It was HOT!

Paris just finished with a brutal heatwave (we hope) – temperatures were between 95-100 Fahrenheit (over 30 degrees Celsius). Walking outside was like walking in a convection oven – hot breeze and all! I was not a happy camper!

Now I’m from Texas and so all of my friends were expressing astonishment that I couldn’t deal with the heat – hello! Everywhere in Texas is air conditioned – to the point where you might need a sweater! Here in France I am convinced that they think a/c is either evil or unhealthy (ha! Let me tell you what is unhealthy- passing out from heatstroke!) 

Ok enough ranting – the important thing is that we survived it, without air conditioning. 

And how did we manage that?

   
 

We played in the fountains at Javel André Citroën and the Jardin d’Acclimatation. The water was ice cold and helped us survive! We also kept our shutters partly closed, had our awnings pulled down, and kept our fans (ventilateurs) on oscillate and high speed. Oh and lots of ice cold champagne and ice cream – a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do!

My poor husband tried to buy an a/c unit but there were none to be had in all of Paris! Nor could you order one online – delivery was an estimated 3 weeks or more!

Why didn’t we go to the mall or a store? Because they were barely air conditioned (what’s up with that?). Only place one could find some respite was the frozen food section of the grocery store! And yes I did get some looks for just standing there in front of the freezers with my arms wide open. But hey – desperate times call for desperate measures!

Now that the “canicule” is over with, the spouse will be buying some a/c units! I hate the heat! 

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Vaux le Vicomte by candlelight

So we had the opportunity to take a guided tour of Vaux Vicomte and have dinner and drink champagne and all by candlelight! Bien sûr we went!

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The afternoon was gorgeous, bright and sunny. We met at 4:00 to tour the grounds before nightfall. The impressive part was the view from the top of the chateau, the Dome.

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the climb up to the top was cool – the beams in the roof are original and you could see the pegs used to connect them

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The gardens are gorgeous and green and the day was perfect for strolling along the gravel paths. And today there weren’t a lot of tourists so you could take your time and enjoy without fighting the crowds (unlike times at Versailles)

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And then it was time for champagne!

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As twilight fell, we had dinner – there is a lovely restaurant where you can eat in the gardens but it is booked up until the end of July! So we ate at the buffet in the stables – gotta love France, even there had wine and champagne served in crystal!

Oh the chateau by candlelight. We had the privilege of seeing the rooms as they must have appeared back in the day, lit by tapers and chandeliers.

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the impressive library – would love to have one of these!

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the dining room – one of the first of the era

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and the king’s bedchamber – sadly, because of all of the treachery and betrayal surrounding the Fouquet family and chateau, no royalty ever spent the night

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the garden lit by candles –

and the evening ended with fireworks!

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If you couldn’t tell by now, I love this estate – I think even more than Versailles. It is understated elegance when compared to the domain that Louis XIV built. And yes I may be a bit biased after knowing about what a rotten deal Fouquet received. There’s a great book about the scandal – “The Man who Outshone the Sun King” by Charles Drazin – gripping tale of the downfall of Nicholas Fouquet.

And I cannot wait to go back in costume!

http://www.vaux-le-vicomte.com/en/decouvrir/the-candlelit-evenings/

Playing dress up and drinking champagne

Everyone knows about Versailles but have you ever heard of Vaux le Vicomte? Well it was the inspiration for Versailles and has quite an interesting history.

In 1653 Nicholas Fouquet hired renowned architect Louis Le Vau to built him a lavish chateau, worthy of the Finance Minister to the Sun King, Louis XIV. Fouquet combined the talents of the best architect, landscaper and painter of his day and the result was Vaux le Vicomte.

He held a party to celebrate and show off his magnificent estate, inviting Louis XIV. Big mistake – the Sun King would not be overshadowed by his Finance Minister and became convinced that Fouquet had paid for all of the splendor with ill-gotten gains and embezzlement. His majesty arrested Fouquet and threw him in prison for the rest of his life. And to add insult to injury, he claimed almost all of the estate’s tapestries, furniture, paintings, books, rugs… he even took plants from the garden.

Louis XIV then promptly hired the architect Louis Le Vau, the painter Charles Le Brun and the landscape gardener André Le Nôtre to create the masterpiece of Versailles. He wanted to be the one with the most glamorous and ostentatious chateau and wanted the world to know the beauty and wealth of France.

