Chapter One: Something Doesn’t Smell Right Here

P1060861Chapter One: Something Doesn’t Smell Right Here

Flying at roughly 36,000 feet above Greenland, with an oxygen mask covering a good portion of my face for the better (or worse) part of two hours, as Tracy and I sat in the galley of an Air Tahiti Nui flight from Paris bound back to Los Angeles, two thoughts quickly came to mind.

First, “Will I survive the flight?” and secondly, “If I do, will the passengers seated near us kill me before we arrive?”    I was suddenly the guy on the plane I hated most…“the damned sick guy!”  Not just another pretty face, eh?

IMG_1102The situation looked fairly grim.  On the plus side, the legroom in the galley was much better than coach.

This wasn’t quite how I had envisioned the Tracy/Tom Romantic 20th Anniversary Trip to Paris would eventually end up, but as they say, “The best laid plans of mice and men.”   Oh, we’ll get to the mice later.

The original plan was a relatively simple one:  Spend ten days and nights in Paris in a Marais apartment while enjoying some of our old haunts, exploring new ones and walking leisurely through arrondissements we had not previously explored.   I had also chosen this period of time because the first weekend was Journées du Patrimoine, and there were a couple of places I really wanted to see that are not usually open to the public, including the interior of the Hôtel de Ville. P1070330We even had a rendezvous set up with two couples from the Fodor’s Travel Board (where I do most of my trip planning), dinner with the daughter of our friends Kim and Mary, plus a reunion with some old friends who we hadn’t seen in six years. The trip was shaping up nicely.

Then, a few days before we were to leave for Paris I received an ominous email.  In hindsight, I should have followed my first instinct and postponed the trip, but unfortunately foresight is not 20/20.   That scenario set the wheels in motion for a trip where everything seemed to go a little bit sideways from Day One.

Had I written this a few months ago, the report would have been in a much more negative tone than it is today, but with further time to reflect, I can be a little more objective and laugh at what turned out to be a comedy of errors…not to mention (although I will) what turned out to be a fairly serious disease that helped derail numerous plans.  Sadly, our anniversary vacation to Paris certainly did not come close to living up to our expectations.   But as Doris Day once said (ok, she sang), “Que será será.”

hqdefaultMy motto at the end of all my reports is…”Enjoy The Journey!  Attitude is Everything!”  I’ll be the first to admit that this was one journey Tracy and I did not (especially the second week) particularly enjoy, but as for attitude…it’s still everything.

From the good to the bad, here is: Paris When It Sizzles & Paris When It Fizzles!

DAY ONE: Strike One, Jerry Lee Lewis Takeoff, A Flying City, Pilot In A Hurry, S**T Happens, Are You Smoking A Cigar, Outdoor Respite, A Hot Time In Paris, Man You’ve Got A Big Head, Glad You’re Not Related, Panning The Contessa’s Pot Store, An Evening Stroll, Model (s) Citizens & A Smoky Sleep

The idea seemed foolproof…spend ten wonderful days in our beloved Paris to belatedly celebrate our 20th anniversary.  We were looking forward to so many things, including having a special anniversary lunch at Chez Fernand, sipping champagne at our special table (here we are in 2012).   What could possibly go wrong?

P1040308A few days before departure, I received the email that said (not quoting exactly), “Air France would like to inform you that we intend to screw up your vacation as much as possible by striking the day before you leave Los Angeles for Paris.   Hopefully, this will not be an inconvenience, although we will try and make it so whenever we can.” (photo from Daily Telegraph)

4110635fI contemplated postponing our trip to a later date, but we had our Marais apartment set up, and both of us had really looked forward to our romantic anniversary trip, so I called Air France and moved our trip up. Now we would depart two days earlier, giving us 12 days in Paris.

Our apartment was occupied for those first two days, so we had to scramble to find a Paris hotel quickly, most of which were booked thanks to Fashion Week (the same thing that complicated our London trip the year before).   We finally used some American Express points to book what looked like a very nice hotel near Notre Dame (more on that complete disaster later).

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On Sunday morning, we arrived at LAX, checked out the digs at the new international terminal, took a stupid Tom photo (hey, it’s what we do)…

P1060811…and then boarded what looked like a flying cruise ship.

