food trucks

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For years I had been (enviously) reading about the success of food trucks in Los Angeles, Seattle and Sydney while lamenting the fact that none existed in Paris. And then one day a taco truck called The Cantine California rolled into town, right on the heels of a burger truck called Le Camion Qui Fume, owned by a California native. As to be expected, these mobile kitchens were eyed with haughty sniffs of suspicion and disapproval by the natives here. After all, France is a world leader in la gastronomie française. Buy lunch from a truck and eat on the street with one’s hands?? Que le ciel nous en préserve !  (Heaven forbid!) But it’s surprising how quickly people adapt. Now there are long lines for a grilled cheese sandwich, a burger, fish and chips, Mexican, Lebanese and Vietnamese food … everything but French!

These photos were taken during my lunch hour at La Défense, Europe’s largest business district on Paris’s west side. This is where I work. The Esplanade de la Défense is a long walkway lined on either side with trees, apartments, restaurants and skyscrapers. It’s dedicated entirely to pedestrians, which is why I like wandering around here.

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Walking from my office on this summery breezy day to the far end of La Défense, it was nice to stop at the many shaded squares along the way and watch office colleagues playing boules (pétanque) on their lunch hour, as if they were in a provençal village rather than this major business district that houses the headquarters of multinational giants such as TOTAL, EDF, Areva, Axa, GDF Suez and Société Générale, to name a few. La Défense is the largest purposely-built business district in Europe.

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The further you walk towards La Grande Arche at the end of the Esplanade, the thicker and higher the buildings. But there’s still lots of open space. And lots going on.

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Here’s what I wrote in another blog post on the same topic – some people loathe La Défense because of its concrete slabs and dehumanizing uniformity. They say the place is devoid of charm or soul. I happen to disagree. I find a poetic expression in the design of this urban space. I think the planners have done an excellent job in humanizing the concrete landscape with the presence of outdoor art installations, grassy squares and benches, fountains (one which vigorously splashes up and down in tune with classical music played loudly on speakers), whimsical sculptures, seasonal markets, a summer jazz festival, etc. And again, the best part is: no cars! Come on out for a visit!

How to get there – It’s real easy. Just jump onto the westbound line 1 metro, direction La Défense, to the Esplanade de la Défense stop. At the far end, there’s a massive shopping mall called Les Quatre Temps complete with restaurants, boutiques and a multiplex movie theater called the UGC Ciné Cité with 16 screens. Opposite, there are more restaurants and stores in the CNIT building. You can also take an elevator to the roof of La Grande Arche, the Danish-designed white cube, and look out at the stunning view of Paris.

Word of caution – I’d avoid walking around this area late at night.

La Défense

DSCF1398I’m guessing that the majority of tourists who visit Paris never venture out to the business district called La Défense located on the city’s west side.  If you do happen to go there (I recommend it), you’ll find yourself in a large, modernistic, automobile-free, open space amidst a forest of high-rise towers interspersed with low-rise apartment buildings.  At the very end of the long Esplanade are two shopping centers – the CNIT and Les Quatre Temps – containing a myriad of stores, restaurants, a massive supermarket called Auchan and a multiplex cinema.

La Défense is my backyard.  I live on the other side of the river and often walk to Auchan on Saturdays to do my grocery shopping.  I then walk back home with a very full knapsack on my back.  It’s a pleasant walk.  Walking is part of my exercise regime.  I don’t own a car.DSCF1399DSCF1400DSCF1405Now I know many people who say they loathe La Défense because of its concrete slabs and dehumanizing uniformity.  They say the place is devoid of charm or soul.  I happen to disagree.  I find a poetic expression in the design of the urban space here.  I think the planners have done an excellent job in humanizing the concrete landscape with the presence of outdoor art installations, grassy squares and benches, fountains (one which vigorously splashes up and down in tune with classical music played loudly on speakers), whimsical sculptures, seasonal markets, a summer jazz festival, etc.  A few years ago the Christmas decorations were sensational, but I’ve noticed in the last few years (since France has entered into recession) the municipality has cut back on such extravagances.DSCF1417The best part is the absence of cars and lack of crowds; the entire space is dedicated to pedestrians.  I suggest that you get on the metro (the number one central line) and get off at metro stop Esplanade de la Défense, which is only 5 stops from Charles de Gaulle-Etoile station on the Champs-Elysées.  Then stroll the entire length of the Esplanade. You’ll be rewarded with a stunning symmetrical view of Paris behind you and the vista of La Défense with its cube-shaped, Danish-designed La Grande Arche in front of you (below.)  You can take an outdoor elevator up to the roof for a fantastic view.  If you walk around to the back of the Grande Arche, you’ll find an unexpected long, narrow, wooden footpath, similar to a jetty, that juts over a graveyard and the suburb of Courbevoie.DSCF1424Here below is the CNIT building full of shops (Habitat, Decathlon, FNAC, a very good organic food and cosmetic shop on the lower level, Monoprix, etc.)  The CNIT is also a conference center.DSCF1421DSCF1411DSCF1414DSCF1412DSCF1408USEFUL INFORMATION – there are several hotels on the Esplanade: the IBIS, NOVOTEL, SOFITEL, HILTON and FRASER SUITES HARMONIE that sometimes offer special rates (depending on the season) lower than central Paris rates.  From La Défense, it takes 10 minutes to reach the Champs-Elysées on the metro.

FINAL WORD – I would advise against walking around this area at night.