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TRIP REPORT MARCH 2005

by Fred Melnick

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Day one, Sunday:

This was our 25th trip to Paris and was the absolute best weather-wise. Sunny and clear almost everyday, about 2 hours of drizzle one morning out of 11 days. Temps ranged from around 50' to 70'. We actually arrived on Sunday in BRILLIANT SUNSHINE. Getting through the visa check was very fast. They barely glanced at the passports and the line moved very quickly; they used to examine them and it took forever. From touchdown to arrival at the Mansart Hotel was 1 hour 20 minutes. I love returning to the same place (when I'm happy there). It's like coming home, we get greeted by everyone. Except for our first trip, we've stayed there every time since 1984 when it was called the Hotel de Calais.

As is our tradition, and we love traditions, we dropped the bags and walked up to the Opera Metro station to get our "coupon semaine" tickets to start on Monday. We've kept the same Carte Orange packets for many years. Then walked down to and through the Tuileries, up rue de Rivoli to Hotel de Ville (no exhibits unfortunately) ending up on Ile St Louis at Café Med for lunch of Galettes. These are open crepes with ham, cheese, egg and a pitcher of white wine is perfect with them. Then back to the hotel for a serious nap of around 3 hours. We find this puts us back on track sleep wise.

Then shower and dinner with friends from back home who now live in Florida and overlapped our trip by a day. Restaurants at the end.

Day two, Monday:

Walked up to Galeries Lafayette while awaiting arrival of Bobbi's brother and his wife, Sam and Audrey who were joining us for the trip. In Galeries they had taken out the whole downstairs which had been crystal, Lalique, Baccarat, etc and made the whole floor a very funky clothing shop for those, well, who like to dress funky. Colored lights, rock music, Britney Spears garb – a 180 degree change from what Galeries had before. Teenagers would love this place.

Went back to hotel to meet Sam and Audrey who had just arrived and went for a light lunch, then walked the Madeleine area. Audrey said "what time is cocktails?" Since the Melnick tour strives to keep clients happy, that began our regular routine of 5:00 sitting on our balcony with wine, cheese and crackers. We got to know the people working in the office buildings across the street and in the Hyatt Hotel next to them, and we would toast each other many times.

On the way for dinner we passed Bistro du 7eme. Used to be very inexpensive but they eliminated their menu and it's all a la carte and much more money.

Day three, Tuesday:

Went to Notre Dame and lit a candle for our friends' daughter who is fighting cancer. We lit many candles in many churches this trip. Then walked through all of Saint Germaine, perusing the shops along the way and ending up at a local restaurant on rue de Bac and the Seine where Bobbi and Audrey were meeting our Paris friend Veronique for lunch.

Sam and I took off and walked back to have lunch outside at a café on rue St Andre des Arts. Always a great scene there. From there to Luxembourg Gardens to sit and breathe it all in. The expanse of Paris's open spaces and the quiet always amazes me.

Day four, Wednesday:

Said goodby to the wives as they left to have their hair done. We took books to the Tuileries and sat and read. On the way back to join Bobbi and Audrey at the hotel we picked up sandwiches and salads and we all ate on our balcony. We went to place des Voges, which seems to get prettier every year, and then walked the whole area, all around the Marais. Found the restaurant Thomas works at but he was off.

To Arc de Triomphe. Audrey and Sam went up, we didn't. Then walked the Champs Elysees, Avenue Montaigne, then back to the hotel for the daily 5:00 meeting of the minds….and the wine, cheese and crackers. Sam also introduced us to the fact that a slice of cheese goes very well together with a slice of apple or pear.

On the way to dinner, while walking past the Hotel Westminster, a bunch of black guys came out with photographers snapping away. Sam, who is 9 years younger than me and has clients in the music business, said "that's 50 Cent" or maybe he said "50 Cents" or something like that ( I know it wasn't 50 Euro). Heck, the only groups I know are the Four Aces, the Ames Brothers, Mills Brothers, and others like that. They got into a van and another similar van with women in it followed as they drove off.

On the way back in the metro, four guys got on and started checking everyone's passes or tickets. Hold on to those tickets! Dinner was to be at Aux Trois Bourriques but when we got there it was dark and the door locked, so we found another place. Found out later they had a problem in the kitchen but they should have put up a sign on the door explaining.

Day five, Thursday

Went to Bastille and walked the great market there. Extends up on Blvd Richard Lenoir. Then the whole Bastille area and over to Café CrŹme near place des Voges where Thomas works to have lunch. Had the best salad I've ever had – La Salade Venus. It was great seeing him; we've known him for almost 20 years. Met him when he started working at Cote Seine and we became very friendly. The biggest mistake the guy who bought Cote Seine from owner Serge made was not giving Thomas a piece of it, then leaving and letting him take care of it.

