A Travellerspoint blog

Aulnay June 1

semi-overcast 21 °C

Sorry guys, we has been out of town.

We woke with a sense of sadness this morning. Our last day in Paris, leaving early to meet the Welsh's at Gare du Nord (big! train station). We enjoyed our last "deux noisettes et un croissant" at our local cafe. With a tear in their eyes (allergies?) we bid each other aurevoir and we taxi'd away. If we were braver and younger we would have travelled 7 stops on the metro from Bastille to Gare du Nord, stared down the pick pockets and carried 20kg cases with athletic ease, but we are older than 30 now. You wait.

A second sadness went soon after waking. I tasted the pain des ami again this morning and found it to be more smokey in flavour. In deference to our champion baker I thought I should dismantle my wood fired oven; but once again Karen talked sense to me in an interesting dialect of French suggesting, getovereeetyoudeeeckhead. I did.

Gare du Nord was not as hectic as I expected then suddenly two familiar faces appeared. Reacquainted in the French way we resolved to collect the hire car and caught up with news simultaneously. It was fun getting into the Citroen C4 wagon and being unable to start it. Eventually some 10 toots later we were aided by le grump and we were on our way. I have awarded Mr Welsh the Order of Merit as he proceeded to leave Paris by driving through Paris in Paris traffic. I was assistant navigator confirming that the voiceless TomTom was getting it correct. We found the setting for the voice later. I have awarded Mr Thornton the Order of Merit for remaining calm throughout.

We found the Bvd Peripherique, a busy ring road which was hectic at 11 am like our peak hour. However the traffic was 'fluide'. Several tunnels later we arrived at Aulnay and found the track leading to the B&B.

Jean-Pascal and Gilbert, are friends and neighbours of Alaine. Alaine and Caroline hosted Laura Welsh who spent time at the same French school at which David stayed. John and Ingrid have stayed here before and now we already know why. Lovely people with much better English than our French, willing to chat.

Aulnay is beautifully bucolic, birds twittering happily, large fields of a dark green wheat and young fields of corn, the sound of a cuckoo in the distance … their garden with oak, cherry, and flowers I have not seen before. All this some 30 kilometres west of Paris as the crow flies. This is a deeply relaxing location.

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nearby track and neighbours barn and house

We met Alaine, a truly brave man who was willing to be driven to Maule, a nearby village by a novice driver. There over coffee and later a ricard we chatted about many things. Somehow the topic eventually found itself to be food and cheese and not long after we found ourselves in a fromagerie. A generous Alaine helped us to taste some fragrant aged hard cheese.
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Les got us safely back through the narrow village streets. Gimme these narrow streets over Parisian pace anyday when driving on the wrong side of the road.

Ingrid and Karen then went off to have a bath and soak in the fine oils Jean-Pascal and Gilbert provide. Separately. John decided to read the manual for the car; it has no handbrake! Les commenced today's blog continuing to make in excess of 10 grammatical errors once again. In the background he heard the seductive clanging and clancking of pots and crockery from the direction of the kitchen.

It turns out that Jean-Pascal loves to cook, and cooks extrememly well. It turns out that we love to eat, and eat extrmely well. We were feasted to a number of courses a mure and sparkling wine, a champagne, a 1998 French red, a Nuits St Georges 1st cru, Chateau Brie-Caillou medoc, and Bordeaux sauvignon and a old calvos (an apple brandy. The courses were delicious, restaurant quality and some are here below:

The night of eating, drinking, talking, laughing and listyenening to a mix of English and French went from 8pm to 1am. Olivier, who resides here duriung the week then returns home at end of week had littel English but we all had fun and stimulatoin with various translations occurring. It was a superb night. The cheese platter was varied, brie, camembert, mimolette, roquefort, rocmandour and so on. it was a night of extravagance from a peasant's point of view.

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saffron scallops

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prawns and things

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cherry tomato dipped in toffee

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pork wellington and sublime sauce

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Pears in sugar syrup with sechuan pepper and chocolat fondu

Jean-Pascal was an officer in the army for some 25 years. You just would never pick it. Alaine has trained in NLP; Caroline now trains corporate staff in stress management; Olivier works as electrician in a management role; ... and later Alaine asked us bout the idea of a philosophy cafe. He doesn't think there is one in Paris. Does anyone know of anything like this in Australia :-).

