Blog entries are in reverse chronology (newest first) in this section
September 28, 2022
Stephen was supposed to teach YMHFA today, but the school district closed down due to the approaching hurricane. We decided since we'll be doing some more traditional traveling over the next few months, moving around from city to city with more frequency, that we wanted to get rid of two of our bags so that we could travel lighter. We are using Sendmybag.com to send our luggage back to the US. Arranging for this has not been without its headaches, but we'll be glad to get rid of it. We needed to pick up plastic holders and zip ties to place on our luggage so all the documentation for customs and for the courier will be visible, so Stephen took care of that. We also are working on getting our ballots from abroad taken care of, but they haven't responded back to an email yet, and it's not clear where on the printout from the online ballot selection program you're supposed to sign. If anyone knows who's done this before, please reach out to us.
Eli spent the afternoon shopping for new shoes, as the pair he was wearing most days has basically given out. He stumbled upon 59 Rue de Rivoli, a building filled with artists' lofts. Don't know how we missed this in our guidebooks, but it was very cool. Photos are still uploading, but we'll share them here as soon as they do.
September 27, 2022
It was raining on and off today, so we again stuck close to home, running errands and getting stuff taken care of. Stephen went to the Paris Museum of Modern art as he was itching to get back out into the city. The collection there was not as extensive as at the Centre Pompidou. It mostly had a focus on the period of the 1920's-40's.
In the evening, we met Camille and Michel out at another Bib Gourmand restaurant in or neighborhood, Jouvence, which is just a block and a half away from our flat. It was great to meet Michel, and to have some time for conversation since our last two meals with Camille we had to cancel when Stephen got COVID. The restaurant was very worthy of the Bib Gourmand designation. Again, simple food but perfectly prepared. We both had the pigeon as our main (which was super tender and juicy) and the veal head appetizer. Eli got the madeleines for dessert and Stephen did the chocolate eclair.
Michel introduced us to wine identifier app that works like the plant identifier feature on the iPhone. We think this will be really useful for us, as we never remember when we have a bottle that we like what is and how to find it again.
September 26, 2022
Today it was going to be on and off rain, so we decided to stick close to home and do a walk of our arrondissement. We stopped by a cafe and had some coffee, stopped by a chocolate shop (which we later learned from Camille and Michel is kind of overrated), and soaked in the atmosphere of our neighborhood.
September 25, 2022
It was a beautiful day today, so we headed over to Montmartre to walk around and check out Sacre Coeur and the Dali Museum.
When we arrived on the hill, there was a mass going on, so we first went to the Dali Museum. Kind of like Picasso, there are a few Dali museums around the world. This one was mostly curated by an Italian art collector. Most of what was on display here was very different from the few most famous Dali pieces that are generally replicated on posters, etc. Well worth the visit to see other ways and other mediums in which he worked. They also have a gallery attached to the museum that sells Dali works (and not surprisingly there were no prices listed next to the art for sale).
Sacre Coeur was built in the later 19th century, so in comparatively new, but the site and setting are magnificent. It's a mix of byzantine style with some modern elements. The mosaics are byzantine in style but some with contemporary themes, same with the stained glass windows. After touring the cathedral, we sat down on the hillside overlooking the city and hand picnic lunch. In the distance, we saw a large building burning, which we later learned was the wholesale food market, the Marche de Rungis. After lunch, we walked by the Moulin Rouge for a selfie and then on to get some macarons, which we hadn't yet had sine arriving in Paris. At our first stop the macarons were not very good... The cookie part was too squishy. Luckily our second stop was much better, but we still don't quite get all the hype about macarons.
September 24, 2022
We checked out of our bat cave, and headed to Chateau Cheverny, one of the few chateaux that is still in private hands (although open to the public). They did a good job of balancing restoring the rooms to both renaissance and baroque and neoclassical styles, and they didn't go overboard with restoring too much or too little. The beamed ceilings were outstanding.
As was expected, we ran into traffic once we got back to Paris which took about as long to get from the periferique to drop off the car as it did from Cheverny to the outskirts of Paris. We had to stop 3 different times to find a gas station that was open and took US credit cards to fill up the rental car. We should have followed our advice from London and rented the car out near Orly airport as opposed to in town.
September 23, 2022
Today we went to Chateau Chenonceau and Chateau Chaumont, both super close to where we are staying. Chenonceau is breathtaking because it is basically built in the middle of the Cher river. In fact, the ballroom you see as that extension of the chateau in the photo was a bridge that was enclosed. Chaumont was interesting as the curators have filled a lot of the empty rooms with contemporary art; it's not a bad strategy if you are trying to fill a huge mansion and at a certain point restoring all the personal apartments or bedrooms gets kind of repetitive. Chaumont is also known for their gardens, but they again took a very contemporary slant to them.
