Nov 30, 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 wonderful, nonetheless.

3.  The terrorist attacks also made us cancel our longed-for trip to Bruges.  The very day we were to go, Brussels declared the highest level of alert -- imminent terrorist attack anticipated.   Citizens were told to avoid places where people gathered, including train stations . . . and we had to change trains in Brussels both going there and coming back the next day, when the high alert was still in force.  We decided to stay in Paris.  I cried myself to sleep that night . . . and felt guilty that I was thinking about me at such a difficult time for the people of Paris and Brussels.

Montmartre in the distance, seen from the D'Orsay

4.  On a happier note, Montmartre is a wonderful place to stay.  Yes, it's a bit off the beaten path and getting around can involve a few more Metro changes, but we loved every bit of staying there.  So many great shops (perfume, macarons, and beautiful handbags right on our block) and restaurants.  Accordions playing under the window, people singing -- we loved it.

5.  If you speak English and need a taxi, call the G7 taxi company.  They were on time, every time, they were very easy to speak with, and you can ask for an English speaking driver.  It's a little dicey, how much the driver actually speaks English, but it helps.

The bridge of locks

6.  Speaking of language -- if you are someone trying to get by on your high school/community college French, you'll likely be frustrated.  While we could easily order something at a restaurant, we had a hard time interpreting written text or making sense of French television.  It wouldn't have mattered, except for the night of the terrorist attack, when we were watching the news with French subtitles in the hope of understanding what was going on.  Trying hard to understand French with minimal ability leads to frustration and quickly to a headache.

7.  Before we left, I read on various forums that the pickpocket/scam artist thing was a serious issue.  We had no problems whatsoever with scam artists -- at one point, I was approached by a woman with a petition in support of the deaf; I told her no several times, and she went away. At the D'Orsay, we were approached by two teenage girls who wanted to borrow our cell phone because they were separated from their family, but we said no.  (We actually didn't know if they were scammers or not, but we told them they'd be better helped by going to the information desk.)  That was it.  The portrait painters at Place du Tertre were much more irritating in soliciting your business.  We each used an around-the-neck pouch (custom made for us by Kapom Crafts on Etsy) and had no worries at all.

Haussmann buildings along the Seine

8.  Viewing vs. experiencing:  Besides planning to visit museums and other important sights, we scheduled a number of what I thought of as "experiences."  We visited Le Studio des Parfums where we created our own perfumes, which was great fun.  We also spent a morning with Pauline Fraisse, a wonderful artist and teacher, working on our watercolor painting.  I highly recommend these kinds of experiences.

9.  I always think of Germans as being a hardy people, but I think the French give them a run for their money.  Our last night in Paris it was cold and rainy and yet the outdoor areas at the Rue des Abbesses restaurants were full of people, as were the streets.

Paris graffiti

10.   Pay attention to the graffiti in Paris.  Some is the ordinary type of tagging that you will see anywhere, but you'll also see artistic, political, and other types of graffiti.  Some of it changes over time.  Pay attention . . .

I'll stop here for now, though I may come back and add a few more thoughts as I think of them.  Overall, we had an unforgettable time in Paris. 

À bientôt.

Nov 27, 2015

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 see the other side of the highway already looking like a parking lot by 7:00, but our side was smooth sailing.  We reached Terminal 2E and tearfully said goodbye to Deb, who was going directly home to Minneapolis on a Delta flight, while we were off to San Francisco on Air France.  The driver dropped us at 2F, and there we were, a few minutes before the Air France counters opened up.

We were concerned about getting through security because of the heightened level of threat and because we had received an email from Air France telling us that all electronic devices had to be fully charged if they were in our carry-ons.  Unfortunately, the night before we'd had a bit of a recharging crisis, wherein our plugs that had worked just fine for the previous two weeks suddenly were charging about 1% per 30 minutes, which wasn't going to get my iPad from 60 to 100%, even overnight.  That added a bit to our anxiety, but to our surprise, the security check seemed somewhat relaxed rather than more intense.  They didn't ask to see anything but laptops.  Go figure.

Of course I, with my knee replacement, had to be pulled aside and searched more thoroughly.  Don't let anyone tell you that someone with a knee replacement can just bring a note from her doctor -- they don't want no stinkin' note.  They'll scan you from head to toe, run their hands inside the waistband of your pants, and then say, right, your knee, and though you want to say "That's what I told you," you don't.

