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Entries in TRAVEL France (4)

Saturday
Apr182009

J'adore Paris: Spring trip, 3/24-3/29 2009

 

Gambling – Smoking – Illegal drug use – Drinking – Sex; what is your vice/addiction?

I’m not sure whether to consider my vice to be “fortunate” or “unfortunate” when comparing it to the list above, but here goes: I’m addicted to France and everything that encompasses it (men, food, wine, culture, landscape, sophistication, language, etc.). My obsession began roughly 3.5 months ago, when my sister and I traveled throughout the country. I knew from the moment that I boarded that plane en route to Nice; it was almost as if everything that drove me crazy about the US (which isn’t much, honestly – I feel incredibly blessed to live in America) nearly vanished the moment I walked the gangway. The nine days I spent in France literally cast a spell on me. I became enamored with her laidback lifestyle and slower pace, polite and polished people, her skyscraper-less canvas, and the list goes on. While in Lyon, I remember thinking how fun it would have been as a young girl to get to play in this city’s “old town” section that was painted with medieval buildings, secret passage ways, cobblestone streets and incomparable charm (a la the movies “Cinderella” and “Sleeping Beauty” which I watched growing up, yearning to find a place similar to the fairytale depicted on film). Upon my return to New York, I became confused. Was there actually another city/country that I could see myself living outside of Manhattan? Why yes, indeed there was. This notion scared me a bit, as I’ve never fathomed making a home anywhere outside of Gotham. The feeling can best be described as this: You’ve been dating the same amazing/wonderful/perfect person for five glorious years, only to realize one morning that, while you are still madly in love with him, the grass just may be greener on the other side (being single again, a new romance, etc.).

Towards the end of January 2009, I decided that I was ready to return to France (note that I’d only been home for 3 weeks). There was so much that I didn’t get to see while we were in Paris, and I was anxious to get back as soon as I could. I began perusing airfare for late March, and was pleasantly surprised by how inexpensive a roundtrip ticket cost from JFK to Paris! After telling a couple of friends about my future travel plans, a girlfriend of mine jumped on board, and we proceeded with finalizing our Parisian adventure.

I recently returned from my whimsical 4-night/5-day vacation. We crammed so many historical sights, shopping, walking, eating and drinking in our short amount of time in Paris, and I returned to NYC feeling a sense of accomplishment (even though I was heartbroken to be home). Some of my favorite Parisian restaurants, markets and treat shops are listed below, by order of arrondissement. I hope that on your next visit to “the city of light,” you will enjoy these delicious spots just as much as I did.

 

Berthillon (4th arrondissement): This famous “glacier” (ice cream shop) came highly recommended from my friend, Pierre (a former Parisian whose opinion I trust). After touring Notre Dame, we made a detour to Berthillon’s store located on the charming “Ille St. Louis.” There must have been at least twenty flavors listed on the menu board, but only one truly sang to me. I couldn’t resist ordering an ample two-scoops of the “salted caramel” ice cream (served in a sugar cone). This was, hands down, the best ice cream I’ve ever had in my life. I loved the combination of salty-and-sweet. *Note that Berthillon ice cream is sold all over Paris, but making a trip to the shop is the best way to experience the vast assortment of flavors.*

Rue Mouffetard (5th arrondissement): When asked what his favorite food market/street was in Paris, Eric Ripert (the famous French chef behind NYC’s Le Bernardin) replied, “Rue Mouffetard.” Located up a windy street in the 5th, the rue is strewn with every type of food purveyor imaginable. From cheese, meat, fish, bakeries, produce stands and a couple of ethnic grocers in between, Rue Mouffetard is a foodie’s dream come true.

Le Parisien (6th arrondissement): My sister and I stumbled upon this brasserie during our trip in January. Casual, nondescript, and a façade that’s a “dime a dozen” among the city’s brasseries, Le Parisien is home to the world’s best croque madame and monsieur sandwiches. The restaurant inches its way in to the first place spot by using just a little bit more cheese, ham and Béchamel sauce than its competitors.

Laduree (6th arrondissement): There’s a lot of talk about who has the best macaroons in Paris, but frankly, I’ve enjoyed each and every one I’ve tasted…That was until I stepped foot in to Laduree. While I prefer the lesser-known/off-the-beaten-path restaurant and specialty shop, I decided to check out Laduree when I found myself lunching next door. Part restaurant, part dessert shop, the place was slam packed. I ordered 6 macaroons: Lemon, orange blossom, praline, chocolate, cassis and caramel. Figuring that I would be able to enjoy a “macroon a day,” I chose to sample my least favorite flavor of the 6, thus saving what I assumed to be “the best for last” on day 6. After my first bite of the delicately crisp cookie filled with an ample amount of flavored crème, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to stop at just one macaroon. Within ten minutes, I had inhaled all six of my goodies.

A La Petite Chaise (7th arrondissement): Located a stone’s throw from Christian Louboutin’s flagship boutique, A La Petite Chaise is another restaurant that I just “stumbled upon” during my visit in January. We entered not knowing what to expect, and exited with the notion that we had just experienced one of the best meals of our lives. The restaurant claims to be the “oldest in Paris,” and by its perfectly preserved charm and décor, I don’t doubt that it is. During dinner, make sure to order from the 33EUR prix-fixe menu that includes appetizer, entrée and dessert. I guarantee that you will not leave hungry or dissatisfied.

