Strikes and protests make the news, but the French really do know how to live. Notice the woman above in a coat and a scarf buying her cheese at a street market in the Alesia neighborhood. November is one of my favorite months to visit Paris, and that's where Tom and I are, to be followed by four nights in Reykjavik, Iceland.
Like last fall's trip to Madrid and Morocco, this odd combo of destinations started with a cheap air fare, $650 round-trip from Seattle to Paris on Iceland Air which started flying non-stop between Seattle and Reykjavik last year. It offers free stopovers, so we'll be taking advantage of that on the way back with a four-night stay before returning to Seattle.
Iceland isn't really all that cold, just as Greenland is not all that green (Long story, but our guesthouse is named after Erick the Red, the father of Lief Erickson. Erick discovered Greenland while exploring off the coast of Iceland. He named it Greenland to entire people from Iceland to settle there). That said, Iceland is chilly this time of year, mainly due to the wind, and it looks like they've had some snow already. We had a short layover at the airport on the way to Paris. The Iceland Air flight is nice because it's just seven hours to Reykjavik from Seattle, then another two to Paris. If Air France is the air equivalent of staying at the Ritz, then I guess you could say Iceland Air is like a refurbished Motel 6. It's all very efficient, but pretty bare bones. Mimimal announcements, and a charge for everything (but not checked bags) from headsets to meals and snacks. They came around once with water, soft drinks etc. and that was it. We at a late lunch at the airport before we left, and packed some food for breakfast, so we were fine. One advantage is that we had already been through EU immigration (in Reykavick) when we arrived in Paris, avoiding some pretty long lines at De Gaulle.
Back to Paris: We've rented a little studio apartment through Vacation Rental By Owner for about 80 euro ($110) per night.
It's on the Left Bank, near the Pantheon. We're meeting up with Tom's sister, Bea, and her husband, Warren, for a few days while we're here. It's their first trip to Paris, so we're excited to show them around. Dinner thier first night here will be at the home of Jim Haynes, the American ex-pat I wrote about a few years back. Jim hosts huge, stand-up gatherings in his tiny flat every Sunday night for anyone who happens to be around, and e-mails or calls ahead to invite themselves.
It's been pouring rain since we got here, but who cares? We packed umbrellas and we're having a blast. The euro,however,is not in our favor. We' re having a bad case of sticker-shock (think $6 everytime you sit down in one of those cozy,sidewalk cafes for coffee or a beer). But Paris is all about eating, right? So we're on the hunt to economize, and enjoy the local scene. Not very hard, really.
We met this guy while strolling through the Maubert Market. He's Maurad from Lebanon, and he uses this grill (like a Mexican comal) to grill flatbread coated with thyme. He adds feta cheese and tomato, then folds it in a triangle and wraps it in a paper cone. We bought one each for $4 a piece, then took them to a cafe across the street where we bought a coffee and tea for about the same price. One of the best tips I ever received from a Parisian friend was that it's perfectly acceptable to buy food from a nearby bakery or street vendor, and bring it to a cafe to eat. So long as you buy coffee, tea or a drink, no problem. The table is yours for however long you want.
Tom was skeptical at first about bringing our own food to a cafe, but as you can see, he caught on quickly. Of course, we've had some good "real'' meals. Among the best, this little restaurant we stumbled on thanks to a recommendation by a British guy in our Parisian neighborhood.
This is Maison De Verlaine,39 Rue Descartes in the 5th, near rue Mouffetard. It's named after Paul Verlaine, a French poet who lived here, but Americans might be more impressed knowing that it was Hemmingway's first apartment in Paris. The interior is decorated floor to ceiling with old photos, guitars and exposed brick, and the 15 euro menu (about $21) including tax and tip, was excellent value. We ordered a salad of smoked herring and warm potatos, followed by lamb chops with green beans and a cheese course (for me) for dessert, and some sort of gooey chocolate thing for Tom.
McDonald's has gone upscale all over Europe. This one serves a pretty good cappuccino for $1.75, with free wi-fi, and tables with a view. It's three-story affair near Metro Republique and the Canal St. Martin. We sat here and watched a small protest march. Had no idea what they were protesting, but police outnumbered the protesters three to one and blocked off the intersection for an hour or so.
We walked along the canal in the rain, and spotted this tour boat going through one of the locks. It's a newly-hip area with lots of bars, boutiques etc. and a very good bookshop, Artazart, specializing in photography and design books.
Nighttime along the Seine River