Saturday, October 26, 2013

Our Little Cherche-Midi Apartment

Old leather armchair, mid-century brass clad coffee table, 
zebra skin, vintage globe light, books galore!

B joined a Philippine business mission that spent 2 nights in Paris, and 1 night in Bordeaux. Of course I was going to tag along but it was going to be too short a trip for too long a flight, so I made a deal:  If you want a roommate, can we stay 3 more nights in Paris on the way home? (Although I wanted to say one-week more, I was being realistic and mindful of his business schedule).

Still, this was not going to be a quick fly-in, fly-out workaholic trip. That is being too disrespectful to Paris!

Black and white photographs on the walls

We decided on the trip rather late so I didn't know if I could still find a suitable apartment online for our 3 extra nights. And then I lucked out! An apartment right on Rue du Cherche-Midi, in the 6th, was available on the exact 3 nights we needed! Our host was squeezing us in between two other week-long bookings she had.

 Our host said almost all the furniture and tabletop decor came from fleamarkets and brocantes

It was a third floor walk-up, but I didn't think twice since we could use the exercise. It was also tiny at 36 m2, but compared to a hotel room in the same area, which is about 18m2, this was going to be luxurious.

Best of all, the price was right.

 Kartell Bourgie lamp and Philip Starck ghost chair

Rue du Cherche-Midi is an exciting street for me. There are the numerous home design stores,  brocante stores, the restaurant Chez Dumonet, the bakery Poilane, Le Bon Marche and Le Grand Epicerie down the get the visual. (My heart is racing just typing this).

Bon Marche department store

Upon entering the tiny apartment, I was happy as  it was tastefully decorated with old flea market finds--wonderfully creative, homey, comfortable--just my type of place.  The one-bedroom apartment was expertly laid out and seemed much bigger than its actual 36m2.

It's always amazing to stay in 5-star luxurious hotels but I save that experience for places in Asia where one gets the most bang for the buck.  In Europe, luxurious hotels are so expensive that it hurts not only the pocketbook but also the conscience.

 iconic mid-century Nagel modular chrome candelabra 
(Ahem, notice the correct order of my adjectives--print these writing tips for you and your kids)

The cost of our three nights here was  going to be equivalent to one night at the  Sofitel Faubourg, where we were booked with the group (and I overheard that we were already given an extra special deal for those Sofitel nights!) I was pleased.

Then it just happened that it is decorated in a way that speaks directly to my soul?!  What a stroke of luck! I went from pleased to ecstatic.

It turns out that our host's boyfriend is a brocanteur and interior designer. No wonder the interior design is a deliberate mix of iconic finds. It is done up very confidently too--low key, practical and tasteful.  There were tons of French interior design magazines on the bookshelves of the apartment.

I was conflicted--should stay in and devour all the design magazines (it didn't stop raining all weekend)?  Or go out and rummage through the weekend brocantes? This is Paris... we have to go out--rain or rain!  In the end we did both.

This particular trip was filled with so many highlights for me; the people in the group were all wonderfully warm and gracious, and the events we attended were exceptionally special.

 I didn't take a photo of the opposite wall--she had lovely cookbooks and the pantry was stocked with high quality olive oil and balsamic, artisan sea salt.

Simple as it was, this well-located, tasteful little Cherche-Midi apartment was also a highlight for me and the perfect epilogue to a very memorable trip.

don't I look thrilled?

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Marais, Hotels Particuliers and Place de Vosges

Let me introduce you to the Marais, one of my favorite areas of Paris.

Paris is neatly divided into 20 districts called "arrondissements" (Ah-hrohn-dees-mohng), starting with 1 at the center, spiraling clockwise in the shape of a snail. Each of these arrondissements has its own particular atmosphere. Check out this post by a New Yorker on the different Paris districts.

Pedestrian street Rue de Rosier at night

I know many people who prefer to stay in the upscale residential neighborhood of the 7th, and in the expensive St. Honore area of the 8th, where all the high-end boutiques are located. Then I also have friends who favor the energy of the student-populated 5th--the Latin quarter.  Saint Germain de Pres, the 6th, is actually my favorite, but then it's also almost everyone's favorite.

The 4th arrondisement and part of the 3rd is known as the Marais (Mah-hrheh--French accent please).  It's trendy, hip, and happening. It's also the  historic Jewish quarter, and the gay area.

I'm not trendy or hip, nor Jewish or gay--but I always like to know what's the buzz.

The garden of the  hotel particuliers Carnavalet

Way back even before the 1600s the Marais was the favorite district of rich. Many aristocrats had urban private homes here-- known in French as "hotel particuliers".  In 1700-something, when Louis XIV and his gang moved from the Marais to Versailles, Marais lost its exclusivity.

The Marais then attracted merchants, became a commercial area, eventually got overpopulated, run down and depressed--remaining that way for a long time. While Hausmann re-designed much of Paris, giving it its grand boulevards and neat buildings, the Marais' small narrow streets remained untouched.

