Sunday, July 02, 2006

Paris: a lad in Seine!

Me and Jan went to Paris for the 1st time the other week. Man, what a great city. It was only for a few days, but I really enjoyed myself.
I was a wee bit apprehensive, as we don't speak much french; I heard Parisians are a bit aloof and can be a bit offish if you can't parley the lingo. Nothing could have been further from the truth, Parisians were very helpful and pleasant to me and Jan, and they made the effort to try and understand our poor attempts to communicate. Une café est une croissant se vous plais, and, deux birres por favour madame, were about it for me. Still, they put up with this idiot and set me right (sympathetic looks aside).
We did all the touristy things: the Louvre, Eiffel Tower all that sort of stuff. Eating out is a great passtime of ours (if heaven doesn't have great cafés and restaurants I don't want to go). It seems in Paris eating out can be good but very expensive; poor and very expensive; cheap and skwidgey bottom time or, relatively inexpensive and excellent. We were lucky to find the latter 3 nights in a row.
It turned out that the hotel we booked over the internet was in the red light district of Pigalle where the Moulin Rouge is. It was obvious who was doing what, with which and to whom, so except for the signs on the bars nobody accosted us or was in our faces about it therefore it was quite a lively and interesting place. The red light area seemed to peter out just around where our hotel was situated and walking south away from Place Pigalle towards Trinity things seemed to get better.
As it was when we first arrived at Pigalle Metro there, surrounded by sleazy strip joints (which I have to admit took me a while to notice), was a great looking seafood restuarant called Café Leon, which had a reasonably priced menu. We decided that it was close enough to our hotel for us to come back later and eat and we could work out our plan for that evening and next day.
I had the salmon and vegetables which was pretty good, not brillant, but pretty good. I must say though, the sweet was excellent: fresh pineapple with coconut sorbet and a red fruit coulli the taste of which was out of this world. The service was very good; friendly and quick.
The next evening, still in Pigalle but nearer Montmarte, we went to a sushi restaurant as that was what Jan fancied. To be honest it didn't look much from the outside, not very inviting, and I wasn't looking forward to it. Walking through the door, however, was pleasantly surprising. Outside Pigalle, inside a small piece of Japan. We both had sushi, mine had a really nice mackerel sushi. I was watching Rick Stein the tv seafood chef on telly the other day waxing lyrical about mackerel sushi (discovered it already mate!). Again the service was attentive, friendly and quick. The Maitre D was as attentive when we left as when we came in and she shook our hands thanking us and welcoming us back.
For our last evening we decided we would go somewhere really nice and have a good slap-up meal as it was close to our anniversary. We had spotted the Deux Théatres restaurant down the road from our hotel which had a good menu for 33 euros including wine, but we decided against it as it was in the kind of seedy end of town and we wanted something a bit special.
On the Friday we were looking at the restaurant guide in the Penguin book on Paris to try and pick one when we came across Deux Théatres again and the book gave it a great write-up. Well, it was just two minutes for the hotel so we decided that when we got back to Pigalle we would go along and book a table.
When we arrived at 8pm the restaurant was very busy. We were warmly welcomed and shown to our table. The staff were mostly young, but attentive and friendly without being over bearing.
Apperitifs arrived as soon as we were comfortably seated.
Jan had escargot for starter. "I'm in France for the first time", she said, "so I'm going to try it!"
Way to go Jan! I was so horrified with watching Jan eat snails I've forgotten what I ordered for starter. There was a reasonable choice of wines as part of the menu; we ordered a very nice claret. For the main course Jan had bouillabaisse which she loved, I had cod in a cream sauce, cooked to a turn with garlic and cod champed potatoes with seasonal vegetables. It was wonderful. I had small nougat pieces in ice-cream for dessert and Jan had sorbet. We had coffees to round off what was a very good meal in a very nice restaurant and the bill came to 66 euros. That's equivalent to around £50. I liken the quality of the meal, suroundings and service to the Regano in Glasgow where the bill for the same kind of meal is around £80. At £30 cheaper the French restaurant gives real value.
We rounded off the evening with a short walk along towards Gare St Lazare in the Parisian moonlight and stopped off for a beer for me and a green tea for Jan at the little café I took coffees in each morning.
Stupidly, we left the Musée D'Orsay till the last day as we had a late flight out. I noticed when at the Louvre that people were able to put their bags in while perusing the museum, so we took our bags with us to save going back to the hotel for them. Ooops! Musée D'Orsay does not have a place to store your bags so and they wouldn't let us in with them. There are no left luggage facilities in Paris now due to threats of terrorism so we had to carry our bags around with us for the rest of the day. It was effing roasting, too! So we just bought the ticket for the hop on boat again and drifted along the Seine for the rest of the day, getting off to have beer and see some other stuff.
One thing that strikes you very quickly in this very busy city is the quality of the public transport. It puts Glasgow's to shame. On the first evening while eating at Café Leon I watched buses arrive at the stop outside every 10 minutes on the dot for nearly 2 hours. On the Metro we never waited more than 2 minutes for a train to arrive. You can travel from one end of the city to the other in a very short period of time (that includes changing trains); Metro stations are just slightly less in abundance than street corner cafés in Paris. Paris is a fast town without the freneticism of other places like Milan or even London. Fast, but chilled, that's Paris. We came upon a traffic jam in a narrow side street in the city centre where a van had stopped to deliver blocking the whole street; the driver was no-where to be seen and a woman from the car behind the van was beeping on his van's horn everyone else just seemed resigned to waiting till he came back so there wasn't all the honking and swearing you would expect in a Glasgow street. Walking along the jam we came upon a car with no driver... he was sitting in the sunshine at a café as he had decided he might as well have a coffee while he waited.
All-in-all, Paris is a wonderful place. I will certainly go back and next time, as we've done the touristy things, it's the cafés and restaurants for me. Oh, and the Musée D'orsay, of course!