Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Splendor That is Versailles.

Z and I at Versailles.  Our only photo together.  Glad we remembered to take *group* photo!

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  e ended our Paris trip on a high note today.  We went to visit Versailles.  I had booked onto a conducted tour before leaving on this trip.  I found a tour that would not only skip the line but it also took place on Sunday which is the one day in the week that the fountains are operating.

Z and I made our way to the Invalides Metro stop and followed the directions we were given to meet up with the rest of the group.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

At the Cemetery and the Taxidermist.

Sharon at Père Lachaise Cemetery.

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  spent today with a group of 20-somethings and survived. In fact, I had a lot of fun hanging with them.  Nothing like being in the company of three college age adults to make you laugh and feel young again!

Earlier this week, I had exchanged text messages with Sharon.  After all that we had all gone through to get her laptop to her, Z and I decided we should all spend more time together over a meal.  Since Sharon works, it's difficult to nail down a good time for a meal plus there's no time to really just relax and enjoy each other's company.

Friday, September 25, 2015

A Night in Paris.


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efore coming to Paris, I had said that I wanted to see the city at night when the historic landmarks are all lit up.  Up until tonight, I've been too lazy to head back out once we had finished our day of sightseeing.

Tonight, we had tickets to see the cabaret at the Lido so we had to be out after dark.

Paris From the Seine.

Looking towards the Left Bank.

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   am about as fond of city river boat cruises as I am hop on hop off bus tours but again, a boat cruise along the Seine was included in our City Pass so we had to take it. I decided to keep an open mind.

A Glimpse of Montmartre and Sacré-Cœur Basilica.

Sacré-Cœur Basilica

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 ur Big Bus wound its way up through the 9th Arrondissment. Montmartre was whizzing by us as Z and I sat on the upper level of the bus. It was getting chilly and the not so inspiring views of Montmartre were adding up to a not so fun experience for me.  So many people have told me that I would enjoy staying in Montmartre but as we made our way along the streets, I didn't see anything that would make me want to stay here. 

Big Bus Ride.

Crossing Pont Alexandre III, approaching Grand Palais.

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 ypically, I don't do hop on, hop off tours of any city but a Big Bus ticket was included in our Paris City Pass so of course, we had to make use of it. In hindsight, the experience wasn't as bad as I had somehow feared it would be.  Our plan, which worked out perfectly, was take the Big Bus Red Route to the main Big Bus stop near the Opera House and from there, hop off and switch to the Blue Route which would take us to Montmartre and from wherever we were dropped off, we would walk the rest of the way to Sacré-Cœur Basilica.  In hindsight, I would recommend taking the Big Bus tour before doing any sightseeing as the bus goes around the main landmarks and will give you a good idea of what the city has to offer.  You can then adjust your sightseeing plan accordingly.

The Panthéon.

"Monument à la Convention Nationale" by François-Léon Sicard (1913).

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  fter a quick breakfast in our apartment, we headed out for another day of sightseeing in Paris. Our first destination of the day was the Panthéon. We had come here late yesterday afternoon but unfortunately, we arrived just a few minutes after the place had closed for the day. Bad timing.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

A Parisian Gem. Saint-Chappelle.




ith two museums under our sightseeing belt, it was time for something different.  From the Rodin Museum, we headed back to Île de la Cité. After all my visits to this lovely city, I have never been to Saint-Chappelle. We tried yesterday and got there too late. Today was our day and since the entry fee was covered in our Paris Museum pass, we had to go.  We made our way via Metro.

The Musées d'Orsay and Rodin.

Admiring the marvelous architectural details of the Musée d'Orsay.

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  ur day started with breakfast at home.  I had bought some items from our local supermarket yesterday and today, I whipped a quick and easy meal in our teeny, weeny kitchen.  I ate my share, gave it some time and then woke Z up.  Today, I wanted to make sure he had a fairly full belly to start the day with.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Louvre.

Capturing a photo of one of the Louvre's most famous residents.

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   rom Rue Cler, we headed over to the Louvre, one of the greatest art museums in the world!  If you come to Paris and you don't go to the Louvre, you've missed out!

Z led us to the entrance via the Carrousel de Louvre, an underground shopping mall filled with some very nice looking shops.   We arrived under the glass pyramid.  Thanks to our City Pass, we didn't have to wait in line to get entry tickets but we did stop at the Information Center to get a map.

