Carnet de Voyage: A Vintage Paris Travelogue 

Carnet de Voyage: A Vintage Paris Travelogue 

Travel notes from the real France. Carnet de Voyage is a weekly personal travel story in France sent in by readers. If you’d like to write a story for Carnet de Voyage, head here for details on how to submit.

I packed a basic travel art kit and imagined myself back in Paris after a nearly 40-year hiatus. It was a trip I’d dreamt of all those years. As I zipped shut a pouch full of glue sticks, watercolors, pens, pencils, and brushes, I felt a jumble of nervousness and excitement.   

I was a young woman in college on my first visit to Paris. Making my return, I’d just turned 60. Was much changed in the city I’d held so close to my heart after all those years? Would it still hold the wonder and magic for me that it did then?   

Any apprehension I may have had disappeared the moment the wheels of the jet left the ground. I was going back to Paris. I was giddy! Allons-y! 

For months, I’d imagined my first morning in Paris – meeting the host of my Montmartre apartment, dropping off my bags, and going straight to a café for strong espresso and a croissant.  As I thought about my trip, I began to imagine the carnet de voyage, the travel journal, I would create on this very special return to Paris. 

I’ve been creating journals, artist notebooks, on all of my trips for many years. I create them by repurposing old books and filling them with menus, metro tickets, museum guides, and pocketed treasures collected while visiting my destination. Putting my travel journal together before departure intensifies my excitement about the journey. For this trip however, I had another plan. 

I had decided to make my journal, from start to finish in Paris, starting with a visit to the Marché aux Puces de Vanves and the Marché du Livre Ancien et dOccasion, the old and used book market in the Parc Georges Brassens. I headed to both places on my very first day in Paris. Here I found the perfect old book to use as my journal cover, along with beautiful French ephemera – postcards, letters, hand-calligraphed documents, vintage lace, button cards…so many treasures.   

Returning to my apartment on Butte Montmartre, loaded down with old books and papers, a bottle of wine, a wedge of Camembert, a jar of pâté, and a basket of strawberries, I settled in to create. By the end of the evening, I had taken apart one of my books, cut papers to fit within the cover, and began chronicling the day’s adventure at the flea markets. 

© Tammy Gilley

Mindful that I would spend most of my days on foot exploring Paris, I created a book that would fit in my bag with my pouch containing a small tin of watercolors and travel paintbrushes, a pen, a glue stick, a small ruler, and a tiny pair of scissors. I wanted to be able to sit in a café, on a museum bench, on the steps in front of Sacré Coeur, and pull out my book and supplies to capture a memory, affix a receipt from lunch to a page, or write a postcard to myself and tuck it between pages. 

I was in Paris for ten days, and with each day my travel journal got fatter and fatter, full of items gathered throughout my explorations, photos taken on my phone to be printed that evening in my apartment with my pocket printer, a feather picked up near the Tour Eiffel, a bookmark from Shakespeare and Company, and so many other little treasures that would help me relive my wonderful reunion with a city I hold so dear once I returned home and to the busy-ness of life. 

As it turned out, Paris had not changed all that much in my 40-year absence, and neither, really, had I.  Bien sûr, certain modern conveniences were evident, as were my grey hair and laugh lines. But at her soul, Paris was still the City of Light I remembered with such fondness and she spoke to my heart as if we’d never parted. 

Read our other Carnet de Voyage entries here.

© Tammy Gilley

Tammy Gilley has been a Francophile since early childhood. In 7th grade she was able to begin French classes, which she took all the way through college, culminating in a trip as an exchange student to Paris and then Avignon in Provence. She teaches travel art journaling to takers of journeys and finders of treasures who want to capture memories in a bespoke, keepsake artist book. In 2022 she turned 60 and travelled to Paris for the first time since she was 21 years old. She returned again to Paris to lead her first vintage travel journal workshop in the fall of 2023, showing other curious souls how to capture that Paris feeling and take it back home with them in their own ‘carnets de voyage’.   

Lead photo credit : Tammy in front of the Sacré Coeur basilica

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  •  Trekker Dave
    2024-04-03 09:40:24
    Trekker Dave
    It's amazing how we invest so much time in learning French and French culture, only to drop it all for decades because reality gets in the way. Kudos to you for getting back! And thanks for sharing your story, and your journal!


    • Tammy Gilley
      2024-04-17 07:30:23
      Tammy Gilley
      So true! Thanks so much for leaving a comment here. I just realized people could do that! Thank you for reading my article. I’m so glad you enjoyed it. I’m headed back to Paris in June. So excited!


  •  Jane Burgess
    2024-04-03 08:30:03
    Jane Burgess
    We lived in France on our peniche for almost seven years. It was the most amazing time in our lives. Meandering and enjoying so much of the people and the sights each region had to offer. Our first winter on arrival onboard “drumsara” was spent in the Arsenal in the centre of Paris. We spent six months walking this amazing city with our two huskies. So this weeks Carnet struck a very emotional chord with me. Thank you so much , I enjoyed your article and felt your emotion. France has always been my second “heart home”.


    • Tammy Gilley
      2024-04-17 07:32:38
      Tammy Gilley
      Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a comment! Your years in France sound so dreamy. Would love to have an opportunity to do something similar. In the meantime, I’m off to Nice and Provence next month. Can’t wait! Cheers!


  •  Doug Mendenhall
    2024-01-30 05:11:19
    Doug Mendenhall
    This is so cool... what an inspiring story - makes me want to travel - and those journals - wow wow wow!! thank you.


  •  graham
    2024-01-26 06:24:56
    Paris has changed tremendously in the past 40 years. Since the Bacalan terrorist attacked all museums have strong security and scanning at the entrance. The Louvre has more than doubled in size and added the pyramid entrance. Gare d’Orsay has become a museum. Several completely new buildings are museums: the Arab World Institute, Fondation Cartier, Fondation Louis Vuitton. Les Halles was demolished, built, demolished, re-built again. Two new mero lines. The RER has doubled in size. The new financial center in La Defense has been built. Paris has replaced the old buses with new ones that are accessible.