Oh la-la, la vie est belle! I’m here with a France travel update, this time from Paris. Life is beautiful indeed.
After our uncharted adventures in the Riviera and Provence, we’ve settled into our teeny, tiny, and oh-so-charming Paris apartment. It’s located an area called St. Germain, a neighborhood with which I’m smitten. It’s an eclectic mix of art galleries, shops, and (most importantly), my top three must-visit bakeries and chocolate shops (more details below.)
View from our 6th floor balcony. No, we do not have an elevator. Yes, Ben chivalrously carried my 60-pound bag up the spiral stairs. My hero!
Our time in the City of Light so far has been a lovely mix of historic sights, café lingering, and of course FOOD!
TOURISTS BY MORNING, LOCAL CAFÉ DWELLERS BY AFTERNOON
We started off slowly with neighborhood exploring. Essentially, we picked a different area of the city, then spent an entire day walking its streets, shops, and lingering in cafés for hours.
Place de la Bastille
We also took time to visit a few of Paris’ lesser-known museums, including the Carnavalet (dedicated to French history) and the Marmottan (lovely mansion strewn with all things Monet and other Impressionist works.)
Our agenda escalated to full-scale, camera-wielding tourist mode with the purchase the four-day Paris Museum Pass, which gives us unlimited access to many of Paris’ big hitters and allows us to jump to the front of many of the lines at major sights within the four days its valid. It makes life a little crazy (you do need to squeeze in a number of sights for the pass to pay off), but I’ve found it to be absolutely worth it. If you are traveling to Paris anytime soon, definitely check it out, and there is a two-day option as well.
Musee d’Orsay: My favorite museum in the entire world, with an incredible collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art. I’m a Monet/Renoir/Van Gogh geek to the core, so I would move in if they let me.
The Louvre: Twice! I love having the four-day pass because we are able to take in the Louvre in pieces. It houses one of the finest collections of art in the world and is large enough to deserve its own zip code. We visited lesser-known collections on Monday and plan to battle the crowds to see the “celebrities” (Mona Lisa; Venus de Milo) Wednesday.
The Orangerie: OK, I lied—this is actually my favorite museum. (Don’t tell the Orsay.) The first floor houses large (I mean LARGE)-scale water lilies, completed by Monet towards the end of his life: 1,950 square feet of painted gorgeousness in all. The museum also contains a lovely assortment of paintings compiled by art dealer Paul Guillome in the 1920s. Paul had great taste—I adore this collection, which includes a good variety of works ranging from Renoir to Cezanne to Picasso.
The Army Museum + Napoleon’s Tomb: A must visit for any war or history buffs. Ben’s enthralled by this book about D-Day right now. I’ve never seen him so attached and emotional about a book. He says it’s the best he’s ever read (this from a man who reads A LOT), so the museum was especially meaningful for him.
Rodin Museum: I didn’t know much about Rodin before our visit, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to take this picture:
Climbing the Bell Tower at Notre Dame: We waited two hours and climbed 422 stairs for this view. Worth it.
GOING WITH THE FLOW
Despite my Type A diligent trip planning, we’ve needed to channel our inner yogis and be flexible (easier for laid back Ben than for me.) France’s main rail line, the SNCF has been on strike since we arrived, and it’s caused serious travel disruption. Many trains are cancelled last minute, and passengers are forced to pile onto later trains, whether or not they have a seat. The results look something like this:
We’ve also found the city apt to periodically closing major sites by means of a sheet of paper taped to the door. Though we never made it up the Arc de Triomphe or inside the Pantheon, we used the extra time to visit the Cluny Museum (Medieval art), and bust out the portable tripod for a few night shots.
The strike also caused us to miss a planned side trip, but we used the extra time to explore Paris, which is another way to say, we used it to do more…
Yes, I came to France to see more of a country with which I fell in love eight years ago. Yes, I wanted to see my host family and speak French on a regular basis. Yes, yes, yes I wanted to view some of the world’s greatest art. But, deep down inside, what I really want to do as often as I can, as wildly as I can is…
France, without a doubt, contains the best food I’ve had in my life, both for its variety and its quality. I’m definitely a girl who goes to bed dreaming about breakfast, spends her days plotting what to make for dinner, and never skips dessert, so for me, France is a grand food adventure, and I WANT IT ALL. All the intricate pastries; all of the incredible artisan meats and cheeses; all of the fresh bread, be it crusty, fluffy, buttery sweet, or deeply nutty. I’ve devoured everything from the most classic of croissants, to snails, blood sausage, and fois gras, to the most delightfully crisp fries and the creamiest, most intensely flavored gelato. It’s all wonderful, and no matter how full I am, I can’t help but be hungry for more!
