A special anniversary
The Roamers celebrate 30 years of visits to France
One morning in August I remarked to Phil, “Guess what? Next month will be the 30th anniversary of our first trip to France!” That was indeed the trip of a lifetime; we flew to Paris for a few days, took the TGV (high-speed train) to Dijon, stayed in a castle (complete with a countess and a moat!), moved on to a farmhouse bed & breakfast in Provence (where we made a lasting friendship with a British/Scottish couple), giggled our way through mistakes in Bordeaux, and finished the trip back in Paris. I briefly considered recreating that trip but quickly realized that after 30 years nothing would be the same. So we decided to take a short trip to Paris and Dijon to celebrate this anniversary–and Phil’s 72nd birthday! We no longer give each other gifts, because we don’t need any more stuff, so this experience was both birthday and anniversary for us.
We spent our three nights in Paris at the Marriott Courtyard by the Gare de Lyon, using points to offset some of the indulgences we’d planned for this trip. After checking in to our tiny but cute room, we set out to explore the city. Our plan was to visit some museums we’d not seen before, revisit Giverney, and dine in style.
Notre Dame restoration in progress
We were intrigued by the number of beautiful people taking selfies on the Pont Alexandre. We admired their gorgeous clothes but thought they might be missing the views while posing. . .
It was fun strolling, window-shopping, and people watching. It appears that there are some very intriguing souvenirs in some of the shops!
Eiffel Tower dildo, anyone?
After walking our legs off, we returned to the hotel to prepare for our special dinner. Friends Gwen and Tom had raved about Lasserre, so after recovering from the heart attack that the menu prices caused, I booked a reservation. What a treat! It was the most expensive meal of our lives, but indeed a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It’s a gorgeous place with amazingly choreographed service. Oh, and the food? Magnificent.
Phil at Lasserre
Phil was especially eager to revisit Monet’s home in Giverney. We caught an early train, then a bus, then walked to the site–where we were appalled by the number of tourists. The Japanese bridge was packed with people taking pictures, and there was a two-hour wait to get into the house! We quickly decided to get away from all those people and proceeded back to the bus pickup, where we’d just missed the bus. So we waited (stood, as there were no seats available) for two hours to get the bus back to the train and take the train back to Paris.
Luggage sculpture at the train station: the best thing about our trip to Giverney!
Giverney was disappointing, but that didn’t stop us from having a memorable day. I’d always wanted to visit some of the top Paris hotels, but of course they were way beyond our budget. But what, I wondered, if we simply stopped by for a cocktail? Off we went.
First stop was, of course, the Ritz. At $2300 per night for their least expensive room, we will never, ever stay there–but without a reservation (!) we were a bit reluctantly escorted to a table at le Bar Hemingway, where we enjoyed a delicious cocktail, excellent service, and superior people-watching (everyone seemed to have come from a major shopping trip!).
Phil’s Ritzy cocktail
We paid up and headed to le Meurice. There we were greeted somewhat more warmly and ushered to a cozy corner table at Bar 228, where we enjoyed excellent cocktails and shared a confit duck fois gras, served with farmhouse bread and a quince and pear relish. The tab? Almost $200. You can see why we used points for our hotel!
The next day we spent several hours at le Petit Palais, a wonderful new-to-us art museum. It was magnificent! Here are some of my favorites:
After an excellent, albeit slightly overpriced, lunch at Rotunde de la Muette, we walked on to one of my favorite museums ever: the Musée Marmottan Monet. This gorgeous former home of Paul Marmottan holds the largest collection of Monet paintings in the world, thanks to Monet’s son Michel, who bequeathed all his works to the museum.
The beautifully restored dining room of the Musée Marmottan Monet
Descending to the basement, we were transfixed by the number and size of the paintings. The quiet, cool space was a perfect foil for these beauties.
I have no words to describe this display!
Here are just a few of the paintings in this part of the museum, dedicated to Monet. Even his pallette is on display! Thanks to my friend Betsy for pointing out the Caillebotte work, a sketch for his famous painting “Paris Street, Rainy Day”, which lives in the Art Institute of Chicago. Caillebotte gave the sketch to his friend Monet.
