2014 France, Spain & Portugal Letter 9

Friday, 17 October 2014 11:47 pm

A novel in several parts, but it’s ‘the end’!


Well, the party is well and truly over!

We are sitting at the American Airlines Club at Charles de Gaulle awaiting our first flight to London, and then the big trek down under to Oz. Apart from a small hiccup with BA (British Airlines) not linking our Paris – London leg to our main ticket home and ‘Madame’ at check-in was not moving, despite some ever so gentle ‘persuasion’ from moi, so we have to pick up our copious luggage and re-check at Heathrow. Uggh! But why spoil a perfect holiday with a mere airline stuff up!

Also before I go on, I have to thank everyone for all the emails and comments. I just have not had the time to write to you all or reply, forgive me!

Paris! We all love Paris in the springtime but we are pretty keen on her in the autumn too.

We (I) drove our trusty little Citron into Paris (best way to do it is to close your eyes, mutter a prayer and hope for the best!) and returned her on time to the depot at Porte Saint Cloud. We’d clocked up 5,027 kilometers in nearly seven weeks, and there is only one ever-so-minor scratch which I sure I am not responsible for! We are now just waiting to see how many driving and speeding fines await us in Clare!

Our home in Paree was our dear friend “Grumpy John’s” flatte on Rue Steinkerque; which if you know Paris at all, is the road/street that leads up to Sacre Coeur, so can be just a tad crazy with ten million tourists visiting the big white heap on the hill. The joy of Grumpy’s flat is that it’s on the 5th floor, with a lift and a balcony. The bedroom is at the back, and has views of the convent next door to the church. We stayed there for several weeks back in 2009 and we love it.  We moved in, shopped, stocked the fridge and hit the streets for a wander, in the knowledge that if there is a museum, art gallery or site of importance nearby, we have seen it at least once before, so there was/is no urgency to do anything other than LIVE, and if there is one thing we know how to do well, it’s live!!!



View from the terrace of our Paris ‘home’

That evening about 16 of the party group met for a re-union drink (well we had not seen each other for eight hours!) The Oz group was almost over run by the New Zealanders, but I am sure we are better drinkers, with more staying power!

We met at a little champagne bar up in our area of Montmartre, called “La Degustation”. It does small food; sort of French tapas. It’s also a tiny food outlet, plus selling cook books (thankfully in French, otherwise we would be even more over weight). There was only one staff member on. I could not decide if he was a sommelier, a chef, a sales assistant or a genius. He cooked, poured, entertained and was amazingly gracious with not only us but also about 16 other guests. We had a good night! We ate and drank well and Himself and his newest best girlfriend “Christine” decided they needed “plain food please” and had soup! Some people are just too spoilt with too much good food!


“La Degustation”, only one staff member!Small food, sort of French tapas, divine!

After a very slow start the next morning, we headed out and crossed the city to find the “Foundation le Corbusier Museum” (ok, it’s one the few we have missed in previous trips!) Swiss- French architect, designer, painter, town planner and writer, Corbusier set up the foundation before dropping off the planet. It houses his correspondence and archives, and it is set in a pair of adjoining semi-detached houses he designed, both for his brother and for Raoul La Roche, a Swiss banker and collector of avant-garde art.

One of Corbusier’s best-known designs is his chaise lounge; a chrome and leather (or cow hide number), like an elongated ‘w’ without the first down stroke, and incredibly comfortable. Anyway the houses were built the year my mother was born: 1922! These chairs are still cutting edge modern, 90 odd years later! Sadly the buildings were under restoration, so we had to peek between timber hoardings to see them, but there were plenty of photos, and somewhere in our ton of luggage is a book on them.

We ate in that evening – a simple salad, and a bottle or two!


I shopped, I cooked, we drank!

Thursday had us walking aimlessly and enjoying the sunshine, eventually ending up at the Petit Palais, which as the name says, is the smaller of the two enormous buildings erected for one of the many expositions held in Paris in the late 1880’s to do enormous ‘show and tells’ to the rest of the world. The Eiffel Tower is a relic of an earlier  ‘show and tell’, which just goes to show Paris does like to show off.