For dinner, we headed to a third Bib Gourmand, this time only about 10 minutes from our cave (or bat cave, we should now call it). We're not listing the restaurant here as we didn't think it was all that special. Maybe it was colored by the wonderful lunch we had the previous afternoon at a similar Bib Gourmand restaurant.
So, on the bat note, when we were having our charcuterie on the terrace the previous night, we noticed that dusk brought out a whole bunch of bats. We had left the window open in the upstairs area of our cave to get some air circulation through the night, and apparently a bat must have flown in and perched itself in one of the crevices of our cave without us having noticed. We did notice tonight, though, as we came in, although we don't think that the bat ever left its perch in our home through the whole night. It was still in the same position the next morning as it was this evening.
September 22, 2022
We woke up early and Eli was able to capture some great photos of the sunrise and the valley in the early morning. We headed about an hour from our cave to see Chateau Villandry, which is known for its gardens. The gardens did not disappoint. We were amazed at how they used vegetables and edibles in their French Renaissance style gardens. We thought Deborah and Larry and Grandpa and Grandma Davis could take notes.
We headed a short distance to have lunch at another Bib Gourmand restaurant, L'Aigle D'Or in Azay le Rideau (there is a chateau here too, but we skipped it). We can't say how impressed we were by this place. They are well on their way to earning an actual star. The dishes were creative, well balanced, and flavors we would not have otherwise experienced in our everyday cooking. They also offer a wine pairing that went exquisitely well with the courses offered.
We had intended to go on to a winery after lunch, but with so much food and wine (we had aperitifs at the start of the meal as well), we walked off a little booziness for a couple hours before getting back in the car, and then just headed to our cave. We napped a bit and then made ourselves a charcuterie to enjoy on the terrace as we watched the sun set.
That's all vegetables
September 21, 2022
Since we were mostly going to be outside and Stephen had ended his 5 day isolation period, we figured we'd head out on our originally planned side trip to the Loire Valley. The Loire is know for its wine and its chateaux (that's the plural in French). We booked a stay through AirBnB in a Troglodyte, which is a cave home. The ground is mostly limestone hills and cliffs in the valley, and so they have built homes into the cliffs above the river. Ours was technically overlooking the river Cher, but it was well located to all the things we wanted to see and do. And it was pretty cool living in a cave for a few days with a magnificent terrace overlooking the river and the valley. The cave is incredibly self-climate controlled. It never got above or below 72 degrees in the heat of the day or the cool of the night. It must have been a very practical building technique back in the day.
On our way to check in at our place, we stopped at Chateau Chambord. All the chateaux in the area were built using limestone stones and so they have an amazingly white tinge to them. Neither of us could figure out how they haven't all eroded away, though, as limestone is notoriously susceptible to erosion. You can also see where tourists over the years have carved graffiti into the stones (nothing creative, though). Many of the chateaux in the region were used to inspire Sleeping Beauty's Castles in Disneyland and Walt Disney World.
For dinner, we used the Michelin Guide to pick a spot for Stephen's belated birthday celebration, Le Malu, in Vendome about an hour's drive away from our place. Le Malu is a Bib Gourmand restaurant, meaning it has elevated food, but not yet worthy of a star. During dinner, we talked about how the economics of a restaurant of this size (there was maybe space for 20 diners in total) could even work at the prices that they were charging for a 3 course meal (plus amuse bouche). We don't see how it works, but we are happy to taste the results. Overall at Malu, we found the dishes creative, but not always making a lot of sense; sometimes there were some flavor imbalances that we noted. Still a worthy meal for a birthday, though. Appetizers and desserts were overall better than the mains.
September 20, 2022
Since it was day 5 since Stephen's first test, he took another test today, hoping it would not be positive so he could join Eli at the ballet. Unfortunately it came back positive still, so he stayed home and Eli went to the show. It was at the Palais Garnier, the historic opera house, versus the new opera house built at the Place de la Bastille. The ceiling in the concert hall was painted by Marc Chagall. The entire building is an amazing space.
The performance was called Cri de Coeur, and was a contemporary piece choreographed by a guest choreographer from Norway.
September 15-19, 2022
We kind of expected it would happen at some point while we were travelling, but Stephen didn't feel great when he woke up. We went to the gym, but he left early, took a COVID test, and it came back positive. Eli took one as well, even though he was feeling okay, and his was negative (and he's stayed feeling fine all weekend long). Stephen's bout with this round was about as bad as it was the first time around: about 3 days of fever and bodyaches and lots of snot (less coughing this time, though). We were really bummed because we had to cancel on dinner with Camille and Selma, on going out again with Marc and Brian, and on all the other stuff we had planned to see together. Eli, though, master chef that he is, prepped a few meals for Stephen (one of which was an onion and beef stew that was perfect for when you're sick). He did get out to do the things that we had already bought tickets for since they were use it or lose it. Hopefully Stephen will have the opportunity to get to these places once we get back from the Loire Valley.
