Wednesday, April 05, 2017

April in Paris: Voyager Avec Enfants (Day Three)

So, Day 3!

We let the kids sleep in a bit because we’d had a late night the day before and not any time-sensitive itinerary for the day anyway. While they were sleeping, I headed out to pick up some stuff to make breakfast at home—baguettes at a nearby boulangerie called Le Champ des Délices, and some basic groceries at a small chain market on the corner called Franprix. The cashier was, I think, somewhat annoyed that I didn’t speak French, which…fair enough. People in the States get irrationally pissed at those who don’t speak English, and I suppose I could have brushed up a bit before we made our trip. Despite the fact that I took French for something like four years in high school (much longer if you count elementary school, which I don’t really, as the instruction then was barely formalized) I can barely speak a word now aside from isolated phrases. Ever since I learned medical Spanish (badly), it has corrupted my French to the point that even if I try to speak French, Spanish just comes out of my mouth instead. But one thing this trip has made me realize—though it really didn’t help that much in the Franprix—that I understand much more spoken or written French than I thought I did. Even now, two and a half decades after taking my French Regents exam (don’t worry about it, it’s a New York thing) and gleefully decided that I wasn’t going to take French class any more, ever.

("Hey Henri, check out this asshole tourist posing with her baguettes poking up in the picture. So basic.")

Anyway, the supermarket. Two things that didn’t occur to me. One is that they don’t automatically bag up your groceries at a European supermarket, and that if you want a plastic shopping bag, it costs extra. I had a small backpack with me, so I crammed what I could in there (I had bought butter, milk, eggs, juice, yogurt, cereal that type of stuff) and carried the rest in my arms. I really should have just asked for a bag, but I had already paid, and also this mild discomfort with trying to speak French with this woman who acted like she kind of hated me.

Second thing: it took me a long time to find the eggs in this supermarket. It was a tiny store—in New York, we’d almost call it a bodega, except they didn’t sell any Tropical Fantasy fruit drink or lottery scratch-off cards—but I must have circled it five, six time. I asked the cashier, and she pointed broadly, with annoyance, to somewhere in the back of the store. Again, I looked in the dairy aisle, by the milk and butter and cheese—nothing. Finally, I found the eggs, and instantly realized why I hadn’t seen them. They were just sitting on the shelf, unrefrigerated. I had forgotten that they don’t refrigerate eggs in Europe. I think I’d read something about this before—something about the different way that we clean our eggshells for sale in the US strips the shells of their outer coating (I want to say “cuticle?” That may not be right but I am too lazy at this moment to look it up) and reveals a porocity to the shell that mandates refrigeration. Anyway! I thought that was interesting. The cashier, less so.

Eventually the kids woke up were forcibly ejected from slumber by their cruel parents, at 10:30am, and we had some breakfast at home. It was a small kitchen in a 750 sf apartment but they’ve used the space quite well, and we had pretty much everything we needed for making breakfast, except for (oddly) bowls, which were nowhere to be found. So the cereal remained uneaten, but the kids dove into everything else, particularly the bread, which was still warm and amazingly good.

Our plan for the day had been to take the Batobus to the Jardin des Plantes, where there was a Natural History Museum with a “Grande Galerie de L’Évolution.” I had seen pictures online, and tell me whether or not this looks awesome.

I mean, right?

The other reason we had the Natural History Museum on our itinerary for that particular day is that the Batobus ticket I’d purchased was a two day pass, and wanted to pick a location that was along the Seiene, so we could take the boat there. (Batobus mandates that you need to use the pass on two consecutive days.) So off we went.

The Jardin des Plantes was one of the eight stops on the Batobus, one stop after the Notre Dame stop, and again the weather was quite nice, so the ride passed quickly. As we were pulling up alongside our dock, however (here’s the part where I heroically REMEMBERED FRENCH STUFF) the boat captain announced a list of attractions nearby, including the Natural History Museum and the Hall of Evolution, both of which were “fermé aujourd’hui.” And, you know, it’s my own fault, I should have checked that the place was actually open before we made the trip, but it just never occurred to me that a museum would be closed on a non-holiday Tuesday. (In New York, the convention for museums is to be closed on Mondays, which, yes, doesn’t mean that’s the convention everywhere, but I’m just explaining why it didn’t cross my mind.) So…closed. Sad trombone.

