Trip Report: Paris

Old Mar 31st, 2004, 10:07 AM
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Trip Report: Paris

Although I'm apprehensive about posting this trip report, having read the recent thread about them, here it is for what it's worth. Sorry that it is in pieces but it's long. Thanks in advance to all who helped me plan this trip, especially Scarlett. Our trip was March 22-28.

Day 1:
We arrived in Paris around noon and took a taxi (instead of the train) to the Hotel des Grands Hommes because it was raining. This was our first, but definitely not last, experience with the brief Parisian showers that sweep overhead and leave beautiful blue skies in their wake. The hotel is across the street from the Pantheon, and our room had a lovely view of the monument. The "superior double" room may have been small by most U.S. standards, but compared with New York hotel rooms it was spacious. The walls were covered in a lovely toile, and the bed was a nice big queen. And the bathroom was actually quite big.

We noticed all of this about the room later because we barely stopped to drop our luggage before racing out of the room to see the city. We had decided not to plan to see any specific sights on our first day, realizing that we would be tired. Instead we wandered down St. Michel and through the Latin Quarter just soaking up the atmosphere. We stopped to admire the Fontaine St. Michel and to peek in the windows at Café le Procope. The chilly showers forced us to snuggle close together under the umbrella, so it was a romantic walk. We had our first macarons at a little chocolate shop off of St. Germain des Pres. Ahhh! On our return to the hotel, we bought our carnets of Metro tickets and our 3-day museum passes at the Luxembourg RER station so that we would be ready for the next day.

That evening we ate dinner early just around the corner from our hotel at Restaurant Perraudin. Small and friendly with a quaint tin ceiling, the restaurant filled the bill for our first night. Nothing spectacular, but our first experience with steak frites was a good one. The waiters in every café/restaurant we visited were very understanding with my limited French (French nuns in middle school/classes in high school and college). The Perraudin folks patiently waited for me to stumble through our order. I have to say that it seemed most Americans we sat near in restaurants didn?t even try to speak French, so maybe the restaurateurs were patient with us because we at least tried.
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Old Mar 31st, 2004, 10:10 AM
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Day 2:
Up early and out! We noticed as we left the hotel that workers were draping what looked like artificial turf around the columns of the Pantheon, but I couldn?t figure out how to frame a question about it in French. The goings-on at the Pantheon would get more bizarre over the week. Crepes dripping with chocolate sauce at Crepes a Gogo on nearby Rue Soufflot made a wonderful breakfast (but one that would have had Dr. Atkins rolling in his grave). Then we were off to the first of three churches, Notre Dame via the Luxembourg RER stop. We spent a lot of time taking photos of the exterior (trying to keep the scaffolding out of the pictures) but were still some of the first inside the church. Morning sun blazed through the stained glass, and the familiar drone of the priest saying Mass followed us as we walked around the interior. When we left, we joined the short line for the climb up one of the towers. (The line would be much longer by the time we left.) I took a couple of puffs on my asthma inhaler before beginning the climb, but it wasn?t as bad as I expected. The close-up look at the gargoyles and the view over the city were well worth the effort.
A short walk from the church is the Deportation Memorial. After the glorious beauty of Notre Dame, it?s a huge change of mood. This small memorial is powerful. The claustrophobic concrete and bars are unsettling, especially when you get a brief glimpse of blue sky. The loss?
Another brief walk and brief shower, and we were wending our way through the Palais de Justice to Sainte-Chapelle. The outside of the church is difficult to see because the surrounding buildings crowd up against it, but it?s the inside that you come for anyway. I thought I was prepared for the stained glass windows after seeing the rose window at Notre Dame, but I wasn?t. Even though it was late morning and cloudy (afternoon sun is better), the windows were gorgeous. The English placards that explained the content of each window were very helpful. The Conciergerie (former prison) next door is underwhelming, and were it not for the museum pass, I would have been disappointed that we had paid to see it. Just across the street amid the flower market is one of the few remaining metro stops with the lovely art nouveau signage.
We headed across Pont Neuf to the Samaritaine department store for a rooftop lunch. Lucky for us the clouds parted just in time. The terrace has a wonderful view of downtown Paris, and the lunch wasn?t bad either. After dropping some euro in the never-ending men?s magasin in Samaritaine, we were off to Montmartre via Metro. The closest stop deposited us at the base of the hill, and we took the funicular up to Sacre-Coeur. More amazing views! Since Sacre-Coeur is relatively young in terms of churches in Paris, built to appease a vengeful God, it was interesting to be able to compare it with Notre Dame and Sainte-Chapelle.
For the rest of the afternoon, we wandered slowly down the hill from Sacre-Coeur, peeking in windows and taking photos of the windmill nestled on the hillside at Moulin de Galette. A short stop at the Café Tabac les Deux Moulins for wine and cheese indulged my ?Amelie? jones. (The real cafe is a bit smaller and missing some details, but the clientele matches perfectly ? uniformed workers catching a quick bite and a smoke.) Exhausted now, we caught the metro at the bottom of the hill and arrived at the hotel for a well-deserved nap. The afternoon nap turned out to be a lifesaver; we took one every day. It gave us energy to venture back out for dinner and prevented cranky afternoon arguments.
We had our best dinner that night (though we weren?t planning to splurge). At La Truffiere off of Rue Mouffetard we indulged in the specialty of the house ? truffles ? with their fixed 5-course menu: foie gras with truffles, salad with truffles, brill with truffles, duck with truffles. I think the only things that didn?t have truffles were the cheese course and dessert. The dinner was not tres cher, but the wine was. We let the sommelier steer us, and he knew his stuff. Although we nicked the cork to take home, we now can?t find it, so the wine will have to be a fond memory that can?t be repeated. Dinner was a three-hour pageant that I was very sorry to see end. The owner was a bit taken with us -- I guess my attempts at French were amusing -- and he gave us a little address book from La Truffiere as a keepsake. It makes me hungry just to look at it.
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Old Mar 31st, 2004, 10:17 AM
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egbear! I am so happy to see your trip report! You are most welcome, I am thrilled that anything I said might have helped you with your trip.
Go on now-keep it up, I am waiting for the next installment..
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Old Mar 31st, 2004, 10:20 AM
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Thanks for the encouragement, Scarlett. Here's Day 3.

