Return to Paris | France

Posted by on January 22, 2012

Our trip to France in late September, and early October proved to be another excellent one, thanks to the help of posoters on Fodor’s Travel Talk Forums. They are so well-informed and so patient.

I’ve been circling around this trip report for a long time, but won’t be able to write much of it, until my latest bout of arthritis/carpel tunnel involvement decides to leave my right hand.
(can’t play the piano either, but then I never could!)

So this is just a thank you to all, and a general impression, started after a few Advil.

France was wonderful, with weather almost too hot the first week or ten days. Our trip on Air France, Premium Voyageur proved to be worth it to us. Jim is a big guy and I am a squirmer on airplanes.

Jim decided France was OK this time, because I planned a lot of things just for him. (Got a little advice from you guys on that too.) I especially planned to stay as centrally as possible, despite my desire to get to the outer reaches of Paris, wooed by Kerouac!!

We stayed at great places, as follows:

Hotel de Lutece, Ile St. Louis, for the first three days. It, and sister hotel, the Deux Iles, are excellent, with friendly staff and great location. Seem to be catering to Americans though, which I don’t love, even though I am one.

Then a week in a house near Lalinde, in the western Dordogne, I think called the Perigord Pourpre, (for the wine?) It is owned by acquaintances, and was rented by four couples, including us. Managed by Strictly Perigord, which is a good place for rentals.

DH and I left our friends and went back to Domaine de la Rhue, near Rocamadour, to stay with the Jooris family who proved to be as charming as they were 15 years ago. Definitely to be recommended.

On our way back to Paris, we stayed at the d”Angleterre in Bourges, in the medieval middle, and saw the magnificent cathedral. A super hotel, with a brand new bathroom the size of the bedroom, which was not small. The shower would hold six people, (but why? you might ask) GREAT staff, most accommodating.

We spent our last night in Barbizon, resting from the road trip, at Les Pleiades, and if I ever go to Paris again, I will want to spend a weekend out there. It’s the french countryside, and an artists’ colony as you hope for in your dreams. But the hotel offered a massage (about $100, the same as at most spas in the northeast) which I sorely needed after steering DH wrong and getting lost in Fontainebleau, with no idea where I was.

Then we spent a week in an apartment on the Ile St. Louis, through Guest Apartment Services. Very nice guys manage this group of about 45 apartments, and do a great job.

Only other recommendation before my hand goes numb is Shuttle Inter, which we used, grace a GraceJoan, which we found totally reliable and pleasant. (E55 in to Paris, and E50 back out to CDG)

More about all of this, and much much more (as they say) including the terrors of picking up a rental car in the middle of Paris, AND driving it out of town. And the joys of the Dordogne gardens, and food, and rivers and sun. and driving BACK through the city of Paris. And running around in the metro. And surprise eating. When the hand gets better…

Well I’d better get writing before I forget it all.
Air France Premium Voyageur was just fine, arrived on time, got some Euros at an ATM, met our driver from Shuttle Inter and off we went to Ile St. Louis to our hotel: Hotel de Lutece on rue Saint Louis en l’Ile We left our luggage there as room was not ready so early in the morning, but we knew that.

Our friend was staying at the sister hotel, the Deux Iles, so we had planned to go to her room to freshen up (lucky break)

anxious to begin to re-acquaint with Paris, we three went out for a walk. Friend (hereinafter “G”) wanted to make a haircut appointment in the Marais, so we had a mission!
G had spent several weeks in Paris two years ago studying French, so she had some knowledge of the area. I loved it, ‘cuz we got right in to the rhythm of Paris, and it felt really good to start “flaneur-ing” around Paris.

We had a nice lunch at Bourguignon du Marais, just because it looked good, and was on our route. Can’t remember what we had but it was delicious, and the weather was fine. A great beginning to our trip. Back at the hotel, our room was ready, and was very agreeable, small, with a much larger than expected bathroom; (big enough to have storage for our suitcases!) Nice shower, comfortable beds, really pleasant staff.

We unpacked, took a shower, walked some more… I must say, Ile Saint Louis very soon felt like a small town, and was extremely pleasant to walk around, window shopping was fun (lots of very good dress and accessory shopping here, I could have spent a lot of money!) Also lots of restaurants, some touristy, probably all overpriced. we did suss out some really good ones. About that more later.

We had dinner that evening at Fixia, right next door to Bourguignon du Marais, on rue Francois Miron, and another light but delicious meal.

Sorry I am fuzzy on details of the first few days. I’ll chalk it up to jet lag, but I was also so happy to be back in Paris that I just wanted to experience it and not record it. I’m sure many can understand.

Day One posting has been long, and I hope to shorten it to just the important info. from now on.

After we slept for 10 hours, Days Two and Three were a little less fuzzy.

