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Trip Report Trip Report: Paris in the Snow, Jan 16-21 (Long)

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I like to travel to Europe in January since it’s usually not very cold, prices are lower and crowds are virtually non-existent. This year, no place really jumped out at me until I read a couple of trip reports on Fodors from people who had spent Christmas in Paris. Even though I’ve been to Paris 3 times before, the picture they painted was so striking that I decided Paris would be my destination.

Air: Used miles for the direct round-trip flight on American (JFK to CDG). Both flights were full; I didn’t realize that all long-haul planes don’t have individual video screens for each seat (most of the flights I’ve been on in the last few years have all had them) so watching pre-selected movies, TV shows, etc on the overhead TV screen was not ideal. (Free, so didn’t really care but a note for the future when I am paying!)
Weather: For the 6 days, it was grey and cold, in the low 30’s F each day. It snowed Friday night and all day Sunday and Monday.
Apartment: About a month prior, I rented a one-bedroom apt from Vacation in Paris (#162) – on Avenue Suffren, right near the Eiffel Tower. Price was super discounted - $838 for 6 nights! I looked at numerous apts on VRBO but couldn’t beat this rate. I knew the location was slightly out of the center and that the Metro line wasn’t as well located as some of the others (relative to the places I’d be going) but, again, that rate was too good to pass up. The apartment itself was very nice; modern building, large elevator; floor to ceiling windows in living room and bedroom. Good lighting in both rooms for reading; flat screen TV with about a fair number of English channels (BBC, CNN, SkyNews, France 24, Al Jazeera, Bloomberg, CNBC) – all news, all the time!
Local transportation: Debated getting a 5 day Paris Visit card but decided that buying two or three carnets would be a better deal. For six days, ended up using 23 individual tickets and saved the remaining tickets for another trip (they don’t expire). Combination of Metro, RER and walking took me everywhere I needed to go. Used the RER from the airport – line B to line C and a two minute walk to the apt.
Food: I’m not a foodie and am usually so tired after 10 hours of being out and about walking around that I’m quite happy to eat dinner in my apt. I often lunch in cafes and buy baguettes or prepared foods for dinner (plus assorted pastries throughout the day).
Shopping: The big January sales were going on so the department stores were mobbed and I really didn’t feel like spending much time there. Bought perfume, chocolate, pastries and grocery store items mostly.
Pre-trip research: I like to read beforehand and make a general plan for each day’s activities; used guidebooks including “Secret Paris” and various Paris blogs for ideas.

DAY 1 (Wed.)
Arrived mid-morning, took RER from airport to Champs de Mars/Tour Eiffel stop (Note: the RER station within CDG is a long, long hike from the terminal and the line to buy a ticket was lengthy; ticket machines were difficult to figure out.) Trundled my suitcase from RER station about 1 block to the apartment, investigated the apartment (keys and access badge worked fine) and unpacked. Decided to go to Musee de la Mode (costume exhibits) and buy food, so bought a carnet of tickets. Bir-Hakim was my local Metro station and the platforms, as well as most of this line, was elevated so provided a birds-eye view of the streets. From Iena station, walked to Palais Galleria, but turns out the Musee de la Mode is closed for renovation so…crossed the street to the Musee of Modern Art. No admission charge and audio guide was only €3.
Enjoyed this museum which is not very large but has lots of Fauvists (Dufy, Derault & others). Very bright, tropical colors that appealed to me. Several people had easels set up and were copying paintings, with a teacher correcting their strokes.
Stopped in a bakery and bought a mini-quiche (which was nasty) to eat on a park bench & was approached with the infamous “oh look, it’s a gold ring” scam. He quickly left when I suggested he turn the ring over to the police who were ticketing cars down the block. On a pastry blog had read about Jacques Genin’s amazing pastries so took the Metro about a million stops to his shop on Rue Turennes only to discover that he’s stopped making pastry in order to focus on his chocolates. (for €120/kg) Determined to buy pastry though so went to a small bakery across the street and got a phenomenal citron tart, chocolate roll and olive pizza slice.
Metro to La Motte-Grenelle to the super big Monoprix for food – it was mobbed, even the upstairs food area but bought various snacks. Stopped in a pharmacy for a heavily recommended by Fodorites item, Voltaren gel – what a bargain, €2.82 for a tube. Trudged back – bags were heavy – to the apartment and saw the Eiffel Tower all lit up which was snazzy and even better, @ 7:00, the white sparkly lights came on. I have to admit that I was impressed.
DAY 2 (Thursday)
Up early and walked a block over to Champs de Mar – b-r-r-r-r cold but lots of people walking dogs & jogging – pretty remarkable to be right at the foot of the ET.
