Not Martha

links: travel

How could I ensure that a surprise trip overseas with my wife remains a surprise for her, without any logistical hiccups? | Ask MetaFilter. My favorite response: “… if I showed up at the airport and found out that the suitcase I’d packed for a week in Kansas City was really going with me to Paris, I would probably hate you. And cry.”

How to help a carsick 2-year-old? | Ask MetaFilter.

Where should two lazy, crazy kids honeymoon in Maui? | Ask MetaFilter.

Foodista Blog – Eating My Way Through Iceland.

· comments [6] · 06-18-2010 · categories:links · travel ·

links: travel

Fun Things in Portland? | Ask MetaFilter.

Travel & Outdoors | Seattle Times Newspaper. Seattle summer guide, I’m mostly bookmarking the hikes here.

Road Food for vegans? | Ask MetaFilter.

Renting an apartment for a week in London in September. Priority: great food shopping. | Ask MetaFilter.

Gin is just the tonic – Times Online. You can take a distillery tour, and create your own gin. I’m definitely doing this should I find myself anywhere nearby. Thanks to Busywork for sending me this article!

· comments [2] · 06-10-2010 · categories:links · travel ·

links: travel

Oyster Hotel Reviews. Via Kottke, who points out that they take their own pictures of hotels and rooms, handy for that whole reality thing.

NEW YORK CITY : WEST SIDE at make something.

What travel products do you actually use? | Ask MetaFilter.

Tasting Tour: Portland, Oregon: 5 of the Most Interesting Street Vendors | Serious Eats.

Is sleeping overnight in the Hamburg Airport a Good Idea? | Ask MetaFilter. Logistics of sleeping in an airport.

· comments [3] · 05-25-2010 · categories:links · travel ·

links: travel

This is interesting! As a form of volcano relief Lonely Planet is offering a bunch of their city iPhone guides for free (they normally start around $16) through April 22nd (that’s in two days, so hurry!). This includes the Paris guide I used during our recent trip, and has an offline location aware map, which is fantastic to use while avoiding roaming charges. I’m not sure if all the city guides have them, but I would expect they do.

I found this news at David Lebovitz, who is offering his suggestions on 10 Things to Do If You’re Stuck in Paris. If you are stuck in Paris you have both my sympathy and my envy.

· comments [7] · 04-20-2010 · categories:iphone · links · travel ·

links: travel

Vacation rentals, private rooms, sublets by the night – Accommodations on Airbnb. Via SwissMiss.

How To Make Sure Flying Doesn’t Suck Out Your Soul | Nothing But Bonfires.

Jordan Ferney | Oh Happy Day!: Paris Guide.

Finnriver: Visit Finnriver.Someplace nearby that I’d like to visit.

· comments [3] · 04-7-2010 · categories:links · travel ·

Portland, I love your food trucks

a fried pie, opened to show pot roast and cheese inside

A few weekends ago Scott and I took a very quick trip to Portland primarily to sit on a West Elm couch to see if we liked it. (We did, but sadly it’s too big to fit in our living room.) While we were there the weather was good and we were able to eat two meals outdoors, I think this for me marked the real start to Spring. I didn’t get pictures of lunch, pulled pork and bratwurst, but we were very happy to stumble upon a pod of food carts after walking past some crowded restaurants. We sought out some Whiffies Fried Pies the next morning and they, along with shared poutine from Potato Champion, were the perfect hangover cure for a night spent celebrating warm evening weather on the hotel’s rooftop bar (oy). I will also point out that Whiffies and Potato Champion have vegan menus as well, just let them know and your food will be done in their vegan fryers. (p.s. Take cash.)

really good poutine, fries with gravy and cheese curds on top

Should you find yourself in a similar impromptu Portland trip I will point you towards the Food Carts Portland website, they provide very helpful reviews of everything and even break down the carts by location.

· comments [19] · 04-7-2010 · categories:food · travel ·

My Vacation Slides: Paris Day 11, sunshine and airplanes

Sun shining on the buildings across the street

The next morning it was beautiful. The sun was glorious, the temperature was perfect, everybody was happy. And of course we were off to the airport by 9 a.m. Figures.

my feet on the tiled floor of Charles de Gaulle

We got to the airport too early, the ticket counter wasn’t even open yet. We couldn’t even find it. Turns out, the airlines share counters and so there wasn’t a sign. Instead it shows up on the monitors when the check in gates open. (More of what we learned at Charles du Gaulle below.)

We flew Iceland Air because they were having a special to introduce their nonstop flights in and out of Seattle. It’s about 3 hours from Paris to Iceland, then 7 hours from Iceland to Seattle. It’s a long haul but wasn’t nearly as bad as what I was prepared for. And I think 7 hours on a plane is about my limit so I actually appreciated having that change.

