Good coffee in Paris. 5: Strada café

Strada Café has been open since 2014, and serves up a wide range of excellent coffee, wonderful home made cakes, breakfasts, sandwiches and salads. The atmosphere is very relaxed, the free wifi means it’s a great place to while away a few hours, and the service is friendly and laid back. The one we went to is on rue Monge in the heart of the Latin Quarter, there is also one in the Marais.

  • Strada Café, 24 rue Monge, 75006 Paris. metro: Cardinal Lemoine

Open Mon-Fri 8:00 – 18:30, Sat & Sun 10:00 – 18:30

Strada Café website in English

Shakespeare and Company

It’s impossible to write about places to visit in Paris without talking about Shakespeare and Company. It’s a landmark, a piece of literary and Parisian history, an institution, a place of pilgrimage for young writers and literature lovers from all over the world, and now with the recent opening of their new café, a wonderful place to hang out and enjoy good food and great books.

The original Shakespeare and Company was founded in 1919 by an American, Sylvia Beach, on the rue de l’Odeon in the 6th arrondissement. Selling English language books, her shop became a meeting place for the writers of the ‘Lost Generation’ who flocked to Paris in the 1920s – Ernest Hemingway, F Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, TS Eliot, Ezra Pound and many more, including perhaps most famously James Joyce, whose Ulysses she published for the first time in 1922 – nobody was prepared to publish it at the time. The shop you see today was opened in 1951 by another American, Geroge Whitman, and it also quickly became a mecca for writers of the Beat Generation such as Allen Ginsberg and William S Burroughs. In fact over 30,000 aspiring writers, or ‘Tumbleweeds’ as they are known, have stayed there over the years, the bookshop provides them with a free room in return for helping around the shop and reading a book a day! Don’t miss the motto above the door: ‘Be not inhospitable to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise’.

shakespeare-company-cafe-paris

More recently, George Whitman’s dream of opening a literary café in the building next door, has been realised by his daughter Sylvia Beach Whitman, who now runs the bookshop. The café was opened in partnership with the popular Bob’s Bake Shop, serving mainly vegetarian food, good coffee, and George’s special recipe lemon pie.

It’s hard to do justice to such a fascinating and historic place as Shakespeare & Company in a short blog post. If you are interested in learning more about it I recommend you read this Vanity Fair article or check out the history section on the bookshop’s website. A great book I can also highly recommend is ‘Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation – A History of Literary Paris in the Twenties and Thirties’ by Noel Riley Fitch.

Better still, drop in when you are in Paris, lose yourself amongst the thousands of books and the many rooms and corridors of the shop, or attend a poetry reading or a talk by a writer – you’ll soon feel the magic of this very special place.

  • Shakespeare and Company Bookshop, 37 rue de la Bucherie, 75005 Paris.  metro: St Michel

The main shop is open daily 10:00 – 23:00. The café is open Mon-Fri 9:30 – 19:00, Sat and Sun 9:30 – 20:00

Shakespeare & Company website

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The Arenes de Lutece – a Roman arena in the Latin Quarter

Did you know that tucked away in the Latin Quarter is a Roman arena built in the first century that was once the site of gladiator combats? Nowadays the gladiators have been replaced by petanque players and footballers, but the arena is still clearly visible.

In it’s heyday it could hold 17,000 spectators, and was home to not only gladiators, but theatre and lion combats (it’s believed the cages under the seating area may have been to house the lions). Slaves, the poor and women sat at the top, Roman men sat on the best seats around the arena. It was one of the longest amphitheaters in Europe, but when Paris was sacked by the Barbarians in 290 AD most of the stone was taken away to be used elsewhere to defend the city, and the arena was eventually filled in and forgotten, for over 17 centuries.

It was rediscovered during works to build the rue Monge in 1860, Victor Hugo wrote a letter to the local council defending it from proposed destruction, but they were not restored until 1917. What you can see nowadays is mainly renovation, but it remains a fascinating place, almost unknown, apart from a few locals, and a tranquil place to sit and reflect on 20 centuries of Parisian history.

  • Arenes de Lutece, 49 rue Monge, 75005 Paris. metro: Cardinal Lemoine or Jussieu
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La Grande Mosquée de Paris

The Grande Mosquée de Paris in the Latin Quarter was built from 1922 to 1926, initially to honor the 100 000 muslims from the French colonial empire who fell fighting for France in World War I. Constructed in the Hispano-Moorish style after the el-Qaraouiyyin mosque in Fez (one of the most ancient in the world) it is dominated by a spectacular 33m high square minaret – inspired by the Zitouna mosque in Tunisia – and is set around a beautiful central patio that is also reminiscent of the Alhambra in Granada. It serves as both a place of religious worship, a centre of Islamic culture and as a place of learning – it is home to a historic library and an Islamic school, and is an important symbol of Franco-Arab friendship.

