Our second week of July family shenanigans in Paris.

Lots of fun continued in Paris to include: Dinner at Jim’s a second time, Bastille Day, the Canal St Martin, more art and museums, shopping, and as always, food…..

The delicious dessert we treated ourselves to one day from the patisserie down the street

Gratuitous food shot: The delicious dessert we treated ourselves to one day from the patisserie down the street

I just *had* to bring my family to meet Jim at his fantastic global weekly dinner (and of course the many other interesting guests that attend) the second Sunday they were in Paris. It just so happened to be the final game of the World Cup, so let’s just say it was solely Americans, Canadians, and Australians at the dinner, and no one seemed too caught up in the game that night. 🙂

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Me and the host himself- Jim!

Some of Jim’s books

A friendly group of Americans I spent a good deal of the night chatting with

A friendly group of Americans I spent a good deal of the night chatting with

We learned at the dinner that the night before Bastille Day (as people outside of France call it) or July 14th (as the French call it), there is an event held at various places all over the city called the “Fireman’s Ball”. They are set up and ran by the firemen (men in uniform, anyone??!), and are mainly dances that start around 9pm and some go until sunrise, often held in the actual fire halls, and they range from family friendly music and game nights to huge dance parties in a park or square. My sister and I went to the latter. I:) t was in this huge courtyard where we often see kids playing soccer or basketball, and they had it set up with a stage and beer tents, and the entertainment (and often the alcohol) here is free, with the request of a small donation. They had live DJ’s that were just okay, with a guy dressed up in an LED coved robot outfit that made him kind of look like a power ranger at a rave club, playing an electronic drum kit along with the music. He was better than the dominatrix-dressed fiddle player who came out later with the second DJ and two less-that-interested American-flag-bikini-clad ‘dancers’…. the French have interesting taste….

To sum it up, we had fun dancing, but there weren’t enough good dance tunes and not nearly enough firemen on the dance floor.

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Bastille day includes a huge military parade down the Champs ÉlysĂ©es that we planned to go to the next morning, but after being out till 3:30am an 8:00am wake up call and the thought of having to battle thousands of tourists to possibly get a place to watch the parade and then try and fight out way through the throngs on the metro seemed less than ideal. So we slept until 9:58am, and watched the parade on TV. Brilliant idea, as the streets looked packed and we got to see all the close up shots of the different groups in the parade as well as the French leaders and staff at the end of the parade. We were told the best part to witness live was the jets flying overhead but after we saw them on tv we heard them fly directly over our apartment so that was good enough for us.

After the parade we had a leisurely afternoon and had another picnic dinner- this time at the Jardin Du Luxembourg.image

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We got there at about 8:00pm stayed until the security guard whistles bullied us out at 9:15, when we headed towards to Eiffel Tower to watch the fireworks. We had decided to try renting the Paris ‘velib’ bikes to get to and from the Eiffel Tower to avoid the metro, and it was way easier than I imagined. For 1.70€, you have access to a bike for 24 hours and you can use it for 30 minutes at a time without any additional charge. It is awesome, and we just loved it.

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“It’s so easy- I just love it!”

We got to our fireworks location (just east of the Champs de Mars that we knew would be crowded), and we had some coffee and dessert before finding a good spot to sit.

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The silhouettes on either side are the trees on either side of the boulevard where we were.

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The people behind us watching the fireworks

 

We also finally got to Montmartre to show mum the Sacre Coeur and our favourite shops and restaurants.

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A portrait artist at the Place Du Tertre

A portrait artist at the Place Du Tertre

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Refuges des Fondus!

The summer heat took over Paris on the Thursday and we tried to find any air conditioned or indoor activity we could to stay cool for the next few days. All plans included frequent water stops,  gelato, and/or a definite location with air conditioning. We googled ‘ways to keep cool in Paris’ and found that the TimeOut website had a list of 25 Cool Things To Do In Paris, which wasn’t exactly what we were looking for but there were some great ideas. One was to check out a fish and chips restaurant by the Canal St Martin called “The Sunken Chip”. This turned out to be a brilliant suggestion, and we picked up lunch and wandered over to the canal to find a shady spot to eat it. Oh, yeah, but not before my sister and the guy serving us had a mutual friend in Calgary. ?! Yup.

