Well what can I say about my first full day in Paris? Probably quite a bit about food, which is what Paris is all about, right? At least to those who know the truth, anyway. The first thing I did this morning was to step across the street to the little patisserie. I bought a pain au chocolat, which is essentially a croissant with chocolate in the middle. Yum. Then I got a couple of bananas and an Oasis Orange, the most refreshing drink in the world.
The clouds were pretty ominous in the morning, and it was raining lightly, so I headed out without my camera. I decided to see if I could locate some good spots to shoot. I started with the Louvre, which was already loaded with tourists. The building itself is magnificent, but the crowds made me want to go in another direction. I looked around for a while and after asking around, I found an Internet cafe to check my mail. It turns out that Nick’s sister Nancy is in Paris at the same time as me, so I got her hotel name and phone number so I could meet up with her and her friend Annette later. I spent the next several hours wandering the neighbourhood around the Louvre, just soaking up the general Frenchness of the place. I also began soaking up a lot of water. As the day progressed, the rain got heavier. Soon, it was pouring. I had no choice but to step into a cafe to escape the downpour. I was soaked to the skin, despite my nylon jacket. I’m glad I brought it–it was an afterthought while packing–but it was no match for the continuous rain. To make matters worse, my old shoes have cracks in the soles, and my feet were soaked. I was very glad I didnÂt have my camera with me.
The Cafe Louis Philipe was a wonderful retreat from the rain. It felt like I had stepped back to the 19th century. The place was pretty big, but was surrounded on all sides by hedges and trees, so even though it was on a busy street beside the Seine, it was totally secluded. It smelled tantalizingly of pastry, chocolate and coffee. The large propane torches on the covered balcony provided some warmth and drying power for my soaking clothes. Soon after I came in, a snooty American woman and her French boyfriend arrived and sat at the table next to me. Within moments, she was complaining about the water on the ground. A tiny rivulet of water about a millimetre deep was running near her shoes. She said, “Why should we sit here soaking when we could be sitting in comfort upstairs?” They left for the upper level. Good riddance. I ordered a delicious plate of roast lamb with thyme gravy and rich creamy, buttery potatoes. I also got a tiny cup of espresso. I normally don’t drink coffee, but it seemed like the right thing to do. And it was. It was strong and fortifying, which is exactly what I needed. The torrential downpour outdoors encouraged me to relax and take my time with my meal. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Some people complain that service in French restaurants is slow and inattentive. I would have to disagree. The pace is certainly slower, and they will not bother you while you’re eating. I appreciate that quite a lot. In fact, I prefer that to the typical Canadian/American approach of asking you if everything is fine every five minutes. At the end of my meal, I was pleased to wait ten or fifteen minutes for the waitress to bring my bill. The whole thing came to 16 euros. That’s quite fair, considering the large portion, the sheer deliciousness of it, the wonderful atmosphere, and the fact that all taxes and tips are included.
After my late lunch, I headed back to the hotel. The Hotel Boissiere is located in Lavallois, which is sort of a suburb village attached to Paris. It’s a very quiet place. In fact, it’s extraordinarily quiet. Sunday in general is subdued in Paris. Most businesses are closed. However, in August, it seems like more than half of the businesses in Lavallois are closed for vacation. Although I can see this might get inconvenient for me, I really like that French businesses can close their doors, sometimes for more than a month, and come back later to resume work. That would never fly in Canada. Canadian customers are impatient, and generally unforgiving. Anyway, I spent some time wandering around Lavallois, getting to know its crisscrossing streets. Nearly everything was closed, but I managed to buy a packet of pork pate and a small wheel of Camembert cheese from a small grocery store. There were no bakeries open, so I couldn’t get a baguette, so I bought some mini toast crackers instead. It was quite a nice snack.
I spent some time troubleshooting a few practical issues. Just like last year in England, my CIBC Convenience Card fails to work in any bank machines. It says “Bank does not authorize this transaction” when I try to take out cash, despite the fact that CIBC promised everything would work fine when I got to France. This left the option of using either a Visa cash advance (very expensive), or withdrawing from my Royal Bank business account, which works fine. I phoned CIBC’s toll-free service number and talked to them for a long time. The customer service rep had no idea what the problem was, but after a while, she transferred $30 into my account to compensate me for the trouble with my account, and any interest I might accumulate due to cash advances. I thought that was quite generous. Thanks CIBC.
Next, I called Orange to top up my mobile phone account. Even though I started with Â£6 on the card that Catherine brought me from England, it was just about gone after just two brief calls. I think the customer service rep from Orange was actually retarded. First of all, she could not understand that I couldn’t give her a UK postal code. I gave her my Canadian postal code, and she couldn’t comprehend it. I told her again that I was Canadian and didn’t have a UK postal code. That sunk in eventually. At first she said she couldn’t add my card, but gave in after I argued a bit. Keep in mind that Orange charges 60 pence per minute to talk to this twit. According to Orange, the fee is meant to help them “offer the highest level of customer service.” After we added my card, I asked her why I couldn’t send text messages from the phone. She said it was because the phone has a Â£0 balance. The reason it had a Â£0 balance was because I had wasted it all talking to her. I asked her if text messaging would work now that I had topped up the card with Â£10. She didn’t really answer, but asked if she could help with anything else. I said, “As long as my text messaging works now, I’m happy.” She said, “Is there anything else I can help you with?” which didn’t seem like a confirmation or denial to me. I said, ÂWill I be able to send text messages now that IÂve added Â£10?Â She said, ÂIs there anything else I can help you with?Â I just gave up, since 60 pence per minute is a lot to pay to talk to a wall. When I checked my balance after that call, I was already down to Â£6. Orange UK officially has the worst customer service IÂve ever experienced. After a five minute call to Nancy’s hotel to arrange to meet them for dinner, I was down to Â£1. Nice. The phone is relegated to emergency use only now.
Dinner was great. We met at Nancy and AnnetteÂs hotel, and took the Metro to the Montmartre area. The place Nancy had picked for dinner was closing up because it was 10pm, but we found an open air cafÃ© called Le Brebant. It was slightly touristy, but it had a nice atmosphere and a decent menu. I had a salad with goat cheese and honey. Sometimes the most unlikely things go together the best. It was delicious. We also shared a bottle of Bordeaux wine, which made midnight roll around pretty fast. After dinner we went our separate ways so we could get back to our hotels before the Metro closed.
So, thatÂs it for day one. IÂm finding my French is improving quickly, especially when IÂm by myself and donÂt have anyone to speak English to. Oddly enough, sometimes when I think of something, the first words that come to my mind are French. Sadly, my vocabulary isnÂt great, so my thoughts are kind of limited. The fact that IÂm able to make myself understood is a great confidence booster though, and IÂm not nervous about speaking in French any more.
Well, itÂs late and the Internet access downstairs is closed. IÂll post this tomorrow.