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Trip Report Christmas in Paris was fantastic!

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my photos are posted online and here is the link:

http://picasaweb.google.com/denisewadamson/ParisChristmas201003?authkey=Gv1sRgCPf5q5bBvau4Vw#

I can't believe it has come and gone but our trip was wonderful and here is the report. It is long but I had lots to talk about!!

Are we there yet? Tuesday, December 21
Well, the flight over from Atlanta was fine and then we landed…no gate. So we literally “drove” around CDG to get to an open gate and well, yep, you guessed it…couldn’t get the door open, or the jetway working but we couldn’t get off the plane!! We were on the ground for an hour before we got off the plane. Come on, man (for your Monday Night Countdown fans :-)).
So passport control, baggage and getting a cab was easy…finally, we are on our way. Well, not quite. The cab ride took over an hour and a half to get to the hotel and I thought Atlanta traffic was awful! And, the driver decided to listen to his Michael Jackson collection on the way. Now, I like a little MJ every now and then, but an hour and a half of the King o’ Pop is a bit much. Well, but then as we are inching our way to the 6th, we crossed the Seine and were sitting in traffic right by Notre Dame. So, our spirits are lifted and we are enjoying the “spectacularness” of it all, and my husband looks over and sees the guy in the car next to us picking his nose. He says to me, “ the most magnificent piece of architecture probably anywhere, and there’s an a@*hole picking his nose in front of it”. I nearly peed in my pants laughing! We were checking into our hotel 15 minutes later. Finally, we are there.
Now, the trip has begun!
We checked into our tiny little room, unpacked a few things and took off for our first few bites of that fabulous food. We have heard so much about the movement of some great chefs to open small casual restaurants with amazing food. (No more rules, no worrying about Michelin stars, less stuffy) We had heard we had to go to Le Comptoir at Relais Saint Germain to experience it…Le Comptoir (3 Carrefour de le Odeon, 75006) just happens to be steps away from our hotel and during the Christmas period serving from 11am to midnight without reservations (which we heard otherwise, are tough to get). So we went. We got right in and it was as good as advertised. Housemade saucisson that was terrific, a little bit of cheese, plancha de Jambon and some champagne. It was really great and we made it through with our terrible travel French.
Next up, the Christmas market at St. Sulpice. A little vin chaud, some more samples of homemade sausages…all great! We were so full and there was some really great looking Alsatian sausages and potatoes that we didn’t get to and I wish we had. It was a great little market and we wandered through a few shops, took some photos of Christmas windows and then over to the market at St. Germain des Pres with more good looking treats. We also took a look at the church, which I had never gone in. It is very pretty and comfortable…it is not full of grandeur but it is lovely. Off to Le Danton (106 Blvd St Germain, 75006), back close to our hotel for drinks (OK, lots of drinks). We stood at the counter and the gentleman who waited on us was also very nice to us (and tolerated our really bad French)! We really enjoyed it and found ourselves going back there a lot for drinks and coffee. Right at the corner of Blvd St Germain and Rue Conde, steps from the Odeon metro station, it’s a great spot in a great location. After MANY glasses of champagne, we ended our first night with a crepe (apple compote) from L’avant Comptoir (part of Le Comptoir). A great first day!!


