Us outside Notre Dame
We are currently in Paris and plan to stay here for one month. The logistics of getting a place have not been easy. Unlike elsewhere, many of the apartments available are primary residences of young people who will move out (i.e. stay with family or a friend) if you want to rent their place. However, they only move themselves out and not all their stuff, so that leaves us living in a small apartment with limited storage space and someone else’s decorations. To complicate the issue, it took us contacting about a dozen people who showed availability on their calendars before finding one who actually had availability. Once we secured an apartment, life didn’t get any easier!
The corner building was our first rental. Our apartment had the fourth balcony up. One the street below, you can see the black market crowd congregating.
Our arrival in Paris was rough and one of the more challenging travel experiences we’ve encountered. The first day, there were some small things, like miscommunication with our Airbnb host so we waited in a stairwell for her for close to an hour. The bigger issue was that the place we rented didn’t feel safe or comfortable. It was dirty. I mean dirty like nothing in it had been properly cleaned for a long time. The walls were covered with splashes of spills, grimy hand prints, dust, and scrapes. You couldn’t really see out the windows. But, we know how to clean and worked to make ourselves comfortable. What we didn’t know how to deal with was the street scene. Directly outside the building, a large group of young men (300 at most) gathered every afternoon and evening. They were engaged in an active black market and the trade often came with shouting and very loud amplified music. On top of that, we twice saw guys from the black market kick in the front door to our building hard enough to break the magnetic lock! Our last evening police, raided the black market with dogs, dispersing the crowd and detaining many people. The straw that broke the camel’s back was that there were mice in the apartment. The mice got into our food and left droppings on the kitchen counter. When we contacted our host, she asked us to not kill them. She said the mouse is very intelligent, is like a pet for the whole building, and is nicknamed ‘Brain.’ Thank goodness she loved the mouse enough to offer us a refund and a way out. As soon as we could find another place, we moved out and our experience here has been much better since.
Paris chimneys are famous. This is the view from our balcony.
We are now staying on a quiet street in the 20th arrondissement (officially defined neighborhood). There are few tourists in this area. Our west facing balcony has a view over the city including the Eiffel Tower and Sacre Coeur. Sun streams in during the afternoon. We have three delicious bakeries in a two block radius, and many more bars, cafes, and restaurants. There are parks in all directions. It feels like a safe, classic mixed-use area; mostly residential buildings with the ground floors dedicated to commercial purposes. Our host is a sound engineer who is really into tea (there are about 15 tins on the 3 kitchen shelves) and eclectic music. One of his band/DJ posters says “deep cerebral and inventive, the future of UK hiphop.”
Arc de Triomphe
Paris is a city whose reputation precedes it so you won’t get our typical introduction to it here. It is the most visited place in the world, hosting 30 million tourists each year. The metro area includes 12 million Parisians. It is full of beautiful buildings, parks, bridges, streets, and public art. The city benefits from past generations; it has been a settlement for at least 8000 years! The earliest known inhabitants were a Celtic tribe. If you look you can finds signs of the Romans, of Napoleon Bonaparte, and Baron Haussmann of course. Paris has seen war and revolution firsthand many times. Informational plaques are posted on walls or posts regarding important events, lives of historic figures, and buildings that once stood. You could probably find one on every block in the city! It feels like a modern metropolis while balancing being an old city with a strong sense of culture and tradition.
On a sunny day, this is a common scene. People pack the parks.
Lovingly planted window boxes add a splash of color to the stone buildings. Some of our favorite signs of modernity and urban planning are the comprehensive city-wide bike-rental program that discourages using cars, and a clean safe subway system where trains run every five minutes or less and the nearest stop is never more than a 5 minute walk. People love to eat outdoors and if a neighborhood restaurant is open, it will have customers. To keep the food culture strong, employees get a government-subsidized voucher from their employer that covers the cost of a cheap lunch. There are other food protection laws such as a business cannot use the word boulangerie unless they bake bread onsite daily. The city is cleaner than any US city we’ve been to and everyday we see public employees cleaning public spaces. Parks are everywhere, from a small piece of land between streets to planned acres of green. Pets are excluded from most parks, keeping these spaces focused on people.
A lovely square in the heart of old Paris.
