If you're going to stay in Paris for a week or more, consider renting an apartment. Particularly if you're travelling in a group that would benefit from 2-3 bedrooms. Apartments are generally cheaper than hotels and integrate you more into the day to day life of the city. They're also a bit awkward to check in and out of and don't come with daily maid service or a concierge, but for a longer stay that's not such a big deal to me.
If you want to stay in the middle of Paris, I can without hesitation recommend Guest Apartment Services. They exclusively manage about 20-30 apartments, mostly on the Ile St. Louis (a very desirable location). The apartment we rented in the Marais on Rue Charles V was fantastic, very well furnished and maintained. I've seen three of their other apartments and all were nice places. Prices for a 2 bedroom range from 330€/night to 690€/night and quality does vary. We got a discount for a month long stay in off-season; I think most of their business is shorter term.
There are lots of other options for apartments in Paris. Mostly you end up renting directly from the owner, which can mean random quality. I liked having a professional service managing the apartment instead of dealing directly with the owner.
They're quite responsive by email. Mention my name if you contact them!
One of my favourite things to do in Paris is walk around, explore neighbourhoods, and take photos. Thanks to GMaps Pedometer it was easy to retrace my steps after each walk and save the route as a KML file. Then in Google Earth you can load all the walks, look at them, save them as a merged KML file. The result? A Google Map of a bunch of walks I've taken in Paris.
Everyone's asking; Ken and I are back in San Francisco after a uneventful flight home. (Other than the disaster of gates E80-E87 at CDG. Ugh.) We have a ritual on returning: try to stay awake for a few hours in the afternoon, then make a cocktail, then order a greasy American pizza stuffed with bacon and cream sauce. We manage to eat half of it, watch a bit of TV, and finally pass out exhausted around 8:30pm.
I edited down my photos to a set of 92 on Flickr.
If you go to a Paris cafe early in the day you'll find the chairs are lined up neatly in rows. They're packed so tight you could just barely squeeze someone in each chair if everyone were impossibly slender Parisiennes who only eat one salad a day. But it's perfectly acceptable to move the chairs this way and that to make yourself more comfortable or accomodate different sized groups. At the end of a busy day the chairs are scattered everywhere. Cafes may look rigidly ordered, but in fact they are pleasantly malleable. large sign of the rules, buildings have plaques reminding you of the law of 1881 forbidding posters, even the public lawns have ritualistic timing for when you're allowed to sit on them.
But the truth is life in France is more flexible and casual than the rules imply. Yeah, there's not much parking in Paris, but if you're a boulanger you can stop in the street for a few minutes and block traffic to drop off fresh baguettes. The park really does close at 10pm, but if the gate is open and you're quiet no one is going to much care if you cross through it. In general the French adapt their rules to what makes sense in any specific situation. To stereotype heavily, France is a happy compromise between the complete chaos of Mediterranean cultures and the rigid order of Germanic and Scandanavian cultures. Ordered but still flexible.
We're nearing the end of our stay in Paris, at the point where we've counted up the remaining days and planned visits to our favourite restaurants. It's a good way to remember the places we truly like.
I finally had some success shopping at the flea market; I found Paris in her Splendor! After a somewhat overwhelming visit last weekend with some friends, I went back today strictly to look at etchings Au Réverbère, a shop at stall 43 in Marché Dauphine. It's a bit intimidating; you have to ask for permission from madame to look at the etchings, but the quality is good and she is friendly.
I ended up selecting three etchings from the 1861 lithograph book Paris dans sa splendeur. Beautifully detailed work, large plates, mostly of famous buildings and touristic scenes. We have some framed in our apartment and they are lovely. I chose three historical plates of 17th century Paris (Nos. 73, 74, 75). They should look handsome framed together. It's a shame that the standard now is to cut up these old books, but they do look nice framed on a wall.
Part of the flea market experience is negotiating prices, but I absolutely hate doing it. The woman was very nice and chatty and after some conversation in French about the new president, her trip to the US, and various qualities of paper she offered me a deal about 20% under the nominal listed price. It was in my budget so I took it. Looking now on the Internet I see I could have paid half if I bought from someone random on ebay.fr. Or I could pay twice what I did buying from a dealer in the US. So who's to say? The whole book of 100 lithographs seems to go for about 2000€. Ouch.
