Tag Archives: Paris France

Skylines and Steak

7 Feb

Okay, one last Paris post in which I will relay two stories before we head to Berlin.

First story: Lunch at the Musee D’Orsay. When I was in Paris in 1987 with my mother, we ate lunch on the Isle de la Cite at a tiny, hole-in-the-wall restaurant. I don’t remember what Mom ate, but I ordered the only thing that I recognized on the tiny menu: steak. Steak Carpaccio, to be exact. No, I didn’t know what the “carpaccio” part meant, but Mom assured me that it would be tasty. I think she was trying to broaden my horizons.

Okay, so here's the start of my "Paris skyline" portfolio. LOVE some of these shots.

Well, the plate came. This clear glass plate, with 4 thinly sliced pieces of raw steak, swimming in some sort of sauce. Marinade, as it turned out. I’m a brave eater. So I took a bite. It was vinegary. It was savory. It was strong. It was, actually, not that bad. I ate one piece, two, three…and I struggled through the 4th. Yes, it was good, but oy, it was EXTREME.

Love the angles. Love the buildings.

As a reward my mother allowed me to order dessert – a rare treat. I ordered chocolate mousse in an orange sauce. It was beyond belief good. The presentation left a little to be desired, however…it looked like, well, something that certain cities order you to pick up behind your doggy.

Typical Paris.

Flash forward to one year ago. I had told the carpaccio story several times over the years, and in so doing, I had forgotten one key element: the word, “Carpaccio”. Somehow, over time, it became Steak Tartare.

Now for those of you who know what Steak Tartare is, you may go ahead and laugh. But for the rest, read on.

We went to lunch at the Musee D’Orsay, in this beautiful room full of chandeliers and frescoes on the ceiling. We looked at the menu and there, in black print for the world to see, was “Steak Tartare”…and I said, “That’s what I want”. The waiter said, “Are you aware that Steak Tartare is raw meat?” I replied, with a smile, “Yes, I’m good with that.” Images of carpaccio danced in my head while we waited for our food.

More wonderful skylines.

And then came the meal. The waiter set my plate down in front of me and I blanched. My husband looked at my plate, looked at me, and grinned.

What lay before me was a perfectly shaped circle of raw ground beef, topped with a raw egg yolk.

I looked at my husband. I looked at the meat. I took a bite. I took a few more bites between wheedling bites away from my husband and his fully cooked meal. My husband, bless his heart, helped me out. When we walked away from the table, we left behind a small mountain of meat…and a good story to tell to anyone willing to listen.

Wouldn't you love to have such a window in your bedroom? Or to starve in such a garret?

Second story: If you can’t tell, I love the skylines of Paris. My husband asked me, while we were packing to leave Paris and head to Berlin, how Germany would differ from France. I wasn’t able to answer him – it had been too long.

"Our" street - for a few days.

After we got to Berlin, the answer was obvious – two answers, really. 1) The people weren’t all wearing black and smoking. And 2) The skylines can’t compare. Poor old Berlin has all new buildings – well, a LOT of new buildings – that’s what happens when your city is bombed to smithereens in a world war. Paris, on the other hand, has THE PARIS LOOK. It has these triangular buildings at the end of each block. It has round dormer windows and buildings smack up against each other and chimney pots that rise above the roof lines like Legos.

Ahhhh, Paris.

P.S. – In Berlin I ordered Steak Carpaccio. It was delicious.

Our hotel - sadly, without the dormers.

Quintessential Paris.

The Chinese building across the street from our hotel Sure wish I knew more about the building - it was so neat.

Just down the road from our hotel. You see these all over the city...

One shot of the Louvre. Because that's what a tourist must do. BUT...if you go, give yourself LOTS of time...maybe even more than one day...in order to do it justice. Amazing.


My Favorite Parisian Haunt

3 Feb

An iconic Parisian scene.

We arrived in Paris on a Wednesday morning. Before we even got to the hotel I realized that if I had cherished any hope of “fitting in” then I had been optimistic to a fault. The truth was, I stuck out not like a sore thumb, but more like a beaten down, paraplegic thumb.

My favorite place in Paris - at a distance.

As I was packing, back in small-town Minnesota, a thought crossed my mind: I wonder…do the French still wear black all the time and do they really still smoke in this day and age? I decided that I ought to pack a lot of black clothes, just in case, but I wasn’t willing to take up smoking just to fit in.

