Monday, February 06, 2012

I just can't get this out of my head...

Where the hell is my cousin Ben?
Billy Joel.
That property in Costa Rica I should have had the balls to buy.
Did my ex AKS ever write a book?  Was I in it?
Was I right about Toronto?
Am I doing the thing that I'm really the best at or is something else really what I'm meant to be doing?
I don't care about so many things.  When will this bite me in the ass?
Public perception.
Pubic perception.
Is it me or is it them?
Next vacay - Italy or Cuba?
Should I drink more or less bourbon?
The eggs are going to go bad soon.
I'm not wearing socks.
Tom Waits.
Jesus, I swear a lot.
If it doesn't matter, then why does it?  What fucked up psych 101 retardation causes me to stress about shite that isn't even there?
No, not money, BANKS. Fuck banks.
I hope Adele never loses her voice.
I would love to sit and talk to Keith Lancaster.
Oakridge C of C.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Wednesday - and Home

Today is Wednesday.  The past two days have been a blur.  I can't believe I'm sitting in Gare du Nord, waiting for my train back to London. Paris has been wonderful - exactly the kind of trip I was hoping for, with no hiccups, no drama, just a lovely week and a bit away from home and work.

On Monday I went coocoo for coco puffs on Rue Rennes, the local shoe district. Tons of shops, all in a row, selling shoes shoes shoes.  I bought 4 pair.  4 really good pair that I'll wear for years, so I don't feel bad. (Like I would feel bad anyway)  I felt intense satisfaction as I made my way back to my hotel with multiple shopping bags in tow.  As I reentered the hotel, I was informed that the extra night I was hoping to add to my stay wasn't possible, that I'd have to find another hotel.  Oy.  SO I plunked my purchases on the bed in my room and used Blackberry Travel (very handy BB app, for anyone out there who hasn't abandoned BB yet) to find another room.  I splurged a bot and found d decent room, but in the 9th arr. this time, a little closer to the action and on the other side of Montmartre, in Pigalle.

Pigalle is full of sex shops, peep shows and music stores, with a dash of everything else thrown in.  I was meeting Loic for my last night in town - we were going to Charlot on a friend's recommendation.

I checked into the new room and was pleased. It was close to three times the size of my other room and had a charming view of Sacre Coeur up the hill and a sweeping view of the city looking south. I was on the top floor, and the gables windows were arched and seemed oh-so-very French.  I would have given my limb for a bath but alas, a shower only, again.  My feet were screaming for a good soak, but they had to settle for a hot towel and cozy socks.

This hotel had free WIFI, as well a full range of TV stations, so I relaxed for a few hours, dozing in and out, watching Friends, in English, which was novel, and Poirot in French, which was challenging.  

I headed out to meet Loic at 7:15, taking the Metro two wee stops up the line to Place de Clichy.  Charlot has been around forever, is known for it's shellfish platters, and is the swankiest restaurant I went to in Paris, save for the Ritz, of course.  It's a traditional brasserie, so not too formal, but certainly more refined than a cafe.  Loic was in jeans and a sweater and complained that I should have told him to dress up.  Whatever.  We were seated, ordered wine and a Roi de Coquillages pour deux.  

Sweet mother of god, the platter was huge, with crab, langoustines, clams, oysters, sea snails, another size of crab, baby shrimp and god knows what else.  A bottle of Chablis and we were set.  Now, I can usually make my way through a seafood dinner with decent manners, but the shells on this shellfish were tough.  Also, they didn't separate the oysters from the shell when they shucked them so you had to wriggle them around on your own.  I, of course, discovered this trying to suck one oyster off its shell, which didn't sound or look too hot. The mignonette was extremely acidic and made me cough.  Thankfully Loic was cursing at snails not coming out their shells.  I cracked open a crab claw and sprayed the mirror beside me.  We couldn't stop laughing, and I was grateful to be hidden in a corner, with only tourist tables surrounding us.  No one cared.

We got through most of the food.  It was a leisurely meal, as getting the meat out of the shells was work.  We paid and left, choosing to wander up Rue Pigalle to see what was what.  We passed Moulin Rouge and all the cheesy sex shops (which are identical to the ones at home, just bigger and more of them).  

We were passing by a bar with a piano being played and someone butchering Frank Sinatra.  We had to go in.  A carafe of wine was ordered and we sat and watched (I sang along) to most of the My Fair Lady songbook, and classic Frank Sinatra tunes you'd expect to hear away from home (NY/NY, Chicago, Summerwind). The singer was also a bit of a tap dancer, so we'd get the occasional tap intermezzo during a number.  The place was moderately busy.  A large group of Irish tourists were singing along, occasionally sharing the mic with Dude.  Our wine finished, we parted ways with a hug and the traditional kiss-kiss.  I was only 2 blocks from my hotel and was happy to settle into bed and zonk out.  I wanted to get up in decent time to have breakfast and get some last minute shopping done.

