Am I going to starve to death after visiting Paris?

Okay, so I’m back in Toronto and was really worried that I would get super depressed from the lack of good food after being exposed to all the great fresh, local and gourmet food in Paris. So for my first grocery store visit, I went to my local Sobey’s grocery store (because it resembles a market whereas my neighbourhood Metro is a little ghetto).  Okay, so the deli isn’t quite the same with the ‘balloon’ strand sausages that are hanging up for decoration (and not the real thing) but there are places in Toronto that have that (St. Lawrence Market, for example). But the produce looks great and the cheese section wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be! We do have very good variety (although we’ve got nothing on the amount and variety of goat cheese that’s available in France). But I hear there are some great cheeses coming out of Quebec.

But lo and behold, to my surprise, I found two of my favourite cheeses while I was in Paris! Bleu D’Auvergne and Compte are both carried at the major grocery stores! Gruyere Grotte (which is from Switzerland and which I first tried when I was in Paris) is also carried in the stores here. Thank goodness for the import/export industry.

However, I have been spoiled by good baguettes while in Paris and I still have to find a good baguette in Toronto. I am optimistic that I will be able to find it if I look hard enough (although they may not be available every 5 blocks).

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Bon Voyage with Ladurée

LadureeThis morning I had to say good-bye to the Paris apartment. Madame Roux, the apartment agent, came by this morning for check out. I chipped a glass but she didn’t dock me for it. I also got her business card so if I ever want to rent the apartment again, I can contact her directly and not go through the agency omitting the third party charges. Très bien!

So, after realizing that a taxi to the Charles de Gaulle airport costs 60 euros, I opted to take Parishuttle again for 31 euros. Thing is, all their vans were booked for Sunday. C’est dommage! It looks like I’m going to have to take the RER after all.

Being a little wary with the size of my suitcase and the number of stairs there are in the metro, I checked out the route the night before. There are only 3 staircases that I’d need to get past and from there, there are conveyor belts and escalators at Chatelet/Les Halles station. I think I can do it! Once I got to the RER platform, it was all good (Note to self: Pack less and use a smaller sized suitcase next time). But at a cost of just under 10 euros to get from downtown Paris to the airport, it’s a total deal. (it took me 2 hours to get into central Paris when I took the Parishuttle because the driver had to pick up a bunch of people and then drop off a bunch of people – hence making the fare cheaper but it still cost me 31 euros and took twice as long as the RER).

Sadly I must admit, that prior to getting to the airport, I had not had the chance to go to Ladurée and try one of their famous macarons. Ladurée stores are everywhere in Paris – in department stores, at Versailles, at the airport. Yes the airport. Feeling a little peckish, I figured why not?

I sampled 3 flavours – cherry blossom, blackcurrent and salted caramel (recommended by the sales clerk). Oh my goodness! These are good! Even better than the ones I had at Georges Larnicol or Fauchon!

I went back and got a box to take back with me. And guess what, they were duty free!

Au revoir Paris

So, my Paris adventure is coming to an end but what a fantastic trip it has been! I experienced the open air markets, went to some great restaurants, took a couple courses at Cordon Bleu, went to Versailles, visited Rouen, saw a bunch of museums and mingled with the locals.

But despite everything that I did, I still feel like it wasn’t enough time. I was so busy exploring the city that I have some back posts that I still have to fill in on my blog (the post about the butter I bought, for example). Don’t worry, these will be coming shortly. I am sad to say good-bye to Paris but I purposely left a couple things (Rue Mouffetard and Centre Pompadou) out so that I have something to look forward to the next time I visit.

Leaving Cordon Bleu

Thank you Cordon Bleu!

Interestingly enough, the things I enjoyed most were the cooking classes (go figure), checking out the outdoor markets and interacting with the store owners at the local bakeries and butcher shops. I am very impressed with the level of service that there is (like when I saw the butcher debone a leg of lamb at the market). Least favourite things were the uber touristy things like Champs-Élysées, going to the Louvre in the middle of the afternoon (crazy gong show with the crowds) and the tourist central areas such as Galleries Lafayette, Printemps and Fauchon.

