Sun 4 May 2014
Paris is full of famous monuments known the world over that are a delight to see and visit. They are huge, seen from miles away and in many areas of Paris-turn a corner and there is one of them. The first time visitor has to see them all—the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame. Their presence is a testament to hundreds of years of history that rolled along in this part of the world, sometimes built on top of temples and relics from thousands of years before.
All of these shrines to man, and sometimes to God, should be seen. They are amazing. But sometimes it is refreshing to see a part of history from the not so distant past, as close as 150 years ago, in the galleries, or covered passages of Paris, which give one a feel for Paris as it was in the 19th century. These first “shopping malls” allowed shoppers respite from the weather, not to mention the open sewers and unpaved streets outside as Haussmann had not yet begun his monumental work which not only changed Paris to the city it is today, but constructed the much needed underground sewer system. There were 150 of these arcades by the mid 19th century but only 18 remain today, nearly all on the Right Bank. Each arcade that remains is unique. Some have been beautifully restored to their original splendor, some are slowly continuing their descent into disrepair.
It is possible to see seven of these arcades all in one area, some of them running in a straight line one following another. A good place to start is the Galerie Vero-Dodat located near Rue du Rivoli at 19 rue Jean-Jacques-Rousseau still remaining much as it was 150 years ago with its marble floors and painted ceilings.
From here, it is a short walk to Palais Royal, location of one of the most charming gardens in Paris often unvisited by visitors. Marvelous covered galleries run down each side of the building with columns and speared fences topped with gold marching along. Interesting shops line each side and Colette, a famous French writer, lived at the very end above the children’s playground.
Continue on through the archway on the right at the end of the garden, cross the narrow street and go up the stairs there, feeling like a Parisian who knows a great shortcut. You will enter a short alley called Passage des Deux Pavillions, with a store selling interesting postcards. Crossing the street turn right, then on left side of the street, across the street is Passage Vivienne, perhaps the most exquisite of all the remaining arcades with shafts of light coming down from the glass ceiling to the marble floor. Two great stops here are LeGrand Filles and Fils for a wine tasting or a great variety of wine accoutrements, such as wine glasses and cork screws. A little further down is A Priori The for a light lunch and a cup of tea. Next door is the Passage Colbert, now owned by the Bibliotheque Nationale.
Exit Passage Vivienne, turn right and walk to Passage Choiseul at 44 rue des Petits Champs. This one lacks charm and sophistication, a more working class environment, but is lined with interesting shops and it leads to Passage Panoramas, a short walk away at 10 rue St-Marc, which actually did once posses panoramas in two large rotundas, now gone. There are shops here selling stamps for serious collectors and some very interesting antique postcards-fun to look at to see how Paris has changed.
Directly across the street from here is one of my favorite passages, Passage Jouffroy lined with fun toy stores, kitchenware shops, small restaurants and the Musée Grévin, the equivalent of Madame Tussaud’s, home of wax figures of famous French people. This passage is a relaxing place to walk through, looking up at the clock near the roof, the glass ceiling, the feeling of time past, with its charm of simpler times. At the end, across the street, is yet one more, Passage Verdeau, a continuation of the previous two, but not as charming.
By exploring these five passages you have walked through the first, third and ninth arrondissements of Paris, a good way to see the city of light with some interesting shops and architecture along the way.
momondo has selected three expat bloggers in Paris to be #momondolocals to help them find interesting local experiences and this post is part of that project. Look out for it in their momondo Places app/on their blog, etc. Momondo