Maitaitom’s Christmas Miracle: Paris/Reims 2006
Day Seven – Christmas Eve (Paris Style), Window Shopping, Mull Over This Wine Choice, Churches Large and Small, Fat Cat, Chicken On A Spit and The Really Ugly American
Our string of blue-sky mornings ended, but there was no need to worry as I had my big, black, cumbersome, disaster-waiting-to-happen overcoat to keep me warm. Besides, it was Christmas Eve, which meant we would have an extra bounce in our step all day long. We started relatively (even for us) and headed toward the St. Germain area, but my caffeine-deprived body was telling me to make a detour.
It was basically a morning of window-shopping, from a cool little store with fun umbrellas to a great store full of old-style travel posters (the kind you frame and put on a wall, not the ones who write overly long trip reports).
By 11 a.m. (or as I like to call it, “Early Cocktail Hour”), I stopped at a little booth along St. Germain and mulled over having a cup of Vin Chaud, which I did. We had passed many signs for hot wine throughout the week, so it just seemed like a good time to try it.
With the smell of Vin Chaud on my breath, we stopped at St-Germain-des-Prés, one of the oldest churches in Paris.
I told Tracy I wanted to light a candle for my liver, but we decided that would be in bad taste (which there still was in my mouth from the Vin Chaud). We saw a hotel that looked interesting for a future visit.
Although we already had reservations at Rotisserie Du Beaujolais that night, we checked out the area to see how many restaurants would be open on this night, considering this was both Sunday and Christmas Eve.
In the vicinity of where we were at the moment, both Allard and Le Christine had Christmas Eve dinners with slightly inflated prices going on that night. We also checked out the restaurant where I wanted to dine before we left Paris, Chez Fernand on rue Christine. Alas, it was closed.
The Vin Chaud must have gone to my head by this point, because the next thing I knew Tracy was in some jewelry store, and all I remember is, “How many euros do you have on you?” I don’t even know if it was Tracy or the clerk who asked the question. By the time I answered, Tracy had some new earrings and a necklace. Love to buy the bling, baby!
In need of some food, we stopped by a little place and picked up a Jambon y Emmenthaler sandwich, which just has such a better sound than ham and cheese. It was then on to the candy store to buy a gift for Tracy’s grandmother.
By now I had the overcoat problem pretty well solved, so Parisians stood in awe as I quickly removed my gloves, retrieved my wallet, pulled out the money and then reversed the process. As my gloves were safely back on my hands, I thought I heard someone say, “Mon Dieu, David Copperfield?”
I was now navigating stairs with ease, so we headed to the nearest metro station.
It has been mentioned on some travel boards that the metros in Paris were depressing. I must respectfully disagree. While I love walking in Paris, taking the metro is an expedient and efficient way to get to where you want to go next, and deciphering how the system works should only take a newcomer about a minute to figure out once in town. Plus, it’s great when the temperatures dip below freezing.
I find it amazing how the entire system was constructed with its labyrinth of tunnels, stairways and escalators. Since I grew up in Los Angeles, a place where the phrase rapid transit was an oxymoron for decades (and still is to a large extent), I marvel at how easy it is to get from Point A to Point B or even to Point H in Paris.
There must be pickpockets (because I read threads about them), but in eight trips here, I have never felt threatened or scared on a metro. We watch our personal belongings carefully, and maybe I hold on to my camera a little tighter. I also know there are beggars in the tunnels. Unfortunately, the less fortunate are a way of life not only in Paris, but in countless major and not so major cities worldwide.
And, while not all the musicians who send their distinctive sound cascading throughout the tunnel maze will be confused for Mozart, there are others playing instruments who make the halls resonate with musical magic.
Now, back to Christmas Eve. We took the metro and got off at the Opera, but decided we would wait until the day after Christmas to go see the inside (hey, we have to save something). Since we were near Harry’s Bar, we thought we’d see if it was open. No dice (or martinis).
Before we headed toward La Rotissere Du Beaujolais, we walked over to the Place Vendome, which was really decked out for the holiday. Spotlights zoomed in on Napoleon at the top of the column.
There were lots of white lights shining all around, and the entrance to the Ritz was particularly stunning with white Christmas trees and lighting in one part that sent off a beautiful bluish tint.
