March 30, 2013

Easter bunnies with a twist

This Easter, La Grande Epicerie de Paris pays tribute to the kaleidoscope and unveils a collection of delicious creations. Forget the traditional chocolates. They have associated with chocolatier Daniel Mercier to concoct three facetious designed subjects: a rabbit, a fish and a chicken. Adorned with faceted colour highlights, they exude a good mood as well as an eccentric turn on the "old" chocolate Easter bunnies!

So why do the chefs look so worried, I am wondering, while I watch this video.

See how the team of La Grande Epicerie's visual identity (yes, this team does exist) lift the veil on the secrets of this very limited edition of chocolate exquisiteness.

March 28, 2013

A boy's week in Paris...

What do you do when you have a thirteen year old boy to visit for a week and your son's at school? Well, Auntie Glamour has lined up a programme the poor boy will never ever forget. He was trying to keep up with himself after Day 2. But being the charmingly well-educated Latino my childhood friend's son is, he took it in strides.

After having survived the flight from Madrid to Paris (he is terribly scared of flying) he landed only to be told he'll be whizzed up to the top of the Arc de Triomph the next morning. Don't worry about your vertigo, you'll really enjoy it. And so he did.

We went from visiting the Parisian sewers underground, to conquering a glittering Tour Eiffel at night.
He visted the Notre Dame, the Sainte Chapelle and St. Sulpice, although not all in one day!

We ventured from La Maison de la Chine to the Jardin de Luxembourg. A Chagall exhibit we could not miss out on, a trendy sushi lunch and a tour of the best Macaron patisseries in town for "Le Jour du Macaron" were all part of the programme.

In his free time he was off playing football with Expat boy (after school) beneath the Eiffel Tower and attended a suprisingly brilliant talent show at the Marie du XVI arrondissement.

Oh, did I forget to mention the TWO bus tours we took across Paris? Given that it was 2°C and raining that day, we did not need to fight for our seats in the front row on the upper deck of the double decker bus!!! Listening to Edith Piaf triumphantly singing "Paris pleur de joie" over the earphones while getting soaked did make me wonder if we were overdoing it?!?

Poor boy was so tired after having received a decent dose of Parisian pomp and splendeur, he slept like a baby the night before he had to fly back home ... despite his fear of flying.

Ask him what he liked best and he'll answer: "Climbing up to the top of the Tour Eiffel conquering my own fear of heights." You are a star my boy!

March 25, 2013

Freezing inside the Sainte Chapelle

The Sainte Chapelle is not a site that has ever caught my attention other than for the enormous queue in front of the building of justice every time I drive past.

Today I took to opportunity to join Paris Walks once again for an extenisive tour inside and out of the Sainte Chapelle which included skipping the entire queue. Again our guide Cerise demonstrated her extraordinary knowedge of history, architecture and art by explaining the distribution of the weight throughout the chapel. We discovered the iron grid that held together the beautiful stained windows and the signifcance of the symbols inside the church, witness not only to Louis IX's presence but of his dominant mother Blanche de Castille.

I really would have liked to meet that woman along with Katarina de Medici and Maria Stuart, Queen of Scotland. Would make quite a tea party, don't you think?

The "Holy Chapel", located in the courtyard of the Royal Palace on the Île de la Cité, was built to house Louis IX's collection of relics of Christ, which included the Crown of Thorns, the Image of Edessa and some thirty other items.

The bottom third of the chapel was impressive for it's strong colouring of blue, red and gold. The top two thirds of Sainte Chapelle is renowned for its richly hued stained-glass windows, comprising 600 square meters in area. Fifteen huge mid-13th century windows fill the nave and apse, while a large rose window with flamboyant tracery dominates the western wall. Two-thirds of the pieces are original works, representing the finest examples of 12th century craftsmanship. Reds and blues are the dominant colors, in contrast with the 15th century western rose window. In these panes the full biblical story of humanity is recounted.

And that is where our lovely guide lost me. We had been standing outside for 45 minutes admiring the architecture, followed by 30 minutes below ground. When we finally entered the Upper Chapel, the reaction was: "WOW!"

But the cold inside the glass chapel was just too much to stomach. I have been fighting cold weather for over three months now ... and I have had it! 2ºC inside a church is more than I can handle. So after a further 20 minutes I quietly said goodbye and eclipsed out of the Rayonnant Style of Gothic architecture and headed straight to the BHV for some retail therapy.

