Parisian Cafes/Tearooms/Bakeries

Sorry I’ve been MIA for the past few weeks; been doing a lot of traveling for work since my trip to Europe and this is the first time in a while that I’ve gotten a chance to sit back and catch my breath a little.  So, continuing on with Paris.

I love croissants, they’re in my top five favorite foods.  And because I associated them so much with Paris, I imagined when we arrived that there would be bakeries left and right (a la Starbucks on every corner of NYC style).  Sadly, I was mistaken.  Although there were a few bakeries here and there, it wasn’t the look in every direction and see one type of situation.  It may be due to the fact that we were in a tourist area, but it was still a little disappointing nonetheless.

Regardless, that’s not to put down the places we did find.  I will always take quality over quantity and the few bakeries we did go to were really standout.   The first one I’ll mention is Paul.  Paul is Parisian chain, not as “chainy” as Au Bon Pain or Le Pain Quotidian, but you’ll find a few scattered throughout Europe and there are even a couple now in Washington, D.C. and Florida.   Paul is a solid place to grab a quick croissant, pastry, or coffee with little to no fuss.  The baked goods are far better than anything you’ll get at a ABP or LPQ, and having been to the Paris Paul and the D.C. Paul, I can say for a fact that the D.C. Paul has done a very good job of mimicking its founders.

For a more involved experience, there are two cafes (or tearooms) in Paris that are excellent.  They are Laduree and Angelina.  We’ll start with Laduree.  We didn’t do table service there because we were on our way to the Eiffel Tower, but we grabbed a bunch of pastries to go.  This place wins the award for the best croissant I’ve ever had – hands down.  I sampled a butter, chocolate and apple croissant, and the apple croissant was out of this world.  The other two were extremely good as well, perfectly flaky with those big, crispy flakes, not the messy little ones.  We also tried a few of their delicious macaroons and fruit tarts.  But the apple croissant was the perfect blend of croissant butteriness and chunky-sweet apple.  There are a few Laduree locations in Paris, one in Versaille, and one at the airport.

Our favorite cafe however was Angelina.  We loved it so much we actually went there twice, once for breakfast and once for lunch.  Keep in mind that the line to get in can get long around brunch time, so plan accordingly.   The brunch lasts until 11:30 and the service is slow, but helpful/friendly once they do get around to you.  The cafe is pricey, so be prepared to dish out the Euros for the experience.  If you don’t want to sit, there’s a bakery in the front lobby where you get buy items to go (much like at Laduree).  The snack/lunch menu consists of salads, cheeses, sandwiches, and quiches and the breakfast menu consists of a variety of different egg, fruit, pastry combinations.  And of course you can order any of the decadent sweet pastries (including their famous Mont Blanc) at anytime you want.

The two highlights of Angelina are the Croque Madame and the Angelina Hot Chocolate.  I never had a Croque Madame or Monsieur before I going to Angelina, but I had a few in Paris afterwards and Angelina’s was still the best.   Sure, it’s a glorified grilled cheese, but the French know how to turn a simple dish into deluxe cuisine.  The one other item on the menu you HAVE to try is the Angelina Hot Chocolate.  This was by far, the richest, creamiest, thickest hot chocolate I have ever tasted.  It was like drinking sweet chocolate cream.  You should also know that if you drink an entire pot of this stuff, you will be more than full, so be prepared.

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The Eiffel Tower Experience

The Eiffel Tower is open every single day of the year

  • from 9 a.m. to midnight from 17 June to 28 August,
  • from 9:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. during the rest of the year,
  • At Easter weekend and during the Spring holidays : extended opening hours to midnight.

Obviously when one goes to Paris for the first time, a visit to the Eiffel Tower is a must-do activity.  You can’t not go and see it.  It’d be like going to New York City for the first time and not going to the Empire State Building.  Of course because it was holiday week when we were there, pretty much everyone in the world was thinking the same thing.  The base of the Eiffel Tower was packed with hundreds of people and the lines were long, like Disney World’s Space Mountain long.

Here’s a tip for any monument or museum visits in Paris (including the Eiffel Tower): Get tickets in advance online.  You’ll save yourself a ton of time and from a ton of hassle.   The first thing we had to figure out was which of the winding lines to stand in (and also try to find the end of each one).  It was like navigating through serpents of people.  Once we got into a line, we asked the people around us if we were in the right line.  If they spoke English – which was like a one in three chance – most of the time they shrugged and were clearly just as lost as we were.  At the same time other people were asking us the same question in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese – you name it.  And each time, we gave the same answer we were given – we just shrugged and said we didn’t know for sure.  It was kind of a hilarious scene – all these different races coming together in confusion despite the language barrier, and all sort of politely making the best of the scenario standing in mysterious lines that led to who knows where.

My sister was our recon soldier and when she came back to the line she let us know we had waited half an hour in the wrong one (figures right?).  Turns out there were four total lines – two go to the elevator that takes you to the 2nd floor (not the top) and two that let you walk to the 2nd floor.  So once we made our way over to the new line, we waited about an hour and a half.  If you’re going to visit the Eiffel Tower during the cold season – dress warmly.  It was very cold, and very windy.  Also, make sure to bring some reading material, Ipod, and a snack (croissant was my snack of choice) because you’ll probably want to do something to make the time standing out there go by a little faster.  

Once we got to the front, there was a sign that said, “Due to congestion we will not sell lift tickets to the top, only to the second floor.”  A few curses were tossed around by everyone in line, but at that point because we made it to the front we figured we may as well go up to at least the midsection of the Eiffel Tower.  The price for the lift ride to the 2nd floor is 8 Euros, the price for the ride to the top is 13 Euros (the price to walk to the 2nd floor is 4 Euros – you can’t walk all the way to the top).

The midsection of the Eiffel Tower is actually quite large and includes a cafe, bathrooms, gift shop, and the lift to the very shi-shi Le Jules Verne restaurant (we tried to get reservations, but the place gets booked months in advance).  We learned that we would be able to buy tickets to the top from the 2nd floor (for the additional 5 Euros) once the top cleared out a bit.  So we waited on the 2nd floor for another hour or so with some hot chocolate and snacks we bought at the cafe.  We waited in another line for about half an hour to get the tickets to the top and then an additional half hour for the elevator to the top.

Now if you’re queasy about heights, I should warn you.  The ride in the glass elevator to the top is a little unsettling.  I’m not that bothered by heights (see previous post about Skydiving), but even this ride is unnerving.  You can view some videos of the ride up and down on the Here and There Facebook page.  Once you get through the ride and to the top, the view is magnificent.   The 2nd floor view is good, but the extra height at the top really makes the birds-eye view of Paris spectacular.  There’s an outside patio that you can walk around on and a champagne bar for the romantic couples (or just tourists who are celebrating actually finally making it to the top).  But it is quite windy, and you should be prepared for the fact that if you’re unlucky, the visibility can be bad depending on weather conditions (we met some poor guy who had been up there the previous day and said he couldn’t see a thing).

Finally, if you’re able to get to the Eiffel Tower at night make sure to check it out at the top of the hour.  For six minutes the tower shimmers in magnificent fashion.  We didn’t know this until we took a night time bus tour that happened to go by the tower during this time (hence the not so great pictures of it from the bus below), so don’t miss a chance to see it.

So in summary, make sure to allot plenty of time in your day when you see the Eiffel Tower, especially if you don’t get tickets in advance (there really was like no line for people who had bought tickets in advance.  It’s amazing how many people around the world didn’t think to do that beforehand).  But it is worth the wait to say that you’ve been to the top of one of the most recognizable monuments in the world.

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