All posts by Christine

Paris — 22 September 2015

Our destination today is the Marais district. This was the aristocratic district of Paris and it hosts many outstanding buildings of historic and architectural importance. In the 17th century nobility built their mansions here. The district spreads across parts of the 3rd and 4th arrondissements in Paris.

After the nobility started to move out of the Marais, the district became a popular and active commercial area, hosting one of Paris’ main Jewish communities. At the end of the 19th century and during the first half of the 20th, the district welcomed many Eastern European Jews who reinforced the district’s clothing specialization. But, during World War II the Jewish community was targeted by the Nazis who were occupying France.

The Marais is still the major centre of the Paris Jewish community, which has made a comeback since the 1990s. Public notices announce Jewish events, bookshops specialize in Jewish books, and numerous restaurants and other outlets sell kosher food.

It is raining today and we actually get a 60 second downpour at one point. We decide it’s time to get out of the rain and have lunch. We find ourselves at Chez Hanna. Their fare is Middle Eastern and we are ready for falafels! We are not disappointed; it is a great meal.

Our next stop is the Picasso Museum. We read that the government received the Museum’s Picasso works in exchange for estate taxes upon Picasso’s death. After visiting the museum I can guess that the heirs gave Paris the very least valuable items of the estate. There are pieces of scrap paper with scribblings, truly awful paintings, illegible letters, and, in my mind, pretty worthless stuff. At least we can say we saw it but it was a waste of time, I think.

I guess it’s for sure… I AM OLD! Even the people of Paris give up their Metro seats to me. Today as I am sitting down on a seat given to me by a young man, the Metro lurches to a start and I nearly fall into the lap of the man seated next to me! It is pretty embarrassing. As we change Metro lines, we come upon an orchestra playing a beautiful classical music piece in the Metro. The music resonates off the tile walls and it just sounds wonderful! It is quite a change from the usual buskers that we see.

We make a stop at the department store to find a bread knife for the apartment. I can’t believe there are no useful knives here. We find just what we want. When I get home I cut myself a couple of times removing the price tag. I can’t get the glue off the handle. Then I have a flash of ingenuity. I use olive oil and it comes right off!

As we start to unwind at home, I decide to take a quick look at our cooking class details. My calendar says the class is in 2 days but I look at the detail information and the class is tomorrow!!! Thank goodness I looked; we would be bummed to miss it.

Paris — 21 September 2015

To follow-through with our idea to only visit new places this trip, we hop on the Metro to visit the Orangerie Museum. We had to buy Metro tickets (pack of 10) first and we each wasted our first ticket! We both expected the gate to open automatically (like in London) when we inserted our ticket but we finally realized you have to push it open. So our first tickets got validated (cancelled) but we missed going through. Now we know!

The Paris Metro is much more efficient than London, I think. We had to go through one of the oldest stations and it was in pretty bad shape though. In the 2 stations we were in, there were fewer stairs than London. So far I would say Paris wins in the Metro competition in efficiency and ease of walking.

On the first floor, the Orangerie Museum houses Monet’s Water Lilies. All together Monet painted 1,950 square feet of canvas to complete the Water Lilies series.

Water Lily Detail
Water Lily Detail

The series is shown in natural light through a huge skylight. The basemernt floor houses select works from the personal collection of Paris’s trend-spotting art dealer of the 1920s, Paul Guillaume. The collection includes works of Picasso, Renoir, Cezanne, Matisse, Laurencin (very interesting; I’ve never seen her works before), Modigliani (my favorite), Derain, Rousseau, Utrillo and Soutine (I really liked many of these–he’s a new artist to me).

It’s past lunch by the time we exit but the Grand Palais and Petit Palais are next so we walk in that direction in hopes of finding a place to eat. As we pass the Petit Palais we see that it’s not open on Mondays. I guess we should have thought to look! So we keep walking and as we approach the ritzy part of the Champs-Ellysses, we veer off the main road and find a nice cafe. We both have a Kir Royale as an aperitif and then large salads for each of us: Howard has prosciutto, potatoes, and cheese on his and I have chicken and eggs on mine. They were very satisfying and we need more greens!

We decide to forgo the Grande Palais because the exhibitions there now do not look very interesting; there is not a permanent collection. We’ll try to go back to the Petit Palais when it’s open. We are kind of near the Jaquemart-Andre Museum so off we go.

