Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Colin Churcher - Paris 2006

For an illustrated account of this trip to Paris see:

Paris Trip Christmas 2006

Thursday 21 December (IMG_0604-0608)

The trip over on Air Transat was uneventful and we arrived at CDG at 0745 – ten minutes early. The bus whipped us over the terminal three, first time we have been there, and we were quickly through customs. It was a short walk to the RER station and we were at the apartment by 0930.

We were met at the apartment by Preston Mohr who showed us around. It is well equipped and nicely appointed although all the appliances work slightly differently from ours at home. The television presented a bit of a challenge and we had to load some software in order to get on to the internet.

We were both pretty tired but went for a walk along rue de Levis and then rue Villiers where we had lunch at Le Petit Villiers. This was very busy and we were given a very small table in the no smoking section at the back of the place by the window. I don’t know what they are going to do when the smoking ban comes into force in about a month’s time.

We started with the, by now, obligatory coupe de champagne and then had the Escalope de Veau, Colin had an endive salad with Roquefort dressing and a small pichet of Chinon. The Chinon, which was the house wine, was not remarkable but pleasant.

We then walked back and explored the area close to the apartment. The rue de Levis market is amazing – the stalls are all owned by the adjacent shops with a couple of exceptions such as the man who parks his car and then drapes it with carpets for sale. It would take several weeks to explore all the possibilities of this market alone. We went as far as the Square Batignoles which is a pleasant park with a small duck pond and several of the rustic concrete fences. A group of old men were playing petanque on one side.

Just down from the apartment there is a garage with a singing Christmas Tree in the entrance. There are many Santas climbing up and over apartment balconies.

Bought a Valencay and an Epoisse cheese together with a very good wholewheat loaf from Paul.

Friday 22 December (IMG_0609-0628)

Slept reasonably well but we are both still affected by jet lag. After a breakfast we went out to Balard and rode the new tramway (T3) which only opened last Saturday.

The cars are low floor articulated similar to those found in many European cities now. The tramway is built almost entirely in a reservation in the centre of a wide boulevard although there is some side street running towards the east end. The entire route seems to be reserved for the trams. However, because of the frequent traffic intersections together with signalled pedestrian crossings halfway between the traffic intersections, the actual speed is pretty low. The maximum speed was about 45 kmph but this is very difficult to achieve because of the frequent stops for pedestrian and traffic crossings. There does not seem to be coordination between the traffic and tramway signals and it was not evident that the trams had any priority or that they set the signals for themselves.

The driver on the tram I rode was not very good. Several times he tried to start the tram before the doors were closed and several times he tried to start the tram before the signals had cleared. In both cases the tram would not move but he had to return the throttle/brake lever to neutral and start again. At station stops his computer display gives a schematic of the tram showing the doors opening and closing. There are TV cameras at each end on both sides. When the tram is stopped at a station the two screens show the view from the front looking back and the view from the back looking forward. When the vehicle starts the displays change to show the view from the front on either side.

The trams all seemed to be full. I would think this would be because this must be, in effect, a replacement for a heavily used bus service.

The main impression I have is that the new tramway is not as fast as the metro or the RER. With this as a model it would be easy to argue that Ottawa should seriously consider a tunnel in the downtown core. However, trams that would be run through the centre of Ottawa would only encounter traffic at every block whereas the T3 encounters traffic every block and signalized pedestrian every half a block. However, it is still a lot faster than trying to take an Ottawa bus through downtown.

We went back to rue Gaite and had lunch at Aux Isles Marquises. As we have come to expect, it was excellent:

Coupe de champagne
Amuses gueules
Salade de petoncles escabiches/terrine de chevreuil with salad and redcurrant compote
Dorade/rognons dans une sauce de jerez
Glass of house white/red.

It was so good that we have made a reservation for New Years Eve dinner as last year.

We came back to the Gare St. Lazare and walked back along the rue de Rome where there were many musical instrument shops. They specialized in brass, strings, guitars etc, and there were some sheet music shops as well.

Shopping at Monoprix and a greengrocer and then home for a rest.

Saturday 23 December (IMG_0630-0654)

I was out early to get a couple of croissants at a patisserie down the street. They were not bad – a bit soft in the centre.

