Friday, March 30, 2012

Cul de Poule and The Choco Story

Saturday was a lazy day, and we got a late start on our self-guided walk of another part of our neighborhood.  We browsed the wonderful shops of the market street Rue des Martyrs

and wondered how in the world the French are so slender with all this tempation surrounding them!

We succumbed to a box of these gorgeous strawberries (below), but realized too late that they cost a small fortune -- almost 15 euros!  (Frank may never recover.)

Eating lunch in a French restaurant is one of Anne's favorite things to do, so we headed for the "Cul de Poule" (which literally means "the hen's ass").  Much better than the name implies, we ate a fabulous meal of Sea Bass and Pasta, seated underneath, what else?  A hen's butt mounted on the wall above us!

After lunch we worked our way down to a chocolate museum called "The Choco Story."  This was actually a fascinating museum describing the history of chocolate from the time of the Aztecs and Mayans who valued chocolate so highly that they used cocoa beans as their currency.  They even worshipped a cocoa goddess!

The museum also offered a demonstration of how pralines (chocolates with fillings like hazelnut cream) are made.

And of course, we got to taste the finished product - some chocolates freshly-made in their demo room!  In our wanderings about this chocolate museum, we discovered that chocolate has more antioxidents (cancer fighting mechanisms) than both tea and wine put together. We were so happy to discover that we could  now justify our new addiction to chocolate!!

Salon des Vins des Vignerons des Independants

Frank takes on the Salon!
 During research for this trip, Anne stumbled onto an outting for us called the "Salon des Vins des Vignerons des Independants", an annual event where independent wine producers from all over France come to Paris to sell their wares. We've been to wine tastings all over the world, so this was definitely our kind of event. 

As we walked from the Metro to the "Espace Champerret", a huge exhibit hall, we happened to meet a man named Ken, who just happened to be headed to the wine event too.  Ken lived n Paris but spoke perfect American-style English having lived in Boston for many years.  A very nice gregarous sort of guy, and when he gave us free passes to get into the wine event, he became our new best friend!  We couldn't believe our luck.

When we entered the exhibit hall, we received a wine tasting glass each (to keep), compliments of the house; we were now on our own to taste wine all day long at any of the literally hundreds of winery booths. We had never seen so much wine and wine tasting under one roof, and this was FRENCH wine with all our favorite regions well-represented.  Names like Paulliac, Pommard, St. Estephe, Grave, and St. Emilion got our adrenalin pumping and our mouths salivating. If there were such a thing as "wine heaven," this would be it!

Like the proverbial kids in a candy shop, we filled our glasses with some of the finest wines in all of France and stuffed our backpacks beyond their intended capacity with as many bottles of wines as we could carry.  And, we couldn't believe the prices either.  These ordinarily super-expensive bottles were being sold for about 1/3 the price in the states!!  Wow!!  That made this whole adverture even more palatable, no pun intended.

These people came prepared to buy!

Some of you may remember that we visited the fabulous Bordeaux region during 2009 when the vintners were going berserk over the "exceptionelle" growing season for grapes.  Well, those 2009 grapes are now bottled and ready for sale, and the wine is indeed as phenomenal as predicted.  Everybody (including the Supsics) were scarfing up the 2009's like crazy -- what a find!  And how wonderful to be able to taste the wine, and talk directly to the proprietieres before buying any of the wines.

We had so much fun here at the wine salon on our 1st day, that we returned on Monday for Round 2.  This really was the best wine tasting event ever we've seen.  That said, we may need to return to Paris in March of next year so that we can attend again (as you can imagine Anne is heartbroken over this "going back to Paris" possibility LOL).

One of many happy Parisians rolling his wine purchases home.

In spite of our wild day of wine drinking (not really so crazy -- we did a lot of spitting), we went to see an Offenbach opera called "La Belle Helene" at one of the small theaters that Paris has in abundance.  We are big Offenbach fans, and this one is seldom performed.  We were disappointed that it was more of a spoof than a serious opera, but the music was lovely, and the cast was very enthusiastic. It is impossible not to enjoy a show when the performers are having so much fun.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Marie Antoinette and the Heart of Paris

On Thursday, we took our first Metro ride (of this trip) leaving from the gorgeous Place St. Georges just south of our apartment.

We were headed for a tour of the Conciergerie with "Paris Walks" --  they are our favorite walking tour company, and we never miss an opportunity to take one of their tours when we are here.   The Conciergerie building is currently a courthouse (Palace of Justice), but it was once the prison where victims of the Revolution, including Marie Antoinette, were held prior to losing their heads on the guillotine.

