Thursday, 13 March 2008

Paris - part two

On Saturday morning we decided to climb the Eifell Tower. And when I say climb, I mean climb. Even though we got there before the ticket office opened, the queue was easily a couple of hundred people long. Mr H and I decided to walk up to the first stage and buy tickets to the top from there. And, since there was hardly any queue for the stairs, we were soon on our way. Oh, my goodness! Who thought that was a good idea? Certainly not me! Even worse when I realised I had misheard the ticket seller and the booth for the elevators to the top was on the second stage! Yep, that’s right. I climbed halfway up the Eifell Tower (500 ft!) and survived.

I’m not bad with heights, but the lift-ride to the top was plain scary. I’ve done it at least twice before, so I don’t know why I got spooked this time. Once at the top, I was fine – and the views were breathtaking!

Another place worth a visit was the Musee d’Orangerie, which had a stunning display of some of Claude Monet’s water lilly paintings on the top floor and a collection of works by artists such as Renoir, Rousseau, Modligiani and Matisee on the bottom floor. Mr H and I have widely differing tastes when it comes to art – cue a heated discussion at this point…

Looking at art always seems to make me hungry, so we stopped at an open air café in the Jardin Touleries, just next to the Louvre, and had lunch of ham baguettes and beer. Heaven. And then on with the sightseeing…

Dinner on Saturday night was at Le Procope in St Germain, which is the oldest café in Paris. It was founded in 1686 and was the hip hangout for the intelligentsia in days gone by. Voltaire, Victor Hugo, Balzar, Benjamin Franklin and even a young Monsieur Bonaparte are reported to have eaten here. The interior was wonderful, decorated in red and gold, with antiques and slightly out of place furniture. And the smells… I had a starter of leeks marinated in vinaigrette with lardons of bacon. It sounds weird, but I can tell you, it was divine. Since I regularly cook Coq au Vin, which I love, I decided I had to try the real thing – which was the house speciality. It arrived in its own little copper pot and had a lovely earthy, intense flavour that was out of this world. I tried to finish it all, but I was too stuffed to even have pudding!

The one thing on the menu that did not appeal was Rognon de Veau à la Moutarde Violette Garniture – half a calf’s head, just as they served up in 1686. You may think I’m just being unadventurous as the female half of the ever-so chic French couple next to us ordered it. It looked like a small, rather bulbous-looking brain in dark, brown sauce. She took a few bites and swiftly swapped it for her companion’s fish and left him to work his way through it. Obviously an acquired taste, even for the Parisian palette.

Monday, 10 March 2008

Paris - part one

I know I’ve been quiet for the last week, but I have a very good excuse – I’ve been in Paris! Just for the weekend, to celebrate a (cough) significant birthday. I’m not going to do a blow-by-blow diary, but I will give you some of the highlights!

We decided to travel on Eurostar, leaving from the newly-opened Ebbsfleet station, and it was a complete breeze compared to getting a plane! And there was no struggling up to St. Pancras with luggage on the train and tube. We parked right outside the station, checked in, bought coffee and got straight onto the train when it arrived. In just over two hours, we were in the heart of Paris.

Our hotel was a stylish, funky little place on the border of St Germain and the Latin Quarter, right next to the Sorbonne. The room was small, but really comfortable (I wanted to steal the pillow and bring it home) and it had an interesting layered cactus garden in the centre of the ground floor! Probably not good for small children, but it was a great base for exploring Paris as we managed to walk to Notre Dame in about ten minutes.

Climbing the towers of Notre Dame for our first glimpse of the city was hard work, but worth it as we got some spectacular views. The trip back down to the bottom was easier, but after 400 feet of spiral staircase “Mr Harper” (as he is now affectionately known) and I were sure that everything was still revolving slightly - even when our feet were back on solid ground.

After dinner on Friday night, we explored the Latin quarter, which is choc-a-bloc with restaurants and cafes serving all kinds of food. They all had one thing in common – a waiter on the door trying to entice you inside! The Greek restaurants had waiters smashing plates outside, the North Africans tried to tell us how good the couscous was, and one even had a rather lopsided stuffed goat outside. What the exact purpose of that was, I’m still trying to work out.