La Seine and Paris

 
“We don’t have Venice and its moon, nor its breeze, nor its lagoon, but we have la Seine.”

Popular song favored by Parisian canoeists in the 19th century
 
Canoeists were right. Paris may not be the center of the universe (some would argue it once was,) but Paris has always been a unique place, and the city has largely been defined by the famous river that meanders through it, la Seine.
 
Paris was born over 2000 years ago on the island known as Ile de la Cité (one of the three remaining islands in downtown Paris today.) A tribe of Celtic fishermen named the Parisii settled the area in the 3rd century BC. From the start, the Seine provided both livelihood and protection. The Parisii were able to push back countless invaders and remained independent until Julius Caesar, (who knew a strategic location when he saw one,) took over. Paris became Lutetia under Roman rule, for about 500 years. From the island, it spread to the Left Bank first, and much later, to the Right Bank. One of the world’s most iconic cities was born.

The Seine and the island where it all started… 
(author unknown)
Lutetia, as depicted in the Asterix and Obelix French comic book series
“Our story begins in Lutetia, the most prodigious city in the Universe”

It can be argued that if Paris has always been the center of France, la Seine has always been the heart of Paris. La Seine borders ten of the twenty arrondissements (districts.) Most of the noteworthy and iconic buildings in the French capital are either built by the Seine river, or within a few blocks of its banks, museums, government buildings, parks and monuments. They are all there, a feast for the eyes, best admired from one of the tour boats, the famous Bateaux Mouches, or Bateaux Parisiens. The Eiffel Tower competes with the river as the city’s best vantage point. When the lights magically turn on at sunset, the river banks start glowing, even on dark, overcast days.

Les Bateaux Parisiens
Notre-Dame from the Seine 
Orsay museum at sunset
Grand Palais at sunset
Notre-Dame: Even more spectacular at night
Eiffel Tower

The city layout was also largely determined by the Seine. Every year, millions of visitors learn the difference between Rive Gauche (Left Bank) and Rive Droite (Right Bank). Once you realize that street numbers were assigned from the river, it becomes really easy to find your way or locate an address in downtown Paris: If a street runs perpendicular to the Seine, counting starts by the river. If a street runs parallel to the Seine, numbers follow the river flow, and go east to west. Logique, non?

 
It is tempting to believe that the Seine was born on the French coast, flowing inland. It is quite the opposite in fact. The river’s spring lies near Dijon, in the heart of Burgundy, flows west towards Paris. It meanders through the French capital, then heads for the sea, finally running into La Manche (the English Channel) in the major port city of Le Havre. It is France’s most famous waterway, but it is not the longest one (La Loire is.) The reason for la Seine‘s enduring fame and success is its high navigability for most of its 780 kilometers (485 miles.) Commercial barges are a familiar sight in downtown Paris, all the way to the city of Rouen, located inland, where the river is deep enough to welcome big cargo ships. 

La péniche (barge) with a million dollar view

There are 37 bridges spanning the Seine in downtown Paris. Like the city and its famous river, they have inspired generations of writers, musicians, painters, and movie makers. Today, pedestrians, cyclists and cars are the only familiar sights on Parisian bridges, but in the Middle Ages most had buildings on them. There were exceptions. The iconic Pont-Neuf (named “the new bridge,” it is actually the oldest bridge in Paris,) was the first not be lined with houses and the first Parisian thoroughfare to offer sidewalks. Voilà a handful of Paris’ most recognized bridges.

Parisian bridge in the Middle Ages: Is it a wonder so many collapsed?
(author unknown)
A section of Le Pont Neuf (completed in 1606
 and renovated in the 1990’s for its 400th anniversary)
Pont Alexandre III,  Paris’ most ornate bridge (built 1896-1900)
Pont au Change (1858-1860)
Pont Notre-Dame, built for the first time during Antiquity.
The current version was inaugurated in 1919

The Seine riverbanks, les quais de Seine, are as emblematic of Paris as the river itself. At the street level, above the water, things can get quite hectic, pedestrians rushing on the sidewalks, cars and motorcycles zooming by. Les quais de Seine are so illustrious that they became a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1991. 

Legendary sights include les bouquinistes, used-book sellers who have traded their wares along the river since the Middle Ages. Un bouquin, in conversational French, is a book. There are only 245 bouquinistes in Paris, manning their outdoors stalls (mere boxes) permanently affixed to the quaysides. 

Bouquinistes, Jean-Henri Pontoy (1888-1968)
Junior, browsing a bouquiniste’s selection on a hot summer day
Locked bouquiniste stalls at night 

Should you feel overwhelmed by the sounds and commotion of the big city above, you need only take a few steps down to go back to the river, and the past. Wander on les quais (the river banks.)  Feel the ancient cobblestones under your feet. Follow the Seine, under a bridge, and watch the world go by. Timeless activities. Familiar faces. Parisians walking their dogs. Lovers. Painters. Fishermen. And beggars, who call les quais “home,” for a few hours every day.

Quais de Seine

Paris in the springtime: Sun worshippers return 

La Seine is beautiful, mesmerizing, and alive. La Seine is also dangerous, dirty, and grim, a favorite location of unfortunate souls indulging their suicidal tendencies, for others, the perfect spot to dispose of a body. Yet, Parisians used to swim in the river, and still did 60 years ago before commercial barges and pollution interfered. In the 1940s, people flocked to the river in the summer. Where did Parisians celebrate the end of World War 2 in the summer of 1945? By the Seine, bien sûr

LAPI/Roger-Viollet

Today, swimming in the Seine is prohibited, but since 2002, the city of Paris has made it possible for locals and tourists alike to gather on the riverbanks. “Paris-Plage” (Paris Beach) has proved a successful endeavor, imitated since in other European capitals. Imagine the scene: For three weeks at the end of July, Paris becomes a beach, complete with sand, lounge chairs, palm trees, street artists, crafts, volley ball, pétanque games. And pickpockets.

Paris-Plage (author unknown)
Paris-Plage (author unknown)

Sometimes, la Seine gets upset, and the water level goes up, way up. It usually calms down after a few days, under the Zouaves watchful eye. The old river was not always that predictable, and the Parisians know it.

Le Zouave (*)

No matter the Seine’s mood, the Parisians forgive. Paris needs the Seine like France needs Paris. In his will, Napoleon I wrote: “I desire my ashes to rest on the banks of the Seine, amid the French people whom I loved so much.” His wish was not granted. After his army was defeated in Waterloo in 1815, the British sent him away as far as possible from Paris, the Seine, and the French. He arrived on St. Helena, a remote island off the Coast of West Africa where he died in 1821. In 1840, the British government allowed the transfer of his remains back to France. His ashes sailed across the Atlantic to the English Channel where they were transferred on a steamship. Fittingly, the French emperor’s last voyage continued up the Seine river through the towns of Le Havre, then Rouen, all the way to Paris where he was given a national funeral. Napoleon’s final resting place is inside the dome of the famed Hôtel des Invalides… one short block away from the Seine. 

A bientôt.

(*) Le Zouave: This statue of a soldier that belonged to the French light infantry in the North African colonies was inaugurated (with the Alma Bridge it stands under) by Napoleon III in the mid-19th century. For more than 155 years, the venerable Zouave has warned Parisians about potential flooding of the Seine River. When his feet get wet, the French capital takes notice. Everyone still remembers the terrible flood of 1910. That year, the Seine reached the Zouave‘s shoulders. Quelle histoire!

 

Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by Savoye Images Photography.

