View from Montparnasse Tower (2013)

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Au revoir, Paris (Saturday, May 23)

This is the last installment to my Paris 2015 blog.  I'm writing from the perspective of having been home for 4 days and mostly recovered from jet lag.

We didn't make it to Amorino on our last night - too hard to go out once we were settled in.

We greeted our last morning in Paris with some ambivalence.  On the one hand, we were sad to be leaving and thought we could spend at least another few days; but on the other hand, we were focused on the logistics of getting home and back to our normal lives.

Kathy's flight home - she had a non-stop - was at 11 am, so we called a taxi to pick her up at 7:30 am (G7 is very reliable and has an English speaking dispatcher).  She got her suitcases down the spiral stairway and I went out to the street with her to wait for the taxi.  We had such a good time and we were sad to be parting, especially since we live in different parts of the country and aren't able to get together very often.  Once she was on her way, I walked over to the boulangerie for my last demi-baguette, but it was closed.  It usually opens at 7.  I walked down to the next boulangerie, which was also closed, so went back to the apartment and finished off the yogurt for my breakfast.

My flight was at 4:45 pm, but I had to be out of the apartment by 10.  My Paris friend invited me to hang out at her place until I needed to leave for the airport.  When I booked Kathy's taxi, I also booked one to pick me up at 10, and another to pick me up at my friend's apartment at 12:30.  Then it was my turn to drag my luggage down the spiral staircase and wait for the taxi, which was right on time. I had a pleasant couple of hours visiting with my friend and her lively dog before leaving for CDG.

The trip out to CDG took a different route than I had been before - it was the first time I had been through Place de la Nation.  When the driver goes through those busy traffic circles like this one or at Place de la Bastille, not to mention the big one around the Arc de Triomphe, I just want to close my eyes and hope for the best.

It took me only about 30 minutes to get my boarding pass (I had checked in the night before), check my suitcase, and clear security.  I had a quick lunch and spent the last of my euros (I had only 0.75 left when I got home).  The flight was delayed about an hour because they had to replace the aircraft.  No explanation as to why, but after getting home and learning about the threats against 10 flights on Sunday, I have to wonder.

Customs in Boston was jammed.  The process was easy -- automatic stations to check passports -- but there was a mob of people.  I had a reservation at the Hilton for the night.  Their website said it was just a 5-minute walk from Terminal E.  I call that a 5-minute run, maybe.  For me, it was 20 minutes of dragging my suitcase and carry-on.  I ordered a lobster roll from room service - I had decided I would have one if it was available when I made the reservation months ago.  I got about 5 hours sleep and woke up before the alarm was to go off at 4 am.  This time, I took the shuttle to Terminal C and got some breakfast.  My Alaska Airlines flight home to Seattle was on time -- nice to be on the "home town" airline -- and arrived home about 11 am on Sunday.  Paris seemed to be a long way away...


The Apartment  The apartment was great.  Very spacious by Paris standards - 50 square meters, about 450 square feet.  Two good sized rooms, plus a full-size, fully equipped kitchen, and a large bathroom with a washer and dryer.  It was on the first floor, up a spiral stairway of about 20 steps.  There were windows on both sides for good airflow.  We overlooked a pretty passage on one side (locked at night) and a courtyard on the other side.  It was very quiet with virtually no street noise.  There is a grade school on the other side of the courtyard, so there was some noise during recess.  Funny how screaming kids sound the same whether yelling in English or French.  I would definitely stay in this apartment again; however, with the current climate regarding vacation rentals in Paris, it is possible that short-term rentals in Paris may not be an option in the future.  The apartment had everything we needed except a shower mat, which was a priority purchase at the nearby Monoprix.

The Neighborhood  We were about 2 blocks from the apartment I rented in 2013, so it was nice to know the area, which is on the western edge of the Marais (or even outside of the Marais according to some), which is also an area known as Les Halles - Beaubourg.  We were a short walk to the Pompidou Center and not far from the market street Rue Montorgueil.  We were definitely not the only tourists there, judging from the number of suitcases I saw being dragged down the sidewalk, but this isn't a touristy area until you get to the Pompidou Center. There is a east-west bus line (#29) that runs between Place de Bastille (and beyond) to Gare St. Larzare, past the Opera Garnier.  Less than two blocks away were the #47 and #38, which run between Gare du Nord and over to the Left Bank.  We were also close to three Metro stations serving three lines (3, 4, 11).  So, we were well positioned for transportation to just about any point in Paris, or we could walk to the Seine in 15-20 minutes.

Food We ate most of our lunches out, but often had a croque monsieur, salad, or sandwich.  We ate only 4 or 5 dinners out. We went to a few of the restaurants I went to in 2013, and sometimes that proved to be disappointing.  For example, the cafe where I had a wonderful croque monsieur (with pesto on country bread) apparently has changed hands - this time, the croque monsieur was just plain on regular white sandwich bread.  Sometimes it is best to discover a new place and just relish the memories of meals gone by. As many times as I've been to France, I don't know why I had never discovered the Normandy or Brittany butter with the sea salt crystals.  On a fresh baguette, it is to die for! I do know that I didn't get nearly enough foie gras.

Ice Cream Definitely Amorino gelato -- generous servings and locations all over Paris.  I usually got the salted caramel, speculous (gingerbread), and chocolate - this was packed into the next to the smallest "pot" (le Classique).

Macarons I sampled Laduree, Pierre Hermes, and Fouchon.  It guess I have to go with Laduree.  The flavors are intense and the texture is crisp on the outside, soft on the inside.  I don't think I got nearly enough of them either.

Drinking Bottled water and soda are expensive in restaurants, cafes, and bars (cheaper in supermarkets). Tap water is free (no ice) and a glass of wine or beer are cheaper than either bottled water or soda.  "Un cafe" - a shot of espresso - is about 1.50 - 3.00 euros, depending on where you get it.  Fancier coffee drinks, such as "un grand noisette" or "grand creme" could cost as much as 5 euros.  You can get a bottle of decent wine in a super market for less than 4 euros.

Parisians With few exceptions we found Parisians to be gracious and helpful.  My basic French worked well, but most of the people we encountered spoke at least some English and many spoke excellent English. I was reassured that when I did speak French, whomever I spoke to didn't immediately start speaking English.  My only complaint is that when out walking, Parisians are intent on their goal and if you are in their way, you will get mowed over if you don't step aside.

Parisian Style Except in the really high priced areas, style in Paris is pretty much like style anywhere else.  We saw jeans (lots of torn ones), athletic shoes (colored ones are popular), vibrantly colored hair (everything from bottle-orange to purple), and just about everyone wears a scarf.  It seems like no matter what else one wears, throw a scarf around your neck, and you're in fashion.  The tourists were the easy ones to spot because, like me, they were the ones wearing black and white.  There's a lot of concern about what visitors in Paris should wear to "fit in," but honestly, I really don't think it matters.

Safety Paris is a safe city.  There is some petty crime such as pickpocketing and scam activity, but mostly in the heavily touristed areas.  Even with the recent terrorist activity, I felt safe.  There is a military presence around the city and we saw groups of two and three heavily armed soldiers walking around in a non-threatening way, but obviously ready to act if necessary.  We encountered two or three "petition girls" who were easily waved away.

There is something about Paris that is unlike anywhere else.  Just being there is enough without going to any of the major sights.  One could easily spend a week in Paris and do nothing more than move from cafe to cafe, sipping wine and coffee, and people watching.  It's the atmosphere, it's seeing the Eiffel Tower off in the distance, and the Seine meandering between its banks, with Notre Dame rising beyond.  I'm already thinking about my next trip - maybe in two years...

Friday, May 22, 2015

Day 17

Last night we celebrated our "au revoir, Paris" dinner at Ambassade D'Auvergne, a restaurant just down the street and around the corner.  They do two things they are famous for: aligot, a potato, cheese, and garlic dish that is whipped until it becomes almost elastic; and mousse aux chocolat, which is served at the table in a large bowl -- it is rich, dark chocolate.  We had the green lentil salad for a starter.  I believe the lentils were fresh, not dried, and cooked with bacon and onions, with some other flavorings.  It was actually pretty good. I had the duck with aligot while Kathy had the evening's special, which is difficult to describe. Of course, we had the mousse and a glass of wine.

