Secrets of Paris 
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About Secrets of Paris

American-born travel journalist and guidebook author Heather Stimmler-Hall created the Secrets of Paris in 1999 to share the hidden side of the City of Light. Discover what you've been missing:

* Custom Travel Content 
* Free Paris Resource Guide
* Calendar of interesting Paris events
* Christmas in Paris Tours
* Monthly Secrets of Paris newsletter
* Secrets of Paris Videos

Read more about the Secrets of Paris here

Calendar of Paris Events

November 7-15
The 40th annual Salon Marjolaine, the largest organic fair in Paris, takes place this week at the Parc Floral (Bois de Vincennes) with 550 stands selling everything organic you could imagine: produce, meats, cheeses, artisan oils, wines, essential oils, herbs, teas, cosmetics, beauty products, household cleaning products, clothing, shoes, accessories, home decor, books, gardening supplies, as well as stands for environmental tourism, different green activist groups such as Greenpeace, etc.

November 12 - Seattle
Heather will be at Seattle's Paris Eastside cooking school and French boutique for the November Sip & Meet event with copies of Naughty Paris for a special price of just $27 (cover price $39). From 6-8pm, wine and nibbles, €5/person. Come say hello if you're in the area!

November 18-22
Shopping for some supplies for your creative projects? Head down to the Paris Expo Porte de Versailles for the annual Création & Savoir Faire show. Scrapboooking, knitting, gardening, baking, sewing, crafts, and decorating ideas for the holidays. Entrance €13-15, €22 for the two-day pass, open 9:30am-6:30pm (until 9:30pm Friday).  

Click here to see the full calendar of events...

Secrets of Paris gives 10% of all tour fees
to the French food bank, Les Restos du Coeur


Bathroom, Lounges, and Left Luggage at Gare du Nord Train Station

Of Paris' five passenger train stations (Gare du Nord, Gare de l'Est, Gare St-Lazare, Gare de Lyon, and Gare Montparnasse), the Gare du Nord is the one that my tour clients use the most.  This is the station for the high speed trains including the Eurostar (Great Britain, Belgium, Northern France) and the Thalys (Netherlands, Northern Germany, Northern France, and Belgium). 

Like most busy European train stations, it can be a bit disorienting for new arrivals from London or Amsterdam to navigate the facilities. Happily, they're always improving. 

- Bathrooms: all arrivals come into the main Grands Lignes platforms; the nearest bathrooms are one level down, right at the foot of the escalators on the way to the Metro or RER (in fact, you may see the " M/RER" signs before you see the bathroom sign at the top of the escalator, so follow them if you're lost). The bathrooms are very clean and cost €0.70, paid to the attendant at the desk who will give you change if needed, but now you can also pay by credit card, a lifesaver for those of you with no Euros (or no small bills/coins). 

- Lounges: If you're traveling by Eurostar you go up an escalator and through security to the dedicated Eurostar lounge (with bathrooms, dining, shops, seating). If you're traveling by Thalys there is a new, dedicated lounge opened in July just outside the station, across the street from the taxi stand, at 22 rue Dunkerque. Other travelers can try and get a spot in the Salon Grand Voyageur (open 7am-9pm) or squat one of the few places to sit in the main hall (there are plenty of snack stands, newsstands, and some seating); don't get there too early when it's very cold because the platforms are open-air, thus no heating in the station.  

- Left Luggage: If you need to store your suitcases or bags for up to 24 hours there is a Left Luggage service, aka Consignes, just across from platform #2 and down the stairs (photo below). If you walk too far past the first platform and along the wall, you'll see a sign that says "Baggages". DO NOT FOLLOW THAT SIGN, it's for pre-checked bags (I found this out the hard way after following the signs all the way around the back of the station....creepy!). The Consignes lockers only take coins, the largest storage lockers are €9.50, smaller ones for €7.50 and 5.50 (one flat fee no matter how long they're in there, up to 24 hours). The bill changer is very sensitive and took ten minutes to figure out, so if you can come prepared with coins you're better off. Directions are in different languages. Make sure you get the receipt with the open code, and that you know the opening hours: 6:15am-11:15pm. 

- Security: Although much has been written about the safety issues in train stations since the foiled gunman attack on the Amsterdam-Paris Thalys in August, there is no reason to be anxious about train travel. It's one of the fastest, most comfortable and most efficient ways to get around Europe. The Eurostar is the only train service that currently scans baggage and checks passports (like at the airport), but you will see many police officers and armed military patrolling all of the stations in Paris. The biggest security risk is getting pick pocketed or having your bag snatched, so be vigilant about keeping your eyes on your belongings (because whatever isn't stolen will likely be designated "unattended" and the entire station will close while they bring in bomb-sniffing dogs). 

