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New Blog, New Changes

I will be going through this blog soon, adding keywords and categories so that it’s searchable, as well as some widgets to make it more user friendly.  Please bear with me!

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Posted by on February 3, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Awesome Eats at a Fraction of the Price

In the 3rd Arrondissement:
Chez Janou
01.42.72.28.41
2, rue Roger Verlomme – Metro: Chemin Vert

With charming decor, perfect ambience, and Southern French cooking at its very best, Chez Janou is my first favorite restaurant in Paris. Sit inside or out for filling portions and a fixe prix menu at 14 euros for lunch and around 21 for dinner. Don’t miss the world-famous chocolate mousse dessert…IF you can find room for it anywhere. Go for lunch or make reservations…all of Paris loves Chez Janou, and even on a weeknight, it’s packed for dinner all night long.

In the 6th Arrondissement:
Le Bonheur Du Ciel
01.45.49.23.38
130, rue de Vaugirard – Metro: Montparnasse-Bienvenue

Absolutely delicious and fresh Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai food, a la carte or by the plate. Main plates from 5,20 to 6,80 euros, or order the fixe prix menu and get an appetizer or salad, plat and rice/noodle/veggie accompaniment, plus a dessert for 9,80 euros. Found it entirely by happy fortuosity while lost one day, and it was soooo yummy. Try the poulet au basilic (chicken in basil) or the boeuf a la sauce piquant (beef in savory sauce).

In the 9th Arrondissement:
Luna Cafe
01.44.53.96.66
11 rue la Fayette – Metro: Peletier

Insanely good pasta in huge portions. The desserts are also very good. The cafe is pretty small, even by Paris small cafe proportions. Dining inside and out. I can recommend the Spaghetti Bolognese, Turkey Scallops in Cream Sauce, and Penne Vegetale in tomato sauce. Main course for 9,50 euros.

Saveurs et Coïncidences
01.42.46.62.23
6, rue de Trévise – Metro: Grands Boulevards

Menu changes daily. Fresh dishes made to order including a light and vegetarian menus. The chicken curry (from the heavy menu, though I did not find it heavy in the least) and light menu beef salad are both excellent. My companion found the coffee far too strong, though. The fastest food I’ve ever had in my life and packed full of harmonious flavors. My new favorite restaurant in Paris. Main courses for around 8 euros.

In the 15th Arrondissement:
Punjab Palace
01.40.60.91.64
299, rue Lecourbe – Metro: Lourmel

Possibly the priciest restaurant on the list, this is about the best Indian food I have ever had. Specializing in Tandoori and curry, with fixe prix menus during the day at 8,50 and 12 euros, and at night at 16, 19, and 25. Or split a main course and rice for around 16. The poulet (chicken) tikka masala is awesome. Try the orange-rose flavored cordial. So refreshing, especially on a warm summer night! Dine inside or out.

Check back for more great eats as I find them.

Bon appetit!

 
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Posted by on September 18, 2006 in bargains, food

 

Le Musée de la Vie Romantique

Not far off the beaten path in Montmartre lies an oasis of tranquility and genteel country living perfect for whiling away a few relaxing hours of conversation when one needs a place to absorb all the art and history Paris has to offer.

Once the home and studio of Dutch-born painter Ari Scheffer, Le Musée de la Vie Romantique lies much as it was in Scheffer’s life, nestled at the bottom of La Butte, and to step down its quaint and secluded alley just off rue Chaptal is to step back in time. This tree-shaded passage opens onto a garden courtyard framed by the museum, a small complex of two buildings and a greenhouse, the former having once served as Scheffer’s studio and home. The first now houses temporary exhibitions of artists from the Romantic movement, as well as a literary archive containing works by such notaries as French philosopher Ernest Renan, writer George Sand, and various members of the Psichari family. Once the site of Friday evening salons attended by the likes of Frédéric Chopin, Franz Liszt, Gioacchino Rossini, Eugène Delecroix, Charles Dickens and Sand, the house now contains a permanent collection consisting of personal memorabilia and furnishings belonging to Sand and donated to the City of Paris by her granddaughter Aurore Lauth-Sand, and a small collection of paintings by Scheffer himself, donated with the house to the city in 1983, a gift from the heirs of Scheffer and Renan. At this writing, it also houses a small exhibit of drawings of the South Seas Islands and indigenous peoples by French descriptive writer Pierre Loti (Louis Marie Julien Viaud).

