Dear Montmartre

Montmartre is a picturesque neighborhood in Paris–sitting atop The hill in Paris. It has often been featured in films for its charm and old-school, iconic Parisian feel. Montmartre is also the home of the Sacré-Coeur basilica–one of many iconic scenes in Paris with a bit of a sad back-story.

See, the basilica was originally built after the French-Prussian war (which France lost). Some say the basilica was built to honor the lives lost during said war (over 50,000) and others say it was built to expiate the crimes of the commune (Montmartre was the site of the first commune insurrection and the area with the most rebels, you know, per the internet). Over the years, many have come to marvel at its beauty. I heard from a local art student, Louie,  that some French people, especially older folks, see the basilica as a reminder of the people’s sins, the defeat and the many lives that were lost during the war.

The basilica is truly stunning and has a magnificent view of Paris as well. I absolutely loved visiting Montmartre and the basilica. It was a very windy day when I visited in late April and was very crowded so if you ever visit, set aside half a day to stay and have lunch there while you’re at it, they have some very cute cafés (of course they do).

Here’s a bit of Montmartre and Sacre-Coeur (to maybe inspire you to visit):

Paris Eats

One of the few aspects of my recent trip to Paris that was slightly disappointing was the food, but not for the reason you are probably thinking.

The culinary scene in Paris is phenomenal–I will not argue that. The only reason why I left a little disappointed is that I barely had the opportunity for sit-down meals while I was there. More than likely, I barely ate because I was always on the go–exploring new areas or glued to my camera trying to capture every detail of my time there.

Of course, I had lots of crêpes–especially since they were easy to carry and did not take too long to prepare (and, yes, Mardi Crêpe Club did deliver the fastest crêpe-making experience of the entire trip). I had countless croissants and pains au chocolat (#noregrets). To my surprise, however, I left without eating a full traditional baguette and only ate a single macaroon.

My favorite meal was dinner at Villa Dondelli, an Italian restaurant in the Opéra area where I was serenaded with “Happy Birthday” and a jumbo sparkler atop the fluffiest tiramisu I have ever had. My favorite crêpes came from Happy Café, where I went to for 5 crêpes in 9 days! Yes, they are THAT good (they have outstanding ratings on TripAdvisor)!

Perhaps my next trip will focus on Parisian gastronomy… I better start preparing!

Enjoy a few shots of some of my meals while in Paris–and I say “few” because I really did take very few shots of my meals (which is not exactly normal of this foodie). Try not to get too hungry!

The Royal Treatment

Most of the time, I like to have a plan. I like to have a general idea of what I will be doing otherwise I end up wasting a lot of time–that makes sense, right? Well, once I set foot in Paris my “plan” of when and where I would be went straight out the window. Most of the travel blogs I consulted in preparation for my trip said visiting the Château of Versailles (or the Louvre Museum) would take a whole day–it is true! If you want to visit the interiors and gardens, do yourself a favor and separate and entire day for this.

I had originally planned on visiting Versailles on Tuesday; that did not happen because exploring historic Paris by foot was simply too attractive. On Friday I ventured off to Versailles with the intention of doing a quick walk-through only (haha, right?). Because I purchased a six-day museum pass (more on that later), I was starting to run out of time and I did not want to cut this from my “to see” list. I tackled the interiors in under four hours, including lunch at Angelina but I did not get to walk the gardens. Several rooms, the Queen’s quarters being one of them, were also closed that day which might have helped my cause. The gardens at Versailles are so vast they could be a park on their own so I did not plan on walking through them anyway and, as I wrote this, I realized I missed Marie Antoinette’s Hamlet (oh well–next trip, right?).

