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Paris is Always a Good Idea: Part Two

January 5, 2014

As I sit here in snowy Georgetown on January 4th, 2014, it seems it was much longer than 48 hours ago that I was still in Paris. I wrote earlier this week about my recommendations as to what to do (click here if you missed it) … here is what I really did.

Breakfact Cafe Charlotte (Photo by: Ada Polla) Breakfact Cafe Charlotte

I did indeed walk the streets of Paris, mostly under a slow but steady wintery drizzle. My first walk started at 29 Rue de Poitou, in the Marais, where the Hotel du Petit Moulin is located. This boutique hotel has much going for it – its location, in the heart of what I find to be the most artsy and interesting neighborhood of Paris (which is also quite centrally located); the fact that no two rooms are the same and that the interior design is the work of fashion genius Christian Lacroix; the service, which is delightful even for someone used to “American service;” and the fact that they have an “Honesty Bar” – a DIY bar where you can make yourself the cocktail of your choice, and where you are trusted to then let the front desk know exactly what you drank. (Room 402 is the best in the house).  

From the Hotel du Petit Moulin, I walked to the Carousel du Louvre, to schlep my dead MacBook Air to the Apple store. Yes, my technology woes followed me to the very end of 2013, and yes, my MacBook Air did die. Given that this is my first Mac, this was also my first experience at the Genius Bar. It was an amazing experience. My tech was indeed a genius – a genius that spoke perfect French, and perfect English with the perfect French accent. Granted he wasn’t able to fix my computer … but that’s another story.

Side note: on the way from Hotel du Petit Moulin to Carousel du Louvre, I got to walk by a Christian Louboutin store… with a line at that. The type of thing you only see when you walk a city …

Line at Louboutin (Photo by: Ada Polla) Line at Louboutin

One thing that I forgot to mention in my Paris recommendations, which actually rings true in any city, is to try to have “apero” (the Swiss / French cocktails and finger foods gathering that comes after the afternoon and before dinner), or coffee, or anything, at a local’s home. Nothing tells more about a country as the opportunity to spend time seeing how people really live. In this case, I had an apero with champagne, foie gras, salmon, blinis – and confirmed that bubbles and fine foods are a indeed national passion.

After “apero” comes dinner. My mother, who if she were not Swiss would be Parisian (and sometimes thinks she is), recommended Chez Julien, on the river, tiny, and exquisite. Having made a dinner resa for 8:00 pm, which I thought was late, I was reminded of the fact that the Parisian dinner scene really doesn't start picking up until 8:30 pm at the earliest. I still can’t decide if the company, the food, the location, or the décor was what made my evening. When you reserve, if you can get the table by the window, more power (and pleasure) to you!

The Thinker (Photo by: Ada Polla) The Thinker

I did have croissants, at least one every day when I was there. I rediscovered Café Charlot, a couple blocks from the Hotel du Petit Moulin, that serves a great croissant, and more – oeuf a la coque, freshly squeezed orange juice, home-made jams, and, of course, espresso so strong my “Americanized” stomach could barely bare it.

I did go back to the Musée Rodin. It was worth the wait in the rain, and remains my favorite museum in the world. I love too many of the pieces to pick one, but the Thinker always gets me. Bonus: seeing some pieces by Camille Claudel, Rodin’s lover, and two Van Goghs and a Monet at that.

Art makes me hungry … not far from the Musée Rodin, I found the Café de l’Esplanade, owned by the group that runs Hotel Costes. Amazing champagne, more foie gras, more salmon, more blinis, more Frenchness…

I walked some more, from the hotel to Notre Dame, crossing into Ile de la Cité, and leaving through Ile Saint Louis. Just being in the presence of this medieval cathedral was awe-inspiring, even perhaps faith-(re)inspiring.

Three amazing experiences to end my stay:

First, a New Year’s day lunch that consisted of shellfish, lobster, oysters, the traditional first of the year foods for France (and Switzerland). Lighter and colder than black-eyed peas, ham and cabbage, and almost just as lucky! Per the suggestion of the hotel concierge, my single New Year’s day meal was at Le Bar a Huitres, at Place des Vosges. Don’t go there if you are a meat eater. But do take a Louisianan there, just for comparisons-sake. The Signature platter and a Chablis, and my year is off to a great start.

On the walk home to the hotel (yes, it now feels like home, and yes, another walk), I can’t help but notice a wine store – open on January 1. I have to walk in, if only to support this act of pure entrepreneurship. La Carte des Vins is a treasure-trove. Open since 1998, the shopkeeper seems surprised when I ask him if he is open on every New Year’s Day. “Yes” he replies, “I am actually open every day.” His assistant, busy replenishing the shelves with champagne, nods his head in somewhat desolate agreement. There, I discover wines and champagnes I had never seen. Japanese whiskeys. And a bottle of Chartreuse, which in my mind is so New Orleans, from a never-heard brand. That has to come back with me to the US…

Finally, back in the hotel, I already have the blues about leaving Paris the following day. Nothing cures the blues like a great movie … tonight that movie is Midnight in Paris by Woody Allen. The movie takes me through Paris all over again, including the Musée Rodin and to various cafés. And indeed, I must concur, Paris is the most beautiful under the rain …     


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Paris is Always a Good Idea: Part One

December 31, 2013

A friend recently asked me about my recommendations for his first trip to Paris, and so I spent a day remembering all of the things I love about the City of Light, and looking through all of the restaurant cards I have collected from my many stays there.