Then, it being CDG, we had (what seemed like) a four-mile hike to get to our gate, which was in the "L" series.  Having had to run to make a connection on another occasion, I was happy that we had all the time in the world to saunter to Gate 22L.  We also had time for coffee and a final croissant before the flight boarded.

Load 'em up -- 

Because of our various joint problems, and because we can, Ed and I fly Premium Economy. In theory, it's a lot more comfortable and you get all kinds of perks -- you do get priority check-in and boarding, which is great, along with more legroom and seat-room.  It's definitely better than regular Economy, but is it comfortable?  Not really.  Through the curtains, you can see people in Business class with completely reclining seats, sleeping away, and you wish it were you sleeping there.  If you're like me and you can't sleep on a plane, you while away the 11-1/2 hour flight watching the map with the little plane crossing Normandy . . . Ireland . . . then Greenland . . . and so on.

A lightpole near our street

To make a long story short, we landed at SFO in good time and made our way through the holiday traffic to our car and then on to home.  When I'm on my way home from an airport, I always think about how recently we were at our previous location -- just a few hours ago, really, we had been in Montmartre, in Paris, loving our time there.  

I'll write a post summarizing our trip, what worked well and what didn't, what we loved, what we missed.  But I can already tell you that it's a time we'll never forget.

One of the clocks at D'Orsay

Talk to you soon . . . 

P.S.  I apologize for the somewhat erratic fonts in previous posts -- I don't know what's caused it, but being somewhat perfectionistic, I have to fix it.

Nov 24, 2015

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 spent about two of the hours working on our paintings, with Pauline leaning over our shoulders and giving us excellent advice.  

 Les outils de l'artiste

None of us finished our painting, but we left with a good idea of what we need to work on.  I'm happy with the right side of my painting and the jar on the left, the rest, not so much.  The fabric was so hard to do!  Pauline brought out a book that was only about paintings of fabric, and we could see how skillful an artist has to be to capture that well.

  My unfinished painting -- 

If you enjoy painting -- not only watercolor, but acrylic or oil as well -- consider enrolling in a workshop with Pauline.  She offers not only in-studio workshops but ones in which painters are out and about in the city.  She's an excellent teacher and I only wish I had more time with her! 

Today is a cold and rainy day in Paris.  When we said goodbye to Pauline, we waited for a taxi on Avenue Parmentier, and by the time it arrived, we were chilled to the bone.  So there was nothing to do but go across the street to Cafe Chappe for some onion soup.

I don't know how many times we've had onion soup in the past two weeks, but it wasn't enough.  It's so delicious and satisfying.  Ed says he'll definitely be making it when we get home.

So it's time to pack up (actually, everyone but me is already packed, because I'm sitting here blogging) and say goodbye to Montmartre and to Paris.  In spite of everything, we've had a wonderful time and we're going home with such great memories!


Nov 23, 2015

"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 anywhere.  It's hard to stop in for a "quick bite" in Paris; it always takes longer than you think it will.  

We love Cafe Chappe anyway -- a couple of the waiters are very funny and seem to delight in giving us good, showy service.  As I said in another post, they know that Grace wants a cheeseburger with avocado on it, and even though they find that strange, they accommodate her (must be because it's an addition, not a substitution).  My favorite reviewer on TripAdvisor hated the place; in addition to the slow service, not very good food, etc., she used their restroom and came back to tell the waiter it was very dirty.  His response:  "Go clean it yourself."   I can actually hear them saying this -- and I still love Cafe Chappe.

Here's the front door to our building on Rue Tardieu.  Though the building is older, it's very nice -- a pretty courtyard inside, and our apartment has been great -- two bedrooms, a living room, kitchen, toilet and shower.  It's been so much better than a hotel could ever have been.

The sign outside just appeared, and someone will have to help me with this -- Google Translate is telling me the phrase means "Love on trees."  Um . . . I don't think so.  I think it means something like "Love is running the streets."  Is that closer?  It seems like a thing right now, that you see in various places.  I don't know why the sign suddenly appeared, but it might have something to do with the women who stopped us as we were going through the door last night to ask, "Are you going to see the painter?"  We said no, but what did we know?

We've been on the "right" side of Sacre Coeur, which is actually the left side if you're looking at the cathedral.  It's a beautiful view, especially in the sunshine.

 The beautiful Sacre Coeur

"Our" street, Rue Tardieu, has everything we've needed.  It's a tiny street and therefore it takes taxi drivers a minute to find it on their GPS.  But we have macarons, an excellent charcuterie right around the corner, amazing restaurants a few steps away, some nice boutiques -- the only thing that requires a short walk is the bakery.  But we've thought that this has been the perfect spot.

