Category Archives: Amsterdam, Bruges, Paris 2016

A New Park and Old Favorites

My day started with an early morning coaching call with a client who lives on the west coast. Because of the time difference, it was 10PM for him and 7AM the next day for me.

Paul found a new park in a part of Paris we hadn’t visited before for a morning walk.  Parc de Monceau, in the 8th arrondissement, was a favorite spot for Claude Monet to paint.  Established in 1769, it has lovely architectural and landscape features.


It was a beautiful morning and people were reading on park benches, pushing babies in strollers, running, walking and doing tai chi.


We spent the rest of the day going back to favorite places from our stay three years ago.  We visited our old  neighborhood in the 16th arrondissement and had lunch at Au Petit Bistrot d’Auteuil, one of our favorite restaurants when we stayed there.



The Musee D’Orsay is one of our favorite museums, so we had to go there.  On Thursdays they are open until 9:45, so I thought we could go in the evening and miss the crowds.  A huge line greeted us when we arrived, and I discovered that they do special events musical performances, art and bar happy hours and a few other activities I couldn’t translate on Thursday evenings.  The line moved quickly and we were soon inside enjoying the beautiful art.  Paul even told the cashier how many tickets we wanted in French!


The view from the museum windows of La Basilique du Sacre Coeur de Montmartre glowing on a distant hill was almost as stunning as the art.


Finding Le Palais de Raja-Maharaja, 21 Rue d’Ouessant, the Indian restaurant we loved the last time we were here was a great ending to our museum visit.  The owner was as personable and welcoming as we remembered, and the food was even better than it was three years ago.


The night was so warm and beautiful we walked home from dinner and were treated to beautiful views of the “City of Light”.



French Cooking Class and More

On the way to our cooking class I saw a great example of French metro etiquette.  When we got on our metro car this morning, it was already quite full.  With each new stop more people got on and no one got off.  I wasn’t sure the car could hold any more people, but as new people got on everyone quietly shifted around and made room; it was almost like a dance.  About five stops after we got on people started to get off.  Once again, everyone shifted around, making an opening for those exiting.

Our cooking class this morning at LaCuisineParis ( was wonderful.  We learned to make eight classic French sauces- Bechamel, Port Wine, Red Wine and Shallot, Bearnaise, Vinaigrette, Mayonnaise, Salted Caramel and Chocolate.


We were a small group of seven women and

Chef Erik would show us how to make each sauce, and then we made it ourselves.  He also shared great tips and techniques.


We sampled each sauce as we made it and then sat down to a light lunch with all of our savory sauces in little cups for us to use.  The salted caramel sauce was served over sliced apples and the chocolate sauce was served with a madeline, a small traditional French cake.



Before leaving the cooking school, we received information about E. Dehillerin, the famed French cooking store and G. Detou, a small French specialty grocery store, so, of course we had to visit them.


E. Dehillerin was established in 1820 and looks it.  There was an amazing array of copper pots, cooking utensils, knives and more.


Some of the smaller items were stored in bins like you would see at a hardware store.


After eating all the wonderful, rich sauces, we decided walking rather than taking the metro home was in order. I am so glad we did because along the way we saw sites we would have missed on the metro.  We walked around Les Halles, a huge shopping hub and metro transit center.  When we were here three years ago, it was undergoing major reconstruction.  Today, all but a small part is completed.  We also visited two free sites- the ” Made in Paris” exhibit, celebrating Parisian products and the Museum of the Legion of Honor, a small and very beautiful museum devoted to awards and decorations.


It was good to get back to our neighborhood and have a little aperitif at a local cafe-


Restaurant H

Tonight I had the best dinner of my life. Really.  It was beautiful, delicious, unique and artfully presented.  I had read about chef Hubert Duchenne’s new restaurant, Restaurant H on 13, rue Jean-Beausire, before we left for our trip.  The article mentioned needing to reserve a table two months in advance, so I wasn’t hopeful when I requested a reservation online a month before we wanted it.  But we got lucky and got our reservation.


