Category Archives: Episode w/ Elyse

Saint Germain-des-Prés Neighborhood, Episode 196

Saint Germain-des-Prés Neighborhood


On today’s episode, Annie and Elyse talk about the things they love about the Saint Germain des Prés neighborhood in Paris. It’s actually surprising to see how long it took us to devote an entire episode to Saint Germain des Prés, and it only happened because we assumed that we had already done it!

Saint Germain des Prés is the area of Paris where both Annie and Elyse would love to live if they won the lottery. It’s never going to happen, but a girl can dream, right? Come along and dream with us, we tell you tales of the oldest church in Paris, wonderful cafés, great shopping, and the wonderful artists of the 1920s who hung out there.

If you’re interested in Saint Germain des Prés, you should probably also listen to our other episodes about classic Paris neighborhoods: Episode 27 on Le Marais, and Episode 7 on the Latin Quarter.

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Saint Germain des Pres neighborhood in Paris, Saint Sulpice church at night
Photo Annie Sargent

Episode Highlights with Timestamps

  • [03:48] Saint Germain des Prés is beautiful and very expensive part of Paris. The prices went through the roof there 60 or 70 years ago.
  • [06:47] What do we mean when we say Saint Germain des Prés? What are the boundaries? The definition is a bit amorphous and it depends on who you ask, but it includes a lot of the 6th arrondissement.
  • [07:27] The word “prés” means meadow, which it used to be, this is an old area of Paris. The tower of the Church of Saint Germain des Prés was part of the oldest churches in Paris.
  • [09:04] The Merovingian Kings established the Saint Germain des Prés Abbey and it included a lot of land.
  • [10:10] Definition of Early Middle Ages (500 to 1000), High Middle Ages (1000 to 1400), Late Middle Ages (1400 to 1500s), then came the Renaissance.
  • [11:38] Merovingians made Christianity the official religion and funded Abbeys and Monasteries.
  • [11:58] In Roman times, many people were literate, but in this period of the early Middle Ages, few people in France were literate, so it was vital to have Monasteries to keep literacy alive.
  • [13:15] The Saint Germain des Prés Church becomes a Royal Abbey in 558 and the necropole for French French Kings before Saint Denis.
  • [14:04] They built the Saint Germain Church over the top of an old Roman Temple, which is something that happened a lot.
  • [15:03] The Saint Germain des Prés church is set a quarter to half mile away from the river in order to protect it from flooding.
  • [16:10] The vital importance of relics in the Middle Ages, and the worship of relics as a driver of economic growth.
  • [17:23] The Saint Germain area was raided and burned by the Vikings three times: in 845, 856, and 861.
  • [17:50] When they rebuilt the church, they added the Romanesque tower in 990, and that’s still the one we see today. This is also the time when it became a Benedictine Abbey.
  • [18:57] Benedictine Monks were always as the center of intellectual knowledge, and the area has retained its reputation of being the place for intellectuals.
  • [21:05] The Procope, one of the oldest cafés in Paris where people like Diderot and Voltaire used to go argue about ideas. This was the beginning of café culture in Paris and is mostly super touristy at this point.
  • [23:41] We’re not sure if they’d let you sit at a table at the Procope and write all day.
  • [24:21] The Procope is also where the people who fomented the French Revolution sur as Danton and Marat hung out.
  • [24:48] Rue Danton where Danton really lived is two streets away from the Procope. Back then the area was not fashionable or touristy.
  • [25:13] You just have to walk these streets. Most are small narrow streets except for Boulevard Saint Germain des Prés which has Haussmann buildings.
  • [26:48] Worth visiting, the Delacroix Museum where he had his studio.
  • [28:22] The Saint Germain des Prés area is famous for book stores. A couple that are famous today are L’Écume des Pages and La Hune.
  • [29:12] Several of the most prestigious French Publishing houses such as Gallimard and Seuil were also started in this area because it was always the book area.
  • [29:35] Saint Germain des Prés is the area where authors would hang out, lots of the famous ones you’ve heard of such as Hemmingway, Fitzgerald, Simone de Beauvoir, etc. It must have been like in Midnight in Paris!
  • [32:05] Jazz clubs opened in Paris in the 20s and were popular with French people.
  • [32:34] The 1920 were paradoxical times: racism and prejudice were pervasive and yet there were vibrant communities of artists in Paris. Many had left their own countries to come to Paris where they could mingle.
  • [35:40] Brasserie Lipp is also an interesting place where filmmakers used to hang out.
  • [36:10] None of that is going on in Saint Germain today because it’s become too expensive. How the gentrification process worked in this neighborhood.
  • [38:25] The Beaux Arts school is on rue Bonaparte and has been there for a long time. It gave a lot of prestige to the area.
  • [41:19] Even rich French people mostly don’t patronize cafés like Deux Magots and Café de Flore because they know the prices are ridiculous. But the area has lots of little wonderful cafés that are more approachable and just as nice.
  • [42:52] Also explore the church of Saint Sulpice, technically in the Odeon neighborhood, but a must-see in this area.
  • [43:03] This is the church with the “gnomon” which can easily be missed if you’re not paying attention.
  • [44:21] Saint Sulpice also has free concerts every Sunday morning.
  • [44:52] Rue de Rennes is a big shopping street in this area, and so it rue Bonaparte.
  • [45:46] The Saint Germain neighborhood is a great place to go buy food for your picnic, then head down towards the river and enjoy it.
  • [48:34] At Saint Sulpice once a day you can go up to see the organ. Check their website to know what time.
  • [50:14] Annie has seen some tour guides come into Saint Sulpice and spend 2 minutes and leave. It’s like speed dating except that it’s speed tourism!
  • [53:42] This is a neighborhood where you will find unique clothes and things you won’t find in the big chain stores.
  • [54:01] Great shopping streets in the Saint Germain des Prés neighborhood: rue de Buci, rue de Rennes, rue Saint André des Arts. You could also visit the Bon Marché, the expensive department store.
  • [56:56] Great neighborhood for walking, great neighborhood for looking around.
  • [57:47] Despite what popular guide books recommend, both Annie and Elyse would much rather stay in the Saint Germain des Près or Latin Quarter area.

