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TRIP REPORT - OCTOBER 2000
by..... Fred Melnick
This was a much more relaxed trip than we've taken before. We've been to France enough times not to go tearing around to try and see everything. We did a lot of easy strolling, a lot of sitting and watching the world go by. The flight from Newark to Charles de Gaulle was uneventful, the best kind. Well, almost uneventful. There was a group of guys drinking like crazy. We found out afterwards that they had brought on bottles of liquor (illegal) and hidden them from the attendants. So they spent a lot of time making a lot of noise until the head flight attendant got them to quiet down. A couple of them got real sick towards the end of the flight. I mean real sick, and they "real sicked" all over themselves and the area around them.
We got in on time, which was early for us as we had a 3 hour wait for our flight to Nice. I felt like I was on a bus trip. We took a bus from the plane to the terminal, then another bus from the terminal to another terminal for the Nice flight, then a bus from that terminal to the plane for Nice. We were in early enough to make an earlier flight to Nice but Air France doesn't allow that. Years ago, before Air France took them over, Air Inter would let you switch from one flight to another without any problem. We did take the opportunity to have our first baguette with jambon and fromage (ham and cheese). I always look forward to that.
Finally it was on to Nice where we picked up a car and drove to Cannes. This was the first time in 19 trips that we got an automatic. I really didn't want one - I like driving shift - but that's all they had. So, speaking only for Avis at the Nice Airport, they only have automatics now, a far cry from years ago. We were staying at an apartment in Cannes provided by friends of ours right on the Croisset along the beach, a block from the Carlton. Not a bad way to stay in Cannes. They also provided us with a parking garage which was super. Parking there can be a pain.
After sleeping for a couple of hours, showering and dressing, we walked over to the restaurant for dinner. We ate at Felix, an extremely lovely restaurant with wonderful food and, in the off season, very moderately priced for a place like that at 220 FF for the menu. I was surprised at that since this was the time of the Cannes Television Festival which is like the Cannes Film Festival without the topless starlets. They haven't learned yet. All the L.A. people were there together with other T.V. people from around the world, everyone pushing their shows.
Our second day we walked the old town in the morning, then took a ferry over to the island of Saint Marguerita, the island famous for the imprisonment of the Man in the Iron Mask. We had lunch right on the water, then walked to the fort and prison where he was kept. Many actors have played that part - Richard Chamberlain, Gerard Depardieu, others, but for me the Man in the Iron Mask will always be Louis Hayward. I still remember the scene at the end when he stands over his brother who imprisoned him and said: "The pendulum of life swings in one direction, then slowly swings back the other way. The pendulum is swinging for you, my brother." For dinner, we drove to a restaurant, La Luna, recommended by our friends. It was about a 15 minute drive which took 45 minutes because we couldn't find the darn place. But dinner was good. We sat outside and enjoyed it.
Day three we walked to the train station to catch a train to Nice. I didn't want to drive there and have the hassle of parking. For years I've been telling people to be sure and validate their ticket before boarding the train to avoid getting in trouble and having to pay another fare. OK, so I forgot. Luckily we had a very friendly conductor with a good sense of humor. We had a good laugh and he didn't whip me too hard. We walked the old town, then headed into the Marche des Fleurs which is the big market there, great to walk around. We had socca from Madame Theresa's famous socca stand, walked some more, then had lunch outdoors in the market. From there it was back to the train station and to Cannes.
Now, in the apartment there was a washing machine, a combination washer/dryer. The previous day we spent time on and off trying to get it to work. This thing had more dials, buttons, cycles, settings, programs than any machine I've ever seen. We just couldn't get it to work and the door locked so we couldn't open it. The morning we were going to Nice I told the apartment house concierge and he sent up a young woman, who spoke only French, to show us how to use it. It took about 15 minutes and suddenly it started. We left for Nice. When we got back 6 hours later the clothes were swimming in water and the door was locked. I went down to the concierge and told him so he sent up another young lady. She couldn't figure it out and left but said she would send a friend who spoke English. The friend came and spoke English but didn't know how to work washing machines. She left. Finally I sat down with the manual, and little by little figured the thing out.
