the joys of winter: hot chocolate, etc.

What is one thing in particular that I like about winter?  Hot chocolate! This year I plan to test different cocoa beverages around the city.  In February I investigated two places. The first was an Italian gelateria called Pozzetto located at 39 rue du Roi de Sicile near the St Paul metro station.  It’s a cute, homey place; welcoming and warm.  I sat at a little round table and the woman who works there brought me this:Feb 2013 photo exhibit and Marais 081Feb 2013 photo exhibit and Marais 083Feb 2013 photo exhibit and Marais 084

This is what I had been missing all these years…this was the real deal:  Italian cioccolata calda.  Glossy, unctuous, not sweet and deeply joyous.  I sat there savouring each mouthful while uttering murmurs of satisfaction and then I scraped the bottom of the cup with the spoon to get every last drop.  I swear, if the woman hadn’t been looking I would’ve shamelessly licked the cup clean with my tongue.

“Splendido”, I said to the woman who was from Rome.  “Grazie”, she replied.

I will return to that place. Not only for the chocolate, but because it’s a friendly, down to earth kind of place. Sometimes you get tired of pretentious places and prices. Back outside I discovered an adorable Portuguese pastry shop next door called Comme A Lisbonne.  Tiny and immaculate, it serves only espresso and perfect, freshly-made custard tarts called pasteis de nata.  I had one.

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The second place I went to (not on the same day!) is at the top end of the Marais. Called Jacques Genin, chocolatier, it can be found at number 133 rue de Turenne. The hot chocolate came to me on a tray in a white porcelain pitcher.  Accompanying the pitcher was a large, white porcelain cup and saucer, glass of water and sugar bowl.  I’d say this was hot chocolate for grown-ups. The space itself, like the hot chocolate, is minimalistic. I wouldn’t bring kids here.  And a good thing, too, because when I filled the cup only halfway and then drank, I immediately burned my tongue and the inside of my mouth. It was scalding hot. It lacked the unctuosity that I like, but was not overly sweet which is a good thing. If you desire a sweeter taste, just plop in a sugar cube or two.  I paid 7 euros for the burnt tongue.

The Eiffel Tower

Paris Sunday October 27, 2013 123Here she is…affectionately known as La Grande Dame, La Dame de Fer or even La Dentelle de Fer (Iron Lace).  I ended up here one gray October Sunday without really intending to.  I usually avoid tourist traps in this city.Paris Sunday October 27, 2013 126As if the tower isn’t already spectacular, the city is planning to make it even more spectacular…encore plus spectaculaire !!!  La Grande Dame is having a makeover.Paris Sunday October 27, 2013 133Two new pavilions with shops, a food court and projection room, and the redesigning of the first-floor restaurant to increase capacity and lower prices.  Oh god, I hope they’re not going to turn it into a cafeteria.

There’s also less sparkling at night as the city reduces the tower’s energy consumption. The tower used to sparkle 10 minutes per hour, now it’s been cut down to five.  I must admit that one of the most dazzling sights in this city is when, every hour on the hour, starting from nightfall to 1 a.m. and using 20,000 small bulbs, the tower bursts into a glittering display of scintillating sparkle.  The first time I witnessed the event, I was crossing the river via one of the bridges near the tower.  It was a clear winter’s night.  Suddenly, as I was midway across, she lit up all aglitter and I gasped. I stood rooted to the spot, awestruck, at the beautiful sight.  That’s what I call an MM (magical moment.)

Paris Sunday October 27, 2013 136Did you know that the Eiffel Tower generates more revenue than any other monument in the world?  An estimated 7 million people visit the tower each year.  Imagine that they spend 14 euros each.  That’s 98 million euros. I wonder how this compares with revenue from the Empire State building.Paris Sunday October 27, 2013 122If you look closely, you can see names engraved on each side of the tower under the first balcony, 72 names to be exact: Lavoisier, Regnault, Le Verrier, etc.  They were leading French scientists of the 19th century to whom Gustave Eiffel paid homage. I have a feeling they are all male names…no women.Paris Sunday October 27, 2013 161

Off to Belgium (again)

Today’s a national holiday in France: November 1st is All Saints’ Day – another Catholic holiday in this supposedly secular country. Florists love All Saints’ Day. Cemetaries all over the country will be crowded today as people take flowers to the graves of deceased relatives.

And I’m off to Bruges located in the Flemish region of Belgium called West Flanders. I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to discover the delights of Belgium. Maybe because it’s right next door to France and, up until now, I had always set my sights on destinations further afield. I’ve already planned to return to Belgium again over Christmas… Antwerp.

Bruges has most of its medieval architecture intact. The historic centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The city houses a very fine collection of medieval and early modern art, including the world-famous collection of Flemish Primitives.  Various masters, such as Hans Memling and Jan van Eyck, lived and worked in Bruges.
Because of its many canals, Bruges is often referred to as “Venice of the North.”
bruges-canals-01The only blip is the weather forecast for this weekend: rain.  Oh well, we will console ourselves with Belgian chocolate, waffles and their famous fries (and beer.)