Saint Germain des Pres neighborhood in Paris, panneau de la rue Bonaparte

A Cornucopia of Bizarre French Foods, Episode 193

A Cornucopia of Bizarre French Foods


Never say that Annie and Elyse never say anything negative about France! We certainly do today! On today’s episode, Elyse and Annie present to you a cornucopia of bizarre French foods. Even if you never plan on trying any of them, you need to know about them because they’ll pop up on menus here and there and we’ve known visitors who had big surprises when their food arrived! Elyse herself has had some surprises!

Our conversation takes a few detours, as it always does, but this time Elyse gets a pronunciation epiphany! She finally understands how to say the city name “Caen”. It doesn’t have to take you 30 years, listen to our exchange starting at [44:46] 😉

The foods we discuss get stranger and stranger as we go along in the conversation, and we end with a few terribly ripe cheeses that can also be terribly challenging.

This is possibly more than anybody wants to know about bizarre French foods, but we think you need to be forewarned because if some of these ended on your plate by mistake, you’d be sorry!

And, watch out France, Elyse reports that there are new strange foods coming on the market in France, the kind made with insects. Honestly, what is the world coming to?

If you’re interested about learning about food in France, you should also check out Episode 161, 50 Must-Know French Phrases for Hungry Visitors, and Episode 19 French Cheese.

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moules marinières in a pot
Moules marinières.

A Cornucopia of Bizarre French Foods Episode Outline with Timestamps

[02:51] Warning: this episode discusses animal parts, it may disgust some of our listeners.

[03:33] French people think that if you’re going to eat meat anyway, you might as well eat the whole animal.

[04:48] Historically, during a time of siege, people ate all the animals they could find, even ones we do not normally eat. Example: Paris siege of 1870 and Warsaw during WWII.

[06:30] How unusual parts of animals have become delicacies in France.

[07:16] The reason why we felt it was important to discuss these things is because you will find these foods on the menu in many French restaurants, usually as one of the specials for that day.