Took the RER across to the Eiffel Tower and did that whole area. Took a couple of buses to Bon Marche for some shopping; not buying, just shopping. This was St Patrick's Day and leaving the hotel we passed Kitty O'Shea's, the most famous Irish pub in Paris which is almost directly across the street. What a scene! Many hundreds of people all over the street, talking and drinking but well behaved. No problems. Veronique and Arnaud, our Paris friends who now live in Normandy, joined us for dinner.

Day six, Friday

Sam and Audrey went museum hopping and we walked….and walked….and walked. Stopped at La Vaissellerie. There are several around Paris and is a great place to buy little gifts to bring home. We picked up cheese knives, wine drip catchers, olive plates, a couple of other things I don't remember. Inexpensive, easy to pack and carry.

To Luxembourg Gardens, to Saint Michelle area, then to Galeries Gourmet in Galeries Lafayette to their wine department which is really nice. The wine used to be along the wall in an area of the store but now it's in a separate room and layed out very nicely. A very large assortment divided into varietals. They were having a wine tasting and being copperative visitors we tasted, and tasted, and tasted and bought a few bottles. Then back to the hotel to meet Sam and Audrey at 5:00 for…oh, you know.

Day seven, Saturday

Took a bus to Saint Germain and went to the market at Maubert-Mutualite. Bought sandwiches for lunch which I wanted to hold but nobody would let me because they knew there'd be nothing left by lunchtime…smart move. So Sam was the designated guardian of the sandwiches.

Walked to Pantheon and bought some daffodils. They always have them there for sale on weekends as a donation to Cancer Cure. So far have not seen one instance of dog poop. They've really been trying to clean up that problem and people (and their dogs) seem to be cooperating. Woof! Smoking seems to be going our of style. Have rarely seen smokers in restaurants. As in NY, see smokers outside office buildings taking a puff break. I tried to distract Sam so I could steal a sandwich but no luck.

Saw the Sorbonne (can't go in like we used to), then hopped a bus to La Samaritaine to see the view from the roof. It's technically for customers of the snack bar up there but nobody made a thing about it. Finally went to a bench in a cutout on Pont Neuf and ate. Oh, those sandwiches on fresh baguettes – incredible.

Walked to Pompidou Center and Les Halles. There's a tremendous push for the Olympics. Signs and posters all over Paris. We saw lots of bike groups at night. Something like the rollerblading groups but not nearly as large.

On the way to dinner we got on the metro which was fairly crowded. Sam stood on one side of the doors, I was on the other. A man got on and stood between us, well dressed with an attache case. He turned around to face the doors and as the doors just started to close he bent over to put the case down between his legs which put his head just outside the door frame. The doors closed on his head. Immediately Sam pulled one door and I pulled the other and we got them open to release him. A good thing they didn't close on his neck.

Dinner was again to be at Aux Trois Bourriques. They were open, we walked in, saw the place was packed with a huge group of schoolkids from England, and walked out amid the noise, noise, noise. Well, so much for that place. Found another place to eat.

Day eight, Sunday

Started out walking the market on Ave. Raspail. Then took the metro up to Montmartre and the Sacre Coeur and Place de Tertre. Always fun there with the artists and crowds. They seemed to have gotten rid of the peddlers there – no birds flying, puppets, stuff laid out on blankets to sell.

Walked down through Montmartre and stopped at a little place for lunch. Had a kebab sandwich with the lamb trimmed off the vertical spit with lettuce, tomato, onions, sauce – delicious. Walked through Pigalle to the Moulin Rouge, saw our first prostitute. Then continued south to St Honore and saw that La Sourdiere had closed. I know a lot of people had gone there and enjoyed it. Bridget had died and apparently her husband decided to close it, or maybe something happened to him. There was nobody around to speak to.

Day nine, Monday

Uh oh, starting to wind down. Boo! Took metro to La Muette and walked back on rue de Passy to Trocadero. Here also there were no peddlers selling their wares.

Wanted S & A to have lunch at Café Med so we metroed to Ile St Louis. With Café Med there's good news and bad news. The good news is that it's a terrific little place, great food, especially the gallettes, very local and friendly. The bad news is there's a knockout of a young woman working there some days which makes it very hard for all the guys to eat. Hard to keep the eyes on the food and not follow her back and forth. No guarantees, guys – she's not always there.

Throughout the trip one song kept running through my brain. "Eat too much, drink too much, try Briofsky Anti-Acid." Lots more walking and stopping in shops.

Decided to take the night off from big dinners so we just went to Chez Clement for their grill plate and mashed potatoes.

Day ten, Tuesday

It was raining when we got up. Actually had to open up our umbrellas. Took the metro to Republique and walked around. Got into a discussion. Why is it the French simply say "toilet" (or les toilettes) but in this country, in spite of using it, we say men's room, ladies room, rest room, bathroom….everything but "toilet?" Huh? Why? Inquiring minds want to know.