Today is our last day in Paris and we spent the morning packing.  I think I can get everything in -- we'll see how it goes when I get all of my bathroom stuff together tomorrow morning.  Having clean clothes (thank you, Kathy!) really helped in packing.

Once we had our packing under control, we set out in our neighborhood.  I had packed a box of stuff to ship home, so our first stop was the post office.  It cost 53 euros - about half the cost of the stuff in the box. Then we walked down Rue St. Denis, which historically has been a street known for street walkers and sex shops, but it has cleaned up somewhat and now has a lot of cheap clothing shops.  We walked down as far as the Fountain of Innocents near Les Halles, then up along side of the reconstruction of the Les Halles shopping area.  There is an underground shopping center as well as Paris' largest train and Metro station.  The above ground structure is being rebuilt, replacing what was built in the 1970s after the original wholesale produce market was torn down.  Actually, a lot has been done since I was here in 2013, so maybe the next time I come, it will be completed.

We walked over to E. Dehillerin, the kitchen supply store where Julia Child bought her pots and pans and where many of Paris' chefs buy their equipment.  This is like the Cabellas of cuisine.  You can buy just about anything to do with cooking here.  Everything from a small demitasse spoon to a giant ladle.  Copper pots by the dozens, knives, wire whisks, tins, and molds.  Quite impressive.

We had lunch at a really nice Italian cafe - really good pizza - and the decor was really pretty with mirrors and mosaics.  It is a popular spot with the French stock exchange close by.

On our way over to Rue Montorgueil, the local market street, we stopped into a few other shops and looked around, but didn't buy much - now that we know how much room we have (or don't have) to take stuff home, it is easy to hold back on the the shopping.  We also need to keep back enough money to pay for our taxis to the airport, and not have too many euros left when we get there.

Tonight, we are having left over pizza and Picard frozen meals for dinner, and we many feel compelled to stroll down to Amorino for dessert - they really do have good ice cream.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Day 16

We awoke this morning knowing that this would be one of our last days in Paris - this trip.  Our plan for the day was to visit Musee Nissim de Camondo then go back to St. Germain to revisit a shop we like.

We bought another "carnet" of Metro tickets - just one to share this time - and rode Metro Line 4 to where we could change to Line 2, getting off near Musee Nissim de Camondo, which at Parc Monceau.  We walked through a small section of the park on our way to the museum.

I am always surprised at how the Parisians use their parks.  There was a group of young school children on a field trip and lots of runners and walkers.  Parisians have very small apartments with no gardens, so they use their parks as their back yards, and cafes as their living rooms.  When children are out walking with their parents, they often have a scooter they ride on while their parents walk.  I guess bikes are too unwieldy, though I have seen a few kids riding bikes.  By the way, French children playing in a school yard (there is a school next to our apartment) sound exactly like American kids playing in a school yard: loud - and there are screamers.  Doesn't matter whether they are yelling in French or English, they sound the same.

Musee Nissim De Camondo is a mansion formerly occupied by a banker who lavishly decorated it with 18th century French art and furnishing.  It is preserved in its original condition.  The banker had intended to leave the mansion to his son, but when the son was killed in WWI, he decided instead to leave it to Les Arts Decoratifs, which maintains it as a museum.   According the museum's website, it opens at 10, but when we got there around 11 we were told that the 2nd floor wouldn't be open until 1:45.  We could visit the 1st floor, then come back, which is what we decided to do.  The only thing to see on the ground floor is the kitchen, the scullery, and the servants' dining room.

After visiting the main floor, we left and walked around the area, which is very nice with lovely apartments and nice shops.  It is in the 8th arrondissement, which is where the Arc de Triomphe and Champs-Elysees are as well.  We did some window shopping, and when you see the delicious pastries in the patisseries, you can understand why the French call window shopping "window licking."  It is hard not to go in and buy something at every patisserie -- everything looks that good.  We had lunch at one of the famous boulangerie/patisseries "Eric Keyser".  We both had sandwiches on baguettes, a drink and dessert for about 10 euros.  It was a great lunch.

We still had about and hour and half before 1:45, so we decided it really wasn't worth waiting to go back to the museum, so we walked back to the Metro station, rode the #2, changed to the #4, and got off at St. Germain des Pres. We wanted to go back to a shop with handmade items, pottery and textiles, as we decided we need to buy some more.  We then strolled along Blvd. St. Germain for a while before taking the Metro line 4 home.  We got dinner at Picard for tomorrow night and I went to the Post Office to get a box to ship some stuff home.

Back at the apartment, we started to gear up for packing tomorrow.  Laundry - so nice to have the washer and dryer right here, and it is two separate units, not the combination washer/dryer that takes 2 hours for a cycle.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Day 15

I bought tickets online for the Picasso Museum and our time was set for 11:30 today.  The museum was closed for several years while the building was undergoing extensive renovation.  Since it was closed so long there was a lot of interest in the museum once it reopened, so they pre-sell tickets as a means of crowd control.  We got there about 11:15, queued up and were inside the museum by 11:30.

The did a fantastic job on the building renovation.  The outside retains its original look while the inside is a mixture of modern and original features.  The rooms are fairly small, but there are only 4 - 6 pieces of art in each room.  The elevators are very slow, so we went to the top floor and worked our way down on foot.

I have to admit that Picasso's art isn't high on my list of favorites, but it was interesting and there were some works of other artists, Picasso's contemporaries, as the museum houses his personal collection.  The visit did provoke some interesting conversations between Kathy and I, and that is one of the things art is supposed to do, so I'm glad we went.

We had lunch at nearby Cafe Sevigne. We both had the "plat du jour," which was roast pork with sauteed vegetables, and it came with a salad with goat cheese and ham.  It was a very nice lunch.

After lunch we caught the bus to go back to Montmartre so we could go to the fabric market on Rue St. Pierre.  The fabric market is actually a number of shops on about three streets loaded with fabric.  Fabric flows out onto the sidewalk.  When I walked into the first shop I immediately saw a rack of fat quarters - I got so excited.  However, the fabrics really aren't anything very unusual or uniquely French.  In fact, I didn't see any typically French textiles except for some toiles.  But, I did buy some fat quarters - how could I not?

We stopped at a cafe and had a really good beer - we were so tired and thirsty - and "les toilettes" were on the main floor, no steep stairway.

As we walked back towards the bus, we spotted a taxi with it's green light showing, so decided to take it home.  Sometimes, when you're tired and just want to get home, a 12 euro taxi ride is a good investment.  It was 5:00 so the buses and Metro would be crowded.  The driver was real nice and understood my French.

I really made a big mistake by not having us reload our bus passes.  Today, #67 up to Montmartre stopped and a voice said "this bus terminates here" -- we were no where near the end of the line at Pigalle where we wanted to go.  So, we had to get off and wait for another 67.  You can use tickets to transfer, but only from one line to another, not on the same line, so we had to use another bus ticket to complete our trip, and that was our last ticket (another reason why taking a taxi home was an easy decision).

Only two more days here in Paris.  We're starting to think about the process of packing and going home, but I think both of us could stay a little longer...maybe.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Day 14

Our dinner cruise on Le Calife last night was wonderful.  We arrived before the scheduled boarding time, but were welcomed aboard anyway and seen to our table. Service began immediately when we were asked if we'd like a glass of wine.  Our friend Diana and her sister Cathy arrived shortly after we did.  The boat left the dock right on schedule at 8:50, and we were served some little cheese puffs and a glass of champagne. We had pre-ordered our dinner and the servers were very efficient getting the right plate to the correct person.  We all had the warm goat cheese salad.  The cheese was in a phyllo dough packet - two on each plate - and drizzled with honey.  For my main course I had guinea fowl with a mushroom sauce, which was very good.  The others enjoyed their fish.  For dessert I had a dense chocolate cake with cinnamon ice cream.

Unfortunately, it rained shortly after we left the dock, so the windows were wet, but that just seemed to make the lighted landmarks even brighter.  We cruised much further up river than any of the other Seine cruises I've been on, and we cruised further down river as well.  We were on the right side of the boat to get a good view of the flood-lit Eiffel Tower, and at exactly 10:00 it sparkled.  It is so magical.  Mom and I first saw it sparkle in 2000 and once were actually under it while it sparkled.  When got down river, we were surprised to see the Statue of Liberty.  I knew it was there, but had never seen it.  It is a half-size replica of the one the French gave to the US in 1876.

