TRAVEL with pat and lew

* Paris – August 2008

Posted by Lew Weinstein on October 27, 2008

Friday, 8/17/08

We did it! After seriously over-packing on our prior trips to Paris and elsewhere, we resolved to get whatever we were taking into just one carryon bag each, plus a handbag for Pat and a camera bag for Lew. Of course, we still take so much more than our European friends, who seem to go for weeks with a small tote bag.

Saturday, 8/16/08

We’re up at 5:00am to catch the local train to Perpignan, where we will catch the TGV to Paris. There’s a crowd of kids on train platform, leftover from the prior night’s annual St. Vincent festival.

I work on my new book for entire 5 hours on the train, which is as comfortable as ever. There is a pleasant surprise in the food car – an attendant who multitasks, moves quickly, and smiles. She’s the best counter-attendant I’ve ever seen.

We arrive at Gare Lyon and walk out of the station and then several blocks to Gare Austerlitz, where we take the #10 Metro to the other side of Paris. This is the reason we needed to pack expeditiously, and the bags were not a problem. The Metro took less time than we thought.

However … I had neglected to write down the digital code to unlock the downstairs and entry doors to our apartment. How would we get in? Fortune smiled, in the form of a young man going in just when we arrived. We followed him through both doors and he seemed not to object.

There was a problem getting Gregoire’s computer, which he had left for our use, to work. Same with my own laptop. After fussing for awhile, I called Gregoire, who was driving through the Pyrenees on the way to our apartment in Collioure. We trouble-shooted together until the problem – a loose plug to the wireless router – was identified and fixed. We were again happy that we had arranged for French cell phones.

The apartment itself was the first modern apartment we have traded for in Paris. It’s at the far western edge of city, near the Eiffel Tower, which we can see at the end of the street. A small patio overlooks a lovely garden. We’re set back off the street, so it’s very quiet. There’s also an elevator. To our first floor apartment! We could have used an elevator to our 6th floor two weeks ago.

We explore our 15th arrondissement neighborhood. There’s a Monoprix and a small grocery store nearby. We have dinner at the local pizza/pasta restaurant with a large group of kids from Slovenia.

Sunday, 8/17/08

Every apartment has a different way to make coffee; this one has an expresso machine that I’m sure makes excellent coffee if you know how. I never did. After three days, I switch to a Mr. Coffee look-a-like.

Our first exchange in Paris was with the brother of our friend Debbie in Key West, and Evan has become one of our friends in Paris. We called Evan to arrange dinner on Monday night. Evan was the person we were having drinks with two years ago in Paris when we were surprised by a Russian friend of mine who happened to walk in and join us. Evan, when we called for dinner, wondered who would come by this year.

After talking with Evan, we took the Metro to Odeon, switched trains to Chatelet, and walked to Hotel de Ville on our way to lunch. Surprise! There was Evan, out for his own walk and lunch with a friend.

Pat and I had lunch at a Marais restaurant called Marianne, sort of a middle eastern tapas; very filling

Rawy (our Key West friend in Paris) had told us of a special movie promotion for three days in August. Every movie charged only 3 euros, to attract business in the month when many Parisians take their vacations elsewhere. We see the Colin Farrell movie set in Bruges movie, which is awful until the last 15 minutes, when it becomes hilarious in a macabre sort of way..

Monday, 8/18/08

Pat goes to the Louvre, while I stay home and write.  We agree to meet at 1:00pm at the Galeries Lafayette book department. I also take the opportunity to pay my bills on the web. This of course is routine by now, but the idea of having complete access to all of your records no matter where you are is still remarkable.

I become aware of a sound I haven’t heard in years: a lawn mower; I jump to close the window before I start sneezing.

I get a text message from Rawy and send one back. This is new to us, although apparently not to the rest of the world. We can’t believe we never tried it before.

Pat and I meet as planned. Pat’s tour at the Louvre was uninspiring. We have lunch at the American Dream diner, not far from Galeries LaFayette. I want a small lunch since we’re going to meet Evan et al for dinner. I order an omelet and it is huge. But I eat it anyway.

After lunch we walk to Place Vendome, where our Collioure neighbor Brigitte’s son Sebastien works at one of the fancy jewelry stores at that very fancy square (the Ritz is there). He is utterly charming, although we decline to purchase the 200,000 euro watch he shows us.

 

 

We return to our apartment (which turns out to be quite convenient by Metro to wherever we want to go), rest up and then head to the Canal St. Martin for our dinner and Evan’s surprise.

Remember Evan asking who we would meet this time? We called our Key West friends Rawy and Nijole, who live in Paris in the summer, and concocted a scenario. Pat and I would meet Evan in the restaurant, and then Rawy and Nijole would just “wander by” and join us. They played their parts to perfection. When they entered the restaurant, a local eatery called Café Juares, they allowed the waiter to show them to another table, and were just about to sit down, when they “spotted us.” We had previously arranged to have a table with two extra seats. We played our game throughout dinner, intending to tell Evan at the end. But then, after a delightful dinner and equally excellent conversation, we forgot to tell him.