There is no menu. The waiter asks if you have any food allergies and if you want five courses or seven.  We chose five courses but there were eight different presentations.


Two of the eight dishes were desserts-my kind of dinner.


Parc des Buttes Chaumont, Rodin and More

We love walking in the beautiful city parks of Paris, so this morning we headed northeast to Parc des Buttes Chaumont in the 19th arrondissement.


Parisians were running, walking exercising and relaxing in the quiet green space. Views  from the fifty-meter high cliff revealed Paris skylines we don’t usually see.


Leaving the park we walked through parts of Belleville, an interesting Paris neighborhood.   Having enjoyed the animated film The Triplets of Belleville years ago, it was fun to actually be walking through the neighborhood.  More ethnically diverse than most other parts of Paris, it is home to one of Paris’s two Chinatowns.


Paul had a very French experience at lunch-a dog sat next to him-in its own chair.  As in so many Paris restaurants, the tables are very close.  We had just ordered when a man and his dog came in and were seated beside us.  We thought the dog would lie under the table as we see in outside restaurants at home.  But not here.  This little dog had his own booster seat that went right in the chair.  He seemed pretty fond of Paul and kept looking over at him.


We had one little “lost in translation” moment with our waiter at lunch.  I changed my order from pork to fish and red wine to white.  Or, at least I thought I did.  I ended up with white wine and pork, but it was all good.  The lime, caramel shortbread dessert was the highlight of the meal.


The three-course lunch formula meal for 15.90 euros at Le Reminet, 3 Rue des Grands Degres, is one of the best and tastiest deals in Paris.


Rather than taking the metro home, we decided to walk the five miles back and passed the Rodin Museum.  We visited it the last time we were here, but the back gardens were closed because Dior was holding a Fashion Week show there.  We bought tickets for the gardens and enjoyed the beautiful sculptures and plantings.  A big temporary structure was being erected in the back, but we still were able to see most of the gardens and all of the sculptures.






Le Metro, Montmartre and More

Le Metro

I love the Paris metro system.  It is quick, safe and easy to navigate.  An app for your phone makes it even easier to use.  Put in where you are starting and where you want to go, and the app tells you which lines and stops to use and how long it will take.  We use the Passe Navigo card which can be loaded with weekly or monthly unlimited rides.  We saved our picture ID cards from our last visit and activated them at a machine at the metro stop closest to us.


Most metro stops are quite ordinary, but the walls along the many steps at the Montmarte exit have different murals at each section.  This stop may have more stairs to exit than any other metro stop, so it is nice to have the murals for distraction.



Three years ago we had soupe a l’oignon (it is onion soup, not French onion soup here, of course) at a little cafe in Montmarte that we loved so much we returned the following week to eat it again. So, on this trip, one of our first lunches was a return visit to Le Consulate, 18 Rue Nouvins, for soupe a l’oignon.  I worried that the reality would not live up to my three-year memory.  Not to worry-sitting outside on the tiny, tilting patio,enjoying the tasty soup and a glass of wine was every bit as wonderful as I remembered.


Our waiter told us he had been at this cafe three years ago, so we may even have had the same waiter.


We had a wonderful time visiting the Galerie Montmartre and talking with gallery manager Bertrand Teneze. He gave us a great lesson on the different kinds of originals and prints and how they are catalogued.  The gallery had many works by Dali, and it was fun to talk with him about the Dali museum in FL and the collaboration between Dali and Walt Disney.  He told us that the Cheshire cat in Disney’s Alice in Wonderland was modeled on Dali. As we were talking with him about how much we love Paris, he told us he has lived in Paris twenty years and believes it takes a lifetime to know Paris. He even gave me a French pronunciation lesson-in the nicest way, of course.


Just a short distance beyond the gallery is Espace Dali Paris,  It is a small, lovely place devoted to the sculptures and engravings of Salvador Dali.  The sculptures were amazing, and it was not crowded at all.


Before leaving, we spent a little time walking the lovely Montmartre streets.



On our way home we stopped at Angelina’s again for a little pastry to bring home.  Only in Paris do your pastries come gift wrapped.


