“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” — Ernest Hemingway
When we were planning this trip, Paris was a bit of an afterthought. “Oh, we seem to have an extra day in London. I wonder what we should do.” We found that a train ticket to Paris was only about 40 Euros (are you KIDDING ME???? All these amazing locations are so close together over there. Truly a traveler’s paradise), so we thought, we have to do it. We just have to.
And my friends, am I ever glad we did.
Our day to Paris started very early– around 4 AM. We had only one day, and we didn’t want to miss a second. We boarded the train and were whisked along in the inky black darkness toward the city of lights. At some point I guess we went under the English Channel (yikes!), but I forgot to be afraid because it was so dark outside that I couldn’t tell the darkness of the night from the darkness of the tunnel. Finally our train pulled into the station– surprisingly quickly, I thought. I’ve said this before, but traveling by train is totally the way to go. You avoid all the airport security, all the crowds, and even better– the airports, themselves. The train station people even checked our passports before we boarded, which meant that when we got out we could just disperse freely without waiting in the customs line. Score, score, and score again. Have I mentioned how much I grew to love the rail system, while we were there?
My first view of France. Hmm. Well, to be honest, this was the trip of a lifetime, and I kept pinching myself thinking “Am I REALLY HERE?” We stepped out of the train station just as morning was starting. The beautiful red, white, and blue French flag fluttered in the foggy air. There was a light drizzle, but somehow the city seemed to emit its own light. I know that Paris is called “The City of Lights.” I had always assumed that this name came from all the lights that illuminate the Seine at night. But you know– I think the light may just emanate from the heart of the city, itself.
What I expected of Paris: rude, incredibly unfriendly people who would scoff at me and curse me out in French, without even giving me the benefit of knowing what horrible names they were calling me. Asking for help and having people spit on the ground in front of me and call me “Stupid American” so beautifully that I almost didn’t mind it. Dog poop everywhere. Public urination. People who refused to sell me a croissant because the only French I know is French Fry. I admit it– I was a little scared of this place.
What I actually got: the SURPRISE OF MY LIFE. I don’t know if we just got lucky, or if perhaps Paris was feeling friendly on the day we went, but I was blown away by how helpful and kind everyone was. Literally within the first moments after we exited the train station we were standing there looking around trying to figure out where to go, and someone approached us and asked so pleasantly if we needed help reading the road signs in French– “Êtes-vous des femmes qui ont besoin d’aide?” Are you ladies in need of help? Le sigh. Beautiful language AND chivalrous. After we explained where we were going he said, “Vait here. I vill get you zee map.” He literally left his own route, dashed into a store, got us a map, and showed us where to go. When we thanked him and walked away he chased after us (down the block) to say that he’d watched and we accidentally made a wrong turn. He righted us, blew us a kiss, and was gone. I know, right?! Does that sound like unfriendly Paris to you?
While we were riding the tour bus around, I saw heaven. Seriously. The angels sang and told me to stop.
Well, it looked like heaven to me. Pierre Hermé is perhaps the most accomplished pastry chef in the world. I couldn’t believe that we found one of his macaron shops, but I was so excited to go inside that I felt like a little kid on Christmas. The French macaron is arguably the most difficult cookie there is to make, and these little beauties were executed by the world’s finest pastry chef. This was like mad pastry skilllzzzzz, level Ninja. Um, can I have godlike level pastry, and raise you perfection with a dash of bliss?
Why yes. Yes you can.
Just pardon me while I die and go to heaven.
Once again, I expected the counter ladies to be kind of rude and haughty– maybe a cigarette dangling out of their bright red lips while they sneered at my stupidity and chuckled through their noses. I picture a snotty poodle in there somewhere, too.
Nope. The ladies were so intensely friendly and helpful, telling me all about the macaron flavors and even giving me a special little box with the logo on it when I told them how excited I was to see the beautiful pastries and how much I appreciated the technique. They smiled and told me “S’il vous plaît revenir bientôt madame.” (Please return soon, Madame.). I was stunned. TWO FRIENDLY PARISIAN PEOPLE IN A ROW???? I was afraid to try my luck a third time, but as it turned out, we passed three times, crossed it, and ran circles around it. Paris, whatever you put in the water while we were there, please drink more of it and send some to the US. The people could not have been nicer or more helpful.
