A “working vacation”

I realized this week that we are acting as if we are on vacation, but we’re also working full time. Well, mostly full time. What does that mean? We’re tired! But we’re not going to stop. If you remember, we were going to spend six weeks in Nice, but ended up coming to Istanbul for about three of those. Given the short amount of time we have here, we are trying to pack everything in. What’s the point of being in Istanbul if you’re hanging in the apartment?

We thought that maybe we should slow down. I’ll let you decide whether we succeeded.

Friday: We took the ferry across the Bosphorus to the Anatolian (Asian) part of Istanbul (Kudos to Sue for getting on the ferry. She gets terribly seasick and even with a patch it can be an adventure for her). Although it’s technically the East, to sure seemed a lot more Western. The clothes, the roads, even the way the people dressed. We took a long walk along the water and except for the view, we could have been in a dozen different cities. Lots of English in stores, tons of coffee shops that would have been at home in any hipster U.S. neighborhood.

Then we had lunch at Ciya in the Kadıköy Market, which features tons of restaurants and shops (pretty much like the rest of Istanbul!). The food is traditional Anatolian. We had ezme which we can’t wait to figure out how to make at home. This isn’t a food blog, so I will quit there (but there is also a pizza-like dish called lahmacun that your eat with lemon and parsley rolled into it).

We wandered some more so Steven could go to Meshur Dondurmaci Ali Usta to get ice cream that is different from regular ice cream (I will let him try to describe it) (The best I can say is that it seemed less creamy, but more sticky than American ice cream – sorry I don’t have any other way of describing it.) and headed home. The ferries are so easy to deal with and since we have our IstanbulKart, we are set. They run so frequently there’s no need to even check a schedule. We’ll write a blog on the transportation, but I thought that was worth noting.

Saturday night on Istiklal Cadessi on the walk back from the movie. Imagine this: trolleys run up and down this street and cars try to cross it. It’s an obstacle course.

We had tickets to the jazz club again and wanted a little break in between. Friday night’s jazz was OK. The band didn’t quite seem to gel and the singer sang some Stevie Wonder (?) (and some modified Aerosmith) in with the jazz standards. Steven likened it to a cruise show (or an easy listening lounge act). Not complaining at all, we just like the Tuesday band better. (We also sat upstairs and so many people were talking – mildly annoying).

Saturday: Dana (thanks again again) recommended a food market in Besiktas. We have been wondering where people get their fruits and veggies. The stores are tiny and don’t offer a very good selection. Even the produce markets are a bit thin, although we are in a touristy area and figured that was it. It was about a 20-minutes walk in the rain to get there from the train. We were a little soggy and first went to the upstairs area that has tons of clothes, random housewares and other non-food items. We were starting to get crabby when we realized we had missed a ramp that took us down to all the delicious food. Suddenly, all was perfect again. The rain stopped, we packed the backpack full and headed back home. (In an Istanbul first, it was downhill on the way to the market – but just so the city could torture us by making the walk uphill back to the train when we had a full backpack).

Soy una mierda de sumiso: CINCO PUTOS AMOS POR LOS QUE ME ...
Gratuitous Steven Daniel Craig pic

As per our taking it easy, we did spend some time in the apartment, but then hatched the plan to see “No Time to Die.” Finding the first theater was an adventure, but the man didn’t want to sell us tickets unless we were a group of four (I think). He told us to come back, so we wandered some more and found a theater (CinemaPink) inside a mall. We had to show our HES QR codes (the Turkish equivalent of the Passe Sanitaire) to get in, then again to the ticket agent. Cash only, assigned seats. Fine with us. The seats were old-time man chairs that had seen better days, but were comfortable. We sat back and started watching (English with Turkish subtitles). All of a sudden, in the middle of an action scene, the screen went blank. Then, what looked like a commercial started. People started to walk out and the lights came up. Huh. Finally, the screen said film arasi, or film break. Intermission! At exactly an hour in. In the middle of an action scene. I guess this is how it always works in Turkey.

Sunday: We took the tram to the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum, which is housed in Ibrahim Pasha Palace. The palace was built on top of a corner of the Hippodrome, and you can see part of it from inside the museum. The art consists of rugs (of course), ancient Qurans, Islamic treasures such as hairs from Mohammed’s beard and pottery plus clothing from more recent history. We enjoyed it. Then, it was lunchtime. Off we went to Hidden Garden, which does have a garden at the back of it. I had what was basically Turkish eggplant parm and Steven had a gigantic lamb kebab. We topped it off with pomegranate and orange teas. Sugary and delightful.