Love this shot.

As we stepped out of the taxi in front of the Hilton hotel, (the only time we used a cab at all was going to and from the airport…it’s a heck of a long way out there, especially when laden down with suitcases) the truth hit me: yes, the French still wear black. Yes, they still smoke, and yes, I am blatantly, obviously, without a doubt, an American tourist.


Not only was I not smoking or dressed in black from chic coat to high-heeled toe, neither was I wearing boots. (Even worse: I wore tennis shoes!) And my hair wasn’t dyed reddish. And my coat was pale blue, Minnesota-wear (in other words, North Face and warm). To top it all off, my French language skills STINK and so even if I could dress the part, (and instantly loose about 30 pounds) I would still not fit in.

The outside of my favorite building.

I decided to embrace my bad tourist-self. (“Bad” as in “good”…not bad.) No, I did not wear a fanny pack. I didn’t sink quite that low. I wore my lavender hat. I wore my tiny paisley purse across my chest. I stood in front of the Metro ticket booth with my husband for quite a long time, while he figured out what tickets we needed. And I didn’t even blush.

The front gate.

We headed straight away to my favorite place in Paris, odd though it may seem for a protestant. I was so excited to show my husband this Cathedral. No, not Notre Dame. Sainte Chapelle.

I love architecture. Again, the outside of my favorite building.

I adore this building. It was built in the 13th century to house the (supposed) crown of thorns. I first came to St. Chapelle when I came to Paris with my mother when I was in high school. Then we had to stand in a long line, as the weather was warm and spring had sprung.

In February, the lines aren’t nearly the issue that they are in warmer weather. (At the Louvre we didn’t have a line at all, and at the Musee D’Orsay we just had a short one.) I prepared my husband as best I could for St. Chapelle – but no one can really be prepared for this magnificent place.

As you walk inside the lower chapel...aka, the crown.

As you walk in, it is as if you are entering the crown of the Queen of England. My pictures do NOT do this place justice. The arches are gold and the dark blue walls are decorated with golden fleur de lis. It is tiny and breathtaking. The downstairs chapel was built for “the people” but the upstairs chapel – up a tiny, narrow, stone staircase which millions of feet over time have worn down so that the center of the steps are smooth and concave – was built for the royal family so they could worship apart from the hoi polloi.

Inside the "crown".

I said that the downstairs is breathtaking. The upstairs, by contrast, is breath-stealing. Truly, it will leave you speechless. The walls – on three sides – are solid stained glass. You feel like you are in a jewelry box. When I was there with my mother, all those years ago, I saw something in that room which has forever remained with me: a flock of birds flew past the glorious windows, their shadows traveling across the glass like living art.

This just doesn't do it justice. The room is phenomenal.

There were no birds this time, but still the room enfolded me with its beauty. I love, love, love this place.

More magnificence.

The Rose Window - the fourth wall of the upper chapel.

We visited Norte Dame that day too, which I like better on the outside than the inside. (I’ll post those pictures another day.) We took the subway back to the hotel, our feet already tired, and napped before our jaunt to the Champs Elysees which I wrote about yesterday. Later in the week we did the Louvre and the Musee D’Orsay – but, as one can’t photograph the insides, those stories are best told by guide books.

I might have to tell you about my meal at the Musee D’Orsay, though…but that’s another post.

Ooh, la la! The Most Glorious Meal of my Life.

2 Feb

Exactly one year ago yesterday, my husband and I kissed the kids goodbye, got into his car, plowed through 2-foot powdery snow drifts, and ended up many hours later in Paris, France for 6 days of fun and adventure! It had been 21 years since I’d been in Paris, and it was amazing to be back.

I adore the angled buildings in Paris.

We stayed a couple blocks from the Champs d’Elysees and the Arc de Triomphe, and we walked or took the metro everywhere we went. Yes, I’ve heard all the pick-pocket stories, but little Gypsy gangs of girls were in school in February, presumably, so we were safe. We actually really enjoyed the metro rides – it’s a fun way (and a cheap way) to pretend you actually belong.

We took a stroll our first evening (after a nap!) along the famous Champs d'Elysees. Behold: The Arc de Triomphe!

Two of our days were spent on business in the northeast of France, not far from D’Jon, where we were treated to an AMAZING meal at the small, family-run hotel we stayed in. I have never, in my life, had such a meal. Sadly, I wasn’t blogging then, so I didn’t think to bring my camera to dinner. So I shall attempt to describe it for you.

