Saturday, September 20, 2014

Paris....Revisited

As I mentioned on my Paris page of the blog, Paris is one of my favorite cities in the world. I love coming with different people and experiencing the cities in new ways. This trip did not disappoint!

It was just my friend and I, two women, exploring the city...focusing on the smaller pleasures. By this I mean, we didn't go into the Louvre, the D'Orsay or even inside Notre Dame. Instead on the first day we arrived via the EuroStar from London, we started with a quick walk through of the Marche Raspail, one of the many open air street markets that run on different days in various locations around the city. There are mainly vendors selling food for people to bring home and prepare: fresh seafood, briny olives, succulent fruits
and vegetables, meats of every cut and animal you can imagine the French savoring, and of course delectable cheeses. We were staying in a hotel, so we didn't buy any food but did stop at a few stands selling scarves and clothes.

Next we visited Ste. Chapelle on the Ile de Cite. I love going to this lovely church with new people...the reaction is always worth the repeat visit: interest in the first floor (maybe wondering what is so special) and then, once the newcomer emerges from the tiny stone stairway into the upper chapel, there are expressions ranging from awestruck to the wide smiles of surprise and appreciation for the incredible site of the gorgeous window lined room.
After the chapel we did a quick walk through of the flower market that is nearby, examining interesting garden items and lovely plants and flowers. We did a little window shopping on our way back to the hotel and rested till dinner.

I'm not sure where I found the recommendation on the restaurant, L'Epi Dupin, but it was absolutely fantastic. Very tiny, and even at the relatively early hour of 7:30pm was full, mainly of locals with a smattering of tourists. The staff was charming and the menu, which changes daily, was superb.

The next morning we were off to a tiny museum that has been on my list to visit called the Nissim Camondo. It was a mansion near the Parc Monseau that had been owned by a Jewish banking family who had emigrated at the end of the 19th century from Turkey. The son of the emigre was an avid collector of 18th century art and decorative art (furniture, porcelain etc). He donated his entire house to France to be preserved as he left it. So you experience the house as he designed it and lived in it. It was a wonderful experience. The ending is sad as his son died in WWI and his daughter was convinced that since she was a French citizen would be safe from the Nazis. She died at Auschwitz.

We then went to one of the few Parisian covered markets, called Les Enfants Rouge. It was quite small and mainly filled with food stalls selling lunch. We had some excellent Morrocan food...but it wasn't really worth the stop.

Next we went to the Orangerie, home of the huge panels of Monet's Waterlillies. It is an enchanting small museum in the Tuilleries Garden, between the Louvre and the Place de Concorde (closer to the Place de Concord end). We beat the worst of the crowd, but I think the best time to go is probably near closing, when the crowds should really thin out. It is the kind of place that you want to experience when there are as few people as possible. The two rooms containing the panels form a figure 8 or infinite sign and there are benches in the center of each room. To sit and contemplate the paintings in silent reverie is an almost spiritual experience. However when the room is full of chattering tourists, they can be a bit annoying though still worth the trip.

After briefly relaxing in our room, we went out and sat at a cafe and people watched before heading to our dinner at Cafe Constant. This restaurant used to be one of my favorites, but sadly no more. They have been ruined by success. My friend's dinner was only okay, and  though my quail was fairly good the service was very slapdash. My dessert of Ile Flotante was very disappointing and this is something I always look forward to having while in France. Plus the place was overflowing with American and Asian tourists. I don't think there was one French patron in the house. I'm quite sad to see the decline of the cafe.

Thursday was our last day as we were catching the EuroStar back to London in the evening. We went to Marche Saxe-Bretuil, another street market, this one in the 7th arrondissement. It was quite large, again filled will cheese, vegetable, fruit, meat, bread, spice and clothing and kitchen knick-knack stalls. After packing our bags, and leaving them at the hotel, we went off to Village St. Paul, an area in the Marais known for it's antique shops. We arrive a during their lunch break so we indulged ourselves at a lovely cafe, enjoying salads and sharing a half bottle of wine. We then perused the shops which were interesting but for the most part incredibly overpriced.

