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Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Loving Paris for a long weekend

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View from the top of Galeries Lafayette

If you have a few days to spare and Paris is on your 'places to visit' list, GO!
Here's my review of a long weekend, arriving Friday afternoon and returning Monday morning. If you plan with military precision, you can fit in quite a few iconic tourist traps, markets and museums. Enjoy the pâtisseries and a bottle of wine, but don't forget to book your returning day off to recover!

Click on photos for larger views.

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Nadia's Crêperie

You can't go to Paris and not have an authentic French crêpe; this was quite high up on the 'I'm not coming home until I've done...' list. So after dropping our things off at the hotel, the first stop was a small crêperie Nadia, on Boulevard Saint Germain. We chose the classic cheese and mushroom buckwheat galettes, which were thin and a little crispy around the edges. Cooked in front of us, they were fast, fresh and delicious.

I had a cheese & mushroom galette

We wandered towards the Seine, stopping conveniently at the famous pâtisserie, Pierre Hermé. I was disappointed with the window display, not exciting at all, and you weren't allowed to take photos inside. We bought some macarons and headed to another pâtisserie, Sadaharu Aoki. Aoki incorporates Japanese flavours into his classic French pastries, like yuzu, green tea and black sesame - and they're fabulous! As well as pastries, I bought some gorgeous chocolates to take home for gifts, then we headed to a park to eat our goodies.

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Pierre Hermés odd window display, colourful but not very enticing!
Sadaharu Aoki 20130607-154659 R Sadaharu Aoki 20130607-160239 R
Sadaharu Aoki, you can see right in & there's a macaron tree in the window

Ispahan macarons Pierre Herme IMG_7700-R elem Sadaharu Aoki chocolates IMG_8445-R
My Pierre Hermé Ispahan macaron (lychee, rose & raspberry) and white chocolate & candied orange from Sadaharu Aoki, with gorgeous packaging! 

We reached the Seine and took an evening river trip with Bateaux-Mouches. The trip lasts an hour and ten minutes and was €13.50 per adult. You get to see Paris from another angle - it's quite interesting.

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Eiffel Tower from the river Seine

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How Parisiennes spend their afternoons

Before we went back to our hotel, we had a bite to eat in a Moroccan style restaurant in the Latin Quarter of the city. It was a bit dark to take decent photos though!

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Moroccan tagine & sweets

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Hôtel Hospitel, the architecture & grounds are beautiful

The hotel that we stayed in was right in the centre of the Ile de la Cité, an island in the middle of the Seine, and on the 6th floor of one of the oldest hospitals in Paris. We chose the Hôtel Hospitel because it was a little bit different and very central, You can walk to quite a few places from here and it is close to several metro stations. It's quite basic but with friendly staff, and even though it's opposite Notre Dame, it's fairly quiet - I don't remember hearing any bells, possibly because we were up and gone by then. There are beautifully kept gardens inside the hospital grounds with outstanding architecture. The only downside could be that this is not a romantic boutique hotel with a bar and restaurant.

Notre Dame
Notre Dame lit up at night

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Saturday - we headed north to Galeries Lafayette (on Boulevard Haussmann) for breakfast. Galeries Lafayette is a massive department store with a wonderful food department, they have a great display of spices as you go in, but no photographs allowed here either - boo! You can, however, go up to the top floor (for free!) and enjoy the panoramic views of the city. Spot the Sacré Cœur and Eiffel Tower across the rooftops. We grabbed an excellent coffee from the Alto Café coffee cart before heading down a floor for pastries. Ok, not the best, but filled a hole before walking to E Dehillerin. (Best to stick to the coffee and free views at the top.)

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You can see the Sacré Cœur & Paris Opera House from the top of Galeries Lafayette

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E Dehillerin kitchen shop

E Dehillerin is a kitchen shop, famous for their copper pans. There's two floors packed with cookware and it's really old fashioned, wrapping your purchases in brown paper. I could have spent a good hour mooching around in here but the museums were calling!

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Inside the shop & my purchase!

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Musée du Louvre

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More views of the Louvre
Apparently the  Musée du Louvre is the world's most visited museum. If you know when you want to visit, buy tickets before you go (€12-16), as the queues can be very long. Plan to spend a good few hours here, as the museum is vast. Don't forget to look up, as the ceilings are just as amazing as the art on the walls! Bonus - photography is allowed here.

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This photo makes me laugh, people taking photos of the Mona Lisa!

We followed the Louvre with a visit to the Musée de l'Orangerie, just a short walk from the Louvre, through the park. If you are planning on going to the Musée d'Orsay as well, buy a combined ticket for the two as it's cheaper (€16). The Musée de l'Orangerie is breathtaking if you like the Water Lilies by Claude Monet! The huge paintings are housed in two impressive elliptical rooms, there are also collections by Jean Walter and Paul Guillaume in the museum.

