Wednesday, May 29, 2013

May 28 pack it up and move it out, back to the USA

Our host Carsten bicycled over in the rain for our checkout, arriving at the apartment at about 8am. We chatted for a few minutes, thanked him for everything and he kindly called us a taxi, which pulled up in front just moments later. Bags packed in the trunk Susie and I headed off toward Charles deGaulle airport in moderately reasonable traffic. (Cost was comparable to a "shared" shuttle service. We've had mixed results with those in the past.)

After some searching we located the BA check-in desk; in fact it's located in the bowels of the airport on the lower level right next to the car rental desks. I suppose the French are still smarting over that Hundred Years' War thing.

Our bags disappear down a conveyor belt, we have our boarding passes and make for passport control, ultimately finding our way to the lounge (Cathay Pacific this time), where we hang out until time to board for London.

Once at Heathrow -- after a quick 45-minute flight -- we are shunted through a chaotic security mess in Terminal 5, and eventually pass through with flying colors. Ominously, our flight to Boston isn't on the board -- and when we get to the lounge the services rep informs us that we should be in the B wing of Terminal 5. The new international Terminal 5 is in fact three separate buildings A, B, and C, all connected by an underground tram. Security is in building A and, as we were to find out, if you have to return to building A from B or C you have to, now get THIS, go back through security!

And return we did! Our gate was changed somewhere along the line and so we packed up and headed out for building A. But how to get there?

Fortunately, we found a BA rep who was helpful AND informative: she suggested taking the elevator to the -4 level -- the tram is on the -2 level and there was only one elevator that went to level -4.  Once on level -4 we would find a long passageway connecting the buildings under the tarmac.

So we did. It was a tad spooky; a long straight hall lit by ultraviolet lights, and as we walked along it became clear that we were the only ones down there.

Anyway, once we arrived upstairs we settled in to the BA lounge in A building and awaited our departure.

The return flight was uneventful, the champagne delicious and the food tasty. I even opted to watch a couple of movies: "Gangster Squad" and "Oz."

We landed about 20 minutes late, at just a little past 8pm, and Susie's brother Dick was there to meet us and drive us straight home.

A wonderful trip and the operative word here is "wonderful." Seeing old friends and having new experiences made us realize how truly luck we are.

Life is indeed short. We went to Paris.

Wish you could've been there.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

May 27 Locks on the Seine, Montmartre and Cantonese in Chinatown

A gorgeous day in Paris, perhaps our best yet, the kind of day one imagines when one thinks of Paris in late May: sun, warmth and a city alive with surprises. And it's our last full day here.

No surprise about one thing, though:  our Navigos have expired so we have to rely solely on a carnet of 10 Metro tickets I bought at a kiosk at the Saint-Paul Metro.

That tiny annoyance aside -- and we did get spoiled just swiping our Navigos again, and again and again) we headed back for one last stroll along the Seine. And more love locks.

I always enjoy wandering around the Musee du Plein Air along the left bank of the Seine; cool sculptures meant to intrigue and invite all kinds of stories. . .

We then passed over to the right bank and walked along the entrance to the Canal Saint-Martin and looked down onto the Bastille stop on line 1. Plus, we had no idea there was a large brasserie located along the marina.

We then walked around part of the Place Bastille and the 1830 memorial column. The column commemorates the 1830 revolution and its base contains the remains of more than 600 men and women who were killed during that crisis. Another 200 were subsequently added from the 1848 uprising.

Of course, the column itself stands very near to where the Bastille once stood. Shortly after the prison was torn down, Napoleon I arranged for a large wooden elephant to stand in the square, which it did for some years before rotting away.

Having worked up something of an appetite we decided to stop where we were and eat a bite of lunch. We chose the Cafe Les Phares on Place Bastille for no particular reason other than it was there and so were we. There was but one waiter who was incredibly brusque to everyone and still efficiently served dozens of people. Amazing.