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Olivier and Caroline and John

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Karen and Alain and a pleased Ingrid

Posted by lesnkaren 06:55 Archived in France Comments (0)

Paris day 10 - Mon 31-05-2010

overcast 19 °C

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Here are the sweet delights we ate last night (oops, now you know). The cube on the left is like a marshmellow, denser and less sweet with a strong cassis flavour.

Here is a view across the Seine near us:
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Today was the day we planned carefully to fit as much as we could in without overdoing it. Another breakfast at our local cafe followed by a walk of some 5 km upon a viaduct which has been transformed into gardens and a walkway for the population. Originally the viaduct held a train line above the streets. Along the way we met many walkers and joggers and a couple of homeless. About some 5m above the streets the noise of the traffic was lessened and the air smelt sweeter with the numerous plants and roses. A couple of parks along the way made to walk even more interesting.

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Go figure, these ladies were on the local police station!

Surprise surprise, it was important to fit in a visit to the boulangerie which seems to have a reputation for being one of the best in Paris and France. Amongst other things the baker claims to be one of the few who continue to make their own dough for croissants rather than purchasing premade dough in a frozen state. This was another 5 km walk along roads we'd never travelled and finally we located Du Pain et des Idées. We could tell by looking at the bread were in for a real treat and our taste buds later confirmed we had underestimated the treat to be. We had planned to lunch at a nearby park and we purchased a couple more things. Oh my, this place deserves its reputation. Bugger that we took this long to get to it!

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chausson

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the bread

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du Pain et des Idées

We carried our load of lunch to the Parc des Buttes Chaumont. Apparently this park was transformed from an old quarry by Napoleon for the working class to have a recreational and relaxing area. Unlike the other parks we have been to there is quite a height difference between the North and South boundaries, a lake, and the planting is less formal and there are several trees. It seemed to us that the locals were enjoying their lunchtime. We devoured our lunch which with nature involved all our senses doubly.

The Parc des Buttes Chaumont:
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We have to admit we took the Metro back to home. Would got ourselves a little organised for tomorrow morning this being our last day in Paris.

We ambled around for a couple of hours which included a stop at a local brasserie where we both ordered a Pastis and engaged in chat and people watching.

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Pastis for two. A common past-time, perhaps more so in the south.

We discovered this maternal duck with ducklings under wing.

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A little more walking and eventually wandered in to a restaurant for tonight. Les ordered a double dose of duck, duck terrine which was very well made with red pickled cabbage which we think was warmed with balsamic vinegar. Karen ordered the ravioli with mushroom and cheese which was swimming in this delicious sauce and bread in the nearby basket barely contained itself with the anticipation. Karen chose a glass of Pommery as an aperitif and Les finally got to taste a gentiane, a bitter sweet delight. For mains Les chose duck cooked in honey and seasoning with some interesting mash potato, and Karen beef bourguignon. We reckon the waitress liked us because she said the aperitifs were on her.

Back home, replete and complete.

Posted by lesnkaren 14:41 Archived in France Comments (2)

Paris day 9 - Sun 30-05-2010

semi-overcast 21 °C

Hope you slept well. Somebody in France did. We know this because when we boarded the metro this morning one guy was playing a muted trumpet and his companion thumping a tambourine. We think they got away with it because most travellers were tourists heading for the Louvre and other places to avoid queuing. It was very nicely played though that trumpet. He didn't ask for money either. There was music in his heart.

Went to the Apple store to get some extra storage for all the photos and there I had a play with the new iPad. Nice machine, works like the ads said, want one, not yet, oooohh!

You will never guess what I did Sunday morning. (It's a silly comment isn't it, because you will never guess!). Karen discovered a shining light in the world of coffee in Paris. We think Melbourne coffee is light years ahead of Paris, but we think this place alone is light years ahead of Melbourne. Called La Cafotheque, it began five years ago by a Colombian woman who by circumstance developed a passion for coffee after the coffee crisis a few years back. It is tucked away a few meters in from the Seine in rue de l'hotel de ville, and its decor and ambience is worse than the worst farmhouse you could imagine going to in eastern Victoria.

