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|Where’s Georgie-Jet? Paris, France|
Bonjour, I am Georgette Diamandis, a writer, photographer and artist based in Rowayton, Connecticut. I am also Johnny Jet’s older sister, who quite possibly ignited the first spark of interest in traveling to exotic places, when at the impressionable age of 13, he saw my trip to Australia last three years! This is the second time I have had the privilege of writing for JohnnyJet.com. My first travel journal was about the magical island of French Martinique (Here’s the link). This time, I went to Paris and Versailles on a “Marie Antoinette” trip, so pour a cup of café and sit back while we travel together.
Two days in Paris? Is a weekend enough time to spend in Paris? Is it worth the trip? After seeing all I did in two days, I think you will agree that although more time is better, if all you have is a weekend, go for it! Or if you can go on to Versailles like I did, stay tuned for my next column.
I flew Air France business class, on a Boeing 777 and enjoyed the Kennedy Airport business class lounge with the latest in French design, light wood paneled walls, upholstered leather chairs and lots of amenities including modern close-up lighting for reading. (Business class is the way to go, but even coach on Air France is a great experience.) As we boarded to the front of the plane, the first thing I noticed was how spacious my large chair was and that it fully reclined. The meal was my introduction to the gourmet pleasures that lay ahead in France. The menu of Air France is prepared under the direction of celebrated chef Guy Martin of Le Grand Ve’four in Paris. This is not plane food! For example: duck liver pate with figs, a selection of French cheeses, really good baguettes and French pastry. This is not diet food either! The exceptional wines are all from France and Olivier Poussier, voted best sommelier in 2000, decides which are served. The table is laid in fresh linen; in fact, you may forget you are flying! Air France (AirFrance.com) runs five trips daily to Paris out of JFK.
Next to me was an elderly French woman, elegant and restrained in her communication (she did not speak English very well). What a coincidence to find out we shared the same name! Georgette has always been an unusual name here in the States ( I have only known one) but in France it is not uncommon. I knew this was going to be a special trip from that moment on.
I arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport and met the other five journalists and the PR gal that works with Maison del la France - Elfie Majoie, who also runs tours to the Versailles region at VersaillesRegion.com. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org. I can highly recommend Elfie. She did such a great job organizing the trip.
In Paris we stayed at The Westin Hotel. Built in 1878, it was called The Hotel Continental and was the most exclusive property of its kind. Located at 3 rue de Castiglione, it is right across from the Tuileries Garden and a short walk to the Louvre, (at the end of the garden). The Westin Hotel is exquisite and my room had a view of the Tuileries Garden and the Eiffel Tower! The hotel was recently restored in 1997, faithfully keeping the Louis XIV style, (décor includes walls with detailed molding in pastel colors and Louis XIV furniture) yet having all the amenities of a modern hotel. Although the hotel is large (there are 438 guest rooms), it has the charm and intimacy of a smaller hotel. Many historic events have occurred within its walls, having been the favorite spot of writers, actors and statesmen. It has three restaurants: Le Bar Tuileries, where we had our breakfast each morning, a cozy lounge with deep velvet upholstered chairs; La Terrasse Fleurie, an open-air courtyard; and Restaurant 234 Rivoli. Westin.com/paris.
We were warmly greeted by the Westin PR rep, Vanina Sommer, in an elegant meeting room where we were served lavender, ginger or melon water. Very refreshing and unique. Next, we quickly checked into our lovely Louis XIV style rooms and then met in the lobby to check out Paris! This was our only afternoon of “free time” so we all agreed that our first order of business was a café au lait at a typical French café. We picked Café de la Paix, across from the famous Opera House and a quick walk from the hotel (through the historic Place du Concorde). The café cost 4 euros ($5) and we happily watched Parisians walking by us in the misty rain. Although it was early September, the weather was cool in Paris. Close by were the Galeries Lafayette, an elegant shopping center created during the “Belle Epoque” period at the turn of the last century which features Art Nouveau style. The first floor has innovative clothing designers and the grand dome stained glass ceiling is impressive. GaleriesLafayette.com.
