When a publicist invites you on a free press trip to Paris, there's really only one way to answer: "Oui, oui, 100 percent oui!" (I really need to learn how to play it cool.) No doubt, the 20 exclamation points in my e-mail response made me look less than professional, but, oh well, c'est la vie. I couldn't wait to ride a retro bike down narrow cobblestone streets while balancing a baguette in one hand and a bottle of wine in the other. (A basket never even entered my mind in this dangerous little daydream of mine.)
After the easiest red-eye of my life (seriously, Air France rocks!), I arrived in the City of Light on a cloudy Monday morning, feeling equal parts exhausted and exhilarated. I was traveling in a group of four, and we spent the hour-long ride from Charles de Gaulle Airport talking about hair, makeup, clothes, and other nonsensical girlie clichés. But our chatty quartet went quiet as soon as we pulled into our posh Paris address, the InterContinental Paris Le Grand Hotel.
Bienvenue to the Intercontinental Paris Le Grand Hotel
Facing the opulent Garnier Opera House, the InterContinental Paris Le Grand is befittingly theatrical. Magnificently draped in exuberant red and gold, this splendidly renovated property displays its rich, colorful history with unabashed pride and bravado. Having opened its doors in 1862 during the reign of Napoleon III, the hotel conjures up images of grandeur and antiquity with every luxurious detail in its present-day design. A stone's throw from several of the most famous tourist attractions, the Paris Le Grand is also surrounded by upscale department stores, boutiques, and restaurants.
I was escorted to my room on the fourth floor and had to resist the urge to dive head first into that fluffy king-size bed. Actually, it was two twins joined together. (How Parisian!) Elegantly appointed with sumptuous details, my standard room was at once exotic, glamorous, cozy, and efficient. I could get used to this place!
Before I could be tempted to take a nap (is there an equivalent to "siesta" in Paris?), I was treated to a massage at Paris Le Grand's I-Spa by Algotherm. My technician and I might have had a moment of awkwardness (How do you say "make it hurt!" in French?), but the rest of the hour was pure perfection. The Deep Blue Massage takes advantage of the wealth of elements and mineral salts contained in water extracted from Bora-Bora at depths of more than 3,000 feet. She rubbed, kneaded, and stretched, and I felt replenished, revitalized, and ready to explore Paris.
"To the Louvre!"
We had the afternoon at leisure, so I decided to take myself on a little walking tour. Or rather, I walked in circles before giving up and finding a taxi stand. With only an hour left before the magnificent museum closed, I raced to the Louvre and made a beeline for the Mona Lisa. I found her surrounded by a crowd of camera-toting tourists, pointing, smiling, and snapping away. But that sneaky Ms. Mona—who is surprisingly small, by the way—didn't even blink a squinty eye. Instead, she followed me with her perceptive peepers all around the room. ("She's on to me!") The surreal experience was almost too much to take. I had to remind myself that this was real life. Tom Hanks was not around the corner, and this was not a deleted scene on the Da Vinci Code DVD. (Bummer.)
After speed-walking through the exhibits (You really need more than 60 minutes. Damn my lack of direction!), I headed back to the hotel to primp and prep for our meal at Paris Le Grand's Café de la Paix. A Paris institution beloved by residents and tourists alike, the legendary landmark has positioned itself on the culinary cutting edge with its ever-evolving menu. Our dinner began, as all our upcoming meals would, with a champagne toast. (Does that make it a French toast?)
For an appetizer, I ordered la fameuse soupe Ã l'oignon gratinée, otherwise known as French onion soup. It was warm, melty, ooey-gooey deliciousness. I greedily slurped every last seasoned-to-perfection spoonful and sopped up the remaining onions with a piece of buttery bread. I wanted something classically French for an entrée but was too tempted by the idea of a juicy red steak. Paired with a soul-warming red wine, my meal was simple and delicious. I found it hard to believe that "French women don't get fat."
For dessert, I ordered the millefeuille, which alternates between layers of thick sweet cream and crusty puff pastry. I also sampled the "Pop Fizz" dessert. Created by fashion designer Rosemary Rodriguez of Thierry Mugler, this colorful confection is edible art at its finest.
My first day in Paris was everything I thought it would be and more. I was tempted and teased by the tastes, sights, and sounds of the City of Light. And there was so much more to come. Stay tuned for tomorrow's Paris post. You won't believe what happened ... okay, okay, I'll tell you: I got engaged. I knew that would get your attention. (Kiss-kiss ... That's how they do it in France.)