Eli checked out the Dior Museum, the Hotel de la Marine, and the Catacombs. He also headed out to Montmartre to meet his friend, Dylan, for dinner who was in town for the weekend before heading to Egypt to work on an archeological dig site.
September 14, 2022
We had the opportunity to spend some time today with Marc and Brian again, touring the Louvre together. The entry was a zoo, and so we ended up meeting them inside the pyramid after having gotten in because our tickets were for slightly different times. It was a lot of fun to get to experience someone else's version of touring a museum vs. what we usually do as a couple, and since we both had been to the Louvre before, we didn't feel the need to hit any of the "biggies" like the Mona Lisa. We just decided to kind of stroll and see what we could see. We did make it into some Roman and Greek statuary so passed by the Venus de Milo (and we both decided that it was not anywhere near as impressive as some of the other statues of that era that are at the museum). We also spent some time in the Egyptian galleries. We both noted how we liked that it included more personal objects, jewelry, vases, etc. than just the grand statuary and sarcophagi that was at the British Museum. We also thought the juxtaposition in some of the galleries wit the Egyptian art in a neoclassical room was also interesting... although it did tend to distract from the art that was meant to be displayed.
By 1:30 we were all getting hungry so Brian found a great bistro nearby for lunch, La Belle Epoque. Eli had the burger, which was garnished with an herbed sheep cheese, and Stephen had the chicken. The burger was great, the chicken just so-so. While the sauce was good, it is hard to keep a chicken breast juicy, and this one was just every so slightly on the drier side.
We said goodbye to Marc and Brian and headed back to our flat for a siesta. Hopefully we'll get to see them again before they leave on Saturday.
September 13, 2022
We took it easy today, and mostly hung around the house during the day. Eli had gotten some beef filet, but we hadn't used it yet because we've been eating out so frequently. He decided to use it at lunch and made steak au poivre. It was quite good. Later that evening, we went to meet David for Happy Hour at a Paname, a craft beer bar, on the Canal Saint-Martin. We had met David and his wife at Stephen's folk's house a few years ago. David is a son of their good friends the Adelsons. Sue Adelson is a loyal reader of our blog. She had seen that we were in Paris and let us know through Stephen's parents that David and his wife would be in Paris for a short bit while we were here for the month. David's wife is a "Fraussie" (per David), and she still has family here, but the family business was taking her to Prague, so she was here only a short while. Meanwhile, David is not working while he's here, so it was great to catch up with him and commiserate about what a terrible life it is to have so much free time in Paris (as we are dripping with sarcasm), and learning French via Duolingo (David is trying as well, so we compared notes). Unfortunately it started to rain, so we headed back, but in our rush to get back to the Metro station before it really started raining, we forgot to get a picture of us together.
September 12, 2022
Since it was going to be nice and sunny today and we didn't know if that would be the case the rest of the week, we decided to do some outdoor things today. We started at the Arc de Triomphe. The arch itself is a cool neoclassical arch (and in fact they reference all other kinds of triumphal arches around the globe in the small museum at the top), but the real spectacle is the view from the top. We thought this was the best view we had of all of the rooftops we'd done so far in Paris. You see down all the broad boulevards, and you have a great view of the opera house and the Eifel Tower.
From there, we went on down to the Eifel Tower. While we didn't go up, we were still impressed with its design. It was the tallest structure built until the Chrysler Building surpassed it in 1930. We sat down on a bench to have our picnic lunch, but we couldn't find a bench that was facing the tower. We thought about going on the ground (there wasn't a lot of grass around) but the ground was wet and we didn't want to get muddy. Our picnic was interrupted by a swarm of bees (we don't usually freak out about bees, so you know it's got to be a swarm if it affected both of us), so we ate quickly and moved on to our next location.
We headed down to Les Jardins de Luxembourg. We were there about 1:30 which is in the middle of Parisian lunch hour, and clearly, even mores o than Tuileries, this is the place to spend your lunch. There were tons of groups of working adults and young people hanging out and eating their lunches, both on the grass and the provided chairs. We hung out for a little while and people watched, and then headed back to the flat to rest up a little bit.
Tonight for dinner, we met Eli's actor friend Marc and his husband Brian out for dinner. They're here for the week on vacation, and it was nice to get to spend some time with them. We went to Le Colimacon at Marc and Brian's suggestion.... It was fabulous. We both had the rabbit, and it was probably the best preparation of rabbit we've ever had. It was wrapped in bacon and stuffed with mushroom so it stayed very moist, which can be a challenge for rabbit. Also, their wine suggestion was very good. For dessert we shared the roasted figs and the chocolate caramel souffle. From there we headed to a bar call Raidd, which is the only thing really happening on a Monday night. They're famous (infamous) for their nightly shower show; we were not impressed. In any case, it definitely was a night of great fun with some really cool people.
