Monday, August 23, 2021

24 Hours in Paris

Trip date: January 2020

Forest and I were up early to drive the 45 minutes to the train station and head into Paris for two nights. It was the weekend eve of her birthday and we had a lot of fun plans. Unfortunately Paris was still dealing with their transit strike so once in the city we were taking Ubers vs the metro.

Our first event of the day was lunch at 3 Michelin Star Le Pre Catelan. There is simply nothing like 3-star dining. Everything is so beautiful, so refined, so elegant! We started with glasses of Billecart Salmon Brut Ros√© Champagne while pursuing the menu. As it was lunch there was a 4-course prix fixe menu with different options.

I chose the foie gras starter (I don't think I've ever passed on foie gras!), scallops three ways for my main, and caramel mille feuilles for dessert. 

Of course there were little amuse bouche served with our champagne. And bread with butter that was nothing short of sinful.

Forest had chosen the truffle risotto as her starter and it looked like they shaved an entire truffle on her dish!

My scallops were the best I've ever had. One preparation was rare slices in an apple cider broth, another was seared with crushed almonds, and the final was topped with a ridiculous amount of caviar. 
There were two cheese carts, a lovely rhone varietal in our glass to go with that, the very architectural desserts, as well as one with a candle in it for the birthday girl. 
It was such a wonderful lunch; I really loved this classic restaurant- my first time there but it had been on my list for years!

We headed off across town to start our planned cocktail crawl of the evening. First up was the newly opened Dirty Lemon in the 11th. This is such a cute space opened by Chef Ruba Khoury who previously had been at Frenchie, Yam'tcha, and Septime. 

Drinks and snacks were great, most items had a Mediterranean influence to them, and the interior is very prettily done in marble and gold accents.

Sticking with the Mediterranean vibe, we found a storefront in the 3rd that seemed to be a North African grocery. But of course Forest knew there was a lever hidden on the shelves that would open the wall to the Moroccan speakeasy l'Epicier.
We drank our cocktails sitting in chairs hung from the ceiling and snacked on little plates of mezze. Very fun!

I hadn't been to Copper Bay since Forest took me to their soft opening in 2016 and was excited to go back. The bar is just a wonderfully fun spot to be in, and even more so when your bestie knows everyone who works there. But even if I was on my own, this is very much my style of bar with friendly bartenders and super solid cocktails. If you haven't been, get it on your list!

Our last stop for the night was Jefrey's Bar which had a menu of cocktails inspired by tattoos. You can read more about their conceptional menu on 52 Martinis. My Grenouille cocktail had bourbon, tomato, lemon, ramen mix, and an egg yolk on the side. Very unique!

Even the inside looked like a waiting room for a tattoo parlour. Another cool and interesting spot!

The next morning we checked into the Hotel Saint-James, not to stay but to have massages in the spa. This hotel is so cool, I would love to stay out here one time! The hallways, stairwells, and common spaces are all decorated with hip wallpaper, interesting light features, and there is even a resident cat who patrols the interior.

Our massages were wonderful! Afterwards we had a drink in their very gorgeous Library Bar. It was all quite a treat!

We met our friend Kate, who had arrived from her home near the Swiss border, for lunch at Bouillon Racine. This is a style of Parisian restaurant from the 1900's which specialized in traditional hearty French fare, affordable for workers. Pretty much the opposite of the 3-star we dined at the day before!

This "bouillon" is decorated in a baroque style with lots of mirrors and leaded glass windows. Very pretty! I'm a big fan of these restaurants as they always serve traditional escargots, steak frites, veal, etc. It's my favorite food!

As we were wandering Rue Racine after lunch we came across the most wonderful store, Philippe Model Maison. I don't think any of us escaped without a purchase! I came home with a beautiful ceramic serving bowl and some absolutely gorgeous linen napkins. If you are in the area I highly recommend stopping in!

It had been two full fun-filled days in Paris, and we hadn't even had Forest's big birthday celebration yet! We wrapped up the evening at the Clos de Lilas, one of the grand dames in Montparnasse. It's always a good time and this was no exception.

The three of us sat at the bar with a lovely bartender who made excellent martinis. He sent over a dessert with a candle in it, and the piano player sang Happy Birthday. It was a great way to end the pre-party festivities, we were heading back out to the country the next day.

I returned to Paris 3 days later on the train to Montparnasse station. Normally it would be quite easy to grab a train out to the airport from here but the strike was still on and nothing was going out to CDG. I waited for an hour for a taxi, without a winter coat which I had somehow lost, before calling an Uber. It cost €150 to the airport!! 

