How do you know if your Parisian hotel or apartment is in a good neighborhood?

Today I got an email that touches on a subject I've been asked about often, so I thought I'd share the response with all of you:

"Heather, My husband and I are taking a 7 day trip to Paris in September. We want to rent an apartment, but I am have no idea what area to rent in. Everything looks nice online, but you don't know if it's in the worst area of town. I know that you would be able to help."

The apartment agencies listed in the Paris Accommodation section normally only list apartments in the central, safe, tourist-friendly neighborhoods like the Islands (1st, 4th arrondissements), the Louvre/Palais Royal (1st), the Marais (3rd,4th), the Latin Quarter (5th), St-Germain-des-Prés (6th), Invalides/Eiffel Tower (7th), Opéra/Grands Boulevards (9th) and Montmartre (18th). There are less interesting, less central, less pretty areas of Paris, but as far as "bad" areas of town, you wouldn't see any reputable agencies renting out apartments in those areas, such as between the train tracks on the east end of the 18th arrondissement (I would not put my mother in a hotel anywhere east of Montmartre). There are some areas of the 9th that are not pretty, seedy sex shops around Pigalle, and some around the rue St-Denis in the 2nd. I wouldn't stay in any of the outer edges of the north or east Paris, but I don't think there are any areas on the Left Bank or the 8th or 16th that I would say are "dangerous", just some areas that are not very interesting or are too far from public transportation.

This is becoming a long answer, because sometimes it really depends on the exact street, how close it is to the metro and shops, etc, and it's more important to be cautious when you're renting direct from an owner on a site like Craig's List or from FUSAC. But as I said, you pretty much can't go wrong with anything in the first 8 arrondissements, and legitimate apartment rental agencies wouldn't even list apartments outside safe areas, so don't stress too much!



A Daffodil Garden at Le Panthéon

affiche-jardin-pantheon-2008.jpgThere may be intermittant snowing and raining, sun and wind, and absolutely freezing, but that's how you know Spring has arrived! Well, that and the daffodils. From March 21-23 (yes, that means tomorrow, Easter Sunday, is the last day), the square outside the Panthéon (5th) has been transformed into a daffodil garden (over 50,000 flowers) to benefit the Institut Curie's cancer research foundation: Un Jardin pour la Vie. You can buy the daffodils for €2 (€1 goes to the foundation). There will also be entertainment for children, live concerts, theatre performances, face painting, and free tours of the Musée Curie (around the corner at 1 rue Pierre et Marie Curie, 5th).

If you can't make it, or are huddling around your heater in this weather rather than going outside, then you can also support the cause by stopping by any Truffaut garden shop until the 30th of March, where you can buy your daffodils in a bouquet or as bulbs (50% of the proceeds go to the foundation).


Heather's Interview on

There's something so clichéd about the American writer in Paris scribbling in a Moleskine journal on a café terrace. But I buy them anyway. I like the little elastic band that keeps the notebook closed. I like the paper, which is smooth and heavy enough that I can write on both sides without my runny fountain pen bleeding through. I'm especially fond of the pocket-sized Reporter Notebook version (there are many now) that opens vertically like a journalist's pad, with simple horizontal lines. I hate writing on graph paper, blank pages, and those multi-lined notebooks that school kids use to practice their handwriting. I can't remember the last time I actually sat in a café writing in my notebooks. I usually only go to cafés to meet with friends, and there are usually more interesting things to watch anyway. The Metro, though, is another story. Nothing interesting to look at, nothing at all (aside from the occasional bad or silly billboard advertisement). So it's the perfect time to spend scribbling away. Not that I'm working on that novel. I tend to make notes to myself, draft articles, write down things I saw while walking around town to report back here, or just write about what's bothering me (a sort of therapy journaling, I suppose).

In any case, I now have a huge box of used Moleskine's (and other non-branded versions...Moleskine as a brand didn't actually exist until 1995) in my storage cellar. The very first one was in fact purchased in 1995 just before I left for my Christmas/New Year break in Budapest. I used it as a travel journal. I used a purple pen that fit in a loop on the notebook. The elastic was green. I made a lot of ugly skeches in it after I slipped on the ice and broke my camera. Today you can actually buy Moleskine city notebooks, a sort of mix of a travel guide and a notebook. The Paris guide has maps of the city and Metro, tabs for making sections where you note your essential addresses, etc. I think they're a great idea. I probably won't use them myself; habits are sometimes hard to break. But you might like them. Their website has an interesting multilingual blog covering several European cities. The Paris blog features an interview with moi today. Enjoy, have a surf around. Funnily enough, they don't actually push their notebooks here at all. For that you'll have to go to (where you'll also find info about how to participate in their creative challenge to benefit lettera27, a nonprofit literacy organization dedicated to support the right to education and access to knowledge around the world. 


