Une semaine à Paris: Part One

Paris is an amazing city. Old. New. Bright and beautiful. Dark and dirty. Full of romance and whispered secrets. Thronged by tourists and natives and haunted by the ghosts of kings, queens and artists past.

Even though we stopped through Paris on the day we arrived in France, we flew to Toulouse first to start getting settled and drop our luggage off at our new apartment. The next day, bright and early, we caught the train from the Toulouse Montauban station (or “la gare” in French) and road it up to Gare Montparnasse in Paris. The trains in France are incredibly efficient and prompt; if you are running late, you are going to miss the train (as we did on our way back to Toulouse from Paris thanks, in part, to a foot race staged around the train station we were trying to get to).

We were able to book our tickets using Capitaine Traine, a website that searches for the best fares and routes (similar to a Kayak.com). Our first attempt using the Voyages-Sncf.com website failed when a portion of our trip was declined due to our U.S. credit cards (iDTGV rejects foreign cards when you try to book online–even though your bank approves the charge). So our tickets ended up being a bit more expensive than we’d hoped, but we were also booking very last minute.

The train ride up to Paris was smooth and the sights (that I saw when I wasn’t dozing off) were beautiful. Our seats faced the direction of travel and our window gave a great view of the hills, valleys and vineyards comprising south and central France. It was a six-hour trip, but I’m so glad we did that versus flying back up since we had extra time to rest and got to see more of the French countryside.

 We were fortunate in our last-minute scramble booking our trip to find a cute little apartment for rent above a chocolate shop on a less touristy street. The apartment was tiny; one big room that was simultaneously the living room, kitchen and bedroom and a small bathroom off the front entrance, but it was perfect for our week in Paris. The owner of the apartment is also the owner of said chocolate shop: Chapon Chocolatier.

Unfortunately the heavenly scent of chocolate was not wafting up to our room (and truthfully it was a bit musty at first, but we opened the huge, double windows–both layers of which could be opened inwards), but we did get a welcome bottle of wine which we appropriately downed used to toast our vacation as soon as the apartment manager left.

Staying in this apartment, I believe, gave us a glimpse at how many might live in Paris–in fact, the owner of the chocolate shop used to live in this very space.

The stairs up to the apartment were tiny, wooden and winding. Our bathroom featured some of the more modern appliances available in Europe; an efficient toilet that made a sound like a plane taking off when you flushed it and a shower that had, not only a shower head, but holes in the wall where jets of water could shoot at different angles of your body and a row of even smaller holes that shot out a heavy mist. I think it took me until our last day there to figure out which knob turned the water on. Consequently I kept squirting myself (and the bathroom) with the jets of water by mistakenly switching that knob to the wrong setting. Whoops!

 Once we settled in and drank all of our wine took a breather, we ventured out to find a hop-on-hop-off bus stop. The skies were very grey and, as we walked, a light mist started to dampen our clothes, though definitely not our spirits.

  We ended up finding a stop for Big Bus Tours and took it for a spin around the city. Here are some of the views from our ride.

              After the tour, we decided to grab dinner and made our way to the Latin Quarter where we found, off a side street, Le Centre du Monde.

This cute little restaurant featured several different dining options, all including an entrée (or appetizer), plat (what most Americans call the entrée) and dessert. I started with the French onion soup, which happens to be one of my all time favorite soups. To order, I decided to try one of the phrases I learned from my French guide book. It failed. Miserably. The server looked at me, cocked his head and politely said, “I’m sorry, I don’t understand what you’re saying.” Head. On. Table. Fortunately I soon had a glass of wine to cheer me up.

Though my French was not so perfect, the soup was incredible. The broth was savory and light (more like a vegetable broth than beef stock), the onions were perfectly tender and the cheese, oh the cheese, it was melted in stringy glory over two hunks of French bread.

Matt ordered the escargot. The look of the snail shells and chewy texture of escargot still gets me a bit, though I enjoy the taste. These were buttery and drizzled with pesto, giving a strong kick of garlic.

For our main course, I ordered the duck a l’orange and Matt the chicken and gnocchi. My duck came tender and shredded and wrapped in a crispy filo dough. It swam in a pool of jus that was just slightly sweet and contrasted with the saltiness of the duck. The mashed potatoes were creamy and a perfect complement to the meat. We both agreed my dish was the winner.

Still, Matt’s chicken was tender and covered with a red sauce tasting heavily of tomatoes. The gnocchi was nicely cooked and a small dish of crème fresh accompanied the dish.

For dessert, I opted for the brioche with ice cream and a caramel drizzle, while Matt got the crème brûlée. His creamy custard topped with a crunchy sugary crust was divine–and the clear winner for dessert.

 Though we were pretty much ready for a nap after dinner, we had a bit of a hike to get back to our apartment and the rain was starting to come down. We ducked quickly into a little shop selling novelties for tourists and bought an umbrella. It was a good thing we did, because as soon as we got back near the Seine, the rain started coming down in force. By the time we got back inside, we were both pretty wet, but happy from a great first day in Paris.

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