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marcy_ Jan 3rd, 2007 09:59 AM

Christmas in Paris: Marcy's trip report
I wanted to share a few highlights of my Christmas trip to Paris and once again thank everybody here for being such a great source of information as always.

Background: DH and I have been to Paris many times. Our daughter (hereafter known as DD) is now working there as an au pair, our niece is in school there, so it seemed like a logical time for a family Christmas in Paris. So there ended up being 9 of us in all: Me, DH, DD and her boyfriend, DS, my brother-in-law (BIL) and sister-in-law (SIL), and their 2 daughters.

So our first challenge once we decided to go was to find a suitable apartment that would sleep at least 6 people and have room for all 9 of us for Christmas dinner and general hanging-out. And hopefully to not break the bank-- not an easy proposition.

I had settled on what seemed to be almost ideal- a huge apartment at Place de la Nation- not centrally located, but right by a metro. Unfortunately that one fell through, and I was searching again and getting desperate.

Finally I found this one: 4 bedrooms in the 10th Arr., near the Gare du Nord and the Gare de l’Est. It wasn’t 100% ideal, but the closest I could find to meeting all of our requirements.

Well, we liked the apartment, but it was Quirky with a capital “Q”!! It’s the primary residence of 2 designers/artists and their three children, and the apartment was filled with artwork and bizarre accessories-- first and foremost lots of stuffed animals. And when I say stuffed animals, I don’t mean toys- I mean as in taxidermy! The sofa in the kitchen was flanked by two stuffed badgers, there was an owl and a stuffed goose in the hallway, and what I believe was a ferret or a weasel on a table!!

We grew rather fond of the badgers in the kitchen, especially after we adorned them with reindeer-antler headbands for Christmas!

Anyway, it turned out fine, although it wouldn’t be for everyone. It had four bedrooms, but only one with a double bed. The other bedrooms all had just one single bed- so my BIL ended up sleeping on a mattress on the floor all week- which he said wasn’t too bad at all, but he’s a good sport.

It also was a fourth floor walk-up, which I was a little concerned about, but we didn’t end up finding the stairs to be a big deal at all.

The bathrooms were very nice, and the kitchen was minimally equipped, but adequate. The owners were very nice to work with, and I just hope they have a good sense of humor, because we left the antlers on the badgers when we moved out!

I got tickets to the Cirque d’Hiver after reading about it here on Fodors, and it was fabulous! We went to the afternoon performance on Christmas Eve. Everybody absolutely LOVED it- it has everything: tigers, trained seals, acrobats, clowns, trapeze artists, clowns, dancing girls, and a live orchestra.

The best thing is that it’s such a small venue- you really see everything right up close, and to top it off we had front row seats. We could just about reach out and touch the tigers, and the men had an unsurpassed view when the trapeze artists in their skimpy thong costumes climbed up a ladder right above our heads!

DH and DS got chosen out of the audience to participate in a ventriloquist’s act, and we thought we would die laughing! It was so funny.

I can’t recommend this circus highly enough- it was a wonderful experience!

To be continued....

jody Jan 3rd, 2007 10:07 AM

Love the picture! Waiting for more

Nikki Jan 3rd, 2007 10:09 AM

Sounds wonderful, Marcy. An apartment straight out of the Museum of Natural History, and close enough at the circus to touch the tigers! I had front row seats at the Cirque d'Hiver last winter, and I know just what you're talking about. But I'm glad your family got picked to be part of the act rather than mine. My daughter would have disowned me.

hanl Jan 3rd, 2007 10:10 AM

Great picture! :)

marcy_ Jan 3rd, 2007 10:33 AM

Our next adventure on Christmas Eve was dinner with Jim Haynes. For anyone not familiar with Jim Haynes’ dinners, he is an American who has lived in Paris for years and hosts weekly dinners in his apartment for up to about 80 people. You sign up by email or telephone and it’s 20 Euros per person for a not-too-bad buffet dinner, boxed wine, and a chance to meet and mingle with interesting people from all over the world.

