I have never been to the museum at the Invalides. I missed it on my travels. Never took the time. A mistake. It was hot yesterday in Paris and I headed off to Napoleon’s tomb but was meeting up with someone at the museum. And then a travel moment. In the heat of the day, in the main courtyard, it became clear that there were dignitaries arriving. A band had assembled. The inner courtyard had been closed. And we raced up to the next level to catch the parade. And what a parade. A presentation of medals. The band played the Marseillaise. And then it was done. I walked back to Napoleons tomb. It was air conditioned so i stayed a while longer. What an indulgent guy. Big place for after life. Pyramid stuff. Beautiful tourist place. Another incredible Paris sight. So many of them. Never tires. Travel Changes lives!
It’s the light. The summer sun hanging above the incredible array of places and monuments that are iconic. Paris is a masterpiece. Standing at the Carousel and looking down through the arches to la Defense, you capture the beauty of this place. The Tuileries in their dusty measured landscape detail, the surprises at the Luxembourg gardens as every day Paris gets on with its leisure life of tennis and running and Petanque. In between sitting in the chairs that are scattered around for people with less sporty aspirations. And in the summer when the light remains until after11 pm it is simply magical. I have been coming here for many years. Every time it remains intoxicating. A perfectly laid out city. Not jumbled but precision layout thanks to monsieur Haussmann. And then the sights. One on top of the other. The Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, the Invalids, the Louvre the Musee d’Orsay and of course the Eiffel Tower. Glittering like a sparkler every hour. From the top of Montmartre, the city is a show unto itself. It’s good for the soul.
There is a very cool hotel in the delightful neighborhood of the 6th arrondissement. It’s called La Belle Juliette. I have stayed there several times and always recommend it to friends. It’s reasonable and one of those places that immediately immerse you into the feel and touch of a Parisian neighborhood. It’s on the Rue du Cherche-Midi. A favorite street of mine. So called because a sundial was at the top of the street and was used as the clock for Paris for centuries. There’s even a French phrase that references the name. Chercher-Midi a quatorze heures. To find midday at 2 pm. To over complicate things.
It’s the home of several monasteries, a now defunct prison, and several very cool restaurants. A fantastic bar and café are on the corner of the Rue St. Placide and the Rue du Cherche-Midi. The 6th is where I would choose to be. A bit encompasses Notre Dame, St. Germain, the Jardin Luxembourg’s, and all along the river on the left bank. The bookstores and overpriced antique stores and the delightful Rue du Bac. It stretches all the way to Montparnasse.
And of course, the famous Hotel Lutetia, recently renovated and offering rooms at 1300 EUROS A NIGHT. YEAH RIGHT. A beautifully designed building, with its past a rich and checkered tapestry brilliance and blemishes. Jazz found its home here and the jazz bar still plays on. It was a part of the Belle Époque. Splashes of Art Nouveau stretching all the way to Deco. It sits opposite a tiny park and the busy Boulevard Raspail. I have stayed there many times when the Hotel Lutetia was a tad shabbier and afforded more affordable rates. It’s still worth a visit for the restaurant and the jazz bar. The rooms. Dunno. Too expensive, but I recall great views on the upper floors of the Eiffel tower! I’ll just have to do with the memories for now.
Sometimes a city just has it. Paris is one of those places. Our office is in a small and quaint space nestled inside a residential building along the Rue de Babylon. It’s a stone‘s throw from the swish Conran’s store and the Belle Époque style Bon Marche, Paris’ super chic department store. It’s also the home to the Épicerie. Paris’ version of Harrods food halls and one of the greatest food halls in the world. And strangely enough there is a Chapel opposite the Department store. The Chapel of the Miraculous Medal that attracts 2 million visitors a year.
According to the story, the Virgin Mary visited a 23-year-old novitiate in 1832 with a request for medallions to be made to facilitate miracles. Catherine Laboure thus became the facilitator of miracles. And…there were miracles. A cholera epidemic was halted once medallions were distributed to the sick, a fire was halted that threatened to spread from the Bon Marche department store to the church and lastly, when they exhumed her body to place her inside the church, her body was identical to the day she passed away. A miracle indeed! As a skeptical miracle believer, it all makes a pretty decent story and more important the extraordinary site is jammed between the two trendy stores and a épicerie all on the beautiful Rue du Bac. So called because the ferry (The Bac) would moor at the bottom of the street and was used to transport the stone that was used for the construction of the Palais des Tuileries. A wonder of wonders. Our little and humble office is right in the middle of all these amazing non touristy apparitions!
