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 Guide to the Outerlands

Ocean Beach Sunset, San Francisco, California
Sunset in the Outer Sunset

Having lived out in the Avenues for a decade, I always enjoyed it when the rest of SF came out to our neck of the woods for events like Outsidelands and the Bay to Breakers. There’s something amusing about drunk people asking how far away Haight-Ashbury or the Ferry Building is, when most of them have just walked from there.

But you shouldn’t wait for a special event to bring you out where the streets have numbers and alphabetically sequenced names. The Outer Sunset (also indicated on old maps as the Outerlands when it was a somewhat barren terrain of rolling sand dunes) is one of San Francisco’s most original, authentic neighborhoods– a groovy mix of surfers, artists, folks starting cool local businesses, and just plain ordinary people (if anyone residing in San Francisco can ever be described as merely ordinary).  Here’s a few things to do before or after a good walk in Golden Gate Park or on the beach, or anytime you’re lucky enough to find yourself out in OB (Ocean Beach).

Community Coffee Klatsch
If you head down in the morning to enjoy the beach, you may need some caffeine. For some of the best espresso in the city, head to Trouble Coffee, on Judah between 45th & 46th Avenues. You can also recharge with the excellent toast and the refreshing juice from freshly cracked coconuts.

At the end of Judah where the street car turns around is Java Beach, which offers coffee, some light fare, and beer when the time’s right. The outdoor patio and garden across the street are perfect places to sip a beverage and watch the neighborhood go by if it’s a sunny day. (Some nights, Java Beach also has music, and you can check out the calendar here: http://www.javabeachcafe.com/)

Picnic Items
The Outer Sunset is a zone of independence against the tyranny of encroaching chain stores. So much so that the neighborhood’s residents successfully got chain stores banned from the neighborhood when the mermaid-logo people from Seattle tried to muscle in.

The epicenter of this independent, up-with-people movement in the Outer Sunset is Other Avenues (http://www.otheravenues.coop/),  a worker-owned co-op offering natural and organic foods and merchandise since the 1970s. Other Avenues is located on Judah between 44th and 45th Avenues, and you should pick-up a kombucha drink, micro-brews, or organic vino along with cheeses, fresh breads, and great organic produce for a beach and park picnics here.

Surfer Gear
If you left your board at home and want to catch some sets at OB, swing by Mollusk Surf Shop at 45th and Irving (one block toward Golden Gate Park from Judah). The apparel’s also great here, particularly the brilliantly designed t-shirts with sea/surf motifs. Year-round, Mollusk hosts a lot of fun events, from yoga classes to art shows to movie screenings. You can find out more here: http://www.mollusksurfshop.com/

Eat Your Veggies (It’s a Treat)
For organic, contemporary fare, Outerlands, at 4401 Judah (on the corner of 45th), offers a menu that changes with the seasons, with a real focus on vegetables that will make you forget they’re not the main dish. (I had brussel sprouts here once that would have changed any sprout-haters mind!) The soups and fresh bread are super-stars on an already tremendous menu, and the wine list offers several interesting options, along with a beer menu that changes daily.  Take a look at what’s on offfer at Outerlands here: http://outerlandssf.com/

Currying Favor
Good, solid Indian food can be found at Golden Gate Indian & Pizza, in a little strip mall on Judah, right off 46th. The veggie samosas are some excellent fried goodness, and you can get your chicken tikka as spicy as you like, if you ask. The Indian pizza is also a novel combination of two awesome foods: pizza and tandoori chicken. Mmm. When worlds collide.

The Locals Local
If you’re out in the avenues for a special event or on a banner weather day, don’t try to fight the crowds and claw your way back downtown. There’s a place for you called Pittsburgh’s. One of the only places that’s open until 2 a.m. in the area, Pittsburgh’s attracts an eclectic crowd: surfers, sports fans watching a game or two, locals shooting pool, and professional drinkers who could give Bukowski a run for his money. The bartenders are always friendly, and never bat an eyelash if you walk in wearing cowboy hats or other costumes. As long as you’ve got the green to pay for your ice cold PBR, it’s all good.  Cruise over to 4207 Judah, at 47th Avenue for a solid, old-school American local.