Our whole group of 9 went, and everybody had a good time. For me the highlight was meeting two other Fodorites: Nina66 and neddag. They were just as delightful in person as they are online, and it was fun putting the faces with the names and sharing travel experiences.
(L to R: Nina, Marcy, Nedda- posted with their permission :-D)

A really bizarre twist was that my SIL remembered meeting Jim Haynes many years ago at a party in Amsterdam when she was 17 years old! Small world!

The wine flowed, and the younger members of our group were feeling no pain by the end of the evening, so we escorted the tipsy 20-somethings home on the metro, where our DS ran into a friend of his from college and his parents- small world again!

letour Jan 3rd, 2007 11:44 AM

Hi, we went to the cirque d'hiver two days after Christmas. I think that the ventriloquist is the same one that played last year with the Big Apple, as I got picked last spring for the same act, here in Boston! A riot! My family said that I had never before displayed such talent, and people in our community would approach me weeks later to commend me on my performance.

The skimpy thong things were something else indeed. My wife is offended by the "objectification of women," but my attitude is let's just enjoy the culture for what it offers. And the thong outfits offered alot!

Welcome home!


marcy_ Jan 3rd, 2007 11:48 AM

Christmas day in Paris:
On Christmas day we got up pretty late, and I went out in search of a bakery. Surprisingly, it was no problem to find one that was open, as well as several little convenience stores, so we were able to start the day with fresh croissants and pain au chocolat, as well as fresh baguettes for dinner.

Next we were off to go ice-skating at the Hôtel de Ville. We were obviously NOT the only ones with this idea! It was really crowded, with a long line to get skates, but we decided we really wanted to do it, so we waited in line- maybe about 40 minutes or so. The rental skates were pretty terrible, and they don’t groom the ice often, so the quality of the ice-skating wasn’t great, but we had a good time. Here’s my Dh wobbling along:, and our nieces:

Then we were off to the Eiffel tower. It just sounded so romantic and wonderful to be on the Eiffel tower on Christmas day, and I had read in the Secrets of Paris newsletter about a maze of pine trees set up on the 1st level, and thought it sounded intriguing.

We arrived to find the top of the tower shrouded in clouds, so there was no use in going all the way to the top. But fortunately the lines were short, so we went up to the first level to see the maze. What a joke! It was just some pine trees in rolling planters, and someone dressed up in a polar bear costume who was jumping out at the little children and making them cry! Definitely not worth a special trip for, but it was still wonderful to be in Paris, looking down over the city from the Eiffel tower on Christmas day.

One of the things that was really fun was getting ready for our Christmas day dinner feast! The day before, we shopped at the market on rue Montorgueil, where we bought beautiful cheeses and foie gras, at Monoprix, for the meat, vegetables, and salad ingredients. and last but not least, at Laduree for a beautiful coffee-flavored bûche de Noël.

We bought what we thought was a beef tenderloin- the butcher said it was to slice for tournedos- but I don’t think it was a tenderloin, because it was fairly tough, so we obviously have a little to learn about the different cuts of meat in France.

But anyway, our feast was great, starting with kir royals and foie gras, and ending with the bûche de Noël, which was sinfully rich and wonderful.

After dinner, we all sat around the table and sang every Christmas carol we know- some in harmony, most slightly off-key, and all agreed it was one of the best Christmases ever.

Some of our motley crew:

marcy_ Jan 3rd, 2007 12:32 PM

letour, We found the cultural differences to be pretty striking at the circus, whether it be the skimpy outfits, the ventriloquist's dummy smoking cigarettes, the clown getting drunk drinking vodka, suggestive gestures, or the clown actually spitting water on the audience!

I can't imagine any of those things happening at a circus in the US, so it was interesting to note the differences.

