5 Highlights of our Christmas Day in Paris…

 

  1. The Day starts with a stroll along the Seine (mais oui) to…
  2. Lunch. But, you must ask, what does one have for lunch on Christmas Day in Paris? Well, a mon avie (in my opinion), this is a meal meant for comfort and relaxation –not “white table cloth” fine dining. Just friends enjoying a great time….Now, don’t be confused. I don’t mean that the food should be “average”. It should be superb –just not “stuffy”. So, my recommendation (and our menu) consisted of Oysters or Salmon or Foie Gras… followed by Roast Leg of Lamb or Duck stuffed with Dried Fruits, or Scallops. You get the idea, I’m sure. Dessert was a made to order Buche de Noel of Chocolate, Chestnut, Clementine. And, I for one, have to say, YUM. It ranked as one of my favorite meals of the season.
  3. A stroll to see the City Hall of Paris  –location of Robert Doisneau’s famous “kiss” photgraph, and site of Rodin sculptures –and iceskaters!
  4. Then, it might be nice to stroll the Ile St Louis? It has such an aura. Of course, Bertillon is a requirement if you stop there! As is the Felini-esque show performed, as is usual, in the most interesting way possible, along a bridge on the Seine river.
  5. Finally –an evening stroll along St Andre des Arts and a stop at St Michel –and perhaps a wine and cheese somewhere (nod to Brooke!!).

Now, that’s a Christmas Day!

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6 Holiday Shopping Tips: How to shop in France

Shopping, that “all American sport” is one of those cultural obsessions we share with the French. Paris is one of the shopping meccas of the world

And, although it’s done differently, it’s something, especially at this time of year that both the French and the Americans do with gusto! Holiday Shopping. Whether you visit the Christmas markets, the shops, Paris or Provence, here are some great tips for how to pick up the best gift and also make the experience one to remember.

Here are some tips to make the most of your experience.

1. The French are more formal than Americans in their commercial encounters. Begin each transaction –indeed, each entry into an establishment, with a formal “bonjour”. Always say “merci” and “au revoir” as well. We Americans like to pop in and out of stores and, if we aren’t seriously considering a purchase we don’t like to “bother” the staff. The French see it differently. Whereas we might find it rude to ‘interrupt’, they find it rude not to say hello and goodbye.

2. Comment on the items for sale. Talk about them. Ask questions. Find out where they’re from, or how they’re made, or how to wear them etc. There’s a lot of merchant pride and there are a lot of small artisans and producers who take great pride in their work, and they will likely show you even more special things, once they see that you care about their craft. Plus, you’ll learn a little something and connect with someone. (Bliss always makes it  a point to introduce people to at least one artisan producer or craftsperson on our trips so people can learn about the product but more so, connect with a different person and culture –the raison d’être for travel!)

3. When you make a purchase in the United States, you hand the money to the merchant and they put the change back in your hands. In France, the money goes on the little tray in front of the register and the change gets put there as well for you to pick up. Rarely do you see a “hand to hand” transaction.

4. More than likely, if you buy something, you will be asked if it’s “a gift”. If it is, it will be charmingly and uniquely wrapped for you. It’s so great to return home and give a gift that not only is unique, but looks unique. So, if it’s a gift, by all means say so!

5. Remember to visit some of the smaller shops and boutiques, as well as window shopping (or as the French phrase translates –licking the windows!) the big named designer shops. So you can get a taste of the region and culture instead of the world popular market.

6. If you’re in the countryside —Provence, for example, find out what the specialty of that town is, and then visit those shops. If you’re in Sault, it’s Lavender. If you’re in other places it’s pottery or paint pigments or cherries or a particular type of cheese or candied fruit…You get the idea. Local is extremely significant in France. And local means a very small area. (Let me tell you a story. One evening I was sitting at a friend’s dinner table, in a small village in Provence. She had a fabulously delicious olive oil on the table. I complimented her on it and asked if it was local (almost rhetorically, because I assumed it would be). She said no. I was shocked and said, “really?” Her response was telling: “No, it’s not local, it’s from my grandfather’s tree.” Now, that’s really local!!!

