We concluded our trip to England and headed to Paris on June 17. And yes, we realize that we're hopelessly behind on our blogging, the reason being that I had to attend a work meeting in Chicago straight from our vacation. Pardonez moi.
Our hope to ride on the uber-hip Eurostar across the English Channel was all but crushed by an astonishing price of $400/head, I guess that's the price to pay for procrastination. And so we went the old-fashioned way- we boarded an aircraft. I have to say that we're pleasantly surprised though by one particular aspect of our 40-minute Air France flight- they served REAL and TASTY food, those that neither resemble cardboard in taste nor appearance. I'll fly this flight again just for the food. Mr. Big-Wig-at-United, hope you're reading this.
And as the saying goes, the first impression is the one you're always going to remember, and we have the first cabbie we encountered in Paris, Jean-Claude, to thank for imprinting the fondest memory of Paris on our minds. He basically gave us a free detailed guided tour through the entire ride from Charles de Galle to our hotel in San Germain des Pres, with every sight and scene introduced with a "Voila!" in gusto. Even though it was already late and we were tired as hell, we couldn't help being infected by his joie de vivre and crane our neck to check out every one of his "Voila!'s"; and all of them, even the little neighborhood church that he goes to, was more grand than anything I've ever imagined and worth every bit of neck-craning (some ibuprofen the next days helps though). I don't know if it's Jean-Claude's conviviality and enthusiasm, or the way Paris looks sleepily alluring at night, Jacques and I felt that we have finally arrived in the Europe we dreamed about. We were actually disappointed when our cabbie finally proclaimed, "Voila! Your hotel."
The area we stayed at, Saint Germain des Pres, is named after the church by the same name that's about 2 blocks from our hotel. It's a lively neighborhood on the Left Bank that's crammed with charming bistros and parks and cafes and bookstores, and our hotel is within walking distance to the Seine and the Musee d'Orsay. We probably could have spent all 4 days of our stay in Paris here and be plenty well-fed and entertained, and in fact, we probably had all except a few meals in our own neighborhood. Simply fantastic.
"A" marks our home base while in Paris- the ultra conveniently-located Crystal Hotel
Left: Saint Germain des Pres; Right: the ubiquitous creperie stand, this one close to our hotel has saved us from dying in our sleep due to hypoglycemia quite a few times
Our first meal in Paris at the famed Brasserie Lipp, where Hemingway is said to have patronized. The waiter are all dressed sharply providing efficient, no-nonsense service. They could seem a bit surly, but from the way our order was taken (above right pix), you could tell there's a sense of humor under that cover (that's a pictoral order of a dozen of escargot, in case it's a bit too abstract for you).
Another must-do in the Saint Germain (and in fact, for every American tourist in Paris), is to sit at a cafe and participate in the ever-popular national sport called people-watching. There are some rules to follow: you pack in as many diners and as few waiters as you can, everyone faces the street as in a classroom, and the less dough you're prepared to plunk down, the farther back you sit from the street.
Our participation at the French's National Sport: Expresso-sipping/people watching at le cafe. That distant speck of dust pointed out by the arrow on the left is our humble table on the farthest back row.
Another highly-recommended local sport is antique-market-browsing. This one is at St. Sulpice, close to our hotel, and is part of the art fair called Foire Saint Germain. It was a quiet Monday afternoon when we visited, a great time to check out some French antiques and curios without the throngs of tourists, and a good time for the proprietor to nod off in the gentle summer breeze.
All the antique-market-shopping gets tiring after a while, so a nap is almost essential. Even though you may be in a business suit, there's no reason why you can't lay down on a park bench for a power nap, especially in a park as beautiful as the Jardin du Luxembourg, where locals flock to for some R&R (and mind you this is a Monday afternoon, otherwise known as a work day in America).
And then when all the napping and lounging around gets boring, you head over and grab some yummy, colorful macarons. This is not the yucky, coconuty macaroons we have back home; these come in like a thousand different flavors, and don't be scared by the vividly artificial coloring, they're light & crunchy on the outside, with a sweet, delicate filling inside. We bought some to bring home with us, unfortunately they didn't even make it to the airport.
Don't worry, even though as you can tell we had plenty to do in St Germain, we did venture out to other spots around Paris. But we'll have to save it for the next post, in the mean time, we'll savor in the memory of those macarons...