Marie Antoinette right before her execution (she was only 38 years-old).

Our tour started outside the Conciergerie which sits on the Isle de Cité, the small island in the middle of the Seine River where the history of Paris began.  A tribe called the Parisi first settled here, followed by the Romans, and then the Franks.  You can really feel the flow of history when you realize that the site of the Conciergerie has always been a place of justice dating back the the Parisi.  And that Notre Dame sits where a pagan temple to Jupiter once stood.  The island continues to exemplify the age-old division of church and state with the courts on the west side and a cathedral on the east.

Notre Dame

Inside the Conciergerie a series of recreations depict the horrible conditions people faced when they were arrested during "The Reign of Terror".  (The recreations were a bit "cheesy," making us glad that we were visiting with a tour guide who could give us all the historical background.)

And a re-creation of the cell where Marie Antoinette awaited her death:

Even an actual (used!) guillotine blade was on display:

The trials during the Reign of Terror were a sham, and many innocent people kept the guillotine busy decapitating an average of 38 Parisians every day for about a year.  An especially moving room displayed a list of every person who died by the blade.

Sometimes, people turned in their neighbors because they wanted to get rid of them -- one woman turned in her neighbor because she didn't like the way the woman hung out her wash; so, she was guillotined for her infraction with that wash!  One of the saddest deaths hit close to our new Montmartre home.  Marie Louise de Montmorency-Laval, the last Abbess of Montmartre (she appears on the list below as ex-Abbess), was executed even though she was 71 years-old, deaf, and practically blind.  Her crime?  Being "blind and deaf to the Revolution!"

Our minds were still reeling from The Terror as we walked out through the courtyard where the condemned were forced into the tumbrils (wooden carts with bars on the sides) that would carry them to their death.  If you are interested in this era, there is a marvelous book called "The Way of the Tumbrils" by John Elliot (it is actually out of print, but you can download it to an e-book for free at

The gorgeous sunlight outside lightened our mood along with some uniquely French photos that Frank especially enjoyed:

We strolled along the River Seine, browsing the stalls of the "bookinistes" (booksellers with distinctive green metal stands along the riverside) and revelling in the ambiance.  The Bateaux Mouche (tourist boats) were floating down the Seine, and Paris looked just as beautiful as ever.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Bienvenue à Paris!

Welcome to Paris!  We were prepared for cold and rain, but Paris is experiencing an incredible early spring.  The weather has been warm and sunny every day so far.  C'est magnifique!

Apartment living is definitely the way to go.  Our apartment is even more spacious than it appeared in the pictures (quite remarkable in Europe), and the cost is much less than most hotels.  You can see that we have wasted no time getting into the French wine!

While the rooms in our apartment are spacious, the elevator is not.  Believe it or not, the specs for this elevator say it can carry a maximum of three people (obviously, three very tiny French people!)

On our first full day in Paris, we did a self-guided tour of our neighborhood. Montmartre is often called "La Butte" which means the hill, and it sits on the highest ground in Paris.  Montmarte has always been known for its nightlife, and when we walk outside of our apartment, we can see the famous dancehall "The Moulin Rouge" at the top of our hill.

Montmartre was once dotted with 30 windmills, but today only two remain.  Here is one of them:

Many of the Impressionist painters frequented an open-air dance hall near this mill which Renoir immortalized in his painting "Le Bal du Moulin de la Galette" (reproduction below is posted outside in a garden where Renoir finished the painting):

We visited the Musee de Montmartre, a small museum about life on La Butte in the oldest house in Montmartre.   The house was owned by Suzanne Valadon whose son, Maurice Utrillo, was a Montmartre painter; many famous impressionist artists temporarily lived here including Renoir and Van Gogh.

  The city of Paris feels so far away in this bucolic setting. 

We loved this little museum that recreated the life and times of the Impressionists.  Several rooms were decorated with old dancehall posters that perfectly captured the "joie de vivre" of the age.  Artists like Toulouse-Lautrec became famous for creating these "advertisement posters" with their unique style for the local Montmartre night clubs.

We also saw the suspicious-looking character (below) trying to order a drink at a re-creation of a Montmartre bar:

Outside, we had a gorgeous view of Paris's only remaining vineyard with the city in the background.

We walked past colorful souvenir shops,

and eventually made our way to Sacre Coeur, one of Paris's most famous monuments, sparkling at the very top of the hill.  A street entertainer was singing and a crowd gathered on the steps to listen.  Everyone was enthralled with the good vibe and the marvelous view.

We even got a hazy first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower way in the distance just as the sun was setting.