The Fouquet family never recovered from the king’s displeasure and the estate passed through several families, falling into disrepair and decay. In 1875, a Mr. Alfred Sommier bought it at auction and began large-scale restoration work, brining the estate back to its original splendour.

So why am I telling you all of this? Because they have this amazing event once a year, to celebrate the 18th century – you dress up in period costume, bring a picnic lunch (including champagne, bien sûr) and tour the chateau and grounds! They have demonstrations of court dance and dueling and carriage rides. Musketeers pop up, swords clashing, and you can even spot a Sun King or two.

The costumes are amazing and people go all out – some people even have their outfits custom made in Venice! The people watching is the best and the look of confusion on the faces of the tourists is quite funny – they aren’t sure what is going on!

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They will bring tables, candelabras and even floral centerpieces! Of course the glasses are crystal and the plates are china – no plastic cups and paper plates here!IMG_2556

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The best part is that we get to do this again this year! Already have our costumes rented and a brand new fancy picnic basket –  just have to start chilling the champagne. How cool is it that you get to dress up, pretend and drink champagne – all on the grounds of a 17th century chateau?

you can find out more about the chateau at

http://www.vaux-le-vicomte.com

Market in Amsterdam

A few weeks ago we ran away to Amsterdam – just for the evening, to have dinner with old friends. I hadn’t been back in 12 years so I was excited to see the city again. This was my first time on a high speed train and we teenager-less for 24 hours!

The next morning we decided to go to the very first European market that I had ever visited – the one on Albert Cuypstraat . I love the markets here in Paris and it was interesting to see how this one was different but somehow had the same vibe. Everything was the same and yet not – there were cheese stalls but instead of hundreds of cheeses that I didn’t know, the Dutch really only care about oude (old) or niewe (new) kaas (cheese). Of course the vegetable stands were just as pretty and so were the flowers – somehow Europe really gets their flora and fauna.  My Dutch husband tells me that Holland is the flower capital of the world I did miss the little old ladies running over you with their grocery trolleys – here you just had to watch out for the bicycles.

I wasn’t supposed to take pictures – a couple of the proprietors told me off but I managed to sneak a few – loved the house slippers that look like wooden clogs and the colorful stone ware.

Almost 20 years ago I had found the perfect black ankle boots in this market – wore those things till they fell apart! Alas, no such luck in finding them again. I guess time has marched on, even for the market.

(my apologies for butchering the Dutch language – it has been 16 years since I learned it and now the French has pushed it aside in my brain)

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all the pretty bloemen (flowers)
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Had to buy these for the girls – too funny
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Looks like the juice craze has reached the Netherlands!
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the gouda is gooda (sorry – just couldn’t resist the bad pun)
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this sign was just too cute
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and I just had to Instagram this one! Gorgeous pottery!

Kitchen paradise

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I have always wanted to visit the cooking supply store here in Paris that Julia Child loved – she wrote about how she was seduced by the rows of gleaming copper pans and the bins of wickedly sharp knives and how she bought more pans than she had space for in her tiny Parisian kitchen. My husband and I enjoy cooking and are suckers for any kind of kitchen gadget so I convinced him to trek over to the 1st Arrondisement and find this Valhalla. (Please excuse the quality of the pictures – I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to take pictures and the gentlemen who work there were a little intimidating! I didn’t want to get told off)

And what a find. I don’t think this place has changed  in over 100 years – the floors creak, the wooden shelves are crooked and the windows are dusty, letting in faint light from outside. The pots and pans are stacked haphazardly and the bins that hold the knives and other utensils are ancient.

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You can find any size pot or roasting pan – from tiny to big enough to cook an entire cow!They have metal bins for cooking stations and even enameled iron cookware – I really wanted one of those but they are so heavy!

My husband waxed prosaic over the knives – really traditional, really sharp chef knives and in any size you could possibly want. These knives aren’t stainless steel – they need to be oiled before use!

Some of the utensils were a mystery as to what they are used for and we had fun trying to guess. There were knives big as a handsaw and huge meat cleavers that brought to mind horror movies and meat lockers (twisted I know but hey, pop culture references seem to crop up at the weirdest times).

They also have ramekins of all sizes and shapes and lovely silver trays – it was hard to control ourselves and not buy up the whole store. Credit card limits and the fact that whatever we bought would have to be schlepped on the metro were the best deterrents!