RER to Musee D’Orsay – no line @ 9:45. Special exhibit “Fashion & Impressionism” which was great – various painters’ usage of fashion, plus displays of actual clothing. Very large exhibit with lots to see; it closed 2 days later so I was lucky to see it without crowds. Then, went up to the 5th floor, with my audio guide, for the Impressionists. I never fail to be amazed at seeing in real life the actual paintings that I’m used to seeing on calendars. Monet’s Rouen cathedrals, women with parasols, Pissaro’s and Sisley’s. Had lunch at their Compagna Café – great décor, and I was seated in front of the huge clock window. Opted for their “casserole of the day” which was lamb w/pasta – tasty and a mere €17. Very sophisticated feel and menu is appealing. After lunch, wandered back through the Impressionists and decided to focus on winter scenes; surprising how many there are. Then, down to the 2nd floor to the Van Gogh’s – more amazing pictures….self-portrait, starry night, bedroom, twisted cypress trees and more. Checked out the Art Deco furniture but was burned out so left.
Since I kept thinking about shopping, I decided to get it over with and headed to Printemps & Galerie Lafayette. Sidewalks and stores were so crowded; wanted to buy perfume but too many people; looked at wallets but nothing struck me; bought a cheap fake wool scarf to keep out the cold and Laduree macarons at Printemps. (For some reason, never had macarons before but WOW these were good. Now I know what everyone’s talking about; the chewy softness of the cookies and the soft ganache….bought coconut, pistachio & chocolate.) Stopped in Paul on the corner for dinner baguette and went across the street to the 2nd floor purse store – more big sales and crowds but bought a white Longchamp bag for only €38 (think it was a deal but who knows – I had it in mind to buy a purse, no matter what).
Still on the shopping mission, Metro to Rennes and walk to Jean-Paul Rochoux (€110/kg); I had visited his web site and made a list of the flavors that appealed to me which was good because the very nice sales lady didn’t speak a lot of English. The candy boxes are works of art in themselves – well made, sturdy cardboard with alligator finish, chocolate brown w/silver letters. Stopped in Agatha B. for a pair of fake gold hoop earrings. City Pharmacy was on my list for a lot of things – crowded but found everything. Nuxe Huile Prodigieuse Or is a dry oil with shimmery gold that I’ve read about….it’s $58 on-line and City Pharmacy had the best price I found, by far (about €10 cheaper than other stores); however, it was still €22 and I just couldn’t justify it since I’ve never used it and was not sure I’d like it.
On the way home and took the Metro to Passy, so that I could walk across the bridge and see the ET lit up and sparkling @ 7:00.
DAY 3 (Friday)
Had read a lot about the St. Denis basilica – history, funerary effigies, etc. so took the Metro. A Fodorite had mentioned the Friday morning market in the square outside the Metro which I was looking forward to but it was a non-event for me. A few fruit/veg dealers but mostly stalls of cheap quality merchandise so it was a quick walk through. Popped into the St. Denis tourist office where a very nice man gave me a map of the St. Denis historical spots and encouraged to see them all. Off to the basilica, bought a guidebook and the audio guide to the neocropolis. It was SO COLD in the church – admittedly, it was 30 degrees outside but it felt like 20 degrees inside….I guess a stone church, and subterranean crypt, stores up days of cold. The church is as impressive as everyone said and the history behind the effigies was amazing; the audio guide was very helpful and offered lots of historical tangents (“if you want to hear more about the Medici’s, press XXX”). Very interesting to see the evolution from Renaissance effigies to 18th century ones – clothing, eyes, body treatment, etc. I spent 90 minutes there and if it wasn’t so cold would have spent another 45 minutes listening to the audio guide extras. Given the cold, and the gloomy appearance of the city, opted not to visit the other historic wonders of St. Denis (interestingly, read a newspaper item a day or so later about a man who had been assaulted @ 3:00 pm in the plaza outside the basilica.)
Had read about an RATP store in the Les Halles station where you can buy clothing and items featuring RATP subway lines, symbols etc. and I always like those, so spent about 15 mins in the maze of Les Halles and never found the store. Oh well.
Walked to BHV and kept walking, ending up on R. Francs-Bougeois where I looked for the Credit Municipal pawn shop. (Maybe I’ve watched too much Pawn Stars on TV, but the idea of seeing all the items interested me.) Found the location but couldn’t figure out where the actual display floor was – lots of people in line to pawn their items and others in line to reclaim them. So, kept walking and passed Creperie Suzette just down the block. I was pooped, it was cold and crepes sounded good, so in I went. Narrow ground floor with bench seating along the wall & I was given a table at the back, near some antique sewing machines. Menu featured galettes & crepes, so I had the Carnavalet galette: cheese, smoky bacon and a fried egg enfolded into a buckwheat crepe. It was so good – hot, flavorful and just the right quantity. Yum, yum and only about €8. Neat little spot and everyone around me was French.
