Thursday, January 23, 2014

Savoring Paris

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: Friday, May 3, 2013

Craig and I awoke early and lingered over our coffee and pastries, reluctant to begin packing. Darcy and Mathieu arrived to help us with the luggage and as we were stowing the last few items, Darcy kindly washed the dishes. We left our little home-away-from-home and as we were walking out, Pascal and Nathalie arrived with a parting gift of a bottle of local wine. We chatted for a bit about our adventures and our love for the area, and then we snapped a few photos of each other before leaving. Mathieu had to go on to work, so we said goodbye to him at the car and then continued on toward the tram with our suitcases in tow. The tram wasn't crowded at that hour, and we made it to the train station easily.

The train to Paris was a "milk run", so we stopped at every village along the way. We didn't mind, as we were not in a hurry. When we finally arrived at Gare d'Austerlitz, we had no trouble getting a taxi for the ride to the hotel. We were staying once again at the Grand Hotel Leveque on the charming pedestrian street of Rue Cler. The drive through the streets of Paris was very nice. I never tire of looking at the beautiful architecture. Trees were beginning to leaf out and flowers were blooming everywhere. April in Paris. A dream-come-true.

You can just make out the Eiffel Tower, upper right, 
behind these lovely buildings.

Our chambre on the 4th floor was ready, but it took two trips in the tiny lift to get all of our bags up there. The room had been recently redecorated and was quite attractive; it had a clean, modern bathroom. We opened the windows to enjoy the sights and sounds of Rue Cler before setting out to explore. There was a bakery on the corner which had a great selection of quiche, sandwiches and other savory items, so we sat down and ordered a quick lunch. I really enjoyed the tomato and onion tart I had chosen.

The view from our room at the Grand Hotel Leveque.

We began our stroll once again, enjoying the hustle and bustle of Paris as we walked the few blocks to the Eiffel Tower. A strange sight greeted us as we approached the lofty structure. There were several huge girders standing straight up beneath the tower and reaching to the first level. Signage indicated that these steel posts were temporary, as solar panels were being installed on the tower. It was a relief to know that they would be soon be disassembled, because they certainly detracted from the beauty of the iconic Tour Eiffel.

Ah, Paris! I wish I could put you in my pocket!

There were the usual long lines of tourists waiting for access to the elevators and the stairs, but we passed them by and wandered to the banks of the Seine where we crossed the bridge to the Trocadero. From there, we had expansive views of the Eiffel Tower and the Seine. For once, we were not accosted by con artists and beggars. In fact, we saw very few street people anywhere. We did buy a handful of keychains from a young man who was apparently unlicensed, because he seemed very nervous, and bolted when a security guard appeared.

The view from Trocadero.

We continued along the banks of the Seine, crossing another bridge and hoping to find the famous bookstalls. We had visited them on a previous occasion and enjoyed browsing there. However, we soon discovered that the walk would have been longer than our tired feet could manage, so we turned once again toward Rue Cler. We popped into a few souvenir shops along the way, and also visited a couple of small grocery markets. I wanted to find some duck mousse and some pork rillettes to take back to the U.S. Before long, we were back at the hotel. We rested for a bit, and then Darcy and I set out together. We enjoyed looking around in the markets and stores. We also scoped out the area for possible restaurants for our evening meal. Prices are very high on Rue Cler, so we explored a few of the side streets and found a couple of promising places.

A lovely flower stall on Rue Cler.

When Craig was ready to go out again, we chose to dine at a charming brasserrie called "Au Gros Calliou". As it was still a bit early for dinner, the restaurant was not crowded. We had a very nice waitress who brought us menus printed in English, though we all decided to order from the little blackboard menu with the specials chalked upon it. For starters, Darcy ordered the caprese salad, while Craig and I both chose onion soup. It was scrumptious! Our main course arrived - we had all chosen steak: rib-eye for Craig and Darcy, and flank steak with sauteed shallots for me. The steaks were accompanied by a basket of bread, salad with a vinaigrette, and the best fries I have ever tasted in my life. I don't usually finish all of my fries, but they were so good I could not leave them alone. The herbed mayo to dip them in was an added treat. Then came the dessert: mousse au chocolat for Darcy, and the creme brulee for Craig and myself. Even though we were stuffed, we somehow managed to spoon up every rich, creamy bite.

We strolled leisurely back to the hotel, where we rested a bit before setting out once again for the Eiffel Tower. We arrived just as the sun was sinking, and settled ourselves on the cool grass. We had found a little fence on which to lean against as we watched the Eiffel Tower begin to glow. There were quite a few people who had spread blankets on the grass and were enjoying a picnic or just a glass of wine. Several men were walking about in the twilight, selling wine for 4 Euros a bottle, but we declined. The three of us lingered, taking in the sights, until we began to feel chilled. With one last, lingering look at the Eiffel Tower, we turned and made our way back to the hotel.

The Eiffel Tower at twilight.

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