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Trip Report Five Fab Days in Paris & a Week River Cruise to Bordeaux Region

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This, my eighth visit to Paris, I arrived with bucket list in hand, raring to go after a restful flight from Chicago via Heathrow (ugh) first class using points on AA for the long segment then BA to CDG (that insufferable $688 "fuel charge"). Never again, as little did I know, the short segment from Heathrow to CDG was to be the only BA flight I ended up on. More on that later...

An early afternoon arrival and taxi ride found me at the Hotel Chopin in the 9th where I was greeted by Sandrine who helped me to my fourth floor double room via minuscule elevator and three quirky short flights of stairs. The hotel is situated to the rear of the charming Passage Jouffroy, a short walk to the Opera, near metro stops, around the corner from a Monop, down the street from a HEMA and surrounded by lots of restaurant choices. Karen kindly walked me out the rear of the passage to show me exactly where the Monop was located when I asked for directions. Both of these lovely reception ladies were graciously helpful during my entire stay.

I reserved, with trepidation, this bargain priced hotel as a cost measure to balance the budget against the outlay of the River cruise and because it was located in a passage (those of which have always fascinated) and to my surprise, found it utterly charming and perfectly suited.

Day 1: I unpacked, freshened up and stepped out into my favorite city in the world to stock up on water, check out the neighborhood and make a stop at an ATM. The Passage Panoramas, across the street from the Jouffroy with several restaurants within, proved to be an excellent choice for a light early dinner. The Creperie offers several three course meal variations at budget prices accompanied by a "bowl" of cold, crisp cider. I very much enjoyed my first and last night's dinner here. Back to my cozy room overlooking the rooftops to settle in for a good night's sleep.

Day 2: Breakfast in the hotel's tiny facility, with the antique orange juice machine gallantly pumping out morning libation at the helm of the buffet. How much charm can one body stand? :)

Off to see two marvelous museums, the Musee Nissim de Commando, and the Chernusci. A leisurely stroll through Park Monceau nearby completed the morning. Next, on to lunch at Le Soufflé in the 1st for a scrumptious meal of Gorgonzola Pear Soufflé, a yummy green salad and Rum Raisin Soufflé, accompanied by a glass of crisp Sauvignon Blanc. Loved that the bottle of rum was left on the table after pouring a measure over the dessert soufflé.

I walked a bit down the Rue Rivoli and then hopped a cab to Gare Montparnesse in the 14th to scope out the logistics for the reserved TGV travel to Bordeaux on morning #6. From there, I walked and window shopped down rue de Rennes as I made my way to to Les Deux Magots in the 6th, where after four hours of walking, I gratefully sank down at an outside table for some prime people watching and an ice cold glass of cider.

Now it was time to meet fellow Fodorites for our pre arranged drinks GTG at Boullion Racine. So, off I went down Boulevard St. Germain to the 5th. Thanks, Traviata, a great suggestion! What a gorgeous art nouveau restaurant it proved to be. Good food, too, as after drinks, four of our group remained for dinner. My choice of duck confit with red cabbage was followed by an il flottante for dessert - perfect. A few of us made tentative plans to meet on either or both of the two walking tours I mentioned I was going on in the next couple days. What a fabulous full first day that had me happily checking things off my BL.

Day #3: up and out early to meet up with the Paris Greeter in front of St. Germain l'Auxerrois in the 1st. But first the ritual of la petit dejeuner of OJ, yoghurt, chocolate croissant, cheese and baguette with a pot of tea at The Chopin. This was already beginning to feel like home. :)

Trekked over to the 1st to meet Francoise, a charming, lovely representative of PG, who took me on a two hour tour which included a visit inside the church, then across the street to Le Coeur de Louvre courtyard and over to portions of Les Halles. She had a notebook of photos and illustrations along with an impressive amount of historical knowledge. It was a huge learning experience and such a pleasure to meet this gracious lady who was so willing to share her grand city.

We walked over to the Palais Royal where several months ago I had made a reservation.
Le Grand Vefour, purported to be the most beautiful restaurant in the world, is that and much more. I thanked Francoise profusely before we parted ways and prepared myself for a very special lunch. Course after course of delicate, sumptuous, beautiful food was presented in the three hours I spent there.

I started with a glass of the house champagne. My server arrived with a perfect miniature baguette and choice of butters - salted and unsalted - in a pretty twin sided silver dish. The table setting was elegance itself, with a vase of flowers beside a silver salver of Brittany sea salt. The parade of food began with an amuse bouche of some sort (drat-memory failure here but I'm certain it was scrumptious), Guy Martin's gratis signature appetizer of foie gras ravioli in a cream foam, foie gras pate, poached brill with sweet potato in a cardamom ginger sauce, a dish of artfully stacked steamed vegetables in a butter sauce, a cheese course from the huge display of two types of goat and two of cow served with walnuts and a thin crispy bread, pineapple cream parfait, chocolate noisette in a salted caramel sauce, fruit jellies, miniature macarons and chocolates, various nougat candies and a slice of the house signature sponge cake.The service. The ambiance. The surroundings. Divine! I will remember that remarkable lunch forever.