P1060812I have lived in cities smaller than the Air France A380, which looked like it could hold the entire population of Rhode Island.

IMG_1087We started barreling down the runway…it seemed like it was taking quite a while to get those wheels up…so long that I believe Tracy finished her first book before we were airborne.  After a rather rough few seconds to get airborne…with a whole lot of shakin’ going on…we were in the air. The rest of the flight was uneventful, the food was good and we landed at CDG about a half hour early on a sunny Monday morning.

The landing was not one of the better ones we have encountered either. I believe our pilot just wanted to get the hell back to Paris, land the damned thing and join in the strike. I’m surprised she just didn’t deploy the chutes and have us slide on to the tarmac as we rolled to a stop.

Tracy and I caught a taxi, made it into Paris with no traffic (€49) and found ourselves in front of a charming hotel. We were ready to go…unfortunately the hotel was not.

We walked up the charming walkway to the Meliá Colbert (who I thought was Stephen’s little sister) and strode up to the lady at the front desk. “Bonjour, we are Mr. & Mrs. MaiTaiTom, and we have a reservation for the next two nights.”

P1060976Upon hearing our names, her pained facial expression looked just like a Green Bay Packer fan after their choke against Seattle. “Wait just a minute,” she said, fumbling though some type of fake folder to make it seem like she was really trying to find our room.  Then came the words that started our trip off in a crappy manner…literally.

“I’m very sorry, but your room has a broken toilet.” I’ve never won the lottery, but I guess we were the lucky ones out of 39 rooms to have THE broken toilet.   Why it was our room, I haven’t a clue.

Tired and in desperate need of a shower, I wanted to stick the pen sitting on the front desk directly into her heart, however being the polite U.S. tourist that I am…I refrained from violence. Instead I asked politely if there was another room we could have.  Of course, the answer was, “no.”

Oh, but joy of joys, they did have a room at their sister hotel, the Meliá Vendôme Hotel, located near the Place de Concord, an area of Paris we tried to stay away from, but, we now had no choice. I did ask if they would comp anything for this crappy experience (I did say it nicely, however), but they said they would only pay for the taxi ride.

Unfortunately, we would have to return the next day, because (1) the Meliá Vendôme was full on Tuesday night and (2) because, I guess the toilet at Meliá #1 would be magically fixed by then (in all honesty, I believe the only thing that was full of s**t at Melia #1 was the receptionist’s excuse).  I think it was her story and not the hotel room that didn’t pass the smell test.   Tracy quickly took the pen out of my hand that I had picked up, saving the desk lady from certain death, and we were on to our next hotel.

The taxi ride from Meliá #1 to the next Meliá seemed to take as long as it did from the airport to the first hotel thanks to the Parisian traffic, made worse by the fact that it was Fashion Week. The check-in people at Meliá #2 were friendly enough, and we got to our room…a very tired looking room (especially for the price) that would accommodate two tired people for one night.

One positive aspect of Meliá #2 was its large and modern bathroom, but as I entered the shower, the air wafting (I really hate that word in trip reports, but it kind of fit here) into the bathroom suddenly smelled stale. “Tracy, are you smoking a cigar,” I shouted out?

Of course, she wasn’t, but the air coming into our room from the air vents smelled like a Groucho Marx poker party (you younger people can Google him). I did say a “Secret Word,” but I can’t use it in a trip report.

Groucho_Marx_-_portraitAt this point, I didn’t feel like complaining anymore, and I thought with only one night here the chance of contracting lung cancer in such a short period was rather miniscule. So instead, we headed out to lunch.

P1060819I just wanted to get anywhere, so we took the metro and headed toward the Place du Dauphin.  I had wanted to go to some joint called Taverne Henry IV, purported to be one of the oldest wine bars in Paris. I had read a review that it was a “casual, no frills bistro,” but once we got there I decided I was in the mood for a few more frills than this place had to offer.  By this time, lack of sleep and murderous thoughts had clouded my judgment, so we might have passed on a wonderful spot. Maybe I’ll find out someday.

