Paris Day Trips

Eating through Paris's Canal St Martin

I had my first passing encounter with the Canal St. Martin back in March of this year when I was in Paris for the day with my French-speaking expat friend Angela.   We started our day having coffee at the Hotel du Nord (102 quai de Jemmapes), the epicenter of this popular bohemian neighborhood.   Engrossed in conversation, I don’t remember much about the coffee but I do remember taking pictures of the beautiful tile floor and mentally recording that this was Angela’s favorite neighborhood in Paris.  I determined then to come back. 

This past Thursday was that day.  My impression of the 10th arrondisement up until Angela’s swoon was that it was home to two of Paris’s main train stations – the Gare du Nord and  the Gare de ‘Est – and therefore best to be avoided.  Tis true that there’s a lot of unsavoriness around those quarters, but a quick walk east from the Gare de ‘Est through the Jardin Villemin lands you right in the heart of the happening section of the 4.5 km long Canal.  I first headed north on the Canal towards Place de Stalingrad, but unless its exercise you’re after – that would be the wrong direction.  Everything worth seeing in the neighborhood is tightly compacted south between Rue Des Recollets and Rue Du Faubourg du Temple and straddles a few streets deep on both sides of the Canal meaning you have a nice manageable area to master.   (The goal posts are Boulevard de Magneta to the east Rue Saint Maur to the west.)  It was my lightest walking Paris day and truly the only day where I never got lost.

In the spirit of truthiness, the waterway itself for me was honestly a little underwhelming.  The still operational hydraulic life bridges were a fun throwback to a different time, but there’s something very sad and angst producing about non-moving water.   With traffic whizzing by on both sides of the Canal, even with the bordering of trees in fall colors, it’s loud and a bit scruffy by day.  Unlike along the Seine, I saw no lovers on a midday stroll.   On the plus side, it’s less crowded than many other parts of the city and though home to a hipster crowd (especially at night with bars and clubs) it’s not overrun by them.  It’s a neighborhood in that sweet spot of gentrification where everyone still seems welcome and beauty remains in the eye of the beholder.


However, what might be lost in visual appeal is more than made up for in food options.  Nowhere else in Paris have I seen more cool coffee shops, bakeries, ethnic eats, traditional bistros, and chic bistros clustered so close together.  It felt a bit like the fashionable Shoreditch area of East London, albeit a smaller footprint with less curbside appeal.  I researched where to eat and drink from several local Paris blogs and sampled a lot.   There really aren’t any sites or museums to see in the area – so you won’t feel any guilt about missing something when you’re hanging out in your third café.   There is also boutique shopping in the neighborhood notably around Rue Beaurepaire and Rue de Marseille that I casually checked out, but any peek at my closet would prove I gravitate towards chasing another coffee shop over shoes any day.

Here’s what I sampled :

Ten Belles (10, Rue de la Grange aux Belles).  It’s a minor let down when your first destination is even smaller than described and across the street from a laundry mat, but any place that announces where your coffee beans are from (mine were from Kenya) deserve a second look.  On that second look, I spotted some homemade scones on the pint size service counter and killer granola (high praise from this granola snob) on the table I almost took down while standing in line.  Not necessarily a place for journal writing, it is definitely, definitely a place to throw around your bean knowledge and nibble on whatever they are serving.  Chez Adele (10, Rue de la Grande aux Belles), a well-lived in spot for live music is next door as is the Pink Flamingo (67 Rue Bichat), a late night pizza joint where the most popular pizza is called “L’Obama.”  Quiet for most of the day, you could tell that come evening this corner would be hopping.

Holybelly (19, rue Lucien Sampaix).  Porland has come to Paris.  “Is it local?” you ask yourself. According to the menu, not just fresh and local, also nothing frozen or microwaved.   BAM to France’s industrial food reputation!  Serious coffee + serious breakfast.  And when I mean serious breakfast I don’t mean soft boiled eggs and toast.  I mean pancakes and eggs with sides.  I didn’t eat because I was still digesting my scones but was so profoundly moved seeing the hearty pancakes lathered in butter and real maple syrup and smelling authentic bacon that I accidentally oversugared my cappuccino.  Conveniently opened on weekends for hangovers.  Closed Tues and Wed.  Be prepared to hear an abundance of English.  Bob’s Juice Bar (15, rue Lucien Sampaix.)  Just a few doors down the street from Holybelly is this organic juice bar that also serves food.  Go for the juice (so I hear), not the ambiance. 

Du Pain et des Idées (34, rue Yves Toudic ).  You know you’re at the right bakery when there’s a queue at an off peak time and a couple of Japanese tourists in front of you.   I skipped the delicious looking and varied loaves of bread in favor of the spread of pastries including pinwheels filled with pistachio and thin crusted seasonal apple tarts (to take home I might add, lest you think you I went all oompa loompa.)   This place is clearly an institution and their uncommon selection of pastries explains why.   Worth crossing town for if you’re looking to expand beyond pain au chocolat.

Craft (24, rue des Vinaigriers).  On the other side of the Canal from Ten Belles is this coffee shop/co-working space.  Coffee was above average but the place is really all about plugging in your laptop and paying 3 euros per hour to so.  Great for road warriors who need to get work done, but less appealing for those who want to cozy up with a book or friend.  If you’ve come to Paris to eat healthy or run a marathon, Sol Semilla (23, rue des Vinaigries) – a vegan superfood restaurant across the street looked v. good.

Liberte (39, rue de Vinaigriers).  Different than most French bakeries, Liberte is a swanky year old bakery situated on a corner with small platoon of bakers working in an open mostly white industrial kitchen.  There’s something to love about bread baking on site.  It was hard to choose what to bring home between the breads, loads of pastries, and stuffed savory breads but settled on their grainiest loaf and a per kilo chunk of their house crusty bread.  You know you’ve lived in Europe for a while when you request a specific piece (not the end, please) that suits your fancy.   Also tried their chocolate loaf which looked amazing but only tasted so-so.  More savory options than Du Pain et des Idees.   If fast food is what you’re after, right next door is The Sunken Chip (39, rue des Vinaigriers), Paris’s first British run fish and chips shop.

La Chambre aux Oiseaux (48, Rue Bichat.)  Cozy like your grandmother’s living room complete with heavy wallpaper and mismatched mugs for an afternoon cup of loose tea.  Crisscrossing this spot several times during the day and landing in the late afternoon when I need a comfy chair to rest in, it was always full of women chatting and MacBook screens glowing.  They also have a nice looking simple breakfast menu along with their own house jams and open early.