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Le Centenaire restaurant

We made our way to the Eiffel Tower, stopping for dinner at a typical French bistro, Le Centenaire restaurant. Friendly, fast service and the food was good.

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Dinner - a chicken dish and a fish special (I'm going to pinch that idea for serving roasted tomatoes!)

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Evening views across Paris

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Magical sparkling Eiffel Tower

A trip to the Eiffel Tower is must - we chose to go early evening as the sun was setting. I don't like heights and would have been more than content to stay at the bottom, or just go up to the first floor, but was persuaded to go to the top and am glad I did. We took the lift (€15.00 each) but it's only 704 steps to the top if you feel energetic, and when you get there you can enjoy a chilled glass of Champagne from the bar (between €12 and €21). If you go in the evening it's worth hanging around, because once it's dark, the Eiffel Tower is lit up with golden sparkles (20,000 flashing lights) which last for 5 minutes every hour, on the hour until 1am, and the beacon shines over Paris. There will be plenty of 'ooohs and aaahs' as it is quite magical!

Eiffel Tower Champagne bar
Champagne bar at the top
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Macarons & pastries for breakfast

Sunday - after an early breakfast of.... macarons (!), we walked north over the river and past the Centre Georges Pompidou. It was a toss-up between going there or visiting some French markets and the markets won, heh heh!

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Marché des Enfantes Rouges

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Seating area the Marché des Enfantes Rouges

The first market, Marché des Enfants Rouges (tucked away on Rue de Bretagne), was an old undercover historical market. It is mainly food stands selling ready-to-eat dishes from around the world - Lebanese, African, Italian and Japanese amongst others. There were a few fresh produce stands, a nice fish stall, and a colourful seating area to eat the food. Lovely ambiance here and great if it's drizzling outside.

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Outdoor Marché Bastille
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Produce at the Marché Bastille

If you head down to the Bastille, you will come across Marché Bastille (Boulevard Richard-Lenoir), one of the biggest outdoor markets in Paris. Here you'll find plenty of food stands, selling cheeses, meat, fish, nuts, olives etc, also lots of bags, jewellery, crafts, flowers and plants.
Check opening times of the markets as they may not be open all day or every day.

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Falafels & pommes frites

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Petit Bistro

We grabbed some lunch at a little bistro not far from the markets before heading to my favourite museum, Musée d'Orsay (€11). The museum is housed in a grand railway station that was built in 1900. It has the largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist masterpieces in the world, including works by Monet, Manet, Renoir, Degas, Cézanne, Seural, Gauguin, Sisley and Van Gogh. Don't leave Paris without visiting!

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Musée d Orsay

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Sacré Cœur

Dinner was another crêpe from a little place not far from the hotel, before catching the Metro north to Monmartre for the Sacré Cœur. This is a Roman Catholic church, situated at the highest point of the city. Entrance is free, although they charge for access to the dome, crypt etc. Worth going to see, but beware of all the pickpockets and gangs harassing you to buy their awful souvenirs. It's particularly bad here (and at the Eiffel Tower).

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Around Ile del la Cité

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Local pâtisserie

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Tourist shops

Before heading back to the airport on the Monday morning, we walked the touristy streets around Notre Dame. We found a fabulous little bakery, Huré de Créateur de Plaisir, where we picked up some more macarons and French bread to take home. I can honestly say that the macarons from some of the smaller pâtisseries are just as good as the more famous ones. If you don't manage to buy any during your stay, there is a Ladurée cart and shop at Charles de Gaulle airport where you can pick some up.
Next time I go, it will be a slower paced trip and include the Palace of Versailles, Arc de Triomphe and L'Hotel des Invalides.

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Ladurée cart & macarons

My top tips for Paris are:
Check opening times and prices for all attractions, buy tickets (and print them) in advance if possible.
Allow plenty of time for museums etc.
Be vigilant for pickpockets.
Walk as much as you can, you'll see a lot more.
Visit the smaller bakeries and pâtisseries.
Plan, research and make an itinerary.
Buy a book of Metro tickets.
Take a guide book with a pull out map.
Download some apps to your phone, eg maps, attractions etc.
If you are planning a foodies trip to Paris, read this informative post by Fiona Beckett on Matching Food & Wine blog.

Metro sign Signs at Notre Dame 20130610-081453
Sadaharu Aoki chocolates IMG_8450 R Paris Metro
Eiffel tower IMG_8003 R Les Deux Magots, Paris IMG_7688 R
French macarons IMG_7825-R Hotel Hospitel IMG_8391 R
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Paris IMG_8594 R laduree macarons IMG_8433-R
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