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we also discovered the coolest bookstore we have ever been in and spent a good hour inside checking out a phenomenal collection of photography, art, and architecture ‘coffee table’ books to editions on politics and journalism, short stories, biographies, and graphic novels. It was so cool and we then entire from air-conditioned store to air-conditioned store (or not, to be perfectly honest), and all decided the St Martin area is a must-see location for a funky, off-the-beaten path feel in Paris.

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We we then went to an exhibition at La GaitĂ© Lyrique arts centre!where there was a showing called “Motion Factory”. There had been posters all over Paris about it but we didn’t really think about it until we saw it again on the aforementioned TimeOut list. It was all about stop-motion animation, and I think we spent the longest time we have so far in a museum checking out every inch of this exhibit. There were models, designs, and actual pieces from short films, music videos, and commercials to name a few, and you could watch the full length videos at several screens set up around the space. In one room, there was even a group of people working on a 360 degree model where they were creating a stop animation film you could watch the process of and meat while on the wall above them there was a projection of  what they had created so far! Hot day + cool museum + creative and interesting films = genius.

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One of the many many models of a stop animation short film- this one animated a tennis ball being hit back and forth and was projected on the opposite wall.

The next post will chronicle our week heading down the RhÎne river from Lyon to Avignon!

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A sunny day at the Canal St Martin

A trip to Giverny. :)

Our trip to Giverny, mostly as a photo blog because wifi and the internet in general have thwarted my several attempts to create this post.

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My adorable mum on her bike, ready to go!

It was a warm and slightly overcast Tuesday when we took the train from Paris to Vernon and rented bikes to head the 4km to Giverny and Monet’s house and garden. (We almost took off with hundreds of people for the Palace of Versailles on that Tuesday because the fountains would be running, but Giverny was higher on our list so it won out. Good thing, too, because we heard that not only was Versailles ridiculously full, but the fountains are under renovations right now and not even functioning.) And the weather for Giverny was perfect. While waiting in the incredibly long line to see Monet’s house/garden we enjoyed some blood orange sorbet, and finished it just in time to go in and see Monet’s home, complete with some original furnishings and artwork (oh sure, when your friends are Cezanne and Manet, you’d have a few of their original pieces up here and there in your home!), and many beautiful Japanese prints and dishes.

The view of the garden from Monet's bedroom

The view of the garden from Monet’s bedroom

And then: the garden. Huge and beautiful, with more varieties of flowers than you can count, and when we found the pond, with water lilies galore, we knew this was well worth the trip.
And now, the photos!

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We also had the best lunch so far in our France vacation at a lovely little tea shop called Les Nympheas (how fitting), and we all had the best Quiche Lorraine we’ve ever had.

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That’s all for now. More stories to come! Soon, I hope. 🙂

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Museums and rainy days… A perfect combo.

The family vacation has begun! My mum and sister arrived on Saturday afternoon, and after their first fresh croissants of the trip and a jet-lag induced snooze, we had a relaxing evening with a short walk around the 5th Arrondissement around the Pantheon, down by the Sorbonne, and complete with crĂȘpes on our way home.

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It was a beautiful night, as it often is, but we didn’t stay out too late as we planned a free-museum Sunday packed with plans.
Our apartment is awesome, but if you don’t have earplugs, and aren’t a heavy sleeper, you are hooped. There was some sort of event at the bar below that went later than the usual patio restaurant din that lasts till 1 or 2am, and the noise and celebration went on past 3am. As well, first thing the next morning there were some sort of renovations happening in our building above us, so needless to say it was a rough first-night sleep for the travelers, and they slept in while I went down the street to pick up some breakfast pastries.

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We ended up not doing a museum day after all as the adjustment to Paris time was harder than expected. 😉 That was fine, as we chatted about our plans for the rest of the trip, researched museums we hadn’t been to before, and my sister and I went on a walk down to and along the Seine. We discovered several spots along the Seine with groups of people dancing, so we watched for a while.

