Venice, Paris, and London are made up of historic and evocative neighborhoods that linger in the imagination, whether or not you have ever set foot in them. Each of these capitals of great empires exerted immense influence on world taste, culture, the arts, and economics. In return, they gathered within their city walls (and waterways) countless extraordinary artistic and culinary treasures, many of which are now forgotten.
Even in districts as familiar as the the Piazza San Marco, Left Bank, or Trafalgar Square, there are special places and hidden gems that are beloved to locals but often overlooked by visitors.
Fred Plotkin, a popular Smithsonian speaker on culture, history, and music, has lived in and visited Venice, Paris, and London for more than 40 years. Join him for a richly illustrated series in which he looks at these places though the eyes of a flâneur, a French term for person whose casual strolls through city streets produce delight in their chance discoveries. He shares what he’s found on his strolls: churches, theaters, specialty shops, restaurants, cafes, bars, and unusual museums just a stone’s throw from world-famous landmarks.
Please note: Individual sessions are available for separate purchase. Click on the dates below for individual pricing information.
April 18 Venice
Perhaps no city has as many treasures in such a small area as Venice, made up of just six neighborhoods called sestieri. Many of Venice’s labyrinthine calli (lanes) lead to discoveries made only when wandering. In Dorsoduro, steps from the Accademia museum full of Titians and Bellinis, you might come upon a squero (a repair shop for gondolas) or a store that still engages in traditional crafts such as the making of masks or Murano glass. Even in the tourist-filled sestiere of San Marco, you can walk within earshot of the main square to discover churches where Vivaldi played, bakeries that have made biscotti the same way since the Renaissance, and the birthplaces of popes.
May 16 Paris
More than most cities, Paris and its neighborhoods are an unmatched expression of the people who live there. Its 20 arrondissements each reflect their own history and character on streets that offer superb food and life—and plenty of charming surprises. There are beaches next to Notre Dame, vineyards in Montmartre, and small museums devoted to Delacroix, Hugo, Piaf, and even the invention of Braille. The city is also dotted with markets in cul-de-sacs that Parisians jealously guard.
June 27 London
London is a sprawling metropolis made up of hundreds of villages and neighborhoods, all with their own churches, pubs, gardens, theaters, schools, and markets. Close to Covent Garden, St. James, Piccadilly Circus, and the Royal Opera House, visitors can find unique attractions such as the eccentric and eclectic Sir John Soane’s Museum or pubs frequented by Keats, Byron, or Dickens. London is famous for its nearly 1,000 “blue plaques,” an initiative begun in 1876 that identifies places associated with illustrious people, from Christopher Wren to Arthur Conan Doyle to Freddie Mercury. Discovering these is one of the delights of strolling through the city’s streets.
Photo caption (upper right): The San Paolo district has been the site of Venice’s main market since 1097