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The Paris Senate – Welcome to Republic!
When you walk through Luxembourg Garden, just in front of the fountain where you can hire and play with boats, there is a magnificent building guarded by men in uniform: This is the Senate of France.
The Senate is the upper house of the France Parliament, but this monument was actually built by Marie de Medicis who wanted to be close to her son, King Louis XIII, located at le Louvre, which gives you an idea of the links between mother and son!
Besides the wonderful garden you walk by to reach the Senate, it is worth a visit, as you can feel democracy in progress. And when you enter the hemicycle, (the debates are broadcasted on Thursday afternoons, you can imagine very famous French people, like Georges Clemenceau (one of our French presidents) or Emile Zola sitting there and trying to improve the lives of millions of people.
As you visit this place, don’t miss the incredible 19th century library, and the amazing former ballroom, where you can admire the throne of Napoleon the 1st.
And by the way, try to see the private garden of the President of the Senate, with his private tennis court.
Honestly, this place is very interesting to see to better understand the way French democracy works, and, while you are around, you can always enjoy walking in the Latin quarter just nearby or this wonderful garden that Le Luxembourg is. From there, you can reach either Montparnaase via the Vavin Street or St-Sulpice or St Michel Boulvard
- Museum Visits
- Arts and Culture
- Historical Travel
Hôtel de Nesmond
The stone building at the corner of Quai de la Tournelle and Rue des Bernardins looks historic, and it is. It was first built in the fourteenth century but was given its current form in 1643 by an architect named François Mansart (1598-1666) on behalf of the president of the parliament of Paris, François-Théodore de Nesmond. It is a ‘hôtel’ in the old sense of the word, meaning an impressive private residence.
Appropriately, the Hôtel de Nesmond is now the headquarters of the association La Demeure Historique (The Historic Residence), which provides support and advice to the owners and managers of historic buildings in France.
Location and photo of the Hôtel de Nesmond on monumentum.fr.
IIn the foreground of my first photo is a newish restaurant, the Taverne d’Esmeralda, which opened in 2012 and is certainly an improvement over the dingy old ‘Tabac’ which used to be on this corner. The restaurant was named after one of the main characters in the novel Notre-Dame de Paris 1482 by Victor Hugo, better known in English as ‘The Hunchback of Notre-Dame’.
On our guided walking tour in August 2013 we came by here on our way from the Rue de Bièvre to the Île Saint-Louis.
Second photo: Of all the Paris bridges, the Pont de l’Archevêché (Archbishop's Bridge) is the one with the highest concentration of love locks, at least as of 2013.
Third photo: On our guided walking tour we stopped here at the Square de l’Île de France and our guide Gérard Soulier told us a few things about the history of the Île Saint-Louis, where we were going next. He told us that the Île Saint-Louis in its present form didn’t exist until the seventeenth century, when two smaller islands were joined together and built up as a luxurious and fashionable neighborhood for rich aristocrats. Then at some point the island went out of fashion. Working class people started moving in. Even struggling poets and artists could afford to live and work there. It remained a typically mixed Parisian neighborhood with small shops and pubs until after the Second World War, when it was gradually taken over by affluent celebrities and foreigners.
Like any true French person, our guide was very well informed about real estate prices and had no trouble reeling off figures on the cost per square meter to buy an apartment in different parts of Paris.
Next review from September 2013: Rue Saint-Louis-en-l'Île
- Historical Travel
Place des Victoires
The last stop on our guided walking tour of the Palais Royal district was the Place des Victoires – which strangely enough I had never seen by daylight before, even though it is very centrally located on the border between the first and second arrondissments.
Before this I had only come through the Place des Victoires several times at night on my bicycle, usually by mistake because I had taken a wrong turn somewhere while riding home from the opera. So to me it always seemed like a dark and mysterious place.
By day this is a quiet, elegant circle surrounded by beautiful six- and seven-storey buildings. It is not very lively, because there are no cafés or restaurants. At ground level there are some discreet up-market fashion shops.
We learned that the equestrian statue in the center is of Louis XIV and that the “victories” being commemorated were those of his armies in the War of Holland from 1672 to 1678. What I like about this statue (from the year 1828) is the way it manages to remain stable even though the front legs of the horse are in the air. Evidently the horse’s tail supports some of the weight and keeps it from falling down.
