We were initially scheduled (by my husband) to leave our hotel around 8 am to get off to an early start. By some snafu in my iPhone alarm-setting, we ended up getting up at 9:30 am (awoken by some loud kids in our hallway). After my initial annoyance at these kids, I was grateful when I realized that we were going to be at least two hours behind schedule. Oh well.
Side note: In planning our trip, my husband assumed the role of tour-guide. He read several books (Rick Steves is a great resource for Europe) and websites (Fodor’s and TripAdvisor) and looks on Google Earth/Google Maps to get a feel for the neighborhood and get an idea where we are going. All of that homework definitely ends up paying off! After doing all of that research, we both sit down and plan out our trip. We first try to plan our days as a rough outline, then the days shape up as we figure out where we want to go. By the end, we have a timeline that is pretty much planned out to the minute (i.e. “Leave the hotel at 8 am” or “Arrive at Galaries Lafayette at 12 pm–Remember to go to the top floor!”). I have a Paris Metro app on my iPhone that allows you to put in your starting and finishing destinations and it gives you a) the best route from point A to point B and b) the time it takes to get there. You can also Google Earth your route and get the time it takes to go between places to give you an idea of how to get places. We then finally plan everything, write it down, and put it into a 3-ring binder that comes with us. Being organized definitely helps!
After getting ready, we set off on our second day of our Parisian adventure. We started out by going to Gerard Mulot, a patisserie in Saint-Germain. We bought some delicious pastries and walked back to Starbucks, then took our breakfast over to the Luxembourg Gardens.
After breakfast, we walked around the gardens and marveled at how stunning the main building is and how immaculately kept the grounds are. These gardens are quieter than the Tuileries and have more trees and have a less touristy, more neighborhood feel. Love!
We proceeded to walk out of the gardens and head northwest, towards St-Sulpice church (featured in the novel The Da Vinci Code). We visited inside, which is built in the tradition of French cathedrals–Gothic architecture, stained glass windows.
Once outside, we enjoyed watching a Parisian dog having fun splashing in the fountain.
After leaving the church, we walked to the Bon Marche department store. This store is a high-end department store (sort of like Neiman Marcus) that carries designers such as Isabel Marant, La Perla, Lanvin…sigh. But alas, I did not end up buying anything (clothing/accessory-wise) and we went across the street to the Grande Epicerie de Paris, which is their food market.
The Grande Epicerie is a high-end grocery store that also sells prepared foods. When you walk in, there is a prepared food section on your right (I was envisioning planning a dinner party…) and a sandwich and panini section in front of you.
To the left, there is a bakery where you can pick up fresh bread. We shopped for awhile, buying some gifts for family as well as for our pantry at home. We then got sandwiches (a panini for me and of course, jambon et fromage for Dave–his was on a pistachio and dried cranberry baguette–yum!). We paid for our purchases and headed to a cute little park just near the entrance to the store, sat down on a bench, and ate lunch. After we were finished, we took the metro from the Sevres-Babylone station (right near Bon Marche) over to Havre-Caumartin to go to another store, the Galaries Lafayette.
This store is located close to the Opera Garnier (the Paris Opera House) and was packed with shoppers (mostly tourists). The Galaries Lafayette carries brands that are a little bit trendier than Bon Marche (think Nordstrom or Henri Bendel) but overall, it is still pretty expensive (and the weak dollar does not help my case…). It is worth going to because the ceiling is made of stained glass and is truthfully one of the most visually stunning (if not the most) stores I’ve been to.
Due to the crowds and cost (and a husband who would rather be doing almost anything than shopping), I picked up some gifts for a friend who is getting married soon and bought myself a copy of Madeline (in French!) from the children’s section. It is one of my favorite children’s books and to read it again after visiting Paris is such a treat.
After shopping, we went up to the roof of the department store, which is an open-air rooftop that overlooks the Opera Garnier and much of Paris. The views are spectacular (just like from the Pompidou) and are absolutely worth fighting the crowds in the store.
At this point, my feet were killing me, despite wearing historically comfortable Pumas (my flat boots from the day before had pretty much wrecked my feet) so I took a breather on the rooftop while Dave snapped away. He walked around the corner on the roof (apparently almost 360 degree panoramic views of the city) and got a great shot of Sacre Coeur, where we visited last year on our honeymoon. With the 10X zoom on our camera, it was like we were right there.
We made our way back down to the street and got back on the metro (hence why the carnet of tickets is worth it) and traveled over towards Les Halles.
I have always been curious about this part of Paris, the once-seedy underbelly that used to house the meat markets of Paris and that now is where plenty of stores selling cookware and utensils have taken up residence. One in particular is E. Dehillerin, where I am pretty sure Julia Child used to frequent (I think I remember reading about that in My Life in France). Regardless, I figured it was worth checking out.
We ended up going to the cookware store mentioned above, and while I do consider myself a fairly good home cook, I did not see anything that I really needed to schlep back to the States. I would rather buy a good pair of shoes or a bag or food than cookware, but obviously that’s my preference. We did sit down at an Irish Pub (I think that’s what it was called) because one of Dave’s regrets from our last trip is that he did not have a Guinness.
He had read somewhere that Guinness tastes better (fresher? crisper?) in Europe since the kegs do not have to be shipped anywhere. We sat down and he had his beer and I had a hard cider (which they served with ice! Odd…). After finishing our drinks and people-watching, we walked around a little park in Les Halles and then took the metro back to our hotel to get ready for dinner.