I made an attempt to walk back to The Chopin but only made it a for a short distance before hailing a taxi due to major food coma. An immediate rest of the digestive system was called for. No dinner necessary. The remainder of this day was spent in my pretty room, resting and reading.

Day 4: Ditto breakfast. Paris Walks was calling me to the 5th and their "Hemingway Walk" of two hours traversing the area around the Sorbonne where Hemingway, Joyce, etc., lived and wrote. Of course we followed the path of Midnight in Paris, walking to the church of St. Genevieve featured in the film where the saloon car emerges out of the fog. I've taken several of these walks over the years and they never disappoint. Twelve euro, choose one of their many offerings, meet at the designated metro stop and enjoy! Two of the Fodorites from our GTG did make it to the walk and we had a grand time together. As is said, like minds...

Then on to my lunch reservation at Aux Lyonnais, the Alan Ducasse bistro in the 2nd. To start, a glass of champagne sipped while munching on a very tasty herb spread on crunchy bread followed by a bowl of Pumpkin Bisque, then the Lyon region's traditional Seafood Quennelles. Dessert was the bistro's signature pink Il Flottante and a cup of tea. This completed yet another BL toothsome lunch in this picture perfect rustic dining spot.

A short walk over to Galleries Lafayette for the 3:00 pm Fashion Show, an event I had really been looking forward to, another reservation made months before. It was a half hour of stunning models wearing fabulous clothes, strutting up and down the runway accompanied by flashing lights and blaring music. Loved it! Nothing purchased, sadly. I had wanted to buy my usual souvenir scarf but, alas, those in my budget all made in China. No thanks.

Late dinner at Bouillon Chartier, around the corner from my hotel. The place is a zoo, but on my BL, so... I stood in line for 20 minutes, ultimately seated at a table for four, along with a young man from Italy who came to France for an MBA and ended up taking a job in Paris and living there for the last ten years. He was hosting family friends, a couple from his home town in Sicily. We had a lovely dinner together, speaking a combination of French, English and Spanish and in my case very little Italian. Actually, the food wasn't bad. I had salad, steak frites and baba a rum with a bottle of cider. A very pleasant evening spent in one of Paris' iconic cafes at a more than reasonable price.

Day #5: Sob, my last full day. Of course, breakfast first. Then hopped a cab to the Marais for a Paris Walks of the second option offered for that neighborhood. I had done the first option a few years ago, along rue de Rosiers on that side of Village St. Paul. This tour was oriented around monuments and significant buildings in the area behind the St. Paul Church, including a stop at the Shoah Memorial on Allee de Justus.I arrived at the metro stop early and took the time to go into the church for a look-see, then strolled across the street to window shop a little, ended up snaring a few chochkies in that big five-and-dime type shop along there.

Surprise! My two charming and fun GTG companions chose to come on this Paris Walks tour, too. We had another two hours of info and eye candy gathering which ended at Place des Vosges, whereupon we sat down to lunch at Cafe Hugo, right off the square - very smartly suggested by P, and you know who you are. Marvelous cafe lunch of onion soup and croque madam with a glass of white wine.

Wait - it gets better. I mentioned wanting to cross off Bertillion ice cream on my BL. Unanimous! We three headed in the direction of Ile St. Louis towards Bertillion. As we made our way along we heard choral music coming from Eglise de St.-Louis-en-l'ile. In we went for a sit down to enjoy a few minutes of glorious a Capella liturgical music, a rehearsal for that evening's performance. Onward to Bertillon. Yum - checked that tasty one off! A further walk over Pont de Arts - pu-lease! -those locks are not attractive - and it was time for one of us to get on with his last day BL.

Next on my BL list was a view of Le Madeline along with a stop at Fauchon in that square for some take home gifts. P then offered to go along with me and suggested we take the bus, a novel idea for me. So, with her kind help I learned how to do just that. Thank you, P! Before I knew it we were bussing right along beside the Seine toward our destination. With mission accomplished at Fauchon and a good gander at Le Madeline (hadn't seen it since my first visit in 1969) we sat in a cafe on the square for a lovely parting glass of wine. The following day we three would each be going our separate ways, one to Lyon, one to London and me to Bordeaux.