The most important meal of the day- Wednesday, December 22
For me, Paris is all about the pastries. I am a sweets lover and if you can incorporate something sweet into your diet and call it “petit dejeuner”, well, then, I’m on board. Well, again, our location was just terrific and Gerard Mulot (76 rue de Seine) was a stone’s throw away from out hotel (poor me)! So, a pain au chocolat to start my day (that’s what I call, the breakfast of champions). And the shop is beautiful and I regret, that I couldn’t sample everything there. Truly beautiful, works of art…chocolates, tarts, buche de Noels, all drool worthy. The shop was also decked out for Christmas and has those cool glass doors that open automatically…tres chic and tres Star Trek.
The saddest thing about my trip (besides the fact that it did end and I am back living in Atlanta and not Paris) is that there was a Starbucks right by the hotel. I adore my husband, but he had to have Starbucks every day! So not Parisian! So, we got our pastry at Gerard Mulot and his coffee (a venti, with two extra shots) at Starbucks. He would not budge on this. But, even they were nice and helped him figure out how to order it every day and pretended not to notice the outside pastries we brought in everyday. I bought a bottle of water, also to help them not notice the Gerard Mulot bag I was holding.
Now, Christmas shopping in Paris…really more like gawking and marveling at the shops and windows. Finally, another Paris item checked off my list Le Bon Marche….lovely store! I coulda spent forever at the perfume counters…they have everything and it is all beautiful. But, then the Grand Epicerie was calling. Yep, I took pictures of the Iberico Ham on the shank and the langoustines. It was packed (just a few days before Christmas) but it really is something to see and makes the local Kroger look even more pitiful to me now! :-)
Well, in all my drooling and shopping, I hadn’t bothered to notice where the cabs were and we hadn’t bought Metro tix yet and didn’t know which Metro stop was close to our lunch reservation. So we scrambled to find a cab and finally did. We had lunch at Aux Lyonnais (32 rue Saint Marc, 75002).
Very charming restaurant. Not much English spoken and the menus are in French. I am not sure if they had one in English but I didn’t ask. I was in Paris after all. I had no idea what most of the menu said, so we decided on Le Menu (my way of throwing caution to the wind). Turns, out we had this tasty appetizer that was chopped eggs in a vinaigrette over cabbage hearts. I would never have ordered this, had I known what it was but it was really good. So the second surprise, sweetbreads on artichoke hearts (also, wouldn’t have ordered it but was very good) and last, a piece of tart with pine nuts and a small scoop of ice cream (it was pink, very light and I have no clue what flavor is was). It was all good and felt “French”.
More shopping and wandering around. Galleries Lafayette was jammed packed!! Also hit Passages Vivienne which was really unique! A turn around Chanel and a quick glimpse of that famous mirrored staircase leading the Coco Chanel’s legendary apartment (I was almost giddy). I dream of being invited there! The weather was a little snowy, little drizzly but no problem. Quite cold and so, we decided to go back to Le Comptoir again.
They remembered us and got us a seat up front (under the best heater, ever). And dinner, well it was divine. The ultimate comfort foods…the most delicious lobster bisque I have EVER had. Not too thick, but it was soooo rich and flavorful. Go, get it, you will not be sorry. We had to have more of that house made saucisson! So good. Chaz got lamb that was wonderful and I got the best little crock of beef cheeks with carrots and pasta in the richest broth. They really know how to get the most flavor in a broth there! And, unlike the food here in many cases, it’s not salty but true flavor. Perfect cold weather food. And we waddled back to our hotel and called it a day.
Thursday, December 23
You know it started with pain au chocolat (and Starbucks :-)). More shopping (Diptyque for candles) and checking out the ‘hood. A Chocolat Chaud. A late morning snack of a ham and gruyere crepe at L’Avant Comptoir (where you shouldn’t try to pay for a 4 euro crepe with a 50 euro bill). Then, Notre Dame (without the nose picker, this time). Snowing a lot! Very chilly. Finally, I saw Notre Dame…I love the gothic churches. It was beautiful, especially with snow.
It had been a while since I was on the Paris metro and after a slow start (couldn’t follow directions on the ticket machine, my bad). Then the train sat there (packed!) moved about 20 yards into the tunnel and stopped…now I am not claustrophobic, but I did not like that. Fortunately, we got going and it never happened again.
A late lunch at Le Souffle (36 rue de Mont Thabor, 75001)…which is just around the corner from Chanel (on rue Cambon). Let me just say that it may not be new cuisine, but no one loves a soufflé more than I do. I will almost always order one if it is on the menu. This is a small place and not much English is spoken and I really loved it! Did I mention, that I love soufflés? Chaz got ham and cheese, which was very good. But I got Roquefort and Walnut soufflé. Holy cow…was it good! Now, you know I also had to have a dessert soufflé and well, we just couldn’t possible expected to share, so Chaz got chocolate and I got Grand Marnier. A wonderful waiter there also brought the bottle over and was kind enough to leave it with me and encourage me to use the Grand Marnier liberally…he was very fun. So Chaz had a rich chocolate sauce on his and it was wonderful. Not too sweet, not bitter but just this amazing good chocolate taste that we don’t get with too many chocolate desserts here. I drizzled Grand Marnier over my soufflé every few bites. It was heaven! We also had a lovely French couple next to us who were very friendly to us.
We walked all over the Right Bank! Got a little Christmas tea at Hediard, mustard at Maille. More snowy, sleety weather. Probably the messiest day we had but it didn’t matter. We were in Paris…two days before Christmas…who cares? Baccarat had spectacular windows and was so pretty to see. We tried to have a drink at the Ritz but Bar Hemingway wasn’t open that early and Bar Vendome was full, so never mind. We went back out onto to Place Vendome and saw Lenny Kravitz in front of Cartier. We walked back to make sure it was him…we do not ask famous people for autographs and photos, so I can’t prove it. But, it was him. Back to our old haunt from last visit, Le Grand (Intercontinental). A glass of champagne at the bar there and it was a great place to hang out in. We enjoyed staying there and spent a lot time at the bar there before, so it was good to go back! We were waiting to go to the ballet at Opera Garnier that night.
If there is a building that is more beautiful and ornate that Opera Garnier, I haven’t seen it yet. OK, maybe the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles…but Opera Garnier is stunning. We were all over the place taking pictures and had amazing seats in this little box that an attendant has to open for you. I think there were only 6 seats there. (Fortunately, we were not booed and hissed at like Glenn Close’s character in Dangerous Liaisons was). The building was lovely, but modern ballet, well, that’s just not for us. We made it through two of three dances, but decided to leave at the intermission. I know this makes us sound uneducated, and we do enjoy traditional ballets, but I refuse to spend too much of my free time trying to enjoy and understand something that just seems weird! We did have a good laugh over it…a little like a Sprockets episode from Saturday Night Live. Plus, I was hungry again!
Here is where I would like to thank Ina Garten (Barefoot Contessa) for letting us in on her love for Marco Polo (8 rue de Conde, 75006). We went twice last time we were in Paris, which led us to the hotel we stayed in on this trip (Louis II) because it is right across the street. We thought on our last visit, how nice it would be to be right across from Marco Polo and right in the middle of everything we like to do…and so there we were. Staying at Hotel Louis II (2 rue St Sulpice, 75006)and eating again at Marco Polo. I know, Italian food, in Paris? I love Italian and you do need a break from the very rich French food occasionally. So thanks, Ina for sharing and you are my hero! I also dream of being invited to Ina’s for cocktails or dinner (I dream a lot).
They always squeeze us in there…and are very accommodating. I had a little grilled steak with parmesan over a green salad and Chaz went French-Italian…foie gras ravioli. We started with the buffalo mozzarella. It really hit the spot and again we were seated next to a French couple who were friendly to us and on the other side was Jean-Jacques Sempe, the cartoonist, who lives in the area. A great meal and we just walked back across the street to go to bed!