We were having a very nice time minding our own business when all hell broke loose, with alarms screeching and then very electronic voices telling us to “Evacuate!” At first we thought someone had run off with the crown jewels, but then it became clear there was an ‘unknown’ danger, so ‘please piss off and just get out’! Both the alarms and voice giving directions were akin to hearing fingernails on blackboards, so we were quite happy to oblige. Like everyone else we just mingled outside, waiting to see what was happening (not a lot), when I had ‘a light bulb moment’ and thought that if this was a bomb scare, perhaps moving along would be a sensible idea! So we did just that. Crossed the Seine (there was one of those moments as we crossed the bridge where I was madly photographing the tower whilst he was intently doing the same, but the object of his photo was the somewhat over-sized scrotum of the statue of a horse atop said bridge: (each to his own) and headed for Saint Germain and retail heaven.

We showed quite amazing restraint, walking past the “Gien” store without buying any more plates; ditto the napery shop and several shoe shops (I’ve given up on European shoes. Those bloody Frogs have petite feet, whist I have quite a big hold on the earth’s surface! We did look at shirts, but again our little hearts just were not in it.

After all that walking we decided to ‘dine in’ again. I really can’t take too much credit; it was more a case of ‘arranging’ – an art I have learnt from our mate “John” back in Oz. This is because Paris is full of wonderful little shops that sell the most amazing array of pre-cooked food. My shop of choice is just past the Abbess Metro Station, and is barely larger than a single garage, but what an array!

My little shopping trolley came away with half a free-range organic rotisseried chook, a serve of delicious French potato salad, some olives for befores, a couple of bottles of vino – including a very nice Alsatian Pinot Gris, plus a little merlot, a pair of feather-light “floating islands” (for you non-culinary types, this is a lump of poached meringue that sits in a sea of luscious vanilla custard. These were topped by some almond flakes as well). To continue: a half baguette, a salad made by Moi, of greens, white asparagus and tiny green beans plus some explosive cherry tom’s: we were couple of happy little diners! He won the dishes, whilst I purred on the couch.

Friday dawned bright and sunny (well I think it did. It was a few days ago and it’s all getting to be a blur weather-wise). It was also the ‘official’ birthday of our Birthday Girl, Steffie, so she has now officially been awarded another ‘0’.

I was off to ‘baking school’, He was off (on his own) to discover the mysteries of the artists of Montmartre. He found his way home full of excitement for what he had seen, and stories of his newest best friends from the markets nearby.

I came back to our apartment with baguettes, brioche and the French version of focaccia called “forgasse”. We lunched late on a chicken-filled baguette [& potato salad, which of course was left over from the evening before].

Now I can’t take total credit for those ‘lunch’ baguettes. Chef Alex led the class of six. We had all assisted, but they were the best baguettes I’ve ever tasted; so here’s hoping I can reproduce them back in Oz! No, there will not be a Thorn Park Boulangerie or Patisserie!


Cook’n with Class, don’t let the name turn you off, I’ve done about six classes over the past six years and loved them

Lunch done with, we returned to Montmartre, visited the tiny vineyard which is literally about two building blocks in size, and I gather makes questionable wine! However it’s the subject of a five day vintage festival (Fete des Vendandes Montmartre) of which we are in that festival’s centre! Lots of men running around in Toulouse Lautrec look-alike outfits, with wide brimmed black floppy hats plus red velour capes. There are lots of food and wine stalls, plus the normal daily thousands of visitors popping by!

As we ambled around the market streets, we consumed a few glasses of questionable champagne, and bought a huge bag of not-needed biscuits, sold to us by a man who could sell ice to Eskimos during a blizzard It’s fun, it’s buzzy, and thankfully all those ‘tourists’ are tucked up in bed by 10.30 – 11p.m., then it’s deathly quiet.

Next stop for us was Saint Martin Canal. We have ‘bus-ed’ past it, ‘train-ed’ over it but never actually walked around it, so the time had come to explore! It’s part of the wonderfully crazy system that allows you to literally boat around the country. Hundreds of locks control water levels and, certainly in the city, there are amazing little bridges that rise up and down or turn on turnstiles to allow barges, leisure craft, floating homes and in our case, a little rubber ducky of a dingy to pass through the canal.


