I Still Don’t Like Montmartre

First, let me say this was not that title of the blog I had planned today. It was supposed to be titled When Bloggers Collide and was going to be about meeting Liberated Traveler. However, she had to cut short her adventures due to a family emergency so please send some good thoughts her way.

I did part of another Rick Steves walk today, starting at #16 in his Montmartre walk, the Moulin de la Galette. As for what happened to numbers 1-15? I saw Sacre Coeur and St Pierre-de-Montmartre (#’s 2 & 3) already on my first attempt at this walk, which was abandoned after my experiences with the “artists” and other colorful characters found at Sacre Coeur near sunset. Many of the other list items are things to look at, and for me not worth all the walking involved. I took the Metro to Lamarck-Caulincourt, made popular by the movie Amelie, but I didn’t enter the famous entrance, I exited an apparently random and unknown exit. I had read about the stairs at the Abbesses Metro stop and been warned to take the elevator, but I didn’t realize this stop had enough stairs to qualify for a warning too. Never fear, there were signs.


I ignored the elevator as it was full and the sign above said it was about to Depart, when a brave woman barreled past me and leaped through the closing doors and forced them to re-open. As I was already staring at the doors I could see the aggrieved faces of the occupants so I didn’t want to further distress them by again forcing the doors open. (But I did take note for future reference. I had the impression that Parisian doors, like Parisian shopkeepers, have no patience for tourists, and would continue to slam shut on me. Nice to know this may not happen) I walked up some stairs, then walked down a long hallway, and just in case I had forgotten the previous warning about the stairs, the step count was adjusted and new signs warned me that I had more steps in my future.


I walked blinking like a newborn onto the street and tried to orient myself. I think it only took 10 minutes and half a mile of walking, so I’m improving! Rue Lepic is very windy (that’s wine-dy, not windy as in blowing wind) so if you happen to be taking this walk and you see this guy


You’ve gone too far. Back up, make a right, and at the next intersection you will find that you have snuck up on the Moulin de la Galette from behind. So if you’re facing the Moulin de la Galette, and want to see that guy, you have to turn right, go up the hill, and he will be on your right.


Ok, so I saw it. Not much else to say. Continuing, down the wine-dy road, here’s a view down a side street,


and I saw Henri de Toulose-Lautrec’s house from a distance. Apologies to fans of his but I did not feel it worth the 100 yard detour to look at his exterior windows. I continued on and spotted Vincent Van Gogh’s apartment.

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Apparently in the 2 years he lived here, on the top floor with a view of the city (I’ll have to take Rick Steves word for it because I couldn’t get up to the apartment or the roof and verify), his painting changed. From the Van Gogh Museum website: “Van Gogh’s Paris work is an effort to assimilate the influences around him. As he begins to formulate his own artistic idiom, he progresses through the styles and subjects of the Impressionists. His palette becomes brighter, his brushwork more broken. Like the Impressionists, Van Gogh takes his subjects from the city’s cafés and boulevards, and the open countryside along the Seine River.”

Down the street some more is another Amelie movie locale, Cafe des Deux Moulins. (I really wish I had re-watched this movie before coming here because I barely remember it)


And finally, at the Place Blanche, Moulin Rouge.

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I guess it looks better at night. Not that I’ll ever step foot in Montmartre at night without a bodyguard. I peeked in the Museum of Erotic Art, which I was surprised to find is less intimidating than Modern Art. Did you know that Degas drew erotic art? I didn’t.


There’s nothing really bad about Montmartre during the day. I just don’t see the appeal. I’ll stick to my favorite neighborhood, the 6th. I only explored maybe a block of Pigalle as my plans required me to go back the other way past Moulin Rouge again and take a long walk to rue de Rivoli where an Aldo store is located. I am searching for ballet flats to replace the ones I bought at Aldo years ago, but I can’t seem to find any. I could have taken the Metro but I wanted to walk, and I also found myself in front of Printemps, so I went in and poked around, sprayed perfume on myself, looked at lots of pretty stuff….yeah, I’m done. I’ll save shopping for next week when my friend is here.

I was on my way to Notre Dame to do the tower tour, but it’s a really hot day and I am already feeling a little in need of a shower, so I didn’t want to make it worse or offend any fellow tourists on the hot walk up all those stairs to the tower, so another day!