After that we made our way over to Ile St. Louis, stopped for a Bertillon ice cream, and worked our way to the back side of Notre Dame. The view from the back is stunning and we walked along the Seine and examined the cathedral from the side as well. Then we may our way back to the hotel to gather our bags and headed through the rush hour crush on the metro to Gare du Nord to catch the train home.

We packed a lot into 3 days! It was lovely weather and we did a lot of wandering, shopping and people watching while managing to hit a few precious sites.

Monday, September 15, 2014

London...Museums, City Walks, and Palaces!


What a fabulous city London is! The transportation system makes it so easy to get around an explore. I downloaded a great app for my smartphone before I left and it's been invaluable. It's CityMapper (free) and I just input where I am (or use GPS/current location) and where I want to go and it gives me all sorts of options, listing the tube alternatives, the bus routes or even walking (telling me how many calories I'd burn if I walked the entire way!). I prefer the interface over GoogleMaps and it go into detail with the schedules, what train platform etc.

So far I've visited the V&A Museum, the Museum of London, ambled through the garden outside Kensington Palace, walked through Harrods and Marks & Spenser, went to the Borough Market, explored the Southwark area, went to the site of the original Rose Theater (which came before the Globe), drank many pints and listened to a great band at an East London bar, spent much of a day at Hampton Court, going through the interior and then doing a "rooftop" tour! Today is a rest day as tomorrow we head for a short jaunt to Paris.

On the museums, I really loved the V&A which is focused on the decorative arts and has items from all over the world. I could come back here and spend days exploring the collections. There are incredible ceramics and furniture from China and Japan, turban ornaments from the Mughal empire, dresses from the 17th century...just an amazing array of interesting items. I find it fascinating to see so many cultures in one place and see the cross pollination of fashion, tastes and trends that the trade (and conquests) facilitated.

The Museum of London traced the history of London from pre-historic times, through the Romans then medieval, renaissance, Victorian into the modern age. I enjoy these types of museums as well and I think they are also great ones to bring kids. We visited the Edo Museum in Tokyo and the Carnavalet in Paris that are similar in scope.

I wandered on my own on Saturday, and started the morning at the Borough Market. It is a huge outdoor/indoor market place in the Southwark area of London (pronounced "Suth-ock"). Filled chock full with food stalls carrying everything you can imagine; spices, cheeses, breads, potted meats, curries, granola, chocolate covered nuts, meats of all types, beer, pastries, meat pies...I could go on and on! I got there rather early so it was nice to see it without the huge crowds that descended a bit later in the morning and over lunch. I did head back here for lunch and it was a zoo but I still enjoyed the chaos as I had familiarized myself with the layout earlier. I had fabulous fish and chips, perched in a tiny eating space at the side of the takeaway window, watching people of all ethnicities visit the market.

After my morning stop in Borough Market I made my way over the Thames to the Monument tube station to join up with a "London Walks" tour. These are inexpensive (9 pounds) tours that last about one and a half to two hours and explore various parts of the city. I have done quite a few over the years, and really enjoy them. They give you a taste of the area you explore as well as offer advice on what else to explore on your own. This tour was entitled "Bankside" and explored the Southwark area. So we went back across London Bridge, briefly through the Borough Market (it was the guide who recommended the fish & chips place, saying it was really good fresh fish and she was right!), then past the Clink Prison (origin of the phrase "in the clink" for going to jail), onto the Rose and Globe theaters original sites and ending up at the reconstructed Globe on the waterfront.

After the tour, I visited the Rose Theater's tiny excavation site, listening to some snippets of Shakespeare, then after my fish and chips walked to the Museum of London. After a quick walk through I returned to Hampstead having walked over four and half miles!

I love traveling with my family and friends but there was something kind of freeing about wandering on my own, making up my itinerary as I went and not worrying whether or not someone else would enjoy it. I wouldn't want to do it constantly, but it was a nice change of pace.