We are so happy that we chose this museum. It’s more than just an art collection; it is showcased in the lavish home of a wealthy, art-loving, 19th century Parisian couple. You get a glimpse of what life was like for the “middle-class.” (This couple was not middle-class but that’s what the audio tape calls them!) Edouard Andre and his wife, Nelie Jacquemart spent their lives and fortunes designing, building and then decorating this sumptuous mansion. The art collected is by Rembrandt, Botticelli, Uccello, Mantegna, Bellini, Boucher and Fragonard. Each room has a photo of the room as it was in “the day.” And the first floor is decorated in period pieces. We loved our time here and it was well worth the walk.

Howard discovers he left his hat at the restaurant. I call and happily I am able to communicate in “Frenglish” and they have the hat. Hurray! So we retrace our steps back to the restaurant. On the way back we pass the embassy of the country Burkina Faso. Just a couple of days ago I asked Howard about Burkina Faso because there has been a coup. I’d never heard of that West African country but there are probably LOTS of countries in Africa I’ve never heard of! Amazingly we happen to walk right past that embassy!!

Once we retrieve the hat, I feel like I cannot walk another step so we flag down a taxi and arrive back home in no time. But we need some wine for the evening. Our trusty wine shop across the street is not open! Quelle horror! We walk around the nearby 2 blocks and finally find an Italian deli with wine but as I open the door a man tells me they are closed; I see all sorts of equipment on the floor and I think they were repairing the floor. Darn! We give up and are walking to our closest bakery when we find another Italian deli…with wine! Of course we must buy more than wine. We buy some Iberico ham–6 thin slices for 20€!

We happen to buy the best of the bunch (the price should be the hint): jamón ibérico de bellota (acorn). This ham is from free-range pigs that roam oak forests along the border between Spain and Portugal, and eat only acorns during the last period before slaughter. The pigs’ exercise and diet have a significant impact on the flavor of the meat; the ham is cured for 36 months. The delis have the pig leg (with the hoof) set up at room temperature in a special contraption that holds the leg while super thin pieces of meat are sliced off. It’s a very dramatic presentation. And the meat is incredible. Almost slightly sweet. I’ve always wanted to try the Iberico ham and now I have!

Last stop is the bakery for bread, croissants for tomorrow and a couple of sweets. We notice the bakery has wine too! But it’s sold at a premium price. At least we know it’s there if we get desperate! At the end of the evening when I have my little sweet thing, I cannot believe how delicious it is. I MUST find out what it is and see if I can make it!

I think I’m coming down with a cold…

Sent from my iPad

Paris — 20 September 2015

Today is our 35th wedding anniversary! We have reservations at the renown restaurant, Jules Verne, in the Eiffel Tower at 1:00. We can’t wait. We both bought nice new outfits for the occasion. Fortunately we hit Nordstrom during one of their sales so it only cost us an arm and a leg. I found some shoes that I wore in my business days–cute patent leather flats. They are perfect with my new Eileen Fisher dress. It’s a beautiful day–sunny and no rain in sight. We take our time getting dressed up and we look very elegant, I must say.

Our taxi driver is very entertaining. He tells us Eddie Murphy is his cousin (I think he was pulling our leg) and asks us questions about US states vs. cities. And then starts to joke about Sara Palin. We say she’s a joke to us too.

He drops us off in front of the Eiffel Tower but we see that we cannot actually walk under the Tower to get to the elevator for the restaurant; there are barricades all over. So we start to walk around the Tower but we keep encountering barricades between us and where we want to go.

At some point along the way, I notice one of my shoes is feeling quite loose. I look down and my cute, OLD shoes are falling apart! The soles and heels are disintegrating–big pieces are falling off.

Lost Soles
Lost Soles

One heel is entirely gone. Every step I take leaves behind more of the shoes. I cannot believe this! I realize that by the time we arrive at the restaurant, I will be standing in my bare feet.

We approach the entrance to the elevator but a policeman is stopping us from going forward. He is yelling at me to move across the street. I finally am able to say in French that we have reservations! He directs us to what looks like the employees elevator where LOTS of people in uniform are standing around. Finally we are able to find someone who speaks English. And he tells us:

At 9:00am a man (other accounts said 3 men) with an oversized backpack was seen climbing up the Eiffel Tower. Security immediately shut the Tower down and put up barricades. They were concerned he was either a terrorist or a base jumper. So there we stood for about an hour. Someone had pizzas delivered to the employees while they waited. When the barricades finally came down, Howard walked and I shuffled over to the elevator. Within a short time the restaurant manager came over and said they would not be serving food for a long while. They had not had time to prep the food before they were told to evacuate. He said they would call us and reschedule our meal.

