Thursday, March 10, 2011

Paris - day 6 Montmarte - Sacre Coeur!!

Yesterday we went to an area of Paris called "Montmarte".  A very hilly area to walk around with cool shops and unique churches.  We wandered through alleyways that continued up hillsides with many, many stairs.  They even have a mode of transport called a "funiculaire", which is similar to a tram up and down a hill, for people who may struggle with the stairs.  I found out about this area in a stack of "Paris City Walks with Kids" cards that my friends gave me for Christmas.  We wanted to check it out to see if our kids would enjoy it this summer.  We think they'll absolutely love it. Although Evan could imagine our son whining to be carried, which he's gotten WAY too big to do, around halfway up to the top of the hill.
 So there were big winding hills (think San Francisco), stairs, parks, shops, cafes, artists, and a lot of street musicians.  We stopped in to check out the largest collection of Salvador Dali's work.  It was really amazing,  humorous and entertaining.  He was definitely a character!  I got so inspired by a set of sketches he did about the tragic love story of Tristan and Isolde that I bought the book on Amazon.  I am not familiar with the story so I'm looking forward to reading it after seeing Dali's inspired work. 

After the exhibit, we walked up and around to the Sacre Coeur or "Sacred Heart" basilica.  Wow!

We weren't able to take pictures inside which is a bummer because it's spectacular.  The building is known not only for it's location and architectural style but also for its incredible tile work.

One of the many alters that caught my eye had this beautiful lily pad strand running all along the top of the mantel.  The greens were so vivid and realistic.  As I walked up closer, I couldn't believe the artisan had used 12 mini tiles in varying shades of green to create each lily pad.  The lily pads were about 1" across, maybe a little smaller.  I've taken classes in mosaic and have a full appreciation for the work it takes to cut those tiles.  I counted at least 50 lily pads just on this alter.  I'm telling you, it's like nothing I've ever seen.
We made our way back down the stairs to grab some much needed lunch and do some shopping.  Pricing is much more favorable in this area as compared to near our hotel (the only drawback of staying in Saint-Germain area!).  We thought our son would have a blast making his way down these stairs.  Be careful of the bracelet sellers though!  There were a few men gathered near the exit who were trying to put some colored string around my wrist, wanting me to buy a bracelet they make while you wait.  I kept saying no but got really hounded by one in particular who wouldn't take no for an answer.
I won't go into shopping detail on this posting because that requires a part deux (part 2)!  There's so much to show and tell about the shopping in this area.  Even if you're not planning to spend any money the window shopping is spectacular!  Super fun!

I'll wrap up today's post with what we had for lunch.  We found this adorable place called Le Progres.  The place was bustling and we now know why.  They have a fairly simple menu.  We opted for the "Formulaire" or their prix fixe menu for lunch. 

I got the white fish fillet served with red rice and a delicious white wine sauce. 

Evan chose the leg of lamb marinated in what they called an "american sauce" that he described as tasting like a rich french gravy made from stock.  This "bone-in" piece of meat was served over a creamed polenta.  It was delicious!!! 

We indulged in a 50mL (well maybe it was 75mL :)) carafe of yummy Cote du Rhone Rose.
and since I had ordered the "plat + dessert" (Evan got the "entree + plat") we also got to split our first french creme brulee.  Well, after Evan took his first bite, he quickly cracked a line down the middle to make sure it would get evenly split.  It was outstanding.  They had warmed it in a hot water bath and had scorched the sugar just before serving.  It was soooo good!  Here is the line he drew and his reaction to "our" dessert.
Oh and finally, I had to share this picture.  I took this without the woman's permission.  Hopefully she never reads my blog.  If not, "je regrette infiniment!"  I just love how parisian women are bold in their fashion choices.  This particular outfit (black furry beret, tight sweater with a cherry-printed corset, a glen plaid pencil skirt, fish net stockings and black pumps that had red bows around the ankles!) is somewhat of a parisian cliche but in a way she complete pulls it off!  So I say, "allez!"

That is all from Paris for today.  We're off to our last dinner before we leave tomorrow.  I'm happy to be heading home but will fondly remember this trip as one of our best.  We are looking forward to coming back with the whole family this summer!  Bon soir, mes amis!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Je t'aime Paris!

"Music expresses that which cannot be put to words and cannot remain silenced." - Victor Hugo
"All you need is love." - The Beatles

There's too much to share tonight!  It's 2am and I can barely keep my eyes open. We had a late night after finding "love" in Paris.  We also went searching for "that which cannot remain silent" jazz.  This required a late lunch, a few double cafes and a "disco nap"!  For now, here is the love we found in Paris...

