How Visitors Helped Us Learn About Paris

IMG_4283One of the many experiences I have been lucky to have while living in Paris this year is spending time with guests, both family and friends, and especially getting to host Paris visitors. Some have been here before and some are first time visitors, but regardless, I get to see the city again through their eyes. Each guest has his or her Paris bucket list.

Jeff and Carrie Goller helped us plan a delicious dinner at Restaurant Gallopin. They also invited us to dinner at their apartment on Rue Claire. Carrie is an excellent cook!

My friend Randi Strong Petersen insisted that we see the night lights at the Eiffel Tower, so we had an absolutely magical evening with a clear sky and a full moon. Randi took us on our first foray into the Champs Elysees, as well as many other parts of Paris. We also went with Randi on our first trip to Montmartre, a wonderful part of town that we’ve visited repeatedly and encouraged other guests to visit. Randi’s son Kiel lives in London and comes often to Paris, so we’ve been able to have dinner with him.

Most visitors want to see Notre Dame. Luckily our apartment is right across the street. Wendy Armstrong and daughter Jess Jewett wanted to climb the stairs to the top of the cathedral so we spent a magical hour viewing the city with them on a splendid sunny day. Previously we had thought that it was would be too hard to stand in the long line and struggle up 387 stairs to the top of the south tower but it was definitely worth it. And a photo op at the Pont d’Archeveche with the Cathedral in the background is a must – almost everyone has done that. Surprisingly only one of our guests has installed a lock on the famous bridge (maybe too touristy?)

We took Wendy and Jess on the Paris Fashion Walk, a look at the high end houses of fashion design that influence fashion throughout the world. Wendy and Jess suggested that we have a late picnic supper on the Champs de Mars so we could watch the lights come on the Eiffel Tower – another ‘first” worth repeating. What a beautiful, magical night.

Wendy wanted a Parisian fascinator – she’d hosted a fascinator party back when we lived in Poulsbo. Turns out there is a fascinator store just down our side street – Rue de Bievre. I now own a “fascinator” (special hair decoration) to celebrate special evenings out, and I got the chance to meet the lovely store owner.

Sometimes we can only meet a guest for dinner, as we did with Lauren Meyer, who stopped by the last night of a business trip in late March. It was fun to hear how her Bainbridge Island based company was working to arrange tours in France. Lauren also shared some of the secrets of French cooking.

Our friend Don Merry wanted to go on a Seine River cruise, so we helped him organize that – we hadn’t done that before even though the river boats are just across the street. What a wonderful way to catch a glimpse of so many of the city’s marvels and enjoy the fresh air. I love watching the faces of our friends as they view the Hotel de Ville, Louvre, Grand Palais, Musee d’Orsay and of course the Eiffel Tower from the boat. We’ve passed along Don’s idea to numerous other guests, including my mom and sister.

Don had lots of other ideas, for instance something to do that first day when you’re trying to recover from the jet lag. We ended up on a Paris Walk looking at modern architecture. We’d never have done that except for Don’s interest in it. As a result we learned about completely different part of town just down the road from us.

Don brought us to some great places to eat – a lunch at the Grand Colbert – the restaurant where they filmed “Something’s Got to Give” with Jack Nicholson and Dianne Keaton. Don’s suggestion to have lunch at Les Georges Paris, the restaurant atop the Pompidou Center completed  a splendid summer afternoon.  One of the most famous cafe’s along Boulevard Saint Germain, Cafe de Flore, where Picasso and his friends used to hang out was another opportunity to enjoy French cuisine on a lovely summer day.

Most visitors want to spend some time at museums. For those who want to see the Louvre, I think their best bet is to use a guide. The place is just too big and overwhelming, and with a guide there is no time wasted standing in line or trying to “find” the Mona Lisa. Plus the guides have unlimited knowledge about the art work and history and can tailor a the visit to the guest’s interests. When Don visited we hired a guide for an evening tour. Even though Hugh and I had already had one Louvre tour with Paris Walks, our evening guide provided so much new information that I would not have traded the opportunity for anything.

It was because of Don’s list (he had a big one) that we made our first visits to the Orsay and Rodin museums. Both are magical places to enjoy with our friends, and because of our first experiences we’ve been able to show these special places to other visitors.

Jeff and Laurie Tolman were interested in seeing the Holocaust Museum nearby us in the Marais – that was a powerful experience that has helped us understand so many other aspects of Paris history.

My friend Jonlee Joseph told me about the unique tapestries at the museum of medieval history, Musée de Cluny. The tapestries are actually on loan to Japan until November, a disappointment, but Jonlee’s knowledge will help us add this to our understanding of important art in Paris. We’ve been to the Cluny in the meantime, and it is fascinating even without the tapestries.