Of course we were disappointed but I was a bit relieved. I had visions of the maitre d’ saying “Madame, I believe you’ve left something behind you on the floor…” So we hailed a cab and back to the apartment we went. Now the challenge was to find a restaurant so late in the afternoon. And of course to change clothes AND SHOES.

One of the apartment guests had left business card for a nearby restaurant. We checked the map and it was close by so off we went to find it. When we found the place, we were happily surprised to see that a Greek restaurant we loved in past visits to Paris was just across the street. In fact we had taken the dogs there more than once. It was closed so we vowed to go back another time. The recommended restaurant took us in as the last customers for the afternoon and they gave us a charming little table at the window. Great for people watching.

The server was very nice and helpful. We both ordered oysters to start. And they were delicious! Howard ordered duck breast with risotto and I had pasta with shrimp. Our server recommended a Saint-Joseph wine, from the Rhone region of France made with the Syrah grape. It was perfect and it is one of my favorite wines. For dessert we had a chestnut parfait: chestnut paste, chocolate, merengue and whipped creme. Yum! We were entertained during dinner by a cute bat-eared French bulldog at the table next to us.

So our anniversary dinner was saved! We had a wonderful time and our dinner cost ($175) probably 25% of what our Jules Verne meal would have cost. Besides, I need to save money to buy another pair of shoes!!!

Paris — 19 September 2015

I was awakened again last night by the neighbors but this time it was a little earlier: 12:30am. Why on earth are these people fiddling around in the kitchen at that hour??

Toby at Christmas

We are completely lazy all morning. We have a breakfast of delicious melon, baguette with butter and mirabelle jam, and Mamie Nova yogurt. I work on the travelogue and Howard tries to put it on the website with photos. He gets frustrated because every time he tries to post a travel photo, a photo of Toby in silly Xmas reindeer antlers pops up. I guess the dogs are sending us a message that they don’t want us to forget them. We sure miss the little guys. Patty has been sending us photos of them every-so-often. In spite of the time Howard has spent on the travelogue, nothing gets posted.

I try to call a restaurant that we’ve liked in the past to make reservations for lunch. I get sooooo frustrated because there is no hope of communicating with the woman on the line! She will not even try and I hang up on her!

About 1:00 we finally get out the door. I have found another restaurant to try and we start walking in that direction. We find ourselves in the midst of a WILD electronic music street festival. The kids are pretty out of control (in fact one young man later dies from a fall off a statue) and the music is breaking our eardrums (and wreaking havoc with Howard’s hearing aids). We veer off course to get away from the craziness and have now lost our way to the restaurant. We keep wandering until we find ourselves at Rue Buci, a great place to be. The traffic is horrible because the street festival has blocked off numerous streets. In frustration, horns are honking and cars are trying to edge one another out on the tiny Rue Buci side streets. We find one of our favorite cafés, Au Chai de l’Abbaye, and take refuge there from the craziness. It is quiet inside in spite of the bottleneck of cars outside the windows.

Our server, a middle-aged professional waiter, asks what we would like to drink. He says “Champagne, maybe…” It doesn’t take much persuading for us to order champagne! I order steak (it is delicious) and potatoes Dauphinois, and Howard orders duck breast and white beans. We each have a glass of red wine with our meal ($105). There is a sweet dog with a single lady about my age. The dog clearly knows how to get all the treats he wants and is very entertaining!

We then stop by our favorite wine shop, Le Derniere Goutte (The Last Drop/Taste). The lady who helps us has been there for at least 10 years; we remember her. She is American and speaks French so poorly I wonder how French customers put up with it. But, mission accomplished–we buy one of our favorite roses, a Sancere white, and 2 nice reds. That should hold us for 8 hours–HA!

We grab a few items for a light dinner and head home. I nurse my swollen legs and my still sore derrière to get ready for another day in Paris.