Israel Honored in Paris this Week

French and Israeli flags over the Opera Garnier

If you happened to notice the Israeli flags all over Paris this week, it's because Israel is the honored guest of the annual Salon du Livre (Book Fair), featuring the latest Israeli authors and their works. Arab publishers at the fair have called for a boycott, which has caused quite a stir in the publishing community.

President Sarkozy gave President Shimon Peres the guided tour of his posh pad on the Champs-Elysées (maybe Carla made cookies), and a tour of the city, including a stop at the Pantheon to honor the memorial to those who helped save Jews from deportation during WWII.

Articles on Franco-Israeli relations here and here.


Tecktonik dancing in Paris

Someone emailed me today asking about tecktonik dancing in Paris. Personally, it doesn't look very different to what we were doing at techno clubs in the States when I was in highschool (early 90s), but apparently the French think they've invented something original and now it's everywhere. A favored location is on the Esplanade of the Palais de Chaillot (Trocadéro), which makes for great videos with the Eiffel Tower in the back:

If you want to check out the original tecktonik club, head to the southern 'burbs to a place called Metropolis where they have the weekly Tecktonik Killer soirées (Saturdays).


Closings and Survivors

Bars open and close all the time in Paris, that's just the reality of the big city. Which is probably why places like Harry's New York Bar and Closerie des Lilas do do well...they've been around long enough that tourists can revisit them on return trips to Paris. 

A few notable closings in 2008 so far:

  • the Bar Fleurs in the Marais (rue des Tournelles) which was a cool vodka and Champagne bar that also happened to be an exotic floral shop as well...I guess it confused people though. 
  • the Sept Lézards, also in the Marais (Rue des Rosiers), which is supposedly looking for a new location.
  • and sadly, I noticed yesterday that the only royalist bar in Paris (which I wrote about in my Adventure Guide years ago), Aux Templiers (35 rue de Rivoli) is now a contemporary cocktail lounge called (did they do this on purpose?): Majesty. I miss the old dusty PMU bar full of Fleur-de-Lis, images of young Louis XVII, and a statue of Jeanne d'Arc. You just don't find places like that anymore in Paris!

When I was a student back in 1995 I used to hang out a lot around the bars of Beaubourg because my best friends lived on the Rue des Lombards. A funky little bar opened that year on the Rue de Quincampoix, L'Imprévu. That's where I spent long afternoons doing my homework (well, sorta) and nursing an 8 franc café because I couldn't afford to buy more than one cocktail a week back in those days, LOL! Amazingly, this little bar is still open,  one of the few from that time period still surviving.

On Saturday night it was totally packed, so I went to "Aux 3 Escales," across the street at #12, a Taj Mahal type bar, cozy and colorful, smelling like someone was smoking a hookah pipe (or more likely burning apple incense). It was completely empty at Happy Hour (6pm), but by 8pm all of the cushioned corners were full. They serve cocktails, sangria, mint tea, etc. They used to serve food, have regular soirées and apparently downstairs there is a hammam, but I didn't see any trace of these offerings on my visit, which makes me wonder if perhaps it's under new ownership. 

One of the older Seine-side péniche bar-clubs that has also been around since my student days is the Guinguette du Pirate (on the Quai Françpis Mauriac, foot of the Bibliothèque Nationale, 13th), now called La Dame de Canton. It's actually celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, so check out their packed program.

Up in the Latin Quarter near Place de la Contrescarpe, my old student stomping grounds, Earl of the Shebeen (rue Pot de Fer) tells me he has sold the bar (it will be closed as of March 14) and may be moving back to South Africa for other opportunities. Earl and I used to work together lifetimes ago at a (now closed) Irish bar at Châtelet called the Cruiscin Lan. Before opening his own place, Earl worked at the sister bar around the corner, The Fifth (at 62 rue Mouffetard), which is still going strong after all these years -- a decade now?! -- with the international expat crowd.

On the other side of the planet, the Bar Fontainebleau at the Hôtel Meurice is now Le 228 (that being the address on the Rue de Rivoli), completely redone by Philippe Starck in late 2007 (yet it pretty much looks as cozy as it always did, which I unfortunately can't say about the Winter Garden's surrealist makeover...ugh). The bar is hosting "Nocturnes", a degustation of fine wine with sommalier Nicolas Rebut, accompanied by canapés from the hotel's star chef Yannick Alléno for €90/person. The next ones are March 13 (Champagnes), April 3 (White Burgundies) and June 5 (Rhône Valley Reds), at 7pm sharp. To sign up call 01 44 58 10 66.