A new apartment in Paris

Boulevard Saint-Germain when it was first created

We’ve moved just 3 blocks from our first apartment in a medieval building along the Seine to a new apartment in Paris built on Boulevard Saint-Germain during the Haussmannian era of the mid 1800s. From roughly 1850 to 1870 France was governed by Emperor Napoleon III, who as a main priority set about remodeling Paris to open up the view from the narrow, cramped medieval streets and to install sewer and water systems that would serve the city as it grew. To do so, he appointed an exceptionally strong public administrator, Georges-Eugène Haussmann, as Prefect of the Seine Department of France. Haussmann carried out a program to demolish crowded and unhealthy medieval neighborhoods, to annex suburbs surrounding Paris, to relocate many thousands of people from central Paris to the suburbs, to create a series of wide, straight avenues with parks and squares, to construct new sewers, fountains and aqueducts. He overcame tremendous opposition to do this, and in 1870 he was dismissed by Napoleon III to assuage pressure from his critics. The third phase of Haussmann’s plans was still unfinished, but work continued even after he was fired and was finally completed in 1927. In the end, hundreds of old buildings were razed, and more than 80 kilometers of new avenues were constructed.

Our new apartment building

The Paris you know today was the Paris created by Haussmann. The uniformity spelled out in Haussmann’s building codes created a look that is distinctly Parisian, but if you’ve seen one Haussmann apartment, you’ve seen them all. There is still a certain sentiment for the old medieval streets and wood beamed buildings.

We moved for several reasons, but our new place has both pluses and minuses compared to the old one. We looked at apartments all over Paris, but in the end opted for another apartment in the 5th arrondissement simply because we like that neighborhood the best. The basic improvements we sought were a quieter location with more space for guests and a kitchen with an oven. The new apartment is about 50% larger and has a much better arrangement for guests. It has high ceilings and appears much more spacious. Also the fixtures and appliances are better quality. It looks on a courtyard rather than out into a noisy street. On the negative side, the new apartment was quite dirty, and we spent many unanticipated hours cleaning. We were able to negotiate a rent credit for some of the time we spent. The new apartment was not nearly as well furnished as our first, so we’ve spent considerable time and money buying missing pieces. The old apartment had double paned windows, while the new one has the original single panes – you can see the glass flowing. Brenda misses the view of Notre Dame and the light and bright feel of the old place, as well as the large luxurious marble bath with double sinks. Hugh loves it that the new place is quiet at night.

Our medieval street, Rue de Bievre. The French President François Mitterand had lived halfway down the block.

The medieval street, Rue de Bievre, at the old apartment shows how Paris was before Haussmann.

It was the first time we had to arrange for gas and electricity, since utilities and Internet had been handled by the landlord in the first apartment. We were able to call the Frech utility EDF and make our arrangements in English, which really helped since we had to estimate our usage of gas and electricity to properly size the capacity that would be allocated to us. We pay a flat rate that can be adjusted based on meter readings each quarter. The start up of our service went very smoothly. While at the old apartment the heat was electric, here we have gas heat (radiators) and hot water. The old apartment had two electric meters, one with a lower rate from 11pm to 7 am, the other with a higher rate during the daytime. Here we have only one electric meter and one gas meter, the assumption being that since we use the cheaper gas for heat and hot water, we don’t need the same incentives to save power. Gas in Europe generally costs 2-3 times as much as we pay in the US. We have become much better conservers of energy.

It was also the first time for us to sign up for Internet service. Since we already had two mobile phone accounts with Orange, a provider of both mobile and residential communications services, we shopped with them first. For and additional 25 Euros per month, we arranged bundled services that include, in addition to our two cell phones, fiberoptic internet and HD TV with extra on demand movies and TV (all in French of course), unlimited calling to US land lines, plus a mobile hot spot for up to 4 devices that has unlimited data usage. Telecoms are competing in Europe! Our total bill for two cell phones and all our residential communications needs is about 75 Euros per month, far less than we pay in the US.

Installation was not easy. Hugh made an appointment to meet the installer, but when he contacted our building concierge about getting access to the basement for part of the work, she refused him and told him it would have to be after 6 pm because she had other plans for that day. Hugh went and requested that the appointment be cancelled, but the installer showed up anyway. It took over 6 hours to figure out the best way to pull fiberoptic cable from the connection point outside our apartment into the place were the “set top box” was to be located. The installer was quite ingenious and revealed many secrets about how these buildings from the 1800’s can meet the needs of today.

Shortly before 6 pm we again contacted the concierge, who argued with the installer for about half an hour about why we should need to upgrade service, also noting that she had not agreed to assist prior to 6 pm even though she was now there talking to us. She called down some of our neighbors, who testified on our behalf that what we were requesting was necessary. We remained quiet throughout the process and let the installers and the neighbors settle the issue. Finally the concierge relented and our installer was able to complete work in about 5 minutes.