Day 3
We had a little later start due to the indulgences of the night before, but the Louvre wasn't going anywhere. We promised ourselves before the trip that we would not spend a lot of time in museums. Living in D.C., we know too well that the Smithsonian can swallow an entire vacation, so we were determined to take small bites out of Paris' best and leave ourselves wanting more. After admiring the former palace that is the Louvre, we made quick stops at the Venus de Milo, Winged Victory and the Mona Lisa and a little detour to chuckle at the supposed "Da Vinci Code" clues in Madonna of the Rocks. Contrary to my expectations, the Mona Lisa was not tiny, but she was surrounded by adoring hordes. Wiggling my way to the front of the crowd to see her up close was worth it; she's gorgeous.

The museum store looked like a good place for souvenirs for the folks back home, but it wasn't what we expected. As Americans inured to rabid marketing at every historical site, it was surprising and welcome to find such a quiet bookshop. No Mona Lisa floaty pens or Venus de Milo paperweights.

After lunch at the museum, I took the metro to the Arc de Triomphe, intending to walk back to the Louvre down the Champs d'Elysees. My husband wisely decided to rest instead. As anyone can tell you who has spent the morning in the Louvre, a three-mile walk is not a good idea for the afternoon. I only made it as far as Ladurees. Note to Scarlett: I noticed this was a favorite of yours in previous posts and was looking forward to it, but oh my God! For the uninitiated, Ladurees sells heaven on a plate. With Easter approaching, chocolate rabbits and eggs were the featured attraction, but there were still plenty of macarons to choose from. It didn't feel fair to indulge alone, so I made a mental note to come back. I hopped a train back to the Tuileries, claimed a chair and watched children push brightly colored toy boats around the pool. Jonquils were blooming, and children were laughing. The sun was out, and I was warm in my coat. I took one of my favorite photos from the trip there - a duck sleeping in front of brightly blooming bulbs. Life is good.

