Paris: short trip - long report

Oct 23rd, 2004, 09:31 AM
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Paris: short trip - long report

Just back. We had been to Paris before, but this second trip to Paris was much more fun than the first! First off, we had better weather -- October is definitely more clement than April. Our temperatures averaged around 60-65 degrees by mid-afternoon, and the sun broke through at least once a day. Since this was our second trip, we didn't feel the need to see the "big" tourist attractions. We simply focused on doing what we felt like doing. And eating wonderful French food. Lots of it!

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 15 -- We drove up to Philadelphia. We live in DC but had waited too long before calling Air France to nab that wonderful winter sale back in the spring. Not that much worse than leaving from IAD - about 2-1/2 hours one way and much less hectic.


SATURDAY, OCTOBER 16 -- Our Air France flight arrived at Charles de Gaulle International Airport at 8:30 am on Saturday morning. The flight had been completely full, and neither DW nor I got much sleep on the 8-hour flight. The Air France terminal is awful -- there are no jetways. You have to walk down the steps to the tarmac, crowd onto a standing-room only bus, wind your way around the airport at 5 miles an hour to the terminal, go through customs (long line, 2 guys working, of course!), then find your way to the commuter rail train station.

At the station, the ticket line stretched for 100 yards, and even the machines had long lines. We opted for a machine, which gave me one good ticket, and one bad ticket. I got the good ticket, and DW couldn't bear the thought of standing in line again, so I urged her to "jump the turnstile" as I had seen others do. The train ride is about 35 minutes into the city, then we transferred to the #4 Metro line, which dropped us off one block from the Hotel Bonaparte.

It was about 11:00 am by this time (the airport really had been terrible!), but our rooms weren't ready yet. So we dropped off our luggage, then walked around our St. Germain des Pres neighborhood a bit. We loved the churches and walking through Ecole des Beaux-Arts. A lovely complex with beautiful buildings and courtyards within courtyards. St. Germain des Pres is a beautiful neighborhood, with a lot of expensive shops, like Chanel, Yves St. Laurent, Hugo Boss, etc. As the clothes/shoes shopping was lost on us, it wasn't really a perfect fit for us When we go back to Paris again, we'll stay in the Latin Quarter, or perhaps the Right Bank.

We stopped at a restaurant just a couple of blocks away called the Grille St. Germain. It was a traditional, semi-formal cafe, and we got there just in time for the start of the lunch hour. DW had a very restorative fish soup and roasted duck breast with currant sauce and cafe au lait. I had an entree of salad with butttery toast topped with a delicious melted cheese and herbs, followed by roasted lamb. About 50 Euro total. Feeling much better, though still very tired, we went back to the hotel, checked in and unpacked, and took a good two-hour nap.

We followed our street, Rue de Bonaparte, due north, and hit the Seine River right at a stop for the "Batobus", a water taxi that has eight stops up and down the Seine. On our way to the Batobus, we made a very traditional Parisian stop at Laduree for a large box macarons (not to be confused with macaroons!).We?re still enjoying them! These are light-as-air pillow shaped cookies filled with flavored cream, in very unusual flavors. The ticket seller on the Quai would only sell us a partial ticket, explaining that we might not have time for the full round-trip. As it turned out, the captain allowed us to go the entire circuit on the reduced fare (7 Euro). We sat inside the boat and watched the sights float by, including hitting the Eiffel Tower stop just as they turned on the lights for the evening, then started a somewhat "Disneyesque" flashing light show. Very dramatic!

Our dinner Saturday night was at a wonderful, formal restaurant called A La Petit Chaise (the small chair) at 36 Rue de Grenelle. It was in a rowhouse that felt like someone's home. DW and I shared a bottle of Cote de Rhone, I had the foie gras and oxtail terrine entree, followed by a duck confit. DW had a wonderful quenelle of fish in a rich cheese sauce, followed by thin pork cutlets with potato and onion. We sat next to a couple of British middle-aged women speaking English . We soon figured out that one of the ladies was a restaurant critic, and was reviewing La Petit Chaise. It was a well-spent 3 hours. Total - 100 Euro. Highly recommended.


