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  · 04-20-2010 · categories:iphone · links · travel ·
· comments  · 04-7-2010 · categories:links · travel ·
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.)
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  · 04-7-2010 · categories:food · travel ·
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.
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:
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!
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:
Look, my chicken has a red mustache.
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.
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).
We went out for big burgers to make me feel a bit better.
Stuff learned the hard way
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· comments  · 03-30-2010 · categories:travel ·
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:
And when the crepe guy finally opened we got crepes:
Watching him work was huge fun.
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.
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.)
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.
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:
We found ourselves in a McDonalds. It was hard to tell at first. I like the lamps off in the corner:
But I spotted the McMacarons I had read about from Cakespy‘s Twitter just a day before.
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:
I love the color of this door, which we could see from our living room:
I adore the window decal of the street lamp in this apartment window:
And I found one more space invader:
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:
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:
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  · 03-29-2010 · categories:travel ·
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It was Saturday so there were lots of people sitting on the steps looking at the view.
This poor busker was somewhat upstaged by not one, but two bridal parties there to get pictures.
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.
On the way back down to the Metro I got a small bag of roasted chestnuts. I love chestnuts.
The colorful striped train seat caught my eye.
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  · 03-25-2010 · categories:travel ·
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.
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.
First we visited a very old church. Outside they used old tombstones to pave the courtyard.
Some very old, very dead people.
The entryway had big heavy doors with different tiles, this one was my favorite.
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.
This lemon cake was so good. I want to fly back so I can eat more.
And you might not believe me but this Battenberg Cake was delicious as well, even the almond paste covering was yummy.
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! Forks are made just for eating cake. We need a set of these.
The British are serious about their chocolate Easter treats, and I think this was the largest chocolate egg we saw on our trip.
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.
We bought sandwiches for the train and I got a picture of these chips, but I couldn’t bring myself to buy them.
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.
Daisy was interested in what was being prepared.
I have such trouble getting pictures of Scott without the “someone is taking a picture of me” face. I have the same problem myself.
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:
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  · 03-24-2010 · categories:travel ·
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.
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.
Then it was over to see the statue of, what else?, Robin Hood.
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.
Here it is:
“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.
Looking up at the ceiling.
Proof that we actually had beers:
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.
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:
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:
The most impressive thing on show at the gallery was this giant space suited man:
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:
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:
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:
Upstairs was yardage of home design weight fabrics, lots of it also came laminated:
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!):
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.
And dessert were two puddings we had picked out at Marks and Spencer foods the night before. Spotted Dick! and Sticky Toffee Pudding!
We wound down the day by getting comfy with Daisy:
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.
Things I Learned the Hard Way
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· comments  · 03-18-2010 · categories:travel ·
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.
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.
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!
And these cute 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:
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.
The flavors of crisps here were amazing. I think we bought Honey Roasted Whiltshire Ham, which tasted uncannily like any barbeque flavored chip.
Look! Dessert spoons.
Later Scott got a Malteasers milk shake:
I was very tired so we all went to bed early.
Things I Learned the Hard Way
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· comments  · 03-17-2010 · categories:travel ·
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.
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:
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  · 03-10-2010 · categories:travel ·
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.
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.
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:
I loved how the chocolate on their tutus was so transparently thin:
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.
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.
Kernels of corn and gold leaf. Why didn’t I buy this dessert to try?
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.
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).
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.
They had a few other kinds displayed, I really liked the black and white options:
La Grand Epicerie is a large gourmet store with lots of everything. I was, of course, most attracted to the candies:
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.
These sugar rose rings were stunning. Wish I’d bought one.
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:
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.
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.
Such cute little knots.
They had this HUGE truffle in the window.
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:
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:
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  · 03-9-2010 · categories:travel ·
Today we went to see this:
But first we had coffee in the apartment. Here is Scott in the morning, in Paris (I still find it exciting):
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:
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:
And examine The Cheat:
And find out the de La Tour wasn’t such a nice guy:
We finished walking around that wing taking note of all the dogs in paintings:
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:
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 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:
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.
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:
We made a few “Look kids, it’s Big Ben” jokes watching the traffic below.
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.
