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Back in the Middle of Paris

Professor Arnie Greenberg

Imagine a month without English newspapers, television, radio or any conversation more than “Where ya, from?” or “where’s the Louvre?”

Imagine a Canadian not seeing snow once during the month of January.

Imagine too a month in a small Apt. no bigger than my kitchen at home and a bathroom so small you hit your elbows on the walls when you turn around or get out of the shower. Well, it sounds too much to bear but the truth is, I’m coming to the end of one of the best months I’ve had in five years. Here I am in the city of my dreams, in the best district of Paris and on the cutest street I know. I look out of my third storey window through tree branches barren of foliage at a narrow non parking corner with one of those cute little French hotels you see in pictures. The sounds are muffled but the street is the answer to all my desires right now. Its home while I escape my real home and get back to why I work so hard and why I’ve learned to be aggressive, motivated and anxious.

It was a month in Paris with warm clothing and my laptop that I waited for these long months since I last ventured from home. Here I am surrounded by strangers and without a car I have learned to walk again and I actually find public transportation fun.

Unlike my regular routine, I rise late, walk to the bakery for my fresh baguette, that long crunchy bread fresh from the oven and under the arm of all my neighbors as they too wend their way home for breakfast of the best bread I know, hot coffee and total relaxation. The sun enters my tiny space through two twelve foot high windows and warms my semi heated room while I gather my thoughts, check my email and plan my day.

There are chores like laundry and shopping but I try to see at least one museum a day and find the hardest part selecting which one to see. The fact that they are not open every day solves my problem, especially on Mondays and Tuesdays. So far, I’ve managed to visit the unbelievable Bibliotheque Nationale, the National Library. It’s on the edge of the river at the south eastern end and consists of four towers on each corner of a huge treed space standing tall and looking like four open books. Inside there is everything you think a library should offer and more. It is spacious, well stocked, well staffed and modernly comfortable. It is a recent addition to a great library system, inaugurated by Francois Mitterand, who, I might add, lived only a block from my apartment. I’m sure his was much larger.

I’ve managed to visit the Museum of Shah, Fragonard Perfume Museum, The Jewish Art and History Museum, The Paris Crypt, The Cluny, The Jacquemart- Andree, The Carnavolet Musium of Paris, and a special private collection viewing of the Senate including Cezannes, Renoirs and many of the greats of past.

I have seen Rodin’s beautiful manor and collection and I walked in awe of those great Frenchmen who lie in the Pantheon. I have seen the War Museum at Les Invalides and a small manor house filled with the life work of painter Gustave Moreau.

And between visits I’ve eaten at sandwich shops, bistros, out of the way restaurants where I tried food from all regions and many countries. I had crepes in the Brittany area of Montparnasse, coffee and cake at Le Coupole, Hot chocolate at Le Flore and a long list of drinks at a long list of watering holes. I visited some of the great spots like the Relais Christine, Hotel Laetitia, Hotel Des Grandes Ecoles on rue Cardinal Lemoine and discovered new places to add to future lists like Bouillon Racine near the old Odeon Theatre and available in a wonderful art deco ambiance since 1906. On rue Buci across from the market, I discovered Café Jade, a place filled with atmosphere and large letters spelling out the great figures of the French Arts scene including Gertrude Stein, Niki de St Phalle, Picasso and Max Jacob.

And speaking of Picasso, I visited the Bateau Lavoire where he and Max Jacob once lived and was happy walking around the Alexander Nevsky Church where Picasso and Olga Koklova were married. I even walked by their apartment on rue Boetie but was disappointed that there was no plaque on the door.

I saw other plaques while I walked around like the one showing Hemingway’s house on Cardinal Lemoine, Gertrude Stein’s on rue de Fleurus and another on a tiny street that said both George Sand and Isadora Duncan had lived there.

I laughed as I watched people skating on the ice rink in front of the Hotel De Ville.

I ate crepes on the street, sipped wine standing at my window and walked, walked, walked. Today I walked from the Etoile to Parc Monceau where I watched people doing Tai Chi. I Crossed the bridge behind the Notre Dame a dozen times on my way to the Ile St Louis or the Marais.

My trusty camera worked overtime as did I but each day I returned to my tiny space filled with the sounds, tastes and smells of the city I dream about when I’m not here. I am recognized at the bakery, the market, the cyber café,

And at Panis where I stop for coffee on my way home.

This past year I’ve been to Italy for five weeks and here for a month. I am overjoyed that I will spend May and June in China and Russia. But right now I’m filled with Paris. It is the only city I know where I’m perfectly at ease. Speaking French is an asset but you can get by without it. Gertrude Stein was right. “Its not what Paris gives you that’s important. It’s what Paris doesn’t take way that’s important.”

Tomorrow I’ll walk through the rows of graves at Pere Lachaise Cemetery. Like every visit here, I’ll end with a visit to Gertrude’s grave. It was through her life that I came to know Paris and after all these years and all these visits to her grave, I’ll say thank you, once again.

Next week it’s all over. I leave here but I’m not sad. Gertrude was right. “We all went to Paris. It was where we had to be.”

I’ll be back.

Are you still undecided about visiting Paris? Let me know your fears. I’ll show you how you can turn a foreign city into a welcoming place to visit.

A word of advice. Come here when it’s a bit warmer. September or October is nice. November can be wet and January is the coldest. But the apartments are cheaper and the city less crowded. There is no snow and you can leave your heavy boots behind. For me, that was enough reason to come here.

PS: I’m organizing a River Cruise from Russia to Moscow on May 28th. If you want to know more about it, contact me at  or look at

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You can Contact Professor Arnie Greenberg at


Over the past few years, Professor Greenberg has traveled with groups to France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, Prague and both Sorrento and the Bay of Naples plus most of Sicily. His tours traveled to the far reaches of the globe including Italy and most of China (Beijing -Hong Kong) and to Russia where his group cruised the waters from St.Petersburg to Moscow. 

"He took a group to Greece and another to northern Russia. In Nov 07 he took a tour group to much of India and ended his tour groups by revisiting France. He now travels with his wife and friends. They winter in Argentina or San Miguel Mexico.  His newly found spare time is taken up with his painting and writing. "I must write every day." His current work is a cautionary manual for would-be tour leaders..  "So You Want To Be A Tour Leader." 

Arnie now travels with friends. He continues writing Travel articles about unusual places but often concentrates on novel writing. Two books based on French Art will be published this year.  Keep reading his web for travel ideas.  His next novel HELLSTORM'S Folly, will be available this fall. He now lives in British Columbia.

Go to: or contact him directly at

(More about the writer.)


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