When I wasn't trying to figure out the washing machine, I was busy keeping track of all the keys and electronic gadgets I carried. There was the key to the apartment house, a key to the upper lock on the apartment door and a key to the lower lock on the apartment door, a little plastic thigamagig that I would hold against a plate on the pedestrian entrance door to the garage which would unlatch the door so we could get into the lobby, a key to insert in the elevator before pressing the button to take the elevator down to the correct level where our parking spot was, the alarm thing with buttons to open the car, then the car key, then another whatchmacallit with buttons to control the opening and closing of the garage door. I lived in fear that I would lose one of them and the whole process would break down. Dinner was at a place in old Cannes. Would have been OK but spoiled by a group at the next table from England - loud, loud, loud, especially one guy who wouldn't shut up. I wanted to tell him to stop talking and let someone else have a chance to talk.
Day 4- Drove to St Tropez. We tried doing that a couple of years ago but a flat tire kept us from getting there. It's quite a pretty town. The old town is nice to walk through, the beach area picturesque. We had lunch right by the beach and it was the worst food we've ever had in France. We really couldn't believe it. This in the high rent district, on the water, of this expensive resort town. Stopped in Mougin which is a beautiful little hill town. We decided to have dinner at Le Feu Follet the following night so made reservations.Dinner was back at Felix.
Day 5 - drove to Vence - just a great, great town. Nice shops, fountains, pretty square. Walked, bought some Provencal tablecloths and place mats for the kids. Had lunch outdoors in the square, an incredible Calzone with mushroom, cheese, tomato, ham. Stopped in Tourette sur Loup. Anybody who goes to the Nice/Cannes area and doesn't drive up into the mountains to the villages up there is really missing something. On the way back we went to Antibes but it was so mobbed we drove out and planned to return the next day. For dinner we drove back to Mougin. We almost didn't get to the restaurant. We drove around for 35 minutes trying to park. It was on our last attempt, after which we were going to return to Cannes, that someone pulled out and we got the spot. Dinner at Le Feu Follet was truly magnificent.
Day 6 - We drove straight to Antibes. Walked and walked the old town and the harbor and saw the most enormous private boats ever. Must have been 100 footers. Drove back into the hills , stopped in St Paul de Vence, walked and had lunch on a terrace overlooking the whole countryside and then visited a few towns I lost track of. Outside of Grasse we stopped at a perfume factory, I think Marinard. Apparently they make the perfume for Lalique. Since they don't sell to the public in stores they don't do any advertising or marketing and are able to sell at almost 1/2 what Lalique would charge, advertising being the largest expense for those perfume companies.For dinner we went to the Relais Martinez. It was really a fun evening. On Friday nights they have a combo and singer so we dined and danced. When they broke into some swing, Bobbi and I showed them how to do a Lindy. Food was excellent, although a somewhat limited menu.A very lovely place
Day 7 - Drove to Menton. Bobbi bought some more Provencal table stuff and grandson started his collection of clothes which would grow and grow throughout the trip. The French really have the cutest clothing for little kids. He'll definitely be the cutest kid in Ann Arbor, and I'm not prejudiced at all. For dinner we returned to Felix and had another wonderful dinner. We made the observation that in Cannes everybody was dressed beautifully for dinner- much more so than in Paris.
Day 8 - It was up and out to the airport for our flight to Paris. I turned in all my keys, button things, whatchmacallits, thigamagigs, and headed out. Seven days, seven big dinners and seven bottles of wine, and almost all under sunny, cloudless skies. People we met in Paris told us that the following week they had almost all rain in that area. Go figure the weather.
Since we had a choice, we flew into Orly - closer, faster, cheaper to Paris. I think $25 by taxi to our hotel. And lo and behold - taxis are starting to accept credit cards; some, anyway. For a change we arrived in the rain. So what else is new? Checked in the hotel and went straight to Galeries Lafayette. It was the last day of their big week long sale and Bobbi didn't want to be shut out. Our grandson continued to make out very well. Picked up a couple of Cartes Orange for the week, went over to the Opera Garnier to pick up our tickets for the ballet the next day but we were told to pick them up anytime within an hour of the start. Rue de la Paix is really getting a facelift with the building of a new Hyatt Hotel, lots of nice shops going in. Should be quite the street when it's finished. Shower and dinner finished our first Paris day. I'll cover restaurants at the end.
