Particular Paris

Every time I go to Paris, I fall in love with it a little bit more. That might have something to do with the last visit - maybe, just maybe :) But this was my longest stay in the city and I feel as though I truly got to experience daily life more than before. For one thing, we were staying in a self-catering apartment, so it felt like we were at home (a beautiful beautiful beautiful version of home) - and got the chance to meet up with some of my favorite Parisians (my friend Nilo from San Diego lives there, and my cousin Emilie). While we did lots of tourist activities, they were nicely balanced with sampling the local life in restaurants and walks around the neighborhood (7ieme, to the Parisians).

So this serves as a bit of recap of my week, but also a list of recommended places if you're ever in Paris. We got the chance to see and do some great things that I don't suppose many people would think to do, so I hope this is helpful if you're planning a visit. Plus - I didn't have any reactions to the food. This was something I was pretty nervous about, but I found it pretty easy to avoid the offenders while dining out.

Sunday

We arrived in the evening on the Eurostar - myself, Phil, my Dad, and my Grandma. Settled in to our new home for the week, then went out to eat at a restaurant recommended to us by the owner of the apartment (my Dad's friend from the States) - la fontaine de mars. We came back for a second meal later in the week - this might give you in an indication of just how good the food was. Of course, a reservation for a friday night was essential. We just happened to get lucky on Sunday. The bread was the best - really soft and doughy in the middle, with a crunchy but not tough crust. Phil and I enjoyed our salmon baked in a salt crust - the service was impeccable (no wonder the Obamas ate here!)

Monday

The four of us spent the day walking (and walking and walking) - around our neighborhood, then along the Seine, cutting back down towards the Jardin du Luxembourg ("the spot" as my Dad called it, where the proposal took place - Phil and I had to sit on the bench and recreate the moment for the camera!) - we were all exhausted by the end of our long and winding journey, but had a delicious meal in a nearby brasserie of warm goat cheese salad (chevre chaud). My Dad opted for the soup a l'oignon (he's a traditionalist). That evening, we dined at a nearby bistro called le p'tit troquet. It's absolutely tiny and family-run, but a great and simple menu is offered. More bread of course, plenty of sancerre, and the desserts came garnished with baby meringues bearing smiley faces. That kind of sums up how precious it was. Equally as precious is this photo Phil took of me and my Dad and Grandma in the Champ de Mars. This is surely one for awkward family photos:

Tuesday

We started this day the same way we started every day this week - by wandering down to one of the local boulangeries for a baguette and some croissants. We were spoilt for choice, but had a clear favorite after a few days (on the Avenue Rapp) - because the woman behind the counter was friendly :) As it was Phil's last day, we spent the morning all together browsing the designer goods in printemps, and then going our separate ways. Phil and I had a lovely lunch in the park and wandered around the city for a while. We headed home via the supermarket to collect the ingredients for dinner. Nilo was coming over and we were making our favorite prawn, quinoa, and avocado salad. We also picked up some tart tatin for dessert (a mille-feuille for Phil) and a couple more bottles of Sancerre to wash it all down with. Phil headed back to London on the Eurostar after dinner.

Wednesday

After breakfast, we headed to the farmers market on Avenue President Wilson across the river and picked up lots of food for lunch and Thursday night's dinner, along with a special bread cutting board and a pair of espadrilles. Only the essentials, right? After a lunch of beautifully fresh roquette, tomatoes, 2 kinds of goat cheese, plenty of baguette, and juicy cherries, we set off for Jaures and our Canal Sant-Martin ride. This is something I booked for Phil and I to do in February but it ended up being far too cold, so we put it off (luckily the tickets are valid for a year). So I treated my Dad and Grandma to the journey instead - it was a two and a half hour ride with canauxrama, a great little company that takes you down the Canal St-Martin, ending up at the Bastille. It is wonderfully relaxing, going very slowly down the canal, past all varieties of sights you wouldn't come across otherwise. The tour guide was brilliant, a really friendly multi-lingual lady. We saw the hotel du nord and the house where the man lived who stole the Mona Lisa. This is seriously worth the price of admission and a wonderful activity on a sunny day in Paris - highly recommended. Love those locks! That evening we had dinner with my cousin Emilie and her boyfriend at a great bistro near Les Invalides called bistro de breteuil. Dinner was superb - a prix fixe menu including kir royale and wine! My sea bass vierge was impeccable, as was dessert - 3 scoops of berry sorbet with a light, thin pastry crust.

Thursday

Sunny Thursday saw us catching the train to Versailles palace - WOW. It is breathtaking and mind boggling how large Versailles is. Unfortunately, we wasted the first half hour of our time there waiting in line for tickets, only to discover we didn't actually need to buy any (we didn't want to go inside the palace and do the tour, we just wanted to wander around the garden, which is free, and see Marie-Antoinette's hideaway). To beat the crowds, I'd suggest skipping those huge lines at the front of the palace and heading straight through to the gardens and along the grand canal. The number of people they must employ to keep those gardens looking so pristine is staggering! But my favorite part of Versailles has to be Marie-Antoinette's hameau de la reine. This is a little village set far back from the main palace, with beautiful gardens, rustic cottages, carp-filled ponds, and a farm with goats and sheep. You have to pay for entry, but it is well worth it. There is a spot for lunch at the Petit Trianon which we all enjoyed, and could have spent far longer perusing the grounds. I want to go back there right now. Later on, we made dinner at home - those tasty veal kidneys I mentioned in my last post!

Friday

We celebrated my Grandma's 80th birthday from sunrise to sunset on Friday! She opened her gifts and cards at breakfast (and covered the apartment's mantel with those cards!) - and then we hopped on the metro to the tuileries for a garden show she wanted to see. We saw some beautiful flowers and herbs, as well as garden furniture and fountains on display. Crab salad for lunch at a cute spot on the Rue Saint-Honore, and a restful afternoon back at the homestead. Dinner, again, at Fontaine de Mars. This time I had the most amazing gaspacho with goat cheese and a vegetable terrine. Too pretty not to photograph:

Saturday

Our last full day in Paris was very hot and sunny - almost too hot. But we made the most of the summery weather and stayed outdoors, spending the majority of the day in montmartre with many many other tourists! You can get easily lost in the little side streets, but that was exactly the kind of break from the crowds we wanted. A lazy lunch in the shade at a corner cafe was thoroughly enjoyed, with glasses of cold beer and a goat cheese salad for me (predictable). Some more wandering in the sunshine before heading out to dinner at cafe de l'alma with a friend of my Dad's. I had dim sum (a very random listing on the menu and not at all what I was expecting!) followed by melt-in-your-mouth wild baby strawberries with sorbet. A perfect last meal in Paris. After dinner, I joined Nilo for wine on the pont des arts. This is a seriously cool spot for the young folks out there - if you're in the city in the summer and it's far too hot to do anything vigorous, wait until the sun starts to set, pack a picnic and some wine, bring your friends and a blanket, and fight for a big enough spot on this wooden bridge. The breeze from the Seine cools you off nicely and the lively atmosphere of the crowd instantly brings a smile to your face. Sing along with one of the many french boys with a guitar as they try and woo the girls with their (terrible) songs! This was a truly wonderful week away - and to think all of this is just 2 hours away by train! That is the magic of living in Europe... something I really don't want to take for granted while I'm here.