Once you’ve finished exploring the house and studio, you arrive at my favorite part of the entire museum, the greenhouse, now converted to a garden cafe. Have a piece of rhubarb tart and a cup of any one of over a dozen choices of tea, or grab a hefty pot of tea for 9€ and sit a while in the delightful garden, soaking up the quiet atmosphere of Paris’ well-worn and bygone past. It is easy, surveying the house and grounds from beneath the trees at the edge of the cafe, to imagine yourself thrown back 150, 200 years, to the Montmarte that was on peaceful summer evenings when Chopin was new and Paris was the center of the universe.

Le Musée de la Vie Romantique is open Tuesday through Sunday (closed Mondays), from 10 – 6, and the garden cafe operates May through September, serving tea, tarts, and salads. Admission is free to the permanent collections and 4.50€ for temporary exhibits. It is located in the 9e arrondissement (Montmartre) at 15, rue Chaptal, just off of rue Pierre Fontaine, between Place Blanche and Place Saint-Georges. Take Metro Line 2 and exit Blanche. Walk against traffic (southeast) on rue Pierre Fontaine and turn right on rue Chapital about 3 blocks down – you’ll need to keep a sharp eye out for it, as it joins rue Pierre Fontaine with another street. The alleyway to number 16 is about midway down the street and marked with a small sign overhead.

 
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Posted by on August 14, 2006 in food, free, museums, relaxing

 

Riding On the Métro

Getting around Paris is not as hard as a lot of people think, especially those who are unaccustomed to light rail systems or don’t speak french. The Paris Metro goes basically everywhere; within Paris proper, stations are never farther than 500 meters of where you are or where you want to go, and all one needs to navigate is the ability to read and to follow directional arrows. 🙂

But first, let’s do a little history. 🙂

Though plans for the Paris Metropolitain, or Metro, were first conceived in 1845, construction on the Métro de Paris did not begin until 1896, under the supervision of civil engineer Fulgence Bienvenüe, for whom a major transport station was named in 1933, Montparnasse-Bienvenüe. The first line (ligne) of the new railway opened in July of 1900, and was, appropriately enough, designated Line 1. Called Maillot-Vincennes for its terminal points, its wooden cars ran from Porte Maillot, in the northwestern corner of the city, to Porte de Vincennes, in the east-southeast. To avoid running into any of the city’s numerous cellars, the new line was laid directly under the Champs-Élysées. And like the next few lines that followed, it was excavated and laid entirely by hand. It has since been extended, and now terminates at La Defense, in the northwestern corner of the city, and Chateau de Vincennes, in the east-southeast.

Like Line 1, the earliest, manually-excavated lines follow the surface streets they lie beneath; due to poorly developed methods of construction, workers encountered cellars and foundations when they veered away from main thoroughfares. This is also why some stations have platforms set apart from each other, rather than directly facing each other. The streets above them were too narrow to accommodate wide stations. Commerce, on Line 8, is one such example.

While Bienvenüe supervised what went on underground, architect Hector Guimard was responsible for designing the entrances. One of the premier artists/architects of the Art Nouveau movement, Guimard studied at the Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts National School of the Beaux-Arts) in Paris and held a professorial position at the École des Arts Décoratifs (School of Deocrative Arts) until he began work on the Metro, where his station entrances are but one of a long list of accomplishments.

