Paris in 2 days? C’est possible!

How was I going to go back to France after 15 years and not visit Paris?  I was departing ways with my family in Cere but it would be a great disservice if I didn’t at least carve out some time to refamiliarize myself in the City of Light.   I am pretty well-traveled and have traveled independently for business, but this was my first time solo mission as a tourist.  I was excited and nervous at the same time, but I felt confident about not having a set itinerary.  I had a list of places and things I wanted to see and do and so I knew I would just figure it out from there.

I flew in from Bordeaux at 2pm on Thursday, August 15 and then had to leave by 3pm on Saturday, August 17 so I really only had two full days.  I knew the city would be fairly quiet in August with some smaller shops potentially closed for summer holiday.  Because I was set on not having a run-of-show I was hesitant to make restaurant reservations but then caved and emailed a restaurant high up on my list, Les Papilles, only to receive the disappointing news that they are closed during the month of August.  That’s when I decided I’m really just going to ‘wing it’.

An important note:  I walked EVERYWHERE.  Didn’t take the metro once.  I know it’s a very user-friendly public transportation system but my objective for these two days was to absorb as much of the city as possible.  Even though I was there a long time ago and too young to really appreciate the culture and history, I do remember visiting landmark sights inside the Lourvre and Notre Dame Cathedral.  I didn’t have time to mosey through the museum for five hours or wait in line to ascend the Eiffel Tower.  This was a two day drive-by and my mentality was I’ll stop and savor the moments when I feel it’s right.

Here’s how my itinerary mapped out for the two days: green is half day 1, red is day 2 and black is half day 3.

Krystina's Paris Map

Thursday, August 15

By the time I checked in to my hotel at the Hotel Danemark it was around 3pm so I had to get moving.  I didn’t have a plan but I started freaking out as I walked down the streets because literally EVERYTHING was closed.  Shops, cafes, EVERYTHING.  It wasn’t until much later I was informed it was a major religious holiday and that all establishments should re-open on Friday.  Phew!  Well, there were places I knew would be open today where the huge swarm of tourists were, so I decided to get that out of the way.  Pont des Arts, check.  Lourvre, check.  Tuileries Gardens, check.  August festival in the gardens, double check.  Place de la Concorde, check.  Seine, check.  Av des Champs-Elysees, check.  Arc de Triomphe, check.  Eiffel Tower, check.  Last time I visited I went to the top of the Eiffel Tower so the one thing I was hoping to do was catch a couple aerial views atop the Arc de Triomphe but once I saw the tourist line I immediately about-faced to carry on my tour.

By the time I was done frolicking around with the tourists I had been walking for 5 hours and was ready for dinner and a couple glasses of wine.  Problem:  many restaurants were closed.  I went back to the hotel and had them call six places down my list.  All closed.  Finally I realized one place a friend suggested, Relaise de l’Entrecote was about a block away from my hotel.  I asked the concierge to make one last call and thankfully they were open.  It’s received decent reviews, but they only serve one thing: steak frites with this “special sauce” which is something I have to be in the mood to eat and shocker: I wasn’t really in the mood to eat it at the time. I didn’t care, I just wanted a glass of wine.  Not sure if the restaurant is always like this or if it was just because of the holiday but it was jam-packed.  I ended up leaving semi-satisfied.  In summary, I wouldn’t recommend it.

Friday, August 16

Today I was dedicating my time walking up to Montmartre to see Sacre-Coeur, take in the views of the city at the highest point of Paris and get lost through the beautiful cobble-stone side streets crowded with local artists, galleries, and food markets galore.    It was convenient that I was passing through Centre Pompidou then also strolled up Rue Montorgueil, a popular market shopping street for local Parisians.   And that’s where you get your really good, real taste of Paris.  Don’t bother with a bistro or cafe.  Walk to the market, stop in La Maison Kayser to grab a freshly baked baguette, hit the fromagerie to check out the morning’s fresh cheese and finally pluck a few pieces of fresh fruit, take a seat in the park and bon appétit! You have yourself a delicious petit dejeuner.

After walking up and around Montmartre, I stopped at Pierre Herme on my way home.  Sarita informed me that they have the best macarons with flavors ranging from caramel brûlée, milk chocolate passion fruit and apricot pistachio.  I am generally an ice cream girl and have actually never tried them before, so I picked up a couple to take home.  OK, they were pretty darn good.

Then I ventured over to Ma Salle a Manger where I sat outside and enjoyed a foie gras and rosé dinner with a perfect view of the sunset over the Seine.  And of course dinner wouldn’t be complete without dessert.  I strolled through Rue de Bac on my way home and spotted a Berthillon ice cream cart.  Now THAT was my kind of dessert.  One scoop pistachio, one scoop salted caramel.  Yes please.

Was that a lot of food for one day?  I didn’t think so either.  This is a food blog – keep up!

Saturday, August 17

I am feeling a little bloated but there’s no stopping me now.  My hotel is two blocks away from the Jardin du Luxembourg so I was saving that visit for my final afternoon, along with a couple other nearby markets.

First stop was Rue Mouffetard for breakfast.  You know the drill – baguette, fromage, fruit.  The chèvre was stuffed with fresh figs and it was absolutely divine.  They won’t cut pieces off for you so you need to just eat a little and walk around and save some for later.

There was another nearby market my grandmother’s friend recommended called Market Maubert.  It is a very close two minute walk from Mouffetard so I passed through there on my way back to the gardens.