Friday, Christmas Eve
Well, you might have guessed, we went to Gerard Mulot to get our pain au chocolat…but were foiled…no pain au chocolate! All the locals snatched them right up for their Christmas celebrations, but not to worry. Regular croissants and a new pastry to try (chausson aux pommes) were staring up at us from the case, so that was breakfast (and shamefully, more Starbucks). More snow, as well!
So, another item on my “I have to do this in Paris” list is to get ice cream at Bertillon (31 rue St Louis en I’ile, 75004). And no, I couldn’t possible have gone to Bertillon during the summer (when I was last there it was closed due to those pesky Parisian August holidays). So off we went to Ile St. Louis in the snow and crossing the Seine it was COLD! I have never been to Ile St. Louis before and while I don’t think I would stay there, I would love to go back and try some of the quaint restaurants that line the “main drag” on the island. As everyone says, you need only look for the line to find Bertillon and my husband (you know, Mr. Starbucks), was patient enough with me to stand in line, in the snow, to get ice cream. The fun thing is that it was all locals in line, not tourists (we don’t consider ourselves tourists, of course). The line wasn’t too bad and it moved and uh oh, as we got close to the door, I am beginning to realize…no one is getting just a scoop or a cone. Well, I didn’t care…I was getting Bertillon ice cream come hell or high water. As always, they accommodated our language skills without any attitude. So I ordered what I came for…caramel gingembre. And the lady replied, “Oh, we didn’t don’t have gingembre” . (I am feeling like the kid from A Christmas Story asking for the red rider BB gun, What? It’s on the sign! But, I came! I waited ! No caramel gingembre, I was in shock)! She suggested and I got a ½ liter of Caramel Beurre Sale ice cream, packed in the cutest Styrofoam box, as my reward for the trek and the wait. Now you might be thinking, “how are you gonna eat that”? No problem, the store next door sells cookware and we bought a spoon. The young man who rang it up, knew exactly what we were doing, and removed the price tag from the bottom of the spoon and wiped it all down and we were good to go. If you are going to eat Bertillon ice cream, on Christmas Eve, in the snow, is there a better place than the little park behind Notre Dame? Of course, there isn’t!! So that’s what we did and can I just say that the ice cream is everything they say it is and more. It really was special…the ultimate in caramel flavor and soooo buttery. This was one of my favorite moments of our trip. And it was Mr. Starbucks idea to eat it in the park at Notre Dame, which explains why I am willing to go to Starbucks with him in Paris every day. We did a little more shopping; we sampled some chocolate at Cacao et Chocolat (63 rue St Louis en I’ile) and had to have that! I bought a lovely scarf (Diwali, on the same street as Bertillon and Cacao et Chocolat) and the sales girl was from Indiana and studying in Paris.
Back across the Seine and on rue Buci, we decided to stop for coffee at Café de Paris (10 rue Buci, 75006). Café noir for Chaz (after he has his Starbucks, he does like a café noir here and there, he just needs large quantities to start with) and Café Crème for me. A nice French man asked where we were from (no, you can never hide the fact that you are American or at least, not French). When I said Atlanta, he said, “Welcome”…the French are not mean, nasty or rude.
And then we were off to just window shop and enjoy the city, the snow and the Christmas activity. We were luck to end up at Café Varenne (36 rue Varenne, 75007) and had a wonderful, casual lunch. Chaz enjoyed a steak with fries, but not steak frites, exactly. It was good and I had a really good tomato and mozzarella quiche and salad. It just happens that I remembered after we were seated, that Ina Garten also likes Café Varenne, (She is always right).
It was so nice to just be out and about in Paris on Christmas Eve. I can also recommend Sabbia Rosa (73 rue des Saints- Peres, 75006) for really beautiful lingerie. It is a small store but so well organized and they couldn’t have more gorgeous colors. Very classic styles and also some lovely prints.
We noticed almost everything in our neighborhood was closed as we left for dinner that night. We spent Christmas Eve at Le Train Bleu at Gare de Lyon. It is a beautiful restaurant. Maybe a little bit touristy but we enjoyed our dinner and the evening. This is the one place that I didn’t write down the menu that we had…I know we started with a foie gras brulee that was very good. Lots of courses, but I don’t remember more than that. There are pictures with captions, so check them out.

