Category Archives: neighborhoods

Last Call

I received an extremely crucial (and insightful) piece of advice from Meg not so long ago. No nonsense, eye-to-eye, I-know-what-I’m-talking-about words of wisdom: “Figure out what your priorities are for the rest of your time in Paris and DO them… the lab is not going to love you back…” Her blunt honesty stunned me into several long seconds of silence, followed acceptance of the truth and, finally, by a slow, affirmative (and still silent) nod: Yes.

Don’t get me entirely wrong, I have been working hard on (and still love) the science (especially now that the countdown is always ticking in the background) and I’m not about to toss my lab coat in a corner and never look back. However, there is a lot of Paris, and France (possibly even further afield in Europe) that I have not yet seen. Knowing that I am easily caught up by my overdeveloped sense of obligation, I need to be sure that I set aside time for me, in addition to the lengthy (always growing) list of experiments.

To that end, I am currently writing from a hotel room in Caen (one of the larger towns in Normandy) where I am taking in the sites with visiting family. For the first time in almost four years, I have taken a week off of work and stayed here. I am giving myself the time to get a bit more organized, see the sites and enjoy the time I have with my family on this side of the world. It is glorious.

As both a way to hold myself accountable and get the word out to my Paris friends, I thought I’d post my ‘to-do for FUN’ list here and keep track of things as I see them (and write about them, of course).

So, here is my dream list of places to see and photos to take before I depart in November. I would also really enjoy hearing your suggestions – food, landmarks, museums and/or views that are wholeheartedly recommended as ‘can’t miss’ when visiting the City of Light. Please, give me more ‘work’ to do!

Paris (and vicinity)

Museums:

Musée Rodin (27 July 2012)

Musée des Arts et Metiers (26 July 2012)

Musée de l’Orangerie

Espace Dali (this is embarrassing as it is around the corner from my house)

Jardin des Plantes/Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle

Musée Dupuytren (yes weird, possibly disturbing, but still fascinating)

Musée Carnavalet (did this past weekend-post forthcoming!)

Churches/Landmarks:

Madeline (did this past weekend – post forthcoming!)

Pantheon

Opera (the building definitely, but also – if I’m lucky – a performance?)

Galeries Lafayette  (for the building this time, not the shopping – I am on a post-doc salary, a French one, no less…)

Fontainebleau

Versailles (I have seen the gardens, but never the chateau)

Basilique Saint Denis

Night cruise along the Seine

Views

Arc de Triomphe (29 July 2012)

Tour Eiffel (yeah, have not done this yet, shaking my head in shame)

Tour Montparnasse (top of)

Dome of Basilica Sacre Coeur

Towers of Notre Dame Cathedral

Cemeteries

Montparnasse

Montmartre (28 July 2012)

Beyond Paris

Normandy (23-25 July 2012)

–       Mont Saint Michel (24 July 2012)

–       Omaha beach (25 July 2012)

Tours

Rouen

Bruges (mainly because of this and because it is GORGEOUS)

Yeah, so remember I did say dream list. However, please do suggest other things I may have missed. And, Paris peeps – let me know if you want to join the adventure(s)!

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Tourist Trap (in the very best way)

Recommendations of places to eat in Paris are a dime a dozen. After a while, however, you start to notice when the same hole-in-the-wall restaurant keeps popping up on the “to eat” lists to over and over – not only in the ‘reliable’ guidebooks (I am a fan of Lonely Planet) but also, reassuringly, on foodie websites as well. Refuge des Fondues is one of these places, continuously mentioned and fawned over on the Paris tourist-y internets and happens to be around the corner from my house. It took almost three years of living in the neighborhood before I finally gathered the umph to check it out – how special could it be, it’s just melted cheese, right? Remind me (and often) that assuming that I know anything about what I am doing (or talking about) in this city mainly makes an ass out of me – this place is fantastic and fun on any brisk (re: cold) evening – even more so when I am hosting family and friends.

The space itself is tiny, a narrow, deep single room, flanked on both sides by wooden tables. The walls have long been covered completely by chalk drawings and signatures of past patrons, and two men work the back stations – one, constantly stirring a combination of gruyere, wine, butter and cream (um, yeah, ’nuff said) and the other continuously filling baby bottles of wine for the next round of suckers (couldn’t resist) who walk in the door.