But, we’re not done. What do you know? We were across the street from the Theodosius Cistern. Can’t miss that. We had no idea what to expect. We got a laser light show! We aren’t really sure what the point was, unless it was a very abstract interpretation of the cistern’s history, but it was a enjoyable nonetheless. Because it was only 4 p.m., we decided to take the 40-minute walk home, which went right through the markets surrounding the Grand Bazaar and back over the bridge.

Relaxing weekend? What do you think?

Settling into Istanbul

The days here are long as we tend to get up by 9, head out for some sightseeing until 1 or 2 p.m., then home to work until 8 p.m. and then have dinner. We are generally getting to sleep between 1 and 2 a.m. Long, but really fun days. One thing to note is that Istanbul is built on a series of seven hills, however in a feat of geologic engineering, they have managed to make it so that no matter what direction we walk, we are going uphill.

Monday we acquired train passes. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but if Kafka were going to design a way to sell transit passes, he would have used the Istanbul system as a model, perhaps even deciding it was too complicated and bizarre for one of his stories. It started Sunday evening when we wanted to ride a bus to see a mosque about 40 minutes away.

You can only buy single ride passes at the bus/metro/tram stops and they cost 6 T₺ (which is about $0.67each — the Turkish lira is about 9 U.S. cents). However, the machines only take cash and gives no change. Our smallest notes were 50 T₺ and that didn’t seem worth it. So, we asked the guard where to find the InstanbulKart, the refillable train pass. He vaguely waved in the direction of another tram stop about 10 minutes away. We went there. Nothing. We found a sign to a metro station and walked over to it and it had a tourist information booth. It was empty. (We assumed because it was Sunday evening.) There were machines that apparently sold the pass. However, the language selection function didn’t work and the screen would go blank after about 20 seconds. So we tried a few times to translate as we went and then gave up. We planned to return on Monday. As we were walking out we found a sign that explained that due to COVID you needed a code that registered your card to you and gave instructions (in English!) to get them. We went home, got the code, logged into the app and tried again. Nope. That did work either.

The codes in the app were limited to numbers and ours were alphanumeric. Which brings us to Monday morning. We returned to the station hoping that there would be someone in the tourist booth, but yet again, no luck. We found a guard and asked him. In broken English he said you have buy the card from the IstanbullKart office, which was a few doors down. We found it easily, because it was the place with the line out the door. After about 30 minutes, we were able to purchase the cards and were informed that the card had no balance. To load it, we needed to go back to the station (technically we could load it at any station or tram stop, but the metro station was the closest place). We went back to the station, and tried our luck at filling the card. We were really lucky because after we tried and failed a couple of times, a mann wandered up and was waiting to refill his card. We stepped aside, figuring we would watch him and mimic those steps. He was kind enough to see that we were idiot tourists and showed us how to do it. Hurrah! We could now ride the transit system – at a discounted rate! The tram costs only about 3T₺ (we think).

Tuesday we took the tram (using our InstanbulKarts!) and visited the Turkish Archeological museum. The museum has three buildings. The main one has three floors, the other two are single story. Unfortunately, while the two smaller buildings were both fully open, only the ground floor of the main building was accessible as the others were undergoing renovation. The museum is really well done and houses an enormous collection of ancient statutes, sarcophagi, friezes and other antiquities. The main building’s collection is all from Turkey and the Ottoman Empire, with quite a bit from an excavation in Sidon (in what is now Lebanon). The other two buildings housed collections from Egypt/Babalyonia and Turkish ceramics. It was very impressive and well worth the visit. We purchased the audio tour (4T₺) and while almost all the signs were in both Turkish and English, it was worth having.

Tuesday was also our wedding anniversary, and we had a nice (early) dinner at a Mexican place called Los Altos which had a beautiful view overlooking the Golden Horn (thanks again Dana!). We spent the rest of evening the listening to the Bebop Project at a local jazz club which is about 3 minutes’ walk (uphill of course – both ways) from our AirBnb. It was wonderful.

Wednesday morning we headed for the Süleymaniye Mosque. It was about 25 minutes away on the top of one of the hills of Istanbul. We took the metro for the first time (using our IstanbulKarts again!). I think it took us longer to get down to the trains than the train took for the couple of stops we were on it. The metro is a DEEP subway system. I assume it is because Istanbul is built on hills and the trains run relatively flat, but I am not sure. Suffice to say the next escalator down had a sign over the top saying “Abandon hope all ye who enter.” When we left the metro, we walked (uphill, of course) to the mosque complex. It is only the third or fourth most famous mosque in Istanbul, but is was still extremely impressive. I am not including any of our photos as our amateur ones do not do the place justice. Please look at the photos in the link above.

