“We must go beyond textbooks, go out into the bypaths and untrodden depths of the wilderness and travel and explore and tell the world the glories of our journey.”
- John Hope Franklin

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Paris By Night

Opéra Garnier by night
As of late, I find myself wandering through Paris a lot, and this past weekend it happened to be that I took a stroll at night with some friends to discover some of the city's monuments by night. This adventure happened by chance, as three friends and I were attempting to go see a a play by Molière, "L'Ecole des Femmes," at La Comédie Française (one of Paris' most famous theaters) because they have cheap tickets. The theater holds 65 seats to sell one hour before the show starts for only 5 euro, which is really a bargain because you'd usually pay between 20 and 30 euro for a seat. After getting there early and waiting about 30 minutes, we were only 15 people or so from the ticket counter when we saw the window close, indicating that all the tickets were sold out. Good news, there are multiple plays here every day, so I'm sure we'll be back before we leave to actually get seats! The evening of wandering through the city that followed was a direct result of our failure to get theater tickets, so in that light, we were fortunate because we still had a great night. 

Galeries Lafayette, glowing with Christmas lights
Paris is home to many large department stores, like Printemps and Galeries Lafayette, which are situated on the grand Boulevard Haussmann, right behind the Opéra Garnier, which is just around the corner from La Comédie Française. Every year, both stores get all decked-out for Christmas with amazing exterior lights and really intricate window displays. Ever since their grand, star-studded reveal a few weeks ago, they have been drawing massive crowds of all ages.    

One of the windows from Galeries Lafayette
At Galeries Lafayette, this year's theme is "rock 'n roll" and all the windows here are full of really creepy-looking marionettes that incorporate music and Christmas. The dolls are called Koulikstars (don't ask me why!) and their makeup was even done by the American designer Andrew Yang. While the dolls creeped me out, it was pretty cool to see all the intricate machinery making everything move, and there were lots of little kids with their noses pressed against the windows, completely enamored with the dolls.

Another Galerie Lafayette window
Right next door, the displays at Printemps were spearheaded by Chanel and encompassed fashion capitals throughout the world. 11 cities were showcased, such as L.A., New York, Paris, Tokyo, Moscow, Venice and Shanghai, among others. These windows were a strange alternating mix of more marionettes and other displays with mannequins, perfume, jewelry, and yes, even taxidermied animals. Because when you think of Christmas, who doesn't think of a giant stuffed moose or deer?

While my vote for 'Best Lights' goes to Galeries Lafayette, I'd have to say that Printemps had better window displays.
Chanel's interpretation of Paris
Another window showcasing Paris
In the window about the seaside French city of Biarritz
Don't remember where this was supposed to be - I think I was too wrapped up in the fact that Chanel put a stuffed moose in their display
Even Bambi had to show off his fashionable Chanel jewelry!
After having a good laugh over the bizarre sights found throughout the designer Christmas displays, we headed towards Place de la Concorde, where every year a giant Christmas Ferris wheel gets set up - La Grande Roue de Paris. For a mere 10 euro (about $13.50), you can go for a ride to check out the city and all its Christmas lights by night. While I'd never pay that much to ride a Ferris wheel at home, this one was actually really, really big, and we couldn't not go, I mean we're in Paris after all!

Tada! La Grande Roue et moi! 
My genius attempt at modern art photography, or just a cool-looking blurry shot of the Eiffel Tower ?
View of Place de la Concorde & the Champs-Elysées from the top!
The views of the city were very impressive, and we had such a warm, clear night that it was the perfect spur-of-the-moment decision to go! Right across from Place de la Concorde, on the Champs-Elysées, a Christmas market had just opened up, so of course we had to go check that out as well. Dating back to the 14th century, the first Christmas markets started in the region of Alsace (bordering Germany) and have become an annual tradition throughout Europe ever since. Paris has many Christmas markets this time of year, and this one alone, with 170 vendors, attracts 12 million shoppers every year.

The smell of food was wafting down the street, and one of the first stands we happened to stumble upon was selling vin chaud (hot wine!). Never needing an excuse to indulge, we bought some wine and warmed our hands while we walked around. You can find everything you'd ever think of here - hot food to eat while you're busy buying regional food specialties like foie gras and cheese, all sorts of ornaments, scarves, gloves, fancy soaps, chocolates - you name it, they probably sell it here! I'm anxious for the other markets to open up so I can pick up a few more little trinkets before I leave. 

Kaitlin and I enjoying our hot wine!
On a side note, I've been on a Parisian gastronomical quest lately, as there are lots of restaurants, cafés and pâtisseries that I've been drooling over and have decided that I need to try.

I went with a few of my friends to Ladurée (right off the super ritzy Rue Royal, in between Place de la Concorde and la Madeleine) to taste-test their famous macarons. Not to be confused with coconut macaroons, French macarons are meringue-like treats flavored with almond paste and about any other taste that you could possibly dream of. Monsieur Ladurée decided to sandwich two of them together with jam, chocolate, caramel, etc. way back in 1862, and thus the macaron was born.

Our macarons: framboise (raspberry), pistache (pistachio), chocolat (chocolate), caramel au beurre salé (salted-butter caramel - my favorite!), and noisette (hazelnut)
These little pastries (literally the size of a half-dollar) are packed with flavor but don't come cheap - it will set you back 2.20 euro ($3) for just one! While it was delicious, I can't afford to come here all the time - paired with Ladurée's signature hot chocolate (which was literally as thick as mud & absolutely delcious) which only costs 6.50 euro, I don't want to think about how much I spent on this mid-afternoon snack but am glad that I finally made it to this reputable restaurant and got to sample such a delicious treat. I'll stick to my corner bakery that sells macarons for 80 cents a piece!

My expensive snack!
On a side note, I was walking through the Marais yesterday and ducked inside the pâtisserie called "Aux Désirs de Manon" right near the St-Paul metro and treated myself to a giant, donut-sized blueberry-flavored macaron filled with buttercream and fresh strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and red currants that was drizzled with glazing and topped with edible silver leaf. When my family was here, we got pastries here for my Dad's 50th birthday, and they were so delicious I knew I had to go back. The best part? The whole giant thing only cost 4 euro....take that, Ladurée!!


1 comment:

  1. Hi Rach, The Christmas lights look really cool and I wish we had been there a bit alter to be able to see them in person. All I keep thinking when I see all of the cool things that you've been doing and all the yummy things you've eaten is the fact that at some point you do have to return to Westfield and boy are you in for a let down when you get back!! Love you tons & looking forward to seeing you soon :)