One of the special things about returning to a city you love is the opportunity to revisit favorite restaurants.  Tonight we went to Evi Evane, 10 Rue Guisarde, our favorite Greek restaurant in Paris.



Part of what makes Paris amazing is the beauty everywhere you look.  Walking around before our dinner reservation, we saw Place St. Sulpice on one side of the street.


And the Church of St. Sulpice on the other side of the street.


Welcome to Paris!

We took the high-speed train to Paris yesterday and settled into our home for the next seventeen days.  A half block off the Rue Cler, our third-floor apartment is cute, spacious and in a great location.  An extra bonus is being a block from our dear friend Moira.  After unpacking and exploring our new neighborhood, we met Moira for wine and cheese.



Freshly-baked croissants from our neighborhood boulangerie and a French melon- my favorite French breakfast.  Small, aromatic and bursting with flavor, the little melons are tastier than any melon I have ever eaten.  Going to the  boulangerie  just as it opens in the quiet morning time before our street gets busy is the best way to start a day in Paris.


One of our favorite activities in Paris is to explore the neighborhoods without a set agenda and see what we discover.  We started our walk this morning in the Parc du Champ de Mars.  Behind a group of early-morning exercisers, we discovered an Azerbaijan village set up promoting their culture, food and art.



We continued our stroll past the Eiffel Tower and over the Seine to walk along Avenue Montaigne, home of many luxury designer stores.  We noticed a particularly stunning building and discovered it was the 5-star hotel Plaza Athenee, where Alain Ducasse, France’s most famous chef, has a restaurant.



It was cool today, so chocolate chaud at Anglina’s, my favorite place for chocolate chaud, was a special treat.


European Heritage Days, when many public buildings not normally open to the public open their doors to visits, are the third weekend in September.  Last time we were in Paris we visited the beautiful Hotel de Ville, the building housing Paris’s local administration.  This year we visited the Hotel de Talleyrand, a beautiful 18th century private residence that since 1950 has been owned by the US and is where the Marshall Plan was developed after WWII.


We were able to walk right in, but many sites had long waiting lines.  The wait to get into the  Elysee Palais, the official residence of the President of the French Republic, was three to four hours.  The roads and sidewalks around the building were barricaded and patrolled by armed police.  We were impressed with the security measures taken by the Paris police to ensure that a Nice-style attack was not repeated.


We made a stop at the beautiful L’Eglise de la Madeleine, an 18th century Catholic church built by Napoleon to glorify his army.  Site of Chopin’s funeral in 1849, it now hosts classical music concerts.


Scenes From the Day


Debbie at Place de la Concorde

Debbie at Place de la Concorde

Line at National Assembly

Line at National Assembly




Day Trip to Ghent and Final Dinner in Bruges


After watching Monuments Men and learning more about the Ghent Altarpiece, we decided to make a day trip to Ghent, a thirty-minute train ride from Bruges.  I always struggle a bit to figure out bus systems, so getting our Tram tickets and getting from the train station to Kornmarket, where we wanted to go, was a little hiccup. Two different kind strangers helped us, and the rest of the public transportation components of our day worked great.


The highlight of the day was seeing the impressive Gothic Cathedral of St. Bavo and its beautiful Adoration of the Mystic Lamb altarpiece.  The Ghent altarpiece, as it is most frequently called, is in a special darkened chapel behind glass.  We felt lucky that for the first third of our time viewing the altarpiece, we were the only ones in the room.  It never got as crowded as we expected.  The Ghent altarpiece has been called the most influential painting ever made because it is the first masterpiece in oil and is probably the most stolen.  The lower left panel is still missing and has been replaced with a copy.

The outside of the cathedral was covered in scaffolding, but the inside was stunning.  An organist playing the second-level organ as we entered certainly enhanced our experience.


An amazingly intricate carved pulpit with a golden serpent and numerous Carrara marble statues was on the side of the nave.


