Category Archives: travel

2016 – year in review

Reading:

I read 33 books or novellas in 2016; that doesn’t count the books I picked up and put back down or returned to the library unread or unfinished, since I may circle back to some of those at some point.  The two best fiction reads were Lois McMaster Bujold’s Penric novellas. Best nonfiction was Rebecca Traister’s All the Single Ladies.  Biggest disappointment was Bujold’s Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen.

Also, I read an excellent original hockey fic on AO3. I really like the writer’s voice and style…but the typos and punctuation abuse make my brain hurt.

I started Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine on 12/31 but have not finished it yet; I think it’ll be one of my favorite reads when it comes time to tally up 2017.

Watched:

  • Fox’s Pitch series (please be renewed?)
  • The Crown
  • GBBO
  • Star Wars (mostly liked it, love General Organa)
  • Jason Bourne (meh)
  • Ghostbusters (loved it)
  • Star Trek (meh)
  • Love & Friendship (loved it)

Theater, Museums, Music:

  • Jan 9 – The Critic and the Real Inspector
  • March 5 – Othello
  • March 26 – 1984
  • May 21 – The Taming of the Shrew
  • Oct 29 – Romeo and Juliet
  • Dec 3 – The Secret Garden
  • The Menil
  • The National Aviary
  • Fort Pitt Museum
  • The Andy Warhol Museum
  • The Frick – the carriages and cars in the garage are amazing, as is the house
  • The Heinz History Center, multiple visits – Toys Exhibit, Pixburgh exhibit, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, glass industry.  The exhibit on slavery is excellent and awful.  As a white person, it was ugly and shame-inducing to walk through.  I cannot imagine how painful it would be for a POC, or even tell whether it would be cathartic or just rage-inducing.
  • ROM (loved the Chihuly exhibit)
  • Casa Loma
  • Bata Shoe Museum
  • AGO
  • Textile Museum
  • Gardiner Museum of Ceramics (loved)
  • Smithsonian National Gallery of Art
  • Garth Brooks & Tricia Yearwood concert (wow, not much music this year)

Sports:

Okay, this category, now that I look at it, is a little excessive.  Sorry, not sorry.  Also, I’m sure I went to at least one more baseball game, but I can’t find the ticket stub or a note on my planner, so.

  • Feb 22 – Coyotes @ Caps
  • Feb 27 – Jets @ Penguins
  • March 11-14 – Indian Wells for the BNP Paribas tournament, love this venue.
  • March 18 – Predators @ Caps
  • March 28 – Blue Jackets @ Caps
  • April 7 – Penguins @ Caps (makeup game for blizzard), WIN!
  • April 16 – Game 2 of the 1st round of the playoffs – NYR @ Penguins, loss
  • April 23 – Game 5 of the 1st round – NYR @Penguins, won the series
  • April 28 – Game 1 of the 2nd round – Penguins @ Caps, lost in OT.
  • May 4 – Game 4 of the 2nd round – Caps @ Penguins (OT win!)
  • May 13 – Game 1 of the ECF – TBL @ Penguins – ouch, lost, Letang got boarded (and knocked out) right in front of me.  It was ugly.
  • June 1 – Game 2 of the SCF – Sharks & Penguins, OT win.  The Goal (actually all the goals) was right in front of me!
  • June 5 – NYY @ Orioles
  • Sept 14 – pre-tournament SWE-EUR
  • Sept 17-29 – World Cup of Hockey tournament; 16 games.  So. Much. Hockey.
  • October 15 – Ducks @ Penguins (win!)
  • Nov 8 – Sharks @ Caps (Sharks win!)
  • Nov 16 – Penguins @ Caps (ugly, ugly loss)
  • Nov 19 – Penguins @ Buffalo (SO loss, man, Flower was so good in the 3rd and OT).
  • Nov 20 – NWHL Pride @ Beauts (posted thoughts/opinions about this over on tumblr)
  • Dec 30 – Three Rivers Classic (consolation game and championship game)
  • Dec 31 – Canadiens at Penguins (OT win!)

Travel:

  • Houston
  • Pittsburgh
  • Buffalo
  • Beach
  • Toronto

Goals/plans for 2017:

  • Drop the Caps tickets, use the money to visit other teams’ arenas
  • Go to at least two more NWHL games this season
  • Go to either Italy, Portugal, or Spain on vacation (in February, maybe?)
  • Read 40 books
  • Make myself post more regularly
  • Find a tutor or conversational group to refresh/relearn the Russian I’ve mostly forgotten

