Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Paris: First things first--Eating (June 2005)

After our laundry caper, we happily loaded the compact and settled in for a new adventure; this time in Geneva.

What a surprise in encountering this fabulous city. It's the second largest (Zurich is first) city in Switzerland and strangely enough part of it sits in France and the other in Switzerland. It's also the sixth largest financial center in the world and we were dazzled by all the BIG financial institutions with large buildings and offices there.

The city abuts Lake Geneva and the lake itself is surrounded by beautiful rose gardens with every variety and hybrid of rose imaginable. Not only is the color palet varied, but the fragrance is a treat for the nose (unless, of course, you've got allergies?). We were shutter crazy, snapping pictures right and left. It was a beautiful day with full sun and fluffy white clouds. In the middle of the lake lies the Jet d'eau, a huge gusher of a fountain that pushes out 132 gallons of water a minute to a distance of 459 feet and can be seen from far distances. It is to Geneva what the Eiffel Tour is to Paris and is featured in most tourism periodicals.

Before turning in our compact, we toured around the city and the lake for a few hours since it took us far less time to get to Geneva than we'd imagined. Then we turned in the car, asked them to drop us at the train station just a few blocks away and we began our search for our train compartment. With ample time remaining, we figured out the train system, found our seats and settled in with plenty of time to spare. Doug had purchased an International Herald, so we sat back in the air conditioned compartment and relaxed--well as much as we could, we were pretty pumped up for arrival in Paris.

We crossed some beautiful country between Geneva and Paris, traveling on the outskirts of quaint small villages identified by pastel exterior walls and red tiled peaked roofs. Picturesque.

After seeing a bit of the country, we thought it would be a great time to go to the club car and get an espresso. We put our things away and walked to the next car, a short step through a door near us. We brought our expresso back and enjoyed it while we watched the scenery for a while and then stuck our noses into our Rick Steve's Paris travel book. Before long we were pulling into Gare de Lyon.

Gare de Lyon is impressive. Bustling, loud, high ceilings and lines of trains. Atop the second level is a historical restaurant called Le Train Bleu. Many famous people have stopped for a bite to eat or an apéro there and it's worth a stop in just to see the decor, all still quite original.

We hailed a taxi (hint: never take a taxi that is not a train station designee, or you could wind up robbed and discarded or worse), after making sure it was a licensed and sanctioned cab. We greeted him with our best French greetings and gave him the map of where we needed to go. He was most grateful for the google diagram and took us directly to the apartment. By the way, this day also happened to be the commencement of the famous annual summer music festival in Paris. We were delighted to be able to enjoy lively bands, dancing and singing all along the route. It hyped us up even more and we couldn't wait to get out there once we settled in.

We followed our exchanger's instructions and were able to maneuver through a few secure doors and finally found ourselves in the interior of the building and the tiniest elevator I've ever seen. Doug put one suitcase in at a time, went up, unloaded, came back got more, until finally I was able to be a passenger. We spent an hour checking out our tiny 300 square foot (maybe) apartment, unpacking, etc. Then Doug said: "Well, it's time to get out that camera and start taking photos to upload to our blog on Paris." He looked in his computer bag. Computer, no camera. He looked in mine, too. Computer, no camera. Then he became alarmed. Long story short: while we were going after that stupid espresso, someone went after our camera. We think Doug or I may have left it on the seat as we had been taking pictures all the way from Geneva. Then it dawned on us that not only had we lost the camera but we had no pictures of the laundry caper, Geneva or all those beautiful rose gardens! We were pretty sad, but also grateful that the camera was all that was missing and also that Doug had uploaded all photos prior to Geneva when we were in Lyon, the day before we left for Paris.

So, if you were wondering why I hadn't posted pictures of Jet d'Eau, roses and the beautiful city and lake of Geneva, that's why.

Prior to our trip to Paris, we'd explored many possibilities for dinner the day we arrived. It was actually our anniversary (second) so it was a special time, and we decided on Oh! Duo. We had been following a blog of a nice couple from Sanabel Island, Florida, Barbara and Tom Cooley. We actually met them at a cafe on Commerce for an apero one night. They are writers and editors, among other things, and they do their editing and writing in Paris for the entire summer each year. As good writers do, they put their impressions into a blog, Paris Journal, so that people like us may enjoy virtual travel. More importantly, we get to see what they are eating at some of the local restaurants. That's how we found Oh! Duo.

We cleaned ourselves up, bummed about not having our old trusty digital camera, and walked to Oh! Duo. Madame Valero (the excellent Chef is her husband!) greeted us warmly and gave us a nice table. She explained, as well as she was able--not speaking fluent English--what was on the menu. In my rough French I communicated our stolen camera dilemma and asked if she might know where we might buy another nearby. She asked us to wait a moment while she asked the chef. She returned shortly, handed us a piece of paper on which she'd written down "Darty" and how to walk there.

I enjoyed a wonderful filet of salmon in a rich creamy caper butter sauce and deliciously creamy pureed potato and Doug had a tender veal chops in a wine reduction sauce that would knock your socks off. Fine, fine cuisine. We had an elegant Burgundy wine of a good vintage and mousse au chocolat for dessert. We could hardly waddle out the door. They knew it was our anniversary and they made it special for us. What a pleasant first dining experience in Paris.

