Tag Archives: france

Luggage at Last: Lessons learned

We finally received our luggage, five days after it never showed up at O’Hare Airport following Aer Lingus flights from Dublin and before that, Paris. Lessons learned:

  • Do not check luggage.
  • Do not put valuable stuff /things you care about in your checked luggage. Carry it on! This includes items such as: prescription glasses, prescription meds, almost completed diary, gifts for family, the right-foot sneaker — the left-foot sneaker was in my carryon bag.
  • If your checked luggage gets lost, keep bugging Aer Lingus (or whatever airline) for information (i.e. be a royal pain in the ass). We also posted our complaints on Twitter and Facebook with #AerLingus. The tweet got an AL response although who knows how much it helped. The FB post helped me find another good resource: The Aer Lingus Complaints Action Group on Facebook. Yes, there is one and people were very helpful, although it was a bit discouraging to read about people who had waits longer than ours.
  • Request “priority” or “expedited service” — I didn’t know if this existed but apparently it does, or it seemed to get a response. There were “priority” tags on our returned bags, as well as “rush” tags.
  • For Chicago area folks who lose luggage at O’Hare: Our baggage was finally delivered by Alpha-Tech Aviation Services.https://alphatechaviationsvcs.com/ This is good to know because AL told us it was Alpha Delivery Services, which it was not. The poor folks at Alpha Delivery Services, based in Kalamazoo, MI, were very kind – and sounded weary. They have gotten previous emails/calls from frantic people seeking their lost luggage and said AL has given out their number. (This is true. AL gave it to us too.)
  • I don’t know if this helped but I did try the pathetic route – mentioning that our luggage contained prescription meds and eyeglasses.
  • Don’t put cheese in your checked luggage…although ours was vacuumed packed and seemed to survive.

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Eiffel Tower, Hotel Du Champ de Mars, La Fontaine de Mars, not great start to our flight home — Paris

Catching our breath after barely making our Aer Lingus flight from Paris to Dublin. Here’s hoping we make our connection to Chicago since this flight left late. (Update: we did make our connection but had another mad dash to the next flight which was boarding when we arrived at the gate. And our luggage didn’t make it to Chicago. May take a few days. 🙁)

We weren’t the only passengers scrambling. We arrived 2.5 hours early at de Gaulle airport but not early enough, alas. We endured one horrendous long line after another (at check-in, passport control, security) and several cock-ups (computers that didn’t work for check-in, a last minute gate change that left many of us running from gate 30 to 14). I managed to lose my watch at security, despite doubling back briefly to look for it, then cutting my losses and running to the gate (#30 and then #14). GRRRR.

Eiffel Tower in the rain (that’s dirck in front)

One rumor is that the mess was spillover from yesterday’s transportation strike in France, and due to insufficient staffing, but the strike was rail and public transportation so don’t see how the airport was involved. Our kids also reported long lines and delays at de Gaulle.m when they traveled four days earlier.

Beyond that, when we arrived in Paris yesterday on rail strike day, we found out that the 1 metro line was working but soon discovered it was blowing through several stops, including ours (Concorde) so scrambled again. We ended up walking with our luggage 25 minutes to our hotel. Fortunately it was a somewhat familiar route, (at least the first 15 minutes) and the weather, though threatening, cooperated. For awhile.

The Hotel du Champ de Mars was charming, even with renovation going on. The hotel didn’t alert us about the renovation until two days before we checked in, offering free cancellation or 10 percent off. Seemed too little, too late. They should have notified us earlier, although it wasn’t a big deal since we arrived late afternoon, stayed one night and the construction noise didn’t start until we were eating breakfast at around 9 am. Our room was small but charming, comfortable bed and strong shower, great location near the Eiffel Tower (which from a certain angle we could see from our room window) and the Rue Cler, lined with alluring food shops. The left Bank/7th arrondissement area is where I’ve stayed in the past so I liked it, although there were more tourists than our earlier right bank/16th arrrondisement Airbnb).

Sweet Paris hotel

In a cold rain, we walked a short distance to right beside the Eiffel Tower, lit in gold lighting at night. Tres dramatic. Never been that close to it. More enormous and impressive than I realized. I would have liked more time to explore or re-explore the area. Next trip.

