Ariel & the Sweeper Girls: A Disneyland Paris Half Marathon Race Recap

Two weeks ago, I ran my longest race of 2017: the Disneyland Paris-Val d’Europe half marathon, part of Run Disney France’s Magic Run Weekend. My previous races this year were the Cherry Blossom 10 miler and the Capitol Hill Classic 10K. I’ll cap off my running season with the Marine Corp Marathon’s 10K. I’m not quite ready to commit to training for a full marathon yet though it’s definitely a distance I’m looking to doing next year 😉

If you read my goals for the Disneyland Paris half, you saw that they didn’t include a specific time. I just wanted to complete the course, make some new memories with my bestie Caitlin and snap some fun pics with Disney characters as I ran through my old workplace. I spent six months after college working in the communication department at Disneyland Paris, right after the Studios had opened, so the parks have a special place in my heart. 

Technically, I achieved all of my goals yet it was hard for me to feel entirely satisfied with myself at the end of the 21 kilometers. Here is a quick race recap. Ok, not so quick…

First let’s talk about the race itself. The half marathon is fairly small in comparison to some of the other races I’ve done … 7,000 runners altogether (compared with 17,000 + at the Cherry Blossom 10 miler!) and is part of a full weekend of running with a 5K on Friday night, a 10K Saturday morning, a kid’s run Saturday afternoon and the 21K Sunday morning. Some runners actually do all three and get a special Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo challenge medal, in addition to medals for each of the races. I must say I was a little envious of all their bling! But Caitlin and I flew into Charles de Gaulle Saturday morning so those extra races weren’t an option for us. We went straight to our hotel, the Kyriad, via the Magical Shuttle — actual name! — do drop our bags and from there to the Expo in the Disney Village to get our bibs. There wasn’t much happening at the expo so that didn’t take too long. We killed some time at the shops (I behaved!) and grabbed lunch — food options are not great at Disney! — before checking into our room and taking a much needed 3 hours nap. Diner was the all-you-can-eat buffet at the hotel next door, the Vienna House Magic Circus Hotel. For those of you who know a little bit of fromage geography, you may know that Disney Paris is basically in Brie-land so my carb loading involved a lot of delicious runny Brie (and a glass of red wine of course, can’t have one without the other !) We managed to stay up until 9:30 then got some much needed zzzs! 

Ariel and Sebastien ready to run!

Ariel and Sebastian (not so) patiently waiting to start running

We didn’t have to wake up too early on race day since this particular Disney race wasn’t set to start until a luxurious 7AM. I say luxurious because apparently other Disney races kick off at an ungodly 5AM. Yikes! The start line was split into 3 waves (we were in wave C) and each subsequently divided into smaller groups so that only 250 runners would head inside the Studios at once. It was very exciting at first cheering for all the previous groups as they headed off. However it got a lot less fun an hour later when we still hadn’t left and realized would be in group 25 of 25 to cross that starting line. Womp womp. At this point both me and Caitlin started to worry about this for different reasons. Her because she’s a fast runner, currently training for the New York marathon, and knew she’d had to weave through a bunch of slow runners to catch up with those more at her pace. And me because I knew I had to complete the race before 11:30AM (the official cut-off for the race) and starting at 8AM meant I didn’t have much of a buffer anymore … but there was nothing we could do so off we went, Ariel and Sebastian, running through Disney in Paris! 

The Staff at Eureka Mining Supplis Cheering us on

As a former Cast Member, I know Disneyland Paris employees are the best! Here are a few cheering us on in Adventureland.

The first 5 kms of the race are THE BEST!! Right away, you’re in the Studios with cast members from various hotels, restaurants or attractions cheering you on. That was awesome. But I got super nostalgic as we passed Chez Rémy… that wasn’t there in my days! How the Studios had grown in the last 10 years! I stopped to snap a photo of the staff in their uniforms outside the restaurant … and lost Caitlin. So much for fun memories of the race together — I had at least thought I’d stick close to her through the parks. Oh well. I was on my own at the back of the pack. Where I pretty much stayed … see what happened is once we got into Disneyland there is a station set up for a photo opp with Mickey and Minnie, with the castle in the backdrop. I wanted. I wanted bad. But the line was soooooo long and I knew I was already one of the last runners since I left in the last group. Oh well, this was the one picture I wanted so I nervously joined the line.

Waiting in line for my picture with Mickey and Minnie

The line to get your picture taken with Minnie and Mickey — ps: Maleficient snapping a pic in front of me became my back-of-the-pack buddy! Her outfit was awesome!

After 15 minutes I saw them: the sweeper girls with their Minnie ears and Mickey balloons. Yikes! I was officially at the back of the back of the pack (though not alone … the line for pictures was still long.) I waited a little longer until a race volunteer basically told me that I would be out of the race if I stayed in the line any longer. I was nowhere near Mickey so I had no choice. I started running again. I basically wasted 25 minutes and didn’t get my picture with Mickey and Minnie. And now I had to catch up to the sweeper girls, which sorta became my obsession for the rest of the race. 

Running through an empty Main Street towards Cinderella’s Castle was a dream. And running through the empty park — there weren’t many runners left at this point — was a memory I’ll cherish forever. So was running through the castle!  I did stop for all the picture opportunities I could … I mean, if I didn’t get my pic with Mickey I was going to get all the other pictures I could ! So altogether, it must have taken me over an hour just to complete the first 5 kilometers. Definitely a reverse PR 😉 And of course, i still technically at this point was behind the sweeper girls meaning I really had to speed up. 

