In the English speaking world it’s called Bastille Day but here it’s known simply as le 14 juillet. The French national holiday commemorates the storming of the Bastille prison in 1789, a pivotal moment in the French Revolution. What began as an angry mob of anti-monarchists looking for ammunition against royal authoritarianism turned into an enduring symbol of that revolution and today’s national celebration of the French tripartite motto liberté, égalité et fraternité. Celebrations, including firework displays, are typically held throughout France and it heralds the start of the month-long French holidays.
President Macron will be hosting the oldest and largest regular military parade – much envied by Trump who was present last year – this morning on the Champs Elysees in Paris which is always worth watching, if only on the television. I assume my invite for this year’s celebrations got lost in the post!
I’m always fascinated by the history of the buildings we visit, particularly those which have been repurposed. On our most recent trip to Paris, both of the exhibitions were in buildings originally built for diffferent purposes.
We visited the Atelier des Lumieres, in Paris set in the former Chemin-Vert foundry in 11th arrondissement, a relatively new area for us to explore. Said foundry was established in 1835 by the Plichon brothers to supply the French navy and railway companies with high-quality cast iron parts.
In all, four generations of the Plichon family successively ran the foundry until the Great Depression in 1929. The company was dissolved in 1935; the site and buildings were sold to the Martin family, who are still the current owners. The foundry was used by a tool manufacturing company until that ceased operations in 2000.
In 2013, Bruno Monnier, the President of Culturespaces, discovered the former disused foundry. After creating the Carrières de Lumières art centre in Les Baux-de-Provence, he wanted to set up a Digital Art Centre in Paris. The Martin family, which was interested in the project, agreed to rent out the great hall and its annexes to him in 2014.
Four years later, after major renovation works, the Atelier des Lumières opened its doors to the public with its three inaugural exhibitions: “Gustav Klimt” and “Hundertwasser”and “POETIC_AI.” It’s most definitely worth a visit.
After visiting the exhibition, I took time to wander around the quarter. Sadly many of us are familiar with the area solely because of the November 2015 terrorist attack which killed 132 people and injured many more. I do know it’s the most densely populated arrondissement in Paris and its bars and restaurants provide an unrivalled convivial atmosphere, a certain “joie de vivre.”
It was here that Parisians began the French Revolution with the storming of the Bastille on 14th July 1789. Today the Colonne de Juillet, the towering golden Corinthian statue commemorating the 1830 Revolution, rests on the site of the old prison at Place de la Bastille.
Place de la République, its sister square, can be found at the oppostite end of Boulevard Richard-Lenoir where crowds tend to gather for political demonstrations. After the afore-mentioned terrorist attacks, this was where Parisians came together to mourn the victims and celebrate French unity. The area is also home to a number of green squares and open places and is a pleasure to walk around despite the lack of obvious landmarks or, maybe, because of that lack!
The flat we’ve rented in The Marais on our last few trips was booked, so we chose another one nearby, close to the Picasso Museum. A couple of weeks before our arrival, the owner advised there was a problem with the boiler and offered us a replacement (and much larger) flat on l’île de la Cité, on a small road just back from the Seine. We gratefully accepted his offer.
The road was a total surprise. It’s a mixture of very old and new jammed into a rue just 113 meters long and four meters wide. Two blocks away from Notre Dame, Rue des Ursins is one of the oldest streets in the city and I understand it’s a popular photo location for fashion and bridal shoots.
We had some interesting neighbours. On the one side the Bureau of Naturalization, located within the Prefecture de Police. Looking closely at the building we could see it also housed the repair shop for all the motorcycle police in Paris. A pretty secure flat we thought except the prefecture closed in the evenings.
On the other side is a seminary which also houses the remains of Chapelle Saint-Aignan. At one time the island was full of chapels – 23 in fact. But revolutions and changing times have left only Notre Dame, Sainte Chapelle and this one. The other occupants of the road include a reconstructed home with medieval touches, several apartment buildings and a lawyer’s office.
The medieval-style building on the corner by the stairs looks like a well-preserved ancient hôtel particulier but it was built in 1958 by architect Fernand Pouillon. A stair leads to a wood, gothic-arched door. The windows above are stained glass. On the other side, the garage door looks like an ancient wood entrance to a fort but holds two cars and is an underground entrance to the hôtel.
Just past the faux medieval house is a jardinette, a small triangular garden. It is the smallest garden on the island and one of the smallest in Paris. It features two tiger head fountains, a tree and flowers that change depending on the season.
Chapelle Saint-Aignan, founded in 1116, was built in classic Roman architectural style with columns and rounded arches in white stone. The chapel was shut in 1791 and transformed into a barrel store. It did not fare well in the following years and today only the nave is left. It has been restored and seminarians of the diocese generally use it for private worship.
