Postcard from Paris: 5 Spots Where I Love to Grab a Cup of Coffee

When I left Paris to move to Washington, DC thirteen years ago (**le gasp**) the city didn’t even have a single Starbucks yet. Now they’re everywhere, and I’m not saying that’s a good thing but I do want to point out that the coffee scene has changed in a few years. Of course, Paris has always been known for its street-side cafés, where you can grab a quick noisette at the counter or linger for hours at the terrace people watching and sipping a café crème. Those were never really about the coffee and new cafés, inspired by the artisanal coffee culture in Australia, the U.K. and the U.S. have popped up all over town. In many of those, it’s not unusual to hear English spoken fluently behind the counter as well as drip or filtered coffee (not espresso) in the cups. I’m not complaining about this change, I actually love discovering new coffee shops when I’m in Paris, though here are the five I always go back to: 

CAFÉ KITSUNÉ FILLES DU CALVAIRE

Kitsuné means fox in Japanese and in France, it’s synonymous with cool tunes and trendy clothes. The record and fashion label owns a couple of shops in Tokyo and Paris (as well as two in New York too!) including one rue Amelot/boulevard des filles du calvaires, blocks from where I grew up. Tucked beneath the boutique, you’ll find a bright and playful space, with custom speckled faux marble walls and floors, that makes some of the best matcha lattes in the city, as well as adorable little fox shaped cookies. There’s another Café Kitsuné in the gardens of the Palais Royal that I enjoy in the summer as well.

Cafe Kitsune palais royal

Cafe Kitsune in ParisCafe Kitsune in Paris

Café Kitsuné is located at 51 galerie de Montpensier, 1er (Palais Royal) & 109 rue Amelot, 11eme (Filles du Calvaire)

CAFÉ OBERKAMPF

I don’t why you would be looking for vegemite in Paris, but if you are, you will find some at Café Oberkampf 😉 You’ll also find a minimalist space, brunch all day, “avo toasts” and a grilled cheese sandwich named after a famous American expat blog. Doesn’t hurt that Café Oberkampf runs an awesome instagram account either (with English captions… bien sur!)

Cafe Oberkampf

Cafe Oberkampf Instagram

 

 Café Oberkampf is located at 3 rue Neuve Popincourt, 11eme 

CAFÉ SUÉDOIS

My mom is quite the regular there when the weather is nice… it’s a short stroll from her place and just a lovely spot in the Marais.  Located in l’Hôtel de Marle, a magnificent 18th century mansion that now houses the Swedish Cultural Institute, its main draw is the peaceful paved courtyard. It’s the perfect spot for fika, or to read a book while seating on Ikea furniture and nibbling on kanelbullar. Try it in the winter too, they have glögg around Christmas time!! On occasion, like last summer, they’ll also open up the grassy garden on the other side of the building and host activities for children too.
L'Institut suédois in the Marais - Picture courtesy of l'Institut suédois.

L’Institut suédois in the Marais – Picture courtesy of l’Institut suédois.

L’Institut Tessin/Centre Culturel Suédois is tucked away in a quiet spot of the 3eme, at 11 rue Payenne.

BOOT CAFÉ

The outside still reads “Cordonnerie” in faded paint because the shoebox sized coffee shop is (appropriately) located in a former shoe repair shop. It’s cute as a button, though seats are scarce so you should plan on taking you Belleville Brûlerie coffee to go (and perhaps walk to the Picasso Museum a few blocks away….) 

Boot Cafe in the Marais

Boot Cafe in the Marais

Boot Café is in a former cordonnerie at 19 Rue du Pont aux Choux, 3eme

LA CAFÉOTHÈQUE 

I just discovered this spot recently when I got together with Pola of Jetting Around for a quick cup of coffee. I’m so glad she suggested it. I went to middle school at Francois Couperin literally one street away and had NO idea this café existed. Unlike the other spots on the list that have a more anglo angle, La Caféothèque is owned by Gloria Montenegro, a former Ambassador for Guatemala in France, who views coffee like we view wine, with an emphasis on terroir. It’s actually where the coffee revolution in Paris first kicked off (it’s been open for over ten years). There’s a very artsy and cozy feel to the space, and it’s actually VERY roomy compared to most of the other spots on my list 😉 

La Caféothèque

La Caféothèque – Photo courtesy of La Caféothèque

La Caféothèque is located at 52 Rue de l’Hôtel de Ville, 4eme 

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Do you have a favourite coffee shop in Paris? While these are my personal faves right now, and yes, they’re concentrated in the 3 arrondissements that I frequent the most. I’ll say though, sometimes, I still just pop up at an old school café for my noisette though. You? 

Bonus coffee shop: I cannot not mention Le Café des Chats. There’s a location rue Sedaine, by my parents’ as well as one closer to Beaubourg. You can read more about it in one of my previous blog post here.