1. This city is best discovered by walking. Pack some comfortable shoes, and avoid taxis (although I just discovered that Uber is available in Paris, on the same account as you might use in the US… this may make walking a bit harder).

2. As an alternative, a boat tour on the "bateau mouche" is the best way to see the most beautiful sights without getting exhausted.

3. As a third alternative to take the city all in, the Tour Montparnasse gives you the best view of the city… if the sun is shining.

4. You must eat at least one croissant in a different café or “boulangerie” every day. A great resource in terms of food is: www.lefooding.com (very used and trusted by Parisians themselves, much more than Trip Advisor)

5. If you can’t decide on which café to go to first, here are two must-sees: Les Deux Magots in St Germain Des Prés and Café Flore, my favorite. Here is a great link to discovering others.

6. As important as café and croissant are wine and cheese, or, this time of year, wine and foie gras. Here is a link to get you started on wine bars.

7. In addition to epicurean pleasures, artistic and historical pleasures abound. There are enough museums to keep you busy for a month, here is a list to help you start if you can’t decide:

·         Musée Carnavalet: this is a fabulous great museum on the history of Paris, ideally visited with a guide, on your first day in     the city   

·         Le Louvre, of course, including a café or cocktail at Café Marly

·         The Musée D'Orsay

·         The Musée of Modern Art at the Centre Pompidou

·         And last but not least, the Musée Rodin, my favorite museum in the world

8. Finally, for some shopping. Buy yourself something characteristically French. Buy gifts for everyone on your list for next Christmas. The shopping here is fabulous. Go to Boulevard Haussman, to Le Printemps, to Les Galeries Lafayette, to any of the boutiques in the quartier of Saint Germain, and read this for more ideas.

And finally, 10 more treasures to discover.

Ironically, as I write this, I am in Paris. I cannot imagine a better place to start 2014. I haven’t been here in a few years … and will let you know how many of my own recommendations I follow. Stay tuned for Part Two of this post in a couple of days. And Happy New Year!


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Holiday Parties

December 16, 2013

Holiday parties. Love them. Can’t not go to them. This time of year, they are both pleasurable and inevitable. I have to admit that one of the highlights of my holiday season is the holiday party I throw. It started out as a Georgetown McDonough School of Business party – for those in our class who remained in DC after graduation. It evolved into an evening filled with friends I love, and bubbly.

While every year I end the party thinking of what I can improve on next year, there are a few things I now do every year that seem to be conducive to a fun evening.

1.      A party is made up first and foremost of people. My guests don’t all know each other, but somehow, every year a few people find that they have common acquaintances with another guest. When I put my guest list together, I invite people I love and I purposely include a few new friends. I think about who might enjoy meeting whom, and the most gratifying reward is having people connect and ask me for each other’s phone numbers and email addresses.

2.      I love sophisticated, and I love welcoming. I strive for both, finding that fine line between elegant and casual. This means a cocktail dress, 4-inch or higher heels, red lipstick. It also means Miller Lite, finger food, hugs, spills, and broken glasses. One makes the other better.  

3.      Glass and china change the feeling of a party. I used to buy plastic, now instead I rent the real thing. Extra benefit… no loads of dishwashing for me.

4.      People drink. It is a New Orleans rule (and possible a rule everywhere) that it is always better to have liquor left over rather than running out of alcohol. Buy extra – it will get drunk. I don’t have a full bar – I selfishly serve what I love to drink. And yes, New Orleans has rubbed off on me. From Champagne and wine, this party’s drink selection has evolved to include vodka and bourbon, red bull, bitters, and maraschino cherries. 

5.      People eat. From the traditional cheese and crackers, this party has evolved to homemade chicken and sausage gumbo. As in homemade from scratch. (Yes, I do have a Louisiana-born and bred husband, which helps …). Serving something “exotic” that will not be served at any other holiday party in my neighborhood makes my night.

6.      Bubbles are festive and make people happy. While in my family we drink champagne year-round, and sometimes just because it is Tuesday, the holiday time is particularly conducive to Champagne, Prosecco, Cava …. Don’t underestimate the power of those little bubbles.

7.      Never start cleaning up until every guest is gone. It’s just neither polite, nor fun.

8.      Clean up that evening, no matter how late (which may mean the morning after). There is nothing worse than waking up to half empty glasses everywhere, and nothing better than waking up to all glasses in their crates, and nothing but the hostess gifts left to discover.

 

And above all, enjoy. Laugh. Hug. Drink. And be merry.


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