TRAVEL with pat and lew

* Paris June 2008 #1

Posted by Lew Weinstein on June 19, 2008

Will the trains run? Will our train run?;


TGV from Perpignan to Paris; It’s always exciting to see our apartment for the first time; The Marais on a Sunday afternoon; Lunch with ‘Big’ on rue St.-Germain des-Pres; Shopping at BHV (Le Bazar de l’Hotel-de-Ville); Musee d’Orsay; It’s good, but it’s not Lew’s “world famous”







Will the trains run? Will our train run?

There has been a rail strike for most of the week before our scheduled early Sunday morning trip to Paris. What’s different about this strike is that no ‘end date’ has been set. Usually, each strike has definite end but this time, there is much uncertainty. Even when they begin to run again, not all trains are running. I check in the Collioure station at 11:00 am on Saturday; the friendly English-speaking clerk says to return at 5:30 pm; she will know by then. There is a taxi in the parking lot; I take his card and he says he will take us in the morning if the train doesn’t run. But at 5:30, I’m told the 6:28 am train is the only train which will run tomorrow.

At 6:00 am, standing on our terrace, we watch the 6:02 train to Perpignan pull in and leave. What does this mean? Are all the trains running? Did the strikers substitute the 6:02 for the 6:28? We carry our luggage down the 60 stairs and over to the platform. Northbound trains run across the track, so we have to go down, under and up, with all the bags. The 6:28 train is posted on the trackside board, and, at 6:20 or so, it is announced. But at 6:28, there is no train. Our connection to Paris leaves Perpignan at 7:32.

We can make it by taxi, if we call now, if the taxi will come, and if there is not much traffic. I call the taxi, wake up the driver, who says he will hurry over. We invite the one other women who is waiting for the train to join us in the taxi and begin the trek down, under and up to the parking lot side of the tracks. Just as we get up on the other side, the train appears. We run back down, under and up. Our new friend gets there first and, somehow, holds the train just long enough for us to board.

I try to call the taxi driver, but there is no answer. He is already on his way. Several more attempts to call also fail. We feel badly; probably not as badly as he does. I resolve that, when we return to Collioure, I’ll call him, apologize, and give him 10 euros for his early awakening and undoubted fury when we were not there. Je suis désolé; I am sorry; I am desolate.

POSTSCRIPT: A few days after returning to Collioure two weeks later, I saw the same taxi driver at the gare. I reminded him that we had stood him up, and after a while, he remembered. I apologized. He said it was not a problem. I offered him 10 euros for getting him up for nothing. Not only did he refuse the money, he gave me a business card to make sure, if I needed a taxi again, I could call him. This is the best side of the French.

TGV from Perpignan to Paris


We arrive in Perpignan only a few minutes later than scheduled, and the TGV is waiting for us across the platform; no down, under, up. We find our car, board and take our facing seats on the upper level.

The TGV is the fast luxury train that runs on all the long distance routes. We have used our Carte Senior to purchase half-price tickets. At 50%, there isn’t much difference between second class and first class, so on our trips to Paris, we indulge ourselves. The annual cost of the Carte Senior (about 60 euros each) is more than paid back on each trip to Paris.

There is no food service until after Montpellier. We have boarded at 7:30 and will not have coffee until after 9:15. Actually, quite a bit later than 9:15. At Montpellier, the café attendant boards the train with her tray of fresh croissants and goes behind the closed panels of the serving area to prepare. It must be some preparation, because she’s not ready to serve until 9:55.

I pass the time by talking to Tom, whose band Moriarty will play in Paris on June 21, the annual solstice celebration when musical groups fill every street throughout France. Tom is an American living in Paris. Talk turns to politics and he tells me the French are absolutely in love with Obama. He asks me what I think will happen, and I predict a landslide for Obama in November.

I buy two cups of café noir, tea for Pat, and two croissants, return to my seat. I was the first in line and I waited almost an hour. Had I been last in line, it would have easily been another 30-40 minutes.

There is an electric outlet at my seat, the SONY travel computer is plugged in, and I am working on my next novel, a sequel to The Heretic. The first section of the story, which is now 130 pages and will probably reach 175 pages when completed, describes the arrival of Benjamin and Esther Catalán in Florence and the beginnings of their relationships with Lorenzo de Medici and his family. When I tire, I return to the historical novel I’m reading, Gore Vidal’s Lincoln. There is much to learn from the writing of others, especially one so talented as Vidal.

