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Report 1263: Paris, in a Dream

By Kim from NJ, Spring 2006

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Page 6 of 8: Who's The Tall Guy With Me - Louvre, Mmm Mussels, Wine, Good Wine

photo by Kim

Eiffel at Night

In the morning we weren’t up too early or too late. Chris wasn’t scheduled to run today, so we packed up our belongings, checked out of our hotel and moved our belongings to the new hotel, Lausanne, several blocks away. Maneuvering through the streets didn’t prove too much trouble except when we needed to navigate a curb.

After dropping our bags at the hotel, and explaining to them the necessity of storing Chris’s briefcase (aka laptop) behind the desk as opposed to off to the side of the lobby with our other bags, we headed back out. We had passed a kosher bakery on the corner with some delicious looking items in the window and decided to pop in for a snack. We picked out something that looked like a donut and something that looked like a bow tie and with some pantomime and broken English, figured out there was seating upstairs. The gentleman behind the counter offered to bring our items, plus two coffees, which more resembled Turkish coffee than espresso, up to us. Both items were good, and drenched in honey – like nothing I’ve had anywhere else. The coffee was good and strong too and once satiated, we headed back out.

Today, we headed for the Louvre. Huge crowds filled the courtyard by the pyramid but I remembered reading somewhere that there was another entrance underground we could use with our museum pass, or something like that, and we headed over to the Richelieu entrance, where we did find an alternative entrance where once again we flashed our passes and headed in. I had bought Chris a two-day pass at the same time I had bought my four-day pass and he activated it that morning.

First disappointment, I forgot to check my walking routes for the Louvre ahead of time and didn’t realize that the Egyptian walk was closed on Friday. Bummer. We decided to follow the Renaissance walk but I have to say, once you head in that direction (i.e., towards the Venus di Milo and/or the Mona Lisa) forget it; it’s like getting swept into a riptide. Better to float with the current until you find a piece of calm water and can swim out of it. So, it was in this manner that we saw the famous statue first, swept along with hundreds, if not thousands of tourists.

I’m going to make an aside here too. While I enjoyed having Chris along, in a way, it required a bit of adjustment too. The previous two days, I had strolled through museums on my own, stopping where I willed, staying as long as I wanted or not at all in front of any or every piece of artwork that I saw. With Chris along, I couldn’t do that. Sometimes he would linger, but more often than that, I would – so it felt a bit inhibiting keeping up with his pace.

On the positive side though, it was fun teasing Chris a bit. With notices all over about the fiction that is The Da Vinci code, and basically, not to believe everything you read, I had a good time, pointing out Mary Magdalene in several pictures and asking innocently, “Is that a wedding band on her finger?” Chris would give his usual, “funny” and sulk off in reply. I thought it was pretty funny though.

You know, there’s just too much art and information overload for me to even try recapping everything here but a couple of things I noted:

  • I think it would be interesting to take a tour of the Louvre as a historical building, forget all the artwork inside; the décor is amazing in spots.
  • Shouldn’t the Venus di Milo really be called the Aphrodite di Milo since it was from ancient Greece and not ancient Rome?
  • What/who defines good art? This came up as a topic for discussion as we tried to glimpse the Mona Lisa. If we got within twenty-people of the portrait, it was a lot, talk about crowds – I’ve never seen a mob scene in a museum like this. I don’t do crowds like that so we didn’t last long but our brief glimpse occasioned the question, “What makes the Mona Lisa so good that everyone swarms to see it?”

After moving up and down the great hall, we had enough of the Renaissance and though I really wanted to see a Vermeer, I felt petered out, so we headed downstairs, and a way from the crowds rather than towards the Dutch artists. Along the way, we made a pit stop and then visited some seriously old stuff in the Mesopotamia section before we finally left.

Time for our next destination, lunch. I wanted to take Chris out for mussels and fries, yes I know that’s Belgian more than French but hey, we were pretty close to Belgium. Before we left, some people on SlowTalk suggested a chain place called Leon de Bruxelles for Moules Frites and that’s where we headed, to the location on St. Germain.

Along the way I had a slight mishap. Don’t ask me how but I rapped my knuckle on one of those pylons that stick out of the sidewalk, preventing cars from driving atop them. Well, before I could get my wedding band off, the knuckle swelled to the size of a colossal green olive – the kind Chris likes in his martinis. Shoot. I needed food and I needed a beer and I needed them immediately. Luckily, within another five or ten minutes or so, we found the restaurant and were seated at a table by the open windows along the sidewalk.

