I have to admit, Paris has easily become one of my most favorite places on earth!
**Disclaimer: this will probably wind up being a rather long post, since our day and a half of travels will all be included… feel free to grab a cup of tea and join us in reminiscing our trip!**
Mei and I got a chance to take the husband unit there last May for a rather short visit (we were only there for half of Tuesday, all day Wednesday and then left early in the morning on Thursday) and while planning our little vacation took a bit of work and tried our patience, the trip in and of itself was very successful and we all very much enjoyed ourselves! It was certainly worth all the blood, sweat and tears in order to fit the trip in the last few weeks before this new baby is due to arrive! (Yes, it has taken me that long to get this post finished! I was just entering my third trimester of Emily’s pregnancy)
Since we only had two dinners in Paris, I made the executive decision to return to our two most favorite restaurants from our last trip with Cousin Hannah, Le Bistro Paul Bert and A La Biche Au Bois. Afterall, Mei and I were determined to share what we thought were the best parts of Paris with the husband unit in the short amount of time we had there.
We left our house after Mei had had a chance to get her morning nap in, which meant a very lively and happy Mei for our short train ride into London to catch the Eurostar to Paris. It’s only a two hour ride from London to Paris – did you know that??! It makes me wonder why we don’t visit Paris more often!
I’m not sure I told you much about the Eurostar before, but it is a great, relaxing way to get to Paris from London. Not only is time on your side, but it is a direct train straight to Garde du Norde which means no worrying about making connections and since it leaves nearly every hour of the day, you can get the train when its convenient to you! You can even upgrade for an incredibly small fee and ride in a more spacious part of the train where you are also served a light meal! We wound up sitting across from a couple from Chicago that were in the middle of their honeymoon – so we had great company and had plenty to talk about on our short two hour ride to Paris. They were just as excited to see Paris as we were! It got our trip off to a great start!
Once we arrived in Paris, our trip began to look a bit bleak…
It was really warm, so we were able to stow our jackets while we waited for a cab to take us to our hotel. The cab driver was immediately crabby when we put the stroller in the trunk and said something, rudely and loudly in French and tapped on the passenger window (at nothing we could discern…) and quickly gestured for us to take our seats. Once he was settled, I asked him (in French) to take us to our hotel, handing him an address (I’m not talented enough with French to say addresses yet…) which provoked him even further. He snorted, shook his head angrily, said more things rapidly in French and took off. Obviously, he was not impressed with our hotel – and we would soon learn why.
We passed a lot of exciting sites along the way and the husband unit was already excited to see all sorts of things the next day and kept pointing and asking what certain buildings were. Mei was pleased to just sit on my lap and point at people and puppies she saw along the route. Then we got to our neighborhood… the 9th arrondissement. I knew our hotel was located 50 meters from the Moulin Rouge, but it didn’t occur to me that our hotel would be flanked by sex shops, sneak peek “bars” and other shady little doors with scantily-clad women posing and gesturing to passers-by….
“Are we in the red light district?” My wonderful husband asks.
“Apparently….” I replied.
Our hotel had a very welcoming sign and a locked front door. You have to buzz the receptionist to let you in. Oh boy.
Our taxi driver suddenly turned very nice. He must have realized that we did not expect this from our hotel and tried to refuse the tip we offered him for being kind enough to bring us here. With a bit of broken English, he wished us a good evening and helped us get our very small and light suitcase to the sidewalk.
Once inside the hotel, the receptionist turned from very warm and welcoming to incredibly irritable and rude, further cementing a bad first impression on all of us. Apparently our request for a baby cot hadn’t shown in the computer and neither did Mei’s information, so they did not have an appropriately “legal” room for us to stay. And they could not refer us to another hotel because we had a reservation with them. The long and the short of it is, she turned out to be a daily sore in our trip to Paris, spent 20 minutes on the phone (in front of us) complaining about our “situation” to her girlfriend instead of helping us out with questions, and eventually found us a room that would be suitable – although in her opinion, Mei was too old to be sleeping in our matrimonial bed. Yup…. oh boy. Try to explain in English to an unwilling Frenchwoman that your one year old doesn’t like to sleep in cribs and while we travel, she feels more secure sleeping in our bed, between us…
The taxi stand happened to be located right outside the hotel since we were right in the middle of the 9th – probably due to the high traffic the area regularly demands in the evenings. But we made our way to the Les Halles neighborhood before all the shops closed up so I could get in all my foodie shopping and avoid having to carry around heavy parcels the next day.
