Eating on the Floor (And Train Station Food)

31 Oct

I know… you’ve been more than patient. It’s been nearly 2 months since my last post. I must throw myself on your mercy constant readers, and plead my insane work schedule. I hope to pick up the pace now that a very time consuming side project is now coming to an end.


I’m working on posting Julia’s packing list.  I mention this now because of an important item that we brought along at the suggestion of our friend Holly.  I can be depended upon to become sick with bronchitis every four to six months.  I have been laid low by the disease between St. Patrick’s Day and Easter for the last several years.  Holly suggested that we visit our physician to obtain a preemptive dose of high powered antibiotics so as not to lose a travel day should I become sick.  On this advice I visited my doctor about three weeks before our trip.

We’ve moved a lot over the years, and so do not have anything really resembling a family doctor.  Dr. Tran comes closest since I have been seeing him whenever I begin to get bronchitis for about three years now.  He is almost disconcertingly youthful in appearance (More and more of the health care professionals I deal with these days fall into this category. They can’t all be Doogie Howser, right?  I wonder if it’s me?)  He is a slight Vietnamese fellow.  It would be little exaggeration to say that I am nearly twice his height.  I would never before have thought to describe him as “Excitable,” in fact I do not think I had ever seen him smile.  We talked for a few moments.  He asked the reason for my visit and I told him that I was looking to get a dose of antibiotics against the possibility that I would become ill while traveling.  Given the medical history that he held in his hand, it seemed quite likely that within the next month I would be stricken with bronchitis and spend several days in bed trying to cough my insides out.  He politely asked where we were traveling and I mentioned that we were starting in England.  Dr. Tran informed me that he had served a residency in England.  He followed this up with, “The food is crap.” I mentioned that many English are fond of Chinese and Indian food, and that my experience had been that even in the smallest English hamlet you’re never far from a curry.  Dr. Tran responded with “Even that is crap.  And fish and chips.  I got there and everybody said ‘Fish and chips.’  I said what the f*ck is fish and chips?”  The normally taciturn Dr. Tran was getting quite lively, but that was nothing compared to what happened next.

As we were finishing up he asked where else we would be traveling.  I told him that we would be leaving England after less than a week and going to France, then on to Amsterdam before flying to Ireland…

“Ireland is f*cking awesome!”  shouted Dr. Tran.  “I love Ireland!  We went there for St. Patrick’s Day and I just drank and drank and drank.  They have whiskey!”

This was a side of Dr. Tran I had certainly never seen before.

The smile that had suddenly blossomed on Dr. Tran’s face disappeared in an instant.  He pointed at me and said “You have to go to the cliffs of Moher.”

“Where are the cliffs of Moher?”  I asked.

“I don’t know” he said.  “We were in Dublin for St. Patrick’s Day and we drank whiskey for days.  Then we rented a car and we just drove and drove and drove.  I love Ireland.”

“So we don’t know where these cliffs are?”  I asked.

“No, I don’t know.  They are on the sea.  They are like crazy high.  There are these crazy high f*cking cliffs that just drop off into the sea.”

The man was practically jumping up and down.  I assured him that we would try to make it to the cliffs of Moher, took my prescription, shook his hand and said thank you.

“I f*cking love Ireland!”  He said as I left.

This episode leads me directly to our day at the Louvre. I bring it up because I was getting sick. I’d awakened in the middle of the night with a sore throat and knew that I would be very ill very soon. I unlimbered the antibiotics supplied by Dr. Tran and let loose. Julia had also packed Dayquil and Nyquil. I medicated myself within an inch of my life and we hopped on the Metro!

I mentioned earlier I think that we’d purchased the Paris Museum Pass. This was a fantastic idea! We arrived at the Louvre at about 10 AM and made our way toward the security line. We asked the first guard we saw where we were supposed to enter with the passes and he immediately waved us over to the VIP line and directly to the front of the queue. Looked like about a ½ an hour line easily. Once inside we skipped the ticket line altogether. At least another hour saved there! We found the coat check (Free) and handed over our jackets and bags.

I rented an audio guide for €5. Important note; No cash. Credit or debit card only for the audio guide.  You purchase a ticket from an automated kiosk (That fortunately takes non chip & pin cards) and then present the receipt at the rental desk. The audio guide is a Nintendo DS 3D programmed for this specific purpose. While the device was useful to a certain degree, not every single item in the Louvre is in its memory. The map feature came in handy, but I’m not clear on why I need to see a 3D rendering of the room I’m standing in. Maybe give over some of that memory to descriptions of more items. The battery life was good and the device made it the entire day (The iPhone based devices at the d’Orsey the next day didn’t last anywhere near as long).

