Note: This is part a Saturday Bucket List series I’m doing throughout 2015 that is focused on fun things to do during retirement (i.e. bucket list items). I hope you enjoy them and use them as inspiration for your own adventures. I’m also doing a giveaway in conjunction with the series that you can read more about below.
Part 1: The Trip
The moment I stepped off the private elevator, I knew I was in serious trouble. I knew it in the way that a dog knows he’s in trouble after pulling the Thanksgiving turkey off the counter or the little-leaguer knows he’s in trouble when he line drives a baseball through the picture window. It’s that slow motion, “Oh No!” kind of trouble. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me start from the beginning.
My wife and I love to travel. We’re not trust fund babies or high earning executives, however, so we scrimp in some areas (housing and cars) so we can afford to spend extravagantly in others (travel and experiences).
For Christmas in 2007 I surprised her with a trip to Paris for the following April. As is usually the case, we tried to keep things on a budget, so when it came to food the plan was to opt for the prix fixe meal at cafés or a baguette and bottle of wine rather than pricey restaurants.
You have to splurge a little in a foodie capital like Paris though, so several months before we left I flipped through my guidebook looking for a good culinary candidate for a romantic lunch or dinner. That’s how I came across Le Jules Verne restaurant. It’s a Michelin starred restaurant run by world famous chef Alain Ducasse. It’s located on the second level of the Eiffel Tower and has amazing food with views to match. I assumed that dinner was out of my price range, but my guide book indicated that lunch for two was in the “$50 and up” category. I chose to focus on the $50. This story, as you’ve probably already guessed, is about the “and up.”
The book said reservations are difficult to get, but my credit card company has a concierge service that prides itself in being able to line up difficult travel details, so I called them to see what they could do. A few weeks later, they called me back and said that we had a reservation for two for lunch. Woo-hoo!
Part 2: Credit Card Crisis
Fast forwarding a bit, the day of the big lunch arrived. The trip had gone great so far and we were having a wonderful time. Since we both expected to gorge at lunch, we decided to have a light breakfast. We skipped our normal pâtisserie pig-out and instead walked to a local grocery store called Hediard and bought some raspberries and a few other snack items.
From there we walked to the metro station so we could buy tickets for our planned trip the following day to Père Lachaise Cemetery (where Jim Morrison, Chopin, Oscar Wilde and many others are buried). I walked up to the counter and in my very broken French said “Un carnet, s’il vous plait” which simply means “A 10 pack of tickets please.” I took out my wallet to pay and was surprised to see that my credit card was gone. The person at the ticket counter stared at me while I stared into my wallet.
“I think I lost our credit card at Hediard,” I told my wife. We bee-lined back to the grocery store, but the card was, of course, already gone. We spent the next hour at the hotel calling the card company to cancel it and see if there was any way they could get us another one within a few days.
Part 3: Lunch at the Eiffel Tower
After dealing with the credit card fiasco, we showered, put on our Sunday best and took a cab to the Eiffel Tower. The tower has four legs that the French call “Piliers” and each is helpfully labeled with Nord, Est, Ouest or Sud. Le Jules Verne has its own private elevator located at the base of Pilier Sud, which allows you to bypass the enormous lines at the other Piliers.
We walked up to the door, gave them our names and were ushered into a small dark room with a dim, Thomas Edison style lightbulb hanging from the ceiling. An attendant walked us into the elevator, pushed a button and we started to rise. Which brings me back to where this story started, dressed to the nines and ready to step off the elevator into the nicest restaurant I’d ever seen. The doors slid open and we were immediately greeted by name and ushered to our table.
As we walked, my first thought was of the guide book. No longer was I focused on the “$50.” Now (like all of you) I was painfully aware of the vague “and up.” My second thought was that I had no credit card, about 60 euros of cash and a debit card with a $250 daily limit (to protect against theft), roughly $135 of which I had already used up by withdrawing 100 euros earlier in the day for walking around money.
Once seated, we were greeted by our waiters (plural), given menus and asked if we wanted a champagne apéritif. I looked down at my menu and saw that a glass of champagne was 22 euros or about $30 at the existing exchange rate. I started to form the words “Non merci,” but before I could get them out my wife said “Oui, s’il vous plait.”
With those four words, we shot through the “$50” and started into “and up” territory. And just to be clear, it wasn’t really about the cost of lunch. I’m all about spending on experiences. It was more about the fact that I didn’t have a credit card or enough cash to pay for it. Oh well. C’est la vie!
The waiter returned and my wife proceeded to order the most expensive soup/salad/main course on the menu, the prices of which were about what you’d expect from a restaurant that just charged you $60 for two glasses of champagne. Thinking it would be poor manners to tell him that I was only having the champagne, I ordered as well.
“Isn’t this great!” my wife said.
“Yes, definitely,” I said. Then hesitatingly: “It’s pretty expensive, don’t you think? I’m not sure the debit card is going to cover it.”
“Where did you see the prices?” she said. “My menu didn’t have prices.”
We confirmed this later when the dessert menu came out and also when we struck up a conversation with the couples next to us. The men’s menus had prices. The women’s did not. Well played Le Jules Verne. Well played.
But there was no point in worrying. These things usually have a way of working themselves out. I just hoped the solution didn’t involve me doing dishes to cover our tab. The lunch was amazing, the service was exceptional, the view of Paris was really fantastic and, as I mentioned earlier, we ended up meeting the couples on either side of our table and had a really fun conversation. In one of those moments of travel serendipity, the couple on our left was from Alaska (where my wife is from) and the couple on our right was originally from El Salvador (where I had traveled to earlier in the year). We lingered for several hours (in Paris, the table is yours as long as you want it) until it was time to head back to the hotel, so I asked the waiter for the bill.
He brought it to the table, and let me just tell you, when a waiter hands you a bill that is beautifully printed on a 5”x11” piece of heavy card stock, you don’t really need to look at the total to know that lunch was expensive. I looked anyway. “And up” indeed. Doing a quick conversion in my head, I figured that the total was about $400. For lunch. For two people.
I handed him my debit card with a slight smile, which I’m sure he interpreted to mean “What a lovely lunch we had,” but which actually meant, “I’m sorry in advance that this card isn’t going to work.” A few minutes later he came back to the table, handed me the card and my receipt, exchanged a few pleasantries and was off. I’m still not sure how it worked, but it did. No dishwashing required. The rest of the trip went off without a hitch and I can’t recommend Paris highly enough. Just don’t lose your credit card.
Is Paris on your bucket list? Here are some other fun things to do:
- Ride a Bateaux Mouche on the Seine
- Get ice cream at Berthillon on Île St. Louis
- Take a walking tour of Montmartre and buy a painting from a local artist
- Visit the Shakespeare and Company bookstore
- Walk through Pére Lachaise Cemetery
- Visit Notre Dame Cathedral
- Walk up the steps of the Arc de Triomphe
- Find a good local bakery (boulangerie) and try some fresh bread
- Find a good local pastry shop (pâtisserie) and try pretty much everything
- Visit the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay
Giveaway: I really like Woody Allen’s movie Midnight in Paris, so I’m giving away a copy this week to someone signed up for our 2015 Bucket List Giveaway (e.g. on our email list, Pinterest page, Facebook page, etc.). This week’s winner is Darla from our Pinterest page. I’ll touch base with her to get her the movie. Meanwhile, if you’d like to participate in future giveaways, you can read more about it over here.