Sunday, January 24, 2010

Correcting the Saints

It isn't that the Saints made any mistakes, it was the blogger who erred. I confused Saint Denis with Saint Martin,  and mislabeled the canal photographs. Corrections have been made. The neighborhood we visited in Paris is known as Canal Saint Martin. Saint Denis may have lost his head, but The Urban Flaneur temporarily lost his memory. 
That's all I'm Saying !

Saturday, January 23, 2010

How could I have...

... forgotten the beautiful Marc Chagall designed windows at the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Reims. I have added six new photographs from Reims to the Paris set, right before the grand finale view of the Tour Eiffel. Reims was our day trip from Paris, via the TGV, or high speed train; the same high speed train where we waited in the slowest ticket line and so aptly described by Frank in his post. <<<<< Click to read.
It was a very chilly day in Reims, which seems to be a pattern for us. Ten years earlier, when we visited Chartres Cathedral, we had the chilliest day of that trip. We toured the lovely cathedral then headed to a warm and cozy Italian restaurant in Chartres. 
But back to Reims...the Cathedral, according to the entry in Wikipedia, has the second largest number of sculpted figures on its exterior in all of Europe, only exceeded by the number at Chartres. The beautiful stained glass windows of the Cathedral are from the 13th to the 20th century. The highlight for us was the Marc Chagall designed windows - simply wonderful. 

Click on the Tour Eiffel to view the Paris photographs. (Now including Reims)


Let's Go to Paris

We returned from Paris on January 5. Since then I have been sorting through the 500+ photographs from the trip to edit them down to a reasonable number for on-line viewing. I posted the London collection a few days ago, and today (ta-da) I am posting the Paris collection. Ah, the Paris Collection (with a capital C) sounds like Fashion Week in Paris; not quite, but fun none the less. I enjoy culling though all the pictures as it brings back great memories from the trip. 
The Paris set starts with a panoramic of the Louvre museum across the Seine. We then take a walk through the Left Bank, on to the Pompidou Center and the modern art museum. Next stop is the Place de Vosges, a delightful small square just a block from our Right Bank hotel. We then take a stroll through Ile de St. Louis, to Ile de la Cite and Notre Dame and the Memorial to the Deportees. As we wander the street of Paris, we visit a district we have not visited on previous trips, Canal St. Denis (he of lost head fame - see Notre Dame).  After a quick night shot of the Christmas decorations in Rue Cler, we see some of Paris in Black & White. For the grand finale we return to the Champ de Mars for a final look at the Eiffel Tower at night. Here we stood on New Years Eve, 2009, as we had on New Years Eve 1999. Ooh-la-la. (Links provided for further reading)

Climb (or click) the Tour Eiffel to view the Paris Collection


Sunday, January 17, 2010

London Calling - Cool Britannia

Finally, I have posted photographs from the London portion of our recent trip. Hey, it takes time to pare down from the original 519 images to a more reasonable number like the 34 in the London collection. I am still working on the Paris and Reims photographs - so stay tuned.

The London collection includes sights around London, our boat trip to Greenwich, a  few night shots (check out Carnaby Street, which is still stuck in the trendy 60's) and finishes with a series from The British Museum
For those of you who follow my "self-portraits", I only managed one during the stay in London, and it is only of the toes of my shoes straddling the Prime Meridian in Greenwich. 2009 was a special year for Frank and me - we visited the Eastern and Western Hemisphere in Greenwich, and made our first trip south of the Equator last June. So, does that mean we were in four hemispheres in one year? I like the sound of that. 
We had a great time in London, and I think we gained a better appreciation of what London has to offer. 

