Above: Rue des Francs-Bourgeois
As the week progressed, we continued to explore our little neighborhood, Le Marais (“the marsh”). I would imagine most neighborhoods in the center of Paris offer their fair share of lovely boutiques and fine cuisine. We, however, could not imagine a more interesting neighborhood for our temporary Parisian home than our apartment on the Rue des Francs-Bourgeois.
The Marais district itself is located in the 3rd and 4th arrondissement (or districts). Le Marais used to be the aristocratic center of the city (thus having some really gorgeous historically significant buildings, especially private mansions (called hotel particulier), but later, as nobility started moving to other districts, Le Marais became the Jewish center of Paris, which it remains today. Relatively recently (1980’s) the Marais has become the LGBT center of the city as well with (according to Wikipedia) 40% of LGBT businesses located there. Mainly we noticed the Jewish influence.
One of the destinations we fell in love with was the food at L’As Du Fallafel on Rue des Rosiers. It was about a block from our apartment and open until 12:00am. You can eat in or do take-out from the window. Their shawarma and falafel are delicious. Parisian pita sandwiches include wonderful and flavorful additions such as grilled eggplant, red cabbage salad, and harissa. The sandwiches are huge and make a mess, but are so worth it. I have duplicated these sandwiches (as close as I can) at home many times in the past couple of years… even making my own pita.
We found the entire Marais area held a treasure trove of galleries, restaurants, clothing shops, fashion houses, and wonderful home interior stores. We definitely partook of our share of Steak Frites in and about the Marais as well, thus crossing another item off my wish list (numerous times). We wanted to visit the Picasso Museum, however, it was closed for renovations in 2013. (We were able to visit it in 2015). We had a couple days of light rain and on one of those days, we wandered about and happened upon Le Marche des Enfants Rouges on rue de Bretagne, Marais Nord (north), the oldest covered market in Paris. We grabbed some food items for the apartment and also had a wonderful Japanese lunch. Since none of the three of us speak any French, we gravitated to the Japanese restaurant (Chez Taeko) since we knew if English didn’t work, we would be able to speak Japanese. We actually did this three times at restaurants in Paris. How strange, actually looking for Japanese people in France so you will be able to communicate.
The history of Le Marche des Enfants Rouges is an interesting one. Marguerite de Navarre, sister of King François the 1st and mother of King Henri the 4th (who was the one to end the religious wars that had been bloodying France), was a very well educated, politically engaged and charitable member of the royal family. In 1534 she had an orphanage constructed in what is now the Marais whose little pensioners were dressed in red as a symbol of their status. The orphanage was closed in the beginning of the 17th century and in 1615 was transformed into a market dubbed the Marché des Enfants Rouges (market of red children) to commemorate the charitable establishment that had occupied the site for almost a century.
The market now sells fruits, vegetables, flowers, and breads plus houses numerous food stalls selling a variety of International cuisines. We purchased and ate a bento lunch there at the market and it was quite delicious. I have read good things about the Moroccan food stall as well. The market is not terribly large, but was a great find on our stroll through the local area around our apartment.
On the second day of rain, we ventured the other direction (southwest, I would guess) from the apartment and took in the sights of Hotel de Sully (private mansion built in approx. 1625), Place des Vosges built in the early 1600’s (oldest planned square in Paris, housed the lavish apartment of Victor Hugo from 1832-1848), and the Carnavalet Museum, the history of Paris Museum.
Above: Hotel de Sully, Below: Window Shopping at Place des Vosges
Above: A portion of Place des Vosges from Victor Hugo’s Apartment.
Below: lots of shopping and restaurants around the Place des Vosges. This little family is heading into an ice cream shop, while art students are leaning against the walls and sitting on the ground sketching the square.
Above: Carnavalet Museum and gardens
Once the clouds cleared, we ventured on a walk to the Notre Dame Cathedral (“our lady of Paris”) area, also in the 4th arrondissement.
Notre Dame is such an amazing display of French gothic architecture… so many carvings of significance all about the building, there was no way I could capture it all and do it justice.
Below: The interior of the cathedral is full of colorful stained glass windows, statues, alcoves and services are held here every day of the week.
Below: the interior of Notre Dame Cathedral with a little help from Instagram
And then to Sainte-Chapelle, which is small but has gorgeously tall stained glass windows and a unique and beautiful ceiling. They were doing construction on a portion of the cathedral while we were there, so it was difficult to get a good picture of the ceiling, but the windows are amazing as well.
Below: Detail on doors at Sainte-Chapelle
By the end of the week, it was time to head to Roland Garros for our day of tennis. I was so excited to be at the French Open and actually see, in person, matches on clay courts. We arrived after the gates were open and it actually took us quite a while to get to our entrance gate as Roland Garros is on a large piece of land and there are numerous gates all the way around. We asked a couple times if we were heading in the correct direction for our entrance gate, and were assured that we were, but by the time we actually arrived, I was pretty sure we had taken a somewhat circuitous route. Our matches (with assigned seating) had not begun, however, the outer courts were completely packed with people. We have since discovered that grand slam tennis tournaments are notoriously over crowded with people that purchase day passes but do not actually have tickets to the matches in the main stadiums. This allows the powers that be to sell a whole lot of crappy food and expensive souvenirs to people who pay a pittance for an entrance fee, just to be on the scene of a grand slam. The outer courts, which can have some pretty amazing matches being played on them, are a free for all. We ended up just going to our assigned seats and waiting for our matches to begin. Since the Pragmatist and his girlfriend were arriving that evening I decided to purchase day tickets only, which allowed us to watch three matches. Federer v. Tursunov, Sharapova v. Bouchard, and Bartoli v. Duque. If it was just me, I could watch professional tennis all day and night, which we have done at other smaller tournaments.
Above: Philippe Chatrier Stadium at Roland Garros
Above: Maria Sharapova, and Below: Roger Federer
It always amazes me how many empty seats there are at grand slam tournaments in the days leading up to the finals. Although I am not sure I would do it again anytime soon as the tickets are excruciatingly expensive and I can see a lot more matches on TV at home, it was definitely a fun once-in-a-lifetime experience to be at Roland Garros.
Funny thing. Whenever we were home at the Paris apartment through the rest of the tournament, I desperately sought out coverage on the French TV channels… I mean it is the French Open after all, I figured it would be on at least a couple sports channels. Well, all I was ever able to find on the TV were the matches played by French players, over and over again. Seriously, I love Gael Monfils, but who needs to watch his 2013 first round upset match against Tomas Berdych 10 times in one week!