Paris Neighborhoods: Rive Gauche – the 5th and 6th

January 28, 2012

Saint-Médard in the rue Mouffetard market in the 5th

The Experienced Travelers cross the Seine to the Left Bank to continue our exploration of Paris neighborhoods.  (Click to read our post about the Right bank.)

Two arrondissements stand out as Left Bank favourites.  The justly popular 5th and 6th arrondissements between Place Maubert and Place St-Germain are perfect bases for first-time visitors or returning fans.

The RER from Charles de Gaulle airport stops at the Place St-Michel, which is convenient for both the 5th and 6th.  Emerge from the RER into the Paris morning light and settle at one of the cafes along the Seine for your first café -au-lait.

Browse the bouquinistes along the quai, just like Audrey Hepburn!

Oh, dear Readership, my friend Marylynn and I took our first trip to Paris when we were impressionable girls in our 20s.  Our one unforgettable Audrey Hepburn evening unfolded in these quartiers, thanks to a charming (and well-behaved) Irish literature student.  Arms in arms, we three splashed along the foggy Boulevard Saint-Michel in teeming rain. With our spirits soaring (and coiffures stylishly soaked) we wandered into the wee hours until our Gallic poet gallantly led us to a café table across from Notre Dame, floodlit in the mist.  Ah, youth.  Let me collect myself and return to our tour.

Among it’s many delights, the 5th arrondissement has your picture-perfect view of Notre Dame, the Pantheon, the rue Mouffetard market and the Sorbonne.

Notre Dame seen from the 5th. The ETs gaze upon her over their morning coffee for spiritual renewal and to pray for found money.

The ETs like to explore streets near the river,  like the rues Galande and Maître-Albert where medieval Sorbonne students attended open-air classrooms.  Today you can shop the small boutiques and health food stores in the neighborhood and feel justified because you’re learning history.  How easy it is for the ETs to find continuous self-improvement from our mercantile inclinations.

The Pantheon crowns the hill. Contribute 7 euros to the patrimony of France and visit Hugo, Voltaire, Zola and Foucault's Pendulum.

Walk away from the busy quai and make the gentle climb up the rue Saint-Jacques hill, past the church of St-Séverin to the rue Soufflot.  Stop at the Pantheon where you can visit Foucault’s Pendulum and several French immortels including Victor Hugo.

If you stay here, there are many hotels and restaurants and you won’t be disappointed.  It gets quiet at night unless you’re near the Seine or on the Blvd.  Saint-Michel.  The 5th is centrally located with good transportation, especially along the Blvds. Saint-Germain and Saint-Michel.

  • What’s nearby: rue Mouffetard and Maubert markets, 13th century St Julien le Pauvre and it’s lovely square,  Shakespeare and Company bookstore, the Pantheon, college life at the Sorbonne, the Roman arena, Jardin des Plantes and the Paris Mosque and yummy couscous.

The 6th arrondissement - food, sights and plenty of shopping. A great location!

Just across the Blvd. Saint-Michel from the 5th,  the 6th arrondissement has the most expensive real estate in town with an average cost of €11,631 per square meter. (oodles of Found Money needed.)  It runs from the incomparable Jardin du Luxembourg to the Seine and over to Melinda’s  favourite table at the Café de Flore in the Place Saint-Germain.  After all, it’s not  just for existentialists anymore.

This convenient quartier has it all, and it’s busy from morning till night.  Ambiance, gastronomy, antiques and antiquarian books, Sorbonne student hangouts, upscale boutiques and excellent transportation by bus, metro or RER.  It’s no wonder it’s one of the most popular areas for visitors.

You can stay in the 6th and eat all day without leaving the quartier

You’ll find loads of hotels between the Place Saint-Michel and the rue de Bucci market.  No matter where you stay, it’s easy to get a languorous glass of wine on a made-for-watching café terrace, or a quick picnic lunch.  If you have just one trip to Paris in you, stay in the 6th and we can recommend the Hotel du Lys.

Jardin du Luxembourg - Marie de Medici's backyard can be yours too.

What’s nearby: Left-bank quais on the Seine, Luxembourg gardens, Louvre, Orsay and Cluny museums, Sorbonne, Place St-Germain, rue de Bucci market, rue de Seine antiques, many, many restaurants and cafes that teem with busy cutlery, and much more.

Nurse, in dashing earrings, eyes the Velibes bicycles - what *can* she be thinking..

And so, dear Readership, your choices for a Paris base continue to expand. But there’s more – watch for our overview of the 7th and 15th arrondissements in a later post.  Happy travels!


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Bonne Résolutions de Nouvel!

January 2, 2012

A French toast from Nurse for the New Year

The Experienced Travelers welcome the New Year, which means it’s time to take another trip to France!  Oh joyful tidings!  We trust that our dear Readership celebrated in style, unless you follow the French Revolutionary calendar that begins the year with the autumn equinox.  In that case, you retired early with your “Collected Speeches of Robespierre” and woke refreshed.

The French celebrate News Years Eve with the festivities of the Réveillon de Saint-Sylvestre.  Naturally we followed suit with an eclectic menu and plenty to drink in the company of fine friends.  But fortunately for them, we drew the line at another French tradition, the soirée dansante (ball).   Well, our taffeta gowns were at the laundry so what were we to do.

If it's not mistletoe season, don't let that stop you

In France, the practice of kissing under the mistletoe is a New Year’s custom.  We think that’s because it’s easier for an ambitious Frenchmen to skillfully negotiate a young maiden to the mistletoe after she’s had several glasses of New Year champagne.

Once we’ve shaken off the vintage blessings of Saint-Sylvestre, we’ll be ready to put the ET bonne résolutions de nouvel into practice.  Nurse is in marathon training after her 2011 knee surgery so she can walk from the Ecole Militaire to the upper Marais, with necessary cafe stops along the route.    Et moi, I will re-read Proust now that I have some notion of what the story is about.  And we’re knee deep in maps and websites, planning our pilgrimage to Paris in the spring.

So ring in the new, dear Readership and happy 2012!

Here's hoping 2012 holds more Parisian dining for the ETs - and for you!

Happy Holidays From Julie’s Paris

December 18, 2011

Santa's landing strip: The Champs-Elysees at Christmas. Photo by Agateller, WM Commons.

The Experienced Travelers are primping the bows on festive packages in preparation for Christmas.  Oh, Père Noël.   Is this the year you’ll bring us the key to that mortgage-free flat overlooking the rue Cler?

We asked Santa to stop here after he finishes the Parisian chimneys.  Our list is short and heartfelt:  Christmas morning croissants from the rue de Champs de Mars, those thin, flavorful green beans from the market, one Bresse chicken, the pâté de foie gras that the Florimond makes from the recipe of Laurent’s grandmother, a case of Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, Carette macarons for Nurse, and the leather briefcase I didn’t buy in the Marais.   And the key!  Santa, please… the key.