SUNDAY OCTOBER 17th -- We slept in until about 9:00 and got downstairs for the complimentary breakfast about 10:00. (Breakfast was always a pot of coffee for each, DW?s with hot steamed milk, a croissant and a hard roll for each, butter and jam.) We took a bus across the river to the American Cathedral on Avenue King George V. The bus system is superb! Actually much nicer than the Metro, since you can see all the buildings and there are no steps up and down to the stations. There are usually bus and taxi lanes, so the buses don't crawl along in the traffic. And every bus stop and bus shows the route in detail, including where every bus stop is. The Washington Metro people should go to Paris and take a look at a system that actually encourages tourists to use the bus system by making it convenient and user-friendly! Let me say it again - the bus system is better than the Metro. Use the bus.

Church was wonderful. It was Anglican, and so was completely familiar and comfortable to us. Most of the parishioners were either American, British, or African, though there were a surprising number of French speakers as well. I was impressed by the number of men wearing scarves (with great aplomb). After church, we had a nice brunch of omelettes, fresh orange juice, bread and coffee at a nearby cafe. Then we got on the bus in the reverse direction, and crossed the river to the Musee D'Orsay.

This is a fantastic museum of art from the early 19th Century through the mid 20th Century. There were three floors of paintings and sculptures -- the main floor was pre-Impressionist, the top floor was Impressionist, and the middle floor was post-Impressionist. It was tightly focused and just the right size. (As opposed to the Louvre, which is completely overwhelming.) The building itself is unbelievably beautiful. It is an old rail terminal that was going to be torn down, but the historic preservationists held out and it was turned into a museum, with incredible natural light and lovely architectural details.

We walked back to the hotel and rested for a couple of hours, finding a news stand along the way that sold film and the Pariscope (weekly guide to the arts & entertainment), and stopping for more macarons at a different shop, right across the street from our hotel. This was called Pierre Herme, and they treated cakes and cookies as works of art. (And priced them accordingly!). For the record, the macarons at PH are twice as good as those exquisite ones at Laduree On our way out that evening, we stopped at the Place St. Sulpice, right next to our hotel. St. Sulpice is one of Paris's oldest churches, and has a wonderful plaza in front with an enormous fountain, with lions shooting water out of their mouths. Then we walked just a few blocks around the corner to one of Paris's oldest restaurants, Aux Charpentiers (The Carpenters).

This was originally a fraternal lodge for the carpenters' guild, and has been a famous restaurant for over 100 years. We had a very relaxing, 2 bottles of wine dinner. It was fantastic, though we were seated in "the American corner". Of course, we hadn't made reservations, which might have made a big difference. I had an endive, bleu cheese and walnut salad, followed by beef cooked in paper (cooking everything wrapped in tin foil). The beef was topped with marrow, and had baby carrots on the side. DW had warm baked goat cheese on a bed of dressed greens, followed by roasted leg of lamb. And of course we had a cheese plate, desserts and coffee -- dinner began at 8:30, and we rolled out of there at almost 11:30. Our dinner at Aux Charpentiers was 128 Euro.

MONDAY, OCTOBER 18th -- This was our first walking tour (Frommers.com) day, and we decided to explore the Marais, a Right Bank neighborhood that is full of boutiques and galleries and incorporates the Jewish quarter of the city. Marais means "marsh" in English, and was the first area into which the city of Paris expanded after outgrowing the confines of the Ile de la Citie (where Notre Dame stands).

Our tour began at Place de la Bastille, where the French Revolution began in 1789 when a mob attacked the prison located here. Nothing remains of the original prison, whose famous prisoners included the Marquis de Sade and the Man in the Iron Mask. It's basically a busy traffic circle now. In the center is the beautiful July Column, topped by the winged God of Liberty. This doesn't commemorate the Revolution, but honors the victims of the July Revolution of 1830, after Napoleon was defeated the second time.

Our walk brought us to the Place des Vosges, one of Paris's oldest squares. The building are beautifully symmetrical -- the height of the facade is equal to the width, and the height of the roof is half the height of the facade. It was built by Henri IV in the early 16th Century and was to be called the Place Royal, but the king was assassinated 2 years before it was completed. Victor Hugo lived on the square, and there is now a museum at his house, but it was closed (on Mondays most museums are closed). The park in the center of the square is beautiful and calm, and we spent a half hour wandering and resting.