So what did I take away? First, oh my goodness–the place is extravagant! I felt transported to a different time. For a few moments I even thought I had a full-blown gown on and was walking into a movie scene. The Louis’ certainly did a special something with the place. Above all, I think it is the level of attention to detail that makes Versailles feel so grand. Louis XIV was a ‘details’ guy and you can see it in several buildings in France built around his time (i.e. Opera Garnier Palace, pictures coming soon). My favorite room was definitely the Room/Hall of Mirrors. It transported me to the ball scene in the animated movie Anastasia (I know, I know–she’s Russian) and most definitely made me feel like a princess (sans gown and all). Versailles was the beginning of my Royal Treatment in Paris and I only got more and more excited with each new space I visited.

Here is a little of the wow-factor I experienced at Versailles…

 

At the end of my walk-through I decided to have lunch at Angelina–it was lovely and perfectly timed as it started raining right as I was seated at the living room and boudoir of the Duchess of Luynes. I ordered the Petit-Déjuner and thought it was quite the amount of food. I had two rolls, a croissant, chocolate (much richer and denser than what I am used to getting in the USA), orange juice, three types of jellies/jams and sparkling water (personal add-on). I love breakfast so I was very pleased:

I definitely will return to Versailles–aside from the fact that I missed a lot–it just feels very royal. I will take any excuse to feel like a princess!

Eiffel Tower by Night

Unicorns are real and Pairs is proof of it, period. How can a girl fall in love with a city–with its streets, its buildings, walls, its rainy days, atmosphere and people so fast? I absolutely adore this place! It is so magical and romantic–there must be fairies here, I am sure!

If you ever visit, all this “magic” can be summed up by views of the Eiffel Tower at night. Personally, I think the most magical moment is viewing the tower right at sunset by La Seine–it is absolutely breathtaking. Here is a little bit of that nighttime magic for you to enjoy:

At Trocadéro I ran into a lovely couple and helped them out with pictures. I told them I would put them up here for them to download–Correta, here they are 🙂

Eiffel Tower by Day

On Thursday I visited the Eiffel Tower and went all the way to the summit! A few fun facts of the day: while queuing I met two young girls from North Carolina; a mom-and-daugther duo were the first to offer to take a picture of me in front of a monument (alas I have a photograph of myself in France!); and I met a garçon at the footsteps of the tower who then–much like in the movies–took me for a walk along la Seine and a nice conversation with a stranger.

The unexpected downside: it was very, very cold and windy. Obviously, the higher up the tower I was, the less “protection” against the wind but the view was so worth it. I tried visiting both restaurants at the tower: Eiffel Tower 58 and Jules Verne but they were both closed by the time I came down from the summit.

Check out a few pics of the Eiffel Tower by day (take on two different days):

Stay tuned for pictures of the Eiffel Tower at night as well as pictures of the views from the Eiffel Tower!

A bientôt !

Smelling Paris

On Saturday I had a tour of the Fragonard Perfume Museum. I booked this tour in honor of my sister and a close friend, who both love fragrances.

Finding the place was a bit of a hassle. The museum is located on the inside of a square but the outside is lined with about three boutiques of the same name (I later learned they are all connected and even share staff). After going into two of those “outside” boutiques I finally found the museum (and was now a whopping ten minutes late). To my surprise, my tour guide neither notified the museum of my guided tour or showed up. Thankfully the museum staff gives free tours and there were two other ladies waiting for an English tour so I joined them.

Our tour guide, Inés, walked us through several underground rooms where the essence extraction and perfume making process was explained. Did you know that musk notes originally came from animals? Nowadays synthetic musk scents are used in order to protect animals. I also found particularly interesting that Lilly of The Valley, the official flower of France (and one that is given out to everyone on May 1st), requires a special device (pictured below) because it is impossible to extract its essence the traditional way (mashing).

