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:

Florence for the Weekend

The view from our AirBnB’s front window

On Thursday, we headed out for a couple of days in Florence. Stacey had organized the travel, so it was smooth and easy. After an hour and a half train ride, we were in Florence. We grabbed lunch and checked into a fabulous AirBnB (link), which is two doors down from the first Medici palace. Once we had unpacked and settled in for a bit, (and gawked at what a fabulous and fancy place we had) Sue, Stacey & David headed out explore, while I sat down to work for the afternoon and evening.

Friday, we had a walking tour of Florence, which is a small city and totally walkable. We started by going to the Galleria dell’Academia, which is the art museum that displays Michelangelo’s statue of David (I had never thought about it, but David has a nice tushy too!), among is other works. It is incredible to realize that he sculpted the Pieta at age 23 and the David at age 26. Our tour guide was very informative and she brought our attention to many of the techniques that Michelangelo used to make the masterpiece, such as his enlarged hands and feet.  

We spent about an hour in the Academia and then headed to the Duomo or Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral, one of the main attractions of Florence. It is a soaring 13th century Gothic-style cathedral, financed by the di Medici family to let everyone know how rich (and pious?) the city of Florence was. The dome is 90-meters high and can be seen from miles around. (I am sure if you have seen a photo of Florence, you have seen the dome of the Duomo.) It is also the third largest Catholic church in the world.

We headed toward the river to see the Ponte Vecchio, the most famous bridge in Florence, and the only one the Germans did not destroy when they evacuated the city. The Italians have a complicated relationship with World War 2, which seems to focus only on the liberation of Italy by the Allies. Mussolini has only been mentioned twice, and both times derisively. The bridge houses a long line of jewelry stores, and I, of course, bought Sue one large piece from each store – or not. We really just wandered across and looked in the windows. We did, however, learn that the stores were originally butcher shops, so that the waste could be tossed into the river. But when the Medici’s built their third palace on the other side of the river, they also built an enclosed walkway that went from the second to the third. The route it took was through the Uffizi Gallery and then across the bridge above all the shops. Not surprisingly, they decided it would be nicer to walk above jewelry stores, than smelly butcher shops.

From there, we walked over to the second Medici palace, called Palazzo Vecchio. It now houses the city government of Florence but was originally a fort and palace for the Medici family. The square in front of the palace is called Piazza della Signoria. It contains a number of important statues and Michelangelo’s David originally stood here before being moved to the Galleria in 1873. My personal favorite is Perseus with the Head of Medusa, in part because the sculpture (Benvenuto Cellini) seems to have carved his face into the back of Perseus’ head. Unfortunately, due to the lighting, we did not get a good photo of this. Interestingly, our guide pointed out that there are three statues with heads that are, or are about to be, cut off. Perhaps as a warning to those who wished to oppose the government? On the south side of the piazza is the Uffizi Gallery, which we did not have time to visit, but Sue and I are returning to Florence in a few weeks, so we will perhaps go in then. Can’t get enough Jesus pictures when you’re in Italy.

After lunch (yes, that was all before lunch) and a short rest, we headed for the Basilica of Santa Croce to play our favorite game – dead person bingo. The basilica houses the mortal remains of Galileo, Dante and Michelangelo. Imagine the conversations going on at night between those three! The church dates from the 13th century – or at least parts of it do. There are many people buried under the floor and wandering through it is easy to find markers as old as the 15th century.

Once we had completed our bingo card, we headed back to the AirBnb and then out for dinner. After dinner, as we were relaxing, there was a protest outside our place by the communists, demanding peace, which seemed somewhat ironic.

Saturday, we just lazed around and did nothing.

Stacey and David and Chianti mascot (in the middle)

Yeah right. Not a chance – Stacey had booked an all day wine tasting trip to Chianti. I know, tough job, but someone had to do it. Our driver, Eduardo – Eddy – picked us up at 10 a.m. and drove us out into the beautiful countryside. We learned the history of how border between Florence and Siena was set and why the local mascot is a black rooster. Here is a link to the very short story. We first went to a vineyard called Fattoria Montecchio and learned about the different types of Chianti (Chianti, Chianti Classico and Chianti Classico Riserva) and Super Tuscans. We tasted each of the wines that they make and also tried their balsamic which was a revelation to me. I loved it. (It does not involve vinegar, but is simply an aged grape reduction.)