By the time I reached the Jardin du Luxemboug I was exhausted but it was a gorgeous day and I was completely in awe by the beauty surrounding me.  I plopped down on the grass, pulled out some more of my cheese and baguette and thought to myself, ‘I could get used to this…’

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Southwest France: Family, Food and Armagnac in Cere

Last week I returned from my vacation to France including three days with family in Cere, day trips to Biarritz, St-Jean-Luz and Bazas and two days solo mission in Paris, which will be split in a couple different posts.  I’ve been talking about this trip for a while.  In case you can’t infer from my blog name, I’m very proud of my french roots and was looking forward to visiting family in Southwest France along with some members I haven’t met or seen in close to fifteen years.  My grandmother (Meme) was born in Nancy, currently lives in Palm Springs and her sister (tante Renee) lives in a beautiful chateau in the small village of Cere.  Her husband comes from a family of aristocrats and the chateau is adorned with priceless antiques dating back hundreds of years, including framed letters and documents from Henry IV, Louis XIV and Louis XV.

Cere is a small village with a population of 400, so completely understandable if you haven’t heard of it.  To put it in geographical perspective, it’s about a fifteen minute drive from Mont-de-Marsan which is the capital of the Landes department in the Aquitaine region.  A mere couple hours from the Spain border, it’s easy to coordinate day trips to San Sebastian and the glitzy beach towns of Biarritz and St-Jean-Luz (post forthcoming on that.)  As you can imagine, there’s not too much to do in Cere but that’s exactly what made it perfect.

Last time I was there  with my family and cousins from the U.S.  Tante Renee has four children, and their children were around my age so all I can remember was running around outside, horseback riding, playing by the pool and hitting the beach.  Obviously there was a huge language barrier, but we were young and didn’t care; it certainly didn’t stop us from having an incredible time!  But I’m 28 now and I desperately wanted to return so I could appreciate my visit with relatives and indulge in much of the delectable french fare I didn’t remember too much when I was thirteen – fresh cheeses, fruit, pastries, chocolate, and every part of the duck you can imagine.    Not only was my grandmother and aunt there, but both of my parents flew in and met us, I was able to meet the one family member I haven’t met yet, Uncle Edouard, and reminisce with my other cousins.

Just because Cere is a small town does not mean I discourage you from visiting there or a nearby area because the region has SO much to offer in beauty, food, culture and history.  One thing on the top of my agenda when I go back to the area and I suggest for you if you visit Southwest France:  tour the Armagnac region in Gascony.  I never drink brown spirits but Edouard introduced me to this flavorful brandy digestif which is distinctive to the region and I fell in love.  He gave me a little sample to take home and I’m savoring it, thinking of my loving french family every time I take a sip.

One week countdown to France!

One week from today I’ll be on a plane from New York on my way to France.  I haven’t been there in almost 15 years.  My grandmother (Meme) was born and raised in Nancy, now lives in Palm Springs, but her sister and much of my extended family is in France.  I can hardly wait to reunite and relax, manger du fromage, boire beaucoup de vin, and eat and drink some more.

Meme is meeting me at Charles de Gaulle where we’ll hop on an Air France flight down to Bordeaux.  From there it’s about an hour and a half drive to Tante Renee’s place in Cere near Mont-de-Marsan.  My parents are driving from Spain so they will be there as well.  A big happy family reunion!  Four days lounging in the country side, a possible day trip to Biarritz and two days in Paris before I head home.

Yes, two days in Paris.  Not a lot of time.  I need your help prioritizing what to do and where I MUST go.  I started flagging my favorites in a Tripomatic itinerary but I’d like to gather any additional feedback and recommendations before I take off.  I’m staying in Saint-Germain near the Jardin du Luxembourg.

I will try live-blogging for the first time on vacation so we’ll see how that goes.  No promises with the amount of wine I plan to consume.

Appreciate your thoughts and feedback, mes amies.

à bientôt!

My last reunion with Meme and Tante Renee in March

My last reunion with Meme and Tante Renee in March

Where to eat in Providence, RI

A couple weeks ago I took a little road trip to check the lobster-lush state of Maine off my U.S. travel to-do list and attend Yarmouth’s annual Clam Fest (post forthcoming).    But what kind of road trip would it be if I didn’t make a pit stop and take advantage of feeding my face at another one of New England’s many acclaimed restaurants?

My friend David suggested we meet for lunch at Farmstead in Providence, RI.  David knows a thing or two about Rhode Island.  He grew up in the area and is actually opening up a restaurant in Newport within the next week called Stoneacre Pantry.  They’re placing the finishing touches on the restaurant and the website but all you have to do is check out some of the food they’re posting on Facebook to know it will be a hit in town and add to your dining to-do list.

Farmstead is a small and intimate restaurant, yet has a friendly, casual and down-to-earth vibe where the chefs advocate serving honest, seasonal, handmade food.  The ingredients from their ever-evolving menu are carefully sourced from farmers and producers they know and trust, using only the highest quality ingredients hoping to take guests on a “journey through the New England landscape and the rich cultural history of food in the Northeast.”  And surely they did.

Farmstead is divided into two spaces: one area for the restaurant and an adjacent specialty shop with additional seating so you have a perfect view overlooking all of the delectable artisan cheese offerings.

What should you eat?  Well, you should order just about everything because it’s all delicious, although certainly you can’t pass up a selected meat and cheese spread.  I was also hesitant when we ordered the mac n’ cheese but obviously I do not at all regret that decision.  No matter how full you are, make sure you leave room for the goat cheese brownie with burnt honey ice cream, pistachio brittle and chocolate orange sauce.

Feast your eyes on that and more from the lunch menu below.