Roger Merritt's Home Page


French Flag   View of Paris from Notre Dame bell-tower. One of my favorite photos    Shakespeare & Company Bookstore, in the Latin Quarter

Gargoyles of Notre Dame I not only love Paris, but I have a thing about climbing cathedral towers! This is pictured from the bell towers of Notre Dame, with the whimsically positioned gargoyles.

Click here for a map of France | Paris

The photo of the gargoyles above was taken during my second trip to Paris in 1988. The gargoyles facial expressions are so fascinating. One looks like he is bored of the whole scene below, but that is only because he has been sitting there looking at the same scene for hundreds of years. I would certainly not characterize my visits to Paris that way. Paris might seem like an over exposed destination to some, but I always found Paris to be invigorating. Can Paris be somewhat difficult for the non-francophone? Yes, but full of style, beauty, history and never boring. I could have included a lot of pictures here, but there is quite a bit about Paris on the web already and I just wanted to share with you my neat encounter with the gargoyles. These are my impressions of Paris, from three different visits...

Paris is definitely one of my favorite capitals of Europe. I say that even as a true "Londoner" at heart, but if you're going to live in Europe, you simply must get to know Paris. To fail to do so is just unthinkable. I know, I know, a lot of people think that Parisians are rude and obnoxious toward foreigners, and the simple truth of the matter is that some are and some aren't. Sure, I've had some uneasy experiences myself when I couldn't communicate well enough in French to save my life, and have been trampled on verbally by some insipidly impatient Parisian, but more often than not, I was able to receive service, or get what I wanted without suffering too much humiliation. And, a few times I even found younger Parisians to be exceptionally tolerant and kind. I know this is not unusual because I know other Americans who have spent a lot more time there and confirm that it is true. So, the French are all rude? I don't buy it!

My first trip to Paris was in February 1988, during winter, and I went all by myself. I went from London with a train pass for Paris, Brussels, and Amsterdam. I didn't know hardly any French, but I never let that discourage me. I met a Frenchman on the train who looked to be in his forties, neatly dressed, with an educated demeanor. He spoke English, and said, "But of course..." a lot, which I found amusing. We chatted about London, the English weather, and the fact that this was my first visit to Paris, but we didn't get into specifics about what I should do once I got there. I was carrying my Berlitz pocket guide to Paris and was reading it on the train. From the moment I arrived at Gare du Nord Station I knew that Paris was an exceptional place. Everything sparkled in a different way, and all the sounds seemed different from what I was accustomed to in London. I was in Paris, but I couldn't believe I was in Paris. The pure elation I felt was positively rhapsodic!

With only the compass in my head, I proceeded to walk nearly two miles along Boulevard de Sebastopol to the center of Paris, carrying my small backpack and small suitcase, just waiting patiently to see the towers of Notre Dame immerge into view, and sure enough, they did. What an unforgettable sight! I ambled right past, crossed on to the south bank, and entered the Latin Quarter where I searched for my first hotel accommodation. I found a suitable room on the ground floor of a two-star hotel, called Hotel Vendome Saint-Germain, with a shower, and a TV. I wrote a postcard to my parents and watched some French tele before falling asleep, all the while reminding myself, "I'm in Paris!"

In all, I spent three nights in Paris, and saw most of the Louvre Museum, climbed the Eiffel Tower, walked around the Arc de Triomphe, took a river boat tour, and wandered around the artist community of Montmartre, etc. I also went to the Shakespeare & Company Bookstore, a famous haunt to generations of travelers and expatriates. The current establishment, located on rue de la Boucherie, has been open since 1951, but the Shakespeare & Company Bookstore was originally opened in 1921, by Sylvia Beach, whose legendary friends included Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway among others. (For a detailed history of S&C see the links at the bottom of the page.)

I stayed at Hotel Maubeuge, near Gare du Nord, my last night so that I would have only a short walk across the street to the train station the next morning for my trip to Brussels. My room was located on the top floor and was reached, slowly, by a tiny old elevator. It contained only a single bed and a miniscule bathroom, but out the window I could see the Eiffel Tower in the distance, which was especially riveting at night when it was all lit-up. I loved it with all my heart! These couple of days in Paris were rather cold, damp and windy, and by necessity I learned to be an alert pedestrian, but nothing could dampen my spirits as I had a wonderfully educational visit to Paris.

My second visit to Paris was in July of 1988, on a 16-day package tour of Europe. I will always remember how cold and rainy the weather was in Paris, this particular July. Even the Wimbledon finals, up in London, were delayed a day due to rain. Randall (my co-worker in London) and I stayed at the Hotel Berthier-Brochant, in Place du Clichy, which incidentally was only a short walk from the Moulin Rouge. We walked by it but did not attempt to go inside; besides that, it was a Sunday and was closed. We made our way around Paris on the Metro and went to the Pompidou Center, which has to be one of the most unusual exhibition centers in Europe. Then, we took a river boat-tour of the Seine, and visited Notre Dame Cathedral (and climbed the tower, pictured above). We explored Ile St. Louis (an island on the Seine located behind Notre Dame), saw Napoleon's tomb at the Invalides, entered the Sacre Coeur Basilica perched atop one of Paris' few hills, went to the foot of the Eiffel Tower (but did not ascend because it was too crowded), and we made an excursion to the Palace of Versailles. We visited Versailles with our tour group for a guided tour, and marveled at the magnitude of Louis XIV's palace extravaganza. It was good to be inside for an hour or so, because the weather was very gusty and rainy outside that morning. Fortunately, the rain ceased by the time we went outside to see the gardens and fountains, which were like monumental vistas built on the scale of a sizable airport!

