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Trip Report--Paris, March 2009, two Fodorite GTGs, 27 meals, some new sites

Trip Report--Paris, March 2009, two Fodorite GTGs, 27 meals, some new sites

Apr 13th, 2009, 07:45 AM
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Trip Report--Paris, March 2009, two Fodorite GTGs, 27 meals, some new sites

My husband and I were in Paris from March 11 to 24, 2009, the longest time we've ever spent at once there--or anywhere in Europe for that matter. We had delightful weather, saw some places we've not seen in 30+ previous trips, and ate as well or better than we ever have before. All that and the opportunity to meet up with not just one but two groups of Fodorites, made this one of our best trips ever.

If you've ever seen any of my trip reports you know this one will have a heavy concentration on food, but before I get to that I'll at least pay lip service to a few other matters, like:

Hotel--Parc St. Severin, a left bank gem
Museum Passes and Navigo cards
Some new museums, for us anyway
Greves and perturbations
Some new markets
A new square or two and a couple of parks
A day trip to Brussels--what was I thinking!

Hotel Parc St. Severin

We tried out apartment staying on our New Years trip to Barcelona--and I decided it's not for everyone and I'm one of the ones it's not for. So we returned to our old favorite hotel on the left bank--Parc St. Severin. Because we were staying 13 nights, I worked out a pretty reasonable rate with them and best of all, they offered me my choice of rooms. Don't know whether this is their standard practice or if it's something reserved for frequent stayers (we've probably stayed with them 10 times or more and I've referred many friends to them as well.) The offer even included one of the top floor rooms with balcony overlooking the St. Severin Church and we were sorely tempted, but it was March and we reasoned that we'd not be spending a lot of time shivering on the balcony, so we opted instead for Room 50, I believe the largest room on the property, where we'd first stayed years ago and where we reserved for our daughter's honeymoon stay in Paris. It's a terrific room with a bathroom larger than many complete hotel rooms on the left bank. It was very comfortable for our long stay.

We were also delighted to have the services of Beatrice, our favorite front desk person. She made advance dining reservations for us, got us several same or one day notice reservations while we were there, traded dining info with us, and gave us advice on how to avoid Greve problems during the one day strike that occurred while we were in residence. She and, indeed, all the staff at Parc St. Severin are helpful, kind, considerate and really make their guests feel at home.

The place has had a major renovation of the public rooms in the last couple of years and they are very comfortable, with lots of books and guides to Paris available for guest use. They also have free wifi if you have your own computer and a computer available for use in the lounge--not sure whether or not there is a charge for that. I recommend this place very highly. We've stayed in about a dozen hotels over the years and St. Severin is the one we keep returning to. It's on Rue Parchemenerie, in the 5th, tucked into the area between Blvds St. Michel and St. Germain across from the Cluny Museum.
JulieVikmanis is offline  
Apr 13th, 2009, 08:04 AM
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This sounds like a good one! Looking forward to reading it as it builds...
Canada_V is offline  
Apr 13th, 2009, 08:06 AM
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Great start to your report, can't wait for more.

gracie04 is offline  
Apr 13th, 2009, 08:14 AM
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Museum passes and Navigo cards

With so many days to explore the city we decided to do a couple of things we've not done previously. We invested in 6 day museum passes and got Navigo cards. Thanks to all the posts on this site, I was able to purchase both easily and use them to advantage.

For the Navigo cards I arrived with pictures of both my husband and myself (they should be head shots 1"x1")and went to a Tabac that advertised metro tickets for sale. The clerk made up our passes and we were set to go the following Monday. Luckily we had some leftover tickets from previously purchased carnets to use up to tide us over while we waited for Monday to arrive. After it did, it was a great treat to feel like a native and just waive our navigo cards over the metro turnstiles or the bus boxes and move instantly along--and not have to take time to purchase more tickets either singly or in carnets.

