Sunday April 21st – the Parc Monceau

On this beautiful Sunday, I headed over to my favourite park in Paris: the lovely Parc Monceau, full of grace and situated at the top end of the 8th arrondissement bordering the 17th arrondissement.  As I came up from the Monceau metro station, I found myself at a sidewalk antique market, running the entire length of the park:Sunday 21 April 2013 PARIS 031Sunday 21 April 2013 PARIS 002Sunday 21 April 2013 PARIS 032Sunday 21 April 2013 PARIS 035Sunday 21 April 2013 PARIS 016
I learned a new word today: palissandre, which means rosewood as in the backs of these chairs:

Sunday 21 April 2013 PARIS 025Sunday 21 April 2013 PARIS 040Imagine someone sitting in this chair in a 19th-century Parisian salon:Sunday 21 April 2013 PARIS 036

Here’s one of the entrance gates into the Monceau Park; this is the gate I walked through every day for three years to go to work. From Monday to Friday I was in this park, never tiring of its beauty and changing seasons. I miss going there.Sunday 21 April 2013 PARIS 043Sunday 21 April 2013 PARIS 048Sunday 21 April 2013 PARIS 049Sunday 21 April 2013 PARIS 050Sunday 21 April 2013 PARIS 052Sunday 21 April 2013 PARIS 069

It’s a relatively small, enclosed park. What I especially like about it is that despite its age (it was created in 1779 and then remade in 1861) it’s a modern, living park, used and enjoyed by all ages.Sunday 21 April 2013 PARIS 074Sunday 21 April 2013 PARIS 057Sunday 21 April 2013 PARIS 066There’s even an Asian art museum that I visited once during my lunch hour:Sunday 21 April 2013 PARIS 079Here’s the east gate that takes you onto the wide boulevard des Malesherbes:Sunday 21 April 2013 PARIS 088Sunday lunch on the terrace of a café on the boulevard des Malesherbes:Sunday 21 April 2013 PARIS 091

And finally, look at the svelte parisienne in the tangerine pullover. Do I slit my wrists now, or seriously start that diet tomorrow?Sunday 21 April 2013 PARIS 109

Paris, seductive city

OK, here’s what I like about living in Paris: days are rarely ho-hum.  Something is always happening. One is constantly surprised, exasperated, bedazzled, outraged, charmed…..emotions run high here, the atmosphere is heavily charged.  There’s a lot of tension in this country on all fronts: politically, emotionally, socially, sexually.

When people ask why have I lived in Paris for so long, I answer unhesitatingly:  I’m never bored.  It’s the French people themselves.  Love ’em or hate ’em, they are a complete paradox and, as a result, life is unpredictable.  I guess I like that.  I might be bored elsewhere.

Example:  yesterday, an ordinary Thursday, I took the metro to the 6th arrondissement on the other side of the city after work.  At Châtelet metro station, one of the busiest stations on the metro system – and during rush hour – I literally walked into a pop-up string orchestra playing Bartok in the main corridor.  It was totally unexpected and sheer delight:Paris 5 and 6th arr avril 2013 006Paris 5 and 6th arr avril 2013 012Paris 5 and 6th arr avril 2013 010After listening for awhile, I took the corridor to Line 4 to catch the train to Odéon. Once on the crowded train, a pickpocketer managed to open the flap of my handbag, but luckily (for me) was thwarted by the zippered main pocket.  Beware of pickpocketers on the Paris metro and elsewhere! Paris 5 and 6th arr avril 2013 017Paris 5 and 6th arr avril 2013 020Got off at Odéon in the 6th arrondissement (near the Latin Quarter) and sauntered up several roads that led to Berkeley second-hand English-language bookshop, located at number 8 rue Casimir-Delavigne. You can buy, sell and swap books here which is what I did (I swapped.)  Then I headed over to my favourite department store, the terribly chic Le Bon Marché, at Sèvres-Babylone further west.  Le Bon Marché is open until 9 pm on Thursdays.  Here’s a few random shots I took along the way:

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Look at these testosterone terrors.  Why is the riot police out in full force? They look like something out of Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.Paris 5 and 6th arr avril 2013 045

Paris 5 and 6th arr avril 2013 047I’ve reached my final destination. La Grande Epicerie, the magnificent Food Hall of Le Bon Marché.  Paris 5 and 6th arr avril 2013 049Paris 5 and 6th arr avril 2013 050Look at these fresh shrimp (prawns) from Madagascar!  Could shrimp be any bigger??  In France they’re called Gambas.  And only 69 euros a kilo, folks.Paris 5 and 6th arr avril 2013 052 I bought some divine herring in cream sauce, olives from Provence, plump raspberries from Spain and some irresistibly-good gingerbread that the French call pain d’épices, made from rye flour, honey, orange marmalade and spices. With coffee in the morning or tea in the afternoon, it’s, well, irresistible.Paris 5 and 6th arr avril 2013 070

Could a car be any smaller?? I wouldn’t be caught dead in that thing.  Paris 5 and 6th arr avril 2013 067

Stepping outside, I walked smack into a demonstration which explains why the riot police were out, however this was a very tame crowd waving flags marked Mariage pour Tous (Marriage for All) which supports the new law François Hollande’s socialist government  is pushing through to legalize same-sex marriage. These images are in stark contrast to the opposing right-wing (and very scary) National Front demonstrators who resort to violence and intimidation.Paris 5 and 6th arr avril 2013 057Paris 5 and 6th arr avril 2013 058Paris 5 and 6th arr avril 2013 062

ADDENDUM – In fact, the people protesting against same-sex marriage, I later learned, is not wholly the extreme right-wing National Front but conservative Catholics out in full-force with their families.

