Day 1: Paris

Paris Travel Blog

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Streets of Paris on the Left Bank

When we arrived into Paris at 6:20am on Dec 26th I was happy to discover that I was not the least bit sleepy despite having lost 6 hours due to the time change. My doctor's advice had worked like a charm- I awoke before we landed feeling refreshed and ready to begin the day. The meals on the plane had been adequate and the seats very comfortable despite our location in coach.

 

Jon and I met up with the rest of our Meetup Travel group (http://www.meetup.com/NoVA-Travelers) at the Sheraton Bar in the CDG airport. This had been the most recommended rendezvous point I'd found online as there is only 1 Sheraton Bar in the airport (versus something like 6 Mc'Donalds) and it's located precisely over the RER train station in Terminal 2.

Jenni with husband Jonathan overlooking the Seine

 

We all hopped on the RER train to Paris where we transferred to the metro we needed to reach our hotel. The RER trains are similar to commuter trains you find in any major metropolitan area, and the metro is very similar to the DC metro in terms of how you get around, easy-to-read maps, etc. Even though I didn't *feel* tired I must have been suffering from some aftereffects of the time change because I led us to the wrong metro exit and caused us to walk about 6 extra blocks with our luggage. Good thing we all had roll-away suitcases! Everyone was just happy to be in Paris though, so there were no complaints.

 

The streets of Paris are a lot like the streets of NYC except the buildings project a stronger image of nobility, class, and heritage.

Notre Dame from afar
You won't find many shiny tall glass skyscrapers in Paris. Another difference between Paris and NYC is the doggie poop. It's on almost every block in Paris, except in the major downtown tourist areas like the Champs Elysees and such. The French love to take their dogs everywhere but they don't seem to pooper scoop much. At least they tend to have smaller dogs so it's smaller poop piles you must avoid while walking. The French also love their food- much like NYC is dotted with Pizza joints on every block Paris is sprinkled with patisseries and cafes.  Despite their love affair with food, what you read in the magazines is true - the Parisians on the whole are thin. I've read that there are plenty of overweight folks outside the city in the countryside (comparable to the rest of Europe, but nowhere near the rate of in the states) but you didn't see many in Paris other than American tourists.

 

After we checked into our Hotel (in the 20th Arr, near the Porte de Montreuil metro station) we made it out straightaway to Point Zero in Paris so I could begin leading a tour of the historic district for the group, stopping for a quick and light lunch in a café along the way.

Notre Dame St Denis and other saints
  The food, even this "fast food" was delicious. I had what would come to be my favorite lunch in Paris - ham and Emmenthal on a buttered baguette.

 

Originally the Parisii tribe lived and fished on this river bank in 2300 years ago before being conquered by the Romans about 50 years before Christ was born. After the Roman Empire fell, the Germanic Franks expanded their power over the area. It's called Point Zero because historically and geographically it is the center of Paris. An island, in the middle of the Seine, housing Notre Dame Cathedral, it's quite a lovely spot.

 

The Cathedral architecture is quite fascinating. It is said that Saint Denis, after being beheaded for his allegiance to Christ, picked up his head and staggered round until he came to rest on the spot where the Cathedral now stands.

Notre Dame line of the Kings of Judah
He promptly fell over, having found the perfect martyr memorial. This is why not only was Notre Dame built here but also why they've included a headless St Denis into the line of sculptures that accent the front of the Cathedral. Other architectural highlights include the Kings of Judah carved in an orderly line over the doors (during the French revolution the peasants cut the heads off the sculptures as they were so disgusted with anything royal; they remained buried in a neighborhood woman's yard till the 20th century when they were uncovered), the Gargoyles which vomit rain during downpours, the Apostles carved and placed around the spire and the largest Rose stained glass window in Europe if not the world. We have pictures of all of this except for the window as photos inside the church are not permitted out of reverence to God.

 

After our walk round Notre Dame, we crossed the Seine and headed down the Left bank past artsy book stores and cafes.

The oldest tree in Paris. Planted 1602.
We walked down the Boulevard Saint Michel (a well known artsy destination) and over to Place Saint Michel (a popular place for the citizenry to stage protests and demonstrations in front of a statue of St Michel killing a demon). We saw St Severin (Gothic church) and the oldest living resident of Paris - a tree planted in 1602 nicknamed Robinier after the guy who planted it.