Le Cafe des chats in Paris

A Taste of Lille ~ Méert’s Legendary Waffles

No visit to the Northern French city of Lille would be complete without a stop at 27 rue Esquermoise. This address has delighted local gourmands since 1761. Initially, it was a humble chocolaterie and ice cream shop until it was taken over in 1849 by Michael Paulus Gislinus Méert who turned the shop into a local institution with its signature thin, gaufres filled with Madagascar vanilla. Today, the former confectionery is an elegant patisserie, salon de thé and gourmet gourmet restaurant and a must-visit sight if you’re in the area. 

Meert's famous waffles - image courtesy of Meert

Meert’s famous waffles – image courtesy of Meert

I don’t remember the first time I had one of Méert‘s waffles, but I must have been a baby — I’m a second generation Lilloise after all, though we moved to Paris when I was 5 years old and hardly ever think of myself as anything but a Parisienne. Today, you can find Méert in Roubaix, Brussels or Paris (I love the tiny shop near the Picasso Museum in the Marais) and the sweet waffles are set to jet off to America as well soon (to New York… of course…).

Meert's first boutique in Paris is located at 16 Rue Elzevir in the Marais. There's a new one in Saint Germain now too.

Meert’s first boutique in Paris 16 Rue Elzevir in the Marais. There’s a new one in Saint Germain now too.

During my last visit to Lille, we swung by Roubaix, which is a quick metro ride away. We visited la Villa Cavrois  as well as La Piscine-Musée d’Art et d’Industrie André Diligent, a fantastic museum housed in a former indoor swimming pool, with a notable art déco interior. My dad actually learned to swim in that pool when he was young!  

The former A.Baert's 1932 Art Déco swimming baths offer a stunning backdrop for the Museum of Art and Industry's collections

The former A.Baert’s 1932 Art Déco swimming baths is a stunning backdrop for the Piscine’s collections

Méert runs the restaurant and café there so we were able to get our waffle fix without having to wait in line at the shop in Lille — there’s always a bit of the line these days!

Meert's waffles at the piscine museum

 Trust me though, those waffles are worth waiting in line for…. and while I love their fun new flavours, especially the spéculos one, the classic Madagascar gaufre is still my favourite, and has been since I was a wee little Northern France girl.  

Meert Lille

 

Postcard from France: Marseille

Last Christmas, my uncle invited us to spend the holidays at his house in Goult, a lovely village in the Luberon, located halfway between Aix-en-Provence and Avignon. My uncle is my mother’s brother and they both grew up in Marseille, France’s second largest city. Rather than take the train to Avignon and get picked up by my uncle there, we decided to spend a day and a half in Marseille and rent a car to drive to Goult. I have very little childhood memories of Marseille, and my husband had never been so I was excited to discover the city, especially with my favourite Marseillaise – my mom – as our guide!

FIRST THINGS FIRST: LUNCH AT CHEZ ETIENNE 

IMG_1482The trip from Paris Gare-de-Lyon to Marseille-Saint-Charles is just over 3 hours. After dropping our bags at our hotel near the vieux port, we quickly headed off to lunch at Chez Etienne, a no-thrills pizzaria in Le Panier. My mom used to go there when she visited friends and family back in the city, so it’s been around for a while, and other than adding a second room across the street from the original location to accommodate demand, very little has changed over the years. Service and ambiance are not the reason to go to Chez Etienne. You go there for the best pizza in Marseille, which here is served as a starter, not a main course, and only comes with two options, cheese or no cheese. The anchovies and olives come automatically as toppings 😉 You also go there for the pavé de boeuf, which is excellent, and the supions, small squids lightly pan-fried with garlic and parsley. Warning: there’s no phone to make reservations and it gets very crowded so if go, you might have to wait (in the street) for a table to become available. They also only accept cash and as I mentioned, service is, well, let’s say it’s very French.

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STROLLING THROUGH THE PANIER

IMG_1504The core of Marseille, the old port, is surrounded by hills and starting our tour through the city at Chez Etienne was a smart move because we then weaved our way down to the Vieux Port through the neighbourhood known as Le Panier. If La Canebière, Marseille’s main boulevard in the old quarters, is the city’s answer to the Champs Elysées, Le Panier is its Montmartre. The neighbourhood, once rather dodgy and filled with sailors from across the globe looking for a good time, has become quite trendy recently.  With its hilly narrow cobbled streets and pastel coloured houses covered in street art, it’s in the midst of a bit of gentrification and there’s been quite the influx of hipsters and artists lately (as well as public funds from the city.) From Le Panier, we made our way to the Maison Diamantée, one of the oldest house in town, and the 17th century City Hall, where my parents got married, before landing on the Quai du Port. 