My favorite person to travel with! In front of our hotel in NE France.

We began with canapés and wine while perusing the menu on cozy chairs in the side lobby. I was faced, immediately, with a quandary which sent me into an internal panic, when our hostess, Nora, asked me, “What wine would you like?” I don’t like wine at all! What do I do? What do I say? When in Rome? Or pretend to be a recovering alcoholic? I pictured accepting the glass and grimacing as I drank it, ruining my meal with politeness. I pictured a full glass sitting there throughout the entire meal and the awkward questions. I went with the truth. “I don’t care for wine, I’m so sorry.”

She looked at me in utter surprise for a second. I imagined that she was thinking, “What a silly American.” But what she said was, “Do you drink champagne?” “Yes,” I replied. “I drink champagne.” At least the bubbles make it tolerable. And so while Nora and my husband got a (to them) lovely red, dry something, I was brought a full champagne flute and managed to drink most of it over the course of the evening…and I mean COURSE.

Course after course, after course.

The famous tower...from the top of the Arc. Be warned: if you want to climb up to the top of the Arc de Triomphe, you should be in GOOD SHAPE. I started up the NARROW, WINDING stairs feeling good about myself and my four-decade old body. By the time I got to the top I was a weak-kneed old lady, mentaly writing my obituary. "She died in a courageous battle against gravity and vertigo, her camera gamely at her side, her husband rudely unaffected by the tremendous journey. At least she died happy."

After the canapés, it was baguettes (CRUSTY and warm) and escargot (garlicky and amazingly wonderful). Then came a green salad (honestly don’t remember much about that but it had a lovely dressing). Then a palate cleanser of some sort of mild lemony sherbet (delish and, well, cleansing). More rolls and a de-crumbing by the hotel owner – she took care of us the entire evening (her husband was the chef). I think next was the main dish – chicken – tender, herby, tasty, and, in my opinion, NOT the main attraction – wonderful, yes, but it almost took a back seat to all the rest of the meal. I think there was potatoes and spinach, too…but by then I was in a glutonous fog and I can’t remember too much. (At least my fog wasn’t caused by the wine!)

Then another palate cleanser. Then the cheese cart.

Ooh, la la, the cheese cart! It was gigantic and barely fit through the ten or so tables, and held probably 25 different kinds of cheese.

Nora asked me what cheese I’d care for. (She’s an optimist, isn’t she?) I had no clue. I said, tentatively (because I can’t pronounce it very well anyway), “Gruyere?” “Ahh,” Nora and the owner said, “Compte. It’s much better.” She cut me a ridiculously large triangle of cheese and then asked me what other kind I’d like? More? I thought. How can I even fit this into my tummy? “Camembert?” I asked. “Ah, oui. And one last choice?” I hadn’t a clue. They gave me something creamy and lovely and rich to which I did not do justice. Let me just say that Compte IS better than Gruyere…but I’ll just be content that I can finally get Gruyere in my small mid-western town and not get bent out of shape over no local Compte around here.

There is a wee museum at the top of the Arc. I think that she was captured in stone just as she had climbed up the horrible, winding, steep, narrow steps.

And then it was dessert time. Berry tart, golden crust, sauce. Beyond measure. (The next day, at lunch at the same place, I had a chocolate apple terrine for dessert. It was slightly odd, but as exposure to French culture and food, marvelously perfect.)

I think that at the end my husband had coffee, but I wasn’t daring enough to brave the looks I’d get if I asked for decaf. You know, really, people say that the French are not fond of American tourists and that they’re snotty, arrogant, etc. Well, I suppose perhaps some are, but if you go there expecting to have a good time and not forcing your code of behavior onto them, then it really doesn’t matter how they treat you – just shrug it off, have fun and ENJOY!!!! It’s an amazing country.

I’m sorry I don’t have photos of the meal to share with you, it was so fantastic, but I wanted to share with you the meal anyway. In the next few days I’ll tell you more about our trip…and then our jaunt over to Berlin, equally fantastic!

One of the relief's on the Arc.

Another relief. Recognize the central character?!

"Here lies a French soldier. Dead for partriotism." At least, that's the best my high school french can do. At the site of the Arc.

Across the street and down a little from our hotel. Can you say "random"?!

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