Monday, June 27, 2011

Paris; Ahh, Paris! 5 The last few days

Time to do more touristy things, so into the city by the number 67 bus. The buses were very good, running from Pigalle just down the hill. The ones we used all announced the next stop and displayed it as well and all stops have a name much like the Metro does, so it is easy to navigate your way around.
Notre Dame first and even at only about 9.30am the lines for seeing inside were very long. Having been rather quickly pushed through on previous occasions we were not keen to repeat the experience so  we contented ourselves with some photographs, including the part of the tympanum of the Last Judgement. I always look for the bit where the devil is trying to tip the scales in his favour.

The facade
Last judgement

For me, the view from behind is also lovely, with the spires in contrast with each other and the flying buttresses evident. The green square of John XXIII is always quite peaceful. This time they had a tent and telescopes set up as there are falcons nesting near the north rose window. We had quite a chat but didn’t see the birds.

John XXIII gardens
Beautiful buildings on the Isle de la Cite

Then to Isle St Louis for the obligatory Berthillon ice cream. Sorry folks but they ARE better than Amorino, nice as that is. We like to go into the little tea shop of Berthillon, which has been remodelled to be separate from the take-away area. A little haven of peace and quiet, very genteel, where I ate cassis/Grand Marnier/chocolate and Nick had chocolate/coffee/pear. Mmmm!

Interior of Berthillion

Lots of fun looking in Pylones, the colourful homewares shop, drooling over the cheeses in the fromagerie and the cakes and tarts in the patisserie and buying a few little gifts.
I love walking the one main street on the Isle St Louis. We returned to the St Louis en l’Isle church to find it all cleaned up and restored. Last time, about 9 years ago, it had netting strung to protect you from falling masonry and the interior was dull and lifeless with grime. Now it glows with gorgeous light. Some very fine paintings, quite small, at the rear of the church were exquisite. Representations of the life of Christ and so delicate. Maybe one will be our Christmas card this year.

St Louis interior
Detail of window

Some wandering brought up one of those cafes with outside seafood areas; lots of oysters and crabs and lobsters, then on to take the obligatory shot of the Eiffel Tower before ending the day at a highly recommended restaurant that was trying too hard and ended up giving very delayed service and food not quite as described. Ah well, can’t have it all.


Next day the Louvre. We had never visited the apartments of Napoleon III. Wow!! They are amazing. Loved the chandeliers and the sheer opulence of the interiors. There was also a display about Limoges china and the service of food course by course that was quite fascinating.

State dining room
Looking up into a chandelier

Then on to a few extra delights before ending the visit in the sculpture courts. I loved the windows fitted to one stair well, quite modern and eccentric (in the off centre meaning of the word) to add to our stained glass observations.

One of the eccentric windows
Joan of Arc hearing voices
When the king sat before this it emphasised his divine right to rule. It looked as if the angels were crowning him.
Detail of statue

Later we caught the 30 bus to Gare de l'Est and wandered the St Martin Canal, seeing people enjoying themselves and even watching a boat negotiate a filling lock on the canal. The area is very popular and the bridges, little parks and the green water are soothing and pretty.

Canal, bridge and people
Negotiating a lock. Behind is the entrance to the tunnel from Bastille to the river

On to dinner, this time very competent and tasty, even if our waiter was a bit clumsy (luckily it wasn’t me he spilled the dish on) and kept forgetting the order. At least he was attentive and the food delicious. Astier is a very traditional looking restaurant with the name woven into the tablecloths and huge napkins to match (perhaps they are one and the same). And joy of joys, they still presented a cheese platter “a volonte” or “take what you want”. Anyway, by the time we left the place was packed and everyone having a good time. A nice  way to end our Paris visit.

Astier and our waiter

We have said very little of Montmartre where we spent our nine days, nor referred to some of the sights of Paris that don’t fit anywhere else, so here also are a few pictures.

Abbesses Metro station
Street in Montmartre with windmill view
Flower shop in Montmartre with reflection of the street
Line 14 station, fully automated trains and stations, the only one accessible for people in wheelchairs
A shot down a modern metro train                          
Montmartre stairs
A Wallace water fountain in Abbesses square. Free drinking water across Paris
sacre coeur
Sacre Coeur from our window
Palais Royal metro is a beaded crown
Cafe sign at Gare de Lyon where we waited for our train to leave Paris

And thus ends the Paris blog. A little more to come on our journey through Dijon and Zurich to fly on to Portland and visit with son Cameron, his wife Christine and of course their little boy, Ryden.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Paris, Ahh Paris! 4

As I have said, this trip was to see some less visited parts of Paris. We had planned to visit some of the covered passageways which contain shops and cafes so we marked a few on the map of Paris and off we went. These types of passages, called shopping arcades in Australia, are fairly common in our big cities, often joining several streets in the central shopping district. Think Strand Arcade in Sydney and even more in Melbourne. Paris has quite a few.