Enjoy the photographs of LONDON. (Click on the Lion)


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Another Teaser

More on the way, stay tuned.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sunday Dinner

We have only been back from London and Paris for 6 days and already Frank and I were craving another French meal. So, out came Bistro Cooking by Patricia Wells, an old standby that falls open automatically to some favorite recipes. This time it was Poulet Basquaise or Basque Style Chicken. This is great Bistro fare, with multi-layers of flavor from the variety of ingredients. (I promise I will post the exact recipe later). For now, here is a brief review: The chicken is sautéed until golden, then diced prosciutto, garlic, sliced red bell peppers and red pepper flakes (or minced green chilies) are added to the chicken. This simmers for 45 to 60 minutes until the chicken is done. In another pan, onions are sautéed until soft, and fresh (or canned) tomatoes added. This simmers for 30 minutes. The onion/tomato sauce is spread over the plate, and the chicken is served on top. OMG was it good.
However, in our world, one dish is not enough to bring back the memories of the trip to Paris. So, we started the afternoon with a lunch of duck pate on slices of French Baguette. The baguette came from Fresh Market, which I must say was one of the best grocery store baguettes I have had. Mid-afternoon we enjoyed an aperitif of Campari and soda with olives marinated in olive oil and Herbs de Provence. Finally we reached the appetizer of tuna tartare, I tried to duplicate the one we had at La Mediterranee in Paris; I came close. After the chicken dish, we finished the evening with a Cherry Clafoutis, a variation of Patricia Wells' Pear Clafoutis. This meal was fun, and brought back great memories of a great trip. C'est Bon.

New Art

I have recently been redecoration my study by replacing much of my older furniture with more contemporary pieces from my new favorite furniture stores - IKEA and American Signature. The new look is more in keeping with the style of the rest of the loft and it also provides better guest accommodations. No longer will guest have to endure the Aero Bed; they now have a real sleeper sofa. My good friend Paul (of Paul and Libby's World of Travel fame - link in left sidebar, check it out), created a wonderful contemporary painting for the room, picking up on the red accent colors. It looks great as you can see in this picture. Paul, thanks so much. And would you care to enlighten my readers on the artist whose style inspired you for this piece.

Friday, January 8, 2010

A Teaser

I am working on the photographs from the trip - here is a teaser.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Joy of Travel - A Rant

 I am typing this and the prior post at 35,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean, on our flight from Paris to Miami. I am reminded of how the logistics of travel is no longer fun, and hasn't been for a long time. Our world has changed and it has impacted travel as well as other facets of our lives. It is something we must endure to get to the places we want to go. So allow me to rant a moment. We arrived at the airport 2 ½ hours before our scheduled departure, after an expensive 7 AM taxi ride from our hotel, as we opted to avoid the schlepping of our luggage up and down metro station stairs. That was the easy part. We managed to get through the initial security check with little difficulty (you know the questions like, “Who packed your bag?”, “Did anyone give you anything to carry on the flight?”, etc), but when we went to get our boarding passes, we were told that our “carry-on” sized luggage was not permitted and we had to check our luggage. We pack light so we don't have to check luggage, so this was a disappointment although we figured it wasn't about the size of the luggage as much as the heightened security measures resulting from the Mr. Pants-on-Fire Detroit passenger from a couple of weeks ago. Check our bags we did, and received our boarding passes with instructions to proceed to the security screening without delay as it would be a slow process. Wrong! Ms. American Airlines. To our amazement, we breezed through the security checkpoint, laptop out, shoes removed and all. There was virtually no line which made us wonder why? The departure board, and our boarding passes indicated that our flight would be delayed 45 minutes. So we stopped for a light breakfast at a cafe, checked out some of the gift shops, before proceeding to our gate area. In the gate area we noticed some passengers with carry-on luggage the same size as ours, but why were they allowed their bag, and we were not? Eh? We were there about 30 minutes, with another 15 minutes or more before our revised boarding time, when our boarding group was called to proceed to the plane (or so we thought). Not so fast weary traveler. In small groups of four or five people, we were led to another security checkpoint on the jetway to the plane, which was much more thorough than the first. While no x-ray screening, we had to remove everything from our pockets, remove our shoes again, get scanned by a wand, and be patted down. Any carry-on was thoroughly searched. Obviously, this was a slow time-consuming process, but I guess necessary, although a definite annoyance. Finally all passengers on our flight were frisked, and herded (yes, the reference to the mass movement of animals is intentional) onto the plane, where we now sit with only inches between us and the seat in front. We pulled away from the gate only two hours after our originally scheduled departure time. I don't have a solution to the security issues, but it seems like there must be a better way. Then again, I have to remind myself, that it is not about the “getting there”, it is about the “being there”. I would go through all of this inconvenience again to travel to a destination of my choosing.
That's All I'm Saying