After wandering out of the complex, we headed for a coffee shop that Dana (Sue’s friend) suggested. The directions were (I am paraphrasing); exit the back of the complex, go across the alley, head down a sketchy looking hallway, up the rickety stairs and the café is there. We followed the directions and found a rooftop café. We have no idea if it was the right one or not, but who cares. The place had huge windows and we had a great view from the Golden Horn looking back on the area where we are staying which is called Beyoğlu (it also had a roof deck, but it was a bit too chilly to eat outside).  We ordered the Turkish breakfast, which was enough food for a small (or not so small) army. It included:

I liken this to having the entire brunch buffet on your table.

bread

french toast

simit (a Turkish bagel)

Two types of jam, honey & nutella

harissa

five types of cheese

cucumbers and tomatoes

two eggs

some sort of processed meat product that was vaguely smoky

hot dogs

french fries

spring rolls (which are like blintzes but made with filo dough)

and a pot of tea.

We also ordered coffee, because we didn’t think it through. We ate and ate and ate, and barely made a dent in the food.

After we finished we headed back on the metro, took it one extra stop and walked an extra kilometer or two to allow some of the food to digest, before we sat down to work. Needless to say, we had a very light dinner of yogurt, fruit and nuts.

We’re bullish on Istanbul

We’ve been in Istanbul about 29 hours now (but who’s counting) and we already decided we love it! It’s quite a change from quiet Clamecy. It’s 22:30 here and the street is still hopping, on Sunday night. Not as much as Saturday night, but there are still people milling around and browsing in shops. We are right on a main drag, on the third floor (which is four stories up since the first floor here is 0), so we can watch the world go by from on high. We are staying in a loft with glass walls so we can see the Bosphorus out one window and the Galata Tower out the other.

“I was under the mistaken impression that the streets were straight.”

Steven, when we decided to go “around the block”

Yesterday we just wandered around getting the lay of the land, but today we marched (and in case you’re unaware, this city is HILLY!)(Ok, so there are no flat areas. We are either going up or going down.). First, we tried the Grand Bazaar not realizing that it is mostly closed on Sunday. The surrounding streets are very shlocky, so we may go back when it’s really open. The best part of the walk was the view from the Galata Bridge, which spans the Golden Horn. It was lined with fishers. (We suspect they supply the restaurants that sit one after the other along the water below the bridge. They are part of the bridge, built at the waterline and extend about 1/3 of the length of the bridge on either side). Then, we headed to the Ayasofya (or Hagia Sofia), which was a church, then a mosque and is simply stunning. We stopped in at the Blue Mosque, but it is under construction and very disappointing. Corrugated metal walls cover the most of the interior walls and a drop ceiling hides the rest. Oh well. I looked at these pictures.

We kept wandering and found what we thought was a garden but turned out to be a cemetery for sultans, sooo accidental dead person bingo round 5. There was a cafe and we stopped had a cup of tea (because of course everyone puts a cafe in the middle of a cemetery – just sort of surprised that the French didn’t think to do that) and then visited Sultan Mahmod II and some of his relatives and fellow sultans.

The only hitch in our Istanbul adventure so far has been trying to buy an Istanbulkart, or a transportation card. The machines to buy them don’t give change and you have to have an ID number to get one (for Covid reasons). The app wouldn’t let us put in letters (which the ID number had, so we were temporarily thwarted). I think we have that figured out, so fingers crossed we will get those tomorrow. Instead, we went strolling on Istiklal Caddesi (or Independence Avenue), which is a bustling shopping street full of a lot of the same stores you find on every main shopping street around the world, but with a Turkish flavor. Street musicians, different foods, side alleys full of restaurants and bars.

Finally, we headed back toward home and had dinner at the Smyrna Art Gallery-Cafe, basically around the corner from us. The food was delicious and we met a waiter who was very nice and is moving on to greener pastures (good luck to her!) and a man who frequents the place. Then, when we thought we were completely full, they brought us an extra dish and we had to at least eat some of it. Steven likened it to mint latkahs and I agree. We’ll be going back.

This blog is dedicated to Dana, who lived in Istanbul and gave us many great ideas. Thanks, Dana! (Feel free to send us more!)

Dijon and Strasbourg and home (oh my)

Steven has taken the past couple of Fridays off for travel. This week, we weren’t leaving town until Saturday so we decided to take a day trip to Dijon, about 2 hours away. We didn’t know anything about Dijon except that we could probably get mustard. It turns out that Dijon is a fairly big city and quite pretty, although it is the only place we have been that does not have a river. We did what we always do and wandered around.

This arch in Dijon reminds me of a low-rent Millennium fountain.

As luck would have it (or our lack of research made it seem like luck), there is a Delerium Cafe (French FB page, English website) in the middle of the city. Steven had wanted to tour their brewery, but they were booked and we didn’t make it to the one in Brussels, so we had a beer and some delicious salads and desserts in Dijon instead.