The ones we visited in Paris ranged from very high end shopping with smart and unusual stores, like the amazing scarf shop in the Passage Vivienne, (prices from E240) to rather esoteric shops selling stamps and coins or comic books, to downright ordinary, selling things such as cheap shoes.( These ones reminded me irresistibly of Parramatta, one of our local areas in Sydney). Just loved the gorgeous toy shop in (I think) passage Jouffroy, and the tiny gift shop in Vivienne which had just a few choice things, some jewellery, paperweights, witty prints of Paris.

Passage Verdeau
Passage Panorama
Passage verdun comics
Old “Graphic novels”
The elegant Gallerie Vivienne

Another sight, long planned but never seen, was the Musee Jaquemart Andree. My sister had recommended this, a gentleman’s home filled with the treasures he and his wife had collected. All I can say is “Oh, to be able to collect like this”.

The house is stunning, arranged internally so walls could be dropped to open up rooms to cater for 1000 of the elite of Paris. Walls hung with beautiful art, the Wintergarden has beautiful sculpture, mirrors and the prettiest of staircases. There is gorgeous fresco that nicely fitted the area at the top of the stairs, by Tiepolo, and of course, the private collection available only to a few close friends, of Italian Renaissance gems.

Garden area
The amazing stairway
JA 1
Wintergarden and music room
JAmedici bust
Bust of Catherine de Medici

JA TiepoloThe Tiepolo fresco

At the same time an exhibition of the Caillebotte brothers’ paintings and photographs was being shown in some other rooms of the mansion. I had not heard of these before, brothers of independent means who enjoyed representations of their environment, one by photos, the other by painting, much in the style of the Impressionists. No photos allowed unfortunately. The rooms were cramped and crowded with visitors but again, it was a glimpse into a world where one could just do as one pleased, paint, perhaps build and sail yachts, take long holidays at the seaside, maybe have an extra house or two.

We followed this with a visit to the Musee Arts et Metiers, all about the history and development of scientific instruments and machines. The exhibit drove us mad! For a place that specialises in the development of technology it could use a bit more technology itself in informing the visitor. Audio-visual machines at the exhibits were primitive and often did not work. There were occasional books to read at stations around the museum but the labelling on the exhibits named them only and even in French, had few explanations. Many screens that presumably gave explanations did not work.

One could get an audio-guide but a museum which requires a guide to gain any understanding of the exhibits should include the guide in the admission price. In the end, after visiting the Foucault’s Pendulum and Bleriot’s plane, we gave up and left. Could do better!

Pere Lachaise was another “must do sometime” visit. We weren’t in search of famous graves particularly, but wanted to see some of the monumental statuary and get an idea of the place. It was very peaceful unless we crossed with a tour group.

A street in the cemetery
She died at 18
A portrait of its time. Many show people with their dogs
Angel face
A Gill, caricaturist. Love the moustaches.
Oscar Wilde’s monument, defaced by kisses and messages

In nearby Belleville we found the graffiti street but were a little disappointed after seeing streets in the Mission area in San Francisco. Nevertheless, some stunning work, just not a lot of it and to us, without any message of importance (but we may not be able to “read” what was written).


Belleville graffiti

I promised myself to hunt down some “Space Invaders” mosaics in Paris. These are tiny mosaics stuck on unlikely places such as the corners of buildings above the street names. I didn’t see any, despite there supposedly being many in Montmartre (one doubtful one that looked more like a tram at Pigalle) but I think these, edging a step at Belleville, may be the real thing. But maybe not…


As a final treat for this particular day, we hunted the dragon. This is the last work of the Chinese artist Chen Zhen before he died young in Paris and is a magnificent beast, ripping into the pavement as he dives and turns in Place Augusta Holmes. I know my middle son, Cameron, will particularly enjoy it.

See how he comes out of the wall…

and dives into the pavement again and again

There is a fountain inside and it is lit at night (which we did not see).

Enough for today! Last post on Paris next time, our more touristy things like Notre Dame and the Louvre.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Paris 3: Dinner at Guy Savoy

They say you can’t go back, that things are never the same, that you will be disappointed. So we were fearful to return for a dinner at Guy Savoy because we went seven years ago and it was so bloody good that we were sure we couldn’t repeat the experience. So we decided to take the plunge and we rebooked. And Wednesday night, all dressed up in the best gear we travel with, off we went.

We were about the second couple to arrive and were greeted by a host of people. Hubert, the Maitre d’ we recalled so fondly from the last trip, greeted us too, checking we were most comfortable speaking English and showing us to our table in one of the further rooms. The restaurant is divided into a number of smaller rooms. Ours had six tables, so you don’t feel overwhelmed by large numbers of people around you.

In rapid succession we were offered an aperitif from the gorgeous drinks trolley which sprouts large silver ice buckets of champagne and other delights; shown the different types of butter and offered bread from the bread trolley, probably about 10 different types, cut to order and offered repeatedly throughout the meal. We knew this from last time and were circumspect. Though very good indeed, there were better things to fill our tummies tonight.

Then the carte, offering several degustation menus and a la carte options and Hubert happy to discuss any likes or dislikes and explain possible choices. The waiter who would serve us for the night then took our order while happily dispensing the tiniest of foie gras toasts on little silver swords.

