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Trip Report Our "Christmas Week in Paris" Experience

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December 26/27, 2011

Whether it was the movie MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, or a conversation about Paris with friends’ who had recently returned from a trip there, we felt the urge to experience the city over the Christmas holidays. Having visited Paris several times in the past, but always in spring or summer, we thought that the experience of being there over Christmas would be special. This idea just emerged in the fall, so we felt lucky to be able to book a non-stop to CDG for the day after Christmas. We did some homework on hotels, and thanks to input from folks on Fodor’s, we booked the Hotel Le Regent in the 6th, which turned out to be a good decision. Other than checking in with friends on Fodor’s , and taking notes from fellow Paris lovers, we didn’t have much time to do any other planning. With the exception of booking a concert for New Year’s Eve in St. Germain des Pres Eglise, we decided to just imbibe the experience of being in Paris, play each day by ear, and enjoy the holiday atmosphere.

On December 26, we awoke to a beautiful, sun-filled day. . .mid 30’s. . .a great day for flying. With all the other holiday happenings, and the rush to pack, we were happy that the weather would present no flight concerns. As usual, we left a bit early for our 5:45 PM flight, preferring to have a cushion of time rather than last minute anxiety. As we were heading along our normal freeway route, we noticed an unusual traffic clog. A quick call to Artimis gave us the emergency message that the freeway had just been SHUT DOWN! (Upon returning home from our trip we learned the very sad news that a lady had made a suicidal jump from her car. We were glad that we didn’t know this at the time!) Just in the knick of time before getting stuck on that freeway with no close exits, and who knows how long of a delay, we were able to change lanes and switch to an alternative route. After dodging that bullet, we had a smooth ride to the airport, parked the car, and had time for a Starbucks and lite bite before boarding our flight.

This Delta 767 flight was full, as are many flights these days. As an experiment, we had paid an extra $80. P.P. for Premium Economy seats, after having checked them out on Seatguru. Our Row 21 was an exit row, and it did turn out to be a benefit to have more leg room and an easier in and out access for restroom breaks. Boarding went smoothly, with the flight attendants scrambling to assist everyone with getting their carry-on luggage stowed. It was now dark outside, and our flight was pushing away from the gate at 5:45 sharp. About ½ hour into the flight, the attendants came around with snacks and drinks, including beer and wine, and informed us that hard liquor was complementary in Premium Economy. However, for us it was a merlot and Heineken. The flight was smooth, with the exception of a couple of bumpy areas over the Atlantic. About 1 ½ hours into the flight, dinner was served. Not comparing it with the food on Singapore Air, which we’ve flown over the past two years, the meal was decent. The cabin was quite cool, but with our layers, and a down puffer coat as an extra blanket, we were comfortable and attempted to catch some shut-eye. Our MP3’s helped muffle the cabin noise. Before landing, coffee/juice and a breakfast snack was served. . .enough to give a little pick-up. Our flight arrived a ½ hour early. The huge size of CDG made for a long taxi to the terminal, and we had a few minutes’ wait for the gate agents. Immigration went fairly quickly. Before de-planing, we were given a luggage carousel number 45 which turned out not to be non-existent. But with a little searching, we spotted ours on another carousel. Although air travel is sometimes fraught with frustrations, this flight was pleasant. We thought the Premium Economy Seats were worth it under the cirumstances.

With luggage in tow, we proceeded to the Terminal to meet Victor’s Taxi Service for a tranport to our hotel. (Thanks to Denisea for the suggestion of Victor.) We didn’t see anyone carrying a sign with our name, but upon asking a nice lady at the Tourist Info desk who phoned Victor‘s Taxi Service, we found out that the driver was sitting at the Exresso Bar waiting for us. (A great place to meet!) As we left the airport in a nice Mercedes en route to downtown Paris, we found out that the driver from Victor’s Taxi Service was Victor himself. We had a nice conversation, and Victor shared some interesting information about life in Paris and pointed out things of interest along the way. As we approached the city centre, a soft sun was shining on the Arc de Triomphe. . .a warm welcome to this wonderful city. Victor didn’t need our printed card containing our hotel address, useful for many taxi drivers. He had us dialed in on his GPS, and in a matter of minutes we were pulling up to the Hotel Le Regent on Rue Dauphine, about two blocks down from Pont Neuf. Before unloading our luggage, we made arrangements for Victor to provide our transport back to the airport, although at this time we hated to think of our return trip!