We had reservations set for L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon for that night. This is a 3-Michelin star restaurant that has been featured in the press a lot, most recently on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations 100th episode. Being our anniversary trip (and since our airfare was so inexpensive), we decided to splurge on dinner. This restaurant only has one seating at 6:30 pm (which is lunch to many Parisians!), so we booked it rather than hedging our bets for the first-come, first-serve dinner service later in the evening. Note: If you make a reservation here, you have to confirm it 24 hours beforehand. Reservation confirmed, we walked over to the restaurant and naturally were 10 minutes late (but still seated) for dinner.
Here’s the deal with this restaurant: It is set up like a sushi bar, where almost all of the seats in the dining room are barstools that belly up to a lacquered countertop. The colors are red and black and it has somewhat of an Asian feel to the decor. There are a few tables, but we were on the end (maybe because we were the last to be seated?) of the bar in the back of the restaurant. The seats overlook the kitchen, which is initially entertaining but then gets a little strange when you have to swivel to look at your dinner companion next to you and also when you can overhear the people next to him (oh yeah, pretty much all of the patrons were American in this restaurant the night we were there). And since service is all at once, it is painfully obvious when a) your neighbors get better service than you and b) they are served more quickly.
Because my French is decent, but not great–especially for gourmet food–I had reviewed the menu on their website and translated it to English with Google Translate. Since I eat seafood (but not meat), I didn’t want to end up ordering offal.
So back to our experience. Our waiter came by to take our order. He asked (I think) if we wanted anything to drink and I attempted to order a wine list (carte du vin) and admittedly got a little bit flustered. Maybe he couldn’t hear or understand me or my American accent was too thick (honestly, it’s really not that bad) or it was his first day of work but he fled and spoke rapid-fire French to a female staff member, who then returned and took our order in English. I could have easily continued on in French but he didn’t give me a chance. It rattled my confidence and I was truthfully a little bit irritated. Sorry, rant over.
The waitress was fine; we ordered a beer for Dave and a white wine (chardonnay? Can’t remember…) for me. She then gave us a menu and we proceeded to order two appetizers, langoustine ravioli with a truffle sauce and a sort of soft-boiled egg with morel mushrooms.
The egg was great but the ravioli was a little bit too fishy. And for the price, it was really such a tiny portion. We are used to eating in high-end restaurants and I know portions are normally smaller in a) Europe and b) nicer establishments, but it was pretty small.
For our main course, we each ordered fish (cod for me, rouget for Dave). Both dishes were good (honestly, not great–maybe our expectations were too high?) but each dish came with the major redeeming feature of the night: Joel Robuchon’s mashed potatoes.
They are blissfully creamy, buttery, sensationally delicious and you seriously want to lick the bowl. While observing the kitchen during all of dinner, Dave noticed that there was one chef whose sole job it was to man the vat of mashed potatoes. Heavenly.
Overall, it wasn’t a bad experience, but I had expected better. Maybe if we had ordered meat (which I don’t eat anyway) or gotten there on time (sorry! My heels were a little too high to run in!) or had a different server I would be raving like other people have, but for 140 euros (which is the equivalent of about $200), it was not what I wanted it to be, which would be breathtaking. Ah well.
So we skipped out on dessert since nothing jumped off the menu at us and were the first to leave (last to arrive…). We also did not eat dessert as we had passed an old standby, nostalgic favorite on the way to the restaurant…Grom!
Grom is a gelateria that is based in Italy but is a chain that is now worldwide. We absolutely love gelato at Grom and it has great memories for us. We first (and second…) ate at Grom in Florence and just about died when we ate Crema di Grom, a flavor based in an egg cream gelato with bits of Italian cookie and dark chocolate flakes throughout. Amazing! We had also been to Grom in Venice. So naturally, we were salivating just thinking of it during dinner and wanted it for dessert afterwards and eat gelato we did.
We made our way back to the hotel to digest all of this rich creamy food (and let our arteries clear out a bit) and changed into warmer, more comfortable clothes because we had planned a Seine River boat cruise for that night, knowing that we would be finished with dinner on the early side.
We left the hotel and walked up to Pont Neuf and boarded a boat at the tip of the Ile de la Cite. We had decided to go with the Vedettes du Pont-Neuf after reading reviews on several websites and we couldn’t have been happier. On their website, there is a coupon that you can print for a 2-euro (per ticket, I think) discount.
The boat guide’s French was easy to understand and his English was flawless. The boat traveled pretty rapidly down the Seine, going south towards the Eiffel Tower, then coming around the other side of the Ile de la Cite before docking again. As the boat chugs along, the tour guide gives his spiel in both French and English (both are really fast since the boat is cruising along kind of quickly!). Given that we now had a really good feel of the lay of the land, it was easy to identify some of our favorite buildings (ah, the Orsay!) and cool to see them from a different vantage point.
We sat at the front of the boat and the cool air, being up front, and Dramamine really helped me to not be sick at all. There were only a few other people on the boat (I think they needed a minimum of 15 for a tour) and we had fortunately missed a bunch of rowdy teenagers on the boat that arrived just as we got there. The fact that it was late at night (I think we got there at 10:30) made it a really cool experience and I highly recommend it.
After we got off the boat, we wandered around the Ile de la Cite at night and again took pictures in front of Notre Dame. We then crossed over to our home of the left bank (rive gauche) and realized that we were hungry…again. We stopped into a cafe right along the quai and ordered a snack of crepes and hot chocolate. Dave had jambon et fromage (again!) and I had chocolate and banana (sadly, they were sort of a Hershey’s syrup-type chocolate sauce but that’s what you get when you go to a cafe right across from Notre Dame, right?). The hot chocolate was nothing like the chocolate chaud we would later experience, but we were not surprised that it was more Swiss Miss. We lingered there for quite awhile, since that’s what you do when you are in a Parisian cafe (plus the waiter rarely passed back by our table…) and ended up walking back to the hotel around 1 am.