From the square, we walked to Place de Thorigny, and visited the impressive Musee Picasso, which was fortunately open. It is a very thorough collection of works from all of Picasso's long and productive career. It was quite a juxtaposition to see his very modern works in the 18th Century mansion the museum occupies. I consider this one of the top museums in Paris. We then walked down to Rue des Rosiers (Street of the Rosebushes), which is a narrow street in the old Jewish quarter, full of colorful restaurants and stores. We stopped for lunch at Chez Jo Goldenberg, a delicatessen established in 1920. DW had potato pancakes and matzoh ball soup. I had a variety of hors-d'oeuvres, including fish egg mousse, ground liver and eggs, cheese, and eggplant caviar. With our coffee, we shared an incredible hot apple strudel that I'll be dreaming about for months to come. 40 Euros.

We ran a quick errand after lunch, going into the 1st district to E. Dehillerin, specialists in cooking equipment. We bought 2 madeline pans. This store is a must for anyone who loves to cook. This was the only area we noticed police officers on roller-blades.

Since it was still only mid-afternoon, we took a bus up to a completely different neighborhood, the St. Martin district that runs along the north-south canal on the Right Bank. We were hoping to find a bike rental place and ride along the canal, but the part of the neighborhood we walked through was busy and not conducive to a quiet afternoon bike ride. I think we started too far south, and the quieter part of the canal was north of the boat basin. We walked about a mile, and decided to call it a day and walked back to the Gare du'Est to take the metro back to our hotel.

At the metro station at St. Germain des Pres, we had coffee at Les Deux Magots (?the two Chinese mandarins"), a very famous cafe that was a favorite of Ernest Hemingway's. We had our most expensive coffee of the trip -- 5 Euro a cup! I took a quick nap and DW did some quick shopping (perfume).

Monday's dinner was the only time we consciously went back to revisit someplace we had been back in 2001. We went Le Cameleon (the Chameleon), a restaurant in the Montparnasse neighborhood right across the street from the hotel we had stayed at last time. This was -- without a doubt -- our very nicest dinner. We both had the same salad of tiny green beans, mixed salad, duck breast and foie gras. I had roast goose with currant sauce and mashed potatoes, and DW had a delicious, mild sausage in lentils. For dessert we had dark chocolate cake and a pear tart, and we accompanied this feast with a wonderful Cote de Rhone. Another terrific three-hour meal.

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 19th -- Our last full day in Paris. Time for another walking tour! This time, we walked through the Latin Quarter, one of the oldest parts of the cities, which houses the University of Paris and the Sorbonne. Some of the mazelike streets were built by the Romans 1,000 years ago. We started the tour at the Maubert Market, where we bought picnic goodies, including a rabbit terrine, some nice stinky cheese, and olives direct from Provence. Across the Boulevard St. Germaine, going north toward the Seine and up a short street is a lovely park called Square Rene Viviani, where we hung out for half an hour. In the park is one of the very oldest churches in Paris, St. Julien-le-Pauvre, a small, dark, Gothic church that holds many concerts. The oldest tree in Paris, an acacia planted in 1602, stands in the park. Of all the parks and squares we visited, this was my favorite.

We walked along the river with a stunning view of Notre Dame to our left. Ducking down a tiny street, Rue Bievre, which in the Middle Ages was a river that flowed into the Seine. We stopped to rest in a tiny park beside the former residence of Francois Mitterand. Then we started up a long hill toward the Pantheon, which looks like a church (or actually, a lot like the U.S. Capitol), but is a memorial to French writers, philosophers, and heroes. At the top of the hill is St. Entienne du Mont, a church containing the sarcophagus of St. Genevieve, the patron saint of Paris. We couldn't explore the church much, because there was a service going on. A block beyond the church is a remnant of the original perimeter wall that surrounded Parish until the Middle Ages. We then started down the long hill on Rue Mouffletard, a busy University town street with lots of cheap restaurants and funky stores.

Toward the bottom of the street was another outdoor market, where we bought spring water and bread to complete our picnic. Then we waked another 5 or 6 blocks to the oldest garden in Paris, the Jardin des Plantes, which contains the Zoo, a Botanical Garden, and the Museum of Natural History. The gardens are in two parts -- very formally laid-out flower gardens on one side, and winding "wild" gardens on the other. We sat on a bench in the formal garden and watched high school gym classes race their students in groups around the garden as we ate our picnic lunch.

Much rested and restored, we walked on to the Arenes de Lutece, ruins of an ancient Roman arena from the 1st or 2nd Century. The arena has been restored, with the coliseum area around it and beautiful manicured gardens. Some men were playing boules in the center of the arena, until a school groups came pouring in on a field trip.

