DC Rainmaker » Paris http://www.dcrainmaker.com Fri, 24 Jun 2016 20:05:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.3.4 Dîner en Blanc 2016–the best night in Paris! http://www.dcrainmaker.com/2016/06/diner-en-blanc-2016.html http://www.dcrainmaker.com/2016/06/diner-en-blanc-2016.html#comments Thu, 09 Jun 2016 12:09:11 +0000 http://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=61403 For the past three years we’ve been going to Dîner en Blanc. It’s without question our favorite night of the year here in Paris. Sure, Bastille Day (Fête nationale) probably ranks as our favorite overall day.  There’s the parades, air show, picnics, … Read More Here ]]> DSC_2502

For the past three years we’ve been going to Dîner en Blanc. It’s without question our favorite night of the year here in Paris. Sure, Bastille Day (Fête nationale) probably ranks as our favorite overall day.  There’s the parades, air show, picnics, and the fireworks.  But for one incredible night- Dîner en Blanc takes the cake.  Though, the Versailles Ball comes in closely after that.

As longtime readers might remember, the entire evening is shrouded in secrecy and rules.  It’s essentially a gigantic flash mob with upwards of 10,000 people setting out to have an elaborate self-served multi-course dinner.

While the organizers start planning nearly a year in advance scoping out locations, for participants it starts in the early spring when you attempt to secure an invite.  Typically once you’ve made it in, then you’re good to go for future years.  Eventually you might even make your way up the ladder to be able to invite others.  While there are Facebook fan pages and the like, you can’t simply go online and purchase a ticket like you might for a public event.  You have to be invited.  Oh, and even the location is kept secret until minutes before you arrive.  And we haven’t even gotten to the rules yet!

First, assuming you’ve organized your group carefully, you’ll have everyone meet at a location given to you around lunch-time on the day of the event.  This is just a staging location, and there are probably a hundred such locations spread within a 15-20 minute walk of the final venue for the evening.  In our case, it was a bar.  The bar across the street was another staging location.  As was the bar one block away.

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Another way to look at this is basically a way to pre-drink. Proper hydration is important for a successful evening.

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One of the first of many rules of the evening is that you have to take everything with you.  Both in, as well as out.  This isn’t a restaurant.  Rather, it’s a super upscale picnic.  You must have a square or rectangular table.  That table must have a white tablecloth.  You must have chairs; those chairs should ideally be covered in white.  You must have three courses.  You must have silverware (not plastic ware).  You must have proper glass/porcelain plates, not plastic.  And so on.  All of which you must carry yourself.

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Then comes a short wait, it’s usually about an hour after the time the organizer or team leader told you to meet. Think of this as buffer time for those in the group that are always late.

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Then at around 9PM you’ll receive a text message, which sets us off on a great migration across the city. Upwards of 10,000 people start to wind through the streets towards the previously unannounced final destination.  In our case, it was about a 20 minute walk.  Probably a bit slower because people are dragging with them their entire dining room.

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Soon we arrived at the spot for this evening – Place Vendôme. This massive square is surrounded by buildings with a large monument in the middle.  The Ministère de la Justice overlooks it all.

The first step upon arrival is getting your tables all setup.  There are row markers and the tables must be setup in long rows stretching across the square.  After all, it’s a communal affair – one giant party.  You don’t want any small 2-person tables.  Date night this is not.

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Groups coordinate on what to bring.  Candles, vases, white flowers are all requirements for a proper Diner en Blanc table.  As is vast amounts of wine (or sparkling apple juice in The Girl’s case).  But the coordination also gets down to the food too.  For example, we brought an appetizer as well as a large cake for more than just our tables.  And yes, we had to carry that in too!

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To start off the evening there’s the traditional napkin twirl.  That’s why you bring proper cloth napkins of course.

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Then it’s definitely time to dive into the food and begin enjoying an evening with friends.  In our group’s case – everything was homemade.  It’s just better that way.  Though, it might help that a large portion of our table seems to be in the culinary business in one way or another.

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Some of our friends from Newfoundland also had their parents in town, who definitely got the experience of a lifetime.

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At this point people spend the next hour or so getting through the first two courses of their dinner.  You can wander around as you see fit as well, which increases the communal atmosphere.  People from other tables come over, share some wine or food, and you do the same.

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Up on the balconies of the Ministère de la Justice, some workers popped out to check things out.  No doubt they had the best view of the night.

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Meanwhile, the sun slowly started to fade.  Don’t worry, candles and then eventually the decorative lights in the square took over.

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Once the sun sets it’s absolutely incredible in size to look at.  If you look at the below picture, it’s approximately 1/4th of the total size of the event.

As I didn’t quite mention, but should be obvious by now: Everyone wears white.  White clothing from head to toe.  And preferably something a bit upscale or swanky looking.  Classy might be the right word.

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The massive square has a road that runs down the middle of it, and both sides of it were packed with participants.  In recent years they’ve been slowly shrinking the number of participants down from 13,000 when we first did it, to about 9,000-10,000 this year.  It simply makes it a bit more manageable and also opens up more venues.

Remember that officially the event isn’t official.  The city turns a bit of a blind eye to it (and has for 25+ years), so it doesn’t require proper permits or the such.  Though organizers do work with the city on a variety of fronts.  The key to it working is really that people all do their part and leave it just as they found it each night.  Like it never happened.

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Once your main course is consumed, it’s a great time to head out and grab some photos.

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There are usually numerous bands that show up and play well into the night.  No fancy stages or amps, just the instruments they could carry in and out.  Just like everyone else that night – bring only what you can carry.

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Later in the evening sparklers are passed out to everyone by the organizers.  Speaking of which, I should note there’s virtually no cost for this event.  Each couple pays a mere 2EUR fee (so 1EUR per person).  That’s it!

Soon the entire square is alive with people playing with fireworks!

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Following which it was definitely time to cut the cake and have some dessert!  The Girl got right on that!