OH MARIUS! THE OLD PORT OF MARSEILLE

IMG_1737Life in Marseille has revolved around the vieux port ever since the trading post of Massalia was founded by Phocaean greeks in 600 BC. In the 1840s (after Algeria became a French department) the commercial docks were transferred to La Joliette but the colourful Old Port remained the emotional heart of the city, crammed with fishing boats, pleasure yachts and visitors. You can get from the quai du port to the Quai de Rive Neuve on the other side by foot (or even those public bikes, known as Le Velo in Marseille)… or you can take the free ferry boat like we did! It’ll probably take you just as long, but if you only have one opportunity to get on the water in Marseille, you should seize it! For me, it was extra fun because I’ve read and re-read Marcel Pagnol’s Triologie Marseillaise, and I couldn’t help but think of Felix Escartefigue, capitaine of the ferry boite, as we made a quick pastis stop on the other side of the port at Le Bar de la Marine, where the author/director filmed the famous “tu me fends le coeur” scene from Marius. If you have NO idea what I’m referring to, may I recommend watching Daniel Auteuil’s version of Marius and Fanny, which are currently streaming on Netflix

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There’s lots of great stuff on that side of the port… a block away from the Bar de Marine, you’ll notice La Criée, a former fish market and now one of France’s edgiest theaters. We continued on quai de rive neuve until rue Robert on our way to the Musée du Santon (also known as Les Ateliers Carbonel) before making our way to Le Four des Navettes, THE place in Marseille to get the city’s iconic boat-shaped, orange-flower flavoured navette biscuits. I’ll warn you if you’re going to try them (which you should!): their nickname is casse-dent (teethbreaker) so don’t bite too hard into them 😉 We actually grabbed about 4 kilos worth for everyone to enjoy at the Christmas table… A few streets away from the bakery is the stunning Abbaye Saint Victor. We didn’t linger too much there because our ultimate goal for the end of the day was catching the sunset at another famous Marseille church, Notre Dame de la Garde, which was a quick but steep 20 minutes walk climb away. 

STUNNING VIEWS FROM NOTRE DAME DE LA GARDE

IMG_1608The Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde, or La Bonne Mère (the good mother) as it is familiarly known towers over Marseille and offers amazing 360 views of the city below, which are particularly striking at sunset. Topped by a massive golden statue of the Virgin Mary and Child, the Byzantine-style interior features anchor and sailing ship motifs. Since around the Mediterranean there’s a religious tradition of ex-votos to express gratitude for a wish granted, you’ll also see boat models hanging from the ceiling or displayed in glass cases to express thanks for a loved one having returned from the sea.  There’s also an Olympique de Marseille flag which was brought by the team after a victory so it’s not all sailing related (though l’OM is quite the religion in Marseille too…)

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DINNER TIME !

IMG_1750Since it was before right before Christmas, a marché de Noel and the Foire Aux Santons were in full swing at the old port and nearby Place Saint Charles respectively and we spent a little bit of time shopping at both before heading to diner at La Kahena, one of Marseille’s best Tunisian restaurant. I don’t get to eat a lot of North African food here in DC and Marseille happens to have very large Algerian, Moroccan and Tunisien communities, both muslims and jewish like my mother’s maternal side of the family. The fish couscous was excellent, as well as my brik au thon, and since we didn’t get a chance to swing by Les Delices Patisserie d’Aix, a famed oriental pastry shop, during the day we took full advantage of the dessert buffet to indulge our sweet tooth with some cornes de gazelles and makroud

 DAY TWO: MIXING THE OLD WITH THE NEW

IMG_2014Marseille is known as the gateway to the Mediterranean, so it was time for us to set sail! Well, or at least take a small boat trip 😉 First, we got up early to enjoy the small fish market that still takes place on the Quai des Belges around 8AM every morning. From there, we grabbed the Frioul If Express to the island fortress of If, where Alexandre Dumas imprisoned his fictional count of Monte Christo. Had it been summer or even spring, we may have extended the journey to the Frioul Island but instead we headed back to shore to explore the NEW Marseille. We didn’t realize how far the new Docks at La Joliette were so we only made it as far as la Cathédrale La Major before heading back to the brand new MuCEM where we had plans to meet my DC-based friend Laure, who was in town for the holidays visiting her family in Marseille. Inaugurated in 2013, the MuCEM offers perspective on mediterranean civilizations and mixes the old with the new by adding a modern building designed by Rudy Ricciotti to the 12th century Fort St. Jean. The two buildings are linked by a footbridge known as J4 (for Joliette 4.)

Lunch at the MuCEM

We didn’t actually visit the museum, focusing instead on exploring its architecture and enjoyed a sun soaked lunch with stunning views of the turquoise sea at Le Môlé Passédat, a restaurant on the top floor of the museum from Michelin-starred chef Gerard Passédat. The meal was amazing, but not cheap, so if you’re looking for a more affordable option, La Cuisine (Le Mole’s sister restaurant) offers a great lunch as well, minus the view.  Following lunch, we headed back to the vieux port to pick up a bottle of pastis at La Maison du Pastis, a shop that allows you to try any pastis from a selection of 75 different ones before you purchase the one of your choice. We also stopped at the brand new Galerie Lafayette Gourmet to do some last minute Christmas food shopping and then set out. On our way out of the city, we drove through an old industrial neighbourhood called la Belle de Mai. The area grew from the arrival of the railway and a former tobacco factory there has now become a thriving cultural center called La Friche la Belle de Mai, with lots of awesome street art nearby. We didn’t get to stop in this time but it was the perfect send-off to a quick stay at the once gritty, now thriving Marseille. Besides, I have a feeling I’ll be back soon enough! 