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon

The next 15 kilometers weave through the lovely roads and villages around Disney. There wasn’t really anyone cheering along the course though organizers had set up some distraction points like a group of local pint-sized cheerleaders, bands or a DJ. At this point I was so focused on catching up with the sweeper girls that I didn’t notice when I actually passed them. Instead, I was freaking out, going as fast as my lack of proper training would allow me and hoping Moana’s How Far I’ll Go would keep me going a while longer! I was feeling pretty down — where were those sweeper girls!? Would I seriously not complete this course !? And then at kilometer 15 i saw them. Going in the opposite direction from me meaning they were probably just at the halfway point of the race. Way behind me.

Disneyland paris Half Marathon Sweeper Girls

The Disneyland Paris Val d’Europe Half Marathon Sweeper Girls

I started breathing again and allowed a break. Which turned into a longer break than I meant for it. I had a hard time motivating myself to run again until we basically got to the hotels. Running through the official Disney Hotels, especially the Santa Fe — which is huge — and the Cheyenne with its Wild West theme, was super fun because after a cheering desert there were people again! Kids! Parents! Runners who had already finished their half marathon and were sporting their medal(s)! I got the second wind I needed to start really going again. Running through the Disney Village was a bit tricky though since by that point the parks were open and the area was full of people trying to get into Disneyland or the Studios, as well as runners who had already finished the course and were eager to get back to their hotels. The path carved out for the runners was pretty narrow and you had to navigate multiple crossing points too… but I spotted my dad, Caitlin and my friend Calla right before going back inside the Studios for that final kilometer. And then I got all nostalgic again. We ran through the set of Moteurs … Action! an attraction I had seen hundreds of time while I worked at Disney since one of my biggest project then was a live taping of the German TV show Wetten, dass…? which took place in that theater. (You can check out a recording of the show on YouTube!)

Actions... moteurs!

Awww, Disney. I miss you!! (And my twenties too lol). Finally, I crossed the finish line (which is actually inside the Studios!! How cool is that!?) a little teary eyed and very exhausted. I got my medal and managed to find Caitlin for our finisher photo. We didn’t get a single picture together with Disney characters so this one will have to do! 

Finisher photo at Disneyland Paris Half Marathon

Completed the course? Check. Made memories with my bestie? Check. Fun pics with Disney characters? Check, even if they weren’t Mickey. So my first international race was a success by the goals I had set but my lack of training really showed. I hadn’t done enough long runs leading up to the half, so by the time I realized I had passed the sweeper girls at kilometer 15 I was wiped and all but too happy to walk for a few kms. Does anyone else really struggle with longer runs too? My final time was 2h57 which isn’t great by any means though if you subtract the half hour give or take I spent in line for pictures with Mickey or other characters after that it’s slightly better, probably closer to 2h30… not great, but not that bad for me either). As always, I only have myself to blame. In running you get back what you put in and I didn’t put in enough ahead of time. I have 2 weeks now until the Marine Corp Marathon’s 10K and I’m determined to have a better race this time ! Anyone else running it or the full marathon? 

ps: can’t we talk recovery meals for a minute? As you might expect, the French know how to do it well! My mom made her signature couscous…

Couscous.jpg…. and my dad picked up some amazing eclairs at Fauchon (it was eclairs week afterall!).Eclairs from Fauchon

Since the weather was SO beautiful, we walked along the Canal St. Martin and had a few glasses of rosé on the rooftop terrace of Point Ephémère

Rose at Le Bar Ephemere in Paris

…before wrapping up a long day with some natural wine at Clown Bar.

Post half marathon dranks at Clown Bar.jpg

Sunday Funday with a bunch of Ks! I’d run a half marathon every weekend if they could always be like this one 😉

My Trip To Paris By RaShonda’s Explore Savvy

RaShonda of Explore Savvy is one of my favourite local travel blogger. Between her recent trips to Cuba or Milan and her scooping of fabulous cheap or error fare her facebook and twitter feeds give me major wanderlust – and make me want to buy all the airline tickets! Earlier in the year, she posted about an error fare on TAP Portugal, which I quickly snagged for a cheap Thanksgiving get-away. I mean, $280 round trip to Lisbon? How could I not jump on that? She also took advantage of the mistake, but rather than just stay in Portugal, opted to hop along to Paris. Here are some highlights from her trip to Paris earlier this year.

WHAT BROUGHT ME TO PARIS
As Laetitia mentioned, I came across a TAP Portugal deal for $285 round trip tickets from New York to many popular destinations in Europe. It was too good to pass up. My husband and I like to celebrate our anniversary in a different place each year so I figured we would take advantage of the deal to spend it in the City of Love this time around!

Explore Savvy's Anniversary trip to Paris

 

HOW I GOT THERE
We flew TAP Portugal. It was okay but nothing to write home about. If you ever fly this airline, my advice is to bring your own food and snacks. For what they lacked in food, they had plenty of red, white, and sparkling wine which made the food slightly more palatable. All of their flights from the US transit through Lisbon. If you have the time, they offer free tours during the stop-over, which is always a plus.

WHERE I STAYED
I’m a member of Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) which means I earn points when staying at Starwood properties like Westins, W Hotels, Meridiens or Sheratons. They have properties around the world and I always try to capitalize on the use of points when I can. I wanted to stay some place that had its original Parisian charm and not your typical American hotel chain. Fortunately SPG had a few options that fit that requirement in Paris. We booked a room at Le Dokhan’s, a boutique hotel in a 19th century Haussmanian building in the 16eme arrondissement. It was recently acquired by SPG and was definitely the best of both worlds. From receiving a complimentary anniversary toast in Paris’ first champagne bar (located in the lobby level) to taking photos in its Louis Vuitton elevator, this place was oozing with charm.

