Stroll in the 7th Heaven

Paris’ 7th arrondissement is home to impressive government buildings and embassies, loads of iconic and lesser known monuments, some great museums, really nice architecture, good shopping, and lovely garden spaces. In spite of its hauteur and occasional pretense, the 7th is, in general, a condensed version of all that is wonderful in Paris all in one quarter. If you do all of the following, this will take you an entire day long into a very pleasant evening.

(1) Start your day at Cafe Roussillon, on the corner of rue de Grenelle and rue Cler. Have a coffee and a tartine (bread with some butter and jam) while standing up at the bar, where you’ll pay less than if you sit down. (A rule at all cafes, not just this one.) Sometimes, they’ll have other pastries, depending on what’s available, but a tartine and coffee is a very typical way to start the day.

Next, (2) proceed down the rue de Grenelle toward the gold-domed Invalides, and walk partially around the structure to your left, checking out the buidling’s impressive exterior, passing by the looming cannons, lovely stretches of green grass, and sweet garden areas. Long a military hospital for injured soldiers, Invalides is now better known for one of France’s more famous warriors: Napoleon. 

You can visit the inside of Invalides a bit later after you stop and smell the roses (if they’re in bloom), at the (3) Musee Rodin, 79 rue de Varenne.  The Musee Rodin has one of the most beautiful gardens in Paris, and even features its own rose variety, the Rodin Rose. Of course, in addition to flowers, the Musee Rodin is a showcase for a sculptor who changed the art form, Auguste Rodin. It only takes an hour or two to visit, and you can get tickets online in advance through the helpful Web site:  http://www.musee-rodin.fr/welcome.htm  

You won’t be able to miss the French government buildings on (4) rue de Varenne near the Musee Rodin, such as the Hotel Matignon (the official residence of France’s Prime Minister) and France’s Ministry of Agriculture. Occasionally, security will be a bit of a hassle on the rue de Varenne because of the profusion of government offices and embassies in the area. If there are any protests involving angry farmers from the French countryside, you should definitely try to take in the action that will transpirin front of the Ministry of Agriculture– particularly if you get to see the Ministry entrance blockaded with potatoes or manure.

Walking back toward rue Cler around the side of the Invalides you didn’t see on your way over to the Musee Rodin, take in more vantages of the impressive, gold-domed structure. Even if you’re only mildly interested in the military and/or megalomania, (5) Invalides is worth a look inside for its fascinating military museum, and, of course, Napoleon’s tomb. The military musem has an impressive array of weapons from the Middle Ages and a very robust set of archives relating to the Second World War. Different themed exhibits also appear throughout the year. More info in French (with some in English) is available online at:  http://www.invalides.org/

After viewing government power, military history, and loveliness for the morning, head back to (6) rue Cler for your lunch. Rue Cler is an amazing market street, with several wonderful shops for buying picnic items. There’s an array of small shops from which to select your perfect picnic lunch: cheeses, fruits and vegetables, breads, sausages, and more are there for the buying. For wine for a picnic (or for any reason), be sure to visit Le Repaire Bacchus, at 29 rue Cler. In addition to a diverse selection of regional French wines, the staff are very helpful, and they give great advice about good wines at every price point. If you don’t travel with a cork screw, they’ll open your picnic bottle for you.

On a picnic weather day, the (7) Champ de Mars is very close by– a perfect grassy spot for a picnic and a nap in the sun between the Eiffel Tower and the Ecole Militaire. “Champ de Mars” means “Field of Mars.” Named for the God of War, military drills were once practiced here. Now, rather than war exercises, you’re now likely to see a free concert put on by Paris’ local government in the summer, or some folks from the neighborhood playing petanque or card games among the gravel alleyways under the trees. (Petanque, or boules, is similar to bocce, except the balls are metal and there are different rules of scoring according to the region in France you’re from.) It’s great fun to watch experienced players play petanque, particularly if they’re older and they’re playing for money– which helps you learn more colorful French phrases than you were probably taught in high school French class. 

Eiffel Tower in Autumn
The “Grotesque” Eiffel Tower

Of course, if you haven’t done it yet (or, if it has been a while since you did), you should go to the top of the (8) Eiffel Tower once you’re finished with your picnic and nap. Though touristy for sure, it’s popular because it’s a beautiful marvel of engineering with stunning views over Paris.

This opinion wasn’t always shared, however, and the Eiffel Tower was often decried as a monstrosity after it was first constructed for the Universal Exposition (a world’s fair of sorts) by Gustave Eiffel in 1889. (In other parts of Paris, you can also admire Gustave Eiffel’s work at the Bon Marche department store and Credit Lyonnais bank, where he built the metal structures. Across the Pond, he was responsible for the internal structure of the Statue of Liberty.) Only built to last 20 years, the Eiffel Tower proved useful as a radio tower during the war years of the early 20th century so the Eiffel Tower was able to defy its critics to become the landmark we all know and love today. The evening lights are a treat to see from other vantage points all over Paris. For history and visitor info in just about every language of the planet (along with some interactive items for children), take a look at: http://www.tour-eiffel.fr/

By now, you should have worked up a bit of a thirst, so stroll back to rue Cler and head to (9) Cafe du Marche  to sit on the terrace  (or stand at the bar for a lower price) and enjoy an “apero,” or “aperitif.” This pre-dinner cocktail time is essential in France, and usually consists of ordering a kir or two, along with some nibbly snacks–typically nuts, some sausage, or small cubes of cheese.  At Cafe du Marche, this wine accompaniment generally takes the guise of some zesty sausage. (If you’d like to split up your apero time at more than one place, the Roussillon, where you started your day, has some really good apero-snacks as well. Last time I visited the Rousillon, there were some very good, reasonably priced cod fritters which at least 3-4 people could share.)

