Monday, April 4, 2016

Visiting Paris - It's All About Relationships For Me!

I'm really lucky because I have family in France and spent time there as a kid. My aunt ran my summers like Outward Bound camps. LOL And I love her for it! When I was 16, she found a family that didn't even speak English and sent me off on a train to be their au pair for a month. Wow, it was scary but turned out to be so much fun!

When I settled in Paris as a young woman, I made relationships with other people. In exchange for my peanut of a room on the top floor, I helped out an older woman. She was an elegant woman, a Countess no less, who just needed a little conversation and help walking to the park. I really learned to like her, especially as my French got more fluent. I had a few girl friends too and no one spoke any English. Again, scary but really rewarding.

My Aunt and Me, Paris
My Aunt and me from another trip
So now, every time I return to my lovely city, I hope to return to familiar places and meet new friends. While my husband and I visited my family in March, our hearts were filled with warmth and mine with nostalgia as I remembered every piece of furniture, noise and smell of the house that had made me so happy as a kid! And now my cousins and I are all, not just grown up, but staring down retirement and empty nesting. Dinner was fun and full of stories and catching up. My only regret was that they handed me the glass of champagne too soon and I forgot to take pictures!!

Besides that, I've made a relationship with the woman from whom I have rented twice. While I've never met her, I have surely written a lot of emails, making queries about arrangements. She is always as warm and friendly as her apartment feels, and infinitely patient! (Please click here if you're looking for a quiet place to call home in Paris.)

The lady who checks us in and out is also now familiar and I was very happy to see her again! When she handed back my security deposit at check-out, I explained that these same returned Euro bills would be saved to give back to her next time we came! She seemed surprised and happy.

These were people I had expected to meet. But we were surprised by others.

Home away from home, Paris
Home away from home, Paris

The buildings around the courtyard are well cared for by a concierge couple. My husband and I mistakenly put the wrong trash in the wrong bin. The older woman came outside, as if we'd tripped her radar, to correct us. I loved it! She reminded me of the concierge where I lived a long time ago. I asked her to explain everything and by the time we left, she would smile at me as I said a friendly "Bonjour, Madam!"

In 2012, my husband, daughter and I rented a few doors down from a Bistro/cafe. We stopped in several times and walked by every day at least twice. We actually got a chance to know two of the waiters: Stephan and Matthieu! By the time we headed home, we had a relationship, albeit brief. We took a picture and I wrote a blog post when I got home. These young men were the perfect example of the real French waiter, not that snobby caricature Americans think of.

I was sad when I returned to the neighborhood in 2014 and did not see them.

This trip, 2016, my husband and I arrived in Paris early in the morning from the airport to the Gare de Nord with backpacks and suitcases.

And it was snowing! And it was also pouring and pretty darned cold. We thought about setting up "base camp" at one of the cafes just in front of the train station until we could meet the apartment manager, but our feet and hearts headed to Cafe Le Bistro instead. We dragged ourselves in the door, looking and feeling like undignified wet rats only to look up at Stephan's welcoming smile!!

We sat by the window where he turned on the heater above the table for us and we had a warm breakfast. It took a little while, but he remembered us from 2012 (and the blog I suppose!) Mike and I couldn't have felt warmer and more welcomed on that cold, wet day!

Even more surprising was the evening Mike and I stepped a few doors down from our apartment for Tapas at a Spanish restaurant. A young man approached us and it was Matthieu! He had recognized us as while hanging out with his friends! We had a lovely conversation with him about lots of things. Once more, it was like we had come home.
Mike, Matthieu and the Great Chef

A day or two later, we stopped at Cafe Le Bistro for a late lunch and to sample the new chef's offerings. It was a wonderful meal. Sadly, Stephan was not working that day but Matthieu and another waitress took good care of us. As we left, he ran to get the chef so we could meet him. We shook his hand and complemented him on the splendid lunch. And me being me, I had to get a picture! So the picture is of my husband, Matthieu and the wonderful new chef. I'm sorry Stephan was not there to be in it too.

