Did someone say Ice-Cream?

Our friend Bec from back home is also in town and is joining us to spend the day in Montmarte. It’s all cobbled laneways and sketching artists at every turn and very delicious French Onion Soup. It’s another Amelie moment and I’m smitten by it all. Sacré Cœur is safely keeping watch, perched up high with a searing view of Paris. I get my portrait sketched by the very charming Gorgiano, he was very flattering. Clever man.

My sweet tooth is kicking in, it’s ice-cream time, or gelato, or Italian gelataria. I swear I didn’t even notice it was Italian and so I asked the guy why the names weren’t in French. “Because this is Italian gelato” he replied in a Scottish/Americanised accent. Hmmm, yep, major blonde moment and I’m not even blonde. I didn’t feel so bad because he then went on to ask the other customers waiting to be served if they were married. They were Indian and she wore a bindi between her eyes. No, it turned out he was her father. He then continued about how he knew a lot about Indian culture and thought only married women wore the bindi. Anyone say awkward? I could mentally hear the sound of dirt being shovelled as he kept digging himself a hole. I couldn’t bring myself to order anything after that. I just wanted out, gelato or no gelato, it was all just so uncomfortable, tripping over each other’s faux pas. It was enough to put me off dessert, and we know that doesn’t happen very often.

 

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An American in Paris

Shakespeare & Co. Bookshop is always a must visit and from there it’s easy to pop over to Notre Dame. It’s like stepping into another world in this shop, crammed full of amazing books and history and a super steep staircase. Last time I visited here I met a girl working in the shop who was from my hometown in Aus and who went to my high school and who’s Dad worked my Mum at the local hospital. Spin out.

Notre Dame is not to be overlooked even after I’m all churched and castled out. The stained glass alone! It’s a scorching 30 oC outside so the cool marble floors entice me to slip off my shoes and cool my feet. We declined climbing the 387 steps to the top of the North Tower and instead strolled over to the Ile St Louis for endless ice-creams from Berthillon. They do take the edge of the heat off slightly. Yes I know I am boring, rarely changing my order of dark chocolate and raspberry combo. But hey, it’s a winner and it’s gonna be no exception here.

Paris is well known as the city of love and the Pont des Arts bridge between Notre Dame and St Germain has become a platform for people to express their love. The bridge is adorned in ‘lovelocks’. Padlocks, lockets, chains, all engraved with names, initials and dates. Pretty much anything that can be locked and the key thrown symbolically into the River Seine flowing underneath, the idea being that you bring your padlock to a special, significant place and lock it and your love forever. Yeah it’s soppy and romantic, but it appeals to the Disney in me.

We’re cramming as much as we can in so it’s to the Louvre which we wandered in a record breaking 1.5 hours and of course saw only a fraction of what the Museum offers. We said a quick hi to Mona and found a few old fav friends. I’d forgotten there are two Botticelli works there, still glorious. Napoleon III’s Minister of State apartment is just incredible and as you walk into the rooms silence falls upon everyone. Just your average decor, I’m thinking of the same style for my next house. Ya right.

Waiting for Zoe outside one of the Louvre gift shops, an American tourist strides past me and barks at me (without even bothering to ask if I speak French, assuming I speak English) “Where’s the washroom!” More of a command than question. Apart from being insulted (and do I also look like a talking map?) I can see how easily the tourists offend the French and I strive not to come across like the majority. We always make an effort to speak, ask directions and order in French. It’s the best part about travel anyway and I would do the same in any country. And it works cause later when I order my Apricot tart from the lovely boulangerie, Paul’s, I get a wink from the server. Works for me, who said manners were obsolete?

Bellevilloise Cafe is a statement in industrial chic design. Olive Trees in huge old wine barrels, the cafe is in an old garage with exposed metal beams and tin roof. It’s roomy, with the feel of an aircraft hanger and hidden away in a courtyard up the top of a long hill with a cracking view of Paris. We’re here for a glass of wine or 2. I’m drinking Rose, it’s strawberry sweet but not too overpowering, cheap and cold. Laura’s got some lovely Mojito that’s minty and super fresh and Zoe’s clutching the most enormous Cosmopolitan I’ve ever seen. Happy hour indeed. Rows of tables and chairs are facing the stage and there’s a bloke up there with his guitar strumming away. There’s a bit of a twang to his accent and it turns out he’s from Essendon, Vic. Happily I just can’t escape the Aussies.

 

I love Paris in the summer

My sister is a great travel buddy, one of my top 3. She’s great to be a daggy tourist with cause she’s got no shame and is up for funny impromptu piccies all the time. I got a fab shot of her leaping in front of the Eiffel Tower. She promised her dance students back home she would do it.

The Eiffel Tower isn’t everyone’s fav but I personally love it, it’s so bold and I love the delicate lace like silhouettes the steel creates. The buskers and sellers touting their cheap souvenirs to the crowds play a cat and mouse game beneath the Tower with the police and army guys carrying massive guns who in between chasing the sellers pose for piccies with tourists, we watch this for the 2.5 hours we wait in queue joining some of the nearly 6 million people that visit yearly. It’s worth the long wait because the view as expected is incredible. We’re 16962km’s from Sydney. We’re a long way from home and a really, really long way up in the air too.

