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Postcard from Paris: Paris had its own ideas

11 May

11 May 2019.

A two-hour delay followed by a complete cancellation of our train from Bayeux set the stage for the Paris portion of our trip. I learned a new word in French, supprime, that is “removed” or “canceled.” <SIGH> France, why are you so petulant?

So what if we arrived two hours late? Et alors? The day is lovely, we’ll skip our plans to journey to Saint-Denis and instead enjoy the sun (we had been cold in Bayeux) and parade around the Champ de Mars to the Trocadero and back. We had three more days to execute our minimal plan. This is our 6th stay in this delightful city so there are few “must sees” only the desire to walk hand-in-hand, eat well, drink wine. Our first night’s dinner at Le P’tit Troquet was magnifique!

View from our room on the night of arrival.

Day 2: So what if it is raining? We will enjoy the Musee d’Orsay! Arriving at opening, tickets in hand, we entered with a small crowd and enjoyed almost an hour with the Impressionists on the 5th floor. Last time we were here, there were schoolchildren everywhere. This time, we were knocked to the side only a couple of times by people with selfie-sticks ensuring those at home would know they’d seen a Renoir in person.

I love Musee d’Orsay as much for its architecture as for its collection.

Rain? We walk. It is only a drizzle, like at home. It comes and goes.  Stop in a cafe for espresso and croissant. How Parisian! The Monnaie de Paris was open and uncrowded and pretty interesting, extremely well-done. Ah! Here is the sun, for five minutes. No rain! Lunch at a small place we know (after 6 visits, we have places) across from poor old Notre Dame. Lovely salads and we got to hear the owner’s tale from the “Day of the Fire.”

Poor old Notre Dame! Work is underway.

Another view of the icon.

Tres bien! It is not raining. “Let’s cross the river and walk back on the right bank,” suggests Ric. Luckily we hit the porticoes along Rue de Rivoli just before the rain comes, along with thunder and lightning, eventually a DOWNPOUR with hail. As it eases, we jump into the Metro station at Concorde. Non mais oh! A train passes by without stopping and security steps in to close the station. We are unclear but we think a manifestation or maybe just President Macron moving about. It was a holiday (VE Day). We must walk again and now it is raining in earnest. Soaking wet we arrive back at Hotel Relais Bosquet. We must have dinner close by as we already have 20,000 steps on the Fitbit! But of course, the sun comes back at 17:30 and though chilly it was not a bad evening.

Clearing at sundown, once again!

Day 3: The morning is dry, broken clouds, off to see the Basilica of Saint-Denis, right on our Metro line #8. Coffee on the piazza? Mais oui! The church is open but to our chagrin (as this is rather out-of-the-way from Central Paris), a strike has struck and one cannot visit the museum or the tombs of the kings.

We could see a few tombs from the sanctuary but I have no idea whose this is.

 

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Basilica of Saint-Denis, resting place of French royalty.

Not to worry, we’ve meant to tour the Opera Garnier! Off we go. But today, instead of being open 10:00-13:00, it opens at 13:00 which is two hours off. Let’s walk to Canal St. Martin, then, for lunch since the weather is holding. Whoops! Here comes the steady rain. We find a store and wait awhile, losing interest in our plan for an outdoor lunch. Abort! Find a Metro. Let’s just go home and find lunch. I also find also a manicure and pedicure to pass the rainy afternoon. Once again, the evening turns nice. At least we are able to make our reservation at Les Cedres du Libnan! A fine evening for a walk and a wonderful meal with Lebanese wine.

This sums up the weather on several of our outings.

Napoleon’s Tomb at Invalides, beautiful under (finally) clearing skies at sunset.

Day 4: Now we are cooking! Today it is mostly cloudy but I need my sunglasses on our urban hike! I will write more on Project Easy Hiker soon, but when you are in Paris and have a couple of hours, the Promenade Plantee aka, La coulée verte René-Dumont is worth exploration. It hardly seemed possible we were still in Paris!

The Promenade Plantee is atop an old railroad viaduct from Bastille southeast toward Bois di Vincennes. Serene!

