October 15, 2010

VRBO 15502 ~ a Review

As many of you know, I was upset right before we left for our trip to receive an e-mail from our landlord telling us there was construction on our building and the windows in the bedrooms would be sealed. I thought I would update everyone on how we felt about the apartment once we got there and stayed for our 17 days.

Actually, we ended up really enjoying the apartment and were very grateful for the unsolicited discount. The location could not have been better, half a block from Place des Voges, with the 96 bus on the corner and the 69 bus 2 blocks away. The Bastille and St Paul metro stops were about a 5 minute walk, so there was great transportation options very close by.

The apartment itself was very spacious, especially by Parisian standards. The kitchen has everything we could possibly need, including a separate clothes dryer that dried much better than the combination units we have had previously. The free wifi worked seamlessly, even with 4 laptops/ipads using it at the same time (hey, technology is a wonderful thing ~ we didn't have to talk to each other all night if we didn't want to, lol). We had free phone calls to North America which made it easy to keep in touch with our daughter and son. There was a nice flat screen TV which we hardly ever turned on since we were much too busy either being out or on the internet.

The bedrooms were very big and the beds were comfortable. The bathroom was also big by European standards and we never ran out of hot water, even with 4 adults taking showers every day.

I would happily rent this apartment again, especially if we came with our daughter and grandson, since one of the bedrooms has 2 twin beds. The location and extra conveniences can't be beat.

At the end of the day, we felt that David, our landlord, was very nice to offer us that discount. Our only inconvenience was not being able to open our bedroom windows, which wasn't that big an issue since it got rather cool at night anyways. There was construction noise that began at about 8am on weekdays, but that just ensured we got up and got going! There were 2 big windows in the living room/dining room and one in the kitchen that let in sun and a breeze, so we didn't feel like the apartment wasn't bright or airy enough.

We did find that the apartment could use some freshening up. The couch and chair in the living room have seen better days and even a slip cover would make them look better. The decor is faded, the wood floors could be refinished and it could be spruced up as a whole to give a better impression when you walk in for the first time, but in the end, we were very comfortable there and you get used to the quirks and shortcomings after a few days. David is a very nice guy who is very busy with his work and raising 2 little kids, so I don't think he spends as much time and money on the apartment as he could, but that just means that the rent is reasonable for a place of this size with this location. You are not getting top of the line, but you are not paying top of the line prices, either!

The true test is would we rent this apartment again and the answer is yes. In fact, we hope to do so in 2 years time when we come back with Sebastian.


Jo

October 12, 2010

Last days in Paris ~ Oct 8 to Oct 10

Friday morning was sunny and warm, a perfect day for everything we had planned today. First up was a bakery tour at Richelieu Bakery in the 1st through Meeting the French. Since it only started at 11am, we had lots of time to relax and have a second cup of coffee. We left the apartment around 10:15 and strolled through the 3rd and 2nd arrondissements to get to the bakery just a few minutes before 11. We were joined by 3 Japanese tourists and our lovely guide. The Richelieu Bakery is the oldest bakery in Paris, open since 1810. The owner, Claude, gave us a wonderful tour and it was easy to see the passion he has for his profession. He showed us how the dough is mixed and left to rise and gave us all a chance to score some uncooked baguettes. He then put about 5 racks of baguettes in the huge oven and went on to show us how to roll croissants and pain au chocolat. He told us how important it was for each baguette to weigh exactly 250 grams and that bakers could be fined if the bread weighed less. He also said it was illegal for bakeries to go on strike since bread was a right in France! On the other hand, bakers, like most workers in France, get 6 weeks off a year so it's not all bad! His passion for his profession showed as he spoke and you could tell how proud he was to make bread and great pastries for his clients. We were given baguettes fresh from the oven to taste and we left feeling that we understood this noble profession a little bit better.