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You can see the whole place was still a bit foggy/smoky from the sparklers.

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Or it might have been the table down the way that was still back cooking their main course.  I believe the women’s face on the right best describes the fire situation as the rest of us saw it. One member of our group rushed over and almost doused the fire with the water/ice from the champagne bucket, thinking they were in trouble at one point.  That display of assistance would have been the pinnacle of the night, had it been carried out to completion.

Though the province of Newfoundland would have never heard the end of it.  I mean, not pointing any fingers or anything…

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No worries, not too much caught fire at that end of their table.

After some cake and a bit more wine, it was back out to do one final loop around the square.  At this point it as definitely dancing time!

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Be it in a group around musicians…

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…or apparently in the middle of the street with traffic.  Whatever floats your boat.

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Then at 12:15AM everyone begins to clean-up.  Not a moment sooner.  After which there’s 15 minutes to get things tidied up and just as you found them.  Each couple brings at least one large trash bag, if not more.  You take all your trash with you – just like you would when wilderness camping.

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Then soon everyone simply fades off into the night, eventually leaving the square empty again.

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A huge thanks to Roger for the organizing and inviting us again!  It was once again an amazing night, and we look forward to many more!

For those that want to see my past two Dîner en Blanc, here’s the links to 2014 and 2015.  Just click on the pictures.

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Update! Here’s the 2016 video that David has put together!

Or, you can watch David’s video from last year.

Thanks for reading!

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Riding Velibs on the famed cobbles of the Champs-Élysées http://www.dcrainmaker.com/2015/06/velibs-cobbles-champs.html http://www.dcrainmaker.com/2015/06/velibs-cobbles-champs.html#comments Tue, 16 Jun 2015 07:07:16 +0000 http://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=46737 Continuing along this week’s trend of cool summer Parisian events, Sunday was Velib’s big annual event on the Champs-Élysées.  For those into the cycling scene, you’ll no doubt be familiar with the locale as being the scene for the finishing … Read More Here ]]> Continuing along this week’s trend of cool summer Parisian events, Sunday was Velib’s big annual event on the Champs-Élysées.  For those into the cycling scene, you’ll no doubt be familiar with the locale as being the scene for the finishing stage each year at the Tour de France (both for the men and the single-stage women’s race).

Of course, you can surely ride up and down the Champs-Élysées as often as you darn well please any time of day or year.  Be it on Velibs, or any other regular transportation offering of your choosing.  I do so with regularity.  But, that’s not quite as much fun as doing so without cars around you.  For which there are only a handful of days each year that you can do that.

One of those being this past Sunday, when the city closes down a nice sized chunk of the Avenue and allows you to ride Velib’s on it for free.  Velib is the cities bike sharing program, which is massive in size.  It’s how we most often get around the city, as the bikes and stations are plentiful.  An annual membership for us only costs about 35EUR, and even as a tourist, it’s less than 2EUR for the day to use.

In the case of the Champs-Élysées event, they had a massive fleet of dedicated bikes – so it wasn’t a BYOB affair.  The event also benefited charity as well, with you voting to select a winning charitable organization for funding.

We headed on over after racing the L’Equipe 10K this weekend, and found a bit of a line to ride the bikes.  Thankfully, the line went super-quick.

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By ‘we’, I mean The Girl, my parents, and myself.  My parents had arrived this weekend to spend some time with us – and surely riding around the Champs-Élysées without fear of getting hit by a car was appealing.

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After working your way to the front of the line you picked up a bike.  These bikes were ones that had just been dropped off by someone else just finishing up.  The Velib employees had setup a bucket brigade style line to pass the Velib’s from drop-off to pickup point:

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From there it was right out onto the course, which was setup as a loop, and fenced in to ‘protect’ the participants (and likely to keep people from wandering off with bikes).  They also had divider fences to protect from head-on collisions.

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You can of course easily see the famous cobbles of the Champs-Élysées in the photos.  The avenue has some sections where cobles are covered in pavement (seemingly for fixes), but it’s largely cobbles in some way/shape/form.

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Just like in an openwater swim course, there was a bit of congestion around the turn points, but nothing the little Velib ding-ding-ding bell couldn’t solve:

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Here you can look back up the Champs-Élysées and see the Arc de Triomphe off in the distance.  In the Tour de France, you’d head up to the Arc and loop around it before heading back down around each lap.

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Here however, we lacked such distance.  But we did get a cool start/finish line:

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Oh, and they even had a tandem Velib bike:

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Unfortunately it didn’t seem to be available for just anyone to ride – too bad, The Girl and I would have had a blast on that.  Actually, in the event anyone from Velib is reading this – we’d have a blast riding around the city with that.  That’d make for an awesome post!

Oh, speaking of The Girl, here she be:

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And of course my Dad too!

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And then not to be left out, My Mom, me (and The Girl).  By this point my Dad had made a breakaway from the peloton and gone ahead somewhere, thus he missed out on the photo op.

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Perhaps one of the more humorous moments was when a small group of people stopped for a random red stoplight in the middle of the loops:

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After we wrapped up doing a few loops, they gave us a little door hanger (with a coupon code for the Velib store), as well as a free bottle of water.  Rather nice of them!

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The bikes then went back into the queue, or, if there was some sort of issue – off to the mechanics:

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In addition to the cycling itself – they also had a number of food trucks floating around off to the side:

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They also had a small Velib merchandise van there as well:

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Oh – and if you wanted to rock it out on the trainer? Yup – you could do that as well:

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For those wondering, I did record one loop of the course on Strava, though at a fairly leisurely pace:

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Meanwhile, one man I noticed on Strava decided one loop wasn’t enough. Nor 10 loops, or even a 100 loops:

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Nope, he did what appears to be 215 loops on the 48-pound (22KG) Velib.  The data is complete with a heart rate strap!  That’s a total of 86 miles, or 138KM!

