Off to Paris!

We had our passports and our goal was to go anywhere in Europe that was a good deal. Actually, my first preference was Spain. The girls are both taking Spanish in school,  and I’m the only person who speaks French, which felt like some pressure, especially since I’ve barely spoken it for 20-something years. We also liked the idea of going to two cities, but that would mean extra travel time, expense, and logistics. So we settled on Paris when we were able to get a good deal, figuring that there’s plenty to see and do in Paris for the full week. And there was. We were very, very busy all week.

The best deal was flying out of Montreal. We knew from the start that we wouldn’t leave directly from Albany, so we looked into flights from New York, Boston, and Montreal because they’re all major international airports and they’re all roughly three hours away. We’d heard that Montreal would likely be the best to Europe, and it was true. The girls were a little bit annoyed because this was their first trip outside of the country, and they wanted their first foreign country to be (exciting!) France instead of (presumably boring) Canada. We enjoyed teasing them about how hard their lives were, having to go through Canada to get to Paris.

We booked both our flights and an apartment through Expedia. Along with hotels, they have a “pick your place” option which gives you the general location, a few specifics, and a few photographs of different apartments along with their prices. You can see where we looked here, and we ended up picking the apartment on Rue Boissy d’Anglas. I won’t lie: this made us nervous. We like Airbnb in theory, but we’ve never tried it, mostly because we don’t actually travel that much. Somehow an apartment seemed like a less “safe” choice than a hotel, but it looked nice enough and the location and price were great. So we booked it.

Our flight was set to leave at about 10 pm, so we drove north early in the afternoon to have a chance to walk a bit and get an early dinner in Montreal before going to the airport. We Yelped, as usual, and discovered that we were supposed to try poutines. A poutine is French fries covered in cheese curds and gravy, which didn’t particularly seem like the Dinner of Champions, but that was The Thing To Do, so we followed Yelp to La Banquise for some poutines.

For the poutines, we ordered L’Obelix, with smoked meat, the Taquise, with guacamole, sour cream, and tomatoes,

and La Matty, recommended by our server, which has bacon, green pepper, mushrooms, and onions. We also ordered onion rings, because onion rings, and J tried a Bec, a soda from Quebec made with maple syrup which tasted vaguely like root beer.

It was a tasty first meal of the vacation, and our method was one that we followed through much of the week: we tried to order a variety of stuff that sounded good, we shared tastes of everything, and we asked for recommendations. Here’s where I have to say that our girls rock. They are not picky eaters. They are curious and willing to try all sorts of things, and they don’t whine and moan if there’s something that it turns out they don’t love so much. Usually at some point in the meal we’ll discuss who likes what the most, and in this case we really lucked out, because most everyone had a different favorite: Cute W liked the smoke meat, M was a Taquise fan, and J and I agreed with the server on the Matty. As we ate and it started to become dinner time instead of the extra-early dinner time when we’d arrived, a big line formed outside the doors of the restaurant. We agreed that we might have been disappointed if we’d stood outside for an hour waiting first, but it was a good meal.

It was also a gentle toe-dip into a different culture, with different money and plenty of French to go around. After eating we enjoyed a bit of a walk around Quebec, checking out the shops (including a store devoted to mushrooms), but we were also a little tense about getting through the next phase of our trip.

We flew Air Transat, and the way they do it is that you choose your seats when you arrive at the airport and check in. All the cool people who’ve flown that airline before arrived before us and got their seats, so we ended up with four different single seats scattered around the airplane. J and I had the seats that were closest together–a row apart–and when we got into the plane we were able to swap seats with folks in our rows who were both couples who’d strategically chosen a window and an aisle in the hopes that the seat between them would remain empty. No such luck, folks! So I was roughly within arm’s reach of J while Cute W and M were away in the wilderness.