We made our way back to the garment district for our 1pm reservation at Frenchies, a tiny bistro on rue du Nil near rue Montorgeuil. This restaurant, recently featured on an episode of No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain, has become one of the hardest tables to book in Paris and it's only through my pig headed stubborness and dozens of phone calls to Paris from home that I managed to snag a lunch reservation about 1 week before we left. It certainly was worth the wait. The place seats about 30 people in total and the chef changes the menu on a daily basis depending on what's fresh. There were 2 choices each for entree, main dish and dessert. Den had the tomato salad, which was bursting with fresh, light flavour. I had the grilled calamari served with thin slices of dakon radish and tiny sliced green beans. We both had the gnocchi with lamb and olives for our main dish and it was the lightest, airiest gnocchi I have ever had and I have 2 Italian sister-in-laws! Den is still raving about this dish. We decided on cafe gourmand for dessert. We had good espressos with a little spice cake that was nice, it just didn't wow like everything else we had. Our table neighbours had the panna cotta and the moans coming from both mother and daughter indicated we made the wrong choice for dessert. Lunch was 28 euros for 3 courses, a great value for the quality and inventiveness of the ingredients we were given. The chef was gracious enough to sign my lunch menu and I told him I would sell it on eBay one day. He told me I'd make more money by making reservations and selling those. We also heard another diner tell the chef that he had dined at Per Se and French Laundry in the US and that his meal at Frenchies had been better than either of those! After lunch, we decided to walk to Parc Monceau in the 8th, but we got sidetracked along the way with some shopping along the grand boulevard Hausseman. Instead, we walked towards La Concorde so we could take Line 1 of the metro which drops us off a few blocks from our apartment.

We relaxed a few hours and got ready for dinner at Josephine Chez Dumonet, a traditional bistro in the 6th. We took the 96 bus again right at the door, going in the opposite from our trip to Belleville yesterday. Josephine is a very busy place and I had made reservations a few days before, knowing that this was not a place you just walk into. Again, we saw people turned away during our meal. SInce it was such a nice balmy evening (especially for October and especially for Canadians!), we asked for a table outside. Initially, they told us they were all reserved and led us to a table in the back room, but then our waiter decided he could give us an outside table after all and took us back to the front of the restaurant. We were very happy at this kind gesture and told him so.

Josephine serves traditional French cuisine in huge portions. We had been warned about the size of the portions, so we decided to split both an entree and a dessert. We had the foie gras to start and were each served a huge slab. There was probably about a quarter pound of foie gras on each plate and we were deliriously happy not to have to skimp on how much we slathered on our little slices of toasted bread. Next came Den's cassoulet in a large cast iron pot which could have served at least 2 people and my chateaubriand, serve blue rare with a mound of thinly sliced potatoes and a simple green salad. Both meals were great comfort food, which while not breaking any food boundaries or reinventing any recipes, served exactly the purpose they were supposed to ~ give the diner traditional French cuisine in a very comfortable setting. Our waiters were funny and friendly and professional. We had ordered our dessert, the famous Grand Marnier souffle, at the same time as the rest of our meal, and it came to the table steaming hot, huge and pillowy and was served with a little glass of Grand Marnier to pour over the souffle. It was soooo good and the perfect end to a huge, delicious meal. We took the metro back home but we really should have walked our meal off. Oh well, we'll walk tomorrow..........

Our last full day in Paris was the most beautiful fall day I've seen in a long time. Sunshine and 25 degrees brought out most of Paris and the streets were packed with Parisians and tourists taking advantage of one of the last nice days of the year. We had decided that we had done enough running around during our trip and we were going to relax and spend most of the day at Jardin Luxembourg enjoying the warmth, the sunshine, the beautiful fall colours and the great people watching. We walked from our apartment down rue Rivoli for one last time and crossed over to the 6th and meandered to the park, getting there around 1pm. We found some chairs near the pond and just sat and napped and read and napped and took in all the scenery, the couples and families and friends strolling and playing and relaxing. We had some baguettes in the park for lunch and happened upon an orchestra playing a free concert as we were about to leave, so we stayed an extra hour listening to movie themes, including the theme from the Godfather. It was the perfect end to a perfect stay in Paris and we left the park around 5pm. We walked back though the 5th and strolled along the Seine near Notre Dame, listening to the church bells peal and enjoying our last hours in the city we have grown to love. We didn't want the day to end, the sunshine was still streaming warmth past 6pm and we finally made it back to the apartment around 6:30.

We had made reservations at Au Vieux Comptoir, a wine bar we had enjoyed last year in the 1st, but we really weren't up to another huge meal after our food orgy of the past few weeks. We decided to stay in the area and just walk around and see what tempted us. The streets and terraces were stilled filled with people enjoying a beautiful Saturday and we ended up at Les Fous d'en Face on place Bourg Tibourg. We both had salmon for dinner, which was very good, nice and moist and flavourful, served with rice and steamed veggies. Our last dessert was brown sugar creme brulee for me and a slab of chocolate cake in a pool of creme anglaise for Den. You can see that our reserve to have a sensible meal ended at dessert, but it was our last one in Paris, so it's understandable, isn't it! We walked slowly back to the apartment and finished our packing. Morning came way too early, our shuttle drove us to CDG uneventfully and the flight home was too long and boring.