September 11, 2022
Today is Rachel's birthday, so Jennifer and Norha came up from Toulouse to surprise her. We all got together, along with Jennifer and Camille's mother and stepfather, at a Sushi restaurant, which is Rachel's favorite kind of food. It was great to see everyone together, and Maddox even joined us from Marseille, where she is currently studying at a school for dance. We had forgotten that she and Solal speak a little bit of Spanish from their time in Spain, so that was actually easier for us to communicate with them in Spanish vs. English or French. We're still working on a plan to have Rachel and Norha join us at some point in Florida to go to Harry Potter at Universal Studios, but we'll have to figure out when we're going to be there along with their breaks from school. It was a beautiful day outside so we enjoyed strolling with Camille and the kids until they had to go to the train station for Maddox to head back to Marseille.
September 10, 2022
For our last day with the museum pass, we went out to Chateau de Versailles. We thought we had a good plan, as it had been super hot earlier in the week when we booked the visit to go see the gardens in the morning and then go in to the Chateau in the afternoon when it would be hotter outside. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate in a number of different ways. Because France has been experiencing extreme drought conditions, the fountains only run on Saturdays and Sundays, at certain times only, and some only in the morning and others only in the afternoon. Although the gardens are open from 9am, the morning fountains only start at 10am and the central axis fountains don't start until 11. By that time, it was pretty nasty out with a significant constant drizzle, but we were already in the gardens and there are no in and out privileges, so we couldn't go back if the weather improved. We decided to take a quick walk around the fountains and then go hide out in the cloakroom to stay dry and eat lunch before our 1pm appointment in the Chateau. Of course the weather was better by the afternoon, but we were okay to leave. '
We started in the "minor rooms" and then headed up to the 2nd floor to see the king's and queen's apartments and the Hall of Mirrors. The dauphin's and dauphines' apartments were restored using some of the faux techniques, especially with the marble, that we had seen in other restored palaces. We were wondering if that would be the case all the way through. When we got through to the king's and queen's apartments, though, they were incredibly impressively restored. Truly we haven't seen anything as grand. Stephen remembers thinking the first time he saw the Hall of Mirrors back when he was a kid, "okay... it's a hall with mirrors... what's so special about that." This time, though, the impact was much more significant. The pictures don't do it justice.
Again, though, our experience was marred by all the social influencer selfies going on. Eli was frustrated because his view of it was that they were less highlighting the actual art or beautiful decor, but rather making themselves the subject and the location the "checkbox." Stephen was creeped out by how many late middle aged mothers were shooting influencer style shots for their 20-something daughters. There was something very incestuous and boundary crossing about it.
We got home around 5pm and took a quick nap before heading out around 8pm to a language meet-up at a bar in the 5th arrondissement. You may know that we've been trying to learn some French while we're here using Duolingo and Google Translate and just forcing ourselves to do it. We've been meeting with varied success, but we can get out short phrases most places we need to to get our point across. We didn't really thing we would really be able to use this setting to practice, but we figured we'd check it out and at least meet some new people. As soon as we got to the bar, we met Andrea, who is Colombian/French, speaks both Spanish and French and was interested in practicing English. She introduced us to some others nearby, one of whom was Andrew, who was here for the semester studying and trying to improve his French. He's getting his master's at the Fletcher School which is at Tufts, so Stephen and he bonded about that. Andrew spoke Spanish as well (as well as Danish as he lived in Denmark with his family while they were abroad), so we moved through all 3 languages throughout the evening. Needless to say, we were a lot more comfortable speaking Spanish than French, but we did try a bit.
September 9, 2022
Since our museum pass is running out on Saturday, we wanted to get in a few other items that were covered on the pass. After going to the gym and going shopping at the Marche D'Aligre, we headed first to the Museum of the Art and History of Judaism in the Marais.
Before being the gay neighborhood, the Marais was the center of Jewish life in Paris dating from the middle ages. However, not much record of that era is left, other than a few headstones after the expulsion from France in the 13th century. There were a lot of great artifacts of Jewish art and culture from the early 1700's through the 1920's. The museum here stops at that point; its goal is to document the community prior to the Nazi occupation. There is another museum that focuses on that period: Memorial of the Shoah. We thought it was a good idea to separate the two. The Jewish contemporary experience is shaped by the Holocaust, but it is good to remember and celebrate separately all that was before. We especially liked viewing the early 1700's illustrated Megillahs for Purim. It's great to see something of that period which we don't often think about in the context of Jewish life.
