A last Parisian stroll

16 December 2018

Our stay in Paris was far too short and, sadly, our last morning in this beautiful city was as damp and cold as the previous day had been. We began the morning with breakfast in our hotel. The meal was served in an amazing cellar room that was even quirkier than our lovely little attic room. I could have kicked myself for leaving my phone behind. Luckily I found some pictures on Tripadvisor and have shamelessly stolen them.

Traveller photo submitted by GLCASTELUCCI (Jun 2018)


Traveller photo submitted by GLCASTELUCCI (Jun 2018)


Traveller photo submitted by GLCASTELUCCI (Jun 2018)


Traveller photo submitted by GLCASTELUCCI (Jun 2018)


Many of the eighteenth and nineteenth century hotels and buildings in the 10th arrondissement have hidden cellar rooms like this, some dating from much earlier times. In fact, beneath most of Paris, there is a hidden world of cellars, tunnels, sewers and even quarries. We were lucky enough to see the catacombs on a previous visit and the hotel breakfast room reminded me of them a little, although obviously without all the bones. Having said that, there may well have been bones far closer than we thought. A few years back a hidden burial site was found beneath a local supermarket, so you never quite know what is beneath your feet here.

Today there was no time for real sightseeing and the wet, cold weather put us off going too far afield. Once we’d packed our cases and checked out of the hotel we spent a happy and warm half hour or so having one last wonderful chocolat chaud. You really never can have too many in my humble opinion.

By the time we’d finished our drinks the rain had eased off a little so we decided to go for one last stroll before we headed for the station. It was really nothing more than a walk around the block but there were still a few interesting things to see. On Boulevard de la Chapelle we had a great view of the train lines going into Gare du Nord and an interesting mural of the front of the station on a nearby building.

We also passed a delightfully dilapidated doorway. Commando couldn’t understand why I would want to take a picture of such a thing though.

On Rue du Faubourg Saint Denis the front of the Hôpital Fernand-Widal caught my eye. In the sixteenth century, Vincent de Paul built a small hospital of just forty beds on Rue Faubourg Saint Martin, the street running parallel to this one on the other side of Gare de l’Est. It was dedicated to the Daughters of Charity. Over the years the hospital grew and, by the nineteenth century it had three hundred beds and was run by Dr Antoine Dubois. In 1858 the hospital moved to its present location and was later named after Fernand Widal, visiting physician to the hospitals of Paris, prolific writer of medical essays and instrumental in devising the Widal test for typhoid fever. Today the hospital specialises in psychaiatry, addiction and elderly care and is undertaking a great deal of research about memory. The building looks rather dark and forbidding but, what really caught my eye were the words Liberte Egalite Fraternite above the door.

We carried on walking, pausing every now and then to look at an interesting shop or a piece of graffiti, until we were back on Rue de Dunkerque approaching Gare Du Nord again.

We still had a while before we needed to check into Eurostar so we had a closer look at Maison Fond in the daylight. It really is the strangest piece of artwork I’ve ever seen.

Our final stop was for a closer look at the strange red metal sculpture we’d passed several times on our travels. This rather fantastical creation by Parisian artist and sculptor Richard Texiers, is called Angel Bear. It was specially commissioned in 2015 by SNCF for the United Nations Climate Change Conference. The piece was inspired by the plight of polar bears and the fragility of our planet.

We were still a little early for our check in but, by now, we were frozen so, with some regret, we said goodbye to Paris and went inside the station. Once we’d passed through the airport style security we found a place to sit and wait and got a coffee to warm our hands. There were a few, slightly half hearted decorations in the waiting area to remind us it was almost Christmas and we passed the time with the usual people watching.

After a while a call came for boarding. Commando assured me this was not for our train. The waiting area slowly emptied and we kept on waiting. When the time for our train had come and gone with no further calls I began to get a little concerned.

“Are you absolutely sure about the train time?” I asked.

