Showing posts from November, 2015

The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men . . .

. . . gang aft agley.

Robert Burns said it best -- we can plan and plan and take every contingency into account (we think) and then just like that, all plans are out the window.

Here's a round-up of our trip to Paris:  the wonderful, the not-so-great, and the very, very bad.

1.  Let me say up front -- Paris is an amazing place to be.  We were there for two weeks, and we could have stayed for two more, finding interesting things to see and do.  It's infinite.

2.  The day after we arrived, the terrorists attacked.  Though we were never in any danger and felt little of the horrible effects the Parisians suffered, it did cause some changes in plans on our part.  We couldn't visit any museums or monuments for three days.  We spent one of those days kind of sheltering in place in our apartment, then the next day got out and explored around Montmartre.  The third day, we had a private tour of Ile de la Cite; we couldn't go into anything except Notre Dame -- but the tour was w…

Home again --

Pre-dawn Wednesday morning was a blur of activity.  We were up at 6:00, rushing around to get the last few things packed, the last bags of debris taken down to the garbage, and to get ourselves and our suitcases, one elevator ride per person, down to the courtyard in time to meet the taxi at 6:45.

Goodbye to our little corner

I think I've mentioned before that we used the "G7" taxi a lot; for this morning, I had told them that we needed a "maxi-taxi," because there were four of us and four large plus numerous small pieces of luggage.  They showed up right on time . . . with a Prius.  We weren't too happy about that, but it turned out that the hatchback fit the four large suitcases and we could hang onto the rest on our laps, so we squished ourselves into the Prius rather than making an issue that would delay our departure.  And off we went.

While we were not thrilled about having to be at CDG at 7:30AM (for a 10:30 flight), it turned out to be fine.  We could …

Les Artistes

This morning, we had a special time as part of our last day in Paris.  We went to the studio of Pauline Fraisse, a wonderful artist and teacher, for a three-hour watercolor workshop.  The studio was a lovely space, full of light, and we were very excited as we unpacked all of the supplies we had brought from home.

The lovely Pauline Fraisse
Pauline asked us what we'd like to work on, and we settled on a still life, which she set up for us.

Le Nature Morte

Pauline was a wonderful teacher.  She started by having us draw "potato" shapes, just sketching in the different objects with no specificity.  She taught us how to measure the lengths with our pencil so we could get the proportions right (I don't know how many drawing/painting classes I've taken and have never really gotten that).  Then we made our sketches more specific, with lots of instruction from Pauline, until she was satisfied that we were ready to begin painting.

Here's Deb, working on her painting.

We sp…

"Our" Paris

First, a little guessing game.  Yes, this is very much a part of "our" Paris.  Three guesses:

Scroll down for the answer.
Are we . . . in a closet, playing hide and seek?
             . . . squeezed into a Metro car at 8 AM?  or 
             . . . ???
This is "our" bistrot, Cafe Chappe, right across the street from our apartment.  This little place has mixed reviews on TripAdvisor, and though we love the place, we can see why.  

You don't ask for substitutions at Cafe Chappe.   Today I ordered a Croque Madame and asked if I could have frites instead of salad.  The waiter looked at me like I was a bit touched in the head and said, "It comes with salad."  I backed off quickly.  You don't expect fast service at Cafe Chappe either -- much of the time, the waiters are standing outside the door, smoking cigarettes.  We didn't care -- as far as we can see, after two weeks, you don't get what Americans would consider "normal" service much of …

Late night foodie report

Sometimes Fate smiles a little.

When I was preparing for our now-aborted trip to Bruges, I spent literally a couple of hours searching for a restaurant that would serve what I wouldn't leave Belgium without:  Carbonnade a la Flamande.  It's a beef stew made with bacon, onions, and beer, and it's delicious.  I've made it many times in my lifetime, and I really wanted to try it at the source.

So tonight we decided to dine at the Cafe Bruant, a restaurant highly recommended for its Moules Frites (mussels and fries), which we all wanted to try.  It was just a short walk past Abbesses Metro station, and we headed there fairly early.  As we crossed the street to the restaurant, I saw the chalkboard with their special of the day written in white:  Carbonnade a la Flamande.

One of my favorite dishes of all time.

I just started to laugh -- it was a little sign from somewhere that all was not lost, that despite the problems we've had, I could still have a bit of Belgium right …

Le Marché de Noël, etc.

Catching up from last night -- we went to an outstanding restaurant, La Vache et Le Cuisinier (The Cow and the Cook), right up the street here in Montmartre.  We didn't have a reservation, so we arrived at the moment they opened and were able to get the only table available for the whole evening.  What an amazing dinner it was -- razor clams and foie gras marinated in Sauternes for starters, and then duck, quail, rabbit and steak for our main dishes.  (Again, we're in France.)

