À Paris

Well, hello there - it's been a while!  I am back from a family vacation in Paris....and now I need a vacation to recover from the vacation, if you know what I mean :)

Despite our minimal French vocabulary, it was rather easy to adjust to the Parisian way - in fact, after only a couple of days, the lady in the boulangerie down the street from our hotel would bag our "usual" baguette order as soon as she saw me walk in the door.  I loved that!  The biggest adjustment was not having a "normal" coffee in the morning.  I must say, however, that I did become quite fond of café au lait - yum!

Sunset over the Seine

Anyone who has been to Paris knows how incredible it is.  I'm hugely interested in all things historic and, coming from a country where a building from the turn of the century is considered "old", you can imagine how I was struck by the history that I saw on practically every street.  From the boulangerie that has been in the same spot for the past 150 years to the narrow streets that are barely wide enough for a car, paved with cobbles on which horses once trod, it was wonderful to be immersed in a culture that places more value on restoring what exists than replacing it with something new.

This post is photo-heavy so you may want to grab that cup of coffee or tea right about now :)

First, a few highlights from our trip, starting with the most commonly visited sites:

Eiffel Tower (did this one even need a caption??)

Arc de Triomphe

Notre Dame Cathedral

Mona Lisa crowds at the Louvre

The Catacombs


And some that are not so common:

Courtyard behind houses that line Place de Vosges
(where Victor Hugo once lived)

Phillip II Augustus wall
One of the few remaining sections of the wall that surrounded the original town of Paris in the 1100's 

Mur des je t'aime
(Wall of Love)

The Standard Meter
The standard meter was defined for the first time in 1791 (up until that time,
people used a whole series of arbitrary measurements).
In 1796-7, standard Meter markers were placed throughout Paris, allowing
people to verify their own measure.  This one, which sits across from the Luxembourg Palace,
is one of only two that remain and is the only one that is still in it's original location.

Arènes de Lutèce
Constructed in the 1st century AD, this amphitheater
is one of the few remnants from the Roman era in Paris

The city has tried to put an end to what are referred to as Love Locks,
removing millions of locks from bridges in the past few years - the practice, however, persists.

Montmartre Cemetery
An unusual multi-level cemetery built in an abandoned gypsum quarry

Galerie Vivienne
Built in 1823, galaries such as this one allowed Victorians
the opportunity to stroll and shop while being protected from the elements

Ecuries De Roi (Kings Stables), Versailles
Across the street from the Versailles palace, this carriage
museum is often overlooked but well worth a visit

Of course, we visited several gardens in Paris including the Jardin des Tuileries, Jardin des Plantes, Jardin du Palais Royale and the Luxembourg palace garden.  There were several others I was interested in seeing but I had to rein in my expectations on that front, this being a family trip and not a Garden Bloggers Fling ;)

Luxembourg Palace Gardens

One garden that was on my list which we ended up missing was the Versailles garden.  Our day in Versailles was the hottest of our vacation - temperatures hit the mid-30C's (90F's).  The gardens at Versailles offer little shade and the thought of walking in the blazing sun for a couple of hours was not at all appealing so we decided to forgo them.  Instead we contented ourselves with viewing the gardens from the palace windows:

My garden preference leans more towards cottage style gardens rather than formal ones, so missing out on the palace gardens was not a huge deal for me.  I was, however, disappointed that I would not see Le Potager de Roi (The Kings Vegetable Garden).  It is located in a walled section some distance from the palace and we did manage to get a peak through the gates as we strolled around the city (which was bearable as we kept to the shady side of the street).

Potager du Roi - Peak through the gate
Notice the espalier fruit trees on the left

And yet another entrance to peak into...

After our day in Versailles I read some rather negative reviews about the neglected state of affairs in the Potager, after which I didn't feel nearly as bad about missing it.

When we visited Le Jardin des Plantes, the heat once again conspired against us.  My family decided to take a café break while I took a quick stroll through a small portion of the gardens.  It didn't take long, however, before I felt myself melting in the heat, so I cut my short walk even shorter.  From what little I did see, I have a feeling this would have been a favourite.

