Category Archives: France

Paris When it Snows

The week before Christmas Charles and I were gifted train tickets to Paris for the weekend with all hotel and restaurant reservations already planned for us. Our good fortune was due to the misfortune of our friends Lauren and Simon. Lauren had seriously hurt her back the week before and could barely get out of bed, much less walk the streets of Paris. We had nothing planned for the weekend so jumped at the chance to visit Paris when they offered us the tickets.

We’ve been to the City of Light numerous times and have already seen and done most of the “must see and do’s” on our list. We decided that this trip was going to be all about exploring the lesser know parts of the city (at least to us) and just spend our time walking, eating and shopping.

We focused our time in the Marais and Saint Germain with several trips to the larger department stores BHV, Gallaries la Fayette and Le Bon Marche. We got to experience the somewhat rare occurrence of snow in Paris which made for very cold and wet days so we needed to retreat to the warmth of these lovely stores several times over the weekend. In the Marais we sampled dueling falafel houses L’As du Falafel and Mi-Va-Mi with the latter being our favorite. We had a great dinner at one of our favorite restaurants Au Bougnat near Notre Dame and a really nice lunch at a cafe right next to Chatelet metro station called Au Vieux Comptoir.

Below is a small pictorial of our weekend. All the photos were taken with Charles iPhone and an app called Hipstamatic. It’s a pretty cool app that allows you to choose your film, lens, filters and flash to mimic film photography. The results are not always good, but we had fun with it and I think we got some really dramatic photos.

Church near our hotel in the Marais

Place de la Bastille Monument

Wine bar next to our hotel (note the street name)

Our morning cafe and croissant

Champs Elysees on a snowy night

View of the Eiffel Tower in the distance

Jardin des Tuileries

The famous Les Deux Magots where we stopped for a drink

The Pont Neuf

Except for almost getting stuck in Paris for an extra few days due to the snow storms which nearly brought the Eurostar to a standstill causing us to arrive home 8 hours later than we had intended, the trip was wonderful.

*Special thanks to my loving partner Charles who did everything in his power to get his pregnant girlfriend home during the Eurostar debacle including, but not limited to: pushing, pleading, exaggerating the truth, queue jumping, charming a few officials and throwing the pregnancy card. I am forever grateful.

I love Paris in the spring time!

Charles and a friend started their own business about 18 months ago. It’s been a challenge in many ways, but their hard work is just now starting to pay off. However, because of the new business our travel schedule, until recently, has been almost nil. Instead of the five or six long weekend trips and two or three week long trips we dropped down to one weekend trip and one week long trip for the entire year (I don’t count going home to California as holiday, that’s mandatory). This was a big sacrifice for us considering one of the major reasons we moved to London was the access to travel. A cheap, two-hour plane ride from home and we can be walking the streets of many a different countries: France, Italy, Spain, Germany to name just a few. A trip to Rome from London for the weekend is like a trip to San Francisco from Fresno. We have been doing our best to make up for last year as documented here, here and here, but we still have a lot of catching up to do.

Paris has been high on my list for quite some time now. I’ve been several times before, usually because I was tagging along on one of Charles’ business trips, but I’ve been trying to figure out a good excuse to go back. Thankfully, our friends Simon and Shannon who live in San Diego happen to be in France for a family ski trip and Charles mentioned to them that we could meet them in Paris for a weekend. Perfect excuse! We get to hang out with our much-loved friends AND go to Paris.

We took the Eurostar over (a two hour train ride), which dumps you out right in central Paris, and made our way over to our hotel. After checking in we took a stroll around the cute pedestrian street we were staying on and I spied this little kid lounging on a public sculpture outside a shopping mall. He, like so many other people around us that day, was taking advantage of the amazing weather. I love this picture!

Neither of us had ever been to the Pompidou Center so that was first on our to-do list. Before going in we grabbed a table at a little cafe outside the museum and sat in the sun for about an hour eating lunch and people watching. There is so much going on outside the Pompidou you could spend hours there watching all the street performers, listening to music while catching some rays.

Once lunch was finished and the obligatory cafe had been drunk we walk down to the entrance of the museum, right past all the people waiting to buy tickets (tip: pre-book tickets online to avoid wasting time standing in line) and over to the visitors desk to pick up a wheelchair for Charles. Whoops! I forgot to mention earlier that my dear boyfriend broke his ankle playing football (soccer) two days before we left. Yep, cast, crutches and all that accompanies a broke ankle came with us to Paris. A city where you walk nearly everywhere you go. Anyhow, we made the best of the situation and took advantage of a loaner wheelchair at the museum and off we went.

The Pompidou is a modern art museum and it is quite amazing. The exhibits are well curated and the building itself is very interesting. Definitely worth a visit!

Simon and Shannon were late getting into the city so we met up with them later that evening just before dinner. We chose the restaurant based on a review that Charles had read, but unfortunately it didn’t live up to it’s reputation. I can’t remember the name of the place, but it was not worth going out of our way for. No matter, we had a good time catching up with our friends.

