Tag Archives: paris

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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Dashing thru the snow on the TGV (fast train Lyon to Paris) after visit to Paul Bocuse food hall

Fortunately we had only a little snow and rain this morning because thanks to the one-day rail strike, we had to walk with our suitcases to the Gare Part-dieu in Lyon. No taxis available. And hey, our train is operating so we are feeling fortunate. Our helpful Lyon hotel staffer also checked and the #1 metro in Paris appears to be working so we can get at least part way from the Paris train station to our hotel. Too much fun. (Update: The #1 Metro WAS working when we arrived in Paris on strike day but it didn’t make all its usual stops and whizzed right through our stop to get to our hotel so we had another 25 minute walk with our suitcases. Fortunately the weather cooperated.)

Paul Bocuse food hall

Another stroke of luck, the food hall named after a famous Lyonnaise chef (les Halles de Paul Bocuse) was on the way to the train station (sort of) so we stopped to shop for lunch and to gawk at the gorgeous food displays lining each aisle that we wheeled our suitcases along. Some items we recognized from our meal at Le Musee. We ended up getting a baguette and a soft super creamy mild local cheese, Saint-Marcellin that we just ate on the train. Superb!

Train lunch

We’ve had a few mishaps with the trains. On our way from Paris to the small country town, Amberieu-en-Bugey (where I visited France’s diary archives, for my book) we managed to make our connecting train fine but then got off the train one stop too early. We stood outside the closed train station in mixed precipitation trying to figure out what to do and ended up going into a nearby restaurant where a diner tried to help us out (when my phone wouldn’t work due to crap internet service) until the restaurant proprietor shooed us out of the restaurant. I got the impression she thought we were disrupting her meal service.

We figured out that there were no taxis but there was a bus which, once we learned where/how to buy the ticket (in a machine new the closed rail station), got us to our destination. No taxis there either but the people I was interviewing kindly arranged for transport. (Our return driver was a local innkeeper from the countryside whose car trunk was lined with dirt and perhaps straw.)

Today, we managed to find our platform for the TGV and the place we were supposed to stand for our car (#17) but when the train pulled in, only #18 was marked. So we rushed to the next open car, which turned out to be #8. There wasn’t time to go back to 18 so we stayed put. There are plenty of open seats and the conductor was cool with it. (He explained that this train is actually two trains combined, one with cars 1-8 the other with cars 9-18 or some such but there’s no getting from one train to the second.) Whatever. We are chugging through rolling green fields, some dusted with snow, past the occasional grazing cattle, wind turbines, and village of white stucco homes with mansard roofs that remind me of my childhood home in Michigan.

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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.


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TripAdvisor’s “Top travel destinations” – a few surprises….

Lists are dubious but oh so easy to read – and so I sometimes do.  TripAdvisor’s “Winners 25 Best Destinations” (no word on how the “winners” were chosen) includes many obvious places  and I was pleased to see I’d been to the “top eight” (Paris, New York, London, Rome, Barcelona, Venice, San Francisco,  Florence yadah yadah yadah) but some places that we’re visiting soon also made the list. No – not Kiev (see scenes above) or Bucharest (see below) or Moldova (the world’s most unhappy place if you believe this report http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ENK4rS7Y02U), where my husband is going. But Prague squeaked into the top 10 at  #9; Berlin was #11 and Chicago  #14.

Bucharest City Hall

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Sweat the details when contemplating flying RyanAir and EasyJet from London

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Founded 1985

So my trip to Poland (Gdansk, Krakow) and Prague this summer keeps growing – first I added Berlin. And then when I saw that I’d be flying home via London, I had to figure out a way to stop there too and see all my pals and the city where I used to live and will always love.

Then came a mad search to find those great cheap flights I’ve been hearing about from London to the continent – and I found several very reasonable flights from London to Berlin but the fares kept going up as I ruled out several airports to fly out of in London (no to Southend, which I’d never heard of – it’s in Essex – and which one English friend said would take as long to get to from central London as it takes to get from Des Moines to Heathrow; and no to Luton, which I did fly to Israel out of back in, um, 1982 and is also a schlep; yes to Gatwick and Stansted, which are reasonably easy to get to via public transport from central London) and as I ruled out very early flights (which would rule out getting to the airport via public transport.)

It looks like I’ll end up with a flight for about $98 – which isn’t the $40 I first thought it could be (although that hardly seemed possible) – but it’s not bad. That’s about what it costs these days to fly from Des Moines to Chicago one-way (thanks to Southwest Airway’s arrival in Des Moines.) I was tempted to take the train from London to Berlin but it stops in Paris where you have to switch trains and I don’t think I could bear to just pass through Paris.  So plane it is!

Founded 1995

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