Paris on a plate

Well first things first, I plan on eating a lot of pastry while I’m here and I want it smothered in crème anglaise or chocolate or fruit. So a brekky of apricot tartlet, chocolate cake and raspberry tart ticks all of the above. It’s all delicious and decadent. If I lived here I’d be in serious trouble. The ‘French Women Don’t get Fat’ theory wouldn’t apply. It’d more likely be, ‘Don’t feed the Aussie anymore pudding’.

Luckily I don’t live here so can scoff to my heart’s content. Crepes with lemon and sugar eaten in the Parc du Champ de Mars with the Eiffel Tower looming above are simple and delicious.

The search for Macaron’s took us to Rue Bonaparte in St Germain (6th Ar) looking for Pierre Hermé. The word is they are some of the best in Paris, we had no luck finding the shop so settled (if you can call it that) for these elegant Macaron’s by another famed maker, Ladurée , in the prettiest colours. I was expecting to love the chocolate, raspberry and lemon best, but no, the rose petal, coconut and caramel stole the show. Deservedly too. The pistachio was also a winner, the blackcurrant was very jammy and tasty and the guava had a real kick to it.

Fresh food is everywhere here, evident with the regular produce markets held in the mornings, many right on your doorstep. It’s a ritual to be savoured, taking in all the produce on offer and chatting to the vendors. There’s rows of flowers, cheese and bread galore, meat being diced up, shiny bright-eyed fish and farm fresh egg nestled in oversized baskets. I want to try it all.

And lastly on the menu, Snails. Yep, I ate one. They were ok, kinda mushroomy in texture,  smothered in garlic, butter and parsley with crusty bread to soak up the sauce. Next up was potatoes covered in melted Gruyère cheese for me and the girls were dished up salads in enormous stainless steel bowls, the kind I would use to mix a cake batter, and a large cake at that. It‘s nickname was the ‘Impossible Salad’ and Laura was totally right, it is impossible to finish. An incredibly light and airy dessert of whipped egg whites, loaded with sugar and drizzled with a kind of toffee sauce, was slightly caramalised in flavour, reminding me of marshmallow. Somewhat like an uncooked meringue mixture, I could have eaten bowl fulls. Créme Caramel was textbook perfect and Chocolate Mousse was velvet smooth, dark and intense but my friend’s Mum Janet’s Mousse still wins, no-one has ever rivalled hers yet. And all washed down with bucket loads of Sangria. Oh Paris how I love you so.

Almost French

The morning starts with a quick browse around the Marche aux Puce d’Aligre in the 12th Ar. Not a bad flea market, if a little pricey for some items and quite a small market but still some gems to be unearthed. I picked up some beautiful fabric to whip up into something when I’m home for 5 Euros.

My Parisienne friend Laura who I met while working on a farm in the Okanagan Valley in Canada last year met us for lunch in the park and again that night for dinner. She took us to this noisy in a good way very hip looking bar that I probably would have been hesitant to venture into alone. Wine and plates of cheese – Comte, Chevre, Brie and Blue was long promised and much enjoyed. We try our hand at ordering in French. I am much better at listening than speaking, my time in Quebec has paid off but when anyone responds with an unexpected question I get a little flustered. This isn’t like my talking audio book answers I’d memorised :) The trick to sounding vaguely French and being understood is to speak fast and with a pout. That seems to work.

 I’m loving the metro, easily the best public transport I’ve used in a while. Curiously I saw two men on separate occasions clutching bundles of timber and wondered all day what their project was? Also had an Amelie  moment when a busker hopped on a bit later with his piano accordion and serenaded the carriage.

Later that day we helped a lady carry a collapsible wheelchair down the metro stairs in the very busy St Michel station. She didn’t clock our accents as she thanked us with a “Merci”. She was obviously an American tourist with the bum bag and blinding white sneakers. She’s now probably telling her friends about how friendly and helpful the French are. Love it.

Knocking on Heaven’s Door

To get into our ‘charming flat in Paris’, and it really was charming with its view of rooftops textured and layered in a mosaic of terracotta tiles and stacks of chimney pots; we had to retrieve the key from the neighbour upstairs. We got the right name but the wrong floor and wrong neighbour, who’d have thought they’d have the same name? The door opened to reveal one of the most beautiful men I’ve ever seen. All dark hair and eyes and just the right amount of stubble. I couldn’t speak for a few moments, just stood there staring and all my French went whizzing down the winding wooden stairs.

Good mistake. Now I know which neighbour’s door to knock on should we run out of milk :)

Kate & Zoe’s excellent adventure

Faded and sun bleached to shades of olives, fawns and heathers, France is just so chic, even from the air it’s colour coordinated. It’s just a French thing. It’s my second visit to Paris, the last time being in 2006 with my Mum. It’s a scramble onto a bus to head into the city and our new friends from the plane, a Tassie couple, Rhona and Murray join us and from there it’s a metro ride to our rented flat in the 20th Ar.

Paris is all the usual clichés and more, it snares at you, weaving and pulling you in with its magic. The city is beautiful, the people are beautiful and I’d forgotten how openly the men stare at you. Self esteem win!

At dinner that night in a local bistro our table is of course a checkerboard of crisp red and white. There’s wine, cheese and bread flowing and Florence & The Machine is on the stereo. It doesn’t get much better than this.

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