Paris waking up: morning view from our hotel room (Eiffel tower in distance)

One last French meal of the trip was at La Fontaine de Mars a traditional old fashioned place that old friend Alissa, recommended. Excellent. Faded wallpaper, second floor table, chicken with morels in a cream sauce, veal stew, killer chocolate mouse. Alissa shared stories about the realities of life as a famous Pulitzer Prize winning war/foreign correspondent. Memorable night.

Chocolate mousse with Alissa

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Christine! Vieux Lyon, Court Bouillon, Funicular/Basilica, botanical paintings, Mojgan Iranian restaurant – Lyon

Our friend Christine, who we met four years ago in Norway, took the train up from Provence, where she lives with her French husband (Christine is from China) to meet us for the day in Lyon, which was a treat. On a cold day that began with rain and snow and then cleared, with shocking blue sky and a bracing wind, we wandered through lovely Vieux Lyon, the old city with narrow cobble stoned lanes, pretty old stucco buildings, occasional alluring shops, bakeries and cafes. Lyon reportedly has the most Renaissance-era buildings of any city in France.

I bought some bright pink pralines (a Lyon speciality) at Pralus Pastry Shop (27 rue Saint Jean), recommended by the woman we say next to at dinner at Le Musee. The special bread dotted with pink pralines looked too sweet to eat. At a shop specializing in botanical drawings, we bought elegant linen tea towels (as gifts) and a print.

With Christine in Vieux Lyon

Lunch was at Court Bouillon, recommended by our hotel owner Laurent and it was excellent, (although Christine seemed less impressed…she’s truly French now.😂). Later we took the funicular up to see the dramatic white Basilica that towers over the city high on a hill, not unlike Paris’s Sacre Coeur. It was stunning up close, set against the blue sky, and crazy ornate inside. The view from on high looking down at the city and confluence of the two rivers was very dramatic. It was also very cold thanks to the wind. We got a coffee and hot chocolate at an elegant cafe next door.

Dinner was Iranian food, for a change, but similarly elegant to the French meals we’ve had. The chef at Mojgan is female and came out to chat. Very lovely. She has three school age kids and didn’t start cooking until after they were born. She studied with Paul Bocuse, has won a big chef award and is the rare female chef in France, let alone Iranian-born female chef cooking French-inspired Iranian food. (pomegranate juice with sparkling wine; eggplant with some exotic spices, duck with Fois gras sauce etc.)

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Le Musee (bouchon), soul brothers (bar), Hotel Des celestins – Lyon

We had one of our best and most fun meals at Le Musee, a famous traditional bouchon — sort of the lyonnaise version of a Bistro. When we walked past the small humble looking dining room with its old plaster and wood walls, red and white checkered table cloths, and scuffed wooden chairs at 7:15, it was empty. Uh oh.

We’d reserved weeks ago, and were promised it would be packed even on a Tuesday night. So it was when we arrived again at 8 pm, with diners sitting elbow to elbow at long tables. We sat with a nice young couple from Normandy (the woman grew up in Lyon) and had a lively conversation about food, France, the US. (We later learned that no self-respecting French person books dinner before 8 pm…good to know. I made several reservations for 7:30.)

Inside Lyon Bouchon

I don’t know exactly what we ate but it was delicious and the warm, welcoming atmosphere added to the specialness of the meal. All the servers looked happy, a good sign. The gregarious owner went around to every table with a handwritten menu, formed a huddle with diners and explained the entrees and plats de jour, in our case, in halting English (with help from our neighbors). He ended up picking several things for us (in halting French, I mentioned no blood sausage etc). We started with long mushrooms in a creamy sauce topped with greens in a mustardy dressing and a slice of cakey bread with a chunk of sausage in it (akin to pigs in a blanket).

For our mains, we each got a plate with creamy scalloped potatoes and a tasty sliced carrot concoction, then a dish to share of tender pork cheek in a savory brown sauce and an oval shaped dumpling coating white fish, served in a cream sauce. Dessert was a scoop of chocolate mousse beside a bright red/pink slab of what looked like a fruit pie/tart, but was not made with fruit. Instead it was with a lyonnaise specialty – – pink pralines, which are nubby, bright pink, very sweet, sugar-coated almonds. No-name wine was served by the bottle and half bottle, followed by a killer local liquor aperitif (that I couldn’t drink) served on the house. The food sounds weird and heavy but somehow it wasn’t.