The Iceland airport is small, we never saw it with all the shops open, but they do sell mini bottles of booze at the snack bar. I got some candy as well:

Icelandic candies

Here I have two sorts of menthol licorice, one regular licorice, one salted licorice and, just behind the potato chips, a chocolate egg that rattled pleasingly when I shook it. Inside were two caramels, two menthol licorice pieces and a small fortune written in Icelandic, and which I sadly lost!

broken ice floating on waters, as seen from the plane

Flying back we stayed inside sunshine the whole way, it was far easier to stay awake. We saw a lot of broken ice floating on water below us.

Remember that website that did nothing but collect pictures of airline meals from all over the world? What was that? Is it still around? We got these cold chicken meals:

Iceland Air meal, wrapped

Iceland Air meal, unwrapped

Look, my chicken has a red mustache.

Iceland Air teeny tiny dessert

The tiny dessert was cherry mousse with chocolate shavings.

Later they handed out customs forms on the plane and I dutifully filled them out, adding up my receipts from Muji carefully.

Airline survey saying that no survey was currently running. Agree? Disagree?

Having the movies and tv shows on the screen in front of me was great, but I also loved poking around and finding this Survey. I disagreed.

We landed mid-day in Seattle but had been awake for about 20 hours. And it wasn’t until we’d collected our luggage, insisted to customs several times that, no, we didn’t have chocolate in our bags, made it all the way home and were sleepily unpacking that I noticed I’d left my wallet on the plane. Oy. After much effort on my part I had it back (minus $100, ouch).

peanuts offered at the burger place, it seemed a bit excessive, but fun

We went out for big burgers to make me feel a bit better.

Stuff learned the hard way

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· comments [21] · 03-30-2010 · categories:travel ·

My Vacation Slides: Paris day 10, McMacarons and not going to Versailles

windy, rainy early morning

The next morning I woke up really early, around 4:30 a.m. It was windy outside and I was hoping it would calm down since we had planned on going to Versailles that day. But it didn’t it got worse. I watched as it got light, then dark again. It was Purim that weekend so I watched as people walked back and forth delivering gifts. They were wrapped up against the cold and the blowing rain but still looked like they’d rather be indoors. The wind got louder and a shutter on the other corner started to bang sharply whenever the wind gusted. I watched as a lady turned the corner to walk down our street, take three difficult steps into the wind, then turn and go back.

And then I watched as through this an old man on a bicycle came riding down the street into the wind (remember: shutters banging, wind howling, rain pelting, pedestrians fleeing) at a leisurly pace, like nothing was going on. With a lit cigarette in his mouth. In my memory he looks exacly like this.

Eventually the others woke up and we looked blearily out at the bleary weather and canceled our plans to go to Versailles. None of us were in the mood to be on our feet all day, much less be on our feet with periods of walking through horrible weather while not quite seeing gorgeous gardens through the rain. So we got coffee instead:

cafe cream

And when the crepe guy finally opened we got crepes:

steam coming off a cooking crepe

Watching him work was huge fun.

crepe filled with melted cheese

And you know what’s open on Sunday in Paris? Nothing. Well not quite, the major museums are open and now I know why, because nothing else is open. Pro tip: schedule your museum visits on Sundays and your shopping on Fridays.

Jeff found that there was a (enter name of hipster Japaense Gap-like store which I cannot remember the name of here) open in a mall out at the Grande Arche in La Défense (a group of skyscrapers just outside of Paris, the most striking visual of this area is the big, square arch that is opposite the Arch de Triumph). So we took the Metro out to see a more modern part of Paris. Half of the stores in this mall were closed and it made for a less than exciting foreign mall visit. I did get to go to a Zara though, did you know they examine their flow of goods in real time? They can tell if a shirt isn’t selling or is selling and immediately put through further instructions to their factories.

my belt, and a small pouch

I never mentioned this hip pouch that I bought from Redbird Style before we left. I love it. It held my passport, phone and/or camera and some extra money close to my body and under my coat but didn’t mean that I succumbed to the money pouch thing. And I requested one with a removable pouch so I could also use it as a belt. (A note for the fabric buyers among you, yes both the skirt and the pouch are from recent Alexander Henry home collections, and it was a complete coincidence. But they go together pretty well.)

a billboard in the metro with a bearded guy, two pretty girls, and some fireplaces shown on the side

This was a billboard we saw in the Metro a lot. I didn’t pay much attention and thought it was an ad for jazz music, maybe? But focusing on it revealed it was probably trying to sell us fireplaces. Sexy, sexy fireplaces.

La Grande Arche, huuuge

We exited the Metro (RER? can’t remember) and up to a wide courtyard looking right up at the La Grande Arche. I didn’t know this at the time but it’s deep enough that it forms a perfect square, the sides hold government offices, the roof holds a convention center, and visitors can go to see the view from the roof, more at Wikipedia. It was impressive, but it was also so windy it sucked the breath right out of us. So I got a picture of the thumb before we retreated indoors:

a giant thumb

We found ourselves in a McDonalds. It was hard to tell at first. I like the lamps off in the corner:

interior of McDonalds, looking like a modern restaurant

But I spotted the McMacarons I had read about from Cakespy‘s Twitter just a day before.