And as for admiring the women-- well, the handsome physique of the male trapeze artist didn't escape the attention of my nieces and DD and me! So I guess it can go both ways!

kamahinaohoku Jan 3rd, 2007 12:48 PM

More, please?

marcy_ Jan 3rd, 2007 01:07 PM

Some restaurants:
Needless to say, it’s a bit of a challenge finding a restaurant for up to nine people, especially when some are a little bit picky, and 2 are vegetarians.
But here’s where we ended up:

El Mauresque- 3, Rue Cadet, 75009. Tel : 01 48 24 42 99
This is a small family-run Moroccan restaurant with great couscous and tagines, and very reasonable prices. Everybody was happy with it, including the vegetarians, with their nice vegetable couscous. I had a lamb tagine with prunes and almonds that was to die for.
It was such a homey atmosphere, it was funny, because the staff would scold us good-naturedly if we did something wrong (like order tea as an aperitif, as DD tried to do, or eating the soup the wrong way.)
We had a aperitifs, a huge assortment of appetizers (all delicious), main courses, a huge assortment of desserts, plenty of wine and cokes, tea, and coffee, and it ended up being less than 40 euros per person. A fun place to go with a group! When we left the whole family of owners shook our hands and said goodbye- very charming.

Le Terminus Nord
23, rue de Dunkerque 75010 Paris  01 42 85 05 15  Gare du Nord
This is a traditional brasserie- one of the Flo group, with a beautiful Art Deco dining room. DH’s birthday was during our trip, and we chose this as for a nice dinner to treat the whole family, partly because you could reserve ahead online, partly because they have a large and varied menu, so I hoped everyone could find something they liked, and because it was within easy walking distance from our apartment. We weren’t disappointed.

They seated us in a beautiful little oval-shaped room (just big enough for our table) opening onto the big dining room. We had all sorts of wonderful things, including plates of oysters, steak tartare, and my 16-year-old niece who usually doesn’t get more adventurous than pizza or cheese sandwiches tried escargot for the first time and decided it was OK!

There wasn’t too much for the vegetarians (DD and her boyfriend), but they managed with a nice salad.
At the end of the meal all the waiters came and sang “Joyeux Anniversaire” to DH with a sparkler on a cake. It was lots of fun!

grandmere Jan 3rd, 2007 01:22 PM

What a wonderful trip that must have been for all of you! I loved reading about it and seeing the pictures. And what a responsibility it must have been for you to find the apt. as well as to plan all the activities, etc., for the group; it sounds and looks as though you did it very well--everyone looks so happy in the photos.

kerouac Jan 3rd, 2007 01:32 PM

I often recommend "Terminus Nord" as a place to go and am often confronted with the outdated opinion that "the Gare du Nord area is sleazy and must be avoided at all costs."

AnselmAdorne Jan 3rd, 2007 01:58 PM

Marcy, thanks for this. It sounds (and looks) like you all had a wonderful time. Great report.

If I recollect properly, you are soon to return? And will be trying out that flat on boul Henri IV? If so, I'm lookig forward to hearing about that, too.


SharonG Jan 3rd, 2007 02:01 PM

What a wonderful report. I spent Christmas in Paris a few years ago and just loved it. Oh, love the badgers.

marcy_ Jan 3rd, 2007 02:02 PM

We really liked the Gare du Nord area in a lot of ways. There were good bakeries, good restaurants, and easy access to metro and buses, so it was easy to get around. And we enjoyed not hearing much English spoken, and when we spoke French to people, they answered us in French. It definitely did not feel touristy.

I didn't find it to be the cleanest or prettiest area of Paris, though. There were more homeless people than I ever remember seeing before, and lots of urine (and worse) on the sidewalks- and not from dogs.

I felt really sorry for the homeless people, because it was really cold while we were there, and there were people sleeping on top of the metro grates in thin sleeping bags trying to get a little bit of heat. And it seems particularly sad to see people with nowhere to go at the holidays.

Now I feel guilty talking about how well we ate, but here are some more restaurants:

One night we found ourselves needing to eat dinner at around 11:30 PM (It’s a long story), and with 9 people and no reservations, another challenge!

We decided on Chez Denise, since they’re open all night and I’d heard it’s good, and I figured- how crowded could it be at 11:30 at night? Well, wrong-- it was packed. They said they could seat us around 1AM. We may be night owls, but that was too late for us.

