The Palace of the Sun King

Living in Paris, I think it’s just an assumed part of life that you will at one point or another make your way to Versailles, especially when you have visitors in town. It’s like New Yorkers going to the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty. You live in New York, so it seems instinctive that you would have been to these major landmarks, but don’t tell anyone – I’ve never been to the Empire State Building. I shall add it to my to-do list when I get back to New York in the fall.

I actually went to Versailles when I was in France in high school, but the day of our visit, the workers were on strike and we couldn’t even go inside. It happened to be a beautiful June summer day, so we couldn’t really complain that we had the afternoon to walk around the gardens, as the gardens garner a whole day visit themselves. The thing I probably remember the most about my trip in high school though was the amount of tour buses I saw. I genuinely don’t think I had ever seen so many buses all converged in one place in my life. That in itself was pretty awe-inducing. This past weekend during my visit, it was no where near as crowded and while we had to wait about 20 minutes in line to get in, I can only imagine the wait during peak tourist season in the summer!

So we all know the history of Versailles, right? You have Louis XIV (the Sun King), Marie Antoinette, The French Revolution, Napoleon, etc… It’s a place steeped full in not only French, but world history – the peace treaty ending World War I was signed in the famous hall of mirrors. Perhaps it’s the cynic inside me, or my general lack of interest during our tour, but I was struck with how fake everything seemed. Completely gilded in gold, gawked over by millions of tourists, was this really a place that the French nobility lived?

The famous hall of mirrors: 

I guess this gold and extravagance is an obvious sign that nobility did indeed live here and it’s no surprise why the French Revolution happened if this was how the rich were spending money. At the same time, it all seems so lavish that it’s hard to imagine this was an actual palace inhabited by real people. But then again, I guess that’s what the rich back in the 18th century did, right? Spend lots of money on gaudy and kitschy decorations. I had always heard the Versailles actually smelled awful, as there were no working toilets and people would empty their chamber pots right outside their windows. Not quite the idea of luxury and splendor. Even the door handles are covered in gold! 

I’ve been working on some essays for school and am very much in this mentality that Paris is so much of a spectacle, losing much of it’s original glory and splendor underneath all the gloss – Versailles being a perfect exampled as it is literally gilded over! I’ll try and get past all my cynicism for one moment and recognize that it is still a beautiful building. The hall of mirrors is something you have to see in your lifetime and reading about the excessive sleeping practices of the King was pretty funny. (Getting a chance to watch the King go to bed was a thought of as a great honor). There was some beautiful artwork not only framed and hung, but painted directly onto the walls and ceilings.

The Kings bed:
The top of the Queens bed: The Coronation of Napoleon: 

After we finished inside, which involved being hit in the back by more than a few backpacking toting Asian tourists, we took a tour around the gardens, but it’s still a little cold here in France, so most of the statues were covered and all the fountains were off. We did stop at Marie Antoinettes house, as she had her own housing unit on the other side of the compound, away from the main chateau. I guess her and Louis XVI really didn’t get along. Having already been to the gardens before, I wasn’t that disappointed that it was all green with no color, but I was reminded how nice it would be to just spend an afternoon sitting down by the canal in a few weeks when it starts to get sunny outside. I will definitely come back not for the palace, but to have a picnic in the park! 

Walking around with the ‘rents: 
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Creamy Spinach & Tomato Pasta

Back in the States, I was very much an eat dinner around 7ish type of person. In high school I ate dinner with my family just about every night around the table (or counter I should really say) and in New York, I would either make a meal for myself or to share with my roommates. In Paris, I’ve found that eating anytime before 8 seems to be quite taboo. I walked into a pizza place on one of my first days in Paris around 7:15 and they said it was too early to order. How crazy is that? I guess eating later goes in line with the whole mentality of taking a much longer and enjoyable lunch here, so you’re satiated until an 8 o’clock dinner.

Trying to be the best Parisian I can while I’m here, I find that I’m falling into this pattern of eating later myself. Last night, after having a lunch around 1:00, I looked at my clock and saw that it was already 8:15 and I had yet to start making anything to eat. I had bought these tomatoes earlier in the week and didn’t want them to go bad, so even though it was late, I was still hungry and this was an easy, yet very delicious recipe to whip up in about 20 minutes. By 8:45 I was back at my computer watching some Breaking Bad. (Side note – everyone needs to watch this show. It’s so good!)

Cooking for myself if often challenging, which is why I love to bake, as baked goods are easy to transport the following day to give as gifts. Last year I at least had the option of giving my leftovers to my roommates. Now that I’m all by myself, I try to remember that whatever I’m going to make I’m probably going to have to eat for 3 or 4 days depending on how big the servings are. I guess in theory the answer to all this would be to make food in smaller quantities, but sometimes it’s easier to just use a whole onion or a whole pack of spinach instead of having small amounts of these ingredients left over, which I often find go bad before I get the chance to use again.
This is really simple pasta dish that I will not mind having in my fridge for a few days. I’ve been on a soy kick lately, as I was trying to limit my dairy intake a few weeks ago when I was feeling sick, so instead of half & half, I used soy and some ermante cheese I had in my fridge. I did notice that my cheese tended to clump up a bit, so using parmesan cheese (and possibly cows milk) the cheese mixture might combine with the pasta a little better. Cooked spinach is so delicious, especially when you add cheese. I still have some leftover, but it’s mostly pasta now, as I ate most of the spinach last night 😉 In the end, the leftovers somehow always manage to get eaten, but I can’t wait to have roommates again next year to eat it fresh!
Creamy Spinach & Tomato Pasta 

(Adapted from Eat Yourself Skinny)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3/4 lb. whole wheat pasta (I used penne)
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 shallot, thinly sliced
  • 1 (5 oz) package baby spinach
  • 1/2 cup vegetable broth broth
  • 1/4 cup milk, half & half or soy milk
  • 1 oz. grated Parmesan cheese, divided
  • 1/2 tsp. ground pepper
  • 1 (8 oz) container grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise
  • 1 Tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley

DIRECTIONS:

1) Cook pasta according to package directions.