For the museum passes, we walked the block or two from our hotel to the relatively quiet Cluny museum late on the day of our arrival and purchased our passes with no wait in line. We didn't sign and date them until the following day when we were ready to start using them because they are good for 6 CONSECUTIVE days. I'd planned in advance how we might maximize our passes by packing all our museum hopping into that first 6 days and it worked like a charm. I was especially happy with the purchase when we breezed right by a great big long line at the Orsay.

Let me say up front, that husband and I are not really great museum goers. While there are some places we really love, there are lots of others we've always felt a little guilty about never having seen because we just didn't want to see them "that much." Well, IMO the museum pass may be best not for big time museum lovers but for lukewarm folks like us. Because we'd made the initial investment and knew we could walk in, walk out, go back, whatever, we used the passes to relieve a lot of built up guilt and see just the few things in several places that we wanted to see without feeling like we had to "get our money's worth" and see the whole thing.

And so, we breezed through the Louvre and saw our favorite Winged Victory and a few other things, but didn't feel bad when we'd had our fill of the crowds and bugged out. We finally actually went inside the Cluny and saw the lovely tapestries. We even got into the Musee Galliera which is only open for exhibits--a disappointment, but at least we did it. We went again to the Arts et Metiers with its exhibits of inventions and machinery, something we'd probably not have done had we had to purchase individual tickets but which we enjoyed seeing again. We saw the interior of the new Branly, another place we'd probably not have gone had we been purchasing individual admissions. We wanted to see the interior of the actual building--which we liked a lot--but have little interest in the actual art which is African and Oceanic, just not our thing.

We also used the passes for admission to Versailles, something we'd not done in several recent visits, based primarily on our fear of crowds based on a previous miserable experience holding cameras overhead to snap pix of fellow tourists' heads. Again, we reasoned, we'd just walk out if it was too crowded. It wasn't. We got pictures of the hall of mirrors without a single tourist in them. We'd not have chanced that had we been required to purchase the admission separately just for the interiors. Having that prepaid pass in hand was tremendously freeing.

We also used it for admission to see the tombs at St. Denis and had anticipated using it for Chantilly, Compiegne and even Pierrefonds, but wound up with a spot of ominous looking weather and opted out of our planned day trip which would have taken us to those sights.

For us, the museum pass was perfect. But probably not for the reasons most people purchase the pass. But if you're a fellow lukewarm visitor to museums, consider it. It may be just the ticket.
JulieVikmanis is offline  
Apr 13th, 2009, 08:15 AM
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Hi Julie - Great start to your report - I know it's going to keep me coming back for more!
tod is offline  
Apr 13th, 2009, 08:40 AM
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Julie - actually really glad to hear about your perception of the value of the pass. That is exactly the same line of reasoning that we were going to go with - the "freedom to bail" and not try feel we had to "get our monies worth" was one of the things we thought would be a benefit (especially travelling with two kids) - great to hear that you had that specific experience!
Canada_V is offline  
Apr 13th, 2009, 08:48 AM
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Looking forward to reading another great trip report from you.
Weekender is offline  
Apr 13th, 2009, 08:49 AM
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Finally someone started their trip report. Now the rest of us will be shamed into following suit.
Can't wait for the food part!
AGM_Cape_Cod is online now  
Apr 13th, 2009, 09:05 AM
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Thanks for the very comprehensive reports. We are taking notes!
waterdog is offline  
Apr 13th, 2009, 09:38 AM
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Looking forward to the rest of this, especially the get-togethers. Wish I could have been there.
Nikki is online now  
Apr 13th, 2009, 09:41 AM
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Greves and perturbations

We were in Paris for the long-awaited and advertised Greve or work stoppage. There was a lot of pre-greve hype and rumors about a total shut down of the city, etc. but the bark was certainly worse than the bite, at least as far as we were concerned. We planned activities for the day that we could do by walking so we wouldn't have to rely on buses or metros, but transport seemed to be moving pretty well. While we saw a number of police vehicles lined up at various spots with police waiting inside them to deploy if necessary, apparently there was little necessity and a lot of card playing. We did see one demonstration with chanting at the Place de la Bastille, but even that seemed very convivial.

