There’s an entire aisle dedicated to canned seafood in the grocery store where I shop. I usually stick to the store-brand canned tuna, both packed in tomato sauce and in olive oil. Sometimes I spring for sardines when I’m in a splurging mood. I have every intention of branching out into clams, squid, octopus, white fishes of all kinds, and anything of interest I can find. But first I need to finish trying all the Spanish pastries. That won’t take much longer, as I’ve nearly exhausted the limited offerings at the pastelerías and grocery bakery sections I’ve come across so far.
My final day in Paris essentially consisted of one, long walk. It began at the Pont Neuf, at the end of Rick Steves’ Historic Paris Walk audio tour. There, I crossed the Seine river and momentarily wondered how one would pronounce “Pont Neuf,” before inventing my own way of saying it in my mind. I have the unfortunate habit of contriving my own pronunciations for unfamiliar words I encounter. My pronunciations often include extra consonants, spare vowels, and sometimes a bonus syllable or two. This tendency is by no means a new development; I’ve been doing it ever since I could read. (Just ask my mother.) Indeed, I suspect it may be a carry-over from learning to read – one that most people grow out of, but I never did. And while my mispronunciations often live and die in my own head without every being verbalized – since I’m usually aware of their incorrectness – on occasion, there’s no time to learn the correct pronunciation before I have to call the object or person or place in question by its proper name, aloud. All that to say, to me Caddie Woodlawn‘s first name will always be said Kuh-nay-dee, and the Pont Neuf is still Pon-Noo-ee. Proof can be heard in my video at the bottom of this post. Playing the audio tour backwards, I wandered through a perfect, little square planted with young trees surrounded by swept and sandy dirt. As it was just after 9:00am, the few people about were business men in suits, presumably belonging to the supreme court of France, located just beyond the quiet plaza. Down the block and around the corner from the pretty but pointless park, I found the entrance to the Sainte Chapelle, a chapel famed for its stained glass and originally constructed to house what some – to my mind – rather gullible souls believed was Jesus’ crown of thorns. Next door, I noted the words of that (in)famous French phrase, “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité” inscribed above the pillars of the oddly diminutive front entrance to supreme courthouse; I think it was smaller than Wilmington’s courthouse.
In accordance with my plot to avoid lengthy lines, I joined the 10 or so other people waiting outside the Sainte Chapelle entrance a few minutes before it opened at 9:30, congratulating myself on my punctuality and excellent planning for the umpteenth time. Inside, I strode the length of the dark foyer with its gilded trim and geometric ceiling paint, and then spent a good 10 whole minutes staring up at the impossibly detailed and illogically tiny, soaring stained glass windows depicting major scenes from the entirety of the Bible. And that was enough majestic, colored glass for me. I left for the next church.
The narrow sanctuary of the Sainte Chapelle had been gradually filling with people during the few minutes I spent inside it, but in comparison the Notre Dame was an absolute zoo. Though I didn’t wait more than three minutes to step inside, I was met by the low roar of too many tourists speaking in unnecessarily loud whispers. School groups and tour groups jostled around the dark, worn columns and paused in inconvenient locations, blocking the essentially one-way path through the cathedral as they snapped photos of whatever their flag-waving guide was pointing out to them via her mic and their headphones. I took an immediate dislike to the Notre Dame, I have to admit. Its gray stone and high windows made for a deep, gloomy atmosphere. Every edge of every stone was darkened with age and hundreds of years of constant use and coupled with the irreverent noise produced by the crowds, this left the church feeling more like a shadowy cavern than the well-tended place of worship I think it’s supposed to be.
I made a circuit of the outer aisle, my brow frozen in a half-frown of annoyance, ready to end my visit as quickly as possible. Then, above the muted din of the tourists, the organ began to play, which I thought rather odd but very proper in that lofty, dim church. To my further surprise a youth choir began singing along with the organ. They seemed to be practicing for some future event because they frequently paused to switch tunes or adjust their sound. But their voices blended with the tones of the organ in an ethereal melody that drifted up the stoney toward the windows high above. It was incredibly beautiful. So, I found a seat in the middle of the nave and basked in the splendor of their voices for half an hour or so, as the crowds ebbed and flowed and camera shutters clicked around me.
Back outside I waited in line to climb to the top of the Notre Dame. The view was no better or worse than the one I’d had from the Eiffel Tower, but I was too distracted listening to a group of teenagers code-switching between Spanish and Catalan to pay much attention or to attempt to identify landmarks. But while the aerial view outside of the Notre Dame didn’t impress, the view from the side of the church certainly did. The circular patterns in the stone of the side of the cathedral facing the river and the gorgeous double-blossom cherry trees blooming beside it were captivating.