March 21, 2013

Stuck in the metro ...

It was bound to happen one day! Well today it did! Expat girl and I got stuck in the metro. The tube does stop from time to time but these little incidents usually take up to three minutes max. Last night we were watching the sun set from inside a motionless metro carriage for one and a half hours. I counted myself lucky since we got stranded on the tiny little straight of underground that actually goes above ground and has quite a spectacular view onto the Eiffel Tour. I had always wanted to take a picture from this angle, today would be my day.

The conductor kept on telling us to "patienter quelques minutes". Well, while the minutes turned into hours, no one budged. All these yelling, loud, complaining Parisians ... where had they gone? Not ONE person complained. They didn't even start talking to eachother, something that would have happend immediately had we been stuck in Italy or Spain. I was flabbergasted. One by one they started pulling out their moblie phones to delay their appointments or let their loved ones know that they would be late for dinner.

Guess what, I had some homework to do myself and got cracking on cutting my paper dolls. Yes, I just happened to have a pair of scissors with me! I am sure the French thought I was mad but 90 minutes later I had much of my task done for the upcoming International Day at school.

When the BRIGADE DE SAPEURS-POMPIERS DE PARIS finally arrived one door of each wagon was opened. I was given a hand by a dark and handsome looking fireman and we all climbed down a little chicken ladder one by one. Expat girl at this point thought this was the coolest adventure she had ever had in Paris. Walking along the metro railtracks in the dark!

As we neared the closest metro station and climbed upon the railway platform I felt sad for the people I saw streaming out of the tunnel of the opposite direction. I was very grateful for having taken the latter metro - which was mainly thanks to having stopped and chatted with a friend of mine to catch up. Thanks Madame La Nageuse!

What bugs me the most? We will never know what WAS wrong with the metro! Ahh, Paris c'est Paris!

March 20, 2013

A charitable Jour du Macaron

March 20th is the day of the Macaron. Strangely enough it has been poorly advertised. Considering what a big flagship this little confection has become for Paris, I am surprised they are not trying to make more business out of it.

Some top pastry chefs, however, have decided to join forces for a noble action. Today, the pâtissiers of “Relais Desserts” welcomed their clients to indulge in the tasty treat while supporting a worthy cause. The principle? "A macaron for a donation." In exchange of tasting a macaroon,  we were invited to make a donation to the association “Overcoming cystic fibrosis”. If ever I needed an excuse to go on another Macaron tour, this was it. So I decided to get mobilized for this generous and delicious day.

Armed with a map of participating stores I set off in the 15th arrondissment. Sadaharu Aoki, a Japanese patissier, is one of my favourite in town. I love the combination of the delicate Japanese presentation with French patisserie. Yazu and Framboise were the elected flavours to start off with.

Moving on swiftly, I got slighty sidetracked by the whiff of jamon and entered L'épicerie du Pere Claude, a meat-lover’s paradise in the 15th – a beau monde address that’s a favorite of former French president Jacques Chirac as I am told – for good traditional French cooking. 20 mintues later I walked out with a big shopping bag filled with goodies... and they weren't macarons!

Next stop is the couture chocolate of Jean-Paul Hévin. The staff seemed generally happy to see us. I am wondering at this point if we are the only dedicated macaron lovers? Our choice fell upon Mango Coriander and Jardin Secret (vanille, rose, and clou de girofle). I discovered that the masterpiece of this chocolate expert is Cinderella’s right slipper! A 9,9 cm stilleto size 35 cm from a model by Rodolphe Menudier, to bite into for a mere 58 €. This is man to my liking!!! Chocolate and shoes in one ... I could not imagine anything better!

Christophe Roussel's boutique in the 7th arrondissment sadly had not been informed about the campaign for "Overcoming cystic fibrosis" eventough their address was on the list. Next please!

After a quick sushi lunch - just to keep those tastebuds flexible - we headed to the king of macarons and organizer of the charity campaign Pierre Hermé. We were not disappointed. Another hearty welcome followed by 15 minutes of deciding which macaron to choose. What a tough life?! Crème Brûlée and Mogador (Milk chocolate and Passion fruit) was the verdict!