So comes to an end another wonderful trip to Paris, cementing our love for this city of beauty and light, great food and wine, unbelievable architecture, tiny cobbled streets and grand boulevards, large manicured green spaces and densely packed city areas. We can't wait to bring our grandson Sebastian here in 2 years and show him this majestic city. Until then, Paris, je t'aime.............

Spring!

I'm really behind in my blogging but I did want to thank AiP and her wonderful hubby for a decadent evening at our favourite restaurant last night. It was so nice to finally meet someone I've "talked" to online on several websites. You both made us feel instantly comfortable and we really enjoyed getting to know you both.

Dinner was spectacular, but I never expect any less from Mr Rose. His new place in the 1st is a shiny jewel with the open kitchen as the centerpiece, where diners can watch the master at work. Despite all his wild success, Daniel remains calm, humble, sweet, witty and dedicated to giving people the freshest ingredients in the most imaginable ways possible. There are 3 floors ~ the main floor which houses the kitchen and main dining room, the first basement level with the newly opened wine bar, and the second basement level which stores all the carefully chosen wines in a controlled cellar.

We were warmly welcomed by Daniel, who recognized us from our previous encounters (he even remembered meeting me and my daughter outside the Spring boutique in May!). we met Mr and Mrs AiP just a moment later and got the party started! We were joined by friends of AiP since my friends had to cancel dinner with us at the last minute. Conversation flowed like we had known everyone for years and we really enjoyed meeting people from such varied backgrounds and experiences.

The food......ah, what can I say about the food except that it was magnificent. Daniel has this knack for putting things together that shouldn't really go together, but they just do. (I will apologize for the lack of detail in my course descriptions. I was having too much fun talking with AiP and the rest of our tablemates to take notes, as was Den, who never even thought of taking out the camera.) The first course was a medley of fall mushrooms in a foam with pomegranate seeds ~ it was a revelation of autumn flavours, earthy and meaty and just delicious. We then had a huge shrimp in a tempura type batter served with a carpaccio of fish underneath. Very fresh and light. Our main meal was veal sweetbreads and tete de veau with a variety of radishes and parsnips in a wonderful sauce. This was my introduction to sweetbreads and what a revelation it was ~ they were slightly crispy on the outside and meltingly tender on the inside. I will be looking for them on menus from now on. We then shared a fantastic cheese course which including a selection of about 6-7 different cheeses, including brebis, roquefort, brie de Meaux, cantale and a very runny Epoisse, which was almost orgasmic!

We were then served 3 dessert courses ~ apple with thyme ice cream, chocolate quenelle with a salted caramel sauce, and an olive oil ganache on a little pool of mures reduction ~ needless to say, they were all delicious and sinful and I think I dreamt about them last night!

We shared 3 bottles of fantastic wine (1 white and 2 reds, and unfortunately I don't know anything about them except that they were expensive and delicious!) Our meal lasted almost 4 hours and time flew by as we were consumed with great food and conversation. Daniel served us one last little morsel of fun, 2 tiny squares of graham crackers with something runny and yummy in between. We were the last ones to leave Spring at a little past midnight and I can honestly say that this was, once again, the culinary highlight of our trip. This place is such a contradiction ~ it's both a temple of high culinary offerings and a fun, down to earth joint where one can relax and just enjoy the taste sensations that keep coming.

AiP, it was a treat meeting you and D and sharing a table and an evening with your friends. A la prochaine!

Sex, graffit and more eating! Oct 6 & 7

Wednesday was our friends' last full day in Paris and they still had things on their list they wanted to do, including getting a massage like the ones Den and I enjoyed last week. We parted ways in the morning after promising to meet up at the Erotic Museum in Montmartre sometime in the afternoon.