Louis Vuitton elevator at Le Dokhan's in Paris

Also, it’s a short stroll to the Trocadero and the Eiffel Tower! And while we didn’t use our points this go around, we earned enough for a free night or two in a less expensive city.

BEST THING I ATE
Paris is known for having tons of Michelin-rated restaurants and I figured I’d book one for our anniversary. I’d gone through the listing and narrowed down our selection to a few choices and ended up picking Kei, a one-star French restaurant which a slight Japanese influence. Each dish was so unique and the best part was all of them were very tasty. The service was absolutely amazing and I’d definitely recommend it to someone who’s celebrating a special occasion.

Kei

Kei

BEST FREE ACTIVITY
I’d definitely recommend spending the afternoon strolling down the Champs-Élysées. There are so many cute cafés and restaurants where you can grab a drink or a bite to eat and just sit there and people watch. There’s also a ton of shopping. While many of the places can be found in the States too, they do offer different options in the European stores.

TOTALLY WORTH THE SPLURGE
I know they’re opening in Washington, D.C. soon, but I finally had a chance to a go to Ladurée. We went to the one located on the Champs-Élysées. The line was out of the door but fortunately it moved quickly. As we made it halfway through, we noticed people walking right past us and into the small café area. We followed suit and learned we could order our macarons from there with no wait. Who knew?

Explore Savvy at Laduree

We ordered 8 macarons to go but still ended up sitting down and ordering a tea, a cappuccino, and a fancy ice cream dish. While, this was not our most expensive eating experience, we spent nearly $60 on an afternoon snack with a few macarons to go. But hey, you only live once 😉

MY TIPS IF YOU’RE HEADED TO PARIS
I always hear people talking about how French people are so rude. Honestly, my husband and I had a totally different experience. As long as you realize that the culture in Paris is not the same as in the United States, you will see things differently and enjoy your experience. One major difference: service at restaurants! Waiters are usually not ignoring you, they’re just giving you your space. If you need something just make eye contact or wave to them and they’ll be right over. Also, if you’re not fluent in French, learn a few basic greetings. Trust me, when you simply try it goes a long way…

Have you been to Paris recently and would like your trip featured on French Twist DC? Drop me a line at FrenchTwistDC@gmail.com

Explore Savvy trip to Paris

 About the author: RaShonda Riddle is a nonprofit marketing director by day and travel enthusiast by night. She loves food, art, architecture, and learning about other cultures. Her passion is exploring the world one country at a time. You can read more about her travels on her blog Explore Savvy and on her social media channels (facebook & twitter.)

My Trip To Paris (And Champagne) By Alison

There’s no conversation I love more than when one of friends tells me that they’re off to Paris. OK, there is: the conversation we have when they get back full of stories from my hometown and appreciation for it. So I was thrilled when my friend Alison of Bon Vivant DC told me she was stopping in Paris in between visits to Portugal and Champagne. OK, I was jealous too… but thrilled mostly. Alison runs a wine consulting business so I knew she’d have a fabulous trip. Here’s an overview of how it went, in Alison’s own words.

Alison Marriott in Champagne

WHAT BROUGHT ME TO PARIS

Paris has always been my favorite city, so when I found myself with five days between a vacation in Portugal and a weeklong industry event in Champagne, my choice of where to go in between these two stops was an easy one.  Besides its proximity to Champagne, Paris was an obvious choice for my extended ‘layover’ as I have several friends and acquaintances there. Oh, and the food.  (Doesn’t everyone travel for food?!)

HOW I GOT THERE

I was already in Portugal and flew I from Madeira into Paris’ Orly airport. On the way back, I took a direct flight from Charles de Gaulle to Dulles. 

WHERE I STAYED

I made a return visit to the Relais St. Sulpice, a small luxury boutique hotel ideally situated in the heart of Saint Germain. It’s on a quiet street that’s easily accessed by metro and walkable to many of my favorite sites in Paris including the Latin Quarter, l’Ile de la Cité, the Jardin du Luxembourg. It’s reasonably priced, with infinitely comfortable beds, and the lobby has a charming self serve bar and small library where you can read or relax.

BEST THING I ATE

One of my favorite things about Paris truly is the food- pâté, cheese, the bread, croissants… you name it, I love it! Although I had several fancier meals, café culture is one of my favorite things about Paris, and where I had one of my most memorable meals on this trip.  Café Bonaparte is in quite a touristy stretch of rue St. Germain, within a stone’s throw of the more famous Les Deux Magots and Café de Flore. While no means a bargain, it beats the prices of its more famous brethren with the same amazing people-watching this neighborhood is perfectly suited for. The atmosphere is as quintessentially Parisian as it gets! It was one of the only dinners that I ate alone, and so its convenience to my hotel was paramount. Big thanks to Cécile of The Worldly Bite for this great suggestion!

Champagne at Cafe Bonaparte

I also adored having crêpes and Britany cider out of traditional ceramic bowls with Laetitia’s mom at Breizh Café, right behind the Picasso Museum in the Marais! It’s a place I can imagine returning again and again to try different combinations.

Lastly, I had a lovely time picnicking along the Seine with my dear friend Tanisha of Girl Meets Glass. We picked up everything we needed at the local Monoprix and were loaded down with an astounding array of cheeses, tapenade, fruit, bread, charcuterie and a few bottles of wine for less than 30€! As we made our way over to a quai on the Seine, the fading sun cast beautiful light and shadows over the city.  After pulling the cork on a bottle of Provençal rosé we watched the lights illuminate Notre Dame across the river – which is perhaps most impressive seen at night.

BEST FREE ACTIVITY 

Though pretty touristy, taking in the Eiffel Tower at night tops this list. Feel free to take a bottle of wine and settle in for the light show, which takes place at the top of every hour.