On my way to the most important stop of the day, the Shakespeare and Company bookstore, I passed through a park, which was home to the oldest tree in Paris. The poor, twisted thing is covered in ivy to disguise its sad paucity of branches, trunk half-filled with cement, and wooden supports. It’s been bending over that same public space by the Seine since 1602, and it sure looks tired of observing stupid human antics playing out through history.
Next to a surprisingly busy road along the stone-lined embankment of the Seine River and beyond hedge-like, rather haphazard plantings of shrubs and flowers is a wide section of sidewalk and Shakespeare and Company. When I finally rounded the corner onto the short street it shares with a cafe or two, there was a young woman singing along to the strumming of her guitar under the pale pink blossoms of young cherry trees and amidst the books that spilled out onto the sidewalk from the store. As if that wasn’t picturesque enough, the inside of the English-language bookstore was a dream: a quirky wonderland of narrow wooden staircases, reading rooms with smudged windows and battered but inviting furniture, ancient typewriters and scrap-paper notes on scratched desks, crooked bookshelves loaded down with books, books, so many books! – new books declaring their novelty in their colorful jackets and dusty old books whose deep-toned primary color bindings promised familiarity and trustworthiness. I found an old friend, The Robe by Lloyd C. Douglas, and lounged on a cushioned bench in one of the upstairs reading rooms, soaking in the delicious peacefulness of being surrounded by well-loved, English books in the middle of France. Half an hour and a chapter or so later, I reluctantly tore myself away and ventured back out into the sunlight and bustle of the city to continue my exploring for the day. I could have stayed forever.
Instead I crossed back over to the Notre Dame island and moseyed down the broad walkway beside the Seine until I came to its pointy, rocky end. Then I returned to the mainland and started the trek to the Musée de l’Orangerie at the far end of the Tuileries Gardens, about a mile and a half away. The museum was the only on left on my list of potential museums to visit, and, even though my mother and the internet had informed me that it was rather Monet-centric, I figured I should pop in briefly. Plus, I had accomplished everything else.
Alas, after traveling the length of the Louvre and the gardens beyond and waiting a few minutes in a short line outside the Orangerie, I was informed that I would have to pay a €6 entry fee if I wished to tour the museum. Having absolutely no intention of relinquishing six croissants’ worth of Euros to view impressionist paintings for which I had no interest whatsoever, I turned heel and waltzed right back out the glass doors and into the dusty park again.
Having failed to find anything to eat on the hike from the Notre Dame area to the Orangerie, I crossed the river again and headed in the direction of the Orsay, hoping to come across the bakery where I’d purchased the best baguette of my life. Though I didn’t find that same bakery, I did at long last find another, where I bought an éclair au chocolat and what I thought was a roll flavored with sundried tomatoes. The latter, it turned out, was indeed a delightfully chewy roll but was stuffed with a canned tuna and tomato mixture. While not half as disgusting as it sounds, it certainly was unique. Of course, the éclair was splendid: the outer pastry was soft and cream-puff-like and the dense chocolate cream inside was cool and sweet. I feasted on my spoils in a shady, pie-piece of a park right in front of the metro entrance, which I then took advantage of in order to return to – big shock! – the Louvre. I could’ve walked, but my feet were tired, and I had a spare metro ticket to use.
Back at my favorite museum, I re-visited the Renaissance art of various countries, wandered through some Egyptian artifacts, and found a gallery of wooden sculptures, which were colorful and different than anything I’d seen elsewhere in the Louvre. By the time I left around closing time, I felt certain that I had seen most of every wing of the museum and had perused at my leisure the art that really fascinated me. I’ve never been more content with my time spent in one museum.
My final adventure in Paris was a baguette and croissant supper in the Luxembourg Gardens. And it was perfect. I chose one of the clusters of pale green chairs scattered throughout the park, propped my feet up, and brushed the croissant flakes off my lap in between travel journaling and tearing bites off of the miniature baguette. After nearly an hour of that and people-watching, I made a circuit of the gardens, observing the massive playgrounds, multiple tennis and basketball courts, acres of shaded grass and tulip beds, and, of course, the requisite fountains. Dusk was beginning to fall as I turned my aching feet towards the metro station, just before the 7:30 closing time, and returned to the apartment for the last time.
Paris treated me well.
Yesterday, after two days of collecting ingredients from various grocery stores, I baked some chocolate chip cookies. It was quite an adventure.
Member of the millennial generation that I am, I documented the experience with my social media accounts. So, dear parents, grandparents, and friends who do not participate in Twitter and Instagram, here is what happened:
Chocolate chip cookie baking in Germany. | Step one: let the block of butter soften on a sunny windowsill.