The menus were plastic coated but don’t let that deter you – any place that recommends beers to go with each of its dishes cannot be all bad and this place wasn’t. We started with an order of mixed fried seafood that contained things like calamari, small fish (maybe sardines, anchovies, or something similar) and something else. The calamari was different in that it was cut and fried in long thin strips (think French fries) rather than the ringlets we usually get. It was all good though. Afterwards, we each had a pot of moules, Chris ordered the moule au Roquefort, which I questioned since I always thought you shouldn’t do cheese with fish, let alone, a strong cheese like Roquefort, so I ordered the Moules au curry madras. Well, Chris was the winner that afternoon – I liked mine don’t get me wrong, but his was amazing. And those were the best mussels I’ve ever had – plump, tender and golden. Between that, the fries, beer and bread for mopping up the gravy – oh man, my mouth still waters at the thought. I want to open one of these up in New Jersey!

After lunch (€53.90), we headed over to Rue de Buci in search of some gelato, stopping along the way at Olivier & Co in search of some truffle paste for Chris, and other tiny condiment things for me (e.g., anchovy paste, fake chocolate olives). Next, Amorinos for gelato – yowza – gelato ain’t cheap (€4 each) but it wasn’t half-bad but after lunch, I had to force most of it down (no small feat).

Finally, completely sated, we headed back towards the hotel via the metro. I hadn’t used it yet but promised to take some notes for the website, so thought this was as good a time as any. After a couple of blunders, basically, trying to put bills into a machine that would only take credit cards or coins, we finally figured out how to purchase a carnet (10 tickets), which comes out as ten individual tickets, which can easily be divided among different people to use.

Next, we figured out our route and which direction we needed to go and headed down to the track. Lastly, we boarded the train and watched as others unlatched the doors to leave, and had it down. The metro in Paris is easy to use and I highly recommend it.

Once back at the hotel, we completed the check-in process, grabbed our bags and headed up in the tiny elevator to our room on the top floor. To say we were under whelmed with our room would be accurate. It was of a weird configuration, hot, and lacked screens on the window but for €90 a night, and only two nights, we would definitely survive. We unpacked our stuff, rested a bit and then prepared to head out again. But not before, Chris fiddled with the air-conditioning hopefully turning it on.

We headed out again, and I’ll get to that in a moment. But I want to note something else, as we walked down the street, heading back towards the Rue du Fauberg Montmarte then to the metro at Grands Boulevards, we walked past a young Chasidic (i.e., ultra-conservative sect of orthodox Jews) man, talking to two shop keepers. As we passed, he said, “Shabbat Shalom” to us. A traditional greeting Jews use on Shabbat (Friday evening until Saturday night). My instinct was to reply, “Shabbat Shalom” back. To which he lit up and we began a brief conversation when he realized I was Jewish. He’s Chabad, a group of Chasidic Jews concerned with bringing disenfranchised Jews “back to the fold.” He’s from the US and was living in Paris for the time. I think many US Jews fail to realize that there is a large population of Jews in Paris (I think it’s the fourth largest in the world). Anyway, he offered me Shabbat candles to light that night. I’m not sure the hotel would have approved and we didn’t return to our room until well after sundown but I did appreciate the sentiment.

Now, something I forgot to mention before was that we were trying to do this part of the trip “on the cheap,” as Chris’s company was no longer subsidizing us. Another thing you should know is that we were interested in doing some sort of wine tasting while we were in Paris because both Chris and I were totally intimidated by French wines. We feel comfortable with Italian wines, US wines, but French? Forget it, we couldn’t tell a Burgundy from a Bordeaux. So before we left, I found O Chalet, a wine tasting class but we ended up not signing up because of the “on the cheap” motto. However, when Chris received his promotion on the car-ride to the airport, we thought, “Let’s celebrate!” So, when we arrived, I e-mailed O Chalet and scheduled a Friday afternoon class.

Olivier, the sommelier who operates O Chalet out of his loft, offered the Grand 7 class (seven wines, two hours) on Friday afternoon about 5:00. He lives over in the 11th and gave us directions to his loft (including security access code via e-mail), so off we headed via metro. After getting turned around once, upon departing the metro we easily found his loft. I have to say, I liked the feel of this neighborhood, it had plenty of ethnic restaurants, as well as some cafes and a decidedly neighborhood feel. I would definitely consider it for an apartment rental, though it’s considered off-center.

Up we climbed several flights of steps to Olivier’s apartment, knocked and joined two other couples (from the Netherlands I believe), and two other girls from New York City. Later we were joined by some Brits too.

First Olivier introduced us to a map of France, and explained the different wine growing regions. He had a dry sense of humor and liked to tease the Americans but also had no problem ragging on the French wine industry and their “lack of marketing know-how.” Which, I realized is the difference between us feeling comfortable with buying French wines versus US wines.

He started with whites, and of course, with the first pour, taught us how to taste wine (examining the wine in the glass, the swirl, the scent, the sip and swish, etc.) Then, as we tasted the different wines, we talked about the different regions and the types of grape grown in each.