I ate and checked out of the hotel, leaving my luggage behind for later.  The hotel was relatively close to Gare du Nord, and my suitcase had increased in weight significantly enough that I was happy to pay for a cab.  Dealing with it on the Metro would not be fun.  So, I made sure I had enough cash for cab fare on my way back, and waited in the lobby for my taxi to arrive.  

I'm very very early for my train.  I can't check in yet - that's how early I am.  I didn't want to spend anymore money, so I figured I'd get to the train and hang here, finish writing and get into my book again.  And so I leave Paris.  I have to say I'm looking forward to getting home, but know that I only scratched the surface of the city.  Every street you pass has a whole other adventure around here.  I look forward to coming back soon and digging in deeper.


This was my last post in Paris.  I arrived in London, found my hotel and went to bed, wanting an early start to the airport the next morning.  I arrived at Gatwick after a lovely express trip on the train, and paid an astronomical fee for my luggage being overweight.  (SHOES!)  I didn't sleep much on the way home.  We were chasing the sun and it made for weird body-clocking.  

I was excited to get home.  I wanted to be home.  I wanted to be in my apartment, to wander Gastown and see my lovelies.  I wanted to sink into my barstool at Boneta, embrace my friends and laugh at nothing with a cocktail in my hand.  I wanted the rain, the leaves.  I wanted the phone calls from work, the stress, the hubbub.  I wanted Vancouver in all its young, imperfect glory.  I was ready to be back, and that readiness in itself was its own kind of happiness.

The sun was shining when I landed, but you could still smell that it had just rained.  I took a deep breath as I walked outside to meet Mylene.  


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Friday Saturday Sunday

Friday - Galleries Lafayette revisted - Cafe Marcel with Loic and co

I was excited to get an early start on the Metro Friday morning.  I was headed back to Les Galleries Lafayettes... the gorgeous shopping mall in central Paris.  This time, I wasn't tired, I was wearing proper footwear and was ready to get some new stuff.

There was a sale on throughout the mall, so it was busy, even in the morning.  I was determined to speak French all day and not cheat, so off I went, a little bashful, but confident enough that I could get through shopping, at least, without breaking down into English.

It turns out, my natural love of shopping lends itself well to the French I actually remember.  Go figure.  I was asked where I was from, and when I told them, they were impressed and complimented me on my lack of accent, which is a good thing, I guess.  

A wee explanation of what this mall is like - it's made up of hundreds of designer stores, all side by side, and then accented by the house brand, dotted around them.  The designer stores are seperated by small walls, but no doors, so everything is open. The floors are prganized by type of fashion - contemporary, sportswear, lingerie, etc.  The basement is all shoes.  The main floor, not unlike stores at home, is cosmetics and accesories.

I started my purchases with a wool blend little black dress with side ruching and a gold zipper detail at Maje.  The salesman attending me far too excited about the retail experience, showing up with accessories, shoes, bags and anything else he could get his hands on that he thought was chic.  Didn't necessarily go with the dress, just stuff he loved and he HAD to show me or he might die.  I got the dress.

I continued around... Karen Millen for the UK has fantastic stuff.  For women with no breasts.  Pass.  Ralph Lauren, yawn... moved along to Promod, a chic value-centric brand again out of the UK.  Grabbed some fully lined wool pants, a cute blouse and a hat.  Kept wandering... The house brand had a huge sweater section so I grabbed a very 50's twin set in leopard.  The sales lady approved of this, saying no one ever has the courage to wear leopard anymore.  Pleased to meet you.  The lingerie floor was overwhelming and I decided to save that for a whole day unto itself.

Down I went to the shoes. Lots of cute designer stuff, but nothing was really grabbing me.  I grabbed a cool pair of suede loafers with a stacked stiletto heel.

I was getting hungry so I stopped at the lunch counter and had a tabouleh salad and glass of champagne. Or two.  I went back to Karen Millen, determined to find something that fit.  No luck. I was disappointed.

I headed back to my hotel happy with my purchases, but wondering where all the good shoes were hiding.

Loic called me a few hours later, inviting me out to join him and his friends at a gig somewhere near St Germain des Pres.  Okey doke.  I met him at his place, which is ridiculously French.  The person with whom he shares the space is a film guy, so lots of books, movie posters and jazz music all over the place. The apartment itself was small, but not bad for Paris standards. Two rooms, a kitchen, pantry and bathroom.

I waited for Mr. I-have-nothing-to-wear preen and perfume himself and off we went in search of Cafe Marcel.  Thankfully it was easy - exit at Eteinne Marcel and voila, across the street with the loud afro-jazz band blaring outside.  His friends were sitting outside, drinking pastis.  Introductions were made... a note about French intros... You kiss each other on each cheek, without fail. Bon soir, smooch smocch, say your name, smile, move on.  This takes forever and the charm of it wears off very quickly, but it's proper manners here.

