Friday, 16 October 2009

French Food, part 1

France is known for alot of things, though one of the most enjoyable is the food! The french know how to make excellent food. I have been to France on several occasions (okay 4 times) and each time the food experiences were different. I have done the budget backpack food; the expensive gourmet gastronmic food; and, on this trip, the moderately priced bistros, cafes and restaurants. Now nothing really compares to France's gourmet foods - it really is the best food I have ever had. However, it is not the way most of eat when we travel. I was fortunate that on 2 work trips I was travelling first class Those days have past and now it is back to flying economy class and looking for affordable yet good food

You would be hard pressed to find awful food in Paris. The actual biggest challenge is choosing from the abundance of restaurants that dot most every neighbourhood Of course there are a few areas where cafes and bistros are few and far between, though, overall you will find something somewhere close. My travelling companions and I were fortunate that our hotel was located 1.5 blocks from a grocery store: The Monop'. It was here that we purchased our breakfast: fruit, yogurt, bread or croissants and the occassional package of cheese. For approximately 10 Euros (it cost $1.63 to buy 1 Euro) the four of us had a filling, tasty, healthy breakfast that we brought back to our hotel. We did save money this way because the continental breakfast at our hotel was 8 Euros per person per day. And by shopping for our breakfast we had more choice as well. Oh and another inexpensive option is McDonalds.Yes I know, you don't want to eat familiar fast food while away in a foreign country. Though, don't knock it. The coffee was the least expensive there (and good according to my friends, as I don't drink coffee) and an Egg McMuffin was the same there as here.

Lunch varied depending on what we were doing. A few times we stopped at one of numerous places that sold sandwiches to go. Other times we enjoyed a relaxing meal at a sandwich shop that had seating or a bistro with lunch specials. The sandwiches that we ordered to go were fairly standard. Always on a baguette, though, thinner and shorter than the ones I see in our grocery stores. Most commonly they were filled with meat and cheese, though you could get just meat (salami, ham, chicken) or just cheese (goat, mozza, roquefort, etc). They even had sandwiches filled with a very long hotdog with melted cheese. The sandwich shop by our hotel offered a combo where for 5.50 Euros bought us a sandwich, water or pop and cookies. The sandwiches were a good size and we often purchased two combos to split between the four of us. If we wanted, we could even buy inexpensive bottles of wine for 3 - 6 Euros to go with our lunch. The sandwiches were a great way to have lunch, especially when we stopped at Jardin de Tuilleries to have a seat, eat and feed the birds. The pic below shows a sparrow sitting on my hand.

Lunch was also a great time to try a few things that are quintisentially french: During our lunches I have savoured the following: ham and cheese quiche; three cheese sandwich; crepe with apricot jam; ham and cheese crepe; and a very yummy mixed salad. One of my favourite not-so-french dishes was at a popular falafel joint in the Marais district, which is the Jewish quarter. L'as du Fallafel, located at 34 rue des Rosiers has GREAT inexpensive falalfels. The falafels were stuffed into a pita filled with coleslaw with a tasty sauce. We ate indoors as opposed to ordering from the take out window (which has a long lineup daily). I am sure being seated helped us save our shirts from the yummy gooey sauce. Another favourite place of mine was Bar a thes Delyan , not to far from the Notre Dame Cathedral (just over the bridge). This cafe was actually a tea bar that served sandwiches, salad and of course tea. I enjoyed the decor too. If you'd like to see more, here is the link to their myspace page: Delyan Tea Bar, Paris .

That's it for breakfast and lunch...part 2 will focus on dinner & wine!

Thursday, 8 October 2009

The REAL reason French Women Don't Get Fat

Well, for those that live in Paris anways. I am certain that some of you have heard of the book "French Women Don't Get Fat" written by Mireille Guiliano. And for those of you who have read it (myself included) it does make some sense: enjoy and savour your food, make smart choices and the like. I have even tried some of the suggestions. I have to admit...a breakfast of bread, brie cheese and yogurt with grapes is induglent and tasty, not to mention filling. However, when arrving in Paris and using their transit system, primarily the metro (subway) and rail systems, the real reason came to light: It's stairs! Yes, stairs and lots of 'em. When I say "lots of 'em" I really mean that.

So, I had decided a few weeks before leaving that  I was going to climb all 710 stairs of the Eiffel Tower on my 40th birthday. I prepared myself for this mentally. Physically this was going to be a milestone for me as I had lost 27 lbs prior to my trip (I have been on a weight loss/healthy self journey). What I wasn't expecting was the amount of stairs in the transit system!! This was something we became intimate with on our day of arrival, when had decided to use public transit. The route to our hotel included 2 rail stops and a metro stop. Little did we know that it really only required 2 rail stops. Anyways. Our trek from the airport with our luggage was interesting, especially considering that we had been up for almost 24 hours, if not more. It  quickly dawned on us that the Paris metro and rail system is NOT luggage friendly, let alone handicapped accessible. The rail stop of Chatelet Les Halles did have elevators, however, at other stops I never noticed any. So, as we switched from line to line we lugged our bags up and down stairs and through  ticket entranceways. Some which were rather "skinny" for my rolling garment bag. It required some maneuvering on my part. And of course there was the carrying of the luggage up and down various flights of steps.

It didn't stop there. Once we were settled and started sightseeing we quickly learned the compelxities and the vastness of the Paris pubic transit system. The things that I found peculiar were that the majority of escalators (where there were escalators) were in the down direction. ?????  Why not in the up direction? And then there was the realization we were often far far underground. Stairs decending to the ticket-vending level , walking through long corridors, going down flights of stairs, going along another corridor and then up some stairs only to go down a few more.  This may be repeated several times, depending on which station you are at. Now for those of you who live in large metropolitan cities with vast transit systems this is no surprise, so please remember that I live in Vancouver, where there are only 3 rapid transit lines (the Skytrain), one light rail system (TheWest Coast Express) and one water transit line (The Seabus). So 15 subway/metro lines and 5 rail lines is way much larger than what I am accustommed to. And I am sure taht you can guess that I have climbed and descended amounts of stairs that I do not encounter daily. So, I would say that it is fair to say that  my natural conclusion is that all these extra stairs in the Paris metro system is the REAL reason that french women don't get fat. That and the 1.5 hour lunch and 2.5 hour dinner where everything is savoured. I also know it to be true because with the amount of rich food and wine that I ingested there is no way I could have gained only 1.8 lbs if I hadn't acseneded all those cursed stairs (that I am secretly grateful for)! Ah yes, hoofing it really does pay off!

Map of the Paris Metro System and Light Rail System - it'll get ya anywhere!

Paris metro station "Pont Marie"