Want an authentic Parisian brasserie experience? Try Bofinger. It's one of the classic Parisian restaurants that ends up in tourist guides much like Benoit or Le Petit Zinc. And like those places it delivers a very nice meal with good service, a comfortable room, and good food. They're all a bit overpriced and feel a bit corporate, but they're also quite good and reliable. Perfect for a first week in Paris.
Bofinger has an emphasis on fish as well as a fair number of Alsatian things on the menu. My oysters were absolutely lovely as was Ken's grilled sole. Really everything was quite good except for the tarte tatin, the russian roulette of French desserts (unless it's absolutely fresh, there's no point). Next time I'll order the café gourmand, a collection of tiny desserts with a coffee.
If you want to go for dinner you definitely need to make a reservation, preferably several days in advance. You want to sit downstairs in the beautiful room with the skylight, although how that works with non-smoking I'm not sure. I should note their telephone reservationist is very difficult; Ken and I have failed several times to communicate with them. They have an online reservation form that may be of some use for that problem.
My general advice is to avoid eating beef in France, particularly if you're from the US. The cuts here tend to be tough, gristly, and unevenly cooked. One exception is the competing steak/frites places that are amazingly good in their simple formula. The other exception are the various Aveyron restaurants you see advertising beef from the Aubrac. The meat is still pretty chewy, but the flavour is great.
We had a very nice lunch yesterday at the Maison de l'Aubrac. It's just a stone's throw from the Champs Elysee, but don't let that worry you. It's a good casual place, set up like a rustic country inn but with proper service and a menu that is all beef, all the time. The best dish I had was asparagus with beef cheeks, beautifully tender and flavourful without the creepy gelatinous fat you often get with joues. Nice steak tartare, too, and while my faux-filet was not terribly good Ken was impressed with his brochette of veal.
And as bizarre as it sounds they advertise being open 24 hours a day. So if it's 4AM and you need some raw ground meat, here's your place.
So the trick turns out to be to go to the corner boulanger just at 6PM, right when the fresh batch of baguette tradition is put out. The nice woman will apologize that the bread is still warm and it is necessary to shrug and look just a little sad. Because secretly you both know that you're going to run home and immediately eat half of it stuffed with delicious cold salted butter from Brittany.
I haven't been blogging much from Paris lately because I've reached that point where everything isn't new and exciting anymore. Part of the point of living here for weeks at a time is to integrate and enjoy things slowly rather than being a mad tourist every day. But I've been busy, here are some of the things I've done in the last few days. Le Petit Zinc. Sunday was the flea market (nice lunch there at Le Paul Bert), followed by a walk around the Ile de Cite and Ile St. Louis and Berthillon ice cream. For dinner I picked up some terrible pizza and was 5 minutes' walk from the post-election tear gas festivities at Bastille, which I missed entirely. Monday was mostly quiet except for a lost laundry ticket garbage picking adventure and some epic drinking at Le Petit Prince. And yesterday I went to Etoile for the parade, got a fantastic photo of the Arc de Triomphe, took a walk around the Place de Mexico looking for a Space Invader self-portrait, photographed the Eiffel Tower, then dinner with friends at the Ambassade d'Auvergne.
So that's what occupies my time. Some touristy stuff, a lot of dining, and in the spaces inbetween bouts of photo editing, blogging, and video games. I feel like I actually live in Paris with enough time to not need to cram exciting events into every hour, yet with easy access to do interesting things that present themselves. Sadly, we return to the States in a week.
Last week's warm weather got Ken and I itching to go to the countryside, back to our favourite region of the Loire. This valley is true storybook French countryside, all wine and cheese and mustard and chateaux and rivers and charming villages. We've visited there about five times now, always just for a few days of staying in chateaux and relaxing while exploring little villages. It's lovely. For a view, see my various photos of the Loire.
It isn't often you find a quiet place in the middle of Paris, much less one with excellent food and outdoor seating. So the Restaurant du Palais Royal is special. The food is good modern French with interesting spicing and the wine list has some good finds hidden away (like a 2000 Gevrey-Chambertin, yum). But the real appeal of this place is the outdoor terrace on the garden of the Palais Royal. The Palais is now private businesses, but in the middle is an amazing and quiet formal French garden that is essentially silent in the evening. Makes for lovely outdoor dining.
It's a bit spendy but the prices seem quite reasonable for the quality of food, service, and the view. You'll definitely need a reservation to sit outside. If you're going for dinner ask about when they close the garden; some nights it closes at 10pm, making for an awkward transition during dinner. But last night it was open until 11:30 for perfect contentment in the gardens.