Should you feel like classic, easy cafe food for dinner, then be sure to stay and dine at the Cafe du Marche, especially if it’s a warm evening and there are abundant people-watching opportunities from the terrace. However, there are numerous options for good fare in the 7th, all within very easy walking distance from rue Cler. A few of my favourites are:

  • Restaurant Samo – a Korean restaurant that is one of the best places in Paris, or anywhere, to eat
  • Thoumieux – a traditional French brasserie, at 79 rue St.-Dominique, online at: http://www.thoumieux.com/

 

A Day at the Mosquee – (Couscous & Hammams Too!)

Minaret from the Grand Mosque of Paris
A Magical World...in Paris

With all the dreary headlines in the news about the West, Islam, Muslims in France, and related topics, it’s easy to focus on the negative aspects of inter-cultural interaction. However, when you visit the Great Mosque of Paris (La Grande Mosquee de Paris), you’ll come away understanding how positive (and relaxing) it can be when great cultures interact, and appreciate the true genius of Islamic art, architecture, and hospitality.

The mosque, located in the 5th arrondissement, is surprising for its immensity and authenticity. An Islamic culture center in Paris’ intellectual heart, the mosque was built after World War I, to thank Islamic members of the French empire who fought to help France be among the winners during the “War to End All Wars.” For more about the mosque’s history and the beautiful art and architecture you find there, this Web site, in French, has lots of info. The great photos speak for themselves even if you don’t speak French: http://mosquee-de-paris.net/

When you visit the mosque, you’ll feel like you left Paris for an enchanted world. The mosque has a really cool minaret to gaze at, a mini-souk where you can buy North African wares, a restaurant where you can eat some of the best couscous and tagines in Paris, along with a tearoom where you can drink mint tea and munch pastries in amazing ambiance. (Just remember, there’s no alcohol served here, so you’ll have to have your cocktails after dinner if you decide to dine here. And it’s worth eating here even sans alcohol. I am somewhat embarrassed to confess that I once tried to order a gin and tonic here. They were very nice about it, but it showed me why I needed to spend more time at the Great Mosque of Paris.) 

The mosque also houses one of the best hammams in Paris. For a fairly small fee, you can enjoy the lovely steam rooms and baths. For additional money, you can get that access, plus a body scrub, a massage, and mint tea or dinner afterwards.  The massages are worth it.

Bring flip-flops and swimsuit bottoms. It’s not “au naturel,” but perhaps a little less covered up than American or British spas might be, even in gender-separated areas. Use but beware of the strong soap you are given. It stings pretty bad if it gets in your eyes. Like a lot of places with communal bathing in more traditional communities worldwide, it’s girls only on certain days, guys on the other days. I’ve never been on a Saturday, but I’ve been told it’s a miss, as it gets way too crowded. (Like most fun, relaxing things on Saturdays.)

For days of the week for males and females, price lists for treatments at the hammam, menus for the restaurant/tearoom, and contact info for the more commercial side of the mosque, visit them online at:  http://www.la-mosquee.com/index.htm 

On the ground, the mosque is located at 39 rue St.-Hilaire in the 5th. Metro stops Monge, Jussieu, or Censier are all decent stops, unless you walk over as a part of a nice stroll around the Latin Quarter, part of which is in the 5th. 

The Best Market in Paris – Motte-Piquet/Grenelle

An array of cheese at the Motte-Piquet market
I gave my heart to Cheesus.

You have to, have to go to the giant market at Motte-Piquet, just steps away from the Eiffel Tower. It’s the best, largest market in Paris.

The Motte-Piquet/Grenelle Market is located in the residential 15th arrondissement that abuts the Champ de Mars and the Eiffel Tower. Because the market is located in a largely residential area, the prices are really reasonable and the variety of items offered is amazing. Fruits. Vegetables. Sausages. French house slippers. Pate. Mushrooms. Mops. Cheeses. Honey. The Works.

The market happens only on Sunday and Wednesday mornings.  A lot of the choicest stuff is gone before noon, but some merchants will hang around a bit later than noon to finish selling their wares if you had a late night in Paris before market days.

Pick up items for a picnic outdoors at the nearby Champ de Mars, and/or buy some authentic, handmade gifts for people back home.

Regardless of what you purchase at the market, you will definitely come away with some real local color and a tangible understanding of the artisanal nature of French food. (Many of the producers come from Normandy and other regions surrounding Paris, so it’s also a good way to sample other areas’ delicacies.)

