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Friday, September 13, 2013

FOUR DAYS IN PARIS



The best intentions, and all that….







It was a great plan.  Spend the days sightseeing and shopping, topped off by fabulous dinners and then return to the hotel to write about the day.  However, there was a major flaw in this plan.  By the time we stumbled back to our room every night, I had consumed far too much wine to navigate my way to the bathroom, let alone fire up the computer.  I had to continually promise myself that the train from Paris to Munich would be the perfect place to open a new word document and try to remember as much as I could.  So, here we are.

The West End Hotel was a return engagement for me, having stayed there on a previous visit to Paris.  It’s in a great section of the city, perfect for walking.  Mike and I arrived early Monday morning and thankfully found that our room was ready.  We were meeting friends who had arrived a few days ahead of us. Mike and I took a quick little snooze and then rendezvoused with our friends for lunch. 

We were a party of five and we all walked the block and a half to a restaurant I knew.  It is the perfect spot for travel weary brains because there are no menus and they only ask you one question.  Rare, medium or well.  You will eat a salad, dressed in zingy mustard vinaigrette; you will eat slices of beef tenderloin, which will be accompanied by mountains of thin frites (French fries, y’all).  The steak will be covered with the secret green sauce that makes this restaurant famous.  Did I mention that this is all you can eat?  More tenderloin?  Can I top off those frites?  And, in case you have a tiny corner of your stomach that still needs to be filled, you will be offered a dessert menu that will bring tears to your eyes! 

With a full stomach, the two men in our party decided to return to the hotel and we three women were forced to shop.  How else would we fill the afternoon as we waited for our next meal?  We jumped into a taxi and enjoyed a cross-city ride with a delightful driver who asked about our cities in the US and helped us exercise our high school French vocabularies.  His English was only a smidge better than my French, which is very faint praise.  I am the only person to take French I and French II (grades 9 & 10), then be told I was far less than adequate and needed to follow my failed French II year by reenrolling in French I and II (grades 11 & 12)!  Sadly, having earned a D in French II the second time around, I was declared hopeless and told to give up all thoughts of language studies in the future.   But, enough about me.

Prior to our leaving Toronto, Mike had carefully researched restaurants in Paris, reading hundreds of Trip Advisor reviews.  He then requested a reservation in an establishment that ranked near the top of thousands of restaurants reviewed.  Thanks to the magic of the Internet, we were confirmed well in advance.  That evening, the five of us enjoyed a meal that was truly exceptional.  The restaurant was a tiny little gem, hidden away on a side street, about four blocks from the Eiffel Tower.  This was a meal that was best eaten very slowly.  Each bite contained layered and complex flavors that revealed themselves to your taste buds.  I felt that I wanted to close my eyes as I slowly chewed, allowing my brain to understand what was in my mouth.  And, as if the crème Brule wasn’t the perfect finish, we slowly walked back to our hotel, keeping sight of the illuminated Eiffel Tower as it winked and lit our way. 

Tuesday was all about shopping for the girls during the day.  We walked miles and miles and miles.  Every step we took meant one more calorie burned and one more calorie to enjoy that evening. Several months earlier we had made plans to attend a gathering of fellow knitters, followed by a dinner afterwards.  This was a chance to meet many people we had all corresponded with for a long time.  Most of them felt like old friends that we just hadn’t had the chance to hug yet.  The common bond between all was our love of Plucky yarns.  Because Sarah (known as The Plucky Knitter and the dyer of this luscious yarn) and her sister Hayley were going to be attending, there were knitters from England, Norway, the US, the Neeeetherlands (apparently that’s how you pronounce it if you are a New Zealander who now lives in the Netherlands) (yes, Teena, I’m talking about you) and all over France had made travel plans to attend.  There were squeals of delight as hugs were traded and compliments exchanged. So many of our new French friends spoke lovely English that nothing got lost in translation.  Following the meet and greet, we all retired to a local café to share a boisterous meal and lots of wine.  Our dashing friend Kevin (Iqho if you are a Ravelry member…if not, that will mean NOTHING to you. LOL!) acted as our intermediary between the staff and those of us with no French.  He helped Jimi find a vegetarian option, kept Sarah’s Champagne glass filled, gassy water for Hayley and some how, Teena and I never found the bottom of our wine glass.  Julie watched over Miss Knitty and Rosanne keeping them happy with white wines. We all pronounced the evening a total success!

