Mimes roller blading on the Quai of the Seine
Statue of Liberty
Jardin des Plantes
Canal St Martin
When clothing stores start taking over boulangeries.
Le Jardin du Luxembourg
This past week my sister was in Paris to visit and explore the city. It was the first time she was in Europe, let alone Paris, and so it was an exciting time showing her all the food I have come to know and love during my stay here. So here is a basic list of things I think are must-buys if you find yourself in Paris at some point in the near future:
1. A delicious croissant
You’re in Paris and you’re surrounded by viennoiseries and patisseries, so getting a taste of the flaky goodness that is synonymous with Paris is a must. Keep in mind though that all croissants are not made equal. While even the worst croissant is better than an average croissant back home, you don’t want to waste a single calorie or euro on a subpar croissant while in Paris. There’s no need. Just do a little research- every arrondissement bosats at least one or two viennoiseries serving croissants au beurre that probably have won some prize.
2. Hot chocolate or coffee
There’s one name that comes to mind when you think of hot chocolate in Pairs, and while I don’t particularly advocate going there for the [overpriced] hot chocolate, I think a visit to Paris merits a cup of chocolatey goodness. I would avoid getting hot chocolate in touristy cafés as they tend to be overly sugary. But a quick google search can lead you to a good, small café serving hot chocolate for less than 4 euros. For coffee, check out the new “hipster” cafés in Paris normally run by expats from Australia, Brazil, Italy, ..well anywhere but France.
3. Gelato / ice cream /sorbet. There’s the classic, Berthillon founded in 1954, as well as plenty of other newer spots. Check out Grom or Pozzetto.
4. Buy a book at Shakespeare & Co. and get it stamped at the register. I haven’t done it yet, but I plan on it!
5. Tea from Mariage Frères. Honey or confiture. A jar of caramel beurre salé to recreate the crepe experience back home.
6. Be adventures: Try some escargot, foie gras, oysters or lamb!
7. Explore the yogurt aisle at any supermarket (especially the one at Le Grand Epicerie). The name ‘Yogurt’ doesn’t give it justice. The French have transformed this once plain and boring breakfast sub-category into a food that could easily become a substitue for a guilt-free dessert.
8. Eat real dessert and try macarons from Pierre Hermé, a chausson aux cassis et violet or aux pommes (sort of a knish-shaped pastry filled with a fruit flavoring), or Opera cake for example.
9. Sandwiches are a great option to sample some of the best French products: bread, cheese, meat, spreads, butter, pickles…. all for under 5 euros. If you love cheese, make it your mission to try as many different varieties as you can every time you order a salad, sandwich, crepe or quiche.
10. Buy some Roger & Gallet products for yourself or as gifts. My favorites are the rose and the green tea scented lotions.
11. Buy a Nespresso machine. Because all the French people have them. Throw in some Repetto ballet flats and some fur for the full effect.
The weather in Paris for the past week has been cold but full of sunshine and has given me false hope that warmer spring weather is just around the corner.(EDIT: As I post this, we just got over a few days of snowy, freezing weather and are now experiencing yet another rise in temperature.. 61 and sunny this Tuesday! ) It will probably be some time before I can leave the house wearing a single or even double layer of clothing but that hasn’t stopped me from trying to profit from the absence of gray skies that has plagued Paris everyday since the beginning of winter. I am almost positive I’ve developed some sort of allergy to my wool scarf.
The seasons have always had a rather measurable affect on my mood. And it’s sad to admit that living in Paris has done little to free me from this this tendency. I can’t even remember a time before this week when I didn’t wake up and bury myself deeper into the covers at the thought of leaving my apartment. I would of course to go to class and go to lunch, but the fact that I’ve watched five seasons of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, 3 seasons of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and 4 seasons of the Real Housewives of New York City since I’ve been back from Christmas vacation speaks for itself.
I definitely felt and still do feel guilty thinking of all those hours I could have been out and exploring but all I can promise myself now is that I spend every agreeable weathered day from now until the end of May walking aimlessly, walking to explore walking to take photos and walking to lunch spots.
My newly discovered favorite is a cafe on Ile St. Louis. It faces the Notre Dame, close enough to the Pont(bridge) St. Louis to enjoy the music of what is the Parisian version of troubadours as they play their accordions or celli, busy with tourists and natives walking about but it still maintains a certain calmness that you can’t find sitting at the terrasse of one of the famous cafes on st Germain.
