Monday, December 10, 2018

from St.-Germain-en-Laye to Paris

It is the quintessential French breakfast: a croissant, a pain aux raisins, baguette with the necessary butter and jam. A yogurt, freshly squeezed orange juice, coffee with warm milk. Except that Emma likes fresh fruits, so there is a cup of mango, and she throws in cereals, because some guests just have to have their crunchies in the morning.


As I make my way to the dining room, the dogs hear me and come running. "Play with me, play with me! Here, I've brought you my favorite dou-dou!"


Sorry guys. I want my breakfast.


Ah, but every dog here knows that if he or she lays low, doesn't say a word, pretends nothing's happenin', then eventually, eventually some morsel of food will show up.



Indeed. As I get up to leave, they get their tiny bit of croissant.

And now comes the tricky part of my day. I want to take a walk through the chateau grounds. But I am encumbered by my little suitcase and backpack. If I were to leave them at the guest house, then I would have to ask Emma to take me to the chateau, then make another trip over with my baggage when I'm ready to leave. I don't want to do that.

I tell Emma that I will get someone at the chateau to mind my bags. I don't really believe that anyone at the chateau will do that (they run an archeological museum inside), but I want this to be my headache, not Emma's.

(This, by the way, is Emma's guest house.)


She drives me to the chateau and we say our goodbyes. And, as I would have expected, the museum people want nothing to do with my suitcase. I mean, come on! In this day and age, you just do not want to take responsibility for a stranger's left luggage.

Still, I'm not about to give up. The town is big. I can find someone to mind my stuff.

I choose a rather larger brasserie that spills out onto the little square right in front of the chateau. They surely have the space. Do they have the will? I ask monsieur at the bar.
Hmmm, he ponders it. Should I listen for a tick tock tick tock?
That's as good as a yes! The trust, of course, works both ways. I leave him with my most precious belongings! I thank him mightily and head out.

My goal is to get to the chateau's Great Terrace (it's by Le Nôtre!). It is exactly that -- a great terrace. A balcony of sorts that runs along the edge of the chateau gardens, parallel to the river Seine below. And I mean runs! The terrace is more than a mile long. It's a fantastic spot for a walk on this beautiful, beautiful day!


From the terrace, you look out to the valley below. And in the distance, you see the western edge of Paris (the skyscrapers of La Defense). Paris, of course, has its share of skyscrapers, only they're outside the center of the city. If you look at the photo below and work your way to the right, you'll see the Eiffel Tower.


Though the Terrace attracts mostly strollers and joggers, dogs are indeed welcome. (I did think for a minute that this woman had come to the park with her goat, but upon closer inspection, I realized that it was only a dog. A very large dog that looks like a goat.)


On my way back, I leave the Terrace and cut into the large forest. There are many many paths, but I haven't the time to do more than follow a straight line back to the chateau. As it is, this walk will have taken me several hours. But, it is exactly what I wanted: easy, quiet, lovely. And with sunshine, no less!


(Back in the the chateau gardens, with again a view toward Paris.)


And of course, I have to leave you with a view toward the chateau (to the left). To the right, you'll be seeing the church St Germain. I know, it's confusing! So many St Germain's in this part of France!


I had wanted to stroll a little through the town of St-Germain-en-Laye, but I ditched that idea quickly when I realized that this town, close as it is to Paris, has a provincial air about it. Parisian merchants fought hard to get permission to open stores on the two or even three Sundays before Christmas, against a firm French belief that Sunday belongs to family, not to commerce. In the provinces, Sundays remain sacred and many (most?) shops stay closed on Monday mornings as well. Here, too, nearly every store is closed until until late afternoon, or even Tuesday. As a result, the town feels empty.

So is it time to head back to Paris? No. I'm hungry. My suitcase is parked in a brasserie (Le Soubise). I may as well eat there. Is it good, food-wise? Well, it's not likely to be bad. And indeed, it fills quickly with French people looking for their midday meal. (You're not going to find foreign tourists in St-Germain-en-Laye.) I study the menu. And the people around me. (Next to me, the two older ladies order lots of food, lots of wine and talk up a storm. My photo softened their faces somewhat. I'd say one of them is at least 80 and the other 90.)


I order a salad with salmon and shrimp and plenty of veggies and it is indeed delicious.


And one hour later I am in a different park! I'm sure you can guess which one: the RER commuter train always spits me out here, by this wide avenue at the Luxembourg Gardens when I arrive in the city. From here I make my way to my hotel (Le Baume -- which just gets better and better! Or is it that I get fonder and fonder of returning to something so familiar?)


(My beloved pink room, which I can only get if I book millions of months in advance, or if they generously surprise me by fishing it out for me at the last minute.)


It is still light out and that's saying something for Paris in mid-December. I can't enjoy the room just yet. I must do my Paris walk!

At this time of the year, I can't help but notice with great affection, the yule logs in the pastry shops. So many to choose from! Here are some at Muilot -- one of the best neighborhood pastry shops.


If I lived here, would I be reserving one? Here's a super duper chocolaty log. Or, maybe I'd just want to make my own macaron Christmas tree?


Hermes is perhaps the most classic pastry shop (whatever that means!). They have one log on display and it looks simple enough even as you know it's absolutely exquisite inside. Note the pretend wood saw on top...


Dalloyau is another "classic" pastry shop. Here's their gorgeous holiday log:


Alright, enough sweet stuff. Street scenes! I'm sure you'd appreciate some street scenes!


As we get close to sunset (today the sun officially sets at 4:53), the clouds suddenly appear cottony soft and golden.


I'm close to the Luxembourg Gardens, but I can't really spend time in in them now. In the winter, the park closes at 4:30. But in my brief stroll through a corner of the Gardens, I am impressed by many things, not the least of which are the blooming anemones at the edge of this path. They speak volumes about how different a Wisconsin winter is as compared to the one in France.


A few shops to visit, a few more detours, stops, saunters and... oh my, it's dark! And I'm tired.


I go back to the hotel to catch my breath for a few minutes, and then I'm out again. I booked a bar spot for dinner at  Allénothèque.

It's rare these days that I try out a new eatery in Paris. I typically just return to the tried and true. But my hotel did a pretty good job of convincing me that Allénothèque is special. It's a recent addition to Paris's dining scene and it is run by the super chef Yannick Alleno. Once upon a time, I would have saved long and hard so that I could once in a blue moon taste dishes prepared by a French super chef. Those days are long gone. Especially for a solo dinner, simple is always better. But I am very very happy when a super chef decides to take his or her (though in Paris, it's almost always his) talents and put them to work in a casual setting. Allénothèque  is referred to as "bistronomic cuisine."  Bistro, but with a flair. 

And what flair it is! I mean, the food is utterly sublime! Little surprise there -- Yannick Alleno is a guy who had climbed to the top of Paris's restaurant scene: he had earned three Michelin stars just a few years back. Now, he does a lot of training, sharing his knowledge with those who are starting out. And too, there is Allénothèque.

(An artichoke appetizer is both incredibly original and beautiful to behold.The "bar" is actually several huge slabs of glazed wood. High chairs are arranged organically along the curves of the piece, creating little pockets of privacy.)


The rouget fish dish (which I did not photograph) is beyond remarkable (steamed in a box, with a plate of an unusual glazed sauce that is both beautiful to behold and completely knock your socks off tasty), and this simple dessert of red fruits has spices that leave you puzzling about how something could be this simple and this simply perfect.


I walk back full and satisfied. The food, yes, there's that. But, too, if I have to be away from my beloveds back home, then I want to be sure that those days away are going to be well spent.

This day, I think, was well spent. My tired legs tell me so.