My wife had a mediocre Croque Monsieur while I had the Madame, which is really just a Monsieur but with an egg on top. This Parisian variation of the grilled cheese sandwich has been one of our favorites for years and in fact one of our tests of a cafe's menu -- and at last it struck me why the "madame" has an egg on top. Do you get, too? Leave it to the French. . .

After a lazy luncheon we eased our way into the crowd and found our way to the number 5 line at Bastille, switching to the number 2 at Stalingrad and then getting off at Place Blanche, at the foot of Montmartre.

After skirting the several thousand people taking photos of the Moulin Rouge -- wouldn't Toulouse-Lautrec laugh himself silly at this picture -- we made our way a couple blocks over to  rue Caulaincourt, and followed it as it crossed Montmartre Cemetery and past one of the older entrances now closed, and eventually found our way to the summit of Montmartre.


who knew the train ran all the way to the top?

tourists trying to see Paris

a Wallace fountain

Place du Tertre

After walking back down the hill -- with no sign of any martyrs -- we made our way to the Metro and home to finish packing.

Refreshed and relaxed we left the apartment one more time and made our way down to the southern part of the city, to the 13th arr, the home of Paris' largest Asian communities. Specifically we were on the hunt for dinner at Sinorama, a restaurant specializing in Cantonese food and a Clotdile recommendation. We got off the Metro at Place d'Italie and strolled down avenue de Choisy and found our quarry tucked into a most unique angle at the corner of rue Doctor Magnan and avenue de Choisy,

Once inside we found ourselves in the midst of an incredibly large space filled with people working seriously at their food. And so would we.

Susie and I split a huge portion of haricot verts perfectly cooked with a light soy-based sauce and just a hint of sweetness. Susie had thin noodles with pork and I had pork with a wide-type of noodle that had the most unusual texture: it was smooth and melt-in-your mouth and very good indeed.

The food was wonderful and the service was spot on. The only thing was the very large and somewhat daunting menu. Plan to take your time and don't fear to ask questions.

who would have ever thought George Eastman would have a dental facility named after him?
Back outside the light was still strong in the night sky as we made our way back to the Metro and home. Our last evening as enjoyable and memorable as the day itself had been. Our final day as wonderful as our first.

Monday, May 27, 2013

May 26 Paris Le Pain Quotidian for lunch, visiting friends, Jardin du Luxembourg, and Moroccan for supper

We were so impressed with the Le Pain Quotidian where we had had coffee the other day that we wanted to try it for lunch and found one near our apartment at rue des Archives. Their business model appears to combine the friendliest of service with the tastiest of French food, all at a reasonable cost and in a uniquely cozy yet by no means intimate environment.

Fascinating. I had thin slices of French ham matched with a potato cheese dish; Susie had the quiche of the day.

After lunch we returned to Pain de Sucre to pick up a few sweet goodies to take to Val and Hubert's later for le gouter, afternoon tea some might call it I suppose. We took our time strolling back to the apartment and crashed for the afternoon. A nap was long overdue. . .

From home we headed for the Metro and Val and Hubert's home in the southwestern side of the city. We spent a lovely afternoon catching up with friends and, most importantly seeing their two little ones -- two new additions to their family since we saw them last, their precocious little girl and her incredibly relaxed younger brother.

Giggles, laughter, chatter and banter about everything and nothing  allowed the afternoon to slip quietly away, the only intrusion being the noise of the protestors a couple of blocks away rampaging in opposition to the recently passed same-sex law in France.

We bid adieu to Val, Hubert and their two children at just about the same time that the protest rally broke up. As we walked up Vaugirard in the direction of the Seine we found ourselves mingling with small groups of protestors carrying their flags depicting their idea of family  in tastefully understated colors.

The protestors we saw were nothing more than clutches of families acting as if they had just come from the Bois de Boulogne after an afternoon of picnicking or bicycling. Odd that just a half hour before they were all ranting at the top of their lungs, shrieking their anger over the fact that love is often found in the strangest of places.