We had a very pleasant evening and had a good visit with our friends.  Diana and Cathy arrived last Saturday.  It had been several years since I had seen Diana.  By the time we got off the boat, it had pretty much quit raining.  We took the bus home.

Le Calife is docked under the Pont des Arts, so we walked over it from the Right Bank.  This was the first time I had ever gone over this pedestrian bridge, which has been so badly desecrated by "love locks."  It is an ugly mess!  The locks are so heavy that some panels have fallen into the river, and the city has tried to curb the practice by putting plywood over the existing locks, but still people add more.  There were even two men trying to sell padlocks on the bridge.  The plywood panels are just a stop gap measure, I'm sure, until they can do something more permanent to protect the bridge from this vandalism.

Both of us were pretty tired this morning after a late night.  Kathy wanted to go back to a shop near La Madeline, so we rode the bus over, walked down to the shop, then walked back to catch another bus to check out some other shops on the Left Bank in St. Germaine.  We had lunch at Le Bonaparte, which is a very busy cafe just down the street from the famous Les Deux Magots where Hemingway used to hangout, and hundreds of tourists sip coffee today.  I had a roast beef sandwich, which wasn't exactly what I expected, but it was good.  Kathy had a croque monsieur.  It is fun to window shop in this area - or as the French call it "window licking."

It was windy and cool today.  Sunny one minute and cloudy the next.  Just as we were ready to head back to the apartment it started to rain, and after days of lugging our umbrellas, we didn't have them with us today...duh!  We found the stop for the #95 to go back, but it looked like the next one wouldn't be there for about 30 minutes and there wasn't a shelter at that stop.  There is a Metro station right there, so I went to see which line it was so I could figure out how many times we would need to change lines to get home.  Well it was Line 4, which comes right to our neighborhood - our closest Metro stop, in fact, so no more waiting in the rain.  When we got out of the Metro station, we spotted a Picard right across the street, so that solved the dinner problem for tonight, too.

We didn't reload our Metro/bus passes for this week since we had only five more days, so we each bought a "carnet" of 10 tickets.  I think this was a big mistake because we have already used 8 of the tickets in two days, with three more days to go.  The tickets can be used for transfers bus-to-bus as long as you continue forward (you can't use the same ticket to go back) and you have to make the transfer within 90 minutes.  Also, you can't transfer bus-to-metro or metro-to-bus.  You also have to be careful not to mix used tickets with unused tickets.  For convenience I don't think you can beat the Navigo Decouverte pass.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Day 13

Today we did something a little different.  We took the #1 Metro line out to La Defense, which is actually outside of Paris, but it is the financial and business center of Paris.  The centerpiece of La Defense is the Grande Arche, and it is BIG - Notre Dame could fit under it.  It is a very impressive sight.  We climbed up the marble stairs to the platform and we could see all the way to the Arc du Triomphe.  Actually, the Grande Arche, Arc du Triomphe, and Arc du Carousel at the Louvre are all in alignment.

We walked down the esplanade, gazed at the many sculptures -- 2% for art at work -- and went into the Monoprix.  There is a large shopping center there.  In addition to office buildings, there are also hotels and apartments.

When we got there about 10:30, there were not too many people around.  Mostly just school groups and tourists.  But, at lunch time the workers came out, lined up at the take-away cafes, got their food, and then filled the esplanade.  Kathy got a sandwich and I had a quiche at one of these take-away cafes.  I don't think many French workers spend two hours over a formal lunch any more.  Baguette sandwiches seem to be very popular lunch fare.  The government provides discounted lunches for many workers, so the places that accept the cards are the most popular.

La Defense offered a very different view of Paris.  After nearly two weeks of being among old buildings, it was like being in a different world out at La Defense where the architecture is modern and avante garde.

We decided to ride the Metro out to the other end of the line to visit the garden at Vincennes.  I went to the Chateau du Vincennes last time I was here, but didn't get to the garden, which we had been told is very beautiful.  It is large with a couple of lakes. Well, we walked quite a distance along the length of the chateau, but never came to the garden.  We finally decided it was too far, so turned back, which was a disappointment.

Before getting back on the Metro, we thought we would get some refreshment and use "les toilettes" at a local cafe.  It was after 2:00, so the lunch rush was over and we sat at an outside table without any place settings, which is where you should sit if you don't intend to eat a meal.  The waiter came by and asked if we wanted lunch and we said, no, just dessert, so he left the menu, but it was a long time before he came back.  When he did, I asked him in French, what kind of ice cream they have (at least that is what I thought I asked him).  He said something and grabbed the menu off the table.  We decided that perhaps he wasn't interested in serving us, so we left.  When we got off the Metro, we walked past our favorite Amorino and had our refreshment there before going back to the apartment.

Tonight we are going on a dinner cruise on the Seine.  We are meeting another friend and her sister, who just arrived a couple of days ago.  Since it will be late when we get back, I'll include that in tomorrow's post.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Day 12

Sundays in Paris pose somewhat of a challenge as many places are closed and while the tourist attractions are open, they are crowded.  The Marais with its Jewish community is one area where many shops are open on Sundays, so Kathy and I decided to explore it today.   From the name of our apartment "Le Passage du Marais," you'd think that it is in the Marais, but it is actually in an area called Les Halles - Beaubourg.  The Marais' borders are rather vague and it really depends on who you are talking to where the Marais ends and other neighborhoods begin.

We are in the 3rd Arrondissement, but on the western edge - when you walk across the street to the west of us, you are in the 2nd.  The Marais comprises parts of both the 3rd and 4th Arrondissements.  The arrondissements or districts of Paris are numbered from 1 to 20 and begin around the Louvre, and spiral around clockwise like a snail.

We took the #29 bus this morning, thinking we'd get off at Place des Vosges.  But, the bus took a different route due, we learned, to many streets being blocked off today for bicyclists.  We got a nice long ride and got off at St. Paul, the neighborhood where I had looked at apartments when planning this trip, so I was somewhat familiar with the area.  St. Paul church had been covered with scaffolding the last time I saw it and now it is all cleaned up and very pretty.

I had never seen white strawberries before, but one of the fruit and vegetable shops had some.  Wish I could have tasted one.  They are pure white.

We spent some time wandering the lanes of Village St. Paul, which is a conclave of very old buildings.  There are lots of antique shops in the area and we found a "pop up shop" of handmade items where I did buy a pendant.  We also found a small shop called "Thanksgiving" that sells American goods: Campbell's soup, Hellman's Mayonnaise, and even Twinkies. It was in sort of an out-of-the-way spot, but I suppose if you are an ex-pat you'd know where it is.

We had lunch at Le Cidrie du Marais, which I had discovered the last time I was here.  I had a crepe filled with ham, cheese, sauteed potatoes and an egg.  It was good, but not as good as the "special" I had last time; unfortunately, they don't do "specials" on the weekend.  It was really good washed down with a bowl of cidre - just like in Brittany.

After lunch we walked up to Rue des Rosiers, which is the Jewish neighborhood.  Many shops were open and the street was crowded with people.  The falafel shops are very popular and there was quite a long queue for the L'As du Falafel, which is considered the best in Paris.

Next we walked a block or so up the Rue St. Croix de la Bretonnerie, which is known as the gay neighborhood in Paris, but it seems pretty tame.  We walked along Rue des Francs Bourgeois, which turns into Rue Rambuteau, but wanting to avoid the crowd around the Pompidou Center, we walked up Rue Beaubourg, and got back to the apartment around 2:30 for our afternoon rest.

My Paris friend invited us to dinner at her apartment, so we walked quite a distance back through the Marais to her place. Her apartment is in an early 20th century building and so French.  Just exactly what you would imagine a French apartment to look like with coved ceilings decorated with painted plaster molded vines, leaves, and flowers.  It is quite large by today's Paris standards.  For dinner, she prepared a pot au feu, which is a sort of stew with beef, carrots, potatoes, onions, and cabbage -- the French take on a New England boiled dinner.  It was really delicious with some good crusty bread and wine.  French pastries for dessert, and a lovely evening with a very gracious and hospitable lady and her dog.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Day 11

It's hard to believe that we leave for home a week from today...we don't like to think about it.