We’ve noticed some distinct cultural differences between Paris and the States. People here appear to spend a lot less time and energy face-down on their phones. Instead, parks are filled with people reading paper books or engaged in conversation. Food is always fresh and preservatives are often not allowed to be added to products. To support this, large green markets happen every day of the week. Our neighborhood has three, the closest one takes place on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Additionally, grocery stores with real produce and basic ingredients are practically on every block. There is no such thing as a food desert in this city. On the other hand, Parisians smoke a lot. Thank goodness the city is breezy or we’d be choked to death by now! There is a high value in polite, clear, and quiet communication. We first learned this from a guide book and have seen it to be true. On a packed subway train, there is only a low hum of conversation, even during rush hour when there is a crush to get in or out. Voices are rarely raised. Shopkeepers always call us madame and monsieur. Walking down the street, you rarely hear cell phones ringing or music from passing cars.
La Géode at Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie.
Tales from our sightseeing and adventures will come in the next post. In the meantime, you can look at more pictures by clicking here.
A typical clean, well-lit subway stop. The stations are so close together in some places, you can see down the tracks to the light of the next station.
Beautiful public art work like this is everywhere you go.
Place de la République
Black market view from our balcony
Beautiful inside stairwell at our first apartment.
As the plaque on this wall says, Vincent Van Gogh lived in this building with his brother.
Montmartre, looking to Sacre Coeur.
Very fun buskers outside Sacre Coeur. They were singing harmony and hamming it up.
“Love” locks have taken over bridges in Paris. The weight of all these locks is causing structural problems and the city has to cut them down and is replacing the wire with glass panels.
Looking up the center of the Eiffel Tower from underneath.
Eiffel Tower. Up close, Megan thought it was surprisingly ugly, except for this arched filigree.
Police raiding the black market. Note the officer with the dog and the line of men detained up against the wall on the right. Also notice how the large crowd is gone!
Officers with dogs raiding the black market
Sculpture on Arc de Triomphe
Many small streets are blocked from traffic, forming pedestrian malls.
Gargoyles on Notre Dame
St Denis is the headless guy. The legend says he was decapitated, picked up his head, and walked 10k while preaching before he died.
Tour guide Megan. Our Kindle has been very useful as we’ve downloaded travel books and done several self-guided walking tours.
This street performer challenges Newtonian physics.
A busy street in the Latin Quarter. By “Latin,” they don’t mean Hispanic but actually the dead language Latin because the area was full of academic nerds back in the day, speaking Latin!
Over the top Gothic architecture in Église Saint-Séverin.
Gargoyle face on Église Saint-Séverin
Wall O’ Gargoyles. Église Saint-Séverin.
The “shadows” on this wall are a mural; another great example of public art in Paris.
Look for the woman doing two things Parisians do well: reading and smoking.
Eiffel Tower at night. At the top of the hour, it glitters.
Megan’s favorite public art: La Géode. Can you see us waving at you?
Sunset view from our balcony.
A manicured garden in the Carnavalet Museum.
Jim picking up some pastries at a local patisserie. Does that really say ‘Saint James’ in the upper right?
Parisians love to eat outside. Sidewalk seating is often full with people enjoying a leisurely meal or cup of coffee. Note the graffiti on the do-not-enter sign.
La Défense is a planned high-rise center on the edge of Paris. This enormous arch houses office space for 30,000 workers and caps the other end of a road from the Arc de Triomphe.
Business lunch crowd on the steps of La Défense arch. The parabolic object in the center is a wind deflector.
Public art giving itself a thumbs up.
At La Défense.
One of the many park attractions for children, this one in the large Jardin Tuileries, near the Louvre.
When Haussmann was tasked with cleaning up Paris, he constructed many large straight avenues and determined buildings should have continuity across blocks with external balconies on the same floors.
We saw many insect habitats scattered around the city, mostly in parks.
Megan will gladly tell you about the time she spent at the Sorbonne……….
This traffic circle and statue stands at the location of the Bastille Fortress/Prison, that was torn down at the end of the French Revolution by the revolutionaries.
This newer building is successful in fitting in with the general aesthetic of the neighborhood. We saw some ugly 1960-1970 construction, but more buildings like this that are beautiful while being modern.