Category Archives: Arc de Triomphe

Paris In Winter

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Well bonjour!! Thanks for taking my call after I so rudely ghosted you. I seem to be spending a lot more time on Instagram (@maihem)  than I do on this blog, which I suppose is a sign of the times. However, my husband asked that I post about our recent week in Paris, and it seemed the least I could do. This one’s for you, mon amour!

Paris calls to me in all seasons, but I have a particular weakness for her in winter, when the days and queues are short. The light, though elusive, is especially golden, and reveals the silhouettes of the trees normally clothed in foliage. The beauty is more austere than in other seasons, but no less compelling.

When I lived in Paris, the one inquiry I dreaded from friends was where they should stay. I was ill-equipped to answer, as we spent very few nights in hotels  before we moved into  our apartment. I have returned several times since we moved, however, and can now recommend several hotels, all of which I have stayed on more than one occasion and found to be consistently good.

The Marriott Renaissance Arc de Triomphe is short on atmosphere but was a great hotel for us the times we were there on business. It is surrounded by fun shops and is conveniently located in the 16th.

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I have loved Hotel Le Saint both times I stayed there. This is a small boutique hotel located in the swank neighborhood of Saint -Germain -Des -Pres in the 7th. The quiet street is a short walk from the lively Boulevard St. Germain, lined with stores and cafes and bars. The rooms are generously sized and very comfortable.

Who wouldn’t love staying in a boutique hotel just off of the picture-perfect Place des Voges in the Marais? La Pavillon de la Reine is a lovely 17th century building with fifty-six rooms, a quiet bar, and an enchanting terrace perfect for tea or cocktails. I love the calm, unstuffy elegance of this place. An added bonus is that you will never have trouble  finding your way back to the hotel because of the frequent signs pointing to the famous Place des Voges.

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This was taken when I was there in August- not quite as verdant in winter!

None of these hotels are inexpensive; however, we were always able to use credit card points or to find special deals on travel sites. Obviously there are many less- spendy places to stay in Paris- I am just sharing my experiences, which were all wonderful.

It’s always tempting to return to old favorite restaurants in Paris, but this time we made a concerted effort to try some new (or new to us) places to eat. Our favorite discovery was Le Rigmarole, a tiny place in the 11th opened in October by a French-American chef. The tasting menu was original and vibrant and crazy delicious. I am sure it will quickly get harder to book, and will also become more expensive than the reasonable 49 euros currently charged for the tasting menu. Go toute suite!

Another exciting find was Le Grand Bain, tucked away in the (sort of) gritty Belleville neighborhood. Despite our early 8:00 reservation, the place was packed with (mostly French) people enjoying the creative small plates. Two dishes we wanted were already sold out, which happens in these small restaurants that cook their food fresh and in limited quantities. Our waiter was most helpful in steering us toward other choices, and we thoroughly enjoyed our dinner.

For some reason we rarely ate Asian food when we lived in Paris, despite the abundance of good Asian offerings. This time we popped into a very popular Japanese restaurant in Saint Germain called Ippudo. Ramen and pork buns were the perfect antidote to the cold weather and to our empty bellies.

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I was even able to find a spicy one, which is not easy to do in Paris!

We did make the required return visit to one of our enduring favorites, Ellsworth, where we have dined many times and never been disappointed. Americans Braden Perkins and his wife Laura Adrian moved to Paris in 2007 and soon opened Verjus (another of our darlings) and then Ellsworth, both of which were received  with much approval by Parisians and tourists alike. The Ellsworth menu is shared plates from a fairly limited menu that packs a lot of flavor and food into a small space. The only savory to remain a constant on the changing menu is the fried chicken with pickles, and we wouldn’t dream of not ordering it. This time the raw scallops made my eyes roll back in my head.

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Hey- looks aren’t everything.

The malt ice cream with crispy bits is a regular among the desserts and for good reason.

I understand that the owners are in the process of opening a third restaurant, so we will have another place to add to our rotation. This reporter looks forward to giving you the scoop on it as soon as she possibly can. I’m here for you. mes amis.

We only had six days, but we hit several museums, a few parks, walked our Fit Bits into ecstasy, saw some old friends, and drank way too much vin rouge. It was glorious.

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Don’t go changin’, Paris. I”ll be back.

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Filed under Arc de Triomphe, Belleville, Paris, Paris dining, Paris hotels, Paris in winter, Paris photos, Place de Vosges, Saint Germain des Pres, Uncategorized

Dark Days In Paris

The City of Light has been very dark. Waves of shock, grief, anger, and fright have swept the city for two and a half days. I expect an uneasiness will linger in the city for the next few days, as we wait and wonder if terror will reappear.

Most days I do not bemoan my (serious) lack of fluency in French. I get used to understanding only bits and pieces of what is said around me, and to me, and it’s not so bad. However, there have been times on trains or metros when announcements were made and I could tell from the reactions of those around me that I needed to know what was just said, and that it wouldn’t be good. The language barrier has a made these last few days even more frightening and confusing. Safely in my apartment, though, I have been so grateful for English television news and social media to explain the chaos going on around me.