Every town here has a market and Dijon is no exception. We decided to do our weekly shopping there and ran into some very friendly vendors. Steven, another English-speaker and one of the vendors had a great Franglish conversation about rugby, too (The other English speaker was from New Zealand and there was an upcoming New Zealand (All Blacks) vs South Africa (Springboeks) match). The fruit and veggies were beautiful, as usual. I could get used to shopping for food that way.

Dijon also contained a very minor parking incident. We were proud of ourselves because we capably followed signs to a garage that was big enough to fit the car. We pulled in, grabbed a ticket and drove down an aisle. The next thing we knew, a gate was lifting and we were driving out the exit. Oops. The entrance was down the block and it wasn’t apparent how to get to it, so we followed different parking signs to a different lot and were able to park in a spot about 4 cms wider than the car. Yay!

I think we also found a place to add to our wish list. We bought some souvenirs and a gift to take to Steven’s cousin at a little gift shop whose cashier was from Senegal. He recommends it highly. We are seriously considering it. As a Clamecy transplant said when I asked “pourqua ici?” (Why here?) he moved there, “Pourqua pas?”

Our sense of French geography may leave a little to be desired when it comes to our gas budget.

IF we had thought about it, we might have spent the night in Dijon, since we almost drove right back through it on our way to Strasbourg. Ah well, what’s a few extra hours of driving? (OK, so the map is a bit confusing. The total time from Clamecy to Dijon was 2 hours each way; the total time from Clamecy to Strasbourg was about 5 hours each way).

We actually had a reason for going to Strasbourg (yes, I know we are not known for reasoning or at least reasoning anyone else understands), but Steven has cousins who are on sabbatical there, so off we went. Granted, when we all lived in the same state, I never met them, but when you’re in France and you magically know people, you visit. Strasbourg is another pretty city and it has A LOT of water. It’s more international (the European Parliament meets there) and very close to Germany, so everything was in two languages we don’t really speak.

Steven’s cousin Jessica and her husband, Mark, were great hosts and lovely people in general. They have a 9-year-old and a 14-year-old, so more power to them for going on a grand adventure with those two great kids in tow. Jessica’s parents just happened to be visiting as well, so I got to hear some good family stories and learn more about how Steven got to be who he is. I’m not putting any adjectives in here just in case the family reads this. Really, you’re all fabulous!

The old town of Strasbourg is an island in the midst of the River Ill. It is a major port on the Rhine and the capital of Alsace.

We stayed at a sort of cross between rooming house and hotel. There were maybe 8 rooms (I am guessing) and they had tiny kitchenettes complete with two-burner stoves. It was clean, comfortable and within walking distance of Jessica. Plus, there was ample, free street parking and it was across the road from the Parc de l’Orangerie (hence the name: Le Relais de l’Orangerie). It definitely suited our purposes, but we also left finding a place until close to the last minute, so maybe it wouldn’t have been our first choice.

L’Orangerie itself was beautiful, even in the drizzle we encountered on Sunday morning. A lake with swans, a restaurant, plenty of cute bridges and trails, plus storks and their nests, a zoo, farm and statues. Lovely.

Now for a bit of a downer (but nothing too terrible)

We had the brilliant plan of stopping in Beaune (mentioned in this entry) again, but this time to get an early dinner since we had noticed the last time we went through that restaurants were serving on Sunday. Well, they are, but not early. We settled in to an outdoor brasserie to sip our wine slowly and wait for the kitchen to open. We did what we normally do when we’re planning more travel and began looking up important information (how far is it from Casablanca to Tunis? for instance) on our phones. Unfortunately, one of the local thieves noticed this. He watched us for a bit and then came over, sat next to us and started sputtering some nonsense. The distraction worked, because he had set a map on top of Steven’s phone and when he left, the phone had magically disappeared. What a drag!

The owner of the place called the police (le flic!), brought over a guy he suspected was the thief (he wasn’t) and said his wife would take us to the police station. We declined. What were they going to do.? The phone was long gone. Lesson learned. As Steven said, “Sometimes we do dumb things and we know we’re doing something dumb. Other times we do dumb things without knowing.” This was the latter. We just use our phones so constantly that we don’t think of hiding them or putting them away. Steven rolled with it, we got him a new phone today. (The joy of living in the country? The nearest phone store is an hour away and the nearest Apple store is 2 hours away – in Dijon!) and we’re out the money and feeling a little stupid. It could have been worse. But, people, watch your phones! And maybe sit in the middle of the crowd instead of on the edge.

Once again, props to my husband for keeping life in perspective. We are on a grand adventure and it is still might grand!

