The first time I went to Paris (1999), I rejoiced in the fact that the French fries at MacDonald’s were truly French – better than I’d ever had, but then I was a single girl. The second time we (as a family, 2008) did Paris, it was bread and baguettes which had us enamoured.
By the third time, I knew enough to bring back some goodies, especially since I had time to ferret them out of their hiding places….as I went ALONE. On my first ever mum-away trip. Zonder man or kids. Wow. Paris, new world record for me – the only city I’ve vacationed in 3 times! Welcome to Paris. City of Love where even salt and pepper shakers are one!
Since I have gotten into this great research mode, I made sure I had my agenda all worked out. Four days and loads to do and see. It had to be well structured. My friend V and I were set to conquer “La Ville-Lumière” – the city of lights. And that we did.
We stayed in a hotel I’d had bookmarked for 2 years, since I saw it recommended in an online newspaper review - I can’t remember which newspaper it was. That’s me – a collector of stuff. This hotel is in the heart of St Germain. Its appeal apart from its location is its room decor. Though I was super shocked to find out it was a 1 star when we arrived. Shared toilets. No meals. Shock. But that all said and done, we loved it, absolutely loved it. It is walking distance to the Louvre, Notre Dame, Forum les Halles and almost everywhere we had plans to see, save for the Arc d’Triomphe and the Eiffel tower, which we could see from everywhere, almost every hour of the day.
We started with Notre Dame which was great and busy with the amazing ‘rose’ stained glass panels.
Our trip to the Louvre – amazing though our feet were tempered and sore at the end of the day – on the hard marble floors. We got in for FREE, as we happened to go on the 1st Sunday of the month. We feared chaos. My research assured me that was well justified. I am glad to say contrary to our expectations, we were fine. The queues were long but quick. It was crowded, but is there a time it isn’t? I had the nicest ‘cheap’ lunch there – a bowl of salad and bread. Simple, pure, delicious. I saw the heavily guarded and well looked at Mona Lisa. I saw Napoleon’s apartments and the Venus de Milo. I say Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s 4 season paintings. I think that excited me the most ‘cause while I had read about them with my kids, I didn’t know they were at the Louvre, and so didn’t expect to see them.
Not staying in a hotel that does breakfast certainly gave us plenty of opportunity to sample all the local cafes. I was a bit taken aback I think. I sort of expected more for brekkie though after a day or so, I got used to having Croissants for breakfast. We certainly didn’t see many continental, greasy fry-ups being offered – though had we chosen to dine at the Ritz; it would have been a markedly different story. So there you go. All said though, we did enjoy ourselves immensely. Watching, drinking tea and munching out way through our baguettes or patisserie offerings.
The great thing though was the fact that we drank loads and loads of tea. And that suited us to a T. My surprise then to discover the ‘café au bar’ principle. We found that a lot of cafes we stopped at had various prices and the cheapest cup of coffee or tea to be had was au comptoir or au bar.
V had mustard with almost everything – breakfast, lunch and dinner. She skipped it with the desserts thankfully. We also saw funny typical parissiene chic posters when strolling along the banks of the Seine).
And of course we both had baguettes for lunch. Can you go to Paris and not have Baguettes once or twice a day?
Or Moules Frites? Infact this dish has given me a leg up with my husband…who’s always laughing at me on my constantl search for connections – to people, to places, to events. Well, I saw a guy who I thought looked familiar while working my way through a bowl of these near the Printemps and after lots of questioning, it turned out that we went to the same university back in Nigeria! I’m not fickle afterall :-)
Of course, you can’t also be in Paris and not think street food – a la Crepes. It was so much fun watching these thin ’pancakes’ being made.
We also encounted Canneles – my first real life view, after reading about them at C&Z. Choquettes too. I tasted. Nice, light airy. Whatever you do, don’t leave them at the bottom of your bag, any bag or you’ll be having squashettes which are not terribly interesting, I tell you.
We grew to love the Café Pont Neuf – a cafe near the Pont Neuf, where I had my best meal in Paris. Confit de Canard. It was lovely. And mind you, I’m not saying that is the best preserved duck to be had in Paris but it was the best I’d ever had.
And in pure contrast, I also had an equally horrible meal in Paris. The worst I’ve ever had, anywhere. It was in a cafe, its name I should not say. Apologies. The menu started out with great promise, but the dish on arrival was ugly. Green courgettes had suddenly taken on a yellow hue, and that from age….after cooking. The rice was mixed – hot and cold, and the sauce tasted horrible. On the contrary, V ordered a chicken dish with mustard sauce which ended up alright and triggered me to come up with my ‘Soup it, Sauce it, Bake it’ line…… coming soon. Well actually, the sauce tasted exactly as my Dutch mustard soup so I guess I won some and lost some.
At Bruno I found some lovely cardamom dark chocolate which I regret not buying more of and all these on day 1. I searched desperately for E. Dehillerin, without success, and then happened upon it on our last day. V watched me scream with excitement. It was a shop that had been on my list. I would have felt unaccomplished had I left Paris without seeing it. Not that I bought anything… but just to have a happy heart, a feeling of accomplishment. I’ve seen the shop. I know it. I can talk about it.
My pre-travel research guided me to Monoprix. And so I brought back some Sel and Crème de Marron.
I’ll make choquettes some day with the sugar I brought back…. or use it on muffins or something or the other. I’ll let you know.
All the rest
And though the Eiffel tower may seem tired to many, we went still, and were well rewarded in an unplanned manner. We tried to get to the Eiffel tower from the Champs Elysee and got directed to the Trocadero. It was after 6 o’clock, the sun setting on the horizon. What an amazing view. The best view of the Eiffel tower, ever. Whatever you do, if you plan to visit the work of Gustave Eiffel, you’d best do so by taking the Metro to the Trocadero stop, not the Champ de Mars / Tour Eiffel (on line RER C), Ecole Militaire (Line 8) or Bir-Hakeim (Line 6).
We walked down to the Eiffel tower and then a problem arose which resulted in V and I having our most expensive cup of tea on the trip so far. Whose fault was that anyway? We needed a bathroom stop but didn’t quite expect it to cost that much. We went into a café and sneakily decided to have some tea while we did our business. Well, at least the tea was nice. Costly but more than drinkable so I guess no real regrets, just to keep that in mind.
I will do Paris again. I haven’t had my fill. Yet. This city knows me. It calls me by name – Oz. Some people call me that too. If you’re imaginative, it could very well be Ozoz. A lot of people actually think they could bite their tongues saying that. I don’t mind being called one or the other to be honest.
And so have I cast my shadow over the city. I’ll be back.