Yet another live Paris report

Oct 14th, 2013, 11:36 AM
Join Date: Aug 2005
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I continue to enjoy your report, Swandav. I understand fully why you aborted plans around the Eiffel. I only went their at night (a month ago) as part of my vintage Citroen excursion, and that was my Eiffel Tower fix for the trip. I also understand your frustration with buses not running... reminded me of my taxi stand map which was inaccurate. Modification of plans (in the rain) seemed like a theme when I was in Paris, but it all worked out well in the end.

I can also understand your reluctance to give up "freedom" of visiting Paris independently. I've also done quite a bit of solo travel, also near your hometown (in Mittenwald). I agree regarding differences in dining experiences. I had some very friendly exchanges and acknowledgements from other diners when I was in Germany. Not so much in France (with the exception of other travelers), though the wait staff were pleasant.
susan001 is offline  
Oct 14th, 2013, 12:49 PM
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In France and Italy, I noticed quite a few friends just linking arms and chatting and being oblivious to the rest of the world on the crowded sidewalk.

And in Paris, 'bonjours, tout le monde' was not rare. A nice nod almost always. Hope your cuz finds her mob dress.
TDudette is offline  
Oct 14th, 2013, 04:45 PM
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Just a charming report. I love the way you write and how you travel. I still haven't mustered the courage to travel alone overseas but I'm getting there. More please.
SharonG is offline  
Oct 14th, 2013, 05:44 PM
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Reading you from Shanghai, S. When is the bike ride? How is the weather?
Grassshopper is offline  
Oct 14th, 2013, 07:16 PM
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I am loving your report. Thanks so much for sharing.
catcrazyaf is offline  
Oct 14th, 2013, 07:18 PM
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I've stayed in Gardenia and Ortensia. Preferred the location of Ortensia (St. Paul) but liked Gardenia better (the apartment itself). I'd take that one again for the lovely building.

I had lunch once at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Sicily and everyone in the dining room said hello to each other on arrival and goodbye when each table departed, so I know what you mean.

Great report, looking forward to more!
Leely2 is offline  
Oct 15th, 2013, 11:27 PM
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Day 2 of the Hunt for the MOB dress.

Before we began the hunt in earnest, I wanted to get my Navigo pass since I would be in Paris until Monday. I should have gotten it yesterday, Monday, but I had left my photo at the apartment. So I got it today.

Back in the day . .. . I used the Carte Orange when I lived in Paris in the 1970s, and for my visits since then I’ve always used the Carnet. This is the first time I’ve tried the Navigo, and I was unsure how it worked. First I asked the lady attendant if I could buy the Navigo pass, and she said yes, and then she asked if I had a photo. I handed it to her. She told me to buy the pass at the machine – next to the window. For 5,50 euro I got a ticket to pay for the plastic pass itself. I brought her the ticket, she affixed my picture to the pass and put it into a plastic sleeve, and then invited me to load up the pass as I wished at the machine. She came over and helped me make the right selections on the machine. And I have to admit here that I wasn’t the one speaking and understanding French so easily; Cousin S is fluent (she is actually making a medical presentation in Lyon when she leaves Paris – she’s that fluent), and she was standing by me and adding color commentary and explanation and dual translation for the attendant and I. But it was quite easy.

On to the hunt. Since we had had no luck with the discount shops, Cousin S had in mind the shops along Rue Saint-Honore and Faubourg Staint-Honore. She had the names of two bridal shops in the area, and we thought we would see if we could fall into the right dress as we strolled. She wanted to find something under 1,000 Euro, and I expressed my doubt that we’d be successful. Cousin S said that it might be entirely possible to find last season’s frocks or some other kind of bargain; I stayed quiet but skeptical.

So we started around Rue Rivoli, walked north, then turned west for Saint-Honore. It took about two hours to walk the length of the street, walking slowly and window shopping for the right feel and look. Almost all of the formal clothes were black, or, failing that, red or white. So we walked along.

I saw that most of the dresses in the windows were in the 1,200 – 1,400 euro range. At one point, we came to the “Outlet Market Saint-Honore” that was tucked back off the street in a courtyard. It looked promising, and indeed they had dresses around 430 euro, with a further 50% taken off at the register. After spending those hours looking at the Saint-Honore prices, 430 euro sounded reasonable to me; thus, I believe that spending time on S-H must somehow damages your brain. Anyway, unfortunately, the selection is thin, and we found nothing.