P1060821We ended up eating outside at a place called La Rose de France, 24 Place Dauphine. It was expensive, but at this point I really didn’t care about money…I just wanted to sit down and relax. The lunch was quite good. I had a risotto with shrimp and lobster sauce, while Tracy enjoyed a salad with tapenade toasts. Now that I think about it, the vin rouge might have been the reason the tab was so high.

P1060815Trying to put the earlier hotel fiasco behind us, we hit the pavement.

P1060822First we walked across the Pont Neuf, said hello to Henry IV…

P1060824…and past the old Samaritaine Department store.

P1060825We walked over to see the construction at Les Halles.   It was really hot.  It seems that we hit Paris about the same time as summer finally hit Paris.  We were having a heat wave. Soon, we were inside L’É́glise Saint-Eustache, where Louis XIV took communion and Mozart’s mother’s funeral was held.

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The church takes its name from a 2nd century Roman general who converted to Christianity and was then burned at the stake with his entire family.

P1060837Located inside L’É́glise Saint-Eustache is the tomb of a 16th century French Minister of Finance, Jean Baptiste Colbert (below). I started yelling at him, but Tracy had me stop, reminding me that he was not necessarily related to Melia Colbert and her fake defective toilet.

P1060839 Heading outside, we saw a giant head with a giant hand cupped to its ear. This gigantic stone head is called “L’Écoute,” which means, “Listen.”   Tracy said I should remember that sculpture’s motto when she speaks to me. I think she was attempting to make a point, but I wasn’t really listening.

P1060831As we walked back toward our hotel area, we passed by a store Tracy had very much wanted to visit, E. Dehillerin.  Contrary to seemingly everyone’s reviews and perhaps because we were very tired, we were not overly impressed by this store.  One of our favorite cookbook authors, the Barefoot Contessa, loves E. Dehillerin and shops here frequently, but fortunately my wallet escaped unscathed.

P1060840We continued our walk that took us by some interesting looking buildings…

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…through the Galerie Vero-Dodat…

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…and by the colorful Palais Royal Musée du Louvre metro stop.

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Back at Meliá #2 and its modern interior, we took a late afternoon power nap (7 minutes whether we needed it or not).

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The cigar smell would periodically creep into our room, but I just pretended I was drawing to an inside straight with Groucho puffing away next to me. We like to stay up and not sleep during the first day of our overseas trips, so soon we were back outside on an early and beautiful Parisian evening.

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We walked by Galignani, which claims be the “oldest English bookstore on the continent.”

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Then it was time to stroll through the Tuilleries (the nearly autumn colors were stunning.

P1060855Next stop was the Place de la Concorde and its beautiful fountains…

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…and Obelisk.

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We bore witness to the incredible traffic on the Champs Élysées (still can’t believe I navigated that street a couple of years ago without killing anyone)…

P1060864…meandered up toward the Madeleine…

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…and by a store we decided not to stop.

P1060870The patisserie reminded me that I would not be losing weight in Paris, no matter how much we walked.

P1060871We saw the lights on at Le Souffle, but since we were so tired, a really nice meal would be wasted on us tonight.

P1060873As we walked, we passed by a number of tall, slender, relatively gorgeous women who we believed, by our incredible powers of deduction, were some of the models attending Fashion Week.

P1060874After walking for more than an hour, we just decided to park our tired butts outside at the last available table at the Brasserie Flottes, located near our hotel on rue Cambon.

P1060876Our light dinner was enjoyable, if not memorable, however, I love those Paris frites…

P1060877…and French onion soup! P1060878We somehow made it up to the magic bewitching hour of 10 p.m., and even with the smell of cigar smoke filling the room, we enjoyed a good night’s sleep, even if my lungs did not (foreshadowing alert).  Tomorrow would be our first full day of exploring Paris once again (including something I have to do every decade) after schlepping our stuff back to Meliá #1.

Next: A Taxing Moment, Climb Quest, Palm Tuesday, Navi(no)Go, A Walk in the Parc, If It’s Tuesday It Must Be Closed, The Incredible Smoking Woman, Good Samaritan, Navi(go)go, Louis Louis (and more Louis), Dead Kings And Many Things I Can’t Define, Shakespearian Musings, I’m Walking Here and Satisfying Our Tastebuds…at Tastebuds


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