You’re welcome to stay as long as you want and if you orderes one of the overpriced veverages (a cappuccino will run you 5€70 or $7.40!!) you really should stay there for an hour or two. Before the sunlight reached our tables and tanned our faces we were kept warm by the overhead heaters- a staple of almost all parisian cafes. And if that’s not enough you could always grab one if the fleece blankets offered by the cafe, which is cute concept but just about as appealing as wearing a sweater that 100 strangers have worn before you and has never been washed.
After spending two and a half weeks in NYC for Christmas vacation and another 2 weeks in Paris pre-Spring semester, this Monday marked la rentrée: the commencement of school in France.
Flying back into Paris in 2013 and settling in again in my room and old routines reminded me of how different this period will be compared to Fall Semester. Being in New York reenergized me and made me approach my experience in Paris differently. I’m not in need of an adjustment period, other than the first few days spent to get over le décalage horaire. And instead of conforming to every social expectation and custom that is typified as the French way to do things, I will be less apologetic about doing the things that I enjoy though not considered ‘normale’.
I’ve been somewhat disappointed with the way Parisiennes dress. I appreciate that the Parisian uniform dictates a clean, well-fitted style and that, contrary to the overwhelming abundance of borough folk I saw in NYC, no one is wearing pajama pants, sportswear, or carpenter jeans. I’m conscious of respecting people’s style even if I don’t agree with it or find it boring (the more I disagree with your outfit, the more diversity there is!) but the fact that there is such a limited variety in what Parisiennes wear is a bit frustrating knowing that this city is supposed to be one of the fashion capitals. There’s little room for daily creativity or innovation when you’re in a society, especially as a foreigner, where people generally feel it’s their duty to correct you if your appearance or behavior is ‘abnormal’.
The main categories of style as worn by women in Paris seem to be of three camps:
A: The young Parisienne rebels with blank, unsmiling faces
B: The young to middle aged ‘professional’ women usually toting a novel, a shopping bag from Le Bon Marché or a child while coming home on the metro.
and the most daring of them all!
C: The 60+ ladies who will not be slaves to your fashion humdrum!
Camp A: They shop at Zadig et Voltaire, Sandro, H&M and Zara. They wear the same exact styles, in approved colors (black, brown, gray, olive or eggplant), and can’t say no to apparel that is studded. They own a pair of black motorcycle boots with studs, sneaker wedges, skinny jeans and cotton fingerless gloves so their hands are always free to text or light up a cigarette. Leather jackets or large fur coats are what she prefers to complement her chunky infinity scarf. And she usually sports long, wavy hair and black eyeliner. She loves a good leather bag with some studs or zippers or the infamous Vanessa Bruno bag with all those sparkles. She broke curfew once two years ago and since that night she has been using fashion as her way to rebel.
Camp B: She’s a newly graduated woman searching for work or a middle aged professional who keeps Americans begging the question ‘How can I attain that classic, Parisian je ne sais quoi?’ The answer does not lie within Chanel number five or grandmother’s Hermes vintage scarf (although it could), but Repetto ballet flats or heels no taller than 2 inches (I can attest that footwear higher than 2 inches will cause too much of a rio), opaque tights paired with a pencil skirt, and poncho-styled wool coat. She generally abides to the neutral-colors-and-black-only rule but may surprise you with a flash of blue, red or pink with her cashmere scarf. Her bag of choice comes from Tod’s, Lancel, Hexagona, Longchamp or Chanel. Makeup is minimal and confidence is foremost; never look up from your phone or book while on the metro unless you want to surrender your expression of indifference.
Camp C: My favorite group of Parisian woman who inspire me and make me feel like maybe it’s okay to stand out. While not all older woman dress super stylishly, most of the time the most daring outfit and the boldest of colors are worn by a woman above the age of sixty. While modest in her choice of skirt lengths and necklines, she is the true rebel when it comes form deviating from fashion norms by wearing prints, colors and flashy accessories. She has the advantage of a stockpile of clothing from different eras including at least 3 different designer bags from each decade and no one can critique her look. She’s got moxie and she doesn’t think twice about smiling in public. She prefers her hair in a bun and who knows she may even be in your ballet class. (Yes, really!)
This was all in good fun and I hope this doesn’t come off as offensive to anyone! I don’t think that I dress so incredibly different from the rest of the crowd, but I was definitely more concerned about fitting in with the Parisiennes during the fall than I am now. I have always been one to take some risks even if they were huge mistakes and I am here in Paris to continue said lifestyle.
