Having one last dinner in Paris, we decided to continue our search for “real Paris experience” and took a medium walk down Blvd. Saint-Germain to a restaurant we’d seen on our long walk home from our dinner in the Latin Quarter.
That dinner – our second Raclette experience – was not as good as the wonderful version Chris had provided for us in Zurich to celebrate MLW’s birthday. It was however fun to eat in a touristy restaurant among travelers trying to make some sort of connection to their fellow diners via loud conversations about what they know in common. This part of the Latin Quarter is stuffed with restaurants, side by jowl, catering exclusively to tourists. Every type of cuisine available, in restaurants that try to appear authentic. But the real draw here is to eat in a place where you don’t feel like an outsider, a feeling too often conveyed by restaurants outside the areas frequented by tourists. Witness our coffee experience from earlier in the week – you’re not from the neighborhood so we see no reason to rush over.
The Raclette was fun, and the waiter funnier and so it turned out to be just what we wanted – a tasty dinner with no pretense. Leaving we were carried along by a crush of tourists trying to decide between kebabs and gelato. While I’ve never been to New Orleans, I imagined this must be what Bourbon Street is like.
For our last night though, we wanted an authentic Brasserie experience. A café on a boulevard with waiters in white shirts and aprons, lots of wood and brass and some genuine Belle Époque style. And so, we ended up in Brasserie Vagenende.
We were seated at a center table and mostly waited on by a young man in suit and tie. Their Magret de Canard had caught our eye the previous night when I had checked their outside menu, so we both selected that. And a demi-boutelle of a Grand Cru Meursault. The duck was served in a mild sauce with a big pile of mashed potatoes. And it was heavenly.
The restaurant though was a sight to behold. Situated in a building from 1878, the room had hosted a brasserie since 1905 when it was one of the premier eating spots in Saint-Germain-de-Prés. Given the locale just up the street from Les Deux Magots, it’s not hard to imagine that our Lost Generation authors tipped back a few here on the outside terrace. Designated a national treasure in 1973 under the urging of the author André Malraux, it was redecorated in 2011 by the present owners. Brass, dark wood, a separate dining area with mirrors on every surface – it was wonderful. We had wonderful time and complimented the waiter on the way out not only about the food but the experience. Just the right amount of haughtiness, humor and history.
When I checked in to our flight I received an ominous message back from American Airlines, “Due to increased traffic and security, please arrive at the airport at least 4 hours before departure.” Well, for those of you who know me well, you know what that means for me – multiple sleepless nights planning for where we’re going to go and what we’re going to do when we miss our flight. So, I gently negotiated with MLW about leaving for the airport an extra half-hour earlier. By “negotiate” of course, I mean I whined and she conceded, and so I called William the Chauffeur and asked him to come at 7:30 instead of 8:00.
When William picked us up last week at Garde de Lyon, he’d given me his card and said he’d be happy to do a return trip to the airport if we were interested. I decided to give him a shot and connected with him via What’s App (which I hate) and made the arrangements. He messed up both the time and the day in our communication which I corrected and so I was a tiny bit surprised when he texted me that he was waiting downstairs. Normally we’d use a roving taxi, but in Paris they are sporadic and more expensive. A hired car is the way to go.
The drive across town was quick and mostly traffic free, surprising for the hour on a workday. We arrived at the ring road (peripherique) and it was empty. We sailed along until we took the exit at Charles de Gaulle Airport and the traffic slowed to a crawl. Even so, we’d only consumed 35 minutes of the 60 I had allotted. “Lots of departures today,” said William.
Luckily, the exit to our terminal was mostly clear and we were able to improve on that by using the dedicated taxi lane. I tipped him generously and we went inside to the priority boarding line. The agent used a new kind of profiling on us, not the normal “did anyone talk to you, did anyone touch your bags” routine, but rather a lot of “tell me about your trip, which city did you like best, tell me about your profession ma’am, what do you do with the horses when you’re traveling?” It was interesting and less scary that what we’re used to.
Being priority flyers has benefits – special passport control, a separate line to security – but then you get dumped back in with everyone else. Both of our bags failed, mine for my camera, hers for who knows why, but we were on our way quickly. I left commenting on this security check being the most efficient I’d ever seen. Agents taking the bins for laptops and bags and pushing them along. Agents calmly checking bags that failed. Professional, polite and not the pawing you get from our TSA.
And then it was on to the lounge. Madrid Barajas has long held the record for best lounge in our travels, this one has surpassed it. Quiche, crepes, pain au chocolat, Nutella, fruit, bacon – if there were beds I’d stay here on our next trip.
For now, we sit and wait. One hour from getting in the car with William to sitting and having a coffee. Not nearly the 4 they’d predicted. So much for worrying about where to go and what to do. It seems we’re on our way home.