We got a fairly early (for us) start this morning and rode the #38 bus up to Gare du Nord, transferred to the #26, and got off at the top of the Canal St. Martin.  The canal was built in the early 19th century to bring fresh water down to Paris.  You can take a 2-hour boat cruise up the canal, walk the length of it, or ride the bus or Metro to a point, stroll a bit of it, then move on, which is what we did.  Actually, we strolled along the Bassin de la Villette, which is above the canal.  We watched a boat go through one of the locks (there are 9 of them, which explains why it takes 2 hours to cruise through it.  We walked up one side of the bassin, crossed over a bridge and walked down the other side.  There were several rowers out. It looked like they might have been practicing for a race because it appeared there was a coach out there shouting directions to them.

We went into McDonalds for the first time today.  When we walked in the door, an old gentleman took one look at us, pointed upwards, and said "toilettes."  I wonder how he knew why we were there...  We had to go up to the 3rd floor (2nd in France - still the same number of steps) to get there.  We actually bought a frappe, which in France is more like a milkshake than a smoothie, but it was small and pretty good.

We got back on the #26 and got off at Place Gambetta, which I think is one of the prettiest traffic circles in Paris with a modern fountain in the center, lots of shops and cafes around it, and the Mairie for the 20th Arrondissement on one side.  In Paris, the Hotel de Ville is the city hall for the City of Paris, but each of the 20 arrondissements (districts) also has its own city hall, which is called the mairie.  We stopped at Cafe Gambetta for lunch and had really good caesar salads.  These are not much like the caesar salads we are used to -- the French has sort of recreated them -- but they are very good with chicken, tomato, hard boiled egg, and slices of Parmesan cheese.

After lunch we walked over to Pere Lachaise Cemetery, which is named for the confessor of Louis XIV.  It was built in the mid 1700s when the area was the hinder lands outside of Paris.  In the early 19th century, the remains of several famous people were moved to the cemetery to make it more popular because Parisians thought it was too far out of the city. There is space for 70,000 burial places and people are still being buried there.  Unfortunately, Kathy and I didn't have a map, so just wandered around without seeing any of the famous tombs.  The cemetery is very crowded with interesting structures on the graves.  Some look like little houses, some have stained glass, others have statues.  Some of the statues reflect the person's sense of humor or other characteristic.  The cemetery is built on the side of hill.  We started at the top and kept walking downward toward the main entrance.  We rode the #69 bus, getting off on Rue de Rivoli and walked up Rue St. Martin (our street) about five blocks to the apartment.  One the way we stopped at Amorino for dessert and at the G20 super market for supplies.

We are having dinner at a little restaurant down on the corner.  We walked by one time and what we saw people eating looked pretty good.  Update: The restaurant, MG Road is very good.  The food is French with Indian flavors.  I had duck with a curry sauce and polenta.  The sauce was quite spicy.  Kathy had salmon with mashed potatoes - the salmon was cooked a little too rare for her.  My duck was cooked medium and was perfect; however, the menu indicated "rare" so I asked to have it cooked a little more.  For dessert we shared some Indian ice cream flavored with cardamon and drizzled with caramel.  Our waitress was really cute and spoke excellent English.  She's a student working on a masters degree in finance.  She spent quite a lot of time taking to us.  It was a very enjoyable dinner.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Day 10

We got up at 6 this morning in order to meet our La Cuisine Paris tour group in front of the fountain at Place St. Michel by 9:00.  We rode the bus over -- admittedly a short trip, but I like to save my energy for when I get to my destination -- and met the group with no problems.  There were just nine of us plus the tour guide and another who took some pictures and helped us stay together.  Our destination was Versailles, more specifically Le Potager du Roi (The King's Garden).  We each received a tote bag with a book and map of Versailles, a bottle of water, and tickets for the palace and the return trip to Paris.  Using the tickets, the guide gave us, we all got on the RER C train, which took about a half hour to reach Versailles.

In Paris, the train runs along the Seine when it is above ground, and it doesn't take long for it to get out to the suburbs where we saw single family detached houses with gardens as well as modern high rise apartment blocks.  Since modern high rise buildings are banned in central Paris, there are a lot of them in the suburbs.
We arrived in Versailles, which is the end of the line, and while most everyone on the train left the station and turned right towards the palace, we turned to the left and walked quite a distance before reaching Le Potager du Roi, which is actually on the south flank of the palace grounds.

The garden was started by Louis XIV (the Sun King who developed Versailles and moved the royal court there from Paris) in the 1600s to grow fruits and vegetables for his court.  In France at that time, most people just ate meat (game) and bread, there was little interest in vegetables.  However, Louis was interested in new and modern concepts, so hired a fellow to design his garden.  It was built in a swamp, and the "french drain" was developed to drain the water from the land.  The land was excavated about 10 feet below grade, creating a micro climate where all sorts of fruits and vegetables can be grown all year around.  The garden is 23 acres and is still cultivated.  About 50 tons of fruits and vegetables are harvested each year and sold through the gift shop.  This is also the National School of Horticulture where they admit 12 students each year for a 4-year program.  There are 12 full time gardeners (30 back in Louis' day).

We wandered around the garden and Amber, our very knowledgeable and enthusiastic guide, explained what was growing.  Most of the fruit trees are espaliered in various shapes to allow better sun exposure for the fruit.  None of the trees from Louis XIV time are still there; the oldest trees are quince about 150 years old.  This is an experimental garden and the variety of plants spans the ages, both heritage and modern varieties.  There is a "Royal Gate" that Louis would use to visit the garden.  It is the only original gate on the palace grounds that survived the revolution - the other gates were melted down to make musket balls.

Leaving the garden, we walked to the other side of the palace to the Versailles market, which is four covered market buildings that open each day except Mondays.  Three days a week there is an open market in the quad formed by the four buildings.  Amber bought the ingredients for the cheese plate for our lunch, then we walked over to the restaurant where we had a four-course lunch with wine.  The starter was a tomato and fresh mozzarella salad.  For the main course, we had a choice of either fish (cod, I think) or beef (rumsteak). The fish was served with two different purees and the beef was served with potatoes somewhat like hash browns only better.  We had five different cheeses, all tasty, and a small tart of nuts for dessert.  It was a very good lunch and we enjoyed visiting with the other people on the tour.

Most people who go to Versailles probably think the palace is all that is there  - I know that is what I thought - but Versailles is actually a good size city, very pretty and clean with lots of interesting buildings and shops.  Despite getting very tired from the all the walking, I really did enjoy seeing some of the town.

The tour ended after lunch, but included a "Passport" ticket to the palace as well as a return train ticket back to Paris. We learned that the ticket for the palace is good for 2-years and the train ticket wasn't dated, so Kathy and I opted to not go there today.  We could see that there were hoards of people up near the palace and being tired, it just didn't make sense, so we went back to Paris on the train - for free.  For some reason, we were told we didn't need to use our train ticket.  Must be because of the holiday weekend.  We think we may try to go back to Versailles on Wednesday. We got back to the apartment about 4:30 and Kathy (the self-proclaimed Laundry Queen) did a few loads of laundry (bless her heart).  We had Picard again for dinner.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Day 9

Another lazy morning.  It was nearly 11 before we left the apartment.

There was a good chance of rain today, so we decided to stay close to home.  We walked over to Les Halles and St. Eustache Church.  As mentioned in an earlier post, Les Halles was the "Belly of Paris" - the wholesale food market -- until the late 1960s.  It has been undergoing renovation for several years and it appears that they have gotten a lot done since I was here in 2013.  There is a modern and not very attractive apartment block (probably "affordable" housing, which is at a premium in Paris), and part of the park (Park de Nelson Mandela) is completed, but they are still working on the above ground portion of the shopping mall and Metro/RER station (the largest in Paris).  St. Eustache Church is the second largest in Paris after Notre Dame and has one of the largest pipe organs in Europe.

