Metro Fares Drop!

August 5th, 2015

above ground metropass navigoIf you have a monthly or annual Navigo pass covering Zones 1-2 (which is for metro/bus/tram and RER rides in Paris and its immediate suburbs), you can use it in any zone through August 16. That includes both Paris airports as well as Versailles and Disneyland; a savings of well over $10 per trip.

Even better, beginning September 1st, the monthly and annual Navigo passes will be zone-free all year long.


Hit the Beach!

July 30th, 2015

Paris-PlageEvery summer since 2002, Paris closes off sections of its quais to traffic and transforms the riverbank along the Seine into “Paris Beach.” Paris Plage started up again a fortnight ago (July 19th) and will run through August 17th.

Paris Plage runs roughly from the Louvre to the Pont de Sully, about 2 kilometers east. There is also an official Paris Plage in the 19th arrondissement, at the Bassin de la Villette.

As always, the creators of Paris Plage have imported sand to create actual beaches. I wouldn’t recommend jumping in the water, but it’s good for sunbathing and building sand castles! There are also spots to grab a drink or a bite to eat, listen to music, play beach volleyball or just grab a seat and relax. The Bassin de la Villette is even offering an aquagym and kayaking this year.

My recommendation is to avoid Paris Plage mid-day on the weekends, but it’s a nice little escape at less peak hours.


The Vomiting Man of Paris

July 23rd, 2015

the vomiting man of Paris
Could I track down the location of an unusual Paris façade and unveil the story behind this building’s cover? I enjoy receiving unusual missions, and the one sent by a reader was atypical. sketch vomiting man“Somewhere in the 16e arrondissement is a building with a vomiting man sculpted into the façade,” he wrote. “Please can you tell me where it is and the story behind it?”

Vomiting sculptures didn’t throw up any immediate memories, so I requested a few more details.

“About 15 years ago, following a guidebook, I went on a walking tour that linked up many of the Art Nouveau façades in the 16th arrondissement. The vomiting man was one of the highlights of the tour,” he added.

vomiting man detailWas this god then some kind of comment on a design brief that architect Charles Lemaresquier felt had been too restricting in 1925? Lemaresquier later gave up the profession and became a full-time artist in the South of France. I can’t help seeing the addition of the vomiting Bacchus as the exasperated scribble of a bored artist. Either that or he was as drunk as Dionysis the night before he had to hand in the completed design!

>Get the full story

A Strange Sight

July 19th, 2015


Recently as I approached the Villette ofCanal de l’Ourcq, I saw first one, then another adolescent jump into the canal. Green, and with bits of garbage floating in it, the questionable nature of the water proved no deterrent for energetic teen boys needing to cool off.

I don’t wilt easily in heat, but I was feeling faint and knew it was time to head home. How happy I was to cut through the park and come upon a scene!

The immense installation was an industrial-chic structure adorned all around with plants.

Several people in khaki uniforms were scaling and rappelling (!) from it, and naturally, a small crowd was gathered.

Qu’est-ce que c’est ce truc? I wondered who I could ask what this thing was, but I waited patiently in the sun to learn more.

ourcq2One of the uniformed people was making a show with a separate contraption. Affixed to the contraption were regular party balloons, which it seemed he wanted to launch into space using the strange device. After much ta-do and several turnings of wheels…a cord snapped and instead of being launched, the balloons stayed right where they were.

“That’s never happened before!” he said.

More adjustments were made, and finally he freed the balloons from the machine with a scissors. He held the balloons aloft then let them go. They floated into the sky. The audience applauded.


Bastille Day in Paris

July 13th, 2015

bal des pompiersThere’s much to see and do on and around La Fête Nationale, aka Bastille Day, July 14th. This is a rundown of just some of the best options, including the dance parties, parade, and fireworks show, as well as some logistical tips on using public transportation, when you can legally drink alcohol on the Champ de Mars, and what shops and museums are open.

Most of these events (except where noted) are free and open to the general public. Be aware that with large crowds come pickpockets! Only carry what you absolutely need and have a bit of cash hidden in your shoe in case you need emergency taxi fare!