The thing I found most interesting/amusing about the Greve was a headline I read from a fellow metro rider's newspaper, which spoke not of the Greve but of "Peturbations." It just struck me funny to see a word I could understand being used in such an interesting way.

New sights

Well, not really new, but sights we'd not seen before or had seen in a different light included:

Parc Dupliex in the 15th with its charming little church with a real community feel

Parc de Belleville in the 20th, a lovely terraced park, quite unlike anything I was expecting. We viewed it from the top lookout spot which permitted us to take much of it in at a glance and without the effort of climbing the stairs and walkways required for a terraced park.

Amphitheatre at the Sorbonne--it wasn't open, but at least I now know where to find it to be able to take a peak sometime when I'm lucky enough to be there when it is.

Wilson Market--on the Avenue President Wilson, on Saturday. It's our favorite and not really a new sight, but we were able to buy something new there--bloomer suits with smocked sailboats for our new twin granddaughters. For 15 euros apiece, this was a terrific purchase.

Two other markets we went to were, however, new to us--Rue Daguerre, a street market, and Montrouge, a roving market both in the 14th, both good.

Batignolles area provided a multiplicity of new places to see and discover--a covered market (not the best), a lovely square with a brochant market in progress and cute little tea rooms surrounding, a sweet and pretty church (St. Marie des Batignolles), and a glorious park with greenery, flowers and water. Since it wasn't far, we also strolled to the incredibly beautiful old favorite Parc Monceau with its water sites and gardens.

Place de la Nation--I can't believe we've never been to this large place before. It's at the eastern end of Rue du Faubourg Saint Antoine and a metro stop on Line 1. Nonetheless we concluded we'd never been there before nor even driven by and were highly impressed with the lovely buildings surrounding it and with its flowers and statuary in the center of the round place with 10 major avenues radiating from it.

Place Dauphin--was also a discovery. We'd been near and maybe even through it previously but this time we really stopped to look at it and soak it up and enjoy it. As a result it's become one of my new favorite places in Paris. It is not a square but rather a triangle behind the Justice Courts on the Ile de la Cite. It's quiet, shaded by wonderful tall trees, and surrounded by cute little bistros with sidewalk tables. I have learned that Simone Signourey (sp?) and Yves Montand had an apartment there. They had good taste. It's my idea of the perfect place to live in Paris. It's also a great place to visit and a wonderful place to find a table for lunch.

Another place we've been to often but where I at least saw something in a new light--the Trocadero. The number of youthful Africans selling Eifel towers and flying birds on the plaza between the two buildings at the top seems to increase every time we go. This time, perhaps because we arrived relatively early in the morning and the area was somewhat open, they seemed to line up approaching the on rushing hordes of tourists, giant key rings filled with Eifel towers at the ready, a sort of modern day attack by a phalanx of Masai warriors with swords and shields preparing for battle right out of a Robert Rouark novel.

Brussels--another not new, new thing. This time not so good. We first saw Brussels on our first trip to Europe in 1973. We loved it. Indeed, we returned telling people that Brussels was what Paris (which we did not enjoy on that trip) should have been. We returned a couple of times early on and still enjoyed it but have not been now for about 20 years. With 13 days in Paris, we decided to splurge and spend one of them taking the Thalys to Brussels for a day-trip. We still enjoyed the Grand Place, and the cathedral which has been cleaned and beautified since we saw it last. We also enjoyed the Galleries St. Hubert. What we didn't like was most everything else. The streets surrounding the Grand Place were dirty, in need of renovation and in many instances occupancy. The streets around the relatively new train station were the pits. The place overall lacked charm and made me feel very sad. It was dreary and unkempt. The best thing we could say about it, is that our day trip saved us from planning a return trip with a larger chunk of time concentrating on a city we no longer feel any desire to return to.
JulieVikmanis is offline  
Apr 13th, 2009, 09:55 AM
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Looking forward to the rest of your report, esp about the GTGs. I've got two set up for May!

monicapileggi is offline  
Apr 13th, 2009, 10:47 AM
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Thanks everyone. The hardest part of a trip report is always getting started.