After a power nap at the hotel, we were on our way to the Trocadero to watch the sun set and the Tour Eiffel light up. We walked through the Palais de Chaillot and down the hill to the tower, dodging trinket salespeople every few steps. Although very few people were waiting to ascend the tower, we had decided to save that for daylight hours. The sky turned pink and then gray, the perfect setting for a little smooching with the Eiffel Tower as a backdrop. Finally, our dinner reservations were calling so we had to bolt back up the hill before the lights came on. Dinner at La Butte Chaillot (one of Guy Savoy's bistros on Ave. Kleber) was a tasty meal in chic, if spare, surroundings. The bistro lacked the warmth of all the places that we had eaten in so far, but the roasted chicken was wonderful. (Yes, I know roasted chicken doesn't sound exciting, but it was.) After dinner, we walked back toward the Eiffel Tower to see it lighting up the sky. I couldn't choose which was lovelier-the day view or the night view-if I had to; both must be seen. Now the blinking version on the hour, that can be skipped unless you like your monuments looking like Fourth of July sparklers.

Back at the hotel, we watched some American TV on Jimmy. "Dallas" in French is even funnier than the original English. For some reason, "NYPD Blue" is in English though. There's also a very funny cartoon in which a French hypochondriac cow calls the doctor all the time. Guess you had to be there.
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Old Mar 31st, 2004, 10:23 AM
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Day 4
Looking out the windows the next morning, we noticed that the green turf around the Pantheon's columns had sprouted yellow flowers. They appeared to be pomps pushed through the turf (like on high school homecoming floats). And now workers were unloading rolls of real sod on the grounds. Hmmm...

Today, the itinerary was ambitious, so it was an early start again. Breakfast at Les Deux Musees behind the Musee d'Orsay put us close by and gave us a place to wait until the museum opened. Croissants, yum! At about five minutes to opening, we walked over to the museum and found to our dismay that the line was enormous and that the separate entrance for museum passholders didn't seem to exist. The renovations had rearranged the entrée, and there was only one entrance, but a helpful guard explained that we could jump to the front of the line as soon as the museum opened. Whew! We hurried to the impressionist works on the top floor and spent a precious 15 minutes alone with Van Gogh and Renoir and Manet before the hordes caught up to us. While we had whizzed through the Louvre, we dawdled through the d'Orsay. The train station itself is lovely, and the perfect setting for the art. One Caillebotte ("Les Raboteurs de Parquet" - "The Floor Scrapers") just had me in awe. The light that Caillebotte painted on the floor seems to be coming from the wonderful natural light beaming through the museum windows. The pastels in the darkened rooms are not to be missed, particularly the moody works of Lucien Levy-Dhurmer. Check out "Le Cirque Seuret."

We hurried over to Rue Cler for a snack before the market closed down for the afternoon. We nibbled on warm quiche lorraine while goggling at the displays of flowers, vegetables, meats and cheeses. Because Café du Marche was packed, we walked around the corner to Le Comptoir du Septieme in Rue de la Motte Picquet for lunch. An enormous salad pumped up our energy for the expected lines at the Eiffel Tower.

Lines? What lines? If you've ever been to Disney World, the lines at the Eiffel Tower won't faze you. Of course, this was a chilly day in March, so they are probably miles long in June. The big surprise at the Eiffel Tower was the teenagers with machine guns patrolling the base of the tower. Of course, they weren't really teenagers, but they looked it, which was disconcerting. This was really the only place in Paris where we saw stepped up security. Anyway, we went straight to the top, but spent very little time there. The view really is better from the second floor. At the top, objects are too tiny. We mailed our postcards from the tower post office to ensure they would have the postmark and started down the stairs. Funny anecdotes about activities at the tower are posted periodically in the stairwell, and they break up the walk down. The French appear to be obsessed with bringing animals or machines (elephants, horses, motorcycles) up the tower just to see what will happen.

Although my feet were aching, we were on a quest to find a small bust of Napoleon to take home as a souvenir, so after the Eiffel Tower we walked over to Napoleon's Tomb at Les Invalides. The tomb itself is simple, unlike the richly carved tombs in Westminster Abbey, but the setting is gorgeous. However, the only busts of Napoleon we could find were pewter and expensive, so they didn't fit our budget. Too tired to tackle the Musee de l'Armee, we took a cab back to the hotel for our afternoon nap. Although the metro is easy and convenient, you miss the sightseeing that it is possible with above-ground transportation, so the taxi was well worth it. It never seemed to cost more than 8-9 euro.

