Monday, May 27, 2013

At the airport

Sigh. I'm too tired for tears this morning, but I did shed a few yesterday, comme toujours.

And speaking of yesterday, it was a great day - the warmest we've had and NO rain!

The guided tour of the Opera Garnier was excellent - highly recommend it. There's a  lot you don't see at a performance that's covered on the tour. I never knew what the original ceiling looked like, and they have a small (obviously!) replica of it on the tour. We both like the Chagall ceiling much better. There's also a huge library that I never knew existed. The unfinished Emporer's apartment was very cool, too (he never made it there). It's also a steel-framed building - who knew? - with 30 types of marble, most imported.

We finally used our terrace yesterday at lunch - bread, wine & cheese. There's a pic somewhere, but I'm a little disorganized  this AM and haven't downloaded yesterday's photos yet (except for the pastry - see below).

The Franglish event was a lot of fun, but utterly exhausting! We each spoke to 5 different native French speakers, 7 minutes in English and 7 minutes in French. We met some interesting people - all of whom were trying to learn English for different reasons, but mainly for travel and some just to open up some future work opportunities.

You know how at some point on a (fairly) long vacation, you're eager to get home? Yeah, I don't feel that way at all!  I hate leaving Paris.

OK, so I'll try to post a few more pictures after we get home.

Happy Memorial Day, and thanks again for following along.

An ode to French pastry

I think these next pictures should be set to some nice classical music. 

Every morning, Tom went out to forage for pastries, while I worked on the blog, downloaded pictures or caught up on email. My favorite was the 2nd one down, a new one for me. It's called Kouign Amann and it hails from Brittany. Here's the wiki on it.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Bonne Fête des Mamans!

It's Mother's Day in France.

We had a spectacular day in Paris yesterday, starting off with shopping. Shopping and spectacular are never in the same sentence (we don't really like shopping),  but I typically save it for the last day and there's two things wrong with that: 1. It's sad to spend your last day in Paris shopping, and 2. It's stressful if you have a particular thing in mind. So we bought gifts for others and gifts for us, and were out and about with all the other Parisians shopping on a beautiful day (sunny and just a tad cool).

One of the shops we went to was Denise Acabo's candy store, which is right on the next block on our street. I found this great you tube video by David Lebovitz. He describes the experience of being in her shop very well - and yes, she was wearing that same outfit yesterday. She's quite a character, and very passionate about what she does.

Later in the  afternoon, we went to the Nissim de Camondo museum, a (somewhat) obscure museum that neither of us had been. If you like seeing how the other half lived, as well as some lovely furniture and other objets d'art, do go. And get the audioguide! It's included in the admission fee, yet we saw many people decline them. It not only described the various pieces, but told the story of the Camondo family. We really liked it.

As we were walking back to the apartment, we saw a beautiful view of Sacre Coeur. We have several photos of Sacre Coeur in our bedroom, that we have framed and hanging on the wall. It's our neighborhood, afterall. I did my best to edit this pic, but it doesn't do it justice. It looked blue from afar.

Here is another shot of it.
A quick stop at a cafe, a nice, home-cooked dinner, and then we went out to Chez Julien, which was packed! After that, we went to a jazz place we passed earlier in the day, thinking it'd be full of tourists (not that there's anything wrong with that). Lots of locals and lots of regulars, and some very good jazz.

Here we are after too much wine.

Today, we have a tour of the Opera House at 11:30 (we've both seen performances there, but have never done the tour) and then this evening, an event called Franglish, where native French speakers practice their English and native English speakers practice their French. Should be fun!

Bonne journée.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

And then the next 48...

Time flies when you're happy, right?

So I left off at Thursday night, and it's now Saturday night. Sheesh! Well, on Thursday night, we went to Verjus, which is a restaurant run by a couple kids from Seattle. We've eaten their cooking here in Paris before they opened up a real bricks & mortar place - it was more like a supper club. Anyway, it was a wonderful meal and I felt like I was eating Spring. Except the weather has been nothing like that! Cold cold cold.

Yesterday, we did laundry in the morning. I kid you not. But laundry here is a project. So it took all morning.

Lunch was at a place called Saturne. Inventive, wonderful, farm to table-type food. Pictures to come, I promise.

Then it was off to the market at the Place d'Anvers, where we bought some veal chops from the butcher (here he is, hacking away at our chops)
haricots verts (green beans) from the nice veggie girls, and a couple of tomatoes which are ugly - always a good sign.

And last night, we met our friends Nancy & David at one of their favorite restaurants here, a tapas place called Dans Les Landes. They brought some friends along, and it turns out they're renting an apartment from the same, small agency we are-small world. It was a fun night.