But after experiencing this wonderful visit, it got me thinking…wouldn’t it be nice to live in Paris for a year and sign up for Cordon Bleu? Perhaps if I ever win the lottery – you never know!

My final lunch in Paris

Pramil menu_cropThe day before I flew out of Paris I decided to take it easy. There was still a number of things that I wanted to do in Paris including visiting the Centre Pompidou, checking out the evening view from the Arc de Triomphe with the Eiffel Tower sparkling in the background and going to Rue Moffatard – the famous market street in the Latin Quarter lined with food shops. However, I decided that those would best be left for next time. I didn’t want to rush through these things and it’s always good to leave something for next time (plus I’d already walked and seen so much this trip that my legs were killing me!)

So, rather than trying to cram everything in on my last day, I decided that I would take it easy and focus on getting a few gifts to bring back. This also meant that I had plenty of time to enjoy a leisurely lunch (something that I rarely had the opportunity to do because I was always running around Paris) with my fellow foodie friend Doris, whom I’d met on my second day at Cordon Bleu. She told me about a restaurant she looked up on Zagat and had gotten very good reviews. She had already been there a couple times (I call it her ‘cantine’). My decision to take it easy and have a nice lunch was one of the best decisions I made on this trip! The place we went to was called Pramil. It had very good reviews, was frequented by locals and offered a set menu  for lunch (20 euro for two courses) and dinner. I loved the fact that it had a small, yet organized kitchen and intimate, yet friendly dining room. The chef even came out and chatted with the guests!

Doris ordered a cream of white asparagus soup with foie gras ice cream and Berkshire pork chops with caramelized heirloom carrots – delish! (although to be honest, I can’t really taste the difference between Berkshire pork chops and regular pork chops. Perhaps my palate isn’t refined enough.) However, they were beautifully cooked! They only cook it to medium rare so it is still pink in the middle (normally I would kinda freak out but I had total confidence in the chef. I figured he really knows what he’s doing). Oh yes, and no substitutions! Haha! True French style.

Cream of white asparagus soup with foie gras ice cream

Cream of white asparagus soup with foie gras ice cream

Berkshire porkchops with caramelized heirloom carrots

Berkshire porkchops with caramelized heirloom carrots

I ordered a smoked salmon salad (the waiter told us that they smoke the salmon in-house) and rabbit (I’ve never had rabbit before – it kinda tastes like chicken).

Salad with smoked fish

Salad with smoked fish

Rabbit with artichokes and olives

Rabbit with artichokes and Kalamata olives

For dessert, Doris had the squash cake with a lychee sorbet (I think it was lychee – certain things get lost in translation). I had a chili infused dark chocolate ice cream (amazing!) with a passionfruit coulis.

squash cake with icecream

Squash cake with ice cream

chocolate ice cream with passionfruit

Dark chocolate ice cream with passionfruit

Lunch was divine! What a great place! I wish I had visited it sooner because I would have definitely gone back to try their duck and sea scallops. I’ve decided that the next time I visit Paris, I will choose to have lunch as my main meal out. The prices are better, the environment less hectic and the food is just as good. I think this was even mentioned to me in my “Edible Adventures in Paris” book (but who has time for a 2 hour lunch when trying to see all the sites of Paris). Pramil wasn’t one of the restaurants listed but it was one of the best food experiences I had. Perhaps it might be in the next edition (but for now, it’s my little secret).

Pramil restaurant

Pramil restaurant

Versailles

Hall of Mirrors

I have been waiting for a sunny day to do Versailles, but it’s nearing the end of the trip so I’m going to just have to roll the dice and settle for a day that’s ‘cloudy with showers’ instead. Hopefully the showers hold off. The weather has been very unpredictable the entire time I’ve been in Paris and the forecast changes daily. At least there haven’t been that many days with non-stop rain. Most days it will rain for a bit and then clear up and be sunny. The saying “April showers” definitely applies to Paris.

So today I decided to bite the bullet and do a bike tour of Versailles. My goodness it was chilly but at least there was no rain while we were biking (it did hail however, but that was after the cycling portion was over and we were safely inside the Chateau). Versailles is nice, and I will definitely be going again. I wanted to see the Petite and Grande Trianons and explore the gardens more. Mary Antionette’s hamlet, however was damaged 10 years ago in a windstorm and hasn’t been open to the public ever since. So sad! I really wanted to see that.

