Thursday, July 30, 2015

Twenty-four hours in Paris

French Village Diaries 24 hours in Paris Villa Modigliani Montparnasse
Villa Modigliani, Paris

Our recent trip to Paris might have been a quick one, but it was almost perfect and as five years have passed since I was last there, it made me realise that five years is too many years to stay away from Paris.

Adrian often arrives at Montparnasse station when travelling for work and pops above ground for a coffee, before making his way by Metro to Gard du Nord for either the Eurostar to UK or the Thalys to Belgium. It is an area of Paris he knows well, but one I don’t think I had ever been to until last weekend. He booked us a night at the Villa Modigliani that has a private, secure underground car park, but is also an easy walk to Montparnasse station and two Metro stops. As we drove, having the car park was very handy, but I would say small cars would be preferable as it was quite scary getting the Mondeo around the tight corners.

French Village Diaries 24 hours in Paris Villa Modigliani Montparnasse
The cosiest shower
The hotel is hidden in a secluded courtyard with a pretty terrace to the front and back that had the weather been better we would probably have made good use of. Our room in the eaves was clean, cosy and comfortable, and we both slept really well. It was surprisingly quiet for a room in a city; even with the window open on Monday morning, when Paris was busy, the courtyard muffled the street noise nicely. The bathroom in the eaves meant the shower was rather limited for space unless you were short like me, but for us it was a rare luxury to have a bath. 

Our rooftop views (sadly not of the Eiffel Tower which we only glimpsed from the car on the drive in) were of real Parisian life through open kitchen windows; the young man washing his dishes in his modern fitted kitchen, the elderly lady making her dinner in her rather dated kitchen, the young couple preparing for a night out. There were also apartments with huge picture windows leading to flower decked roof terraces, empty of life as the weather wasn’t really alfresco weather.

French Village Diaries 24 hours in Paris Villa Modigliani Montparnasse
Rooftops of Paris
After our chilly but fun afternoon watching the Tour de France on Rue de Rivoli we took the Metro back to Montparnasse and on the walk to the hotel we found a small family run Italian restaurant, which looked just perfect for our evening meal. After a quick freshen up at the hotel we were seated in La Mamma (by the Italian mother) enjoying an aperitif and watching the pizza chef (her son) working away in full view of the diners. The pizzas were delicious, the service was friendly and full of smiles and the prices were not too dissimilar to our rural restaurant prices. 

French Village Diaries 24 hours in Paris Villa Modigliani Montparnasse
Paris Metro

The staff at the Villa Modigliani were all very friendly and I would have no hesitation in going back or recommending the hotel, the only negative I can think of was that their breakfast is priced at 16€ per person, but Paris isn’t short of cafés serving coffee and croissants. We chose an open fronted window seat at Adrian’s regular café when he is making the trek from Montparnasse to Gard du Nord. Having him as my own personal tour guide meant I looked far less like the lost tourist I would have been without him. Two café alongés and two croissants for 8.20€ was much more within our budget and the bonus was that we got to walk there and watch a bit of early morning life on the way. It was quite the sensory overload for me from the smell of the boulangeries, the beauty in the stonework and the balconies as well as the people. I love my quiet village life, but Paris gave me tourists in colourful rain coats with wheelie suitcases, a lady in high heels daintily peddling a hire bike to work, a suited and chic scarf-wrapped man on a moped and even a smart lady scooting her way along the pavement, as well as the sleepers curled up in the doorways. I am also happy to report we didn’t meet one surly Parisian; even the waiter in the café at breakfast smiled and served us without delay.

French Village Diaries 24 hours in Paris Villa Modigliani Montparnasse
Breakfast in Paris

Paris, thank you for an almost perfect 24 hours. I will be back and I promise not to leave it so long next time, but please can we have better weather next time, thank you.

This is not a sponsored post, but should you wish to stay at Villa Modigliani or eat at La Mamma here is where you can find them:
Villa Modigliani, 13 rue Delambre, 75014 Paris 01 56 54 20 00
La Mamma Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria, 46 rue Vavin, 75006 Paris 01 46 33 17 92

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Watching Le Tour de France Paris 2015

French Village Diaries Tour De France 2015 Paris Team Sky Chris Froome Yellow Jersey
Chris Froome, Tour de France, Rue de Rivoli, Paris

We are just back from a rather last minute quick break to Paris, a lovely surprise by Adrian to mark the end of a long five-week work contract in Cambridge. With him working away I was left home alone to deal with Ed’s exams, a 12-hour drive to UK (and back again), a poorly cat, who last week sadly left us after 17 years of love and cuddles, as well as the normal day to day activity at home and in the village. A night in Paris to experience the final of the Tour de France was the best idea ever and we had a great time.

The plan had been to arrive at the hotel as close to checking in time as possible (which we did, to the minute – Adrian is quite precise about timings), then head out to reacquaint ourselves with Paris and watch some of the ladies cycle race, La Course, before selecting a good spot to watch Le Tour finish. Sadly we had to make do with watching La Course on French TV in the hotel room as it was pouring with rain, but we weren’t going to let a bit of damp and chill spoil our chances of experiencing Le Tour final.