This is Saturday — it must be Belgium(*)

This weekend we went to Belgium. We left “early” Friday morning – about 9:30 – and headed to Brugge. It was about a five-and-a-half-hour drive.  For those who do not know, Belgium has two parts (here is brief primer on the divide). The southern part of the country is occupied by the Walloons. They call this area Walloonia and they speak French (Yay, French!)The northern portion of the country is occupied by Flemish people. This area is called Flanders and they speak Dutch and Flemish. Brugge is part of Flanders and so the people naturally speak Dutch. Dutch is related to German and has, to our ears, a very guttural and unnatural sound. (I thought it sounded really funny. Like, laughter funny and very foreign after six weeks of French.) Luckily virtually everyone speaks English as a second language.

We had booked ourselves into the Hotel Academie, and Sue wisely arranged for parking. The drive into the center of town where the hotel was located, was, to say the least, interesting. Small cobblestone streets, which may or may not have been pedestrian only. (Google says they weren’t – the pedestrians all seem to think they were.) Either way, we arrived at the hotel at about 3:30 and pulled into their covered entrance way and then drove straight down into the tightest smallest parking underground parking lot imaginable. To get into our spot, we had to do what seemed like fifty multi-point turns. After a few minutes of playing avoid the concrete post, I got the car parked in a space that was only slightly smaller than a postage stamp. I only wish I had thought to take photos of the garage. (Stay tuned for more on Steven’s excellent driving under scary circumstances.)

Once we had parked, we dumped our stuff in the room and headed right out into the tourist fray. It was madness. We didn’t realize that there was some sort of bicycle race/convention going on. The place was packed and to be pretty honest we were a bit overwhelmed. (Maybe I am becoming a country mouse or maybe I have never liked throngs of tourists.) We did our usual couple of hours of wandering and then reached our limit. We found a nice brasserie off the main market square, ordered some beer and spent the next hour or two watching people and the sun set. It was a great counterpoint to the frenetic pace of the tourist crowds.

We passed a Thai place on the walk back to the hotel and decided we wanted that for dinner. (In case we haven’t mentioned it, food around here is BLAND.) We looked at some reviews and found Sivalai, about a 10 minute walk and, very importantly, in the opposite direction from the maddening crowds. It is run by a husband (waiter/host) and wife (chef) team and it was wonderful. We arrived without a reservation and when we asked for a table the husband/host looked absolutely pained that there were no tables. He asked for 5 minutes and would seat us. We were in no rush so we went for a little stroll and when we returned he had a table waiting for us. The host was fabulous, taking time to talk to us, in parts of English/Dutch, French (and tried to teach us a bit of Thai), running here there an everywhere taking orders, getting the food and keeping everyone smiling. His good nature was infectious. We asked him to make our food fairly spicy as we have been finding the food in France, tasty but mild. He did not disappoint and our food came out spicy, flavorful and delicious.

After dinner we had a wander through the now nearly deserted town and it was wonderful. The canals are gorgeous, the buildings and architecture great. It was such a different experience than only a few hours earlier. (When we arrived, I fear both of us were thinking that Brugge was a bust. We liked it much better when it didn’t resemble Time Square.)

In the morning, we decided to have a breakfast bagel and a place called Sanseveria. We generally avoid bagel places as many do not boil the bagels, they just bake them. This leads to round bread rolls, which are good, but they are just not bagels. However, this place has great reviews, and so we figured we would give it a shot. It was well worth it. We both ordered bagel and egg sandwiches and shared a bowl of fruit. The fruit bowl was exceptional; it had pear, banana, apple, mango, blueberry, strawberry and pineapple in it. (The fruit in Belguim overall was fantastic.)The bagels were good, not great, but overall the sandwiches were delicious and hit the spot.

After breakfast, we went for another wander; it was still relatively early and the streets were still pretty empty. When the crowds started to appear, we headed for our car and drove to a town called Buggenhout, and Browerij Boostels.

The carriage they lent me to carry the beer we bought.

Browerij Boostels is the maker of two of my favorite beers (Tripel Karmeliet and Kwak). When we were planning this trip, we purchased tickets to a brewery tour at 14:00. However, the only tours they do on Saturdays are in Dutch, but we figured what the hell, we did a tour of prehistoric caves in French, how much would be lost doing a beer tour in Dutch? Besides, you get free beer at the end of the tour and beer tastes the same in any language.

We arrived somewhat early (about 45 minutes) and found our way to the tasting room/starting point of the tour. When we introduced ourselves, the tour guide said “Oh yes! I remember you have booked the tour in Dutch, but do not speak it.”  We nodded our heads foolishly and then he informed us that one of his colleagues – Yves, had volunteered to give us the tour in English.

