Our flight left Reagan National and headed to JFK. Not quite a red-eye, our 5 pm-ish departure from New York meant we never managed to sleep on the way to Paris. Assuredly this was due in part to our body clocks not allowing us to sleep at a bedtime hour usually reserved for children (and their tired parents). But it was also due to the total lack of airflow in the cabin. This model must have been the one the Wright brothers flew initially, since there were no personal air vents over each seat. We spent 7 suffocating, sleepless hours before we finally landed.
After making it through French customs (barely a cursory nod at our passports and an emphatic stamp), we faced our first challenge—Paris’s ultramodern restrooms. It may have been the jet lag, but the rooms were labyrinthine, the fixtures unresponsive, and the lights kept cutting off when you peed unless you sort of jerk-danced your upper torso and arms the entire time you sat on the bowl.
With some trial and error we located our shuttle and were on our way to our hotel in Montmartre. We landed early in the morning Paris-time, and so were faced with a dilemma—stay up and power through on zero sleep or take a nap and face the jet lag consequences. We decided it would be best to acclimate to the new normal and proceeded to stay up for about 36 hours straight.
Our accommodation, Hotel Le Squara (since renamed Hotel Du Beaumont), was an absolute delight. Located right near a metro and nestled in the charming streets of Montmartre, we couldn’t have asked for a better location. Granted, it’s right next to the red light/sex district, but if you don’t mind the occasional nudie bar, it’s really prime real estate for travelers and affordable.
Upon arrival, we asked the hotel clerk for a coffee recommendation to help with our jet lag. He responded, “Starbucks?” We pray to this day that he attempted humor, rather than assuming he drives all lame American tourists to a chain, but we’ll never know for sure. In true Kathleen and Paul fashion, we started our travels with croissant, pain au chocolat and espresso in the art nouveau decorated Lux Bar. The coffee helped our addled brains orient enough to tentatively figure out the metro map and negotiate our way to some sights.
Our first stop was Sainte-Chapelle. Paul read about this site in Rick Steves and its promise of the most beautiful stained glass in Europe did not disappoint. Located right near government buildings, we saw the first of many armed guards staring down tourists with semi-automatic machine guns.
After Sainte-Chapelle, we walked to Notre Dame and took in its majestic beauty. Sadly, it was very short on hunchback sightings.
Hungry for more stereotypical Parisian delicacies, we walked to a cafe where we had a deliciously molten croque madame and monsieur, though I maintain it lacked salt (despite Paul’s protests). This may be more my innate love of spicy, acidic, food salted to oceanic levels, which is not really something for which the French are known. Generally, I like my meals with a side of antacid and blood pressure meds.
After lunch, we had one of what would be a handful of mini-freak-outs on my part. I had really, really, really wanted to do a boat ride down the Seine. I figured I’d picture myself as a character in Les Miserables and watch the sights go by. But the reality was negotiating about a zillion slippery moss covered steps and my already janky knee was balking. Never mind my fear of heights (and stairs without banisters—Europe, you’re a tricky mistress). My shame in my wimpiness, a pervasive sense of crippling exhaustion, and dreams dashed had me feeling sore. But the view definitely helped me regain some equilibrium. After getting lost for a good 25 minutes navigating a few blocks, we managed to make it to the famous bookstore Shakespeare and Company and all was well again.
We had pre-booked a wine tasting at O’Chateau and my dim recollections of it are positive. I was so tired I actually fell asleep at one point mid-sommelier lecture. The wines were very good—especially the champagne and the Languedoc—and the atmosphere was incredible, a sort of underground cellar/wine cave.
We finished the evening with a pretty average, over-rare steak frite and then some wine and truly memorable aged Gruyere back at O’Chateau. Marvelous cheeses are a recurring theme on this trip and many, many Lactaids were consumed to off-set all that dairy. Quelle horreur being lactose intolerant in Europe!