Philou (12, rue Richerand).  Given all the cafe options it was hard to settle on a lunch spot, but Philou was one the places that consistently showed up on all the blogs.  A traditional French bistro using seasonal ingredients, Philou is a neighborhood favorite and now I know why.  I ordered the three course Menu du Midi for 19 euros which came with: a petite mushroom quiche and small perfectly dressed salad with herbs, the best beef burgundy I have ever known, and a crème caramel with a compote of apples and touch of mint.  Not only delicious but also perfectly sized.  Nice service too which in Paris is not a given.  Cross town for this one.  Last minute booking worked for me.

Le Petit Cambodge (20, rue Alibert).  Continuously open through lunch and dinner, this is a great spot for take away Cambodian noodles which I did for dinner on the train.  Packed at lunch everyone orders the bobun (similar to a Vietnamese Bun Bo Xao noodle salad with a few less herbs) for a well spent 10 euros.  I had read about the passion fruit/hazelnut tart at the gluten-free bakery next door, Helmut Newcake but then decided against it.  If you’re not gluten free already I reasoned, no sense starting in Paris. 

Two other places I didn’t try but you won’t miss given their prime real estate and blog chatter are Chez Prune (36, rue Beaurepaire) the café  that put this neighborhood on the map and L’Atmosphere.  Another popular spot I’d read a lot about and went to have a late afternoon glass of wine is Le Verre Vole (67, rue Lancry).  Unfortunately for me, I was sent away (though kindly I might add) as they are a restaurant/wine shop but not a bar.  Watching a woman peel potatoes at one of the tables, I wished I could stay and help.   Had I known Le Verre Vole wasn’t a bar, I may have stayed on the other side of the Canal near Le Petit Cambodge  to sample a cocktail at Le Zelda (6, rue Bichat) which opens at 6pm.

And there you have it.  A day of very good eats.

Paris in June

I haven't made it to Paris for a few months now, but Paris is on my mind.  My beautiful friend Alessandra asked me (trusted me!) to make her an agenda for a day trip this week.  She's been many times before, but with an imminent move to Seattle in a few weeks she didn't have the mind space to make a plan.  What a gift to me to be asked!  Ale is a talented photographer, so the day centers around two photography exhibits.  If you are in Paris this summer, here's an idea or two.


9:00 – Arrive in Gare de l’Est.  Take Metro M5 (dark orange) towards Place d’Italie and get off at Bastille (6th stop) then walk 7 minutes to Saint Paul Saint Louis Church (99 Rue St-Antoine). 

9:30 –Saint-Paul Saint-Louis Church (99 Rue St-Antoine).   As you know, I like to start my morning off in a church to meditate and pray.  Quiet ones like this one are best.  Jesuit church on one of the main streets in the Marais.  Famous for Delacroix’s work “Christ in the Garden of Olives.”

10:00 Walk through Ile St Louis.  Walk 10 minutes crossing Seine to Ile St Louis to enjoy quiet of morning in a residential area.  Stroll down the Rue St Louis.  I then love crossing Pont St Louis bridge to take in back of Notre Dame and sit in the The Square Jean XXII.  When ready for coffee, cross back over Seine to great coffee shop on Hotel de Ville. 

10:30 Coffee in Marais at Cafeotheque  (52, rue de l’Hôtel de Ville, 4th). The coffee shop is run by a woman from Guatemala.  This is serious coffee where they do tastings in the evening.  You can get coffee at the bar in the back or sit down at one of the many cozy tables.  It’s pricey coffee but worth it.  After coffee, walk only 5 minutes to photography exhibit.

11:00 Francoise Huguier photography exhibit at Maison Européenne de la Photographie (MEP)  (5-7 rue de Fourcy in 4th.)  Exhibit opens at 11am and costs  €6.50  Exhibit is described as: “Straddling the boundary between fantasy and factual reportage, the photographs of Françoise Huguier present the viewer with a kind of veiled reality. Her work for such publications as Vogue and the New York Times sent Huguier to some of the most remote corners of the globe to snap everything from the Siberian tundra to a community of Colombian nuns; never content to photograph her subjects at face value, she injected an dreamlike energy into her images that raises them above the average.”

1:00 Casual not “proper” lunch in Marais. Three options for lunch heading away from Seine and into Marais: 1) Candaleria (mexican tacos)  52, rue de Saintonge (3rd) The taqueria is open all day, every day, Sunday-Wednesday 12:30pm-11pm .  Limited seating.  2) L’As du Fallafel 34, rue des Rosiers , closed Friday pm and Saturday. No seating, buy from window. Opens at noon. 3) Poliane Cuisine de Bar (sandwiches on Paris’s most famous bread) 38, rue Debelleyme (3rd).  Ample seating.  Any one of these places is a good option for dining solo.

3:00 Robert Mapplethorpe photography exhibit at the Grand Palais.  Exhibit opens at 10 and costs €12.  Metro or walk (25 minute walk) to the Grand Palais from the Marais.  Exhibit is described as “Robert Mapplethorpe was one of the great masters of art photography. He produced highly stylised black and white portraits, nudes and still lifes. Over and above the erotic power that made Mapplethorpe’s work famous, the exhibition presents the classic dimension of the artist’s work and his search for aesthetic perfection, through over 200 images that span his career from the early 1970s to his untimely death in 1989.” (Consider buying tickets online before you go.)

5:00 Walk through the Jardin des Tuileries  to the Palais-Royal garden to people watch and get inspired by the specialty shops and galleries around the square (10-15 minute walk from Grand Palais.)   A last trip to Paris isn’t complete without this favorite Parisian stop. 

6:00 Glass of wine and nibble at Verjus Bar à Vin (47 rue de Montpensier, 75001).  It’s only 5 minutes walking from Palais-Royal and one of the few places that opens at 6pm!  The restaurant doesn’t open until 7 but the wine bar opens at 6.  It’s a small plate, no-reservations wine bar.  I haven’t been but it’s an “absolute favorite” from Paris by Mouth.

7:00 High tail it back to the Gare de l’Est by metro or bus the 7:40 train.