Jardin des Plantes

My overall impression of the public gardens in Paris?  They were nice, but not extraordinary (with the possible exception of the Jardin des Plantes).  Now, before I offend any Parisians, let me clarify.

The gardens were structurally beautiful - the paths, the tree lined walkways, the fountains - I would definitely call these aspects extraordinary.  But the plantings, which for me are the "raison d'être" of a garden, didn't inspire me.  As I mentioned previously, I prefer less formal gardens so this obviously plays into my perception as would the time of year - gardens can change dramatically depending on the season.

This brings me to what surprised me the most about Parisian public gardens and one of the reasons I was underwhelmed by them - you couldn't walk on the grass.   While in North America, this is the exception rather than the rule, in Paris it was the complete opposite.

Tuileries Garden - Notice the barriers surrounding the grass

Although I understand the reasoning behind the "keep of the grass" rule, for me, the inability to approach the ornamental beds significantly lessened how much I enjoyed them.  Many ornamentals were planted in island groupings in the middle of grassy expanses and those near a walkway were usually several feet away from the path.

Luxembourg Gardens

Viewed from a distance in this way, you are not only denied the opportunity to truly examine & appreciate the intricate beauty of the blooms/foliage, but it also deprives you of two critical sensory experiences - touch and smell.  I'll also add in sound since you can't really listen to the soul-satisfying buzz of busy bees around blooms that are 15' away.

Jardin du Palais Royale

The above photo in the Palais Royale gardens was taken from the path but it's obvious that the best vantage point would be the grassy area in the middle, which was inaccessible.  In fact, the most visible areas, those right beside the path, were sparsely planted and looked rather weedy and neglected.  I must say that this particular garden left me scratching my head.

Now let me show you the garden related "find" that excited me the most during our trip:

These passion flowers were growing in a playground on one of the hidden treasures of Paris that not many tourists know about - the remnants of one of the Bastille prison towers.

Discovered during excavation in 1899 and moved to it's current location the following year

I love finding hidden treasures like this when we go away and in this case, it was a twofer :)

All in all, a wonderful vacation - and I'll definitely be missing those baguettes!  But now we are back in Canada and back to reality - which isn't so bad as we are approaching fall, one of my favourite times of year (I think I say that for every season!).  Our garden did just fine while we were away - the weather cooperated, being neither too hot nor too cold, and I believe there was a bit of rain as well.

The kids are back to school as of this morning, a good thing as there is a lot of post-vacation catch up still to do.  I've done a lot of harvesting - I'm way overdue for a Harvest Monday post - and, of course, there is still more sheet mulching to do for the garden expansion.  Now to make myself a café au lait and see what everyone in blogland has been up to :)


  1. What a lovely trip! And that astounds me that you cannot walk on the grass in order to admire the plants in a garden. Also, I agree about how the difference in magnitude of historical buildings and other icons in North America vs. Europe - - something a couple hundred years old seems relatively new compared to something many many hundreds or almost a thousand years old.

    1. It was so strange to me but I suppose all the foot traffic would wear away the grass rather quickly. I'm sure it's there for esthetics, but if it were up to me, I wouldn't even bother with it or perhaps have only a small 6" strip. But then again, I'm all about the plantings - I have a feeling that most visitors look to the overall esthetics with minimal regard to what is actually planted.

  2. I must admit I prefer the French countryside to the cities like Paris. I'm not a busy crowded place sort of person. Driving through Paris is a nightmare. We once took a night tour of the city and our coach ended up stick in Montmartre. As we finally approached L'Arc de Triomphe the light were being turned off.
    What do you class as normal coffee?

    1. I'm sure that I would have loved countryside gardens in France as I have a feeling they are far more natural than those that I saw. We actually didn't find the city to be crowded or busy at all (compared to New York, for instance) - that's one of the reasons I wanted to go in August, which is supposed to be a quieter time. We didn't bother renting a car as we planned on staying in the city other than the one day in Versailles. I don't think I would drive in any major European city for the very reason you stated - driving (and parking!) is a nightmare.

      As for the coffee, in North America a "normal" coffee is brewed using a drip coffee maker:

      Many people order an Americano in Europe, thinking it's the same thing, but that one is made by adding water to espresso shots and is much stronger (I didn't like it at all).