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:
I loved the stairs so darn much I took a picture of them on the way down too:
The weather was behaving itself for the most part so we headed to the Eiffel Tower. 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!)
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:
There were some areas closed for construction and graffiti in all languages was scrawled onto it.
I suspect Jimmy McLucas was… caught by his parents writing on the wall.
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).
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  · 03-5-2010 · categories:travel ·
On day three we took our museum passes and headed to the Musee D’Orsay. We walked a bit then decided to tackle the Metro as it was cold and sprinkling. Except, the nearest stop was actually for the RER which you can use Metro tickets for within Paris (more on this below).
Some of the RER trains are double decker!
At the Musee D’Orsay we waltzed past the ticket line, flashed our passes and had them dated, and we were inside.
The D’Orsay is inside a grand old railway station built for the 1900 World’s Fair. There is a restaurant on the upper level that has a great view, and a terrace in the summer. I didn’t take any pictures of the Impressionist artwork here, probably because there were so many people crushed around each painting and sculpture — when we were there the museum was being renovated so the paintings were displayed in rooms smaller than, I suspect, they normally would be.
At the end of the museum they have a model of the city under a glass floor. It’s scratched and hard to make out, but still fun to walk on. I think we’re standing on the opera house here.:
Upstairs is more decorative art, as well as an entire room. I like the light swags here:
Apparently I have trouble taking photos that are lined straight up and down. Forgive me, I suspect I view the world a little off kilter and it only really comes out when I try to hold a camera up straight.
These spoons and platters caught my eye as well:
Scott and I felt a bit naughty taking this mirror pic:
This painting kept my attention for a while while we were sitting on some stairs resting. I only took a few art history classes in college but it turns out I learned, and dimly remember, a lot more than I expected. I think the one figure in this painting that is looking straight out towards the viewer is an image of the artist himself, but I have not had time to properly research this:
Back home for a while, where I took these photos of what the street in front of our apartment typically looked like:
Most people in Paris wore black or dark coats that were belted or nipped in at the waist, I saw lots of boots, and the big scarves were there as had been reported. In fact, Scott has been inspired to start wearing larger, warmer scarves in the winter because he’s seen how they can be both warm, stylish and manly. I never really noticed anybody wearing jeans, which means they must have been really good jeans. Nearly everybody had across-the-body bags, all of them looked like they’d been carefully picked out. Umbrellas were common when it rained (which was the entire time we were there). Maggi and I cannot figure out how the Parisian women manage to wear heels so often. Perhaps they stop in cafes frequently for a little sit down?
We saw lots of rolling luggage both on the street and down in the Metro and RER. Later we took the Metro to get ourselves onboard the Eurostar and didn’t feel out of place at all. (Though again, I was never fooling anybody.)
After everybody had their feet up for a while we were off to dinner, and French onion soup, yum.
Today (this is me speaking in the present, that being March 4th) I saw a Smart Car in my neighborhood and I was struck by how tiny it looked in context here. We saw lots and lots of Smart Cars in Paris and they really only looked slightly smaller, in a practical way, than the other cars there. In fact, we took notice when we saw a full sized car, or heard a particularly loud one.
Things I learned the hard way
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· comments  · 03-5-2010 · categories:travel ·
Cafe Creme from the place that would become our usual.
Day two in Paris we rose early-ish to eat Pain au Chocolate and use the (yes!) coffeemaker in our apartment. We were pokey in getting ready, though, so we decided to head out for a second breakfast. Thus our collective love affair with full fat dairy products began.
Growing up in the US one might not expect butter to be so worthy of being the primary breakfast ingredient. It so is.
Even the apricot jam was amazing, and I’m not a jam person.
Then we were off. We spent the day walking first down towards the Seine where I spotted my first Invader just outside the St. Paul Metro station:
Over to one of the islands, Ile Saint-Louis, where Maggi (lucky girl!) used to live.
Then to Notre Dame, this is the back, notice how Scott appears to be texting while not staring in awe at the great cathedral?
Note: There are public restrooms on this side of Notre Dame. This can be a good thing to know.
Then to the front, to confront our first crowd and go inside.
I liked a lot of the designs I found inside:
As we were slowly winding our way around the interior of the cathedral with hundreds of others the PA system came on and a voice boomed the following message:
It was hilarious. Then he did it again. A small mass was starting and apparently the talking among the visitors was too much.
