Excerpts from Return to Joigny

            (9/21/02) The next adventure was driving in Paris and finding our hotel!  We missed a turn, but we found it eventually, circled again because there was no parking on the narrow street – then on the second pass just dumped the suitcases on the sidewalk and Stan and Paul headed to the airport to return the van.   Since it was 2:00 we were able to check in, and Dad, Candy and I got the luggage to our rooms.  Hotel Europe St. Severin is right in the middle of the Latin Quarter – surrounded by cafes & bistros of every nationality (and very noisy with the windows open!).  But the rooms are nice, though small, with “real” beds and a stall shower… Hooray!  The location is perfect for exploring Paris on foot and via Metro, so Candy and Stan should enjoy their extra days here.

            Dad opted for a nap, so Candy and I unpacked, then took a walking tour from 3 to 4 – past Notre Dame, Sainte Chapelle, St. Michel, the Palais of Justice – along the right bank in the Marais district – then across Pont Neuf to Rive Gauche and a tour around the St. Severin neighborhood.  We then sat in our bedroom window watching for Paul and Stan’s taxi and drinking Chablis – but the guys arrived on foot from the corner at 5:30.  We met Dad outside and headed out.  Paul was eager to have his favorite Paris meal, so we all joined him – moules et frites with a glass of white wine for just 8 Euros!  The mussels were small, but tasty.

            We then returned to Notre Dame – this time walking indoors around the periphery (a mass was in session) – then outdoors.  It’s as beautiful as I remembered from our trip here in 1996.  From there we went to connecting Ile de St. Louis for a stroll, then returned to the hotel.  Dad and Paul wanted to call it a night (at 8:30!) – so I had a chance to finally catch up on this journal and write some very late postcards.  It’s hard to believe that we head home the day after tomorrow.  This trip has been such a whirlwind we’ve had no time for shopping, wine-tasting or serious sight-seeing – but the special moments and special people honoring Dad have made it very unique and memorable…

            (9-22) Our last and only full day in Paris  :=(  We spent a leisurely early morning, then headed out ~ 10:00 to give Dad, Candy and Stan a taste of Paris via Metro.  After we finally got a handle on the metro map, it was a breeze with a full day ticket.  First stop:  Sacre Coeur – a lovely church on the top of Montmartre Butte – the highest point in Paris.  Dad and I took the funicular, while the rest tackled the stairs – but their plan to climb to the top of the church was foiled because a mass was in session. (It was overcast anyway, so Candy and Stan can return later this week and enjoy the spectacular view under clear skies.)  The artist colony in the square behind the church was more crowded and touristy than we remembered – but perhaps it’s worse on a Sunday.  We relaxed with a coffee (4.50 Euros each!) – then went to the café on the square where Paul and I had our first meal in Paris 6 ½ years ago.  Paul and Stan had moules et frites (better than last night, but not as good as our first time there), Candy and I had crepes (ham & cheese), and Dad had onion soup and a sandwich.

            Stuffed, we proceeded toward the subway – a long downhill hike.  On the subway to Sacre Coeur Paul was almost robbed by a team of guys (2 on guard, 1 holding the subway door open, and the would-be thief went for his socks (?distraction or to find hidden money?) – then his pockets.  There was a tussle and Paul pushed him down hard – then he exited the train right as we departed.  Soooo we were on guard, we thought, during the calmer ride to the Arc du Triomphe – but as we walked through the underground Paul discovered that his wallet was missing (credit cards, driver’s license, etc.!) as well as his cash.  What a shock!  Whoever did it was extremely slick, and he really regretted not wearing the money belt – lesson learned!  (Our plane tickets, other cash and passports were in the hotel safe, thank goodness.)  We were able to contact the credit card companies immediately and had the accounts closed – we just wished that we could witness the thief trying to use them!

            We entered the Arc du Triomphe, were handed a ticket, and headed up the stairs expecting to find the option to buy a ticket for the elevator to the top – but it never appeared.  Apparently the elevator was out of order, so we climbed many flights of killer spiral stairs to reach the top.  Dad was NOT happy!  The view from the top, at Charles de Gaulle Etoile is really interesting, with all the main roads converging like a star at the base.  You can see the Sacre Coeur, Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Notre Dame, Arc de Defense, Champs Elysee, etc. and get a real feel for the city.

            Next stop – The Louvre (Dad’s request).  It was a thrill to see this famous place – huge and overwhelming.  The buildings of the old palace seem to go on forever – but the glass pyramid by Pei (the new entrance) seems out of place to me – though quite impressive.  The security entrance at the pyramid had a long line, so we entered through the underground shopping mall (a la Rick Steves) and had no problem.  We let Dad choose our mini-tour and spent most of the time admiring old masters on the 2nd floor of the “new” Richilieu wing – then a stroll through the sculpture garden.  In about 2 hours we only had time to explore one part of one floor of one wing of this huge complex.  I’d love to return someday after doing some homework!

            All day we had been lugging wine and snacks in our backpacks, so we decided to walk back to the hotel along the Seine and look for some green space to have a “happy hour” picnic (the hotel discourages food in the room aside from their minibar).  We finally found a little park in the Marais district and munched on cheeses, olives and pistachios while drinking white wine out of the bottle!  (There were no plastic cups to be found anywhere.)

            On the way back to the hotel Stan and Candy agreed to join me in my desire to see the nearby Sainte Chapelle Cathedral, which is supposed to have spectacular stained glass windows, ornate ceiling, etc… but after walking the entire block of the Palais du Justice (Supreme Court Building), we discovered that Sainte Chapelle was “closed for security reasons Sept. 21 & 22”… Bummer (curious about the reasons).  Now it’s time to relax before heading out to dinner at 8:30. 

            Our last in Europe – was great.  We enjoyed a late dinner at a Belgian Restaurant in St. Germain du Pres, about 8 blocks from the hotel.  Not surprising, there was a line – but worth the wait.  “Leon’s Bruxelle” specializes in Belgian beer and mussels prepared every way you can imagine.  Three of us had them “a la crème”, but Candy picked the winner – “a la Provencale” with a rich, heady sauce (our cream sauce was tasty, but thin).  The mussels were the best yet – plump and perfectly cooked – served in heavy Creuset pots – wow.  So – stuffed with moules (except Dad, who had Salade Leon) we walked back to the hotel for a nightcap and welcome sleep after a long, but enjoyable day…

            (9-23) We slept soundly, packed easily, hugged Stan and Candy goodbye (they’re staying until Thursday, making the most of their first time in Paris), and had a smooth 30-minute taxi ride to the airport.  Charles de Gaulle can be a very confusing place – but thankfully we had used miles to upgrade to business class, so the wait was shorter.  Finding United’s Red Carpet Lounge was another story – but after circling what seemed like one whole terminal, including satellites – we ended back at our starting point and finally got simple, understandable directions.