Living room and dining rooms – picture on left was my Valentine’s present

We had to change our address with the mail service so that mail sent to the old address would be forwarded. In France it costs 35 Euros for the service to forward mail for 6 months. Unfortunately, there was a parcel had been sent though the mail that could not be forwarded. Brenda purchased a French print for Hugh to be delivered on Valentine’s Day. It was being sent by mail through La Poste. Unfortunately, the company promising delivery notified us that there was a delay. Perhaps a week later they sent email to us that the print had shipped and included the tracking number for the package. Hugh tracked the package but noted that it remained at an unidentified location at La Poste (somewhere in Paris) for more than a week. We contacted the company that shipped the print and also visited our local post office, who could not help us with locating the parcel. Finally we received email from La Poste that they would be contacting us for delivery. Unfortunately by then we had moved. After the mandatory 2 tries to deliver (we think you need to be standing by your mail box when they show up because they made no attempt to contact us), we received notice that we could pick up the parcel at the post office. We went there the next day with our notice. The postal clerk asked us for identification. He would not accept any ID except an original passport (not drivers license or copy of passport). Hugh had to go back and get the passports before we received our package.

When we opened it we discovered it was damaged – a small dent in the tube caused a crease the length of the print. Eventually we were able to return the print to the company that shipped it and receive a new one. We were able to purchase a frame and hang it a month or so after Valentine’s Day. Voila! All’s well that ends well.

The new apartment remains a work in progress. Here are some photos comparing old and new and showing what it’s like in the new place. It has been a pleasant surprise to discover that there is a world of new shops and activities right in the same area where we’ve been living the past year.

Comments

  1. Richard B. White says:

    Way Cool. And….they have Electricity too? Classy!!

  2. it all looks fabulous! And I KNOW you are truly enjoying it all!

  3. Don Merry says:

    I have a few thoughts. First, thanks much to Georges-Eugène Haussmann, what an improvement to those charming but dangerous narrow streets and congestion the new address brings. Second, I see your kitchen is large enough for a nook, now that is way cool. And of course an oven, so happy for you two because now you can create baguettes croissants and Éclars too. Your efforts to get fiber optic were worth it, but what a pain! Then the post office, Now that seems an improvement over what service we have in Bremerton (just kidding….we don’t have any kind of service that good here) However I’m most impressed how you have scaled down from your home in Poulsbo which of course is a huge change in context. Very impressive my friends.

  4. jane woodward says:

    Hugh and Brenda I love reading your stories and the pictures are great. Thanks for sharing. Everyday seems to be an adventure. It sounds like Patience is a must! take care Jane

  5. John Becker says:

    Really nice apartment. Now we won’t have to walk so far when we visit. Planning to be back in Paris late sept.

  6. Pat McFadden says:

    Love the blog. Hope you have as many wonderful experiences in your new placea as you had in your first.

    • Hugh Nelson says:

      Thank you Pat – we love seeing that you are making the most of things. You are an inspiration!

  7. Bonjour! Love the new apartment! Great to that you were able to stay in your neighborhood where you can continue to shop at your wonderful street market. Having those relationships with locals adds such value. It would seem the French have a taste for fancy bathrooms too.

  8. Ardis Morrow says:

    Can’t thank you enough for your details and wonderful descriptions of all the in’s and out’s of living outside your own
    comfort zone. I admire you two so much. I am delighted this was on your bucket list and you are taking advantage of
    every moment and sharing.
    How about another appt for a phone call?
    Love,
    Ardis

  9. Susan Troxell says:

    Hi Dear Brenda,
    Why I did not know about your blog, I have no idea. But I do now, so how do I follow your blog….have never followed one before……I know, I am waaaay behind the times….but sure am interested in all your exciting happenings involved with your Paris life. Please guide me to how to do this.:)

  10. Very nice… congrats… You mentioned that Pres. M. lived down the street… I tried to walk down that street once and was stopped by police, or at least some kind of fellas with fire arms, because he ‘was there’…

    Hope you enjoy the new digs!

    • Hugh Nelson says:

      It’s true that Rue de Bievre used to be guarded at either end when François Mitterrand was the French president. I think you were there.

  11. Donna Bumgarner says:

    Tres bien. Looks like a beautiful place to spend the next year.

  12. Dan Fischer says:

    Fun times for sure

  13. Rob Gelder says:

    Thanks for the great update and photos… We are looking forward to seeing you both soon and exploring the city/countryside… A bientot

  14. Liz Murray says:

    i assume this means you’re going to stay awhile longer. Me? I’d never come home. The two of you seems to stay on the same wavelengths and enjoy it all–fights with the public servants and all. Keep up the good times!
    Love, Liz

  15. Susan Troxell says:

    Hello,
    First time on your blog. Enjoyed reading your adventures of moving, and all the orderly chaos that you both endured, so splendidly! The photo’s were a wonderful glimpse into your world in Paris. Looking forward to so much more!
    Fondly,
    Susan

  16. Jan Hiatt says:

    This new apartment looks like a wonderful place to spend time, when you’re not out adventuring in Paris. Classy!

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