Monday, March 12, 2007

The 21st Century Housewife© Goes to Paris

Paris is without a doubt one of my favourite cities in the world. As a family, we often visit this wonderful city. As this weekend was my husband's birthday G's and our 16th wedding anniversary we decided a break was in order, and so we treated ourselves to another visit to the City of Lights.

I first visited Paris on a school trip when I was 14. At the time, I was growing up in Canada, so a visit to Paris was a pretty huge thing. I fell in love with the city at first sight, and remember being so sad when we had to leave a week later. As I sat on the bus, I prayed that I would get to see Paris just one more time. Now, some 20 years later, I've been back to Paris so many times, I can't even tell you how many visits I've made. God more than answered my prayer and every time I go back to Paris I remember and feel a lovely sense of gratitude.

Sadly, this visit started out less than auspiciously. The BA Connect handover to Flybe caused chaos, and the plane that was brought into Birmingham for our 1.15pm flight would only hold 50 people. As there were 90 of us, this was rather a big problem. So they tried to find another plane. When there wasn't one available in the fleet, they hired one. Yes, rent a plane! The rental arrived from Manchester after rather a long wait, pure white and totally unbadged. This did not inspire confidence. Nor did it help when we were told that this rent a plane had developed a fault in flight. Lots of engineer labour later, we finally took off at 5.30pm. Not so good when you have an 8.30pm reservation at restaurant that books up weeks in advance - especially bearing in mind that Paris is an hour in front of Birmingham!

We arrived in Paris at 7.45pm local time. G had called the restaurant and told them of our predicament and they had been incredibly understanding. They moved our reservation to 9.30pm and told us not to worry. We found a very nice taxi driver who agreed to push the envelope as much as he could in terms of speed, although he was limited by the fact that the route from Charles de Gaulle airport into Paris is littered with speed cameras. He took great delight in pointing this out to us, emphasising that he knew the British invented speed cameras and we had only ourselves to blame! The only worrying thing was that the car's break pad warning light kept coming up on the dashboard. We were compressed so tightly into the back of the cab that it was impossible to do up our seat belts, but I managed to get our son A's done up. The thought of Princess Diana haunted me vaguely but I tried not to think about it. Thankfully, we arrived outside the wonderfully luxurious Art Deco style Holiday Inn Opera completely intact and only slightly frazzled. However, it was now 8.45pm and the restaurant was a good 15 minute cab ride away.

After checking in faster than we ever thought possible, we threw our bags in our son's room without even going upstairs to our own and raced out to try to make our booking, now less than half an hour later. The hotel offered to call a taxi but said it would take ten minutes to arrive so we decided to take our chances. G raced up the rue de l'Echiquier with A and I following as quickly as we could behind him. By the time we had caught up he had a taxi for us. We made it to Chez Georges in the rue du Mail virtually on the dot of 9.30pm. The owner greeted us very warmly and we were soon seated and perusing the fantastic menu.

G used to go to Chez Georges regularly as a child when he was living in Paris with his family and later when he was there at university and he said it had not changed a bit. It is traditionally French, with long rows of tables against walls lined with elaborate gold framed mirrors. The staff could not have been friendlier and the meal we had was one of the best I have ever eaten in my life. The starter - salad lardons avec oeuf - a frisse salad served with hot lardons of bacon and topped with a poached egg - was incredible. Even A, who is notorious for leaving his salad, loved it. You have to taste it to believe it. It's ambrosia. Our main courses ranged from steak (A) to duck (G) to Coquilles St Jacques (me!) and they were all wonderful. Although we had little room for dessert, the tempting dishes being taken past us encouraged us to indulge. It was profiteroles for A and I, and Tarte Tatin for G. I've eaten a lot of profiteroles in my time (more than I'd care to admit) and these were the best ever. Beautiful choux pastries were filled with vanilla ice cream that actually contained vanilla beans and then topped with a delightfully decadent hot chocolate sauce. At this point, the owner very kindly gave us all a complimentary glass of beautiful dessert wine to accompany these lovely dishes. It was an incredibly relaxing and memorable evening. We left around midnight amid exhortations to not leave our next visit another 20 years - and returned our assurances that we would be back as soon as we possibly could arrange it! As we eased ourselves into the taxi that had been arranged for us, we were all wrapped in the delicious sense of wellbeing that comes from a truly incredible meal, and the promise of the 24 wonderful hours to follow in such a beautiful city as Paris.

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