With a macaron making class as the main ingredient, I set out to find the perfect recipe for the ultimate day out in Paris. What was I thinking??!!
First, pre-heat the oven
With the next class taking place over the Easter weekend, I had a little over two weeks left to plan my trip (there were other classes later in the year, but I had a bee in my bonnet, sooo…) and prices for last-minute Bank Holiday Eurostar tickets were looking seriously offensive. I had at least one big trip scheduled for later in the year and couldn’t afford to drop too much cash on an impromptu escapade…without getting a little creative.
Paris is only 8 hours – and less than £50 RETURN – away by coach. By travelling overnight both ways, I wouldn’t need to find a hostel, I would get a full day to hang out in Paris AND I’d save a bundle of cash. What could possibly go wrong?
Next, break a few eggs
I dressed for a chic day out in Paris (skinny jeans, knee high boots, biker jacket) AND an overnight coach journey (pashmina-cum-pillow, cosy socks), threw some essentials into a bag (I went with the hot pink Longchamp shopper for stylin’ practicality – I can carry it around all day and it holds clean underwear, toiletries and shopping better than a handbag) and headed for Victoria Coach Station. It was so mental with the Bank Holiday rush that Eurolines had TWO buses running on the Paris route. First disaster: my bus had neither the WIFI nor the plug sockets I’d been promised. How is a girl supposed to live? Second disaster: when we arrived at the terminal pre-crossing, all passengers had to exit the bus and transit through passport control. No worries. Ok, where’s my passport? I had it in my hand with my return ticket when I boarded at Victoria. I’d put them both in my travel wallet along with my all my cards and cash when I sat down. Now where the hell is my wallet???!!!
I spent a frantic 10 minutes turning my seat area upside down, up-ending my bag with a gang of snarling border guards breathing down my neck before finally – FINALLY! – I spotted my blue and grey travel wallet leaning against the blue and grey trimming of the coach aisle. THANK GOD!!!
Notes to self:
- Don’t put all my worldly goods – especially all my cards – in one place
- Get a new travel wallet. Preferably in hot pink.
Finally through customs, we were ready to go through the tunnel…..yeah, about that. Bank Holiday rush meant that my plans to sleep through the crossing from the relative comfort of my seat were dashed when I realised that we were driving on to a FERRY. What is this, a school trip? I waited out disaster number 3 with my head on a cafeteria table somewhere between the amusement arcade and Duty Free.
Cream the butter and Sugar
By the time we drove into Paris, it was 07:45 local time and I was absolutely EXHAUSTED. Looking significantly less chic than when I’d boarded in London, I hit the metro. The Eurolines Terminal is at Galleni/Port de Bagnolet right at the eastern end of the green line so I bought a day pass to navigate my way around the city. First stop: Palais Royal for the Louvre.
Now, I’ve been to Paris at least half a dozen times for work and pleasure over the years, but have never made the time to visit the Louvre. I’m such a philistine. Anyway, no time like the present. I arrived in time to join the queue that was already forming in front of the famous I. M. Pei glass pyramid before the doors opened at 9. Not going to lie, I was knackered. I freshened up in the ladies and downed a giant Starbucks Americano before I felt ready to get cultured.
For those of you who’ve never been, The Musée du Louvre is VAST. 380,000 objects, 35,000 works of art displayed over 60,600 square metres (652,00 sq ft) of permanent collection, across four floors of galleries, including a basement complex. I was starting to re-think the 2 hours (!!!) I’d budgeted for this visit.
It was all a bit much, so I invested 5€ in an audio guide (tried to download the app but the wifi was whack) to help navigate my way around, with a vague plan to view some of the key works at a relaxed stroll.
9.7 million visitors make the pilgrimage each year (it’s the world’s most visited museum) and on this Easter weekend , as I made my way up to find the Mona Lisa, it felt like every single one of them was there, shoving me in the back. Seriously, it was a zoo. The painting itself was tiny – not just because I was standing behind about twenty rows of an extremely aggressive selfie mafia (a philosophical aside: if I visit a monument without taking a selfie beside it, was I really there?), but it genuinely was a much smaller work than I had thought (77cm x 53cm to be exact). I had really wanted a quiet moment to take it all in, to perhaps meditate on that smile – what was she thinking at that moment? Did she have a secret? Was Da Vinci flashing her from across the room? – but all I got was an elbow in the gut from the restless crowd. I snapped off a couple of shots on my phone (if you can’t beat them…) and got the hell out of dodge. I spent the next 90 minutes or so wandering the galleries in search of a quiet spot before finally admitting defeat.
It’s an overwhelming experience that can’t be fully appreciated in “one go”. You’d need 2, 3 or more visits to do it justice and certainly a better frame of mind than my current state. I left unsatisfied, vowing to come back on a NON-HOLIDAY WEEKEND.
Sieve the flour
I needed to get back on track, so headed to Le Marais. It’s a little bit artsy with a touch of boho chic -and a lot of great shops – so it’s a cool neighbourhood to wander. No sooner had I stepped out of the metro at St Paul, I stumbled upon L’éclair de Génie… aka pastry heaven. Sweet! Standing in front of a glass window showcasing hundreds of the most intricately-decorated, delicious-looking designer eclairs, I got my mojo back – this was my Louvre. I spent about 10 minutes gazing in slack-jawed awe before eventually choosing the “Chou Chou Caramel” – hazelnut cream, salted caramel (my crack cocaine) and candied nuts all sprayed gold, I kid you not. I was utterly starving, but this little baby would be staying beautifully wrapped in its box to be savoured later – you do not drop 7 EUROS ON A SINGLE ÉCLAIR because you are hungry.
