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Trip Report: 1 week in Paris, 1 day in Brussels

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You guys were so helpful with hotel suggestions, I thought I’d let you know how our trip turned out.

We booked our flights and hotel in early January for our departure on Thursday, 4/27. We chose a Lufthansa flight departing SFO at 2 pm, through Frankfurt, arriving at CDG at 1:15 the following day. At the time, airfares were all about $800. We could have flown direct, but in order to use United mileage to upgrade, we were restricted to the Star Alliance and we preferred the Lufthansa schedule to United’s. Some of you might think we’re crazy to prefer an afternoon arrival, but we’ve found that we like less time sleep walking on our first day even though I know many people would rather have a full day. In order to use our upgrades, we had to book an upgradeable fare of $1300. I’m sure many of you have figured out that the airline’s alliance programs are not as seamless as one would think. In our case, we had to request the upgrade through United, who in turn, sent the request to Lufthansa which was repeatedly denied. They ultimately cleared 24 hours prior to departure, but I’m honestly not sure they would have cleared at all had I not stopped by a Lufthansa ticket counter during a business trip and asked the agent to add our request to Lufthansa’s own waitlist. In fact, on our return, I think this was the only reason they honored our upgrade departing CDG. The agent kept telling us that these types of upgrades were only able to clear at departure, even though we knew it had been confirmed by checking their website the day before. After a long conversation and a rude supervisor, it all worked out. Lufthansa has a very nice business class service, particularly on aircraft that have been updated recently including all the Airbus equipment.

Upon arrival in Paris, Lufthansa promptly lost one of two pieces of checked luggage. Even with a 2.5 hour connection, they officially claimed that it had been a short turn around. The agent was very helpful and indicated that the bag was due to arrive on the 5:30 arrival and would be delivered promptly. It arrived, but not until after 10 pm that night. It wasn’t a problem since we received it by first thing in the morning.

Based on your suggestions (Patrick, thanks!!), we had chosen the Hotel Le Regent (61, rue Dauphine). The superior deluxe room was 225 euros and by European standards was quite spacious (23 sq meters, according to them). The room had a double bed, a desk, a nice armchair, a large closet, and several shelves. The bathroom was typically small, but well laid-out and we had great water pressure and plenty of hot water. As all rooms in that category, room 41 faced the rue Dauphine and had three huge double paned glass windows. I would advise any light sleepers or those not used to city traffic noise to bring earplugs. Even with the double paned windows, the numerous cafes create a fair amount of noise, particularly on weekend nights. Even though we’re city people, we found it a bit loud, but with the earplugs, we had absolutely no problem. The staff were all incredibly helpful and friendly and the location is great for sightseeing and travel anywhere in the city. I’d recommend this hotel to anyone who likes the area along the border of St. Germain and the Latin Quarter. The Odeon metro stop is a block away and St. Michel metro is only a bit farther.

At last, on to the fun details...

After our arrival and check in, we took a walk around the neighborhood to get a little acclimated and stopped for our first drink at a little café near Place St. Michel. We were, of course, exhausted by 7:00 and decided to have a simple Crocque Madame and salad at the Café Buci across the street from the hotel. It wasn’t great and there were certainly plenty of other choices nearby, but it was fine and convenient and we had a full week of great meals to look forward to. We were in bed by 9 and fast asleep by 9:03.

Saturday morning, we started out with croissant and café crème at Patisserie Gerard Mulot (92, rue de Seine) as recommended by a friend. My opinion, after trying several other patisseries, is that Gerard Mulot is among the best! Although they have a little counter in the store, we took our breakfast to the Luxembourg Gardens which is only about 3 blocks away—how perfect! We wandered around the gardens, up to the Pantheon and down into the Latin Quarter under sparkling blue skies ending up at the Marche’ Maubert and loved wandering through all stalls dreaming that we were doing our own weekly shopping and living our new Parisian life. We strolled across the Seine and along the Quai Megisserie visiting the outdoor pet stores before heading back toward the Latin Quarter for a quick baguette sandwich before meeting for a 2-hour walking tour led by Classic Walks (www.classicwalksparis.com) of the Quarter. The tour guide was great and offered a good amount of historical information to add to the sights we had mostly already seen. At the end, although it was fairly well-done and only 12 euros each, we decided that because they don’t provide entrances into many of the places, we could probably see most things without the benefit of the other tours they offer. After the tour, we definitely needed a little café to sit and have something to drink. That evening, we had dinner at La Petite Chaise (36, rue de Grenelle) which is a little bistro we discovered on our last trip. They bill themselves as the oldest restaurant in Paris, founded in 1680 and serve typical, traditional cuisine in a cozy atmosphere on the border of the 6eme and 7eme near rue de Bac. La Petite Chaise is not necessarily spectacular, but I think of it as a nice, typical bistro, serving simple and good food. Their 3-course menu is 29 euros. Our choices were escargot, duck w/strawberry honey, asparagus, steak frites, berry charlotte, and gateau chocolat. Yum!

