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Monday, August 29, 2011

8 Unusual Paris Walks

Basilique Saint-DenisImage by rogiro via Flickr

Author: Boyd Lemon

Paris, in my opinion, the most beautiful and exciting city in the world, like most great cities, is a walker's paradise. It is a city of neighborhoods, each one unique. I am going to take you on eight walks that I took in late 2010. You can take these walks any time of year (mine were in the winter), and no walk took longer than two hours, excluding dining time. So you can take these eight walks in three or four days, if that is all the time you have. Six of them are outside of the principal tourist areas of Paris, so you will mingle with real Parisians at work and play. Each walk is easily accessible from anywhere in Paris by the Metro (the Paris subway). All you need is a Metro ticket and a city map to follow along. I have named the walks after the neighborhoods.

The Alma Marceau Neighborhood, 17th Arrondissment.
I walked up the stairs of the Alma Marceau Metro stop to be faced by Pont d'Alma (the Alma Bridge) and the large sculpture that features the head of the Statute of Liberty beside a gold flame, commemorating the friendship between France and the United States—quite striking. I crossed the bridge and walked down avenue Rapp, embassies on both sides of the avenue for a while—very stuffy looking.
The first interesting building was No. 29, a fine example of the art deco of the early twentieth century. Across the street was a charming little wine bar, the Sancerre, that I couldn't resist, so I went in and had a glass of Bordeaux and let the charm sink in. At the end of the street I turned left onto rue St. Dominique, one of the most charming neighborhoods in Paris. There were upscale gourmet food shops, chocolate shops, toy stores, bakeries with tempting, colorful pastries shining in the windows, chic clothing and shoe stores—all too small to be on Champs Elysees or Rodeo Drive, but full of charm.
A few blocks down, I turned left at rue Jean Nicot and came to one of Paris' most famous bakeries, Poujauran, with its pink exterior. I just gazed in the window longingly. Next door is a fine Spanish wine bar, Bellota-Bellota, (Not many French bars, or Spanish bars for that matter, have websites.) I couldn't resist. It drew me in. I ate Serrano ham and Manchego cheese with a green salad and a glass of excellent Rioja. Unfortunately, the prices were Parisian, not Spanish.
I continued down rue St. Dominique to the expansive Esplanade des Invalides, the largest open space in Paris. I took a quick look at Café de l'Esplanade at 52 Rue Fabert, incredibly chic, with plats (what Americans call entrees) for about $100 each.
Triniti, the Ninth Arrondissement
This walk started at the Triniti Metro stop. As I climbed up the stairs to the Place d'Etienne, another beautiful French cathedral loomed, St. Triniti. After photographing the cathedral, I took rue St. Lazare east. On the left on rue Taitbout is the building where George Sand and Frederic Chopin lived in separate apartments in the 1840's across from a lovely little park, Square d'Orleans, that was closed when I was there.
A few blocks down I turned left up rue de la Rochefoucauld and entered the Musee Gustave Moreau, which used to be his home and studio and contains hundreds of his paintings and sketches. He is as famous for being one of Matisse's teachers as he was a painter in his own right. Most of his paintings have mythological themes. A visit is well worth the 5 euro admission.
Back to rue St. Lazare for a while, another digression up rue St. Georges led to Casa Olympe, a popular Mediterranean restaurant, where I had planned to have lunch. Alas, it was closed, which leads me to a warning about French custom. Many cafes and restaurants close from around 2:00 or 3:00 to 6:00, although many now stay open. If you plan to dine at a specific restaurant during those hours, it is best to call ahead to make sure they are open, or make sure you are there to start your meal before 2:00. It was 2:15 when I arrived at Casa Olympe. I should have known better.
I kept walking down St. Lazare, looked in the window of the famous Detaille, which has been selling their skin potions since1905 and turned right at rue Bourdaloue past inviting looking shops, but I'm not a shopper. At the end of that block, taking rue de Chateaudun to rue du Faubourg-Montmarte, I stopped in at La Mere de Famille (#35) a gourmet food shop, specializing in things chocolate. A sign said it was founded in 1761. From the looks of the old fashioned sign in front, I believe it.