After a brief shopping visit, we walked with our umbrellas through the Tuileries Garden, the formal palace gardens designed by Andre’ Le Notre, who also designed the gardens of Versailles for Louis XIV. These gardens are open to the public from 7am to 9pm. We walked for 15 minutes until we came to the end, to the Louvre, home of so many well-known sculptures and legendary paintings including the Mona Lisa. Now a museum, it was once the city palace of King Louis the XIV, and later served as a prison to Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI. To check the schedule for the museum of the Louvre, go to www.louvre.fr (FYI: all museums in Paris are closed on Tuesday’s). The misty grey sky seemed a perfect accompaniment to the antique architecture. How ironic that it now serves as a backdrop for a summer amusement park. How times have changed! However, the extreme contrast of old and new is what Paris is all about.
Our first night we had a wine tasting at a sweet country-type restaurant called Au Petit Riche (AupetitRiche.com), located at 25 rue Le Peletier. In a private room, Olivier Magny spent the evening educating us about French wines. We learned there are over 150,000 wineries in France, which are more of an art than a business according to Olivier. There is also a minimum of sulfites in French wines. Our dinner started with a crepe filled with goat cheese and green apple. Fish with leeks and potatoes followed, then a special fruit pastry for dessert. The wine tasting included all the information about the types of grapes and the regions which produced the various wines (all of France!). We learned that the wines from the Bourgogne region are light, like a ballet dancer, and the wines from the Bordeaux region are heavy, like a rugby player; the cooler the weather, the lighter the wine. It was fascinating and we all learned enough about French wines to impress our friends back home. Olivier is young and exuberant with a pure California accent which he acquired when he spent six months studying the wines of Sonoma and Napa Valley. You can arrange a private wine tasting at O-Chateau.com. For the tasting of three wines in one hour, it will cost 20 euros ($25); 7 wines in two hours, 50 euros ($63); and a cheese and wine tasting lunch taking two hours costs 65 euros ($82). Whether you travel alone or in a group, put this on your list as a must-do in Paris!
The next day we had an early breakfast at The Westin Hotel and walked to the Orangerie Museum (Musee-orangerie.fr), located at the end of the Tuileries Garden. We had a private tour of this incredible museum dedicated to Impressionism in France. Our guide was wonderful and I highly recommend using one when you go (another must-do). We viewed the works of Renoir, Matisse, Utrillo, Soutine, Modigliani, Latrec, Picasso, Rousseau, Gauguin, Cezanne and the renowned, colossal Water Lily paintings of Monet. As an artist, I was overjoyed to be in a place that celebrated the birth of impressionism, and learning about the focus of each artist from the guide made it much more interesting. For example: for Renoir it was the female figure. He believed the female nude represented the eternal goddess, and so he painted round, curvy ladies in a sensual light. Picasso evolved from realism to cubism and then to abstract painting, and Gauguin was obsessed with everything Tahitian. We learned about their relationship to one another and how they influenced each other. Everyone was influenced by Cezanne, the father of Impressionism.
The group continued on to the brand new Museum Quai Branly (Quaibranly.fr), located next to the Eiffel Tower, which offers indigenous art from around the world. The museum’s restaurant has excellent food and views of Paris’ most famous monument. This museum is so new it is not even mentioned in the 2006 DK Eyewitness Travel Paris book, which I recommend. Another reason to use JohnnyJet.com!
Since it was already my last day in Paris, I opted to go to the Latin Quarter, home to the Sorbonne, with streets dating back to the 13th Century. It is located just off Boulevard Saint Michel in the 5th district of Paris. The area, associated with artists, intellectuals and the Bohemian lifestyle, is also known for trendy shops, cafés and galleries -- my kind of place! I went alone to an outdoor café and ordered a café and a Croque Madame (a grilled ham and cheese sandwich with an egg on top). Another must-do unless you order the Croque Monsieur (without the egg!). The café is on the corner of 15 Place Saint Andre Des Arts and Boulevard Saint Michel, and is called La Gentil Hommiere. My meal cost 9.70 euros ($12.35). Sitting down in the bustle of the Latin Quarter among the students, artists and tourists on a sunny September afternoon was a quintessential Parisian experience I will not forget.