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September things

According to LibraryThing, September was my best reading month this year — five books! It feels like an accomplishment, when in my reading heyday I read five books or more a week.  Still, it’s an improvement.

~~~

I spent the last two weeks in Toronto, visiting museums, walking all over, and watching All the Hockey.  Literally, I attended sixteen World Cup of Hockey games in 13 days.  Twelve of those games were crammed into six days.  Some of them are a blur, but for some really specific plays, like Nathan MacKinnon’s OT goal; Crosby’s highway robbery of Kucherov and backhand goal; a shift by Malkin behind the net in which he seemed to have the puck on a string; McDavid to Eichel to Matthews; etc.

Non-hockey highlights:

  • the Chihuly exhibit at ROM – I could have happily plopped myself down on one of the beanbag things and stared at ‘Persians’ for hours
  • steamed pork buns at Mashion Bakery, which I found by chance, lured in by the amazing smell despite the sort of sketchy block and very plain exterior
  • people-watching at the St. Lawrence Market on Saturday morning (I chatted with a lovely lady visiting from New Jersey with her church group)
  • Stonemill Bakery’s double almond croissant
  • the Seville orange marzipan pinch at Soma Chocolate
  • my charming seat mates, the family from Woodstock and the dudes in from Banff, and the usher whose predictions were seldom accurate but always entertaining
  • everything about the Bata Shoe Museum and the Gardiner Museum (ceramics)
  • the display of antique snuff bottles at AGO

 

Other observations:  The building going on downtown is striking — there’s so much of it and it’s so beautiful.  I stayed in the St. Lawrence/Distillery neighborhood and walked pretty much everywhere, as far as Spadina and Little Italy.  Lots of green spaces, friendly people.  I noticed a lot of smokers everywhere, almost as much as in Paris, which surprised me.  And the odor of pot was especially prevalent around ACC.

And my streak continues.  Once again in a foreign country (or in any city I’m visiting, even in the US), I was asked for directions.  On multiple occasions.  I do not understand it.  I mean, I was able to answer because they were asking for a specific landmark or street that I knew, but what about my face or posture says, “Hey, she knows where you need to go?”  Because, seriously, I have a horrendous sense of direction.

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Observations from Indian Wells Tennis Garden

 

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The view from the parking lot at IWTG.  Literally.

It has been a few years (3 maybe?) since I’ve gone to the tournament at Indian Wells.  Skipped because moving, then for Paris, and then because I had hockey tickets for a back to back that weekend.  So I missed all of the development that has gone on.  And there has been a lot, thank you, Larry Ellison.

First, Stadium 2 with its restaurants – Nobu, a steak/chops place, and an Italian/brick oven pizza place.  Each morning over the weekend, there would be a line of people to get in, because the seats are all good and the line up was excellent.  [Rafa Nadal and Fernando Verdasco played the Bryan brothers Saturday evening, and you can be sure that people staked out seats WAY earlier that the “no earlier than” start time.  Monfils, Mugaruza, a bunch of other good matches played there.]

Second, the Brita water filter stations at the base of both stadiums – best thing ever, far better than the limited water fountains I’ve seen elsewhere.

Third, the sheer volume of vendors is crazy.  Last time I was there, there was a big awning with a Corona sponsored bar.  Gone is Corona; now Moet et Chandon is in that spot.  Of course, there’s a different beer tent, and a RumChata tent, etc.  And the food vendors are better than average.  Ice cream, iced lattes, deli, seafood, CaliMex, salads, it seemed like you could find anything you wanted.  [Except maybe a ladies t-shirt in a size larger than XS or S.]

Actually, IWTG is the only sporting venue I’ve ever been to where the lines out the men’s bathroom are longer than the lines out the ladies’ bathroom door.  Uniformly.  More often than not, there was no line for the ladies at all.  I don’t know if it’s because the tournament designed the buildings with more stalls for the ladies or what, but I was totally impressed.

I saw some random matches, just because.  This time around, I went out of my way to see Inigo Cervantes, a Spanish player who was completely schooled by Raonic, just because I loved his name.  And Bjorn Fratangelo, who took a set from Djokovic.  Plus Venus and Serena and Andy and Rafa.  So glad to see Juan Martin del Potro back, even if he looked a little rusty against Berdych.

Also, because I’m a dork, I was thrilled that I got to use a line from one of my favorite TV shows ever:  “It’s raining in Indian Wells.”  It did! Followed by a dust storm.

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Huddled on the upper deck of Stadium 1, waiting for the rain and wind to stop so the Venus Williams – Kurumi Nara match could resume.

Actually, the dust was more noticeable than in the past because the wind was so high the whole time.  In fact, it was so cold and windy on Sunday after the first night match that pretty much everyone left…so the scattered fans up in the Loge were invited down courtside to watch Halep’s match, which I appreciated.  Driving back that night, I was confused by the haze in the distance that I could see off other drivers’ headlights; it wasn’t until I hit the highway and saw the dust/sand drifting that I realized what it was.

ETA: Anecdotally, the sentiment among fans there regarding Maria Sharapova’s drug ban/violation seemed *much* less forgiving or lenient than what I’ve seen on social media from fans, sponsors, etc. In short, most people seemed really skeptical about extended use of meldonium for a variety of reasons and not particularly sympathetic.  Sorry she’ll be out of the game for some period of time, but not like she deserved a pass for failing the drug test.

