Paris December 2005 – January 2006
Wednesday December 21
The service on Air Canada was incredibly bad with the usual don't care attitude. There was snow in Toronto and we left the gate late and then took almost an hour to go through de-icing. We reached Paris about 1½ hours late and CDG was its usual crazy self. However we quickly found our bags and made our way into town and the Hotel Royal Fromentin. The RER was good and we were even able to buy carnets de billets for the metro, by far the cheapest way of getting around. We assisted a Canadian lady who didn’t even know how to operate the turnstiles.
The room wasn't ready but our standard operating procedure is to leave our bags and have lunch at La Villa des Abbesses. They had a menu for €31 which gave us a glass of champagne and a complete choice from the starters, main courses and desserts.
Terrine de pate de foie gras/rillettes de saumon.
Magret de canard cooked in figs and honey with potatoes.
Creme brule au marron/grand assiette de fromage(Sainte Maure, Reblochon deSavoie, Brie de Meau, Bleu d'Auvergne)
The starters were wonderful, both had very intense flavours. The canard was cooked to perfection and the fresh figs added a good touch. Colin was mildly chastised by the pleasant server for not eating all of his potatoes. The cheeses were properly aged while the creme brule was exceptional - the roasted marrons gave a festive feel. Each course was enormous and we could find no fault whatsoever – other than in the size of the portions. The waitress was very good, she slowed down a little when it became evident that we were not completely fluent. She was there when we needed her but not intrusive. A really good start.
Rue Lepic and rue des Abbesses are decorated with a series of closely spaced arches and there is the usual to-ing and fro-ing of people - walking home to lunch with a baguette etc. The snails were trying to escape from their container in the fish shop. Colin found a bottle of Oban single malt for €31 which is a really good price (it is about $90 at home) and we also found some oatmeal and dried skim milk at a supermarket. We rested up in the afternoon. Our room is small and we took the door off the bathroom. It is on the sixth floor and there is a great view of Sacre Coeur.
We went out around 17:30 for a walk around. Up Rue Lepic past Le Moulin restaurant which has a €130 menu for New Year's Eve. There were few tourists in Montmartre. Place du Tertre was easy to see as the central square was virtually empty with only a few quick portrait artists around. The floodlighting of Sacre Coeur brought out the details in the architecture. The Tour Eiffel was lit up but the view was spoilt by a light haze. At first the lights were shimmering. The weather was quite good, warm enough to wear a parka without a sweater underneath but a hat of some sort was necessary. We walked down alongside the Montmartre funicular to Place d'Anvers to check out the Table D'Anvers restaurant which may be worth trying. We found a lady roasting chestnuts which were pretty good.
Thursday December 22
Went for an early walk along Lepic and Des Abbesses as far as the bottom of Sacre Coeur. The street cleaners use water in the gutters to clean the streets and the flows are controlled by pieces of toweling and bits of old carpeting which are used to block off certain areas and move the water in specific directions. It must be a pretty complicated operation. There are lots of men and women in green and yellow uniforms busy with this.
Many shops are decorated for Christmas. Even the model cobbler in the window has a Santa hat and there are small Santas climbing ropes up the windows and up balcony railings.
Today we first walked to the Gare du Nord to check out the arrangements for Eurostar.
We then walked along Rue Lafayette and found a wonderful confiserie at a la Mere de Famille, 35 Rue Faubourg Montmartre. From there we explored the Passage Verdeau, Passage Jouffroy and Passage des Panoramas, all were interesting with places selling old postcards, stamps, antique toys etc.
The next stop was the Galleries Lafayette with the wonderful central section with the stained glass in the domed roof. There was an enormous Christmas tree in the centre. It must have taken a lot of time to set it up and put on the decorations. The food section was very special with many gourmet items. The sidewalk outside Les Galleries Lafayette was crowded with small children looking at the Christmas displays in the windows. There were many mechanical dolls while there was music playing on the street.
We took the metro back to Anvers and had lunch at the Table d' Anvers
Cassoulette de moules/terrine de lapin
Souris d'agneau cooked for 7 hours with anise/confit de canard.
Half bottle of Chambolle Musigny.
The cassoulette was very good but very rich - just about entirely cream with a large number of mussels. Terrine came in a small glass jar, again very rich. Both main courses were good but pretty rich. A workman like meal but the restaurant has no soul.
