Washington, D.C. Roundup

We spent a hectic month or so in Washington, D.C., but I was a bit lazy about blog writing. OK, I was a lot lazy. Some of you know that we are partially hunting for a place to alight should we ever decide to do so. We are happy to announce that we think it is possible that we might be able to stay in DC for more than a few weeks (especially because our perfect granddaughter is there).

The AirBnB we stayed in was beautiful. It was a classic row house in Petworth. We chose the neighborhood partly because it is north and so a bit closer to our baby, but it is also a Latino area and had a few opportunities to practice Spanish and many chances to eat Mexican food (and drink tequila).

Our long-term plans are sketchy (after South America which is mostly settled), but we love nothing more than rehashing the house vs. condo discussion. The house in Petworth was large for us, but had great outdoor space including a garden and deck, a large and easy-to-use kitchen, parking (!), and friendly neighbors. BUT, it also had a lot of steps and our knees and hips are not getting any younger.

We liked the neighborhood. It’s an easy walk to the Metro and there was a yoga studio, Yoga District, a few blocks away. We didn’t take as much advantage of it as we would have liked (that fifth Covid shot knocked us out for a bit) but again, friendly people and good instructors. Plus, it’s close enough that we can see our smart and beautiful granddaughter and even help out when she gets hand, foot, and mouth disease.

There were plenty of restaurants within walking distance. We had Mexican, Lao, Vietnamese, and pizza. We love no-frills delicious food.

I hadn’t spent much time in DC, aside from a childhood trip (that’s another story) and the day I secured my EU passport. Did you know there are a lot of hills? We love marching hills (hmm…love marching nor love hills are part of my usual vocabulary).

Traditional Death March

What’s a weekend without a death march? The best way to explore a city is on foot. At least it’s best if you want to stay out of the car, which we do. Sometimes we just look at the map, pick a location in death march distance and go (death march distance varies by user. for me – 600 feet, for Sue – 20 miles) .

One day, that place was Hillwood Gardens, which is the former home of Marjorie Post (daughter of the cereal guy). Her house is a museum, when people come to see’um, well it’s really not a screa-um, but its not the Addams Family house. In fact, the gardens are lovely and the “mansion” is fairly modest as mansions go. If you like looking at stuff, definitely visit the house. Marjorie loved her place settings (especially imperial Russian china). Also, there is a pet cemetery on the grounds. Really a dog cemetery, but a little creepy nonetheless.

A special exhibit called Grace of Monaco: Princess in Dior was housed in an outbuilding. I played my favorite fashion museum game: Would I wear that? I found several I would deign to wear when I get a posh life and am invited to soirees, galas and charity balls. I’ve included them among the pics above in case you are a designer and want to fashion me a ball gown (or are holding a gala and are foolish enough to invite us).

Dead Person Bingo

We know you’ve been missing this exciting game show, so we made sure we took a trip to Arlington National Cemetery. Driving around DC is a little wacky, but not any worse than driving in other cities. We are used to not knowing where we are going.

Arlington is a far cry from the ancient, overgrowth cemeteries of Europe, but it has an air of honor and respect (as it should). I was eager to visit RBG (we wished her shana tova as it was right before Rosh Hashanah and searched high and low for rocks to place on her grave). Here are the other people we visited, in no particular order:

  • JFK (of course)
  • RFK
  • Thurgood Marshall
  • John Glenn
  • Oliver Wendell Holmes
  • Abner Doubleday (did you know he fired the first shot in defending Fort Sumter? That’s true, whereas the notion that he “invented” baseball is likely not.)
  • The crew of the space shuttles Challenger and Columbia
  • Joe Louis
  • Medgar Evers
  • Jacky Kennedy Onassis

Dear Friends

We have met so many wonderful people in our travels, but we took our time in the States to get reacquainted with some old ones. I visited with a woman who was my mentor at The Summit School (Hi Chris). Chris is one of the people who makes me want to stay in a place long enough to cement friendships. I also caught up with Susanna, who I worked with in San Diego when we were mere children. She’s a hot shot now at the NYT and I, well, am not.

Steven got a bug and decided to contact a college buddy of his. They went out and then set up a dinner with the wives included. Steve and Patricia are great and they just bought a house in Portugal, so they are adventurous too!

A short museum jaunt

Steven had a another business trip to Dallas and I skipped that one, so one day I hopped the Metro and hit the National Gallery of Art, including the sculpture garden. A very nice woman explained the whole place to me and drew circles on the map so I would know what was what, but I never made it past the special photography exhibit. I love photography. I think it is because it is the only art I am semi-successful at creating.

Robert Adams (no relation of Ansel as far as I know except for the black and white America photos) documents America (good choice for the National Gallery, huh?) in starkly beautiful or horrifying images of nature and the destruction of it in the pursuit of suburban life. I spent more than an hour in the exhibit and I can still see the images in my mind’s eye. I wish I could make pictures like that! The museum also reminded me how nationalistic and provincial Americans can be. Yes, it is the National gallery, but would it be so difficult to translate the descriptions into Spanish, at least. I overheard two French women commenting about the lack of other languages. I’m going to assume there were audio guides in other languages, but I don’t know.

