an abandoned gypsum quarry. The quarry had previously been used during the French Revolution as a mass grave. It is the final resting place of many famous artists who lived and worked in the Montmartre area. Always interesting to visit these old cemeteries and see the grandeur of some of the graves.
One of the reasons we chose Montmartre today is that the Salvador Dali museum “Espace Dali” was open. Very near the Basilica but on a side street, one could easily miss it if not looking for it. This is the largest collection of artworks by Salvador Dali in France. Sketches, bronze works, glass work and statues. Dali’s works might not appeal to everyone, but we like to see all genre’s of artwork, must keep an open mind.
Robin is just reading on the Huffington post that Salvador Dali’s body is to be exhumed for a paternity test…just too weird that he is reading that while I am writing about Dali.
Stop for lunch at a small outdoor restaurant. A beautiful setting on a back street with a lovely arbour. Strike up a conversation with a French couple next to us as she had noticed Robin had a fit bit. She told us she got a fit bit about four years ago and lost a lot of weight; she says she walks at least 10 kilometres every day. Funny what can initiate a conversation.
Go in to visit the Basilique de Sacre Coeur and now have to go through a security checkpoint; this was new since the last time we visited. A sign indicates that one is not allowed to take pictures inside the church. Everyone is taking pictures inside the church….what is wrong with this picture? On a good point, everyone is keeping quite silent so people can pray. I read that notwithstanding the pollution, the basilica remains white as it is built with Souppes stone ( a creamy white limestone) which is resistant as granite, but it exudes calcium when it comes into contact with rainwater. The construction of the basilica starter in 1875 and finished in 1914 and is built on the highest point in the city of Paris.
Head back to our apartment by metro, pick up something for dinner and pack to return back home to Canada. We have certainly enjoyed our six weeks away and have seen and experienced a lot of new sights. Met some wonderful people along the way, joined by Suzanne, Colin and James for a few days and Rich and Lisa for 6 days. Great company along the way.
It is always nice to be away, but we are looking forward to getting home.
This is the end of my blog, until our next adventure. Thanks to those of you who have commented and liked my blog. I enjoy doing the research of places we visit and enjoy writing my blog. Thanks especially to my favourite travelling partner and wonderful husband, Robin.
Till the next time…..a la prochaine!