So then DH had the brainstorm of Au Pied du Cochon, which is just a couple of blocks away, and they were able to seat us right away, although it was plenty crowded, too, even at that hour.

We had a very nice dinner there- really a lot nicer than I expected. We had walked by it lots of times, and admired the seafood out front, but I had kind of thought that it would be an obnoxious tourist trap, and it really wasn’t.

The onion soup was fantastic, the oysters were fresh and delicious, the steaks were good, although one that was ordered “medium” had to be sent back to cook a little more since it was still practically mooing, but this was taken care of cheerfully.

BIL was brave and tried the “Temptation of St. Antoine,” which was a platter with lots of pig parts: ears, tail, muzzle, and I don’t know what else... The vegetarians weren’t thrilled to sit next to him while he was diving into this, but he liked it!

All in all a very nice dinner- not cheap, but a great choice if you’re in need of good food late at night.

Au Pied du Cochon
6 Rue Coquilliere
75001 Tél: (33) 01 40 13 77 00

7 rue du Faubourg Montmartre 75009 Tel:01 47 70 86 29

I’m very fond of Chartier, not so much for the food as for the atmosphere, and once again, it’s somewhere to go on the spur of the moment, since they don’t take reservations. I like the way the waiters joke around with you, and they have a lot of vegetable dishes and salads, which is good for the vegetarians. And we just crave their frozen oranges for dessert- they are so good!

marcy_ Jan 3rd, 2007 02:13 PM

Yes, you remembered correctly-- it's crazy, but I'll be back in just over two weeks, staying at the Henri IV apartment- I'll let you know how it is.

Seamus Jan 3rd, 2007 02:25 PM

1. Thank you, thank you, thank you for the great report

2. Wanna adopt me?

marcy_ Jan 3rd, 2007 02:31 PM

One last restaurant, saving the best for last:

Café Panique, 12, rue des Messageries, 75010,
Tel:01 47 70 06 84.
We ate here on our last night, after most of the group had already headed back to the states, so there were only 4 of us, and we made reservations a day ahead.

The owners of our apartment said that this was their favorite restaurant, and I can see why! It’s a small restaurant just around the corner from the apartment, with an attractive minimalist decor, a relaxed atmosphere, and very charming staff.

Everything was beautifully presented, just the right size servings, and delicious, and probably one of the best values for the money to be found in Paris.
I had foie gras raviolis for the appetizer, then wonderful grilled scallops, and a delectable cheese plate. Highly recommended!

cigalechanta Jan 3rd, 2007 02:34 PM

Marcy, What a wonderful, warm report, and what a handsome family! I;m behind Seamus for adoption :)
I had lunch in February alone at Chez Denise and it was one of my highlights, meeting diners and the chef.
Friends took me for dinner at Chartier and I expected the worse after reading posts here but the food was ok and our waitor fun.

kerouac Jan 3rd, 2007 02:35 PM

Regarding all of the homeless people around Gare du Nord --- Since the French government closed the refugee camp at the Eurotunnel site in Sangatte 2 years ago, the main refugee site has become the Gare du Nord area -- Iraqis, Kurds, Afghans, Romanians, etc., have all elected residence there. At the moment, there are 200 tents pitched along the Canal Saint Martin near Gare du Nord filled with both refugees and French homeless. The situation has become so critical that the government will be enacting a law in the next couple of weeks (upcoming elections and major issue!) which will guarantee that anyone who looks for housing and can't find it will be obligatorily provided with housing by the government.

This should not prevent any of you who visit Paris from enjoying it, in spite of the homeless that you might see. There is no easy solution anywhere, and many of the homeless will never "look for housing" and therefore will never be housed by the government or anyone else. But since a lot of you will see the tents, which are not just along the canal but also along the Seine, under various bridges and at all sorts of unexpected places throughout the city, please do not be disgusted by the sight. Various NGO's have provided the tents with the express purpose of not only helping these people but also making them more visible to the rest of us. If we stop looking the other way, perhaps we will finally find a solution for them.

Sorry for interrupting, and I hope that this nice thread will continue with Christmas cheer and more information about all of the things that you can do in future holiday seasons.

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