I had a couple of things planned to keep Jim happy that he agreed to come to Paris with me. (To be fair, it wasn’t that tough a sell!)

It was late September and the weather was cooperating, so we set off, admittedly late morning, due to that great sleep.

We stopped for fresh squeezed OJ at the fruit shop (which was to become a frequent stop) and I picked up a chocolate croissant, and off we went to the Place des Vosges.

(We had decided that, much as we liked the Hotel de Lutece, E 13 for a breakfast seemed excessive, though I think it is the norm for Paris)

Our goal was the Musee Victor Hugo. DH is a big fan of Hugo, and I thought I was martyring myself to waste time there, but as usual, I was wrong.

It is a beautiful house, full of memorabilia of Hugo, and of his poetry and art works! Who knew? We were both fascinated for a couple of hours by this house, and I do not hesitate to recommend it to anyone who would like to be immersed in Hugo’s life and his period of history. He was also quite a renegade, and Human Rights activist, and apparently revered (still) by the French. I had never noticed before how many references there are, all around Paris, to Victor Hugo.

I never knew about his reputation as a poet, but the French revere him for poetry, while in the US, he is much better known for his novels, like Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

It is also always a great pleasure to walk around the Place des Vosges, bien sur!

We then wandered the Village Saint Paul, and ended up having lunch at CRU. There is a nice courtyard, and lunch was good, not great. To be fair, it was late in the lunch hour, and I was glad they were still open, service was fine, but we were about the only people there. I think that always changes the ambience, and I wouldn’t hesitate to eat there again.

A further walk around the Marais almost did DH in, so I sent him back to the hotel, cuz I couldn’t resist more of Paris. Walking down the rue de Rivoli I spotted a Monoprix, where I bought a couple of inexpensive scarves. I felt almost compelled to have Parisian scarves, even though I’d brought some from home.

That evening we dined with friends who come to Paris often, at an interesting place called Le Cigale Recamier, 4, rue Recamier, 75007 – 01 45 48 86 58.

This is the restaurant where you can have a souffle for every course!! I didn’t but it’s a great idea, and the two souffles I did have were absolutely delicious. This seems not to be a tourist restaurant at all, as I didn’t hear anything but French being spoken, (except by us!!)

Our first metro ride home to Ile St. Louis (well, to Pont Marie) was accomplished by earlier buying carnets for each of us. We had decided it was the best bet for just three days in Paris, and we could buy them at the tabac, right near the hotel.

By the way, earlier in the day, my friend G handed me a very nice gift: It was the small Red book called “Paris Arrondissements” (about 4″ by 6″) EDITION COUTAREL. This little life saver has maps of all the streets, metros, etc. in it, but in very small, but readable form, making it easily accessible and a breeze to use. I’d suggest it to anyone who is going to spend time in Paris, as the best map possible.
She said this particular edition is the best. She got it at The Red Wheelbarrow bookstore, and English language bookstoe on 22, rue St. Paul, (though it’s also available elsewhere.) I went there later and enjoyed talking to the owners. Great selection by the way.

www.theredwheelbarrow.com

Day Three was really fun, as we decided to take the Batobus for the day. I had spotted the Batobus stop, quite near the Ile, on the day before, so it was easy to find.

First we went down to the end of the Ile to the St.Regis cafe where we had a nice OJ, cafe creme, and croissant for E 7.

The Batobus is great fun, try it! we first rode down to the Eiffel Tower, got off and wandered around that area. We had decided just to wander at various stops and not rush around. (After all, we were coming back to Paris for a whole week!)

We wandered down to the Musee Branly, especially to see the wall of garden. (You will find that this trip was heavily skewed toward gardens.) Actually, all I wanted to see was the gardens, but we
discovered there was a welcoming coffee house in the garden, so we stopped for a coffee, and then walked along the Seine looking at the Musee Branly’s outdoor photography exhibit.

Back on the Batobus down the river we went, seeing all the sights we remembered from past trips.

We had planned to get off at the Jardin des Plantes, but decided to go back to the start where there was a restaurant that we wanted to try. (As I look back over my notes I think all we did was eat!)

That was a mistake, because although we had a great lunch, we always seemed to realize how tired we were once we sat down, (to say nothing of the wine we drank with lunch!) so after lunch we went back to take a nap!

The lunch was outdoors at Chez Julien, and was delicious. (1,rue du Pontiac Louis-Philippe, 01 42 78 31 64.)

We each had a light delicious lunch: I had smoked salmon with green apple batons, served on watercress, while DH had teryaki gambas with avocado sauce. We drank a lovely light white wine, had marvelous bread, with good French butter, all of which was eaten outside in great weather, with some music played by passing musicians – boy, oh boy, what could be better?

Dinner that night was at a super restaurant on the Ile St. Louis, called Mon Vieil Ami, where you order fascinating combinations of vegetables, and the protein is in the small print, rather than the other way around.