Festivals that Find You in the Outer Sunset
If you’re an SF resident who’s skeptical of the Avenues, you’ll already know about these festivals. If you’re a tourist, here’s some things you should definitely take part in when you come to SF for a visit.

  • Bay to Breakers – Third Sunday in May traditionally. People walking, running, and drinking from the SF Bay to, you guessed it, the “Breakers” of Ocean Beach. Wear a costume. Mexican wrestling masks count as a costime. The Beach/Park Chalet is a hot spot on the finish line. I’d give you the link, but every year, they annoyingly/intelligently change the URL to include a corporate sponsor’s name. Google will show you the way if you’re game.
  • Outsidelands – Mid to late August, this music festival combines top name acts with the best up-and-coming artists. For the festival’s first year, I saw Radiohead play at night when the fog rolled in, and I’ll never forget it. I’ll also never forget the deep-fried fancy macaroni and cheese sticks with a side of spicy tomato sauce. It’s like all the other festivals…without the crappy camping! Get details on the upcoming hoo-ha at: http://www.sfoutsidelands.com/
  • Hardly Strictly Bluegrass – Mid to late September/Early October, the park plays host to multiple FREE venues where you can hear acts like Joan Baez sing “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall.” It’s free because a very nice man made a lot of money in Silicon Valley/investment banking and decided to put on a music party for his favorite kind of folk/bluegrass tunes. I have never heard of a better expenditure of cash, which probably makes Warren Hellman (the funder of said festival) the smartest money human on the planet. Bravo, Mr. Hellman. Bravo.  

Art & Cafes in the Marais…& a Late Night?

Among many fine walks in Paris, a nice stroll around the Marais is a great way to spend a day…and a late night. Enjoying everything below at a leisurely pace and discovering some new places along the way should take you a full morning and well into the afternoon. Or, just stay all night for when the neighborhood’s bars and cafes really get going. Walk to the Marais along the river, or take the yellow Metro line (Ligne 1) to St-Paul.

The neighborhood’s name means, “Marsh,” as the area was a wetland in the 12th century. There are many fine examples of stately architecture in the Marais, as the neighborhood became a royal one in the 14th century, when Charles V moved the court here. From the end of the 16th century to the 17th, the Marais experienced its glory days as the center of Parisian intellectual life. Those glory days ended when Louis XIV changed the focus of power by moving the royal court’s home in Paris to Tuileries.  

Decline continued until a few decades ago, culminating in the Marais’ being a pretty run-down neighborhood. Like a lot of places with architectural potential that have been forgotten, artists poured in, taking advantage of the then cheap real estate, fixing up a lot of the cool old buildings. If you peek in courtyards and windows, you can see a lot of lovely old architecture– cobbled alleys, wood-beamed ceilings, a cozy Parisian style. The Marais now houses Paris’ gay and Jewish neighborhoods.

The best way to start a day in the Marais is to go see the Musee Picasso, 5 rue de Thorigny, just a short walk from the St. Paul Metro stop. Go in the morning, during the week, as it’s usually less crowded. Weekends during tourist season are almost not worth going, as the crowds detract from the beautiful space and the art itself. Call or check online before you go, as it might be closed on certain days or for an event (http://www.musee-picasso.fr/)

The museum’s building itself, the Hotel Salé, is amazing, dating from the 17th century. Among many roles over its long life, the building was once, most notably, the Embassy of the Republic of Venice, long before the country of Italy came into being.

The art collection more than suits its impressive, monumental home. The collection is a well-edited review of Picasso’s life work, comprising every period of his epic, prolific career. This museum is also one of the only times you may be grateful for the taxman. Picasso’s heirs had to pay back taxes to the French government, a debt they settled by giving up this amazing cache of artwork from one of the most original artists the world has ever known.

After you visit the museum, eat lunch, hang out at cafes, and check out the cool galleries and stores that make the Marais one of Paris’ best neighborhoods. Stay for a late night too, as the Marais is also at its best into the evening hours. 

Rue de Rosiers is worth checking out. It has a lot of really great Jewish restaurants with wonderful Middle Eastern food for a quick lunch or supper.  

