Sunday, 6 July 2014

Paris; The last few days

Day 9, Saturday July 5
First a revisit to the Cluny Museum, a place we felt we had slighted in a previous trip. It really is a lovely place to immerse yourself in medieval art. I love the faces of the old crucifixes and some of the faces on the statues look either very modern or almost doll like, depending on the country of origin. Seeing stained glass close up is also something of a revelation as there is so much detail. The old chapel and its intricate vaulting is a beautiful place. The lady and the Unicorn Tapestries are as beautiful and enigmatic as ever with the tiny details of animals on the millefiore background charming. We sat and looked for some time.

c christ face
Face of Christ
c virgin face
A very modern looking saint
c saint
Doll like saint
C chapel vaulting
Chapel vaulting
c annunciation
c annunciation 2
c lady
c tapestry
The sense of Taste
c detail tapestry
Today I met up with a school friend I hadn’t seen for 49 years, which dates me pretty exactly. She now lives in America so it was delightful to make contact, meet her husband and exchange news of children, travels and old school friends That consumed a nice part of the day over an agreeable lunch, following which we headed for Les Halles shopping centre looking for souvenirs and gifts for the family. This might be a large centre but it appears to be under permanent reconstruction, is almost impossible to navigate for a stranger and was not appealing in any way. We did manage to find a few gifts but I wouldn’t be including it in your “must sees” in Paris, nor even in your outlet shopping sprees. I was glad to leave.
Dinner was in a recommended restaurant, La Coulisses Vintage. We were sat up the back and treated to a rather patronizing explanation of the menu, which we could read quite well. I ordered the duck cooked two ways, magret and confit leg. The duck in both guises was cool to cold, the skin not crispy in either and I had to peel it off both the leg and breast in a rather unpleasant, flaccid pile. The plate was cold also and the overall food temperature quite detracted from the meal, which had good flavour. I was tempted to return the dish but didn't know what they could do to reheat, short of a microwave burst, so decided against it. Ho-hum!
Day 10, Sunday July 6
Wet, cold and raining. Our last day and some necessary chores first, like washing and some packing then a visit to the Opera Garnier. I had other plans too, but the wet weather and sore foot stopped them.
But the Opera, oh my! We had seen the opera house in Budapest and it was absolutely beautiful, but this outshone in every department. Before this trip I had never really considered anything but the auditorium as “opera”, but the other rooms are, if anything, more beautiful, glamorous and rich. In fact, they apologized that the auditorium would be almost dark and little to see, but the foyers, staircases, reception rooms, salons, and supper rooms were individually and collectively gorgeous.

0 grand staircase
Grand staircase

0 foyer des glaces
Chandelier, Salon des Glaces
0 ceiling decoration
0 foyer soleil
Ceiling in the foyer de Soleil
o salon de soleil
Multiple reflections in the Foyer de Soleil
0 Garnier as Apollo
Garnier’s face as Apollo

We spent some time admiring the rooms, the tiny dioramas of stage sets in the museum part, some costumes displayed in cases and attempting to see and photograph the dimmed auditorium. I have been blessing the ability of my little Panasonic to take photos in very dim light but I wasn’t very successful here, even at 3200ISO.

0 set design
Diorama for stage set
0 dome
Dome in auditorium, chandelier not illuminated

0 auditorium deco
Detail of auditorium
0 auditorium

Much gold and gilding of course, and the grand salon modelled on the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. I kept taking photos and panoramas of it, finding I can play the panoramas back as a moving picture on the camera (not, alas, on my computer as far as I know). Stunning!

0 foyer panorama
o grand foyer
Because it was pouring rain we dropped into the nearby Café la Paix for a last Parisian lunch. My salad disappointed greatly, being rather soggy in the ingredients where it had promised crispness. The lettuce and parmesan were OK but I wasn’t tempted to stay for dessert.
On to the Louvre because I wanted to photograph the pyramid again, but the rain and crowds were against anything artistic and the foot was murder. So the last part of the last day was a bit of a let down and my Vedettes Pont Neuf trip just wasn’t going to happen.
0 pyramid

