Is Paris's Bibliothèque District Cool Enough for Instagram?

When Parisians think of the 13th (if they think of it at all), they usually think of Chinatown or even the Butte aux Cailles, both which are highly Instagrammable. But this particular corner of the 13th arrondissement, known as the Bibliothèque district after the massive national library at its center, is not the place tourists usually want to Instagram. To most of them, it “doesn’t look like Paris”. But it’s actually quite photogenic and refreshingly contemporary if you’ve exhausted all of the possibilities of the Haussmann-and-cobblestones genre (and you know what you’re doing with a camera, which – clearly – I do not). And there’s Bob’s Café, which in itself may be exactly the bait needed to lure a few curious tourists out of their comfort zone. But more on that in a moment. First, let’s get a sense of where we are, exactly.

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New Hemingway Book Launch at Abbey Bookshop

One of the best parts of being an English speaker in Paris is the abundance of literary opportunities available throughout the city. Paris has always been a cultural mecca and often the temporary or permanent home of many English-speaking writers, from Ben Franklin to Mark Twain to the Lost Generation and beyond. Ernest Hemingway captured the imagination of worldwide readers like no other, and people come from all over to experience “Hemingway’s Paris.” There are plaques on the buildings he once lived in, tours dedicated to his old haunts, lines that queue up outside Cafe de Flore and Les Deux Magots so people can drink a coffee where Hemingway once sat.

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Armistice Centenary: November 11, 2018

The Great War, now known as World War I, officially ended after four long years with the signing of the Armistice on November 11th, 1918. Commemorated each year as a national holiday in France, for 2018 there will be special events in Paris for the hundredth anniversary, including new monuments of remembrance, guided tours, exhibitions, concerts and conferences. You won’t find much information in English, so here is a translation of some of the main events listed on the official City of Paris website.

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A Costco Near Paris: Worth the Trip?

I grew up in the US, but I moved to Paris when I was still a student, so my memory of member-only-discount-bulk-shopping stores such as Sam’s Club are a very distant memory for me. Not that I haven’t heard of Costco. You’d have to live in a cave (without Internet access) to not know how popular these stores are in the United States. But as someone who can’t stand shopping at all, I never made a point to visit one during my trips there over the past 25 years.

Until recently, competition from French hypermarchés such as Carrefour and Géant kept these stores out of France. But in June 2017 Costco finally managed to open a store in a very inconvenient location approximately 35 minutes south of Paris, just off the A10 highway near Orly airport. If you drive, you’ll most likely need 45 minutes to get there and about an hour to return if you’re dumb enough to go on the weekend or after work, because the traffic jams getting back into Paris are horrific.

If you don’t have a car or access to one, you’ll have to take the RER B to Massy, then one of the four local bus lines to La Brûlerie. And who on earth would bother taking the train and bus (and then the hike across the immense parking lot) to go to a store where everything is sold in bulk? Maybe if you’re just getting a discounted sonic toothbrush, a new winter coat, or a few bags of hot dog buns. But would that really be worth the trek?

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Recommended Reading: Half An Hour from Paris

Half an Hour From Paris: 10 Secret Daytrips by Train” by Annabel Simms, author of the now-classic “An Hour from Paris”, written in the days when people had more time, is a great resource for locals who need a good excuse to escape Paris for the day, or for visitors looking to expand beyond the regular tourist haunts of the capital. As I write this on a particularly gray and chilly autumn day, I want to say that this would be a great book for the warmer days of spring, or to escape the suffocating heat of the city in the summer. But then I remember one of my favorite daytrips from Paris was on a snowy New Year’s Eve in 2016, when I took the RER up to Chantilly with a Parisian friend simply to enjoy the winter wonderland for the day (note to future self: wear actual winter clothing and snow-proof shoes next time).

You’d think Parisians would go on little daytrips outside the city all of the time, but most of us, like New Yorkers, don’t own cars, and if we did we would probably go further afield, like Brittany or the Loire Valley. But Annabel’s excellent book removes all of the silly excuses we give ourselves.

-        She gives us 10 daytrips to choose from and the best time to go

-        She explains exactly how to get there using public transportation (distance, time involved, whether you can get there using a Navigo pass, and how much -- as of printing -- the train ticket costs)

-        She gives a full guided tour of what to see in each location, the local tourism office, and even a few suggestions of where to eat

-        There are maps (for those who don’t rely on their smartphone) and plenty of photos to give you an idea of what you’ll be seeing on each daytrip

Annabel’s book is based on her own 20 years of experience exploring the countryside outside Paris, and it shows. If you’re still a little nervous, start off with the Château de Vincennes or the Parc de Bagatelle, two easy daytrips right outside Paris that are still surprisingly free of crowds, let alone tourists.

If you're in Paris, you can find "A Half An Hour from Paris" at most English bookshops, including my favorite, the Abbey Bookshop. And of course you can always purchase it online.


My Favorite French Cleaning Products

So in this month's newsletter I (half) jokingly mentioned that in a future newsletter I would share my French cleaning product tips. But after getting over a dozen emails asking for me to spill the beans NOW, here's the shortlist of products I wish I'd known about sooner. 

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