Travel Anecdotes – A week in Montparnasse

I usually enjoy Paris only for a few days at any given time, so for me, she is always the quintessential ingenue. Flawed but too dreamy to truly offend. 2017 was our Francophile month over the summer. We had gone to attend a lovely friend’s (and somewhat neighbour presently!) wedding in the South of France and decided to pack in a few objectives in this trip including a reunion with old friends from London in Mougins, meeting up with special soul friends made in Ankara who are now based in Paris and having my brother join us there in the last leg of our trip and spend some time with us. As we were going to be there for a full week this time (an epic proportion of time really as we never really linger at most places we visit owing to work etc) I initially wondered if my affection for the city will be contaminated by rude waiters and snooty store owners but am relieved to conclude that by the end of our trip it’s still one of my favourite cities in Europe!

Francophile-ness

Pretentious non-Europeans usually fall within the Anglophile or Francophile category. I am totally of the latter category. I say this in honest admission of the pretentious part and yes, definitely the Francophile part despite not being able to carry a conversation in French on any level. I hate to admit I can’t speak French because I had gone for all the right classes, overdosed on totally over-my-head French movies as an adolescent and always made grand promises with French friends that they would teach me to speak it like a native. In fact, a friend did try to help me achieve my Gallic dreams and back in the day when we used to work with each other, she used to try and chat with me casually in the morning for at least half hour in full French. It was fun at first but as it got harder I resorted to google translate on my computer as she chatted so I could come up with a response… eventually I realised that the main reason why I wanted to learn it was only because I wanted to sound sophisticated in a dinner party and nothing more serious than that hence why I couldn’t maintain my stamina for it. (Of course, the fact that many people from my part of the world lionise these European languages have a lot to do with our own post-colonial hangovers which is a bit tragic and probably deserves more analysis and judgment.. but for now, back to our holiday in 2017).

I labour under every cliche impression about the French though always with a more positive slant. Chic obviously, sophisticated, effortless class and panache, and yes, obnoxious but still in a charming way. Even though I lived in London for eight years, English culture could never really turn me on. I have an admiration of course, for many of their impressive national traits (and there are many) but it’s possible that familiarity breeds contempt and my rejection of some of their traits is closely linked to maybe a rejection of my previous self. The French always seemed so terribly irreverent and full of flair, and the movies I watched never tried to explain life or moralise. It seemed more… matter of fact. I give you a page of someone’s life as it is, take from it what you will! Voila! I have also had the good luck of befriending such beautiful souls from this wonderful country, friends who can really get down and dirty in peeling off layers and layers of the self and just be nakedly ugly and beautiful as we reveal our failures and aspirations. D’accord, Iet’s conclude, I love the French! Now for the trip details (finally).

Montparnasse

When trying to figure out where to stay, I initially really wanted to stay at the 1st, 7th, 8th  or 16th arrondissement (Champs Elysee, St. Honore, St. Dominique, Trocadero or St Germain). Yes, I am a super conventional traveler and definitely less of an alternative off-the-beaten path wanderlust. But it was hard to find a place that we could agree on in terms of price and set-up. Plus I had this anxiety of terrorist attacks and was wondering also of the wisdom of staying at the more high profile places (it’s a morbid way of thinking but it was during a time period when France in general was reeling from successive episodes of random public attacks). So my husband saved the day by sending me an Airbnb link of a cozy 2 bedroom 1 bathroom apartment in the Montparnasse area (his other great choice was our rental in Candidasa which I wrote about here). It had hundreds of positive reviews and I was immediately won. The only issue was I had no clue about the area. I’d visited Paris maybe about 5 times previous to last summer and never really strayed far from the 7th or 8th arrondissement, and Montparnasse is on the 14th arrondissement. So I sent the Airbnb link to my friends in Paris and to my delight two of them were super familiar with the area. Well one friend (whose wedding we attended in the South) actually still has her family base there, and another friend used to live in the area some years ago. They assured me it’s a great area and pretty central though not in the same category as the 1st, 7th, 8th or 16th arrondissement but still it has its main transportation hub with the central bus, train and metro station. The apartment was wonderfully located about 500m from Gare Montparnasse, which takes about a 6-10 minute walk depending on your pace.

L’ Appartment – Tres bel appt coeur Montparnasse

Presently, my husband and I agree that this is our favourite find on Airbnb. It is an apartment which everyone hopes to experience through an Airbnb and is the antidote to the generic functionality of a hotel. It is very much a home and not a house. The furnishings are so exquisite and so much thought has been invested in every corner to reflect on the owner’s life, experience and affinities. Gerard is a kind and generous host who previously lived as an expat and is clearly interested in different people and cultures. The apartment is set in a classic Haussmann building and the bones are quintessential to this style – high ceilings, wrought iron balcony, floor to ceiling French windows, wooden herringbone floors and a fireplace in the living room. The accents are wonderfully eclectic and he has a love for maps, and for Indian and Middle-Eastern knick knacks, so a man after my own heart obviously. I’ve always tried to emulate this style but one clearly needs a stronger dose of je na sais quoi to pull this off as I think what I’ve managed to produce is just inelegant mess. I wonder also if it’s a particular European sensibility to be able to weave classic European base and textiles with Eastern Oriental accents of richer textures and somehow make it work. You can check out Gerard’s place on the link above, and these are also some of our photos. These photos were taken in the evening when we arrived, so it doesn’t have the best light.

