Great Paris Neighborhood: Quartier d'Aligre
Tucked behind the Bastille in Paris' 12th arrondissement is one of my favorite neighborhoods. Anchored by a sprawling market, the quartier d'Aligre is a working-class neighborhood well known for its great food.
Any visit to the quartier should begin at Blé Sucre (7 rue Antoine Vollon, 12th arrondissement). Fabrice Le Bourdat, in his former life, was pastry chef at the three-Michelin-starred restaurant Le Bristol. He gave that up to open his own shop, and now rises every morning at 2 to make his famous millefeuille and iced madeleines for late morning customers. While Fabrice toils below in the basement kitchen, his cheerful wife Céline will help you choose between a buttery croissant or white chocolate brioche. She can also pull an espresso to give you energy for the shopping to come. If you can't make it for breakfast, stop in for an afternoon break. A cone of homemade salted butter caramel ice cream is a heavenly treat, particularly if it's eaten in the tree-filled Square Trousseau across the street.
A few blocks from the Blé Sucre is the bustling Marché d'Aligre. The outdoor market (place d'Aligre, 12th arrondissement) operates Tuesday–Saturday until 1:00 p.m. and until 2:00 p.m. on Sunday. Reasonable prices and an eastern Paris location ensure that you'll catch a glimpse of "real" working class Parisian families going about their shopping. In addition to the produce, you'll also find stalls selling trinkets, cheap clothing, and household goods. Looming to the east of the outdoor market is the covered Marché Beauveau. This classic building houses additional fish and meat stalls, along with one of my favorites for food gifts: Sur les Quais. The shelves of this small store are piled high with jars and tubes that can be tucked easily into the bottom of a suitcase. I'm a fan of the mustard flavored with truffle and piment d'espelette, and I also love their selection of high-end olive oils. This and the other shops inside the covered market are open until 7:30 p.m., but most take a lunch break from 1:00–4:00 p.m. Like the outdoor market, the Marché Beauveau is closed on Monday.
A few steps from the place d'Aligre is your destination for post-market recovery, Le Baron Rouge (1 rue Thophile Roussel, 12th arrondissment). During the cold months this wine bar is a destination for oyster eaters, but it's packed year-round with those who come after shopping for un petit rouge. There's something delicious about drinking a glass of red at noon with the locals and their grocery bags. You can eat oysters (during the season) here, or order a plate of charcuterie. I recommend saving your appetite, however, for the kitchen down the street
La Gazzetta (29 rue de Cotte, 12th arrondissement, 011-33/1-43-47-47-05) is the perfect way to cap off a hedonistic morning in the quartier d'Aligre. This well-known foodie address has a remarkable lunch menu with two courses for 16€ ($20). Chef Peter Nilsson's first course is a collection of three small and yummy plates, and there are vegetarian options among the mains. Beyond the food, the space itself is beautiful, with classic tiled floors and a polished bar area where you finish with an Illy coffee, read a selection of newspapers, and, if you're lucky, pet one of the local dogs who sometimes stop in to say hello.
This weekend: New Orleans' other huge party
It's no understatement that this city knows how to party. (After all, there is nothing understated about Mardi Gras.) And this weekend is no exception, as the French Quarter Festival kicks off for the 26th time. The three-day festival boasts 150 live music performances, 450 musicians, 18 stages, and 60 booths for food and drink, all with a block-party atmosphere as people stroll around the French Quarter. New this year is the "Louis-Louis Pavilion Stage" along the riverfront, named for native sons Louis Armstrong and Louis Prima. (The Zydepunks, among other acts, will play there). Most of the performers are locals, and there's going to be a show for every taste—jass, salsa, gospel, Cajun, funk, and so on. Oh yeah, and there's food! Local vendors ranging from Abita beer to The Praline Connection will be serving food and drinks (see full list, with prices, here). New Orleans' art world will be represented, as well, with local artists selling their wares in the French Quarter and in area galleries. The festival attracted 435,000 visitors last year—that's quite the block party. The festival is free; most food items are between $5 and $7. For more information, call 504/522-5730 or go to fqfi.org.