Ursins isn’t even the street’s original name. Indeed it had several when it was part of Port Saint-Landry, the Paris’s first port until the end of the 12th century. Around 1300, three streets had the name Ursins leading from Port Saint-Landry onto the island. They were all named after the hôtel des Ursins once owned by the family of the same name. Its next owners were French who managed the merchants of Paris under Charles VI (1380 – 1422) through Louis XI (1461 – 1483).
In 1881, the names of the other two streets were changed, leaving only this short street running between Rue le la Colombe and Rue des Chantres and parallel to the Quai aux Fleurs. The road’s at the old level of the banks of the Seine and the lowest street on the island.
At the street corner with Rue des Chantres is a placard that indicates the height of the Seine flood in 1910. The simple green sign says “CRUE Janvier 1910” with a line marking the flood height. Humorous graffiti adds “Poisson” and a happy face, referring to the fish that were no doubt swimming in the flood. Plus, the street sign has had an “O” added in front of “Ursins”, making it read Rue des Oursins. Although technically it translates as “street of sea urchins,” there are pictures of happy, cartoon bears by the name plates, making it a “street of bears.” We saw neither during our stay.
Standing in the street, it’s easy to imagine its history from early sailing port to bustling stores supporting commerce into the city. Even though you can’t buy anything or eat on this short street, it’s a great place to see the blending of old and new Paris. Fortunately for us, there was a great bakery and an excellent small neighbourhood bistro just around the corner.
We were in the Basque country which I always say is green for a reason! The day after France’s triumph in the World Cup final, the heavens opened. It wasn’t cold, but it did pour down. We watched the rain battering the hotel, which is adjacent to the beach, from the warmth of the surprisingly quiet Thalasso Spa. Goodness knows where the other guests had gone.
On a day totally bereft of any sporting action, what were we to do? There’s only so long you can enjoy the Spa facilities before you wrinkle like a prune. Fortunately we were able to grab a few walks in between the showers for which we were fully prepared with umbrellas and anoraks. You can take the Brit out of Britain, but old habits die hard and all that………
Salvation came in the form of a report from Paris showing the incredible parade of the World Cup victors in their open top bus progressed along the Champs Elysees, before a reception at the Elysee Palace with family, friends and M Le Pres. Wonderful scenes in the garden of the Palais as the players and Macron mingled with hordes of children all eager for autographs and selfies. It’s been a wonderful three-day celebration for France.
The temperature dropped on Saturday so we broke out the cashmere and thermals! The previous days, we’d seen signs all around Le Marais for “Brocante” which is one up from a “Vide-Grenier” (aka Car Boot Sale). On Saturday morning, when we headed to our favourite traiteur, we discovered that there were stalls the length of Rue de Bretagne and around its gardens. We had a look at a few of the stalls to see if they had some interesting glassware or silver but most stalls had what might politely be called an eclectic mix of goods that wasn’t to our taste. We stopped off for a coffee at one of the many neighbourhood brasseries and reminisced about the car boot sale I’d gone to before we moved to France.
My two sisters, from time to time, use car boot sales to off load stuff they no longer want. Meanwhile I had no intention of paying to ship to France stuff I hadn’t used for ages. One of my sisters suggested we went to a popular car boot sale, not far from my parent’s place. But on the Sunday, after we’d dragged everything up from London to my parents, there was no car boot sale being held nearby. This forced us to head to a much larger one in central Birmingham. I’m not sure why but my father decided to come with us and lend a helping hand.
On the advice of my sisters, I’d parcelled up matching sets of stuff which sold quickly along with all the electricals, irrespective of whether or not they worked. I’d also decided to get rid of all my unwanted gifts. Admit it, we all have them. These were the ones I’d be too embarrassed to recycle but they proved surprisingly popular.
My Dad turned out to be a natural salesman charming everyone, particularly all the mature ladies, to part with their dosh. Though he did say afterwards it would be his one and only appearance at a car boot sale. It was a huge success with people literally buying stuff as we unpacked it. We dropped the last few remnants off at a charity shop but our rubbish had netted us over £400!
After a spot of food shopping, we lunched on moules and frites in another nearby brasserie. The moules were delicious. I rarely order them as all too often I find them overcooked and rubbery, but not here. Batteries re-charged, we continued our walk around the area, surprised to find a few roads which we’d previously overlooked around the village of St Paul and Ile Saint-Louis. Both are havens of tranquillity that lie between the rue de Rivoli and the Seine.
St Paul appears to be popular with antique dealers and features some of the old walls of Paris from 11th and 12th centuries and a few very old properties. In addition there are further Hôtels which have been repurposed as museums, libraries and other civic buildings.