Once you confirm that your party is completely present, the process of seating begins. At least one of you will be helped by one of the two waiters to step up and over the main table allowing for seating flush against either wall. This process is highly amusing to those of us who have already run this gauntlet and gets increasingly entertaining to watch from afar when there are skirts and stiletto heels involved (we are in Paris). Once finally situated, citrus-y aperitifs arrive and two questions are asked: 1/ viande or fromage? Followed by, 2/ vin blanc ou rouge? Fromage (cheese) and rouge (red wine) were easy decisions and we sat back to people watch and enjoy the food that began to descend upon us.

First to arrive was the appetizer plate. Small dishes of different cured meats, a bit of cheese, pickles and spiced potatoes were a great way to whet the appetite and ease us into the idea of fighting over negotiating the last bite of food. In addition to the small bites, the waiters also dropped off our beverages – red wine served in  baby bottles. This is the main gimmick of the restaurant, mentioned so often in reviews, yet still everyone giggles and poses for wine-suckling photos.

Quickly thereafter the cheese and bread arrived. The cast iron saucepan was filled with a fragrant emulsion of cheese, butter, cream and wine and the basket of bread set down beside was overflowing. We dug in, dipping and twisting each piece of bread through the vat of cheese, openly mocking each other when a piece was lost, albeit briefly, to the bottom of the pot. There were burnt tongues, strings of cheese everywhere and, in the end, very full bellies.

On one of my two recent visits, my dining companion bravely ordered dessert – what arrived was a bit like a mini chocolate ice cream cake, covered in sprinkles and filled with rich, smooth dark chocolate confection. While I can attest to it being delicious, upon my second visit I made sure that there was no space for dessert, all of it being currently (yes, right now) occupied with melty cheese.

The four guys running the place have their roles and serving patterns down pat and they know how play to their strengths (vats of melty cheese are hard to beat), as well as to the expectations of the tourist hordes who follow their guides off the streets of Montmartre and into their establishment. They stop to pose for photos helping girls over tables and can each juggle at least six of those baby wine bottles at once. Rather than overwhelming kitsch, the ambiance is one of fun and adventure. Both times I have visited, my dining companions and I have gotten caught up in conversation with our table neighbors, exchanging travel stories and suggestions for tomorrow’s touring (or dinner) destination. Most noticeably, everyone is smiling – despite the growing cheese food babies in their bellies. My only regret? That I had not brought a Sharpie along to record my enjoyment for posterity… Guess I will have to go back the next time a cold breeze blows into town.

Refuge des Fondues

17 rue des Trois Frères

Paris, 75108 (Montmartre)

01 42 55 22 65 (reservations strongly recommended, and not difficult to get)

In Images – Visitor, day 2

The tour of Paris continued today. We ate, we gawked and we ate some more. Currently, we are sprawled at home in a falafel coma. Good times.

(We started off the day with coffee and a croissant, as one should)

(Next was the winding metro ride across the city to the Catacombs. The line was long and the weather blustry, but we stuck it out and it was well worth it.)

(After emerging from the land of the dead, it seemed a good bet to counter with Notre Dame. Note the gathering darkness in the sky…)

(We crossed the Seine and ventured into Le Marais with a clear goal in mind, although we were slightly sidetracked by a torrential hailstorm – those clouds meant business.)

(Following a warming cup of coffee, a quick introduction between friends and a respite from the storm, we pushed on to our final destination. The best falafel in Paris. Recommended by Lenny Kravitz, even. How can you go wrong? Don’t answer that – you can’t, I promise.)

Psst – don’t fret, the Catacombs are next…

Drowsy Sunday

Today I took a clue from the cool, rainy weather – with the exception of a brief breakfast outing, I tucked in, drank tea (and, eventually, a glass of wine) and putted around doing house/heartwarming things.

This included large chunks of time dedicated to exploring several newly discovered photography blogs, all of which inspired me to let images of a grey, drowsy Sunday speak (almost) for themselves.

Walking past tourists braving the rain to see Sacre Coeur on my way to…

…warm my hands and fill my belly with breakfast at Cocoliquot.

Tomatoes, hoarded from the past few weeks’ paniers, waiting…

to become a delicious Sunday afternoon meal,

all the while putting finishing touches on a baby blanket – with one week to go.

A day for meandering, earnest thoughts, kitchen smells, a bit of journaling and dancing alone in the living room. Restful and rejuvenating for the week ahead.

Lock-Out

Keys and I have a misguided relationship. For obvious reasons, I am a fan of keeping my few precious possessions safe, locked behind closed doors and drawers lest another decides that they would be a more deserving owner. However, I am extremely absent minded. This leads to a lot of mismatched socks, lunches left on the kitchen counter and forgotten lab passes – nuisances for sure, but not crises.