Yom Kippur drive (and where are we now)

We made the radical decision to spend Yom Kippur on the road. Originally we had planned to leave for Florida on Friday, stop for a couple of hours in Coconut Creek to see mom (Hi mom), and then head to Miami for our flight to Buenos Aires BUT …

We figured G-d would forgive us if we skipped shul in order to see a Jewish mom. The plan was to leave before dawn on Wednesday, drive 12 or so hours stop overnight and then arrive early Thursday afternoon. At some point, we looked at each other and asked, “What if we just kept going?” So we did. We drove 15 1/2 hours and 1,023.7 miles on Yom Kippur and with stops for lunch and dinner, we were receiving Jewish mom hugs by 9:20 pm. (With the exception of when we stopped for food and fuel the trip was on one road. We turned left out of our street onto 14th street in DC, which turned into Route 1, which turned into I-395, which turned into I-95, and we stayed on that until we were in Coconut Creek – 1,020 miles later)

BTW, Yom Kippur fell on our anniversary (four years of glorious craziness in case you are counting). A true test of our undying love is 15 1/2 hours in a car together badly singing road trip songs. We made it!

Saturday night, we’re off to BA. Let the next adventure begin!

On the go (again)

I know we’ve been a little lax with the blog, but no sooner did we get settled in Washington, D.C., than we were packing again for a short side jaunt to NY. Yay! We do love New York. What’s not to love?

Anyway, we haven’t done much in the way of exploring DC since our main goal was to see our beautiful, smart, adorable granddaughter. We are staying in Petworth, which is in northwest DC. A couple of short wanders have revealed many Latino restaurants we’ve yet to try, but are eager to. We are also close to the Metro, which makes the neighborhood more desirable to us since we can get around without driving. More on Petworth and DC when we have a chance to explore.

And then we were off to NY.

A sidebar on train travel

We took Amtrak from Union Station to Penn Station, which is great because train stations are in the middle of cities and airports are not. We were able to walk to our hotel; however, I would swear that the train made as much lateral movement as forward motion. Good thing Steven had taken the train not long ago and he warned me to wear my motion-sickness patch. The trains in Europe are a lot smoother — and faster.

We are staying in Murray Hill at the Kitano, which is a lovely hotel except that it is Japanese and the Japanese are still very Covid-nervous so all the restaurants and the jazz bar are closed. Oh well. It’s not like we were going to eat here, but jazz would have been nice.

Why wouldn’t we eat at the hotel? you ask. Because there was pizza to be had for lunch when we arrived and bagels to munch for breakfast.

Saturday we did what we usually do and took a death march from 38th up through Central Park and all the way to 94th Street. Then, we decided we wanted ice cream. I had seen vegan soft serve on 30th, so down we went. We hiked about 12 miles, but it was a beautiful day and we didn’t have any plans.

That evening, we met Steven’s aunt and uncle (Hi Uncle David) at a very delicious Italian restaurant uptown, Sistina. The food was amazing and we always enjoy their company. Because we hadn’t gotten enough exercise, we walked back (just another couple of miles).

Sunday was drizzly, so we decided to see “Nope.” Of course, we walked to the theater, enjoyed the movie (good, not great) and walked back. We hadn’t had any Chinese food, so we thought, “Why not walk to Chinatown?” Of course! On the way, we passed McSorley’s, which was teeming with police and firefighters commemorating 9/11. (New York wasn’t as somber as I expected. We saw a parade on Saturday, which we thought was probably a commemoration and was full of union workers, but we weren’t downtown, so I am sure there was more going on there).

We stopped at a bar around the corner from McSorley’s called Cooper’s in the East Village for a drink and to watch the New York Giants (who, despite their best efforts, managed to win). We ended up having a great chat with a couple of firefighters and a niece of one of them. Before we knew it, it was after 8. We thought, “What the heck, we’ll keep walking to Chinatown,” … but it was raining and we were hungry, so we hopped the subway and had Chinese at Chili. around the block from the hotel. All’s well that ends well.

Monday was a work day followed by the Mets game (We had 4th row seats right behind the Mets’ dugout!). Man do I hate the Cubs! 5-2 sounds closer than it was. Bases loaded twice and nothing to show for it. Sitting next to their fans at Citi Field was worse! Even worse, they weren’t even from Chicago, but Utah of all places. But, Citi Field is fabulous and I can’t wait to go back. Let’s go Mets!

London – the second weekend

We were lucky enough to have two weekends in London and we packed the second one as full as we could. On Friday night, Abi, Laurens, Sue & I went to London’s Chinatown for a relatively early dinner at Joy King Lau. We ordered about 10 different dishes all of which were yummy and managed to finish all of them. After dinner we had reservations at the Comedy Store for an evening of stand up. They had seven comedians, an MC, the other four shown on the poster and then two more who did short sets of about 10 minutes each. They were all very good and we had a great time. After the show, Sue and I grabbed a cab back to the AirBnB driven by a very funny and talkative cab driver name Josie. 

