Paris and London in 11 Days – The Highlights

It’s been almost two months since Europe.

I initially refrained from writing about it. And took forever to sort through my photos. And then…really wanted to recap it. The trip was memorable for many reasons, but here are 10 highlights:

10. Le Jambon, and Other Adventures in Food

Paris, you love your ham. Ham quiche. Ham omelette. Ham baguette. So much ham! Ham in all the things!

Save for the epic Moroccan tagine had at the restaurant under our flat and our lovely afternoon market picnic, I was pretty unimpressed with the food in Paris. The wine, however, was great. But ham!

So, I was unsurprised when the only meal available on the Eurostar was, you guessed it, a ham and cheese sandwich, and was VERY excited as we pulled into St. Pancras, because A) I had always wanted to see the station (and it was very beautiful) and B) I knew there was a giant Marks & Spencer in there, and I was hungry. Dear, sweet M & S, I am obsessed with your prepared meals, my goodness. So many options for vegetarian folk like me. I wish you were still in Canada, although I suspect I would never cook, and my chocolate digestive consumption would be off the charts. Probably for the best that you’re just an occasional treat.

Thank you, England, for always having food I love and can eat. Indian food! Jaime’s Italian! Hot cross toast! Mmmm.

9. Premier League Game

Premier League Game soccer pitch

I went to a football game, and had a great time! If you’d asked me (or better yet, my Dad) a decade ago if I’d be sitting in amazing seats at a Premier League game I would have laughed. If you’d asked me if I understood what was going on, I would have snorted.

We couldn’t have asked for better weather, and as I sat in the 20+ degree sunshine singing along with “He’s going to Braaazillll!” I felt pure happiness. Also, Southampton utterly destroyed Newcastle 4-0, so that was fun to watch too.

8. Adventures in (Trying to Find) Absinthe

Wandering the Left Bank at night and exploring Shakespeare and Company were quintessential Paris moments (save for the fact that everything in that bookstore minus the ONE book I purchased were in English). We debated other Parisian activities. Drink wine? Well, yes, I did that a lot. Eat cheese and baguettes? Yup. People watch? Check, check. So we decided to track down some absinthe. For whatever reason, our attempts to ask our waiter where to find it (perfectly legal, to boot) were unsuccessful. We might as well have asked for crack with a side of hooker given the emphatic “Non, Non” we received as a response to our inquiry.

7. Manchester Craft & Design Centre

Felt puppets I tagged along on a trip to Manchester, a city I quickly fell in love with despite the drizzle and chilly weather. This was in large part to the charming Craft & Design Centre I dragged Steve to upon our arrival. Home to 24 artists who design, create and make in the on-site studios, it’s a fun space to wander and purchase goodies for friends or yourself (I did both). I highly recommend popping by if you’re in the area.

6. Book Shopping in Soho

I picked up Bob Dylan’s Chronicles from a small book shop in Soho. From the outside and initial shelves, it looked like a rock n’ roll book shop. Upon closer inspection, it was also a sex shop. I don’t want to talk about what was behind the cash.

5. Stonehenge

Stonehenge

I went to the ‘henge! Having been to Avebury back in 2011, and having been uber-impressed with it, I was a bit jaded initially and didn’t think I’d like Stonehenge. In fact, it was pretty cool. It was misty, cold and raining…quintessentially English. It was quite busy, but still very impressive to see, and I’m pleased to be able to check this off my life bucket list.

Also inexplicably – you can buy booze in the “henge cafeteria. Nothing like a liquid lunch with a bunch of old, giant rocks.

4. Slowly Catching Up on Pop Culture

Congratulations to me for finally seeing Phantom of the Opera. No, I haven’t been living in a cultural vacuum or under a rock for 20 years, yes it’s ridiculous that I hadn’t seen it at some point, yes I quite liked it, thank you.

We also saw a tremendously entertaining performance of Matilda. This was definitely one of my favourite Dahl books growing up, and it lived up to the hype. See this if it tours.

3. Bond in Motion Exhibit

It took a lot of persistence on Steve’s part, but there now exists a photo of the two of us, in tuxes, doing a Bond-style pose.

Also at this fabulous exhibit – the largest official collection of official Bond vehicles. On display at the London Film Museum in Covent Garden, I majorly geeked out at this. The Aston Martin DB5! The Lotus submersible! Goldfinger’s Rolls-Roynce Phantom III! GAHHHH. It was amazing. Expensive, but amazing.

2. Taking Art “Seriously”

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Paris has fabulous museums and galleries. We wandered the Louvre (much more tolerable than last time; the urge to stab myself in the eye was non-existent this time), Musee d’Orsay (which featured some of my favourite Degas and Renoir paintings, all housed in a beautiful former train station) and the Musee Rodin (which remains my favourite museum anywhere, although I resisted the urge to bust out an interpretive dance this time).

It was lovely to wander these places with someone with a similar appreciation for art. But more importantly, the realization that I am dating someone amendable to A) taking pictures of me doing goofy things (see: the Louvre shot above) and B) participating in said goofy photos (see: imitating the statues in the Rodin Museum, also above). This was a pretty crucial discovery about our relationship.

1. Climbing the Eiffel Tower

Standing on top of Eiffel TowerSitting under the Eiffel Tower (preferably with a beverage) is one thing. Climbing up it and experiencing its beauty from the top is another. To celebrate Steve’s 30th cancerversary, two unlikely climbers – one with one functioning ACL, the other super clumsy – made their way to the top.