Traboule tour

Toward the end of the meal, before anyone had paid, the owner stood in the middle of the dining room and invited diners to join him in the alleyway behind the restaurant for a brief tour of one of Lyon’s famous covered passageways (traboules) so we all got up and moved out into an adjoining courtyard surrounded by high towering walls. My French is lacking so we couldn’t pick up most of what he said (apparently there was mention of prostitutes) but it was fun to see this raconteur entertaining the crowd, with people laughing and smoking. Then we all dutifully returned to the warm restaurant and lined up to pay our bills. (Ours was a remarkably reasonable 89 euros .)

Hotel des Celestians is well-located (in a fancy shopping area of presqu’ile, a peninsula between two rivers, an easy and scenic walk to the old city/vieux Lyon) and a small, affordable place to stay, with very helpful staff who booked restaurants for us and an outgoing owner who went to Cornell’s famous hotel school (at the same time I was there, in the liberal arts college). Fun talking to him about Ithaca and greatly appreciated his restaurant recommendations.

We stopped for a drink at a chic but welcoming bar, Soul Brothers, near Le Musee that had nice looking charcuterie boards.

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Hidden passages/ Italian food in the Bastille, “village” scenes near Montparnesse – Paris

Fun day wandering around the nether regions of the Bastille, following a Lonely Plant map that took us through a variety of near-hidden cobblestone passages dotted with shops of craftspeople, from chair makers to architects. The weather vacillated between drizzle, mist, rain and sudden sunshine, adding drama to the day.

The kids ended up going to the Pompidou, which thankfully was open on Monday (as was the Louvre, but not the Musee d’Orsay), and then on a ghost tour that began at Shakespeare and Company and moved into the Isle de citie.

Bastille passageway

We ended up at East Mama (rue de Faubourg St.Antoine) having a delicious lunch of Italian food – pizza Naples style and a carbonara pasta with grilled threads of artichoke. No wonder the place was packed, which is why we chose it and ended up sitting at the bar overlooking the chefs in action.

Viennese pastry shop in the Bastille

The second Lonely Planet tour – of “secret villages” hidden in urban Paris south of Montparnesse, in the 14 and 13 arrondissements, was interesting but I’m not sure worth all the walking. Live and learn. Starting at the Pernety metro, We did walk through what felt like very non-touristy parts of Paris, which was a nice change from the more famous bits. We walked 35 minutes to the citie florale, five winding streets named after flowers, lined with little cottage-like rowhouses that apparently are well endowed with gardens, but not in January. It is remarkable that this little area is surrounded by urbanhigh rises and busy city shopping drags. I’d return to better explore the nearby butte aux Cailles, a hilly cobblestoned area with interesting looking cafes and restaurants (near Place D’italie metro)

Citie florale

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Market Shopping with a pro, Montmartre wander – Paris

Our expert shopper was Alissa, who guided us through a Sunday green market just outside Paris, ear La Defense, a short walk from our Airbnb but a world away. Lovely to see all sorts of fresh fruit and veg this time of year, plus fabulous French cheese, charcuterie, Italian and middle eastern food too. I bought delicious goodies for our last dinner together in Paris – foie Gras, brie, braesola, rotisserie chicken and roasted potatoes, cherry tomatoes, and little ravioli. Stuffed with mushrooms.I also bought a sweater for 20 E and some housewares/gifts.

In the afternoon we gave our thighs a workout with a walk up and down and around Montmartre, high above the city with glorious views on a cold but clear day. This area still feels like a French village with narrow winding hilly streets and even a small vineyard. We managed to find a relatively untouristed place for coffee and carrot cake – at Les Cinq Marches. The place was packed with strollers which makes me wonder what it is like during peak travel season. “Insane” is what our friends who live here said about the peek-season crowds. I’d recommend Paris in January. We have gotten lucky with the weather…only a few days of rain and colder weather (high 30s). Mostly it’s been in high 40s, low 50s, a bit overcast. It has proved a good time to visit.

