Paris Series: Breakfast at Paul

Ooops. I said that yesterday’s blog entry was my last on Paris. Well, I found a few more photos I missed and this means you gotta bear with another Paris blog today.

Never much of bread fan, I found myself falling in love with Parisian bread. Everywhere I go in Paris, I inevitably come across the chain of bakeries called Paul. They seem to be as prevalent in Paris as McDonalds and Starbucks in North America.

They have bakeries of every size. They have small counters at train stations and there are some full fledge bakeries. They are always busy and filled with a lot of people. There was one Paul bakery that had lines that snaked out the door. Their bread and pastry looked so tasty — the variety is bewildering.

The morning I left Paris, I stopped by the Paul at the Gare du Nord station. The one thing that I remember was that there were a lot of young gypsy girls asking me if I speak English. i always sternly tell me “No, I don’t speak English”. đŸ™‚ Does anyone know what they really want? Are they just asking for money?

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This Paul outlet is just a small counter which is more than good enough for me. The board list a bunch of stuff they sell. I can’t tell what is what except for the Pains — that’s bread for French. See? I did learn some French here. đŸ™‚ BTW, Paul was founded 120 years ago, believe it or not.

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My fav? The baguette. There are so much I learn about the humble baguette. Did you know why baguettes are shaped the way they are? Well, apparently there is a law in France that prohibits bakeries from working before 4am. This makes it impossible to make enough bread in time for breakfasts. The long slender baguette bakes faster than the rounder bread and thus it became what it is today. Does this story sound credible? (more…)

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Paris Series: Climbing the Eiffel and Gyros Dinner

After all these days in Paris, I had not climbed the Eiffel. I was at the base of the Eiffel a couple of night before but did not climb it because I was so dead tired. This time, I timed myself to start the climb before sun sets.

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There are three platforms on the Tower. The first two floors can be reached by stairs or by lifts. Taking the elevator to the 2nd floor costs 7.80 Euros while stairs costs 4.00 Euros with double the fun.

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Climbing up Eiffel is not easy. There are signs on the tower’s trivia after couple of landing. It was interesting reading and also a good chance to catch a breather.

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The first floor has the largest platform. There is quite a few displays and exhibitions of past and recent history here. There is also a post office on this level. Weird … is there a story behind this post office?

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The view from the second floor towards the Champs de Mars Park looked so beautiful. As much as I wanted to walk all the way to the end to take a picture of the Eiffel Tower from that end, I balked at walking all the way to the end. It must have been at least 3/4 of a mile end to end.

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Paris Series: The Palace of Versailles

Did you know that the city of Versailles was virtually the unofficial capital of France in the past? It is in his royal city that the seat of government was located although the official capital is Paris and the official palace was the Louvre. Versailles is extremely rich in history. It is located about 10 miles west of Paris and can easily be reached via RER trains.

Versailles is best known for the Chateau de Versailles (the Versailles Palace). I spent a good part of a day at Versailles. I have heard a lot of this place and its grandeur but had never knew much about it. When I reached the entrance, I was practically awe-stricken. I knew it was grand but I have never imagined how huge it was until I saw it with my eyes.

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I signed up for a guided tour and knew it was well worth every Euro. It indeed was. The guide assigned to us was not just any guide but a curator of the Versailles Palace. Man, she sure knew her stuff and amazed us with the answers that we threw at her. Because there were so many people around, we were given listening devices so that we can hear everything she was saying even though we are not within earshot. People who signs up for the tours gets to a different route and different places that is not opened to the general public.

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For three generations, from Louis XIV to Louis XVI had ruled France from this grand palace. As in the Louvre the opulence from that era shows. There were precious paintings still remaining in the Versailles but most of them had been sold by the government after the French Revolution. The Versailles is trying to restore this palace to it original but it will take a lot of money and a long time, if at all possible.

