May 7, 2010

Six Days in Paris and Some Time With the Sapeurs-Pompiers

My recent trip to Paris was fabuleux.

Though it almost didn't happen. And there was a bit of drama, but more on that in a moment.

The evil ash cloud that caused chaos for travelers all over Europe that week meant that our friend's flights were canceled, re-booked, canceled again and finally - success! Instead of flying to Paris, two of the three joined us here in the south for a couple of days after being rerouted to Toulouse, and we picked the other one up in Barcelona before hopping on the TGV for Paris.

The apartment, a comfortable four bedroom place in the 11th that was exchanged for our friend's gorgeous Creole home in New Orleans, exceeded all of our expectations. A whopping 150 m2, it took up the entire 6th floor of the building and was located on a bustling street that was lined with shops, cafés, restaurants and a twice weekly market.

There are so many advantages to staying in an apartment vs. a hotel - we could make our own coffee in the morning, cook together, enjoy picnics from from the market and hang out in the privacy of our home away from home. Much better thank being crammed into a tiny hotel room if you ask me.

Highlights of the neighborhood included a typical Parisian bistro, Le Sot l'Y Laisse, located just around the corner. I could have eaten here every day! Delicious, perfectly seasoned and seriously amazing food. Their weekday €13-17 lunch menu is a bargain.

Le Sot-l'Y-Laisse
70, rue Alexandre Dumas
75011 Paris
Tél. 01 40 09 79 20

The café on the next block, Café Lino, serves a hearty, simple lunchtime menu for €11. Homemade pastry, fresh salads and the richest 3-cheese quiche I've ever tasted. It was also a fun place to go for un p'tit verre in the evenings.

Café Lino
81 boulevard de Charonne
75011 paris
Tél. : 01 43 56 75 50

The Marché Charonne started a few feet from the building's front door. It was undoubtedly the noisiest market I've ever been to in France, with the stall owners barking out their daily specials and enthusiastically trying to lure you to buy their merchandise.

Marché Charonne
Between 129, bd de Charonne and rue Alexandre Dumas
Wednesday 7:00 - 2:30 and Saturday 7:00 - 3:00

We really lucked out with the weather. Warm and sunny every single day which meant hours and hours sitting in cafés watching the world go by, one of my favorite things to do in Paris. Other than wandering aimlessly around the city. I can't even guess how many kilometers and arrondissements we covered.

I was happy to see an old friend and finally met a new friend, who I am forever indebted to for introducing us to the best little place for Chinese dumplings. She's promised to take me to her favorite Indian restaurant next time, and I'm holding her to it.

Now on to that drama I mentioned earlier...
One morning, bright and early and before my required cup of coffee, I got a crash course in how to use the services of SOS Médecins and the SAMU (Service d'Aide Médicale d'Urgence). I also picked up a few French medical terms, got to experience just how enormous the Hôpital Pitié Salpêtrière complex is, and learned how cute the Parisian pompiers can be.

Our friend's brother-in-law, Brian, had woken up early that morning with chest and arm pain, strong enough to make him think that is wasn't merely indigestion from their meal at La Tour D'Argent the day before.
I was the only French speaker in the group so quickly called up SOS Médecins who very efficiently got the doctor to us 15 minutes later. He did some exams then brought in the SAMU, who did some more exams then brought in the pompiers to carry Brian down 6 flights of stairs in an inflatable stretcher to the ambulance because they didn't want him to move. It was all very impressive!

It turned out that he had one blocked artery and another one was 50% blocked so they performed surgery that evening and he's now back home in the States, feeling a lot better.
I've said it before and I'll say it again. The health care in France is excellent.

Eventually it was time to bid Paris adieu. I was sad to leave, but have many, many plans for my next visit.

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