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Trip Report TRIP REPORT: Paris, Bordeaux, Dordogne, Toulouse, Provence, and more

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This report is a continuation of a report that I started at the following link:

http://www.fodors.com/community/europe/london-brussels-france-berner-oberland-and-vienna-in-72-days.cfm#last-comment

I've decided to start a new thread for a couple reasons. One, because France is by far the largest portion of the trip, so it seemed to warrant it's own thread, but more importantly, it feels like a completely different trip now that we have arrived in Paris.

Our first 10 days in London and Brussels felt like a typical vacation that we would take when we were limited to 10 to 14 days. Although enjoyable, we spent most of our time rushing from site to site, and eating out every meal, which gets tiresome after a couple weeks. Because of the lengthy nature of this trip, just over 10 weeks in all, we will be primarily staying in apartments from this point onward, where we can eat the majority of our meals in, and take things a little bit more slowly.

Our apartment is in the sixth arrondissement of Paris, about a one minute walk from the outdoor market that occurs three times a week on Blvd Raspail, which is located just north of the Rennes Metro stop, on the center median of the street.

Our first morning was a Sunday, which is when they have the organic market. What a pleasure it was to stroll slowly among the stalls, enjoying the sights, the sounds and especially the smells of the market. The scent of the chickens roasting on the rotisserie was intoxicating. My heart raced at the sight of the brightly colored fruits and vegetables; the fresh goat cheeses that are so creamy you could eat them with a spoon; the peonies exploding with color, and at €10 a bunch, vs. $10 a stem we would pay in Los Angeles. I don't know if it was because it wasn't too crowded, or because it was a beautiful summer day, but everybody was pleasant and smiling, the vendors as well as the clientele. I was so happy that nobody responded to my intermediate level French by replying in English! I'm really hoping to improve while we are here. We left the market with some perfectly ripe figs, some jambon cru and a couple small tartes aux tomates for lunch, as well as some glorious vegetables and a piece of roasted pork belly for dinner.

Why does everything taste so much better here than in the US? Is it because we pick our produce green and it "ripens" in a refrigerated truck, instead of on the vine or tree? Whatever the reason, the figs tasted like they were filled with honey, they were so sweet, and combined with the saltiness of the ham, it was almost like eating pieces of sweet and salty butter.

The pork belly was nothing like we are used to. First of all, it was sitting in the bottom of the rotisserie before we arrived, absorbing flavor from the drippings of the rotisserie chickens above. Also, it was about 80% meat and 20% fat, as compared to the US where it tends to be 50/50. It was super tender, just falling off the bone, so I would almost compare it to short ribs in that respect. With that and a mixed salad for dinner, we were in food heaven.

We are currently one week into a two week stay here, and we've had 16 of our first 21 meals in our apartment. A rotisserie chicken lasts us three meals, with the diced leftovers from the first dinner added to pasta with garlic, basil, tomatoes and cheese the next night, and over a salad for lunch the next day.

The apartment is very comfortable and in a great location, about equidistant from the Seine and Blvd Montparnasse. It's a one bedroom, with a small kitchen, and comes in at about 45 sq meters, which is just under 500 sq ft. This is more than twice as big as Paris hotel rooms we have had in the past. The owner has a very quirky sense of style. It looks like she bought old cabinets, doors, corbels and cornices from an old house that was being torn down, and felt she had to use each and every piece to decorate, logic or efficiency be damned. For example, all the flatware is behind a set of four accordion-style wooden doors on loose creaky hinges that must be folded back completely in order to be able to open the drawers hidden inside. It's like opening a series of Russian nesting dolls every time you want to get a spoon.

But I will say that the apartment is very quiet, as it's opens onto two central courtyards; the bed is comfortable; the hot water is plentiful; and there's even a portable air conditioner, which we made good use of a couple days when it was over 90 degrees F. And the location is perfect, close enough to be able walk or bike to any number of sites in the surrounding area, far enough away from the main tourist areas as to be a very calm neighborhood to return to at the end of the day. In fact the entire weekend after we arrived, right after the national holiday on July 14, the streets were so quiet and devoid of cars we could walk down the middle of Rue de Rennes and not see a car moving in either direction.

We have been taking advantage of the Vélib' bicycle rental system to explore the area. Even if you haven't done this before, you may have noticed that there are bicycle stations all over the city, most no more than 300 m apart. For only eight euro for the week you can have unlimited use of a bicycle so long as you return it to any location in the city within 30 minutes of taking it. If you want to keep going you can immediately take another bike after you've returned the first, and so long as you keep returning it within 30 minute increments there's no additional cost.

In our first three days we have covered, by bike or on foot, the Montparnasse area to the south of us, the St-Germain-de-Pres area to the north of us, the Luxembourg gardens, and all around the Îles de la Cité and St Louis. It's been so nice to be able to come back to our place for lunch and dinner, and then head back out for a bike ride or a walk down the Jardin des Tuileries at 9:45pm, in time to see the color of the stone buildings change from blazing orange to a soft gold, as the late setting summer sun dips behind the grand arch at La Défense.

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