Before leaving home, we had e-mailed the Hotel Le Regent, telling them of our very early arrival, requesting that we might check our luggage. But upon approaching the reception desk, the lady informed us that our room would be ready in about ten minutes. Just a perfect opportunity to cross the street to the Café Buci for our first sampling of delicious glazed croissants and café crème. At this early hour, most of Paris had not yet awoken, so the streets were pretty quiet. Upon returning to the hotel, we found that our hotel room was ready. A word about the hotel: Hotel Le Regent is a typical little French hotel. . .small reception and lobby, very small elevator, and small rooms. We booked the standard room, thinking it was not worth the 50 or so extra Euros per day to upgrade. Our room # 14 was very small, as described, but had everything one would need: mini-frig, safe, armoire-type closet, flat panel TV, hair-dryer, etc. The décor was attractive and the hotel was very clean. We joked that the lobby and elevator must be the cleanest in Paris, as each time we passed through, the same man was cleaning! The bathroom in our room was very, very small; in fact, when we inquired at the desk, we were told that other standard rooms had bathrooms that were a bit roomier. Next time! The hotel staff were all very friendly and helpful. Our favorite thing about the hotel was its great location on Rue Dauphine-right at a 5-point intersection of little streets. Cafes, boulangeries, restaurants, little shops, pharmacie. . .all were right at our doorstep. On previous trips to Paris, we’ve stayed in the 7th, in the Marais, near the Arc de Triomphe, etc. but we found this location to be our favorite.

The sun we witnessed as we entered Paris must have been a tease, because as we left our hotel, intending to have our first stroll along the Seine, the sky was overcast and a slight wind had created a chill. . .just enough that our stroll along the river was short-lived. We also knew at this point that our traditional jet-lag day boat ride on the Seine would have to be postponed. We crossed the Quai and did window shopping as we made our way toward Notre Dame. As we got closer, a sign listing “croque monsieurs” and “croque madames”, with a colorful restaurant host at the door flagging people into the Café de Petit Pont, found us enjoying our favorite lunch selections while looking out onto Notre Dame. Before our trip, we wondered how different it would feel in Paris without all the sidewalks cafes. Our first lunch gave us the answer. Heavy clear vinyl fitted over metal framing with propane gas heaters allowed the same space and tables to be used in the winter.

After that tasty lunch, we made our way across the Petit Pont to approach Notre Dame. Again. . .a first for us. . .seeing the large Christmas tree in front of the cathedral! Although there were quite a few people in the square in front of Notre Dame, and waiting in line to get into the cathedral, it was a comfortable-sized crowd which we came to appreciate as we witnessed the numbers growing exponentially as the week went on. Inside Notre Dame, the main Christmas flowers were red anthuriums, instead of poinsettias, and at the creche, some spring flowers were sprinkled among the greenery. Even though we’ve visited Notre Dame a number of times, we always find ourselves spending a couple of hours there. In spite of the overcast skies, the rose windows were outstanding! However, at this point, both of us felt our energy waning; in fact, we were dragging. We had arrived fighting colds, fatigued from all the holiday celebration at home, and having gotten little sleep on the flight. So, contrary to our normal pattern when traveling to Europe, we decided to head back to our hotel to catch a brief rest in order to gather a little energy for a first Parisian dinner.

It worked! After about three hours or so, we were ready to head out to a local restaurant for a light dinner. Darkness had fallen, and as we stepped out of the hotel, we were greeted with the colorful holiday lights on the buildings, and strung across the streets. A tip from the hotel receptionist led us to the restaurant L’Atlas, just a short block down from our hotel. It was a perfect find. For our first evening: French onion soup! And steak frites. . .with wine, of course Topped off with some ice cream. During the meal we had a great conversation with a native English couple who had moved to Paris. They described L’Atlas as their favorite local restaurant. We knew we would return, especially for one of their house specialties: moules.

The only downside to our late afternoon rest, and long conversation at dinner, was that instead of getting on a more regular Paris time schedule, we didn’t get to bed until midnight, and by then were in for a full night of very deep sleep. But, all in all, we thought that we had had a great first day in Paris!

PS ADDENDUM This is our second composition of this report. Yesterday, after we had written, edited, and previewed our report, I must have accidently hit a key on my laptop which caused the whole report to delete. Still don't know what I did. After working for a time trying to retrieve it, I decided to compose it on Microsoft Word and do a "Copy and Paste" to this site. That way I could SAVE as I went on. Just a thought to share. Hope to do another part of our report soon.

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