Friday, September 21, 2012

Snack Time - French Style

Fresh Figs

Fresh Almonds and Rose


 I first discovered the wonderful ritual of goûter when I was an au pair one summer. I was 16 and my Aunt had put me on a train to meet a family who did not speak French. I would be taking care of their kids for "les vacances." I learned so much during those four weeks, like the word for broom, diaper, and every possible ingredient for rice salad. I learned you can not make pancakes Americain from French flour and all about the love and joy a family can share during a relaxing vacation together.

But back to le goûter. Since the French eat dinner later, like 7pm or later, you really need to fortify yourself about 4pm. This was the time I got our chocolate bars, cookies, pastries, a fresh baguette, milk and other amazingly wonderful goodies. The kids always just ate what they wanted and walked away. But since this was new to me, I gained weight!!


Years later when I lived in Paris, I worked for a family in Paris near the Buttes Chaumont. I would take the metro up to this exotic neighborhood and pick up the elementary school aged boy at school and walk him home. And there was, once again, a never ending spread of goodies set out by the very nice Algerian housekeeper. Since she knew I was broke, she would stuff me with crepes and cheese and bread. I was always so grateful to her. 


So whenever I go to France with my family now, I always make sure to have a hearty goûter. And this afternoon, I am craving a good selection of French food to satisfy my taste buds and my soul.

If you'd like more information about enjoying your own trip to Paris, visit www.ParisMadeSimple.com.
One of Each, Please

OK, Just These for Today

Marzipan Fig and Pig

Giant Meringue

Pate, Cheese, Olives, Normandy Butter, Tomatoes, Apricots

A Baguette and a Surprise from the Patisserie

Friday, August 17, 2012

Our Parisian Apartment

I have to say that for the price, we had the BEST apartment in Paris!

Travelling with my husband and 12 yr old daughter meant that I wanted some space. We went for two weeks and let's face it, family vacations can get tense. So being Americans, space is important. But in Paris, space is premium!

We ended up with an amazing 3 room apartment with a balcony, wi-fi, washer/dryer, huge flat screen with cable, and a dishwasher! It was a very secure building and had an elevator.

One thing about Parisian spaces. Sometimes the configurations are weird. Most of the time, people are working with 100 yr old plus buildings. I can't even imagine what it must be like to retrofit these old structures.

This apartment was truly beautiful. Not fancy, but each room was large and had all we needed. The central room was the kitchen, dining table, pantry, and had a couch. There were two floor-to-cieling double windows which opened out onto the terrace. Flanking this room was a bedroom with a queen sized room, desk and an amazing amount of closet space! There was also a floor-to-ceiling window which opened onto the terrace. On the other side of the kitchen was a huge living room with two high quality futon couches/beds. There was also two floor-to-ceiling windows in here too!

All the windows were modern with double glazed glass. This made the apartment quiet. We were on the street side and just off of a major boulevard (Magenta) so there was noise. But hey, it's the city! And we were a mere 1 minute walk from the metro. The other nice thing is that we were easy walking distance to either Gare d'Est or Republic metro stations. Since both are major hubs, you can get everywhere from there. And the RER comes right into the Gard de Nord (right next to Gare d'Est) right from the airport.

Although we were not in the elegant city center, we had a less expensive and equally convenient neighborhood. It was a five minute walk to the Canal St. Martin and the whole neighborhood has an amazingly cool vibe! It's young, hip, and friendly.

So all of this was about 500 euros less per week than anything else I can find for this amount of space.


 For more information and help planning your trip to Paris without breaking the bank, visit ParisMadeSimple!


Monday, July 30, 2012

Wonderful Memories of "Our" Neighborhood Cafes

We got back from Paris a week ago. Seems like another world, or that we were never there. That's the frustrating part of travelling. Thank goodness for photos and this blog!

We had an amazing time and stayed on budget. All in all, with all our shopping, eating, passes, apartment, and airfare, it cost us about $2500 each for two weeks in the City of Light during the Summer. That means if you save $105/month for two years, you're there! This also includes planning ahead and being willing to buy your airfare and pick your apartment well in advance, like 6 + months in advance.

