February Newsletter Highlights
· Fabulous Crepes at Josselin and Breizh Café
· Veneration of the Crown of Thorns at Notre Dame
· Shopping for Eyeglasses Frames
· Closing of the Luxembourg and Picasso Museums
· Vin Chaud (and More Hot Chocolate)
· Calendar of Events for February
· Looking Ahead to March
This Month's Featured Apartments
Louvre - Amiral de Coligny
With a view of the Louvre and the Seine outside your windows, you'll love this huge three bedroom apartment. Each bedroom has its own bath. Dine at the elegant table, or gather in the eat-in kitchen. It's perfect for six people.
Saint Germain des Pres - Sevres
Light floods in through the French windows to this spacious two bedroom, two bath apartments. The luxurious décor is very French, but the bedrooms are American-sized, so there's plenty of room for everyone.
Looking for a private get-a-way for one or two people? This studio apartment is ideal, located on the left bank, near rue Mouffetard with its food shops and cafés and a short walk to the Jardins du Luxembourg.
Our February Special Offers
Welcome2France is offering up to 20% off on bookings for all February.
Just contact us here for more information on our February special offers
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February is the least-visited month in Paris - and that alone is a good reason to be here. The January sales continue into the first couple of weeks of February, and it's easy to get into just about any museum without standing in line. I love the feeling of being in Paris like a local, snug and warm in the apartment I've rented. But there's plenty to tempt you outside as well.
Fabulous Crepes at Josselin and Breizh Café
Paris is known for its many creperies. You run into takeaway crepe stands just about anywhere, but especially in Montmartre, Montparnasse and on rue Mouffetard. Crepes in the States haven't interested me much, so I've never been tempted to search out crepes in Paris.
Until now. I've discovered galettes, the dark brown crepes made with buckwheat flour in the traditional Breton manner, and I am hooked. Blé noir, the buckwheat flour used in galettes, gives the crepes a more intense flavor and a more interesting texture, all crisp and lacy on the edges when made well.
Crepes come in both sweet and savory varieties. Sweet crepes can contain anything from simple sugar and lemon to bananas, apples, pears and other fruits, chocolate, caramel and Nutella, the chocolate and hazelnut spread that all French children seem to be raised on. Savory crepes feature combinations of morsels like thinly sliced specialty hams, smoked salmon, cheese, eggs, potatoes, mushrooms...whatever the chef dreams up.
Galettes originated in Brittany, and Gare Montparnasse is the station where the trains depart for that region, so the area around the station is bustling with creperies. Rue du Montparnasse has one café after another offering tempting crepes. (Don't do what I did and confuse it with Boulevard du Montparnasse. The boulevard is a major thoroughfare, and the rue is a much quieter side street). On a cold Sunday morning, a friend and I sought out Josselin, possibly the most famous of all Paris creperies. We dashed in just as a line began to form outside.
You might believe you've stepped into Brittany when you cross the mosaic on the threshold. Antique Quimper plates - examples of the iconic Breton pottery - hang on the dark walls, and the light fixtures are draped with Breton lace. The place hums with activity, as waiters greet you with a big grin and rush to get you seated and served. At brunch, families with children were crammed in next to couples in the throes of romance and tourists speaking several different languages.
The specialty of the house at Josselin is a maraichere crepe, stuffed with spinach and crème fraiche, folded and then draped with a fried egg and several slices of bacon. Tempting as that was, I opted for the couple saumon fumé, a double buckwheat crepe with smoked salmon, lemon and a big side dish of crème fraiche to slather on top. It was so huge I couldn't eat it all. Traditionally, you wash all this down with a pitcher of cider - you have your choice of sweet, dry or traditional -- or a bottle of Breton beer.
My friend and I had no room for dessert, but the man sitting next to us ordered a galette with Calvados; it burned with a blue flame for nearly a minute.
On another day, looking for a treat after prowling the small shops in the Marais, we stopped at Café Breizh. Mid-afternoon's a good time to go, I discovered later, when other people told me about standing in line there. This too is a creperie in the Breton tradition, but here everything is crisp and modern, with bright lighting and spare furnishings. The exterior is simple white plaster with blue trim; inside, the walls are paneled in roughly-planed blonde wood.
Breizh Café is a popular brunch place, but I was looking for something sweet in the afternoon. My treat: a thin and lacy dark galette lavishly doused with salted caramel sauce and topped with two scoops of rich whipped cream. The owner/chef is from Brittany, and he searches out top-quality artisanal ingredients, so every bite is perfect.
These two places may well be the best creperies in Paris - very different in style, but both luscious in flavor. They're now on my highly recommended list.