We then went on the the Orangerie where Monet's Lily's are exhibited. Monet explicitly created the Lilies as largeform works for the space so it was great to see in context. With that said, the experience was totally ruined by all the "influencers" seeking selfies in front of the art. There are additional galleries on the basement floor that highlight other notable works of the realist school, impressionists, and post-impressionists.
From there, we wanted to head over to the Grand Palais. We'd been noticing what looked to be this spectacular art nouveau glass-domed building we could see in the distance from a variety of vantage points and we wanted to go check it out. It's actually an exhibit hall where they hold all kinds of events, but sadly it's under renovation right now and closed. They're getting it ready to host events for the Paris Olympics in 2024. We just got some shots of the exterior of that and the Petit Palais as well. We walked over to the Palais d'Elysee, the presidential palace, to see if we could get a photo at least, but alas you could see even less of it from the street than 10 Downing.
For dinner, Stephen made Magret de Canard following Evelyne's preparation. We were both really impressed with the results. We even did the potatoes in the duck fat for an extra special treat.
September 8, 2022
We went far afield today and went to see the Fontainebleau Chateau, which is also included in our museum pass. It took about 40 minutes to get there, and is included in our metro pass (which we didn't realize until Stephen had bought his $5 ticket). The RER zone map that you see online when you search is outdated. Apparently the pass that we have covers all travel in the entire department of Ile de France. The Fontainebleau was a former royal palace close to hunting grounds, and also known as the primary palace for Napoleon the 1st. There were some incredible ceilings, but we're starting to get the sense of how the restorations have been done using lots of trompe l'oeil. Much of what looks like marble is just faux painted wood (which was true of the castles in Denmark and England as well). It'll be interesting when we visit Versailles to see if we notice the same from the restoration; we both remember from when we were visited when we were younger being overwhelmed with the opulence of Versailles. They also had a very interesting museum about Napoleon I, that gives a good explanation of that period following the French Revolution.
September 7, 2022
Stephen had to teach YMHFA in the afternoon, but we had the morning, so we went to the gym, then went back out to see the Chateau Vincennes. It was a former royal residence dating from the medieval period, and is known for its tall keep, the highest in Europe at 50 meters. They did a good job explaining how the spaces would have looked and been finished during the castle's heyday, but it's basically all just stone rooms now. Still, it's a very stunning building at that height. The chapel was still closed, though, as they are installing an art exhibition there that will open on the 13th. We caught a glimpse of what they were installing and it seems really cool for the space. Check out the picture below.
We went out to dinner tonight at A la Banane Ivoirianne, a West African restaurant. Eli's dish, a peanut sauce based chicken dish was really good... spicy and peanutty and rich and flavorful. Stephen's was not as dynamic, but still good. We also had the crab appetizer, which was also very rich, although oddly the crab appetizer was served in a scallop shell.
September 6, 2022
We thought we'd go to the Bois de Vincennes and to see the Chateau there.
The Bois de Vincennes is billed as Paris's Central Park, but this is on the outskirts of the city proper. There certainly was a lot of forested space, but we missed a lot of the more curated spaces that Central Park has. We walked through the botanical gardens here, but they were just "meh" and seemed not well cared for. The manmade features were more interesting in this garden. We walked through some of the forest trails which were nice (happening upon the nudist sunbathing green on the way) and then headed to the Chateau.
Google showed the Chateau open, however the keep and the chapel at the chateau were closed (even though the grounds were open, so we quickly switched plans and headed to the Musee d'Orsay. The Musee d'Orsay is covered by the museum pass, but you have to still make a reservation. The Orsay is in a converted art nouveau train station and is a breathtaking place to see art. It has the largest collection of impressionist and post impressionist works of any museum. Eli remarked and Stephen agreed that they did a really great job of lighting the artwork so that you get to see the full effect of the color, light, and shade of the art. Trying to get to see Van Gogh's Starry Night, though, was like trying to see the Mona Lisa at the Louvre. Again, we hit 3 hours and hadn't seen all of the museum, so will have to go back to see the Art Nouveau galleries.
September 5, 2022
Today we started at the Centre Pompidou, which is covered by the museumpass. It houses the National Modern and Contemporary Art museum, and is a piece of modern art in and of itself. It definitely had much more of a European focus to its collection, so that was interesting to see. We also agree with Larry, that about 3 hours is the most you can spend without getting overloaded. We'll have to revisit the museum to check out their contemporary collection at another time. There are a couple of other modern art museums in Paris that we'll hopefully check out later.
We ate lunch in the cafe at the centre, and then headed off to see the Galleries Lafayette. This department store is a masterful example of art nouveau design. The glass dome is something to behold. We went up to the rooftop terrace and also got some photos of the skyline and of the roof of the opera house.