Since we stayed on budget, we ate out the last couple of nights in Paris, not wanting our experience to end and to be sure the fridge was cleaned out. As I mentioned before, we knew we'd get consistently better food and service in our own neighborhood.
Brasserie l'Harmonie
The menu on the chalk board
The first night in Paris, we staggered into  l'Harmonie, sitting our extremely jet-lagged selves in their nice restaurant and was extremely satisfied with the food and the waiter. I'm pretty sure I wrote about this in an earlier blog. One of our last nights, we went back and sat outside. The food wasn't quite as good (but still way better than our dinner near Pompidou) but the waitress was extremely friendly and the whole experience was satisfying.
Cafe le Bistro - our neighborhood bistro
Our final night, we opted for the bistro just two doors down. We'd eaten dinner there before and had a pleasant afternoon snack on another day.
Mike unwinding after a hard day - LOL

We felt like family there, especially since we always got a friendly wave and "hello or "Bonjour" when we dragged our tired carcasses off the subway and walked by the bistro headed for our apartment!
Stefan and Mathieu - the nicest waiters in Paris
So the last evening, I asked to take their pictures. They'd been so friendly and fed us well, I wanted to immortalize them!

Thank you Stefan and Mathieu for making us feel at home and not like tourists. We'll be back!!

For more information about having an awesome vacation in Paris, visit my website: ParisMadeSimple.com.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Dining in Paris

An excellent meal near Gare de l'Est
So, I wanted to say a short word on dining in Paris.

We've eaten a lot of picnics and dinners in our apartment and so have been able to afford more dinners out than expected. We've also found that sticking close to home (the 10th) is more convenient and less expensive. It's also less touristy, in general. We've had three excellent dinners withing a 10 min walk of our apartment, tonight being no exception.

Although we searched our four guides for recommendations, we ended up doing our favorite thing - walking until we found something that looked good.

Tonight we headed up Blvd. Magenta in the direction of Gare de l'Est. And we found a cute little bistro where the waiter was friendly to us as we checked out the menu. So yes, he "caught us in his net" and we were very happy he did.

Jean - Marc, one of my favorite waiters in Paris
Jean-Marc was one of those professional waiters. He knew how to engage the people walking by and handle the entire place himself with the help of the proprietor. We were in the early dinner crowd, it being only 7:15 pm. The sun was still warm on the tables along the busy street next to a bus station. But it was lively, warm, and the food looked typically French. We weren't out for "cuisine," just yummy food.

Right away, Jean-Marc tried engaging us in English, but being shy about his language skills and understanding my French better, we struck up a wonderfully, friendly conversation in French. We were American? From Chicago? New York? In the end, he was fascinated with all the details of Maine and it's coastal culture since he himself was from Brittany.

The meal was good, the owner checked on us and was very happy that we were happy and the whole dinner was "genial."

This is my normal experience with Paris. I have yet to have anyone be rude or anything but fall-all-over-me friendly. Granted, I speak French fairly well (be assured, their expectations are pretty low for Americans) and I engage and smile and ask questions. But, I am NOT eating at some fancy place like Les Deux Magots (definitely worth a coffee if you can spare the Euros) or some other super snobby touristy places. We are dining in "our" neighborhood!


So, I write this with a stomach full of confit de cunnard (duck), a demi-carafe of good house wine and a mousse au chocolate, topped with friendly Parisian service. Life is great in Paris!!

For more information about planning a great time in Paris, visit ParisMadeSimple!

Bastille Day


Time is flying and I've not had the time or energy to post as I'd hoped to. But I will do lots when I get back.



The other day was the first Bastille Day I've had in Paris since I was a kid. It was really exciting to be in the capital city during their big national holiday.

We were all gang busters to do shopping during the day and so headed to Chatelet. As we emerged from the metro at the far end of the rue de Rivoli, the streets were all blocked off and everyone was waiting for something. Come to find out, it was the military parade! I'd never seen one and it was kind of exciting.

We shopped and boy were we successful. I know it sounds like we're here for shopping but the sales are just so great and we're just having fun doing it! Mike found fantastic shoes and then Megan and I found a great women's store.

Then, off to have une coupe de glace, a crepe and home for a power nap.

Later, after a late dinner and lots of games of cards, we set off for the Eiffel Tower at 10pm. The metro was crowded to the point of intimate knowledge of one's "neighbor", but everyone was jovial and polite. Most of the metro stations anywhere near the Eiffel Tower were closed for security sake, so we got as close as we could and then all poured off like water into the subway station and into the streets. Normally, I would have dug my map out and navigated over to our destination, but there was no need as everyone was headed to the same place and we just followed the river of people!

The Champs de Mars was packed, but we found a spot and didn't have long to wait. The fireworks show was fabulous and the giant disco ball we'd seen on the ground a few days before was now shining from the space just above the first floor.