Au Bascou

We finished our wonderful trip to London and Paris with a great meal at Au Bascou, a Basque restaurant in the 3rd  Arrondissement. While not a typical Basque menu, it was definitely influenced by that region of France. This small restaurant was warm and inviting, and the staff was very friendly. We even had to opportunity to meet the chef/owner. We both rated this as our second best meal of the trip after La Mediteranee and a fitting finish to a series of fine food. After aperitifs of Kir Royale (Frank) and Campari with Soda (me), we enjoyed delicious and unusual appetizers of Piperade with ham, served over scrambled eggs (Frank) and Fricassee of Escargot for me. For the main plate Frank ordered Chicken and Foie Gras served with cabbage and ham, while I enjoyed the best lamb dish of the trip (more on that in a minute). It was braised shoulder of lamb, cut-with-a-fork tender, and loaded with a rich deep flavor. It was served with roasted eggplant and tomatoes, and couscous with raisins. For dessert Frank enjoyed a chocolate ganache while I had a Beret Basque (which I ordered not knowing what I was going to get). It was a rich chocolate mouse on top of a thin chocolate cake, topped with chocolate ice cream and a thin chocolate wafer. Needless to say, I enjoyed it.

Back to the hold-that-thought lamb; I don't know how it happened, and it definitely was not intentional, but of the nine dinners we had on this trip, I had lamb for four of them, mostly in England. After the third lamb dish in London, I said, “no more lamb for me”. Well, I am happy I tossed that pledge out the window for the lamb at Au Bascou. 

Monday, January 4, 2010

Chilly Paris

The wake up temperature today was 25 degrees, with a feels like temp of 19. Can you say chilly. But the sky was blue with not a cloud in sight, and the day warmed very slightly. Our first stop today was the previously closed Memorial de la Deportation on Ile de la Cite. Finally, after 2 prior attempts we were able to visit this solemn memorial. There are 200,000 small glass crystals symbolizing those who were deported and died in the various Nazi concentration camps. The memorial is a stark reminder of mans' inhumanity to man. "Forgive, but never forget." 
Next on our agenda, and on a much lighter note, was souvenir shopping for Frank's niece and nepher in some of the many shops lining the streets around Notre Dame. Oh, and I bought a very small, bored looking, tongue-sticking-out, gargoyle for my office. Read into that whatever you wish.
After dropping our purchases at the hotel, and lunch at Cafe Hugo on Place de Vosges, we hopped on the metro for a ride to a neighborhood we had not visited on prior visits - Canal Saint Martin. This is a functional canal in the heart of Paris. It was a nice walk, although a bit brisk. 
Our final stop before a rest break at the hotel was Place de la Bastille, the site of the original prison which was destroyed at the start of the first French Revolution. (See yesterday's visit to Musee Carnavalet). The area once occupied by the prison is now a large open traffic circle with the Opera Bastille on one corner. This huge glass ediface has been the home of opera performances for many years, although we understand that opera has returned to Opera Garnier - the old opera hours - think Phantom of the Opera. 
Unfortunately, today is our final full day in Paris; we have one more meal to enjoy tonight, which will be at a Basque restaurant. I (and I think Frank) am not ready to return home. This has been a wonderful trip, and for both of us an escape from reality. We intend to make the most of the remaining hours in Paris. 
That's All I'm Saying !

La Fontaine de Mars

We enjoyed a tasty meal last night (Sunday) at La Fontaine de Mars,  in the shadow of the Tour Eiffel (well, more like moon shadow last night). Ten years ago we stayed in this area, and passed La Fontaine de Mars a number of times, but never dined here. Last night we made up for that prior omission. We were seated on the second floor, which was a smaller dining area than the cafe like first floor. The room was nice, and the service was good, although we were seated near too many Americans, especially the too loud lady next to us. This is the most Americans we have seen in one place, and we figured we were seated upstairs as the waiter spoke English. Regardless, we had a nice meal, Frank started with Escargot, and I with a Smoked Salmon salad - both very good. We both ordered the Confit de Canard (duck) for our main course - yummy. For dessert, Frank ordered Prunes with Armagnac, and I had Pineapples with Sabayon.
After dinner we walked a few blocks for another night view of the Eiffel Tower; it is one of the most memorable sites in Paris.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Sunday in Paris