I am now sitting at my desk feeling quite contempt having endulged in a delicacy I rarely treat myself to while supporting a charity, notably one that helps children afflicted by a rare diseases.

Have a sweet day!

March 17, 2013

Paris poop

What to do on a grey Sunday morning in Paris? Of course, a visit to the sewers!

Convinced this "alterantive tour" would tempt the kids we trotted off to the Flame of Victory, meeting point for the Paris Walks tour. Turns out I was not the only Mum with this idea. We were three families from the same school ready to venture into Paris' underworld.

After a hilariously disgusting introduction by our guide Chris - which utterly put the children off and grossed them out completely - we were ready to dive in... so to speak!

The first scandal we heard about, was that the France Meteo building had been bought up by Russians who wished to convert the building into an Orthodox church. Needless to say the project was rejected. Having byzantine towers glitter in front of the Eiffel Tower would just not be fair.

We learnt about water sellers offering glasses of Seine water out of copper tins in the 1800's. Today, half of Paris' water supply springs from as far as 100 km outside the city. The other half comes from the river Seine. How can you tell where yours comes from? If your tap water warms up in summer it originates from the river. Should your water remain fresh all year round the reservoirs are the source.

"Le Zouave" of the Pont de l'Alma is a statue of Georges Diebolt, one of four sculptures representing troops who participated in the Crimean War. It is represented in the uniform of Zouave: a fez, a short jacket and adjusted without buttons, a broad canvas belt, bloomers, the spats and leggings.
According to the Parisian tradition, when "the Zouave's feet in the water", the Seine is raw. During the historic flood of 1910, water reached the shoulders of the Zouave.

When we finally entered the 2400 km of sewer system below Paris, we were hit by a semitropical humid climat. I was expecting very cold and damp conditions.

No matter how hard I try, I honestly cannot say I get excited about sewers. So I will spare you the technical details. I will however forward some juicy facts our guide provided us with:

Sewer workers have a six-hour workday. The waiting list to become a sewer worker is four years. Apparently it is considerably well paid, therfore on payday they come out feeling quite flush ..... eventhough the environment is not enticing.

We did not have the pleasure of meeting Ratatouille, although there are two rats to every inhabitant of Paris!

In 1984 sewer workers found one-meter long Nile crocodile. Once caught, it was given to a zoo north of France where his enclosure is painted like a Parisian sewer. He is three meters long today!

The most unusual item ever found in Paris sewers: a skeleton of an Orangutan.

What is the biggest sanitation concern of the Parisians? Dog poop, of course! Did you know there are over 250'000 dogs in Paris? Well, the current mayor has decided to take up this fight by employing a brigade of 70 security police patrolling the streets to catch the offenders who do not clean up after their pets. A fine will cost you 457 Euros if you decide to ignore your dogs' droppings. So next time you see a transgressor feel free to speak up like my French friend says so nonchalantly: "Vous allez quand même ramasser cela, n'est pas?"

March 16, 2013

Inside the Arc de Triomphe

"Courage is like love; it must have hope for nourishment."
Napoleon Bonaparte

Ever since we moved to Paris in September 2011 I have been wanting to climb up the Arc de Triomphe. Today was my EUREKA moment.

I convinced my kids that it was the perfect day to ascend the 284 steps within the arch that was commissioned by Napoleon in 1806 to commemorate his victories. Napoleon was ousted before the arch was completed and it wasn't completed until 1836 during the reign of Louis-Philippe. The Arc de Triomphe is engraved with names of generals who commanded French troops during Napoleon's regime.

The top of the arch features a viewing platform with stunning views of La Defense, the Champs-Elysées and the Sacré-Coeur. Even teenage Expat boy who was complaing about having to stand in line at the ticket booth had to admit that the wait had been worth it.

See for yourself:

284 stairs ... all that jogging is paying off. 

Plaster cast inside the arch of a statue of Marianne, the national emblem of France and an allegory of Liberty and Reason.

A well-trodden staircase 

The arch is located at the end of the Champs-Elysées, in the middle of the Place Charles de Gaulle, a large circular square from which no less than 12 streets emanate. The streets are named after French military leaders.

Looking down La Grande Armée - the other side - towards La Defense

Just a skip and a hop to the Tour Eiffel

La grande dame de fer

Beneath the Arc is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I.

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