Chapter Sixteen: Return To Paris

P1040098Chapter Sixteen:  Return To Paris

Day Seventeen – Mr. Maitai’s Wild Ride, Lane Violation, Where The Hell Did They Put Our Rental Car Agency, Dining In The Rain, The Good Samaritan, Service With A Smile, The Rue You-Know-What, Fancy Meeting You Here and A Return To Ray Romano’s Restaurant

After deftly avoiding the tree in my shower, it was time for breakfast at La cour sainte Catherine’s beautiful dining area.

Tracy and I carefully walked down our stairs not wanting to disturb the mushrooms.

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As a noisy (and thirsty), cute chat noir rambled around the lovely breakfast room at La cour sainte Catherine, we all sat down at a table thankful that no one had fallen into the street or conked their head.

FD15K07There was a nice spread that included yogurt, cereal, croissants avec boysenberry jam, apple cider along with lemon meringue and apple Galettes.  We were now refreshed and ready for the relaxing two hour drive into Paris, of which the first hour and forty five minutes was actually relaxing.

bastille-de-launay-hotelOur first stop in Paris was going to be the Hotel Bastille de Launay (photo above from website), 42 rue Amelot, in the 11th arrondissement.  The plan was to drop off our luggage, and then go find our rental car drop-off spot, which I had stupidly made in Montparnasse and forgot to change after I booked our hotel. Never drink martinis while making reservations.

FD16K01I joked with the gang as we headed into Paris, “I sure hope we don’t have to drive around the Arc du Triomphe.” I had done that once in 1986 and nearly scared my traveling companion half to death with my erratic driving.

“I have some interesting information for you,” Kim said. I quickly gave him a glance, and he had a sly smile on his face.

“Madame Bleu has us going around the Arc,” he reported.  I looked in the rear-view mirror and saw Mary and Tracy already bracing for what was sure to be a horrific accident. Kim seemed resigned to his ultimate fate.

Careening in and out of traffic, the Arc loomed in the distance. “The Arc is dead ahead,” I said.  Looking back at that, it was probably a poor choice of words.

First, I narrowly missed a couple of unsuspecting pedestrians who did not know they were about to escape certain death by a matter of millimeters.

Soon,  we were whizzing around the monument with about 100 other cars, motorcycles and trucks with a phalanx of police directly in front of us (what did they know that I did not).  It was like a legal Demolition Derby.

Since there are really no lanes, it is every driver for his or her self, and being a rather aggressive person behind the wheel, I was able to navigate that bad boy Audi around the Arc with no difficulty. “Phew,” I said.  Then I opened my eyes.

FD16M01In a matter of just seconds, I was zipping along the Avenue des Champs-Élysées (well not really zipping because of the traffic), with the Arc in my rear view mirror. Through the streets of Paris we traveled, amazed pedestrians looking on in awe of this American speed demon. I must admit it gave me an adrenaline rush to drive in this city.  I can’t say my passengers felt the same way.  About ten minutes later, we arrived at the hotel, dumped the luggage, and it was on to Montparnasse.  

Similarly to when we drove into Bayeux, we were lacking one small (yet important) piece of information; we had no address, and it was not on the rental agreement. We figured it had to be at or near the railway station so away we went.

Madame Bleu had done pretty well on this day so far, but soon she made a mistake that I might be paying for in the future. She instructed me to turn à droite at the signal. “Hey this is cool,” I said. “This is just one lane and we’re the only people in it.”  Then came the words I have heard so often on our vacations.

“Tom, you idiot (I believe it was all said in unison), you’re driving in the taxi lane.”  Sure enough, this was the lane reserved for taxis, bicycles and buses, and although I was making great time, there were two fairly large problems.  One, I was headed now in the wrong direction and (2) there were signs along the way saying that cameras were monitoring any “idiots” illegally driving in this lane. Thankfully we have no children to put through college, because we saw a few of those signs as I hopelessly tried to find some way to exit this lane of horror.

After about five minutes (although it seemed like an hour), I was finally able to exit the lane, and we were headed back toward Montparnasse.  We neared the station and saw signs for rental car agencies, lots of them.  Of course, none of them were Europcar, which happened to be our company.  Using their eagle-like eyesight, Tracy and Mary finally spied a minuscule sign pointing us down into a parking garage.

Passing signs to about 100 other car rental companies, Kim finally jumped out at a competitor’s kiosk, and we were directed to Europcar.  We gave them our paperwork and were finally on our way for the last days we would spend in Paris.

We took the metro back to the Bastille metro station, walking out near the Opera Bastille.  It was pouring down rain.  We hadn’t eaten since our breakfast feast and our hotel would not let us check in until after 3 p.m., but there across the street loomed a restaurant, La Bastille, 8 place de la Bastille.

P1040083The food, contrary to TA reviews that I read when I returned home, was quite good.

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The guy who greeted us at the door of La Bastille was charming with a smile a mile wide, and we asked to be seated outside (under cover, of course) to enjoy a meal in the rain in Paris.

P1040089Kim had a Caesar salad with chicken; Mary some French Onion soup; Tracy a penne pasta with green veggies and I had a really good Croque Monsieur.

P1040087It was also rather magical to have the rain pouring down, sitting in a Paris café and watching hundreds of people with colorful umbrellas stroll by like it was a sunny day.  These are the memories of Paris I always cherish.

P1040085Upon exiting, we really did not know what direction to head (shocking, eh), although we had driven in this location only about an hour before.  A lovely, middle-aged French woman (from Lyon as it turned out) saw four drenched Americans in front of a place with an over-sized ice cream cone holding a map and looking like, well, tourists.  She asked if she could help, and sure enough she pointed us in the right direction.  Having just eaten, we skipped the ice cream.