This was when we discovered Commando had been looking at the outbound tickets all along and the train that had been called twenty minutes earlier and had now left was actually ours. Luckily, it was fairly simple to get onto the next train, although we had rather a longer than expected wait.

We ended up in a rather noisy carriage filled with Welsh rugby supporters. It wasn’t quite the relaxing journey we’d expected but they were a friendly bunch and even shared some of their bottles of red wine with Commando. All in all it had been an eventful trip and I, for one, had learned a few lessons. In future I will be a little more proactive in my research. That way we might actually find the parkrun. Also I will also not be leaving the travel plans in Commando’s hands, especially with his habit of not wearing his glasses.

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Gilets jaunes

15 December 2018

With thoughts of a nice warming coffee and maybe a cake in the Jardin du Luxembourg cafe evaporating, we peered through the locked gates and wondered what to do next. It was one o’clock and both of us were cold, damp and feeling rather hungry. Our early breakfast seemed like a lifetime ago and we’d been walking more or less the whole time since then. The little cafe we’d stopped at before on Boulevard Saint Michel sprang to mind so we headed towards it.

As we walked we theorised about the locked gates of the park.

”Perhaps something has happened inside?” Commando suggested. “That police van must be there for a reason.”

”I wonder what though?” I said, “There was no one inside the gates that I could see and no police in the van.”

“It could be anything but, after the terrorist attack in Strasbourg last week, I guess they’re taking no chances, France does seem to have more than its fair share of these things.”

This was a sobering thought, News footage of the aftermath of Tuesday’s attack in the Strasbourg Christmas market was fresh in my mind. Five people had died and eleven were injured by a French Algerian terrorist with a gun and a knife. He managed to escape the scene in a taxi but was eventually found on Thursday and died in a shoot out with police. The attack was never going to stop us visiting Paris because these things can happen anywhere, but the locked park gates suddenly took on a sinister significance.


La Croissanterie was a welcome sight. We stepped inside to a world of mouthwatering treats and the wonderful smell of coffee. The young man who served us spoke perfect English and was quite chatty. He seemed surprised to learn the park was closed.

“Perhaps it is because of the Gilets Jaunes,” he suggested.

Of course we’d heard all about the Gilets Jaunes on the news at home. The yellow vests movement was sparked by an online petition in May 2018. The petition, aimed at economic justice and motivated by rising fuel prices, government tax reforms and a spiralling cost of living, had almost a million signatures. By November, the online rumblings had become protest marches, with roads and fuel depots blocked. The protesters all wore yellow high vis jackets, the kind everyone has to carry in their car in France in case of an accident or breakdown.  The French are, at the best of times, a militant nation and President Macron, with his ‘let them eat cake’ attitude and smug smile, seems to be quite unpopular. He would probably do well to read his French history and see where such attitudes have led in the past.

Inevitably, some of the marches turned into riots. Those in Paris on 1 December were particularly nasty with more than one hundred cars burned and the Arc de Triomph vandalised. For this reason we’d decided to avoid the area around Champs Elysees where it seemed most of the problems occurred. 

When we left the cafe the young man warned us to be careful in case the Gilets Jaunes were about. It wasn’t long before we saw signs that they were. Soon after we crossed the Seine and were back on Boulevard de Sébastopol, close to Rue de Rivoli, we saw a long line of blue police vans at the side of the road. Amongst them was a strange tank like vehicle that we assumed was for a water cannon. There were no yellow jackets anywhere in view but we knew they must be nearby. Perhaps this explained the locked parks.

A few moments later a couple of men in yellow vests passed us. Whether they were protestors or just workmen of some kind we couldn’t tell but they seemed fairly harmless. We carried on walking and the rain kept on falling.

Five minutes later, as we were approaching the junction with Rue du Borg L’Abbé, we heard sirens. The gendarmes were obviously on the move. All the blue vans we’d just passed came speeding up the road, including the scary looking tank. WE stopped to watch and I took the video below. Before they reached us they turned off onto Rue aux Ours. We breathed a sigh of relief. Whatever was going on was obviously not ahead.