ETA #2:  on the tennis kits.  Rafa’s kit looks less turquoise in person than on TV, almost like a baby blue with a hint of grey.  The outfit Bouchard had was weird – the colors were fine but it looked like a babydoll nightie…or a maternity shirt. Serena looked amazing. When did Berdych leave H&M for Adidas? (Whenever it was, it was not soon enough.)  That fluorescent Adidas shirt the men are wearing was tolerable when paired with brown/khaki shorts but awful when worn with red shorts.  The ladies’ version with darker colors that Halep is wearing is not terrible.  

Some less tennis-oriented observations:

  • The price of gas at stations along I-10 covered a span from $2.23 to $2.89, with the highest being more than $1 more than it is where I live and the lowest still being $0.50 more. Is that all state tax?  Ouch, especially given how poor public transportation seems to be locally.
  • I meant to stop at In n Out since some people I know have raved about their burgers. But the only ones I saw were off the highway, at hours when either they weren’t open or I wasn’t hungry.  Next time.
  • The bright green and clearly foreign species of grass cultivated for golf courses and high dollar neighborhoods looks really alien. And confusing, given the long term drought; how is watering lawns a priority?  I passed a billboard that read “Dejalo ir. El marron es el nuevo negro.” [Let it go. Brown is the new black.] Accompanied by a graphic of grass fading from green to brown.  Nice 🙂
  • The longer I live downtown in a city where good and sketchy neighborhoods commingle, the more confusing I find negotiating suburbia to be when I visit.  The number of gated communities was perplexing.
  • Pecan pie from Exquisite Desserts for Pi Day. Yum!
  • Oh, I forgot that See’s stores are a thing in the west.  I did not need to remember. See’s is dangerous for me.

 

 

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*pokes at blog*

I’ve been mostly offline for the summer, in terms of keeping up with reader/bookish blogs. I sort of missed some things about it and sort of didn’t.

I owe Beth all the words about her book, which I loved.

Aside from Beth’s book, I’ve gotten a little reading done this summer:

The Road Beneath My Feet – Frank Turner’s memoir. One one hand, I like the narrative style, as tour dates beginning when he went out on his own.  It’s interesting to read about his life on the road and how he developed his band and touring philosophy, etc.  On the other hand, while he has clearly worked hard to get where he is, he sometimes comes across as cavalier about his opportunities (white, middle class English dude who attended Eton and London School of Economics) even as he occasionally acknowledges his good fortune. Which kind of circles back to my ambivalence about the lyrics/message of “Photosynthesis” about doing what you love vs having a job merely to earn a living.  Also, his editor really should have cut back on the use of “in the event” in the text. Worth reading if you like his music and can find a copy, since I don’t think it’s been published in the US yet.  [FYI, his new album, Positive Songs for Negative People, came out a couple of weeks ago and is pretty good.  Not my favorite, since England Keep My Bones is pretty awesome, but I like Get Better and Love Forty Down.]

Uprooted by Naomi Novik. This needed serious editing. The Eastern European fairy tale/mythology was interesting, but the story was not particularly original otherwise. And if you (like me) are expecting actual dragons a la Temeraire, you will be disappointed.

Magic Shifts by Ilona Andrews. It was okay? I wasn’t all that engaged by the Big Mystery. And the volume of little discontinuities or errors was irritating, but par for all of Andrews’ books. Also, why no commas when using multiple adjectives to modify nouns? Is that a dying part of grammar?

The Kizuna Coast by Sujata Massey. A Rei Shimura Mystery. I thought Massey had left this series behind, and so wasn’t looking for a new book when I ran across this in a display at the library. Set in Japan after the 2011 earthquake. I guessed whodunnit pretty early but not why exactly. It was nice visiting this series again but I found the domestic/relationship piece to be a little cloying, although I’m not sure I can articulate why exactly.  Maybe it felt like the narrator was trying too hard to show how happy/compatible Rei and Michael were?  I don’t know.

Penric’s Demon by Lois McMaster Bujold. LOVED this short story. It’s set in her Chalion world but centuries before The Curse of Chalion. If you haven’t read the three other books and wonder if you’ll like the world, it might be a good place to start.

What else have I done all summer? I feel like I’ve worked a lot mostly, which is weird since summer tends to be slower.  Except it’s also when a lot of people are out on vacation, so even if volume is down, there are fewer people around to deal with things, so… When work and other things were not making me cranky, I went to Chicago for a long weekend. I’m working on a baby blanket for a friend. Hemmed and hawed and then ponied up for a 10 game ticket plan for hockey.  I picked games where I’ll be able to cheer against the Caps – Pens, CBJ, MTL, SJS, Preds, etc. Flirted with the idea of Istanbul for a vacation in November or February until there were more bombings in the tourist areas and gunfire at the consulate; I think maybe that window has closed for now.

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Travel afterthoughts

I don’t think these are really original points or tips but here are things that I found to be very helpful or useful to have or know while traveling:

1.  Even in spring or early summer, a raincoat is a Must Have; a liner that you can zip in or out is even better.  An umbrella that folds down into the size of a fist is also a Must Have.

2.  Hat and scarf.  It seems like basic common sense, but I can’t tell you how many people I saw with sunburnt faces, wearing newly purchased hats, in Monaco and in Nice.  Although I should add that my internal thermostat may be out of whack: even as people sunbathed on the beach in Nice, I was bundled up in a jacket, scarf, and hat.  When the wind picked up and blew my hat off, I wrapped the scarf around my head. 

