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Paris to Lisbon

After finishing up at the Pompidou, D. and I walked back towards the 10th Arrondissment and our hotel figuring we’d stop by for dinner on the way. We walked up the Rue La Fayette towards Gare du Nord. This is where I really differ from a lot of other people who’ve written about the 10th. There are a few people who have mentioned that they felt uncomfortable at night or that the neighborhood didn’t seem safe. In reality, the neighborhood is home to a lot of immigrants from France’s former African colonies, and that really seems to be shorthand for “there weren’t a lot of other white people around so it must be a really bad area”. I didn’t feel at all unsafe, the streets were busy with people getting ready for Friday night… lots and lots of hair shops and manicurists (apparently this is one of the best places to get braids done, and the hair salons were packed with women getting styled.) The few times that anyone even noticed we were walking by, they were friendly and smiling – not at all hostile, threatening or even that concerned with our presence at all.

Whether this area continues to be home to large numbers of immigrants is up for debate. The 10th is starting to gentrify and there are a number of well-reviewed and highly recommended restaurants moving in to the area along with some galleries, and usually that means that hotel renovations and condos aren’t far behind. It’s kinda sad – areas like that are a big part of what give a city it’s own unique character (what would New York be without Little Italy or San Fransisco without Chinatown?) but those areas are often the first to be plowed over in to a bobo paradise. It was a nice, albut brisk walk, and we soon started to get in to an area that had sit-down restaurants (as opposed to the take-out or quick-stop places up and down La Fayette).

Despite the fact that a lot of Parisians were comfortable sitting outside, D and I wanted someplace that had inside seating because we were cold and tired. We initially walked by P’tite Bougnate because the patio was full, and thinking like Americans we assumed that if the patio was full when it was that cold, the inside would be packed. However, we didn’t see anything else that looked as good in the area so we walked back to see how long the wait would be. There was no wait. Despite the big crowd on the patio, the inside was practically empty… except for another table of Americans who didn’t want to brave the cold, either.

We got the menu and decided on a mid-priced (about 20 euro) bottle of wine, an appetizer of goose rilettes, a rural-style sausage plate and duck. The sausage and duck were very good… the rilettes were out of this world. The meat was perfectly shredded in to pieces just large enough to have some bite but still small enough to get very tender and soft , just garlicky enough and creamy enough to have to be served in a little tureen. We finished the meal with a plate of cheeses (a blue d’Auvergne, a soft goat cheese and a very tasty camembert).

After dinner, it was back to the hotel to finally sleep. We had a 7:20 flight from Paris to Lisbon and that meant getting up at around 5 to catch the first train to the airport…. Except the first train (the 4:45) didn’t come. It was on the web schedule and it was on the printed schedule and several other people were there with us waiting for it. Not catching that train meant waiting for the 5:15, which we were afraid was cutting it really, really close for a 7:20 flight, but by that point there wasn’t much we could do. Taxing to the airport takes about 45 minutes (it’s actually longer than the train ride, which takes ~25 minutes) and is spendy. We figured that if we were going to miss the flight, we were going to miss the flight for the train tickets we already paid for, rather than spend a bunch more money and miss the flight anyway. Fortunately, the 5:15 was on time and got us to the airport in more than enough time. French airport security was pretty efficient, and the airport was quite empty at that time of the morning, so we easily made it to the gate.

The Air France flight in Europe was like old-school American flying. We got breakfast and drinks for free, which made the flight much more pleasant, especially since we didn’t get a chance to eat anything other than stale airport kiosk food because of the rush and train drama. And even more of a bonus, even though we passed through 3 airports and had 23 hours between the second and third flights, Delta/Air France did not lose our bags. They were, in fact, among the first to come off the carousel in Lisbon.

Once we got our bags, getting through customs and out to the buses was pretty simple and there is an airport bus that dropped us off in what would have been a very convenient location to the hotel (as in practically right outside the hotel’s door) if I didn’t get us lost requiring a 10 minute walk with luggage down and up a hill.

Once we got back to the America Diamond’s hotel, our room wasn’t ready (we were very early) so we put the luggage in their left luggage room and wandered up the street to Torio Pasteleria, which we’d been too last year and have been thinking about ever since… unfortunately Torio is on a holiday break and is closed from Christmas through January so it was back down to Marques de Pombal square towards Restauradores looking for lunch. We stumbled upon the Baiana Pasteleria on Avenida Liberdade between the Avenida and Restauradores metro stops. Lunch was simple, but very tasty and they were very, very friendly. The interior is very typically Portugese with some really pretty azuljo insets in the walls and a very overwhelmingly Portugese clientel. Despite the fact that this is purely a local’s joint, the server spoke decent English and brought samples of the cheeses out of the kitchen when his English and our worse Portugese wasn’t working to get the information across. Lunch at these places is probably one of the best deals on Earth: about 12 euro including wine and an order of cheese.

After lunch, we really wanted to have a chance to shower and recoup after being up so early that morning and getting back on a plane, so it was back to the hotel to get in to the room, make reservations for dinner at the fado place and then rest and relax.

Filed under: food, travel

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