We then headed to Casa Emma, a very small organic winery. They served us lunch and paired the very delicious food with their different wines. Once again the had the three types of Chiantis and a super Tuscan, along with two different balsamics, one of which was aged 20 years.

After a very long leisurely lunch with great company and great food, we staggered back to the van and Eddy took us to the small market town of Greve in one of the valleys, which is known for its smoked meats. Then we climbed (Eddy drove us in the van) up to the top of one of the hills and explored a village that was the defensive fortress for the valley. Finally, we headed to the birthplace of Giovanni da Verrazzano, who apparently did quite a bit of exploring, but more importantly managed to have a bridge named after himself in New York. (It helps to be born into privilege. The Verrazzano castle was quite lovely.)

Sunday morning, Stacey and David headed to Venice while we stayed in Florence for a few more hours. Sue indulged me by going back to the da Vinci museum (which she had seen on Thursday) and then we went to the Galileo Museum. The da Vinci museum is quite small and has replicas of many of his machines. It is incredible how wide his knowledge and interests were. The Galileo Museum was brilliant. It displays the history of astronomy, measurement and other science starting with Galileo and going into the 18th century.  They even have his middle finger on display (they also have his index and thumb, but they are less interesting).

We left the museum wandered for a while then stumbled upon a place called La Ricettario for lunch. Sue had a bean soup and I had lasagna. The food was perfect. Simple ingredients, prepared well, served plainly. No fanciness, no experimental ingredients, no fuss, no bother. The meal was brilliant. We sat for close to two hours enjoying the place then headed to the train station and back to Rome.

The end of a perfect week, traveling with those we love, enjoying the sights, sounds and experiences of two new cities in one. Life is sweet.

The first four days in Roma

This week has been a bit of a whirlwind, and this portion of the blog is going to cover only Sunday to Thursday. I promise will write more tomorrow or Monday about the rest of the week. I am also only including a few photos. Our amateur photos of Vatican do not do the the art justice, so please use the links to see professional photos.

We arrived in Rome on Sunday morning after a smooth flight. Monday Sue’s brother David and our sister-in-law Stacey arrived from Chicago. They are celebrating their 25th anniversary with a 10-day trip to Italy. Stacey is supremely organized and so we just waited for them to arrive and for Stacey to let us know what we were doing and when.

Tuesday morning was a four-hour tour of ancient Rome. A driver picked us up at our place and took us to the Coliseum where we met our tour guide. The day was cool (40s F) and quite windy. It made for a rude change from the 80°+F that we were used to in Guadalajara. Sabrina, our tour guide, quickly ushered us into the Coliseum and started filling us in on the history of both the building and of ancient Rome. One of the benefits of using a tour, rather than just entering on our own, is that we had access to the “upper decks” of the building. There is a museum on the third level and with Sabrina’s excellent explanations we learned so much. Some of the things we found out included that the building is the Coliseum, not because it is so large, but because there was a statue of the emperor Nero called The Colossus that predated the building; that the building was partially destroyed in an earthquake during the 13th century; that there is no mortar between the large limestone blocks, they were held in place by brass pins and those brass pins were looted during the middle ages, which accounts for large holes in the those blocks (don’t think too hard about the fact that the entire building doesn’t have anything holding the blocks together); that the original bricks used were triangular as they held the mortar better than rectangular bricks; and finally, that you can tell the nicer areas by the quality of the floors. The upper tiers had brickwork floors, the lower tiers had mosaics while the emperor’s walkways were lined in marble. 

