Aside from the sights and sounds of a foreign city, my favourite thing about traveling is trying the local foods and experiencing the different tastes and textures of the dishes. For every trip I plan, I spend hours researching the best restaurants and cafés to go to. It’s usually easier when you know a local, but it is perhaps a higher risk for a higher reward when you don’t.
Of course, there are times when I just pick the first eating establishment I see when I’m hungry and hope for the best – but in a place like Europe, how wrong can you really go?
Day 2 of our trip was very much about eating good French food (although our “brunch” will surprise you after having said this), along with discovering the south side of La Seine, beautiful gardens, and visiting some of Paris’s most well-known monuments.
Jetlagged and exhausted from the first day of our trip, we had a late start to our Saturday. Meaning to wander around the south side of La Seine that day, we headed over to Gare d’Austerlitz and decided to grab a simple “brunch” at… McDonald’s.
I typically consider it a bit of a faux pas to eat at a North American fast food chain while overseas, but we were starved and hadn’t spied a café nearby, so we ducked in to good ol’ McD’s. All things considered, they were serving macarons in the McCafé, so at least there was some local flavour injected into the establishment???..!
We were pretty impressed with these EasyOrder terminals that enabled us to select our meals, pay, and simply walk over to the pick-up counter to grab our food, instead of standing in the long lines to order in person. Then again, I think it took us even longer to figure it out! But still, we were intrigued and definitely think they should start rolling these out in Canada.
After our quick meal of burgers, fries, and chocolate sundaes, we picked up a couple of postcards at a magazine stand before descending into the Metro. Here’s a quick snap of my brother and me before hopping on. Something I thought was really interesting (that I didn’t notice last time I was there) – most of the train doors have latches or buttons that you have to manually press to open the doors and get on or off. Energy saving? Or just unnecessary? Nonetheless, I was amused.
After a quick Metro ride, we resurfaced at Cluny – La Sorbonne and walked through the narrow streets in the area, peeking into the storefronts and admiring the buildings.
North of the river, we could see one of our destinations from the previous day: the Notre Dame Cathedral.
Also in the area is the well-known bookstore, Shakespeare and Company. The original Shakespeare & Co. bookshop was a local haunt for some famous writers, such as Ernest Hemingway and James Joyce. It closed during World War II and never re-opened, but the one you see here was opened in the early 1950’s as a tribute to the original. It’s also been a location for some popular films, like one of my all-time favourites, Midnight in Paris.
As directed by my father: “Go and walk out of this alley so it looks like you’re a local leaving your apartment.”
We continued our self-led walking tour all along Boulevard Saint-Germain, one of the main roads in the city. We passed a ton of shops and restaurants; it was very much like being in the core downtown district, bustling with people and cars and away from the typical sightseeing attractions.
When we hit Rue Bonaparte, we started heading further south towards Jardin du Luxembourg.
Little side anecdote: I’ve worn glasses since I was eight years old. That means I’ve had them on my face for sixteen years and I had never actually even seen my teenage face without glasses (at least, not unless I was taking a weird selfie of myself without them). Prior to this trip, I made the long-awaited decision to finally take the “plunge” and get contact lenses. Why? Because, damnit, I really wanted to wear sunglasses, and what better time to debut them than on a sweet trip to Europe?
Well, my brother has also been wearing glasses for several years, and he decided to also get contacts. So here we are: two kids looking too cool for school in their shades. It’s about damn time!
On the way to the gardens, we had to make a pit-stop at one of the places I’ve been dying to go back to since my last trip to Paris: Pierre Hermé. Hermé is one of the most famous French pastry chefs, best known for his macarons. If you know me at all, you know I’m obsessed with macarons, so visiting one of these patisseries is a must while in France.
Just look at these beautiful pastries. It was absolutely worth the time to stand in line at this packed shop to pick up some delicious goodies. But more on this in a moment…
My Outfit of the Day:
Romper – Express, Sandals – Topshop, Sunglasses – Ardene
We walked a little further and arrived at my favourite garden in the city, Jardin du Luxembourg. From the perfectly manicured lawns to the uniquely trimmed trees and the bursting bright colourful flowers, it’s an absolutely beautiful place. When I was last here, I was so relaxed and loving life that I full on fell asleep while lying on the grass with Michelle. The garden spans a wide expanse of land, and is home to a host of sculptures, an orchard, a puppet theatre, fountains, and more. In the large pool in front of the Palais du Luxembourg, kids can rent sail boats and play with them, and all along the pathways, there are chairs and benches for people to lounge on.
And as we did last time, we had treats to enjoy from Pierre Hermé as we sat and soaked in the loveliness of the garden.
The Montebello: dacquoise pistachio biscuit, pistachio mousseline cream, and raspberries. A perfect combination of fruit, cream, and pastry.
And of course…
Macarons: mogador (milk chocolate & passionfruit), infiniment rose (rose & rose petal), infiniment pistache, infiniment caramel, chocolat porcelana, velouté framboise (yoghurt & raspberry), and velouté citron vert (yoghurt & lime zest).