Last-minute shopping in Paris. Photo by Dhaun

So dear Readership, slip into your winter jammies, decant your cognac and come sit by the fire.  We’re having a little Christmas sing-along, and a holiday reading.  First, we dusted off the “12 Days of ET Christmas”

Twelve vintage bottles / Eleven lost Picassos
Ten chefs creating / Nine waiters waiting
Eight “Gordon” courses / Seven Marly horses
Six scarves from Hermès
Five Ma-ca-rons!
Four garden chairs / Three baguettes / Two camemberts
And a piedàterre in the rue Cler

Now top up your glasses while Nurse regales us with a holiday recitation:

T’was the night before Christmas, and the ETs slept well.
When at last, down the chimney came good Père Noël!
He set down his bundle, and spied with his eyes
A plate of fresh madeleines, piled this high.

“The ETs were baking” he cried with delight.
As the crumbs fell like snowflakes, he relished each bite.
Then he pulled from his pocket a box, with a bow–
A gift to the ETs from Bertrand Delanoë!

He placed it beneath the glittering tree,
To await Christmas morning, and delight the ETs.
For the box held the gift that they asked for each year.
The key to the doorway above the rue Cler!

As he took to the sky to continue his trip,
He cried “Merry Christmas, Oh dear Readership!”

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from the ETs!

Macaron Wars Part II: Ladurée, Pierre Hermé and more

December 3, 2011

Are you salivating yet? More Macaron Wars to come!

The Experienced Travelers continue the scientific macaron-tasting tour of Paris.  If you missed Part I of the macaron wars, read it here.  Like Rousseau and his ilk, we are enlightened thinkers and careful researchers.  In this post,  Melinda and I visit some of the top names in the heady world of macarons – and find a surprise for the ETs.

It took days for Melinda to cleanse her system of the potent ganache from Cristophe Roussel and Stohrer.  We monitored her blood sugar level until she was ready for another go and made a few stops as lesser-known purveyors of the blessed macaron, but didn’t find what we sought.  Onward!

The world according to Laduree

We couldn’t do a thorough test without the world-famous Ladurée  at 16, rue Royale near the Place de la Madeleine.  According to blackbookmag.com, my heroes Proust and Audrey Hepburn stopped here.  (Together? Can you imagine the chit-chat at table. “So madame, do you often meet la Comtesse de Schwah when you have a fitting chez Givenchy?” as he dips a madeleine in his tea.)

Looking for Marcel and Audrey

Thus I felt the hallowed ground at Ladurée merited an quick genuflection, secretly done while Melinda bent over a case of extraordinary desserts.  We waited in line for our macarons and watched the well-to-do of Paris enjoy the small tea room.  No doubt these ladies have actually come from a haunt of haute couture, whereas we just wonder about it.  At last, Melinda made her selection and we got to work.

Pisctachio packs a punch

Caramel is creamy with a slight crunch

Ladurée is arguably the gold standard, and we were about to pass judgement according to our scrupulous ET criteria.  At the first bite, Melinda levitated slightly and smiled.  Could Ladurée be the one?  Firm outer cookies and rich ganache with complex flavor.  A 4 out of 5.  This was looking definite, but we had two more stops to make.

Waiting with la toute monde at Pierre Herme

A friendly French couple gave us two suggestions.  The first was  Pierre Hermé who represents a new generation of macaron artistes that takes inspiration from a variety of flavors (including pâté . Yes.  Pâté.) The line on the sidewalk outside his shop in the rue Bonaparte  is a testament to the popularity of his creations.

The path to goodness is lined with temptations at Pierre Herme

This is a very astute marketing ploy to make you slowly process by gorgeous chocolates and desserts until you succumb to a larger purchase.

Regarding his macarons, the website says “Their flavours solicit the nose and, when one bites into that crisp shell, the ears tingle with pleasure and the palate is finally rewarded.”

At more than $3US each the reward ought to be spectacular.  Melinda geared up and the taste-test ensued; lemon and caramel.  Melinda looked happy, but not elated.  Her nose was mildly solicited, but her ears didn’t tingle.  She found them a tad too sweet.  Really?  So flavored sugar pressed between two garishly-colored sugar biscuits can be too sweet?  I was redoubled in my lonely stand against the macaron.  After our long wait, Melinda awarded Pierre Hermé a 3 out of 5.  Not what I expected!

The ETs are delighted to discover Carette

The second suggestion that the couple made was unknown to the ETs.  Next day, we traveled to Trocadéro, in the toney 16th, to taste-test the macarons at Carette, a very pleasant cafe-pâtisserie in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower.

Sikly smooth scrambled eggs with soft croutons

I had  a late breakfast of smooth scrambled  eggs and wonderful bread.  But Melinda wasn’t feeling well and actually declined food.  In France.   After days of filling her system with the potent French weapon called the macaron, Melinda was weak and turning an odd color.  If the French army had fired macarons from their artillery during WWII, things might have been different.

These exquisite pasteries from Carette make a change from the macaron pictures

So it was up to me – the declared macaron-hater –  to make a swift purchase of assorted macarons and get Melinda back to the hotel.  As our Readership might recall, Melinda made a swift and glorious  recovery and tested Carette later that day.  Ah-hah!  The response I sought.  Her eyes brightened with satisfaction.  The smooth texture of the ganache was complimented by a perfect balance of flavor and sweetness.

At last we have our 5 out of 5 in the ET scientific macaron taste-test.  The holy grail of ganache in cookies is found at Carette, which earns a place in the ET Gastronomy Hall of Fame.

The final tally:  Carette – 5;  Ladurée – 4;  Pierre Hermé – 3;  Christophe Roussel – 3;  Stohrer – 2.  The challenge is on, dear Readership.  Do your own comparison and let us know what you find!

Update: Don’t miss Paris Patisserie’s latest macaron post!

Macaron decor - a typcal feature in Paris patisserie windows

Macaron Wars Part I: Christophe Roussel and Stohrer

November 25, 2011

Macaron Wars! Taste-testing across Paris

The Experienced Travelers are amazed that the most searched word that brings readers to our blog is macaron.  Yes we know – macarons are vanquishing the cupcake craze in the U.S.  But really – the most searched word?  (If you want to know more about the lore of  macarons, read our first macaron post.)

Nurse is a huge fan of the sugary discs while I fail to appreciate their charms.  Personally I think Nurse is drawn more to the vivid colors than the flavor, and I’m sure she’ll refute this spurious charge.  When Melinda and I were in Paris earlier this year, we applied the renown ET scientific testing methods  on macarons across the city.  Like mother, like daughter – Melinda loves them as much as Nurse does.

Since Melinda was the taste-tester and I was a mere assistant, she chose the  flavors to insure a consistent comparison.  In the spirit of  Marie Curie we brought scrupulous adherence to scientific detail.

This very able saleswoman assisted in the selection

We got down to business right away and conducted our first taste test at  Christophe Roussel on the rue du Champ de Mars in the 7th.  Entering the store is  like being trapped inside a macaron – bold vivid colors and the asphyxiating scent of sugar.

Preparation for the onslaught of sugar to come

As a warmup, we tried a chocolate sample that was just wonderful.  Was this a foreshadowing of delights to come?  Melinda went from case to case, inspecting the wares. I ducked in and out to clear my head of the cloying sweetness.  At last a decision – a caramel au beurre sale and a startling yellow macaron limón.