It had been a fulfilling and serendipitous five days, chock full of memorable experiences, beginning with the Hotel Chopin, to the fabulous food, the museums, the Fodor GTG, etc., etc. Add to that the surprise pleasure of meeting and then spending time with two particularly convivial Fodorite companions - an unexpected bonus - which really enhanced those days.

Well, with my list pretty much completed it was now time to focus my sights on Bordeaux. Needless to say, there are always a few items left on my BL to entice me back and I wouldn't have it any other way. Paris will always beckon.

Day #6: Regretfully, my last breakfast in the most charming and endearing Hotel Chopin. I bid a fond farewell. Sigh. Gare Montparnesse proved illusive that morning though, due to the arbitrary closing of all the access bridges over the Seine for a marathon. It was a case of "could not get there from here"! Who knew? Not my cab driver, for sure, who was bouncing back and forth between irate and apologetic (read lots of French swears here) so typically French! I had to giggle.. We went all the way around to the other end of Paris to get to the station. Good thing I had built in plenty of extra time. There was time enough to grab a baguette and water for lunch and a quick stop at the pharmacy before the boarding, so it was all good.

Three hours later I cabbed it to the quay where Uniworld's River Royale was docked and awaiting passengers. Suffice it to say, it was an awesome week of river cruising, visiting chateaux and tasting wine after wine while traveling from vineyard to vineyard on each day's excursion. Ah yes, a real bacchanal. Well, it felt that way to me.

Loved my double cabin with floor to ceiling windows (I upgraded when the single supplement was dropped). A friendly, easy going, well traveled group on the ship ensured lots of good conversation along with well prepared meals and accompanying wines. Drinks in the lounge included in the fare before and after dinner, along with nightly entertainment made for a lot of happy cruisers. Afternoon tea with finger sandwiches and sweets was served daily, a nice touch I enjoyed very much.

An ancient walled city, Bordeaux at night is magnificent. The optional cooking class I chose on the final day at The Grand Hotel Bordeaux was truly a highlight and I have the apron to prove it. Lunch in a bistro in Bergerac with my new ship acquaintance from Sydney was memorable. The chateaux in Sauternes where we lunched one of the days accompanied by three - you guessed it - Sauternes of that region - excellent! St. Emillion is a beautiful place and we toured the area and grotto where he was known to have lived. Dark, very dark. There were jaunts to Cadillac and Bourg. Seven days of fabulous, it was.

The itinerary for this River cruise was very well paced, with built in leisure time which I appreciated after the two other river cruises I have experienced, where the activities were back to back. This one gave an opportunity for a breather here and there, without feeling that something vital would be missed.

Weather wise, it could not have been better. Just a few rain drops in Paris, cool comfortable scarf wearing temps most days with a few warm ones here and there, excellent walking conditions. All in all, a perfect two weeks at the end of October, my favorite time to travel.

As it played out, the British Air segment out of CDG to Heathrow at 10:30 am connecting to the 4:00 pm BA Chicago flight home was canceled due to fog. I was notified of the cancellation by email just before boarding my separately booked Air France 6:50 am flight from Bordeaux (where river cruise ended) to CDG and scrambled to find another flight. This, after being up from the ungodly hour of 3:30 am. Trading in miles usually means sacrificing direct flights and I knew that going in, but this one takes the cake for inconvenience and expense. Next time I'm holding out for direct flights, come hell or high water!

After calling BA immediately and being offered a flight out of CDG - the next day! - along with a couple of other unacceptable choices, I freaked at the agent who spoke with an incomprehensible Scottish burr forcing me to ask repeatedly to "please run that by me again". At that point I was growling. He very wisely gave up and transferred me to AA's reservation system where a lovely agent (AKA Angel of Mercy) performed a minor miracle by effortlessly popping me right on a direct flight from CDG back to Chicago in Business Class departing at 12:30 Noon, four hours earlier and one connection less than the original itin. The configuration of the cabin on the flight was 1-2-1 and I lucked out with the single bulkhead seat. Turned out to be a much better - earlier and direct - flight home. As bad as domestic US airlines are considered, I will take them any day over the internationals which I have had dismal experiences with over the many years of my travel. I specifically cite unpleasant multiple flights on British Air and KLM; although in fairness I have to say I've had decent enough flights on JAL, Air New Zealand, Quantis and Lufthansa. I guess it's simply a matter of a crap shoot with the airlines these days... Glad to be alive to make this statement in any case.

I arrived home on November 1st, planning to write up my TR once recovered from jet lag and before the memories began to fade but the tragic Paris events of November 13 have overshadowed. One never gets over such atrocity, let alone forget, but as another contributor on this site has written, somehow one must pick up and move on. Paris, I stand with you.

Still working to get rid of the six pounds I gained! C'est la vie. :)

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