From there a few steps down rue du Faubourg-Montmarte, I walked down the elegant Passage Verdeau, lined on both sides with interesting art galleries, new and used book stores, jewelry stores and all kinds of art. There were also inviting cafes and salons des thes (tea salons). I was tempted, but restrained myself. I crossed over to Passage Jouffroy and sauntered along with the crowd, gazing in the windows of more art galleries and Cinedoc, which has an amazing collection of old movie posters. I passed Musee Grevin, Paris's wax museum, a long line in front. There were also more salons de thes, the most inviting of which I could not pass. I sat at the last available table in Le Valentin and sipped a lovely, thick hot chocolate and an apple pastry that satisfied my need for lunch and took the chill right off of the 35 degrees outside.
It was hard to leave Le Valentin, but I did and crossed Boulevard Montmarte to Passage des Panoramas, which I had visited previously. It is the least interesting of the three passages (mostly restaurants), but it was convenient to get to rue St. Mark, then left on rue Vivienne to reach the Bourse Metro and head for home.
Basilique St. Denis
This walk actually is a bit outside of Paris in the adjacent suburb of St. Denis, a very old neighborhood. It is the penultimate (I love that word) stop on Metro Line 13 to the north. The St. Denis Basilica is the feature of the walk, but first, exiting the Metro, I walked down Passage de l'Ancienne Tannerie into an old French version of a shopping mall begun long before there was a shopping mall anywhere—the covered market of St. Denis. In its wall-to-wall booths in this huge warehouse-like building, vendors sold every kind of food, clothing and bric-a-brac imaginable. I walked past pig's ears, cows feet, whole skinned rabbits, birds of many varieties and intestines from some animal, as well as more mundane, though amazingly colorful, displays of fruits and vegetables. I had to touch some, and I did. The vendor gave me a look, not of disapproval, but a "What in the world are you doing?" look. It was hard to walk through. Men with huge carts and dollies were hauling stuff in and out of every aisle. Throngs of people were ordering their food for the weekend. Vendors shouted at each other and at customers. Since they were in French, I couldn't understand exactly what they were shouting, but they weren't angry. This market is the epitome of the term, "hustle and bustle"--no, more than the epitome, way over the top. I was almost run down from behind unintentionally by a man pushing a dolly stacked with boxes of produce so high he couldn't see in front of him. I couldn't walk as fast as he was walking without running down people ahead of me. He said something that sounded like an apology. As I walked along, the food aromas changed from meat to fish to herbs to spices to green vegetables mingled with the smells of people in their heavy winter clothes. At most of the clothing booths, clothes had been picked up and tossed everywhere--worse than a teenager's bedroom. Everything was on sale, and by Paris standards they were bargains.
I managed to stumble my way through to the end without injury and came out on rue Pierre Dupont, which I took to Place Jean Jaures, where there was an outdoor market in a large square selling similar items, but not so crammed together and not as busy. And there was food you could eat there—couscous, crepes, sandwiches, ice cream (not even tempting with the temperatures in the low 30's), mountains of olives and dried fruit, and more herbs and spices.
All this food made me hungry, and I spotted a nice looking Brasserie to the left of the public market, aptly named Le Marche (the market). It was packed, but there was one table left that I squeezed into and took off my back pack and winter outer clothes—gloves, hat, coat and wool scarf and put them on the chair opposite me. Like most Paris eateries, it was decorated with paintings, small statues and tasteful nick knacks, giving me the impression that I was in a friend's living room. Thankfully, it was warm and cozy. In my best French (which, of course, is pitiful) I ordered grilled chicken and vegetables. While I waited I watched the French eat and talk. Nobody can talk like the French, and nobody can eat like the French. The combination always intrigues me. The father and daughter (I think) sitting next to me were eating their main course when I arrived and lingering over dessert and coffee when I left, talking the entire time, interrupted occasionally by chewing. Three couples at a large table across the way seemed to all be talking at once, even when they were eating.
My grilled chicken was covered in a light mushroom sauce that was so good I had to sop it up with the bread. The chicken was perfectly cooked. The vegetable dish was superb—potatoes mashed, but with no butter or milk, parsley and thyme and mixed in the potatoes were tiny pieces of squash, spinach and probably other vegetables, but the pieces were so small I couldn't tell what they were. I wanted to savor the meal a little more so I ordered decaf and sat there sipping, very contented. The meal was only nine euro (about $12).