La Creperie de Josselin
67, rue du Montparnasse, 14th arrondisement
Metro: Vavin, Edgar Quinet or Montparnasse-Bienvenue
109, rue Vieille du Temple, 3rd arrondisement
Metro: Filles du Calvaire or Saint-Sébastien-Froissart
Veneration of the Crown of Thorns at Notre Dame
Hidden away in the treasury at Notre Dame Cathedral is what Catholics and many other Christians believe to be the true Crown of Thorns from the Crucifixion. The crown's journey to Notre Dame took centuries. It was first discovered, so the legends say, by Helen, mother of Constantine, Rome's first Christian emperor, on a visit to the Holy Land in 325. Sightings of the crown were reported in Jerusalem regularly throughout the next centuries. Eventually the crown was moved to Constantinople (now Istanbul) to protect it from marauders who periodically rampaged through the Holy Land.
In 1238, Emperor Baldwin, low on funds, pawned the crown to a bank in Venice. Before too long it ended up in the hands of St. Louis, king of France. He built Sainte Chapelle as a larger-than-life reliquary to protect the crown. The crown was whisked away from Saint Chapelle for safekeeping during the French Revolution, and then moved permanently to Notre Dame early in the 19th century.
Through most of the year, on the first Friday of the month, the crown is brought up from the treasury and offered for veneration at a special mass. During Lent (which this year runs from February 17 to April 3), the mass is celebrated every Friday, usually at 3pm.
If you're at all interested in religion, history or just simple pageantry, it's worth your time to schedule a visit to Notre Dame for the veneration. Arrive at least 45 minutes early and find a seat in the roped-off area for the mass; choose an aisle seat near the front for the best view. (Photos are forbidden during the ceremony itself, but nevertheless you'll see lots of surreptitious flashes.)
The crown is guarded by the Knights of the Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem. Wearing flowing white capes and white gloves, the men direct people to seating and work to maintain an atmosphere of reverence. Suddenly the cathedral goes quiet as clouds of incense precede the crown and other relics down the center aisle. The crown itself is surprising to see; it's woven of reeds, banded by a thin gold thread, and there's not a thorn to be seen. Apparently through the centuries the emperors gave the thorns away to favorites and political allies. The reeds are encased in a glass circle, carried in on a red velvet pillow.
My friend and I watched the procession and sat through the mass so that we could see the crown again on the recessional. Just at the end of the mass, people in the rows up front began lining up as though they were going to take communion. We lined up too, even though we're not Catholics; we'd decline communion, we figured, but maybe we'd get a closer look at the crown at the altar. To our amazement, we'd lined up not for communion but for kissing the glass circlet containing the Crown of Thorns. (If the idea of kissing something hundreds of other people have kissed gives you the willies, you should know that the priests constantly wipe it down with alcohol. Or you can just press your forehead against it.)
No matter what your religion - or whether you have any at all - there's something quite touching about moving quietly in a procession of people toward an object that is sacred to millions. We made our personal venerations, then sat back down to inhale the incense and feel the wonder as the crown was taken back to its home in the Treasury.
Veneration usually takes place in Notre Dame at 3pm on the first Friday of every month, every Friday in Lent, and from 10am - 5pm on Good Friday.
Shopping for Eyeglasses Frames
One of my favorite things to bring home from Paris is a set of new eyeglass frames or a great pair of sunglasses. They remind me of Paris every time I put them on, and often I can find designs in Paris that aren't in the shops back home.
I buy the frames in Paris, then bring them back to have the lenses put in by my own ophthalmologist. I've learned to specify, "Progressif," to the person helping me in the shop, to make sure that my lenses will fit into the frames. Now I have a wardrobe of French glasses, and I remember my trips every time I put them on.
You can find glasses stores in almost any neighborhood in Paris. But if you want to find some truly different looks, these are some of the most fun:
Anne et Valentin glasses are carried at many high-end stores in the US, but their own shop in the Marais carries all the latest styles - many of which never make it to America. You can't browse here; instead, you sit down at a table with a young and (usually) spiky-haired, cooler-than-you salesperson and tell him or her what you're looking for.
On my last visit, I realized I had no idea how to communicate the color I wanted--periwinkle--into French. But they'd prefer you not to begin with color anyway. They take great pride in finding the right shape for your face. I admit that sometimes I just want to rummage around in the drawers to find my own frames, but that would not be the way it's done at Anne et Valentin.
Not too far away, also in the Marais, is a smaller and less formal store, Selima Optique and Accessories. We were greeted warmly not only by the woman behind the desk, but also by Zeno, a snuggly white dog. Although Selima carries frames by other manufacturers, their own brand is handmade in France. Prices are a little less than at Anne et Valentin, and they have fewer frames on offer, but their designs are sophisticated and witty. I particularly love their big sunglasses.