Versaille gardens

Versaille gardens

The thing about the bike tour is that we spent so much time cycling around the grand canal and the areas behind the palace, that we only had around 2 hours to check out the palace and the manicured gardens. Next time I will take the RER on my own (it runs every 15 minutes), arrive early in the morning and spend the whole day there. I could easily spend the entire day in the gardens alone. And this summer, they even happen to have a special night fountain and fireworks show from 9pm-11:30pm that you can buy tickets to go see (Note: this is different that the typical fountain show that runs on the weekends at Versailles). How cool is that?!

This got me thinking, it would be really cool to have a scavenger hunt in the Louvre or the Gardens of Versaille. But only during the day, at night it might be a little scary!

The little things…a fresh baked baguette

There is nothing like picking up a freshly baked baguette (still warm) from the neighbourhood bakery on the way home from a long, chilly day at Versailles. I will talk more about my day at Versailles later, but coming to home to a warm baguette, still warm to the touch with a soft crunch to the exterior and soft, warm interior – C’est manifique! And the great thing is that I bought this baguette at 7pm in the evening! The French bake their bread twice a day, once in the morning and once later on in the afternoon. Très bien! An even bigger bonus is that this baguette only cost me 1 euro! I’ve heard that eating out in Paris can be expensive, but sampling the local fare including French cheeses (Neufchâtel, Blue d’Auvergne, Compté, not to mention the crazy variety of goat cheeses that there are right now), seasonal produce such as Gariguette strawberries and freshly baked baguettes that only cost 1 euro, I’ve done pretty good on my food budget. Of note, cheese in general is cheaper out here than in Canada. I don’t know why – perhaps it’s because of supply and demand. Sadly, a lot of the cheese that they have out here aren’t available in Canada either.

Another thing I noticed is that there aren’t any Lululemon stores in France and hence, no one wearing Lululemon on the street (except for me). 🙂 Hey, I had to be comfortable during my bike ride. I didn’t notice any curious/strange looks from the Parisians though. But it is true, no one wears sweatpants in Paris.

I am going to be so sad when I go home in two days. *Le sigh* However, I’m already planning my next trip back.

Taste of Paris walking tour – Les Halles

So after my last experience with Paris Walks and the “Paris Fashion Tour” (ie. Mary Antoniette/history of French monarchy fashion) I was a little apprehensive about going on the “Taste of Paris Tour”. What if it’s a bust like the last one? However, I had signed up for them both at the same time and had already paid a deposit so there was no turning back now.

It turns out that the tour was going to take place around the Les Halles area. I had actually walked around the area the day before and didn’t have a very good impression of it. Les Halles (or what I call ‘the eyesore formally known as Les Halles’) consists of a dated looking shopping arcade. Plus it doesn’t help that the surrounding area is currently undergoing a major facelift.

Les Halles

The eyesore formerly known as Les Halles

Right now it is nothing but an underground shopping mall surrounded by a very, very large construction zone in the middle of the city. (the new Les Halles isn’t scheduled to be done until 2016 – *sigh*). The surrounding areas consist of brasseries, bistros, Saint Eustache and Fountaine des Innocents which I’m sure might be lovely on a sunny day. But it was raining on the day I went and I found it hard to make any connections to this area and the history of the famous Les Halles market.

Bourse de Commerce

Bourse de Commerce located next to Les Halles

Les Halles was historically a place where the food vendors were all situated over 100 years ago but there isn’t much evidence of that now. The major food market is now at Rungis but it’s only accessible to industry professionals (you need to have credentials to enter). It wasn’t obvious where major landmarks were and overall it felt a little touristy. Given its current state, it’s one of those places that you need to know what to look for just because there is so much construction happening around the surrounding area.

