Category Archives: Paris 2013

Alba, Italy

I was sad to say good-bye to beautiful Aix-en-Provence but excited for our next stop, Alba, located in the Piedmont area of Italy.  Alba is most famous for its Barolo and Nebbiolo wines and white truffles. The drive through the Alps was stunning, taking us into the clouds and by Turino, Italy, site of the 2006 Winter Olympics. Even though we had been driving through beautiful countryside all day, the beautiful hillside vineyards surrounding Luna di Langa, our Alba home for the next two days immediately captivated us.

B&B host Gianfranco, his son Alberto and adorable dog Layla were waiting for us as we drove into Luna di Langa.

We were excited to walk through the beautiful vineyards.

All of the grapes in the region are picked by hand. Harvesters picked the white grapes last week and begin picking the red grapes this week. Beautiful,  lush bunches of grapes hung low on the vines.

Gianfranco, who is also a wine expert and gourmet cook, prepared traditional dishes of the Alba region for our dinner. I am not sure what we enjoyed more-his wonderful meal or entertaining company. He is a fantastic cook and even shared one of his recipes with me. Now I just need to find someone to translate it from Italian to English.

Tairrin, pasta Gianfranco had made earlier in the day

Dessert was a moist cake that was his mother’s recipe accompanied by apricots that he had preserved himself in sugar and alcohol and Moscato wine.

Bunet

 

 

 

 

 

Arrived in Provence

Our drive from Monaco to Aix-en-Provence was a great learning experience. By the time we went through the second of at least ten toll stations, we had figured out what the lane headings meant. We only needed to use the call for assistance the first time. Between toll station two and three I found a great web site, “How to Pay Highway Tolls in France”, that explained everything we needed to know and greatly reduced our stress level.

Julie, our Aix-en-Provence hostess, met us at our apartment. Our location is perfect, right off the Cours Mirabeau, the Champs Elysees of Aix and across from the  beautiful Fountaine de la Rotonde.

The view from our apartment window

We are also in a great place to observe life on the street below us. Before we finished unpacking Paul noticed policemen gathering on the plaza below our window. Stepping out on our little balcony, we noticed a parade of yellow-vest protesters walking down the street. It all seemed quite peaceful until we heard a loud sound and saw the police running in to the Apple store. They evacuated the store and closed for a few hours. We still don’t know the whole story, but it was interesting to watch it unfold right below our apartment.

Off to the airport to pick up our friend Scott, and we were ready for our first night in Provence. Paul found a great restaurant with wonderful karma. Incontournable, a short walk from our apartment.

Perfect weather,friendly staff,  a beautiful setting,

and fabulous food equaled a lovely start to our week in Provence.

 

 

Giardino dell’Orticoltura

We took a little hike out of Florence to the Giardino dell”Orticoltura, the horticulture garden.   The most beautiful part of the garden was the greenhouse.

horticulture park-conservatory

Although the reality of he garden did not quite measure up to the lovely pictures and descriptions online, our hike took us through parts of Firenze that most tourists don’t see.  I’m not sure what this sign means, but I am guessing there is a story here.

Horticulture park sign road

About a half mile before we came to the park, we crossed this little piazza, Piazza della Liberta, in the middle of a highway.

Horticulture park piazza della liberta

We see bikers everywhere in Firenze but most of the roads are very narrow and biking seems a bit risky here.  So, it was surprising to see a dedicated bike lane on our walk home.

Horticulture park-bike lane

The Big Three

Think of Florence and you probably think of the David, the Uffizi and the Duomo. Today we took our friend to all three. We started the morning with a visit to the Duomo, probably the most recognizable site in the Florentine landscape. Although almost everyone calls it the Duomo, it’s official name is the Catterdrale di Santa Maria del Fiore.   It is a beautiful symbol of the confidence of the Florentines. When they built the Duomo, no one had the technology to build a dome, so they left a big hole in the roof. Before long, Filippo Brunelleschi built the beautiful dome we see today.  The marble facade was added in the late 1800s.

Duomo

Our next stop was the Galleria dell’Accademia to see its star attraction-Michelangelo’s David.  The beautiful seventeen-foot tall statue of the Biblical David who slew Goliath stands at the end of the first hallway you enter.  Scholars don’t agree if the statue depicts David before or after he defeated Goliath, but I think it is before his victory because his expression is thoughtful not victorious.

DavidOur last visit of the day was the Galleria degli Uffizi, home of the greatest collection of Italian painting anywhere.  We focused on Medieval and Renaissance painters.  The ceiling below is part of an addition to the Uffizi and uses 6,000 shells to achieve its luminous glow.

