Alison Goes to Paris - 2/02Cool Stuff to See In Paris
The Eiffel Tower
Excellent move - I wound up walking out of the elevator on Level Two just as the sun was setting and watched all of Paris turn pink and then the millions of little twinkly lights all come on. It was so beautiful, I actually screamed. OK, I also screamed because it WAS REALLY HIGH UP, it's pretty much wide open and there were gale force winds. In fact, the reason I was on Level Two and not up top at Level Three was that they had to close Level Three for safety reasons. It was so windy, that it was physically dangerous to let anyone go up there. So I spent my time alternating between "Oh wow! This is the most beautiful thing I've ever seen!", and "Oh wow! I'm going to die!"
I remembered reading something Kurt Vonnegut wrote about people actually wanting to die during peak experiences. He described a piano player during a great performance, screaming "Quick, somebody shoot me while I'm happy!!" As bizarre as it sounds, this all suddenly made sense. It actually did flash through my mind that if one had to go, falling off the top of Eiffel Tower at sunset would probably be a pretty spiffy way to wrap it up. I mean, people would be talking about it for ages. "You heard how she finally went didn't you? Right off the freaking tower! They say she laughed all the way down!" However, I did realize that plunging to my death would have been very upsetting to a great number of people, not to mention tres traumatic for the nice French boys Patrick and Olivier, who had hauled me all the way up there. I thankfully opted to hang on very tightly to the railing instead, so I am still here to write this.
After getting lots of pictures and screaming, I told my friends we had to go to the bar on level one. My friend Sharon, (who now lives in Vegas with the plastic Eiffel Tower), told me that when she was a young thang', she sat in the bar at the Tour Eiffel and had a "Kir Royale" (cassis and champagne), while she gazed down on Paris and that it was the most fabulous thing in the world. So off we went on our quest for a Kir Royale when we find out the elevator is totally jammed with people and has an approximately one hour wait. So despite Olivier trying to explain to me in metric terms how many meters or stairs we were talking about here, (a lot), and my trying to figure out what that was in feet, (and failing to do so), we decided to take our chances and hoof it. Level Two down to Level One - Tour Eiffel. At night. In the dark. In the gale force winds. (NOTE: I DO NOT recommend anyone try this part. Unless you're very physically fit and daring, wait till the weather's better or take the elevator. It was a lot of work.)
We made it to the Level One bar, (it's actually a big fabulous Jules Verne themed restaurant), only to be told that there was a private party coming in and they were closing up. (They weren't even having us on just to be rude and French - the tables were all decked out with special centerpieces and they were all these official looking people in suits coming up in the elevator.) Luckily, Olivier had a "conversation" with the manager, and wouldn't you know, we were seated immediately? (Oh wait, I'm sorry. Did I mention we didn't actually stand in line for the tower in the first place? Olivier had a "chat" with somebody. He did this all over town. Sometimes he used the "Nellie Oleson-celebrity" angle, other times he had some completely unrelated angle that only made sense to French people. Sometimes, there was a vaguely ominous, threatening tone to these conversations, so eventually, we just stopped asking him what on earth he was telling people and got out of his way. If you can possibly find anybody like this to drag you around Paris, do it. The French are quite friendly, but if you want to go to "bad" neighborhoods or get into really weird clubs and stuff, get a French person who's already become your friend to take you. Preferably a big French person.)
Bistro Romain "Les Cuisine Des Anges"
This is actually a great place to start. It's a chain, so if you keep walking you'll find one, (I think there are 3 on the Champs Elysee alone), they stay open late and have a varied menu. You don't have to be able to speak or read French fluently to figure out the menu or order, (they're expecting tourists), and they use the wacky French meal pricing system, that makes ordering dinner as easy as dressing in "Grranimals". You pick a price, (all in Euros, which are just under a buck) - there's like a $12 meal, and $18 dollar meal, a $23 dollar meal and so on. Then you order one from column A, one from column B, and one from column C - appetizer, meal and dessert. Pick out something to drink, (yes, that's right order the wine - anything else would be foolish on your part) and away you go. And get this, tax and tip are included. Really. (Being from L.A., we weren't sure if they were kidding, so we asked to be sure.) You really can't beat this. And then, the food is enough to make you do the "When Harry Met Sally" deli scene right there at the table.