We finally got to the bridal shop on Faubourg S-H, the Rosa Clara, and went inside. Most of their stuff was strewn with sequins, and after looking through the racks halfheartedly, we moved on. The next bridal shop was Pronovias on Rue Tronchet; I used google maps to guide us there, so we sailed through the streets of Paris with the cell held out in front of us like a talisman we were chasing. However, we also had no luck at Pronovias, as everything was not only sequined but pink sequined. Well, everything except one nice dark blue dress that Cousin S tried on; it fit, and I thought it looked nice, but Cousin S wasn’t comfortable in it.

That was the end of the shopping portion of the day, and it came none too soon, as my legs were done. We headed back to the Ile, to a restaurant that had been recommended by the apartment’s agency, Les Fous de L’Ile. They charge by number of plates: for lunch, it was 16 euro for a main dish, 19 euro for a main + (either starter or dessert), and 25 euro for starter, main, and desert. They had about four selections for each category that are always on the menu, plus about three more selections per category for that day’s offerings. I had the foie gras and a steak frites, as my hankering hadn’t been satisfied by yesterday’s horror. The foie gras was out of this world. It was accompanied by red, sweet, julienned, pickled onion, and the combination of savory and sweet was divine. The steak was good, too, yum!

Back to the apartment to rest up for my afternoon’s Cheese Tour by Paris by Mouth, which began at 15.45. Friend C was joining me for this gastronomic learning experience. I lay down to rest for an hour and got up late, of course, then caught the bus for rue de Bac. The bus let me off in the middle of who-knows-where, so I used the magical talisman google maps again to lead me to rue de Bac. We met in front of the Eric Kayser artisan Boulanger, where the eight tour participants chatted together and exchanged names, you know, and life stories. Our guide was none other than Meg herself, the founder of Paris by Mouth, and writer of gastronomic tales for travel media as well as the Wall Street Journal. She bought bread at Kayser then headed across the street to the renown (well . . . previously not by me . . . ) master cheese monger and maturing expert Androuet ( We all crowded into the small shop, where Meg began the lesson using the display of cheeses in front of us, discussing first the goat cheeses on the right, moving across the array to the hard cheeses, the washed cheeses, the brownish cheeses, and the soft. As she explained the terroir, the animal, the animal’s diet, the season, and the life of each cheese, she also ordered the cheeses that we would be tasting later, and the shop’s staff selected, cut, and wrapped each delicate piece. I didn’t write down what she said and promptly forgot fully half of it, but the general sense was wonderful.

I was also truly impressed by the behavior of the two or three French customers who entered the shop while we occupied it. Walking in, the customer was presented with nine people crowding around the display and lingering in the middle of the space, and the staff busily cutting and wrapping cheeses. Each customer would stop and wait at the back of the shop near the door. Meg would then explain that we were one group and that the customer needn’t wait for us, and one of the staff would come over and take the customer’s order. But it was clear that these customers would have been content to wait while each of the nine of us selected and purchased his/her cheese. Amazing patience.

Then we meandered down beautiful quiet streets of the 6th to the wine shop Le Derniere Goutte at 6 rue de Bourbon Le Chateau and walked through the (again, tiny) space to a room at the back and sat down on small stools. Meg sliced the baguettes, opened the cheeses, and then opened the first bottle of wine. As she poured wine and distributed cheese, she continued with more details about how the terroir of the southern part of a region differed from the northern part, etc. As we bit into the cheese, she encouraged us to taste the lavender of one or the influence of the wrap of another. She discussed radical fromagiers who broke the rules and created distinctive and delicious cheeses or how rebellious aging experts would age a cheese in the wrong region to bring unique notes into the cheese. Then we experimented with how each wine opened up the flavors of the cheese, or, in other cases, how the flavors of wine and cheese combated and cancelled each other. In all, we sampled 15 cheeses and about six bottles of wine. Not sure about how much wine there was, though . . .