Thanks to Fabrice for the recommendation
Tonight is the last big debate between Sarkozy and Royal for the presidency of France. Paris is quiet; restaurants are empty, bars are either closed early or full of people listening to a loud television. All the streets of the Marais are echoing with the sounds of the debate. Parasiens are paying attention.
In the US, less than half the elegible voters bother to vote for president. In the first round here, 80% voted.
The first minutes on the bike were pure pleasure. A cool breeze in my face, Paris moving by at a fast pace, the freedom to go where I wanted. It's a great town for biking; lots to see in a short distance and lots of bike routes. And while I find driving in Paris totally terrifying, on a bike it feels pretty safe.
So I rented a sturdy steel bike from the RATP city offices, a great deal at 10€ a day. And went on a long ride to the Bois de Vincennes. I can't say it was a particularly beautiful ride; the bike paths tend to be on major roads. But it was nice having the freedom of going anywhere in Paris at my own speed.
Our apartment is very close to Bastille and the big square there has a huge assortment of pleasant outdoor cafés. One of our favourites is down the street a bit, La Cavetière. The food isn't particularly remarkable, being much like a hundred other casual brasseries. But the cooking is quite good and the menu choices are a bit more interesting and thoughtful than the usual. And they seem to have interesting wine choices every week.
What makes this place particularly nice is that it's sympa. The woman who works the outdoor tables is amazingly friendly. Our first time there she chatted with us about how she was glad we were there, how Americans never came to her restaurant, and wasn't it a nice day, and are you sure you don't want more wine? She speaks French very quickly but clearly and with the good will we understand each other. On our second visit a week later she recognized us, asked us how we'd been, patted me affectionately on the shoulder while taking our orders. That kind of genuine friendliness is not common in Paris, particularly for visitors, and for me it is very welcoming.
Ken and I made an excursion to the seldom touristed Place d'Italie today to check out la Butte aux Cailles and to have some non-French food. We ended up at Kannimaaraa, a pleasant and decent little Indian joint. Asian restaurants in Paris cater to French tastes and are very mildly flavoured with little to no hot spice. Same with Kannimaaraa, except my korma was nicely flavoured and there was a little jar of pickle on the side to provide some heat (once I convinced the quick-moving waiter I knew what I was about to eat).
Le Figaro has a detailed set of election returns from last Sunday's vote, with percentages broken down by department (roughly, county) and for Paris, arrondissement (roughly, neighbourhood). I don't have the technology to do a cool red/blue map, so I made a little list (below).
No big surprises. In general the wealthier arrondissements to the west support Sarkozy, the immigrant and less expensive areas to the east support Royal. The urban middle is a pretty even mix. As an American I mostly understand "Sarkozy: conservative, Royal: liberal" but in fact it's much more subtle and complex than that. Any by US standards, they're all flaming liberals.
Sarkozy Royal Sarkozy Royal 1eme 39 28 11eme 26 41 2eme 31 35 12eme 32 32 3eme 29 37 13eme 27 37 4eme 34 32 14eme 30 34 5eme 33 32 15eme 41 24 6eme 44 24 16eme 64 11 7eme 56 15 17eme 46 23 8eme 58 14 18eme 23 42 9eme 35 32 19eme 28 40 10eme 25 42 20eme 23 42 Total 35 32
I left out Bayrou and Le Pen, the 3rd and 4th runners. Bayrou outpolled Royal in the 7th, 8th, and 16th! If facism is your thing, the 18th had the most votes for Le Pen at 5.2%. It also had some of the fewest for Sarkozy; go figure.
I'm living on a quiet street in Paris several blocks away from any significant shopping or tourism. Nevertheless, it's lively. So far this morning we've had an organ grinder, three policemen clip-clopping by on their horses, and a knife grinder pushing his cart and ringing his bell. It's charming, if a bit noisy.
One thing I hate about being in France is all the smokers. About 1/3 of the people here smoke and they do so with great frequency in the streets, in cafes, in restaurants. The worst offenders are young women who (I'm told) smoke to stay thin. I literally tense up anytime I'm in a nice outdoor café and a group of young women sits next to me. My eyes start scanning for the cigarettes (Marlboros, usually) and I start judging which way the wind is blowing.