Wednesday was a day for a bit of sightseeing for Mike and me.  We crossed the Seine and wandered side streets, window shopping and stopping into a tiny café for lunch and a few glasses of Kronnenbourg.  After all, France is not ONLY about wine.  Then, we continued on our walk, finally reaching the Musee D’Orsey.  What a magnificent building and use of space.  This is an old railway station that has been preserved, restored and made into a fabulous museum for a wonderful collection of French impressionist art.  Monet, Sisley, Degas, Chagall, Van Gogh, Pissarro, Cezanne.  So much to see.  But such a manageable building.  If you saw the movie Hugo, you will recognize the huge clocks within the rooflines of the museum.  The clock faces are glass and you can stand just a step back from them and look through the clock works, across the Seine and at the Louvre.  Stunning!

A cab ride back to the hotel and we were hoping for someplace very quiet for dinner.  The concierge suggested Maison de Le Truffe, just a block over, no reservation needed.  Yes, a restaurant with the option of adding truffles to any dish on their menu.  I ordered a gazpacho to start my meal and it was a surprise in texture to my American pallet.  The soup was smooth with a wonderful scoop of cucumber sorbet floating in the middle and shaved truffles sitting on the top.  I followed this with a rich and creamy shrimp risotto and more shaved truffles.  But, the crowning glory of the meal was the cheese plate for dessert.  Our waitress started by bringing us a wee little pot of honey (yes, with truffles) and instructing us on how to taste the three cheeses, starting with the mildest cheese first and drizzling it with honey.  Heavenly!  Next came the medium strength and the strongest cheese was the finisher.  More heavenliest!  

And, what better way to top off the evening than a bit more shopping along the Champs Elysee for the girls.  We had to find macaroons!

And then, our final day in Paris.  All the walking and drinking was beginning to take its toll on me, so Mike and I got something of a late start.  I actually began my day at lunchtime!  We ducked around the corner to a little Italian joint.  Amazing as it sounds, our host and the owner of the restaurant managed to be charming and amusing at every table.  He teased us in English, tossing in an Italian phrase or two, taking care of his regular customers in Italian. He spoke to the staff in French and I will bet he speaks decent Turkish if he finds a Turk seated in his ristorante!

After lunch, we wandered a bit and then made our way down to the banks of the Seine and the Bateau Mouchee. This is a huge sightseeing boat that, along with dozens of others, makes it’s way up and down the Seine, broadcasting recorded explanations of the landmarks along the way.  It’s a great way to see the iconic landmarks and bridges as they present themselves to you.  Lots of photo ops here.
I still had not ridden the Metro and we had tickets that needed to be used.  There is something thrilling about not speaking the language and then heading underground to try to figure out how to get from point A to point B and back again.  Fortunately, Mike was born with the navigational gene that skipped my generation in my family tree. We changed trains once and came up above ground in a shopping district that needed a closer look.   

And, that is when I fell victim to the curse of needing a Starbucks coffee.  I do not drink strong coffee, but I love my coffee. The only time I EVER drink Starbucks is if I find myself in an airport and I am so desperate for some caffeine that I will order a Starbucks and ask them to fill the cup 2/3 full with coffee and add 1/3 cup of hot water.  Thank God some Starbucks genius invented blonde coffee!  Anyway, the French drink very very very strong coffee in little itty-bitty cups. Suddenly, I NEEDED a blonde café Americano.  I was rather pathetic, sitting on a little toadstool bench with my trembling fingers laced around my Starbucks, almost in tears, sipping the nectar of Juan Valdez and his minions.  Ahhhh. 