Original foundations for the Louvre, uncovered in the mid 1980’s!

We started our tour in an orderly fashion, attempting to make it through each gallery at a normal pace. We managed this for a few hours. At about 1PM we determined it was time to seek out our “Must see” pieces and plot a course. To see everything in the Louvre would take days. To absorb everything would take a lifetime.

The Sphinx

The Code of Hammurabi

Some more nuts & bolts observations. There is a handy-dandy free coat check on the bottom level of the atrium. We returned at lunch time to retrieve Julia’s bag. There are a couple of little snack bars in this area and each has a limited amount of seating. This is how we came to be seated on the floor in the atrium having lunch when I knocked over a bottle of red wine. Not everyone can say they’ve poured out nearly a whole bottle of merlot on the floor of the most famous museum in the world… happily I can now number myself among them.

On my “Must See” list:

The remnants of the 12th Century Louvre in the crypt.

Nike of Samothrace (Winged Victory)

The Raft of Medusa

The Code of Hammurabi

The Venus di Milo

La belle Ferronnière

Just about every Roman sculpture

The Mona Lisa

The Winged Victory

And of course, the museum itself. Everywhere you turn there are stunning architectural devices. If you can allow more than a day for this I strongly advise you to do so.

Ceiling detail at the Louvre. They are roughly life-sized.

We left the Louvre at about 5PM and it began to rain. We made our way on the Metro the short distance to the Place de l’Hotel de Ville and stopped to sit for a few moments before crossing to the Île de la Cité. If I’ve not mentioned it before I’ll say it now; Wear the most comfortable walking shoes you can find. I don’t care what they look like and you shouldn’t either. The floors of the Louvre are marble. Spending 7 or 8 hours on your feet on marble floors will take a toll my friend.

We continued down Pont d’Arcole and took a slight detour to have a look at Au Vieux Paris de Arcole at 24 Rue Chanoinesse. This is an old and famous restaurant with a glorious purple Wisteria growing across the front of the building. We didn’t look into eating there as we already had plans. The reviews of the food and the service I’ve found online are wildly mixed. You pays yer money, you takes yer chances I suppose, but I think much of it might have to do with cultural misunderstandings.

It continued to rain and the wind picked up as we made our way to Notre Dame Cathedral, the stunningly beautiful spiritual centerpiece of Paris.

Rose Window

I have always loved Notre Dame. I studied its architecture in high school in a Humanities class and I’ve long stood in awe of its grace and delicacy. I can only imagine what it must have been like to stand inside a space so vast, described by soaring walls of stone in a time when most buildings were wooden, and no more than 2 or 3 stories high. Next year will mark the 850th anniversary of the start of construction. it took 182 years to complete. My favorite place to stand to look at Notre Dame is from across the river. Viewed from the South Bank the seemingly gossamer flying buttresses leap across to the walls. The place simply must be seen to be believed.

We made our way around the outer walls and stood enraptured by the rose windows. They began to glow brighter as we moved back toward the western front, telling me that the rain had stopped. We went outside and were greeted by a glistening Paris just after the rain.

Just in front of the cathedral we found the Point Zero de Routes de France. This is a bronze 8-point star set into the cobbles. All map distances to and through the city of Paris are measured from this point. Local tradition holds that stepping on the Zero Point during your visit will ensure a return.

We crossed the river to the south to take in my favorite view of Notre Dame. From this angle I’ve always thought it looks like a great steamboat making its way west along the Seine (An observation that I can tell you didn’t much impress my Humanities teacher).  We crossed back on the Pont de l’Archevêché and were treated to an unusual sight. From end to end and on both sides of the bridge every inch was covered in padlocks. They were of every conceivable design and size. Some had initials on them. Some bore messages or names written in marker while some were engraved. There were shining brass, silver, and gold locks. There were tiny luggage locks and massive antiques. There were also ribbons and even rubber bands. A number of the locks had inscriptions making it obvious that they marked wedding dates. As this was obviously a lover’s ritual of some kind we made a point to participate as best we could, taking the band from Julia’s hair and fastening it to the bridge.

Fastening her hairband to the Pont de l’Archevêché

We learned later that the Pont de l’Archevêché has now become known as “The Love Bridge” or “The Lock Bridge.” Apparently in imitation of a character from a novel published in the mid 1990’s, one takes a lock to the bridge, marks the lock with your loved one’s initials, fastens the lock to the bridge and then throws the key into the Seine. We noted locks on other bridges later in our stay, but nothing like on the Pont de l’Archevêché. It may be the romantic view.