Next on the agenda was something I was really looking forward to. A few years ago my friend Ange and I made a girls trip to Paris. One of the nights we were there we were wondering our way through the Latin Quarter, stopping at way too may bars along the way, but having a such a good time. Somehow, I think based on the recommendation of a waiter we met, we ended up at Au Trois Mailletz. We had an unforgettable night and I have been wanting to go back again ever since!

Au Trois Mailletz is a paino bar and cabaret. The piano bar is upstairs, where you can have dinner and listen to great music in a very comfortable atmosphere. Downstairs is the cabaret and that is what we wanted to see. After walking down some very steep steps (difficult to manage on crutches) you arrive in a stone cave with a long table down the center and little tables pushed against the walls. The space is very small, but they pack it full. The show starts at about 11:30pm with an amazing singer/guitar player. Most of the songs are in French, but we recognized the tune of a lot of them and didn’t feel lost at all. Throughout the night about 10 different performers go up on stage singing solos, duets and group sing-a-longs. Audience participation is always encouraged and even though we didn’t know the words we were still singing along. After about an hour the dancers come out. Beautiful girls dancing their way down the central table, shaking their hips like you wouldn’t believe. Although the show continues through the night ending at about 6am we called it quits at about 3:30am. This is such a fun thing to do while in Paris and I couldn’t recommend it more!

Needless to say we got a late start the next morning. The plan was to head to one of our favorite markets that is only held on Sunday mornings, ending at about 2pm. The market is on Rue Mouffetard and is mostly a food market where locals come to buy their food, at least as far as we can tell. We grabbed some breakfast at a little cafe and then wonder the market for a bit.

I have never had white asparagus, but I’m guessing it’s kind of a big deal because people were selling it all around the market. I’ll have to buy some next time to bring home. One of those bundles would probably feed about six people. Each stalk is about 1″ thick! Check out the fist-sized kiwis in the background. Huge!

Yummmm…. rotisserie chicken.

After the market Simon and Shannon took off to visit the Eiffel Tower (both us have been up the tower before) while we walk/hobbled around a bit more. After about 30 minutes we decide that walking on crutches in Paris was no fun at all, so we rented some bikes. All over Paris are these bike rental stations where locals and tourist alike can buy a pass, check out a bike, ride around, park the bike at another bike station, go shopping, hop on another bike, ride around some more, lock that bike to a tree and check out a park, ride some more, etc. Seriously cool idea that we have seen in a few other cities, but never tried. We figured this was the perfect opportunity to try them out and pedaling the bike didn’t put any pressure on Charles’ bad ankle. We had so much fun! I highly recommend doing this in any city that provides the service. We were able to see so much more of the city than we would have had we been walking, crutches or not.

Pretty building with beautiful blue sky background. Not sure where I took this picture.

We spent a few hours on the bikes before meeting Simon and Shannon at the Musee d’Orsay. Another great museum that we have been to before but was so worth making the return visit. Again, pre-book your tickets as the lines can be huge.

Later that night, after consulting TripAdvisor for a recommendation, we had a very nice dinner at a small restaurant called Au Bougnat just around the corner from Notre Dame. After stuffing ourselves with really good food and wine we called it a day and headed back to the hotel.

Simon and Shannon had driven a car to Paris so instead of taking the train back we hitched a ride with them. A three hour drive to Calais, an hour+ ferry ride across the channel, then two more hours of driving from Dover to Putney and finally a 20 minute tube ride and we were home. Most definitely not as fast or comfortable as the train, but we got to spend more time with our friends so it was worth it.

The whole trip was very quick, but we packed each day full and had a great time. There is always so much to do and see in Paris it’s hard to not to have a great time. In fact, we are already planning our next trip back!

The Language of d’Oc – Part 2

You can read about Part 1 here.

Sometimes getting lost is not a bad thing. Sometimes your mistakes turn out to be a blessing. Case in point; our choosing to drive to Sete was a mistake, but if we had not gone there we never would have ended up in Pezenas, the blessing, disguised as a charming little village where we stayed on the second night of our trip.

The drive from Sete to Pezenas takes you through Meze, a seafood paradise, of which we came back to later for a meal. Meze is between a lake and the Med. Thousands of oyster beds line the waterway. Charles drooled his way through the town with oyster bars lining the streets.

With the help of our trusty TomTom and advice from the Michelin Guide, we found our way to a nice hotel in the centre of town called The Grand Moliere. Walking through the front door and into the lobby I could see why it was called “grand.” Fifteen-foot ceilings, walls covered in beautiful tapestries and carved mirrors and heavy gilded furniture.

I did my very best to butcher the French language a bit more as a non-English speaking clerk checked us in to the hotel. By the time we were settled it was late afternoon and we knew most of the businesses in town would be closing soon so we set out to see what we could before everything shut down.

