As I sit here in snowy Georgetown on January 4th, 2014, it seems it was much longer than 48 hours ago that I was still in Paris. I wrote earlier this week about my recommendations as to what to do (click here if you missed it)… here is what I really did.
I did indeed walk the streets of Paris, mostly under a slow but steady wintery drizzle. My first walk started at 29 Rue de Poitou, in the Marais, where the Hotel du Petit Moulin is located. This boutique hotel has much going for it – its location, in the heart of what I find to be the most artsy and interesting neighborhood of Paris (which is also quite centrally located); the fact that no two rooms are the same and that the interior design is the work of fashion genius Christian Lacroix; the service, which is delightful even for someone used to “American service;” and the fact that they have an “Honesty Bar” – a DIY bar where you can make yourself the cocktail of your choice, and where you are trusted to then let the front desk know exactly what you drank. (Room 402 is the best in the house).
From the Hotel du Petit Moulin, I walked to the Carousel du Louvre, to schlep my dead MacBook Air to the Apple store. Yes, my technology woes followed me to the very end of 2013, and yes, my MacBook Air did die. Given that this is my first Mac, this was also my first experience at the Genius Bar. It was an amazing experience. My tech was indeed a genius – a genius that spoke perfect French, and perfect English with the perfect French accent. Granted he wasn’t able to fix my computer… but that’s another story.
Side note: on the way from Hotel du Petit Moulin to Carousel du Louvre, I got to walk by a Christian Louboutin store… with a line at that. The type of thing you only see when you walk a city.
One thing that I forgot to mention in my Paris recommendations, which actually rings true in any city, is to try to have “apero” (the Swiss / French cocktails and finger foods gathering that comes after the afternoon and before dinner), or coffee, or anything, at a local’s home. Nothing tells more about a country as the opportunity to spend time seeing how people really live. In this case, I had an apero with champagne, foie gras, salmon, blinis – and confirmed that bubbles and fine foods are a indeed national passion.
After “apero” comes dinner. My mother, who if she were not Swiss would be Parisian (and sometimes thinks she is), recommended Chez Julien, on the river, tiny, and exquisite. Having made a dinner resa for 8 pm, which I thought was late, I was reminded of the fact that the Parisian dinner scene really doesn’t start picking up until 8:30 pm at the earliest. I still can’t decide if the company, the food, the location, or the décor was what made my evening. When you reserve, if you can get the table by the window, more power (and pleasure) to you!
I did have croissants, at least one every day when I was there. I re-discovered Café Charlot, a couple blocks from the Hotel du Petit Moulin, that serves a great croissant, and more – oeuf a la coque, freshly squeezed orange juice, home-made jams, and, of course, espresso so strong my “Americanized” stomach could barely bare it.
I did go back to the Musée Rodin. It was worth the wait in the rain, and remains my favorite museum in the world. I love too many of the pieces to pick one, but the Thinker always gets me. Bonus: seeing some pieces by Camille Claudel, Rodin’s lover, and two Van Goghs and a Monet at that.
Art makes me hungry… not far from the Musée Rodin, I found the Café de l’Esplanade, owned by the group that runs Hotel Costes. Amazing champagne, more foie gras, more salmon, more blinis, more Frenchness.
I walked some more, from the hotel to Notre Dame, crossing into Ile de la Cité, and leaving through Ile Saint Louis. Just being in the presence of this medieval cathedral was awe-inspiring, even perhaps faith-(re)inspiring.
Three amazing experiences to end my stay.
First, a New Year’s day lunch that consisted of shellfish, lobster, oysters, the traditional first of the year foods for France (and Switzerland). Lighter and colder than black-eyed peas, ham and cabbage, and almost just as lucky! Per the suggestion of the hotel concierge, my single New Year’s day meal was at Le Bar a Huitres, at Place des Vosges. Don’t go there if you are a meat eater. But do take a Louisianan there, just for comparisons-sake. The Signature platter and a Chablis, and my year is off to a great start.
On the walk home to the hotel (yes, it now feels like home, and yes, another walk), I can’t help but notice a wine store – open on January 1. I have to walk in, if only to support this act of pure entrepreneurship. La Carte des Vins is a treasure-trove. Open since 1998, the shopkeeper seems surprised when I ask him if he is open on every New Year’s Day. “Yes” he replies, “I am actually open every day.” His assistant, busy replenishing the shelves with champagne, nods his head in somewhat desolate agreement. There, I discover wines and champagnes I had never seen. Japanese whiskeys. And a bottle of Chartreuse, which in my mind is so New Orleans, from a never-heard brand. That has to come back with me to the US…
Finally, back in the hotel, I already have the blues about leaving Paris the following day. Nothing cures the blues like a great movie… tonight that movie is Midnight in Paris by Woody Allen. The movie takes me through Paris all over again, including the Musée Rodin and to various cafés. And indeed, I must concur, Paris is the most beautiful under the rain…