It was only in the 1960's that many hotels particuliers were restored because of some government heritage preservation law.

(That is few hundred years of French history condensed into a few sentences--I know, shortcut. Sorry!)

Because of all the restoration going on in the 60s, the Marais began to flourish again. Today it is considered one of the trendiest arrondisements in all of Paris.  It is said that fashion you see in the streets and shops of the Marais will most likely become the general trend the following year.

The Marais' narrow streets are filled with cafes and restaurants, art galleries, fashion boutiques and one-of-a-kind artisan shops. Many antique and brocante stores are also concentrated in Village Saint Paul.

Many of the restored hotel particuliers now house important museums (many don't charge an entrance fee!).

The garden of Hotel Lamoignon (which houses the archives of Paris) is open the public.

The shops in the Marais remain open on Sundays while everything else around Paris is closed! On Sundays too in the summer,  motorists are blocked from going into the Marias. Only pedestrians and bikers are allowed in.
I discovered the Marais for the very first time around 6 years ago when we booked an apartment  instead of staying with Bea in her apartment in the 15th.  When she found out I booked an apartment in the Marais, she worried that we booked a seedy dump in an undesirable area.

 Our first experience in a Paris rental was a one-bedroom on Rue des Rosiers

 Artsy tableware

Imagine her surprise when she saw our spacious, artistic, comfortable, fully-equipped apartment right in the heart of the Marais. This unit was a pied-a-terre of a woman who lived in Hawaii.

It turned out to be a wonderful find and we felt like locals, enjoying the energy of the Marais.

A whole closet of books at our disposal

Since that experience, I've preferred apartments to hotels and have also stayed in the Marais a few more times. 

The front door of our rental apartment on Rue Francs Bourgeois last summer

Parallel to Rue des Rosier is Rue Francs Bourgeois--one of the main shopping streets of the Marais. We stayed in an apartment here last summer. From our first-floor window, I would watch the scene below while having breakfast. I tried to see if I could tell the chic Parisians apart from the not-as-chic tourists (I wish I took more photos ala Sartorialist).


Rue des Franc Bourgeois runs straight into the Place de Vosges, the very first square in the whole of Paris.  How wonderful is it to see a huge lawn of green in the middle of the metropolis? Among the famous residents of the Place de Vosges was Victor Hugo.

 Getting some sun in the Place de Vosges

Also right on  Francs Bourgeois is the Musee Carnavalet, originally a hotel particulier. It is now a museum showcasing the history of Paris.  Musee Carnavalet deserves a dedicated post.

I probably lived in a hotel particulier in my past life--maybe as a servant who lit the candles. That would explain my fascination for chandeliers (and all things old and French!)

The garden of Hotel Sully

The Center Pompidou, which is the home of modern art is also located in the Marais but at the opposite end from the Place des Vosges.

The building is a wild contrast to the quaint streets of the neighborhood, just like how the modern I.M. Pei glass pyramid contrasts against the renaissance-style Louvre, and how my future acrylic coffee table (I am still looking for it) will contrast against the rococo-style mirror in my living room. 

More than the trendiness and the shops of the Marais, I like the history of the area, and specifically love the hotel particuliers. On one trip,  I went finally went inside a few of them. I was instantly enamored.  If you love French interiors of the Versailles kind, you will be too.

The Marais is the very first arrondisement of Paris I got to know well--only because of that fluke of booking that Rue des Rosier apartment.

On a recent business trip, we met a young Philippine embassy lady who lived in Paris (we weren't staying in the Marais on this trip) and when she was trying to explain to us where exactly she lived--as it is not really in most Pinoys' radar of places to stay-- "I live in this area, umm...which is the jewish area..."  I interrupted with "the Marais? I know the Marais..."  Her eyes lit up.  I instantly felt young and trendy, just like her.

Coincidentally, her apartment was on Rue Francs Bourgeois too, just a hop and a skip from the apartment we had the summer before!

We ended up having drinks the next couple of nights in "our 'hood".

The view from Rap's 4th floor apartment on Rue Francs Bourgeois

Every arrondisement in Paris has its own charm, with art and culture, shops, cafes. But the history of the Marais, and the way it has evolved over the years is unique. Even if I stay in other arrondisements, I always seem to gravitate towards his area--it has become one of my favorite places in Paris.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Peaches for Breakfast

If you're lucky enough to come across fresh peaches, this is a delicious way to to have them for breakfast.

 Chop them up, and with skin on, pan grill them.

I had really good butter, so I put some in.

That browned it nicely.

Cool that. Then top with chilled mascarpone cheese. Top with walnuts and a teaspoon of honey.

Another variation is to put the warm peaches on top of previously frozen low fat greek yogurt.  I love the contrast of hot and cold.

Is this too healthy for you, C?


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