That is the face of one HAPPY gal, folks. And yes, I did save that bag. And yes, you may bury it with me. Make a note.
And now comes the part where I almost have to cover my mouth because I’m smiling so hard I might squeal. As if the Pierre Hermé macarons were not enough, now THIS.
Let me just admit. When we came to Paris I knew I would love it no matter what. I was prepared to love it even if people spit on me and called me a stupid American. I figured their language was so beautiful that to be cursed out in it would even be a pleasure. But secretly I wished to try (1) a genuine Pierre Hermé macaron, (2) authentic French hot chocolate, and (3) a real Paris croissant. I would have been happy without anything but seeing the city, but I hoped that maybe I could check at least one of these things off my culinary bucket list.
Oh man. I not only crossed one of those items off the list. I circled that list, stepped on it, crushed it, burned it. I ANNIHILATED that list. Angelina, home of the most famous hot chocolate in Paris (or perhaps the world), is often closed. When it is not closed (which is not often), it is crowded with a huge line down the block. It’s basically impossible to get into.
*stifling that scream of happiness again*
We happened upon Angelina. Yes. The bus dropped us off randomly and Angelina was like a block away. AND it was open. ANNNNNDDDDDDDDD NO LINE!!! Oh my gosh I am so serious. It was like the hot chocolate angels were watching out for us. I think we must have accidentally timed it to arrive the second the restaurant opened. The moment we stepped inside we were ushered to one of the last tables, and as I turned around a HUGE line was forming right behind us like everyone got the memo that “HEY IT’S OPEN AND THERE IS NO LINE OH MY GOSH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” I was so excited that I almost couldn’t even breathe.
The inside was all gold gilt, classical paintings, and skylights. It was like they knew people would want to take photos, so they helpfully provided perfect natural lighting streaming down through, bathing us in an ethereal heavenly glow. I’m telling you– it was like something out of a fairytale that you tell people and they say “Are you making that up?” Nope. It really was that good.
Even the menu was beautiful. It was so hard to choose, but in the end I got the brunch that came with Eggs Benedict because I believe can tell the quality of a place by its Hollandaise, in my humble opinion. And I couldn’t wait to see what buttery, lemony perfection awaited me.
Take a moment and just stare at this photo, folks. Yes, these are cell phone pics because I didn’t want to draw attention to myself and pull out my huge camera in the middle of the restaurant with my long lens still attached from the Cliffs of Moher . . . but as I said, Angelina seems to know you will snap copious photos, because the light was PERFECT. It was like we were sitting in a solarium or sun room, but the room happened to be covered in gold and smell like chocolate bliss. Yeah. Something like that. Oh– and about that chocolate. To DIE FOR hot chocolate. There is a reason this hot chocolate is considered the best in Paris. And as soon as I wipe the drool from my chin even remembering it through these photos, I will tell you about it.
The lady brought us this platter of croissants. I practically had to pick my jaw up off the table. LOOK AT THEMMMMMMMM!!!!! I learned that all butter croissants are straight across, while croissants that use at least a portion of butter substitute are curved. Notice these babies are straight. Ohhhh yeah. ALLL buttah baby. And they were glazed with something shiny and slightly sweet. Maybe honey? I don’t know. Heck when you’re tasting heaven you don’t ask if Saint Peter is wearing his black or navy blue suit. And let me tell you . . . real Parisian croissants definitely live up to their reputation. In fact, I’m pretty sure I kept my eyes closed more than they were open during this meal. I just couldn’t help it. Bliss. Absolute bliss.
Now let’s get back to that chocolate. Um . . . *spoon clatters to floor*
You know, it seems almost a travesty to call this divine, melty, chocolate goddess “hot chocolate.” It should be called something else– something to differentiate it from the watery chocolate powder broth that from now on shall be banished from my house. Friends, to taste this hot chocolate, after the powdered kind, is like expecting Chef Boyardee and being given Nonna’s homemade ravioli, made before your eyes with fresh herbs and spices while Pavarotti sings opera just for you. There is just no comparison.