Realized I was near R. Turennes, so walked WAY up to the tippy top to the great bakery I discovered yesterday – bought a cherry tarte, choc brioche & slice of ham & mushroom pizza. Along the way, noticed that this street is home to lots of men’s clothing shops – I think open to the trade only; fancy suits, shirts, vests, etc.
Reinvigorated by my galette, I Metro’d to Madeline for the Van Gogh exhibit at the Pinacotheque de Paris since it was open late on Fridays. I read about this exhibit on a blog – it was a comparison of Van Gogh to a Japanese painter and the influence that the Japanese art had on Van Gogh. Very interesting concept and well explained in the exhibit. About 40 Van Gogh works. Not crowded so I could study the explanatory signage and see where VG followed the Japanese. The thing that intrigues me about VG is how prolific he was within a short time period so in the museum bookshop I bought a copy of the Penguin Classic version of The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh. Since I sometimes like the Cliff-notes approach, I’m also going to see if I can track down a copy of the old movie “Lust for Life”, with Kirk Douglas as Van Gogh. And, as proof to myself of the elucidating value of museums, I was struck by the Japanese paintings and bought a book of his art (Hiroshige) – done in the mid-19th century, they seem very modern and the people look almost like cartoons. Not at all what I expected so will learn about this style.
Started to snow heavily so Metro’d to Iena and walked across the river to the Eiffel Tower. Got some good photos of the photos and lights.
DAY 4 (Sat)
Woke up to a big snow from the night – about 3”, so walked to the Eiffel Tower for some photos; lots of people walking and playing in the snow.
Metro to Monceau, to the Musee Nissem de Camondo. Wow – what a great museum! Smallish, but lots to see, good audio guide (free) & very evocative. Built by wealthy collector who inherited his father’s banking fortune and built a home in 1910 in the 18th century style; each room had a different look (dark wood paneling in one; painted gilt in another; etc.) and the furnishings were all carefully chosen to blend with the room’s décor, so instead of just jamming collected items into the space, there was a logical plan and the overall effect is attractive – not like a museum. Lots of rugs from the 17th century, many of which belonged to Marie Antoinette. Two huge bathrooms, very modern, with subway-style tiles, gigantic tub, foot bath & bidet. The kitchen area looked just like the kitchen on Downton Abby – large stove, scullery, servants dining room and butler’s office. Love this kind of stuff! This museum was a great find – a very satisfying morning.
Had planned to visit an unusually colorful 19th c church (St. Eugene St. Cecil) but the Metro didn’t go there due to a fire on the tracks. Heard the announcement and picked up on the key words “terminee”, “pompe” and “arête”. Funny how most of the people on the train – who I’m sure were French – just sat there after the announcement, I guess hoping that they heard wrong! Then, they all trooped off the train and waited for the next one, and got one; same announcement was repeated with more emphasis on the “arête” and they got off for good. So, change of plans and went back to the great bakery of R. Turennes – another cherry tart and a hazelnut caramel tarte plus a super flaky croissant. Still needed someplace to go, so off to Place de Vosges since love the park, the buildings, etc. On my way there, I wandered past Gerard Mulot which I’ve read about so zipped right in and bought lots of stuff: millefeuille, fancy ham & emmenthaler pastry pie, orange brioche and a croissant.
Place de Vosges – had a great time, first wandering through all four arcade sides, checking out the art galleries and secondly, watching the kids & adults playing in the snow. Got a kick out of two teen age boys ambushing unwary pedestrians by throwing snowballs from the park over the fence, over the parked cars and into the arcades. They were so pleased with themselves, and acted all innocent, but having tons of fun. Grown ups made snowmen – some quite elaborate, with tricorn hats, sticks for arms, buttons, etc. and people taking their photo next to the snowmen.
Since I was in the neighborhood, I went back to Creperie Suzette and again had the Carnavalet galette but added a caramel crepe for dessert. Menu said “homemade” caramel and it sure tasted that way – buttery. It seemed like too much, but I took my time and finished it while listening to the French mother and her young daughter next to me.
Next, walked to Rue St Antoine and wandered along, stopped in a Monoprix and bought small things that pleased me – a few barrettes, washcloths, paring knife, hair dye and a cosmetic case; fleur de sel, herbs de provence, Cote D’or choc bars, cherry & litchi jam, tapenade, Maille mustard and Bonne Maman cookies). Finally, took Metro Bastille home (19 stops including the change).
DAY 5 (Sun)
Snowed during the night, so woke up to another 2-3” and still snowing – snowed all day (spurts of little flakes, then big flakes, then sleet, then back to snow).