Well then…always an overachiever out there somewhere!  Thanks for reading!

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A Night at Diner en Blanc 2015! http://www.dcrainmaker.com/2015/06/night-diner-blanc.html http://www.dcrainmaker.com/2015/06/night-diner-blanc.html#comments Mon, 15 Jun 2015 14:18:13 +0000 http://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=46683 There are a near never-ending flow of cool events and things to do within the city, but I think that there’s really a handful of events that rise above everything else into the ‘Epic’ status category.  Some of these are … Read More Here ]]> There are a near never-ending flow of cool events and things to do within the city, but I think that there’s really a handful of events that rise above everything else into the ‘Epic’ status category.  Some of these are public/open events (like Bastille Day at the Eiffel Tower), and yet others require a tiny bit more planning (for example, the Versailles Ball).

As you might remember, last June we attended Diner en Blanc.  It’s a massive 13,000+ person pop-up dinner that occurs at generally famous locations within Paris.  On the scale of complexity, to attend is not terribly hard, as it’s basically a free event held on public grounds – but you have to know someone to get all the details (the tricky part).  That’s because the event operates similar to a flash mob.  The exact location is texted to you moments before it commences.  And after attending last year with other friends, we were super-excited to be able to attend again this year (courtesy of our obviously totally awesome friend Roger).

To start, you’ll be given a meeting point location at noon the day of the event (it was last Thursday evening).  This isn’t where you’ll actually be spending the evening, but rather just a queuing location.  Sorta like waiting outside in the security line of the airport.  Close, but not on the airplane yet.  Obviously, with 13,000 people you don’t all end up at the same spot, rather, you’re scattered in little piles all over creation.

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You’ll head to this semi-close location around 8PM, and then wait for the detailed location text that comes in between 8:30-9PM.  It’s this text that gives you the very precise location of exactly where to place your tables.

So around 8:45PM we got our magical text, and our group made what was akin to the great migration.

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Of course, we still had to watch out for busses (white busses no less!), as we wandered through the streets for another 10-15 minutes to our final resting place.

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Each year the location moves around the city.  It’s sorta a complex affair, as the event sits in a grey zone between being official and non-official from a permit standpoint.  The organizers obviously coordinate with various organizations within the city to ensure happiness, but at the same time it’s not on any official city schedule.  Thus it’s kinda like an elevated flash mob.

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This year the event was held in areas close to the Louvre.  First was Le Palais Royal, which has a grand enclosed square and garden area that you could place a number of football fields within.  And the second was the space around the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, at the entrance to the Louvre.

In our case, our specific table assignment spot was within the Palais Royal, and so once our fearless group leader (Nick of the Expatriés Triathlon Club) had navigated us to the very precise splotch of dirt, we began setting up our row of tables.

Due to the size of the event, everything is incredibly detailed.  On the arrival front, this gets down to the precise alignment of the rows.  But on the attendee preparation side, this also includes items like exactly how big your table should be, the chairs, and of course – what you’ll wear.

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As you’ve probably noticed by now – everything is white.  Everything.  Hence the name ‘Diner en Blanc’ (Simply translated: Diner in White).  The event has been a tradition for some 27 years now in the city – which is pretty incredible.  These days, there’s also editions elsewhere in the world too.

In addition to bringing your own tables, chairs, and person – you also bring all your own food.  Of course, it’s designed to be a communal event, so you no doubt coordinate with your friends to create a feast (the amount of coordination e-mails with our group of 24 people was mind-boggling).  The resultant of such coordination obviously includes a cake from the CupCakery.  Perhaps non-obviously however, carrying a two-tier cake around the city by hand isn’t terribly fun.

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The whole setup process takes a wee bit of time, mostly as you try and figure out how to arrange far more food onto your table than you ever considered possible.  These are mostly tiny tables, not really designed to hold a 3 err…16-20 course meal.  We also collectively might have over-fooded.

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They also aren’t really designed to hold the numerous bottles of wine per table.  For example, we somehow thought the two of us would need to consume four bottles of wine by the end of the night.

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Yet also somehow, all wine was consumed by the end of the night.  Hmm…

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Almost all of the photos in the post are taken by me, however, perhaps one of my favorite photos was taken by our photographer friend Lindsey, who does photo tours/portraits.  She grabbed the below photo, among the many others she took:

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This was also notable, because just to the very left edge of the photo above (where you see someone’s watch) is a Getty Images photographer, who captured the other side of this image, looking back at the girls.  That photo would eventually end up on the various news wire services to be used in photos of the event.

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Of course, as with any dinner, it’s all about the food!  And on that front, we had tons!

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Seriously, there was basically way too much food.  But that’s OK. Go big or go home!

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Looking out across the gardens was pretty incredible.  Some people even hooked up fancy lights to trees:

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Others meanwhile decided to bring full-on bands with them.  Because…well…why not?!?

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Some were below a tree canopy, making it feel like you were out in a forest or park:

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While others were under stone archways in a vast central square:

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I decided to take a quick walk over to check out what was going on at the Louvre.  It was just across the roundabout at the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel that there were thousands more people setup:

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They then looked back over across to the famous glass pyramid of the Louvre itself:

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We timed our photo-walk arrival back to our table just perfectly – as folks were just passing around the sparklers for the group lighting:

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And of course – one more of us taken by Lindsey!

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The event officially ends by 1AM.  At 12:30AM you’re supposed to start packing up.  It’s at this juncture that you realize packing up for the way there was way easier than packing up post-party.  All sorts of dirty stuff everywhere.

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It’s like wilderness camping, but in the middle of the city.  Everything you take in, you must take out.  So each table should have also brought two garbage bags for packing the remains out.  The place should look completely spotless when you’re done – as if nobody had ever been there.  And, I must say – our section of the place looked pretty darn good!

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With that – and until next year – thanks for reading!  Oh, and if you want another perspective, one of our friends in some of the pictures here, wrote up a post on it as well. Enjoy!

