in Food, Travel

Paris 2013: In the Land of Wine and Cheese

Greetings from Paris! For almost a week, Kim and I have been exploring the city from an apartment near the Sentier metro stop. Every day, we walk down Rue Montorgueil, a bustling pedestrian thoroughfare filled with produce stands and fish shops and boulangeries. With all the people packed into cafés, it feels very much like Rue Cler (where Kris and I stayed in 2010), but with more average Parisians. And at night, if we mistakenly take the next street over, we can see sex shops and streetwalkers. Quite the contrast!

We’re actually very pleased with our apartment. It’s small but functional, and the location is perfect.

Preparing to climb 667 steps to the second floor of the Eiffel Tower!
Kimberly, preparing to climb 667 steps to the second floor of the Eiffel Tower

When I was here three years ago, we spent a lot of time exploring the famous landmarks of Paris: the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, and so on. Kim and I have done some of that. We actually climbed the Eiffel Tower, for instance (something I didn’t do last time), and we made a quick tour of the Louvre (with an epic journey to locate the Dutch masters). But mostly we’ve done a lot of walking — and we’ve eaten a lot of wine and cheese.

Note: Kim had shoulder surgery three weeks before we left for this trip, which is a mixed blessing. We wouldn’t have been able to take so much time together to explore Paris and — eventually — London and Oslo if she weren’t required to take eight weeks off work. But the sore and healing shoulder is also a liability. It limits the things we can do. And on our way back from climbing the Eiffel Tower, she stumbled at the top of the stairs from the subway. She managed to not land on her shoulder, but she was still sore for days after.

Taking in the art at the Louvre

On most of my past trips, I’ve had a fairly clear agenda: I’ve known where I wanted to go and what I wanted to see. But when Nick and I traveled to Turkey last September, I had a hell of a lot of fun by not planning things. We sketched in where and when we wanted to be, but for the most part we just made things up as we went along. Because Kim and I both like to “go with the flow”, we decided to do the same sort of thing on this trip (with the notable exception of Norway, which is very planned).

Browsing the streets of Paris

As a result, we’ve spent our days in Paris just wandering the streets. When we find something that looks interesting, we stop to take a look. Some days we set out with a destination in mind, but we don’t always reach it. Yesterday, for instance, I wanted to visit the Orangerie (a museum of impressionist art) and the Arc de Triomphe. We didn’t do either. We stopped outside Notre Dame to sit in the sun, and then wandered again into the Latin Quarter where we fumbled our way through the alleys of shops and cafés. We stopped for crepes. We looked in shop windows. We bought a painting.

A small boy makes a donation to a Dixieland band playing in the Latin Quarter

Eventually we crossed the Seine to Champs-Élysées. We stopped on a side street for a glass of wine, and I was startled to realize that we’d managed to find the exact same restaurant where Kris and I had a miserable meal of lousy steaks three years ago. (The wine that Kim and I had this time wasn’t much better.)

A common sight on this trip: Me with my camera

In the evening, we celebrated my birthday with a delicious meal at Le Patio Provençal, a restaurant recommended to me by Nomadic Matt.

We had a great day today, too. We booked a wine and cheese tasting at O Chateau. As we’ve done so many times since arriving here last Thursday, we consumed a ton of wine and cheese.

Our hostess, Charlotte, served us five wines and five cheeses. The pairings were fantastic, especially the last two. For the record, we got to try:

  • A champagne (brut chardonnay) with brie.
  • A saumur (chenin blanc) with Sainte Maure de Touraine.
  • A brouilly/beaujolais (gamay) with Tome d’Auvergne.
  • A haut médoc/bourdeaux (cab/merlot blend) with Comté.
  • A monbazillac (semillon/sauv blanc) with Roquefort.

You’ll notice that I’ve listed the wines a couple of different ways. That’s because French wine is classified different than American wine. In the U.S., our wines are sold by grape varietal. We buy a cabernet sauvignon or a merlot or a chardonnay, for instance. That’s not how the French buy wines. They buy based on region: Bordeaux or Champagne or Beaujolais. (Actually, they buy by subregion or terroir.) The French feel that the place the grapes are grown has as much impact on the quality of the wine as the grapes themselves.

Anyhow, we had a lot of wine and cheese for lunch today.

Our cheeses today at O Chateau

Actually, I’m beginning to believe that Parisians are fueled by just three “nutrients”: wine, cheese, and bread. For the past week, that’s what I have been fueled by.

The day we arrived, we picked up some bread and goat cheese to eat for our breakfasts. A couple of times, we’ve eaten at Au Rocher de Cancale, where I’ve had wine and cheese. I’ve had wine and cheese for nearly every meal, as a matter of fact. You might think that after a week, the wine would be catching up with me, but it’s not the case. The cheese, on the other hand, is causing problems.

