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TRIP REPORT MARCH 2006

by Fred Melnick

Trip Report 3/06

1) The Hotel Continental Paris on rue Castiglione is no longer; it's now "The Westin." The Grand Hotel Intercontinental remains the same.

2) Smoking is way, way down. We didn't see one butt on a subway platform or tracks and they used to be littered. In restaurants very few, if any, smokers. Smokers are now the rarity, rather the non-smoker. Of course, if there was one smoker in the restaurant, he sat next to me. On the street there were some people standing outside buildings smoking like you see in N.Y. Apparently, it's been curtailed in business also.

3) Navigo pass is in use by some people. Very fast and convenient. Just pass the card over a sensor and keep moving. It is a yearly pass and won't really be suitable to the tourist. But the mood about Navigo is not so great so don't count the Carte Orange out yet. There's a lot of oppostion to the Navigo because it allows "THEM" to track the user's entrance to the metro system - the day, the time, the station - and there's a lot of opposition to the loss of privacy.

4) I've never seen Paris so empty. Really, really quiet. Even Kitty O'Shea, the Irish pub, was dead. Restaurants are complaining that people aren't coming, hotels are complaining that people aren't calling to make reservations and many who had them cancelled them. Chalk that up to the media coverage of the protests. Incidentally, the car that everyone saw destroyed at Invalides belonged to a friend of our Paris friends. Funny cartoon in the paper: Man and wife are looking out their apartment window at a huge crowd of students yelling and screaming and hoisting protest and strike signs and the guy says: "They don't even have jobs yet and they're striking."

5) Jeans, jeans, jeans. I'd estimate that between 50% and 75 % of the people I saw wore jeans. The times they have changed.

6) Just one restaurant note for the moment because so many people had written me to check into it, that is, the new La Sourdiere. We ate there and didn't care for it. It's the complete antithesis of the original. Instead of old Paris, charming and warm, the new one is modern contemporary, cold, the food just OK. Bridget, I miss you.

We knew this trip was going to be different since Bobbi had surgery on her toe recently and then took a terrible fall a couple of weeks before and really banged herself up. We decided to continue with the trip but go out a little later in the morning and be back in the room by around 4:30 so as not to push it. She could rest and then we'd shower and go out for dinner later in the evening. it worked out really well.

In order to make things easier, whenever you see this "R" it means "it rained." Sometimes all day, sometimes just part:

Sunday R Monday R Tuesday R Wednesday R Thursday R Friday R Saturday R Tuesday R

Our arrival on Sunday at CDG was awful. Four planes came in at the same time and there were only two officials checking visas. They finally brought in another two after about 40 minutes so it took well over an hour to just get through the visa checkpoint.

Hopped a taxi and dropped our bags at the Mansart; 50 euro complete with 4 pieces of luggage and tip. We followed our usual first day routine, as we've done for a whole bunch of years. Walk up rue de la Paix to the Opera Metro, get two Coupons Semaine (Coupon Semaines? Coupons Semaines?) to start the next day (we have the same Carte Orange packets for many years), then went to Ile St Louis to walk a bit and have our usual first day lunch at Cafe Med - soup, gallettes, dessert and, of course, wine.

A bit more walking then to Galeries Lafayette to pick up some wine for the room and check out some kid stuff, then back to the hotel to rest. Went for dinner at 8:30 after a solid 3 hour nap. Restaurants at the end. The weather for the week was really lousy. If it wasn't raining it was threatening. Cold and windy. Umbrellas being blown inside-out. We never made as much use of the metro passes as we did on this trip. Hopped on and off buses, trains, anytime we could. I didn't even mind Bobbi stepping into shops and taking her time looking.

We did the usual strolling when we could. The Seine was rough and ugly looking. The city was very quiet as I said previously. Hardly heard any English spoken at all. Even Galeries Lafayette on Saturday was quiet. It's usually pretty chaotic there on Saturday with cars lined up on Blvd Haussmann waiting to get into the parking lot but there were none. The store inside was comparatively quiet. The area in and around Les Halles was very quiet. When the sun finally came out on Sunday and Monday, the parks were quiet - no problem getting chairs in the Tuileries to sit by the pond on Sunday. On a Sunday night we went for dinner at Jim Haynes. He's a writer who started opening his house to anyone on Sunday nights and you can meet people from all over the world. He charges 20 euro per person and provides all the wine, soda, juice you want, serves a salad and various "plats." The night we were there it was pasta and cheese and ratatouille and dessert. It's really become a business with him. A very friendly group of about 60 people there. Most of the people were from the U.S. but there were some from England, five young women from Holland who were on the rowing team in school there, Australians, others. An interesting and different evening if you go for the social aspect, not the meal. The social aspect was very good.

