TRAVEL with pat and lew

* Living in Paris – 2007

Posted by Lew Weinstein on October 26, 2007

If you’re expecting a tourist’s guide to Paris, we recommend Rick Steves or Pauline Frommer.

What we did was spend a wonderful 10 days in Paris without ever going to a single museum or any other major attraction. Our objectives, and they were many, all had to do with learning how to live in Paris. We explored where to shop, where to get an American breakfast, where to get our hair cut, and many other essential elements of six months abroad which are not available in Collioure.

Then, later in the month, we returned to Paris so Pat could run the Paris to Versailles ten mile race.

Saturday, Sept 1

We took an 8:30 train from Collioure to Perpignan (20 minutes) then had an hour wait which we filled with breakfast at the restaurant across from the gare (train station). From Perpignan to Paris, we went 1st class on our half-price senior fares, arriving at Gare de Lyon and taking a cab to our home exchange apartment.

Our accommodations were a home exchange in the heart of Paris, on rue de Tempe at the edge of the Marais district in the 3rd arrondissement. Upon arrival, we had the great pleasure to meet our exchange partner, Robert, who had mistakenly purchased train tickets for the following day. He had another place to stay the night, but we spent a delightful hour being entertained by descriptions of his long career as an actor and director on stage and in film.

The names Marcel Marceau (who died a few weeks later), Robert de Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Stella Adler, and Lee Strasbourg, among many others, just rolled off his tongue. Robert told an incredible story of a lifetime in theatre and film, up to the present when he runs a training school for actors in Paris and New York.

A picture of his daughter’s christening included the godparents James Baldwin and Ava Gardner. Prior visitors to the apartment included Allan Ginsburg and Salvatore Dali, and there was a very small, autographed, nude photo of Marilyn Monroe hanging unobtrusively on the entrance hall wall. Far from unobtrusive, however, were the many explicitly nude drawings and photos of women of many shapes and sizes. The other dominating aspect of the apartment were the books, which filled shelves on every wall and cabinet, including the entire wall in the WC.

When Robert finally escaped our delighted questions, we walked in the Marais, an exciting area of Paris, and had dinner at an outdoor restaurant.

Sunday, Sept 2

Pat took her early morning run down Rue de Temple to the Seine and then along the river to the Tulleries, Champs Elysee and back. She has become very familiar with this route and for her it makes Paris a great running city.

Sunday is the best day of the week in the Marais. We used the occasion to learn about our new Garmin Nuvi GPS, and it was terrific all day. Highlights included Sasha Finkelsteins for bagels, Thanksgiving for American food, and the Red Wheelbarrow Bookstore (great selection of American titles), where we met a woman from Riga who has lived in Paris since WWII. I accepted her recommendation and purchased Irene Nemirovsky’s 1930s novel, David Glover, which has been re-published since the huge success of her posthumous novel Suite Francaise, written shortly before the author was deported and murdered at Auschwitz.

I decide that what I’d really like for dinner is a hamburger. Pat is immediately on the web and soon announces she has found the place. Breakfast in America is an American diner in Paris, with two locations, one in the Marais and one in the Latin Quarter. They serve real American breakfasts all day as well as hamburgers and other 1950s diner food. There was a short line at the tiny restaurant, but it was worth the wait.

Monday, Sept 3

Pat is on a mission, GPS assisted, to find every sporting goods store in Paris in search of ladies running shirts, power gels, and other necessities. We find every one, but not so many ladies running shirts, perhaps explained by the fact that not many French women do much running.

We had dinner with Evan, with whom we did a home exchange last year. He is a delightful person, the brother of a friend in Key West. He is disappointed, however, that we have no visits from foreign acquaintances. Last year, while having wine with Evan, Russian friends from Moscow arrived to join us.