‘Fete des Vendandes Montmartre’; Sacre Coeur; Saint Martin Canal

“Juveniles”, in the 1st, is a bit of a Paris institution. Owner/host Tim Johnson is certainly a legend, and not in his own lunchtime! It’s a tiny bar with an amazing wine list and a short but spectacular menu, seating about 30-35 people – if you don’t mind getting up close and personal! It was the perfect venue for a casual celebratory dinner for fourteen. Needless to say magnums, were the new bottles, food was simple and stunning. Probably the best scallops I have eaten – large and luscious, served in their shells with a puree and dice of celeriac and herb butter, and grilled. Mains was of the tenderest, pale lamb shanks on a bed of beans. There was a small selection of cheeses to go with yet more red wine. Then “Margie”, one of our party, had created a many layered birthday cake; known as an ”Opera Cake”. Naturally it was 100% fat and calorie free!



Peter Forrestal,  Michael & Alexander Grosset; The indefatigable Tim Johnson doing what he does best, open bottles; ‘opera cake’

Saturday, after I had done a long walk, again to Canal St Martin, only downstream this time, whilst He ‘rested’ in bed, we decided to play tourists again and visited the Market on Avenue President Wilson. Different parts of Paris have markets on certain days, but this one is a very serious food one with mind-boggling arrays of foodstuffs on offer. I wanted to buy everything but managed to restrain myself!

Our next stop was The Paris Sewers.

Yes, there is a museum of sewers, and they are very impressive sewers indeed! They promise no ‘smells’ and more or less deliver on that. They are a tad musty, but nothing to complain about. Anyway a bloke named Eugène Belgrand designed a system of a double water supply network (drinking and non-drinking water) and a sewer system (which reached a length of 600 kms. in 1878). Baron Haussmann gets all the accolades for re-designing Paris in the 1850’s but without Eugene’s poo tubes it would not have been the success it now is!

We had been down under all of 5 minutes before I lost Him. This was a tad scary as the new work is now twice the size of the original, and that is just the main city centre: so I had visions of new versions of either Victor Hugo’s “Les Misérables” – or ‘Phantom of the Opera ‘! Fortunately we re-connected about 30 minutes later! Comically, just as we were leaving, we found a public loo sign, which put a whole new perspective on toilets. I suppose it saved on plumbing!


I love it, a Loo in the sewers! The way out…. only we would tour the sewers of Paris

Moving right along we then walked along the river, waved at the tower, crossed the river and up the hill to the Palais de Chaillot and the Trocadéro area and had a coffee and a dessert (we skipped lunch) before making our way home for a quick siesta before trotting down the hill to Steph and Jeff’s apartment for a family dinner, together with Stephanie and Tim Johnson from “Juveniles”- yet another magnum! We really are going to find it difficult getting back to drinking just a single bottle!

Steph had made us a stunning blue cheese, walnut and pear salad, followed by a pork fillet with potato mash and baby green beans. A cheese course followed, and Stephanie number two [i.e. Johnson] produced an apple crumble, from apples brought back from our stay in the Dordogne (Marie if you are reading this they were ‘found’ apples). It was a “fab night” – with Tim and Himself continuing to behave badly together, as is their want.

I forgot to walk the next morning (it was raining lightly) and we had a very lazy morning reading, before taking off to the Musee D’Orsay for the afternoon, seemingly along with every other person in Paris.

For those who don’t know the Musee D’Orsay, it’s what you do with an old railway station; turn it into the best museum (art gallery) in Paris, and in my book the best in the world. It is housed in the former Gare d’Orsay, a Beaux-Arts railway station built between 1898 and 1900, housing the largest collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist masterpieces in the world.

My type of art – and it’s just had a makeover.

We both collapsed exhausted into their ‘octopus’ couches before hitting the grand dining room for a very late lunch (foie gras for Moi and chook Caesar for Him; washed down with rose – the lunch wine of choice).


Art overload! All it takes is a glass of wine……

We needed another lie down when we got back to the flat, to recover just enough to waddle up the hill for a recovery pizza. Himself made yet another newest best friend with the waiter, once we discovered he had a Sicilian grandmother. [The fact that he was tall, slim, and handsome with great white teeth had nothing to do with chatting to him!]

This brings us to Monday, our last full day! We did retail and then lunch!