Pezenas is what I think of as the perfect little French village. Winding cobblestone streets, beautiful old buildings, charming shops and friendly people. We spent about an hour wondering through a maze of streets, checking out all the shops and deciding which ones we would come back to the next day when we had more time and more shops were open.

Well rested and ready for a night on the town we left the hotel in search of a restaurant. We didn’t make it too far because we were distracted by the country western line dancing French dance troupe in the town plaza. Yes, you read that correctly, line dancing, to Alan Jackson, in France. Very strange, but highly entertaining.

On the recommendation from one of the local shop keepers we searched out two different restaurants for dinner only to find out they were fully booked. Figuring we were destined to eat at one of the touristy cafes lining the town plaza, we were really happy to stumble upon a nice little bistro tucked back into a dark corner of the village. Our waitress was incredibly sweet and helpful, the food and wine were pretty good and the fact that every ten minutes the lights went out due to a faulty circuit breaker made our dining experience very memorable.

Those of you who know me and read this blog regularly, you know that I love outdoor markets, especially food markets. So, I was super excited the next morning when we woke up and walked outside to see that the main street through town was now a big market. We grabbed a pain au chocolate and a café in the village and then spent a few hours roaming the streets, checking out what was on offer. Charles only lasted for about two hours and then took off for a beer while I continued to roam for another hour or so. Although it wasn’t the best market, it was a great way to start the day.

After the drive-by-sighting of all the oyster beds the day before and checking out multiple stalls selling fresh oysters and various other shellfish we back-tracked about 30 minutes to the tiny little town of Mezé. Once there, we chose the nicest looking seafood shack and ordered a small mountain of shellfish for lunch. I am not a fan of oysters, but Charles loves them and he couldn’t stop going on about how they were the best oysters, and the biggest, that he had ever had. I pigged out on a big pot of moules and frites (mussels and French fries) and we shared some cracked crab and a really good bottle of wine. Mezé and its great seafood were definitely worth the stop.

So far we had been lucky with the weather and with our choices of towns to visit. I guess we were due for some ugliness and that came in the form of nasty thick fog and rain and a totally uninspiring town called Millau. After lunch we couldn’t decide where we wanted to stay for the night, so once again we consulted the Michelin Guide and chose a little town somewhere in the middle of the mountainous Cévennes National Park which was supposed to be beautiful. I can’t even remember the name of the town, but I do remember the hellish drive there on twisty little roads shrouded in really thick fog. After deciding the town didn’t have anything to offer we headed toward the next town that we thought might be interesting and arrived in Millau. I don’t even want to waste space writing about this place so I will just say, don’t go there. Don’t waste your time, keep on driving and don’t look back.

On Easter Sunday morning, after a quick breakfast, we programmed the TomTom to take us to Roquefort-sur-Soulzon so we could partake in a little cheese tasting. Home to the creamy blue-veined cheese, this little town was well worth the visit. We toured the Société cheese cellars and learned all about how Roquefort cheese is made. Although the tour was given in French they were kind enough to give us a very detailed six-page paper on the whole process. Apparently, thousands of years ago (or maybe hundreds, I can’t remember) there was a big earthquake and part of the mountain in Roquefort-sur-Soulzon collapsed. The collapse created a bunch of tunnels and caves that are now used to make the famous cheese. Each cave, with its different temperature and humidity level, creates a distinct flavor for the cheese. It was really very interesting and we got to taste a bunch of the yummy cheese at the end. Nice!

Albi, birthplace of Henri Toulouse-Lautrec and home to a museum that houses a large collection of his work was last on our list of things to see. Toulouse-Lautrec is one of my favorite artists and it was really cool to see so many of his drawings, paintings and lithographs. We also took a peak at the gianormous Cathedral St. Cecil next to the museum and walked around town a bit before we had to run back to the car because it had started to rain. On to Toulouse!

We had booked an 8:30pm flight home figuring that we could have a stroll around Toulouse and a nice dinner before heading to airport. Poor planning on our part as it was Easter Sunday and we got into town at about 6pm. Most decent French restaurants close between lunch and dinner and don’t open back up until about 7pm. After driving in circles for about 30 minutes trying to find a decent place to eat before heading to the airport we settled on a classic… McDonalds. Really, how sad is that. Our last meal in the South of France was at a McDonalds by the airport. Surprisingly, our Cheese Royal (cheese burger) and Le M (big mac) were pretty good.

The flight home was uneventful, which was good. We breezed through immigration thanks to IRIS (a machine that scans your iris for identification allowing you to bypass the manual immigration procedure) and hopped a train and a taxi home. Even though we were only gone for four days it seemed like we did and saw so much. It was really fun to see where the road took us and not have reservations anywhere. Of course, we took a few wrong turns, but that only made the trip more exciting. Charles and I both want to go back to the Languedoc region someday because we enjoyed it so much and there is still so much more to see. Au Revoir!