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...