May 6, 2015 § Leave a comment
Our taxi delivers us to our temporary home away from home!
We’re a bit weary after the drive to Heathrow but quickly rejuvenated when we enter the double doors on rue de Seine. Our apartment is on the second floor and Tom is relieved to see there is a small elevator. He stacks the suitcases next to me and up we go. I began looking for the perfect apartment a few months earlier, searching multiple web sites looking for just the right one on just the right street with just the right buildings….there are thousands to choose from! I asked friends who know the city about first one and then another. At the point I was totally flummoxed I tried airbnb and bingo! Up popped one that seemed to have most of the things we wanted. A bit over budget. But Tom and I agreed this one was the right choice.
We walk in the door and what we looked at over and over on the web site unfolds, room by room. At first I’m not sure, then as I walk back through each room it all seems exactly right. As I write I’m sitting at a table looking out the window – those lovely tall windows with the old uneven panes of glass.
My view across the street is of similar ones. On our street – out the door to the right – art galleries, shops and cafės, plus necessities like a pharmacy, grocery store, dry cleaner and an outdoor market. To the left the River Seine is two blocks away.
This is sounding too much like a brochure! I find if I can write when the inspiration comes then my voice comes through. If not, then I lose the feel of it and it turns into an account. Perhaps that will change over the coming days. I’m hoping so. For you and for me. So often as I go about my day, anywhere I happen to be, my observations make the writer inside me want to capture them in words. I used to do it regularly, but the days don’t seem to play out like they used to. They are more vulnerable to daily life, fragmented and rushed which does not always allow for stopping to write down one’s thoughts.
I really am very excited which I don’t think is coming through. We both are. We set down our suitcases, I’m not the least interested in unpacking. The housekeeper is there to meet us and explain this and that. Then it’s off to the market to get a few basic things for the kitchen. After we put things away, I check our travel list for a destination.
We walk to L’Institut du Mond Arabe. Fascinating, though many explanations not in English. I learned the history behind the tables inlaid with ivory. It reinforces the table so it can support large silver trays servants used to carry food and drink. (caveat….that’s what one of the staff explained to me). Remarkable how many countries make up that world. Walking through the exhibit and seeing the names of countries and cities we have all read about almost daily in the news gave me pause. Deciphering what I can from the explanations covering thousands of years as we move through the exhibits about the cultures and beliefs of the various countries and the people in them, it all clearly correlates to what we read in newspapers and hear on the radio. Looking at the beautiful fabrics and clothing and jewelry and knowing about the recent and tragic loss of art and antiquities due to war I feel very sad. The thought that comes to mind “if only we could peacefully coexist” . A long walk back and sort out where to have dinner. By chance we found Fish La Boissionnerie a few doors away from the apartment…a wonderful meal and we’ll be going back.
Along with the exhausting search for an apartment, I created my “Paris in Detail “list of restaurants, shops, museums, day trips. Listed by arrondisements. Most handy and worth the time I spent on it. We add and delete as we go along and find new places or delete as we did the Moroccan restaurant we went to. Obsessive? Perhaps….but we do allow for the spontaneous.
The next morning we ate at La Palette – a cafe comptoir depuis 1902, also a few doors away!
A friendly neighborhood open 24/7 with all the charm you could ask for. The day still before us, we decided to go to the Luxembourg Museum and see The Tudors exhibit…bulletins are plastered everywhere and as we had been watching Wolf Hall on BBC at home, we decided to check it out. A little shopping along the way! The exhibit was very good, however if we had not been watching the series we would not have been able to piece the history and people together. Tom had picked up sandwiches while I was trying on clothes. We took our lunch and my purchases into the park and ate while watching people all around us playing chess at special tables for anyone who wants to have a game. Some tables are set up permanently, one elderly man came with his own board – it was cut so that it would rest precisely on the slats of the back of the garden chairs. You simply set two chairs with the backs facing each other…voilà! It becomes a table.
This young woman played the gray-haired gentleman first…..she beat him soundly! Each game is timed so they don’t go on for hours on end. There is some sort of instrument at each table that you hit after each board move (as you would a dinner bell). I think you have to complete a game in a certain period of time.
So far I know two things: Take an umbrella. Factor in window shopping. The shop and gallery windows are dressed in the most amazing and creative ways you can’t just walk by without taking it in. A visual feast!
So now it’s day 4…technically day three according to my calculation since we arrived late afternoon. Find the wine shop. Take clothes to the dry cleaners, make a hair appointment. Pick up things for lunch and dinner to eat at home. White asparagus is in season – Tom is salivating! For our dinner he serves it with fresh hollandaise sauce along with two mini quiche. The fat white stalks of asparagus are sweet and tender and we’re feeling quite pleased with ourselves.
Not to forget the cheese course! Tom’s new mantra is “so many cheeses, so little time.”
A cheese shop every few feet it seems and we’re sampling them all. For the afternoon we decide to go to the Tuileries Gardens along with lots of other people! Many school groups and two buses of Asian tourists in traffic orange jackets taking group photos. A lovely day for walking. We snagged chairs by the fountain and sat in the sun for a while.
To prepare for our trip we read the book “French or Foe”. Much of it good insight, but our experience so far is not what the book prepared us for or cautioned us about…. Parisians are friendly and helpful. They do smile. The morning I went to the hair salon I got into a conversation with a woman walking just in front of me. She noticed me looking up at a building and stopped to say that in Paris you should always look up because the buildings are so beautiful. Then we talked about gardens and terraces. She was so charming and I loved the encounter. The dry cleaner does not take a long time to get your clothes back…. three days. The book made it sound like it would be a week or more.
