Day trip to Paris, 2nd March 2024

Long story short: we had a chance to spend last Saturday in Paris, and so we did!

We were there for less than 12 hours. Yes, it sounds preposterous, but we embraced the absurdness of it with efficiency and organisation: we identified a few things we could do, but left ample margin to do so, booked a restaurant for lunch, and then executed with precision.

It really helps to live close to St. Pancras, so we could walk to the station and be there less than an hour after waking up. So, we were on time, and so was our train.

St Pancras concourse in the morning, and Tracey Emin's neon in the background. Our Eurostar train is to the left, waiting for us. A person wearing a high visibility vest waits by the travelator in the distance.
St Pancras concourse in the morning, Tracey Emin’s neon “I want my time with you” and our Eurostar train waiting for us

It takes about two and a half hours to get to Paris, which we spent mostly sleeping. I realised that I just could not stop dozing. In particular, the bit when you go through the tunnel felt incredibly soothing. I even dreamed things!

Some fields in Bouquehault, from the Eurostar
Some fields in Bouquehault, from the Eurostar

At some point we got the “Continental” breakfast since we were travelling in “standard premier”. I think they must keep the trays on a refrigerated compartment, as everything is so damn cold. Good for the fruit and yoghurt, but there’s something particularly repulsive about a cold, slightly damp feeling napkin wrapped around ice cold cutlery. Also, that cheesey swirl thing made me be offended on behalf of the French.

"Continental breakfast" in the train to Paris - empty cup of coffee, a strawberry yoghurt, an empty glass, a plastic bottle of water, a small carton of orange juice, a napkin wrapped around cutlery, three pieces of fruit (orange and pineapple), a cheesy swirl pastry
“Continental breakfast” in the train to Paris

And also! The coffee!

It was coffee that tasted of airport and long haul flights. “And of office”, Devvers remarked. The horror!

Shortly after a few more naps we arrived to the Gare du Nord and I realised that it was raining, and I feared it would not stop for the rest of the day. The weather forecast had been slightly too optimistic, but we hoped our umbrellas and “[slightly] water resistant” shoes would get us through the day. After all, we were not staying for long anyway…

And so we turned right and walked towards our first stop through the 9é arrondissement.

The French office of one of my former employers used to be in Boulevard Montmartre, so I had walked these streets often in the past, and I wanted to revisit a beautiful chocolatier I hadn’t been to in many years. But of course, I got lost at the same spot that I had got lost several times already, and took the wrong turn and started walking uphill, which made me realise “no, no, you did that again, you can’t be going uphill, you have to go downhill to get to that place, remember!”.

It’s the streets at funny angles that confuse me, we concluded.

Rain in Rue du Faubourg Poissonnière
Rain in Rue du Faubourg Poissonnière

A quick course correction ensued and we were shortly en route, avoiding puddles and suffering the intoxicating wafts of freshly baked bread emerging from the many artisanal boulangeries that we encountered in our way.

It was all the more excruciating after having been given that cold cheese pastry in the train, and now we were seeing those beautiful baguettes with their soft golden crust artfully emerging from the shelves. “Resist!”, we said to each other, “we’re having lunch in less than an hour!”

And after a few more blocks of walking downhill, we arrived to the stuff of dreams: À la mère de famille, the chocolatier.

Inside the chocolate shop A la Mère de Famille in 35 Rue du Faubourg Montmartre
Inside the chocolate shop A la Mère de Famille

And yes, they’re a chain nowadays, but I think if you were founded in 1861 like them, then you have the right to become a chain whenever you please.

And frankly, I do not really care when your shop still has old-fashioned spiral stair cases with wonky steps in a corner and customers still have to pay to a person that sits in a small panelled cabin that looks like a lift that won’t move.

Long live chains like this!

À la mère de famille
35 Rue de Faubourg Montmartre,
75009 Paris

After a brief and excited browsing experience where we admired the beautiful egg, bunny and chicken and hen shaped and other Easter-related chocolates, we decided they would not survive the journey, so we carefully selected a couple of other things that hopefully would withstand our vigorous walking, and departed for the restaurant where we would have lunch.

