Tag Archives: French pastry

Goodbye Champagne – 10 things to do in Paris for less than 4€

12 Aug

Winter in Paris Photo by Jennifer FlueckigerSome of you may already know this but recently I recently quite literally ‘quit my day job’ in Edinburgh so that I can stay in Paris and write a book.  While I am very excited about this decision and my writing is going well, it has put me in a position where I have to look at Paris in a very different way. 

Paris, like most large cities, can be very expensive. A used book in English can cost 20€ ($US29/£18). A soft drink at a small cafe, away from tourist areas, perfect for writing costs 6€50 ($9/£6). A pretty normal salad in a normal restaurant will set you back 15€-19€ ($22-27/£13-17).  My husband recently paid 116€ ($170/£100) for 7 drinks. Someone else, very kindly, paid for dinner.

So with my new, let’s call it ‘leaner’ situation, I decided I come up with a list of 10 things you can do in Paris that cost less than 4€ ($6/£3.50).

  1. Take a bus tour – I am not talking about the hop-on/hop off guided tour bus that will set you back 29€, I am talking the self-guided variety that will cost a mere 1€70.  My current favourite is the No. 69 city bus –You use the same tickets you use for the metro, but this is all above ground.  Arm yourself with a free map and your guidebook you bought at home and keep track of the sights along the way. One end the route starts at Père Lachaise cemetery where Jim Morrison, Gertrude Stein, Colette, Oscar Wilde and many other famous people are buried. The route then heads past the Bastille, through the hip Marais area and past Hotel de Ville. It takes a dramatic turn; the bus has to slow down to literally squeeze under an archway through the Louvre building. You emerge to see, on one side, IM Pei’s amazing pyramid, and on the other, the beautiful Jardin des Tuileries. After you cross the Seine to the left bank, you go past the Musee d’Orsay and then up along fashionable rue St Gremain, rue du Bac and rue de Grenelle. Then past the magnificent Hotel de Invalides and you end up at the feet of Eiffel Tower. That’s a lot of Paris for a 1€70!
  2. Buy a souvenir – What trip to Paris would be complete without one of these? You can get a Paris snow globe for 2€50 at the Galleries Lafayette (the cheapest I’ve seen in town) or an Eiffel Tower key chain (4 to 6 for 1€) available just about everywhere from street vendors.
  3. Buy lunch – You can get a bottle of wine (hey, you’re in Paris) for as little as 1€50 and a baguette for just less than a euro. For the gluten- and wine-allergic like me, a gluten-free crepe de Ble Noir or buckwheat flour crepe is 3€50 and a water .50€.
  4. Take a ride – If staying on a bus cramps your style, rent one of the bicycles on the city’s  Velib scheme. Velib stations are everywhere and you use bikes all day for 1€70.  Rent a bike, take it to where you want to go and park it in the station nearby. When you’re ready to move on, type in your rental code and take another bike. Easy!  My current favourite Velib trip is along Canal St Martin, a hip area with a lot of cute independent shops for window shopping and great stretches for a picnic. I’ve watched locals play petanque (boules or bacchii ball) on a sunny afternoon and I’ve danced to live DJs on a warm evening along this stretch – there is usually something fun going on.
  5. Eat cake – As long as you deny your Marie Antoinette 3euro yummies Photo by Jennifer Flueckigertendencies and steer clear of Le Notre, Laduree or Fauchon, you can get an éclair du chocolate or some other fancy cake at a neighbourhood patisserie for less than 4€.  For the gluten-challenged, a large macaron for 2€90 or a slice of polenta lemon cake from the Rose Bakery at 3€30 will do nicely, thank you.
  6. Get an eyeful of the Eiffel – Why pay to go up the Eiffel tower (13€40) when the tower itself is what you really want to see. The best views of the tower and Paris are free!  Once you get off of the No. 69 bus at the Champs de Mars, you are right there at the iron lady’s feet.  The roof top viewing area at the Galleries Lafayette gives you a wonderful free view.  Plus on your way up you can enjoy the stained-glass rotunda that covers the centre of the store and on level 3 (I think) there is a free rest area and water cooler.  The top of the Pompidou Centre is also an amazing place to take in the view. I like to go to the red lift, to the left of the main door, which is reserved for patrons of the fancy restaurant, George, at the top.  I have actually patronised this restaurant once in more affluent times and, who knows, may someday again, so I feel happy to consider myself a patron and use the lift.  The lift deposits you right at the top. That door opens and wow, Paris is in front of you. I like to walk along the top and then go back down to earth on the escalators. 
  7. Take in a show – As you descend on the Pompidou Centre escalators, shift your attention from the view of the rooftops to the entertainment in the square below. The public space in front of the Centre is always full of people and often street entertainers. We have seen acrobats, jugglers, clowns, and an amazing street dance troupe.  Remember they are artists trying to make a living, so if you enjoy the show leave a little something (2€ -4€).
  8. Decorate your house – Paris flea markets are legendary but some of the big ones can be expensive.  For a little something French and inexpensive for my house back home I would avoid the famous Puces de St Ouen and head to my little neighbourhood Puce d’Aligre.  It’s open every day but Mondays, also sells wonderful produce and, who knows, it might be the place you find a treasure for less than 4€.
  9. Take in some culture – While many of the famous museums in Paris are at least 10€ to enter, there are some really wonderful museums and exhibits that are free. My favourite at the moment is the Musée Carnavalet (see my post on the Musee Carnavalet here).  It features exhibits about the history of the city of Paris and is housed in an amazing Parisian mansion with a beautiful garden. It is almost like getting two museums in one.
  10. Seal your love in the city of love – Believe it or not, you can afford to be wildly romantic, even on this budget.  Buy a padlock at the Bastille Market (3€50).  Take it and your loved one to the Pont de l’Archeveche, the bridge that has the famous and beautiful view of the Seine and the back of Notre Dame.  Declare your love and seal the deal by fixing your padlock, along with those of a thousand other lovers, to the railing of the bridge. Your loved one may prefer a ring from Dior, but they’d have to be cold-hearted not to be charmed by this lovely (and inexpensive) gesture.Love Bridge Photo by Jennifer Flueckiger