Paris has a new bike system, called Velib, and Evan helped us figure it out. It’s a brilliant idea. 20,000 bikes are place in a series of racks every 300 meters in Paris. You take a bike, ride to your destination, and leave the bike in another rack. The bikes themselves are outstanding, heavy and comfortable.

The system for getting the bikes, however, reflects the French passion for bureaucracy gone mad. There are 17 steps in the process, which requires a credit or debit card with an intelligent chip, so most American credit cards won’t work. Fortunately, my French bank debit card has a chip and does work.

There are issues with the system, such as how do you return a bike if the racks are full. It is also questionable if the goal of less traffic will be accomplished, since the bikes seem to replace walking and Metro, not the use of cars. However, it was fun and we did it several times during our stay.

Tuesday, Sept 4

We rode the train to Versailles and used our GPS to find the trailer (no electricity) which served as the headquarters for the Paris to Versaille 10 mile race. Last year, Pat planned to run, Maureen came over from New York to join her, and the race, which attracts 20-30,000 runners, was inexplicably canceled. This year, all attempts to register on-line have failed – perhaps the lack of electricity has something to do with that – so we trek to Versailles to register in person, cash only. There are three young guys hanging out in the trailer, and they give Pat two t-shirts from the 2005 race. They promise an email confirmation which never arrives.

We train back to the St-Michel stop on the Left Bank and find the Hotel Sully St. Germain on rue des Ecoles, where Pat’s daughter will stay later in the month. We lunch at the other (original) Breakfast in America, where the bacon is crisp, the eggs and potatoes are outstanding, and the deer and the antelope play.

After lunch, we explore Au Vieux Campeur. This the most unusual store you can imagine, since each department is in a different location, 2-3 per block for blocks on end, perhaps a dozen stores all together. We make a purchase in one store, but have to go to another to pay.

Pat has accumulated a long list of hair salons which promise to speak English. All the locations have been entered into the GPS, and off we go. We find the first address but no salon. They’ve moved. We call, using our new French cell phones, and get the new address, which is several blocks away. But on the way, we find and decide to try Franck Provost. There was in fact one excellent English speaker, and we both got terrific cuts (so we tell each other).

That night, we have dinner and great conversation with our Key West friends Rawy and Nijole, who also have an apartment in Paris, at an excellent restaurant in the Marais.

Wednesday, Sept 5

It shouldn’t be hard to purchase an external DVD burner. But I’ve been to a series of stores, all of which carry the item and all of which are out of stock. Finally, at Les Halles, which is generally a dismal shopping center, we find a very large computer and appliance store and purchase the elusive DVD burner.

We lunch at a sidewalk restaurant in the Latin Quarter, meet an Australian girl who has loved her week in Paris, and skip dinner for cheese & crackers in the apartment.

Thursday, Sept 6

We search for more stores, including Bon Marche, and have lunch at The Real McCoy, another American style restaurant. Back across the Seine, we rent bikes and ride to the Tuileries, where we have some difficulty finding an open rack to return the bikes. There is, on the web, a continually updated list of all locations, including the number of bikes available and the number of open spaces for return, so if you have a blackberry or iPod with you…

We eat at Au Gamin de Paris on rue Vieille du Temple in the Marais. We had lunch at this friendly restaurant last year, and dinner is just as good.

Friday, Sept 7

WH Smith is a great English book store on rue de Rivoli. Despite bringing close to 100 books with us in June, and buying more in Ireland in July, and several at the Red Wheelbarrow, we are running low.

If you saw Something’s Gotta Give with Diane Keaton, Jack Nicholson, and Keanu Reeves, you saw the Grand Colbert. We followed the GPS directions, and later learned how easy it is to find behind the Palais Royal, and met the waiter who served in the movie. This will be on our 2008 Paris list for dinner.

You cannot buy a Paris Metro ticket with a credit card since it doesn’t have a memory chip, but I can use the debit card from my French bank. It seems there’s no such thing as a French credit card, although almost every store and restaurant accepts American credit cards … can that be true!