The Eiffel Tower.

At the Eiffel Tower.

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rom the Arc de Triomphe, we made our way over to the Champs-Élysées.  We were on our way to the Eiffel Tower and we had to be there by 1:30p.  The number of people who can go up the tower is tightly controlled and when you buy your ticket, which we did when we got our City Pass, you are given a specific timeslot.  I knew we had quite a distance to walk and not a whole lot of time so I tried to rush Z along.

Arc de Triomphe.

On top of the Arc de Triomphe, admiring the view of the Eiffel Tower.

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  let Z sleep in a bit this morning.  I'm sure he could have slept for a few more but there is no rest for the traveler.  Poor kid,  he wasn't feeling much better this morning than yesterday and I didn't even have breakfast for him.  Bad aunt!  He's a real trooper though - not about to let a cold slow him down!

Before we left the apartment, Z spent a few minutes looking at the metro map.  Our first destination of the day was the Arc de Triomphe and he had to navigate us to the Charles de Gaulle Étoile metro stop.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Creepy Paris. The Catacombs.

In the Catacombs, beneath the streets of Paris.

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   e spent part of our afternoon on a tour of the Catacombs that lie beneath the streets of Paris.

We arrived via metro, exiting at the Denfert-Rochereau stop. It wasn't hard to figure out where the Catacombs were located - we just had to follow the long ling around to the front entrance. It was almost 3:40p when we arrived. The tour was slated to begin at 4pm and we were suppose to arrive 15 minutes before then but I knew Z was hungry. We needed to get some food into him.  I had no idea where to go get fast food.  There was a McDonald's and for most 20-somethings, they would have made a beeline to the place but not for this 20-something.  He is not a fast food kid.

Disappointment and Delights.

Inside the at Pierre Herméshop at 39 Avenue Opéra.  It's all about the macarons!

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   woke up well rested and ready to go.  I looked over at Z and he was still sound asleep.  As I made my way to the kitchen to make a cup of tea, I could hear the sound of raindrops hitting the skylight.  Ugh.  Another crappy weather day.

As I sipped on my cup of tea, I did a bit of reading but nothing related to Paris.  The only confirmed activity I had for today was a tour of the Catacombs at 4p.  Otherwise, the day was wide open to explore the city as we wanted to.

Monday, September 21, 2015

An Afternoon in Paris.

Jardin du Luxembourg (Luxembourg Garden)

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   fter our visit to Notre-Dame Cathedral, Z wanted to know where to next. The only thing that came to mind was Saint-Chappelle, royal medieval Gothic chapel, located very close by to Notre-Dame.  Saint-Chappelle is one of the buildings that were part of the former royal palace which today is known as Palais de Justice (Palace of Justice).  I have never been inside Saint-Chappelle and everyone, whom I know has been here, has told me that I have to come see the place. 

A True Icon. Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris.


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  e had made our way to Île Saint-Louis, crossing over from the Left Bank. We turned onto Quai d'Orléans, walking towards the famed cathedral.  I stopped several times just to take photos.  I was glad it was overcast today - without the sun to cast shadows, I think I got a nicer shot.

First Sights of Paris. Jardin des Plantes.



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   fter a very relaxing lunch, Z and I set out to explore Paris. He asked me if I had an itinerary in mind and I did not. I suggested that we make our way to Notre Dame as that would be a nice starting point.

Thrilled to Pieces to be Back in Paris!!

Staring down six escargot, wondering how to get to the little nuggets of meat.

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   e're in Paris!  Flash back a few hours ago.  Today, I had to rustle Z up awake, bright and early for him.  We had to catch the 9:23a train that would take us from Ghent back to Bruxelles-Midi in Brussels and from there to Gare du Nord in Paris.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Last Views of Ghent.

On St. Michael's Bridge, gazing over at Korenlei.

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    started my second day in Ghent with making breakfast for Z and I. It was nice to be back in the kitchen but more importantly, it was nice to not have to get dressed and go out for breakfast. I took things slow this morning. No need to rush. As expected, Z was still fast asleep.  The kitchen in our apartment is teeny tiny but very well equipped.  I found the two burner stove in a drawer and got it set up and plugged in, ready for the frying pan.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

An Afternoon in Ghent.