French Village Diaries Tour De France 2015 Paris Rue de Rivoli
Rue de Rivoli, Tour de France
With a slight improvement in the weather we staked our spot on Rue de Rivoli, just after the 1km to go flag and next to a bouncing German woman and her husband – I’m guessing her constant bouncing (to keep warm) had put off anyone else from crowding in next to her. With the peloton making ten laps of the 7km circuit around the Jardins des Tuileries and down the Avenue des Champs Elysées we got to see quite a bit of action. On the first pass the Sky train (the term used for a line of cyclists all from the same team) was leading the peloton and being cheered by the multi-national crowd. Having seen so much in the press about the abuse they have received on the Tour, it was nice not to experience anything other than cheering in Paris. The other cycle passes gave us breakaways (individual riders heading out front) to cheer on and the lead-out trains of Lotto Soudal and Etixx-Quick-Step, taking their turns for their sprinters André Greipel (who eventually crossed the line first) and Mark Cavendish. We were able to recognise a few riders as they flashed past including the white jersey of Nairo Quintana, Mark Cavendish’s unmistakable shape, Chris Froome in yellow and the members of his team. Just opposite were a group of Welsh supporters who were stood over one of the Metro air vents (warm air would have been very welcome) helping their Welsh flag to fly high and proud, and yes Geraint Thomas did notice them as Sky lined up for their final cycle past. 

French Village Diaries Tour De France 2015 Paris Team Sky Chris Froome Yellow Jersey
Team Sky, Tour de France, Paris 2015
Once the cloud had lifted a little (we almost saw the sun) the Patrouille de France were able to make their fly past overhead, but Paris, how could you be so cold? Even with walking shoes, socks and raincoat my fingers were numb, my lips turned blue and I don’t think I’ve ever been so cold in July before. Even the rather too-close proximity of the German man behind me didn’t offer much in extra heat! After three weeks in the saddle I’m sure the riders were extremely happy and relieved to cross the finish line for the final time, but not quite as happy as I was to get back on the Metro and begin to thaw out. Why oh why didn’t we pack our gloves?

French Village Diaries Tour De France 2015 Paris Patrouille de France
Patrouille de France, Paris Tour de France 2015

For first-timers at Le Tour in Paris I think we did well to find a pretty good position, being within the last kilometre rather than outside it and if we go again I’d certainly be happy to be in the same position. However, had we braved the pouring rain and got out earlier we might have been able to do slightly better, maybe on the Champs Elysées to watch them on the cobbled stretch or at least in sight of the big screen at Place de la Concorde, but we would have probably needed medical assistance for hypothermia. We certainly got to experience the atmosphere and see all we needed, with the exception of who crossed the line first, but a replay on a TV in a bar on the way back to the Metro filled us in nicely.

We have only been fans of Le Tour since 2012, thanks to the Wiggo effect, but have managed to catch live action in Tours in 2013, London in 2014 as well as Paris in 2015. Would we do it again – you bet; we are already looking forward to next year.

I will post more about Paris, our hotel and food in my next post.

You can also read my top ten tips for watching the Tour de France in Paris on Freewheeling France here.

This post has been linked to Paris in July. See here for more Paris posts.


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Garden produce show

French Village Diaries Garden Club Show potager orchard vegetable gardening
Ready for the garden show
Yesterday, with a little trepidation, I took part in my first ever garden produce show, organised by the local gardening club I joined last year. As I am now on the committee I found myself taking an active part in organising it, despite my lack of experience, which was a little daunting. My main role was to drum up enthusiasm and ensure as many members as possible felt comfortable entering something. We are only a small club and our show was very much run for a fun afternoon, (we are a long way off being an RHS event like Chelsea) and as there were plenty of entries and lots of laughter, I think we succeeded.

Despite the fun, relaxed atmosphere I was promoting I don’t mind admitting that in the days leading up to it I was a little nervous. I was really hoping my vegetable garden wouldn’t let me down at the last minute as having a set of three identical sized, not too big, not too small, of each fruit or vegetable to be entered, that are ready to pick on the day isn’t as easy as it sounds. I was a little disappointed with the courgettes and beetroots, but entered them anyway, however the plums, chillies, yellow patissons and onions were looking tip top, or so I thought until I added them to the groaning vegetable produce table. The judges were kind enough to give my pretty patissons the second prize (there were some very nice and shiny red onions that won), which I was very pleased with.

French Village Diaries Garden Club Show potager orchard vegetable gardening
Second place patissons
I had saved a couple of jars of 2014 chutney and one of relish to enter and here I was very nervous. I know my family; especially my mother and father-in-law love my chutneys, but what if the judges didn’t? I’ve a bit of a reputation for chutney making, especially courgette chutney so this category was a real test. Alas, the winner of this category wasn’t one of mine, but again I was awarded the second place for my courgette and windfall apple and pear chutney with piment d’Espelette, phew!

