A Rainy Day in Paris

My grandson Chris and me touring Paris by Segway in 2006. Happy Birthday Chris!

Today I needed a day of rest after the hectic week I’ve had. Luckily for me my need coincided with a cold and rainy day. I wandered around my neighborhood this morning, discovering new places.  I’m staying in a really interesting part of town. Each day I’ve walked in a new direction, exploring this truly Parisian neighborhood.

One place I found this morning is an old and famous food market called “Marché des Enfants Rouges” – translated that means the Red Children’s Market. No, they weren’t communist children! Long ago there was an orphanage near the market where all the children were dressed in red clothes all the time. I love the open air markets of Europe. This one is actually under cover but it’s still a collection of people selling fruits and vegetables, cheeses, flowers, and cooked foods for take away. I was glad to finally find this market because it’s been on my list for years.

Late this afternoon I used Google Maps to find a place for dinner. I was hungry hours before any self-respecting restaurant would be open but luckily I found a truly Italian pizza place just a few blocks away. Called “Grazie” (the Italian for “thank you”) the place advertises itself as having “New York attitude and Italian food.” The pizza was great! Even better, they also had gelato! Pistachio gelato!!! (In case you haven’t discovered gelato yet, it’s Italian ice cream – the best ice cream anywhere!)

Happy birthday to my grandson Chris! Nearly ten years ago Chris and I spent a week in Paris together and we’re both hoping for a chance to do that again!


Making the Most Beautiful City More Beautiful-er


Christmas tree under the dome at Galleries Lafayette, Paris.

The department stores of Paris are famous for their extravagant Christmas time windows and store décor. The two most outstanding are called Printemps (which means Springtime) and Galleries LaFayette. I took my camera to see them in their holiday finery today. I especially enjoyed seeing the windows but my pictures aren’t good because of the reflections in the glass. I’ve chosen a few of the better ones to share here.

Printemps windows are quite traditional and feature dancing puppets. It was fun to watch the children be smitten by the beautiful scenes. The store is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year so it also featured its famous domes.

Printemps-1 Printemps-2

Galleries LaFayette had more 21st century ideas for the holiday: their windows featured robots. I wish my pictures had turned out better because I know my brother Blaine, in particular, would love seeing this. (If anyone knows a way to minimize reflections using digital cameras please share it with me!)


A friendly-looking robot.

On one side of LaFayette’s main building there were several windows with scenes from the new Star Wars movie which I saw last week with my son Tim. The most fascinating thing was that everything was made from Legos – including Darth Vader and the storm troopers. I hope you can see that in these pictures.


Han Solo’s starship — made from Legos.


A Legos storm trooper.

Inside each of these wonderful old stores is a gigantic stained glass dome. The one at the top of this post is the dome at Galleries Lafayette. Does anyone but me remember the old City of Paris department store in San Francisco which was around more than 40 years ago? It had a similar but smaller glass dome.

The grand opera house of Paris is only block from the stores. Opéra Garnier (named for its designer) is probably the most perfect and most extravagant building in a city filled with beautiful architecture.


The beautiful Opéra Garnier.


I was intrigued by the detail captured in this relatively small part of the opera house. Look closely.

If you’ve ever wondered why Paris is a city of broad avenues, matching buildings, and classical design, you may be interested in knowing that medieval Paris was demolished in the late 19th century and replaced by the streets and buildings we admire so much now. France actually had two Emperor Napoleons, and the second, called Napoleon III, used his lengthy term in office to build the world’s first modern city. He hired a man named Baron Haussmann to oversee the work. The department stores I mentioned here are on Boulevard Haussman, the center of the finest part of Paris. I read a terrific book about this recently. It’s Paris Reborn: Napoléon III, Baron Haussmann, and the Quest to Build a Modern City by Stephane Kirkland.

I have often been asked why I started this trip in the winter. The truth is I did it for lower prices and to avoid the millions of tourist who flock to Paris and other places in warm weather. But being here for Christmas is an added plus. If you’re coming to Paris, you might want to come during the holidays. It’s enchanting!


Every Day Won’t Be Glorious


Canal St. Martin in Paris on a cloudy day.

Today all the physical activity of the past few days seems to have caught up with me – I’m tired. My knees aren’t as happy as I am about all that walking I did yesterday although I did walk three miles so far today. This was a more typically Parisian day with gray skies and cooler temps.

Because I’ve been to Paris many times, often as a tour guide, I’ve seen all the famous sites. This two-week stay in Paris is intended to make me what the French call a “flaneur.” That’s a person who walks around Paris, simply observing. I’m staying in the eastern part of the city this trip in an area I don’t know well. It’s near an old canal called Canal St. Martin which has become a magnet for young professionals in recent years. I’ve read a lot about it since my last extended stay here and I want to discover the shops, galleries and bistrots I’ve read about. So, on this cloudy day that’s where I headed. Today is a holiday, of course, so almost everything is closed but I walked along the canal taking pictures of the old bridges that cross it.

