Paris Crêpes and more

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 a counter with bar
stools. If the restaurant is crowded I will go for a walking tour
or check my email at one of the nearby Internet cafés and return to
find the Casse Croute Grec less crowded. The Greek sandwich
platters provide a large amount of tasty food, including an ample
supply of often much-needed vegetables.  This husband and wife
team provides high quality food in surprisingly large amounts (for
Paris) at a great price. Rue Mouffetard and Rue DuPont, near The
Université de Sorbonne, also provide an ample number of cafés and
restaurants.

Numerous Halloween
decorations and Halloween flyers were present. On Halloween night,
many college students were in costume. Many cafés had long lines
of costumed patrons waiting to enter the festivities. This Americana
scene in the Latin Quarter was as interesting as it was unexpected.

There
are 14 métro lines in Paris. On every trip I travel to the very
end of one line, exit, and explore the surrounding area. These
mini-adventures have helped me find real gems such as Château de
Vincennes and less attractive areas such as Porte de Clignancourt.

Paris
is a special place. I am always looking at the airfares and often
daydreaming of future trips. Since my initial college trip to
Paris I have noticed many changes. A few come to mind: the
litter situation has improved. In college, I remember asking a
sidewalk vendor what to do with the paper leftover from a jambon et
fromage crêpe.  His response was, “This is Paris, throw it on the
ground.” Things have changed since then. Thankfully, the
dog-refuse situation has greatly improved. I remember I used to
hate to roll my suitcase through the sidewalks of Paris, or for that
matter sometime even walk. Apparently, the dog-curbing
requirements are being enforced. Unbelievably, non-smoking areas
in restaurants, required by the city, are actually
materializing. I was pleased to find smoke-free areas in many
restaurants.

The security issues
have changed the complexion of everything. You will find these
changes at the airport, museums, stores, monuments,
everywhere. Today you can expect to go through many metal
detectors, ladies must display the contents of their purse, students
display the contents of their book bag, etc., etc.,
etc. Motorcycles with sirens blaring followed by military police
with guns protruding from the windows is not uncommon. Today,
there are not as many American visitors as in the past. Parisians
remain as stoic as ever. Don’t expect a warm and fuzzy
reception. Generally speaking, many Parisians are not pleased with
our government. I have made a concerted effort to rise above this fray
and remain on great terms with new and old Parisian friends. I have
traveled all over the world. I can imagine nothing better in life
than strolling down the Champ-Elysées, having a morning coffee break at
Café Deux Magots or an afternoon libation on any of the cafés along the
Boulevard St.-Michel or Boulevard St-Germain. For me, this is
life; this is sustenance. Now, the question at hand is will USAIR
have its customary efare special to Paris in January? I’m counting
on it.


Art Buehler is a
single parent who lives with his two sons in rural Powhatan
Virginia.  Former jobs have included: environmental engineer for
The Virginia Dept. of Environmental Quality, field biologist, nightclub
DJ, and environmental consultant. He now spends his time as a historic
property restoration contractor and as a floundering entrepreneur who
often travels to Paris.

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