After lunch I went next door to a small postcard shop that was owned by a man named Jeff. He hangs out there with his two dogs and a cat named “Chanel”, all free-roaming but staying nearby since his shop is close to two busy streets and the Metro. Another reason I like France is that unlike New York City, pets are a part of daily life and not excluded from shops and restaurants. For the rest of the afternoon I shopped along 53 rue Saint-Andre des Arts, checking out trendy boutiques and even had my hair cut at Marianne Gray (MarianneGray.com) at Place Saint Andre Des Arts by Phillipe who charged 60 Euros ($72). This was a fun experience to tell my pals back home.
I wandered west along Boulevard Saint Michel, and stopped in at Notre Dame, the illustrious gothic cathedral. It does not have an entrance fee, and if you have time and are not claustrophic, walk the narrow steps to the top! I am, and have done it before, so I skipped it. Another place of interest here is Crypte Archeologicue, an ancient crypt that exhibits the remains of foundations that pre-date the cathedral by hundreds of years. It is located in front of and under the cathedral.
I continued my walk and met my colleagues at the Conciergerie, a national monument built in the thirteenth century and the last home (prison) of Marie Antoinette. (We started our “Marie Antoinette” tour backwards because of logistics; we were going on to her palace in Versailles the next day). The Conciergerie is the jail in which many prisoners have spent time over the last seven centuries, but most famous because of Marie Antoinette. There is a re-creation of her cell where she spent the last two years of her life, awaiting trial and then execution. There are other prison cells with life-size figures depicting where the poor lived and where the people with money lived ( they could “buy” a cot to sleep in and negotiate for more space!) The Conciergerie is another place where you must hire a guide, otherwise you will whiz through it, and without the history it will not be especially meaningful. Our guide was fantastic and actually helped Sofia Coppola get her facts for her movie Marie Antoinette. His sense of humor when talking about gruesome things like the guillotine made the whole experience fun as well as historical. The Conciergerie is located at 2 boulevard du Palais in Paris. It is open from 9:30 until 5pm and costs 6.50 ($8) or 9.50 ($11) Euros with a combined ticket for the neighboring Sainte-Chapelle, another gorgeous Gothic Cathedral that we did not have time to explore. Go online at www.monum.fr, to view all the French monuments and get info. You can buy the Carte Musee pass at major metro stations which enables you to go to the head of the line and not pay at the museums. You can also purchase the Paris Visite Pass on RailEurope.com which can be done before you leave, also giving you entrance to museums and the metro. Check out www.parisinfo.com , to get the Paris Tourist Office’s City Passport with discounts to 100 sights.
That night we all got dressed up and went to see a show at the well-known Lido on Champs Elysees Boulevard. It was like seeing 17 Broadway shows combined into one, complete with random topless dancers. It was not an X-rated show, just kind of odd for this American, who can barely sit through a Broadway musical. However, if you like this kind of entertainment, you can book online: Lido.fr or for The Moulin Rouge, a more traditional French music show with the famous French Can-Can dancers, go online at www.moulinrouge.fr. Dinner shows cost around $170 per person for both.
As you can see, we did accomplish a lot in two days! If you have to go back home, you will feel renewed for experiencing the Parisian culture and ambience, and have lots to tell your friends. If you can stay a few more days, join me as we travel 15 minutes from Paris to Versailles, in my next “Where’s Georgie Jet?” column.
Special Note: After getting my assignment to go to Paris and Versailles for www.JohnnyJet.com, I signed up for a beginning French class at the local community college that met once a week. Since it was my first introduction to French, the class enabled me to pronounce words and places with confidence, and I learned a great deal. Taking the course made being in France more exciting and a learning experience as well. Without it, it could have been a frustrating experience. Of course many people (especially in the hotels) do speak English; however, many older French locals (especially in the provinces) do not. Do yourself a favor and brush up on your French or take a course! You are never too old to learn! My friend Bobbie, who, with her husband, own a fantastic French Restaurant, La Cremaillere in Banksville, New York, (Cremaillere.com), told me that the French think there is something very appealing about a French a speaker with an American accent! They will appreciate any effort you make.
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