As I began to tire of the sameness of the walk a magnificent old building a block away caught my attention. It was the St. Louis Hospital, built in 1605-06. There’s a high wall surrounding it which I’d love to enter with my camera. This ancient place was replaced by a modern hospital in the 1980s.


Hospital St. Louis, built ca. 1605, in Paris

As I turned to walk away I immediately realized I was at the site of one of the cafés attacked in November, the Café Ca. Rillon Bistrot. Christmas trees have been located nearby to be covered in messages to the victims. As I began to walk away I noticed directly across the narrow street another of the cafés where people were killed that night, Le Petit Cambodge. Truly I didn’t set out to find any of the sites of the horror that occurred in Paris on that terrible night. These places made me feel very sad. It’s hard to understand why the terrorists would have picked these places on this narrow old street where everything gives the impression of poverty. This is not a neighborhood of yuppies – it’s a diverse area where people of many nationalities are trying to survive in this expensive city.


Earlier this week my grandchildren introduced me to this little character from the film Inside-Out. Someone from Spain taped this to the café window. Tristesse is French for sadness.

As it approaches central Paris near the Bastille the canal has been pushed underground and a street named for Richard Lenoir now exists above it. The street is a wide boulevard with a park running down its center the full length of the underground canal, ending at the site of the old Bastille prison where the French Revolution began. Today a modern opera house stands where the prison once did.

After a break at McDonalds for coffee, I walked another mile but my knees insisted I take them home. So here I am, with a report to you that’s pretty much a “downer,” back in my apartment by 4:00 pm (Paris time) working up the energy to go look for an open restaurant for a good dinner this evening.

The issue that most concerned me in the months I was planning this journey is how my knees will hold up. I hope I don’t end up touring Europe in bicycle-driven pedi-cabs!



What a glorious day!


This picture is for my granddaughter Sarah who loves the Eiffel Tower.


The sun was bright all day, the sky was blue and the weather was warm. Winter here has been much warmer than normal, just like at home. The geraniums are still covered in fresh red blooms.

My Iphone tells me I walked 6.5 miles today. My knees didn’t love that but the rest of me did! I began at places you’ll remember from the recent terrorist attacks in Paris. Then I went to the center of Paris, to the Place de Concorde, the square where the guillotine was installed during the French Revolution. It was renamed “Place of Peace” some years later. From here the view includes the Louvre, Tuilleries Garden, the National Assembly (where the lower house of the French legislature meets), the Eiffel Tower, Invalides church (with the high gold dome), the Arch de Triomphe, the Elysée Palace (the French White House) and Napoleon Bonaparte’s St. Madeleine church. Quite a view!

I walked through the Christmas market along the Champs Elysée which will continue in Paris for a few more days. It’s rather like New Bern’s Mumfest with Santa Claus.


Next I walked along the Seine, through the heart of Paris, past the Louvre and Notre Dame and Paris city hall (the hotel de ville) and into the area known as the Marais (translation: marsh). This area was where the richest people lived in the 16th and 17th centuries – their homes remain and today are mostly museums. Nearby is the ancient Jewish quarter, still the home of some Orthodox families.

Security everywhere is extraordinary! On the metro a trio of armed guards rode the train, stepping off at each stop to watch who was getting onto the train. In the Marais I turned a corner to discover one of three guards with AK47s in front of the Holocaust memorial. I literally jumped back when I saw the first one – a man holding a weapon like that, dressed in fatigues.

My apartment is in the 11th arrondissement, one of 20 in Paris. “Arrondissement” is a word that means district or neighborhood. The attacks in November were centered in this neighborhood. In another year I’d be out tonight, watching the Eiffel Tower sparkle at midnight. Instead, I’m in for the night, out of harm’s way.

This morning I walked to the Place de République where the monument in the center of the square which you must have seen in the news recently is still surrounded by candles, flowers, and lots of visitors. The Bataclan theatre is near my apartment. There’s a small green space across the street from the theatre which has also become a memorial. It’s all very sad but the French people are determined not to let the terrorists win. They are braver than me, and will no doubt be out by the thousands tonight.


Some of the thousands of items at the base of the large statue in Place de la République.

In the Marais I stopped to buy bread at a bakery with a sign over the front door declaring it’s the “best in France.” While there I sneaked a photo of one of the beautiful cakes for new year celebrations.


The cake says “Bonne Année” as do I! That means Happy New Year!

I hope you have a happy, healthy and successful 2016!



Paris is my favorite city — perhaps my favorite place! — in the world. So I didn’t have to think about where to begin my extended journey around Europe.  I’ll arrive in Paris on Wednesday morning! I’ve been planning this for a year and I’m very happy to be returning.  Here are some of my favorite photos to give you an idea of why I love being there.

Boulevard Saint Michel on a Sunday morning

Le Pont Neuf

A singular leaf

Hotel de Ville — the Paris city hall

Notre Dame in autumn

my favorite picture

My favorite picture

In Sainte Chappelle



In Luxembourg Gardens

At the Palais Royale

The little red café

This bus stop ad says “London in Love” — look closely to see why!