Eating our way through ParisOctober 2, 2017 in France
From frog legs to pain au chocolat we have tried it all!
From frog legs to pain au chocolat we have tried it all!
The weather when we'd arrived in Paris the previous afternoon had been less than brilliant. It was overcast, and when we went out for dinner, we were quite cold. We expected this, our first full day, to be much the same, in which case we were all set to undertake indoor activities such as visiting museums. However when we set off for breakfast we could see that it was partly cloudy and really quite pleasant - a perfect day for walking.
Where to start? The hotel is a bare 100 metres from Les Invalides, so that seemed like a fairly logical place. Off we set, and it was great. At that time it was too early for the tourist hordes, though that soon changed as the day progressed. Being a Sunday, traffic at that time was really light too. The previous day's rain had cleaned the air, and the morning light made it great for photos. Brian took many in and around Les Invalides.
In September 2014, when we'd stayed previously at Hôtel de la Tour Maubourg, we'd been woken up on the Sunday morning by a lot of commotion. It had turned out that they were celebrating the centenary of a major event in French history, the First Battle of Marne. On that occasion the French government had commandeered all of the Paris taxis, somewhere between 250 and 500 of them, to transport the French troops to the front, from where the invading German army was forced to retreat. We were witness to the commemoration and partial re-enactment of that event.
This time round, we wandered in to the precinct, taking in the wonderful views and impressive buildings. Outside the beautiful chapel at Les Invalides, which contains Napoleon's tomb, a crowd of very formally dressed people was gathering. Those greeting the guests at the entrance were in spectacularly fancy dress uniforms in various designs, with so much by way of medals, gold braid and giant epaulettes that we almost had to put our sunglasses on. They looked like characters from a historical drama. Clearly, they were getting ready for some sort of commemorative church service, and any casually dressed visiting Australians with cameras around their necks weren't going to be encouraged. Most of the guests were dressed very formally, and many of them looked like long-retired military officers. A large number were in wheelchairs and could well have been WWII veterans. We weren't able to find out the reason for the commemoration, but clearly it was a pretty big event, even if it wasn't quite on the scale of the 2014 Marne celebration.
From there we decided to head in the direction of the Eiffel Tower, about a 20 minute walk. As we'd expected it was pretty crowded there, in the Jardins de Mars, but we still enjoyed wandering round and taking in the sunshine and scenery. Having already been there, done that and got the T-shirt, we had no wish to climb the tower. It was just as well because the crowds were huge. As we'd observed previously, there are large numbers of street vendors all round the precinct, all trying to sell replicas of the Eiffel Tower and other tacky souvenirs. No matter how hard one tries, they're hard to ignore. We then wandered across to Place du Trocadéro which is just across the river. Again, Brian took many photos. From there it was a nostalgic walk up to the Arc de Triomphe and down the famous Champs Élysées.
All the way down there, we could hear really loud doof-doof music but couldn't tell initially where it was coming from. As we got closer to the Place de la Républic we could see that a large area had been closed off to traffic and that there was some sort of free concert going on. It at least provided us with the opportunity to get photos, particularly of the adjacent Grand and Petit palaces, without any traffic to block the views. One thing we did notice was the massive police presence and the large number of barricades which had been set up. Sadly, France is having to take its security very seriously.
We then decided to utilise our Paris transport passes and go by Metro to the Left Bank area. Easier said than done. We got to La Motte-Picquet easily enough but then, when we wanted to change to a different line for the rest of the trip, we were told that the short section of the line that we had wanted to travel on was closed for the weekend to allow maintenance work. Special buses would be covering that section, but when we got to street level we saw some really black thunder clouds hovering overhead and decided to head back to base instead. Even that became complicated when another section of line was closed due to a suspicious parcel having been seen. These minor setbacks are part and parcel of travelling, so don't bother us too much. It was still a most enjoyable day and a good opportunity to get back into the atmosphere of Paris, Mary's favourite city.
After the less than inspiring dinner of the previous night, we decided to go a bit more upmarket. Brian had seen reports on line which gave a restaurant which was a 15-minute walk from us very high ratings. That was a good enough reason for us to give Cafe Constant a try. We got there around 8.45pm only to find a long queue out to the street of people waiting to get a table. This must be good so, despite Mary's misgivings, Brian decided we'd join the queue. We had to wait a good half-hour for a table, but it was worth it. The food was very good though nowhere near the standard we'd been enjoying over the previous week. Brian was pretty happy, though. He had a delicious duck and potato pie, and given that he'd pigged out on a raspberry tartlet, made with fresh berries, for his afternoon tea, he'd once again partaken of his two favourite foods. The restaurant didn't feel too touristy even though we heard every language other than French being spoken by the patrons.Read more
The day was overcast and drizzly when the four of us set off mid-morning, after our leisurely breakfasts. That meant adopting Plan B, a visit to the Musée d'Orsay rather than a stroll to the Eiffel Tower and other significant places. We caught the Metro for one stop to Les Invalides, from where we walked below ground, up and down stairs, to catch an RER train for one stop to the Museum. We probably walked at least as far through the various tunnels as if we'd walked along the streets, but at least we were warm and dry.