- Fun Shop: On a more positive note, one of my favorite new shops, HEMA, just opened on the lower level (bathrooms and metro/RER). It's a good place to get rid of a few spare euros on snacks, stationary, beauty products, and travel gadgets.


Unique Cinema Experiences in Paris

Back in the US you might have Netflix and a flat-screen HDTV bigger than ones in most cinemas, but in Paris going out to the movies is still a lot of fun. Because of the variety of theatres – indie, art house, international, mainstream – there are more movies showing on any given day than in any other city in the world.

Specialist Cinemas

Some cinemas are just for classic films (Le Desperado, Christine 21, Le Grand Action) showing Hitchcock thrillers, Gene Kelly or Audrey Hepburn musicals, early James Bond or Fellini films. Others have gorgeous, historic theatres (La Pagode, Max Linder Panorama, Le Louxor Palais (above) and Le Grand Rex (below)), and others are known for their special collections (Le Fondation Seydoux-Pathé shows silent films from their massive archived collection, and the soon-to-open Cinéma Les Fauvettes across the street will feature digitally re-mastered and restored films).

Dr. Frank-N-Furter Turns 40

In the heart of the Latin Quarter, the Studio Galande just celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, which has been screened at the tiny art house theatre every week non-stop since 1980. Despite its age, the “show” (with live performers, costumed movie-goers and plenty of toast and rice being thrown around) is usually sold out for both the Friday and Saturday 10pm screenings. Go a few days in advance to purchase your tickets in person (€10), then find your props so you can join in the fun. And if you’re not going to get up and dance the Time Warp with everyone else, don’t bother going.

A Chic and Exclusive Film Experience

On the complete other end of the spectrum (in terms of neighborhood, price, and atmosphere) you have the Royal Monceau Film Club at the Raffles palace hotel of the same name just off the Champs-Elysées. Twice-monthly, guests pay €40 for a glass of Champagne, gourmet popcorn, and one of the comfy leather seats in a screening room designed by Philippe Starck. Films are usually Hollywood cult classics like “Back to the Future” and current blockbusters like “Mission Impossible”. For more information and reservations visit the website

Dinner and a Movie

A fun little place near République, Les Bobines, offers home cooked meals plus a cozy screening room (with sofas, armchairs and even a few beanbags) where they show popular or classic films (in their original version with French subtitles) and animated films for Saturday brunch. The dinner menus are €15-€33, including entrance to the film at 10pm (you can only attend the film if you dined in the restaurant). The Saturday brunch film is at 2:30pm. You can also eat lunch at Les Bobines, but there are no lunch films during the week. 


Les Néréides: Whimsical Jewelry Hand-Made in Paris

It’s not easy finding truly unique jewelry in Paris, everything starts to look the same after you visit a few shops. But Les Néréides always catches the eye of those passing by with its collections of dainty and whimsical hand-made jewelry. The story behind this family-run business is as romantic as the jewelry itself. 

Once upon a time, a woman from Belgium and a man from Italy meet as students at the Fine Arts Academy in Paris, fall madly in love, get married and move the French Riviera where they open their first hand-made jewelry boutique in 1980. Today, Pascale and Enzo run Les Néréides with their four children, with boutiques all over France and Europe (and even one in Chicago).

Their style is playful, yet elegant: flowers, animals, insects, and ballerinas made with colored stones, enamel, gold. And as cheesy as the idea may be, the Eiffel Tower, kissing lovers and Moulin Rouge pieces in the “Paris Mon Amour” line are adorable. This video show the hand-made process (for the Néréides Loves Animals collection, 15% of each sale goes to animal rescue shelters). 

There are boutiques in the St-Germain and Marais districts, but I recommend going right to their concept store near the Centre Pompidou (5 rue du Bourg l’Abbé, 3rd, M° Rambuteau) for the full collection in a stunning setting (I wandered in just to see the boutique itself before I noticed the jewelry itself). The prices are in the €25-€175 range, with a “little sister” line called N2 aimed at girls. 


Free Mobile Offers 35 Days of Roaming in US 

Cell phone service in France keeps getting cheaper. This month the low-cost operator Free has become the first to offer commitment-free mobile phone packages under €20/month that include the new Pass Destination: 35 days of free roaming per calendar year when traveling to the US and Canada (it already covers the EU and 100 other countries in red on the map). That means you get the same service you’d have as if you were inside France (unlimited calls, texts and up to 3GB of data). 