After breakfast we walked along rue des Dames as far as rue de Clichy then via Place Clichy to the model stores on rue Dorai. There are three on one side of the street next to each other and one opposite. All are slightly different and there are some good models although many of them are expensive. At one place they demonstrated an O scale 141R – brass but fully painted and with DCC and sound.

From there it was a short walk to the Boulevard Housseman at Le Printemps and then along to Galeries Lafayette. The displays on the sidewalk were well attended. There were short platforms set up in front of the windows for the small kids to climb up to get a good view. Perhaps the best were two windows in Le Printemps which contained pots and pans/tea cups and plates which moved to the rhythm of the music. Inside Galleries Lafayette it was very crowded but it is always worth a visit just to see the amazing dome with the wonderful stained glass.

We had lunch at a brasserie close by Clos Bourguignon which was presided over by a patron and two ageing waitresses. It was small and everyone was shoehorned in, tables had to be moved to get people in and out. We shared delices de canard which was mainly foie gras. Then we had a great slab of beef with fries and finished by sharing apple pie.

The walk back was via La Madeleine and Fauchon with a stop at the Monoprix to pick up some groceries.

We finally managed to get the washing machine to work. French appliances are not intuitive and they use two buttons where one will do. The drying rack worked out well once we had figured out how to set it up.

Sunday 24 December Christmas Eve (IMG_0655-0668)

We went out to rue de Levis to shop for our Christmas Eve meal after we had set up the washing machine to do the towels. Although there were a lot of people about, shopping was not difficult and we got through it in short order. We had to make stops at the charcuterie, the traiteur Italien, oyster seller, cheese shop, green grocer (two) and wine merchant. The charcuterie is fantastic. There was a suckling pig which had been deboned then stuffed and cooked so that it could be cut right through. There was an attractive flower pattern set throughout the stuffing.

The shop assistants were pretty friendly and smiling. In most places we had to make our order first, then take the ticket to the cash to pay and then our purchase would be presented to us by the smiling assistant. It means they need a lot of assistants but it certainly ensures personal and friendly service. This is so much better than going into a place and picking up pre-packaged items that might have been prepared some time ago.

We had a good walk past Place de Clichy, rue des Abbesses and climbed the steps to Notre Dame. Place du Tertre was very busy with lots of tourists and “artists” trying to draw their pictures. We came back along rue Lepic and the Monoprix to get an oyster knife and then home for a short nap. Our Christmas Eve dinner was as follows:

Veuve Clioquot champagne
Pate de foie gras de campagne with redcurrants and figs
* * *
Dozen oysters on the shell each
(Colin managed to prepare these without drawing blood (his, that is). We ate them with lemon juice and Cragganmore malt whisky – it would have been good to have had chopped shallots but we could only buy them in a bag and not singly)
Muscadet de Sevre et Maine – Chateau de Noe
* * *
Saumon en coquille avec mayonnaise et salade russe
Terrine of three fishes (different colours in aspic)
Aubergines farci
Limon farci
Salad Pavarotti with lentilles, baby spinach and celery
* * *
Camembert – this was very good
Ossau Iraty – a hard Pyrenean sheep cheese, a favourite of ours (which broke a plate)
* * *
Buche de Noel

The great thing was that we did not have to prepare or cook any of it – just set it out and eat it.

Monday 25 December – Christmas Day (IMG_0660-0674)

It is a little disconcerting having people living in an apartment just across the street so close to us – but this is city living. There is a couple with a family right opposite and it would be possible to observe what they are doing as the lights are on for much of the time.

We got up late and had to go some to get out of the apartment by 12:00 as we had an appointment for lunch at Le Train Bleu at 14:00. We walked past Gare St. Lazarre and the Opera to the shops on Boulevard Housseman where we once again enjoyed the window displays at Le Printemps. From there we walked down to the Louvre and along rue de Rivoli through Saint Paul and then to the river, across the canal and direct to the Gare de Lyon.

The first surprise was that they have finished the renovations at La Gare de Lyon and the front is now a pleasant pedestrian area, it has opened out the vista so it is possible to see and appreciate the building with its tower and wonderful clock faces. For the first time it is possible to see the location of Le Train Bleu from the outside. The station was busy as there were lots of people travelling.

For lunch we started with an amuse gueule of mousse de foie gras with pistaccio and figue confiture.

We then had pate de foie de canard/artichoke souffle

The main course was roast lamb with potatoes au gratin de Forme d’Ambert

For dessert I chose from the cheese selection (Brie, Camembert (medaille d’or), Saint Maure, Epiosse, St. Nectaire, Cantal and Livarot) while Mary had a vacharin contemporain du Train Bleu.

