October 1, 2010


Eiffel Tower

I spent last weekend in Paris. The goal of my visit was to meet my cousin, Vish, and then spend the next 3 days eating and drinking our way through the city of light.  The over-pricey high speed train, Thalys, connects Brussels to Paris in 1 hour and 20 minutes.  An HOUR and TWENTY minutes! It never ceases to amaze me that I am a 7 minute bike ride away from a train station that can take me to anywhere in Europe. Scion xD, I still miss you, but I could live without you.

Arc de Triomphe

There isn’t much for me to write on the things to see and do in Paris, because there are far more glamorous and well-paid professionals that have already done exactly that.  See here and here and here and here.

These were my highlights: I got to spend 3 days hanging out with my cousin, Vish, and I’ve never seen him so relaxed and at ease (he just finished law school and took the bar recently). One can drink cheap tasty excellent French wines, and then sit outside and marvel at the city sights.  Coffee is served at the counter, bar-style, even in train stations, and even with names like AutoGrille. Masala dosas can be found a 10 minute walk away from the Gare du Nord station, and the cafe’s that serve charcuterie and fromage platters are kind enough to explain all the items.  My French is terrible (it mostly sounds like Dutch and English with some really accented “é” sounds) but now I’ll attempt regardless of the poor sounds that come out.

If you’ve never visited the city before (I had only been once before and it was in July of this year), see the tourist-ey things. They are beautiful. They will take your breath away, they are clogged with hundreds of other tourists, but these sites won’t disappoint. Spend at least a day or two doing this.  This is a city that feels like it is built for everyone else, and when you get a day or two, it is exactly that.

So back to the eating and drinking part. We booked a hotel near the Arc de Triomphe, but north in the 17 arr. neighborhood (the street we were staying on had a very well attended outdoor market). First things first, we started Saturday with some still-warm baguettes and croissants.  The plan was to walk down the famous Champs d’Elysees, mosey on towards the Eiffel Tower, stroll by Les Invalides area, and eventually end up in the Latin Quarter.

Shortly after we made it onto the Champs d’Elysees, we queued up for some macarons from the famous Laduree (macarons bought and devoured were: coffee, pistachio, and caramel). After a lunch of croque monsiers, we picked up a bottle of wine (French!) and sat outside watching rollerbladers with views of Les Invalides and the Grand Palace.  On the way towards the Latin Quarter, we passed by the Rodin museum and the Luxembourg Gardens. Although, I’m not sure which street we were on, it had a unusually high number of gated entrances with police guards in clear cubicles.
Laduree macarons

The Latin Quarter was lively, but reminded me of the Rue de Bouche in Brussels. It was basically a tourist trap. The bars were expensive (5 E for a DUVEL?! WTF?), as I write, tourist trap, we ended up staying very late. Unable to hail a cab, and the metros done running, we got to really experience the city of light on our walk back.  We got to walk through the Louvre at night - it was deserted, entirely lit up, and as cheesey as this sounds it was all under a cloudless sparkly sky. Here I am looking upon the replica of the Triumph arch with a nearly full moon peering down upon me.

The next day’s plan was to view the Cathedral of Notre Dame, explore the Montmartre area, and get back to the task at hand: head to a wine bar and patronize a cheese shop (with excellent travel trips from Allison and Nico).  The day turned out to be rainy and cold , and it made it much more difficult to sightsee.  The Sacre Coeure Basilica is located in the Montmartre area, and sits up higher than the city, so you can look out on the Parisian skyline.  Here we finished off the evening avoiding the rain in a lovely art cafe, Living B’art.  This ended up being an awesome highlight of the trip because it felt like sitting in a huge cosy coffeeshop. The front room has a small stage where the cafe hosts live music on Wednesdays, and art pieces adorn the walls. Big wooden tables with benches make it easy to sprawl out for a game or for multiple plates of food. To be honest, when walking past, I saw the game Bang! and forced everyone to go. The plate de jour featured a dish of scalloped potatoes with bacon and some brie-like divine baked cheesey goodness (when in Rome...) and a large salad. We got a mixte platter of meats and cheeses.  While I love that in Belgium one can have boterham, I really really really adore the fromage platters here.  With all the game instructions in French, we gave up pretty quickly.

charcuterie and fromage

On Monday, Vish and his friend Tim, needed to book tickets to their next destination, so we ended up at the Paris North station around lunchtime. There is quite the South Asian collection of Indian restaurants.  Not just any Indian restaurants either. I’m talking about the ones that are full of fellow South Asians, and even better the ones that serve south Indian cuisine.  So after at least SEVEN long months of not consuming any kinds of good yummy hot dosas, I got to finally savor and devour a masala dosa.  That was followed with an afternoon at the Louvre, and the consumption of more macarons (from Pierre Hermé). See what I mean about adding the “é” to everything? You’re practically fluent.  I took the 8 pm train and was home by 10 pm, as an American, living in Belgium, this still fills me with awe and wonder at how much there is to appreciate and enjoy.  


  1. your descriptions make me actually want to give paris another chance. i didn't love it when i visited.

    also, "full of fellow South Asians"? are you denying your guju-ness?

  2. Never desired to visit Paris, until now! Your pictures and descriptions have convinced me it's worth putting Paris on my list of places to visit; Below Belgium of course!

  3. Wonderful report, Nilam! Thanks for the kudos to the tips - although I certainly wish I were highly-paid for assembling travel tips, rather than my current job :)

    FYI, you ate tartiflette! A cheesy-potatoey goodness from the Alpine regions of France (esp. Lyon). The cheese should have been Reblochon. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tartiflette)
    We used to make this after a long day skiing. I can tell you: it definitely hits the spot on those moments :)

    Did you feel like you were walking into the opening scene of Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code when walking by the lit and desolate Louvre by night?

    Allison and I will have to go back soon and make it to Living B'art - pretty amazing!

  4. Nico, I think I write this blog especially for you =), Sara, I think I gave up my guju-ness with the first dosa I ever consumed. Melissa, how could Paris not be on your list until now?!

    The tartiflette was amazing. I think I made one (sans bacon a week before) when I found an Alpine Gruyere from The Cottage (on Diestsestraat in Leuven) which sells the most amazing cheeses. The owner let me sample like 10 cheeses, including one that was coated with some kind of liquor-graham cracker aged goodness. I went to Paris armed with a list of the types of cheese I had tried at the Cantillon Quintessence.

    As for Dan Brown and the Louvre, yes, and we also found the bridge that "Jason Bourne" uses as a meeting point in the first movie.

  5. Interesting, a gruyere for tartiflette... Definitely makes the dish less stinky :)

    You should check out (if you haven't already) Elsen Kaasambacht on the Mechelsestraat in Leuven. They have an enormous selection as well. I don't know how they compare to The Cottage, but I'm pleasantly surprised with the positive 'customer' experience you had at The Cottage. I wouldn't have expected such customer-orientation from a Belgian place (other than perhaps the farmers market).