McMacarons

Half of the shops in the mall were closed so we went home and poked around the neighorhood a bit more, we bought sandwiches for the plane and I found more interesting chips:

steak flavored potato chips

I love the color of this door, which we could see from our living room:

a blue door

I adore the window decal of the street lamp in this apartment window:

window decal of a street lamp in a window

And I found one more space invader:

the last invader I found

We spent some time packing, and I’m really glad we did since I barely fit everything. (I would have last-minute packing worry dreams for a few days after we got home.) Then we went to grab burgers at the window that was just down from the crepes and just across from the falafel places:

outside the burger window

You know what isn’t so smart? Asking for cheeseburger at a Kosher restaurant. Oops. Luckily it seems like maybe I wasn’t the first person to do this and they had good humor about the request. Scott picked a random drink for his meal, which we later found was lemonade and beer mixed together:

Panache can

I’m glad we spent the last night in our own neighborhood, I’ll miss the Marais.

Then we sipped wine and watched some of the last of the Olympics coverage, barely, barely staying awake for the end of the US vs. Canada hockey game.

Things I learned the hard way:

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· comments [20] · 03-29-2010 · categories:travel ·

My Vacation Slides: Paris Day 9, accordions and chestnuts

Sacre-Coeur and the sky

The next day we were back in Paris, it was overcast but not actually raining so we headed to Monmarte to see Sacré-Cœur, and the view from the top of the steps.

funicular rails headed up

If you take the Metro in your ticket will allow you to also take the funicular (hillside tram). The path from the Metro stop to the funicular is through a narrow street packed full of people. There are fabric shops (nothing I spied looked of interest, sadly) and clothing (maybe resale?) shops that sell goods by weight. It was Saturday and chaotic, so hold onto your bags and zip your pockets.

my boots and cobblestones, looking down

A little warning for you, at the base of the steps leading up to Sacré-Cœur and near the funicular you’re likely to run into what were introduced to me as the String Men. They are an aggressive lot of hustlers who approach you and tie a string around your wrist if you’re not looking, then ask you for money since they’ve given you something. We encountered some and, honestly, they were creepy, fast and freaked me out a bit. So, look out for them, keep your hands in your pockets or crossed in front of you, and you might not have to deal with them. This part of Monmarte, where all the tourists are, is reportedly the worst of it, the rest is a fairly normal neighborhood.

a lady dressed in a 19th-century gown wearing a flower festooned hat and playing an accordion

At the top of the funicular sat this lady playing an accordion. Check out the shoes. According to the flyer on her van she also does burlesque.

statue of a soldier on a horse

You can do a look inside the church, and it’s amazing inside, though in terms of designs I liked the interior of Notre Dame more. You have to stay very quiet, pictures of any sort are forbidden, and all men have to take off hats. We sat and watched the guard who is in charge of requesting the removal of hats for a while.

people hanging out on the steps of Sacre-Coeur

It was Saturday so there were lots of people sitting on the steps looking at the view.

two bridal parties having pictures taken, upstaing a Bob Marley singing busker

This poor busker was somewhat upstaged by not one, but two bridal parties there to get pictures.

one of the ubiquitous green trash bags in Paris

All around Paris are these metal stands with translucent plastic bags where you can dump your trash. They’re very convenient, not creepy, and stay far more clean seeming than the heavy city trash cans I’m used to.

a bag of roasted chestnuts

On the way back down to the Metro I got a small bag of roasted chestnuts. I love chestnuts.

striped upholstry on the seat of the train

The colorful striped train seat caught my eye.

out of focus Eiffel Tower, while it was flashing

That night we took one of those boat tours of the Seine on the Bateaus-Mouches. It was raining again, pelting actually, so we sat inside below (as opposed to the outdoors seating on the top). We passed a lot of beautiful buildings but the out of focus shot of the Eiffel Tower doing it’s sparkly light show best illustrates the ride. Should you find yourself in the same situation I recommend sitting on the left side of the boat, it’s actually easier to look up and see the various monuments and palaces across the river on the far side than from the right side of the inside of the boat. They have a recorded tour playing but it points out things to the port and starboard sides, and besides a few facts doesn’t add a huge amount of information.

We were soaking wet and half an hour late for dinner, but the restaurant was gracious about it, thank goodness. And so some of the best roasted chicken in my life was had at La Rotisserie d’En Face.

Stuff learned the hard way:

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· comments [21] · 03-25-2010 · categories:travel ·

My Vacation Slides: Day 8, Rain Gods and cake for elevenses

my feet standing at the stairs of a double decker bus

It was on this day that I started to suspect I might be a rain god. We had planned to spend the morning visiting either a grand estate, or having good old fashioned tea in a large family home. But it was raining again, and when we stepped out the front door my umbrella blew inside out. So we headed to see more of Nottingham, and Scott and I rode a double decker bus for the first time, the staircase of which is shown above.