Uffizi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aix-les-Bains

We spent our last few days in Paris-not in Paris.  We took a three-hour, high-speed train ride to Aix-les-Bains, a beautiful town in the Alps region of southeast France, to visit our friend Aurelie and her new husband Jeremy.  I was Aurelie’s counselor when she was in the Rotary Youth Exchange program.  We were so sad to miss her wedding but delighted that we were able to get together just two months after her big day.

Aix-les-Bains is on Lac du Bourget and has beautiful mountains on either side.

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On Saturday morning Aurelie walked to the boulangerie for all kinds of wonderful croissants and French breads for breakfast.  She, Paul and I went to the market for fish, cheese, meat and vegetables for dinner.  Everything we got was grown or made within a few miles of her town.  Aurelie chose a wonderful variety of cheese.

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Paul was especially impressed with all of the different kinds of sausage.

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When we got back, Aurelie and Jeremy made a five-course lunch for us.

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We started with an appetizer of sausage, pesto biscuits and champagne.  This was followed by the entree (what we call an appetizer) of vegetables and two kinds of homemade bread, alpine and country.  Jeremy chose wine from the region for both lunch and dinner that evening.

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The plat (main course) was a baked pasta dish made with Les Crozets pasta from Savoie.  Then we had the beautifully presented cheese course and we ended with dessert.  That really wasn’t the end of lunch because we then went to visit Aurelie’s parents for coffee. So, really it was a six-course lunch.  Paul and I are still trying to figure out the French paradox-how the French stay so thin.   It was great to see Cathy and Serge again.  A friend and I had stayed with them nine years ago when we combined a trip to see Aurelie with a visit to Samantha who was doing a study abroad in Spain.

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This is the beautiful view of the Alps from their back yard.

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From there we went to Chambery, a town about the size of Aix-les-Bains.  Once again, we were so impressed with how old structures are valued and maintained.

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After exploring Chambery, we did a little hiking on Lac du Bourget.  We ended the day with another lovely meal prepared by Aurelie and Jeremy.  Jeremy shared a special drink with us that he and his father prepared together.  Gnole is a liqueur  made with various fruits.  The one we had was made with mirabelles, the little plum-like fruit we discovered at the market when we first got to Paris.

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The next morning we left to come back for our last day in Paris.  Our visit with Aurelie and Jeremy was a wonderful way to end our wonderful month living in Paris.

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Tomorrow morning we head home and are looking forward to seeing family and friends.

Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris

One of my favorite images of Parisians is of them walking down the street eating a baguette fresh from the boulangerie.  So after a great day of seeing beautiful art and city scenes, we got a baguette and ate a bite on the way home. I felt so French.

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At lunch today we had our first crabby French waiter, at least at first he was crabby.  By the time we left, he was making jokes and exaggerated gestures.  We are not sure what changed, but he ended up being quite enjoyable.

We have been discussing why the Parisians have a reputation for being unfriendly.  Our encounters with Parisian people have been positive.  Sometimes they smile when I speak French, but I have never felt it was critical, just amused.  And I can understand why my French attempts are amusing.  They are reserved and speak very softly which may make them seem less friendly than people in other countries.  I wonder if they don’t make eye contact on the street because they keep their eyes on the sidewalk so they don’t step in dog poop-something I have done twice since I am always looking around when I walk.

After a beautiful walk,, we went to the Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, a wonderful art museum dedicated to modern and contemporary art of the 20th and 21st centuries.  I wasn’t familiar with many of the artists but fell in love with some of the paintings.

Raoul Dufy:

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Robert Delaunay:

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Albert Gleizes:

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After dinner, we got off the Metro a stop early so we could walk home across the Seine.  For five minutes at the top of each hour at night, the lights on the Eiffel Tower twinkle.  It was a beautiful sight.

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Count Down

As our wonderful month in Paris nears its end, we find ourselves wanting to revisit some of our favorite places as well as see one more thing on our list.  (Really, its my list; Paul’s list was much shorter.)  Today we walked some of our favorite streets.

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We ate lunch and dinner at two of our favorite restaurants, Le Reminet and Evi Evaine.

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While Paul was working, I visited Saint Chapelle, one more place on my list.  This beautiful church, known for its stained-glass windows, was built in the 13th century to house the Crown of Thorns.  The huge stain-glass windows are amazing.  Window restoration work begun in the 1970s is almost complete.