The flight was not our favorite ever. Along with the separation, I was seated next to a couple who appeared to be auditioning for roles as Ugly Americans. They’d do things like exclaim, “It’s f&*king freezing!” instead of just politely asking for a blanket. Our flight was supposed to be a red-eye, leaving Montreal at 10 pm and, with 7 hours of travel and a 6-hour time change, arriving at 11 am in Paris the next day. Air Transat was not great at the whole red-eye concept. When we’ve flown overnight before, the cabin crew feeds everyone right away, then turns down all of the lights and tiptoes around until about 20 minutes before landing, when they simulate morning with bright lights and cups of coffee. On our flight, they handed out a meal and drinks and a snack and more drinks and they made announcements periodically throughout the flight. They barely dimmed the lights for a couple of hours, and then they did the “wake up” ritual with bright lights and another round of coffee a full hour and forty-five minutes before landing. I’m not sure why they thought that we’d want to wake up that early. They announced it with some urgency, like, hey, you only have a bit more than a hundred minutes before we touch down! It was baffling. I tried to sleep and failed miserably. I tried to watch La La Land and I aborted an hour in: I’m not sure if I really thought it was awful or if I was just unbelievably cranky. Meanwhile, poor M was under the impression that she’d have to purchase all the food that was being carted through the aisle, so she didn’t have any of the meals or snacks. Poor thing! It hadn’t occurred to me to reassure her that this came with the tickets, and it was extra-confusing because the little menu printed prices, I guess for people who wanted extra food. She was starving while we waited for our bags.

I felt insanely grateful that we’d taken up the apartment management’s offer to send a car to bring us from the airport to our apartment. It cost $10-12 more than an uber or the train would have been, but it was full-on marvelous to have someone waiting and holding up our name so we didn’t have to think too hard when we were so tired and disoriented. When the driver arrived at our apartment, the guy with the key was running late, so we unloaded ourselves and our duffle bags onto the sidewalk in front of our door in the chill late-morning air and stood there looking so exhausted and forlorn that the very nice lady at the shop next door and offered up her awning while she locked up and ran an errand. The driver also stayed for the hand-off. The street was adorable and narrow, lined with fancy-pants shops. In fact, later we noticed that tourists would literally line up in the morning outside of the Hermès shop down the street. Clearly the location was awesome, and now we just had to worry about getting inside. Cute W and I smiled and assured the girls that we’d be going in at any moment while silently freaking out inside our own heads (or maybe he wasn’t, but I was). Then the guy arrived, all smiles and apologies, and what do you know, everything was just fine!

Once we got into the apartment I took a few pictures before we had a chance to turn the place into a mess. Here’s a picture of J at our front door from a later day when we were all perkier.

Here’s the main room as we first walk in. It looks like M is looking toward the front door. The grey sofa opened up to make a double bed so this was the girls’ bedroom. I’m standing on the end with the front door and the kitchenette, and on the right you can see railings to go downstairs. There are three windows along the wall on the left (you can only see one), and they all opened out, French-door-style, which we loved. The views were not inspiring, but in the morning you could smell the pain au chocolats baking.

Here’s the kitchenette. We did absolutely no cooking, but we appreciated having an extra sink, a refrigerator, and plates and glasses for when we brought food home. Cute W’s standing at a teensy little table. Looking at this picture, the front door is on the right and the stairs are on the left.

Cute W and I slept downstairs, which pretty much only had space for a bed and nightstand. There were some shelves and hooks and space for our duffel bags. It was cozy but, honestly, a much nicer set-up than your standard hotel room with two double beds that we’d normally book.

Here’s the only image where our apartment actually looks cuter than advertised on the Expedia site: apparently they shopped for a better night stand since the previous pictures went online.

And, finally, our bathroom was also downstairs. It was small. Like, comically small.

When J needed help with the shower the first day, the only way we could both stand in the room simultaneously was if one of us was literally in the shower stall. Still, I was psyched to have a shower. When I lived in Paris with my famille years ago, we had one of those hand nozzles in a bathtub. We set up the kitchen sink as our satellite location for teeth brushing, so that worked well.

Phew! We’d made it. We went around the corner to a crepe place I’d scoped out ahead of time, then we had to take a little nap.  It was only midday and we just couldn’t possibly push through and stay up late enough for a local-time bedtime without one. When we woke up around 4 or 4:30, J had a brief little panic that we’d slept through our first day in Paris. Nope. We headed out to explore.

More later.

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