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Trip Report Paris: Lusting for crêpes

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This is the end of my Morocco Trip Report. For the rest . . . .

See http://www.fodors.com/community/africa-the-middle-east/morocco-rough-around-the-edges.cfm

Day 14

Departure day. This was it. We were leaving on an Air Maroc flight to Paris/ Orly – just after 6pm.

It is always a bittersweet time of a vacation. In one way, you have had enough. Enough travel. Enough hotels – no matter how luxurious they may be, it is still a hotel & not home. Enough strange foods, restaurants, abominable toilets – the list goes on & on. You miss your family, your pets, your friends, your own bed. Your stuff. But at the same time, you are sorry that it will end. The discovery of new places is intoxicating. Meeting wonderful people whose lives are so different from yours & yet not so different after all. I know that my pulse quickens when I buckle in at the start of an open un-driven road with unknown wonders lurking just around the next corner. But . . . it must end.

But then we were stopping in Paris for a quick holiday at the end of our holiday. We had been to Paris before on a several occasions & so it wasn’t an unknown destination. It was comfortable & it had become our favorite city abroad. And with a late flight, we had lots of time to wrap-up last minute shopping, so we packed roughly after breakfast to see how much space we had left to jam in more gifts. We were OK - we had a few square inches of space left. Would we be overweight? Yeah, probably but at this point, we didn’t care that much.

We hit the street running. Sandals for her. A lantern for them. A small box for me. I was able to employ my sale’s closing skills to great effect as we visited all of the key vendors that we had singled out for this last minute splurge. It was now or never. This is my price or I walk . . . forever. It worked very well. And then it was back to the hotel to ram it all in so we could check out on time at noon.

We accomplished our task & rolled our cases out & into the watchful eye of the hotel staff. Food was the next imperative. We walked for 20 minutes in circles checking out a few places & we finally gave up & just chose one. It really didn’t matter at this point; it was just fill for the void. We settled on Restaurant Les Portes, right near the 2nd gate. The woman that came out of the back to seat us didn’t speak English or French. The menu was the typical Moroccan fare, so we ordered cheap meat & lemon chicken tagines despite this communication roadblock. Two minutes later, the manager hustled in with apologies. The tagines weren’t bad at all iirc.

My wife wanted to do just a bit more shopping to kill time while I chilled in the Madada’s public places. I settled with the hotel, organized the Paris paperwork & surfed on my iPad as my mind started to go into travel mode. I travel a lot for business & I am very good at it. My colleagues are often amazed at the speed & efficiency of my trips. I focus & I do it. This means that I am very punctual. To a fault, of course, if the truth be known. I am early for everything. I guess it is in my genes as both my parents were the same.

Now my wife isn’t bad. She humors my obsession with punctuality & she is typically ready at the appointed hour. But I swear she also likes to toy with me at these times. Anyways . . . she got back early this time & I was grateful. The hotel had arranged a driver who had arranged a push cart guy to ferry our bags to the van. I was surprised to find out that the airport was south of Essaouira & we had passed it unknowingly on our drive in. So it was through the dune area that surrounds the town & past some lonely dusty cheap vacation hotels & condos to the très petit aéroport d'Essaouira. I had to stay in French since we were going to Paris. Check in was a breeze with next to no line since there was only one flight. One bag clocked in at 19.7kg & the other was 23.5kg. The Air Maroc woman didn’t care. With Easyjet that would have been 64€.

We filled out the Moroccan exit docs & talked with the official who was really friendly asking about our time & what we enjoyed. Of course, the suspicious side of me said it was a good profiling interview but maybe he was just being nice. We grabbed some cheap duty free including a bottle of rum for 7.50€! That was cheaper than a bar drink in Paris . . .

To make a long story short, the plane was late. The lounge filled with annoyed & annoying vacationers from France. Kids wailed & ran around as people argued & laughed & fidgeted with their carry-on. You know the scene. A corner of the lounge beside the eating area was deemed a smoking area. Who knows? No signs allowed or forbid it & no one cared. Oddly, the airport officials let some of the politer kids with their parents out on the tarmac to watch the flight taxi in when it finally arrived about an hour late. That wouldn’t happen in security wrought North America. The flight was relatively cloudy for much of the way but sometime after leaving Morocco’s coast, I did make out parts of undulating Andalusia below & later the Gironde estuary as France disappeared into twilight. And then we broke through the clouds over Paris & I spied the Eiffel Tower glittering amongst the lights of Paris.

And that brought a smile to both of us.

