Sightseeing on the Seine

By Steven Wright

Sitting at Cavalier Bleu, my favorite Parisian patio, enjoying a buttery croissant and baguette with fruit preserves and a cappuccino is my favorite way to start the day. Art, history and culture coupled with amazing cuisine and fine wines make Paris a favorite destination among visitors to Europe. Many of the tourist sites line the banks of the River Seine, which runs through the centre of the city. One of the best ways to take in all that Paris has to offer is to take a ride on the Batobus, a hop-on-hop-off boat tour with access points to many of the attractions in the city. The boats offer a panoramic view a glass ceiling and offer an outdoor section for photographers. Get a different perspective of the great city as you travel by water to one of the 8 stations. A day pass can be purchased for 15€, 2 consecutive days for 18€, or 5 consecutive days for 21€.

Port de la Bourdonnais is the stop at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, one of the most famous landmarks in Paris. Built in 1889 for a Universal Exposition celebrating the centenary of the French Revolution, look for a bust of Gustave Eiffel at the foot of the tower on the north pillar. Climb the stairs or take the lift to the 1st & 2nd floors where there are a number of displays talking about the history and innovation of the tower, a circular gallery you can find and identify many of the sites and monuments in Paris using the panoramic tables, restaurants and souvenir shops. Make your way to the top of the tower in the glass elevators, giving you amazing views of the city on your way up. At the top you can explore two levels, one is open air and the second is covered by a roof. Here you can visit Gustave Eiffel’s office restored to its original condition and then head to the Champagne Bar for a glass while enjoying the views from your position 180 metres from the ground below. As this is a very popular destination I would recommend getting tickets to bypass the lines from your travel agent before your departure.

At Quai de Solférino you can find the Musée d’Orsay. The Museum was installed in the former d’Orsay rail station to show the great diversity of artistic creation in the western world between 1848 and 1914. The museum itself is a work of art and its collections include painting, objects of art, sculpture, photography, graphic art and architecture. Admission to the museum ranges from 9-14€. The Faubourg Saint-Germain quarter surrounding the museum is filled with 18th century mansions that now house many of the embassies and ministries in Paris and provide a great place to take a walk and view some of the finest buildings in the city.

Quai de Malaquais is where to depart for Saint-Germain-des-Prés, the area centred around the Saint-Germain Church and is known as the artsy area of the city. The streets have bookshops and galleries with a recent influx of ready to wear fashion. There is a  market on Rue de Buci and an number of famous cafes including Les Deux Magots and Café de Flore.

Another highlight is found at Quai de Montebello, the famous Notre Dame Cathedral on Île de la Cité, one of the natural islands in the Seine. Notre Dame is tourist favorite so there will be a line up to gain access to the inside of the church but definitely worth the wait. Inside you will find some incredible stained glass, art, sculptures and wooden altars. The exterior of the building is also quite remarkable and one of the first buildings to use flying buttresses to support the walls around the choir and altar, a great example of French Gothic architecture. There are many gargoyles that adorn the structure around the building which finished construction in 1345. The other buildings on the island are filled by the city’s Prefecture de Police, Palais de Justice, Hôtel-Dieu hospital and Tribunal de Commerce. Head down to Point Neuf for a great view of the Seine and an equestrian statue of Henry IV.

Quai Saint-Bernard is the home of Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle which includes the Grande Galerie de l’Évolution, the Mineralogy Museum, the Paleontology Museum, the Entomology Museum and the Jardin des Plantes on a one hectare site with demonstration gardens, horticultural displays of decorative plants, an Alpine garden  Art Deco winter garden, Mexican and Australian hothouses and the Rose Garden.

