So, I kind of left this post sitting in my drafts for a while with nothing in it, fully intending to write about this trip, then I completely forgot about it. I think, now that I am stuck at home without any way to travel (thanks to COVID-19), it would be a good time to reflect on my Europe trip from last spring. We took two weeks for our European travels, but our first stop was Paris for the first week. The second week was spent in Amsterdam, Brussels and London.
Day 1 – Paris by Tuktuk
We took the red-eye so we arrived early in the morning. We headed to our Airbnb to drop off our luggage (thankfully, our host allowed us to “check-in” early). Our first activity was a tuk-tuk tour of Paris. We were taken around to all of the different arrondissements and, very quickly, shown a few of the usual sights. The best part of the tour was the tuk-tuk driver, who showed us some of the more hidden parts of the city.
Our first stop on the tour was a little bakery where I picked up a delicious lemon tart (pictured above) and a croissant. I can never say no to a good lemon tart. The croissant was also lovely; light and flaky. It was just what you would expect from a Parisian bakery. (I had not yet had the pleasure of experiencing Ispahan yet, otherwise, I would have gotten one of those.)
As it was a Sunday when we arrived, he took us to one of the weekend markets. It had lots of local crafts and goods. We explored there for a while before moving on to our next stop. It was great to see different parts of the city that a typical tourist tour wouldn’t include. We explored a local street market as well as a wine store. It was a great overview of the city on our first day.
Wandering on Day 1
We were dropped off at a park (they were supposed to be having an Easter egg hunt, but I think we missed it). (As a note, the tuk-tuk tour can drop you off wherever you want, not just some random location.) We decided to explore a little on our own and walked back to our Airbnb. We stopped by a little restaurant, L’Argument, where I had a sorbet. I’m not entirely sure what the flavour of it was, but it was tart (possibly blackcurrant). My French is not great, so I just picked the last flavour that was offered.
We decided to call it a day and continued to walk back to our Airbnb while also searching for a store that was open so we could grab some groceries for breakfast the next day.
Day 2 – Galleries Lafayette
Shopping and Lunch
We had a little bit of a later start the next day, to give us time to really recover from our jetlag. We headed over to Galleries Lafayette Gourmet, where Jennifer had arranged a tour and macaron cooking class. Not going to lie. I think this was probably my favourite part of our Paris trip. There was so much good food. Boissier Paris is probably my newest favourite candy shop and I wish we could get their candies in Canada. They do ship to Canada, but I can only imagine the shipping cost. The cherry hard candies and soft bear gummies were my favourites there. We also checked out a chocolate shop, a spice shop (which also had tea), a cheese place (truffle cheeses have since become my favourite), and a few pastry shops.
We went to La Maison de la Truffe for lunch, which was located inside the Galleries Lafayette Gourmet. Our meal started with a charcuterie board that contained truffled cheeses and meats, as well as light salad. We split the next three dishes – Risotto, Tagliatelle and Gnocchi, all made with Black Melanosporum Truffle. Jennifer ordered a chocolate soufflé, made with truffled centre (I’m sensing a theme here). She was kind enough to offer a taste. The whole meal was fantastic. We took some time to look around (and purchase some goodies and macarons) before we headed over to Galleries Lafayette Haussmann.
We headed up to the classroom where we were provided with an apron and tools to make our macarons. Though we didn’t make the batter or bake the macaron shells themselves (they take too much time to prepare during the class), we did each get a chance to squeeze them out onto the macaron baking sheet. I would hope, given the opportunity, that I would be excellent at making them. (Let’s face it, I am not one to bake much, even if I am pretty good at it.) We were provided with premade shells and taught to make the filling. The teacher showed us how to make a chocolate ganache and pistachio filling. Once class was over, we checked out the glass walkway, which was pretty cool, though very static-y.
We walked around for the rest of the afternoon before heading over to another delicious restaurant for dinner. Le Comptoir was a must-visit location for Jennifer and Miss G as it was one of Anthony Bourdain’s favourite locations in Paris. Dinner consisted of escargot, les oeufs mayonnaise, foie gras, a chicken dish and a beef dish that I don’t remember the names of. Everything was delicious. I had never had foie gras before and this was probably the best experience. While I had previously had escargot, this dish was much better than my first experience with it. I’m pretty sure we ordered a couple of plates of it.
Following dinner, we walked over to Breizh Café for a crepé to end the night. Every food item we tried was delicious and it would be hard to pass up another opportunity to go back should one present itself.
Day 3 – Disneyland Paris
The third day in Paris was all about Disneyland. We headed off early in our Uber and spent the entire day exploring both parks. We spent the majority of the day at Disneyland but did head over to Walt Disney Studios to check out Crush’s Coaster and Bistrot Chez Remy. It seemed like a few rides were down for repairs, but we weren’t planning on going on a lot. As for the food, it admittedly was just okay but it was the atmosphere that gave it that extra spark, so I will let it slide.
