View from Montparnasse Tower (2013)

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Au revoir, Paris (Saturday, May 23)

This is the last installment to my Paris 2015 blog.  I'm writing from the perspective of having been home for 4 days and mostly recovered from jet lag.

We didn't make it to Amorino on our last night - too hard to go out once we were settled in.

We greeted our last morning in Paris with some ambivalence.  On the one hand, we were sad to be leaving and thought we could spend at least another few days; but on the other hand, we were focused on the logistics of getting home and back to our normal lives.

Kathy's flight home - she had a non-stop - was at 11 am, so we called a taxi to pick her up at 7:30 am (G7 is very reliable and has an English speaking dispatcher).  She got her suitcases down the spiral stairway and I went out to the street with her to wait for the taxi.  We had such a good time and we were sad to be parting, especially since we live in different parts of the country and aren't able to get together very often.  Once she was on her way, I walked over to the boulangerie for my last demi-baguette, but it was closed.  It usually opens at 7.  I walked down to the next boulangerie, which was also closed, so went back to the apartment and finished off the yogurt for my breakfast.

My flight was at 4:45 pm, but I had to be out of the apartment by 10.  My Paris friend invited me to hang out at her place until I needed to leave for the airport.  When I booked Kathy's taxi, I also booked one to pick me up at 10, and another to pick me up at my friend's apartment at 12:30.  Then it was my turn to drag my luggage down the spiral staircase and wait for the taxi, which was right on time. I had a pleasant couple of hours visiting with my friend and her lively dog before leaving for CDG.

The trip out to CDG took a different route than I had been before - it was the first time I had been through Place de la Nation.  When the driver goes through those busy traffic circles like this one or at Place de la Bastille, not to mention the big one around the Arc de Triomphe, I just want to close my eyes and hope for the best.

It took me only about 30 minutes to get my boarding pass (I had checked in the night before), check my suitcase, and clear security.  I had a quick lunch and spent the last of my euros (I had only 0.75 left when I got home).  The flight was delayed about an hour because they had to replace the aircraft.  No explanation as to why, but after getting home and learning about the threats against 10 flights on Sunday, I have to wonder.

Customs in Boston was jammed.  The process was easy -- automatic stations to check passports -- but there was a mob of people.  I had a reservation at the Hilton for the night.  Their website said it was just a 5-minute walk from Terminal E.  I call that a 5-minute run, maybe.  For me, it was 20 minutes of dragging my suitcase and carry-on.  I ordered a lobster roll from room service - I had decided I would have one if it was available when I made the reservation months ago.  I got about 5 hours sleep and woke up before the alarm was to go off at 4 am.  This time, I took the shuttle to Terminal C and got some breakfast.  My Alaska Airlines flight home to Seattle was on time -- nice to be on the "home town" airline -- and arrived home about 11 am on Sunday.  Paris seemed to be a long way away...


The Apartment  The apartment was great.  Very spacious by Paris standards - 50 square meters, about 450 square feet.  Two good sized rooms, plus a full-size, fully equipped kitchen, and a large bathroom with a washer and dryer.  It was on the first floor, up a spiral stairway of about 20 steps.  There were windows on both sides for good airflow.  We overlooked a pretty passage on one side (locked at night) and a courtyard on the other side.  It was very quiet with virtually no street noise.  There is a grade school on the other side of the courtyard, so there was some noise during recess.  Funny how screaming kids sound the same whether yelling in English or French.  I would definitely stay in this apartment again; however, with the current climate regarding vacation rentals in Paris, it is possible that short-term rentals in Paris may not be an option in the future.  The apartment had everything we needed except a shower mat, which was a priority purchase at the nearby Monoprix.

The Neighborhood  We were about 2 blocks from the apartment I rented in 2013, so it was nice to know the area, which is on the western edge of the Marais (or even outside of the Marais according to some), which is also an area known as Les Halles - Beaubourg.  We were a short walk to the Pompidou Center and not far from the market street Rue Montorgueil.  We were definitely not the only tourists there, judging from the number of suitcases I saw being dragged down the sidewalk, but this isn't a touristy area until you get to the Pompidou Center. There is a east-west bus line (#29) that runs between Place de Bastille (and beyond) to Gare St. Larzare, past the Opera Garnier.  Less than two blocks away were the #47 and #38, which run between Gare du Nord and over to the Left Bank.  We were also close to three Metro stations serving three lines (3, 4, 11).  So, we were well positioned for transportation to just about any point in Paris, or we could walk to the Seine in 15-20 minutes.