Quail in honey and lavender sauce

My quail (I don't know that I've ever eaten quail before) was outstanding.  Incredibly delicious.  Everything was cooked to perfection.  We can't recommend this restaurant enough -- but it's very small, so it's best to have a reservation.
We came home to a huge disappointment.  Ed and I were supposed to go off to Bruges for just an overnight trip, but Deb happened to be looking at the U.S. news and heard that as of yesterday and continuing through today,…

Splendor and Misery at the d'Orsay

Il pleut again in Paris, a really rainy and cold day today.  Me, I'm feeling a little tired, a little under the weather, and a tiny bit of wanting to be home in my own bed.  Ed made us some nice eggs which we ate with the leftovers of some beautiful pastries Deb brought home yesterday; then we all piled into a taxi to go to the d'Orsay.

What a wonderful museum that is.  Built in the old train station building, it retains a little of that flavor while housing many Impressionist paintings, ones you never thought you'd see but there you are, standing in front of them.

The main event (or the one we saw, anyway) was Splendeurs et Miseres, Images de la Prostitution, 1850-1910.  It was room after room of paintings, then photographs, and a couple of curtained-off side rooms to which no one under 18 was admitted (everyone but me went to see).  The paintings were splendid -- all the Manets and Toulouse-Lautrecs and Degases you could hope to see, and who knew that people thought tho…

A Few More Random Thoughts

Saturday morning thoughts on our experiences: 

1.  Last night we ate at a very good Italian restaurant, Picolla Strada.  It's very small, with room for maybe 7 parties of various sizes.  There appeared to be only the owners, an Italian couple, running the place, with maybe a daughter taking an order here and there.  They had quite an extensive menu for such a small place, including two prix fixes dinners (14.50 and 17.50 Euros) and many a la carte choices.  We dined fairly simply, with Ed and I choosing a prix fixe with appetizer, entree and dessert.  Grace and Deb chose pesto pasta and ravioli in cream sauce.  My appetizer was called "Salade Tiede," which, because I hadn't translated it, left me surprised when my salad arrived in a hot, rather than cold condition ("tiede" turns out to mean "lukewarm").  It was delicious, as was the linguini Aglio Et Olio Ed and I ordered.  While it was not as heavenly as the dish made for us in Ferrara, Italy, b…

A Dark and Stormy Night -- and Day

Last night at 7:00 PM we hopped into a taxi for our arranged visit to the Vampire Museum. We weren't sure what we would find, but we were looking forward to it!

At 7:00 you might think most of the rush hour in Paris would be just about over but no no no, the streets were bumper to bumper.  We were to meet Jacques Sirgent, the proprietor of the museum, on a street corner in Les Lilas, just outside Paris, and as he led us down a small street and into an absolutely dark alley, we understood why.  We never would have found it ourselves.

We soon came to a red door with a small sign that said "Musee," and were led through a darkened courtyard and into the museum itself.

The jam-packed museum
The museum was packed full of items from floor to ceiling.  M. Sirgent has signed photos of every actor who's played Dracula, except Christopher Lee (I think he said).  I was especially drawn to the many ancient books he has, some going back to the early days of the printing press.  He a…

Le Studio des Parfums

This morning Deb, Grace and I headed for the Metro to go to Le Studio des Parfums, in Le Marais for a unique and wonderful experience:  making our own perfumes.

We left from Anvers, found the right train, and made our way to the Hotel de Ville station, where we came out into some significant rain.  A nice man at a kiosk sold Grace and me some small umbrellas, and we headed for 23 Rue du Bourg Tibourg.  Of course we got a little lost, but ultimately we found the right place . . . and it was all closed and dark.

We couldn't see a sign that said they wouldn't be open, so I tried giving them a call and learned that because travel is a little more difficult these days, Sophie was delayed in getting there, but she would be arriving very soon.  Right after I hung up, Sophie's assistant, Will, appeared, and we were soon in the Studio and ready to make our own perfume.

My ultimate "secret formula"
You start out with a worksheet that's divided into three sections -- one …

Here Comes the Sun King.

Today we braved the train system in order to go to Versailles.  I do have to say that what looks easy on a map or on the RER app is actually way more confusing in reality, and led to any number of moments of tension in which I was pretty sure I knew what I was talking about (but didn't), and others of the Musketeers questioned my judgment, leading to a fair amount of huffiness on my part and our almost missing the train (twice) because I was pretty sure it was going to be a different one.  By the time we came back, we opted for a taxi from Musee D'Orsay rather than taking the Metro to Abbesses, 1) because we were tired of looking for the right place to be, and 2) because when we left in the morning, I swear to god we had to go down 8 flights of stairs to catch the Metro at Abbesses, and none of us saw an elevator that might be employed to haul our half-dead corpses up on the way back.  Zombies we were, yes indeed.

I liked this ad in the station.
We finally found the train and g…