The games officially begin with the first sampling

Overall rating: Texture was good; flavor was excellent, sugar buzz was a 3 out of 5.  This was going to be hard. How do you find a bad macaron in Paris?

The esteemed Stohrer was our second sample

Later that day we were in the rue Montorgueil feeling a bit peckish, so it seemed like a good time to taste-test.  The window at the esteemed Patisserie Stohrer indicated that a tasting was in order.  Stohrer has entranced Parisians since serving Marie Antoinette at the close of the ancien regime.

Melinda was up for it, after coming to earth from her Christophe Roussel-induced high.  We waited in line and chose our test flavors – splendid caramel and lemon macarons.  Down the hatch they went in short order.  The flavor, texture and buzz were fine, but not up to the standard set by Roussel earlier in the day.

Look closely and you'll see Melinda's hand is shaking from the sugar in her system

By now, Melinda’s veins were pure ganache.   I struggled to keep up with her for the rest of the afternoon.  I noted this in our scientific journal as a proven macaron cardiovascular health benefit, particularly for the person not eating them.  Four macarons in as many hours is not covered by standard US insurance policies though we expect the French system will be more sympathetic.

There are more macarons in our future, dear Readership.  If you can’t help yourself, contact the new Laduree shop in New York City and you can have them express mailed to arrive by 10am tomorrow!

Don’t miss the stirring conclusion – click here to read Macaron Wars Part II

Back to Balzar

November 10, 2011

A votre service. Our waiter at the Brasserie Balzar

The Experienced Travelers will try most anything once — and some things twice.  When Melinda and I visited Paris this past April, I knew I had to revisit the Brasserie Balzar near the Sorbonne.  Fans of Balzar are numerous and steadfast.  But after my lackluster visit in 2009,  I was mystified as to why Balzar commanded such fierce fidelity.  (Read about my 2009 visit here)

Is it the homespun ambiance of Balzar that makes true believers?

Online reviews cite Balzar as “the best brasserie in Paris offering hearty traditional cuisine” and  “THE single meal a first-timer in Paris should experience”.   So, dear Readership, what did I miss?  Are Balzar believers entranced by the potted palms and mirrored walls behind the banquettes?  Are they loyal to a favourite waiter who knows their preferences by heart?  Or is it the homey decor that utilizes spare surfaces for storing cutlery, straws, cheeses, bread knives, petit-fours, salad bowls and spare linens.

We prepare to embark on a careful ET scientific experiment

Melinda was  the perfect unbiased dining companion with whom to unravel the mystery of Balzar.  We ordered a light lunch and inaugurated our exploration with a chilled rosé and a basket of french bread which was, I must say,  just superlative.  Perhaps my star and Balzar’s were about to have a happy collision at last.

Is this onion soup the best in Paris?

Melinda’s soupe gratinée à loignon Balzar was the subject of an ET controlled comparison to see how it stood up to the onion soup from Au Pied de Cochon, which we devoured earlier in the trip.  Well, dear Readership, Balzar’s soup was hearty and gooey with cheese,  but it wasn’t as flavorful as its competitor across the Seine.

And just to be perfectly clear – there was no bias based on our consumption of rosé .  We were very careful to drink just as much at Balzar as we enjoyed at Au Pied de Cochon.  The ETs are completely scientific in our methods.

This salad could make me a Balzar believer

My salade gourmande au foie gras de canard et magret fumé, figues séchées was actually spectacular, with generous slices of smoked duck, plenty of foie gras, a light dressing and lovely dried figs.  I began to warm toward Balzar over this salad and hoped it would elevate me to the brasserie’s holy anointed.

Our meal was satisfactory – actually better than my 2009 excursion – but not truly memorable, or inexpensive by ET standards (about 40 euro for two of us).  Again, I am left wondering what makes this brasserie so dear to so many.

I clearly have a secret desire – nay, an obsession –  to belong to the select group of  Balzar fanatics.  But it is not to be.   The ETs must find their own Alsatian hideaway – a Parisian brasserie that inspires loyalty and devotion.  It could take years to accomplish, which is all the better for the Readership who so loves to read about food!

Paris Neighborhoods: Rive Droite

November 7, 2011

The Musee d'Orsay and the Louvre are across the river from one another. Art lovers take note! Photo by Associate ET Felzer

An previous post regaled you with the Experienced Travelers Paris Hotel Tips. (Read it here)  Now we’ll take a whirlwind tour of a few Paris neighborhoods so you can settle on a handy address for your sojurn.

Left bank?  Right bank?  Montparnasse? Montmartre?   It sounds like a Piaf ballad, n’est pas? The choices are bountiful dear Readership, and we assure you that you’ll find just the right spot to suit your mood and itinerary.  (tell us you do have an itinerary… oh dear me,  that’s another post.)

The ETs recommend staying in a central location that's nearby major sights.

Some travelers will trade a central location for cheaper digs on the outskirts.  The ETs believe that there’s something to be said for proximity when you get the yen to walk along the Seine in the moonlight. So we recommend the city center, and there are perfect neighborhoods on both banks of the Seine with hotels in virtually all price ranges. Each area has it’s fans, and aspects that make it unique.  Go get your map and a glass of wine and lets start with a few arrondissements on the rive droite, or right bank.

Staying near the Louvre is central and convenient if you have just a few days in Paris. Photo by Associate ET Felzer.

The Louvre-Palais Royale area (1st arrondissement) is smack in the center of Paris, between the Place de la Concorde and Châtelet -Les Halles.  If your inner Rembrandt yearns for the major museums, this could be the spot.  The Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay are across the Seine from each other.  The Jeu de Paume and the Orangerie are at the edge of the Tuilleries.  You’ll find busy restaurants – including the legendary Angelina’s –  and tourist shops selling sno-globe Eiffel Towers under the arcades on the rue de Rivoli.  Nearby restaurants tend to be more expensive because of the proximity to the museums.  If you’re hungry venture north to the trendy rue Montorgueil street market where you can get a cheaper meal, and browse delicious kitchen stores like E. Dehillerin on the edge of Les Halles.

It’s worth noting that the Louvre-Palais Royale area lacks the “lived-in” feeling of other quartiers, if that’s important to you.  You’re also dependent on Metro line 1, which serves many major sights, but as a result it’s jam-packed most of the day.   And avoid the Châtelet metro correspondence – it’s enormous and confusing.  Consider staying in this area if you have a limited time in Paris and you want to be central to most major sights.

  • What’s nearby:  Place de la Concorde, Madeleine, Tuilleries Gardens, Musée d’Orsay, l’Opera, grandes magasins (Printemps and Galeries Lafayette), Place Vendome, Ile de la Cité and Notre Dame, Les Halles, Châtelet.

Ile St-Louis. If you stay here, don't worry. They all go home at night and leave you alone with beautiful 17th century buildings.