Food We ate most of our lunches out, but often had a croque monsieur, salad, or sandwich.  We ate only 4 or 5 dinners out. We went to a few of the restaurants I went to in 2013, and sometimes that proved to be disappointing.  For example, the cafe where I had a wonderful croque monsieur (with pesto on country bread) apparently has changed hands - this time, the croque monsieur was just plain on regular white sandwich bread.  Sometimes it is best to discover a new place and just relish the memories of meals gone by. As many times as I've been to France, I don't know why I had never discovered the Normandy or Brittany butter with the sea salt crystals.  On a fresh baguette, it is to die for! I do know that I didn't get nearly enough foie gras.

Ice Cream Definitely Amorino gelato -- generous servings and locations all over Paris.  I usually got the salted caramel, speculous (gingerbread), and chocolate - this was packed into the next to the smallest "pot" (le Classique).

Macarons I sampled Laduree, Pierre Hermes, and Fouchon.  It guess I have to go with Laduree.  The flavors are intense and the texture is crisp on the outside, soft on the inside.  I don't think I got nearly enough of them either.

Drinking Bottled water and soda are expensive in restaurants, cafes, and bars (cheaper in supermarkets). Tap water is free (no ice) and a glass of wine or beer are cheaper than either bottled water or soda.  "Un cafe" - a shot of espresso - is about 1.50 - 3.00 euros, depending on where you get it.  Fancier coffee drinks, such as "un grand noisette" or "grand creme" could cost as much as 5 euros.  You can get a bottle of decent wine in a super market for less than 4 euros.

Parisians With few exceptions we found Parisians to be gracious and helpful.  My basic French worked well, but most of the people we encountered spoke at least some English and many spoke excellent English. I was reassured that when I did speak French, whomever I spoke to didn't immediately start speaking English.  My only complaint is that when out walking, Parisians are intent on their goal and if you are in their way, you will get mowed over if you don't step aside.

Parisian Style Except in the really high priced areas, style in Paris is pretty much like style anywhere else.  We saw jeans (lots of torn ones), athletic shoes (colored ones are popular), vibrantly colored hair (everything from bottle-orange to purple), and just about everyone wears a scarf.  It seems like no matter what else one wears, throw a scarf around your neck, and you're in fashion.  The tourists were the easy ones to spot because, like me, they were the ones wearing black and white.  There's a lot of concern about what visitors in Paris should wear to "fit in," but honestly, I really don't think it matters.

Safety Paris is a safe city.  There is some petty crime such as pickpocketing and scam activity, but mostly in the heavily touristed areas.  Even with the recent terrorist activity, I felt safe.  There is a military presence around the city and we saw groups of two and three heavily armed soldiers walking around in a non-threatening way, but obviously ready to act if necessary.  We encountered two or three "petition girls" who were easily waved away.

There is something about Paris that is unlike anywhere else.  Just being there is enough without going to any of the major sights.  One could easily spend a week in Paris and do nothing more than move from cafe to cafe, sipping wine and coffee, and people watching.  It's the atmosphere, it's seeing the Eiffel Tower off in the distance, and the Seine meandering between its banks, with Notre Dame rising beyond.  I'm already thinking about my next trip - maybe in two years...

Friday, May 22, 2015

Day 17

Last night we celebrated our "au revoir, Paris" dinner at Ambassade D'Auvergne, a restaurant just down the street and around the corner.  They do two things they are famous for: aligot, a potato, cheese, and garlic dish that is whipped until it becomes almost elastic; and mousse aux chocolat, which is served at the table in a large bowl -- it is rich, dark chocolate.  We had the green lentil salad for a starter.  I believe the lentils were fresh, not dried, and cooked with bacon and onions, with some other flavorings.  It was actually pretty good. I had the duck with aligot while Kathy had the evening's special, which is difficult to describe. Of course, we had the mousse and a glass of wine.