Three guys, plus Loic, and three girls, plus me.  All of them were under 30 for sure, likely close to 26 or 27.

The band was cool, luckily, because everyone was speaking so quickly I had a hard time keeping up with the conversation.  I was able to answer questions and such, and Loic played translator when I was clueless.  Turned out, by the end of the night, half of them spoke English, but were as nervous about their language skills as I was.  A few drinks seems to clear this up.

It got cold. The wind picked up and all of us started to shiver. We managed to score some seats inside just as the band played their last songs. I had switched from Pastis to red wine and was started to feel a bit tipsy.  The bar said they specialized in cocktails, but I saw what was being made and going out and snootily passed. I also passed on the shots going around and Loic and I headed out to the Metro shortly thereafter.

Back to my hotel uneventfully, and to bed.

Saturday - more shopping and a late house party with Loic and co

I woke up a bit late Saturday morning, thankfully without a headache, and slowly made my way to another part of Paris where there was some shopping.  ANother mall, this one more similar to back home, with shops for older women and kids, as well as large anchor stores.  There was a smaller version of Les Galleries Lafayette, so I took a breeze through there.  Most of the same brands were represented, just on a smaller scale.  A large discount store called C&A had some good deals on accessories, and I grabbed some perfume at Chanel.  

Back to the hotel for a nap, and Loic texted late, saying there was a house party near my hotel, did I want to join?  Sure, why not.  We met at the Metro and walked over to a tiny little apartment, but so well designed and decorated.  Ten people or so were hanging about, drinking wine and chatting. Again, no one got into English until about an hour in, and my French was for some reason just not happening, so I found the best think to do - hang out outside with the smokers.  Smoking in Paris is still the norm.  Even if you're a non-smoker, chances are you smoke on occasion.  It's social, it's French.

A quick walk back to my hotel around 1:30 and I was back to bed.

Sunday - St Germain de Pres, Au Sauvignon, Ritz Hemingway Bar

Most stores are closed on Sunday, a fact I didn't know when I headed out in the mid morning to shop.  So, instead, I ate.  I was in St Germain again, and found a cafe that wasn't packed full of brunch eaters... Au Sauvignon.  I ordered wine and Rillettes au Pain and sat, watching the people go by, tourists and locals alike.  

I walked back down to Les Tuileries and had a coffee in the park, with about 9 jillion other people.  And, for thie first time since I had arrived in Paris, actually got hit on.

Yeah, the FIRST.  I had not experienced the same Paris as my friends, with men chatting them up or chasing them about.  Nada.  So when the gentleman sat next to me and started talking to me, I almost choked on my coffee.  He asked me, in French, what I was dreaming about, because my expression looked like I was a million miles away.  Not dreaming, I said, just planning my day. Chat chat chat.  I managed to keep it in French, which at time proved difficult.  About 30 minutes in, he switched languages for a second, I think it was German. I told him I didn't understand. He looked surprised. He thought I was from wherever it was.  Nope.  Canadian. So now we had to talk about Canada for another 30 minutes.  What's up with Montreal? Dunno, never been. Oh. Another few minutes, then I excused myself, needed to get back to my hotel and have a nap, at least.  He asked for my email, which I gave him.  Nice guy.  EMail.  Sure.

I got back to my hotel and decided that I was going to go somewhere swish.  I wanted a cocktail, I wanted to dress up and I wanted it immediately.  I gussied up, put on some heels and wisely packed my flats in my purse. I headed to Le Place Vendome, where the Ritz Hotel has been located forever, and wound my way around the hallways until I found Le Bar Hemingway, which had been recommended to me by Simon at Boneta.

What a lovely little bar.  I was charmed immediately. Tons of pictures of Poppa all over, guns on the walls, cozy seats and a small bar.  I grabbed a bar stool and ordered the house cocktail - the Serendipity. Then a Corpse Reviver #2, but no... wait... they don't have any Absinthe, the bartender embarassedly tells me.  A bar in Paris without Absinthe.  Really.  So she made something up that came close, and I moved onto a French 75. 

 Each drink came with a rose garnish, which is a part of the history of the bar.  Before it was named after Hemingway, it was the Ladies Bar - the bar across the hall being for gentlemen only, as the sexes were not allowed to comnsume alcohol together until the 30's I think.  SO at that point, men could come into the Ladies' Bar, but not vice versa.  Hemingway, in character, liked to hang out in the Ladies' Bar, and was sitting with F. Scott Fitzgerald one eveing and they had a wee competition that involved sending flowers to a table, and at the end, Hemingway eating the petals of the flower with a dirty look on his face, or some such thing.

Hence, the rose garnish.

I went for a walk around the nieghbourhood and found my Metro Station.  To bed, for tomorrow, there would be shoe shopping.

Misc Pics

Some views from the streets of Paris for your viewing pleasure...