One afternoon we met Serge and Jean Claude, the old owners of Cote Seine, now a Spanish restaurant. Had lunch with them at Cafe de la Paix. Absolutely loved it - more under restaurants at the end. The funny thing is that last year Jean Claude wanted to buy La Sourdiere after it had closed and open it as an old, classic restaurant but it went to the new owners. Too bad - he wanted to open exactly what we like. I'll have to tell him about Le P'Tit Troquet. Dominique is planning to move from Paris in a year or 2. Heading for Provence where her daughter, Virginia, wants to open a pattisserie. She's in training for it now learning to Patiss at the George V.

Went to the Hotel de Ville to see what exhibits they had. If you don't go there to check it out you're really missing something. The exhibits are free and generally wonderful. We've seen over a dozen. The top exhibits we had seen before this one was an exhibit of sets of Hollywood movies. I was able to sit in the cafˇ where Gene, George and Oscar sat and danced in "An American in Paris." The other was a tribute to Yves Montand. The whole room was set up like a cabaret with tables and chairs, and on a stage was a huge screen showing Yves doing his act. This new one was absolutely wonderful. It was on the history of film, from around 1900 when the Lumiere brothers started showing their invention. You first walk through a corridor with screens on the wall showing magnificently restored old movies from back then and photos. Then it culminates in a theater with 3 or 4 huge screens showing clips of movies about 30 seconds or less divided into categories such as Love (an example - Audrey and Cary in Charade), Rooftops (lots of cops and robbers from various films running across the rooftops of Paris), the Eiffel Tower (people climbing, chasing others, musicals - Fred, Audrey and Kay singing "Bonjour Paris" from Funny Face). Lots more. We were in there for 1 _ hours and it was terrific. Run, don't walk. Entrance is on the side on rue Lobau. Also, around the front of the Hotel de Ville through the front entrance is an exhibit of the photographs of Willy Ronis. A truly excellent photographer of people, places, events, commercial photography, many covers of "Regard" Magazine. I wonder if that had any relation to our "Look" magazine. One of his photos is the little boy running down the street with a long baguette.

Right across from rue Charonne, where it ends at rue du Fauborg St Antoine, is Passage du Chantier, a very, very old, tiny cobblestone street that's been there forever. Lots of furniture stores there but that must be how Paris looked hundreds of years ago.

By Cite Bergere we found a large amount of covered passages. We walked through most of them to stay out of the rain. If covered passages are your thing, you'll like this area. The Home Store of Galeries Lafayette is better than ever. I wanted to buy everything. I wonder if I could cook like they do if I had all that equipment?

All the department stores had sales, 15% off, so Bobbi schlepped me to Galeries, Printemps, BHV, Le Bon Marche. With the value of the dollar and the increase in prices generally she looked but didn't buy. Ah, give her TJ Max and Marshalls. Yippee. I noticed that many restaurants are starting to use plastic menus. Kind of loses a bit of the charm.

In the Marais we walked over to Cafe Creme to see Thomas of Cote Seine fame. Oh, how the young women swooned over him back then. He looks good, feels good, is very happy now after some really tragic occurrences in his life. I had my favorite salad, Salade Venus - as good as ever. I'm sure that one day he'll be opening his own place.

In Galeries one day they had roped off an area where a woman was signing autographs. People were lined up to see her. I don't know her name but she's the dancer/actress in a new film, "Aurori." We walked past La Samaritaine, a wonderful old department store now closed for structural renovations (it was dangerous) that will take around 5 years. There were actually 3 buildings for the store; only the main store building is closed. The other two have been taken over by Sephora, Etam, L'Habitat, some others.

We actually were able to walk in the Tuileries. Until now, too much mud and huge puddles from all the rain.

Once again Bobbi had her hair done by Daniel at Sandi Salon, recommended by a friend many years ago. Bobbi loves the experience as well as the cut. They really pamper her. We've taken many friends there and they all loved it also.