While I am not qualified to comment on the underlying conflict, I can describe what I have seen these past few days. Around noon on Wednesday, Claire and I were having lunch at a popular falafel restaurant in the Marais when we began seeing disturbing images on the TV up on the wall. The TV was muted but the text floating by on the screen told me that there had been a shooting in the 11th arrondissement and that President Hollande was talking about it. I couldn’t figure out who “Charlie Hebdo” was, nor did I understand anything about who the attackers were or why they had done it. I was so shocked that guns had been involved, because bullets do not typically fly in Paris. Other diners in the restaurant didn’t appear to be overly alarmed, though, which (if true) was probably because they were tourists or they were not paying attention to the TV.

At the very time of the attack, three friends of my other daughter were landing at Charles de Gaulle from Houston. By the time they got to our apartment some of their parents were already sending concerned messages about the incident. When Claire and I walked into the apartment, all the girls were gathered around the TV and filled me in on the details. At that time, the three terrorists were at large, so I had to figure out what level of alarm was reasonable as far as letting the girls go out into the city to walk off their jet lag. Ultimately we decided that they would not go to the Arc de Triomphe, as they had planned, but I did let them walk to the small shops having sales in a near-by neighborhood. I walked around that same neighborhood and all seemed normal to me, but I don’t know that my sense of “normal” is really accurate. That night the girls went out to dinner and also walked to the ferris wheel, which was spinning as though nothing had happened.

Thursday at noon a moment of silence was observed all over Paris. The girls were at the Musee d’Orsay, where an announcement requesting it was made. The bells of Notre Dame rang for several minutes during that time, and public transport paused.

That afternoon, when the sun briefly peeped out, I tried to walk in the Parc Monceau and found it closed. Although no explanation was given on the sign, I assumed it was related to the attack. I later heard that public gardens had been closed, but I am not sure if it was because the assailants were still at large or if it was in observance of the loss. Because the museums were open, though, I think it was the former.

We watched the powerful gathering at the Place de la Republique on television that night, and were moved by the show of unity and support for the victims and for freedom of expression, and for France. The gatherings continued Thursday and Thursday night. On Friday morning the girls and I went to the Place de la Republique to see what we might find. Although the morning was wet and grey, the remains of the nights before indicated how moving they must have been. Countless candles, signs, notes, flowers, and photos of the victims were draped around the central monument, as well as on the area surrounding it.

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notice the tape on the mouth of the woman figure on the left

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On the square were also the remains of large circles of candles, flowers, and many pens and pencils.

From there we walked to the Marais, which is the old Jewish quarter and home to many Jewish businesses. At that point the girls and I parted ways. They stayed for lunch in the Marais, and I walked to the Hotel de Ville, where I planned to visit a photography exhibit. When I got there, I found the exhibit was closed until Monday, and I am sure it was related to the attack. I then wandered aimlessly for a few hours, never noticing anything that alarmed me in any way. When I got home, however, the girls were already there, watching the news.My daughter told me that two hostage situations were taking place, one of which was in a Jewish grocery store. She then described their experience in the Marais. After they ate lunch they tried to go into a favorite shop, but noticed that a couple of policemen were in there. They waited for the police to leave, and when they tried to enter the shop the woman locked the door and said “I’m sorry we are closed”. Bewildered, the girls looked around and noticed police going in all of the shops and telling the workers that because the grocery store was Jewish, they were recommending that businesses in the street, which were primarily Jewish, close. Of course, the girls didn’t know what the police were saying, but they asked someone who hurriedly explained it to them. After a quick call to her dad, seeking advice, my daughter and her friends took the metro home immediately. The metro they took home was the same one that went to the grocery store under siege, and they said it felt heavy with anxiety.

Once the two hostage situations ended, we all breathed a sigh of relief, but also a sigh of sadness for the additional loss of innocent lives and for those whose lives had just been changed forever. I am sure I am not the only one walking around today who is still a little nervous about what might happen next, and where it might happen. This has all been surreal and not at all consistent with my experience of living in Paris, where I feel so safe from gun violence.

Thank you all for your expressions of concern for me and for my family during this scary time. Let us all hope that the remainder of 2015 is more peaceful everywhere. We can all share this beautiful world, despite our different beliefs about a creator.

Marais before lunch on Friday, shortly before this street was shut down by police.

Marais before lunch on Friday, shortly before this street was shut down by police.

Hotel de Ville

Hotel de Ville

P.S.- I thought this article in the New York Times did a good job of describing the situation in France.

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Filed under Arc de Triomphe, Charlie Hebdo, Hotel de Ville, Marais, Paris, Uncategorized

Bonne Année!

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Happy New Year to all!

I am so proud to report that I didn’t fall asleep before midnight!’ At 11:30 we joined the crowds and walked to the  Arc de Triomphe. We were expecting a laser light show on the Arc, similar to what we saw for the Tour de France, and we got one at 11:45. We were so surprised, however, when fireworks started at the stroke of midnight! Paris NEVER does fireworks on New Year’s Eve (much to the disappointment of throngs of tourists every year), but this year she pulled out the stops and put on a show.

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What an auspicious beginning for the new year!

Cheers to 2015, and cheers to all of you!

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Filed under Arc de Triomphe, champagne, Champs Elysees, New Year's Eve, Paris photos, Tour de France, Uncategorized