Side of the Louvre

Pont Alexandre III

Pont Alexandre III

Pont Alexandre III


Detail from Le Grand Palais

Doorway to Le Petit Palais

Sculpture along Les Champs Elysees

Street Post detail - Le Place de La Concorde

 Le Place de La Concorde

 Le Place de La Concorde

Gates to Les Tuileries

Les Tuileries

Nymph at Les Tuileries

Gates to Le Louvre

Monday, October 17, 2011

Tour Eiffel, Place Concorde, Tuileries, Louvre (almost) - Thursday

Sleeping for over 12 hours was a good thing.  I woke up Thursday morning feeling normal.  Except I was awake at 6:30 again, which is NOT normal, but I got dressed, checked my maps and got ready to head out.  Today I was going to see the iconic Tour Eiffel and I wanted to get an early start of it.  Tourist season may officially be over, but the tourists haven't heard that yet.

I took the Metro to Trocadero and headed up the stairs.  Tour buses lined the street, so I knew I was in the right place.  I should tell you that up until this point I had not seen the Tour Eiffel since my arrival in Paris.  Just one of those things, but if you're not in the right place, you just don't see it.  SO as I rounded the corner, I was a bit tingly from excitement.

It did not disappoint.  From Trocadero, you can see the whole tower, the top still hidden by the morning fog.  It's all the things you hear everyone say about it, and for a tourist destination, it isn't cheesy at all.  It is a marvel.  

I headed up the garden toward the gates, all the time the tower getting bigger and bigger, more and more detailed.  A few of us who were walking in a group all almost got ran over by a truck, we were so busy looking up.

Once on the property proper, we all lined up.  The tower elevators open at 9:30, and it was only 10:00, but the line up extended well past the caged queue section.  I was in line for about 45 minutes, took some snaps and got through security. 

Once my ticket was purchased (something most people evidently do in advance) I was in the short line waiting for the elevator.  It seemed to go up forever, and that was only to the 1st landing.  

We kept going up to the second, then were waved in a general direction toward the elevator that would take us to the very top.  The view is indeed breathtaking.  I was a wee bit disappointed that the fog was hanging on, so my pics are a bit unclear, but you get the gist.

There was a large group of teenagers screaming around the top, seemingly attended to by only one adult, so I was motivated by my annoyance and made my way down the elevator to the second level, where there was more space and less adolescence. The view is equally astounding here.  Not only because you're so high up, but because you're looking at PARIS.  

The city really is beautiful in it's architecturally asymmetry.  Circles of buildins swirl, place de Concorde cuts a swath through the whole thing, Notre Dame imposes it's dauntingly stunning spires above it all.  The new area of Paris is kept all in one place, more or less, so the modern buildings aren't dotted in the with the old, which is nice. My stomach required attention, so I decided to skip the line up waiting for the elevator going down and took the stairs.  My knees were not happy about this and I realized how much walking I had been doing and that my joints were actually not feeling so hot.  I felt old for about thirty seconds, then saw a woman at least ten years my junior walking up the stairs, red faced, whining and wheezing.  Schadenfreude saves the day, again.

On the main deck, there's a small garden area, two restaurants and a gift shop, as well as a promenade all the way around the perimeter.  It's a huge area and reminds you of the scale of the tower itself.  I peeked in to ta restaurant and was told they'd be open in 20 minutes.  I went to the raised garden area, surrounded by bamboo and watched the staff set up the beverage bar.  I was too early for champagne at the summit level (there's a champagne bar up there), but was looking forward to having a glass or two with lunch.
Once the restaurant was open, I entered and was greeted by a terribly cheerful waiter who sat me next to a window and asked if anyone wold be joining me.  Nope.  He immediately plunked himself into the seat across from me, cupped his chin in his hands and said "I am your date. You're in mt seat."  Charming little thing.  I told him to be a good date and go get Momma some champagne, saying Momma out of habit.  he took to this very quickly and for the rest of my meal called me Momma instead of Madame, which I think he got flack from his boss for.  But it was cute and made me feel at home.

The concept of the restaurant was a bit weird, but interesting.  You could order a la carte or prix fixe, but your starters and dessert were picked up at a counter, then your main was prepared and brought out to you.  Drinks were served by your server.  SO I went for the prix fixe 3 course, wondering if this was going to be bad tourist food or if they could pull this off.  The starter and dessert came in seperate little covered boxes, carefully placed in a wire basket and walked over to my table. Weird, but they both were beautifully presented.  I had a duck and foie terrine to start, served with bread.  I dug into the terrine and was happy - just salty enough, the duck was tender and not too much aspic (blech).  My main came out in its own little box, salmon with risotto and fava beans, again, nicely presented. The 
salmon was remarkably well cooked. I was expecting it to come out dry, but it was moist and lovely.  The risotto as well, was obviously cooked by someone who knew what they were doing. So as much as delivery of the food was odd to me, the food itself was above par. And of course, so was the bubbly.