 

 

 

Postcard from France: Cour Bérard in Paris

Cour Bérard is a small street in the 4eme arrondissement in Paris. It’s the home of the Moretti & Moretti, an art galerie which focuses on street art, digital art and installations.

Cour Bérard, Paris

I headed to the galerie to check out its Konny Stedin exhibit. If you’ve been to Paris recently, I’m sure you spotted some of the German street artist’s work. Her signature black and white portraits, with the red paint tears, can be seen throughout Paris, like this one below which I snapped a few years ago outside of BeaubourgStreet art by Konny outside of Beaubourg

But the best street art wasn’t inside the gallery. It was actually outside, in the street, which was lined with graffiti black cats.IMG_1300

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Cour Bérard is a small street, but it’s definitely a street art lover’s dream street.  And a black cat lover’s dream street too!

Travel Highlights from 2014

2014 was a great year for me travel-wise. I made it home to France not once, but twice. I made the most out of a few work trips in New York, Chicago, Raleigh, Boca Raton and Austin, Texas. I even tested out Icelandair’s “the best part of a trip to Paris is Iceland” advertisement by doing a stop-over in Reyjkavik on my way back from Paris. The highlight of last year, though, was traveling to Brazil to cheer on my beloved Bleus during the World Cup, a trip I had been planning for and looking forward to for the past 3 years.

MAKING THE MOST OUT OF WORK TRIPS 

Chicago (and New York before that) happened in the dead of winter. For Chicago, I think I got to go because none of my colleagues were crazy enough to go there for a frozen 36-hour trip. But I really like Chicago and I can’t wait to go back. In the summer.

Chicago

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I couldn’t justify renting a car in Austin since the event I was there for was at the hotel where I was staying, and unfortunately that hotel was not in the center of the city. As a result I didn’t get to see much of Austin as I would have to, but I did get to have some great BBQ and some fun food like Texas shaped waffles and Texas wine, at the Vino Volo at the airport of course.

Texas shape waffle

Texas wine flight

For Raleigh, it was really a combination fun and work since we have quite a few DC friends that somehow ended up there and we actually ended up going on 2 separate occasions. Since I’ve never owned a car (and didn’t have a car growing up in Paris either) I’m absolutely OBSESSED with road trips. It’s weird, I know. But my favourite part of the trips to Raleigh was driving down, through Richmond, VA, with my husband. I really would like to do more road trips in 2015. You know, with my imaginary car 😉

Welcome to North Carolina

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had been to Charlotte, of course, in 2014 for the Democratic National Convention, but Raleigh is quite different. I loved touring Duke University, especially the Sarah P. Duke gardens and fell in love with the North Carolina Art Museum. Also with LaFarm’s white chocolate chip baguette. SO good!

Rodin Gardens

Duke University

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I didn’t love Boca Raton as much, but it was still nice to spend a whole week in Florida. Even if I spent most of it indoor for our annual conference (helped that it was at the gorgeous Boca Raton Resort), I did spend a few hours on a beach before my flight, and checked out Whale’s Ribs of Drives-and-Dives-In fame. The oysters were cheap… but also tasteless. The bloody marys on the other end…

BRAZIL 2014 

Raleigh, Austin, Boca… those were nice trips. But of course, the one trip I was really (really really really) looking forward to was heading to Brazil for the World Cup. That trip was expensive, it required a lot of advance planning, entering of lotteries etc. Was it worth it? YES! Absolutely. For me. My husband probably thinks differently (maybe I should have tried to squeeze in one US game in there…) It certainly wasn’t an easy trip for us as a couple and we learned a lot about traveling together. We both disliked our stay in Belo Horizonte, though we adored the smaller town of Ouro Preto. We loved Rio, though I wish we’d stayed closer to Ipanema or Copacabana, instead of downtown.

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One of the highlights of the trip, for me, (I mean, not that watching France NOT score a single goal for 180 minutes wasn’t thrilling) was Iguazu Falls and crossing the border into Argentina for a quick day trip to see the falls on the other side. There’s a triple-border spot formed naturally by the convergence of the Parana River and the Iguazu River. Right there, you can literally stand between Brazil and Argentina, with Paraguay in the backdrop. I absolutely loved that spot!

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And while the whole idea behind going to Brazil was that we wouldn’t be making it to Russia or Qatar, I learned so much in my first World Cup experience that I think the next one can only be better. Privyet Russia 2018?