Fodorite Get Togethers

Attention attendees: I'm going to need help with this. Names and faces have started to blur already. I also have a couple of pix, but am not proficient at figuring out how to post URLS to get other people to them. Bear with me.

If I recall correctly Gomiki got the ball rolling with a post to find folks who would be in Paris while she, Cigalechanta and AGM_Cape_Cod and their entourage would be in town. A couple of us responded that we'd like to attend but our dates wouldn't work. From there it all morphed into three GTGs within the space of about 5 days, of which we could only attend two but I believe Grandot and her patient husband managed to attend all three.

Attendees feel free to jump in with any corrections of fact or recollection.

The first of these GTGs was held Saturday, March 21st, at the Derniere Goutte wine shop owned by American expats in the 5th, also proprietors of the popular restaurant Fish, La Boissonerie, right around the corner. It was also the scene of another GTG held about two years ago and attended by at least some of the participants of this "reunion tour." Melissa Haney, her husband Joseph--wearing his omnipresent beret, daughter Cora, who had already done some pretty impressive shopping and their au pair Carl, all showed up, professed their apartment swell and ordered some provencal rose. Traviata (Sandy Hutcheson) and her husband James who goes by another name like Ed maybe--am I right?, from Virginia also made it and so did Grandot (Dorothy Siegel), her husband Seymour, and her dear granddaughter Alexandra who is going to school in Paris--lucky girl. We posed for a picture that I took, so I'm not in it (clever, huh?) I'll show you if I can figure out how to post it. So far, having no luck.

We all traded dining and sightseeing info, gossiped a bit about other posters (I presume), and enjoyed ourselves tasting wines from the shop. It was a good GTG.

The second GTG was at the Bar Lutetia of the hotel of the same name in the 6th at the Sevres Babylon metro station. It was held Monday March 23 and if memory serves, had 10 participants--5 who also attended the Derniere Goutte GTG, Dorothy, Seymour and Alexandra, my husband Val and me and 5 new folks who had just arrived that day or the day preceding--AGM_Cape_Cod, alias Abby and Tomas Menard, Cigalechanta, alias Mimi Taylor, and Miki of Gomiki and Richard, whose last name I never caught, sorry. This fivesome all hailed from the Boston, Cape Cod area and had met previously, I think at Fodorite GTGs. Right, folks?

Foodie talk dominated as comparisons of meals at Cristophe, Petit Pontoise and Itineraires filled the lovely bar/lounge. Abby, herself a chef, held top credentials and seemed actually able to recall specific ingredients of some of the dishes she'd had on previous trips. Others of us, who eat better than we cook, were suitably impressed. I was happy to discover a Wisconsin connection when I learned that Tomas had been associated with the U of Wisconsin River Falls school, pretty much smack dab between Eau Claire where I was born and Mpls where we endured winter for so long. Lots of talk about chefs, restaurants, and even a few tourist sights, towns and locales.

All in all, it was a swell gathering and I'm sure the one which followed on Tuesday at Boullion Racine was equally fun. We left the next day and so couldn't make that gathering. I'm sure one of those who attended will fill us in. Again, we have pix of the Lutetia GTG and I'll keep trying to figure out how to post them. If there's one of you out there with more savvy in that department than I, I would love to be able to e-mail the pix to you for posting. Anyone?
JulieVikmanis is offline  
Apr 13th, 2009, 10:50 AM
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Monica, my best advice to you is to be sure that the person taking the pictures knows how to post them on the internet so they can be easily viewed by those reading the post. Good luck. Have a great GTG--or two or three.
JulieVikmanis is offline  
Apr 13th, 2009, 11:20 AM
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Thanks JulieVikmanis,

I've held many GTGs, in fact, I hosted the first one 10 years ago - May 16, 1999! I have my travel page, which I post photos from these GTGs:

Sounds like you all had a great time. Sandy and Ed are friends of mine and have attended many of my GTGs in the DC/MD/VA area.

monicapileggi is offline  
Apr 13th, 2009, 12:00 PM
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Julie, I may not be the best to help you with pictures , but this is the way I do it: I transfer from camera to Kodak site, I select those that I want to send and transfer to Documents..then I open Phtobucket and upload them to that site..then you go to each one and you pick up the URL to copy and to send.. Print this out and go to the various places and fool with it,, you will find that it really does work!

