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Paris in November: A Thanksgiving Trip Report

Paris in November: A Thanksgiving Trip Report

Dec 17th, 2015, 09:10 AM
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Paris in November: A Thanksgiving Trip Report

Hi Fodorites,

I was lucky enough to be sent to the Netherlands again this year for business, so I routed my return through Paris and spent 5 wonderful nights there! I kept a diary while there, so I'll basically copy and paste my notes (which may sometimes be in present tense).

I stayed at a perfect AirBnB apartment. I almost hate to post it and attract attention, but here you go: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/555028 It's located in the 6th arrondissement, near rue de Buci and the Seine, on an adorable old street full of intriguing art galleries. The building itself dates back probably to the 17th century, and is very charming and quiet. I walked almost everywhere, and the price could not be beat.

My trip took place 2 weeks after the attacks. It felt strange to make a frivolous touristic trip while the country was in mourning - and I worried about another attack. But I ultimately decided to stick with it, because canceling seemed worse, both for me and for France. The city was not as quiet as I expected, and things were back to normal in many ways. People sat at cafes, visited museums and exhibitions, went out to restaurants, and filled the metro. There were heavily-armed guards everywhere, which frankly was a reassuring sight. Bags were checked upon entering any museum, large store, and some restaurants (like Laduree). Passports were checked upon exiting the train from Netherlands, despite the Schengen zone.

But other than that, Paris felt like Paris. It ended up being a beautiful, wintry, relaxing vacation. As the city of lights, Paris really gets to shine at this time of year - the nights are long, Christmas lights are up, and all the important buildings and famous monuments are softly floodlit. Walking down the streets at blue sunset, or after dark, was as gorgeous (or more so) than admiring the architecture during the day.

Anyway, I'll stop rambling for now, and will come back to post my blow-by-blow!
imelda72 is offline  
Dec 17th, 2015, 09:31 AM
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Your post just wonderful, thanks to sharing with as, hardly wait the next installment, i glad you have a good time...
Cora18 is offline  
Dec 17th, 2015, 09:46 AM
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"As the city of lights, Paris really gets to shine at this time of year - the nights are long, Christmas lights are up, and all the important buildings and famous monuments are softly floodlit. Walking down the streets at blue sunset, or after dark, was as gorgeous (or more so) than admiring the architecture during the day. " I couldn't agree with you more -- it was such a delight to wander down a street and encounter wonderful lights, then walk a bit, turn a corner and viola, more lights. Paris sparkles at the holidays.

We arrived the week before Thanksgiving and I thought the absence of tourists was very noticeable as we didn't wait in a line anywhere and were able to get reservations at some restaurants that we have never succeeded at reserving in the past. Stores were not at all crowded. We left last week and it seemed with each day more people were out and about, but I agree that the cafes and bars were filled.

Looking forward to reading about your time there.
yestravel is offline  
Dec 17th, 2015, 01:48 PM
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Very nice start! I eagerly await future installments.
Dee_Dee is offline  
Dec 18th, 2015, 05:38 AM
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Thanks Dee_Dee!

Yestravel, I guess you were there just days after the attack? It doesn't surprise me that it was quiet. Paris may have been a bit quiet when I was there, but mostly it seemed people were back to their daily lives. Tourist sites were a little less crowded than usual, but since it was November, I thought maybe that was to be expected. I definitely hit lots of crowded stores, and some big lines!
imelda72 is offline  
Dec 18th, 2015, 06:07 AM
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Day 1, Wednesday afternoon/evening

What a tremendous city. During my last trip to Paris in 2014, I struggled to enjoy myself, and I’ve figured out why. I adore the ambience of Paris, the aesthetic, the language, and the people. But there’s nothing here I particularly want to do! I studied at Sciences Po for a year about 10 years ago, and I’ve done all the big touristy things. Aside from revisiting some favorites, I don’t feel an urge to repeat them. That left me struggling to figure out how to spend my time. So this time, the trip will be more about just eating, shopping, and relaxing.

Today, I arrived at the apartment and got a great (very long) orientation from my host. The apartment is just perfect; used as an artist's studio by the owner's mother, so it's very bright. It has gorgeous wood ceilings and a very ample kitchen.

I did have the misfortune of sitting down on the toilet and realizing too late there was no toilet paper....or tissues....anywhere in the apartment!! After dealing with that, buying toilet paper was top of my shopping list.