 

Crossing back over the Seine using another bridge (there are more than 10 bridges total crossing the Seine, we could use that wisdom here and build more bridges across the Potomac in the Great Falls area of Metro DC). Back on the right bank we strolled past the church Saint Chapelle and the Palais de Justice (French Supreme Court) before hopping on the metro back to our hotel to rest.  It was a beautiful tour overall, spanning just a bit over three and a half hours and three miles.

Place de St Michel
I was quite pleased. 


Everyone was on their own for dinner this evening and Jonathan and I had big plans - we were dining at Le Cinq, the hotel restaurant at the Four Seasons on George V avenue off the Champs Elysees. The restaurant was awarded the highest culinary award in the world- three Michelin stars- and is listed as number 24 in the list of the 50 best restaurants in the entire world. I was so excited as I love all things gourmet. We put on our dress clothes (we'd been wearing business casual clothes all day; while we did see some people in jeans on the streets of Paris that day it was true that we saw no t-shirts, jogging outfits nor sneakers, just as we'd been warned by the guidebooks in it's advice for properly dressing in the city) and headed for the Le Cinq.

Entrance plaque at the Four Seasons

 

The hotel, beautiful in its own right, was pushed further into elegance and beauty with the Christmas décor. Red lighting and accents bathed the hallways in a festive glow and the trees in the courtyard were decorated with red lights as well.

 

We had planned on selecting the less expensive tasting menu (we knew prior to coming that they had 2 dinner fixed price menus, one approx 170 euros per person (approx $235 US dollars) and another that was quite a bit more that we were not willing to consider). This was going to be our meal of a lifetime and certainly the most expensive one. Having been handed the menus we were dismayed to find that the less expensive menu opened with Foie Gras (I can't bring myself to even try it as I simply imagine the horror of the torture involved for the ducks in producing it) and a main course of Sweetbreads.

Jenni and Jon at Le Cinq closeup
Ugh. The gourmet tasting menu on the other hand read deliciously from beginning to end in both our eyes. There were no prices listed on my menu for either choice but Jon remarked that they were on his. I love the way the French do this - they put the prices only on the man's menu deliberately. Fantastic! Jonathan suggested we enjoy the gourmet tasting menu instead of the less expensive one as it was a once in a lifetime experience. I concurred. It was only after we ordered that Jon revealed the gourmet tasting menu was 230 euros ($318) per person. Of course it's not quite as bad as it seems as in France the prices already include tax and tip.

 

It was an unforgettable meal that I've documented through photography.  Each dish celebrated a different region of France where the ingredients had been gathered.

 

We began with a large complimentary basket of calamari and fried shrimp.

Le Cinq Courtyard Christmas Tree display
This was, without a doubt, the best calamari I've ever tasted. It was prepared with a Japanese batter (it's escaping me what that is called now) and perfectly tender. We were hungry and it was so delicious I forgot that I had intended to take pictures of the meal until after we finished the appetizer so sadly I have no picture of this lovely treat.

 

The first course was Consomme de Boef en Gelee avec Caviar de Sologne, neige au raifort.

(Beef consomme aspic with caviar from Sologne and horseradish "snow"). This was basically a very rich cold beef soup that had been gelled. Inside the gelatinous broth were petite nibbles of rounded vegetables such as carrot, parsnip and potato.

Le Cinq Course one
Proving that you can't judge a dish by it's description, we loved it. Let me tell you, if someone asked me if I'd care for a bowl of cold beef soup in jello form I'd have answered with a resounding "no", but having actually tried it I was surprised at how fantastic it was.

 

The second course was Premieres Asperges Vert du Luberon: Cuite "minute" au jus de volaille, truffe noire, gnocchi potiron, et palette de Jabugo. (Asparagus spears with black truffle, sweet potato or pumpkin gnocchi). This dish featured the best gnocchi I ever had. The asparagus was tender and flavorful. In my excitement to eat I forgot again to take a picture of this dish. Sorry!

 

The third course was Ormeaux Bretons de Pleine Mer: potimarron au beurre d'algues, meuniere au cresson.