Ile de la Cité: The islands of Paris (part 2)

L’Ile de la Cité is, in many ways, a condensed version of Paris: It offers magnificent architecture, eye-catching perspectives, atmospheric streets and bridges. Like the rest of the French capital, it is a combination of history and elegance, and in sections, tacky touristy eateries and shops. It is crowded and loud, yet, at certain times of day, (and off season,) one can stroll around the island and enjoy a slice of the authentic, romantic experience Paris is famous for around the world. Like many Parisian neighborhoods, it benefited from the extensive urban remodel undertaken by Napoleon III and his right-hand man Baron Eugene Haussmann, the Prefect of Paris, in the second half of the 19th century. Unlike its smaller, more residential neighbor, l’Ile Saint Louis, l’Ile de la Cité has played a prominent part in the history of the French capital. It is more than 2000 years old, and developed over the centuries as a military and government center. As such, it is packed with landmarks, several of which are Historic Monuments of France or Unesco World Heritage sites.

Ile de la Cité
Ile de la Cité, from the Left Bank

Who has not discovered Notre-Dame de Paris, the glorious gothic masterpiece erected over the course of 200 years, and the most visited site in France, or its neighbor, la Sainte-Chapelle and its ornate and exquisite stained glass work? Every day, visitors flock to these iconic landmarks and are willing to line up, sometimes for hours, to experience some of the magic. Notre-Dame and la Sainte Chapelle are the ruling stars of l’Ile de la Cité. It’s best to arrive early if you want to avoid crowds, even if repeat visitors might point out la Sainte Chapelle‘s giant stained glass windows show much better at sunset. While Notre-Dame de Paris is hard to miss from wherever you are on the island because of its majestic size, la Sainte-Chapelle is tucked inside the courtyard of le Palais de la Cité (Palais de Justice) and with la Conciergerie, another must-see monument, used to be part of the medieval royal palace until French kings decided to relocate to le Louvre, across the Seine river, at the end of the 14th century.

Ile de la Cité
Notre-Dame de Paris makes an appearance from le quai de la Corse
Ile de la Cité
La Sainte-Chapelle at sunset, tucked inside the Palais de Justice courtyard
Ile de la Cité
La Conciergerie (right) and le Tribunal de Commerce, from the Right Bank

Less visited sites on the island include the moving Memorial des Martyrs de la Déportation, located behind Notre-Dame, on the site of the former city morgue. It honors the memory of those who died in Nazi concentration camps between 1941 and 1944. Even if it was inaugurated in the early 1960s, many miss it, which is a shame, as it is effective and thought-provoking.

Off le quai de la Corse, next to le Tribunal de Commerce,  la place Louis Lépine and its flower and bird market named after Queen Elizabeth II are must-sees. Here’s one of my favorite retreats on bustling Ile de la Cité. The market, built in the 19th century, is worth a detour year round including on winter days, as some sections are sheltered under recognizable glass and steel pavilions dating back to 1900.

Ile de la Cité
Marché aux Fleurs
Ile de la Cité
Marché aux Fleurs
Ile de la Cité
Marché aux Fleurs: Verrières (19th century canopies)

The western tip of l’Ile de la Cité is one of the most popular sites on the island. There, a delightful garden above the Seine river offers visitors a chance to unwind, enjoy a picnic, or watch the world go by at le square du Vert Galant, named after King Henry IV. “Le bon roi Henri,” (the good King Henry,) as generations of French elementary school children have come to know him, greets you on his horse as you approach.

Ile de la Cité
Dashing King Henry IV
Ile de la Cité
Le square du Vert Galant
Ile de la Cité
Looking at the Left Bank across le Pont Neuf from le Vert Galant

When le square du Vert Galant is too busy (it often is, in part because one of the river tour boats docks there,) I don’t fight other visitors for space under that giant willow tree. Instead, I go back up the stairs, cross la place du Pont Neuf and head to la place Dauphine. This is one of my favorite locations in Paris, and I dream of living there one day. The closest I ever got was when I spent a couple of magical nights at a former budget hotel (now closed) that used to be located there, l’Hôtel Henri IV. If you need proof that even in the middle of a busy, touristy neighborhood Paris can feel like a village, don’t miss it! Merci, Bon Roi Henri, for this urban treasure! From the art galeries and restaurants lining up the square, to pétanque players engaged in animated conversations in the center, la vie est belle indeed, on la place Dauphine. 

Ile de la Cité
From my old hotel room…
Ile de la Cité
La pétanque
Ile de la Cité
Nobody cooks in those tiny Parisian kitchens: Locals know where to find their favorite “Dining Room”

A long time ago, an iconic couple lived here. Actors, activists and lovers Yves Montand and Simone Signoret had just gotten married in 1951 when they moved into a former bookstore. The original Parisian Bobos (Bourgeois-Bohèmes,) they transformed the long narrow space into a duplex they would nickname “la roulotte,” (the caravan.) It opened on le quai des Orfèvres at one end, and la place Dauphine at the other. Today, Montand and Signoret are long gone, even if they are remembered fondly in France. La roulotte has been turned into an art gallery, la Galerie du Vert Galant. I have stepped in on a couple of occasions as I walked along le quai des Orfèvres to check out the collections, but mostly, (like many others I suspect,) to try and picture Yves and Simone during their happy years at la place Dauphine on the Ile de la Cité.

Ile de la Cité
Yves et Simone, sur les quais

A bientôt.

 

Ile de la Cité
Pétanque players, place Dauphine, Paris

 

One last thing…

Now that you have finished reading this story and have just left a comment, below, you might as well swing by the French Girl in Seattle boutique to check out our fun French-themed gifts! (just a thought!)

 Merci et à bientôt, Véronique

Ile Saint Louis: the islands of Paris (part 1)

Ile Saint Louis, Ile de la Cité: the only two natural islands of Paris. The legend says the story of Paris started there, on the largest one, l’Ile de la Cité, more than 2000 years ago. From that secure location, local fishermen pushed away invaders successfully, until a powerful leader with dreams of grandeur named Julius Caesar rolled in around 52 BC, and changed everything. The 500 years that followed would be one of several periods of occupation, and gradually, the city we know today expanded from the island across the Seine river, to the Left Bank first, then to the Right. Lutèce (Lutetia,) as it was known, became Paris, and the rest, as they say, is history. 

Accolades

Accolades

 

“Thank you for all your photos, videos, etc. You have the best views of France!”

– Terri K., Alabama

“Just realized that a friend might also enjoy your posts, so shared this with him, and he now also is a follower of FGIS! (…) Truly, yours is the best French themed blog on FB. I have always appreciated how accessible you are, and, I just today realized you offer a marketplace (dangerous 😂)!”

– Ruth L.

“I loved the article ‘Finding Unexpected Paris.’  I am a regular visitor to Paris, my grandmother was French and I feel such a connection whenever I arrive from Sydney, Australia, at Charles de Gaulle  –  Your blogs/articles are a huge benefit to my knowledge of that beautiful city. Love everything you post  –  delightful.”

– Di, Sydney, Australia

“Thank you so much for your wonderful Facebook page. For sharing so much beauty and truth. For the inspirational posts, and the educational posts. And most importantly, for the truly enlightening posts such as this one {a story about the martyred village of Oradour-sur-Glane.} Please keep on educating the world about France, its truly wonderful people and culture. There is still so much for us to learn! (…)”

Pat B., Savannah, GA.

“I so enjoy your posts. I dream of going to Paris and explore all of France. You make the places come alive. All the sights, the sounds, the smells, the experiences are just wonderful! Thank you so much.”

Debra S., Durham, NC.

