Edible Advent Calendar: Week 1
PARIS TREAT Dec. 6:
Pain des Amis
There's much to love inside the handsome hundred-year old bakery Du Pain des Idées. So much, in fact, that I wrote a post about it recently. However much I may love the apple turnover or the banana pain au chocolat, the foundation of my craving is this bread. Christophe Vasseur's pain des amis (friendship bread) is a long and rectangular loaf that's sold by weight. The chewy interior, slightly charred bottom, and nutty fragrance have contributed to Vasseur being recognized by Gault Millaut as the Best Baker in Paris. The locals who line up for their daily bread all seem to agree. A 250 gram hunk of pain des amis costs €2 ($3).
Du Pain des Idées, 34 rue Yves Toudic, 10th arrondissement, 011-33/1-42-40-44-52
PARIS TREAT Dec. 5:
Camembert from Quatrehomme
For food writer Jeffrey Steingarten, a good Camembert "represents the pinnacle of human achievement in the field of soft and semisoft cheese." Finding the real stuff—a cheese that smells properly of God's feet (les pieds de Dieu), is almost impossible inside America. While in Paris, be sure to visit this cheese shop to taste a creamy Camembert. Aged on the premises by master cheesemaker Marie Quatrehomme, these raw milk rounds are only sold when perfectly pungent and oozy. A full round in its little wooden box costs €4.80 ($7.25).
Crèmerie Quatrehomme, 62 rue de Sèvres, 7th arrondissement, 011-33/1-47-34-33-45
PARIS TREAT Dec. 4:
I love a good s'more as much as the next girl scout, but these here are marshmallows at their best. Made without preservatives by Didier Mathray and Nathalie Robert—two pastry chefs who used to work for Pierre Gagnaire—these guimauves will surprise you with their bright flavor and melty interior. The pistachio is hugely popular, but my personal favorite is "le whiskey." One of these, roasting over a campfire and destined for a chocolate/graham cracker sandwich, would make the s'more to end all s'mores. But you don't need a fire to enjoy it—merely €1 ($1.50).
Pain de Sucre, 14 rue Rambuteau, 3rd arrondissement, 011-33/1-45-74-68-92
PARIS TREAT Dec. 3:
A sachet of chocolate marvels
Patrick Roger is one serious chocolatier. He travels the world to select his raw ingredients, and then creates bite-sized marvels for his Paris chocolate shop. A sachet of 4 or 5 chocolate confections costs under 5€ ($7.50). My current obsessions are the "Instinct" with almond praline and the "Delhi" with lemon and basil.
Patrick Roger, 108 Boulevard Saint-Germain, 6th arrondissement, 011-33/1-43-29-38-42
PARIS TREAT Dec. 2:
A chocolate mousse bar
The Patrice Chapon shop window in the 7th arrondissement presents chocolate from São Tomé (fruity, spicy, long on the palate), Ecuador (notes of jasmine and dried fig), and other exotic spots, for only 4€ ($6) each.
Step inside the shop—decorated with traditional brass molds—to find plenty of other delicious things.
Patrice Chapon, 69 rue de Bac, 7th arrondissement, 011-33/1-42-22-95-98
(Thanks to the food blog Serve it Forth for the heads-up. This spot is now a favorite haunt of mine.)
PARIS TREAT Dec. 1:
A classic apple tart
This beautiful object looks like a whole poached apple, yes? But a slice reveals hundreds of fine layers. The core has been replaced with a caramelly compote, and the stem has been re-inserted.
This dessert would be right at home in a three Michelin-starred restaurant like Le Bristol, where Fabrice Le Bourdat once worked as a pastry chef. Here, in his bakery in the neighborhood known as Quartier d'Aligre, it costs only 3.30€ ($5.50).
Blé Sucré, 7 rue Antoine Vollon, 12th arrondissement, 011-33/1-43-40-77-73
Paris: How to connect with travelers and locals
One of the challenges of visiting Paris, especially when going solo, is finding a way to interact with other people despite the language barrier. In this blog series, we'll be offering tips and suggestions to help you connect. EnjoYourParis Launched by two twentysomething French men, Remi Brichant and Guillaume Giler, this new website is designed to help both visitors and Parisians. How does it work? Visit EnjoYourParis (in either French or English) to create a free profile. You'll be asked to indicate what sort of events you're most interested in attending. You'll then receive a weekly email with a roundup of possibilities. As student Laura Carroll wrote in this review, "after a quick e-mail confirmation, I was informed of a slew of events. Do I want to (Re)discover Saint Germain des Pres with Soundwalk? View the latest exhibition, Elles, at the Pompidou? Yes, and yes!" The idea was inspired by Giler's own travels as a student in Australia — a trip that started out lonely but improved dramatically after he managed to meet local friends. Back in France, he and Brichant created this site a way for new arrivals (both temporary and permanent) to crack the tough nut that is Paris. Rather than simply inform readers about upcoming events, it organizes outings based on individual interest. Their video teaser sums up the friendly spirit of the venture. Another recent outing included a visit to the Mexican wrestling bar La Lucha Libre. "Join us in that very special bar, with a wrestling ring in its basement, to have a couple of mojitos and other cocktails, and, for those who dare, wear the special inflatable sumo costume and fight on the ring ! That for sure will be a night you'll remember!" More traditionally French outings are also in the mix, like an autumn picnic that was recently reviewed by the Associated Press. "On a recent evening, they brought out the pastis, some water to mix it with, fruit juice and Coca-Cola for an international happy hour al fresco. With the Eiffel Tower in the background, people opened snacks and bottles and started chatting." The upcoming calendar includes art exhibitions, an organic market lunch, concerts, and much more. To check them out and register for events, visit EnjoYourParis. And please let us know about your experience!