I also saw today that French women wear crocs!



Afternoon in Epernay

Other than having trouble finding a place to eat, I kind of wish I had gone straight to Epernay. The town itself, what I saw of it, is beautiful, especially the park around city hall. But first, fountain at the traffic circle.


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2013-07-05 18.04.57I walked up “Champagne Avenue” and bypassed Moet & Chandon. I have never particularly liked their champagne, and I was turned off by the way they kind of monopolize the tourist trade here. Plus I thought their tour was was overpriced at 17Euro for one measly taste. There isn’t much or huge signage directing tourists into individual champagne houses, which preserves the beauty of the street, but also led me to walk into a bureau and to fiddle with a locked door before (3rd time’s the charm) finding the Collard Picard Boutique.

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At first I was disappointed because a fellow traveler had visited this town the day before and I loved her pictures of the caves. Collard Picard is about as bright and white as it gets, (check out the lamp, even that has a clear base) but I loved their champagnes. 15€ (Yay! Just figured out how to make the Euro symbol!) for the Prestige tasting, which is three full good-sized glasses of the better champagnes of the house. I honestly didn’t know it was 3 full glasses until they started pouring. I am used to Temecula, California wineries where a small portion is poured into a full sized glass. As I tasted, the woman told me all about the grapes, the area, the “terroir”, where each grape was grown, and what percentage of those grapes were in each of my glasses. My first one turned out to be my favorite, which was a surprise because in wine I am a Chardonnay fan and I liked the blend over the all-Chardonnay.

I thought I would have trouble walking after 3 glasses in quick succession, but I didn’t fall down when I got up (although the door did get away from me when I opened it to leave, lol). I thought I’d better put some food between tastings, so I walked back to the beginning of the street and the tourist information center. The girl there very nicely drew 3 places on my map, and also suggested 2 cave tours that are less popular than Moet & Chandon.

I ended up taking a nice walk all around the area surrounding the traffic circle/tourist area, as all the restaurants were closed until 5PM. The one place open that was on my list to visit was C Comme Champagne, but a quick look at their menu showed only cold dishes of accompaniments, so I moved on.

I did find a nice outdoor seating area at the least favorite of the recommended restaurants from the travel center, but they had what I wanted on their menu, a chocolate banana crepe. They were out of bananas and as it was not only the last restaurant on my list, but also the only open restaurant I could find, I ordered just chocolate and whipped cream. It turned out to be delicious, although I will sit inside next time as I found an ant in my shirt and 2 on my feet! :::shudder:: I detached the little critters, got the check, and got out of there, feeling a bit itchier.

I hoofed it up to the other end of “Champagne Avenue”, made a left and went to the Champagne de Castellane. Remember this tower for later.


I walked in and asked for the English tour and was told it was starting in 1 minute. Finally my lack of scheduling brought me some luck. The tour was 10€. We were not allowed to take photos of the production. (I believe this is the only house to show the production on a tour) But whenever we were in an area where photos were permitted, our guide let us know.


The caves are kept naturally at a cool 11 degrees Celcius here, they vary from 11-13 degrees in all the cellars in the area. Humidity is at 85%. The walls were literally dripping with water.


Our tour guide was very good, and patient. One of the families was Finnish, and our guide waited while the mother summarized everything quickly for her daughter who did not speak English yet.

The underground is much bigger than I imagined. It reminded me of the utilidoors at Walt Disney World. While they lacked the color coded walls of Disney :), they did have actual street names dedicated to different people associated with the champagne house and according to our tour guide, it is quite an honor to have one of these “streets” named after you.The light bulbs are covered with broken champagne bottles.

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All of these caves were dug out by hand, amazing. During the war, many of the caves were bricked up. After the war, they were taken down, but one was overlooked until many years later. A very nice surprise! This isn’t it, but this is what the storage caves look like.


They had a room full of champagnes from past years, and every once in a while, one of these bottles is taken and finishes production for the owners to taste and compare. We were told to find our year, and mine was not there, which the guide said indicated that all the champagne had been drunk that year. 🙂 There was also a creepy representation of Dom Perignon trying to store his bottles. There were lots of these creepy people, depicting different parts of the process,but I didn’t take pictures as they would give me nightmares.

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After the tour, we of course were taken to the tasting room and given a small glass to taste.