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I  had seen this one group before from the other side of the river on a walk a few weeks ago. They just have a small speaker set up and couples practice various styles of ballroom dance. It’s a little semicircle of steps to the edge of the wall, which makes it a perfect place to sit and watch, or join in.

 

That was the end of the clear skies for a while. And now: for the weeks’ activities! Time sure flies. 🙂 Especially when it rains for almost an entire week in Paris! 🙂

We had to get our mum to see the Eiffel Tower, and there were rumors the rain was letting up, so we headed to Trocadero metro station for the fantastic best first view. Unfortunately the rumors were wrong and it rained a lot. All that really means is that most of our photos include umbrellas! (And perhaps, the reason we decided to wear pants the next day….)

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We needed a warm up and lunch so headed to a small spot on the south side of the river. We had quiche and tea, and my sister had her first chocolate chaud, which was not as thick as the melted chocolate bars I spoke of earlier, and she only added a bit of milk. I was impressed. 🙂 And then we had our first macarons of the family time trip: pistachio, raspberry, and coffee.

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We then headed to the Musee D’Orsay.

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I have really noticed a huge surge in the number of people everywhere in Paris. Parisians are on summer vacation, and all the tourists from Europe and elsewhere have now arrived. And it is busy! Lines are way longer and museums are quite congested, and on top of that, there are all sorts of outdoor venues being set up for Bastille Day (July 14). The line for the Orsay was gargantuan, but it still moved surprisingly quickly, and we were only in line for about 30 minutes. Inside was packed, but we were still able to enjoy an afternoon snack in the Cafe D’Ours (The Bear Cafe) on the main floor, explore my favourite Impressionist paintings and sculptures on the 5th floor, and marvel at all the incredible marble figures and the Post-Impressionist gallery before heading back out into the rain.

imageWe then spent the good part of a day at the Louvre, with our main focus in the Egypt exhibit. That place is so huge we stayed primarily in the Sully Wing and we were there for hours!

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It was pouring outside, so we were content to spend the day in such a fantastic place.

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I think it was this night we walked across the street from our apartment (and when I say ‘across the street’, I mean, a few steps away from our front door) and had a delicious fondue dinner.

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Next up: L’Orangerie! I was thrilled to go back, and would be happy to go often if I lived here year round… 🙂

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The Jardin Du Tuilleries, L’Orangerie in the background on the left, and a cloudy sky around the Tour Eiffel. 🙂

And like the others, this museum was busy, so much busier than when I was there last, and unfortunately the quiet atmosphere of the last time I was there wasn’t the case this time. The “silence please” signs were entirely ignored, and there were loud conversations, noisy kids running around and even one woman chatting on a cellphone (who was thankfully asked to take her conversation outside by a security guard) and it was a lot less calm than it had been a month earlier. Luckily, the waterlillies paintings still had a magic effect on us, and we all loved our visit. I did not take a single photo here, so you’ll just have to come and see for yourself. No really. Come to this place. It’s at the top of my must-see list.

Thursday spot: the Musee D’Arts et MĂ©tiers – a museum full of inventions and design in the Marais. They were open late on Thursday which was perfect for us again, as we had a late lunch and were happy to spend the evening there.

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Our favourite room was the Automaton Theatre, full of animatronics, from toys to clocks to music boxes, it was filled with amazing and detailed work dating as far back as the 18th century.
We went to the Arts and MĂ©tiers Museum, which was fantastic! Inventions and design, industry and innovation, for practical or entertainment reasons, this place touched on it all. We actually discovered that the main exhibit wad free, and only the temporary exhibit on the history of cinema cost money to get it. We decided we would come back for that as we arrived three hours before the late-night museum hours ended. We saw all sorts of amazing things from ancient sun dials, gears and prints machines to hidden cameras and space station robotics.