Day 9 - Went to the Champs Elysees area and walk a whole lot, ending up at Guy Savoy for lunch. This was only the 2nd time we've gone to a really special place, the other being lunch at Taillevent for my 60th, and a large lunch was fine as we were going to the ballet that night and wouldn't be eating until around 10:30 at night. This one I'll talk about now. It's on the top-notch list but we were very disappointed. Food was great but the ambiance not at all. It's designed with a bunch of small rooms fully open to a long center hall. Each room held 4 or 5 tables. The food is brought from the kitchen to serving tables in the hall just outside each room, then the waiter picks it up and delivers it to the table. There's so much hustle and bustle and rushing back and forth by the waiters, trying to avoid each other, picking up and putting down, it really is distracting, especially if you're facing the hall. There must have been 8 people out there trying to maneuver past each other. Just not conducive to a lovely meal which at those prices, which were out of sight, you should be getting. I can only compare it to Taillevent which was worlds better.
We split, with Bobbi going shopping (guess who didn't follow Bobbi's rule and got soaked when the rain started). I wanted to check my e-mail so I went to the cyber cafe near the hotel but their computers were all down. By the way, New Works no longer has AOL loaded machines so while you can get and send e-mail you can't get to the boards. We showered and dressed for the ballet and went over to the Garnier, picked up our tickets (not bad - 3rd row center) and settled ourselves in for "Raymonda." Just to look around at the interior, the chandeliers, the seats, the ceiling were a treat. As for the ballet itself, I'm not a real ballet lover by a long shot - I really do it for Bobbi - but that was the most beautiful time I've ever spent at any show anytime. Extraordinarily beautiful. Dinner was at Chez Clement. We swam over - the rain was coming down in buckets - and enjoyed good old meat and mashed potatoes.
Day 10 - Went to the market at Maubert Mutualite. I remembered to bring forks so we bought a baguette and a few slices of herring which I had the seller cut into small pieces. What a great breakfast. Sampled some pate from the same pate seller we see every trip and always gives us some even though we never buy. To make sure we could make it through to lunch we picked up a pain aux raisins. For the next 10 days I set out to sample them wherever we went to find the best one in Paris and after eating them from all kinds of boulangeries/patisseries I decided that the best one was the one I was eating at the moment. Mmmm, they are good. Walked up to Luxembourg and found the Cafe Orbital which is probably the best Cyber Cafe. They have AOL loaded machines, English keyboards, a lot of machines, and the special telephone lines so they are fast, fast, fast - instantaneous. Really a pleasure. Checked some e-mail and sent a message to the board while Bobbi sat on a comfortable couch and fell asleep. Then hopped a bus and went to Brasserie de Ile St Louis for salad, choucroute and a Riesling - heaven. I said hello to Gino, one of the waiters, whose photograph I saw in a book on Paris as I was sitting in J. Pederman's in Manchester, Vermont during the summer. He's the most pleasant, smiling man. From there we did the Ile St Louis walk, then Cite, Notre Dame - as beautiful as when it was uncovered earlier in the year after extensive cleaning up. Then to the left bank - Bobbi bought some compacts to give as gifts from a book seller on the Seine. She was feeling very tired so she went back to the hotel while I went to the Hotel de Ville to see if they had any interesting exhibitions. You should always check it out when you're in Paris. I took one quick look and knew we had to come back - beautiful paintings of old Paris. Worked my way back to the hotel picking up some drinks and chocolates along the way. Dinner was at the apartment of Paris friends. They're the ones who stayed at our house a few days when they came to New York. On the way we stopped to say hello to Chris (CohaChris) and three other ladies who had gotten together for dinner, one of whom was MnMnm or something like that - sorry, I forget exactly. After dinner walked back......in the rain.