Rue Tardieu

So, remember the photo at the top?  Did you guess where we were?

It's the elevator in our apartment building!  The one that has a metal plate on the wall stating that its maximum is four people!   People such as we become very, very intimate with one another in this elevator.  But it's been fun getting to know each other so very, very well . . . 

À bientôt.

Nov 22, 2015

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 here in Montmartre.  And it was delicious, as were the mussels.  Grace had the Muniere, Ed the Provençal .

Moules Muniere

It's a fine restaurant; we recommend it.  We also had a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau -- we missed the celebration last week, when the new wine is delivered to Paris and opened at midnight.  But tonight we enjoyed the fresh taste of a bottle -- 

 The very nouveau Beaujolais!

We were  surprised at what a hoppin' place Montmartre is on a Sunday night in November -- so many people in the streets, dining outdoors (the temperature is in the 40's), strolling, peering in shop windows.  On the walk home we stopped by an alley that had some interesting graffiti.

 Graffiti is everywhere in Paris -- some is very appealing.

Deb and I zeroed in on one particular piece of the graffiti -- she says that since we've been here, she's seen it painted three different ways.  We really loved it.

  Cool, right?

So much for tonight -- we're enjoying the macarons we got at the Christmas market today, and watching a program in English on the tv.  Another good day in Paris, in spite of everything.  

Oh.  By the way.  As we got up to leave the restaurant, I said I wanted to stop for a second and take a picture of the chalkboard.  It was gone.  No daily special.  (Cue the Twilight Zone theme . . . ) 


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, Brussels is on terror alert #4 -- a likely terrorist attack.  They were telling everyone to stay off the streets, and particularly to avoid places where people gather . . . like train stations.  And the only way to Bruges is to change trains in Brussels.  The American Embassy was recommending that we not go, so with great sadness we decided to stay in Paris.  

Here's a link to the story:   Brussels Imminent Attack

It's a little hard, having dreamed of this trip (not just Bruges, but Paris as well) for so long, that we've experienced some disappointments.  But we've forged on and in many ways had a wonderful time.

Today we decided to go to Le Marché de Noël, the Christmas market down on the Champs Elysees.  We had a great time, exploring all the booths, enjoying the festive atmosphere.

 Blocks and blocks of stalls with food and arts and crafts to buy.

I came back with some lovely soap made in Provence, and a beautiful pair of knit, lined fingerless gloves made by a women's cooperative in Nepal.  Deb bought soaps and a Christmas ornament in the shape of a perfume bottle, which she says will have great memories for her.  And macarons.  We had to get a dozen macarons.  The only person not having a great time was Ed, who is not a big fan of what my mom and her friends called "shoppy-shoppin'," which means wandering around stores looking at stuff, not necessarily buying anything, just enjoying the shopping.  My dad did not like shoppy-shoppin' and would find a place to sit down and just wait until the ordeal was over.  I think Ed and my dad would have found a lot in common.

 Deb and me with a very large Xmas ornament.

Tonight we're off in search of moules frites, mussels with french fries, a signature dish in Paris.  We've found a place not too far off, past the Abbesses Metro station.  Will report back on that one.

One more photo for today -- I believe this is the Grand Palais (if I'm wrong, please correct me).  It feels as if this represents Paris at the moment -- a glorious, sunny day, an incredibly beautiful building and statue, and a police car parked below.  There were many police cars parked in that particular spot.  We'll remember this as "our" Paris.


Nov 21, 2015

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 those beautiful ballerinas in the gorgeous dark yellow light were prostitutes?

My sister and I loved this painting by Henri Gervex, called "Rolla," 1878.  The composition, the light, the details, the expressions -- everything about this painting was gorgeous.  I could have looked at it all day.

It was also wonderful to see the clocks in the museum;  I watched "Hugo" right before we came and loved the clocks.

When we'd had our fill of the paintings, we sat outside and had a drink (yes, in the cold and rain -- everyone still sits outside), then trudged a few long blocks through the rain to the art store, Sennelier.  I couldn't say I'd been in Paris without having been to Sennelier.  It turns out to be a very small shop, but so filled with character (and color!) that it was wonderful to be there.  But since my companions were perhaps not as enthusiastic as I, I didn't even inquire as to where the watercolors were kept.  I would have been there an hour, deciding which two . . . three . . . four . . . colors I wanted to take home.

Enough news for now.  Read the next post for some surprising news.

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, by a Michelin star chef, it was excellent and we enjoyed it greatly.  

