Paris encore: Nikki's trip report

Feb 27th, 2005, 12:39 AM
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Paris encore: Nikki's trip report

It is 3:30 in the morning, and I think it's 9:30 because I returned home from Paris yesterday. So I am awake and will begin my trip report before I forget what happened, although the story begins over ten months ago. There was a little drama surrounding our departure, so I apologize for the lengthy introduction to our travels. Those who want more concise and informative reports (the kind I usually write and should probably stick to except that it's the middle of the night and all) should probably skip this first part.

Let's Make a Deal, Part I: Last May, after reading about an Air France promotion on the Fodor's message board, I called and bought two tickets from Boston to Paris for $750 for the February school vacation week. This is way earlier than I have ever bought tickets before, but it seemed like too good a deal to pass up. It would be our first year as empty nesters and followed our twenty-fifth anniversary, so this seemed a perfect opportunity to travel with my husband Alan, a teacher, for the first time since 1990 without our children.

I tried to make reservations from Saturday to Saturday, but those dates were already sold out. School vacation week is an almost impossible time to get good fares and get plane tickets from Boston because everyone travels the same day. In a previous life, when I used to go to travel agents and tell them we wanted to go to Florida that week, they'd laugh at me. However there were seats available at the promotional rate from Friday to Friday, and I bought them. I figured my husband could come home right after school and we'd drive to the airport to catch the 8 PM plane.

Around the same time I bought the tickets, our daughter decided on her college. (Yippee, we'll never have to go through that again! Now if only I could bring myself to throw out that big box of catalogues in the dining room...) We had no school calendar yet, and when we did get one, we learned that she would be having a vacation the same week in February. It is an odd week for college vacations, and I hadn't anticipated this, but she decided not to come with us (yes, we offered).

As the time approached, we came up with this plan: we would drive on Friday to our daughter's school, which is in the Boston area, and pick her up. We would then drive to the airport, she would drive the car home, and the following Friday she would come and get us at the airport. So far so good.

Then suddenly the Tuesday night before we were to leave, I got an alarming e-mail from my daughter, who had been sick and seeing the student health clinic. She was feeling much worse, couldn't lie down, couldn't sleep, was in great pain in her throat and ear and couldn't talk at all. So at midnight I went to pick her up at school and brought her to the doctor the next morning. Turns out she had an abscess on her tonsil. She was treated right away, and the doctor thought she'd be better enough that we could still go to Paris as planned. Next day, Thursday, she wasn't as much better as had been hoped, she was treated again, there was a question of whether she needed her tonsils out, and the doctor suggested we call the airline to see if we could change our reservation from Friday to Saturday so we could see whether she would improve or need surgery before making our decision.

I called Air France, and to my surprise they did say they would refund the price of the tickets if we had a medical certificate. However, at the price we paid, the tickets were not changeable, so there was no way to leave Saturday without buying new tickets. New tickets were available on Air France only in business class at $5,000. That didn't work for us. My husband left for work on Friday not knowing whether we were going to Paris or not. His bags were packed, though.

Friday morning our daughter was much better, to everyone's relief. We took her to the doctor, who smiled and said all was well, no need for surgery, and if it was her daughter she'd go to Paris. I called our older daughter, who agreed to come stay with her sister for the weekend and to drive us to the airport. A bit worn out from the drama of it all, and still worried about our daughter, I was wondering if this might be the trip which wasn't quite as great as the anticipation.

Let's Make a Deal, Part II: We arrived at the airport, our daughter drove off, and we got on line. The flight was overbooked. They were offering volunteers $500 apiece cash or $950 apiece in flight vouchers plus business class to fly the following day, Saturday. The imaginary audience is yelling, "Take the cash!" "Take the plane!" "Take the vouchers!" I'm hearing the magic words "Business class".

We took the cash.

Now we had $1000 that Air France was paying us to fly business class on the flight they wouldn't let us change to without paying $5,000 for two days earlier. On the date that wasn't available when I wanted it in May. Go figure.

We declined the offer of a hotel and called our daughter, who turned around and came back to the airport for us. Spent a more restful night, saw our younger daughter getting so much better that we could leave with much less anxiety, and went back to the airport on Saturday. The flight was overbooked. They were offering the same deal again, but we didn't want to be greedy. And by this time we did want to go to Paris.

Nikki is online now  
Feb 27th, 2005, 01:02 AM
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Hi Nikki,
Loved your story so far. Sounds like something that would happen to us. In fact, part of it did, at least the business class part of it. I'm hoping your trip over was wonderful and nothing else happened. I usually don't get on the internet at this time of night, but have been obsessed with Fodor's lately as we are going to Ireland in May, on the 13th. Only last night did I put together it's going to be on Friday and the 13th. I'm not to excited to travel on that date. Anyway, when I got up to get a glass of water at 3:30 this morning, thought I would just check the web site. I hope you've written more by the time I wake up again... at a more decent hour. Yours is the type of report I like to read. It's more of a story than just the facts.
Marlie is offline  
Feb 27th, 2005, 01:17 AM
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Nikki - I am also wide awake but do not have the excuse of jet lag - perhaps my age!