Metro to St Sulpice for the 11:30 organ concert. Loved walking around this area, through the narrow, old streets – quiet, grey sky and grey buildings and squeaky snow. Arrived at St Sulplice at the end of a service, so heard some organ music; waited for the usual 11:30 concert but by noon it hadn’t’ happened. Saw the organist, Daniel Roth, who explained that he was doing auditions; plus, there were lots of boy and girl scouts at the service and a special reception, so I guess this particular Sunday was an anomaly. Knew I was going to the organ concert at St. Eustache @ 5:00, so wandered around St. Germain. Popped into Laduree for 10 macaroons and Paul for lunch. Somehow walked in a huge circle and ended back at St Sulplice (over 102,000 steps on my pedometer).
Made my way to St Severin which is one of my favorite churches to visit, due to the gargoyles and the very modern stained glass windows (all twisty, colorful, abstract depictions). Area right around St Severin is tacky – lots of restaurants that look like tourist traps, some complete with neon signs (even a Subway next to the church). Took several photos of the gargoyles with snow on them. Absorbed the windows and twisting, tree columns. Suddenly realized that I had to get moving in order to make a 2:30 walking tour, so off to M Sevres-Bablyon.
The tour (www.paris-walks.com) was the “French Resistance” which was OK but not enough walking (too much standing around in the snow was cold, plus it tires out my back & feet). Leader was pleasant and knowledgeable but not a super speaker and went off on tangents. I’ve taken several of their tours in the past and enjoyed them all even though some are better than others. I like the idea of getting to know a small, specific area and seeing places that you wouldn’t find on your own.
Two hours later, took M to Les Halles and walked to St Eustache. I like this church – it’s big, but lots of décor (fresco’d columns, chapels) to see (the Keith Haring triptych was removed for renovation though). For the concert, the heat was turned on and the chandeliers were lit – wow, it looked great! Concert was nice and 30 minutes was just right. Metro back home.
DAY 6 (Mon)
Snowed off and on all day. RER to D’Orsay and walked across the bridge to the Palais Royale metro stop to pick up the 10:30 walking tour “French Revolution”. The leader, Chris, was super with a sense of humor, focus and kept us on the move. Covered a fair amount of distance – very interesting about the shops within the Palais Royale area and the fact that it was a den of iniquity during the Rev. Saw other interesting spots and quite enjoyed this tour.
Walked to Madeline to check perfume prices at Sephora; couldn’t make up my mind and prices still seemed high, so decided to walk to the St. Eugene St Cecil church. Interesting walk, passed lots of fur coat makers and book dealers. Found the church but, grrrrrrrrr – it was closed on Mondays. Tired of walking, plus cold and damp, so stopped for lunch in a chain café. The croquet monsieur was mediocre but it was nice to relax and get warm.
Kept walking to Musee Gustave Moreau which ended up being quite a hike (plus a few wrong turns). Snow turned to sleet and back to flakes. Not a touristy area so interesting from that perspective. The museum was odd… it’s his house, so the first floor is four rather small rooms - study, dining room and two bedrooms – all of which were crammed with paintings. The next two floors were his atelier – another world entirely. Putting his art aside, I liked seeing an artist’s space – very high ceilings, lots of tall windows and a two-story winding staircase up to the 3rd floor atelier. But, his paintings didn’t strike me; very otherworldly, lots of mythological connotations and, not that I’m any kind of expert, but didn’t seem very well done. So, my question is was he a dilettante who had inherited money and wanted to paint and then donated his house and all paintings to the state or was he an accepted artistic painter? I’m siding toward the dilettante based on nothing more than my observations. Odd.
Walked to Havre-Caumartin, bought perfume and M home.
DAY 7 (Tues)
RER to CDG; AA flight delayed an hour; bought a Longchamp wallet in Duty-Free store (think it was the same price as Printemps but no tax).
Overall thoughts:
Loved seeing Paris in the snow and, realizing that this was the most snow they’d had since the ‘80s, I understand why snow shovels are non-existent…but it made walking around more of a chore.
Liked having an apt in a residential area but not being on a Metro “main line” was a pain since I had to transfer on practically every trip (and those transfers often require walking a l-o-o-o-n-g way).
For me, I need to get my shopping taken care of early in the trip, so that it’s not hanging over me (my own neurosis.)
The bubble wrap I brought was very useful for my perfume and various grocery store purchases.
Really like seeking out the smaller, lesser-known museums – Nissim de Camondo was the #1 hit of this trip. Had others on my list (including Zadkin, Public Assistance) but will have to do them next trip. Also like the small parks (Monceau, etc.)
Walking tours are a must-do.

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