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5 Random Things I Did This Weekend in Côte d’Azur http://www.dcrainmaker.com/2015/06/random-things-weekend-dazur.html http://www.dcrainmaker.com/2015/06/random-things-weekend-dazur.html#comments Mon, 01 Jun 2015 08:50:42 +0000 http://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=46364 We just wrapped up an awesome few days with friends down on the other side of the country – here’s what we were up to! 1) Flew down to the French Riviera Getting a slight head start on the weekend, … Read More Here ]]> We just wrapped up an awesome few days with friends down on the other side of the country – here’s what we were up to!

1) Flew down to the French Riviera

Getting a slight head start on the weekend, we hopped the short 1hr flight from Paris to Nice on Thursday to begin a weekend exploring the warm southern coast of France, which sits on the Mediterranean.  By noon we were enjoying the beaches of Nice, which are more round rock than sand.

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We lucked out in that our hotel was across the street from an annual Italian market that’s on the waterfront.  It had all assortment of Italian edible goods – making it perfect for both lunch and then grabbing a bunch of smaller things for a pre-dinner appetizer later that evening.

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After our lunch sampling we did a bunch of walking around the town, including checking out our future boat options:

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Do you think three masts is big enough? Four might be more appropriate.

Then it was eventually back to the man with the giant meat cylinder for more of his goods:

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We took a quick snack break on our little balcony. For reasons unknown the hotel actually freely upgraded our super-cheap room to a sea-view room. Boom!

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After that, it was time for an interval run along the waterfront to wrap up the night:

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Good times!

2) Openwater Swim

Friday morning before we checked out of our hotel seemed like a perfect time to get in an openwater swim.  It was still early enough that there was almost nobody on the beach, and even less boat traffic.

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I strapped on a bunch of devices as usual, though the prime candidate for testing was Epix.  So on that went, and off I went:

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I had only about 30-35 minutes before we had to get going, so it wasn’t a terribly long swim.  I decided both the safest and easiest route was to follow the swim/boat buoys out, and then the shoreline back.  The buoys kept the boats away, and were plenty far from shore to make a nice loop out of it:

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Somehow, I can’t find where on earth 95% of my photos from the swim went to. I think I’ve just got too many cameras these days…

Once I hit shore at the far end I took a photo, and then traced the shoreline back.  The water here gets deep very quickly, within probably 5 meters of shore it drops down to 10-15ft in depth, and then continues to plummet from there.  So I could swim semi-close to shore without having to worry about hitting bottom.

About 30 minutes later (including photo-stoppage time for photos I can no longer find) I wrapped things up, with distances roughly in the mile range.

From there The Girl met up and joined me.  Or rather, more specifically, Lucy joined me.

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This was the 2nd time she’d spent a bit of time getting her sea legs.  Which went a fair bit better than the first time.  It’s hilarious how anytime she’s overwater she starts doggy-paddling, even if not actually in the water.  Like an airplane carrying lifejackets under the seat, she’s always prepared in the event of an unexpected water landing.

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I was always within a foot or two of her just in case she couldn’t figure it out – but she did great.  After a short swim session – it was off to meet up with our friends and head out of town.

3) Heading to a small village/market

With our stay in Nice over for the time being, we met up with some friends and then headed for a bit of a drive along the coast for a few hours:

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Here’s the whole thing using the v360 action cam that we attached to the top of our car, condensed down to two minutes. Using the YouTube 360* player you can change the view by dragging around within player:

This would eventually take us across the border to Italy and up slightly into the mountains to a tiny town called Fanghetto.  It’s here that a friend of one of our group owns a little place in a super-old hillside village.  Here’s the entirety of the town:

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In the winter months, the population is about 10 people.  Though in the summer it might hit 100 people.

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It’s a great little spot that even has a hiking trail directly through the town.  It also has easy access to a much larger food market about 25 minutes down the road near the coast.  It’s here we picked up supplies for lunch and dinner:

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Just tons of fresh pasta that was incredibly cheap compared to anywhere else you’d find it.  And of course great meats, cheeses, fruits and vegetables.

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We’d take all of these up to the top of the balcony above the home for rooftop meals:

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Doesn’t get much better than that!  Huge thanks to our friends for arranging access to this little gem of a spot away from the crowds!

4) A Hike to Wine

Saturday afternoon after lunch we grabbed the dogs to head out for a two part hike.  The first portion would have our furry friends, and then the second portion we’d go sans-canine.  The first chunk was along the slow-moving river, which was full of rocks to jump up and around:

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We’ve decided that Lucy is basically a miniature mountain goat.  She’s leaping up and jumping over rocks multiples of her height.  It’s really rather mind-boggling:

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And, she even checked out the water a bit more with her friend, Oliver.

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From there we headed back past our village to drop off the dogs and head down the other direction for a longer chunk of hiking.  The marked hiking trail runs directly through the villages, and right past our front door.

Our route was a few miles down to the next village. A few quick ascents and descents, but nothing too hard:

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Once we reached the town, there was only really one logical thing to do:

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Ok, maybe we did that more than once.

After some period of time, we decided we’d probably actually get back to our village before dark – so we headed on out.  Surprisingly with a bit of wine we made rather good time back, almost twice as fast as the way out.  Or, perhaps it was just thinking about dinner.  Either way, quite a nice little hike.

5) Rock jumping

Of course with all that water around us, we couldn’t just end a hike without a quick dip.  Thus we scurried below the town to an area where the water gets deep and the rocks make for a perfect jumping off spot.

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It was boy-girl rotations walking off the plank into the water.

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Afterwards, we did one large group jump:

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Of course, I may have setup 3 or so action cameras all sync’d together and controlled remotely (a variety of Sony AS-200 and FDR-X1000V’s).

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Good times!

With that it was a relaxing Sunday both in town and at the beach before catching a late night flight back home to Paris.  Not too shabby a way to kickoff enjoying some almost-summertime weather.