Pat is reading Susan Vreeland’s Luncheon of the Boating Party, the story of Renoir’s famous painting. Last year, we had lunch with our friends Rawy and Nijole, and sat on the very balcony Renoir painted. Pat’s reading is typical of her very comprehensive planning for every trip we take. She always has a list of activities and sites; my role is to joyously accompany.


It’s always exciting to see our apartment for the first time

You may remember that we generally share responsibilities. Once we decide where we want to go, I figure out how to get there; Pat explores the accommodations options. Pat has been corresponding with Celine since she initially wrote to us in March to arrange our two week home exchange. Actually, although Celine was the exchange contact, it is her parents who are on their way to Collioure while we travel to Paris.

Celine’s apartment is in the 4th arrondissement, on rue de Sevigne, an absolutely perfect location in the heart of the Marais district. We enter the gate code, move to a foyer, ring the extension, and Celine buzzes us into a charming plant-filled courtyard. We find stairway B, and begin the trek up the 56 step circular staircase, realizing that, free from the discipline of airline luggage restrictions, we have packed too much. Celine runs down to help, as does her sister, and with two sets of hands on our large bags, we ascend.


The apartment is small, like our own in Collioure. It is the epitome of a Paris pied-a-terre, with two large double door windows looking out on the courtyard, adequate living space, and it is fabulously clean, matching the way we always try to leave our place. There is an internet connection and a bathtub. The apartment thus meets our top three priorities: (1) location, (2) internet connection, and (3) bathtub – we don’t have a tub in Collioure. As Celine shows us around the apartment she shares with her boyfriend, both professors in Paris – Celine in history and her friend in sociology – she also gives us the good news that her parents are already in our apartment and very pleased.

It’s now about 2:00 pm. We don’t even unpack. Instead, we’re out to explore again a neighborhood already familiar to us. Only two half blocks away is one of the most charming locations in all of Paris, the place du Marche Ste-Catherine. No longer a market, it is a vehicle-free cobblestone square surrounded by open air restaurants. Couples young and old, baby carriages, musicians, beer wine and food of several ethnicities. We dine on caesar salad and wine, and know we are in heaven. Pat takes out her list and we begin to make plans. We wander about, find an Italian restaurant of interest.



The Marais on a Sunday afternoon

The Marais on a Sunday afternoon is marvelous; tourists and Hasidic Jews, high fashion stores and falafel stands, spectacular architecture. We see a nun go into a church. Pat checks the bulleting board to see if there’s a mass. No mass. Instead, le Concert de Fin d’Annee, which turns out to be a boys’ choir performing a series of religious works, including three by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The concert is free, a hat will be passed. The church is magnificent; long and narrow, a beautiful altar. The boys march in and the concert begins. The voices range from soprano to a deep bass sung by a man with a beard, the only ‘ringer’ we spotted. The highlight is a boy soprano singing solo Mozart’s Exultate Jubilate KV 165; his voice is astonishing.


Lunch with ‘Big’ on rue St.-Germain des-Pres

We are two short blocks from rue de Rivoli, a main street not far from the right bank of the Seine. Our metro stop, St. Paul, is right there, as is a shopping bonanza unfamiliar to Collioure or anywhere else near our little village. Of particular interest this morning is the Mono Prix, a large cosmetic and toiletries store; even better, downstairs is the Mono Prix Super Marche (supermarket). We buy a few essentials.

Sex in the City is playing in Paris, in English with French subtitles. Pat has identified the theaters. She is on the web obtaining addresses and show times; we decide on the 13:10 (1:10 pm) show at the Odeon at 124 Bd. St-Germain.

We walk along rue Rivoli, straight to the shoe store where Pat yesterday saw sparkling silver espadrilles. Overnight, the shoes have gone on special, and for 15 euros cannot be passed up. We pass the Hotel de Ville, cross the Seine onto Isle de Cite, arrive at Notre Dame. This is all so familiar too us now; we are feeling a little smug. Through the Latin Quarter, along Bd. St. Michel, onto Bd. Ste-Germain. The Odeon is closer than we think, but we buy our tickets at noon and set off for the Gap in the 6th arr., pass through a wonderful little street, to which we will probably return for a meal. No purchase, still have time for a coke in a sidewalk café.


We are first into the theatre, to be joined by less than a dozen others. I guess 1:00 pm on a Monday afternoon is not prime time. Before the main feature, there are coming attractions and many, many commercials. Finally we are transported to the Manhattan venues where we lived for 15 years before retiring to Key West and Collioure. Do we miss Manhattan? No. We loved it, and we visit twice a year, but we have moved on. As have Carrie and her friends.