Here are a few other pieces of information I found interesting:

  • Keep your perfumes and fragrances away from the bathroom. Light, temperature and humidity affect how your perfume behaves.
  • Perfume (not Eau du Parfum or away du Toilette) do best when bottled in a metal container. Fragonard does this, still in their original golden design. If your favorite perfume comes in a glass bottle, make sure to store it away from sunlight.
  • Different notes have different “lasting times.” From longest lasting to shortest: base notes (4 to 24 hours), middle or core notes (2 to 4 hours), and top or head notes (up to 2 hours). Since base notes last the longest, make sure you like the smell of the perfume on your skin a few hours after you have sprayed it–keep in mind that how the perfume smells at the boutique is not how it will smell the rest of the day.  A note about notes: depending on your skin’s acidity level (ph), different notes could last shorter or longer than the “standard” times.  Sometimes that fruity or flowery smell you loved so much will only be on your skin for 30 minutes.

These I already knew, but I will leave here for those who maybe had not heard of them before:

  • In order from strongest to lightest: Perfume, Eau du Parfum, Eau du Toilette, Eau du Cologne. Fragonard only makes Parfum and Eau du Toilette.
  • When you apply perfume on your wrists, do not rub! The friction raises the temperature and alters the way the scent behaves on your skin.
  • Perfume can be applied on skin, hair or clothes. The cloud method is best for hair and clothes (note it is better to spray the cloud above you and let it fall instead of in front of you and walking through it because in the latter most particles will fall on the floor and not yourself).
  • When you apply perfume to skin, do so on your wrists, inside elbow, behind the ears or behind the knees. Inés pointed out that–at least in Paris–the latter might send the message of “chase me” so keep that in mind, ladies!

The museum tour also included two sensory activities where you get to smell bottled essences and hard creams and have to guess what they are. Those were fun but I realized I need to learn my flower names properly! In between activities you get to browse a large collection of perfume bottles–I wish we still bottled like we did in the old days. Some of them were so fun, check out a few pictures below!

I am returning home with greater appreciation of my perfume collection and even better knowledge about how to care for them. I did not expect to enjoy this experience as much as I did–thank you M & F for encouraging me to do this!

 

A Wine Tasting, Wine Not?

I love wine. You love wine. We all love wine. I wanted an opportunity to truly understand the wines I would be trying here in Paris, so I signed up for a wine tasting class to take place at the beginning of the trip.

Ô Chateau is a wine bar and restaurant offering over 50 wines by the glass as well as wine tastings and classes. They also have a “baby” sister location at Les Caves de Louvre, basically a wine museum, where smaller wine tastings are offered as well as a make-your-own-wine class (you even get to design the logo that goes on your bottled creation). At Les Caves you have different rooms dedicated each of the senses and how they are stimulated during the wine tasting (or simply drinking) process.

Our sommelier for the evening, Gerald, was very entertaining and has been in the wine industry for almost my entire lifetime. Gerald got his start in the wine industry by accident, sort of. He was studying in California and needed a part-time job (as most college students do) to supplement his income. He applied at a restaurant and, as he shared, being French meant he was automatically assigned to be the sommelier. Gerald had to learn a lot on his own during the start of his career. After graduating he left the restaurant business to pursue a career related to his degree and years later decided he enjoyed wine better so went back to school to become a certified sommelier. In my book, Gerald has the best job ever–he gets to drink wine (all day, every day!).

Our tasting consisted of six different wines, all French: three whites (including one champagne) and three reds. (Note: I am leaving this here mainly so I can remember it later, haha).

  • Champagne Region – Premier Cru
    • Monmarthe – Secret de Famille
    • Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay
    • This champagne is prepared start-to-finish by the Monmarthe family–most pleasant one I have ever tried.
  • Loire Valley – Sancerre (this one was my favorite!)
    • Domaine De la  Garenne
    • Sauvignon Blanc
    • This wine is pure silk in your mouth and that is all I will say.
  • Alsace Region – Alsace
    • Albert Man – Senteur des Vignes
    • Assemblage (blend of Riesling and Pinot Blanc)
    • I liked the rose notes in this wine!
  • Sud Ouest Region – Cahor
    • Château Combel La Serre – Pur fruit du Causse
    • Malbec
    • Known as the “black wine” for its tint, this wine is ideally aged for 10 years before drinking.
  • Rhône Region – Côtes-du-Rhône
    • Domaine de La Janasse
    • Grenach, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignan and Cinsault
    • This acidic red is not designed to age for long. The bottle we had was from 2015.
  • Bordeaux Region – Haut-Médoc
    • Château Belgrade – Diane de Belgrave
    • Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cab Franc
    • This wine spends two years in old oak barrels and has notes of vanilla and blueberry. In Gerald’s words, Bordeaux has, if not the best wines in the world, certainly the most expensive.