Maybe I am not really going to be Stacey: La Parisienne and more like Stacey: Hey, I once lived in Paris, can you tell?
Today for lunch I ventured up to Montmartre to try something new. I paced back and forth in front of the display of sandwiches and pastries for ten minutes before choosing.
No, that’s not a burnt bun but a Squid ink bun with smoked salmon and ham. You can find this and other buns & baguettes composed of unique ingredients chez Gontran Cherrier.
The verdict: Tasty and unique, although nothing outrageous. But for 5,95€ I expected it to be more filling than it was.
After lunch I went over to Tuileries to wait in line for a table at La Maison Angelina for a cup chocolat chaud à l’ancienne.
The verdict: The hot chocolate was definitely chocolatey and good quality, but I personally found it so sweet and rich, rendering it undrinkable. I might not even mind drinking a thimble of the mixture if just for the experience of it all I wasn’t paying 7,50€ (the smaller of the two carafes serves one person or 2 cups of the hot chocolate). It was a special experience to be invited in to this restaurant, with it’s early 20th century styled decor and glowing holiday lights. However, if I ever manage to crave hot chocolate before May, I’ll be heading over to my “regular spot” on Rue de l’Ecole Medecine for a small cup of bitter hot chocolat.
Tonight marks my 100th day (or 2,400th hour) in Paris. I feel obligated to consider how I have changed and how my view of Paris has changed since those first few weeks of settling in, adjusting to host-family life, growing familiar with the metro and exploring the different arrondissements to create my personalized, mental map of the city.
The “Amelie” cafe (Photo taken by staceylaparisienne)
Before coming to Paris I had studied hard to come up with a list of restaurants, cafes and patisseries that fell into some blogger’s “Best Of Paris” list. My notebook with bonnes adresses continues to expand and diversify, so while i know that I will never make it to every single one of these places, I think I have put quite a dent in the list. Pursuing this list has led me to eat some of the best croissants, authentic Indian food, buttery escargot, falafel, sandwiches, hot chocolate, macarons, and crepes that Paris has to offer.
Sometimes I worry that I’m not spontaneous enough but I would rather plan every single one of my meals than settle on just any restaurant and waste 9 euros on an over-salted, badly spiced dish (more than once.) And, personally, renouncing my pescetarianism for Paris turned out to be a good thing (although the night I broke my meat-free diet was a complete accident.) I might have eaten some dishes that aren’t my favorite (lamb or veal for example) but I am also able to fully participate in the experience of French cuisine. And sometimes by trying something new I found some things that I really enjoy (like ham in crepes or in a sanwich.)
Photo taken by staceylaparisienne
Chicken curry and kimchi. Looks scary but it was tasty (Photo taken by staceylaparisienne)
Enough about food..
I also got back into dancing ballet again. Sometime in October I was beginning to go stir crazy. Everyday was a new adventure to do whatever I wanted, but eventually all that free time started to take a toll and I began to feel guilty and lazy for not using up every second of my free time to do something meaningful or educational. (Classes just don’t seem to take up as much time as they normally have back in the U.S.) I needed some real responsibilities or something to focus on. And although ballet isn’t exactly a responsibility or a selfless activity, it’s something that I do once or twice a week that I enjoy, can help me make friends and takes up enough time during a day that I then feel like I have deadlines to finish my school work.
My language skills have definitely improved. I still wouldn’t call myself fluent but I am now confident enough to carry on a conversation in French and understand nearly everything that a French speaker says to me. I’ve gotten to the point where I can isolate the one word I don’t know in a spoken phrase and then ask the speaker for a clarification. And while I’m sure it will take years (or maybe just the end of this school year) to reach a level of pronunciation that is nearly perfect, I now know what I need to work on exactly and how I can go about fixing my “trouble areas”. I’ve also learned a lot of interesting tips about pronouncing vowels and consonants in the French language. (Example: French and English d’s and t’s are different. In English we hold the tip of the tongue to the roof of our mouths, while in French the tongue needs to be positioned at the back of one’s front teeth). I also arrived at the point where my spoken French is good enough that I can focus on picking up new vocabulary words.
Last week I left Paris and spent the last hours of Thanksgiving and the rest of the weekend in London. With only 4 days in the city and a budget to follow, I don’t think I covered nearly as much as the city as I would have wished. Nevertheless, I still think I got to see enough of the city to be able to have a distinct impression of it and to make a comparison between Paris and London (and New York City).