[07:48] How specials work in French restaurants and restaurants that specialize in regional French dishes.

[08:43] What you can do if you want to try these bizarre French foods while you’re visiting France. Go to restaurants that specialize in regional foods, or go to Les Grands Buffets in Narbonne.

[10:42] There are also Brasseries in Paris that specialize in regional foods that have unusual dishes. Brasserie Bofinger specializes in Alsatian food and Au Pied de Fouet specializes in Auvergnat food.

[11:12] You could also go to any “charcuterie” or “boucherie-charcuterie” or “traiteur”. They will have some of them, but you won’t find all of the ones on our list at any one place in France, that’s not how it works.

[12:08] If you want to look up specific recipes for any of these dishes, try the French recipe site called Marmiton.

What You Will Find on the Seafood Platter in France

[12:40] The Seafood Platter: Oysters “les huitres”. Whelks “les bulots”. Sea Urchins “les oursins ».

[15:02] Elyse orders « bulots » without knowing what they were exactly.

Foie Gras

[15:37] This French food is controversial and there are good arguments made of why we should not eat it. But in the Southwest of France, we eat some of it, mostly in small quantities because it is very rich. It’s a food for special occasions.

[17:49] The tradition of making your own “foie gras” in families from the Southwest of France.

Steak Tartare

[19:31] Steak Tartare is raw ground beef. It’s like sushi, but with beef. One variation on the Steak Tartare is qualified as “aller-retour”. [Addendum: Annie went a little too fast here. They do serve cooked hamburger with a cooked egg on top, that’s called “à cheval”, but they also put raw egg in Steak Tartare, it’s part of the recipe.]

French People Eat Horse Meat

[21:19] We explain the difference between “steak de cheval” and “steak à cheval”. The first is horse meat, the second means there will be a fried egg on top of your cooked hamburger.

Steak Tartare Au Couteau

[22:08] Sometimes you’ll see the word “au couteau” which means the meat hasn’t been ground in a machine, but rather chopped with a knife, by hand.

Moules Marinières

[23:15] These are muscles served in a pot. If they are “marinière” it means they are served with a white wine, onions, garlic and parsley sauce. Or you could get the Normandy kind, which is with cream instead of wine.

Gésiers

[24:44] Giblets are part of the stomach of ducks or chickens (probably other birds too!) and they are slow cooked in fat until really tender. [Addendum: Giblets have nothing to do with hearts, Elyse was wrong about that, but she’ll never admit to it 😉]

Coq au Vin

[27:07] Rooster cooked in wine. A classic of French cuisine. We have a lot of classic dishes cooked in a lot of wine, especially from the Burgundy region.

Escargots de Bourgogne

[28:46] Large snails cooked in a butter, garlic and parsley sauce. Most Americans try them and some actually like them. It’s hard to know if it’s the butter they like or the escargot, but it’s a popular dish for visitors to try. The snails that are served in restaurants do not come from the side of the road, they are bred to be eaten.

Rillettes

[30:38] This is a meaty spread, usually eaten with bread, could be pork, duck, salmon, tuna. It’s always super fatty. It is served at “aperitif” at lot. We explain the difference between pâté and rillettes.

Pot-au-feu

[32:24] Delicious beef and vegetables stew, often served with bone marrow. Another extremely fatty food (especially the bone marrow!), but well-loved. Annie shares her technique for making pot-au-feu and how to make it so you skim most of the fat off and it’s better for you.

Coeurs de canard

[36:35] This is one that will put many people off, but it’s so good! It’s duck hearts, cut in half, and cooked with a parsley and garlic mixture. It’s a specialty of the Southwest.

Steak à cheval vs. Steak de cheval

[37:44] “Steak à cheval” means a ground beef pattie with an fried egg on top. “Steak de cheval” means horse meat! You don’t want to confuse the two!

Croque Madame, Croque Monsieur

[37:52] This is the French version of the Grilled Cheese and Ham sandwich. Often contains béchamel sauce, and the Madame version adds an egg on top.