Leaving the flag-bearers behind we soon passed through a small gate that still holds fond memories for us. It was through that portal that we first discovered the Jardin du Luxembourg in May of 2006 and have come to recognize it as one of the true safe havens in the city. We quickly found a couple of chairs and sat with the one idea only being to watch the world go by. That we did.

the gendarmes were out in force today: between the protest rally and the suicide protestor in Notre Dame
We left our perch and made our way across boulevard Saint-Michel and up rue Soufflot, skirting the Pantheon and stopped at one of the outdoor cafes ringing the Place Contrescarpe, just at the top end of the rue Mouffetard. Now we were people watching but with a glass of wine in hand.

We picked ourselves up out of our seats and casually strolled down rue Mouffetard, past familiar shops where we used to buy wine, cheese and produce. Reaching the bottom of the street we walked around the church of Saint-Medard and on to rue Monge, and down to boulevard Saint-Marcel. From there we walked toward our old apartment on rue Poliveau, remembering those summer days in 2006 when we first moved in to the neighborhood.

We had cast ourselves adrift then and in some ways we were adrift still after all this time. Certainly we were adrift that evening as we started a search for someplace to eat dinner. The sun was setting, the hour was getting late and it being Sunday many places were closed.

As we strolled back to Saint-Marcel Susie spied an awning on the other side of the street -- a giveaway for a restaurant or cafe. We walked over and although at first it looked dark sure enough we could see lights on so in we went.

And into a different world entirely.

Au P'tit Cahoua was Moroccan, the music North African, the servers smiling and friendly, and the food, as it turned out, was simply delicious (a tired, worn out word by now, I suppose). I had the couscous mixed grill (chicken, beef and Merguez sausage)all washed down with a Moroccan rose (Nawas). Huge portions -- I had no idea the couscous also came with a large bowl of broth packed with chunks of carrot and potato. The meal was tasty and nicely priced making this a true value indeed.

After dinner we made our way to the number 5 at Saint-Marcel and got off at Place Bastille, preferring to walk home from there.

Whew! How much longer can the good times last, we wondered?

Sunday, May 26, 2013

May 25 Flea market, tramways, canale testing, and Korean barbecue

After breakfast we headed over to the Metro and made our way to the southern edge of the city. Our goal this morning was to check out one of the city's two major flea markets, Marche aux Puces de la Porte de Vanves (the other much, much larger market is on the northern fringe of Paris, at Porte Clignancourt).

The day promised sun and we hoped to make the most of it. The walk from the Metro to the market itself was a bit of a puzzle, but fortunately it wasn't far and we sort of figured things out as we went.

Once we finished our roam around the Porte de Vanves market (and I had yet another vintage postcard of Pere-Lachaise tucked into my collection),  we opted to forgo the Metro for our next leg and instead took the tramway. These sleek "bus trains" run around much of the periphery of the city and are all part of the Metro-Bus system so our Navigos worked just fine.

From the tram to the Metro to Place Madeleine we were off to find Baillardran's pastry shop.  Noted for their canale we wanted to taste an "authentic" canale and see how they stacked up to the French Tarte's.

Frankly we were unimpressed. They were rather dry, quite tough and not terribly interesting in the least. Our friends, Parisians Val and Hubert explained later that, in Paris at any rate, customers ask for one of three specific levels of "doneness," so perhaps it was a communication issue. Still, I much prefer the soft, tender inside sweetness surrounded by a nice crisp caramelized exterior of the canales made by the French Tarte.

For dinner that evening we headed over to another Clotilde recommendation, a Korean restaurant on rue Vaugirard in the 15th: L'Arbe de Sel (we never did figure out the meaning of the name). Small and compact, with an incredibly friendly and fun server, the menu was a bit intimidating but the food was delicious.

From Korean to traditional French dessert, from the west side to central Paris. We left the 15th and took the Metro back to our neighborhood, walking to Place des Vosges and Carette's for a late night dessert of ice cream and coffee.