My waiter brought me a second glass without asking and winked at me.  "I assume, Momma." God bless him.  So all in all, two glasses of champagne, three courses, tax and tip = 47 euros. For a restaurant in the Eiffel Tower, I was impressed. I wold have thought at least 60, but there it was.  I was reading my bill as I headed out the door with my camera slung over my shoulder.  My subconscious must have thought the weight of the camera was my purse, but as I entered the gift shop and looked down, there was no purse.  Merde.

I started around the gift shop to the exit when I heard a furtive semi-whisper "pssst... Momma? Are you in here?"  Sweetest boy in the world chased me down with my purse. Vive la France, I say. 

As I left the Tour EIffel area and walked along the Seine, I decided I'd walk up toward Le Place de Concorde and see what was what.  The walk itself is lovely, with trees and leaves blowing in a gentle wind, and not too crowded.  The bridges started to appear... Alma, Invalides, Alexandre III.  I crossed here to the other side of the Seine and crossed over to walk up Avenue Winston Churchill, between the Grand Palais and Petite Palais to the Champs Elysees.  

Standing in the middle of the road on a pedestrian island, you can look up one way and see L'Arc de Triomphe and down the other and see the Obelisque that marks Le Place de La Concorde.  I started toward the Obelisque, and veered off the sidewalk to amble through a garden walkway that was named something to do with Ambassadors, I can't recall.

Le Place de La Concorde is crazy.  It's beautiful and traffic is insane.  Trying to take pictures while crossing the street may not have been smart, but everyone was doing it, regardless of the horns blaring at us.

Continuing further, I came to the gates to le Jardin de Tuileries, which is just plain lovely.  What a culture - a park full of people sitting in chairs, dotted everywhere, not bolted down, no graffiti on the benches, just people napping in the afternoon sun.  Four cafes with wine and coffee and snacks line the main walkway.  On either side of the main path there are little gardens off set with ponds and different flowers and ducks.  Lots of ducks.  I chose a small garden with a statue of Pan at the head of the pond.  It was so amazing ot think this had been built of royalty, that it had been around for so long, being enjoyed by all sorts of people for centuries.  I grabbed a coffee and continued up to another fountain and sat for a while longer.  My feet hurt and I was pretty sure there was a blister forming somewhere.

I could see the gate to the Louvre coming up ahead.  As I got near the entrance I could see the line up and my feet immediately informed me there was no way in hell I was walking through a museum.  I deked left and found a Metro Station.  I got back to my hotel around 4:30.  I picked up some wine and cheese on my way back.  I happily munched in my room and watched BBC Newsworld for a couple of hours. My feet were throbbing, so I laid back and put my feet up for a bit, and naturally dozed off.  I woke up and drowsily wandered to a nearby cafe for a light supper and glass of wine.

Back to my room for the night, another glass of wine and a long, solid sleep.

-- The wireless connection I have is blinking out, so uploading pics is sooooo slow.  I'll post pics when I get a better connection.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Sacre Coeur, Montmartre, Galleries LaFayette - Wednesday

Jet lag sucks. There's not other way to say it - it just sucks.  A whole city is buzzing around you and you are out of sync.

I woke up Wednesday morning at 6 am.  This is so obviously out of character, but I was wide awake so I made tea and got dressed and was out the door around 8 am. I sat and had a leisurely coffee at a cafe on my way up Rue Mont Cenis.  I had studied my map and knew that if I continued straight up this road, I would wind up at Sacre Coeur. I headed up the road around 9 am.

Now, I had heard that Sacre Coeur was on top of a hill, but I had no idea how much of a hill, nor did I know there were more ways than one to climb said hill.  I was going up the back side, which turned out to be all stairs.  Four sets of stairs, each enough to set my lungs ablaze. Damned French and their cigarettes.

I used the excuse to take pictures at the top of each flight, to badly mask the fact that I was about to have a coronary.

Add caption

Once I reached the top, there was a small village of tourist shops and men with sketch pads all wanting to draw me.  "I am inspired, madam." I bet you are.  "I must draw your red hair." Oh lord.  I waded through the small crowd (It was early yet) and rounded a corner to see the side of the cathedral.  I've seen pictures of all sorts of churches but this was impressive.  The scale of the building is enormous.  I walked slowly to the front of the building, but what took my breath away first was the view of the city from here. The city was still under a slight morning mist but you cold see how wide spread the city was.  I turned my attention back to Sacre Coeur.

I'll let the pictures tell you about the exterior.  

We weren't allowed to take photos inside, which is a shame, as the art and skill used inside was magnificent.  The central focus was the basilica, of course - a huge Christ surrounded by all the saints and apostles.  The walk way took us around the side and back of the building, behind the dais. Small alcoves with statues of all sorts of saints for praying to dotted the path. As I neared the other side of the room, a song started and a clear soprano began to sing a hymn.  Mass was starting.  In French, which was a newbie for me.  The priest extended a welcome to everyone and encouraged people to sit and take rest.  