We kept close to the hotel for dinner that night -- Les Fontaines on Rue Soufflot. I started with artichokes stuffed with ratatouille and then had boeuf entrecote. Yum! A note about French entrees (appetizers): They were always large. We probably could have shared them, but we always wanted to try different things, so we left a lot of food on our plates.
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Old Mar 31st, 2004, 10:24 AM
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Last but not least, here are days 5 and 6.

Day 5
Petit dejeuner at the hotel was quite nice. The stone-ceilinged breakfast room was cozy, and the continental buffet tasty. There's no reason that we couldn't have eaten there every day other than that we like to explore. Looking across the street, we now saw the grounds of the Pantheon covered in grass and sprouting clear plastic vases with yellow jonquils. The garden was nearly complete.

This morning, we were off to Versailles. Having investigated the escorted tours, we decided that we didn't need a chauffeur and that the RER was simple enough to navigate. Since our museum pass had expired, we bought the combo transportation and entrance ticket at Gare Austerlitz. Unfortunately, there's not much of a view on the train ride to Versailles, but it does give you a peek at the petit Paris Statue of Liberty next to Pont de Grenelle.

The combo pass entitled us to entrance to the palace, the gardens and the Grand and Petit Trianon Palaces. We only took advantage of the palace and gardens, but you have to leave something for the next trip! Photos just don't do justice to the splendor of the State Apartments. Although the rooms are relatively bare of furnishings, the skeleton of the rooms is beautiful. Crowded, yes? And the tour guides reciting facts in every language creates a cacophony in these high-ceilinged rooms. We considered signing on to an English-language tour, but the guidebooks and a little eavesdropping gave us enough info to get by.

The gardens in early spring resembled the rooms of the palace-a bit skeletal. Although their green patterns were lovely, we did wish we could have seen them in bloom with the fountains going strong. The gardens are eerily quiet as soon as you leave the main paths, and it's easy to get over-imaginative about turning a corner and running into a courtier in full court dress.

We stopped of for lunch at Café Terminus de Mille, just across from the Versailles train station. Busy serving a crowd of locals and tourists, our waiter would practically sing orders to commit them to memory. Even with a table of 12, he never wrote anything down. My croque monsieur was hot and tasty, and I indulged in a stupendous chocolate and coconut sundae.

Back in Paris, we went shopping on the Champs d'Elysees. Frankly, shopping on the Champs d'Elysees was disappointing. It seemed to be lined with cheesy jewelry stores and trendy clothing stores. At least, it wasn't lined with Gap and Pottery Barn. My husband picked up a few things, and we investigated the perfume in Sephora, but the highlight was the return to Ladurees. In a lovely upstairs room, we indulged in champagne and an assortment of mini macarons (chocolate, pistachio, raspberry and vanilla). Ahhh! Although it was touristy, we took photos toasting each other.

After our afternoon nap at the hotel, we walked down to Saint Germain des Pres with no particular destination for dinner in mind. The wait at Café le Procope seemed too long, but it was cold, so we allowed ourselves to be wooed in off the street by a café owner nearby. Le Hoggar was not really French, and couscous would probably have been a better pick off the menu, but it was one of the most inexpensive meals we had.

Day 6
Last day. Where did all the time go? The garden at the Pantheon was complete, and we finally found out the method behind the madness. The garden was a fundraiser for a Curie Institute. All day, folks would buy jonquils, wander the garden and listen to music.

Breakfast at le Luxembourg Café was a feast-omelette, pastries and fruit. Today we intended to wander and shop. We had seen the "sights," so we were going to relax on the last day. On our last metro ride, we tried to take a picture of the stupid rabbit who is always getting his fingers caught in the train car's doors, but alas movement made the photos blurry. Silly rabbit, trains are for kids!

At Bon Marche I was at last in shopping nirvana. We bought scarves as gifts and I had finally got to use my practiced French to try on clothes and shoes. Loaded up with bags, we ventured back outside for a real hobbit's second breakfast at Café Au Sauvignon on Rue de Sevres. The heat lamps were blazing over the sidewalk tables, so we didn't stay long. Our last day in Paris was warmer than the rest.