La Tour Eiffel

I also adore wandering around the jardin du Luxembourg.  It’s one of the loveliest spots in Paris, particularly in the spring, when thousands of tulips are in bloom. 

The Luxembourg Garden in the spring

Finally not technically free but at 3.30€, practically: the gardens at the Rodin Museum. Skip the pricier interior to take in the sculptor’s most famous works set amidst a beautiful park devoid of the crowds and tour groups that throng most large museums. This has to be one of the most under-rated sites in Paris! 

WORTH THE SPLURGE 

I was in France to attend the industry only Printemps des Champagnes series of tastings as I prepare to host DC’s first Champagne Week, which will take place in early November. What most people don’t realize is how very easy it is to visit Champagne as a day trip from Paris. The TGV train will get you from Gare du Nord to the center of Reims in a mere 40 minutes.  From there, it’s easy to visit the stunning Cathedral of Reims and pop into a few of the notable champagne houses.  Taittinger has spectacular tours and beautiful cellars. Travelers who venture a bit further into the countryside (which does require a car) are rewarded with beautiful scenery and small, grower champagne houses. Just be sure to make an appointment! 

Caves in Reims

MY TIPS IF YOU’RE HEADED TO PARIS 

1) Don’t over schedule!  Remember to schedule time to relax, peruse the charming shops, explore hidden courtyards, and lounge in any number of the lovely parks. Take time to soak in the city while relaxing at a picturesque cafe over a mid afternoon pastry. 

2) If it’s your first trip to Paris, pick a few sites that are most important to see and really spend some time enjoying them. My own “Top 5 Must Sees” are the Sainte Chapelle, hidden inside France’s Palais de Justice,  the light show at the Eiffel Tower, the Rodin Sculpture Gardens, the Musée D’Orsay, and the Jardin du Luxembourg. 

La Sainte Chapelle

3) Dress up and learn a few French words. There are a few things that can help you blend in a bit and not stand out as an American (or as a tourist) really.  We typically dress more casually than our Parisian counterparts so like to trade tennis shoes for driving loafers and throw on a blazer over jeans. Though you may not be mistaken for a local, dressing up just a bit commands respect and you won’t look the part of the dreaded “Ugly American.” Also, even though my French is abysmal, I’ve mastered a few key phrases like “thank you” (merci), “excuse me” (pardon), “please” (s’il vous plaît), “hello” (bonjour.) Parisians really appreciate the effort and you’ll find that many are actually eager to practice their english with you too!

Though I’ve been to Paris many times, there are still sites that I’ve never made it to- and that’s OK!  Part of the charm of this beautiful city is embracing the Parisian joie de vivre, luxuriating in the experiences you DO choose to enjoy. I can’t wait to visit the flea markets, more museums, and perhaps the Catacombes or nearby Giverny on my next visit, but you can bet I’ll still find plenty of time to enjoy a glass of champagne, pâté, and people watching – which will always top my list of favorite things to do in Paris!

Have you been to Paris recently and would like your trip featured on French Twist DC? Drop me a line at FrenchTwistDC@gmail.com

Alison Marriott of Bon Vivant DCAbout the author: Alison and I met through mutual friends and a common love of of all things vino. She runs her own wine consultancy Bon Vivant DC and is currently hard at work planning the city’s first Champagne Week, with a Grand Tasting planned on November 9th. There will also be a champagne pairing dinner held at Ripple, and custom flights of champagne around town. For more information or to buy tickets, visit www.dcchampagneweek.com. Yep, that’s the week of the election and the perfect opportunity to celebrate your candidate’s victory — or plot your theoretical move to Paris over the world’s finest bubbles.

Postcard from Paris: 5 Spots Where I Love to Grab a Cup of Coffee

When I left Paris to move to Washington, DC thirteen years ago (**le gasp**) the city didn’t even have a single Starbucks yet. Now they’re everywhere, and I’m not saying that’s a good thing but I do want to point out that the coffee scene has changed in a few years. Of course, Paris has always been known for its street-side cafés, where you can grab a quick noisette at the counter or linger for hours at the terrace people watching and sipping a café crème. Those were never really about the coffee and new cafés, inspired by the artisanal coffee culture in Australia, the U.K. and the U.S. have popped up all over town. In many of those, it’s not unusual to hear English spoken fluently behind the counter as well as drip or filtered coffee (not espresso) in the cups. I’m not complaining about this change, I actually love discovering new coffee shops when I’m in Paris, though here are the five I always go back to: 

CAFÉ KITSUNÉ FILLES DU CALVAIRE

Kitsuné means fox in Japanese and in France, it’s synonymous with cool tunes and trendy clothes. The record and fashion label owns a couple of shops in Tokyo and Paris (as well as two in New York too!) including one rue Amelot/boulevard des filles du calvaires, blocks from where I grew up. Tucked beneath the boutique, you’ll find a bright and playful space, with custom speckled faux marble walls and floors, that makes some of the best matcha lattes in the city, as well as adorable little fox shaped cookies. There’s another Café Kitsuné in the gardens of the Palais Royal that I enjoy in the summer as well.

Cafe Kitsune palais royal

Cafe Kitsune in ParisCafe Kitsune in Paris

Café Kitsuné is located at 51 galerie de Montpensier, 1er (Palais Royal) & 109 rue Amelot, 11eme (Filles du Calvaire)

CAFÉ OBERKAMPF

I don’t why you would be looking for vegemite in Paris, but if you are, you will find some at Café Oberkampf 😉 You’ll also find a minimalist space, brunch all day, “avo toasts” and a grilled cheese sandwich named after a famous American expat blog. Doesn’t hurt that Café Oberkampf runs an awesome instagram account either (with English captions… bien sur!)

