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Tag Archives: Paris

Hairy coos but no kilts

26 Sep
26 September 2016. City versus country is an age-old traveller debate. Do we spend time in the great museums and wonderful restaurants of Paris, London, and New York, or do we head to small towns and rural settings where life is less rushed? What do we do if the great outdoors delivers pouring rain and we cannot enjoy the activities we planned? What if our expectations are not met and what do we expect anyway? 
The view from our B&B.

The view from our B&B.

We’ve had a touch of both city and country in the past three weeks. Ric and I are wrapping up a trip to Paris and the northern U.K. This is a challenging type of travel to pack for. City-chic in Paris, dressy enough for dinner in a Michelin-starred restaurant, but hiking boots and weather-resistant layers for the great outdoors. Luckily we managed to pack in our usual 21-inch-rollaboard-plus-daypack combo.
It is difficult to imagine having too much time in Paris. We had three full days this time and still we have not managed to do everything on our long list although we’ve been there four times in the past 18 months. The weather was perfect with warm-but-not-hot days and evenings pleasant enough for outdoor dining. We’ve found some amazing places to dine that do not break the bank and a new-to-us B&B experience that kept the budget further in check. Despite a complete lack of French language skills, Paris is beginning to feel quite comfortable.
We moved on to York, England, where we hooked up with my brother and sister-in-law for a two-week driving adventure. When on our own we use public transportation exclusively, but there are places in the rural U.K. that are difficult if not impossible to see without a car, so my brother became the chauffeur, Ric and the SatNav guided the way, while Jane and I enjoyed the scenery.
Here we are atop Edinburgh Castle. A windy day, but sunny and warm by Scottish standards.

Here we are atop Edinburgh Castle. A windy day, but sunny and warm by Scottish standards.

Our path was from York to Keswick in the Lakes District, then on to Edinburgh, Granton-on-Spey along the Whisky Trail, and finally the Isle of Skye. Wow! One place more beautiful than the next. Our three truly small-town experiences — Keswick, Grantown-on-Spey, and Portree on Skye — absolutely astounding.
Sheep-dotted meadows, moors, dales and fells, bubbling burns, torrential waterfalls, and always the sheep. It was everything and nothing we expected.
I did not expect it to be so thickly wooded and rugged in The Lakes District. I expected to hike through meadows of sheep and cows, not forests and rocky ridges. The hike we took at Castle Crag was labeled “easy” and four miles long. Much like in the Val Gardena, “easy” was subjective and how they measured a mile elusive. It might have been miles-as-the-crow-flies, but we estimated seven walking versus the published four.
I did not expect to have my husband fall in love with Scotch whisky. Ric has always been a whiskey man: bourbon, Jack Daniels, and the like. Prior to this, I could not get him to sip my whisky, as in the stuff from Scotland. Along for the ride on a distillery tour, he finally saw the light and has come over to the bright side. The difference? The tastings revealed the complexities and variations in whiskies from the different “noses” to flavors of honey, vanilla, caramel, fruit, smoke, and peat. Something for everyone, just like with wine. 
I expected fish-and-chips and pubs everywhere. The former were prominent on nearly every menu, but once outside of York and Edinburgh, a proper pub was elusive. Cafes and bars (not our beloved Italian bars, mind you) yes, but not the clubby dens we enjoyed in London. 
The Fairy Pools on Skye...look at the line of hikers! I wonder at the adverse impact on the moor.

The Fairy Pools on Skye…look at the line of hikers! I wonder at the adverse impact on the moor.

I don’t know quite what I expected of moors, but it was fascinating to experience these bleak yet beautiful landscapes. I thought they were always lowlands and did learn they can be at higher elevations. I also observed how fragile they are and worry that the ridiculous numbers of us visiting will have an adverse impact. 
I did not expect to be so amazed by the food. In the tiniest town of our trip, Portree, on the Isle of Skye, we had perhaps the best situation of all: three dinners to rave about, and spoiled for choice on the whisky selections before and after. The one downfall was an overall poor selection of wines. A stone’s throw from France, Italy, and Spain, with EU-friendly import possible, but prominently featured was Concha y Toro and a few Australian wines.
Highland Cattle are often called "Hairy Coos" or "Hielan Coos." Love the baby seeking reassurance from mama.

