Posts Tagged ‘montmartre’

Dinner and a Show: Chez La Mère Catherine in Montmartre

March 18, 2012

The place du Tertre on a warm Friday evening

The ETs willingly succumb to the charm of Montmartre , despite the wild throngs of tourists in search of Utrillo and other starving artists from it”s golden years.  Hoping to get a sense of neighborhood life on the butte, Melinda and I made the climb one evening, after the tour busses departed.

We wandered around looking in shops and admiring village architecture masked by windows hawking teeshirts and Monet-themed umbrellas. It wasn’t long before we were hungry, with nothing to guide us but posted menus and the apparent satisfaction of patrons on the terraces.

Dining in Montmartre can be a hit-or-miss proposition.  On past visits, I avoided the central place du Tertre which is overrun by the aforementioned crowds.  But we were hungry, and somehow the crazy circus of passers-by fit our mood, so we decided to give it a try.

A Montmartre tradition

We found an outdoor table at Chez La Mère Catherine on the perimeter of the action, and got to work immediately by ordering our first bottle.  Wine is welcome at any meal in Paris, but mandatory for an evening in Montmartre.

A table for two was all we needed

It turns out that we made a fine choice.  Chez La Mère Catherine has been dishing up frogs legs, pork confit and crêpes suzette since 1793.  Opening a restaurant in the midst of the revolutionary Reign of Terror demonstrates a commendable optimism on the part of Mère Catherine.  And it was optimism well placed.  Her restaurant has outlasted two French Republics, the Paris Commune, the Second Empire, the Siege of Paris, the Nazis and the introduction of the Euro.

It is said that during the Battle of Paris in 1814, some invading Cossacks slipped off to Montmartre for a taste of Paris nightlife and made their way to La Mère Catherine.  Out on the town without the knowledge of their senior officers, the soldiers had alot to do in a short time. Between rounds, they yelled “Bistro! Bistro!” (Hurry! Hurry!) and coined the term.   The ETs feel justified when they can learn history while dining out in Paris, and here we find that Mère Catherine was right in the midst of it all!

Relaxed and dishevelled with toasts all round. The magic of La Mère Catherine transported the ETs

Once our attentive waiter advised us on dinner, we settled back to watch the show unfold.  Before us went groups of kids out for a Friday night, befuddled tourists swept along by the crowd and hungry portrait artists in search of paying subjects. This was better than the Lido, and cheaper too.  I don’t mind the Montmartre crowds when I am a drinking spectator with dinner on the horizon.

Tasty marinated pork isn't terribly photogenic

At last our meal was served.  Melinda chose tender pork marinated in cider with potatoes lyonnaise that were fine.  I had the ever-popular beef bourguignon with pasta and a grilled tomato that was adequate and filling.  Our satisfaction rose with the arrival of a gâteau au chocolat with crème anglaise  and raspberry coulis.

Fit for a Cossack - beef bourguignon and some puzzling pasta

Mère Catherine is a purveyor of standard cuisine and on that count, she delivers.  This wasn’t a Michelin meal.  But dear Readership, consider the balmy evening breeze, the checkered tablecloth, the warbling chanteuse accompanied by a rickety old piano, the entertainment in the place du Tertre and the warm goodwill engendered by the wine.  Clearly, you can have a delightful night out in Montmartre.

Popular lore claims that it was here that the revolutionary Danton wrote “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you may die”.  That was far more likely in Paris of 1793 if you were a fleeing aristocrat with the family jewels sewn into your seams.  Yet the ETs agree we could fare worse than to make our final stop at Chez La Mère Catherine to enjoy the ambiance over a leisurely, satisfying meal before the guillotine falls.

What might Danton have made of the raspberry coulis? Vive la France!

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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....

The “No Wine Left Behind” Tour

April 15, 2011

No Wine Left Behind: ETs Melinda and Julie working hard on behalf of the Blog

The Experienced Travelers can authoritatively state that a crisp côtes du rhône on a sun-filled cafe terrace in the Place Saint-André des Arts is the recommended treatment for cobblestone-worn feet.  And a carafe is even better. Associate ET Melinda and I had five fantastic days in Paris, while Nurse enthusiastically directed our activities from home base.  Melinda is every bit her mother’s daughter, and having her along was like Virtual Nurse throughout the trip.

