Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Paris, Day Two
It seems that I cannot get out of my flat (read:hotel) before noon. Some people on vacances like to set out early because there's a ton of things to do and see in this city. Me? I could care less.
One thing I'm determined to do is enjoy a holiday much like I had at the end of 2004 in Hawaii. Stuck on O'ahu the week between Christmas and New Year's with none of my vendors really wanting to do business, Jay's Shave Ice shut down for Christmas break and no way to do any real work, left me sitting around The Porn King's house for a week with, literally, nothing to do. It was one of the finest weeks of my life.
With that in mind, I'm determined not to leave or get out of bed or do anything of any urgency this week while in Paris. The lady wants to service the room? Well, she better service me as well or come back later.
I finally hit the streets just after 1pm. The Little Black Book of Paris, my trusted companion so far, has finally earned my ire. At its' suggestion, I decided not to change my dollars into euros at Charles DeGaulle Airport because the exchange would be better in the city.
It's an absolute Pain In The Ass to exchange money in the city.
At the suggestion of my hotel people, I walked several blocks to the post office and waited in line for half an hour (after a quick ham and cheese breakfast croissant) only to be told that their rate pretty much sucks. For my US$400, they would only give me E235. A quick iPhone reference showed that the exchange should be E270. I might try the Air France office by Metro Invalides on the other side of the Plaza de Invalides. I hike all the way there through the rain and cold. The rain wasn't bad because I visioned myself the honest romantic, crossing endless terrain, great fjords and torrential rains to rescue my "true love."
Of course, I'm just trying to get money with the hope of buying hookers. And booze.
I arrive at the Air France office only to be told that they don't do that there and that I can find exchange places on the rue Saint Dominique. That's the street I've been shopping on and I haven't seen any kind of money exchange place, but I forge ahead thinking that maybe I missed something.
I haven't and end up at the sister hotel: Best Wester Eiffel Park and ask the guy there. "There's a money exchange a couple doors down," he tells me. That's not a money exchange, that's a bank, guey! Stumped. He doesn't know either but suggests that there might be something along the Seine.
While I'm all for strolling along the Seine, imagining myself to be some sort of suave James Bond, I'm not going to continue this hike in the cold rain. It's time to do what I've been trying to avoid doing all afternoon: head to Tuileries.
Tuileries is the Metro stop on the other side of the Seine. It's not far, but it's not close either. Inconvenient since I don't want to leave my neighborhood. The Little Black Book recommends a place there called MultiChange. I call them up, check the rate and head on over.
The Tuileries metro stop places you right on the rue de Rivoli, which evidently is "tourist central" in Paris. It fronts The Lourve and it's lined with fancy hotels, fancy shops and overpriced everything designed for the tourist market. It's the kind of place that gives me the Heebie-Jeebies and I want to get outta there fast.
Directly across from The Metro is a money exchange. Looks kinda shady to me and when they tell me that my US$400 will get me E232, I know they're shady and I'm off to find MultiChange a couple blocks away on the rue de Castiglione.
On the way there, I spot Angelina - a popular dessert place that Coco recommended I visit. I make a note to go back and check it out right away, since I don't ever want to come back to this place again.
The problem with being from America in today's world is that our dollar sucks. Once upon a time, it was power to carry dollars. Now, we're getting hammered. Should have done more traveling when I was younger. Based on my experience at the Post Office and the other exchange, I'm going to be pissed if these guys offer about the same. I could have stayed home and used the Postal. MultiChange is giving me an exchange of E262 for my US$400. Victory at last! And now I have some pocket money to play with.
Angelina is an old school kind of place known for their hot chocolate and their Mont Blanc. They have a take out counter and table seating. The Mont Blanc is E4,50 at the counter and E6,70 at the table. I decide to go for the full experience and sit next to the fancy dressed dark haired women wearing plush furs, designer sunglasses (in the rain) and supple leather boots over their tightly clad legs.
The decor is that European Continental style: ornate everything. The staff is nicely dressed, everything is presented on China and it's straight out of James Bond. I just wish they took the time to polish the stemmed water glasses...
The hot chocolate is known as Le Chocolat a l'ancienne dis "l'Africain", French style for E6,80. It's rich, dark, bitter and generally pretty good. But is this truly remarkable hot chocolate that I will dream about and plot a return trip for another? Or sit around trying to figure out just what makes it "l'Africain"? I can't say that it is. It is good. Very good. And I like how they serve it in a small porcelain pot that you pour into the cup and then add as much unsweetened whipped cream as you desire. The key: don't put a lot of cream. Otherwise, it brings the temperature of the beverage down too much and it's not as enjoyable. I know.
The Mont Blanc is very sweet. There's a baked meringue bottom inside a cupcake wrapper that's filled with whipped cream and liberally covered with piped sweet chestnut cream. The description: meringue, chantilly legere, Vermicelles de creme de Marron sounds excellent, but I found it too sweet to pair with the hot chocolate. Too much sweetness competing with each other and never complimenting one another.
The ideal choice would have been a black tea. A counterpoint to the heavy sweetness that is the Mont Blanc. I can't say I enjoyed it tremendously because all I wanted to do was swig on the water to wash it all down and prevent sweetness overload.
Back on The Metro and back home to Invalides where it's time to do a little shopping. My dinner tonight at L'Arpege isn't until 8pm, maybe a quick snack of Ficelle and croissants from Le Moulin de la Vierge on rue Saint Dominique and then over to the G5 grocery store for some fresh lychees, toothpaste, bottle of water and a bottle of Coke.
Whenever I visit other places, I'm fascinated by their markets. Just what wonderous things lie on their shelves? What can I bring home? What can I put in my mouth? Their meat packaging is quite interesting with pictures of the beef rather than the beef itself. I kinda like it. Unless, of course, the meat inside is black. That's not ideal.
I spot a package of meat labeled "Viande de Cheval Fraiche" which, I think means "Fresh Horse Meat." I'm fascinated. I'm horrified. They do this in France? Sacre bleu!
But really, I want to try it. I mean, it's only E3.80. That's horse puckey! I make a mental note to go back to the hotel and see if I can commandeer whatever kitchen they have available. Maybe I can make some horse steaks while here.
I can't help but wonder if I'll need some A-1...
Meandering through the aisles, I see something that both warms my heart and makes it colder still: processed foods. It's the bane of America and I see that it's coming here too. It's heart-warming to know that yes, even the French suck at cooking to the point they'll buy microwaveable foods, but heart wrenching because the craft of cooking is a dying art - even in France.
I want to shed a tear.
Still, there are vestiges of civilization that we have yet to embrace in America. Like our penchant for refrigerating everything, including eggs. Good to see the French still know how to store their eggs. Of course, their UHT milk leaves a lot to be desired (but there is fresh milk available in the refrigerated cases).
Next door to the grocery store is a foie gras place. I love this place. They've got canned foie gras, canned cassoulet, canned duck confit - heck, they've got everything you want to eat in a can and I need to shop there before I leave. I'm spying the foie gras confit in the glass jars.
On the way back to the flat, I pass another grocery store and notice the very cute half asian girl at the register. I want to go in and make American small talk and invite her for a stroll along the Seine, but she's lazily working the very long line of customers, so I make a mental note to stop by again tomorrow and see if I still have that "old magic."
Otherwise, it's back to the flat to drop off my purchases, relax awhile, change and get ready for what's sure to be a crazy dinner at L'Arpege.