--- End Morocco Trip May 9, 2013 ---

Day 14 cont'd

Paris arrival. What can you say about a late night airport arrival in a foreign city? It's not fun. We did the usual: customs - baggage - taxi line - verbally spar with other travelers when they really, really annoy you - taxi to hotel - check in - collapse.

Ian

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    Day 15

    The next morning, we were both getting the end of vacation doldrums. You know, when you have had enough of the restaurant ritual & hotels with their smiling solicitous staff & all means of public transit & basically everything travel-related in general, but you know that you still have to soldier on because this is what you had meticulously planned & damn it you were going to see it through. So, we put on our brave vacation faces & hit the streets. Well, it actually wasn't quite that easy.

    We were staying at the Hilton La Défense. And we were there to save money via Hilton Honors points. It's a long tortuous story of how we ended up at this outpost - and outpost it certainly was. We had booked the Arc du Triomphe Hilton, but it left the chain last September & my previous reservation tumbled. I scrambled & reluctantly booked the only other option - Hilton Paris La Défense. It is not even in an arrondisment, it is out past the Seine, a solid 20 minute subway ride to the Louvre. A virtual concrete jungle surrounded by tall glassed buildings, with the massive La Grande Arche de la Défense towering above a large bleak square, complete with 3 French soldiers sauntering in staggered formation back & forth during the day. The Hilton was attached to a small mall which sat beside a major transportation hub with subway & RER stops. However, the mall closed at 8 & you had to use an external subway entrance to/from the deserted square. One oddity that stuck out like a sore thumb - ha ha - was César Baldaccini's 'Le Pouce', a large brass sculpture in the lower square - north of the Arc where the taxis gather - between the Hilton & the Pullman.

    Anyways . . . after a very good & free (more HH) breakfast, we bought some 2-day subway passes from a vending machine with the help of the friendly Concierge & with his directions we went into the bowels of the mall to the subway station which lies under the Défense square. Big & busy, it was easy to find our way to an eastbound train. It was Friday so there were still a remnant of commuters at 10am.

    Our destination was the the Marais & more specifically: the Musée Carnavalet, which is the museum of Paris. We have been to all of Paris' greatest hits so we felt it was time for some fill-in with the lesser ones. Surprisingly, the museum was free. It features Paris specific art as well as some furnished rooms with period pieces - mostly from the 18th Century. It was interesting but many of the paintings were poorly lit which detracted from the display imho. They had a wonderful courtyard edged with colorful tulips in full bloom with low patterned hedges in a formal layout in the squares.

    Afterwards we just wandered. The Place Vosges with its art galleries, the Notre Dame with its hordes & some god-awful scaffolding which blocked the front view, the Pont Neuf over the very swollen Seine in a light momentary rain, a decent lunch in a random cafe, the subway where a machine ate my 2-day pass . . . yeah, that's right . . . it ate it. I put it in once & the gate didn't open. So, I stupidly slid it in again & it was seized. And of course, there was no attendant. And I didn't see a callbox which wouldn't have helped anyway because my French isn't that good . . . We went to the main Halles station to complain & after 5 minutes of pointless arguing with a French-only attendant - La machine mange mon billet! - I surrendered & bought another one. Another 16.90€ down the tubes. So we gave up on the day & went back to the wasteland of our hotel to rest & dress for dinner.

    I had preplanned a grand dinner for us. On previous trips we have eaten in some of the prestigious - and expensive - Michelin restaurants & I was after a similar experience without the crazy high price. A friend (thanks Simon) had recommended Le Diane - a one Michelin-starred eatery in the Hôtel Fouquet's Barrière Paris, on the corner of the Champs-Élysées & George V. I can confidently say that it was the best we have ever had. When I consider the whole experience: the hotel, the room with the adjoining courtyard, the staff, the service & of course, the food, it comes out at the top of our personal list. With only 12 tables in a circular room, the spacing is perfect for privacy without loneliness. The multiple members of the wait staff were all very professional but they were also personable - while many of their counterparts elsewhere are simply stuffy. We chose the 'cheap' tasting menu for 88€. It was listed as 3 courses but the chef morphed it into many more with his surprises. In traditional fine Parisian restaurant fashion, only the gentleman's menu had prices but the female gender is not totally ignored & my wife was quite pleased with the stool that they brought for her purse. They even had an affordable Burgundy - a 2009 Aloxe Corton - in the wine list to complete the package. Very, very good with impeccable service. We had steak as a main & my wife proclaimed the chocolate sauce on her foie gras appetizer as amazing. We finished with a fresh apple creation & a delightful tubular chocolate dessert. Wow . . . and it was all 'normal' food - not one exotic marinated eye of a spotted newt or some other similar quasi-disgusting ingredient to be found. Now maybe I am being overly complimentary, but it was a perfect dining experience for us. We will definitely go back every time we get to Paris.

