In the mighty pursuit of self-improvement, I’ve been taking intensive French courses for the past 4 weeks at the Alliance Française in London. They closed for a two week holiday starting 11 April, and upon learning that there would be no leçons for yours truly, I pinged a friend living there and a trip materialized.
I had lots of plans of my practicing my French, but more importantly, this trip represented four days mostly on my own. I’d do all the stuff I wanted to do for exactly as long as I wanted to do it.
Did I actually do it all? No, not even close.
The first day, I took a 520a Eurostar, arriving Gare du Nord at 850… the things we do when the crazy early tickets are much less expensive! I met Olga at her office near the Champs Elysées to collect the keys and headed up to her digs, right near the Parc Monceau.
After settling in, I headed North and West and wandered around Montmartre with my camera, taking in the Cemetery and Sacré Coeur before heading to my planned lunch destination: Café Burq, on Rue Burq, at Darren’s suggestion. Unfortunately, the café was closed, but I managed to get my Croque Monsieur fix in around the corner at a local spot.
I wandered back home for a bit, attempted a nap and then headed out to meet Pinar near Etienne Marcel. We had a nice walk and a drink along Rue Montorgueil and enjoyed the sunshine next to St Eustache. I was back home by 10, awaiting the return of a late working Olga and watched Law & Order SVU en Français. I suspected I was coming down with a cold and wanted to ensure I caught up on sleep.
Even on this first day, I couldn’t help but notice how much I felt that living in London has changed me. For starters, I kept walking on the left. I was initially a bit taken aback by the number of people who spoke to me, either asking for directions or for the sake of conversation, as I think I could easily spend a week walking around London without being spoken to by anyone. Even in shops, you are always greeted, which really is nice, even if it felt a bit alien. I think one makes a lot of observations when alone that normally go missed when in company.
Day II I set my sights on an ice cream cone and got to it via a scenic route. I left the camera home, deciding that I’d rather have my books.
I kicked off my walk by heading to the Musée D’Orsay, which I ended up skipping because it had a huge queue in front of it. I ended up writing off most of my museum plans for this trip, as I couldn’t justify being inside during good weather. I can see fine art in January, after all.
After wandering by lots of galleries in St. Germain, I stopped into a café, right across from la Durée. This seemed like a good turn of events, yet the epic fail of the day continued when, as a settled my bill, a mob of 30-40 students came and completely surrounded the palace of macarons. I decided to come back later and contined my walk all around St. Germain, including to see the chuch that it is named for and walking along the namesake blvd.
Heading towards the Quartier Latin, I chose a restaurant from my guidebook as my lunch destination. Christophe is a little spot on Rue Descartes, right next to L’ecole polytéchnique. The service was charming, and even my impressive French was tolerated. I ordered the special, an andouilette. The waiter asked if I knew what I was ordering and gestured to his gut, and I said yes, as I recalled reading that Andouillette was a sausage encased in the pig’s intestine. What I didn’t realize is that it also contains a lot of pig intestine. The dish arrived, and well, I made it through about half, which was my plan given that I’m out and eating quite a bit! The flavor was extremely strong, and it is a bit hard to shake the smell, but I’m happy I tried it. While it was probably the only andouilette I’ll ever order, I’d definitely eat at Christophe again.
Still on track for ice cream, I headed over to Île St Louis to Maison Berthillion, which was closed through 22 April. WTF? Fortunately, Île St Louis really should be called Île Berthillion, as quite a few places sell it, even when the mothership is unavailable. I became the happy consumer of two scoops of some very tasty ice cream. I went with vanilla and praliné au citron et coriandre. The latter was possibly the best ice cream I’ve ever had.
Over the bridge I went and back home after nearly 10 miles. I was feeling really tired, which furthered my suspicions that I was developing a cold. I ignored them, and watched Wheel of Fortune on TF1. Le Roue is a bit different in France. The host has a dog with him, or at least did for the two episodes I saw. Incentivized by an opportuinty to practice speaking,I eventually relented with a pharmacy trip. The trip was a success, and I returned home with this head stuff and this throat stuff. Then, I dropped into the cafe on the corner, Millesimes, for dinner. I had an excellent tatin de tomate, and really the whole experience was lovely barring the wanker from LA who wouldn’t stop talking at his newly found Aussie companions. I don’t know if it’s that Americans speak much more loudly than the French or that my ear was quick to cling to the words of English speakers. I fear the former is true.
Wednesday, I woke up feeling solidly miserable, and after I failed to squeeze in a bot more sleep, I wandered out into the city, heading down Boulevard Hausmann to Le Printemps in search of some lovely La Durée macarons for my lovely host. Choosing macarons is hard work, in that one really wants two of each, as if preparing to survive a great flood. Shopped up, I continued down the Boulevard as it changed names, dropping in for a slice of quiche at Le Brébant, right near the Grandes Boulevards métro stop.
After that, sick or not, i knew i had to achieve my goal of a pastry at Pâtisserie Stohrer, Paris’ oldest patiserrie. (Stohrer was the pastry chef at Versailles before opening this shop in 1730). I opted for a pain aux raisins, which i blissfully consumed outside of Église St Eustache before a trip to Centre Pompidou.
By 4 o’clock, i was wiped out and went back to the flat to crash. I ended up staying in for the night, and sadly, I cancelled my dinner plans with Pinar. Not exciting, i know. The highlight was watching a Lifetime movie dubbed into French, Le Pacte de Grossesse, aka: The Pregnancy Pact. I can’t help but think that Lifetime movies should stay in the States where they belong.
Thursday, I was feeling much better, and ventured out with every intention of making the most of my last day. I started out (after a pain au chocolat, of course) by taking the Métro to Bastille for a wander around le Marais and through le Place des Vosges.
Heading south from there, I found myself at Pont Marie: a gateway to the now renamed, “Île Berthillion”. Naturally, I had to go over that bridge and have more ice cream. This time, I complemented the praliné au citron et coriandre with a bit of le pistache.
Next stop was Île de la Cité, where I visited le Cathédrale Notre Dame. It’s free to enter, which is nice, but it’s a bit overwhelming to take it all in amidst numerous tourists and a lot of advisory signage. It is extraordinary to see.
From there I headed across Pont St Michel to head back to St. Germain in search of more macarons, this time at Pierre Hermé. I think I may have to add, “maracon picking” to my list of hobbies, as it really is fun. I very unFrenchly tried a few of the macarons in a nearby park before heading west along Rue Grenelle, past the Musée des Armées, to le Parc du Champ des Mars and of course, the Eiffel Tower.
I’d never seen the Eiffel Tower up close, as every time I’ve been to Paris, it has always been with people who have already done it. So, I walked right underneath it. I’m not sure if I would have bothered going to the top if I had sufficient time to do so. I think I like walking around too much.
So, from there, I began my journey back to my home for the week, as there was a possibility that my host would be out of work in time for an early supper. Unfortunately, such wasn’t meant to be, so I dropped in for another quick bite at Millesimes before heading to catch my Eurostar home.