I picked up a few souvenirs at the park including the missing member of my group of Winnie the Pooh plush, Eeyore (I don’t know why he is so hard to find in the Disney Store…). We stayed until close to watch the fireworks show (I apparently had seen in once when I was a child at Disney World, but I don’t remember this) then headed back to the city for the night. I will say, I don’t think one day is enough time to really explore both parks, but a lot of the rides and attractions are the same as other parks, so you may not be missing much if you don’t see everything (and can visit other parks located around the world).
Day 4 – Exploring the Sights
We didn’t plan much in the way of things to do for our fourth day in the city. We mostly spent the day just exploring Paris and heading to different restaurants. Our first stop was, of course, the Eiffel Tower. It was a bit of a rainy day, but that didn’t stop us. We packed our umbrellas and headed out. We decided to avoid the huge line-ups at the tower itself and checked out the park instead. I got some great shots of the Eiffel Tower at different locations, including the Parc de la Tour Eiffel and Trocadéro Gardens.
For lunch, we checked out some of the bistros at the top of Trocadéro Gardens and ended up selecting Le Malakoff. We again ordered escargot and les oeufs mayonnaise for appetizers. I ordered a steak and fries and Jennifer got chicken and fries. We shared our dishes again so that we could each get a taste. They were both delicious. When it was time for dessert, I passed on my usual (cremé brulée) and went with cremé caramel. Jennifer ordered the cremé brulée, and Miss G ordered ice cream. We didn’t realize it until we went to pay our bill but we had spent three hours enjoying the meal and chatting.
Our next restaurant reservation was coming up so we walked off our lunch as we explored more of Paris. We stopped by Bridge Bir-Hakeim for a photo op and past a few Instagram photo spots like Au Vieux Paris d’Arcole. Though it was closed and barricaded off following the fire earlier in April, we also stopped at Notre Dame for a picture.
Our next restaurant was Au Passage. It offers a unique menu and is a spot that foodies should check out. We ordered a cold octopus salad, escargot and sweetbreads. (Note: these are not the actual name of the dishes because my memory is not that good.) Miss G wasn’t having any of it at that point in the day so after Jennifer and I ate, we headed out. We ended up at Pink Flamingo for pizza (with a stop at a creperie for me). It was getting late and we were all pretty tired by that point, so we called it a day.
Day 5 – Montmartre
Food tour time! Every trip, we do at least one food tour. On this Europe trip, we did three. Our first food tour was in Paris in the neighbourhood of Montmartre. I’m not entirely sure this would have been a neighbourhood we would have explored on our own due to the reputation of the area. We went through Secret Food Tours. Out of all of the food tours we have done, this was by far my favourite.
Chocolates and Macarons
We met at the Pigalle Metro stop and joined a group of five other people and our guide, Baptiste. Our first stop was at Maison Georges Larnicol, a master chocolatier. One of the first things we learned was not just anyone can earn the Meilleur Ouvrier de France designation. Only the best in France (as indicated by the title) can win the title. (Jacques Torres is one of the youngest people to ever win the competition.) Here, we got to pick several chocolates to take away with us for consumption later, as well as make any additional purchases before moving on.
Our next stop was at Christophe Roussel for some macarons (there were lots on this trip). This particular pâtissier has several unique flavour combinations. We were given two of our choice to try. I tried a passion fruit and tarragon one (not my favourite) and a lavender apricot (delicious). I also picked up a few traditional macaron flavours as well. Once we had our fill of macarons, we walked towards an Instagram favourite spot, the Wall of Love, while our guide talked about the history of the area, including showing us one of the public drinking water fountains (Wallace Fountains) which date back to the 19th century.
Cheese, Meat and Bread
Our tour’s next stop was a cheese shop named La Butte Fromagère and sampled Tome du Caussenard (Sheep raw milk, middle age). France is well known for its delicious cheeses and it did not disappoint. We moved on quickly to the butcher, Boucherie Jacky Gaudin, where we sampled Rosette de Lyon (Cured and dried pork sausage) and Saucisson à l’ail (Garlic flavoured smoked pork sausage). Once we were done, our last shop was Boulangerie Alexine, a bakery. I picked up a massive sized Madelaine (about the size of my palm) before we walked over to our very last stop before the secret location.
At Crêperie KIGG, we had crêpes. I made the slight mistake of ordering a Grand Marnier crêpe (if you like Grand Marnier, go for it. It was a little too strong for me). It was delicious regardless of my dislike of alcohol. Our tour continued with some more historical information as we headed to the secret location.
Secret Location, Food and Wine
During our tour, our guide was purchasing some additional foods from the cheese shop, the butcher and the bakery for further enjoyment when we arrived at the secret location. We sat down together to share a meal of the goodies Baptiste picked up on our walking tour. Our first item was a traditional baguette. Baptiste explained to us that when we go to a boulangerie to ask for a traditional baguette, otherwise we may not get exactly what we were looking for. Our first cheese was Sainte Maure de Touraine (Fresh goat cheese with the ash rind, aged 8-12 days) followed by Galet Bleuté (Goat cheese, matured 30 days, creamy). I’m a goat cheese fan so I loved both of these.