Saturday, Sue and I went on a nice little stroll from Hackney to Highgate (circa 4 miles). Our destination, was, of course, Highgate Cemetery. We stopped on the way at the Lord Palmerston pub for a real British pub lunch. Sue had fish and chips and a cider while I had a Caesar salad (ok, not really British pub lunch, but I was still full from dinner the night before) and a pint of beer. We sat outside in the sunshine (yes really, there was sunshine) and watched the world go by. 

After lunch we headed for the cemetery to play our favorite game – Dead Person Bingo. The cemetery has two sections, East and West. We started with the west section and found Michael Faraday, Alexander Litvinenko and George Michael (real name Georgios Panayioto). Unfortunately we missed Beryl Bainbridge and Bob Hoskins, but oh well, you can’t see them all. In the East section we found Karl Marx (really impossible to miss), Malcolm McLaren and Douglas Adams (Don’t Panic!). All in all a very successful dead person’s bingo day.

We left the Highgate via the overground trains (which Sue has dubbed the overtube) on our way to meet up with Abi & Laurens to celebrate Laurens’ birthday. We met them and a bunch of their friends at a canalside bar called Crate Brewery. A good time was had by all. When the sun started to go down, Sue & I decided to have Indian food for dinner at Bengal Village on Brick Lane. The food was delicious a great end to a really enjoyable day.

Sunday, Sue and I walked down to Borough Market just to see what was there. Broadway Market, which we visited last weekend, was all prepared and ready to eat food, Borough Market had a much greater mix of prepared and grocery foods. The walk there took us past a few of the buildings that worked in when I lived in London, back during the 1980s, which made me a bit nostalgic. After walking through the market we decided to have lunch at the Anchor Pub, which has been open since 1615. I used to work around the corner from it, and when I lived in London, I would often go there for lunch. After a nice lunch, we had some time to kill until me were meeting Abi & Laurens, so we continued down the south side of the Thames to Tate Modern Museum. We wandered around looking at the installations for about an hour, and to be truthful, I just don’t get it. I think I am going to give up on modern art museums, I just don’t understand why the pieces that they are showing are good art. Some are interesting to look at, but what makes them great art? After being thoroughly bewildered by the Tate, we walked back to meet Abi and Laurens for a drink and then headed back to our AirBnB. Back to back 10 mile days, my legs were tired.

Monday was a bank holiday in Great Britain, called August Bank Holiday (pretty clever huh?).  Unfortunately, we had to work, because none of our clients are British. Sue and I did yoga in the morning (as if my legs didn’t hurt enough) and we met Abi & Laurens for dinner our last dinner in the UK at a Jamaican place called Ma Petite Jamaica. The food was good and we had a nice, if a little melancholy time, knowing that this was our last night together for a while.

Steven neglects to mention that Sue went on a 4-mile walk on the Regents Canal to Camden Market. The walk was the goal, not the market. In fact, the market, which is pretty famous, has every type of food you could want and plenty of knickknacks, leather goods, souvenir junk, and jewelry. If you don’t mind crowds, it’s a fun visit. That’s where I found Amy Winehouse. It used to be a haven for punks and goths, but like everywhere else, it just seemed touristy and hipstery.

Just some random photos of London courtesy of Sue:

Tuesday morning, we took the Chunnel to Paris and Wednesday morning we flew back to Chicago.

The Chicago skyline from the window of our plane – the color is due to the tinting on the window:

East London Calling

Here’s Abi pretending to enjoy the company of her belle-mère and probably actually enjoying her dad.

London sort of snuck up on us. We didn’t do much planning because the plan was really just to spend time with Steven’s daughter and (harshly) judge her partner. Since we didn’t really consider London as a place, we were a bit at loose ends.

We’ve noticed a pattern in which it takes us about a week to settle in. We’re only here for 10 days, so it’s a bit awkward. It’s not a vacation, but there’s a lot of eating out involved. Luckily, the heat wave broke and it’s only rained once.

We’re staying near her in East London, where I’ve never really been before. If you love hipsters, this is the place for you. Expensive coffee, fancy baked goods, “elevated” cuisine, a street food market — this area has it all. I’m not going to deny that we have had some delicious food or that I didn’t enjoy Broadway Market. During the week it’s a fruit and veg market, mostly, but on Saturdays it’s full of food stalls with almost any kind of food you might fancy. Of course, merchants are also selling stuff, but since we live by the 23 kilo rule, we don’t much look at stuff (except for Frida Kahlo socks and a book of cocktails inspired by feminist women (no, it’s not redundant — there are feminist men out there).