Our friend Carl Swanstrom had been to Paris before. He led our first foray into Pere Lachaise cemetery. It was Carl’s idea for he and Hugh to explore the military history museum at Invalides. They spent hours wandering around there. Carl also got Hugh to the top of the Arc de Triomphe at sunset. You may have already seen some of our great photos from that trip.

Gabe Gaylord and Jim Korzetz told us how much they enjoyed the Locaboat as a way to quickly learn about the town, and Pat McFadden and her group from Edward Jones told us how valuable it was for them to take the Hop on Hop off Bus as a way to conveniently get to all the important places with one cheap and easy pass. We went to dinner with Cliff and Angie Despeaux, who were in town on their honeymoon before moving on Germany. They told us about how to stay in Paris on a budget and provided an excellent example of how to keep the vacation focus on having fun.

Our fellow (star) Realtor from Realogics Sotheby’s Int’l Real Estate Dennis Paige and wife Peggy visited in early September. A trip to Paris had been symbolized by a map on Dennis’s bulletin board for many years – so he was fulfilling a dream. They had a great vacation and were wonderful company for us. Also in September we got together with Monty and Janis Bolstad – Monty worked with Hugh at the Applied Physics Laboratory at UW when both were younger and they had fun catching up with each other.

More recently we were visited by John Becker and Dianne Rodway, two very successful Portland Realtors whom we’ve known for many years. Dianne helped me find some great new places to shop in Paris, and we got to meet Dianne’s English host family from when she was an exchange student in college. John helped us pick some excellent French wine and shared with us a huge album of photos he took on their trip. It was great seeing them.

Most recently we spent time with Mary McAlhany and Patrick Gahan, who were in Paris as the first leg of a longer vacation. We met them for dinner and had them over to our apartment for dinner on several occasions. Our good friends took us on our first trip to Versailles which we enjoyed immensely.

Nearly all of our visitors have enjoyed visiting Paris’s famous gardens, particularly the Luxembourg Gardens and the Jardins des Plantes, but also the Tuileries Garden. My mom and sister Joani really focused on non tourist aspects of Paris during their visit rather than trying to see all the famous attractions. We spent much of our time going to the gardens and experiencing the local markets and the joys of French cooking as best we could manage in our tiny kitchen. I never tire of strolling through the wonderful gardens. They change so dramatically from season to season. Watching the French relax in the parks is inspiring.

And is it ever fun to go out to eat with friends who want a “real French dining experience”. We have been able to offer our guests a chance to dine fairly inexpensively at restaurants in our neighborhood, helping them to get away from the tourist fare and to experience perhaps more authentic French dining experience. I love to try to explain what this dish is or to avoid that one. Unfortunately for one recent guest we didn’t know that the house specialty, andouillette sausage, really is made of ground pork intestines. We won’t make that mistake again!!!

Here is a photo gallery with some comments showing many of our visitors this year.


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  1. Ardis Morrow

    Wonderful prose and photos. Thanks for keeping me in on some of your fabulous experience. Your clothes, hair,,dinners,
    sights, attitudes look so Parisienne. I am still awaiting Hugh’s high heeled shoes.

  2. Carl Swanstrom

    I enjoyed reading about my trip! Thanks again for the great time. By the way, having worked in the manufacture of sausage and lunch meats at a meat-packing plant when I was in college, I can tell you that many sausages contain tripe, as well as a lot of fat. So the question is, did the andouilette sausage taste good? If so, enjoy it. I would think this advice might apply to many French foods.

    • Hugh Nelson

      Carl, I think andouilette is good, but it’s an acquired taste. For many people the consistency makes them wonder whether it might have come from a meat packing plant.

  3. Gail Chafe'

    Hi Brenda and Hugh! Pat McFadden shared your blog with me. I loved reading it and seeing the pictures. I will be in Paris Dec 31 for a few days, maybe we can meet for lunch or coffee? My daughter Haley is in Cambridge England for a year. I am going to visit with her in London, then we are going to Spain to visit some exchange students we have hosted over the years, then to Paris and back to London. I am so excited. It has been 30 years since I was a young backpacker in Paris. And I have never been to England or Spain. Take Care! Gail

    • Brenda Prowse

      Bonjour Gail,
      We will be in Paris for the holidays so would love to meet up with you. We do have guests coming for New Year’s Eve who are staying at a nearby hotel and have some plans with them for the few days after but am sure that we can manage. Happy Thanksgiving. Bisous, Brenda

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