Eating one night at Auberge de la Reine Blanche - Their daughter was there, about 7 years old, because the babysitter was sick and they were waiting for her mother to pick her upÉ..just like here. I showed her how to make a rabbit out of a cloth napkin and she had a good time playing with it. Kids are kids everywhere.

One day I saw an amazing sight. As many as 3 people walking on the street without cell phones at their ears or iPod earphones in their ears. I will say one thing about the French - almost all speak very softly on the phone. Nobody else can hear their conversations, unlike hear where everyone within 30 feet can hear them.

The General Strike which everyone feared turned out to be not much. A few metro lines and a few bus lines were shut down, a few others had slight delays. It didn't interfere with anything.

Spent some time in my favorite museum, the Carnavelet, on the history of Paris. It's free, in case you don't know. Funny seeing a woman handing out little receipts to each person as they enter. Probably union rules prohibit her being let go when her job was no longer necessary, so she just sits there and hands them to each person as they walk in. Judging from the paintings, it would appear that in medieval times half of France was praying while the other half was killing. What a life!

Walked the market on Blvd Richard Lenoir by the Bastille. Really a great market and a great scene. Paris is so full of great scenes. Not needing food, I bought a bunch of jazz CDs at $3 each, also Bobbi picked up a few bags of Herbs de Provence for us and some friends who still cook. Not many of them left. The food there looks so fresh, like the fish would swim off the counter if you poured water on them. The lettuce is a rich green, the tomatoes delicious. Remember when our tomatoes tasted like theirs do now? Want to make a great chicken dish that easy to make?

Chicken Provencal

oven at 400' - will bake for 2 hours uncovered.

1 chicken about 4 - 4 1/2 lbs 1 package carrots cut in large chunks 1 package mushrooms rinsed 1 whole garlic separated and peeled 4 medium onions (or many as you can cut without crying) - cut into quarters. 3 small - medium red potatoes cut in 1/4's or 1/8's.

season chicken liberally with ground herbs de Provence, salt, pepper - rub inside and out. let sit for a few hours if possible, if not that's OK. sprinkle paprika on outside and rub into chicken.

spray roasting pan with Pam.

put all vegetables and potatoes on bottom of roasting pan. put chicken on top of vegetables, breast side down, uncovered put in oven with the legs toward the rear of the oven. after 1 hour turn chicken over and put about 1/2 cup boiling water into pan. after another 1/2 hour baste chicken, then baste every 15 minutes and move vegetables around. Tip chicken so juices inside the chicken run out into the pan bake a total of 2 hours. remove from oven, cover with foil, let sit about 5 minutes before carving.

Restaurants

Here are various restaurants we ate at and my reviews of them. Remember, it's very subjective and your experience may be completely different. So if you disagree, fine; these are MY opinions. Two notes:

1) For lunch, except for a few of them as noted, we went into any cafˇ or brasserie that was handy and were never disappointed, generally eating salads, or croques, and it's amazing how much better a simple lunch like that is when you include some wine.

2) We've learned to be adventurous eating in Paris. The food you may be familiar with, but the preparation and flavorings are so different you really can't go by what you eat here. Ordering something you normally wouldn't could lead you to a great treat ( but not Tete de Veau or Andouillettes).

Bistro du 17eme.
108 ave Villiers
75017 Paris
Tel: 01-47-63-32-77
Excellent. One of the great values in Paris dining and is becoming our favorite. A very pretty place, subdued lighting, excellent food, attentive service, 33 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. Out of station do an about face, walk to corner, cross street (have to walk a bit to the right). Restaurant is about 100 feet to the right.

Auberge de la Reine Blanche
30, rue St Louis-en-L'Ile
75004 Paris
Tel:01-46-33-07-87
Metro: Pont Marie Excellent and sweet. This has really come up in the world. Recently bought by new owners. Cleaned up but basically the same with the miniature furniture on the walls. Excellent food. Good, old fashioned, basic, not fancy food. Two menus of 19.5 euro and 25 euro for 2 and 3 courses respectively plus wine. Very pleasant ambiance, good service, friendly. Monica is the very sweet young lady who runs it and husband cooks. Open every day. Metro: Pont Marie.