Eileen had been suffering from a bad hip for a few weeks prior to this, and her specialist had recommended she take a walking stick with her to Paris. She wasn't too keen on the idea, but took his advice nevertheless and had borrowed one from a friend in Harrogate. We emerged from the Metro directly outside the Museum only to be confronted with a massive queue of people waiting to get in. It must have been a couple of hundred metres long, though it was moving steadily. We were of two minds whether it was worth the wait, but in the end we decided to do so. We'd been waiting less than five minutes when a security guard beckoned to Eileen to come with him, then gestured for us to follow. At first we didn't know why, but when the guard led us to the head of the queue, ahead of the waiting hordes, we realised that he'd spotted Eileen's walking stick and, probably under instructions, had saved her (and us) from waiting in line.
All of us had been to Musée d'Orsay previously but were keen to make a return trip as it really is a magnificent place. We and the Lees agreed to go our separate ways to look at the displays we each were most interested in. We'd rendezvous again in 1.5 hours and decide then whether we'd continue in the Museum or move on. When we met up, we agreed that we'd barely scratched the surface, so allowed ourselves a further two hours. After that, we wanted another time extension, so all in all we were there for a good five hours. With all the sculptures, the Impressionist paintings, the van Gogh paintings, the spectacular antique furniture and much, much more it was fantastic. A most enjoyable visit, even if there was much which we didn't get to see. There must have been thousands of people there, but fortunately it's such a huge place that, aside from the Impressionist and the van Gogh areas, it wasn't impossibly crowded. At least Eileen's walking stick had saved us a wait in a very long queue.
Something which has always puzzled Brian in France is that there are so many spectacular patisseries selling beautiful cakes, but that none of them have tables where one can sit down to eat them. Nor do they serve coffee. Meanwhile, the cafes and bars which do serve coffee never have particularly good cakes. Surely there must be a business opportunity for someone who wants to combine the two? Anyway, Brian had previously spotted a place not far from our hotel which did look like it would meet all those requirements, and as the weather had fined up, we decided to walk back there for a late afternoon tea. The cafe met all our expectations and then some. Fantastic cakes, fantastic coffee and excellent friendly service. Cafe Karamel has the lot. Despite our protests, Ian and Eileen very generously shouted us the afternoon tea as part of their 50th wedding anniversary gift to us. We didn't know it yet, but it was all going to be downhill from there.
We were all feeling a little weary, so headed back to our hotel to rest, agreeing to meet in the lobby to go out to dinner at 8pm. The two of us must have been more tired than we'd realised, because we got into deep sleeps and only just woke up in time for our rendezvous. We then headed out to find a place where we'd have dinner. Again, this was to be Ian and Eileen's shout to celebrate our anniversary. There are hundreds of restaurants within walking distance, but many of them were already full. Eventually we found a likely looking place, Cafe Central in the restaurant precinct of Rue Cler, and sat down. Nothing happened, and it took a good half-hour before we managed to get a waiter to take our food and drink orders.
There was then another very long wait before the charcuterie board, which we'd agreed to share, arrived. The various meats were uninteresting and totally flavourless. After that, there was a further very long wait, with us giving the waiters a couple of hurry-ups, before the main courses eventually arrived. And they definitely weren't worth waiting for. Eileen's meal was cold. Clearly, they'd prepared it well before they'd brought it out to us. Ian and Mary had ordered ravioli, but what arrived was something quite unlike anything we'd ever encountered before. Lumps of what we assumed to be plain pasta were buried in a bowl of some sort of white flavourless sauce, and on top of it all sat a tiny piece of anonymous and flavourless meat about the size of a business card. Brian's chicken dish was at least edible though very unexciting. He was the only one who managed to finish his food.