We left at around 20.00. Friend C and I walked to the Seine and to Ile de la Cite, and parted there, as her apartment is in the Marais.
swandav2000 is online now  
Oct 16th, 2013, 12:42 AM
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Hi folks,

I've just received an email from Paris by Mouth with a recap of the cheeses and wines we sampled yesterday. To give you an example of the depth and knowledge Meg offers, here is just one description out of the 10 (not 15 -- sorry!!) we tasted:

•Rove de Garrigues (goat, Provence, 1-2 weeks) - this small button has a clay-like texture and a lemony fresh acidity thanks to the particularities of the Rove breed of goats. Their diet of wild thyme and other wild herbs in the garrigues (scrubland) lends a woodsy herbaceous flavor.

swandav2000 is online now  
Oct 16th, 2013, 09:05 AM
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Swandav, I considered doing one of these Paris by Mouth walks. However, already having booked two private excursions (not cheap!) I decided against it; now wishing I had done it!
susan001 is offline  
Oct 16th, 2013, 11:14 AM
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Most of the bridal shops in Paris are around Barbès-Rochechouart on Boulevard de Magenta and Boulevard de Rochechouart.
kerouac is offline  
Oct 16th, 2013, 03:51 PM
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Just catching up with your trip report and I'm looking forward to future installments.
cw is offline  
Oct 20th, 2013, 08:41 AM
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Thursday 17 October

The hunt for the dress is dead. I guess I killed it, though it wasn’t intentional. After taking a day of rest from the rush, Cousin S didn’t mention any more possibilities, and I didn’t offer. This day, Cousin S wanted to see the Orsay, and I was dying from lack of Tuileries. Habitually, I make my way there on my very first afternoon in town, and in good weather, I have a bite to eat or a Coup de Champagne to celebrate my very good fortune at being there. Without that start to the trip, my whole Paris adventure feels skewed and skewered. So, even though getting there was late, for me, I was needing it like a fix.

I walked Cousin S to the door of the Orsay, then took a bathroom break with a Chocolate Chaude and a croissant in a café. Then I spent almost three wonderful, luxurious hours on the sand and in the sun of the gardens. Free at last from attending and listening, my mind scampered like a gargoyle among the lanes between the trees and the sun-dappled aisles. I made scenarios for the very young, very thin couple doing a very good rendition of Couple Kissing Deeply. For the handsome young Japanese father blocking his happily insistent toddler from the puddle. For the maturing gentleman draped in an English-heathered jacket and dark blue shawl as he read his newspaper. For the myriad older couples walking in their well-appointed and well-kept costumes around the park. For the 20-odd gaggle of school kids playing kick ball under the watchful eye of a male guardian who would not allow me to photograph them.

Ah. I sat in the sun around a pond and listened to the life around me. Then I strolled down one side of the park and sat in the sun for another 20 minutes. Then I strolled down the other side and sat in the sun for 20 minutes . .. and so on.

Cousin S was finished with the Orsay, so we turned to find something to eat. We wandered around the 6th looking for a place with a good salad menu. We enjoyed running around and settled on a neat place that was playing Spanish music though no one in the place spoke Spanish (Cousin S is from Chile, so we thought maybe we’d found some vague connection, but no). Cousin S had paid her share of the apartment rent with a 500 Euro bill, and I thought to buy lunch with it.

But no. That’s not done. They wouldn’t cash it. They sent us to a bank, who also wouldn’t cash it. They sent us to the post office, who also wouldn’t cash it. I asked the concierge of the apartment agency, and he suggested that I try a bank (very helpful, that). Finally, in desperation, I called the tour operator that I’ll be using tomorrow, and that worked out (more on that below). I was exasperated and angry. One can cash a 500 euro note in Germany at practically any café; cashing it at a restaurant would have been as easy as pie. My mood soured, we shopped for pastries (gotta have SOME consolation, eh?) and went home to work and to relax.

Friday 18 October

This is the day for a bike ride in the French countryside with French Mystique Tours. I love to bike (I’m horribly out of shape but I love it nevertheless), and I’ve long wanted to visit Chartres. So taking the FMT ride to Chartres was a no-brainer. But first, the backstory. Er, backstories.

Backstory 1. I had forgotten to pack my biking jacket; all I had with me was my black wool coat. My trusty raincoat had died last spring, and I’ve been putting off buying another. But when I found myself with a looming 20-mile bike ride in the drizzly countryside without my trusty fleece, I thought perhaps it was an appropriate time to replace that raincoat at last. However, since my shopping joy had been dead for some few days, I didn’t want to visit umpteen-hundred stores and try on endless numbers of jackets until I, squealing with surprised delight, found just the right jacket at just the right price. No. I wanted to walk into one store and buy a great jacket. So I went to the Jack Wolfskin store in Paris (I know, I know, I know; you don’t have to tell me) and did it. I found a great jacket, and I’m sure I’ll get lots of use out of it. The store is on Rue Rivoli in case any of you are crazy enough to want to purchase a Wolfskin in Paris. Anyway. Yay. Problem solved.

