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WHAT IS IT ABOUT PARISIANS?
By Michael Matthews
June 13, 2013 -- What's the matter with the Parisians?
London, no complaint. Roma, fantastic. Barcelona, surprising. Prague, wonderful. And I could go on. These are some of cities that my darling wife and I have visited in Europe in the last year.
But what's happened to Paris? I mean, besides the crippling air traffic controller strike this week.
I've never been to the Louvre--and, thanks to the Parisians, it doesn't look like I will ever get there. Two years ago, they were on strike during the days we were in Paris. This year was much worse. The first day, they went on strike because immigrants were bothering tourists by having the nerve to pickpocket them! Day two was a Tuesday and, for some inexplicable reason, the Louvre is closed on Tuesdays. Wednesday was May Day, a national holiday that closes the entire city down. Day four, we picked up and left wondering what's wrong with Parisians.
Don't get me wrong. There is still a lot to do in Paris beyond trying to get into the Louvre. But be prepared to wait and pay exorbitant entrance fees to almost everywhere. The wait was four and a half hours to get into the Musée d'Orsay, which everyone says is better than the Louvre. I'll probably never get to see that, either, because I refused to wait. Besides, it was starting to drizzle and I wasn't carrying an umbrella because that's what Audrey Hepburn advised Bogart in Vanity Fair.
Word to the wise: If you don't carry an umbrella in Paris, you will get wet when it rains. Just like anywhere else in the world.
The rain notwithstanding, we did a number of cathedrals and churches and we walked almost everywhere from our very good (for the money) hotel. Back and forward across the Seine we walked--and the bookshops were all closed.
The Hotel Lutetia opened in 1910 and claims to be the first Art Deco hotel in Paris. It's a solid 4-star property in the 6th arrondissement operated by Concorde Hotels, which I didn't know is owned by Barry Sternlicht, who created Starwood Hotels and for whom I once worked at the St. Regis brand.
Our accommodations were a large-for-Paris bedroom with balcony, an adequate bathroom and great maid service. The television service was good, with plenty of channels covering every conceivable language. WiFi was free. And we were able to gaze out over the rooftops of Paris from our balcony.
Breakfast at the Hotel Lutetia was a feast. The bar is most accommodating and friendly (well, for Paris, at least). The hotel's brasserie, cleverly named the Brasserie Lutetia, served the best food we had in Paris and it came with fine service. We dined there almost by default since most everywhere else in Paris was closed.
Truly, we spent a lot of time searching for open restaurants. One day for lunch, I craved pâté with fresh, warm bread and a glass of vin ordinaire. After hunting down a number of places that were open, we discovered they didn't serve pâté. We finally found one place and the homemade pâté was quite good, but what's the matter with Paris? Why is it so hard to find a French staple on a Paris restaurant menu?
The darling wife loves mussels, so we did two visits to Leon de Bruxelles. It was really good, reasonably priced--and open. A huge caldron of Leon de Bruxelles moules, cooked in wine and garlic, some bread to sup up the sauce and a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc can't be beat before your afternoon nap.
A friend insisted we try Ciasa Mia, a cute and tiny place warmed by a log fire that's also quite a favorite of TripAdvisor reviewers.
We arrived at 7:20 p.m. in the rain for our 7:30 p.m. dinner reservation. Of course, the owner wouldn't let us in.
"We open at 7:30," he said.
"But it's raining," I replied.
"No," came the response.
Really, what's the matter with Parisians?
We skittered across the street to a student bar (great fun), returned half an hour later and were finally admitted to the inner sanctum of Ciasa Mia. The food was disgusting, sort of nouveau Italian with French overtones. But since our friend and TripAdvisor rate it so highly, maybe we missed something. Or, maybe, like the rest of Paris, the chef was on strike when we visited.
You can tell I'm no Francophile. The charming standard song notwithstanding, April (or May) in Paris just doesn't work for me.
En route back to the states, I asked my darling wife where we should buy an apartment if we ever won the lottery. London, from whence I hail? Rome, where I can get great pâté on demand at the wonderful Cul de Sac? Perhaps a houseboat in Amsterdam?
My wife chose a flat in Paris. What is it about Parisians?
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ABOUT MICHAEL MATTHEWS Michael Matthews has managed and marketed fine hotels around the world for more than 45 years. He spent 14 years in Hong Kong building the legendary Regent International group. He has also worked with St. Regis, Ritz-Carlton and Rosewood hotels. Matthews is currently based in Arizona. He began writing Do Not Disturb in early 2004.
THE FINE PRINT Joe Brancatelli makes this space available to Michael Matthews in the spirit of free speech and to encourage editorial diversity and the wider discussion of important travel issues. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property of Matthews. This column may not be reproduced in any form without the express permission of Michael Matthews.
This column is Copyright © 2013 by Michael Matthews. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2013 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.