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The Versailles Palace is currently undergoing extensive renovations and refurbishments. (more…)

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Paris Series: Escargot Appetizer and Lunch in Latin Quarters

Now … this blog entry is about food and only about food … how’s that sound to you?

I did not expect that there were so many eateries here along the narrow streets at the edge of the Latin Quarter. I don’t really know what the street is called or the restaurant I went into. It was so hard to choose because it appears that everyone of them had such great deals. What I like is that they are fixed price menus … all around the 12-18 Euros price range for three courses.

I already know what I wanted … something I had never seen before let alone tried but had heard so much of … snails, or in a better word escargots.

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Ordering the drink is a no brainer … Perrier, the carbonated spring water bottled somewhere in France. It’s French … that’s all it matters to me. Ordered a large bottle because I was so darn thirsty. This sure beats any pop drink when you’re thirsty. This bottle is 5.50 Euros … expensive right?

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It is in France I discovered what the baguette should taste like. I mean, we had baguette at home, sometimes bought from the supermarket, sometimes Suanne baked ready made ones. They are OK and had never understood the fuss about the french loaf.

But holly molly, the baguettes I had in Paris is like a million-trillion times better … no kidding. They are so good I could have just have a meal on them alone … no spread, no butter, nothing … just plain naked baguettes. The crust are so crusty that it splinters apart breaking it. The insides is so soft and airy. I fell in love with baguette and looked forward to them at every place I went in Paris and Brussels.

Back home, I learnt that there is actually a law in French that defines what a baguette is — and that it must contain ONLY water, flour, yeast and salt. Nothing else! If the baker is to put in a single raisin, then by law it is not a baguette. Can someone from France confirm this?

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Escargot is normally served as appetizers but to me this is the main meal. There are just six pieces of small snails. I expected the snails to be bigger. They came with snails tongs and fork. I was fumbling trying to figure out how to use that thingy until some guy came over and showed me how. That looked easy enough but after he walked away, I tried again … I got it all wrong again.

I put down the tong and used my fingers instead. That was easy.

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Paris Series: Quiche Breakfast and the Notre Dame

Just across the road from my hotel was a patisserie. Unlike in England, frankly, I really don’t know where to go for breakfast. I could have breakfast in the hotel but it costs 15 Euros — too expensive for me.

So, I just went across the street to get something from the patisserie. It was my first time and I can see what the fuss were about french bakery shop. The place smells so nice and there were so many types of bread alone that it’s bewildering.

I just got something familiar — Quiche, vegetable quiche.

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I walked over to the Metro station to get a seat to eat before I head to my destination. That’s all I had for breakfast … quiche and chocolate milk. The quiche is much better than any I’ve ever tasted before. The warm pastry was so soft that it flops down. The quiche and choc milk costs 3.80 Euros.

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This is a day I planned to visit the two most famous churches in Paris, the Notre Dame and the Sacre Coeur. The Notre Dame is located on a small island on the River Seine called the ?le de la Cit? (don’t ask me how to pronounce it). It is here where Paris was founded. Compared to London’s Thames, this river seem so idyllic whereas the Thames is so chaotic.

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The word Notre Dame in French means Our Lady (Virgin Mary). (more…)

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Paris Series: The Eiffel Tower

It was a long day … I finally made it to the base of the Eiffel Tower just as sunset. Ken, my photography guru, told me to make sure I get to the Eiffel at about this time and boy, was I glad I took his advice. As I emerged from the subway station, my jaws literally dropped at the sight of the gold lighted tower.

The Eiffel Tower was the tallest building in the world when it was built 120 year ago. Back then it had just surpassed the Egyptian Pyramids in height. The tower held the world tallest title until it was surpassed many, many years later by the Chrysler Building in New York.

There are three levels. The first two levels are climbable by stairs with about 300 steps between each level. To get to the top level, one has to take a lift.

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As much as I wanted to climb the tower, I was in no shape to do so. I had just spent 5 hrs at the Louvre, walked all the way to the Champs-Elysees and then climbed Arc de Troimphe. No siree … I am going to leave that to another day. But I had a great time taking pictures … it’s so beautiful.