Missed photo opportunity here: Laura and Andy still get milk delivered and I forgot to grab a picture of it waiting on the stoop.

a rainy bus window

It was so rainy we couldn’t see anything from the front window of the two-story bus. It was still thrilling to ride it, though.

old tombstones used as paving stones

First we visited a very old church. Outside they used old tombstones to pave the courtyard.

memorial stones set in the floor

Some very old, very dead people.

a unicorn statue

A unicorn!

two lovers

The entryway had big heavy doors with different tiles, this one was my favorite.

three boxes for money labeled Poor, Flowers and another one for Requests

small gold fork

Then it was nearly eleven in the morning and we figured it was time for cake. We went to The Walk, which had recently been profiled in the New York Times. The place was lovely and cozy and offered an impressive display of cakes. The waitresses all wore fascinators in their hair. The dishes and tea pots are all different, and I especially liked my fancy fork.

lemon and cream cake

This lemon cake was so good. I want to fly back so I can eat more.

battengerg cake

And you might not believe me but this Battenberg Cake was delicious as well, even the almond paste covering was yummy.

a wide upholstered chair

Then it was another stroll through John Lewis where I fell hard for this chair. The smiling man in the background was happy enough to end up in the frame as long as I didn’t mind.

cake forks, with a wider side for cutting

Cake forks! Forks are made just for eating cake. We need a set of these.

a tow food long chocolate egg

The British are serious about their chocolate Easter treats, and I think this was the largest chocolate egg we saw on our trip.

packages of chocolate pigs

I forgot to mention that I did buy some yardage from John Lewis, some of which is laminated and I didn’t realize under after it was cut that perhaps folding it and shoving it into a suitcase wasn’t the greatest idea. Luckily it made it home just fine.

Worchester Sauce flavored chips

We bought sandwiches for the train and I got a picture of these chips, but I couldn’t bring myself to buy them.

the back yard

Then it was back to Laura and Andy’s house for lunch. They have a lovely back yard and I was sad it was too wet to sit outside and look at it.

close up of mushrooms and lemon zest, with a cat in the background

Daisy was interested in what was being prepared.

Scott

I have such trouble getting pictures of Scott without the “someone is taking a picture of me” face. I have the same problem myself.

pasta on a plate, still steaming

Lunch was delicious, pasta with lemon, mushrooms, thyme I think and just a bit of garlic. It was perfect for an almost-Spring but still cold and damp day.

Then it was off to the train. On the way to the station we passed this, the only one of it’s kind in the UK:

a Hooters restaurant

On behalf of all reasonable Americans I would like to apologize to the entirety of the UK. We are sorry.

Thing I learned the hard way

Umbrellas: it’s worth investing in one that won’t turn inside out.

Previously: Day One arrival and beating jet lag; Day Two big impressive monuments, unexpected meetings, needing to pee; Day Three The Metro, a museum, and French onion soup; Day Four dogs in paintings, startlingly large arches and towers; Day Five pastries and scoldings; Day Five the bit about the mangosteens; Day Six trains and vegetables; Day 7, Ye Olde-est Pub in England and a giant space suit

Next up: Day Nine accordions and chestnuts

· comments [24] · 03-24-2010 · categories:travel ·

My Vacation Slides: Day 7, Ye Olde-est Pub in England and a giant space suit

a corner street in Nottingham

After sleeping in we headed out late to explore Nottingham, which was sadly rainy most of the day. I’m sorry I didn’t get pictures of breakfast, Laura and Andy had an enormous variety of delicious foods for us to sample. It was downright luxurious. Best, though, was their own homemade bread with lots of real butter. Mmmmm.

the Sky Mirror, reflecting a nearby building and sky, upside down, like in a spoon

Above is the Sky Mirror, and it must be stunning on clear days with blue skies. As is it was pretty impressive. Next we went to the castle, an ancient structure that I didn’t get any decent pictures of. The grounds allow you views across the river and below you can see this old house set into the cliff, notice the roof of the round room in the corner.

a house built into a recessed carved into a hill

Then it was over to see the statue of, what else?, Robin Hood.

Robin Hood statue

And at this point it was nearly 11 a.m. and we happened to be near the oldest pub in England, Trip to Jerusalem. Here is the base of the hill below the castle, on the way to the pub. I can only imagine what is on the other side of these doors.

old doors built into the side of a hill

Here it is:

Ye Olde pub

“Ye Olde” is actually in the name! It was interesting inside, all the rooms are carved from the stone and they are connected by narrow staircases, making the whole thing feel like a very civilized ant colony. With beer.

a pub room carved out of the rock in the hillside

Looking up at the ceiling.

a skylight carved out of the overhead rock

Proof that we actually had beers:

two glasses of beer

a scary, spiky chain

Next we wandered into the shopping areas and had a peek inside of Paul Smith. I really liked his perfumes, but was too intimidated to take a picture inside the shop. Just outside are two old red phone boxes, which Laura reports are disappearing.

two red phone boxes

Next we were off to Nottingham Contemporary art gallery to have a look at their space related exhibits and eat lunch in the cafe there, nice presentation for a humble burger:

burger on a rectangular plate with a smear of ketchup artfully painted in front of it

I had to take a picture of the Royal Shield of Arms coins designed by Matt Dent, that all fit together like this. We only had three:

three UK coins designed by Matt Dent

The most impressive thing on show at the gallery was this giant space suited man:

a 40 foot space suit

You can see the room guard sitting against the back wall just off to the right near the shoe, that black smudge? That’s the guy.