At 7:30 or so we were at the entrance of Notre Dame with hundreds of our closest friends, who were in line for mass. A mass was playing on giant Jumbotrons in front of the cathedral, and I thought for a moment about taking a picture, cropping it and saying we were in there, too.
But that would have been wrong. Funny, but wrong.
The huge Christmas tree in front of Notre Dame was lit, and for some reason, it just looked better on Christmas Eve than it had the other night we looked at it. People were clamoring to get their pictures taken in front of the tree, and the atmosphere was festive.
We walked over to the small church over on the left bank. Saint-Séverin is one of the oldest churches that remains standing on the Left Bank. Its bells, cast in 1412, include the oldest one left in Paris. We walked inside and people were already getting seated for Christmas Eve services.
It was now time for our Christmas Eve meal at Rotisserie Du Beaujolais, which is owned by the Tour de Argent folks (fortunately, not the same prices as their more famous counterpart).
We were seated next to the window. The restaurant is informal, but cute. It has a country French motif, and the windows are adorned with lace curtains, while the tables are topped with yellow linens (thank God Tracy takes some notes). Everyone, from the hostess to the servers, was more than jovial, which made for a relaxed meal.
After a while, Tracy seemed like she was giving me “the look,” however since I didn’t have food hanging out of my mouth and my zipper was up, I ascertained I was not the object of her Spock-like countenance.
“What’s up?” I said. “Have you seen the woman behind you?” she asked.
Since I had not grown two eyes in the back of head during my second Campari Cocktail (remember my motto, “you’ll never be sorry with another Campari”), I answered in the negative.
“This woman looks exactly like Cruella de Vil,” she whispered (now remember, Tracy is the nice one of the two of us). Coincidentally, we had not seen another woman similar in appearance to Cruella de Ville since we visited Ribeauville in 2003. This woman, I was told, had some wild Cruella-type clothing on, too.
Tracy then added with a look of terror, “She also has a dog.” The dog was a very friendly Golden Retriever.
I never got a really good look at “Cruella” throughout the entire evening, but I can only hope she didn’t have an extra gold coat the next time she visited.
The meal was quite good. I started with escargots and handled the tongs expertly, so no snail shells flew onto unsuspecting diners at nearby tables. Tracy went for warm leeks with vinaigrette, diced onions and parsley.
Dessert consisted of a warm, chocolate cake with framboise sauce and vanilla glacé for me, while Tracy had the Bouche de Noel in a crème anglais with citron (perhaps Grand Marnier). Both were very good.
As we savored our meal over an Irish coffee (or two), we were visited by one of the owners. Well, sort of one of the owners. The Rotisserie Du Beaujolais has a resident house cat who is, to say it mildly, a little rotund. Obviously, the chicken is made to his liking. The cat (being very feline-like) said a quick “Merveillmeow” to us and then moved on, presumably to have another meal.
As the evening wound down, we encountered the only ugly American of our visit. At a table a good distance away, a gentleman (and I use the term very loosely) was attempting to entertain the rest of his table (and unfortunately the rest of the restaurant) with jokes…very bad jokes.
Now that would be bad enough, considering the decibel level of the man, however the jokes were also racial in content. The people at his table varied in response from fake laughter to “I wish the French still used the guillotine.”
Fortunately, we were done with our drinks by now, as was most of the restaurant, so we left the group in the corner to contemplate how they became acquaintances of the guy. The hostess bid us a Joyeux Noel, and it out into the Arctic we walked (briskly).
Overall, the restaurant impressed me. I had heard mixed reviews, but I have no regrets choosing Rotisserie Du Beaujolais as our Christmas Eve choice. Everything from the food to the décor to the service was more than pleasing, and they make a hell of an Irish Coffee.
We got back to the metro stop at Hotel de Varenne just before midnight, and after we walked up the stairs and took a few steps; we gazed to the left where the Eiffel Tower (or what we could see of it through the fog) was doing its hourly dance of lights. Tracy and I looked at each other and, in a moment of husbandly passion, I kissed her. It was Christmas morning, and we were two of the luckiest people on earth.
Next – Day Eight – Joyeux Noel, This Old House (Jacquemart-André), Wandering Aimlessly, Is That Peggy Fleming, Where The Hell Am I, Giving Me The Finger and Dining Under The Dome