Pete mentioned last week that I was in Paris on one of my periodic visits. These started over ten years ago when a friend of mine got a long term consulting gig over there and we went and visited and got hooked on the place. Now I try to take a trip once every year or two. This trip was much like the others. Mostly what we do is walk around, sit in the gardens, and eat. On the other hand, there were new things too.
A few months ago I bought a shiny new Nikon D200 mostly to bring on this trip. I was hoping it would help out with some action shots that I had missed on my previous trips. In many ways, the D200 is the digital camera I’ve been waiting for. The viewfinder is great. Unlike the D100 and D70, you can actually evaluate focus by eye. The controls work well and are fast. Dedicated buttons and switches make setting many operations that were tedious on the D70 quick and easy. There is a nice B&W mode. Finally, the camera is fast. The D70 was generally fast enough, but had a small memory buffer that tended to fill just as you wanted to squeeze off one more shot. For me, the D200 can essentially shoot as many RAW frames as I’ll ever need in a continuous 5fps burst.
In every way, the D200 is essentially a Nikon F100, or N90s, or 8008s for the digital age. It’s the smaller, lighter alternative to the full on pro body that does most everything anyone ever really needs. Smaller is always better. Unfortunately, the D200 doesn’t quite take this principle far enough. My only real complaint is that it’s too big. For some reason, the body is noticeably larger than either the N90 or the 8008s, even though it has a smaller viewfinder and has no need for a film transport. I’m not sure why this should be. So while I’m thrilled with the AF and the handling and the speed, i found myself looking longingly at all the tourists with their D-Rebels and their Nikon D40s, wishing my camera wasn’t so large.
Camera Bag Review
Because the camera was too big, I bought a new belt bag to try on the trip that can hold the camera and another lens. The ThinkTank Photo Changeup is a shoulder/belt/chest bag that is designed as a compact way to hold a body and a couple lenses or just a few lenses if you have the body out all the time. The bag is a top notch design and very well built. I could get the D200 (with an L-bracket tripod plate I never used attached), 18-70, 12-24 and a flash into it and walk all day without much trouble. It only suffers from one problem: I hate belt bags. You can’t really say this is ThinkTank’s fault.
My problem with belt bags is the belt. It’s always too tight or too loose. If too tight, I can’t spin the bag to get the camera out. If too loose the bag hangs down on my ass and bounces as I walk. I hate the feeling of the bag sitting there on my hip bouncing up and down as I walk. Somehow the bag in the same place hanging down off my shoulder is not as annoying. The belt on this bag had the same problem, and it was made a bit worse by the fact that the shoulder strap was too skinny to really work well.
I think I’ll go back to my Domkes, or maybe I’ll try and rig something up in my North Face backpack.
We found out this trip that one of our favorite local eateries, Les Fontaines had changed owners and no longer had the same great menu of meaty traditional French dishes. This made us sad. On the other hand, it also meant we had to try lots of new places to find a new place to go for meaty traditional French dishes. This turned out to be a fun task. We tried several new places this time around, and they were all winners. Here are the highlights.
1. Chez George. This place had the best steak ever. It was the subject of an NYT feature on steak places in Paris. Perfectly cooked and tasty meat combined with great fries combined with a wonderful old school atmosphere made for a great time. Karen also scored a language coup here, correctly using a past imperfect verb conjugation to win us some fraises du bois, the wonderful little wild strawberries that were in season. This illustrates the first fundamental principle of eating out: you always get better food if you can speak the language.
2. Bistro de l’Olivier. We ducked in here on a rainy day for lunch and had a great time. Nicely prepared provencal dishes, suprisingly friendly service for clueless tourists, and a winning chocolate fondant cake. It also has a cool looking bar.
3. Cafe Constant. This place is close to the cheese shop. We got there early for lunch on sunny afternoon and watched all the locals stream in ordering the special of the day: grilled fresh langoustines. This was the best seafood I have had since the first time I got steamed live shrimp in a Cantonese seafood joint in L.A. We remarked to our table neighbors that these were actually better than the fancy langoustine ravioli I had gotten at Joel Robuchon for much more money a couple of nights before. The nice old French man knodded and said that this was called, in English, “value for money”.
That aformentioned trip to the Robuchon restaurant also provided us with the mystery of the trip. In the past, we had never been much for ordering wine. There are various reasons for this that are complex and boring. This trip we made an effort to order at least a glass with every meal. We got a red wine at Robuchon called “Coteaux du Languedoc, Chateaux Sergnac.” It was awesome. If anyone can find it for me I will obtain some illegal Camembert for you the next time I am in Paris.
We got four jars of Amora Dijon mustard. They cost 0.85 Euro each. They are better than any mustard I have bought in the U.S. at any price.
PHL has improved a bit since the last time I was there. Now it’s merely horrible instead of a being a spinning vortex of unbearable suffering. I still felt sorry for the couple traveling with the two toddlers and a double stroller though.
I think that just about covers the whole trip. The gardens and cafes and the rest of our normal haunts were their normal wonderful selves. I even took up a new photographic hobby: taking pictures of people taking pictures of themselves in front of famous things:
Maybe over the next ten trips I’ll shoot enough of that sort of thing to make a book.