But we both decided to take a good hard look at our kitchen and what we have in there. Old pans, and those we don’t use, are going to have to go and then we will replace them.  And one day, when we have our French or Italian farmhouse, we will deck it out with copper pans – or maybe not. That’s a lot of polishing going on there.

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you can find E. Dehillerin at 18-20 Rue Coquillière, 75001 Paris. They are open Monday through Saturday 9:00-6:00, and closed on Sunday. It’s a great place to get an unusual but French gift – and I think I am set for gifts for the husband for a long while – just go there and pick out a new knife or pan or gadget!

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Southern comfort

Just a quick post – have more tours to share but am waiting on my “photographer” (aka, the husband) to share the photos with me so I can post about our walks. I had lunch today with a friend and she suggested we try this quaint little restaurant, Treize – a baker’s dozen.  It’s in the 7th Arrondisement, in a tiny courtyard off of rue Saint-Pères. Oh My God. Ok, first thing, the lovely owner is from Charleston, South Carolina so when I saw biscuits and gravy on the menu, I knew this was the place for some comfort food! She has homemade pimento cheese and a dish that is similar to black-eyed peas and collard greens! There are versions of chicken pot pie and lovely fresh pressed veggie and fruit juices. I had some hard choices to make. The darling woman even had home brewed iced tea – in Paris! I had to control myself and not drool all over the menu. She makes everything from scratch right there on the spot and you can see her and her two assistants cooking right behind the counter – we chatted about biscuit recipes and she even gave me some pointers on making a lemon cake (I do this every year for my middle daughter for her birthday – and that is coming up quick)! As we talked she was busy icing and assembling a mouthwatering carrot cake that was freshly baked. With great deliberation and hemming and hawing and back and forth and asking all sorts of questions, I selected the not fried “fried” chicken with biscuits and gravy – YUM! My friend who has a gluten allergy chose the quinoa salad and she loved it – they even adjusted the ingredients just for her. It was so good that I forgot to take pictures! I am DEFINITELY returning – and if the girls are lucky, I might just bring them too! You can find Laurel (I hope I spelled that right) at Treize- a baker’s dozen, 16 rue Saint- Pères (at the back of the Coeur des Saints Pères), 75007 Paris. It’s a tiny place so get there early. IMG_3268

A walk through the Tuileries and beyond

Today was gorgeous – I mean breathtakingly lovely. The kind of day that epitomizes the term “Spring in Paris” – the birds are singing, the sun is warm and bright, the sky clear blue, and the air soft and warm. There was just no way that I was going to stay inside and do chores and laundry! So I decided to walk through the Tuileries – I haven’t done that since we moved here and it has always been one of my favorite walks. The path from Place de la Concorde all the way to the Louvre lets me pretend that I am walking back in time.

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The land was once occupied by tile manufacturers back in the 13th century – hence the name “tuileries” – Catherine Medici was the first to have a palace built there in 1564, complete with Italian style gardens. However, she stopped construction in 1571, probably because of expenses and lack of security (it was located outside of the protective medieval city walls.

P1000356During the next 20 years civil war raged in Paris and the beautiful gardens were destroyed. Work did not resume until Henri IV in 1594.

The first permanent resident was the Duchesse de Montpensier,niece of Louis XIII. She was also the first person to be evicted by her cousin Louis XIV. He then had the palace completed and finished, to the standards of a royal residence. In 1664 he decided to open the Tuileries to the public for “honest people” to walk inside – thus creating the first public park in Paris.

Under Louis XIV, finance minister Colbert hired Le Nôtre to update the gardens and make them worthy of the new royal residence. This gentleman is famous for his gardens – Vaux le Vicomte, Versailles, Port St. Cloud, just to name a few. He believed that the gardens and the palace should harmonize – he is also credited with the notion of vistas and perspective in regards to landscaping.

The whole Tuileries P1000346garden project took from 1666 to 1672 – but Louis XIV hated Paris so much that he decided to move to Versailles and move the entire court there.  It remained empty for 40 years, until Louis XV moved there in 1715, only to stay until 1722.

Louis XVI was brought back, unwillingly with his family, in October 1789. They were prisoners there and the public often came to watch them go about their daily life, as if they were animals in the zoo. In August of 1792, the populace invaded the palace and massacred the Swiss Guards. The king and queen were imprisoned and ultimately executed. The gardens and the palace became national property.