This turned out to be a huge and happy surprise. First, Yves is great. His English is impeccable, he has a great sense of humor and was patient with our (many many) questions. The tour information was really quite interesting – Did you know that hops were added to make the beer last longer? That the yeast is used multiple times? That for a long time beer was safer to drink than water because the water is boiled? So many interesting facts that we would have missed in Dutch! We heard about the history of the Boostel family who have brewed beer on that location for seven generations and earned most of their income in the ’50s and ’60s selling lemonade as Belgian style beer was out of fashion. And of course…the beer tasting.

Once we finished at the brewery, we headed for Brussels which is about a 40-minute drive. Sue is going to finish telling of the weekend’s hijinks on Wednesday’s blog post. But before we go, if anyone is looking for a private tour of anywhere in Belgium, Yves does them under the banner of Beardbarian Entertainment (he is also a musician and plays Celtic music) and I would highly recommend you use him.

(*) Click here for the title reference

Into the Alps

We headed out Friday morning for a town called Chambéry. It is about 4 hours southeast of us and in the heart of the French Alps. For those of you who are fans of the Olympics, it is an hour north of Grenoble (1968) and an hour and a half west of Albertville (1992). Once we arrived, we did as we always do and wandered the town. For some reason there is a giant fountain of elephants in the main square. I will leave it to you to investigate why.

On Saturday morning, we went for a stroll in the market and then headed out for our day’s main activity, a “leisurely” 11.5km (7.2 mile) hike that we found on AllTrails called Circuit of the Bridges. It was in a small village called Saint-Jean-d’Arvey about 10km away. I neglected to notice that it was also 335m (1,000ft) higher than Chambéry.  For those of you who do not know me, I am very skittish when it comes to heights. Driving up and down mountain roads is at best difficult and at worst has me wanting to curl up in the back seat and whimper – even when driving. So the ride up to the trailhead was a little unnerving, but we made it.

The trail started at 600m (2,000ft) and was easy to find, but AllTrails states that the elevation gain is 450m (1,500 feet) which is well within our limits; afterall, we climbed Toubkal in Morocco, which was 16km and 2,500m (8,000ft) in elevation gain – just to the base camp. However, that was 4 years ago, and we had not been sedentary for 18 months due to the pandemic. I found the hike quite difficult. It started by dropping 250m to a single span wooden bridge over a deep ravine. (Oh yeah! Walking across a wooden bridge with a terrible fear of heights! ) I took a deep breath and pressed on. (He’s very brave.) I even stopped for Sue (who has no fear of anything and is a hiking machine) to take a photo of me – I am attempting to smile.

From that point it was an all-uphill hike to about 700 meters (2,300 ft). We had a picnic lunch along the trail and then climbed up and down the ravines.  We made a detour of about 1.5km when we followed an incorrect sign on the path. (Oops! It said Thoiry, but we didn’t notice it also said “the long way.”) The village of Thoiry is about halfway through the hike. We had hiked almost 8km (5 miles) and I was done. Sue graciously agreed to cut short the hike and we took a couple of short cuts and ended back at our car in Saint-Jean-d’Arvey after about 12km (7.5 miles), a bit longer than the original hike length. I still don’t understand how we cut the hike in half and took a shortcut, but still hiked longer than the original long route. Faulty GPS, faulty AllTrails, faulty us? Over the entire walk we saw perhaps 10 people, so it was just us, our cameras and our thoughts. Enough words…Here are photos

Sunday we decided to go to Grenoble to look around. We started by visiting the Resistance Museum. It was very well done (and free, but they did not have a “Viva la Resistance t-shirt — disappointing) and we spent about an hour in it. Afterwards we wandered into the old part of town and were terribly disappointed. Nothing was open (ach, dimanche!) and we just didn’t see anything of any interest. We walked back to the car and headed home.

Google says it is a 4-hour drive on the highway; we drove to Lyon on the highway, stopped for some lunch on the highway and made the grand decision that we were in no hurry to get home. Steven neglects to mention that we took the highway hoping that the rest stops were open since there was no other way to get food on Sunday. We told Google to find us a way home without the highways and off we went on a scenic tour of France. Boy do the French love roundabouts (des rond points). We hit one every kilometer or so. After a few hours we decided to head to a medieval city called Beaune that one of our friends said was pretty (also it is the wine capital of Burgundy). By the time we got there, it was about 7pm and we once again had a wander. (Restaurants were open. Viva la tourisme!) The place was packed with tourists and after about 45 minutes we had enough.

Once back in the car, we decided to go back on the highway and covered the last 130km in about 90 minutes. It was nearly 9pm by the time we got home. A long but very fun day.

A very Burgundy weekend

This was our first weekend in Clamecy. Like so many of our weekends we crammed it full of things to do and see.