“I just want to tell you that your posts add spark to my days. Love France — love your posts. Thank you so much.”

Betty M., Nokesville, VA.

“Merci! I hope you will continue to share and also inform us. I can’t tell you how much I not only enjoy but learn from your posts. You are the ‘Armchair Travelers’ eyes and ears, which I so appreciate!”

 – Becky McC. Derby, KS.

“Your Facebook page is the first one I visit in the morning. I am a little bit obsessed with France, and I always learn something new from you. You are a great Ambassador of French culture.”

Ellen B., Louisville, KY

“I just had to write and tell you how much I appreciate this group. I have had a lifelong love affair with everything French. It is such a beautiful place to spend a little part of my day, and I thank you.”

Karen P.

 

What students once said about Véronique’s French lessons and Travel preparation workshops

 

French Girl in Seattle
Véronique and some of her French students, Chez Luc, Seattle, 2007 (Photo FGIS)

“I remember your Paris travel workshop. Had such a good time and learned a lot. Came in handy when we visited Paris. Believe it or not, I still have the hand outs and my notes.  🙂 Oh, and you gave me a recommendation for Les Ombres restaurant (Musée Branly.) I’m sure I’ve shared this somewhere on FB, but the short story is that your recommendation turned into reservations and a fabulous meal on New Years Eve! For that, I thank you. My limited French language skills somehow got me through introducing myself and friends and giving the reservations data. I must have spoken the language reasonably correctly, because I received a “Very good Sir” from the hostess. Love Paris!

– Michael R., Costa Mesa, CA.

“You have a unique perspective on the differences and challenges American travelers may find in France, and you were very adept at preparing us for cultural, as well as linguistic ‘rough spots.’ Since you focused on the necessities of communicating, rather than perfect conjugation, I was able to maximize the benefits from your class (…) I Just wanted to let you know, now that my French adventure is over, how much fun I had in your class — and how useful it proved to be in Paris, Beaune, and Arles!  There were a few hoteliers and restaurant owners who simply spoke no English — my lessons came in very handy. I was always able to convey my needs, for the most part (…)”

— Brian D., Bothell, WA

“Bob and I had such a wonderful trip! Thanks for all your helpful hints. We used our feeble French to order delicious meals from ‘le menu,’ knew NOT to step on the beautiful grass in public gardens, and enjoyed the sun-worshipping crowds on the banks of the Seine. (…) I can’t wait to go back! We speak often of our class with you — how much it enhanced our trip and how delightful the time we spent with you.  Hopefully we’ll meet again in the future…I’m still interested in continuing my French lessons!”

— Roberta G., Seattle, WA

“Returned from beautiful Paris on Tuesday evening.  We had the best time.  I have to say that this was in large part because of your great lessons!  I did most of the talking since my friends did not study quite as much.  Everything you taught came in very handy from arriving in France, working with the concierge at the hotel, shopping and of course ordering food!  We also asked lots of directions – and understood the answers (…)  We got so good at saying Bonjour Madame/Monsieur and Au Revoir, merci!  that people did not automatically switch to English which, to us, was wonderful (…)”

— Natalie Y., Kirkland, WA

La Butte aux Cailles, Paris

Paris is a bustling, crazy city.
Visitors often complain about the large crowds.
Nobody has gotten lost in la Jocondes smile (Mona Lisa) since the 1960s.
La Dame de Fer (the Eiffel Tower) will keep you waiting, and waiting.
Les Champs-Elysées look like a cosmopolitan ant world, day and night.
Notre-Dame only gets quiet if you climb her towers, looking for Quasimodo.

Paris is a city of villages.
Former villages, now neighborhoods,
Each with a distinct flavor.
Venture out of the beaten path, visitor!
You shall be rewarded.

Somewhere on the Left Bank, a special place hides.
It is known as la Butte aux Cailles (Quail Hill.) 

Once a working-class neighborhood, it sat by la Bièvre, a river.
Today, the river still meets la Seine, but it runs underground.
On the shores of la Bièvre,
there were tanneries, windmills, and limestone quarries.
The ground became so unstable it could not carry the weight of heavy construction.
That is why la Butte aux Cailles still looks like a village.
Private homes, tucked away from the street behind green metal gates.
Peaceful streets, sleeping in the summer sun.
 
 

Villa Daviel
A friendly local…

During la Commune, a violent civil insurrection in 1871,
People in La Butte aux Cailles fought long and hard.
Memories of the uprising linger on la Place de la Commune de Paris.




The only signs of rebellion today are tags and graffiti.
In la Butte aux Cailles, they call this street art. 



There is a small square, la place Paul Verlaine.
In the center, the fountain’s water supply comes from
an old artesian well, sourced by natural spring water.


Place Paul Verlaine, there is a swimming pool, inaugurated in the 1920s,
One of Paris’ three public swimming pools at the time.
Red brick façade. Art Nouveau style. Water pumped from the artesian well,
Kept at a comfortable 28 degrees Celsius (82 F) year round.
The old public baths are still there too.


The three pools (one indoors, two outdoors) were renovated and re-opened a few weeks ago
(Commons – Wikimedia) 


These days, nobody goes starving in la Butte aux Cailles.
This is Paris, after all.
Visitors can sit in a wine bar, eat une crêpe, or sample traditional cuisine.
At night, locals, artists and hipsters mingle.
The old neighborhood wakes up with the sound of animated conversations;
Tables and chairs crowd the sidewalks.

Loved my lunch at L’Oisive-Thé,
restaurant; knitting and crochet club. 
La Butte aux Piafs (Piaf = small bird) 

In Paris, you get the visit you deserve.
Mine always include a stroll in a favorite village.
And as villages go, la Butte aux Cailles is as good as any.




A bientôt.

To visit la Butte aux Cailles:

Metro Line 6 
Station: Corvisart
Walk up la rue des 5 DIamants (street of the five diamonds)
until it meets la rue de la Butte aux Cailles. 
You have arrived. Explore. Relax. 

Text and photos by French Girl in Seattle.

Please do not use without Permission.

Thank you.

 

A la Maison Fournaise

Funny what happens when you let a story take you by the hand. This little tale started with a photo I found online a few days ago.

I looked at delightful Audrey Tautou, impersonating the great Coco Chanel, and I wondered how anyone could look this good, dressed as a man and wearing a black canotier (boater hat.) That got me thinking le canotier was the couvre-chef (headgear) of choice of many, starting in the late 19th century. The popular straw hat was most commonly seen in a much lighter-colored version, often adorned with a wide brim ribbon. Le canotier is a bit of a cheeky hat, and it tends to fight for attention with the person wearing it. Illustration:

French singing and acting legend: Maurice Chevalier
Daddy Long Legs: Fred Astaire
Lovely Audrey Hepburn

Coco Chanel knew she was on to something when she adopted the whimsical hat at the beginning of her career. All most women had known until then was the ornate, cumbersome, heavily decorated headgear de rigueur during la Belle Epoque.

From Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn)…
… to Coco Chanel,
(wearing one of her early creations in 1910)

 

Coco Before Chanel (the movie)
La Belle Epoque meets Chanel

Truth be told, Chanel adopted something that had been around for years, and made it her own. In the 1880s, le canotier became popular first with men, then with children and women. It was reserved for athletic activities: cycling, hunting, and horseback riding. In the early 19th century many indulged in a favorite summer hobby: le canotage (canoeing.) Boats – often handmade – were everywhere on the Seine river, in downtown Paris, and outside the city. I wrote a story about the illustrious river a few months ago, and I mentioned les Canotiers (the Canoeists) who discovered the joys of rowing and the world of boating. This was documented by artists, among them painters in the Impressionist movement.

Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894),
a good friend of the Impressionist crowd

 

Gustave Caillebotte

Canotiers in Chatou
Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)

It was important to look the part while rowing, and the straw boating hat, worn by the French navy crews, was adopted early on by all. This started among Parisians an enduring fascination with the nautical clothing style, in particular la Marinière (French sailor shirt.) 

A French girl all the way: Marion Cotillard

I could have stopped when I reached this point in my story. But there was more to tell. From the straw boating hat, to the Canoeists, I started thinking about how very few foreign visitors realize how beautiful the Seine river banks are outside of Paris. Most tourists will stay downtown (or take day trips to Versailles) but few will travel to the western outskirts of the French capital and follow the river, as it heads towards Normandy and finally flows into the English Channel in le Havre.

(photographer unknown)
La Seine near Chatou
(Y. Capelle)
Near Bougival
(flickr.com)

On the way, bucolic scenes await as the Seine meanders through small towns, Croissy, Chatou, Rueil-Malmaison, Bougival. This may not be the mighty Mississippi river, but I am guessing Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn would have enjoyed following the old Seine, and exploring some of the islands discovered on the way, l’Ile Fleurie, l’Ile des Impressionnistes.

La Seine in les Andelys (Upper Normandy)
(photographer unknown)
Bords de Seine (Seine riverbanks) near Chatou
(Jacques Souben)

While I lived in Paris, I was fortunate to work for many years in one of these small towns, Rueil Malmaison. American Express France was headquartered there. The building – and my office – overlooked the majestic and peaceful river. I am happy to go back today, and to take you with me. This was the view from my office window for a while.

la Seine and la Maison Fournaise
panoramio.com
(Hebrard)


Très joli, non? Let’s get closer, shall we? We have arrived on a small island, l’Ile des Impressionnistes (Ile de Chatou,) connected to the towns of Rueil-Malmaison and Chatou by a bridge. There, time has stopped.

The “old” Chatou bridge (1870s)

The most famous building on the island is an institution of sorts, the type of place where one often thinks: “If only these walls could talk…” As a history buff with a healthy respect for the past, you know how much I love these.

Ile des Impressionnistes, Chatou
La Maison Fournaise

Bienvenue à La Maison Fournaise. This restaurant was a popular place in the 19th century. Remember our friends les Canotiers (the Canoeists)? This was one of their favorite destinations on Sunday afternoons. Every week, Parisians flocked to la Gare St Lazare and after a 20-minute train ride, arrived in Chatou, looking for a good time. La Seine provided affordable entertainment. Swimming and fishing were favored by all. Sunday boaters could also rent sailboats or canoes.

L’Ile Fleurie, Chatou
(Musée Fournaise)
Fishing party, Chatou 
(Musée Fournaise)

Artists were attracted by the exceptional light and shadows they found by the river where ancient poplars, willow and chestnut trees provided shade on hot summer days. La Maison Fournaise‘s guest lists reads like the Who’s Who of the Impressionist movement: Monet, Manet, Sisley, Berthe Morisot, Pissaro, and the painter and art patron Gustave Caillebotte were all regulars. Later on, Vlaminck and Derain, the founders of Fauvism, opened a workshop in Chatou. Matisse visited them on a regular basis. There were politicians; there were intellectuals and writers, Guy de Maupassant, Guillaume Apollinaire. They ate and often stayed at La Maison Fournaise overnight. La Fournaise,” as it is sometimes called, is a piece of property purchased in the 1850s by a river toll collector, Alphonse Fournaise. Capitalizing on the new tourist trade and the emerging canoeing craze, he promptly established a boat rental business on site, with the help of his son, Alphonse Jr. Meanwhile, his wife took care of the restaurant and the small hotel in the main building. The most famous person in the family was lovely Alphonsine, their daughter, who counted many admirers and friends among the customers. La Fournaise quickly established itself as the epicenter of the Impressionists’ social life in Chatou. Through the 1870s and 1880s, the business prospered. The restaurant was known for its terrace, overlooking the Seine river and surrounded by an ornate cast iron railing; its murals, painted on the building façade by visiting artists, its food, and its clientèle.

La Maison Fournaise, late 19th century
(Maurice Leloir, 1851-1940)
Fournaise boat rental business, Chatou, early 20th century
(Musée Fournaise)
Maison Fournaise:
La terrasse (the terrace,)  today

Renoir, who stayed chez Fournaise on a regular basis between 1868 and 1884, felt inspired by the pastoral surroundings. He immortalized La Maison Fournaise in one of his most famous paintings, Le Déjeuner des Canotiers (Luncheon of the Boating Party.)

(1880-1881) 

The scene depicts Renoir’s friends and acquaintances on a hot summer day. Some noticeable characters are the Fournaise children, Alphonse Jr. and pretty Alphonsine, both wearing straw boater hats, on the left. The young woman kissing the dog is Renoir’s future wife, Aline Charigot. On the right, also wearing a canotier, Gustave Caillebotte, painter, photographer, and art patron, straddles a chair. The painting captures the lively and relaxed atmosphere of the Impressionists’ lazy Sunday afternoons in Chatou.

Many years later, Alphonsine Fournaise took over the family business, but the restaurant closed down in 1906. A few years later, her father’s old boat rental business followed suit. The world was changing fast and many deserted the area. The building and grounds fell in a bad state of disrepair until the property was purchased by the city of Chatou in 1977.

Maison Fournaise at the end of WW2
(courtesy of the City of Chatou)

In 1982, it was registered as a Historical monument of France. The city received subsidies from the state and from private organizations (including the Friends of French Art in Los Angeles who restored the beautiful iron railing.) A massive renovation effort was undertaken from 1984 to 1990. Today, the restaurant has reopened and a museum is located in Alphonse Fournaise’s old boat workshop. 

The renovated façade 
(courtesy of the city of Chatou)
A message left by writer Guy de Maupassant,
restored to its former glory

I started working part-time for American Express in my early 20s as a customer service  representative, while I studied English at the Sorbonne university. I remember looking longingly at the old building across the Seine river – the restaurant had recently re-opened – knowing that I would be having lunch there sooner or later. After graduate school, I was hired full time by American Express, and there were many opportunities to follow in the Impressionists’ footsteps. Birthdays, engagements, or just casual Fridays: My friends and I would head over chez Fournaise, a short car ride away. In the winter, we had lunch indoors, waiting for the weather to warm up so we could finally enjoy the renowned terrace. The food may not have always been up to old Madame Fournaise’s standards, but the view and atmosphere were unmatched in the area. Ever since I moved to the United States, a reproduction of Renoir’s masterpiece, Le Déjeuner des Canotiers (Luncheon of the Boating Party,) has been hanging on the wall above my desk, a reminder that I, too, got to sit on the renowned terrace chez Fournaise.

Many years later, during our annual visit to Paris, it was time to christen American-born Junior. We booked a private room in the restaurant before going to church. I was really happy to go back to my old hunting grounds that day.

Memories, memories…

Like so many other prestigious or anonymous visitors before us,  we had a lovely time chez Fournaise, enjoying a stroll by the Seine after lunch as Junior and his cousin ran along the river banks, imagining the canoes, the sailboats, and the artists who had sat outside and painted in the shade of the ancient trees.

