Thursday, June 30, 2011

Arc de Triomphe - Fantastique!

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the Arc de Triomphe ( & After the Eiffel Tower, it is probably the most impressive monument in Paris. It stands in the center of the place Charles de Gaulle, also known by its former name - the place de l’Etoile (place of the Star). Twelve straight avenues, one of which is the Champs Elysées, radiate out from the place.

This massive monument honors the French military who fought and died during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars. Its design was inspired by the Arch of Titus which was built near the Roman Forum by the Roman Emperor Domitian in the 1st Century A.D. to honor the military victories of his brother Titus. Napoleon I ordered the Arc’s construction in 1806, but it was not completed until 1836.

The Arc de Triomphe is so large that a pilot flew his biplane through the arch in 1919, shortly after the victory parade to celebrate the end of World War I.

Beneath the Arc is the tomb of the French Unknown Soldier from World War I.

The Arc has an Eternal Flame, which is relit in a ceremony every evening in 6 p.m. at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It is this flame that was the inspiration for the Eternal Flame at the grave of President John F. Kennedy. The President and his wife had visited the Arc de Triomphe 2 years before his assassination. She remembered the flame when he was buried, and she requested one for him.

Visitors can go to the very top to see terrific views of Paris. In some ways, the views were as good as those from the Eiffel Tower.

(Some pictures below were taken from the Arc using the 12x optical zoom on my camera.)

Champs Elysées (without zoom)

Montmartre (with zoom)

Various ceremonies are held at the Arc de Triomphe, including the May 8th celebration of the end of World War II and the November 11th celebration of the Armistice ending World War I.

When my wife and I were in Paris in May of 2000, we saw a large number of policemen along the Champs Elysées. When I asked one of them what was going on, he told me that that day - May 8th - was a holiday celebrating the end of World War II. He said there would soon be a memorial parade by cavalry riding to the Arc de Triomphe and that the President and the Prime Minister of France would both be speaking there shortly, so we walked along the Champs Elysées to the place Charles de Gaulle. We saw the cavalry close up, and the President and the Prime Minister in the distance at the Arc.

There are both stairs and elevators to the top. The elevators are intended for the disabled and those with strollers. However, the elevators were out of service when we were there. We climbed all 284 steps to the top.

There is a museum and gift shop at a level just below the top.

The Paris Museum Pass is accepted there. We were able to go to the head of the line, but I still had to stop at the ticket window to pick up free tickets for my grandchildren.

There is no admission charge to visit the outdoor area at the base of the monument. Admission to the interior is free for children 17 and under, 5 for people 18 to 25, and 8 for people over 25.

The monument is open from 10:00 a.m. until 11:00 pm from April 1 to September 20, and until 10:30 p.m. the rest of the year.

There are many types of public transportation that serve the Arc de Triomphe, including subway lines 1, 2, and 6, train line A, and various bus routes. The Metro station is Etoile - Charles de Gaulle. There is a pedestrian underpass that goes under the place Charles de Gaulle to the monument. If you have a death wish, you can try to walk or run through the heavy traffic on the place.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Delicious & Authentic Japanese - 本当においしい

Last night, wonderful friends treated us to a terrific Japanese meal at Vizen, a superb Japanese restaurant in Sarasota. While there are a number of Japanese restaurants in the Sarasota-Bradenton area, they are not all authentic. Vizen ( is one of the best and most authentic. The food is not only delicious but it is very beautifully presented - a real work of art - in keeping with the Japanese view that food show be a feast for the palate and the eyes.

My wife had her standard sushi order - California rolls and Mexican rolls. She and I shared an order of gyoza.

Our friends had sushi, gyoza, and ginger salmon.

I had seafood miso and seafood tempura. The seafood miso was filled with a mixture of delicious seafood. The tempura was perfect. (The pseudo Japanese restaurants rarely seem to get this right.)

Every morsel of our dishes was wonderful.

My Wife's Sushi Platter

My Tempura

Friends' Sushi

Vizen is located at 6559 Gateway Ave in Gulf Gate
Phone 926-0830
Reservations are recommended.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Eiffel Tower - La Tour Eiffel

We had a terrific visit to the Eiffel Tower, which we had previously visited in 2006.

The Eiffel Tower ( is spectacular. It was completed in 1889 as the entrance to the world’s fair marking the 100th anniversary of the French revolution. At the time of its construction, it was widely considered as an eyesore. However, over the years, it has come to symbolize Paris. It is tallest structure in Paris and the most-visited paid monument in the world. Over 200,000,000 people have visited it since its opening.

