Walking the Île St Louis, Paris

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For the short while I had in Paris, every day I would venture down to a little supermarket on the Île St Louis. I never left empty-handed: a smoked chicken, some quail, or perhaps some cheese; yoghurt in its own ceramic pot (which I collected and brought home), a bottle of red. Consisting of two aisles barely wide enough for people to pass one another the place could hardly be classified as a supermarket, yet it was not a corner store, for in that small shop lay a wealth of offerings to put any supermarket to shame. The shop was simply the essence of the Île St Louis.

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Sainte-Chapelle: Let There Be Light

Let there be light - the wondrous Sainte-Chapelle, Paris

At this early hour, the sun was kissing the top corner of a window. Under her magic touch, the glass sparkled in a myriad of colours. Concerts are often held here at sunset, when the light is said to be spectacular, yet even at this hour the air around me glistened.

The Sainte-Chapelle proved as spectacular as promised. By arriving early, I avoided the queues and had the place as much to myself as possible in the heart of Paris in summer. By the time I left the queues had swollen to ridiculous lengths (the first for security, the next to buy tickets), and both the upper and lower chapels had filled with both bodies and noise. It was time to find a restorative café crème. Perhaps in the Tuileries.

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Staying in the Hôtel-Hopitel Dieu, Paris

 

 Hôtel-Hospitel Dieu

I lay in bed, staring at the flood-lit towers of Notre Dame. The sky-light in my room looked straight onto the cathedral. Founded by Saint Landry in 651 AD, the Hôtel-Hopitel Dieu was the first hospital in Paris, and still cares for ill Parisians. The ghosts of some 1300 years of medical history glide along its marble corridors, whispering in consultation outside the wards, then pass into the old-fashioned lifts to visit the fourteen quiet hotel rooms hidden on the sixth floor.

Hotels can be seen as merely a place to sleep, or they can be another layer in all the experiences of travel. They don’t have to be expensive (fortunately!) but as I love pre-dawn and evening strolls, and watching a neighbourhood change by the hour, I try to pick a place to stay somewhere interesting for my walks. If the hotel comes with its own history, is in a old part of town and has a great cafe or restaurant nearby (hello, Paris!) it’s hard to resist. The Hôtel-Hopitel Dieu offered it all.

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Cluny Museum, Paris

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Flying anywhere from Australia takes forever, arriving in another world before the break of dawn. It was still dark when the plane landed, and the train from the airport sped through unseen suburbs and endless tunnels. Even the Left Bank was still asleep when I emerged from the metro at St-Michel. Naturally, my hotel room was not ready. A light autumn rain fell, and cars splashed through puddles as street lights glowed in the mist. Tattered posters for jazz bands flapped in the breeze, and well-dressed Parisians hurried past on their way to work or else sat in cafes watching the rain.

For a little while I did the same, in the well placed Café St-Michel. Un cafe au lait, un croissant, and fresh butter to die for. I couldn’t believe the taste – such a rich, creamy fullness I needed only a little. So completely different to what passes for butter back home (although I do think my coffee is better). Continue Reading →

From A Paris Balcony by Ernest Dimnet – A Review

writing pictures0003From A Paris Balcony

 

How could I resist such a title? I’m not sure where I bought this book; wherever I go I frequent second hand bookshops, stalls at markets, op-shops; anywhere that offers something interesting to browse. The unadorned cover called to me, and I paid all of $1.00.

From A Paris Balcony – what a delightful phrase. How could I not be intrigued?

True to his word, Ernest Dimnet did indeed observe Paris from a balcony. The balcony in question was at the Hôtel Belgiojoso. This can still be seen in the Montparnasse area of Paris, and Dimnet describes the place as “graceful and yet robust, classical but imaginative, mellow in its comparative youth”.

Who could not be enchanted by such a place or writing style: “When September comes, and the early Parisian autumn begins to strew the shrubbery with the ivory balls of the symphorine…”

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