Frittons

[38:50] This is pork or duck rind cooked until it’s crispy. They serve it all the time in Lyon. It’s mostly an aperitif food and we’d rather have an olive!

Pieds de porc

[40:07] This is a popular dish in the South of France, both in the Catalan and Basque areas. In France, they serve pig’s feet whole, bone and all.

Tripes à la mode de Caen

[43 :06] This is one neither of us will eat, it’s so pungent that you can smell it from across the table if someone near you ordered it. It’s the inside of the lining of the stomach of cattle mixed with pig’s feet and baked. Also, the one tip every English speaker can use to know how to say that name, it’s not that hard, say it the same way you say the word “quand”.

Andouillettes and Andouilles

[45:41] One of the worst foods in our list of bizarre French foods is Andouille or Andouillettes. It turns out the fabrication process is pretty much the same, but one is served hot as a meal and the other sliced and cold for apéritif.

Langue de Boeuf

[49:12] This is beef tongue, it’s got a strange taste to it, but we won’t die if we have to put it in our mouths. How about that for high praise?!

Tête de Veau Ravigotte or Tête de Veau Vinaigrette

[50 :43] This is the head of a veal. The preparation is convoluted, but it’s really made from the head of a veal. It can be served in chunks or rolled up into a loaf and sliced. It can be served hot or cold.

Ris de Veau

[54:06] This is sweetbreads, which is made from the thymus gland inside on the pancreas. It’s usually served with a sauce like mushroom sauce, or sweet and sour sauce. It’s not on the menu often, but it tastes good, especially if you don’t know what you’re eating!

Boudin Noir and Boudin Blanc

[56:08] This one is admittedly disturbing, but it’s extremely popular in France. It is made with the blood of the pig plus onions and seasonings. Boudin blanc is made with bread, milk, and a little bit of chicken.

Lapin

[57:55] Lapin means rabbit, French people eat it a fair amount. It is usually served with either a mustard sauce or a cream sauce.

Cuisses de Grenouilles

[59:42] Frogs legs. We don’t eat them as much as we used to and they’re not on a lot of restaurant menus.

Cervelle de Veau en Persillade

[60 :03] This is another one that’s really disturbing. It’s calves brains, we find it untouchable, but it is a delicacy.

Rognons

[61:24] Rognons are kidneys. It is usually served cut up into pieces on skewers. The taste can be strong, but not unpleasant. It’s meaty. The restaurant called Robert et Louise in the Marais in Paris specializes in it.

Rognons Blancs

[63:09] These are not kidneys at all, they are testicles. They serve those in areas where they still do bull fighting, such as the Basque Country.

Cheval

[64:00] This is horse meat that French people have always eaten and got popular again when mad cow disease was a problem in Europe. The meat is a little bit healthier for you (leaner) and cheaper also.

Salade de Museau

[66:09] This is based on the pig’s head, boiled and deboned and cooled into a loaf, then sliced and accommodated with pickles and a vinaigrette dressing.

Fromage de Tête

[67:13] Fromage de tête does not contain any cheese at all, it’s all meat products, generally from the head of the pig. It can be made from wild bore in some regions as well, in that case it is called “fromage de hure” which Annie has never seen, so it’s not a common variant.

La Perdrix

[67:33] Perdrix is partridge. This is game and hunters eat it, you can’t buy it at the store.

La Pintade

[67:51] Pintade is Guinea Fowl. This is like a small chicken but with a more subtle taste. Elyse loves it, Annie doesn’t remember having it. You can see it at the grocery store sometimes around the Holidays.

Pigeon

[68:36] This is pigeon or squab. It’s very small and difficult to eat.

Cailles

[68:58] Cailles are quale, it’s the smallest bird that we eat in France, as far as we know.

Cerfeuil

[69:06] Cerfeuil is a type of venison, technically it’s “chervil”. It’s a game meat, the flavor is pungent (and not pleasing to Annie!) and it was hard to choke it down.

Strange Stinky French Cheeses

[70:14] We have so many stinky cheeses in France that most people have a special box in their fridge to contain cheese odors. Most of these cheese smell a lot stronger than they smell, but still, it takes dedication to the cause to take them into your fridge!

