Read, Write, Run, Roam


Tout sweet: sampling Paris’ finest pastry at Jacques Genin

Leave the hot dog, take the roll

You know those “Three days in Paris” articles? Let’s take that a step further. If you only had 15 minutes in Paris, there’s only one thing you should do: eat pastry. Grab a pain au chocolat at the airport, filch a croissant from a hotel, steal a roll from a pigeon if you have to.  Even if you’re can’t go to the finest pastry shop, it’s bound to be pretty freakin’ good in Paris.

But if you have more than 15 minutes, do yourself a favor: eat pastry at Jacques Genin.

I first heard about Jacques Genin while researching Paris-Brest pastry. (Why yes, I research pastry shops before a trip. Who doesn’t?) The Paris-Brest, a tire-shaped pastry filled with hazelnut praline cream and dusted with powdered sugar, was created by a baker to commemorate a 750-mile bicycle race from, you guessed it, Paris to Brest. We commemorated this history by walking a whole mile (!) to Jacques Genin, one of one of the best places to try the classic pastry.

As I opened the door, Muz stopped me. “This is a jewelry store,” he said, and I had to correct him. Those gleaming babies in the window were caramels, not jewels.

We walked into a huge, flashy area that seemed more like a showroom than a pastry shop. I was a little nervous, wondering if a place this fancy was more focused on decor than food. Thankfully, we ordered anyway. Muz got the Paris Brest, and I ordered the choux vanille. Muz decided to go one step further and order the hot chocolate, too.

After one bite, I felt like Keanu Reeves in the Matrix:

The Paris-Brest was amazing. Not too chocolate-y, with the perfect amount of praline and hazelnut in the cream. And my vanilla dessert? AAAAh-mazing, with a generous amount of Tahitian vanilla speckling the cream.

The hot chocolate was super thick and not too sweet. I was way too full for my usual  “I just want to try it” gulp, so I took a few sips and waited for the sugar high to knock me to the ground.

We realized that there was lots more to try, and no more room in our stomachs. So we bought some caramels to go, with the stern warning from the shopkeeper that they would only be good for a day or two. Not to worry: at 110 euros per kilo, we were only buying a few of them. We savored the last caramel on our last day and realized it was just like our Paris trip: short-lived, sweet, and worth every calorie. So if you only have an hour in Paris, check out Jacques Genin. You may have to run for three hours to work it off, but it’s worth it.


A universal word?

I tried to find another word for graffiti but came up short. Could this be a universal word, like shampoo, google and coca cola? Is there some nomadic tribe wandering around, complaining about little dobogoogoo’s graffiti tags?

I guess Madonna was right: life IS a mystery. So feast on the only graffiti I liked in Paris, wandering around the Marais.


Paris Blues

When I was in Paris this August I noticed all these blue doors around the Marais.

Am I blue....

Then I realized they were all over the city.

I tried to research the reason behind it–they all seemed the same shade of blue, or something close to it–but I didn’t find anything.

Is there some citywide special on blue paint? A serious case of the copycats?

Or does everyone just love it as much as I do? 

Unchain my heart: “Love Locks” in Europe

On our recent trip to Paris, I noticed a slew of locks attached to the Pont de l’Archevêché . It reminded me that we’ve seen locks on bridges in Prague and Ljubljana, and while I knew the locks represented love, I never researched why. Luckily, a New York Times article did it for me.

The article claims that installing “love locks” on a bridge became popular after Federico Moccia wrote a 2006 book titled, I Want You. In it, a man tells a woman a made-up legend in which lovers encase a lock around a bridge, lock it and throw the key into the Tiber, to show that they’ll never leave each other. After the book sold over a million copies, life became art. However, it’s worth noting that one  journalist actually cites it as a Serbian tradition from World War II, when couples from the town of Vrnjacka Banja symbolically sealed their love before the men went off to fight.

Regardless of its origin, the practice hasn’t been confined to Europe. A quick web search shows that there are love lock bridges on almost every continent. I even found several websites encouraging honeymooners to bring locks with them and “seal the deal,” so to speak.