This was a nice tour, very informative, and it included a trip through the pretty large museum upstairs at our leisure as well as a climb to the top of the tower if we so wished. I did wish, and got some lovely pictures, (the first four are zoomed in) as well as a really very unladylike “glow” of perspiration. Ok, I was dripping sweat, yuck!

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I tied up my hair, which had pretty much been devastated by the humidity in the cellars anyway, and went back down Champagne Avenue once again, towards the train station. I stopped in another tasting room, Paul Germain I believe, and had a glass in their outdoor garden.


I didn’t like this one as much, and I wasn’t cooling off sufficiently so I went back to the frigid air-conditioning of Collard Picard and cooled off with wet paper towels in their tiny but lovely toilette. Classy bitch strikes again. I ordered a glass of my favorite prestige from my tasting this morning and it was waiting for me when I returned to the counter. I relaxed and enjoyed without listening to the speech, as enjoyable as it had been earlier, as it was nearing closing time and the women were busy counting out their registers. At 3 minutes to 6 I said au revoir to my new favorite champagne and hoofed it down to the train station. I took a few more pictures on the way out.

I wasn’t nearly classy enough to go to Pol Roger.


These lamp posts look quite threatening.


DSCN2172Although this little town is beautiful, I was told that there is really not much to do at night. I couldn’t live here then I guess, but it sure makes for a nice day trip out of Paris. Just a 1 hour 20 minute train ride. And for the record, I mentioned this on Facebook and forgot to mention it here. Even though I had 6 full glasses of champagne within 3 1/2 hours, I wasn’t even tipsy. A first for me, as champagne has historically given me trouble.

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No Bubbly For Me in Reims

Today was my train ride to Reims/Epernay. The train to Reims was much nicer than any train I’ve been on so far. The day started kind of blech, with cold temps and a dull grey sky. I hopped off the train at 8:44AM. It’s too early for champagne so I went to the travel center outside the station to get a map, then I was pulled by an unknown force down a small alley and found this restaurant. I would have come back for lunch but the menu, strangely enough, was all burritos, quesadillas, enchiladas, and tacos. Fitting, I guess, since it reminds me so much of Old Town San Diego.


On to the Reims Cathedral. When the townspeople started building this cathedral, they knew they would never see it completed, they could only hope it would be finished in their grandchildren’s lifetimes. I can’t imagine anyone starting a project like that today, that wouldn’t see completion in their lifetime. I was inside taking pictures and acting like a tourist, I heard a tone, then beautiful singing. There was a group of maybe 20 people, also tourists, standing in the center of the main aisle singing. It was beautiful. I started to record it, but soon had to shut off the camera, and I just sat at the base of a column and let some tears leak out. It wasn’t so much a religious experience as one of beauty. The singers stopped and became tourists again, walking around snapping photos. I loved the window just above the door


DSCN2031The Marc Chagall windows at the back of the church.

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The ceiling



The rose window, which is the original glass from 1255, although it was removed during WWI to save it.


Some windows that were damaged in the war were replaced by the champagne makers in the area, and show harvesting scenes.


This is actually a historically important cathedral, as most of the kings of France were crowned here after 1027. Joan of Arc famously led Charles VII here. Almost forgot, here are some pics of the outside.

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Beside the church and about a block away is a library donated by one of my favorite Scotsmen, Andrew Carnegie.


Beautiful Art Deco.

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Now I have never seen such a huge card catalog, nor such a pretty one.


Now that some morning has gone by, I decided to sip some champagne. Unfortunately the travel center in front of the cathedral was so busy that by the time they made my reservation, left me standing at the counter waiting to pay, while an intern said she couldn’t do anything, watching her colleague run all around yelling at people, I finally told them I thought there wasn’t any more time for me to get to the champagne house. The woman apologized profusely, saying she has been trying to get help all morning, but…I have a train to catch and taking the next tour is cutting it too close. By now I’m hungry so I walked to the main drag with all the restaurants and decided on an Italian place I saw earlier. I couldn’t help it, they had a gorgonzola pasta and I couldn’t resist.


