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Friday, June 17, 2011

Visiting Paris Without Speaking French Part 1

Paris has always held a special place in my heart.  Not only was I among the millions of people who had their honeymoons there, let's face it: it's kind of difficult not to like the "most romantic city in the world," what with all the historic buildings, the parks in the middle of the city, the wafting smell of fresh pastries from the bakeries, the fab wines, and of course that certain "je ne sais quoi."

In the last few years, I've been lucky to have visited the city several times.  One of the first things I noticed was how much friendlier the locals are now towards non-French speaking tourists.  Compared to ten, fifteen years ago, most of the locals now speaks fluent English and are willing to use it.  Despite common perception that French people tend to be a little 'snooty," I strongly disagree.  In fact, the service industry (such as restaurants, shops, hotels, and even the transport system) has really improved, and as much as I hated to admit it, it seemed to be better than services in the US (in particular, the last several years).  The locals were very accommodating, willing to help out, and definitely more patient (compared to US cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, and definitely New York City, for example).  I noticed, at least in the case of the salespersons I encountered in the US lately, there was a trend among them to show sour grape faces and "I-don't-really-want-to-be-here-if-I-have-a-choice" attitude whenever they serve their customer.  Was it due to the bad economy, or was it just the fact that they didn't like my face?? hmm...

A view from a corner of some random street
The Church of Notre Dame -- Could you spot Monsieur Hunchback?
Parisien buildings
An old-fashioned bookstore at St. Germaine
The whole shop was lined from ceiling to floor with books!

Back to my Paris trip...  I was lucky enough to have stayed around the 7th and 8th arrondissements, which is where Rue du Faubourg, Rue St. Honore, Rue Cambon, Place Vendome, and Place de la Concorde are located.  My hotel was also within walking distance from the famous Champs Elysee and the bustling Madeleine area.  These were all famous streets where most of the upscale boutiques, museums (such as Musee Louvres and Musee d'Orsay), and other historical landmarks were situated.  It was also pretty close to The Eiffel Tower (about 10 minutes drive), and to the increasingly hip St. Germaine area (where the Church of Notre Dame's located) .

A Paris experience wouldn't be complete without indulging on the French "cuisine."  No, I'm not talking about the fine dining kind at one, two, or three-starred Michelin restaurants.  I'm talking about hot, Nutella-filled crepes and crispy waffles from street vendors along Champs Elysee or the Moulin Rouge, the mouthwatering omelette, risotto, and entrecote steaks with "truffles," the delectable macaroons the colors of rainbow, the juicy croque monsieurs from the local neighborhood bakeries at Montmartre, the savory, melt-in-your mouth souffles (au chocolat, au Grand Marnier, au fromage, take your pic) from sidewalk cafes at St. Germaine, the creme caramel with butter and sea salt... and the pastries... the jambons...Oh la la!!!

Omelette with Black Truffles from La Maison de la Truffe
Entrecote Steak with seasonal truffles
"Isharya" Macaroon with Rose Water from La Duree
Cappuccino avec creme fraiche (!)

(To be continued...)

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