We walked past Au Pied de Cochon, a restaurant that has been around for decades.  It is famous for its onion soup (they do not call it "French Onion Soup" in France except on menus that provide an English translation) and the workers from Les Halles used to go there in the early morning to have it.  "Pied de cochon" means pig's feet, and pig's trotters is another of their specialities.  Just beyond Au Pied de Cochon is E.Dehillerin, which is where Julia Child would go to buy her cooking pots and utensils.  Unfortunately, it was closed today.  We had wondered why so many shops were closed even though the signs indicated they are open Monday through Saturday, then realized it was Ascension Day, which is a public holiday in France.

Going back to the church, we saw that there was a small market today, so we walked through it and over to Rue Montorgueil, a market street.  Most of the shops here were open and we stopped into a few of them. We had lunch at a small Italian place and enjoyed some very different, but good pizza with a glass of pinot grigio.  My pizza was the carbonara with cheese, ham, and basil, topped with a sunny-side up egg.

After lunch we started back toward the apartment, noticing that it was getting cooler and windier.  We stopped at the Monoprix to pick up a few items, and it wasn't too long after we got back to the apartment that it started to rain.  I think we'll be content to stay in the apartment the rest of the afternoon.  We have a busy day tomorrow, so need to rest up.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Day 8

We enjoyed a lazy morning and didn't actually leave the apartment until about 10:30.  We decided to explore the market street Rue Mouffetard in the 5th Arrondissiment.  We took the #47 bus and got off at Place Monge where they were having an outdoor market.  We browsed the market for quite a while, making a few non-food purchases.  It is much smaller than the one at Bastille on Sundays, but also a lot less crowded.  We had some fun interchanges with a few of the vendors.

It was about noon when we walked up the hill to Rue Mouffetard, which is arguably the best market street in Paris. While we weren't quite ready for lunch, we were ready for a sit down and refreshment, so we stopped at a cafe.  I had a "grand noisette" - espresso with milk - and Kathy ordered a bottle of water.  We were at the high point of Rue Mouffetard, with the street dropping down hill both directions from where we were. We needed to make a decision on which way to go as this part of the street had several cafes, but not a lot of shops. We decided go down to our left from the cafe, heading back toward the river, and unfortunately missed all the good parts of the market street.  Oh, well, the very nice market street Rue Montergueil is just a couple of blocks from the apartment.

We walked through a very quiet neighborhood with no tourists and very little traffic.  We dropped down to Place Maubert where I had met up with the cooking class with La Cuisine Paris in 2013. We walked down Rue Lagrange and had lunch at Bistro Lagrange.  I had eaten there before and had the best croque monsieur ever there -- it was made with rustic bread and had pesto as well as the ham and cheese.  In fact, I've been making them this way at home.  Well, they must be under new ownership because the croque monsieur was made with just plain white bread and no pesto.  But, with "une biere" to wash it down, it was a good lunch.

When we got down to the river, we crossed over and browsed a few of the bouquanistes - the green book stalls that have been a fixture along the Seine for generations.  We crossed over to Ile de la Cite on the Pont l'Archeveche, which is still loaded down with "love locks."  I thought the City was doing away with these, but it seems people continue to put them up as fast as the City can take them down.  I noticed that several of the bouquanistes were selling padlocks.  The weight of the locks has caused the bridge railings to fall into the river and some panels have been replaced with glass or plexiglass, but people still manage to attach locks. This is some misguided declaration of love, but is basically vandalism.  We didn't see anyone attaching locks, but there was a lot of interest in them.

We walked about two-thirds the length of Ile St. Louis and back, stopping at Amorino for dessert, and having a nice conversation with the young fellow working the counter.  His English was excellent. He's a student who did an internship in New York.  Having these sorts of conversations with locals really adds to the pleasure of the trip.

We walked along the north side of Notre Dame where there was still quite a long line of people waiting to climb the tower.  The square in front of the cathedral was full of people and there was a huge tent where they were apparently having a "fete au pain" -- celebrating bread.  I know that they have a contest every year to determine which boulangerie makes the best baguette, so perhaps that is what it was all about.  (Found out later that indeed, this was where they hold the annual baguette competion.) We went through part of the Flower Market, then headed for the bus and home.

There are 20 steps up to our apartment - one flight of a circular stairway.  It isn't too bad, but after a day of wandering around Paris, it's a lot of steps!  We keep wondering how we're going to get our luggage down...

We finished off our roasted chicken, had some of the potatoes (the fellow said he was giving me two portions, but we got enough to feed six or seven people), fresh asparagus and cauliflower.

Weather today was very nice -- rain in tomorrow's forecast...

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Day 7

Today was Kathy's birthday, so she got to choose our activity for the day.  She wanted to go over to La Madeline and Rue Honore to look in the shops.  After breakfast we rode the bus almost to the end of the line at Gare de St. Lazare and walked down to La Madeline.  Our first stop was Fouchon, a beautiful shop of wonderful food stuffs: jams, confits, chocolate, cookies, foie gras, coffees and teas.  I bought some more foie gras and some chocolate.  One of the shops I like, Hediard, is closed for renovation, so that was a disappointment.

I told Kathy I would buy her lunch today - anything she wanted.  Well, she wanted a sandwich, so that's what she had for her birthday lunch.  She's a cheap date!   After lunch we walked along Rue Honore and across Place Vendome.  The shops along here are high end, to say the least, and well over my budget -- hers, too. The only shop we went into was Longchamps,  I might have bought a shopping tote there for 60 some euros, but after looking at it, I decided I could make one.

The Ritz Hotel at Place Vendome has been undergoing renovation for some years - it seems like everything here takes years to renovate, and unlike at home where they simply put up signs saying "Open while remodeling - pardon our dust," here they just close down.  The Ritz and the city are also joining forces to renovate the column in the center of Place Vendome and it has a big box with a picture of the column around it.

We did see some women who were more fashionably dressed in this neighborhood.

From there we walked up to the Opera to catch the bus back to the apartment, stopping off at Brioche Doree for a little dessert and "les toilettes."  It was about 2:30 when we got home, then I went off to the post office to get stamps and to mail a letter.

To celebrate both of our birthdays (mine was 2 weeks ago) I made reservations at Le Ciel de Paris, the restaurant on the 56th floor of the Montparnasse Tower.  We took the bus and we needed most of the one and one-half hours we allowed to get there.  We were hoping to have time to go up to the observation level, but it was 7:15 when we got there for our 7:30 reservation.  We got a window table with a view of the Eiffel Tower, which was great, but the sun was right there, too, which made it somewhat uncomfortable, especially for Kathy because she was facing the window.  There were no shades, but the windows are tinted -- and dirty, I might add.

We had a very nice, but expensive dinner -- it was our splurge.  I had foie gras for my starter, buttery and good; roasted guinea fowl for my main course, tender and juicy with a medley of peas, fava beans, and pea pods with pasta and a sauce; and a chocolate "cake" with raspberry sorbet for dessert.  The chocolate cake was actually mousse with a tiny layer of cake on the bottom, covered with ganache, and decorated with a curl of chocolate and a little floret of edible gold.  It was really good - decadent, in fact.  Kathy had a salad, veal loin, and creme brulee for dessert.

We were hoping to see the Eiffel Tower sparkle, but it was too light yet; however, we did get a nice sunset. I doubt that I would go there again -- it is a little like the Space Needle, a great place to go for the view, but you can get better and less expensive food elsewhere.  One thing, though, the people who were eating at the even more expensive Jules Verne on the Eiffel Tower had a view of the Montparnasse Tower (considered by some to be the ugliest building in Paris) while we, on the other hand, had a view of the Eiffel Tower!

We took a taxi back to the apartment.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Day 6

I am so glad we are here as long as we are so we don't have cram everything into just a few days.  We are taking everything very leisurely, doing just one thing each day, and it's working for us.  Fortunately, we have both been to the big sights, so cafe sitting and people watching are high on our priority lists.

It was warm today!  In the low 80s.  We left the apartment around 9:30 to take the #38 bus to the Cluny Museum, officially the Musee National du Moyen Age (National Museum of the Middle Ages).  We met a friend I connected with when I was in Paris in 2013.  It was great having her along as she speaks and reads French, so could interpret the signage for us.