Paris: finally a couple of restaurants worth noting

I love Paris, but until recently I haven’t loved Paris restaurants.   Beyond the trifecta of delicious bread, cheese, and wine, most of my Paris food experiences have been rather ho hum.  It’s not been for lack of effort either.  Paris beckons with their lovely outdoor cafes, but the kitchen gives the impression that they are sighing at the thought of having to cook for anyone.  In cities like London and Barcelona on the other hand, restaurants murmur “come hither” from both the curbside and the kitchen.  In these cities there are more choices than time.

I kept thinking I was missing something or that I was deeply influenced by my friend Alice who told me a couple of years ago how disappointed she was with the food on her trip to Paris.  Finally validation came in the form of a NY Times article last week.  In the article “Can Anyone Save French Food” Michael Steinberger explains how and why Paris started serving ordinary, predictable food in the late 90s but how Paris is showing new signs of life with a crop of expat chefs serving up French food with a lighter and seasonal focus. 

The article also helped explain why no one answered my phone call to Abri, a French Japanese restaurant that I’d been reading about and trying to make a lunch reservation at for my March trip to Paris.  Apparently it’s the hardest reservation to get in town.  Spring, another restaurant mentioned in the article, has also been on my list but I landed a reservation at Le 6 Paul Bert before I made it that far.  Also on my restaurant roll is Le Garde Robe, a wine bar serving light snacks that is just around the corner from Spring – both of which are conveniently near the Louvre.  I did a drive/walk by both Spring and Le Garde Robe on my March trip and the curb appeal was most definitely there, especially at Spring where you could see the chefs prepping for dinner in the window.

I had read about Le 6 Paul Bert on David Lebowitz’s blog and also on the Paris Kitchen blog.  They have a terrific lunch “formula” that involves three courses (an appetizer, main, and dessert) for the bargain price of 19 euros.   It’s a tiny, inviting place with what looks like one long dining room table where they pack in pairs of diners (so best suited for parties of 2) with an open kitchen.  Reservations are a must, but I was able to get one the day before.  Lunch time in Paris is 12-2pm and so there is generally only one seating for lunchtime.  Unlike most French food where things are sauced together or decorum takes precedence over flavor, the dishes at Le 6 Paul Bert were fresh, light and nuanced.  For each course, there are only two options which change daily so it’s only a place to go if you are the type of person who welcomes a food adventure.   I had lunch there with my friend Angela, the same friend who sent me the Michael Steinberger article two days after our bistro bonanza.  Angela has sampled a lot more food in Paris than I have, and she would concur that Le 6 Paul Bert was a home run.  Finally.  It was so good that we were the first to arrive and last to leave and we even felt comfortable enough to send our glass of wine back because it tasted funny.  (The replacement glass of wine did not.)  Le 6 Paul Bert is located in the 11th arrondissement which is out of the main touristed areas but is easily accessed by metro.  Food porn + happy Angela post lunch below.

My friend Jannine scouted out the restaurant Pirouette for lunch when we went together in January.  We however were having so much fun on our Paris by Mouth food tour that we missed our lunch reservation.  I passed on the tip to my inlaws when they were visiting in March and they beat all of us to this little gem that opened last year in the 1rst arrondissement near Les Halles.  It’s been written up on all the Paris food blogs and my father-in-law was able to make dinner reservations for a Saturday night on Thursday evening.  (Granted this was March not busy summer time.) 

Here is his review of Piroutte: “Just terrific. You must go. A foody restaurant but not arrogant or overbearing at all. Good English and very friendly. We talked to owner a bit. Lots of great menu choices from a blackboard the waiter goes through very patiently. ( aside – we ate at 7 most nights and I am a fan of that hour, not because we go to bed early. The restaurant may be almost empty but the wait staff has time to be patient with English speakers and the ambiance of other diners picks up a 7:30). We had the 3 course 40 euros choice and it was not too much to eat. We did ask for lighter choices. I had trout appetizer and fish. Annelle had a gnocchi and whole morel mushroom dish in puree spinach sauce. Her main was very good but we have forgotten. Memorable but not memorable. Her dessert was crème brulee and mine was a fancy mix of tasty morsels (best I can do).” 

So there you have it … a couple of restaurants in Paris I (and my father-in-law Dan) can recommend with enthusiasm. 

The grown up version of a kid in a candy store window

…is pretty much any window in Paris.

(Photo cred: Jannine Suplee)

(Photo cred: Jannine Suplee)

My January day trip to Paris was with four dear friends all from Seattle and living in Luxembourg as expat wives: Holly C, Holly Z, Shannon and Jannine.  On the recommendation of some well seasoned travelers, we did a walking food tour of Taste of Saint-Germain with Paris by Mouth.  They have a number of different neighborhood food tours as well as ones focused on wine. The Taste of Saint-Germain tour completely exceeded all our expectations, which is noteworthy since all of us have been living abroad and devouring European food for six months or more.  Here was my online review:

We had a fantastic food tour of Saint Germain with Sara. It is not a "factory type" tour at all. No one is carrying a sign for you to follow. It's small, intimate and personalized to the tastes of the 7-8 people in the tour. Not only do you get to taste wonderful food and a lot of it (we ended up skipping our lunch reservation), but you get to hear wonderful stories about each stop. Sara is clearly a friend of all the shop owners we visited. The first part of the tour is hunting and gathering and the second part is sitting and savoring, and you'll be learning things all along the way. This was my seventh day trip to Paris, and one of the most fun experiences I've had yet. Great for people new and old to Paris. Yes you've come to Paris for the Louvre, but you've also come for the food -- so why not let someone take you round to discover some the best bread, pastries, cheese, wine and chocolate the city has to offer.

I HIGHLY recommend this tour to anyone coming for a trip to Paris.  It’s totally worth the 95 euros per person in terms of the experience, amount of food and back stories behind the success of many of Paris's finest pastry chefs, bakers, and cheese mongers.  The larger-than-life butcher we met in the Marché Couvert is Ina Garten's (the Barefoot Contessa) butcher and apparently Brad Pitt was just in visiting him the week prior.  It's the only covered market I've been in that doesn't smell like fish or aged cheese.  It smells like heaven.  Make sure to book well in advance, particularly in the summer, as tour groups are small and as their reputation is growing.   I’ve also since used the Paris by Mouth website as a resource for restaurant recommendations in Paris.  Their website is still a bit clunky, but content is good.  The wine tour they offer and which I’ve heard most praised is: Beyond Bordeaux: A Tour of Unconventional Wines & Wine Bars.   