Tucked away outside of the rue des Abesses Metro station (18th Arondissement - totally recommend this area - very cool shopping! Which I will cover in another posting. AND incredible things to do!) is an adorable little park for children of early walking age to about 3 or 4.  Next to this park is a beautiful tile wall that has the phrase "I love you" written in over 300+ languages.  We sat and tried to find "a love we could understand".  I chose sign language, spanish, english, and of course, en francais...  so, Je t'aime Paris!
the entire LOVE
Now, in sign language...
Now, en espaƱol -
Now, in english -
 and en francais -
bon soir from Paris...Je t'aime, mes amis!!!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Paris quick add - patisserie, flammekueche & biere

Okay Kim, this is for you.  This is a beautiful, quaint patisserie we found in Reims that I had to photograph.  Check out the little pigs!  Those clouds sitting on top of the case are large poufs of meringue!!
This is for you, Mr. Greg!  After all of the champagne, we needed beer and pizza!  This was dinner and liquid replenishment for the train ride back to Paris.  Evan took these for you!
We wanted to get you a t-shirt to this place "Les Tres Brasseurs".  We think it was more German than French, maybe?  Our "pizzas" were "flammekueche".  We googled it and found they have restaurants in Montreal & Quebec.  The flammekueche and biere were very good.  The beer was not ice cold but cool enough.

Paris day 5 - champagn-ya, darlink?

I couldn't resist.  I loved that SNL skit with Christopher Walken.  "What's the matter, darlink? How about a little champagn-ya?"  Reims, France.  We didn't know if it was pronounced "reeems" or "rems" and then were told it's "rants" like France.  Champagne capital of the world and a spectacular place to go relax, taste some fine bubbly, and get out of the city for a spell.
Evan booked tickets for us on the "TGV" from Paris to Reims.  Super easy after a short walk from our hotel and one Metro ride. We hoped on the TGV for an hour trip and arrived at this idyllic little town (founded circa 80 B.C.) of 200K people (which doesn't feel that big at all).  We decided to make our way to the Ofc of Tourism to get a map so we could make our way on foot to the champagne cave tours we'd booked.  The town is not that big so if you're up for the challenge we recommend walking.  You see so many cool buildings you'd miss on a bus or in a taxi.  We had to take this shot because someone left their empty champagne bottle in the window of the Ofc of Tourism.

Across the street from this restored ancient building is the awe-inspiring Notre Dame.  The detail, the windows, the architectural wonder of this place left us speechless.  Imagine, every king held their coronation in this church.
The woman at the Ofc of Tourism was pleasantly surprised we were planning to walk to our first cave tour at the Chateau Pommery.  Her smile made us feel like we'd made the right choice.  She suggested we walk the route of the King's coronation.  She said we'd find a beautiful park on our way to Pommery, which we did.
We also saw many buildings rich in history.  One building we saw was built in the 10th Century to protect the Abbey and the Church of St. Remi after viking raids in the 9th Century.
After all of this walking we were getting's time for champagne!  Our tour was scheduled for 11:45am and it was 11:30am.  Time to hussle!
We weren't very familiar with Pommery Champagne but quickly became fans because not only is it one of the oldest but it was also one of the first to be run by a woman!  I love the packaging too!  They have cute little bottles that I'll show a little later.  I wish we could travel with liquids!!  We begin with the Chateau, which was stunning.  A little history about this area - it's full of chalk pits which were originally dug by the Romans, perfect for keeping champagne at the perfect temperature and humidity.  At Pommery, we saw 4-5 of the 70 or so chalk pits Madame Pommery had dug to store the millions of bottles of champagne her company was producing annually.  The quick summary of champagne production is as follows:  1) grapes are picked and gently squeezed for juice, 2) juice sits in vats for 10-12 days with sugar and yeast, which makes "still" wine, 3) blends are made and put into bottles with a little more sugar and yeast.  This is double-fermenting. 
Taittinger bottle with dead yeast residue

Our tour guide had an adorable accent.  She kept saying, "ju no for zhee, ow u say, zee boobles?" 4) The filled bottles are laid flat until the yeast finally dies,

5) the bottles are then tilted at an angle and inserted into riddlers (I think), 6) Riddlers (the bottle turners) then slow rotate them a quarter or eighth turn in either direction.  This is all to slide the dead yeast down eventually into the 1/2" space in the neck of the bottle near the cork.
The riddlers will paint a small mark to know where they left off in turning.  Once the yeast sediment is in that little space in the neck, they flash freeze the bottle, remove the metal spike cap (no cork yet), turn the bottle over and let the ice "cork" pop removing all of the icky sediment with it.  They refill the lost liquid with a little wine and a small amount of sugar to continue the fermentation process.  They then cork the bottle, wash it and label it for selling and hopefully drinking!!  Which we did...
The caves were incredible.  I was trying to imagine the walls being chipped away by ancient Romans and was just blown away by the sheer scale of these pyrimidal (sp?) shaped pits or "crayeres".  Evan was able to dig his finger in a little and pull up a bit of chalk.  They are soft and it's incredible they haven't fallen apart over the years.  There have been some World Wars, mass destruction during the Revolution, etc...  It's quite impressive.
116 stairs to climb down & up!