In order of interest, Guimard’s Metro designs can still be seen at the entrances to Porte Dauphine, a terminus for Line 2 and the only surviving enclosed entrance out of what used to be five, at the avenue Foch entrance; at the corner of rue des Lavandières-Sainte-Opportune and rue de Rivoli at Châtelet on Lines 1, 4, 7, 11 and 14; Abbesses on Line 12 at la place de l’Hôtel de Ville; boulevard Saint Michel and place Saint André des Arts entrances at Saint-Michel on Line 4; at rue Chardon Lagache, Chardon Lagache Line 10; avenue du général Leclerc entrance to Mouton-Duvernet on Line 4; rue de Rivoli entrance at Tuileries on Line 1; avenue Kléber entrance to Boissière on Line 6; Denfert-Rochereau on Lines 4, 6 and RER Line B; and Port-Royal on RER Line B. Of those, the most elaborate are at Porte Dauphine, Châtelet, and Abbesses.

All in all, the Paris Metro is comprised of 15 lines (not counting the RER) covering 124 miles (199 km) of track and dotted with 368 stations, of which 87 are correspondances (transfer stations). As well, the Funiculaire at Montmartre is considered part of the Metro system, though it sits above ground and merely takes you up to the top of La Butte. Its roughly 3,500 cars carry 6 million Parisians and tourists every single day and are kept moving by approximately 15,000 RATP employees. That’s a lot of track, so you can pick up maps of the Metro for free at most Metro stations, in both full and pocket sizes. Individual tickets are 1.40 euros, or you can buy a carnet or “book” of 10 tickets for roughly 11 euros. If you’re going to be in Paris an entire week or more, you might consider investing in a Carte d’Orange for zones 1 and 2. For one week (Coupon Hebdomadaire) of unlimited riding running from Monday thru Sunday, the cost is around 16 euros. For one month, from the first to the last day of the month (Coupon Mensuel) it’s around 52. If you walk more than ride or are only in Paris a short time, carnets are the way to go. A single Metro ticket will generally get you all the way across Paris, though if you go through an RER station, you will need to use another ticket. In general, trains run from 05:30 (5:30AM) to 00:30 (12:30AM). If you plan to be somewhere late at night, you should plan on taking a taxi home or plan your route carefully, paying attention to when the last train leaves your starting and transfer stations. Then be early, because the Metro tends to run on time or ahead of schedule.

As for travelling on the Metro, be prepared to walk and follow directions. Directions are given by the terminus points of each line, so if you’re travelling on Line 1, your stop is either in the direction of La Défense or Chateau de Vincennes. There are signs posted at the entrance hall to each platform with the terminus point at the top and the stations at which the train stops listed beneath it. If you see your station on the list, that’s the direction you want to go in. If you don’t, that’s not the right train. Each platform bears signs hanging from the ceiling which tell you the line number and direction, and each train also has the direction it’s headed for marked on the front, usually in a lit panel.

To travel across the city, all you have to know is the Metro station you’re starting from and the station where you want to descend, or de-train. Once you have that information, find those two stations on your Metro map. For example, I live in the 15e arrondissement, and my Metro stop is Boucicaut, on Line 8. If I want to have lunch with Marie-Pierre, I have to descend at Bérault, near the end of Line 1. Since I’m dealing with 2 separate lines, I need to find a station where they intersect, which they do at Concorde. So I get on Line 8 at Boucicaut and ride it to Concorde, where I descend. Once I step off the train, I have to find the signs that tell me where to go to change trains. Sometimes it’s a single sign at the end of the platform labelled “Correspondances,” and once I get up the steps, there are different hallways marked with white signs with blue lettering that have numbers with circles around them, followed by a name – the line number and terminus point. Sometimes those signs greet you as soon as you get off the train. The lines are also color-coded, so more and more of the plain blue and white signs are being replaced with color-coded signs. It’s sort of a potluck, and sometimes I have to retrace my steps, but if you stay calm and read the signs, it’s fairly straightforward. At Concorde, I find the sign that tells me which way to go for line 1, and then when that divides, I follow the signs for Line 1 Chateau de Vincennes, because Bérault lies in that direction. Once I reach the platform for Line 1 Chateau de Vincennes, all I have to do is get on the next train that comes along and get off at Berault. If I’m not sure I’m on the right platform, I can look overhead for the signs that say Line 1 Chateau de Vincennes and read the front of the arriving train, which says Vincennes, to double-check.