Today is our last day in Paris and we spent the morning packing.  I think I can get everything in -- we'll see how it goes when I get all of my bathroom stuff together tomorrow morning.  Having clean clothes (thank you, Kathy!) really helped in packing.

Once we had our packing under control, we set out in our neighborhood.  I had packed a box of stuff to ship home, so our first stop was the post office.  It cost 53 euros - about half the cost of the stuff in the box. Then we walked down Rue St. Denis, which historically has been a street known for street walkers and sex shops, but it has cleaned up somewhat and now has a lot of cheap clothing shops.  We walked down as far as the Fountain of Innocents near Les Halles, then up along side of the reconstruction of the Les Halles shopping area.  There is an underground shopping center as well as Paris' largest train and Metro station.  The above ground structure is being rebuilt, replacing what was built in the 1970s after the original wholesale produce market was torn down.  Actually, a lot has been done since I was here in 2013, so maybe the next time I come, it will be completed.

We walked over to E. Dehillerin, the kitchen supply store where Julia Child bought her pots and pans and where many of Paris' chefs buy their equipment.  This is like the Cabellas of cuisine.  You can buy just about anything to do with cooking here.  Everything from a small demitasse spoon to a giant ladle.  Copper pots by the dozens, knives, wire whisks, tins, and molds.  Quite impressive.

We had lunch at a really nice Italian cafe - really good pizza - and the decor was really pretty with mirrors and mosaics.  It is a popular spot with the French stock exchange close by.

On our way over to Rue Montorgueil, the local market street, we stopped into a few other shops and looked around, but didn't buy much - now that we know how much room we have (or don't have) to take stuff home, it is easy to hold back on the the shopping.  We also need to keep back enough money to pay for our taxis to the airport, and not have too many euros left when we get there.

Tonight, we are having left over pizza and Picard frozen meals for dinner, and we many feel compelled to stroll down to Amorino for dessert - they really do have good ice cream.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Day 16

We awoke this morning knowing that this would be one of our last days in Paris - this trip.  Our plan for the day was to visit Musee Nissim de Camondo then go back to St. Germain to revisit a shop we like.

We bought another "carnet" of Metro tickets - just one to share this time - and rode Metro Line 4 to where we could change to Line 2, getting off near Musee Nissim de Camondo, which at Parc Monceau.  We walked through a small section of the park on our way to the museum.

I am always surprised at how the Parisians use their parks.  There was a group of young school children on a field trip and lots of runners and walkers.  Parisians have very small apartments with no gardens, so they use their parks as their back yards, and cafes as their living rooms.  When children are out walking with their parents, they often have a scooter they ride on while their parents walk.  I guess bikes are too unwieldy, though I have seen a few kids riding bikes.  By the way, French children playing in a school yard (there is a school next to our apartment) sound exactly like American kids playing in a school yard: loud - and there are screamers.  Doesn't matter whether they are yelling in French or English, they sound the same.

Musee Nissim De Camondo is a mansion formerly occupied by a banker who lavishly decorated it with 18th century French art and furnishing.  It is preserved in its original condition.  The banker had intended to leave the mansion to his son, but when the son was killed in WWI, he decided instead to leave it to Les Arts Decoratifs, which maintains it as a museum.   According the museum's website, it opens at 10, but when we got there around 11 we were told that the 2nd floor wouldn't be open until 1:45.  We could visit the 1st floor, then come back, which is what we decided to do.  The only thing to see on the ground floor is the kitchen, the scullery, and the servants' dining room.

After visiting the main floor, we left and walked around the area, which is very nice with lovely apartments and nice shops.  It is in the 8th arrondissement, which is where the Arc de Triomphe and Champs-Elysees are as well.  We did some window shopping, and when you see the delicious pastries in the patisseries, you can understand why the French call window shopping "window licking."  It is hard not to go in and buy something at every patisserie -- everything looks that good.  We had lunch at one of the famous boulangerie/patisseries "Eric Keyser".  We both had sandwiches on baguettes, a drink and dessert for about 10 euros.  It was a great lunch.