Thankfully, the tour provided the insight that I needed. I really lucked out and was pleasantly surprised! Our tour guide was very knowledgeable and knew a lot about the foods specific to certain regions in France. From the tour I learned that many foods are closely regulated (chocolate, for example, cannot be called chocolate unless it contains at least 70% cocoa solids (for dark) and 36% cocoa solids (for milk) – Hershey kisses which only contain around 5% cocoa soilds are called “chocolate flavoured” candies in France). I even learned that there are specific seasons for goat cheese and blue cheese – I didn’t even know that cheese had a season!

French chickens

I was introduced to a particular type of strawberry called Gariguettes (grown in the South of France) and the famous Bresse chickens! She explained that the famous Bresse chickens are grown in a certain region in France (called Bresse – makes sense). They are a certain breed, characterized by their blue feet, red comb and white feathers (which are also the colors of the national flag) and are required to have a certain amount of open air square footage in which to roam. Even their diet is controlled and regulated. Our tour guide also bought samples of prunes, Gariguette strawberries and macarons for us to try as well.

macarons

Macaron de Nancy – the original macaron

We walked along the main market street in the 2nd arr. (Rue Montorgueil) which is the major food market street in the area. We stopped by a cheese shop and had a tasting of different varieties of cheeses (with wine of course) along with Poilâne bread (she mentioned that Poilâne bread was a big deal in France). We also stopped by two chocolate shops and sampled an assortment of dark, milk and flavour infused chocolates, hot chocolate, sampled eclairs from La Maison Stohrer and stopped by a wine and chocolate pairing shop which is quite a new idea in Paris. Along the way, our tour guide pointed out various well-known kitchenware stores (many which were listed in my “Le Cordon Bleu – Welcome to Paris!” booklet) and talked about the history of Les Halles.

Cheese platter

Cheese tasting!

After the tour, I stepped into E. Dehillerin (where Julia Child would buy her copper pots) and saw one of the couples who was in the tour with us. When they saw me they said “Quelle surprise!”. I guess it’s because I specifically asked the tour guide where the store was. E. Dehillerin (also in my guidebook) is a huge restaurant supply store that has a great selection of items at reasonable prices. Don’t be taken aback by the warehouse-like interior. I got a couple of items for my kitchen as well as souvenirs (and I had a 10% off discount card that I got from La Cuisine Paris when I took the souffle class). Sweet!

Dehillerin

E. Dehillerin – Restaurant supply store where Julia Child shopped!

Here is an interesting note: The French use a different type of spatula than in North America. Their version looks like a flat wooden spoon. You will be hard pressed to find the silicon or rubber spatula that we have in North America (although I think it’s far superior because you can really scrape everything out). Apparently, certain traditions die hard in France.

The Louvre

I quickly decided that since it rains so much in Paris in the spring, that I would reserve a rainy day for visiting the Louvre. Apparently it seems like everyone else felt the same way because it was a crazy gong show with all the crowds at the Louvre today – and this isn’t even the busy season! I wonder if it had to do with the rain or if the Louvre is, in fact, always that busy.

The Mona Lisa

My least favourite part of the Louvre

However, on Wednesday and Friday nights the Louvre is open until 10pm and since almost all tours take place in the afternoon, the best time to go to the Louvre is after 6pm until closing on these days. This is also when the artists come out and sit in the French sculpture pavilion to sketch/draw for a couple hours. It is absolute tranquility. That is my absolute favourite part of the Louvre along with Napoleon’s apartments.

French sculpture pavillion

My most favourite part of the Louvre

Surprisingly, another highlight of the Louvre for me was the Nintendo DS audio guide (which just got released this month). It is seriously the best 5 euro ever spent for a day at the museum. It’s like the Da Vinci code meets the Legend of Zelda! The interactive audio guide detects where you are in the Louvre and updates the screen with the artwork of interest based on your location. You can hover over a certain art piece, select it and it will play the audio commentary. Or if there is a certain piece you are looking for in the museum, you can select it and it will map the shortest route to it.

Nintendo DS Audio Guide

Love the Nintendo DS audio guide!

The Louvre is a huge labyrinth of hallways, pavilions and corridors so it makes perfect sense to have some sort of interactive map. I loved it! For someone who isn’t generally a museum person, the audio guide is a total game changer!

