Carnet de Voyage: Notes from Paris, Pre-Pandemic

Carnet de Voyage: Notes from Paris, Pre-Pandemic

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.

A Morning on Ile St. Louis

I bet 17th century and Rich agrees. That’s our first impression of our pied-à-terre for the next three months: a Paris apartment on Ile St. Louis. 

The features Americans usually love are here. A staircase confined within massive wood railings, the steps edged with ancient wood. High beamed ceilings, grooved and gouged with age. Undulating tile floors. An entry door, probably recycled from a dungeon. It needs a good push to open. 

Inside, the apartment is furnished in both vintage and Ikea. A cupboard proclaims its age on numbers carved on its middle door: 1779. It faces an Ikea-style loveseat sofa bed that looks more worn-out than any of the old furniture. It is the only soft, lounge-y piece in a living room full of large, hard surfaces and is a bit shabby from use. 

On our first morning, we go to a fromagerie a few doors from us. It is about 9:30 and the length of the street, ordinarily teeming with tourists, is quiet and nearly deserted. We choose three cheeses. The selection here is ample but not as varied as another fromagerie, a few blocks down the street. La Ferme Saint-Aubin has been around a long time, and happily, is still there. This new one was not here during our previous stay. 

An unexpected little event perks me up a bit. A face well-known to French filmgoers pops in, his toddler perched on his shoulders and his wife a couple of paces behind. He came in just to say hello to the cheese merchants. 

Daniel Auteuil. I saw him, for the first time, in the haunting, lyrical film, Manon of the Springs—an uncouth, tragic, almost ugly rube trying to romance an ethereally beautiful and virginal Emmanuelle Beart. Rich, staring with knitted brow at the euros in his hand, misses him. 

From the fromagerie, we go to a bakery where we used to get the best almond croissant. But we face our first disappointment: a sleek, fancy bakery has replaced the old one. The new bakery is dressed up to appeal to tourists but its façade of dark, smooth wood seems out of place. 

Still, the pastries look scrumptious and the current owners preserve the old French tradition of baking bread a few times a day. The baguette we get later in the afternoon is fragrant, crusty, and very warm. Sadly though, their almond croissant is a soggy, amorphous mass (mess?). We will have to find a new source for the flaky buttery croissant we remember, its layers embracing soft warm marzipan so full that it sometimes oozes out and gives the bottom a crunchy caramelized crust. 

Sounds and Tastes of Ile Saint Louis


We live directly across from L’Eglise Saint Louis. Right next to it is a grade school. 

We’re constantly reminded of these neighbors by sounds. Sounds that, to some, might be noise but to us signify the daily flow of life on the island. The bells of the church ring a few times a day and, at noon and six o’clock, their uninterrupted clanging announces the Angelus. 

 To me, it is not at all unpleasant; in fact, I find it quite melodious, a reassuring reminder of a certain past. And yet, it makes me wonder: Is this ringing all that remains of this call for devotional prayer? I am not religious but I do value connections with the past. 

The children of the school assert their presence a few times a day; most notably around noon when their collective voices compete for attention with the Angelus bells at 12 pm on the dot. The voices usually descend upon the neighborhood earlier and they persist for at least an hour longer. Screeching and screaming (Think banshees of American folklore) often cut through the usual high buzz of children’s chatter. It never really bothered us and now that we’re used to it, we miss it on Wednesdays when the school is closed. 


There are three boulangeries on this tiny island of about 10 x 2 blocks. Also, two well-stocked fromageries, and umpteen Berthillon ice cream shops. Our block has one of all of these. There is also a produce store with beautiful fruit and vegetables that cost at least twice as much as elsewhere. If a disaster struck and we’re stranded from the rest of Paris, we won’t starve, at least for a while. 

The fromageries, especially La Ferme Saint Aubin, would more than satisfy the adventurous foodie. We’ve gone back to La Ferme a few times, twice in two consecutive weeks for the softest, ooziest cheese ever. It is a Saint Felicien labeled La Tentation. And what a temptation it is! Crafted from raw cow’s double-crème milk (though its original was made with goat’s milk), it’s more unctuous and tastier than soft triple-crème cheeses we’ve had. During this stay, we’ve hardly bought one kind of cheese more than once because there’s so many to try. But La Tentation? Two of us could slurp slowly and with relish a half-pound round in one seating. 

