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TRIP REPORT - MARCH 2004 Part 1

by..... Fred Melnick

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PART 1

Boy, what a great trip. Beautiful weather after first couple of days when there was some drizzle, then lots of cloudless, sunny skies, great food and wine, lots of relaxed strolling all over Paris. Only downside was on the way home talking to a bunch of soldiers from Iraq flying home for a 16 day furlough. They had to fly from Iraq to Kuwait to Amsterdam to Paris to NY, then on to their home airport. I would have thought the military would make it easier for them. Hearing about how lousy it is there, how rough, and these were just young kids. Kind of took the edge off the great food and wine and everything else.

Anyhow this was the first time we went with other people - Bob and Ruby, old friends from dental school. We had some trepidation but it turned out fine.

Paris has gotten expensive with some changes. Prices are up all over, restaurants are charging more, some have eliminated the prix-fixed menu and just have a la carte, others went from three courses to two. Not all have changed but enough have to make it noticeable. Of course, the drop in the dollar doesn't help but the French are feeling the pinch also. We tried more new places than ever and there were no disappointments

On the plus side, the city appeared much cleaner than in the previous few years and very little grafitti. Smoking is waaaaaay down. We couldn't believe how few smokers we encountered. Of course, Murphy's law is in effect so if there's one smoker he'll be sitting next to you. Some restaurants have actually gone completely "non fumeur." What a pleasure. I remember years ago having to walk out of some cafes during a meal to get some fresh air and clear the eyes.

Air pollution is also way down. Slowly the unleaded gas only cars are taking over, they're running cleaner, and we were able to sit outdoors by busy streets without eyes tearing and choking.

It's now uncommon to find a restaurant that does not have an English menu or English translation on the French menu rather than the other way around.

Dog poop on the streets is not nearly as common as it once was. They have instituted programs to make people aware (even the French have had it with the stuff). Love your dog, hate the poop. Many areas have small plastic bags available for the taking to clean up the stuff.

While there are still beggars on the streets, we didn't see a single one with a drugged out baby and there seemed to be lot less of them.

Unfortunately, the fashions just aren't there anymore. Time was, we saw great fashions on people, beautifuly put-together women with great outfits impeccably groomed. That's kind of rare nowadays, something I really miss. What a shame. That was one of the great delights of Paris.

Our plane left Newark around 6:00 Saturday night so we landed very early and hit the hotel at 8:00 AM Sunday, we being Bobbi, myself, and our friends Bob and Ruby who had never been out of the U.S. before. Getting a taxi for 4 took no time at all. By lunch time we had bought our Carte Orange passes and carnets, and museum passes for our friends at the Opera Metro, walked through the Tuileries and showed our friends the Pyramid and Louvre from the outside, took the metro to the market at the Bastille and walked it, walked through the Marais which was quiet at that early time, then Place des Voges, beautiful as always, walked onto Cite and saw Notre Dame but on Sunday it's pretty crowded so you really can't see much inside with the huge crowd and the middle being blocked off for mass. Then back to Ile St Louis for lunch at Caf Med, a favorite lunch spot of ours. Great galettes, a nice Sancerre what's to be bad? Within a couple of hours of landing at CDG our friends were right in the thick of Parisien life. We walked a bit more, then went back to the hotel to unpack and crash until dinner which was at the Bistro de 17eme and really wonderful. After the 1st day Bob and Ruby felt like they had done a week's worth of touring. The "Whirlwind Tour of Paris" had officially begun.

Monday we took the RER (wanted to show them how to navigate the RER) to CDG Etoile to see the Arc, then walked the Champs Elysees to Place de la Concorde, then La Madeleine, then to Olympia which is a brasserie on Blvd Madeleine for lunch. Love their salads. We started out to Sacre Coeur but it started drizzling so we figured we'd hold off for a different day. Walked down to Pigalle - our friends were going to the Moulin Rouge in a couple of days and I wanted to show them where and how to get there. A stop at Monoprix for chocolates and Bobbi getting some stuff for the grandchildren (what else is new?), then went back to the hotel for my usual routine a nap, shower, and dinner which was at La P'tit Troquet, a wonderful place with wonderful food and wonderful Dominique.

Tuesday Bobbi and Ruby had hairdresser appointments so we left them in the hands of Daniel (recommended by a friend a couple of years ago and Bobbi really liked him) and Bob and I headed off. Checked out Fauchons in place de la Madeleine. A few years ago they closed their restaurant downstairs and now it's a huge wine store really beautiful. They opened another store close by in la place and walking around Paris we found a lot of Fauchons have opened. Apparently they bought out Flo and are setting up lots of Fauchons around the vcuty. Showed Bob the art nouveau (or is it belle epoque? I never remember the difference) public bathroom next to the church. It's been cleaned up but I don't think it's as art nouveau (belle epoque?) as it had been years ago. Checked out the new Galeries Lafayette Home Store across the street from G.L. where Marks and Spence used to be.

Hopped the metro to Ile St Louis no matter how many times I cross Pont Marie I always get a thrill. Then to Notre Dame, this time very quiet and we spent a bit of time there trying to figure out how they built it. From there to Brasserie d'Ile St Louis for choucroute and a Riesling. Quel dejeuner magnifique. Gino is still there. Nicest, friendliest guy, always with a smile. He used to be a waiter and we've known him for 20 years. Now he's the manager. From there to the left bank and visited the Sorbonne although we couldn't get into the building as we used to. Lots of security, have to show I.D. Walked the St Germain area, then took a bus back and introduced Bob to Angelina and the Chocolat Africain. He loved it. I had tea I can't drink their hot chocolate anymore.

Dinner was at Caf de la Paix where we were all guests of Serge and Jean Claude, the old owners of Cote Seine. Loved every minute and if you're looking for a bit of a special evening without getting into the really high priced restaurants, this place is beautiful, elegant, very widely spaced tables, delicious food and wine. Cost was 39 euro per person for the menu which I thought was a tremendous value. Whenever we go out with them, I'm always amazed that we can spend a few hours together talking, with them speaking no English and me a limited French.

Wednesday Bob and Ruby started their 3 day museum pass so we only saw them at breakfast and dinner. Bobbi and I went to La Samaritaine they're trying to discourage people from going to the roof top just for the view by having a big sign "Customers of La Terrasse Only" or something like that. Not speaking good English I didn't notice it.

We met our friend Veronique for lunch. She and Arnaud are in the process of moving to Nantes, hopefully just temporarily. We ate at a local place near their apartment, La Frigate, near the Musee d'Orsay and it was so good we decided to go there for dinner the next night as the six of us were getting together.

Dinner was at Bistro 7eme and it was OK. Cheap 17 euro for a 3 course menu. For the price it was fine.

If you would like to have an article of yours appear here, send it along to me. The standard incredible offer remains. If chosen, your name will be entered in a lottery to win 50 used and utterly useless metro tickets.
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