Arrived very early at St. Pancras station. It was organized but you need more time than I recalled. More time for vaccine card. Proof of a negative Covid test. And everything takes three times longer. But, at some point you get through. They give you a tiny card at French customs on the UK side and as long as you don’t lose the card you are good. The breathtaking journey to Paris.
Whoever remembers those awful journeys with flights from Heathrow or the ferries from Dover. I was musing about the absolute brilliance of bringing Europe together the other day. Brexit? Never going to happen. Boris Johnson. A joke. A clown. No way! Here we are. It’s all happened. Agghh!! But at least we have the train under the channel!!
Built over 5 years and opened in 1994 it has transformed access to Europe. Imagine. Two hours and 15 minutes. Thirty-eight minutes under the channel. 250′ feet under the bottom of the chalk seabed. The longest underwater tunnel in the world. Napoleon. Hitler. Nobody since 1066 has ever managed to breakthrough. Except the Chunnel. Even the EU got rejected. It’s a shame but at least we have the champagne bar to send us off as we go into the unknown. At least we have Europe. Well, hang on. They don’t want the Brits. The Chunnel was it. Brexit was the end! Oh well!
This is a story of swimming pools and Paris. When I first was a Tour Guide I noticed during a sightseeing tour a swimming pool that was incredibly crowded on the banks of the River Seine. It was big and opposite one of the most famous museums in Paris. So, I decided, as I love swimming, to return and find out more about the spot. As it turns out, this was the Piscine Deligny. It dates back to the 1800’s. This barge on the Seine, was one of the first swimming pools in Paris. Opposite what is now the Musee d’Orsay, it had a fascinating and checkered history.
Built in oriental style and with water originally drawn from the Seine, it was pretty sketchy in terms of hygiene and antics. It was a frequent hangout for the decadent and the famous. Few swam, most posed, and during the later part of the 20th century, most woman went topless, prompting the legislature at the National Assembly to protest as it was distracting workers! They had the view!
It all came to an end one fateful day in 1993 in the middle of the summer. Maybe too many parties, too much history, but the Seine swallowed up the pool during a July storm. Thirteen years later, the Piscine Josephine Baker was built on a barge using more sophisticated technology and a sliding roof for cover in the winter. It’s a public pool and one of the highlights of my visits to Paris. Josephine Baker was a black American who fought in the resistance during the Second World War for her adoptive country, France. Now that’s another story.
Eiffel Tower! No way.
My niece lives in Rome and has been there since 2001. Due to Covid-19, she has been locked down since the end of February and has only recently been able to leave the apartment to start enjoying again the beautiful city that she lives in with her husband and 9-year-old daughter, Beatrice. As part and parcel of being on lockdown, she has been tutoring Beatrice and working on all sorts of projects with the French school that her daughter attends.
This latest project was one that I was particularly struck by as it was based around a French poem from Jacques Charpentreau. The idea behind the original children’s poem, called “Paris en Vélo“, took us by bicycle through the various districts of Paris. Below is the original poem and assignment.
Beatrice’s project was to replicate the poem using her own words and taking us through her neighborhoods in Rome. Below is her final poem along with a picture of Beatrice on her bike.
It is extraordinary for me to follow Beatrice and Jessica’s adventures on WhatsApp. Most of all, it is incredible to watch the creativity of her teachers as they continue to keep the kids engaged while they were literally at home unable to even walk 100 meters outside. “Rome en Vélo” is wonderful because Beatrice was able to take her bike out for the first time in nearly three months. While she couldn’t cover all of the neighborhoods, she was able to experience life outside of the apartment en vélo.
For all of the teachers who have been teaching remote over the past 2.5 months, Chapeau Bas! Thank you on behalf of all of the parents and students. Whatever country, whatever subject, you have all done quite an amazing job of keeping the knowledge flowing and the creativity blowing our way. I wanted to share this delightful poem because it says so much about the innovation and importance of education even when things are so difficult. Of course, grazie Beatrice for being the inspiration.
Early in the day on Monday, April 15th, I had been visiting groups and snapping pictures around Notre Dame. It was a lovely day and the cathedral was as beautiful as ever. The crowds were out in full force and the line to the cathedral entrance was as usual snaking its way across the square. Everyone was in good spirits. The air was cool but the sun was shining. It felt like spring.