3.  Guidebooks — I’ve mentioned before that there are features in different series that I like.  In particular, I like Eyewitness Travel’s laminated, detachable street map.  I didn’t carry the guidebook around, but I did carry the map.  And since it was pretty wet for much of my wandering around Paris, I was glad it never got soggy.  And it came in handy when other tourists asked me for directions.  (I must look really approachable, because I get asked for directions all the time. It happens on every vacation and when I’m at home.  Poor lost people have no idea that I’m a terrible navigator with absolutely no sense of direction, and have to follow maps extremely closely.)

4.   Moleskin travel notebook.  They do small notebooks for certain cities — I’ve used them for London, Madrid, Barcelona, and Paris now, and I’ve seen them for Rome, Milan, and Prague also.  A street map and index is included in the front, just for downtown, which is helpful, and its got conversion tables and space for notes and addresses and planning, along with a little pocket in the back for receipts and the like.  Even though smartphones all have note-taking apps, I like to take notes in the notebook instead.  It’s pretty handy for keeping track of expenses and itineraries and checklists, I found. 

5.  Adapter plugs,USB cords, and internet access.  I used to carry a converter, too, but seldom used it.  Pretty much all the electronics you might carry on vacation – phone, table, laptop – don’t need a converter anyway, just the adaptor.  You can buy a set of adaptors relatively cheaply online, with four or five adapters based on region;  I bought mine years ago at an LLBean outlet.  USB cords…well, in the past, I had to have one cord for my  tablet and one for my iPhone, but converting to an Android phone reduced the number of cords need to one for this trip.  Don’t forget to turn off roaming on your phone; otherwise you can receive a nasty shock in your next wireless bill.  AT&T (my carrier, for better or worse) has a reasonable international roaming plan for internet, texting, and phone.  The texting and phone were worth it, since I used them both.  The internet?  Well, I signed up for it in case I needed it in an emergency, but since wireless access was provided with my lodgings and is available at most cafes and restaurants, it wasn’t absolutely necessary.

6.  Checking in at Charles de Gaulle.  The airline recommended arriving three hours before the flight’s departure time, which I kind of rolled my eyes at.  But between the line to check luggage at the front of the terminal and the trek to the gate and then the security check outside the gate, it took more than 2 1/2 hours; boarding had already begun by the time I got there.   Also, if you are catching a connecting flight at CDG, I’d recommend double-checking terminal assignments and transportation between terminals; getting from Terminal 1 to Terminal 2F took more than an hour between luggage pick up, walking, tram ride, and walking more; that’s before checking in again at the terminal and going through security again. 

7.  Foreign currency.  I don’t carry travelers checks but usually purchase some currency through my bank, and then use my bankcard once I’m traveling; check to see if the bank or your credit card company has a better fee scheme for international charges or usage in advance.  (One had a much lower per usage charge for me, so I used that one rather than the other.)  If you order currency in advance, specify that your order include a portion of small bills and coins.  At train stations (and elsewhere but it was most noticeably a problem for tourists at train stations), the self-service kiosks will take either small bills, coins, or chip and pin cards; most American cards do not work at them, so if you don’t have smaller change, you’ll have to wait in what could be a long line to buy or retrieve your train tickets.  Some train stations may have money changers but most did not seem to when I looked around for them.

8.  Bus and train.  I think many Americans are unaccustomed to bus and train travel.  Mostly we drive or fly, in part because our train network is not great once you are away from the coasts.  Or even just away from the northeast corridor.  But both bus and train travel in Europe generally are much better and more common, I think, with more options that make driving less necessary.  There are still places where renting a car is a more useful alternative, but I think Paris is not one of them.  And a lot of Provence can be seen via train or bus, as well.

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Nice, Monaco, and Paris – this year’s big vacation

Seine

Looking toward the Petit Palais and larger exhibition hall, from Pont Solferino over the Seine

Let me preface this whole post by saying that I am a poor photographer and essayist, so it will be full of the usual (boring) holiday stories and thus probably worth skipping if it appears in your feed.  But if I don’t write it down, I’ll forget a lot of it.

The trip’s genesis:  I love tennis, and visiting all four majors is on my bucket list.  Paris in the spring plus tennis while the greatest (male) clay court tennis player is still at or near his zenith?  Sign me up.  And since I’m not sure if I’ll make it to France again (so many places to see, so little time/money), I’ll see some other stuff too.

Where to stay:  I’ve tried a couple of online booking agents for apartment rentals in the past, and went with Airbnb this time.  Both apartments were exactly as advertised and a bargain compared to hotels, I thought.  Even with the Airbnb surcharge and the cleaning charge, both cost less than $100/night.  Both also had a kitchenette and laundry facilities, which made me happy (less to pack and carry).  I’d say the apartment in Paris was better, but that was really a function of the host and personal style preference; objectively speaking, the  Nice apartment was more conveniently located in terms of train/plane/bus/metro access.