Highland Cattle are often called “Hairy Coos” or “Hielan Coos.” I love the baby seeking reassurance from mama.

I did expect to see the famous “hairy coos” of the highlands, aka, Highland Cattle and lots of kilt-wearing Scotsmen. We finally saw the cows our next-to-last day on Skye, but the only kilt-wearers were the occasional bagpipers. I’ve seen more kilts in Roma when the lads came to see a game against a local team.
Please click on any picture to see a slideshow of some of the stunning sites we enjoyed.
Now back to Paris and on to Rome, by train all the way, of course!

 

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Even a great trip can have it’s share of problems

8 May
8 May 2016. I have written before about the pleasure of returning to a place. You can relax in the familiarity and explore beyond the usual locales of first-time tourists. Our third trip to London in four months afforded us an opportunity to get beyond Big Ben. We were familiar with the Tube, the bus system, and the city in general. We did not need a map at every turn. We were able to go into neighborhoods previously ignored by us, to find museums less patronized, and to generally enjoy this great city, even if it was unseasonably cold.
That does not mean our trip was trouble free. Oh no!  Our travels are usually problem-free and easy going. No missed trains, no bungled reservations, no illnesses, good meals, and few budget surprises. Pick your favorite cliché: Smooth as silk; Easy as pie; Clear sailing; A bed of roses. This time was somewhat different. We encountered a multitude of weird and annoying little things – things we came to call “wrinkles” in our trip. Perhaps because we were familiar with London, we were able to shrug off the annoyances with a dose of humor. 
I’ve interspersed this narrative with some pictures so you can see we really had a lovely trip. 
When touring Windsor Castle, Ric and I both felt a Disney-like quality. It was also perfect! So serene! No litter, no eating,, the grass "just so."

When touring Windsor Castle, Ric and I both felt a Disney-like quality. It was all so perfect! So serene! No litter, no eating, no smoking, and the grass “just so.”

ANother lovely view of Windsor Castle. The weather was the best we had in a week in London.

Another lovely view of Windsor Castle. The weather was the best we had in a week in London.

Gift shoppe at Windsor full of corgis -- stuffed corgis.

Gift shoppe at Windsor full of corgis — stuffed corgis.

We usually have terrific success with our lodging choices. Whether apartments, B&Bs or hotels, we usually have no complaints or they are so minor we don’t say anything. The flat we had this time in London was hardly a nightmare, but the lack of attention to detail became laughable. One or two “little things” I would brush off, but this place was chock full of wrinkles: Non-working lamps (yes we replaced the bulbs); no wastebaskets; VRBO advertised king-sized bed was a double, not even a queen; non-working heaters (did I mention it was cold?); No hot pads in the kitchen which we did not discover until we had a hot casserole ready to come out of the oven; A washer/dryer combo all-in-one that did such a bad job I had to iron our jeans because they came out of the dryer wrinkled in a way I did not know denim could wrinkle.
Somebody from the staff needs to stay here a few nights and realize what improvements could be made. (See Dear Vacation Rental Property Owner.)
The management sent a taxi to pick us up at St. Pancras as part of the service. The taxi driver apparently could not find the taxi rank and his non-English accent was so thick we could not understand him when he called to coordinate. We had to pay for a cab to the flat, no one offered to reimburse us, and they told us “this happens all the time.” WTF?
We had ordered groceries to be delivered by Waitrose, which has been described as the British Whole Foods. We had done this in March when we rented in a different location and it was flawless. This time, the delivery was quite late and we had plans. I called Waitrose and was told he should be there soon. It took three calls in all, only to find out the driver could not locate our building due to construction in the area. Seriously? I had to go out and walk around the area – about a 4 block square area of densely packed buildings – to find him and lead him in.
Then we had THE GREAT OVEN DISASTER. Our last night, a Friday, we decided to stay in, eat a pizza and salad, and watch a movie. We stopped at Waitrose where we’ve purchased fresh-made take-out pizzas before (yes our standards slipped this one night). I pre-heated the oven and after about 20 minutes Ka-BOOM! The inside glass door of the oven exploded, sending shards of glass flying all over the kitchen. It was safety glass, so the danger of getting cut was minimal, but it was scary, messy, and annoying. The outer oven door glass somehow stayed intact.
I was so stunned I neglected to take an illustrative picture. It looked a lot like the over door in the picture at the top left of this link. If you Google the topic you’ll find it seems to happen a lot. Boh!
Obviously, we were not cooking our takeaway pizza in that oven. We were already in our jammies and not inclined to get dressed again, so we called up Deliveroo for our postcode. We’d seen the ads throughout our week in London so we gave it a whirl. Great service! Twenty-three minutes after placing an order on their website, the delivery guy pulled up to our door on his motor scooter. It was not great pizza, but it was hot and it was delivered to our door.
The Imperial War Museum is a fine museum covering wars from WWI forward.

