Thursday, September 11, 2014

Paris Picnics

Paris: the City of Lights and of Beautiful Picnic Places.

In the first month of living here, the weather’s been lovely (sorry, Alberta!), the grass and the trees are still green, and I’ve been exploring as much as possible. It’s a rookie move to explore on an empty stomach and it’s so easy to just grab a baguette or a croissant on the way to the metro station and eat on route to the next museum or monument. Why not? Like I said in my previous post, carrying around French bread is a true stereotype here!

But another stereotype with some truth to it is how the Parisians don’t like to rush their meals, even during the work week. This explains their long lunch-hours and how the cafés are always packed in the middle of the day. While the city is bustling, the people like to take their time. That’s something I’m trying to remind myself – I don’t need to rush to places that have been there for hundreds of years! I can relax and enjoy the journey. And thankfully, there’s no shortage of amazing places to visit in this grand city, and lots of delicious food to keep me going.

So picnics are the way to go! They’re the perfect blend of the Parisian way of taking one’s time to enjoy the food and to take in the moment, which is what I did on three separate occasions at the Eiffel Tower, the Luxembourg Gardens and the Tuileries.

Eiffel Tower Picnic:
One of my husband’s coworkers and his fiancée chose their temporary apartment to be less than 500 meters from the Eiffel Tower. So naturally, that’s where we went for our first Paris Picnic!

Their apartment is also above a bakery. I know – it’s a hard-knock life! – but it made getting picnic provisions very simple. For this kind of picnic, (which anyone who doesn’t live less than 500 meters from the Eiffel Tower could pull off) we gathered the following:
Simple, eat-with-your-hands picnic food.
-a demi-baguette and a few pains aux chocolat from the bakery
-some cheese (Laughing Cow or La Vache qui Rit worked well since we didn’t have any utensils; Baby Bel or some pre-sliced cheese works too.)
-some fruit, specifically grapes and strawberries

This food is simple and ready to eat with one’s hands. Just rip off a piece of baguette, ‘sandwich’ a piece of cheese inside and voila! A perfect picnic snack and the view is unbelievable -the Eiffel Tower is truly amazing!
The amazing Eiffel Tower! 

When Mike and I visited Paris two years ago, he told me I wouldn’t fully appreciate how huge it is until I was there and he was right. It’s enormous! I also have a hard time believing it only took a little over two years to be built (it was finished in 1889 to mark the 100 anniversary of the French Revolution) and it was supposed to be a temporary structure for the World’s Fair. Thankfully, it stayed. Can anyone imagine Paris without it?

While I love going to the Eiffel Tower, a dark side to its appeal is how it’s hot-spot for pickpockets and scam artists. We didn’t let that stop us from enjoying ourselves though; we just kept our bags close and were watchful of the crowd.

It was a bit overcast and we felt a few raindrops but otherwise, sitting on the grass, at the base of one of the world’s most iconic structures and eating our delicious lunch was a great first Paris Picnic!

I had to practically lay down to get this shot!
Luxembourg Gardens:
I joined another Canadian friend and her two little ones on a beautiful sunny day at the Luxembourg Gardens. This place is one of my favorite green spaces in Paris. Green grass, immaculate flower beds and trees, ornate sculptures, gorgeous fountains – it’s a lovely sanctuary in the middle of a crazy metropolis.

Beautiful Luxembourg Gardens
Some interesting history to note is Luxembourg Palace was the residence of Marie de’Medici, the widow of King Henry IV. The gardens were designed to resemble parts of her native Florence, Italy. Today, the French Senate meets in the Palace and the gardens are full each day of people relaxing on the grass, strolling through the grounds, exercising and generally just enjoying its beautiful sights and scents. 

For this picnic, we bought our food on route on Rue Daguerre, a really fun market street. Since it’s a bit of a walk to the Gardens, I suggest checking out somewhere on your way to get what you need. Our picnic consisted of:
Baguette, salami and pickles: all this delicious sandwich needs

-baguette sandwiches (jambon et fromage, salami)
-croissants and pains aux chocolat (fresh and still warm from the bakery! I just love their buttery, flakey, melt-in-your-mouth texture!) 

My sandwich was salami and pickles, which surprised but delighted me. So simple, so good! That day was also a historic moment for my friend as she had never had a pain au chocolat before – a rectangular croissant with thin strips of chocolate baked inside. Needless to say, she loved it! Picnic-ing at Luxembourg Gardens is great for families because kids can run and play on the grass and enjoy the ducks and fish in the fountains. It doesn’t feel as commercial/touristy as the Eiffel Tower; it’s just beautiful there.