On or directly off rue Vieille du Temple, one of the main streets in the Marais, you can take in the galleries, the funky shops, and the café life:  

  • Café Tresor is on a really sweet alley, (5 rue du Tresor), right off Vielle du Temple. Awesome café food for a light lunch. A lot of artists/models hang out here at night, but there’s always good people watching here.
  • Café Amnesia (42 rue Vieille du Temple), is one of the most popular gay hangouts in the Marais, and also fantastic people watching. 

Not too far from rue Vielle du Temple:

  • Open Cafe, (17 rue des Archives), is one of the most popular gay spots in Paris, particularly in the evenings. Gay or straight, it can be awesomely fun here on a warm summer night.  
  • Lizard Lounge, (18 rue Bourg-Tibourg), draws a large straight, Anglo-American expat crowd, and can really get going in the late evenings.
  • DOM, a groovy housewares store, is like a French Urban Outfitters without all the clothes. This is a good place for funky souvenirs and gifts. (21 rue Sainte-Croix-de-la-Bretonnerie.)

Cafe Mabillon – Good at All Hours

When I first started going to Cafe Mabillon, I thought it was actually called “Jour et Nuit” (tr: “Day and Night”) as this was stenciled prominently on the window. This actually meant, “pretty much open round-the-clock” for coffee, pre-dinner drinks, and the occasional Beaujolais Nouveau tasting at 4 a.m. (Note to interested parties: Beaujolais Nouveau tasting in the wee small hours = bad idea after a night already spent enjoying wines, cocktails, and beer all over Paris.)

Mabillon’s a great location for the sport of people watching, perfect for observing a great assortment of folks stroll by: students from the universities in the area, a variety of international tourists, supermodels heading over to the Lipp, merchants from the neighborhood, and Parisians who find themselves looking for a post-movie refreshment after taking in a film at one of the nearby cinemas.

Of course, doing this over a kir always improves people watching. Just remember what I said about the Beaujolais Nouveau.

Located at 164 Blvd. St-Germain in the 6th arrondissement.

Legendary Paris Cafes – La Flore & Deux Magots

Jean-Paul Sartre & Simone de Beauvoir
Jean-Paul Sartre & Simone de Beauvoir

When you think of Paris, you can’t help but think of all the writers and intellectuals who dreamed in, dreamed of, and dreamed up the idea we all have of Paris. If you’re familiar with writers and intellectuals and find yourself in Paris, you also can’t help but think of Sartre and Beauvoir, that iconic, unconventional couple whose life-long personal and intellectual relationship defined multiple eras of Paris, existentialism, and the role of women in modern Western societies– just to name a few of their light contributions to history and modern thought. The fact that they did much of this thinking and writing in cafes just makes them that much more endearing.

Even if you’re not into pursuits of the philosophical variety, you will greatly enjoy two of the most historic cafes in Paris, conveniently located just a block or so away from one another, on the same side of the street.  

The first is Café la Flore. It’s a bit packed and slightly pricey because it’s a legend and absolutely worth it. Have an espresso on the terasse or inside. Of course, anytime’s a good time for a kir. They will pour the wine into the cassis right in front of you at your table, where you can also enjoy a hard-boiled egg, per that rather curious offering at many traditional cafes.  Sit back, and people watch. Write great thoughts in your journal or on some postcards. If it’s a good enough place for Sartre, Beauvoir, Hemingway, and so many more– it might just work to inspire you.

After you’ve finished your coffee or kir, stroll over for another libation at the Deux Magots, a cafe equally as historic, and linked with the Flore through the activities of both cafes’ celebrated patrons. During one of the most epic periods for these two cafes in the period between World War I and World War II, if you were with your wife or hubby at the Flore, you’d have your mistress/mister be next door at the Deux Magots, ducking in and out of both to keep your appointments. Now that’s efficiency! (I’m not suggesting you try that today, but if you feel so inclined, there’s a historic precedent for pulling that off here.) Sometimes, there’s music in front. And, for a very long time, the cafe has awarded the Deux Magots Literary Prize. (If you drink at a cafe with its own literary prize, kind of makes drinking wine in the morning seem a bit less shifty, right?)

Honor your own inner intellectual over a few drinks at  Café la Flore, 172 boulevard St.-Germain, and the Deux Magots, 6 place St.-Germain.  Both in the 6th arrondissement. Online, the Deux Magots has a great Web site that you can peruse before you visit: http://www.lesdeuxmagots.fr/index.php

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.