The Imperial War Museum is a fine museum covering wars from WWI forward. Not very busy on this clear, cold day.

Imperial War Museum, view to the main hall.

Imperial War Museum, view to the main hall.

Montgomery's jeep at teh Imperial War Museum.

Montgomery’s jeep at the Imperial War Museum.

St. Paul's Cathedral, our neighbor this trip.

St. Paul’s Cathedral, our neighbor this trip.

In yet another flat-related “wrinkle,” Ric left his wedding ring on the nightstand, remembering he might have done so when we were already locked up and keys pushed through the mail slot. Any attempt to go back or contact management to let us in (on a Saturday morning of a holiday weekend at 08:00) would have caused us to miss the EuroStar. The staff redeemed itself with true honesty: the cleaning service found the ring and it is being shipped back to us.
Sand dog. Saw this little guy sculpted at Piccadilly Circus. Where he got the sand....

Sand dog. Saw this little guy sculpted at Piccadilly Circus. Where do you suppose the sculptor got the sand?

This red telephone box was the model for all the booths to come. Still in pristine condition unlike most of them these days. Near the Royal Academy.

This red telephone box was the model for all the booths to come. Still in pristine condition unlike most of them these days. Near the Royal Academy.

I don;t know whay is cuter here: The little children on a school outing in their safety vests or the double-decker bus painted to promote Hawaiian pizza (which is a travesty in Italy).

I don’t know what is cuter here: The little children on a school outing in their safety vests or the double-decker bus painted to promote Hawaiian pizza (which is a travesty in Italy).

Finally, we had a couple of transportation wrinkles.
Waiting at Gare de Lyon in a lounge area, two French army soldiers with automatic weapons and a uniformed security guy from SNCF (French national train system) appeared. The SNCF guy asked us to move along for “security reasons” and they cleared the area! We lost no time in beating a retreat to our departure hall, although that meant waiting in the cold. No idea what was going on.
We always hope for minimal drama on the way home. Who wants to end a trip with stress? We got up at 4:30AM in order to make a train at 5:40AM out of Dijon. We were traveling all the way back to Roma from Dijon, 13.5 hours on 3 trains, so we dragged our sleep-deprived selves out before dawn. (Fortunately, our hotel room was equipped with a Nespresso machine. Heaven!) Arriving at the station, we got on the train, and there it sat. Apparently the conductor was a no show. Our 40 minutes to change trains in Lyon ticked away. If we missed the connection we would not get to Rome that night and the cat sitters were leaving, not to mention the prepaid ticket on Trenitalia that would be worthless if we missed the connection. Luckily when the conductor arrived the train driver stepped on it and we had a few minutes in Lyon to catch our connection. Whew!
Tombstones in Postman's Park, London, a park which grew out of a former burial ground. It includes a Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice as well.

Tombstones in Postman’s Park, London, a park which grew out of a former burial ground. It includes a Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice as well.

Did you know? The inspiration for the contemporary wedding cake was the steeple of St. Bride's Church, in London in the 18th century. The baker supposedly had this view out of his window in Ludgate.

