Wednesday, 21 September 2011

The tourist branches out: Paris Take One

I am a big fan of the French capital and have been four times before. None of these previous visits lasted more than three days, and yet I always obediently crammed in as many “important tourist sites” as I could; Sacre-Coeur, Moulin Rouge, Champs Élysées, Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Pompidou, Musée d’Orsay… Been there, done that, taken numerous pictures and basked in their historic grandeur. But there comes a time for every visitor returning to a capital city when they feel the urge to try something new, and venture off the double-decker tour bus route...

My chance to do this came last weekend. I found out that I had the weekend off work, and immediately got in contact with a friend who has recently moved to Paris to find out if this would be a convenient time to visit. She gave the thumbs up, so now all I needed to do was find out how to get there on my rather limited budget (all my tips from the pub saved up from the previous week and a half!) Plane: expensive and inconvenient route. Train: At such short notice it would cost me 119 euros ONE WAY! 35 euros one way, 32 euros back, score!

“But what on earth IS mitfahrge…thingy??” I hear you cry! My boyfriend introduced me to this online travel gem. It is very popular in Germany, especially amongst the younger generation, as a means of getting around cheaply and aiding the environment to boot. Anyone who is driving from one place to another, be it simply from a city to a nearby village or from one country to another, can register their vehicle on this website, say how many places they can offer and at what price. Then people can type in their desired route and browse the (usually numerous) options for the one that suits them best. Some private companies even use this as a platform to sell cheaper tickets – for example Eurolines bus company were offering Cologne – Paris for 40 euros. Anyway, I found people who were driving at convenient times for me, rang them to confirm, and that was that! Of course, with this kind of agreement between two private parties you always run the risk of choosing the one unreliable person who won’t turn up, or who reveals that they are a Trekkie recluse five minutes into the trip… but I think the premise of this website is excellent, and I was certainly pleased with my first try. It turns out the website has expanded to serve other countries now, under various different names, although some still have a relatively small community and so much less choice – go to and select the desired country from the dropdown menu.

Ecclectic St Paul/Le Marais area
The guy who drove me to Paris was an Algerian who spent a lot of the time slating the Germans to me in French under his breath while our two fellow German passengers dozed in the backseat… meanwhile I made a mental note to sit in the back next time. We arrived at Porte de la Chapelle in the early afternoon, and I took my friend’s advice and headed to the St Paul area as I had a few hours to kill before she finished work. I saw the Hotel de Ville and wandered towards le Marais, a really funky area in the Jewish Quarter packed full of a diverse range of eateries and boutique shops. When I reached the really pretty square called Places des Vosges, where Victor Hugo lived whilst writing Les Misérables, it was full of people relaxing in the afternoon sunshine. After drinking an expensive coffee in L’Arsenal (4.50 euros) I was eventually driven away for two reasons: a malfunctioning talking traffic light (no joke, I have no idea what it was saying, but it was saying it A LOT) and then the incessant vapid gossiping of a group of three British girls with more money than sense discussing how fat their friends were. This was not what I came to Paris for!

After a walk up Rue St Antoine I stopped in at Miss Manon for my first pastry of the weekend… and phwoar was it good! I went for a choco-pistache: the shape of a cinnamon swirl but filled instead with chocolate chips, pistachio pieces, raisins and coconut sprinkles. This is certainly in the top three pastries I have ever tasted, and at 1.80 euros was not bad value for a Parisian treat.

Spot the kitten!
I waited at the Metro for my friend K to arrive, and after sufficient hugs and exciting babbling had been exchanged we calmed ourselves and decided to head in the direction of the Quai de Valmy for a much needed glass of wine and a chat. When our thoughts began to turn to food, K steered me towards a cute little place where she had been taken on a first date. La Patache, on Rue Lancry, is one of those places that strikes a good balance between welcoming and trendy; well-worn wooden tables, posters all over the wall, a tiny kitten sleeping amongst the log pile at the back, and very friendly service. We ordered an assiette de charcuterie et fromages, an appealing selection of meats, cheeses, bread, gherkins and cranberry sauce ideal for sharing (hence the suitability of the location for a first date!) 12.50 euros for the platter (with as much bread as you liked) and 14 – 20 euros for a carafe of wine - again not bad by Parisian standards.

Mmmmm... Merci La Patache!
After a swift sangria at another bar next to the canal we ended up in La Marine enjoying a bottle of Chardonnay (16 euros). The desserts being consumed all around us proved too difficult to resist, and so we shared a moelleux chocolat (melt-in-the-middle chocolate sponge) and a gorgeous tiramisu. They were pricey (7 euros and 7.50 euros respectively) but we are talking some high quality puddings here!
As the wee hours crept up on us we decided it was time to head home and crawl into bed in our pleasant haze of wine and chocolate, ready for some exploring the next day…

TG xx

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