We had to check out of the Hotel Raphael this morning, and return to life as humble travelers. A bitchy old French man cut in front of us in line to check out, and we had a good time with the other plebes—the bellboys—talking crap about him. When it boils down to it, the bellboys are more our people. We had a minor cultural misunderstanding about the mini-bar with the clerk—he asked us quizzically if we took anything from the mini-bar. We said, no, thinking that he was implying that we did. Which caused him to say “I trust you,” which came out like he didn’t believe us. Anyways, luckily, there was no charge for breakfast, or anything else.
Took the subway to our new hotel—the Hotel Champ du Mars, which is on a street that intersects with Rue Cler. It’s definitely a nice little hotel. Super friendly, clean, well put together, and not too expensive. The reality is that you could spend 10 or 20 dollars less a night and get a crappy hotel or you could get this one. We think that the comfort and location is worth it.
Our first step after checking in and using the wifi (For some reason, the Hotel Raphael didn’t have free wifi…we had to go to the café across the street. You’d think that for $2000 plus a night, that would be like, you know, included. Our next destination was the Eiffel Tower. We wandered through Invalides and the park that leads up to the Eiffel Tower, and took pictures.
There was a French couple getting wedding pictures taken—the bride was wearing a really ugly dress—but I’m sure that the pictures will turn out neat with the Eiffel Tower in the background.
The Eiffel Tower, even though it’s your typical tourist attraction, probably is a tourist attraction because it’s so neat and interesting. Like all major tourist attractions in Europe, you have to deal with the constant queries from street vendors, in this case, selling mini Eiffel Towers and other ephemera. There’s something about the Eiffel Tower that is different though, because it has the most aggressive street vendors that Sarah and I have ever seen. Maybe it’s because they have to be more aggressive to get noticed, and you’re stuck in line for longer, so they figure that they can wear you down. Regardless, they seem to have some price fixing going on, because everything is “one Euro.” Everything.
After waiting in line for what seemed like eons (we should have bought the Paris pass with Anne Marie and Andrea and skipped the lines), we got through security (which was pretty much ridiculous, and it didn’t seem like they particularly cared about what you brought in), and took the elevator up to the second floor. There was a 45 minute wait for the top from the second floor, and the views from the second level are spectacular on their own. So we skipped the top. Took a lot of great pictures, and then made our way back down.
We needed lunch so we made a picnic on the street. We got cheese from Marie Cantin (across from the hotel—an epoisses and another hard cheese that I don’t recall the name of), saucisson sec at another charcuterie, and bread from the boulangerie. Several French people looked at us in disdain for this. Not sure why, but it might have something to do with the notion that if you aren’t eating at a table, you’re being crude. The French have some different thoughts about dining, I guess. The concept of prixe fixe is included in this—most places, you can get an entrée plus plat for a euro or two more than just a plat. Which means that you’re pretty stupid if you don’t get the fixed menu.
We returned the remaining cheese to the room—put it outside on the windowsill, actually, and wandered around shopping. Anne Marie, Sarah and Andrea seemed quite fond of Etam, which is a French clothing store. I went to get a coffee at a Tabac while they did that. It was there that I saw that Japan was on the verge of having a nuclear disaster. It’s sort of surreal reading (well, not really reading, more like being able to get the general gist of things) something like that off a TV screen in a dingy little Tabac (read:bar) in the middle of the afternoon, on vacation.
Next, it was off to Habitat, which is Sarah’s new favorite place. Andrea and I parked it on a couch, where I happily fell asleep. I guess I was tired. From there, we wandered some more and ended up in a bar next Luxembourg Gardens. It was expensive, and apparently a sports bar. We watched rugby. I got a water; Sarah and crew contented themselves with wine and beer. There was a birthday party going on, and Sarah glimpsed a middle-aged guy sneak a huge bite of just frosting off one of the cakes. After a sheepish glimpse on his part, he offered us all cake. I think he was embarrassed that Sarah saw him do something so gluttonous. The cake was actually kind of good. I think it had some raisins in it or fig or something.
From there, it was off to the dinner, at La Cabana a Huitres, or the oyster shack. We’d had the concierge at the hotel make a reservation, which he cheerfully did. This restaurant is off in the hinterlands, down a random side street that’s up against an elevated street. So more or less, you wouldn’t just stumble across this place. The rest of the street looks deserted anyway. You’d have no reason to go down it unless you lived on the actual street. We found the restaurant, after a few more bad turns by me, and walked in.
The restaurant is tiny—probably only 15 seats—and looks like one of the rundown teriyaki bars that you see in the U-District. Brightly lit and with wood paneling. I know it doesn’t sound like it bodes well, but in this case, it does. There’s just a husband wife team working the restaurant. There’s only one thing available to eat, which is a prixe fixe for 25 Euro. You sit down and they just start serving you. You don’t have a choice of what to eat (which caused us some confusion after the oysters). For this, you get a dozen oysters, a bottle of white Bordeaux, a choice of goose, not duck foie gras, smoked salmon, or smoked duck breast, and dessert or cheese. The oysters are fresh, delicious, and briny.
After eating our oysters, and clearing away the trays, Francois, the owner, came over and asked us how we found the restaurant. I guess he might not get a lot of foreign guests. This was even funnier, since the French dude next to us was bantering away, asking in French to Francois’ wife, “where did the Americans come from?” Or something to that effect. Anyways, Francois was super cool, and explained to us that the restaurant is a way for him to sell his oysters, which he grows on his farm out by Bordeaux. Four days a week, they open the restaurant in Paris. He grows his oysters the traditional way, which apparently is dying out. Instead of growing them in beds, he grows them directly on the sand, which he thinks gives them a better flavor. He showed us his press clippings, which he kept in a little manila folder. Super nice, super friendly.
We had our foie gras (which was more or less like goose butter, delicious), smoked duck breast (also delicious), and smoked salmon (smokier and denser than smoked salmon we buy in America), and then dessert. We paid the tab and left, telling Francois that we would be back next time we came to Paris. We will.
We wandered some, and hunted down some last-minute souvenirs for Anne Marie and Andrea before they had to head to the airport, and eventually made our way to the subway. We bid adieu at the subway station. Sad to see them go.