Compare and sample the two barbaric alternatives to impossible-to-find chocolate chips. Decide they’re passable.
Throw the rest of the ingredients on the counter before you have the chance to wonder any longer if all those German words mean what you think they do.
Spend 20 minutes hacking at baking chocolate with a dull knife and muttering about chocolate chips.
At first I thought the butter was rancid. But then I looked at my innocent, little bag of sugar.
Taste the butter and sugar mixture and discover the loud, citrusy overtones of gelatin sugar for canning. Employ tablespoons of vanillin sugar as an antidote.
A bag of sugar shouldn’t have an ingredients list. This one did:
“Zucker, Geliermittel Pektine, Säuerungsmittel Citronensäure, Konservierungsstoff Sorbinsäure”
Taste the mutant, citrusy dough you’ve created. Add vanillin sugar. Repeat. Again. Don’t let the flatmates see you grimace.
The equivalent of several tablespoons of vanilla extract, an oven tutorial from one of the flatmates, some Celsius-to-Fahrenheit calculations, a temperature adjustment or two, and three rounds of baking later: speckled chocolate chunk cookies.
Against all odds, place a plate piled high with sweet success – baked at 185° Celsius – on the kitchen table and watch them disappear.
They were chewy; there was not even the slightest hint of citrus tang; and they were gone in 18 hours. The end.
We interrupt this travel-saturated blogging binge, punctuated by the occasional glutenous pastry, with a long-overdue post dedicated solely to food.
[Angels sing a heavenly chorus.]
Down to business.
The antithesis of my strong affection for mustard is my absolute hatred of mayonnaise. Sure, sure, its silky texture and satisfying fat content is nice, I suppose. But the flavor? Ew.
My unaccountable but consistent loathing for the sickly white condiment presented me with a quandary, especially growing up in the South: potato salad. Oh yes, that staple of church potlucks and homestyle diners; that ubiquitous, chunky mountain of starchy deliciousness; that best friend of juicy ribs, playmate of sliced ham, and neighbor to the greasy box of Bojangles fried chicken. That dish. I just didn’t like it. I wanted to, though. Over and over again, I sampled the savory ambrosia of the South. I tried a recipe with pickles, one with celery, some with eggs and some without, many with too much dill, and others with very little flavor at all. But each time I was repulsed by my familiar enemy: mayonnaise.
So, for years I contented myself with the pure and simple potato salads favored by my mother and dressed with oil and vinegar. A version with arugula became our family favorite, and for years I was satisfied with feasting up on its peppy zing and forgot about traditional potato salad entirely.
Then recently, it hit me: mayonnaise can be circumvented. It does not own exclusive rights to creaminess! Hallelujah!
Enter plain yogurt. She and I became fast friends during the summer and part of the fall of 2013, when I breakfasted nearly exclusively on overnight oats or granola with yogurt. My mother tells me I used to eat plain yogurt like ice cream, during the first two years of my life when she fed me no sugar whatsoever. Well, those days have returned. Give me a spoon, and I’ll scoop that tangy goodness right out of the container and into my mouth.
So, a few months ago in the beautiful kitchen of fairytale house in another southern state I now call home, I spooned some plain yogurt over roasted red potatoes, added a bit of this and a little of that – in accordance with my usual kitchen procedure – and at last I had my own mound of creamy, crunchy, salty potato salad. Mayo not included. Childhood saved.
I decided that, since I was going to take the time to cut potatoes into bite-sized chunks, I might as well roast them. While boiling does turn the potatoes soft and keep them moist, roasting makes everything taste better. And when you’re going to slather them in yogurt, who cares if your potatoes have a slightly lower water content? I don’t, and you shouldn’t either. Nope, flavor wins.
And for more flavor, I settled on some honey to tame the tang of the yogurt, little bits of garlic and onions for bite and pizzazz, a dollop dijon mustard – my love, my life, fair mustard! – for excitement, and a sprinkling of rosemary to tie it all together. Of course, the omnipresent twins, salt and pepper, also made their requisite appearance. The end result not have tasted exactly like those potato salads of bygone potlucks, but by golly, it tasted good to me.
Creamy Roasted Potato Salad
- 2 pounds red potatoes (or white, if you insist on being boring)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- several dashes of salt and pepper
- 5 tablespoons minced red onion (~1/3 onion)
- 6 tablespoons plain yogurt
- 4 teaspoons dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, minced
- 3 boiled eggs, roughly chopped (optional)
Preheat your oven to 400°F. Cut the potatoes into bite-sized chunks. Toss with olive oil, sprinkle with several dashes each of salt and pepper, and roast on a baking sheet for 15 to 20 minutes, until soft but not mushy. Let cool completely.
