DAY TWO – 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
Groucho and the gang must have called it an early night, too, because when we awoke, there was no cigar smell. We had a great night’s sleep (very comfy bed). We utilized the Meliá Vendôme’s spacious bathroom, which has a very good shower (something I find quite important in a hotel).
There was one more surprise. When we were downstairs at the desk to ask for our taxi to Melia #1, we were told I needed to pay them €2. After our experience at Mélia #1 yesterday, Tracy quickly looked for any sharp objects to keep away from my grasp.
We were told it was some sort of city tax, which was just a bit taxing to me. God forbid that for all the inconvenience we had to put up with that they would waive a €2 fee, but instead of causing an international incident I paid it cheerfully since the desk people at this Mélia had been helpful, and I didn’t feel like starting the day off on the wrong foot.
As we waited for a taxi in the Mélia’s lobby, there were a couple of statuesque models that I took just a slight glimpse at as I walked by (that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it). Tracy turned to me and said, “Remember, in the divorce settlement I get all the pets…and the house.” So much for that “wrong foot” thing.
In a few more minutes, we headed back to Meliá #1 and arrived at 8:30 a.m. The hotel did not have a room ready for us at this hour, so we just dropped our stuff. They must have expected us to arrive early because I didn’t see any pens on the counter either (for our new subscribers…see Day One for the reason).
Out and about by 9 on a perfectly sunny and warm morning, we arrived at the Cathedrále Notre-Dame de Paris at 9:15, and I said hello to all my friends on the side of the church who I hadn’t seen in a couple of years.
This morning, I was a man on a mission who wanted to be a man in a cathedral. Every decade, one of my goals is to climb to the top of Notre-Dame (not exactly Everest, but hey, it’s more than 300 steps to the top).
Tracy didn’t seem to be much in the mood for a climb, so I went across the street and came back with croissants and coffee to bribe her as we waited. We chatted with some of the people in line, and soon it was time to go up. Once we got to the ticket window, we decided to get a four-day museum pass, and it was on to the top.
I don’t remember Notre-Dame being a particularly stressful climb in the past, but I was pretty tired when we reached the top (this old age thing is highly overrated). My expression was as pained as the gargoyles hanging off the façade.
“Must have been all those cigars you and Groucho smoked yesterday afternoon,” Tracy said bluntly. Yes, she made me the butt of the joke.
…and we soaked (sort of like my shirt) them in for about 15 minutes as hordes of school children were nipping at my heels.
Back down the stairs, we went at a relatively brisk pace for an old geezer. We started walking toward the flower garden near the back of the church, and the line to climb the tower looked like it stretched all the way to Reims, so that made us even happier we did it early in the day. That and the fact the weather was turning pretty darned hot.
After walking around the garden for a bit…
…it was just a short walk to La Sainte-Chapelle, but The Holy Chapel’s security line rivaled Notre Dame’s so we decided we would return when it opened tomorrow. Instead, we visited a nearby church in the 5th arrondissement, one I somehow had missed on previous trips to Paris.
Église Saint Séverin is named for a fifth-century hermit who lived and prayed in a small oratory. A church was built over the oratory in the 11th century, and then after a 15th-century fire, construction began on the one that exists today. Inside, I was specifically looking for a column that resembled a palm tree (a rather odd quest).
Before I left for Paris, I checked that unimpeachable source of information Wikipedia (ok, maybe not). It said, “The Ambulatory also includes an unusual pillar in the form of the trunks of a palm tree.”
We decided this would be the perfect time to pick up our Navigo Découverte at the Saint-Michel Metro. The Navigo is a sort of “smart card” that helps locals who use the metro a lot save money on a weekly or monthly basis. It’s also good for Paris visitors who spend a couple of weeks here…like us!!
We had taken along the correct passport-sized headshots that are used with the card, but when we got to the Navigo machine it was a tad confusing to understand…the card might be smart, but not the tourists. I had been warned that some metro employees could be helpful on these matters, while others…not so much. We, unfortunately, ran into “Madame Not-So-Much.”
After a few minutes of trying to explain what we wanted in fairly pathetic French, and the woman at the counter looking about as interested in our plight as I did in my high school geometry class since we had a couple of metro tickets to spare, we decided to try another station later. We were now about to take a walk in the parc. Getting off at the Monceau stop is the appropriately named Parc Monceau in the 8th arrondissement. The park is surrounded by some spectacular mansions and was designed by Louis Carrogis Carmontelle, who must have been quite a bright guy. In addition to creating the park, Carmontelle was also an author, architect, and painter.
