Well, we've just returned to San Diego from our first trip to Europe and I'm wide awake at 3am. I don't know if I should be typing up our trip report so soon, as opposed to allowing my memories digest a little, but I'm inspired and more pratically wide awake. So this will be more of me rambling about our experiences as well as what we've learned.
Before our trip I posted some questions here, but found it more useful to search through all the posts. So taking a few days I copied and pasted posts from Chowhounds International focused on Paris and London. My fiance had her guide books, I had my 35 pages (two copies, in case rain got to one of them) of print outs entitled thusly:
We made the mistake of visiting Paris first for a couple of reasons. It was my intention to eat as much as possible in Paris, but we arrived on a Saturday with a Wednesday morning departure. With many restaurants closed Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, some of the recommended establishments would be closed, but that's O.K I reasoned, I've got plenty of others. I also like to save my "food" visits for the last few days of a trip because if I get sick, I would be going home soon and won't ruin any further travels. You will see that poor planning and not sticking to my rules will end up costing us.
My fiance likes to eat, an although unlike me she doesn't plan tomorrow's dinner while enjoying tonight's dessert, she's still enjoys good food. She had agreed to this food tour of the two cities prior to departure. On the plane while reviewing our planned assalut, she springs it on me. Apparently, my soulmate of 12 years took some art appreciation and art history classes in between her surfing, rock climbing, and mushroom foraging classes while at UC Santa Cruz. And she'd REEEALLY like to spend some time at some museums. I had no problems and knew we'd spend some time doing that. She then takes her print outs (while extensive, not nearly as generous as mine) and tells me what she wanted to see. While I'm not math whiz (no hablo algebra), I quickly realized that there's no way I'll eat at nine places as well as see/walk/experience other sites in Paris if we're going to 5 museums, and I point this out, but her logic and the flashy thing she does with the engagement ring win...everytime.
She reasoned that restaurants come and go, and we've never eaten french food much so everything will be new. We wouldn't really be losing out if we don't eat at a place on my list. We'll do just as well at places in between museums and tourist sites. I agreed, but somehow the tables have been turned. For example, I had intended to visit Notre Dame in between a crepe and having dinner at Bistro Clovis or Chez Denise.
Another thing that worked against me was that many of the restaurants didn't have address, and I don't speak a lick of French aside from hello and thank you. While the metro made things easy, I was under the false impression that directions like "near this metro..." from this board would be enough. I had no idea the city (both cities) were so densely packed.
But I digress. The first night we meet her uncle and had dinner at a restaurant at Place de Clichy. It was good. I had the foie gras appetizer and lamb for entree. It's my first time tasting foie gras and I like it. I'll have it a few more times later, even going to a market and buying a big hunk and eating it in a hotel room. The meal didn't wow me, but it was a good start.
Sunday and Monday would not have been very memeorable with the exception that this particular Sunday all the museums in Paris was free.
Monday night we intended to eat at La Regalade, but after a long walk we find it closed, so we take the metro to Chez Denise. After walking around for an hour with many locals not knowing where it's located, we finally get directions from a guy at a hotel. It's about 10pm and still crowded. We get seated next to two older french couples. The men didn't look like they were enjoying their beek strips as most of it were still on the plate. However, the women appeared to have enjoyed their "tubs" of casseroles. The portions in the place are huge. I can't speak french but I read even less. The waiter was so incredibly nice. He looked like Guido from the Godfather. I walk up to the chalk board with him and he translates most of the 20 item menu for me. He started by pointing to our neighbor's dishes then translating menu and describing the food.
On a particular item, he said: "you know Bambi?"
"O.K Bambi's father..."
"Oh deer, venison"
We both laugh. The french were incredibly gracious and very nice to this dumb American. Mind you, the restaurant was packed with locals, yet he took the time to translate almost the entire menu. I thank him and go back to impart on my fiance what I've learned. She orders the casserole her neighbor was having (lamb and white beans), and I orderd Bambi's dad. As we wait for our food, a young couple sits at the table next to us. For the first hour they don't acknowledge us. Our food comes and by now we're ravenous and dig into our food without making much convesation. As we slow down we realize our new neighbors had finished their wine before finishing there steaks, so we offer to them the rest of our wine. Another thing I've learned, wine gives the French the ability to speak English. We hit it off immediately and end the evening with me inviting our new friends to come trout fishing with me in the Sierra Nevadas. I love the French.
Unfortunately, that was our "last meal" for our stay in Paris. I don't know if it's a combination of the foie gras, butter, cheeses and very rich foods, or the fact that we might be lactose intolerrant, but my fiance got sick that night. I went out the next morning for some croissants. Lunch was a baquet for my store bought foie gras for a sandwich. Well that was it for me as well. I don't know if it's getting greased out our lactose intollerance, but I was full for the rest of the trip. The rich foods, cold weather, jet lag, and the hectic schedule of the previous day proved too much for us. I never felt hungry for the rest of the trip no matter how little or infrequently I ate.
Well, this report was definitely not what I wanted to post. I hope it can be a lesson to some other first timer.