We woke to sunny skies and temperatures in the mid 30s. Considering the beautiful sunny Sunday, we decided to do a little flaneuring around the city. Actually, that isn't quite correct, as we had specific destinations in mind. It was a perfect day to visit Place de Vosge, only a block from our hotel, and a lovely old park surrounded by old Parisian mansions. The ground floors of the buildings house a number of unique art galleries. The park itself is a quiet respite from the traffic of the city. From there we headed to Ile Saint Louis, an upscale island in the middle of the Seine. We stopped at a bridge connecting the Ile Saint Louis to the left bank, a bridge we visited in the past, for more photo ops of Notre Dame. As Yogi Berra would say, "It's like deja vu all over again".
On the way to Norte Dame, we stopped at the Memorial de la Deportation, a memorial to the 200,000 French who were deported to Nazi concentration camps during WWII. Unfortunately, as with a prior visit many years ago, we arrived when the memorial at the end of Ile de la Cite was closed. The first time, it was closed due to flooding of the Seine; this time it was closed for the extended lunch hour. We will try again tomorrow; maybe the third time will be a charm.
After another stop in front of Notre Dame for more photographs, we headed to the west end of Ile de la Cite to the statue of Henry IV who upon converting to Catholicism stated, "Paris is worth a mass"
We lunched at Cafe Sarah Bernhardt, back on the Right Bank, then took the metro to Musee Carnavalet, two Marais mansions dedicated to the history of Paris. The primary focus of our visit was the French Revolution: Liberte, Eqalite, Fraternite. Viva La France !!
Observation: What happened to the rude French waiters? We have not found them. Every one of our meals, so far, (and I hope I am not jumping the gun) was served by pleasant, helpful wait staff. Also, an American waiter could never keep up with their French counterparts. They are always on the move; taking orders, delivering food, busing tables, etc, and each waiter serves an entire room of tables, not just a few.
That's all I'm Saying !

Saturday, January 2, 2010

This is Frank writing the evening post.  Dick has taken the night off!

Today's adventure took us from religious intrigue, to a heartfelt reunion, onwards to a journey to a land of bubbly loving monks, and finally, a night under an Art Nouveau pleasure dome!

The intrigue came into play as we visited the St. Sulpice Cathedral before we checked out of our Left Bank hotel.  As readers of Dan Brown's the "Da Vinci Code" well know (I'm not proud, I read it!), St. Sulpice figures prominently into the novel's storyline of the internecine attempts by the forces of religious orthodoxy to suppress a mysterious revelation by an enlightened secret society known as the Priory of Sion.  Real artifacts associated with the church, such as the Gnomon (an obelisk that denotes the winter solstice), and a stained glass window with the letters "P" and "S" (for the "Priory of Sion"), take on an added meaning to their true historical significance.  A bit of history and fun at the same time!

From the Left Bank, we cabbed it to our new hotel on the Right Bank.  In 1993, on our first trip to Paris, we stayed in the Hotel des Chevaliers.  And now, years later, a reunion of sorts as we acquaint ourselves with the hotel once again.  Things have changed, though.  In '93, the decor was decidedly feminine, with blue and white toile wallpaper and linens, "telephone" shower handles and tiny rooms.  Now, the style is cool and modern, with taupe walls and clean crisp white duvets, lots of black wood and chrome accents.  The rooms are still small, though. "Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose" (the more things change, the more things stay the same).

On to the train station for our journey.  With plenty of time to spare, we ordered our tickets at the electronic kiosk, and...the machine wouldn't take our credit cards.  Merde! (don't ask).  So, in a bit of irony, we got into the slowest ticket line in France in order to catch the fastest train in the country.  With just 5 minutes left before our departure time, the attendant handed us our tickets, and we hustled down past 26 platforms to land our seat on the TGV bullet train to Reims (we made it because we were the little engines that could!).

Reims is about 45 minutes from Paris by the fast train.  It has two claims to fame, a fabulous cathedral, and CHAMPAGNE.  The cathedral at Reims is a Gothic masterpiece, with tons of medieval sculpture, soaring pointed arches, and an amazing sense of space.  Most appealing to me, though, were the gorgeous Marc Chagall stained glass windows in the apse.  Created in 1971, the deep blue of the background glass was specifically designed to mimic the style of medieval glass makers, and served as an serene backdrop for Chagall's intensely colored and moving scenes of the life of Christ and of significant scenes from French history.