HOME SWEET HOME 

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I feel very lucky that I got to go to Paris not once but twice last year. I caught up with family, and my ever changing hometown. I went to the ballet at the stunning Opera Garnier with my dad and showed my husband some of my old haunts. I fell in love with Paris’ newest monument, la Fondation Louis Vuitton, and discovered the new offspring of its most famous museum (that would be the Louvre Lens, you can read more about it here). I had some great coffee at adorable new spots in the Marais and the Canal Saint Martin area and ate WAY too many pastries 😉

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I even got to show my husband a little bit of the country outside of France when we traveled to the South of France to spend Christmas at my uncle’s house in Goult and visited many cute small villages along the way (as well as the not-so-small “villages” of Avignon, Marseille and Nice.)

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THE BEST PART OF A TRIP TO PARIS IS ICELAND?

Finally, I took my husband on a bit of his dream trip, which meant meeting up in Reyjkavik for Thanksgiving. I have a feeling we’ll be back and explore more of Iceland in the future (I mean, I’m going to keep visiting Paris… so as long as Icelandair keeps offering that awesome stop-over deal… Iceland trips are going to be in our future.).

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Unlike Brazil, that trip was just easy. We booked some guided excursions, which I never do and despite some of my friends advising me to just rent a car and do it ourself. If there’s anything I learned in Brazil, it’s that it’s ok, occasionally, and it did prove to be the right travel choice for us at that particular time. I’m not saying we’ll always go with organized tours, but that it can be worth it to save yourself the hassle of doing it all yourself sometimes…

When I first started writing this post, I didn’t have a lot to look forward to travel-wise for 2015. I had such an amazing travel year in 2014 that it seems greedy to expect even half of that for 2015. And yet, I want more! So far, outside of a quick work trip to New York in early February (I already have reservations for Meow Parlor!) and another to Vegas for our national conference, I don’t really have anything concrete.  But here are some of my travel thoughts. I used to live in Montreal and I haven’t been back in ages. And Canada happens to be hosting the Women Football World Cup next summer so I’d love to make that happen (bonus: NO lottery to get tickets to games!!) I also have friends getting married in France and Finland in August and September, and while the 2 weddings are too close together to make both happen, I’d like to make at least one happen (if it’s Finland, I’m making it to Saint Petersburg this time!) Also, last week I won a 4 nights stay at a brand new hotel in Cancun through Expedia’s #TravelChat, so it looks like as soon as we can figure out flights, we’ll be headed to the dream relaxing beach vacation my husband has always wanted… and maybe we’ll rent a car and take a road trip to a new US destination as well…

What were your 2014 travel highlights? Any exciting plans already for 2015?

Postcard from Paris: a Paws Café at Café des Chats

Cafe des chats, rue sedainePaws Café… Pause café… get it? OK, that was a bad pun, but I couldn’t help it. Just like I couldn’t help visiting both of Paris’ cat cafés during my last stay in the city. In my defense, one of them is just a few blocks away from my parents’ apartment. When did rue Sedaine become so hip?

The original Café des Chats, located in the haut Marais close to Beaubourg, opened back in the fall of 2013 and turned out to be so popular that a second location near Bastille was added. Margaux Gandelon, the young entrepreneuse who launched the “café chat” concept in Paris after a successful crowd-funding campaign, was directly inspired by the “neko” cafés in Japan. She describes her project as ronronthérapie, or purr therapy, arguing for the potential health benefits of stroking a purring kitty. However, it’s the health of the cats that’s truly at the center of the projects, and all visitors must abide by a few rules:don’t force the cats to do anything they don’t want to do,do not wake up the cats  if they’re sleeping and do not feed the cats.

Humans shouldn’t feed the cats, but café des chats feeds its humans pretty well, and the kitchen is the only area where cats are not allowed. I hear the brunch is quite popular though when we visited, around goûter time, we simple settled for coffee, tea and cheesecakes. If you have a choice to visit one over the other location, I would recommend visiting the one in the Marais, which is a beautiful and cozy bi-level space with a faux-library and a 15th century vaulted ceiling (downstairs.) The Bastille location is more modern, but also easier to get into as it doesn’t require reservations. Both feature a group of twelve-ish resident cats, which, unlike in other cat cafés, notably in the United States, are not up for adoption. All of them, though, were previously stray or abandoned cats that were given a permanent home rues Sedaine or Michel Le Comte. and a portion of the proceeds from the cafés though is donated to animal protection organizations.

Cafe des chats

Cafe des chats, Paris

Cafe des chats paris

I can’t wait for DC to open its own cat café! If you too are excited about this prospect, visit Crumbs and Whiskers’ website for updates on their kickstarter’s campaign [update: here’s my post on my first visit to Crumbs & Whiskers.] Until then, I’m glad I have not one, but two places to go when I need my kitty fix in Paris!

