Look closely at the photograph and I think you’ll realise why I’ve chosen it for this year’s Christmas Card. I took the photograph on a wintery day on our December 2018 trip to Paris where my beloved visited Notre Dame. Sadly it was ravaged by fire on 15 April, losing its gothic spire, roof and many precious artefacts.
Consequently, Notre Dame will not hold a Christmas mass for the first time since 1803, though the rector, Patrick Chauvet, will still celebrate midnight mass at the nearby church of Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois.
Season’s Greetings to you all
I’m going to be taking a bit of a break from blogging until the New Year. Consequently, I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you, and your nearest and dearest, every happiness, good health and much success for 2020 and beyond………………………
The temperature dropped on Saturday so we broke out the cashmere and thermals! The previous days, we’d seen signs all around Le Marais for “Brocante” which is one up from a “Vide-Grenier” (aka Car Boot Sale). On Saturday morning, when we headed to our favourite traiteur, we discovered that there were stalls the length of Rue de Bretagne and around its gardens. We had a look at a few of the stalls to see if they had some interesting glassware or silver but most stalls had what might politely be called an eclectic mix of goods that wasn’t to our taste. We stopped off for a coffee at one of the many neighbourhood brasseries and reminisced about the car boot sale I’d gone to before we moved to France.
My two sisters, from time to time, use car boot sales to off load stuff they no longer want. Meanwhile I had no intention of paying to ship to France stuff I hadn’t used for ages. One of my sisters suggested we went to a popular car boot sale, not far from my parent’s place. But on the Sunday, after we’d dragged everything up from London to my parents, there was no car boot sale being held nearby. This forced us to head to a much larger one in central Birmingham. I’m not sure why but my father decided to come with us and lend a helping hand.
On the advice of my sisters, I’d parcelled up matching sets of stuff which sold quickly along with all the electricals, irrespective of whether or not they worked. I’d also decided to get rid of all my unwanted gifts. Admit it, we all have them. These were the ones I’d be too embarrassed to recycle but they proved surprisingly popular.
My Dad turned out to be a natural salesman charming everyone, particularly all the mature ladies, to part with their dosh. Though he did say afterwards it would be his one and only appearance at a car boot sale. It was a huge success with people literally buying stuff as we unpacked it. We dropped the last few remnants off at a charity shop but our rubbish had netted us over £400!
After a spot of food shopping, we lunched on moules and frites in another nearby brasserie. The moules were delicious. I rarely order them as all too often I find them overcooked and rubbery, but not here. Batteries re-charged, we continued our walk around the area, surprised to find a few roads which we’d previously overlooked around the village of St Paul and Ile Saint-Louis. Both are havens of tranquillity that lie between the rue de Rivoli and the Seine.
St Paul appears to be popular with antique dealers and features some of the old walls of Paris from 11th and 12th centuries and a few very old properties. In addition there are further Hôtels which have been repurposed as museums, libraries and other civic buildings.
We crossed over the bridge to the Ile Saint Louis, famous for its pricey real-estate and Berthillon ice-cream, though it was far too cold to try any of the latter. We continued to the Ile de la Cité and the Notre-Dame Cathedral, a 12th century Gothic masterpiece. It has not long been cleaned, helping to highlight its architectural richness and the colour of its stone. Heading back towards the Seine, we find even more Hôtels sandwiched between 1950s stone buildings inspired by their surrounding classical references.
Chilled, we decide to warm ourselves up with some tea at Mariage Frères on the way back to the flat. We love their tea, particularly the lovely floral Marco Polo range. My beloved was tempted by the delicious array of pastries but didn’t succumb. Again, we opted for a night in with an array of nibbles and an excellent bottle of wine.
We headed back to Nice the following day, dining in Le Train Bleu before boarding the train. We’d had another lovely break and vowed to have more next year. After all, you can never see too much of Paris, can you?
On Friday, my beloved chose to visit the Musée Marmottan Monet in 16th arrondissement. According to Bing maps, a mere 90 minutes on foot from where we were staying. We decided to walk along the Seine towpath which gave us a slightly different perspective of Paris. It was a very enjoyable stroll and we emerged onto street level once we’d reached the Tour Eiffel which is in the 15th, an area I’ve previously exhausted on foot.
We turned off at the Trocadero, named in honour of the battle of the same name. It’s worth a visit if only for the magnificent views it affords of the Tour Eiffel. We headed up and along rue du Passy, passing by the recently opened branch of La Grande Epicerie at just before 12:30 pm, lunchtime. We ventured into its restaurant on the second floor and got one of its few remaining tables. It was a simply delicious light meal.