We crossed over the bridge to the Ile Saint Louis, famous for its pricey real-estate and Berthillon ice-cream, though it was far too cold to try any of the latter. We continued to the Ile de la Cité and the Notre-Dame Cathedral, a 12th century Gothic masterpiece. It has not long been cleaned, helping to highlight its architectural richness and the colour of its stone. Heading back towards the Seine, we find even more Hôtels sandwiched between 1950s stone buildings inspired by their surrounding classical references.
Chilled, we decide to warm ourselves up with some tea at Mariage Frères on the way back to the flat. We love their tea, particularly the lovely floral Marco Polo range. My beloved was tempted by the delicious array of pastries but didn’t succumb. Again, we opted for a night in with an array of nibbles and an excellent bottle of wine.
We headed back to Nice the following day, dining in Le Train Bleu before boarding the train. We’d had another lovely break and vowed to have more next year. After all, you can never see too much of Paris, can you?
As we enjoy our 41st year of married bliss, my beloved and I have given some thought to what we call “memorable moments”. In truth there have been plenty of these and I’m going to share a few of them with you.
Any trip to Paris reminds me of the time we took my parents there as an early Xmas present. It was in 2000, my beloved and I were living in London and he was due to attend a dental meeting in Paris at the end of November. The Plaza Athenee Hotel had recently reopened after a re-fit and, via American Express; I got a great rate on the rooms.
My parents, who spent their honeymoon in Paris, were always game for a return. My father said he’d take everyone out for dinner at a restaurant of my choosing. My parents liked coming away with us. My father in particular since it spared him having to organise anything. He could just sit back, relax and enjoy himself.
We drove to Paris via the Channel Tunnel, with an overnight in Calais not too far from the terminal which afforded us three full days and two nights in the City of Light. Richard attended the exhibition and joined us for dinner. I spent some time with my parents strolling around the 7th and 8th arrondissements which included a very pleasant afternoon tea at The George V. The rest of the time they were happy to potter around Paris.
I had wanted to eat at Pierre Gagnaire’s restaurant but it was fully booked. By chance, I managed to book us a table at Lucas Carton. I rang just as someone had cancelled a table for four. Karma!
It’s a beautiful, art nouveau, wood panelled restaurant in the Place de la Madelaine. After settling at our table, we enjoyed a glass of champagne while perusing the menu. Dad was the only one of us to have a menu with prices. I had polenta with truffles to start while the others chose carpaccio of scallops. Mum and I had lobster and the boys had lamb. We went with the restaurant’s suggested selection of wines by the glass with our meal. It was superb, pretty much what you’d expect from a Michelin starred restaurant. We were too full for dessert, opting instead for coffee which came with a huge plate of petits fours. We demolished them and my father paid the bill.
It had been a very enjoyable break. My beloved and I were always happy to spend time with my parents who were most agreeable company. About three months’ later my father asked me to guess how much the meal had cost. I gave the matter some thought and decided upon £500. My father shook his head and indicated I should go higher. The final bill had been much more than the two nights we’d paid for them in a top Parisian hotel! I could tell you I was mortified but honestly I wasn’t. It had been worth every mouthful and my parents agreed.
My father kept the bill as a memento of our trip and when he died my sisters handed it down to me. I’ve framed it and it hangs on my memory wall. I have a wry smile on my face every time I think back to that fabulous meal and our lovely trip to Paris with them. Interestingly, dinner at Lucas Carton now would cost a similar amount to that paid by my Dad in 2000 while, I’m sorry to say, two nights at the Plaza Athenee would cost very much more!
On Friday, my beloved chose to visit the Musée Marmottan Monet in 16th arrondissement. According to Bing maps, a mere 90 minutes on foot from where we were staying. We decided to walk along the Seine towpath which gave us a slightly different perspective of Paris. It was a very enjoyable stroll and we emerged onto street level once we’d reached the Tour Eiffel which is in the 15th, an area I’ve previously exhausted on foot.
We turned off at the Trocadero, named in honour of the battle of the same name. It’s worth a visit if only for the magnificent views it affords of the Tour Eiffel. We headed up and along rue du Passy, passing by the recently opened branch of La Grande Epicerie at just before 12:30 pm, lunchtime. We ventured into its restaurant on the second floor and got one of its few remaining tables. It was a simply delicious light meal.
Our batteries recharged, we headed for the museum which is opposite the Ranelagh Gardens. It was at this point, I realised I’d been here many years before. My French penfriend’s grandmother had lived in a bijou house, along with her maid and housekeeper, a little closer to the Bois de Boulogne. She had been the epitome of an elderly elegant Frenchwoman, immaculately turned out in what only I later appreciated was head-to-toe Chanel.