The upscale Ile St.-Louis is a coveted address for visitor and resident alike.  This lovely island in the Seine is awash with tourists during the day, but quiet and village-like at night.  Alongside the aristocratic townhouses, there are a few hotels and some excellent restaurants.  The lower Marais, the edge of the Latin Quarter and it’s sister island, the Ile de la Cité are within easy reach.  It is necessary to cross a bridge to reach a metro stop, but there are several in the area. This is a good choice if you want to be centrally located in an area that’s pleasant and peaceful in the evening.  We don’t recommend the Ile de la Cité next door. It’s not convenient as a base.

  • What’s nearby:  Villages St.-Paul, the lower Marais, Ile de la Cité and Notre Dame, Sainte-Chapelle, the Latin Quarter, Berthillion ice cream.

The Marais is a popular location that's convenient and shop-worthy

The Marais (3-4th arrondissements) runs from the Seine to Temple, and Beaubourg to Bastille.  This quartier is fresh from a gentrification which started in the 1980s, and attracted small hotels, chi-chi boutiques, artisan studios and Gay residents (suffice it to say “le clubbing” must be good!)  The centuries-old streets off the rue des Archives aren’t dormant anymore, with lots of walking-shopping on the narrow sidewalks. But you quickly get a sense of old Paris in the side streets and courtyards.  The jewel in the Marais crown is the exquisite Place des Vosges featuring Henry IVs arcades.  Stay in the Marais and it could be your neighborhood garden.

  • What’s nearby:  boutique shopping, the Musees Carnavalet, Picasso and Pompidou, the St-Paul quartier with antiques and very old architecture, the Ile-St.-Louis and Ile de la Cite, Place de la Bastille, Hotel de Ville (and the fabulous BHV department store)

The legendary Avenue des Champs-Elysees has plenty of places to spend your Found Money

The vast, chaotic Champs-Elysees (8th arrondissement) is riddled with hotels in all price ranges, but the noise and traffic make the ETs grateful to hurry back to the residential 7th.  Perhaps you’re made of stronger stuff and will thrive on the energy.

Many people choose the Champs-Elysees as a home base and the quantity of major hotels attests to that. It’s a shopping haven.  Global brand names line the wide avenue.  The grands magasins are nearby.  High-end retailers fill the Golden Triangle, and the elegant stores of the Place de la Madeleine and the rue Royale are just off the Place de la Concorde.

Associate ETs Joanne and Clare strike a pose before the monumental Arc de Triomphe on the Champs-Elysees

If you are superhuman and have a shred of energy left after shopping, nightclubs like the Lido abound. There are five metro stops on the Champs-Elysees (Line 1)with convenient correspondances to other lines.  Be warned that a glass of wine or a meal will cost much more here.   We think the visitors who stay here do so for access to shopping or major hotel brands.

  • What’s nearby: High-end shopping; The Arc de Triomphe, Grande and Petit Palais, stores in the rue Faubourg St.-Honoré, Golden Triangle and Place de la Madeleine.

We need another Paris trip to explore the 9th, 10th and 11th arrondissements. These neighborhoods are gaining in popularity with young singles, particularly the 10th along the Canal St-Martin.  I spent an afternoon in the 9th wandering from the Place St-Georges to Place Pigalle (in search of Simenon’s Maigret, of course).  I thought it was an unremarkable area and feel that I must have missed something.  Do please tell me what it was.

I haven’t visited the 10th or 11th, so I don’t  recommend for or against them as a base for visitors.  But I have read that new up-and-coming super-chef restaurants are opening there.  I hope we’ll get informative comments from fans of these areas who will enlighten us.

  • What’s nearby: 9th – Opera Garnier, grandes magasins, Gare St-Lazare. 10th – Place de la République , Gares du Nord and L’Est. 11th – Place de la Bastille, eastern edge of the Marais, Père Lachaise cemetery.

Marketing in the rue de Levis near the Parc Monceau.

May we make a plug for a residential area on the south-eastern edge of the 17th arrondissement near the beautiful Parc Monceau?  In the bloom of my youth, I rented a room overlooking the market in the rue de Lévis.   I often return for a sentimental visit, hoping to catch a glimpse of my eccentric Algerian landlady.  The market here is authentic, with fewer fashion boutiques and more food and services stores.  If you want a true residential experience in Paris, I can recommend this neighborhood.  Do not stay further north or east than Ave. Villiers and Ave. Wagram.  Stick close by the Parc Monceau. Convenient metro stops are found along the Ave. de Villiers.

  • What’s nearby: Arc de Triomphe and the Champs-Elysees, Parc Monceau, Proust’s rooms in the Blvd. Haussmann.

Picasso, Utrillo, Modigliani - you! This alluring view of the Place du Tertre might tempt you to book a room here.

And finally on our right bank tour, we come to that  storied butte in the 18th arrondissement.  Lovers of Montmartre are a feisty bunch, and claim that the charm of the place outweighs the long breathless ascent.  The ETs can’t imagine  schlepping back and forth by bus or metro to get to major sights.  And there’s that hill to climb at the end of the day. Again.   But if you have a 19th century, absinthe-ridden artistic-genius fantasy, you’ll find very affordable hotels and restaurants in Montmartre.  Be warned that the area between Sacré-Cœur and the Place du Tertre is sheer tourist madness during the day, especially on sunny weekends.  It gets better at night.

Dear Readership, this is only the right bank!  Imagine what we’ll find when we explore the 5th and 6th arrondissements on the left bank in a future post!

Paris experts – use the comment link below and enlighten us about your favourite right bank haunt!

Enjoying the sun on the Ile St.-Louis, and pondering our exploration of the Left Bank in the next post! Someone needs a haircut....

ParisPics: Les Gens de Paris

October 27, 2011

The Experienced Travelers salute Les Gens de Paris, the people of Paris who embody la gloire de France in their manner, their customs and their style.  Most Parisians are delighted to separate us from our Found Money so they’re very gracious and kind.  It won’t surprise the Readership to learn that these exchanges often involve food, but that’s the sacrifice we make on your behalf.

Fruit and veg in the rue de Lévis

Day-to-day life in Paris reminds us that the city is a real home, not a Disney production.  In the bloom of my youth,  I rented a bedroom chez Madame A. and it was right above this produce store.

Here, les gens de Paris taught me that The Produce Men will choose on my behalf after they ascertain when I will eat it and how it will be prepared.  To Parisians food is a serious endeavor, even if it’s done on the two-burner camp stove in Madame’s bizarre kitchen.  (Madame A was a truly unique dame de Paris, but thats another story…)

Cheese ladies in uniform

The ETs rely on food shop attendants who take well-earned pride in their vocation.  Even the youngest clerks are knowledgeable and make thoughtful recommendations.  I cross the threshold of cheese, lost and confused, but hopeful.  These smartly attired ladies take me in hand and send me along with a new delicacy that may change my life.

I'm still considering this leather laptop bag. Any advice?

Across the 20 arrondissements of Paris, shop clerks keep the wheels of commerce turning – turning right around the ET’s revolving credit.  Window displays are artful and goods are organized with panache.  How can the ETs resist?