Honestly, then I just throw everything together and mix it. But, perhaps a bit more finesse should be taken in order to insure you end up with something to your taste.
So, mix together the yogurt, mustard, honey, salt, and pepper – adding the salt slowly and tasting as you go. Adjust this combination to your taste, or blindly follow my preferences; it’s up to you. Then add the onions and garlic. Finally, place the potatoes and eggs (if you choose to include them) in a bowl, and pour the sauce over them. Stir until everything is well-coated. Taste and adjust seasonings again. And then enjoy the marvelous, mayonnaise-less mound you have made.
I realize that my previous post was excessive; it was so long even I didn’t want to wade through it. So, in this post I will endeavor the capture and harness the unicorn of my writing wonderland: succinctness. Pray for me.
That said, I present to you the first full day of my Paris adventure – with headings!
After picking up a croissant at the corner bakery for breakfast around 8:30, I took the metro to the stop closest to the Orsay, so far as I could determine. I emerged from underground just outside of what turned out to be the Jardin des Tuileries – a massive swath of impeccably manicured lawns, beds of tulips, and tree-lined avenues that extends beyond the imposing façade of the Louvre. At that hour of the morning, only a few people were about, reading newspapers with their feet propped up on the plentiful chairs clustered around one of the fountains or having their morning smoke under a blooming, gnarled cherry tree. I crossed the width of the gardens, my feet ever-quick steps making what seemed like all too much noise on the dusty white gravel. The garden’s opposite side ran the length of the Seine river, and I found a footbridge to cross. In stereotypical Parisian style, its fencing was covered in padlocks inscribed with initials and dates in various scripts and languages. Just across the bridge and to the left, I spotted the Musée d’Orsay, with its life-size rhinoceros sculpture outside and – darn it – a line of people snaking around the building. I joined the crowds and, for the remaining 15 minutes before the museum opened at 9:30, attempted – rather successfully, I believe – to guess people’s nationalities based on their shoes. After the requisite metal detector passage and another free entrance (heehee!), I rented and audio guide and started in.
The Orsay does not permit photo taking, so the solitary image I have for you is one of the inside of the building itself, which seemed to be (or at least I interpreted it to be) excluded from the mandate. What the museum is most famous for is its top-floor gallery of impressionist art, mostly Monet. And it was there that I decisively concluded that I do not like Monet’s art; it’s all too blurry and pale for my taste. However, that negative realization was balanced by my discovery of my adoration for neo-impressionist pointillism, the vibrant colors and unique perspectives of which left me actually wishing to for a print to adorn one notoriously bare walls of my Spartan room. Somewhere along the way of my three- and a half-hour visit, it became my goal to browse every single room in the museum. So I did. I even walked through some rooms of incredibly average-looking but apparently history-making 20th century furniture. It was fun. And, don’t worry, I even enjoyed that Monet gallery; the view of the river and the Louvre was great from up there! Perhaps the most interesting of all to me, was my realization that I tend to appreciate the non-famous works of art most. While there was a certain thrill in seeing that Millet painting I studied in 11th grade, the neo-impressionist painting of a girl brushing her hair was more fascinating; a snowy hunting scene more striking; two Arabian lovers embracing on a moonlit night more moving.
It was lunchtime when I stepped out of the Orsay, and I was determined, as always, to avoid eating someplace touristy at all cost. All cost turned out to be four or five long blocks down and behind the museum to a bakery with a short but constant line of customers, who appeared to be of the local variety. I hopped in line and requested what most everyone else had: a “tradition” baguette for somewhere around €1.50. Duly pleased with my impossibly cheap lunch, I vowed not to eat the entire baguette and then circled the block, searching for the metro entrance my map told me should be nearby. Well, it took me a good 30 minutes of walking in a giant circle to find the metro, and I did devour the entire baguette. But let me tell you: it was the best baguette and maybe the best bread I’ve ever eaten in my life. Its crust was firm but not thick – almost for of a shell than a crust. When I bit into it, the baguette first smooshed into itself, then crunched slightly, and then pulled apart slowly, not unlike taffy – the gluten was so perfectly developed. The soft, soft inside bread was smooth but chewy, and the crust crackled just slightly against my teeth. No sharp shards of crust pierced my gums; no dry bits of bread stuck in my throat. It was flawless.