I sat for a bit on the side.  I am not Catholic, but ritual has always fascinated me.  After a few minutes, I made my way back outside and started down the front of the property.

Once at the bottom of the hill I was in Montmartre, the tourist area.  The whole street was lined with your typical shops all screaming for your attention, filled with tacky bric-a-brac of all sorts of shapes and sizes.  It was about 11:30 at this point and I was hungry.  I stopped into a small cafe and ordered a beer.  As I looked at the menu, I knew I was going to get ripped off, so I finished my beer and decided to head out and find a reasonable cafe or bistro further away from the hullabaloo.

I have found that the challenge to getting around Paris on foot is keeping my bearing.  The buildings are just high enough and the streets narrow enough that you can't see anything above.  So I started walking, hoping I was going the right direction.  I wasn't, of course, and turned myself around.  I wanted to get to Les Galleries Lafayette, which is a high end shopping mall.  I assumed i would find somewhere to eat along the way. 

 I finally got headed in the right direction and grabbed a seat at a brasserie cloes to the mall. I barely got "Bonjour" out when the waiter asked, in French, "Language, please?"  Uh.  English, I guess.  I certainly could have handled a French menu, but whatever.  I was sat on a banquette next to three other single diners. Nods and smiles were politely passed.  A glass of wine and a Croque Monsieur ordered, I checked my phone for messages and the time. 1 pm.  Not bad. 

My food came out promptly, but was a bit disappointing.  The salad was limp and the Croque Monsieur was dry. At least the wine was good. The place was packed with Parisians, so I assumed I just ordered the wrong thing.  I paid my 11 Euros and headed acorss the street to the mall.

Now some people may think it's tacky to go to a mall in Paris.  But you haven't seen this mall.  It's all designer and the building itself is a masterpiece.  A gorgeous dome made of stained glass hovers above the cosmetics and accessories on the first floor, surrounded by floors and floors of fashion looking down into the atrium.  Menswear is in another building, so the place is filled with women.  Each floor has a small cafe looking over the atrium, one an organic cafe, one a lunch counter and one, ooooh yes, a champagne bar. Ding ding ding.

I took a quick walk through a couple of floors, but I suddenly was hit with a wall of fatigue.  I needed to lie down and sleep in the worst way.  I found my way to the Metro station and was relieved to see that my Metro line - #4, was direct and I wouldn't have to transfer.  This is a very good thing and made my day more than once during my trip.

Back to the hotel and I was out like a light.  Jet lag got the best of me, as well as just needing a rest.  I was asleep at 4 pm, woke up briefly at 10 pm, and slept thorugh to morning.  When I awoke, I didn't have that overslept-feeling.  I was rested and at that moment, was on Paris time.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Paris - Tuesday

The Eurostar is a great way to get anywhere, I must say.  The seats are comfy and there's every kind of amenity you can desire.  I was happy to just sit with my headphones on and listen to music as the English countryside whizzed by.  The tunnels were pitch black and made my ears pop, but we went through them so quickly it was painless.  Once we reached the actual crossing, there was no announcement, but it was evident in 5 minutes that we weren't coming out of this tunnel anytime soon. The pressure was evidence of how deep we were, and twenty minutes later, voila, we were in France.

Which looked pretty much like the other side, at the beginning.  Slight architectural changes started to emerge.  The houses were further apart.  Church spires in every village differed in style and height were surrounded by low row houses and such.  Farmland spread all around.

We got about 20 minutes into France and there it was.  A friggin rainbow.  Big, too.  I had a good chuckle to myself and thought "Yup, welcome to France, the pot of gold, girl."

We pulled into Gare du Nord and I dragged my luggage out, following the crowds toward the terminal.  I had looked on a map and thought I could take the Metro to my hotel, but was suddenly nervous that I didn't know where I was and opted for a taxi.


The queue for the taxis was a good 40 minutes long.  Around 35 minutes in, I asked and English speaking guy behind me if the taxis take credit cards here, recalling my London experience.  He had no idea, but thought most did.  Great.

Most don't.

And of course, I had no Euros purchased yet.  SO after my 40 minutes of waiting, I headed back into the station and bought some cash.  When I got back ot the queue, it had expanded to a good hour wait.  Oh well.  I wasn't in a rush, right?

Finally I get to the front of the line and head to the next available car.  Destination, madame?  I gave him the address, twice, and the arrondissemnt and he shook his head.  Non, madame.  Pardon, I said?  Whaddya mean "non"?.  I will not go to zat place.  Why not?  It ees not far enough.  Are you fucking kidding me?  At this point I'm tired, hungry and pissed right off.  We start to argue, partly in French, all the swearing in English ("Je ne donne pas un flying fuck qu'est ce que tu dis...").  The taxi queue is entertained as I inform the driver that his face resembles his own ass, and so does his mother's.

