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Newsletter #34: March 2003

vintage Paris photo


  • From the Home Office
  • La Vallée Outlet Mall
  • Chocolate Tours
  • Paris Art Classes
  • Paris in Photos
  • Insider Tours of Eastern Paris
  • Chef’s Secrets at the Cordon Bleu
  • Flat to Rent at Père Lachaise
  • An American Abroad Gets Political
  • Outdoors Adventure Fair
  • Correction of Last Issue

* From the Home Office *

Okay, I missed the February issue, but it’s such a short month! I’ve been busy with the guidebook and updating Paris info for Expedia.com, easyJet inflight magazine, Avant Guide Paris, WCities and ELLE Hong Kong. I spent two weeks in Paris in late January and early February. Brrrr! I got snowed on, which usually is fun in Paris, but I was outside all day running around looking at shops and hotels. The lowlights of the trip: catching the flu (la grippe) and pulling a muscle in my leg (my new shoes had a flatter heel than my old Reebok’s, so I ended up over-stretching the calf). One of the highlights: I was trying to photograph the front of the Ritz Hotel at Place Vendôme for an ELLE article, and out walks Hugh Grant, looking fabulous (with an unrecognizable blonde at his side). And I never see famous people in Paris! Below are some of the other little tidbits I picked up on the trip. I’ll be going back up March 12 for a couple of weeks, so look for the next issue mid-April! -H

* La Vallée Outlet Mall *

My trusty sidekick Michelle came down from London for the weekend and let me drag her to the La Vallée Outlet Mall outside town. You can reach it by RER, one stop *before* Disneyland (we accidentally got off at the Magic Kingdom; it was early, we were hungry). So when you get out of the RER, you’re at a “new” town, which looks a bit like Disney itself. To get to La Vallée you turn right and go through the Val d’Europe shopping mall (this is a regular mall with a food court and supermarket, all the regular chain shops). Exit through the Food Court to get to La Vallée. It also looks like it belongs on Disney’s Main Street. Shops are lined up on a pedestrian path with little benches and food carts, which are probably nicer when it’s not raining out. The shops themselves are very nice, well-presented, and there’s hardly any indication that they’re outlets at all. Most of the shops sell designer labels such as Kenzo, Agnès b., Celine, Furla, Nina Ricci, Façonnable, Givenchy, Max Mara, Versace, Ferragamo, and Burberry. There’s also Reebok, Timberland, Bodum (coffee pots) and Samsonite. You won’t find big bins full of seconds or ugly tees at €2 each. Instead you’ll find end-of-season and last season’s clothes in perfect condition, from 30-70% off retail. This is a good place to come if you want designer clothing at half price (like a Kenzo jacket for €150 instead of €300, or a Versace gown for €2000 instead of €5000). Head back to the regular mall if you’re looking for mainstream brands like Gap and H&M. http://www.lavalleeshopping.com/

* Chocolate Tours *

In my next life I want be just like David Lebovitz: International Pastry Chef and Chocolate Tour Guide. I met up with David on my last trip to Paris at the Andy Wahloo Moroccan Bar (69 rue des Gravilliers, 3rd; very kitsch place to drink mint tea). He gave me a “rice crispie treat” he made with French ingredients. “Doesn’t work well without US marshmallows”, he says, but I think it’s great and eat it before dinner. David is from San Francisco, but has also trained in Paris at Lenôtre, so he knows everything about trying to make French recipes work with US ingredients (and vice versa). He not only takes his lucky guests on behind-the-scenes chocolate and pastry tours in France and Belgium, he also helps them shop. There are many kitchen supply stores in Paris, most of them located on the north side of Les Halles around Etienne-Marcel. David knows which one is the best for copper pots, for knives, for pastry molds, and the nicest salespeople. In addition to the tours, he’s got a cookbook called “Room for Dessert” (there’s always!). Check out his website (the home page has a hilarious stream-of-conscious essay on life in Paris) for info on his tours, some yummy recipes, and an impressive list of foodie links. http://www.davidlebovitz.com