I walked a couple streets over to rue de Buci, where I picked up some staples in a mini-Carrefour express - salted butter, a Brillat-Savarin cheese, and of course tp. I swung by Gerard Mulot, a 10-min. walk away, and got a delicious baguette tradition, and a chocolate pastry for dessert. Back on rue de Buci I picked up some fruits and vegetables from the greengrocer on the corner of rue de Seine and Buci, and picked up an **amazing** prepared vegetable lasagna from Pastavino, a pastry shop on the same corner. It was chock full of different veggies, and very cheesy, and just excellent.

By the time I ate and unpacked it was 4pm or so, and too late for the Grand Palais, my planned first stop. So I walked to the Louvre instead, which is open until 10pm on Wednesdays. I got there after dark, and although it was busy beneath the pyramid, there was no line to get in. I visited the Napoleon III apartments (so tacky, lol!!!), saw some glorious Botticelli frescoes, and admired a few small Bernini sculptures - they're in the same room as Michelangelo's slaves, the latter of which I just don't get at all. Best of all, for me, was la Samothrace, one of the finest (and oldest) works of art in the museum, and absolute perfection, as far as I'm concerned.

For dinner I went to Maceo, a restaurant near Palais Royal that is recommended for vegetarians. On my last trip I had a really hard time finding vegetarian food, and was often hungry or dissatisfied - which is a travesty for a vacation in France. So this time I've come prepared, with restaurant options for each meal.

At Maceo I had a superb appetizer of butternut squash soup (velouté), poured by the waiter over a small bowl full of goodies – balls of soft cheese, quail egg, crispy chopped celery, etc. It’s so good. Then, I had a plate of pureed lentils overloaded with mushrooms, and a great glass of white wine (cheapest on the menu). Now I’m waiting for a fully unnecessary dessert – since after this I'll stroll through the dark, quiet streets and cross the Seine back to my apartment, and enjoy that pastry I got from Gerard Mulot.
imelda72 is offline  
Dec 18th, 2015, 10:26 AM
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Thank you for bring Paris back to me. We were there in September, and I miss it already!
taconictraveler is offline  
Dec 18th, 2015, 11:50 AM
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Love Gerard Mulot...pastries to die for. And yes, I thought the Napoleon apts rather tacky. Enjoying following along with you.
yestravel is offline  
Dec 19th, 2015, 12:57 PM
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Enjoying your report so far, mainly because you're doing my favorite thing in Paris - that is, not much. Looking forward to more.
YankyGal is offline  
Dec 19th, 2015, 06:39 PM
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I was in Paris in November about six years ago and didn't wait in line for anything. It was just before Thanksgiving, lights not up yet, windows at the Grande Magazines were still covered, but it was really quiet.

It was pretty cold, and winter was on the way for sure. What I'm wondering if lack or tourists may be typical at that time. Kind of between seasons. Summer gone, holidays haven't arrived. So, perhaps the attacks didn't affect travelers as much as you think. I don't know, just offering a possibility.
crefloors is offline  
Dec 19th, 2015, 06:56 PM
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I had been told that the least tourists are in Paris November time frame. However I gather worse this year and it was the holiday season by the time I arrived shortly after the attacks and was there 3 weeks. All the holiday decorations and lights were up when I was there. Lots of articles on tourism hit.

Back to this nice TR.
yestravel is offline  
Dec 20th, 2015, 05:40 AM
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Enjoying your report. Paris is at its best after you've seen the monuments, etc. and just take time to eat, stroll, and stop at random.

Ramble on-----your blow by blow takes us on a wonderful journey!
TPAYT is offline  
Dec 20th, 2015, 07:05 AM
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Yankygal, TPAYT, thanks! I never imagined that aiming to do "not much" in Paris was such a good strategy!! But now I've learned my lesson.

Yestravel, you are surely right that tourism was impacted after the attacks.... That was actually a small part of my decision to go ahead with the trip; I didn't want to cancel since I knew the city would be losing a lot of tourist dollars this year. Very sad all around. I'm glad I went, because I really enjoyed it, and as I said, Paris (mostly) still felt like Paris!
imelda72 is offline  
Dec 20th, 2015, 07:41 AM
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Day 2, Thursday

I started the day with a slow, leisurely breakfast in my apartment, sitting by the large windows and occasionally peeking in the apartments across from mine. Since I'm on the fifth floor they're mostly young people like me, in modest apartments tucked up under the slanted roofs. For breakfast I had picked up a croissant from Carton bakery on rue de Buci, along with yogurt, a chamomile tea I'd brought with me, some nice grapes from the greengrocer, and leftover baguette with cheese. It was a big, un-French-sized breakfast, and I listened to the CD of classic French songs left by the apartment owner (Serge Gainsbourg, Edith Piaf, etc etc) as I ate.