While shopping in the Marais, Melinda and I met a very persuasive saleslady who was drawn into the ET’s retail magnetism. With exceptional vigor, she tried to send a $400 laptop bag home with me.  She demonstrated the strength of the clasps, opened every deep pocket, adjusted the durable strap and illustrated how dashing I would look carrying it around at the Real Job.  It was a performance worthy of the Palme d’or.

In fact, just yesterday Melinda remarked that I should have  bought it – we both remember it well thanks to this sales lady’s hard work.

These kiosks keep news-hungry Parisians prepared for any political debate

The first newspaper in France was published in 1631.  Wikipedia lists 55 French papers available today.  Thus the services of newsagents like this gentilhomme de Paris are part of the fabric of the city.  At a cafe table opposite this kiosk, Nurse and I spent a mesmerizing 20 minutes watching him pack up.   It was so intriguing that we returned again for an encore.  Really, settle in with a glass of wine and watch these Parisians at work –  it’s better than reality TV.

The ETs would be lost without the cafe waiters of Paris

So the ETs salute all the proud people of Paris, without whom we would be thirsty, hungry, confused, and a little bit wealthier.

sous le ciel de paris jusqu’au soir vont chanter
l’hymne d’un peuple épris de sa vieille cité.
(And then people beneath the Parisian sky will sing into the evening
the hymn of the people in love with their old city.)

Melinda invests Found Money at Premier Pression Provence in the Marché des Enfants Rouges

Happy Birthday Julie’s Paris

October 10, 2011

The ETs prefer a comfortable outdoor venue when doing research for the Readership (even when they should be looking for someone to cut their hair)

The Experienced Travelers are popping corks to celebrate one-year of Julie’s Paris. Who knew!  Nurse and I toast the Readership!

Associate ETs Joanne and Clare explore the menu at Le Petit Troquet in the 7th

We also salute Associate ETs Joanne, Clare and Melinda, who contributed travel companionship, content and photos.  They willingly walked, ate, drank, shopped, photographed, drank and persevered.

Julie’s Paris  started as a trip blog.  It would have been too tiresome to spend time and bandwidth e-mailing everyone 10-megapixel photos of duck confit.  So we decided to blog.  The format was ideal and our friends were hardly shy about sharing comments about our Paris adventures. Thus it began, and so it continues.

Stiring things up at the Bisto St-Germain

We’ve welcomed new members to the Readership from all round the world.  It’s a delight to meet you and exchange stories through comments and e-mail.  We also rely on the Fodors Travel Europe forum for information and advice to bring the Readership the very best in Paris info.

Our first post was inspired by the orgiastic 2 1/2-hour lunch at Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant in Versailles.  But the continuation of that post with more photos and description is a better read! We know that the Readership wants French food — the ETs will dine out and deliver.

Other popular posts over the past year include our trip to the Chateau de Versailles, some odds and ends around town, the Marais and Monet, and the most-searched term leading readers to the blog, les macarons.  Next time you’re on a conference call, check out the Julie’s Paris archive!

The ETs are ready to eat whenever necessary in service to JuliesParis

Thank goodness we have hundreds of digital photos from Paris trips over the years, so we have a robust archive of pictures and stories to keep Julie’s Paris fresh.

But for heaven’s sake, think of the Paris topics and restaurants I have yet to cover.  It’s my job to gather content, so I am going to Kayak.com right away to check on airfares.  I must insure that the Readership is entertained.  I take my responsibility very seriously.  (And if my accountant should ask, be sure you tell her how important new content is to you)

There's so much more to discover in Paris - the Trocadero neighborhood looks promising.

We all love Paris – so let’s share our guilty pleasure with like-minded friends! Go ahead — use the “Share” link at the end of each post and tell us what you think.  If you’re the shy, retiring type, you can send us a note at julies_paris@yahoo.com

We thank the Readership for your unwavering loyalty to Julie’s Paris! Celebrate! It’s the perfect excuse for a smelly cheese and a glass of wine.

Encore!

PS – Let me draw your attention to “Lost In Paris” an entertaining article in yesterday’s New York Times  where author Matt Gross describes spending $200 on an umbrella.  There’s some Found Money!

ET Tips: Paris hotels won’t break the budget

September 27, 2011

Don't try to book the Hotel de Ville. It's the administrative offices of the City of Paris.

The Experienced Travelers are often asked how to find an affordable hotel in Paris.  In fact, we revel in research, and document our options.  Ironically, we’ve only stayed in a few Paris hotels, but that doesn’t prevent us from having a process that we follow with rigor.

Dear Readership, there are zillions of hotel strategies out there.  Browsing a travel newsgroup like the excellent Fodors travel forums  presents a startling variety of approaches – most of them with merit.

Over the years, we’ve settled on ours, and we’re delighted to share it with you.  In this post, we’ll cover considerations, budget and our must-have list of amenities.

A five-star bathroom in Versailles. Truly an anomaly for the ETs

Degrees of comfort

Paris properties run the gamut from the resplendent to the ridiculous.  If your dream trip includes 5-star luxury and handsome uniformed Frenchmen holding the door, then our strategy isn’t for you.  Go directly to the Plaza Athénée, de Crillon or Le Meurice and do please tell us all about it because we’re dying to know. The ETs are counting on you!

In terms of the ridiculous, I’ve seen it, and recognized that I was too attached to firm beds and real towels to try it.  These properties are most suitable for cash-strapped young lovers, for whom a basic closet-sized room overlooking the dustbins takes on a special ambiance under the glow of Paris romance.

On a busy street, opt for a room overlooking an interior courtyard that's as lovely as this one.

Somewhere in between is a wide range of options that include small family-run properties, trendy boutique hotels and large chains that offer comfortable, if homogeneous accommodation.

Keep in mind…

We remind US travelers in particular, that Paris hotel rooms are often smaller than standard room in the States.   And the French ground floor is the rez-de-chaussée , so the first floor French is equivalent to the second floor US, and it goes up from there.

This evocative view is 6 floors up

Elevators in hotels are not a given.  If you harbor a fantasy of watching the sun set over the Paris skyline from your hotel room window, remember that you may have to schlep up six flights of winding stairs to make it come true.  I still have ridges in my palms from hauling luggage to a fifth floor B&B in Avignon.  The ETs are proud proponents of cardiovascular health, but we draw the line at heavy transport unless it’s a laminated shopping bag with a store name on it.

A sloping ceiling didn't impede a curly-haired Nurse from her late-night Eiffel Tower watch (Hotel Muguet)

And a room on the top floor of a Haussmann-era building may have a sloping ceiling, leaving tall members of the Readership navigating a narrow pathway along one wall – and watching the sunset all alone from the far side of the room.

The ETs are ferocious internet users for research and booking.  But it’s worthwhile to wake early one morning a few weeks before departure and call the hotel to re-confirm.  At the very least, re-confirm by e-mail.  We don’t want to arrive and hear “mais non, madame”  from the hotel staff at check-in.  (particularly if you’re a monsieur)

Speaking of check-in;  if you arrive in the morning after an overnight flight, it’s likely that your room won’t be available until early afternoon.  Don’t arrive with dreams of a hot shower.  Leave your luggage, get a late breakfast and go for a walk. And stay awake till at least 10pm. The timetable for the rest of your trip depends on this.  Use whatever means you have at your disposal to stay upright and alert.  Sightseeing, food, wine, walks – don’t take a nap, dear Readership.

