When Kris and I planned our European trip several months ago, we decided that a visit to the D-Day museum in Caan, France and a pilgrimage to the Normandy beaches would be a fitting conclusion to our six weeks on the continent. After all, had it not been for the dedication, heroism and sacrifice of the Greatest Generation during the 1940’s, who knows what Europe would be like now in the 2000’s?
Somewhere between Slovenia and Munich, however, we began to think that perhaps we’d rather spend the last few days of our trip in one place…limit our long distance driving…and enjoy some time in one location before heading home. We were due to arrive at Hotel Brittanique in Paris Thursday, October 9…spend a couple of nights there…and fly home Saturday morning. At the last minute we found that Hotel Brittanique had room for us three days early…and we grabbed it. World War II history would have to wait for another time.
I mentioned in an earlier post what a great location the hotel is situated. Our friends Sue and Mark had stayed there before and loved it. We understand why. Charming accommodations. Great neighborhood. Within walking distance across the Seine to the Left Bank. Near the Marais, Notre Dame, Louvre, Rue De Rivoli…easy access to the Metro and many wonderful restaurants and cafes.
We spent 10 days in Paris in 1972. The passage of time created foggy memories. We were ready to explore Paris once again, with a fresh perspective.
In short, Paris is incredible. Despite the social and economic problems facing France…Paris is alive with culture, history, food, traffic, parks, sounds, colors, grandeur. Parisians fill street-side cafes all day long and late into the evening…visiting, reading, eating, sipping. Kris and I believe this is what Parisians do to entertain themselves rather than plop down on sofas at home like we do in the States to watch crappy TV sitcoms or SportsCenter. People watching in Paris is better than anything on the tube in prime time. Guaranteed.
Paris is a huge city. It’s avenues and boulevards are laid out on an expansive level plain which stretches for kilometer after kilometer. On this fabric it’s historic buildings, monuments and parks are on a scale so large one feels incidental to the perspective created. Perhaps that is what architects of aristocracy strived for centuries ago. Create an environment so breathtaking…so grand…that the masses will be humbled, yet grateful to be within it’s bounds.
Our mornings in Paris began with delicious pastry and tea at Paris Baguette…a small neighborhood bakery just around the corner from our hotel. Besides the wonderful treats to eat…the shop also had FAST, free wi-fi…a perfect remedy to the terrible connection we had at the hotel. The staff at PB was cheery and fun…greeting everyone who came through the door with a smiling, upbeat “Bon Jour!” Good pastry will do that.
Then each day we walked. And walked. And walked some more. We window shopped. We found cool places to sit, nibble, sip and watch. We discovered little out-of-the-way neighborhoods to explore. On a warm, perfect Friday we ventured down the Rue De Rivoli past the Louvre…up the Champs Elysees to the Arc d’ Triomphe and back to our hotel via Boulevard St. Germain. Over six hours, we walked EIGHT MILES. So much fun.
One day we took the Metro to the Opera area…and the Galerie Lafayette…an extraordinary experience. The Galerie is the ultimate Paris shopping destination. In our case…not to buy…just to look. The merchandising and presentation is mind-blowing. For the better part of two days we walked through the Marais District…a blend of large department stores, small unique shops, wonderful cafes, green parks and residential apartment neighborhoods. Sights and sounds beyond compare.
And of course there was terrific food. For fun during the day…charcuterie…pommes frites….Croque Monsieur.
At night we’d get serious.
Our neighborhood was like a culinary goldmine. The first night we discovered La Robe Et Le Palais…a cozy wine restaurant just around the corner from the hotel. Decor? Shabby modern. Very cool. The late great Curtis Mayfield was on the house sound system when we arrived…and I knew this was THE place. (Later Otis, Sly, James Brown and a slew of Memphis Stew. Our server was in charge of the music. Plugs his iPod in before his shift and cranks it up.)
We were asked if we had a reservation (of course not)…but a deuce was found. Menus presented. Plates and wines translated and described. A bottle of tasty, warm red for our table. On the fruity side. Kris enjoyed salmon…Beef tartare for me. And no wimpy, accompanying Surgeon General-like warnings on the menu like, “Eating undercooked meat can be harmful to your health”. Screw that. Shut up and eat. It is a given you WILL TRUST your food in the hands of French kitchen experts. Loved the place so much we ate there three nights.
We also had a delicious, fun meal one evening at an Italian restaurant off Rue De Rivoli called Fellini. Simple yet satisfying salads, rich pastas and personable, fun staff. Lots of terrific memories here. Kris learned how to fold the fancy table napkins here so well in between courses…she was almost hired. Oh, darn. No visa.
Our last five days and nights in Paris blew right past us. What a great time. We are so happy we chose to spend the last days of our trip there. The time we spent in Paris encouraged us for a return to Europe at some point in the future.
We hope to be so fortunate.