Broadway Market was our introduction to Abi’s neighborhood and it was jammed. After all, it was one of the few days in London when you needed neither a jacket nor an umbrella. Adding to the enjoyment, we walked along Regents Canal (below) to get there. Steven and I have taken several walks along the canal, which is just a few blocks from our AirBnB. The canal runs 8.6 miles, but we haven’t walked the entire length, yet. It is lovely, if overrun by bicyclists who are about as polite as American cyclists, which is to say about 20 percent announce their presence before they overtake you.

The most traditional activity we have participated in (besides beer and cider) has been eating a Sunday roast at the Hunter S. pub. Luckily, they have caved to vegetarian pressure and have a delicious nut roast. I can’t attest to the quality of the huge slabs of meat, but apparently they were yummy (I can. They were delicious). The place is funny because the bathrooms are decorated with pictures I can’t show in a family blog (at least not in the prudish US), but if you ask me nicely, I will send you a couple.

The food tour continued at Dishoom, a small chain of “elevated” (I warned you) Indian cuisine. I had stumbled upon the Covent Garden branch when I was here with Jake four years ago. It was delicious then and the Shoreditch edition was delicious again.

One caveat about hipsterville: Be prepared to wait. No one moves quickly and no one eats at home (and she hasn’t mentioned the twenty minute wait for coffee on Sunday at the Dusty Knuckle).

Off the food tour, onto the walking tour

Steven is busy keeping me in the lifestyle to which I would like to become accustomed and I had some time, so I signed up for a tour of Brick Lane through Unseen Tours. All their tour guide have been affected by homelessness and they offer a unique view of different parts of London. I chose the Brick Lane tour because it was close and I didn’t really know anything about East London.

Pete has been leading tours for eight years, but had been homeless in East London. A sheltered housing program helped get him back on his feet and he now has his own flat. He showed us around Brick Lane, telling stories about the street art and immigration history of the area along with discussing homelessness, government programs, and the obstacles to getting and keeping people off the streets.

BTW: Although Jack the Ripper struck here, Pete explained that he finds it disrespectful to sensationalize violence against women, especially because it’s on the uptick again. You go Pete!

The images below are all from the tour.

Brick Lane is now predominantly Bengali, but the French, Irish, and Ashkenazi Jews have all populated the area, hence the Brick Lane Jamme Masjid (mosque) dating from 1743 that was once a temple that was once a Protestant church and the Christ Church Primary School, which sports a star of David.

The Banksy

The tour ended with a somewhat underwhelming Banksy. A pink Triumph GT6 sits atop a wall that was once part of an Overground bridge. It’s encased in yellowed Plexiglas and where once there sat a ghost driver, nothing remains. If you still want to see it, you can find it at the Truman Brewery. Pete said that the bridge construction company took possession of the car and wall when they demolished the old bridge and when they realized what they had, they sold it for £1 million. I don’t recall how he said that it ended up back on the street, but I can ask him.

The street art below is from a retaining wall and building just off Brick Lane.

It’s not goodbye, it’s see you next August (we hope)

On Saturday, we said goodbye to Seuss the cat (and Paris) again, but we didn’t let a moment go to waste in those last few days, so I’m going to pretend we’re still there and save London for the next installment.

On Thursday, we took what we thought would be our last long stroll in Paris. We headed back to Ground Control to meet the woman who is responsible for kicking off all this craziness: my bestie, Newman. You may recall that she lives in Armes, outside the booming metropolis of Clamecy, in Burgundy, where we stayed last year. She came to town so I could at least spend a few hours with her before we headed out and we wanted to meet her somewhere near where she was taking the train back.

Steven and I took a very minor detour on the way, which was mostly a walk along the Seine, to see the Village de St. Paul. Well, I saw the sign and curiosity got the best of me, as per usual. Totally worth the three blocks extra. You can even see the remains of the ancient walls of Philippe Auguste. It’s full of art and antique dealers and while Steven thought it was a little too hipster (wait till you hear about where we are in London), I thought it was picture-worthy and a new discovery. I love a new discovery.

After lunch, Steven left to get some work done (boo! but someone has to pay for the madness) and Newman and I walked along what she described as Paris’ High Line. It’s much more tranquil than that (of course, it was August), but I also say that because it’s lined with gardens and even a park.

Before we bid adieu, I even got to see Newman’s wife Sylvia for a minute. Next time, more together time!

Our last day in Paris (so sad) turned out to be fabulous! We didn’t plan on a long walk on Friday, but, well, we can’t seem to help it. Last year, we didn’t make it to the Musée de l’Orangerie. It’s a tres popular place right in the Jardin des Tuileries, so book in advance. It’s well worth it. The museum is famous for the two oval rooms containing Claude Monet’s Water Lilies cycle. Wow! I could have spent hours looking.

(My zen moment of the blog: If you go, put your phone down and look at the paintings instead of taking pictures of them and walking by or taking pictures of yourself standing in front of the art. Truly look at the art! Live in the moment! And now back to our regularly scheduled nonsense.)