It is 1,063 ft. tall, and for 41 years after its opening, it was the tallest man-made structure in the world.

Engineer Gustave Eiffel designed the tower and managed its construction. It was completed in 21 months, and under budget.

It was originally supposed to have been dismantled 20 years after its construction. However, it was allowed to stay up because it was invaluable for communications. In fact, the French used it to jam and to intercept German communications during World War I.

When the Germans defeated the French during World War II, the French cut the elevator cables so the Germans would have to walk to the top. The French claimed they could not obtain replacement cables because of the war. When Hitler visited Paris after the defeat of the French, he decided to just view the tower from the ground rather than to walk to the top. When the Allies approached Paris in 1944, Hitler ordered that the tower be demolished. Fortunately, the German commander in Paris disobeyed the order.

At the Eiffel Tower, we discovered it was even more crowded than the previous evening. The lines to purchase tickets were very long. It’s too bad that our museum pass was not valid there.

It is best to buy your Eiffel Tower tickets on line at (, which has an English-Language version that has lots of information about the Eiffel Tower. Unfortunately, I did not purchase them on-line because I was not 100% sure of that part of our itinerary.

There are three basic types of Eiffel Tower tickets, and no charge for children under 4:
Type                      Adults Over 24  Youths 12-24     Children 4-11 &
1. Elevator           13.40                   11.80                   9.30
to the top
2. Elevator           8.20                     6.60                     €4.10
to 2nd Level        
3. Stairs               4.70                     3.70                     3.20    
to 2nd Level
(The walk up to the 2nd Level is 600 steps.)

The entrances to the Eiffel Tower are in each of four piers (piliers) at the base of the towers. These pillars are known as the North Pillar (Pilier Nord), East Pillar (Pilier Est), South Pillar (Pilier Sud), and West Pillar (Pilier Ouest). There are separate lines at different pillars for:
- individuals who want to purchase tickets to ride the elevators,
- individuals who want to purchase tickets to walk to the second level,
- individuals who have prepurchased tickets, and
- tour groups.

The tower has two nice restaurants, a champagne bar at the top, and several snack bars. ( and (

The best restaurant is Le Jules Verne on the second level. It is a Michelin one-star restaurant run by famous chef Alain Ducasse. It is expensive! Dress code is dressy. Reservations are recommended.

The other restaurant is a brasserie called Le 58 Tour Eiffel. It is on the first level. Lunch menus started at 18 and dinner menus start at 67. Dress code is somewhat dressy (avoid jeans and sneakers).

We stood in the line to purchase a ticket to ride the elevator. The line was long, but it moved reasonably fast. It rained a bit while we waited.

After purchasing our tickets about 11:00 am, we moved into a short line to take the next elevator.

The elevator took us to the second level, where there are very nice views, souvenir shops, snack bars, etc. If you want to go to the top, you have to get in line to take another elevator. We did that. The line was very long. Several people cut in line. However, they had to get out of line because they did not have tickets to the top. They apparently thought they could buy tickets by standing in our line.

The views from the top were terrific. They were greatly enhanced by the 12x optical zoom on my camera. The views I most enjoyed were:
- The Champ de Mars stretching out to Ecole Militaire
- The Trocadero/Palais de Chaillot, which was built for the 1937 International Exposition
- The Seine
- Sacre Coeur at Montmartre
- The Eglise du Dome, which holds Napoleon’s tomb
- The Arc de Triomphe

Champ de Mars, Ecole Militaire, and Montparnasse Tower

The Trocadero

Eglise du Dome

Arc de Triomphe

Sacre Coeur

After we finished at the top, we took an elevator back down to the second level. There, we walked into a souvenir shop where my grandchildren bought souvenirs.

My granddaughter purchased:
- a charm bracelet for 6
- a metal stand holding replicas of the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, and Notre Dame for 8
- a photo frame for 18
My grandson bought a medal that had five replicas of five monuments for 2.50.

Then we walked a few feet to a snack bar where we bought a light lunch. My grandson had a croque monsieur sandwich (open-face grilled ham & cheese) for 5 and a 40 cl Fanta for 3. My granddaughter and I each had a Sandwich Mixte - ham, gruyere cheese, and butter on a baguette for 6. She had a 40 cl coke for 3, and I had a 50 cl Evian water for 3.

We then went back to the bottom. By the time we left the elevator at about 2:30 pm, there were almost no lines.