Biting into one of these is like biting into heaven. I try to treat myself to macarons while at home every once in a while, but nothing tastes as good as the real thing from Paris. My mouth is watering just thinking about them now.
After our resting time in the garden, we continued on our trek and walked over to the Pantheon.
Although the dome was under construction, we could still admire the grand columns of the building, marking the entryway to the mausoleum – the final resting place for many well-known names, like Voltaire, Rousseau, and Victor Hugo.
A big guy with some even bigger columns.
Behind the museum, we spotted the Saint-Étienne-du-Mont church.
After taking a few more photos of the area, we walked back over to the Jardin du Luxembourg to hop onto the Metro that would take us further south to see the Tour Montparnasse. Until only a couple of years ago, this skyscraper was the tallest in France. We also heard that the restaurant at the top of the building has an amazing view, but decided to try it next time.
Instead, I had booked us a dinner reservation at Bistrotters, a cute bistro located south of Montparnasse and right by the Plaisance Metro stop. I was exceptionally eager for this meal, as I had found it via TripAdvisor, where it’s listed as the #4 restaurant in Paris. Upon inspection of that list, you can quickly surmise that a) most of them are quite pricey and b) whether the food is actually any good can be a pretty big hit or miss.
But I was convinced that this was a good choice just by clicking through to their website, and I’m happy to report that our meal surpassed all of my expectations.
Upon arrival, we were greeted by François, the owner and head waiter of the establishment, who was extremely welcoming (and extremely cute). You can actually take in the whole restaurant in one glance, as the space is relatively small, but lends to a very intimate and cozy dining space, well-lit by the large street-facing windows. There are also chalkboards indicating the menu in French and a display of culinary books that I really wanted to browse through.
But the space and the waiters weren’t the only visually appealing things in this restaurant. The food was well-presented and delicious. Let me show you…
To start, I ordered the Vegetable Tart from the prix fixe menu, which was exceptionally massive. I can’t remember exactly what was in it anymore, but I believe there were carrots, radishes, and peas wrapped in yellow zucchini with a delicious crust base. I was too busy devouring it to inspect its contents!
For a few extra euros, my dad ordered The Bistrotter’s Foie Gras. Creamy, rich, and delicious. So worth the extra money and definitely some of the best foie gras we’ve ever had.
Kelvin had the Marinated Salmon Terrine with dollops of goat cheese and confits vegetables to start, which was equally yummy.
For the main, Kelvin and I both had the Crispy Pork Belly with Fennel and Cider. The meat was warm and seemed to melt in my mouth, and just thinking about that sauce is making my mouth water.
My dad ordered the Lamb Saddle with Dates, Sultanas, and Almonds, paired with a red wine that François recommended.
And, finally, dessert. My dad ordered the Peach Crumble with Ginger Ice Cream.
Kelvin and I had the Saint-Nectaire Fermier Cheesecake, which was super soft and creamy, and the cherries were especially plump and sweet.
All-in-all, we had an amazing meal with great service. I highly recommend everyone visit this restaurant. They have only been open for under two years and are constantly fully-booked, but tucked away enough that I would still consider them as a hidden gem. You won’t regret it.
After dinner, we hopped back onto the Metro and headed up to the Arc de Triomphe to see it at night. The line took us to the Miromesnil stop, but after our big meal, we were happy for the chance to walk it off.
The Arc is the centre of a 12-point l’étoile (star), which makes it a very unique location and means you can get to it by walking along any of the twelve streets.
When we arrived, the area was bustling with tourists hoping to grab a picture of and with the monument. The Arc de Triomphe was built to honour all those who fought and died in France in the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars, and seeing it illuminated really characterized it as a fitting tribute. The walls of the monument are also inscribed with names of all the French victories and generals, and detailed sculptures are carved into the stone.
The best spot to take a picture with the monument is right in the middle of the road, at the tip of the marked island.
A closer look at the detail of the sculptures on the Arc’s pillars. The sculptural group pictured here is La Résistance de 1814 by Antoine Étex. It commemorates the French resistance to the Allied armies during the War of the Sixth Coalition.
The Arc faces the Avenues des Champs-Élysées, famous for its high-end stores, cafés, restaurants, and theatres.
Tired after another big day, we headed back to our cute little hotel. And just to show you how cute and little it really is, here is a picture of my 6’1 brother in the building’s main elevator.
Yes – unless we strategically slotted ourselves in, it was difficult to fit all three of into the elevator all at once. When we first arrived, we took turns riding the elevator up to the fourth floor with our luggage. To be honest, it really isn’t as bad as it seems; it’s more quaint than anything, and I’m told this is quite common in Paris, but don’t be surprised if this is what you find when you stay in a smaller hotel!
Coming up next… a trip out to Versailles and the most amazing seafood dinner for my dad’s birthday on Day 3 of our trip!