Sleeping in. The hot shower/cold beer combo. Reading the Sunday Times with a cup of strong coffee. Long brunches that include Bloody Marys and Eggs Benedict. Tulips. Falling asleep in a hammock. Playing Banagrams with my friends (and winning, obviously). People watching. This is the short (and PG-rated) list of a few of my favorite things. The list changes seasonally. And travel, I have found, develops the idea of “favorite” to remind of me things I once loved as well as introduce me to the unfamiliar.
So, from France (with love), here are a few new (and revisited) favorite things:
- Le Baron Rouge: Located in the Marais section of Paris, this small wine bar was discovered on the pages of the always reliable Lonely Planet. We rambled through the winding streets that had a labyrinth-like feel to them, stopping when the rain became too much, until we found Le Baron Rouge – it’s entrance occupied by men drinking around wine barrels set up as tables. Inside, chalk boards angled over the bar listed the extensive wine list (available in different size pours) and the cheese and charcuterie selections. We managed to secure a table, but did our ordering at the bar, where we paid cash and, respecting the crowd building up around us, didn’t spend too much time making up our minds about which wine we wanted to try next. Which was tricky with the extensive and interesting list they had (like a red Sancerre that I ended up choosing).
- Bookstores: “Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise,” is the motto of the famed Shakespeare & Co bookstore. This philosophy means that writers can still exchange a day’s work for a night’s place to sleep. The original owner published James Joyce’s Ulysses when no else would and having read this fact years ago, I’ve always wanted to visit. I avoided it’s First Edition room as I didn’t want to come home penniless, but did purchase a copy of The Dubliners that now bears the legendary bookstore’s stamp.
- Markets (like the Les Halles markets in Versailles): Why visit a grocery store when you have the amazing food markets located every few blocks? Everything you need for a well-stocked kitchen is available. Fresh, pretty produce. Organic olive oil. Sea salt. Olives floating in fragrant brine. Rounds of paprika dusted goat cheese. Snails stuffed with butter and garlic. Whole chickens with the pale skin that comes from not being force fed corn. Crusty baguettes. Trimmed steaks and pork sausages begging for a grill. All at prices that are more Trader Joe’s than Whole Foods.
- Oysters: Le Mary Celeste, discovered on our way to Le Baron Rouge, provided us with a beautiful interior in which to dry our feet and grab the most elegant of snacks. It was one of those happy accidents that result in discovering something new and altogether lovely. Our timing was perfect: we arrived for Oyster Happy Hour, which meant we were able to enjoy salty, chewy Normandy oysters for only 1 euro a piece, along side two glasses of very dry Champagne.
- Apéritifs: There was a small, no frills bar around the corner from where Conor and I stayed in Chaville – Vélizy that introduced us to the beloved French tradition of the before-dinner apéritif. Locals (all men) stood (never sat) around the small bar, chatting and laughing, as they drank Kir Royales (there is something quite disarming about the contrast of a pretty pink Kir Royale in the gnarled hands of a man wearing paint splattered work overalls) or a Ricard Pastis or a Leffe beer. A quick drink (or two) and with the appetite opened, they’d head home to dinner. Side Note: Small bars with men standing up in them became our cue to stop in, as it almost always equaled good prices, a fairly pleasant bartender and a decent drink selection. Also, click here to find out “What Writers Drink in Paris When They’re Not Writing About Drinking in Paris.” Be warned: you’ll get thirsty.
- Hot chocolate: I’ve been reading about Angelina’s famed hot chocolate ever since I starting researching places to eat in France. But how good could it really be? Sometimes the original claim to fame becomes nothing more than hyperbole (see: Magnolia Bakery) and you ended up disappointment. Not so the case with Angelina’s too-sexy-for-words take on the classic sweet winter warmer. Remember the hot chocolate in Chocolat? Like that, but on steroids. Thick, with a ribbon of bitterness that cuts through the sinful density of chocolate, this is one of those things that actually matches up to the hype.
Now I’m back to the real world. No complaints. I love the Adirondacks, North Creek and barVino. My hammock is up on the porch (this being April in the North Country, the snowshoes are still out – you never know), the screen door is on and I’m ready to bring a few of my favorites from Paris to the porch this summer. I can definitely predict I’ll be sipping a pastis in the hammock . . .