Since Mon Vieil Ami, the restaurant on the Ile St. Louis, was so unusual, I thought some people might like to hear a bit more:

The chef is Alsatian, so the food slants that way, as does the wine list. OK with us, as DH is very fond of Alsatian wines, always in memory of a wonderful week we spent in Alsace many years ago, which included a wine tasting with Jean Hugel.

At this restaurant, vegetables are given the “utmost attention.”

This is an interesting and desirable slant, given that we were already experiencing more calories than is our normal fare, and were expecting to experience even more such overload, as we were headed to the Dordogne!

The menu includes such dishes as an Herbed risotto, with a small piece of roasted fish; or Braised Turnips and Bok Choy, accompanied by a reasonably-sized, delicious lamb chop.

A very imaginative menu, in a sleek contemporary space, with excellent unstuffy service, and by the way, a long communal table.

The communal table is a godsend for people dining alone, who would rather sit with someone. They do take reservations for this table, and very lively conversation seemed to be going on there.

So, now back to basics. “Basics,” that is: picking up a rental car and driving out of Paris.

Our plan to drive devolved from the fact that G’s husband, E, was arriving on a flight very early Friday morning,  from JFK to CDG. We couldn’t be sure the plane would arrive on time, so we decided we couldn’t do the TGV from Paris to Bordeaux, even though we all would have enjoyed that experience. We were due in our rental house in the Dordogne that evening, hence a long drive, but at least together.

AND a very good thing we did reserve a car through AutoEurope! (by the way, excellent in every way!)

E did NOT arrive on the Ile St. Louis at the appointed hour, though we three were all packed and ready. We left word at the desk, and went down to the St. Regis cafe for our morning OJ, cafe creme and croissant, expecting him to walk down the street at any minute. That was at 8:30 AM, already an hour after we expected him. (He’s an old Paris hand, and we knew he knew his way.)

Long story short, his plane was 3.5 hours late leaving JFK, and did NOT make up the time. We knew he did NOT have a workable cell phone, so we just had to wait.

I will say that this very calm, emotionally intelligent guy was really tested as everything that could go wrong, did. However, despite 24 hours of no sleep etc. off we went to Esplanade des Invalides to pick up the rental at Europecar.

I was the one who chose Invalides to pick up the car, thinking that since this was also the Air France office, there would be plenty of choice, etc.

That was all well and good, but we were not yet thinking like Parisians, so we couldn’t find it, nor could our cab driver.
Finally after twice circling the Esplanade, I spotted some Europecar vans in a little parking area.

Out we got, together with all the luggage of 4 people. I was appointed guardian of the luggage, while the others went to sign up for the car. The two guys were going to be drivers, and G was the interpreter. Of course, Europecar was nowhere near those vans, but the luggage was there and so was I.

After about half an hour of standing around, I was joined by E, who came back to report that they had finally found Europecar, which wasn’t too difficult, but that G and my DH were walking the two long blocks, and three flights down, to the parking garage to get the actual car.

While we were waiting another half hour for their arrival, E and I chatted, but mostly he wanted to lean against the wall, and nap.

After a little while, I noticed a VERY handsome Frenchman coming my way. He was so good looking that I actually stared at him.

Then I noticed he was not only looking at me, he was coming toward me, smiling.

(I should stop here, and make you wait for the rest, but, no, I’ll tell you.)

He came right up to me, while (I confess) my heart was fluttering, and said:

“Madame, C’est pas possible prendre un taxi ici.”

It took me a moment to realize what he had said, then I looked up and realized that E and I were standing under a “TAXI” sign!!

Reminds me of the great Elsa Lancaster line: “For one brief happy moment, I thought you were going to attack me!” (What movie was that?)

When I blubbered a “Merci bien, mais nous ne cherchons pas un taxi,” he smiled again and then put on his elegant helmet, jumped on to his elegant BMW motorcycle and sped away, elegantly disappearing. And all I had was E as a witness, and of course, he NEVER stopped kidding me about it for the next week…

Our rental car was a Renault Scenic diesel, and it was a gem, highly recommended!

Getting out of Paris proved to be pretty easy, since we were near the river, and also I had a secret weapon: My friend, G, took the Navigator role, and I sat in the back seat with E, who slept for the first few hours. Having G doing the navigating meant DH didn’t have to listen to me, being anxious, and obnoxious (etc) about his driving, (which is pretty darned good, by the way, just that I never think he is listening to directions!)

About an hour down the motorway, DH started asking if G could see the “gas” gauge, and we all started looking at the dashboard, but couldn’t find it.