Before that, I had walked down from the Luxembourg Gardens. People were playing tennis and the spring plantings of colorful flowers was breathtaking against the backdrop of the Palace. After lunch I had grabbed an electric scooter from Lime. One of the students I was chatting with had told me what to do and I easily loaded the app onto my Phone. I sailed across town and had one of the greatest rides around Paris. I left the scooter by our office and locked it through the app. It was so cool. Paris never looked better.
That evening I was with a lovely school group who were interested in fashion. I marched them through Bon Marche to scope out all the top designer names. I’ve never taken a group through there before…and probably never will again, but it was a trip! The faces on the chic and wealthy clientele was to die for. But then we came out of the store and saw the smoke in the sky.
We were over in the left bank near St Germain which is when I got a notification on my phone. Notre Dame was on fire. At first, I thought they were speaking about the Indiana school, Notre Dame University. And then another beep on my iPhone, then the kids got them too, and suddenly social media took over and we all realized that “the” Notre Dame was really on fire and that smoke in the sky was coming from the cathedral. It was serious.
We walked to a crepe place in Montparnasse and in every bar the TVs were turned on to the news. The smoke was pouring into the evening sky. The fire was out of control. The noise of the fire trucks was everywhere. The city literally froze and was transfixed. We went up to the Montparnasse tower to get a look. It was heart wrenching. In the near distance a huge fire with flames soaring into the night sky in the center of the city. It was tragic. But with just a turn of the head, Paris was glittering and was stunning (as it always is) as I looked west towards the beautiful Eiffel Tower.
Later I grabbed a Lime scooter and headed down to the end of the Boulevard St. Michel where a huge crowd had gathered. The police had cordoned off the access point to the cathedral, but you could see the north and south towers clearly. Still the glow of a fire was evident. It was after midnight by this time as the crowd began singing a beautiful prayer. A fire truck came rolling out, the crew exhausted, and the crowd cheered. Les pompiers. They saved the north tower and risked their lives. And in all of this I realized that Paris had experienced a beautiful moment wrapped in tragedy. They had come together very humbly and sang together and were respectful. You saw the power of this old lady of Paris; 900 years and not going away.
I hung out for a while to watch. The towers were in the distance but the spire and most of the beautiful interior that I had walked around earlier was long gone. Thankfully, nobody had died, and all of our groups were safe. Soon the reconstruction will begin. The foundations and the shell of the cathedral had been preserved. The towers are still there – not sparkling white as they were in the morning sun but strong and resolute. The bateaux will pass by along the Seine as they do every day and night and we will all remember it as it was. Notre Dame de Paris.
In the meantime, Paris will have its fair share of monuments to see. Travelers will keep on traveling and slowly we will be witness to a rebirth of this great lady of Paris. Travel changes lives.
About three years ago, I was wandering up the Rue de L’Odeon in Paris and this tiny little shop caught my eye. It was called SérieRare and in the shop window, there were door knobs, door knockers, and one brass gold-plated bracelet that I fell in love with. Not really wanting a door knob or a brass knocker, but looking for presents for Christmas, I wandered in.
A lovely lady was in there and we exchanged a “bonjour” when I inquired about the bracelet. In my terrible French, I asked her if she had any others. “Bien sur,” she said, and she proceeded to open a hidden cabinet filled with bracelets, bangles, and earrings. All of the items are beautifully crafted by an artist called Daniel Podva. He also is a great photographer.
What I love about this place is that you would never have guessed it. It has become a regular stop for me when I am passing through Paris; a secret treasure trove of beautiful jewelry. I have even upgraded my haul to include an occasional candelabra. Probably the nicest thing about the store is that it’s near everything. When you come out, you can take a right to the Odéon-Théâtre de l’Europe, one of France’s six national theaters, right next to the Luxembourg Gardens, or a left down to St. Germain and the bustle of the mainstream Latin Quarter. There is also a fabulous restaurant, one of my favorites, at the top by the Odeon called La Méditerranée. Who would have thought?
A Parisian Exhibition Unlike Any Other
I had never been to the Fondation Louis Vuitton before. It is such an amazing sight as you approach it through the Bois de Boulogne. Constructed around a cascading stairway of water, it’s an assemblage of huge glass sails and blocks known as “icebergs.” Because of the glass, the trees that surround it, and the constant movement of water, it creates a continuous impression of movement depending on the time of the day and night. It is quite a sight to behold.