Sacre coeur

Dinner was with our thoughtful friends alissa and husband James at Breizh Bistro in the 17th arrondissement (this is the chain’s latest location) serving hearty Breton food: galettes and crepes but also fresh oysters and shrimp.

Montmartre scenes

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Alice Neel at the Pompidou, Shakespeare and company cafe, Canal Saint Martin, St.Germain/ Odeon, La Coupole – Paris

My mom took me to the Pompidou museum many years ago, soon after it opened and I remember how excited we were to be there. Visiting decades later, I thought its exposed pipes/industrial vibe might feel dated, but the building was still engaging and vibrant, packed with people inside and outside on the big plaza.

Pompidou view

I forgot how cool it is to ride up several floors on an escalator inside a see-through plastic tube along the outside of the building. Stupendous views of the city, with Sacre coeur off in the distance to the north, the Eiffel Tower to the west.

We caught the terrific Alice Neel show, a fascinating American painter (communist, feminist, Andy Warhol-ist). It included a cool video of Neel painting a portrait of a very pregnant woman. The portrait hung near by.

We also did the greatest hits (Anselm Keifer! Delanay! Chagall!) of the main collection on the 4th and 5th floor which a museum brochure helpfully led us too. And did some shopping in the design store, which reminded me of MOMA.

Another day we wandered with surprise visitor Francine around Canal Saint Martin, walking up and over the cool metal bridges along the canal, peeking in a few shops, and having hot chocolate the texture of pudding. And we wandered around the Left Bank, not only buying a book at Shakespeare and company but having an excellent hearty split pea soup and toasted sandwich at the store’s rustic cafe. Also wandered around the snazzy Odeon area, stopping at a cafe near saint germaine.

La coupole scene

Dinner was at old favorite La Coupole, a famous art Deco brasserie in montparnesse that was even livelier than usual on a Saturday night. We happened to hit the once a month floor show, of sorts, with dancers in exotic costumes and a Marilyn Monroe look -alike winding through the cavernous building followed by a brass band. Totally fun. I was tempted to have the steak tartare, in honor of my dad, but went with the mussels and frites instead. Lots of French groups celebrating birthdays but lily begged us not to make a similar fuss for her so we didn’t.

La coupole

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Monet/Mitchell show and Yayoi Kusama at Louis Vuitton foundation/store – Paris

Thanks to my cousin Erica who recommended a visit to the Louis Vuitton Foundation, located in a dramatic Frank Gehry building (are there any Gehry buildings that aren’t dramatic? But this was the first one I’ve visited where you could walk outside on the terraces of its various unconventional levels. Maybe his Bilbao museum has this?

The building wasn’t the only draw. There is a gorgeous retrospective of Joan Mitchel’s work and a particularly wonderful show of Mitchell’s work placed beside the work of Monet, who died the year Mitchell was born but whose work inspired her. It’s amazing to see their canvases beside each other. The guards were also, particularly dapper, in well- tailored dark suits. Louis Vutton perhaps?

King Kong Kusama-style

Strolling along the Champs Elysee on a drizzly (but not cold or unwalkable ) day, we found a Yayoi Kusama installation that captured in a hug the Louis Vuitton store, ala King Kong but far less menacing, more playful.

At Louis Vuitton foundation

Our dear friend Francine took the Eurostar over for a quick overnight visit from London and joined us at the foundation and later adventures, most having to do with food.

Monet and Mitchell

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Fine Dining, with the help of friends – Paris

I arrived in Paris with several carefully considered restaurant reservations, which are necessary even now, during the off season. But then came an incredible list of restaurant recommendations from American friends who have lived here for many years. I made a few additions and replacements.

So far, one of my picks (after copious research) is a favorite: Mokonuts, a tiny place in the Bastille neighborhood that doesn’t serve dinner. So glad I decided to book a lunch there. We watched a steady stream of people enter without reservations and get turned away. It only serves Lunch but with dinner-like offerings and prices. There were only two mains swordfish and veal, both excellently cooked, seasoned, sauced and presented. The ‘clam chowder” was more of a clam stew, with a thin broth, small pieces of ham, little clams in their shells. The food was served on rough hewn ceramics, not the typical bistrot white plates. But just as meticulous in its care and delivery of food.