Le Cinq Course Three
(Abalone done two ways: with pumpkin puree and seaweed butter; and a la meuniere with watercress.). Neither Jon nor I had tried Abalone before. It's similar to a clam from what I understand of all things culinary. I preferred the abalone with the pumpkin puree, but both preparations were tender and very good.

 

I should point out that between each course, new sterling silverware was brought to us, our waters were refilled (not being wine drinkers, nor wanting to spend additional money, we stuck to the $15 bottle of water {no tap water served in this fine restaurant}) and we were offered more fresh bread and a choice of two butters - plain and seaweed speckled. Also, each course was served with anticipation and spectacle as no less than 3 waiters approached the table at once and in a flurry of movement placed silver domed plates before us, removing the covers after a petite coutdown in dramatic fashion.

Le Cinq Course Four
Tres fantastique!

 

The fourth course was Ormeaux Bretons: Bouillon de poule. (Abalone served in a lemongrass broth and diced scallop tartare in the shell). While I enjoyed the succulent broth, the scallop was another story. The first bite was refreshing- pure ocean flavor with a bit of scallop essence in for good measure. By the third bite of this raw scallop, I felt it was one of those moments where you're swimming in the ocean and open your mouth at the wrong time and get seawater up your nose and down your throat. I felt as though I was drowning in seawater. Jon reports today that he does not remember whether he liked the scallop or not (at which point I paused in my blog writing to chastise him for not committing to memory such an extravagant meal).

 

The fifth course was Oursins Violets Cremeux a l'Ecume de Fenouil.

Le Cinq Course Five
(Purple sea urchin (from Brittany) bisque with fennel foam.) This was really lovely and while it also tasted of the sea, it had a much more delicate and delightful aftertaste than the scallop. I didn't even realize until this dinner that sea urchins were edible.

 

The sixth course was Noix de Saint-Jacques de Normandie: Mousseline de celeri-truffe, remoulade a la pomme verte avec wasabi. (Scallops from Normandy with celeric-truffle mousseline and a remoulade of green apple with wasabi.) This was one of my favorite courses. It was especially surprising for me to discover I actually like pan seared scallops as previously I've not been fond of them.

 

The seventh course was brought to the table.

Le Cinq Course six
By now I was wondering when we were actually going to reach the main course as we were beginning to almost feel full (good thing we'd done the walking earlier in the day and eaten lightly). Luckily, course seven *was* the main course. This was tender lamb with asparagus and a fancy french macaroni and cheese. The macaroni was long tubular pasta stuffed with french cheese and basil and topped with butter and more cheese. I noticed that the pasta was not quite cooked to my standards (I noticed this again later in other French restaurants- they don't cook their pasta to the same tenderness as in the States) but otherwise the main course was savory and satisfying. By now I was feeling tired and I did not remember to write down the fancy French name of the dish, hence why it's missing from this description.

 

Course eight was the cheese course.

Le Cinq Course seven
The waitstaff rolled over a large 3 level cart of more than 50 cheeses for us to choose from. As sophisticated as I would like to be, I can't handle a lot of strong cheeses. Especially the ones that smell like feet or the mold vein cheeses. Gah! I selected a nutty tasting French cheese similar to romano, brie (always a safe choice), a sheep's cheese with a name I cannot recall, and one other that proved to be too "feety". Jon chose the same cheeses as I, except he added a blue veined cheese to his selection. Alas, I neglected to take a snapshot of the cheese plate.

 

Course nine was a palate cleanser - Lychee and Raspberry with Champagne Granita. The granita was very refreshing (basically shaved ice flavored with Champagne) and the fruit was sweet and not too tart.

 

Course ten was a martini glass of orange sorbet with baby tangerines, whipped cream, and a fancy chocolate sculpture for garnish.

Le Cinq Course nine
It was light and perfect. At this point we were beginning to feel full and wondered how many more courses remained. We were still having a great time, especially trying to discern which country the diners at all our neighboring tables were from. It was hard to recognize some of the accents.

 

Course eleven was the final full course. It was Tarte Souffle au Chocolat du Perou avec Creme glacee a la gousse de vanille. (Dark Peruvian chocolate tart souffle with vanilla bean ice cream.) 

The tart was similar to a flourless chocolate cake; very rich and very chocolaty. The ice cream had almost *too* much vanilla flavor or perhaps it was the liquor in the cream that turned me off (I don't especially enjoy liquor with savory desserts).