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Wine and Cheese Tour

We traveled outside Paris today to tour the Loire Valley and Burgundy wine regions.  Our first stop was a goat farm and cheese factory where Crottin de Chauvignol, the most famous goat cheese of the Loire Valley, is made.

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We learned how they made the cheese and sampled cheese at different stages of ripeness.  It was amazing how much the cheese changed.  It went from “young and soft” to “bluish with a savory character” and finally to “mature with a strong flavor.”

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Baby goats were born just a few days before we got there.  With a caution from our guide to watch our step, we visited the barn and saw the baby goats.

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Our guide gave us a heartfelt explanation of the importance of “terroir”, the way geography, geology and climate contribute to the unique characteristics of the wine from each region.  He kept saying, “In France we don’t care what kind of grape is used; we only care where the grape grew up.”  In the Coteaux du Giennois region, the wine maker we visited demonstrated the different components of the soil and then pointed out how they affected the wine when we tasted it.

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After a traditional French lunch we traveled to Sancerre and tasted white, red, and rose Sancerre wine.  Sancerre is my favorite white wine, but I didn’t know until our tour that there were also red and rose wines from this region.  The tiny town of Sancerre has a wine museum with a beautiful view from the terrace.

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Our final stop was the Roland Fissier et Fils winery where our tour guide, Jean Barnard, conducted another tasting for us.

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The wine makers signed the labels on the bottles we bought to bring home.

 

 

 

Deportation Memorial

Today we visited the Deportation Memorial, an underground memorial to the 200,000 French people who were deported to the Nazi concentration camps during World War II.  The stark and moving memorial features 200,000 light-infused crystals to represent the 200,000 victims.  Only a few people can go down to the memorial at one time, partly because it is so small and partly to maintain the reverential mood.

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We hiked in the Bois de Vincennes, the largest park in Paris.  I had a peak French moment while waiting for Paul.  A man started to talking to me, and wonders of wonder, I understood everything he said.  He did ask me to repeat myself when I responded, but he understood me the second time, and we had a nice little French chat.  This is only the second place in Paris (the Bois de Bologne is the other) where people can actually walk on the grass.  I think grass is a precious commodity in Paris because wherever you see it, it either has a fence around it or signs saying not to walk on it.  A common sight in Paris parks is to see mostly gravel with patches of protected grass.  There was a beautiful little lake with boats to rent.

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There was a Temple of Love, which looked a lot like the Temple of Love at Versailles.

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We got a baguette sandwich and frites from a little stand and had a picnic lunch in the park.  The French always use utensils to eat, so we should not have been surprised to find a little plastic fork with our frites.

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We had a little drama on the Metro when the door closed before Paul got on, and I didn’t know where were getting off.  Fortunately, both our cell phones work here (the first time we have traveled with two cell phones), and we were able to arrange a meeting place.

We also walked a bit in the Luxembourg Gardens because we loved it so much the last time we were there.  There was so much going on this time.  The Luxembourg 10K race was in progress, and all over the park were groups of people practicing tai chi and martial arts.

Our final stop stop today was at Berthillon for ice cream.  Berthillon makes luxury ice cream and sells it only in France.  A character in a book I enjoyed went to Berthillon for ice cream, and I had been looking forward to going there since we arrived.

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Saturday Shopping

Twenty years ago we bought our daughter, Samantha, a coat at Galeries Lafayette, one of the most beautiful department stores in Paris. I didn’t remember much about it, so we decided Saturday would be a great day to do a little shopping and strolling.  One of the walkways from the Metro led right into the grand magasin, so before we knew it we were in the largest shoe department I have ever seen.  Displays of beautiful shoes went on forever.  The middle of the store is a dome with open balconies and beautiful glass windows.

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After lunch at an Argentinian counter in the store, we strolled the streets and discovered a cute little shopping and restaurant gallery

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and more fountains.

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It was such a beautiful day and we had walked quite a bit, so we stopped for a snack at a little cafe and enjoyed some great people watching.  Tonight we went to an Italian restaurant on the Left Bank that we have wanted to try.

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On our way home after dinner, I realized I had left my umbrella at the restaurant.  I had just gotten this umbrella when we were at Giverny; it had Monet’s painting of a girl with an umbrella on it, so we went back to the restaurant, and luckily for me, they had it.  We got back on the Metro to come home and decided to get off a few stops early and walk home because it was such a beautiful evening.  Our apartment is about four blocks from the Seine, so on our walk home we had a lovely view of the river and the Eiffel Tower at night.

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