Cockpit Chronicles: Paris – A trip to satisfy the taste buds

Cockpit Chronicles takes you along on each of Kent’s trips as a co-pilot on the Boeing 757 and 767 out of Boston.

I’d like to welcome Gadling’s latest blogger, Heather Poole and her feature, Galley Gossip. Gadling had been looking for a flight attendant’s perspective of this industry and I’m glad they found it in Heather. If you haven’t read any of her posts, I highly recommend “Sandvich Girl,” which details a little of her past before she gave it all up to join the nomadic existence of a crew member. I’ve passed along her posts to my sister, who’s a flight attendant for an airline that sports an Eskimo on its tail and to my wife, who worked for 6 years as a flight attendant and they could both relate to her immediately.

I think bloggers often get inspiration and motivation when reading the comments to posts. Heather’s post called “Answer Please” made it around the world a few times and, judging from the comments, she was a bit misunderstood. She pointed out one annoyance with her job, an issue I’ve heard from many flight attendants; with iPods and movie earphones plugged in, it’s often hard to get a passenger’s attention to offer them a drink.

Many of the readers thought she was being ungrateful for her job or just complaining too much, but that’s part of why she writes. She’s trying to give an insight into the good and the bad of her job. And she cracks me up.
One thing I’ve noticed from the comments on posts relating to airline crews here on Gadling was that some people are under a bit of a misconception about layovers and the nature of our jobs. We’re not usually out partying with the flight attendants after we get somewhere. We’re often exhausted and particularly on domestic trips, we have to get up early the next day for what could be a full day. So there’s little time for much more than a bite to eat and that may or may not be with another pilot or flight attendant.

I’m fortunate to have a wife who understands the realities of my job. And I suspect readers of the Cockpit Chronicles have a good idea as well. Pilots and flight attendants are often more interested in a good meal and a quiet hotel room than anything else.

But every now and then, there can be some great layovers, and the latest Paris trip was one of the best I’ve had in a long time. Sometimes a crew just clicks, and that was certainly the case on this trip. While I knew most of the flight attendants from previous flights over the years, I had never flown with the Captain or the FB (relief pilot).

Captain Doug and the FB, Clay, have been flying to Paris together on their last five trips. They had done their research on the restaurants they wanted to try and they had this trip planned out well in advance. One of the flight attendants made reservations for the entire crew at a small restaurant called Les Papilles (review) near the Luxembourg Gardens.

I’m always up for a new restaurant, especially when someone else makes the plans.

Another flight attendant, Stephanie, was celebrating her birthday so that was as good an excuse as any to make it a fun evening. Eight of us met up at 5 p.m. in the hotel lobby before walking to Rue Mouffetard, an area that’s quickly becoming my favorite in Paris. The narrow street is lined with shops, creperies and restaurants. The prices seem a bit less than the Latin Quarter where we ate on the last trip, which makes sense, because Mouffetard is a mile or so south of the Seine and isn’t as centrally located.

We walked a good thirty minutes before arriving at Doug’s favorite pub, the Mayflower. Since the weather was a perfect 75 degrees F, we enjoyed a table outside on the sidewalk. I was thrilled to see Guinness available during the happy hour for a somewhat reasonable $7.

It was easy to see that this group enjoyed working together. Even though I hadn’t flown with the captain, we’ve known each other for years, and Clay the FB was the kind of guy I could enjoy flying an entire month with. And the flight attendants were some of my favorites from past trips. There was only one that I hadn’t flown with before.

Before leaving the Mayflower, I thought it would be fun for everyone to answer a simple question. “Where were you born?”

This turned into a fascinating way to learn more about some of the people who we’ve flown with so many times, but were unable to really get to know. After almost an hour of laughter and stories, we discovered not only where everyone was from, but interesting anecdotes about their family histories.

We would have to continue these stories at the restaurant if we were to make our dinner reservation. After just a few minutes we arrived at Les Papilles, which means The Taste Buds in French. I was shocked to find that we were given an entire private room downstairs lined with bottles of wine that was stacked all the way up the stair and on one entire side of the wall.

