Day 1: Departing for Paris

Most people I know consider the actual traveling part of vacations to be a burden. Delays, complications, crowded airports and stress.  For me, it’s the part of unwinding from normal day-to-day living.  The entire process of airports, flying, connections and that transatlantic flight enables me to disconnect and depart from the mundane of daily life and begin the adventure that is vacation.

My initial flight from LAX to O’Hare included one small screaming child and a bad storm that hovered over Chicago temporarily shutting down the airport. Luckily the delay was only around 30 minutes or so, unluckily the baby screamed for nearly the entire flight.  The delay I wasn’t so worried about as I always allow several hours for international connections.

Amy was at my gate as I deplaned. Nothing like a wonderful hug from your best friend who you haven’t seen in several months. We spent an hour or so in the Flagship Lounge catching up over a glass or two of wine and preparing for our upcoming adventure.

The flight from Chicago to Paris is approximately 8 hours, just enough time to get some decent sleep if you manage the flight correctly. Business class allows you to order your meal “on demand” instead of along the standard schedule.  We both opted for this and enjoyed some wine, salad, shrimp and smoked salmon appetizer along with a nice little cheese plate.

By choosing this option we were able to allocate more time to sleeping, a definite perk as the flight was scheduled to arrive at 8:30 am. And of course, sleeping enough on the journey over leaves more time to enjoy Paris on arrival day. Due to a  few more delays we didn’t land until closer to 10 am but still have a full day ahead of us.

Clearing customs was a breeze. We had the business class premium customs passes, but the lines were minimal so we were quickly in the seething arrivals section of the airport.  While crowded and chaotic the airport is at least well signed so it was relatively painless to follow the signs for the RER B train which whisks you right into the city.

Once you reach the train station you descend a few levels to the ticket kiosks.  This is an incredibly easy and inexpensive (under 10 euro per person) way to reach central Paris.  The machines only take euro coins or European based credit cards – US credit cards won’t work as we’re missing a pin/chip combo. There are ATMs on the upper levels of the station (HSBC) prior to descending to the ticket level or you’ll find ATMs throughout the terminal as you approach the train station. There is also a change kiosk to break bills into euro coins.

Just a few minutes more and we descended to the RER B track (11 or 12 I believe). Oddly enough we only saw stairs leading down to the tracks but escalators leading up. An early hint that Paris is not the most accessible city. Conveniently this is the terminating point for the B line so there’s no need to worry about getting on the right B line train. Reaching the Luxembourg station only took about 35 minutes and we were finally in the heart of Paris. We emerged from the small station to the beauty of Luxembourg Garden on one side, blue sky overhead, and one ominous storm cloud teasing us with rain.

Our hotel, Hotel Jardin de l’Odeon was only a short 5 minute walk away and easily managed with our limited luggage.  By the time we reached our hotel it was noon and we were able to check into our small double room. And small it was!  Paris is notoriously expensive and for several hundred euro a night you’ll get a basic, tiny clean room with air conditioning if you’re lucky, however if it’s still cool the central system may not be turned on.

Our room was nicely appointed with two twin beds inches apart, side tables, small desk, mini-refrigerator, closet with safe and the cleanest bathroom I’ve seen in some time! We had a large window adorned with a window box of bright pink hydrangea and view of the small central courtyard. Very pleasant base for four nights.

Being jet-lagged we decided the first day’s exploring was just going to be some street markets and general soaking up the culture and ambience. Definitely saving the museums for when we’re a bit more alert.

Our route took us toward the Pantheon (photo above) and down Rue Mouffetard which is a wonderful little market street. The top end of Mouffetard is full of restaurants and traditional shops while the last half is an adorable market street lined with flower, fromage, wine, tea and other interesting little shops. 

We found an ideal combination of cheese shop next to a wine store so had to make a quick stop. It was physically impossible to continue past.

Purchased a small wedge of cheese, don’t recall what it was other than absolutely delicious! Seriously, look at all the cheese selections!

The woman who worked the wine shop next door was incredibly friendly and between my broken French and her English she selected a wonderful little wine produced only in France.

The cheese we enjoyed as we strolled. So, within 4 hours of arriving in Paris we’d already purchased wine and cheese. I have priorities after all. We returned to our hotel to enjoy a glass of wine and figure out where we were going to dine.

In a twist of weather, by the time we left our room on the second floor and reached the lobby it was pouring and hailing! So far the rain we’ve experienced has been light and hasn’t lasted for long. While this wasn’t light, it too let up after only a few minutes.

Our first restaurant selection, Bouillon Racine, was recommended by a friend and conveniently located right around the corner. Thank you Suzanne for this recommendation, you were so right!  We were a bit early (as were a few other guests) for dinner service which didn’t begin until 7 pm  but were shown a great table to relax and enjoy some wine. Below is Amy inside the beautiful Racine.

Bouillon Racine is a beautiful early 20th century art deco restaurant with extremely friendly staff and a wonderful menu. Our waiter, who was from Strasbourg, was very enjoyable. He helped us with French and we assisted his English. He was commenting upon how when the menu was translated into English he wasn’t always sure the words were right or made sense. Duckling was such a word. We assured him it worked in English, was very tasty and reassured him by adding it to our order along with some escargot and duck foie gras pate.

One should start the first French meal correctly after all. Pate, escargot and duck qualified as correct in our view!

The escargot may be ordered as 6 or 12 . . . 3 each just didn’t seem enough.

The foie de canard pate was absolutely delicious. Sorry, no photo of the duck breast as we fell upon it eagerly. However, it was a beautifully prepared breast of duckling served medium rare. The skin had been scored yet crisped and finished with a cherry glaze. It was accompanied by a white bean puree. Incredibly tender, flavorful and perfect with our wine.

One thing I love about Paris restaurants is you can leisurely enjoy your meal without being pressured to turn over the table. After our two-hour meal we choose to stroll toward the river as the sun sets very late this time of year (reaching dusk around 10pm!)

We’re staying in the 6th district (St. Germain) whose streets are lined with little shops, bookstores and cafes which were bursting with life on a Friday night. While smoking is no longer allowed inside the cafes the sidewalks spill over with young Parisians (and not so young) smoking and chatting. Downside to this is that then nearly all the outside cafe seating is packed with smokers! And even smoke free the tables and chairs are packed tightly. It’s common to have to leave your seat to allow others to reach in interior row table.

Our stroll took us to the Seine and bridges, the pedestrian of which seemed to attract young picnicking couples and small groups huddled around chips and cheap booze. A bit like the French Quarter of home!

Reaching the river we were rewarded with our first Eiffel Tower sighting. We enjoyed the views for a while before returning to our room for a good night sleep. Tomorrow is museum day and another Parisian adventure.

 

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