Much to my surprise, my favorites were Monmarthe and Domaine De la Garenne. I expected to love the reds as I am a cabernet sauvignon girl so this change was very pleasant–especially since two of my closest wine-drinking buddies are white wine girls.

I loved this experience and would definitely do it again! Also, small world, there was a family seated next to me and the daughter (whose birthday was the reason for their trip) was from Greenville as well–what are the odds of that?! Gerald thought we were messing with him! Check out some pictures of the underground tasting room at Ô Chateau:

p.s. Friends at home, when is our next wine party?

Chasing Breakfast

The idea of a Parisian breakfast sure is nice. Most of us are able to get our Parisian breakfast fix at home. I visited Mon Amie Morning Café in Hub City just days before traveling to Paris and anxiously await the opening of Crêpe du Jour in Downtown Greenville.

I am a huge fan of breakfast–in fact, I could eat breakfast three times a day if I had to, especially if my options are of the French variety. As you can imagine, I was very excited for my first breakfast in Paris. Cue in trip mistake number 2 (number 1 is too silly to publish): waking up at 12:00 pm! Yes, I know, this was just my body reacting to its natural clock (it was 6:00 am back home, my normal wake-up time) but I was so, so disappointed that I missed breakfast.

By the time I got ready, stopped by the Paris Tourism office to pick up my museum pass, river cruise, bus tour and Eiffel Tower tickets (more on that later), I ended up having my first full meal of the day a little after 3:30 pm. That, however, did not stop me from having what I had been craving for the past 48 hours: a crêpe.

I went to trusty TripAdvisor and searched for a couple of places. I have a rule of trying top-100 restaurants in new places but in a city this big and with more than 14,000 restaurants, I extended my “to-try” list to the top 500 (I know, I know… bear with me here). Coming in at 472 was Mardi Crêpe Club and I loved the place so much I want to go back!

Upon arriving I met Max, one of the owners, who allowed me to step into the kitchen to witness how crêpes are prepared at Mardi Crêpe Club and what makes them different. When I asked what inspired him and his business partner to open a crêperie, Max explained they wanted to find a way to have people eat more crêpes for lunch. See, while crêpes are super popular in France, they are less consumed during lunchtime because of preparation time and carry-out difficulties (have you ever tried boxing up a traditional crêpe? I have, it’s never clean or pretty). That is where Mardi Crêpe Club saves the day.

At Mardi Crêpe Club they are all about innovation, thanks to a special tool (sorry, no cool technical name to display here–I was too busy imagining how delicious my crêpe was going to be) their crêpes are prepared faster and in a shape that is more convenient for carry-out (Max shared that, while they are the only crêperie in Paris to use this tool, it is more common in the US). Max folds the crêpe into a rectangular shape, boxes it up et voila, you can now have a crêpe to-go during your busy lunch hour and it takes no more space than the average baguette. The multiple folds, according to Max, also help keep the crêpe warm, which is a must if you are carrying out. I appreciate the concept and the fact that it tasted just as good as I imagined made the wait (and getting lost trying to find them) worth it!

My crêpe was accompanied by organic apple juice infused with roses–best apple juice I have had in my life! Here is a little video of Max preparing my apple-caramel crêpe:

Mardi Crêpe Club is located at Rue de Montmartre in the 2nd arrondissement and opened in  2016.