Timeline: July 24th – 30th
Given our experience on the way to Lyon on non-toll roads, we decided to damage the budget a bit and use them to get to Francois’ in Montigny. Using a new tool we’d discovered, the Michelin Route Planner, a Google Maps type of website that calculates the various routes you can take to a destination and provides toll amounts and time to drive. You can adjust to avoid tolls and other varied combinations and determine which route might provide the right combination of cost and speed.
The total bill for tolls was 33.3 Euro, quite a stiff tab for a distance of roughly 300 miles, less than that from Los Angeles to San Francisco. But for this drive it certainly made a difference, allowing us to average highway speeds all the way there. We had an interesting moment at a gas/restaurant stop part way through the drive. These populate the toll roads here, much like the clusters we find in the U.S. Although these is usually just one gas station and some restaurant associated with that chain.
I believe this one was called McGrill and it was packed with people, a Marché station type of concept where you could get a plate of food from a buffet line or some sandwich combo from another station, which is what we opted for. I’d grabbed a bottle of water from a nearby cooler and we ordered a sandwich to go and a desert. The clerk was totally discombobulated, as we witnessed her stumble through the transactions ahead of us.
As we confirmed later with Francois, she violated French health code standards by touching our food without using gloves or washing her hands in between handling money. I’m a risk taker so passed on that oversight but watched with incredulity while she took nearly 30 seconds to tabulate the total for the three items we’d ordered. We eventually went our way, hunger sated and luckily, with no ill side effects from the food handling.
Arriving in Montigny mid afternoon, we again had the good fortune to run across Francois taking out his trash so didn’t have to ring his apartment. It was so nice to see him again, even after our short time apart, the type of welcome you get when old friends gather. We moved some of our stuff upstairs and proceeded with our usual welcoming routine of consuming a number of beers and engaging in conversation.
Given his generosity in covering our housing cost at Tossa (I failed to mention in prior blogs that given our sleeping outdoors on the patio, he couldn’t bring himself to charge us for our share of the room there) we were determined to pay him back in kind. This meant dinner out that night and a gift of the 500 ml bottle of Courvoisier Napoleon I’d been carrying around since Cognac. Yes, that’s right, I’d carried that bottle around for more than a month without drinking it, as if it was seeking a higher purpose. And indeed, it did find its reason for being.
Axel arrived home and the four of us set out for the Indian restaurant a block away in the town circle, next door to the crepe place we’d eaten at during our first visit. When we walked in the place was empty, and would remain empty during our entire meal. The owner/waiter greeted us less than warmly and would provide similar service throughout the meal. Long story short is that our meal for four with one beer apiece (Kingfisher at 5 Euros a 12 ounce bottle) came to 96 Euros, close to $130.
Normally I wouldn’t quibble as the food was tasty and we did share two appetizers, but we were charged for more rice than we ordered and it was a generally a less than pleasant experience, except we got to share it with Francois and Axel. We returned to the apartment and Francois, true to form, insisted that we drink some of the Napoleon which would indeed disappear during our stay. I don’t really wish to be wealthy, what I have is enough for me, but if I did have money, I’d drink really good cognac each and every day.
We awoke the next day to a beautiful warm and blue sky Parisian summer day. With some time on our hands we set out on our bikes for what would turn out to be a relatively short 15 mile ride, but one that didn’t involve a flat tire or getting lost. Upon our return to the apartment, we went about preparing the car for our two weeks with my sister Beverly.
This involved re-packing our bags as for a number of days, particularly for our stay in Paris itself, we’d be using public transportation and staying in a small room. While Joanna cleaned up the bikes and provided them with some much needed maintenance, I got the car ready for our next two weeks and our passenger, Bev.
As we were finishing up, with a number of piles of belongings that would need to move up to the apartment, including our two bikes, we were pondering just how to arrange it when who should appear on the sidewalk asking us if we needed some help but Axel? And so what would have taken multiple trips upstairs only needed one.
We cleaned up, sorted what would go to Paris with us and what would stay and then after a nice lunch prepared by Francois, with seafood from Picard (a chain known for its quality frozen food), a bottle or so of wine and of course the last of the Napoleon, we made our way to the train station for the 20 minute ride into Paris. Our first stop was the station at La Defense where we picked up the metro to take us to our stop at Panatier (we would also use the stop at Oberkampf quite a bit) for the two-block walk to the Cosmos Hotel, our home for the next five nights.
Located in an area not far from the Bastille, the neighborhood was more working class Paris than tourist, which would play out to our benefit in the days to come. After landing in our room, number 5r, our first stop was just around the corner at a local Parisian market chain, Franprix, for some basic supplies and to note a Patisserie on the way that would become a home away from home for us.
It had been a very good day. A nice bike ride in the morning, Axel’s appearance out of nowhere, the type of lunch with Francois we’d grown use to and honestly, will miss more than any other thing we’ve done on this trip, and a successful landing at the Cosmos, ready for Bev’s arrival the next day. Not quite halfway through the trip, seeing Bev would be another milestone, marking the time ticking off the clock. We were ready.
Michelin Route Planner: http://www.viamichelin.co.uk/web/Routes
Cosmos Hotel: http://www.cosmos-hotel-paris.com/fr,1,6436.html