Monday, 30 January 2012

Bastille: the coolest Place in Paris

There aren't many place names in Paris that sound tough. Rivoli, Saint-Michel, and (my personal favourite), Michel-Ange-Molitor ... reading a metro map sounds like romantic poetry and conjures up more images of holiness than of war and even the troubled suburbs have deceptively gentle sounding names. But step off the train at Bastille, take a walk over the Pont de l'Arsenal, and you know you're in a place that's a little rough around the edges. In a very Parisian way, of course.

Place de la Bastille is where all aspects of Paris meet. The site of the famous prison is still a prime spot for demonstrations and you'll usually at least be accosted by a few petitioners even if there isn't and outright manif. It's where the teenagers are neither entirely dressed from The Kooples nor clad head to toe in shell suits, but are a bit goth instead. It's home to the modern opera house and endless independent bars and music venues. The edges are a bit grimy, but on a sunny day, the golden Spirit of Liberty statue glints as it appears to take off into the blue sky.

For me, though, the best bit is the port, which lies on the canal between the Place and the Seine. You can stroll through the park and along the quay next to all kinds of interesting boats and even watch the lock in operation before you pass under a grimy bridge and arrive at the river.

After that, if you walk along the river promenade, the towers of Notre-Dame will appear in the distance, and soon enough you will be back in chic, touristy Paris once again.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Au Pied du Cochon

I was out for drinks with friends last weekend. As often happens on a Friday night, what started out as after-work drinks turned into several hours in the pub putting the world to rights and next thing we knew it was nearly ten o'clock and we still hadn't had dinner.

As we were a large group, our options for eating were a bit limited. We were about to go for a 15 euro tourist menu in at St Michel when someone suggested we try Au Pied du Cochon instead.

Au Pied du Cochon is an enormous brasserie next to the Les Halles shopping centre and one of its big advantages is that it's open until 5am and you can turn up with a group of ten people and they won't bat an eyelid. It also has very nice decor and comfy seats. And another one of its selling points is that you can actually eat pigs feet there.

I personally wasn't up for trying this particular delicacy at 11 o'clock at night, and had some very nice onion soup instead but my friend did, and was presented with a magnificent plate of chips, vegetables and, resting in pride of place, an enormous pig's trotter.

Unfortunately, I don't think my friend enjoyed his dinner as much as he had hoped. According to the one genuine Frenchman of the group, the only way to appreciate its finer flavours is to bite directly into the marrow and suck out the juice, so maybe he just wasn't quite brave enough. For those of us who were too cowardly to join him in his gastronomic escapades, there were small meringue pigs served with the coffee at the end of the meal and, to be honest, that was enough for me.

Apart from that, we mostly enjoyed our food and our one major criticism of the place was our first waiter who, when asked for a recommendation for wine from the genuine Frenchman, shrugged his shoulders and said, "Drink what you like." Now everybody knows that no Parisian dining experience is complete without a certain degree of disrespect for the customer but disrespect for the wine? That's pretty shocking.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Festive Celebrations in Rennes

I spent Christmas in the UK with my parents but was back in France in time to spend a few days in Bretagne with Understanding Frenchman and his relatives before new year. A family birthday in the middle of the week meant that we spent a lot of time drinking champagne and eating cake, meaning that, by the time I had also eaten an 8-hour, 7 course meal at new year, I was ready for some gastronomic austerity when the time came to go back to work.

Another "highlight" (of sorts) of the trip was the opportunity to see the festive light show in the main square in Rennes. They projected lights onto the facade of the town hall, accompanied by a voiceover story and music. I've seen this kind of show before in France and the special effects have always been impressive. The mairie at one point did actually look as if it were covered in gold. And yes, that is a giant teddy bear you can see:

The story, on the other hand, was a little strange. It told the story of a little boy who had a dream about the economic crisis where at one point a triple A rating was projected on the walls of the building as, in all their gilded glory, they crumbled into dust. The show ended with falling white feathers and Socialist red roses. Guess which party the mayor is from?