Beth, the flight attendant who made the reservations, met us at the end of the table.

Three other flight attendants joined us and the birthplace questioning continued until the appetizer arrived. I sipped on some sort of red wine during dinner. I’m a complete novice when it comes to wine. Red, white–heck, I might even be able to identify a Rosé, but that’s about the extent of my wine knowledge. Since wine is far more common in France than even water, every dinner includes a bottle that’s usually split among two to four people.

Les Papilles was, in fact, a restaurant that also included a retail wine store along its walls. The meal choice is limited to one entree choice each night. So for our visit on a Saturday night, we were served a shoulder of lamb and vegetables after the cold soup starter.

The vegetables were simply amazing, with an intense flavor that caught me a little off guard. The Lamb crumbled like cake and tasted equally as good. This wasn’t the usual prix fixe menu restaurant.

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I think Steph had a good time celebrating her birthday with the rest of the crew. The eleven of us enjoyed the atmosphere and the ability to laugh and tell stories in the private room without worrying about intruding on a romantic dinner for a couple that might have otherwise been sitting nearby.

The only quiet moment came near the end of the evening when we were presented with the bill. The silence was deafening when Chris said it was 770 Euros or $1200. I suppose we’re just not used to getting a bill for eleven meals. We divided it all up and decided while it was well worth it, the dinner wasn’t something we could afford to do on every Paris trip.

We had a chance to meet the chef later in the evening and when someone asked him how long the Lamb is cooked, he responded in his limited English, “Six Days.”

I think he meant six hours?

Occasionally we heard some faint bursts of laughter upstairs as well. When we went upstairs there were just three gentlemen left up there. Their group had the entire upstairs of the restaurant, for a dinner party for what may have been the entire Grand Marnier company.

We began to chat with the three executives at the company who then offered us a taste of the most exclusive cognac they make. A 50-year-old cognac called the Cuvée Speciale Cent Cinquantenaire. This Grand Marnier was previously marketed under the slogan “Hard to find, impossible to pronounce, and prohibitively expensive.”

We had no idea how exclusive this drink was while we each sipped a complimentary glass. Everyone who tried it thought it was absolutely delicious. One look at the hand painted flowers on the bottle and I knew this wouldn’t be available at the Monoprix. What a nice way to finish off our evening. Special thanks to the family run company, Grand Marnier, for their generosity.

We walked back to the hotel as a group, and watched the lights sparkle on the Eiffel Tower. This light show was originally designed for the millennium and now it’s possible to see this spectacular display every night for the first five minutes of each hour until midnight. I consider it rather lucky to catch this every now and then.

We passed by a window of some sort and I couldn’t help take a picture. A bit messy, no? I loved the ten year old iMac sitting opposite the new iMac. But do you really think they’re using them to stay organized?

Back at the hotel, I did my best to stay awake a few more hours to be sure I’d be able to sleep all the way through the night. There’s a period at about 11 p.m. where I’m just ready to sleep, but since that’s only 5 p.m. at home, there’s no way I’d be able to sleep all the way through. If I can make it to about 1 or 2 a.m. Paris time, I’ll be able to sleep for nine hours straight before pickup. Sure enough, I managed a good night’s sleep. That and an especially great dinner, what more could we ask for?

The next afternoon, during the captain’s briefing with the crew, we all joined in a chorus of Happy Birthday for Steph. Clay took the opportunity after the singing to thank everyone for making it such an enjoyable trip. It was even a trip worthy of a group photo.

About an hour out of Paris, we flew over Ireland. It’s probably more rare to see Ireland on a clear day than it is to catch the lights sparkle on the Eiffel Tower, but this time we had a nice view of County Donegal and the Donegal airport. See if you can pick out the runway below.

Cockpit Chronicles takes you along on each of Kent’s trips as a co-pilot on the Boeing 757 and 767 out of Boston. For the months of May and June, he’s been focusing on Paris almost exclusively. If you have any good suggestions for Parisian activities, feel free to leave the details in the comments.