The service is €19.99/month for the mobile phone service, or €15.99/month if you’re also a Freebox internet/landline/cable client. Once you go over 35 days the usual international roaming fees apply. According to most tech news sources, roaming fees will probably be a thing of the past in less than two years, so Free is just an early adopter of what will most likely be followed by the other operators. Read details here in English.

This news came just in time for me! I’m planning on a 36-day trip to the US this fall, so I’ll be switching operators this week . I’m currently with SFR Red, which is another commitment-free option, but with expensive roaming fees in the US. 


Painlessly Navigating the Journées du Patrimoine September 19-20 

Established over 30 years ago by the French Ministry of Culture, the annual Journées du Patrimoine, or Heritage Days, opens up thousands of historic monuments to the public for the weekend, including museums, churches, gardens, embassies, theatres, schools, libraries, the Senate and National Assembly buildings, and even industrial engineering heritage like the Paris metro control center and the Paris sewers. Most of these places are either normally closed to the public, have heavily restricted access, or (like museums) require an entrance fee, so the Heritage Days are a chance for everyone to enjoy special access to the country's amazing architectural and cultural heritage. There are usually concerts, special tours, demonstrations, or other activities scheduled alongside the visits. The theme for 2015 is "21st Century Heritage", highlighting contemporary and innovative architecture (like the newly opened Fondation Louis Vuitton). 

Click to read more ...


Winter is Coming: How Parisians are Helping the Refugees (and so can you!)

It's easy to get the sinking feeling that "nothing can be done" to help the refugees fleeing to Europe. But in Paris, there’s a different story taking place.

** Updated September 17th after the transfer of the refugees at Austerlitz and La Mairie du 18ème to different shelters in and around Paris. 

International news sites have been endlessly looping news about the plight of the refugees fleeing their home countries for what they thought would be safer shores in Europe. Unfortunately most of what is being reported is saddening, whether it's about those who died making the journey in leaky boats or airless trucks, or about the ugliness of hate groups such as the Front National in France trying to demonize them as “clandestins” (despite the fact that they are war refugees, not “economic migrants” (French article).

But Parisians refuse to let Marine Le Pen speak for them, and are acting collectively and independently to welcoming the refugees with assistance, compassion, and public demonstrations of support.

Visitors to France may only know about the refugees in Calais who are trying to make their way to England. But not everyone is just passing through France. Several hundreds settled in tent camps around Paris, most noticeably (for tourists) along the Left Bank of the Seine on the Quai d'Austerlitz, in the 13th. This is close to my neighborhood, and I run regularly along the banks of the Seine, so I watched as their numbers grew over the summer (see the excellent photo documentary by Mauricio Alvarez, Invisibles).

Some of the tents on the Quai d'Austerlitz were right below the trendy Wanderlust bar.

In Paris, the local authorities have been working to find temporary housing for refugees while their paperwork is being processed so they can have the legal right to seek jobs and permanent housing. In France, those without passports or visas are called "sans papiers" (or Without Papers), not "illegal aliens".  While they are waiting for their asylum requests to be processed, they are not allowed to work and must rely on the State and charitable organizations for everything including food, housing, and medical assistance.

Volunteers teaching French to refugees in the Austerlitz camp.

Unable to stand by doing nothing while politicians and commentators debate the “issues”, Parisians have decided to take matters into their own hands by helping refugees themselves, either independently or through local charities. In an unprecedented show of solidarity they are bringing them food, clothing, medical supplies, sleeping bags, tents, and anything else they can offer, including simply sitting with the refugees over coffee and croissants to listen to their stories.  Their outpouring of support is inspiring. 

On September 17th the refugees from the Austerlitz camp as well as the refugees gathered in front of the Mairie du 18èmem (Town Hall of the 18th district) were transferred on busses by aid workers to almost two dozen different shelters in and around Paris as a temporary mensure while their paperwork is being processed. But they are still in need of everyday necessities, metro tickets, winter coats and shoes, and food. 

How You Can Join in Helping the Refugees in Paris

The French press has published several articles about the local efforts, listing resources for those who want to join in helping out the refugees either on their own or through local charity organizations in need of extra hands. I’ve attempted to compile these all into one list with descriptions in English to make it easier to navigate the different options available for helping the refugees in Paris. I will be updating it as I get more information, so please don’t hesitate to contribute anything I may have missed in the comments section below.