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We truly were part of the last few people escorted out of the museum as they closed, so we felt we made the best bang of our buck… Oh wait- it was free admission. Even better! We may head back for the media exhibit there later this week if time permits…

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Friday we went to Notre Dame, figuring if there was a good time to visit an ancient Gothic Church it would be on a gloomy rainy afternoon. Apparently, most of Paris had this idea, so this meant more long lines in the rain.

We walked through the lovely Marché aux Fleurs on our way.

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(oh yes, and also, we discovered a cream puff shop. )

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We were prepared with rain jackets and umbrellas but it was remarkably chilly and all of us felt we could have brought warmer clothes for July (?!) weather in Paris. No 30 degree weather, here, Canada!

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It it was after standing for about 20 minutes in pouring rain in yet another line to climb to the top that we decided to instead go for dessert and tea in the Marais. (We learned the wait was over an hour, and thought- “another time!”) We walked along the the south side of the building through the park, and I showed them the bridge of locks before we went on our way.

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Back at the Loire dans La ThéiÚre, we found a cozy table with mis-matched chairs on one side, and a couch on the other. Tea and dessert (and a decaf cappuccino for mum) were just perfect.

Dessert options: we went with the lemon meringue tart, of course.

Dessert options: we went with the lemon meringue tart, of course.

We also walked by the Carnavalet Museum I had been to before, and since it was free, we decided to venture in.

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Friday night the skies cleared up a bit and we went to the Jardin Du Luxembourg to enjoy it when it is a bit quieter.

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Saturday we had a break from the rain at about 3pm, so after a lazy morning  we packed a picnic lunch to bring to the Parc Floral to take in a free jazz concert. The good news is, we pack excellent picnics. The bad news is, the concert was way less ‘jazz’ and way more ‘new music’, or as I like to call it, noise.

image We found a spot near the giant rock feature water fountain, which was lovely, and we people watched and relaxed in the grass, as well as exploring a little garden exposition nearby.

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All in all, we got in some great museum action, saw the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, and spent time in gardens here, as well as having some great meals. Week one down, bring on week two!! (And maybe some sunshine and hot days?) 😀

My sister took this photo and I love it. She has a blog too, and if I did this right, you should be able to get to her page by the link from this photo!

Sunshine and boats and history and school…. and July begins….

It was beautiful and hot summer weather here for a few days last week, and with a good wind, the sailboats were out at the garden ponds in Paris. That is, the toy sailboats. My sister and I delighted in this last time we were in Paris at the Jardin de Tuilleries, watching children set their boats in the water, push them off with their bamboo stick, and chase them around to the other side of the pond where the wind would take them. On Thursday I quickly got myself around the edge of the ‘bassin centrale’ in my favourite garden, and took some photos of the action. (This is where I enjoy using my phone for a camera instead of my good camera, as I can be subtle and catch wicked candid shots without being obtrusive. It’s sneaky photography, or ‘sneaktography’ maybe?)

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The last week of class also included a field trip to the Pantheon, via my favourite garden. I walked past the Pantheon every day on my way to school, yet had never been inside. Right now the dome is under renovations, so it is covered by a gargantuan white plastic wrap and images of hundreds of people looking out as if they are watching a spectacular show.

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They hired a street artist named J R who is known for giant street-art portraits, to add some modern art to the Pantheon while the renovations are taking place, so in addition to the exterior 360 degree audience art on the dome, inside the entire main floor is covered with the same style of photographs. People were asked to submit/upload a photo of themselves and J R created this composition of over 4000 faces.

It looked really cool and I’ll be the first to admit I was the one wanting to create silly photos of us interacting with the faces on the floor. My classmates didn’t entirely get it… 🙂

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This is a model of the Pantheon, sans plastic dome cover.

A model of the Pantheon.

We also went down to the crypt below, where most of the people buried there have their tombs.
To note in particular, there was Voltaire, Marie Curie, and Victor Hugo, to name a few.

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My class waiting for me. I still maintain I was not lost, just exploring.

Our class time ended before we finished our field trip, so it was only me, a couple of my classmates, and our teacher Isabelle, who continued to the University Sorbonne.