Day 11 - Walked into the Intercontinental and the refurbished Meurice just to see them - the Meurice too glitzy for our taste but I'm sure people are impressed. Walked the Tuileries, the shopping mall under the Louvre, then to the Olympia Brasserie to meet Chris for lunch. Then we said goodby - she was getting ready to leave for Beijing, world traveler and adventurer that she is. We walked some more, then went to meet Thomas, one of the waiters at Cote Seine who has a new apartment on Blvd des Capucines near the Opera Garnier and wanted us to see it. It's a beautiful place on the top floor with wonderful views of Paris. After an hour or so we went back to the hotel to meet Bruno, our taxi driver, for our traditional drink at the cafe across the street. We were at Cote Seine that night, together with a man named Gary who gave his wife a surprise birthday party (I won't give the number). I helped him arrange for the present he was giving her, a ring, to be brought out on a plate and uncovered as Happy Birthday was sung. It was a lot of fun with the cake brought out with a sparkler in it and the music playing Happy Birthday.
Day 12 - Remember - you read it here first. Apparently there is a gang of thieves in France specializing in stealing toilet seats. That country has more missing toilet seats than anyplace I've been. Anyway, we took the RER to a nearby town, St Germain-en-Laye, walked the town which is a lovely little town, saw the chateau which was a big disappointment - great from the outside but all modern inside - had lunch, and returned to Paris. Walked rue St Honore - I wanted to check out a new restaurant to try that I had read about and sounded very good. We should have taken the metro. We arrived too late. By the time we got there they were closed. Out of business closed.
Day 13 - Went to the Buci Market for coffee and whatever. Made the mistake of walking into Paul which opened there - they're opening all over Paris. It's just like a NY cafeteria. Then up rue de l'Odeon. Bobbi picked up a small formal handbag at a small shop. After lunch went to La Samariataine, then to the Hotel de Ville to see that art exhibit. A beautiful, wonderful exhibit. If you're going to be in Paris before the middle of December, stop in - it's free. Always check out the Hotel de Ville for their exhibits.
Day 14 - Funny thing happened. The previous day my coupon semaine stopped working in the metro turnstiles. I handed it back to the cashier, she checked it and gave me another. Today the same thing happened and they gave me another. Quite a coincidence. I finally figured out that I had been keeping it in the same pocket with my little message recorder and apparently the electronics were wiping out the magnetic stripe on the ticket. Also saw something today that I had never seen in 19 trips. We stopped for coffee in a brasserie on Blvd Madeleine and there was a sign saying - "Les toilettes seulement pour les clients" (bathrooms for customers only). Hope that's not a sign of things to come. Went to Bon Marche and I bought a couple of shirts - first time ever. I found out I was a perfect size 40, sleeves and all. Got some ties also. For lunch we went to a crepe place, Cafe Med on Ile St Louis. They offered a crepe called a Galette Complet with ham, cheese, tomato, and a barely boiled egg. Well, damn the salmonella, full speed ahead. It was out of this world delicious. I mean the best. Then walked, walked, walked.
Day 15 - Went to Raspail Market and gorged ourselves on hors d'oeuvres, potato pancakes, pate samples (yup, same pate stand). Had lunch outdoors at the brasserie in Marche de Buci. One observation I made was that more and more people are sleeping on the streets than ever before. There are little conclaves of 3 or 4 people sleeping in groups. Very sad. We were totally pooped so we went back to the hotel and sacked out for the afternoon.
Day 16 - Rain coming down. Went to Alesia area to walk and lunch. Our younger son lived with a family there in '89 when he allegedly studied at the American University of Paris. Several times over the years we had tried to contact the family but couldn't. Then we found out that after the husband had a second child with his mistress, his wife divorced him and moved out of the area. We continued our walk after lunch for a couple of hours, then got tired of sloshing in the rain so we hopped a metro to Galeries Lafayette and stayed indoors.
Day 17 - SUNSHINE. Real sunshine. Took a bus to Luxembourg Gardens and spent a lot of time there, just walking, looking, sitting. It was as beautiful as I've ever seen it. The flowers, the sun, the people - it all came together. We watched them pulling out the old flowers and putting in the new. This was going on all over Paris in the parks. We finally pulled ourselves away and went back to Brasserie de Ile St Louis for a delicious cassoulet. Then walked to the Marais and did the whole area. Didn't see any problems at all in the Jewish area in spite of the daily reports on CNN about Israel. Life seemed to be going on as usual. Went to the Tuileries and sat at the pool and enjoyed the beautiful sunshine.The expanse of some areas of Paris is truly amazing. The Tuileries, Luxembourg, Palais Royal, Place de la Concorde, around the Etoile - beautiful wide open spaces. I guess we have Haussmann and Napoleon to thank for that.