Another driver shows up and amusedly taps my shoulder and swishes me away in another car.  He informs me that the cab company that I was dealing with "ees very bad".  No shit.  We very slowly distance ourselves from the train station. Traffic is insane.  I should have taken the Metro.  I could have walked, actually.  Faster.  We arrive at the hotel, I am wished a good day and I step up to the front desk to check in.  

Some American man who speaks pretty decent French is standing there, telling the clerk about his shoe purchase.  Now we all know, I'm one for celebrating new footwear, but I just wanted to get to my room and have a cup of tea.  He finally noticed I was standing there and moved on.  I was checked in and pointed to the elevator.  The elevator barely fit me and my luggage, and was ancient and slow... sooooo slowwwwww. 

Off on the third floor and I opened my room door.  It was tiny, but clean with a desk, bed and closet and two bedside tables with a small shower only bathroom adjoining were brightly lit, with a Juliet balcony over looking the courtyard.  I dumped my suitcase on the bed and unpacked.  The kettle quickly came to a boil and I sat and updated this blog for an hour, as well as texted to Loic that I was in town.

I laid down for a nap, still feeling a bit jet laggish.

The phone woke me up, loud and piercing.  It was Loic, let's have wine later, yay.

I got up and started to get ready for my first night out in Paris.


Le Cave de L'Insolide

Loic had given me pretty clear intruction on how to get to the restaurant.  It seemed prety straight forward.  The only point of concern for me was the Metro.  This would be my first outing on transit, and I had heard it could be fairly complicated.  I had a Metro map and felt fairly good that I knew where I was going.  I actually didn't do too badly.  I got on the right line, just headed the wrong way. I relaized this before I had even goneone stop, so I was quick to turn around.  I had to transfer lines at Strasbourg-St Denis and made sure I was going the right direction.  Once I exited at St Ambroise I had to guess left or right, and luckily guessed right.  Up the street a few blocks and there was Loic, smoking outside with a few of his friends, both girls, Mathilde and Akisi.  I was introduced and we all headed inside.

The room was brightly lit, even though it was evening.  There we four large tables with at least 6 chairs around each of them, all different heights and sizes.  The front corner was packed with wine of all makes and sizes.  My hosts had already been there for a bit, as the 1.5 l of wine sitting on the table was already 1/3 in.  I was offered a glass and smiled as I recognized the varietal - Cahors.  My recent favorite!  Have I had this before?  Ohhhh yeah.  Tasty.

So then the conversation progresses in both French and English.  I was told my French had no accent, which I took as a compliment.  I realized by the topics that were coming up that I was with youngsters, but they didn't seem to care, so neither did I.  They asked my what my favorite DIsney movie was. Loic suggested Snow White, I assume because he actually knows how old I am, dink.  I thought back and said I guess it would be The Little Mermaid.  They hadn't heard of it.  I had a flash of the title in French and said La Petite Reine?  Oh my sweet lord.  They both started singing "Part of your world" but in French.  Loudly. Loic blamed me for starting this.  I mean they sang the WHOLE song.  Which sounded like a pretty close translation to the English version, but anyway...

Once the song was over, we ordered another bottle of wine and some charcuterie and cheese,  They also had a gorgeous Iberico ham leg (hoof attached) on display and I nodded vigorously when asked if we wanted any.  Loic had a minor rant on eating Spanish ham in a French establishment, but the ham won. 

The restaurant, it turns out, retails wine all day, then opens for service in the evening.  Two slate plaques have the days meat and cheese selections printed on them and are presented when you want to order.  You can wander over to the win and pick your own, which is then opened and brought over to you.  They charge 1 euro for corkage.  The 1.5 litre of Cahors, which was ridonk good, was 21 euros.  By the end of the night, after 3l s of Cahors and a 750 ml of Saumur Champigny, cheese, charcuterie plus Iberico ham, each of us paid around 40 bucks.  This is my kind of place.  The owners were sweet and informed me I didn't need to go to any other place, I should just come back there every night.  They were cute enough to tempt me.  I'll definitely be back before I leave.

We closed the place down and headed out to our mutual Metro stations, but not before Mathilde asked me if I wanted to come to a party Saturday night.  A surprise party of a friend of theirs who lives in St Germain de Pres and has a gorgeous old apartment I just have to see.  One night in, invited to a party already! I accepted and we exchanged contact information.  A dress up party no less!  This may call for shopping!

I got to my hotel around 1 am and hit the hay with little ado.  I was planning to take my first excursion to Sacre Coeur the nexy day and wanted to be rested.  I had no idea how much rest I would need...

London - Monday

So to go back a bit, the flight over wasn't as cramped as it could have been - I had an aisle seat and the other guy had the window, so the middle seat was empty. We had a bit of leg room to stretch out, which helped a bit.  My hip almost popped out a couple of times from cramping and flexing, but alas, cheap seats are what they are.