Have a Blissful Holiday shopping experience! And write us if we can help!Wendy@blisstravels.com

In Paris & Brussels, Tis The Season for Chocolate

Now that the weather outside is frosty (hear the tune in your head), it’s time for chocolate! Real chocolate. Delicate chocolates. Chocolates that don’t like too much heat because they are filled with real, fresh, flavored cream, or stamped and painted with gorgeous drawings, or melted and stirred into thick unctuous decadent drinks. Is your mouth watering yet?

Each winter –in both December and February (Valentine’s Day, anyone?) Bliss Travels visits the most magnificent chocolatiers and patissieres to see what new creations and exciting treats are available.  (And, we don’t just visit, we taste, and taste…and then have a glass of Champagne –whoops, got distracted. Sorry!)

This year is no different. Even if you can’t come on our Christmas week trip (where we do this in Paris) or our Valentine’s weekend or add on a visit to Brussels, you can still look at these amazing treats and learn what to find here. What could be better ?

Smaller than American confections, and typically more delicate, with thinner shells, these treats also have significantly less sugar, making them (in the opinion of Bliss Travels) practically a health food! (Truth: they are less fattening, and less addictive, because there is less sugar and nothing that’s chemical in them.) If you talk to an artisan in Brussels or Paris, they will tell you chocolate in proper “doses” is medicinal and very good for you.  I wouldn’t argue with that if I were you. I sure don’t!

Some of the flavors below include lavender and a fresh cream of tiramisu!
The chocolates in this photo are from Neuhaus. You can buy this brand in the US, but you cannot buy the fresh creams. They are too delicate to travel. The photo here depicts chocolates filled with a very light flavored whipped cream (this is not the cloying sweet gummy stuff we call “creams” in the box of assorted chocolates you get in the US). You must get these in BRUSSELS.

So, what to do here. Look for small batch chocolates, make by artisans. Look for higher quality (and darker, more pure) chocolates. Avoid anything with a list of ingredients with things you personally wouldn’t cook with. Look for smaller pieces, interesting flavors, freshest ingredients.

Then there are other things you can do with chocolate…If you’re in Paris or Brussels! Take a look at a typical, well done treat. (But, you have to know where to go!)

What could be a better gift than Chocolate –well, taking that person tasting in Paris –but, if you can’t do that, find the real thing here. It makes a difference.

We wish you a truly sweet season….And hope you’ll join us soon! It’s Bliss

If you want to know more, write me. I love to hear from people! Wendy@blisstravels.com

5 Holiday Treats You Can Bring Back from Paris for Family & Friends!

It’s all just too good! Right? That’s what you’re thinking as you take another bite of something wonderful or walk by another specialty shop or Christmas market chalet…Too much to try and too little time!

And what about your sister, best friend, mother, boss, neighbor….Wouldn’t it be great if they could just taste this? Maybe then they’d believe you that it really and truly is better in Paris!

So for those of you who are traveling to France over the holidays (you lucky guys and girls), even if you aren’t traveling with Bliss Travels, here are some treats you can safely bring back to the US to share and extend that fabulous holiday experience (video)! Continue reading

5 Tips on how to find a GOOD restaurant in France

Everyone likes to eat well. But, just like not everyone knows how to cook, not everyone knows how to find a restaurant or pick a dish that  meets their expectations –especially when traveling to another country. Given that it’s Thanksgiving weekend (gobble, gobble) and we are only 3 1/2 weeks away from our Christmas week in Paris, I thought a few pointers would be helpful. What I’m saying is particularly true in France –though in general, this could be applied in other countries.

1. Get off the Beaten Track: While you may not be able to find the truly “off the beaten track” spots, you can, and should, avoid the huge boulevards in favor of smaller neighborhood streets. (Unless you’ve decided to eat in a very expensive world class gourmet restaurant, where the chef’s reputation and the gastronomic offerings support that sort of “store front”)  Why? Because the big tourist streets come with “big” rent. That means that to survive, the typical restaurant must make a number of culinary concessions just to pay their rent. They have to turn tables, buy bargain “product”, and, in general, crank out enough business to keep the lights on. So, don’t be seduced by the big, bright restaurant with the large dining room. Find a more intimate setting. You’re likely to have a better (and better priced) meal.

