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Trip Report Nukesafe's Final(?) French Huzzah

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We had not gone to France for a couple of years, and were missing Paris. I kept haunting Fodors and other travel forums (fora?), and making notes on neat things to see, do and eat. We discussed putting a return visit off for a year or so; money is short as usual, particularly with a planned kitchen renovation, my Wife’s car transmission, dying, and needing new brakes almost simultaneously, etc., etc. Then we sat down to have a heart to heart about facing the reality of how age is catching up with me. I'll be 82, and though I have lived an abstemious and pious life, (those of you who know me may have a chuckle at this point.) like it or not those years are making inroads. This trip might be the last one we could take together in relative comfort, so we said, as we have so often done in the past, “To hell with it, let's go!” Besides, our 25th wedding anniversary was coming up, and what better place to celebrate that event than in Paris?

With some small regard to the bank account, we decided to give it a try late in the season. Last time, two years ago, we had gone in May with our good friends, staying in a two bedroom apartment on the Ile de la Cite. This time we decided to minimize costs by going alone, staying in a smaller apartment, and getting a place a bit out of the center. We had hoped to locate in the 19th or 20th, as we had toured Menillmontant/Belleville area with the Paris Greeters, and had liked the area very much.

We ended up, however, in the 11th in the Oberkamph area on Rue Amelot in a very basic, but nice, studio apartment for 15 nights, Leaving on October 1st, and coming back on the 16th. One reason in locating near the Canal St. Martin was that the neighborhood is pretty flat, and my aging legs and lungs have taken a marked aversion to hills and stairs. The fact that the building had two elevators was a big plus, as well, as the apartment was on the 5th floor. My gams would have rebelled if the single lift failed. This is a link to the apartment: The place was exactly as advertized and pictured. It was newly renovated, clean as a pin, and very quiet as it faced the inner courtyard. We seldom even heard the neighbors upstairs. Cooking facilities were a bit limited as there was no conventional oven, but we did not intend to eat in much. As a matter of fact, the only thing we bought from the Carrafors supermarket downstairs was a block of that lovely butter from Normandy with the salt crystals, a baguette, and a bottle of wine to see us through the night of our arrival.

I won't try to take you through our visit minute by minute, as that would not even interest us, but I'll try to give you a brief synopsis of the things we saw and did that might be of future use to Fodorites.

Our first objective was to fill in as many of the gaps of things we had not seen in Paris – goodness, that is a HUGE list. That meant no trip to the Louvre, no Eiffel Tower, no Cluny, Versailles, Promenade Plantee, etc. We did revisit the d'Orsay, however, because I wanted to see the renovations.

A second objective was to visit someplace in France outside of Paris for a change.

A third priority was to try to find some innovative glass artists in Paris to talk to and compare notes. My darling wife, Annette, is a serious glass artist here in the Pacific Northwest, where glass art is really big; thank Chihuly, and others.

The other, and overriding, priority was hats.

We flew Icelandair again from Seattle to Paris, as it was still the cheapest, as well as being at the top of the “Agony” category on Hipmunk. If you are not familiar with that site, you have the option of sorting your searches in several ways, one of which is the “Agony” factor, which is a combination of low price, and length of the journey. Not terribly important for short flights, but from Seattle to Europe, some cheapo flights with long layovers can last 20 hours or longer. Big consideration for us oldsters. Our flight took just over 11 hours, with an hour and 15 minute change of planes in Iceland. The only shorter flight available at the time we booked was Air France non-stop, and that cost a whole bunch more for a time saving of about 45 minutes. The flight was all right, even if they still have those leatherette seats made for short hops. The seats seemed a trifle better padded this time. They also had a lot more movies available on the individual seat-back screens, so maybe the entertainment made us less cushion conscious this time. There is nothing free aboard, the food available is still expensive, and it sucks. We brought a supply of energy bars, and bought some lovely sub sandwiches in SEA, after security, that sustained us well enough.