Ghent.  Posing in front of the most beautiful place in the city - Graslei.

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e arrived into Ghent around 1p and by the time we settled into our Airbnb apartment and hit the streets, it was close to 3p. One nice thing about traveling at this time of the year is that the day is still relatively long. We have a few hours, to see the historic city, before night falls.

Bound for Ghent.

At the Bruges station, waiting for the train to Ghent, to arrive.

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  oor Z. Had to get up early this morning...well, that would be early for him.  He had to get early not because we had a train to catch but because we had to make it for breakfast which meant up by 9:30a.

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Long Walk Back to Bruges.


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 t was just past 4p when we decided to walk back from Damme to Bruges. It would be at least an hour and a half walk.

We set out on the path that would lead us back to Bruges.  It was a nice tree lined path.  On our left side was an embarkment that shielded us from the canal.  On our right side were fields of green punctuated by the occasional quaint country cottage.

A Break from Bruges. Damme.


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    woke Sleeping Beauty, aka my sleep loving newphew, up at 12:15p. He had slept for two hours and if I had let him, he could have slept for two more but we're not in Belgium to sleep.

For today, I had planned for us to go to the nearby town of Damme - an opportunity to see another place.

Bruges Day 2. Off to a Slow Start.


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    dragged myself out of bed this morning as I did not sleep well last night. It was much too hot. Our room opens out onto a ground level patio and all we have are patio doors so there was no way to cool down the room so I could sleep comfortably.  I'm debating whether or not to ask for a new room.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Whirlwind Tour of Bruges Continues.

He's so photogenic and thankfully, still willing to pose for photos.

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  he short canal boat was so relaxing! When I got off the boat, I was re-energized enough to walk on!  Believe me, I need all the energy I can get - it's not easy keeping up with a 22 year old!  Historic Bruges is undeniably charming but it's especially charming when the sun is shining.

Bruges. Cruising the Canals.

Posing on a one of the many bridges in Bruges.

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ruges is as walkable a historic city as it comes.  In fact, there really is no better way to see it.  Thankfully, I don't even recall seeing a single of of the now ubiquitous hop on, hop off buses.  We most certainly did our share of hoofing it - first making it to Grote Markt and from there to The Burg.  Everywhere we walked, I just soaked in all the views of this charming historic city.  There's so much medieval splendor, it's not wonder it was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2000.

A Whirlwind Tour of Bruges. Part 1.

Posing in front of Provinciaal Hof (Province Court) in Grote Markt.

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 e kicked off our afternoon in Bruges with a quick bite at a pasta bar called Bocca. It was a simple meal but enough to fill two bellies.

Once again, Z fired up the city app on his iPhone and led the way. The app is really useful. It uses GPS but does not require data which means it can track where Z is. The app not only provides a map but also indicates the tourist highlights. It also has a search feature so all I have to do is tell Z the name of the place or spell out the name and he'll find it!  It was very useful in Brussels. Hopefully, it will serve us well in Bruges.

We're off to Bruges!


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 oday, we left Brussels for Bruges.

I had researched the train schedules before leaving on this trip so I knew there were frequent trains to and from Brussels and Bruges.  Ride time is about 55 minutes.  I also knew that getting Z up at an early hour would not be easy and besides, we weren't in a real rush so I decided to go easy on the poor guy.  I woke him up at 10a.  Thankfully, he's easy to wake up.  All I have to do to rustle him up is just say "Wake up", in a fairly loud voice.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Last Views of Brussels.

Grand Place.

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  fter a few hours of fun at the Atomium and Mini-Europe, Z and I made it back to the Central train station and from there, we walked back to the old city.  I wanted one last view of this place - tomorrow morning, we leave for Bruges.

Teeny Tiny Europe.

Posing in front of mini Grand Place.

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rom the Atomium, we made our way over to Mini-Europe.  I think we came in via the *back door* so it took us a while to find the place as we first had to wander through a section of the park that was filled with all sorts of eateries.  There was absolutely not a soul around but I can imagine just how packed this place is on a nice summer day.

Brussels. The Atomium.

Riding down an escalator inside the Atomium.  He was perfectly centered for me to take the shot!