With half a bottle of champagne and half a bottle of Saumur Champigny this made a memorable meal. It was a good thing we were hungry when we arrived.

The restaurant is going non-smoking on January 1. At the moment it looks a bit tired and it needs a bit of a restoration. Pretty difficult to clean the frescos though.

To walk down lunch we walked back past la Place de la Bastille and looked in Place des Vosges (magnificent even in late afternoon in winter). From there we walked along rue de Rivoli as far as city hall where the kids were skating like crazy, the ice had been cut up pretty bad and there was lots of snow which the kids made into snowballs.

We were then getting tired and decided to walk up past the Pomipdou Centre to rue de Reamur and catch a metro home. The trains on line three have a new type of route map over each doorway. It is similar to the regular Metro line maps but this is fitted with a light at each station location. The lights are lit for each station on the route and go out as the train passes. The next stop flashes. Not only do you know the next stop but also the direction of travel.

Tuesday December 26 (IMG_0705-0706)

Got up late again, the effects of jet lag still apparent. Today we visited the Parc Monceau which was quite busy considering it was quite cold. There were many joggers as well as family groups, many kids (and grown ups) having push scooters. Some of the flower beds were quite colourful considering the time of year. We then broke new ground by exploring Place Terne and the Avenue Terne as far as Peireire where we went into L’Entrecote de Venise. It was very, very busy and the lady maitre d’ had a big job trying to shoehorn people into the tiny places, next to us there was a family of six squashed around a table that would have been tight for four – it was about the size of the table the two of us had at Le Train Bleu yesterday. On the other side were three ladies who were violently non-smoking. One of them cowed a woman on the other side to put her cigarette out.

The menu is the same as it has been for 49 years. Salad, steak, fries and a small choice of good wine specially bottled for the restaurant. We had a bottle of Gaillac. The meal was very good and we finished off with vacharin/tarte au citron and coffee.

Afyerwards we proceeded to the Arc de Triomphe and part way down the Champs Elysees before cutting back to Villiers and the apartment.

Wednesday 27 December (IMG_0707-0708)

Up late again today.

The Singing Christmas Tree has stopped singing. We walked first to the Gare St. Lazare where I purchased my ticket for the trip to Mulhouse tomorrow. From there we walked past the Opera and along rue 4 Septembre to rue Vivienne where we found the Le Grand Colbert. It was lit up inside pretty much the same as last year but the outside was decorated even more so than before. Mary wanted the pickled herring which is really why we went there but the kitchen has a good touch and the meal could not be faulted. We started with fish soup/onion soup au gratin and then Mary had the pickled herring and I have the civet de sanglier.

The herring came with a great plate of boiled potatoes and all the pickled herring you can eat. The wild boar was also very good being cooked in a superb, rich sauce with chestnuts, silvikrin onions and mushrooms. We had a bottle of Chinon with it while dessert was raspberry vacharin/green apple sorbet with calvados.

Another exceptional meal.

We then walked along as far as Les Halles but it is so nasty inside that we decided to leave quickly and took the metro back to Villiers.

Thursday 28 December (IMG_0709-0754)

I took the train to Mulhouse today. It left Paris Est at 0710 and I had to leave the apartment early. Of course, the subway was much quicker than I had anticipated so I arrived at Paris Est with plenty of time spare. The train was posted as leaving 30 minutes late and this eventually changed to 40 minutes and it eventually left an hour late. Because of the short time available in Mulhouse I was on the point of changing to another day. The original announcement said there was a problem in the yard while the conductor mentioned mechanical problems. I surmise that there was a derailment in the yard either to the booked train or that trapped the booked train. The cars we had seemed to be a make up bunch and the seat reservations and car numbers were all cocked up.

These were Corail coaches built in the 1970’s, built solid and rode very well. The toilets dumped on to the track and the seat reservation system was the old manual type where the conductor is given a sheet of tear off strips that are inserted individually in a slot outside the compartment. This means that seat reservations have to be closed 24 hours before the departure of the train whereas the modern trains (e.g. TGV) are done electronically and the seat reservations are set up when the conductor sets up the train number information at the beginning of the run.