Speaking French:  I don’t.  Aside from a few important phrases like how much?  and please/thank you and a round trip ticket, please, and numbers, etc.  Lonely Planet’s phrasebook and dictionary was very helpful.  And on a few occasions I ended up using Spanish.  [I had to laugh. At Charles de Gaulle, I started to order un cafe au lait et un palmier, and the lady looked at me started speaking in Spanish, so I ordered un cafe con leche y una palmera instead.]

Guidebooks:  I tend to like Eyewitness Travel books and Lonely Planet.  I’m ambivalent about Rick Steves’ books: they are written from a very particular perspective that I don’t necessarily share, in terms of travel philosophy and goals.  I’ve found the dining recommendations to be very hit or miss (one hit, one miss this time around) but do appreciate some of the public transportation tips for visiting certain neighborhoods or venues, and also the chart organizing museums by their open/closed dates.

Nice

Took the Lignes Azures bus from the airport downtown to Nice Central.  The apartment was a couple of blocks from the train station, which seemed convenient.  Lesson learned:  17 rue Thierry is at least two blocks away from 18 rue Thierry.  But I found the apartment and settled in eventually 🙂  Spent the afternoon exploring the neighborhood around Avenue Jean Medicin, a main shopping street.  I admired a dress in the window at Elena Miro, but at 229E, it was a little too pricey for me.  Wound up having dinner at Voyageur Nissart, a restaurant recommended by Rick Steves — this was the best meal I ate in Nice by far, and I would highly recommend the restaurant as well, with the warning that it takes cash only.  The stuffed vegetables were delicious, and the table wine was lovely.

Rue Thierry

The view from the apartment in Nice.

Nice train station

Nice Central train station

Train trip to Monaco

Nice is a quick train ride from Cannes or Monaco, and the Cannes Film Festival was going on while I was there.  But I chose to go east rather than west.  It was a short 30 minute train ride, which was good since the train was packed.  The route rides along the shore with stops in several smaller resort towns.  I especially loved seeing the clay tennis courts set up in one town, with people playing as the train went by.  (I’d be interested in doing a French and Italian Riviera road trip along the same route someday.)  After hopping off the train, I walked up the hill to the old ville, where the palace is located. 

Monaco harbor

Looking toward the harbor; you can see the stands set up for the Monte Carlo Formula One race that would occur the following week.

Monaco Ville

Up the hill to Monaco Ville. It doesn’t look that steep but you can feel the incline in your legs as you walk.

Monaco Ville

Houses in Monaco Ville – very expensive, I understand, but beautiful.

Ceramic detail, Monaco Ville

Ceramic detail on the front steps of a house in Monaco Ville. There was some beautiful ironwork and ceramics.

It happened to be closed, as some sort of affair was being set up for the evening, but there was plenty to see and do aside from that.  I very much enjoyed the Jardin Botanique and wandering among the narrow streets, winding up at the Cousteau Aquarium and Oceanographic Museum.  It’s perched on the edge of the cliff, with a hole in the bottom floor that you can peak through down to the ocean.  I was also very intrigued to see Fontvielle, the section of town that is basically landfill, Monaco’s attempt to claim or reclaim land from the sea.

 

Monaco's attempt to steal land from the sea (or expand its tax base).

Fontvielle. I would not have guessed that it was landfill.

The aquarium was pretty full of families, but the upper floors with the oceanographic museum were fairly quiet.  I had no idea that Albert II was an oceanographer himself.  The model of the labs on his ship was interesting, as were all of the logs and specimens.

Mosaic at the Cousteau Aquarium

Cousteau Aquarium – the upper floors are an oceanographic museum, with a beautiful mosaic floor on the landing

Nemo!

There is a huge tank in the aquarium with hundreds of clown fish.

Jellyfish at the aquarium

These were quite lovely and a little odd looking. But by no means the oddest looking of the creatures in the aquarium.

After ogling all kinds of weird fish, I went window shopping.  There was a gallery with art work that I lusted for but it was well beyond my budget.  And I ended up buying a cotton shift with hand crocheted trim; I’m not sure when I’ll ever wear it, but it is beautiful.  After having dinner at a little restaurant on a side street (hand-rolled, spinach-stuffed tortellini in white sauce, yum), I decided to wander back toward the train station.  Unfortunately, the event at the palace had begun, and all the streets over toward the walk-way were closed to pedestrians.  With little road blocks and very polite police officers waving people back.  The parking lot of the museum was full of nearly identical Mercedes-Benzs, all perfectly polished and valet parked.  After trying all three streets that, according to my map, could get me back toward the train station, I gave up and caught the bus, since they were letting the bus through.  It made me a little cranky:  I actually knew where I needed to go, I wasn’t “lost” and it wasn’t what I would consider a long walk; I didn’t want to take the bus.  Oh well.  The sun was beginning to set (it set late, I thought, after 9pm) on the train ride back to Nice, which made for a lovely view.

More in Nice

Russian Orthodox church

Nice’s Russian Church

There’s a Chagall museum and Matisse museum; Matisse is more my speed, although the museum is a bit of a hike from downtown, mostly uphill.  You pass the Chagall museum on the way, so depending on your museum tolerance, I’d recommend starting the day with the hike up and stopping at the Chagall museum on the way back.  There’s a park and an archaeological site near the Matisse museum, so it is worth the hike or the bus ride.  The park was full of a festival (May Day?) and the archaeological site and museum probably got some of the overflow.  I also visited the Beaux Arts museum, which is closer to the beach, located in an old villa; comparing the two museums made me think about location (old villa vs. newer build) and funding (dedicated vs. probably not) and traffic (parking vs. none).  And there’s a gorgeous Russian church built before the revolution for the 500 weathly Russian families who wintered in Nice.  And since it’s being renovated, I assume there’s still a signficiant Russian Orthodox population in the area. 