Sunday began with beautiful sunshine, but there were clouds on the horizon and a cool breeze. We began with a usual French breakfast outside at the café on the corner of rue de Buci and rue de Seine. As the rain approached we grabbed our umbrellas and headed to the Musee Cluny which seemed like the right thing to do on a rainy day. The Cluny, as some of you know, incorporates an original Roman structure and is known in part for the lovely six-part unicorn tapestry and the heads hacked off the statues at Notre Dame during the Revolution. Being relatively small and accessible, the Cluny is not intimidating and great way to spend a rainy morning. At lunch time, we found ourselves around rue de Huchette and succumbed to one of the many Greek restaurants. After a fine lunch, we got away from the crowds and explored the narrow streets of the Latin Quarter that we hadn’t found previously. Walking back to the hotel, we picked up a crepe and put our feet up for a bit before heading out to St. Chapelle. Practically at the back door of Notre Dame with lines a quarter of the length of those there, St. Chapelle is hidden behind the walls of the Prefecture of Police and is absolutely stunning. If you’ve not been, hold your judgment when you walk into the first level until you climb the spiral staircase to the chapel itself. Afterward, a hot chocolate at a little café along the back side of Notre Dame warmed us up before changing clothes at the hotel for dinner at Chez Maitre Paul (12, rue Monsieur le Prince). We read about Maitre Paul on the internet on one of those top ten lists (www.10best.com) or something and it is another cozy, typical bistro. We had wonderful salads, fish and chicken, respectively, and dessert. The menu was 29 euros and the service was great. Maitre Paul, by the way, was the only restaurant for which we made a reservation. Arriving between 8 and 8:30, we never had a problem getting a table at any of the other places we ate, although, it could obviously be more difficult later in the season.

Monday morning, Fete de Travail or European Labor Day, dawned gloomily as we grabbed a few mini viennoiserie and headed to the Gare du Nord to catch a 10am Thalys train to Brussels. Our roundtrip tickets were 190 euros each which was less expensive, due to a spring sale, to book First Class on the return. I don’t think I would pay more for First Class since we didn’t eat the meal served, preferring to eat dinner in Paris, but for a few euros less than Second Class both ways—why not. We arrived at Brussels Gare Midi at 11:30 and made the easy 20 minute walk into the Grand Place, which is beautiful. We spent a few hours wandering around, window shopping, and browsing the covered market before heading to Chez Leon on rue de Bouchers for the requisite moules et frites. We chose this restaurant from the Lonely Planet guide book based on their review that it was one of the few places that was slightly less touristy and a reasonable value compared to the others. We found it to be totally touristy, packed with people, and having rude service. I’d hate to think what the others were like. We then walked up a few blocks to the Cathedral Michel et Gudule which has incredible Gothic stained glass. Back down the hill, we found Leonidas chocolates, which is our favorite, to pick up some gifts for our return, picked up the necessary waffle, and wandered the streets to see the Mannequin Pis. We then stumbled on a tiny, gorgeous, local church and enjoyed the architecture and the windows. Already bored and tired of sloshing through the rain, we stopped in a beer house to relax for a bit before heading back to the train station for our 6:30 return. We had gotten mixed advice on Brussels from the Fodorites and I’m afraid I have come down on the side of, “why bother?” Although the Grand Place is jaw droppingly gorgeous, we were not impressed with the rest of the city. Brussels is deceptively small and if we had been smart enough to find our way outside of the tourist zone, we may have felt differently, but it reminded me a little of Amsterdam; not as well maintained as Paris and not a lot to offer. We arrived back in Paris around 8 pm and decided to eat, with advice from the hotel staff, at the Relais Odeon, just a block from the hotel on the corner of Blvd. St. Germain and rue de Ancienne de Comedie. We ended up loving this place, having a wonderful meal and returning a second time later in the week. In addition to the café and bar in front, there is a lovely, quiet restaurant in the back and the food and service was excellent. We both had the special that night of steak with foie gras sauce, in addition to salad and escargot to start, and a caramel crème for dessert.