Movie Quest: George Clooney is "Up in the Air"
George Clooney's latest movie, "Up in the Air," opens Friday in a dozen cities before a nationwide release on Christmas Day. Armed with his usual charisma, Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a layoff specialist who travels a staggering 322 days a year. He has perfected the art of packing a carry-on bag, getting through airport security, and collecting membership points from companies like American Airlines, Hertz, and Hilton—all to benefit his goal of hitting 10 million frequent-flier miles. Throughout the movie, Clooney's character flashes fistfuls of loyalty cards and reaps the rewards (expedited check-in, airline lounge access, first-class seats, etc.…). His plastic card collection includes a Hilton HHonors Diamond VIP-level membership, which anyone can earn after staying 60 nights a year. Moments after Clooney meets Alex, the woman of his dreams played by Vera Farmiga, they flirt by pulling out their membership cards and comparing miles, points, and other status milestones. "We're two people who get turned on by cheap loyalty cards," Alex later comments. "There's nothing cheap about loyalty," Clooney says. Here at Budget Travel, we've long said you should join free rewards programs, but now do you believe us? George has spoken. That said, don't be fooled into thinking that the movie is a pure romantic comedy. It definitely is not. I watched a special advance screening of the movie last night, and there was nothing funny about how Clooney's character "downsizes" employees. Apparently the "actors" are real people who were recently laid off. Whenever they speak, you can tell they're reliving the moment they were told to pack up. It's heavy stuff, even for George Clooney to handle. FUN MOVIE TRIVIA Hilton came on board as a marketing partner after learning that location scouts were scoping out the St. Louis Airport hotel. In several scenes, Clooney wears nothing but a white Hilton bathrobe (hiltontohome.com, $80). Says Andrew Flack, Hilton Hotels' vice president of global brand marketing. "We liked what the movie was doing. Many life-changing things happen on journeys. And back in 1959, Hilton invented the airport-hotel concept." Many scenes were filmed in the rooms and public areas at the Hilton St. Louis Airport (rooms from $129), Hilton St. Louis at the Ballpark (from $159), and Hilton Miami Airport (from $139) hotels. Clooney not included. RELATED LINKS We Stalked George Clooney
San Francisco: Best bay views
San Francisco is a beautiful city, as reader photos in my Budget Travel will show you. Tom Stienstra, an outdoors columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, has listed his top 10 spots to see and capture the best bay views. The spots are reachable via car or on foot; many are the culmination of hikes or bike rides. One that caught my eye was Hawk Hill in the Marin Headlands, where you can see the Golden Gate Bridge and, through early winter, migrating raptor birds. Stienstra calls it "one of the best spots for photos in California." Naturally, many of the Chronicle's readers responded; see their suggestions here. More on San Francisco 20 Photos: San Francisco, My Cut Openings: The Walt Disney Family Museum Where to eat and sleep in San Francisco?
Paris: Museums on strike?
To the barricades! A labor strike threatens to shut down popular museums in the French capital. Already, The Pompidou Center, which is the second-most-popular Paris museum after the Louvre, has been closed since November 23. Workers walked off to protest a government plan to reduce cultural spending. This plan, part of President Nicolas Sarkozy's effort to make cultural institutions "more efficient," entails replacing only one out of every two retiring civil servants. The proposed initiative would affect institutions across the country, but the potential impact at the The Pompidou Center is more severe because more than 40 percent of its staff are already above the age of 50. Beyond the modern art center, strikes are a real possibility at attractions across the country. Seven different unions are threatening to launch a major strike on December 2 if their demands are not met by the Ministry of Culture. In an interview with the AFP, one union leader warned that "all the major establishments are concerned," including the Louvre, Versailles, the Musée d'Orsay, Notre Dame, and Mont Saint-Michel. We'll be watching the situation closely and updating readers about what is (and isn't) open. EARLIER Paris: Museums for free Practical Paris: What's closed on Sundays, Mondays, and Tuesdays?