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!

Nice is Nice!

Sometimes, you just need to stop and smell the roses! Which is what I did in Nice, France.

We arrived, rather uneventfully, to our final country – France. One thing I have to say about Europe that continues to surprise me is the beyond-relaxed attitudes to border control. After being quite seriously grilled trying to enter Amsterdam (apparently “sightseeing” isn’t a believable excuse for  visiting – next time should I say hookers and drugs?), I have silently slipped through Germany, Italy and now into France without showing my passport to anyone. Seems a bit shocking and also anti-climatic – I want stamps for my passport!

At any rate, we switched our brains from Italian to French (which thankfully I have a much better handle on thanks to university – here’s hoping I can remember all of it) and made it to Nice.

Nice was a nice detour from our original plans. Yes, it’s flashy but not in a Monte Carlo-kind-of-way. And boy was it hot! 32 degrees the day we arrived, which when you’re wearing half your pack to lighten the load (and then carrying said pack) equals about a million degrees. So we went down to the rocky beach, soaked our feet in the cool water, tried to ignore the almost-nude sunbathers and said a collective “ahhhhhhh”.

The next morning we awoke early to find some brunch before heading to the beach. Have you ever noticed that often the best things come out of no planning whatsoever? We had no idea there was such a great market mid-week in Nice! Vendors from all over Provence and the Riviera bring their produce and goods each week and despite my allergies which went a bit nuts, it was amazing. Everything looked like it was taken from a page of a magazine, I have never seen such beautiful-looking produce in my life! Thanks to Megan’s fancy pants camera, we got some nice shots:

Once we had sufficiently wandered the market we picked up some fresh pastries and strawberries and headed down to the beach where the most incredible thing happened:

I GOT A TAN!!!!

For four months, I have not tanned, save for my feet. I have the most wicked sandal tan from trudging around for hours on end in my Birks. So I wanted to even things out a bit, and sat out (yes Mum, with sunscreen, sunnies and a hat) in the sun, basking in its toasty warm goodness. And no word of a lie, I got a bit of colour that wasn’t fire engine-red. Granted, I wasn’t looking like the Donatella Versace knockoffs sunning their chests next to me, but that’s fine with me.

But then I realized how burning hot the sun was and ran into the drink. Which was ice cold but glorious.

The end.

P.S. So, what’s in Genova? We didn’t find the aquarium…and as the city is surprisingly massive and we received several warnings to avoid certain areas (all conveniently located around our guesthouse), we abandoned the idea of exploring and watched a movie instead. Sorry Genova!

Thumbs-Up London!

Save for one day where we ventured to Southend (which was delightfully touristy and tacky all at once) and another noodling around Romford, I’ve spent four jam-packed days in London. To cram everything in I think you’d need at least a week, so I’m hoping to have a few more days before I depart to fill in any gaps. In no particular order, my favourite (and not-so-favourite) London experiences:

Jaime’s Italian Kitchen – my parents and I decided to have a “we’re on vacation” moment and went to one of Jaime Oliver’s restaurants for dinner. Although the portions were a bit on the small side, the food (and wine, as evidenced by my mum’s despair over finishing the bottle) were excellent, and it was a fun night.

Riding the Tube – While there have been some massive problems on the new Jubilee line, I have loved riding the Underground.  I love the character of each station and line (and some of the names, such as Bakerloo!), the politeness of the crew, and the thrill of sitting upstairs at the front of a double-decker bus and marveling at how the thing makes those corners. Our one-day off-peak passes have been great deals too and it’s been handy that a tube station happens to be a five-minute walk from my aunt’s house.

Family and Friends – Getting to see where my dad grew up, my parents worked and lived, spending time with relatives whom I haven’t really had a chance to connect with before (I’ll out-tourist you yet, Christian), meeting-and-greeting my aunt’s dog and finally seeing one of my bestest amigos after following him halfway around the world have been all sorts of fantastic. Thanks London for reuniting me with people!

Markets – I’ve been to Romford, Portobello Road (which I envisioned would be exactly like Bedknobs and Broomsticks had made it out to be – it was not) and Spitalfields – all good fun.

“Boris’s Bikes” – Like Bixi in Montreal, all across London you can pick up and drop off rental bikes which charge you by the hour. While you can’t take them everywhere (including some parks, like Green Park where we innocently missed the sign and a very angry man berated us for no reason), it’s a great way to get around and give your feet a well-deserved rest. And while I had expected certain death from riding on the streets after witnessing how double-decker buses motor up behind cyclists, it was actually quite manageable.

St. Paul’s Cathedral and Tower Bridge – I didn’t even go in either place and found them fascinating. That is the mark of a good tourist attraction. Hopefully third time’s the charm for St. Paul’s when I go back.

Parks – Spend a sunny afternoon loafing around a park, either on foot or by bike. It’s a great way to get off the touristy path and meet locals, spend some time in nature, and relax away from the hustle-and-bustle of London life. Oh, and it’s free! Pack a picnic or grab a sandwich or salad from basically anywhere as healthy lunch options are available on every corner.

The “They Were Okay, But Not What I Expected” Experiences:

Natural History Museum – Granted, we went during a school holiday so it was a tad busy. However, the dinosaur and mammal exhibits were a bit disappointing (some of the fossils were casts made from dinosaurs at the ROM in Toronto!) and it took forever to get around due to the sheer number of people.

Primark – Again, it was a school holiday. However the Primark on Oxford Street was a bit like a Boxing Day sale on crack. I lasted about five minutes and had to hoof it out of there before losing my mind. Yes, £2 for a t-shirt is a good deal, but I value my sanity more.

Trafalgar Square – The last time I came to London, when I was nine, there were THOUSANDS of pigeons in the Square. A bit unhygienic and nutty, yes, but all part of the character of the place. Now there are none, as they’ve been chased off.

Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace – Yes, Liz has a posh house. But standing in massive crowds a million feet away from the gates, in hot sunshine, to watch some guards walk down the street and away from view was kind of a bummer. I can’t even imagine what those crowds will be like for the royal wedding. Good luck with that, people. I’ll be watching from the comfort of my Nan’s, sipping mimosas.