Cousin Hannah, Mei and I spent the better half of an afternoon scouring Rue Montorgueil during our last trip looking for some of the shops that were rumored to have great pastry-making supplies, pots, pans, spices and all sorts of other things and we found only three of them. This time, I spent a fair amount of time with Google Map to find that had we turned down an alley once or twice along the way, we would have found these shops with little trouble.
That would figure.
But armed with this knowledge, our first stop was Epicrie Bruno (30 Rue Tiquetonne). This is a fantastic spice shop and their website is also a great way to “stop in and visit them” as they offer great rates on international shipping! The store owner was running the shop that day and was just getting ready to close when we walked in. Mei and my husband wandered around the very small shopping looking at all the packages of spices and I bee-lined for the wall of specialty salts and dried peppers which were at the top of my list. My husband, darling that he is, didn’t complain at all as he watched the pile in front of the register grow as I piled things on. Bless him. It was a shopping dream! The store owner could just tell we were American and had a very nice and long conversation with my husband as I shopped and helped us pick out some nice peppercorns (which have an incredible range in smell and flavor – as it turns out, of course the French know this… we just get “black peppercorns” in the States…!) to take home, including a few small samples of different things and a card with the information for the website so we could order the items he was out of that day, from home. I considered it a great shopping trip and while we didn’t make it to any of the other shops to buy pots or pans and other cooking/baking tools, it leaves me with a reason to one day return to Paris!
We still had a little bit of time before we had to get to our dinner reservation, so we stopped into some other shops to pick up treats for breakfast. That included a couple pastry shops (which were coincidentally out of all the mini sizes of the large tarts and sweets we wanted), a bakery for some bread to go with the cheese we bought at La Fermette (86 Rue Montorgueil) – this time around it really smelled like stinky cheese, but it didnt stop my husband from picking out a few cheeses to try as well as the coveted mimolette we love so much! Mei picked out a nice bunch of bananas and some other fruit for snacking on the next day and we caught a cab to get to dinner.
Last time, on our way to Paul Bert, I managed to forget to write the address down – which prompted a 45 minute French lecture from our cab driver who refused to use his GPS to help locate the restaurant (which it turned out, he knew the part of town it was in, even if he didnt know exactly where…) so this time I was sure to write down the complete address – but without the arrondissement.
Our cab driver wasn’t angry or irritated but a bit unsure of where it was, even with the address, and got us there in less than ten minutes – but I had to laugh since apparently getting to Le Bistro Paul Bert via taxi, no matter if you have the address or not, seems to be troublesome for us.
The staff at Paul Bert were happy to see us and seated us quickly… in the same section as last time with the exact same waiter! I made a mental note to tell Cousin Hannah about it later, and focused on figuring out what was for dinner. My husband and I were actually not too excited about their menu that night, but were able to find things for each course that we were excited to try. For the appetizer, my husband tried a pig’s head pate and I had the sea bass ceviche. My husband is always interested in trying some of the more “unusual” menu options and has been trying more and more pates and terrines the more we eat out in both England and traveling around Europe and liking them quite a bit – this one was no exception! My ceviche had quite a kick to it and left a bit of heat in your mouth after it was gone, even with some very nice, ripe pineapples mixed in and Mei didn’t appreciate that when she tasted mine and went back to eating the different breads out of the bread basket instead. Soon after our appetizers, Mei fell asleep and remained sleeping throughout the meal, apparently all the traveling and walking around Les Halles just wore her out!
For our mains, my husband had roasted rabbit, which came with a really lovely mustard sauce and pasta. It was a bit of work to get the rabbit off the bone, but he enjoyed it very much and it wasn’t quite as game-y tasting as other rabbit I have tried. Plus, I could have eaten the mustard sauce all on it’s own!
I chose the baked cod which came with mushrooms – which accompanied nearly every dish that evening. They must be in season! I have absolutely no idea what kind of mushrooms they were, but the sauce, the mushrooms and cod were oh so delicious, down to the very last bite!
Dessert was a rough choice. We both chose to have the Grand Marnier souffle… but instead of bringing us one each, our waiter brought us one to share. Did he not realize I was pregnant?? We played a bit of “spoon wars” to get the last few bites of the souffle out of the dish, it was worth every extra lick!
After a goodnight’s rest back at the hotel, we were ready to start our only full day in Paris!
