07 March 2017

Paris in the the Spring

When I booked Eurostar tickets to stay with my friends in Paris last weekend, I didn't know that it would be the sixth city and fifth country I would be visiting in just over five weeks (see also: Cologne, Barcelona, New York, Boston and Padua, or just my travel section). Although my 8:31 am train from St Pancras on Friday wasn't prohibitively early, I was rather sleepy on the journey, especially given that the lengthy queues at security at St Pancras meant that I couldn't get a much-needed second coffee (not that there is anything decent on offer after security). All of this tiredness was soon forgotten when I arrived at Gare du Nord just before noon and stepped out into the Paris sunshine.

I should have made the most of the sun because the torrential rain set in on Friday evening and didn't stop until I began to head back to Gare du Nord on Sunday evening (c'est la vie). My first priority was more coffee and luckily, there is an excellent coffee shop and roastery called KB Cafeshop just ten minutes' walk from the station. As usual, I will be doing a separate blog post about my latest efforts to find good coffee in Paris. After dropping off my tote bag at my friend's office, I went for lunch at Professore, one of my favourite Paris restaurants. The set lunch is just €15 for two courses, and I started with a plate of mortadella, followed by tortellini in what was essentially cream. I've been for dinner at Professore and it is often busy and quite loud, although still fun, but at lunchtime, it's quieter and easier to get a table. Don't miss the loos hidden behind a fake bookcase...

Although the sun had gone, it wasn't yet raining so I decided to walk up to Sacré Cœur, via rue des Martyrs, a lovely street that has dozens of great speciality food shops. I picked up a pistachio éclair from a pâtisserie called Pain Pain, and continued to climb up through the streets of Montmartre until I got to the steps that lead to Sacré Cœur. I definitely earned the view at the top — and the éclair!

I spent the rest of the afternoon visiting a couple of speciality coffee shops near Canal Saint-Martin and then did a bit of window shopping. Pop Market on rue Bichat is great for gifts and homewares, while back on the west side of the canal, rue Oberkampf has plenty of small boutiques and food shops — the stretch between boulevard Voltaire and boulevard des Filles du Calvaire is particularly nice. Just around the corner, on boulevard des Filles du Calvaire itself, Sœur sells chic clothing basics, and one block south is the wonderful concept store that is Merci. I spent about 45 minutes browsing the stationery, homewares and clothing at the latter, before wandering further into the Marais. Enograph, on rue de Turenne, has great posters and travel-themed gifts.

After meeting my friends at their new apartment in the Marais, we all went for an aperitif at Candelaria, a taqueria with a prohibition-style cocktail bar hidden downstairs, on rue de Saintonge. We stayed for a couple of drinks — I had the tart and almost healthy (lime? Coriander? Cucumber? Well, and tequila...) guêpe verte, which was great. We then went for an epic meat feast of a dinner at Floyd's on rue d'Enghien in the 10th arrondissement. One of my friends and I shared an amazing (and huge) prime rib, served bleu (when in France...) and served with barbecue sauce, cheesy croquettes and other things I probably didn't get to. I also managed to find room for one of my other friend's ribs. Yum. Oh, and the double-barrelled Old Fashioneds were very on-point too.

Saturday (and indeed Sunday) followed the same pattern: coffee–shopping–food and repeat. We left my friends' current apartment in Saint-Germain quite late and by the time we'd dropped a few things off at their new place, it was already well into the brunching hour, and finding a table for three was tough. We decided to go to Paris New York, a fun burger joint on rue Perrée. The décor, with its pink-and-turquoise accents and faux booths, was a modern (and Instagrammable) take on the classic diner, and the burgers (and the chocolate and peanut butter milkshake I had) were excellent.

We spent some time shopping in Le BHV's newly revamped Marais store; I picked up some gorgeous espresso cup from the extensive and tempting kitchen department, but there are great selections of clothing, accessories, stationery and gifts too. Better still was Fleux', a series of three homeware shops on rue Sainte-Croix de la Bretonnerie. As well as home accessories, kitchenwares and gifts, they have some gorgeous, modern furniture, which made me begin to question my Eurostar baggage allowance.

We planned to walk back to Saint-Germain, but just as we left the final coffee shop of the afternoon, the heavens opened again, so we Ubered over to Le Bon Marché. There was a cool art exhibit ('Where Are We Going?' by Chiharu Shiota) in the lobby and central atrium, including the ultimate cats' cradle. Exercising extreme restraint, I managed not to buy anything from the home section of Le Bon Marché or from Conran, which is just next door.

For dinner, we went to Café Trama, a sleek, modern bistro quite close to Le Bon Marché on rue du Cherche-Midi. With its simple but elegant décor and lively ambiance, it was a great spot for a fun dinner with friends. The food was great too, particularly my scallops, which were beautifully cooked, and the salted caramel rice pudding I had for dessert.

Although the rain stopped overnight, it came back with a vengeance and so after nipping out to get some pastries and bread for a quick breakfast at home, we ended up taking an Uber back to the Marais for more coffee and shopping fun. I popped into the Uniqlo store on rue des Francs Bourgeois which is in a particularly beautiful building, but, much as I normally like to wander around on foot when I'm in Paris, the inclement weather drove us to seek shelter in a series of coffee shops.

As I mentioned, the sun came out just as I started to walk back to Gare du Nord. Eurostar had already warned me by text and email that my train was going to be busy and that I should get to the station at least an hour early. When I arrived, just before 3 pm, the station was insanely busy and I soon found out that overhead power failures meant that there were severe Eurostar delays. To add insult to injury, the torrential rain soon returned and began to leak into the area of the station where we were queuing (thankfully, I had travelled light, as usual, and only had my Longchamp tote with me).

In the end, we got back to London just over an hour late, which wasn't too bad in the circumstances (and meant I could get a partial refund); as always, the Eurostar staff were professional and courteous, in the face of hundreds of grumpy travellers. The journey itself was fine (exhausted from all the walking and eating, I dozed for most of it), although it was strange to be able to arrive home and put away my passport, knowing that I won't be using it again for six whole weeks. I'm sure my feet will be itchy before too long.

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