It was time for dinner. Again I owe an undying debt of gratitude to The Man in Seat 61, in this particular instance for his recommendation of Le Train Bleu inside the Gare de Lyon. I told Julia I’d found a little place online that I hoped was still there. She was completely surprised (A rare thing I can assure you) and even I was hardly prepared for the experience.

The Blue Train opened with the station in 1900 and has been in operation ever since. It is a Gilded Age restaurant that time appears not to have laid a finger on. The furnishings, paintings, and fixtures are just as they were in the decade before the Great War (Excepting of course the addition of electricity).

Le Train Bleu

I did have a bad moment as we entered and was asked if we’d a reservation. Months of planning and I didn’t think to reserve a table for dinner. Fortunately we were seated immediately with great courtesy in any case.  Our waiter and garçon were professional, friendly, and efficient. The garçon spoke better English than our waiter and helped us through the only one or two rough spots that came up during the meal (Although the last one was a doozy).

We started with cocktails. Julia had a Golden Champagne Martini and I tried the Blue Train. Both were quite good. I may not be the best judge since I most often stick to straight whiskey but I enjoyed it and at the end of the day that’s all that really matters. After our drinks we moved on to mineral water and foie gras with an orange sauce.

After much deliberation and some translated questions of our waiter Julia ordered heart of beef with potatoes and Hollandaise. I had lobster and macaroni with bisque and it was amazing! Julia looked up at me at one point and said “When we get home, I wouldn’t try to make a steak for me for a good long while if I was you.” Point taken. She had a strawberry tart with lime whipped cream for dessert while I had coffee.

This is the part of the meal where some Americans seem to get derailed. Several of the complaints I read regarding Au Vieux Paris de Arcole had to do with the waiter leaving them alone at the end of the meal.  We were thrilled to have time to finish our dessert and talk to each other without someone hovering over us wanting to turn over the table or saying “Take as long as you want, I’ll just leave this here,” as they drop off the check.

We’d been left to our own devices for a good 45 minutes when we decided we should begin making our way to our hotel.  I caught our waiter’s eye and he provided me with the check. I was again faced with a bewildering array of separate charges at the bottom of the slip and tried to ask our waiter about a tip. Was it included? What is traditional? We encountered here a language problem, and the waiter called over the garçon. We asked about the charge for “Service” and he very concisely explained that this was an included gratuity split among the waitstaff. Ok. Now we know. We decided we’d like to leave an additional “American” tip since we’d enjoyed ourselves so very much. I asked the garçon what was traditional and got a blank look.

At this point an American couple at the next table intervened. They explained they’d been in Paris for a number of weeks and had finally sorted out that yes, the gratuity was included and that tipping in the sense we were used to just wasn’t that big a deal. Leave an additional tip if you like, or leave nothing above the included “Service” and nobody would be offended.


We talked it over and chose to include an “American” tip on a €144 bill. The garçon brought the card reader to the table and we settled the bill. We had a brief chat with the couple from the next table and I bought a cigar ashtray Julia had noted in a glass case near the bar. I was waiting for the hostess to wrap it and bring it to the table when we heard raised voices near the service area in the center of the restaurant. Our waiter was having a very heated discussion with the garçon while gesturing to a card slip and pointing at our table.  As we were getting ourselves sorted out to head back to the hotel our waiter approached the couple at the next table and began a very rushed conversation in which the word “Traditional” featured prominently. Finally he came back to us with the garçon in tow and made clear that he thought there had been a mistake, and could I please clarify the meaning (In this context) of the word “Traditional?”

We finally sorted out that our waiter thought we’d misunderstood the bill and grossly overpaid (And was implying through dirty looks in his direction that he thought the garçon had knowingly let us make the error). He was trying to get us to take the tip back for fear we’d realize our “Mistake” later and be angry.  We did all that we could to make him understand that this was the best meal and the best service we’d enjoyed in many and many a year and that we wanted to express our appreciation.

So our second dining out experience in Paris was the polar opposite of the first. There’s your stereotypical snooty French waiter… mortified that some tourists had seemingly accidentally overpaid and trying desperately to give the money back.

Ahhhhhh Paris!

We went back to our hotel and stopped at a Carrefour (A small grocery chain) and picked up some wine, fruit, cheese, and bread for the next day’s outing to the Muse d’Orsey and the Impressionists!

I promise the next post will come sooner!

Take good care.

© 2012 Roy Guill, The Naked Investigator


2 Responses to “Eating on the Floor (And Train Station Food)”

  1. Laura January 27, 2013 at 5:11 pm #

    Loving these photos and stories!

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