Den and I realized we hadn't had our fallafel fix yet, so we walked over to l'As du Fallafel where there was almost no line up (!) and devoured those huge sandwiches on the sidewalk along with everyone else. Well sated, we took the bus to the 9th where we spend the early afternoon just walking around, enjoying rue des Martyrs again and where I decided on the spur of the moment to have my hair cut! Sporting my new Parisian head, we then met our friends at a franchise bar on rue de Clichy (they were already there and I'm too ashamed to name it ~ suffice it to say our 2 cocktails cost us 20 euros!) We then walked over to the Musee Erotique, a very, ahem, different type of museum. We spent about 90 minutes giggling and pointing at the very candid exhibits and even watched some snippets of really old pornographic films which made us realize there really is nothing new in sex! We then took the metro home and Den and I got ready for our dinner at Spring. Jo and Luc had decided not to join us and I had asked our dining companion from Slow Travel/Chowhound to see if she could find 2 people to join us for our table of 6. This being one of the hardest tables to book in Paris, she had no problem getting 2 wonderfully interesting foodies to join us. (There will be a separate entry on our meal as Daniel's brilliance deserves its own space.)

Thursday morning came too fast and our friends had a 10:15 Eurostar to London to catch. After many hugs and kisses and cries of "We'll always have Paris", Den and I were left on our own for our last 3 days. We had made plans with a fellow poster on another Paris website, Our Paris Forum, to give us a tour of various parts of Belleville. I had made reservations at La Baratin since we would already be in the area and off Den and I went on the 96 bus which is right outside our door. We got off in lower Belleville and spent the late morning wandering around, exploring this very working class, but no less fascinating part of Paris. Our lunch at Le Baratin was really good. This tiny cafe on a tinier street is owned by an Argentinian female chef who has built up a well deserved reputation for delicious, reasonably priced and down to earth cuisine. There's lots of great wine available by the glass and there's a cute little cat who rules the roost and goes to sit by whoever shares a morsel with it. Lunch is 16 euros for 3 courses. We started with a beet salad and a slab of foie gras (which was a 10 euro supplement but since we hadn't had fois gras in a few days, we were powerless to resist!). Den had the skate with capers and parboiled potatoes for his main and I had a delicious stew of lamb (it was the neck, but as strange as that sounds, it was so tender and melt in your mouth) on a bed of citrus flavoured rice. Dessert was a decent creme caramel and the asmosphere was of old world Paris with nary a tourist in sight. Full of deliciousness, we continued to wander Belleville until we made our way to our meeting place with Peter, who has been coming to Paris for years by himself for 3-4 days at a time. He was a wonderful tour guide who showed us the Mouzaia area, parts of Buttes Chaumont which we had failed to discover on our walk last year, the beautiful view from the top of Parc Belleville and the wonderfully wacky rue Desnoyers, where graffiti artists have covered both sides of a long alleyway with their distinctive works of art. Peter shared a lot of history and fun facts with us over the 3 hours we spent with him and time flew as we discovered a part of Paris few tourists will ever see. It was so nice of him to give us part of his precious time in Paris to give us this introduction to Belleville and we will always treasure this day and meeting such a sweet, generous person. Den really loved rue Desnoyers and took many pictures and videos of the artists at work. We ended up at a very cool bar on the corner where we all shared a beer and enjoyed the great people watching. 3 beer cost us less than half of what we had paid for our cocktails on rue de Clichy the day before, proving that Paris doesn't have to be expensive if you are willing to live, eat and drink as regular Parisians do.

After saying our goodbyes to Peter, we took the metro back to the Marais and had dinner at Breizh Cafe, a creperie I had wanted to try after reading many great reviews. It was the perfect way to end our long day of walking ~ it was in the neighbourhood and it was good, simple and relatively inexpensive. I devoured 6 wonderful oysters for my appetizer and Den had a small crepe entry with the Bordier seaweed butter that Daniel Rose introduced us to last year. I had a mushroom, ham and cheese buckwheat crepe for dinner and Den had the Normandy one (sorry, I can' remember the ingredients, which is why I really should blog as we go along!). We shared a bottle of cider during our meal and a Dame Poire crepe for dessert. The place was full and again we saw people being turned away, proving that you should make a little bit of an effort in researching and reserving restaurants if you want to ensure you eat really well in Paris. Contrary to popular belief, it's easy to eat very badly in Paris, especially if you don't get away from the heavily populated tourist areas.

We strolled back home, delighted with our day of discovering a new arrondissement of Paris and meeting a wonderful new friend.