We still had about and hour and half before 1:45, so we decided it really wasn't worth waiting to go back to the museum, so we walked back to the Metro station, rode the #2, changed to the #4, and got off at St. Germain des Pres. We wanted to go back to a shop with handmade items, pottery and textiles, as we decided we need to buy some more.  We then strolled along Blvd. St. Germain for a while before taking the Metro line 4 home.  We got dinner at Picard for tomorrow night and I went to the Post Office to get a box to ship some stuff home.

Back at the apartment, we started to gear up for packing tomorrow.  Laundry - so nice to have the washer and dryer right here, and it is two separate units, not the combination washer/dryer that takes 2 hours for a cycle.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Day 15

I bought tickets online for the Picasso Museum and our time was set for 11:30 today.  The museum was closed for several years while the building was undergoing extensive renovation.  Since it was closed so long there was a lot of interest in the museum once it reopened, so they pre-sell tickets as a means of crowd control.  We got there about 11:15, queued up and were inside the museum by 11:30.

The did a fantastic job on the building renovation.  The outside retains its original look while the inside is a mixture of modern and original features.  The rooms are fairly small, but there are only 4 - 6 pieces of art in each room.  The elevators are very slow, so we went to the top floor and worked our way down on foot.

I have to admit that Picasso's art isn't high on my list of favorites, but it was interesting and there were some works of other artists, Picasso's contemporaries, as the museum houses his personal collection.  The visit did provoke some interesting conversations between Kathy and I, and that is one of the things art is supposed to do, so I'm glad we went.

We had lunch at nearby Cafe Sevigne. We both had the "plat du jour," which was roast pork with sauteed vegetables, and it came with a salad with goat cheese and ham.  It was a very nice lunch.

After lunch we caught the bus to go back to Montmartre so we could go to the fabric market on Rue St. Pierre.  The fabric market is actually a number of shops on about three streets loaded with fabric.  Fabric flows out onto the sidewalk.  When I walked into the first shop I immediately saw a rack of fat quarters - I got so excited.  However, the fabrics really aren't anything very unusual or uniquely French.  In fact, I didn't see any typically French textiles except for some toiles.  But, I did buy some fat quarters - how could I not?

We stopped at a cafe and had a really good beer - we were so tired and thirsty - and "les toilettes" were on the main floor, no steep stairway.

As we walked back towards the bus, we spotted a taxi with it's green light showing, so decided to take it home.  Sometimes, when you're tired and just want to get home, a 12 euro taxi ride is a good investment.  It was 5:00 so the buses and Metro would be crowded.  The driver was real nice and understood my French.

I really made a big mistake by not having us reload our bus passes.  Today, #67 up to Montmartre stopped and a voice said "this bus terminates here" -- we were no where near the end of the line at Pigalle where we wanted to go.  So, we had to get off and wait for another 67.  You can use tickets to transfer, but only from one line to another, not on the same line, so we had to use another bus ticket to complete our trip, and that was our last ticket (another reason why taking a taxi home was an easy decision).

Only two more days here in Paris.  We're starting to think about the process of packing and going home, but I think both of us could stay a little longer...maybe.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Day 14

Our dinner cruise on Le Calife last night was wonderful.  We arrived before the scheduled boarding time, but were welcomed aboard anyway and seen to our table. Service began immediately when we were asked if we'd like a glass of wine.  Our friend Diana and her sister Cathy arrived shortly after we did.  The boat left the dock right on schedule at 8:50, and we were served some little cheese puffs and a glass of champagne. We had pre-ordered our dinner and the servers were very efficient getting the right plate to the correct person.  We all had the warm goat cheese salad.  The cheese was in a phyllo dough packet - two on each plate - and drizzled with honey.  For my main course I had guinea fowl with a mushroom sauce, which was very good.  The others enjoyed their fish.  For dessert I had a dense chocolate cake with cinnamon ice cream.

Unfortunately, it rained shortly after we left the dock, so the windows were wet, but that just seemed to make the lighted landmarks even brighter.  We cruised much further up river than any of the other Seine cruises I've been on, and we cruised further down river as well.  We were on the right side of the boat to get a good view of the flood-lit Eiffel Tower, and at exactly 10:00 it sparkled.  It is so magical.  Mom and I first saw it sparkle in 2000 and once were actually under it while it sparkled.  When got down river, we were surprised to see the Statue of Liberty.  I knew it was there, but had never seen it.  It is a half-size replica of the one the French gave to the US in 1876.