If you don’t speak French, just launch your most sincere “bonjours” and “mercis,” and be prepared to play some charades to help the merchant ascertain your desires. Communicating, “I’d like a much smaller melon” solely with your hands to a kindly French merchant is all part of the fun.

When dealing with produce at this market or even in some shops, the merchants will often ask you, “Pour aujourd’hui?” which means, “For today?” If you want to consume what you’re buying right away so that it’s at its peak of freshness, answer, “Oui.” You’ll get produce that’s ripe for the eating now. If you’re planning on eating the fruits/veggies later, answer, “Non” and they will give you produce that will attain perfect ripeness in a day or two.

You have to love a culture with that kind of attention to detail. Visiting this 15th arrondissement market is a great way to see a normal Parisian neighborhood where real people live, shop, and eat.

Metro: Motte-Picquet Grenelle (Lines 6, 8, and 10) (The metro goes above ground over here, and the market is under the elevated metro tracks.)

Best Fondue & Lively Atmosphere in Montmartre

Though often full of tourists of all stripes, the Refuge de Fondues still draws its fair share of French, and it is the French who are, in fact, the folks who took me here in the first place.

It’s popular with most everyone who visits, as the Refuge is an awesome and funny place. You will surely strike up conversation with someone next to you as, quite frankly, it is so packed, you have no choice. The proprietors also do what they can to keep the conversation and good times rolling. (Such as asking 10 people to stand up and move down one seat to accomodate a few other visitors, all while happily passing hot oil and molten cheese briskly around the room.) 

It’s only about 18 Euros for the entire menu which includes a kir to start, lots of good little appetizers, beef or cheese fondue (which is very very good hence the popularity), followed by your choice of cheese or fruit salad for dessert (though you can have other desserts) AND (why this is a supremely funny place) a baby bottle—yes—baby bottle full of white or red wine. Even if you don’t drink, you will walk out laughing. I have brought everyone who has ever visited me in Paris– of all ages– and they have all loved it. (There’s something very special about watching your parents drink wine from a glass baby bottle, which cannot be explained in mere words.)

If you have to wait to get a table or even if you don’t, go to the bar right next door and have a pre-dinner drink (“apero”). The cute little bar is a pleasant Montmartre haunt, typical of the many small, convivial bars that you can find throughout the neighborhood.

Get your cheese on at the Refuge de Fondues in the 18th, 17 rue des Trois-Freres (between rue Yves le Tac and rue la Vieuville), Metro: Abbesses or Anvers. You must make a reservation: 01.42.55.22.65.

Le Petit Prince – Wonderful Restaurant in Paris’ 5th

In a city where every street seems to reveal another culinary marvel, it’s easy to get overwhelmed in the Search for the Perfect Neighborhood Restaurant when living in or visiting Paris.

Le Petit Prince is one of these Perfect Neighborhood Restaurants. Its wonderful menu and intimate Parisian ambiance remind you of how wonderful dining out can be, particularly in a place as wonderful as Paris.

I’ve been going here many times over the years, and sending friends even more times over the years. Everyone’s marveled at how good the food at Le Petit Prince is, and how special it feels to dine in a place that clearly represents the place you are visiting.

It’s slightly hard to find, but don’t give up – it’s well worth the effort: Le Petit Prince, 12 rue de Lanneau (5th arrondissement), Tel. 01.43.54.77.26, Metro: MAUBERT MUTUALITE

Restaurant Samo – Awesome Korean

It seems strange to tell you that, if you are in Paris for more than 2 days, you simply have to go to a Korean restaurant. But Restaurant Samo is just that place.

Order the Korean BBQ beef, and you will be delivered a heavenly meal of marinated beef that cooks at your table, along with a variety of Korean pickles and vegetables. (Start with the potstickers, aka <<ravioli>> if you’re really hungry.) The food is fresh, the seasoning perfection. With a bottle of Bordeaux from the good, reasonable wine  list, you cannot go wrong.

1 rue du Champ de Mars (right off rue Cler)

Cafe du Marche – Classic Cafe

Cafe dy Marche on rue Cler
Our table, before the kirs came

When you want a kir and some free sausage snacks while standing at a typical neighborhood bar, you should head directly to Cafe du Marche in the 7th.

Same goes for a coffee on a small terrace while watching the hustle and bustle of a real working market street.  

Same goes for great, reasonably priced food. From succulent steak frites to interesting salads (try the delicious Caesar, which is actually not an American Caeser at all, but more of an East Indian style Cobb salad), Cafe du Marche offers something for everyone at great prices with great rue Cler ambiance (particularly people-watching opportunities).  The daily specials are traditional French fare. When they have the duck confit, it’s exceptional, and only outshined by the great potatoes that accompany it.

I’ve said “great” way too much about Cafe du Marche, but since I’ve been going here for more than 12 years and sending happy friends in that direction for the same amount of time, overuse of “great” is deserved.

Stop by when you’re in the neighborhood. Cafe du Marche, in the 7th arrondissement at 38 rue Cler.