* Paris Art Classes *

Another mythical Parisian profession: artist. James King is an artist from England, sculpting, drawing and painting in Paris for the past 15 years. He gives classes for all levels, beginners and advanced artists alike (visitors can sign up for single sessions at €30 each). He even provides the materials (and the live model), so no excuses if you left your brushes back home. At the moment the sessions are conducted at his flat, so space is limited (call or email in advance). I’d also like to add that Jim makes a mean cup of tea! Check out his website (if you don’t read French, just send him an email in English with any questions on the classes). http://jamesking.free.fr/index.htm

* Paris in Photos *

I’ll be damned if everyone doesn’t turn into a photographer the minute they set foot in Paris. It’s just so darned photogenic! You can subscribe to Left Bank Lens and get some amazing high-resolution images (with informative and entertaining captions) emailed to you each week by professional photographer Don Smith. If your own photos always turn out less than fantastic, join one of Don’s Paris Photo Workshops. He not only helps out with improving photographic technique, but also takes you places that tourists don’t normally see (so you won’t return home with the same photo of the Eiffel Tower that everyone else has). He offers packages or just classes if you already live in Paris. Get all the details on the website.

* Insider Tours of Eastern Paris *

Belleville Insolite is a non-profit organization made up of students who give insider tours of the eastern neighborhoods of Paris such as Belleville, Ménilmontant, Charonne, Canal St-Martin, etc. Aimed at both locals and visitors (they have multi-lingual guides), they highlight the often unseen side of the city, its artisans, hidden parks, historical themes (such as In the Footsteps of the Communards”), and multi-cultural heritage such as Belleville’s Chinatown. Tours cost €10, check the website for the weekly schedule (email them if you need info in English). http://www.belleville-insolite.org

* Chef’s Secrets at the Cordon Bleu *

One Wednesday evening in Paris I got to finally visit the legendary Cordon Bleu school. If you’ve ever seen “Sabrina” (where Audrey Hepburn learns to crack an egg), then you’ll be surprised to learn that the chefs are actually very nice. I joined the two-hour Chef’s Secrets demonstration, where a master chef showed us how to prepare a starter and a main dish before letting us eat it at the end (with a glass of Chateauneuf-du-Pape). Even if you never make the specific recipe demonstrated, the chef gives plenty of general cooking tips throughout the session, and every word is translated into English by Ken from California, although some of the chef’s humor just isn’t translatable! It was a nice evening, for just €29. There are also hands-on classes, market tours, and the advanced degree courses for really serious chefs. I also recommend stopping by to check out their boutique for some great souvenirs like Cordon Bleu cookbooks, aprons, knives, and gourmet food products. The website isn’t completely updated, so call +33(0)1 53 68 22 50 for times and prices (they speak English). http://www.cordonbleu.edu/schools/france/

* Flat to Rent at Père Lachaise *

On my last trip to Paris I rented a large studio for one week overlooking Père Lachaise Cemetery (“I see dead people”, joked Michelle). It sleeps four, has a fully-equipped kitchen, has an elevator to take you up to the 10th floor, and is very safe (two codes and a concierge to keep an eye on things). It’s not “old Parisian” charm, but it’s clean and well-located for those of you who like the eastern neighborhoods of Paris (and an easy walk down to the Bastille neighborhood for late-nigh bar hopping). Check out the photos from the website if you’re interested: http://www.parisrent.fr.st/

* An American Abroad Gets Political *

Sometimes I can’t help myself. Read my rantings about the American-French relations concerning the Iraq crisis at: The Politics of an American in France

* Outdoors Adventure Fair *

If you’re looking for some outdoorsy stuff to do in Paris and the rest of France, stop by the Salon de la Randonnée, des Loisirs et Sports Nature (Hiking, Leisure and Nature Sports Fair), at the Paris Expo (Metro: Porte de Versailles) from March 28-30. You’ll find plenty of info on hiking, horseback riding, water sports, fishing, cycling and more, just €8 to get in. Local guides, outfitters and regional tourism offices from around France will also be there. Check out the bilingual website for more info. http://www.randonnee-nature.com

* Correction of Last Issue *

The panoramic view atop the Samaritaine department store is on the 10th floor, not the fifth floor (the free toilets are on the fifth floor, also good to know). Take the elevator to the 9th floor and walk up the spiral stairs past the restaurant terrace (which is closed off-season).

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