Tag Archives: travel

Apparently I’m all about the food

The Biochemist and The Chemist came to visit over the holidays, which was lovely.  I always appreciate the opportunity to cling and be ridiculous.  While we were plotting out what we wanted to do on different days, we wound up arranging things entirely by which restaurants we wanted to try to revisit (important info: Petit Louis is *always* on the itinerary).  Which, uh, we don’t really do that, do we?

Except I was planning a weekend roadtrip for March and realized that I was doing exactly the same thing.  This event is at this hour in this location, which restaurants are nearby that my colleague from that town recommended.

So apparently *I* do that.  And I’m all about the food when traveling.


Unrelated, I had begun to tentatively plan a trip to Istanbul for this year.  A friend went last year and came back with wonderful tales and then handed me his guidebook.  Well, twist my arm.  It was on my bucket list, after all.  I’d read a bunch of security/travel blogs and checked out the State Dept warnings site but was feeling generally okay about visiting.  Today’s news of a suicide bomber in one of Istanbul’s tourist areas is making me hesitate.  It feels wimpy to say that but…I’m not sure what to do right now.  Maybe sleep on it and do more research.

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Post-Turkey Day SBD

It’s been a while.  Maybe the longest I’ve gone between posting since I first started blogging way back in 2005.  (I had to go look that up. Now I feel positively decrepit in internet years.)  There was some crappy stuff going on in the romance field that piled onto my general ennui with respect to fiction; it seemed easier to just not post at all.  I wouldn’t say that I’ve got my reading or blogging mojo back, but I actually felt the urge to write about books today so…

October reading?  There may have been some but I can’t recall.  November was mostly ~meh~ too until the holiday weekend when I finished two books.

First, I read As You Wish, Cary Elwes’s memoir of the filming of The Princess Bride.  I love that movie and will watch it whenever I see it on cable.  I used to have a VHS copy but it is long gone.  Over the holiday weekend, we (The Biochemist, The Chemist, and I) settled down in the den/TV room to watch it but found that we couldn’t – VHS copy only but no player, and it wasn’t streaming for free.  Anyway, As You Wish isn’t particularly brilliant in terms of narrative, but it gave a peak into the filming process and also Goldman’s feelings about the book and the option/screenplay’s troubled history before Rob Reiner talked Goldman into giving him the rights.

Second, Ben Aaronovitch’s Foxglove Summer — book five of the Rivers of London/Peter Grant series.  I have immediate gratification issues, so I ordered a copy from Amazon UK.  I really like Peter’s voice and Aaronovitch’s style, but dear godlings was the copy editing bad in this book.  Dropped or missed punctuation all over the place, relationships changing back and forth (grandfather then father then grandfather again), etc.  I probably need to do a little poking around the author’s website to see if there is a defined arc or series length; it might help me reconcile where this book fits.  It felt pretty disjointed relative to earlier installments.

On the plus side, readers learn a bit about The Nightingale and Ettersberg, and to see magic outside of London.  (I actually like the London-based stuff better, in terms of the history, but I’m assuming this is another perspective on the whole “magic really wasn’t dying” thing that has been mentioned in earlier books.)

A couple of my favorite passages:

‘So ghosts and magic are real?’ he said.

I’d had that question enough times to have an answer ready. ‘There are things that fall outside the parameters of normal policing,’ I said. I find you get two types of police, those that don’t want to know and those that do. Unfortunately, dealing with things you don’t want to know about is practically a definition of policing.

‘So “yes”,’ said Dominic.

‘There’s weird shit,’ I said. ‘And we deal with the weird shit, but normally it turns out that there’s a perfectly rational explanation.’  Which is often that a wizard did it.  (page 35)


‘Why does everyone call him the Nightingale?’ I asked.

‘Because he was so singular, so extraordinary – or so the seniors said.  Of course most of us didn’t believe a word of it, but we used it as a nickname – irony, or so we thought.’

He was looking in my direction, but his gaze was somewhere back in time to his young self.  My dad does the same thing when he talks about seeing Freddie Hubbard with Tubby Hayes at the Bull’s Head in 1965 or being at Ronnie Scott’s and hearing Sonny Rollins solo live for the first time.

There were so many questions I wanted answered, but I began to fear that he was drifting off — or worse.

‘You should have seen him at Ettersberg,’ he said softly. ‘It was like standing before the walls of Troy.  Aias d’amphi Menoitiadei sakos euru kalupsas hestekei hos tis te leon peri hoisi tekessin, but Ajax covered the son of Menoitios with his broad shield and stood fast, like a lion over its children.’  (page136; diacritical marks missing due to my inability to add them.)

There’s a third quote that I like best but it is a serious spoiler for book four so I’ve left it out.

Unrelated:  Chicago was lovely for the holiday, if a little chilly on Thursday.  The Chemist made a turdork (duck stuffed with turkey breast and chorizo) that was delicious.  He also made a salted caramel chocolate cake (crushed animal cracker base with inches of ganache, basically) for dessert.  (And breakfast the next day – cake for breakfast is a valid life choice, okay.)  It was lick-the-plate good, and I’ve asked for the recipe.   Lunch at Revolution Brewery one day, AHL hockey on Saturday followed by amazing pumpkin gnocchi at Letizia Fiore, and lots of couch potato-ing for the NCAA, NHL, and NFL.  The only bad part was the trip home — delayed 2 hours for lack of flight crew and then with a dog on the flight that barked for a solid hour.