When Napoleon Bonaparte took over the government he wanted a residence befitting an emperor. He moved into the Tuileries in February 1800. Not only P1000345did he renovate the Tuileries but he also reorganized the Louvre, installed its collections, and built a street cutting through the Old Louvre and Place du Carrousel. He opened up a new street on the north side of the gardens and christened it rue Rivoli, after a victory won in 1797. Only the gardens remained the same.

In 1806 Napoleon wanted to give the Tuileries a monumental entrance. He had a P1000359triumphal arch designed to pay tribute to his Austerlitz campaign. Inspired by the Septimus Severus arch in Rome, the monument was completed in 1809 – crowned by chariot drawn by four horses, which were taken from St. Mark’s basilica in Venice! They were ultimately returned and in 1828 replaced with a new bronze sculpture, which is still there.

in 1851 Napoleon III took power and the Louvre and Tuileries became his pet P1000338project. He finished the Louvre and joined it to the Tuileries and this became one of the grand settings for the 1867 Universal Exhibition. The Orangerie and Jeu de Paume were built in 1859. The Empire fell in 1870 and the Commune emptied the palaces of furniture and objets d’art in order to use the spaces for mobile hospitals and military units. In May of 1871, as the regular army was entering the capital, the Commune set fire to the palace, the Louvre library and Palais Royale. The burned ruins remained until 1883. The site of the palace was reworked into the gardens in 1889.

P1000340The Tuileries and Louvre have survived wars, occupation, illnesses and neglect. Unfortunately the storms of 1999 caused tremendous damage and knocked down some of the oldest trees. But replantation and restoration still occur and the type of trees that existed during Henri IV’s time can be seen now.

The gardens aren’t yet in their full glory – Spring is just now arriving. But I love to visit when everything is green and the flowers are blooming. And I still didn’t want to go home – so I didn’t.

I walked past the Louvre and down to the river – I have P1000361never walked on the edge of the Seine but today seemed to be a good day to do so! I decided to head towards Pont Neuf and Place Dauphine.

People were out enjoying the sunshine – students and office workers picnicking on the cobblestones. Lovers with limbs entwined, kissing on park benches, oblivious to the world around them.

P1000360It was so peaceful – the sounds of the city were faint, the sun was warm and the breezes were soft. The day was perfect for a long stroll so I just kept going!

Just past the back of the Louvre, Pont Neuf is the oldest standing bridge in Paris – the tip of the island is the Square du Vert-Galant, a park named after Henry IV, whose nickname was the “Green Gallant”.

P1000362At the top of the island, on the side of the street is a bronze statue of Henri IV, initially erected in 1618. It was destroyed in 1792 during the Revolution but rebuilt in 1818.

P1000363Place Dauphin is a little hidden square just off Pont Neuf – the statue of Henri IV is looking at it. The small park is actually a triangle shape. It was created in 1607 and is the second of public squares, right after Place des Vosges. The square is named in honor of his son, the Dauphin of France, Louis XIII, born in 1601.

P1000365The red brick with white stone facade is from this period – a tell-tale sign of the age of the buildings! Place des Vosges has the same facades and is the oldest planned square in Paris.

Place Dauphin ends at the Palais de Justice,  where justice of the state has been since medieval times. From the 16th century to the French Revolution the Parlement de Paris has been located here. The Prefecture is here also – it’s where I picked up my Carte de Sejour. Because of the “vigipirate” plan in place, no photos are allowed. Don’t ask about what that is – closest thing I can explain it to is a terror alert and security measures. The name alone makes me think “be vigilant for pirates” – gotta ask one of my French friends what exactly it means and how they came up with such a term!

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And then Notre Dame! I never get tired of seeing this church – despite the hoards of tourists and the bicycle taxi drivers catcalling at you. There is just something about this monument that never fails to make one feel small and insignificant before God and Time.

P1000376I had been walking for a couple of hours and since I was in the neighborhood, I decided to make a quick pitstop – to celebrate the beautiful day and the beautiful walk. If you are standing in front of Notre Dame, facing the church, take a left down that side street and then turn on the first street to your right – should be rue Chanoinesse, a very old and charming street. Bertie’s Cupcakery is there – and yes, I had a cupcake. Perfect way to end my adventure!