The museum is set in a former hunting lodge and is built around the donated collection of a wealthy Parisian family. They were descendants of the Duke of Valmy whose chateau we’ve stayed at in Argelès-sur-Mer. The initial collection had been added to by further wealthy collectors, plus the remnants of Monet’s Collection of his own works and those of his friends. I say remnants as his son had sold a number of paintings to finance his love of African safaris! However, there was still plenty I’d be happy to display on my walls should the opportunity ever arise.
The museum wasn’t busy though we found ourselves sandwiched between two small coach parties of French pensioners. Okay, so they weren’t much older than us but we’re not yet prepared to concede we’re OAPs. Furthermore, said parties had their own guides who were at pains to explain the works in great detail. I shamelessly listened in and even asked a couple of questions, no one seemed to mind. Having walked to the museum, we elected to get the Metro back to the apartment as we were feeling a bit footsore. We were only too happy to put our feet up and dine in that evening.
Although there are plenty of small, cosy and family run hotels in Le Marais, we prefer the space and freedom afforded us by renting an apartment. This small apartment block has its own resident beggar who sits outside, come rain or shine, from dawn to dusk. He’s a Bulgarian who needs to collect a certain amount each day in order to spend the night under cover. Sadly, there are a distressing number of beggars on the streets of Paris. I would estimate one every hundred metres or so. It’s simply not possible to help them all. Instead, we choose to help one and, while we’re there, ensure he has enough to eat and drink during the day and to pay for a bed overnight. This one’s quite an engaging fellow and has two cute dogs for company.
The early morning train journey in winter along the coast is simply splendid. As the sun rises, everything is gilded in soft rose gold light and the sea looks like liquid mercury. Having woken up at 06:00, I felt I should grab some more shut-eye but I couldn’t tear my eyes from the view which is easily one of my favourite parts of the train trip to Paris. You also get some fabulous views of the spectacular seafront property porn though much of it is closed up and dormant at this time of year.
As we head inland, mist veils the fields and the sun’s a ghostly orb just starting to peer over the hills. The lush once green foliage of the harvested vines has taken on a variety of autumnal hues, as have some of the trees, a few of which have lost all their leaves. But once the mist lifts, the sun shines and everything looks as pretty as a picture, albeit one in autumn’s more muted colour palette. I even spotted the Pont du Gard which we recently visited.
It’s only as we near our destination that you get a sense of the approaching urban realm. First, large warehouses and then the creep of urban sprawl, and all that it entails. Typically, once we arrive at Gare de Lyon, we’ll lunch at Le Train Bleu but not this time as we had an afternoon meeting with a client whose offices are in the 10th arrondissement. Instead, we walk to our rented apartment in Le Marais, the same place we stayed at in September, drop off our luggage and head back out for lunch in one of the many neighbourhood restaurants.
We decided to walk to and from the client’s offices in the 10th arrondissement, passing through an area popular with France’s African and Caribbean community. The road we walked along was lined with shops selling hair and beauty products for persons of colour, and simply loads of hairdressers. I’ve already written about the number of hairdressers per capita in France but this number, one after the other, was quite extraordinary.
When we walked back at about 18:00 these places were abuzz (literally) and heaving with clients. More people were hanging around outside chatting. Possibly waiting for their other halves or, maybe, just shooting the breeze with friends. In addition, there were lots of small restaurants; little more than stalls, selling French-Caribbean and African food. It was such a lively and colourful scene but it was too dark to photograph with my iPhone.
Having walked plenty of kilometres, we’d now worked up an appetite which we satisfied with some Middle Eastern fare before opting for an early night. It had been a long, enjoyable and very satisfying day.
For reasons best known only to himself, when in Paris, my beloved is happy to fetch breakfast, putting the coffee on before he leaves the flat to buy a variety of breads and croissants. The latter are for him and maybe that’s why he enjoys going out. There’s a large selection of bakeries nearby though he usually goes to the closest.
Heavy rain was forecast, so we were happy to spend the morning pottering around the various food shops, markets and traiteurs picking up provisions for the next couple of days. We ate lunch in the apartment before my beloved settled down to answer a slew of emails. He likes to keep on top of them daily, even when on vacation.
In the afternoon, I popped into one of my favourite stores for a cup of tea, a chat and a try on of most of their winter collection. I enjoyed having a mooch about on my own, something that’s more difficult to do when my beloved is around as he loves to stride off, at least 20 metres ahead of me, demonstrating that his leg is now working much better. This renders it more difficult to indulge my love of window shopping and enjoying the architectural delights of the arrondissement.
Having eaten a lightish lunch, I decided that for dinner we were going to try one of Hank’s Vegan Burgers. My beloved was less convinced but prepared to concede. The chips were excellent and while the burgers were tasty we both felt they were under spiced and under seasoned. However, two glasses of red wines, 2 burgers and chips all for Euros 14 was easily our cheapest meal of the trip. We paid more for two pots of tea at Mariage Frères the following day.