St. Agricola of Avignon, the French patron saint of good weather, smiled on us with buckets of warm sun.  Thus the Parisians were in good spirits, and well-disposed toward tourists like us who leaked euros wherever they went.  Adding to the climate, Melinda’s glowing Texas charm melted the cool French demeanor and raised our cachet all across town.

Nurse supernaturally knew when it was meal time. We reported dutifully on this omlette and goat cheese salad

We went everywhere (one of us in stylish wedgie sandals) and photographed like mad. Nurse carefully monitored our pictures via Dropbox to make sure they were perfect for the Readership. Under strict direction from Nurse’s texts (what r u eating?) we documented every meal, so there are several scrumptious posts in our future! 

Melinda claims I am a travel taskmaster, but that just isn’t true!  It’s perfectly reasonable that, on our jet-lagged day, we breakfasted on the Rue Cler and tried the first macaron in our Taste Test, hit the Bon Marché food hall, shopped the rue de Sèvres and visited the chic new Hermes store, stopped for a pick-me-up and people-watching at the Café Flore and explored the rue Montgoreuil market for the second macaron in our Taste Test at Strohrer.

The dreaded cobblestones tested the ET endurance

After a short metro ride, we genuflected before E. Dehillerin and bought lovely new knives, tried fresh oysters and a crisp vintage at Au Pied du Cochon, passed the construction site over Les Halles, made our way to happy hour at a faux-Mexican bar on the rue de Bucci and had a light dinner of an omlette and a chevre chaud salad (with wine, n’est pas) at the Café Danton.  Taskmaster?  Moi? 

Over the next four days, we had Paris at our feet – which we would have realized if we had any feeling left in them. Early on, we ordered wine at every opportunity.  By the end of Day 1, we consumed 14 glasses between us.  By mid-day 2, we invoked emergency ET legislation requiring us to drink Perrier every other round. Yet by the time we dined in Montmartre that evening, we passed an amendment suspending the Perrier rule after sundown.  As we toasted the throng in the Place du Tertre,  the portrait artists lured willing subjects and the lady inside warbled Piaf songs to a piano accompaniment.  Exquisite.

Toasting the crowds in the Place du Tertre

Watch for more reports on our Parisian sojourn in future posts!

A Paris Moment

April 9, 2011

Happy crowds filled the cobblestone streets of Montmartre on a Friday night

The Experienced Travelers appreciate variety, and we’ve certainly had ours on this latest visit.  Our dinner in Montmartre last night was a blast. We heeded Nurse’s text message “Montmartre – fun. Pigalle – oh la la, non.”.  Clearly, raucus living high above Paris agrees with us.  We rose early enough to fit in a full day today.

The ETs had a rue Mouffetard morning

Here’s a quick moment from our visit to the market on the rue Mouffetard.   The colorful blooms and bundles of white asparagus announce Spring.  Cheeses and delectables were for sale by hard-working shopkeepers.  Neighbors chatted, compared prices and bought for their Saturday night dinner.

We’re headed out for our Saturday dinner and a restaurant I haven’t tried before.  Will post again when the wireless internet cooperates!

April in Paris

March 28, 2011

 

Mise en place in Paris. All that's missing is an ET.

The Experienced Travelers toil and sacrifice to entertain the Readership with anecdotes about Paris.   From time to time, we must refresh our photos – and our palettes – with exquisite new wonders to share on Julie’s Paris.  Thus, it is solely for your benefit, dear Readership, that I return to our beloved Paris in early April for an extended weekend of ET research and grocery shopping.

Is there falafel in my future on the rue des Rosiers?

Nurse declined to come along because it’s a quick visit, but I have the next-best travel companion on board – Nurse’s daughter, Associate ET Melinda. Melinda is an excellent photographer, a first-class shopper and a true food enthusiast.  She will be a boon companion and a welcome addition to our blog.

Fans of Nurse will be pleased to know that she’ll oversee operations from Command Central, directing our every move via phone and text message.  Believe me, nothing will get by Nurse and she has firm opinions about how this trip should go.  You’ll be hearing from her!