The Cluny is in a 15th century "hotel," one of only two this old in Paris (per Michelin Green Guide).  It is on the Left Bank, near the Sorbonne. Excavations under the 15th century structure revealed Roman public baths from 200 AD.  The collection consists of Medieval art, much of it religious.  The highlight of the museum is the six Lady and the Unicorn tapestries.  They are exquisite. Dating back to the 15th century (1400's), they were found in a castle where they suffered damage from water and rats, but the colors are still brilliant.  Reds, blues, yellows, greens.  The detail is amazing - flowers of every kind are scattered all over among rabbits, dogs, monkeys and other animals.  They must have taken years to complete.  These were on loan to a museum in Tokyo when I was here last, so this is the first time I've seen them.  There was also a special exhibit of German religious statuary.  We found the facial expressions on some of the figures to be interesting.

After touring the museum, we attended a concert that was held in a Roman section of the building which houses the heads of the Kings of Judah which were knocked off from the facade of Notre Dame during the French Revolution.  The people thought they were the Kings of France.  The concert was medieval song performed by four people, three men and one woman.  They had excellent voices.  One of the men played instruments similar to violins and violas, and the woman played a small harp.  There were lengthy introductions to each song, which Kathy and I didn't understand, though I could pick out a few words.  One song was in old English, a couple were in Latin, and the rest were in French.  It was very interesting and enjoyable.

After the concert, the three of us went over to St. Germaine to have lunch at Le Comptoir du Relais.  I had white asparagus with lemon vinaigrette  for my starter (it is in season now and in all the markets) and lamb shank for my main course.  It was really good.  Kathy had a daube or stew - beef in a rich sauce.  We all shared a carafe of rose wine.

It was after 4:00 when we got back to the apartment.  We can get a good cross breeze going in the apartment, so it didn't take long to get the place cooled down.  It doesn't get too hot because it doesn't get any direct sun. We rested for awhile, then went out to get some ice cream at Amorino across from the Pompidou Center, which has got to have some of the best people watching in Paris.  After our large and late lunch, we considered the ice cream dinner.

A word about Paris fashion.  Many people visiting Paris obsess about what to wear and how to fit in so they don't look like a tourist.  Well, I'm here to tell you that there is no reason to worry.  Teenagers, especially, dress just like they do in the US: Have you got ripped jeans? You'll fit in.  Cropped tops? Yep. Short skirts, short-shorts, t-shirts.  It seems like anything goes.  For adults, there's no need to buy a special wardrobe to visit Paris.  Of course dark colors are the norm here, and everyone throws a scarf around their neck, but tourists are easily identified no matter what they wear.  To find people wearing high fashion, you have to go to the more exclusive areas.  Women who work in "les grands magasins" or those who work in the fashion industry tend to be more fashionable, but everyone else looks pretty normal.  No need to be intimidated by an idea of Paris than no longer exists, if it ever did.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Day 5

Today was market day - there is a market some place in Paris everyday, but on Sunday it is the big market at Place de la Bastille on Blvd Richard Lenoir, and that was where we went.

I think we are finally over our jet lag.  We both slept through the night, but got up fairly early.  Since it was Sunday, we sat around in our night clothes for awhile.  I learned that the local bakery is closed on Sunday, so bought bread for today last evening.  It certainly isn't as good as fresh, however.

We took the #29 bus over to la Bastille and got off right across the street from the market.  I don't know how many vendors there are, but the market stretches at least 2 blocks up the boulevard and there are four rows of vendors for most of the length, with 6 rows in a couple of areas.  In addition to many stalls of flowers, vegetables, meats, sausages, cheeses, fish, olives, nuts, bread, etc., there are stalls selling jewelry, clothing, shoes, table linens, soaps, perfumes, wines, kitchen and household items, etc.  To say it is crowded is an understatement.  This is where many Parisians do their weekly shopping and many of them pull trolleys to put their purchases in.  This is also where people meet up with their friends and neighbors, so getting through the crowd can be somewhat of a challenge.  You also have to watch where you are going because the pavement is uneven and there are holes you can easily step into.

This is not a "farmer's market" like we are used to.  Rather, the produce comes from the huge wholesale market (perhaps one of the largest markets in the world) in Rungis outside of Paris, which also supplies the supermarkets.  Until the 1960's the wholesale market was at Les Halles, not far from this apartment.  But, all of the produce is colorful and very fresh - much better looking than produce in the supermarkets, which is often packaged in cellophane. Some vendors allow shoppers to pick out their own fruits and vegetables, but many retain that privilege for themselves and many are experts at picking out the melon or peach that will be perfectly ready to eat either that day or the next.

Many of the vendors are vocal in hawking their wares, but they all seem to have a good sense of humor and enjoy their work.  We bought a small roasted chicken and paid with a 50 euro note (I apologized that this was the smallest I had) and the vendor teased that he would take the whole amount in payment.  A polite "bonjour" from the buyer is about all it takes to get a polite and friendly response from the seller.

We bought olives and tapenade, chevre (goat cheese), strawberries (the little sweet ones), apricots, clementines, a beautiful head of cauliflower for 1.50 euros, some asparagus, and some "pomme de terre" cooked in the drippings from the rotisserie chickens.  Can't wait for dinner.

After we had gone around the market about 1 1/2 times, we stopped at a small cafe for some lunch.  I ordered what I called the "French cliche": escargo and onion soup.  I got 6 escargo and had a hard time getting them out of their shells, but finally got all of them out after they cooled a bit.  I wouldn't bother except for the butter, garlic and parsley they are cooked in.  The soup was really good, too, but hot.  Kathy had a salad with ham, feta, and potatoes served in a large crockery bowl that she said was really good.  After lunch, we finished our second circuit of the market.

When we got back to the bus stop, there wasn't a time indication for the #29, which made me think that perhaps the route had been changed and we would be waiting in vain.  They close many streets in the Marais on Sundays for bicyclists, so I figured that the bus had been rerouted. There is a Metro stop right there, so we decided to take the Line 1 and change to Line 11.  Admittedly, a short trip, but our purchases were heavy, and it involved a lot of walking to get to the right platforms -- we probably walked almost as far as we would have if we had simply walked back to the apartment.  We were able to recharge our Navigo Decouverte passes, so now we are all set for next week.

Chilling out for the rest of the day and doing some laundry.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Day 4

Today was bright and sunny with some clouds, so I risked leaving my umbrella at home -- didn't need it.

We batted around a few ideas about where to go and finally settled on Montmartre.  I looked at my maps to figure out the best way of getting there - The "Plan 2" map, which is available from Metro stations and free is a great planning tool.  Metro on one side and bus on the other, and big enough to read!  We caught the #29 a block from the apartment and transferred to the #67, which took us right to Place Pigalle where we caught the Montmartrebus.  The Montmartrebus takes a loop around Montmartre with Sacre Coeur at the center. This is the highest point in Paris and the streets are very steep with many staircases going up from one street to another.  I was very grateful to be able to ride up those hills.

The bus went up Rue Lepic, where many famous artists lived at various times, including Van Gogh.  We passed one of the few remaining windmills (there were once several on the hill), and the only vineyard in Paris, as well as the Agile Lapin cabaret.  We didn't see the Moulin Rouge this time.

At one time Montmartre was was a village outside of Paris and it has retained much of its village flavor despite the hoards of tourists that flock there.  We knew it would be crowded on a Saturday, but also knew that just about every place in Paris would be crowded today.  We got off the Montmartrebus at Place du Tertre, which is a small square, not far from Sacre Coeur, that for many people represents the area.  It is surrounded by cafes and shops, with covered dining in the middle.  Artists ply their work throughout the square, many of them actually painting.  There are also artists doing on site portraits.  It was extremely crowded as this is tourist-central on Montmartre.

We walked over to Sacre Coeur without having to use the funicular or go up any steps.  Again, it was crowded with people, but less so than it was when we went by on the bus later.  When you are up there, Paris lies spread out beneath you.  It is quite a view.  We didn't go into the church as both of us had been in before and it was very crowded.

One group of Paris' many scam artists infamously work around Sacre Coeur - the "bracelet guys." These guys come up to someone, grab their arm and tie a string bracelet around their wrist. Then insist that they be paid for it.  Apparently, they are not as numerous as they have been in the past and we didn't see any of them; however, I think they stay away from the immediate area around the basilica in favor of working the streets approaching it from down the hill.  Anyway, we were glad we didn't have to deal with them.