We ate lunch in the Patershol district at Souplounge, a little soup shop.  Before ladling the soup into the bowl, they put little meatballs, fresh chopped onions and tomatoes and fresh herbs in the bottom.  As we walked out of the restaurant, we noticed two intricate, quirky gabled buildings at the end of the road on our right.


Back in Bruges

Walking home from the train station we discovered the amazing merveilleux,a small cake that originated in Belgium.  It is an airy delicacy of meringue covered with whipped cream and various toppings.  We had passed Aux Merveilleux de Fred  on 3A Eiermarkt every day as we walked to the square and watched the bakers creating the little mounds but had never tried them.  It is a good thing I waited until my last day here to have one because I think I could become seriously addicted.


We were going to have one last Brugse Zot at the De Halve Maan Brewery, but they were closed to set up for a huge block party.  They were celebrating the opening of their pipeline and thanking supporters and businesses around them who had been inconvenienced by the installation of the pipeline.  We have enjoyed supporting their beer this week, but, alas, we were not on the invite list.



Bruges has been called the “Michelin epicenter of Belgium”, a country with one of the highest concentrations of Michelin-starred restaurants in the world.  On our host’s recommendation we decided to try Kok au Vin, Ezelstraat 21, one of the restaurants that Michelin’s Bib Gourmand identified as a rising star. We started with an organic, farm to table artichoke.  As much as possible, their produce and meat are organic, farm-to-table.  After warm, sunny weather every day our trip, tonight it started to rain.  We walked to the restaurant, a few blocks from our apartment, in a cool, rainy drizzle-very cozy.


Paul had a chicken dish, and I had pork.


Amsterdam and Bruges Video Snippets

Scenes from the Day

Paul in Kornmarkt

Paul in Kornmarkt

Debbie at the tram stop.

Debbie at the tram stop.

Lunch at Souplounge

Lunch at Souplounge

Cloth Hall, connected to Belfry

Cloth Hall, connected to Belfry

St. Bavo

St. Bavo

Bell Tower, Bike Ride and Waffles

Think of Bruges, think of the Bell Tower, especially for those who have seen In Bruges.  Climbing the 366 spiral steps of the Bell Tower was our first adventure of the day, and we were rewarded with beautiful views of this beautiful city.



Since 1300, the Bell Tower has provided time keeping and beautiful carillon music.  It was pretty amazing to be right by the bells when they started ringing.


After climbing the tower, we rented bikes and rode to the charming little town of Damme, only four miles from Bruges.  Being helmet-wearing, turn-signaling, trail-riding bikers, we were less than confident sharing the narrow roads with cars and other bikers.


Soon we were out of Bruges and on a beautiful bike path along a canal built by Napoleon.  We passed a working windmill.  On weekends it is open for tours.


Ready for a break when we arrived in Damme, we stopped for lunch at an outdoor cafe.


After lunch, we enjoyed a peaceful visit to the 13th century Church of Our Lady.   The interior was beautiful, and the well-tended cemetery had beautiful grave markers.


We biked back to Bruges and around the perimeter of the city.  Bruges is surrounded by canals with narrow parks running alongside the canals.  It was fun to bike through some of the residential areas.  We headed back to Bruges Bike Rental through one of Bruges’ four medieval town gates.


Our rental bikes had great locking systems.  On the back wheel was a little brace with a key.  When we stopped, we pressed the lever which locked the wheel and took the key with us.  Coming back to our bikes, we put in the key, gave it a little turn and the brace unlocked.


After days of planning to have an authentic Belgian waffle, I finally enjoyed one at Lizzie’s Wafels.  It was crispier than I expected, but it was absolutely yummy.  Unlike some of the waffle stands where the stacks of waffles wait to be ordered, Lizzie’s makes each waffle after you order it.  A little caramel sauce, and we were in waffle heaven.


I discovered Zanzou, a darling little jewelry store on Sint Amandsstraat 19 that makes their jewelry on site and has reasonable prices.


Paul had a hankering for steak, so we ate dinner at El Churrasco, an Argentinian restaurant on Vlamingstraat 76 rated 29th out of 566 Bruges restaurants on TripAdvisor.  The service and food were excellent.