Melted chocolate. PMS woman’s paradise. Breakup Cure. God’s breakfast. Whatever you want to call it. It was so thick that it coated the sides of the cup with a soft, velvety touch. Drinking it was like quaffing the elixir of the gods. It warmed my mouth and throat and alllllll the way down into my tummy, where I’m positive I heard my stomach give a standing ovation. If I ever return to Paris in my life, you better believe my first stop is going to be to this place to get their hot chocolate again. If I have to bow down and kiss the feet of the chef, I will.
Each of us got a little teeny serving of real whipped cream to go into that insanely decadent chocolate. Freshly squeezed orange juice. Real butter croissants. Little croissant things with more chocolate in them. See that light? I’m telling you. We were sitting right in heaven. The staff was so attentive, and yet never pushy. I never felt rushed. People just quietly whisked away plates and replaced them with new ones, with almost . . . a gravitas. I honestly felt like this was not a restaurant at all, but a royal throne room where we were being granted the intense privilege of having the best meal of our lives . . . and the staff treated us like queens even as we sat in the golden room drinking the chocolate nectar of the gods. Sigh. Can you see the little hearts coming out of my eyes and hitting this photo?
When I got home I immediately started working on a copycat hot chocolate because I knew I could never be without it again. I’ll post that soon. And do yourself a favor and try it. Life is too short for powdered chocolate water. I know this now. I am a changed woman. 😉
So how was the Eggs Benedict, you ask?
My friends. A Class. By. Itself.
Eggs– PERFECTLY poached. I mean, perfectly. Bacon crisp and so flavorful. The Brioche rich and toasty with caramelized edges. The Hollandaise. Gahhhh that Hollandaise.
You can tell a restaurant’s quality by its Hollandaise. Low quality Hollandaise breaks and separates. The temperature might be wrong. It might be curdled slightly. The taste is off. Butter substitutes may have been used.
Not here. Not at Angelina. It was smooth as a Congressman running for office. Creamy and full bodied and EXACTLY the right temperature. The perfect kiss of lemon. The richness of real butter. Poured over that PERFECT egg, runny in the center of its perfect little oval shape. Oh my goodness. I ate almost the entire dish with my eyes closed because my eyes were rolling back in my head from pure, unadulterated bliss.
P.S. I am aware that I am using multiple sentence fragments in this post. But I can’t even form a cohesive thought while I’m remembering eating this. My brain is short circuiting, so you’ll just have to forgive me.
When I die, I officially request this as my last meal. I seriously think this was the single best meal I have ever had in my life. And I might as well just stop eating now, because nothing will ever top it.
The goodness just kept coming. French toast on brioche with caramel sauce, fresh raspberries and mint. I’m ashamed to say I could only taste this. I was so full that I just couldn’t finish. And I’m sure it was divine, with that caramelized crust. Dear French toast, please forgive me. The Hot Chocolate and Eggs Benedict had already married me when you came along. But are you available for a date later?
I should mention that I encountered several times in Europe that the men’s and women’s bathrooms were in the same room. It was kind of weird, but I found that even the French men who struck up a conversation with me in the bathroom were very friendly. How odd, but how nice. I was full of hot chocolate and Eggs Benedict, and somehow their chipper discussion over the toilets didn’t strike me as strange at the time. Again, French people were friendlier than I expected they would be. Maybe the blissed out look on my face showed them that I was sufficiently appreciating their culture, and they cut me a break. I don’t know. But I left there the happiest gal in the world.
Even the statue outside was golden and happy. I don’t know what the statue was, but it was beautiful, so I took a picture for you. You’re welcome. I just wish I could have brought you some of the hot chocolate to try. Whew. DIVINE.
We sat on top of the bus, with the top open and the wind in our hair. I stared at the ridiculously beautiful city. Paris is seriously one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen in my entire life. Everything is symmetrical and lovely. So much of it is golden. I didn’t see any graffiti. Maybe even the French lowlifes are proud of their city and don’t want to ruin it. I didn’t see trash or dog poop. Psssh. My pre-conceptions of Paris were blown out of the water. I’ve never seen a city more lovely, friendly, or charming. Did we get lucky? I have no idea. But goodness I LOVED every single moment of it.