No rain! No umbrella! 10,000 steps on the pedometer before lunch! We won’t talk about the Metro station closure, the wrong way tram, or my leaving Ric behind at the turnstile when his ticket didn’t work. We will speak instead of glorious moules frites, divine Italian food in Paris at Il Sorrentino (Vermentino, grappa, and polpo!), and something to blog about.

These walkers had about 15 dogs between them. Some unleashed, many triple leashed. 15 dogs at 15 Euro per dog maybe 225 Euro for an hour?

It snowed last week in Liguria. At least we weren’t there!

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Postcard from Normandy: D-Day, camembert, and more

8 May

8 May 2019.

The famous Invasion in June of 1944 changed Normandy forever and the (mostly) English-speaking hoards have continued to invade for the past 75 years. Luckily the locals are still celebrating the arrival of the Allies and welcoming Americans, Canadians, Brits, and Australians by millions. We ran into a lot of Dutch as well.

Bayeux is about as close as you can get to the D-Day beaches and not be on them. It was our base for a week. Crowds aren’t bad, but the town and surrounding hamlets, cemeteries, beaches, and museums are gearing up for the 75th Anniversary of D-Day. Windows are painted in greeting, museum exhibits are being reworked, and hoteliers are preparing to clean up.

Window painting, Bayeux, honoring the 75th anniversary.

Window painting in Bayeux, honoring the Invasion 75 years ago.

A tour of the D-Day sites alone could take a week or more. Every village that secured a relic tank or WWII airplane has a museum, and every village has a tank or period airplane, not to mention oodles of ammunition, rusted helmets, German and Allied weapons, medic kits, and uniforms. Our tour guide told us there were 60+ museums in Normandy dedicated to the Invasion. We did not visit them all.

German battery, Pont du Hoc, now a tourist lookout.

This little Dutch boy was having a blast playing in an overgrown bomb crater, Pont du Hoc.

If you have seen “The Longest Day” you know the scene where the parachutist gets caught on the clock tower of the church at Sainte-Mère-Église. True story, kitchily depicted today.

After visiting a couple of (good) museums and spending 9 hours touring sites like Sainte-Mère-Église, Utah and Omaha Beaches, and the German and American cemeteries, we were pretty much on Overlord overload. Still, every time we ventured to another location, a bit more about D-Day was revealed. We realized our grasp of that day — of the entire Invasion — was not equal to the event. Sure we’ve seen movies, read books, maybe even paid attention in high school history class, but being there is sobering and overwhelming. The statistics (numbers of parachutists, numbers of planes, numbers of ships) are mind-boggling.

The logistics make what FedEx does every day look like a children’s party.

We had lunch at the cafe on Utah Beach, built in a building (the only building) that remains from that day. All WWII veterans are invited to sign the bar or any other surface in the cafe.

Utah Beach is now for walks with dogs and building sand castles. Like Oregon, it is too cold to go in the water. Except that is, of course, what thousands of men did on D-Day.

Perhaps the most eye-opening experience for us was seeing Port Winston at Arromanches. This was a Mulberry Harbor, a temporary portable harbor established to support the Invasion until the Allies could secure the ports held by the Germans. Neither of us had read much about this except in our Rick Steves guidebook.

The various components were fabricated in England and sunk in the Thames River to hide them from German surveillance. Shortly after D-Day, they were towed across the Channel and the harbor constructed. Seeing the remains of the caissons and floating piers along with displays and dioramas in the excellent museum brought to life the enormity of the operation.

View from above Arromanches. You can still see some caissons offshore.

WWII photo of the actual temporary harbor.

A piece ot the floating roadbed called a “whale” used in Port Winston. Ric for scale.

We had the luxury of a week in Normandy. Plenty of time to absorb the WWII history and ample time to devote to the countryside, medieval history (William the Conqueror was from Caen), and food. I swear my pores are oozing Camembert. We tried to drink enough red wine to whisk those nasty artery blocking fats out as fast as we consumed them. We’d make a nice healthy salad in our apartment in the evening with great local produce, lean chicken, a whisper of olive oil and balsamico, but we’d add Camembert. We did not, however, have butter on our baguettes. The cider, too, is a wonderful thing and quite perfect with the local food. Goes great with mussels freshly harvested and served ala Normande with (God help me!) cream!