It is in Saint-Denis, so it was just about 15 minutes away. In the rain, while clutching our chocolates bag, and holding the umbrellas up and trying not to accidentally stab each other (I seemed to be very spatially unaware on that day, oops).

Eventually we turned right onto Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis, with the Porte Saint-Denis imposing its presence in the distance, like a FULL STOP. The restaurant had some red ropes outside to guide people in the queue, which was already quite substantial and they had barely opened their doors 15 minutes earlier.

I was a bit worried and I wasn’t worried. We had a reservation! But what if the queue was for people who had no reservation, how do we find out? The person sitting people was outside just for brief periods of time, not enough to talk to him. What if, what if?

But eventually we heard that everyone ahead of us had a reservation. It would be fine, we would have lunch; we just needed to be patient, and keep waiting until it was our time to enter, without stabbing other people with the umbrella, which I found particularly hard with the woman behind me pushing and moving like a drunk fish. I wasn’t sure if she was trying to avoid or trying to achieve being stabbed, or if she wanted to be covered by my umbrella. It really was very strange.

Rain in Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis, with the Porte Saint-Denis in the background
Rain in Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis, with the Porte Saint-Denis in the background

And then the door opened and we were led into a veritable art nouveau orgy. Meaning, not a literal sexual orgy, but decoratively speaking. It was so over the top and we loved it!

I mean, and this is partially why we chose this place, if you’re going to be in Paris for such a short time, you’d better go for the FRENCHEST THINGS you can. No disrespect to Asian-French fusion or Modern European countries, but how often do you have comfort French food lunch under ceilings like this?

Art deco ceilings and walls at Bouillon Julien
Art nouveau ceilings and walls at Bouillon Julien

Since we had booked using a very English name, English menus had already been placed on the table. We did not take it as an offence (what would they know about our linguistic abilities?). But French menus just sound so much better, and allow me the possibility of indulging in the slightly risky endeavour of ordering things believing them to be something entirely different, only to find out when they’re finally served.

The English menu at Bouillon Julien, 2nd March 2024
The English menu at Bouillon Julien, 2nd March 2024

Armed with the full knowledge of what we were ordering, and encouraged by the restaurant’s lemma (“Ici, tout est beau, bon, pas cher” – here, everything is beautiful, good and not expensive) we ordered whatever we fancied.

Text on the paper placemat at Bouillon Julien "Ici, tout est beau, bon, pas cher" (Here, everything is beautiful, good, not expensive)
“Ici, tout est beau, bon, pas cher”

Which started with a carafe of what was described as “Gamay” but which screamed “CARBONIC MACERATION” from a distance. I was pleased, as I missed on Beaujolais Nouveau this year. This felt just slightly older. A Beaujolais teen. It was chewing gum and happy mellow red berries in a very drinkable and dangerous wine. I was glad we hadn’t ordered an entire bottle, or our carefully designed trip would have taken an entirely different turn…

A carafe of Gamay, and a glass of wine at Bouillon Julien
A carafe of Gamay, and a glass of wine at Bouillon Julien

Then the starters:

Leeks vinaigrette – not something I normally have, but something that tasted really light and comforting. And I’m not a fan of vinegary things in general! And the hazelnuts… they were nice!

Leeks vinaigrette with hazelnuts at Bouillon Julien - two pieces of charred leeks surrounded by a vinagrette
Leeks vinaigrette with hazelnuts at Bouillon Julien

A rabbit terrine was also hitting all the right notes.

Rabbit terrine with Muscadet wine at Bouillon Julien - half a slice of terrine showing the fragments of meat and fat, a slice of thick crusty bread, and some leaves of salad
Rabbit terrine with Muscadet wine at Bouillon Julien

So was the bread, of which a basket-full was delivered to the table. It had a delicately moist crumb, with that slightly darker colour that you get when unbleached flour is used, and that nice crust of “we baked this at a high temperature for quite a bit because we don’t believe in flimsy bread”. I was excited, and also trying not to eat it all so I would have space for the actual main dish.