Boy did we do lunch! Restaurant David Toutain in the 7th. We did the tasting menu: the big tasting menu. We probably should have done the smaller one, but it was our last lunch, why stint?  So together with Jeff & Steph and daughter Georgina, we lunched!

No menu was given, food just arrived, and I took no notes, so it might be a little vague at times. We started with a dish of stones and sticks; only some of the sticks were edible; roasted salsify roots (think parsnip family), which we selected from the stick heap and dipped into a white chocolate and parsnip puree, washed down with a Billecart-Salmon Champagne.

Next dish was an egg in a straw nest.

Next up: a little bowl with a mousse of rhubarb, looking like rhubarb, and coated in a crisp shell. Tasted superb!

Then came tiny balls of Beef Carpaccio.

Egg yolk with a mousse and a cumin glaze, with a corn cake on the side was the next dish.

A ‘soup’ followed: a seafood broth covered a selection of scallops, mussels, cockles and some squid. I’d just died and gone to heaven! Waiting staff also decided it was time for ‘bread’ – light fluffy brioche; again sitting on a plate of straw, [just to keep you grounded!]

Around this time Jeffrey ordered a very nice red from Bordeaux. God only knows what it was! We just know it was scrumptious!

So O.K., we are now about half way through the meal!

Seared Scallops with salad greens, a white chocolate dipping sauce [a puree of something] jumped onto the table and was quickly devoured. Stunning!

This was followed by a dish of black skinned cod with basil foam, and a candied, salted carrot!

Next up popped a little cigar type of thing, with green foam. Very tasty!

Smoked Eel with black sesame was ‘mains’ number one. Yes, the preceding dishes were just the lead up! This is one of the Chef’s signature dishes.

Next came sweet breads with slow cooked parsnips and parsnip chips.

Getting full but not overly so. The company is fun. The wines are great, however, conversation is going downhill fast.

The Cheese course is a bowl with cheese ‘spaghetti’; a greenish broth accompanied by tiny pieces of greens… it was the only ‘ok’ dish of the day.

Desserts now start, well soon they will start. I just need power to go on!

* (We are now back in Clare South Australia! The battery died on my laptop, and I could not finish this missive on the last flight. Sadly my head keeps hitting the key board, so the end will have to wait, I need SLEEP!!)

Cont: First dessert was a small of bowl of cauliflower puree and white chocolate mousse with coconut sorbet. Quite an amazing trio, but it worked.

Following this, came the ‘chocolate’ dessert. Full-on dark choccy, in crumbs; cake, mousse, wafers heaped onto a plate with a lemon thyme ice-cream. There was debate as to whether the ice cream was too strong for the dishes – fussy buggers!

Lastly came the petit fours: little marmalade cakes, and then some “dig your own truffles out of little boxes!” These were truly standout items!

All in all, a truly amazing last meal, with both inspiring flavours and presentation.


roasted salsify roots; white chocolate and parsnip puree; an egg in a straw nest; mousse of rhubarb


a seafood broth covered a selection of scallops, mussels, cockles and some squid; Seared Scallops with salad greens; Smoked Eel with black sesame; Next came sweet breads with slow cooked parsnips and parsnip chips


the ‘chocolate’ dessert; little marmalade cakes; The birthday girl and himself!

After all that, we ‘dined in’ on left over wine, left over chips, left over olives, left over cheese; in fact we just cleaned out the fridge, either eating it or dumping it!

Finally we sorted out all of our belongings and packed. No easy feat!

Two large cases, one suit bag, one ‘esky’ type-of-thing, stuffed with all the books, and several carry-ons.

Next morning I walked to the local cemetery, (as you do?).

He slept; as he does so often.

Later, we then pottered around Ile de la Cite (he has yet another blue shirt) and Ile Saint Louis for a few hours, before heading out to Airport Charles Gaulle!


The rear of Notre Dame; A statue, I’ve forgotten!

Then we flew home, via London, Singapore, Melbourne, Adelaide, Foodland, for groceries, Angelakis for fish and poultry, Rio for coffee, Metropolitan Fresh for veggies, and then Clare for guests for the next thirteen nights……

I am one kilo heavier than when we left but two kilos lighter than I was three months ago. He’s just one kilo heavier, full stop!

So that’s it Kids! We are home, and back to work.


Him and me xo


He waved a lot, but i had the final wave….

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