So you recall where our hotel is located? Well, it turns out that in the daytime it is really hard to get a taxi!! My husband attributes that to the lack of “activity” in the neighborhood and since we knew that it was about a ten minute walk from our hotel to the Sacre Coeur, he decided that we should start walking there.
Little did he know, the Sacre Coeur is located at the top of an incredibly steep hill. It is afterall, the second highest point in Paris after the Eiffel Tower. I objected, and insisted that we try to find a cab along the way, but there was no way a one year old and a 9 month pregnant woman were going to be interested in climbing to the top of Monmarte.
Little did I know, we were not going to find a cab until after we left the Sacre Coeur.
Thank goodness it wasn’t muggy or very warm that morning because we walked (very slowly) up to the bottom of the hill for the Sacre Coeur, and unable (even with the English menu) to figure out which ticket we needed to buy to use the tram to get up the steepest of the hills, we took the stairs.
THE ENTIRE WAY UP.
See? It was a lot of steps!! We took our time, each holding one of Mei’s hands, she made it about a quarter of the way up before needing to be held – which fell to my husband, who was also stuck carrying the stroller, and I took it one step at a time until we got to the top, stopping on each landing to take pictures and catch my breath. Needless to say, it took us about a half and hour to make the climb and Mei fell fast asleep after a small snack in her stroller while we made our way around the inside of the Sacre Coeur.
After walking around Montamarte for awhile, we caught a cab and headed over to the Notre Dame. The thing about visiting Paris in the warmer months is that way more people tend to be there and the line was entirely too long for our taste so we walked over to the next block and sat down on the sidewalk at a cafe and had a bit of lunch.
Typically, lunch on the sidewalk isn’t great and it’s pretty expensive and not to say we didnt spend a lot but the two sandwiches and a couple bunches of fries put us back about twenty euro – so not bad but not great…. but it gave us a chance to sit, relax, people watch and write our postcards to our friends and family back home.
It is a tradition or a ritual to write postcards to all of my friends and family when we travel somewhere – I think its more exciting to receive a postcard in the mail than to get some cheap trinket or yet another magnet for the fridge. It has the added bonus of allowing me to pick up a bunch of beautiful postcards (which I used to buy and just put in a box) and delightfully different postage which is also inexpensive and fun to buy and send a little something to everyone! On top of which, I get to practice a new language – which is always pretty exciting for me!
If you are travelling to Paris in the future, the Louvre has a post office in the bottom floor in the “mall” area mixed in with the gift shop and you can purchase as many postcard envelopes as you like that have pre-paid postage printed on them that can be mailed to anywhere you like, worldwide and once you pick up the envelopes (they speak English if you are worried about needing to know French to purchase these) you can mail them in any yellow mail box that is scattered throughout Paris or even from the front desk of your hotel!
After lunch, we headed across town to the Lover’s Bridge. It is a bridge in Paris where lovers go and place a padlock along it together then toss the key in the River Seine as a symbol that their love will keep them together forever. The first trip to Paris, Mei slept through the Lover’s Bridge and we just looked at all the different locks and inscriptions on them but this time, we planned ahead! We found a padlock in the garage and took it to a few engravers but the machines that would be able to engrave on the type of lock we had were all broken that week. So we just took a Sharpie marker to ours, knowing that the writing would not last. But it’s not about the inscription, it is about the lock and key.
Mei was very excited when she saw all the shiny locks and we walked part way down the bridge and looked for “the spot” where we would put ours. Finally, on the way back towards the Louvre side of the bridge, we found a Hello Kitty lock that was calling our name. We had last come to Paris with Cousin Hannah who is a lover of all things Hello Kitty and so for her, we put our lock next to a really cute Hello Kitty lock we found so hopefully, one day when Mei or Emily return to Paris, they can find our lock.
Mei had a particularly good time helping us to put the lock on the bridge and tossing the key into the river.
She did however shed a few tears once she realized the key wasn’t going to be coming back so she could toss it in the river over and over and over again.
From there we headed across the street and into the Louvre!
I don’t know why I’m always going to the Louvre on a Wednesday but it would seem that the art conservationists are always and I mean always working in the halls where the pieces that I want to see are at. I mean seriously. Apparently, I’m not meant to see these paintings.