Fresh scallops, anyone? No question that there were not frozen.

Fresh chicken too. Maybe she’s just for laying?

On the Aure River in Bayeux, two waterwheels are still spinning.

We hiked up La Côte de Grâce above Honfleur for the view of the Pont du Normandy.

In Barfleur, the Fête du Printemps was underway with curious street decoration.

Cute Barfleur, filled this sunny Sunday with French people out for a drive and lunch, which is what we were doing.

One can cover a lot of miles in Normandy without seeing all of it. We confined ourselves to the area from Honfleur in the north to Barfleur near Cherbourg and Caen. We realized part way through the week that this area of France requires additional time if one is to include Mont Saint Michel as well as points north like Etretat.

I guess a return trip is in order. Save me some Camembert.

Postcard from Alsace: Wine, Wisteria, and Storks

30 Apr

30 April 2019.

It is always time for wine in France’s Alsace Region, but only for a short time in the spring do the storks roost here to rear their young. Until we arrived we had no idea about this annual migration nor did we know how revered the storks, or cigognes blanches, are.  They are symbols of happiness and faithfulness bringing fertility and good luck. There is a fun read here from the Seattle Times a few years ago.

Ric captured a close up of this nest with both parents present. They were clicking away at each other, their method of communicating. The nest is perched atop a steeple. Note the supports. The towns build and maintain platforms to support the huge nests.

The storks feature prominently in town art,

We have had a full itinerary, one day taking a tour of a small portion of the Route des Vins d’Alsace visiting three family-run wineries, and another day exploring the beautiful and tiny villages, spotting storks, and enjoying the seasonal decorations that adorn every house, shop, and square. Wisteria drapes from walls, roofs, and trees, enhanced by bunnies, eggs, and other signs of the just-past Easter holiday. The air is fragrant with lilac.

The wisteria is at its peak while the tulips have just faded.

A day hike through the vineyards got us away from the hordes and tourist buses in Colmar, which has been our base for five nights. There has also been plenty of time to enjoy the local cuisine.

Flammekueche or tarte flambée, depending on your language choice. Think of it as Alsatian pizza. It is FABULOUS.

As usual, we are car-free. I can imagine why a car would be helpful in this region as public transportation is a bit thin. With the help of a taxi driver named Isa, we have managed quite well. Three times Isa took us to villages that were difficult to reach by bus. We feel like we have our own personal driver in Colmar. Three taxis were far more economical than renting a car for 4-5 days.

For now, I will let our pictures do the talking. Between us, we took far too many in four days: almost 500! Watch for a post (soon!) over at Project Easy Hiker as well about our backroads walk from Riqewihr to Ribeauville along with our visit at the Centre de Reintroduction which has helped in stork recovery.

One of the more brightly colored buildings, this one in tiny Riquewihr. Can you see the bunnies in the window boxes?

The decorations would be tacky on one house, kitschy on two, but when every building has them, it is a theme.

Even this restaurant in Turckheim was bedecked. This is where we had the tarte flambée along with seasonal white asparagus, another specialty of the region.

In Alsace, they use some very old wine barrels such as these beautifully decorated ones from a bygone era.

An eye test chart in an Alsatian winery. The real test for me was pronouncing the names.

Even in the overast that predominated our days in Colmar, the buildings are charming. No wonder this area is called “La Petit Venise.”

 

 

Paris pleasures

21 Oct
21 October 2017.
No matter how many times we visit, I get a little thrill to be in Paris. After arriving by train at the fabulous Gare de Lyon, our Algerian-born-married-to-the-mob-Italian-speaking taxi driver whisked us to our pied a terre near the Opéra Garnier and soon we were looking over the rooftops of the city.
Paris was quite the change of pace after a week in Pesaro and Bra. We hit Avenue de l’Opéra on Saturday afternoon at high shopping time. Mamma mia! I was feeling a bit panicky as the crowds swarmed left and right! No one seemed to walk to one side or the other and enormous families took up the whole sidewalk. Kind of reminded me of Roma, and not in a good way!