Pat particularly hates reviewers who reveal the plot, so we won’t do that here, except to say that almost all of the characters from the HBO series are in the movie, and there is a compelling and emotional plot. There are also great fashions and, would you think otherwise, great sex scenes.

We should feel less smug. In all the times we have been in Paris, we, who love movies, never knew there were many English-speaking movies all over the city. But now we do.


Shopping at BHV (Le Bazar de l’Hotel-de-Ville)

BHV is located just across the street from the Hotel de Ville. It is a large department store with an unusually large Home Depot-like tools department.

We have a shopping list; things we cannot find in Collioure. At the top of the list are padded envelopes with which to send keys to our home exchange guests. We find the stationary department and three padded envelopes with not too much difficulty.

The challenge in shopping in a large store in a different language is finding the items you want, because you really don’t know how to ask. We need a new travel alarm clock, since I left our old one on a table in Erice (Sicily) three weeks ago. We go to the housewares department to no avail. Time to ask for help. The first thing is to learn the French word for alarm clock. We have a wonderful little (4 inches x 2 inches, very thin) Franklin translator, which works for French, Italian, Spanish, Hungarian, and Czech, among other languages. Unfortunately, I changed it to Italian and can’t remember how to change it back to French; trial and error eventually succeeds. The French word for alarm clock is reveille-matin – wake up in the morning.

I show the words to a clerk. We’re directed to the first floor, where there are indeed alarm clocks, but regular size, too large for our purpose. So I expand my French phrase to reveille-matin pour voyage; we are directed to the 5th floor, where there is a selection of small travel alarm clocks, one of which sits on the dining table telling me it is 9:22 am on June 17 as I write these words.

We finished our first full day in Paris with dinner at a small Italian restaurant called Soprano, just across from Place St. Catherine. We both had excellent pasta.


Musee d’Orsay

The Paris Metro is as good as it gets, with frequent service to all parts of the city. The St. Paul station is two blocks from our apartment. We get off at Tuileries, walk across the great park to the Seine, cross the bridge to the d’Orsay directly on the other side.



As we walk toward the entrance, an old woman bends down in front of us and stands to show us a gold ring. We recognize the scam and keep walking.

There is a long line. We take our place and begin chatting with the American woman in front of us. After a few minutes of the normal introductory conversation, she says, “I don’t believe what I just did. My husband will not be amused. I gave so much money (she doesn’t want us to say how much) and as soon as I walked away, I knew it was a scam.”

“The gold ring?” Pat asks, and the woman sheepishly removes it from her pocketbook.

“She told me she found it, but she can’t sell it because she’s an unregistered alien or something. But I could buy it from her and then I could sell it for a big profit.” Embarrassed pause. “And I did. How did you know?”

We explain that we saw the same woman, but it wasn’t the same woman. Our thief was an older lady, hers was a girl in her 20s.

“If only I had met you before I met her.” We laugh, tease her, and talk about other New York City scams until we get to the front of the line, buy our tickets, and separately enter the museum.

Pat has a list of paintings she has been studying; I follow. The d’Orsay is, as always, magnificent. We see a spectacular view from the top level that we never saw before.

When we leave the museum, we walk back across the Seine, and in the Tuileries a young girl bends down in front of us and straightens with a gold ring in her hand! You can’t make this up. Later, walking along Rue Rivoli, we again meet our friend from the ticket line, tell her we met her scam girl.


It’s good, but it’s not Lew’s “world famous”

When we lived in New York, we used to host an annual New Year’s Eve party in conjunction with the Midnight Run in Central Park. When the runners returned to our apartment, I served hot chocolate which I had prepared in their absence. They all wanted the recipe, which I have never divulged.

The best hot chocolate in Paris, according to Pat’s research, is found at Angeline’s a restaurant near the Hotel Mercier on Rue Rivoli. Hotel Mercier, by the way, was Nazi headquarters during WWII, where successful negotiations left unexploded the bombs which had been placed in every major site and bridge of Paris. That’s another story; read Is Paris Burning? Angeline’s hot chocolate is so thick and rich, they serve it with ice water for a chaser. It’s good, but it’s not Lew’s.

For dinner, we find an outdoor café near the Bastille Opera, a 10 minute walk from our ‘perfect’ Paris location; the onion soup was excellent, as were our toasted cheese sandwiches.




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