Christmas Day
Well, finally no Starbucks (closed) and we ate at out hotel. I got quite a strange look when I asked for a diet coke. It was kinda funny…it is my drink of choice. They did bring me one but it was a bit like I asked for a shot of tequila. They serve Gerard Mulot pastries and yogurt, fruit, cheese...very nice.
We both got a Christmas present we didn’t want…colds! Not too bad but still not a welcome gift.
We stopped in at St Sulpice for a little while before heading over to our big blowout Christmas dinner at Le Cinq at the Four Seasons Hotel. The hotel was, of course, decked out for Christmas and the staff there was so kind. We were early and they continued to apologize for making us wait. They had this very cool Swarovski light display set up in a heated cabana outdoors. Very unusual.
Lunch was course after course of flat out decadence. The service was impeccable. It started with an amuse bouche of eggplant mousse and a thin slice of cured duck that was excellent.
Course one: Oysters with green apple jelly and caviar
Course two: Root vegetables with black truffle and chestnut cappuccino and puff pastry brioche
Course three: Sea scallops with ginger, with creamy aquarello risotto and black truffle (my favorite)
Course four: Breton lobster cooked as minestrone with parmesan cheese (a close second)
Course five: Barbary free range duckling in pastry with foie gras and pumpkin nougat with spices
Course six: Comte, Vacherin and quince jelly
Course seven: Hibiscus jelly with grapefruit, raspberry and foamy vanilla
Course eight: Iced chocolate buche de Noel, mango/passion fruit crème brulee
THEN…a dessert cart with little small macaroons, chocolates, and more…we were also sent home with caramels…seriously way up there with the most decadent things we have ever done. I also love that they had little low stools that they placed next to you for your purse or hat.
We ventured out to Place des Vosges that afternoon. Snow still on the ground and it was very cold out. Not too much happening and we were so full, that even a cup of coffee was out the question. Turns out, we went back to our room and were just miserable-we couldn’t move!! We were in for the night (sad, but I swear we couldn’t put anything else in our stomachs).