Le Cinq Course ten (w/Jon)
Overall though, the dish was a winner.

 

After the eleven courses (twelve if you count the calamari appetizer) we were surprised to find they were wheeling over a giant multiple tiered cart of various chocolates and candies. This is the grand finish to the dining experience at Le Cinq. They asked us to select five or six different chocolate candies to try. I selected a mix of caramels, milk chocolates with nuts, and candied fruits. Jon had the same.

 

The bill was brought to our table upon request and to my delight the waitstaff brought a small box of chocolates to me. Seems that is part of the tradition. I really appreciate the French culture- the men get the pricing on the menu and the check while the women are given the lovely box of chocolates.

Le Cinq Course Eleven
I could live in Paris happily.

 

Having finished our meal, we were quite full, but not to the uncomfortable Thanksgiving dinner unbutton your pants moment. We took a few pictures in the restaurant and then walked to the Champs Elysees where we were dazzled by the Christmas lights and took more photos. I felt so relaxed, so happy and so free. It was an amazing evening that capped an amazing day and I will never forget it.



emmllerg says:
Enjoy your next vacation to Paris
Posted on: Jun 02, 2013
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Streets of Paris on the Left Bank
Streets of Paris on the Left Bank
Jenni with husband Jonathan overlo…
Jenni with husband Jonathan overl…
Notre Dame from afar
Notre Dame from afar
Notre Dame St Denis and other sain…
Notre Dame St Denis and other sai…
Notre Dame line of the Kings of Ju…
Notre Dame line of the Kings of J…
The oldest tree in Paris. Planted …
The oldest tree in Paris. Planted…
Place de St Michel
Place de St Michel
Entrance plaque at the Four Seasons
Entrance plaque at the Four Seasons
Jenni and Jon at Le Cinq closeup
Jenni and Jon at Le Cinq closeup
Le Cinq Courtyard Christmas Tree d…
Le Cinq Courtyard Christmas Tree …
Le Cinq Course one
Le Cinq Course one
Le Cinq Course Three
Le Cinq Course Three
Le Cinq Course Four
Le Cinq Course Four
Le Cinq Course Five
Le Cinq Course Five
Le Cinq Course six
Le Cinq Course six
Le Cinq Course seven
Le Cinq Course seven
Le Cinq Course nine
Le Cinq Course nine
Le Cinq Course ten (w/Jon)
Le Cinq Course ten (w/Jon)
Le Cinq Course Eleven
Le Cinq Course Eleven
Notre Dame Jesus and the angels
Notre Dame Jesus and the angels
Notre Dame Jesus and the angels cl…
Notre Dame Jesus and the angels c…
Notre Dame gargoyles
Notre Dame gargoyles
Notre Dame gargoyles closeup
Notre Dame gargoyles closeup
Notre Dame entrance
Notre Dame entrance
Statue of Charles the Great in fro…
Statue of Charles the Great in fr…
Notre Dame spire
Notre Dame spire
Notre Dame rose stained glass wind…
Notre Dame rose stained glass win…
The shops of Hotel de Ville
The shops of Hotel de Ville
Hotel de Ville
Hotel de Ville
Notre Dame rearview
Notre Dame rearview
The Seine river
The Seine river
Another view of the Seine river.
Another view of the Seine river.
The Seine with the Louvre in the b…
The Seine with the Louvre in the …
The Seine. The roadway on the righ…
The Seine. The roadway on the rig…
St Severin church in the historic …
St Severin church in the historic…
Place St Michael, with my friend T…
Place St Michael, with my friend …
St Chapelle church in the historic…
St Chapelle church in the histori…
Palais of Justice
Palais of Justice
My friend Tracy enjoying her cafe …
My friend Tracy enjoying her cafe…
Streets of Paris.
Streets of Paris.
Le Cinq Courtyard Christmas Tree d…
Le Cinq Courtyard Christmas Tree …
Le Cinq Christmas displays
Le Cinq Christmas displays
Jenni and hubby Jon after dinner a…
Jenni and hubby Jon after dinner …
Champs Elysees
Champs Elysees
Ferris Wheel at the Concorde at Ni…
Ferris Wheel at the Concorde at N…
Ferris Wheel again
Ferris Wheel again
Paris
photo by: Sweetski