From Metro Pont Marie - walk across bridge on to Isle St. Louis. Go 1 block and turn left on rue St Louis-en-L'Ile . Restaurant on left.

Le P'Tit Troquet
28, rue de L'Exposition
75007 Paris
Tel: 01-47-05-80-39
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. Very good food, service, very warm and intimate. 29 euro menu plus wine. Closed Saturday and Sunday.

Metro: Ecole Militaire. Cross Ave Bousquet and walk north on it . Make 2nd left, 1st right. Restaurant on left.

Auberge de Jarente
7, rue de Jarente
75004 Paris
Tel: 01-42-77-49-35
Terrific place. Excellent food, warm, welcoming, traditional. Lots of great choices on the menu. Old style place with wooden chairs and tables. The sweet hostess is Dany. Menus of 30 euro with 1/2 bottle of wine or 21 euro with _ pitcher of house wine. Open every day.

Metro: St Paul . Walk to right to church. Cross the big street from the middle of the church and they'll be a street on the other side going north. Take 2nd right turn. On right.

Cafe de la Paix
12, Blvd des Capucines
75009 Paris
Tel: 01-40-07-36-36
I think this is a fantastic place. More expensive but nowhere near the Taillevent, Le Grand Vefour group. It's beautiful, elegant, lovely, charming. I could just picture people a hundred years ago having dinner there in their finery. The restaurant has been there since 1879 and was completely renovated a couple of years ago. The chef is a 2 star chef from the Ritz Hotel and he wants to get stars for this place. A la carte only, should run around 55-60 euro/person plus wine. If he gets his stars, who knows? This place is a tremendous value for the money. If you're looking to dress up a bit (although not necessary) and feel you're in a special place, this would be the one without getting into the really high priced places. Open every day.

Metro: Opera. Across the street.

Le Madeleine Castellane 5 rue Castellane 75008 Paris
Tel: 01-42-65-00-12 Another wonderful place. Excellent food. Very comfortable. Not too big, not too small. Warm and welcoming. Menu of 36 euro plus wine.

La Sourdiere
4 rue La Sourdiere
75001 Paris
Tel: 01-42-60-12-87
Oh, how I wanted to love this restaurant. To me, dining is an experience, and enjoying the ambiance, spirit, feel of a place is as important as the food (assuming the food is good). The old place reeked of charm, it shouted old Paris. Now it's just another bare, uninteresting, contemporary place. The food was fine but that was it. The ghost of Bridget hovers but must be unhappy. In case you missed it in an earlier report, when it closed Jean Claude from Cote Seine wanted to buy it and keep it traditional, old world but I guess the new owners outbid him.

Chez Cecille/La Ferme des Mathurins
17 rue Vignon
75008 Paris
Tel: 01-42-66-46-39
Cecille took over Les Fermes recently. I was not happy here. First, it's modern contemporary which is not why I go to Paris. The seating is a banquet on one side and booths on the other with leather backed bench type seats. I felt like I was in a New York diner. The food was good but miniscule. For example, I had Raviolis as an entrˇe and I was given a very small dish with 4 teeny-tiny Raviolis about _ inch across. I forget the meat I ordered but it was accompanied by 3 tiny thin shavings of carrots. I'm not asking for American sized portions but these were silly.

Cafe Creme
3 rue de Birague
75004 Paris
Tel:01-48-87-53-16
A small cafe for lunch. If you want to see Thomas, he's here. But not every day. You'll just have to inquire. My favorite salad, Salade Venus. Metro: St Paul. Cross street and walk right to rue Birague. That's the street that leads into the place des Voges. on left.

Cafe Med
77, rue Ile St Louis on Ile St Louis
75004 Paris
For truly great crepes, also quiches, other food. Galettes are wonderful with ham, cheese, fried egg, mushrooms.

From Metro Pont Marie - walk across bridge on to Isle St. Louis. Go 1 block and turn right on rue St Louis-en-L'Ile . Restaurant on left a few blocks up.

Au Lys D'Argent
90 rue St Louis en l'Ile St Louis
75004 Paris
Tel: 01-46-33-56-13 Wonderful lunch place across from Cafˇ Med. Great soups and quiches.

From Metro Pont Marie - walk across bridge on to Isle St. Louis. Go 1 block and turn right on rue St Louis-en-L'Ile . Restaurant on right a few blocks up.