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However the coffee is to die for. When you order your coffee, just before they compress it, you are offered the chance to smell its fragrance. There are a small range of accompaniments if they haven't already sold out for the day. Karen found about the coffee course. For €28 one of the staff will spend an hour with you describing the history of coffee, allowing you to smell 36 of the supposed 800+ scents associated with coffee and then allowing you to taste three coffees with their coffee tasting protocol to help you become more discerning of the numerous compounds in coffee. They prefer not to have blended coffee and seek to have single estate coffee beans and can offer you a variety if you ask. They believe the terroir,the local plant life and passing animal stuff affect each plant differently. Gloria struggled through with her English which is better than my French and I am all the wiser for this experience. Thank you Gloria. Thank you Karen of the research which allowed this shining light to enter my life.

It is also with thanks and with embarrassment to another Frenchwoman who pointed out the mistake I was making with the public toilets. She indicated I had to wait until it was ready. It was then I decided to read the instructions on the outside of the toilet. After one leaves, the toilet automatically flushes itself, cleans the floor and pumps a spray to deodorise the room. How clever. When the light is green one can enter, But not before.

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Thanks to Terry, we decided to book dinner at Le Replais de l'Isle, and he was right. We loved the meal and the host who spoke English. The food was prepared very well, our compliments to the chef. Karen and Les both chose guinea fowl as well as ... Here is a photo of Karen, the little foodie groupie.

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warm goats cheese in crisp crepe

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duck terrine

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guinea fowl

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creme brulee

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Karen in brulee bliss

We wandered back slowly to different streets including the "village" St Paul, a home to crafts and art, referring to what I gather is a block or two of the Marais district where we stay.

We couldn't help herself after this, we wound our way back to the wonderful patisserie Pain du Sucre, and purchased far more than we should have for the evening.

However in order to earn our right to overdose on sweet and delicate and delicious we trekked down to Isle de Citie and saw the stained glass windows of the famous Saint Chappelle Church. To think of these tall windows have have been around for over eight centuries is a little mind blowing.

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Wandering home we anticipated our evening meal of leftover nibblies from our Cordon Bleu course, purchased a red wine and settled in our little nook to watch an episode of Heston on the computer. We were tired and were asleep before 10. We had our sweet delicate pastris but please don't ask us if we left any for the morning.

It was also during this day that I realised that our brains have a putrid pooch-poo presence pointer. We think this putrid pooch-poo present pointer is centred in the cerebellum. After a while in a city where poo can be found on the pavement you begin to experience something strange and interesting. You are walking and mid-step you feel a subtle but definite force on the soles of your feet offering a resistance as you begin to step down and then a lateral force either to the left or right. Becoming aware of this your eyes look to your foot and you find it has stepped aside of some putrid pooch-poo. Our brains are amazing.

Posted by lesnkaren 14:17 Archived in France Comments (1)

Paris day 8 - Sat 29-05-2010

Good morning. I forgot to tell you about a little treat we had on the way to Versailles yesterday. During the train trip a couple of piano accordionists played a couple of numbers; they sought a gold coin or two but it was fun. Several times on a bridge or in the subway one hears some great music playing, soloist, and small bands; drummer and clarinet; djembe player; nice stuff. However, don't even bother going on the metro on a Saturday morning. All the people seemed bored or tired or hung over; there was no music in their hearts this morning.

On the other hand one of the metro stations had the tunnel tiled in letters which formed a word puzle, you know find the hidden word.

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Well today's blog is going to be a food blog. It's got to be as today we head off to the Cordon Bleu school to do our course in making savoury cocktail nibbles. It was a present from Jackson, Heidi and Ben. We were tickled pink to go.