Backstory 2. Friend C was joining me on the tour, along with her sister-in-law and her sister-in-law’s friend. I was hugely thankful for this because it made the tour suddenly amazingly affordable. The base cost for the ride is 270 euro, and with three more riders, the cost came to 67 euro each. Hooo. Ray.

Backstory 3. The 500 euro note. I had paid half of the cost of the tour already, but Friend C and her group still hadn’t paid. I asked FMT if we could pay the remaining costs with the 500 euro bill and get the change – he so graciously agreed. Friend C and her group agreed to pay me instead of paying FMT. It all worked out.

Ok. The Tour de Chartres. I am so excited. But also scared. It had been so wet and chilly in Garmisch that I hadn’t been on a bike in about two months, so I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to keep up. But what the heck, I’m game to try.

We met at the bike store at 08.00 to pick up the rental bikes, then Bruce led us – with skillful attention and planning and care – through Paris to the Gare de Montparnasse. Some few of our group were apprehensive about riding through the packed streets with trucks and speeding cars only mm from our shoulders, but Bruce’s assurance and confidence is infectious. We were all fine. We boarded the train at 09.06 and enjoyed the ride to Epernon.

In Epernon, Bruce went to a boulangerie to get a fresh baguette while the group congregated at a café for coffee and toilets. Then we went to Bruce’s bank, where he deposited my un-spendable 500 Euro note and retrieved enough cash to give me change. Yippee. It’s always nice to have cash.

Then we’re off! What glory. What splendor. I really cannot be effusive enough. We pedaled through small villages and next to wide, sweeping fields. We went by dolmens and churches and chateaux (Maintenon). Bruce had picked a picnic spot about halfway – a bit of a grassy area next to a small river with a stone picnic table and benches. He invited us to explore the next village and its toilets while he laid out the picnic. We ate bread, charcuterie, cheeses, tomatoes, oranges, kiwi, and of course chocolate. Then we continued in more splendor to Chartres. The last 5km are on a dedicated bike lane that will make you start looking for real estate there. The total length of the trip is about 22 miles.

Once in Chartres, we had enough time to follow our imaginations and our wishes. I stared at the outer walls and played make-believe again, then wandered inside and walked the labyrinth. Bruce offered a tour of the ancient town, but we were all quite beat and opted to enjoy a café and pastries. Then back to Paris on the train, and through Paris, this time with attitude.
swandav2000 is online now  
Oct 20th, 2013, 08:50 AM
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har har! Thanks for those tips, kerouac! Cousin S didn't like to go out on her own, so she didn't get there. I appreciate your help!!

swandav2000 is online now  
Oct 20th, 2013, 09:07 AM
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Sounds like a really excellent trip to Chartres. I know how much effort FMT has made into getting his bike tours up and running, and I hope that they will be available to visitors for many years to come. And you don't have to go as far as Chartres to appreciate French Mystique -- he has a zillion ideas for the Paris suburbs, which turn into lush bucolic countryside much faster than many people would think.
kerouac is offline  
Oct 20th, 2013, 12:10 PM
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Your bike ride sounds really fun. I'm going to add that to my list for my next trip to Paris. DH would love it.
KL467 is offline  
Oct 20th, 2013, 02:13 PM
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swandav - there are times when you just have to be on your own, aren't there? I'm not sure that I could spend 3 hours in the Tuilleries, but I understand why you wanted to.

looking forward to more!
annhig is offline  
Oct 20th, 2013, 03:00 PM
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I have taken three trips this year with certain friends, I am like you and need down time and space. I can't imagine shopping for a MOB dress all day. You are a saint.

Love your writing style.

Why would you get euro in such a large bill? I hate 100.00 bills. So many fakes and people are afraid to take now because you are stuck with the money if you are a business. But surprised the banks wouldn't.
flpab is offline  
Oct 20th, 2013, 07:41 PM
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Love the story of your bicycle excursion to Chartres. You are brave to ride in Paris! I was in Chartres last month for a couple of nights and loved meandering through the old town. Your description of bicycling through little villages to get there sounds thrilling.
susan001 is offline  
Oct 21st, 2013, 04:46 AM
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Your ride sounds fantastic. I would love to do it in good weather, but would be a wimp in the rain.
irishface is offline  
Oct 21st, 2013, 06:06 AM
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Why would you get euro in such a large bill? I hate 100.00 bills.

It's simply a German thing. The 500-euro note exists because the Germans wanted it, and they use them regularly -- in Germany. The only place in Paris where I see them accepted easily is on the Champs Elysées, due to all of the Gulf tourists.
kerouac is offline  

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