This is a non-electrified cross country route which took us via Troyes, Chaumont, Vesoul, Lure and Belfort (where the TGV cars are made) to Mulhouse. Langres, home of a famous cheese was on the route but we didn’t stop. We took 4 hours 45 minutes, which will be reduced to 3 hours when the new high speed line is opened next June through Strasbourg. The countryside is rolling with much woodland and many pleasant rivers. There was a heavy hoar frost and some woods were completely covered turning the landscape into a fairyland. I saw a dog walking purposefully on its own through the woods and a little later on a black cat was out hunting and was leaping on its prey. Many of the trees had a great number if balls of mistletoe on them.

The new trams run right in front of the station, one line makes a loop around the station forecourt. I didn’t have much time so I took a taxi to the Railway Museum which is a long way from the station and the tramway even. I had the phone number of the taxi cabs but just before going in I saw a bus parked at what looked like a bus terminus. I spoke to the driver who gave me a timetable – yes, indeed, the bus route runs right past the SNCF station and would be convenient to return. He wished me welcome to Alsace and I went into the museum.

It is as impressive as the literature suggests. The first part tries to set the railway scene. It is pretty dark but well lit in the right places and there are a series of cameos – railway in wartime, elegant travelling, not so elegant travelling. There are several models appropriately dressed and speaking in clear French.

However, the real exhibit is in the second hall which has lines of equipment, steam, diesel and electric together with some units such as a Picasso car. The most impressive was a 231 which was jacked up so that the wheels revolved.

I duly caught the bus back to the station. It took half an hour as it goes around the houses but I had the timetable and the electronic board giving details of the next stop was very helpful. It must be pretty near impossible to get lost on here.

I walked a little way along the tramway into town and then it was time to board the train for the return to Paris. Again this was Corail stock, but this time we left precisely on time and arrived back in Paris on the scheduled time. First class was comfortable and I really enjoyed the compartment stock. The whole trip, with a seniors’ discount came to 114 euros which was pretty good.

Friday 29 December (IMG_0756-0788)

The literature says that we are four minutes walk from the Villiers Metro station. This is true although I don’t know why one would want to do it in such a short time. As we leave the apartment there is a small brasserie, bar, coffee shop, internet café on the corner. It has a small dog who seems to know us – he barked at us the first time we went past but does not do so now even though we have not yet been inside. Walking the block to rue de Levis is where the fun starts. Passing the Nicolas wine store on the corner, there are a couple of fruit and vegetable stands, a resident kneeling beggar and today a lady selling the remains of her unsold mistletoe. She was asking people to give her what they thought as mistletoe has no value after Christmas – some people were buying. Next there is a rotisserie and a boucherie, a couple of excellent chain bakeries (Brioche Doree and Paul) then a big display of ladies underwear (panties and bras). Two traiteurs, asiatique and italien) and we come to Monoprix which will has a stand of shellfish outside (and some good wines and prepared foods inside), including boxes of raw oysters but also cooked shrimp and crabs. Next there comes a patisserie and the Charcuterie Bouvier. Bouvier had a stand selling hot prepared foods such as enormous platters of paella and sourkraut also cooked sausages and meats. Finally there is a bakery/patisserie and we can round the café/brasserie and cross the street to the Metro. At least this way there is not the distraction of two wonderful cheese shops but it normally takes more than four minutes when we linger.

Today we decided to go to Buttes Chaumont as the weather looked to be clear. The views towards Sacre Coeur were good but a little misty. There was a thin coating of ice on the lake and the seagulls seemed to be a little bemused why they couldn’t actually get into the water.

Lunch was at the Restaurant/Brasserie Napoleon at the gates of the park, just across from the Mairie of the 19th arrondissement.

We had an excellent bottle of Puilly Fume
Salad of baby spinach with sun dried tomatoes and parmesan cheese shavings.
Escapope de veau Milanese, penne arribiata/civet de lapin with tagliatelli in a wonderful sauce.
Tarte de pomme fine/tarte tatin

The entire meal was well done and excellent.

We walked back to the Jures metro station via the Secretan flower market. The metro line empties out at Place Clichy as the line enters a different socio-economic area. We got off at Place des Ternes and explored the Avenue des Ternes. This is an interesting shopping street and the Poncelet market is probably better than Levis for the slightly better choice and selection.

