Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Paris | Day 3

Time is different in Paris. There's a part of me that feels as though our days are flying by, but another part of me that feels as though we've been here forever. It definitely seems too idyllic to be permanent.

This might be the right time to let the blog followers know that we miss Violet terribly. We talk about her A LOT — weird, we know. It's especially difficult because there are so many dogs in Paris! They're in parks, restaurants, pharmacies...a puppy on almost every corner. Vio would love Paris. But we digress...

We started our morning by switching up the "usual" breakfast routine. Instead of our baguette and fruit we splurged on a quiche and sandwich from this organic bakery around the corner from the train stop. Good habits are hard to break though, and we ended up eating in our park, planning out the day.

[the organic bakery]

[our park]

Our first stop was the Musee d'Orsay, a museum known for its sculptures and vast collection of impressionist paintings. For those of you who haven't been, it's important to point out that the building itself is as impressive as the artwork. The palace turned railway station turned museum is an architectural feat with rooms laid out to take your breath away. Then you realize that you're looking at the original work of Van Gogh, Rodin, Monet, Degas, Cezanne, Renoir and Toulouse-Lautrex and it's like the world just stops. We managed to look past the fact that the museum was rather crowded (can you blame people?) and find some of our own treasures among the masterpieces. My new favorite piece of art is a painting by Degas featuring a couple in Cafe Absinthe. It doesn't get a lot of play in the gift shop, but there's something about it I just love.

[musee d'orsay exterior]

[musee d'orsay interior]

[my new favorite painting]

From the museum we walked along the Seine over to Notre Dame on the Ile de la Cite, an island in the middle of the river. It's hard to describe a cathedral like this. It was different from Sacre Coeur, but I can't put my finger on just how. In spite of all the people, it felt less touristy. They had this amazing music playing inside, like a chant, and we sat for a few minutes, just taking it all in. Heath commented that he was struck most by the fact that people had been worshiping in this building since the Middle Ages.

[walking along the Seine]

[notre dame exterior]

[notre dame interior]

From the Ile de la Cite, we walked over to the Ile St-Louis for ice cream from a little cafe called Berthillon, which Sarah Phillips recommended. It was so rich and so good! We walked down the steps of the nearby bridge to go sit on the ledge overlooking the Seine. It was so beautiful and warm that we decided to set up camp for awhile and read next to the river. These two guys were playing guitar and all these couples were holding hands and kissing — it was like something out of a movie and we were fortunate enough to be part of the scenery.

[reading on the Seine]

[the cafe with amazing ice cream]

We finally decided that we should start our march to the 11th arrondissement, which took us through La Marais (a very cute district) and right by Bastille Place.

[the bastille monument]

Our restaurant for the evening was Repaire de Cartouche, a recommendation from both the Michelin guide and Mike & Mary, the owners of La Petite Folie (the French restaurant where Heath and I used to work). This was the first restaurant or cafe we've been to where the waiter seemed slightly aggravated that we were Americans who spoke little to no French. Needless to say, that made asking translation on menu items a little embarrassing. That could be why Heath ended up with a first course VERY different from what he expected. :-)

Heath's meal consisted of a pate and then rumpsteak with morelle mushrooms and mashed potatoes. I had this fantastic asparagus soup served over bits of foie gras and then monkfish with a celery/cabbage mix. We split a vanilla pot de creme for dessert. The food was excellent but again, the server made it hard to rate this restaurant a perfect 10.

[repaire de cartouche]

Two days left!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Paris | Day 2

We couldn't have asked for better weather during our time here. Today it was sunny and in the high 50s, low 60s—gorgeous!

We started the morning with our "usual" baguette from one of the local bakeries, and then walked over to the Montparnasse Metro stop to catch the train up to Porte de Cligancourt, where some of the largest, best known flea markets are held. These are something wholly unlike anything I've seen in the states...it's like a mixture of DC's Eastern Market and street vendors from NYC. It's this amazing high-low mesh of bric-a-brac and actual treasures. My gem for the day? Gorgeous brown boots. I've been suffering from severe boot envy since we landed in Europe. :-)

[fountain at Marche Dauphin, one of the markets]

From the markets we walked on to Montmartre, a hilltop neighborhood home to Sacre-Coeur, a gorgeous cathedral overlooking all of Paris. It was quite the climb, but the time spent in the church was well worth it. Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to take any pictures of the inside, but from these shots of the outside, you can imagine that they didn't skimp on the interior.

[climbing through Montmartre]

[sacre coeur]

[view from SC]

After some reflection (and rest), we braved the crowds of school children and walked down the hill and through a more touristy section of the neighborhood and then south towards Pigalle, home of the Moulin Rouge. Since we were there during the day, we weren't witness to any sexcapades, but you definitely got a sense of what the district can be when night falls.

