24 Hours in the City of Light

Even travel scribes have wish lists. Occasionally a few lucky writers actually have a dream trip materialize. Mine wasn’t a visit to the moon or lunch on top of the Himalayas. Much simpler. And I did it. Twenty-four hours of blissful wish fulfillment in Paris. However the preface starts in England.

After a good sleep on the overnight British Airlines World Traveller Plus Service I was wide awake and ready for my short stop over in London. Concerned about time, I had pre-purchased a return ticket on Britrail from Heathrow to Paddington station (ever so easy to get into the city). My decision to stay in London at a smart hotel with history was based entirely on the premise that I had passed the building for almost a decade with the intention of going in for a look-see. The Colonnade Hotel, once a maternity hospital where noted code breaker and computer science pioneer Alan Turin saw his first light of day, is now an updated stately, small hotel. For years there had a plaque commemorating the fact that psychiatrist Sigmund Freud was a regular in 1938t but since the recent renovations, not one staff member could tell me what has happened to that sign. Turin’s marker is still proudly displayed on the cream coloured stucco facade. However Freud didn’t stray too far. He eventually moved to a flat on the same street, Warrington Crescent.

The hotel, located only a few minutes, depending on traffic, from Marble Arch in the residential area of Maida Vale, near Little Venice Canal, on a Bakerloo Line underground tube station (Warwick Avenue) and access to various buses, gets you out of the hectic pace of the centre but keeps you in touch with London lifestyle.

Very early the next morning, small overnight bag in hand, I took the nearby underground tube to Waterloo Station, this time heading to Paris. I had pre booked a ticket on the Eurostar, (cutely, referred to as the Chunnel).

In just a bit over 3 hours, during which I read the English papers, ate a hearty breakfast and counted the 21 minutes under the English Channel, I was in The City of Light.

I was so taken aback with my ‘bon chance’ having procured one of the few polite French taxi drivers who chatted the entire time- about 15 minutes- to Hotel Le Bristol.

This was the next chapter to my fantasy – an overnight at this renowned and perfectly located hotel. Tomes have been written about this majestic building, its ups and downs, the various personae and finally becoming one of the top accommodations in Paris located on the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore. My airy and gratefully not chintz-decorated room overlooked the garden with the sandstone Love Fountain. That and the public area’s large Parisian chic floral arrangements were the only flowers I wanted to see. The calm ecru shades of the guest room were an antidote to some of the garishly decorated heavily draped, overly coloured (burgundy seems to be a favourite) hotel rooms, with those dreary, often dulled floral bedspreads and dust-collector canopies.

Keeping with the theme of grandeur, it was an easy decision to have an early lunch in The Restaurant Le Bristol- Euros be damned.

Once a private theatre room, this incredibly beautiful oval room still with the original 19th century hand carved oak panelled walls, gold leaf painted ceiling, 18th century tapestry and de rigueur crystal chandeliers, reminded me of a Fragonard painting. The food deservedly is served on Haviland de Limoges porcelain with Christofle silver flatware and delicate linens. One always expects, at the very least, good food in Paris and here, the chef, Eric Frechon, recently had been voted the best chef in the city for 2003. The Restaurant Le Bristol, has a two Michelin star rating. It certainly is one of the ‘best tables in France. An to top this off, the cellar has more than 31,000 bottles among them a 75 year old bottle of Cognac, a bottle of Champagne discovered at the Liberation circa 1865, a 1980 vintage of Chateau Petrus and a 1958 bottle of Mouton Rothschild

My first off-the-beaten-track destination was to the dog cemetery, The Cimetier’re des Chiens”. It may seem wacky but it’s where Rin Tin Tin, the most famous of the celebs canines who died in 1932, is buried. There are other exotic animals among them. Sweet sculpted tombstones with nostalgic words reminded me of my now deceased poodle. Cries of poverty by the caretakers are issued annually since few tourists know about this cemetery and fewer Parisians visit. Located in the suburb of Asnieres near the Seine River, it’s worth a trip if for no other reason than to say you opted for this rather than the Tour Eiffel.

Another not-well trodden destination is Musee Marmottan Monet. Originally ‘une grande maison’ purchased by Jules Marmottan in 1882, it now houses a major art collection. Among the treasures are Degas, Pissarro, Rodin, Sisley, and Monet to name just a few.)

Several years ago, I had visited the sewers (egouts) of Paris and decided to revisit the ‘museum’. Although dampish, which is only natural, there were no rodents or creepy crawly vermin but interesting descriptions of the streets above, the history, directions and well worth the steep incline. It’s situated at the Pont de l’Alma opposite 93 quai d’Dorsay with the nearest metro being Metro Alma-Marceau.

Good food is a no-brainer in Paris. On short notice, I tried to enroll in a cooking class at Le Cordon Bleu. Unfortunately, they are booked solidly months ahead of time. Not all parts of a dream can come true. But there is always a next time. And it’s a great tip to travellers who are looking for a true Parisian experience.

Although now late in the day, it seemed like a good time to stop for some light refreshments. The very ‘in’ cocktail cum afternoon meeting place is Hotel Costes on the Rue du Faubourg Saint- Honore. With its maze-like interior and large saloons off the twisting and turning foyers, each table produced a stunning vignette of chic, confident people who all seem to still enjoy their cigarettes.

What better way to end a day than with a fine meal. Since I wanted to spend some ‘quality time’ in the hotel, it was well past my regular eating hour when I decided to go to the very chic, trendy and recently opened The Market. It’s THE place of the moment and the buzz went well into the night. If you’re looking for the package of the newest trends from fashion and food to décor then The Market is definitely the place to see and be seen.

Next morning, after a luxurious breakfast in the hotel restaurant, with the best croissants I’ve ever munched, I was back on Eurostar heading to jolly olde London, in time for my departing British Air flight . This plane had black and white framed photos from the 40s and 50s giving the area a lounge-like feeling, extending the luxury this jaunt.

This dream is completed…now on to the next on the list.