Well, Etihad, despite any misgivings about Middle Eastern airlines after Ruth had her arm slashed by Emirates several years, ago, the whole experience of 1/2 price first class was grand, from the pick-up to the drop off at Jo's apartment in Paris. From home, a lovely and beautifully dressed Greek-Australian lady collected me in a very large and luxurious black Mercedes. Then I had a light meal at Neil Perry's food-hall in the Qantas first class lounge. Once on board, the experience was even better, being greeted with Billecart -Salmon champers and gorgeous light coffee accompanied by fresh dates filled with raw almonds. I'd managed to stuff up their system by registering as gluten-free on-line, but apparently this doesn't work so they had no warning of my coeliac diet. However, it made little difference, as the lovely young French purser made it his business to get the best food available on the plane and I was looked after wonderfully well the entire trip. The cabin layout is superb - I had what felt like a private room, with a 23" television. If travelling in company, the seats swivel 180 degrees so one can dine a deux - seriously clever industrial design
I managed to watch two movies the first being Frost-Nixon, which I enjoyed except for the actor who was playing Frost having cauliflower ears, and his portrayal as a bit of a lightweight dill (not true) and simultaneously a hit with the ladies (also not true, being one of the least sexy men I've ever met, but I was a bit under the influence at the time).
After all that excitement I had them make up my bed - complete with Frette sheets, a mattress and lightweight doona, so I slept all the way from West Australia to Cochin. I then tackled "Slumdog Millionaire" which I thought exceptional (much to my surprise).
By the time we touched down in Abu Dhabi, I was feeling OK, but opted for a hot shower, which included being drenched by a stormcloud from the the roof of the spa. Pity I didn't know about the massages, I could have had one before taking the deluge, but no matter. I'll fix that on the return journey.
Downstairs to stock up on a couple of cosmetic items at the duty free - all-purpose spackfilla and brown mascara. Then off to Paris. I hunkered down for some more shut-eye and work up somewhere over Turkey (snow on the mountains, still), and, in order to get my ear into the musique de la langue francaise, watched "Mes Stars et Moi" with Catherine Deneuve - lightweight and amusing.
Charles de Gaulle airport is a disgrace and has been for several years. How a city of such standing and beauty as Paris can tolerate having such a substandard international gateway is beyond me. First, we were parked on some tarmac within vague sight of the 'camembert'. Then we had to climb down a mobile staircase and thence onto a bus for our transfer to the terminal. Havana airport is markedly superior. Then, having been dropped off at a blue doorway, we had to climb another 50 steps to access the long and winding road to the customs and baggage collection. I hit the customs window at all possible speed, grabbed a luggage trolley and fortunately my suitcase was the first one to appear, so headed out the door and into the clutches of my driver, a quite amusing Frenchman, as Frenchmen go. My phone had managed to go flat, so Gerard phoned Jo for me, promising to be at Bastille in 40 minutes, which we were, almost to the moment.
The apartment that Jo & Glen had rented, in Rue de la Roquette, just off Place de la Bastille, is owned by an Melburnian and perfectly fine, the highlights being an excellent shower and a well equipped kitchen. After a quick hello and a glass of celebratory rose, we set off for a walk , which led us explore the Ile St Louis, with its fabulous residential landscape, many of the buildings being 400 years old. After stooging around a few streets, we came across the local shopping precinct and were bemused by queues of locals at seemingly nondescript establishments, which turned out to be ice-cream vendors. This must be the Parisians' idea of a fun day out as soon as the spring sun starts to shine, as every ice cream shop (and there were many) had twenty or more would-be customers salivating at the prospect of a cone with milky ice being handed to them in return for giving up a handful of euros.
We had other ideas, and stopped off at the foie gras vendor (foie gras de canard entier), the cheese shop (St Marcellin and bleue de vache, plus farm yoghurt, wine and gluten-free crackers (for the foie gras) then headed homeward. We stopped at the 'Fleurs Monceau' shop to get some roses for Jo - a process which took some time as the vendeuse attempted to transform a bunch of roses into a major purchase with offers of fernery, ribbons, whatever, but I demurred. It might have been Jo's birthday weekend, but that's no reason to dispose of a day's allowance in a flower shop.
Having laboured under the privations of English food for a fortnight, Jo and Glen had gone to the Bastille market that morning and hankered after fresh fruit and vegetables, so dinner comprised the aforementioned foie gras, followed by a Chef's salad (roast chicken, ham, green beans, carrots, celery, radishes, boiled eggs, celeri remoulade, tomatoes, onions and vinaigrette), then a generous platter of wonderful cheeses, with some sancerre and languedoc red to help soothe the passage. And so to bed.
Sunday dawned a lovely day for a Parisian lunch. We three Metroed across to the Left Bank, with the first stop being at the Insolite storefront on the Rue de Tournon (6th arrondisement, off Boulevard St Germain). I'd ordered my lamps (two for the bedroom, one for the lounge) from Australia and, as they were to be ready for collection on the 24th, delegated Jo and Glen to collect them for me and bring them to London. We found "la Maison de Brune" without difficulty and Isabelle (through whom I'd placed the order) was there to complete the transaction. She may give up her day job to become the French "Mrs Have-a-chat". Even Glen couldn't get a word in. However, she was absolutely charming and hopefully the lamps will be likewise.
We stopped for coffee at that classic rip-off joint, Les Deux Magots at St-Germain, then, still being ahead of schedule, checked out a couple of shops on the Rue de Bac. I managed to avoid entering the premises of Hartwood, knowing that it's impossible to get out of that establishment without buying a jacket of superb quality at an even more superb price.
On to l'Atelier for lunch. We'd already fixed our minds on the menu degustation, so the decision making was easy. In separate visits over several years, none of us has ever been disappointed here. So we settled on an aperitif of a kir royale, and ordered sancerre, medoc and sparkling moscato to accompany the menu. We then entered the gates of foodie heaven for a goodly time, our consumption being as follows:
- an egg shell filled with foie gras mousse and foam with parmesan toast
- crab royale, with slivered radishes and chives
- asparagus veloute with rocket
- foie gras sauteed with cherries and rhubarb slices
- a martini glass layered with parsley puree, a poached egg, topped with creamed morilles
- sea bass with crayfish bisque and grilled asparagus tips
- 3 tiny lamb cutlets roasted with garlic and rosemary, thyme, chervil and pommes puree
- basil sorbet with vanilla cream and fresh raspberries
- chocolate icecream inside a chocolate dome which dissolved along the lines of the chocolate sauce poured over the top.
It was a gorgeous meal and we all thoroughly enjoyed it. We then headed across to Madeleine for a spot of shopping - some shirts/tops from a couple of my favourite shops, then back to relax and avoid sleeping until it got dark.
At about 7pm we toddled around the corner for a snack at the local Japanese restaurant, and as soon as the sun went down, we were all in the land of nod after a very satisfying birthday celebration (Jo's 58th).
Monday, and time to move on, so I packed and headed for Gare du Nord and Eurostar to London. Marvellous weather - 20C in both London and Paris. I headed into the city to meet up with Claire for some oysters and champers. Tough life.