Saturday
Jan102009

Je suis parti mon coeur en France

~I left my heart in France~

I wouldn’t consider myself an avid traveler, but I do feel as though I’ve done my fare share of traveling. Despite having ventured to faraway lands, I consistently returned home convinced that NYC was the center of the universe.

Instead of accompanying my fellow high school seniors on a trip to Europe or studying abroad during my college years, I opted to stay stateside. There was always some ridiculous reason (or person) that I never took advantage of seeing the world (chasing the guy I worshiped in college would be a perfect example).

While I’m still convinced that NYC is the greatest city in the world, after my recent trip to France, I realized that NYC isn’t the only wonderful city in the world; or the only place I’d consider moving to for a brief stint of time.

France was everything I didn’t expect it would be, yet so much more than I had hoped for. Though the air was chilly, the people were warm, helpful, sophisticated and polite. From the hotels we stayed in, restaurants we dined in and shops we browsed in, the service we received was consistently impeccable. Stereotypes be damned!

Our adventure began in Nice (located in the South on the famous Cote d’Azure), followed by Lyon (located in the Rhone-Alps) and finally, Paris.

The coastal city of Nice and its sister towns, Eze Village and Monaco, truly bore the most attractive scenery that I've laid my eyes on. The mysterious turquoise and navy blue water, flora, emerald green mountains and colorful 400+ year-old buildings truly made me gasp. It was during this time that I finally comprehended the literal meaning of the word “breathtaking.” The regional cuisine of Nice is driven by fresh seafood and local Mediterranean ingredients and produce. Two of my favorite savory dishes included a creamy risotto with fresh scallops and prawns and a pizza topped with black olives and French ham. While crepe stands, artisanal chocolate shops and ice cream vendors seemed to grace nearly every corner, I simply could not get enough of my favorite French sweet, pate de fruits. Since the Italian border town of San Remo is located an hour’s drive from Nice, I had the pleasure of sampling a local specialty, focaccia stuffed with egg and legumes.

Lyon was our next stop, and I wasn’t sure what to expect besides a colder climate and highly anticipated Lyonnais cuisine. With wonderful advice from two of my fellow coworkers who were born and raised there (thanks for all of your tips, Fabien and Pierre), my sister and I put together a great itinerary and stayed in an incredible villa perched on a mountaintop. Lyon instantly captivated me with its narrow cobblestone streets and buildings dating back to the 1600’s. In “Old Lyon,” where we spent most of our time, many of the buildings had traboules, which are tunnels that are accessible via nondescript (and unlocked) wooden doors. They aren’t labeled, so one would need a map to locate each traboule. Simply push the door open and travel from one side of a building to the other. Our last day in Lyon began with a private cooking lesson from the chef of Villa Florentine’s restaurant, “Terrasses de Lyon.” Chef Davy Tissot took my sister and me on a tour of Les Halles, the local indoor food market. No regional delicacy or ingredient was left out of this massive space. Each vendor specialized in one or two products: cheese vendors only sold cheese and butchers only sold meat. It was a delight to know that local business thrived here and the evil Super Walmart-esque empire did not. Upon return to the kitchen, Chef prepared fresh scallops (shucked directly from the shell) with sliced black truffle, a medley of assorted sautéed mushrooms and a shot of creamed potatoes. As a parting gift, we were given a box of handmade French macaroons filled with lemon curd. After our outstanding lunch, we walked to the city center and went ice skating.

Our final French destination was Paris. We arrived on New Year’s Eve and celebrated the beginning of 2009 at Bobin’O, a cabaret. In the days that followed, we visited the Picasso and Pompidou museums, took one too many pictures in front of the Eiffel Tower, made a pilgrimage to the flagship Chanel boutique located at 31 Rue Cambon, walked through nearly every arrondissement, drank our share of vin chaud and ate our way through the city. My favorite meal was had at La Petite Chaise, which claims to be the first restaurant in Paris. I started with a bowl of French onion soup, followed by filet of beef that was laden with a creamed mushroom sauce. Haricot verts neatly held together by a slice of prosciutto sat next to a twice-baked potato that accompanied my entrée. Paris was truly inspirational, beautiful and addictive. Our trip ended with a flight on Air France back to JFK. I’ve never been treated so well by a cabin crew or had such a *decent* meal on board a plane. What a pleasant way to end a perfect vacation.

During our travels, I can’t count the number of times I told my sister, “I hate myself for never studying abroad during college!” This trip changed my outlook on life and leaves me questioning whether or not NYC is the only place I’ll live. I’ve never experienced genuine beauty, hospitality and history until France; not to mention exposure to preservative-free wine and homemade, farm-fresh food (from animals who roamed freely on green pastures and not cooped in cages or stalls). Though I missed having access to NYC's infamous 24-hour bodegas on every street corner, I realized that the French actually take time for themselves and follow a more laid back lifestyle. Isn’t this is ideally the way in which life is supposed to be lived?

Monday
Jan052009

Eating my way through France

Scallops intertwined with fresh black truffle, paired with a shot of creamed potatoes and a medley of sauteed mushrooms - cooking lesson in Lyon

A plethora of my favorite French treat, pate de fruits, Nice

Focaccia stuffed with egg and legumes - San Remo, Italy

Crepe stands abound, Paris

Risotto with scallops and prawns, Nice
Monday
Jan052009

Les ingredients de France

Seafood vendor at Les Halles market, Lyon
A rainbow of assorted macaroons at the Les Halles market, Lyon

 

Ocean-fresh oysters for sale at an epicerie, Nice

Colossal escargot, Lyon

A plate of ingredients used to make a scallop dish (note the large black truffle), Lyon