After I ate, I walked to the Museum of the Surrender, to see the actual room where the Germans signed the surrender papers to begin the end of WWII. Apparently there’s a ticker tape of the news, and the walls still have maps with troop positions. Unfortunately I didn’t notice that it closes from 12-2 so I could only photograph the building. 😦



On the way back I swung by the Porte de Mars, a Roman gate from the 2nd century. The. Second. Century! Sorry, but as a history geek, this stuff really thrills me. It was one of 4 gates into the city and the only one left standing after WWI. You can see the different levels of construction by the deterioration of the columns.

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My time in Reims was strange. Usually I am a planner, but being on an extended journey (56 days), it can become all planning and no doing if I’m not careful. This was the closest trip to the city and I had had the itch to travel for a while so I planned it last minute and didn’t have time to obsess over schedules and such. 🙂 I think I paid the price, not getting to do 2 of the 3 things I wanted to do there, but I did see enough to know that I am not interested in going back. Here are some random shots I took around the city.

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Epernay is another story, and another blog post. It’s 12:30PM already and I don’t want to stay inside all day writing.

I Wonder If Rodin’s Friends Called Him A-Rod


My rock star status didn’t last long. Paris kicked my ass last night, but I don’t want to talk about that. I want to talk about plans! I have been researching, and searching the web for day trips out of Paris for a while and every time I search, the prices go up. So because I don’t have a printer, I took a trip to the Montparnasse train station last night to buy my tickets. Unfortunately, the automated ticket booths are the kind that don’t take American credit cards because they don’t have a chip in them. (I actually tried to get one of these credit cards before I left home but wasn’t able to) So today I woke up and went back to Montparnasse station. I had my research with me; a list of what calendar days had the most reasonable prices to the three towns I want to see. I had to wait a little extra for a window designated “English” (by a little British flag in the corner of the monitor). I can speak some French, but certainly not enough to explain what I was trying to do, and more importantly, not enough to understand what is being explained to me.

I got a really nice and patient woman who went above and beyond to help me. I felt really bad for all the people on line behind me because this transaction took over 20 minutes. There were 4-5 windows open, but only 2 designated English speaking. I started by telling her what date I wanted to travel to Mont St Michel and when her price came up 102 Euro more than mine, she started researching for me. She explained that while the web has the 15 day price search, her computer doesn’t and talked about how many people show up insisting on the price they saw. In my case, (she researched even though I told her I believed her and it was okay) the price didn’t include the bus from the train station to Mont St Michel (an 1:15 ride, so a considerable part of the journey). Also, the outbound train at the low price was arriving in Mont St Michel at 11:45PM. The morning trains were about 60 Euro more.
So she found me some mid-week trains to Mont St Michel and Dijon at good prices, then I also booked a trip to Reims tomorrow. I could have saved a little by booking ahead but the Reims trip would be either the day before or the day after Mont St Michel and I didn’t want to cluster my day trips one after the other when I have 40 days to work with. Since Reims was the shortest distance from Paris, it was the logical trip to pay full fare on. Even then, she did find me a reduced rate, but asked if I minded connecting in Epernay on the way home. I definitely didn’t as I had planned to go to Reims, then Epernay anyway, so she adjusted the times to give me enough time to enjoy Epernay before making my connection. She also had definite ideas about how long I should spend in each place. For example when I said I’d like a 9Pm train back from Dijon, she told me, no I didn’t, and put me on an earlier train, lol. When I asked if my return time from Mont St Michel was late enough, she said yes, that I won’t want to be there longer than that, lol. So thanks to this very helpful woman, I have trips planned to Reims, Epernay, Dijon, and Mont St Michel. I can’t wait! On the way out of the station I saw these cute, unused, charging stations for your electronics. You have to pedal to power the chargers.
After that, I hopped back on the Metro and went to the Rodin Museum. I like Rodin, but I feel like I have seen so many of his works in so many other museums, and a quick look at my guidebook told me the three main sculptures I was interested in are in the garden, which costs 1 Euro, as opposed to 9 Euro for the whole museum, So, you can guess that I jumped on the chance to save 8 Euro! The Burghers of Calais
Most of the garden was closed off for renovations, but the edges were accessible, as was most of the sculpture, which is what I’m here to see anyway. The Thinker was set up so high that it can’t really be studied in any depth, but it would be hard to anyway as there was a steady stream of people posing just like him in front of it.
“No, no…like this!”
I like the details of it when seen separately, rather than seeing the whole from a distance anyway.
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After leaving Rodin’s I walked back to my neighborhood, picking up some munchies on the way. And taking a few pictures…
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Now I’m off to the laundromat, and a cup of cafe creme and people-watching while I wait for my clothes. 🙂