 The cheery interior of Picolla Strada

This very nice meal got me thinking about the kinds of reviews you read on TripAdvisor or Yelp.  Piccolo Strada has earned a solid 3.5 on TripAdvisor, with the main complaints being the service and the small portions and hence poor value.  We disagreed with all these perspectives -- the server/owner was very helpful and efficient, the price was good, and the amount of food left us stuffed to the gills!  For a neighborhood restaurant not filled with tourists, it was excellent.  Sure, a restaurant or owner or server will have a bad night, but I think that some people just have unforgiving expectations or are just crabby and difficult people themselves.

I've noticed that many restaurants have a few people hanging around outside the kitchen that reviewers sometimes complain about -- the waitress was slow, while the "other help" just sat there!  I really don't think that's "other help," in a tiny restaurant, rather friends and relations who hang out in a bar or restaurant in the evening, as a kind of social event.  I've never seen any of those people taking an order or bussing a dish.  

2.  The Metro vs. The Taxi.  We've taken the Metro, yes we have, from Barbes-Rochechouart, Anvers, and Abbesses, and we've changed Metro trains and ridden the RER train to Versailles.  We tend, though, once we finish our activity, to hop into a taxi to get home, because we're too tired to brave the stairs, long corridors, confusion (ours) and crowds in the Metro.  Though elevators are advertised, they are hard to find, and Abbesses, for one, has a circular staircase that goes down at least six, maybe eight floors.  I'm not sure how people with serious mobility problems get around.  

A taxi for the four of us (three seniors) usually costs between 15-20 Euros, and it makes life so much easier.  It would undoubtedly cost less if we were in a more central location.  We've been calling Taxi Paris G7, which has English-speaking operators and which shows up very quickly, between five and ten minutes.  I've also used their order-ahead service, which I'll use again when Ed and I have to get to Gare du Nord early tomorrow morning or when we have to go to CDG on Wednesday morning.  It costs a little more, but they have shown up exactly on time.

Our favorite boulangerie, always very busy

What's interesting, I think, is that the days of taxi drivers taking a very circuitous route in order to get more money are over -- since riders have cell phones with maps and GPS, they can see if a driver is going far off route.  Traffic is circuitous in Paris in any case, with many one-way-streets and no left turns, but every driver we've had has been following GPS and gotten us to exactly where we wanted to go.

3.  We have found French shopkeepers, waiters, and persons-on-the-street to be very kind and helpful; no one has given us a hard time or criticized us for being boorish Americans.  We've tried to use our French where we can, and we're always careful to say "Bonjour," and "Merci," and we've gotten along just fine.

So, off to the Musee D'Orsay this morning.  More to report later, I'm sure.

Nov 20, 2015

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 also has many, many artifacts, all of which have stories behind them, and his prize, a signed photo of Bram Stoker himself.

 A vampire hunter kit!

M. Sirgent is an impassioned lecturer on all kinds of topics, from vampires and werewolves to the nature of good and evil to the shortcomings of the Catholic church and the mistreatment of women throughout history.  And lecture he did, for several hours!  It was fascinating, but in the end we were tired and had to say our goodbyes.

 M. Sirgent

And we were hungry as well, because the "small buffet" that had been arranged in our emails never appeared.  Although he offered us wine, he appeared to have forgotten about our dinner, and we were too polite to ask.  So when we got back to the apartment, after 10PM, we gobbled down the bread with cheese and coldcuts that, happily, we had stored in the refrigerator.

Do we recommend the Musee des Vampires?  We offer a strong "maybe"!  If you are passionate about vampires and want to be filled with information, stories, and personal experiences, you may well enjoy spending a few hours with M. Sirgent.  On the other hand, he may be moving the museum to China at some point, so be sure you check on whether it's still in Paris.

 Our own little corner of Montmartre -- we're staying in the white building on the right.

Today it's been rainy all day, so it was a day for exploring more of our neighborhood, buying souvenirs, and napping.  We planned on staying close to home because so much rain was predicted that they were warning of flooding -- but that never materialized.  It's supposed to rain again tomorrow, but I think we need to get out and about somehow, because the Musee D'Orsay still awaits us!  Can we come home without having visited every major museum in Paris?  I think we can.  Despite the very unusual circumstances during our visit, we can come home from Paris having had a wonderful experience of staying for two weeks, getting to know our neighborhood well, having "our" bistro across the street where the waiter knows what Grace wants before she even says it (a cheeseburger and fries, with avocado on the hamburger, which they had never heard of), and having unique experiences like creating our own perfumes and having a guided tour of Ile de la Cite.

