Happy Birthday to Me!

Just when even I thought I couldn’t get any more spoiled, my husband took me to Paris to see Sting on my birthday. Our friends Jan and Paul drove us to the train station in Aix in the morning, kindly relieving us of the burden of leaving our car overnight in the expensive lot there. Just being on the train was a treat for me. I love to travel by train. You don’t have to go through security or get jostled by your fellow travelers in long lines, the seats are comfortable and offer plenty of leg room, and there’s always the view! You don’t get to see the French countryside race by your window when you’re on a plane.

My clever husband worked the numbers and figured it would cost the same amount for me to pack us a picnic lunch with a split of Moët & Chandon Champagne than to pay the extortionist prices for a lunch from the bar car. I packed us some club sandwiches, potato chips and Ferrero Rocher chocolates. Is it just me, or do club sandwiches always feel like vacation? They remind me of going to Florida with my family as a child. Are club sandwiches a very “hotel restaurant” menu item, or is it that nobody ever makes themselves a club sandwich at home? Whatever the case, they were tasty and felt like a treat.

When we arrived in Paris, we went to our hotel in the 20th arrondisement, Mama Shelter. I read about this cheap and chic hotel in Vanity Fair and can’t rave about it enough. A standard double room is just €89 per night. The decor is Phillipe Starck, the products in the bath are from Kiehl’s and the computers in the business center are all Macs. The restaurant had a cool, loungy vibe with overstuffed couches, a foosball table and a projection screen showing Tex Avery cartoons. I think it is the hippest place either of us has ever been.

After dropping off our luggage, we proceeded on to the most posh place either of us has ever been, the Ritz. We missed our chance to have afternon tea at the Ritz in London (the proper kind, with little pastries and sandwiches with the crusts cut off) as our British friends had recommended, so we thought we’d give the Paris one a try. We knew we couldn’t afford a real meal at the restaurant in the Ritz, but we thought that afternoon tea in the Bar Vendôme or the Hemingway Bar (he drank enough at the Ritz to get a bar named after him!) would be more in our price range and would allow us to soak up lots of fancy atmosphere without paying a fortune for it. WRONG. Afternoon tea at the Paris Ritz is €67 per person. SIXTY SEVEN EUROS PER PERSON!

Since bringing my own sandwiches wasn’t really an option at the Ritz, we settled for a cup of tea for Johann and a hot chocolate for me. Johann very sweetly pressed me to order a cocktail, seeing as it was my birthday and all, but there wasn’t a single alcoholic beverage to be had for less than €30 and I had to assure him that I just wouldn’t be able to get thirty euros worth of enjoyment out of any one glass of anything, unless the glass was filled with gold coins or diamonds or something. Please. That’s just ridiculous. As long as we’re on the subject of “ridiculous:” His tea was €11 and my hot chocolate was €13. Of course, it was very good, very rich hot chocolate, and his tea was also lovely, served with two types of honey and a tea cozy that was nicer than our duvet cover… And it came with a plate of six insanely good sweets, citrus and chocolate mousse inside tiny white chocolate and milk chocolate cups. Still, at the end I took the monogrammed napkins as my souvenir to even things up a little. Now I know why Hemingway was always so damned broke in “A Moveable Feast.”

Johann has mad skills when it comes to getting great tickets, whether it’s cheap airfare, first class seats on the high-speed train, sporting events or concerts; and this was no exception. THIRD ROW SEATS! We were fifteen feet away from Sting. The concert was held at the lovely Salle Pleyel, which has a restaurant where concert-goers can enjoy a pre-show dinner. We had dinner there (with more Champagne!) and then went to the show, which held me spellbound. His new work is very mellow, all ballads set to an otherworldly blend of instruments played by the musicians that packed the stage with him. He was called back for four encores and performed my favorite song, Ghost Story. I just can’t remember the last time I was so blissed out. Merci beaucoup, Johann! More pictures are at right under “photos.”

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One thought on “Happy Birthday to Me!

  1. Did Sting do “Englishman In New York?” I always liked that.Let’s see: Didn’t Johann once go back for extra samples at a brewery tour? And now you’ve nicked some napkins from a fancy hotel. It’s an intercontinental crime spree!Sounds like a great time. I can’t believe lunch is almost as much as a hotel there, though.

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