We walked back to Place du Tertre and each of us bought a watercolor we had seen during our first circumnavigation of the square.  We also stopped in a shop selling different French products, mostly herbs, salt, candy, etc., in decorated tins.  I bought of few of those.

We took the Montmartrebus down off the hill behind Sacre Coeur into a less crowded neighborhood where we had lunch at Cafe de Halte on Rue Custine.  I had a salad with foie gras, gizzards, and smoked duck.  It was really good, but then I like that sort of thing.  Kathy had a cheeseburger and fries.  It was very peaceful eating outside in a relatively quiet neighborhood after being in big crowds of people.

Taking the #67 back, we weren't able to get off where we needed to in order to transfer to the #29 - I guess no one else wanted off there and I didn't push the button soon enough.  Anyway, we got off at the next stop across from the Palais Royal.  Since we hadn't been there before, we took the opportunity to walk through it.  This was never a "royal palace," but rather an arcade of shops and restaurants dating back to the 18th century.  There is a colonnade and garden and it is a large public space where many Parisians took advantage of today's sunshine to be outdoors.

We had to walk a couple of blocks over to Place des Victories where we could catch the #29 and got off on Rue Beaubourg so we could go to Picard to get tonight's dinner.  It was about 4:30 and they were still open. We got four individual-size frozen dinners (some for tomorrow night, too) and some ice cream for less that 15 euros.  After taking a short nap, we fixed the chicken with shell pasta and a mushroom sauce, and it was really good with a fresh baguette and some crudites.  I think we may be getting more of these for our dinners. By the way, we had Normandy butter on our baguette.  I don't know why we had never gotten it before when in France.  It is delicious - butter with crystals of sea salt.  The saltiness crunches as you eat it. Yummy.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Day 3

Today we rode the bus.  The Metro is just too hard on my knees and hips.  We decided to go to Luxembourg Gardens on the Left Bank, so took the #38 bus after walking about 2 blocks to the stop.  The bus let us out right at the gate to the gardens.

Since today was a holiday (70th anniversary of VE day), some shops were closed and there were lots of people around, including children.  Paris parks have these great green chairs, making it easy to spend lots of time people watching.  We found chairs where we could watch the children sail their boats across the pond. They rent the boats and use sticks to push the boats off across the pond.  I have no idea how they get their boat back, or even if they do.  Perhaps it is simply a case of sending someone else's boat back.  At one point someone sent a remote-controlled motor boat out on the pond and I'm sure it was a nuisance to those who were sailing boats.  Finally, the motor boat capsized and they had to use fishing poles to cast a line out to bring it back to the edge of the pond.  We were impressed by how excited the kids were and how involved their dads were.  We also watched some very fat pigeons that seemed to be a different variety than the usual pigeons.

From the gardens we walked down Rue l'Odeon towards Blvd. St. Germaine.  This was Hemingway's stomping grounds when he lived in an apartment nearby toward the end of his stay in Paris.  The famous bookstore Shakespeare & Company was originally on Rue l'Odeon and its founder Silvia Beach lived above it.  By now it was lunch time, so we went to Le Danton, where I had a great salmon lunch when I was here in 2013.  Today the "plat du jour" was roast beef, so we ordered croque monsieurs (toasted ham & cheese sandwiches), which came with a salad, but they weren't the best I've had - not even as good as the ones I make at home.  Oh, well.

While at lunch, we decided to go to Le Bon Marche.  The other famous and oldest "Grand Magasin" (department store) in Paris, and the only one on the Left Bank.  We rode the #96 bus, but still had to walk a few blocks to the store.  Le Bon Marche is really out of our budget!  These "Grands Magasins" are really something.  They are like little jewel boxes with everything shown to its best advantage.  The jewelry and cosmetic counters sparkle. The stores are crowded and people are buying, but the prices are outrageous; although, I did see some affordable items at Galleries Lafayette yesterday - 20 euros for a scarf, 49 - 69 euros for a purse - but those were store brands, not the designer brands.  Each designer has its own alcove to display their wares and some of them have lines of people waiting to get in, as they control the number of people that come into their area so it doesn't get too crowded.

The other feature of these stores is their food halls.  The Grand Epicurie at Le Bon Marche is amazing. Fresh fruits and vegetables, jars of mustard, pickles - every condiment imaginable. Fish market, butcher, baker, etc.  Some people were actually doing their grocery shopping at those prices!  It was an experience.

Our plan for tonight's dinner was to get something from Picard, which is a store selling frozen prepared foods, which are reportedly very good.  Unfortunately, when we walked over to the store closest to us, we found out it closed a 1pm today due to the holiday - so, we decided to eat out tonight.  We continued to walk around and found the Parc Anne Frank, which is a small park hidden behind some buildings.   There were some roses, clematis, and lilacs in bloom, a playground, and children playing.  One little girl pushed her doll carriage around while another one rode her bike in circles. It's a nice little park.

On the way back to the apartment, we stopped at a bar, grabbed a table outside and had a couple of beers.  This was a busy corner that afforded excellent people watching.   There is a bottle recycle station across the way and we watched people stuff empty wine and liquor bottles through the holes -- obviously these were employees of the various cafes and bars in the area.  Lots of people walking their dogs and families with kids on scooters.  Earlier, in the afternoon, we stopped at a cafe near Le Bon Marche and ordered "Coca Light" (the first Diet Coke I've had since last September and it was pretty awful - I've lost the taste for it, but we did get three ice cubes with it).  The 2 cokes were 9.80 euros!  The 4 beers we had were 12 euros (3 euros each).  Lesson learned: we will now drink beer rather than coke!

I am really glad that we've had these three days to recover from jet lag, and we still have 2 full weeks left!

We went out in search of dinner - admittedly a little early -- and ended up at Le Quincampe, a small tea room and restaurant across the street from where I stayed in 2013.  This was the third time I'd eaten there.  I had a steak with bearnaise sauce and it was probably the best steak I've had in France.  The cuts of meat are different than what we're used to and not as tender.  It was cooked medium rare.  Kathy had an interesting dish - chunks of white fish with mashed potatoes on top, which was oven baked - shepard's pie with fish - and she said it was quite good.  The portions were large and filling.

Other than a few sprinkles today, the weather was nice and we were even sitting in the sunshine while drinking our beers.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Day 2

I managed to stay up until about 9 last night, read for about 10 minutes before turning out the light.  I slept through until 2, read for 30 minutes and slept through til 8.  A good night's sleep is the best remedy for jet lag.

Kathy went out to get a baguette for our breakfast, and I had some yogurt (I love French yogurt, and this came in cute little blue ceramic pots -- it isn't fat free, either) with cassis jam and some Nutella on my baguette.

There is no shower mat and neither of us were willing to risk our necks in the shower/tub without one, so after breakfast we went back to the Monoprix to get a shower mat and a few other items.  After dropping them off at the apartment, we retraced our steps to a metro station near the Monoprix where I charged my metro/bus pass (the one I got last time is still good), and Kathy got one.  The pass (Navigo Decouverte) when charged for one week is valid Monday - Sunday, so we will need to charge it again for next week. Unfortunately, there is no cost reduction for a partial week, but it is convenient to have the pass rather than having to buy tickets for each trip.

We rode the Metro 3 line to Opera.  When you ascend from the station you are right in front of the Opera Garnier, the original Paris opera house, which is all baroque and gilt.  A really pretty building.  We walked around it, however, to the two "grands magasins"  or department stores - Galleries Lafayette and Printemps. Galleries Lafayette has a beautiful glass dome above the cosmetic area, which is so beautiful it takes your breath away.  We went up to the roof where there is a wonderful view of Paris to the south laid out in front of you; we got our first look at the Eiffel Tower. We had a rather  pricey and disappointing lunch in their cafeteria.  While we looked at a lot of things, purses specifically, we didn't buy anything. After lunch we went to Printemps and then over to the gourmet department of Galleries Lafayette, which had moved since I was there last.  It was quite a sight with all sorts of pastries, including macarons (I bought some), eclairs, breads, etc.  Also, foie gras, truffles, smoked salmon, and several places where you could eat prepared food - we should have had lunch here.  Next time. We then went back to the Metro and back to the apartment.