Bread basket at Bouillon Julien - seven thick crust slices tightly packed onto a basket
Bread basket at Bouillon Julien

Then for the mains, Devvers had this dish which consisted in sweet potato on top of black pudding, or “cottage pie gone bonkers”. It shouldn’t work, but it did work BEAUTIFULLY.

It has been requested that we replicate it at home.

Black pudding parmentier with sweet potato and mixed salad at Bouillon Julien. An elliptical dish shows a thick sweet potato layer sprinkled with some sort of dust. Underneath is a layer of black pudding
Black pudding parmentier with sweet potato and mixed salad at Bouillon Julien

I got the sausage and frites. The original menu had other types of potatoes, but faced with the opportunity, I requested a substitution. They weren’t the BEST frites (I think Belgium wins in that department) but they sated my frites appetite (we don’t fry things at home).

A plate with Aveyron sausage, frites, gravy, and a carafe and a glass of wine, a glass of water, a bread basket, at Bouillon Julien
Aveyron sausage, frites, gravy, at Bouillon Julien

And anyway, with that delightful Gamay by your side, nothing goes really wrong.

Time for desserts.

Devvers had been debating whether to have, or not, the Rum Baba. The fact is the last time we were in Paris, Rum Baba had been had. Should something else be chosen this time?

Of course not.

Rum Baba was chosen again. A soft sponge with miraculous absorbing abilities was served, soaked in rhum and with a side of thick cream. After all, how often can you have this in London?

Rum Baba and Chantilly dessert at Bouillon Julien - a piece of soft sponge drenched in alcohol, and three balls of whipped cream
Rum Baba and Chantilly dessert at Bouillon Julien

I followed a similar thought process and went for the poached pears. After all, how often do I have the patience to carefully peel pears to then poach them, and gently slice them before drenching them in chocolate and toasted almonds?

Poached pears with chocolate sauce and slivered almonds at Bouillon Julien
Poached pears with chocolate sauce and slivered almonds at Bouillon Julien

The answer is: not very often.

But the question is also: and why not?

I might be giving some thought to this, but in the meantime: the dessert was a success. Plate licking didn’t ensue because we were in a public space. But there was temptation in the air…

The remains of having eaten a chocolate dessert on a plate. Only chocolate streaks and a spoon remain. At Bouillon Julien
After eating the poached pears, at Bouillon Julien

We were asked if we wanted coffee. I quickly asked for a double espresso. Devvers was unsure, but then copied me.

I wanted to erase from my mind the memory of the coffee that tasted of airport, and I needed a double shot of bitter darkness like this to do so!

Double espresso at Bouillon Julien, two sachets of sugar and a spoon
Double espresso at Bouillon Julien

Even then, it was properly roasted and brewed, so it was not burnt or boiled. It was, I would even say, to be savoured, not to be downed. It was also very hot, so another reason to take your time when drinking it.

Empty double espresso coffee cup in Bouillon Julien, unopened sugar sachets to the left, a spoon underneath
Empty double espresso coffee cup in Bouillon Julien

And it was also time for the next stop in our day trip.

We left, carefully avoiding the multiple wet umbrellas from other eaters, and tried to reassemble our layers before leaving the restaurant. Hard, as there were waiters coming and going with trays in every direction!

We were very positively impressed by the efficiency and professionality of the restaurant.

The waiter that served us was on it, we did not need to wave or emit flash lights to get things, the food and drinks came promptly, we were not pushed to rush eating after the service prevaricates on acknowledging our presence, everything was fairly priced… really impressive. How eating out should be (London restaurants, I am looking at you).

Bouillon Julien
16 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis
75010 Paris

Art deco floor tiles in Bouillon Julien, feet and plenty of umbrellas
Art nouveau floor tiles in Bouillon Julien, feet and plenty of umbrellas

And from here, to the Centre Pompidou.

Another 17 minutes walk (under, you guess it, the rain!) and we were facing the striking construction.

I had heard about a Posy Simmonds retrospective exhibition at the Bibliothèque Publique d’Information in the Centre Pompidou, and since I loved reading Cassandra Darke, and we were going to Paris, I figured this could be a fun thing to do while we were there!