After about an hour, we headed to the Forum, which is the original city center for Rome. The buildings along the forum road generally dated from ancient times, many of the buildings are still in very good condition and as Sabrina commented, “The buildings that were converted to churches are the ones that survived.” The rest were looted or, in more modern terms, they were recycled to be used for other buildings. We saw lots of evidence of that in the Vatican (foreshadowing – we go there on Wednesday). The Forum was built in a valley between the hills of Rome, and so one of the first things the Romans did was to design a drainage system to keep the area dry. After the fall of Rome, the area fell into disrepair and slowly over the years ground level rose (due to sediment and fill) to be about 10 meters higher than the original road. The excavations brought the area back down to the original. Once again, Sabrina was very informative and while we were cold, the time passed quickly.

Once we had our fill of the Forum, the driver picked us up and we drove past the remains of the Circus Maximus, and then to the Jewish Ghetto. Sabrina gave us a quick tour of it and then we said good-bye to both her and our driver. We found a nice place for lunch and warmed up and relaxed.

After lunch, I headed back to the AirBnB to do some work, while the others headed to the Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, and Spanish Steps.

Stacey also organized our tour of the Vatican Museum for Wednesday. We started the day by taking the metro four stops and wandered to a little (literally six seats – think of a New York pizza place that has a small railing with a few seats) handmade pasta place that our AirBnB host had recommended, called Pastasciutta. You simply order your pasta and your sauce and they make it up right in front of you. After lunch we had a little while to kill so we wandered near the Vatican and found a coffee shop. Stacey, Sue, and I ordered a drink. I ordered a Viennese, not knowing what it was, and the photo to the right is what I received. Yum!

We met our tour guide, Valencio outside the entrance and he whisked us through the incredibly complicated system to get in. First you show the guards your reservation, then pass security, then get your ticket then head upstairs to the entrance. It is a system that would have made Rube Goldberg proud. The Vatican Museum is simply astounding. The entire layout is set up to lead you through the collection and ends in the Sistine Chapel.  The rooms are stocked full of amazing artwork, there are innumerable statues, mosaics, and other objects d’art from ancient Rome including what may or may not be Nero’s bathtub (imagine a cistern about 20 feet in diameter about 5 feet high). Many of the popes, especially during the Renaissance commissioned gorgeous murals that covered entire rooms. Valencio pointed out that during that time there was a focus on the Greek and Roman philosophers many of whom appear in the artwork.  We looked at room after room of stunning artwork and even the rooms where Valencio said “there is nothing interesting here” were amazing. The final part of the museum tour is the Sistine Chapel, which simply defies description. The rules for visiting include no photos, no loud talking and the tour guides are not allowed to provide commentary.  We spent about 30 minutes quietly contemplating the magnificence of Michelangelo’s work before heading out.

After the Sistine Chapel, we walked over to St. Peter’s Basilica and once again were just amazed by the grandeur of the building and the decorations. We spent about an hour wandering through the basilica with Valencio filling in much of the history. We saw the Pieta by Michelangelo, the massive central alter and soaring bronze canopy that covers the alter, but perhaps most impressive was the Bernini’s sculpture for the tomb of Pope Alexander VII. The way he used the space is amazing. The entire sculpture is over a door to some offices, but he managed create a beautiful and moving piece that has so much symbolism. It is awe inspiring.

After four hours of drinking from the fire hose of history and art, we called it a day and hopped on to the Metro home for dinner and gelato.  

Our last weekend in Guadalajara

It seems crazy, but this is our last weekend in Guadalajara. Next weekend we are in Mexico City and then we head back to the U.S. on the following Thursday. The time here has just flown by.

I took Friday afternoon off and met Sue in El Centro after her last day of school. I rode a Mibici (the rental bikes) from our AirBnB to her school and then parked it nearby. Our plan was to see two sets of murals by José Clemente Orozco. The first set is in the Palacio de Gobierno, or Government Palace. It the seat of power for the State of Jalisco. We arrived there just after 1 p.m., but unfortunately, we weren’t able to get it. Sue spoke to the guard who told her that they were only open from 3-4 p.m. We decided to head to the second set which are housed in the Instituto Cultural Cabañas.