A few good links: Name that tune at the Atlanta airport
Atlanta airport grooving to clean music. Rewritten R&B; classics remind people to keep the airport "opening day fresh." [cnn.com] Gay travel: Tourism industry targets those less willing to give up vacations. Marketers are looking for a share of "pink money." [Chicago Tribune] Fossils await researchers at Page Museum. Start digging a new parking lot, and you might find fossils; this set will most likely double one museum's collection. [L.A. Metblog] Florence Tip: Bardini Museum re-opens! A must-see for any Renaissance art lover is finally back. [EuroCheapo] Paris 'catastrophe' means hotel prices are falling. The city's hotel occupancies are down by 10 percent, which could save you money if you're looking to go. [HotelChatter] For more travel blogs, go to Alltop.
Affordable Paris: Museums for free
Paris museums house some of the best collections in the world, but they aren't cheap dates. Entry to the Musée d'Orsay costs 8€ ($11.50), the great Louvre is 9€ ($12), and the Centre Pompidou is 12€ ($16). These admission fees can add up if you're planning to visit more than one museum, and especially if you're paying for a whole family. But there's good news: About 22 museums offer free entry every day. And the French government also subsidizes free days and nights at an even longer list of attractions. A complete rundown of these cultural freebies can be found at the Parisinfo website, and some of my favorites are listed below. Free Every Day: Entry to see the permanent collection of these museums is always free. There may be a small charge for temporary exhibitions. • Musée Carnavalet - Histoire de Paris (history of Paris) 23 rue de Sévigné, 3rd arrondissement. • Musée de la Vie Romantique (the Romantic movement, that is) 16 rue Chaptal, 9th arrondissement. • Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (modern art) 11 avenue du Président Wilson, 16th arrondissement. Free Every Wednesday Evening: One of my favorite places, Maison Européenne de la Photographie (better known as MEP), opens its doors every Wednesday night for free. Set in the Marais, the MEP is steps away from some great eating and drinking. 5-7 rue de Fourcy, 4th arrondissement. Free on the First Sunday of Every Month: Major tourist draws like the Louvre, the Centre Pompidou, the Musée d'Orsay, the Quai Branly and the Picasso museum are free on the first Sunday of every month. However, the crowds are so overwhelming that I avoid them on this day. Instead, I like take the first Sunday to explore some of these less-mobbed museum treasures: • Musée national de l'Orangerie (home to the massive Monet water lilies) Jardin des Tuileries, 1st arrondissement. • Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature (hunting and nature) 62 rue des Archives, 3rd arrondissement. • Musée national du Moyen Âge (Middle Ages) 6 place Paul Painlevé, 5th arrondissement. • Musée Rodin (The Kiss, the Thinker, and other great sculptures) 79 rue de Varenne, 7th arrondissement MORE Affordable Paris
This weekend: Visit the cow-chip-throwing capital of the world
The annual World Cow Chip Throwing Contest and Cimarron Territory Celebration is a big deal in Beaver, Okla. How big? The town's chamber of commerce proudly displays the cartoon character King Cow Chip on its website. The contest, in which participants compete to see who can throw a cow chip—for those who don't know, that's dried cow dung—the furthest, doesn't occur until next weekend. Yet this weekend has plenty of pre-contest activities to tide you over. In addition to a chili cook-off and craft show on Saturday, there's a 200-mile "Poker Run" motorcycle race, where cyclists go to five checkpoints in order to make a winning poker hand. The whole community will celebrate during the week with store sales, and art show, and a horseshoe throwing contest, all leading up to the main event next weekend. The longest throw recorded in 40 years happened in 2001, when Robby Deevers tossed the chip more than 185 feet. Thinking of trying your hand? There's still time to sign up—we suggest the Frisbee-throwing technique, a favorite among competitors. The weeklong celebration recognizes early pioneers of the Beaver area, along Oklahoma's skinny strip between Kansas and Texas. Cow chips were a fantastic source of fuel for these settlers, who used them to make fires for food and warmth. Call 580/625-4726 for more info. The event is free to watch; to participate in the contest, you must fill out an application and pay a $20 fee (winners receive an engraved trophy and eternal fame).