Next review from May 2013: Louvre: Hall Napoléon
- Historical Travel
- Arts and Culture
Rue de la Huchette
I love this street. It took me 9 visits to Paris to find it and would you believe I finally found it purely by accident. I was walking along the Seine coming from Notre Dame on the Rive Gauche one evening on my way back to our apartment in St Germain des Pres when I just happened to glance to my left down a side street and there it was. I recognized it immediately and of course had to detour down the alley to see it.
It is apparently one of the oldest Parisian streets in existence and it is full to overflowing with bars, pubs, cafes, restaurants, souvenir shops etc. I believe that it is usually full to overflowing with people but I must have just picked a good time because there were not huge crowds when I was there.
I noticed quite a number of Greek and other ethnic restaurants and cafes and of course there were a number of French creperies. Most of the eateries seemed to have plat du jour menus and all the menus I read I found to be quite reasonably priced.
When I came out at the other end I was in the Place St Michel. This is definitely a place for a stroll even if you don't stop to eat or shop. Wonderful ambience.
- Food and Dining
- Historical Travel
Rue de Bièvre
In August 2013 I went on another guided walking tour that I found listed in the back pages of Pariscope. This was mainly a tour of the Île Saint-Louis, but since that island has no Métro stations (and not even any Vélib’ stations) we met at the kiosk by the Métro station Maubert Mutualité on Boulevard Saint-Germain, on the Left Bank.
On our way to the Île Saint-Louis we walked through the Rue de Bièvre. Here our guide Gérard Soulier pointed out the holes in the pavement where the barriers were anchored from 1981 to 1995, when the street was closed off to traffic during the fourteen years of the presidency of François Mitterrand.
The house at 22 Rue de Bièvre was where Mitterrand owned an apartment with his wife Danielle. She lived there and he turned up occasionally, but the best kept secret of his presidency was that he also had a parallel family with Anne Pingeot, an art historian who was a curator at the department of sculpture at the Musée d'Orsay, and their daughter Mazarine. This secret was not revealed to the public until the last year of Mitterrand’s presidency.
Second photo: A few doors up the street, at 28 Rue de Bièvre.
Third photo: At number 20 there is a small park which used to be called Jardin de la Rue de Bièvre (Garden of Bièvre Street). In March 2013 the name was changed to Square Danielle Mitterrand in honor of the woman who lived next door for four decades. The sign on the fence reads:
Member of the Resistance group of Cluny
Founder of the Foundation France Libertés
Wife of the President of the Republic
Fourth photo: The house at 19 Rue de Bièvre, as seen from the Square Danielle Mitterrand.
Fifth photo: Part of our tour group in the Square Danielle Mitterrand. Here our guide explained that the Rue de Bièvre, though named after the Bièvre River, did not follow the original course of the river but rather followed the course of a canal that was dug by the Abbey of Saint Victor in the year 1148 to divert some of the water from the Bièvre.
Next review from September 2013: Hôtel de Nesmond
- Historical Travel
Walking the Right Bank
From the Notre Dame turn right and cross the branch of the Seine to the Right Bank. Along the walls of the embankment you will find the old and somewhat battered book stalls, called Les Bouquinistes, most of which were closed up when we were there in February. You can spend some time browsing through the assorted second-hand books and magazines in the hope of finding a treasure but given the cold breeze coming off the Seine you'll not want to stop long. It's for a good reason that most of the stall holders had gone.
When you reach the Quai de la Megisserie you will find the shops are characterised by Gardenware and plants - many of which give a colourful front display. Between these shops are the pet stores. If you can face it these are brimming with pets of all kinds. All of the animals appear to be well cared for - it's just seeing them caged up in small confines that made me feel uncomfortable.
Further along you will come to the Louvre palace. Most tourists at this point would want to cross the road and explore the enormous world famous Art museum but if it's a Tuesday in February - be warned you'll be out of luck. The gallery will be closed.
