Sunday, May 17, 2009

Europe 2009: Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, May 17 - 19, Paris

When it was time to drive from Chenonceaux to Paris we were nervous that the local gas station wouldn't accept our American Express card, but the Total station near the inn did accept it and we were on our way. During the drive we ran totally out of money and had to get off the toll road and use side roads the final leg of the journey.

This was my third visit to Paris and each visit I love it more. After much deliberation we had opted for the Hotel Muguet in the 7th arrondissment. It was a modest accomodation within our price range. Extremely small rooms, as is the norm, but adequate. Scratchy blanket and lumpy, tiny pillows I did not appreciate. But the rest of the hotel was OK. The location was good, as Rue Cler was a five minute walk and the Eiffel Tower a 15 minute walk.
After arrival and check-in we began our quest for a restaurant that would accept American Express: not an easy task. I canvassed almost all the restaurants on Rue Cler and only found one: Cafe Central. So that is where we had an al fresco dinner. It was surprisingly good. My husband loves creme brulee and they made an excellent one. I wanted to walk to the Eiffel Tower to see it lit up at night and dragged my companions with me. They were tired, but the fatigue vanished when we stood under the brilliantly lit tower. Then suddenly all the lights started flashing. At that very moment I noticed a couple nearby. The young man was on bended knee in front of his girlfriend. He extended a small box to her and the next moment she flew into his arms and they kissed and hugged for a long time. Later I observed what looked to be his or her parents photographing them with the tower in the background.

The next day Mary and I took the Metro to Notre Dame and just happened to be there in time for their evensong service, so we took our seats near the front and participated in the service, trying to sing the hymns in French. The incense produced an otherworldly fog around us. A wonderful young cantor's tenor voice echoed to the rafters. Mary translated some of the liturgy for me and it was very beautiful and worshipful. It was such a different experience from just walking around looking at the statues. We seem to be very lucky at falling into the right place at the right times!

We had lunch that day at Le Florimond, a restaurant that had been highly recommended to me on a travel forum. This may have turned out to be my favorite place to eat in the entire world! They were completely full when we got there but a table soon opened up and we were seated. The menu was fresh and inventive and every bite was sublime. Better yet, the price was extremely reasonable for the quality of the food. Even better was the owner Laurent, who bustled about making sure everything was perfect. I had introduced myself to him at the beginning of our meal and he remembered our names and used them frequently, calling me "Mar - ga - ret!" He was so genuinely warm that you had the feeling of being a guest in someone's home and you wanted to hang around all afternoon. I've been married for 39 years and this was the first time I heard my husband say, "let's come back again for dinner". He is easy going but not easily impressed. We asked Laurent, who was pleased we wanted to come back the same day, but initially I could see he was thinking how he could fit us in. He smiled and said "of course!" When we got there that night I just knew he squeezed in one more small table because the place was packed.

The atmosphere was warm and convivial. I have learned from my own party giving that the more crowded it is, the more fun people have. There is no room for shyness when you are elbow to elbow. Everyone in the room was friendly with one another. Laurent was bustling about making sure everyone was taken care of, with the help of his one waitstaff, Benedette. Pascal, the co-owner and chef was in the kitchen. Laurent said he would be out later to meet us.

Once again the fixed price menu was sublime. We relaxed, took our time and savored every bite. At 10:30 Pascal came out of the kitchen and came to every table to greet the guests. He was so pleased to hear we had been there twice in one day. Later, when we rose to leave, Laurent called to Benedette and Pascal to come over and say goodbye to us. We received hugs and two-cheek kisses from each of them along with their well wishes for our journey home. I've never experience that in a restaurant before. What an extraordinary experience!

Our last day was on a Tuesday. This was my third trip to Paris and I had never had the chance to visit the Louvre. It was my intention to go today. Alas, they were closed on Tuesdays! Instead, we went to the Rodin gardens and museums. What a happy choice that was. It was so nice to be outside in the gorgeous gardens which were filled with Rodin's sculptures, not the least of which is the famous "Thinker" with the Eiffel Tower and Invalides in the background. The museum was good too, but I'd be content to spend one euro and just go to the gardens every day.

That evening we did some last minute souvenir shopping on Ile Saint Louis. We found out that there were more shops here that accepted American Express than in the Rue Cler area. I was told not too many places took that credit card because they charged more fees. We were considering two places for dinner: Le Caveau de L'Isle, which looked very charming with its open windows to the street, and a place which had been recommended to us by friends, Nos Ancetres le Galois. We checked out Nos Ancetres but in the end chose Le Caveau. The food was just OK. The decor and setting was nice however. Nothing could compare to our experience at Le Florimond.

After dinner, again our timing was perfect as we strolled over the bridge and the sun was just setting behind Notre Dame. We took the stairs down to the Seine and strolled at the water's edge. We were not alone in appreciating the ambiance. Students, lovers, old couples were sitting at the water's edge with drinks and picnic dinners while the strains of a lone saxophone wafted through the air. Bateaux Mouches drifted by, some packed with crowds of people, others were more elegant with individual dining tables and flickering candles. As the color of the sky turned pink and then purple and the silhouette of Notre Dame darkened I wished we could spend another week in Paris. Alas, we had to leave in the morning. I know there is another trip to Paris in my future. Maybe next time I will make it to the Louvre!

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