Have a great weekend all!

P.S:

A) You can view all my Epix GPS track comparisons here.
B) For photos, I was using the DJI Phantom3 for aeriel shots, the Sony 1000V action cam for the water shots (rocks/openwater), and iPhone 6 for most others. Details here.

Cheers!

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5 Awesome Things I Did and Saw on Bastille Day 2014 http://www.dcrainmaker.com/2014/07/awesome-things-bastille.html http://www.dcrainmaker.com/2014/07/awesome-things-bastille.html#comments Tue, 15 Jul 2014 08:33:10 +0000 http://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=34403 Being in Paris now a few years, there appears to be no bigger single-day party than Bastille Day.  Now technically it’s not called Bastille day.  Rather, locally it’s known as Fête nationale (National Celebration) or Le quatorze juillet (14th of … Read More Here ]]> Being in Paris now a few years, there appears to be no bigger single-day party than Bastille Day.  Now technically it’s not called Bastille day.  Rather, locally it’s known as Fête nationale (National Celebration) or Le quatorze juillet (14th of July).

Despite the name the celebration is very much like Independence Day (aka July 4th) in the US.  Heck, even the colors are the same (very convenient as an expat by the way).  There are tons of events around the city all day and into the night.  Here’s a look at five of them that we checked out, though next year we’ll have to also get in and partake in some of the fireman’s balls that occur at fire stations throughout the city.

1) Watched the flyover kick it all off!

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While the soldiers had gotten into their initial positions on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, it’s the flyover that really kicks things off.  The planes cut a straight line across the city starting with the Arch and then down the Champs-Élysées before hitting Concorde, the Louvre and ultimately over Notre Dame at the official center of the city.

It’s here that I had placed a camera in a window to capture the initial aircraft flyby:

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That worked out perfectly!  Especially since while my view was good from the Champs-Élysées, the photos were a bit blocked.

2) Checked out the parade on the Champs-Élysées

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With the flyover underway (it lasted a while), the main parade got into full swing.  While a portion of the parade had started already (enough to get to the presidential viewing stand), the parade was now cruising along with new units coming by every 1-2 minutes.

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While you can get a good spot along the fence even at the last minute, some of the best viewing spots were from various buildings along the route.

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I stayed for about 30-45 minutes before moving down further along on the parade route.  Eventually the parade turns from marching troops to also including vehicles as well.

As I worked my way down the route I passed the area near to where the presidential box was along with all the VIP’s/dignitaries.  It was interesting because they had turned a highway that runs in that area into a parking lot (for fancy cars). This is the same highway used for many running events, including the Paris Marathon.

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To the right of that they had all the embassy cars lined up.  These had dropped off ambassadors that were invited guests.  You can see the flags on each of the cars from the various nations, with most of their drivers hanging out chatting with each other near the trees.

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3) Checked out helicopter air show

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With the parade nearing completion, the helicopter airshow began.  It actually started though a bit earlier with the helicopters doing a flyover down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées (and the rest of the city) similar to the fighter jets.

They then disappeared for about 45 minutes before returning to the city.  When they do so though, they arrived with extreme flare.  They flew low over the river before rising up and turning almost sideways making the sharp turn onto the vast lawn in front of Invalides.

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While most of them simply parked there, in the below case one went and picked up a bunch of soldiers to go for a bit of a ‘flight’ (click any photo to expand).

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Eventually the helicopters would fill the lawn and you’d be able to go check them out and meet the pilots.

4) Enjoyed a massive 6+ hour picnic on the Champs de Mars

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Late afternoon we packed up our soft-sided cooler and blankets and headed over to the Champs de Mars, which is the sprawling grounds under/around Eiffel Tower.  Here we met up with friends for a massive picnic.

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The key was getting there early enough to claim lawn space.  If you’re there early and create vast enough blanket space you can hold down the fort pretty well (staying in the middle away from the edges helps).

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You’ll have noticed box wine earlier.  Depending on the time of day you arrive they switch from allowing to prohibiting bottles of wines (but still allow boxed wine).  Drinking is permitted however (as it always is), and thankfully everyone simply just stays in a good mood.

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At the far end of lawn there was a giant stage setup that would hold concerts later in the evening.

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And then on the side there were screens that you could sorta see (not very well from our position though):

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Sunset was around 10:30PM or so, and was spectacular on this night, with the stage sparkling like Christmas decorations.  The concert had started about 90 minutes prior to the fireworks at around 9:30PM – and was comprised of a full symphony orchestra complete with mostly opera singers.  They’d be playing the music for the fireworks show as well.

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At 11PM, it was time to begin the fireworks show!  Oh, I should mention that everything you see in this post was free.  No tickets needed, nor entry fee paid.

5) Watched the fireworks at the Eiffel Tower

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At just a few minutes past 11PM with the last little bit of sunset sky disappearing the Eiffel Tower was illuminated like a French flag and the fireworks show began.

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It’s a bit hard to describe the most incredible fireworks show I’ve ever seen.  I’ve seen a lot of ‘major’ fireworks shows around the world – from New York City to Washington DC to Seattle and many more I can remember.

But the difference here was it wasn’t just a ‘themed’ fireworks show that happened to be timed to music.  Rather, it was more of an entire performance with dancers in the sky and gigantic fire breathing canons on the tower itself.

For example, if you look at the below photo you’ll see a tiny white dot on the left of the Eiffel Tower.  That’s a performer climbing up the tower.  There was another that was in the middle of the tower hanging between the arches dancing in the air.

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The theme of the show was the centenary of World War 1.  The show clearly followed through each of the different time periods between war and peace, with the music and fireworks (and performers) following along.

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Impressively, the show lasted about 35 minutes.  None of this 4-6 minute stuff here!

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Around 11:40PM things wrapped up and the Eiffel Tower turned to display the French flag, wrapping things up for the night.

