A few stories: Paris, Rennes and Cancale

I have a long list of places that I want to visit in France. I’ve never sampled the world-renowned cuisine of Lyon, explored Basque country or set eyes on the sweeping beauty of central France which the French loving call la france profonde. I have so many French destinations on my list, and yet I seem to keep going back to the same places time and time again. Most recently, Paris and Cancale.

View from the Pont des Arts

Lovelocks on Pont des Arts

Paris is a place that never gets old. Though I lived there for 4 months, there are still so many little nooks of that vast snail-shaped city which I have never explored properly. And it’s always worth a trip back to Paris for the museums alone (especially since I get in for free since I am under 26 and living in Europe). The only reason I don’t go to Paris more often is that it’s seriously draining on the ole’ bank account. But last weekend I had the opportunity to be put up in a hotel for free, so I couldn’t refuse. Sadly, I still spent way too much money, but at least I got one more fix of Paris to hold me over for a while.

Walking down the hill at Montmartre

We stayed in Montmartre, which is one of my favorite quarters of Paris. When I say Montmartre I’m not talking about the bustling, dirty Boulevard de Clichy where the Moulin Rouge sits sadly spreckled among so many identical sex shops with their cheesy neon lights. Nor am I talking about the crowded area directly around the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur, packed full of tourists and gimmicky artists offering to draw your portrait. I mean the less frequented streets which wind their way down la Butte Montmartre, and the area on the border of the 17th and 18th arrondissement that is hip and lively and refreshingly void of tourists (okay, I know technically I’m a tourist when I go to Paris, but I like to pretend that I’m a well-established Parisienne).  I hadn’t spent too much time in this quarter before and was delighted by every winding and adorable cobbled street I stumbled upon. In juxtaposition to the picturesqueness of it all, many of the buildings in this area are decorated with amazing modern street art.

We spent a whole afternoon wandering around this quaint area,  exploring the undulating hills of tiny streets and the Cimetière de Montmartre where Emile Zola and many other famous writers, artists and composers are laid to rest.

We also spent half a day at the Louvre. Note: if you want to try to take advantage of the free admission the first Sunday of every month, get there before opening at 9am! The line was at least 2 hours long. We decided it wasn’t worth it and came back the next day. It was much less crowded on a Monday, and we managed to see almost everything we had wanted to see in just a few hours. Here are some favorites.

My steak tartare from Café Marcel

Of course another amazing aspect of Paris is the food. While there are so many amazing restaurants in Paris for every decent restaurant there are 3 overpriced, poor-quality tourist traps that tend to have shitty service to boot. Unfortunately for dinner our first night we ate at one of these places, as much as we had tried to avoid it. Full disclosure: This is totally my fault. My patient boyfriend trotted along behind me as I searched painstakingly for the perfect restaurant. In the end, we were both so hungry that we just went to some randome brasserie by our hotel, and it was very disappointing. The service was snooty and slow, my foie gras appetizer was shockingly void of foie gras, and his steak was chewy and tough. This is why it’s always a good idea to research restaurants before you leave for your trip! The second day we had better luck: we ate at a small restaurant just around the corner from our hotel called Café Marcel, which was adorable and had authentic, simple, delicious food. I had steak tartare for the very first time ever, and it was so sooooooo delicious. Some advice: don’t ever be put off by the idea of raw steak mixed with raw egg. It is silky and rich and a true French classic.

Some of my students contemplating the canal with their friends from Jersey

I left Paris last Monday and as much as I love that wonderful city I am always happy to come back home to Rennes. I’m done living in a city as big, crowded and harried as Paris. I am like the Goldilocks of cities: I’ve tried Paris, I’ve tried San Francisco. For now at least, Rennes is just right. And besides, a claustrophobe like me is always relieved to leave those crowded metros behind. This week saw my return to work at the elementary school, so my routine in Rennes is finally back to normal. It was an amazing first week. It hardly felt like work as I spent most of Friday on an excursion through the city center with my CM1 class (5th grade equivalent) and some visiting students from Jersey.

Speaking of enjoying life in Rennes, my goal for this autumn is to take full advantage of the seafood season. It’s the time for mussels and oysters right now, and I just happen to be living in one of the best places in the world for fresh seafood. I made good on my resolution yesterday when my friend Emma and I went to Cancale for the day.

No seafood tower this time, but we did have the best oysters and mussels I’ve ever had in my life, hands down. We picked a small, authentic looking restaurant out of the vast array of seafood restaurants lining the boardwalk and tucked in. We shared a dozen oysters, a bottle of Muscadet, moules marinières et frites (mussels marinated in white wine and shallots with fries) and several laughing fits. It was the perfect meal: delicious, fun, filling and memorable. It can be overwhelming choosing a restaurant in Cancale because of the sheer number of them. If you visit Cancale I highly recommend the one where we ate, Au Pied d’cheval. The service is friendly, the environment is authentic and the food is simple, delicious, and modestly priced. Another good sign: all of the other diners seemed to be locals.

Where the magic happened. Photo courtesy of Emma Verrill.

In the bathroom at the restaurant, one of the funnier translation scenarios I've encountered.

After lunch we walked around the waterfront, people watching at the oyster stands. Cancale is world-renowned for the quality of its’ oysters, and you can find them sold in restaurants the world over for exorbitant prices. But at these stands you can buy fresh Cancalaise oysters for next to nothing. We also whittled away the time by staring out at the Mont Saint Michel which you can see off in the distance, looking like a miniature sand castle in the middle of the ocean. Are we ridiculous for spending quite a bit of time and money for a few hours at the coast and a good seafood meal? Not when you consider that I’ll probably remember that meal for the rest of my life. All in all, it was a perfect near perfect day.

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3 Responses to A few stories: Paris, Rennes and Cancale

  1. JL says:

    Go ahead, make me cry in a Chicago coffee shop. Glad the moules are still cooked to perfection in the bay at Cancale. Lovely writing, Caely!

  2. Pingback: Cancale, encore, encore, encore… | Girl et Galette

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