Paris: Drama Under Cloudy Skies at Three Classic Landmarks

I started to have a recurring though in Paris.

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It went something like this: Paris, you are such a drama queen. Because, seriously, the city sort of was during my five days there. I mentioned before that it was rainy during my Parisian jaunt, and this led to one wonderful phenomenon: some seriously striking clouds.

I did not set foot inside Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, or Sacré-Coeur on this trip to Paris – been there, done that, and have little desire to fight through tourist throngs to do it again. But I visited each landmark nonetheless, content to simply admire them from the outside, under the blanket of Paris’s striking skies.

My hotel was located about a ten minute walk from the Eiffel Tower, so it became a nightly ritual to take a stroll by the Tower. Every time I did, it seemed like it had just rained; the clouds were always gorgeous and the puddles filled with reflections of the Tower itself.

 

As for Notre Dame, I headed to the Latin Quarter in search of cream puffs at Odette – and, being so close to the cathedral, it seemed a shame not to stop by for a bit. I spent a while wandering around outside, weaving through throngs of tourists in search of the perfect picture. Eventually, I headed over to the “Love Locks” bridge to view Notre Dame from my favorite vantage point: the back. Isn’t it more gorgeous from that side anyway?

And finally, Sacre-Coeur. I know Notre Dame is sort of “the” church that everyone thinks of when they think of Paris, but I’ve got to be honest: I’ve always loved Sacre-Coeur more. Perhaps it’s due to the location: high atop a hill in Montmartre, with a fun, lively atmosphere and gorgeous views of Paris stretching out below.

Whenever I think about these three landmarks, I think of that scene from Sex and the City where Carrie checks into the Plaza Athénée, walks out onto the balcony, and shrieks upon catching a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower down the road. I don’t care if they’re super touristy, I don’t care if they’re overhyped: these sites will always be oh-so-Paris to me, and I doubt I will ever lose my enthusiasm for revisiting them. And, though they’re plenty grand on their own, set against the backdrop of some seriously stunning skies, they become even more spectacular, don’t you think?

Paris: A Few Restaurants to Savor

To be honest, I feel a bit silly writing about food in Paris. It goes without saying that it’s a city of incredible culinary scope – and so, what can I add to the conversation? Much as I’d like to think otherwise, at the end of the day, I know I am a tourist, and I don’t pretend to have vast knowledge about all the culinary establishments the city has to offer. I cannot authoritatively state, “THIS, my friends, is where you should eat when in Paris” – but I can tell you about the places I have eaten at and enjoyed…which I shall now do.

Le Petit Cler:

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Le Petit Cler was, quite literally, steps from my hotel – meaning it was inevitable I’d frequent it at least once. Not inevitable, however, was that it would be good. Luckily for me, it was.

The beauty of Le Petit Cler is this: the menu is simple (it’s just a one-pager, encompassing both lunch and dinner), but the food is great. For lunch, I heartily recommend the grilled bread with roasted goat cheese, tomato, pesto, chicory, and balsamic. I love goat cheese, and this meal is pure goat cheesy perfection. For dinner, I had the flank steak and baked potato for a simple and classic meal. Whatever time of day you eat there, make sure to end your meal with a cappuccino, combined with a liberal dose of people-watching the crowds moseying down Rue Cler.

Getting there: 29 Rue Cler, 75007 Paris, France (Métro: La Tour-Maubourg or École Militaire)


Holybelly:

If Paris has hipsters, then I’m 99.9% sure they congregate at Holybelly, a cozy, hip café serving up tasty breakfasts and lunches. Well, to be honest, I’m assuming on the lunch part, as I only visited at breakfast time – but breakfast was damn good.

While everything on Holybelly’s menu looked excellent, I settled on the savory pancake dish: a pancake, topped by a fried egg, topped by another pancake, topped by another fried egg, and all served with crispy bacon and bourbon butter. It was incredible, though a bit indulgent for a breakfast (but, when in Paris…)

Getting there: 19 Rue Lucien Sampaix, 75010 Paris, France (Métro: Jacques Bonsergent)


Frenchie to Go:

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When I arrived at Frenchie, the restaurant was jam-packed (a good sign, I figured), so I ordered my food to-go. The entire menu looked great, and for an American who’s been traveling abroad for a while, it offers lots of comforting favorites: a reuben, pastrami on rye, pulled pork, and a hot dog, to name a few. I opted for the pulled pork sandwich, topped with barbeque sauce and coleslaw (plus a side of fries). It was a little taste of home and it totally hit the spot.