Last Tuesday in a rush to get that *last* experiment done before leaving for my mini-vacation to the US, I crossed into crisis territory. That ‘something’s not quite right’ sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach transformed into nausea the moment I heard the heavy door shut behind me. Like a bad movie, I murmured, “no, no, no” under my breath as I crumpled into a seated, slightly fetal position on my hallway floor, rummaging madly through my purse to find the key that I knew was, without a doubt, still sitting on my dining room table.

A morning at work was still necessary. I had to finish up an experiment from the previous day that could not wait and, in the meantime, could use my work computer to (hopefully) track down a spare key or capable locksmith. For a moment, consider the photo of the key above. With all the laser cutting and indecipherable patterning you might think that I was protecting nuclear secrets in my 35 m2 (let me assure you, I am not). Normally, I am thrilled with the bunker-like sense of safety this lock-key pair lends, but after hearing horror stories of Parisian locksmith rates – upwards of several hundred Euro – to bust through such security measures, my appreciation was waning.

The morning was spent sending a flurry of emails, text messages and Facebook inquiries. No, the neighbor who kept my spare key safe was not back from his vacation abroad. Yes, a good friend who had experience with Parisian locksmiths could escape from the lab to offer moral support. Silence from the landlord.

Finally I left work, friend in tow, to face the consequences (and cost) of my mistake. Fortification for the task at hand was necessary and somehow the prospect of finding a locksmith of repute in my neighborhood seemed not so intimidating when discussed over triangles of gooey, fried cheese. In the last minute, somewhat dramatic fashion of the rest of the day, an email finally arrived from the landlord: She had a spare! We were saved! All we had to do was find out way to her apartment (on the other side of the 18th) recover her spare from the guardian, retrieve my spare and be on our way. Easy peasy. Plus, the added bonus of exploring a new neighborhood – clearly a much better way to spend the afternoon than with that 12-hour experiment, the distracted anxiety about which started this whole disaster.

Rather than rush over to pick up the spare and continuing the day at a hectic pace, we decided (as my vacation had started) to take our time and enjoy seeing something new. These are a few of the images from along the way – not the prettiest quartier in Paris, but certainly a lot of fun (and providing FFFFP comeback inspiration). The day ended well, with one of the most spectacular views of Paris I have ever seen – not to mention a happy reunion with my keys.

Our first few blocks took us through Pigalle, the red light district of Paris. In addition to endless sex shops and ‘saunas’, there are an abundance of cheap (in every sense of the word) clothing stores. These shoes seem to epitomize the fashion sense of that neighborhood.

Speaking of fashion, these bubble boots caught my eye and were so compelling that I ran down the street to make sure I could grab a photo. If incidents like this continue, the winter hiatus of FFFFP may be coming to an end sooner than expected.

Strangely, in between each sex shop is a tourist trap selling sparkly Eiffel Towers and aprons printed with the Metro map (or a topless French maid, ha). This shop, which specialized in creating videos of your family on a magic carpet (!) flying past French cultural landmarks, at least provided something unique (and crazy).

Apparently three employees of this Asian restaurant (two of which were the owners) were recently killed. This memorial, although aging, was sobering and touching.

We saw multiple fried chicken places along our walk. This one, with the burned out windows above, was definitely the most sketchy (which, if anything like the Mexican restaurants in southern CA, means it is also the tastiest).

Some of my favorite places in Paris are the tucked away green spaces. This park was full of kids enjoying the last few minutes before sunset. The mural on the back was especially intriguing and deserved a closer look:

Sunset, although only peeked at in between buildings and down avenues, was beautiful and intense.

The evening ended by retrieving the spare key from a rooftop apartment. The 360-degree views were stunning and reminded me, despite the angst of the day, how lucky I am (again).


Paris Bites: La Part des Anges

I have recently learned that the quickest way to silence my blog output is having houseguests. There has been a continuous stream of visitors in and out of my house from mid-April through the end of June, which considered, in large part, responsible for my lengthy silence around these parts the last few months. Just to be clear, I am not complaining, I love visitors – y’all come back now, y’hear!

I guess this reprioritizing of time makes sense – it is way more fun to hang out and tour the city with friends and loved ones while they are here and leave writing about it until later. However, somehow I had always assumed that having guests provides motivation to (get off my butt on a Saturday, and) see new things in Paris, which by definition would lend itself to new and exciting blog fodder. This does happen a bit, especially with return visitors. I very much enjoyed my visit to the Musée Marmottan, with friend J, which at the same time delighted with the most extensive Monet collection I have ever seen and discouraged by confiscating all camera equipment upon entry (sorry).

