Paris, nous sommes arrivés! We landed in the City of Light exhausted, yet ready to pack in as much as we could in less than 48-hours. Who can sleep on a Trans-Atlantic flight knowing you get to tick off a box from your travel bucket list? Go on a river boat cruise through Europe: check!
We were about to embark on what turned into an incredible food and wine-filled journey through Germany’s Reisling region aboard Viking’s beautiful river boats (more on the boat switch later). Our 12-day Cities of Light voyage began on the Moselle (Mosel), then took us along the Main and Rhine rivers, regions known for their splendid Rieslings and the diversity in their terroirs.
After a long nap we ventured out in search of a meal and a much-needed pichet (pitcher) - or two - of wine. Not far from our hotel in the 17th arrondissement we discovered La Cuisiniere Lyonnaise, a charming bistro featuring traditional home cooked Lyonnaise dishes, an authentic zinc bar, and a seemingly endless and impressive wine list. We started with a classic French salad called Leeks Vinaigrette (see recipe below), a simple dish of braised leeks served at room temperature and lightly dressed in a tarragon mustard vinaigrette.
The special of the evening was a comforting autumn dish of cut-with-your-fork braised pork cheeks with vegetables and tender du Puy lentils (Joues de porc confites avec lentilles au jus).
The next morning we headed out for a day of exploring: the Louvre, Notre-Dame Cathedral, Shakespeare and Company Bookshop (a must-see for passionate readers), and a lovely stroll along the Seine, including a stop at the famous Love Lock Wall (at right). To fortify ourselves during our stroll, we stopped for a nosh of foie gras (below) and a glass of Bordeaux at a tiny bistro we found along a cobblestone side street.
Our walk continued along the Champs-Élysées where we window shopped (did you know the average American spends $1.2K in the expensive Champs-Élysées stores?) and enjoyed the Christmas market that had just opened.
Later that evening, we were peckish and cold, our bodies tired and aching after walking 10 miles throughout the chilly city. We sat in a cozy bistro and relished hot bowls of soupe à l’oignon (French onion soup) and fresh oysters on the half shell. Happily satiated, we left the bistro for our hotel, only to be stalled by a phalanx of emergency vehicles that sped past. We were curious as to the nature of the emergency, then shrugged it off as something typical in such a big city. Eager to knock out the last bit of jet lag that clung to us like heavy blankets, we stumbled into our hotel room, shut off our phones, and welcomed the warmth and comfort of our beds - completely unaware of the nightmare that was beginning to unfold upon Paris.
The alarm awoke us at 6:30am. We turned on our phones and were assaulted with the staccatoed pings of voicemails, instant messages, and desperate requests on social media as to our whereabouts and safety. It wasn’t until we turned on the news that we learned of the horrific terrorist attacks that took place around Paris the night before. We were stunned, saddened, and thankful we’d been a safe distance away.
We met our group in the lobby, our guide Claudia calmly assured us that we would leave on schedule. Many of the terrorists were still at large; would we be moving targets leaving the city in a caravan of tourist buses? It could have easily turned to into panicked mayhem, but with skill and grace Claudia calmly assured her 185 passengers that we would safely reach Luxembourg. Her permanent smile and exuberant personality eased our jitters and averted our thoughts and excitement on the Viking adventures ahead.
As our three buses crept out of the city, we watched in silence as we moved through the deserted streets of Paris. The bakeries, cafés, and markets around us, normally bustling with morning customers, were shuttered. Nary a dog nor human in sight. How surreal to see such a lively city at a complete stand-still!
Once we were safely out of the city, we exhaled a collective sigh of relief and said our prayers for Paris.
Stay tuned for Part 2.
Classic Leeks Vinaigrette
Adapted from David Tanis
8 small leeks, about 1 pound
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons capers
2 hard-cooked eggs, halved lengthwise
Step 1. Trim leeks, removing tough outer layers and cutting off root ends. Leave a little green at the top. Make a lengthwise slit part way down each leek. Put leeks in a large basin of warm tap water and swish around vigorously to dislodge any dirt. Remove carefully from the water.
Step 2. Fill a medium pot with water and bring it to a boil. Add a generous pinch of salt and, once water is to a boil, put in the leeks. Cook at a brisk simmer for 8 to 10 minutes, until leeks are quite tender when pierced with a knife. Drain and cool to room temperature.
Step 3. Make vinaigrette: put mustard and vinegar in a bowl and stir to dissolve. Whisk in olive oil to make a thick sauce. Season with salt and pepper.
Step 4. Gently blot the leeks and divide among 4 plates. Spoon vinaigrette over leeks, smearing with back of spoon. Sprinkle with capers. Garnish each plate with half an egg.