Let me quit there because it's Saturday night in Paris, we just ate a dinner that we cooked, and now we're going out! More tomorrrow...our last day....

Our first 24 hours in Paris

The great thing about returning to Paris over and over is that there's no punch list of "must-sees." For us, it's about wandering aimlessly, visiting with friends, interacting with merchants and residents, making new discoveries, and going back to favorite places.

So the first thing we did after settling into the apartment was to go to Chez Julien, our favorite wine bar from the last trip on Rue Lepic. The owner wasn't there, but the bartender was friendly, and we sipped some Beaujolais and Gaillac.

Next, off to pick up supper. I wasn't in the mood to cook tonight, and I always wanted to try one of those ubiquitous roasted chickens (and the yummy potatoes with the chicken drippings all over them). So that's what we did, among all the Parisians picking up either supper fixins or actual suppers, like we were. Those are sun-dried tomatoes and bay leaves on the chicken. It was good, very satisfying.

After dinner, we went in search of a wine bar I had read about which was very nearby. Le Dit-Vin was a nice, cosy, little neighborhood joint with a great selection of wines by the glass and very friendly service. We'll be back.

Thursday morning, we had to be at the Chagall exhibit at the Musee du Luxembourg at 10:00AM. (While I love the concept of tickets in advance so that you don't have to wait on lines, I'm not crazy about having so many "appointments" on vacation. Oh well, this is the way of the world these days.)

Even with advance tickets, the exhibit was packed! But it was very well done, called "Chagall, between war and peace" and highlighted his paintings that were clearly affected by the trials of war. It also celebrated his Jewish Russian roots and his life with his wife, Bella.

By the way, we actually did make a list of some things we wanted to do (it just gives some structure to the day) and one of the things on my list was the Tour Montparnasse (I had never been!) It was nearby, so off we went to the observation deck on the 56th floor. They say the best thing about vieiwing Paris from Montparnasse is that you don't have to see the ugly Montparnasse tower in it!!

I love this picture. The Eiffel Tower is bathed in light, but you can see the storm coming! It started pouring, so we grabbed a glass of wine at the cafe, and waited it out.
Lunch time! I'm going to cheat on this next part and copy and paste a quick review I did on this restaurant for a site called "Chowhound" where I found the recommendation. It was about a 5-minute walk from the tower - an old-timey bistrot called "Le Templier."

But first the pictures.

This place just screams classic in every way: from the wait staff (owner?), to the patrons (many regulars) to the food. We were seated within 5 minutes, only to be told we had to move to accommodate a party of 8. N'importe quoi - it was a better table.

For entrees, I started with white asparagus with vinaigrette. This is the 2nd or 3rd time I've had asparagus on this trip, and well, it's been cooked to mush! That's really not a complaint, and I understand that white is tougher than green. It's just unusual for us is the only reason I mention it - we barely cook most of our vegetables (unless I'm smothering okra, of course) at home. Anyway, I enjoyed it. Tom had the pickled herring fillets. He was served a salad with potatoes and then a huge bowl was brought over so he could help himself. I grew up with pickled herring and love it - this was a very good version.

I then had the escalope de foie gras in a mustard-honey sauce. Wow, that sounds sickly sweet, but it wasn't. A large portion served on toast points, which got wonderfully soggy with the addictive sauce. I was in heaven. Tom  ordered the tete de veau (veal head for those who don't speak French!)  and although disappointed that it didn't have more "pieces and parts," he did enjoy it. Served with boiled potatoes, it was about as simple as you can get - total peasant food.

No room for dessert, but people around us were being served gargantuan portions of Tarte Tatin. Overall, it was a wonderful lunch. While we love “modern” food, it's nice to have the classics from time to time.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Some final thoughts on Barcelona...

before switching gears to France.

We loved it. I just asked Tom what he wants to say, and he said, "There were more balconies than I've ever seen in any other city." So true, which means it was reminiscent of New Orleans.

And what's not to love about Gaudi? I really did feel like I was Alice in Wonderland while we were climbing down the Nativity Tower at Sagrada Familia. We did not go into Casa Battlo or Casa Mila (buy tix in advance or wait on lines) but we enjoyed them from the exterior.

On our last day, we went to the Picasso museum. No pics allowed inside, but this was taken in the courtyard.
It was fascinating to see so many Picasso works that were so unlike Picasso!

Then we went off to Montjuic for the Miro museum. We liked that as well, and the audio guides for both museums were well worth the few extra Euros.

Here's the view from the terrace at the Miro museum, and one of the sculptures outside.