We made a quick trip to the hotel to drop off stuff then took the metro to Les Halles which is on the site of the former produce market. It is now a shopping centre and exhibition hall with a large cinema. We went out past Au Pied de Cochon towards Palais Royal with a detour through Galleries Vivienne and Colbert.
Three cops in uniform went past on roller blades.
The Jardin de la Palais Royal is pleasant but very formal. A taxidermy shop had an incredible selection of stuffed animals including lions, tigers and zebras. Just outside there were two bicycles covered in fur (frames, handlebars and mudguards). We visited many kitchen shops looking for a latte cup for Mary.
There was a street market in Rue du Montmartre where we bought a Valençay goat cheese and some marrons glacées. The guy selling the goat cheese really knew Valençay and Selles sur Cher and Colin had quite a chat about the area and the wine made with Romorantin grapes. He talked how about the cheese came to be shaped the way it is – Napoleon, in disgust, cut the top off the pyramides when he visited Tallyrand here after his defeat in Egypt.
We came back to Place de Clichy to scout out restaurants for Christmas Eve. We found two that had oysters and that are close to the hotel. There are five model railway shops just behind the hotel.
Friday December 23
Short walk this morning up Rue Lepic and acrosss west then over the Montmartre cemetary and back along Boulevard de Clichy.
We took the metro to the Buttes Chaumon park and spent some time walking around. It is well used by people of all ages. The original reinforced concrete has stood up well.
Restaurant Napoleon at Buttes de Chaumon was good for a brasserie in this neighbourhood..
Terrine of crab/ballotine de pintade with noisettes.
Espadon with risotto/turkey
We walked back to Stalingrad metro and looked in the shops which were in the final throes for Christmas. A butcher had a selection of rabbits and pheasants, complete with fur and feathers - many different types of terrines and pates. We found the Secretan market - mainly flowers.
There was a long walk at Stalingrad metro station to the platform for the trains to Place Monge. The Monge market was just closing down but Rue Mouffetarde was going strong. There was an amazing selection - fish, shellfish, sea urchins, crab, langouste trying to escape), cheese (goat cheeses are prominent. Nobody had Brie Noir), fowl, meat, all kinds of fruit, mushrooms and vegetables as well as foie gras etc. At the bottom of the street free rides for the kids was provided by the city. The garbage truck was having a difficult time getting through the tables piled high with olives and nuts. They were hosing down the cobbles which became pretty slippery.
We then walked north to Boulevard St. Germain and west to Rue Bonaparte. This is the last working day before Christmas and things were becoming frantic. Along one back street a chocolaterie had two Christmas trees outside covered in bright red artificial snow. At the macaronnerie Pierre Hermé there was a great line up outside - amazing just for macarons.
We had a pot of red Sancerre at the Cafe du Metro. Pretty good - and there were olives and peanuts to go with it. We went back to Pierre Hermé and lined up. The line was a little shorter than before but there were two sisters walking up and down the line handing out gourmet chocolates as samples. By the time we were through the door, we had had four chocolates each. No wonder the people in the line were in a happy frame of mind. Only in Paris would one line up outside a store for macarons and receive gourmet chocolates while waiting! An American went to the front of the line and asked to go inside just to look. He said, "I promise I won't buy anything." We were standing in the metro car on the way back when a man and his wife got on and commented on our purchase. The prices were obscene - €19 for 13 or $2.30 each.
Back at the hotel there was a rugby game on TV in thick fog.
Saturday December 24
We decided to visit the Musee d'Orsay this morning. It proved a good choice as there were few people there when we went in. It is very well laid out and we looked mainly at french and french impressionists.
Our Christmas Eve lunch was at Le Charlot at Place Clichy.
Oysters (Mary)/sea urchin (Colin)
Noix St. Jacques (Mary)/Tornedos Rossini (Colin)
Soufflee Grand Marnier (Mary)/cheese plate (Colin - St. Maure, Roquefort, Cammembert, Cantal.)
The St. Jacques came in four shells:
- leeks with cream
- sauteed greens
- mushrooms in gravy
We then set out for the Pompidou Centre which is an amazing building. All the services are hung on the outside. It looks like a building without any outside on it. City hall was a hive of activity with free rides, ice skating and tobogganing. The lights were very impressive. There were three men selling chestnuts in newspaper cones which had been roasted in burners sitting in a shopping cart.
