Published in the Chronicle/Advisor
I agree with Cole Porter, “I love Paris in the springtime.” His song goes on to say that he loved Paris in all the seasons. That’s true, too, but there is something special about Paris in the springtime whether it is less tourists, better prices on airfare and hotels or just the blue skies, warm temperatures and flowers blooming.
Don’t misunderstand; Paris in any season is still one of the world’s most expensive cities. Think $5 a minute! And no matter how many times I return, it is still worth every centime!
For this visit, we rented an apartment. While there are hotels at every price, staying in an apartment allowed us to eat in and spread out, even watch a little French TV. Shopping and cooking in Paris didn’t seem as burdensome as it does at home, even though in classic French fashion, we shopped every day.
Our one bedroom apartment, right off Boulevard Saint-Germain was in a very nice neighborhood in the 7th Arrondissement (AR). Very compact would describe the space. Two people were comfortable, if they really like each other! Renting an apartment is easy from any one of a dozen websites. The good sites give you the square feet or meters, a floor plan and are clear if there is an elevator. The owner of the apartment, Frédéric Pilleniere, met me at the appointed time to hand over the keys and show me how everything worked. He also came immediately when one of the light bulbs exploded in the bathroom and we had no light to brush our teeth or anything else.
Location is everything. We walked to all the big museums, the Louvre, the D’Orsay, and the Eiffel Tour (that was a bit of a hike). One of the most famous cheese shops in Paris, the tiny Fromagerie Barthélémy, was on the ground floor of our building. The Rue de Bac stop on Line 12 of the Metro was only a short bock away. We could get everywhere we wanted either on foot or by Metro. That’s good thing because taxicabs, while plentiful are also expensive— our average ride cost $15.
Each morning started with a café crème and a fresh croissant, pick any bar or café. Ahh, the melt in-your-mouth, soft and flakiness of a butter-laden croissant. Nothing is the world will substitute. Our daily routine included buying a fresh baguette, and who could resist a small pastry too? Éclairs, flan ancienne (custard pie) tarte citron were some of our choices. The bakeries also sell ready-to-heat foods like quiche and pizza, also a great lower cost choice for taking back to the apartment for dinner. We shopped for cheese in the shop downstairs, picking out cheese by guess since we didn’t have any idea what everything was. A creamy soft goat cheese with fig, a tasty Camembert— it was all good.
Eating and shopping for food are a central pleasure for the French and for visitors. A couple of blocks further was the butcher’s shop and a small chain grocery story, Monoprix. The grocery had everything we needed but it was more fun to shop at the small specialty shops. The Rue de Cler is a pedestrian shopping street in the 6th district with everything you would want in two short blocks from cheese to bread to charcuterie (pate and sausage as well as meats and poultry) to wine. And many of its shop are open on Sunday morning.
The most fabulous food shopping is done at one of the many open-air food markets. We drooled over everything at the Marché Raspail (open Tuesday, Fridays and Sundays) four blocks from our apartment. From cheese, to fresh seafood, to mounds of fresh fruits and vegetables— do not miss this experience even if you don’t plan to boil water during your visit.
Lunch is the most cost effective meal to eat out. Looking for the Marriage Freres tea shop (exceptional chain of shops to buy all tea varieties) led us down the two block Rue des Grands Augustines. Upscale restaurants like Guy Savoy’s Les Bouquinistes (outstanding meal on a previous trip) where the tasting menu dinner starts at $150 per person to the more affordable and also charming restaurants like Roger La Greonouille (Roger the Frog) where the fixed price lunch was only $35 per person with a ½ bottle of wine. The specialty was frog’s legs, which seemed a bit cannibalistic so we settled on filet de Bream, a flaky white fish, instead.
We did do a few things other than eat and grocery shop.
The Rodin Museum, with its lush gardens, is an oasis in the city. The combination ticket for the museum and garden costs about $15. Depending on your interest level in what is the most complete sculpture collection of Auguste Rodin (1840-1917), you can also simply sit in the garden, drinking tea at the outside restaurant and soaking in some art along with tranquility. Rodin’s marvelous larger than life sculptures show both motion and emotion, like The Thinker and The Kiss, two of his most well known works.
For me, no trip to Paris would be complete with a few hours in the Musee D’Orsay (tickets $15 for special collection and the regular museum). A train station was converted into one of the most complete collections of Impressionist painters in the world and a museum for the art of the second half of the 19th century and the early 20th century. You can buy a ticket for $18 that gets you into both the Rodin and D’Orsay on a single day. Be prepared to wait to enter the museum— there was a 30 minute line in the middle of a weekday.
A special collection of Edouard Manet (1832-1883), “Manet, the Man who Invented Modernity” was on exhibition during our visit. Manet, not to be confused with Claude Monet of the water lilies, is considered to be the father of the Impressionist movement. After viewing the collection, I’m not convinced he would have agreed but he did love to paint outside, capturing the light that would come to characterize the entire Impressionism movement.
The collection of Impressionists has been moved from their usual home on the fifth floor, which is being renovated, to the first floor. The new installation is simply breath taking and a much better grouping of artists than I remember from past visits. I have a special love for Edgar Degas, maybe because he painted every day people like Women Ironing.
Paris is a monumental city in so many ways, and every few blocks there is another grand monument to something. Whether you visit Notre Dame Cathedral and sit quietly in the pews looking at the famous rose stained glass window or walk by the famous Paris Opera house with its brightly gilded Pegasus horses soaring into the sky, you can not take a wrong turn (at least if you have a good map!).
This trip didn’t include the Louvre, one the most amazing museums in the world. The Louvre is so large, it requires a full day to visit (or two or three) and you’ll still miss some of its most amazing galleries.
Walking by I.M. Pei’s glass pyramid entrance to the Louvre took us over to a wine tasting at Spring Restaurant, housed in a former skateboard shop in an alley. This is the city’s toughest table to book. And get this; the chef is a young American, Chicago-born Daniel Rose. His restaurant only seats 28 guests and good luck getting in. Not so for the wine tasting in the downstairs Spring Buvette. We booked tickets the day before ($125) and joined eight couples for a 90-minute wine tasting with small plates. Chef Rose came half way down the stairs to say hello. The restaurant wine buyer, Josh Adler, a charming young man from San Francisco, took us through six artisanal wines, made by very small French producers, coupled with tiny tastes of yummy things. You won’t find any of these wines locally because of the small size of the production.
In addition to telling us about each of the wines, Josh told us that the shape of the wine glass didn’t really matter, the temperature of the wine was personal taste and it was most important to notice what you liked and didn’t liked about each wine so you could seek out other wines which were similar. He pays attention to the winemaker and the terroir or the particular place it was grown. His advice was to shop in wine stores with hand-lettered signs that showed the wine buyer actually tasted it before putting it on sale. He shared with us an extra wine from the Cotes de Jura region of France near Switzerland, a little known and undervalued French wine growing area. Impress your friends with any wine from this region and it won’t break the budget.
Two of the pairings tied for best — one was a lovely red 2008 Cotes Du Roussilion Villages, Vielle Vignes by Gauby and a small piece of roasted duck, and then the late harvest Gewurtztraminer from Alsace (2008 Fronholz by Ostertag), paired with olive oil ganache. Out of this world.
It was a fitting last evening for a wonderful week in Paris. For me, it isn’t just a line in a movie, “We’ll always have Paris.”