Paris — 18 September 2015

Paris September 18, 2015

Last night was not restful. I woke up at about 2:30am to people shouting on the street (those damned drunk teenagers!) but also to sounds like someone was at the window. We are on the 4th floor so I know that could not be the case. I finally realize that the sounds are coming through the wall at the head of the bed. At 2:30am the neighbors are washing and scrubbing at the kitchen sink–no doubt about it. And the sink is just on the other side of the wall where we were sleeping. They are talking and working like it was in the middle of the day. I am amazed at how thin the walls are! These walls should be thick and silent! I almost get up to find the broom to whack the wall! So sleeping pill in mouth and I am pretty quickly out like a light.

Today our new site to visit is Notre Dame church and the crypt. The last time we were here (8 years ago) we were with the dogs. I took a very brief look into the church while Howard minded the dogs. So really neither one of us has seen the church.

The line looked long but it takes no time at all to get into the church. It is a huge church with many side alters. They are hearing confessions in several areas. The church is well-known for its Rosetta shaped stained glass windows. There is an interesting series of videos with narratives showing how the church has changed over the millennium. They first broke ground in 1163 but it took about 200 years for the church’s dedication.

There are signs all around demanding “Silence!” All of a sudden we hear this very LOUD, very long “SSSSSSSSSSS” shushing us! It was a recording and much worse than nearly any sound we all could make. The shush preceded the mass but I think the loud snake sound was out of place!

Much of the history of France is beneath our feet. We make a visit to the Paris Archaeological Crypt–the entrance is at the front edge of the Notre Dame plaza. The place is deserted! No one takes the time to see this VERY interesting exhibit. The exhibit is underground and shows the Roman ruins of ancient buildings that are now covered with the current buildings (from approx 50 B.C.). The very effective movie projections illustrate how the ruins might have been seen originally. So a projection of a complete pier on the Seine River fills in the missing parts of a few large stones giving you a more complete picture of what the area was like. They even add the imagined sounds at the pier. There are also very interesting interactive videos that tell the stories of the time.

We’re hungry! We find a tavern that we have been to in earlier visits. The man and his son who own/run the place are very congenial. We both have cheese tartine (an open-faced grilled cheese sandwich) and it is perfect. We don’t want to eat too much because…

We are taking a dinner cruise on the Bateux-Mouche boats!

Cruising the Seine
Cruising the Seine

This is one of those things that is soooo Paris but we have not yet enjoyed. We get all dressed up–we are both wearing our new clothes and I think we look great. We take a taxi; we can’t wear such lovely clothes on the Metro. And besides, it’s raining!

It is a lovely evening. We sip champagne while we wait to take off. Our server is young and very nice. Our table is just a couple tables back from the front of the boat. The boat is all glass so we have a perfect view of all the sights. The dinner cruise is about 2 1/2 hours showcasing the many iconic monuments along the Seine River.

Our dinner is really a delicious surprise! We enjoy champagne and an amuse bouche of cheese puff pastry. For our 1st course, Howard has smoked salmon with caviare and I have a cold lobster salad. For our main course, Howard has lamb with olives and artichokes and I have veal with mushrooms nesting in an open-faced square of pasta. For dessert Howard has the iconic profiteroles and I have Mille-feuille pastry with vanilla creme. It really was a perfect evening! We would absolutely do this again! Why did we wait so long?

Back home to bed.

Bedroom in Paris
Bedroom in Paris

This apartment is in a very old building. The bedroom floor slopes quite dramatically. I find myself sliding down the bed until my feet hang over the bottom. It’s like Diana, our RV, if we have not leveled her properly!

Paris — 17 September 2015

We slept very well last night. We are on the busy corner with lots of Paris traffic noise but the windows are double paned and block out 98% of the noise.

We need groceries! There is a covered market within 2 blocks of us. It’s in the midst of renovation but we peeked in last night and there appear to be a good number of purveyors. We have a long grocery list so we may need to find an actual grocery store.

But first we need dinner tonight! The butcher is very helpful. Howard sees a nice saddle of rabbit. He thinks it’s so beautiful he buys 2! We also buy some nice looking country-style duck pate. As we tell the butcher “C’est tout” (that’s all) he asks if we would like to purchase some bacon too…for the rabbit. We almost say No but then we realize what a great suggestion that is!

We buy some nice potatoes and haricot verte from the green grocer. He also has nice looking melons. I ask for a melon that we can eat at breakfast tomorrow and he finds one for me. That is another great service the green grocers offer–you tell them when you want to eat the fruit and they will choose it for you. And they are NEVER wrong!