We had booked tickets for an extraordinary exhibition based around the artworks of a Russian textile magnet named Sergei Shchukin. One of the richest guys in Russia at the turn of the 20th century, his house, or more likely palace, in St. Petersburg, held the most extensive collection of Matisse’s in the world. He bought them when nobody was buying pieces by Matisse. As one collector of the time said of him and his collection of Matisse’s, “One mad man painted them, another bought them!” He had 37 Matisse’s in all and Matisse, who visited him in Moscow several times, commented that he was a strange guy with a heavy stutter who was crazy about art and had a vision and an eye for the unfashionable.
Matisse offered to introduce Sergei to a mate of his who was doing very unorthodox things at the time. The introduction went well. Even though Sergei did not much enjoy the paintings from his friend, he bought them, and lots of them. He figured that Matisse and his friend were probably smarter than he was, and one day his investment may even make him some money. The friend’s name was Pablo Picasso.
At the end of the first World War, as the Russian Revolution loomed, Sergei fled both his country and his collection of art. His art was scattered – not just the Picasso and Matisse pieces, but Cezanne, Gauguin, you name it, he had it. Much of it thankfully ended up at the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. Although during the Stalin years – and there were lots of them – the viewing of his paintings were forbidden because Stalin thought that both Matisse and Picasso were seditious counter-revolutionaries. Oh dear.
This exhibition in Paris was the first time that Sergei’s entire collection could be viewed and the first time his collection had ever been out of Russia. Paintings that had been seen by most only on postcards were staring at you from across the room. It was a two-and-a-half-hour romp through a madman’s house to view the great artists of the 20th century at the beginning of their careers.
I’m a lucky guy – I’m spending two weeks working in three of my favorite cities.
In Paris – my all time fave place to eat is Mediterrano at the Odeon, (http://www.la-mediterranee.com/)
in Rome, it’d be Carbonara in Campo di fiori,
and in London – yes you CAN get great food especially if you go to Sheekeys!
What are your fave places in these cities? I love to try new places!
I like to stay in Paris somewhere close to Montparnasse.
Lately I have been staying at the Belle Juliette on the Rue du Cherche-Midi which interestingly enough is a fabulous French phrase that my Parisian friend, Claire, explained to me. To “chercher midi à quatorze heures” means to complicate things.
From this delightful 4-star boutique hotel with a lovely garden, it’s a short walk past antique stores and tiny cafes to the Luxembourg Gardens.
The Luxembourg Gardens in Paris, apart from the obvious reasons of sightseeing, the splendid palace, and the history attached to it, is simply one of the great outdoor gymnasiums.
A run around the perimeter inside of the gardens is just under two miles. The surface is pleasant, the people watching is amazing, the flora and the fauna is over the top and you can barely believe you are smack in the center of the Latin Quarter.
The gardens are jammed between the Boulevard Saint-Michel and Sorbonne area, the Odéon and the Saint-Sulpice, and the longest road in Paris, the Rue du Vaugirard. In the center of the gardens, there are beautiful clay tennis courts that are not terribly busy, donkey rides, petanque games, and a scattering of benches that are used for exercise. In between all of this there is a beautiful pond where children can rent miniature sail boats. There is a kids swimming pool that is sometimes taken over by adults that should know better. There is a plethora of olive green chairs scattered everywhere for people to sit, read, and enjoy what has been there for centuries. There are apple trees, oleander trees, and a miniature model of the Statue of Liberty. Ironically in the Luxembourg Gardens there is not a lot of grass and most grass is protected by signs telling you to stay off of it.
This is one of the greatest parks in all of the world for a jog, walk, or quiet moment relaxing in one of the chairs.
Paris takes your breath away again.
London Rome and Paris, coming soon!
2 Hotel Reviews: Beauty and the Beast
Hotel Belle Juliette
One of my favorite streets in Paris is the Rue Cherche-Midi in the 6th arrondissement. The street name is actually used in a famous French expression – chercher midi à quatorze heures – to make something more complicated than it really is. The street was actually one of the main exits from Paris for the aristocracy on their hunting jaunts. And they always left no sooner than midi for a spot of light animal killing. So on this lovely street, full of cafes and interesting stores, a wonderful old working hardware store and a newspaper stand (yes, a real one), there is a delightful hotel called La Belle Juliette (http://www.hotel-belle-juliette-paris.com/en/).