Next time you visit Paris, why don’t you, too, follow la Seine all the way to Chatou? No need to wait until Sunday afternoon, or wear a canotier. The Canoeists and lovely Alphonsine may be long gone, but la Maison Fournaise is still there, by the river, waiting…

La Maison Fournaise (Renoir)
Alphonsine Fournaise (Renoir)
Renoir

I can’t leave Chatou, because my painting is not finished yet. It would be nice of you to come down here and have lunch with me. You won’t regret the trip, I assure you. There isn’t a lovelier place in all of Paris surroundings.
– From a letter Renoir sent a friend in 1880

A bientôt.

Afterword:

My brother, who is a good man, braved the cold on his bicycle this weekend to ride to the American Express building in Rueil Malmaison (he lives nearby with his family) and took several great shots for me. This one is my favorite. Merci, petit frère!

La Maison Fournaise while standing in front of American Express

 

Trending in Paris: French Girl in Seattle reports

I am back, after twelve fast-paced, fun-filled, memorable days in Paris. A few nights ago, I lay wide awake in my own bed, five hours before I had to return to the office. I decided to fight jet lag like a champ, by browsing through several hundred photos from the trip saved on my laptop. This nocturnal Paris trip inspired this story, and the realization that when Paris is concerned, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose (the more it changes, the more it’s the same thing.) What’s trending in Paris in April 2018? Overall, what was trending in Paris in April 2017, and more than likely , what was trending earlier too. Illustration.

(Still) trending in Paris: les terrasses de café (café terraces)

Like Parisians, they come in all shapes and sizes. Even if they are empty early in the morning, they fill in quickly, especially on sunny days. It does not matter if it is cold or raining outside. Many are covered or equipped with gas heaters, and comfortable year round. trending in Paris trending in Paris

trending in Paris

Why are they so popular, when sitting there often means inhaling second-hand smoke from the table next door, and paying more for drinks? Les cafés are the best place to socialize, to people-watch, and a natural extension to Parisians’ diminutive living quarters. It does not not matter that coffee quality is hit and miss, or that soda does not come with free refills and could bankrupt you. In Paris (and other parts of France,) it is a well-known fact life is best lived en terrasse.

(Still) trending in Paris: Les bords de Seine (the Seine riverbanks)

Ah, la Seine! The French capital’s lifeline remains one of her most iconic landmarks. She continues to inspire, and most Parisian strolls lead back to her.

trending in Paris

trending in Paris

(Still) trending in Paris: l’apéro (apéritif)

It’s 5 o’clock somewhere,” they say in other parts of the world. Parisians reply: “On prend l’apéro?L’apéritif remains a beloved ritual. It can be simple, your beverage of choice accompanied by a few slices of saucisson or cheese, a handful of peanuts or small crackers. It can be more elaborate. Lately, cafés have been offering dishes “a la plancha,” tapas-style, just like in Spain or the Mediterranean region. Charcuterie and cheese remain popular options.

trending in Paris
Happy Hours (les Heures Heureuses)

trending in Paris

(Still) trending in Paris: the Coffee Revolution

Forget old-fashioned cafés where le petit noir (a cup of bitter espresso) is best enjoyed au zinc (at the counter) with other regulars.

trending in Paris

In the much-touted “New Paris,” small, specialty coffee-shops, mostly run by Americans or Australians (or former French expats) have popped up all over the city, especially in the trendy parts of the Right Bank (10th and 11th arrondissements.) They pride themselves on serving top-quality, fair-trade, freshly-roasted coffee and talk about their selection du jour like a vigneron bordelais discusses his favorite wine vintage. One visits for the coffee experience, the Wifi, but not for the size of the room or the {non-existent} terrace. Tip for foreign visitors: These are the coffee shops you should visit if you are homesick and want to meet other English speakers.

trending in Paris
Café Oberkampf

trending in Paris

{Still} trending in Paris: the Americanization of France

Franglais (French: [fʁɑ̃ɡlɛ]; also Frenglish /ˈfrɛŋɡlɪʃ/) is a French portmanteau word referring initially to the pretentious overuse of English words by Francophones, and subsequently to the macaronic mixture of the French (français) and English (anglais) languages. (Wikipedia.)

Franglais has been an integral part of French life for many years, in ads, in magazines, and in the street. Le Fooding (paper or online version,) is one of the most trusted restaurant guides in France. It has become so big the famed Michelin guide has recently acquired shares in the company! Many French entrepreneurs meet daily in co-working spaces found in major French cities, to create and collaborate with like-minded people. In French restaurants, especially in Paris, the rumor has it le hamburger has been such un best-seller it has now replaced the traditional jambon-beurre sandwich in French hearts. One thing is true at least: Le am-ba-ga can be spotted on most menus, from gastronomic restaurants to more humble eateries.

trending in paris
Spotted in le Métro: an ad for lafourchette.com, the online restaurant reservation system

Let’s not forget France’s fascination with MacDo! Don’t les Français realize MacDo will be singlehandedly responsible for Manny the woolly mammoth’s extinction? I was able to catch a very rare sighting of an exhausted Manny seeking refuge at le Jardin des Plantes, only to spot MacDo over his right shoulder, seductively calling his name! Run, Manny, run!

Trending in Paris

In recent years, a former French expat has come home to introduce Parisians to texas-style barbecue. As long as diners are allowed to use forks and knives, he should do just fine.

Are bagels going to replace the traditional baguette? Has le hamburger dethroned French fast food? Not so fast, Ronald McDonald: On a recent stroll at la place des Vosges on a glorious spring afternoon, among the many picnic afficionados sprawled out on welcoming grassy areas, I spotted a majority of jambon-beurre sandwiches and its famous cousin, le poulet-crudités, There were a few galettes complètes (savory crepes) too. Yet, not a hamburger in sight.

trending in Paris

 

{still} trending in Paris: walking

Parisians walk everywhere. Many foreign visitors are shocked to see they lose weight while vacationing in the French capital even if they enjoy generous meals, plentiful wine, and their daily guilty pleasure: une pâtisserie. In recent years, much ado has been made about the art of la flânerie, an alleged Parisian specialty many people (who can’t survive without their car at home and will go out of their way to park right outside the buildings they are visiting) are happy to adopt as soon as they arrive in the French capital. It is Paris’s blessing and curse: The most mundane event happening in her streets is instantly embellished by the enduring “Paris mystique.” Meanwhile, Parisians seem oblivious to visitors’ and photographers’ fascinated stares. They are in a hurry and walk fast, to work, or to an appointment they are late for; later in the day, or during the weekend, they slow down and stroll, taking in the scenery.

{Still} trending in Paris: le trench, le parapluie, les tennis

In order to brave Paris’s fickle weather, especially in April, modern-day Parisians stick to what they know and trust: a good trench coat, an umbrella, and comfortable shoes made for walking.

trending in Paris
Les basiques (basics) are still in

When you walk as much as Parisians do, you need the right footwear. Don’t trust everything lifestyle bloggers tell you: Not all Parisian women spend their days on stiletto heels or ballet flats. Christian Louboutin shoes look best in a window display… or on a pretty woman sitting at a café terrace. They prove disappointing performers on the French capital’s iconic pavés (cobblestones.) For many years now, both men and women in Paris have adopted les tennis, or les baskets. American sneaker brands score big, especially among the younger crowd. More mature customers (including seniors) will stick to basic colors (black, navy, beige.) When they indulge in a whimsical pair (a light pink, silver, or sparkles,) sneakers must match the rest of the outfit, or at the very least the coat or jacket. We are in Paris, after all, not at the local gym! You will find French-style sneakers everywhere. Elegant brands like Inès de la Fressange or JB Martin Paris feature at least a few pairs in each of their seasonal collections.

trending in Paris
La Parisienne’s essentials

There is another reason les Parisiennes choose comfort over high heels: Like many women around the world, they walk the streets while staring at their smart phone screens and can’t take the risk of spraining an ankle. This continues when they ride the Metro. Fewer and fewer Parisians read books (or work) there. Everyone is too busy texting and reading French Girl in Seattle‘s latest blogpost on their telephone screen. Et oui, hélas, smart phones, too, are still trending in Paris…

A bientôt. 

trending in Paris
A French Girl in Paris (Photo C. Redor)

Text and photos by French Girl in Seattle. Please do not use without permission.