People were selling artwork and paintings by the river. Le SIGH. *hearts coming out of eyes again* I bought my Mom and Sis a Paris scarf, and the clerk smiled and winked at me. I probably got taken when I just paid whatever the things cost, and that’s no doubt why he was in a jolly mood. But I didn’t care– I had already fallen in love with the place, and the sparkle in his eyes and the smile on his face just bolstered my thought that Paris really is a lot nicer place than I thought it would be. He told me my French was “Very good Madame,” which was a lie, but it was a sweet one so I took it.
Paris drivers. Yessssss. I was glad I didn’t have to drive. The Champs-Élysées is like, kind of this gigantic circle that’s almost like a 5 lane highway, but with no rules or lines. People just zip on across there in front of each other, honking like crazy and making you want to hide your eyes. But of course you can’t or you would DIE. So you grip the sidebars for dear life and pray the bus is big enough that no one will try to ram it, and if they do, they will get crunched worse than you do, because they are smaller. And you assume that they are just all in a rush to go to Angelina to get hot chocolate. Then you feel better about it. You understand it, somehow. And you forgive them.
Somewhere in between tasting the world’s most divine meal and running for our lives between traffic lanes (and I use that term “lane” more as a suggestion than a rule), we looked up and VOILA . . . Arc de Triomphe.
Goodness this thing was magnificent! It’s HUGE! I felt like I almost had to prop my eyes open, because I needed them to be twice as wide open so that I didn’t miss anything. Everywhere I turned, there was something incredible to gasp at and take photos of.
Oh and let’s not forget that (*pinches fingers in front of eyes*) LIIIIIITTTTLLLE thing called the Eiffel Tower. Goodness. The first time I saw it through the fog, I just gasped. Magnificent. Absolutely, jaw droppingly magnificent. I stood there under it for several minutes, just staring up at it, hardly believing I could be really there.
But I was there! I was! Promise! Wow. I still can’t believe it.
Notre Dame. Goodness it was like every time I turned around I saw another iconic landmark. It was like having dinner with the gods. You turn around and there’s Zeus. Oh there’s Poseidon. Oh hi Athena. I just couldn’t believe my eyes. And even though we got up early I was so excited to see everything that I couldn’t even take one second to be tired.
Alas, here I must tell you an embarrassing tale, my friends.
Beneath the Eiffel Tower a man was selling Paris T shirts. And I said, “I have to have a Paris shirt!!!” I was looking at the medium shirts, and the salesman came over. “Madame can I help you?” I said I was just going to pick out a T shirt to remember my trip to Paris. He smiled slyly and said, “But Madame zees eez Paris! In Europe zee zises are different. And Madame you are not so large! Madame I think you veel be a small, yes?” He whipped out a small shirt and held it up to me. “Yessss zees one eez perfect for you, Madame.”
Bwahaha it’s ridiculous but I’m a woman and when he said I was a size small (which I have not been since perhaps first grade or so) and held up that teeny little shirt I said, “Um . . . sure! Yes I’ll take it!” So Mom, you are now getting a shirt small enough that Barbie could wear it as a gift. Because I’m a woman and I’m vain. There I said it. But heck I smiled the rest of the day. (PS I got the medium also (“For a friend”) and I’m wearing it and don’t tell the Paris man).
Sidewalk cafes. Sigh. LOVE.
Golden buildings. Lovers. Romance in the Parisian air. No graffiti. Seriously. If this were DC there would be graffiti everywhere. But not here. Just bliss and people wearing small shirts. *throat clearing*
I looked up and the Louvre! Again, meet this goddess . . . and that one . . . and that one . . .
Everything here is art. The buildings, the architecture . . . the food. Just pure, amazing art. Nothing here is by chance. It’s like all the artists in the world decided to go live here and create. And Paris is the result.
Rivers of romance . . . and we got to ride a boat along the river, where people were also . . . wait for it . . . VERY FRIENDLY AND HELPFUL! One lady offered to let me share her headphones (no thanks but thanks), and multiple times they opened special little doors for us to go through because of the handicapped member of our party. The city just could not have been friendlier.
Sigh. Can you feel my heart beating with pure love?
The bus crisscrossed around a bit, and I got to see some of the landmarks a few times. Amazing. They are just as beautiful in the back as the front. Wish I could say the same for myself but after all that Hot Chocolate and Hollandaise I’ll be lucky to fit into my medium shirt (much less the small. *Hysterical laugh*) so what am I complaining about . . .