There are rest rooms in the tower and behind one of the pillars at the bottom.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Paris Public Transportation System

Paris has a superb public transportation system that comprises three components - subways, trains, and buses ( The system is extensive, clean, and efficient. It is also heavily used. Among its shortcomings are lack of air-conditioning and poor access for the disabled.

The subway system, known as the Metro, has 16 lines with 384 stops at 300 stations. ( It carries 4.5 million passengers per day. The first line began operation in 1900.

The system has six zones, with zone 1 covering the center of the city and zones 1- 6 covering the entire system. Most of the major attractions are in zones 1 and 2.

The Paris Metro system

Most of the subway stations have only stairs. A few have escalators and at least one critical one has an elevator. The Place Monge Station, which we used a number of times, has about 100 steps from the platform level to street level. The station with the elevator, Abbesses, has over 200 stairs up to street level.

I think the large number of stairs Parisians use is one reason one sees far fewer obese people than in the U.S.

One important thing to keep in mind about Paris Metro subway cars is that the doors do not open automatically. On the outside and inside ofthe center of  each subway car door is a either green button or a handle. To open the door, you press the button or lift up on the handle. It’s very easy.

I planned to use the subways quite a bit on this trip, as I had on previous trips.

There are many different types of tickets and passes offered by RATP, the government-owned organization that operates the subways, buses, and most of the local trains in Paris and its suburbs. The tickets and passes are all good on both subways and buses. Some of the types of tickets and passes are:
1. Individual tickets. They cost 1.70 (about $2.45 each). You do not need to purchase new tickets when you transfer from one subway line to another.
2. Carnet - a packet of 10 tickets. A carnet costs 12 (about $17.28 or $1.73 per ticket.  I think the carnet is the best bet for most visitors.
3. Paris Visite - these passes allow for unlimited travel in zones 1-3 or 1-6, depending on which one you purchase. They are good for 1, 2, 3, or 5 consecutive days. Validity starts at 5:30 am on the first day and ends at 5:30 am of the day following the last day of the ticket. A one-day adult pass for zones 1-3 costs 9.30. For zones 1-6, the cost is €19.60. There are discount passes for children 4-11. I think it is very hard to save money with these tickets unless you plan to take a very large number of separate subway rides. See for complete details.
4. Navigo Decouverte. This pass also allows unlimited use. They are valid for one week, one month, or one year. Prices vary depending on zone. I planned to purchase ours for zones 1-2. The passes become valid at midnight in the morning of the first day and end at midnight on the night of the last day. The one week passes become valid from midnight on Monday morning until midnight Sunday night. Consequently, you are only likely to save money if you arrive on Monday and stay for at least one week.  Using the pass is very simple - you pass it above a sensor at any turnstile going into the inner part of a metro station. If you lose the pass, you have to buy a new one or buy some other type of ticket.

I wanted to buy Navigo Decouverte passes for the three of us because we would be arriving at mid-day on Monday.  For the last full day of the visit, I planned to buy a carnet.

There are two parts to the Navigo Decouverte - the physical pass, which costs €5. It has the user’s picture and signature. It is called a “Bon.” Included with the Bon is a heavy duty plastic holder. The second part is an amount of money that you pay to validate the card for a period of time - a week, a month, or a year.  That amount of money is called a “forfait.” A forfait for a week is called a “forfait semaine.” It costs €18.35. When the week (or month or year) expires, you can load another forfait onto the card. Both parts of the card can be purchased at any metro station. The photos that are put on the card are small - 1&1/4 inches high by 1 inch wide (3 cm x 2.5 cm) pictures that are head/face pictures. You can either crop a photo on your computer or take one at a booth at the station for about €4. However, if you pay the €4 for the photo, you will probably not save money by buying the pass. I cropped pictures on my home computer. They worked just fine.

If you want to purchase a Bon and a weekly pass, show the ticket seller the following words:
“Je voudrais acheter:
1. Un bon pour passe Découverte
2. Un forfait semaine”

(I would like to purchase:
1. A bon for a Decouverte pass
2. A weekly forfait.)

Make sure you start the conversation by saying, “Bonjour.” If you want to be even more polite and get better service, after saying “bonjour,” say, “Excusez moi de vous deranger.” (Pronounce it  “eks-ku-zay mwa duh voo day-rahn-zhay.” The “zh” is like the English “s” in the word “pleasure.” It means, “Excuse me for troubling you.”)