After two days of rain, we were thrilled to see the sun shining when we woke up Tuesday morning. We started our day back at Gerard Mulot for croissant and café crème which was even more exquisite after two days of mediocre pastry. Following the perfect breakfast, we headed out to explore Montmartre, starting at the Pigalle Metro and heading up the hill, window shopping and loving the tiny streets and the shops along the way. Although we had done this walk before, we really like the residential feeling until one reaches the Sacre Coeur. We discovered, this time, that by following rue Lepic all the way up, we could avoid the crowds and the stairs at Absesses and arrive at the back of the Sacre Coeur. We wandered by the Montmartre vineyards, passed by the famous Lapin Agile, visited the Sacre Coeur itself, and the crowded Place de Tertre before coming back down the hill and heading to the Cimetiere du Montmartre. The architecture of the crypts, dating back to the mid-1800’s after they stopped excavating the cemeteries, is wonderful. Being cat people, we also got a kick out of the cats living among the crypts and being fed by the neighbors. Part of the area has since been sadly covered by an elevated roadway, but it is still beautiful. We left the cemetery and found ourselves somewhere in the 9eme along Blvd de Clichy. We headed off the main boulevard and found a quiet, family run bistro, called La Coin de Rues (the corner of the streets) where we had excellent, fresh salads in the company of the resident black poodle named Parise. This bistro was a true test of our six months of French lessons because they spoke no English, but we got by fine and had a great lunch. Refreshed, we were on to the metro to stroll down the Canal St. Martin which is easily accessible from the Jaures metro. It was a perfect day to walk along the water and watch the kayak lessons being given to the local school children. Next, at the advice of a friend, we made our way to the 2eme, to walk through some of the passages couverts, or covered shopping streets. Historically, these narrow covered alleyways were all over the city, but only a few remain. It was time to find a nice café so we took the metro to St. Germain des Pres and enjoyed a lemonade at the café, whose name I can’t remember, at the corner of rue Saint-Benoit and rue Jacob. I mention this café in particular because the owner is wonderful and incredibly accommodating as I’ll mention soon in more detail. After freshening up, we went to Josephine “Chez Dumonet” (117 rue de Cherche-Midi) for dinner. We read about this place in Saveur magazine and it was every bit as spectacular as we had read. This tiny bistro of a dozen tables is cozy, casual, with good service and outstanding traditional food. I imagine Josephine in the kitchen, cooking for the sheer joy she gets from serving wonderful food. Be warned that the main dishes are offered in two sizes; grande and demi with the grande size meant to be shared and the demi size intended to be one portion. We were a little confused by the concept but quickly figured it out by asking the waiter what size meals the table next to us had ordered and we were relieved that the gigantic portions we saw were the grande version. We had amazing foie gras, pate, cassoulet, boeuf Bourgogne, cream brulee, and a made to order mille feuille. This was a meal to remember and with a half bottle of wine was 130 euro.

Whether it was jet lag, all the walking, the rich food from the night before, or something else, it caught up with me Wednesday morning. At one moment I looked at the clock and it was 7:45, the next minute, it was after 10. Getting a late start, we walked back toward St. Germain and grabbed a couple of croissant at Laduree on rue Jacob and rather than eating in the fancy beaux arts tea room upstairs decided to walk down a block to the café where we had stopped the evening before. Even though she was preparing for lunch and wasn’t open yet, she gladly served us café crème outside. This is the reason I mention this place particularly—she was so nice and welcoming, remembering us from the day before. Although Laduree is known for their macaroons, I don’t think their croissants were as good as Mulot’s, but we still had a very nice breakfast, in part thanks to our new friend. Off we went to Pere Lachaise to wander around looking for some of the more famous residents. In hindsight, we wouldn’t go to both cemeteries, but it was fun to find Oscar Wilde’s grave. Following a friend’s suggestion, we headed to rue Butte aux de Cailles which is a neighborhood reminiscent of the original Paris because of its low buildings and after looking around, stopped at a café for some lunch. Our next stop was the Promenade Plantee which is an elevated garden walk built on the top of an aqueduct which runs on top of the Avenue Dumesnil. Underneath, along the Avenue, are several art galleries, and artisan shops. After a rest at the hotel, we decided to take the Bateux Mouches for a cruise along the Seine. Although it is an incredibly touristy thing to do, it was really nice to see the city at sundown in the beautiful afternoon weather. After a late start but busy day, nonetheless, we returned to the Relais Odeon where we had incredible duck confit with roasted potatoes and salad before retiring in anticipation of our last day in Paris.

Thursday morning, we went back to our friends at Gerard Mulot for breakfast before spending the day in the Marais. We love the Marais for the tiny Roman winding streets and neighborhood feel. We walked along the rue de Rosier which is and was historically, the old Jewish quarter on our way to the Musee Carnavalet which is the Parisian history museum. The Carnavalet has great city artifacts and ends up being larger than it seems. After a visit to the Place de Vosges, we went to the Victor Hugo House which any fan of the Hunchback of Notre Dame will love. After a quick lunch we headed to the Catacombs which houses all of the bones removed from the original Parisian cemeteries during the 18th and 19th centuries. Artistically arranged, it is an overwhelming and somewhat macabre spectacle. Feeling guilty that we had not yet sent postcards home, we returned to the hotel to fulfill our obligation before going back to the Marais for dinner at Chez Robert et Louise at 64, rue de Vielle du Temple. We had seen this tiny place on Anthony Bourdain’s travel and food TV show and they specialize in very traditional country French fare cooked over a wood fire. We were greeted by Robert himself, and had escargot, lamb and duck and although very simple, it was delicious. Instead of dessert there, we walked back down the block for the famous Bertillon ice cream. I’m afraid we weren’t terribly impressed.

Friday morning we were up to get packed before getting croissants at Paul just down the rue de Buci from the hotel and ate them with café at the Café de Buci. Although good, they still didn’t measure up to our beloved Gerard Mulot. With some sadness and fond au revoir to the hotel staff, we headed off to CDG for our return flight home at 1:00. Our flight took us through Munich with an easy hour transfer and no lost luggage this time.

We’re thinking our next trip will be to Italy so don’t be surprised to see kind requests for recommendations.

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