12 March 2011

Around the Sorbonne

Nearly every little neighborhood and street corner in the center part of Paris holds a hundred memories for me. The Latin Quarter was my neighborhood in the 1970s. I never really lived there, but I worked there as a teacher and student for several years.

Walt lived in the neighboring area over near St-Germain-des-Prés and the Jardin du Luxembourg in the early 1980s, and I worked over there then. For a few years in the late '80s and early '90s, we stayed in a hotel just outside the west gate of the Jardin du Luxembourg on our vacations, and really enjoyed that neighborhood.

The Sorbonne's main entrance is on the Rue des Ecoles.

For years after that, we didn't go to the Latin Quarter quite as much. Walt and I rented apartments in Paris for vacations between 1994 and until we moved to Saint-Aignan in 2003, sometimes twice a year, but we usually stayed on the Ile St-Louis, in the Marais, around Montparnasse, or in the 7th arrondissement between Les Invalides and the Tour Eiffel. I'm not sure why we didn't stay in the Latin Quarter.

This statue of the Renaissance essayist Michel de Montaigne
sits on the street across from the Sorbonne. Can you see
his "gold" shoe? That's the one that students
rub for good luck before they go into
the Sorbonne to take an exam.

Over the past 7 or 8 years, friends of ours from California have come to Paris several times and stayed in hotels in the Latin Quarter, on the Rue des Carmes and the Rue Sommerard, which are located between the Rue des Ecoles and the Boulevard St-Germain, near Place Maubert and the Sorbonne. We started going up to Paris to see them, and enjoying the neighborhood again after many years of spending time in other parts of Paris.

The Brasserie Balzar is a place right next door to the Sorbonne
where Walt and I have enjoyed some good French dinners.
It has long been a favorite with Sorbonne professors,
they say.

There are parts of the Latin Quarter that seem very touristy, but those sections are easy to avoid. The restaurants in those neighborhoods are not so good, serving mediocre food at high prices, and they are packed with foreigners. Hewever, many other areas of the Quarter, which is the 5th arrondissement of Paris, have held onto the flavor and feel of old Paris.

Did you know that the French croissant actually came to Paris
from Austria? This Viennese bakery has been in this location
in the Latin Quarter for at least 40 years, when I first
started buying pastries in the neighborhood.

The residents of the Latin Quarter aren't wealthy, but neither are they working class. Many are teachers or academics, since the 5th is where several the prestigious Paris lycées (secondary schools) and universities are located. The neighborhood feels kind of "shabby chic." Actually, the 5th is one of the oldest areas of Paris — it was settled by the Romans, and there are Roman ruins at the intersection of the Rue des Ecoles and the Boulevard Saint-Michel.

Over in the 6th, near St-Germain-des-Près,
is the old church of St-Sulpice.

So here are a few of my photo memories of the Latin Quarter and the St-Germain neighborhoods. I'm in North Carolina, watching non-stop coverage of the horrible earthquake damage in Japan and the Pacific tsunamis. I'm catching up with jet lag — the first night I slept from about 9:30 p.m. until 3 a.m. Then I was up and moving around for 19 hours, including a shopping trip and visits from my sister, an aunt, and a cousin.

Walt and I have good memories of inexpensive Italian
dinners at the Pizza Vesuvio near St-Germain over
the years. And now I have a good memory of an
Escalope de veau à la florentine (with spinach)
that I had there for lunch last Wednesday.

Then I slept from 10 p.m. last night until 7 a.m. this morning. I needed that. The sun is shining right now and my mother and I have to go out on a shopping expedition later this morning — I need clothes and shoes. I brought hardly anything with me, in anticipation of filling my suitcase with U.S. goods that are a lot less expensive than the clothes and shoes available in France. At any rate, there are not a lot of shopping opportunities around Saint-Aignan. It's a real American experience to hit the stores.


  1. I brought my sister, and later, Elliot, to eat at that Pizza Vesuvio in trips with them to Paris :) Great memories.

    I love these Paris photos, and feel so fortunate to have my own memories of Paris. It REALLY is time for a return trip.


  2. Pizza Vesuvio is on my list of places to go this summer!

    I agree that the 5th is a great place to stay, especially since the RER makes it so convenient for travel to CDG.

    Shopping here is really amazing, I hope you find lots of bargains.

  3. Isn't jet lag amazing? It always takes me 9 days to get rid of it going back to France, but only 2 days coming back.
    Have fun shopping.

  4. Ah La brasserie Balzar- one place we never missed on each visit. I like its " museaux de boeuf" that I can't get in Montréal.

  5. Looks like the Brasserie Balzar is going on the list for the next visit to Paris.
    As teenager used stay in a hotel on the place St Sulpice (then inexpensive, now very upmarket and expensive)when my mother took me on visits to Paris; the 6th & 7th was her old stamping ground (she had lived & worked in Paris in the '50s)

    As I recall the baguette also orginated in Vienna in the mid 19th cent.
    Enjoy NC

  6. Nice post, Ken. We pretty much always stay in the 5th at Hotel d'Albe. It is on the Rue de la Harpe, one block in from the Quai St Michel. Great location and nice rooms for a reasonable price.

    Love the Jardins du Luxembourg too -so peaceful. However, we discovered that Dalloyau was across the street last trip and pigged out on chocolates and macaroons. Don't think I've been to Balzar, but noted for future visits.

  7. Ken, enjoy your visit with your family!

  8. Great memories and stories. Have you found/do you remember the corner or address of the Pierwige?

  9. The first hotel I ever staying in in Paris was on rue du Sommerard, and we've been eating at Balzar for years, walking over there from our apartment in St-Germain des Pres, passing Pizza Vesuvio and Patisserie Viennoise on the way.

    After all these years we finally discovered the rue des Ciseaux, the tiny street where Vesuvio sits. Several really good Asian restaurants on that street, which we'd been walking past without ever exploring for ages. http://areweinparisyet.blogspot.com/2010/11/soup-season.html

    Have a good time in NC. Let us know next time you come through Paris.

  10. I spent a summer in that area working on a Rockefeller grant research project. I think my hotel was in the rue d'Arras...can't remember the name, even though I stayed there for 6 weeks.

  11. I think it's sweet that at your age you still want to go shopping with your mother.

  12. Susan, LOL! Shopping gives us something to do and we run into all kinds of people that I haven't seen in years. MA recognizes them; I don't.

  13. That Vesuvio restaurant is, I think, my favourite pizza place.


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