For me the signature artichoke soup with truffles, mushroom brioche and truffle butter; veal cooked several ways accompanied with asparagus and a dish of lemon sabayon sauce; dessert, well, if you can’t make up your mind, have half portions of two, that’s no trouble, so I had a salty meringue with raspberries followed by a cherry dish. cherries, some of which were whole but somehow stuffed with crispy meringue, sitting on cherry granita. As you will see they were actually a bit more elaborate than that. Nick opted for a dish called “myriad of young peas” followed by lamb cooked three ways and a dessert of strawberry textures.

That settled, the sommelier arrived with a huge book of wines and a stand on which to rest it. Some discussion followed and finally a Chablis Premier Cru was selected, a Montee de Tonnerre 2005. This was carefully tasted by the sommelier and then decanted. I noticed all wines were decanted.

There followed a small cup of asparagus soup with the tiniest of asparagus tarts with pastry so fine it shattered in your mouth, just to keep us amused as we finished our welcoming glass of champagne. Then the presentation really started.

Madame’s artichoke soup was presented and described. The brioche was ceremonially cut, showing layers of mushroom duxelles and spread with truffle butter. Meanwhile monsieur’s pea dish, consisting of a layer of jelly of peas, then creamed pea puree, topped by a salad of tiny half peas which I swear were all removed from their skin was also described and the poached egg on top ceremonially slit to release a drop of yolk. His toast soldiers were placed beside. Pure theatre!

Artichoke and black truffle soup with layered brioche and truffle butter. Ahh, the aroma.
Nick’s pea dish. The flavours reminded me of eating peas straight from the shell as a child and evoked all sorts of lovely memories

After that it was proper to have a slight wait. To maintain interest a bowl containing weeny mussels and mushrooms, cooked together in mingled broth, was served. Nick’s first mussels. We joked that this was a bit different from the moules frites I had been eagerly devouring in Brittany, and of course it was. Refined and balanced and just a few spoonsful.


Mussel and mushroom soup

The veal was a complex dish, again described in detail as it was presented. Pieces of loin were wrapped in ribbons shaved off asparagus, while squares of belly of veal reminded me of those pork belly cubes, but oh, so much more refined. Crispy on top and melting underneath, they were topped with a fat green asparagus tip. In the centre was a crisply browned veal sweetbread and on the side in a cute little dish was the lemon mousseline sauce. The suckling lamb came on two plates, one a black slate with a potato gratin with three tiny chops and a roasted saddle, separately the confit shoulder. This little lamb died very young I’m afraid.

Veal and asparagus
The suckling lamb. Look at the size of the cutlets.

Cheeses for madame. You bet! From about 60 cheeses, divided into cow/goat/sheep and soft/harder I chose a rochebaron (runny blue and coated in ash it was just begging to be eaten); morbier, a raw milk cow cheese, rather mild; and caruchon, a blue washed rind cheese from the Aveyron.


Part of the cheese trolley. That grey one on the left was begging to be eaten. By later in the night it was all gone.

Dessert, well my two choices were both unusual. The salty meringue was a hollow dome sitting over milk sorbet, with large raspberries stuffed with avocado cream. Loved the salty meringue, a little less enamoured of the avocado with raspberries though it all worked well together. The cherry dish was a bed of cherry granita, several poached, split cherries with a jelly in the centre and several that appeared whole but had a meringue “stone”. No idea how they did it. The waiter cut one cherry to show me the centre. I thought perhaps the flavour of cherry did not come through strongly. It was maybe just a bit too delicate. Still good though.

Salty and sweet dessert, half portion
Cherry and meringue, the other half

Now Nick’s strawberries were very simple to look at on the plate, sliced strawberries over strawberry jam with granita and strawberry juice, topped by slices of crisp strawberry, Strawberry crisps are a new one on us, but lets have some more. The dish looked small but Nick was very happy with it. We were also a bit naughty and had a dessert wine each, Nick a Gewurztraminer and mine a Jasnier.


Strawberry textures

And then, well the dessert trolley of course, to fill any holes you might have left. While they offered substantial things like cheesecake and clafoutis, they also had little marshmallows home made in different flavours, about 6 ice-creams in beaded, cold, silver jars and they handed out iced lollies on sticks and tiny soft poached meringue squares with strawberry jam centres and earl grey sorbet and chocolate mousse (Nick) and salty caramel icecream (me).

(Sorry, I use a small camera hand held, and the pictures here were just not in focus)

It all sounds excessive, but it really was in quite small portions and spread over three hours. It was delicious, it was theatre, it left you feeling very good indeed from the whole experience. The warmth of the attention and service was judged just right to be polished and professional but not fawning or supercilious in any way. We exchanged comments and jokes, met Guy Savoy himself, who personally greets all guests, and left feeling that we had had a wonderful evening. Oh, and I asked for a copy of the menu and it was given cheerfully, in a Guy Savoy carry bag.

Sometimes, my friends, you CAN go back!

Bottom line, for those who will want to know, was E700 or about $940aud. Approximately 1/3 of that cost was wine.

The Prestige menu of 8 courses is E298/head

The Colours, Textures and Savours menu of 11 courses is E360/head