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Trip Report Our "Midnight in Paris" experience

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Watching Woody Allen's recent movie, Midnight in Paris, brought back memories of my own starry-eyed first visit to Paris. So many scenes from the movie were filmed in exact locations that we loved. While it happened many years ago now, it was still one of the most romantic trips I've ever had. Somehow the trip report was lost during one of the board rehabs, so I wanted to post it again for all the lovers of Paris.

On November 22 of 2006, we celebrated 30 years of marriage and I got the surprise of my life. DH whisked me off to Paris for an unbelievable week. I had no idea where we were headed; only that we were going on a trip, the weather would be approximately 50 degree and we'd be doing a lot of walking. I made quite the scene in the airport - crying, laughing, and hugging strangers while standing in the check-in line. You wasn't until we arrived at the airport and he handed me a gift box containing the Fodor's guide to Paris that I knew my dream had come true - my very first trip to Paris!

For an amateur travel planner, DH did a great job. He chose a small hotel in the Latin Quarter (only two people in the elevator at once), we ate in the most romantic little local restaurants every night and we walked our legs off.

Arriving late on a Sunday evening, the drive into the city gave us glorious nighttime views of the Arche de Triumphe and the Eiffel Tower. (I cried again.) We dined in a local brasserie on omelets and hot chocolate before turning in for the night exhausted from jet lag. Our Left Bank hotel, Jardin du Luxembourg, was located on a quiet side street just one block from the Luxembourg Gardens on the border of the 5th & 6th Arrondissements. Although the room was tiny we had plenty of space, a wonderful, deep soaking tub, a beautiful iron bed with down comforter and pillows and our own little balcony complete with topiary.

Up early on Monday we walked to Notre-Dame. The entrance facade was draped in plastic for restoration, but the interior is nothing short of amazing. It was hard to imagine touching stones that were laid in 1163 or to think that Napoleon was crowned emperor in the very same spot where we stood. There were no crowds (November being the off season) so we were able to set our own pace. After Notre-Dame, we walked the Ile St.-Louis just gawking up at the architecture and down at the cobblestone streets. Then we bought chicken and Gruyere paninnis and apple tarts to take along on a cruise of the Seine. Afterwards, an afternoon rain shower hurried us back to the hotel for naps before dinner at a charming country French restaurant, ChantAirelle, near the Pantheon. It was the most romantic dinner I've ever had for an anniversary. We were in heaven eating puff pastry boxes filled with wild mushrooms, lamb with foi gras and pear tart for dessert. Being November, the Beaujolais Nouveaus had just arrived and we enjoyed a bottle almost every night. We found all of our delightful dining establishments from a great book called Cheap Eats Paris by Sandra Gustafson. It’s a real winner. Meals including wine, appetizer, entrée, and dessert were gastronomic celebrations at much more diminutive prices than I ever thought possible in Paris.

On Tuesday we got our museum passes and started with a tour of the Musee d'Orsay. Here we saw Whistler's Mother, the Degas dancers (both on canvas and in clay), works by Manet, Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, vanGogh, Cézanne, Gauguin, Vuillard, Rodin, Matisse and wonderful period rooms and furniture. I must admit that I was very impressed with the building itself, however. It took a true artist to turn the former train station into the current showcase. What started out to be a quick look, turned into an entire day and we were finally hustled out the door at closing by museum guards. We strolled through the cobblestone streets of St.-Germain looking in shops decked for Christmas. There were wonderful doll shops, and florists selling little boxes made from preserved rose leaves filled with preserved rose buds that they said would last for years. Our destination was Le Petite Troquet; a tiny little restaurant down a side alley in the 7th Arrondissement. Here we were delighted with puff pastry filled with melted gruyere cheese and salad, followed by a fish in reduction wine sauce and the best crème caramel in the world. The cute couple that owns and operates the establishment do everything unaided. She takes reservations, greets and seats, waits tables and delivers the fare as well as portraying a fine sommelier. He, of course, is the wonderful chef, but will emerge from the kitchen to help hang coats or clear the occasional table when needed. They were the epitome of charming. After leaving this bastion of French charm, we wandered into the night in search of our metro stop to home. All of a sudden we rounded a street corner and there was the Eiffel Tower in all its nighttime glory. Literally three blocks away it had been completely obscured. I think it was that "forest for the trees" thing going on. So we capped off a perfect day with a ride to the top to see all of Paris glimmering below us.