Alley with flowers

Little alley way toward the Beaux-Arts museum. Those purple climbing flowers were everywhere.

But really, the highlight of Nice is its beach. 

Looking west

The beach in the morning, before it gets busy. Looking west toward the airport. I was wearing a hat and jacket, but there were people sunbathing in swimsuits on the beach.

Fishing poles on the beach in Nice.

 

Nice beach sunset

The beach as the sun begins to set. The sun set was…not that impressive? Maybe because it was setting behind hills to the west rather than over the water, so shadows fell but there was no magnificent color display.

   

There’s a busy street market in the old section of Nice, with food stalls, flowers, and several artists who sell water colors and oils and who paint as tourists and locals do their shopping.  I bought a couple of sets of table linens to give as gifts from a store in the neighborhood.  And wandering around Vieux Nice, I stopped at a little gelateria, where I had chocolat pimenton et amaretto.  The chocolat pimenton was excellent.

On to Paris

It was sunny and 80F when I arrived in Paris on Monday, which I enjoyed for the day…since it would rain off and on for the next week.  The directions my landlady gave me were very helpful:  RER B to Gare du Nord, Bus 54 to Blanche, then on foot for a little bit.  She greeted me with tea and a map that she customized for places I was interested in; in the apartment, she had left wine, cheese, and bread, along with some staples in the kitchen.  And she directed me to La Parisienne, which she thought the best boulangerie in the neighborhood, as well as Picard and Rotisserie du Roy for prepared foods if I didn’t want to eat out or really cook.  (The saucisse de poulet and pomme du terre were delicious.  I could write a whole post on just the food I ate in Paris.  All the baguettes and all the kouign aman for me.)  The cafe where Amelie was set was nearby, as was the Moulin Rouge.

Her first recommendation was the Petit Palais’ exhibition on the 1900 Paris Exhibition or World’s Fair, full of art deco or modernisme art, clothing, and furniture.  But for her recommendation, I probably would not have thought to go, which would be a shame, because I loved the art and furniture and clothing on display.  I especially loved all the work of Alphonse Mucha and the display of theater posters for Sarah Bernhardt and the Parisian night life at the turn of the century.

From the Petit Palais Paris 1900 exhibition: turn of the century day dress. Would wear.

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Theater posters for shows with Sarah Bernhardt. By Alphonse Mucha, I believe. Also part of the Paris 1900 exhibition.

Arc de Triomphe

The Arc de Triomphe. Currently being renovated.

Charles de Gaulle Etoile and the Arc de Triomphe…well, only a brave soul would dare that traffic circle — it looked like negotiating the multiple lanes was a gigantic game of chicken.  Circling it on foot was enough.  The walk along the Champs-Elysees was fine, I suppose, in terms of window shopping.  I took a picture of Laduree for a macaron-obsessed colleague, and went in Louis Vuitton’s flagship store.

Musee Marmottan Monet is a beautiful venue, and the exhibit on Impressionists in Private Collections was very good.  Downstairs is all about Monet.  Objectively speaking, it is a cohesive collection, well-curated.  But on a personal level, I found the volume of waterlilies to be overpowering and nightmarish (and an example maybe of desperation as vision is being lost literally rather than being visionary art), with Morisot, Sisley, and Pisarro to be more to my taste. 

Random piece of advice:  take the elevator if you ever get off at the Abbesses metro stop.  I did not want to wait, and wound up walking up the eight flights of stairs to open air.  My quads were killing me after a long day of walking plus those stairs.

Pere Lachaise cemetary is worth a trip, as morbid as that sounds.  There is a little map at the entrance, marking famous graves.  I stopped to see Baron Haussmann, who designed Paris’ streets after the revolution, and Chopin, Oscar Wilde, Sarah Bernhardt, and Heloise and Abelard.  Wound up taking at least 100 photos of various crypts — the iron work, stained glass, and stonework is amazing on them.  (While the newer crypts and monuments are quite tacky, IMO. But maybe these old mausoleums were tacky in their day too?)  While I was taking a picture of Jim Morrison’s grave, requested by a friend who is a fan, a young punk couple arrived with a bottle of whiskey to leave for him. 😀

Haussmann family crypt.

Detailed ironwork on a family crypt at Pere Lachaise cemetary.

 

d'Orsay

Architectural detail of the Musee d’Orsay, train station turned museum.

The Musee d’Orsay: as a venue, I found it to be striking, and the Van Gogh exhibit was good, but I was Impressionist-ed-out by that point.  [Also, the upper floors were packed with school tours, and I was feeling peopled-out.]

 

 

Potager

King’s Gate to the Potager du Roy at Versailles. It survived the revolution, oddly, unlike other ornaments. Only the king could use it to stroll in the kitchen garden and examine Le Quintinye’s work.

Street market

Vegetable stall at the street market in Versailles. So colorful!

Versailles is a place I have mixed feelings about.  The chateau is impressive and oppressive, and the formal gardens are gorgeous.  By far, the best part of the visit was the Potager du Roy (King’s Kitchen Garden).  I signed up for a tour through La Cuisine Paris, which offers market tours, food tours, and cooking lessons for English-speaking visitors.  The group of us (8) met at the train station and headed off to Versailles.  In town, we went to the potager, which is now the site of the national school for landscaping and/or agriculture, where we learned about Louis XIV’s gardener, Le Quintinye, who was an engineering and agricultural marvel, coming up with ways to keep his king in strawberries, figs, and asparagus year round, feeding 3,000 people per day.  After the tour, we went to the Versailles town street market, where we got a lesson on French food laws, market history and practices.  We bought cheese, sausage, and honey, and took them to Le Petit Zinc, where we ate them with our lunch.  Afterward, the group split up, some going on to the chateau (me) and others heading back to Paris.