We purchased our passes at the Place Monge metro station. The only clerk working at the station was a lady who was very sweet and very helpful. I told her I wanted to purchase three of the passes. I did not know that the name of the physical pass was called a “bon.” Once I told her what I wanted, she did the following:
1. She closed her ticket window and came out of the ticket booth. She led us to a machine and showed us how to buy a bon. She had each of us purchase our own bon. She took us each one of us, including my grandchildren, through the process.
2. She went back inside the ticket booth and attached to each bon a photo I had given her.
3. She closed the booth again and took us back to the ticket machines. There she showed each one of us how to load a weekly pass onto our bon.

For each step in the process, I used euro cash rather than my credit card.

We took a total of 21 subway rides each during the week the Navigo Decouvertes were valid, so we probably only save a few Euros. However, it was nice to go through the experience and to have the passes to quickly enter the stations. Moreover, if we return to Paris, we will not have to repurchase the bons, just the forfaits, so the savings would be greater.

On the last full day of the trip, I purchased a carnet of 10 tickets at a machine at the Cardinal Lemoine metro station. I tried to use my credit card, but it did not work. That may be because French credit cards have a computer chip rather than a magnetic strip like American credit cards. I ended up using Euro cash.

During this visit, we took 23 subway trips. Many of those trips involved two subway lines. We used 9 subway lines  - 2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 12, 13, and 14. We used at least 19 different stations. We also made two train trips - one to Versailles and one to Fontainebleau.

Navigo Decouverte Pass from the RATP web site

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Itinerary of Our Visit to Paris

I had developed a very detailed itinerary for the visit of my grandchildren and me to Paris. The major items on the itinerary were chosen in consultation with my grandchilren. During our visit, we ended up modifying various parts of the itinerary due to interest, lack of time, weather, energy, etc. The main items we dropped from the itinerary was a boat ride on the Seine and a walking tour of the Latin Quarter. I had also planned to visit the inside of the magnificent Palais Garnier opera house. However, we only had enough time to see it from the outside.  I also changed all but three of the dinner restaurants I had chosen. That was primarily due to where we happened to be at the time.

Below is the actual itinerary of our trip. One interesting aspect of the trip is that by fly between the U.S. and Paris via Italy instead of directly between the U.S. and Paris, we saved about $400 per ticket.

12 June - Sunday
Depart U.S. and fly to Paris via Rome 
13 June - Monday
Arrive & take Shuttle Inter van to apartment on rue Rollin, 5th Arrondissement
Apartment manager introduces us to apartment & neighborhood
Go to Cardinal Lemoine Metro Station & Purchase Passe Navigo Decouverte weekly subway, bus, & train pass
Find Hemingway’s first apartment - 74 rue Cardinal Lemoin, a few hundred feet from our apartment
Visit the Champ de Mars & Eiffel Tower. Visit to top of tower postponed due to crowds
Dinner at Le Royal Tour Brasserie, 23 Ave de la Bourdonnais. (We ate there in 2006.)

14 June - Tuesday
Buy Paris Museum Pass for 6 Days for 65 at the Pantheon, a short walk from our apartment
Breakfast pastries at La Boulangerie Parisienne at Cardinal Lemoine Metro Station
Walk down the Champs Elysees to the place de la Concorde
Attend comedy show - How to Become a Parisian - at Theatre de la Main d’Or, 15, Passage de la Main d’Or
Dinner at Le Chalet Savoyard, 58 rue de Charonne

15 June - Wednesday
Breakfast pastries at La Boulangerie Parisienne
Chateau de Versailles & Town of Versailles - by train -
Dinner at La Fontaine de La Mouff, 2 rue du Pot de Fer
Gelato at Alberto’s

16 June - Thursday
Breakfast Pastries at Patisserie & Chocolaterie Pascal Pinaud, 70 rue Monge near place Monge Metro Station
Louvre - Mona Lisa, Winged Victory, Venus de Milo, sections with Greco-Roman, Egyptian, Persian, Mesopotamian exhibits
Lunch in Louvre
Carousel du Louvre shopping mall
Walk through Royal Palace Gardens
Walk through Little Tokyo
See Palais Garnier Opera House from outside (no time for inside visit)
Go to top of Montparnasse Tower (great view of Paris),
Dinner at Les Deux Magots, 6 Place St. Germain des Pres

17 June - Friday
Breakfast pastries at La Boulangerie Parisienne
Lunch at Le Delice Imperial, Fontainebleau
Dinner at Delmas Cafe & Restaurant, Place de la Contrescarpe
18 June - Saturday
Breakfast pastries at Boulangerie des Arenes, across from Boulangerie la Parisienne, which was closed
Marais Walking Tour with French guide - Ben of Paris Greeters
Lunch at Le Relais de l’Hotel de Ville
La Conciergerie
Ice Cream at Berthillon, 31 rue St. Louis en L’Ile
Dinner at Au Piano Muet, 48 rue Mouffetard