When we went outside again I took a picture of my feet at Kilometre Zero, the point considered the official center of Paris.
When the French cover a building to do some work, they make it look nice like:
Next we walked West along the Seine, up by the street. It was cold and rainy and vehicles rushed by and our view of the water was blocked by souvenir sellers and I was not at all happy. When we got to the Louvre we stopped to gawk at the exterior.
Then we walked through the Tuileries and it was only a few moments before we came across Jessie Oleson of Cakespy, her husband Danny who is a musician extraordinare of Speaker Speaker (rip) and Exohxo, Nicole of Immortal Dog and her favorite boy Ramone. I tried to get the Eiffel Tower in the background there, you know for proof. Cakespy’s Paris reports have been fantastic, you’ll learn so very much about French pastries. Start here and move forward in time to find all her Paris entries (at the point this entry goes up I believe she’ll still have lots more to post). Later we talked about the idea that none of us are the type of people who just run into friends while in a foreign city. But I guess now we are?
Jessie told us that Cafe Angelina was not far away so we went over to get lunch and hot chocolate:
The waiter never brought our change, meaning he thought (knew?) we were stupid Americans. (More on tipping below.) We called it a life lesson and left.
My feet, feeling dejected and ripped off, outside Cafe Angelina. Not far away Jeff was taking a photograph of a French man wearing a bright orange suit arguing with the traffic cops.
Next we did something smart, we headed to the tourism office and bought museum passes. It’s a little pass that gets you into many Paris museums for a stretch of consecutive days (two, four or six). If you’re dedicated to seeing museums it can save a whole lot of money. And, there is often a separate line for pass holders so you save a lot of time and get to just waltz inside and flash your pass as you enter.
We started walking East towards the Marais and home. We passed so many of these Velib bicycles, and saw so many people riding them, that I stopped to take a picture. The official Velib site is here and you can download the information in English, look for the British flag in the upper right hand corner of that page. We did not rent bicycles, partly because it never stopped drizzling while we were there, and partly because we were terrified of French traffic. But, it would have been lovely had we had sun and a route we knew would be nice.
Living in a hilly city I don’t really consider bicycles a mode of transportation that is right for me, though I have a lot of friends who bike all over Seattle. But Paris is mostly flat, something I hadn’t know beforehand, so walking and biking around it is really easy. Despite the crowds on the weekends I loved how people were out, everywhere, all the time. It was energizing and I really wish more cities in the US had car-unfriendly streets and such fantastic public transportation infrastructure that would allow for this much being out and around. I found the same to be true in Nottingham (which we visited a few days later into this trip).
I photographed invader #2 while standing in a crush of people.
Somebody needed to pee so we found our way down into Les Halles. Les Halles is a shopping center located inside a very old market, and most of it is in the three below ground floors. It is a terrible place and we recommend you avoid going there at all costs. Later we found one of our guidebooks call it a “pit of humanity” (or something equally dramatic). I mean it’s just a shopping mall but it’s a cramped, dark shopping mall underground. And underground in Paris means the whole place smells funny. We eventually did find the restrooms only to discover that it costs 0,50 Euros to use it. We only had 20 Euro bills. One of us (the Hero Maggi) went to buy something and get change while the rest of us attempted to get the attendant to make change for a 20, then just stared sadly at all the people going in an out. It feels not good to be blocked from a restroom by a pittance that you don’t have.
These pay restrooms are apparently common, though we never came across another one. While they may seem unfair to us Americans often they are a far preferred alternative to older hole-in-the-floor style toilets. Knowing this it’s easier to hand over your change and be grateful for something that flushes.
Invader #3 is close to the Paris Muji.
Afterward we set out to find a Philips head screwdriver somewhere on the way home. I suggested Muji, and nearby spotted my third invader. Muji Encounter #1 was disappointing, they were renovating the Paris store and had a smaller selection and, gasp, no kitchen items. We couldn’t find the screwdrivers (we did find them on a return visit, though a whole set would have had to be purchased). So we consulted the Lonely Plant Paris iPhone app, about $15 and very worth it more details below, and found that the nearby BHV, a large department store with, essentially, a Home Depot in the lower level. At this point it was crowded, we were hot, our feet hurt but we still needed groceries.
