25 July 2016

Paris, April 26-28: The beginning of a wonderful trip

When we started planning a trip to Europe, our goal from the beginning was Italy. But we decided to make Paris our first stop. We had several good reason. First, we like Paris. Second, it had been a long time since we'd been there. Third, we could take a nonstop flight from Minneapolis to Paris. So, we thought, this would be a nice way to begin the trip, by getting over our jet lag in the City of Light

Of course, we thought a little bit about the possibility of terrorism. We hadn't made our reservation yet when the terrorist attack occurred in November 2015. That caused us to reconsider our plan. But we finally decided that we would stick with the plan. If the situation got more threatening, we could always cancel the Paris segment of our trip. 

Well, the situation in Paris did not get more threatening. The only trouble with our three days in Paris was the weather. It was much chillier than usual for late April, and we had periods of cold rain. One day the rain turned to sleet for a while. But the weather wasn't all bad, and we had periods of bright, crisp sunshine to enjoy walking around the city. (It could have been much worse. A month later, heavy rain caused the Seine to flood and many of the areas where we walked were inaccessible.) 

Thankful for the periods of sunshine in Paris
Oh, we did have one other difficulty. The day we arrived there was a strike in Paris. As a result, it took about an hour to clear Customs at the airport. Then, when we took the RER train into the city, the train stopped two stations short of our destination, and we had to haul our luggage onto a crowded subway to get to our final stop. 

But we did not regret starting out trip in Paris. We enjoyed revisiting parts of the city that we'd been to on previous trips. And we explored some new parts of the city. We revisited a few favorite museums and went to some new ones as well. We had some excellent meals, and we found a couple of jazz venues - one new and a return visit to one we'd been to before. 

Our flight from USA arrived mid-morning. But by the time we got through Customs and dealt with the train strike, it was early afternoon by the time we checked into our hotel. Our plan was to go, go, go so that we would stay awake all day and try to get over jet lag. So after unpacking, we got a sandwich and coffee at a patisserie on the corner, then grabbed our umbrellas and started walking. We walked to the Pantheon, the Luxembourg Garden, saw the Church of St. Sulpice, walked along the Seine River over to the Eiffel Tower, and then went to the Rodin Sculpture Garden on the walk back. According to my activity monitor, we walked 11 miles that first day. 

On Day 2, we started by walking to Marche Monge which was about 2 blocks away. We had read in a guidebook that it was a great neighborhood market. It was cool but we didn't see anything we'd buy on vacation. Then we walked back to a little square near our hotel where we had croissants and espresso. From there we walked the Seine from Notre Dame to the Tuillerie Garden, then thru the garden past the Ferris wheel to Champs D'Elysee. We continued our walk to the Arch d'Triumph and then back toward the Ferris wheel. It rained on us a little, but not dissuaded, we walked to Place de Madeline. Got lunch at a cafe near there and then walked to the Musee de l'Orangerie. The museum was very nice, lots of Monet plus other artists from that era - Picasso, Chagall, etc. We spent about 2 hours in the museum. Total walking distance for the day was 10.6 miles.
Our breakfast cafe

On Day 3, we had breakfast again at the little cafe in the square near our hotel. Then we started walking again. The route we took went passed Notre Dame to Pompedeau Center. We hadn't seen the Center before, and we were surprised that it was such a modern (ugly) building. Then went to Forum des Halles, which we'd heard was a fabulous shopping mall. Sorry, but to us, it was too much like the Mall of America. Instead, we continued our shopping venture along Rue de Rivoli where Linda found some clothing that she bought. Then went to the Jewish Quarter (Rue de Rosiers); many of the delis and cafes were closed for Passover. One falafel stand was open, and it was doing fantastic business. Linda bought some more clothing at a vintage shop. From there we went back to Rue de Rivoli and had lunch in a cafe.

When we were done with lunch, we realized that we were near the Shoah Memorial. We decided to go in, not really knowing what to expect. I felt that it did a fair and forthright job of dealing with the shameful collaboration of the occupied French officials and the Vichy government with the Nazis in rounding up French Jews for execution or transport to concentration camps. At the same time, there were informative exhibits of decent French people who risked their own lives to shelter Jewish compatriots. And there also were exhibits that highlighted the role of French Jews in the Resistance. It was very well done, informative, and moving.

After that rather somber interlude, we walked through Isle de la Cite, and back to our hotel. Total walking distance was only 6.5 miles.