We found the Ternes market did not reopen until 1600 so we just had a hot chocolate at Neuhaus. The toilet here is quite an experience – getting there is down a flight ove very narrow, twisting stairs and across what appears to be a cross between a lunch room and a storage area. The toilet is set up above three steps and gives real meaning to the moniker “throne”. The wash hand basin can be reached only by leaning over the power cord to the computer. The chocolate was excellent. We drank it below a computer monitor which went through a series of pictures depicting their chocolates and other delicacies sold in the store.

We continued back along Avenue des Termes and turned down the Boulevard de Courcelles and back to rue Levis past the Parc Monceau. This area is very close to L’Arc de Triomphe but it is so different. Termes parallels the Champs Elysees yet it is so much better. The shops are interesting and real people are about their errands. On the Champs Elysees there are hoards of tourists and the stores are the nasty international flagship stores of Gap etc.

Saturday 30 December 2006 (IMG_0789)

Up late again today. It has rained on an off most of the day but not too heavily and it is certainly warmer than it has been.

It is amazing. The local sushi restaurant had eight scooters lined up outside to do deliveries.

We walked through the Batignoles Organic Market to Place de Clichy and verified that the bank cards would work in France. The organic market was good with a tremendous choice of fruit, vegetables, cheese, meat, herbs etc. We visited again the model shops in the rue du Douai where Colin was tempted by a DCC equipped French autorail.

The real triumph of the day was lunch. We ate at Procecco, a new Italian restaurant on rue du Douai. It has only been open 15 days and is somewhat in the style of La Botega in Ottawa – it is a place where you can purchase foods as well as eat. This is a much better restaurant, however, whereas La Botega is a step up from the fast food places.

We were given a spritz and a plate of pizza squares to start. We then chose a plate from the cold appetizers to share between us. These were excellent and included artichoke, eggplant, small sweet onions, small peppers stuffed with tuna, rice with zucchini and tomato wrapped around it – all liberally doused in olive oil. For a main course we let the chef prepare a plate for the two of us which consisted of ravioli stuffed with tuna, pepper stuffed with ground meat and with cheese on top and pasta. The pasta was cooked al dente and the whole meal was excellent. We had a bottle of prosecco to go with it.

We then saw the movie “Happy Feet” which was pretty silly, it dragged in the middle and the story line was stupid but the animation was well done.

We walked back along the rue des Dames and had a beer at La Colombe on the corner. The dog was in attendance.

Sunday 31 December, New Year’s Eve (IMG_0790-0803

Getting up late seems to be a habit. We walked out to do some shopping in rue de Levis. It was really busy and very crowded with a very happy and jocular crowd. The street sellers were shouting their wares at full blast and the mistletoe sellers were back out in force after the lull from Christmas.

We walked out along the Boulevard des Courcelles and through the Parc Monceau. It was pretty mild and a lot of people were just enjoying the walk. From there we went to Place des Ternes and along rue du Faubourg Honore as far as the Elysee Palais. Walking back, most of the restaurants were closed and many of those that were open were not pleasant looking. The biggest disappointment was the Dome de Levis on the corner of Levis. We went in but there was an overpowering stench of cigarette smoke, even in the non-smoking area so we turned down a vacant table. Instead we bought some things on the street (blanquette de Veau with small Yorkshire pudding things and some Italian delicacies). This tided us over until we got to Aux Isles Marquises.

We were greeted as old friends by the staff and were pleased to see that the two old ladies, with the small dog were already there. It turns out that they live close and are regulars throughout the year. The dog behaved itself very well and only came out from under the table a couple of times when it became bored.

We had the table d’hote de St. Sylvestre, starting with a bottle of George Vaisselle champagne from Bouzy and changing briefly to half a bottle of Chateau Bellerose Figeac, St. Emillion grand cru for the venison.

Amuse gueules

Escalope de veau de canard aux figues (wonderful sauce)

Huitres et Saint Jacques au caviar

Turbot aux lamelles de truffles fraiches

Granite de champagne et limon

Noisettes de biche venaison
Mousseline de marrons

Parfait glace mandarine et feuilles de chocolate



The metro was free both getting there and back. Even though we had to change at St. Lazarre, the journey both ways was very quick (about 20 minutes) even though we had to go right across the city.

This is the second time we have been here for New Year’s Eve (also twice for lunch). It is tucked away on the rue de la Gaite which was a location for Music Halls and clubs – similar to the Pigalle. This street has seen better days. It still has lots of small theatres and sex strip shows but this restaurant seems to be able to keep going as a local restaurant. The people who come here know about it in and keep coming back.