We totally recommend doing this if you have the time and feel like tasting some fantastic champagne.  We don't recommend driving!  Take a taxi or bus from the train if you aren't up for the walking.  We also booked a tour at Taittinger.  It is a younger business but built on chalk pits that are similar in age.  The history of the land that Taittinger is built on is quite amazing.  The Abbey of Saint-Niclaise was completely destroyed in the Revolution.  However, many of the caves and stairways (now leading to nowhere) have been preserved.  The champagne was very good and the staff was very helpful.  We enjoyed both.  Originally I had put Veuve Cliquot on my list of must sees but we were too late to get an appointment and you can't taste without a tour.  We did stop in to check out the gift shop and see the grounds.  Very chic!  There's a five star hotel and really nice restaurant across the way.  It along with Pommery had the coolest colors and packaging!  They know how to get the ladies!!  haha! 
Gift shop in Veuve Cliquot
"Pop" art bottles at Pommery
I took this next picture at Taittinger because I was drooling at the largest bottle of champagne.  It takes two men to serve champagne out of the largest that's a party!
Inside the facility were 3 gorgeous doors that were built using the iron pieces found among the ruins and restored.  The last picture is of the stairwell you have to climb to get back out of the caves.
Well, that was our wonderful day in Reims, France.  We're off in search of the most delectable Caramel Souffle.  Evan is on his own personal mission!  We'll let you know how it goes.  In the meantime, here I am in front of my dream cellar.  Au revoir!


Paris day 4 - Les Puces and Sain-Sulpices

The fleas and the saints.  That's what today brought us.  We decided to skip doing coin laundry (for Evan) and took quite an adventure out to the far reaches of Paris.  We went shopping at the Marche aux Puces de Clignancourt (the Paris flea market).  I have always heard about the amazing finds and hidden masterpieces (you know, the pay .25 for the $1M painting kind?!), etc.  We boarded the metro to the end of the Pte. de Clignancourt.  We were joined in the car by a wonderful guitar player lugging a little amplifier which he used to rock out Santana's "Oye Como Va" for us.  It made the long ride (14 stops to be exact) cruise by.

Getting out of the Metro at Clignancourt we quickly realized we were not in Saint-Germaine anymore!  We walked past a group of men hovered around an older gentleman swiftly moving around 3 black discs.  I think he was asking them to watch carefully.  That was as far as my lame french got us.  Money was quickly changing hands and things started to heat up.  Someone was going to have a payday.  We moved along not wanting to interfere.  I had a mission - find cool stuff to make jewelry!  At the corner just before the "peripherique" (the freeway on the edge of town) I was offered some lovely Louis Vuitton bags, Gucci belts  and Chanel scarves.  Nah, not today!  I'm on a mission!
Once we got through the stuff just off the boat from China, we found this great area called "Vernaison". Filled with alleys of outlandish goods.  Check it out:
We found this one store that had stuff that really freaked me out.  I used to hate "blinky-eyed" dolls when I was little.  They really scared me!  This little store had a whole drawer full of just the "blinky eyes"!!!  Quelle horreur!

and after about 1 hour of searching...SUCCESS!!  French brass antique beads and findings! Yeah!

Evan bought a vintage ashtray because we were caught without one at the last Hallloween bash.  I almost splurged on a new pair of Adidas Londons but opted to skip them because I have my eye on some sweet boots.  Pictures to follow.

Shopping at a flea market can be so overwhelming.  I saw about 30 pieces of furniture I would have given an arm for.  Maybe when we come back?

After the flea market we took the Metro back into town because Evan wanted to check out Saint Sulpice, a church featured in the movie DaVinci Code.  I just found that out on Wikipedia.  I didn't knock on the little piece under the obelisk to see if there was a hidden key but if I had known!!  We thought this church would be less crowded than Notre Dame.  What do you think?
Is the pen mightier than the sword?  We shall see!  We walked inside and found the church was pretty spectacular but in need of some TLC.  Evan says it didn't look bad for being 400 years old.  There was a service going on but I really wanted to take a few pictures inside.  Here is what I got:

We were impressed with the art installations within the church. They are doing this to begin drawing bigger audiences and hopefully more money for upkeep.  It's definitely worth checking out if you're not interested in miles of tour buses and lines to see Notre Dame.  After church we were starving!  Time to eat...
We dropped into Cafe du Metro, founded in 1920.  We had an adorable waiter who barely spoke english but took care of us with a couple of glasses of red wine and plates of pasta.
Scallops St. Jacques
Spaghetti avec frommage et champignon
We were so full but couldn't resist another french dessert. Evan ordered a delicious Tart Citron avec Meringue and I ordered a Tart Chocolat Truffle (OMG!!!) but it didn't photograph well.  Sorry Kim!
Tart Citron avec Meringue
We meandered our way back to the hotel, stopped in a few shops and then collapsed upon entering our hotel room.  A short foot rub later and I was zzzz.........