Friday, February 28, 2014

Paris 2013 - Dinner at Chez Edouard

Our 2nd night dinner in Paris was in a restaurant called Chez Edouard. It is in a posh area near the Rue Saint-Honore where we had our 1st night dinner. Being another one of the included tour dinners, we were frankly not expecting much. When we entered the restaurant it was full of other tour groups - not a good sign !

The restaurant itself is quite nicely decorated. It is on 2 floors and we were ushered to the upper floor which was empty - at least we can have some peace and quiet.

Dinner started with a very quintessential French appetizer - Escargot in Herb Butter. It was very good -the snails were plump and succulent and the herb butter was a perfect accompaniment to the slimy salty snails.

The main course was a poached salmon with Beurre Blanc. The fish was very nicely cooked and the sauce flavourful. But the portion was a bit small as you can see in the picture.

Dessert was an apple tart. It was not bad, but some vanilla ice cream on the side would have been nice.

On the whole the dinner at Chez Edouard was not the disappointment that we thought it would be. The escargot was a nice surprise, the main course was small but it was a nice break from all the rich food we had been eating, and the dessert provided a pleasant finish to the meal. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Paris 2013 - Pompidou Centre

The Pompidou Centre in Paris is a huge cultural complex in the Beaubourg District. It houses the Musée National d'Art Moderne - one of the largest contemporary art museums in Europe, a large public library, and also IRCAM - a centre for music and acoustic research. For the foodie - there is also a designer restaurant at the roof top - Le Georges with great views but a pricey menu.

What attracted me to the building is the architecture. This is one of the most iconic "high-tech" building of the Modernist era - designed by two of the great modern master architects - Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers. They won the project through a competition, and it established both of them as the preeminent practitioners of high-tech architecture.

The building was so radical for its time that it was not well-received at first. Imagine an important cultural institution that looks like an oil-refinery ! It was one of the fist modern buildings to expose all the services on the outside for all to see - a bit like pulling all the inner organs of a human being and exposing them outside the body. It sounds atrocious on a human - but to me works extremely well for a building - especially when it is done so well like it was at Pompidou Centre. 

The great advantage of putting all the services outside is that you get huge uncluttered spaces inside the building. The interior is more like an air-craft hangar or large warehouse then a conventional building.

The best time to visit the building is in the evening - when the sun is just setting. The glow of light from inside the building against the skeleton of the building lay bare the structural logic of the design.

When you are wondering around Paris at night, make sure you are always on alert. It was here - outside the Pompidou Centre that I notice a suspicious character who was scanning the passersby. It was when he started to follow me that I sensed something was not right. I quickly went into the building and he stopped just outside the door. Luckily when I went out of the building he was gone.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Paris 2013 - The Palace of Versailles

I usually prefer to visit places without a tour guide. Most of the things a tour guide can tell your - you can find out in guide books or on the internet. And often what they say may even colour your perception of the place - sometimes not in the best way. However for the Palace of Versailles - I would really recommend that you go with a guide - especially if you can find a very good one. 

The story of the Palace of Versailles is very much the story of the French Monarchy and aristocracy. The palace intrigues that went on there would fill books, and the history of the buildings and the stages in which they were built and extended would probably be sufficient for a life time's study. 

Considered one the most opulent palaces in the World - it is a building as an expression and embodiment of absolute power. It is therefore not surprising that many of the modern despots and autocrats consider it a a model of choice for their own edifices that are close to their hearts.

While the buildings are impressive because of their sheer scale - it is the interiors that leave most people speechless. Such extravagance - such  audacity - so very in your face. When visiting these places I can't help thinking about the number of people who have to work and toil to please the whims and fancies of the rarefied few. Hopefully they are paid their proper dues - but I think most often they are not.

The gardens of Versailles are just as opulent as the buildings. It must take hundreds of people working non-stop to keep them in pristine condition. In fact we could see many workers at work rebuilding the garden. Apparently in winter they need to drain all the fountains or the ice will damage all the ducts and pipes.

I don't think I would return to The Palace of Versailles. Yes - some of the interiors are beautiful. But I can't bear to be reminded of such absolute power and oppression which are so physically represented by the buildings.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Paris 2013 - The Louvre

Another one of the must visits in Paris is The Louvre. Most people just go there to catch a glimpse of the famous Mona Lisa - but it is so much more then that. It is one of the World's largest museums both physically and in terms of the number of artifacts in its collection - with a floor area of around 60,000 sq. m., bigger then many shopping centres. Around 35,000 artworks are on display at any one time - it will take you weeks to see them all. 

The Louvre was originally a fortress, and after numerous extensions it became the palace for French monarchs - famously Louis XIV. In 1682 Louis XIV moved to the Palace of Versailles leaving The Louvre to  become a place to house the royal collection. That was the start of The Louvre's evolution into the museum that it is today.