Standing Inside Monet’s Waterlilies

Today I took the train to Vernon from Paris, then a shuttle bus to Giverny. I took the 8:20AM out of Paris-Lazare and was amazed at the amount of people joining me on a random Tuesday morning. There were 3 busses waiting at the train station to go to Monet’s house, and all three were mostly full. If you are familiar with Monet’s Waterlilies (or Nympheas, as he most likely called them), you might be able to imagine how strange it felt to be standing “inside” the setting for these well known and loved paintings. Yes, the green bridge is there, as are the weeping willow trees, and of course, the pond with water lilies. Monet lived for 40 years in this house, and traveled to Paris less and less each year, and I can see why, when I am in the gardens anyway. I found his house to be only mildly interesting, and only ventured in as far as I needed to find the room overlooking the garden, and the famous all-yellow dining room. Pictures are not allowed inside the house (except out the windows to the garden).

There are two sections here; his “walled garden” directly behind the house, and the waterlilies, which are accessed through a tunnel that goes under the road. Here are a few pictures of the walled garden:


Don’t expect to escape the crowds of Paris. At times, Monet’s garden is more crowded than a Paris street. The paths are about as wide as an American hallway, and there are 3 lanes. 1, one way, 2, the other way, and 3, the picture lane. When people step back to get a better angle, or walk on the left instead of the right, it causes lots of confusion, traffic jams, and “pardon”s, sometime said with a sharp edge. (Ok, maybe that was just me) One nice thing about it was there were plenty of Asian people who offered to take my picture if I would take theirs. 🙂 We were quite comical, I think, speaking French to each other, or, when language failed, gesturing and bowing wildly. Note: When an Asian bows to you, you can’t help but bow back, lol. 

Monet’s studio has become a gift shop, and I can’t help but wonder how he would feel about this. I was kind of put off by it, as if it tainted or polluted the pureness of the art somehow. But he was one of the rare artists who was financially successful in his lifetime (not having to die first to achieve fame like so many) so I wonder if he would be rubbing his hands together in glee at all the money being made for the benefit of his big family. He and his wife had I think 8 children altogether from different families. I heard one man grousing about how big Monet’s house was and how many bedrooms there were, and I thought that Monet may have thought his house was not big enough since two of his non-related children ended up marrying each other!

I walked back to the Vernon station, which was a lovely 4 mile walk, but if anyone attempts it, I would recommend having a map of Vernon handy, as once the bike path ends, the path to the train station is very tiny and looks like a dead end at first, which caused me to walk in circles for quite a while. When I finally asked directions (in French, as this is not Paris, and most people do not speak English at all) she directed me as far as the bank, then said to find someone to ask when I got there, as the path is difficult to find. The first 3.9 miles are easy. It’s finding the little bit that leads to the train station that’s difficult. 


I stopped for lunch at a place known as the “Roses” for the owners’ names on the awning. It is very reasonable and very tasty. Even if you are not hungry, I would grab a sandwich or a quiche to go here.


I will try to keep the pictures to a minimum. 🙂

Nearly impossible to get a shot without people in it.ImageBlocks of color


The bridge


Rick Steves’ Marais Walk

I will admit I have an irrational fear of the right bank because most of my negative experiences of Paris have taken place there, but I have heard so much about the Marais, and from what little I saw of it a few days ago, I decided to break out the Rick Steves again and take his Marais self guided walk. I started by walking down what has become one of my favorite streets in Paris, the rue St Andre des Arts to Blvd St Michel. There are always tons of people at the sandwich stand on this corner.

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Even Superman vacations in Paris.

From there I walked along the Seine and crossed Pont de Sully and continued along Bd Henry IV.


My old town of Ledyard, CT could learn something looking at the Seine. Oh how I hated having only 3 crossing points over the Thames. If only there were as many bridges there as there are here. Anyway, I was reminded of my old home again a few minutes later when I passed an electric store, because I always thought the store on Main St in Norwich was cool, but it doesn’t hold a candle (or a bulb) to this one on Blvd Henri IV.