After my heavenly baguette experience, I’d have to say the Catacombs of Paris were a bit of a let-down. For one, I stood in line for an hour and a half before entering their damp depths. Granted, the weather was lovely – as it was the entire trip, I should note – and I had Kindle books to read on my phone, but still, I was a bit bored. And underground itself? I was ready to leave after five minutes. It wasn’t that I was necessarily repulsed by the neat stacks of bones or the murky lighting, but there just wasn’t a whole lot to see. The first 15 minutes after descending the dizzying, 10-story circular staircase are spent trudging long, empty tunnels, punctuated by the occasional, uninteresting plaque providing geological information or descriptions of the architecture of the space. Then come the rooms of bones. But to call them “rooms” is an overstatement. They’re just enlarged, humid tunnels full of dusty (molding?) bones. That’s it. The piles weren’t as tall and the low caverns weren’t as large as I had expected from pictures I had seen over the years. I crunched my way through the gravel – and bone fragments, presumably – as quickly as I could, but I kept getting stuck behind couples intent on contemplating their mortality at a snail’s pace. Or maybe they were just slow walkers. Regardless, it took me at least 20 minutes to at last reach the daylight again. My hair was frizzier and my post-waiting-in-line mood certainly hadn’t improved, but I was thankful that the presentation of all of those human remains had at least been more respectful than the awful, decorative displays I’d witnessed in a former monastery in Rome.
My search for a metro entrance beyond the exit of the Catacombs lead me to something far better: French macarons. The line out the door of the pâtisserie was longer than the bakery line for my baguette had been, but the half dozen employees behind the glass cases of luscious pastries filled the requests of the people in front of me at such a rapid pace, that I found myself still hesitating over my choice when one of them asked me which of the rainbow of macarons I had pointed to I actually wished to purchase. She smiled at my agony, and my tongue stumbled drunkenly in my mouth as I butchered the French pronunciation of pistachio, chocolate passion fruit, and vanilla. Parted with far too many euros for such a feather-light purchase, I clutched my paper bag of brightly-colored sandwichlettes and scanned the area around the bakery for a picnic spot. Nothing. So, I took myself and my precious cargo down to the metro and got off at the secondary Louvre station. A short walk found me a bench in a sunny garden area behind the Louvre and in front of a beautiful church of pale stone.
My immediate thought after taking my first bite of one of the macarons was that it tasted like the perfect combination of cake and ice cream. Let me clarify: I don’t mean an ice cream cake; I don’t mean eating your cake and ice cream together. I mean, it was as if someone had taken the best qualities of both cake and ice cream and had combined them into one, splendid dessert: the cool, smooth creaminess of ice cream inside and the easy, saccharine substance and bite of cake outside. For a second, I thought it was the best thing I had ever eaten. But then I remembered all the other delicious foods I have loved and decided that I couldn’t commit to a statement as strong as that, though in the moment I could’ve shouted it from the rooftops of Paris. With the exception of vanilla, which I found surprisingly unremarkable, the flavors were true to life, if not more pure. The pistachio tasted like the purest, freshest of those green nuts. The flavor of the chocolate-filled passion fruit macaron burst forth in all the tropical glory that I have always loved in those wrinkly, purple fruits, while the chocolate was deep and sweet. Oh man, it was a wonderful experience.
I returned to the Louvre, and once inside, carefully read the descriptions of each wing until I found what I was looking for: Flemish and Dutch Renaissance paintings. Recalling that I had most enjoyed studying art from that area back in Western Cultures class in 10th grade, I eagerly climbed the stairs to the Richelieu wing. I was not disappointed. I spent the greater part of an hour sauntering the halls and galleries full of serene landscapes, realistic still lifes, and freeze-frames of everyday occurrences, pausing frequently to sit on a comfy bench and read one of the white placards some rooms offered and which provided detailed analysis and history of the paintings in the area. When I couldn’t find one in English, I tried Spanish or German. It’s at thrilling, little times like that when language learning seems most worth all the struggle. Besides the art of my friends Vermeer and Rubens, I wandered through Napoleon III’s overwhelmingly sumptuous apartments and furniture galleries, more Renaissance paintings, and various sculptures. At the end of the sculpture gallery, I came out into an enormous, glass-ceilinged atrium scattered with a few life-sized, dynamic statues and surrounded by arched windows looking into the rest of the museum, from which I had caught glimpses of the room multiple times. It was quiet and calm and the natural light from above was wonderful, so I found myself a corner bench and soaked in the peacefulness for 20 minutes, until the PA announced the museum would soon be closing. It was a lovely break.