Getting there: 5-6 Rue du Nil, 75002 Paris, France (Métro: Sentier)


Les Cocottes:

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Les Cocottes just might be the ideal lunch spot on a cool, drizzly Paris day: the main courses here are stews, all served en cocotte, or in a Staub casserole dish. It’s warm, hearty comfort food, perfect for a pick-me-up during a chilly day of sightseeing. The restaurant has a long counter, so if you are dining solo, it’s a perfect spot: you won’t feel awkward eating there at all.

Getting there: 135 Rue Saint-Dominique, 75007 Paris, France (Métro: École Militaire)


Pain et Chocolat:

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Another perfect breakfast spot, located just around the corner from Rue Cler. There are three breakfasts to choose from here, and I went with Le Septième: coffee or tea, fruit juice, bread with butter and jam, a croissant, a few pieces of cheese, and scrambled eggs, all for 14 euros. The food was great, and the server was quite friendly, making for a spot I could easily see myself returning to again and again.

Getting there: 16 Avenue de la Motte-Picquet, 75007 Paris, France (Métro: La Tour-Maubourg)


L’As Du Fallafel:

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It felt like a bit of a Paris cliché to make the pilgrimage to L’As Du Fallafel: everyone, it seems, goes there, and I knew the cobblestone streets surrounding the place would be jam-packed with tourists (myself included) eager to try the famous falafels. Still, if there’s one thing I’m a sucker for, it’s food trends, and so I went.

Located in the Marais (and not too far from another favorite, L’Eclair de Genie), L’As Du Fallafel serves up seriously gigantic, filled-to-the-brim falafels. The line may be long when you get there, but don’t let it deter you: they know what they are doing, and it moves quickly. As for the falafel itself, I give it high marks – it was delicious and deserving of the hype (unlike some other places I know; cough Shake Shack cough).

Getting there: 32-34 Rue des Rosiers, 75004 Paris, France (Métro: Saint-Paul)


Jules et Shim:

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Strictly speaking, does one need Korean bibimbap when in Paris? Perhaps not, but Jules et Shim is really tasty. Lured by the promise of delicious food in highly Instagrammable flower-shaped containers (not to mention the restaurant’s proximity to Canal Saint-Martin, which I had been eager to visit), I made the trip to Jules et Shim. I found the food a great value for the money: you get a filling, healthy portion, which you can enjoy at one of the restaurant’s few tables, or can take to-go to eat by the canals. An easy, quick Paris lunch – and a real win – in my book.

Getting there: 22 Rue des Vinaigriers, 75010 Paris, France (Métro: Jacques Bonsergent)


And there you have it: some of the culinary highlights of my too-short week in Paris (well, along with these desserts). Tell me: what did I miss? What are your Paris favorites?

Paris: Indulging My Sweet Tooth in the City’s Patisseries

While there are plenty of savory dishes to enjoy while in Paris – steak frites, anyone? – for me, Paris will always be about the sweets. From macarons to mille-feuille, sugary confections are everywhere in the City of Lights. And, since Paris is an eminently walkable city, you always have this excuse in your back pocket: I walked a lot today; I deserve an éclair.

As an avid reader of travel and expat blogs, many of them Paris-based, I had compiled quite the list of sweet spots I wanted to visit on this trip to Paris. While I couldn’t fit in all of them, I did manage to have more than my share of sweets while there. Here, then, a few favorites.

L’Éclair de Génie:

Of all the places high atop my “must visit” pastry shop list, L’Éclair de Génie was the clear number one. It seems like, for the past year or so, every time I’ve seen someone post about going to Paris on Instagram, a picture of these ubiquitous éclairs showed up on their feeds. Were these éclairs really worth the hype? Yes, oh yes.

Tucked away in Le Marais, the treats at L’Éclair de Génie are miniature works of art, topped with vibrant icings, fresh fruits, and gold-leafed candy. The best part is that they taste just as good as they look. The only downside here is the price; at five euro a piece, these éclairs are not the cheapest treat – but, in my opinion, they are totally worth every euro.

Getting there: 14 Rue Pavée, 75004 Paris, France (Métro: Saint-Paul)


Pierre Hermé:

Ask just about anyone in Paris, and I bet they would tell you this: Laduree may have the prettiest packaging, and it may be the shop that everyone knows about – but it doesn’t have the best macarons. As such, I figured it was time for me to expand my Parisian macaron knowledge.