We walked along the Rue de Rivoli to Rue Ste. Antoine which was a hive of activity with last minute shopping. There was a big line up to get into a baker/patisseur. There were a couple of dogs tied up outside waiting for their owners. Lots of oysters, shellfish, fish, fruit, vegetables, pate. A fishmonger had a plastic lobster which sung when you pressed a button. The Place Vosges was very quiet. The floodlit Hotel de Sully was particularly impressive.
The shops along Rue des Abbesses were open quite late. The butcher had a number of temporary tables set up in the street on which were meat and poultry which had been cooked and ready to be picked up. The prices on some of these foil wrapped orders were astronomical - one was over €250. Many people went past with gifts - cheese trays seemed to be very popular.
Saturday December 25
It was a bit noisy last night, first with the church bells at midnight and then the late night/early morning revelers. Some were still celebrating from last night. Two guys in a car hit a bollard hard while trying to park and thought it hilarious as they staggered into a middle eastern cafe. The weather is still surprisingly warm.
We walked up to Sacré Coeur. Place du Tertre was pretty busy with tourists as was the area in front of Sacré Coeur. From there we went through poorer areas past Gares du Nord and De l'Est to the canal past the St. Quentin market which was surprisingly in full swing. At the bottom end of the canal was the Bastille Market which was also pretty busy for Christmas Day. We stopped for coffee at Place de la Bastille. We were actually in an outside part of the cafe but we were sheltered by a thick clear plastic curtain and the gas heaters made it very warm indeed.
Along the Rue de Lyon to Avenue Daumesnil is the former railway viaduct which has been converted into high end shops and boutiques. There seems to be a park on top of the viaduct although it may be accessible only to those who live there.
The Gare de Lyons was operating as if it were a regular day. There was the usual large line up of TGVs, both single and double deck. Obviously a lot of people were travelling.
Le Train Bleu was up to its usual excellent standard. First time visitors might be overwhelmed by the plaster breasts and bums hanging down from the ceiling. A couple of the frescoes are dated 1900.
Coupe de champagne.
Half bottle Chablis.
Half bottle Saumur Champigny.
Amuse bouche of foie gras and beef consomme gelée
Huitres (Mary)/Foie gras de canard (Colin)
Tournedos Rossini with a truffle sauce and foie gras (Mary)/Capon with artichoke stuffed with chestnut (Colin).
Cheese (Colin): Pouligny St. Pierre, Bleu d'Auvergne, Brie de Meau, Livarot Colonel, Crottin de Chavignol (Chevre), Epoisse
Baba au Rhum with much Saint James (Martinique) rum (Mary).
The sappeur pompiers arrived to check out an ailing elderly eater. Maybe she was overcome by the naked flesh hanging over her. A new batch of sapeurs arrived and shook hands before getting down to work. They had to be shooshed out of the way of the desert tray coming through. They eventually carted the old lady off to hospital while the rest of her party sat down again to finish their interrupted meal. We noticed an off white cat wandering around. It appears that it adopted the restaurant about five years ago - it must live a pretty good life there.
Monday December 26
Up for a pre-breakfast walk. Most of the food shops seem to be opening as are the bars. Some people were making their way home wearing Santa hats.
We took the metro to Hotel de Ville to see the Willi Ronis exhibit. It was pretty interesting as he was taking photos in Paris from the early 1930s. This was a period of social change as well as physical change. Not much from the war period except the return of the prisoners.
Restaurant Grand Colbert
Terrine of salmon (Colin)/filet de hareng(bathed in olive oil) with hot potatoes (Mary)(enough for four people).
Kidneys with fries (Colin)/rigatoni au trois fromages (gorgonzola, marscapone, parmagiana) (Mary)
After lunch we went back to Rue de Montmartre to get a coffee cup and then to the Rue du Faubourg Montmartre to buy a present for Pam and Len at the confiserie. It was then a short walk back to the hotel to drop off the things and then we went out to see the Eifel Tour lit up. It is pretty impressive especially when the sprinkle lighting is on. Quick walk along Rue Cler, where we bought some Brie de Melun, (much stronger then Brie de Meaux) and then to a cafe before returning to Pigalle.
