Sunday, January 30, 2011

Paris: Day 2 & Day 3

As Chris and I are definitely enjoying the closest thing ever to our perfect Paris trip, I feel it is only fair that I should describe the mess that preceded our entry to our Paris-Apartment-in-the-Sky...

Way back when I booked our flights from Nice to Paris, I booked them early-ish in the day. We have learned over the years that one thing we hate most about travelling is waiting leave a place you love; it’s far better to get up early in the morning and be done with the leaving. So after an early morning flight from Nice, we arrived in Paris and took a taxi to Jardins des Tuileries where we enjoyed one of our favourite Parisian lunches: warm goat cheese salads served with fresh baguettes and Kronenbourgs. We had several hours until our check-in time at 3 p.m.

Now here is another thing I have learned after several trips to Paris. No matter how beautifully you imagine your perfect Parisian moment, sometimes it will go horribly wrong.

After lunch, Google map in hand (finally a map!), and with each of us dragging our 50lb plus rolling suitcases, we started the 1.5 km walk up the Champs Elysees, towards Avenue Kleber and eventually to our apartment. As I had imagined the sun was shining and the views of Paris were stunning. It was a short-lived moment.

Crossing Place de la Concorde was terrifying. Dragging the suitcases up along the uneven cobblestones was an exercise in strength and pain. And when we reached the foot of the Champs Elysees, we both lost our tempers. What was supposed to be an idyllic walk turned out to be an angry race, with me more or less chasing Chris up the Champs Elysees while trying to dodge tourists unmoved by our fierce expressions and too-heavy luggage. By the time we reached the Arc de Triomphe, we were gasping for breath and glaring at each other. And we still had an hour before check-in.

This is one of those moments when you realize travelling can be absolute hell and you have to make a decision. You have to decide whether to get over the situation - and quite frankly, get over yourself - and let the moment dissipate and be what it is; just one, tiny utterly shit moment in a trip that will be full of once in a lifetime, life changing moments. Anyone who has travelled beyond the world of all –inclusive resorts and hyper-scheduled motor coach tours will tell you that these shit moments are common and happen more often than you like.

Travelling is being with your partner 24/7, it's about the unfamiliar, and adapting to situations that can throw you off. At home, you know your habits, you know what time your partner wakes up, comes home and the position they favour for couch surfing on the weekends. While travelling, everything is changed and tested. It can either make you miserable or it can make you fall in love with your partner in a different, more significant way. When I see Paris through Chris' eyes, I love Paris more and when I see Chris in Paris, I fall more in love with him. Maybe that explains why travel and romance are often linked together.

You have to rise about the moment, let it go, and remind yourself that you are in a place that many people will never be. As familiar as I become with Paris, it still can surprise me, infuriate me and humble me all at the same time. At the end of the day though, Paris is the city of my dreams and even with all unrealistic ideals, it still surpasses my expectations.

Chris and I eventually caught our breath, calmed down and took a moment to remember and appreciate where we were. Which means I must now return to writing about our perfect Paris.

On Saturday night, we came across what looked to be a very hip restaurant at the top of Trocadero, 17 place de Trocadero, Le Café de l’Homme (located next to Musee de L'Homme) (, complete with a marble hall entrance, security and valet parking. It was intimidating even from a distance. Tonight though, Monday, full of confidence and neighbourhood entitlement, we strutted down the marble hallway and exchanged bons mots with the maitre d’, first I tried pleasantries in French and then after his Gallic show of incredulity,

“Mon dieu, you have no reservation!” (sweeping arm gestures)

But for once in my life, I was not intimidated at all by his Frenchness, rather I shrugged a semi-indifferent, half-passable Gallic shrug and said, in English,

“Well, we were just in the neighbourhood and thought we would come for dinner.”

At which he genuinely laughed and with more sweeping arm gestures, swept Chris and I through the heavy, red velvet draped dining room and to a table pour deux on the patio. Patio isn’t the right word; there was no beer, no chicken wings being thrown about. Rather, it was like sitting on the edge of a small, sunken cliff, overhanging the steps of Trocadero with sweeping, heart stopping views of the Eiffel Tower. I ate one of the best dinners of my life, a simply prepared steak, frites, in the company of my two loves.

There was one, shameful thing that cast a shadow of ugliness of Café de l’Homme’s chic ambience. Improper attire. To my fellow travellers, particularly North Americans and particularly those North Americans to the South, even if you read about a restaurant on TripAdvisor or in one of those dreadful Top Ten travel guides, it does not mean the restaurant has been "North Americanized". As in it is not apropos to question the pricing, nor is it ok to wear camouflage shorts and flip-flops and ask every waiter to take your photo. It's fine dining, not Disneyland Paris.

Prior to Cafe de l'Homme, we had a Sunday to pass in Paris. As I wrote about Nice, Sunday’s are difficult in France, a county that places greater importance on both relaxation and family. With virtually nothing open, Parisians fill the streets and parks en famille. For Chris and I, lovers of shopping and not of children, Sunday’s can be tedious as both of us can only spend so much time lying in the grass or looking at flowers. What resulted was a day with a lot of aimless wandering before splitting up; Chris back to relax at our apartment and me to the Champs Elysees – a guilty Paris pleasure of mine and one of the only streets open of shopping on Sunday. I bought two classic button-up shirts from Bruce Field ( - Banana Republic-ish, less expensive, better tailoring and minus all the Made in China - and another imitation Chanel piece in the form of a multi-strand, flower, chiffon and pearl necklace.

Chris and I met up for dinner and ended up eating our obligatory terrible Parisian meal. It usually happens once a trip and is always a result of walking for too long on an empty stomach and settling for a restaurant named after the corner on which it sits. In this case, it was Brasserie Mont. Another bad sign is that you will not see any French people eating, only drinking and then heading for somewhere better. What arrived on our plates was pre-packaged crap, barely warm and with no taste. Also interesting, and the only time I have ever seen it on a men, was burger de cheval (horse burger!). I do appreciate that horse meat is common in France and though I don’t expect everyone to treat their horse as we do, a 1200 pound baby that enjoys a steady diet of organic carrots and Starbucks oat bas, even if I was a gourmet and not a 33 year old horse mad woman, I would not try burger de cheval in corner restaurant named after its street.

Believe it or not, even after the terrible dinner, we were still in the mood for more Paris. A spontaneous trip to the top of the Arc de Triomphe at sunset was the perfect end to our evening. Paris at sunset, with all of its the corners stretching out, every monument recognizable, the genius planning of the Boulevards and the backdrop of a pale, purple sky. It brought us to tears and rendered us speechless.

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