Budget

If you’re traveling on a reasonable budget, you’ll have no difficulty finding a reliable room in a good location.  We like to pay between 120-150 euros per night for a double.  There are acceptable rooms in Paris for less, but you’ll be well advised to book months in advance to get the best ones.  And the others?  Well, we’re leaving those to the young romantics who overlook the dustbins.

The ETs think our hard-earned funds are best spent at a hotel where our budget buys the “better” to “best” room.  Although we could spend the same amount for a less exalted room at a swankier address, we’ll sacrifice status for space and a higher position in the hotel pecking order.

The ETs like having breakfast at the ready in the hotel. It's a hotly debated topic on the Fodors travel forum.

We may be in the minority on this, but if the hotel offers breakfast, we generally take it.  In a small hotel, “eating in” will endear you to the manager, whose good graces are useful to have in times of crisis.  It’s  less expensive to eat standing at a cafe bar, but we sleep more soundly knowing our morning coffee and croissant are near at hand.  Any breakfast over 8 euros should include a reasonable buffet with yogurt, eggs and meat. Pile your plate so you have plenty of energy till lunch.  We won’t tell if you pocket a demi-baguette to enjoy later in the day.

Amenities.
The ETs are ladies of a certain age, so we have firm requirements of hotels that will make our shortlist.  Cleanliness, firm beds, safe location, ample light and polite staff are high on the list. We also consider an elevator an important amenity, but that’s because of those shopping bags.

We find all these things and more without breaking our budget, leaving us with Found Money to spend on more meaningful things like bath towels, pink Chanel eyeglasses and jars of black olive tapenade.

A fine two-star bathroom just perfect for the ETs (Hotel du Lys)

  • First and foremost is the ensuite bathroom. Experience taught us that it’s undignified to wander a dark hallway at 3am wearing walking shoes and a cheap travel bathrobe.  It just won’t do.  And we must be able to reach the bathroom without vaulting over a bed and an unsuspecting ET deep in sleep. Besides, we haven’t vaulted over anything since 1995.
  • As inveterate readers, bedside lamps are a major need for us.  Nurse is gifted at late-night subterfuge and will successfully commandeer the single reading light, so I include this requirement in self-defense.
  • We’ve added WiFi access to the list so we can stay in touch.  It also makes calling home much cheaper if you use a service like Skype.
  • If we’re visiting in late spring or summer, air conditioning is necessary to keep us cool and elegant.  Paris can feel stifling at a mere 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • We just say “no” to using suitcases as bedside tables because there’s no place else to put them.  That said, we strive to limit what we bring.  (naturally, there’s an ET packing strategy too.)
  • And it’s no good to lay awake finding animal patterns in the wallpaper while inebriated Frenchmen argue the merits of 18th century philosophers. Unless the room is on a quiet street, we opt to sleep higher up, or overlooking a pleasant courtyard.

Our needs are simple, dear Readership, and we stand by them.  With a little advance research, the Paris roof over your head can be both comfortable and affordable.

We just know that you have Paris hotel tips to share with the Readership.  Leave a comment and educate us!

Maybe you'll choose the Place Vendome and stay here at the Ritz!

And speaking of hotels, read our review of the Hotel du Lys

Paris QuickPics: Couture Moments

September 11, 2011

Retro is always in; in the ET closets, that is..

The Experienced Travelers aren’t poised on the cutting edge of fashion, but we certainly appreciate the style gene in others – especially Parisians.   Here are a few couture moments to enjoy—

Les chaussures for sale in the Marais.

With a little courage and a good sense of balance, you can be stylishly shod.  The ETs’ admired the audacity of these shoes, shortly before our vertigo kicked in.  Young Frenchwomen wear them, and what’s more amazing, they traverse the cobbled streets at an alarming speed.  You’ll still see older elegant ladies in sensible pumps, but if you want to live dangerously in style, these are the ones for you.

Perfect for your next Royal Wedding but beware high winds

Parisians are not great hat-wearers, but that’s not to say you can’t statisfy a hankering for a stylish topper in the rue St-Louis en Île.   Melinda –  clearly the au courant ET – hurried into the crowded shop for a look round.  The proprietress had everything from simple sunhats to more extraordinary creations that perform no observable “hat” function.  Our Melinda emerged in a dandy white straw number to keep the bright sun out of her eyes so she could see shop windows more clearly.  It was a very successful detour!

Poodle hats? Even Toby the Boy Prince would draw the line at this.

It’s no surprise that there are clothing stores throughout Paris. A casual stroll will take you by numerous fashion establishments that beg for further exploration.

Fashion for the rest of us in the rue Mouffetard

The ETs are strong believers in buying quality – even if it means bringing home fewer goodies.  But sometimes a girl wants something cheap and cheerful, and Paris has clothing stores that cater to every whim.

Melinda (in her fetching new hat) eyes some comfy cotton pants in the rue Mouffetard

Telltale racks of cotton clothing in a street market are a sure sign of less expensive goods that are made for Found Money – treat yourself to something!

Shop window in the rue St.-Sulplice - there's are those scarves again

We found several interesting windows in the streets between Pl. St-Germain and St. Sulplice.  The French are crazy for scarves, as these warm weather ensembles demonstrate.  In fact, the dominant fashion accessories we observed were scarves and dark tights with funky boots.  We can do the scarves, but funky over-the knee boots…oh dear me.

e o

We're pleased that the French maintain their interest in lingerie

Ladies, there are opportunities galore to take home some new lingerie.  The ETs admired the multitude of styles and colors, but gone are the days when our figures would accommodate such ambitious infrastructure.

Even an 18th century fashionista has choices

Even more dramatic dressers can find something to take home with them.  This period clothing store near the Odeon metro stop had the ETs wishing and hoping for an invitation to a masked ball.

Nurse demonstrates functional fashion at work

But it all comes down to what works for you.  The ETs will  never be fashion doyennes but after a few of these kirs, we’ll rise above the disappointment and enjoy the couture parade as it passes by!

The Hotel du Lys

August 28, 2011

Sleep under the emblem of the crown of France at the Hotel du Lys.

The Experienced Travelers appreciate a good deal.  Our cutting-edge “Found Money” economic strategy operates on actual cash savings, so we’re always on the lookout for a bargain to share with the Readership.

For the last Paris visit I wanted to change things up a bit and stay in the 6th instead of the usual ET haunt in the 7th near the rue Cler.   Melinda left the hotel search to me, so the pressure was on;  if it’s a dud, I’ll  suffer pointed stares while quickly formulating plan B.

My “Found Money” goal was to pay under 140€ per room for a two-or three-star hotel in a central location.   With my trusty Hotel spreadsheet at the ready, I  consulted reliable sources – the Fodors travel forum, TripAdvisor, Slow Travel France and Sandra Gustafson’s Great Sleeps series.   One recommendation came up over and over, and it was in the neighborhood where I wanted to stay!