I turned left out of the restaurant and walked a few steps to the Hotel de Ville (the City Hall), a marvelous 19th Century building on Rue de la Republique. Just past the Hotel de Ville was the magnifique Basilica. The Gothic Basilica was built in the Thirteenth Century on the site of a church that had been built over the tomb of St. Denis in the Fifth Century. Most of the Kings of France are buried in the Basilica. Inside, I was not disappointed. I looked up at gorgeous stained glass windows until my neck was sore. There were tombs of various kings and queens, several with a sculptured version of its inhabitant lying on top of the tomb. I marveled at the display of the capes and crowns of the last king and queen of France. Downstairs are the crypts, and I gasped at the site of a piece of the old church, 1,600 years old. I left the Basilica and strolled through the garden that must be magnificent when it isn't winter, onto rue de la Republique, a pedestrian only street lined with shops and cafes, full of shoppers, despite the fact that it was in the low 30's on a gray winter Friday afternoon. After walking off at least part of my meal I returned to the Metro and home.
Place Vendome and the Ritz.
On another walk I unexpectedly happened upon the Ritz Hotel on Place Vendome. I figured they would have some beautiful stuff in there, and it would be pleasant to walk through, so I did, and I was right. It is a gorgeous place--red carpet, sculptures, original paintings, fresh flowers, furniture from the Louies' period, the works. It looked, felt and smelled luxury.
During my stroll down the hallways, I spotted the Hemingway Bar. I thought they might serve Martinis. Back in the United States I enjoy a Martini every now and then. There are few places in Europe that have them, mainly American bars, and I have had only one since I came to Paris eight months before. In case you don't know, a Martini as drunk in the U.K. and U.S., is gin with or without a little dry white vermouth, strained through ice and poured into a Martini glass, garnished with an olive or a lemon peel. Martinis have nostalgic value for me. I taught my older daughter to drink and enjoy them, possibly before she could legally drink, and she and I have enjoyed them together ever since, most recently, just before I left for Paris while she was preparing dinner for her two children. So there's lovely history there.
Anyway, back to the Hemingway Bar. I looked in and was surprised how small it was. It was packed, but there was one seat left at the bar, which I took. I looked around at the fascinating photographs of Hemingway when and before he used to hang out at this bar (of course, it wasn't called the Hemingway Bar then). Apparently, he stayed at the Ritz and hung out here after he became rich and famous. There were also artifacts of his around the room, including an old Underwood typewriter that he used. The people there, including a man in full Arab garb and with more facial hair than I had ever seen, all looked interesting and very rich. The bartender gave me a menu, and I looked through the long list of drinks. Sure enough, there was a classic Martini. I smiled to myself, until I looked at the price, and then I almost laughed out loud--30 euro--about $40.00. That's for one drink. I almost fell off the stool. In the U.S. the nice bars (and this, most assuredly, is a nice bar), usually charge between $9 and $12 for them. That would be 7 to 9 euro. I hemmed and hawed to myself, saying, I can't pay 30 euro for a drink. You can get a nice meal for that. That is a week's food budget for some people. But I'm only going to be in Paris for three more weeks. Do you think I had one?
I savored it for about an hour, then went out and had a falafel for dinner at the nearest stand for 4 euro and took the Metro home for the usual 1.20 euro fare. I bet nobody in that bar has ever been on the Metro. Aren't people strange? What? You say I'm strange?
Passy Neighborhood
I headed down the steps of the Passy Metro Station, turned right onto rue de Eaux and there ahead, at the end of the street, was the Musee du Vin, the Wine Museum. It is a curious, interesting place, made up of tunnels. The tunnels were created from mining the rock that went into many of the cobblestone streets of Paris. Once the rock was exhausted in the Fifteenth Century, it made a great place for monks to store the wine they made. Later, many of France's vintners stored their wine there, and much later the restaurant in the nearby Eifel Tower used it to store their wine. About 20 years ago it became the Wine Museum. Unless you're really into wine, I wouldn't recommend paying the 11 euro admission fee (which includes one taste of wine), though it is an interesting ambiance. You could experience most of the ambiance though just by having a coffee or glass of wine at their café, located in one of the tunnels. You can also have lunch there, but I didn't, so I can't opine on the quality.