 

A message to French Girl in Seattle readers:

The new website I introduced earlier this year is almost ready and should get launched next month. I can’t wait for you to discover it!
In the meantime, continue following French Girl in Seattle on Facebook and Instagram for daily updates about Paris, France, and all things French. — Merci! Véronique (French Girl in Seattle)

 

Favorite French songs about Paris

The Eiffel Tower, from Passy (16th arrondissement)

Next best thing to being in Paris? Watching movies set in Paris. Reading books about Paris. Listening to other people’s stories about Paris. Or, if all else fails, listening to favorite French songs about Paris on Youtube. This list is not exhaustive. There are many contenders! The City of Light has inspired artists depuis toujours (forever.) Voilà some of this French girl’s favorite Paris-inspired tunes interpreted by French artists, with two exceptions, (but these American-born performers shot to stardom in France.) In this list, you will find some really old songs, and some newer ones too. When I miss Paris, where I lived for many years, these songs bring back happy memories as I hum along, thinking of home. I hope you enjoy them too.

Timeless classics

From les monstres sacrés with international reach, heavyweights like Edith Piaf, Maurice Chevalier, Charles Trénet, Yves Montand, and more artists like Patachou, Berthe Sylva, Bourvil, Cora Vaucaire, or Juliette Gréco, come classics every French native will recognize. Popular culture is culture all the same. These songs (and the evocative voices that once brought them to life,) tell stories about the Paris of yesteryear. They are nostalgic, and sad on occasion. The Paris they depict can’t be conjured up easily anymore. Paris has changed. The songs, and the stories they tell, remain. They continue to play a big part in fueling the Paris mystique so many hope to experience when they flock to the French capital.

Sous le Ciel de Paris (Giraud, Dréjac, 1951) 

La Romance de Paris (Trénet, Chauliac, 1941)

A Paris (Lemarque, 1946) 

Ménilmontant (Trénet, 1938) 

 

Josephine Baker, Joe Dassin: Two Americans in Paris

La Baker” remains a beloved icon in my homeland. She was American, yet most of her rich, tumultuous life was spent in France. She eventually became a French citizen. I once wrote a story about Josephine Baker after visiting her former home in the beautiful Périgord. In this great song, she declares her love to Paris where she ruled for many years as a popular entertainer.  The chorus says it all: “J’ai deux amours, mon pays et Paris ” (I have two loves, my country and Paris.)

J’ai deux amours (Koger, Varna, Scotto, 1930) 

Joe Dassin, the American born French singer, helped a famous Parisian avenue, les Champs Elysées, achieve iconic status in French popular culture with this hit song in the 1960s. It remains one of the tunes many French natives go back to when asked to sing in public. The YouTube version of the song with lyrics has already received 15 million hits!

Les Champs-Elysées (originally Waterloo Road, French lyrics by P. Delanoë, 1969) 

 

Singing about Paris: a family business (Jacques and Thomas Dutronc)

Jacques Dutronc‘s iconic Il est cinq heures, Paris s’éveille (It’s 5:00am. Paris awakens) topped the charts when it was released in 1968 and has remained a favorite in France, especially among night owls.

Il est Cinq heures, Paris s’éveille (Lanzmann, Dutronc, 1968)

Many years later, Thomas Dutronc demonstrated he had inherited his father’s good looks and musical talent when he wrote J’aime plus Paris, (I don’t like Paris anymore.) He bemoans the disappearance of the Paris of his childhood and depicts a realistic but grim picture of the French capital, from stressed locals to packed public transportation and grey skies. Yet, he can’t help declaring his love to Paris at the end of the song, “Pourtant Paris, c’est toute ma vie. C’est la plus belle, j’en fais le pari. Il n’y a qu’elle, c’est bien l’ennui” (Yet Paris is all my life. She is the most beautiful city, I would bet on it. She’s the only one, that’s the problem.)

J’aime plus Paris (Dutronc, 2007)

 

They call it the City of Light for a reason:

Another night owl, Jean-Louis Aubert, (former leader of the French rock band Telephone,) once put his own spin on nocturnal Parisian adventures with Quand Paris s’éteint (when lights go out in Paris)

Quand Paris s’éteint (Aubert, 1987) 

Singer/Songwriter Bénabar brings his trademark humor, clever lyrics and lively beat to Paris by Night, a tribute to Parisian nightlife.

Paris by Night (Benabar, 2016)

 

More French songs about Paris: Finding inspiration in Parisian icons

Actress/Singer/Top Model Vanessa Paradis became a star at age 14. She knows a thing or two about Parisian icons. In 2011, Vanessa performs La Seine, with “M” (Matthieu Chedid.) The Seine river, the French capital’s lifeline for more than 2000 years, inspired this song, featured in the soundtrack of the movie A Monster in Paris. It went on to collect awards in France and abroad.

La Seine (M. Chedid, 2011)

 

La Parisienne: Her sense of style is the envy of many women around the world. Christophe Maë weighs in with this ironic depiction of the urban adventures of a newly-minted Parisian Bobo (Bourgeois-Bohême.) Catchy tune. Fun video clip.

La Parisienne (C. Maë, P. Ecole, 2016) 

 

Traditional Paris, new Paris. Real Paris, mythical Paris. In the end, one ineluctable truth remains: The French capital continues to inspire. In that sense, Maurice Chevalier and Mademoiselle Zaz are right: Paris will always be Paris.

Paris sera toujours Paris ( A. Willemetz, C. Oberfeld, 1939) 

What about you? Any favorite song(s) about Paris? Let me know in the comment section!

The new French Girl in Seattle website will launch in just a few weeks. I can’t wait to welcome you chez moi!  In the meantime, I am off to Paris – for real this time. Join me on Instagram and on Facebook during the trip and take a different look at Paris, through the eyes of this French native. See you there?

A bientôt.

Winter stroll in Passy, western Paris

Two Parisians are making weekend plans:

Lui (Him:) “Qu’est-ce-qui te tente? Une balade dans le Marais, ou à St Germain des Près peut-être?” (What are you in the mood for? A stroll in le Marais or in Saint Germain des Près maybe?)

Elle (Her:) “Bof. On connait par coeur. Il y aura plein de touristes en plus. — Et si on faisait un petit tour du côté de Passy?” (Meh. Been there, done that. There will be lots of tourists. — How about a stroll around Passy?)

Lui:Le 16éme? Un peu calme. A part les musées du Trocadéro, le Marmottan-Monet ou le Bois de Boulogne ça ne bouge pas beaucoup et c’est un peu à l’écart, non? (The 16th arrondissement? A bit quiet. Apart from the museums at the Trocadero, the Marmottan-Monet museum or the Bois de Boulogne, it’s pretty quiet, and a bit out of the way, don’t you think?)

Elle (Her:) “Passy, c’est vivant, et c’est intéressant. On pourrait y aller.” (Passy is lively and interesting. We could go there.)