Sunday in Paris, gloriously warm and sunny

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ALL of Paris was outside today; impossible to stay indoors on this gorgeously warm, perfect Sunday.  25°C and pure sunshine after 5 and a half months of gloom and cold.

I heard the Crillon is auctioning off its entire contents – a good excuse to hop on the metro and go to the Place de la Concorde.

“Paris’s famed Hôtel de Crillon is about to undergo a major facelift. But before it closes for the two-year renovation, the hotel is auctioning off many of its lavish items and allowing the public a close-up view of this iconic Parisian institution. With its plum spot on the Place de la Concorde, sumptuous salons and suites, lavish 18th century furnishings, and a history of pampering guests from Theodore Roosevelt to Madonna to Bill Clinton, the Hôtel de Crillon has been an enduring symbol of French opulence.” (despite the fact it’s owned by a Saudi prince, adds Juliet.)

I got off at Champs-Elysées Clémenceau, the metro stop before Concorde, because I like the walk along the last stretch of the Champs-Elysées and then through the leafy gardens that eventually give way onto the Place de la Concorde.

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I got to the Crillon only to find a long line that snaked around the corner.Sun Apr 14 2013 Paris 013Sun Apr 14 2013 Paris 018

Not being a fan of line-ups, I wandered up a favourite road of mine to the left of the Crillon, the rue Boissy d’Anglas.  This road is closed off to traffic so it’s quiet, and there are some nice boutiques and restaurants.  It takes you up to the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré and Place de la Madeleine beyond.Sun Apr 14 2013 Paris 024

I worked here, at number 9 rue Boissy d’Anglas, for several years. Very conveniently located. On our lunch hour, me and my English colleagues would dash up the road to the Hermès flagship store on the corner, go inside and spritz ourselves with gorgeous Hermès perfume. Then we’d walk further up to Le Savio lunch counter and patisserie to buy the most delicious lemon tarts I’ve ever tasted in my life.  Darn, I forgot to take a photo of the place.Sun Apr 14 2013 Paris 022Sun Apr 14 2013 Paris 025

A favourite Sunday pastime for some Parisians is to stroll the sidewalks and admire the window displays. Clothing boutiques are closed on Sunday, but many cafés and bookshops are open.Sun Apr 14 2013 Paris 050Here’s what Wikipedia says about the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré:  Although relatively narrow and nondescript, it is cited as being one of the most fashionable streets in the world, thanks to the presence of virtually every major global fashion house.
So I strolled. Love the colour of this dress:Sun Apr 14 2013 Paris 034Orange colours that are trending this year: tangerine, burnt orange, coral, pumpkin, persimmon, saffron.Sun Apr 14 2013 Paris 035Sun Apr 14 2013 Paris 048

A beautiful sandal that I can imagine wearing in some fabulous destination like Capri or Sardinia.akdas 155

Here’s the famous Ladurée tea salon, renowned for its divine and exorbitantly-priced macaroons. Japanese tourists flock here, as do all tourists and Parisians alike. Frankly, I find the place a little too precious for my taste (and my pocketbook.)Sun Apr 14 2013 Paris 044Sun Apr 14 2013 Paris 040Sun Apr 14 2013 Paris 043

Here’s me getting kicked out of Ladurée because I took a photo. What?  Did they think I was a spy looking to steal their cookie recipe??Sun Apr 14 2013 Paris 037

Here’s a gorgeous door. I don’t know if it’s pure 1930s or modernist 1960s. I’m going to find out.

Sun Apr 14 2013 Paris 051As I walked to my favourite haunt, the W.H. Smith bookshop which is open on Sundays, to buy a cold drink and flip through the magazines, I passed this row of bicycles – Vélib, the bike-sharing scheme – which no-one seems to be using.Sun Apr 14 2013 Paris 058

And that was my afternoon. By 5 pm the city was still packed with people and it was quite hot. I walked leisurely back to the station and took the metro home.

New discount train service for France

It’s called OUIGO, it’s new, it’s cheap, but for the time being only covers the southern region of France which doesn’t help me at all because I frequently travel north.

What does OUIGO mean? It’s Franglais and it’s two words. OUI = “yes” in French. The phonetic pronounciation is “we”.  GO = “go”.  So when put together, it’s WE GO (which is a lot catchier than NOUS ALLONS.)

April 2013 – French rail company SNCF brought the ‘low-cost’ model to train travellers on Tuesday with the launch of ‘Ouigo’ – its new cheap, no-frills train service for France . Tickets start from just €10.  The new trains will link Paris and Lyon to Marseille and Montpellier on the south coast.

