The goal for our third European trip of the last year was to fully check out the French railway system with trips south to Provence and west of Paris to Normandy. On the front, middle and back ends of the trip, we wanted to get a complete picture of how business was faring in Paris and how the U.S. dollar would spend in general. In Paris Part Four, I got started on our swing through Normandy and the D-Day beaches and our magnificent private historical tour with Paul Woodadge (ddayhistorian.com). I will expand on my D-Day coverage on Friday.
Paris has 20 arrondissements, or neighborhoods, split by the Seine River into the Right Bank and the Left Bank. We stayed mainly in the 6th arrondissement (left), but also in the 8th (right) during some of the trip. I can heartily recommend both Hotel Lutetia and Victoria Palace Hotel in the 6th. The Lutetia is large (200+ rooms), has great views of the Eiffel Tower, is more centrally located, and has both an excellent dining room and brasserie. The more intimate Victoria Palace is less expensive, and offers larger and better rooms on all counts. The staff in both hotels is professional, helpful and friendly. Our hotel in the high-end 8th did not match up. The Rive Droit (right bank) features most of the five-star hotels and high-end shopping. We much prefer Rive Gauche (left). In Rive Gauche you’ll find colleges, galleries, boutiques, antique shops and bookshops, as well as all the Lost Generation brasseries of the twenties—Le Select, La Coupole, La Rotonde, Le Dome, Café de Flore and Cafe Les Deux Magots. Cafe de Flore, for example, was Jack Kerouac’s favorite. Hemmingway, Gertrude Stein, John Dos Passos and F. Scott Fitzgerald all could be found in these famous literary haunts in the 1920s. We touched base with each and found le Dome to be the most magnificent of the historical lot.
Do not head off on your fantastic trip to Paris without Hungry for Paris by former Gourmet European correspondent Alec Lobrano. We have had the pleasure of spending a wonderful Paris bistro evening with Alec, an expert voice on the Paris bistro scene. We stuck almost exclusively with Alec’s selections, as we did on our last trip. Some words of advice for you include the need to reserve well in advance and confirm your reservations IN person. You may want to walk to your selections in advance to get your directions down right. If you are cabbing, no problem, except that it is quite surprising how many Paris cabbies appear unwilling to converse in either French or English. If you have an iPhone, Google Maps and a flashlight app are useful.
Indispensible carry-around books include Paris Pratique Par Arrondissment (good maps), Rick Steve’s French Phrase Book & Dictionary, and Eating & Drinking In Paris by Andy Herbach. The maps handed out by hotels make you feel like Helen Keller. We got lost on one nightly bistro outing and figured we had had the course. A magnifying glass and Google map can help avoid such culinary misadventure. It also helps a whole lot to have, at the very least, your bistro French down so you can stick with the French menus and not show yourself as an ugly American. We get by with our bistro French, with Debbie ahead of me in the race not to kill a great culinary adventure with some poor guidance and OMG, did I order that.
Make certain to spend time browsing the Rue Cler outdoor market. It’s a great place to get a feel of how Parisians shop for groceries. You can pick up selections for a picnic or have lunch at one of the locals’ favorites, where you can enjoy delicious free-range roast chicken and real mashed potatoes for reasonable, if such words can even be uttered in Paris, $$. Have a great time and check back with me Friday for my next installment of What I Learned in Paris.
Warm Regards Dick
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