Day 18 - Went to Musee d'Orsay. Saw the special Manet exhibit which didn't thrill me but that's personal taste. Of course the rest of the museum is incredible. It was chilly and raining and we decided to go to Cote Seine for their onion soup which to me is the best and is a meal in itself, and the great bread. There were 33 people in the restaurant and one waiter (Thomas). I couldn't believe how he took care of all those people. Thomas greeted and sat people, answered the phone for reservations, took the orders, served the food, brought the drinks, opened the wine bottles, cleaned the tables, took care of the bills and payment - 1 person for 33 customers and nobody waited for anything. Can you imagine that in the states? Here it would take 3 or 4 people to serve, a host or hostess, a cashier. The waiters over there are so professional, and they all do everything for all tables. None of this "I'll get your waiter for you, the busboy will bring your........" Maybe that's because they know they own 15% of the restaurant's income. Bobbi asked if she could watch the chef cook and he said sure and back to the kitchen she went. I sat at the table and watched the wonderful scene. Dining in France is such a great event. After awhile of watching all this food I got hungry again so I had a plate of smoked salmon and tomato. Bobbi was enthralled by the chef's cooking and stayed back there, unfortunately one creme brulee too long. So I ate a lot more than I had intended. It was lousy out so we walked across Pont Neuf to La Samaritaine and just walked around inside, then back to the hotel. We were going to dinner with friends from Australia who we met in Paris a bunch of years ago and who have an apartment in Paris and I was happy to receive a call from them that they would pick us up and drive us.
Day 19 - Spent the morning at the kitchen stores - La Bovida, A. Simon, then the Montorgueil Market. I think that was the first time we were there when it wasn't raining. After lunch we just had to return to the Hotel de Ville to see those paintings again. Then it was walk, walk, walk - up, down, and all around. Went to Palais Royal - beautiful - the sun was shining again. Then went over to the Brasserie de Castiglione to meet my brother and sister-in-law, who were in Paris for a couple of days, for a drink.
Day 20 - Bruno picked us up on schedule and it was au revoir. But I set a record a record this time - it only took 3 days to make reservations and get tickets for February.
These are the restaurants in Paris we went to for dinner. There's more information about them and others in my Guide to Paris.
45, quai des Grands Augustins
Still our favorite. We love it. Always enjoyable, fun, very good food.
Les Bouchons de Francois Clerc
12, rue de l'Hotel Colbert
Excellent restaurant, fine food, wines at cost. We always go back and always love it. To get a fine Margaux or St Emilion without any mark-up in price is great.
Le P'Tit Troquet
28, rue de L'Exposition
The same charming, gentle, lovely, sweet little place it has always been with really good food.
4, rue de La Soudiere
This is a very wonderful, small, local family run restaurant. Very good food, very French.
31, rue St Dominique
Very good restaurant. In a very quiet and beautiful residential area on rue St Dominique; the eastern end near the central area, not by the Eiffel Tower.
17 bd Capucines
Very casual. Many locations. Good oysters, a grill of chicken, ribs and mashed potatoes. Lots of other dishes.
27, quai Voltaire
A brasserie looking place that turns into a very nice looking restaurant at night. We found the food good but we had trouble ordering, especially the entree. Most of the choices just weren't to our taste. But the limited choices we could make were good. We were left with a sour taste in our mouths because of a very stupid maitre d'. Our friend ordered the soup, took one spoonful, and said it was much too salty. She told the waiter and he asked if he could get her something else. She said yes and received something else. When the bill came, the soup was on the bill. We told the maitre d' what had happened and that the soup should have been taken off the bill. He said he had taken the soup back to the kitchen, tasted it and it wasn't salty and she had to pay for it. After her husband screamed a bit (fully conversant in French) he very begrudgingly took it off the bill but made it very uncomfortable. So for an 80FF item on a 2,200FF bill he may have lost us as customers. Time will tell. I know he lost them. No menu.
see Day 9
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