Paris, France 2006

Thursday May 18- Sunday May 21, 2006

One of the trips that we have taken that has no written or photo record (with one exception, above) was our trip to Paris, France in the spring of 2006. There were certain aspects of the relatively short trip (three nights) that we remember pretty well, and most of the rest of the memories are sporadic at best. This is one of the trips that prompted me to start keeping a more detailed journal when travelling.

We arrived in Paris in the late morning/early afternoon on Thursday. Besides our planned dinner on Friday (see detail below), we really had no plans. We did some looking around and saw that a band that we were at least familiar with was playing at the Elysee Montmartre the same night that we arrived. We did not buy tickets in advance, just in case of travel issues. It turned out that we had plenty of time. We went to the venue and the doors had not yet opened, although the box office was. We asked for two tickets and tried to pay with a credit card, which, sadly, they did not accept. Now we needed to find an ATM, and with the amount of time before the show figure we should grab something to eat. We head down the street and soon enough find an ATM that we can use. With Euros in hand, we head to a brasserie across the street from the Elysee Montmartre. It is a pretty small place that reminds us of a nice diner. Nothing fancy. I don’t remember anything specific about the meal, but remember thinking that it felt like a foreign place to have an eatery so plain looking with great French food. Afterwards we headed across the street to the show. It was an upstairs club where you enter at street level and go upstairs to the main room. It looked like a smaller version of the Roseland Ballroom in NYC and was surprisingly small for the caliber of bands that have played here over the years. There were two opening acts that night that we had never heard of. The first was a little bit of a culture shock for us…a white, French rapper. He literally walks on stage hand planted firmly in crotch, asking “yo, yo, yo ca va?” He then proceeded to perform with his turntable DJ, rapping away in French and getting respectable response from the audience. Next was another band we did not know. I have no idea if they were local or not. Eventually the lights go down and “Hail To The Chief” comes over the P.A. and the Presidents Of The United States Of America take the stage. They play a decent enough show and we are not disappointed to have spent our evening this way. We make our way back to the hotel neighborhood and stop for a nightcap and some Scrabble at the café/bar across the street from the hotel.

We are staying in the Montmartre section of the city which is not exactly in the center of the action. We are comfortable enough with our public transportation and language skills to get ourselves anywhere we need to go. Also, having been to Paris in 2002 just four years earlier, our list of must-see places had been whittled a bit. This trip we concentrated mostly on walking the streets and enjoying the day to day life of Paris as opposed to running from landmark to landmark. We got our breakfasts at the bakery across the street from the hotel (connected to the bar we nightcapped in the previous night). The one landmark that we did make a repeat visit to was the Eiffel Tower. On our way we passed by the Basilique du Sacre Coeur which stands on the highest point in the Montmartre section of the city giving a wonderful panoramic view of the city. So as not to spoil our dinner appetites on Friday, we did eat just a light lunch at a café next to the Bastille. That was as close as we got to the Bastille. We do not know if they even offer tours through the building or not. One lunch we had on Saturday was at a Middle Eastern restaurant where I had a chicken stew with roasted vegetables served over couscous. We have learned to ask to be seated in the non-smoking sections of restaurants, primarily because the cloud of smoke that can exist in some places makes it difficult to enjoy meals to the fullest. If I remember correctly, this particular place did not offer a non-smoking section, but did offer to seat us away from other patrons, by ourselves in the back of the room (this reminded me of the Denis Leary joke regarding a restaurant with 2 smoking sections: regular and ultra!”). Luckily the place wasn’t too crowded and I wound up really liking my chicken stew. Besides the couple of places that stick in my mind, our trip was centered around strolling through the city, stopping at a café at a bar to use the facilities and making a purchase while we were there, then pressing on until the urge hit us again for a bathroom stop when we would stop at the next café or bar in our path and repeat. One of my favorite things to do in any foreign city is to get a page from the phone book of the used record shops, then, while we sit at a café or bar look to see if any of the shops are located in the area we are stopped in. El doesn’t enjoy the record shops as much as I do, but agrees that the process has taken us to some of the less traveled areas of some of the cities we have visited. Sometimes she joins me and sometimes we make a plan to split up so she can go visit some churches/cathedrals while I wander from shop to shop until our designated meeting time. This method gives us a chance to see some of the sections that we might not otherwise get to see…and that is a good thing. In 2002 our six day vacation was split three nights in London and then three nights in Paris. I fell in love with London on that trip and thought Paris was far less enjoyable than the first three nights in London. In 2005 our six day vacation was a return to London for three days and then on to three days in Madrid, Spain when we had a much less enjoyable time in London than our 2002 trip with fond memories of our time in Madrid- to the point that we would like to return there. As for this, our return to Paris, we both wound up leaving with a great feeling even though the first time included our stops at the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, dining at Michelin 3 star Gran Vefour, and Arc de Triomphe/Champs-Elysee among other highlights. Because of this I have not been able to qualify what makes a city more or less enjoyable. All we can do is reflect as we leave if this was one of the better or more mediocre experiences we have had. This turned out to be a great trip on many different levels.