We could walk inside of the giant spaceman, here is Scott and Laura peeking into the helmet area where a pod chair was positioned so you could sit and look up out of visor:

interior of the space suit, like a round white tent

detail of the lacing at the foot of the space suit

I liked the details, these eyelets must have been made with the rings that go around burners in stoves? Or something?

They had held a futuristic fashion show inside the spaceman, here are a few of the outfits that were on display:

three futuristic dresses, one covered in eyeballs

We ended the day with a trip to John Lewis. I tried to be discreet about taking pictures so please excuse the following, but I wanted to show how they sell fabric and yarn right in the store:

dress fabric at John Lewis

yarn at John Lewis

Upstairs was yardage of home design weight fabrics, lots of it also came laminated:

laminated interiors fabric at John Lewis

a car-less street corner in Nottingham

Downtown Nottingham was lovely, despite the overcast day. The interior roads are closed to traffic except for transit vehicles, and there are wide areas just for pedestrians. People were walking all around, it was calm and quiet without the sounds of rushing traffic and so nice. I really wish there were more cities in the US that were able to treat the main areas like this. Between all the great shops and the fantastic transportation I’ve decided I’d like to live in Nottingham, though Laura and Andy assure me I’d like Manchester a bit better.

A small traveling version of the London Eye happened to be set up while we were there. (Ok, fine, it’s just a regular ferris wheel, but look! a ferris wheel!):

ferris wheel in the Nottingham main square

update: I completely forgot to talk about our trip to the Muji store here. It was fantastic. I was so involved in shopping I completely forgot to get pictures. I bought a travel organizer (I’ve been throwing everything into one barrel shaped bag and, well, it doesn’t work all that well), three ice trays (marbles, spoons and diamonds!), two foaming soap containers which work much better than my very-reused old ones, some office supplies, some of those wooden block city sets (Paris and London) and I narrowly escaped before buying some furniture.

Back at Laura and Andy’s home we were treated to Toad in the Hole with vegetarian sausages, it was delicious. I think they said this was a Jamie Oliver recipe.

toad in the hole

And dessert were two puddings we had picked out at Marks and Spencer foods the night before. Spotted Dick! and Sticky Toffee Pudding!

spotted dick!

sticky toffee pudding

We wound down the day by getting comfy with Daisy:

Daisy sitting on my lap

And eating as many Cadbury Easter chocolates as possible. The creme eggs and mini eggs taste so much better than the ones we get in the US.

Cadbury creme eggs and mini eggs

Things I Learned the Hard Way

[Read more →]

· comments [28] · 03-18-2010 · categories:travel ·

My Vacation Slides: Paris Day 6, trains and vegetables

the ceiling of St Pancras station in London

On day six we took the Eurostar to London and a National Rail train to Nottingham to visit a our friends Laura (Busywork) and Andy. I was very excited about taking the train but, turns out, it wasn’t as exciting as I’d hoped. We did end up going through the Chunnel, but they didn’t announce it or anything. It just got dark, and a few minutes later we were in the UK.

my feet at St Pancras, trying to figure out which way to go

We did get some great advice from Laura on how to book a good train ticket, and I’ve added my own below.

We were hoping for more time in St. Pancras station since it’s filled with nice stores, and we were hoping to go next door to get a picture of Platform 9 3/4, but our train was late and by the time we found where to get our tickets and grabbed some food it was time to find the new train.

vegetables!

At this point in our trip I was in desperate need of some vegetables. I was over the moon to find some prepared broccoli and soba noodles with carrots! At this point these were the most precious and delicious things in my world. I was giddy while eating them, it was terribly silly.

I also spotted Scotch Eggs!

Scotch Eggs!

And these cute meat pies:

meat pies!

We were met at the Nottingham station (so nice!) and were soon exploring the neighborhood. First we went to the Nottingham Craft Mafia pop-up store. Apparently it had started as a temporary shop set up for the holidays but was so successful they stayed. It’s full of great things:

Nottingham Craft Mafia pop-up store

Nottingham Craft Mafia pop-up store

Nottingham Craft Mafia pop-up store

Nottingham Craft Mafia pop-up store

cat, hanging out in the chairs inside the bank lobby

We passed a bank and Laura and Andy pointed out this cat who waits at the front door in the moring, comes inside and hangs out in the lobby all day, and leaves at night. Smart cat.

After this we went to Boots! I bought some Travel Calm (motion sickness pills that we can’t get in the states, and don’t have the heavy drowsy side effect of Dramamine) and looked through all the many goods. I didn’t buy nearly enough stuff here.