The rest of the museum houses other works by Monet and paintings by Picasso, Cézanne, Matisse, Modigliani, and Renoir among others. We got the audio guide, which was very helpful but also a bit overwhelming as it had information on ALL the paintings and most were at least a minute long. The museum isn’t huge, but we have about a 90-minute limit on absorbing art, which was just about the right amount of time.

After the museum, we decided that, having not even had a croissant, we had to at least have crepes. We wandered of in not completely the direction back and hit Le P’tit Breton. The place is tiny, but we just missed the dejeuner rush, so we got a seat pretty quickly and couldn’t resist the menu d’jour of savory, drink, and dessert. Yum! Highly recommend.

From there, we walked back, relaxed and packed and made a plan for dinner. As you know, many places in Paris are closed in August, but we picked a Vietnamese restaurant the Googs said was open. Once again, the Googs steered us wrong, but we had passed a Thai and Japanese place on the way there. We first opted for Thai, but it had started drizzling and the place had no AC, so Japanese it was! Good food, good company, good city and a beautiful Parisian night in which to walk back.

All is well in the land.

Saturday it was on to London on the Eurostar …

Ground Control to Major Tom

This was our last weekend for this trip to Paris as we are heading to London next Saturday. Friday night we decided to try a Mexican restaurant near Montmarte cemetery in the 18th arrondissement.  The place had good reviews on Google but we are quite disappointed. The food was at best mediocre, the drinks were watery and the service was poor. Oh well, sometimes these things don’t work out. We decided on a whim to walk the 3 miles home. It was quite warm but the walk west into the setting sun was wonderful.

Saturday the temperatures were in the 90s Fahrenheit (about 34˚ C). We started the day by meeting a classmate from Sue’s time at Alliance Française and her partner for brunch. They chose the Maison Sauvage, which happens to be our local watering hole. We sat in the sunshine and had an enjoyable brunch.I really enjoyed seeing Lin again and meeting Jean Baptiste. They are very sweet. They recommended a museum called Musee Jacquemart Andre. After a short(ish) relax after brunch we put our walking shoes back on and walked over the museum. It is in a private mansion built by Edouard André and his wife Nélie. Mssr. André  was the only child of a very wealthy banking family during the Second Empire period (1852–70) and he and his wife spent their entire adult lives collecting art. The house and the art was amazing. One of the interesting things was that the reception rooms were quite grand, but the private chambers were relatively modest.

After we done wandering in the museum, we headed over the Parc Monceau and just sat on a bench and watched the world go by. The park was full of people enjoying the warm weather and hanging out in the park. Or perhaps they were sitting in the park because it cooler than sitting in their un-air conditioned apartments. Either way, it was very enjoyable. I like Parc Monceau because it’s not a tourist attraction. For the most part, it’s just Parisians hanging out. When the sun started to set we walked back to our apartment.

Somewhere Sue found an article about a place called Ground Control, which is sort of like an indoor/outdoor food court with some boutique shops in the 11th arrondissement right near Gare du Lyon. One of the food stands is run by refugees and they focus on food from their particular homeland. It sounded interesting when Sue described it, so we decided to walk the 5 miles (8Km or so) along the river to it on Sunday. Once again the weather was in the 90s (about 34˚ C), but there was a nice breeze blowing and it was somewhat overcast. The walk was great and we were certainly hungry when we arrived. Sue had a gazpacho that was a thick green soup and reminded me of pureed avocado (at least it looked like that) and a deep fried vegetable dish. I had Caribbean bbq chicken with coconut rice. Once again, we sat in the sunshine and enjoyed the atmosphere. We decided to take the Metro either because it was a really long tiring walk there and I … I mean we…couldn’t face a walk back, or it was supposed to rain soon. You decide the more likely reason.

Another fabulous weekend in Paris.

Greetings!

I say that not just because I love having you here, but because we have learned one incredibly valuable lesson that has made our travel easier and allows us to make small connections with other people: Learn how to say “Thank you” in the native tongue. “Hello” is great also, but thank goes a long way.

Today, we experienced both ends of the Parisian spectrum when the apartment cleaner unexpectedly showed up. Either we weren’t told he was coming or we forgot. No matter. We were about to do yoga, but quickly shifted to petit dejeuner (my favorite meal mostly because it consists of coffee and sometimes a cute cookie or, if you’re really lucky, a little cup of chocolate mousse).

We went for a little stroll and passed three or four cafes. We randomly picked one and, as is the custom, sat down at an outdoor table. Then … nothing. The waiter was inside setting up tables. OK, this is France, service is slow, it’s beautiful and we’re in no hurry. She came outside to set up the tables out there. She definitely saw us but still … nothing. We tried to shrug it off, but after 15 minutes we got up, walked a few feet and sat down at a different cafe.

This time, Steven did go it and make ourselves known, but this waiter was smiling. He came out almost immediately and took our order (cafe latte e cafe). The waiter asked us something and Steven answered, “Si.” We are having trouble learning Spanish while we try to remember some rudimentary French. I said, “oui.” The waiter said, “Si, oui, yes” and then something in French which I took to mean “It’s all good,” and we laughed.

