I seem to remember, from my three years of high school French, that the expression “tres cher” (“very dear”) can imply affection or expense. In the case of Paris, it implies both. Luckily, we were armed with this knowledge beforehand and thus our daily budget was stretched accordingly once we reached the City of Lights.
Monday was a beautiful day in Paris. Perfect fall weather with blue skies and temperatures in the low 70’s. It was just the pick-me-up we needed after a disappointing end to our baseball season (upside: no longer getting my tired butt out of bed at 2 am). Though it had been some time since either of us had been to Paris, we felt we knew the city well enough so that we could skip the usual tourist attractions and just stroll the city on our own.
Our hotel (Le Marignon, 13 Rue de Sommerard) was within earshot of Notre Dame so we made that our first stop Monday morning. I was surprised that there were so many foreign tourists about given the time of year and the global economy. We dodged the cameras and souvenir hawkers and ducked into the beautiful cathedral for a few pictures and a moment of quiet.
The sunny day called for a stroll along the Seine, so we made our way to the Pont Neuf
along the river walkway below street level. Along the way we passed commercial boats, tourist boats
and a lovely wooden-masted sailboat in the midst of renovation.
A group of Canadian tourists obliged us with a few photos.
After crossing the river at Le Pont des Artistes, we walked through the courtyard of the Louvre and into the plaza where I.M. Pei’s beautiful and much-maligned glass pyramid marks the entrance to the museum.
It seemed like a good place to rest and so we pulled out some fruit and a bag of walnuts and spent some time people-watching.
Rather than head through the Tuileries Gardens, we decided to take the Rue de Rivoli , which is just a block from the Louvre and would take us to the Champs Elysees and our final destination, l’Arc de Triomphe. Rivoli is packed with cafes, cheap souvenir stalls, and fast food joints (note: next time the French bitch about the invasion of American fast food, I’m going to show them this photo of a McDonald’s on the Rue de Rivoli, packed with le Francais on their lunch break).
I bought a cute hat (6 Euros!)
and resisted the Eiffel Tower refrigerator magnet. Rue de Rivoli was also the scene of our first (attempted) tourist scam. A pretty young woman ran up to Joe, handed him a heavy gold ring, cried “Bon Chance!” and disappeared into the crowd. Joe and I examined the ring closely and I noticed that it still seemed warm from someone’s hand and/or pocket. As we debated what to do next, the young girl reappeared, asking if we would give her some money to buy a Coca-Cola. The light dawns! I handed her back the ring with a cheerful “Bon Chance!” and we continued on our way. Hey, I might have been born at night, but it wasn’t last night.
As we made our way up the Rue de Rivoli and past the Place Charles de Gaulle, the shops and cafes became noticeable swankier. At the Place de la Concorde, where Rue de Rivoli ends and the Champs Elysees begins, the US Embassy stood heavily fortified against terrorists and creeping socialism. This end of the Champs is tree-lined and pedestrian-friendly but as we made our way to the other end, the trees disappeared and were replaced with a sea of people pouring out of their offices and down the boulevard in search of lunch.
After a stop at the Adidas flagship store (where I replaced my pretty-but-not-meant-for-a-three-mile-hike shoes with a pair of ultra comfy – and tres cher – running shoes) we decided to take a wine break at Café Georges V. Vin rouge, Salade Nicoise, and a half hour off my feet was just the refreshment I needed.
On to the Arc!
We considered finding the nearest Metro Station
and zipping back to the hotel but in the end we decided to walk back the same route except for a detour into the Tuileries. As we got closer to Notre Dame, we became considerably fatigued but the prospect of a glass of wine and a nap was the carrot dangling before us. I noticed a Thomas Cook travel agency along the way and decided to pop in and see if we could make our TGV reservation for the next day (not going to make that mistake again!). Sorry, said the nice young woman manning the desk, you have to go to a SNCF (France’s national train service) office or one of Paris’s 7 main train stations. Poop. I gathered up my belongings and we headed homeward once again.
The clerk at hotel directed me to the Metro line, which would bring me to the Ste Lazaire station. I got our reservations and made it back to the hotel within a half hour. Joe was napping (those five flights of stairs are a workout) so I sat at the MacBook for my afternoon wine and photo download session. First, I grabbed his camera, downloaded and edited the five thousand photos he takes each day (OK, slight exaggeration) and made a folder for them. Then, I went to my backpack to grab my camera. Not there. Perhaps I put it in my purse for the trip to Ste Lazaire? Not there, either. OK, I must have left it on the bed or in my suitcase before I left for the Metro. Nope. For the next ten minutes, I searched the backpack, purse, suitcase, and hotel room. Over and over. Panic set in. What the f*ck? Where did I put it? I could have sworn I had it with me when we returned to the hotel. Perhaps I left it at the ticket counter at St Lazaire when I got my wallet out?
The front desk staff at Hotel Marignon speaks English, which is very helpful when one is making reservations or is in need of directions. Given my shaky French, I thought the clerk in charge might be able to help me with a phone call to the ticket counter at Ste Lazaire. No dice. She informed me (in perfect English) that the train station was like Grand Central and it would be impossible to reach the correct sales desk. It would be best for me to go back and ask for the lost & found. With a heavy heart, I returned to the Metro and made my way back to Ste Lazaire. Along the ride, I retraced my steps over and over again. If the camera was not at the train station, the only other possibility was I had put it down at the travel agency. As I suspected, my camera was not at Ste Lazaire. Back at the hotel, I again asked the clerk if she would make a phone call for me, this time to the travel agency. Again, no dice. Better to go myself, yada, yada, yada. Thanks, bitch. I’ll remember this when I give my hotel review to Let’s Go.
Since it was well after 7 pm and the travel agency was now closed, the only consolation lay in food and wine. On our way back to the hotel earlier, Joe and I had come down a side alley that showed many promising food and wine possibilities.
And a piano bar. Piano bar! Anticipating some decent piano or maybe even a jazz trio, we decided to make the piano bar our “happy hour” destination. At 8 pm, a bored young man made his way to the piano, arranged his music, and launched a deadly version of Elton John’s "Your Song" (“It’s a little bit funny...”). Funnier than you know, buddy. Joe nearly choked on his Pinot Noir when I brought up the Bill Murray lounge lizard character on SNL. Not to be outdone, a young woman grabbed the microphone for the next song (the Beatle’s “Yesterday”) and, with fractured English, managed to hit a solid eight on the Unintentional Comedy Scale (“I’m not half the man I used to be!”). Fabulous stuff. If I had the nerve, I would have taken some video right then and there, but it looked like her father was sitting at the bar as the fellow glared at me every time I stifled a giggle. Time to go!
As it turned out, this particular stretch of cafes was geared toward the tourist traffic (fixed price menus featuring snails, frog legs and duck a l’orange) so we decided to return to the Café Metro,
scene of last night’s delicious dinner. Once again, I had the Nicoise and Joe the Crudites. It was getting chilly and windy so we decided some onion soup was in order as well. And a second glass of wine. With that, our food budget for the day was at it’s breaking point. Coupled with a new pair of shoes and a possible loss of one of our cameras?
Paris: Tres Cher.