We walked the distance to Darty, so we'd know where to find it the next morning, with the goal of buying a replacement camera. Satisfied that we'd be able to find our way around, we turned and walked the distance toward home. It had, after all, been a very long day.

We were up early the next morning and I searched the apartment and found that our hosts had left a small container of coffee for us to brew and some fresh orange juice as well as some breakfast biscuits. We made some coffee and nibbled on the biscuits, excited about the day ahead. Our first visit would be to Darty for the camera and then back home to figure it out as quickly as possible so that we might walk about out again for a full day of sightseeing.

Sometimes you just have to admit that there are times when something bad happens in life and while it seems horrible at the time, it can turn the corner and actually become a blessing! We felt that way about our new camera. Not only was it of higher quality, but it had much better advanced technology. No more thirty-second movies, now we could take them for as long as the battery would last. It was a much better camera all around--better quality pictures, better zoom, etc.

Our first pictures (below) reflect some of our "dining" adventures. As you can see, the waiters are a proud breed. They can be exceptionally nice or exceptionally rude. Our experiences have all been fairly positive and I believe it's because we behave in a manner they appreciate. While in the south of Paris, we observed the table manners of the French and learned to appreciate things like the way to conduct toasts, when to pick up your utensils, how to ask for help, how to ask a question about something, and how to tip. We also learned that if you really like a restaurant and therefore return for another meal, the proprietors/waitors generally will recognize you and almost always will show you their appreciation.

We hadn't asked the waiter in the first photo below to "pose" for us, but we'd exchanged pleasantries and shown him respect and when he saw Doug lift his camera, he posed perfectly as if to say "I'm ready, sir." So, Doug snapped the shot. This man is a good representation of a "serious Parisian waiter." The picture was taken at a tabac adjacent to Notre Dame Cathedral. It was inordinately hot inside the cathedral, so we decided against being tourists and crossed the street for an aperitif instead. We sat just inside the door, rather than outside, as we seem to feel less like tourists that way.

We took shots of Les Deux Margot, one of those "must visit" places for tourists. (They even have a gift shop online where you can by parafinalia with their logo on it.) We sat outside the first time we went but on the next visit, when it was raining, we sat just inside--no cigarette smoke and the waiters treated us more like locals than tourists. Also, surprisingly, the menu inside was less expensive. Figure that! You can see the traffic congestion around that very busy intersection. This is in the 6e, a high-end very popular shopping and meeting area with restaurants that are much more expensive than in the 15e.

I enjoyed the brasserie Le Bourbon so much that I had Doug take a picture to remind me. He had a tender steak au poive (a ribeye with lots of pepper on it) and I, again, had salmon. But it was the crème Brûlée that was superb. A generous rich and creamy custard with a thin golden crispy layer of browned sugar on top. A real WOW in my opinion.

We also took a picture of a blackboard outside a place where we tried the quiche (which was burnt and dry). It is common to see a blackboard identifying the special or the daily plat principal. You might want to buy a pocket dictionary so that you don't get caught unaware by ordering an internal organ that you may detest either in taste or texture. Generally the black-boarded items are a bargain as well. (We found that buying quiche in a patisserie and heating it at home is the best way to enjoy good quiche.)

Finally, we snapped an interesting shot of one of the many Monoprix markets. In the 15e we had one near the apartment and it was an easy one to find. But as this picture demonstrates, sometimes the beauty of the fascade or building may deter finding what you are actually looking for. There are several brands of super markets in Paris, some are small and less stocked, some large. Monoprix, Champion and Carrefour super marchés have a variety of goods as well as food. The small independent merchants selling cheese, pastry, fruit, vegetables, meat, etc., don't always like you to handle their products--preferring instead to select and bag them for you. But the grocery stores are the opposite. You should be warned though, as we learned, many times you have to bag, weigh and weigh produce before you get to the check-out or you'll get a scolding by the clerk. Also, either buy your reuseable bags from the clerk before you purchase or at the time you purchase. They don't like giving out mainland-style paper or plastic grocery bags and some won't do it at all.

The best food by far to us was food prepared in our tiny kitchen. My cutting board was a six inch area in front of the sink--the sink was 12"x12"x6" without disposal--and no cupboards only a shelf (seen to my left). In fact, I'm standing in the middle of the kitchen which was not more than 6 feet across. Property is a premium in France, space is never wasted nor is time. We learned that in Megève. Little did we know that our bed in Megève would turn out to be representative of the norm! Ha! 3/4 low lying beds, pushed against the wall, a small desk for a computer and I could sit on the bed and put my feet into the doorway of the tiny shower room. Space notwithstanding, the fresh produce, cheese, pastry, bread, vegetables and meats/fish made the most delicious meals right there in our tiny kitchen. We'll take Paris any way we can!

Some photographs depicting Paris as we see it:

A Rainy Day Break for Le Garçon (Les Deux Margot)

And Boy are French Kitchen's Small!

Very Crowded Famous Les Deux Margot, 6e

Les Deux Margot (Hemingway's Hideout) 6e (Very Crowded)

Grocery Stores Often Look Different in Paris

Bring Your French Dictionary or You'll Not Know What the Special of the Day is!

Le Bourbon, A Favorite Brasserie (Delicious Crème Brûlée)

Being a Waiter in a Paris Restaurant is a Proud Profession (It's very wise to show respect)

Next post: Sightseeing in Paris

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