 

 

IMG_0308The entrance hallway

 

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The living room. 

 

IMG_0311French doors throughout opening to a balcony which overlooks the opposite building. 

 

IMG_0307One out of the 2 bedrooms. This bedroom is more peaceful but doesn’t have the front street view. 

 

IMG_0335Delectable wall hanging. 

 

IMG_0336Vintage Map of the Arabian gulf. 

 

IMG_0334Fabulous spine! 

 

IMG_0338The Indian fetish

 

IMG_0330View through the balcony grill. 

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La vie reeve des anges.

Shopping in the area

The apartment is close to Galeries La Fayette (Less than 10 minutes walk) so you can get your classic French department store fix there. It’s not the flagship store but the Montparnasse outfit, hence not huge by any means but sufficient for the area.

How far from Paris favourites?

For walkable Paris main sights, Eiffel Tower is about 3 kilometres away, about 40 minute walk. Champs Ellysee is about 3.5 kilometres away about maybe 45-50 minutes walk. The Louvre is about 2.9 kilometres away, maybe bit less than 40 minutes walk. Obviously you can easily grab a taxi or take the Metro from Gare Montparnasse which is as I mentioned about 500 metres away from the apartment and about a 6-10 minute walk, and you can be at all the above places in a matter of minutes. We chose to walk it out mainly for my brother to ‘feel’ the place, as it was his first visit to Paris. And of course, if you are in Paris during the summer it is  absurd not to be out and about enjoying the wonderful vibe that the sunshine brings to the city. It’s really amazing how there are palpable energy shifts in countries with extreme seasons.

One of my favourite memories of this week was waking up for a baguette breakfast and then taking a 40 minute stroll to the Louvre, spending hours roaming inside, then having a small picnic outside at the Tuileries Garden, followed by an exploration in  Printemp and the nearby galleries of the Louvre. Like the people of India, Bali, Japan, the French’s passion for aesthetics never gets old. A mustard display for instance can look so irresistible and I had fun just soaking my eyeballs in front of different window displays. We then took a slow walk to Le Bon Marche at Rue de Sevre, which was about 2 kilometres away where I got stuck at Le Grand Epicierie de Paris. Who doesn’t love supermarket shopping when abroad and who can deny that Paris has to be the best supermarket shopping experience? Obviously it’s more of a gourmet market in Le Bon Marche with the display and presentation being its main highlights (I mean how is it possible that even mineral water bottles can be presented so beautifully?). After that we took a 25 minute stroll back to our apartment in Montparnasse (about 1.5 kilometres) as we just enjoyed watching tourists and Parisian jostle the streets, spill out onto terrace cafes as they had their late lunches or early suppers and sit out on their apartment balconies to bask in some good food under the sun. Have a look at the Parisian beauties that always thrills me here.

Montparnasse Tower

Montparnasse is also where the Montparnasse Tower is and about less than 10 minutes walk from the apartment. This is supposed to be the highest tower in Europe, and you can get a stunning panoramic view of the city at the top of the tower. Entrance costs about 18Euros for adults. I think it is a preferable alternative to the Eiffel Tower to catch the breathtaking view of the city – the queue over summer is simply not worth it for us. If you want to dine with the view of the city behind you then the tower offers you Le Ciel de Paris, a French restaurant on the 56th floor and apparently ‘the highest panoramic restaurant in Paris’. Keep a look out on their summer specials for good lunch or dinner sets and try and book super early so you can book a seat near the window. We enjoyed my brother’s 21st birthday there and had a great time. If you are vegetarian/ pescatarian this is also recommended as they have a lot of delectable options to choose from. Food was great though not out of this world unforgettable (I think our Mougins lunch was superior) but decent and reasonably priced (for Europe) and definitely not in the Michelin star level of expense.

Some photos of the view and food.

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Le Ciel de Paris, lunching with this to look out to…

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Last words

If you have never been to Paris and would like to live in a well-connected residential area where you can either take leisurely strolls to the main sights or get there in minutes via public transport, I would recommend Montparnasse as a great and less expensive option to base yourself at as compared to the 1st, 7th, 8th and 16th arrondissement. If you need a place to stay for up to 4 guests, then I also recommend Gerard’s apartment as it would definitely cost less than booking 2 rooms in a hotel. I know that some people turn up their nose at the Montparnasse Tower as being a little too ‘modern’ which had defiled the architecture of Paris, but for us it was a great find to live so close to it and get a chance to have a decent lunch with the city view taking centre stage. I found this review of Montparnasse super-helpful if you want to know more about the area.

If you want to be closer by foot to the main sightseeing, then St. Dominic might be a better option for you. St.  Dominic is about 10-15 minute walk to the Eiffel Tower and has more of those dreamy sidewalk cafes and specialty shops that people identify Paris with – you can read more about the area here https://www.parisperfect.com/blog/2017/02/rue-saint-dominique/. I stayed in the area back in 2013 for my hen weekend, but it really is a very long time ago and I doubt I have good photos to blog about it.

Hope that was in some way helpful.. and au revoir for now….

 

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Eiffel Tower… it’s a cliche photo but I just think I took a pretty good one… 

 

 

 

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