    After a small walk up the Champs-Élysées to the Arc du Triomphe we hopped the subway back to La Défense. The night exit through the terminal to the empty square was 'interesting.'

    Ian

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    Day 16

    Was that sun I saw outside peeking through a cloud? The weather the previous day had been cool & dreary with a few light showers. And according to the Parisians we talked with, their whole spring had been the same with lots of rain but as we exited the subway at Bir-Hakeim, we walked into sunshine. And Paris exploded with activity. It was Saturday & it was sunny for the first time in a long time & the whole city came alive. People, bicycles, motorcycles, cars, carriages, convertibles . . . everybody flowed out to enjoy it. We followed the Seine to Gustave's masterpiece La Tour Eiffel. It is truly magnificent - even with the absolute mob lined up underneath. Thankfully, we were not tempted to go up . . . we had been to Jules Vernes years ago & that was enough.

    The Café de L'Alma was our next stop for a café in a café. We sat outside with an interesting collection of locals including a cigar-smoking Grande Dame. This was the real Paris of romance & we left thinking that it might be a great place for dinner. Then it was past our favorite bridge - the Pont Alexandre - and up to the Musée Rodin which is nestled across the street, in the shadow of the Invalide. This was another place that we had always missed before. It was busy but certainly not overrun & so it was a pleasant visit. A good selection of wonderful bronzes, of course & a few paintings that surprised me since I erroneously always only associated Rodin with sculpture. The cultured grounds are dotted with some of his larger works.

    Lunch beckoned so we exited & made for the Boul Saint-Germain. Everything we passed was packed until the Café Le Bizuth. A serious hankering for crêpes had developed & the menu cooperated. We sat outside under the awning with a good assortment of Parisians & tourists watching Paris go by on the boulevard. The food? Maybe my vision was clouded once again, but that was the best ham & cheese crêpe I have ever had. And it was served with a salad which complimented it well. That's it. I get it. The chefs in France just understand food or maybe the bar is just set so high there that they have to excel to survive. Food in France is simply better - especially the simplest of dishes. And don't get me started about the bread . . .

    After lunch, we were on a mission. My stepson requested some macaroons from Pierre Hermé. He had visited in November & had been suitably impressed with PH so we went to the small shop on Rue Bonaparte for some 'take out'. A quick Google search will reveal that PH is one of the current darlings of Parisian desserts. And there was a line up! Really? For macaroons? Yes, it was about 12 deep out the door but we dutifully got in queue. About 15 minutes later, we were inside ordering assorted macaroons, a box of PH chocolates & 2 Croissants Ispahan - which are topped with rose petals. The clerk said: You want to take them back to Canada? And he shook his head deeming us crazy for even thinking of it. Purchases safely tucked in a Pierre Hermé bag, we retreated to our hotel. Btw we packed the croissants carefully in a wooden box from Essaouira & they arrived in Toronto perfectly intact.

    For dinner, I dove into La Fourchette (French version of Open Table) to find something on the subway line. A restaurant called Villa Spicy popped up near the FDR subway stop with a prix fixe menu that included a 1/2 bottle of wine. The TA reviews were OK so we went. A pretty decent bistro restaurant with up market pretentions. We ended up with a full bottle of wine, so all was well. I had a rolled veal saltimbocca & my wife had duck comfit. Certainly good for the price. It started to rain as we made our way to the subway & back to our desolate Hilton.

    Day 17

    Taxi to CDG. Painful flight to Toronto. Not worth talking about except to thank the Air Canada FA for offering us a First Class night kit since we got bumped on the seats. My wife testily said: We'd prefer a window instead (our section of the bulkhead was blank). He had the wisdom to walk away silently.

    Home.

    Paris pictures: http://s67.photobucket.com/user/imcarthur/library/France/Paris_2013

    The full Morocco report is available with pictures: http://members.rennlist.org/imcarthur/morocco.htm

    Ian

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    What kind of crêpes?

    Crap crêpes?

    Paper crêpes? Also known as Crêpes paper (papier).


    My fav is What is Eating Gilbert Crêpes?

    Or is Gilbert just eating crêpes?

    I wonder if Flaubert ate crêpes on a train.


    Thanks for the report, Monsieur Crêpes.


    Thin

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