So, you’re just about at the end of your patience in finding out what all this has to do with saying thank you overseas, but never fear, here it comes: In due course, our coffees arrived and we said, “Merci, gracias.” Then the waiter started to say “your welcome” in several languages. We kept this up as we paid l’addition as well, leading him to ask us where we were from. Not a deep conversation, but a connection where one might not have happened.

Here’s the list of the ones we have so far:

Thank youEnglish
MerciFrench
GraciasSpanish
GrazieItalian
ShukranArabic
TeşekkürlerTurkish
Danke vellDutch
GràciesCatalan
ObrigadaPortuguese

There will be a lot of gracias in our future, I’m sure, but I’d love to expand my “thank you” list. Please is also a good one to know. Feel free to add to the list, s’il vous plait.

Paris Promenade ou marche, marche, marche

[Oops, this is not Steven talking, it’s Susan!] Not to sound snobby (although sometimes I feel like we do just because of our lifestyle), but we have been in Paris many times and we’ve checked off all the really touristy stuff so we try to explore areas where real Parisians are (and where we may want to live if we can learn some French after we learn Spanish). We are also tried to make sure we can do the loooooong hikes we signed up for in Patagonia and Machu Picchu.

So, this weekend was death march weekend. That’s Steven’s name for them anyway and according to our phones, he’s getting the old man bump. Even though we are walking the same distances and walking them together, his phone always says he’s gone farther than my phone says I have walked (HA! She is just jealous of my ability to out-walk her).

Anyway, Saturday, we took the Metro to Pere Lachaise, but we didn’t play Dead Person Bingo. We just wanted to explore the 19th arrondissement. I thought there was a farmer’s market there so the plan was to buy some lunch and head to Parc Buttes-Chaumont for a picnic. Parisians love a good summer picnic. I didn’t realize that the farmer’s market wasn’t open on Saturdays, but aucun problème. Instead we hit the Carrefore supermarche (I bought curried chicken, was supposed to be served hot, but I put it on a baguette – it was delicious) and headed over to a park in which I heard no English spoken. Excellent!

BTW, we totally decided that we love the 19th. In fact, we LOVE Paris. What are we thinking when we say we want to go somewhere else. Paris is magnetic, electric, parfait! The park was beautiful, the day was beautiful and so we made our typical decision and walked home all the way across Paris. How can you go wrong (Can you say death march?)?

On the way home, Saturday my favorite store!

After the park, we headed over to Paris Plages at the canal. There are paddle boats, swimming spots, snack bars, playgrounds, and other fun activities at the water (nice little restaurants which we didn’t stop at because no drinks allowed during the death march!). We had no idea it was there, but we had past it on the Metro on our way to the park and decided to walk that way. One thing we do well is the detour. It’s always worth it to find somewhere on the map and just head over because it looks like something worth seeing.

Sunday, we planned another long walk. One of the fabulous things about Paris is that we really still don’t know it at all. We “live” close (if you are like us and think a 4 km walk is close) to a huge park and Roland Garros and didn’t even know it. Nothing is happening at Roland Garros, but that makes it 3 for 4 grand slam sites I have seen, but not been in. Haven’t been to Melbourne, yet.

Then, we headed to Parc de Bagatelle, which Google said was “more crowded than usual,” but was mostly deserted and beautiful. It’s a botanic garden with a chateau (that was closed) and a few ponds to sit around while you eat your picnic lunch on a perfect Paris day without a cloud in the sky. We ate, admired the roses and then we (I) decided that since we were so close to the Seine, which oxbows around there, we should head over.

The bad part of that was that we accidentally left Paris. Oh no! Technically we were in Neuilly-Sur-Seine, but we could see Paris across the street — phew! The big plus was that we didn’t hear any English, not that we can speak French although a few words are coming back from my four weeks of lessons last year.

This weekend we hit the westernmost park and an eastern park. We walked about 17 miles, most of the time trying to figure out how we would manage to live here … but who knows? We have no plans past our South American jaunt.

Friday night, we met a woman Steven used to work with and her husband and had a very nice Lebanese dinner at al Dar. One of the tough things about travel is that we don’t have much of a social life except with each other, so it was a happy coincidence that their travel overlapped with ours. Life is good.

Re-bonjour Paris

Wow, it has been over a month since our last post. Sorry dear readers. We spent July in Chicago visiting our friends and family and so there didn’t seem to be much to write. We have a love/hate relationship with that city. What we love: our friends and family, the food, the food, the food, the parks are plentiful and beautiful, the lake front, the vibrant night life and of course, the food. What we hate…That winter is 9 months long. I used to say that Chicago in the summer is a Siren calling us to crash into the rocks. It is so beautiful, the weather is so nice, the food so good, the entertainment so plentiful for 2 months of the year. The rest of the year it is like living in a very large freezer.