The music was fun, being disco, and the fireworks were timed well with it. The 30 min. show went really fast - as do most fireworks displays - and the crowd was happy and well behaved!

Then, the crowds poured back toward the nearest metro. The stop where we'd gotten off had at least a 1/2 hour line, so we walked and walked and walked and - yes - walked. Finally, at about 1 am we got to an RER line right outside my old abode and the Musee Orsay. The trains were still packed but we finally got home about 2am.


It was really a day to remember!

For more information about planning a great time in Paris, visit ParisMadeSimple!

Friday, July 13, 2012

A Little Bit of a Quiet Day

This is the good part about "Living" in Paris. If everyone is tired or the weather isn't great, you don't need to panic. I think if you are on a tour or have a strict schedule or have come to Paris to see a list of things, you have too much anxiety to slow down and respect the natural rhythm of life. Yesterday, Megan was so tired that she just couldn't get herself together in time for "our" schedule.

As an example of the safety of our place, we felt very comfortable leaving her to sleep as Mike and I went off to explore the outdoor market at Bastille.

I have to confess, that in all the visits and living in Paris that I've been fortunate enough to have done, I had not been to a real neighborhood market since I was 16 and with my Aunt in St. Cloud. It was so much fun today.

I have also unlocked part of the key to why the French are so healthy. Excellent quality fresh fruits and vegetables, meats and fish and foul, and everything in between is available at obscenely affordable prices. Every time a vendor would tell me their price, I didn't believe it because the price sounded too low.

The other fun part of the market is that it's like an open air department store where you can get everything from clothing to housewares to shampoo to table clothes. Mike and I fell in love with scarves and I got to do a little bartering. I got two beautiful cashmere scarves for 45 Euros.

 
We walked back to the apartment with a shopping bag brimming full of fresh fruits, vegetables, scarves, fresh almonds (something I'd last had when I was 10 and in Corsica) and some wicked good stinky ripe cheese! And Mike was happy to get some fresh figs.

I loved taking to the vendors and everyone was so incredibly friendly. We saw a very strange shell fish which the lady told me was a prehistoric creature, related to the longustine and tasted similarly. It looked pretty much like a giant prehistoric bug. I should have taken a photo!!! But we'll be returning on Saturday and I'll try to get one then.

For more information about planning a great time in Paris, visit ParisMadeSimple!



Wednesday, July 11, 2012

In Love with Paris - As Always...

Canal St. Martin Near our Apartment
Paris is amazing - as always. We arrived a few days ago and are settling into a bit of a routine.

We've been doing a lot of shopping for food because even in the local supermarket we can't possibly eat all the yummy food we want. We've been indulging on good cheese, meat, Haribo candy you can't find in the states, good confit, excellent cheap wine, and many other things.

I've managed to navigate buying our Navigo passes (much cheaper than the tourist transit pass - Paris Visite), buying more minutes on our cell phones, and buying a universal charger for my laptop. Yes, I forgot my laptop charger at home.
Canal St. Martin Near our Apartment

Mike on our Terrace at 10pm
Our apartment is AMAZING as it's huge, well equipped, and very convenient. My wonky body needs a softer bed, but other than that, this is heaven! We've greatly enjoyed our little outside terrace too.

The weather is quite variable this week - sometimes warm, others cold, then sprinkling! But at least it's not 90 degrees because I've done that and it's not as easy to be a tourist then.

Wonderful Young Woman at the Organic Market

Luckily, it's sales season and everything is on sale. So what a time to shop! I personally haven't bought anything big (three scarves) but Mike and Megan have dropped some Euro on very nice clothes!

Entertainment on Sunday Afternoon, rue des Rosiers 
We've visited the Marais, including the rue des Rosiers area, shopped around the Pomplidou Center (the  modern art museum) and had a nice dinner near the Eiffel Tower. We explored the Champs de Mars last night, discovering 8 disco balls around the circumference and then a really big one UNDER the Eiffel Tower. With some research, I've discovered this year's theme for Bastille Day (France's Independence celebration) is DISCO! OK, I think that makes me feel old, but we're plotting our way to enjoy the celebrations which go on until the wee hours.

The Paris Opera House, Place de la Bastille
Excellent Dinner at Cafe le Bosquet
  
The Golden Eiffel Tower at Night
GIANT Disco Ball Under the Eiffel Tower


The Ever Interesting Pompidou Center

A Light Snack in the Afternoon!