There is a lot to see and do at Quai de l’Hôtel de Ville, the l’Hôtel de Ville is a beautiful building that is Paris’ city hall, children love to ride the antique carousel in the front of the grand building. Other highlights of the area include the Centre Pompidou which is focused on modern and contemporary creation, where the visual arts would rub shoulders with theatre, music, cinema, literature and the spoken word. The building itself and surrounding fountains are a works of art and worth a visit. Inside you will find exhibitions by contemporary masters like Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. There are quaint shops, restaurants and cafés on the small streets outside, including some of my favorite places to eat including Cavalier Bleu and Pasta Papa. Continue across Boulevard de Sébastopol to the heart of shopping at Le Forum des Halles which is a combination of shopping centre, Metro station, park and movie theatre.

Depart at Quai du Louvre for a view of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa inside the Louvre. But that is only one small highlight of the museum and its grounds which include the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel and the Jardin des Tuileries not to mention I.M. Pei’s glass pyramid (and inverted pyramid) which is the main entrance into the Louvre. The museum itself is one of the largest and most visited in the world inside a former royal palace, with collections including Egyptian, Near Eastern, Greek, Etruscan, and Roman antiquities, Islamic art, sculpture, decorative art, painting, prints and drawing. In the area around the museum there are luxury boutiques of Faubourg St-Honoré and the antique shops in the Louvre des Antiquaires.

Departing at the Port des Champs Elysées the first thing you will see is the golden top of Obelisk of Luxor, given to the French in 1829 by the viceroy of Egypt, Mehemet Ali. The Obelisk of Luxor is the central feature of the Place de la Concorde, the largest square in Paris, continue on Avenue des Champs-Élysées past the Grand Palais, with is glass roof and known as the primary venue for Chanel fashion shows.  Then the Avenue des Champs Elysées becomes a bustle of activity with luxury boutiques and shops, street side restaurants and cafés leading to the Arc de Triomphe. For the ultimate luxury shopping experience, ditch the crowds on Avenue des Champs-Élysées and head north-east of The Grand Palais to Avenue Montaigne and L’avenue George-V. All of the luxury brands boast a spot on this coveted strip.

Paris Posts:
Finding Karl, Jean-Paul and Christian in Paris
Enjoying My Cake in Versailles Gardens
Pasta in Paris, Brunch in Blue – My guide to finding good eats.

Pasta in Paris, Brunch in Blue – My guide to finding good eats.

By Mike Kerr

It is funny that some of the best places I have eaten while traveling have been places more stumbled upon rather than the ones recommended by guidebooks or even recommended by an informative host or concierge. When away in a foreign place it can be easy to lose track of the time since your last meal, but when your stomach starts to play that familiar tune letting you know its time to eat, your nose and eyes can be better than the conventional traveler’s tools.

The adventure begins with heading to a local hotspot; areas with museums, shopping, and other attractions are a great place to look. When you get there take a peek around, you’ll most likely see one of two things: some that are nearly full, and some that are maybe not seeming so popular, which can be deceiving. Take a look at the crowds, are they more travelers like yourself who have all flocked to the same spot that was recommended by a book or guide? Backpacks, maps, and clothing can be a a good clue to the type of clientele that are flocking there. I like to look for the location with more people speaking the native tongue, dressed not in t-shirts but the clothes they wore here on their way from work and not carrying cameras.

More important than the customers at the restaurant, what are your senses telling you? Did a smell drift into your nose and make your mouth start to water? Is there a particular dish the masses seem to be picking? (Hint: If everyone is having a cocktail rather than eating you should check the menu before sitting down)?  The sights, smells, and sounds you discover are your friends, and they will no doubt guide you to something delicious.

While staying in Paris, Steven and I were in the 1st arrondissement, from the minute we stepped outside on our first morning the smell of buttery delights being baked, and freshly brewed coffee beckoned us towards the Centre Pompidou. The amazing kinetic sculptures and fountains in the area and the Centre Pompidou itself lend to great photo opportunities. The randomly placed tree-houses contrasting with the industrial looking pipes are very interesting to capture. When you manage to avert your gaze from the mammoth structure take a stroll around to the Northwest corner of the museum. Cavalier Bleu is situated on a great corner, flowers from the nearby market lend to a pleasant smell that can brighten up the dampest weather, and when it is especially cold the heat lamps can’t be beat.