And then we went to a Marks and Spencer’s food store, it was amazing. Trader Joe’s pales in comparison.

MS frozen foods aisle

MS crisps aisle

The flavors of crisps here were amazing. I think we bought Honey Roasted Whiltshire Ham, which tasted uncannily like any barbeque flavored chip.

peppermint humbugs

chocolate buttons

Chocolate buttons.

dessert spoons made of cookie

Look! Dessert spoons.

Later Scott got a Malteasers milk shake:

Malteasers milkshake

I was very tired so we all went to bed early.

Things I Learned the Hard Way

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· comments [26] · 03-17-2010 · categories:travel ·

My Vacation Slides: Paris, the bit about the mangosteens

buying mangosteens at La Grand Epicerie

While we were in La Grand Epicerie we came across some mangosteens. I’d heard of these before but was most intrigued by Maggie Mason’s report about finding a stash in Chinatown. They had been illegal to import into the US for a long time, and at the time I bought these I thought they still were, but Maggie updated her entry to say: “they were cleared for U.S. import in 2007 and small quantities are grown in Puerto Rico, mostly for gourmet restaurants.” You know what? Thinking they were sneaky commodities in the US made buying them in Paris thrilling. I’m glad I got to taste them as forbidden fruit. We took them to us when we went to go visit our friends Laura and Andy in Nottingham.

mangosteens, exteriors

mangosteen cut in half, fat white fruit in cloves

mangosteen cloves separated, they have veins and look like a small bodily organ of some sort

They look strangely organic inside, and it was hard to get Scott, let alone Laura and Andy, whom are vegetarians, to try it. But once they did we all agreed, delicious. If a little difficult to get the fruit off of the seeds present in the larger sections.

That said, here I thought I was being all fancy buying rare fruit at an upscale grocery store. A few days we found them much closer to our apartment in Paris. How close? We could actually see them from our living room window. Here, let me zoom in on them for you:

the view of the intersection from our apartment

the fruit stand just across the street

aaand the basket of mangosteens at said fruit stand, right across the street

Previously: Day One arrival and beating jet lag; Day Two big impressive monuments, unexpected meetings, needing to pee; Day Three The Metro, a museum, and French onion soup; Day Four dogs in paintings, startlingly large arches and towers; Day Five pastries and scoldings.

Next up: Day Six trains and vegetables

· comments [23] · 03-10-2010 · categories:travel ·

My Vacation Slides: Paris Day 5, pastries and scoldings

real egg shells, allegedly filled with chocolate, broken ends covered with a sticker

This day was filled with going to visit fabulous chocolate and food shops, and being scolded for taking the photo above (more on that later). I made ourselves a route through the city that involved the closest Metro stops (my feet were tired). It was ambitious and we skipped a number of things, but everything we saw was amazing.

Space Invader mural spotting #4

On our way to the fist stop Scott spotted this Invader at about knee-height. It was near this alley, which I really wanted to explore, and housed this, um, Tex Mex restaurant.

a Paris alley, a Tex Mex restaurant

chocolate ballerinas in the window of Roger Patrick

First we headed to Roger Patrick simply because Clotilde’s Edible Adventures In Paris listed it as having fabulous window displays. They were kind enough to let me take some photos but I didn’t get many before other customers came in, and I didn’t want to get in the way.

Here are the dancing ladies from inside the store:

chocolate ballerinas, from inside the chocolate shop

I loved how the chocolate on their tutus was so transparently thin:

light showing through the thinnest part of a chocolate tutu ruffle

pistachio topped chocolate bars

sugar covered fruit jelee

We bought a few things and on the way out they gave us samples of thin chocolates with a layer of lime ganache which was amazing. Not too sweet, and so fresh tasting.

Next to Pierre Herme. They were also kind enough to let me take some pictures but again, I was feeling timid and only got a few.

macarons from Pierra Herme

The people behind the counter were all wearing chocolate brown clothing and different colored aprons that matched the various colors of macarons. It was a nice touch.

deserts on display at Pierre Herme, one is a layered jelly treat, topped with corn kernels and flecks of gold leaf

Kernels of corn and gold leaf. Why didn’t I buy this dessert to try?

chocolate desert domes

Inside Pierre Herme I found a whole bar of Porcelana chocolate. I did a little excited hop (I hope nobody noticed). I first heard about Porcelana chocolate on The Splendid Table. It’s made from beans which are very good, and in short supply as they come from tiny region, you can read more at Chocolate Speak, and find a reivew of the Pierre Herme bar, which it turns out was made by Valhrona!, over at Choqoa. I had not tried Porcelana yet simply because I was too lazy to order it from the internets. I really liked this chocolate bar, but Choqoa found it to be not as good as other Porcelana. I’ll have to seek out more to taste.