It is the oldest mosque in France, and you can visit it with or without a guide (entry is 3€). It has been built and since restored by craftsmen from North Africa, and the traditional workmanship, particularly in the tiling and woodwork is extraordinarily beautiful. Note that entrance to the prayer rooms is restricted to Muslim visitors only.

From the rue Geoffrey St Hilaire you can enter two beautiful courtyards, where you can order a sweet pastry or a lokoum (Turkish delight) and then sit under the shade of a tree and wait for the waiters to pass by with trays of delicious hot mint tea. Sipping the sweet tea, smelling the jasmine blossoms on the trees and listening to the birds singing, you are a world away from the bustle of the city outside.

There is also a women only hammam and a restaurant serving typical North African food.

Café Grande Mosquée de Paris

  • Grande Mosquée de Paris, 2 Place Puits de l’Ermite, 75005. metro: Place Monge or Censier Daubenton

Mosque: open daily except Fridays, 9:00-12:00 and 14:00-18:00

Tea room and restaurant: open daily 12:00 – midnight

Good coffee in Paris. 2: Coutume Instituutti

This laid back café is housed inside the sleek and beautiful Finnish Institute in the 5th arrondissement. Not only does it serve wonderful coffee (check out their Facebook page for news about their speciality and seasonal brews) but also delicious traditional Finnish cakes and pastries. It’s bright, spacious and relaxed, the long tables are shared, it’s a great place to work (although look for the the notices on the tables, some are computer free spaces!) plays cool music and holds temporary exhibitions and evening concerts too.

  • Coutume Instituutti, 60 rue des Ecoles, 75005. metro: Odeon

NOTE! The café is currently closed as the Finnish institute is using the space to build KOTI, a 5 month pop up celebrating 100 years of Finnish independance.

Open Tues – Sat 9:00 – 18:00 and Sun 10:00 – 18:00

Les bouquinistes – vintage booksellers along the river Seine

I was recently told that the Seine is said to be the only river in the world that runs between two bookshelves. This of course refers to the ‘bouquinistes’, the second hand and antiquarian booksellers that have their iconic green boxes along the banks of the river. The booksellers were granted their concessions along the river in 1859, and there are now around 240 of them, with the boxes containing a total of over 300 000 books.  The concessions are highly prized and apparently hard to come by, and the bouquinistes were listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991.

The rules are quite strict, the boxes must have specific dimensions and all look the same. Each bouquiniste is allowed a maximum of 4 boxes: 3 must contain books, the fourth can sell stamps, souvenirs, old magazines or postcards. They must open 4 days a week minimum, whatever the weather (you’ll usually find them open in the afternoons).

Strolling along the riverside and exploring the bouquinistes is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon. Most of the books are in French, they range from paperbacks to collectors items, but for those who don’t read French you can also find some beautiful old posters (most are reproductions) and copies of old maps of the city, which I particularly love. The green boxes have become one of the well loved symbols of the city, the views across the river are spectacular, and you may even be able to pick up a treasure or two.

  • On the Right Bank from Pont Marie to Quai du Louvre, and the Left Bank from Quai de la Tournelle to Quai Voltaire

The Jardin des Plantes

If you’re over in the 5th arrondissement, and feel like you need some fresh air and green open spaces, head to the Jardin des Plantes. Much loved by Parisians, it has been open to the public for 400 years and houses a zoo (created in 1793, the second oldest in the world), the Natural History Museum, and the gardens of the botany school, as well as 4 tropical greenhouses that have recently been renovated.

The park is beautiful, and although it’s not the kind of place you can sit and picnic on the grass (the man with the whistle will appear and shoo you off!) you can sit on the benches and eat and it’s a lovely place for a walk, especially if you like flowers.

Afterwards head to the Institut du Monde Arabe, just a short walk away, for a mint tea and some of the best views of Notre Dame from their rooftop terrace. Take the lift up to the 9th floor and admire the beautiful sunsets over the cathedral. The terrace is free, there is a restaurant there but the views are open to everyone.

  • Jardin des Plantes
  • 57 rue Cuvier, 2 rue Buffon, 36 rue Geoffroy-Saint-Hilaire, place Valhubert 75005 Paris. metro Gare d’Austerlitz, Censier Daubenton or Jussieu

Open daily, 07:30 – 20:00 in summer and until 17:30 in winter.

  • Institut du Monde Arabe
  • I rue des Fossés St Bernard, 75005 Paris. Open until 6pm. Closed Tuesdays

The oldest tree in Paris

Recently I discovered a tree that has been living in Paris for over four centuries. Planted in 1601, this Robinier (from the acacia family) was brought over from America by Jean Robin, the king’s gardener, and has lived just across the road from Notre Dame ever since.

Although it looks slightly wonky, and is now supported by concrete posts, this venerable old tree is lovingly cared for by the municipal gardeners. If you’re visiting Notre Dame, pop over the road and go and see it, it’s located in a tiny square just in front of the church of St Julien le Pauvre and there are plenty of benches where you can sit and relax and muse on all the history that this amazing tree must have witnessed.

  • Square René Viviani – Montebello, 75005 Paris