Wednesday, November 8, 2017

C is for: Champagne! {Part III: Paris}

The third leg of our French adventure wrapped up in La Ville Lumière (City of Light.) Paris was not initially high on Kim's list, having visited previously when she had recently discovered she was pregnant. I assured her it would be a much different experience this go around, especially considering she was not allowed to drink Champagne OR eat cheese on her first visit. (Two of my most favorite French activities.)

Personally, I had only been to Paris back in 2002 when I was traveling through Europe following my study abroad program. It was one of the only portions of my six week trip where I traveled alone, so I was excited to return with a friend.

Despite the rainy weather, I was determined to make Paris just as memorable for Kim as our stops in Versailles and Reims.

Notre Dame is in the 4th arrondissement

Navigating Paris
Paris is broken up into 20 arrondissements... basically, 20 neighborhoods. The numbers start at the center and sort of spiral out, with the Seine River cutting it in half (left and right bank.) This means that the 1st through 7th are the most central and closest to most tourist attractions, with the higher numbers being further out and typically more residential. Similar to the different neighborhoods in any large city, each have their own character and vibe. After doing some research, we decided on Marais, which is on the right bank, and known for being hip and trendy. (Marais is spread across the 3rd and 4th arrondissements.)

Photos courtesy Marais HOme Hôtel
Where to stay: Hôtel Marais HÔme
We chose Hôtel Marais HÔme based on the price point, location and online reviews. It's a boutique hotel located on the edge of Marais. When I visited Paris 15 years ago, I stayed in a hostel so I'm not so well acquainted with typical hotel room size in Paris. Perhaps it was just our room, but it was definitely on the smaller side, similar to what you'd find in New York City. (Our room was sort of a triangular-shaped corner room nestled up against the elevator shaft.) But, like most cities, you're not really spending too much time in the hotel, so it suited our needs just fine.

"Reopening September 4th"
When to visit: Not August.
As I mentioned in my previous post, we happened to visit during August instead of July as originally planned. (Iron Chef came calling, so thanks to Kim and all of the hotels & wineries for being flexible in our rescheduling.) August is typically when most of Europe packs up and goes on vacation. Unlike the U.S., this also applies to shop and restaurant owners. It sort of became a running joke the whole week... to the point where we would say "hashtag is it open?" every time we tried to go somewhere. In Reims... a bakery, a cheese shop and a lunch spot recommended by Bruno... all shuttered with hand written signs on the window saying they'd be back at the end of the month. Our first night in Paris... I scouted out a cute wine bar nearby... but as we walked up... closed.

I knew ahead of time that Septime and all its sister restaurants would not be open, which was a huge bummer. But nothing on Frenchie Bar a Vins' website indicated it would be closed (and they don't take reservations), so we hopped in an uber in the pouring rain and away we went. As the car started to slow down, my heart sank. The entire side street was a ghost town. EVERY. SINGLE. RESTAURANT. CLOSED.

Our driver did not speak English, so we had to just jump out and start walking towards a more busy street with open restaurants. The first spot we ducked into seemed to be just a typical French brasserie, which was fine because for some reason we were craving snails. Ironically, the service was moving at a snails pace, so we sat for a good 10-15 minutes with no one waiting on us. I used the time to look up other restaurants on my phone and came across Le Comptoir Gastronomie. The menu looked very promising, but not wanting to risk it being closed, I called from my cell, not caring about any international calling charges. Good news awaited on the other line... THEY WERE OPEN!


Where to eat: Le Comptoir Gastronomie 
From the moment we stepped in, we immediately knew we had made the right choice. The place was warm, welcoming, and our waiter was super friendly and accommodating. More importantly, we had some AH-mazing food and a bottle of Tattinger champagne to wash it all down.

Let me sum up our food experience in three words: Foie Gras Raviolis. And if you need more convincing, how about three more: Duck Shepherd's Pie. Those are two can't-miss items at this place. It was French comfort food at its best. We also got our snails, and finished things off with a dessert of plum pie with goat cheese sorbet. Part of the restaurant is actually a specialty foods store, so it would also be a great place to do some shopping during the day.

Even though the constant closures were frustrating and challenging... we would have never discovered Le Comptoir Gastronomie otherwise, so for that reason I'm very thankful we stumbled on it by accident... though you should absolutely go there on purpose!!