While drinking my coffee, I had a chance to reflect on Parisian Fashion.  It’s all about black.  Light black, dark black, faded black and black black.  If you need a spot of color, wear red shoes.  Or, if you are really daring, grab a grey scarf.  You have two choices in foot wear.  If you are in a hurry to get somewhere, you will wear ballet slippers.  But, if you want to really look like a million bucks, you wear boots or shoes with a pretty high heel. This will allow you to carry yourself slowly and sensually, knowing that gentlemen are checking you out as you knowingly walk away from them. Oh yes.  You look good!

While I’m at it, here are a couple more observations about Paris, The City of Trees.  They are everywhere.  Every street, every corner, every avenue, trees are iconic to Paris.  During our visit, we noticed the smallest, most minute color variations signaling fall.  There are the beginnings of dry leaves under foot and lifting off the sidewalks if a breeze or passing bus stirred the air.

Now, to try to tell you the horrors of Paris traffic.  Laissez faire applies to more than French politics.  It is how the Department of Motor Vehicles, or whatever the bureau is that handles the traffic, oversees the flow of buses, cars, bicycles and scooters.  Wait.  Silly me.  There is no enforcing because it appears there are no traffic laws, rules, guidelines or even suggestions.  Heck, they don’t really have lane markings for any other reason than to show a parade route.  If you have ever seen a map of the center of Paris, imagine the Arc de’ Triomphe with enough width to the roadway that ten vehicles COULD all drive, side by side, around the Arc.  Now, imagine that the driver in car #2 wants to get in front of the driver in a car six slots over.  No problem.  He just sliiiiiddddeeessss over.  Of course, just to make it interesting, EVERY driver is free to make a lateral move any time he thinks he should.  Ok.  So if you have this picture of mayhem you can now factor in hundreds of scooters who are free to occupy any space between any cars at any time. And, it works!  No one honks his or her horn, no one cuts anybody off.  They just slide.  And if you need to park your car, there are no meter, no signs, and no parking lots.  You just find a spot along the curb and park.  If you can’t find a spot, you park your vehicle across the curve where one street turns into another.  It’s no foul if you need to put a couple of wheels up on the sidewalk either. If you still can’t find a spot, you simply double-park anywhere you need too.  As long as one car can make it’s way through, all is fair. 

And now, our last night in Paris.  Again, Mike was armed with knowledge of a hidden gem that he discovered while surfing the web.  By the time we (that’s code for Mike did all the leading and I did all the following) managed three different subway lines and came above ground, we were only a block away from Le Boudoir.  It was 7:00.  When we went through the front door, there was not a patron in the place.  Stephan greeted us and asked if we had a reservation.  Alas, we did not.  He gently explained that at Le Boudoir each diner’s meal is planned, shopped for and cooked only specifically for them.  But, give him a moment to think…perhaps we would go somewhere for a glass or two of wine and return in an hour?  Perhaps he would come up with a plan for us?   Hmmmm.  Wait monsieur.  Perhaps monsieur and madam would like to sit at the little out of the way table in the window and enjoy a glass or two of his private label red wine while he made sure the kitchen could feed us?  Why yes, Stephan.  I think we would like that.  So, Mike and I sat and watched as other diners began to arrive.  Many of them knew each other.  All were prepared to dine at 8:00.  So, when 8:00 arrived, we were invited to our table.  The menu is VERY limited.  You can choose between two fish and two meat dishes.  However, we asked Stephan to make choices for us.  We began with a pate to enjoy with MORE wine.  This was followed by a fois gras that was pure heaven and a light octopus and bean salad. Next we were served a small stuffed breem in a thin cream sauce.  It was so light!  The breem was followed by black pudding that had a little crust of mashed potatoes.  It must have been cooked in a burgundy reduction of some sort and it was magnificent!  And, the final treat was a warm berry tart accompanied by a creamy blue cheese and a medium cheese. This was the home run meal, the crowning glory, and the best possible memory of Paris.  Merci, Stephan!
And now, the train to Munich.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ahhhhh. Thank you, my friends. Feel like I've had a little French fix. Can't wait til the next installment! I'm thinking something Gallic for dinner, with a sauce, and pommes frites. Tomorrow: Wienerschnitzel. Uhm papa M