After a first-class train ride from Brussels (cheaper than the regular tickets — go internet specials), I couldn’t wait to get out of our cheap and somewhat charming hotel and show James a little bit of Paris. So we hopped on the metro, and went out into the night. Straight towards the most touristy spot in the city.
It is bloody difficult to get a decent, non-blurry picture of the Eiffel Tower at night. So we took about a thousand of them, from all angles, near and far (there are a few more here if you’re curious). And we saw the light show — a first for us both. I can imagine getting sick of it if I lived there, but for us, the Tower was best at night, awash in blue to soften its somewhat industrial visage. The bolts sort of melt into the background, and the structure as a whole transforms into something a bit more seductive than its daytime counterpart. It was, I think, and appropriate (if somewhat cliche) way to start our quick trip into Paris.
The next day, we took care of another first for us both, and headed to the Louvre. To see the Mona Lisa, of course. James is not so much an art lover, but for some reason, the Mona Lisa was on his list, so off we went. The trip was worth it, but more for the building itself. Most museums have stark and somewhat cold interiors, to avoid competing with the art therein. The interior of the Louvre, however, is a mix of classic museum and royal grandeur. You can get lost in there for days on end, which for some odd reason reminds me of reading From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and imagining what it would be like to be in a Parisian counterpart of Claudia’s shoes. Luckily, we found an exit, vowing to return some day and do the museum properly, and went off in search of bread and cheese.
Unfortunately, it was a Monday. Nothing was open — we missed Barthelemy, and settled for supermarket cheese this time around. Luckily, it’s a little easier to find good cheese in a supermarket in Paris than it is, say, in New Haven, unless you know where you’re looking. But bread-wise, we did pretty well. We found Poilane, and discovered that they sold their massive, classic Pain Poilane in chunks, by weight. At this point, I got really, stupidly excited. So we bought a quarter, and left, giddy and ridiculous, to find a park for lunch. Let me just say that we have had a lot of good bread in our time, and this one pretty much topped them all. Hearty, moist, springy, tasty … Oh, I think I’ll be baking one of those soon. Maybe after the 100th loaf, I’ll get something close… Incentives are good, no?
I’m not going to give you a whole recap of our trip, because you can find gorgeous things to do in Paris, no matter who you are and what you enjoy. There are always pretty little gardens filled with flowers to stroll through somewhere, and plenty of people out actually enjoying life, rather than hunching over in little cubicles, exchanging life for paycheck without much of a thought. And — oh, Notre Dame, the Sacre Coeur, Montremarte, the Seine, a zillion gorgeous museums, and everything else you could possibly want. But I digress. I really just want to say this: if you can only eat one thing in Paris, you have to try the camembert made with unpasteurized milk.
We did on our second day in Paris, and we spent the rest of our trip talking about how good it was. It’s rich and multi-dimensional, in a way the pasteurized camembert we get here never seems to be. All you need to make a perfect meal out of it is a good baguette, some farmer’s market fruit and veg, and maybe a few extras for variety. For the dinner pictured above, we ended up going to a street market (no picture — sorry), to pick out a bunch of tomatoes and fruits (best. strawberries. ever.), and then headed over to the food hall in Les Galeries Lafayette for the cheese, meat, and olives (and bread from Eric Kayser for breakfast … mmmm). Simple meals are gorgeous when the quality is good, and that’s one thing you can always find in Paris, without even trying very hard. In fact, I think I enjoyed this more than the proper two-course lunch we had at Le Petit Bofinger (smaller and cheaper than the more famous Bofinger across the street) on day three.
Don’t get me wrong — that was pretty awesome, too. I had a foie gras with apricot chutney to start, which they served with hot, toasty bread. I think I prefer paté to a whole lobe of foie gras — it was so rich — but I think that has more to do with what I grew up eating (as a special treat) than anything else. That and the foie gras was served a bit cold, which muted the flavor a bit. (Is that normal?) The main entree was the choucroute dish pictured above, and while I wasn’t entirely sure what I was ordering (it’s more fun that way), I was pretty pleased. It was a LOT of sauerkraut, but it worked with the fish and the creamy sauce, and paired nicely with the house wine that came with the meal. James had a chicken dish with some sort of luscious brown sauce and the best mashed potatoes ever (according to him), followed by a salad with brie for dessert. Yes, dessert. Delicious.
So there it is. A bit of our trip to Paris, mostly in food. All I can say is go if you can, and walk everywhere. Find the tiny fromageries and check out the lines at the local bakeries before dinner time. Have a coffee somewhere off the main roads and peoplewatch. Taste the juicy strawberries from a street farmer’s market you stumble upon along your way. And don’t rely too much on lists of where you must go in Paris. Sure, visit Poilane, or pick a few of your favorite must-see destinations. But don’t head off with a huge list of things to accomplish. Because you’ll never get to them all, and in rushing from place to place, you’ll miss the best parts of Paris.