 Café des Chats: 16 Rue Michel le Comte (3ème) | Bastille: 9 Rue Sedaine (11ème)

Postcard from France: Visiting the Louvre-Lens

Lens, a small town in northern France, boasts a football stadium with a capacity larger than its population, but doesn’t have a movie theater.  A former mining strong hold, its main touristic and cultural attractions used to be world war I cemeteries and Europe’s tallest slag heaps (known by their formal French name of base et terrils jumeaux du 11/19.) That all changed in 2012. That year, one of the world’s most famous museums, the Louvre, opened an outpost in Lens, attracting some 900,000 visitors its first year of operation. While that’s barely anything compared to the 8 million visitors that go through the Parisian museum each year, that’s still very impressive.

Lens is easily accessible from Belgium, the Netherlands and England. It’s also just an hour away from Paris by train, so during my last visit home, we hopped on the TGV to check it out. We rented a car to do a little more sight-seeing beyond the museum but you can also easily do without. Free shuttles bring visitors directly from the art deco train station to the Louvre-Lens and back. Starting in January, the shuttle will also stop boulevard Basly, the main commercial street in the city lined with a few art-deco reconstructed houses, on its way back from the museum.

Gare de Lens

Gare de Lens

Downtown Lens

Downtown Lens

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But let’s get back to the main attraction: Louvre-Lens. The sleek, minimalist building, designed by Japanese architect firm Sanaa (they also designed the New Museum in New York City,) is a steel and glass structure on a 20 hectare wasteland that was originally used as a coal mine before the ’60s. On a clear day, visitors can spot the giant through the museum’s  floor to ceiling glass windows.

Can you spot the twin giant slag heaps at Loos-en-Gohelle?

Can you spot the twin giant slag heaps at Loos-en-Gohelle through the windows?

The Louvre-Lens creators have said they want the museum to be a Louvre in its own right, and not just an annex of the Parisian Museum. That being said, the Louvre-Lens doesn’t have its own collection and relies instead on long-term loans from the mother-ship. Since the Louvre has some 460,000 works of art in its collection but only has space to display 35,000 of them, this is actually a mutually beneficial relationship. The first 250 pieces that were loaned to Louvre-Lens have been curated in a rather novel way to give visitors a brand new perspective on some pretty classic art pieces and artifacts. While other museums, the Louvre-Paris included, typically separate artworks by style or era (Egyptian pieces together, renaissance painting separately,) the art at Louvre-Lens is displayed in chronological order in one long, light-filled gallery called the Galerie du Temps (time gallery.)

The "permanent" collection at Louvre-Lens is housed in the Galerie du temps

The “permanent” collection at Louvre-Lens is housed in the Galerie du Temps

We spent two hours going through the collection like we would have reading through an art book, starting with Egyptian antiquities (statues, sarcophagus, etc.,) a statue of Alexander the great, roman mosaics, greek vases and a celestial globe from Iran going all the way to a portrait of Louis XIV, a statue of Napoleon, a virgin and child by Botticelli and yes, a Goya and a Rembrandt too… While we were there, the museum was busy preparing for the opening of a new temporary exhibit, “Des animaux et des pharaons,” focusing on Egypt’s fascination with animals. Every year, the museum will offer 2 different temporary exhibits while changing up some of the pieces in the “permanent” collection, giving residents of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region plenty of reasons to keep going back to their new local attraction.

Chez Cathy, across from the Louvre-Lens

Chez Cathy, across from the Louvre-Lens

Le Centre Historique Minier Lewarde

Le Centre Historique Minier Lewarde

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whether the museum will provide a long-term economic boost to the depressed town remains to be seen but it certainly cannot hurt. I was glad to visit. While we were in the area, we had some traditional northern-France food at nearby Chez Cathy (the museum also offers its own more elegant restaurant, l’Atelier de Marc Meurin,) visited the excellent Centre Historique Minier Lewarde before grabbing dinner at Aux Vieux de la Vieille, a traditional estraminet in Lille.There’s plenty more we could have done if we had opted to do an overnight trip instead of the day one, like visiting the historical town center in Arras or even going as far as Roubaix to visit Le Musee de La Piscine de Roubaix, a former art-deco swimming pool turned, you may have guessed it, museum. And I might have an opportunity to in the next few years, actually. In 2016, Lens will be one of the host cities for the Euro Cup, which will be held in France between June 10 and July 19, 2016 and which I am totally planning on attending! Its Stade Bollaert-Delelis, which previously hosted some world cup matches back in 1998, will see 3 group-stages matches and one round of 16 match (so if you’re planning on seeing a match there, maybe double down and see the museum too!). Before that, though, the Louvre will further spread its collection, going outside of France this time with the opening of the Louvre-Abu Dhabi scheduled for December 2015.