We took some photos as the park filled up with local people eating lunch, exercising and lounging around getting a suntan (more on that in a future post). Tracy said, “It’s pretty crowded for a Tuesday morning.” As it turned out, “Tuesday” was the keyword.
As we exited the park, I had on my “to do” list for Day Two a visit to the Musée Nissim de Camondo. We had loved the Musée Jacquemart-André on a previous visit, and this seemed like it would be similar to that experience. When we got to the museum, there was a slight problem…it was closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
I kind of pride myself on my preparation for these trips, and I wondered how I could make such a stupid gaffe. It didn’t take very long to figure out that Day Two of our trip originally was going to be on a Thursday. In any event, the Nissim would have to wait for another day.
Every cloud has a silver lining because it was time to eat, and there was a restaurant just down the street from the museum with outdoor tables available. Speaking of clouds, we would be in one soon enough…a cloud of smoke.
As we sat outdoors at the Grand Café de la Poste, full of businessmen and women dressed nicely for work, we ordered our lunch in a slight haze. Sitting next to us were two young women (early 20s). One of them was pregnant. The other, the Incredible Smoking Woman…
As I munched on a croque monsieur and Tracy downed her burger and frites, our friend next to us was trying to set a record for the most cigarettes smoked during one meal. She was quite proficient in her technique. In between bites of food, she would deftly pick up the cigarette and puff away. I guess that’s one way you could get cheap smoked salmon. Hopefully, when her friend’s baby is ready to speak (if it doesn’t cough first), his or her first words won’t be, “Have a light?”
During our time, from when we arrived until when we left, she had lit six cigarettes while we sat there. Oh, and these were old school, baby! I dubbed her the “Duchess Of Marlboro.”
We had remarked on our 2012 trip how it seemed that smoking was on the downturn in France. Although a small sample size to be sure, on this visit it seemed many Parisians, particularly young men and women, have decided smoking is back in vogue.
Before I had to put the Surgeon General on speed dial, we got up and decided to head out of town to visit a church named after a guy who lost his head.
But first, we’d give it another go for the Navigo. Once again, this time at the Monceau Metro, the stupid Americans tried to decipher what to do on the machine and asked a woman at the metro desk for assistance.
She was not at all helpful until, out of the blue, we found some unexpected assistance.
A very nicely dressed Parisian woman (ok, I’m assuming she was Parisian because we were in Paris and she spoke French) asked what we were attempting to do.
“Obviously we don’t know what to do,” was my reply. We told her we had tried to ask the metro lady about purchasing a Navigo card, but that our language differences made this seemingly easy task hard to accomplish.
Our new-found friend walked over to the counter, and I don’t know what she said, but the metro lady was out in a flash, speaking some English this time, and, voila, we had two Navigo Découverte cards (€25.40 I think).
Now that we were full-fledged Parisians (except for that fluent French speaking aspect), we hopped on the metro to Basilique Saint-Denis. It’s not easy to become a saint and usually bad for your health. Saint-Denis, the first bishop of Paris (and now also the Patron Saint of Paris), was beheaded on a hill in Montmartre (supposedly he had bad things to say about the Moulin Rouge show one night), but he wasn’t going to let a little thing like a beheading get him down.
He picked up his severed head (quite a feat, since it would have been very hard to see without your head) and took it northward until he finally died exactly where he wanted to be buried. Now that’s taking things into your own hands.
We hadn’t been to Basilique Saint-Denis for nearly 14 years and remembered it as a dark and foreboding building. A little perplexed (a constant state for me) about whether this site was on the Museum Pass list of attractions, we tried circumventing a long line of teenagers who seemed much more intrigued by their iPhones than a guy who carried his head for ten miles. Try that sometime Siri! Come to think of it; she doesn’t have a head either.
At the ticket window, we were stopped briefly by the ticket lady, who had absolutely no interest in whether or not we had a Museum Card. “Where are you from,” she asked? “California,” I answered. “Go in,” she said.
It was a veritable Louis festival from Louis VI to Louis XVIII (with a few Roman numerals missing). I refrained from singing Louis Louis, although the acoustics probably were fantastic.
We stopped by and saw Henry II and his wife Catherine de’ Medici. Henry met his demise during a jousting tournament when the lance struck his helmet. A long splinter pierced Henry’s eye and penetrated his brain. We somehow neglected to visit Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette (I don’t know how), but I hear their final resting place takes the cake (thanks to the wiki photo below, I can)…
Many others I had never heard of. As the Strawberry Alarm Clock would say, “There were dead kings, many things I can’t define.”
