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