This is part three of a seven-part series on my trip to Paris. Read the other parts here.
After a packed day of experiences on Tuesday, both my aunt and I were game for a more chill day on Wednesday. More to the point, Wednesday had long been designated Macarons Day, as I’d signed up in advance for an English-language macaron baking class at La Cuisine Paris. These fluffy, colorful delights are one of my favorite things in the world, and I figured taking a stab at making them ourselves would be a fun diversion while in the culinary capital of the world.
With that class slated for 3p, we had a morning to fill with something interesting enough to be memorable but not so overwhelming as to feel like we’d never see it all in a few hours. In other words, it wasn’t the right time for me to visit The Louvre.
Instead, we chose to make our way to the twice-daily English-language guided tours offered by the Palais Garnier…aka the famed Paris Opera. Because I was too focused on macarons, it wasn’t until we actually got there that I realized this is, you know, the opera of which we speak when we speak of the Phantom of the Opera. Built at one end of one of Paris’s many grand boulevards, it’s a masterpiece of architecture both inside and out.
The previous day, I’d seen a tweet from one Lin-Manuel Miranda that he and his wife were also in Paris, so I was on high-alert for potential celebrity sightings. Imagine my delight, then, when a celebrity of a different ilk appeared in our tour group. I recognized writer John August immediately; I’ve followed him on Twitter longer than I have Miranda! Even cooler, my aunt was able to appreciate the sighting, too, as she and I had gone to see Big Fish during it’s short-lived Broadway run. As the tour ended, I took a moment as he and his company walked by to get his attention and let him know his work is appreciated. Because it’s never a bad idea to tell someone they’ve done good, right?
But back to the Opera. Stunning doesn’t quite do this gorgeous building justice. Clearly built for the showiest of eras (it opened in 1875), it’s rife with ornate detail and epic decorations that could put Versailles to shame. As our guide reminded us time and again, attending the Opera was not really about seeing the show, but about being seen by your fellow theater-goers. Thus the lush grand staircase with four levels of balconies to gaze down from, and the gold-soaked main foyer to sip champagne during intermission. We poked our heads in briefly to one of the boxes, just to catch a glimpse of the storied chandelier. And as the kids would say, #worthit.
With time to spare before heading to our baking class, we found ourselves at a nearby Belgian spot for lunch; it had the feel of a Parisian TGIFridays, but the place was bustling during the late lunch hour and the mussels were wonderful, so who am I to complain?
Then it was on to class! A small storefront facing the Seine, several other wanna-be bakers (all women) were already at La Cuisine Paris when we arrived. Before long, we were upstairs in a kitchen made for lessons, plastic aprons on and Guillaume our instructor had us whipping up ganache filling. From there, it all went pretty fast; it was obvious Guillaume had taught this class a million times and was putting us through the motions. But no matter; by the end of two hours we’d sifted almond flour and whipped merengue and piped cookies, waiting for a perfect bake before pairing the wafers into sweet little sandwiches of joy.
Truth be told, my macarons did not turn out well. I’m fairly certain I over-mixed the batter to the point that all fluffiness was removed. Though they did rise and they ended up looking OK, they were not the happy in my mouth that the real deal typically are. Nevertheless, I can now say I’ve made macarons from scratch, and it was a blast.
As class wrapped up, we headed back out to the city, once again rainy and chilly with an afternoon shower. Having long since learned to take my umbrella with me regardless of the forecast, my aunt and I parted ways to enjoy our quiet evenings as we liked. These evenings, I’ve found, can often be the best way to discover what you didn’t even know you were looking for. Case in point…
Notre Dame in view, I wandered that way to at least see the old cathedral close up while I was in town. And from there, I just kept walking until I was in the heart of St. Germain-des-Pres; similar to Montmartre, it’s a jumble of winding, narrow streets lined with cafes, shops and stores bustling well into the evening. Starving, I found myself turning down a pedestrian street that, honest to god, felt like I’d just gone back in time 150 years. I walked up and down that street at least half a dozen times, I was so entranced with its charm.
I soon found a simple Italian spot down the street where I treated myself to a demi-bottle of chianti and a personal pizza while I researched some of the rest of the things on my Paris To Do list. What’s more, I managed to make it through the whole dining out experience in French, albeit significantly limited. I knew enough to ask for a table for one, to ask for what I’d like (while still pointing to the menu just to be safe), to let my server know I was finished and even to ask for a pen (stylo!) when I had to sign the card receipt. Overall, I used my low-level French very little in conversation; I lack any semblance of confidence in actually uttering more than the simplest of phrases. But it came in quite handy in comprehension, reading signs and directions!
But I digress…what started as a relatively quiet day on the sight-seeing scale turned into a wonderful blend of planned adventures and discovered ones.
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The Paris Pass included our tour at Palais Garnier, but the baking class and wandering Paris was all me.