Tuesday December 27
On the metro this morning the "entertainment" in the next car consisted of a man with a tuba and a woman with maracas. It might have been fun. They certainly seemed to have been enjoying themselves. Metro to Mouton-Duvernet but couldn't find the market. Walked to Montparnasse in a slight snow, it was fairly cold.
Restaurant Les Isles Marquises
Soupe de Poisson (Mary)/Terrine de Chevreuil (Colin)
Faux filet bordelaise (Mary)/ foie de veau (Colin)
Coupe de champagne
Verre de vin rouge
The place is small but they have a very good chef and the service was good. We have made a reservation for New Year's Eve.
There was a big lineup to get unto the Catacombs so we walked back to Montparnasse, stopping at Le Dome to laugh at the outrageous prices in this fish restaurant. Bought some supplies (including Etorki) at Monoprix and returned them to the room before setting out for the movie Palais Royal. It was the French version of the Princess Diana story and was quite amusing.
Wednesday December 28
Started off at Cité with a quick walk through the flower market with its many remainder Christmas trees and mistletoe. There was an interesting exhibition of the foundations near Notre Dame, with its roman beginnings. A walk along Isle St. Louis brought us to Cacao et Chocolate where Mary sampled hot chocolate and a better macaron which was larger but with better biscuit part. There was a Deux Cheveau with a blanket over the engine. - it looked cute although the blanket would not have provided much help in the light snow.
Lunch was at Aux Anysiders du Roy in Isle St. Louis. It was pretty cramped and the chairs were small and low to the ground as were the tables. It was like sitting on kids' chairs. The restaurant was presided over by an old lady who had things very much under control. Two Japanese were sitting next to us and the woman was very pushy and tried to give her order ahead of others. The lady just smiled sweetly and ignored her until it was her turn. The food was good.
Pichet house red wine
We walked across the islands, along Boulevard St. Germain and into the Jardin de Luxembourg. There weren't many kids sailing their boats but one was doing well and even broke a bit of ice. We then went to Montparnasse and then to Les Halles to see the movie "Joyeux Noël" which was quite good.
The metro going back was very full. Everyone was getting on alright except for a couple, possibly up from the country, with a kid and a small baby in a wheelechair. They obviously were not used to the metro and the woman was making silly comments. As they got out at Gare du Nord she nearly tipped the kid out on to the platform. There were cries of "Bon voyage", "Bonne chance" and many others. Everyone else enjoyed themselves.
Thursday December 29
Seems quite a bit warmer this morning. However, a sign at the fish shop said:
"A cause du froid les coquilles sont a l'interieur."
A sapeur pompier van came rushing through with its siren on along the bus reserved lane and just behind it came a beaten up red car with a pompier in it keeping up. Saxe Breteuil market was pretty amazing with a tremendous selection of fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, cheese, confiseries, pates, terrines as well as others. However, although it is close to the Eiffel Tour and the Invalides it is in a sterile, uninteresting location.
Lunch was at Le Relais de Venise - L'Entrecote, one similar to L'Entrecote that we have made a point of visiting when in Bordeaux. There was one extra choice this time - for the red wine there was a choice between Bordeaux and Gaillac (we had a bottle of Gaillac, AC pays des Côtes du Tarn). The only other choice was how the beef was done.
The first portion of beef and fries arrived and just when we thought we were full, the second part arrived, fully as much as the first part.
For dessert Mary had profiteroles and Colin had the plateau de fromage: Pont L'Eveque, St. Maure, Camembert and Gratte Paille, an artisenal soft cheese from Seine and Marne.
A line up formed just after we arrived and people were waiting for the whole time we were there. The place was frantic and the tables were right up against each other but the serving staff were very good and knew what they were doing. The whole show was presided over by a Madame who must have been in her 70s. She told Colin that this was the first of the L'Entrcote restaurants to be opened - in 1959. It has been followed by others in Toulouse, Bordeaux and Montpellier.
After a large lunch we walked along to the Arc de Triomphe, down the Champs Elysees and across the Jardins des Tuileries to catch the metro back to the hotel.
