Pardon my French

No, I did not mean swear words though they are usually the first words you learn when trying to pick up a language. I am trying out basic French 😁 via a nifty online website, Babbel.com. It works for me because I can get online whenever and go at a pace I am comfortable with. The thing is I forget them as soon as I slam my laptop shut. I have the words pasted on the bathroom mirror to help since I spend quite a bit of time there. But I am either brushing my teeth with eyes closed in the mornings or reading recaps of Korean Dramas I follow when busy with other bathroom things. My priorities 😝. If the notes were nicer, would it help? Maybe. Cos I am drawn to beautiful things. Aren’t we all? Then I came across these. Perfect!

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A bit of France in SG

You can have authentic French baguette in Singapore, and it is not from the posh lime green and gold bakery, Maison Kayser (though theirs are very good too). It comes to you warm and fluffy, complete with a little pot of butter and a bespoke selection of jams. For a royal S$7, taxes excluded.

We had it at a shophouse along Tras Street that has been transformed into a delightful French cafe that bears uncanny resemblance to the ones along Rue Cler in Paris.

The floor of the courtyard in the middle of the shophouse has been laid with cobblestones so it looks like there is a street running through. This faux street is illuminated by the warm glow of vintage lampposts and natural light filtering in from the skylight above; Hanging from this skylight are dainty and colourful balls of lights, contrasted against a dark grey wall of French posters. From where we sat, through the French doors, I could also see copper pots hanging from what looked like a traditional hearth. Quite pretty.

I could have been thoroughly deceived. It truly is a piece of France so well recreated that it brought back nice memories of lounging in Parisian cafes with my face buried in good books. The homesick French should pay Cafe Gavroche a visit and be cured in no time!

There is also a bar counter on the left just as you walk in, so that is another draw. 😉

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Favourite Places, 12 : Marseille

There are two things about Marseille I remember very well – soup and soap.

We had our first, as-authentic-as-you-can-get Provencal bouillabaisse in a restaurant along Vieux Port, after hearing good raves about it. We were hesitant at first, given what we read about the soup and how it originated – a stew made out of seafood scraps. Oy. I am not keen on fishy smelling foods.

But we weren’t disappointed. It was gloriously fragrant and delightfully filling! The bread rolls that accompanied the stew just kept coming, and we were gleefully stuffing our faces.

We needed to walk off the bulk threatening to split open the buckles on our pants, and strolled into a store that said Savon de Marseille. For some reason, I thought they sold tea packaged in colourful cubes. Tea Salon of Marseille? It must have been the fish stew talking.

I learnt later that the green cubes were somewhat of a legend – they are soaps made out of sea water from the Mediterranean and olive oil. There are only a few stores that make this traditional soap today – which explained why it was so expensive!

The varieties they make now are mind-boggling and commercial. The lavender ones smelled heavenly, and the lemon ones made me think of my sink. If you do get one, go authentic.

And wear pants with elastic waistbands to gorge on the fish stew.

Post 131. Marseilles

Were the Musketeers ever in Versailles?

I found myself wondering which French monarch D’Artagnan and the three musketeers served while trudging our way to Chateau Versailles in the not so light drizzle.

All I know of them are from the BBC TV drama we are watching. Lol!

Oy, desiring more concrete info, I read up about them through various online sources. Deducing from timelines, it seemed they served King Louis XIII in Paris. Louis XIV moved the royal seat to Versailles early-mid 17th century, but if he retained the Guards then the musketeers should follow. They are the personal protectors of the King after all.

And then, I found out that only D’Artagnan existed in real life. The rest of the musketeers were from the imagination of the author, whose books were doused with a liberal dose of artistic license.

Good to know.

This was our third attempt to visit and I was glad we were successful, and plans were not thwarted by train breakdowns and scheduling conflicts!

The Palace was ostentatious. Gilded gold structures, cavernous halls, elaborate furnishings richly decorated, gigantic paintings that fill large walls, ornate everything. Much like what we see in pictures all over. Quite impressive!

We could not get out to the gardens because it was closed off but I would have loved to get a closer look. All I got was a peek through the windows of the palace.

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Bubbly from Reims, Champagne

Since the birthplace of Bubbly was a mere 45 minutes away by train from Paris, we decided to swing by and get behind the fuss of the drink.

The reason why we pop a bottle of champagne during celebrations is simple – it is a practice of royalty passed down through the ages.

In the mid 17th century when champagne was first introduced here, the King was the first to be offered a sip. Or gulp, depending on how much of an alcoholic he is. It was only right because the guy owned the lands and anything good that came from them. He obviously liked the drink, quite rare at that time, and so was reserved for festivals and celebrations of the royals.

And you know how they took it? During dessert, in a glass left out for 2 hours. This meant no bubbles.

Why?!
Well, because they had to let the sedimentation process take place in vitro. The makers did not possess knowledge as we now do, and so Royalty had to wait for a fizzy drink to fizz out before consumption. 😉 That didn’t take out the buzz in their revelry because they didn’t know better. Sometimes that is a blessing 🙂

That was a bit of what we learnt from our tour at Pommery-Vraken this morning. That, and how Madame Louise Pommery, widowed at 39, single-handedly built up the bubbly business. She was one of the rare few women of that time who had an education; And in England no less. She also had the foresight to construct the chalk caves under her castle-house by connecting the ones already dug out during the Gallo-Roman times to form an 18km thoroughfare for storage and ageing. It’s amazing.

Madame Pommery launched her champagne first in England where she studied, and later to Germany and Japan. There was even Mongolia. The tunnels in the chalk caves were named after these cities to commemorate the launches. Brilliant!

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Markets of Paris

I absolutely love markets – flea, wet, open-air, enclosed, night, morning, art, antique, street, farmers, super – love them all.

And Paris has a decent number across the various kinds from spanking new, high end to traditional ones with character loved by the locals. Absolute heaven!

I popped in at one this morning to get breakfast and watched as the market came to life. Deliveries were made, storekeepers organizing their goods, early shoppers picking produce, people on the phone and gesticulating wildly. Guess the last one is a rather common sight wherever you go!

In the midst of all these, the smell of freshly baked bread and brewed coffee wafted through the pedestrianized walk, alternating with short gushes of cold winds tunneling along.

I was happy to be just sitting there with a hot cup of coffee in my hands. 🙂

Marche along Rue Cler, where I was in the morning:

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Marche Raspail, a traditional, open-air one along Rue de Rennes:

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La Grand Epicerie in Le Bon Marche Department Store. A high-end one that looks impressive and oh so neat!

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