Either way, we didn’t have to stand in the long, long line outside in the hot sun – once the people at the door saw that we had Mei and that I was pretty pregnant, they ushered us right on in! Going in on the pyramid side is pretty cool due to the architecture but in the hot summer sun?? There is no air conditioning inside and the pyramid is like an OVEN. In the ten minutes or so that it took us to get from the door, down to the bottom floor so we could buy tickets or shop in their shops and things, we were soaked in sweat so much so that Mei’s shirt changed to a darker shade of light blue. No kidding. We decided it was much too hot to visit the Mona Lisa again and since the other paintings weren’t available to visit and it was so bloody hot, we left after taking a picture where the pyramids touch and retreated back outside to find some shade and a place to sit awhile.
The areas surrounding the Louvre have wonderful little parks and greens and we found one that was lined with benches to sit in the shade and enjoy the breeze coming through the trees. Mei had a snack, chased some pigeons and took a little break to take care of business. This was right at the time that she was figuring out how to crouch down and do her business – the cusp of potty training. YES!
Afterwards, since we had purchased a two-day pass on the double decker red tourist buses, we decided to just sit and ride that while Mei took a nice long nap and get off to take pictures if we felt like it or just to really take in the sights. It is the only way that we noticed that some of the “do not enter” signs around town had been artfully re-designed….
We stopped and got off at each of the stops at least once so we could see the Arc, the Eiffel tower and all the other sites along the way – but the long ride around town a couple of times was good for resting our feet, my belly and a very tired Mei.
After a bunch of riding around town and a bit more walking to find little grocery stores that might have the sea salt butter that I was looking for and other spices and any other interesting groceries and food stuffs we could spot. And a bit more time to buy more postcards and write the last of them, since it was our last full day in town.We finally got to dinner which was at A La Biche Au Bois (45 Avenue Ledru-Rollin 75012). The last time we went, it was the first evening we were in Paris and we arrived rain-soaked and out of breath but they treated us like family and we had a lovely experience with amazing food. This time, we arrived a little warm and tired from all the walking but incredibly hungry. Our appetizers arrived just in time, two different pates for my husband – all were a mix of different wild game and mine was melon slices wrapped in Spanish prosciutto - something I have been wanting to try for some time and the melon was so ripe and juicy…. it really paired well with the saltiness of the prosciutto. Something I will easily be making for a starter for a meal at my house for company one day in the future. Mei helped me eat the melon slices, discarding the prosciutto – not quite the fan of it as we were. Dinner arrived shortly after and all I could remember of it was that my husband got the coq au vin, which is the dish they are most known for which was nothing short of amazing and I can’t even remember what it was that I had ordered for dinner!
Dinner lasted nearly three hours but we were happy to return to our hotel room to rest our feet and channel surf for a bit while we got Mei down to sleep.
The next morning, we woke up and had breakfast at our hotel then while Mei was down for her morning nap, I walked around the corner to a little grocery store and picked up some butter and odds and ends to take home. I managed to find a hard butter (the only kind that would survive the next three or so hours that it would take for us to get all the way home) with sea salt to bring home with us. Note: I have since found a local grocer that stocks authentic French sea salt butter and it is a truly wonderful. It is not very expensive to buy and I will keep it on hand and eat it every day until we leave, damn the calories! Then we caught a cab to the nearest Poilane bakery to buy the famed Poilane bread that Peter Reinhart talks about in nearly all of his bread baking books.
There is a really lovely story about it and another bakery in his book “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice” you just must read – not to mention it is a darned good guide on bread baking if you aren’t good at it or have always wanted to bake your own bread.
At any rate, I really wanted to buy a loaf of decorated sourdough, it is just under five pounds in weight and a true masterpiece but once we arrived they told us they weren’t going to sell the last one that they had, so we bought just the regular sourdough round that is also roughly four pounds in weight with the Poilane ‘P’ carved into it and dusted in flour. It was truly a thing of beauty.
We also picked up a few other bits of bread, cookies and crackers to take home for the train ride back to London.
The train ride back to London was rather eventful. We managed to miss our first train, then got on the second one that would get us there about a half hour later than the train we had intended to take in the first place because the Immigration Official was just being trained and had trouble figuring out how to read our visas in our passports and took issue with Mei’s passport picture. Can I help that her picture was taken when she was only ten days old and still jaundiced and she looks nothing like her picture now??
Either way, we managed to have a pleasant train ride back to London, then back to our house early enough to go and pick up some groceries to make dinner with and to pick up Patella from her sitter and get to bed early to catch up on some much needed Zzzz’s!
Another great trip to Paris, my new favorite place in the entire world!