Centre Pompidou
Centre Pompidou

Except that…

L’exposition est exceptionnellement fermée

Sign at the entrance of Posy Simmonds exhibition announcing a temporary closure
Sign at the entrance of Posy Simmonds exhibition announcing a temporary closure

DUUUUUUUH! No reason given, it was just fermée.

We peeked a bit from the distance, a bit unsure of what to do… but then we realised that there were copies of the actual comics in a table nearby.

So each of us grabbed a book, and sat down in comfy chairs to read them.

Reading Gemma Bovery at the Bibliotheque Publique d'Information in the Centre Pompidou
Reading Gemma Bovery

There was a point in “Gemma Bovery” in which I identified so strongly with the character, when they go to a bakery and Gemma basically almost explodes with the wafts and tastes of the French bread:

Panel from Posy Simmonds' "Gemma Bovery" - when they visit Boulangerie Joubert, and Gemma is entranced by the bread "Mmm...! God, this is serious bread! mmmmh! It tastes! ... tastes REAL"
Panel from Posy Simmonds’ “Gemma Bovery” – when they visit Boulangerie Joubert, and Gemma is entranced by the bread — “It tastes… REAL”

Followed by the lyrical declaration of Monsieur Joubert, the baker,

Monsieur Joubert explains his approach to making bread, "I make REAL bread, full of taste and texture, not white factory stuff... C'est la nature! ... la santé... la vie!"
“I make REAL bread, full of taste and texture, not white factory stuff…”

“it’s the nature! the health! The LIFE!”

Monsieur Joubert

… from which I understood he was declaring war on the Chorleywood process.

We might not have been able to see the exhibition, but we did get a lot out of our visit anyway!

The exhibition runs until the 1st of April, so maybe you should try and see it on our behalf!

Place Georges Pompidou
75004 Paris

And after that, it was time to actually visit a bakery and get another souvenir back home with us.

One of my favourite activities when visiting places is to bring nice bread back home, rather than trinkets or similar style of mementos. So I thought, how could I find the BEST bakery to visit in Paris? How do you get past tourist traps and manipulated rankings?

And then I had an idea: what about the bakers that contributed recipes to the “Sourdough pannetonne and viennoiserie” book I bought a few years ago? If someone can do sourdough sweets, I want to try those. Which led me to find the bakery of Christophe Louie.

I sent the link to his website to Devvers a few days ago and the only response was: “that is obscene“.

Of course we would visit this monument to bread obscenity.

We walked for another 17 minutes, crossing through the fancy Marais, and admiring that there were still shops that seemed independent, unlike in London where everything seems to have become a chain lately.

And we finally arrived to the bakery. In fact, we initially passed it, so inconspicuous it is, without a horde of idiots posing in front of it for their tiktok or whatever crap is trendy these days.

There were no sweet viennoiseries left at that time of the day, and perhaps we should have preordered a panettone or something, but I wasn’t sure we would make it to the bakery, so I hadn’t done that.

Still, we could buy half a loaf of bread—they are so big we had to be realistic and take only half, as we had no more “carrying” space.

500 grams of sourdough bread with grains and seeds, for 5.5 eur, less than £4.75, my bank statement says.

And they say Paris is expensive… try getting proper bread for that price in London, maybe you get a quarter of a loaf 🤣

I then realised Christopher himself was in the bakery, and I got so star struck and at the same time so positively shocked by the price, that I forgot to take a picture of the bakery.

In exchange, here’s a picture of the pretty flower display next door:

Pretty moss and plants in "Art & Nature" florist, 12 Rue Dupetit-Thouars
Pretty moss and plants in “Art & Nature” florist

If it wasn’t because a sign explicitly disallowed doing so, I would have lovingly caressed that moss ball! 😍

Christophe Louie
12 Rue Dupetit-Thouars
75003 Paris

And it was now time for the final stretch, back to the train station.

A good 30 minutes of walking in the rain awaited us, but we ploughed on, with the satisfaction of having read Posy Simmonds books and of bringing home such delicious treasures.