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These are all HDR pictures — which is so perfect in a lighting condition like these. I think there are not many pictures of the Eiffel similar to these I took. Try googling Google Images (or following this link).

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Paris Series: Champs-Elysees and Arc de Triomphe

This is another long blog entry but it has some food elements to it … not a lot but “some” đŸ™‚

After the visit to the Louvre, I started down the Axe Historique which is a line of buildings, monuments and thoroughfares. This whole line is perfectly aligned east-west. My first stop was the Tuileries Garden where it used to be a palace but was burned down. It is a Saturday afternoon and there are lots of people out on this crisp nice weather.

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Further down, the Champs ?lys?es is something else. There were so much traffic along this world famous avenue.

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This is also where the largest Louis Vuitton departmental store is located. All along the avenue are cafes, and luxury stores. I am glad Suanne is not around. đŸ™‚

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Paris Series: The Louvre

The first thing I did in the first morning in Paris was to collect the 2-Day Paris Museum Pass that I had pre-ordered from Rue de Rivoli. This pass allows me access to over 60 museums in and around Paris. This is a very useful pass to have because it allow one to avoid the queue at the ticketing office. However, you have to remember that most museums in Paris is closed on Mondays.

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My main stop for the day was the Louvre Museum. Continuously built over 500 years and previously a palace, the Louvre is one of the largest art gallery and museum in the world. The latest extension is the Louvre Pyramid built less than 20 years ago.

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You have to be there to see for yourself the immense size of the Louvre — what you see below is just a part of the Louvre. There are more behind the back facade.

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At the west end is the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel which was built by Napolean. This is the start of the long wide avenue leading all the way to the Arch de Triomphe 9 km away.

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The Louvre Pyramid is the main entrance to the Louvre. There were tight security checks the day I was there where most bags were checked.

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London Series: Eurostar from London to Paris

I thought I had everything planned out for the day. It’s St Paddy’s day and I had planned to go watch the parade in London before taking the EuroStar to Paris in late afternoon.

However, the day before I was supposed to leave for Paris I heard on the news that there was a fire inside the Eurostar tunnel and that the tunnel had been closed for at least 24 hours. Initially, I was not concerned because the tunnel was supposed to be opened at 4pm while my reservation is not until 6:30pm. Well, it turned out that to be a day wasted in waiting … and it just had to happen to me!

When I got to the Waterloo Station, I can see that this is gonna be a long day. There was already a huge crowd and the Eurostar officials were trying their best to attend to each and every customer. What they told me that despite me having a confirmed reservation, they will NOT honour it — it will be a first come first serve and to add to the uncertainty, they refuse to say when the service will resume or if Eurostar will even operate on that day.

First, I tried to find an alternative way to get to Paris. There were no flights between London and Paris. Every flight was booked solid — I am not surprised at all. I thought I just grab a bite while trying to work out an alternative way. I went to Burger King to get a sandwich.

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I was not particularly hungry but remember how thirsty and tired I was. I had been lugging my luggage all the way from Heathrow for about 3 hrs now. This gave me a chance to relax.

My other alternative was to take the train and ferry but I could not get real help at all from the Information counter and ticketing office. Basically they told me to get a train to Dover and then a ferry to Calais but cannot tell me how to get to Paris. I know it must have been a frustrating day for them too because of the crowd but hey, they are supposed to be there to help. I was really disappointed with them.

I also took the tube to another station to try to get on a coach. Tough luck as the earliest coach is not leaving until after 11pm and the journey takes 7 hrs! No siree … I went back to Eurostar to take my chances.

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By the time I got back to the Waterloo Station at 3pm, the queue had already stretched all the way to outside the station on the overpass. There must have been hundreds of people already ahead of me.

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I was on the queue for almost 1.5 hours as it slowly inched the way back into the station.

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