I am looking forward to your next posting and sincerely hope your daughter is fully recovered. Do give us all the details about business class, food etc.

SandyBrit is offline  
Feb 27th, 2005, 03:18 AM
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Wow, Nikki, business class and $1000 to start off your trip to Paris! Like hitting the lottery!

Hope your daughter is much better now and that your trip was wonderful. Tell us more.
Marianna is offline  
Feb 27th, 2005, 04:05 AM
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Oops, not so fast. Just as we arrive at the airport on Saturday, Alan says something that translates roughly to "Oh, no!" We had left our luggage in the car on Friday night, but Alan had taken in his carry-on bag, and he realized that he had left it on the stairs of the house without putting it back into the car. There are prescription medications in the bag. He says, "I have to go back to the house." I say no way, we'll send our daughter back for it, she might make it back to the airport in time, but I'm not risking Alan missing the plane. Worst case, I figure we can have it sent to us in Paris overnight. Our quick thinking daughter asks if she should call her friend who lives near us and ask her to come with the bag. She calls, the friend is amenable (apparently she had discussed with our daughter coming to the airport for the ride because she had nothing to do that day), and she arrives an hour or so later with the bag. We tell our daughter she should take the friend out for dinner on us. Or on Air France, I guess. NOW we're going to Paris.
Nikki is online now  
Feb 27th, 2005, 04:09 AM
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Thanks for the expressions of concern; my daughter is much better now. We spoke to her daily from Paris and she was feeling normal after a day or two. She's going back to school today.

I promise that the next installment will actually get us to Paris.
Nikki is online now  
Feb 27th, 2005, 04:15 AM
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great stories so far Nikki, I'm glad to anticipate that you actually arrived in Paris
elaine is offline  
Feb 27th, 2005, 04:28 AM
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Wow, what cosmic pranks!

Glad to hear that your daughter is feeling better and looking forward to hearing the next installation.

But it's 8:30 a.m. here on the East Coast. . . .maybe you've finally gone to sleep?
elle is offline  
Feb 27th, 2005, 06:17 AM
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Business class was delightful. I saved the menu. Dinner began with foie gras and dried fruit. There was then a choice of pan-seared tournedos of beef (served rare) and poached fillet of sea bass. (We both had the steak, which was good. Can't vouch for the fish.) Large selection of drinks. Dessert was croustillant praline, a chocolate mousse sort of thing. Breakfast was fresh fruit, fresh juice, yogurt and pastry. The fresh fruit was particularly welcome. Loved the elbow room. The individual TV with movies on demand was working fine until I accidentally bumped into the controls and stopped my movie in the middle and could never get any movies back again. Oh well. I do like the French movies on Air France.

We took a cab from the airport to our apartment on rue de l'Ecole Polytechnique in the 5th arrondissement. The cab driver wasn't sure exactly where the street was, so I sort of gave him directions, which I sort of knew from studying the maps. This was the first of three cab drivers who didn't know how to get to this street. We never took a cab without having to give the driver directions. In their defense, it is a very small street, only one block long. Very little traffic, either pedestrian or motorized. But that one block has on it eight different restaurants: a wine bar, two cafes, a fondue place, an Ethiopian, a Greek, and a Chinese place, and a delightful bistro, les Fetes Gallantes (about which more later). Alan reminds me there was another one next to the fondue place, but we don't remember what type that was. The only other businesses I remember are a seamstress, a printer, and a couple of book stores. I loved this neighborhood. I would happily live there.

The apartment, rented from, was reminiscent of the one portrayed in the movie I watched (this time from start to finish) on the plane ride back to Boston, called Le Carton. The movie was about a young Parisian trying to move out of his apartment with the "help" of a bunch of friends, very humorous. Tiny elevators, narrow stairways, even the street was similar to the apartment we had just left. Our elevator was so small that Alan chose to walk the stairs all week. If two people ride this elevator together, they'd better be very friendly. It was, however, working, for which I was grateful, since I had read on the Fodor's board that the elevator was not functioning when a previous renter stayed there. It has reportedly been completely renovated and has had no problems since then. As small as the elevator was, however, it was larger than the shower. Don't drop the soap. The bedroom and living room were pleasant, and there was a well stocked kitchenette. We appreciated the basics which were provided, as we have rented apartments where we had to shop for things like toilet paper as soon as we arrived. There were lots of things for basic cooking, including olive oil and spices, and plenty of dishes and necessities. There was also a complimentary bottle of wine, some snack items, and metro tickets left for us. Very nice touch. And at this point, Air France has virtually paid for the apartment.
Nikki is online now  
Feb 27th, 2005, 06:18 AM
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Oh goody, this is perfect reading for a rainy Sunday morning, before my husband and I leave for Paris