Then the rain got harder so we hopped the metro and went to the Carousel at the Louvre. Spent some time in the shops, had lunch in the cafeteria there. Terrific food court with French food, Chinese food, Thai, Marakesh, Italian, American – really wonderful stuff. By the time we left the rain had finished. Walked rue St Dominique, Jacob, L'University, that whole area. On rue de Seine stopped in some art galleries, then sat outside and had tea. Walked some more and were back at hotel by 5:00.

Final Day, Wednesday

Metroed up north to Canal St Martin. Watched a barge go through the locks. Then walked along the canal. Took a long bus ride to Montparnasse (where they are considering tearing down Tour Montparnasse) and walked that area.

Then back to Palais Royal where we had lunch in a café, then walked the Palais Royal Gardens. Sat and watch kids playing. It's amazing. Wherever you go, kids are all the same. They speak different languages but the way they play, their antics, their shouts are all the same in every country. What happens to the innocence of children as the grow up? The Cherry Blossoms were popping out – so beautiful. Then back to hotel to pack.

Some other thoughts- Paris is cleaner than it's been in many years.
Some graffitti but nothing like before.
Dog poop is rarely seen. Litter is almost nonexistent.
Smoking is way down. The restaurants were almost completely free of smoke.
Fashion is dead. Women who used to dress immaculately now are, for the most part, sloppy. Of course, with their bodies, they still look good.
Never bother with weather reports, especially long range. Forecast for the time we went was cold and rain. It actually was sunny and warm, 50'-70'. So don't even bother.
People say Paris is best when it's grey and drizzly. I say nonsense. Walking in the sunshine with everything bright and beautiful is the best. It really is a magnificent city.
Twenty-five trips and it just keeps getting better and better. But you have to be there long enough to breathe it, and feel it, and become part of it.

These are the restaurants we went to for dinner. The first five I would be happy dining at every night. In "rating" them I'm not talking about theater - just food, service, general ambiance, and value. We didn't go to any "expensive" places, Michelin places, nothing like that They are in order of when we went, not preference.

Bistrot de 17eme. One of the great values in Paris dining and is becoming our favorite. A very pretty place, subdued lighting, excellent food, attentive service, 32 euro for a three course dinner including coffee and a bottle of wine per couple. Say hi to Sebastian who runs it and is a very friendly gentleman. Open every day. Metro Pereire. 108 av Villiers 75017 Paris 01 47 63 32 77

Le P'Tit Troquet, one of our favorites for many years. A small (8 tables) lovely, sweet, charming restaurant owned by Patrick who cooks and his wife Dominique who takes care of the dining room and is herself sweet, charming and lovely. Excellent food, service, very warm and intimate. 29 euro menu. Closed Saturday and Sunday. Metro Ecole Militaire 28 r ue de l'Exposition 75007 Paris 01 47 05 80 39

La Madeleine de Castellane - a new arrival on the scene and excellent. Our Paris friends, Veronique and Arnaud, joined us and all 6 of us loved it. Say hi to Pascale and Andre. 35 euro menu. Closed Sunday. Metro Madeleine 5, rue de Castellane 75008 Paris 01 42 65 00 12

L'Impasse – excellent. Real old French ambiance. Lace cutains and stone walls. An old time bistro, family owned for generations. 27 euro menu. Say hi to Francoise. Open every day. Metro: St Paul/Bastille. Closed Sunday, Monday 4, Impasse Guemenee 75004 Paris 01 42 72 08 45

Auberge de la Reine Blanche - Excellent and sweet. Recently bought by new owners. Cleaned up but basically the same with the miniature furniture on the walls. Excellent food. Two menus – 19.5 euro and 25 euro for 2 and 3 courses respectively. Very pleasant ambiance, good service, friendly. Monica is the very sweet young lady who runs it. Open every day. Metro: Pont Marie. 30, rue St Louis en L'Ile 75004 Paris 01 46 33 07 87

These others were fine with reservations as stated.

Le Caveau de L'Ile. Excellent food but tiny portions. 20 euro menu 36, rue Saint Louis en L'Isle 75004 Paris 01 43 25 10 26

L'Ilot Vache. Beautiful restaurant, lovely china, silverware, the best wine glasses. Excellent food. 33 euro menu for 4 courses including a cheese tray. Two problems. The wines are high in price, out of line and no inexpensive choices. Also, the service was very cold, indifferent, inattentive. We felt they didn't care if we were there or not. When I asked the manager (a young woman) her name, instead of Dominique or Patricia or whatever, she wrote down Madame Something-or-other – I really can't read it. If they lowered their wine prices or carried some less expensive wines and improved their service and if they would be gracious and warm, it would be quite a wonderful place. 35, rue St Louis en l'Ile 75004 Paris 01 46 33 55 16

Chez Clement – always fine. We go when we want something plain. They have a mixed grill with mashed potatoes which is a good break from the big dinners we eat. Food not terrific but fine for what it is. Many around Paris.

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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