We arrived at 13:00 and, as we only had carry on luggage, were through customs, on the RER, with our Navigo Decovertes recharged, and at the apartment around 15:45 We were told to call Olivier, the landlord, when we arrived on Rue Amelot, and he would meet us. We did not have SIM cards for our cell phones at that point, so he said there was a phone in the bistro on the corner. Knowing how scarce pay phones are becoming, that sounded a bit iffy to me so, as we trundled down our street dragging our luggage, I spotted a young chap standing out on the sidewalk having a smoke. He finished a call as we approached, and was still holding the phone in his hand, so on impulse asked if I could make a call from his phone. He looked a bit startled, but readily dialed the number on the piece of paper I had in my hand. The call went through, and after thanking the impromptu phone provider profusely, there was Olivier on his bicycle to let us in, give us the keys, and show us how the apartment worked.

We were in Paris!

We took only a few moments to unpack --- well, dump stuff on the bed --- and off we went to explore the neighborhood. I insisted on a glass of wine at the corner restaurant, while my (mostly) non drinking wife, Annette, clinked her glass of orange juice with my glass to celebrate our arrival.

By the time we finished savoring our first drink in Paris it was dark. We wandered up toward Republique on the Blvd. Beaumarchais, which somehow turns into the Blvd. Des Filles du Calvaire, and then changes into the Blvd du Temple within about four or five blocks. It's a puzzlement how Parisian streets do that. I think in the middle ages it might have been to confuse invading armies. Now they keep the tradition to get the tourists puzzled and lost.

We circled the square, which is really torn up with some major overhaul. The statue is shrouded, and the street in front of the Crowne Plaza Republique is really a shambles of barriers and piles of dirt. BTW, did you know that the name of the open space is really Square Toilet? In any event it looks crappy at the moment.

As we crossed the street at the North East corner of the square we ran into a really big crowd of people, hundreds, mostly male, filling the street and milling around in the dark. They, in general, looked shabby, unkempt and, frankly, intimidating. We waded in anyway, and as we did I noticed that many ware holding white foam bowls. My guess is that there had just been a feeding of the homeless, as we began to notice whole families with young kids squatting against the buildings, finishing their dinners, delaying the trek to whatever poor shelter they could find for the night. Sobering sight.

We continued around the square, as we figured we had better eat, as well. We picked a big, brightly lit, bistro called Chez Jenny, which turned out to be an Alsatian restaurant, where we had a really poopy and overpriced meal. Then home to bed.

The next morning, Wednesday, we were up early, had a coffee and croissant/pain au chocolat at the corner bar and off to the street market at Blvd. President Wilson. I know we weren't going to revisit things, but street markets are never the same, always a visual delight, and always different. Besides, Annette, bought a hat she really liked from a dealer there last time we were in Paris, and she was bound to find the guy again. He was not there, but the market was a treat for the eye, as always.

I know Kerouac says the Pres. Wilson is overpriced, but if you are just looking, not buying stuff for dinner, it is great. The only thing I bought were chouquettes, those small unfilled puff pastries made with chou dough, and rolled in sugar. They looked so good, and were only an Euro for ten. I asked the vendor if I could buy just one to sample. He said no, they sell only by tens. I got my Euro bag, ate two, and gave the rest of the bag to a panhandler who came at me with a paper cup. He looked surprised, but took them readily enough. The good feeling of doing that, rather than tossing the bag in a poubelle, helped me get over the guilt of eating all those calories.

Next, Annette wanted to go to thrift stores. I had showed her Kerouac's photo essay on his adventures into the depth of the swanky 16th, and the bargains to be had in some of the thrift/consignment shops there. I was curious, as well, so I went along. One thing you should know about my wife is that she is slim, attractive, and about ten years my junior. She is also has excellent fashion sense, and likes to dress well and stylishly. In addition, thank goodness, she adores finding bargains in consignment shops and thrift shops. How could one not love a woman like that?