You might not think of going up to Montmartre for eyeglasses, but many people make the trip for the buzz of Créateurs d'Opta. You'll find the latest eyeglass fashions here. I was there one evening and the place was jammed with people; it had the vibe of a cool new bar. And, in fact, just down the street is Bar d'Opta, which features the trendiest styles and has the atmosphere of a jazz bar. There are two other stores in the group, one focused on the major fashion brands, and the other with glasses for children and teens.
Also in Montmartre (and with stores in the 8th and 6th arrondisements) is Heiko by Heiko. Their glasses aren't French, but Danish, made by designer Heiko Stumbeck. The frames seemed to be lighter in weight and style than many I've seen in France, and they were a bit less expensive (and I found a pair that I absolutely loved there, even if they weren't made in France).
Finally, I always make a point of visiting Francis Klein on the Left Bank. This is definitely the store for when you're feeling adventuresome. They carry many unique styles, including asymmetrical designs and unusual colors, and their line of retro frames is simply delicious. (It helps that they're across the street from a Ladurée, so I can grab a macaron or two on the trip).
Anne et Valentin Optique
4, rue Ste. Croix de la Bretonnerie, 4th arrondisement
Metro: Hotel de Ville or Saint-Paul
46, rue Vieille du Temple, 4th arr.
Metro: Hotel de Ville or Saint-Paul
Les Créateurs d'Opta
25, rue des Abbesses, 18th arr.
Le Bar d'Opta
63, rue des Abbesses, 18th arr.
Les Lunettes d'Opta
I, rue Lepic, 18th arr.
Metro: Abbesses or Blanche
Little Opta (children and teens), 18th arr.
81, rue Caulaincourt
Heiko by Heiko
29, rue des Martyrs, 9th arr.
27, rue de Marignan, 8th arr.
Metro: Franklin Roosevelt
18, rue des Quatre-Vents, 6th arr.
30, rue Bonaparte, 6th arr.
Closing of the Luxembourg and Picasso Museums
Paris has so many museums that you could visit two a day for weeks on end and never finish seeing them. But for various reasons, some favorites close from time to time.
Just last month, the Musée Luxembourg closed for an undetermined amount of time. Located in the palace of the beautiful Luxembourg Gardens, it has never had a permanent art collection, but has hosted some important temporary exhibitions, including the art of Modigliani, Botticelli and - most recently - Louis Comfort Tiffany.
The building is controlled by the French Senate, and the space has been run by a private company for the past several years. Apparently there have been serious disagreements among the two, so the Senate has closed the museum and cancelled the upcoming show on Impressionism. News accounts say they'll be looking for a different company to run the museum, so it's likely to be closed for several years.
The Picasso Museum in the Marais closed its doors temporarily last fall for renovations. It should re-open in 2012 if all goes well. Although the museum doesn't contain any of Picasso's most famous works, I've always enjoyed its chronological arrangement, so you can see how his work developed over the years.
Finally, one of my favorite museums, the Musée Galliera, one of two museums of fashion in Paris, is closed for renovations until the fall of next year. The museum has a huge collection of dresses worn by famous women, including Marie Antoinette, Empress Josephine and Audrey Hepburn, and works from the premiere designers of the twentieth century: Dior, Fortuny, Balenciaga, Givenchy, Yves St. Laurent and many others. Their special exhibitions often feature clothing through the decades of a famous actress or entertainer. I'll be looking forward to its re-opening. (Meanwhile, we can still visit the Musée de la Mode attached to the Louvre.)
Vin Chaud.and More Hot Chocolate
On a wintery day in Paris, nothing feels better than dashing into the neighborhood bistro or brasserie at the end of the day for a glass of vin chaud, literally, hot wine. You can find vin chaud just about anywhere. Usually served in a clear glass mug, vin chaud is red wine with a few bits of chopped fruit or a slice of orange, often presented with a packet of sugar. (I particularly like it with brown sugar.) Sometimes the wine has a slight cinnamon flavor, or comes with a cinnamon stick.
It looks a little like warm sangria, but is so comforting at the end of a day's shopping. On my last trip to Paris, we stopped for a glass almost every evening on the way home to our apartment.
We've written about hot chocolate in a previous newsletter, but there's one more place that any chocolat chaud aficionado will want to visit: La Charlotte de l'Isle at 24, rue Saint-Louis on the Ile St. Louis.
Sitting in this small and crowded tearoom is like a visit to your great-aunt's attic. In the back room we were surrounded by old photos, books, dolls, lanterns and bells from Nepal, mirrors, drawings, antique stuffed animals, hat boxes, wall hangings, baskets, Christmas figurines, New Year's hats and sheet music. The tables are small and rickety, but the chocolate is.well.very strong.
The hot chocolate is presented in small handle-less cups, with a little pitcher of water. You will need the water. This drink is so dark, thick and intense that, despite the tiny cups, you just might not be able to finish it all. Your body, however, will be trembling with chocolate joy.