Places visited during our Taste of Saint-Germain food tour, in case you want to venture out on your own:

My February trip to Paris (just yesterday) was with a new transplant to Lux from Atlanta and a fast friend, Jeannie.  Piggybacking on the success of the Paris by Mouth tour, we decided to try another walking tour.  This time we did a scholar-led group walk of the Marais Mansions with Context Travel.   Given the time of year, our three hour walking small tour was even smaller – it was just the two of us!-- led by an art historian docent.  This outfit is larger than Paris by Mouth as they offer tours, or rather walking seminars, in architecture, art history and even food and wine in most all of Paris’s neighborhoods. (Though I'd stick to Paris by Mouth for food related tours.) They are in 23 other cities around the world. It's one thing to read about the places you visit, but it's something much richer when you are walking the streets with an expert who is willing to answer all your random questions.


The Marais Mansions tour was an incredibly informative walk through one of Paris’s most lively neighborhoods and one that bears all the scars of a city through many transitions.  The walk was a chronological story of the change taking place in Paris between 1550 and 1720 before the French Revolution and the modern era.  The docent was a lovely Parisian 30 year old with perfect English who brought history alive with just the right amount of facts, storytelling, and gossip.  We learned a ton, and by the time the three hours were over – we were ready to eat and shop.

Our eating and shopping options in the Marais were plentiful and were informed by two great websites that you should know about when traveling to a new city: Unlike City Guides and Spotted by Locals City Guides.  I use these sites a lot.  They have recommendations across the arts, bars, music, restaurants, shopping, snacks, etc in most of the big cities in Europe.   Both of the websites are curated by locals and pick up where many of the travel guides leave off.  I particularly find them useful for restaurants and shopping, and each recommendation has a full blog entry so you have more useful context to decide if it's something that will float your boat or not.  They both have mobile apps, which I don't pay extra for -- I typically just scan it in advance of a trip and jot down a few notes. 


Lunch: Chez Marianne, 2 rue des Hospitalières St-Gervais, a sit down cafe with Middle Eastern and Jewish specialties and a house wine called "Marianne."  You will need Google translate to guide you in picking four or five of the options for your mix and match lunch plate else you may be swimming in toomuchummus.

Late afternoon refreshment: Café des Musées, 49, rue de Turenne, a sit down cafe on a busy corner of the Marais.

Dinner snack: Candelaria, 52, rue de Saintonge, because I'm always on a salsa fix quest.


You could spend all day in the quaint Marais between the museums, shopping, bars and restaurants.  Rue des Francs Bourgeois is the major shopping street, and you don't really need a list of places to hit.  Rue de Turenne is lined with men's clothing shops and  Rue des Rosiers (the Jewish area of the Marais) also has a lot of good shopping including a particularly fun and unique dress store I had read about: Heroines.  Jeannie got a gorgeous cape there.  She also got some red boats at another store on Rue des Rosiers in honor of Valentines Day (or actually because they were 60% off and from Paris.)


Cracking Shins


I’m not a natural born pay attentioner.  As a case in point, once when I was a new driver I came in the house soaking wet after driving through a rain storm complaining, “DAD.  There is something seriously wrong with the sun roof.”  I had not observed that there was both a sun roof and a sun roof shade causing some serious interior rain.   There are many stories like this from my childhood, and now closeted ones from my adulthood which are being routinely outed by my children.  Ask me if a place looks familiar, and I’m apt to tell a white lie and say yes.  My powers of observation are so weak that I have actually concerned myself thinking that if ever I was asked to give a description of a criminal, I would royally screw up the investigation.   I have never known the first day of my last cycle.

Given my propensity towards cluelessness, paying attention is something that has required practice.  I have always been good at paying attention to my calendar, my to-do list, and now most excellently – all manners of things involving my iPhone.  For instance, I always know how much battery I have left (83%.)  While those things are important to attend to in order to manage our life, it also seems important to give consideration to the things and people outside the centripetal force of me.  Granted this has become much easier as my calendar has lightened and no one dangling a paycheck is watching me tick off my to-do list and flagging things urgent.

Insert here my monthly trips to Paris.  These trips started out as a gift to me from my husband, and they are, but they’ve also become these unexpected opportunities to practice paying attention.  Normally I blindly follow where my map lovers lead, but being alone has required me to navigate for myself – attending to my geography by marking my spots.  Noting places where I feel safe and other places where I feel like I need a personal bouncer.   With each trip to Paris, aside from the general approach of circling a different neighborhood on each visit, my agendas are getting looser and less planned.   Yet, I feel like I’m seeing more of Paris between the lines – the softer, sentimental Paris. 

Giving yourself permission to take detours has this way of opening you up to things you didn’t have time to create expectations for.   Without a tight agenda, it’s also easier for people to not be in your way.  There is never a subway ride in Paris that isn’t crowded, and when you aren’t in a hurry – you have time to look twice at people.  To guess who might be having your same thought bubble – or a creepy one.   To sniff out someone who could use a smile with your double take.

On my most recent trip to Paris last week, I planned only a few things: a) explore the 1rst arrondisement, b) check out the Palais Royal and maybe the Museum of Decorative Arts c) having read this recent story in the NYTimes, listen to some musicians perform live on the stages of the Metro.

One of my habits on these trips has been to start the day (after coffee, which on this trip was a lovely place I walked past on Rue Saint Honore called Verlet) in a church.  For me, a church – especially the ones in Europe with layers upon layers of history -- is a reliable place to enter into stillness, but for others that may be somewhere else.  Normally I visit a church to walk through in transient awe, maybe pause for a moment or two to pray, but this time I decided to sit still for twenty minutes -- in a straight backed chair in St. Roch’s, the church in the neighborhood I was canvassing. 

Twenty minutes in the normal course of day of doing pretty much anything flies by, but twenty minutes of being mindful of the small space – even an exquisite space-- around you is quite another thing.  It’s long enough to make you feel a wee bit self-conscience but not quite long enough to take a cat nap.   As a Yoga flunky and as someone who can’t read in bed for more than ten minutes, the centripetal force in me wants to confess that I did set my iPhone timer (and notice when I heard the first footsteps at minute 14) but also encourage you that sitting still for “longer than comfortable” can be a really useful exercise.   I know it wasn’t just for me, but hearing a lone violinist fill the cavernous space just as my timer was going off felt a little like a special benediction.