Every morning, I climb out of bed (um, futon if you want to get technical—I wasn’t kidding when I said the apartment is small!) and follow my nose to a new bakery. I pick up a classic croissant, along with one or two other new pastries to try. (If you’d like to join us for a virtual cup of coffee, I often post shots on Instagram.)
Though we’ve tried many wonderful bites, our consistent favorites are:
Eric Kayser: I’m going to say it—best baguette in Paris. Eric’s Odeon baguette (which is loaded with yummy, crunchy grains) might not be traditional, but it’s my hands down pick thus far. I’ve also developed a small obsession with his fig-stuffed wheat bread, and the soft, fluffy viennose rolls are Ben’s must-have for any of our picnic sandwiches.
Pierre Herme: Best. Crossaints. Ever. We’ve now tried croissants from at least 10 bakeries (they’re also a frequent afternoon snack), and nothing has come close to Pierre’s for its superb balance of fluffy interior and lightly flakey exterior. It’s a mega butter bomb in flavor, without being greasy. Complete croissant perfection.
The Smiths Bakery: Croissant runner-up, though I intend to do more research to ensure that my findings are accurate.
I also made a personal pilgrimage to a bakery I have been longing to try since I read about it years ago, Poilane. Poilane’s wood-fired, lightly tangy, and deeply complex sourdough is widely regarded as some best bread in the world (and it’s ordered and shipped all over the world), so as an avid at-home bread baker, I was wildly excited to try it at last. The shop selling this celebrity loaf could not have been more welcoming and low-key. The bread itself: superb. It’s sold both by the large, round load and by the slice, so tomorrow morning, I plan to jog over (a quick 5-minute trip) to pick up a few slices for toast.
This is turning into a dangerous habit I have zero intention to break: the 10:30 a.m. macaron snack. I have mad respect for macarons. How these patisseurs are able to create such impossibly light, yet intensely flavored pillows of meringue and buttercream (or curd or chocolate) filling is beyond me.
While I have enjoyed a rainbow of macarons in creative flavors, my top two shops for quality and taste so far are:
Pierre Herme: This is a Class A addiction. If I don’t ingest at least two every 48 hours, I develop the shakes.
Laduree: I took myself on a date for an enormous cup of coffee, bowl of whipped cream (50% in the coffee, 50% direct spoon-to-mouth consumption), and this plate of macs at Laduree’s lovely tea salon. I meant to bring two home to Ben, but then I thought that I’d accidentally smush these delicate little treats in my bag on the way home. It was too sad a thought, so I had no choice but to eat all four on the spot.
The 4 p.m. Pastry Run
A pastry a day keeps….Erin extremely happy. Again, so so many to share! Two of my favorites were this smooth lemon tart with shortbread crust and ridiculously buttery, caramely kouign-amann from the Le Grenier a Pain in the Monmartre neighborhood. Eclairs, mille-feuilles, and strawberry tarts have become dietary staples as well.
The Anytime Chocolate Fix!
In addition to croissants and macarons, I’m doing a self-selected sampling of some of the cities best-known chocolate shops (or any chocolate shop I see that looks tempting, of which there are many). Top two picks so far: Jean-Charles Rochoux and Patrick Roger. Key take aways: if you can’t choose one, choose four; basil and chocolate are outrageously tasty together; just asking the kind woman behind the counter to toss a few of her favorites into the bag for you is likely to come out in your favor.
Despite my best wishes, a girl cannot live on pastry cream and chocolate alone. In Paris, I’ve enjoyed some of the most memorable meals of my life, but as this post is already flirting with the line between “obnoxiously long short story” and “novel that wouldn’t end,” so I’ll save my restaurant recap for a later post. For now, let me simply say:
LIFE IS WONDERFUL
For its serendipity. Our dear friends Bridget and Dan happened to be in Paris at the same time, so we met them for dinner and World Cup watching. Our paths crossed in Paris, so we spent a few nights hanging out, and I could not have wished for more company than these two. Next year, we’re thinking group rendez-vous in Italy.
For its beauty. Yesterday morning, I went for a run along the Seine and around the Eiffle Tower. Last night, we watched Notre Dame light up at night.
For its grace. I feel incredibly blessed to have this experience. Every day is a treasure, and I will carry it with me always.
If you are still reading, please go serve yourself a triple scoop of ice cream, preferable with whipped cream. You deserve it for enduring my endless babble!
For more France travel updates: Like The Law Student’s Wife on Facebook (don’t forget to double click the “Like” button and select “Get Notifications”), where I’ll be posting quick blurbs of what we are up to each day. I’m also sporadically posting on Instagram when wireless connections cooperate, so you can catch a few shots there too.
Take a mini-vacation to France with these other travel posts: