At the age of 22, I spent a glorious petite année in Paris. I truly had the time of my life which may have had something to do with Paris’ fantastic bar and club scene.
So when Momondo asked me to become a ‘local ambassador’ for Paris and share my favorite local haunts I thought there was no time like the present to finally share my favorite after-dark spots!
I find tourists often overlook Paris’ nightlife- which, it turns out, is on par with many other European capitals.
Rather than recommend specific bars, I want to highlight Paris’ top nightlife districts. And just for the record I’m more a fan of late-night bars than clubs, and I normally head to places where you don’t have to pay cover. (Yep, I was the quintessential broke au pair. No shame.)
So without further ado, I give you all of my favorite places to party in Paris.
How to get there: (Boulevard Poissonnière, metro stop Grand Boulevards)
Grands Boulevards is a hopping 9th arrondissement neighborhood with many large, multi-level bars and clubs lining Boulevard Poissonnière in Paris’ (a large percentage happen to be Irish pubs, for some unknown reason). Grands Boulevards is a great place to meet both expats and locals, and due to the proximity of all the clubs it’s easy to bar-hop there.
Tip- if you’re in Grands Boulevards during the day there are many beautiful 19th century arcades around such as Passage Jouffroy and La Galerie Vivienne.
How to get there: (Rue Oberkampf, metro stop Parmentier or Oberkampf)
Oberkampf is my absolute favorite place in Paris for a night out. It’s filled with trendy, mid-size bars big enough to dance in but intimate enough you can always find your friends. From top hits pop music at Café Charbon to sultry, jazz-dancing at L’Alimentation Générale, Oberkampf has a range of late-night dance spots frequented by a more mature crowd than Bastille or Grands Boulevards.
How to get there: (Rue de Lappe, metro stop Bastille or Ledru-Rollin)
Looking for a rowdy, early-twenty something party scene? Welcome to Bastille. On the Rue de Lappe the music is loud, the drinks are strong and the crowd is young, boisterous and slightly douchey. If you steer clear of Rue de Lappe you can find more grown-up spots like Barrio Latino- but be warned, the drinks are obscenely over-priced!
During the warmer months, the Seine is the ideal place to pre-game, socialize and practice your French. While I wouldn’t spend the entire night there, I would definitely head there around 10 p.m. with a few bottles of cider and a whole bunch of friends. Head to the quay near Notre Dame- it’s always bustling!
Important tips for going out in Paris:
The metro closes at 2 p.m. best it’s best to get there around 1:30 a.m., some lines close earlier than others. You can also take the Noctilien, Paris’ night bus.
Parisians dress fairly sharp when they go out but you still don’t need six-inch stilettos. (I used to wear booties or black suede boots- no dancing ’til dawn in painful heels for me!)
Pre-drink hard. In Paris drinks are expensive, at around eight euros a cocktail. They add up quickly!
Don’t feel ashamed if you indulge in a late-night Nutella sandwich… (It happens to the best of us.)
or a hangover-curing McDonalds feast the next morning.
On a final note this is basically the French version of my friends and I on a night out in Paris:
Where are your favorite places to party in Paris?
Psst! I’m now listed on bloglovin‘ so if you use a blog reader please follow me there!
After a year of thoroughly exploring the Paris restaurant scene, there was still one gaping hole in my virtual foodie CV- going out for a fancy meal. So for my last lunch in Paris, I headed to Pierre Sang with my Paris-based PIC, Edna.
And in the spirit of going all out on my last day in city, we opted for the 35-euro five-course menu. When in Paris, right? (more…)
The meal started off with the best butter I’ve ever had in my life- salt-flecked, creamy and soft. Yum.
Butter from Normandy= crack.
Next came the amuse-bouche. What I love about Pierre Sang is that the menu changes every day, and that the waitstaff will only tell you what you’re having after you’ve already eaten it… it’s kind of like rehab for picky eaters.
Which is how I ended up eating raw rabbit breast that I thought was squid. Oops.
Overall I was really impressed with the quality of food. Pierre Sang was born in South Korea and was adopted by a French family when he was seven, and I could definitely taste the blend of Eastern-Western flavors in his food. He uses Western ingredients but prepares them with an Asian respect to flavors: tangy, sweet, spicy and salty all at the same time.
The cheese course which our server actually forgot to bring so we reminded him after we had dessert… but he was so sweet we didn’t care!
A shot of the master himself- Pierre Sang!
Where is your favorite place to splurge in Paris?
So as y’all may have read I’m now 23! But I did want to tell you about the wonderful birthday party I had last week in Paris.
After a year of living with a host-family in France, I was seriously missing being able to host dinner parties. (I love dinner parties.) So when my good friends generously lent me their house for the weekend and okayed a dinner party at their place, I invited over my scant remaining friends in Paris and started cooking.
My French friends’ gorgeously designed abode
After an early-morning trip to the farmer’s market in town (how French!), I spent the rest of the day preparing my birthday menu and trying not to sweat to death. This year my birthday, July 21, fell smack-dab in the middle of a ninety-degree heat wave in a country that rarely has air-conditioning. Yay.
Once the guests arrived we raised a few obligatory toasts, after which I requested that we pray. Though I’m not a religious person, during my nine months in Europe I had never once held hands at the table and prayed. And I have to say, it felt good to send some thanks up to the heavens- I really do have so much to be thankful for!
For the main course I prepared Ina Garten’s lemon chicken with croutons, and as usual Ina didn’t let me down at all… it was tasty! With the chicken I served a butter lettuce salad with shallot vinaigrette, the same one I make everyday in France.
My lovely friends who made it to the party.
As the soundtrack of Manu Chao, Gotan Project and Jacques Brel played on, I served up the cheese course: salers, bleu d’auvergne and chèvre.
We finished off the meal with a super-simple financier, or almond cake which I paired with a home-made apricot sauce. While I love cooking, I hate baking so I make this easy cake every time I have a dinner party.
While my other friends left to catch the last metro, Edna stayed over for a mojito nightcap and some late-night girl talk.
And when the couple who let me borrow the house came back from vacation, we had a lovely laughter-filled dinner out on the terrace. Then my favorite French couple gifted me a beautiful shamrock necklace, which they said was “to bring you luck on your travels.” So sweet.
And while a small dinner party was quite a departure from last year’s birthday celebrations, it was exactly what I wanted.
What do you like to do for your birthday?
Despite the utter lack of air-conditioning, Paris is a wonderful city in the summer. From the white-sand beaches on the Seine to the irresistible summer sales, there’s always something to pique your interest in the sunnier months.
So without further ado, here are some of my favorite ways to beat ze ‘eat. (See what I did there?) (more…)
Head to the Museums for Art and AC
One way to beat the heat is to cool down at one of Paris’ many museums. My favorites are Pompidou (contemporary art and amazing views from the top floor), the Grand Palais (incredible single-artist exhibitions from Anish Kapoor to Edward Hopper) and the Musée d’Orsay (Impressionist art in a former train station).
The Dynamo exhibition at the Grand Palais
Feast on Falafel on the Rue des Rosiers
Though Paris isn’t a city known for street food, one great place for cheap, tasty eats is the Rue des Rosiers. The Rue des Rosiers is a pedestrian-only street in the heart of Le Marais that serves up lots of traditional Jewish food.
As I’ve mentioned before, I love the 5.50 euro falafel sandwiches at L’As du Fallafel- they’re filling, spicy and made with the freshest falafel this side of Beirut.
And after tasting both the shawarma (meat-filled sandwich) and the falafel (fried chickpea sandwich), I can say with full confidence that falafel is much tastier, so go vegetarian for this meal!
A shawarma sandwich at L’As du Fallafel
Cool Down with Gelato or Frozen Yogurt
There’s no happiness like a gelato-filled cornet (ice cream cone) on a sweltering summer day- and lucky for glace lovers, Paris is not lacking in gourmet ice cream options.
While I enjoyed the apricot gelato I tasted at Grom, Pozzetto is the best in town. Per C’est Christine’s recommendation, I ordered the milk and pistachio gelato in a cup and it was so, so good. My only regret is that I tried it on my last day in Paris!
Another delicious gelato shop in Paris is chain-shop Amorino- their Nutella gelato is addictive! And if you’re seeking to sate your sweet tooth while staying slim, check out myberry, a top-notch frozen yogurt shop in Le Marais.
Drink a Belgian White
While beer in Paris is shamefully expensive (such a problem for beer aficionadas like yours truly), in the summer heat I manage to set aside seven or so euros to splurge on an ice-cold Belgian white.
Sunbathe and People-watch in the Luxembourg Gardens
Despite my Anglo inability to acquire a tan, I still love coming to the Luxembourg Gardens to soak up a bit of soleil and hang out with my girlfriends. For an extra-special afternoon, bring a bottle of cold champagne and a Bill Bryson book. For free entertainment, enjoy some prime Parisian people-watching.
Bubbly AND Bill Bryson? Why yes please.
Shop the Soldes
The soldes are a biannual government-mandated sale in which stores mark items down 30% off or more. And while I didn’t buy anything this year (saving up for Asia is the bane of my life, ugh), someday I will come back to Paris specifically for the amazing summer sales.
Shoes I wanted but sadly couldn’t afford at my favorite French shoe shop, Minelli
Lay Out at Paris Plage
Despite this being my fifth summer visiting Paris, this was the first time I was in town for Paris Plage and I’m so glad I could finally make it! For several weeks in July and August the city closes down the two highways along the Seine and turns them into a public beach. But this isn’t some lame sandpit, as I had previously thought- it’s a well-designed promenade of beaches, playgrounds, cafés and bars where city-goers flock for a bit of fun in the sun.
One tip- bring a towel if you want to lay out because beach chairs are often hard to come by.
Chow Down on Chipotle
Is it wrong that on my second-to-last day in Paris I had lunch at Chipotle, the Mexican-American restaurant chain? Probably. But as there are only two Chipotles in Europe (London and Paris) and I was combatting a mild hangover post-birthday, I felt justified in finally trying it.
Though the burritos are pricier than in the states (9 euros, or about $12), it was so worth paying the price for a spicy taste of home in a city that’s short on Mexican food. (Though I really do love Candelaria as well!)
Fun fact- Chipotle Paris serves margaritas. They’re aren’t very good, but still- isn’t that cool?
Enjoy a Late-Night on the Seine
Forget everything I said about language exchanges- if you want to practice your French, head to the Seine at dusk with a bottle of cheap cider. I made some of my best memories from this year were on the quays of the Seine, chatting with strangers, laughing with friends and sharing lukewarm whiskey-beer on the cobblestones.
My favorite event of the year was definitely the Firemen’s Ball- because who doesn’t love cheap beer and sexy firefighters?
To plan your own summer in Paris extravaganza, here’s a map I made with all of the places I mentioned. [Paris in the Summer]
What is your favorite thing to do in Paris in the summer?
After spending a year lunching in the city of lights, I’d like to say I know my way around the food scene pretty well. Here are my nine favorite lunch spots in Paris that I visit again and again and where I send friends and family who plan to visit the city. (more…)
Le Comptoir du Relais – French
Not to sound like a Zagat guide or anything, but this is classic French bistro food with a modern twist, all at an affordable price. If you’re feeling peckish before or after dinner head to next door to l’Avant Comptoir for crêpes and tapas.
Breizh Café – Crêperie
Well, I guess all the hype is worth it because Breizh Café really does have amazing salted butter caramel crêpes. Though I don’t love quite the ambiance (there are just way too many tourists and fellow English speakers afoot), it makes a great stop between shopping and strolling in Le Marais.
For more info here’s my full review of Breizh Café.
Info: yelp // website
Frenchie To Go – American
Feeling homesick for the good ol’ U.S. of A.? Come to Frenchie for lunch. It’s known in the expat community as a great place to snack on some of your favorite anglo-eats like cheesecake, doughnuts, pickles and maple smoked bacon. Also- Please. Eat. The. Lobster. Roll. (But if you can’t afford the 23 euro price, the pulled pork sandwich is pretty good too.)
Info: yelp // website
Candelaria – Mexican
If you ask me, a life without Mexican food is not life. Which is why I was so happy to find an authentic Mexican restaurant in Paris. This tiny place made me actually feel like I was in Mexico: the shabby counter, the slowly revolving fan, the Spanish-speaking owners. The only non-Mexican aspect is the Parisian prices- at three euros a taco, you will feel like you south of the border until just before you get the bill.
Info: yelp // website
Le Relais de l’Entrecôte - French
Free refills on beverages may not exist in France, but evidently, free refills on steak frites do. Le Relais de l’Entrecôte serves some of the best steak frites in the city, and at 27 euros for two orders, it’s not a bad deal. While the tender meat and the crispy fries are delicious,what really makes the meal special is the parsley butter sauce, or as I think it should be called, What-in-God’s-name-is-this-I-would-give-my-first-born-for-some-more sauce.
Info: yelp // website
Rue Sainte-Anne – Japanese
Want to hear a random fact about Parisians? They’re obsessed with sushi and Japanese food. (I suspect it’s for the low-carb aspect, ahem.) So do like the Parisians do and come to the Rue Saint-Anne for your Asian fix- I would particularly recommend a steaming bowl of ramen or some Japanese curry.
Dawa – Korean
There’s nothing that warms up a bitingly cold winter day like a hot bowl of bimbimbap- and as Edna showed me, Dawa is the place to get it. Though I am not terribly well-acquainted with Korean food (something I need to remedy immediately!), the food at Dawa struck me as authentic, reasonably priced and obviously, extremely yummy.
Rue des Rosiers- Falafel sandwich
Oh, dear. How many times can the falafel on the Rue de Rosiers be blogged about? But really, there’s a reason why most Paris foodies will direct you to the Rue des Rosiers- there’s just nowhere else in Paris to get such fresh, inexpensive falafel topped with topped with cabbage, eggplant and spicy harissa sauce. While L’As du Fallafel is the most famous restaurant on the street, I’ve tried most of the falafel on the street and it’s basically the same everywhere.
Nameless French Bistro
When in doubt in Paris, just got for the classics. This is a salade de chèvre chaud I tried at a little bistro near the Place des Vosges. All it consists of is butter lettuce, tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, shallot vinaigrette and baguette with goat cheese, and it’s one of my favorite dishes in the world- which goes to show you sometimes simple really is best.
What is your favorite lunch spot in the city of lights?
Bastille Day, or le quatorze juillet, commemorates the end of the monarchy in France and the beginning of a kingless French republic.
For the first time ever, I got to celebrate under the “bleu, blanc et rouge” of my adopted home country, and take part in the trifecta that makes up Bastille Day weekend: the Firemen’s Ball on Saturday night, the Military Parade on Sunday morning and the fireworks on Sunday night. (Well um… I actually didn’t end up going to the military parade but more on that later.)
Firemen’s Ball (Bal de Pompiers)
What happens when you take a Parisian fire station and fill it with handsome firefighters, cheap beer and patriotic partygoers? Good things, mes amis.
Each arrondissement hosts its own firemen’s ball, but we chose to attend the first arrondissement’s near Les Halles. The party was free to enter with a recommended donation.
The vibe was amazing with patriotically colored lights, a live band and well-muscled firefighters around every corner. From the Heineken beer cans to the warm weather to the red, white and blue it honestly felt like a fourth of July barbecue. Minus the barbecue, of course.
The two beverages of choice were either a 40-euro bottle of champagne or a three-euro can of beer. Ergo the following picture…
Three-euro beers? Why yes, merci.
Question: does anyone know why both the police and firefighters in France are so devilishly handsome?
After a too-short partying sesh we left early to meet up with the French guy my friend is seeing. From there we headed to Café Oz, where we danced on picnic tables and threw back mojitos until dawn.
I love Café Oz because of its faithful devotion to the golden period of music from 2002-2004: think lots of N.E.R.D., Nelly and Outkast. And in relation to Bastille Day, all I can say is that every time Missy Elliot comes on I dance like it’s my national duty.
Spoiler alert- when you have plans to attend a military parade at 10 a.m. but take the first metro home at 5:30 a.m., you miss the military parade. But, if you’re ever in the area, I’ve heard the Bastille Day military parade is quite the spectacle- in fact Wikipedia tells me it’s the oldest regular military parade in the world! (And shame on me for missing it, ugh.)
On Sunday night I met up with another friend to watch the fireworks from Trocadéro. As we arrived before the fireworks show started, we watched the crowd pull out their iPhones and ooh-and-ah with delight when the Eiffel Tower lit up.
And I must admit- it is rather dazzling, isn’t it?
Soon after, the real show began.
While the show was beautiful, watching the fireworks from Trocadéro probably wasn’t the best idea- there were times when we literally couldn’t move in the crowd, and when fellow spectators got a little too frisky. (Or in the case of the one guy who grabbed my hips and pulled me close to him shall we put it delicately, wayyy too frisky. Vom.)
Honestly seeing the fireworks explode across the night sky made me homesick for my own country’s Fête de la Fédération. I’ve been battling with homesick a lot lately now that most of my friends are gone and am counting the days until I go home. (Eight, for your information.)
The overall scene was mildly reminiscent of a war zone: loud bangs, suffocating crowds and people sprinting everywhere. The festivities left Rachel and I half-joking about having post-traumatic Bastille Day syndrome.
But overall it was fun to see a country that isn’t known for being patriotic (I don’t know a single French person who would hang a flag outside their house for example) brandish a little pride for their wonderful nation.
Parisinfo.com does a yearly arrondissement guide for the Firemen’s Ball so google that before you go to find a partying fire station in your area.
It’s best to spot the fireworks from afar rather than up close- so rather than the Champs de Mars or Trocadéro, head to somewhere faraway and high-up like Edna did last year.
Have you ever experienced Bastille Day in France?
Like any Frenchman worth his sel, my French host dad loves wine. On any given night we might be uncorking a 1997 Côtes du Rhône or pulling an award-winning Rioja out of the cave à vin. And as someone who once felt that yellow tail was a splurge, I’m not sure I deserve all of this well-aged goodness. (more…)
But thanks to my host dad I really have gotten a wine education this year, and have learned a lot about wine pairings, varietals and growing regions. So without further ado, here is what I have learned about wine after a year in France.
1. White wine is better with cheese. In fact, never drink red wine with cheese.
2. When it comes to wine pairings, it’s best to choose a wine that comes from the same region as the dish. For example, if you are cooking a boeuf bourguignon, which comes from Burgundy, pair the dish with a Burgundy wine.
3. When pairing a wine, consider the dish’s sauce- if it’s a white sauce, like blanquette de veau, pair it with a white wine. If the dish has a dark sauce, pair it with a red wine.
A rooster dish that I braised in Côtes du Rhône. So for the meal I served it with… the same Côtes du Rhône.
4. If wine is used in the dish, serve the same wine alongside it.
5. Wine and chocolate do NOT go together, contrary to common belief.
Map of the principal wine regions in France, source
6. The top five wine regions in France, in terms of quality, are traditionally Bordeaux, Champagne, Burgundy, the Loire Valley and the Rhône Valley.
7. There is such a thing as white burgundy by the way, and it’s delicious. (Bourgogne Blanc)
8. Wine qualifications are extremely complicated, but as a rule of thumb grand cru is a qualification for the best-quality wines in the region. In most regions premier cru is one ranking below grand cru. (Both of which fall into the category of wines I definitely can’t afford.)
9. French wine is much cheaper than American wine because it’s not taxed to death. You can buy a passable bottle of wine here for 2 or 3 euros, and a great one for less than 10.
10. Wine, baguettes and cheese are all completely reasonable pre-gaming selections. In France we rarely pre-drink with beer because wine is worlds cheaper.
11. Only sparkling wine that comes from Champagne, the wine region, should be called champagne. Random fact- French people often refer to champagne as “champ.”
12. On the third Thursday of November the year’s supply of Beaujolais Nouveau is released to great fanfare. And even though it’s sold everywhere on that Thursday, no one actually thinks Beaujolais Noveau is a high-quality wine because it’s young and inexpensive. (It’s good enough for me though!)
13. Serious winos know which years were good wine years by heart. Apparently 2005 was a good wine year, for example.
14. If a French person asks you if you’d like a glass of wine, say “volontiers”, not “bien sûr.” In this context bien sûr means, “obviously”, as in, “Obviously I want some wine, don’t you know I drink allll the time?” P.S. I learned this the hard way.
15. Terroir is the unique combination of natural factors that affect a wine or food product: soil, rock, altitude, sun, etc. Even in the same area, no two vineyards have exactly the same terroir. As Wikipedia wisely states, “In other words: when the same grape variety is planted in different regions, it can produce wines that are significantly different from each other.”
I love that this is such a French concept that there isn’t even a word for it in the English language.
My French Wine Region Cheat Sheet (also known as French Wine for Dummies):
Alsace: Lots of crisp white wines like Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot gris and Pinot blanc, and sweet white wine like Muscat.
Armagnac: Where Armagnac comes from, a brandy I like to use for flambé-ing.
Bordeaux: Very high-quality wines, mostly red. The red wines produced are usually blended, from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and sometimes Cabernet Franc.
Bourgogne (Burgundy): Very high-quality wines, lots of grand cru, both red and wine produced. Chablis and Beaujolais are also produced in Burgundy.
Champagne: Where the best bubbly comes from of course!
Cognac: Where Cognac comes from, the famous brandy.
Languedoc-Roussillon: The largest French wine region in terms of vineyard surface and production, so it is where most of France’s cheap bulk wines are produced.
Provence: Rosé, rosé, rosé!
Loire Valley: Great wines, mostly white.
Rhône Valley: My personal favorite for red wines. The most famous appelation from this region is Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
Do you enjoy French wine? Which one if your favorite?
I have a confession. I didn’t love you at first. And I’m not really sure why. (more…)
Maybe it’s because I associated you with loneliness, as I spent my first three Parisian summers wandering the cobblestone streets by myself. Or maybe it’s because I thought you were cold and uptight, that your citizens were too effortlessly perfect. Maybe it’s because everyone else seems to love you, and I didn’t want to form a part of the swooning, Eiffel Tower-adoring masses.
But now, I know that I love you. We’ve been through a lot together, Paris. I’ve watched you move through each season. I’ve seen you without your make-up on, so to speak.
I arrived in the fall, when the markets proudly displayed whole mallard ducks and chestnuts fresh from the tree. I was there during the grey, drizzly days of winter, when I tucked into a plate of Japanese curry with kimchi on the Rue Saint-Anne. I was there when snow dusted the roofs of Montmartre, when spring came seemingly overnight and the pollarded trees budded green. I was there in summer when I downed cheap cider on the banks of the Seine until three in the morning, the glass bottle cold against my fingers. I was there on the 90-degree days, when I laid on the grass at Parc Buttes Chaumont with friends, munching on chips and squinting under the summer sun.
I was there when the bakers put crowned cakes in the windows. I was there for Labor Day when lily of the valley was sold on every corner, the flowers like delicate, white bells. I was there for Gay Pride, when young people draped in rainbow flags celebrated in the streets, when the banners proclaimed “LA REPUBLIQUE A DIT OUI”, when pink balloons drifted in the air, bright against the robin-egg blue sky.
And the people who say you’re dead, that the artists and writers are gone and you’re just a monument to the past?
They don’t see the Senegalese women on the metro, walking tall in Kente cloth, squabbling in their singsong French. They don’t know where to find the best challah in Le Marais, golden and braided in the window. They don’t know how to make quiche lorraine by scratch, or how you should leave in the pits for the best apricot jam. They don’t know how many meanings “sympa” can have, or what the inside of a studio apartment in La Goutte d’Or look like or what the best route is from Montmartre to the river. They don’t know you like I do.
You’re alive, they just don’t know where to look.
Dear Paris, thank you for the beautiful memories.
Thank you for the night I sang Jacques Brel in the street with two French boys under the moonlight.
Thank you for the moment I watched candles light a friend’s face on her 24th birthday.
Thank you for the dim sum breakfasts when I was hungover, all the way out in the 14th.
Thank you for red wine pre-drinking sessions on the RER, for the smile on my little sister’s face when she tasted her first tarte au citron.
Thank you for leafy, refreshing salade verte, thank you for salted butter caramel crepes, thank you for blue-tinged logs of chevre with the piece of straw inside.
Thank you for teaching me your language and showing me your streets and giving me a home.
Dear Paris, I think I finally love you. Thank you for a wonderful year together. And may the last three weeks together be the best yet.
Last weekend, I escaped Paris to visit my friend Laura’s horse farm in the south of France. It was a weekend of muddy wellies, Earl Grey, good friends and big laughs.
Laura, who hails from the north of England, has an English mother and French father who run a horse-riding school near Limoges. And even though I was staying in the heart of French horse country, I honestly felt like I was in England, from the endless cuppas to the delightful colloquialisms of the north.
Here are my favorite moments from my weekend away.
Exploring little French towns
The nearest village, Confolens, has all the trappings of a typical French town: the church steeple rising above the buildings, the oh-so-French shutters, the little specialized shops like the boulangerie and charcutier.
But was truly makes Confolens special is the beautiful bridge across the riverfront which I photographed incessantly. One thing I’ll miss about France is stumbling upon such picturesque towns that no one else has ever heard of. How can this not be a tourist destination?
My Very First Fish and Chips
After a bit of sight-seeing we stopped by the local chip shop which stuck out like a sore Anglo thumb in such a French town. Though I was iffy about trying a dish I had previously deemed “grease on grease”, I was strongly urged to taste the cod. “Here they do a real northern crust,” said Laura’s mother.
Evidently I was very excited to try fish and chips…
The verdict? Delicious. As a seafood lover with a hot-fries-and-Heinz guilty pleasure, I really enjoyed it, though afterwards all I wanted a long nap and a shower.
During the meal we started talking about the comfort of eating food from your home country after a long trip away. When asked what I most missed from the states, I admitted, “I know this is a total cliché but sometimes I would just really like a good burger.” True dat, y’all.
One of my French bucket list items was to buy a set of old-fashioned champagne glasses. But due to budgeting concerns for my up-coming trip and the fact that I don’t technically have a residence, I decided not to purchase the beautiful set pictured below. Saving up sucks.
But we did stumble upon some other treasures like a Mad Hatter top hat…
and fashion magazines from the 1920s. And even though we didn’t buy anything, it was still fun to come across treasures and trinkets from another era.
Getting a Taste of Farm Life
Laura’s farm is a veritable menagerie with chickens, ponies, horses, donkeys, pigs, doves, dogs and cats. I loved being able to spend a few days getting some one-on-one time with the animals and breathing some fresh country air into my lungs.
Hearing the War Stories of a 90-Year Old French WWII Vet
One of the highlights of the trip was chatting with Laura’s surrogate grandfather, Georges, over pineau and madeleines. After offering us a drink, Georges told us about the tribulations he had faced as a young soldier fighting the Germans, or as he called them, the “Boschs.”
The most horrific thing Georges told us about was the massacre in the nearby village Oradour-sur-Glane. On June 10th, 1944, four days after D-Day, a German Waffen-SS company locked up several hundred women and children in the town church and burned it to the ground. Any who tried to escape the church were then met with machine gun fire. The men were brutally murdered in several nearby barns and then burned as well.
“I could smell the burning bodies from my house,” George told us.
When my friends told Georges that I was American, he gasped. “Une vraie americaine?” A real American? He then proceeded to tell me how grateful he was for the Americans because they had “dropped parachutes full of chickens and supplies” during the war.
And though he told us that he had seen many miseries in his life, it amazed me that Georges was such a jovial person, laughing and drinking with such a broad smile on his face.
Before we left, he gave my two English friends many kisses, “Mes petites anglaises ! Vous m’avez sauvé la vie.” My little English girls! You saved my life.
Home-cooked, Farm-fresh Meals
Over the weekend we demolished lots of goodies, like a large jar of homemade strawberry-rhubarb jam and lord knows how much baguette. And while I’m lucky to enjoy lots of home-cooked meals here in France, it was wonderful dining on home-cooked food straight from the farm.
And never in my life have I looked up from washing dishes and seen five horses galloping past- country life at its finest.
One of my favorite adrenaline rushes in the world is the one you get from galloping on a horse, so it was such a joy to be able to ride all weekend! But I must say I have never felt like such a Yankee as when I grabbed the reins with one hand, as you do with a Western saddle.
Laura has been riding since she was a little girl and has competed for years, so it was fun to finally she her jump. And by the end of the weekend I was finally getting the hang of riding with an English saddle.
Good Times with Good Friends.
Over the year I’ve spent in Paris, I’ve made some absolutely incredible friends. And though it pains me to admit, I only have a few weeks left with them. (At least until we cross paths again!)
So it was wonderful to spend some quality time together without watching the clock: rocking out to Dizzee Rascal in the car, strolling the countryside with the dogs and munching on orange-flavored biscuits and tea while watching Spice World on VHS.
In more ways than one, this weekend was a breath of fresh air. It was exactly what I needed.
Have you ever visited the French countryside?
While I may not be the sportiest/most adventurous of bloggers, I am really into tennis and used to play varsity in high school. So when a family friend visiting Paris asked me, “Do you like tennis? How would you like my extra ticket to the French Open quarterfinals?” I actually had tears in my eyes. (more…)
Can you spot baby tennis-playing Ashley in this picture?
As the daughter of two very skilled tennis players, I grew up watching the French Open every summer, idolizing tennis greats like Martina Hingis, Andre Agassi and the Williams sisters. But I truly never dreamed I would see the red clay of the French Open in person.
For all the non-tennis fanatics out there: the French Open is one of the four Grand Slam tournaments, which include the French Open, Wimbledon, the Australian Open and the US Open.