We started the weekend with a quiet Friday night. A light dinner and then we attempted to improve our French by watching Independence Day in French. News flash…It is a terrible movie even if you can’t understand the dialog (which we couldn’t) and even if they dubbed everyone’s voices with people who didn’t really sound very much like them. (I didn’t know Will Smith could speak French!) Anyway, we also used the time to plan next weekend’s activities, which we will talk about next week!

Saturday morning we went to market (which is about 20 feet from our front door), to look around and pick up a few things. I bought olives and Sue bought some very interesting looking mushrooms – which I do not believe are poisonous as we ate them for lunch and as of this moment (18:00), I have not started to vomit or hallucinate. (They were chanterelles or girolles here.)

After our quick shop, we headed out to a very nice little hilltop village called Vézelay. It is a UNESCO world heritage site and has an abbey that I believe was started sometime in the 13th Century. The town was very nice, but a bit touristy (even in the off-season). We parked in the municipal parking and there were about 10 Porsche 911s and while we were waiting to pay, their owners arrived and they all drove off in a pack (I know that a group of crows is a murder and a group of wolves is a pack…Is a group of Porsche’s called a Pretender of Porsches, or perhaps a Poseur of Porsches? Anyway – there were a bunch of them there and then they drove off).

We wandered the town, Sue took many photos of the town and the countryside. We bought a couple of quiches at one of the boulangeries and had a picnic lunch. Once we were done we headed off to do some wine tasting…It is Burgundy (well, actually, it is Bourgogne) you know! We stopped at four or five different places, but only one was open. We had a few tastes, bought a few bottles and were on our way.

Along the way, we stumbled upon a village called Saint Père. There was a winery there, but it was unfortunately closed when we arrived. However, there was a gorgeous old church in this tiny village. The construction started in 1240 and completed around 1455.  While the abbey of Vézelay is much larger and more physically impressive, the beauty and accessibility of the church in Saint Père made it more interesting to me.

Heading back to the car we saw a historic marker signed that said Les Fontaines Salées. We were in no hurry, so we figured we would drive over to it, not bothering to translate what Les Fontaines Salées meant. It was only a couple of kilometers, so what did we have to lose? Boy are we glad we did. It is an archeological museum dedicated to the prehistoric and Roman period salt water springs and baths. It was fabulous. They had a museum explaining the history; sure it was in French, but we had the time to read and translate the important stuff. Then we could wander among the ruins and soak up the history. (Also, there were frogs in the water.)

When we finished, we took a long route back to the AirBnB and had dinner. Our friend Suzanne told us about a restaurant called La Guinguette in a nearby village that was having a DJ playing Afro-Carribean music with a drummer. We picked her up and headed over. The night was warm, the beer was cold (at least mine was – the ladies had wine) and the music was great. The video is Sue dancing with the owner (who our friend knows).

All in all a great day.

Sunday we lounged about most of the morning, went for a small wander in Clamecy and then headed for the D’arcy Grottos with Suzanne (who took us through the backroads where we got to see some beautiful scenery and more cute French villages). There are a series of caves that have stalagmites, stalactites and prehistoric cave paintings. (I believe that they are the second oldest cave paintings in France.) We drove through the countryside, taking a long, windy way to get there, but the trip was well worth it. Only one of the caves is open to the public, but it is very impressive, and the paintings are somewhat unreal.

After the visiting the cave, we wandered along the River Cure for an hour or so and then headed back to the AirBnB.

Another great weekend, this one without dead person bingo (although we did see at least two cemeteries). 😉

Last hurrahs in Paris

Today we waved au revoir to Paris, but we do have some other” Paris adventures to catch you up on. We managed to squeeze out two more museums, a dead person bingo part 4 and dinner out. Plus, I finally had what I would consider a French meal, with my new friend Linn, who is Norwegian and Filipino.

Sunday, we had petit dejeuner (I just like saying that). Steven had un croissant avec café au lait and I had un café allongé avec des pain au chocolat because I had to. Next, on the recommendation of the lovely French couple we met last week, we went to the Hôtel de la Marine, which is not a hotel but did house the French Navy. The building has been restored to its former glory – if you think it’s glorious that Marie Antoinette’s death warrant was signed there. It is beautiful. There are also four different audio tours you can choose. We tried to choose two different ones, but both ended up with “Traveling through Time.” No complaints from either of us. We both enjoyed it (except for the fact that the maid was named Susan). Pictures below.

Next, we finally had crêpes. Yes! And they were delicious. We were in on the outskirts of Latin Quarter restaurant row. I suspect all the crêpe places would have been equally delicious, but ours wasn’t on a street mobbed with tourists. I had a veggie (surprise) and Steven had chicken, mushrooms, crème fraiche and cheese.