19 June - Sunday
Breakfast pastries at Boulangerie des Arenes
Eglise du Dome - Napoleon’s Tomb, Les Invalides & Army Museum
Takeout lunch at Restaurant Brasserie La Tour Maubourg - ugh!
City of Science & Industry Museum - IMAX 3D movie - Oceanosaures, Attack submarine Argonaute, Modern Innovations
Dinner at Le Volcan, 10 rue Thouin

20 June - Monday
Breakfast pastries at Boulangerie La Parisienne
Takeout baguette sandwiches at Au Levain d’Antan, 2011 winner of Paris Baguette Grand Prix
Walking around Montmartre & Sacre Coeur, Moulin Rouge
Dinner at La Vieille Tour, 1 rue du Pot de Fer
Souvenir shopping at Par’Ici, rue Mouffetard
Gelato at Alberto’s

21 June - Tuesday - Depart Paris to return to U.S. via Pisa, Italy

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Paris Museum Pass - Time Saver and Possible Money Saver

In Paris, most museums do not charge admission fees for any children under 18 and for European Union citizens under 26. However, they do charge adults. Some museums do have one day per month in which there is no charge; however, the lines can be very long on such days.

One very useful purchase for adults is the Paris Museum Pass. It is good for some 60 museums in and around Paris, including the Louvre, Versailles, Fontainebleau, the Arc de Triomphe, and many more. It is not accepted at some major attractions like the Eiffel Tower and the Montparnasse Tower.

This pass can save money and certainly saves time. At most museums, people with the museum pass can avoid long ticket lines, although them may have to go through security lines. It clearly saved us time at a number of attractions. When you have very limited time in Paris, you don’t want to spend it standing in line.

At some attractions, an adult who has a pass and who is accompanied by children may have to get in a ticket line to get free tickets for the children.

The museum pass can be purchased for 2, 4, or 6 days. The prices are 35, 50, 65 respectively. The pass does not become effective until you write a starting date on it. You can purchase the pass on line and have it delivered to your home before departure. However, there is an extra charge for delivery.

In Paris, there are many points of sale for the pass. They are listed on line at the pass web site -  I purchased the 6-day pass at the Pantheon after I arrived in Paris. The purchase only took a couple of minutes. I used my Master Card.

One side benefit to the pass is that if you are in need of a rest room, you can just pop into a museum.

Charles de Gaulle Airport to Paris Shuttle Service

For our trip to Paris, I arranged for a private shuttle service to take my grandchildren and me from Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG) to the apartment we had rented, and from the apartment back to the airport. I made reservations with the company Shuttle Inter ( The one-way cost was 55 ($79.20) for the three of us. Service was provided in a large, comfortable van.

The driver was waiting for us on arrival in Paris. He had a sign with our name and was standing just outside the customs area of our arrival terminal.

On the way back, the same driver arrived at the reservation time of 6 a.m. It was important for me to know the terminal from which our flight was departing. CDG has three terminals and those terminals have different "halls." We were departing from Terminal 2 Hall G. 2G is about 1.5 to 2 miles away from Halls A, B, C, D, E, and F of Terminal 2.

I made the reservations months in advance and reconfirmed the reservations two days prior to each pick up date.

The cost was about the same as a taxi, but much more comfortable.

There are cheaper ways to get into town - e.g., train or Air France bus. However, both methods involve transfers, walking up an down stairs, susceptibility to pickpockets,etc. While the transfers and stairs are no problem for someone traveling on a short trip or with little luggage, it’s quite another matter at the end of a long trip. Our trip was particularly long because we had flown from the U.S. to Paris via Italy!! The tickets were much cheaper.

A Comfortable Apartment in Paris - Great Alternative to a Hotel

During our visit to Paris, we rented an apartment. This is the first time I have done an apartment rental, and it worked out very well. The apartment is located in the 5th Arrondissement on the rue Rollin, very close to the lively rue Mouffetard and the Place de la Contrescarpe. It is a couple of hundred feet from the first apartment which Ernest Hemingway had in Paris from January 1922 until August 1923. (Hemingway’s experiences in the area are described in “A Moveable Feast.”)

Details on the apartment are at

The apartment is close to two subway stations - Cardinal Lemoine on Line 10 and Place Monge on Line 7. The Paris subway system is so great that it is easy to get to any destination from these stations.