From left to right- the flags of all the countries that host Grand Slam tournaments: France, the U.K., the U.S. and Australia (not pictured). Incidentally it was the first time I noticed that these countries’ flags all share red, white and blue as common colors.
The first match was Victoria Azarenka v. Maria Kirilenko. I knew Azarenka was playing before even stepping into the arena, considering I could hear her ghoulish moan from a half-mile away. “Bah-woo!”
I had to wait for my seat as you’re only allowed to enter the stadium every two games when the players switch sides. I stood there tapping my feet like a little kid, eager to see some balls fly. I had come prepared with three camera lenses, a chilled bottle of lemon-ginger water and a generous coat of sunscreen. I was ready.
Luckily, the seat was worth the wait: tenth row, shaded and smack-dab in the middle of the stadium.
While I bought at telephoto lens before leaving for France, I had never had a good reason to put it to use. Now was the moment. I switched it to sports-mode to get a rapid-fire shots of the players in motion, as well as score some close-ups. With the aid of the telephoto lens I could see the tiniest details, from the the glint of Kirilenko’s gold watch to Azarenka’s face squinting in the sun. “Bah-woo!”
As I had predicted, watching the French Open in person was so much more fun than seeing it on TV. I loved being privy to all of the little behind-the-scenes moments: Azarenka practicing her serves between games, the young ball-boy carefully holding an umbrella over the players between games, the sound of Kirilenko’s racket hitting her shoe to knock out the red clay.
Considering the French Open is held in Paris, most of the spectators around me were French. I loved eavesdropping on their Gallic observations, “Elle est prête !” “Allez, Maria !”
During the first set’s tense tie-breaker, my fellow spectacteurs had a field day arguing about the ball calls. “Ouais, elle était bonne.” “Putain, ooh la la…”
When Azarenka hit an amazing overhead and Kirilenko threw her racket trying to receive it, the older lady behind me scoffed, “C’est pas bon, ca.”
Listening to the Francophone loudspeaker was also a joy. “Quarante-treinte.” “Avantage, Mademoiselle Kirilenko.” “Égalité.” Apparently “deuce”, or 40-40, is “égalité” in French (equality). Tennis did originate in France, after all.
Azarenka won, and we watched the players “faire la bise” (kiss each other on each cheek) at the net, which I found to be a very sweet gesture.
At her post-victory interview, Azarenka revealed her love for a certain dance song.
“What do you enjoy most about being in France? What do you like about French culture?”
“I like Paris and I like that song Alors On Danse.” Me too, Azarenka, me too.
The sweaty crowds outside of the stadium reminded me of why tennis is one of the only sports I enjoy watching in person- it has a more civilized feel, with white hats, polite clapping and an ample amount of personal space. (Football games are a claustrophobic person’s worse nightmare, fyi.)
For the second match, my friend and I decided to switch tickets, so I made my way to the Phillipe Chartrier stadium for the men’s match: Rafael Nadal v. Stanislas Wawrinka.
I’ll be the first to admit that Rafa is my favorite tennis player. Not only is he a fellow southpaw (lefty pride!), I studied on his home island of Mallorca, where my host-mom was actually friends with his grandparents. Also, boy is really, really fine.
Watching Rafa play tennis is truly like watching a bullfighter. I’ve truly never encountered a human being with so much testosterone. I thought at any moment he was about to leap over the net and strangle his opponent.
But truly, the real joy of watching Rafa is the drama: Rafa sprinting to the net to hit an artistically crafted drop shot, serving up aces, blasting off a left-handed forehand that I can only describe as “gorgeous.”
Rafa is a man of feverish fans- at the match his supporters shouted words of encouragement in a myriad of languages. “Rafa, es tuyo!” “Allez, Rafa!” “You got this, Rafa!” (The last one may have been me.)
One thing that mildly baffled me was his bizarre, borderline obsessive compulsive ritual before each point: tucking his hair behind his ears and then unceremoniously picking a wedgie. His fans don’t mind though, apparently.
And Rafa wins!
I left that day feeling blissed out, lightly sunburnt and inspired to play much more tennis. And google Rafa, perhaps.
Have you ever watched the French Open or other professional tennis matches?
Thank you so much Joe for offering me the ticket and making one of my lifelong dreams come true, I seriously can’t thank you enough!