A glass case in the front room holds beautiful tarts of citron and myrtille, but you won't need anything sweet to go with your hot chocolate. Think about taking a slice of tart home to eat later instead.
Note: all the times and fees we've quoted in this month's newsletter were accurate when we published, but things do change, so it's always a good idea to check before you go.
Sheila Campbell, Washington, DC Web: sheilacampbell.com
Do you have a favorite place in Paris you'd like to tell us about for the newsletter? We'd love to hear your suggestions. Just click on www.welcome2france.com/?suggest and give us your ideas.
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Calendar of Events, February, 2010
Through February 4, 2010
Art Nouveau Revival
2, rue Bellechasse, Metro Assemblée Nationale or Solférino
€5,50 - 8,00
Through February 7, 2010
The Dutch Golden Age
28, place de la Madeleine, Metro Madeleine
Through February 20
Fauves and Expressionists, from Van Dongen to Otto Dix: Masterpieces of the Von der Heyt
2, rue Louis-Boilly, Metro La Muette
Through February 21
Personnes: Christian Boltanski Sight and Sound Installation
Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais
3, avenue du Général Eisenhower, Metro Champs Elysées Clemenceau or Franklin Roosevelt
Through February 28
Matisse and Rodin
79, rue de Varenne, Metro Varenne or Invalides
Through March 7
Isadora Duncan: A Living Sculpture
18, rue Antoine Bourdelle, Metro Faiguiére or Pasteur
Through March 8
Pierre Soulages Retrospective
Place Georges Pompidou, Metro Rambuteau, Hotel de Ville, Chatelet
Through March 8
Artists' Children as Models
Musée de l'Orangerie
Jardin des Tuileries, Metro: Concorde.
Through March 14
Arts of Islam: Masterpieces from the Khalili Collections
Institut du Monde Arabe
1, rue des Fossés-Saint-Bernard, Metro: Cardinal Lemoine.
Feb. 19 - May 9
Charlie Toorop Retrospective
Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris
11, avenue du Président Wilson, Metro Alma Marceau or Iéna
Feb. 19 - July 18
Edvard Munch Retrospective
28, place de la Madeleine, Metro Madeleine
Through July 4
Brittany: Traveling in Color, Autochromes 1907 - 1929
Musée Albert Kahn
10-14 rue du Port, Boulogne-Billancourt, Metro: Boulogne-Porte de Saint-Cloud.
Exhibitions and Other Museums
Through February 7
Louis XIV: The Man and the King
Chateau de Versailles
Avenue Rockefeller - Versailles, France
Through May 2
What the Dinosaurs Ate
Le Palais de la Découverte
avenue Franklin Roosevelt, Metro Champs Elysées Clemenceau or Franklin Roosevelt
Through May 10
Always Faster: A History of France's Great Locomotives
Musée des Arts et Métiers
60, rue Réaumur, Metro Arts et Métiers or Réaumur-Sébastopol
Through June 10
My Raw Earth for Building Tomorrow
Cité des Sciences
30, avenue Corentin Celtou, Metro Porte de La Villette
Through July 11
The Art of Being a Man: Male Costumes in Africa and Oceania
35 bis rue Paul Valéry, Metro Victor Hugo
February 16 - July 11
The Image Factory
Musée du Quai Branly
55 Quai Branly, Metro Alma-Marceau, Bir Hakeim, École Militaire
Music, Theater and Dance
Through February 4
Place de la Bastille, Metro Bastille
€5 - 172
February 2 - March 4
John Neumeier's La Dame aux Camélias
Intersection of rues Scribe and Auber, Metro Opéra
€6 - 87
February 9, 12 and 14
Handel's Julius Caesar with Cecilia Bartoli
252, rue du faubourg Saint-Honoré, Metro Ternes or Charles de Gaulle-Étoile
€10 - 160
February 11 - March 14
Verdi's Don Carlo
Place de la Bastille, Metro Bastille
€5 - 138
February 5 - 14
Bercy Antiques Fair
55, boulevard Vincent Auriol, Metro Quai de la Gare or Chevaleret
Chinese New Year Parade
Place d'Italie, Metro Place d'Italie
Paris Carnival Parade
Place Gambetta, rue le Vau, Metro Porte de Bagnolet
February 27 - March 7
Paris Agricultural Salon
Paris Expo, Porte de Versailles, Metro Porte de Versailles or Balard
A Look Ahead for March, 2010
Holy Russia: Russian Art through Peter the Great, Louvre, March 5 - May 24
Art Paris + Guests, Grand Palais, March 18 - 22
Sculptors Claude and François-Xavier Lalanne, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, March 18 - July 4
Parc des Princes Antiques Fair, March 20 - 21
Pavilion of Arts and Design (PAD), March 24 - 28
Meroe, Empire on the Nile, Louvre, March 26 - September 9
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The Welcome 2 France team
Tel. 1 (650) 267-4328
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