This was Thursday the 26th, so my plan was to head to le Marais, where at 20 rue St Paul there is a store called "Thanksgiving." But I decided to walk there, and along the way I made several stops.

I went to two American bookstores: Shakespeare & Co, where I'd never been before, and which was so packed it was hard to move around (as I'm sure it always is). I browsed the stacks and considered buying a Victor Hugo but decided I didn't have the room in my luggage. I also stopped at Berkeley Books, a used bookstore at 8 rue Casimir-Delavigne, a quiet, pretty street not far away. It's small and neat, was unfortunately empty, with a really great assortment of cheap, used books in English. http://www.berkeleybooksofparis.com

On that same street, a little downhill, was an adorable little jam shop, where I bought a small jar of mixed-berry jam. The owner was an adorable old man who let me take pictures of the store; they also sold sandwiches and salads ready-made for lunch.

Then I reached Thanksgiving, where there was a line of people waiting to buy cans of pumpkin pie filling, stuffing mix, cranberries, sweetened condensed milk, etc etc. The store shelves also had lots of things like peanut butter, sugary American cereals, poutine mix, vegemite, and other comfort foods for Anglophones.

I had lunch at Cafe Pinson at 6 rue du Forez; an excellent menu meal for about 17E: a green pea soup of the day and a plate of chickpea-meatballs and vegetables. It's an organic, vegetarian small restaurant, very trendy with mostly French diners and expats. It was a 5-minute walk from the (free!) Musee Cognac-Jay, so I went there next. It's a pretty museum with wonderful objets d'art (knick-knacks and dish ware), as well as a fabulous, tiny collection of Dutch masterpieces in the former library. It only takes an hour or so to visit.

My next stop was to go to Place de la Republique to place flowers on the memorial there for victims of the attacks. But in the station, I heard an announcement that the Republique metro station was closed. I threw up my hands in annoyance, and a woman next to me shook her head and said "il faut pas aller a Republique," or something like that. She explained that there were massive protests against COP21 (climate conference) and that the police were repressing them with tear gas, and arresting hundreds of people. I checked my phone and saw that she was absolutely right.

So instead I swung by Pain de Sucre, a patisserie at 14 rue de Rambuteau, still in le Marais, and got the most exquisite, delicious millefeuille - more about that later. I stopped at The Mariage Freres, and spent a good 20 minutes with the most attentive and pretentious sales clerk I have ever encountered. We talked about my tea preferences and he let me smell about 10 different teas before I settled on a white tea with rose petal blend that would turn out to be excellent. I really think 'pretentious' sums up the store perfectly, but I still enjoyed the experience very much! And got a good tea out of it.

I had dinner in my apartment, including the leftover lasagna from Pastavino, and then turned to the millefeuille. I had to stop a few bites in to, like, wash the dishes, and make some tea, so I could have the perfect environment just to eat it in, and make a little ceremony out of it. It was so freaking good. The layers of crust were SO flaky: buttery and delicious and evanescent but still satisfying to bite into. And the cream was smooth and thick and richly flavoured with vanilla. To. Die. For.
imelda72 is offline  
Dec 20th, 2015, 08:50 AM
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I love reliving our trip through yours. You sound as if you are really loving your visit and your descriptins are great. Walking around and enjoying all the nuances of Paris is wonderful. I felt so funny on Thanksgiving day that it wasn't a holiday and enjoyed being in Paris. Too many years of US conditioning I guess. We must have passed Pain de Sucre 25 times and so sorry I passed on getting anything there.

We ran into the Climate conference conflict with the police at Republique on Sunday, Nov 29. We ignored the announcement of Republique station being closed and went to the next stop and walked down. The display of shoes was impressive, but it was tense in the area. We fortunately left right before the tear gas started flying. You were wise to skip it.
yestravel is offline  
Dec 20th, 2015, 09:38 AM
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The ceremony of the millefeuille----beautifully described! I wish I had some
right now!
TPAYT is offline  
Dec 21st, 2015, 07:47 AM
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I'll be following along eagerly with your lovely trip report -- I'm planning a trip for next autumn for me and my DH. I too am a vegetarian (he is not), and am going to write down where you ate.
hikrchick is offline  
Dec 21st, 2015, 11:05 AM
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Day 3, Friday

Today I felt like I achieved my rich-Parisian fantasy. I started the day with breakfast at La Palette, the very typical and pretty café on the corner near my apartment. 8€ for tea, croissant, and orange juice. It was fun! The cafe is really pretty and was decorated for the holidays, and a very riotous group of regulars held court at the bar. But ultimately, I prefer my breakfasts at home, and much more ample.