Gilets Jaunes Paris December 2018

We kept on walking but we didn’t get far. As we approached the zebra crossing we saw a huge crowd of people walking down the road towards us. The Gilets Jaunes had found us! It seemed they had also somehow evaded all the police. Commando came over all protective and tried to stand in front of me as they turned and marched in front of us along Rue de Turbigo. They didn’t look very scary as far as I could see though so I got out my phone and began to film them. It isn’t every day you get caught up in a mass protest march after all. The video I took is below.

Gilets Jaunes Paris December 2018

There were an awful lot of Gilets Jaunes and Commando kept trying to get in front of me so I soon gave up filming and just took photos instead. None of the protesters seemed in the least bit threatening. In fact, they all looked to be having rather a nice time, walking along with their yellow jackets and placards chatting to each other. They seemed to be a mixture of all ages and classes, not at all the militant young hooligans they’d been portrayed by the press.

It was a good ten minutes before the crowd of protesters thinned out enough for us to get across the road and continue our journey. In all that time we hadn’t seen a single gendarme. A few hundred yards further up the now empty road though, a whole group of police in full riot gear came past us. With their flack jackets, visored helmets and, most scarily, machine guns, they looked way more frightening than all of the Gilets Jaunes put together.

It was raining even harder by now and it was quite a relief to know the protesters were all behind us now. At least we thought they were. Then, as we were approaching the junction of Rue Réaumur, we saw blue flashing lights ahead. Another mass of police vehicles, white ones this time, were careering across the junction. Either there were more Gilets Jaunes about or the police were spectacularly bad at finding them.

On we walked, rather hoping the police didn’t manage to catch up with the protesters. From what I could see the yellow vests looked to be far more harmless than the police and I didn’t like the idea of them being tear gassed, water cannoned, or shot at. When we came to Boulevard Saint Denis a whole host of police vans were parked up and a small crowd had gathered at the crossroads to see what was happening.


After a few minutes of standing watching nothing much happen Commando decided to walk up Boulevard Saint Denis and see what, if anything, was going on. Against my better judgement, I followed. When we reached the Porte Saint Martin we found a scene of chaos. Half the road was blocked by police and protestors and the traffic was backed up trying to find a way around them.

On a different day I might have admired the beautiful monumental archway, commissioned by Louis XIV in 1674. The Porte Saint Martin was built by architect Pierre Bullet, a student of François Blondel who built the nearby Porte Saint Denis,  to honor the capture of FrancheComté. It replaced the original medieval gateway in the wall built by Charles V in around 1356 to protect the Right Bank of the city. Today all I could think about was tear gas and freezing water.

Luckily the protesters began to march off along Rue Saint Martin and we escaped the teargas and water cannon, if not the traffic jam. When we set out on our quiet afternoon stroll our main worry had been the rain. In the end our walk turned out to be far more eventful than either of us could ever have imagined.

It was beginning to get dark by the time we got back to the hotel and, after a quick freshen up, we went back to our favourite cafe for a warming hot chocolate followed by a bite to eat in Au Baroudeur. The day hadn’t been at all how we’d umagined but it certainly wasn’t lacking in interest.

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A much needed break

14 December 2018

The last few weeks have been difficult and disappointing in equal measure but I’m not going to elaborate or dwell on them. Suffice to say I felt an overwhelming urge to run away and hide from a situation that was not of my making and a lot of questions I didn’t feel at liberty to answer. Damned if you do dammned if you don’t kind of stuff. Luckily, Commando had just the thing to put a smile back on my face. While I’d been hiding away he’d been booking a weekend in Paris.

We had a very early start, a taxi to the station, a train, underground and finally, after a bit of a wait, Eurostar. This was my second under the sea crossing and this time I wasn’t quite as worried about being under the actual sea. That part of the journey is only about twenty minutes or so anyway and even I can stop worrying about the water all around for that long. The darkness outside the train window is a bit disconcerting but it’s soon over and then there are French fields to look at. Truthfully, it’s much more relaxed than flying and there’s none of that worrying about your luggage not turning up at the other end either.