So we went to the grocery store and had fun examining strange new foods:
Strange trivia: The very next day Maggi and Jeff returned to the same Franprix grocery store to find it completely gutted, empty of all but shelf brackets. The shop showed no signs at all that it would be closing.
We took our ailing feet home, bought a few ingredients at the corner shop and cooked dinner in. The boys fell asleep on the couch:
We brought an extra down comforter out to the living room to use as a big blanket. I now always want a down comforter in my living room.
The stuff I learned the hard way
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· comments  · 03-4-2010 · categories:travel ·
It is now my job to force you to look at my vacation pictures. I’ll try to give you as much useful information on what I’ve learned (the hard way) at the bottom. If you’re a regular traveler that stuff will all be old news, but if you are, like me, new to these things I hope it will be helpful. Ready?
Our apartment rocked. After a long day and night traveling it was like arriving to find treasure. Above is a hastily stitched together view from the corner window in the living room. There is a horn player on the corner, which you cannot really make out. By the time we arrived we’d been up for about 24 hours. We were talking with the apartment greeter (an incredibly sweet lady) and suddenly there were horns playing. Both Maggi and myself assumed we were having auditory hallucinations, we were that tired.
The street shown above was never again as empty as it appears there. We were in the Marais, about two blocks from the St. Paul Metro station and two blocks in the other direction from the famous falafel place. The view was fantastic for people viewing as there was a steady stream of Parisians, tourists with maps looking around confusedly, bicycles, scooters, adorably tiny cars and lots and lots of people. I adored walking the streets in Paris as there are far more pedestrians than cars and you were able to wander in relative peace and gaze around.
That said, there were far more people than I expected. When I told people we were headed there in February the most common thing said was “well, it might be rainy but at least it will be empty!”. On Saturday and Sunday it was difficult to press through the streets to get home, and on any given day there was an overwhelming (watch-your-purse) amount of people about. I cannot imagine it in high season, it must be a nightmare.
There was a moment this first afternoon when my traveling companions went off to nap and I laid down on the (fabulous, huge, white, leather) couch with the windows propped open. All I could hear was the occasional scooter engine, soft conversation and lots and lots of muted footfalls. It was magical and not a sound I’m likely to hear in the US.
More views of the fabulous apartment (it was actually difficult to leave it some days):
The original floor boards were charming, but very creaky and loud, and so loose you could pinch your feet if you walked around barefoot. It was hard to get up for a glass of water at night without waking everybody up.
The kitchen was larger and better appointed than my own. It had a six burner stove! And, as far as I could tell from warming up my first Pain au Chocolat, the oven had never, ever been used.
The WC was painted entirely in a glossy red and was very dramatic.
We rented an apartment through Haven In Paris, which was recommended to me by Rockin’ Poncho (thank you!) and whom I wouldn’t hesitate in the least to use again. They took very good care of us. The apartment was $$$ but split between two couples, and with an unexpected off season discount, we were able to fit it into our collective budget. The apartment had everything we needed including, and this was so, so nice, a Mac laptop to use.
Fun fact: The French pronounce wi-fi as “wee fee”.
After unpacking and giving in to a brief nap we roused ourselves and ventured out to pick up some pastries for breakfast and have our first meal in France. Notice the little pool of fabulous butter in the middle of my potatoes here, I will always do this in the future:
Scott is a bit more adventurous than me and ordered the duck confit, which was delicious. And then we had creme brulee, it was, of course, amazing and so satisfying to crack with the spoon:
All of the waiters we encountered were friendly, or at least patient, with our little bit of French. We took to heart the advice to not ignore greeting when you enter a restaurant or shop, at least attempt to ask if somebody speaks English in French to show that you are trying (!), and be kind. Our traveling companions actually witnessed an ugly American moment where somebody at a different table was asking, loudly and slowly, for RED WINE which at which point their server gave up and walked away to let somebody else deal with them.
After dinner we went home along a different street and stumbled across the Muji store, which became something like another traveling companion on this trip.
Obligatory picture of mountains as seen from the plane.
The stuff I learned the hard way
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· comments  · 03-3-2010 · categories:travel ·