Of course, Reims is also where Brother Dom Perignon added yeast to white wine and, upon drinking his concoction, ran to his fellow monks and yelled "brothers, I am drinking stars!".  And champagne was born.  Alas, Dick and I tried to take a tour at the Mumm facility for a look at their cellars and a chance for a tasting, but their bookings were all full.  A note to anyone visiting Reims, this isn't Napa.  Booking several days ahead is essential, and you can't just drop in at a tasting room.  Maybe next time.

Back to Paris.  With our day trip behind us, we ventured on to our dining option for the night, Brasserie Bofinger.  Since 1864, this restaurant has been serving brasserie fare to Parisians and tourists alike.  The interior is a classic Art Nouveau beauty, with curvy dark woods, brass fixtures, and a lovely lighted stained glass dome.  The food is a mixture of Alsatian cuisine and typical bistro fare.  Dick had a fragrant and flavorful appetizer of escargot, followed by chicken cooked in Riesling wine.  I had a serving of the house pate de foie gras, and an entree of beef stew in red wine.  Dessert consisted of macaroons with caramel ice cream, and an apple clafoutis (a sort of moist cake).  Delicieux!

A short walk along the Right Bank after dinner to take in the City of Lights, and we are back in the hotel.  

We will be returning to your regularly scheduled blog host tomorrow.  In the meantime, thank you Dick for letting me take over the post for an entry.  A teute a l'huere (see you later, folks!).

Friday, January 1, 2010

La Mediterranee

OMG... what a lovely meal at a really nice restaurant very close to our hotel. La Mediterranee specializes in seafood, and everything we had was superb. Sparing you a lot of detail, here is our evening menu:
Tuna Tartare - perfect, with a bit of a bite (shared)
Sole Meuniere, the dish that sent Julia Childs over the edge for French food (Frank)
La Bouillabaisse, all fish in a wonderful broth (Dick)
    Brioche with apples and raisins (Frank)
    Poached pears with goat cheese ice cream (Dick)
Wine: We split a 1/2 bottle of Sancerre, although a red, it was light enough to accompany the fish dishes.
That's all I'm Saying

New Years Day

January 1, 2010 - Paris
It is New Years day in Paris, and there are no college football games on the TV; oh my, what will we ever do. (Just kidding). There is no lack of things to do here, and since the weather was cold, mid-30s, with feel-like temps in the mid-20s, we headed to Centre Pompidou, and the modern art museum. We stopped for lunch at a neighborhood cafe; Frank had a goat cheese salad, which was really good, and I had a smoked salmon salad with shrimp, and avocado, which I enjoyed very much. As we left the cafe, and waiting in line to enter the museum, snow flurries started falling, but did not last long. How neat, snow in Paris. Next stop, the Centre Pompidou, and a ride up the the sixth floor on the glass enclosed exterior escalator for great views of an overcast city. We toured the museum's permament exhibition of 20th century artists. Yes, again, all the big names were present, including Picasso, Matisse, Kandinsky, Miro, and more; as well as some artists new to us. Following the museum and a cup of cafe latte nearby, we walked to the Hotel de Ville to watch the ice skaters, then on to Notre Dame, before heading for an afternoon break at the hotel and a chance for me to catch up on the blog.

Bonne Annee

New Years Eve 2009, Tour Eiffel, Paris, France
We arrived at Champs de Mars, the large park in front of the Eiffel Tower about 10PM, well early, and beating the large crowd which would arrive over the next two hours. The evening was chilly with the temps in the mid-30s, but no rain, for which we were grateful. The crowd responded to any small or medium firecracker, or rockets that went off before midnight. Finally, we reached the magic hours, midnight, and the Eiffel Tower light show began. In comparison to our experience 10 years ago, the display was more colorful, with colored lights throughout the tower, but there were no pyrotechnics exploding all over the tower. We enjoyed the event none the less, and saved our champagne toast for our return to the hotel, where we could fully enjoy it in a warmer surrounding. As they say in France, Bonne Annee. Happy New Year everyone.