Thursday, December 31, 2009

The trip: Part 12 (Paris)

Ahem, so, where was I?

Day 12
We woke up in the glorious hotel to room-service breakfast, which we again enjoyed on our balcony. It was a fitting goodbye to Greece.

After another long, sweaty subway ride, we were almost late for our flight to Paris. But we made it.

When we arrived in Paris, we took the train to Gare du Nord, which was near our hotel, the Ermitage. (Remember? The one we booked on Expedia while we were in Santorini?) Kim had written out the Ermitage address from our guide book, and we handed it to a cab driver outside the train station.

The cab dropped us off in a charming little neighborhood with wonderful old buildings with wrought-iron balconies. We opened the hotel door and were greeted by a giant ceramic dog. "I like this place," I said.

We went inside and met the proprietors, a little old French couple. The wife was obviously in charge. She pulled out her reservation book and asked our names.

But she couldn't find our reservation. "Did you call?" she said.

"No, we made the reservation online, on Expedia."

"Oh, I do not take reservations by computer."

We looked at each other. WTF?

"You can look at my book, you will see you are not there." She ran her finger down the list of reservations, all written in pencil.

"Yes, we see."

"Do you have the papers with you? The reservation?"

"No, we don't."

"You have to have the reservations! I do not understand the new generations. You show up to a hotel, how can you not bring the reservations?"

"Well, we made the reservations in Greece, in a hotel room. We didn't have a printer."

"Ah, I see!" But she continued to chastise us for our obvious stupidity in not bringing the reservation, as if that would have helped.

We found out then that there are two Ermitage Hotels. A nice one, which doesn't take reservations online, and a shithole, which does. When you search for the nice one on Expedia, you will unwittingly get the shithole.

The lady told us we were not the first dumb young people to have made this mistake and said she "felt sorry for us." She gave us detailed directions to the other Ermitage. She advised me about keeping my bag in front of me and then scolded us for dragging our luggage on her rug.

She was the perfect French combination of motherly/helpful and condescending/bitchy.

So then we trudged down the street with our luggage, stunned at what had just happened. We rounded a corner and there was Sacré Coeur. We paused and I said, "Well, might as well take a picture of it."

There was some kind of concert happening on the steps, and the street was crowded. We rode the funicular to the bottom of the hill. We wandered a bit before finally deciding to get another cab.

The outside of the other Ermitage was pretty nondescript. The inside was painted sickly peach, like a hospital in the '80s. And it smelled.

We checked in, (What do you know, they had our reservation!), and lugged our bags up to the room on the fourth floor. It was tiny. And hot. And when we opened the window, it was a cacophony of street noise. And we didn't feel confident about the bed linens.

We analyzed the situation for a few more minutes before deciding that we didn't want to stay there. I mean, we're not super picky. We didn't need the Ritz or anything, but this was too much. And we suspected the proprietor might have been exploiting his housekeeping staff. We wouldn't be comfortable there.

So we found a couple of good hotel options in our guide book, grabbed our luggage and walked out the way we came in. And grabbed another cab.

We wound up staying at our first pick, the Jeu de Paume on the Ile Saint-Louis. It was a cool old building that used to be tennis courts. It had big exposed wooden beams. When we walked in, there was a giant golden retriever lying in the lobby. It was awesome. And the staff was over-the-top accommodating.

We rested for a minute, but after the Ermitage fiasco, we had no daylight to spare.

If you're ever in Paris, I highly recommend the Ile Saint-Louis. It's a delightful little neighborhood with beautiful shops, bakeries, cheese shops and ice cream parlors. And a very short walk to Notre Dame.

Notre Dame was exquisite, of course. But it surprised me how touristy it was. Every other cathedral I've been to had made an effort to preserve the religious nature of the church. Even the ones that have gift shops and tour brochures. They at least tell you to be quiet and respectful of those who are there to pray. Notre Dame was a free-for-all. There was even some kind of service happening down front, with singing, and none of the tourists seemed remotely concerned about disrupting it.

Then we walked along the Ile de la Cité, past the Palais de Justice, toward the Louvre, which is open late on Wednesdays!

One serendipitous thing about our impromptu trip to Paris was that we got to see more Parthenon marbles!

A few other Louvre highlights:

Michelangelo's Dying Slave

Venus de Milo

Botticelli's Venus and the Three Graces

Once we had found our way out of the Louvre and dashed across the street to buy an umbrella (because it was raining), we hopped on the Metro (because it was raining) and went back to our hotel.

We had dinner that night at L'Ilot Vache, an adorable and cozy little restaurant. I had the prix fixe menu with escargot, brochettes de bœuf, cheese course and chocolate mousse. (Kim had the fish and creme brulée.)

During the cheese course we had an unbelievable laughing fit. This was probably a combination of the exhausting day we'd had and a little too much wine. I said, "This cheese is kind of stinky cheese," which in Paris is sort of like pointing out that the sky is blue. We laughed uncontrollably 'til dessert.


kc said...

The day in Paris started off so well! We were deposited at the very train station where we needed to buy our chunnel tickets to get back to London. We took care of that and thought we were really on the ball! Then ... a couple of hours and $60 in cab fare later, plus the $200, um, gratuity to the yucky hotel ...

The room itself at the Jeu de Paume was nothing terribly special, but the historic building and location were supergreat! And the dog! And civil staff! What a relief that our little adventure, which seems so amusing now, was over and we could settle in and relax. (I don't think I'll ever be able to see an image of Sacre Coeur without hearing you grouchily say "Well, we might as well take a picture." Hehe)

When that lady started singing in Notre Dame I got chills, tourists or no. It's a remarkable place.

I had forgotten the laughing fit at dinner. And the garlicky, delicious escargot!

Erin said...

It's just unbelievable to me that the hotel thing happened. It was a surreal moment.

I'm so glad we went to Paris. Despite the hiccups, it was magical.