Our last stop was to be the Institut du Monde Arabe, which is an imposing structure on the River which has a rooftop restaurant where we were going to have some tea. Unfortunately, a blockbuster exhibit on Pharaoh had opened there that day, and the line went around the block. Plan B took us down to the two islands in the Seine: Isle St. Louis and Isle de la Citie. We wandered through these old central areas, stopping for gelato (Amorino - a growing chain with a better product than Berthillion) and to stare up in wonder at the ornate front of Notre Dame

We returned to the hotel for a rest. Rather than another grand 3-course dinner, we took the metro to the Pompidou Center (an ugly building that houses the city's modern art collection) and walked along Rue Blancs-Manteaux, a narrow, medieval street, looking for an informal place for a quick dinner before the 8:00 concert at the Eglise Notre-Dame des Blancs-Manteux. We ended up having Croque Mounsiers and Belgian beer. The concert was a children's choir and solo mezzo-soprano, singing (very) French songs by Berlioz, Poulenc, Durufle, and Debussy, among others. Those kids were amazing musicians -- it was a wonderful concert. Afterward, we walked back to Isle St. Louis and sat at an outdoor cafe, listening to a melancholy accordion, eating a light dessert and wine, looking at the Paris night sky across the Seine River. It was pretty doggone romantic!

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 20th -- After one last breakfast at Hotel Bonaparte, we checked out, took the Metro and commuter train back to the airport, and came home, arriving in Philadelphia around 3:30 and home by 6:30. It was a wonderful, romantic, relaxing, delicious vacation. We really got it right the second time.
bardo1 is offline  
Oct 23rd, 2004, 10:54 AM
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Thanks for a superlative, evocative report on your Paris stay. I'm copying it for our next trip, when we'll have a week instead of just a few days.
Underhill is offline  
Oct 23rd, 2004, 11:37 AM
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What an excellent report! Next time we visit, I hope we can do some of the same walks as you.

Just curious: did you have reservations for your dinners at La Petite Chaise and Le Camaleon? If so, how did you go about making the reservations? How did you like your hotel?

I agree with your comments about CDG - what an awful airport.
flsd is offline  
Oct 23rd, 2004, 12:05 PM
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Wonderful report - thanks for posting. CDG is a disaster, I was shocked the first time we used it as I expected that such a large facility would have their act together - WRONG! Your trip sounded so relaxing, isn't it a treat to have time to slow down and walk around, sit at cafes and just soak up the atmosphere?
Margie is offline  
Oct 23rd, 2004, 12:25 PM
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Thanks for the great report. I feel like I could have written much of it as you saw many of the same sights that my son and I did during our two week stay this summer. We loved the D'Orsay and Laduree and walked through the Place des Vosges while we toured the Marais. One of our favorite days was touring the Jardin des Plantes which was kind of an afterthought. The zoo was absolutely darling! We loved the old buildings that house the animals and really enjoyed the antics of the orangutans.

We had a nightmare with Air France twice. When I dropped my son off at the airport for his flight home (I stayed for two more weeks to ride my bike and follow the Tour de France) he was put on standby although we were there hours in advance of the flight and I had bought the ticket months in advance. Turns out the same flight on the day before had been canceled due to security concerns and all of those people got preference over my son. I was told to show up an hour later at a certain desk to see if there was room for him but when I did they had no idea what I was talking about so I went back to the original desk and was then directed elsewhere...again, not the right place. Another Air France customer pointed out an Air France emplyee that had been helpful to her family and I got in her line and asked her what the alternatives were as I was leaving Paris that day for the south of France on a bus tour of the Tour de France. I told her I could not leave my 14 yr old in Paris alone for the night so that he could take the flight the next morning. She made a phone call and 15 minutes before th flight left my son was dashing to the plane. Whew! If it weren't for her we would have had a serious snafu.

Two weeks later the same exact thing happened to me when I tried to get on the plane even though I was at the airport waaaaay earlier than suggested for international flights. Big mess. And no sympathy or help from anyone but the one woman who got my son on the plane.