Every Paris album needs a gratuitous Eiffel Tower shot.

We eventually found our pace, managing to weave creatively, clinging to one another and refusing to be separated. We found the nearby Monoprix (no thanks to the apartment rental agency which gave us the wrong address) for groceries and headed back “home” as Ric, who had been nursing a cold for a couple of days, was feeling the full fury and needed some chicken soup and downtime.
Prepared chicken soup was something we had trouble finding in Italy. Not so in Paris! Lovely chicken broth with vermicelli (not just “noodles”), a fresh baguette, some nice white wine, and early-to-bed.
So we took it easy in Paris. The weather was not bad. Only rarely sunny but, as we like to say, at least it wasn’t raining. Overcast is fine as long as I do not have to deploy an umbrella while touring. We managed to explore some places we had not been in our prior visits, take some long walks through familiar neighborhoods, and have some fine culinary experiences as well.
Below, a selection of pictures from our stroll around The Marais on a nice sunny day.
Ric thought I was crazy to suggest a tour of Père Lachaise Cemetery, but after a two-hour wander we were both happy we’d gone. Crowds were light early on a fall Sunday, and by the time other tourists and Sunday gravesite visitors appeared, we were leaving. So many famous writers, musicians, philosophers, singers, artists, statesmen, and military figures are interred here! Not all are figures from bygone times. One of the artists from “Charlie Hebdo” that was murdered in the attacks of 2015 is in Père Lachaise. Memorials honor war dead and there are several moving monuments to the Holocaust.
Another less-known site is the Jacquemart-André Museum. I have had this in my sights for a few visits and finally found time to go. What a fabulous place! While quite popular with French visitors, we heard no English this day.  This is a private museum created in the mansion of Édouard André (1833–1894) and Nélie Jacquemart (1841–1912) to display the art they collected during their lives. And what a collection it is! They apparently had unlimited funds, no kids (which helps), and could not stop collecting. The reception rooms and private quarters alike are from another era and a lifestyle we only see in films. There are masterpieces by Donatello, Luca Della Robbia, Botticelli, Signorelli, Perugino, and more. Italy seems to have been their favorite country-of-origin.
Part of the mansion was used in the 1958 film “Gigi.”
An unexpected bonus was a special exhibit, “The Hansen’s Secret Garden” the private collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art collected in just two years (1916-1918) by a Danish couple, Wilhelm and Henny Hansen. Renoir, Matisse, Degas, Gauguin, Monet and more. We were dumbfounded to trip across this and had the privilege of up-close viewing in a very intimate setting. The exhibition is supposed to go to other major museums around the world, although only Ottawa is singled out on the website. If it comes to a city near you, go.
Food in Paris is very important, and food experiences are very important to the Bartons. We were, however, a bit tired of restaurants after a week without a kitchen. The chicken soup night was a relief and we also decided to make a nice French ratatouille in honor of our visit to the capital. This became the prime component of a few relaxed dinners at “home.” There were some excellent culinary experiences, too.

Moules alla Meuniere at Au Trappiste. The waiter will recommend a beer to pair. Frites on the side, of course.