I arrived at Place de la Bastille to find more gendarmes and caution tape. What have I walked into now? I think it was an outpost of the 1st Festival of Gay Cultures Paris, however it looks like Justice for Central Africa has climbed on the bandwagon and set up across the square from them. Place de la Bastille is where the walk begins, so I began.


The bastille itself is gone, but I took a picture of an outline of the turrets that is on the road where rue St Antoine hits the square.

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and the Opera Bastille


A teeny gas station (first one I have noticed actually)


#17 rue Beautrellis, where Jim Morrison died


The entrance to Hotel de Sully was closed so I walked around the block and entered the Place des Voges from the back. What a lovely park this is. I like it much better than the Jardin du Luxembourg. Love was in the air, and there were plenty of shaded benches to sit on. I wasn’t too hungry yet but I had a tiny glass of wine I had brought with me. It’s funny, the other day my shoulder was killing me from lugging around my umbrella and a couple of books. Yet for the past 2 days I have headed out carrying a full bottle of wine as well and didn’t feel burdened at all. 🙂

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I listened to a tour guide who had stopped at the bench next to mine, and was happy to hear him telling the family he was guiding many of the same things I had in my book. I hope that means that my book is correct, rather than the tour guide just took his information from the book! One thing I did learn from eavesdropping on that tour guide is that this square is the only square in Paris that is actually square-shaped.

I went to see Victor Hugo’s house which is located on the square, and determined that his decorating style and mine definitely do not mix, although I did like the location of his apartment.


Man, that is some wallpaper! I made a full circuit around the square, looking at all the art galleries, then continued on to rue de Francs Bourgeois, which to me is just a big mall with lots of familiar stores; L’Occitane, Bobbi Brown, Guerlain, Jo Malone… I made a detour down a side street to buy some grapes to add to my picnic late lunch/early dinner.

I spent a lot of time in the Carnavelet Museum, a museum of the history of paris, which has its own separate chapter in my book. I think I spent close to 2 hours here, although I skipped the pre-history and mostly everything after Napoleon. It just got to be too much for me, and all the explanatory markers are in French, which I can read, although it becomes very tiring. I will say, I like being alone in museums. I can take my time, spending as much time as I want here or there, without worrying about anyone else being bored. A blurry picture of the faces from the Pont Neuf, but I liked the composition.


This kid couldn’t help but grow up to have a huge ego


If my French is correct, this replica of the Bastille was made with an actual block of the Bastille itself! Pretty cool.


There were many rooms of art that chronicled life in Paris. I did see one work of art that I am familiar with and wasn’t expecting to see in a history museum. Absinthe.


This garden was not in my guidebook, but it was very cute, and I imagine would look lovely at night, as those whitish things all over the grass are lamps. It’s the Jardin de l”hotel Lamoignon on rue Pavee.


I visited the Mona Lisait bookstore. It is listed in my book as “funky” and “has more inside than meets the eye”. I agree but I will let you enjoy uncovering the more for yourself. Not knowing what to expect was half the fun. 🙂

Next was the rue des Rosiers, the actual Jewish Quarter. Many places were closed today so I walked through to rue Ste Croix de la Bretonnerie, listed as Paris’ openly gay main drag. Because of the festival starting (past my bedtime) tonight, the streets were alive with much more….shall we say “camp” and decor than the last time I was here. Before you ask, yes that IS a man dressed as a giant penis. He was so funny, a family with small children walked by and when he saw the (goodnatured) shocked faces of the parents, the penis-man covered his eyes, rather than the parents shielding their childrens’ eyes. 🙂

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By now I was getting pretty hungry. I am visiting the Pompidou Center another day, so I skipped that and thought I might eat at the Hotel de Ville (which is really city hall). However, there were way too many people here for me to feel comfortable breaking out my mini picnic, and the touristy feel of the place made me wary of pickpockets and other negative experiences, so I continued across the bridge towards Notre Dame and went down to eat alongside the Seine while watching the bateaux mouches glide by. My camera died here. 😦

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What started out as a questionable day turned out to be lovely and sunny.

I was going to hop the bus for a ride around Paris but traffic is really bad today, at a standstill. I walked home, thinking I would go online to find out if there was a closer store than the one in rue Cler where I bought my delicious chocolate chip brioche the other day, but on the way home I was seduced by a banana nutella crepe, enjoyed in my apartment with a cup of coffee instead.

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