Thankfully, we’ll soon be moving on to lands where cheese is less plentiful. On Thursday morning, we’ll take a train across the English Channel, rent a car in London, and then gradually make our way north to Edinburgh. Maybe we’ll see Stonehenge or stop in Bath or catch a soccer match in Liverpool. We’re not sure. And you know what? We don’t care. We’re having a lot of fun just making things up as we go along.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for dinner. I think maybe I’ll have some wine and cheese…

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  1. Just found some stats about the French and cheese: nearly half of the French eat cheese on a daily basis, and the average cheese consumption is a pound of cheese per person per week!

    • In contrast, the latest estimates are that the average American consumes 76.7 pounds of sugar per year. (That’s an oddly specific number, isn’t it?) So nearly a pound and a half per person per week. Yikes!

      Note: This is downward revision (as of fall 2012) from previous estimates of 95-100 pounds per person per year.

      In case you’re curious, about half is refined cane and beet sugar, ca. 35% is HFCS (this is down considerably in the past decade), and ca. 15% is “other sweeteners.”

      And now… Back to your regularly scheduled programming. 🙂

      • Nice program indeed JD. Love your photo’s perspective too, or was that of Kim’s 😉 Digital and I had almost the same route as yours & Kim, two years ago, started with Paris, but we took a detour to Brussels, Antwerp and Gent before crossing the English Channel. You might like to check out the Lake District on your way to Liverpool too … and a few days stay maybe? Have fun.

  2. We’ve been living in London a few years now and have rented a car and driven about the UK on a few occasions. We have a gps as well as some old maps/guidebooks if you want to borrow them.

  3. I’m sure you will. but please let us know what you do in London and Edinburgh! My husband and I are taking our honeymoon there this summer, and I can’t wait!

  4. I know that you are just wandering around and probably museums are not your primary destinations, but a usually overlooked museum is the “National Museum of Natural History in Paris”, it has an ambience that I cannot describe and looks like it was extracted from the books of Jules Verne.

  5. I did a lot of international travel in college – and while I’ve seen lots of famous places – there is something to be said for the day that we lost our guidebook and instead sat on the Charles Bridge in Prague and listed to a polka band for a couple hours. Later that day we wandered into a church for an organ recital (which was fantastic), and met a stranger who helped us find some traditional Czech drink and food. Probably one of my favorite days from that trip.

  6. Sounds like you guys are having a great time. We would love to visit Paris again, but there are so many other places on our to see list. Some day…

  7. great description of my beloved hometown! Every time I go back wine, bread and cheese is my daily diet, and strangely I lose weight! must be in the genes…

  8. Try Cambridge on the way to Edinburgh, or a train ride to Cardiff for a couple days. Cardiff Castle is beautiful and not overwhelming. Edinburgh Castle is much larger with more guests. Climb to Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh (near the Parliament). See if you’re able to get on the American Air Force bases (30 minutes past Cambridge, RAF Lakenheath, RAF Mildenhall, and RAF Feltwell). Walk from London Bridge to Tower Bridge in the “alley” and see all the great shops and restaurants.

  9. Is it just me or did anyone else have a strangely powerful craving for good cheese after you finished reading?

    I think I’m going to have some bread and goat cheese for breakfast now.

  10. Am living in the UK now and you can NOT miss the Lindisfarne monastery right on the way to Edinburgh….but you have to check tide tables to make sure you can make it. Edinburgh is wonderful…walk the Royal Mile…and lots of good seafood restaurants….and haggis, of course.

    And Liverpool…really!?

    Pff…..Manchester is the place to watch a match…UNITED ‘TILL I DIE:-D


  11. Love, love, love cheese! When I was stricter with my budget and was tracking my spending, cheese was my one splurge and I actually had a line in my budget for cheese. Looks like you are having a great trip. On a side note, can you or any readers recommend a good camera in the $100 range? I ask because I believe you have written about photography in the past and I want to start learning more. I think $100 is a reasonable amount for a beginner or am I off here, too? I obviously have lots to learn about the world of photography. Thank you and safe travels!

  12. Mmmm…Cheese!!! And of a much different quality than the lame bricks of Colby-Jack that we often consume! 🙂

    You’ve convinced me that we should plan some good cheeses for the wine tour on the 20th!

    So great to see you two wondering. Enjoy!

  13. So let me guess… do you guys like wine and cheese? 🙂 My wife grew up on a wine farm but she’s become intolerant to dairy products and most breads, so this wouldn’t work for us. That’s our excuse and we’re sticking to it! 🙂

    Nice tip about the apartment, though — much better option than a hotel, IMHO.

    Keep enjoying!


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