Locked in Love Photo by Jennifer FlueckigerIf you know of any other under 4€ treats please let me know.  I’ll see you there – when I’m not busy writing my book, of course.

The restorative quality of pastries – Ladurée

5 Aug

A little bit o' heaven Photo by Jennifer FlueckigerThe first time I was aware of it was when my sister caused a family argument.  She was in her junior year of high school and was getting ready to apply to college when she dropped the bomb – she wasn’t going to ‘normal’ college, she was going to train as a pastry chef.  Being a sceptical older sister, I suspected that this was a ploy to upset my mom and dad. If that had been the intention, the ploy worked and after many ‘family discussions’ she went with plan A, ‘normal’ college.

However when I look back over the years other clues fall into place.  First, my sister can almost always be counted on to order dessert. Second, she has a library-sized collection of cookbooks where all the titles, if not specifically about desserts, definitely cover some aspect of dessert making.  Next, several years ago she made batch after batch after batch of les macarons – the deceptively simple sandwich cookie made with almonds, eggs, sugar and water – hoping to replicate, exactly, the ones she tried on a trip to Paris.

Then I suppose the ‘icing on the cake’ (sorry couldn’t resist) was her weddingSweet couple last year. The wedding cake was more important than the dress. The right baker was essential and she interviewed several that did not make the cut. 

In addition to the wedding cake, she organised a cookie table.  A cookie table is a Pittsburgh, USA wedding tradition that involves guests contributing cookies, homemade or specially purchased, to the wedding reception. These contributions are laid out buffet-style for all guests to sample during the festivities or to take home in specially provided cookie-table carry-out boxes (look at this link to see a video about cookie tables). 

Despite the fact that we are not from Pittsburgh nor do we have any tradition of cookie tables in our family, she not only had a cookie table but also developed a cookie table cookie registry.  Its purpose, like the gift list or registry, was to guide potential cookie-providing guests towards the cookies that the bride and groom would especially like to see and cookies that had some particular meaning to them.  It was important that all the meaningful cookies in their lives were represented.

Finally, the groom, who has a lot of sugar in him anyway, makes chocolate. They are a sweet match.

So, when my sister said she was not having a good day during a recent trip to Paris, I knew immediately what had to be done.  A pastry intervention was necessary and there was only one place to go – Ladurée.

Ladurée is a Parisian institution that has baked sugary delights since 1861 and was one of the first salon de thé in Paris.  The original store is on the rue Royal, however we went to the newer, bigger Champs Élysée location.

Heaven Photo by Jennifer FlueckigerThe light sage green and gold embellished canopy over the door provided only the smallest hint of the pastel and sugar-coated dream that is inside.  Red marble table tops, rich wood panelling, thick drapes lined with gold fringe, Louis XVI style sofas upholstered in white and light blue striped fabric, large gilt mirrors and painted cherubs on the ceilings playing amongst fluffy, pink, sliver-lined clouds. While the decor was not as fresh as it once was, there was no mistaking its luxurious intention to seduce and pamper. We were in the right spot.

The encyclopaedia-sized menu arrived and we set to the serious work of decision-making. Being gluten and dairy free, I resigned myself to the fact that my experience was to be limited to tea and atmosphere.  Before going in, I had even agreed to my sister’s request that I order a pastry anyway so she could have two. However, les macarons are naturally gluten-free and, while most have a dairy filling, they can also be filled with jam. Ladurée had one macaron on the menu filled with jam, so my order was easy – strawberry macaron with strawberry and mint jam and a scoop of strawberry sorbet. 

My sister’s choice was significantly more complicated.  Which one to choose? We were seated in the upstairs dining room, too far from the pastry counter to have a look and choose by sight. She went over the multiple pages of pastry descriptions many times but finally came to a decision – Millefeuille Praline – multiple layers of praline pasty and cream.

Our order arrived and we savoured the first bites. Mission accomplished: my sister had a smile on her face. Everything was going to be all right. Or was it? I could sense that something was still a little wrong. The Millefeuille Praline was great, but what about the others?  Had she ordered the right one? And I, like the evil older sister I am, had promised salvation only to cruelly opt to order my own cake and not a second for her.

Dreamy Take-away Photo by Molly FlueckigerNever fear, Ladurée does take-away.  After we paid the bill we went downstairs and ordered more for later. Paradise was restored. Always remember, the restorative quality of pastries should never be underestimated.