I would recommend booking the superior room. Every room is different and funky with beautiful wood floors and, even though the corridors are a little dark and difficult to navigate, the rooms are wonderfully bright and the fixtures are cool and functional. Apple TVs and sophisticated lighting – suffice to say I love this place. It has a beautiful garden area with a nice lounge area. The staff was super friendly, with service living up to a location right on one of the nicest streets of all of Paris. Even the infamous Gerard Depardieu has a house opposite, but more importantly you are a 10-minute walk to the river, 5-minute walk to Montparnasse and along the street there are so many nice little restaurants. My 5-star recommendation is a 4-star hotel with 4-star prices.
Hotel Montalmbert – Don’t Judge a Hotel by its Star Rating
I have been lost since the Hotel Lutetia closed its doors over a year ago to begin a huge renovation project. It was my go-to pad in Paris. An old-style Belle Epoque hotel in the seventh arrondisement, five minutes from my office in Paris and reasonably priced. I’ve been struggling ever since – jumping from one average hotel room to another average hotel room. So this Paris stay I split myself between two hotels, to try to find a new home for my small work stays in Paris.
First stop was the Hotel Montalembert (http://www.hotelmontalembert-paris.com/). It promised to be a fabulous boutique hotel just off the Boulevard St. Germain. I was never more disappointed in a hotel in my life. The staff looked bored. The room was smaller than a 3-star room near the Gare du Nord. The bathroom was even smaller than I could imagine in a room like that. Picture Alice from Wonderland looking for a wafer to shrink to fit into the shower. And the television had so few channels it reminded me of England in the 60s. Not to mention that the bed was the most uncomfortable small bed I have slept on for some time. If you’re in the hotel business, you must get that right.
It was dark and dreary with dreadful décor – the set of an indie film that I didn’t want to be in. The funny thing about that particular part of town is that all the fun and vibrancy of the Rue du Bac disappears immediately after you cross Boulevard St. Germain heading toward the river. How I longed for the Lutetia. But first I had to escape and red card it!
Take a perfectly big monument designed by engineers Maurice Koechlin, Emile Nouguier and architect Stephen Sauvestre before the patented design was bought by Gustave Eiffel, whose company than constructed the tower and imagine that there are more and more tourists that want to visit this thing because it is so perfectly placed in the middle of this beautiful city called Paris. It has views for miles – two restaurants (58 Tour Eiffel and Le Jules Verne) and is the most visited paid monument in the world, and certainly the most recognizable. If they could charge people to look at it, they would. They can’t so they do the next most obvious thing, make everyone who’s trying to get to the top of the Eiffel Tower, truly hate the experience. Well, the French have done it.
Now you have to book reservations online with a specific time slot. That sounds OK, no problem. Except there are hardly any time slots available! You can only book 3 months out – and at 3 months out, until zero days in, there are precisely zero time slots of available. So with no time slots available, I wonder who they’re going to. You have to resort to standing online for 2-3 hours, if you’re lucky. And this new system, if they have put in place, is called progress or avancé. Well there is absolutely nothing avancé about this ridiculous state of affairs. If you do manage to get tickets it’s 15.5 Euros ($17) for adults, 13.5 Euros ($14.50) for ages 12 – 23, and 11Euros ($12) for ages 4-11 as well as for handicapped and those assisting them.
We’ve written to the people who run the Eiffel tower and they agree with us (which is even more frustrating and simply incredulous). Here we have yet another government agency trying to deter tourism of an iconic site that people have saved up all their lives to see. Right now all I’m looking at is a long line of kids desperate to see the world from way up on high and romance in this marvelous story of Paris, waiting and waiting and waiting. It can’t help but be anti-climactic and frustrating. Guess what, we’ve got one in Vegas – you can’t scale it, but at this rate you can’t scale the one in Paris either. At least in Vegas, the canals of Venice are just a short walk away! So here goes, in case you’re listening.
You’ve no idea what they are doing to your tower. I know you just built it for the World’s Fair and thought it would be torn down. And lots of people at the time said it’s horrid. But it turns out it’s become the most iconic site in the world. More than the pyramids, even. And I know you probably can’t hear this, but if there is any way you could bring sanity to the bureaucracy that prevents us from seeing your beautiful piece of art, than I would appreciate it.