At the Museum of Decorative Arts, I lost myself in a special exhibit on the graphic design of Phillipe Apeloig called “Typorama”, to the exclusion of the treasure troves of fabulousness on eight more floors.   I walked beneath the perfectly clipped pleached trees of the Palais Royal, but shied away from the exclusive boutiques with their fancy doorbells in favor of resurfacing to a place I’d been once before.  Jumping from the 1rst to the 2nd, I followed my freezing nose back to the idyllic covered passageways of Galerie Vivienne and passed through other lesser revered, but equally inviting passageways.  I stopped when I was hungry or thirsty, and when I saw a piece of carrot cake calling to me from the window.

By late afternoon it was time to chase the subway musicians.  I walked to Châtelet — the world’s largest underground station – and hunted the halls until I heard this.  Most people were too busy to stop, but I was most definitely not. 

“Earth is so thick with divine possibility, it’s a wonder we can walk anywhere without cracking our shins on altars.” – Barbara Brown Taylor

Ramblings from Paris


Trains on time.   Miraculously always on time.   Tall Americano from the green Mermaid.   Name is Kate.

Buy Metro ticket from a hustler.   Why not if it helps him, and saves me time at the kiosk.  A 30 cent/30 second act of mutual kindness.   Commuting time.  Government not shut down here.  Squeeze on.  Not everyone is pretty, but pretty put together.  No one smiles in the belly of the city.  You can’t be pretty without a smile.  Don’t stare at the dandruff on your neighbor’s coat, or wonder when oh when we will need to take our shoes off on our way to the underground.  Read over her shoulder, except you can’t read these words.  Listen to the muted beat of his music.   Alright, OK.   Your ear buds can’t hold it from spreading.  Not in here.  Count the stops.  Seven stops until your next perfume less breathe.  Mark your friendliest exit route.  “Excuse-moi” yourself to the door, but only faintly to not disturb the silence.   Mind the gap.  Mind your coffee.  Make way for the map.

Ile de la Cite.  Island on the Seine.   If your life was a movie, these bridges would be in it.  Pont Notre Dame.  Pont Au Change.  Pont Neuf.  Photograph the sun making its way up.  Your movie still.  Be still.  People crisscrossing these bridges to get from here to there.  Accept the invitation to stay on for lookout duty. Put away the map.   Savor the last drop.


On the edge of the Ile de la Cite.  Sainte-Chapelle.  Pay your 6 euros and get in the queue like the rest. Disregard the misplaced commerce in the lower chapel.   Climb the spiral staircase to the upper chapel, the place that used to be reserved for only the company of the King.   Look up to the 15 stained glass windows.  The story of the Holy Book in over 1000 scenes of blue, green, yellow, blue and purple.   Pay no mind to the scaffolding that covers half of the windows.  The restoration work.   Harder though to create a feeling of entry into Heavenly Jerusalem.  With all that pounding noise of modern machinery.


Now it is time to get from here to there.  Cross Pont St Michel to the Right Bank.  The Latin Quarter.  The 5th Arronidssement.  The home to universities and student uprisings and gyros.  Follow the crooked streets leading out from Boulevard Saint-Michel.   The day is still young.  You are awake, but these shop owners do like their customers and hit snooze.  Only the tiny bookstores on these capillaries are open for business.  Greek men sweep the streets of their restaurants.  Shout hello to their neighbor. Come back when it’s Souvlaki time.  Come back when you can read French.

Pop back to the island.  To the other end of the island.  Notre Dame.  Here’s where all the early risers go.  In this queue to see the Crown of Thorns.   A day too lovely for a second queue.  Skip around to the   Square Jean XXIII to take in the rear view of this majestic “cradle of the city.”  A rump never looked so good.  If you sit, prepare to be haggled.  To sign this petition or that one.  It’s all a scam though.  That’s what happens when you’re in the cradle of the city.   The good with the bad.  The beautiful with the desperate.


Exit the cradle by crossing the Pont St-Louis to a second island, Ile St Louis.  Also known as Ile de la Cite’s quiet but strikingly beautiful younger sister.  Eat your gelato heart out along Rue St Louis.  Try to think of anything you can’t get on this street.  Everything you’d need to live is on this island.  And a thousand other things you wouldn’t mind having too.  Come back for a stroll when you need a cocoon from the riff raff.  Come back to live in the arse’s view of Notre Dame when you win the lottery. 

Move across the river to the Left Bank.  To the 24/7 party of the Marais.  Sure you’ve been before, but a place with soul pulls you back.  Flamboyant style, orthodox Jews, gorgeous vintage stores, a charming village feel.  Put away the pocket book.  For today only: your self-imposed day of shopping abstinence.  Throw your jacket over your shoulder.  Roll up your pant legs, if you dare, and stroll.  Dine al fresco whenever the tummy rumbles.  It’s all good, definitely fresh and vegan if requested.   Ambivalently walk in the direction of a museum – Musee Picasso or Musee Carnavalet.  But the sun said “HELLO!” while you were on morning lookout duty.  Permission to carry on rambling?  In fact, here we are.  At the Musee Picasso which is indeed still closed for construction.  Ramble we ought.  Not we.  I.


Back to the day’s spine.  The River Seine.   But first, down a Café Glacis of the immodest La Caféothèque. You’ve been before, so pull up to the coffee bar and order with confidence.  Why you still looking at your map?  You’re a regular.  Follow the river until you hit the Louvre.  You can’t miss it.  Street artists line the street along the river.  Garden stores and pet shops spill out the other side.


People posing for pictures with petit Louvres in their hand.  Below a sunken garden with perfectly straight white gravel paths.  Cutting through manicured gardens and putting green grass.   Green chairs ring oval fountains.  Grown up circle time.  Put away the cameras.  Prop your feet up.  Relax into a book.  This is easier when no one around you in hurrying.  It’s 4pm.  No one is running to a last minute meeting.  No one yet hungry for food.  All hungry for the warmth of the sun.  A conversation.  A cat nap.