Rainy Place de la République
Rainy Place de la République

The last 10 minutes were a veritable test: steeper and full of mini waterfalls as the corners narrowed and channeled the flow of water and it then slid down the sides of the pavements. You had to choose: either puddle, or waterfall.

By then our feet were definitely wet (not just “damp”). But we would be back home in a few hours anyway…

We walked upstairs to the “Hall Londres”, a fancy way of calling a segregated area for countries that do not know how to cooperate with others. I thought of the time I just took a train from this very concourse to Brussels, and didn’t need to do anything else than getting aboard a train…

Gare du Nord concourse, from the Hall Londres
Gare du Nord concourse, from the Hall Londres

But I’m digressing.

After we went through the passport and security checks, we found a quiet area and comfy chairs, and sat down. And then it dawned on us: we were so tired!

I looked at my smart watch: we had walked like 15 kilometres! It’s quite a substantial amount. And I also find it more challenging when you’re encumbered with umbrellas, bags, avoiding people, puddles, and more specially, those metal poles to prevent cars parking on the pavement which could be DEADLY if you accidentally walk into them. Ouch!

I offered to get us some coffee so we would just… rest and do nothing, after doing so much the rest of the day!

I ended up choosing coffee from a place called “Super wild coffee”. Not sure what was so wild about it, but they seemed like the coffee would be a bit better than the coffee from other places. It was milky and frothy and so the perfect thing that we needed after all the walking (and the still wet feet).

Cappuccino from "Super Wild coffee" at the Hall Londres in Gare du Nord, Paris. The paper cup says "Je suis recyclable, triez moi!"
Cappuccino from “Super Wild coffee”

Boarding time approached and I was amused to see an old-fashioned Windows error overlaid on top of the rightful content. It had been a very long time since I had witnessed or experienced a RUNDLL32.EXE error and I was just giggling and wondering just what type of system is underneath those screens!

Rundll32.exe error in the Eurostar boarding screens
Rundll32.exe error in the Eurostar boarding screens

That said, compared with the “hall” in Brussels (more like “hell”), this waiting room was actually very pleasant. It felt like someone had actually thought about making it welcoming, rather than just containing a bunch of people temporarily in the cheapest possible way. I know they had been under construction for a while, so maybe this is what investment gets you! Who would have thought, eh?

Finally we boarded the train…

Our Eurostar train back to London, just before boarding!
Our Eurostar train back to London, just before boarding!

There was another very cold dinner onboard. This time, instead of coffee that tastes of airport we could have some wine. We chose a very inoffensive Cotes du Rhône, which, OK.

Dinner on the train back to London - a sort of cold salad with hummus, leeks, lentils, an ice cold bun, butter, a sort of pastry with chocolate cream
Dinner on the train back to London

The baked things would have enraged Monsieur Joubert. The crust of the sweet thing was flavourless. The “bun” could have been used for a game of pilota valenciana. Ce n’est pas la vie!

I lifted up the flap in my handbag to smell the bread from Christophe. The sourdough tang wafted up my nostrils—much better!

A while later, we were in St. Pancras again.

This time, with better views of Tracey’s neon… she still wants her time with us.

Back to St Pancras, Tracey Emin's neon is still there
Back to St Pancras, Tracey Emin’s neon is still there

You can guess what we had for breakfast the day after… Christophe’s bread!

Half bread loaf with grains, from Christophe Louie - "Artisan du vivant"
Half bread loaf with grains, from Christophe Louie – “Artisan du vivant”

And miraculously, we were able to hold on getting our hands on the chocolate until later in the day.

Brown chocolate box with orange bow on the corners. The text on the box is printed in silver ink and says "À la mère de familie - Maison fondée en 1761. Chocolatier - Glacier - Confiseur - Paris" and there's also a coat of arms
Brown chocolate box with orange bow from À la mère de famille
Assorted chocolate box from À la mère de famille - various shapes and finishes in pairs. Rounded, square, cylindrical, with pistaccio, sesame seeds, crocant, etc
Assorted chocolate box from À la mère de famille

Au revoir, Paris!

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