As my last act of tourism for the day, I visited the Eiffel Tower. The sun was still very much up when I followed the crowds out of the metro and down the street. There certainly was no question as to which direction to go. I darted off into a calmer side street and came up to the towering, brown hulk from through a nice garden area, complete with ponds, ducks, flowering trees, and couples on benches. Who knew the Eiffel Tower was surrounded by beauty? Not I. They don’t tell you these things on the internet – except, I’m telling you now.
At first I stood in the line for the elevator to the top, but soon I realized it wasn’t moving at all, and by the time I got to the top, it would be totally dark. Plus, unaccustomed as I was to paying for attractions in Paris, the €12 price seemed wildly expensive. Once I switched to the line to take the stairs to the middle of the tower, I overheard that the elevator line was three hours long. Yipes. I waited no more than 40 minutes to pay my more reasonable €4 student ticket and to start taking the stairs two by two. There are two levels where you can pause to take pictures, and from the second level, you can also take the elevator to the top. The view was rather similar from both levels: a city seen from high above. Pretty, but nothing extraordinary. I suppose it might have been better from the very top, but I suspect not. I was quite content with my view and the opportunity for a brisk stair climb.
Back on the ground, I re-read the section of my guide book about the Eiffel Tower, which informed me that during the off-season, it would be illuminated for 10 minutes every hour, starting at 8:00pm. I set off at a near trot away from the tower, expecting to have 15 minutes or so to put as much distance as possible between myself and the steel monstrosity to get a decent picture. At some point I glanced over my shoulder and realized, to my surprise, that the lights were already on. And, I’ll admit, it was a bit magical, as little as I like that word. The soft yellow light of the tower danced slowly in the deep dusk; couples pushing strollers chatted happily; a small crowd milled about a crepes stand lit by a single, bare light bulb. Oh, Paris.
My pictures taken, I returned to the apartment to dine on pre-packaged tabouli from the only grocery store still opened, some odd Oriental dessert, and a banana. And I was happy.
Below is the video of the day. Also, don’t forget that you can click on the individual photos in this post to make them larger or see their entire captions.
Next in this series: Paris – day 2: Versailles, Rodin, Arches.
Call me crazy, but I saw Paris in three and a half days. And I mean, I saw Paris. At the end of my brief sojourn in that city of picturesque metro entrances and baguette-toting Frenchmen, I could find no reason to be discontent with what I had seen, no tourist attraction I wished I had made the time to visit. And for my first, official trip completely on my own, I couldn’t have chosen a better city to explore. Well, maybe I could have, but I’ll never know now, will I?
My first day in Paris was a half day. Really, it was a fourth of a day, but let’s not be nit-picky now, shall we? I left the closing ceremony – though “ceremony” is a strong word for the pretzel-eating, champagne-drinking, and group picture-taking that occurred after a smattering of two-minute appreciation speeches – of my language course on Friday, March 28th and headed directly to the train station in Freiburg, from which I caught the first of a series of trains at 12:57. One packed lunch, a few pieces of chocolate, multiple hours of travel journaling, and some beautiful countryside later, I arrived at the Gare de l’Est train station in Paris at 4:35. Yes, the times were really that exact.
I found the entrance to the metro station and proceeded to hold up the rush-hour line while I fiddled with the metro ticket vending machine until it produced the set of 10 tickets that I wanted. Following the directions provided my Airbnb host, I rode the metro about 25 minutes to a stop in the north of Paris and walked the block or so to the apartment where I would be staying. In what I believe must’ve been proper apartment fashion, I rang the bell that corresponded to the apartment number and was buzzed inside the outer door. My host met me in the entryway, showed me the apartment, handed over the keys, and provided me with a faded metro map and directions to the Louvre. By 5:45pm, relieved of my overstuffed backpack, I was was letting myself out of the apartment building and retracing my steps to the metro station to take advantage of the Louvre’s Friday night late hours. But first I stopped at a bakery I’d spied on the corner just up from the apartment. There I gestured, nodded, and smiled my way to acquiring my supper: a pain au chocolat. The pastry’s buttery flakes drifted down onto the rather-too-bold-for-Paris stripes of my purse as I wended my way through the metro station, hoping I didn’t have bits of bread in my scarf or chocolate on my mouth.
The “Palais Royal – Musée du Louvre” stop on the yellow line 1 of the metro connected directly to a small but grand underground shopping and dining complex, the Carrousel du Louvre. A few expensive boutiques, a Starbucks, and other pricy, touristy distractions lined the high-ceilinged breezeway and inner atrium, which, oddly enough, included a diminutive and inverted version of one of the ubiquitous, glass Louvre pyramids hanging from the rooftop. I could have entered the Louvre, directly across from the Apple store, but instead I chose to return the way I’d come to find an exit to street level in order to take some pictures of the more recognizable outside of the museum before the sun disappeared entirely, given that I was unsure if I would come back to the Louvre in the daylight before I left Paris (spoiler: I did, twice).
