a Russian church in Paris, my favorite park, a tea salon and the Courcelles district

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Strolling along the boulevard de Courcelles in Paris’s 8th arrondissement, you are suddenly arrested by an unexpected and spectacular sight. Stopping in your tracks you exclaim, “Oh, my God!” (which is appropriate seeing as it’s a church). Not a church, actually, but a cathedral. The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is a Russian Orthodox cathedral located at 12 rue Daru (or the foot of rue Pierre Le Grand). Established in 1861, it was the first Russian Orthodox place of worship in France. To visit, the nearest metro station is Ternes.

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Guess who married here in July 1918? Pablo Picasso to Olga Khokhlova. The witnesses were Jean Cocteau, Max Jacob and Guillaume Apollinaire. When visitors to Paris ask me for out-of-the-way places to explore, I always suggest this area.

Cities are composed of villages, really, or pocket neighborhoods and one of my favorites is the district bordering the small and beautiful Parc Monceau. One reason I like it so is because it’s completely off the tourist grid. The people you see are mainly residents or, during the week, people who work there. There are some great shops, restaurants and a market street.

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strolling along the blvd. des Courcelles yesterday in the sunshine

Yesterday I went to buy tea, flowers and macaroons. We’re enjoying perfect weather this weekend in Paris: 20 to 22 degrees with brilliant sunshine. Plus, it’s a 3-day weekend, Monday May 21st being the Christian holy day of Pentecost. (Yup, in this country, Catholics rule!) From the Russian cathedral, I walked up the road to Mariage Frères, the temple of tea located at 260 Faubourg Saint-Honoré (there are other locations dotted around the city.) I bought 100 grams of Marco Polo tea for 9 euros. There’s a restaurant-tea salon inside, but it’s too expensive for my pocketbook.

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Directly across the road is the outstanding La Maison du Chocolat (there are other locations around the city.) If you’re a chocolate lover, these are serious cocoa confections ranging from truffles, ganaches and pralines to éclairs, macaroons and other delights. In the warm months, they make their own sorbets and ice creams. Just up the road is the famous Salle Pleyel concert hall for classical music.

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I know this district well because I worked in it for two years. It was probably one of the worst jobs I have ever had. A small French law firm, the people were execrable. Not only was I harassed weekly by one of the senior partners, I was totally exploited and underpaid. Along with my regular tasks, I was expected to translate long legal documents, but received no status or recognition as a translator. The upside was the Parc Monceau located right beside the building. Small and romantic, it’s my most favorite park. If you come to Paris, you should definitely visit it. Abutting the park are two small museums, the Cernuschi (museum of Asian arts) and the Nissim de Camondo (an elegant Belle Epoque mansion housing a museum with 18th-century French furniture and decorative arts.) During those two years, when I wasn’t sitting on a park bench during my lunch hour, I was visiting these museums or striding vigorously up and down the nearby boulevards.

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The west entrance to the Parc Monceau (metro Courcelles)

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Through the park (which was packed yesterday) and out the other side onto the boulevard Malesherbes to my favorite florist.

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And then back home to make tea, eat a macaroon (or two or three), recline on my chaise longue and admire my bouquet of fragrant freesia and iris.

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Insider shopping tip: if you have cash to splash and are into gorgeous Italian clothes, there’s a small boutique on the boulevard des Courcelles that sells clothes direct from Italy. Expensive, unique and gorgeous, it’s called Cairns Donna. I go there twice a year during the big sales in January and June. 55 bd Courcelles, metro Courcelles. Across the road is the same boutique for men.

a Sunday stroll along the boulevard de Courcelles

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You wouldn’t have believed the weather in Paris today.  It was a perfect Indian summer’s day.  18°C, brilliant sunshine and an azure sky. Impossible to stay indoors. I headed over to the Parc Monceau and the boulevard de Courcelles, two of my favourite haunts bordering the 8th and 17th arrondissements.

IMG_5337IMG_5356If I could afford it, I’d live in this neighbourhood, I’ve always liked it.  I was lucky enough to work in this district for two years throughout 2011 to 2012.IMG_5362IMG_5363IMG_5352

Insider shopping tip. This small independent boutique called Cairns Donna has clothes to die for, most of them from Italy.  55 bd Courcelles, metro Courcelles.  Heading to my most favourite park in Paris, the Parc Monceau, I figured that by 5 pm the place would be emptying of people.  Wrong!   It was packed.

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I enjoyed the crowded park as much as I could then made my way to the beautiful boulevard Malesherbes and crossed it, stopping off at my favourite flower shop on the corner, Monceau Fleurs. The boulevard Malesherbes is, in my opinion, far more stylish and appealing than the Champs-Elysées. It starts off at the gorgeous place Saint Augustin and ascends upwards to the boulevard de Courcelles.  The air is somewhat rarified up here.  The entire district is off the tourist grid and very interesting.  I know, because for two years I explored every street, square, backstreet and cranny on my lunch hours.  How lucky I was to be able to visit a small museum during my lunch hour!  Here’s the Nissim de Camondo Museum (a sumptuous private house) at 63 rue de Monceau and the Cernuschi Asian art museum at 7 avenue Vélasquez (links below.)  And if anyone has read and enjoyed that fascinating book entitled The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal, his family house is located at 81 rue de Monceau.  Here below is the boulevard Malesherbes approaching the boulevard de Courcelles.  To explore this area, take the metro to Courcelles, Monceau or Villiers stations and walk around.

IMG_5390IMG_5391IMG_5397IMG_5395This cozy tea salon, run by a Japanese couple, serves delicious cakes and hot chocolate.  It’s directly across the road from Villiers metro station.IMG_5394IMG_5403Don’t forget to visit the popular food market street, rue de Lévis, near Villiers metro station.IMG_5417IMG_5418

http://www.lesartsdecoratifs.fr/en/museums/musee-nissim-de-camondo

http://www.cernuschi.paris.fr/en/museum/location/opening-hours/admission