When I came out of the Wine museum, I walked back up the street and over to rue de Passy and did some window shopping in the clothing and shoe boutiques along the road. Then I turned left onto Avenue Raphael, where the Musee Marmottan is located. I have a rule of only one museum per day, so I didn't go in, but I'm told it is a nice little museum that houses impressionist paintings, including some of Monet's water lilies. I walked back to rue de Passy and meandered around the Marche de Passy, where exquisite produce, fish, meats and oysters are displayed. Back toward the Metro I walked over to rue Franklin and had a lovely lunch of oysters and shrimp at Le Franklin. It's rather pricey. If you want something less expensive, try the Creps at Chez Yannick on rue de Annoncition, and I'm told that La Matta nearby offers excellent pizza. Also on rue de Annoncition is Balzac's house.
From there I walked down rue Raynouard, which leads back to the Passy Metro.
Place d'Italie Neighborhood.
I started this walk at the Place d'Italie Metro Station in the 16th Arrondissment. If you take this walk, at first you will wonder why I recommended it. I walked up rue Bobillot for a while before getting to the good part. After walking a couple of blocks I looked down Paulin Mery on the right. That view turned out to be a good preview of what the neighborhood is like. This is one of those Paris neighborhoods that used to be outside of Paris and only relatively recently has been gobbled up by the City. In the heart of the neighborhood it has the look and feel of a village unto itself—all modest, low lying buildings and small apartments and homes.
I turned right on rue de la Butte, a charming, narrow street—lane really--of small apartment buildings, cafes and shops. Rue de la Butte aux Cailles Down part way I passed Le Temps des Cerises and read that it is a workers co-op restaurant--clearly popular with the locals and then Chez Paul, about the fanciest restaurant in the neighborhood. I couldn't resist the funky, little Des Crepes et des Cailles at #13 rue de la Butte. I had one crepe with ham and cheese and a chocolate dessert crepe--delicious and worth 8 euro (about $10.50). Next door is a wonderful honey and soap shop, Les Abeilles, a good place to stock up.
At the end of rue de la Butte, I jogged left, then right and looked down Villa Daviel to see a row of single family cottages, unique in Paris. I walked back, retracing my steps toward rue de la Butte and turned left onto rue de Cinq Diamants, then left down the cobble stoned passage Barrault, another quaint, unusual Paris block. I turned right at the end of Passage Berrault and headed up to Boulevard Auguste Blanqui, where a sumptuous outdoor market was in full swing (Tuesday, Friday and Sunday)—lots of fruits and vegetables (even in winter) and an array of flowers, cheese, olives, fish, meat, clothing and trinkets. If you haven't eaten lunch—I had—there is plenty to snack on. Then you just head back to the Metro at Place d'Italie.
The St. Honore Neighborhood.
I got off the Metro at Palais Royal-Musee du Louvre and found rue St. Honore, a bustling street of cafes, shops and hurrying Parisians going somewhere. Aromas of freshly ground coffee seeped out of the cafes. After a few blocks, boutiques started to replace the cafes, including Colette, known for its hip styles and its basement water bar, where, among other things, you can order from a large selection of waters from around the world. From rue St. Honore I turned right up rue du Marche St. Honore--more boutiques and hat shops. In a couple of blocks on the right I stopped at Le Rubis for lunch--famous for its having not changed in many years and for its lentils and ham hocks, which is what I ordered. Looking around while I waited for my food, the walls and furniture indeed looked like they had been there for centuries. There was a small bar downstairs, and upstairs the dining room was not much bigger than my studio apartment. Tables were so close together there could be no privacy, and the waitress, who also looked like she'd been there for centuries, could barely get by to deliver food. But the lentils and ham hocks were outstanding, made even better by a half bottle of the wine of the month, a fruit intensive Gamay. As with most French food, the lentils, often fairly bland, were brimming with flavor from spices and a dab of butter that brought out the lentil flavor--best lentils I've ever had. After the lentils, I ordered the cheese course, which was Brie with a small baguette sliced--delicious. The lentils and ham hocks, half bottle of wine, cheese and coffee were under 20 Euros. Le Rubis is a great place for lunch.