Cafe Oberkampf

Cafe Oberkampf Instagram

 

 Café Oberkampf is located at 3 rue Neuve Popincourt, 11eme 

CAFÉ SUÉDOIS

My mom is quite the regular there when the weather is nice… it’s a short stroll from her place and just a lovely spot in the Marais.  Located in l’Hôtel de Marle, a magnificent 18th century mansion that now houses the Swedish Cultural Institute, its main draw is the peaceful paved courtyard. It’s the perfect spot for fika, or to read a book while seating on Ikea furniture and nibbling on kanelbullar. Try it in the winter too, they have glögg around Christmas time!! On occasion, like last summer, they’ll also open up the grassy garden on the other side of the building and host activities for children too.
L'Institut suédois in the Marais - Picture courtesy of l'Institut suédois.

L’Institut suédois in the Marais – Picture courtesy of l’Institut suédois.

L’Institut Tessin/Centre Culturel Suédois is tucked away in a quiet spot of the 3eme, at 11 rue Payenne.

BOOT CAFÉ

The outside still reads “Cordonnerie” in faded paint because the shoebox sized coffee shop is (appropriately) located in a former shoe repair shop. It’s cute as a button, though seats are scarce so you should plan on taking you Belleville Brûlerie coffee to go (and perhaps walk to the Picasso Museum a few blocks away….) 

Boot Cafe in the Marais

Boot Cafe in the Marais

Boot Café is in a former cordonnerie at 19 Rue du Pont aux Choux, 3eme

LA CAFÉOTHÈQUE 

I just discovered this spot recently when I got together with Pola of Jetting Around for a quick cup of coffee. I’m so glad she suggested it. I went to middle school at Francois Couperin literally one street away and had NO idea this café existed. Unlike the other spots on the list that have a more anglo angle, La Caféothèque is owned by Gloria Montenegro, a former Ambassador for Guatemala in France, who views coffee like we view wine, with an emphasis on terroir. It’s actually where the coffee revolution in Paris first kicked off (it’s been open for over ten years). There’s a very artsy and cozy feel to the space, and it’s actually VERY roomy compared to most of the other spots on my list 😉 

La Caféothèque

La Caféothèque – Photo courtesy of La Caféothèque

La Caféothèque is located at 52 Rue de l’Hôtel de Ville, 4eme 

   *        *      *       *      *

Do you have a favourite coffee shop in Paris? While these are my personal faves right now, and yes, they’re concentrated in the 3 arrondissements that I frequent the most. I’ll say though, sometimes, I still just pop up at an old school café for my noisette though. You? 

Bonus coffee shop: I cannot not mention Le Café des Chats. There’s a location rue Sedaine, by my parents’ as well as one closer to Beaubourg. You can read more about it in one of my previous blog post here.

Le Cafe des chats in Paris

A Taste of Lille ~ Méert’s Legendary Waffles

No visit to the Northern French city of Lille would be complete without a stop at 27 rue Esquermoise. This address has delighted local gourmands since 1761. Initially, it was a humble chocolaterie and ice cream shop until it was taken over in 1849 by Michael Paulus Gislinus Méert who turned the shop into a local institution with its signature thin, gaufres filled with Madagascar vanilla. Today, the former confectionery is an elegant patisserie, salon de thé and gourmet gourmet restaurant and a must-visit sight if you’re in the area. 

Meert's famous waffles - image courtesy of Meert

Meert’s famous waffles – image courtesy of Meert

I don’t remember the first time I had one of Méert‘s waffles, but I must have been a baby — I’m a second generation Lilloise after all, though we moved to Paris when I was 5 years old and hardly ever think of myself as anything but a Parisienne. Today, you can find Méert in Roubaix, Brussels or Paris (I love the tiny shop near the Picasso Museum in the Marais) and the sweet waffles are set to jet off to America as well soon (to New York… of course…).

Meert's first boutique in Paris is located at 16 Rue Elzevir in the Marais. There's a new one in Saint Germain now too.

Meert’s first boutique in Paris 16 Rue Elzevir in the Marais. There’s a new one in Saint Germain now too.

During my last visit to Lille, we swung by Roubaix, which is a quick metro ride away. We visited la Villa Cavrois  as well as La Piscine-Musée d’Art et d’Industrie André Diligent, a fantastic museum housed in a former indoor swimming pool, with a notable art déco interior. My dad actually learned to swim in that pool when he was young!  

The former A.Baert's 1932 Art Déco swimming baths offer a stunning backdrop for the Museum of Art and Industry's collections

The former A.Baert’s 1932 Art Déco swimming baths is a stunning backdrop for the Piscine’s collections

Méert runs the restaurant and café there so we were able to get our waffle fix without having to wait in line at the shop in Lille — there’s always a bit of the line these days!

Meert's waffles at the piscine museum

 Trust me though, those waffles are worth waiting in line for…. and while I love their fun new flavours, especially the spéculos one, the classic Madagascar gaufre is still my favourite, and has been since I was a wee little Northern France girl.  

Meert Lille

 

April’s Fool: A fishy Fête in France…

poisson d'avril, april's fool in franceThe origins of April Fools are widely debated but the most commonly accepted explanation credits France for starting the holiday. That’s right. It all always come back to the French somehow 😉

According to this theory, April’s Fool goes back to 1564 when King Charles XIV changed the calendar around, moving the start of the year from late March to early January. Not everyone was quick to catch onto the change and some people kept celebrating New Year during the week that fell between March 25th and April 1st. And these people had jokes played on them. Pranksters would surreptitiously stick paper fish to their backs and so victims of the pranks were called Poisson d’Avril, or April Fish—which, to this day, remains the French term for April Fools. Why fish… well, that we don’t know but it stuck for some reason.