Yesterday we took the train out to Hampton Court and walked through the palace and then did a "rooftop" tour that my friend had scheduled through her membership supporting the palace. What a wonderful experience! We walked all around the roof of the baroque part of the palace, led by two guides, Barry and Philip, a sort of Brit Odd Couple, who kept bickering and correcting each other during the tour. It was incredible to see the vistas of the gardens from on high. And there were hundreds (it seemed) of lovely Tudor chimneys, each unique. I felt a bit like I was in "Mary Poppins" up on the roof with the chimney sweeps. I was rather proud of myself as I usually have "height issues", but we weren't near the edge of the roof, and were walking on a cat walk in the center.

So tonight is a play and off early tomorrow on the EuroStar, under the Channel to Paris!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Vagabond #5...enroute to London

I'm taking a brief hiatus and traveling to London for a bit, being fortunate to have a close friend who lives there and an understanding husband. So Wednesday night I boarded a 787 British Airway flight and 'hopped the pond' so to speak.
I was lucky to get a window seat with no one between me and the girl sitting on the aisle. The flight left at 10pm, so as soon as I settled my belongings I set myself up to sleep. Stuffed the earplugs in, put my eyes shades on, downed the Melatonin and in this sensory deprived state started dozing before we even took off. The seat wasn't comfortable, with the arm rest occasioning jabbing me as I shifted position, but I slept somewhat fitfully for about 5 hours. Not too bad for a 7 hour flight. Then, as it was BA, I watched a BBC series that we can't get in the US, called 37 Days, about the run up to WWI. Only made it through 2 of 3 episodes, so I'll have to watch the last on the way home. 
As we were approaching England, the sun was rising and I noticed how much darker it appeared on my side of the plane versus the other. I attributed this to perhaps being on the west side vs the east. Then as we were coming into land, I saw the same thing, though it was now fully daylight. What the heck was going on? Why was my side in perpetual darkness? Finally I realized that the new plane didn't have a pull down shade but instead had windows that you could dim with a button, like those eyeglasses that go dark in bright sunshine. My window (and those around me) had been fully dimmed, while those on the other side had played with their buttons and lighten theirs. I only figured this out when I saw the window in front of mine  lighten up. I was relieved I wasn't going into some type of "Lost" scenario, where half of England lived in darkness, the other in light...I guess I was a bit slow on the uptake due to sleep deprivation.

After long lines in immigration, and traffic as we drove from Heathrow, we arrived in Hampstead, a village/neighborhood in London outside of city center, built up on a large hill. Who knew there were hills in London? Apparently this is where people came to avoid the grime and pestilence of the city hundreds of years ago. It's lovely: lots of old red brick buildings with unique porticos. After unpacking we walked to the High street (the main shopping street...each neighborhood and town has a "high" street). It's charming, with a bookseller, tantalizing bakeries, cute caf├ęs, vegetable markets, and just what I was looking for: a Carphone Warehouse. Within 10 minutes, I had a new SIM card for my iPhone for 15 pounds! We picked some food and headed back home. The rest of the day was spent in keeping myself awake through domestic activity....baked cookies, made dinner, got settled and stayed away from plush furniture so I wouldn't fall asleep too early. Finally at 9:30, I slipped into bed with my kindle and managed to read for about 15 minutes before dropping off to a dead sleep.

We are off today to explore the V&A museum. Adventures await!


Friday, September 5, 2014

Vagabond Saga...number 4


Number 4 you ask, what were 1, 2 & 3? I've been all over the place since August 16th, rarely at home for longer than a week. First I drove my eldest down to Chapel Hill...what was supposed to be a leisurely 7 or 8 hour journey with a lunch stop in Annapolis, turned into 11 hours detouring down the Eastern Shore and across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge near Norfolk  because the bridge at Annapolis was shut down due to an accident. Of course we did manage to find a great Latin restaurant in Easton MD...Billy and I will always find a good place to eat! We established him in his first apartment (in the US) and then I returned home, only to leave two days later to take my younger son back to college and into his first (and hopefully only) off campus house. After returning home for a week and half, there was a quick trip to the beach for a night and now I'm back at the shore again.