By the time we arrived at Gare du Nord the light was fading. The first thing we noticed was how much colder Paris was than home. My small case was filled with jumpers and warm things though so I pulled on my wooly hat and gloves and we hurried across the road from the station to our hotel.

The hotel we stayed in on our last visit was closed for refurbishment so we weren’t quite sure what to expect. What we got was a small reception, a very friendly welcome and a tiny, somewhat quirky lift to the top floor. The lift door opened right onto a spiralling wooden staircase, no landing, just stairs. It reminded me of the hotel I stayed in the first time I was in Paris back in 1980. Then I’d stayed in a room with a bidet but no toilet, that tiny convenience with its ornate cast iron cistern high on the wall, had been half way up the stairs. Perhaps this lift had once been a toilet? It was certainly small enough.

The only word to describe our room is bijou. It was a typical Parisian garret room with sloping beamed ceilings and a dormer window. The bed, small desk and chair almost filled it but there was a little bathroom with a bath, shower, sink and, most importantly, a toilet. Back in the 1800’s, when buildings like these were built all over Paris, these attic rooms would have been the least prestigious. In those days there were no lifts so the less important you were higher you had to climb. This was the kind of room where all the starving writers and artists would have lived. Needless to say I loved it.

From our window we had a marvellous view of Gare du Nord and the tiny, ant like people walking about below. Once we’d rested and freshened up we went back out to join them.

Our first stop was the Starbucks on the edge of the station. Not very imaginative in a city filled with cafes I know, but it was convenient and I needed coffee badly at this point. As usual the barista asked for my name. In the past this has caused both difficulties and amusement in France. With a name like Marie you’d think it would be simple but, for some reason, although they understand all the other French words I say, no matter how I say my name, the French don’t seem to understand it. Try as I might to pronounce my name in a more French way, in Starbucks all over France I’ve received cups with amusing things written on them, Mattie, Murray, Mary but never actually Marie. This time I thought I’d done quite well. There was no questioning look from the barista, no need to repeat it several times. The coffee I got though had the name Stephanie written on it. Thinking it belonged to someone else I questioned it but it really was my coffee. Commando was very, very amused. He called me Stephanie all evening.

There was another reason for choosing to buy and drink our coffee at the Gare du Nord Starbucks. When we arrived we’d both noticed a strange little crooked house on the pavement outside the station. We were positive it hadn’t been there last time we were in Paris. As we drank our coffee we looked out of the window at this odd little building trying to work out its purpose. It looked like a slice had been taken from one of the hotels opposite, complete with attic room, and dropped into the pavement. There were windows with curtains but no door we could see. The people of Paris seemed to be walking around it as if it didn’t exist.

The peculiar little house was, I later discovered, a piece of art. It’s called Madison Fond, or melting house, and it was created by Argentinean sculptor, Leandro Erlich, as a symbol for climate change. It was built at the time of the Paris climate change conference and is designed to look as if it’s melting into the pavement.

The main reason for our little jaunt to Paris was for Commando to run the Paris parkrun. Come on, you all knew there had to be some running in there somewhere. Once we’d had our coffee we stopped to check out the maps on the street, trying to work out how best to get to the park in the morning. The first thing we discovered was that Bois de Boulogne is a very big park. As the people of Paris are not yet sold on parkrun and the runners averagely number just thirty three, it might not be as easy to find as Commando thought. This was the moment when I realised I should have done some research before we left home rather than moping about feeling sorry for myself.

Luckily, the parkrun website did have information about where in the park the start was. Of course it was in French so it took me a while to get my head around it. There was a metro station, Porte d’Auteuil, fairly close so I took a photo of the metro map to try to work out a plan.

Much as I’d have liked to wander the streets for a while, it was far too cold and we were both far too tired after our long journey. After a quick shuffle up and down the impressive array of restaurants and cafes on offer, we settled on Au Baroudeur Patient, on Boulevard de Denain. The service was friendly, the food was good and Commando had even remembered his glasses so he could read the menu.