2. Read Menus: What is on the menu? Does it highlight a particular sort of cuisine? Do the dishes on the menu feature seasonal products? Do they have “blackboard” specials, or is everything special, every day? Other than the exceptional chef (who you are unlikely to “discover” as a tourist), most chefs have a particular cuisine that is their specialty, and a few signature dishes or techniques (cooking show video). I’m sure you’ve heard the expression, “Jack of all trades, master of none”. Well, if the menu looks like it’s a United Nations manifesto –you may be dealing with a master of nothing. Also, if the menu seems to be the same 12 months out of the year, providing the diner with the comfort of eating the very same things in December as they eat in June, then it probably relies on packaged, processed or frozen foods. Things simply aren’t fresh year round! And fresh tastes better. Find a chef who knows what he likes to cook, is influenced and inspired by seasonal products and the food will be good. Look at the menu and see if you can identify the type of cuisine and that the products are seasonal.  For example, this Christmas in Paris, our menus will have things like scallops, chestnuts, foie gras, lamb, oysters, and chocolate (not on the same plate of course)!  Why? Because these things are winter specialties. In summer we see melon, tomato, peach, zucchini and similar produce dominate our meals.


3. Similarly, don’t read “English” menus. If it’s been translated, then they are telling you that tourism is their mainstay. You can have people cater to your “American” tastes when you’re back at home, right? Why not try something that speaks to the French culture? Find a restaurant with a French menu, in French, that’s market fresh, and ask them what their specialty is. Order the “prix fixe” (the set menu) even if you don’t know what the dishes are. They will be the market fresh chef’s specials of the day (not the left over meatloaf). Then, order the local wine to accompany the meal and sit back and relax.

4. Look at the patrons. Walk around, especially if you’re in Paris. If you’re in the countryside, you will be able to tell who is dining where by talking to people as well as doing a bit of “sightseeing”. As you stop and read the menus (all menus are posted outside the restaurant) look at and listen to the patrons. First, are there patrons? Second, are they local or tourists? What language are they speaking? If the answer is that the restaurant is full of people who look like a group you’d want to socialize with, and they are speaking French (for the most part), then it’s a good bet that this restaurant has something wonderful to offer! However, it also might be full and require a reservation. The places we go require not just reservations, but relationships. They are popular local spots (or open for us) and they have creative chefs…

And if you want that, then you may have to plan in advance (or come with us)!!! If you’re on your own, you’ll need to know whether “dropping by” is the best way to get a table (counting on last minute cancellations or snagging a late or early table) OR whether making a reservation for the next night or lunch is better. Some of this requires more information than you are likely to have as a tourist, but give it a try. If they’re too full, ask if coming back later or making a reservation for a different date or meal is a better idea.

5. Consider the Source! If you’re choosing your restaurants based upon recommendations –in books, by reviews, or because “someone” recommended it  (friend, concierge, person you meet while traveling), then it’s very important not just to listen to what they are telling you, but to listen to who they are so you know what they know! I don’t know about you, but I would consider a recommendation from a friend who lived in the area, and who was a chef or in the “food” world much more seriously than I would from someone I met while standing in line for a movie! But when people travel, all of a sudden, literally everyone they meet and everyone they chat with, has the “it” spot that they “must” go to! People blindly follow internet reviews or tourist guides, as does everyone else who’s traveling. Sometimes, I think that Air France should offer a shuttle directly from the plane to the restaurant being profiled by the “big guides” and save me the trouble of booking the same old thing for people! Again, if you’re not talking about the top few world renown Michelin chefs, who, of course, everybody knows, then seriously consider the source of your recommendation.

Nobody can guarantee a perfect meal, but find someone local, or in the food profession or with extensive travel experience in France  to recommend the dining experience that you crave. You’re more likely to have a “blissful” experience, than if  just blindly follow your neighbors’ brother’s cousins’ recommendation. Who knows what he considers “good”!

And, then Bon Appetite! How apropos to discuss eating well on Thanksgiving weekend!

Black Friday Travel to Paris for Christmas Sale!!!

dFor Black Friday only, Bliss Travels is offering any of it’s Paris trips for sale at 10% off the retail price, if a deposit is made by the end of  Black Friday (anytime between now and the morning of Saturday November 26, 2011). The Ultimate Gift…Paris over Christmas at almost $1,000 off for two people!

