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Posts tagged ‘paris metro’

le perfect mixte

For those of you not familiar with France, un sandwich mixte is just a ham and cheese sandwich.  But, like most things in Paris, “just” is not part of the vocabulary.  Having at least one proper sandwich mixte is always my goal in Paris.  The bread needs to have that perfect combination of crunch and softness.  The cheese needs to be sliced at just the right thickness with the perfect depth of flavour. And I don’t know what they do with the pigs in France but ham never tastes the same in other places.

This time it took three tries.  But when it finally arrives… on a sunny day, in an outdoor café, accompanied by a great glass of St Emilion, you say “oo la la” under your breath 🙂

I did try to squeeze a little culture in between the adventures in merchandising.  I had noted in the hotel’s tourist info that the Palais de Tokyo was reopening and doing some kind of 48 hour culturathon apparently.  The Palais de Tokyo is not for everyone but if you appreciate modern art, it is worth the trip to the 16th arrondissement.

The first time I went I was sick in Paris so only managed to drag myself there late in the afternoon.  Too late for the Musée d’Art Moderne but early enough for the young, hip open into the evening Palais de Tokyo.  Sometimes I look at really modern art and think, “OK, the artist is just making fun of us.  Or he was VERY high when he thought this was a good idea…”  But sometimes it’s provocative, inventive or just pretty.  My favourite piece this time was a little of each.  I’m not quite sure what it means but it was fascinating to look at – and very pretty.  I took a photo so you can decide for yourself.

The Musée d’Art Moderne was a bit more conventional but also included an

an installation that mostly just looked wild and crazy.  But maybe that is all art needs to be…  I would recommend a visit to both – and then a stop at the surprisingly great café right next to the métro.  If you are lucky, the sun will be shining, the light will descend on all that elaborate seventeenth century architecture and you will know there is nowhere else you could be but Paris.

And when it is time for dessert – or a snack – or breakfast 🙂  I have had them at all three times this trip.  My newest Paris obsession – macarons at Pierre Hermé.

It all started in 2003 when Sean requested macarons from Ladurée as “payment” for our free accommodation in London.  A sweet price to pay 🙂   At that stage in my life, I had some passing knowledge of a macaron but had never had one in Paris and knew nothing about Ladurée.  It wasn’t exactly knowledge one acquired in small town Manitoba.

For several years I thought Ladurée macarons were “la bombe” but then I read about some upstart called Pierre Hermé in a magazine.  And I started dissing Ladurée.  Not a very French thing to do…

It’s not that Ladurée macarons are bad.  It’s just that Pierre Hermé is that little slice of heaven on earth that is Paris at its finest.  I managed to sample almost all the flavours over my five days in Paris.  (Luckily you walk a lot in Paris.  The Paris métro is a cardio workout without having to put your gym gear on.)  The most dangerous part – and one of the reasons he has become so famous – is that the flavours are seasonable and always changing – so it becomes a classically existential totally Parisian question – can one ever try all the flavours of Pierre Hermé macarons?  Certainly not on one brief visit.

Conveniently (dangerously???) you can buy them at a number of different outlets 🙂  They even have an outlet on the shoe floor (yes, an entire floor!) at Galeries Lafayette – it’s almost a little too much pleasure to handle in such a small space 🙂

My favourite is the Infinement Vanille – vanilla taken to a level of perfection only attainable on French soil.  This trip I didn’t spend much time on food except for les sandwiches mixtes and macarons but on my final night I had a sublime meal at the Murano Urban Resort that reinforced all the stereotypes about French food and wine that I hold so dear.  Wildly it was the first time I ever had a well-done steak sent from the kitchen!  Normally you have to order it a little more ‘done’ than you would in North America and the risk is blood, not char.  Obviously, some miscommunication had occurred but I just had to show a piece to my French server and it was whisked away and returned in a perfect, slightly bloody form.  No self-respecting French person would have eaten it  🙂

I can still remember introducing my mom and my niece to the concept of crème brulée in Paris.  They were hooked from the first bite.  Paris does that to you.  Take a few bites in the right places and you will be hooked for life.  Paris will ruin you.  It will be like a youthful love affair you never quite recover from.  But never regret.  The things that change your life.  Make you a bit of a snob.  But allow you to experience life on levels you never even knew were there before some French speaking guy named Paul seduced you – and made you try his paté…  I’ve loved paté ever since…

un carnet, s’il vous plait

Some of you may have noticed my radio silence the past few days.  It’s because the first draft of this post was composed at the airport in Toronto, waiting for my flight to Paris!!!

The year end financial reporting deadline was yesterday so it’s been a dramatic race to the finish and a big push to finish work in Vancouver rather than in Paris.  So, you poor people, I will have plenty of time over the next two weeks to harangue you with tales of my travel adventures, whether you want to hear them or not 🙂

For those of you who haven’t taken the Métro, the header refers to the very first words I uttered en français on my very first trip to Paris, way back in 1989.

We were travelling on $50/day and, like all the other backpackers, had a Eurorail Pass, so my first stop in Paris was Gare du Nord.  Back then, you could watch a drug deal go down practically inside the station and you had to be on high alert.  The main thing you wanted to do when you arrived in Gare du Nord was get the hell outta there as fast as possible!

Paris has – hands down – the best public transit system in the world.  So, if you had read your guidebook in advance like a smart girl, you just followed the signs to the Métro and asked for “un carnet, síl vous plait.”

If you got the accent right, the grumpy dude in the Métro ticket booth mumbled some price in French, you handed over some francs and walked away with 10 tickets for the Métro and whatever change you were due.

Now you can buy your carnet from a machine using your credit card.  It’s a lot easier but much less romantic.  And Parisians have become a lot nicer to tourists.  Some even speak a few words of English!

This was only the third time I arrived in Paris by airplane.  Normally I arrive on the train.  The train is far superior.  I love being able to sneak up on an iconic city.  Stretch out the pleasure.  When you arrive by train, you first see the banlieue.  You could be anywhere.  But as you get into the proper arrondissements, the movie Paris starts to emerge.

And, because you will arrive in the center of the city, you can afford to take a taxi to your final destination.  Depending on your route, you might catch a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre or one of the many iconic bridges that divide the Seine into the Left and Right Banks.  You will know you couldn’t be anywhere but Paris and it will be as magnificent as you have imagined.  Paris is what all North Americans imagine Europe to be – but only Paris really is…

Knowing what a carnet is – and that you take the RER from Charles de Gaulle, not the Métro – makes you feel like a local, not a tourist.  It’s like the Oyster card I keep at home in its blue pouch and reload at Heathrow every time I arrive in London.  It was Gavin and Justin who supervised me through the purchase of my first Oyster card after they explained to me it was a far cheaper way to navigate the Underground – and having one would secure my status as a “non-tourist”.  They just checked in again as part of my birthday celebrations.  I’ll have to catch up with them in person the next time I am in London.

How we met a great story.  My team around the world is slowly expanding.  Knowing people in the cities that I visit really enhances the experience. But every time I fall in love with a city, I start trying to understand it like I would a new lover.  Figure out what makes it tick.  Unearth its quirky charms.  Revel in the special qualities that seduce me.  It’s how you end up feeling like a local.

And get the best travel stories… you have been warned… only I would go out for a quiet, jet-lagged dinner my first night in Paris and end up running down Boulevard Montparnasse at 2am…


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