We had a very pleasant evening and had a good visit with our friends.  Diana and Cathy arrived last Saturday.  It had been several years since I had seen Diana.  By the time we got off the boat, it had pretty much quit raining.  We took the bus home.

Le Calife is docked under the Pont des Arts, so we walked over it from the Right Bank.  This was the first time I had ever gone over this pedestrian bridge, which has been so badly desecrated by "love locks."  It is an ugly mess!  The locks are so heavy that some panels have fallen into the river, and the city has tried to curb the practice by putting plywood over the existing locks, but still people add more.  There were even two men trying to sell padlocks on the bridge.  The plywood panels are just a stop gap measure, I'm sure, until they can do something more permanent to protect the bridge from this vandalism.

Both of us were pretty tired this morning after a late night.  Kathy wanted to go back to a shop near La Madeline, so we rode the bus over, walked down to the shop, then walked back to catch another bus to check out some other shops on the Left Bank in St. Germaine.  We had lunch at Le Bonaparte, which is a very busy cafe just down the street from the famous Les Deux Magots where Hemingway used to hangout, and hundreds of tourists sip coffee today.  I had a roast beef sandwich, which wasn't exactly what I expected, but it was good.  Kathy had a croque monsieur.  It is fun to window shop in this area - or as the French call it "window licking."

It was windy and cool today.  Sunny one minute and cloudy the next.  Just as we were ready to head back to the apartment it started to rain, and after days of lugging our umbrellas, we didn't have them with us today...duh!  We found the stop for the #95 to go back, but it looked like the next one wouldn't be there for about 30 minutes and there wasn't a shelter at that stop.  There is a Metro station right there, so I went to see which line it was so I could figure out how many times we would need to change lines to get home.  Well it was Line 4, which comes right to our neighborhood - our closest Metro stop, in fact, so no more waiting in the rain.  When we got out of the Metro station, we spotted a Picard right across the street, so that solved the dinner problem for tonight, too.

We didn't reload our Metro/bus passes for this week since we had only five more days, so we each bought a "carnet" of 10 tickets.  I think this was a big mistake because we have already used 8 of the tickets in two days, with three more days to go.  The tickets can be used for transfers bus-to-bus as long as you continue forward (you can't use the same ticket to go back) and you have to make the transfer within 90 minutes.  Also, you can't transfer bus-to-metro or metro-to-bus.  You also have to be careful not to mix used tickets with unused tickets.  For convenience I don't think you can beat the Navigo Decouverte pass.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Day 13

Today we did something a little different.  We took the #1 Metro line out to La Defense, which is actually outside of Paris, but it is the financial and business center of Paris.  The centerpiece of La Defense is the Grande Arche, and it is BIG - Notre Dame could fit under it.  It is a very impressive sight.  We climbed up the marble stairs to the platform and we could see all the way to the Arc du Triomphe.  Actually, the Grande Arche, Arc du Triomphe, and Arc du Carousel at the Louvre are all in alignment.

We walked down the esplanade, gazed at the many sculptures -- 2% for art at work -- and went into the Monoprix.  There is a large shopping center there.  In addition to office buildings, there are also hotels and apartments.

When we got there about 10:30, there were not too many people around.  Mostly just school groups and tourists.  But, at lunch time the workers came out, lined up at the take-away cafes, got their food, and then filled the esplanade.  Kathy got a sandwich and I had a quiche at one of these take-away cafes.  I don't think many French workers spend two hours over a formal lunch any more.  Baguette sandwiches seem to be very popular lunch fare.  The government provides discounted lunches for many workers, so the places that accept the cards are the most popular.

La Defense offered a very different view of Paris.  After nearly two weeks of being among old buildings, it was like being in a different world out at La Defense where the architecture is modern and avante garde.

We decided to ride the Metro out to the other end of the line to visit the garden at Vincennes.  I went to the Chateau du Vincennes last time I was here, but didn't get to the garden, which we had been told is very beautiful.  It is large with a couple of lakes. Well, we walked quite a distance along the length of the chateau, but never came to the garden.  We finally decided it was too far, so turned back, which was a disappointment.