We have known Ian for many years, and he is a very calm person. By then we'd been waiting so long that the restaurant was almost empty, so we were able finally to attract the waiter's attention. Ian demanded he get the manager, who arrived a few moments later. Eileen insists that in all the time she's been married to him she has never seen Ian so angry, but he and Brian let the manager have it with both barrels, telling him that it was a special occasion for us, that the food was awful and the service was atrocious. Anyway, the manager quickly agreed to do the right thing and waived the whole bill. It's probably just as well, as Brian was prepared to write the most scathing review that he possibly could and post it on TripAdvisor. That at least got them off the hook. The only benefit was that we didn't have to pay for the two beers and two carafes of rose - some small compensation.
By this time, it was about 11.30pm and most of the restaurants were closing. However, we found one which served us nice desserts and coffee, so the evening wasn't a total disaster, even if it came close to being one.Read more
We caught up with our good friends Ian and Eileen for a farewell breakfast at the lovely cafe across the road from the hotel. Later, we chatted with them for a few minutes before they went off to do their packing and we set off with a fairly flexible plan to get to know this wonderful city even better. One thing that's certain is that if one is on holiday in Paris, every day is a good day. Some days may be better than others, but all of them are fantastic.
Actually, we were very well organised for the first part of this, our last full day, in Paris. We'd decided that we wanted to use the Metro the next day to get ourselves plus luggage from La Tour Maubourg to Gare Montparnasse, from where our train would be leaving for Carcassonne via Toulouse. At least half the Metro stations are quite challenging for this sort of activity, with lots of up and down stairways, some quite long and steep, and mazes of long underground walkways. Most of these stations are yet to be equipped with lifts or escalators. Brian had mapped out two possible routes for getting to Gare Montparnasse, and armed with our tourist transport passes we decided that we'd try each of them out and decide which would be the easier one with our luggage.
It started out well with us catching the Metro to Concorde station, where we'd change to Line 12 to reach our destination. However, two stops short of Gare Montparnasse, at Rennes, our train stopped, the lights dimmed and an announcement came over the loudspeaker. Evidently somewhere nearby there had been a suicide and our train wasn't going any further. Everyone was to leave the train. After some thought we decided the best bet would be to go to the opposite platform and catch a train back to base and at least try the other route. We soon learned that that wasn't possible either as trains had been stopped in both directions. Some of our fellow passengers were most put out, but at least for us it wasn't too big an inconvenience.
We then headed up to street level and found that we weren't all that far from the Montparnasse area where we'd stayed on our first visit and which we knew to be attractive. However our dramas weren't totally over. As we emerged we saw several TV cameras set up near the entrance, with outside broadcast vans, and large numbers of police and other characters milling round. Evidently, a huge day of union protests at Emmanuel Macron's labour reforms was about to start, and this area seemed to be a focal point. We decided to move right along, and knowing that the beautiful Jardin du Luxembourg was only a short distance away, we headed there, picking up some fruit (including a punnet of Brian's obligatory raspberries and Mary's obligatory grapes) for our lunch. It had been a long time since we'd eaten so healthily so, as well as being very tasty, the fresh fruit helped us ease our consciences.
We'd spent half a day on our previous trip enjoying the gardens and were happy to return there on this warm sunny day. It was great, and looking extra good as the autumn colours were starting to appear. Both of us even managed a short nap in the sun. From there we took a wander up to the Pantheon, which we hadn't seen before, but decided just to admire it from the outside rather than pay the entry fee. We did however visit the nearby church of Sainte Genèvieve. It was certainly well worth it. From there, we wandered through the Latin Quarter and down to the Jardin des Plantes, where we managed to get ourselves thoroughly disorientated and lost. We weren't so homesick that we needed a fix, but in our travels we wandered past a section of the Menagerie where a couple of dozen wallabies were happily grazing on lush green grass, a diet probably more flavoursome than they would have enjoyed back home.
It was late afternoon by then, and we were becoming footsore and weary, so we decided to find a Metro station and head back to base. In a final burst of energy, Brian then decided that we would explore the other route for getting ourselves to Gare Montparnasse. This would require us to change trains at La Motte-Picquet station, but when we saw just how many flights of steep stairs that was going to entail, we soon decided that the Concorde option would be the better one. One can but hope that there won't be any other such disruptions to our best-laid plans when we're carrying our luggage.
We'd certainly earnt ourselves a relaxing drink by that time, so decided to head across the road from the hotel to the cafe where we'd been enjoying our breakfasts. It turned out that they run a happy hour (well, five hours, actually) from 5pm each night, so we enjoyed a half-litre of good beer and a glass of genuine champagne together with a bowl of nibbles for the grand total of ten euros - very cheap by Parisian standards. We sat in the sun at a small table on the footpath watching the world go by and thinking about the great unplanned day we'd just had.Read more
The weather when we woke up was beautiful, so what's not to like about that? Going to our busy little cafe for breakfast, the proprietor seemed a little slow to take our order. Following the bad dinner experience of the previous night - though at a different restaurant - we were getting a little concerned when he suddenly appeared with Mary's cappuccino and Brian's double espresso, followed immediately afterwards by the rest of the Frencj breakfast. Clearly, he'd remembered us from our previous visits and didn't need to ask us what we wanted, and clearly too, we're established here. We could happily stay on in Paris.