Later.  Much later.  Back to the River Seine.   A long walk back to the Marias.  This time on the other side of the street.  To peer into those curious pet shops.  To land in that off the beaten track wine bar you spotted earlier in the day.   To soak up the lively chatter of a neighborhood hangout.  With a better than house glass of wine.  Plot your closest Metro stop back to the train.  No second closest.  There’s more time to stroll.  Dodge people along the lively Rue De Rivoli to the Bastille. Take a breath and go underground.   Pop up with a comfortable 30 minutes to spare.  Grab a sandwich.  Tuna sounds nice.  Top it off with a praline chocolate and hop the train.  Full heart.  Empty hands.  Tired legs.

Pretty Paris


A wander through the 2nd and 9th Arrondissements of Paris.

One writer calls these neighborhoods the “Rising Stars” with “the grand, gilt interior of the Opera de Paris, the magnificent domed ceiling of Galeries Lafayette department store, the winding streets and covered arcades and passageways, the lovely architecture of the Galerie Colbert and the surprising gentrification of the once seedy but still lively streets near Pigalle.” – Janelle McCulloch


I call it the neighborhood above the Tuileries anchored by the majestic Opera House (now Ballet House) and La Madeline (the massive church dedicated to Mary Magdalene) with Grand Boulevards going in every which direction.  I can confirm that Rue St Denis is still seedy, but the 19th century covered passageways are surprisingly delightful in their “hiddenness” and charm.


As is now my new habit, I start my Paris day trips in a church --- this day at La Madeline along with a large bus of equally devout tourists at the church opening time of 9:30.   The cameras clicked for a good 7 minutes, and then the band of travelers was off allowing me to quietly take in the sculpture of the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist.   By late morning, after an unscheduled stop for coffee, a pastry pick me up in Fauchon  (the millionarie’s supermarket ), I visited the inside of the gorgeous Le Palais Garnier (the National Opera House) with a grand staircase that IS unbelievable.


The weather forecast had been for 67 degrees F and 0% chance of rain, but the actual weather was heavy rain.   With that development, I skipped my planned stop at the Printemps department store (102 Rue de Provence) for top floor lookout and 360 degree viewpoint of city and the longish walk out through a residential area to the Musée de la Vie Romantique (16 Rue Chaptal).  I also bought an umbrella on the street since in a moment of optimism I had been convinced to leave mine in the car on the way to the train.

I made another coffee stop (this time at Starbucks – the loyalty runs deep), and headed for a few stores on my list.   At the Zara Home Store (2 Boulevard de la Madeleine), I picked up some lovely champagne glasses and then at Repetto, the famous store for ballet shoes (22 Rue de la Paix), I committed to some patent leather flammy red Ballerinas.  It’s a commitment I hope I can live up to.


I attempted to hit Le Petit Vendome (8 Rue des Capucines) for lunch at the recommendation of my favorite Paris blog, but it was le crowded.  By then I was hungry, so I went off agenda and settled for an uninspired sandwich somewhere nearby.    I attempted two bookstores – one a travel bookstore Voyageurs du Monde (55 Rue Sainte-Anne) which was more like a travel agency (bust) and the second a bookstore for cooks - Librairie Gourmande  (92-96 Rue Montmartre) which had enough of an English section to make it worth the stop.


The highlight of the day however was the afternoons spent in the arcades/covered passageways.   These beautiful passages popped up in the 19th century to give shoppers a better way to shop rain or shine.  They were typically dug through existing buildings and were covered by glass roofs.  The 150 shopping  arcades have since dwindled down to 25 when most were destroyed when the large avenues were built.  Those that remain each have their own architecture, style, and retail focus.  Galerie Vivienne, with its lovely mosaic floor, has a tea salon, bookstore, florist, wine store, bistro, and shops specializing in textiles, furnishings and other yummy things.  


Passage du Grand Cerf, another one of the arcades with a gorgeous glass roof, has twenty plus affordable boutiques.  It has a bit of a jewelry theme but there is also a Marseilles soap store and even an African art boutique.  With the rain coming down steadily, I lingered long in both arcades.  I stopped for a glass of Rose in one of the bistros, I fingered a lot of interesting jewelry that was beautifully displayed, and I relished the glimpse into the past when shopping was leisurely  - before the “Half Off” signs and special promotions.


By the end of the day, the sun broke through and I meandered down the Rue Montorguiel, a family friendly pedestrian street for gourmands that reminded me at little of Seattle’s Pike’s Place Market.  It was there that I parked myself at an outside table along the busiest section of the street to nibble on a cheese plate and listen to the hum of families returning home from a busy day.


Oh, Paris, you are fun to dance with and now I have some red Ballerinas for next time.


This is eHow you follow an agenda

I had my second day trip to Paris on Monday.  This time instead of going with a list of unmapped addresses of places I wanted to check out, I decided to make myself an agenda.  This is eHow you follow an agenda.

  • Step 1.  Decide what specifically needs to be accomplished.  More sightseeing, less getting lost.
  • Step 1B.   Try that again.  Okay … one museum, one neighborhood. 
  • Step 2.  Consult with colleagues.  Paris Guidebook, husband, David.  Practice your I’m-not-a-stalker-banter in case you bump into David.   
  • Step 3.  Distribute the agenda in preliminary form making sure to allot enough time for each item. Google calculate walking times.  Print accompanying Google Map with specific points of interest. Whip out the highlighter to do some color coding.   Do NOT send agenda to David. 
  • Step 4. Stick to the agenda, follow the plan item by item, be ready to move on when necessary. Shopping streets are dangerousCafé lingering, while on plan, can become a distraction.
  • Step 5.  Table some items until next time, be flexible, know what needs to be completed.  Making train home.

So how did I do? I successfully visited everything on my agenda (though in a slightly different order) plus had time for a couple of extra stops.  The overarching goal for the day was to hit one museum (the Pompidou – the museum of modern and contemporary art) and wander one neighborhood (the Marais -- the bustling, fashionable district on the Right Bank home to small cafes, chic boutiques, art galleries with an ethnic mix of Jews, Alergians, Asians, and the gay community.)  Here then is the detailed agenda, revised for actual events.

8:50 – Train arrives in Gare de l’Est. Take Metro M5 towards Place d’Italie and get off at Bastille (6th stop).  Use leftover metro tickets.  Push your way onto the subway train and make like a sardine.   Count stops. 

9:20 - Arrive Bastille Metro.  Exit nearest exit, correct when above ground.  Pull out map and walk 1 KM towards Soluna Café (52, rue de l’Hôtel de Ville, 4th), otherwise known as the Caféothèque .   Walk fast because Guatemalan coffee is waiting.  Notice Seine to your left, but don’t be distracted.  You’ll see the river again.

