Monday, March 19, 2012

Birthday Adventures in Paris

Writing about my trip to Paris has been so much harder than I thought it would be. Hence the late post. What words to use that will appropriately, accurately, truly describe my weekend in Paris? I will start with this: I loved Paris. From the moment I got there to the moment I left. Weeks later I still get a little buzz thinking about it.

Paris fulfilled all my expectations completely and utterly. I know some people will cringe at that statement (hopefully those people aren’t reading this blog) but it's true. Paris, you did not let me down.


I have been dreaming of going to Paris for years, which is nothing new or out of the ordinary. It is Paris after all. Everyone wants to visit Paris, no? It just has some kind of special allure. It can make people do silly (but fun) things…like celebrate a French themed Christmas, complete with a screening of An American in Paris, a gift of The Art of French Cooking, French toast, Champagne and a French language CD. It’s fun to play pretend, but this time it was for real. I was actually going to Paris!

Arriving on my birthday, I got off the Eurostar with a stupid, giddy smile on my face. I tried not to grin so ridiculously, tried to be more Parisian 'cool', but failed massively. My joy was way too much to contain! I checked into my hostel, panicked that it wasn't a girls only room, sucked it up and went off to explore. (The shared accommodation turned out to be fine...silly, panicky me).

Le Marais - amazing street culture and food

My first afternoon was spent wandering through Jardin des Tuileries near the Louvre. I then made my way to meet Patrick – a chef from the Montmartre based ‘Cook’n with Class’. Patrick led two lovely American ladies and I on a tour of the local fromagerie (cheese shop), boucherie (butchers), poissonnerie (fish shop) and fruit and vegetable store. We spent the rest of the evening whipping up a three course meal of scallops, foie gras, roasted monkfish with zucchini cakes, and fresh ginger creme brulee. Followed by a slice-by-slice guide on how to serve (make sure everyone gets the same amount of rind!) and eat five beautiful cheeses, ranging from an ash covered goats cheese to an ammonia smelling little bomb called Couer d'Epoisse. If you are interested in cooking classes in Paris, I would definitely recommend this place – they offer a huge range of classes and all are taught in English.

Roasted Monkfish at Cook'n with Class

The next day, my friend arrived. I need to pause here for a moment to say how much it meant to me that I got to share this adventure with Abee. It is a weekend I will never forget and having her there made Paris all the more beautiful and fun. (Thank you kitten).

We spent the afternoon walking along Boulevard Saint-Germain and stopped for lunch at a tiny French restaurant called Vins & Terroirs along Rue Saint Andre des Arts. Where I ordered tartar de bouef. Steak tartare, people! I have always wanted to try this but even I was surprised at how easy I found it to eat a plate of raw meat. And by how good it was. Complete with raw egg yolk, capers, cornichons, onions and chives - eaten mixed together (on the advice of the waiter and the sweet old lady at the next table who spoke no English but nevertheless tried numerous times to have a conversation with us...bless) with tomato sauce, worcestershire sauce and tabasco - this was the classic french dish. The best way I can describe it is like eating a very tasty, light, fresh, raw hamburger - gherkins and ketchup included. If you’re not afraid of raw meat (and really, why should you be?) then I urge you to try it. Trust me.

Tartar de bouef at Vins & Terroirs

That evening, after our first Parisian lunch, I experienced the Eiffel Tower. At this point Abee and I courageously (at least to us) decided to split - without way of contact! - and meet up at a later point as she had been up the tower before. So I was on my own, climbing the stairs of the Eiffel Tower.

How I felt when I saw the Eiffel Tower up close took me completely by surprise. I didn't expect to be so overwhelmed and excited, but I was. This is what seeing a real icon makes you feel. A little awestruck and spellbound. Coming down from the tower as the lights came on I felt pure happiness at being in this place. I don’t know what it is about this grand structure, it could have been made with a little magic. It even sparkles (literally, those clever Parisians have made it sparkle. I’m not making that up). I will definitely be visiting this place again.

Hello Paris

Abee and I met up later that night near the Pompidou Centre and found a cute little cafe, Dame Tartine, nearby where we drank carafes of wine and ate salmon tartare and a 'tartine' (open sandwich) of jambon cru, goat's cheese and green peppercorns. A huge mural on the wall watching over us while we ate.

Dining in Marais

In the morning I walked along Champs Elysses and visited Laduree, the birthplace of the macaron. It was so hard not to buy them all but, being on a budget, I limited myself to five:
  • Original Chocolate 
  • Cherry Blossom (the flavour of the month created by Japanese fashion designer Tsumori Chisato) 
  • Raspberry 
  • Rose 
  • And the 'Incroyable Almonde' which pays tribute to the original macaron and the flavour of almonds.
I love these sweet, light, crisp and chewy treats. And the Laduree packaging takes them to a whole other realm of pretty (my photos are not at all an accurate representation of this).




Next up was Place de la Madeleine where I visited the famous patisserie Fauchon and the gorgeous food store Hediard. From Fauchon I purchased a Chocolate Eclair and a beautiful bright Lemon cake called Piou Piou (cheep cheep). But by far the best p√Ętisserie I had while in Paris had to be the Bollywood from Pain de Sucre. Pineapple, pistachio, curry, coriander. Amazing. Not too sweet, not heavy. Indulgent but not guilt inducing. I love trying unusual flavours like this.


Fresh berries at Hediard

The Bollywood from Pain de Sucre

The famous Fauchon

For dinner we decided to eat as the French do and purchase food from the local market – baguette, cheese, pork rillette and salami. The girl behind the counter at the deli was kind enough to tell us that the salami we had asked for was ‘bad’. It was soft and the best salami was dry and hard. In her words 'soft was for tourists’ – so she gave us the good, dry salami, the one reserved for the locals. I hope she was telling the truth, I'm sure she was because it was good salami. We ate sitting on a bench in the Jardin des Plantes in a soft drizzly rain before being kicked out by whistle bearing guards who were shutting the park for the night.

Street light.

We ended our weekend with a visit to the Porte de Clingancourt antique markets or 'Les Puces' (the fleas) – where you can buy (mostly for a high price) any number of weird and wonderful French collectables.

Treasures at Les Puces.

And that, my friends, was my birthday weekend in Paris.

Matching outfits!

For some people maybe Paris won't live up to the high expectations that being Paris sets, but for me it did. I didn't have a lot of money to spend. Nor did we have the prettiest, sunniest spring weather, the sky was a dull grey and it drizzled at times, but even in this grey weather Paris shone through. I'm sure I didn't do Paris justice with my words. It's just a very beautiful, fascinating city. It is big and full. It's proud, unashamedly so. It can be grimy and of course, it's romantic.

To me Paris felt like sparkles. Soft sparkles. With little dark patches that just make it all the more beautiful and intriguing.

Paris love x.

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