The hike up to Sacre Coeur

Sacre Coeur

The weather in Paris has been uncharacteristically cold over the past week and rainy for the most part. So I’ve been waiting for a sunny/clear day to head up to Montmartre to see the Sacre Coeur. Apparently the look out from the top of the dome gives you a wonderful view of the city of Paris. The area of Montmartre is located on a hill which also happens to be the highest point in Paris. I knew that the church was built on the top of a hill but I didn’t realize just how hilly the neighbourhood was. One thing that I’ve noticed is that there aren’t a lot of escalators in the subway (and even fewer elevators). I really should have clued in when I got off at Abbesses station and walked past a bunch of people who filed into the elevator.

There is a reason why Abbesses has an elevator – it’s because the station is situated very deep underground. So in order to exit the station you can either take the elevator or walk up a spiral staircase consisting of 90 steps (there is even a sign at the bottom informing you of this – how thoughtful). I didn’t mind the 90 steps (it’s really deceiving how many steps there are because you can’t see all the steps because it spirals around) but I did choose to take the funicular up to the base of the Sacre Coeur once I was at street level. However, to get to the dome of the Sacre Coeur, you have to climb another 300 steps (there is a sign – again, how thoughtful)!

The funiculaire to Sacre Coeur

The funiculaire to Sacre Coeur

Stairs to the Dome

However, the lookout at the top was well worth the hike. It was a nice sunny day and the view was amazing! However, my legs now feel like jello and ever since my visit to Montmartre, every time I see stairs in the subway I let out a small whimper.  There are stairs everywhere! I even started counting them. Each staircase in the metro consists of around 20 steps. There are stairs to get into the station and stairs to get onto the platform. So each time someone takes the subway, they have to climb 40-50 stairs to get into the station and onto the platform, and the same to get out. That’s around 100 stairs for each subway ride. And there are no escalators! Your only option is to take the stairs (it really is a good form of exercise).  And this is one of the reasons why I think the French don’t get fat.

At the top looking at the base of the Sacre CoeurSo between hiking up the Arc de Triomphe, the towers at Notre Dame Cathedral and the dome of the Sacre Coeur, plus all the stairs in the subway, I must have climbed at least 2000 stairs within the past week. I don’t think I’ve ever climbed so many stairs within a one week period as I have in Paris in my entire life. This city is kicking my butt!

The view points at the top of these places make it all worth it though.

View from the top of Sacre Coeur

View from the dome of the Sacre Coeur

View from Notre Dame Tower

View  of the Seine from Notre Dame Tower

View from Notre Dame

View of the Île de la Cité

Tranquility after Rouen – Claude Monet’s garden at Giverny

Monet's lily pad pondI woke up this morning with hardly a hangover. Thank goodness for that because there aren’t that many trains that run on Sunday. I hopped on the SCNF train and made my way to the town of Giverny where Claude Monet’s house and garden are located. Oh my goodness – it is absolutely beautiful!!! The air literally smells like perfume when the wind blows because of all the flowers that are in the garden. I could have easily spent the entire day there! Lucky for me, coming from the town of Rouen (and not Paris), I was able to avoid the crowds because I arrived at a different time than the trains that come from the Paris direction. When my friend went last week she told me it was a total gong show with the number of tourists that were there (I can believe it). I still think that the garden’s are a great site to see despite the crowds.

I took a look at the flower gardens, the lily pond (my FAVOURITE place) and Claude Monet’s house. The two gardens combined are huge. It don’t know how many landscapers or time it takes to maintain them but they are gorgeous. (I later read up on the history and Monet had seven gardeners at one time to take care of the grounds). There are so many types of flowers and plants. I saw tulips, cherry blossoms, bamboo and countless others. I could have easily just have sat on a bench, enjoyed the gardens and watch time pass by. The garden’s also have livestock (chickens, turkeys, etc.) so you can hear a rooster call every minute or so. Surreal!

Monet's house and gardens

Unfortunately for me, I spent so much time enjoying the gardens that I missed the 12:15pm charter bus that takes people back to the train station. Without a taxi in site, I decided to kill the extra two hours and explore the town of Giverny. The town is a tourist attraction in itself (but doesn’t feel tacky) and you can see the church and cemetery where Monet is buried, the medieval buildings and several impressionist galleries.

tulips