Warm sunshine guided us until the clouds rolled in…and in…and in…and dumped a lot of rain. But, our efforts were rewarded with tremendous views of the city and it was the perfect way to spend our last day in Paris. Also, I DIDN’T FALL.

I was really honoured to join in the celebrations for this awesome milestone.

This was a trip full of meeting friends, family and also getting to bank some serious time with someone I don’t have the luxury of seeing frequently. Getting to explore Paris and London further were a nice bonus.

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Eating and Drinking Our Way Through Paris

Rue Montorgueil
If I had to choose only one activity to do on a vacation, I would wander a farmers’ market. it combines many of my favourite things – people watching and food among them – and is a great way to sample the local culture of the place you’re visiting. So I was pleased as punch to visit the Rue Montorgueil street market during a recent trip to Paris with Steve (also – meet Steve! He’ll pop up in posts occasionally – he’s pretty swell).

Smack in the centre of Paris and just a short walk from Étienne Marcel, Les Halls or Sentier on the métro, the market is a great place to visit if you only have a short amount of time. Pedestrian friendly, flat and wheelchair accessible (it’s closed to traffic), the market’s three-block radius makes it easy to sample some of the finest food shops, bakeries and kitchenware stores Paris has to offer in one stop.

Tasked with the all-important “acquire le lunch” plan, I set out to tackle the street while Steve gave his knee a much-needed rest. My game plan was simple – I needed a nice fresh baguette (preferably warm), some berries, a strong cheese (the kind that, as my Dad says, “bites back”), something sweet and of course red wine. The beauty of a market is that all of your senses come alive, so I decided to let my eyes and nose make the decisions for us and hoped my (basic) French skills wouldn’t let me down.

First stop – fruit. I figured this would be a good easy acquisition, and stopped at the well-named Palais du Fruit. It was beautiful. Baskets of all sizes dotted the shop with brightly coloured raspberries, strawberries, blueberries and gooseberries artfully displayed. Thick stalks of white asparagus caught my attention and I picked up a neighbouring nectarine and held it up to my nose – heavenly. I could have easily purchased the entire contents of the shop, but exercised restraint and picked up two small half pints of raspberries and blueberries (thankfully that was all I purchased, because those suckers cost NINE Euros – about $14).

Next stop – something sweet. I have, shall we say, a slight taste for chocolate (replace slight with massive and taste with constant cravings) and thought a small truffle would perfectly compliment the meal. I popped into L’Ateilier du Chocolat and quick settled upon two Grand Marnier truffles which might go down as one of the best life decisions I’ve ever made. Now, to find bread.

My nose led me into Maison Kayser – not as famous as some of the other boulangeries on the street, but sometimes you just need to go by instinct – and my eyes zeroed in on a stack of  pain aux cereals resting in baskets behind the cash. Crispy with a crust of crunchy millet and flax seeds, I was sold. There was a small line winding around the shop but I didn’t mind the wait – the smell of freshly baked bread wafted through the air, making it difficult to choose just one baguette as they all smelled delicious.

For the cheese I needed Steve’s help (not just for his bilingualism, which admittedly came in rather handy for this trip) and we opted to let the cheesemonger at La Fromagerie make the decision for us (another move that might go down as one of the best life decisions either of us has made). It was slightly salty, strong and would pair well with the baguette and berries. Now, what was missing? Right, the most important part – the wine!

A highlight of the market was Le Repaire de Bacchus, our supplier of wine for the afternoon. We weren’t sure whether we could in fact enjoy a glass (or two) in public and upon inquiry discovered that it is in fact illegal…but everyone does it. Oh to have the sense of nonchalance towards life that the French have! Our lack of glasses (and worse, a corkscrew – apparently the French don’t do screw tops, classy folk) was quickly solved by the helpful gal in the shop, and she set us off with all we needed and a pre-opened bottle of delicious and reasonably priced vino to pair with our lunch.

We enjoyed our spread in the grassy park surrounding the magnificent Église St Eustache, soaking up some sunshine on a warm spring afternoon before tottering off to the brilliant Musée d’Orsay (more on that later). 

Market haul

If (for some reason) the stalls of the market don’t satisfy your cravings, I’m sure any of the charming cafes and restaurants dotting the street would. Perfect for people watching and spending an afternoon with good company, which seems to be an unofficial French past-time.  This was absolutely one of my favourite markets! And I’m not just saying that because I got mildly afternoon drunk on a weekday.

Asparagus love

Have you been to Rue Montorgueil or do you have a favourite market from your travels? I’m always on the hunt for new ones to explore – let me know where my senses should guide me to next!

How to Destroy Your Soul in 13 Hours

Or, How to Take the Most Indirect Route to Paris by Train.

As I’ve mentioned, Megan and I had picked up EuroRail passes for our journey through Italy and France and for the most part, these passes had been pretty user-friendly (save for the first day of using them when we were utterly baffled by them). You just have to purchase a seat reservation in advance, and then hop on a train and show your pass. Easy as mud. Until we tried to get a seat to Paris, and discovered there were none.

We had a fully-paid apartment waiting for us in Paris, so there was no way I was eating some of that cost while sitting around waiting for a train. Luckily we had a nice, helpful gentleman who navigated the complex train schedules and came up with a solution – Marseille-Lyon-Dijon-Paris. Three trains, about 13 hours of travel. “You’re young…”, he said as he printed off the tickets. As Megan pointed out, “We won’t be by the time we’ve finished!”

Touché, Megan, touché.

And so, I present to you 13 hours of train travel (or our slight descent into madness), in photos:

Continue reading “How to Destroy Your Soul in 13 Hours”