Scenes from the Day

Bruges Bell Tower

Bruges Bell Tower

Bell Tower at night

Bell Tower at night

Paul in the Bell Tower

Paul in the Bell Tower

Debbie in Damme

Debbie in Damme

Church in Damme

Church in Damme

Church in Damme

Church in Damme

Damme Churchyard

Damme Churchyard

Post-bike refreshment

Post-bike refreshment


Exploring Bruges

Our first full day in Bruges started with a lovely breakfast Michael left outside our door.


Then we were off to tour some of the beautiful Bruges highlights.  Today was market day in the square.


We saw the beautiful buildings in Burg Square, including the Basilica of the Holy Blood.  It was built in 1150 for the sole purpose of housing drops of Christ’s blood that Derrick of Alsace brought home from the Second Crusade.  The dried blood is preserved inside a clear tube.  Today the vial was on display and people lined up to put their hands on the case around it and say a prayer.  After each person moved on,  a woman in priestly robes wiped the top before the next person approached. I don’t think the vial is normally on display.


After visiting other historic buildings we came to Bruges’ most photographed spot, so, of course, we took a photograph.


Visiting another church, the Church of Our Lady, we saw Michaelangelo’s beautiful Madonna and Child, one of the few Michelangelo sculptures found outside Italy.


Since I enjoyed my first glass of Bruges’ Bruges Zot beer yesterday I have been looking forward to touring the De Halve Maan brewery.  The beer has become so popular that their sixth-generation brewery can no longer process the beer in their heart-of-Bruges location.  So they have just completed an underground pipeline from the brewery to a bottling plant outside of town.  Standing on the top of the brewery, we could see the beer’s destination in the distance.


Our tour guide was quite entertaining.  She showed us drying hops used in their beer and told us hops and cannabis had similar effects on people and that was why Belgium people were so “hoppy.”  Belgium beer has a much higher alcoholic content-most is six to eleven percent alcohol- than American beer.  Her opinion is that drinking any beer less than six percent alcohol is for sissies.  She warned us that tourists aren’t prepared for Belgium beer and to be prepared for it “sneaking up on you.”  We think she probably had had a few beers before our tour.


We ate lunch/dinner at Vlissinghe, a pub dating from 1515.  It was such a beautiful day that we sat in their back garden and, of course, had more beer.



Belgium is know for fine chocolate, and chocolate shops are everywhere in Bruges.  We asked our apartment host, Michael, where to go for the best chocolate.  His recommendation was Spegelaere.  All of their chocolates are handmade at the shop, and they are always one of the three chocolate makers asked to represent Belgium at world expositions.


It was so hard to choose. The woman helping us advised us to tell her what we liked and she would make recommendations.  The cream-filled chocolates were different shapes depending on the filling.  This yummy caramel-filled horse was shedding a dark-chocolate tear.




Amsterdam to Bruges

This morning we left Amsterdam for Bruges, Belgium.  Our favorite Amsterdam taxi driver, Farid, took us to the train station and Edwin’s nephew Zeus helped us get our luggage down the steep stairs.


We took one last look at our second floor apartment and noted the hook on the top of the building.  All of the old houses in Amsterdam have these hooks to bring furniture in through the windows because the stairs are so narrow and steep.


In addition to all of the wonderful experiences we had and the places visited, when I remember Amsterdam,  I will remember the canals, the narrow, crooked houses and how well we were treated.  People went out of their way to be helpful, from giving advice about using the trams to cutting in half a waffle the server knew we were going to share.  I think Amsterdam would be a great first destination for someone who wanted to plan their own trip to a non-English-speaking country.  Almost everyone here speaks English, and they are so friendly and  helpful.


I will also remember our lively street.  Beginning at noon, the street was closed to cars and  filled with people having a good time.  After noticing stickers on some of the windows that said “Member of Secret Village”, I started doing some research to see what that meant.  I discovered that our street,  Reguliersdwarsstraat,  was the most famous gay street in Amsterdam and four of the most famous gay bars in the city were next door to us.   The “Secret Village”  business initiative was launched in 2016, to position the street as an open-minded and tolerant shopping and entertainment area with an international reputation.  Although it got a little noisy at night, I thought it was pretty cool to discover we were staying on such a historic street.