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hen we arrived at the train station at Heysel, rain was gently falling. Z was taking full charge of getting us to the Atomium, so I just followed his steps.  With each step I took, the rain came down harder.  In a matter of minutes, I had stopped walking, reached into my backpack for my rain poncho and had draped it fully over me, my backpack and my camera.  I looked liked a giant blueberry.  Not in the least bit attractive looking.

Brussels. More Wanderings.

Kunstberg or Mont des Arts (Mount of the arts) gardens with a view of the unmistable spire of Town Hall in the background.

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fter patiently waiting for Z to wake up on his own, I finally gave up and rustled him awake at 11a. Like so many kids his age, he stays up to the wee hours of the early morning and then sleeps til past noon, if let be.  I'll let him sleep but not til noon!

Today was Z's day to decide on the itinerary and he decided we should go see the Atomium.  I know from pictures that I've seen on the structure but beyond that I'm clueless.  It'll be a nice change from the historic landmarks that filled our attention yesterday afternoon.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Brussels. We Wander.

Taking a bit of a rest in Egmont Park, next to a statue of Peter Pan.

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e pretty much spent the entire afternoon in old city Brussels. Considering that we had just arrived into the country earlier this morning, after an overnight flight into Paris followed by a train ride to Brussels, I was surprised at how well we had held up. We were pushing through jetlag as I had hoped we would do!  Nonetheless, by late afternoon I was beginning to lose some steam and was ready to head back to our apartment.

Brussels. The Old City.

Guildhalls, Grand Place

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fter taking a few minutes to settle into our Airbnb apartment, we decided to head out and explore Brussels.  As tired as we were from our overnight flight from the US, we were both excited to finally be in Brussels and neither of us wanted to waste any more time.

Before leaving on the trip, I had tasked Z with being in charge of navigating us wherever we needed to go.  He took the task on and apparently, has an app on his iPhone that has a map of the city that includes the tourist spots highlighted on it.   So with his iPhone in hand, we set out.  I decided we should start with Grand Place - undoubtedly, the highlight of highlights in Brussels.

Belgium and France. Here We Come!


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 esterday, was a travel day and it was a long one at that.

Waiting at BWI.
Flash back to earlier in the day. My plan was to *call* Uber at 12:30p. I figured they would take anywhere from 15-30 minutes to get to my house but as our luck would have it, there was a driver less than 4 minutes away! We were leaving from BWI and I factored in some travel time in case the traffic was bad on 95N but as that turned out, there was no traffic. In just around 1/2 hour, we arrived at the airport....well ahead of our 3:55pm departure time.

I had checked us in yesterday so all Z and I had to was go through security. Thanks to my Global Services membership, I automatically qualify for TSA PreCheck and since I bought the tickets under my name, we both could use the line. There was only one person ahead of me and we breezed right through. It took us about 10 minutes to get to our departure gate leaving us more than 2 hours to wait for our flight! With the task of getting to the airport out of the way, I could relax a bit. Both Z and I occupied ourselves with our iPad.

Our flight to Charlotte left on time even though the plane was full. I was seated in the middle row and in no time was happily chatting away with an older African American woman seated in the window seat. Her name was Joanne (sp?) and we bonded over our love of traditional southern cooking. Our hour and half long flight arrived a few minutes early giving Z and I a comfortable window to make it to the Paris departure gate.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Planning Resouces. Belgium and France.

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sually, I do an inordinate amount of planning for a trip - easily spending upwards of 6 months to work on the details.  For example, the trip to Central Asia was just over 7 months in planning!   Same for Greece and Turkey.  This trip has probably taken two weeks and most of that was spent reading up on the places to go and things to see.

This is the first trip for Z and I and the first overseas that he's been on without his mom and brother in tow.  So, I want him to participate in deciding on what we do, see, and eat. That meant holding back on the planning.  But, I still had to do some planning so I concentrated on reserving our accommodations,  getting a general idea of train schedules and booking us on one tour.  Other than that, we will be relying on Information and Visitors Centers to give us the information we need. - we're going to be on a constant lookout for the ubiquitous *i*.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Counting Down the Minutes.



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y  Belgium and France travel partner is finally here.  It took him all of five minutes to settle into his room!  That's about how long it takes a 20-something year old male to get his suitcase unpacked and himself comfortable in his new surroundings :-)

Friday, September 11, 2015

Divided by Language.