From Pigalle, we stumbled down through the Nouvelle Athenes district to Opera, the district that is home to the Palais Garnier Opera House. While in Athenes we stopped to grab a [much-recommended] banana and nutella crepe, and ate our tasty lunch in the garden just outside Sainte Trinite.

[sainte trinite]

[opera house]

So...through Opera we went and then hopped on the train to head back to the Montparnasse area and hang out at Cafe Odessa so that we would be in close proximity to our dinner spot. The cafe was very quaint and we enjoyed some warm beverages while reading and watching the lively passerby.

[heath, reading marilyn robinson's "home"]

Now, for what ended up being the main event of our day: Dinner at La Cerisaie, one of our Michelin guide recommendations. It's important to point out that our concierge, Gerard, worked his butt off to get us this reservation, which he didn't hesitate to point out to Heath. We understood what he meant when we arrived...the restaurant only seats roughly 20 people at a total of about 7 tables. We were one of the few parties not sharing "personal space" with another couple. It may sound cramped, but it was absolutely charming. Our waitress helped translate a few of the things on the menu and our fantastic meal included...
1st Courses: escargot w/ chorizo, cochon pate
Main Dishes: "black pork" with fava beans, duck with white asparagus
Desserts: Chocolate tart with chocolate ice cream, rhubarb-apple compote with vanilla ice cream and some unknown crumble

It was DELICIOUS! Paired with a spicy wine, it was a fantastic meal. Afterwards, we strolled back to the hotel. Day 2 had less on the "to-do" list, but it still felt like a full day that we thoroughly enjoyed.

[our petit restaurant]

Sunday, March 29, 2009


While Thais does the lion's share of the posting, I like to throw my two cents in from time to time. And this is one of those times. I recommend that each and every one of you read Saul Bellow's Ravelstein. Part of the book is set in Paris, which made it perfect reading for our trip. But it's wonderful regardless, a real evocation of a person a la Boswell's Life of Johnson. Bellow's Ravelstein epitomizes a certain view of what it means to live life well: to indulge the passions, to love with gusto, to sin - and not - boldly. The book is a quick read and well worth the time. Enjoy!

Paris | Day 1

In the interest of full disclosure, you should know that prior to coming out here Heath and I had a major "discussion" on the merits of wandering vs. planning our Paris adventures. [I was going to let it go at that, but Heath insists I write that he was in favor of wandering, me of planning...]

We settled on a compromise of sorts but I have to confess, today was a wandering day and we did A LOT!


Our morning started with a short walk to a nearby outdoor market where we picked up fresh baguettes and the sweetest strawberries I've ever had. We went over to a small park and sat on a bench to eat our lovely breakfast.

We then hopped on a train to Porte de Vanves to check out some flea markets. I exercised excellent self restraint...we only purchased one thing: A beautiful tablecloth that is perfect for our dining room. We then hopped on another train to Montparnasse to visit the Marche parisien de la Creation, an artists' flea market. There were many beautiful paintings—including these amazing painting/sculpture combos of an African woman—but they were, alas, just out of our price range. We walked through Montparnasse toward Saint Germain des Pres, an "old quarter on the left bank known for its beautiful church, its famous cafes, its narrow streets and antique shops." It didn't disappoint.

We actually ended up seeing two churches. First, Saint Sulpice and it's lovely fountain. First started in 1646, it took six architects and 134 years to complete. Well worth it! In addition to the awesome architecture, we were treated to a piano concert inside the church—as it turns out, Nicola Celoro was playing pieces from Chopin and Liszt. Listen for yourself...

[saint sulpice]

We moved on to the main attraction: The church at Saint Germain des Pres, the oldest church in Paris. We didn't take any pictures inside since an actual service was going on, but it was breathtaking.

[saint germain des pres]

From there, we walked over to Les Deux Magots, the cafe on the corner. This establishment has been "frequented by the intellectual elite from the end of the 19th century onwards." We knew we'd fit right in. :-) Heath liked his cappuccino, and the people watching was first rate, but you definitely pay for the cachet.

[les deux magots]

Then we had—you guessed it—more walking. This time, up to the Seine and then along the river before crossing over to the Jardin des Tuileries. We sat for a spell, but mostly wandered around before making our way to the Champs-Elysees. Every corner we turned revealed another beautiful view or architectural wonder. Heath was awestruck. I believe the exact quote was:

"Paris is the standard to which all other cities will now be held."

[the seine]

[from the garden]

We had dinner at L'Entrecote, a spot just of the Champs-Elysees, which featured delicious steak and frittes. After that we walked the rest of the way up to the Arc de Triomphe, oohed and aahed, and then headed on the Metro back to our hotel.

[dinner and a view]

It was a very full day, but we never felt rushed. The weather held up beautifully and we're ready for Day 2!