Thank you in advance Nikki!
Scarlett is offline  
Feb 27th, 2005, 06:25 AM
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I'm really enjoying this report - makes me want to go back to Paris SO bad!
Margie is offline  
Feb 27th, 2005, 07:02 AM
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Welcome home! I can tell from your opening paragraphs that I'm going to enjoy your trip report immensely., carry on!
JeanneB is offline  
Feb 27th, 2005, 07:12 AM
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Nikki, love your style! Looking forward to more!
Iregeo is offline  
Feb 27th, 2005, 07:29 AM
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More! More! And be snappy about it. Loving your report.
Betsy is offline  
Feb 27th, 2005, 07:54 AM
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Looking forward to more, Nikki. Keep all the details coming, we love it!
SusanP is offline  
Feb 27th, 2005, 08:11 AM
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Me too (rainy Sunday and all).
OO is offline  
Feb 27th, 2005, 08:24 AM
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This is better than "Under the Tuscan Sun".
ira is offline  
Feb 27th, 2005, 09:02 AM
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BAD start,
GOOD beginning,
GREAT your daughter's better.
BELATED Happy Anniversary
BIG welcome back.
cigalechanta is offline  
Feb 27th, 2005, 09:42 AM
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When I was in Pairis in 1998 a local man we met recommended les Fêtes Gallantes to my husband and me, and we came back to eat there twice. It's a totally charming little place off the beaten track. I'm glad it's still there. I will be in Paris, staying in the 5th arrondissement, in early April, and I plan to go back there. My mouth is watering already.
lizzoob is offline  
Feb 27th, 2005, 10:39 AM
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After settling in to the apartment, we headed out before the inevitable crash from fatigue. It was around 8 AM, and we walked to the market at Place Monge. Sunday morning was very quiet on the streets, almost deserted. We did pass, however, several (well, OK, many) signs of activity from the night before in the form of little rivulets running down the sidewalk from the walls. This did not shock us, but I know there are Fodorites out there who find such things appalling and they are free to believe that these were created by very large dogs.

The market was just getting going when we arrived. We stopped at a cheese stand and I asked for an assortment of cheese. The proprietor selected a few for us and gave me a price. He then told me the camembert was very good and asked if I liked camembert. Bien sur, but I thought we had enough cheese. Un cadeau, he said, and threw in the entire camembert for free.

I love the French.

We picked out some fruit and some jars of fish soup and then headed over to a stall selling charcuterie, where we picked out three different types of pate, including one of sanglier (which I believe is wild boar). We carried our booty back up the rue Mouffetard, stopping at a bakery for a baguette, went back to the apartment and fell asleep.

After a nap and a heavenly lunch, we started thinking about our plans. I had hoped to make it to the Clignancourt flea market on Sunday, and to La Chope des Puces, a tiny cafe where on Sunday afternoons there are musicians playing jazz in the style of Django Reinhardt. But this was when I thought we were arriving on Saturday, and it just seemed like too much of an excursion for our first sleep-deprived day in Paris. Oh well, you can't do everything.

So we walked toward Notre Dame, with the idea of staying for the 4:30 organ recital. People came in and filled the place up. But it wasn't for the organ recital. We found a program and realized that there was a conference scheduled that afternoon and that the organ recital was canceled. A speaker got up, whom I believe was identified as the bishop, but I'm not sure, and introduced the topic, which was the difficulties of democracy. He spoke slowly and clearly, which might be necessary in a hall as large as Notre Dame Cathedral, but which made it possible for me to understand most of what he said. There was a huge audience, silent and attentive, of all sorts of people from young to old. All French. The woman next to me was taking notes. This was fascinating cultural anthropology, but after the first speaker finished and the second (either a philosopher or a theologian, according to the program) began speaking much less clearly, we got up and left. Our seats were quickly filled by people hoping to get closer to the speakers. I have no idea what the occasion of this conference was, but the program indicated that it was one of a series. It certainly attracted an attentive crowd.

The weather was cold and nasty and we walked toward the Marais until it was too uncomfortable to walk much farther. We stopped in a cafe to warm up and dry off, then walked back to the apartment. Dinner was at Le Petit Prince de Paris, which was on the next block from our apartment. We loved this place. I had a wonderful platter consisting of various preparations of duck, including two or three presentations of foie gras, a salad with duck gizzards, several slices of smoked duck breast, and a leg of duck confit. Alan had magret. For dessert a molten chocolate cake with cranberries. Oh my. We had to walk around a little after that, and so we went up to the Pantheon, just two streets up the hill, then back down to our apartment and eventually ended this very long day.
Nikki is online now  

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