The more lines running through a station, the more confusing that station can be, but with a little patience, you’ll do fine. Just don’t walk down any steps or hallway marked “Passage Interdit,” which is the french literary equivalent of “Do Not Enter”! Just stay calm, read the signs and follow the arrows, and soon you’ll be riding the Metro like a Parisian – who sometimes get confused by their own transportation system, so don’t feel badly if you don’t get the hang of it right away.

Bonne chance!

 
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Posted by on March 22, 2006 in getting around, life

 

Les Carrières de Paris – "Les Catacombes"

Should you find yourself in Paris during a heatwave, I can heartily recommend spending the afternoon 200′ below-ground, in the Empire of the Dead – the Paris catacombs.

The catacombs began as an extensive network of quarries located beneath what has since become the streets of Paris. Much of Paris is situated on a limestone shelf, and when the ancient Romans first established the legionnaire settlement of Lutetia (Lutece), a great deal of building stone for the temples, baths, forums and arenas that superceded the current city was excavated from below. As Paris grew from the original Roman settlement over the next 18-1900 years, the city builders continued to use stone from the original quarries to build the city and streets above them. The maze of caverns grew to over 200 miles until finally in the 18th century, a lack of uniform mining methods began to result in numerous cave-ins and frequent deaths.

By 1777, burial in Paris had also become a problem. The city cemeteries dated back to medieval times and were horribly overcrowded; in some cases, the ground level in church burial grounds had risen as much as 10-20′ from the sheer volume of remains interred in them. Poor burial conditions and mass graves had resulted in contamination and sickness. In the Les Halles district, conditions were especially bad. The stench of death hung like a pall over the entire district. Sanitation had become a serious health issue, and the entire neighborhood had been contaminated. Residents were unable to keep milk, wine spoiled in the cellars, and sickness was rampant. In the largest church yard, that of the Cimetière des Innocents (Cemetery of the Innocents), the ground had risen 8′, and in 1780, a wall collapsed, trapping and suffocating many of the living beneath the weight of the bones.

Something had to be done, and quickly. City officials banned all subsequent construction of burial grounds within city limits. 350 quarry rooms were connected and given the designation ossuarium, and the decision was made to empty the cemeteries of Paris as discretely as possible and move the bones to a new mass tomb in the catacombs. On April 7, 1786, the Vicar General of the the Archbishop of Paris consecrated the new burial ground, and relocation of the Cimetière des Innocents began that evening. Every night for the next two years, three million bodies – the remains of at least 400 years worth of death – were quietly disinterred and transported through the streets of Paris to the hill at Denfert-Rochereau, to be re-interred in the labrynth beneath the city.

For the next 14 years, from 1786 through 1860, six million dead were transported from the medieval burial grounds of Paris to the mass tomb. They came mostly from the large cemeteries of des Innocents and St. Nicolas des Champs, but bodies from the revolutionary massacres of Place de Greve, Hotel de Brienne, and Rue Meslee were also deposited there August 28 and 29, 1788, as well as from other cemeteries around Paris. By the final interrments of 1860, the original ossuary of Denfert-Rochereau had been filled, and other chambers were approved around the city, including those beneath the cemeteries at Montparnasse and Montrouge, on the outskirts of Paris.