Monday 1 January 2007 (IMG_0804-0812)

We did a lot of walking today. The weather started out sunny and warm and, although it clouded over later, it was very pleasant. We were surprised to see that a couple of establishments, notably Bouvier, the charcuterie, were open on rue de Levis, not just bakeries.

We started off by walking via Pont de l’Europe, St. Lazare, 4 Septembre to Au Pied de Cochon, near Les Halles, where we had a reservation for lunch. This is a big noisy place which is open all the time. There are four floors of dining rooms and we were by the window, in no smoking, on the third floor.

Coupe de champagne
Half bottle Sancerre
Smoked salmon
Coquilles St. Jacques/Pied de cochon farcis perigourdine

It was pretty good although the service was slow which was not a problem because nobody was in a hurry today.

After lunch we went to the Seine and crossed over the newly renovated bridge to the Isle de la Cite with its crowds of tourists, past Notre Dame and on to the more pleasant Isle St. Louis. It was quite a hike in the gathering gloom to the Marais and we caught a metro home.

Tuesday 2 January (IMG_0813-0824)

I got out earlier this morning and walked down to the Pont de l’Europe. In the seven minutes from 0936 I saw seven trains come in and six go out. There were 12 trains in the platforms at St. Lazare. Pretty busy.

We decided to ride the tram-train which was opened in November by the SNCF between Bondy and Aulnay-sous-Bois. Getting there was not as straightforward as had been thought because the RER was out of operation at Hausseman-St.Lazare because of signal problems.

The tram-train is double track throughout and uses the SNCF right of way. It is electrified at 25kv and I saw seven 5-module sets. These are painted in the standard SNCF Transilien blue and the tariff system is SNCF. Trains run at 6 minute intervals.

It quickly became evident that this is more of a train than a tram. The top speed is 100 kmph and the acceleration is impressive. There right of way is completely fenced and stops are at established station platforms. There is practically no gap between the train and the platform.

Signalling is of the tramway type with the vertical and horizontal lines of lights to denote go and stop respectively. Although it is double track throughout there is a section of third track in the middle and there are frequent crossovers. The track is ballasted. There are many road crossings, all of which are equipped with traffic signals, but none of them have gates or barriers. At some high traffic crossings the intersection has been turned into a form of traffic circle. There are a number of non signalled pedestrian crossings but these may be fitted with a bell or other form of warning.

Stations are closely spaced for a railway but some distance apart for a tramway. The service is effective and with trains running at six minute intervals it has the capacity to handle a lot of people.

We had dinner this evening at A Table which is in the corner of Saussure and des Dames. It was standard French cooking and not particularly exceptional although reasonable.

Rich vegetable soup with cream/leek with a poached egg
Veal Marengo/confit de canard
Bottle of Pouilly Fume

Wednesday 3 January (IMG_0824-0849)

I went out to get two croissants this morning at the bakery on rue des Dames. Not bad and they only cost .90 each.

We did museums today.

Arts et Metiers was excellent. It is well laid out and there is no attempt to entertain people – it is there to show the development of the various methods of measurement, construction etc. I really enjoyed it. Some of the models were exquisite, especially a steam locomotive modified with a chain of buckets for excavating material. It ran on three rails, presumably to spread the weight and torque of the buckets on one side.

Lunch was at a forgettable smoky place (pork) and then we made our way to the Musee Carnavalet. This is in a well restored chateau and many of the rooms were exquisitely presented. It purports to demonstrate the development of Paris but there is way too much material crammed in. The curators have not exercised restraint as in Arts et Metiers and do not appear to have been very selective at all. The result is that we soon developed very bad cases of information overload. The layout is very, very confusing and we even had difficulty in finding our way out.

Had a beer in the Marais and came back to the apartment via the menswear garment district to Place de la Republique.

Dinner this evening was at Le Wagon Bleu in Batignoles. This features an old Wagon Lits car which is pretty nice. It has been cut down the middle and widened. The meal magret de canard/rognons was ill prepared and very poorly served. Forgettable.

Thursday 4 January (IMG_0851-0857)

We continued our museum kick and went to the Picasso Museum this morning. The permanent exhibit is good and well laid out but there was a temporary one which was not so well done. It was pretty hot and there were a lot of people there.