The welcoming lobby at the Hotel du Lys

The Hotel du Lys in the rue Serpente, between the St.-Michel and Odeon metro stops fit the bill, at 110€ or 125€  including breakfast.  So I booked online and hoped for the best.

We arrived after our overnight flight and found the Hotel du Lys exactly as promised.  Melinda opted for the cozy single.  I took the comfortable double room with exposed stone walls and two large windows overlooking the rue Serpente.

My double room was airy and comfortable - just right for one or two ETs!

The beds and linens were excellent, the bathrooms were compact but well-appointed, and there were small writing tables and room to store suitcases and hang clothes.  ETs insist on cleanliness and we were not disappointed.  There’s wireless internet throughout the hotel that actually only worked in the lobby, but the ETs are flexible.

We're up to it - 17th century aristocrats climbed these stairs all the time!

It’s worth noting that there’s no elevator or air conditioning.  Brave Melinda faced five flights of worn spiral stairs to her rooftop aerie, which got a little warm during the day.

After a day of walking, Melinda prepares for the climb. Note the chic wedgie shoes come off first.

But the climb was worth the price of 110€ and her quiet room looked out over the rooftops.  If stairs are an issue, there are two rooms directly off the lobby,  so you can go from bed to bistrot in a matter of moments.

The Hotel du Lys is bastion of tradition in a sea of nouveau-chic hostelries.  If your taste runs to Philippe Starcke décor, you may want to look elsewhere (and pay more).  This is a family-owned enterprise where the owner works the front desk, room keys hang on a pegboard in the lobby and well-behaved dogs are welcome.

A snug but handy ground-floor bedroom

Like the ETs, the Hotel du Lys has its idiosyncrasies.  The website declares “We have tried to make this old house as attractive and comfortable as possible in spite of the little inconveniences which we must accept as a tribute to the past”.  Often, “little inconveniences” is code for “dreadfully uncomfortable”, but not at the Hotel du Lys.  It means they won’t demolish 17th century stone and beams to install an elevator or straighten a hallway. The ETs gladly sacrifice convenience for authenticity and affordability.

The nearby rue de Bucci is made for people-watching

The Hotel du Lys makes a perfect ET epicenter. The rue de Bucci market is a five minute walk, Melinda’s favourite Café de Flore is close by, Notre Dame, the Louvre and the Orsay are a stone’s throw away and the boulevards St.-Michel and St.-Germain are at the end of the road.   Everything else is accessible from two nearby metro stops. A fine quartier indeed!

The happy outcome was that we netted about 90€ per day in Found Money to finance wine breaks and gateaux chocolat.  We spent most of that in the nearby Place St.-Andre des Arts, which makes an excellent base for evening drinks and gathering meaningful content for JuliesParis!

Melinda and Julie delight in leaving their Found Money behind at the Fontaine St-Michel

As we readied to leave for the airport, the owner shook my hand, looked intently at me and whispered “You love Paris. I think we’ll be seeing you again soon.”.  I do, and she shall!

My personal, private window in the Hotel du Lys, overlooking rue Serpente. Yes, I will be back.

J’ai Faim! Le Bistrot d’Henri

August 15, 2011

Le Bistrot d'Henri

Ohhh, j’ai faim. The Experienced Travelers pledge fidelity to our food-mad Readership with a restaurant report on Le Bistrot d’Henri in the 6th, near the Place St. Germain at 16 rue Princesse.  How apropos that Melinda and I dined like “les princesses” at the Bistrot. (Hopefully like princesses that kept their heads after 1789.)  And what could be better for a girl’s frame of mind than a great meal with a flirtatious Frenchman at the next table.

We found Henri through the Adrian Leeds Top 100 Cheap Restaurants guide. Cheap was a relative term for our weak US dollar, but Adrian steered us right. This was an excellent use for the Found Money I saved by resisting the  Hermès scarf ring.

A flash in the pan promises excellence on a plate at Le Bistrot d'Henri

We settled into the deep banquette and immediately began research on a bottle of Côtes de Provence. Dancing flames and culinary gymnastics from the open kitchen sent us straight to the menu.  Here I exercised caution, because the French disguise liver with sonorous phrases that trick me every time. I once ordered three courses that were all liver and Nurse has never let me forget it.

Be upstanding and welcome this terrine into the ET Culinary Hall of Fame

Melinda and I opened the proceedings with terrine de fois de volaille de maison,  a chicken terrine that rightfully rests in the ET Culinary Hall of Fame.

Melinda practices her terrine spreading technique

Dear Readership, Henri’s terrine is a 7-euro meal in itself. During Proustian “involuntary memory” moments, it all comes back to me; textured goodness heaped on a round of baguette, going down with a satisfaction that is uniquely French.  Forget what I said about liver. I was wrong.  Henri has reformed me.

Free-range Bresse chicken with mushrooms was top-notch

We poured more wine to prepare our pallets for the plats; Melinda’s ravioli in cream sauce and my poulet fermier a la crème aux champignons, which was safely not liver, but free-range Bresse chicken in white sauce with mushrooms.  We were delighted to share an order of potatoes gratin dauphinois and dined as the restaurant filled to capacity, and the din of convivial chatter rose.

Pear clafouti with a shy creme caramel just behind

The table next to ours was occupied by two couples. The man next to us took an immediate interest in what we were eating and where we were from. He mesmerized us with a Gallic style that held us in thrall. His wife rolled her eyes to the other couple while Monsieur Charm ably pointed out the merits of our crème caramel and pear clafouti.

When done well, French flirtation is an experience that ranks with the Louvre and a ride on the Seine as necessary Parisian events.  And now I know it can be practiced in the presence of one’s wife, purely for sport and spirited repartee.

French dining offers ample opportunities for a sporting flirtation

Fortunately, all French men flirt, so there’s plenty to go around.  A first-rate engagement strategy is in play when he admires your stunning command of the French language.  I only know 15 minutes of French – all in the present-tense —   so this is a gratuitous compliment that works every time.  Flirting is harmless and character-building, and recounting it will amuse your friends once you get home.

Melinda and I said our goodbyes to Monsieur Charm (who told us it was a French custom that you don’t leave your dinner until the table next to you has finished…) and walked to the Café Flore for the ritual nightcap.

Our dinner at Le Bistrot d’Henri in the rue Princesse did leave us feeling like royalty – comfortably full of excellent food and well attended by hovering staff and our neighboring Frenchman.  Vive la France and all who dwell in her.

To check out online reviews for Le Bistrot d’Henri and get directions click here

Outdoors at the Cafe Flore - the perfect nightcap on the Blvd St.-Germain

Museum Visit: The Cluny

July 31, 2011

The Cluny Museum. Slip into some chainmail and explore the medieval past

Occasionally, the Experienced Travelers stay out of cafés long enough to visit a museum.  Probably not as often as we should, but there are 153 museums and over 7,000 cafes in Paris, so you see the challenge.