September 4, 2022
Today we headed to Marche de Bastille, which is one of the more famous outdoor markets. This market is only on Thursdays and Sundays. Eli felt there was a wider selection and higher quality of goods as compared to Marche d'Aligre. From there, we went to the Jardin des Plants. We walked around a bit and were going to go into the conservatories, but there was a $7 charge and we thought, based on the gardens outside, it wouldn't be worth it. So far, our favorite is still the botanical gardens in Copenhagen.
From the gardens, we went to the Pantheon (not the Roman one, the French one). We saw the huge line, and so decided to buy the museumpass online. Make sure you purchase the pass from the official online site we linked here. We don't really think the museum pass saves you much money; you'd have to go to two museums on the list each day you have it in order for you to come out ahead money-wise. However, it does let you skip the ticket lines, and that is a HUGE bonus at some of the more popular museums. The Pantheon is a gorgeous neoclassical space. It's home to Foucault's pendulum, proving the rotation of the earth, and (like Westminster Abbey) home to the crypts of famous French people. It was quite a subdued affair compared to the monuments at Westminster. We much preferred the French version.
We headed from there to Canal St. Martin and to a restaurant Camille suggested so we could me her, her son Solal (and his friend Gaston), and Rachel for brunch. Cafe A serves a traditional US brunch, which Camille apologized for, thinking we would want something other than that. Frankly, though, it was the best benedict (served on brioche) that either of us had had in a very long time. It was SOOOOO buttery. Sarah and Selma were going to meet us, but Selma had to work, and Sarah ended up having something going on with her godson. We'll get to see Selma before we leave; we'll take her out for a celebratory dinner on the start of her university experience.
September 3, 2022
We woke up early again and hit the gym. We were back by 9ish and showered and changed and had to figure out a sight to see that would allow us to get back by 2pm so Stephen could teach his Youth Mental Health First Aid course online. We decided we'd head over to Sainte Chapelle and the Conciergerie. Sainte Chapelle's chapel was built in the 13th century by Louis IX to house the relics of the passion (supposedly Jesus' crown of thorns). The chapel is an example of wonderful Gothic design. The space is just flooded with colored light from the stained glass that is basically 80% of the wall space in the chapel. The photos don't do it justice.
We then went on the Conciergerie, which is housed in the former palace on the Isle de Cite (which was used as the royal residence before moving to another palace and then on to the Louvre and Versailles). Like many other abandoned castles, it became a prison, and so it is also famously where Marie Antionette was held captive prior to her execution. Comparing the great hall here to the Great hall at Westminster is no comparison at all. Westminster wins, just by virtue of the amazing wood roof. The great hall here is quite plain. With that said, they do a great job with the audio/video guide giving you an idea of how it may have looked and been used during the period when it was a functioning royal residence and during the period when it was used as a prison.
While Stephen was teaching, Eli walked around Notre Dame and saw all the reconstruction, had a crepe (galette, actually), and hung out and soaked up atmosphere.
Once Stephen was done with his YMHFA class, we went out to dinner. Tonight we did something more neo-bistro, and had dinner at Terre, again nearby our flat. As is expected with the neo-bistro concept, the dishes were all a bit experimental. We both felt Eli's osso bucco was more successful than Stephen's poached chicken as a main, but the artichoke and fennel starter we shared was very good, and the pistacio and plum tart had a really great rustic crust.
September 2, 2022
We got up bright and early and went to the gym, and through an inadvertent detour (we turned down the wrong street) we ended up at the Marche d'Aligre. The market here is daily, but not as extensive as the Marche de Bastille, which is only on Thursdays and Sundays. We walked around and scouted some things (Stephen having to rein in Eli each time he got distracted by a patisserie), and then went back to our flat to shower and change. We hung out and made some shopping lists, and then headed back to the market around 1pm. The market, though, closes a 1:30 so we were a little rushed to pick up everything we needed as stalls were packing up. We did, though, get stuff we needed for dinner that night... lamb tagine and a fennel and grape tarte tatin (we cheated a little bit and got pre-prepared tatin pastry dough).
Since it was still early, we napped a little bit, and then headed out to check out some of the sights in our neighborhood. We walked down toward Rue Cremieux, a picturesque street with cute 3 story buildings painted in various shades. Worth a quick walk through and a photo op, but not much else. On our way back, we walked through the Promenade Plantee, Paris' version of the NYC Highline. The parks are very similar, but we loved the one here as you get a more up-close look at all the beautiful Beaux-Arts details on the buildings. We are definitely loving the ambience that this period architecture gives Paris. A lot of the buildings in Denmark were built around the same period, but just aren't as architecturally as interesting. It's amazing how much some wrought iron detailing and a mansard roof with classical flourishes do to liven up a vista.
Dinner was mostly a success. Both Eli and Stephen decided the lamb tagine recipe was a keeper.