I stayed in a great little studio apt. this summer in the Latin Quarter on the rue Mouffetard that you might want to check out for a future stay. You can see it at www.vrbo.com/31087. I go to the sight frequently just to relive the trip!
amwosu is offline  
Oct 23rd, 2004, 12:31 PM
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Bardo1, next time (because with Paris there should always be a next time) try driving to Baltimore instead of Philly and take Icelandair unless you don't like smaller jets. It stops for an hour in Iceland, and you go through passport control there and when you land in Paris, all you do is collect your luggage and you are on your way. You do arrive around 1 p.m., though rather than 6 or 7 a.m. The airport is a small gem compared to CDG.
palette is offline  
Oct 23rd, 2004, 12:31 PM
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Wonderful!! And a big welcomee back.
cigalechanta is offline  
Oct 23rd, 2004, 12:34 PM
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flsd:

We simply walked into A La Petit Chaise (ph. 01 42 22 13 35) at 8:30 pm with no reservation (we were the second table to be seated). Earlier in the day, we had walked by, read the menu, and had made a mental note to return. By 9:00 pm they were full.

We called Le Cameloen (01 43 20 63 43) the same day to make a 8:30 reservation. They didn't start answering the phone until 7 pm (I assume there was no one there between the lunch seating and that time). We were again the second table seated. It didn't fill up until well after 10:00 pm.

Aux Charpenters was also a walk-in at 8:30 pm and they were already almost full.

I wish we weren't usually the first to arrive for dinner, but the American in me just wants to be finished eating dinner before midnight.

We loved our hotel, especially the staff. Huge room w/ queen bed, bathroom w/ full size tub, windows overlooking Rue Bonaparte and a back courtyard. A great 2 star hotel in a four star neighborhood. Our room (#27) on the 6th floor was 151 Euro per night which included breakfast as well as all taxes and fees. It's also very close to 3 dfferent Metro stations and steps to Place St. Sulpice.

pallette: yes, yes, yes, but Icelandair wasn't offering $250 nonstop roundtrip!
bardo1 is offline  
Oct 23rd, 2004, 12:34 PM
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Wonderful report, bardo1. Thank you! I'm also a fan of Le Caméleon, but haven't been in a few years. This was a nice reminder to go back there.
StCirq is online now  
Oct 23rd, 2004, 12:45 PM
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On what street is Le Cameleon located? We are staying the Montparnasse area in the spring and I'm compiling a list of restaurants/arrondissements based on favorable reviews here.

Thanks!
sorriso is offline  
Oct 23rd, 2004, 01:07 PM
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6, rue de Chevreuse. Métro: Vavin
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Oct 23rd, 2004, 01:08 PM
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sorriso:
Le Cameleon is at 6 Rue de Chevruse - just north of Blvd. Montparnasse. Also one block east of Metro Vavin (vah-VAN).
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Oct 23rd, 2004, 01:15 PM
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How smokey was Le Cameleon? We almost went there but then decided against because of what I'd heard about the smoking problem.
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Oct 23rd, 2004, 01:30 PM
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underhill:
Much improved. On our first visit in 2001 all of the waiters chain smoked, only setting down their cigarettes when serving a table. This time, none of waiters smoked at all and less than half of tables had smokers. A sign of the changing times, I believe.
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Oct 23rd, 2004, 03:36 PM
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Bardo, about 2 weeks ago we ate at Aux Charpentiers as well, and I tried the same beef in paper as you. Mine was so rare, almost raw, and had a peculiar taste. Everyone was so nice, I didn't have the heart to return it. Is that the way yours was served?
 
Oct 23rd, 2004, 11:32 PM
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Most enjoyable report! Makes me feel like I was there. We just returned last week and I can't wait to buy the next tickets already! Thanks for "taking us back".
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Oct 24th, 2004, 05:46 AM
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Bardo - Great report, thank you for taking the time. I am pouring over Paris reports, past and present, now to gather information so I found this one a great source for my research. Sounds like you had a great trip in spite of the snafu's at CDG. Take Care Jackie
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Oct 24th, 2004, 06:01 AM
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ira
 
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Great report, bardo.

Thanks for sharing.
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Oct 24th, 2004, 08:22 AM
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annieladd,
Yes, very rare. The various sprigs of herbs in the foil packet were quite unfamiliar though not "peculiar". All in all, perfect in every way (to me). This is actually one of the signature dishes and probably a local favorite at that restaurant for the last century.
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Oct 24th, 2004, 09:05 AM
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dln
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Good going, bardo1. My husband and I covered much the same ground as you when we were in Paris the week before.

The day we met up with Croque Madame, we visited St. Etienne du Monte just as the music students were up in the balconies. We were treated to an impromptu organ concert! That church is my favorite in Paris' Left Bank.

I know what you mean about not feeling the need to see the "big" tourist atractions since it was a subsequent trip. We didn't either and I think that's what made our visit so relaxing and special. We simply enjoyed being in Paris.
 

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