For more information about planning a great time in Paris, visit ParisMadeSimple!


Sunday, June 24, 2012

Cell Phones for France

I've had Call In Europe on my page for two years as a good source for getting cell phone service in France. Two years ago, I had an excellent experience with them, so easy to to deal with. I actually bought two little cell phones which came with chargers for American current and an adapter French electrical outlets, and   SIM cards

In case SIM card means nothing to you, per WiseGeek, SIM cards are: "A Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) card is a portable memory chip used mostly in cell phones that operate on the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) network. These cards hold the personal information of the account holder, including his or her phone number, address book, text messages, and other data."


Once activated, Call in Europe billed us, at a very reasonable cell rate, for what we used. I let the account lag when I got back (per the instructions) and expected that when I was ready, I would simply reactivate the account again.

But the 1-800 number routes you to France. And although I speak decent French, there was NO WAY I could understand the automated voice on the other end except to "press 2" if you wanted blah de blah blah, etc. The email I sent in English was replied to in French (and said to call), and when I left my phone number (the cell that will accept international calls - since you must set that up with your carrier,) I never received a call back. 

So - disappointingly, off they go from my list. 

So what will I do? After a bit of panic, since I really want each adult to have a cell phone while in Paris, I have purchased some prepaid SIM cards from Amazon. Yes, don't they just have everything??

Now I can charge up the phones before I leave, AND have a French phone number to distribute to my family on this side of the Pond. All calls from them will be free for me, and we pay a reasonable rate for calls to each other and also to numbers outside of France. 

I chose Orange as the cell company. It is a the flagship mark for France Telecom and has been around a long time. When (if) we need more minutes, we will go to an Orange cellular store or a Tabac and buy more minutes. Just like in the States, you call the number carrier's number, enter the code you just bought, and the minutes will be added to the SIM card automatically! I have the option of having my US calls routed to my French phone - but I just say NO to that idea!! This plan also includes 3G internet, but we won't need that.

If you don't need a phone number ahead of time, your least expensive option is just to buy an inexpensive pay-as-you-go cell phone when you land. Unless you travel internationally a lot, your phone will most likely not work in Europe - contact your carrier if you don't know. If it does, you'll just buy a SIM card. Be warned - you will probably have to do the purchase in French, so I suggest you look up the vocabulary before hand. These options are generally much more affordable than bringing your phone from the US (provided you have a tri-band phone) and using your carrier's international plan. 


Need more information about planning a trip to Paris? Visit my website: ParisMadeSimple.com

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle

The Arboretum in the Garden of Plants, Paris 
At last, a suggestion from a family member on something to visit while we are in Paris. Well worth the wait too!

The National Natural History Museum in Paris is considered to be one of the "greatest conservatories in the field of natural science" - The Michelin Green Guide. 

Amazing tin foil dragon in the Garden of Plants,
the Gallery of Evolution behind
The "museum" is comprised of many parts; for instance The Great Gallery of Evolution, Gallery of Endangered or Extinct Species, the Menagerie, the Gallery of Mineralogy and Geology, The Gallery of Paleontology and Comparative Anatomy, the Paris Zoo, The Museum of Man and others.

A beautiful bird at the Menagerie
Some of these museums are located in the Mouffetard quarter in the Latin Quarter so there is plenty to see around here. It's easy to access too, located very near the Gare d'Austerlitz.

One of the cool buildings at the Menagerie
I have brought both of my daughters, on different trips, to the Menagerie. I've read everything from horrific to sad reviews of this place. The horrific review was from the Let's Go guide which, frankly, is written by and for young adults looking for young adult fun, not from parents' or kids' perspective. However, we really enjoyed it. Although it's Zoo-like, it is not a modern zoo. The animals are housed in older buildings, which in themselves are cool. I have always felt the animals were well taken care of and provided an excellent opportunity for kids to learn about animals. I've always wondered if this was where Madeleine said "Poo-poo" to the tiger, but perhaps it was at the Paris Zoo located near the Bois de Vincennes.

The Aviary at the Menagerie
I visited the Museum of Man when I was 10 and thought it was fantastic. Unfortunately, the Zoo and Museum of Man are among a few of the museums that are closed for renovation while we'll be there. So the Zoo goes on my list for next time!

Flamingos in Paris!
Click here for more information about these museums.

And for more information about planning your trip to Paris, visit my web site ParisMadeSimple!