French restaurants are all supposed to have an espace non-fumeur, but often that doesn't work very well. And outdoor seating pretty much always allows smoking, more of a problem than you would think. In better restaurants there's often an understanding not to smoke near diners, but it's dicey. After years of living in smoke-free California I'm simply not happy tolerating noxious exhaust anymore.
In theory in 2008 this is all going to change in France when the rest of the non-smoking law goes into effect and smoking is banned in cafes and restaurants. Assuming the law survives today's election, I give it about 50/50 for actually being applied consistently.
I haven't been blogging about restaurants in Paris much because we've been going to places we already know or have had dinners that weren't particularly remarkable. But we're on our stride now with the Bistrot de l'Oulette, a lovely casual place near Bastille. In theory the place focusses on cuisine of the southwest, but while the wine list was specific the menu had choices from all over.
It was too hot for cassoulet, so I ordered escargot and rabbit. The escargot was fantastic; 10 or so little snails served wrapped in a cabbage leaf, with a lovely light parsley/garlic cream. It had all the flavour of your usual Burgundian snails presentation without the sinking feeling of eating half a stick of butter. And my bunny was delicious, tender slow cooked meat slightly shredded and served in a glass with some rich highly aromatic broth. My friends' duck confit was a traditional presentation, beautifully cooked and with some amazing pommes sarladaise on the side. My dessert was impressive too, a fresh apple tarte baked in a fantasy of phyllo rather than the usual flat pie shell. Yum!
The service is casual, but very friendly. The restaurant was over half tourists but not in a bad way and I think the English menus and non-smoking room make this a good choice for trepid Americans. It's not terribly expensive at 33€ for a three course meal, and the cooking is honest and careful. I'm sure we'll be back.
PS: it used to be called the Bistrot Barcane. New decor, same owners. There's a more formal sister restaurant in the 12th.
This Sunday is the first vote for President of France, and all over Paris you see thousands of copies of the official campaign posters for the three leading candidates. Between the French sensibilities and limits on advertising, the campaign process here is much quieter and calmer than the US.
I find the posters very odd. Bayrou and Sarkozy both look like tools. And Royal's black and white thing is downright creepy, particularly up close when you can see the sterile film grain. Thanks to Nardac for pointing out the Barbara Kruger homage.
Paris has one of the best flea markets in the world with an astonishing array of hundreds of specialized vendors selling antique furniture, art, jewelry, etc. It's a fantastic place but entirely overwhelming. Fortunately, my sister Rena is an expert on collecting fine art and was recently in Paris. She gave me permission to reprint her advice:
As much as I like Paris, something has to be done about the appliances in this country. My new apartment has a decent shower, but the instant hot water heater only works when the radiator is heating. And it's mounted on a wall in the kitchen; wtf? The washer+dryer (one unit) under the kitchen counter is also pretty limited; three hours to wash eight pairs of underwear and socks.
But the craziest appliance in my apartment is one we have no name for in the US, so I'm calling it le moulin à merde. It serves the same function as a garbage disposal only instead of being in the kitchen sink it's in the toilet. Old buildings have awkward plumbing, in this case a thin little pipe coming out of the toilet instead of a 2 inch sewer pipe. So you have a grinder. It seems to work but it's noisy as hell. Ken and I agreed to not flush after late night micturation, but simply adding to the water level is enough to start it chewing.
All of this is a natural consequence of having small and old apartments. But sometimes I miss being the comforts of being a big fat American consumer with a 40 gallon hot water heater and a clothes dryer that's directly sucking ozone out of the atmosphere.
Thanks to JY I now know the official word for the toilet device is sanibroyeur. Crushing, not grinding.
Bright and early this Sunday morning Paris arose for the Marathon de Paris. Fantastic warm weather for a morning out, and lots of fun and excitement in the streets cheering people on. I now feel pretty sure of the pronunciation of "allez". I took lots of photos; truth be told I was more interested in the crowd than the runners.
I found something better than drinking cold pink wine in Provence; drinking cold pink champagne in your apartment in Paris. We just arrived today to a lovely place in St. Paul that we rented for a month. It's comfortable and the weather is great. And we already know the neighbourhood so could make a quick trip for groceries (coffee, butter, english muffins), cheese (montrachet), and wine (the aforementioned pink champagne).
At the risk of sounding even more smug and self satisfied than usual, I have to say; France is pretty great.