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You can watch the entire show here on the French TV broadcasters’ site.  The whole concert is there, but the fireworks start around the 1:36 mark.  I think the first few minutes of the show once the music kicks in are probably the most incredible.  Note that I think the video link will die in 7 days.  There’s a slightly truncated (about half the show) version here in HD.  If a full-resolution and full-length version posts I’ll update here.

The crowds quickly dispersed, though it took us and our group a few minutes to deconstruct our giant picnic area.  You can see that spectators had attempted to place the garbage in piles (the trash bins had long since filled up many hours prior).

Most impressively however this would all be cleaned up within a few hours.  The Parisian government is incredibly efficient and fast about doing so.

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With that – Bastille Day 2014!  Couldn’t have asked for a better day weather-wise to enjoy it all.  Hope you found the photos interesting.

Thanks for reading!

Photographic side notes for the curious: Virtually everything above was shot with a Canon 7D DSLR with a 17-40 lens. The close-up helicopter shots in front of the golden dome were using a 75-300m lens.  The two exceptions to that camera would be the flyby photo over Notre Dame was shot with a Garmin VIRB action camera sitting in a window recording 1080p video (and then I grabbed a still later), and one of the Eiffel Tower lawn shots during daytime with my iPhone.  Note that I have all my photographic equipment listed here.

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A night at the Versailles Masquerade Ball http://www.dcrainmaker.com/2014/06/night-versailles-masquerade.html http://www.dcrainmaker.com/2014/06/night-versailles-masquerade.html#comments Mon, 30 Jun 2014 04:01:00 +0000 http://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=33841 I’ve decided that the French take partying to a whole new level.  When someone here says costume party they don’t just throw on some sheets (toga) and call it done.  Nope, they go all out and rent high end customs … Read More Here ]]> I’ve decided that the French take partying to a whole new level.  When someone here says costume party they don’t just throw on some sheets (toga) and call it done.  Nope, they go all out and rent high end customs from or in the style of the period.  And, that was the case for last night at the Versailles Masquerade ball.

While the entry for the event itself is relatively inexpensive for such an event, whereas the costumes – which are rented, will set you back about $120-$150 .  We went a couple weeks ago to pick out costumes (a 2-3 hour affair) and then had our friends pick them up while we were away.  They came in these gigantic boxes.

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Those big wire things?  Those are the girls hips.  They go under the dresses and stick out like airplane wings.  Meanwhile, there’s an ‘unboxing’ of my costume below.

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But you know what’s great about all that extra space for the hips?  It’s perfect for hydration storage.

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We got ready at our friend’s home ahead of time where they cooked up a meal for us – a perfect start to the evening!  Which, is a good time to mention timelines.  This event doesn’t start till 11PM, and doesn’t end till 7AM the next morning.  Oh, and the locale?  The famous Chateaux of Versailles.

Unfortunately we lacked a period-appropriate horse carriage to take us the 10 miles to the Chateaux, so instead we piled on the metro system (the RER line C).

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Don’t worry though, we met others in costume on the way.  After all, there aren’t really too many reasons to leave the city and go to Versailles at 10PM at night.

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We arrived at the gates of the palace just as the fireworks show started.  As you can see by the shimmering ground, it was a bit wet unfortunately.

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As a result, the grounds were turned into one giant Muddy Buddy course – to be navigated at night in heavy and dragging costumes.  The women were just thrilled.

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After the fireworks show ended around 11PM, we worked our way down the steps into the palace for the actual event.  Along the way I got a photo of The Girl:

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As we entered through massive wooden doors we arrived in front of a small pool with a hundred floating candles and a performer up top.

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As you can see, admission required a period-appropriate costume and mask.  And it was cool to see thousands of people all in appropriate attire.

The ball was spread out along a massive arching stone hallway, divided into different performance areas.  Throughout the night these areas would come alive with new and different acts.

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Many of these acts involved less clothing than a typical beach goer might wear.  So in order to keep things around here somewhat PG13, I’ve added things when required.

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The main stage rotated every 30 minutes into a different act.  For example, there was the topless dancer above and the random wolf (?) head costumed male dancers.  And then it switched to a really impressive performance from a man with lasers.  Unfortunately, my photo doesn’t even begin to do it justice – thankfully, this YouTube video from a performance elsewhere appears to be the same performer doing a similar show.

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Then the stage would head back to other dancing related performances.

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Some of which might just have involved a pole.  I think it’s admirable that the French take all forms of culture and art seriously.

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Outside of people dancing around on a stage without clothes, the majority of the evening involved people dancing around with too much clothes.  Notably, everyone else.

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You’ll notice the bottle of champagne in the air there.  Drinks were not included in your price tag (probably why it was so low), so you had to pick those up individually from the bar.  The vast majority of people were buying/drinking champagne.

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In addition to the acts on stages, there were also acts that moved through the crowds.  These ranged from stilt walkers to gigantic dragons.

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Of course, the trick to the entire event is the fact that it goes until sunrise.  This was especially tricky for us in that we had arrived to Paris that morning from the US on a redeye flight.  So effectively we were double-red-eyeing.  Or, said differently: We just stayed on US East Coast time.  Sorta worked.

Around 5:45AM-6AM the crowds started to head outside into the orange gardens.  In years past, much of the party would have been constantly moving in and out, but with the cooler weather and rain  – most of it stayed inside.  Though, we did head out into the gardens a few times throughout the night to get fresh air.

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Since the weather was slightly better now than the night prior, most of us took an opportunity to get some final photos.

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As did The Girl and I:

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From there we headed on out beyond the perimeter and walked through the early morning mist back to the metro station.  Interestingly, directly to the right you’ll see a bit of grass – that’s where the Versailles Triathlon is held (and directly to the left where the wall is located is the back of the orange gardens where everything above was taken).

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Oh, and in case you’re wondering – I walked some 5,164 steps between midnight and 6-7AM.  You know, just a typical period-appropriate costume accessory.