We both took naps and then around 4:30 walked down to the Pompidou Center and up the street where I stayed on my last trip, which is only about 1 1/2 blocks from where we are now.  There were so many people about.  By this time, school was out, so there were lots of kids.  There were also some buskers entertaining people, and thousands of pigeons.  We had some ice cream at Amorino, which I think is the best in Paris.

Tomorrow is a holiday -- 70th Anniversary of VE Day -- so a lot of shops will be closed tomorrow and there will be a big celebration at the Arc du Triomphe.  We will not try to go there.

Walking around Paris does have its challenges.  First, the traffic.  It's hard to see the "walk" signals at some corners.  Once today, Kathy & I started out and all of a sudden a surge of traffic came up -- we walked against the signal -- we grabbed each other's hand and ran across as fast as we could, which isn't very fast in my case.  It was like "well, if you are going to get one of us, you're going to get both of us."  Fortunately, this was a narrow street, so we didn't have to run far.  Second, the other walkers.  Parisians are intent on their objective and will plow right into you if you don't move.  Of course, many are intent on their cell phones, just like in the US, too.  You have to be constantly aware of what is going on and be ready to step aside if you don't want to be trampled.

We didn't run into any scammers today, but I'm sure they are out there.  Also, we didn't see any armed military walking around, which surprised me.  They were very evident at the airport.  I carried my sweater and umbrella in my shopping bag today and security in the department stores asked to look inside - no problem.

We had good weather today -- somewhat cloudy, but some sun and no rain.

Another nice day in Paris.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Bonjour, Paris!

I got up at 3:45am and the taxi picked me up an hour later.  By 5:30 I had checked my bag, gone through security and was sitting at Starbucks with my first coffee of the day. My flight from Seattle to Chicago left on time, but the flight from Chicago was delayed by 45 minutes because they had to replace the plane.  I think we were fortunate that it wasn't a longer delay.  We were only 15 minutes later arriving in Paris than originally scheduled.  It was about 7:00am when I got off the plane and by 7:15 I had my suitcase and had gone through immigration, and had arrived!

I met Kathy at the Sheraton, at terminal 2, where she had stayed Tuesday night.  I freshened up and we went out to get some breakfast.  By 9:30 we were in a cab on our way into central Paris!

We had arranged to meet the "greeter" for our rental apartment, at a boulangerie near the apartment, which is on Rue St. Martin in the 3rd arrondissement.  Once she arrived she took us up to the apartment and showed us around, including how to operate all of the appliances.  The apartment is exactly as described and pictured on the agency's website and should be very comfortable.  It is a lot bigger than the one I rented from the same agency in 2013 with one bedroom and an full-size, fully equipped kitchen.  Originally, the plan was for us to drop off our luggage, then come back at the normal check-in time at 2:00, but as it turned out the apartment was ready for us to settle in.

After we unpacked, Kathy and I walked over to Rue Montorgueil, a market street not far from the apartment.  Since this apartment is only a couple of blocks from where I stayed last time, I am fairly familiar with the immediate area.  We really felt like we were in Paris while having lunch outside at one of the cafes on Rue Montorgueil. It is such fun watching the parade of people go by.  We each had a small glass of wine and salads.  Kathy's was a chicken caesar and mine was a cobb, but both were very different than what we would have at home.  They were both topped with a poached egg.  Mine was very good.

After lunch we strolled the street, looking in the shop windows, but we didn't buy anything.  By this time, I think both of us were too tired.   We got rained on as we were heading back to the apartment.  Fortunately, we had our umbrellas, but it was windy and mine blew inside out about five times by the time we got to the Monoprix where we picked up some groceries for breakfast and tonight's supper.

Back to the apartment, we both took naps, and then called home. With a nine hour time difference, we have a limited time frame in which to call without waking someone up in the middle of the night.

On our way over to Rue Montorgueil, we stopped at the first Tabac we passed so that I could buy a SIM card for my cheapy cellphone.  I don't try to use my smart phone here.  I bought a $30 phone that complies with European standards from Amazon before my last trip to Paris.  I got a Lebara SIM card plus 10 euros worth of time, which should be plenty for the two weeks we're here.  Back at the apartment I had to call to activate the SIM, which was pretty easy as they have an English option.

Our light supper consisted of 2 different cheeses, sausage, fresh vegetables, very good bread, and a glass of wine.

All in all, not a bad start to our stay in Paris, and even though we did get rained on, it was nice enough for a time  for us to enjoy a Parisian lunch at a sidewalk cafe.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Paris - 7

I leave one week from today.   The past two months since we got home from Hawaii seem to have gone slowly, but now Paris is coming up fast!

I have my clothes picked out, but it's so hard to know what to take.  Will it be warm? Cool? Rain?  Since I can't predict the weather, I just have to take clothing suitable for whatever happens.  I know I will probably take too much.  I'm sticking to my black and white color scheme - with just a little bit of color, mostly blue.

I know Kathy is getting excited as am I.  She arrives the day before I do and is staying at a hotel right at CDG where I will meet her the next morning, then we'll taxi into Paris together.  We can't settle into the apartment until 2:00, but I've arranged for us to drop off our luggage at 11:00.  Then we'll walk around the neighborhood for a couple of hours, have some lunch, and buy some groceries.

Stay tuned...

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Anticipating Paris

Five and one-half weeks to go.  The excitement is building.  I leave for Paris on May 5.  Flying American Airlines from Seattle to Chicago, then on to Paris without changing planes.  I was able to use miles this time and had enough for business class - one way - so looking forward to some comfort during the 14+ hours of the route.

My very good friend, Kathy, who I worked with for several years, is flying from LA and arrives the day before me. We will meet at the Sheraton CDG and taxi into central Paris together.

We have rented a one-bedroom apartment through Cobblestone Paris Rentals - the same agency I used in 2013.  This apartment is 2 or 3 blocks from where I stayed before, so I am somewhat familiar with the neighborhood.

We haven't done a lot of planning.  Both Kathy and I have been to Paris before, so have seen all of the "big" sights.  We plan to pretty much play things by ear and just soak up Paris.  There are always a few things I always want to do or see, and there are several things I didn't see when I was last there, so want to catch up on some of those.

Reading the Trip Advisor Paris Forum, there is always a lot of discussion about what to wear in Paris.  The main point seems to be that people, specifically women, want to blend in with the locals.  But, when I've been to Paris, I've noticed that the locals really have no specific look.  Everyone dresses pretty much like they do here.  Lots of jeans and over-size jackets.  I didn't see a lot of white athletic shoes, but I did see a lot of colored athletic shoes on young men.  The main fashion accessory that seems to set Parisians apart from everyone else is a scarf.  Everyone seems to wear one.  Apart from that, many Parisians seem to prefer dark clothing, especially black.  I have my wardrobe sorted out and it consists mainly of black slacks, black & white print tops, black cardigan, black raincoat, and black shoes.  Will I "blend in" with the locals? Probably not.  There's something about most Americans that screams "tourist," which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

I have been practicing my French for nearly a year.  I am no way fluent, but can get by with the basic pleasantries and asking for what I need or want.  The French have a high standard for what they consider to be polite (or, a low tolerance for what they consider to be rude).  So, knowing how to approach a French person is really important.  All contact with the French must begin with "Bonjour" - before anything else is said - and end with "Merci."   Personally, in my 6 previous trips to France, I've never run into what many Americans consider to be the rudeness of the French.  I have always been treated with respect and kindness. Any attempt at speaking French is appreciated, even if they immediately start speaking English upon hearing my French.  However, I've been told that my French is very good, though I always suspect that they silently add "for an English speaker." 

I wouldn't expect to have many long conversations with a local; however, I have found that speaking some French has really helped me connect with the locals.  This was especially true when traveling outside of Paris where locals occasionally did strike up a conversation with me.  It seemed that just a few words of French from me would open the flood gates on their end.  I understood little of what they said, but smiled, nodded vigorously, and uttered "oui, oui," which seemed to satisfy them as they rattled on.

I'm looking forward to another trip to Paris and I hope you will enjoy following along with my blog.  If you are interested in my other French blogs, they may be found at: and