 The building was originally a hospital and orphanage that opened in 1810. In 1980 it became a museum and in 1997, a World Heritage site. We wandered through a number of exhibitions, most were abstract, which is not my favorite. There was one dedicated to the history of modern art in Jalisco, which was quite interesting. However, nothing prepares you for the power and brilliance of the murals. They are housed in the major chapel building and they are simply breathtaking. There are 57 of them in all and they are political commentary on Mexican history and social injustice. Think about how difficult it would be to maintain proportion while painting on a dome.

After we had our fill of the museum, we skipped the Government Palace, in part because we were getting hungry. We decided to tick two places off our food list. For me, a torta ahogada  or “drowned sandwich” and for Sue, fish tacos. We stopped first at El Guerito (sorry, another Facebook page) for the torta. I ordered mine and the server looked at Sue, she said “Soy vegetariana”. The server looked at her with mixture of sadness and horror. He gently shook his head and wandered off to get me my sandwich. It was good, but nothing that would make me want to have another one. Then, we headed for Taco Fish La Paz, which Sue’s Spanish teacher had recommended. This, like many of the taco places, works like this: You place your order and are given the taco shell with the meat (or in this case fish), then you move over to long bar of fixings, like salad, salsa, etc. and you make you taco your own. Sue ordered on taco and one empanada and settled down after “decorating” them with salsa, salad and other stuff. She will have to tell you if they were any good. The were delicious and I had my usual agua fresca, flavor: green. I don’t know what it is but it’s yummy.

We headed home and relaxed for a while. In the evening, we went to the Paten Ale House  to try some local craft beer. We were under the impression that they brewed their own beer, but they did not. However, the food was nice and the beer was good.

Wadda mean it isn’t a cat?

Saturday morning (think 11 a.m.) we decided to try one of the breakfast places that Doug and Kenta (our trusty Guadalajara food guides) suggested. One challenge was that we forgot its name. We had a reasonably good idea of where it was and remembered that they had a round sign with a cat on it. What could go wrong? We headed out and by sheer good luck we found it right where we thought perhaps maybe it might be. It is called the Comala Barra de Café. We both had chilaquiles, mine with chicken and cheese, Sue’s with eggs and avocado. These were really delicious, and very filling. Every time I have chilaquiles, they are differently delicious.

After breakfast, we met one of Sue’s school colleagues, Peter, and headed back to Tlaquepaque. We wandered around the town and visited the Sergio Bustamante gallery. He did many of the statutes that are displayed in the town and all of us really liked his stuff. My favorite is this door handle, but alas, at $2,700 it is out of the price range of a guy who doesn’t have a fixed address. Maybe next year.

One of our goals in coming to Tlaquepaque was to hear a mariachi band. We read that El Patio (Yay! Not a Facebook page!)  restaurant had an all female band that played starting at 3:30 p.m.

What we got.
What I expected

We arrived there at about 3:15 and settled into our seats in the open courtyard. I tried to order a cocktail called a cantarito, but unfortunately, I could not remember its name, so I described it a a tequila drink that comes in a ceramic mug. (By the way, I am describing it to our server in English.) He smiled and said you want a cazuleade! I said Yes!, Sue and Peter went along for the ride. I was surprised, to say the least went it arrived. They place the bowl in front of you with the fruit and mixer in it, then they pour in the tequila. It was light and refreshing and went down far too easily. In case you are wondering, it is served with a straw, so you don’t have to try and drink it from the bowl.

Fried grasshoppers

Sue never ceases to surprise me, and today was going to yet another time. The menu had guacamole with fried Oaxaca grasshoppers. Yes, my friends, my vegetarian wife ordered and ate those. She explained to me that bugs don’t count as meat. Well, they are sustainable and don’t live miserable lives in tiny pens. Ok. I guess. But then again, in my mind, they don’t count as food either. They are excellent sources of protein. The band wandered around playing songs that it appeared everyone (but us and the other tourists) knew (and sometime sang along with). The restaurant is built around a courtyard, so while the music was loud when they were next to the table, when they moved away, it was easy to talk and hear. We sat and enjoyed the music but we had to head home because we had a dinner date with Doug and Kenta.