Versailles

Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.

 

Macarons

Our macarons. I was in charge of sorting/packaging so everyone got an equal number. (Apparently there can be squabbles about that?)

In addition to the potager tour, I took a macaron lesson at La Cuisine, and a dinner soiree lesson.  Chef Guillaumette, the Versailles guide, also taught the macaron lesson, which was fun.  [It inspired me to try making them at home.  I think I let the meringue go too long, or have to adjust the oven temp, because the cookies were very souflee-ish.]  Chef Eric handled the dinner class; we made cod with chorizon, roasted root vegetables, asparagus, what I would call scotch eggs, and fruit gelee with pistachio cream.  I made the hollandaise, which I’d never done before…under close supervision, of course.

Gates of Hell

Gates of Hell at Rodin Museum

More museums:  the Rodin Museum, which has a lovely rose garden, worth visiting for the flowers alone; the Louvre, which I didn’t even see 10% of.  The medieval donjon and Napoleon III apartments are worth seeing, along with the medieval art.  I didn’t attempt to see the Mona Lisa or other art, because I was pretty much on overload.  But the Tuileries garden was gorgeous — and it was sunny that afternoon, so Parisians were out enjoying the day.

There’s also a house/museum on Blvd. Haussmann whose name escapes me; in addition to its own art collection and gorgeous 19th century architecture, there was an exhibition of drawings by Fragonard and Watteau.  Why can’t I remember the name of the place without getting up to look at my guidebook?

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Looking toward the Louvre from the Tuileries.

The French Open

FO 2014

The French Open is located in an otherwise quiet residential neighborhood, so street signs are very necessary for non-Parisians heading toward the tournament.

Well, it rained a lot, so the matches started late.  And then stopped for a while, and then resumed.  I had tickets to the bullring (Court 1), where I saw the Nishikori match (clearly not in full form) and then the five set mess between Bennetteau and Bagnis that finished 18-16.  The next day was overcast but had no delays.  Dimitrov was the favorite over Karlovic, but he couldn’t really do anything with his serve, so that match was over pretty quickly.  Stephens and Peng traded breaks and seemed pretty evenly matched. And then Verdasco beat Llodra in what is Llodra’s last French Open as a singles player; the FFT gave him an award with a presentation on court after the match.

In terms of logistics, I was not impressed with the security lines for checking bags, which took more than 40 minutes to get through.  But I was very impressed with the ticketing process, in terms of preventing ticket counterfeiting.  No tickets are sold on site for the day.  You have to have your e-ticket printed; it is scanned and a Q-coded ticket on metallic paper is printed; you need it to get in and out of the venues with assigned seating, to purchase anything at the stores, and to scan it at the turnstiles in order to exit.  The tracking for purchases is kind of creepy; I’m waiting to get emails from the FFT asking if I liked the t-shirt I bought.

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The modern fountain in Reims

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The chandelier in the Carnegie “bibliotheque”.

Reims (or Rheims), pronounced “ranse” with the gutteral, swallowed r, was a good day trip.  There are champagne caves within walking distance or a bus ride of the train station, along with the +800 year old cathedral where the kings of France were crowned.  The main street up toward the cathedral is full of buildings with Art Deco exteriors, and a lovely old fountain that was damaged in World War I.  There’s a newer fountain further on that is fascinating but also kind of creepy – I thought it looked like a giant eyeball.   Behind the cathedral is a Carnegie Mellon library built in the Art Deco style with a gorgeous chandelier in the atrium. The cathedral lost all of its stained glass in WWI; much of the replacement glass is rather bland, but is gradually being replaced with more typical glass over time.  There are panels designed by Marc Chagall and some very abstract panels installed in 2011 to celebrate the anniversary.  I liked the abstract panels — they reminded me of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.  The cave tour at Mumms (pronounced mooms) was fun, if a little chilly, followed by a tasting.  (I like Veuve better, but no champagne is bad.)  Ended up chatting with a gregarious Australian who was trying to visit all the champagne producers; he’d walked up to several who don’t give public tours and was turned away but was going to keep going until he’d hit as many as possible.

I mailed post cards from Reims, and was glad they arrived safely.  I got in line and learned it was the wrong line, then used the self-serve kiosk.  After figuring out how much postage I needed, I changed a note for coins, and was accosted by an older fellow.  He had used the machine before I did, and was missing a euro and was sure I had taken it.  No, I put a 20E note in and got the same back in change; no matter how many times I counted my change, I didn’t have 21E and hadn’t taken his money.

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Stone flooring at Saint Chappelle

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Interior of Notre Dame

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Looking toward Notre Dame from the other isle. Weird cloud formation overhead, very threatening.