Pierre Herme Porcelana chocolate bar

Today we took our own advice and stopped for lunch with glasses of rose. It was our first time ordering on our own and luckily we got a patient waitress who didn’t seem to mind our jumble of shopping bags and umbrellas. I loved these small, wide glasses that we sipped our liter of bubbly water out of (turns out, a liter isn’t too big for two unexpectedly thirsty people).

small water glasses on our lunch table

After lunch we traveled down to La Grand Epicerie at the Bon Marche. First we slipped into Bon Marche to do a little bit of furniture gazing, and passing the cafe I found the sugar cubes that hang on the edge of a mug, these are the things that inspired my tiny gingerbread house project.

a heart shaped sugar cube with a slot that allows it to hang on the edge of a teacup

They had a few other kinds displayed, I really liked the black and white options:

black and white sugar cube rounds, stacked

stacked flat sugar cubes

La Grand Epicerie is a large gourmet store with lots of everything. I was, of course, most attracted to the candies:

display of all sorts of brightly colored dragees

clear plastic shake cups filled with layers of colorful candies

a box of sugar cubes shaped and colored to look like random buttons

bird shaped sugar cubes that also perch on the edge of a mug

I love the perching birds. I tried to get bird or butterfly shaped cookies to do this but couldn’t get the slot width quite right. I think I’m going to take the cookies on again soon.

silver jimmies

a candy colored sugar rose, on an adjustable metal ring

These sugar rose rings were stunning. Wish I’d bought one.

hand rolled tea leaves

there was lots of champagne on display

real egg shells, allegedly filled with chocolate, broken ends covered with a sticker

On the end of the confectionery counter I spotted this flat of real eggshells with shamrock stickers covering what I’m assuming was a hole in the bottom where they’d been filled with chocolate. About .002 seconds after I snapped this picture I heard someone hissing “mademoiselle” and I looked up to see the face of the counter lady looking at me with an amount of angry disapproval that I have not seen since the nuns in my Catholic school years who had successfully hunted down somebody chewing gum. Luckily she was helping somebody else who was standing between her and me so I slipped away. Oops.

I suspected they were perhaps chocolate and praline filled eggs, but I dared not go back inquire. I had seen these real eggshell treats on the Dean & Deluca website ages ago and was always intrigued by them, wondering how they sterilized the eggshells. (You can find a picture of the Dean & Deluca ones here at Blue Badger.) I figured it must be something like an autoclave. Then a few years later Martha Stewart made chocolate filled real eggshells and simply boiled the emptied eggshells. Duh.

But I’d been thinking about these praline eggs for years, which means I really, really wanted to get closer to them. I wanted to own one! But I could change my clothes, bleach my hair and draw a mustache on my face and I suspect that counter lady would recognize me and not let me near.

We formulated a plan over coffee:

shopping bags and bags of sugar on a cafe table

Scott, my ever willing assistant, circled back to spy on the eggs. He reported that she was placing each in a bag, closing the bag, then packing them into cardboard boxes and, gasp, putting the boxes beneath the counter. They were out of my reach. Darn.

shot of a us in line with a mysterious bags

I was a little consoled by our ultimate purchase, mangosteens, which I’ll talk about more tomorrow.

Then we headed to Fauchon. Again, they were nice enough to let me take pictures. At this point were too tired to do much but gawk.

a cake a Fauchon with twists of what appears to be marshmallow on top

Such cute little knots.

a black truffle the size of a baby, seriously

They had this HUGE truffle in the window.

praline confections on sticks

These praline pops nearly had me looking around to see if Bakeralla was in the shop.

We stopped at the nearby flower market on our way home:

my feet and buckets of colorful flowers

That night we met Cakespy and company back at L’As du Falafel for dinner. They told us about Versailles, ice cream, which pastries we should seek out, and a vegetarian restaurant they had stumbled across:

a plate of hummus

You can find a review for Le Potager du Marais at Living on the Vedge. Jessie and company reported the food was great, but unless you’re vegan go ahead and get dessert in one of the amazing patisseries around Paris.

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· comments [31] · 03-9-2010 · categories:travel ·

My Vacation Slides: Paris Day 4, dogs in paintings, startlingly large arches and towers

Today we went to see this:

the Eiffel Tower, lit in front of a not dark yet sky

But first we had coffee in the apartment. Here is Scott in the morning, in Paris (I still find it exciting):

Scott with a coffee cup, Paris apartments seen through the window behind him

Then we were off with our handy museum passes to the Louvre. We came up through the Metro stop to find ourselves in an underground shopping mall. Turns out, one of the ways into the main lobby of the Louvre is through the mall. The downward facing pyramid is just outside the Apple store:

the downward pyramid at the Louvre entrance, Apple store just behind

At the museum I headed straight to the section for Georges de La Tour. In college one of my art history assignments was to go stare at The Fortune Teller for at least twenty minutes and then report on what was going on in the painting. It was fun to discover all the eye lines and triangular arrangements on my own. When I see that painting now it’s pretty obvious that the guy is having his pocket picked, but at that time I wouldn’t have known to look at a painting that closely, or even that (what I still considered boring old) artwork would have such exciting stories inside them.