During dinner, we had another adventure. On our June trip to Paris, we had rented one of the Velib bikes for 15 minutes. But when I checked my bank account, I found we were charged an outlandish sum of 23 euros. Several calls, forms and frustration later, I was told that we had not properly engaged the bike to the rack  when it was returned. Apparently, a small light changes from red to green when the bike is properly engaged, and if it doesn’t, you’re supposed to call the Velib people immediately. We were told that we were charged from 9;15 am when we picked up the bike until 1:30 pm. What happened at 1:30 pm? Did someone then attach our bike? No one knows. We told our tale of woe at dinner, and gained no sympathy from anyone.

However, while we were eating, Evan suddenly jumped up and ran outside. He came back to excitedly tell us that the Velib man was outside, servicing a line of bikes on the street adjacent to the restaurant. I went outside, and Rawy followed. With Rawy translating, we tried to learn what had happened; we got the same story: you didn’t properly attach the bike. But it was locked in the rack. No matter, did the light turn green? Now, since we arrived on Saturday, Pat and I had been inspecting lines of bikes. At every Velib station, there were several, sometimes many, bikes which seemed to be attached but for which the light was still red. Were all these people being charged? You’re supposed to notice and to call immediately, the Velib man said. How can you call if you don’t have a cell phone with you? There’s a phone built into the rental machine. And he showed us. But what if you can’t tell red from green, Iasked, since I’m color blind. The Velib man had every answer. Without hesitation, he said, “Then you better hold onto madame.”

Rawy offered to drive us back to our apartment, and the ride through the Paris night was absolutely spectacular, including a close drive by of the Eiffel Tower, brilliantly lit in the European Union blue with yellow stars, in honor of President Sarcozy’s tenure as head of the EU. Later, advised by Nijole, we went outside at 11:00 pm to see the Eiffel Tower’s hourly sparkling light show.

Tuesday, 8/19/08

Montmartre is the Paris hill where Henri Toulouse-Lautrec and many others worked and played in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. We have been several times, the last time with Pat’s friend Maureen and her sister Colleen, but it’s always a treat. We took a Metro I thought would go to the top. It didn’t and we had to climb up the hill. We found a delightful restaurant just enough away from the crowds to be a quiet retreat. Then we did the ultimate tourist thing: a tour in the little train through the neighborhoods of Montmartre.

Wednesday, 8/20/08

Pat’s tour of Musee d’Orsay’s 19th century impressionist paintings was marvelous. I kept writing my short novel of “what really (might have) happened in the 2001 anthrax attacks.” This time we met on Bd. St. Germaine for another great ‘wandering through Paris’ evening.

Thursday, 8/21/08

Today is my birthday, and also that of my daughter’s three year old son Michael. We set up a terrific web cam call to sing happy birthday to each other.

My choice for the day was to walk and have a birthday lunch on the Champs d’Elysee. During lunch, I expanded my wants to include dessert at a fantastic place we had seen on one of Samantha Brown’s Passport to Europe shows. But where is it? Pat asked. Follow me, I said, with more confidence than I really felt. One block up, make a left, walk one block and voila! The place is called Laduree and the desserts are beyond description. Thank you Samantha!

Friday, 8/22/08

It rained all day today. So we just stayed in and read and wrote. One of the great things about spending a full month in Paris this summer, and a full week in other places, is that there is no tension about rushing to see things. We have plenty of time, A rainy day is not a disaster.

The rains stopped. We took the Metro to Breakfast in America for a real American hamburger dinner, walked along the Seine over to Isle St. Louis and then back to the Left Bank and the Metro home.

Saturday, 8/23/08

I have often complained in these posts about the lack of customer service in France. No more. In June, I had purchased a small camera bag at Galeries Lafayette. Yesterday, I noticed that one of the attachments of the strap to the bag was fraying badly. Galeries is a terrific store – it has become our Bloomingdales in Paris – so I was sure they would exchange it. Problem: the June receipt was in Collioure. I looked up the transaction number on my credit card bill (on the web) and wrote down whatever information I could. Off to Galeries. The clerk said she could not make the exchange without a receipt, but maybe her supervisor could. And, lo and behold, she did.

We strolled to Brentano’s to get more novels, the need created by the rainy days. Then again to the Marais for lunch with Rawy and Nijole at Place St. Catherine. Another walk along the Seine – it never gets old – and back to the apartment to pack and clean.

Sunday, 8/24/08

We decided that we didn’t want to walk between Gare Austerlitz and Gare Lyon, like we did on arrival the previous Saturday, so we worked out a different Metro route that took us into Gare Lyon.

Thus we completed a wonderful 4 weeks in Paris, with one anniversary lunch to come.

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