French Village Diaries Garden Club Show potager orchard vegetable gardening chutney
Second place chutney
I also baked a cake, a recipe I have used many times, but still found myself checking and rechecking my measurements and method, as well as fretting while it cooked. Would it sink? Would the almond flavour come out? Would the windfall pears cook enough, but not too much? Yet again I was piped to the first post (by a delicious lemon drizzle cake) but I was very happy to be awarded (another) second place prize.

French Village Diaries Garden Club Show potager orchard vegetable gardening cake
Second place pear cake
The final category I entered was the handicrafts with a bit of a blast from the past, a cross-stitch sampler I completed in 1991 and has been hung on various different walls since then. This time there was no first or second place for me here, but I did get third place and I think three seconds and one third for my eleven entries in five categories, in my first show was respectable enough and gives me room for improvement next year.

French Village Diaries Garden Club Show potager orchard vegetable gardening cross-stitch sampler
Third place cross-stitch sampler

Monday, July 20, 2015

My patissiere challenge, the religieuse

French Village Diaries patisserie challenge Religieuse boulangerie France
My patisserie challenge, religieuse

Welcome back to my patisserie challenge. It has been many weeks I know, but going away and indulging in a daily patisserie, followed by a busy and somewhat stressful time coordinating Ed’s Brevet studies/exams (he passed), Adrian’s work (five weeks back to back commuting from rural France to Cambridge), stuff going awry at home (see here) and a very poorly cat, plus a well earned break for our village boulanger has meant time and tastings have slipped somewhat. My plan at the beginning of the year was to enjoy eating something different from our village boulangerie every Sunday, but I was getting dangerously close to having sampled all there was to offer, however yesterday I was delighted to find something I had yet to try.

The patisserie in the spotlight today is the religieuse a double-decker choux pastry bun that might just hold the secret to the perfect patisserie portion. The religieuse, which can be chocolate or coffee flavoured (I chose chocolate as I’m a chocoholic), is so called as it apparently looks like a Nun, or at least I’m guessing that in 1850’s Paris when it was invented, Nuns looked squat and rounded rather than chocolate covered. The two buns are stuffed full of either chocolate or coffee flavoured crème patissière and coated in a glossy ganache that again is flavour coordinated. It is then decorated (and held together) with delicately piped buttercream. It is very pretty to look at and truly delicious to eat, I especially liked the dark chocolate ganache topping as it was slightly bitter and cut through the sweetness of the chocolate filling. Having eaten and very much enjoyed the rich and chocolaty larger bun, I was delighted that the experience wasn’t yet over and although two big buns would have been too much, a second smaller one was just perfect.

I have yet to try making my own choux pastry, but as there is a great step by step guide and recipe in Teatime in Paris by Jill Colonna, maybe this summer I might.

Here are my previous patisserie challenge posts, in case you missed them:

Monday, July 6, 2015

Happy it's Monday again

French Village Diaries Life in France Summer holidays
I'm happy it's Monday

I was quite glad to wake up this morning and find that it was Monday and the start of a brand new week, as the last two weeks have been hectic and I’m rather pleased to see the back of them.

The first week was a week of lasts. The last of my English conversation club sessions at the local college before the summer break, and with staff changes in September it may well have been the last ever. The last of Ed’s music group sessions and electric guitar lessons for this year and I waved Ed off from the gate for the last time to take the eight am bus to school from the stop by the church in the village, sniff. Ed has now finished school, as we know it. He has taken his Brevet (end of secondary school qualification) and has been given a place at a lycée just over twenty kilometres away, where from Tuesday 1st September he will be a weekly boarder. I think I felt more emotional at this important life stage than he did and certainly hadn’t expected it to feel as stomach sickeningly nerve-wracking as it did when he sat his exams, but we seem to have survived. Since school has finished his social life seems to have been a whirl of sleepover parties and celebrations, with emotions running high as they fumble along in the confusing world that is adolescence and independence. As I write this I have been invaded by five extra teens, the pool is crowded and the sound system is blasting their favourite music at a volume to rival a concert at Glastonbury. I'm not used to such noise!

French village Glastonbury
Last Tuesday, while Ade was working away in UK, Ed and I woke up to a house with no power. I managed, eventually, to work out how to flick the all-important switch to get back most things, but we were left with no lights in the bedroom or bathroom and no hot water! The electrician came on Friday and very quickly traced the fault to the pool pump, which we discovered had melted, as had we all in the heat wave, but at least the enforced cold showers were actually lukewarm and quite refreshing. It is amazing how these things only ever seem to happen when Ade is working away, but thankfully the French Air Traffic Controllers cancelled their proposed strike on Thursday and Friday enabling him to come home and pick up the pieces, as buying and fitting a new pool pump is not something I could have done. With temperatures into the high thirties most of last week I had enough to do with all the watering, weeding, picking and preserving the vegetables and fruit etc although Ed is in charge of dog walking and has been persuaded to help around the house a bit more now school is out.

I'm hoping this week will be a bit more relaxed and at least I’ve got the Tour de France TV coverage and Ned Boulting's 101 Damnations book to keep me entertained and lots of courgette (zucchini) cooking to keep me busy.