There are a ton of macaron places I wanted to try in Paris, but I had to settle for just one on this trip, so I figured I would go with a classic: Pierre Hermé. There are branches located throughout the city, but I opted for the one located in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. And, though all the pastries at Pierre Hermé were ogle-worthy, I had to go with the classic macarons, my favorite flavor of which was the Miléna, a combination of fresh mint and red berries. Pro tip: take your macarons to the nearby Luxembourg Gardens and snack in the park.

Getting there: 72 Rue Bonaparte, 75006 Paris, France (Métro: Saint-Sulpice)


Angelina:

I was on the fence about Angelina. On the one hand, it’s known to be touristy, crowded, and overpriced. But on the other hand…chocolat chaud.

Yes, I went to Angelina for the hot chocolate, just like everyone else does. It comes piping hot and crazy thick, and it feels incredibly indulgent (oh, and, delicious too). As for the rest of the food at Angelina? Meh. It’s unremarkable and skippable, in my opinion. But that hot chocolate is well worth making the trip and braving the crowds.

Getting there: 226 Rue Rivoli, 75001 Paris, France (Métro: Tuileries)


Amorino:

Confession: With drizzly skies and cool temperatures throughout my visit, it wasn’t exactly ice cream weather when I visited Paris. But do you think I would really let a little detail like the weather prevent me from sampling some gelato, particularly gelato that has been expertly sculpted into a photo-worthy flower shape by the folks at Amorino? Not a chance.

There are Amorino outposts all around the city, but I opted for the one close to my “home” on Rue Cler. I chose caramel with salted butter and Speculoos as my two flavors, which comprise a gelato match made in heaven in my humble opinion.

Getting there: 42 Rue Cler, 75007 Paris, France (Métro: École Militaire)


Odette:

If you’re looking for a snack that’s indulgent yet won’t leave you in a sugar coma for the rest of the day, the miniature cream puffs at Odette just may be your best bet (if, of course, you have enough self-control to only eat one of them). There are plenty of flavors to choose from here, but the coffee cream puffs just may have been my favorite. Plus, Odette is right down the street from Notre Dame, so I grabbed my cream puffs and headed for the cathedral, parking on a bench in front to enjoy my snacks – a pretty magical way to enjoy a cream puff, if you ask me.

Getting there: 77 Rue Galande, 75005 Paris, France (Métro: Cluny – La Sorbonne)


Les Fées Patissières:

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In terms of edible works of art, the tiny delights at Les Fées Patissières just might rival L’Éclair de Génie for beauty. The best way I can think of to describe these little guys are as cream puff cupcakes, which is convenient as I find both cream puffs and cupcakes to be pretty delicious on their own. I can’t tell you which favor here was my favorite, as I had a bit of trouble reading the labels and mostly chose my pastries on the theory of “which one looks the cutest?” (a solid strategy, to be honest). What I can tell you is this: be careful if you’re transporting these treats on the Métro, as they’re quite delicate.

Getting there: 21 Rue Rambuteau, 75004 Paris, France (Métro: Rambuteau)


If you are looking to dive deep into a sugar coma in Paris, I would highly recommend any – or all – of the places listed above. They may be calorie-laden, but if you want to indulge, there really is no better place than Paris.

Paris: Of Rainy Roses and Rodin

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I try to be optimistic when it comes to unfortunate travel situations, truly I do, but there is one travel problem I always have a hard time overcoming: bad weather. Because so much of travel, for me, depends on being outdoors, on walking around a city, on exploring its streets, a bout of bad weather can really throw a wrench in things and make me transform from “enthusiastic traveler” to “extremely grumpy person” quite quickly.

On the whole, I was blessed with good weather throughout my entire semester abroad, but my luck seemed to run out in Paris, where I was greeted with drizzly skies most every day. The rain was rarely ever a downpour, but it was ever-present during my time in the city, coming and going and then coming again, often all within the course of an hour.

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Yet the funny thing about Paris and its magic is that I barely even noticed the rain. In other cities, the constant drizzle might have bummed me out, but in Paris it barely phased me; if there was ever a city suited to moody weather, it was Paris. The elegant buildings somehow look even grander under gray skies, and damp conditions are the perfect excuse for lingering over a cappuccino at one of the many cafés scattered throughout the city.