Again, no trash. No graffiti. Just pure perfection.
There were art museums and the National Academy of music. When they call this place “the gold standard,” I think they mean it both literally and figuratively. It’s like God’s vacation home.
As we rode the bus back to the train station, I couldn’t resist taking a peek at the macarons. There they were, glistening in all their Parisian perfection. One was even hand-brushed with rouge luster dust. Seriously. Gah the French do food right– it is treated as an art form, rather than just part of the day utilized for survival. That’s all I can say. Pure, unadulterated perfection.
I took one, purely luscious bite of the triple chocolate one. I think you’ve heard me bemoan before how difficult French macarons are to make. You haven’t? Well by all means go here and read all my incredibly witty complaints. *cough, cough* Well, friends, these macarons were PERFECT. The shell was lightly dusted with cocoa powder which added just enough strong and somewhat bitter chocolate flavor to offset the incredibly rich (and also perfect) chocolate ganache. The shell was perfect . . . the macaron “foot” was well formed, uniform, and of course, without crack to be seen. No unevenness, bubbling, or misshapen shells, here. No holes inside the shell itself.
And do I even NEED to mention the taste? *hysterical laughter* Ok I won’t. Just assume perfection unless I specify otherwise. It is Paris, after all.
When I got back home I was inspired to make Blue Cornflower Macarons, as a nod to the lovely lemon Hollandaise I had at Angelina, as well as the DIVINE macarons I had at Pierre Hermé. And look. It only took me 5 million failures to get mine half as beautiful as Pierre’s. I wonder if I could convince my bakeware that I’m French. Maybe they’d work with me. “Viens ma chérie. Aidez moi . . .“
The last stop we made for the day was at a little sidewalk cafe on the streets of Paris. The waiter seated us at a table and asked if we were “eating dinnehhh or just coming for a drink?” We said we were eating, and he insisted on setting the table for us, even though we said he didn’t have to. He shook his head and laughed, waving away our protests with a wave of his hand. “Dinnehhh needs a propehhh table.” He placed a flawless white tablecloth before us, which he smoothed effortlessly to get all the wrinkles out. Placemats at each place. He set the plates before us, expertly placing the silverware and straightening it at our sides, knife blades pointed inward. No piles of silverware wrapped in napkins, here. Class, all the way.
This was not a fancy restaurant, and yet, the food was sublime, yet again. I have always wanted to try French roast chicken, since it is supposed to be incredible. I also secretly kicked myself for not purchasing a baguette somewhere to taste . . . but look. Look. It’s like they read my mind. They brought me roast chicken, absolutely perfectly seasoned in a rich gravy studded with fresh herbs. I tasted thyme primarily and perhaps a kiss of sage. Minimal salt and pepper. Just beautifully seasoned to allow the herbs to shine through. The baguette was incredible– I held it to my ear and heard it “crackle,” as all properly made baguettes should. The inside was tender and delicious. I don’t know if you’re supposed to use butter or not, but I spread a thick layer of real butter on there, laughed at the thought of the small shirt in my bag, and had another helping. And you know what? I don’t regret it one bit. “Some foods are worth gaining weight for.” I’m sure Olaf would agree with me.
We were never rushed. The waiters whisked plates away for us and checked on us, their eyes smiling with knowing pride when we told them how much we loved the meal. I felt a personal pride from them, about the food. I loved that in Paris the people take such pride in their city, their language, and their food. Perhaps that’s why they do not spray graffiti or throw fast food down in front of you. To adore Paris is to adore their home, and they are immensely proud of it and glad when you take time to appreciate it properly.
On our way out the door the waiter leaned in and whispered in my ear, “You should go out whizzz me aftahh work.” We just smiled and pretended not to understand. He opened the door for us, winked with his whole face, and was gone.
We climbed on the train that night, absolutely exhausted but so happy I felt like I could burst. You know that feeling that you had as a kid on Christmas when you have spent the entire day visiting with grandparents and opening gifts and just having your pleasure circuits blown by all the good things that happen? Then that night you just lie there, too happy to sleep? It was like that.
Paris je t’aime pour toujours. Paris, I love you forever. And I just can’t wait to go back and see you again.
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