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Off to Paris and the Salon du Chocolat

Tuesday, October 13

The weather in London finally lived down to its reputation on the Tuesday I am scheduled to take a late-morning Eurostar from St Pancras London to the Gare du Nord in Paris for the Salon du Chocolat. After the hotel's quaint excuse for a breakfast (brown toast except there was no brown toast – again), brown (bran) flakes, orange "juice," and instant "coffee," I shouldered my bags and descended into the London Underground during the height of rush hour.

The trip from Earl's Court to St Pancras (also known as King's Cross) is all done on the Piccadilly line requiring no transfers for which I am thankful because the walk from one part of a station to another can be compared to a mini-marathon at times. There is construction going on in the London Underground and I am once again thankful that when they decide to close an escalator it's always a down escalator so at least I don't have to trudge up the equivalent of nine flights of stairs to ascend from the Underground.

An escalator at St Pancras, London Underground

Reaching the top and the way out it's not all that far to the Eurostar ticket office where there is no line and the ticket office is itself only a few meters from border security (after all we are going to be leaving the UK and entering the EU) and entry into the very modern boarding area.

Where I am able to finally get a real cup of coffee. (When you're in London there are Starbucks everywhere. Skip them for the local chain Caffe Nero; better coffee and better prices.)

Presentation of a cafe latte at Caffe Nero

Boarding starts right on the minute and I find my seat happy to find that the adjacent and facing seats (I asked for a row with a table) were all empty and so I could spread out. We leave on time and are soon hurtling south through the fog-shrouded English countryside at a pace that I am sure astonishes whatever livestock remains within mooing distance of the tracks. First and next-to-last stop is Ashford International to pick up passengers and even though the seat next to me is booked, the rows in front and behind are empty and my row-mate is not as keen on needing a table as I was so he moves to an unoccupied row knowing that he will be the only occupant the rest of the way to Paris.

We slip out of Ashford on time. There is some sound of our passage; a low whooshing rumble of white noise that is hypnotically soothing. The ride is smooth and the fog and low cloud cover ensure that there is no drama in the landscape to attract my attention. And even though I need to write a blog entry about my Monday in London I am very tired and I rationalize that it can easily wait until I get to the hotel in Paris. So I succumb to sleep's siren call, waking on the outskirts of what others call The City of Light and I call The City of Chocolate.

The Gare du Nord has the look of the quintessential European train station made legendary in hundreds of movies. The only thing that is lacking is the clacking noise made by the old-fashioned mechanical signboards used to indicate destinations, tracks, and times. I think to myself that it is one of those “improvements” of modern technology that leaves the world a little poorer.

The Gare du Nord

One of the things I did before I left New York was to download an app for my iPhone for the Paris Metro. I have already determined that I need to take Line 4 from Gare du Nord to Montparnasse - Bievenue and change to Line 12 to get to Porte de Versailles where the Salon du Chocolat is being held. I've been lucky to get a great deal (109 Euros a night) on a hotel that's about a 50 meter walk from the exit from the Metro and right across the street from the Porte de Versailles. The exhibition hall where the Salon is being held is about the same distance away from the Metro exit in the other direction.

I check in to discover that the room, though small, is spacious compared to the room I had in London and I even have a small balcony with a window that opens out onto it (the view is of the expo center - but it is a view). There is no closet, only a very small armoire with four hangars, two of them broken. There are no drawers to put anything in and I have to move things around to open the window to go out on the balcony. There is WiFi at no extra charge (though I had to ask specially for a room where I could reach a signal – nothing beyond the second floor). I consider myself lucky that I can connect.

After spreading my stuff over virtually every flat surface in the room I head over to the Hall to see about picking up my press credentials. This is the day before the show begins and even though I can see people inside setting up there is no access to anyone who is not an exhibitor. So I go back to my room and get ready to head towards the Latin Quarter to meet Matthew Stevens of Dessert Professional magazine (I am reporting on the show for the magazine) for dinner. I reverse my trip of earlier, getting off one stop short - at Odeon - and start walking towards the bd St Michel along the bd St Germain. I orient myself, find Matthew's hotel, and because I am early I start wandering the neighborhood for the first time in far, far too long.