And so, when my train from Geneva rolled into Gare de Lyon under cloudy skies, I wasn’t upset. I dropped my things off at my hotel, nestled along Rue Cler, and set out for one of my favorite locations in Paris: Musée Rodin.

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I first visited Musée Rodin in 2006, and it immediately shot to the top of my mental list of “favorite museums in the world.” What I love about it is that, especially compared with some of Paris’s biggies (I’m looking at you, Louvre and Orsay), Rodin feels quieter and more low key. This is true both within the museum itself and outside in its gardens, which are the real draw here. Seeing Rodin’s sculptures nestled among beautifully tended flowers is pretty awesome, as far as art experiences go.

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I spent an hour or so wandering around the museum and gardens, umbrella firmly in hand, admiring the rain-soaked roses and sculptures. It was a peaceful and perfect way to kick off my visit to lovely Paris – rain and all.

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Paris: At Home on Rue Cler

The beautiful thing about Paris is that I feel I could return a million times and always have new discoveries to make: new neighborhoods, new restaurants, new parks, and new pastry shops, to name a few. This was my fourth visit to the city, and even though I’m starting to feel like I know Paris well, still I’m sure I have only scratched the surface of what each arrondissement has to offer.

On the whole, I’ve done a good job (in my opinion) of visiting new places each time I find myself in Paris, yet in one large aspect, I have clearly been slacking. That is, when it comes time to pick a hotel, I seem to have one default response: stay on Rue Cler, of course.

There are so many other options – this trip, for example, I was thisclose to booking a place in Le Marais – yet something about Rue Cler keeps drawing me back in. I think, perhaps, it’s my wonderment that one tiny block can be packed with so much Parisian charm: the fromagerie selling a variety of fragrant French cheeses, the vegetable and fruit stands that pop up each morning, the creperie that cooks up wicked Nutella-laced concoctions, and Le Petit Cler, the perfect café for people watching.

Tucked away in the 7th arrondissement, Rue Cler is also a convenient base for exploring the rest of Paris. It’s an easy walk to the Eiffel Tower, Les Invalides, and the Rodin Museum (my personal favorite), not to mention the fact that it’s quite close to several different Métro stops. And if it’s food you seek, there are plenty of options as well, from shopping for picnic provisions at Rue Cler’s markets to eating at the many good restaurants found on the surrounding blocks. As far as Parisian home bases go, then, Rue Cler is a good one.

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I would like to say that, next time around, I’ll be a bit more adventurous in choosing accommodations, yet part of me suspects that this simply is not true. In a city that constantly offers new art exhibits, culinary experiments, and fashion trends, it’s comforting to know that Rue Cler remains as reliable as ever, a lovely little place to call “home” while living la vie parisienne.

Amsterdam Day Trips: The Hague and Delft

One thing that’s nice about a country as small as The Netherlands is that, when it comes to day trips, most every place you want to visit is easily accessible with a quick train ride. The problem then becomes this: where to go, when almost anything is an option?

During my stay in Amsterdam (see more here, here, here, and here), I knew I wanted to get out and explore a bit more of the country, and many places were high on my list. I settled on The Hague and Delft, but left on the cutting room floor were many others: Leiden, Haarlem, and Rotterdam, to name a few. Not a problem, really, as it’s always good to have plenty of reasons to return to a country as lovely as The Netherlands.

Of those cities I did make it to, I began with The Hague, where I went despite one large problem: the absence of the one piece of art I wanted to see there. I write, of course, of Vermeer’s most famous work, the Girl With the Pearl Earring. Typically found in The Hague, the museum the painting calls home is currently undergoing renovations, and so while I was in The Hague the painting was in…Bologna.

So, I must admit, my visit to The Hague was a bit of a letdown. Still, I was there on a beautiful April afternoon, so just wandering around town was pleasant. I grabbed lunch at one of the open air restaurants lining Plein, the town’s main square. I also wandered through the courtyard of the Binnenhof, home to the Dutch parliament and the Prime Minister’s office, and along Hofvijver, a small lake in the center of town.

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After my stop in The Hague, I hopped the train and made the quick 20-minute journey to Delft. My main goal here was shopping-related (a rarity when it comes to my travels, as I hate to shop): I wanted to secure some Delftware as a gift for my mom. As I browsed Delft’s shops, it soon became clear that I had slightly underestimated how costly authentic, handmade Delftware is; I could only afford a small little box. Still, perusing the lovely selections at various Delftware shops was a highlight of my brief time in town.