1er avril, poisson d'avril
 So April Fool’s Day in France is still a fishy fête called Poisson d’Avril. One of the most common prank is little kids trying to pin paper fish they’ve either drawn themselves or coloured onto the back of their unsuspecting classmates or parents… But the best part of April’s Fools for most French people is that all the patisseries and bakeries create fish shaped chocolates for the occasion. It may always come back to the french, but for the French, it always comes back to pastries. And that’s not April’s Fools… 

Poisson d'avril... au chocolat au lait!

[This post was initially published on this blog on April 1st, 2010. No joke!]

Life Goes On~Celebrating Beaujolais Nouveau in Washington, DC

I’m not exactly in a celebratory mood these days, but life goes on. Paris is about life, about being at a terrasse right now etc. Life has to go on and this week life includes the release of the Beaujolais Nouveau, which always takes place on the third Thursday of November (or midnight that Wednesday!) Here are a few, selected spots where you can partake in some Gamay-drinking in Washington, D.C.

Beaujolais Nouveau 2015

BITRO DU COIN    Still THE place to be at midnight when Beaujolais Nouveau is released. It’s probably too late to get reservations for dinner, but show up around 10PM when they start  clearing out the tables. The Beaujolais typically starts pouring 11PM, which technically is well past midnight in France anyways 😉 More details here.

CAFE DU PARC Get a complimentary glass of George Duboeuf Beaujolais at the bar between 6-9PM, with additional ones and small bites available for purchase too. If you like it, stay for the prix-fixe Beaujolais dinner ($55 diner only, $80 with George Duboeuf wine pairing).

CENTRAL   Michel Richard’s Pennsylvania Avenue restaurant will keep the party going from Thursday November 19 through Saturday, November 23. Rather than serve the Duboeuf Beaujolais you’ll find pretty much everywhere else, they’ll be pouring a Domaine Dupeuble Beaujolais Nouveau 2015 for $11 a glass, or $42 bottle. Executive Chef David Deshaies has also created a classically French 3-course prix fixe menu ($55) to pair with the grapes, featuring gougeres, escargot Fricasse, Filet mignon with syrah-shallot sauce, and winter vegetables; and a seasonal Apple-cranberry cobbler for dessert.  

SLATE   For those who want to try some of the finer vintages of Beaujolais, Slate’s owner/Sommelier Danny Lledo will be leading private at-the-table tastings of the 2014 Nouveau and three choice Beaujolais for guests on Thursday, November 19th from 5-8 pm.  The cost of the tasting is $15 and choices include: George Duboeuf Beaujolais “Nouveau” 2015, George Duboeuf Flower Label Beaujolais 2014, Jean Paul Champagnon Fleurie, Beaujolais 2013 andDomaine Laurent Martray Brouilly, Beaujolais 2013.

TABLE Who wants to cook the day before Thanksgiving? Nobody, that’s who. For $150, Table invites you to give thanks for Gamay wine with  masterfully prepared local cuisine paired beautifully with Cru Beaujolais on Wednesday November 25. Check out the full menu and book your spot here

 

Beaujolais Nouveau

 

BEAUJOLAIS FOR A CAUSE    The DC Center is hosting a Beaujolais-themed fundraiser at the Human Rights Campaign on November 19th to benefit its Women Center. Tickets are $20. L’Alliance Française and the French-American Chamber of Commerce are also hosting a “Beaujolais and Beyond” “fun”raiser celebration at La Maison Française. Beaujolais Nouveau and other red wines will be free-flowing and proceeds benefit causes dear to both francophone organizations. 

ENO Wine Bar in Georgetown is dedicating its Beaujolais celebrations to the 129 victims who lost their lives during the Paris attacks on November 13. On Thursday, November 19, the bar will be illuminated with France’s national colours blue, white and red. ENO will be pouring a Dupeuble 2015 Beaujolais Nouveau (same wine as Le Diplomate though it’ll be $9/a glass and $35/bottle at the 14th street bistro) for $10 a glass and $40 a bottle. Guests are encouraged to share prayers and messages over social media using hash tag #ENOPrayersforParis. These messages will be displayed on a loop on Thursday evening at the wine bar. I’m not a huge fan of the #prayforParis hashtag, though I really appreciate the sentiment. Consider adding a #Parisisaboutlife or . Paris may get tossed by the waves but she will not sink, even in a pool of Beaujolais.

Beaujolais Nouveau

 

Finally if you’re like me and your favourite way of “enjoying” a glass (or five) of Beaujolais Nouveau is at home with some friends, here are a couple of wine shop I recommend:

WEYGANDT WINES is carrying 3 unique cuvées of Pierre-Marie Chermette’s Beaujolais Primeur 2015: Cuvée Pierre Chermette ($12/bottle), Beaujolais Primeur Cuvée Vieilles Vignes 2015 and Chermette’s Beaujolais Primeur Rosé 2015 (OMD Beaujolais Rosé!! Game changer!! That one is exteremely limited so go snag a bottle right now!!) ($12/bottle).

DCANTER carries a Domaine Descroix Beaujolais Nouveau 2015 priced at $13. This is a pretty decent Beaujolais option that would pair really well with your Thanksgiving meal, so you might want to reserve a few bottle since the Capitol Hill shop will most likely sell out pretty quickly. 