Comme chez Maman sur Rue DesMoines

We have also eaten at 3 bistrots our friends suggested, all excellent and Comme Chez Maman turned out to be on rue Des Moines , which the host confirms means “the monks” not “the mounds” as some think. He seemed more confused than impressed that we were from Des Moines, Iowa (or used to be.) Dinner, especially the meat mains (steak, duck) and pork belly appetizer, was excellent at Le Pantruche in the Pigalle. We also enjoyed Bistrot D’Yves near us in the 17th arrondissement where the filet mignonette was pork not beef and delicious.

Outside Mokonuts

11th arrondissment Comme Chez Maman – this is a bistro with a Belgian chef; it was also awarded a Michelin “little red man” and is very popular and is open throughout the weekend. …a very warm welcome and lively ambience.

Mokonuts with Francine

9th A Le Pantruche – Small, old-fashioned Paris décor, simply wonderful food, great service. It is very popular. (has a wonderful Soufflé Grand Marnier and you should definitely order it–you just have to request it at the beginning of meal.

Here are three special occasion places our friends described :

(1) Restaurant H. 13 Rue Jean Beausire, 75004 Paris; 01 43 48 80 96. more expensive than the Bistros listed…had the five course meal this week and the chef did more things with root vegetables than I would have thought possible…recommend the 7 course one mostly for the sheer adventure of it. …The five course meal (they are small courses) was 60 euros

(2) Petrelle: It is a really romantic restaurant and has a fixed menu, …food is light, but since you have five courses, you leave feeling you have had enough but not too much.

(3 if you like Japanese food) is Enyaa.37 Rue de Montpensier, 75001 Paris . +33-.(0) 1 40 26 78 25 It’s on an oddly empty alley just in back of the Palais Royale but you step inside and it seems very Japanese. The waiters and waitresses do not speak much if any French. They speak Japanese and a bit of English.

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16th/17 Arrondissement Airbnb, Bistrot D’Yves – Paris

We feel especially fortunate to have all made it to Paris, given that there was a major aviation mess-up in the states that began just hours after Lily and Noah took to the air. Almost 7,000 flights delayed. But by midday we were all here and acclimating to our charming bohemian/classy Airbnb in the 16th arrondissement near the arc de triumph, off elegant Avenue Foch (where the likes of Aristotle Onassis lived. Now there are several embassies.)

Birthday girl

We are on narrow Rue le sueur (reminds me of the name of canned baby peas) on the fourth floor of one of the many famous Hausmanian buildings in this part of the city, lining the grand boulevards and backstreets. Hausman was sort of the Robert Moses of Paris, clearing old narrow twisty streets and creating wide boulevards lined with elegant crème-colored mansions. Our Airbnb has lovely faded-elegance touches — a curving staircase with wood banister (and a tiny lift, handy for suitcases), decorative ceiling moldings and plasterwork around the fireplace, tall narrow French windows, heavy doors with giant brass nobs and ancient keys, creaky parquet floors, a narrow creaky wood planked hallway with doors leading to bedrooms and bathrooms (two are sans toilet, avec tub/shower; one tiny one with toilet, no tub/shower). And there are bohemian touches – lots of African and Caribbean textiles and art (a little colonial era whiff).

Our gracious host left us cheeses, a baguette and wine. Then my amazing old friend from our 1980s Wichita newspaper days Alissa, who lives nearby, insisted on bringing bags of her favorite foods – quiches, fresh orange juice, yoghurt in glass bottles, a big chunk of butter, clementines, cheese. Why does everything taste better here? (Ingredients, freshness, care of preparation, the water?)

Noah in the living room

She also showed around this neighborhood, which doesn’t have the enchanting narrow streets of the left bank, where we usually stay, more grand big boulevards, but no complaints. Alissa sent us to a great little neighborhood bistrot d’Yves last night, a 20 minute walk away. Yves knows what he’s doing: clever but not overly fussy food (we didn’t know fillet mignon could be pork, not beef) , thoughtful attentive service, all tables occupied on a Wednesday in January. We are supposed to get rain at some point but good temps, high 40s, low 50#, and even sun when we arrived.

Alissa!

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