The four main ways to help the refugees:

- Volunteer “Devenir Bénévole: there are many options for volunteers to help out depending on your skills and availability: food and clothing distribution; translation; accompanying for legal, medical or administrative meetings; host cultural outings or social events; language lessons; etc. See the list below for volunteer opportunities.

- Donate Necessities “Un Don en Nature: aside from clothing, shoes, bedding, and hygiene products, many temporary shelters have lists of necessities such as cleaning products, cooking supplies, stationary and pens, calling cards, metro passes, etc. Many of the charities and action committees listed below post regular updates to what is most needed (this week it’s rain gear and plastic tarps), and where and when to deliver it.

- Financial Contributions “Faire un Don”: All of the local charitable organizations listed below are collecting funds specifically to help the refugees in Paris and throughout France, which are tax deductible for French residents.  

- Offer a Bed: The first two organizations listed below (Singa and JRS) help bring together refugees who need short-term housing with locals who are willing to share a spare room or sofa bed. These are carefully coordinated and monitored to foster cultural understanding and support for refugees who benefit from real contact with compassionate locals.

Organizations for Helping Refugees

Singa is a French NGO (non-governmental organization) that aims to integrate refugees into French society (language, customs, administration, etc), helping them find jobs or create their own businesses. They also work to create real connections between the refugees and the locals, to overcome the exclusion and discrimination many face. Their new program called CALM, which stands for Comme à la Maison (“Just Like Home”), is a sort of Airbnb bringing together refugees and hosts willing to open up their extra room or sofa bed for a minimum of two weeks and a maximum of six months. More than just housing, the group aims to foster cross-cultural understanding, and offers daily support for the hosts and guests. The program is funded by private donors and a technology and innovation grant from the UN High Commission for Refugees. Read more about them in this English article from France 24. If your French isn’t very strong, don’t hesitate to send them a message in English (or by email:

JRS (Jesuit Refugee Service): is looking for individual or families willing offer their hospitality for their Welcome in France service, hosting a refugee in their home for a family meal, for a night, or for a short vacation. Hosts in Ile-de-France are especially needed for the asylum-seekers living outside Paris who have to come up by train for the day of their asylum interview at the Prefecture. They also accept financial donations.

Autremonde: This Association Jeunesse de Solidarité works directly with migrants and refugees in need of support. They need financial donations and volunteers. Every Tuesday night at 7pm they welcome prospective volunteers for an info session at Café dans la Mare (30 rue de la Mare, 20th). Their Facebook page is updated more than their website.

Emmaüs Solidarité: One of the largest charity groups in France has thrift stores and collection points around Paris for donations of clothing, linens, dishes, toys, furniture and small items, as well as a constant need for financial assistance and volunteers for short or long-term missions (helping receive and sort the donations for the refugees is the current biggest need). From September through December Emmaüs trucks will be picking up donations at special collection points all over Paris (click on the dates to see the location and what’s accepted).

Croix Rouge: The French Red Cross is often the first aid agency in France on the ground welcoming the refugees, including the 1000 refugees transferred to Paris from Germany this week. You can help with financial donations specifically for the refugees, or volunteer for one of their many diverse missions (first aid, distribution, communications, translations, etc) either short-term or long-term (speaking French necessary).

Secours Populaire Français: Another large French charity organization with over 1400 welcome centers to help the poor and disenfranchised in France, the Secours Populaire is accepting financial donations (a pop-up for the refugees opens on the home page) as well as volunteers for local missions according to your skills and availability (minimum French needed to fill out the application).

France Terre d’Asile is a non-profit charity that works to assist refugees and asylum seekers in France, particularly helping navigate the legal and administrative maze of obtaining residency status. In addition to financial donations, they urgently need volunteers who can translate or interpret for the following languages into French: arabe, farsi, roumain, chinois, turque, russe, ourdou, vietnamien, albanais, portugais, soninké, bambara, tamoul, bulgare, amharique, somalien.

Fondation de France: This umbrella group coordinating with the City of Paris collects financial donations for non-profits working directly with the refugees (read more about them here).

Droit au Logement: A non-profit that lobbies for housing for everyone, including homeless, evicted and refugees in need. They are in need of financial support, and regularly organize support marches and concerts in Paris.

Rechauffons Corps & Coeurs: I wrote about this young group of suburban teens in the Secrets of Paris Newsletter #151. They welcome donations of funds, food and/or volunteers for their weekly food deliveries (they are based in the Vitry suburbs of Paris, but have gone to Calais and regularly go to the Austerlitz camp). The least “formal” and probably the most accessible (although I don’t know how good their English is), call (07 81 94 97 16) or email ( if you want to lend a hand.  