Trains providing the budget service will have no first-class section, no café or bar, and less free space, in order to take on 1,200 passengers, 20% more than a normal TGV service.  In addition, Ouigo patrons can expect to pay extra if they want to take a second piece of luggage on their journey across France.

Here’s the drawback – Ouigo services will depart from and arrive at stations outside the major cities of Paris and Lyon, which means travelers should factor in the added cost of connecting, for example, Marne-la-Vallée to the city of Paris itself – a 30 km journey.

Trains will arrive however in the city centre station’s in Marseille and Montpellier, 3h15min and 3h35min after leaving Paris .

Coming up: small, inexpensive, design hotels in Paris

Book-signing at W.H. Smith bookshop, then dinner

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No, it wasn’t my book that was being signed at W.H. Smith (dream on, Jules). It was a charming new book entitled Quiet Paris that I purchased and had signed by the author. Two years ago I bought her Quiet London edition; I still love and use it.

Here’s the publisher’s blurb: Paris is a beautiful city with astounding architecture and world-famous museums and restaurants. Because of its many attractions, however, it often feels as if there is nowhere to escape from the crowds. Siobhan Wall, author of Quiet Amsterdam and Quiet London, has sought out hidden, tranquil places so that Parisians can find some respite from their busy lives. She has gone in search of small museums and cafés so that visitors to the city can discover another, quieter side to this entrancing metropolis. From formal gardens to light-filled art galleries, chic boutiques, small tearooms and gourmet delicatessens, Quiet Paris has over one hundred and twenty tempting places to savour the quiet delights of this most seductive of cities.

I recommend this book because it lists off-the-beaten-track places that are quiet and noteworthy.  I’ll personally be exploring some of them, just as I explored the places she recommends in London.

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Leaving the bookshop at 6:30 pm, I had no desire to cook dinner at home, so I took myself to a favourite restaurant four minutes away from W.H. Smith. Located on the rue de Rivoli across the road from the Tuileries Gardens, it’s called L’Imperial. Sometimes when you’ve been working all day, you just want to sit quietly in a restaurant and have your meal brought to you. A restful interlude. I ordered a Martini Bianco on ice and leafed through my new Quiet Paris book.

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A nice little bar at the back   Hmm … who’s that man?

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This is an eatery geared more for tourists with the exception of lunch during the week when the place fills up with Parisians who work in the area. They do some nice lunch specials. A few years ago I worked near the Place de la Concorde and came here for lunch with colleagues. I particularly like their filet de cabillaud rôti à la provençale écrasée de pommes de terre à l’huile d’olive (provençal-style roasted filet of cod served atop mashed potato with olive oil.)  I ordered some.

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Service is swift and professional, portions generous and served up hot. They also do a nice boeuf bourguignon served on mashed potato for 15 euros, onion soup for 10 euros, roast chicken and mashed potato for 14 euros, an omelette for 10 euros, a cheeseburger and fries for 14 euros, a croque-monsieur for 8 euros, three different cuts of steak served with fries (called and spelled steack-frites in France), a selection of large salads and other items. For the location, the prices are very reasonable indeed. I’d just like to add that for those who think that the most favourite dish of the French might be, I don’t know, coq au vin or confit de canard, they’re wrong.  The most popular dish here is steack-frites served with red wine, crusty baguette, and maybe a small green salad on the side and cheese to follow. Below I’ve listed a few addresses where you can enjoy this substantial and heavily calorific meal.

When the warm weather comes, I recommend that you sit outside during lunch hour when the sun hits just nicely the row of tables lined up along the side of the restaurant, allowing you to enjoy a bain de soleil (a sunbath) while you eat. Afterwards you can stroll in the Tuileries Gardens or visit the Louvre museum. Or pop into the gorgeous, independent bookstore, Galignani, at 224 rue de Rivoli.

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L’Impérial, 240 rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris, between Tuileries and Concorde metro stations.

Steak-frites:  There’s a rather pricey restaurant on the rue Marbeuf, just off the Champs-Elysées near Franklin Roosevelt metro station, that serves up really good beef, fries, wine, etc. But it’s not cheap and I’ve read mixed reviews about the place lately, so be forewarned.  La Maison de l’Aubrac, 37 rue Marbeuf.  Aubrac is a region in France known for its cattle breeding (raised for meat), delicious Cantal cheese and Laguiole knives.

Now this place, on the other hand, is popular and reasonably priced. It’s called the Relais de l’Entrecôte and there are three locations, one of them at 15 rue Marbeuf.  You have to line up but the queue moves fairly quickly and there’s only one dish so you don’t order, you just tell the server how you like your meat cooked.  She brings you a small green salad followed by a platter filled with thickly-cut slices of beef covered with their delicious secret sauce and a mound of hot fries.  The portions are fairly small but once finished, she brings a second helping.  The atmosphere is fun and convivial.  Unless you’re a snob, you’ll enjoy the place.  The other two locations are in the 6th arrondissement at 20 rue Saint-Benoît and 101 blvd. du Montparnasse.