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They don’t normally let tourists through and have security guards at all entrances, but Isabelle sweet-talked a couple guards to let the four of us walk though, (or maybe it was easier because classes and exams were done for the year… Or we just looked adorably innocent).

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And of course we immediately snuck into a couple of the ancient classrooms and took photos of ourselves being silly.

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Isabelle ran down to the front to ‘teach’ us something.

The University Sorbonne is one of the oldest universities in the world, and the courses here range from Literature, Languages (like Greek and Latin), to Social Sciences and History. Most of the traditional classrooms have frescos painted on the walls, chalkboards, ornate ceilings, and sculptures and art around the room. (And in one instance, a grand piano, of course.) It felt like we were on a movie set or something.

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Every inch of this architecture was stunning.

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More stories and photos to come soon, of course, but with company!

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A dessert that could feed a small country and a rant about chocolate.

This entry is about desserts.

Okay, so it’s about many things, and dessert happens to be a feature. 🙂 Because, to be honest, I started this post with the intention of writing about walking around Paris, but then I realized that walking is simply a means to an end in Paris. To eat. (Okay, okay, and also to get to cool places. True story.) 😉

I definitely recommend comfortable shoes to explore Paris. Seriously. If you want to eat all these crĂȘpes and croissants and baguettes and cheese and desserts and whatever else is rich and delicious in France without having to buy drawstring-waist pants, ya gotta walk. A lot. On cobblestones. And if you want to keep up with Parisians during rush hour on the metro, you feel like you are training for a speed walk competition. (Although as a general rule I try to avoid rush hour on the metro; it’s just too many people, too little air, and too much stranger-body-contact-to-stranger-body-contact.) I have to admit, the footwear I brought are somewhat lacking in the ‘cushion’ department and there are mornings where I get up and feel like the soles of my feet have gone on strike and are violently protesting.

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On Friday night after class I decided to go for a walk (of course 😉 ) and revisit the 3rd Arrondissement (the Marais) , check out the Canal St Martin and scope out a couple cafĂ©s and restaurants that had been recommended to me. Not that I have to go very far for good restaurants- I walk by dozens of great places close to my apartment every day, and I passed three crĂȘperies and two gelato places on the same small street on my way to the Marais. It’s fantastic and dangerously tempting at the same time.


It turned into a very ‘romantic night for one’ as I walked across the Seine and along the St Martin canal through rose gardens and ivy arches, passing numerous couples and several groups of friends hanging out under the arches, at the base of old twisted trees and on park benches and garden edges.

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This is the first sculpture I have seen in Paris with is much (or any...?) graffiti on it.

This is the first sculpture I have seen in Paris with this much (or even any) graffiti on it.

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A zig-zag stroll through the Marais brought me past many fancy boutiques, funky jewelry shops, art galleries, tea houses, bars, and as usual, so much amazing architecture. The perfect Paris evening sky made it a gorgeous walk, and the streets were decorated with rainbow flags and banners, along with crowds of people lined up outside the busy night clubs celebrating Pride weekend.

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Saturday was the rainiest day of the weekend, and after the parade I wanted to warm up with some tea and the famous tarte au limon meringue at Le Loir Dans La ThéiÚre (aka the Doormouse In The Tea Pot).

It is a very popular spot and there was a huge lineup to get in, but this ‘party of one’ was seated rather quickly at a shared table by the window. 🙂 They have a sign at the front door stating that laptops are not allowed in the establishment, and though my blogging heart would have been happy to move in for the afternoon and type away in a corner, I like the fact that they encourage people there to enjoy each other’s company over tea and dessert. (My table-mates and I didn’t talk too much more than a) marveling over each other’s dessert selections and b) laughing at the fact our table had one off kilter leg that made us spill each other’s tea any time we moved even slightly in our cozy corner of the place.)