The gardens behind Notre Dame are perfect for a picnic

Melinda and I will make the most of four days in the streets and boulevards.  My cunning plan will keep us busy exploring neighborhoods and restaurants.  I have accounted for the mission-critical aspects on my ET spreadsheet; Omlettes – check.  Croissants – check.   Pâté and a crisp Sancerre – check.  It’s been a long winter and I am ready for spring in Paris.

Yes, I'm dreaming of this hamburger. It was spectacular.

I want to prowl the less-touristed streets of Montmartre and watch edgy young “Bobos” on the cafe terraces near the Canal St. Martin.  I’m curious to explore elegant Passy and we will  lunch-tour at the popular Wine Museum.  Maybe this time I’ll genuflect at Proust’s cork-lined bedroom, where he wrote his masterwork and ate takeout ice-cream from the Ritz.

Why not suggest a sight or a memorable meal using the Comments link below!  We travel to serve to the Readership so you can wine, dine, shop and explore Paris along with us.

Pray for good weather and watch for real-time reports.  Oh, la la.

Melinda and I will be reporting from Place St. Andre des Arts

La Vie Boheme in Montmartre

November 30, 2010

Above Paris - Montmartre offers vertigo sufferers a rooftop view

When the ETs get into a bohemian mood, they don their berets and fingerless gloves and climb the hill to Montmartre.  At the turn of the 20th century, it was the hub of artistic life, cabarets and shady dealing.  Today Montmartre is a magnet for tourists in search of “Amelie”, and pickpockets in search of the tourists.    

On a sunny weekend, this square will brim with sightseeing hordes.

Two earlier visits on sunny weekends were absolute hell;  huge crowds filled narrow streets, leaving the ETs mortally bruised by free-swinging Nikons and “I ♥ Paris” shopping bags.  The headwaiters were delighted. The ETs vowed “never again”.  We plan our Montmartre sightseeing for mid-week, preferably in a drizzle. 

Nurse surveys the artists in the Place du Tertre for the occasional gem

The Place du Tertre is the epicenter of madness on the butte.  Nurse will examine the artists wares, but hasn’t found the “next Picasso”.  It doesn’t deter the ETs from taking out battered sketch pads and looking artistic.

The Lapin Agile, a cabaret known to entertain dubious characters, anarchists and assasins.

Same view, circa 1880

There are still reminders of the freewheeling days when Picasso, Utrillo and Satie wrote, painted, drank  and fought in neighborhood.  The cabaret Le Lapin Agile is largely unchanged since it opened in the 1830s.  The ET’s were ready to liberate their eccentricities, drink shots and sing in bad French.  But alas, it was closed.   

View from the Musee de Montmartre. Were there once nuns working a vinyard out there?

View from the Musee de Montmartre. Were there once nuns working a vinyard out there?

Further up the hill, the odd little Musee de Montmartre documents the history of the butte and showcases the works of Maurice Utrillo and his mother, Suzanne Valadon. 

The paintings were nice, but we remember best the story of Les Dames de Montmartre.  Just after the Revolution, these talented wine-making nuns started the ball rolling by selling tax-free bottles.  We have the Sisters to thank for the strolling accordion players and 7-euro glasses of plonk. 

Sacre Coeur - When you are taking in the view from the famous steps, beware of pigeons overhead. I caution you from experience...

Flush with historical knowledge, the ETs followed the crowds to the steps of the  Basilica of Sacre-Coeur.  The white “wedding cake” church was consecrated in 1919, and it’s unusual style has been controversial ever since.  From the Basilica steps, the view over Paris is splendid.

Bohemian ETs opt for Alsatian fare in Montmartre

Hungry from our artistic ventures we went in search of sustenance.  Nurse assessed restaurants on the quality of their gardens, so we settled on an outdoor table at Chez Plumeau.  As the sky cleared overhead, we enjoyed choucroute, sausages and a bottle of reisling, toasting the artistic spirit of old Montmartre. 

Who needs a funicular! Nurse celebrates her ascent.

No visit to Montmartre is complete without character-building suffering that awakens our bohemian spirit.  Nurse favors trekking the long, steep stairways that line the hill.   I prefer the pain of the souvenier shops.  In Montmartre, we both grow artistically, each in our own special way.

The Place du Tertre "after hours"


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