Above ground I snapped the usual photos and selfies. The Louvre is one of the few places on earth where it is entirely socially acceptable to shamelessly turn the camera on yourself. All the other tourists are doing just that, but I still felt as silly as ever – not that you would suspect that, given the number of selfies I take when I travel. But at least I didn’t have an iPhone extended on stick, something I observed far too often.
The sun had mostly hidden itself behind the trees of the gardens beyond the Louvre as I found my way back indoors and to the central space beneath the bizarre pyramid. I snagged an English map from the buffet of pamphlets in various languages at the information desk and stood in line briefly at one of the ticket counters. I had read online that college-aged residents of the EU received free admission to the Louvre and numerous other cultural and historical sites in Paris. Sure enough, the same information was printed, albeit in minuscule font, on a single sign next to the counter, and I referred to it as I slid my Uni Freiburg student ID and a copy of the main page of my passport towards the lady behind the glass of the ticket booth. Rather than handing me a ticket or smashing my hopes, she simply pointed out one of the entrances and instructed me to show my documents to the ticket collector, thereby establishing my protocol for visits to all the other sites in Paris: skip the ticket lines and go straight to the entrance with passport and ID in hand.
So, I stepped away from the ticket lady and into the center of the open space below the pyramid and retrieved my iPod from my trusty bag. With my own lovely headphones – in contrast with the dubiously ragged ones of a rented museum audio guide – clipped on my freakishly small ears and my maps in hand, I began to listen to Rick Steve’s free Louvre audio tour. It was nearing 7:00, and the museum closed at 9:45, so I had my art-gazing cut out for me. Luckily, I’m quite adept at breezing through museums, so I was confident that time would not be an issue, especially since the audio guide claimed to highlight only the most crucial of sculptures and paintings. With the introduction out of the way, I took the stairs up to one of the entrances – there are three or four wings, each with its own stairway – and after gleefully gaining my free entrance, I dove into the Greek and Roman sculpture galleries. From there Rick Steves lead me from room to room, giving short descriptions of key pieces along the way, and, unfortunately, often leaving me utterly baffled, circling a gallery trying to follow his terrible directions to the next stop on the tour.
The audio guide ended with some stops in the Grand Gallery of Renaissance art, one of which was the Mona Lisa, of course. Despite Rick Steve’s assurance that I would find simply by following the noise of the crowd, the room in which it was housed was no more full of people than the rest of the museum. The picture-taking viewers were three deep at most, and I easily skirted them and found a space at the bar in front of the painting to take my own selfies. I’ve never much liked Da Vinci’s paintings, but, as ever, it was neat to behold something so famous in person.
Finished with the audio guide and still with an hour left before closing time, I let myself wander. I perused the entire length of the Grand Gallery and all its adjoining rooms; I listened to a French university student explain the meaning behind an obscure painting in hesitant but accurate English; I re-discovered the sculpture galleries and contemplated some of the marble statues I had missed in my Rick Steves-induced haste. Somehow I ended up in a practically deserted, bottom floor gallery of unique Muslim and Middle Eastern art and artifacts, where I browsed ancient pottery, glassware, oriental rugs, weapons, and manuscripts. All in all, it was a peaceful and happy last hour of exploring, punctuated by my quick strides between galleries and around large tour groups. I was thankful for my independence.
Just after 9:45 I was back on the metro in the direction of the apartment. At the station where I had to change trains, I ended up walking in several frustrating circles, unable to find my way to the correct side of the tracks. In the end I took an incredibly indirect route home, where I finally arrived around 10:30. My host left, not long after I arrived, to start the weekend with a gathering with friends. And I rolled into bed, after reviewing my schedule for the next day and updating social media, of course. (More on how I planned out my trip in a later post.)
Okay, don’t leave yet. Look below this paragraph. See that Youtube video? That’s not an ad. Nope. That’s actually a compilation of videos I took during that first half day in Paris. I’ve decided that I really like video as a medium for sharing experiences; it provides a much better feel for a place. I think you can get a sense of how alive and real Paris – or anywhere – is with a video, whereas still photographs, as wonderful as they are, present merely a frozen image, which can leave a place looking a bit dry and two-dimensional (literally) at times. Anyway, I’ve been taking a lot of videos. There are also videos at the bottom of my posts about my Schwarzwald outing and my hike outside of Freiburg. So, go back and have another look at those posts if you wish. Videos like this will most likely appear at the bottom of all of my travel posts from now on.