P1040091We walked around in the general vicinity for a little while.

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Since it was not quite 3 p.m., we did what we always do when we have a few minutes to kill…we stopped and each had a glass of wine.  The rain was letting up, so a little after 3 we were back at the Hotel Bastille de Launay.  This hotel turned out have perhaps the nicest, most informative front desk people I have encountered on either pleasure or business trips anywhere I have traveled. For three days they were helpful with directions, restaurant reservations or anything else our crew needed.

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We all freshened up, and since we had 7:30 reservations at Le Florimond (our hotel in Bayeux made these for us), we hopped on the metro to go see a part of Paris that Kim had only read and heard about, that dreaded Fodor’s Travel Board Bermuda Triangle of controversy, the rue Cler.

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First of all (amazingly for all you rue Cler haters out there), Rick Steves and his entourage were nowhere to be found. Secondly, this supposedly dead street only occupied by a few Americans in dorky clothes sporting blue travel books, was actually quite vibrant on this drizzly Thursday afternoon.

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Finally, Mon Dieu, the most prevalent accent I heard while we walked on the street was French. Perhaps Thursday is “French Day” on the rue Cler, a day when they let locals shop and eat without hordes of tourists saying, “Happy traveling.”

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As we walked along this “tourist trap” of a street, Kim said to me, “You know, I have never had a Grand Marnier crepe.” In an orange liqueur-laden minute, we were standing at a crepe stand ordering the Grand Marnier crepe.

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Obviously our “Crepe guy” had not made one of those since 2010, because it took about 15 minutes for him to find the Grand Marnier in between tending to his patrons.  It was no problem, however, because the rest of us explored some more of the shops.

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Once Kim got the crepe, I told our group we should leave, because if I wrote in the trip report that we had spent this much time on the rue Cler, I would probably be shunned from writing anything else on the Fodor’s Travel Board and my credibility (what little I have) would be gone forever.

P1040107We hustled over to the Eiffel Tower.

P1040110Of course, we had to take the requisite photos that would assure our friends back home that we were really in France.

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As we walked back from the Eiffel Tower, there in the distance was a familiar looking couple…it was our Seattle friends from the Overlord Tour in Bayeux.  We were happy to see they were still healthy and had not caught whatever deadly disease our guide had going on.

FD16M23After exchanging pleasantries, I jokingly said, “Hey, see you tomorrow.”  It was still only about 7 p.m., so we walked along Avenue de la Motte-Picquet, a street I only remember because I call it Mott The Hoople, a 1970s band that was popular back when I was one of all the young dudes.

FD16M24First we stopped and took a photo of the restaurant that Tracy and I enjoyed with Kim and Mary (long with their kids) at Christmas 2001.

P1040118Standing in front of a beautiful florist shop, the skies burst open with a downpour of biblical proportions (we’re from California, a drizzle is biblical to us). So at about 7:20, we arrived at the front door of Le Florimond, 19 Avenue de la Mott the Hoople (I mean Motte-Picquet), and there to greet us was our main man from four years ago, Mr. Ray Romano.

OK, it wasn’t really Ray, but I’ll be damned if the owner of this place doesn’t look just like him. He lead us to our table, and with his Foghorn Leghorn tie given to him by a patron of his restaurant, took our order of four Le Florimond cocktails to start off the evening. The cocktail consisted of sparkling wine with black cherries (really good black cherries). We were also served an amuse-bouche to start.

P1040119The menu was almost identical to what it had been at Christmas 2006. Tracy started with Ravioles de homard, brunoise de legumes (lobster raviolis with some veggies) and then had Couscous de legumes for her Plat.

Kim dined on the Sea Bass, while Mary opted for the Split Pea soup and duck with eggplant, figs and apricots. I began with a Terrine of Veal Shank with a citron confit.

For dinner, I ordered the confit de canard (I was confit to be tied I guess) with roasted garlic potatoes.  Everything was really good, and by the time we ordered dessert, mostly older Americans packed the place. Since we were all older Americans, too, we didn’t complain.

Tracy had been dreaming of her dessert for the past four years, the Tierce de sorbets ou glaces, compote de pommes au coquelicot (although she had been dreaming about it in English since she doesn’t speak French). Roughly translated, Tracy had a serving of three ice creams: vanilla bean, pistachio cream caramel and a dark chocolate with chocolate bits.

I was not disappointed with my dessert choice. I had a Tartelette sablée de cacao à la clémentine, which to me translated into a really good chocolate and orange thing. With wine and our cocktails, the bill came to 194€. It was another nice meal at Le Florimond.  If you want to hang out with only French people, this might not your spot (there are more French people at the later seating, as we found out in 2006). However, if you want a really good dinner with an Everybody Loves Raymond look-alike as your main server/owner, you can’t do much better than this.

Before falling asleep, I told Tracy I hoped I would be able to climb to the top of Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris the following morning, because the weather was supposed to be pretty good.  Although that task never came to fruition, we did get to go to some Paris spots we had never visited on any of our past trips to the City of Light, including one where we ran into some musical greats from the past couple of centuries.

Next: Day Eighteen – No Room At The Top, Sac It To Me, Break On Through To The Other Side, Finally Some Beef Bourguignon, Fancy Meeting You Here…Again, Organ Concert, My Favorite View Of Paris, Damn We Should Have Gone Here Today and Getting Ready For Our Final Day

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