Once at the airport I was told that all flights thru Iceland had been canceled because of severe weather. No one wants to hear that, especially after being away for 23 days, but it was especially hard as I had the memorial of a good friend to attend when I landed and now I would miss that. 

The strike made it very hard to travel back out to my friend's apartment in the city so I let Icelandair put me up in the Ibis Hotel that is connected to the airport. Its funny how you can be eating in a 3-star Michelin one day and trying to chill some rose in an open window because your room doesn't even have a mini fridge the next! ūüėā

The airline also comped me lunch, dinner, and breakfast. If you ever need an airport hotel this one was pretty new, clean, and very convenient as I only had to take the CDG train to terminal 1 the next day. I found the Icelandair lounge and had a few glasses of champagne before boarding my flight. I was flying Saga class which after the stress of the last day was a very welcome comfort. 

And after 24 days, both myself and my souvenirs made it home safely.

Sunday, August 8, 2021

Castles in Le Perche

Trip date: January 2020

Our big New Year's Eve road trip around the Normandy region had come to an end. Thibault was headed back to Paris and back to work, while Forest and I stayed out in Le Perche at their country home for a bit. Normally I would head home the first weekend of January but Forest was having a big birthday so I was staying until mid-month!

We spent a few days just relaxing around her cozy home and enjoying a couple of walks around their village, Le Mesnil-Thomas, which is tiny and very cute. 

One day we drove out to Noc√© which has all of ~750 inhabitants. We had come to go through the 15th century Manoir de Courboyer. In France a manor is the main home on a farm and this area has tons of farmland. It's in this area that you'll also find the area's famous Percheron horses.

Most of the manors in the area are still privately owned and do not allow access, but at Courboyer you can wander the gardens and the interior of the 3-story old home. It was a cool and foggy day and the manor seemed a little spooky. Add to that we were the only two people going through it!

There is an exhibit on the farms and land use of the local area on one floor, and another floor has exhibits of furniture and dress from the time. There's even an old original flag under glass that I assume was the official flag of the family? And the other floor had a photo-exhibit of the other 100 remaining manors in the area. 

One of the most unique aspect to the house was above the door, a very weather beaten and small sculpture of a boy mooning! It wasn't obvious, but there it was!

We drove past a few more manors on our way to the Chateau Saint-Jean in nearby Nogent-le-Rotrou. Unfortunately the castle was closed, as it was Tuesday, which was too bad as there is a museum inside. But it was still a lovely walk as you can go completely around the chateau. 

Construction of the castle happened over multiple years, but the square keep is the oldest part. It was built in the 1040s, and is one of the oldest keeps of this type still standing in France! 

All of this was before lunch! We drove thru the adorable town of Condeau, a waterwheel spanning the river that runs through it, and onto the Domaine Devilleray. The hotel has both the old mill house and the 16th century castle that looks over the town. 

We were led into a lovely semi-formal dining room for our lunch. The prices out here are excellent; the 3-course prix fixe menu was just €32! Our server brought out some warm amuse bouche to snack on while we ordered our wine, a 2014 Chablis from the Irancy village in Burgundy. 

I had a soup of foie gras and pumpkin alongside a soup of peas and smoked ham. My main was an intricately arranged dish of duck with a puree and some very decadent jus. 

There was a lovely cheese selection with some great camembert from Normandy and some delicious little baked treats served with my espresso. The food was solid, not amazing, but much more than I had expected to find out in the country!

The next morning was also foggy which again lent an air of creepiness to the crumbling remains of the Fert√©-Vidame castle near Senonches. 

This had been the summer home of Louis de Rouvroy, the Duke of Saint-Simon and also a writer of now classic French literature. The castle sits on a massive plot of land which is a park that you can wander around. 

In Senonches proper, there is also a castle dating from the middle ages. Inside are visiting exhibits as well as a museum of the "History of the Forest". With all these seemingly normal castles, the entire area of Le Perche obviously had a lot of wealthy and powerful people throughout its history! 

If you find yourself in this area, we also had a very good and very inexpensive lunch at Le Foret. My 3-course prix fixe was only €18! I loved my very traditional eggs with mayonnaise, rabbit in mustard sauce, and creme brulee for dessert. 

I'm so glad I got a chance to explore this gorgeous region of France! Thanks friends for buying a place out there :)

All photos of the Le Perche region here.

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