It is grape season; so grapes are plentiful in the market—common table grapes, black, red, green and fragrant muscat grapes from both France and Italy. Then, there is chasselas, a wine grape selling for two to three times more. Does it taste at least twice as good? Your judgement, of course. I do try most things at least once and, if you like grapes, I say this is one to experience. 

Art in a Park and a Cistercian Monastery

What do art in a park and a rehabilitated Cistercian monastery have in common?  For one, they have endured and will endure.  For another, most tour books may not tell you about them. 

Flâner.  A French verb meaning to promenade, amble along, without objective, but merely for the pleasure of watching and observing.  A man who is thus engaged is a flâneur; a woman, a flâneuse. This is how we inhabit the streets of Paris. We do agree on a general direction, but often, something else develops and since we have no fixed plans, we go with the flow.You can see a lot that way so long as you are open to possibilities and are willing to explore the unexpected. 

In this manner, we happen upon a Cistercian monastery and art in a park on the left bank. You can see both for free. 

A Medieval Treasure

We found the 13th-century medieval monastery on the way home from Jardin des Plantes, a botanical garden we like to visit in the 5th arrondissement. It was first conceived just decades after the Paris Notre Dame though it might not have taken as long as the cathedral to finish (about 200 years). The building looks gothic, with pointed arched windows and protrusions that might pass for flying buttresses. 

 Art For All By The Seine

Not too far from our current pied-à-terre is a park on the banks of the Seine that we remember going to a few years back. That time, we had impromptu entertainment from a couple of kids playing a clarinet and an accordion. We saw them come, the accordionist on foot and the clarinetist on skates. Both sported a backpack. 

They parked themselves by the edge of the river, down from an upper path through which people pass. Whipped their instruments out of their backpacks. Tuned them. Then played a classical piece. It didn’t take long before a crowd gathered on the upper path to watch. Most of us stayed to listen at least until the talented duo finished their first piece. 

This time, we see no musicians. So we flâner some more, eventually rewarded by an agreeable surprise—along the Quai San Bernard, a museum of modern sculptures en plein air. Art pieces, free for everyone to see. Sculptural works of metal, concrete, or stone that can withstand the elements as well as general human abuse.

Read our other Carnet de Voyage entries here.

Lead photo credit : © Ekaterina Pokrovsky / shutterstock

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  • Hazel Smith
    2024-02-16 02:25:34
    Hazel Smith
    I've had the good fortune to spend 8 or 9 days on the Ile Saint-Louis. It really is a magical place. We loved Le Saint Regis, 78isl, Cafe Med. Even the Carrefour Express! And the grocery with the unbelievably cheap wine.


  • Michael Harrelson
    2024-02-15 06:25:55
    Michael Harrelson
    Wonderful story, Evelyn. Your descriptive skills are excellent and each section painted a vivid picture for us as we read through. My wife and I made your story part of our Valentines Day celebration and what you wrote brought smiles to our faces. We are frequent travelers to France (Nancy is an excellent French speaker and values the immersive experience of being in Le Hexagon) and are lucky enough to have a friend with an apartment on the rue Saint Louis en L'i'le. As you so beautifully described things, like the school (also right across from our apartment), the fruit-vegetable stand, wine shop and (of course) fromagerie, we imagined being there all over again. Thank you for brightening our Valentines Day. We can tell that you love France and we would like to recommend that you find a copy of a wonderful book, The Glow Of Paris by Gary Zuercher. It is collection of nighttime B&W photos of all 35 bridges that cross the Seine within the City of Paris. Spectacular and the kind of thing that makes you reminisce and dream of visits to come. Again, thank you for the lovely story.


  • Eve Niimi
    2024-02-14 07:25:44
    Eve Niimi
    As a seasoned Paris flaneur I ambled along with you on your Evelyn Journey enjoying every moment. Another Evelyn