Louvre Pyramid
0 paris in the rain
Paris in the rain

A final meal at Villa Abbesses in Montmartre, the tasting plate of salmon, which was good, but maybe not as good as I remembered. I have had a lot of raw fish this trip, not something I typically associate with France.
We gave our friendly local beggar our coins and left over metro tickets. Tomorrow begins with a G7 taxi to the airport, thence to Zurich, then Los Angeles then Portland. 25 hours door to door.
Next stop: Family and Portland

Friday, 4 July 2014

Day 8, Friday July 4

Today the feet are truly sore with over 20,000 steps yesterday. So mainly a rest day to prepare for the evening out at Epicure at the Bristol Hotel, three Michelin stars and very well reviewed almost everywhere.
Once a trip, if there is somewhere suitable, we like to plan for a truly stupendous meal. We know it will be expensive but we are not otherwise big spenders apart from our trips. We had done some research and this time Epicure was the pick.
Just the surroundings are a hint that this might be a different district than is usual . The building down the street is the Elysee Palace, home of the French President. Guards in pretty white uniforms with gold braid staff the entrances to his place. The nearby shops have familiar names, but not ones we patronise, Caron, Valentino, Sotheby’s …hmm! 

elysee palace

The hotel itself drips with flowers, marble foyers are polished and decorated, chandeliers and floral arrangements are effortlessly chic and the dining room is delightfully light and airy, opening on a garden and a trelliage. The staff are professionally dressed and well versed at putting guests at ease, so that much of the evening is accompanied by laughter and a lighthearted air.
I was amused but also somewhat annoyed by the sexist hangover of providing the lady with a menu without prices. In this day it is as likely to be me footing the bill as Nick. It is anachronistic. That was truly the only “down” note in the evening.
For me, ravioli filled with artichoke, truffle and foie gras on a checkerboard of truffled jus and a creamy foam; pigeon breast served with a crisp roll of the leg and bitter endive and a cherry dessert that was a masterpiece of syrupy warn cherries and pistachio, a cherry sorbet and a toffee “cherry” filled with pistachio mousse. For Nick white asparagus and pea soup, sole and “Precious Chocolate”, the dessert a tube of chocolate filled with chocolate mousse and liquor, surmounted by a gold covered ice cream and the whole encased in a lacy sphere of chocolate. More or less dessert heaven for Nick and, he reported, not at all too rich. (Do click on the pictures for bigger sizes)

epicure garden Epicure
amuse bouche 1
Truffle and artichoke ravioli pigeon breast crisp shell with pigeon leg and endive
white asparagus and pea sand sole the hot cherries
cherries hot and cold priceless chocolate precious chocolate_edited-1

These names do nothing to describe the food. The presentation was imaginative and original; the tastes were different, layered with different flavours and about as far from meat and two veg as food is likely to get, but not odd or strange nor really requiring a specialist’s palate. Anyone could have ordered from the menu and been happy. Maybe not everyone would have cared to try pigeon cooked rosy, but they would have enjoyed the fish or chicken.

There were several little offerings while considering the menu and waiting for the food. There was an array of different breads and two types of butter. An amazing cheese trolley. A pretty sorbet before the desserts. A sphere of jelly encasing a liquid to be taken in one mouthful. And just when you thought it was all over, the mirrored cabinet with macarons and chocolates.

amuse bouche 2Nicoise salad in minature a small sorbe t a treatReal gold on top

Service and presentation of the food was formal with silver cloches being removed in unison, but with a smile and a small joke perhaps. There were 15 floor staff for 46 people so you wanted for nothing. Some parts of the main course were served on a separate plate, such as additional sauce or the accompaniment to the pigeon, which I found a pretty touch. I did think that changing the napkins several times was a bit OTT, but I can live with that. And of course a stool for madame’s handbag. Heaven forbid that it should touch the ground.

The wine menu was large. We decided on an area (Chablis) and the sommelier helped us choose the wine, (flinty) offering several at different price points. We trusted them to match a wine to our desserts and were happily surprised by the choices.
I was bold enough to request a copy of the menu from the Maitre d’, who readily agreed and came back with a smaller version tied up with a tasseled cord. He then suggested I meet the chef and have it signed, so I got to visit the kitchen and see some of the 20 people that prepare a meal for only 46 guests each night. And meet the chef responsible, Eric Frechon

z menu z menu1 z menu2Some of the menu. Click to enlarge
In short, a most agreeable dinner lasting about 2.5 hours; quite possibly the best ever from our few exceptional dinners.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Day 7; Thursday July 3

Today was our booking for a repeat Paris Greeter walk. We did one several years ago with Catherine, a delightful lady who lives in the 15th. We have kept in touch so we arranged to meet up again.