So, there you go. Relationships. You can't make them without really putting yourself out there and they become richer if you return to continue them. Sometimes, they're only fleeting but surprisingly, sometimes they are more. There is nothing quite like arriving in Paris and feeling like you are coming home to your neighborhood!

More than all the sites I have ever seen in Paris, these are the experiences I treasure the most.


Tuesday, March 29, 2016

My Favorite Site 2016: Paris Zoological Parc

Though my favorite "sites" were actually the sight of friends and family while I was in Paris, the Parc Zoologique de Paris was my favorite attraction this trip.
Lioness with cubs at Paris Zoo
Lioness with cubs
During all my visits and even while living in Paris, I had never visited the previous version of the zoo, the Zoo de Vincennes. When we visited in 2012, it was on my list but still closed. Due to reopen in 2014, I anticipated visiting it during my last trip with a friend. But, it was still closed, due to opened a week after we left!
Majestic Giraffes at Paris Zoo
Majestic Giraffes
The original Zoo, located in the large park just outside the city in the Bois de Vincennes, was created from a "Colonial Exposition" of animals in 1931. The exposition was so popular, the city of Paris and the city's natural history museum created a real zoo. It was designed by Charles Letrosne who drew inspiration from the Hamburg zoo, built in 1901. The concept was new: no cages and a more natural looking habitat for the animals. It opened in 1934.
Very Large Bird Stretching His Wings at Paris Zoo
Very Large Bird Stretching His Wings
However, by the 1980s, the zoo became worn and between 2004 and 2006, the zoo was closed. During that time, all of the animals were transferred to other places in France and other countries. In 2006, a completely new zoo was begun! It is now the only zoo in the world to have been completely rebuilt. It was completed with a public/private partnership and 157,000,000 Euros.

Ring-Tailed Lemurs, Including mama & baby at Paris Zoo
Ring-Tailed Lemurs, Including mama & baby - watching a helicopter!
The concept is to have the animals in habitats natural to their own homes. The zoo is designed around five natural zones in the 95,000 square meter (approx. 23 acres) park. See their website for more about the zones.

What I loved most was how easy it was to see the animals. There were often many vantage points around their vast outside areas. The animals were not afraid of people and in some cases, even wanted to interact with you - such teases! There were vast outdoor spaces and inside spaces as well. I loved the huge rain forest "green house and the huge aviary.
Guinea baboons at Paris Zoo
Guinea Baboons
A Napping Puma Paris Zoo
A Napping Puma (I think)
Our visit was the first warm day in a while, so many animals were outside soaking up the sun. Being the beginning of March and the middle of the week, we had little competition to our viewing pleasure!
Black Jaguar at Paris Zoo
Black Jaguar

The price is steep, but frankly, well worth it at 22 Euros for adults and 14 for children. I would rather pay good money to see a well maintained  place. This zoo's mission is its animals health and it is heavily involved with biodiversity, conservation and research. There are approximately 1000 animals of 180 different species, including many animals facing extinction in the wild.
Jaguar at Paris Zoo
Jaguar
I don't see much about this attraction in Paris travel guides. But for me, it's top of my list from this 2016 trip. It's exciting to see a zoo done right and see the conservation and teaching they are doing with it. While there might have been guides you could get that were in English, do bring your dictionary because most of the information around the zoo was in French. I love that they announce feeding times so you can watch (not for the squeamish.) Come early and try to avoid the weekend or school vacations. Click here for more info about this great place.
The Amazon-Guyana Biozone at Paris Zoo
The Amazon-Guyana Biozone From Outside
Inside The Amazon-Guyana Biozone at Paris Zoo
The Amazon-Guyana Biozone From Inside

For more information about planning your dream vacation to Paris, visit ParisMadeSimple or join me on my page on Facebook!

Friday, March 25, 2016

I went to Paris and didn't visit the Eiffel Tower!


Hausmann Style in Paris
Now that my brain is mostly back on State-side mode and thinking in EST, the two weeks in Paris sort of feel like a dream. Don't you hate that feeling when you get back from something so awesome and you wake up to your "normal" life and the "other" life seems like it didn't happen at all?