Lunch was at another forgettable restaurant in the Marais. The patrone looked as if she was recovering from a stroke and needed additional help.
Onion soup gratinee/tomato salad
Chicken and blue cheese salad/confit de canard

We walked around the Marais a little then decided to go to Austerlitz to buy Colin’s ticket for the trip to Romorantin tomorrow.

A walk through the Jardin des Plantes with an enormous metallic dragon, brought us to Juissieu metro and we decided to come home.

Friday 5 January (IMG_0860-0924)

I took a trip to Romorantin and Gievres today which involved an early trip on the Metro to Austerlitz. The Metro is very clean and they have cleared away those annoying beggars with accordions who “entertained” for money. All, that is, except for the mad Russian lady who works line three from Sentier. She gets on and harangues everyone in Russian if she doesn’t get anything she gives the finger to departing passengers from the platform. The Metro trains seem to be more frequent as well.

At Austerlitz I caught the 0706 to Les Aubrais, Orleans. This was hauled by 126072 with a huge train of Corail stock, the train was going to Limoges with a portion splitting for Bourges at Vierzon.

0810 Les Aubrais to Salbris was modern electric stock which rode well and made for a comfortable ride. We stopped at Lamotte Beuvron where I could just glimpse the Hotel Tatin where the tarte tatin originated.

0853 Salbris to Romorantin. I walked out into the yard at Salbris and could hear the train before I picked it out. The new cars make a lot of noise outside but are relatively quiet inside. La Ferte Imbaule and Selles St. Denis were both staffed and the stationmistresses came out to give us authority to proceed. We passed a train at Selles St. Denis where there were a couple of flat cars in the siding. This was evidence of a lot of work that is going on with the track. They have relaid many of the curves and replaced most of the switches. There were no staff at Loreux or Villeherviers which had received a complete new lot of switches. The crossing protection is activated by axle counters. La Faubourg d’Orleans had a stationmistress although this is heavily used by the schoolchildren.

I went into the waiting room at Romorantin to buy my onward tickets to Valencay and return to Gievres. There were two positions at the counter and the lady agent opened the second one and called me forward as someone else was making a complicated transaction at the other spot. I told her what I wanted to do to which she replied:

“Yes, you have got the timetable right, how can I help you?”
“I would like to buy the tickets”
“I am only information, you will have to go to the other line to buy a ticket.”

It took ages to make the actual transaction. There were an incredible number of key strokes to get these two simple tickets out of the machine.

Romorantin has not changed much although the sports bar has a new window front. Gallettes du Roi are big here at this time of year. The streets are very clean, it looks as if there have been some improvements to the sidewalks. I had a coffee and a croissant in town and purchased a chocolate sapin and some Romorantin “paving stones” (Paves de Romorantin) which are chocolate with praline which look like paving stones.

1225 Romorantin to Valencay
Back at the station, I had a little time to wander around the yard and was surprised to see that one of the new units had been involved in a major crossing accident and would require extensive work to put it back into service. The other side of it had been completely covered in graffiti, possibly with the agreement of management. Another of the new cars was also without trucks and so they are down to only three of the five new cars in service. The end result is that they used an old car on the trip to Valencay and back to Gievres. I have never understood the diagrams for the Blanc a Argent. The train from Valencay, which had gone down on my earlier train from Salbris, was replaced by a fresh unit for the trip on to Salbris. If they had one unit spare they could have used this on the train I took to Valencay and sent the other one through. Fuel capacity surely cannot be a problem.

There is still standard gauge trackage at Romorantin even though the last standard gauge freight train left there in the 1980’s or before.

There was a BA train lady on my train to Valencay who checked the tickets of the five travellers. The engineer didn’t get on very well with her especially as she had to give him the authority to proceed from each station. Chabris and Valencay still have stationmistresses – amazing. One wonders if this is a make work program.

At Valencay the train lady got off to have a five minute smoke while the engineer loped off into the bushes to have a pee, while the stationmistress looked on.

1305 Valencay to Gievres. The crossing gate at Chabris has had a bang and is bent right up in the middle.

I received my first setback at Gievres where lunch was finished at La Raboliere. However, I went along to the Café de la Gare where they served a delightful four course meal.
Pichet of red wine.
Beet, egg and onion salad.
Great slab of roast beef with pasta cooked with cinnamon.
Fromage – Saint Maure, local factory chevre (very good), brie, Bleu d’Auvergne, a washed rind cheese. Excellent.
Custard and meringue (it was put on my place so I had to eat it)

With coffee and a calvados the total was €13 which must be the deal of the vacation.