Did you know? The inspiration for the contemporary wedding cake was the steeple of St. Bride’s Church, in London in the 18th century. The baker supposedly had this view out of his window in Ludgate.

It may look like spring in London, but it was cold enough to waer gloves every day. The tulips did not care.

It may look like spring in London, but it was cold enough to wear gloves every day. The tulips did not care.

Fools for Sherlock that we are, we did tour 221B Baker Street. it's cute and fun.

Fools for Sherlock that we are, we did tour 221B Baker Street. it’s cute and fun. We also took a walking tour of Sherlock sites with Brit Movie Tours. Very well done!

Fat Boy or the Golden Boy of Pye Corner, is a monument at the spot where the Great Fire of 1666 was stopped.

Fat Boy or the Golden Boy of Pye Corner, is a monument at the spot where the Great Fire of 1666 was stopped.

Last unshrouded picture of Big Ben for awhile. The Elizabeth Tower and the clock will undergo extenisve renovation soon.

Last unshrouded picture of Big Ben for awhile. The Elizabeth Tower and the clock will undergo extensive renovation soon.

And a few more snaps from our Paris food tour. We’ve not done a food tour anywhere before but this will not be the last one. Terrific fun!
Bread chandelier, Poilâne Bakery, St. Germaine. This place has an amazing history. I have posted a link at the bottom of the page.

Bread chandelier, Poilâne Bakery, St. Germaine. This place has an amazing history. I have posted a link at the bottom of the page.

Poilâne again. A beautiful and tasty product,.

Poilâne again. A beautiful and tasty product,

These are chocolates, not marbles, at the very high end chocolatier, Patrick Roger, I think 3-4 Euros per piece. Luckily our food tour included some product tastes.

These are chocolates, not marbles, at the very high-end chocolatier, Patrick Roger, I think 3-4 Euros per piece. Luckily our food tour included some product tastes.

Tiger prawns. Note the lemon included for perspective. Small lemon, but still!

Tiger prawns. Note the lemon included for perspective. Small lemon, but still!

 

Location of our post food tour feast. It means "the last drop."

Location of our post food tour feast. It means “the last drop.”

As I mentioned at the start, familiarity with a location just adds to the enjoyment. Our first two trips were focused on the classic must-sees (see entries about our Christmas trip here and here, and about our March trip).  This time we wandered in diverse and historic neighborhoods, sought out places locals eat lunch, visited the Museum of London (well-curated and much patronized by school groups) and the Imperial War Museum (lightly attended, highly recommended), saw a show (“The Book of Mormon,” which was hilarious), went to the Handel & Hendrix in London exhibit, shopped, and took a ride on an historic steam railroad thanks to out friends from the East Midlands, Nigel and Carol. This third trip only whetted our appetite for more. London, we will be back. But maybe not for awhile…
The story of Poilâne, from an article in The New Yorker.  

Ethnic food

4 May
4 May 2016. Italian food is fabulous: fresh ingredients, few preservatives, simple flavors, regional specialties, lots of vegetables, fish, olive oil. And wine.
In London, we indulged in ABI: Anything But Italian. Our “ethnic” eating included
  • Sunday Roast at a London pub complete with Yorkshire Pudding and goose fat roast potatoes (a vegetarian’s nightmare)
  • Mexican street food at Wahaca which was noisy, but fun for lunch
  • An incredible hamburger at a brasserie in London, with chips of course
  • Indian City;  Great food but noisy. What is with British restaurants being noisy?
  • Pad Thai and calamari at Busaba Thai (also noisy, BTW)
  • Steak & Ale pie at a 300-year-old pub in Windsor with an ancient fireplace and low clearance (mind your head!)
    My Sunday roast for lunch. Note the enormous and perfect Yorkshire Pudding.

    My Sunday roast for lunch. Note the enormous and perfect Yorkshire Pudding.

    Cute little pub in Windsor., the Horse and Groom. First licensee on the site was in 1719.

    Cute little pub in Windsor, the Horse and Groom. The first licensee on the site was in 1719. The door was clearly made for short people. 