We got to see the candlelight through the fingers effect up close:

candlelight peeking through the fingers of a child, detail of the painting

And examine The Cheat:

de La Tour's The Cheat

And find out the de La Tour wasn’t such a nice guy:

The life of Georges de La Tour is still a mystery but what has been discovered exposes a grasping, violent, unlikeable character, scarcely resembling the deep and moving humanity of his paintings.

We finished walking around that wing taking note of all the dogs in paintings:

dosg in paintings amuse us

Nicole of Immortal Dog (whom we bumped into two days previous to this one) will be doing some reports of dogs in the paintings there, I’m looking forward to learning more about them.

Afterward we did the basics. The Venus de Milo:

the Venus di Milo, from the back

People were crowded around so we went around to the back. Scott wanted me to get a picture of her plumber’s butt, I complied.

The Winged Victory of Samothrace is huge and impressive

The Winged Victory of Samothrace statue was huge (much larger than it looks here), and really lovely. Nearby they have a sketch of what it would look like with a head and arms. I think I like the broken version far better.

Then up and down and around a few staircases and down a long hallway to see th Mona Lisa. This is as good a shot as I got:

a blurry Mona Lisa as seen over the heads of the crowd surrounding it

It was both smaller and larger than we expected after hearing the reports from lots of people. And of course the effect of getting to see it in person was ruined a bit by the crush of people and the poor museum employee whose job it was to sternly tell people to turn off the flash on their cameras.

After this we were suddenly hangry and headed back to the lobby to get the nearest cookie into me. Later we were told there is a little cafe just on the other side of the wall from the Mona Lisa. Good to know, it was a long way back to the lobby.

As one might expect eating in the museums was less than inspiring, but we fell into the trap of letting ourselves get over tired and hungry. It was very easy to do this and I encourage you to stop and eat every, oh say, two hours no matter if you’re in a museum or wandering through the streets. By the time we were a little bit past a mealtime we were often far from the apartment and at that sugar-low point that mean one of us was cranky, one was hyper, one was apathetic, one had blisters and none of us could make a decision on what to do next. The answer, every single time, is: find the nearest cafe and order the nearest wine. Or preferably preempt the situation altogether with frequent preemptive wine and snacks.

stading beneath the arc, looking straight up

After eating our emergency museum lobby lunch we headed to see the Arc de Triomphe. There is a walkway that takes you down below the street level and back up to the outside of the arc. Even if you have no intention of tackling the stairs it is worth going out to see it up close. It wasn’t too expensive to head up inside, but it was a lot of stairs:

spiral stairs heading up into the arc

We made a few “Look kids, it’s Big Ben” jokes watching the traffic below.

a traffic jam in the circle around the arc

The interior of the arc has a few floors with displays, restrooms, a small gift shop, and some benches where you can sit and whine about the stairs.

There is also this screen showing the live feed of the people standing just below you. That medallion in the ground is where I’d been standing to take the picture upwards that is above. Little did I know I was taking a picture of a camera that was taking a picture of me.

screen showing a live feed of the people on the ground below the spot we were standing

From on top you can walk around and see in all directions. We tried to get a picture of ourselves with the Eiffel Tower in the background and failed to do so several times:

windy pictures of us not capturing the Eiffel Tower just behind us

I loved the stairs so darn much I took a picture of them on the way down too:

sprial stairs headed down

The weather was behaving itself for the most part so we headed to the Eiffel Tower. Eiffel Tower!

look up at the Eiffel Tower

You wait in line to get tickets, it wasn’t too bad on the day we were there but the uppermost floors were closed. Which was ok because the Eiffel Tower? So much larger than we thought. Huge. No pictures do it justice. The upper floor must be terrifying. (I desperately want to go up to it!)

the sky as seen from standing underneath the massive Eiffel Tower

I think you can walk up stairs to the first floor for free. Or you can buy tickets that will take you to the second floor, where there are the usual restrooms, gift shops and benches. We saw a rainbow:

standing on the second floor of the tower, looking out towards the city, a rainbow in the distance

There were some areas closed for construction and graffiti in all languages was scrawled onto it.

graffiti on a temporary wall saying 'Jimmy McLucas was h'

I suspect Jimmy McLucas was… caught by his parents writing on the wall.

view from a moving sidewalk in the Metro

We wandered around in the dark/wind/rain looking for a Metro stop (this is one of those moments when we turned on the Data Roaming, for some reason the Lonely Planet app was only giving us a vague idea of where we were).

yummy falafel

Then we were tired so got falafel from the places near the apartment for dinner. It was yummy. The most well known of the falafel places is L’As du Falafel, but in Clotilde’s book she mentions that the other places nearby (all within a block, one just across the narrow street) are equally good. At L’As du Falafel you can sit inside or get food from the window. From our apartment we often saw people eating falafel or crepes while walking past.

The stuff I learned the hard way

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· comments [27] · 03-5-2010 · categories:travel ·