Once the calendar page turned to August, it was time to hit the road again and return to Paris. We landed at De Gaulle on Monday morning and after a relatively short wait at immigration (the sign said less than 30 minutes, and it took us about 90) we hopped a cab and headed toward the apartment. We are once again cat sitting the fabulous, but ancient Seuss. Our friend sent us a video reminding us of the front door code, how the Dutch appliances work (Extra Drugge!), the alarm system codes and where to find the keys. We said hello to Seuss, unpacked and settled in.

It is amazing how quickly we fall back into a rhythm when we return somewhere. We headed to the Casino grocery store, the home of the infamous “We can’t get out” incident and picked up some necessities. We grabbed our favorite grocery cart (see pic) and walked over. It was as if we never left. Muscle memory knew where to go, the shop was familiar, yet still fun to wander through.

The cart we long for

A quick side note to let you know that France is suffering from a mustard shortage. Yes, as horrific as the rest of the world’s news is, it pales in comparison to the dreaded mustard shortage in France. When I read the article, I assumed it was overblown and while there might be a shortage, I wouldn’t have any trouble finding mustard. I was wrong. The Casino had no mustard!!!! It was terrible. I even screwed up my courage to ask someone in the store where the mustard was (où est la moutarde?). She kindly took me to the spot and pointed to an empty shelf. Hmm…This could be an issue, I thought to myself.

We only bought the absolute necessities today – milk for my coffee, salad fixings, cheese, some easy to make pasta for lunch, bread and of course a bottle of wine – we headed back to the apartment and had lunch.

After lunch we had our required jet lag nap and then got down to work. One of the nice things about being six hours ahead of New York is that we have the entire morning to do as we wish, and then just work in the afternoon and evening. I really like this schedule.

We had a simple dinner of salad, bread, cheese and wine. Afterwards we settled into the evening trying to stay awake until a reasonable hour. I tapped out at 10:30, Sue made it to about midnight.

Le Piston

Last year, we did not have any luck with the espresso maker, so we bought what we in the US call a French press, but which the French call a piston (say it in French, accent on the first syllable and more or less just hint at that last letter). However, this year, Sue quickly remembered how to work the giver of the sacred caffeine and on Tuesday morning we had great coffee in the morning. Thank you, Sue. (You’re welcome, although it really was mostly self-preservation.)

We ventured back to the grocery store during the day to pick up more necessities and then worked all day. Not exciting and I would have stopped the blog before it, but I wanted to get to Wednesday morning – so fast forward to Wednesday morning. We woke up late and headed down to the local farmers market. There are many of the them in Paris, and ours runs from the Musée national des arts asiatiques Guimet down a few blocks towards the Palais de Tokyo on the avenue du Président Wilson – Charles, I included this in case you wanted to look it up on Google Maps 😉.  At the very end of the market, is a Lebanese stand that has great falafel. So we wandered over there and bought a bunch of stuff (falafel, kibbeh, vegetarian kibbeh, Jerusalem salad, hummus, garlic sauce, pita) for a lunch. Well, actually lunches because I am not very good at portion control and we bought way too much. Oh well, we will eat it up. We also stopped at one of the vegetable stands and bought more fruit and veg.

The weather here is unseasonably hot. Today will reach 36˚C (96˚F), which is about 11˚C (19˚F) higher than normal. Our apartment has no air conditioning, but the high ceilings and a few fans keep the temperature reasonable. It gets cool at night – 18˚C (64˚F), so we sleep with the windows open. Lucky for us we are on the second floor (in the US this would be the third floor).

The rest of the week will likely be the same, out for a walk and errands in the morning, followed by work in the afternoon. We haven’t made any plans yet for the weekend, but I am sure we will do some fun things.

And finally – Just some random photos of Paris until we get out and get some of our own:

The Final Weekend

We crammed a lot into a 12-day trip. We are both tired and happy. I forgot how exhausting tourist travel can be. Don’t want to miss anything!

Speaking of that, as I mentioned, Saturday, we were going to head to Sintra. I had read that the train leaves every 30 minutes. Hmmm, that turned out not to be the case. It may be true that there are trains every 30 minutes, but they leave from different stations. They only leave once an hour from Rossio station, where we were. Two bits of advice here: Use the machine to buy your ticket instead of waiting on the long tourist line. You can also buy you ticket in advance. Since it is a commuter train, it’s good whenever you ride.

We had just missed a train, so instead of waiting 55 minutes, we decided to hoof it up to the Castelo de São Jorge, which we could see from our AirBnB. We had a 5:0 food and drink tour and we didn’t want to rush it. You know me, so you know I would hoof it, but you don’t have to. There are elevators that take you a lot of the way if you know how to find them. Or the tram 9which we didn’t take at all) or cabs, which are pretty cheap in Lisboa. The castle is a 5th Century Visigoth fortress that was expanded by the Moors in the 11th Century.

Sometimes a surprise can be more stunning than something you were looking forward to: no expectations. That was the case here. Aside from the fabulous views, there were peacocks everywhere. We wandered for about an hour or two and then figured it was time for lunch. The Portuguese eat a lot of cod and one of their iconic snacks is a cod cake. We stopped at the touristy place at the top of the hill and bought a couple. Sure, we paid a bit more, but we were hungry and it was right there. Vacation money!

