Twenty years of marriage deserves a bit of celebration, and so my wife and I went to Paris.
Sometimes things are hyped and built up to be larger or more exciting than they are but that is not the case with Paris. It is truly a magnificent, sophisticated, beautiful city. Centuries of history and culture mixed with modern technology, without losing the benefits of either.
We rented an apartment in the 4th district, near the site of the historic Bastille prison, the site of the beginings of the French Revolution. http://www.vrbo.com/24464 (note the newly remodeled bathroom!)
It is striking, as a person who lives in a spacious, newly constructed tract home, how older buildings and their facilities, can be adapted and evolve over the years. In the tiny kitchen of the apartment, with its quartz/halogen cook top, freestanding microwave/convection oven and dishwasher, was also the clothes washer and the tankless water heater that provided not only the hot water but the heat for the whole apartment. All of course jammed into a space the size of my closet in my home. Literally.
The kitchen was adequate though for me to prepare most of our meals, the lack of a good cook top made up for by the superb quality of ingredients available. It seems the French have no place in their lives for lesser quality food ingredients. Although we found the “farmers market” type vendors, most of our food shopping was at the “MonoPrix” chain of “supermarche”. (They also have “hypermarche” which would seem to be comparible in size to a Safeway, but we didn’t have one near by).
Food was expensive, but always of the best quality. It is a joy to walk by the fish section of a supermarket and smell the smell of high tide beach sand, rather the the low tide smell of most seafood sections at home. The vegetables were displayed with pride and deservedly even though MonoPrix seemed to be the discount option for food shopping. And the WINE SECTION! We drank more wine than good sense would indicate, but there were so many inexpensive temptations!
I love to cook, so we didn’t eat out as much as I suspect most people would on a vacation, but we did try it a few times. I have to say I like the french way of eating and of service. No “hi! Im (insert silly name), I’ll be your server today”, just a “bon jour” and a calm quiet attendance to your needs. French waiters predict needs well and LEAVE YOU ALONE! And you can sit for a hour or two if you like, they don’t bring your bill until you specifically ask for it! One of my pet peeves at home is that the waiters disappear just when I want to leave and can not be found to pick up the bill and my credit card and get me out of there, but in France you just get the waiters eye, make the motion of writing, and they are at table side with a little hand held credit card terminal. You may have sat there taking up space for hours, yet when you are ready to go they are ready to accommodate.
Yes I did have “snails”. They were a very common menu item in the touristy areas…..and yes we did see horse meat for sale in the MonoPrix…..did not try that.
We had a wonderfully magic meal in the gardens below the Louvre….We had gone to the Musee d’Orsay across the Seine and then walked across to the gardens, (really a park), and found an outdoor restaurant, where we started with a bottle of champagne and finished with a rhubarb tart….and in the interim laughed at how cool it was to be small town Americans eating lunch and drinking champagne in a park in Paris….second honeymooners, us.
Eventually we saw most of the “important” sites; Louvre, Musee d’Orsay, Notre Dame (including the hundreds of steps climb to the top…) Sacre Coure, Arc d’Triomphe, the Eiffel tower, the Flea Markets (where the name actually came from!), the Moulin Rouge in the “sex shop” district. We strolled the Champs d’Elyse and many more interesting but less well know streets. We even ventured to London for a day, and went to euro Disneyland and Versailles.
Paris is a walking town. And a subway town. We were able, due to some internet research, to buy a pass to the Metro system with a built in chip, that could be loaded for the week from self service terminals for unlimited riding….It was not the more expensive pass aimed at tourists but the ones locals would have. It allowed us to simply wave the card over a spot on the turnstile and go, and go we did.
The Metro is one of the treasures of Paris. It simply works, trains every 3 minutes in the commute hours, every 5 in the off hours, and every 15 till it closes at 1 am. The various lines make a web under the whole city and surrounding areas, so that every thing is within walking distance. You walk to the Metro, which seemed to always be nearby, take a train or two, and got out and walk a bit more and there you were, where ever you wanted to be. It felt as if the whole of Paris was steps away.
Of course the 1 am closing could be a problem….
On our anniversary night, after a wonderful meal of Mexican food, (our tradition), with crepe thin corn tortillas, and a waitress with a california accent, we took off for the Eiffel tower to cap the night off, with the bottle of Dom Perignon, http://www.domperignon.com/ that I had been eyeing at the local wine shop down the street, and finally purchased.
Two metro trains and a brief walk and we were at the tower, bottle hidden in my messenger bag. It was dark and the tower glowed with warm lights, and on the hour additional lights, randomly placed flashes, would go off and make the golden glowing tower, sparkle.
I almost made it through the security check point, I had been given the go ahead to walk on, but the guard gave my bag an extra pat and discovered the prohibited glass bottle…..no exceptions! Of course I was prepared….and had brought a plastic soda bottle, which with a laugh he agreed would be acceptable, so I decanted the rather pricey champagne into the Orangina bottle and up we went.
It is a view as if you were flying, to see Paris at night from the Eiffel tower….and one that brought tears to Claudettes eyes. (Claudette, my wife). We stayed until the last of the stragglers, going down, so it could close, and set off for the Metro and “home”.
This is where the 1 am thing comes into play…it was 12:45 and only one more train was coming and it was going the wrong way! So we took it and closed the second Paris institution for that night! It left us off on the Champs d’Elyse, where we were finally able to get a cab, after the more aggressive people had thinned out….(this small town boy does not have cab skills!) The cab circled the Arc d’Triomphe and followed the Seine and wisked us back to our quiet neighborhood, our night of adventure and celebration, over.
And I guess so should this blog entry be…..you have all had vacations and you know what its like….I hope, you have all had vacations like this one was, for my wife and I….and have the joy of a good marriage, as I do.
Back to work Dave….. (I took many more photos…many without my silly mug, but as my wife works in a school, she asked that I not post the link, as a few may be slightly inappropriate in her work environment…email me and I will share…)
June 25th, 2008