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Paris recap

The day in Paris was pretty awesome.  We were absolutely exhausted.  The flight from ATL to CDG was a bit rough and the Air France crew kept making announcements about wearing seatbelts and doing seatbelt checks so it was utterly and completely impossible to get any sleep.  In fact, I’d fallen asleep but got woken up and rather startled by one of the cabin crew lifting up my blanket to check if I was seat-belted.  Honestly, the turbulence wasn’t that bad at all, even though we got one announcement about holding children so they didn’t bounce around.

We got out of the airport in pretty decent time.  It really helped that they checked the bags through to LIS from Vegas, so we didn’t have to claim anything.  We sailed through customs and had a very short wait at passport control.  The airport itself was pretty well-signed so finding the train station at the airport was simple.  Definitely advise skipping the cab and just taking the RER train right in to the city.

We picked the hotel for convenience, since we had a really early flight the next morning and wanted to be close to the train station.  We stayed at the Hotel Paris Liege [link to booking.com – if it says anything about the hotel itself, the hotel’s website is currently listing the /. directory) at 36 rue de saint Quentin, about 600 meters away from Gare du Nord station.  It’s NOT by any means a luxury accommodation, but it was clean and inexpensive (about 89 dollars through Expedia) and in the location we wanted to be.

The short story of the Hotel Paris Liege – great for overnight if you’ve got a train to catch.  If you’re in Paris for more than a few days or you’re on a really tight budget.  If you’ve got more time and money, you’ll be happier elsewhere.

The long story:  service was friendly.  We were able to get in to the room right away, which is fantastic if you’ve come in on an early flight and want to rest, clean up and drop off your luggage before heading out in to the city.  The rooms are small, but clean.  The hotel doesn’t have any pretensions at all – it’s a 2 star hotel that caters to people who were exactly in our situation – limited time, not planning on spending much time in the room at all and would rather spend their money in the city than on the hotel.

One warning – if you’re at all limited in mobility, this is not a place to book.  Getting to the elevator required going up a flight of stairs and the elevator itself is VERY small.  One person and one bag.  Don’t even try any more.  The elevator is also really old and I have to admit that I passed the first time around and lugged my bag up the 6 flights of steps because in my exhausted state, the elevator’s size and age made me a bit nervous.  I did use it when we came back from dinner and when we checked out in the morning and it wasn’t at all a problem, but if you’re elevator squeamish or claustrophobic, it could be a problem.

We napped for a bit before we left the room.  Even though the area is busy and loud, the room itself was quiet.  The heat worked well and the room’s small size was a definite plus, here – it was chilly when we got there but after about 15 minutes, it warmed up to a very comfortable temperature.

Our first stop when we refreshed ourselves was to find lunch. Since we were planning on heading over to the Centre Pompidou; we started walking that way figuring we’d run in to some place that looked good for lunch.  We found L’Esplanade St Eustache on Rue de Turbigo.  They have a great patio, which would be wonderful the 3 other seasons of the year and had quite a few people seated despite the cold.  We chose inside.  The menu is quite diverse – soups, sandwiches, salads, etc – typical cafe fare.  I ordered a sanwiche mixte (a typical sandwich combo in most of Europe: ham and cheese…) but due to the language barrier, I got an omelette mixte.  I didn’t complain.  The omelette was pretty much exactly what an omelette should be, puffy, brown and filled with a great balance of good quality ham and rich French cheese.  D. ordered a rillettes sandwich, which was amazing.  The rillettes was nicely done; this was a pork rillettes, and the pork was very well seasoned, served simply on its own on a good baguette.  The mustard served as an accompaniment was quite sharp but good and flavorful.  To drink we ordered a 50cl carafe of Cotes du Rhone.  The huge benefit of being in Europe as a wine drinker is that the wine everywhere is good.  It was not the finest example of Rhone wine but it was great with lunch and was 9 euro.  Total bill for lunch, with wine and two coffees was €23,10.

After lunch we walked over to the museum.  The main reason we were there was to see the surrealist photo exhibit which runs through mid-January, but before we went in to the exhibit proper, we went up to the sixth floor to check out the view from the top deck.  It was billed as one of the most spectacular and panoramic views of the city and it completely lived up to the hype.  From up there, you can see the whole city spread out around from Notre Dame to the Eiffel Tower to Sacre Coeur out on the bluffs overlooking Montmarte.

As to the exhibit itself, I love photography and was really looking forward to the surrealist photos.  All in all the exhibit was pretty good.  The one glaring issue was the way that the curator focused the exhibit heavily on the sexual and particularly transgressive sexual aspects of the movement.  While there has been a lot of feminist criticism of the Surrealists as being very male-centered and having some serious issues in their depiction of women, that’s not what the movement was about nor is it in any way the sum total of the motivation behind the work.  It was an interesting take on the theme, though I wish that it was more clear if they were celebrating the sexist and gratuitously transgressive or in some way trying to critique it.  The Man Ray porn film was interesting, but seemed somehow contextless and over-the-top, and there was a distinct lack of the (admittedly few) female artists working in the movement.  This would later become a much more glaring omission…

After leaving the exhibit we were starting to hit the we’ve-had-three-hours-of-sleep-in-the-last-24 wall and debated briefly going back to the hotel, but decided not to waste any more of the day, so it was off to find the bridge over the Seine and walk to the Ile de la Cite to see some of the island.  On our way, we passed the Hotel de Ville, which had a large ice skating rink out front for the winter season, and was filled with people and food vendors.  It was a shame that I wasn’t hungry because the chestnuts and crepes and hot wine smelled sooooo good.

Seeing Notre Dame was one of those “Paris moments” where you really get the “OMG, I’m <b>really</b> here” feeling.  We passed on going inside because of the lack of time – which was a good decision, because the line stretched back all the way around the building and looked to be moving very, very slowly.

After Notre Dame, we crossed back over the Seine and went in search of a place to sit and something to drink.  We had passed a cafe right outside the Pompidou that looked interesting, so we headed back in that direction and grabbed a seat at Le Parvis on the enclosed and heated patio and another couple of glasses of Rhone and watched Paris walk by.  The museum plaza attracts a lot of working artists and street performers, so the street culture is great entertainment.  Despite the tourist-heavy location, the cafe itself was filled with a good mix of Parisians and visitors and the prices were reasonable – about 9 euro for two glasses of decent wine.

After a rest we had some time before we wanted to eat dinner and head back to the room, so we decided to head back over to the Pompidou to check out some of the permanent collection.  I enjoyed the way they handled the permanant works much, much better than the exhibition.  Their expressionist galleries were fantastic and the art was very, very well displayed.

As we were getting ready to leave, we wandered in to a side gallery of photo and found that it was dedicated to FEMALE Surrealist photographers. (This was when I tweeted about how irritated I was)… obviously, it’s fantastic that they’re included in the permanent collection – however, since the museum obviously has some photo by women, why exclude it from the main well advertised, hyped and supported exhibit upstairs? Or at least, if it’s not going to be moved, note somewhere that there is more Surrealist photography in the main collection.

We also checked out a bit of their exhibition on women in the arts, which was also quite well-done.  Unfortunately, by this point, we were exhausted and starting to get hungry.  It was time to start heading back to the 10th for dinner and some sleep before the 4-am wake-up for the flight to Portugal.

Filed under: culture, food, travel