Next to the cheese stand. We get some beautiful artisan-made French butter–there is nothing like it! And ask for some Camembert cheese. The cheese man asks when we would like to eat the Camembert. We say “Tonight.” He shakes his head–the Camembert is not ready to eat. So he chooses a nice Brie cheese for us.

Those three experiences illustrate how precious good food is to the French. They want us to have the best food experience possible. God bless them!!! One more stop in the covered market: we need wine for our feast (and lunch). And we get excellent recommendations from the wine purveyor.

Off to the bakery. We buy croissants to freeze so that we can have them each morning without going out to buy them with bed-hair. The bakery also has “baguette tradition”–baguettes made in the traditional method. They are nicely chewy (not airy and squishy) with a crispy crust. I love bread that way! And we buy a couple of sweets, Canelés De Bordeaux, which are tiny French rum and vanilla cakes for after dinner.

We have a quick lunch of bread, pate, cheese and a little wine. Then we are off to the Pantheon! We have decided, since this is about the 7th time (or so) we’ve been to Paris, that we will experience only new sites and new things to do–and we have quite a long list prepared. We have never been to the Pantheon and it’s not far from the apartment.

The Pantheon was originally built in the late 1700s (completed in 1791) by King Louis XV as a tribute to St. Genevieve, the patron saint of France. It is in the architectural tradition of what we would recognize as a state-capital; it hardly looks like a church. But by the time it was completed, the secular-minded revolution was in full swing and the church was converted into a non-religious mausoleum honoring the “Champions of a French Liberty” like Voltaire, Rousseau, Descartes, to name a few. The edifice switched back and forth between religious and secular a few times but now it is a secular mausoleum containing the remains of distinguished French citizens.

The upper floor contains huge murals of both St. Genevieve’s life and France’s historical achievements. There is also Foucault’s pendulum in action. It illustrates the rotation of the earth as described and proven by French physicist Léon Foucault.

The lower floor, the crypt, houses the remains of many famous French people including Marie Curie and her husband, Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Louis Braille (who invented script for the blind) and the other afore mentioned great French philosophers among many more.

We are happy that we made the visit here. We have a coffee (in France a coffee is an espresso) at the nearby cafe and people watch for a while. As we were walking to the Pantheon, I crossed the street just as the walk light turned red and, as the cars started moving, I ran to the nearest curb. In the process I pulled a muscle in my derrière–we are in France after all so I must use the local technical term. I tell you it hurts like you can’t believe! I hope the spasms settle down; it’s bad enough that I have to hobble around with my rheumatoid arthritis but the butt ache (pardon! The derrière ache) is too much!!

We take a walk to one of our favorite places: Rue Buci. It is a fairly short street with every shop you would ever want: flowers, chocolate, prepared sandwiches, roasted chicken, bread and pastries, fruit, oysters, olive oil and wine. And then there are several cafés including one of our favorites, Au Chai de l’Abbaye. I am looking for the flower shop–you CANNOT be in Paris without lovely flowers. I have never seen such a presentation of flowers that are available at this shop. The flowers are arranged in water in a cellophane holder tied with raffia. It is so beautiful and practical. You buy the bouquet (29€) and take it home and put it on the table–no vases required. I should start this in the US and make a fortune. (Or YOU should start this in the US and make a fortune. I have enough to do in retirement!)

We also find a grocery store. We need a few things we could not find at the covered market. We find our FAVORITE yogurt: Mamie Nova. Whenever we are in France we search out this yogurt–it has the very best flavors. We buy coconut for me and cherry for Howard. There’s another money making endeavor: bring Mamie Nova to the US! (But an even better money maker would be to bring window screens and shower curtains to France–HA!) In France, when you buy vegetables and fruit, you must weigh them and put the weight and price sticker on the bag. We almost forgot that! It’s embarrassing to be at the checkout and you’ve forgotten to weigh your items. (We’ve been there more than once!) The touch-screen on the scale was giving us grief and just as I called over the produce man to help, Howard got it to work.

Since we have been here so many times, it’s nice to feel comfortable enough to ask someone to help you or complain about something or tell someone in line “I was ahead of you!” The last time we were in Paris I argued with a Veterinarian’s receptionist that we arrived for our appointment at exactly the right time! Only to discover later that day that it was the day that the country changed over from day-light-savings time. My bad…

Dinner was WONDERFUL! How did I deserve such a wonderful husband who cooks so deliciously?! I have to confess that Howard’s good cooking certainly stoked the fires of love more than 35 years ago!