My first stop was l’Orangerie. It was more moving than I expected. The water-lilies are divine, particularly in that setting. They had a piano in one gallery – I could just picture listening to a Schubert concerto, surrounded by the water lilies in the pristine white room.

Then, downstairs they have a tremendous impressionist collection – wonderful Cezannes, Matisse, Renoir, etc. I bought a Cezanne post card – his still lifes were just sublime.

I then went to the Champs-Elysees, and I confess to singing "aux Champs-Elysees....aux Champs-Elysees" rather an embarrassing amount... but I couldn't help it! I always hated the avenue when I lived here, but it is really pleasant and pretty at Christmastime.

After lunch at Laduree, I went to the Grand Palais to see the exhibit on Elisabeth Vigee le Brun. It was spectacular. I had to wait on line in the cold for a good 20 minutes to get in, but it was worth it. A very thorough exhibit, two huge floors, with paintings from throughout her life. Paintings on loan from Versailles, the MET, Austria, etc., including the famous painting of Marie Antoinette and her children. It also had paintings from some of her contemporaries, including an excellent self-portrait by Guiard, the only other successful female painter from her time.

My favorites were two paintings she made in Russia, of the three daughters of Paul I. (this one, http://www.batguano.com/vlbpaulkids.jpg, and this one, https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com...7a418f767b.jpg) Anyway, the exhibit is on through January 15, I think, and if you have the chance, I highly recommend it! You can buy timed entry tix online.

I then went back to Laduree for hot chocolate and macarons! For lunch I'd sat on the heated, enclosed outdoor patio, which was fabulous for people-watching. But I really wanted to see the famous 2nd floor ceilings, and when I explained that I'd already sat on the patio earlier, the maitre d kindly found me a seat upstairs. The second floor was indeed gorgeous and elegant, and it struck me as so French, that for a 7€ hot chocolate you can sit in regal surroundings. I don’t know how they do it. Maybe the city has so many notable, beautiful old sights and buildings that they’re not at a premium, the way they would be in NYC? Or are the French just less greedy? Or is there less high-end demand? I decided that it was probably that – fewer billionaires.

In the evening, I went to the Opera Garnier to see 2 short operas. I went to the side entrance at 6pm to buy the discounted 10E last-minute tickets. The two staff I spoke to seemed shocked that I wanted to buy them, and warned me a few times that the seats were not good. Later, I learned why! The seats were comically bad. On the plus side, I had a private box. On the downside, I was seated on the 5th level, tucked under the eaves next to the lights control box. I could only see the full stage if I rested my head on the front wall of the box. To be fair, that wasn't hard to do, and that way I had a full view, and the sound was perfect. I wouldn't do it again, but only because on the 5th level, you don't have a view of the subtitles, which are broadcast above the stage.

But it was worth getting to linger inside the stunning opera house (there were no tours available during my trip). I also appreciated that people dressed up more for this opera than they do for the Met in NYC.

After the show I strolled the dark, quiet, rainy streets all the way home. <3
imelda72 is offline  
Dec 21st, 2015, 11:19 AM
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Yestravel, then we were in Paris at the same time! You got there before me, though, so you must have had some nicer weather to start. It was quite chilly when I arrived.

hikerchick, I had so much good vegetarian food. I highly recommend every restaurant I mention in this report!! Here are some places I didn't get to try, but have heard recommended:

• Kotteri Ramen Naritake, 31 rue des Petits-champs, 1ere, http://www.yelp.com/biz/kotteri-ramen-naritake-paris (I did walk past this restaurant and there was quite a line outside, which is a good sign)
• Galerie 88, Quai de l’Hotel de Ville, 1eme, http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restauran...e.html#REVIEWS
• Le Grenier de Notre Dame, 18 rue de la Bucherie, 5eme, http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restauran...de_France.html
• Saveur Veget’Halles, 41 rue des Bourdonnais, 1eme behind Les Halles but highly recommended, http://www.timeout.com/paris/en/rest...es#tab_panel_2

One place that's recommended but I found totally mediocre on my last trip was le Potager du Marais, near les Halles.
imelda72 is offline  
Dec 21st, 2015, 12:12 PM
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Whenever anybody talked about the décor of Ladurée on the Champs Elysées, it always brings a smile to my face. Until 1996, that was the address of Japan Airlines in Paris, with a very 1970's agency of fluorescent lights and grey marble. Ladurée took over the location and opened its totally different restaurant and shop in 1997, so all of style you see dates from then, and even more recently since there was a big fire in 2011 and it all had to be redone again. So bravo to the decorators who created such a perfect illusion of "classic" Paris.
kerouac is offline  

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