The first place was the Apprentis d'Auteuil, which is a Catholic charity thrift store. It is quite an impressive operation, with volunteers sorting and arranging donations, and others manning the well laid out shop. I was not going to go in, but the fact that they sell all sorts of bric-a-brac in a separate area persuaded me. They had some really nice and unusual items in the section I looked through, but the prices for things that interested me were higher than I would pay in the States.

Annette felt the same way about the clothing, some nice things, but no bargains or stylish things she would pay real bucks for. She did, however, find a hat. I should now mention that perhaps the top priority for my sweet wife in going to Paris was to search for that “special” hat. She is extremely frugal with her clothing purchases – with the exception of hats. The hat she found there; not “special”, but nice. It was not priced, but the lady on the floor said it was €15, which seemed a good buy. Annette took it to the register, and the cashier rang up €10. “But the ---”, my honest darling started to say, before coming to her senses and biting her tongue.

Next, feeling only a little guilt, we headed to the other upper-end consignment shop Kerouac mentioned; Reciproque, where really high end designer fashions can be had for a song.

In a word, Nope! They may sell for a song, but Maria Callas, or Renee Fleming must be the ones singing.

There are actually several Reciproque stores in the same block, and Annette went in them alone, one after the other. I followed a primal survival skill for husbands that I learned early in life; “Never, ever, hover over a woman when she is shopping!” I would meet her at the corner brasserie when she was done, I said.

There happened to be a Reciproque for men across the street, so I popped in to see what was available for us guys. The first thing I saw on a rack was a really nice leather jacket. It was very good quality, and I would have bought it in a second for a hundred bucks or so. It was €675, so I didn't even try it on. Same thing for a splendid dark blue velvet sports coat that was marked at a mere €750. I then went to a large rack of used men's belts. One of my hobbies is collecting unusual, hand made belt buckles. Aai have several hundred. I buy them at garage sales, on line, and from the artists who make them, so I have a pretty good feel for value. The buckles on the belts in Reciproque were all mass produced garbage; cast pot metal and crudely finished, with no sign of hand work or originality. The cheapest was €125. I left the store in anticipation of that long slow beer in the corner bar until my love joined me. As I exited the men's store, there she was, walking away from her line of shops with a disgusted look on her face. The prices she found were as out of line with reality as were the ones I found.

We spent the rest of the day in a search for art galleries that specialized in art glass. We saw lots of lovely, unusual, stunning, and sometimes grotesque works of art, but absolutely no glass art; either blown, kiln formed, or pate de verre. We were surprised, as we had found a number of galleries in Amsterdam a few years ago. That pattern continued throughout the two weeks we were there, and we never failed to visit several galleries each day. We were informed by gallery owner after gallery owner that there are very few artists in France that work in the medium, and most of those are in the south. Sigh ---

That night we had galettes and cidre at the Au Burre Sale; a tiny and plain little Normandy place that had been recommended by others on this board. We were very pleased, especially with a shared desert crepe which featured a hot buckwheat galette filled with blueberries, which was topped with a big scoop of ice cream and then further topped with a mountain of Chantilly cream.

The next day, Thursday, we went to the Orangerie, to which we had never been on our earlier trips. Very impressed! Then we used the combination ticket to pop into the d'Orsay across the river to see what they had done in the recent renovation. Again, very good things. I like the new color scheme of the walls, and the slick way they have made over the cafeteria. The installation of those escalators to the upper floors was welcome, as well.

Then back across the Seine to cruise more art galleries in the Marais; you might be surprised at how many of them there are to be found, once one starts looking. Also, of course, we just had to make a long stop in the Village St. Paul, where my Dear knows a hat shop she went to last time. I sat in the neighboring cafe, and sipped a beer, and read a book, while DW again became fast friends with the lady who makes the hats and runs the shop.

During our wandering from gallery to gallery in the Marais, we past a strange looking place, called Le Manoir, which will get more attention in the next installment of this gripping adventure.

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