But wait, there’s more! Back upstairs, we were treated to an entire section dedicated to Berthe Morisot–both her own paintings and her collection. Click the link to see some of her paintings. By the way, both le Petit Palais and le Musée Marmottan Monet are free to the public!
For our last evening in Paris we had planned something special. After a quick dinner at le Coupole, where I had a most interesting artichoke, stuffed with green beans and hazelnuts, we set off for Madame Arthur’s.
Unusual but delicious artichoke
I had read about the Madame Arthur drag cabaret in the New York Times and was captivated by the fact that the performers are not lip synching. In fact, the pianist was magnificent, the violinist excellent, and all the singers were great. But. The Times article also mentioned the 8pm show. Since we had an early train the next morning, we arrived at 7:45, hoping to get a good table. But guess what? There are NO TABLES!!! Just an open space and a bar. We waited patiently for the 8pm show to begin. But guess what? The 8pm show doesn’t start until 9pm! Did I mention that we’re a bit old, and standing for long times is quite uncomfortable? The show was great, but after 45 minutes (we had been standing for two hours) we called it a night.
Wonderful show. Next time we’ll bring our own chairs.
Early the next morning we were on the train to Dijon, where I’d booked another Marriott property, Vertigo. Our room was super cute but tiny, so after checking in we headed out to explore the city.
Beautiful, charming Dijon
As usual, we wanted to check out the museums, so after lunch we explored the Musée des Beaux Arts, which opened in 1787 and features art from the Middle Ages through the 19th century. It is lovely and has a lot of religious art.
I loved the brilliant colors in this painting.
Tombs of the Dukes of Burgundy
We also visited the Musée Rude. I asked my French teacher about the name, and she explained that it was named after the sculptor Francois Rude. A tiny museum, it was both beautiful and interesting. But my favorite Dijon museum was the Musée de la Vie Bourouignionne, or Museum of Burgundian Life. Housed in a monastery, it features a section with lifesized mannequins engaged in everyday life, with scene after scene depicting the various stage of life. I was especially fascinated with the kitchen, of course. After that, we proceeded to a reconstructed small town, with apothocaries, hat shops, groceries, and much more. Fascinating!
Years ago when we lived in Texas, I bought a pottery coffee mug because it reminded me of the Coty Airspun face powder my mother wore when I was a child. Looking at it, I could literally smell the fragrance and remember how elegant I thought she was when she wore her “little black dress” and a pillbox hat with a veil.
My “Coty” coffee mug
Imagine my surprise and delight when, in one of the displays, I spied a Coty Airspun powder box! Instant nostalgia for an Oklahoma girl–in Dijon, France!
Coty powder box
That evening the restaurant we’d hoped to visit was booked, so we ended up at an Alsatian restaurant where we ate flammekueches, which are basically flatbreads. Having walked about eight miles each day of this trip, we headed to the hotel after dinner and crashed.
The next day I was excited to visit le Cite Gastronomie, an international food and wine venue. Unfortunately, it is more of an event venue, and although it has several interesting shops and restaurants, not much was going on. Actually, virtually nothing was going on. But les halles Dijon, the covered market, was open, and that was a real treat! It’s a huge market, and the entire surrounding neighborhood was filled with vendors–vegetables, flowers, clothing, accessories, leather goods, wine, and more. We loved strolling around and watching the vendors.
Les Halles Dijon
We enjoyed more wandering, happening onto a restaurant featuring poulet Gaston Gérard, a dish I love to make. This dish has a history and was created by accident by the Dijon mayor’s wife in the 1930s. You can read about it here. I was eager to compare it to mine, so we returned for lunch. The meal was delicious, but the best thing was the couple who sat next to us. They were Americans, and they were celebrating the wife’s birthday–same as Phil’s! So we all had champagne and lingered a while. I love those “friends for a minute” whom we meet randomly.
After looking into every Michelin-starred restaurant in Dijon, we had reserved a table at Origine, a beautiful restaurant hosted by a Japanese chef and his wife. The food was elegant, the service warm and comfortable. and it was truly a top-ten dining experience.
Phil’s “extra” birthday dessert
We strolled back to the hotel after dinner, marvelling at how delightful Dijon is. The next day we were happy to return home to Montpellier. Traveling is wonderful, but so is coming home.