This was the full extent of the Paris nightlife we saw. The long day of travel and an early start in the morning, not to mention the cold, had us scurrying back to our garret room for an early night.

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February virtual walking – where am I now?

While the real world in February was all about mud, mist, a fair bit of rain and a badly blistered foot, my virtual journey continued. January ended in France, just outside Évreux, heading for Paris. It seemed a long way from my final destination, Morocco, but, as they say, it’s more about the journey than the destination, so where did February take me? Continue reading February virtual walking – where am I now?

liberté, égalité, fraternité

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15 November 2015

Today I was going to post about Commando’s marathon finish in Toronto. Instead, I’ve been watching events unfold in Paris, a city I love, with horror. It’s unimaginable that the streets I walked not so very long ago were running with blood and echoing with gunfire on Friday night. My heart goes out to the people of France and, while the Eiffel Tower remains in darkness, it’s good to see the rest of the world is alight with support and love. Continue reading liberté, égalité, fraternité

All things must pass

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7 – 10 January 2015

When I wrote about my Tuesday walk I mentioned that I’d paid a visit to the doctor and promised to tell you more later. Well, it’s like this. Since my stomach bug in late November, just before we went off to Paris, I’ve been suffering on and off with an intermittent stomach problem. It seems to ebb and flow like the tide with a few days of pain, burning and feeling nauseous followed by a few days of slowly feeling better before it all starts over again. Thinking it might be something I was eating I looked closely at my diet but, to be honest, half the time I didn’t really feel like eating anyway. Continue reading All things must pass

Doing the tourist thing

Mmmm baguettes
Mmmm baguettes

23 November 2014

Commando collects football scarves from every city we visit and, once he’d had a shower, he wanted to go back to Boulevard Saint Michel to look in a shop he’d spotted where he thought he might be able to get a Paris St Germain scarf. With all the getting lost and the extra walk around Jardin du Luxembourg time was getting on and, when we found ourselves back on Boulevard Saint Michel passing La Croissanterie St Michel, we realised we hadn’t had any lunch. The display of baguettes and cakes was mouthwatering and, after a lot of drooling, we finally settled on a chicken salad baguette to share and a muffin each. Delicious. Continue reading Doing the tourist thing

Reunited

Dancing faun bronze by Eugène Louis Lequesne
Dancing faun bronze by Eugène Louis Lequesne

23 November 2014

Just as I was about to sink down onto the steps where we’d sat the day before watching the toddler playing football and put my head in my hands in despair there was a tap on my shoulder. When I turned around there was Commando. He’d been sitting on one of the green chairs in the sun waiting for me and I hadn’t noticed him when I passed. He was pretty cross but I fell, sobbing into his arms, so relieved to see him. Continue reading Reunited

Lost in France

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23 November 2014

Everyone knows I have a talent for getting lost. It’s something I do with monotonous regularity and, usually, it doesn’t bother me. In fact I’ve found some pretty interesting things that way and I always know it’s only a matter of time before I find my way back to somewhere familiar. Ok, so there has been the odd time, in the middle of the woods, when my stomach has tightened momentarily and I’ve had visions of being found as a skeleton under a tree.  GPS has often been my saviour but, on Sunday, it was a different story altogether. I was lost, frightened and in a state of panic. Continue reading Lost in France

From ossuary to graveyard in one afternoon

L'avenue du Général-Leclerc
L’avenue du Général-Leclerc

22 November 2014

Leaving the catacombs behind we wandered, slightly dazed, onto L’avenue du Général-Leclerc, quite some distance from the place we’d entered l’empire de la Mort. Our first priority was finding somewhere to eat. We found a little place called Indiana Café where we thought we might get a snack and a coffee and went inside. The snack turned out to be a huge meal, a beautiful hand made burger that surprised us by coming with salad and fries. Of course I had coffee too. Continue reading From ossuary to graveyard in one afternoon