- Budget Travel
Paris during festive season
Such as any big cities very busy in Paris during holiday season, it's so cold strolling the night, we were lucky it didn't snow yet that time. The streets full with Christmas lights especially on the way to Champs-Elysees very impressive promenade
The Champs-Elysées is usually in the center of celebrations and commemorations. This is the place where Parisians celebrate New Year's Eve and it can be very crowded
Relish the Gothic gorgeousness of St Denis
Anyone who is jaundiced by the throngs of visitors that blight Notre Dame - and Lord knows, those numbers would drive even a saint to touristic cynicism - should restore their faith in Paris' Gothic gorgeousness by treating themselves to a visit to St Denis.
Until my most recent trip, I had never been to St Denis either - and likely for exactly the same reasons that 90% of tourists to Paris probably don't make it here - it's outside of the central arondissements and it's a bit of a ride on the Metro into tourist terra incognita ... which is, of course, exactly why you should go!
In reality, St Denis is historically the most important church in Paris by a country mile - and provides a final resting place for the vast majority of France's kinds and queens - but now stands in a distinctly grimy suburb with a dominantly immigrant population. There has been a church on this site since the mid 7th century, and yet it was only elevated to cathedral status (the seat of a bishop) in the 1960s. Such are the intoxicating paradoxes of the Basilica of St Denis.
The church was first founded by King Dagobert in the mid 600s on the site where St Denis - the patron saint of Paris - was buried after being beheaded and reputedly walking 10km with his head under his arm, preaching all the way (see my other St Denis travel tip). It rapidly became the centre of a thriving Benedictine monastic complex, but the first mention of the current structure was in 754 under the unfortunately named Peppin the Short - that's Charlemagne's dad to you - and the son presided over its consecration in 775, prior to his election to Holy Roman Emperor.
The current church is largely the result of a rebuild undertaken in the 12th and 13th centuries and is a breathtaking and remarkably uniform masterpiece of Gothic perfection, with the choir being a particularly gobsmacking feature designed in the vertically exaggerted 'Rayonnant' style (akin to St Chapelle). The architecture is truly aweinspiring - both inside and out - and without the crowds of Notre Dame, you have a chance to appreciate its beauty and stunning simplicity. Part of the basilica - including the crypt - has been given over to a royal necropolis, which houses the remains of an astounding 42 kings, 32 queens and 63 assorted princes and princesses of the royal blood which is accessed via a side door from the nave, and for which separate admission is payable (see my St Denis necropolis travel tip).
However, to appreciate it at is absolute best, try to attend a service and experience this phenomenal place of worship being used for the purpose for which it was designed. I was there for 10:00 service on a Sunday morning and it was tremendously moving. The big, beefy, bass reverberations of the massive organ resonated out into the square in front of the church as a compelling call to prayer and it was heartening to see a congregation - dominantly West African - fill every seat in the place. The acoustics are terrific, the lady leading the music had hugely infectious enthusiasm and a sensational voice that holds its own against the mighty organ, and even if you don't share the faith, it is an aweinspiring experience that is not to be missed.
However, please bear in mind that this remains a religious ceremony - not performance art - and due respect should be shown - based on an unfortunate experience here which sadly crossed this boundary, I developed Homer's rules.
If I was showing you Paris, an itinerary
For travel novices, a common question is I have X number of days in Paris, what should I do? While everyone's tastes are different, here's what I would take a Paris novice to see if we had three days
Day 1 Start the day off by visiting the towers of Notre Dame, the view is magnificent and the gargoyles are extremely photogenic. Getting here a 1/2 hour before it opens isn't a bad idea. Before, afterwards or while others are standing in line, visit the interior of the cathedral. A short walk and you can visit St. Chappelle, the beautiful gothic stained glass cathedral, and then if you have an interest in French history, the Conciergerie when Marie Antoinette was held before her execution, is next door. For lunch, hit any one of dozens of places in the Latin Quarter for a light meal, maybe a crepe or two. In the afternoon, take a walk through one of Paris' beautiful gardens or if it's a late night, the Louvre is open late Wed or Fri, the Orsay Thurs.
