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Trip Report Paris in Winter: the Highs, the Lows, and ... the Bizarre Accident

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7 nights: Feb. 25 – March 3, 2013
Cast of characters: devastatingly handsome, youthful male couple—56 & 60

We were working in Northern Ireland and since we’ve been throughout Ireland and the U.K. many times, we decided to add a vacation in the “neighborhood.” DP had always wanted to visit the catacombs of Paris, so when I found an EasyJet fare of around $60 per person, it was settled.

This felt as if it was my first trip to Paris. My previous trip was more than thirty-five years ago. During that brief visit every museum was on strike and I remembered virtually nothing of the trip except for chocolate chaud and Versailles. DP had never been to Paris.

Although we’re quite well traveled we had some concerns. I’ll address those first. I recalled that very few Parisians spoke English (or at least to me) thirty-five years ago. So I took a couple of French lessons, bought a few phrase books, and soon realized it was utterly hopeless. It was also completely unnecessary. As soon as I eked out “Je ne compend pas,” everyone responded in serviceable English. None of that infamous attitude and no problem communicating. I gave a security guard quite a laugh when he pointed to the bulge in my coat pocket and asked in French what I assumed to be, “What is in your pocket?”

I was aiming for “chapeau.” What came out was “chapel.” When he was able to stop laughing, he asked me, “You have a building? A chapel in your pocket?” I was glad to provide some entertainment.

Concern #2: Where to stay??? Where to stay???
When I began planning I knew nothing about arrondisements, and couldn’t get a sense of how far they were apart. Many people on this forum recommended the 5th or 6th, but someone else said that with our interests, she’d recommend the 4th. Merci beaucoup to that person!

We loved our location in the Marais near St. Paul’s and I don’t think we would have been as happy if we had stayed anywhere else. With its quaint, narrow streets and cobblestoned Rue de Rosiers, it felt like we’d stepped into a Hollywood movie set of Paris. We also loved being able to walk to Notre Dame, the Louvre, Musee D'Orsay, Ste. Chappelle, and so many other areas.

Our hotel was the three star Hotel Ste. Paul Le Marais (156 E per night; 160 on the weekend)—at 8 Rue Sevigne—just up the street from Ste. Paul’s cathedral. We walked and walked and then we walked some more—probably 8 – 10 miles on many of the days—and while we enjoyed all the different areas (well … maybe except for Pigalle), some of them felt reminiscent of New York City’s 5th Avenue, Central Park West, or Upper East Side—not that those are bad things, but I felt more like I was in the Paris I’d imagined when we were in the Marais.

Next concern: food. I have lots of dietary restrictions and typically eat the most boring, healthy meals. We don’t drink wine or alcohol, don’t eat fancy foods with rich sauces, no fish, can’t use anything with sugar, and are decidedly not gourmets. We prefer not to spend exorbitant amounts on meals because they’re not important to us. Where would we possibly find anything to eat in Paris -- where everyone dines like royalty???

No problem whatsoever! The mind-boggling selection of restaurants, markets, cafes, bistros, and ethnic food takeaways made it easy. Because we prepaid our hotel, it included a bonus: breakfast. The buffet selection included cold cereals, scrambled eggs, disgusting sausages that tasted like hotdogs that had sat too long in the fridge, juices and fresh fruits, a beautiful selection of cheeses and yogurts, and the most impossibly amazing croissants I’ve ever imagined. There were also brioches, chocolate croissants, crackers, and baguettes. I would have been fine sticking to the unsweetened Muesli with plain yogurt … but then I tasted the croissants … and the cheeses. Thankfully, I don’t have another cholesterol test schedule for six more weeks!

Lunches were either sandwiches on-the-go (or in museum cafes), or in little bistros. Food choices seemed endless. The breads were consistently superb! Our best meal was probably dinner at La Bourgesse near our hotel in Le Marais. We started with a tasty soup then we both had ravioli “royale” that was in a sauce that must have been pure cream, butter, and cheeses. OMG. I couldn’t understand the full description on the menu, but it should have read, “heart attack du jour.” It was fantastique! I do hope it wasn’t gauche to pick up the plate and lick it. Actually, I did use the bread to sop up every last drop of that sauce. (42 Euro for two.)

Another wonderful meal was at Pizza MoMo (on Rue Rivoli, also near our hotel). DP had an excellent brick oven pizza and I enjoyed a fantastic “Sicilienne” main course salad. (23 Euro for two.) Our pizza was served unsliced and we noticed that other diners were using a knife and fork to eat theirs’. We followed suit.

I could have eaten at a different restaurant every day for weeks without ever walking more than a couple of blocks from our hotel. Within one block there were three Chinese restaurants that also offered takeaway. We love dim sum dumplings and can’t get them in Nashville, so on several occasions we made a wonderful, inexpensive meal of Chinese dumplings, sautéed vegetables, and chicken skewers. (under 20 Euro for two)

There was a marvelous bakery (but aren’t they all?) next door to the Chinese restaurant, near St. Paul’s. DP ordered cheesecake, and a raspberry/apple tart that got very high marks. We also had wonderful quiches that they heated and we took with us.

Before I leave the meal department … the pitas stuffed (and I do mean stuffed!) with chicken and vegetables was excellent at L’as—and although it was very crowded, we only waited a few minutes.

Another day, we had an obligatory crepe from the stand on Rue du Rosiers. We both chose crepe “reine” (jambon, tons of fromage, champignons, and olives). Surprisingly good—and so inexpensive. I think 11 or 12 Euros for both of us.

Walking down Rue de Montaigne (near Champs D’Elysee) we passed restaurants that showed us how the “other half” lives. One menu had a starter for 158 Euros—and several others close to that. AGGHHH! I suspect that we enjoyed our dumplings, pitas, and crepes just as much as if we’d mortgaged the house for a dinner—but I don’t put anyone down who enjoys that; it’s just not my weakness.

I was so impressed with the Parisian attention to aesthetics; from the exquisite presentation of foods to the picture postcard window displays to the perfectly coiffed men and women—beauty was obviously appreciated.

Next installment to come …

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