We wrapped up this trip in Dijon. No light cuisine there! For lunch in Beaune we enjoyed a very traditional Burgundy meal during a wine tour day. Boeuf Bourguignon for me and lapin for Ric. Ouefs en Meurette for an entreè were excellent! I may like lardons even better than pancetta.
Just writing this has me pondering the meaning of “ethnic food.” Is it “ethnic” when you eat something in one country not native to your own? Is a hamburger ethnic cuisine if you eat it in France? How about French fries? If an Indian eats tandoori in London, is it “ethnic?” I might consider eating an Italian meal in Portland “ethnic” dining, but I certainly don’t consider Italian food in Italy “ethnic.” Unless, of course, you are eating Ligurian food in Abbruzzo or bistecca Fiorentino in the Alto Adige.
Scallop with roe (or coral) included. I had no idea they were sold this way, but leave it to the French to use every edible part. The roe is supposed to be delicious!

Scallop with roe (or coral) included. I had no idea they were sold this way, but leave it to the French to use every edible part. The roe is supposed to be delicious! From out food tour in Paris, which was very educational.

A Bresse chicken is the most expensive chicken in the world, so we are told. It has appellation d'origine contrôlée status,. We did not eat any. Retail price, uncooked, about $25/pound.

A Bresse chicken is the most expensive chicken in the world, so we are told. It has appellation d’origine contrôlée status. We did not eat any. Retail price, uncooked, about $25/pound.

Our final night in Dijon, as we wandered around looking for a light supper (having gorged at lunch), nothing really looked good. It all seemed the same: hearty Burgundian cuisine and burgers. I turned to Ric and said, “If we were in Italy we wouldn’t have a problem picking a place to eat. They may all have the same menus but we like everything on the menu.” Yup, Italy has the best overall food in Europe. Italy just doesn’t have much “ethnic,” that is, non-Italian. 
Tuesday we returned to the land of lighter cuisine and inexpensive wine. I think I need a salad.

 

Not the usual travel photos

21 Apr
21 April 2016. We are once again traveling with stops in Milano, Paris, London, and Dijon. Rather than give you a rundown on the sights we’ve seen, I thought I’d share some of our more unusual photos. We have a lot of fun going to less-known neighborhoods and sights, taking walks where mostly locals walk, and looking at even famous sites with a fresh perspective.
Please click on any photo for a better view and complete caption. 

 

This and that

12 Jan
Our trips supply us with anecdotes far beyond the pictures we take, and often provide memories we talk about for years: Our two collie puppies running on moonlit Cannon Beach in Oregon on New Years Day at 6:00-God-help-us-AM; A priest roller-blading, cassock flying, on Via Arenula; A beautifully dressed, kind Italian businessman personally guiding us when we were lost in Spoleto;  Running into a pack of Portlanders on a mountain ridge in Italy on Christmas Eve. Here are a few more tidbits from our trip to London, Paris and Switzerland.

Italian moments

I was amazed at how often we encountered the Italian language and Italians outside of Italy. I heard Italian every single day, whether in the street, on a train, or in a restaurant or a shop. It made me miss Italy.
Parisians can find panettone, pandoro and other Italian treats, too.

Parisians can find panettone, pandoro and other Italian treats, too.

On Christmas Eve at Dean Street Townhouse our waitress was from Italy. It felt like home to order and chat in Italian.
Even in the north of Switzerland, we heard Italian daily. Our waiter at Punctum, where we found an amazingly good pizza, was Italian. You can read about it on my other blog, Our Weekly Pizza.

That small town feel

Many years ago, we traveled to my adopted hometown of Lindstrom, MN for my mother’s 80th birthday. The day we arrived there was a huge snowstorm and we were going to be very late getting from MSP to little Lindstrom. We called the motel and we were told they’d leave the key under the mat for us.  How cute is that?
No picture of Hotel Chur, so here is a serene little alley in the Alt Stadt, on our way to Punctum for pizza.

No picture of Hotel Chur, so here is a serene little alley in the Alt Stadt, on our way to Punctum for pizza.