Our batteries recharged, we headed for the museum which is opposite the Ranelagh Gardens. It was at this point, I realised I’d been here many years before. My French penfriend’s grandmother had lived in a bijou house, along with her maid and housekeeper, a little closer to the Bois de Boulogne. She had been the epitome of an elderly elegant Frenchwoman, immaculately turned out in what only I later appreciated was head-to-toe Chanel.
The museum is set in a former hunting lodge and is built around the donated collection of a wealthy Parisian family. They were descendants of the Duke of Valmy whose chateau we’ve stayed at in Argelès-sur-Mer. The initial collection had been added to by further wealthy collectors, plus the remnants of Monet’s Collection of his own works and those of his friends. I say remnants as his son had sold a number of paintings to finance his love of African safaris! However, there was still plenty I’d be happy to display on my walls should the opportunity ever arise.
The museum wasn’t busy though we found ourselves sandwiched between two small coach parties of French pensioners. Okay, so they weren’t much older than us but we’re not yet prepared to concede we’re OAPs. Furthermore, said parties had their own guides who were at pains to explain the works in great detail. I shamelessly listened in and even asked a couple of questions, no one seemed to mind. Having walked to the museum, we elected to get the Metro back to the apartment as we were feeling a bit footsore. We were only too happy to put our feet up and dine in that evening.
Although there are plenty of small, cosy and family run hotels in Le Marais, we prefer the space and freedom afforded us by renting an apartment. This small apartment block has its own resident beggar who sits outside, come rain or shine, from dawn to dusk. He’s a Bulgarian who needs to collect a certain amount each day in order to spend the night under cover. Sadly, there are a distressing number of beggars on the streets of Paris. I would estimate one every hundred metres or so. It’s simply not possible to help them all. Instead, we choose to help one and, while we’re there, ensure he has enough to eat and drink during the day and to pay for a bed overnight. This one’s quite an engaging fellow and has two cute dogs for company.
I have spent the past three days pounding the pavements of Paris, the world’s most visited city. Like all great cities, you see far more if you religiously navigate its various quarters on foot. Although I always have a small map, just in case, it’s hard to get lost as the wide boulevards give you glimpses of major landmarks at every turn, plus the Seine, which neatly bisects the city, is a great navigational tool.
Over the years, I’ve spent a significant amount of time here and have visited all (yes, really) of the galleries, museums and buildings of significant historical interest. Of course, if the weather’s bad, I’ll happily revisit one of these. But, if it’s not, I just enjoy wandering around gazing at the impressive architecture and pressing my nose to the windows of all the food shops.
My favourites are the patisseries and chocolatiers. But lest you fear for my regime, I only window shop. If I do enter, it’s only to get a closer look. I don’t buy anything, not even for my beloved because this is the food of gods. Wondrous pastries, delicate cakes and delicious dark, crisp chocolate with subtle aromas. While a couple of squares of chocolate will do no harm, it’s hard to resist the rest. So, I enter, inhale and exit.
Of course, I had to pay homage at Pierre Herme’s temple of delicious comestibles. IMHO he’s perfected the art of the macaroon, as ubiquitous in France as the cup cake is in America. Pierre’s melt in the mouth with an intense burst of flavour which lingers on the palate. Okay, I’ll come clean, I just had to have one, or two.
My window gazing extends to butchers, bakers, delicatessens and cheese shops, plus I love visiting the street markets. Where else would you find stalls dedicated to just one product such as the humble potato. The stall owner who patiently explained to me about which spuds were best for which dish had over 20 different varieties. Another was dedicated to Pinky and Perky. Again the stall owner, who had raised and slaughtered the pigs, was happy to spend time answering my questions about his sausages, charcuterie, porchetta, pate and other porky products. We even exchanged a couple of recipes as I imparted my special rub for what my sister calls “the best roast pork ever”.
No visit to Paris would be complete without a rummage around the many antiques shops and art galleries. Typically, I found some things I would have liked to purchase but it would have been wholly impractical given our next destination is New York.
Maybe it’s the time of year, but Paris is overrun with Asians, and not just Japanese. No doubt the stores and French economy are duly grateful as the ones I’ve seen have been heavily laden with shopping bags from their favourite stores: LVMH, Gucci, Hermes and so on. The love affair is reciprocated as Paris has an astounding number of great Asian restaurants, particularly Japanese, which are just the job for my regime, along with my favourite mollusc, oysters.
With my beloved working, and being entertained by clients in the evening, I’ve been left pretty much to my own devices, a wholly desirable state of affaires. Meaning I can do what I want, when I want. I am however taking him out for a relaxing dinner a deux this evening at a little gem of a place I have found on my meanderings: just the one Michelin star.