Revivre is a charity created in 2012 specifically to welcome and assist Syrian refugees. They are always in need of funds and volunteers (they also host social events like a Franco-Syrian picnic this Sunday).

Entraides Citoyennes is collecting clothing, sleeping bags, and hygiene supplies.

Médecins du Monde: “Doctors of the World” works on all five continents in different contexts (internal violence zones, conflict areas, medical deserts, natural disasters, etc.) and around 4 priority themes (health and migrants, sexual and reproductive health, AIDS and harm reduction, crisis and conflict).  They accept financial donations.

UNICEF France: This international organization helping children and refugees accepts financial donations and volunteers (regular info meetings for UNICEF Paris volunteer opportunities are listed here). They also have a boutique near Gare St-Lazare selling their greeting cards and other items for charity.

UNHCR: The UN Refugee Agency accepts financial donations and has its own international website for volunteer opportunities in French, English and Spanish.

Un Coeur Pour la Syrie France: This non-profit charity works directly with Syrian refugees around France. They accept financial donations and have a “boutique solidaire” of items benefitting the refugees (many hand-made by refugees themselves). They’re hosting a social event on October 2nd in Paris, listed on their Facebook page.  

This weekend (September 12-13) is also the Fête des Associations, where the non-profit and charitable associations will have stands at their local arrondissement where residents can find information about what they do and the volunteer opportunities available (find your district’s local festival here).

Each arrondissement’s Mairie (Town Hall) will have a “Collection Solidaire” space to collect items needed by the refugees (lists of what they need will be posted online at sometime this month.

Other Resources for Helping Refugees

If you want to help out at the different shelters or donate items, there are several Facebook sites set up by volunteers from refugee sites in and around around Paris (with some bi-lingual ressources) that post daily updates about what is most needed in each location. They are not charity organizations, simply “spokes people” for the refugees and/or lobbying groups who also post the latest news on the living conditions and the government’s actions (or lack thereof).

Note that even though these shelters all provide a roof over their heads, in many cases that's all they have: some of the shelters have no beds or any furniture at all, some have no bathing facilities or heat. Some are so far outside Paris that the refugees will need to take the RER into Paris for their interviews at the Prefecture, so metro tickets and volunteers who can accompany them around the city's maze of public transport are welcome. 

Refugiés en Lutte (French-English): this FB group attempts to consolidate all of the information concerning the refugees in Paris, including an open Google Doc Housing Centers in Paris Region (Page 2 is in English) listing all 13 known shelters, how many refugees are in them, what they need, and what services are being provided by charities. The group also has a Refugiés en Lutte (website (French only) news blog with photos and links to latest news on the refugees.

Other FB groups:
- Solidarité Jules Joffrin (French only) group run by students for the refugees who were in front of the Mairie du 18ème.
-  Solidarité avec les migrants du quai d'Austerlitz (French only)
-  Comité de soutien des Migrants de la Chapelle (French Only)
-  Réfugiés de La Chapelle en Lutte (French Only)
-  Réfugiés d'Austerlitz en Lutte (French Only)
- La Maison des Refugiés (the shelter at the Lycée Jean Quarré, Paris 19th, list of needs below)

A list of what's needed at the Maison des Refugiées (Lycée Jean Quarré, Paris 19th) as of Sept 15th, 2015

Je m’Engage: Most charitable organizations expect a minimum of one year commitment from volunteers (because training is an investment of time and resources), but the French website Je m’Engage allows you to search for “missions” by location and date, from several days to a year (and this is the link specifically for helping the refugees: . The most urgent needs are to help process donations and accompanying the newly-sheltered refugees on their trips to the doctor, prefecture, etc (for all of you expats out there, we’ve been through this ourselves and know how much it sucks when you have no clue what’s going on, so we’re particularly qualified to help).

Aidons Les Réfugié(e)s: A French website bringing together all of the options for helping refugees, where you can join an organized action or propose your own initiative.

Le Libération news site has a compiled a map of more organizations that need volunteers and donations throughout France, searchable by need (food, housing, teachers, administrative/legal assistance, welcome services):

This is an interesting first-person account from a French blogger (in French) who has been dropping off donations to the school house shelter in the 19th, with advice on how to do the same yourself in the most efficient manner:

This is a working list, please help out by sending updates, corrections, additions or suggestions for improvement, merci!