CORK & FORK is where I usually pick up my Beaujolais Nouveau every year. Dominque Landragin typically selects a couple of interesting bottles that you won’t find in most stores. Like DCanter, he’s offering the Domaine Descroix Beaujolais Nouveau 2015 as well as a Domaine Anoir du Carra Beaujolais Village Nouveau. My recommendation when it comes to Beaujolais is always go for the village if you can… 

Last Friday, terrorists sought to attack France’s way of life… what better way to show them that our spirit will never be defeated than with some headache inducing Beaujolais Nouveau. Or something like that 😉 Cheers!

 

 

 

Dîner en Blanc – Part Deux, DC Edition

When Washington played host to its first Diner en Blanc last year, the main complaints from participants concerned the location. Yards Park in Southwest DC was a beautiful venue, don’t get me wrong, but it didn’t strike anyone as particularly iconic. Compared to some of the other famous locations where the all-white diners have popped up across the globe — Lincoln Center in New York, the Trocadero with the Eiffel Tower as backdrop or on 6 bridges over the Seine in Paris, Covent Garden in London, Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles to name a few — the 42-acre development on the Anacostia River waterfront was a bit lacking in Washington monuments and recognizable sites. It was also a bit out of the way, with few passers-by likely to stumble upon the scene. With that in mind, the organizers sought out not only a more central location, but also one that felt more-DC. And that location was the Carnegie Library at Mount Vernon Square, a 1900s beaux-arts building in front of the more modern Convention Center. 2,700 revelers, all dressed in their best whites, squeezed into the park around the former library for an evening of eating, drinking, dancing and of course, instagramming 😉

This was my second Dîner en Blanc of the summer. In New York last month, I got to experience what it was like to be a care-free guest at the event, showing up in Manhattan just hours before the start of the diner. Yesterday was a completely different story! I started the evening in Dupont Circle, where 500 of the guests met one of 10 different group leaders that would whisk them to the secret location — part of the concept of the flash mob dinner party is that guests only found out where it is being held at the last minute. The logistical challenge for the organizers is to get everyone onsite in a timely and orderly fashion, while they’re lugging their table, chairs and food. On the metro. The DC metro. Once my five groups had left Dupont Circle with their leaders, I hopped in an uber to beat them to the location, so I could be onsite to welcome them and help them set up in a pre-determined spot on the lawn of the Carnegie Library. The few quiet moments I got to spent before the storm of white-clad guests descended upon Mount Vernon Square were some of my favourites of the diner. 

Diner en blanc DC 2015

Diner en Blanc at the Carnegie Library at Mt. Vernon Square ~ Enjoying some quiet moments before the groups arrived.

Then the groups arrived from the 8 different meeting points scattered around the city and Northern Virginia. The Convention Center and Chinatown groups arrived first obviously. The Dupont Circle groups arrived last which led to a somewhat frantic setting up. Before we knew it, it was 6:45PM and the second edition of Diner en Blanc DC officially kicked off with the traditional waving of the napkins. Finally, it was time to relax and eat! 

DC's 2015 Diner en blanc at the Carnegie Library

Rather than order from the catered options available for purchase, I had prepared a simple cold diner that was heavy on prosciutto: spiced watermelon soup with prosciutto, prosciutto wrapped melon (with additional hors d’oeuvre sized ones to pass around the tables) and a spinach-prosciutto quiche with a green salad. I had picked up some shimmery vanilla macarons at Olivia Macaron, the Georgetown shop had made them especially for the occasion and they looked so pretty on my table (in addition to being delicious of course!)  

diner Macarons

Bonus, like in New York, Celebrity Cruises also passed around some white chocolate dipped macarons and my friend Cecilia of OneVanillaBean had made all sorts of delicious desserts like a raspberry-rose roll-out cake and caneles, which she was kind enough to share with the people sitting next to her. By 8PM when the sparklers were lit and the jazzy background music that accompanied diner turned into more upbeat sounds spinned by DJ Sabeel, I was ready to kick-off my shoes and hit the impromptu dance floor set up on the stairs of the library!

Sparklers at diner en blanc DC

At that point, all of the stress I experienced in the early evening was long gone (copious amount of Lanson Champagne definitely helped with that as well!!) As I danced with old friends and new friends alike, 2,700 strangers from all walks of life who came together to share a magical moment, I remembered why I love this event so much and why I’m so proud to be involved with it. Because you have to bring basically everything with you, you can really express your creativity at Diner en Blanc, whether you express it through your outfit, menu or tablescape. My friend Sandy made this crafty #DEBDC sign, which was quite a hit! My friend Xionara had a bird on her head. Felicity Amos, my Dupont Circle co-group leader, had an elaborate table display, complete with a white bust of George Washington. 

My friend Sandy made this crafty sign! #DEBDC

The fact that I was able to walk home in less than five minutes made it only better 😉 

A Taste of Nice: Farmers’ Market Petits Farcis

Last Christmas, I spent a few days in the South of France with my family. We started in Marseille, where my mother was born and where she grew up, then made our way to Gould to spend the holidays with my uncle Philippe who lives there with his family. Afterwards, we made our way to Nice, on the French Riveria.
Le vieux port de NiceNice

France’s fifth largest city gets a pretty bad rep. It’s like the Florida of France, where grandparents retire (my grandmother herself considered moving there for a while) and older Brits winter. It’s no Cannes and it’s no Monaco. But it’s got a lot to offer: stunning Art Deco architecture, great museums (Chagall and Matisse both used to call Nice their home), the promenade des Anglais on the Mediterranean sea and, of course, great food! 

Marche de Nice 
Nice is a dream destination for hungry travelers and we certainly ate our way through all of city’s specialties: gelatto, socca, salade Niçoise, tarte aux blettes, Daube… we ate it all in the short amount of time that we had.