Veering left, I walked up place de l'Opera. At the end was a gorgeous baroque building, the Palais Garnier. I turned left down rue de la Paix, where the world's most famous jewelers have their shops, a great place to window shop, which I did, enjoying the beautiful jewelry in the windows displayed with exquisite artistic taste. Near the end of rue de la Paix is a lovely square, Place Vendome, site of the sumptuous Ritz Hotel and the Hemingway mentioned previously.
I turned right on rue de Rivoli past Le Souffle, which reportedly has the world's most delicious souffles, but I can't vouch for that. I was too full from my lunch. Just before I reached the Concorde Metro Station to go back home, I went in W.H. Smith, the best English language book store in Paris for current titles.
The Seine in Central Paris-Rue du Bac
On a gloriously sunny, crisp winter day after weeks of rain and snow, I got off the Metro at Concorde (Line 1), I felt compelled to walk along the Seine, high on its banks, muddy from the rains, but still the Seine. I was hungry, so I knew this would be a short walk. Marveling once more at the magnificent buildings, statues and monuments of the Place de la Concorde, and, of course, the Ferris Wheel by the Tuileries Gardens, I headed straight for the river and walked along the left bank, enjoying the sunshine. The sidewalk was crowded with tourists on this grand day, but I didn't care. The sun, low in the southern sky, reflected off the great Louvre across the river, as I made a right turn onto the Pont Royale to the right bank and rue du Bac. A few blocks down rue du Bac, past all the shops, closed on Sunday, I saw a restaurant with inviting lighting, warm and friendly looking.
The sign said Les Ministeres, and a plack near the front door said it had been established in 1909, during the so-called Belle epoque of Paris, after the horrible strife and poverty of the end of the Nineteenth Century and before World War One. France was optimistic and prosperous and Paris was at the height of its beauty. Les Minesteres was decorated in dark wood and a beautiful abstractly shaped, colored glass chandelier, white table clothes, red and yellow flowers and, I noticed, real silver ware--yes, solid silver. It was too early to be crowded (remember, the French don't eat dinner until 9:00 o'clock or so), but the only people there appeared to be locals. I ordered from the "Menu", three courses with several choices for each course, including a half bottle of wine for 32 Euros. This was not a Michelin Starred restaurant (nor were the prices at that level), but I had a feeling it would be a fine French dining experience.
I ordered an aubergine (egg plant) and tomato entree (the French term for what Americans call appetizer). The French do something with egg plant that Americans can't seem to do. First, they don't wrap it in bread crumbs and fry it, smothering most of the flavor. They bake it naked with herbs and spices, and, in this case, chopped tomato. It was served in a rectangular chunk, and swirled, colored olive oil. Somehow, they managed to add just the right herbs and spices to bring out, not cover up, the subtle flavor of the egg plant. The French know how to cook--well, anything--but definitely egg plant. My main course (le plat) was lamb shank, tender, juicy and flavorful. It was surrounded by chopped vegetables (zucchini, carrots, tomato, a few turnips and sliced potatoes). This was not haute cuisine, but it was a simple and delicious example of fine French cooking. The service was perfect--no surly Parisian waiters. Although my waiter knew I was an American (he asked), he perceived that I wanted to speak French, so he spoke French to me, something that most waiters I have encountered in Paris don't have the patience for. I chose a simple dessert, coffee and chocolate ice cream, and finished with a cup of decaf that I couldn't tell from the regular French espresso cafe. This was a special meal for me, indeed, a fine Paris dining experience that I can enthusiastically recommend.
Though it was dark, I walked back to the River and continued my stroll along the Seine to the next Metro stop, the famous Bateaux Mouches silently creeping along. Although this is a walk taken by every tourist who travels here, take it, and you will feel the magic of Paris.
Enjoy walking in Paris!
— Boyd Lemon will read from his new book, "Digging Deep: A Writer Uncovers His Marriages," at Bank of Books, 748 East Main Street, Ventura, on Saturday July 23rd at 3:00. "Digging Deep" is a memoir about Boyd's journey to understand his role in the destruction of his three marriages. He believes it will help others to deal with their own relationship issues. It is available in print and all ebook formats. Excerpts are on his website,
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About the Author

Boyd Lemon is a retired lawyer, who re-invented himself as a writer, living in Ventura. He recently returned from a year in France and Italy.
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