9:30 – Caféothèque.  Here, they know that Parisian coffee blows and they want to make it up to you.  Delicious, full of cozy nooks and crannies to sit, and quirky in that “plants coming out of wall” kind of way.  Text photo to husband to let him know you’re safe and caffeinated.  Take home some Guatemalan bean$.  Gulp quietly when they tell you your total.

Paris meets Seattle. 

Paris meets Seattle. 

10:00 – Be flexible, part 1.  Caféothèque is right next door to the Memorial de la Shoah, a memorial that honors the 76,000 Jews who were deported from France to Nazi death camps.   Stop here. 


10:30 – Walk the quarter of Le Marais.  Try to not be in the grip of the map.  Let it flow, but make sure to hit Rue de Turenne, Rue des Francs-Bourgeois, and Rue des Rosiers.  If you miss them, you’re walking another quarter and best to consult the map again. You'll want to come back here on every trip to Paris.

11:30 - Bernard Garbo (41, rue de Turenne) and Palenzo Chemise a couple of doors down.  Stylish shirts at unlikely good prices.   Buy your husband some shirts. He will love you.  Remember the “shopping streets are dangerous” caution and refocus on your husband’s shirts.  Table trendy she shops for next time.

This shirt made it home.

This shirt made it home.

12:00 – Place des Vosges.  Take in the square that is considered among the most beautiful in the world by Parisians.  Give it a few minutes.  Notice the impressive symmetry – 36 houses with 9 on each side.  Try not to notice the construction equipment.  Time’s up.   Don’t beat yourself up if it looks just like an ordinary square with trees and park benches. Take a picture anyway.

As you can see, my heart wasn't in the square or taking the picture. 

As you can see, my heart wasn't in the square or taking the picture. 

12:07 – Be flexible, part 2. Thou shalt not be in the grip of the map, but best to hold on to it.  Search purse/shirt bag/coffee bag.  Again.  Search in tiny places too small for a map – your back pocket, your wallet, your bra.  Retrace steps.  OK to beat yourself up on this one, particularly if it’s a special map.  Be glad that today you weren’t responsible for things you cannot lose like children and car keys.

12:30 – L’As du Fallafel (34, rue des Rosiers) for to-go lunch.  Follow the bouncing blue ball on your iPhone and don’t think about the international data usage charges.  Join the cultish crowd salivating at the window and be ready to order.  Crispy on the outside/soft on the inside fallafel, slightly pickled cabbage, cucumbers, perfectly grilled eggplant, tahini sauce, hot sauce, all packed into a heavenly pita. Order a water and be ready for the harassment.  Don’t forget a fork and lots of napkins.

Beautiful things happening inside this pita. 

Beautiful things happening inside this pita. 

1:00 -  Pompidou (can’t miss it in the Beaubourg area of the 4th arrondissement of Paris).  Focus 90 minutes on the permanent collection on level 4 (contemporary art from 1960 onward) and level 5 (works from 1905-1960.)  Enjoy the glass enclosed escalator that overlooks the piazza filled with street performers and smokers.


2:30 – Look for Pompidou checked bag ticket in same place you put map.  OMG, how old are you? Locate passport and move it to a zipped pocket.  Describe bag to French attendant and pray for mercy.

Stop looking at me like that  We all lose things. 

Stop looking at me like that  We all lose things. 

2:35 - Be flexible, part 3.  Find your way past the Forum des Halles complex – an unsightly 17 acre fortress that is also a mall.   Don’t curse the remodeling project that has trapped you on the wrong side.  Be glad that there is a plan to overhaul these retail ruins.

2:45 – Be flexible, part 4.  Stop in a bookstore, buy a new map.  Know that it will not live up to your old map.  Tell the blue bouncing ball you no longer need him.

2:55 – E. Dehillerin (51, rue Jean- Jacques Rousseau).  Not on the agenda, and you have paid tickets for something starting in 5 minutes.  Still you must walk in to this amazing professional french stainless steel cookware shop.  Touch the copper and table for next time - preferably when you have an able bodied sherpa with you.

The best photo I could muster in 60 seconds. 

The best photo I could muster in 60 seconds. 

3:00 - O Chateau (68, rue Jean- Jacques Rousseau) for the Beginner French Wine Tasting booking.  Stop judging that all 30 people there are tourists from the US or Canada – you signed up for the English class, you expat snob.  Taste a Sauvignon Blanc from Loire, a Cabernet Sauvignon Rose, and a Malbec from Cahors.  Get tips for reading French wine labels.  Buy a couple bottles of the Rose – who knew all French Rose was dry and unlike the sweet passable stuff back home.

Pierre and the Americans. 

Pierre and the Americans. 

4:45 - Candaleria (52, rue de Saintonge) taqueria for dinner.  A choice only a Mexican food-deprived American would make.  Open every day, Sunday- Wednesday 12:30pm-11pm and Thursday-Saturday 12:30pm-midnight.   Be flexible, part 5.  Candaleria’s kitchen may be closed from 4:45-5:30.  Do not mention hours listed on door.

Please let me come in. 

Please let me come in. 

4:50 – Café Charlot (39, rue de Bretagne) aka David’s favorite place to write and people watch.  Sit outside, order an overpriced espresso, and eavesdrop on a beautiful, 20 something US Rhodes Scholar interviewing a Parisian women about energy policy for an article she’s writing.  Best not to get out your Moleskine.  Just listen and remember back when the whole world was still in front of you.

5:29 – Candaleria, second attempt.   Order chips and black beans, roasted squash and Queso fresca tacos on real corn tortillas.   Belly up to the one communal table.  Apply hot sauce liberally, savor every perfectly (it’s been so long, the threshold for perfect is low) fried chip, use the electrical outlet to charge your phone.  Order another roasted squash taco and celebrate the vegetarian day you weren’t planning on having.

Perfect-enough chips and hot sauce.

Perfect-enough chips and hot sauce.

6ish – Remember your power cord, skip the metro and leisurely walk in the direction of the Gare d’Est.

6:30 – Triple check that you are only 5 minutes away from Gare d’Est.  Stop into an outdoor café that’s not on your agenda.  Who cares which one.  Order a glass of wine. Confirm that no interesting conversations are going on around you.  Bring out your agenda to take notes on the day.  Linger.