4.5 hours a day of private French instruction is a lot, but it gives us the chance to explore a bunch of topics and vocabulary that are new for us. Like today, when we had a free ranging discussion about words for people's occupations, hobbies, and lives. Some interesting words:
French class has been exhausting, so as a little break Ken and I planned a couple of days bumming around little towns in Provence. We started by having lunch in Bonnieux, a town clinging to a hillside with a view across the valley to Lacoste and the castle of the Marquis de Sade. That evening we ended up in St. Remy de Provence, one of the more pleasantly touristy little towns with lots of shopping and the birthplace of Nostradamus.
Alas, the Hostellerie du Vallon du Valrugues didn't work out so well. Nice enough resort hotel, a bit needing renovation, but the new restaurant Pierre Reboul was a disaster. Fantastically creative and delicious cooking destroyed by a service staff who was well schooled but had no management. We ordered the seven course Easter menu and walked out after four courses and three and a half hours of mostly being ignored. Quel dommage! Maybe they'll fire the useless maitress d'hotel and get a competent manager; I hope so, the chef was impressive.fantastic and comfortable manoir hotel we arrived at we didn't see any need to do anything complicated like battle through the crowds to visit the tourist sites. (Which are lovely, by the way, but we'd seen it last year). That evening was one of the best dinners Ken and I ever have had, at the Oustau de Baumaniere with chef Jean-André Charial. Excellent and highly refined cooking, a fantastic wine list going way back at reasonable prices (hello, 1969 Corton!), and absolutely perfect service. All in all I can recommend a few days in les Baux as a perfect French experience.
The last day we made up for our indolence by visiting Tarascon, a mostly unremarkable town on the Rhone. Not much to the place except an amazingly preserved 15th century castle with a great view of the town below. Tarascon is also home to the Tarasque, a six legged armored turtle with a lion's maw who lunges out of the Rhone to steal and eat children. My kind of monster. You can still hear his call echoed in the frogs in the moat.
I'm starting to get the Provençal thing. I'm sitting on the balcony of my hotel, looking south over Aix, drinking cold pink wine and enjoying my wireless Internet. The irregular roofline of the houses in front of me is the most complicated thing I'm facing.
Ken and I have been living the relaxed Provençal life in Aix-en-Provence. It's a nice town, fairly large and propserous with a lot of students in the various universities. And being in Provence it's very relaxed and open, lots of outdoor cafes and casual life.
Our time has been dominated by French classes from 9am to 12:30pm every day. The school is excellent and I'd well recommend it. The teachers are professional and friendly and excellent. We're taking private lessons but they also have a variety of group lessons with students ranging from retired American tourists to young Swedes intent on passing a French certification exam. The school also provides a variety of social activities and a bit of a home base in Aix. Definitely a good place to spend a couple of weeks on a vacation.
3 hours of class a day turns out to be a lot. After class, and lunch, and a nap, there's not much time for a walk and a glass of wine before dinner. I'm telling you, Provence is quite demanding. So I haven't seen too much of Aix other than wandering lots of little streets. The town is a bit raffish but also quite pleasant.
Today's project in France was buying a wireless router so that Ken and I can share the wired Internet connection in our hotel and, later, our apartment in Paris. Surprisingly the guy at the computer store didn't speak any English, but routeur was easy to figure out and if you look at the pictures on the box, you know what you have. I ended up with an WRT54GC, a nice small size. Glad I already know the Linksys firmware; the router's in French and I'm afraid to flash a non-European micrologiciel into it.
I sewed a button onto a shirt today, too. All I have to do now is bleed a pig and I've got all of life's basic skills under control.
Bon soir! Ken and I are safe in France. We spent two chilly days in Paris. It's a totally different city when it's wet and near freezing. All the outdoor cafes are indoors! Not nearly as fun. But it's still a nice city and I can't wait to be back there for our month.
Right now we're in Aix-en-Provence for our French lessons. We got off to a rough start; a thief of a cab driver from the train station, a plain but adequate hotel, a slightly unfriendly seeming city. But the class so far is good and we just had a lovely pizza cuit au feu de bois. So life's looking better.
Ken and I leave today for France. We're spending the weekend in chilly Paris, then two weeks in Aix-en-Provence for French lessons, then four weeks back in Paris, returning to San Francisco on May 15. We're really looking forward to it, although right now what I really want is the end of the massive anxiety I always feel when preparing for a big trip! I don't know that I'll be online or active much for the next couple of weeks but life should return to normal once I'm in Paris on April 14.