Next, we hit a wine shop that has a nine-generation lineage of wine seller and got advice on a couple of bottles of tinto verde for Jake to take home and one bottle we planned to drink as we sat on the terrace for our last night. We also went to Livraria Bertrand, the world’s oldest bookstore — open since 1732 — where I may have purchased a Pepa Pig book in Portuguese.

We took a short break so I could rest my weary ankles and then headed out to meet up with the food and (alcoholic) drink tour. I made a grand entrance by slipping and falling (very gracefully) to my hands and knees. I don’t think I have mentioned, but the sidewalks of Lisboa are made of small, uneven squares of limestone. Very slippery! Birks in need of resoling are not a good choice. Luckily, I didn’t hurt myself and off we went.

We started with ginjinha, which you can buy from little cafes and drink on the street IF you want to drink it. To Jake and me, it tasted like cough syrup. It is made with ginja berries, which are kind of like sour cherries, but it’s sweet and syrupy. ate (another) cod cake and learned that the one Jake had with cheese was not traditional, although it was quite tasty. The snack shops, where many Lisboans grab a quick lunch, sell many different handheld foods. João, our guide, took us to little hole in the wall places and that was great. We tried sparkly wine, tinto verde, and red wine along with the food.

At last, we had the famous pastéis de nata, an egg custard in a crunchy shell served warm and gooey. Yum!

After the food tour, we headed over to a neighborhood that was supposed to have a kind of roving street party with a woman we met on the tour. We did find a festival, but it wasn’t really our kind of music and after wandering some more, we called it a night.

Sunday: Our very last day 😦

We did make it to Sintra (one of 1,154 UNESCO world heritage sites) and it was worth it, but first we had brunch. We arrived at Quase Cafe in the windy narrow streets of Alfama just before it got really crowded and waited only a few minutes for a table. Jake and I did really well ordering a savory and a sweet breakfast. This time we got pancakes, scrambled eggs with mushrooms and cheesy pesto toast. It was a lot of food, but definitely fortified us for Sintra.

One of the sequoias

Once again, our timing wasn’t great, and we sat on the train for about 30 minutes. It did get a bit crowded and there isn’t AC so we were glad for seats, especially since masks are still required. From the train, we got on the Hop On, Hop Off bus, which has three different circuits around town. We headed for Pena Palace, mostly because it was at the top and we figured we would work our way down. If you are like me and you get seasick easily, you will not like this bus. Entry to the parks is not free, but you can buy combined tickets if you know where you want to go. Pena Palace is in a park that is worth exploring. I would say you can skip going inside the palace. It’s OK, but there are plenty of other castles and grounds to explore.

In fact, our favorite part of the castle was the Sentry Walk. The castle is built on the highest hill in Sintra and the view is spectacular. We also enjoyed wandering the gardens, which cover about three-quarters of a square mile and where five sequoias ordered by King Ferdinand are thriving among other trees from abroad.

I was very reluctant to get back on the bus, so I missed going to the westernmost spot in Europe. Oh well, next time. We took a TukTuk instead and had a much more enjoyable ride with an interesting driver. You can do a whole Sintra tour in a Tuk Tuk, but you can also take the buses or walk to a lot of spots (if you don’t mind hills). The driver dropped us in the town of Sintra, which mimics many other old European towns with narrow streets filled with restaurants and souvenir shops, and recommended we go to Quinta da Regaleira, which he said belonged to Freemasons. Carvings attest to that and an affinity toward Knights Templar and Rosicrucians. One cool feature are the initiation wells. Tourists can start at the top of one of them and walk the circular stairs all the way to the bottom, where the floor is a compass and Knights Templar cross. How the wells were used is a bit of a mystery, as you might imagine with those groups.

After exploring the grounds there, we were ready to head back. Bad train timing again, but we realized we could get on a train that was leaving in a couple of minutes if we didn’t mind taking the Metro from there. Better than waiting 50 minutes! So we hopped on, but when we hopped off, we found that the Metro was closed because of a strike. Luckily, Lisboa is full of cabs and they aren’t expensive, so we grabbed one and were back in no time.

Things didn’t turn out exactly as we planned for our last dinner. We wanted a restaurant with a view, but after some fumbling around (mostly by me), we didn’t like the place we chose and ended up at an Indian spot with a terrace that faced away from the view. Oh well. I accidentally ordered giant beers, so when we got back to the apartment, we didn’t really drink that much wine, but we did raise a glass (see below for pics of our last night). It was really good, though. Definitely no complaints!

We figure that we walked more than 80 miles and up and down hundreds of flights in our 12 days. The weather was beautiful, if a tiny bit hot in Barcelona, and all three cities are worth a visit.

Monday, we took a cab to the airport (less than 10€) and had an uneventful (thankfully) trip home.