September 1, 2022
We took the Eurostar from London to Paris. There was no passport control on the French side, so we didn't get a stamp for entry back into the EU. Hopefully this will not pose a problem. Stephen was able to purchase a NaviGO monthly pass via the app on his Andriod phone, but this functionality was not available on Eli's iPhone yet, so we had to wait in line at the service desk when we arrived at Gare du Nord for Eli to get a NaviGO card to use on public transit here. The card covers almost 100% of the RER (suburban rail network) plus all of the metro and buses for $75 bucks. This is less than half the cost of the monthly Oyster card in London that covers just two zones. With that out of the way, we took the metro to our flat.
We got settled into our flat which is on the border between the 11th and 12th arrondissements, and put away our clothes,. It's a well designed space (although we would have liked more kitchen countertop space). Paris has a limit on AirBnB rentals, but many AirBnB's get around this by advertising for rental as a "plan mobilite." In order to qualify for a plan mobilite rental, you have to have documentation that you are here for between 30 days and 10 months at the invitation of work or school or something else. We didn't qualify for that (although we think that it is probably quite easy to put something together that would qualify you) so we had to find a spot that had one of the AirBnB licenses.
We've been able to surmise that our AirBnB host is gay.. you just kind of get that vibe with the design. Note to AirBnB hosts: please, if this is your usual place of residence, make sure to clear out enough closet space so that your guests can put away their clothes without having to live out of their suitcases for a month. With that settled, we went on a mission to find a gym for the month. Stephen had bookmarked 3 places he thought we should check out.... the first was literally right across the street from the flat. That spot, while a super-beautifully equipped space, would have been $95 per person for the month. The 2nd place we went to we could have joined for $29 per person for the month, but we would have had to wait for them to mail us our membership cards and would have lost a bunch of days of access waiting for our cards. The last place we went, Fitness Park, ended up being the goldilocks.... $50 per person for the month and we could sign up right away. It includes access to all their centers across Paris.
We thought all was good, and then we got back to the flat only to realize Stephen didn't have the key in his pocket anymore. At some point, it had come out as were were visiting the 3 gyms. We retraced our steps and found it at gym #2. It has been a bit of a challenge, even on day 1, to get this gym task accomplished as our French is not yet well developed, even given how much Duolingo we've been doing, and unlike Denmark, not everyone here speaks perfect English. We do a lot of Google Translate, but it is not the easiest tool to use when you're having an ongoing conversation. We're picking it up quickly, though. At this point, it was about 8pm, and we were ready for dinner.
The 11th is the kind of neighborhood where actual Parisians live (vs. the Marais or St. Germain), and you totally get that vibe from the restaurants and cafes around. We found a super-cute spot just a few blocks away from our flat, called Quereylou. It's the most traditional kind of Parisian bistro you will find.... straight from the wonderfully gracious and convivial husband-wife team who run the place, and the neighborhood clientele they clearly know, and the family pup who is so well-behaved and hangs out around the tables outside. We started with two recommendations from the house... the poached egg with Sainte-Nectaire cheese, and the lentil salad with poached egg. Both were excellent in very different ways. We traded half way before finishing so we could both enjoy the unique flavors of each starter. For our mains, Stephen had the duck confit and Eli had the gambas. Again, it was simple yet really well prepared food. The shrimp were flavorful and garlicky without being doused in oil, and the duck was soooooo rich and moist.
Toulouse and Environs
June 21, 2022
We had a wonderful afternoon with our cousin, Jennifer, exploring Toulouse on foot. We dropped into the central market that includes all kinds of food stalls selling meat, cheeses, prepared foods, and a couple of bars where there were (mostly) men sitting down and having drinks when we arrived at 11am (and had likely been there for a while already). We stopped by a chocolate shop also on the tail end of our walk. Toulouse is a nice mid-sized city and easily walkable. The city, like Medellin or Chicago, was mostly built of red brick instead of stone and so it is much different from other old European cities in that way. We think it gives the town an interesting look. Tonight was the Fete de la Musique. Bars and restaurants sponsor music (a few bands but mostly DJs) and people walk around and mostly hang out on the street. We stopped in for a short while to listen to the reggae band, the samba band, a guy who was a cross between David Bowie and Adam Ant, and a guy with a guitar. The last one was most interesting as whatever he was singing was clearly loved by the patrons; they were all singing along.
June 22, 2022
We headed out to Albi today with the intention of seeing two sights: The Cathedrale Sainte-Cecile d'Albi is a UNESCO world heritage site, and the Toulouse-Lautrec museum which is hosted in the old Bishop's palace. The cathedral is interesting from a design perspective because the building was built in the gothic style between the years 1282 and 1330. Like most of the buildings in the area, it is also constructed in red brick vs. stone. Various bishops over time, however, remodeled the interior so there are murals from the 15th century in the late gothic style, and an almost full scale remodeling of the surfaces in the renaissance style in the 16th century... lots of geometric patterns done in fresco to imitate marble. The organ was replaced in the 18th century so is of that style and the pulpit was added around this time also.