There are at least two very nice bakeries close to each of the subway stations. We bought breakfast pastries at one of these bakeries each day. The pastries were fantastic and cost between €1.10 and €2.50.

Boulangerie La Parisienne
Took 2nd Place in the 2010 Paris Baguette Grand Prix
At Cardinal Lemoine Station

There are also a number of decent restaurants, cafes, bistros, take-out places, and a great gelato store on the rue Mouffetard and place de la Contrescarpe. Most have outdoor tables. For those desperate for American food, Katz’s American diner, with Kosher options, is only a couple of blocks away. There are a couple of supermarkets - a nice Carrefour supermarket and another small “supermarket.” There is a third supermarket, Franprix, just a bit further.

 Place de la Contrescarpe

Delmas Restaurant on Place de la Contrescarpe

The apartment itself is owned by an American who lives in the U.S., but visits France with her family. Consequently, it has lots of American and French amenities, including:
- A nice stove and microwave
- refrigerator
- washer and dryer
- nice bathroom with separate shower and bath
- large screen TV with lots of channels, including CNN and other English-Language channels
- DVD & CD player
- secure wireless
- master bath with king bed
- living room with convertible couch bed that’s a real bed
- iron
- rental includes supplies towels, linens, dishes, silverware, etc. It also includes some supplies like toilet paper and soap, but these may not be adequate and may have to be supplemented by supermarket purchases. That was the case for us, but these items are very cheap at the Carrefour supermarket.
- lots of electrical outlets
- a gift basket including wine and snacks
- a local apartment hostess who can provide advice and assistance when needed.
- A nice supply of tourist pamphlets and books
- Children’s books

There were a couple of downsides:
A. I had to pay cash up front on arrival. The most common ways to do this would be to:
1. convert a lot of money at the airport,
2. bring travelers checks
3. get Euros from a U.S. bank or currency exchange service.
I like none of those options because the Euros are much more expensive with all of those options. I normally use ATM machines to get my Euros. However, most ATM cards have too low a daily withdrawal limit to withdraw enough money. I got around the problem by bringing ATM cards from four different accounts, but I was not happy doing that. I wish the owner would have another option like paying into a French PayPal account.
B. Another problem that might affect a few people with difficulty manipulating steps is that there are 26 steps from the courtyard up to the apartment. I know that this would be too difficult for my wife.
- One problem we had is that the humidity in the bathroom was so high that towels did not dry, so we had to use the dryer to dry them.
- The walls are thin and one can hear noise off the street and in the complex. This did not happen often enough to be a bother.

The rate varies by season. I paid 1,370 Euros (nearly $2,000) for 8 nights. That is significantly less than the 260 Euros per night our son’s family paid to accommodate the four of them when we traveled to Paris in 2006.

The bottom line is that my grandchildren and I were very happy with the apartment.

Great Free Walking Tours of Paris

One great experience which we had in Paris was a private walking tour. This tour was free and was conducted by a volunteer for an organization known as Parisien d’un Jour, Parisien Toujours (Parisian for a Day, Parisian Forever). The organization is modeled after a similar New York organization called Big Apple Greeters, with which my wife and I have also had a great tour.

Parisien d’Un Jour has several hundred volunteers. Anyone who would like a tour submits a request to the organization, and the organization will see if one of its volunteers is available to do the type of tour requested on the date requested. The tours are conducted in English and/or French, and in several other languages.

We were very fortunate that a volunteer was available and willing. “Ben” is a young Frenchman who works for a major U.S. corporation. He has lived in Paris for 9 years and also in Ireland.

Prior to traveling to Paris, I had corresponded with Ben by email to discuss the tour. I also sent a photo of me so that he would recognize me at the subway station where we agreed to meet.

We met Ben at one of the entrances to Bréguet-Sabin Metro Station. We had originally planned to meet at Place de la Bastille. However, several days before the tour, I discovered that part of the Bastille Metro Station was closed for renovation. That part of the station served the subway line we would be using.

Ben was extremely warm, friendly, knowledgeable, and well prepared. He came with a large notebook filled with informative graphics.

After mutual introductions, Ben pointed to the wrought-iron entrance to the Bréguet-Sabin Metro Station. This simple, but elegant entrance is one of the few original ones remaining in Paris. The station was opened in 1906.

Ben said that the walls of the underground portions of the subway stations were covered with white tiles to create a hygienic affect to help overcome the fear of the population that the underground was unhealthy.