Walking outside, I took a photo of the Fontaine Saint-Michel. I have a soft spot in my heart for Archangel Michael (unusual since I’m a Presbyterian), but after my near-death experience of 2010…it’s a long story…I consider him a close friend.
On the way back to the Mélia Colbert, we walked by Shakespeare And Company, a famous Parisian bookstore. Looking at the name “Shakespeare” gave me pause. I then thought about our Mélia Colbert hotel situation. I told Tracy, “Perhaps, it’s Much Ado About Nothing. Even if it’s Not As You Like It, All’s Well That Ends Well. I am glad, however, that with all The Comedy Of Errors, we don’t have to stay here until The Twelfth Night.”
Looking at her bemused countenance, I could only surmise she was thinking, “To be married…or not to be married…that is the question?” As suddenly as they appeared, my bard-like thoughts and prose disappeared forever (or at least until this trip report).
Arriving at our hotel, we found there was a new crew at the Mélia Colbert, and it was like replacing Rosie O’Donnell with, well, just about anyone else on the planet. They were friendly, cheerful and helpful, although their well-intended help did make our walk to dinner just a little bit longer.
After showering in another great shower in another nice bathroom, we headed back downstairs to walk to a dinner we were very much looking forward to. We had reservations at Les Papilles.
As we started walking, I kept telling Tracy, “This seems like we are headed in the wrong direction.” Sure enough, a few minutes later I looked more carefully and saw they had printed out the driving…not the walking…directions. No harm was done, although we needed extra steps today like vin blanc with steak.
In about 25 minutes we arrived at Les Papilles (which I think means taste buds or my heading is more stupid than usual), 30 Rue Gay-Lussac, for our 7 p.m. reservations. Walking into the restaurant, it looked like it could be a wine store, and that’s because it incorporates a “cave à manger” concept, which in English means something like you can eat and drink wine there.
The chef is Bertrand Bluy, and when you come here, you are at his culinary mercy. It’s all pretty simple: he picks the menu, and you eat what’s put in front of you. If you’re not an adventuresome eater, this might not be your place.
We were seated at a quaint little table at the rear, and in a few minutes, Chef Bluy was at the table to explain our set-menu dinner for the evening. He also explained which wines paired well with it, and his selections ranged from inexpensive to we’d better cut this trip short. We chose a vin rouge from Languedoc (€38 + €7 corkage) from the library that Chef Bluy suggested, mainly because I want to go to Languedoc someday. Not scientific, but it was a good wine.
Soon, the courses started, and our lovely (and funny) server brought out a cauliflower soup. Incroyable! The bowl contained chives, goat cheese, ham, and croutons, and she ladled the soup over those ingredients.
Our main course was Duck in a Quatre Epices sauce, served with roasted baby potatoes, carrots and snow peas. It was served in a copper pot, and we helped ourselves tableside. It was thicker than your average duck. I thought the duck certainly was all it was quacked up to be and certainly fit the bill. Tracy was less enthusiastic, which I thought was plain Daffy.
Our cheese plate was a delicious blue cheese with the most incredible prune I have ever tasted. I’m not kidding! However, that delectable prune would cause me to make a restaurant error in about a week.
Going into the final course, the soup was the evening’s overall winner, but our “Wow” dessert of Caramel Panna Cotta with crumbles of Speculoos (Belgian cinnamon cookies…you can get them at Trader Joe’s) trumped everything. Simply stupendous!
We capped off our dinner with a glass of champagne.
The entire bill came to €155 (which included a slight tip). You can get out of there cheaper by picking a cheaper wine and no champagne, but we felt we should help the local economy. Les Papilles was wonderful, the vibe terrific, and it gets a high recommendation from us.
On a still pretty warm evening the patio at Les Papilles was packed (as was the restaurant), and it was nice to walk off those calories on the way back to the hotel.
Tomorrow would be our final change of lodging as we would finally be able to settle in at our original apartment in the Marais. Our stay would be a unique experience thanks to a surprise visitor, an air conditioning unit unlike one we have ever seen, the hardest working man in Paris, plus a woman who you will hear more from…and I mean hear…during the rest of the report.
Next: DAY THREE – Going To The Chapel, The Not Quite What We Imagined Apartment, Introducing Dennis, A Good Egg, No Way Jay, Marie’s Farewell Letter, A Merry Time, What The Hell Is That, A Metro Or A Submarine, Lady Liberty, The Pendulum Without A Pit, Where’s The Air Conditioner, The Hardest Working Man In Paris, Introducing Mickey and Dinner With The Cincinnati Kids