Image from Deputy Matt & Others Who Serve
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just returned from a trip to Kingston, Canada. While I was there, my friend and I did a day trip to Montreal. Driving along Highway 401, I could immediately tell when we had crossed the border from Ontario to Quebec. All the road signs were now written in French first and then English. In the rest of Canada, if French writing is reflected, it usually appears below or after English.

The language divide in Quebec is a passionate fight to preserve heritage. The French speaking population steadfastly holds on to its linguistic traditions and there have been on again, off again, on again talks, of Quebec seceding from the rest of the the country.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Packing List. Belgium & France.

Photo from stanford.edu.
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e'll be leaving soon on this trip and so I decided it was time to work on the packing list.  I'm anticipating that after he arrives, Z will be missing a thing or two and that we'll have to hit the stores to pick up a few items so this will just be a starting list for us.

I did tell Z that we are traveling light which means we carry our luggage on board the plane so if he arrives with any bigger suitcase than that, I'll be downsizing him.  More importantly, Our trip will have us traveling by train between cities and I want to make sure we're not lugging heavy suitcases everywhere.  Not to mention that we're staying in apartments and none of the places have elevators so we need to keep things very light.  Of course, the nice thing about traveling with a strapping 20-something is that he can help carry things for me :-)

Sunday, September 6, 2015

My Weakness. The Croissant.

"00 Croissant. Yum" by Mark Mitchell - Flickr: Yum
(Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons)
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ne thing I am truly looking forward to, when we're in Paris, is getting a freshly baked....preferably handmade, croissant!  I absolutely love, love, love this humble pastry and when I was working, I would pretty much have one or two for breakfast every week even though the croissants that I was getting were sub par compared to anything I could get in Paris.  Hey, when you're desperate, even sub par will do.


Friday, September 4, 2015

Montreal. The Magnificent Notre-Dame Basilica.


Today, Maxy and I took a break from the kids, leaving them behind to explore Kingston on their own.  We hit the road and headed up to Montreal.  The drive from DC up to Kingston was Maxy's first time at doing a long distance drive and who knew she would fall in love with driving.  So, when I suggested she and I escape to Montreal for the day, she was all in, even though it meant a three hour long drive!

We decided to hit the road early, leaving our hotel in Kingston shortly after 7a.  The kids were still asleep.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Exploring a 1000 Islands.


We arrived into Kingston yesterday afternoon and spent the rest of the day walking about the Princess Street area. Maxy figured we'll all have more time to explore the city as we work on getting her daughter settled into Queen's. So, we decided to spend today going on a cruise of the 1000 Islands. When my parents deposited me at Queen's, we also did a cruise. Of course, I don't remember a single moment of that so today's visit was as if I had never been! I had read that the best place to take the cruise from is the nearby town of Gananoque so that was our destination.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Veggie Capital of the World. Ghent.

Vegetarian meal from Restaurant Avalon (Photo from Herbivores' Heaven)
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hent is a small Belgian city with a population of about 250,000 people. Like many European cities, it has a long history dating back to well before the Middle Ages. Present day visitors can soak in all that history simply by viewing the imposing architecture of its Medieval churches and the houses of rich traders.

Much of Ghent's historic heart can be seen in the old city center which was decreed to be vehicle free, making it the largest pedestrian only zone in all of Europe.  Truly a walkable city!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Home Sweet 10th Arrondissement.

Map by © ThePromenader. Licensed under Creative Commons 3.0)
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he city of Paris is divided into 20 arrondissements municipaux (administrative districts) that are more simply referred to just as arrondissements.

The 20 arrondissements are arranged in the form of a clockwise spiral (often likened to a snail shell), starting from the middle of the city, with the first on the Right Bank (north bank) of the Seine.

In French, notably on street signs, the number of the arrondissement is often given in Roman numerals. For example, the Eiffel tower belongs to the VIIe arrondissement while Gare de l'Est is in the Xe arrondissement. This is useful information to know when you're walking about and trying to figure out, even roughly, where you are without having to open up Google Maps. The arrondissement number is also indicated as the last two digits of most of the zip codes used in Paris - 75001 to 75020.