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!

Death of My Youth

Or, Tops (and a few Flops) of 16 Weeks of Travel

I’ve been asked what my favourite place was from my trip, and it’s a hard question to answer because there are so many! So when I started giving this question some more thought, I started to ugly cry a bit over it, because the realization that the trip was over also led to a more disturbing thought – my youth was also over!

But then I remembered that I look like I’m about 10 years younger than I actually am, so I still have my fake-youth to hang on to and exploit. And hopefully I’ll travel again someday (soon) and continue to put off the responsibilities that society (and by that, I mean women’s magazines which are clearly authoritative on the subject) tells me that I should be hankering for. Suck it, society, I’m not ready to fully abandon my youth just yet!

So yes, back to that question – I can’t pinpoint one specific place as my favourite. I pretty openly bashed Australia but the truth is, I had some great experiences. And while I was horribly ill in Laos, I still loved the country. So every place holds special memories for me that are somewhat hard to explain, but they were all pieces in my mad-dash puzzle that spread across three continents in four months.

And so, in no particular order, here are some of those pieces:

Continue reading “Death of My Youth”

Zut, Paris!

“Quit while you’re ahead”, or “life doesn’t get any better than this” are mantras that have frequently popped into my little head during my travels. Sometimes you just realize that you shouldn’t go any further because you’ve tapped out how good it’ll get, and it’s been a useful way to teach myself how to stop and just appreciate things at that moment.

However, sometimes you think that the good times will continue to roll, which unfortunately was NOT the case for our final full day in Paris.

We were spoiled rotten by the previous day’s events. We woke up with such a smug sense of security over how our day would turn out, and on paper it seemed like it would be awesome – visits to the Louvre, Monet museum and Arc de Triomphe, how could it go wrong?

Continue reading “Zut, Paris!”

No Food for You, Part Deux

So you may recall Megan’s failed attempts to buy a bottle of water by the Eiffel Tower. We had a good laugh over it, but figured it was a one-time only kind of deal.

IT HAPPENED AGAIN.

We went to a charming restaurant after inadvertently crashing Sunday Mass at Notre Dame, and excitedly looked through the menu. Megan was intrigued by this:

Specifically, the “Fish of the market”. Little did we know that “asking the water” would have been more helpful. We placed our orders – I liked the sounds of stuffed peppers with saffron, and Megan went for the fish. We ordered a cheese platter to start.

Time passed, and our waiter returned and asked what I was eating since “she’s having the cheese” – I repeated my order, emphasizing the “shared” part on the platter. More time passed, and with my birds-eye view of the kitchen I could see our waiter sit on the counter in the kitchen eating a Big Mac, chatting on his cell phone, taking a smoke break, etc. Eventually I got the wine and my entree, and Megan got…cheese.

The fish never came. Perhaps they were out, perhaps the guy forgot, perhaps our attempts at ordering in French ticked him off. The best part was when he revealed he was from Montreal (!) and spoke perfect English, so I think perhaps it was a combo of all of the aforementioned reasons that Megan once again couldn’t get what she wanted in Paris.

Personally I think if she’d ordered the dapper-sounding “Salmon in housecoat” she would have been better off.

Recipe for a Perfect Day

Ever have those days where everything just seems to fall into place? Day three in Paris was one of those magical days where you half-expect a confetti canon to shoot you in the face. I awoke slightly better-rested (still fighting a cold after all these weeks) and we lazed about and had a leisurely breakfast of omelettes and Nutella crepes to start the day off right. I was eager to see more of the “village-y” areas, so we hoped on the Metro and made our first stop in Bercy Village.

 So adorable, that Bercy. Cobblestone and pedestrian-only streets lined with (pricey) restaurants and cafes and some pretty nifty boutiques. I was tempted to purchase two gorgeous bottles of olive oil and balsamic vinegar that probably would’ve made the best salad dressings ever but they were quite heavy and I already had concerns about the lack of real estate in my pack. I just can’t get over how good food items are in France. I mean I knew it was a culinary mecca, much like Italy, but man alive the herbs and spices alone are killing me. Everything is so fresh and simple, and I think I would be a pretty nifty cook if I lived here and/or had access to these goods. Lucky ducks.

We wandered the boutiques before eating lunch at an appropriate lunching hour, and got mildly drunk (at perhaps not such an appropriate getting-drunk hour, but whatever) before mulling over options for the rest of the day. Montmartre? Let’s go!

Montmartre was awesome. Given that my previous glimpses into what it would be like consisted of Amélie (perhaps a bit far-fetched) and Moulin Rouge (totally far-fetched) it lived up to my high expectations. We began at the Basilica of the Sacré Cœur, partially so Megan could add to her collection of “falling down famous stairs” photos but also because it’s the Sacré Cœur, and one must visit it.

Continue reading “Recipe for a Perfect Day”

Bonjour Paris

Paris, day deux.

After being totally knackered from day one’s marathon walk through the city, we kept day two a bit more low-key, with one important addition:

We took the Metro.

As I’ve mentioned numerous times, I rather enjoy public transit. I think it’s a great way to really experience a place when travelling, and I’ve tried to take some form of transit in every place that I’ve visited. Personal favourites include:

  • Learning colourful local slang on the national bus in New Zealand
  • Celebrating Mardi Gras with some very drunk locals on the CityRail in Sydney
  • The skincare commercials on the Bangkok subway that informed me that pale skin was in
  • Going anywhere on the Tube in London
  • Acting out the stops I needed on the bus in Berlin

The Paris Metro is famous for being one of the densest metro networks in the world, with a few different styles of trains – some, like the first photo, are double-deckers (much like in Sydney). Others reminded me of being on an old-style rollercoaster as the cars have rubber tires and the ride is a tad bumpy. It also carries about double Toronto’s total population each day on its 16 lines (yesterday I said 14 – after looking at it I realized there are in fact two minor lines as well. SIXTEEN LINES!).

So when we set out for our first trip on the Metro, it did take a few minutes to figure out A)where we had to change lines and B)what colour/number the line was. For when you look at the system map, many of the colours are awfully similar. Throw me a bone here, Paris. What do colourblind people do??

Miraculously, we didn’t get lost, and made our way to our first stop – a picnic underneath the Eiffel Tower! Armed with essentials (chips and wine) we popped into a boulangerie to grab sandwiches for our picnics. Much to my amazement, I found a sandwich that wasn’t just cheese – thank you, kind sandwich maker, for adding tomato, egg and lettuce to that delicious baguette. For unknown reasons, however, the cashier refused to sell water to Megan, despite her efforts. It was like a comedic sketch:

Megan: “Je voudrais…de l’eau”
Cashier: “Non.”
Megan: “Non? De l’eau?” (points to fridge full of water)
Cashier: “Non.”
Megan: “Perrier??” (points to bottles of Perrier next to water)
Cashier: “Non. Next.”

So no water for Megan. We went to a corner store to grab some instead, totally miffed. And then picnic time!

Not shown – the wine which we had to skillfully hide, as apparently you can’t drink under the Eiffel Tower unless you purchase the beer from one of the vendors onsite. Crafty.

We loafed for a bit on the lawn, taking in the sunshine and the sound of tribal drums (it is a tourist attraction, so I wasn’t surprised), before heading to Galeries Lafayette – another fancy-pants department store. And when I say fancy, I mean it:

How am I supposed to go shopping at the Eaton Centre now, Paris? It’s not like slapping berets on those geese is going to make it any classier.