When you get to Cavalier Bleu don’t worry about waiting for a host to seat you, if a table is open, grab a seat; as this seems like a popular location, you don’t want to waste time. The menus for breakfast are already on the table when you arrive, giving you the opportunity to pick your meal while you wait for a server. My favourite option here is the breakfast with baguette, croissant, coffee, and freshly squeezed orange juice. The café au lait is good and strong for starting your day, and while I’m not a big fan of pulp, the orange juice is so fresh it is easy to look past the texture. My favourite part of breakfast at Cavalier Bleu is the preserves provided for the baked goods, while I’m sure there are other varieties, the most common seem to be raspberry and apricot. At home, I had only used apricot jam as an ingredient when baking, or as a glaze on chicken, but never actually used it as a spread. After trying a little bit on my croissant, the remainder of the petite jar did not last long once slathered onto my baguette, and applied generously to every bite of the croissant. While you are enjoying the meal, the street artists in the area will be glad to provide some entertainment. Most of them stick close Centre Pompidou to attract the crowds, but it is always nice to walk over and give them some change when you are done your meal.

Night time can provide a similar challenge and opportunity while looking for a place to eat in Paris. One night after having a late lunch Steven and I were having trouble finding a location that was either open, or with a menu we liked; while our French is good enough to identify kinds of meat, and Julia Child has taught me all of the sauces I can expect to see, some of the non-English menu items still manage to elude us. After wandering through the Marais we stumbled upon a busy looking restaurant emanating the smell of basil and garlic, but better yet, everyone eating there was speaking French and there was English on the menu. We were surprised at the size of the crowd when we started reading through the options and discovered that this was in fact an Italian restaurant. This restaurant, called Pasta Papa has been one of our all time favourite finds but we might change our minds after going to Italy later this year.

The menu has each type of pasta organized by category and tells you which part of Italy the noodle is from, you get to pick whichever sauce you want from a variety of tomato, meat, and cream sauces. Steven and I each ordered a pasta dish and got bruschetta to share, which when it first arrived only looked like ordinary pieces of toast with seasoned tomatoes on top. I’ve had bruschetta lots of times before, I always enjoy it and the way it combines simple ingredients to make a savory starter. This was no ordinary bruschetta, the tomatoes tasted like they had marinated in the oil, balsamic vinegar, and spices for days, every bite was completely saturated with all of the tastes you would expect to find, but deliciously strong, it wasn’t too oily or wet so the bread stayed crispy right to the end of the meal.

When the pasta arrived we realized we might have over ordered as the portions were huge. Each bowl of pasta was brought to the table with a side plate, which was our first tip as to the sharing aspect we are now sure this restaurant was trying to encourage. After about 45 minutes of enjoying the pasta we had only finished a bit under half of each dish. My stomach was getting to its limit of chili spice it could handle from the all’Arrabiata sauce and the ring of fire surrounding my lips was getting pretty intense (but what more would you expect from sauce named the Italian word for angry?), so we made the decision to call it quits. While we would have loved to take it home with us, staying in refrigerator-less accommodations did not work in our favour. Pasta Papa is an excellent choice for lunch or dinner and is sure to please anyone who enjoys Italian food. While I can’t necessarily speak to authenticity, the quality speaks for itself, if you find yourself in Paris around Les Halles, or in the Marais I highly recommend stopping in, even if it’s just for the bruschetta.