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Finally, our friends that were there with us this year also were there last year and she put together a huge blog post of lots of photos of last year (when the weather was much nicer).  Some really interesting stuff in there (including the white tiger and the large naked lady in the hot tub singing).

With that – thanks for reading!

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Our Parisian Dinner in White with 13,000 people http://www.dcrainmaker.com/2014/06/parisian-dinner-people.html http://www.dcrainmaker.com/2014/06/parisian-dinner-people.html#comments Fri, 13 Jun 2014 04:00:00 +0000 http://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=33219 Tonight we participated in the famous Dîner en Blanc de Paris (Dinner in White of Paris).  This event is now in its 26th year, and this year some 13,000 people joined in the fun around the city.  The event also … Read More Here ]]> Tonight we participated in the famous Dîner en Blanc de Paris (Dinner in White of Paris).  This event is now in its 26th year, and this year some 13,000 people joined in the fun around the city.  The event also takes place in a few other cities around the world.

There are numerous rules in the event, and failing to follow them will get you kicked out for the following year.  Of course, the most visible important rule is that everything is in white (or covered in white).  But there are tons of smaller rules from the exact size of your table (you bring it) to your tableware and exactly where you sit and which side of the table you sit on.

The entire event is invitation only, and you must know someone from a previous year to get an invite (where our totally awesome friends hooked us up).  Once you’ve secured an invite you won’t actually know where in the city you’ll be setting up dinner until just beforehand.

In our case we met at 8:00PM at an area ‘somewhere near’ where we’d be having dinner (within a short walk, like a staging area).  But it wouldn’t be until 8:45PM that we’d get the text notifying us of our precise seating location.  So we hung out till then like a few thousand others (though, mixed in with the after work bar scene that had no idea what was going on).

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While it’s not an official city event (sorta like a flashmob), the city and the police turn a bit of a blind eye to it (while definitely enjoying it as well).

Just before 9PM the text messages dictating our final location started flowing in, and as a result, people started flowing out to find their places.  It was a bit of a slow moving procession since you had to carry everything with you: Table, chair, food, copious amounts of wine…everything.  Across the street it appeared as if herds of animals were moving across the grasslands of Invalides:

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Luckily in our case our destination was just up onto the bridge (Pont Alexandre III) near us.  The bridge is well known for its golden statues on all ends and is in countless movies.

Everyone quickly and semi-efficiently got to work setting up tables.  As noted, each couple had to bring a table and two chairs, with said table meeting various width requirements – ensuring that all the tables lined up.

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Soon the tables were setup and it was time to begin our dinner.

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All of our friends brought various items and we passed them around.  Most couples had their own bread (since no Parisian would be without their baguettes), and most couples also brought 1-2 bottles of wine.  Here’s our little stash (with a spare bottle of wine on deck below the table as well):

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Of course, The Girl made a cake.  A lemon poppy seed cake with fresh raspberry layers and a cream cheese icing, in case you’re curious.  It was awesome, and might actually be my favorite cake flavor combo to date.

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Our chef friend was  cooking up chicken breasts…they were awesome (they were sous vide first just beforehand, and then finished here at the table).

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In our case we were on the eastern side of the bridge (which is over the Seine), with just about 1.5 meters (4.5 feet) of space left on the sidewalks for pedestrians to still walk through.  There was no blocking the actual roadway.

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Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the bridge was the same thing, this side facing the Eiffel Tower.

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At the end of the bridge was Invalides, which was covered with seemingly never ending tables:

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Of course, for tourists this was quite the draw, especially since we’re basically a day away from the start of the peak tourist season.

Everyone was laughing at one point when a gaggle of tourists stopped and actually randomly picked two girls from the table next to us and went in between them to get photos with them.  About 10-15 people in the group in total individually went one after another to take photos between the bewildered girls.  They were good sports about it.

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Perhaps we weren’t selected by the tourists due to our table’s manly prowess:

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With the event starting at 9PM it’s still quite light out here, as sunset isn’t right now until around 10:15-10:30ish.  Once the lights kicked on however, the scene looks a whole lot different.

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Some tables went above and beyond the call of duty in bringing massive floral and candle displays.  Obviously, we’ll kick things up a notch next year.

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With about 30 minutes until the famed 11PM, it was definitely time for cake:

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Oh – here’s our table.  Our group also spanned into the table to the right with the giganto awesome candle thing:

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Earlier in the evening the organizers came around and gave out sparklers.  It was the single item provided by the organizers – everything else you brought in yourself.  The instructions in the e-mailed details earlier in the week were excruciatingly clear: Light the sparklers at 11:00PM, but not 10:59PM.

Thankfully, since the Eiffel Tower does its sparkler game every hour on the hour, it’s pretty easy for people to know when it’s exactly 11:00PM.

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Thousands upon thousands of sparklers – all across the city.  With some 13,000 people participating there were groups everywhere from the Eiffel Tower to the Louvre (surrounding the little glass pyramid) to Notre Dame and I’m sure many other pre-planned places.

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Because 13,000 people playing with fire wasn’t quite ballsy enough, someone provided about every other table with Chinese lanterns to send flaming into the sky.

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As a general rule, I wouldn’t normally provide large groups of mostly well-wined people with the opportunity to send flaming balls of fire over heavily fabric situations.  Don’t worry, only a few tablecloths caught fire.

All of the dots you see are lanterns floating impressively high:

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Finally, post-fireball it turned into a large dance party.  The rules were also quite strict on when you were allowed to leave (or rather, both allowed and supposed to):

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This guy below from a table next door takes the cake for best dressed of the night:

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At exactly 12:00AM the lights on the bridge shut off, a bit of a warning signal that it was time to pack up and head out.  Given they don’t normally shut off then it was a well coordinated ‘time to leave’ message from the organizers and the city.

Soon the streets around Paris would be packed with people dragging home their tables and empty wine bottles.  As we got a cab home it was funny seeing numerous little mopeds with someone holding onto tables and chairs on the back.