December 26, Sunday
Back to Gerard Mulot for pastries and then off to the Pantheon. (Another place I had never made it to before). Next, Hotel de Crillon. It was a brilliant day and so sunny! Place de Concorde and all the sights were well in view and really spectacular. What a gorgeous hotel and beautifully decorated for Christmas. It was a real treat to be there. We had a wonderful (and again decadent) brunch at Les Ambassadeurs (Joan, thanks for mentioning the hotel in your trip report, or I wouldn’t have known about it). The restaurant is so pretty and the service was impeccable. There was Brioche and Kugelhof on the table (with the best house made nutella-to die for and preserves). Also fruit with vanilla yogurt and a foccacia with tuna , champagne and fresh juice. The buffet had two types of ham, a huge cheese assortment, smoked salmon (Chaz said it was the best smoked salmon he has ever had) pastries, salads,& lobster bisque. They also brought out a foie gras parfait with gooseberry gelee. Very smooth and very inventive. You also chose one main item (I had lobster carpaccio and Chaz had polenta with black truffles and a crispy soft boiled egg on top). He absolutely loved it. There was a dessert cart at the end, but we were just too full (again). It was a really special experience.
Over to the Louvre…very busy and there is so much there. It’s almost too much but you do have to go and Chaz had never been there. I think it was a bit overwhelming for him and we really didn’t research it very well ahead of time. So we saw the usual things and spent most of our time in the Greek, Roman and Egyptian antiquities.
We stopped off at Le Danton again for a little coffee to warm up.
We ended our night at Les Editeurs (4 Carrefour de l’Odeon, 75006)which is around the corner from our hotel. We had a very engaging server who poked some fun at my “American-ness” because with the head cold and the hectic crowds at the Louvre, I needed a little carbonation and caffeine, a diet Coke, of course! We had some wine and ended up staying for dinner. It was a fun place and our server was very friendly to us. I just had some onion soup gratinee (soup and a cold, I needed that) and Chaz had steak frittes. Both were terrific. We ended with an order of profiteroles…so good. Another favorite of Chaz’. We had a great time and it’s a really lively place.

December 27, Monday-the last day…already?? It can’t be!!
One last time to Gerard Mulot and we had to add on a Éclair Chocolat for Chaz (an all time favorite of his). Farewell!!
Finally, a visit to Musee de L’Armee and Hotel des Invalides. Really interesting and amazing suits of armor…so ornate. We also enjoyed the Japanese and Chinese armor, as well. And what can I say, Napoleon’s tomb is incredible. We spent quite some time there and still didn’t get to everything.
We wanted to go to Le Comptoir one last time, because Chaz really wanted the beef cheeks but it was packed when we got there, so we decided to head back to Les Editeurs. We got our same server, who remembered us and made fun of me again, because I ordered that French drink, Diet Coke! Her name is Sophia and if you go there, she will take good care of you. I kept the American theme going by ordering the cheeseburger which is a work of art, a 3 decker burger, but it is still small by our standards. Delicious! Chaz had the croque monsieur and it was also wonderful. A great little place and another reason we loved the area we stayed in…lots of great places right there.
A little light packing, after lunch, leading up to the last hurrah.
We went to L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon (5 rue de Montalembert, 75007) on our last trip to Paris and loved it. So our last meal was there. But, we stopped off at Danton for a glass or two of champagne before heading out. Our regular server was there and friendly, as always. Farewell, Danton!
As we did many times during the trip, and even with a map, we went the wrong way down the right street. Buffalo Girl, if you are reading this, I thought of you and your “lost” time in Paris. We are both college educated and had maps, agreed on which way to go and still found that we had gone the wrong way…how is this possible? Excuse the digression, but we also were lost earlier in the week (with a map) and a very kind girl offered to help us…we didn’t ask, she just saw that we were confused and offered to help. Actually, she also was a bit turned around even with our map, so I don’t feel bad about the many times we were a bit lost in Paris. It’s fun even if you are going the wrong way.
Joel Robuchon was great again. They have the best champagne there (Bruno Paillard). We started with a little Iberico ham and a fabulous bruschetta. I got a lovely ribeye with fingerling potatoes and Chaz got Lamb with mushrooms and fingerling potatoes. We got a cheese course afterwards and well, we both had to have dessert. I got an incredible assortment of tarts…six tiny slices…one was pear (I think) and pistachio, cinnamon (the best), lemon, chocolate with caramel. Chaz had a delicious chocolate creation, Le Chocolat Tendance. We love the atmosphere there (sitting around a bar, with an open kitchen) and the service is so good. I love that they use fruits and vegetables as the décor, as well.
So back to our hotel one last time. We were really worn out!

Cab back to CDG was right on time and the hotel also made sure a car with adequate trunk space picked us up. Weather was getting a little bad as we were leaving Paris.
Sadly, Chaz got really sick during the night and really struggled on our flight home! I felt awful for him.
But, I will admit that I did enjoy the Air France lounge…especially the complimentary Clarins mini-spa. I got a 20 minute neck and shoulder massage and they gave me a little set of products to take with me. Every airport should have that! Weather was really getting bed as we left but we were only a little late arriving back in Atlanta.
It was a great Christmas! Funny, most of the music we heard over there was in English. (Lots of American Christmas music). We did exactly what we wanted to do, which was more relaxing and really enjoying the city. We did less site seeing and more time in cafes and strolling the local neighborhoods.
I love Paris…there will always be a reason to go back.

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