That means $460 off for Paris over Christmas, per person! Must make deposit via paypal from the website by November 26th. Contact wendy@blisstravels.com  with questions.
Marketing never looked so good! Stroll with us, wine in hand.

 Enjoy the holiday in a new way!

Discover Bliss Travels – a personal, small group experience.

 


5 Tips for Eating and Drinking in France Like a Local

Eating and drinking are different in France. Why? Because the culture is different. If you are going to travel to France –or anywhere, for that matter –why not try it “their way”. If nothing else, it should provide you with an interesting experience and a better understanding of the culture. So, here are some tips for how to do both like the locals. I bet you’ll have a few “ah ha” moments when you realize you may have misinterpreted things in the past!

1. How to order Coffee! Seems simple enough, doesn’t it? Well, I don’t know about you but I think it’s complicated wherever you are. In the US Starbucks has turned ordering coffee into a multi lingual tongue twister. In France, it’s very simple –as long as you follow the custom! Cafe au lait (or any coffee served with milk or cream) is a  breakfast drink, and not generally served after noon, or with meals. A “cafe normal” or “espresso” is just that –expresso in a small cup, served with a small cold glass of water. that’s served during “coffee breaks”, at cafes, and after meals. Can’t take “expresso”. Then order a “cafe Allonge” (literally “stretched out”) or a “cafe Americaine” –both are watered down espressos –in other words, a typical strength coffee.

2. Dessert comes Before Coffee. Not with. You can’t have it with. The waiter will say yes, but if the place is any good –or even remotely authentic– this won’t happen. Don’t worry. It’s better after! You finish your meal, and get the nice “pick me up” of the cup of coffee. Need something sweet?  Never fear. Coffee comes with a little something sweet, always –a chocolate (in the basic cafes) or tiny pastries of some sort in the “nicer” restaurants.

3. Sauces in France won’t make you fat, and don’t come ‘on the side’. “Hmmm”, you say, “how is that possible?” Glad you asked. Because the meals are balanced, the portions, including sauces, are smaller, the food is very fresh, and we don’t snack endlessly on things between meals because the meal itself is completely satisfying. If you order sauces on the side, you will (a) either ruin your meal, or (b) consume more of the delicious sauce than you would have had you let the chef dress the dish with what was probably a teaspoon to a tablespoon of sauce (rather than the 1/4 cup they might bring you).

4. Be Patient. We really value prompt service in the US. But, that’s not the case everywhere else in the world. It’s neither bad nor good, it’s just different. Don’t expect a waiter to run to your table when you arrive. It’s customary to allow people to “settle in” and relax before pressing them for their food orders. Also, don’t expect the check to be delivered as soon as the dessert spoon (or coffee cup) drops from your hand. Unless you’re at a sidewalk cafe (or the place knows you’re American and is trying to accommodate you). It is the height of rudeness in France to plop a check down on the table unbidden. It is tantamount to telling the diner to leave. You are at the restaurant to enjoy yourself. You are meant to relax. Thus, nobody is going to bother you by asking you to pay or leave, until you are ready to do so. So many times I hear stories from clients who say that “the French do not like Americans.” And their justification for that is that the “waiters ignored them”. They were left to languish at the table with no service and couldn’t get the check….Time to reinterpret that behavior. The peaceful enjoyment of your meal and the people that you are with is what the French dining experience is about. So, you will not be bothered to leave or pressed to order. Enjoy it for what it is. You’ll be home soon enough!
5. Order from the Prix Fixe menus. The specials and the meals really are special. They are not “left overs”. They are the market fresh items. Order the 3 or 4 courses. In most places the portion sizes in the prix fixe menus will be made small enough to make this an enjoyable tasting experience as opposed to an endurance contest. As a general rule, the larger the number of courses, the smaller the portion size of each course. The goal of these multi course menus is to give you a taste of what’s best and leave you happy, not to overload you with food so you feel like you got supersized and not to make you feel you need a stretcher or a stomach pump.
Any ideas for customs you wish to explore, let me know. We’d love to discuss it!