Guest Post ~ My Trip to Paris by Ashley

389176_10100620880866639_2081008904_nNeither David nor I can remember how we agreed that Paris would be our honeymoon location. And truthfully, it never occurred to either of us as being cliché (being the city of love and all). The truth is, we’re city people, and we like to visit other cities, and we both took enough years of high school and college French that we felt it needed to serve some purpose.

We flew to Paris a few days after our wedding, with only the vaguest ideas of what we would do or see. We had secured our apartment via AirBnB, a great little studio in Le Marais, exchanged our dollars for Euros and headed off on Iceland Air. When we got there we were surprised that Paris seemed trapped in time. For me, it was romantic to see metro trains right out of my understanding of the 1940’s. There seemed to be less automation, more stairs, and definitely fewer people using smart phones. For David, it was a thoughtful collision of the new (La Défense) and the old (“What do you mean they don’t accept our credit cards?”). The biggest adjustment? The lack of air conditioning on our fifth floor walk up–and the communal bathroom.

Either way, a trip to Paris is an incredible experience and one you’re not soon to forget–no matter which century you prefer. Here are some of the sights we loved and tips we learned doing our Parisian honeymoon:

1. Grab a Vélib’. Paris was one of the first city to implement a large-scale bikeshare program and it’s a great way to get around without losing out on any of the sights.  You will need to buy your pass online since the Vélib self-serving stations don’t take American credit cards.

Velib, paris velib, paris bikeshare, biking in paris

2. We loved Caffe Boboli and Bistro La Coopérative. The Cooperative serves traditional Southwestern food close to the Louvre Museum, but without the tourist mark-ups (or crowds) of other establishments nearby. Caffe Boboli is this tiny Italian restaurant with fewer than 10 seats; the owner serves your meal.

3. Visit the farmers’/merchant market on Boulevard Richard Lenoir, near the Bastille on Sunday mornings (8AM-1PM, metro: Breguet Sabin or Bastille.) If the weather is nice, you can buy everything you need (but especially cheese, olives, cured meats etc.) for a picnic. Then grab a bottle of wine and improvise a meal by the Seine. Unlike in Washington, there are no such things as open container laws in Paris.

marche de la Bastille, paris farmers' market, bastille farmers market

4. Take a cooking class. I tried a croissant-making class at (American-expat owned) La Cuisine Paris, and took home more than we could eat!

5. Select your museums wisely. The museum pass was helpful if you really enjoy museums and plan to make them a dedicated part of your trip. But if you’re not a big museum person, don’t worry about it. And the Mona Lisa…eh. We visited the Centre Pompidou which has great modern art. Make sure you get in the entrance line and not the line for the library-we stood in line for an hour before realizing we were in the wrong one. Don’t miss the the whimsical Stravinsky Fountain nearby too. We also made a full day excursion to Versailles, rented a rowboat and leisurely strolled through the gardens. If the weather is nice it’s definitely worth the quick RER ride.

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6. We loved the view from Arc de Triomphe more than the Eiffel Tower. Then again, I’m terribly afraid of heights. If you want to save money (and a few hours), you can elect to walk up the Eiffel Tower via stairs.

7. Stroll up to Berthillon’s on the Ile St Louis. The celebrated glacier has many retailers behind Notre Dame, and there’s typically always a small line, waiting not-so-patiently for the best ice cream in the city.

berthillon, ice cream paris, best ice cream in paris

8. We took a fun wine tasting class at O-Chateau. Their wine pours are generous and the knowledge was invaluable-we learned that a high-dollar bottle of wine rarely tastes different than a more reasonably priced bottle of wine. We also learned a great deal about the the flavors you can expect from specific regions of France.

9.  The city of Paris spends a small fortune of their taxpayers’ euros lighting up the monuments at night and one of the most convenient way to appreciate them is on a boat tour of the city at night.  There are several offering dinner or drinks too.

10. Sacré Coeur and the surrounding neighborhood are a lovely afternoon excursion but watch out for pick-pockets and all their tricks!

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Last but not least, take the time to enjoy the city. You’ll never have the time to see everything so don’t stress out trying.

577526_10100624987931049_1043153038_nAbout the author: Ashley and David were married in May, 2012 in Meridian Hill Park in Washington, DC. Following their honeymoon in Paris, they welcomed a sweet puppy named Jack into their lives. I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Ashley through our mutual love of DC-city life and our involvement with the local blog Borderstan. I can’t remember if I suggested slash ordered that she gets ice cream at Berthillon before she headed out to Paris, but either way, I most definitely agree with that tip. Berthillon is the best. Period 😉 For more on Ashley, you can read her blog Metropoetrylis and follow @arlusk on twitter. 