View from our window one night

View from our window one night

On our train ride to Bruges we met a man who live in Bruges and works in Brussels.  He gave us a great restaurant recommendation – Pottekijker and insider information about Bruges-like don’t eat and drink on the square.  Except for the fries, the food and drink are overpriced and not as good as at other parts of the city.  A big soccer fan, he told us about the Champions League game on Wednesday between Bruges and Leicester City, England.


We discovered that the three guys sitting across the aisle from us were sports writers from England going to Bruges to cover the game.  I had just read an article in the New York Times about the Leicester team and shared it with them.  They were friends with the writer for the NYT article.  We all had a great time talking about traveling and sports and the US.


And then suddenly we were in Bruges.  Michel, our Bruges host picked us up at the train station and oriented us to our beautiful Bruges apartment.  Called “Silent Bruges” it is a lovely change from our lively Amsterdam apartment.  Although the main house was built in the seventeenth century, the part we are in is “only” 150 years old. Michael gave us an extensive summary of the history of Bruges and mapped out a slightly-off-the-beaten-track walk for us.

bruges-apartment-2 bruges-apartment

We did part of Michael’s recommended walk and stopped for dinner at a little cafe on one of the canals.  We had wonderful mussels and my new favorite beer, Bruges Zot.



Lucky for us, a little chocolate shop was still open, so we had our first taste of wonderful Belgium chocolate.

Rijksmuseum, Vondelpark and More

We started our day with Dutch pancakes, which are really like crepes.  On our way to breakfast we ran in to Edwin, our apartment host.  He told us that Amsterdam folks hop on the train and head for the beach on warm, sunny days like today and tomorrow.  Tomorrow, he is going early to the beach to avoid the crowds on the train.



When it comes to Amsterdam museums, we saved the best for last. To avoid the lines we got our tickets for the Rijksmuseum in advance, but unlike our tickets for the Van Gogh and Anne Frank museums we did not need to come at a designated time.  We had thirty days after purchasing out tickets to use them, Built in 1885, the beautiful Rijksmuseum is dedicated to arts and history in Amsterdam.  A lovely garden surrounds two sides of the museum.  We used the informative free app, to guide our visit.


Among the 8,000 objects on display, Rembrandt’s works are the stars of the show.  His The Night Watch is the most famous painting in the museum and had by far the most people viewing it.


Two other Rembrandt masterpieces were acquired by the museum in 2016 for 18 million euros each.  Marten and Oopjen are the only life-size, full-length standing wedding portraits Rembrandt ever painted.  Since portraits like these were reserved for the nobility, this young couple was obviously very successful.


There were so many beautiful and interesting things to see in this museum that we are already talking about spending more time here the next time we come to Amsterdam.  The stunning library in the Rijksmuseum is the largest public art history research library in the Netherlands.



After our mix-up a few days ago, we got better directions and found Vondelpark today.  It was a beautiful day for a walk in the park and a nice picnic.


We crossed a small bridge that had lovers’ locks like we had seen in Paris.



We love exploring neighborhoods, so we planned our walk home from Vondelpark through the De-Pijp neighborhood and had fun browsing the Cuypmarkt, the largest and most popular market in the Netherlands.


We had a yummy waffle with chocolate.


Since I left home without a watch, I was thrilled to get a watch for four euros.  If it only lasts until the end of my trip, it will have served its purpose, and it is pretty cute.


Tonight we took a canal cruise, a classic Amsterdam activity, with Rederij P. Kooij.  We chose that company from the many Amsterdam canal cruise companies because they were closest to our apartment.  Our captain, Willem, was an interesting guy who liked to share additional information with us because we were the only English-speaking passengers and were sitting in the front.  We learned that every year they retrieve about sixty bodies and fifteen thousand bicycles from the canals.