Sunday, January 10, 2010

Au Revoir 2009 (Can we go back to the mousse bar?)

We still have some catch-up posts, with the most recent being the last week of 2009. We stayed in Cambridge for Christmas, before nervously boarding the Eurostar train for a trip to Paris on Boxing Day. (For those wondering why we were nervous, a few days earlier several trains had gotten stuck in the tunnel beneath the English channel, throwing the Eurostar schedule into chaos and ruining the holidays of many).

For Christmas itself, we repeated our 2007 itinerary of having an early dinner at a local restaurant called Browns. It's a nice place, and was again full of festive families and couples -- it seems more Brits than Americans eat out on Christmas. We got in the spirit of thing, wearing our paper crowns (right). Afterward, we enjoyed the sunny afternoon with a stroll through the eerily deserted streets of Cambridge.

That evening we had to pack for Paris--and confirm how to get to London to pick up the Eurostar. England shuts down for both Christmas AND the day after, known as Boxing Day, so the trains to London weren't running. Fortunately instead of paying Boxing Day rates for a taxi to London (over $200), we found a bus that took us into the city and from there took the subway to the Eurostar station.

Paris itself was fun, in a slow, casual way we wanted. As we did last year, we stayed at the apartment of a friend (he and his family were off in Italy for the holidays) and again took care of their rabbit, who is getting a tad old--he doesn't hop straight any more. Our first 24 hours were probably our busiest. Within a few hours of arriving, we found a great restaurant near the apartment and had a great French meal in a candle-lit stone basement room (left). (The restaurant -- l'Estaminet on rue Oberkampf -- was so good that we returned two nights later.) The next morning we went to the local Bastille food market, one the largest in Paris, and sampled crepes, cheese, and two tasty Lebanese (right) pizzas. From there we hopped the subway and went to La Defense, the collection of massive and modern office buildings on the outskirts of the city. One can see why its construction was controversial but it had its own majesty--and a small but fun Christmas market.

From there we returned to the traditional archictecture of Paris, the beautiful buildings of the Champs Elysees, where there was, of course, another Christmas market--and seemingly millions of people. In truth, there wasn't much we hadn't seen at all the markets we've encountered, except for a hut with a roaring fire where salmon was being rapidly cooked over an open fire in front of our eyes. Mmm, very tasty. Despite the crowding, everyone seemed in a good mood, especially those on a little roller coaster next to the Grand Palais. As daylight dimmed and the lights lining the trees of the Champs Elysees began to shine, Paris once again earned its City of Lights title. (Picture, left to right: La Defense, Champs Elysees market, Champ Elysees)

The next few days were much slower. It was dryer and warmer than anticpated so we took several trips with Velibs, the free bikes spread throughout the city. We've seen most of the sites in Paris already and the few museums we wanted to hit were either closed or had huge lines on the days they were open--so we went to none! We did visit Montparnasse cemetery, enjoyed an amusement park inside the Grand Palais, and strolled through the massive Les Invalides complex, which displays much of France's military's history and includes the burial site of Napoleon. As we roamed about the city we also tried to find various spots listed on the Edible Paris Advent Calendar, which lists culinary treats under 10 euros. While I fell in love with the caramel macaroons from the famous Laduree, I think it's safe to say the highlight was the bar of 4 different chocolate mousses at Patrice Chapon! Yes, we sampled them all.

We ended the year by riding back to England on the Eurostar, where we enjoyed a Champgne toast. Even nicer, we arrived at home to a delicious New Year's Eve dinner prepared by friends who had been staying at our house while we were gone. We (just) stayed awake til midnight--and then fell asleep to dream of 2010's adventures.   -JT

New Paris photoalbum   Ah, Paris ...

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