Paris never felt so pricy but even with a weak dollar and the haze of jet lag,this city remains a delight
Editor's note: Today begins the first in a series of reports from Paris, running throughout the month, as our intrepid traveler and social scribe Shelby Hodge takes on the City of Lights and reports on the Liaisons au Louvre parties.
OK, so we were fairly naughty our first hours in Paris. At 11:30 in the morning, we were having martinis and champagne in the sleek Hotel Costes restaurant. But we had good reason to mimic the rock stars who frequent that hippest of Paris hotel eateries.
After all, it had been a harrowing ride in from Charles de Gaulle with a driver that surely has designs on a career on the Grand Prix circuit. We arrived at the Hotel Regina to the disappointing, but not really surprising, news that our room would not be ready until 3 p.m. It was 10 a.m. Our eyes could barely stay open. So out into the fresh Paris morning we ventured.
In our jet lag-induced stupor, we headed over to the Place Vendome and down the Rue Saint-Honoree, the headwaters of one of the most famed shopping streets in the world. And that's where we went astray.
We came suddenly upon the unmarked door to Hotel Costes, which has no signs because you're supposed to be so cool that you just know where it is. Being only slightly cool or rather familiar with some true hipsters, we knew the place and popped in for a bite. Sorry, no lunch service until noon. A 40-minute wait.
So what to do? Have a we're-here-in-Paris celebratory cocktail, of course.
The euro ouch
The sugar in the alcohol actually boosted our energy level. We suddenly became aware of the surroundings which were so appealing that we booked a dinner reservation, skipped lunch there and headed down the street. But not before we parted with $63 for those two libations.
Shocking as that may sound, the most appalling aspect of the bill was the 19.5 percent VAT. And that nasty tax is on everything you buy here — food, drink, designer handbags, et al. The miserable exchange rate is the culprit. On Monday in Houston, it was $1.55 to the euro. Today, in one of those sidewalk currency exchange places the exchange rate $1.51 to one euro.
Ah, but this is Paris and how often . . . As noon approached, we popped into one of those appealing sidewalk cafes cum brasserie with a warm (it is definitely chilly here) and cozy bar and a limited menu. Our choice was Le Castiglione not only for the attractive green awning and wicker furnishings but also for the drop-dead gorgeous businessmen and the stunning women that were lunching there. Little did we know that it is a favorite haunt of the fashion world elite and that it is priced accordingly.
Had we known that this eaterie's beauty was only skin deep. My lamb chops were tough though flavorful while my husband's Croque Monsieur was an embarrassment to breed. The bill was $106 for a little lunch that included one glass of wine, one beer and one superb cappuccino. But I guess if you include the glam people-watching, the value was clearly there.
Several things we noticed during our three-hour stroll around the neighborhood. One was the proliferation of jeans — businessmen in crisp white shirts, navy blazers and jeans; sophisticated shoppers wearing jeans with their Hermes bags; boot-cut jeans; skinny jeans and jeggings worn by women of all ages and most of them achingly fashionable. (And there I was in my wrinkled, unstylish travel clothes.)
We might have expected to have seen the jeans and blazer look in the windows of the Rue Saint-Honore Hugo Boss boutique. But to see that oh-so-casual-chic look in the windows of Brioni was a surprise.
Paris might have banned smoking from restaurants and shops but on the street and on restaurant patios or sidewalks, the habit flourishes. On the terrace of the restaurant at Hotel Costes, the fashionable dragons were puffed away over their croissants and serious conversation.