Graffiti, Parc de Belleville
One of the great joys of Paris is its compactness. The twenty arrondissements are effectively fenced in by the Boulevard Périphérique, and one can walk from Porte de Clignancourt in the north to Porte d’Italie in the south, just over 6 miles, in a couple of hours. Going from the edge of the Bois de Boulogne in the west to Porte de Bagnolet in the east is just under 7 miles, so it would take another 20 minutes or so. The city is made for walking.
Comparisons with London are difficult because of the more sprawling nature of the latter. A reasonable comparison might be going north/south from Parliament Hill in Hampstead to Wimbledon Common, which is a shade over 11 miles, and going west/east from White City to Canary Wharf, which is 10.5 miles. Every Londoner will have their own notional city boundaries (I always got a bit nervous once I was north of King’s Cross or east of Liverpool Street).
The past three days have been spent carousing in Paris – Madame’s treat for my birthday on Friday. It was warm and sunny, and we spent nearly all of it outdoors. Masks still scrupulously worn by everyone on public transport and in enclosed spaces. Far less so on the streets. According to my Google Fitness app, we averaged a shade under 8 miles (20,000 steps) a day, which is not bad going. It did, of course, require plenty of pit stops for refuelling on the way.
A few garbled jottings from our time there.
On Thursday morning, we headed north-east on the metro to Pyrénées to show Madame the wonderful city view from Parc de Belleville. We then walked back to the city centre via Rue de Belleville and Rue du Faubourg-du-Temple. I like this area. It’s lively and noisy, with a noticeable influx of Chinese people since I lived here twenty years ago.
Street Art, Rue de Belleville
Restaurants and bars have been allowed to extend their terraces wherever possible. This generally gives the city an even more festive air than usual, though perhaps it doesn’t always work …
Rue du Dragon
On Friday, we went to the Musée Carnavalet, the museum of the history of Paris, in the heart of the Marais. It’s one of my favourite museums and has just reopened after four years of renovation work. It looks superb. It’s free to enter, and one can spend a very enjoyable hour wandering the bright, airy galleries. We had come to see the Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibition, which was every bit as good as I had hoped. There is a slide show here showing some of the exhibits.
Be warned, tickets are sold by entry time. Allow a little time before your session starts, because you will be stopped by a bewildering number of individuals checking that you have a ticket, that it’s for the right day and time, that you’re in the right queue for your session, that you have your health pass … ‘and if we could just have one last look at your ticket, monsieur? Merci! Enjoy your visit.’
Palais du Louvre
At lunchtime we walked through the grounds of the Palais du Louvre to Galerie Vivienne for a glass of champagne in Legrand, the wine bar and wine merchants. This has become a birthday tradition. That is to say, we also did it last year, and I don’t see any reason to stop now.
Joyeux anniversaire à moi!
A light lunch in Bar du Moulin nearby, then back to the hôtel to fall asleep watching Maigret.
A walk along the river in the evening, then dinner at Chez Fernand Christine, not far from our hotel in Rue de l’Odéon. It’s a sister restaurant to Chez Fernand in Rue Guisarde, and their speciality is the same ‘légendaire bœuf bourguignon de Rémi Lebon,’ which we both had. It was as good as always, but the portions are definitely getting smaller.
The evening’s entertainment was provided by three Americans at the next table, one of whom had the strongest Brooklyn accent I’ve ever heard. They ordered four starters, which they shared. We’d started before they arrived and left before their mains arrived, but they had already almost demolished the magnum of Sancerre that Brooklyn had ordered. He was drinking vodka chasers alongside this.
Brooklyn: Ya got any French vodka?
Waiter: Yes, sir, we do.
B: Is it smooth?
W: Oh yes, sir, it’s very smooth.
B: I hate smooth. Ya got any Stoly?
W: Yes, sir.
I was sorry to leave. If nothing else, I would have loved to see their bill.
After dinner, another, slightly more atavistic, birthday tradition, a couple of pints of Guinness in Corcoran’s in Rue Saint-André-des-Arts.
Corcoran’s, Rue Saint-André des Arts
A nightcap in Les Éditeurs in Carrefour de l’Odéon, and then gently floating homeward, feeling no pain.
Carrefour de l’Odéon, Midnight Saturday 24th July
On Saturday morning, we set out to visit the catacombs. I’d first tried to do this many years ago with friends Frank and John, but a sudden digestive crisis had forced me to leave them to it while I found what Brooklyn would have called a restroom. For some reason, this proved unexpectedly difficult, and by the time I succeeded it was too late to join them.
I was no luckier this time. The Covid virus has led to stricter controls on the number of visitors, and booking in advance is necessary, something we had failed to do.
Instead we went to Le Bon Marché, the upmarket department store whose food hall would give that of Harrods a run for its money. We toyed with paying €3,000 for a bottle of Chateau Latour or stocking up with Bird’s Custard Powder from their British section, but decided to leave both for another day.
Lunch sitting in the sun outside ever-reliable Le Petit Saint-Benoit, then to Gare Montparnasse to share the train home with about half a million people heading for the coast.
A very enjoyable few days.
Things I’ve learnt this week … For some reason, I have forgotten everything I have learnt this week, but Madame has just told me a funny story.
Apparently the animal charity PDSA runs its promotional material on a syndicated basis. Thus you will see similar posters and signs in different cities throughout the UK: ‘PDSA. Helping Edinburgh animals,’ ‘PDSA. Helping Blackpool animals,’ ‘PDSA. Helping Norwich animals,’ etc.
All well and good, but they have just opened a branch in Bury.