More churches:  Saint Chappelle, Notre Dame, and Sacre Coeur.  Of the three, I think Saint Chappelle is the loveliest and most accessible-feeling.  It’s also the smallest, built in less than a decade by Louis IX, later Saint Louis, to house holy relics.  Notre Dame is huge and impressive, especially the flying buttresses and detailed carving.  And Sacre Coeur is very much a neighborhood church in use, if a beautiful one worth the hike up the hill in Montmartre.  There’s actually another church right around the corner from Sacre Coeur, Saint-Pierre that is much older and much less ornate, but with what looked like a lovely small garden beyond its fences (closed the day I visited).

Flower Market

Marches aux Fleurs on the Ile de la Cite

Best food in Paris was the croque monsieur and Pimms Cup I had a Buvette in Pigalle.  While at the airport in Baltimore, I bought a copy of Bon Appetit, which recommended Buvette — the Paris and NYC restaurants — and since I was near Pigalle…I stopped on the way home one evening.  The restaurant is tiny, with some of the cooking and plate arranging going on behind the bar.  And since I sat at the bar, I had a good view.  The staff were constantly in motion, with a new guy being trained.  All of the food looked gorgeous, especially the asparagus and carrots, but I was very pleased with my sandwich.

My landlady recommended a seafood/Alsatian place nearby named Wepler (Vep-leh).  I made the mistake of asking what the waiter recommended and going with it without questioning.  Thus I wound up with a platter of mostly raw shellfish:  oysters, clams, mussels, shrimp, and snails.  As I texted The BioChemist, I found the snails (cooked) better than the raw oysters, for measure of better that are “not going to make me physically ill based on texture alone”.  As you might guess, wine had been consumed before the shellfish arrived and more was consumed to make them more tolerable.  Plus bread, give me all the bread.  (Seriously, I ate more bread in two weeks on vacation than I normally eat in two months.  So good.)

Other foodish things:  there was a Le Pain Quotidien in my neighborhood (no, I didn’t eat there) and a Paul (I did eat there, and learned that it is a franchise with stores in DC), too.  There were gelato/ice cream shops everywhere.  And I’d never heard of Kusmi tea before reading about it in Bon Appetit, but there was a boutique in Montmartre, so I bought Parisian tea as a gift.  And, wow, the store smelled delicious.  Also, the little fromagerie across the street had fiquier — little rounds of chevre topped with fig.  Yum.

Other observations:  Normally I travel in February or March, during the off-season.  May in Paris is absolutely not the off-season, and the sheer number of people was a little oppressive.  (You may have noticed that I am a misanthrope, so you can imagine my opinion about this.)  The other surprise to me was the volume of smoking/smokers in Paris.  They are everywhere, and it reminded me of how unaccustomed I am to being around smokers now.  

I’m forgetting things, I’m sure, but I feel like I’ve been typing this forever, and I still have to upload pictures, so that’s all for now.  (ETA: I took 1500 photos and have uploaded 235 to Shutterfly with less than 50 here, but it still took three hours to write this up, upload photos, add captions.  *sigh*)      

Looking toward Sacre Coeur from the upper floors of the Musee d’Orsay (from the left bank northward).

Edited slightly for typos and to add a couple of thoughts.

ETA #2:  I can’t believe I forgot to mention one of my other favorite new discoveries:  Schweppes Agrum.  It’s a citrus-flavored soda that comes in the full calorie version or a light version.  I liked it as a drink with lunch when I wasn’t in the mood for water, wine, or coffee, and I bet it would be good in cocktails.  Move over Fanta Limon, my holiday favorite!

Also on the beverage front:  I saw several Starbucks in Paris but did not go in, even when I was dying for a large iced green tea lemonade.  When I mentioned them, Chef G told me that Starbucks arrived in Paris about seven years ago, and that a lot of her friends loved it because it was so American, and they could have their coffee to go like they see in movies and tv.  Which kind of surprised me, and seemed antithetical to the entire cafe/coffee experience that I observed:  people taking morning and afternoon breaks with a cigarette and their little demitasse cups, sitting in the cafe and being Parisian.

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Added to the TBR

Because I’ve been in such a slump, Mt. TBR has been pretty static.  Well, in the sense that it is not growing; why buy books when I’m not reading?  The Great Book Purge has slowed, mostly because I’m ignoring the spare room while I have no idea what to do with it.

But.

While in Paris, I had two cooking lessons at a kitchen/company named La Cuisine on the Quai de l’Hotel de Ville (I’m sure I’ve spelled or punctuated that incorrectly) that were very high on my list of Favorite Parts of the Paris Vacation.  I made macarons.  And hollandaise sauce.  Maybe someday I’ll repeat those epic feats.  Or maybe not.  But while waiting for the class to start, I flipped through their collection of foodie books and found David Lebowitz’s books on cooking and French culture; while I don’t think I’m suddenly going to start cooking more (or move to France), I really liked his voice.  Thus, a copy of his The Sweet Life in Paris has been added to the electronic Mt. TBR.  Which is actually probably larger than the paper TBR but since it is in the cloud, I see no teetering stacks and feel no guilt.

Also on the holiday front:  I took more than 1,400 photos, which are all still on my phone and need to be transferred elsewhere to stop taking up its memory.  I’ve uploaded 200 to Shutterfly and created a calendar and collage.  At some point I’ll transfer my diary (handwritten in my Paris Moleskin, I love those city-specific notebooks) here and add a few select photos, along with the narrative describing my Post Office Adventure and Nearly Getting Trapped in the Old Ville in Monaco, along with OMG Why Did I Eat Snails (wine was involved, as you might imagine) and Too Dumb to Come In Out of the Rain.

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