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With that – the night’s over and we’re set and ready to enjoy the weekend soon.  And, we’re definitely looking forward to next year!

Thanks for reading, and have a good weekend!

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Paris Blog: An evening market cooking class http://www.dcrainmaker.com/2013/09/evening-market-cooking.html http://www.dcrainmaker.com/2013/09/evening-market-cooking.html#comments Sat, 07 Sep 2013 22:38:07 +0000 http://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=19556 With the summer over, it’s time to get some more Paris Blog posts up and (no pun intended) – cookin’ again.  In fact, cooking would be the name of the game tonight.  We had kept on toying with the idea … Read More Here ]]> With the summer over, it’s time to get some more Paris Blog posts up and (no pun intended) – cookin’ again.  In fact, cooking would be the name of the game tonight.  We had kept on toying with the idea of doing some sort of cooking class while here.  There’s a slew of choices – from breads to pastries to chocolates, and so on.  Most of these cater to out of town folks looking for a bit of a French cooking experience, and tend to last from 3-5 hours long.  We’d been going back and forth on which one to book when back a few weeks ago The Girl sat down, sifted through the boatload of options, simply picked one for this weekend, booked it, and called it done.

She selected the Evening Market class, which basically meant we’d wander around from market to market picking up items for dinner and then cook it up (with us participating in the cooking).  While yes, we can simply do that every night ourselves given we’re living here, our hope would be that we’d learn some new things that might not be self-evident.

We met the Chef with the other four dining participants at the top of a Metro station around 5PM and then walked a short distance to a nearby street filled with various food stores.  Now this wasn’t an open-air market, but that’s honestly a bit harder to come by in the evening (most are morning and finishing up in early afternoon).  But, like the market nearby our home, each shop has a dedicated purpose.

First up, the cheese shop.  Our chef walked through the different categories of cheeses and how they are typically displayed within a store.  Then, she picked out five different ones we’d have later.

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Next up was the butcher shop.  From here we’d pick up some sausages as well as some thinly sliced ham.

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Following that was the fish monger.  The main course of the dinner tonight would be skate (sorta looks like a stingray), in addition, we’d get a bunch of little coques (like mini-clams).

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Next was off to the fruit and veggie shop to pickup fruits for dessert, and vegetables to include in various courses on the dish.  In the fruit department we had pretty much one of everything shown here except kiwis.

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The artichokes would form a major component in the appetizer, along with the carrots that follow.

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And the potatoes would sit alongside the skate on the main course.  In addition there was a slew of green leafy vegetables picked up like spinach, basil, and some smaller micro-greens.

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The last stop along the way was the boulangerie (bakery).  This particular one was cool in that you could actually watch the guys loading the baguettes into the oven (background) using this big machine that rolled an entire stretcher looking thing right into the oven, dropping off the dough.  Then, it’d elevate up/down to another oven section (two sections per row) and pickup loaves that were done.  I noticed the breads were cooked higher than I would have expected – at about 266*C (510*F).

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After I was done being mesmerized by this whole process (I could have stood there all day), we headed a block or two away to their cooking studio.

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The Girl and I were in love with the setup.  Below is just a fraction of the overall space.  Given her space (the CupCakery) is rather small – this was a dream space not only as a kitchen, but also as a much more robust spot for classes she sometimes does in the small CupCakery kitchens.

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After washing our hands and putting on aprons we were quickly put to work.  Though, more in a relaxed setting environment than a working kitchen environment.  Behind the scenes and mostly out of sight two other chefs were cleaning much of the food and preparing it for us to cut.  They also dealt with ensuring dishes and other items were ready, and getting rid of anything dirty.

Below is the Chef (left) with one of the participants.  In our class, the other four were all from Australia, with us being the only two from North America.  Typically the balance tends to be a bit more skewed towards North America.

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Here’s my cutting board – prior to my massacre of the artichoke (I said artichoke, as the second one mysteriously disappeared for someone else to attend to).  The spring onion and carrot were all mine though, no problems there.

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For all but the final course (berries), we cooked much of the food and/or plated the food.  Below, is our appetizer:

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Here’s my plating job (below).  Albeit copying a bit of the Chef’s example.

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Here’s me plating my dinner – photo clearly taken without my knowledge.

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This time, I was prepared for the photo:

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Here’s my platted skate (fish), with the little mini-clams up front and a wall of potatoes and spinach nestled in between the two.  Obviously, a butter-wine sauce that the clams cooked in help to make it awesome.

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After the main course it was onto the cheese course.  The five different cheeses along with three different breads and three different butters were passed around.  I now have an entirely new appreciation for a good salted butter (typically we don’t get salted butter).  This could be trouble.

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Last but not least was a simple berry dessert with pieces of hard French Meringue that were made earlier in the evening (actually, the very first photo up above).  Additionally, a citrus-basil sorbet that we started earlier was dished out by the Chef, seen below adding it to each plate.

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By time we wrapped up it was just prior to 11PM – completely normal time for dinner to end here in Paris.  And, we were stuffed.  We attempted to Velib home (bike), but none of the Velib stations had any functional bikes, so it was back via Metro instead.  More of a waddle really following our 15-mile run that morning.

The experience was far better than I expected – very good.  Cooking classes here tend to be a bit pricey, and this wasn’t too different there.  Though, considering what you would spend for a similar four course dinner here in Paris (plus the never ending stream of different wines that were included), you’re probably looking at about 40% of the cost of the class.  So I figure the other 60% of the cost being the awesome instructor (Chef Constance Deledalle, here’s her personal food blog, in English), thus the whole experience lasting 6+ hours was well worth it.  We’re looking forward to picking out some other ones over the next few months (I’m arguing for “French Breads”, The Girl for “Advanced Desserts”).

Thanks for reading!  And sorry I just sent everyone running to the fridge, hungry, and likely now disappointed with what you found compared to the above.

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