The Hotel de Ville, Paris’ city hall, is a spectacular building which sort of anchors the Marais to the right bank. I read somewhere that the inside is as opulent as the exterior. Tonight, however, the focus is on the large plaza, where a huge screen has been set out to view the first game of the Rugby World Cup, featuring France versus Argentina. We stop for the beginning of the game on our way to dinner, and head off for dinner.

Every Friday night Paris hosts several thousand roller-bladers on a police escorted romp through the city streets. The route is published every Thursday on the web, and we head through Isle St. Louis to the Pont Sully and Boulevard Henry IV.

We’re early, so we sit on bench and enjoy the cool Paris evening, wondering how the considerable traffic coming off the road along the Seine will be managed. Quite easily, it turns out. At 10:20 pm, Several police on motorcycles, and some on roller-blades, arrive and block the intersection. Two thousand roller-bladers arrive a minute later, pass on quickly, and the road is re-opened. No problem.

Walking back to our apartment, we return to Hotel de Ville for the sad ending (France lost). The large crowd is very well-behaved crowd, many sitting on a lawn of artificial grass laid for the occasion.

Saturday, Sept 8

Today is our 23rd wedding anniversary. Pat celebrates by extending her run to 9 miles, in preparation for the Paris to Versailles 10 miler later in the month. She runs from our apartment on Rue de Temple all the way down the Champs Elysee to the Arc d’Triumphe, and then back.

We have a romantic, candle lit dinner at Coupe Chou, recommended by our friend Carol and also by Anne, our Mexico exchange partner who came to Paris in April before going to Collioure.

Sunday, Sept 9

We ride our rented bikes along the Seine, return the bikes and enjoy petite de jeunier with croissants, baguettes, juice, coffee and tea. It’s 19 euros for two, and we realize what a bargain Collioure is – same breakfast for 12 euros.

Marche de Saint Catherine is one of the few remaining village squares in Paris. Difficult to find, it is worth the effort. We have a very pleasant, informal dinner in an enchanting setting, then pack and get ready to leave in the morning

Monday, Sept 10

Monday morning rush hour and we have difficulty getting a taxi, risk missing our train even though, as always, we have allowed extra time. A friendly lady in the jewelry shop calls a taxi for us, but it doesn’t arrive. She keeps checking on us, calls again, and receives promises but no taxi. Finally, a taxi discharges a passenger and takes us on. We arrive at Gare de Lyon in plenty of time for our 11:24 am train.

Saturday, Sept 29

Nineteen days later, we take an early train to Perpignan. The restaurant across the street isn’t yet open, and we join exactly the collection of scruffy characters you would expect find at 6:30 am in any train station café in the world. We escape as soon as possible and board the waiting TGV to Paris. Since we have our Carte Senior and get 50% discounts, we are again going 1st class, and it’s wonderful.

From Gare de Lyon, it’s a quick 10 euro taxi ride to Hotel La Perle in the 6th arrondissement. A really nice small hotel, our room is “Paris small,” but well laid out and quite comfortable. The neighborhood features St. Sulpice (of Da Vinci code fame), some excellent upscale shopping, many fine restaurants (including the famous Cafés Flore and Deux Magots a couple of blocks away), and all the delights of the nearby Boulevard St. Germaine and Latin Quarter. There’s even a Ben & Jerry’s.

We’re in and out of the hotel, walk a few blocks to the Metro, and head to the Race Expo. It’s Building 5.1 in a huge complex, not well signed, but we find it, and Pat gets her number and chip.

“You can keep the chip when the race is finished,” she’s told, but the brochure says there’s a 15 euro charge if you do, and in fact there were very serious people collecting all chips just past the finish line.

The Expo is a collection of booths promoting other runs, and there are a goodly number of half marathons to consider for 2008 and beyond. There are no 2007 Paris to Versailles t-shirts, so it’s doubly good that Pat got two 2005 shirts when we went to Versailles earlier in the month to register. A race without a shirt! In New York, there would be a revolution.