Luckily there’s actually plenty to do in the park, some of which we’d intended to do originally, and probably wouldn’t have had time to see if the museum had actually been open. So maybe it worked out for the best. So the big hit of the day was going to Le Menagerie, which surprised me by being a very decent-sized zoo in the middle of the gardens. I had been anticipating something more on the scale of the Central Park zoo, which is a perfectly nice city zoo as well, but small. This was bigger, and they had many more animals, including some improbably large ones. There were no elephants or giraffes (that we saw—I mean, I suppose they could have had some stuffed in a closet somewhere in the back) and no pandas like in the Atlanta zoo, but they had orangutans, big cats, alligators, and a tapir that looked kind of like a panda except it, you know, actually walked around and looked alive.

(To the tiger at the zoo, Madeline just said, "Pooh pooh.")

So we ended up spending a good couple of hours at the zoo, after which point we exited and strolled around the gardens in the park for a bit. I don’t know how it would look in the winter—probably not that impressive, landscaping aside—but in the Spring, it’s a knockout. And of course there was another carousel, which, once spotted, we had to ride (in the words of George Mallory), “because it was there.”

We had had some so-so meals the day before, mostly eaten out of haste and convenience than anything else, so yesterday we really wanted to make an effort to have a nice dinner. Breakfast was so late in the day we figured it was OK if we just had a snack midday instead of lunch, with the plan to grab an early dinner at Les Cocottes near our apartment. I’m glad we planned to do this, as it was truly a surprisingly good restaurant. Seasonal menu, simple preparation, delicate flavors, good value. Yes, we were hungry, and that helped. But we’re already planning to go back later in the week.

Here the kids are digging into their appetizers. I would have taken pictures of the entrees too, but I couldn’t because we were too busy eating. Cal had a lobster bisque that had a really deep, concentrated shellfish flavor; Mack had the vegetable soup of the day, which turned out to be a blended mushroom soup that was smooth and earthy an a little smoky, a quality enhanced by the chunks of bacon thrown in; and Nina stole my langoustine ravioli with artichoke mousseline and a shellfish coulis, because she’s a jerk. (It’s fine, I was happy to eat what she had originally ordered, which was the mushroom soup. But I’m getting the langoustine again next time we go.) The entrees were similarly excellent, as were the desserts. (You can read the menu here if you’re into food porn.)

So yes, the meal was worth planning ahead, and if you get there early on a weekday, you probably don’t need a reservation, although from the sound of things they were booked solid from 8:00pm until closing time at 11:00pm. The staff there were also very kind to our kids. Nothing was dumbed down for them, there were no crappy kids’ menus and they didn’t overcook the boys’s steaks (which they ordered medium rare and were served as such). When we walked in with three kids, they didn’t roll their eyes and in fact seated us right at the front of the restaurant instead of shoving us in the back, which is a thing that happens sometimes. So! Les Cocottes! We’ll be back.

In an effort to avoid a repeat of the night before (which was fine, but the kids stayed up too late and therefore slept in too late as well, like a bunch of damn teenagers) we called it an early night and were home by 8:00pm, in bed by 9:30pm. I still would like to go back to the Museum of Natural History at some point, but I guess it will have to be on a future trip, and definitely not on a Tuesday.


  1. Some French people get very sensitive to those who don't speak the language. Joe might have had a slightly easier time in the supermarket. I think the US is unique in having the bags packed for you - left me pleasantly surprised on each visit. You can get a lightweight reusable bag made of the waterproof materials they use for umbrellas fairly cheaply, and they are very practical as they pack away so small when not in use.

    It's all so scenic - thank you for posting!

  2. Use mugs for cereal (it's how my husband eats ice cream - he won't use a bowl).

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