A self-proclaimed Londoner at heart, my guard was up even as I dashed across the English Channel immediately after uni let out for Easter holidays, accompanied by a friend visiting from overseas. What happens when a diehard Londoner and New Yorker have a single day to tackle Paris, arguably the third star of a trifecta?
When there’s such limited time to soak up an endlessly sprawling city, there is only one viable option: wander with eyes wide open, eating everything in sight. And wandercrush we did. Like the boroughs of London or neighbourhoods of NYC, arrondissements grouped the city into areas of social, historical, economic, cultural niches. We were lucky enough to run into a Brooklyn native who scoped us out and warned us with an (admittedly accurate) assuming smile, “You’re in the Paris equivalent of the Upper West Side right now. Hop on the Métro Line 11 if you want to explore what you’d recognise as the Lower East Side.”
Every arterial street of Manhattan pulses with energy and purposeful bustling; London and Paris are a bit more meander-friendly, the latter even seeming deliberately slow-paced. At even the most packed cafés spilling out on to the sidewalk, reclined people-watchers are perched quietly with their towering croque madames. The baguettes are chewier, the butter is richer, and everything tells you to savour smaller quantities over longer amounts of time.
Denizens of major international city centres tend to get a bad rap, but in my experience it’s largely undeserved. New Yorkers can be rough around the edges as a result of delighting in the charming grime of their city streets, but in almost every case, they’ll go out of their way to lend a hand or strike up unnecessary conversation. Londoners may seem awkward shuffling through their daily commute on the Tube within carefully maintained bubbles of personal space, but approach anyone for help and see if it isn’t instantly received with a jolly Cockney twang; just walk into a local pub. Likewise, Parisians are as lovely as good-natured human beings generally are anywhere in the world—don’t be thrown off by the intimidating nasal vowels.
And oh, the architecture is strikingly grand. Postcard-worthy landmarks and nondescriptly winding alleyways are equally and undeniably pretty; I can finally see how a whole city is categorised as “romantic”, which is an adjective I’d only ever associated with cheesy Valentines and 18th century oil paintings. Flowers are more flamboyantly fragrant and balconies are twisted into wrought-iron intricacies. I wonder if it’s just a bit too untouchably chic for a girl like me…even the stunning pink radish piles Marché d’Aligre and Marché Bastille had more class packed into one bulb.
With a happy stomach full of good soft cheese, I will readily gaze upon the intricate little cakes lining each patisserie window and the groomed river Seine in the City of Light that so rightfully earned its name… even so, I’m giddy to spend the rest of my holiday back home across the Channel, where the murky Thames has a fraction of the twinkle but all the bankside charm and ado of London on the cusp of early summer.
Fromage Blanc with Ginger Rhubarb Compote
- ½ kg rhubarb stalks, chopped
- 3cm fresh ginger, grated
- ½ cup honey
- ½ lemon, juice of
- 500g fromage blanc (can substitute quark or greek yogurt)
To make compote, combine all ingredients in a saucepan and heat over medium until the honey thins out and the rhubarb softens. Lower heat and simmer for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally until thickened.
Refrigerate for a few hours to chill thoroughly before serving over fromage blanc.