Monday, December 26, 2011

Mais oui, Paris!

Last month Thalys, the French train company, had major end-of-the-year sales on all their routes and we snagged some tickets from Rotterdam to Paris Nord for 50% off--steal! We booked a cute apartment (on in the Haute Marais (Upper Marais), or the 3rd arrondissement. Super central. Within walking distance to the Pompidou, Notre Dame, the Seine, Louvre, Opera, all the major sights. Of course the metro was a block away as well.

We arrived around 3pm on Friday, settled into the cozy, 6th floor, très Parisien apartment (read: small). After a quick coffee, we hit the streets, wandering a bit aimlessly towards the Seine. On our way, we couldn't help ourselves--at every boulangerie we had to stop and check out their goods. Ok fine, we ate everything, I'll be honest. At the first place, we each tried a mini quiche. At the second, a gourmandise sandwich looked too good pass up. The third had a tempting croque monsieur but the line was too long. We finally ended up on the Ile Saint-Louis and enjoyed a glass of wine in a warm café.

On the way to Saint-Germain across the river, we saw the Notre Dame all lit up. A lovely sight. Walking along the Seine, we wondered what is the deal with Paris? Why the heck is it oh-so romantic? On that first night I think we saw five couples totally making out in the middle of the street, and one in a restaurant. Is it the river and the flat boats? The language? The pain au chocolat? Amsterdam also has the canals and cute houses--and pickled herring. But I wouldn't call it romantic--I call it cute. There's just something about Paris.

We ended up at a LP-recommended restaurant in Saint-Germain. I practiced some of my rusty French with the host and he showed us to the non-reservation area, also known as the basement. There were two other couples down there, so we weren't alone in our non-coolness. They were also speaking English. Figures. There's nothing like coming to Paris and feeling bad about yourself, your culture-less, non-French speaking self! Oh well, we embraced it. And I even sent back a bottle of wine that smelled like a dog did some business on the grapes right before they were pressed. Take that, Paris! ;)

To end the night, we walked along the Canal Saint-Marin in the 10e arrondissement. What a charming neighborhood! We spotted several cafés and restaurants that looked better than the one we chose in Saint-Germain. We posted up at a buzzing canal-side bar called Chez Prune. Lively atmosphere, totally fun decor.

Day two was a whirlwind for me. Elliot got up and fetched a fresh baguette for breakfast. Oh, the crunch! Then, to be most effective, I headed out on my own for two important business items: the famous St. Ouen flea market and Montmartre's fabric stores.

St. Ouen, at the Porte de Clignancourt, was a dream come true, an antique paradise. People have been selling goods here dating back over 200 years (though officially the market began in 1885). It's a permanent market with rows and rows of over 2000 shops with enticing storefronts. French linens, tea towels, pots and pans, silverware, letterpress typefaces, jewelry, paintings, furniture, and knick-knacks galore. Too. Much. Fun. After about an hour, I escaped with a small purchase of a pretty necklace.

Next stop was Montmartre and it's famous Marché Saint-Pierre: 4 floors of fabrics and a whole other building full of notions (buttons, feathers, thread and other accoutrement). Equally fun! I also checked the other shops in the area. I'm so jealous that the Parisiens have all these craft and fabric stores to chose from!

Elliot and I met up at the Opera, had some lunch and then went towards the River in search of two more stores I wanted to see. First stop, though: la creperie! (I love nutella.) When I finally found La Droguerie I knew I was in love. Another notions store, but this was so much more. So many pretty things in cute containers! Feathers, jewelry making, and Liberty of London fabric [sigh]. They even had Liberty bias tape! Never seen that before. One day I will a room in my house that looks like this. Then I'll truly be home!

As we turned the next corner, there was the other store! Incredible kitchenware. Mauviel copper pots and pans, le Creuset and Staub galore, all the cuisine gadgets you could ever imagine. And more.

After sopping up my drool and returning to reality, we walked to the Louvre and made sure Pei's pyramids were still there. Yep! Still looking good.

We had to get back to the apartment somewhat soon because I'd signed us up for a secret dinner--yes, secret! I found this blog about underground kitchens and since it was somewhat reasonably priced, I thought what the heck?! Plus, it turned out the location (which of course we didn't find out until about 2 hours before) was right up the street from us. Perfect. It was a little awkward at first--strangers gathering together at another stranger's house. The host/chef was British and the group included four other Brits,  three French, and three other Americans. Pretty good mix of folks. During dinner, we had to sit next to someone we didn't come with, so we all got to know each other by the end of the night. We had five courses over the span of six--SIX!--hours (when in Rome!). I have to admit, it was good, not great. My favorite dish was the burrata and rucola. That cheese is amazing.

Day three, item one: fresh baguette. Item two: pain au chocolat.  So good. A couple things were still on our to-do list for this trip: check out the 10e and 19e arrondissements, meet up for lunch with Elliot's French friend Arnaud, eat falafel in the Marais, and walk the Promenade Plantée. Lots to do!

The 10e, from what I've read and heard, has been through a lot of change in past few years. I believe it's what you call an 'up and coming neighborhood.' Gare du Nord's transformation helped out the neighborhood, as did the massive investment (city-wide) in cycle paths and sidewalk improvements. Some hidden cute cafés, restaurants, sidewalk eateries are sprinkled around Quay de Valmy. The good ones aren't so obvious as in other parts of Paris; this neighborhood makes you work for it a bit. The wrought-iron latticed footbridges bridges that ascend up and over Canal Saint-Martin soften the surroundings and the street art spottings (space invaders!) add a little fun and 80s grunge to it as well.

We met up with Arnaud, one of Elliot's classmates, and kept walking along the canal towards the 19e, La Villette. Another changing neighborhood. Although more on the outskirts of the city, it's still a bustling place and much more diverse than the crowded, touristic city center. Nice parks, elevated metro line, bistros, and the canal. Cool.

A couple metro stops later we were at the base of the Pompidou. What a weird building! Falafel was on our mind, so we kept on walking to the heart of the Marais--the historic Jewish district. Found one of the famous places and tried the standard falafel pita. It was pretty good. (Ok, fine, I'm an elitist Bay Area falafel freak and this was just ok.)

We ended our outing with Arnaud with a short, chilly walk at dusk on the Promenade Plantée--the elevated railway-turned greenway; it's the original High Line of Paris, completed in 1993. A lovely three miles of Paris that takes you two stories up, out in the open air, and gives you a different sense of the city below.

That night we ended up back in the Marais for dinner, at a cozy restaurant on Rue Saint-Croix de la Bretonnerie. Delightful grilled salmon and friendly staff. We were so full after dinner we could barely walk. But we did. Instead of the metro, we hoofed it all the way back to the apartment.

We woke up in the morning to bright blue skies and a wintery sunny day. Fantastique! Our last few hours in the morning were spent at the amazing Carrefour supermarket down the street. It's like the Whole Foods of Paris, but not as expensive. We stocked up on Bonne Maman treats, chocolate, and got some lunch for the train ride back to Holland. Around noon we headed for Gare du Nord. Another wonderful visit to the city of lights!

1 comment:

  1. Day in and day out, it kinda sounds like all you do is eat and shop. So jealous!


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