Finally, on to our last dead person bingo: the Pantheon. These very famous French people are lined up neatly in crypts along a hallway with alcoves housing several each. We didn’t even need a map to find anyone since their names are conveniently posted on the wall outside each alcove. So, we saw the real Alexandre Dumas, along with Marie and Pierre Curie, Voltaire, Emile Zola, Louis Braille, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Victor Hugo (my new hero since we kept bumping into his memory wherever we went).

We thought that was it for being tourists, but then we realized we hadn’t been to the Musée de la Contrafaçon (Museum of Counterfeits) just down the road from us, so on Monday we walked over there and learned all about how to spot a fake. Steven and I always have interesting conversations. This time we agreed that if you really think a “Game Child” is the same as a “Game Boy,” that’s on you.

Our real last Parisian day was Tuesday and I made the most of it. After working in the morning, I headed out to a lovely two-hour lunch with a woman I met in my class. It was the first time I ate in a French brasserie and ate French cuisine. I had melon gazpacho and a yummy salad with a glass of Chablis. Even better than the food was the conversation. Thanks, Linn! À bientôt. Then, Steven and I went out for our last night’s dinner and had Italian food. Can’t go wrong with pasta and limoncello sorbet!

A hearty thanks to Paul and Oona for letting us live the Parisian life for a month in their apartment.

And now … Clamecy.

Our last weekend in Paris

Thursday night we decided to go out to dinner. We were celebrating Sue’s brilliant (89%) score on her petit test – I have always known she is brilliant. (I hardly call a B+ brilliant, but considering that my French consisted of “je ne sais pas” and “pardon, no parle pas français,” I am proud. Also, I would highly recommend the Alliance Francaise if you have the need for French lessons.) We went to a Lebanese place around the corner called Al-Dar. It is always interesting to us the similarities and the differences when eating the same type of food in different countries. One thing we have both noticed in all the food we have been eating is that it is much more mild than the American versions (also, everything here has viande, mostly jambon). At Al-Dar, we saw many things that we knew from the U.S., but lots of things that we did not know. We both ordered some of each. The food was delicious and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

Friday night we went out for a drink at the Sir Winston Churchill pub, mostly we thought it was funny to go to a “real” English pub in Paris. It is about a ten minute walk and a block from the Arc de Triomphe. We had a great time, they had many varieties of gin & tonics, and all that we tried, we like. However, it isn’t a real English pub. To start with, they had no British beer! But we sat outside and watched Paris go by. There is something wonderful about just sitting, having a drink, talking and watching the evening unfold.

Notre-Dame

Today, Saturday, we decided to take it easy…At least that was our intention when we woke up. However, we don’t do lounging very well, so by 10 a.m., I was restless and we put on our walking shoes and headed out. Sue wanted to visit a mall near her school to see what the stores looked like away from the tourist crowd and we promised a friend of ours that we would go to Nespresso to buy metal stirrers that she had found here before, but could not find in the States. We hopped on the Metro, looked in the mall (it was pitiful and depressing – many closed stores and not much interesting stuff) and then looked for a Nespresso store. We found a store, but they didn’t have what we wanted and the very nice salesperon (who spoke English to us, despite Sue trying to explain coffee stirrer in French) suggested that we go to their flagship store near the Opera. We consulted Google and found that it was “only” about a 40-minute walk, and since we had nothing else to do, off we went.

When we arrived, after some fumbling attempts to explain what we wanted, we were directed to the lower level, only to find that they did not have them. Apparently they no longer sell them. Oh well. (I can’t decide whether the masks make communication difficult or it is simply that my French is TERRIBLE!)

Sue’s crepe

We exited the store and realized that it was only noon, so we still had lots of time. We decided to head to the Latin Quarter, just to look around. We took the Metro to Châtelet walked across Île de la Cité, gazed at Notre-Dame (the damage was not really visible from our point of view) and then into the Latin Quarter. By now it was lunchtime so we headed for a creperie called La Petite Bouclerie. We had a nice leisurely lunch, the food was great (and also our first French food) and relaxed. Once we were ready we headed out to wander the Latin Quarter.

The door to Restaurant Shu

Wander is exactly what we did. At each street corner we more or less randomly decided which way to go and just kept walking. Looking at the shops, finding little parks, and people watching. We found a Japanese restaurant called Restaurant Shu with a tiny door (for comparison, I am a towering 1.75m or 5’8″) on some random street. It was a grand time.

Along about 3 p.m. we decided that it was time to head on home. We had a quick look at the map, realized that it was “only” a 50-minute walk, so off we went.  4.5km later, we were home.

A long day of doing nothing but walking 10km. (I call it exploring and drinking in the sites and sounds of Paris.)

Tomorrow we are going to Hôtel de la Marine and the Pantheon.

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