Époisses

[71:22] Époisses is a soft cheese from the northern part of the Burgundy area. Elyse tells us about her first encounter with “époisses”, one she’s never forgotten!

Maroilles

[74:05] Maroilles is another soft cheese from the north of France. It is also brined, and terribly pungent. Annie tells us about buying “maroilles” by accident and thinking one of the dogs at her house had an accident in the kitchen!

Langres

[76:16] This one is also a soft cheese from the Champagne area. It is often served after putting a little bit of champagne over it.

Camembert

[76:46] Some camembert can be really mild, if served right out of the fridge. But if you get raw cheese camembert and you leave it out, it can get really smelly. A favorite in most French households.

Brie

[77:36] Also a cheese that can be mild when it’s not left out. But “real” brie (Brie de Meaux) is not smelly while it has a strong mouth flavor. You have to be careful how long you let those cheeses ripen in your fridge or they’ll get so strong that you can’t eat them!

Pont l’Évèque

[78:43] It a little harder cheese, not as smelly as the others, but can be startling if you’re not used to smelly cheese. The flavor is good, it’s an easy smelly cheese to try because it won’t completely gross you out.

Munster

[79:05] The ones from their region of origin, Alsace, are quite smelly and strong. Others are really mild. The name has not been protected well and it doesn’t mean much anymore.

Morbier

[79:25] This is a cheese from the Auvergne region, it has a bit of a strong smell to it, but again, nothing that will make paint peel. The flavor is great, it’s a good “strong” cheese for visitors to try.

Roquefort

[79:49] This is again a cheese from the Auvergne area. The big brands we’ve gotten used to (Société, Papillon) make mild versions of the cheese. Small producers make more extreme versions of the same type of cheese.

Aligot and Tartiflette

[80:51] Aligot is from the Auvergne and Tartiflette is from the Alps, but both can be found all over France, especially at Christmas Markets. These are hardy winter dishes with potatoes and melted cheeses. They have a strong flavor, but are delicious and are well-loved, even by children and visitors.

Tripou

[83:25] Tripou is a type of Tripes from the Auvergne, not served in a heavy cream, but still cow tripes. If you’re in the Auvergne and you have a choice between tasting Tripou or Aligot, don’t think twice: try the Aligot!

Normal Foods with Strange Names

[84:30] In France we also have normal foods with strange names. This is done on purpose, mostly for marketing purposes. For instance, we have “Tête de Nègre” which is a chocolate covered marshmallow with an offensive name. We also have “Pêt de Nonne”, a beignet. We have a jam called “Gratte-cul”. A cheese from Burgundy called “Trou-du-cru”.

Annie & Elyse’s Dental Woes

[86:10] Why Annie went back to not eating meat. It’s Burger King’s fault! And then Elyse couldn’t stand to have me suffering alone, and she joined in the fun 😉

[89:19] The all-new strange foods you can now find in France: insect pâté! We have come full circle, haven’t we?

Visiting Paris in August, Episode 188

Visiting Paris in August


On today’s episode, Annie and Elyse chat about the pitfalls and joys of visiting Paris in August. Things are different in Paris in the summer months and we review them all in this episode of the podcast!

What Closes in Paris in the Summer?

People who are coming to Paris for the first time in August or in the summer wonder what’s going to be open and closed? It’s a fair question and I caution you against relying on information that started circulating decades ago that somehow still gets repeated today: No, Paris does NOT shut down in the summer!

In fact, Paris is teeming with activity in the summer! That’s why you should have a strategy to minimize wait time at popular museums, which we explain in this episode.

Airbnb and Pickpockets

Elyse and I also get talking about Air B&B in Paris, there are some things you need to know about that so you can ask the renter important questions that will impact the quality of your stay.

We also recap some quick tips about prevailing against pickpockets in this episode and about the best kinds of bags for a trip to Paris for both your comfort and your safety.

Go to Some Guinguettes!

Visiting Paris in August or in the summer months is a joy! It’s a great time to rent bikes because the car traffic is lighter. It is also the time for Guinguettes. Even if you don’t remember the word Guinguettes, I’m sure you have seen them pictured in paintings and in the movies!