We Ubered home, had a quick shower and the Ubered to their home. Kenta was cooking vegetarian Japanese curry. They both are great cooks and tonight’s dinner was no exception. We sat, talked and ate for a few hours, all of us realizing that our time in GDL is coming to close. 😦

A relaxing weekend

Our drinks at De La O

We started our weekend on Friday night by walking over to a bar called De La O Cantina. It is a pretty hip place with interesting drinks and tacos. One of the challenges we have found is that many of the places that we are planning visit do not have websites and/or have a Facebook page that doesn’t have a menu. De La O falls into the latter category. What is up with the Facebook pages? They are less than useful. This is a bit of a challenge for us as the food here is very meat focused (Good for me! Bad for Sue). Luckily De La O had vegetarian options and so it worked out. In addition to having interesting tequila drinks (the one at the right has fermented pineapple in it), they brought around a small batch agave drink that we think was called Mezcalito for us to taste. It was very good and when we go to Tequila next week, we will see if we can find it.

Saturday, we took an Uber to a little pueblito (small town) called Tlaquepaque that is on the outskirts of Guadalajara. It has a couple of very small ceramics museums, many street statues, pretty architecture, lots of places selling tourist stuff and, of course, the required Instagram sign. Every cute little tourist town is outwardly similar, but they all reflect the diverse culture of their areas.

We wandered around for a couple of hours just soaking up the sunshine and the vibe. Later in the afternoon, we headed for dinner at Restaurant Casa Luna (once again, just a Facebook page). They had their menu outside so we were sure we could find things we both like. The restaurant is housed in a courtyard with beautiful chandeliers and lots of hanging lanterns. The food was delicious and there was a band playing Mariachi music which made dinner incredibly pleasant.

During the week we signed up for the local bike share system called MiBici. Residents sign up and then use a credit card to unlock the bikes. For foreigners, the system allows you to buy the yearly subscription ($20) using an American credit card, however, it will not recognize the credit card to unlock the bike. The work around it is to get a metro card and link the metro card to the MiBici account. (We learned how to do it through this vlog. Thanks Kenta and Kenta’s friends.) It was actually pretty easy once we knew what to do and we got our cards on Thursday. Every Sunday, Guadalajara closes a fairly large number of streets to cars from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The lunch place in the market

We took advantage of the both the bike subscription and the closed streets to go for a ride. We headed straight north to a street market about a mile away. We wandered around the market, which to be honest was similar to every other street market in every other city we have visited: clothes, electronics, shoes and general kitchen crap was all on sale. We didn’t buy anything, but we do enjoy wandering through them. We decided to grab an early lunch at one of the market food stands. We quickly figured out that one had vegetarian options and we settled on a couple of stools and fumbled through our orders. We ordered something called huaraches. They are fried masa dough with ingredients piled on the top (Sue had mushrooms, I had beef). On the table were chopped onions, cucumbers and carrots, sprigs of parsley and basil and salsa. Once the food was delivered, you put whatever you want on top. It was good fun and cost just about $8. We do like street food.

After lunch we grabbed more bikes headed to the supermarket, shopped for the week and then ubered home.

Dead Person Bingo, Pt. 3

Another weekend, another time to go all Sixth Sense and play one more game of Dead Person Bingo, this time at Montmatre Cemetary. I must admit, that I am a little worried that people who don’t know us think we have a whole death thing going. But I can assure you we don’t, the Paris cemeteries are peaceful, beautiful and right in the middle of the city and so they are oases of calm in the middle of the city madness. Sue finds tons of interesting things to photograph and at some level it reminds us that we are only here so long, so we need to enjoy ourselves.

Friday night, we decided to try a Vietnamese restaurant called Dong Phat. It was about a 25-minute walk, but it was a beautiful evening so we strolled over there. We sat outside and had a really nice meal. Outdoor dining in Paris is so nice. Towards the end of dinner, we started talking to a couple at the next table. They spoke a reasaonable amount of English and were very patient with us as we tried speak in French. They were so kind and we talked for an hour or so. So kind, in fact, that they emailed us this morning to say they were happy to help with anything. BTW, Steven says he is not great at social stuff, but he is the one who started the conversation. It reminded me that I keep meaning to mention a book that I read called “Rudy’s Rules for Travel: Life Lessons from Around the Globe” by Mary K. Jensen. It is a great little book about traveling and life. I highly recommend it.