In the 1980s The Louvre went through a controversial renovation by World renown architect I.M. Pei who inserted the now-famous glass pyramid in the middle of the central square. Some people hated it, but obviously a lot more people loved it as the attendance doubled after the completion of the renovation.

The glass pyramid leads to the main underground lobby, through which you can access the various wings of the Museum.

Another design feature which intrigues a lot of people - especially children - is the inverted glass pyramid. Besides being a design centre piece - it also serves its main function of bringing light into the underground spaces. It was even featured in a popular movie - I am sure you know which one !

As we only had a few hours at The Louvre - we had to strategize and plan out what we wanted to see. There are 3 main wings in the Museum - Sully Wing, Richelieu Wing and Denon Wing. The Denon Wing houses Mona Lisa and is understandably the most crowded. On the ground floor is an extensive collection of Roman and Etruscan antiquities. The Richelieu Wing houses paintings from the Middle Ages to the 19th Century across Europe - including works by Rembrant, Rubens and Jan Vermeer. The Sully Wing houses Egyptian and Greek antiquities.

Even tough the museum is huge, it is not difficult to explore the building as the collections are very logically organized. Once the crowd start to thicken, you know that you are getting closer to the main attraction.The magical power of the Mona Lisa is undeniable.

One of the great thing about museums in Europe is that they let you take pictures freely - albeit without flash which is understandable. This generosity of spirit is truly admirable - as in Asia or elsewhere many places with even very insignificant collections would not let people take photos - don't know why - except meanness in spirit.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Paris 2013 - Lunch at Aux Lyonnais

Our visit to Tour Eiffel was a bit rushed as we had to keep a very important appointment. We had a booking at Aux Lyonnais for lunch - and the restaurant had warned that we should not be more then 30 min late.

Aux Lyonnais is part of renowned French Chef Alain Ducasse's restaurant empire in Paris. It is a "bistrot" - so the pricing is more reasonable then Ducasse's fine dining establishments. They serve traditional dishes from Lyons - the famous food capital of France - hence the name. 

When dining in Europe - lunch is always more affordably priced compared to dinner. Sometimes the dishes served are exactly the same - yet it cost more at dinner time. I guess you are paying a premium due to the fact that dinner is a more coveted slot for a proper meal. 

At Aux Lyonnais - if you go in a big group like we did you had to go for the prix fixe lunch menu. It comes with 3 courses and cost 32 euros without wine - or with wine for 60 euros. I would suggest that you go for the wine pairing - as the wines they served were exquisite. 

Before the meal started we were served some bread with a cream cheese spread - Cervelle de Canuts. It was so tasty we were in danger of filling our tummies with bread and cheese before the actual courses arrived.

The appetizer was a Charcuterie Platter - sliced salumi, pork terrine, potatoes in Hollandaise sauce, and even some crunchy pork fat nuggets. All were delicious.

The main course was their signature dish - Quenelle in Nantua Sauce. The quenelle is made with Perch - it is so smooth and soft and almost disappears in your mouth. The sauce is made with baby crayfish and tastes like very good lobster bisque. I couldn't get enough of the sauce !

The dessert was a "Floating Island" with Pink Praline. The floating island is actually a meringue floating in creme anglaise. The meringue has the texture of a very soft marshmallow, and when you eat it with the creme it takes you back to the happy memories from childhood. The pink praline is a tart topped with nuts and covered with a red glaze. 

Lunch at Aux Lyonnais was without a doubt one of the highlights of our visit to Paris. The food was really delicious - the great ambiance of the restaurant and impeccable service made it a wonderful dining experience. Another word about the service - from the moment we entered the restaurant, to the lunch service, and to when we asked for the check - it was faultless ! The staff were very professional, polite and courteous - best I've ever encountered in a restaurant. Can't wait to go back !

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Paris 2013 - Tour Eiffel

Our next stop in Paris was the other Parisienne icon  - Tour Eiffel. From the pictures you can already see that is is one of the most beautiful and majestic structures in the World. When you get up close - you will be even more surprised by its lightness and engineering ingenuity.

The queue to get up the tower is always a few hours long. The better way to visit the Tower is to pre-book the time -  but even then there is still a queue to take the lifts as there are always lots of people who want to go up at the same time. We decided to take the stairs which is more arduous but at least you don't need to wait around.

The tower is located in the Western side of Paris - along the River Seine. It stands between the Champ de Mars - a large public garden, and the Jardins du Trocadéro across the River. From the top of the tower you can see large swaths of Paris which is a mainly a low-rise city with tall buildings confined to the newer business districts.

It is very difficult to take pictures of Tour Eiffel as it must be one of the most-photographed structures in the World. Every angle that you take seems to have been done before. In the end I just decided to go with the flow.


I was fascinated by the lightness and beauty of the structure. The steel frames looked so small and delicate even when up-close.