They are places where locals and visitors alike go to on summer evenings to have some drinks and dance.

There are some famous ones and some not so famous ones all along the Seine River and the Marne River. One we recommend is close to the Eiffel Tower on quai de Suffren.

August in Paris is also the time for walks in neighborhoods you don’t know, trying boulangeries and restaurants you’ve never heard of. You shouldn’t be weary of doing that, we have great food all over Paris! One great place to take such a walk would be around the delightful Palais Royal area as we’ve mentioned in previous episodes.

Ignore at Your Own Peril

We want you to have a wonderful time in Paris in August, which in our mind includes this piece of advice: Yes, you do need Air Conditioning when you are visiting Paris in August, July or maybe even June and September. Having lived in France so long, Elyse is not a fan of Air Conditioning. But even she admits that when the temperatures climb over 95F (which they do, sometimes for days-on-end!), it is really hard to get some rest without AC.

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people hanging out at the bottom of the eiffel tower; visiting paris in august

Timestamps: the Joys and Pains of Visiting Paris in August or During the Summer Months

[05:45] The conversation between Annie and Elyse starts.

[06:54] What changes in Paris in July and August.

[09:05] Head’s Up about what Paris is like in the summer!

[10:43] Parking is free in Paris the first 2 weeks of August. You can rent electric cars to get around if you wish. Traffic is much lighter in Paris in the summer.

[12:14] Paris can get very hot in the summer. Some metro cars are air conditioned, not all. Buses are air conditioned.

[13:09] Some of the small stores and restaurants do close to take their vacation. All the big stores, department stores, are open, but not on Sundays for the most part. Don’t save your shopping for Sundays!

[14:48] There are masses of tourists who come to Paris in the summer. Museums can be terribly crowded. Use the site J’aime attendre to figure out the best time to go.

[24:30] Strategies for visiting museums in Paris.

[29:00] Plan which days you’ll go to which museums so you don’t get stuck waiting in long lines!

[32:00] French people love to go to wonderful Paris exhibits also, it won’t just be foreign visitors!

[34:13] More and more, Museums and attractions will force people to use Apps instead of queueing up. For instance JeFile to go up the Towers of Notre Dame.

[35:44] If you are staying 3 or more nights late July until the last week of August, you can negotiate a very good deal. There are lots of tourists, but no business travelers. To get the best rates, call the hotels.

[38:05] Air B&B questions you need to know about. Triple rooms for 3 adults (like for 3 adult sisters) are hard to find!

[44:08] Small restaurants do close in the summer in Paris! If you have your heart set on a specific place, check it out ahead of time on their site! Big Brasseries never close, but small restaurants do. Have a backup plan!

[49:00] Pickpockets in Paris and how to defeat them in the Paris metro, especially when you’re on line 1. Leave as much as you can in the hotel safe.

[51:54] What bag to take to Paris and why.

[52:53] Vélib’: Rent a bicycle and enjoy the low Paris traffic! Really cheap, can be free if you switch bikes every 30 minutes.

[54:50] Les Guinguettes. You will see them if you go on a ride on the bateaux mouches. There are a lot of fun and you should go! Great place to go for a drink and some dancing. Along the 13th arrondissement is great with free dance lessons! This makes Paris into a summer festival.

[58:30] In France in the summer you can always find something to do to find besides museums and restaurants.

[61:00] Sunset in France is late in the summer in France, if you want to see the Eiffel Tower sparkle at night, you have to go fairly late.

[63:00] Don’t sweat the small stuff: you need to know where you’re going sleep and what places you’re going to visit. But you don’t need to go to any one bakery or restaurant no matter what bloggers and guide books tell you!

[65:19] Too many tourists who come to Paris have not put any effort into planning anything, which is why they get in trouble.

[68:00] Get AC in your hotel or accomodation in Paris in the summer. It will be hot and muggy and that can ruin a vacation because you’ll have a terrible time to sleep. Big thick walls do nothing against muggy.

louvre courtyard with water feature; visiting paris in august