Saturday 23 March 2013

Another Weekend in Paris - Day 2

Another slow morning, started off this time by breakfast in the hotel (quite a nice buffet, but very noisy)  before checking out (which took forever) leaving our bags, and then we decided a good long walk was in order. We didn't have any particular place in mind and the only plans we had pre-arranged were for later in the afternoon. So we walked where our feet took us. 

In this part of Paris, it seems like almost all roads lead to the Arc de Triomphe

From there, we took a stroll down the mostly empty Champs-Élysées and wandered through one of the little mini shopping galleries that had an art exhibition on.

Most of the work was pretty dull, but this one was quite cool. Later on we got to the art gallery that was sponsoring the little exhibit and realised that it was hardly a one off, which was kind of a shame, but it was still pretty cool in that space.

From there we wandered down a few side streets, ending up in the Carré Marigny, a little park*. At that point, we stopped to consider our options. We had a good three hours left before we needed to be on the south side of the river for our tour, so what to do? It was a little too chilly for me and I suggested something indoors. Stephen then remembered a video he had seen on youtube (as you do) featuring some cool** experiments with fire & electricity and that it was filmed at the Palais de la Découverte (Palace of Discovery). "I wonder" he said "if it's anywhere nearby". Little did we know, it was literally around the corner! It seemed like fate, so over we went. 

Spotting the first sign, Stephen started getting really excited. The building itself is very impressive and reminded me quite a lot of the Natural History and Science Museums in London - grand buildings that had been repurposed for even grander public purposes.

The foyer. Amazing, no? 
As a museum, the layout was kind of chaotic, but they do a pretty good job with the space available. Still, it can be a little bit difficult to navigate the various exhibits if you're looking for something specific. For those with a decent fluency in French, I would highly recommend getting there early enough in the day to check out many of the very interesting gallery talks. Unfortunately, these were too technical for me, so I let Stephen go off on his own, while I wandered around a little more aimlessly. Eventually ending up in the cafe for lunch. Stephen was like a little kid in a candy shop and enjoyed the museum immensely. I'm sure I would have enjoyed it more had I been slightly more awake.

One of the interactive exhibits in the electricity section.

Pretty cool and we both committed to coming back when we would have a full day to spend wandering around.
From there we hopped on the metro and arrived in the Saint Germain district with a few extra minutes to spare before our afternoon chocolate & pastry tour with Paris by Mouth. We were expecting to be part of a small group, but when our lovely guides Meg & Diane arrived, we discovered the other part of our group had cancelled so it was now just us! While I'm sure the other people would have been lovely, having 2 dedicated private guides was a treat indeed and a very pleasant surprise. After a short introduction to the area, we were off to our first visit: Patrick Rogier. A Meilleur Ouvrier de France (MOF), Mr. Rogier is known as much for his chocolate sculptures as he is for his finely worked bonbons
The window of his shop dressed for Easter.
Like many of the finer London chocatiers that I've been sampling over the years, Mr. Rogier also works with unique flavours pushing the edges of what is perceived as being appropriate for chocolate. The lovely hostess let us sample a few of the treats on offer, including a really beautiful Jasmine tea infused chocolate. After much hemming and hawing, we took away several of his genache bonbons (oat infusion, lemon & lemongrass, Szechuan pepper, & praline) to try as well as a few of his speciality imported bars (3 continents bar, Tongo, & one other I can't quite remember). Before we left, Meg stopped to show us his most popular easter creation, eggs filled with praline
Aren't they adorable?
As she pointed out, these would make beautiful hostess gifts. Part of me is a little sad we didn't spring for these, but alas, it was only the start of our tour and we had the rest of the afternoon to go!
From there we stopped by another MOF, Arnaud Larher
Only Mr. Larher's speciality is pastries. And his window featured not only 2 towers of glorious looking macarons, but also a number of variations on other well known French pastries.
mmmm macarons. . .
This, Meg, explained, were two examples of St. Honoré pastries - the one on the left is the more classic chocolate, with the right is a caramel version.
We chose two desserts to take away with us, and unfortunately not only did I not get a picture, I didn't write them down! Oof! One was a delightful concotion of fig & cream with I think passionfruit coulis. Divine. 
One more stop before we would do our half way tasting and this time was one of Paris's most well known caramerlier, Henri Le Roux
Credited as being the man who brought caramels au beurre salé (CBS) back into fashion, it isn't by far his only flavour. While we were there they had everything from the classic CBS to winter spices to plum and they came in more colours than I ever could have envisioned caramels having.
a few of the examples of the beautiful caramels on offer.
Of course if that wasn't enough, we also picked up a few of his more unique chocolates (a buckwheat, pepper, and one other for contrast with Mr. Rogier's wares) and fruit jellies (lychee and grapefruit, and 2 types of plums!). . . because it's not enough to just make caramels. Many of his confections had a unique Asian twist, apparently due to his extensive travels in Japan and China.
From there it was across the street to a delightful little wine shop (caviste), The Last Drop, for our mid-point tasting and discussion.
Always a little skeptical of pairing wine with chocolate, I was really surprised at the Banyuls which although a dessert wine went very well with the chocolate bars from Mr. Rogier. The bonbons and pastries we tasted on their own. The other lovely surprise was being joined by Polly the shopkeeper and a brief appearance from the proprietor himself. Wonderful people, and great conversation while discovering some truly incredible sweets. Can an afternoon in Paris get much better than this?
After our tasting and buying a bottle or two of wine (they had a Côtes du Rhône!), we headed off to our last stop of the day, the rather upscale yet still playful Hugo & Victor
The flavours of their pastries change daily and when they're out, they're out for good. Each primary flavour has 2 variants - a "classic" and an "exotic" Arriving late in the day, we had three choices remaining to us: passion fruit, pineapple and lemon. We chose lemon "classic" (a cheesecake) and passionfruit "exotic" (a jelly/cream dome thing). The flavours of both were intense, but the passion fruit one was like an electric shock! I've never tasted anything so aggressively passionfruit ever. Amazing. 
It's hard to think back on the day and try to choose a favourite, because each and every one was amazing and interesting in their own way. I think that's one of the things that's so wonderful about tasting food at this level of expertise is that it's all so very good that it's just explorations in the marvellous. You can't really go wrong. 
So definitely all places that we are keen to go back and explore at more leisure - you never know perhaps we shall base our next trip to Paris in the St. Germain!
We owe a huge thanks to Meg & Diane who were not only knowledgeable, but passionate and fun. I couldn't imagine a better afternoon getting to know the sweeter side of Paris, comparing and contrasting with the different places we've known. Although definitely not a cheap option, I can highly recommend their tours. You can find the full listing here.
From there our visit was pretty much at an end. All that was left was for us to go back to the hotel, pick up our bags and head to the train station. Our return journey was a quiet and easy one. Enough to give us some space to think about all we saw and savour the memories.
Happiness truly is a weekend in Paris.

* I say little, it seemed like it at the time, in actuality it's rather big! Especially considering its location smack in central Paris.

**cool being a relative term

Read about the rest of the weekend. . .
The rest of the pictures for our trip, as always, be found over on flickr:

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