London is much larger than Paris but without an underground/tube system to match, which consequently makes it much more difficult to get around. In Paris it’s so easy to walk around aimlessly; within 5 minutes you can find yourself in a new neighborhood where there is something “worthy” to see, whether it’s a view of the river, a monument, a museum, a pictoresque street, or a window full of delicious-looking pastries. Walking around in London is daunting because you never know when the next time you will come across a tube stop; in Paris, I can never get loss because either I can walk 5 minutes in any direction and find a neighborhood I’m more familiar with or I can easily find a metro to bring me back to an arrondissement I know.
Another downside to London is how expensive it is. I was warned about this but thought I wouldn’t be affected as someone who wasn’t renting a hotel room, expecting fine dining or make any large purchases. But unfortunately I must agree.
Because you need to take the tube to get from one place to the next, especially since I was staying in a neighborhood far from the center, I had to pay 2#s each ride ( thats $3.20 whereas a subway ride in NYC cost $2.25 and you get free transfers from train to bus in NYC). There was also the fact that the conversion rate was working against me in both dollars and euros. Additionally, there were little hints that made London seem much more “money hungry” than Paris: you had to pay to get a map of the museum or to store your umbrella in a locker, which a sign deemed “mandatory” to do.
Despite all of that, I feel like I much prefer the city of London to Paris. Paris is definitely more student friendly and tourist friendly; if your looking to spend less than a week in a city and you want to see a lot and do a lot I would suggest Paris due to how convienient getting around is. But London.. there’s just something about London that I adore. I think it’s because London satisfied a lot of the things I was hoping to see and feel in Paris.
To me, Paris is a city of extremes. You either have tiny, cobbled streets that, while charming, are impossible to enjoy walking down because you have to be constantly on your guard not to walk into people or walk into dog crap. Alternatively, Paris has her famous grands boulevards that are lively and noisy but somehow offer me none of the energy that I get from walking down a crowded street in NYC, like 5th avenue during December. London however had small, quiet, walkable streets where one could find a cute, pink cupcake spot by chance, or a cluster of designer boutiques on a street that reminded me a lot of Madison Avenue. In London I felt like there was enough space to retreat from the masses of people while in Paris it’s difficult to find sidewalks that aren’t crowded with people during the daytime.
I have mainly been exploring Paris by mouth. That is to say, most of my days are planned according to where I will have lunch. Everyday I try to pick a new place (but I’m not always successful. I’ve learned that, in Paris, you always need a backup plan because shops here tend to have “fermetures exceptionelles” (unexpected closure) or I just don’t like the menu or can’t find the place). Point being that food has been an integral part of my Paris-experience and that would have been the case in London had I had taken the chance to research and plan everything out. Instead, my friends and I just ate at places we happened and agreed upon, so I wound up eating at places that might not have been on any “Best of” lists but that I really enjoyed. The food I ate at pubs were mediocre (I opted for “traditional” pub food and ate a chicken pie and another time some fish and chips) but I loved the experience of coming in from the rainy cold and sitting in a Christmas-decorated pub that was full of people. Speaking of Christmas decorations, while both cities are decorated in lights, Paris usually decorates according to a “winter” theme with lights of white and blue (probably due to France’s position as being laique) while you’re more likely to see images of Santa, Christmas trees and lights of red and green in London.)
Maybe it was due to being comfortable in speaking the language and hearing exactly what was happening around me, but people in London seemed much more willing to strike up conversations with strangers, whether with me or with other people. Whether we were on on the eurostar, on the tube, in a pub or on the street, someone would inevitably make a comment or strike up a conversation with me or one of my friends. But then again, maybe this perception has nothing to do with how friendly people are in on city compared to the other but my experience as a native English speaker. In Paris, I have had brief encounters that dispel any desire to buy into the stereotype that French people are rude: from a stranger who took 20 minutes to help my friend find her lost earring on the sidewalk (with no success), to being saved by strangers who “swiped” me into the metro after a malfunction with my PasseNavigo. But this is different from the sort of sociability I noticed in London.
I definitely want to visit London again sometime soon so that I can explore more of the city and eat at restaurants and cafes that made it onto some blogger’s best of list. As for being in Paris, I definitely returned with a renewed sense of tourism- I want to use my last 20 days in Paris (before I leave for Christmas break and return in January) to explore parts of the city I’ve never been to and eat in new restaurants. I also have a new appreciation for my PasseNavigo which, after paying the reduced for-students price, gives me unlimited access to Paris so that I don’t have to think twice about taking a train to and from a cafe to buy a croissant that cost half the price of a one way tube ride in London.