I was in a mood for moules et frites. We tracked them down at two decidedly different venues: Au Trappiste, a Belgian beer emporium that also served great mussels, and Leon de Bruxelles, a mussels-specialty chain that also had some decent Belgian beer. I usually like my mussels sautéed in wine ala Meuniere, but after trying Leon’s Provençale style as well as au Roquefort, I need to expand my repertory at home. My cravings were well-satisfied. Leon is definitely on our list for the (inevitable) next trip to Paris.
We splurged on one dinner/tour, Bustronome. Unfortunately. Ric was still not feeling well and could barely taste the food. Since it was pre-paid he bravely went along. I found the food quality and creativity excellent although the wines were nothing special. We were served a 6-course meal and although the fish wasn’t one of my favorites, everything was done nicely, very fresh, very beautiful. Portions were appropriate to a 6-course meal so we didn’t quite waddle away.
The nighttime tour of Paris was terrific. We drove slowly through the streets on the double-decker bus passing almost every landmark you could name: Place du Concorde, the Louvre, Opéra Garnier, Musée D’Orsay, Invalides, La Tour Eiffel, and more. The bus has a panoramic glass roof and since all diners are on the second level, everyone had a great view. (The kitchen is on the bottom level.)
A couple of years ago we enjoyed a phenomenal meal at Les Papilles, where you eat what they are cooking. At least at dinner, that is the case: no choices, one set four-course menu. We went for lunch this trip and at lunch there are a few bistro meal choices. We aren’t fools. We ordered the chef’s recommended entrée et plat. This day it was a delicate cauliflower soup served with bits of bacon and cauliflower with a dollop of crème fraiche followed by a delectable porc en cassoulet. How they do it out of a kitchen the size of our master bathroom, I do not know. The owner, Bertrand Bluy, is no slouch in the selection of wines and brought us a lovely carafe that is far beyond what most would offer as house wine, well-matched to the day’s menu. Luckily Ric was feeling much better and able to taste and enjoy the food. 
We love going to the market wherever we are traveling and we shopped at Monoprix on Avenue de l’Opéra several times.The first time we checked out it was with a young man who was very engaging with the customers that went before us. Nice to us, but with a language barrier no real kibitzing. The next time we went to his station, as usual he was visiting with people then turned to ring up our items. He indicated to me that some dark chocolate we had would not scan. (I can understand enough French in situ.) Bummer. He set the chocolate aside and rang up the rest of the order. I turned to tell Ric the chocolate would not scan and could see he was irritated. (We like a square of dark chocolate after dinner.) Then the cashier laughed and handed me the item in question. “Joking,” he said. I guess we were accepted as regulars at that point. The Opéra Market was also a find, just around the corner from our flat, with an assortment of products that puts 7-Eleven to shame in a space not much larger than some walk-in closets.
Of course even Paris can have bad food. You can read about a terrible pizza experience which I will post soon over at Our Weekly Pizza. (Hint: Dominoes would have been better.)
So we bid adieu to Paris, her fine moules, amusing grocery clerks, and bad pizza. The Eurostar whisked us to London from where I will resume our story when I have time. À bientôt!
And if you haven’t seen enough, here are a few more photos from lovely Paris. 

A tale of two bridges

7 Jun
7 June 2016. There is no question the ancient Romans were talented engineers. The Colosseum in Roma is still standing after almost 2000 years while the courthouse in Salem, Oregon, was condemned after 10 years due to construction problems.
Me at the amazing Pont du Gard. Still standing after 2000 years.

Me at the amazing Pont du Gard. Still standing after 2000 years.

At Avignon there are two famous bridges: The Pont du Gard and the Pont Saint-Bénézet. The Pont du Gard is as old as the Colosseum (1st century A.D.) and still standing, but the Pont Saint-Bénézet (aka Pont d’Avignon), built between 1177 and 1185, was abandoned in the mid 17th century as they could not keep the arches from collapsing when the Rhône River flooded. Today the four surviving arches on the bank of the Rhône are believed to have been built in around 1345 and are all that remain. It is a bridge to nowhere.
The bridge to nowhere, that is the "Pont du Avignon."

The bridge to nowhere, that is the “Pont du Avignon.”

Roman engineering triumphs, but not necessarily the Romans of today. Overall it seems to us that maintenance is not a priority. Italians wait until something is broken to fix it.
We’ve stopped in Antibes and Avignon visiting Nice and Arles while in the vicinity, followed by a few chilly days in Chamonix during which Mont Blanc refused to reveal itself. We navigated through the French train strike with minor inconveniences and we ate our share of baguettes and too much cheese. We had a fabulous pizza in Antibes, of all places, and a terrible one — one of the worst ever — in Chamonix. (I’ll blog about this one shortly at Our Weekly Pizza.)
Following are a few travel photos with captions for those inclined to click through the slideshow.
A presto!

 

 

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