1530 Gievres to Vierzon. . This was a one car modern diesel with a driver under instruction. He was a little hesitant on his braking and we finished up a minute late. The signs of the imminent electrification between Tours and Vierzon were evident.

1633 Vierzon to Paris Austerlitz This was a train of Corail stock from Brive. The engineer came into the station like a bat out of hell. He must have been doing 60 mph at the platform end yet he stopped smoothly without juggling the passengers and he stopped at the precise location. That take a bit of skill. It was dark by the time we stopped at Les Aubrais and we arrived at Austerlitz on time. In fact, apart from the one minute late arrival at Vierzon, all my trains were precisely on time.

We had dinner at le Bistrot de Theo on rue des Dames. This is a comfortable place with a lot of locals.
Pichet of Chablis
Crème de potimarron with crunchy ravioli/ two types of home made foie gras
Dos de caibiiaud (cod) poele with beans/pintade with a Riesling sauce.
Marron and chateigne/fresh fruit

It was pretty good, certainly worth returning to.

Saturday 6 January

We went to the flea market at Porte de Clignancourt today. Once we had run the gauntlet of the cheap and nasty stalls and people standing around hassling us to buy their stuff it was quite good. They had a number of brass soldiers helmets which would have looked pretty impressive at home.

We went back to St. Sulpice and visited Le Machon d’Henri for lunch on rue Guisarde. It was quite cheap and the portions were large but it was not fine dining – the place seems to have gone down since we were there last.
Bottle of Corbieres
Roasted red pepper in olive oil/terrine de volaille
Onglet de veau/confit de canard – both with pommes de terre gratine

We walked this down and finished up at Solferino and returned to Villiers.

Sunday 7 January (IMG_0928-0937)

Off to Versailles today via SNCF TransIlien from St. Lazare which is quicker from this part of town. Along rue de Levis there were a lot of people and there were also many dogs. The Versailles Rive Droit station is no further from the chateau than the usual Rive Gauche one but the walk is more interesting. There is a large street market here on Sundays. Very big indeed and very crowded but not so many dogs.

We decided to get lunch before going into the grounds and settled upon the Resto du Roy which was just passable and it had a non-smoking area.
Bottle of Chinon
Feuillete de champignons/profiteroles de foie gras
St. Jacques/magret de canard
Souffle a la liqueur de mandarine

We walked into the grounds and completely around the lake which took us an hour and five minutes. There were an amazing number of people in the grounds. They were all local people with their dogs and kids on bikes as the tourists do not get beyond the fountains. It was a pleasant warm, sunny day and the exercise was very good. We were pretty tired by the time we returned and went straight back to the station and caught a train back to St. Lazare.

On the way in we picked up a gallette du roi aux pommes Normandie which is the thing to have for Epiphany, today. The two person size cost €6 and this was the smallest. A large one, about 14 inches across cost €35. When biting into it Mary discovered a porcelain figure of a farmer. It would have been difficult if she had swallowed it.

Monday 8 January

Bread and bras. That seems to be about the extent of what you can buy on rue de Levis on Monday mornings! Unless you count Monoprix which sells pretty much everything.

We took the metro to Balard again this morning and the tram to Cite Universitaire. It was a good thing we checked about tickets at the Balard station because a new ticket is required for the tram and it must be cancelled in the on-board ticket machines. Two inspectors went through the tram and found a number of people who were given stern lectures.

It seems the traffic engineers have tweaked the signal systems as the trams seem to be running better now with less interference from the traffic. They are still very busy.

We walked around the park Montsouris which is a large formal English-style one. It is set out almost like an arboretum and there is a large lake complete with ducks, geese and gulls. There is a very expensive restaurant in the park which we declined to visit. Instead we found a brasserie on the edge of the park close to the main road. It was the equivalent of a greasy spoon – the toilets were pay toilets although jetons were available for customers. They have a female impersonator spectacle in the evenings. We won’t bother to go back.

Mary wanted to look at the passages in the rue du faubourg Montmartre area which were all open for business even on a Monday. From there we visited Galleries Lafayette, mainly for the washroom, and then walked via St. Lazare back to the apartment.

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