The weather’s been a bit cold, damp and foggy. In fact you can’t see the top of the Eiffel Tower. The Xmas decorations are up and there’s a festive buzz in the air. Only a month or so to go until the big day. Of course, the decorations are restrained but classy and stylish as befits the capital of fashion. We’re off to New York tomorrow morning where the decorations will be larger than life, really full on and totally appropriate for the Big Apple.
I took the train from Antibes to Paris: just over 5 hours door-to-door and a bargain at Euros 80 for a first-class return. I passed the journey lost in the pages of Sir Chris Hoy’s biography a very readable adjunct to “Heroes, Villains and Velodromes.
On my arrival in Paris, the skies cleared and the rain stopped so I decided to walk to our hotel on the Left Bank, near the Sorbonne. Each time we go to Paris we endeavour to stay in a different quarter as I enjoy traversing the streets looking at the magnificent architecture and window shopping – by far the safest type of shopping! In addition, I love browsing the art galleries, antiques and book shops.
I also adore finding us great restaurants for lunch and/or dinner. Now, of course, I could just fish out a guide book and book one of their many suggestions, but where would be the fun in that? No, I like to walk around, sizing up the restaurants and their menus before making my choice.
Over the years I’ve had many pleasurable trips to Paris. My first came courtesy of my French pen-friend who, while she lived in Grenoble, had a large family living in Paris. I spent a week with her aunt in an impressive apartment just off Boulevard Haussmann and traipsed to my heart’s content around all the sights of Paris and Versailles. Since then, I’ve been fortunate to visit it on a regular basis.
When I told my Dad we were off to Paris, he reminded me of the trip we had taken with them some years ago, at about the same time of year, where we had eaten “our most expensive meal”. He still has a copy of the bill from the now-defunct “Lucas Carton” near Place de la Madeleine.
I have to say it was a truly memorable meal but, at the time, I had no idea how much it had cost as neither my Mum nor I had menus with prices. I started with polenta and truffles, while everyone else had scallop tartar. Dad and my beloved followed that with lamb while Mum and I had lobster, at my Dad’s urging, as it’s my Mum’s favourite. We elected to have the wines chosen by the chef to accompany the meal, but didn’t have room for a dessert or coffee, although we did manage to demolish all of the mouth-watering, petit fours.
My Dad picked up the bill, which was not what I had intended. It was some months later that he asked me what I thought it had cost. The tilt of his eyebrows indicated that my initial bid was way off the mark. But he did concede it had been well worth the money.
My first job in Paris was to interview 20 French dentists about their periodontology regimes. After speaking to a couple, it was clear that a 4-page questionnaire was several pages too many despite the inducement of a free gift. I decided an alternative strategy was required and based myself outside of the exhibition, close to one of the many lunch-time venues. Sure enough, by 11:30am, there was a long queue of people waiting to be served and what better way to while away the time answering my questionnaire. By the time lunch was over, I had filled my quota.
After a delicious meal in a small family-run restaurant on Wednesday evening, we invited a business colleague to share some champagne and oysters with us on Thursday evening at a restaurant close to the Palais des Congrès where we have previously enjoyed many similar evenings. Like me, he’s a recent convert to cycling and we are considering organising a cycling trip next year for his readership, to coincide with the club’s “ Brevet Kivilev”.
I used to view oysters with great suspicion. After all, they look like large blobs of snot. Well, they do don’t they? However, I decided that millions of French people can’t be wrong and took the plunge. Now, they’re one of my favourite foods and I regret all those wasted oyster eating opportunities. So, if you’ve never tried them, go-ahead, just do it. I promise you won’t regret it.
I bought my beloved an oyster opening kit for last Xmas (among other things) so we can enjoy them at home. I like them best with a squeeze of lemon juice and a glass (or two) of champagne. As I’m fond of saying “I’m a woman of simple tastes, all of them expensive”.
Friday morning I rose early for a run along the Seine. I can’t totally abandon my new regime. Although my husband had promised to keep Friday clear, I truly did not anticipate seeing him at all. However, we shared lunch at a delightful Corsican restaurant I found in the Marais before he returned to the exhibition for a further round of business meetings.
We rose on Saturday to find leaden skies. It rained from time to time but fortunately, not heavily. My beloved decided he wanted to look around the Louvre. I knew once he saw the queue, he would decide otherwise, and was proved correct. He hates to wait for even 5 minutes: strange behaviour from a guy who generally keeps everyone else waiting!
However, we happily whiled away the morning wandering around the area and I found a fabulous restaurant for lunch a few doors down from Le Grand Verfour, which, sadly, was not open for Saturday lunch – maybe, next time.
While from time to time, I enjoy a few days away, equally I enjoy getting back home. I’m already looking forward to tomorrow morning’s ride, weather permitting, to Roquebrune Cap Martin. It’s a 90km round trip for us and I still recall how equally exhausted and elated I was the first time I did it, two years ago. How time has flown!