We loved the people as well - very proud, and great dispositions - happy, helpful, and engaged. This was taken at Hofmann - a pastry shop.
And last but not least, we loved the food. These are croissants filled with mascarpone cheese from the aforementioned pastry shop. They were out of this world.
This was one of the dinners we made at home. Fresh tuna steaks, ratatouille and asparagus - all from the Santa Caterina market. Unfortunately, I couldn't get a decent sear on the tuna because the only pans in the apartment were teflon!
One night, we did as the locals and did some tapas crawling. We went to a place called Sagas. Porchetta and tongue sandwiches, below. And then we went to La Vinya del Senyor (thanks, Bill!) No pics from there, but we liked it a lot. A few glasses of wine and some very good chorizo and other snacks.

It was a busy 4 days, but we did take time to smell the roses.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Oh Paris, your weather never disappoints me

It's just so predictably unpredictable! Our apartment rental agent told us that a friend of hers had to make a fire in her apartment yesterday. Ugh. It's cold. It's wet. But we're here!

There's so much I want to share, and I was hoping to post from the TGV yesterday, but there was no WiFi...? How can crappy Amtrak have WiFi and the TGV (which topped speeds of 320 km/hr yesterday) not?

Anyway, I am now way behind. Plus, the internet connection is less than stable here. But I'll keep at it! Btw, the apartment is just fantastic. It's palatial compared to where we were - so much space and so much natural light. Plus all the toiletries, kitchen gear, etc. one could ask for. Nice.

So on our last night in Barcelona, we had our splurge dinner at a place called Hisop. It was fantastic. But first, we had a get together with some Slow Travelers (an online travel forum I belong to) at their apartment in the Eixample. Jan & Dave are from the wilds of Minnesota, so like to spend their vacations in big cities. They're in Barcelona for over two weeks. Here we are with wine & snacks on their terrace.
And now...drum roll, please...onto the food porn.

Here's the menu.
Did I mention the menu's in English? We loved that we had never heard of many of the ingredients!

I'm going to post the courses one after the other. I think the word to describe the whole meal is delicate. I know that doesn't sound like a ringing endorsement, but when I think about cooking at home, we tend towards big, bold flavors most of the time. I'm a pretty good cook, but I don't think I could pull off this delicacy. It's challenging to leave what you have alone, and let the flavors shine through - plus, you have to have really fresh food, which I'm not convinced is 100% available to us home cooks. Here we go. We did the wine pairings, too. They were perfect, of course.

What the menu doesn't mention is that the wasabi encrusts a quail egg! Yum. Here's a before and after shot.

 Tom did a great job on the photos with no flash. We missed a pic of the palate cleanser, but here's dessert. Overall, a wonderful meal.
For those who have been leaving comments (both here and via email), thank you thank you thank you! It's nice to know you're reading and enjoying it.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Yesterday was Gaudiful

But there are no pictures to prove it! Actually, there are pictures on a throw-away camera, but I can't figure out how to connect it to the computer. ;-)

The camera battery died on the way to Sagrada Familia (don't worry, it's charged again). Thank goodness they still sell those things.

So more on Gaudi later, but I wanted to do a quick post with pics before we head to the Picasso Museum shortly.

Yesterday afternoon, we hung out in our 'hood, the Born neighborhood. We love this area. The Church of Santa Maria del Mar (which we can see from our terrace), and that candle right in the middle is the one I lit for my mother.

You can see our terrace in the next picture, way up top. And finally, a typical street in the Born. More later...

Monday, May 20, 2013

It's not like eating and drinking have been our only activities...

Not that there would be anything wrong with that!

Yesterday, before lunch, we went to the spectacular Palau de Musica for a traditional Catalan music concert. A pianist and a soprano performing songs by artists neither of us had ever heard of. Beautiful music in a beautiful setting. Unfortunately, no pics were allowed of the performers but the soprano was wearing a long, bright red taffeta skirt with a white ruffly blouse - she was gorgeous.

Here are the pictures we could take: the exterior, the stage, and one of the many columns.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Lunch on the Mediterranean

Another thing I imagined was a seafood lunch on the sea.

We went to Kaiku in Barceloneta. Clams and prawns plucked from about two blocks away.

And then the black rice, which Tom lovingly referred to as black goo. So good. Rice cooked in squid ink. Hard to make black food look pretty, but you'll have to trust me, if you love seafood like we do, this was a phenomenal dish.

When we sat down, it was a warm sunny day on the beach. We had perfect timing today - shortly after we left the restaurant, it became windy and cold. About two blocks from the apartment, it started to rain!

These pics were right next to each other  in the camera. Nice day (with funky sculpture.)

Storms arriving.