Guest Post ~ My Trip to Paris by Cecile

Gertrude Stein once said “America is my country and Paris is my hometown.” I couldn’t agree more! When I am in Paris, I feel very much at home and become une petite Parisienne. Of course, it helps that my father is a francophile and my mother is, well, une vraie Parisienne. She used to live near the picturesque Place des Vosges and I grew up hearing all about Paris, its culture and its fashion. I’m lucky that I get to visit about once a year, and I’m thrilled to share with you a few of the things I love the most about my hometown…

… starting with fashion. French women always manage to look effortlessly chic, elegantly maneuvering the cobblestone streets of le Marais in their Louboutins and expertly wrapping a Hermès scarf around their necks. But all French women, myself included, know that the base of any great outfit is what only a select few people get to see: their unmentionables. French lingerie is typically designed for women by women and it shows! You can find a few good French brands in D.C. at Coup de Foudre on E Street, for example. But when I head to Paris, I love picking out perfectly fitted colorful pieces at Cadolle, the designer credited with inventing the bra (4 rue Cambon) or at Chantal Tomass (211 rue St-Honoré, 1er). Since those will set you back a bunch of euros,  I also love shopping at more budget-friendly Princesse Tam-Tam. The brand targets a younger crowd with affordable, fun, contemporary lingerie. It’s also a chain with locations pretty much all over Paris so you’re bound to come across one while exploring the city.

Another hidden yet important element of a French woman’s style is her fragrance. Perfume has been one of my passions since I pursued an MBA in luxury goods with a concentration in perfume in Monaco. Perfumes define your personality, whether it is fresh and fun, romantic or sensual, what better way to discover this than in Paris? Visiting perfume boutiques such as Annick Goutal (14 rue de Castiglione, 1erand Chanel (31 rue Cambon, 1er) will help you determine whether you are a Petite Cherie or more of an Allure Sensuelle. You can also visit Romano Ricci (yes, he’s related to Nina Ricci…)’s new concept store Nose (20 rue Bachaumont, 2eme) to get a tailored scent assessment. Finally, a sensory tour of Paris wouldn’t be complete without a stop at Ateliers Parfum Guerlain’s flagship store. Conveniently located on the Champs Elysees (68 Avenue des Champs Élysées, 8eme), the boutique dates back to 1912 and features a shimmering art-deco interior that will transport you to the famous avenue’s most glorious days, before H&M and Abercombie and Fitch moved in.
Beyond shopping, Paris is obviously known for its art and many museum. My favourite is le Musée d’Orsay, which houses an impressive collection of impressionist masterpieces in a former 19th century railway station. If you need to take a break from the Renoirs and bronze ballerinas, don’t miss the breathtaking views of the Seine from the fifth floor.
Great views of le musée du Louvre from le musée d'Orsay (picture: Cecile R.)

Great views of le musée du Louvre from le musee d’Orsay (picture: Cecile R.)

 

Shopping, art… I guess I can’t write a post on the things I love about Paris without mentioning the food. I definitely indulge to the max when I am in the city. I can literally spend my days eating! I recommend people watching over le petit dej at Café Mabillon (164 Boulevard Saint-Germain, 6eme); an afternoon break of delicious hot chocolate with homemade marshmallows at La Maison Angelina (226 Rue de Rivoli, 1er) or to-die-for macarons from Pierre Hermé (72 Rue Bonaparte, 6eme) and Ladurée (21 Rue Bonaparte, 6eme). If the weather allows, improvise a picnic Pont des Arts. The pedestrian footbridge with a wooden decking will l
ead you straight to the Louvre’s 
cour carrée and is a popular spot to take a break and soak up the romantic cityscape (and yes to leave a padlock too). I also love the inventive selection of eclairs at Fauchon (26 place de la Madeleine, 8eme). Rather than compete with the celebrated macarons makers, Fauchon decided to make a name for itself with another classic parisian pastry, which it declined in over 75 different flavors since 2003. During my last trip to Paris, I tried their foie gras eclair. It tastes as decadent as it sounds… And of course, there’s no shortage of options for lunch but I recently stumbled upon Le Petit Jacob (40 rue Jacob, 6eme), a cozy bio wine bar with simple, organic fare like charcuterie or tartines. I recommend it. 

Savory Eclair Foie Gras from Fauchon. Another fun flavor they have is the eclair chien chaud. It looks like an elegant hot dog, but tastes like raspberry and caramel.

Savory Eclair Foie Gras from Fauchon. Another fun flavor they have is the eclair chien chaud. It looks like an elegant hot dog, but tastes like raspberry and caramel.

As you can tell, Paris is near and dear to my heart. Do you have any favourite Paris spots? Feel free to share them in the comments… I’m already planning my next trip to Paris this summer and I always welcome recommendations!
About the author: born in India, Cecile grew up in Arlington, VA. She currently works in marketing for a French luxury hotel in the District. I had the pleasure of meeting up with her in Paris during her last trip there. And by meeting up with her, I mean we flew on the same plane and hung out everyday. I guess I should mention Cecile also happens to be one of my best friend and contributes witty postings to the French Twist DC facebook page 😉 Find her on twitter under the handle @cecileremington.