The next morning we were up early to take the train to Versailles. It is late enough in the season that the fountains had been turned off and the flower gardens were bare, but with the absence of summer crowds we were able to see the palace at a leisurely pace. Although the French government has spent more than $19 million on restoration of the palace and "Friends of Versailles" (many of whom are Americans) have spent millions on the gardens there is still much disrepair and shabbiness about. I was greatly dismayed to see graffiti etched in the famed mirrors of the "Hall of Mirrors". After a lunch of rabbit stew, French bread, tarts and cafe au lait, we visited the Petit Trianon and the Grand Trianon, two "small" palaces also on the grounds. The Petit Trianon was built by Louis XVI as a gift to Marie-Antoinette. She, in turn, spent a fortune creating the Hameau - a hamlet of 3/4 sized thatched-roof cottages, a watermill, a lake and rose arbors and gardens to remind her of her Austrian country home. We slept all the way back to Paris on the train and returned to Chantairelle for diner because it was an easy walk from the hotel and guaranteed delicious.

I wasn't sure I had another day left in my tired feet, but who could resist spending Thanksgiving at the Louvre? Its amazing how quickly fatigue fades when the mind is occupied with the likes of Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, the French crown jewels, Napoleon's apartments, or The Winged Victory. It’s also easy to overlook the building itself while eyeing all the treasures housed within. The Louvre was once a palace and on the ceilings everywhere are frescos from the 1600s more beautiful than any at Versailles. Again, we stayed until the doors locked and only saw a fraction of the collection - not surprising with over 400,000 pieces housed here. Tired feet weren't up for much walking, even for food, so we dined at La Bastide Odeon just four blocks from our hotel. The waiter couldn't have been friendlier - contrary to stories of the snooty French and their rudeness to Americans. When we asked about a non-smoking section (an unheard of practice in France in 2006) he vowed to seat all the smokers upstairs "if possible". Well, with his sincere effort we dined smoke-free that night - a real treat.

Friday was our final day and we decided to wander the streets. We saw the church of St. Chapelle, built in 1248 to house Louis IX's holy relics - the Crown of Thorns, two pieces of the True Cross, a nail from the Cross, the Roman soldier's lance that pierced Christ's side and several drops of Christ's blood. Today, only the Crown of Thorns remains and it is housed at Notre-Dame. There are 1500 sq. yds. of stained glass windows depicting the entire Bible in 1134 scenes. They say it takes two weeks of sun up to sun down reading with a good pair of binoculars to follow the whole stained glass text. Everywhere there was restoration going on - refreshing attitude compared to the demolition mentality in the U.S. The base of St. Chapelle was swathed in tents occupied by stonemasons. They were using ancient tools and methods to reproduce and repair gargoyles and buttresses. However, they were blasting The Rolling Stones on their radio, which ruined some of the gothic illusion. We visited the cathedral of St.-Germain-des-Pres, first built in AD 452 and later rebuilt in 1163 and wandered through picture perfect side streets and markets. We dined on duck cassoulet for lunch and ended the day shopping for souvenirs at La Samaritaine with a warm cup of hot chocolate in their rooftop restaurant to watch the sun set over the Seine. A walk home, a little rest and then our last dinner in Paris. This time we dined at Le Grenier, a vegetarian restaurant just across the river from Notre-Dame - a spectacular sight at night. The French can make even tofu taste divine as proven by my husband's lasagna. Of course, a great bottle of wine helps anything. We realized early in the trip that even the least expensive "house" wines in Paris are FRENCH! – both delicious and cheap. Then it was a walk under the full moon home to pack and try to sleep; all the while wishing we had another week...or month, to continue.

I must say...we have returned to Paris several times since this trip together, but none compared to the romance of my first time.

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