A rather unusual thing that we did, since we were there on the 4th of July, was go to the Paris version of the Statue of Liberty, located on the Seine River, and watched the fire works display that they had for the American tourists on the river boats. If you've ever seen the movie Frantic with Harrison Ford, you would probably find the location to be of interest. This doesn't cover everything we saw--not by a long shot--but these were the highlights.

The third time I went to Paris was in June 1991, and this time the weather was great. I went alone again, but this time I was going to visit two American young ladies, friends of my sister. Their names were Carol and Robyn, students from David Lipscomb University, who were living there for several months to study French. Acquaintances such as these can be very useful in a foreign country. They had visited London four months earlier and I had made impromptu accommodations for them, and spent considerable time showing them around London, etc. Anyway, they lived in a flat only a few minutes walk from Gare St. Lazare train station, also just a few minutes walk from Parc Monceau--practically in Central Paris--and let me stay for four nights.

Carol and Robyn lived with an older American woman named Rita, a retired teacher or dorm mother (I forget which) from Tennessee, who was working as a missionary/secretary for a church, so I made sure that my visit was acceptable to her in advance. The flat was typically small, for Paris, but I found the living-room couch agreeable to sleep on. The flat was on the third-floor, with only one bedroom, which the three ladies shared. It had a big bathtub, and a tiny kitchen, but was well maintained and tidy. The whole building was in good shape as far as I could tell, but the hall lights had those annoying timer-switches that would go off before you could open the door to your flat! But never mind that. Just the thought of staying in Paris for free was precious! I had an enjoyable time with my hosts, eating and chatting in the flat, visiting the school where Carol and Robyn attended (located near the Sorbonne), dining at a local bistro, drinking coffee at an expensive cafe in Montmartre and sightseeing.

I did a lot of sightseeing that I had not done in my previous two visits to Paris, some with Carol and Robyn, and some on my own...Like visiting the top of Arc de Triomphe (where there is an observation lookout, with excellent views), the Victor Hugo House Museum in Place des Vosges (located in Marais, Paris' first officially designated historical neighborhood), the Musee d'Orsay, and Jim Morrison's grave in the large Pere Lachaise cemetery (The movie The Doors was very popular at the time), the Shakespeare & Company Bookstore, the Luxembourg Gardens, The Rodin Gardens, Sainte Chapelle church, and Montmartre, to name most of the highlights. I used public transport a lot more than before, which is a wonderful way to experience the Parisian atmosphere. The visit to Pere Lachaise cemetery really stands out as a great memory--to see so many famous people's tombs--Chopin, Balzac, Haussmann, Wilde, Abelard & Heloise, etc.--and some remarkably decorated tombs at that. (I have also explored cemeteries in London and Berlin for famous dead people). Jim Morrison seems like an unlikely candidate for residency in this dignified place, however. With the clutter of empty bottles, aging flowers, and a permanent whiff of marijuana in the air, Jim's graffiti-strewn slab is a continuous shrine to all his admirers and fans, many of whom are young enough to have been his grandchildren. Numerous little cardboard arrow signs were hung along the way that simply said "Jim," to help you find it in a maze of tombs.

One evening Carol and I jaunted down to the river to see the illuminated Nortre Dame Cathedral at night. It looked much more cavernous and imposing than in day-light. It was unforgettable. Then, we strolled over to Pont des Arts, an iron pedestrian bridge across the Seine, and the view back towards Notre Dame was unbelievably romantic. If Carol had been my girlfriend that would have been a place to linger.

One day, Robyn and I made a special day-trip excursion by train to Chartres, SW of Paris, to see the beautiful old Gothic Cathedral. The cathedral was a bit dark, but exceptional, and there was a special archeological dig going on in front of it. We bought lunch at a deli and ate beside the cathedral, admiring the towers and stained windows. Having done that, we next explored the canals and half-timbered houses of the "old town," which were charming. An interesting thing about the canals is that they used to wash linens and clothes in them. The back of every house would have a little porch that could be lowered into the canal, for rinsing, I suppose. Now, all those porches have been converted into decks, or greenhouses. There are always charming medieval relics to explore in places like this, and Chartres was a satisfying morsel in every way. On the train ride back to Paris, Robyn and I talked about other adventurous sightseeing possibilities as we admired the towns and country-side, but there was just too little time. This, my third trip to Paris, and environs was absolutely "magnifique."

"Paris is not only a place but a state of mind. Whoever goes there takes away the greatest meal he has ever had in his life, a romance that will linger forever, and a dream that will never be repeated. All you have to say is 'Paris' and the movie will begin." --Art Buchwald, author

"My favorite place has to be Paris. I'm a sucker for all that French stuff. I don't even mind that they can be a bit rude. I actually quite like them for being rude. In terms of the weather, the grayer the better." --Hugh Grant, actor

"God knows I've lived in Paris long enough now that I shouldn't be amazed at anything. You don't have to go deliberately looking for adventure here, the way you do back in New York...All that's necessary is to have a little patience and wait, life will seek you out in the most unbelievably obscure places, things will happen to you here." --Henry Miller, 1941, writer

"If you are ever lucky enough to live in Paris, you can take it with you wherever you go, for Paris is a moveable feast." --Ernest Hemingway, author

Eiffel Tower
Notre Dame
Paris information
Shakespeare & Company | Literary Traveler | S&C Virtual Tour
Click here for a map of France | Paris