On Saturday morning, we decided to walk from our apartment to Sacré-Cœur, about 5.5km,  and stop a few places along the way. We walked up Rue Victor Hugo, passed the Arc De Triomphe and along Avenue Hoche, which led us right into Parc Monceau. One of our friends from Chicago recommend the parc by telling us that it has the “most beautiful public bathrooms in the world.” What she meant was that the bathrooms were housed in a really great building, but we will get to that. The park itself is fabulous; it isn’t very large, but holds lots of interesting features, including a somewhat odd installation related to the smurfs. The bathrooms are housed in a Pantheon-style domed building, which is very nice to look at, but the bathrooms themselves were awful. Just an FYI.

Once we exited the park ,we just wandering in the general direction of Montmatre. One of the things I love about walking the streets of Paris is that so many of the boulevards have a walking path/mini-park in the middle of them. It makes strolling them so pleasant and at some point we got to walk through a farmer’s market, which was fairly large even though it is August.

As mentioned at the start of the post, we went to Montmatre Cemetery. One of the interesting things about it, is that Rue Caulaincourt runs right over the cemetery, so some of the crypts are right under the road and reach right up into the girders.  We once again played dead person bingo, finding Alexandre Dumas, Émile Zola, Léon Foucault, François Truffaut, Jeanne Moreau, Vaslav Nijinsky and despite some resistance,  André-Marie Ampère – sorry couldn’t pass up that joke.

We continued our walk up to Sacré-Cœur, the highest point in Paris at the not-very-high 122m. It is mostly a very gentle uphill, but near the end it gets a bit steep. We found this installation, which, according to Atlas Obscura, is a reference to the book “Le Passe-Muraille”. The area around the basilica is tourist central and we fought through the August crowds and headed for the overlooks so that Sue could get some photos. Once she had her fill, we headed down the steps and away from the crowds.

We were getting hungry, so after about 15 minutes we looked at Google maps and found an interesting looking Japanese bento box place. We picked up a couple of meals and sat outside and enjoyed the delicious food. Once we were refreshed, we headed home. We figured we walked about 12-13km (7-8 miles).

We had a quiet dinner of salad, cheese and a fresh baguette and once the sun went down at about 9:30 we went for an evening stroll. We had no particular plan for the walk but at some point turned left and had this view. (Boy, it really stinks being in Paris!):

I am not sure what the white dot on the left is…could it be Aliens? 😉

Dead Person Bingo – Part 2

It is 8 p.m. and we just walked in after a long, fun day of wandering.  It is still very light outside and if we had the stamina, we could be out wandering for a few more hours before it gets dark. But we are old, so we ran out of gas.

We were going to keep a promise to our uncle and pick up a little book for my aunt. The book is entitled “Vendredi ou la vie sauvage” which roughly translates to “Friday or the wild life” and is available at a bookstore called “Librairie philosophie VRIN” which is near the Luxembourg Gardens. The second part of our day was going to be visiting a neighborhood called Canal St. Martin. It is supposed to be a cool neighborhood set around the Canal St. Martin (hence the name) with nice cafes and shops. It seemed like an ideal place to wander.

We had coffee and breakfast of pain au chocolat from our neighborhood boulangerie. It is called A-la-Petite-Marquise and we go there almost every day for our baguette and every once in a while, a fabulous desert or two. Today was our first time trying the pain au chocolat and we were not disappointed.