We had a similar experience in Chur, Switzerland. Coming all the way from London, we knew we would not arrive until at least 10:00 PM, so I contacted the hotel. As the front desk staff goes home at 8:00 PM – odd in a hotel with 58 rooms – we received instructions via email including a code to a box that would release a door entry key. Our room key would be laying on the front desk (along with many others, we saw upon arrival). We had a moment of panic when the entry key did not release easily and I had to use a nail file to finagle it, but it all worked out quite well.

Fabled names

Drury Lane, Carnaby Street, Oxford Street, Piccadilly Square, Baker Street, Covent Garden, Whitehall. How often we have come across these names in literature and history and there we were in the midst of them! London Bridge, Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace: fabled landmarks in a literary town. I have to say as much as I like speaking Italian, it was fun to understand every damn word whether spoken or written. No menu translation challenges. 
'Do you know the muffin man who lives in Dury Lane?' There really is a Drury Lane. Now try to get that tune out of your head for the rest of the day.

‘Do you know the muffin man who lives in Drury Lane?’ There really is a Drury Lane. Now try to get that tune out of your head for the rest of the day.

Melting pot

After dinner on Christmas Day, we ventured to the Odeon at Marble Arch to See “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” With reserved seats, there was no need to arrive super early to stand in line, although we milled around in the lobby for a while before the theatre was clear. We heard very little English being spoken among the various family groups waiting. Predominant language? Arabic.
Carnaby was well decorated for the holiday.

Carnaby was well decorated for the holiday.

Thanks to the former British Empire, London is truly home to many cultures. As a result, ethnic food is widely available. We love Italian food, but it was a real treat to eat good Indian food in a London restaurant.

Hailo

Hailo is the Uber for legal cabs. I am not a fan of Uber. I think the drivers who are licensed and who have spent years studying their cities should get my transportation Euro, Pound, or Dollar. London’s answer is Hailo.  In about 5 minutes, I installed the app, signed up, and had a cab scheduled for 06:30 the next morning. The driver was a gem, arrived early, helped with bags, and spoke with the most amazing Cockney accent. Luckily he could understand me better than I understood him. Hailo is also available outside the U.K. It worked great and I wish it would come to Rome. Thanks to Nigel for the recommendation!

Pedestrians & parking

As a pedestrian in Roma, one watches traffic ever-so-carefully. People wear headsets listening to music when they drive, they talk on cell phones even though it is illegal, and generally pedestrian crossings are used for parking so they get little respect as pedestrian zones.  
Orderly, I tell you! Look how the women areallowed to cross the street without a motorino shooting past. And no one is parked in teh crosswalk. Heaven!

Orderly, I tell you! Look how the women are allowed to cross the street without a motorino shooting past. And no one is parked in the crosswalk. Heaven!

In Switzerland, cars screech to a halt before you even know you want to cross the street. I almost felt obligated to cross the drivers were so polite and accommodating. Reminded me of Portland.
I love that in London and Paris drivers park where they are supposed to, inside the parking zones, not on sidewalks or within the zebra stripes. It makes for such an orderly city! Most of you take this for granted, but if you’ve ever been to Roma, you know that creative acts of parking make rough going for those on foot.

Crypt café

Cafe in the Crypt. Notice the tombstones on the lower left.

Cafe in the Crypt. Notice the tombstones on the lower left.

Eating in a mausoleum? Why not? At the famous St. Martin-in-the-Field there is a cafeteria in the crypt. It’s far from the Lutheran Church basements of our youth in the Upper Midwest. This is a true crypt with ancient tombs underfoot. The food was simple, of good quality and, for London, inexpensive. (One sandwich, 2 bottles of water, coffee and tea for GBP 9.85.) It was warm, with low-lighting, a polite crowd, decorated for Christmas.
We ate our light lunch with the Baythorns.

We ate our light lunch with the Baythorns.

St. Paul’s Cathedral also has a café in their crypt. Not as big, but great for coffee and cake.
I don’t see this trend coming to St. Peter’s anytime soon. Can you imagine the crowds if you could have lunch at the tomb of a deceased pope?
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