Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Christmas Cheer

Wow, we've been up to a lot this last week. Wednesday night we took the ferry across to Normandie for a short break before christmas. After spending Thursday morning mooching around Caen, we headed on to Rouen in time for Flunch, and our hotel.

We stayed once again in the Mercure, a great little hotel right in the centre, plus we got the room at an excellent rate because I booked it way back when we stayed there in August. Hotels such as these are excellent because you're never more than 10 minutes walk from them, so when you need a break they're close to hand. Plus the Mercure itself is very comfortable. The only perceived drawback is that they don't serve any proper food, although for a hotel right in a city centre, with probably 20 restaurants within 5 minutes walk, this is hardly an issue.

Anyway, Thursday afternoon was spent chilling and mooching - Alice and I gave up after a while and went back to the hotel, but Jacqueline was in her element - all those shops! Unfortunately with the weakness of the pound at the moment, all those shops were very expensive, so for the most part she was window shopping. Thursday evening I'd booked a table at a nearby restaurant, just picked it out of the Michelin Red guide, and was not disappointed. Fresh, gastronomic food - I would not hesitate to recommend Les Petits Parapluies if you happen to be in the area. Jac and I both had the most tender lamb you could imagine, while Alice devoured her favourite Saint Jacques in a delicious asparagus/parsley sauce. All rolled together with a wonderful Provencale Rose wine, and topped off with an unbelievable chocolate dessert. Excellent!

Friday again was just spent at leisure, going around the shops and a decent walk around Rouen - further away from the centre than we've been before. In the afternoon, Alice went ice skating - once again this year the Christmas Market was set up in front of the cathedral, complete with rink and merry-go-round. All very christmassy! Took a couple of photos, but the weather was just so grey I doubt there'll be many good ones. Also did some shopping, got Jacqueline's christmas present.

Friday evening we planned to go to a restaurant that we always visit in Rouen, in the old marketplace, only to find that it was no longer there! A great shame, they always served lovely, homely food and quite reasonable. Also unfortunately, the restaurant we eventually went to was not brilliant. Alive had Saint Jacques once again, but this time in a "Provencale" sauce that was pretty poor. Still, she did have chips with it and was happy (Scallops and Chips - what would Gordon Ramsay say??). Jacqueline and I both had Boeuf Bourgignon which was essentially just stewed beef. No lardons or chalottes, not even a hint of wine in the sauce. Pretty poor.

Big day Saturday, we got the train up to Paris and spent the afternoon - starting with an excellent lunch at the Founti Agadir Moroccan restaurant - with an old friend and her family. This was down by la rue Mouffetard and brought back some wonderful memories. My friend, Isabelle, and I met when we shared digs in Oxford. I was there working, she was doing her year in England as part of her degree in English. Isa studied at La Sorbonne, and it wasn't long after she left Oxford that I accepted her invitation to visit her in Paris, and stayed in her apartment for the week. Her apartment was just off Mouffetard, and marked the beginning of my association with the area. All this must have been in 1993, I think. Isa moved on and out of the area (to live with her boyfriend, who is now her husband), but I liked it so much that whenever I visited Paris I made a bee-line over there. I found a small, decent, cheap hotel which served me well. When I met Jacqueline I took her over there also, she got to know the area as well and especially liked the street market. Especially the cherries in the middle of the summer.....

Anyway, it'd been a couple of years since we visited (I haven't actually stayed in Paris for a good seven or eight years now, nor have I seen Isabelle for over a year), so we seized the opportunity. Lunch followed by a stroll from the bottom of rue Mouffetard up to the Pantheon, then back again. An excellent way to spend an afternoon, and of course great to catch up with an old frield. Of course it helps that she has kids just that little bit older than Alice, but I reckon we'd still be mates in any case.

We left Isa and family to continue their christmas preparations, and we headed over to the Opera - Jacqueline wanted to pick up some coffee from Nespresso - but were totally unprepared for the sheer volume of people there. We literally had to hold on to each other in order to stay together. At that point we had our only disagreement of the weekend. Jacqueline saw the grands magasins and despite the enormous amount of people, wanted to shop. Alice was tired since we had already walked quite a bit, and there was I, stuck in the middle. In the end Jacqueline relented and we walked back to Saint-Lazare, still, I might add, surrounded by thousands of people. Totally unpleasant. I was quite miffed that Jacqueline was sulking because she hadn't been able to visit the shops, and I thought this was totally unreasonable and said as much.

To cap it all, we arrived at Saint-Lazare just in time to jump on a train, but found it full - standing room only - throughout. Taking an executive decision I dragged the family off the train, saying we'd get the next. Very flustered. However, the next train was only a half-hour later, and we were the first people on it so although it too became packed, we sat in relative comfort. Fortunately on the journey home Jacqueline reverted to her normal, lovely self, and Alice was contentedly playing with a present given to her by Isabelle, so the family was at peace once more.

Crowds again on Sunday, when we took advantage of all the "overtures exceptionelles" to do our main food shopping before taking the ferry. From Rouen (we had a very leisurely morning and didn't check out until noon) we headed to Barentin, to visit both Decathlon (quite quiet) and Carrefour (totally manic!). Anyway, €250 of food shopping later, we were on the ferry heading home.

Doesn't time fly when you're having fun? But at least we have lovely French groceries for christmas!

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