The Toulouse-Lautrec museum (he was born in Albi) is housed in the Bishop's Palace, and while priests or monks might have lived an austere lifestyle, clearly the bishops did not. The space was almost as grand as the cathedral. Toulouse-Lautrec was friends with Edgar Degas and they had a temporary exhibit comparing their styles. One of the interesting aspects of Toulouse-Lautrec's work that we noticed as we passed through the exhibits is that he straddled impressionism with the first hints of modernism, especially in his work for mass distribution via magazine illustrations. Lunch was at a Creperie in Albi, Crep'o'rama. The name belies the quality of the crepes; their savory crepes are done in the style of Brittany using buckwheat flour (which we much prefer). Technically, this is called a galette.
Our Cousin, Sarah, stopped by for a few hours with Ila and Rafael. Selma was busy studying for her final oral exam the next day, which is a requirement for graduation. She'll be attending one of two programs in Paris to study art in the fall.
Tonight Larry and Jennifer took us out to a local restaurant, Une Table à Deux, with a chef Nicholas S. who trained at several Michelin starred restaurants before opening his own restaurant. We can't say enough about how great a meal it was. Reservations are required because they prepare everything as needed for their guests. A typical meal is 3 courses but there are options for 4 or 5 course meals. Everything was excellent; we won't describe in detail what we had because if you come, there will likely be completely different options on the menu. Each course was well balanced in flavor and the presentation was superb. We can't recommend the restaurant highly enough. Jennifer's daughters, Norha and Rachel joined us. Both spoke perfect English (and are motivating us to actually buckle down and learn some French when we come back to Paris for a month in September). Rachel will be attending a program in Paris next year, and she's a big fan of Harry Potter. We're hoping to host her in Florida at some point soon when we're back in town, and we can all go together to Universal Studios. Norha is a music fan and was also out last night at the Fete de la Musique but we missed seeing her. We may end up seeing her again if our schedule works out and she is in London for a music festival while we're there.
June 23-26, 2022
We've headed out to Pouylebon for the weekend where our uncle and aunt have their country home. The town consists of their house, the old church, a civic building, and the cemetery. The rest of the village consists of houses and farms outside the town proper. Pouylebon reminds us of Eli's home town in Missouri with a lot of the same struggles that small-town America is experiencing: young people don't want to stay, disinvestment from the central government, etc.
Tonight was the Fete de Saint Jean, which includes a bonfire and meal. Looking around the room at dinner, it was easy to imagine the scene transported into Missouri, just needing to switch the language(s) being spoken. We did manage to find a few English speakers at the event: a family from The Netherlands (who, of course, spoke Dutch and English fluently, plus French, plus Spanish...) who have had a house here in the village for 40+ years and a British couple that have been residents for 20+ years. Very interesting conversation!
The area around Pouylebon is well known for their summer jazz festival that attracts many well-known musicians. Apparently there is also a country music festival in the area as well, but it is not as well-known.
We cooked lunch on Saturday in honor of Evelyne's birthday and to say "merci" for all the meals she had been cooking for us.
Our cousin, Sam, and his children Nino and Uma joined us in Pouylebon for Saturday and Sunday. Sam is from Manchester, UK, and is married to Deborah. Deborah is touring right now in the UK so we missed seeing her. We had a nice time in the pool with the children. Lucky for us they speak English as well as French.
June 27, 2022
Back to Toulouse and Carcassone
We're back in Toulouse today as we leave tomorrow for Copenhagen. We took the train today about an hour to Carcassone. Cite de Carcassone is another UNESCO world heritage site. Carcassone as a location has been inhabited since the neolithic area, but the fortified town was built first during the Roman era. A second set of walls was built during the medieval era. The Cite was restored in the late 19th century. We do not lie when we say that this fortress city, above any of the other ones we've seen, feels like what the epitome (almost stereotype?) of a medieval city looks like in imagination. Larry says it's been Disney-fied. The original restoration has been adjusted in the intervening years to reflect the various different eras that the city was occupied, so you'll see turrets that are in the design as they would have been in the Roman period and also turrets designed as from the medieval period. The cathedral inside the city walls reflects changes over time as well; it's a mish-mash of romanesque design from the 11th century and a later gothic addition.
We met another couple on the train on the way to Carcassone: Bailey and Jake. WE had a great time chatting on the train, and met them out later that evening when we were all back in Toulouse at Fat Cat, right in the city center of Toulouse, for craft cocktails. The bartender there was super-friendly and overall it had a great vibe, even on a Monday night.
Got the opportunity to see Nino and Uma again tonight at dinner. They came downstairs for pizza with us and we played out in the garden for a bit.