The course began with a light breakfast and spoke a little to the Canadian couple beside us. At 9am sharp a slightly wacky Leanne, our translator and fellow chef, lead us up four flights to meet the kitchen and the chef known as 'chef'. Franck Poupard to his friends. There were 4 Aussies in the group and Leanne herself had spent much of her youth holidaying on the Mornington Peninsula (small world ain't it). As a result of us Aussies, chef revealed he was the one they employed on the Masterchef show where 16 contestants go to Paris and 8 remain in the show. He was sworn to secrecy, although you may have seen the show already as we haven't seen Aussie TV for a while.

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Chef and Leanne make a good team, hamming it up along with rescuing us from some potentially disastrous moves in our pastry naivety. He would speak in French, she translating into English until he slipped in to broken English so she translated into French, then when he spoke more briefly in English she would translate into English with a French accent.

We had four courses to make: parmesan shortbread, cheese choux pastries, tomato tartlets, fetta and olive cakes (photos to follow). It was a hands on day, we each had our own station and proceeded to work quickly until lunch.

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During lunch we spoke with Marion who will soon become a Maths Professor in the US and Russel who teaches chemistry and biology. Walter Lewin look out! This Russel guy is ahead of you. We learned that in one of his classes to teach some chemistry he arranged for simulated cannons with big bangs nonetheless and two teams. Each could fire a question in paper form across the 'trench' to the other team. They were to fire their answer in return. Cool teacher we reckon.

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The healthier aspect of lunch

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The naughtier tastier aspect of lunch

After lunch back into the kitchen for some more work. We each got to take our day's work home. Bummer, we had to throw out much of the goodies as we all made so much. Where were you all to try them?

I asked Leanne about matching these nibbles to cocktails. Her answer was generic, recognising it is difficult. Champagne, kir/cassis, aperitifs. I reckon it can be taken further so I have set myself a noble goal upon my return to never sleep again until I find the best match for each! At the end of the day we each received our certificates.

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How come he is hugging her with more enthusiasm than he is hugging me?

It was a fun and rewarding day. Learned quite a few useful things. Thanks again Jackson, Heidi and Ben.

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fetta and olive cakes

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parmesan shortbread with finely diced chorizo

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cheese choux pastries

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tomato tartlets

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Proof that Karen is the one! (I got one too). We get to keep our aprons and a tea towel as well.

We then ventured forth for some shopping. I struggled at first in the crowds, but I had an espresso and then made up my mind to be a man and just do it! Real men can shop I told myself with conviction. Two pairs of socks later I completed my mission.

After confirming that Champagne definitely goes with three of our cocktail nibbles, not so much with the fetta and olive cakes, we decided to walk a few back streets and discovered some lovely nooks and hidden stores and cafes.

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Time to dream of cocktails and cocktail nibbles as I am sure you do as well.

Posted by lesnkaren 13:46 Archived in France Comments (2)

Paris day 7

semi-overcast

We made the decision; off to Versailles. A different train system, RER, which was built after the Metro to serve greater Paris and regions. Double decker trains and, smooth as a baby's, they glide in and out of the station! On the way we saw some quaint larger villages and some horrible homogenous structures. Merde!

Twenty minutes of train and 5 minutes of walking we arrive at Versailles, already starting to look impressive. We made a mistake, buy the ticket first. Queue one was to purchase the ticket. Queue two was to present the ticket to enter. I told Karen I was not queuing, just moving in a soft meditative flow. She gave me that look.

Isn't it a huge opulent, impressive place! Isn't it almost offensive. I wonder what proportion of the GDP at the time was involved in making it as huge as it was, I think during Louis IVth but perhaps also the two following.

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What we enjoyed was the intricacy and the colour schemes and the grandeur.

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We also saw the hamlet and farm Marie Antoinette organised. We saw the fenced off areas and houses and hope they were somewhat true to the era.

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We reckon we walked some 5-6 km today, and raised our energy on the walk home with another Berthillon, this time we got the caramel avec beurre et sel. The French word for yum is yum, just sounds different.

We decided to eat at our local breakkie joint, and Les enjoyed wild rice and walnut sauce and scallops; Karen enjoyed a t-bone with potatoes (c'est le beurre!). A carafe of house red, sweetish but full palate and we sauntered home to another treat, champagne and pastries from another local. There's no TV worth mentioning so we is gonna talk.

Posted by lesnkaren 12:45 Archived in France Comments (3)

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