The jackasses in front of me were two young boys on their way to London and Manchester.  They were brothers, I think, and both rude, ignorant idiots with Justin Bieber hair and pissy outlooks on life, which they were loud and vocal about.  They made fun of people within earshot, the laughed at the staff's accents, and, in my opinion were just all around shitwits.  But the kicker for me was that they had an iPad and insisted on watching videos at full volume.  I asked them numerous times to turn it dow or use headphones, each time getting an eye roll and "yeah sure, lady".  The worst of it was when, during the night when everyone was sleeping, they turned on some program that involved building a generator.  From scratch.  Expolsions, people yelling over equipment... it was completely ridiculous.  SO I did what anyone would do -- I tattled.  I went to the back and brought an employee up to their seats and had her threaten to confiscate the device if they didn't turn it off.

Well, of course, this immediately pissed the boys off and they started to opine on my nature in a vocal way, until the man sitting next to me, a quiet British dude with bad socks and worse teeth, finally snapped. He slammed the backs of both the boys seats, told them to sod off and if they didn't shut up, he was going to have them arrested once we landed.  I'm not sure how he thought he was going to manage that, but it scared the boys enough to shut them up.  The lovely man then turned to me, and, bless him, apologized to me for his outburst, and went back to sleep. Rule Britannia.

The rest of the flight was as noted above.

View from my hotel window - St Pancras Station

London - Monday

My day in London was shorter than anticipated.  Due to the lack of sleep on the plane, I was completely exhausted by the time I got to my hotel and checked in.  I fell asleep hard for 5 hours and woke up at 7:15 feeling better, but still groggy.  I got dressed and hopped on the tube to Leicster Square, which was closest to the bar at which my friend Geoff worked.  On the map, it looked easy enough to find, but once I got above ground I was completely blown away and hadn't the foggiest clue in London Town as to where the hell I was supposed to go. The lights were dizzying, the crowds all seemed to have destinations that I was in direct conflict with, and I felt like a little kid at the 149 day Tuesday sale at Woodwards.  I saw a taxi waiting at a light and hopped in, knowing I was fully about to sound like a tourist (which is stupid, because I AM a tourist, but whatever) -- "I need to get to 13a Gerrard Street.  I know it's right around here, but I have no idea where."  He smiled politely and drove me less than 2 minutes away to Chinatown, which is one street, walking only. For 4 euros, I was happy to be in the right place.  I never would have found it on my own.

I walked up Gerrard Street, counting numbers up the right hand side, looking for the Far East restaurant.  There were all the typical Chinese restaurants, with ducks in the window and the familiar acrid and savoury smells I've grown accustomed to back home.  I found the door - an unmarked, non-descript black door with a peep hole.  A man in a bow tie in front of it asked if I had a booking.  "No," I said, "But I'm here to see Geoff."  FOr a second I thought he wasn't going to let me in, but his eyes suddenly lit up and he said "You're the Canadian?" Yesirree, that's me, the only Canadian in London and in I went.

Up a narrow flight of stairs and I was in a charming bar, not much bigger than my living room.  A decent size marble bar, with Geoff coming out from behind it, was stocked with all things familiar and new.  A hug and kiss and scoot onto a bar stool had me at Geoff's whim, as usual.  The entire "club" itself is on three levels.  The main bar, in which I sat, a third floor bar, slightly smaller, upstairs, and the fourth floor with a small kitchen for charcuterie and cheese and the toilets.  The decor was anything but Asian, which I had envisioned.  Instead it was comfortable and slightly Victorian.  Well-apoointed, but not stuffy.  And of course, the drinks were lovely.  All 5 of them.  

I sat and chatted with Geoff about back home, his plans and such, when I suddenly saw a menu being passed and realized I was in the Experimental Cocktail Club.  I didn't know the place even had a name, but the ECC boys have a great reputation, the owners being from such places as Milk and Honey NYC and the like.  AND they have a bar in Paris, or so I was told back home.  But no, they have three bars in Paris, I learned.  By the end of the night I had a list of names and addresses for all three, in case I need a break from wine and have a hankering for a decent drink during my Paris stint.

I took a taxi back to my hotel and had no problem falling fast asleep.

I awoke the next morning early.  I had wanted to sleep more, but my body was against the idea.  I packed, got dressed and headed down to the basement for breakfast.  Two sips of bad coffee and a few mouthfuls of yogurt later and I realized I did not feel well at all.  I went upstirs and laid down, feeling nauseated.  I was worried - I didn't want to be ill, and this wasn't a hangover, so what was it?  I tried to relax and rest for an hour when it dawned on me.  It was nerves.  I had been in transit and getting from here to there that I hasn't stopped to acknowledge that I was really on this trip, that I was heading to Paris in less than 2 hours and that I was doing it all on my own.  Fancy that.  I laughed to myself and got up, still feeling a bit off, but relieved that I wasn't really sick, just jittery.

A short walk to St Pancras Station and check in to Eurostar left me waiting in the waiting area for the train.  Once our platform was announced, we all herded up the escalator and sorted ourselves into our coaches.