Despite the rather gruesome nature of their contents, the catacombs have, from their inception, drawn a large number of visitors. The tomb was first officially opened to the public in 1810 or 1814, and immediately became a target of graffitti and clandestine activities. Victor Hugo utilized the tunnels in his novel Les Misérables. His friend and contemporary, Honoré de Balzac, is rumored to have given his creditors the slip in their dark maze. Prostitutes driven from the streets above used them to ply their trade, and groups of poor families sometimes made their homes in the caverns’ dank embrace. In addition, both German soldiers and the French Resistance movement used them during World War II. The catacombs seem from the start to have been something of a fascination for the living, and underground parties have been held there since the 19th century. In one of the most famous, 45 members of the Paris orchestra performed there in secret – and full tuxedo – for 100 guests on the night of April 1, 1897. In September of 2004, police discovered an underground cinema, restaurant and bar, complete with fullsize movie screen, projector, electricity and 3 functioning phone lines, in closed section of the quarry. They returned to trace the power and phone lines, only to discover them severed, with a note lying on the floor in the center of the room: “Do not try to find us.”

In 1830, the catacombs were declared off-limits and closed. At that time, the tomb had not yet been isolated from the vast network of caverns, and many visitors had gotten lost in the dark. Vandalism had also become a problem, and the Paris prefect declared them obscene and indecent as a tourist attraction. They remained closed to the public until Napoléon Bonaparte reopened them, having been closed only once since then, in 1995, for installation of a ventilation system. Once upon a time, one needed a flashlight to tour the tomb system, but it has since been outfitted with electric light, however dim and creepy it may still be!

As you might imagine, six million people break down into quite a few bones. It’s really pretty amazing to wind your way through room after room lined with 30 feet of bone. The passageways are mostly of stone wall, though some are also of bone, and alcoves abound, stacked floor to ceiling with the bones of the dead. The method of stacking is interesting as well; you may find yourself wondering what happened to the smaller bones, like fingers and toes. Or vertabrae. Here and there, iron gates lock off side passages from the main path, and I recommend a flashlight so that you can peer down them. It’s also helpful for pictures, as flash photography is not allowed.

The entrance to the catacombs, or Denfert-Rochereau Ossuary, is in the front of a rather severe and depressingly bureaucratic building, through a non-descript black door marked simply “Entrée des Catacombes”, and down a rather steep steel spiral staircase consisting of 85 steps not so much for the infirm or feint of heart. Winding your way through the mile-long course will take anywhere from 1 to 2 hours, depending on your fascination with the dead and your determination to climb yet another set of Parisian stairs. It’s definitely damp down there, so wear comfortable shoes with good souls* and closed toes, and take your jacket, because the catacombs are a chilly 52F, which feels great at first, but gets pretty darn cold by tour end. I wouldn’t recommend it for those with claustrophobia or who have problems with caves, since the concept of being 200′ below the city is a little unnerving, especially if you spend much time dwelling on the cave-in troubles that led to the quarry’s current life as a tomb…or if you live in a city prone to earthquakes, where the amount of time you spend under things that can crush you is something you generally think about anyway. I’m claustrophobic enough that MRI machines cause me to panic, but I did okay in the catacombs; the ceilings are generally between 7.5 – 8′ high. I’d have freaked out if the power had gone out though; I have a vivid imagination, and being surrounded by all those bones would pretty much do me in, in the dark!

Les Carrières de Paris – the quarries of Paris, are open Tuesday – Sunday from 10 to 5. (Closed Mondays and banking holidays). Admission is 5€ The Metro exit is Denfert-Rochereau (lines 4 & 6), and the entrance is directly across the street from the Metro entrance, at 1, place Denfert-Rochereau. Phone: 33(0)1 43 22 47 63

And if looking at all those bones gets your hunger up, when you exit the catacombs, turn right at the top of the stairs, and at the main street at the top of the street you’ll be turning onto, there’s a McDonald’s. I think to your left, but I could be wrong, having eaten there exactly once. It’s called McDo in France (say mac-doe), and is distinctly different from American McDonald’s and worth a try once, just so you can lord it over your friends back home. Once. 🙂

*that was a typo…I meant soles, but I like the freudian slip enough that I’m not going to correct it 🙂

 
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Posted by on March 21, 2006 in bargains, sights

 

Le Passe-Muraille

Paris is full of whimsical surprises; it’s one of the things I love about the city. One of these is located in Montmartre, and is based on a 1943 short story by one of France’s most beloved storytellers, Marcel Aymé.