I was on my own one afternoon when Melinda suffered with a funny tummy.  (But not to worry – Nurse made a long-distance diagnosis (stop the Chantrix) that put Melinda back in her wedgie shoes by evening. Nurse is a magnificent diagnostician, even from Command Central across the Atlantic.)

I admired the gothic spires of the Hôtel de Cluny and decided to refresh my knowledge of France’s medieval past.  Known as the Musée National du Moyen Age, “the Cluny” holds a premier collection of religious sculpture, stained glass, art and artifacts from the Middle Ages – in particular the famous 15th century Unicorn tapestries and original statues from Cathedral facades.  And if the 11th century isn’t early enough, there are Roman baths on the grounds – Caesar’s idea of a spa weekend.

Woe be unto those that pull dusting duty

The Cluny is a world away from the tourists and errant water bottles that crowd the larger museums. The dark, quiet interior of the Hôtel is perfect for the collection.  I could overhear a concert of medieval music in the chapel that put me right in the mood for chivalrous knights, Abelard and Héloïse and chanting monks singing the Divine Offices.

You have to admire a man who would depend on this to deflect an oncoming lance. Tim and Victor-this is *so* you.

The lives of medieval Parisians were hardscrabble and God-fearing. Royalty on the right bank, the clergy of Notre Dame on the island, and upstart Sorbonne intellectuals on the left bank. Since it’s my fantasy, I opted for the royal court, insuring ET creature comforts like beds, fires and chamber pots.  With a tunic, an embroidered lace bodice and a fetching fur mantle I’d be ready for any social occasion or Anglo-Saxon invasion.

A beautiful 14th century depiction of the Holy family and the Presentation at the Temple. I love the gentle faces and swaddling cloth.

The Cluny holdings include religious art, beautifully rendered by anonymous stone masons, artists and mid-level monks.  Medieval Frenchmen – devout and largely illiterate – relied on these exquisite works for visual tutorials in their Faith.

Madonna and child carved from wood. He's a rather mature-looking baby who slightly resembles Barak Obama.

What does it say about me that I pondered not the existence of God, but whether things would “go” in the living room?  How many of the Unicorn Tapestries would fit on the wall behind the chair? (and do I have to change the rug…)  What would Nurse think of those gold reliquaries on the mantle?

We have just the right corner for this 13th century gold chasse from Limoges.

It was the Knights Templar meets HGTV and I was on the path to accessorized eternal damnation, taking Nurse down with me by association.

Add an uplight and a fern - instant drama

Afterward, I sat in the beautiful gardens surrounding the museum to contemplate my near-heresy. (after all, I didn’t *actually* redecorate…)  I must purify by getting some medieval stricture into my daily life before I’m damned.

Self-portrait taken before I realized I was damned.

Maybe I could linger at a table in the Café Flore since it’s built over the grounds of the famous Abbey of St.-Germain.  Or delicious cheese might earn time off from purgatory if it’s made using the methods that artisans practiced centuries ago.   I must save my soul by noshing on French bread and wine and renouncing my spurious past.

As I considered my redemption over a glass of wine, I wondered what might have been the life of a medieval ET?  A religious pilgrim on the road to Compastella atoning for all those café stops? A troubadour in the countryside singing epic tales of heroes and villains? Or an itinerant seller of early Hermes scarves and Kelly bags going from village to farm?

A medieval guardian angel showing an errant ET the path to righteousness.

Maybe just a penitent novice, earnestly painting an Annunciation to redecorate the Mother Abbesses’ private chapel.  (anything to avoid the harvest.  Medieval moi is no fool)

From the archives: Turning fifty at Le Florimond

July 16, 2011

Revisiting a 50th birthday meal at Le Florimond

(As many of you know, Nurse is in the hospital dealing with an infection after a knee surgery. She is doing well and appreciates your good wishes.  While I focus my attention on hospital runs,  I dipped into the archives for this latest post.)

When the Experienced Travelers found photos celebrating a past meal at  Le Florimond,  we thought you wouldn’t mind another visit.  Don your napkins, sharpen your knives and prepare to enjoy the feast that marked my 50th birthday.

I managed to make phone reservations for 7pm. (the Anglo-Saxon dinner hour;  Gauls dine at 8:30)  We arrived promptly only to be told “Mesdames, you are expected at 7pm.”  After extensive Franglais, arm waving and pointing, we grasped a single phrase –   Daylight Savings Time.  It had ended *three days earlier*.  Alors! 

That explained the chilly stares when Nurse bought our morning croissants (an hour early) and why the salon was closed when we arrived for a haircut (an hour early), yet the stylist never apologized for being late.  We thought les gens were being French.  It was les Americaines being clueless. 

These soothing lobster ravioli eased the shock of turning 50

An hour later, we were greeted with smiles and warm welcomes.  Turning 50 was not a happy event for this Birthday ET.  Le Florimond’s Laurent carefully chose a menu guranteed to bring the me back from the brink.  We made a genteel toast to my next 50 years and awaited the first course. 

We started with the house speciality lobster ravioli in a light satisfying sauce of tomato and cream. This dish has occupied our dreams since our first visit in 1998 (when the Birthday ET was a mere lad-ette of 40…) And a fresh baguette insured that not a drop of  sauce remained in the dish.  The wine flowed; Nurse proposed a hearty toast to the lobsters that made it possible.

Divine Alsatian sausage strengthened Nurse for the dishes to come

After just one course, I was reviving.  The chatter in the dining room modulated from English to French as the Parisian dinner hour approached.  It was the perfect atmosphere for another house specialty, the Saucisse d’Alsace-Lorraine,  served with sauteed spinach and firm gnocchi.  More wine and a heartfelt toast to the good citizens of Alsace-Lorraine followed.

Salmon inspired the Birthday-ET to face the future with confidence

The salmon with pureed turnip and a sort of pierogi was a youth-inducing dish.  My spirits were climbing.  I was able to say “fifty”.  The magic of the Florimond kitchen was working.  We had to toast the cheese ladies, the boulanger and all the good people of Paris!

The Birthday ET and Laurent

By now the overall mood at the celebrating ET table was much improved.  Surely, if I had to turn 50, doing so under the watchful eyes of Laurent and Nurse was the only way. 

Bonne Anniversaire!

The crowning glory of the evening was dessert and the birthday serenade from Laurent and our server.  The wine.  The lobster ravioli.  The baguette. The salmon.  Nurse’s saucisse.  And now, the dessert. 

The crowning glory rivals the nearby Eiffel Tower

A perfect poached pear with ladyfingers, a vanilla coupe de glace, whipped cream and a lovely pear sauce.  Since the dish contained an actual pear, it was a healthy dessert.  One plate and two forks meant Nurse had to assist, so we obeyed Laurent and made fast work of this perfect treat. 

This called for multiple toasts to the forty Immortels of  L’Académie française who protect the sanctity of French language and culture.

At last, over a petit cafe, I came to terms.  I was full, content, a little drunk, and in Paris.  So how bad was it to turn 50?  Not bad at all.

The best place to turn 50


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