Other than scoping out the Delftware, my main diversion in Delft was exploring the city’s canals. Delft felt like a miniature version Amsterdam to me; it had all the charm of the larger city, just on a smaller scale.

I must admit that, in my opinion, The Hague and Delft are lovely but somewhat staid towns. However, they make for a super easy day trip from Amsterdam, and while they don’t offer the abundance of cultural and culinary attractions that Amsterdam boasts, they’re nice little places to soak up friendly Dutch charm. I didn’t have my most memorable travel day visiting them, but I definitely had one of the more relaxing, laid-back, and pleasant ones.

Amsterdam: A Few Favorites, Old and New

One of the small pleasures for me, in revisiting a city, is going back to well-worn treasures, to places I already know and love. Of course I want to see new things – the latest gallery exhibit; the up-and-coming restaurant – but it’s comforting to be abroad and have some old standbys to rely on.

Heading to Amsterdam this time around, there were a few such places that fit that bill, old favorites I was each to return to. And of these, one stands out as my very favorite of all, the place I suspect I will revisit each and every time I’m lucky enough to return to the city: The Anne Frank House.

With a line that often winds around the block (be sure to book your tickets online in advance), it’s clear I’m not the only one who loves visiting this spot. However, even with a crush of tourists clamoring to gain entry, the Anne Frank House is well worthwhile. For me, every time I ascend the tiny and mildly treacherous staircase leading to the cramped rooms where the Frank family hid, I get chills. It’s incredibly powerful to see the space and to think about Anne Frank writing in her diary there.

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While perhaps less poignant than the Anne Frank House, I also count the Rijksmuseum among my Amsterdam favorites. The cool thing about visiting on this trip, however, was that the museum was completely different than the last time I saw it. In 2011, the Rijksmuseum was in the midst of renovations, so when I visited, the highlights of the museum’s collection had been condensed into a few tiny rooms.

This time around, the Rijksmuseum was on display in all its splendor, and seeing it now – several floors, and room after room of artwork – I finally understood that I had only seen a tiny fraction of its treasures the first time around. Still, even though I spotted tons of new works of art on this visit, my favorite remained a classic: Vermeer’s The Milkmaid.

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(And check out her getup: maize and blue. The milkmaid was, clearly, a Michigan fan.)

While visiting the Rijksmuseum – or the nearby Van Gogh Museum – a walk around Museumplein (and a peek at the ubiquitous “I amsterdam” sign) is all but mandatory. While I previously mentioned that my luck with the weather in Amsterdam was pretty spectacular overall, in Museumplein, that luck finally ran out. Still, even in the drizzle, I couldn’t deny that Museumplein was a beautiful public space, grey skies or not.

While old favorites like the Anne Frank House and Rijksmuseum are wonderful, it also wouldn’t feel like a proper trip without discovering a few new favorites to add to my Amsterdam rotation for future visits. This time around, the new additions to my Amsterdam love list were perusing the Floating Flower Market, snacking on frites and mayo from Vleminckx, and finding a café to call my own – the lovely Brasserie Bâton.

As he walked me to the apartment I was staying at in Amsterdam, the landlord pointed out Bâton to me. It was, he said, a great place to grab a sandwich, and being just a quick walk from my apartment, it couldn’t have been more convenient. I went for breakfast on my first morning in Amsterdam and quickly fell in love. The interior was bright and open, filled with people typing away on their laptops and sipping coffee. And the food? Top notch, in my opinion.

On my first visit, I ordered a cappuccino and an open-faced sandwich with goat cheese, walnuts, thyme, honey, and Balsamic vinegar. I loved the meal – the goat cheese sandwich particularly – so much that I returned and ordered it again the next day…and then the day after that, for good measure. Eating an identical breakfast three days in a row can only mean one of two things: either I am a creature of habit, or the breakfast was really that solid. In Bâton’s case, it was both.

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If my newfound love for Amsterdam taught me anything, it’s that, without a doubt, I will be back to visit the city again someday, and preferably soon. While I’m sure I will make plenty of new discoveries the next time around, I also suspect that returning to admire the Vermeers (not to mention snatching a goat cheese sandwich) is in my future, too.

What old favorites do you always return to, in Amsterdam or elsewhere?