Ben started by giving us an overview of some aspects of Paris.
- He explained the administrative subdivisions of Paris - the arrondissements.
- He showed us a map of Paris in which the political inclinations of the inhabitants were colored blue for conservative and pink for progressive. The colorings were based on election results. The graphic clearly showed that wealthier conservative arrondissements comprised the western half of the city, and progressive arrondissements comprised the eastern half. Not surprisingly, all of the major monuments of Paris are located in the wealthier arrondissements
- The predominant winds blow from west to east, with the progressive arrondissements blessed with some of the less pleasant smells.
- He discussed the architecture and nature of  the city plan of Paris, especially the huge impact of Georges-Eugène Haussmann ( on modern Paris.

Baron Haussman was chosen by Emperor Napoleon III to dramatically change and improve Paris after the Emperor was impressed by London during a visit there. Haussman is responsible for the broad boulevards of Paris, a new water supply system, new sewer system, new bridges, a magnificent opera house, the Bois de Boulogne park, etc., etc. (The function of those boulevards was not only beauty, but also control. Before the boulevards were created, it was very easy for protesters to effectively blockade the narrow streets.)

Ben showed us examples of simpler Haussman-influenced architecture. He also showed us examples of other architecture, including simple Revolution-era style, and post-Haussmann more elaborate architecture. He explained that typically, shops were on the ground floor, storage for the shops on the next floor, and wealthier people lived on the floor above the storage. The wealthier people had wrought-iron balconies.

We walked down boulevard Richard Lenoir to Place de la Bastille. The boulevard runs on top of the Canal St. Martin, a wide canal still in use.

I learned the proper pronunciation of “Bastille” from Ben. Despite years of French study, I had always thought that the letters “ll” were pronounce like “ll” in “fall.” Instead, they are pronounced like the “ye” in “yet.”

Ben told us that because the place de la Bastille has such an emotional connection to the French Revolution, the location is often the start of major political protest events and strikes.

At Place de la Bastille, we encountered a bit of heavy rain. As shelter from the rain he took us into a passageway leading into Cour Damoye, a picturesque cobblestone-paved courtyard surrounded by six-story buildings (  and ( He explained some the present situation of the courtyard and some of its history.

At one time, it was part of the Bastille, and the barracks for the king’s archers were located here. Later, scrap men and rag merchants worked there. Even later, cart wheels were repaired there. There are now artists and architects working there. The ground floor has art galleries and a tea shop, and the top four floors are residences. During the day, pedestrians can pass through, but at night, the gates at both ends are locked. Ben mentioned that one of the residents is a famous French rap singer. 

We then walked to the west side of the place de la Bastille where he showed more examples of architecture and pointed out an urban legend about a bullet in a wall. According to one plaque on the wall, a small cannon ball in the wall is from the July Revolution of 1830. However, a plaque elsewhere on the wall indicates the building was constructed in 1870.

He then took us to the south side of the place and showed us an uncovered part of the Canal St. Martin. At that location it is called Port de Plaisance de Paris Arsenal or the Bassin de l‘Arsenal. There are a number of nice boats which are docked there and which serve as homes to people. He mentioned that there are weekly relaxed parties on some of the boats.

He then discussed the Bastille Opera building. There are two major opera buildings in Paris - the magnificent Palais Garnier, completed in 1875, and the modern Bastille Opera, which was designed by a Canadian-Uruguayan architect and completed in 1989. The intention of the modern building was to make the opera more available to ordinary French citizens. It had also been intended to start an architectural change to the character of the place de la Bastille. Ben said it had been poorly constructed and would probably not last many more years. It did not have the intended architectural impact.

He then discussed the July Column, a monument in the center of the place. It is dedicated to the July Revolution of 1830, which led to the overthrow of King Charles X. Originally, the monument was to have been a large elephant. ( However, after a large model of the elephant was constructed, the idea was abandoned. Instead, a tall column was built. At the top of the column is a colossal gilt statue called “The Spirit of Freedom.“ It looks like the winged Mercury. The column itself is built of 21 cast bronze drums and is 154 feet high. The base of the column is white marble. The column is engraved with the names of Parisians who died during the revolution. There is an interior spiral staircase. Buried under it are some 615 people who died in the Revolution of 1830 and another 200 victims of the Revolution of 1848. (

While we were walking around the place de la Bastille, Ben explained many details regarding the creation and fall of the Bastille. He mentioned that it had been a fort integrated into the defensive walls of Paris built in the second half of the 14th Century under Charles V. These walls were the third set of defensive walls. As the city kept expanding, new walls were built farther out.