Tuileries: What's that sticking up in the left over there?
This was another day spent strolling around a huge garden in the middle of the city. The Tuileries is a huge expense of land that runs from the Arc de Triomphe to the Louvre and through the Place de la Concorde. 

L'Arc de Triomphe du Carrosel, the gateway from the Tuileries
to the Louvre
From my chair in the shade of some nearby trees, I could see the impressive Arc de Triomphe du Carrosel, in front of the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower was poking up behind the hedges.

My friend and I met there at the Tuileries metro station on line 1 and went looking for a quiet place to eat and catch up with each other. It was really sunny that day and I think that was the day after the snow hit back home. It was hard to imagine that while wearing shorts. Again, sorry Alberta!

The picnic was small and simple, yet still so tasty and filling. I brought with me to share:

-a simple sandwich of baguette, butter and gruyere cheese
-strawberries from the fruit stand near our apartment (so sweet and ripe!)
-pains aux chocolat (there goes our pact to only eat them on the weekends!)
Another simple picnic lunch, this time at the Tuileries
-Cherry Coke (which you can’t find in North America anymore, unless it’s at Dadeo’s in Edmonton) 

While we ate, we caught up each other on our respective housing situations (we’re both waiting for paperwork to go through on our permanent places) and shared our plans for other places to explore. We checked out the many statues around the grounds and we also cooled off by the Fountain of River Commerce and Navigation at La Place de la Concorde.

I'm looking forward to this view in the fall!
I’m still getting used to the history attached to these statues and places. It’s amazing to be able to stand, here in 2014, in these places that have existed for hundreds of years and that hold so much history. Back home, an old building is 50 years old – here, that’s practically brand new!

I’m learning more about my new city every day and I’m thankful for the time I get to explore and the people I explore it with. It’s easy to get swept up in the flurry of activity that surrounds these popular places but I’m learning to pace myself.

How will the City of Lights and Picnic Places look in fall colours? I’m excited to find out.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

La Baguette de Notre Dame


I moved to Paris, France two weeks ago and the first bite I took of that crusty, crunchy yet soft, so-fresh-it’s-still-warm baguette, I exclaimed:

“Yes, I think I can live here.”

I don’t even think I’d swallowed that first bite yet when I said that. I was jet-legged and fighting a cold I’d had since mid-July, but hell if I was going to let that hold me back from appreciating the wonder that is the French Baguette.

In Paris, you are rarely ever more than a block away from a boulangerie and the one French stereotype that actually has some truth to it is the French carry their baguettes everywhere. Seriously - by hand, poking out of the shopping bag or purse, stuffed into a bicycle basket – baguettes are everywhere! They are made so fresh and taste so good that they don’t last longer than a day, which is why the French carry them everywhere because they buy one every day.

Then, there are the French sandwiches! 

Beautiful French sandwiches at Sur le Pouce.
The most common sandwiches are a demi-baguette (half the length of a regular baguette) stuffed with the simplest of ingredients: some meat, some cheese, one or two vegetables and some butter. That’s it. I was surprised at the lack of condiments from the place that invented Dijon mustard but with such fresh bread as the heart of the sandwich, you really don’t need much else – just a place to relax and eat your sandwich.

Somewhere like the great Cathédrale de Notre Dame.

La Cathédrale de Notre Dame.
Following my exploration of Papier+, a pristine stationary shop on rue de Pont de Louis Philippe in Le Marais, I was getting hungry. I remembered a small snack/sandwich café near Notre Dame from another day of exploring and I realized I knew how to retrace my steps back to that place, so off I went! I hopped back on the metro at Saint-Paul, got off one stop later at L’Hotel de Ville and crossed the Pont d’Arcole towards Notre Dame. I found Sur le Pouce, the restaurant I noticed from the other day and admired the beautiful sandwiches at the street-side counter and I chose Jambon et Fromage. Then, with my sandwich tucked under my arm, I set off to find a place to sit near the cathedral.

Across the main square, I found my spot and perched myself on a cement corner near some bushes and munched away. Surrounded by tourists taking photos of themselves and the one of the most famous churches in the world, I was nearly flat on my stomach, trying to get the perfect shot of my sandwich nestled on the bushes with Notre Dame in the background.  I had to laugh out loud but I got some good photos for my efforts.

Money shot!
 Notre Dame is impressive from any angle but I love to admire it from the front. It’s so grand and majestic, it makes the swarms of people around it look small. My sandwich done, I headed back to the metro station but not before I bought some lemon sorbet from Sur le Pouce and ate it in front of L’Hotel de Ville. Yum!

Not a bad view of L'Hotel de Ville. 
Turns out eating lunch and desert in front of some amazing historic buildings makes for a pretty great day. 

Soon to be repeated, no doubt!