Friday December 30
0807 Paris Nord to London Waterloo 0951 train ERS-9011.
1133 London Paddington to Burnham 1202
1621 Winnersh to Waterloo arr 1734
1842 London Waterloo to Paris Nord 2223 train ERS-9050.
(These times are the booked ones, both Eurostars ran very late)
We left the hotel just before 07:00 and the Metro to Gare du Nord was very quick. The train left on time but there was a funereal departure until we got on to the high speed line. It was dark until 08:30 and there was an angry red sunrise. Slight covering of snow on the fields. The seats in first class are comfortable for sitting up and roomy with two and one layout but it proved impossible to stretch out and relax. These are short term seats like airline ones.
We had the traditional breakfast. Getting into the orange juice was a bit of a trial (a bit like an intelligence test) but it was good, there was also yogurt and croissants to go with the egg and cheese thing, chipalata sausage and disgusting reheated fried potatoes. Is there an easy way to eat a croissant without spraying oneself with flakes?
With a quick service stop at track 43 (!) at Lille Europe we were 30 minutes late by Calais Frethun and lost more time in the chunnel due to an emergency stop (described as the driver having to make a technical adjustment). It was snowing heavily in Kent and I was surprised, when I called Pam and Len, to hear that they had rain only. We went on to the new line at Ashford but came off around Gravesend, and came into London through Swanley, St. Mary Cray, Bromley South and Beckenham Junction – I was overjoyed to be coming through my old haunts in a high speed train.
We arrived almost an hour late but were able to buy through tickets from Waterloo via the Bakerloo line to Paddington to Burnham. The Bakerloo line is scary with very narrow platforms while the train we were on had very bad wear in the trucks. This, coupled with bad, worn track, gave a very bad ride. This was far worse than anything we came across on the Paris metro.
Len met us at the station and we received a wonderful welcome. Hilary had come up specially and Caroline joined us later. Pam put on an excellent stuffed duck and there were lots of vegetables and roast potatoes. After dessert Pam served cheese:
Stilton, Cheddar and Red Leicester. We then had a quick transfer to see Vicki, Ryan and Daniel. On the way we stooped off at Winersh Halt to buy tickets in the rain from a very tempramental machine. It was raining heavily when we caught the train at Winnersh.
The trip back was an utter disaster and we left 3½ hours late. The problem was that bad weather in northern France had delayed the incoming trains so we had to wait for them to arrive and be serviced. There were four train loads of people, many with skis, in the departure lounge. After the hassle of the departure lounge we settled into the calm of our seats and were served champagne. Dinner was good:
Pheasant and chanterelle mushroom with cranberry chutney.
Turkey and bacon roulade with stuffing, potatoes and vegetables.
Christmas pudding cheesecake with vanilla sauce
Wensleydale cheese with cranberries.
The trip through Kent was quite quick but northern France was slower than anticipated with speed reductions as a result of the bad weather. We finally arrived at 0215 and decided to walk back to the hotel because there weren't many taxis around.
Saturday December 31
Got up late and went to rue Lepic for a coffee and to buy Ossau Iraty and Selles sur Cher and some baked goods. We walked along the Boulevard de Batignoles to the Parc Monceau. This turned out to be a very interesting area particularly rue de Levis in which the shops have extended into the street to form a street market. Every one of the shops had something special for New Years Eve. There is a biological market on Saturday mornings in the centre reservation of the Boulevard de Batignoles.
The meal at Aux Isles Marquis for la fête de St. Sylvestre was very good. When we arrived all of the staff were at the front desk and we shook hands as they recognized us from our visit the other day. However, we must have been the only people that night that did not know the restaurant and its staff and many of the patrons knew one another. There was a table with two old ladies with a small dog which went under the table and stayed there apart from a couple of forays when it was firmly put back. When they made the reservation they told the restaurant that they would have a dog. There was another table with three old ladies - presumably they and the other two were widows. A couple near the door ate quickly and left early. He knew everybody and was a well known comedien/bouquiniste. Next to us was a family table with two children who had to wait until the final two members of the party had arrived. The little girl had hair that had been plaited and the covered with some glitter. The little boy complained that he was hungry. It would have been a very late night for the two of them.
Bottle of champagne Bouzy
Half bottle Cote de Beaune Villages
Rosace de homard
Soupe de huitres/St. Jacques.