Another warning: What the call "coffee" in France is also not what you've been drinking. It is a smaller cup of a much more concentrated, powerful and possibly illegal substance. Thom and I began to refer to it as "crack in a cup", as we bounced off the walls.
The cookie was pretty damn good too.
OK, so everybody's got to go to Montemarte now, cause they saw it in the movie "Amelie". It's really cute, although the touristy spots with the gift shops started to remind me of Solvang or perhaps the back lot of Universal Studios. You need to be careful here. The street vendors who do paintings and sketches of tourists for a living, will come right up and scream at you in a most startling manner to get you to buy stuff. Unless you really, really want a picture, you should keep moving quickly.
All the restaurants I saw, although "quaint" sidewalk cafes and all, were crammed with tourists eating sandwiches and french fries and speaking English. Well now, you can do that at home. Thankfully, our buddy Chritophe from the TV show had made an emergency call to Olivier's cell phone to tell us where to eat in Montemarte. (In France, the possibility that someone might go to a bad restaurant is considered an emergency of national proportions). He told us to keep walking, around the corner to a little place called Chez Plumeau. It would be quieter and the food would be better. He was right.
It's a teeny little place, very old fashioned and the only people eating there besides us, were a French family with their dog. (You do like dogs, yes? You don't mind them eating next to you in a restaurant do you? Welcome to France. Arf arf.) This is always a good sign at a restaurant if you see local people acting like they're at home. Chez Plumeau is very homey. They also have the Grr-animals menu again so, it's very easy to find something you like. I got the duck and yes, Thom got the snails. Once again, don't even think about the miserable excuse for snails they pass off as escargot at home. These are French snails and they are delicious. They also know how to make duck so it's not dry or greasy and they serve it with peaches of all things. For dessert, we went nuts and Thom got profriteroles (ice cream filled cream puffs to us) and I got an apple pie thing I couldn't even finish it was so rich. Remember, the French serve much smaller portions of everything than we're used to, but it's so rich, you'll be lucky to finish it all. And you have to remember to save room for dessert at every meal. Your best bet, so you don't get sick at any point, is to order a lot of the fizzy water they serve there. "Badoit" (bed-wah) is a good one, Thom was sucking it down everywhere we went and I found it did settle my stomach when there was just too much going on.
La Butte de Chailot
This was our "fancy" dinner out on Saturday night and it totally rocked. Thom had all these lists of highly recommended chic restaurants we were supposed to try, but as we called them one by one, we kept finding out they were really packed or get this - closed on Saturdays. (The French have their own ideas about when is an appropriate time to open and close a restaurant, and they're not necessarily the same as ours. Hey, it's their country, you'll eat when they tell you to.)
As by this time we had caught on to the Olivier "persuasion" issue, we let him have a long unintelligible talk with the hotel concierge, and were soon handed back a reservation. In his name, thank you very much. We shut up and got in the car.
We were smart. This place is great. The good news is, it's totally non-tourist, the down side being you will need to have some ability to either read or speak French in order to know what you're eating. No Grrr-animals here. (Although the fun stuff with the tax and tip still holds). We were able to read the menu, but to get us the best meal and save time, we threw our menus across the table at Olivier and said, "Ok, so what are we eating?"
There were all sorts of chicken things and stuff that came with mashed potatoes and dessert and wine and more killer coffee. (I had something called "Volaille Fermiere Rotie a la Broche". It was really good). Now here's the kicker. We ate everything in the place, complete with wine, fizzy water, dessert, coffee, etc and the entire bill, for three people, tax and tip included was, (drum roll please), 127 euros!!!! (You want to try getting a dinner like this for three in Los Angeles for under $200? Good luck.)
So, can you go crazy and spend too much money on outrageously expensive dinners in Paris? You bet!! (I'll get you Thom's list!) Can you also eat like kings and queens for far less than you would spend in L.A. or New York? Yes, and get better food while you're at it. If someone tells you Paris is too expensive because of the hotels, they may have a point. If they tell you it's too expensive because of the food, laugh in their face. And head for the airport.