Charles and I started our fourth day at the Marche aux Puces de St-Ouen, which is Paris’ largest flea market. The walk from the subway to the flea market reminded me of Chinatown, with street vendors aggressively pushing designer copies at pedestrians. When we arrived at what we thought was the market, we saw stands selling fake American college t-shirts, Converse sneakers, and other products that you wouldn’t go to France to buy. Unfortunately, we didn’t know that the main antique market lay beyond the junk market.
We left quickly and headed to the Marais, which is my favorite neighborhood. The Marais is Paris’ historically Jewish quarter and has lots of mansions, many of which are now museums. While there is still a strong Jewish presence, the area has become very trendy, with hip boutiques and bars replacing the traditional Jewish stores. It is also considered the epicenter of the city’s gay community.
The Rue de Rosiers is home to the neighborhood’s remaining Jewish stores and many falafel restaurants, the most famous of which is L’As du Falafel. I thought the falafel restaurants were more cultural than religious, but apparently I was wrong because all but two were closed for Shabbat. After a forty-five minute wait, we got take out at Chez Marianne. Despite not being one of the recommended restaurants, the falafel was delicious!
We bought dessert at Sacha Finkelsztajn across the street, which is a third generation run Jewish bakery. In general, the pastries at the traditional Jewish bakeries in Paris fascinated me because the specialties were so different from traditional Jewish bakeries in the U.S. The Jewish bakeries in Marais all had square cake slices in their windows, which came in the following flavors: cheesecake, apple cake, poppy seed cake, and date cake.
After lunch we walked to Place des Vosges, which is the oldest planned square in Paris and stood as the model for planned squares all over the world (it inspired Covent Gardens and Bloomsbury Square in London, which in turn inspired Gramercy Square, Stuyvesant Square, Union Square, and Madison Square in NYC). Victor Hugo had an apartment on the square and DSK currently resides there (more about that in later posts!). If I could live anywhere in Paris, this would be it:
We walked through the park in the center of the square and then visited Musée Carnavelet, which is a free museum dedicated to the history of the Paris. The museum is definitely one of the best free cultural sites in Paris. The museum is housed in two neighboring mansions and has a lovely courtyard. The main attractions at the museum are the painting collection and the fabulous period rooms, which include an art nouveau bar and Marcel Proust’s bedroom.
We covered the museum and then walked two blocks to the Musée Cognac-Jay, another interesting free museum. The Cognac-Jay is also housed in a former mansion and features the eighteenth century art collection of the owners of the now closed Samaritaine department store. The paintings are nice and the price is right, but I would more strongly recommend the Musée Nissim de Camondo if you are an affectionado of the eighteenth century (the Camondo home is better furnished). The Cognac-Jay has a cute garden, but it was raining, so we skipped it. I wanted to show Charles the free Atelier Brancusi at the Pompidou Center (the modern art museum AKA Beaubourg), but unfortunately it started pouring and was closed by the time we arrived. We got tea in a café while waiting for the rain to subside and then headed home to change for dinner.
Charles wanted to have a fancy night out, so we decided upon Brasserie Bofinger, which is one of my favorite restaurants in Paris. Brasserie Bofinger specializes in seafood and has a historic art nouveau interior. I ordered two appetizers instead of an entrée, escargot and salmon tartare. I also got a kir (crème de cassis + white wine), which became the official drink of the trip, because “when in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Everything was excellent and I felt very lucky that we were able to sit under the famous glass doomed ceiling in the central dining room, without even having a reservation.
Please check back Friday for the next installment in my Paris series, which includes a tour of the super creepy catacombs and a visit to the beautiful Luxembourg Gardens.