Restaurant Guy Savoy 5/19/06

In June of 2005, my sister Amanda got married to Brian. El and I had attended the wedding and needed to come up with a wedding gift for them. I had asked, at some point, what their honeymoon plans were. The answer was: “Paris, probably”. El and I had gone to Paris in May of 2002 and wanted to do something unique using our experience as a guide. The morning after the wedding I told Amanda that we did not yet have a gift for them, but that I needed to know the minute they had their details for Paris or if that changed so that we could arrange for an alternate gift. Fast forward to the spring of 2006 when we got the call from Amanda that their week in Paris was scheduled for May.

One of the dining highlights in our lives was a night we had spent at Restaurant Guy Savoy in Paris. When we were planning our own trip in 2002, we wanted to experience a Michelin 3 star restaurant. These are considered the best of the best dining rooms in the world and there was no way you could have anything but a spectacular meal at any one of them…provided you could get a reservation. Back then I researched the Guide De Michelin and put together a wishlist of places to try on our vacation which I then sent on to a friend living in France and asked her to make a few calls and get us a reservation if possible. She was successful at getting us into Guy Savoy for, what turned out to be, one of the most memorable meals of our lives. Among several memorable moments during our meal was a champagne cart that was rolled from table to table offering a pre-dinner champagne toast, taking advantage of the service, and then getting the bill to find out the glasses were $50 each! We agree we shouldn’t have had that second glass!! The meal included one of the singularly amazing dishes we have ever had: Chef Savoy’s signature dish of artichoke soup with black truffles served with shaved parmesan and a toasted brioche that a server actually arrives tableside to discreetly butter for you with the accompanying dish of black truffle butter. The taste is sublime and after all of these years, it ranks as one of the finest dishes I have ever had the privilege of eating. The romantic aspect of Paris coupled with the (hopefully) once in a lifetime experience of a honeymoon and a personal connection with this particular place all seemed like an opportunity not to be passed up. El and I decided to give a gift certificate and a reservation at Guy Savoy to Amanda and Brian as the gift they were waiting for. I contacted my friend in France once again and told her what I needed. We sent Amanda and Brian a letter explaining that we were giving them a dining experience that we hoped they would truly enjoy and gave them the background of why we chose this place and hoped they would have a meal as memorable as the one we had there four years earlier. They were sincerely appreciative and looked forward to it as much as we hoped they would.

What we didn’t tell anyone was the second part of our plan. We thought it would be an amazing surprise if El and I would take a long weekend and fly to Paris and actually join them for the meal that they already looked forward to. When making the reservation, we had asked our friend to make it for four instead of just the two. I was careful to emphasize to Amanda and Brian just how important it was that they not attempt to alter their reservation in any way to which they agreed. El and I arrived at Restaurant Guy Savoy about 15 minutes earlier than the reservation time. Being Europe, our arriving closer to 6pm ensured we would be one of the first tables seated for the evening. We went to the maitre d’ podium and explained that we were there to surprise the others in the party. The staff understood completely and sat us immediately at a table in a room around a corner so as not to be noticed until the last possible second. As expected, Amanda and Brian showed on time for the reservation and when one of the servers saw that they had arrived, he gave us a signal to alert us. As they followed the host to the table and rounded the corner, the look on their faces could not have been more perfect. They were as surprised as we expected they would be. It really was a priceless moment that began what turned out to be a fabulous meal with fabulous people. Since it is a signature dish, the artichoke soup was again on the menu and we insisted that they order it since the soup was a catalyst for bringing the whole evening to fruition. We were there for about 4 ½ hours that night enjoying the experience and at the end El and I knew we had put forth a good effort to create a night that none of us would forget. Now when someone asks what was the most cliché thing we have ever done…we can say we flew to Paris for dinner, and there’s a story to go with that.