Food Posts:
The Best Tomato Soup I Have EVER Experienced (and other good eats in Poland)
Gnoshing in Brussels
Quick Eats in Amsterdam
France Posts:
Finding Karl, Jean-Paul and Christian in Paris
Enjoying My Cake in Versailles Gardens
Chic Outlet Shopping – Europe
Sightseeing on the Seine

Finding Karl, Jean-Paul and Christian in Paris

By Steven Wright

I have been inspired by fashion my whole life. Growing up in small town Ontario, every Sunday evening I would encourage my father to give me a 1/2 hour hiatus from the football game he was watching to follow Jeanne Beker and Fashion Television. Jeanne was a heroine to me, she traveled the world, was on the front line at prêt-à-porter and couture fashion shows each season, and got to interview amazing designers at interesting locals. Paris is known as the mecca of fashion, beyond The Avenue des Champs-Élysées, come with me on my search for Karl, Jean-Paul and Christian.

The Avenue des Champs-Élysées is undoubtedly the most famous shopping strip in the world. From the Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe, stroll along the spacious sidewalks, enjoying the clipped Horse Chestnut trees. The strip is lined with luxury shopping, quaint boutiques and flag ship designer stores. You can grab a snack and people watch on sidewalk patios. Travel through the underground passageway to explore the Arc de Triomphe, before shopping the opposite side of the Avenue.

It’s worth a stop at the flagship Louis Vuitton store (Avenue des Champs-Élysées, 101). The window displays will be the first thing to catch your eye, even from the opposite side of the street. On the main level find leather goods including bags, luggage, wallets and other accessories adorned with the iconic LV brand pattern. Explore the upper levels for men’s and women’s apparel and accessories. Work with a personal shopper to find the perfect Marc Jacobs designed piece for your collection.

Any trip to Avenue des Champs-Élysées is not complete without paying homage to The Grand Palais. The building is famous for its rounded glass ceiling, not to mention the fact that it has been the home of Chanel runway shows for the past number of years. Karl Lagerfeld brings his many visions to life, and amazes the fashion crowd here season after season.

For the ultimate luxury shopping experience, ditch the crowds on Avenue des Champs-Élysées and head north-east of The Grand Palais to Avenue Montaigne and L’avenue George-V. All of the luxury brands boast a spot on this coveted strip and it is also the location of many of the head offices, and thus an opportunity to run into, or stalk, depending on your preference, the likes of Karl Lagerfeld, Jean-Paul Gautier, Marc Jacobs and more.

Highlights for me include the leather goods at Hermés, the stand alone Jean-Paul Gautier store, the Christian Dior store including separate boutiques for men, women, children and infants, and the Chanel corner. You can also find Chloe, Dolce & Gabanna, Georgio Armani, Prada, Valentino, Fendi, Gucci, Versace and much more in this area.

Take a break from shopping at Chez Francais, 7 Place de l’Alma. Grab a seat on the terrace for an amazing view of the Eiffel Tower and Liberty’s Flame, the Princess Diana Memorial. Chez Francais was recently featured in a scene in Inception with Lenardo Dicaprio and Ellen Paige. If that is not enough, the 5* service and amazing food wine and coffee keep patrons coming back for more. This would also be an ideal location for a romantic dinner or wedding proposal, I’m just saying.

No luxury shopping trip to Paris is complete without stopping at the Christian Louboutin boutique, 19 Rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau. To best shop the store I would suggest window shopping first, at the entrance to the store and then around the corner through the Galerie Véro-Dodat. This gives you the best opportunity to view the show stopping collection with the patten red leather soles. Then head inside to see the rest of these amazing creations and to arrange to have your purchases shipped home.

Stop at Aux Deux Ecus, 1 Place Deux Ecus, for a coffee and croissant before heading to the Louvre or on with your day.

France Posts:
Enjoying My Cake in Versailles Gardens
Pasta in Paris, Brunch in Blue – My guide to finding good eats
Sightseeing on the Seine
Shopping Posts:
La Rambla is just a warm up to shopping in Barcelona
Outlet City Metzingen
Shopping in Berlin – ja, das ist gut!
Chic Outlet Shopping – Europe