Sunday, May 18, 2008

Arrival in France

I have for quite some while being using a domain,, 'chez Paul' is French, meaning roughly 'at Paul's house.' Yet, as of the start of this year, the only place I had visited in France was Charles de Gaulle airport! However, in March, a couple of friends kindly offered me the chance to stay at their apartment in Paris. I looked at my work schedule (and also mindful of the celebrations at the temple) and indicated the last week of April. That was ok, so the holiday was on!

I only gradually learnt whereabouts I was staying - information was passed on little by little. "It's about 20 minutes from the Gare du Nord" - so I located the station and initially thought it would be North of that location, but actually it was south, far more central than I expected, in the 6th arrondissement, la Rue du Cherch Midi. Being excited and inquisitive about the prospect, I tried to learn more about the locale and came across a video that conveys quite well the environment:

Like most streets in Paris, there are many layers of construction history. I think the bâtiment (building) in which I stayed and many in the environs were from the early part of the 19th century. You can see a number of such buildings in the following photo was taken a couple hundred meters down the road:

La Rue Du Cherche Midi, 6eme, Paris

I was up on the 4th floor - quite a traipse with no lift, especially when I arrived with my luggage after a long journey! (However, I wasn't that tired because I had arrived via Eurostar, which was far more comfortable than a plane).

Winding staircase at Rue du Cherche Midi

On proceeding through the main entrance and entering a little courtyard, I was struck by the smells in the air, quite an interesting atmosphere, a sense of antiquity; and the quarterly sounding of a small church bell nearby added to the charm. The block itself is not so grand in terms of structure and apartments may not be huge, but certainly the apartment where I stayed was very nicely decorated, had what I needed, prompting me to muse over the idea of swapping with my own little flat in Oxford!

I was told that about 10 years ago one could purchase such an apartment at a modest price, but now that's no longer the case (even with the credit crunch) - confirmed when I looked at property being advertised in estate agents' windows! The locale's appeal is evident when looking at the list of names associated with the apartments - there is a wide range of nationalities: as far as I could tell, in addition to the French, there were English, Germans, Spaniards, Russians, Chinese and Japanese.

There are quite a number of reviews of this street (see e.g. a quite detailed exploration from a hotel site). They talk mainly about the cafes, restaurants, a bakery, and expensive shops - especially clothes and antiques. However, there's a lot more to it, especially when you investigate it's history - for instance one site was a military garrison and then became a prison, and is now the Fondation Maison des Sciences de l’Homme. Ideally, the best way is to get to know the people living and working there - but I couldn't do that in less than a week!

So what was the first shop I visited? Discounting a tabac, where I bought a carnet for the metro, it was actually a supermarket on la rue de Sèvres!

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