Instead, I grabbed a more generic coffee et croissant at a cute little café around the corner, and continued my journey. I was loosely following the route detailed by the Girl’s Guide to Paris app, dropping in and out of little boutiques and bite-sized galleries heading up towards la Place des Vosges. At a kitchy little homeware shop, I resisted the each to buy a life-sized neon pink bulldog for my lounge (because a) it weighed about a stone and I’d have to carry it around all day and b) it was 200 Euros) settling instead on some dollar bill printed table napkins so I can make it rain at my next dinner party (2 Euros).
Mix it all together
Before I got too over-excited, I had to head back towards the centre for the main event – my Macaron class. I won’t spoil it for you. Read about it here.
Add a little flavouring
Post-class, it was time to hit the shops again. There was no way I was leaving without checking out both Ladurée and Pierre Hermé (strictly for comparison sake, obvs). I knew there were branches of both on the left bank, conveniently close to the flagship branch of Diptyque where I planned to treat myself to a candle. Hey – I survived a night on a coach with another fast approaching. I DESERVE this candle. Don’t judge me.
I crossed the river on foot at Notre Dame. I then got horribly turned around, ending up with a sprint almost the full length of Blvd San Germain to reach Diptyque before it closed. However, the 300g Figuier candle in the limited edition “Verte” glass container looks great in my bathroom. Worth it.
As it was Easter weekend, Pierre Hermé had a monster of a queue to get in. I’m guessing the ever-so-chic French exchange fancy pastries rather than over-sweet eggs made of cheap chocolate. Go figure. Once inside, the boutique was very sleek, almost masculine – all dark, clean lines and elegant finishing. The macarons (and pastries and chocolates and cakes…) were displayed under glass in uniform lines, backlit like pieces of art. Completely at odds with everyone around me who was buying by the trayload, I chose a super-sized (seriously – it was like the size of my fist) salted caramel.
No time to sample, I travelled back down rue Bonaparte toward Ladurée. Another line, this time mercifully short. Where Pierre Hermé was all contemporary and sleek, Ladurée is traditional and classic. Taking its decorative cues from the trademark light green livery, the boutique felt almost like being packaged in one of their exquisitely wrapped boxes. And it was one of these (small) boxes that I was making up my own selection including lemon and (drum roll…) salted caramel, all ordered in spectacularly bad French. Once again – we’ll save these for later.
Bake until lightly browned
Next door to the boutique was the extremely elegant tea room, so I ducked inside for a sit down.
If you’ve been following, you’ll have noticed that I’ve talk a lot about food – drooling over, buying, even making – but I have hardly eaten a thing. I thought the tea room would be a nice spot for dinner, but when I saw the prices, I had a swift re-think, settling on a tarte au citron and ANOTHER cup of coffee (so English, once I’d sat down, I was too embarrassed to slope out so had to order SOMETHING). After a stressful day, it was nice to relax and take in my surroundings. It was after 8 and I had to check in for the coach by 10:00, so I found a little brasserie round the corner offering a Prixe Fixe (omelette, chips, salad and bread ). Such a bargain at 9 euros, I thought I deserved to add a cheeky glass of Sauvignon Blanc to end my day (well – the bit before I had to get back on the coach) on a high.
As the coach pulled out of Bagnolet, I spread my shopping out on the empty seat next to me (result!). The macaron taste test could wait until I got home but for now, there was a 7euro éclair with my name on it…crisp pastry shell with the added nutty crunch of the chocolate topping a delicious contrast to the buttery soft caramel filling with just the right amount of salt. This was a really slutty pornstar of an éclair and totally worth the wait. Another 8 hours on the coach? No worries.
So what’s the verdict?
The journey out was kind of hellish, compounded by my passport snafu and the busy bank holiday schedule changes. The return journey was via Eurotunnel and, aided by my sugar coma, drama free. Would I do the coach again? I wouldn’t rule it out, but would prefer to stretch it to a 2-day trip with an afternoon coach on the way out, an overnight stay in a real bed then an overnight coach home. However, if a double overnight was the difference between having a trip or not, I think I could suck it up.
The macaron course was a lot of fun and a fab activity to build a trip around. Even though I wasn’t particularly gifted on the baking front, I’d do it again without hesitation. Shopping was fun (obv.), but if I had my time over, I’d dump The Louvre in favour of a leisurely “recovery” breakfast and some people watching. Musuems are for when you are relaxed, open and not on a time crunch.
The key to this kind of trip is to prepare well. Double check your travel arrangements to ensure they are in your favour (e.g. ferry vs Eurotunnel), freshen up when you arrive so you don’t start the day coach stale. Finally, set yourself a relaxed itinerary and don’t try to do too much.
This was a cheap-er, rather than cheap-cheap trip. I saved a fortune on transport and accommodation, but blew the savings (and then some) on overpriced patisserie and luxury candles. However, I’m happy to sacrifice a little comfort so that I can have nice things
After an extremely rocky start, I had a great time but, but bottom line, if you don’t think you handle this type of trip – definitely find another way!
P.S I know I could have bought the candle and macarons within a tube ride of my flat , but where would be the fun in that?
- Eurolines Return Ticket: London Victoria – Paris Gallieni: £46 + £4 booking
- Paris zone 1-2 metro day pass: €7
- Louvre Ticket + audioguide: €11 + €5
- L’Eclair du Génie (14 rue Pavée 75004 Paris): €7
- Macaron Daze at La Cuisine Paris (80 Quai de l’Hotel de ville 75004 Paris): €65
- Diptyque (34, Boulevard Saint Germain, 75005 Paris): don’t ask…
- Pierre Hermé (72 rue Bonaparte 75006 Paris): €4.5
- Ladurée (21 rue Bonaparte 75006 Paris): €12
- Laduree salon (21 rue Bonaparte 75006 Paris):€10
- Brasserie Dinner and wine: €15