Day 2 You can't leave Paris without standing under the Eiffel Tower, no need to go up if the queues are long, you've already had the best view of Paris from Notre Dame. From here make your way to Invalides to visit Napoleon, stop next door and visit the lovely gardens of the Rodin. In the afternoon, maybe a boat ride on the Seine or a trip to Montmartre to see Sacre Couer. Take a walk through Montmartre to soak up the atmosphere left behind by all the artists that painted there. Late afternoon is a perfect time to take a stroll on the Champs d' Elysses and walk to the top of the Arc de Triomphe.
Day 3 Versailles, some may argue that on a 3 day itinerary that Versailles is too far or too much but I don't think a visit to Paris would be complete without seeing it. In the evening, if you go on Wednesday-Friday, you can visit either the Louvre or the Musee d'Orsay for their late evening hours.
Paris for children
Let it be said that our youngest child is nearing 40 so we don't travel with small children. However, you can't help notice the little guys when you are there. We've been delighted with all the things for children in Paris and would not hesitate to take children from 2 to 20 to Paris. (The teenagers will love that one!)
For small children, there are playgrounds and parks all over the city. The Luxembourg Gardens even have a special age-limited play area. There are puppet shows, pony rides, games, flowers (our granddaughter's specialty) and even toy boats to sail in public fountains. If you have a child interested in chess, there are public chess games . . . participate or watch.
For all ages, the Tuileries Gardens near the Louvre has a summer fun fair with a carousel and Ferris wheel in addition to the toy boats and in the far fountain, you can feed the fish. (Bring your own baguette pieces.)
Visiting the Cluny Museum (Musee de Moyen Age) in the Latin Quarter? There is a wonderful children's playground in the medieval gardens right outside the museum. Get a sandwich from a sidewalk salesman across the street and retire to the gardens for lunch and let the kids run wild.
Visiting Invalides and Napoleon's tomb? Right around the corner (west side of Invalides) along the rue Fabert you will find a small playground tucked into the grounds. It is shaded and quite private considering it is near a major tourist sight in Paris.
Visiting the Rodin Museum? (If you're near Invalides, you might as well.) There are lovely gardens and several places for the kids including a sandbox at the far end near the tea room. Get a tea or coffee and watch the kids play in the gardens.
Visiting Notre Dame cathedral? Between the cathedral and the Seine river, there is a small playground where you can watch boats on the Seine and the kids can relax.
If you are in the Marais, the Place des Vosges isn't a playground per se, but you will see many happy French families enjoying the grass, shade and fountains. Join them. The square is one of the most beautiful in Paris.
The Jardin des Plantes on the banks of the Seine at the eastern end of the Latin Quarter is great. There are plants, flowers, a Natural History Museum, a large metal ballein whale (I have no idea why), ducks wandering loose and in the northwestern corner there is a small zoo or menagerie which includes black swans, deer and kangaroos. Spring is fun here!
Walking to the Pompidou Center, plan to pass the Tower of St. Jacques. It has been completely renovated and there is a lovely playground on the grounds at the foot of the Tower. Then go on over to the Pompidou and at Place Igor Stravinsky let the kids enjoy the really fun and colorful sculptures that rotate and spout water in the huge fountain. You can settle at the cafe while the kids enjoy the fountains.
The Garden of the Palais Royale is always fun. Just outside the garden are the Daniel Buren sculptures that look like different sized pillars painted black and white. We have often seen Parisian children and their mothers playing on these. There seems to be a counting game that is popular there. Watch and learn.
Further afield, the Parc Monceau in the 8th is huge and full of happy Parisians relaxing. On holidays (and probably all summer) they offer pony rides. There are ducks and ponds and refreshment stands. There are benches for mom and dad. Visit the Cernuschi Museum and the Nissim de Camondo Museum nearby.
Have teenagers? They might enjoy the Viaduc des Arts in the 11th. You can climb up onto it from a block behind the Opera Bastille. Look for the stairs. Get a birds eye view of Paris.
Another age 8 to adult favorite is the Cite de la Musique. It is an interactive Music Museum where you walk through with laser-guided earphones. When you walk into an exhibit, the earphones play it for you. Outside is the Parc de la Villette with crazy chairs and statues and best of all, the Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie. This is where you find the giant Geode Theater. You can't miss it. It is a huge cinema in the round inside a silver ball. The museum is just on the other side of the little canal. You might enjoy a canal-boat trip to and from the park.