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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


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.


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


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.

2014 from Samsung second take 659

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.



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.]




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.


Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.



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?

2014 from Samsung second take 1220

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.

2014 from Samsung second take 1462

The modern fountain in Reims

2014 from Samsung second take 1518

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

2014 from Samsung second take 1745

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.


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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Let there be rejoicing across the land

A.  Stanley Cup Playoffs begin TODAY!  I’m excited.  And I’ve priced tickets to Saturday’s Game 2 twice (#sleepisfortheweak, I can get to Easter dinner Sunday, no problem) despite reminding myself that they aren’t necessary in the month preceding Paris.  Ridley posted an awesome comparison of the playoff teams to romance novels at Love in the Margins.  I kind of take issue with some of her editorializing about why to love/hate particular teams, but I like her romance choices.  (Among other things, do not get me started about Iginla “deserving” a Cup, alright? That’s a specious argument that could also be applied to Alfredsson, too.)

B.  I’ve got reservations in a macaron-making class in Paris.  And at Le Cinq.  And grounds passes/Court 1 for two days of Clay Court Magic at Roland Garros. 

C.  On the reading front, I’ve finished two books.  Within a single week.  That hasn’t happened in months!  Rejoice for me, fellow genre fiction readers!  Well, only one of them is genre fiction, but still. 

The books in question:  Andrew Conte’s Breakaway: The Inside Story of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Rebirth and K.A. Mitchell’s Bad Influence.  Conte’s book and its description of the arena/moving drama made me wonder:  if Lemieux sold and stayed in Pittsburgh while the team went to Kansas City, would Sidney Crosby still be who he is?  I mean, yes, the raw talent was there, but would he have developed the same way without living with the hockey legend for years?  And if ownership had changed, would he have been pressed to return to hockey sooner rather than being able to stay on IR until his brain case actually seemed healed and he could skate without being dizzy?  Also, Ray Shero, ILU and your lamenting the cost of Dupuis once Hossa was injured.  If only you knew at that time that he’d turn out to be the best part of that deal in the long term.

Bad Influence – I really liked it as I read but need to go back and re-read to appreciate it.  But I loved the Old Bay ice cream and chipotle chocolate ice cream.

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The continuing book purge and other things

Well, my reading has continued to be Not Good lately.

Apparently I auto-wishlisted Josh Lanyon’s The Hell You Say at paperbackswap.com back when I still used the site regularly, so a copy arrived in my mailbox last week.  It was okay?  I mean, I read the ebook years ago when I was glomming Lanyon’s work.  My perspective has shifted a little bit and I’m not sure why exactly.  But my patience with Adrien as narrator has thinned, both in terms of Adrien as amateur sleuth and also with what I perceive as his passive approach to the people in his life (no, I’m not talking about Jake specifically but how he interacts with everyone).  Eh.  I’m kind of curious to see what would happen if I went back and re-read the entire series but I’m a little afraid of spoiling a series that I have recall with fondness in general.

In an effort to kill the slump, I’m extending The Great Book Purge of 2013 into 2014.  Sooner or later one of the books I skim for the keep-or-discard test will grab me.  Or that’s my hope/theory.

So I’ve pulled these books from the shelves:

  • The Courageous Heart by Jane Marnay — a Harlequin Romance from 1957
  • The Twilight of Imperial Russia by Richard Charques — from 1958, dated but of interest in light of a lot of things going on in what some people might consider the new imperial Russia
  • Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women edited by Jayne Ann Krentz
  • Walter Isaacson’s biography of Benjamin Franklin
  • Dana Stabenow’s A Grave Denied

Books already put on the discard pile are NR’s Whiskey Beach, The Wife of Martin Guerre, and Queen of Shadows by Edith Felber.  I thinned my collection of the backlists of Susan Napier and Robyn Donald’s Harlequin Presents before moving but may circle back.

I’m also reading the oh-so-fascinating (not really) The Law of Financial Institutions for a night class.  The lecture is pretty good, if kind of bouncing around at this point.

Cara Black’s Murder in Montmartre has been put on my nightstand, to keep Scahill’s Dirty Wars company (some day I’ll be finished with it, dammit, but I’m reading about 20 pages/week right now so it’ll be awhile).  I liked an earlier installment in Black’s mystery series set in Paris in the 1990s. 

Unrelated:  does anyone have recommendations for language acquisition software?  I would like to learn enough French to be able to understand airport/train/metro announcements, and to be able to ask people for directions to the closest metro/cab stand/bar/etc or for the check or to be able to order simple things at a restaurant or bar. 



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Pods (is that the right collective noun?) have gone past every day this week, but I haven’t attempted a phone-pic until today. See the tiny black triangles in the midst of all that blue? Probably not. But they were there, I promise.


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Today’s ocean view

Less windy today, supposed to be calmer tomorrow too.


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A little windy today

The wind is brisk today. Lots of beach-goers have their umbrellas at sharp, 20* angles, with a flap anchored by sand, to create a shelter from the wind and blown sand. The sun feels good and the waves are crashing nearby.


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