A modern day fairytale and social commentary, Le passe-muraille is the story of a man who discovers, quite by accident, that he can walk through walls. He uses his new power to avenge himself and for petty theft, eventually falling in love with a beautiful woman who lives in a tower. He uses his talent to woo and win her heart, but as all fairytales of this sort go, one day tragedy befalls him, leaving him trapped inside a wall.

Aymé died in October 1967 and is interred in the Cimetière Saint-Vincent, in Montmartre. The Place Marcel-Aymé, where this monument stands, is located at the corner of Allée des Brouillards and Rue Norvins, in Aymé’s beloved Montmartre, where he lived most of his life. The sculpture is by the multi-talented French actor Jean Marais, and was erected in Frbruary of 1982. As the story goes, if one is in the square at night and very quiet, music can be heard playing to soothe the spirits of the man lodged in the wall. I seem to remember that to touch his fingers is also to bring good luck and grant wishes, but I could be remembering that incorrectly; I’ll have to ask my friend Marie-Pierre to tell me the story again. 🙂

statue of Marcel-Aymé, entitled Le Passe-Muraille

Metro line 12, exit Abbesses, and ask the way to the Place Marcel-Aymé.

 
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Posted by on March 20, 2006 in free, sights

 

la Maison de Victor Hugo

In a quiet corner of the Place des Vosges stands the Hôtel de Roham Guéménée, a grand residence constructed by the King’s counsellor and Administrator of Finances, Isaac Arnauld, in 1605. In 1832, Victor Hugo – author of Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (Notre-Dame de Paris) – , rented an apartment on the second floor of the building, which he and his family occupied for the next 16 years, until 1848. The home is now a museum housing collections of Hugo’s drawings, his original manuscripts and other documents, artwork, furniture, and other objects of life tracing a history of the writer’s life.

A prolific writer and workaholic, Hugo took up residence in the apartment at the age of 30, the year after he finished Hunchback, during rehearsals of his play Le roi s’amuse (The King Amuses Himself), which was banned after only one performance, for mocking the french nobility. A great many of Hugo’s subsequent works, both literary and theatrical, as well as some volumes of poetry, were written in the home over the next 16 years. He also wrote a great deal of Les Misérables while living there.

The house became a salon during the time the Hugos lived there, often frequented by the best and brightest of French society, politicians, and artists from every discipline. Madame Hugo was a great hostess, and the Hugos counted among their many visitors Charles Dickens, Honoré de Balzac, François-René de Chateaubriand, Gioacchino Rossini, Niccolò Paganini, and the young Duke and Duchess of Orléans, Ferdinand-Philippe and Helene Louise.

The home was designated an offical museum in March, 1902, for the 100th anniversary of the writer’s birth. In addition to Hugo’s own drawings and documents, the house also contains the writer’s inkwell, some of his furniture, family portraits, and artwork from the time, including a painting of Hugo’s funeral procession at the Arc de Triomphe in 1885. I find the drawings most interesting and notable, as Hugo did not share them with the public during his lifetime, fearing they would draw attention he preferred go to his literary work.

La Maison de Victor Hugo is located at 6, place des Vosges, in the 4th arrondissement, 75004. Admission to the permanent collection is free*, and the ground floor giftshop contains quite a lot of Hugo memorabilia, in both French and English. The museum is open to the public from 10 – 6 every day except Mondays and banking holidays. Metro stops are Bastille (lines 1, 5 and 8), Saint-Paul (1), or Chemin-Vert (8).

*Temporary exhibits generally require a small admissions fee.

 
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Posted by on March 13, 2006 in bargains, museums