7:15 -  Arrive Gare d’Est.  Stop for 4 small chocolates and a bottle of water.  Wait to board train to savor the chocolates … or not.  Stay vigilant on watching boards for when track number appears.

7:40 – Train departs Gare d'Est for Lux.  Be on it!



A Foodie Day in Paris


Paris, May 16 2013

I’m sitting in the Parisian café, Les Deux Magots, where Ernest Hemingway and other notable writers and philosophers famously wrote.  It’s 8:45am.  The time stamp is meaningful in that I woke this morning in my own bed in Luxembourg.   Negotiating the smooth two hour fifteen minute fast train from Lux to Paris and then the jammed packed subway from Gare de Est to here, I feel a rush of early riser triumph that dwarfs my need for caffeine.  I also feel the need to text my husband with my subway success story.  While I am looking forward to this day by myself,  I also want to share in the miracle that is European public transportation.

The café, located in the bustling neighborhood of St Germain de Pres and whose present clientele are the city’s literary and publishing elite, is comfortably full with people reading the newspaper, working on laptops, and carrying on in hushed conversations.   Adorned with red leather couches, red velvet curtains, shellacked wood tables, gilded candelabras, and waiters in black jackets, bow ties, and long white aprons, it feels like a place of long ago. The median age looks to be 55, and naturally there is a 75 year old impeccably dressed woman with a small dog in her purse.   It is however eerily quiet.  Must be some serious philosophizing going on in here, me thinks. 

I pull out my notebook to wait for inspiration to hit in this writer’s paradise (I am dressed for it in a black turtleneck, boots, and bracelets), but then am distracted as I realize it is quiet because they are filming a movie in the far corner of the café.   The possibility for inspiration has decreased to nil because I’m now obsessed on who the movie star is and if the older woman with the petit dog is a paid extra.  At this point, I just focus my efforts on getting a self-portrait of me with the Magot statues on the wall. 

Fueled by an espresso I had hoped was a drip coffee, I headed next door to the St Germain de Pres cathedral.  I walked all the stations of the twenty some odd chapels of the cathedral, stopping longest at an open armed statue of Jesus.   For me, there’s something about setting foot in a church that has been there for centuries thinking about all the cumulative prayers that have risen from those pews.

After my stop with Jesus (who I’ve invited on the journey with me for safety, navigation help, and patience – always patience), I pull out my piece of paper with six food related destinations.  The food stops have come courtesy of David Lebovitz, the food blogger and author of “My Sweet Life in Paris.”  All the stops are in the St Germain de Pres neighborhood – the neighborhood I’ve chosen to “get to know” on this visit.  The visit I’ve declared “My Foodie Trip to Paris.” (Minus the Bistro dinner due to time constraints as my return train is at 7:40pm.)

The first stop is for some specialist nut oils.  I clumsily but successfully make it to the address, only to discover that the shop is no longer there.  Remembering the prayer for patience, I am not discouraged (though confused) and head to the second destination for some special Italian olive oil.  This shop is there (and my route to it circuitous), but they don’t carry that particular olive oil any more.  Okay.  At this point, I need to pray for David because he is lying to me and the rest of the world.  Perhaps he doesn’t even live in Paris. 

David however redeems himself with the next several stops, and my bag grows heavy with beautiful jams, mustards, chocolates and breads.  I even find the special nut oils at one of the other stops.  I mistakenly jettison myself clear out to the edge of the Luxembourg Quarter in search of the last stop (some infused butter), proving that my goal of “getting to know” the St Germain des Pres has not exactly come to fruition.  Once I’m back in the right geography, I duck into a sunglasses shop.  Though it’s raining, there’s been eighteen minutes of sunshine and I’ve forgotten my sunglasses.   I’ve come prepared with an umbrella and a sharpened lip pencil but not the possibility of sun.  Darling Benjamin helps me find the perfect inexpensive pair of shades.

Hoping to stop for lunch (a seeming requirement for “My Foodie Day in Paris”), but noticing the time suck that my navigational hiccups have caused – I instead pick up a panini and make my way towards the Musee d’Orsay.   With my pre-purchased ticket from Quinn’s previous visit in hand (turns out Quinn didn’t need a paid ticket so we had an extra), I buzz past the long line and check my food bag.   Because this is my second visit, I give myself permission to not crisscross the entire museum but to relax in the company of great artists.  I decide to head straight for the 5th floor to the Impressionism Gallery.  I linger over Renoir’s plump nudes, Matisse’s landscapes and especially Cezanne’s still lifes that remind me of my own Nanna’s painting.   In the sea of tourists with sensible shoes and loud voices, my heart warms seeing the local elderly being pushed in wheelchairs by young museum staff and groups of local school children listening with rapt attention to the dossiers. 

From there, the day unravels a bit as I search for a restaurant and then wine bar I can’t find.  I get off at an unsavory subway stop and finally settle on a delicious but undercooked Turkish chicken pita wrap at a hole in the wall restaurant.  Slightly irked by my lack of direction, I decide to play it (really) safe and head towards the train station two hours before my departure.  I soon find a cafe near the train station – no longer looking for charm but facilities.  It’s your basic tourist trap with salted peanuts, mini pretzels, and alcohol prices that increase after 10pm.  Of course there are also pictures of the food on the menu which even my children understand means “quietly head for the door.”  But in my state, I’m just looking for toilet paper.  I’m greeted by an eager French-speaking Asian waiter who quickly takes my order for a glass of white wine (any will do), and who’s thankfully at the ready with a token for the facilities.   Once I settle in, he sweetly helps me charge my phone and moves me to a window seat so I can watch the world go by.

As I sit and watch the stream of people go by (because I have some time), I realize that the find of the day was not my bag of goodies (which look amazing.)  Clearly the day was an overall gastronomical bust in terms of eating experiences.  The find of the day was the 11 hours of solitude to go at my own pace with no one to disappoint but myself.  And the thing is -- I wasn’t disappointed.  I had fun – with me.   We need solitude to remind us that we can be our own best company.  It helps the process when you can sit in front of a beautiful piece of art or in a café that Hemingway once graced, but maybe it’s even more effective when you can do it sitting on your own front porch with a stolen ten minutes or in a Double Tree Hotel café with self-service coffee.   All I know is that salted peanuts never tasted so good.