However, when it comes to food, this has certainly not been the case. Rather than testing out new places on unsuspecting guests, I have gathered a small cohort of favorite places to show off in my neighborhood and beyond, to give each a taste of the flavors of Paris. This list includes the great street food and other European cuisine I have already mentioned here. But for real French cuisine I take everyone across the street to ‘my’ local bistro, La Part des Anges. I have become such a regular at this miniscule eatery that my voice (more likely my accent) is recognized on the phone when I call to ensure that there is a table available. I have gotten a lot of teasing for never bringing in the same guests twice (except for J, we went back again and again and again), but I have also been on the receiving end of an appreciative glance followed by an occasional digestif offert, for what I would like to think as thanks for our regular patronage.

I do return because I like the ambiance – it feels like I have stumbled upon and discovered some hidden culinary jewel. But really it is just because the food is that good. And reasonable. The dinner menu is available for 19€, featuring your selection of an appetizer + main course, or a main course + dessert. I believe I have tried all the variations/combinations possible and am still delighted to go back and try again. I will not bother to recreate the menu here (and it is pictured above, on the chalkboard), and can assure you that I have not yet seen someone go wrong with their order.

No matter what the choice for dinner, wrapping things up by sharing artisinal ice cream in one of many flavors (caramel buerre salé pictured above), a slice of the swoon-inducing fondant au chocolat or the creamy fraise et framboise gratin is the perfect fin to a quintessential French meal. I am looking forward to exploring which cooler options have made it on the menu to compliment the heat of the summer. I just need more visitors! And perhaps a better exercise routine?

La Part des Anges

13, rue Chappe

Paris 75018

01 46 06 69 80

In Pictures

Today was practically perfect in every way (name that film!). But photos are worth thousands of words…

I initially woke up to the sound of pounding rain, thunder and lightening. I opened the shutters to watch the rain fall heavily on the leaves outside.

Rather than stay in (which I was very tempted to do), I decided to poke around the neighborhood. I sat for a while enjoying a coffee and my current attempt at absorbing literary greatness.


It is the time of the soldes (sales), so I went window shopping. I was drawn in by the sidewalk displays at this store and ended up purchasing more linen for my summer wardrobe (blue and grey – no white).

On the way back to my apartment, I stopped at La Grenier à Pain, a local boulangerie recently voted to have the best baguette in Paris.

I picked up ‘une tradition‘, their classic baguette, as well as a fougasse, or roll stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes, basil and goat’s cheese. I buy bread here on most weekends, and am always pleasently surprised that I consistently end up receiving a piping hot loaf of bread, no matter the time, day or crowd. Today was no exception and I gratefully tore off the slightly steaming tip and savored the freshly baked bread on my return home.

After putting away my purchases, enjoying a cup of tea and finishing up my most recent knitting project (more baby blankets, anyone?), I headed out to the 11th arrondissement to watch the World Cup Quarterfinal match between Germany and Argentina. Upon emerging from the métro at Rue des Boulets, I found myself in the midst of a crazy parade. I still have no clue as to the celebration (Bueller? Bueller?), but the band played with amazing rhythm and the costumes were great.

Originally we had planned to meet at a German bar, Café Titon. After tearing myself away from the parade drum line and weaving my way to find Rue Titon, I found that we were not the only ones with this idea. The bar itself was packed to the gills and there was a crowd outside trying to catch a glimpse of the broadcast that, in most places, was 3-4 layers of people thick.

We moved on to an Irish pub down the street, Patricks le Ballon Vert. Based on the giant German flags hanging from the awning, they had decided to take sides for the game. I quickly found my friends and we shouted, gasped and cheered along as Germany eliminated Argentina, 4-0.

After this victory, the bar quickly emptied (thankfully, it was beyond a fire hazard in there) and we found space to sit, have a delicious bacon cheeseburger and watch The Simpsons (season 2, in English no less) to pass the time until Spain and Paraguay took to the pitch.

Again we rode the emotional roller coaster of the beautiful game and most of our group was delighted with Spain’s victory. After congratulating each other (because clearly, we had so much to do with it), plans were made to return: same bat place, same bat time, on Wednesday for the now all-important Germany-Spain semifinal showdown.

Riding a surprisingly quiet line 2 métro back home allowed me time to reflect upon and acknowledge what a great day it really had been. Relaxing and exciting, productive and leisurely, but most of all, spent enjoying small pleasures from (and with) the city and people of Paris.