I just re-educated myself for my trip..

gracejoan3 is offline  
Apr 13th, 2009, 12:01 PM
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Thanks Julie. Some great info here for those of us returning again to Paris and looking for different places to explore.

After staying the last 3 trips in hotels we decided to try the apartment idea so hope it works out for us when we go in September.

Looking forward to more.
Royal is offline  
Apr 13th, 2009, 12:57 PM
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Julie: so far, very good sound travel advice, so many thanks. and let's hear it for the lukewarm!! Both DH and I are lukewarm about some passion of the other, so lukewarm can save a marriage on a trip!
Love hearing more about Paris - only makes me want to go back and discover more. and also go to a Fodorite GTG. maybe someday! Keep it up and thanks.
taconictraveler is offline  
Apr 14th, 2009, 05:33 AM
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One last little bit of obsession on the matter of posting GTG pix. I swapped out my personal picture on my profile for the picture of those who attended the Derniere Goutte GTG. It shows up when I click to revise my profile, but not on my actual profile if you just click on that. I have some recollection that Fodors logs those changes only periodically so I still have some hope that I'll click on my profile sometime later and up will pop the GTG gang. If it does, I'll post the names of the participants from left to right. I hope you'll be able to see them. The profile pix tend to be best for head shots or scenery. We'll see.

And so now on to the biggest part of the trip report--

The food

I keep getting different numbers when I count, but in the 13 days we were in Paris, I think we logged 25 meals (arrived after lunch the first day). While some were fantastic and others just good, there wasn't really a total clinker among them--ok, the last meal we had in Belgium just off the Grand Place came close, but then again, that wasn't Paris. Here's the meals we had and how we found them pretty much in the order that we ate them.

A word about pricing. I tried to keep good information about the cost of our meals and to separate out food from libations. Even at that the final number I came up with isn't always a straight comparison from one spot to another. In virtually every case our meals included a minimum of an entree and a main course. In some cases we also had dessert and in others we chose not to. In yet others we finished off with a coffee while in some we did not. In most instances we provide ourselves the luxury of just ordering whatever we feel like. While that doesn't mean we always have the most expensive items on the menu, it does mean that in many situations those who want to keep their dining budgets (or their waistlines) down could still book at these restaurants and come away with a smaller tab. So that said, here goes with our 25 meals in Paris (and Brussels).

Chez Maitre Paul
This is almost always our first evening meal in Paris. It's a tradition with us. For many years this place was recommended endlessly on this site. I don't see it mentioned so often any more. Their signature dish of chicken in creamy jura wine sauce with morels is still the best (possibly the only) thing to order here. Try as I may I've never been able to find a really worthy entree to accompany it. But DH and I revel in the chicken, or really the sauce and the morels. They provide a generous portion of morels and sauce is creamy with just a slight acidity from the yellowish wine. It's incredibly comforting. Since I can't give a ringing endorsement to their other dishes, maybe the best way to experience this place would be a first lunch rather than a first dinner, and just order the chicken which is a very ample serving.

Ambiance wise the place is also not a standout. It's near the Odeon, and is a relatively quiet place with ok but somewhat austere decor. Nonetheless, I have to recommend that chicken as making it all worthwhile.

Our food tab for dinner was 79 euros.

Chez Maitre Paul, 12 Rue Monsieur le Prince, 43547459
JulieVikmanis is offline  
Apr 14th, 2009, 05:49 AM
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Fantastic report as usual, JulieVikmanis!
yk is offline  

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