If you're thinking of Disney Paris, reconsider and think about Parc Asterix instead. It's in the same general area and very French. It is a theme park based on the French comic book character Asterix and is loosely French-European history from the Celtic-Roman eras combined with rides, shows and food. Parc Asterix Web Site
Keep your eyes open, there are many more places for children. Paris is a city that loves children.
- School Holidays
- Family Travel
Free things to do in Paris
Paris is a great city for people on a budget! For instance, most people know 10 museums were removed from the Museum Pass but not many people know why. They were removed because they were city museums and the then-mayor made them free. Ergo . . . no pass was needed because there was no charge!
Here is a small sample of absolutely free things to do:
Bourdelle, Musée, 18 rue A Bourdelle. . open 10–6:00
Carnavalet, 23 rue Sevigne . . open 10–6:00
Cognac-Jay Museum, 8 rue Elzévir. . open 10-6:00
Modern Art Museum (Palais de Tokyo). . . open 10–6:00
Petit Palais (city fine art museum). . . open 10–6:00
Victor Hugo House. . open 10–6:00
Musee la Vie Romantique ... open 10–6:00
Viaduc des Arts . . . prefer Spring, Summer and early Autumn http://en.parisinfo.com/professionnals/3623/paris-viaduc-des-arts
and for one euro . . . Gardens of the Musee Rodin (you pay to go inside the museum)
Churches are all free . . . many with exceptional art
Gardens with lots to see and do are free
Fountains at Place Stravinsky by the Pompidou Center
Arènes de Lutèce in the Latin Quarter
Jardins des Tuileries behind the Louvre
Jardin du Luxembourg off Blvd. St. Michel
Parc du Champ de Mars beneath the Eiffel Tower
La Madeleine at Pl. de la Concorde (with sculpture by Rude)
St. Sulpice with meridian line in da Vinci Code
Jardin Catherine-Labouré on rue de Babylone 7eme
Sq. Récamier off rue de Babylone 7eme
Sq. Denis Bülher at end of rue Amélie 7eme
Parc de Monceau 8eme
Place des Vosges 4eme
Jardins du Palais Royal 1ere
Jardin des Plantes 5eme
All city museums of Paris are free. City of Paris Web Site
- Budget Travel
- Family Travel
On our guided walking tour of the Palais Royal district, one of our stops was the Galerie Vivienne, an elegant glass-covered passageway dating from 1823.
The Galerie Vivienne has been lovingly restored in recent years. It now houses a bookshop (second photo) as well as a tea salon, several fashion shops, an upmarket delicatessen and a toy store.
The upstairs apartment at number 13 of the Galerie Vivienne was once the home of Eugène François Vidocq (1775-1857), a French criminal who had a turbulent life including several months imprisonment at hard labor in the bagne, the notorious prison colony in the port city of Toulon on the southern coast of France.
Vidocq arrived in Toulon on August 29, 1799. He had by this time escaped from several other prisons, so he soon attempted to escape from the bagne. His first attempt was a failure, but on his second try he succeeded in escaping on March 6, 1800, with the help of a prostitute. He went into hiding, but then under an assumed name became a successful businessman before he was recognized and again arrested.
After another escape and another arrest, he finally decided to offer his services to the police as a spy. This led to a long police career in which he founded a plainclothes police brigade consisting of ex-criminals like himself, who worked as undercover agents.
Episodes from Vidocq’s amazing career inspired a number of writers including Honoré de Balzac, Alexandre Dumas, Eugène Sue and Edgar Allen Poe.
Both of the main characters in Victor Hugo’s novel Les Misérables, Jean Valjean and police inspector Javert, were based on different aspects of Vidocq’s life. Jean Valjean, in the novel, became a successful businessman after escaping from the bagne in Toulon, but like Vidocq he was eventually recognized and re-arrested. Javert, in the novel, was born in Toulon as the son of a former prisoner.
Fifth photo: Usually M. Bourde also takes his tour groups through the adjoining Galerie Colbert, but when we were there it was closed because the day was May 8, which in France is a national holiday to commemorate the end of the Second World War.