Before getting back on the Metro, we thought we would get some refreshment and use "les toilettes" at a local cafe.  It was after 2:00, so the lunch rush was over and we sat at an outside table without any place settings, which is where you should sit if you don't intend to eat a meal.  The waiter came by and asked if we wanted lunch and we said, no, just dessert, so he left the menu, but it was a long time before he came back.  When he did, I asked him in French, what kind of ice cream they have (at least that is what I thought I asked him).  He said something and grabbed the menu off the table.  We decided that perhaps he wasn't interested in serving us, so we left.  When we got off the Metro, we walked past our favorite Amorino and had our refreshment there before going back to the apartment.

Tonight we are going on a dinner cruise on the Seine.  We are meeting another friend and her sister, who just arrived a couple of days ago.  Since it will be late when we get back, I'll include that in tomorrow's post.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Day 12

Sundays in Paris pose somewhat of a challenge as many places are closed and while the tourist attractions are open, they are crowded.  The Marais with its Jewish community is one area where many shops are open on Sundays, so Kathy and I decided to explore it today.   From the name of our apartment "Le Passage du Marais," you'd think that it is in the Marais, but it is actually in an area called Les Halles - Beaubourg.  The Marais' borders are rather vague and it really depends on who you are talking to where the Marais ends and other neighborhoods begin.

We are in the 3rd Arrondissement, but on the western edge - when you walk across the street to the west of us, you are in the 2nd.  The Marais comprises parts of both the 3rd and 4th Arrondissements.  The arrondissements or districts of Paris are numbered from 1 to 20 and begin around the Louvre, and spiral around clockwise like a snail.

We took the #29 bus this morning, thinking we'd get off at Place des Vosges.  But, the bus took a different route due, we learned, to many streets being blocked off today for bicyclists.  We got a nice long ride and got off at St. Paul, the neighborhood where I had looked at apartments when planning this trip, so I was somewhat familiar with the area.  St. Paul church had been covered with scaffolding the last time I saw it and now it is all cleaned up and very pretty.

I had never seen white strawberries before, but one of the fruit and vegetable shops had some.  Wish I could have tasted one.  They are pure white.

We spent some time wandering the lanes of Village St. Paul, which is a conclave of very old buildings.  There are lots of antique shops in the area and we found a "pop up shop" of handmade items where I did buy a pendant.  We also found a small shop called "Thanksgiving" that sells American goods: Campbell's soup, Hellman's Mayonnaise, and even Twinkies. It was in sort of an out-of-the-way spot, but I suppose if you are an ex-pat you'd know where it is.

We had lunch at Le Cidrie du Marais, which I had discovered the last time I was here.  I had a crepe filled with ham, cheese, sauteed potatoes and an egg.  It was good, but not as good as the "special" I had last time; unfortunately, they don't do "specials" on the weekend.  It was really good washed down with a bowl of cidre - just like in Brittany.

After lunch we walked up to Rue des Rosiers, which is the Jewish neighborhood.  Many shops were open and the street was crowded with people.  The falafel shops are very popular and there was quite a long queue for the L'As du Falafel, which is considered the best in Paris.

Next we walked a block or so up the Rue St. Croix de la Bretonnerie, which is known as the gay neighborhood in Paris, but it seems pretty tame.  We walked along Rue des Francs Bourgeois, which turns into Rue Rambuteau, but wanting to avoid the crowd around the Pompidou Center, we walked up Rue Beaubourg, and got back to the apartment around 2:30 for our afternoon rest.

My Paris friend invited us to dinner at her apartment, so we walked quite a distance back through the Marais to her place. Her apartment is in an early 20th century building and so French.  Just exactly what you would imagine a French apartment to look like with coved ceilings decorated with painted plaster molded vines, leaves, and flowers.  It is quite large by today's Paris standards.  For dinner, she prepared a pot au feu, which is a sort of stew with beef, carrots, potatoes, onions, and cabbage -- the French take on a New England boiled dinner.  It was really delicious with some good crusty bread and wine.  French pastries for dessert, and a lovely evening with a very gracious and hospitable lady and her dog.