Lui (Him:) “Tu veux aller faire du shopping rue de Passy? La plupart des magasins sont des chaînes. Il y a même un centre commercial, comme en banlieue. Qu’est-ce-que tu lui trouves à Passy?” (You want to go shopping rue de Passy? Most of the stores are chain stores. There’s even a shopping center there, just like in the suburbs. What’s so great about Passy anyway?)

Elle (Her:) “Passy, c’est fabuleux, comme un village en plein Paris, les touristes en moins. Même les Parisiens y vont rarement. De l’histoire, de l’architecture, des petites rues sympas: Fais-moi confiance, tu ne t’ennuieras pas.” (Passy is fabulous, like a village, in Paris, minus the tourists. Even Parisians rarely go. History, architecture, cool little streets: Trust me, you will not get bored.)

Passy

She is right, of course. Yet I know where He is coming from. I used to think like him when I lived in Paris, many years ago. So in December, on my last day in the city, (and what a cold day that was!) I decided to treat myself to a stroll in the quaintest part of the chic, conservative, and residential 16th arrondissement, and I headed to Passy. The old pastoral village on the outskirts of Paris is no more. Once, there was a lush hill with vineyards and fertile fields, a monastery where monks made wine, the land where Parisian bourgeois loved to spend time in their weekend homes, built thanks to the local limestone quarries. Passy was the place to be and relax, well before popular French seaside resorts took off. The Passy mineral springs discovered in the 17th century were renowned. Illustrious visitors, from France and beyond, visited the village like the American Benjamin Franklin, who lived in the neighborhood during most of his Parisian years, gathering support for the American Revolutionary War.

Passy
Monsieur Franklin, Square de Yorktown, Paris, 16th arr.

In 1860, under Napoleon III, like so many other neighborhoods on the Paris outskirts (Montmartre, Belleville, Ménilmontant, les Batignolles,) Passy was annexed into the French capital, and then it grew. Fast. I started my walk by the imposing Trocadéro, There, below the small Passy cemetery, and in front of the giant wall where a monument (like so many others around France) honors French casualties in WW1, one gets a better idea of the former height of the Chaillot hill, before limestone quarries were exploited to build the Trocadéro. 

Passy
Monument aux Morts (Paul Landowski) Place du Trocadéro

From there, I headed south, along rue Doumer, rue Scheffer, down rue Vineuse to the Place de Costa Rica square. The architecture along the way is imposing, with many Art Nouveau buildings, even if here and there, a handful of elegant 18th century mansions have survived, tucked between larger buildings.

Passy
5 rue Raynouard

As one heads towards the Passy Métro station, spotting Paris’s most famous landmark becomes a game.
Passy


Until, finally, She appears…

Passy
La Grande Dame et la Seine, from le Pont Bir-Hakeim: Kaboom!

As everyone knows, not all Métro stations are created equal. In Passy, the station matches the imposing buildings around it.

Passy
Métro de Passy viaduct

Passy

Nearby is the wine museum, located in former wine cellars used in the 16th and 17th centuries by the monks of the Couvent des Minimes, the local monastery. I continued walking south, across the peaceful (and unusual) Parc de Passy – where few tourists ever venture I am guessing – and marveled at the beautiful buildings and streets along the way.

Passy
avenue du Parc de Passy

Passy

I had been walking for at least two hours. In spite of the winter sun, it was a very cold day by Parisian standards. I was grateful for my wool peacoat, my scarf and leather gloves. I walked at a brisk pace, (my favorite speed,) only slowing down to capture a few photos along the way, or check for directions in my trusted pocket-size Plan de Paris par Arrondissement. Before I stopped for a late lunch, I was determined to find the heart of the Village de Passy, the part of the 16th arrondissement that can’t be blamed for being too sedate, or too residential. When I reached quaint rue Berton, I knew I was there.

Passy

Passy

Right above it, la Maison de Balzac, where the famous French novelist lived for several years after 1840, welcomes visitors and has been turned into a museum. The peaceful garden offers panoramic views, and Balzac must have enjoyed it there, when he was not busy running away from his many creditors through the “emergency exit” located at the back of the garden.

Passy
Maison de Balzac, and the flag of the Turkish embassy, located in the historic Hôtel de Lamballe.
Passy
Balzac’s “secret exit,” rue Berton

I continued exploring the neighborhood’s streets, and finally reached the heart of the village, through la rue Lekain.

Passy
A local landmark for those with a sweet tooth: Aux Merveilleux de Fred
Passy
Merveilleux indeed! 

Finally, I sat down for a well-deserved lunch in la rue de l’Annonciation. I had not been there in over 20 years, but with its many shops overflowing in the street, restaurants, and passers-by (mostly locals,) it felt familiar, just like a street in the centre-ville of any mid-size town in la Belle France. It would be a Breton lunch for me that day. My fingers were so numb through the leather gloves I could not push the shutter button on my camera any more. I knew a bolée (bowl) of Normandy cider (or two) would quickly work their magic.

PAssy
Crêperie chez Yannick
Passy
Galette complète, Cidre de Normandie

It was already mid-afternoon when I re-emerged in the street. I took the time to explore a few landmarks on la rue de l’Annonciation, including this beautiful courtyard (#35.)

Passy

I headed back towards le Metro Muette that would take me “home” (the rental apartment where I was staying in les Batignolles neighborhood.) It would be several months before I returned to Paris, and since I was near lively rue de Passy, I indulged in some very French, high-end boutique shopping, à la Maison Guerlain. If one *must* live in suburbia, one can still smell marvelous, n’est-ce-pas?

 

A bientôt.

All photos by French Girl in Seattle. Please do not use without my permission. 

More reading about Passy:

The Discreet Charm of Auteuil-Passy. The New York Times, 1997.

Lyon, the other City of Light(s)

Is Lyon the most underrated city in France? C’est possible. She’s lived in the shadow of her big sister, Paris, for hundreds of years. They are the same age, over 2000 years old. Paris is crossed by a mighty river, la Seine, but Lyon has two, la Saône et le Rhône. Paris has two major islands, L’Ile de la Cité and l’Ile Saint Louis. Lyon has la Presqu’Ile, a peninsula located between le Rhône and la Saône. In Paris and in Lyon, it helps to know the difference between la Rive Droite, and la Rive Gauche. It helps to know where to find les bouquinistes. Both cities were Roman settlements, as Lutetia (Paris,) and Lugdunum (Lyon,) and have beautifully preserved Roman ruins to prove it, but Lugdunum (Lyon) was for a while, the Capital of Gaul. They boast uniquely appealing architecture, their older neighborhoods harboring Medieval and Renaissance buildings, streets, and churches, not to mention grandiose cathedrals.  They both enjoy world-famous gastronomic reputations, with restaurants ranging from simple bistros (Lyon’s are known as les Bouchons,) to the most elegant and sought-after Michelin-starred establishments (Lyon’s most famous chef is Paul Bocuse, a local and French legend.) Paris is referred to as la Ville Lumière (the City of Light,) while Lyon’s nickname is la Ville des Lumières (the City of Lights.) Lyon’s moniker has something to do with lights: The most famous festival in town, La Fête des Lumières, (the Festival of Lights,) happens at the beginning of December. For four days, building façades are adorned with spectacular light patterns, often created with candles. Lyon, it is a well-known fact at least in France, has a lot to offer. Yet, many foreign visitors do not take the time to explore this splendid city, only breezing through her busy international airport, or leaving Paris, however briefly, for a weekend adventure in Normandy, or in the Champagne region instead. Lyon is only a two-hour TGV ride from the French capital: Quel dommage!

city of Lyon
Lyon, France: Two rivers, la Saône, (foreground) le Rhône, (background,) and in the middle, la Presqu’Ile (the Peninsula,) with the elegant Place Bellecour.