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I ordered an Earl Grey tea which was brought over in a beautiful heavy silver teapot, and then was served the largest piece of lemon meringue pie that I have ever seen in my life. I believe that the meringue alone would feed several people. And really, you should have seen the size of the entire pie- it was gargantuan. It was deliciously luxurious and rich, and everything that is indulgent on this rainy afternoon. But I think I should not have eaten at all that day- in preparation. Or worked my way up to it -over several weeks…Is there training to prepare oneself for such an epic dessert? Alas, after my best efforts, I could not finish it. I tried. I really did. It hurt. In the best and yet saddest way. Next time I’m bringing a friend (or a hidden take-home container). 🙂

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Sunday was an excellent day with market shopping, more walking, company, and another delicious – um, we’ll call it ‘dessert’- that I couldn’t finish.

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In the morning (who am I kidding- late morning….so, at noon) I went to the outdoor market down the street from my apartment and got some great fresh produce- and possibly the best strawberries and cherries I have ever tasted. You know you are a little over-excited about your food when you have a mini photo-shoot about it.

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Yup. And now I wait for all the food magazines to start calling me.

It was a little rainy for a couple of hours, and I got to Skype with my pal Erin who is in Italy right now, which was fantastic. I then met up with my friend Hugo to go for a walk and possibly check out a cheap movie as it was the FĂȘte du CinĂ©ma on Sunday. The sun had come out at this point, so we started with a walk, but about five minutes in, charcoal clouds took over and rain sort of chased us along our route up past Notre Dame and along the Seine. (Yup, this girl still can’t get over the fact that on regular occasions she strolls past Notre Dame. *loooooove*). Even in the rainy weather, tourists were all over that place. It was the perfect day to explore inside a gargoyle-covered ornate ancient church, obviously. (And stand in line for a good long time beforehand, of course.)

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We went to a restaurant in the OdĂ©on area called Le Hibou for something to drink, and both decided to try the Chocolat Chaud. Which turned out to be like eating an enormous dessert. It had been eight years since I’d had a chocolat chaud in Paris- with my sister at Le Chat Noir in Pigalle- and I will not forget again: a chocolat chaud is NOT like a hot chocolate. Unless you make your hot chocolate by melting down a giant Belgian chocolate bar and don’t add any milk. Or to be more accurate, you grind up your own cacao nibs and then melt them down and then pour that directly into a mug. It is likely the richest thing I have ever tasted. It is served with sugar sticks on the side, because, of course, you need to add sugar to your melted-chocolate-bar-in-a-mug. We asked for milk, and were brought a small creamer container, and we realized that we should have asked for a pitcher. Or a cow. I am certain that one chocolat chaud could easily be shared by four people (and a pitcher of milk). It was kind of ridiculous. And this girl loves chocolate, but come on, now. Hugo and I were beside ourselves, both bemused and considerably distressed at how on earth someone was actually expected to finish this ‘drink’ unless they were Augustus Gloop from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Neither of us could finish it for fear of being sick. Let that be a lesson to you all. And by all means, if you have had an entire chocolat chaud to yourself and lived to tell the tale, I want to know how you did it. End of chocolat chaud rant. 🙂

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We decided not to go see a movie, and as the sky brightened and that amazing Paris ‘evening magic’ happened again, I decided to explore OdĂ©on, and see what the fuss was about with all the sales going on. The biggest sales in Paris happen twice a year: in February, and now. Danger danger: Paris fashion at 20-70% off…. I may end up shipping a box home…. 😀

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Window shopping in Odéon

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Many stores were closed because it was Sunday evening, so I ended up window shopping (and croissant buying), and finding my way around to my favourite place, the Jardin Luxembourg. Again, after a rainy day, it’s a fair bit quieter in terms of crowds, but diehard park lovers like myself were enjoying themselves on the metal chairs and around the fountains. With some Roquefort cheese, a demi baguette, and some fresh cherries, I had a lazy evening enjoying the delight of after-rain weather.

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Check out that sky!! (And the less-than-aesthetically-pleasing architecture of the Montparnasse building in the background.)

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Getting some evening sun!

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That’s all for now, but perhaps I will have a few more things to share before next weekend, when I will be joined by my mum and sister! I cannot wait to see them!!!

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