Since it was past lunchtime by now, we decided to stop at a rest area to pick up some sandwiches. (We were way behind schedule for a 5 PM arrival at our rental house, and knew we had an 8 PM dinner reservation at a nice country restaurant near our house, so sandwiches made a lot of sense)

DH decided to fill up with diesel since we were stopped, and guess what?– the car took over $100 worth of diesel!

Obviously the car had not been filled up before our rental. None of the brilliant car renters (I was outside oogling over the Frenchman, remember?) had thought to check the gas gauge, but to be fair, it took a while to figure out how to FIND a gas gauge!! (needed a computer programmer to find it, much too complicated a dashboard for the average person!)

I dutifully took a photo of the price on the tank, and kept the receipts, and we thanked our lucky stars that we would not have a “MaiTaiTom” moment on the Autoroute!! We did almost run out of diesel, and hunger was what kept us safe!

By the way, the packaged sandwiches were absolutely fresh and delicious! I picked out smoked salmon on whole grain bread, it was so good we did it again on our way north.

Next: HUNGER TAKES A SHORTCUT THROUGH THE BACK ROADS SOUTH OF PERIGUEUX

We went back on the autoroute, and had a relatively uneventful drive, once we had “dieseled” up.

We began to realize, as the miles peeled off behind us, that we would NEVER get to the rental house in time to get to the restaurant for our 8 o’clock reservation.

(We had reserved this restaurant – “Lou Peyrol,”on the advice of friends, who had stayed in the same house, and knowing it was good, and only 3 km. from our house, it was a safe bet for our first night’s meal. We had also decided, in Paris, that we would cancel it, because we would all be too tired, jet-lagged, exhausted, to really appreciate it. But somehow, G never got around to making that phone call. This we also realized somewhere along the autoroute.)

We had a little auto-conference and decided that we should get in touch with our fellow travelers, tell them to go to the restaurant, and we would meet them there. How difficult could that be?

We phoned one of their cell phones around the time they had estimated to get to the house, or we called the house, as someone had given us the phone number, can’t remember which. Sure enough, C answered and had just arrived, together with Couple #4, who drove in at approximately the same time.

We gave them directions to the restaurant, (or really to the village, cuz I think there are only three or four buildings in the whole place.)

Then we sped on through Limoges, to Perigueux, and then, circled through many, many roundabouts (several times each, to try to figure out when to get out!) we headed south.

We had a GPS in the car, we had two different maps, and we had two very knowledgeable internationally experienced direction finders (the ladies, of course.) We, the “vkiedf’s,” decided to turn off the GPS, and take back roads and shortcuts, or we’d never get there, ever.

By now, E was driving, having had a few hours of sleep, interrupted at various times, to be sure, but happy to be behind the wheel. His only request was: Get me there before dark!

Driving south from Perigueux, little did we know how very narrow the roads would become, succeedingly, exceedingly narrow. This resulted in a few wrong turns, but we thought we had gotten back on track most of the time. Still with no markings on these tiny roads….

At last we got to VERGT, which gave us hope, because it was actually ON one map, on the D8, so we continued to follow the D8, as straight south as possible, toward a tres, tres, tres petit village called “St. Marcel du Perigord.”

We were getting closer and closer, and decided we would hit it at right about 8 PM, when, suddenly, on the road ahead, (the very narrow road ahead, out in the middle of nowhere,) we spotted some really nice friendly cattle. They didn’t really want to leave the road. We didn’t really want to scare them, so we just piddled along behind them for a while, hoping they would find their way off the road.

They were sort of like those oblivious pedestrians you come across now and then, when your evil twin really wants to mow them down, because, GD it, you have the right of way, and you are in a hurry, and you are hungry, and it’s getting dark, but of course you don’t.

Eventually they wandered off, and we continued down what E was now calling the road to nowhere for sure, losing faith in the dynamic internationally experienced direction finders rapidly.

At exactly 8:10 PM, we drove into a tiny hamlet,  St. Marcel du Perigord, and G and I simultaneously yelled “STOP,” and there we were in front of Lou Peyrol!

I think we left the car in the middle of the road, or almost, and ran inside to find, not only our 4 friends, but two carafes of house wine already on the table. Nice Hollywood ending.

In fact, it got even better. I would venture to say that we ALL agreed it was one of the very best meals we had during this week long adventure in the Dordogne.

(We tried to go back for another meal, but we just could not fit it in, and I think we are all regretting that now!)

Our amuse bouche was a tomato avocado foam, and it was an ethereal heaven of a thing!I remember having a starter of tiger prawns, with black pudding from the Landes, in a coconut curry sauce, unusual and marvelous. Then, I had the (huge) pork chop with field mushrooms, and a mushroom wine sauce, absolutely delicious and fresh.

By the time dessert came round, I forget what I had, because by then we had polished off our second two carafes of wine. (well, there were 8 of us)

I must say it was a fabulous start to a Dordogne week.

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