With our bellies happy (perhaps – our tongues happy and our bellies full) we hit the Metro and headed for the Luxembourg Gardens. We had a nice wander in the park for an hour or so and then went to the bookstore. Despite their website saying they were open, we were disappointed to find that they were not. Sorry Aunt Marcella, but we promise we will head back next week – when the sign on the door says that they will be open – and pick it up. We headed back through the park for a late addition to our schedule, the Montparnasse Cemetery to honor my no doubt now disappointed aunt by visiting the grave of Jean-Paul Satre. We left the gardens and walked right into another park called the Garden of the Great Explorers, which was dedicated to Marco Polo. It is a cute little park that had a great fountain in it. We navigated to the cemetery, where they have quite kindly buried Satre and Simone De Beauvoir right near the entrance to help idiots like us find them easily. We play a bit more dead people bingo by finding Susan Sontag and Charles Beaudelaire and then were done with finding dead people (at least for today).

We headed out of the cemetery and worked our way back up to the Luxembourg Gardens to find our spot for lunch. If you remember in our previous post we discussed the falafel from L’as du Fallafel. Well, one of our trusty readers (@ banjaloupe) sent us a comment about an odd French fast food called tacos. No, they are not Mexican-style handhelds; these are an altogether French-type of hot sandwich. He referenced an article in the New Yorker which we read and instantly recognized a takeout place called O’Tacos that we had seen in our wanderings. We found another one right near the Luxembourg Gardens and were determined to get lunch there. It was well worth the walk! Any place that puts French fries inside the sandwich gets an A+ from us. With a little help from a very patient cashier we managed to place our order and sat outside and enjoyed ourselves to no end. Thank you @Banjaloupe. Your suggestion was absolutely delicious and no doubt was really bad for us.

We wandered back into the gardens to have the required sit on the green chairs and allow our mildly distended stomachs to digest. It was at this point Sue said to me, in the way she does…”You know, I feel like we should visit Victor Hugo’s house, since we are staying on Place Victor Hugo.” Now a normal person might have said, “Why? He didn’t know that they named the place after him, he was dead” or “Why? It is just his house, it isn’t like we are going to visit his grave and say thanks for having such a nice little place named after him.” But nope, the only thing that came to my mind when she said that was: “OK, that seems fun.” So off we went. Back onto the Metro to Place des Vosages and into the line for his house.

A quick side trip to once again mention that we have not been able to get a carte sanitaire (the European Covid vaccination card), but once again, Sue’s smile(another sign of Steven’s delusions. These people can’t see my smile – I’m wearing a mask!) and my mildly confused look convinced the card-checker that the American card was real and they let us in. We have used it over and over and have yet to have a problem.

Anyway, once they looked at our cards, we began to wander through the house. It is sightly confusing because, while he lived there, all the rooms are reconstructions that are grouped into the three portions of his life (pre-exile, exile and post-exile). It was interesting, but I did not feel it was worth doing. All in, it was disappointing (and pretty hot. It’s the second day in Paris that it felt like summer. It was about 26 degrees C. We’re trying to think like natives.).

Street Art & Graffiti in Canal St. Martin

While we were in the Luxembourg Gardens, Sue made another suggestion that once we were done with the Victor Hugo’s house we should head straight to Canal St. Martin as it was nearby, and while it is really an evening place, it was unlikely we would head back out if we went home first. (She was so right about that!) We jumped back onto the Metro and headed straight there. We walked along the canal and were a bit alarmed that there didn’t seem to be much there. Happily, we spied a side street that had some cafés and then the whole neighborhood opened up before us. It is a cute little place, and we enjoyed the wander. It seemed like a really nice place to visit with friends for drinks and dinner. But it was too early for dinner and the place hadn’t really started to come to life. We wandered for a bit more and then decided to head home.

Once again onto the Metro and 30 minutes later we were at our stop (Victor Hugo – of course). Rather than going home we went to our “local”, for a couple of drinks sitting outside on the sidewalk watching the comings and goings on the Place Victor Hugo. It is a place called Maison Sauvage – which brings us nicely back to the start of our wanderings – looking for Aunt Marcella’s book.

All in just another glorious day in a glorious city.

Fountain in the Garden of the Great Explorers

Dead Person Bingo (plus Dali and Gaudi)

Today was our first day of wandering around the city. We were here last weekend, but we were still getting adjusted and settling in. Today, we were in full venture out and see things mode.