Off to Rue de Bac metro and then off on a whirl through obscure and beautiful shops and interesting places. First Deyrolle, a taxidermist and supplier of natural history objects to schools and universities. On the ground floor it is mainly high-class garden things, but above is a treasure trove of all things animal, from insects to lions. Their website says the samples are provided in approved ways such as from zoos or circuses.

Squeamishness aside, this is an amazing place, one we would never have even noticed, let alone climbed the stairs inside. Ducklings to bears, rhinoceros to spiders, everything is here. We spent quite some time looking at the gorgeous or fearsome insects as well as at the charts and books available for teaching purposes, some of which are delightfully old fashioned and would look wonderful framed. (no photos allowed)

Onwards, past linen shops, shoe shops, through a cake shop, Patisserie des Reves, where everything was presented under glass domes in slices of military precision, Chapon chocolates where we learned of the tastes of various chocolates from throughout the world, information translated for us by Catherine, before purchasing some of course. Bought baby clothes for the new grandson in Le Petit Bateau at the sales before diving into Le Grande Epicerie in the Bon Marche where we drooled at the cakes and marvelled at the insanity of shipping water in bottles all over the world. (In answer to a query on Tripadvisor some time ago, they stock powdered vanilla.)


window display cakes choc
chapon varieties LGE fish LGE cakes
  LGE raspberry cakes  

We visited the Chapel of the Miraculous Medal, a Catholic institution. All little Catholics would at some time have had a copy of this medal showing the Virgin with arms open giving blessings to the world. I recall it was the medal given to us when we became “Children of Mary” at school. While those times are long gone for me, it was touching to see the real faith with which people approached the chapel, a pretty and quiet place. And not just the elderly; many were young people and young couples, waiting for the priest to bless the little medal they presented which represented their faith in the power of prayer. Rather different to the excesses of the world we had just visited. To continue the religious theme, we saw just how large the Abbey of St Germain des Pres used to be, with parts of the walls, heritage protected, right inside some swanky shops in the nearby streets.


A quick visit to Le Procope restaurant (beautiful décor, poor food according to Catherine) and again, up stairs where I would never have ventured, to see Voltaire’s writing table. The restaurant was a meeting place for the intellectuals and later the revolutionaries and is rather steeped in history.


le procope Voltaires table

A restful lunch at a Pauls café and then we parted ways. Lovely to meet a friend again and such a different adventure this time.

This evening was to be Vivaldi at the Ste Chapelle. By chance we had discovered that a Tripadvisor member, Dale from Melbourne, would be at the same concert and we made jokes about carrying a red rose in our teeth. When we arrived at the chapel I realized she was sitting in the front row. She did indeed have a red rose, but in her handbag and a little bedraggled.

The concert was in a sublime setting with afternoon light suffusing the stained glass and the chamber orchestra a few yards away. Not being a musician, I was fascinated to be so close and to see how much those fingers work on violin or cello. It was also wonderful to be in Ste Chapelle without the chatter of tourists and the ebb and flow of bodies, just to be there and be surrounded by light and music. It was truly lovely and a massive highlight of the trip.


s angel 2_edited-1 s angel_edited-1 Ste Chapelle orchestra
Ste Chapelle columns sc Violinist Ste Chapelle columns3
Ste Chapelle columns 2 Ste Chapelle window ste Chapelle 1

We met with Dale and we had a wine together. How lovely to meet up with someone you know only “virtually” and share some highlights from our travels in France. A charming lady!

Off then to Maitre Albert for dinner. They had plenty of room though the rotisserie seemed to be winding down for the evening. A convivial room, a simple meal, a strangely pallid but delicious steak for me and rotisseried chicken for Nick, followed by a pressed grapefruit terrine for me and chocolate mousse and cherries for Nick. Service was a bit hit and miss after a warm greeting.


Atelier Maitre Albert Maitre Albert Maitre Albert terrine