Things I think I learned (don’t be too harsh on my facts; I scribbled my notes and they became less discernable as the tasting went on):

  • A light wine means your wine was not harvested to late
  • Legs are made up of sugar or alcohol
  • Thicker legs – more sugar
  • Slow Leg – dry wine
  • Skinny slow leg – dry wine
  • The longer the wine lasts on your palette after you swallow the better
  • French Chablis – use chardonnay grape
  • Champagne – the second fermentation happens in the bottle, in Prosecco and other sparkling wines, it usually happens in the tank
  • Alsace – known for pinot blanc, pinot gris and dry Riesling
  • Bourgogne – has white and red wines – the whites are Chablis – Chardonay the reds are the Pinot Noir grape
  • Beaujolais – a light red, the gamay grape
  • Southern wines – higher alcohol, like Italy, before more sun and more sugar. Shiraz big grape in Vale du Rhone.
  • Bordeaux – white and red wines, always blended grapes
  • The coloring of the wine at the edge of the glass is from oxidation, the more difference the older the wine.

At this point, Olivier offered to sell any of the wines we tasted as well as some others. We did not buy any though.

By the time we left, we were approaching the dinner hour and decided to head across the Seine to the pizza place I had investigated yesterday. We weren’t in the mood for a big meal and it had been a while since I’d eaten pizza (probably about a year), so we thought we’d give it a go. Plus, I felt guilty about staking out their restaurant the day before.

Did I mention my stakeout? I think I forgot. Anyway, in my mass of notes, someone mentioned this restaurant. I thought it was a review on the web but not with exact directions, or something – I don’t know for some reason I thought I needed to find it. Anyway I did, and as was my habit during this trip of taking pictures of cafes, food and menus for SlowTrav, I took a picture of this place’s menu too. They saw me and came out asking me what I was up to. Who could blame them? I gave them one of my cards and did my best to explain about the website and the reviews and they kindly brought me inside, gave me a tour, explained how they had facilities for private parties (i.e., a good place for a get together), and sent me on my way.

Anyway, so back to the metro and across to Rue du Bac where we walked over to the pizza place Vecchia Pizzeria (also known as La Scala on 5, r Paul Louis Courier 75007 01 42 22 78 56). I had secretly hoped they would recognize me from the day before and perhaps treat us, I don’t know not with favors but just that friendly way proprietors do in Italy when you return for a second visit but no such luck. It wasn’t that crowded and we sat towards the rear where we shared a salad, some other antipasti and two pizzas. I’m afraid I don’t have much in the way of notes at this point in the trip, but enough to say the pizzas were good and meal not overly expensive. If I can dig out my credit card receipt for the meal, I’ll post the cost. Found it! Dinner that night was €48.70 and I believed we shared some house wine and dessert too.

It was still relatively early when we finished, about 9:30 or ten and since I had yet visited the Eiffel tower, Chris thought it would be a good time to head in that direction. First though we checked at the Batobus, hoping they would still be running and we could take a boat ride to the tower, with Paris coming to light. You see the amazing thing about Paris in June, the sun doesn’t set until around 10:00. It was still light out when we started. Unfortunately, the buses had stopped running so we decided to stroll and along the way got to see the most amazing site, the Eiffel Tower lit up. I know some people may think it cheesy but I liked it. The show lasts for a good long time and is truly unbelievable.

The other thing that happened as we made our way to the tower, we ran into the in-line skating parade that takes place in Paris, at different points on each Friday nights. There were thousands upon thousands of people on skates. I’d never seen anything like it. We were at the tail end, so people moved relatively slowly, except for the few hot-doggers who moved in and out of the crowd. Police and ambulances brought up the rear and I could see how both would be needed in that mass of humanity. The parade basically headed in the same direction as us, and since Kim and crowds don’t do well, we decided to find a metro and head back to the hotel.

When we arrived, we discovered a man working in the lobby. Did I mention that when we returned during the afternoon, there was no water in the rooms? They had a pipe burst and were working on fixing it (another cause for consternation at check-in). Anyway, they informed us that they had just turned the water back on and it should reach our room soon, to let the taps flow for a bit.

They were right – it took about five minutes but the water did arrive. Do you know what else arrived? Tiny gnats! See our room was hot as my kitchen when I run the broiler, though Chris thought he had turned the air-conditioning on in the afternoon, so we tried opening the windows, but those pesky little bugs flew in. Chris fiddled with the air again, and it turned out he had turned the fan on but not the air, so we closed the windows, got that running and within an hour or so, the room cooled nicely. We didn’t sleep well, but we slept.

Because we learned to use the metro, walking today totaled only 8.62 miles.

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