On Friday night, the weather looked like rain all day and so we decided to postpone planning until Saturday morning and see what the weather actually was. When we woke up, the forecast was for partly sunny and cool, but little chance of rain until late in the day. Perfect wandering weather.

We walked over the farmers market and picked up our fruit and vegetables for the week and then headed home to plan our outing.

We decided that our destination would be the 11th Arrondissement which is a hipper area than where we are staying. The metro stop is right next to Père LaChaise, which is a cemetery that has many famous people buried in it. It was about a 40-minute ride from our nearest Metro stop (which is 2 minutes from the zpartment).  Before we left we found that there was an immersive Dali & Gaudi exhibition at the culture space called Atelier des Lumieres. We booked 2 tickets for 14:30 and headed out.

Our walk

When we arrived, Sue wanted to wander in the cemetery, take some photos and see if we could find Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf and Oscar Wilde’s graves. There are maps at each of the entrances and with the help of our trusted google Maps app, we headed off to look for their graves. It didn’t take 10 minutes before we started to feel a little bit of rain, and then within another couple of minutes it was raining pretty hard. Sue had a coat, but I was in short sleeves. We looked at each other and thought, nope this isn’t going to work, so we headed for the nearest exit and found a café for a cup of coffee and a re-think.

The rain quickly ended and we decided to look for a store to buy a couple of umbrellas just in case. In a couple of blocks we found the perfect store; a little hole in the wall that sold everything from umbrellas and flip flops to kitchenware. We picked up our umbrellas and headed off to see what we could find. We walked up Boulevard de Ménilmontant, turned left onto Rue Oberkampf and left again on Avenue de la République, which this being Paris, took us right back to where we had started on Boulevard de Ménilmontant.  A perfect triangle; it seems all streets in Paris operate on a triangle system. It rained on and off during the walk, but we had our trusty little umbrellas and so we were not bothered.

While we were on Rue Obrekampf, we found a nice little Chinese restaurant and went in for lunch. They were kind enough to give us dual-language menus, unfortunately the languages were French and Chinese (I realize that there are multiple Chinese languages and I have idea which one it was, so let’s leave it at Chinese. I’m betting it was Mandarin). We managed to find two dishes that looked interesting, and we ordered them. Sue (who knows how to say, “Je suis végétarien”) had what we would call tofu in chili sauce and I had beef with cumin, Both were delicious and while to portions did not look big, we were totally stuffed by the end of the meal.

One thing that I have not mentioned up until now is that the French government is now requiring all people entering restaurants, concerts, museums and large social events to produce a government-issued vaccine card. The rule went into effect on August 1st, but up until now we had not really given much thought to it. No restaurant has asked us for one, and have mostly been sitting outside at cafés. However, the Atelier des Lumieres website specifically stated we would need one to get into the Dali/Gaudi show. Along the way we had asked a number of pharmacies (who can issue them) whether they would accept a U.S. vaccine card as proof and then issue us a French one. They all have said they did not know and it seems as if the rules for that are not in place. We decided to go to the show a bit early and present our vaccine cards and see what happened. The women checking the cards took one look at them and said they were fine. So we were all good. We will continue to try and acquire a French one, but for now we are not having any issue.

The Dali/Gaudi show was great. It was a series of three video/light/music shows (Gaudi, one developed by local artists and then Dali). We sat on the floor for Gaudi but made our way up to a balcony for the other two. That was a much better choice as we had clear sight lines and better perspective. We enjoyed ourselves immensely (and immersively). It is the modern version of the planetarium laser light show, complete with Pink Floyd music. For reals.

Oscar Wilde’s final resting place. It is surrounded by glass

At the end of the show, we emerged to find the sun shining and so we walked back to the Père Lachaise Cemeter and started to play find the famous dead person. It was sunny and mild out so we wandered around and despite a few challenges found all three (Morrison, Piaf and Wilde – Bingo!). Once we had completed the Bingo card we headed for the exit grabbed the metro home.

A long but very enjoyable day.