Howard did decide to freeze one of the saddles of rabbit so we have another great dinner to look forward to.

Sent from my iPad

London/Paris — 16 September 2015

Off to Paris! The packing up took just under 2 hours–good information to know when we pack up to go home in 2 weeks. (But please don’t make me think about going home yet!) Our host, Benjamin, comes by before we leave and returns our deposit of 100£. That means we now have to get rid of these British pounds! We’ll pay the cabbie and then exchange them in Paris because we ain’t coming back here to use them.

Our cabbie was from Somalia and he was a very genial fellow. He was also a VERY well-informed member of the world. He had a good grasp of American politics and talked about pretty advanced economic theories. He was way ahead of me and he’s making a living as a cab driver. It was a pleasant and interesting drive to the train station.
Before we left on this trip I bought a couple of “knife safes” so we could bring good knives with us to use in the kitchen. I was pretty proud of myself when I thought to order them from Amazon and with our Amazon Prime I was able to get Sunday delivery. But I was REALLY mad when I could not find them the day we left! I did find them in London when I unpacked my suitcase which made me even madder at myself for not remembering that they were there. BUT I was happy that my memory is somewhat failing me because we discovered that we could not carry any knives over 3″ in length on the train to Paris. So if I would have remembered where the knife safes were and if I would have brought the knives, we would have lost them. (And they would have been our nice, expensive knives.) So now I think I’m brilliant!
Howard fortunately had read thoroughly about the procedures at the train station. He made sure we got to the security line and through immigration and customs in good time. The train trip through the Chunnel was easy and fast. And, no, we did not see any fish! Our driver eventually found us at the Paris station after a few back and forth phone calls. I finally realized all I needed to tell him was that we were in front of the #5 voie (platform) which I could read off the sign in front of me.
The Paris traffic to our apartment was a mess! He dropped us off in front of our apartment door and successfully got us into the foyer. We said “Merci, au revoir!” And then quickly realized we could not get through the second security door. We were in luck; he had not yet pulled away from the curb. He showed us that we needed to place a magnetic key ON the apartment registry list–we never would have figured that out but apparently it is a usual thing here in Paris.
Up we go 4 flights of stairs (80 steps!) with 5 pieces of luggage and a couple of small over-the-shoulder bags (camera and iPad bags). My heart nearly exploded! And my arthritic knees nearly gave out. I thought all our walking and climbing in London for a week made us much stronger! Apparently that was not the case. So hopefully 2 weeks in Paris will help us on our way to fitness.
We have a beautiful apartment in the very best part of Paris! We have stayed in this area of Paris several times and know our way around. We have favorite shops and restaurants here and we feel right at home. Howard ran out right away to get some wine for us. We sat back with our feet up and the windows open so we could listen to the wonderful sounds of Paris, sip our wine and consider the 2 weeks we have ahead of us.
The apartment has a collection of restaurant business cards from past tenants. We find one that is nearby and I make a reservation via the Internet (much more easy than calling and having to communicate effectively by phone). We get a reservation for 7pm. Before dinner we take a little walk. It’s raining just a little but we really don’t notice.
At 7 we are the first to arrive at this REALLY tiny restaurant, Le Petite Vatel. It seats 18 people max! The lady is so nice and helpful. She brings us the little blackboard with the evening’s choices. We understand 75% and she fills in the rest of the information for us. Howard orders blood sausage in filo for his 1st course and beef cheeks with potatoes and nicely cooked vegetables for his 2nd course. I order little steamed clams for my 1st course and veal stuffed with ground lamb and beef with roasted garlic and perfectly cooked carrots, haricot verte and cauliflower.
We are happy to finally get some really good vegetables! There is a dearth of good vegetables in London. We share the third course: a nice big slice of aged Lauguiole cheese. French cheese–magnifique! For the dessert course we both have clafoutis with mirabelle plums. Espresso coffee ends the meal. The price for our meal was $145. And that is exactly the price we’d expect to pay for that kind of dinner–unlike London where everything is so incredibly expensive. The exchange rate is 1€ to $1.13 here in France–that’s the lowest we’ve seen for over 10 years!!! What a great first dinner in Paris! We could have not asked for anything more. We are off to a great start.
Speaking of the current exchange rate… It’s a good thing we spent 3 months living in France in the spring of 2014. After living there for so long we decided, because of the cultural unrest and the bad economy, that France would not be a good choice for our second home. (We chose Ashland, OR instead!) If we would have had our usual month-long vacation, we would have not had sufficient information to really decide if France was for us. With insufficient information and with the current exchange rate we would have been tempted to buy a place in France and that would have been a bad decision. So our 3 month-long adventure in France was a very good idea!