I lived in Lyon, France, over 30 years ago. I moved away to go to college in the United States for my Junior year. By the time I came home, my family had relocated to Paris. When I decided to return this summer, I had not seen Lyon since a quick visit back in the 1990s, and only had one weekend to get re-acquainted with her. I knew it would be too short, (I was on my way to Nice,) but I went anyway. A smart move. Lyon was determined to make an impression. She blew this French, Americanized tourist away! Had she changed, as I had, over the last 30 years? Had I forgotten how magnificent the city was? I do not know, but for two perfect, gloriously sunny days, I re-discovered the great French city I used to call “Home.”

Saone river, Lyon, France

When visiting cities, I tend to book an apartment or a hotel in the heart of the old town, wherever that may be. I like feeling surrounded by history, older buildings, and walkable, small streets. This often means staying in a touristy area. In Lyon, France, I lucked out: A friend had recommended the College Hotel, and I got a decent price on Booking.com. It is ideally located in the heart of le Vieux Lyon, a few minutes away from the Saône river, medieval streets with restaurants and shopping, and la Cathédrale St Jean. The theme: School. This is original, and really fun, especially if you have experienced the French education system. From the breakfast room evocative of an old-style réfectoire, or cafeteria, to the spacious and bright bedrooms furnished with old-style wood desks, and bathrooms decorated with accessories inspired by school supplies, this is a great place for visitors with an eye for detail.

College Hotel, Lyon, France
Murals are a local tradition in Lyon, France
College Hotel, Lyon, France
Le réfectoire, (cafeteria) where guests enjoy a generous continental-style breakfast in the morning
College Hotel Lyon, France
Toiletries displayed in an old-fashioned Plumier (pencil case) in the airy and spacious bathroom
College Hotel, Lyon, France
School-inspired decor under the stairs

My favorite parts of the hotel? My bedroom with a view, with a balcony overlooking the old town and Fourvière hill, and the elevated patio where guests can relax or enjoy breakfast. I could have spent hours there.

College Hotel, Lyon, France
#enterrasse, where I like to be.
College Hotel, Lyon, France
My balcony was the middle one, on the top floor, with the window open

Time was in short supply. I only had two days to get a feel for Lyon, 30 years after my last visit. So I picked up my camera, a small guidebook I had highlighted during the 2-hour TGV ride from Paris; strapped on my comfy, cute sandals; and I walked. Le Vieux Lyon, the old town, kept me busy for the first day. From Medieval streets to beautiful Renaissance architecture and former Hôtels Particuliers turned into museums, the old town was a feast for the eyes. Dépaysement garanti, (change of scenery guaranteed,) as the French say.

Vieux Lyon, Lyon, France

Vieux Lyon, France

Vieux Lyon, France
toupee for men

Being a dutiful tourist, I had to experiment in Le Vieux Lyon, and walked through les traboules, those dark, covered passageways linking two parallel cobbled streets, namely rue du Boeuf and touristy rue St Jean. These streets are lined with Renaissance façades dating back to the 15th and 16th centuries, the buildings’ massive wooden doors identified by old signs and sculptures. Les traboules are so famous in Lyon, that their name has been turned into a verb: It is, therefore, recommended to trabouler while in the old town. I can trabouler if trabouler is required, and had a lot of fun! Note to Seattle: You would be well inspired to build a few traboules so those of us who wear glasses and spend fortunes on our hair don’t have to look like wet rats during Monsoon season.

Traboule, Lyon, France
Dive into darkness and follow your traboule, all the way to the next street.
Traboule, Lyon, France
Don’t forget to look up when la traboule crosses an old Renaissance courtyard linking two buildings.

Traboule, Lyon, France

I was determined to meet with an old friend, well-known by all French children for several generations. He is a local celebrity, and for a simple puppet born at the beginning of the 19th century, has done really well for himself. Meet Guignol, the most famous puppet in France.

https://www.addcolo.com/
Welcome back, French Girl in Seattle! 

To meet Guignol, and learn more about his career and his many friends, I had to leave the touristy medieval streets and Guignol’s look-alikes, to visit le Musée Gadagne, a beautifully preserved 16th century private mansion. The Museum of the History of Lyon, it also boasts a remarkable collection of puppets hailing from around the world. This is Guignol‘s true home.

Musee Gadagne, Lyon, France

Musée Gadagne, Lyon, France

 

Guignol, Lyon, France

The best part about le Musée Gadagne: The suspended gardens on the museum’s top floor, where visitors can lounge in the grass, or have a drink at the small outdoor restaurant. Peace above a busy section of town: Heaven.

Musée Gadagne, Lyon, France

However crowded, especially on weekends, le Vieux Lyon and its lifeline, rue St Jean, are a must-see. Many of Lyon’s traditional restaurants, les Bouchons, are located in the neighborhood. Not all Bouchons are created equal (more about this in a later post.) La Cathédrale St Jean, built between the 12th and the 15th century, and her magnificent gothic façade, tower over sections of the old town and sits by the Saône river.

Cathedrale St Jean, Lyon, France

The cathedral seems to be looking up at the other big church in town: Notre-Dame de Fourvière. Built in the late 19th century, the basilica sits high on a hill, above Lyon, and can be seen from almost every street corner.

Fourvìere Funicular, Lyon, France
Basilique de Fourvière: Overlooking the old town.

Getting to the Fourvière basilica is an adventure in itself, and a trip back in time, when Lyon was still named Lugdunum and the Romans occupied the area. The trip involves riding in a funicular that has run for years (the original version was pulled by horses.)

Funiculaire

When reaching the top of the hill, most visitors head to the Basilica. When you are named “Basilica,” you have to live up to your reputation, because you aren’t just – well – a church. There is no doubt la Basilique de Fourvière delivers, both inside, and out, with panoramic views of Lyon, the great city at her feet.

Lyon

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Fourvière, Lyon, France
Looking across the Saône river towards la Croix Rousse

Avoiding the crowds, I took off promptly to explore the rest of Fourvière hill. I quickly found a scenic walk, then the cemetery, and ended up in a lovely park where families had gathered to play in the summer sun. There, locals were treated by the city of Lyon to a buvette (small outdoor bar,) games for children (and their parents) led by professional animateurs (counselors,) and even a cute caravane (the diminutive French version of an American RV) turned into a play room. I ordered a cup of lemonade for 1 Euro and sat down, enjoying the children’s laughter, and their parents’ conversations. It was a perfect summer scene, and I was privileged to watch it just two days after the Nice terror attack.

On Fourviere 1

Games

Eau des Ludes
L’eau des Ludes, the traveling toy and game library

On my way down to le Vieux Lyon, I stopped at the area’s other major attraction: Lyon’s Théâtre Antique, Lugdunum‘s old Roman amphitheater, almost perfectly preserved. It seats over 6000 people. Every summer, locals and visitors are treated to outdoor concerts during les Nuits de Fourvière festival.

Theatre antique, Fourvière, Lyon, France

If you have not decided by now to add Lyon to your next French adventure, then the other two stories I wrote about Lyon on this trip might finish to convince you. In the meantime, look at these photos and ask yourself: “Why have I never seen the City of Lights?”

A bientôt.

Lyon, France

A mes amis, Gilda et “Red Teddy.”

Merci pour la musique, et tous les bons moments. Je n’ai pas oublié. – Véro  (“Nounou.”) 

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Bonus Video: Lyon as if you were there…