The Bastille was completed as a fort in 1370. It was later used as a prison.  It could only hold a maximum of 50 prisoners. At the time of the revolution, there were only seven prisoners there. The main reason that the revolutionaries wanted entry into the Bastille was to gain access to the gunpowder and arms stored there.

On July 14, 1789, a crowd of nearly 9,000 people, joined by rebellious French soldiers, stormed the Bastille. Despite the fact that the governor of the Bastille and the garrison surrendered under a truce, the revolutionaries murdered 120 of them.

The Bastille was torn down by November of the same year. Ben described how some of the stones from the Bastille were used in the construction of Pont de la Concorde, the bridge which crosses the Seine from Place de la Concorde.

One interesting footnote is that the keys to the portal of the Bastille are currently on display at George Washington’s home in Mt. Vernon, Virginia. The revolutionaries presented the keys to the Marquis de Lafayette, and he in turned presented them to George Washington. (

Ben showed us where the outline of the fort is now visible on the place and the nearby streets.

From the place de la Bastille, we walked down rue Saint Antoine, a four-lane street with buildings of 4-7 stories and with shops on the ground floor. Ben pointed out more examples of architecture from different periods, including the very plain facades of buildings from the era of the revolution of 1789.

We turned right onto rue de Birague and walked a short distance into place des Vosges, where Ben explained the history of this beautiful place, which is the oldest place in Paris and which was constructed under the orders of King Henri IV between 1605 and 1612.  The square-shaped place has a garden with a fountain in the center. Around the sides are elegant four-story buildings with red brick facades. The ground level has arcaded walkways with circular arches facing the street. There are shops on the ground floor and residences on the next two floors.

A number of famous French, including Victor Hugo and Cardinal Richelieu have had residences here.

The place was originally called the Royal Place - place Royal, but the ouster of royalty led to a name change. The current name is after the administrative department of the Vosges. (

We walked through the park and along one of the arcades. We walked past a musical group playing under the arcade. We then walked out of the southwest corner of the place through Hotel de Sully, a mansion which once belonged to the Duke de Sully, the Minister of Finance of King Henri IV. We could not visit the mansion because it was being restored. There was a pile of dirt in back with a large statue of a mole climbing up out of it.

We walked back onto rue Saint Antoine and turned left onto rue du Prévôt. We turned right onto rue Charlemagne and left onto rue Figurier  (Fig Tree Street). We walked a short distance to the Hotel de Sens( ) at the end of the street. This large and elegant mansion was originally the residence of the Archbishop of Sens, whose diocese included Paris. It was built at the end of the 15th century and the architecture is an unusual combination of medieval and renaissance.  It is one of only a few medieval residences remaining in Paris.

In the early 17th Century, it became the residence of the King Henri IV’s ex-wife, Queen Margot, who reportedly pursued many of her love affairs here. There had been a magnificent fig tree in front of the mansion, however, Queen Margot had it cut down because it interfered with getting her carriage out of the mansion. Today, the Hotel de Sens is the Fornay Library which specializes in art and art techniques.

We walked across the street to another fig tree. Ben said it was the only one he had seen in Paris. We turned left onto rue du Fauconnier and walked back to rue Charlemagne. There we turned right and walked past Lycée Charlemagne (Charlemagne High School). The Emperor Charlemagne (742-814) played a key role in having an educated laity. At the time he became emperor, education was primarily limited to the clergy.

Along the southeast side of the high school, as rue Charlemagne came to the intersection of rue des Jardins Saint-Paul, Ben showed us the largest remain segment of the oldest walls of Paris, those built in the late 12th and early 13th Century under the orders of King Philip II Augustus. The King ordered the wall built to protect Paris from the English when he departed on the Third Crusade. (,_Paris#Right_bank) 

We walked through a courtyard which had a store called la Cabane de l'Ours (the Bear‘s Layer) (, a store which has rustic curios and furniture from Europe and North America.

From there we walked back to rue Charlemagne, We took rue Saint-Paul to rue Saint Antoine and turned left. We then made the first right onto rue Caron and walked one block to where it became the Place du Marché Sainte Catherine. We walked through this place which had several cafes on either side. He pointed out that one of these had a small theater and was the type of place where actor could get a start.

At the edge of the place, at rue de Jarente, I took a picture of Ben and my grandchildren.

We turned left onto rue de Jarente and immediately turned right onto rue de Sévigné. We walked a long block and turned right onto rue des Francs Bourgeois and then left onto rue Pavée. There we thanked Ben for his kindness and said good-bye. We hope that some day, we will be able to do a similar tour for him in the area where we live.