Nice SoccaIMG_2462Gelato nice

Well, almost. The one dish we simply couldn’t get our hands on – because it wasn’t the right season – was farcis niçois, and array of small stuffed (summer) vegetables, typically zucchinis, tomatoes and onions. So when I spotted some miniature patty pan squash at the Bloomingdale farmers’ market the other day, I decided I would just make my own petits farcis at home! I picked up most of the ingredients I needed at vendors throughout the market: bread at Panorama, pork sausage, tomatoes, zucchinis, parsley, patty pan squash and an onion. I grabbed parmesan and garlic at safeway and used olive oil and herbes de provence from my pantry.

Ingredients petits farcis

Here are the steps to make petits farcis:

  • First, scoop out the inside of the veggies. Start by cutting off the top and save it for presentation, using a spoon, remove the flesh of the vegetable so you can fill it with the stuffing. Reserve that flesh though, don’t toss it out. You may need to flatten up the bottom of the vegetables too so that they can stand in the cooking dish and the plates.
  • Next, make the stuffing: dice the onion and sauté in a few teaspoon of olive oil. Add about 1 tablespoon of chopped garlic. Once both the onions and garlic have softened, add the sausage meat and brown for 5 minutes. Add the flesh from the courgette, tomato, squash and any other vegetables that you are using and cook for an additional 2-3 minute before removing from the heat. Season with salt, pepper, and herbes de provence then mix in a little bit of chopped parsley (to taste), a quarter of a cup of grated parmesan, and half a cup of breadcrumbs (preferably homemade.)
  • Finally, put it all together: place the hollowed out vegetables in a baking dish (grease it with a little olive oil first) and spoon the sausage stuffing carefully inside them. Drizzle with a little bit more olive oil and bake at 400F for 30-45 minutes, or until brown. Make sure you don’t overcook them, the vegetables should still be holding their shape.
  • Last but not least: serve with the little hats from the vegetables and a glass of your favourite rosé!

Petits farcisPetits farcis

Six Budget-Friendly French Wines for Bastille Day

From a baguette relay race at Paul to diner at Bistrot du Coin or a fancy patio fête at the Sofitel Hotel, there are plenty of options to celebrate France’s national holiday, le Quatorze Juillet, in Washington, DC. If you’re more of a homebody, why not stay at home and watch a great French film while sipping a good bottle of French wine!

For the films, I’ve narrowed down 20 of the best French films available on Netflix right here. And to help you find the perfect bottle of wine to go along whichever flick you pick, I turned to Michelle Lim Warner and Michael Warner, co-owners of DCanter, for some suggestions.  One of the things I love about the Capitol Hill wine boutique (other than the amazing chandelier in the tasting room!) is their “good juice wall” featuring affordable bottles in the $15 and under price range. In the spirit of that wall, Michelle and Michael recommended these six affordable French sippers:

Six Affordable French Wines for Bastille Day

 

PIERRE OLIVIER BRUT VIN MOUSSEUX NV

Champagne is the ultimate celebratory drink, but the price of a bottle can put a damper on your French party. Luckily, there are plenty of sparkly alternatives that won’t, like this $16 bottle of brut. This “vin de France” isn’t made in Champagne – it’s actually made in Burgundy using grapes from around the French/Spanish border – so it’s labelled as a vin mousseux which literally means foamy or bubbly wine (a bubble bath for example is called a bain moussant in French). Light and fresh, this “mousseux” will be a great aperitif to kick off your evening! It would also be great as a kir royal, with a few drops of cassis added to it!! 

CLOTILDE DAVENNE SAUVIGNON 2013

When you think Burgundy, you probably picture full-bodied reds, but the region also makes some great white wines like this Sauvignon Blanc. Most notable white burgundies like Chablis tend to be made from Chardonnay grapes so this wine is a bit of an oddity for the region. Another fact that makes this wine a bit of an oddity: it’s made by a woman winemaker, which sadly is still not that common in the male dominated wine industry. Like other white Burgundy, this sauvignon blanc pairs well with seafood (oysters and mignonette anyone?). 

Le Petit Gueissard RoseGUEISSARD LE PETIT GUEISSARD ROSE 2014

Since my grandparents lived in Bandol, I’ll always be partial to rosés from that part of Provence. Doesn’t hurt that they’re some of the best in the world either! Unfortunately, it’s hard to find an affordable bottle of Bandol, especially in the US. Just a few kilometers away from Bandol, however, is Sanary-Sur-Mer which also produces fine rosés like this $15 bottle. Pair it with Ma Vie en Rose or La Vie en Rose, bien sur 😉

ALAIN JAUME & FILS “HAUT DE BRUN” 2012

Alain Jaume and his three children make a great Côtes du Rhône that’s complex, yet perfect for every day drinking.

CHATEAU FESTIANO CUVEE DES FOUDRES 2013

Ever since I started planning my trip to the Languedoc-Roussillon I’ve been obsessed with trying as many different wines from that region as I can get my hands on! For research purposed of course. This juicy bargain, which retails at $15, is from the Minervois, one of the AOC in the Languedoc, and it’s definitely getting me excited for my trip!! Try it with some herbed cheese like Boursin, or blue cheese like Roquefort, whose caves I will also be visiting during my trip in a few weeks! 

CHATEAU BLOUIN BORDEAUX RED 2012

Bordeaux is probably the most well-know wine region in France, and this small right bank chateau makes a great red (80% merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc) with silky tannins and a well balanced finish. At $14, it’s a nice bargain that’s light enough to drink throughout the summer. 

What will you be drinking for La Fête Nationale on July 14th?

DCanter is located at 545 8th St SE near the Eastern Market metro. You can follow the wine boutique on Twitter, Facebook and Instragram for some cool wine tips!