Dinner at Monteverdi. It’s our third time at this delightful Italian restaurant just around the corner from La Perle, and all have been excellent. We ate there last year with Maureen and her sister after completing the “Not Paris to Versailles.” Pasta for Pat, of course, and just a wee glass of red wine. The streets are filled with Rugby fans, better behaved than expected, and every bar is set up to show the games.

Sunday, Sept 30

After weeks of worrying about the weather, checking every day to get forecasts of cold and rain, the day of the race proves to be perfect, cool and sunny. We chose a cab to the Eiffel Tower, rather than two Metros, and arrive 20 minutes before the scheduled 10:00 am start.

There are thousands of runners assembled, and Pat heads, as all runners do, to the portable potty line. The French have added a new wrinkle – a 4-sided urinal, next to the other enclosed toilets, this one completely open to all viewers. It’s hard to know why they even bother, however, since the road before and after the start line was lined with men peeing at every tree, bush, and blade of grass.

Except for the elite runners at the front of the pack, all others are first come-first serve, so there is a considerable mixing of fast and slower runners. Pat was probably in the first 25%, but after 2-3 kilometers, the runners were all sorted out.

The early kilometers are through the streets of Paris, neither attractive nor awful, and interesting to Pat since she has not seen this arrondissement before. Then comes a huge hill, 1.2 miles, which she mostly walks. After that, it’s a terrific run through the forests (formerly the hunting preserves of the king) and into Versailles.

Meanwhile, I had taken the RER train to Versailles, had a long conversation with a couple from Vancouver experiencing Paris for the first time, and positioned myself on runners left about 100 feet from the finish line. Using our new French cell phones, Pat called at kilometer 10 and again at kilometer 15, and she arrived about 10 minutes after that, an overall 12 minute (per mile) pace.

Typical French approach to collecting the chips. One person cuts the plastic strap and then gives the chip back to the runner. You think it’s yours? A few steps further on, there are people collecting the chips. Why two stations? Because the French will never have any person do more than one task. Why employ one when six can have jobs, even if they’re volunteers?

We walk to the train station and catch the Metro back to Paris.

If there’s a better time and place than Sunday afternoon in Paris, we haven’t found it. We walked through the Latin Quarter, across to Notre Dame, around Isle St. Louis, and over to the Marais for a cool drink at the Place de St Catherine, the utterly charming square we found earlier in the month. On the way back, the outdoor screen at Hotel de Ville is showing the Rugby World Cup match between Ireland and Argentina to a crowd that fills the plaza and the huge carpet of artificial grass.

We planned a special dinner at Le Procope, the oldest café in Paris and a place we had first enjoyed on our first trip to Paris in 1988. The ambiance is wonderful, as is Pat’s meal. Mine, however, is another story. Steak medium-well apparently means pink to the French, so I send it back. Pat says it’s my fault, that the blank look on the waiter’s face means he doesn’t understand my instructions, and that it’s a hopeless cause to expect a steak cooked the way I want it.

This doesn’t excuse, however, the three times we had to ask for a carafe of water, or the waiter slamming the salt and pepper on the table after the second time we asked for that. Third time we’ve been to Le Procope, and the last.

Monday, Oct 1

A wonderful morning. Breakfast at the café on the corner across from St. Sulpice. A walk across to Isle de Cite, on the same street, rue Dauphine, and past the same Hotel Dauphine that are featured in the book I’m currently reading, Alan Furst’s The Foreign Correspondent. A tour of the Conciergerie, including Marie Antoinette’s cell, which is Pat’s current reading. Back into the Latin Quarter for lunch, raclette and fondue. To the hotel, gather our bags, taxi to Gare de Lyon.

The train ride home is another opportunity to enjoy the spectacular French farm country. France is a beautiful place, and the view from the upper deck of a comfortable train is great.

    

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