Hotel: Hotel Des Grandes Ecoles. It turned out to be a great location. The hotel is quaint, comfortable, cordial, quiet, and clean. The neighborhood is a little scruffy, but not scary. It's close enough to Notre Dame and the Latin Quarter nightlife to be convenient, but not as touristy as actually staying in the area, like we did on our last visit. There are some great local restaurants.

Restaurants:
Day 1: Le Maison de Verlaine. As I described above, after an overnight flight from USA and walking for 11 miles, by dinnertime, we wanted to find someplace close to our hotel. This restaurant was only about 3 blocks away. It was like a cozy sanctuary after a long day. The ambiance is very comfortable and relaxing. There's nice jazz music playing in the background (and photos of notable jazz artists posted on the walls). Service was friendly and attentive. We had no trouble communicating, though I'm not sure how much English the wait staff actually understood. The food was excellent. We both ordered the daily fixed menu. My wife started with a duck salad, and her entree was fruit de mer (cod, salmon, shrimp in Normandy sauce). Her dessert was creme brulee. My starter was salmon carpaccio with olive oil and plenty of fresh dill. My entree was duck with carrots and parsnips and potato croquettes, and my dessert was tarte tatin. We enjoyed this restaurant so much that we considered coming back on our second night. But when we walked by the next morning, we were disappointed to learn that the restaurant would be closed that evening. We also were surprised to see a plaque outside the door that says that Ernest Hemingway lived in the building from 1921-25. That bit of trivia isn't mentioned on the restaurant's web site. But the Smithsonian's 'Guide to Hemingway's Paris' notes that he did his writing in that building. 

Day 2: Saint Severin. This wasn't our first choice, or even our second choice. We had wanted to return to Le Maison de Verlaine, but it was closed. Then we wanted to eat at Le Petit Chatelet, which was nearby the music venue we planned to try after dinner. But we couldn't get in without a reservation. So we made a reservation for the next night and then wandered through the Latin Quarter and that's how we ended up at Saint Severin. It wasn't a bad experience. But when you're only getting three dinners in Paris, you don't want one of them to be just average. 

Day 3: Le Petit Chatelet. For our last dinner in Paris, we really wanted to find a good restaurant. This one gets a lot of great reviews online. So we made a reservation. Our dinner here was ... interesting. The decor was charming. The food was excellent, it was the best meal we ate in Paris. We were a little annoyed by our table. The downstairs was full when we arrived for our reservation. We were led to a table on the second floor. The only other people there was a group of six Americans and Brits. They weren't obnoxious or anything. It just didn't feel like being in a Paris restaurant, except for the view of Notre Dame and the palace. We did feel like we were stuck in the English ghetto. Our server was polite and attentive, but not particularly friendly. The fixed price menu included any of the starter items, which were substantial and tempting. But the entree course was only a choice of veal or cod, and that didn't appeal to us. So we ordered off the menu. To start we split a salad of Roquefort cheese on a bed of fresh greens and a light vinaigrette. It was a substantial wedge of cheese and very tasty. For an entree Linda had coquille Saint Jacques. I had a duo of sea bass and scallops, in a light cream sauce like Linda's sauce. Both of our entrees were on a tower of sautéed vegetables - zucchini, carrots, parsnips. For dessert I had pears poached in red wine served with a scoop of violet ice cream. Overall, it was a very nice meal. But if I were to return to any of the three restaurants where we ate in Paris, it would be La Maison de Verlaine. The ambiance and friendly service made Verlaine a nicer experience.

Nightlife:
Caveau de la Huchette. The music was fun - sort of ragtime/honkytonk with some modern charts thrown in to the mix. But it's really a dance club. There were several dancers, they appeared to be regulars, who were fascinating to watch. The club charged €13 entry and no pressure to buy drinks. We did order beers during the break between sets.
Impromptu jazz at Aux Trois Mailletz

Aux Trois Mailletz. We've been here before, on a previous trip to Paris. It's great! They have a piano player performing. But throughout the evening, they get drop-in performers. Some sing along with the piano. Some take over the piano for a couple of songs. On this particular visit, a jazz trumpet player and a friend were at the table next to ours. They ordered huge, rare steaks. But before their food arrived, they took the stage, the trumpeter and his friend on piano. They were fun to listen to and very talented performers. We would definitely come back here on any future trip to Paris. 

Click here for more photos of our 3 days in Paris.

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