2) While pasta is cooking, heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add your sliced shallot; reduce heat to medium-low, and cook for about 1 to 2 minutes or until translucent.

3) Add spinach and broth; cover and cook for 1 minute.

4) Add milk, 3/4 of the Parmesan cheese and the black pepper.  Stir to combine; cook for 3 minutes and remove from heat.
 
5) Combine spinach mixture, pasta and tomatoes in large bowl.  Garnish with parsley and remaining cheese.

6) Enjoy 🙂

Rue Montorgueil

All good things must come to an end and after three solid weeks of wonderful French vacation, I actually have to start thinking about school related matters again. I guess this isn’t really a bad thing given that I’m actually somewhat looking forward to starting school again here in France, but I think the end of any vacation is always a little bitter sweet, especially after this amazing one that I’ve been having.

Before I jumped back into the world of French classes, meeting new people and trying to write my resume in French in order to apply to some internships while I’m here, I took a walk down Rue Montorgueil, towards the center of town near Les Halles. (More on Les Halles later, but honestly, it’s just a big mall now – nothing of its former glory). Now Rue Montorgueil, in my opinion, is certainly one of the more exciting streets in Paris. While cars are allowed to drive down, I don’t know why they ever would want to, as pedestrians take over this small cobblestone street in pursuit of delicious pastries or some famous escargot!

This is the ideal place to go if you wanted to try a baguette, eat an eclair, buy some fish and cheese and grab a café while doing some serious people watching all at the same time. If you only had a quick layover in Paris, I think walking down this street would be a great way to get a little bit of all things French in one go-around. It gives a picture of how Paris manages to be resolutely modern while preserving a rich heritage. Some of the shops on this street have been around for over 200 years and there are countless signs outlining the significance of some of the historical sites. But of course, as I have come to find on many streets in Paris, a Starbucks sit right on the corner, for anyone who was thought they might be too far from home.

An escargot feast: 

Some old fashioned street art: One of many boulangeries on the street: MORA – a pastry chefs heaven: In addition to the great patisseries and food shops, there are some of the most amazing kitchen supply shops around the corner from Rue Montorgueil. I am already planning my kitchen for when I have my own house someday, decked out with all professional grade stuff 😉 If you’ve ever been to the Zabars kitchen store in New York, it pails in comparison to these stores. There are chocolate molds for everything occasion, industrial size ladles and spatulas and more knick knacks and gadgets then I could ever dream what to do with.

Imagine these all filled with chocolate: 

While walking through the kitchen supply stores, wishing I could own everything, I was reminded of the scene in Julie & Julia when Julia Childs walks through a kitchen store in Paris throwing everything she lays her hand onto into her basket. I cannot wait for the day when I can do the same!

Classic copper dish-wear: 

The label said that somehow this is used for deboning fish, but it looks like it would be the perfect tool for taking out someone’s heart: Because one always needs a cake mold of France: 

Les Puces de Paris

The Paris flea market, called Le Marché aux Puces, is definitely an experience like no other. I’ve been to my fair share of flea markets, but this place is HUGE! There is so much stuff – from historic antiques, funky vintage trinkets, to new cheap clothing. According to their website, it’s the biggest flea market in the entire world, which I would believe! This is truly a place where I don’t think you are simply searching for a bargain, but for some really extraordinary and one of kind objects.

When Audrey and I walked out of the metro, I was a little hesitant about what we would find, as this is definitely not the nicest part of Paris and the first place we saw were stalls dealing quite glamourous antique tables and chandeliers, ancient statues and grand armoires. I was worried that this was what the entire flea market would be like, but little did I realize the larger flea market is made of smaller little markets each specializing in just about anything you could ever imagine. 

The Marché de Vernaison is the original flea market, established in 1920, and where I think the true treasures are to be found. I spent ages sorting through a box of 80 year old postcards, reading love letter and poems. I tried in vain to pick out a tea cup, but realized buying a tea cup in Paris did not seem all that practical. I even found an Oregon memorabilia plate, but unfortunately the owner of that stall wouldn’t let me take a picture. 

One could easily furnish their entire house from the marche. It was clear that anything you wanted to buy required some serious haggling skills. For anyone who is a watcher of Pawn Stars on the history channel (seriously, check it out) this is the place to be! Rick would be in heaven. While we didn’t spend hours sorting through piles of junk, I’m sure if you did, there are treasures to be found.

The flea market was really quite amazing. It made me think about how old Paris is and how steeped in history you are. Whenever I walk down a street, I imagine what it must have been like to be in that same place 100, 200 or even 300 years ago. Unlike New York, where I feel so many buildings have been rebuilt in near recent history, walking down the cobblestone streets of Paris still feels very old, almost as if nothing has changed. Obviously, walking down my block, where you have Starbucks, Gap, Sephora and a movie theater all within 100 yards of each other, you know that Paris is still a 21st century city, but walking in the Marché au Puces certainly took me back in time again!
A newspaper celebrating the 10 year anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps: 
Johnnie Walker: Stereotypical American couple? The French did give us Ms. Lady Liberty: Hilarious name plates:
We all know those hippies smell bad 😉