Our first meat product was pâté en croûte (Crust pork pâté with foie gras filling). I had never had a crusted pâté before and this was a real treat. Our next treat was Comté (Cow raw milk, hard paste, 18 months old), which is the most popular cheese in France. I was fortunate to discover that I can also get this at home so I will treat myself on occasion with a small wedge. Jambon de Paris was the next meat served which is a must for Parisien sandwiches. I’m not entirely sure what it is they do differently, but it is so much better than the ham we have at home. Next was Rillette d’oie (Goose shredded meat with fat and condiments). It doesn’t look pretty but it was probably one of the best things I had all trip.
Somewhere between all these items we also tried Brillat Savarin with Truffes (Cow pasteurized milk, triple cream, truffles), which was my favourite cheese of the day, and Roquefort (Sheep raw milk blue cheese) which I was pleasantly surprised with as I don’t tend to like blue cheeses (more on that in my next post which includes our trip to England). Finally came the dessert. It was eclairs that were perfectly delicious and again, much better than the stuff I can get at home. There is something about the way things are prepared in France that just cannot be replicated in Canada sadly. Our tour came to an end as we finished eating and drinking. I tried the wines but, unsurprisingly, I didn’t like them (I’m just not a wine person) so I passed off my drinks to Jennifer, who was happy to help me out.
Exploring Montemartre and Beyond
We wandered back to the Sacré-Cœur for photos and to explore the area further, including a stop at the La Maison Rose, which unfortunately was a little crowded and not open. I left Jennifer and Ella to go exploring on my own for a while and to give them some mother-daughter time together. I ended up just wandering around, which Paris is great for, and passing by Notre Dame, Shakespeare and Company, and the Panthéon, before ending up at Jardin du Luxembourg. The parks are gardens in France are so beautiful and I wish we had more like them here. Exhausted, I called it a day and headed back to our Airbnb.
Day 6 – Museums and More
I started our sixth day by heading out on my own to explore museums. Anyone who has ever travelled with a child knows that museums are not exactly the best things to keep them interested. I spent most of the morning at the Louvre. Knowing that it would be next to impossible to explore the entire museum (I tried this and failed with the Met in New York), I focused on the areas that I really wanted to see. This meant that I spent most of my time in the Ancient Greek and Roman antiquities. From the Venus de Milo to the Winged Victory of Samothrace, I saw as much as I could before checking out the Mona Lisa as quickly as I could. As I expected and had been warned by many reviewers, it was not that impressive. It’s just super famous. The crowd was ridiculous and it wasn’t worth the wait. Basically, I went to see it just to say that I have seen it.
I headed back to the Greek and Roman antiquities before walking through the Egyptian antiquities. One thing I would do better next time is research what items I want to see and plan my route. I kind of wandered around and viewed only a fraction of what I probably would have had I planned better. I did get to see the painting of Marquise de Pompadour though so wandering wasn’t totally unsuccessful.
Across the Seine, I headed into the Musée d’Orsay which is probably one of my favourites for two reasons: Monet and Van Gogh. These are my two favourite artists and I love impressionism and post-impressionism. Any time I get to view their art, I will take it and Musée d’Orsay is the place to go in Paris. Unfortunately, The Starry Night was out on loan at the time I was there but I got to see some of the other great works. The building itself is also gorgeous and I wish I had had more time to explore. This is always my downfall when I travel. I just don’t give myself enough time to really see and explore everything I want to. (Really, this is just poor planning on my part.)
More wandering ensued following my visits to the museums as I headed over to the Pont des Arts, which is famous for its love locks. Of course, by this time, the love locks and the fencing have been removed. The railings are now protected with glass panels. (I never understood the whole love lock thing, especially after it became so overloaded.) I explored the nearby parks, the Luxor Obelisk and Pont Alexandre III before meeting back up with Jennifer and Ella at the Jardin du Luxembourg to enjoy a picnic lunch. We took a detour back to Galleries Lafayette for more goodies before heading to Champs-Élysées and the gorgeous Ladurée located there. We had a late dinner including some more shopping for macarons. This is where I discovered my favourite macaron flavour (aside from Rose), Marie Antoinette Tea. I was so excited to learn that these were also available in Toronto.
And so concluded week 1, our week in Paris. Would I go back again? Absolutely and I recommend anyone interested to absolutely go if you can. My biggest recommendation aside from planning is to either speak French to a decent degree, travel with someone who can or have a really good translator app. There are a lot of people that do not speak English (and really, no reason they should). “Parlez-vous Anglais?” only gets you so far because if the answer is no, communicating can be difficult.
Overall, even on my own without Jennifer or using a translator app, I did manage okay with my limited French. I will try to be a little more prepared next time in the language area. While I know the important questions and phrases (even if they didn’t always come to mind quickly), there is still a lot I could learn to make travelling in France easier. Oh yeah, and I need to take more photos. I still feel like I didn’t take enough and missed ones I wish I hadn’t.
Tune in next time for week 2 of my trip. No promises on when I will get that posted.