Paris home overlooking Père Lachaise Cemetery
Paris home overlooking Père Lachaise Cemetery
Thank goodness for the camera! I had fun with mine and my husband was patient beyond words while I took over 1000 photos! And to that I say, thank goodness for digital. Because no matter how incredible that photo seemed when you took it, there's a pretty real chance that you look at it later and wonder, "Why?!"

Gentleman at the Epicerie, Covered Marche Saint Quentin
This was my 12th time to Paris (if you count my 3 trips as a kid when someone else called the shots.) I have been asked time and time again, "Why do you keep going back?" Well, anyone who loves Paris can answer that. There is always too much to see in any one trip. Vacation goes too fast, things fall off your to-do list, you discover alternative things to do, your jet lag lags you longer than you thought it would, it takes longer to do an activity than you thought it would, etc. So, you just have to go back!

My problem is more about my bucket list getting longer with each trip instead of shorter!

La Rotunde at the Place de la Bataille-de- Stalingrad, Paris
La Rotunde at the Place de la Bataille-de- Stalingrad

Admittedly, I have a chronic condition where I am just no longer able to go, go, go. Even when I was younger and could, I didn't like too. You miss too much that way. When I read guide books who say  to plan three hours for the Musee d'Orsay, I wonder what you would see during that time. And even more importantly, what you would remember about it two days later!

Building seen from La promenade plantée, Paris
Building seen from La promenade plantée
My trip was full of memorable activities, people, and food. Yet, I never saw the Eiffel Tower nor the Arc de Triomphe (except from afar!) We never even walked by Notre Dame! My goal this trip was to do almost all new things and I did achieve that!

For more information about making your trip to Paris easy, please visit ParisMadeSimple.com or visit Paris Made Simple on Facebook!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Packing For a Two Week Trip to Paris


My carry-on sized suitcase with 4 wheels
It's hard to not over pack, no matter how long your trip will be or where you're going. Even with my experience, I still manage to over pack. I get better each time, though.

I use a carry-on sized suitcase which I usually check at the airport. I also carry a small backpack. Remember, you'll be schlepping these things through the airport and perhaps up and down public transportation stairs. Know your limitations.

I rent an apartment so I have access to a washer and dryer. That makes a huge difference since I can "refresh" things easily and pack less.

But when you're a tourist, it's also good to remember, that no one will remember what you wore yesterday.

Americans generally wash their clothes even when they're not really dirty. So, wearing the same pair of jeans more than a few times is fine - unless you spill a glass of red wine on them in which case, club soda in the sink if you're in a hotel!

Mix and match - that's the key. Fortunately, growing up, my mom taught me that trick for school. We didn't have a closet and drawers full of clothes when I was younger.

While black, gray, and navy blue would be boring every day in your normal life, they tend to be the most versatile while traveling - especially in Paris. Those colors are always in fashion! Then, accessorize with color, dahlings!

For me, it's harder to pack the little things like devices, chargers, antihistamine (Spring allergies and occasionally help sleeping,) make-up, toiletries (I just need a FEW cotton swabs,) extra shoe inserts, bandages, razors, etc. Yes, it's that crap I find hardest to limit. In fact, because each thing is so tiny on it's own, just as I'm shutting the suitcase for good, I'm throwing in a few more of these things - just in case. Then I arrive and wonder where the toothpaste is. And I wonder why I have all this stuff I never used when I'm packing to leave. Sigh!

And shoes. OMG, I really have a hissy fit about what I will have on my feet. I'm old enough to understand I must choose comfort over cute. But it's always important that you have the shoes you want and wear them a lot before you go. Get your blisters here. And if you walk on the treadmill or walk the dog with them and you are ready to rip them off afterward, shop for some better footwear. Again, even for men, choose black or brown over white.

And for me, I have some physical things to deal with so I need my special memory foam pillow and a few other things that you probably won't need.

This is why I try to start packing almost a month in advance - yes a MONTH! I pack and repack and subtract and add. I swear I dream about what to bring. I walk around the suit case and piles - contemplating their value and convenience.

It's not like I can't get EVERYTHING I need in Paris. But I admit it's probably cheaper to buy this stuff in Maine and haul it across the Atlantic.