Where to find the best nightlife: the Latin Quarter
On recommendation from a former co-worker, we hit up a cabaret show after our amazing dinner at Comptoir. Aux Trois Mailletz is located in the lively Latin Quarter on the left bank. Upstairs is a mellow piano bar, but downstairs is where the action is (as long as you can get past the slightly musty smell.) The show starts nightly at 10:30, but it really gets hoppin' around midnight. Cover is 20€ on the weekdays, 25€ on weekends. The performers are wildly talented with a variety of singers, musicians and dancers performing in all different languages. It's an intimate setting, nothing fancy, but I liked it that way. It has the feel of a hidden locals spot, like we got let in on the secret. After a couple hours of fun and dancing, we tried to leave, but the manager (owner?) insisted on us staying and continued handing us free drinks, so we didn't head home until almost 4am. (Who are we??) Regardless, it was a great time and I recommend it over something more touristy like Moulin Rouge.


What to do: Picnic in front of the Eiffel Tower
It sounds so simple, but this is one of my favorite things to do in Paris. We grabbed a ham and cheese crepe, found a park bench with a view of the Eiffel Tower and ate it like a burrito with a canteen filled with sparkling rosé. Whether you go the crepe route or load up on cheese, charcuterie & baguettes... take some time enjoy the view, do some people watching, and relax. (I also did this on my visit 15 years ago, in front of the Arc de Triomphe.)


I love this shot because it sort of looks like there's a little heart around the top of the tower. J'aime!


Take a Cooking Class
Given my passion for travel and food, one of my favorite things to do in a foreign country is take a cooking class! It's a great way to experience the food and culture of a new place, and learn some things you can apply at home. I took one in Chiang Mai during last year's visit to Thailand, as well as a ceviche class in Peru this past summer. It's also produced inspiration for some great blog content, as I recently posted recipes for Thai Cashew Chicken and also Peruvian Ceviche. My favorite is when the class also includes a visit to a local market, which was part of the one we took in Paris with La Cuisine.


La Cuisine Cooking School: 
I discovered La Cuisine while doing a search for cooking classes on TripAdvisor. It ranked as the NUMBER ONE thing to do in the Food & Drink category, so naturally I had to see what all the fuss was about. The classes can be on the pricier side (ours was 160€), but consider that the price includes the market tour, the class, a large lunch (you eat what you cook), cheese and wine. So if you think of it as both a nice lunch and your activity for the day, it's not a bad price. As a group, we decided our menu at the market, and ended up making seared duck breast with a plum sauce, roasted vegetables, French onion soup, John Dory fish encrusted in French grey sea salt, plus a tarte tatin for dessert. The school offers a wide variety of classes including macarons, pastry, and also walking food tours (for those who'd rather just eat than cook.) Our instructor, Lise, was very lovely and spoke perfect English. It was a wonderful way to spend the morning (and part of the afternoon).


See the city by bike (and boat): Fat Tire Tours
From my travels back in 2002, I have fond memories of taking a bike tour in Munich (that ended at a beer garden and me stumbling back to my hostel.) At the time, it was called Mike's Bike Tours, and I remembered they also had a location in Paris. A little research told me that since then, the company had changed its name to Fat Tire Tours. They offer several different options, but we chose the night bike tour because it ended with a Seine River cruise (that included wine!) for around $50. It starts in the late afternoon/early evening and makes several stops along the way including the Notre Dame, Louvre and Eiffel Tower. The guides speak English and are very informative about the history of every location we visited.


Berthillon Ice Cream
One of our stops on the tour included Berthillon Ice Cream on the Île Saint-Louis, which is widely considered the very best ice cream (la glace) in Paris. Even if you don't take the bike tour, it's definitely worth a stop, and it will give you a nice excuse to visit this cute little island in the middle of the Seine. Most of Île Saint-Louis is residential, but there are some shops and restaurants, and of course... Berthillon Ice Cream, which became famous in 1961. They have a rotation of flavors (and now vegan ice cream according to the website), but the salted caramel is definitely one of their most popular.


Biking around the outside of the Louvre at sunset was just one of the many stops on our tour.


We wrapped up the evening with a cruise along the Seine River, before racing back to the Eiffel Tower to catch the nightly "sparkle," which happens for the first five minutes of each hour on the hour from sunset until 1am.

A post shared by Jaymee Sire (@jaymeesire) on


We barely made it on account of a broken bike by someone in the other group, but we showed up just in the nick of time. Snapped a couple photos, and said "Au Revoir" to our French holiday.

*If you missed Parts I & II, make sure to check out my recap of Versailles & Reims.

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