Paris Crêpes and more

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I was on the way to Paris for the 14th time and for the 14th time I was regretting the poor condition of my French language skills. This time, I had an excuse: I had booked the trip on Sunday and was traveling the following Wednesday. USAIR had come through again with a very reasonable air fare from Richmond. My two young sons had traveled with me on my last three trips, and the upcoming school holiday weekend made the timing of this trip even better. Unfortunately, I found that their passports had just expired. Fortunately my mom and the boys’ mom were available to take care of the boys. After landing, I breezed through immigration and customs. Just minutes after landing, I was on the Air France bus to the Gare de Lyon. This bus is located on the ramp just outside customs. Different buses travel to different areas of Paris; aller retour (round-trip) tickets are available, and debit and credit cards are accepted. Gare de Lyon works for me as I typically stay in the Latin Quarter area. Métro stops are located at all bus stops and can easily take you close to wherever you are staying. However, the usually quick bus trip turned into a long bus trip, as mid-morning traffic and a few minor accidents clogged the highway. During this back-up, I regretted not taking the bus transfer to the airport’s Terminal Two, where a RER (suburban) métro train travels to St.- Michel. When the bus finally arrived at Gare de Lyon, I opted to walk to my hotel, the Claude Bernard. While the bus stop was literally at the top of the steps to the métro, I opted to take the 30-minute walk. The day was sunny and I like to get the blood flowing after a long, cramped plane flight.  Besides, seeing the flying buttresses of the Cathédral Nôtre-Dame as I cross the Seine is worth the walk. I also believe this walk helps minimize jet lag. The Claude Bernard Hôtel is located on Rue Decole, between the Cathédral Nôtre-Dame and the Panthéon. I had stayed at this hotel four times and have always found the owner, Paul, and the front desk attendant Mohammed helpful and courteous. The breakfast attendant and miscellaneous hotel worker, Pierre, is one of the hardest working I have ever seen. On previous trips, all of the hotel staff were patient and helpful when dealing with my extremely curious sons, Hank and Austin. I checked into room 65, on the top floor, which offers a view of the Cathédral Nôtre-Dame towers.   The small elevator ends at the fifth floor, and a small flight of stairs takes you up to the sixth floor.  This upper-level floor is the quietest area of the hotel, minimizing the noise made by late-night revelers and early morning street cleaners, delivery trucks and garbage trucks. The rooms ending with number five are typical small Parisian hotel rooms.  The rooms ending in two are large rooms, and many are newly renovated. I have stayed at a number of hotels in Paris; many are less expensive, and many are more modern and/or newly renovated. I always prefer to return to The Claude Bernard Hôtel because of the location, the pleasant staff and an overall comfort level. The nearby Hôtel de Carmes and Hôtel California are adequate.  The closest métro station, Maubert Mutualite, is not very helpful. From this location, three connections are typically needed to reach most common destinations. Generally, my métro trips begin by walking past Nôtre-Dame and hopping on the métro at the Hôtel De Ville.   After a shower I was off on my typical walking route, through the tourist restaurants near St-Michel, past the Cathedral, through the Hôtel De Ville, up the Seine to the Samaritaine, back across the Seine and back to the hotel. Later that evening, I would take the yellow métro line to Charles de Gaulle–Etoile and take the first of many walks along the Avenue des Champs- Elyseés. These walks always provide a surprise or two. I noticed a lot of people entering the Mercedes Benz showroom. After entering I found a crowd around the new Mercedes Benz SLR. I had just read about this car in the latest Esquire magazine, where it was described as “The Greatest Car Ever Built.”   And here it was. Just down the Avenue, fashionable models were causing a stir, a line was forming at the Lido on the next block, and further down the Avenue, a commercial was being filmed. What a lively area. On the first night, I normally take the path of least resistance and eat at a tourist restaurant. There are dozens to pick from, all over the Latin Quarter, surrounding St-Michel and along the Seine. One of my favorites is Le Grand Bistro. Modest prices, adequate French-style food and a cosmopolitan tourist crowd make this an attractive restaurant. The locals tend to start dining at 8:00 PM. Expect crowded conditions 8:00 to 10:00 on week nights and 8:00–12:00 on weekends. Parisians linger. Dining is a long experience. Americans, especially those with a Type A personality (like me) have a hard time adapting. It may be a while before you receive a menu; a while longer before your order is taken, and even longer before your (individually and carefully prepared) food is delivered. Virtually everyone is expected to have coffee after dessert. Typically your bill will not be brought to you automatically. You will need to ask for l’addition. The Restaurant les Fêtes Galantes has been my favorite Paris restaurant for ten years. It is located on 17 rue de l’Ecole Polytechnique, just below the Panthéon. The chef and owner, Bébé is a real character. After an evening of hard work in the kitchen, Bébé  will often come out and sit down with the late night diners, offering snifters of brandy for all. The stories abound and Bébé will entertain all. Reservations are a good idea for this and other small restaurants. I will drop by during lunch, 12:00 to 2:00, and make my reservation. Bébé, his wife, son and daughter all contribute to producing an enjoyable fine French dining experience in an unpretentious environment at reasonable prices. Photographs of many regular patrons decorate the partition blocking the front door. I often wonder if the photo of Hank, Austin and a friend will be there when the boys make their right of passage collegiate trip to Paris. Just up the street from Les Fêtes Galantes is Casse Croute Grec. This casual student hangout provides the best crêpes I have found in Paris. The crêpes are generously loaded with your choice of Nutella, Grand Marnier, eggs, ham, cheese, etc. Simply delicious. This ultra-reasonably priced and often crowded shop provides tables by the front door and…
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