We have four more days, which include an overnight trip to Bruges for Ed and me.  We'll see what we can see before we come home! 

Nov 19, 2015

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 for base notes, one for middle notes, and one for high notes.  Then the fun begins -- Will gave us a selection of bottles of base notes, and we sniffed them one by one, kept the ones we liked, and passed the others on to the next person.  In between sniffs, we cleansed our nose palates by sniffing some coffee beans.

 A few of the many bottles we sniffed.

When we had our choices assembled, we wrote them down in the base notes section, and Will helped us make some adjustments -- in some cases, he picked out two of the bottles we'd chosen and asked us to pick one, or he suggested one more scent to be added to the list.  Then we went through the same process with the middle notes and the high notes, until we each had our formula written down.

Deb, sniffing a base note.

When we had all our choices on the list, Will went through it and put down the number of milliliters of each we should put into the blend.

 Grace appears to have sniffed one too many bottles.

Then we blended our own particular scents.  We each had a graduated cylinder to measure the oils into, carefully pouring 5 ml of Lilas, 1 ml of Ambre Vert, and so on.  At each step (base notes, middle notes, high notes) we dipped into the perfume and tested it, and sometimes Will made an adjustment here or there.  

 Kind of took me back to high school chemistry class!

When all the mixing and testing was done, Sophie bottled each of our scents, and we finally got to try them out.  I think we each loved how ours came out, and they were quite different from each other.  They keep the formula on file and you can order your custom-made scent any time you need a new bottle!
This was a unique and wonderful experience, and I highly recommend it to anyone who thinks such an activity might be interesting.  Will was delightful to work with, the whole process was fascinating and so much fun.

Will helping Grace adjust her blend

Tonight we will be having another fascinating experience -- stay tuned for what will undoubtedly be a very interesting report!

Nov 18, 2015

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 got off at Versailles-Rive Gauche, and a nice friendly man from Utah we'd met while we were looking for the train asked us whether we were going to walk or take a cab to the Chateau.  We said we were walking because on the map and on the website, they'd said it wasn't far.  Just for the fun of it, we refreshed ourselves at McDonalds (come on, we had to try a McDonald's once in France) with drinks and macarons (definitely not on a par with the ones on our street in Montmartre), bought our tickets to the Chateau, and went on our merry way.

Have you ever been to Windsor Castle in England?  It's like that.  You walk through the village, and then a long way up a hill before you're finally in a place where you can actually enter the castle.  At Versailles, you see a golden gate and think, maybe that's it, but behind that gate is another one, and then a long courtyard, and at some point you finally make it into the good stuff.

Ed, Deb, and Grace heading for the Chateau -- me, catching my breath under cover of taking a photograph.

Once inside, it's pretty amazing.  Amid the tourist groups and people jockeying for space to take a picture, there comes a moment, once in a while, when you can stop and imagine actual people living there, walking through the rooms, carrying out their business and carrying on their lives.  It's mind-boggling, really, that people could live in such splendor and opulence.  At the same time, I know that where a lot of the nobles lived was far from opulent, and I wish I could have seen some of their apartments.  But still, it almost beggars description:

 The Sun King was fond of representing himself in different ways.

 The bedrooms, of course, were incredibly beautiful:

Marie Antoinette's bedroom
The beds were so high that they must have used ladders to get into them, but they weren't on display.  In the corners of Marie's bedrooms were semi-secret doors that Louis could use to come visit her privately.

"Distressed," right?

I liked the vignettes that seemed fairly original -- in a lot of places, the window shutters looked as if they hadn't been updated in a long time.  I wonder when those scratches were made?

We took the "petit train" down to the Petit Trianon.  It was interesting to see the kitchen and other "downstairs" rooms of the house.  But at that moment, we just felt done and so hopped on the little train back to the main chateau and made our way to the train, heading for home.  On the way, there was some beautiful light in the courtyard, lighting up the statues on the roof:

 Statues everywhere you look -- 

We found our way back to the station, to the train, and to Musee D'Orsay, and to a taxicab to take us back to Montmartre.  We decided to get takeout pizza from two different restaurants -- at one, they had basically never heard of pepperoni pizza but cheerfully agreed to make it; at the other, they made pizza with chicken, onions, capers, corn, and a delicious white sauce.

And so ends day #5 in Paris -- tomorrow we have two wonderful things on the agenda that I'm looking forward to telling you about -- 


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