So, do you want to see what I'm bringing for clothes for my two weeks?
Really, this is for 2 weeks.
 My picture doesn't show the do-dads and thing-a-ma-bobbies I'll add to the suitcase and carry on. It also includes some things I will wear on the plane.

Since I'll be leaving from and returning to Boston (brr) the packable light weight down jacket will be perfect. Also, Paris is not that warm (usually) in March. Besides the down jacket, I have a fleece shirt and fleece jacket. I live in Maine and pretty much wear these all year round so it's a safe bet that I will be wearing them while there.

Yes, the boots are my slave to fashion. They're pretty comfy, but probably better for those evening strolls than the all-day-marathon around the city. I have one dressy black tunic and the rest of my shirts are sweaters and v-neck long sleeve shirts. Three pairs of jeans - different shades and styles - round out the major clothing. The belt - which I'll pack since I don't want to take it off during the parade through airport security, is blue on one side, black on the other!

And yes, that IS vintage shag carpet. ;)

Yes, the stuff I won't wear on the plane fits - at least for now!

Once I get it all in there, I feel a little like Genie from Aladdin - Mighty packing power and multiple fashion statements...all in a little teeny tiny packing space.

I don't have the pillows and other comfort things I bring to accommodate my physical needs. But the pillow will become a pancake with a vacuum bag. I pack a few other bags for the trip back when everything seems to have multiplied. Vacuum bags are great at saving space. But remember, they take the air out, but not the weight. Be sure you weigh the bag before you leave for the airport. The above weighed approximately 27 lbs.  Room for more stuff - SCORE!!

For more information about packing, see my Packing for Paris page. I now include a downloadable check list for your trip!

Friday, February 19, 2016

I'm In Love With The 10th!

A lock on the Canal Saint Martin, Paris
A Lock on the Canal Saint Martin
The 10th arrondissement, that is!

The 10th used to be industrial, off the beaten path, only some place you went to get to the Gare de Nord or Gare d'Est. It was kind of dirty, working class, not pretty.Except for the Canal Saint Martin with it's bridges.

Once, when I lived in Paris in the 1980s, I wandered up there. I was totally outside of my 7th arrondissement comfort zone. I had been working for a Countess and my best (only) friend was also a Countess, though I never let on I knew!

While I'd grown accustomed to the chic little boutiques selling to the barely surviving aristocratic class, this seemed strange and wonderful. Even I could afford to buy something here. People were selling food selling outside of the stores and people dressed normally - as in NOT in Hermes and Dior!

Why I didn't go back again, I'll never know. I was 23 and who knows what was in my head!
Street Music in the 10th arrondissement of Paris
Music on a Friday Night
I just remembered that I loved it and felt that sense of discovery. I was also amazed that my Countess friend had brought me here, but we were going to rue de Paradis to see the advertising museum - which was fabulous. Later, in 1992 when I was in Paris with my husband, we wandered Paris looking for this street and museum, only to find it just as they were packing the museum up to move it into a separate wing of the Louvre building.

Many years later, I was desperate to find an apartment that would fit my family. I once again found myself in the 10th. For two weeks we lived there and now it's "my" neighborhood. It's become chic, young, and bo-ho - unlike in the 1980s.
A cheese boutique in the 10th arrondissement, Paris
An Awesome Cheese Store

Fun and Diversity in the 10th
As I pack my suit cases for another 2 week trip, I just can't wait to "go home." I can't wait to explore the new little restaurants with reasonable prices, the romantic nooks and crannies, and explore the neighborhoods just a bit further out and off the tourist beaten track. This will be my third time in this same neighborhood and this time just my husband and me again.

The Canal Saint Martin in the evening, Paris
Not Dirty, Dark, and Dingy Anymore!
The one thing we will probably NOT be doing is having romantic strolls in the evening along the Canal Saint Martin. I've timed it all wrong and our trip is smack in the middle of the three month cleaning and repairing of the canal. C'est la vie.

So much to discover in Paris, even after 11 previous visits!!

Need help planning a trip to Paris of your own? Visit ParisMadeSimple and I can help!