We somehow ended up on St. Germain des Pres again, but further north than we had previously wandered. The window shopping here was superb. When our appetites had recovered, we began to look for a café for lunch. The superstars (Café Flore and Café des Deux Magots) were packed so we walked a little further and scored a sunny table at Café Mabillon. This would prove to be my favorite spot in Paris. Service was stellar, and the food tasty. But the highlight was the people-watching. Americans in tennis shoes loaded up with camera bags, Parisians walking their tiny dogs, and every other sort of folk.

When we had baked in the sun long enough, we headed down St. Germain des Pres again. Fueled by wine, I made a few more purchases, a suit at Gerard Darel and a lovely necklace and earrings that my husband spotted at Cecile et Jeanne. Sated, we headed back to the hotel.
Dinner that night was bittersweet. We knew it was the last, so we wanted it to be special, but we didn't want to venture far because we had packing to do. Le Cosi, which specialized in southern French cuisine, ended our trip on a high note. The rabbit (definitely not the stupid one from the metro) was luscious and tender. I've never had rabbit like that in the States and probably never will. But I could say that about so many things in Paris-nothing like the States, thank goodness.
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Old Mar 31st, 2004, 10:35 AM
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Egbear you have made my day a JOY! We will not be making our trip to Paris this year so I am rewalking in your footsteps! I can see it in my mind now and believe me it is a better picture than what I see on my desk now! The only good part of not going to Paris is being in Italy in May.
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Old Mar 31st, 2004, 10:38 AM
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aj, I'm so glad to have brightened your day. Your kind words have done the same for mine.
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Old Mar 31st, 2004, 10:47 AM
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Thanks for posting your trip report - it brought back some wonderful memories.
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Old Mar 31st, 2004, 10:53 AM
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Hi egbear,

Thanx for sharing a lovely trip report.
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Old Mar 31st, 2004, 10:58 AM
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Great report! Thanks for taking the time to share it with us. Last October we were at the Pantheon and I stood there looking at your hotel thinking "wouldn't that be a nice place to stay!", thanks for telling about it first hand. Sounds like you really took some time to soak up the city - good for you! Isn't it great to have time just to wander around like you did on your last day?
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Old Mar 31st, 2004, 10:59 AM
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Thanks for a great report! I'm going in July and this put me even more in the mood!
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Old Mar 31st, 2004, 11:01 AM
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Margie, yes that last day was my favorite. You just never know what you are going to find around the next corner, especially in the warren off St. Germain des Pres.
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Old Mar 31st, 2004, 11:05 AM
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Hi egbear,

Great trip report; thanks for sharing. I could visualize everything as I read and all the memories came back.

I'm glad you stopped to see the Deportation Memorial. Many people miss it and it is quite a contrast after Notre Dame.
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Old Mar 31st, 2004, 11:12 AM
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I'm glad you enjoyed Trufferie. It is one of my favorite restaurants in Paris.
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Old Mar 31st, 2004, 11:30 AM
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... I am at work as well and having to wait. I deal with a lot of hurry up and wait. Anyway...
AND, I'm sighing. I want to be in Paris again... the flowers are starting to bloom? Jeeeeeeezzzsh
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Old Mar 31st, 2004, 11:48 AM
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Thanks egbear for taking the time to share. Your report put me in great mood. I revisited all my favorite places with you.
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Old Mar 31st, 2004, 11:58 AM
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We tried to visit the deportation memorial, but there was a sign that said they were closed for 2 appeared that they close for lunch between noon and 2.

Sorry - but kind of glad- that the conciergerie was underwhelming. That was the one thing on my list that we didn't do.
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Old Mar 31st, 2004, 12:02 PM
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egbear - your trip sounds wonderful. I love your easygoing way of seeing things and not rushing from one place to another. I stayed just down the hill on rue des Ecole last Sept. and love that area. I've printed this out to savor in anticipation of a return trip in Sept. One thing I am going to try to do this time is take that little nap in the afternoon. I was so exhausted from all the walking that it was hard staying awake for dinner.
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Old Mar 31st, 2004, 12:09 PM
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missypie, don't know what I was expecting at the conciergerie, a giant guillotine maybe But big empty rooms and walls of text to read is what I got. Hopefully you got more cafe time by skipping it.
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