BAL DES POMPIERS 13 JUILLETLes Bals des Pompiers aka The Firemen’s Ball:
July 13th & 14th
The traditional Bals des Pompiers take place in fire stations (or casernes), all over France. They are modeled after the guinguettes, informal outdoor festivals with food and live music, a bit like a countryside wedding reception where family members of all ages would spend the afternoon eating, drinking and dancing. The Bals des Pompiers in Paris fire stations are for entertainment and for charity. There’s always a small entrance fee, food and drinks to purchase, and the firemen also sell tombola (raffle) tickets, all proceeds going to charities. By midnight most of the younger children have gone to bed and the party becomes more of a dance club with a DJ, young people (and firemen) dancing well into the wee hours (note that the metro will be open until 2:15am on July 13th and 14th).


Get Over It

July 7th, 2015

paris bridges bookBridges of Paris arrived about a week ago and I was very impressed. Not only is it a comprehensive photo book with over 350 photos featuring 37 bridges, it is also a rich and fascinating history lesson. One interesting tidbit is the Passerelle Debilly bridge built in 1900 was the setting for real-life tale of espionage when a secret agent from East Germany was killed in 1989 after the fall of the Berlin Wall. It was discovered afterwards the bridge was a popular meeting spot for East German spies during the Cold War.

bridge and eiffel towerThe author and photographer of the Bridges of Paris, Michael Saint James, has traveled much of the world and in 2013 visited Paris. The bridges of Paris inspired him to live here for a year, recording as much as he could about them. This intense pursuit sprawls across the 275-page book.

The book is divided into four chapters: Island Bridges, Palace Bridges, Downstream Bridges, and Upstream Bridges. Each bridge includes the year it was built and the dimensions along with a one-page history.

Not only does Saint James capture the wonderful architectural details, he also makes the bridges come alive in a different way with his portraits of people doing various activities.


Hipsters Take to Petanque

July 2nd, 2015

petanque_arena04Whether you call it pétanque or boules, the traditional French game with the shiny silvery balls has made a comeback. It used to be the only people you’d see playing in were old men in berets sipping pastis. Now everyone plays, particularly Parisian hipsters (les Bobos) who don’t have to worry about breaking a sweat.

In the mood to try your hand? You can learn the rules of pétanque here, and find a great list of places to play here, but what about les boules? You can either buy inexpensive sets of balls at sporting goods store like Decathlon or from pro shops like Obut. You’ll probably see another game with little wooden pins, almost like bowling. That Jeu de Quilles, a Finnish game that has become more popular around Paris, possibly because the equipment is lighter and less expensive, and little kids can play. Not sure where they rate on the cool-o-meter, though. Stick with boules unless you’re devoid of hipster aspirations or immune to subtle Parisian mocking. 


Mot de Passe

June 23rd, 2015

a little humor for our French-speaking readers, with a hat tip to Charlie Sputnik

mot de passe

France on Pinterest

June 17th, 2015

vintnerFrench villages, antiques, interiors, architecture, bar ephemera, old travel posters, gardens and French florists…they all inspire me. citroenThere are more photos of French places you want to visit on Pinterest than anywhere else on the web I think.

After 25 or 30 years of gleaning inspiration from France and Paris in particular and being lucky enough to have three places there over the years, my interest and passion on the topic doesn’t ever seem to die down, it only increases. I want to see every inch of the country. So I’m hoping you’ll enjoy taking this virtual trip through France with me to the places I’ve yet to go and the things I’m still yearning to do.




The View from Here

June 7th, 2015

printemps rooftopIt’s an insider secret that the rooftop of Printemps has some of the best views of Paris. The access to the roof via the escalators going up to the ninth floor is free and attached to the cafeteria. printemps 2There are also benches to sit on to enjoy the view. I hadn’t been in years and last Saturday I decided to go back and take photos. It was a picture postcard day with small clouds dotting the blue spring sky. I was able to get shots of the gorgeous gilded gold towers.

Here are a few fun facts about Printemps I bet you didn’t know.
1. Printemps was the first store to have elevators, which were installed in 1874
2. Printemps was the first store to have electricity, introduced in 1888
3. Their pricing strategy of marking set prices on all the merchandise, eliminating haggling based on customer appearance, was revolutionary.
4. When the metro opened in 1904, Printemps was the first store to have a direct metro entrance.
5. Printemps used to hand out bouquets of violets to customers on the first day of spring.
6. The famous cupola above the main restaurant was dismantled in 1939 and hidden in Clichy for fear it would be bombed during WWII.