Next in this series: Paris – day 1: Orsay, Catacombs, Louvre, Eiffel Tower, delicious food.
Wait! Come back! I know you’re about to click away. You saw the word “collard,” and it scared you. Maybe it brought back childhood memories of bitter, boiled leaves heaped in a sickening, faded green, shoved to the edge of your plate. Or maybe, like me, that’s what came to your mind, despite having never actually tasted that dreaded southern excuse for a vegetable.
Let me assure you: your fear is unfounded. Collards are like kale or swiss chard or spinach – perfectly palatable and delicious if you cook them right. If you boil them, not so much.
I doubt I would’ve ever escaped my sad ignorance of the versatility of collards, had I not asked Dad to pick up some swiss chard for me at the store. Ever absent-minded shopper that he is, he triumphantly presented me with a giant bundle of collards. So, I used them instead of swiss chard in the tart I was making. And you know what? They tasted just fine. No bitterness. No stringiness. Nothing. Deeeelicous! In fact, I’d say they were better than spinach, which tends to be mushy, and superior to kale, which can be a bit tough.
Indeed, I started eating sautéed collards as part my Whole30 breakfasts. Then I expanded to mustard greens and turnip greens. I’ve been having my own little renaissance of greens in the past several weeks.
Naturally, quiche was the next step. As usually happens with recipes, I’d had an idea for one component floating around in my mind for a while: grated sweet potato crust. Mom makes quiche with shredded white potato for a crust sometimes when she doesn’t feel like dealing with making or eating a proper pie crust. Since sweet potato is the most scrumptious, sweet, versatile of starches, it was clearly an even better choice for a crust. Duh.
So, armed with my brilliant orange, crisped-edged super-crust, I browned some sweet red onions and earthy cremini mushrooms, mixed them my newly befriended collards, and added some eggs for cohesion. And there it was: one vegetable-packed, Whole30 compliant, dense quiche – with just a hint of rosemary. As I’ve said previously, I never eat quiche for breakfast; it’s a supper food to me. But I gladly ate this for both.
Appropriately enough, this is day 30 of my Whole30. It’s been a ride, but mostly an easy one. I made it through the extraction of all of my wisdom teeth, the mild temptation of all the normal food my family ate, and the boredom of the last couple days. But I did it. And I’m happy. My last official meal has been eaten, so now there’s just to wait for…
I love you, granola!
You’re only a night awaaaaay!
Collard Quiche with Sweet Potato Crust
- 1 ten-ounce sweet potato
- 1 + 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large red onion
- 8 oz collards (~6 large leaves)
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 small package crimini mushrooms (also called “baby bella”)*
- 4 tablespoons coconut oil, divided
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus a bit more here and there
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and some more here and there
- 1 tablespoon dried rosemary
- 6 eggs
- 1/2 cup coconut milk (nut milks would probably work, too)*
Preheat oven to 375°F.
Grease a 10-inch* pie pan with 1 tablespoon coconut oil.
Use a cheese grater’s medium-sized plane to shred the sweet potato. Don’t bother peeling it first; just wash it well. You should have about 3 cups of shredded sweet potato. Toss with the olive oil and a few dashes of salt. Press the sweet potato into the greased pie pan to form a crust. Bake for 20 minutes until the sweet potato is soft and slightly browned on the top edges.
While the crust cookies, dice the red onion into 1/4-inch half-moon pieces. Heat 1 tablespoon of coconut oil in a frying pan and sauté until browned and softened but not mushy.
As the onion browns, cut the tough ribs out of the center of the collard leaves. Slice into 1/2-inch-wide ribbons. Mince the garlic.
When the onions are finished, remove them from the pan and set aside. Add another tablespoon of coconut oil to the pan. Brown half of the minced garlic. Once the garlic is browned, add the collards and sauté until wilted and bright green, with a few dashes of salt. Set aside.
Slice the mushrooms into fourths or fifths. Add the final tablespoon of coconut oil and the rest of the garlic to the pan with the mushrooms. Cook until the mushrooms are softened and browned.
Combine all the vegetables with the salt, pepper, and dried rosemary. Spread evenly in the crust. Whisk eggs and coconut milk together, and pour evenly on top of vegetables, being sure that the mixture gets distributed evenly. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes until firm. Enjoy warm! Or cold – it’s marvelous leftover!
- You’ll have way too much filling and egg if you try to make this in a 8-inch pie pan. If you do, just leave out some of the filling and only beat 4 eggs or so. Eye it.
- You could probably leave the coconut milk out entirely if you wanted to, but I think it adds a nice sweetness and flavor.
- Substituting regular button mushrooms for the criminis would work just fine, I think.