Next review from May 2013: Rue de la Banque
- Historical Travel
St. Germain l'Auxerrois church, 1st.
The first thing that really strikes one when coming from the Cour Carrée du Louvre is the similitude and the balance between the church itself and the 1st arrondissement town hall with the belfry in the middle. This was perhaps one of the better ideas of the Baron Haussmann. When the unsavoury and derelict buildings around the church were demolished it created a disequilibrium that upset many people, and the Baron was told to demolish the church. As a Protestant the Baron refused to demolish the symbol of the anti-Protestant movement (The signal for the night of St. Barthelemy when Catholics went on the rampage against the Protestants in August 1572 and massacred around 7/10 000). He finally decided to build the new town hall next to the church in a similar vein, with the new belfry acting as a fulcrum for the two buildings. The new belfry is adjoined at the same time, between 1858 and 1863. Also added to the belfry is a magnificent barometre that didn't seem to be working that well when I was there, showing "storm" and there was a lovely sun up in the sky.. This is also the only church in Paris along with the Sainte-Chapelle to have a Gothic porch. On one side of the porch can be seen a strange keystone in the centre. The sculpture shows "the last supper".
Nearest metro is Louvre-Rivoli or Pont-Neuf.
Church of St. Paul/St Louis, 4th.
It was with a certain pleasure that I was ablr to stand back and contemplate the Gothic facade of the newly renovated St Paul/St Louis church on rue St Antoine, a short distance from Place des Vosges. Under scaffolding and tarps for just over 14 months, it was impossible to get into the church and have a look round. The main thing I wanted to see were the two baptismal fonts that Victor Hugo, a close neighbour and patron of the church offered to the church upon the occasion of his daughter Leopoldine's wedding here in 1843, that are still here on the pillars just inside the main door. On orders of Louis XIII the church was built by the Jesuits between 1627 and 1641, with the first stone being laid by the Cardinal de Richelieu. The building next door is the Lycée Charlemagne also built by the Jesuits at the same period.
Nearest metri St Paul.
A walk on L'Axe Historique
If you stand in front of I.M Pei's glass pyramid at the Louvre and gaze directly through the arch in front of you, you are looking at a carefully planned thoroughfare known as the L'Axe Historique. Stretching roughly five miles to the west from where you are standing, this grand route was developed over three centuries and connects a series of arches and monuments that commemorate France's military past and more peaceful present. It is unlikely that most visitors will make the trek from end-to-end but should you have on your most comfortable walking shoes, here is some of what you'll see along the way:
• Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel: this is the first of 3 arches along the axis and stands on the former site of the Tuileries Palace (burned in 1871). Commissioned by Napoleon and completed in 1808, it's a tribute to his army's 1805 military victories.
• Jardin des Tuileries: originally the gardens for the long-gone Tuileries Palace, this was also one of Paris' first public parks and home to two museums: Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume and the Musée de l'Orangerie. There are also kiosks and cafes for rehydrating and refueling.
• Place de la Concorde: the largest square in Paris, this was the site of the execution of Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette and hundreds of others during the French Revolution. The 3000 year-old obelisk in the center was a gift from Egypt and once graced the entrance to the Amon temple in Luxor.
• Avenue des Champs Elysees: you'll emerge from Concorde square onto this storied boulevard with the Grand and Petite Palais on your left. Both were built as galleries for the 1900 Universal Exhibition and continue to operate as museums and/or venues for special exhibits. Do some window shopping along your way to the next arch.
• Arc de Triomphe de l'Etoile: another of Napoleon's contributions, this is the 2nd largest triumphal arch in the world (the first is in North Korea) and commemorates those fallen in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. I'll cover more of this one in a later review.
• La Grande Arche de la Défense: past the Arc de Triomphe, the route follows Ave. de la Grande Armée and then Ave. Charles De Gaulle across the Seine to the business district of La Défense. Here the axis terminates at the newest of the three aches. This sleek, contemporary span was completed in 1989 for the bicentennial of the French Revolution and honors humanitarian rather than military efforts.
We chose to walk the couple of miles from the Louvre to the Arc de Triomphe, and view the last stretch to La Grande Arche from the top. This is a fun ramble on a nice day and easily followed on any Paris map.
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