So this morning I walked the beach. Now that schools have started, the beach was deserted at 8:30 in the morning. As I walked I thought of my dad, who would stop and examine shell after shell. I have difficulty keeping myself focused on the walk and not picking up shells as I go. As I walked, with the rumble of the waves and the shrieks of the seagulls to keep me company, I observed the detritus of the ocean...shells of all types: clams, oyster, mussels, scallops, conch...some pristine, many worn away. There were various crab fragments: sand crabs, horseshoe and blue crab. And disturbingly there were shards of glass; not the picturesque sea-worn sea glass, but scattered chunks of freshly broken glass The beach had a smattering of jellyfish, pancake sized. Not enough to make walking difficult but enough that I had to stay focused on my steps. And then there was the foot prints...tennis shoe imprints in determined lines, a few barefoot tracks and the light imprints of the birds, going willy-nilly in chaotic patterns across the sand.  The focus on my steps and what I was observing was almost yoga-like in that it took me out of myself, concentrating only on what was in front of me.

On the first half of the trek I followed in the wake of another walker. We kept the same pace but every once and a while I would draw a little closer and I felt an almost awkward force field...how close do you get before you feel like a stalker? So I backed off.  I started getting warm so I walked through the tidepools to cool off, kicking up the water as I walked, feeling like Christopher Robin in the Hundred Acre Wood playing in puddles.

On the walk up the beach, it was clear. I could see at least a mile or two up to the pier. I turned around to return home and half way back I looked behind me and I felt as if I was in a Game of Thrones episode. A bank of fog was following me down the beach and eventually swallowed me up. I could barely see up the dunes as I made my way off the beach...

Monday, September 1, 2014

Farmers Market Bounty #4: Tomatoes and Spaghetti Squash

This is a glorious time of year in the farmer's market. The tomatoes are still luscious, the peaches sweet and finally free stone, apples are making their appearance and fall squash is sneaking in as well. It's the sweet spot of the growing season with so much produce at its peak.

I decided to experiment with tomatoes and spaghetti squash this week and the result was fantastic! I usually make spaghetti squash in the fall and winter as a substitute for pasta, sometimes putting a homemade sage walnut pesto with some sauteed pancetta on it, or if I'm really lazy, just adding a jar of Trader Joe's tomato sauce. But one of my favorite summer pasta sauces uses fresh tomatoes, soft goat cheese (like a Montrachet), fresh herbs and olive oil. I decided to try this on the squash and the result was sublime! Even better, when I made it for the two of us, there was so much left over, I was able to use it for breakfast with a fried egg on top and a dinner later in the week with sauteed spinach and corn.

So here's the recipe. Enjoy!

Spaghetti Squash with Tomato Goat Cheese Sauce


Ingredients:

  • 1 large (3#) spaghetti squash
  • 1 large farm fresh tomato or two medium, at peak of ripeness
  • 2-3 oz soft goat cheese
  • 1 cup lightly packed assortment of fresh herbs (oregano, basil, parsley, thyme, chives)
  • .5-1 T olive oil
  1. Rinse off the squash and poke holes in it all the way around, piercing the skin and into the flesh (I use a meat carving fork)
  2. Chop the tomatoes, mince the herbs and crumble the cheese, putting whole mixture into a large bowl and pour the olive oil on top and stir to combine. 
  3. Cook the pierced squash for 15 minutes or so in the microwave.
  4. Carefully (it's hot!) cut the ends off the end of the squash and cut it in half lengthwise. Holding each half with an oven mitt (as it retains its heat), gently remove the seeds with a spoon. Then using a fork, shred the squash by drawing the fork down the flesh of the squash, creating the spaghetti-like texture. 
  5. Add the warm/hot squash to the bowl of tomato-herb-cheese mixture and blend.
If you need a little meat, add some sauteed crumbled pancetta or proscuitto to the top. 
Note that I used green zebra tomatoes so that's the reason there is no red color in this dish!

Handful of herbs
Green tomatoes, goat cheese, herbs & olive oil blended

Voila! Squash is added to the mixture & dinner is served.