London — 15 September 2015

Today is our last full day in London. It’s a little rainy but, hey, we are not made of sugar! Westminster Abby is our first stop. And what a sight it is! Every second of our tour is mind-blowing. There are probably thousands of memorials inside the church ranging from ginormous and opulent to easily overlooked tiny. There are memorials to scientists like Darwin and Sir Issac Newton; to poets and writers like Geoffrey Chaucer and Dylan Thomas; to musicians like George Fredric Handel; to actors like Sir Lawrence Olivier; and to the opulent resting places of kings and queens. The videos of royal weddings do not begin to show the grandeur of the church.

We spend a couple of hours exploring the church and the gardens and then head off to the nearby Westminster Arms pub recommended by Rick Steves. I have sausage and potatoes and Howard has steak and ale pie which he says is even better than the one he had at Trafalger Square.

We should be tired enough to go home but we forge on to the British Museum. And that is a place not to be missed! Rick Steves says “it is the only place I can think of where you can follow the rise and fall of three great civilizations –Egypt, Assyria, and Greece–in a few hours.”

The ancient Egyptian exhibit (2400 to 200 B.C.) is soooo amazing! It begins with the Rosetta Stone dating back to 200 B.C. That discovery made it possible to decode Egyptian writing. We then come face-to-face with a colossal statue of Ramesses II from about 1250 B.C. And the fun never stops through the entire Egyptian wing. There are animal statues, coffins and sarcophagus, more colossal statues, paintings, statues of the gods and more!

Then on to ancient Assyria (Iraq 1100 to 600 B.C.)… The huge human-headed winged lions and winged bulls are my favorite of this exhibition. But the rest of the exhibit is incredible too. It is for the most part carved panels showing battles, palace scenes, and lion hunts (my favorite of the panels–it is so realistic).

And last, Ancient Greece (600 B.C. to 1A.D.). This exhibit was my least favorite. Although it was interesting, it just couldn’t beat the other two exhibits. There is pottery, small humanoid statues called Cycladic figures, sculptures, and frieze.

We were rung out at the end of our time at the British Museum and hobbled home with a stop at the wine shop and bakery to use up the last of our British pounds.


We had great weather! Lots of sun; pleasantly cool temperatures; and the little rain we got, did not inconvenience us.

London is WAY too expensive! It is also sooo crowded. And the metro is not as convenient as in Paris. It’s an interesting place to see but not interesting enough to come back. Our trip to the country was great–would love to see more of that but the country roads can be very narrow and driving on the other side of the road is too much. It was nice to be able to communicate although sometimes I wondered what language Britons were speaking. But one man said he didn’t understand at first what I said.

Londoners are very friendly and helpful. People stopped to ask if they could help if they saw us looking at our map.

London made me feel OLD! Too many people offered up their seats on the tube for us. I tried to convince Howard the first time it happened that the lady was talking to him but both of us elicited sympathy from younger Britons. So if it had not been clear before, it is crystal clear now: We are old!

We had tasty pub food. It was nothing fancy but it was good and we enjoyed our meals.

London — 14 September 2015

We are up at 7am and to the underground by 10. Today we visit the Tower of London. It’s a little rainy so we take our rain gear.

Once inside the walls we head lickity-split to the Crown Jewels, a popular tour. The tour starts with some very interesting videos (some are animated) showing the the many kings and queens who have worn the crown from William the Conqueror (1066) to the current monarch, Queen Elizabeth II (crowned in 1953). There is a video of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation–as Howard as an eleven year-old boy watched the coronation on TV, he fell madly in love with her, he says. Next you view all of the coronation items: ceremonial maces, swords and trumpets. Then comes the display of royal regalia: an eagle-beaked flask from which the anointing oil is poured, the Sword of Offering and the 20-pound gold robe. Finally you enter the room with various crowns, orbs and scepters. In these precious items are contained the 530-carat Star of Africa diamond, the 106-carat Koh-I-Noor diamond and a large blue sapphire from Edward the Confessor’s coronation ring. Of course there are also thousands of diamonds, pearls and semi-precious stones. Wow! But I have to say after seeing all those priceless symbols of the monarchy, I can see why some people believe it’s time for the monarchy to end. Kind of like the Vatican. How are all that gold and those priceless jewels helping the world? And how COULD it help the world today?

