Today was all about culture and food. Culture began on the metro with an accordion player serenading the car. Ok I know he was a Romnany gypsy probably distracting unsuspecting tourists from pickpocketers but it was still nice.
Next up was the Musee de Louvre. With excellent timing we arrived after the rain had stopped and just before it opened, meaning a not too long queue. We made our way in through the pyramid, bought tickets and headed straight up to see the Mona Lisa. I've seen her before so I wasn't surprised about her size, just mainly annoyed that you are kept so far away it is almost impossible to really appreciate the painting. Still because we were early the crowd was fairly shallow - not a whole room full like when we passed by later.
We decided to take a wander and see what we will see approach to the Louvre. It is full of so many brilliant and amazing works of art, we figured it didn't really matter what we saw, it would all be great. We spent about 3.5 hours walking kilometers admiring amazing paintings, sculptures, antiquities etc. However in many places the building itself takes the prize. I became a little obsessed with ceilings, they are just so beautiful and intricate.
And for me no visit to the Louvre would be complete without a shot of Winged Victory. Ever since I saw Audrey Hepburn run down these stairs in her red Givenchy gown in the movie Funny Face I've loved this statue.
As the hours wore on the occasional rest stop became more frequent, so we decided to head to the second part of our day - food. We had signed up for a chocolate and pastry tour of Paris and boy was it delicious. Our guide took us around the streets of Saint Germaine des Pres introducing us to some amazing chocolatiers and boulongeries.
We had a lot of stops and many, many delicious things to try. I won't run you through all of them, but there were a few notable stops worthy of mention.
Patrick Roger is a Meilleur Ouvrier de France. This is a special award given to the master craftsman in the whole of France in a field. It is a big deal and one visit to one of his stores will give you an insight into what makes him so special. It isn't just the quality of the chocolate, it is the innovation and artistry which he uses, for example, every year he makes a massive sculpture of chocolate parts of which reside in his various shops. This year the sculpture is of hippos, delicious hippos. He experiments amazingly with chocolate so the chocolates we tried were basil and lemon, jasmin tea, lemongrass and lime and nougat and praline. For me it was a close tie between the basil and lemon and the nougat and praline chocolates. They were truly delicious and the smell in that shop was worth bottling.
Now I have long said that I don't understand what all the fuss is with macaroons. I still hold that view about Australian macaroons but the ones I had today were a whole different story. At Pierre Herme, a tiny store with a queue out the door and pastries that our guide described as horte couture, we had a salted caramel and a "mosaic" macaroon. They were amazing. The shell so crisp yet dissolving almost instantly on the tongue and the butter cream light yet so flavourful. Our tour guide says they are the best in Paris - yes she rates them above Laduree, however given how much I enjoyed a real Parisian macaroon I might still have to try theirs.
Then at Gerard Mulpt I had an amazing pastry made up like a macaroon that had been sprinkled with pistachios, and filled with a thick vanilla cream and raspberries. So good.
Other things we learnt. The traditional curved croissant is made with margarine, if you want a proper butter one look for a straight one. Bakers in Paris are the only profession legally not allowed to strike. They also can't choose when to take holidays as the local government must always make sure there is at least one bakery operational in each neighbourhood.
I loved the tour, I thoroughly enjoyed everything we ate, thought our guide was great and learned some really interesting things. S enjoyed it too, however he thought it was too expensive for what it was - he has worked out the price per food item, I think he is missing the point.
It has been another wonderful and tiring day in Paris, who knows what tomorrow will bring.
P.S. Please forgive any random formatting and/or spelling mistakes. My travel computer and blogger do not like each other.