Paris is a great city for walking and this area (the 5th and 6th arrondisements) is among my absolute favorites to explore (the Marais on the right side of the Seine is another). I cross through the Place St Michel and walk along the rue Saint-André des Arts past the market back to the bd St Germain and then head downriver in the direction of the Eiffel Tower.

Some of what was on sale at the open air fruit/veg market at the corner of rue Saint-André des Arts, rue du Seine, and rue Buci

Just past Odeon is the rue Bonaparte and at the corner of the plaza is the restaurant Les Deux Magots, one of the more famous destinations for most tourists coming to Paris. However, if you face Les Deux Magot with your back to the church (St Germain-des-Pres), two short blocks to your right is a Laduree, one block further along the bd St Germain is Cafe de Flore (home of some of the better hot chocolate in Paris), and two blocks to your left along rue Bonaparte before you reach St Sulpice is the main boutique of Pierre Herme; behind you on the bd St Germain the way back to St Michel is one of the two Patrick Roger boutiques in Paris. This just might be the epicenter of French chocolate. Basking in the last rays of the evening sun I think to myself that I am glad to be back and that it really doesn't get much better than this.

Les Deux Magots

Laduree at the corner of rue Bonaparte and rue Jacob

Cafe de Flore on the bd St Germain

The Pierre Herme shop on rue Bonaparte almost always has a queue

St Sulpice

Patrick Roger boutique on bd St Germain

The Cacao et Chocolat boutique on the rue Buci - not one of the greats but the new look (the third in about ten years) is eye-catching

But there's no time to stop and smell (or eat) the chocolate. I walk back towards St Michel and head away from the river towards the Sorbonne and the Pantheon. At the top of rue Soufflot with your back to the Pantheon in front of you is the Jardin du Luxembourg (there is a Dallayou close at hand) and in the distance over the rooftops you can just make out the spire of the Eiffel Tower.

Dinner can be a confusing choice in Paris as there is so much to choose from. Though it is very difficult to get a truly bad meal in Paris it is very easy to get a truly unexceptional one. I do not plan to regale you meal-by-meal and I only plan to mention exceptional food experiences during the rest of my trip. This evening's meal is at Relais de l'Entrecôte where they ask us only one question when we sit down, "How do you like (your steak) cooked?" It's not bad - but it's not memorable - and also a little unexpected as I was forced to make the choice to abandon my recent fairly strict vegetarianism a tad earlier than expected.

Wednesday, Oct 14

Wednesday morning dawns bright and clear and I am out of the hotel early. Too early it turns out. The consumer portion of the Salon does not open until 10:00am and the doors do not open to the press until then either.

There is a professional Salon whose doors open at 9:30 but (confusingly) the only sign for the press office points to the entrance to the consumer salon and there is no obvious person or place to go to get information. I eventually find out that I must register as a professional visitor to gain entrance into the professional Salon in order to go to the professional Press desk to get my press badge. Once I figure this out I am only a few moments from walking the show. (It turns out that there is a separate press office for the consumer show but registering at either gave one access to both.)

For me, this trip is a lot about reaching out and making connections. And not just making connections with people I know though that is certainly extremely important. As there was very little information I could find on the web sites for any of the festivals I was attending I really had no idea exactly who would and would not be there beyond a very small group of people I had contacted or who had contacted me before I left the States.

All of my thoughts and photos on the Salon du Chocolat itself in the next post.

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Comment by Ivica on November 8, 2009 at 3:20pm
Hi Clay, I've been really enjoying your posts about the chocolate trip. Please, write the 2nd part of Salon du Chocolat- I'm very curious how it went.
best, Ivica

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