Turbot with truffles, wild rice, champignons and crosnes.
Granité de Champagne with a lemon rond taste.
Noisettes de chevreuil with a pate de chateigne
Dessert wonderful - small flan with fresh fruit (orange, kiwi, lychee, pineapple), mango sorbet and creme anglsise.
Mignardiese - mini macaron, baba, chocolate etc.
The Metro is free from 1800 this evening until midday tomorrow. Going out to the restaurant the Metro was busy and just about everyone had a bottle, a parcel, a wrapped present, a plant etc. Coming back it was also busy until we got off at Place de Clichy where there was a large group partying on the platform. There was no room between them and the train for a while and the noise from the brass instruments was deafening. We got out as quickly as possible. At midnight a great cry went up in the area, many windows opened and car horns were sounded. There were fireworks.
Sunday January 1
We had our third free Metro ride when we went to Varenne only to find that the Rodin Museum was closed. A walk along Rue Grennelle found us at St. Germain des Pré and we had a New Year's drink in Les Deux Magots - grog/expresso and cognac. From there we had an interesting walk across the Seine and had lunch at Au Pied de Cochon (where the door handles are brass pigs' feet):
Bottle of champagne Pommery
12 fines de clair oysters
Pied de cochon stuffed with foie gras a la Perigord.
Risotto with noix St. Jacques.
From there we staggered back to the hotel. The city has done a good job at cleaning up but there are still a lot of champagne corks lying around while the plastic garbage containers were full of champagne bottles.
Monday January 2
We had a long walk this morning past the Gare St. Lazare along Boulevard Housseman to the Boulevard St. Honore right past the Elysée Palais into Chatelet. We passed some interesting shops, many very well known. Mr. Big must have been in residence going by the number of police in evidence, both uniformed and plain clothes.
Lunch at L'Entrecote in Chatelet was nothing special.
steak with fries/magret de canard
Coupe de champagne and half bottle of Brouilly.
After lunch we walked through the Marais district to Rue St. Antoine. In one place there were a lot of people standing in the street eating. They had got their food from a Jewish hole in the wall. We stopped for a drink in a place on rue St. Antoine but, by this time, we were getting tired so we walked along the canal Arsenal and then took the Metro back to Pigalle.
We were determined to go out this evening and Mary decided to go back to the Charlot at Place de Clichy for bouillabaisse. We started with 12 oysters, 6 fines de clair medium and 6 creuses Bretagne. They were both pretty good. the former being possibly a little larger but the latter having a slightly stronger flavour.
The bouillabaisse came in two parts:
- a shell fish soup with tomatoes, flavoured with a lot of Pernod and thickened with potato. On this was floated toasts and cheese.
- the main dish was a great bowl of fish fillets with potato in the same soup.
The whole thing was good but not authentic as there was no sign that the fish had been cooked in the soup. It was merely steamed and the soup poured over it.
We had one Grand Marnier soufflé with a small glass of Grand Marnier each on the side.
We started with a coupe de champagne and drank a bottle of Muscadet de Seine et Marne with it. A reasonable but inauthentic meal.
Tuesday January 3
Had an early morning walk along Rue Lepic to Sacre Coeur. It is pretty warm today. The street sweeper paused in his labours to send a text message on his cell phone. A little girl tried to coax a small dog from out of the bakery.
We went to the Rodin Museum and finally found it open. It is moderately interesting if you like sculptures but the best part was the wonderful garden. It is quite formal and contains many sculptures. The wonderful dome of the Invalides is in the background. There were many birds in the undergrowth and a robin was eating the red crabapples.
Just outside we saw a moving van accompanied by a small truck with a lifting mechanism to get the furniture into the upper storeys.
We walked to St. Sulpice and found a very small restaurant Le Machon d'Henri on rue Guisarde. It only had about nine tables but there were three in the kitchen and one waiter
Pickled herring/terrine de foie de volaille (both excellent - the terrine was huge).
Magret de Canard au Miel/Rognons
Pot of house red. Altogether an excellent meal.
From there we walked past St. Sulpice and through the Luxembourg Gardens past the incredible Pantheon and back to St. Germain.
Wednesday January 4
The least said about Charles de Gaul airport the better. Air Canada were their usual miserable unhelpful selves.