Shopping and Walking ~ Oct 4 & 5

Yes, yes, I am behind on my blog entries! That is what happens when the days only have 24 hours and we only have 17 days in Paris. (Actually, we are now back home and my long awaited and carefully planned trip that was over a year in the making is now behind us, sob, sob).

We decided to go our separate ways on Monday ~ Jo wasn't feeling well and they both needed a day of rest from my relentless walking tour! Den and I decided to walk to the Galeries Lafayette shopping area and we took our time walking through the 2nd and 9th arrondissements, seeking out new little streets and sights along the way. Lafayette is as impressive as ever with the beautiful stained glass ceiling and the encircling balustrades. We took our time looking around, not really shopping for anything (my wallet runs more towards rue d'Alessia than les grands magasins Hausseman!) but I did see a little diamond bracelet valued at 131,000 euros that caught my eye, but since I didn't let Den buy any Ferraris at the car show, he wouldn't let me splurge on this eye candy! We had lunch at the cafeteria on the 6th floor (ah, Paris, where the wine comes out of a dispenser and costs less than Den's ice tea! You wonder why I love this city!). Calling this a cafeteria is like calling Notre Dame a church ~ it really doesn't do it any justice. There were dozens of fresh food options, even more decadend dessert choices and did I mention the wine was available from a soft drink dispenser! The seating area offers wonderful views of Paris and we enjoyed a great lunch and a nice rest. We then went up to the terrace where Den took his multitude of pictures of Paris laid out before us. We spent the rest of the afternoon at the food emporium across the street, buying overpriced treats and salivating over all the different offerings. We took the metro back where we joined up with Luc and Jo, who was feeling much better. After catching up over drinks in the apartment, we decided to go for a walk to enjoy the bracing evening air. We walked in the Northern Marais, enjoying the little streets, bars and cafes and all the people just walking around. We stopped at a brasserie on the corner of Bretagne and Turenne where Luc had steak frites and Den and I shares a veggie bruschetta. Of course, we had some wine and then we ambled home around midnight.

Tuesday morning saw us go our separate ways again ~ Jo & Luc were leaving on Thursday morning and they had some major shopping to do before they left. Den and I decided to wander over to the left bank and just do some more exploring. We stopped on Ile St Louis for some shopping (didn't buy anything but had fun looking) and I decided we would try to have lunch at Les Papilles if we could. We were very lucky that they had space for us with no reservation (we saw them turn away at least 10 people after we were seated). This is a small wine bar/bistro in the 5th that has a very well deserved reputation for good cuisine du marche. The walls are covered with wine bottles offered for sale at retail prices plus a 7 euro corkage fee. The chef offers a different menu every day depending on what is fresh that day. We both opted for just the marmite of the day instead of a 3 course lunch. The chef had made a superb veal osso bucco with fall vegetables (including roasted garlic gloves, what a treat!) in a rich demi-glace sauce. The portion was more than enough for both of us and the veal was fall off the bone tender. Of course, we both scooped out the rich marrow and spread it over our bread. Although we were both full from this delicious comfort food, we couldn't resist the rice pudding served with stewed apples and salted caramel sauce. Den wouldn't share, so we both ordered one and managed to put away both portions quite nicely. It was soooooo good. We had a half litre of the house red which went very nicely with the veal. We really enjoyed our lunch and I would like to return for dinner one day for the full meal.

We had to walk off our meal so we ambled over to the Luxembourg Gardens for a while and then decided to walk to the Rodin Museum, just to sit in the gardens and enjoy a coffee. This is one of the best deals in Paris, you can enter the gardens for just 1 euro and see some of Rodin's masterpieces in a very regal garden setting. We took the metro back and joined up with our friends for a casual dinner at Pizza Momo on rue St Antoine. We had been there last week and were all in the mood for something easy and fun. We then walked over to Pom Canelle on Ile St Louis for desserts that none of us needed. Full to the gills, we decided we need to walk some more and Jo and Luc really wanted to stroll down the Champs Elysees before they left, so we took the metro to the Arc de Triomphe and joined the thousands of people still out at 11pm on a Tuesday night on this very busy, very touristy boulevard. It was a fun, kitschy end to our day.

About Me

My hubby, Denis and I live in a small town in Eastern Ontario, Canada. I was born and raised in Montreal (Go, Habs, Go) and Denis was born in Windsor. We met at Carleton University in the late 1970s and have been together ever since, married since 1982. Read more

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