Butcher’s Bridge, Ljubljana

Here’s the thing: it’s really stupid. Not only do the locks damage stonework and affect the weight of the bridge, crappy padlocks add nothing to architectural beauty. They do make for some interesting pictures, but that’s about it.

As much as I love Muz, I’m not buying a perfectly good lock, wasting it on a bridge, and then polluting the river with a metal key.  I guess I’m just cheap. And not terribly romantic.

Besides, love–and locks–can go awry. Apparently, spurned lovers sometimes return and write terrible things about their (former) loved ones on locks and bridges. So while I’m all for tradition, especially Serbian ones, I’d advise people to leave their locks for luggage–and seal your love with a kiss instead.

Prague’s Love Locks

Creepy, er, Crypty Paris

Paris is wonderful to visit, but hard to write about. The city of lights is host to a million clichés that have already been expressed in countless paintings, movies and books. What’s a blogger to do?

Most would forget about writing and spend their time soaking in the romance of the city and eating lots of excellent food. However, I’m not most bloggers (though I did eat excellent food.) Forget romance! I set out to find a different kind of Paris—creepy Paris.

Or more specifically, Crypty Paris.

The Paris Catacombs are a 15th century mining tunnel that became home to six million skeletons between 1785 and 1860. Apparently, the local cemeteries were getting so full that the city began suffering from health problems. I won’t get into the gross details, but the King moved remains to abandoned quarry tunnels beneath the city to improve public health (or open up some much-needed real estate, depending on your cynicism.) Despite controversy at the time, remains were relocated to spend their corporal eternity under the bustling streets of Denfert-Rochereau, an otherwise charming, ordinary, section of Paris.

Is it weird? Yes. Did I want to see it? Of course.

So did other people. We got there and waited in line for about 30 minutes. I tried to get in the zone for Creepy Paris, but the beautiful weather was distracting. Also distracting: the Jean-Paul Gaultier promotional Diet Coke cans that adorable Parisian teens were passing out to the crowd.

Decidedly not creepy.

At least the entry sign put us in a creepy state of mind: “The tour could make a strong impression on…people of a nervous disposition,” it read. Okay, not exactly scary. But scarier than the Diet Coke. I wondered if my effort to find Creepy Paris would be a bust. At this point, the scariest thing was the threat of a bakery selling out of pan au chocolat.

We entered the catacomb  tunnel and walked for about 400 meters, craning our heads at every nook to see bones. We needn’t have worried. It’s pretty hard to miss the sign reading, “Stop! This is the empire of the dead.”

We entered the crypt path between a low wall of carefully arranged tibias and skulls that hid a more random arrangement behind them. The sheer number of bones piled along the walk was striking; reading that six million people are buried here is no comparison to walking among them.

I found the first few minutes interesting. Then it felt odd. Finally it was, well, creepy. I don’t mind skeletons: readers may recall that I visited an ossuary (vocabulary alert!) outside Prague last summer. Yet the combination of poor lighting, a tunnel, and almost a mile of bones forced me to develop an uneasy peace with catacomb residents. I avoided puddles and any chance of brushing up against the bones. There was a decidedly musty smell that (I told myself) had more to do with moisture than rotting bones. The worst part was my one nagging thought: where are the rats?  Muz said he thought about an earthquake. Apparently the creepiest thing about the crypt wasn’t the remains, but our own morbid imaginations.

We emerged from the tunnel and found ourselves blinking in a sunny side street in Paris, surrounded by people who either didn’t know, or didn’t care, about the city of bones beneath them. Creepy–or just a fact of life (death)?

We could’ve spent the rest of the day thinking about the meaning of life and the existential quotes carved into the catacomb walls, but chose to focus on a scarier idea: what if we left Paris before visiting a true pastry shop? Now THAT was a creepy thought in Paris.

Was this post not creepy,  I mean, “crypty” enough for you? Check out these boney-fied tourist destinations from National Geographic HERE