  3. I am so glad to visit Paris through your eyes. What a great trip. We enjoyed the artists near Sacré-Cœur. There is history everywhere you look. One thing I missed on my visits was the standard meter, guess I need to go back and see what else I may have missed.

    1. Thanks Janet :) There is just so much to see and I didn't hit everything on my list (which was rather unrealistic, I have to admit - I just want to see it all!). And then there were the places that we did go to but where I could easily have spent much more time exploring. The Louvre comes to mind - we were there for about 4 hours and barely scratched the surface.

  4. Wow!! What a wonderful trip and I loved the highlights and photos you shared. I love historical architecture too! So glad you and the family got a chance to do this!

    1. Hi Deb and thanks! There definitely was no shortage of historical architecture in Paris - it was incredible...you would love it (hint, hint!) We had a great time but it was exhausting too - it was SO good to sleep in once we got home :) P.S. Now that the flurry of summer is over, we must get together very soon!

  5. OK, OK, twist my arm. Seriously, my daughter LOVES Paris, and tells me I must go there. She spent a few months there, living with family members of a dear friend. She purchased locks for her grandparents, aunts/uncles, and us and I'm sure they're cut down by now. ;-) My parents liked Paris, too--even my dad who was very skeptical. Thanks for sharing scenes from the various gardens--even the ones you found somewhat underwhelming. I chuckled when reading your comment about the Fling. ;)

    1. Oh, lucky for your daughter! And does that mean that you have some built in "tour guides" when you go there...I would be taking advantage of that opportunity! I've been to a few places where I really missed home within a few days, but that didn't happen this time. The wonderful thing about Paris is that it was different (and so incredibly interesting), but still familiar enough to feel comfortable, even with the language barrier.

  6. it was nice to know about the trip. I love too know many things about our history:)

    1. Paris is chock full of history - if you're a history buff, I would say it's a must see!

  7. What a amazing trip your family had! We were to Paris a long time ago and saw some of those things but not nearly all the things you saw and I have forgotten some of it all. Ours was combined with London, a quick stop in Austria and Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Nancy

    1. Whoa - you certainly were a world traveler! You never know if you will be going back to any particular place, so I always try to cram as much in as I can - a bit too much, according to my husband who took the afternoon off one of the days we were there ;)

  8. It looks like an incredibly fun trip. Lots to see and do. I love the mix of old and new they have there, so cool. My brother lived in southern France, and he said the food is even better than they say.

    1. France is such a large country - I would love to see more of it, especially the small towns/countryside. Perhaps someday we will make that happen...

  9. I was in Paris a few years back and visited most of the places in your photos, thanks for a trip down memory lane.

    1. My pleasure Norma - it's lovely there, isn't it?

  10. Well it certainly looks, and sounds, like you had a wonderful time. I've only been to Paris once and that was on a school trip, we saw the big tourist attractions like the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe and Notre Dame and we visited the Palace of Versailles but that was about it, I'd love to go back.

    1. It was wonderful. There are many places that I've been where once was enough but Paris is NOT on that list. There is so much to see and do and I truly enjoyed the feeling of the city - which is saying a lot since I'm really a country girl at heart ;)

  11. We loved Paris when we were there. What a great time you seem to have had! I enjoyed the Luxembourg Gardens, even though you can't walk on the grass and is more formal than my ideal. I liked that so many families and young people were using it when we were there, and there were so many niches for small groups to gather and socialize.

    1. That is certainly something I enjoyed - that the gardens were so well used. Since you couldn't go on the grass, a few of the gardens had metal chairs spread throughout on which to sit and enjoy the day. I saw numerous people reading actual PAPER books - a welcome sight indeed.

  12. I've always wanted to go to Paris, so thank you for the great photos and a chance to 'go' there virtually! Like you I would probably have loved to see the potager. And missing the 'normal' coffee sounds like our visit to Italy, where I came to be fond of their espresso!

    1. If I ever get back there, I'll make a point to go to the potager. Perhaps after the less than stellar reviews, they will get it back in shape, although I'm wondering if the bad reviews had more to do with time of year than neglect. As we all know, vegetable gardens do end up looking a bit worse for wear as the summer progresses.


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