After the four of us hade breakfasted we decided that this would be a day for strolling round Paris and revisiting all the tourist spots. The 15-minute walk to the Eiffel Tower was a good start, and we spent quite a bit of time taking photos and generally soaking up the atmosphere on this beautiful autumn morning. From there, we wandered up towards the Champs Élysées, looking in shop windows at all the grossly overpriced name-brand goods. Even the coffees we bought were double the going rate anywhere else. Still, we were on holiday, so these things shouldn't matter.
We then headed for the Tuileries Garden, where the crowds were much less, and on to the Île de la Cité and the Nôtre Dame. We had contemplated visiting the nearby Sainte-Chapelle with its fantastic stained glass windows, but the queue was quite long and we didn't feel like waiting. We really weren't confident that Eileen's walking stick would work for us a second time. Anyway,people were starting to flag by then, so we headed back to our hotel, diverting en route to the newly-discovered Karamel Cafe for decadent cakes and coffee.
Ian and Eileen had very generously wanted to shout us the previous night as our Golden Wedding anniversary dinner, but that of course had turned out to be a total disaster, fortunately at no cost to ourselves. We decided to have another try, but this time to go more upmarket. We'd been recommended a restaurant with the unlikely name of Fitzgerald which was only 100m or so from the hotel, so we decided to give it a try. It turned out to be quite classy and very very enjoyable, and we were grateful to our good friends Ian and Eileen for their generosity. Another fantastic Parisian day.Read more
8.30am and two taxis, one with a trailer, arrived to take all of us plus luggage on the half-hour drive to the station at Nîmes. From there, people were catching trains to various destinations. We, together with the lovely elderly French couple, Roger and Françoise, were on the 1055 train to Paris. The waiting time went very quickly, and it was handy to have them there to help us interpret the minimal signage and garbled French PA system announcements at the station. We spent much of the time, as we had during the cruise, with them helping Brian expand his limited French vocabulary while we in turn helped them with their basic English.
French trains are fast, clean and comfortable, but as we had discovered already at Gare Part Dieu in Lyon, getting on the train and finding ones reserved seats is not always easy. For a start, the signage telling people where to stand on the platform to be alongside their carriage was hopelessly wrong, so when the train pulled in to the platform we all had to sprint about 50m with our luggage. This wouldn't matter, were it not for the fact that the train is there for literally only two minutes before it heads off again. We felt sorry for anyone travelling with a lot of luggage and small children. Our troubles weren't over yet. As we entered our carriage, the way was blocked by two people in wheelchairs. This wasn't their fault as there was no other space for them.
HEALTH WARNING: Politically incorrect statements ahead!! What it meant was that we had to try and squeeze past them while carrying our own heavy luggage above our heads. This wasn't easy, but we felt that the disabled people wouldn't be keen on adding decapitation to their list of medical issues. At risk of sounding even more politically incorrect, we concluded that they were returning from Lourdes, in which case they should seek a refund. Trains should only require wheelchair spaces for the outbound journey.
We reached Paris on time after a very quiet and comfortable three-hour high speed train journey and then set about trying to navigate ourselves plus luggage from Gare Lyon to our hotel at La Tour Maubourg. Many of the Metro stations now have escalators, but there are still a few which required us to lug suitcases up and down flights of steps. We were certainly happy to see our hotel, the one we'd stayed at in 2014. Little has changed, and our room was every bit as comfortable as the other one was before. We scored an attic room this time, unfortunately without a view, but the room itself was great.
Paris is a romantic city, so what was the first thing we did? Went to the laundromat and washed a week's worth of accumulated laundry. Admittedly, we did go and indulge ourselves at a nearby patisserie while the clothes were washing.
Later, we came down to earth with a bit of a thud. There are many dozens of restaurants, all within easy walking distance of our hotel, but we decided that we'd go for something cheap and light. After all, we'd eaten and drunk especially well over the previous week, and it wouldn't do us any harm to ease off a bit - and save a bit of money. However, the one we chose was very ordinary indeed. We knew that we wouldn't be going back there in a hurry.Read more
You might also know this place by the following names:
Esplanade des Invalides, Esplanada de los Inválidos