So speaking of the monarchy we head out to see the towers in which they were imprisoned and the places they were beheaded. We visit Beauchamp Tower where “Very Important Prisoners” were held. The walls are covered with graffiti expressing the prisoners’ hopelessness of ever leaving the tower and their final and last words.

The White Tower houses an interesting exhibit of suits of armor displayed on human and horse manikins, weaponry, instruments of torture and the execution ax and chopping block for…you know…

For 600 years beginning in the early 1200s, exotic animals were received at the tower as royal gifts and the animals were kept at the Royal Menagerie for the entertainment and curiosity of the court. The first royal beasts to arrive at the Tower – the lions, polar bear and elephant – came from Europe and North Africa. In later years, the variety of animals at the Tower increased. Everything from elephants to tigers, kangaroos and ostriches lived in what was known as the Royal Menagerie. Responding to this tradition, Artist Kendra Haste has recreated some of the most popular animals as wire-mesh animal structure pieces for an exhibition called Royal Beast. Haste’s life size polar bear gives visitors an idea what it would have been like hundreds of years ago. Seeing the bear, poised and chained brings an overwhelming sense of disbelief that an Arctic animal made it to London during the 1300s.image

The only animal to have survived until today are the tower’s ravens. According to tradition, the Tower and the British Throne are only safe as long as ravens are present. “The ravens are now treated almost like royalty. Like the Royals, the ravens live in a palace and are waited on by servants. They are kept at public expense, but in return they must show themselves to the public in settings of great splendor. So long as they abide by certain basic rules, neither Royals nor ravens have to do anything extraordinary. If the power in question is political and diplomatic, the Royals now have hardly more than the ravens. But the word “power” here can also mean the aura of glamour and mystery which at times envelops both ravens and monarchs.” (Boria Sax, author of books on human-animal relations) HA!

We have a delicious lunch at the Tower’s restaurant. I have a tasty plate of ham, potatoes and beans and Howard has sausage and mashed potatoes.

We decide to take the boat “bus” back to Westminster and then take the tube home.

London — 13 September 2015

Today is Sunday and we decided it was to be a day of rest. We were slow to get going. We made a picnic lunch of chicken salad sandwiches. Our destination is nearby Hyde Park and Kensington Park.

At the Diana Fountain

The day is cool but it is lovely weather. We have a set walk in mind but discover we veer off to other paths. We see a sign indicating the way to the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain and we move in that direction. We arrive at a weird monument and hope it is not the Diana monument. We keep going and eventually find our destination. The fountain is beautiful! It is in a circular shape and has incredible variations in water movement. The children are gleefully wading in the water. It truly is a beautiful memorial to Diana’s memory.

We try to find our way back to the original route but almost immediately discover the Serpentine Pavilion. It is a whimsical multicolored plastic pavilion that is a cafe in the middle of the park. It is described in the London Financial Times as “a little pavilion with almost psychedelic tunnels and shimmering rainbow refractions evoking oil in a puddle or a soap bubble.” (

We had delicious champagne as we watched little children run around and through the pavilion loving and enjoying the colors and pathways. We had our picnic in the shade of a lovely tree in the park. We people-watched but especially enjoyed the dogs having a romp in the park. It was especially funny to watch the dogs go after the squirrels. One owner got tired of calling for the dog (who was entranced by the squirrels) and just walked away. Finally the dog took notice that he was alone and quickly ran off to find its owner.

After lunch we visited Kensington Palace. Princess Diana and her sons made this place her home for a time. We just peeked our heads in (did not take the tour) but we enjoyed the gardens. On our way back we found a nice wine shop just around the corner from home with a welcoming man on duty. We bought some wine and enjoyed a chat before heading home.

We relaxed, read, had toasted English cheddar cheese sandwiches and pastries from the corner bakery. We actually stayed up until 11:00pm!