And so far no one has pulled out a day old baguette to sell us, keeping back the freshest for their regular customers. We’ve been showing up every day for a week and the lady behind the counter at Carton only now looks up and seems to be thinking “a familiar face?”….although I could be terribly off on that. One day when Tom went in to buy a baguette for dinner, I stood outside. She saw me through the window, I waved and smiled and I think she gave me a nod!
So I’m in serious need of a hair salon….I forgot my hair tools and have been walking around with big frizzy hair, not in keeping with the put together look of the French woman! Alas, the owner of our apartment suggested where to go….had to add this photo because it’s not what most of us are used to seeing, right? I was put in the hands of a young woman named Maud who took very good care of me.
Feeling like a new woman, off we go to the Musée d’Orsay to see the special Bonnard exhibit.
We would have reached the museum much sooner than we did but it is impossible to just walk down a street, especially rue Jacob, and not look into each shop or gallery window….the beauty and creativity is astounding.
After the Bonnard exhibit and wandering through the other galleries, we lunch at the museum cafe and walk home. We do stop to get Tom some vitamins as he feels a bit lagging, picked up cheese at AndUot Fromagerie and a baguette. We’re already very picky about where we buy our baguette…. Carton is our favorite so far.
A glimpse at Bonnard…
Dinner that night was a bust. A Morrocan restaurant recommended to us that turned out to be really disappointing, plus we were the only ones there until two couples came around 9:30. We had taken a nap after our museum outing and overslept so took a cab as it was a very long walk and we would be late…. Once again, c’est la vie. We walked home and got a good nights sleep.
So now its May 7th…in England and in Paris the weather has been great. A few clouds and showers, but overall great travel weather. We eat breakfast at home before walking rue Furstenburg, rue Dauphine and rue Jacob (again!) on our way to Canal St. Martin. I read two or three articles about the area in the 10th arrondisement so I put it on the list to check out. “Lively, artsy, artisanal, etc. plus the canals and cafes.
8 1/2 miles later (the app on the iPhone does not lie), our feet screaming at us, we walked into our apartment. Canals, yes. The other? A glimpse, but not much. We did watch a boat go through one of the locks, and walked up ( I felt like it was like climbing a ladder it was so straight up) a bridge to cross the canal, which, by the way was built by Napoleon to supply fresh drinking water to people who lived in that area.
Just before we reached our front door, I looked up and for the first time ever in my life I saw a young girl who looked like she just stepped off the fashion runway or the pages of a high fashion magazine…you know, those uber thin models with the “blank expression I have no feeling I am disconnected from the world” look on their face as they saunter down the runway or get themselves into contortions to pose for a fashion shoot…… Well there she was. Extremely odd hair (and lots of it) an ill-fitting dress of what appeared to be cheap cotton in the style of a 1950s house dress, a rather large white “coat” over that and clunky platform shoes that I can’t remember much about as by that time she was long gone. I ‘m sure she left the grand dames of St. Germain de Pres shuddering in their Chanel suits! I must add that she was quite young, had beautiful delicate features and her face would be a delight to anyone, especially a fashion photographer. But at this moment her whole persona conjured up what I wrote above.
A new day.
We wake up to another beautiful mild sunny day and decide to visit the Picasso museum. The house that he lived and worked in is being restored so the museum created an experience for those of us who still want to come – it takes you through his early work, prototypes of sculptures and works he collected by other artists. And, of course, the lovely gardens where we sat a while.
By the time we went to bed we walked 5 1/2 miles…….. One must stay ahead of the wine, bread and cheese!
Tom keeps reminding me that blogs are posts, as in short. I have one more day to share which means we will have used up our first week. It’s Sunday. It’s a holiday weekend and it’s quiet. But no dust is going to settle on us!
At 9:00 am we set off to the blvd Raspail and the street market to find a roast chicken Tom read about. Marinated in seasonings for days. Tender and perfect. We only knew to look for “the chicken lady”. Easier said than done. Only hundreds of stalls to maneuver through, the first ones with scarfs and socks and kitchen utensils and Russian dolls, etc. then the fish (phew!) and then the produce, but no chicken lady…… Our shopping bags are full of everything but chicken. The logical thing to do was – EAT – I don’t know about you, but I’ve never had white wine and oysters on the half shell for breakfast, but there we were…around 10:30 am doing just that! And it was fabulous! We tried two kinds of oysters, Belôn and another called “Royal” that had the most amazing flavor.
We decided to ask Monsieur Oyster Guy, who spoke English, if he knew about the chicken lady. He didn’t. He would ask. He pointed to a woman across the way and we weren’t so sure, but we bought her roast chicken. Now you might think this little adventure has a happy ending, but it’s only marginally happy. The chicken was dry and tasteless, so no marinating happening in her farm kitchen! We did discover young asparagus…. Now keep in mind this is France. Someone discovered if you pick asparagus at the point that it first sprouts, or whatever it does when it begins to grow, when the top 1/4 inch has some little recognizable asparagus like bumpy bits on it, and the stalk is thin, like a clover stem, only longer, well you gather them up and bring them to market!
Dry chicken and young asparagus (they measure out to be about three tablespoons for each of us after cooking), and a few pieces of cheese. Oh, some langoustines as an appetizer. Tom couldn’t resist them. Tom was crestfallen about the chicken lady search but distracted himself with the langoustines. Throw in some pâté and some wine, cheese and bread and we had a meal. We walked 2 1/2 miles to the market just for the chicken lady. At the end of the day we just reminded ourselves of our great breakfast and took another little walk up the block to a small park to read a while.
Here endeth our first week in Paris. More ramblings to come if you aren’t glazed over yet!
May 6, 2015 § Leave a comment
Though this trip is for an extended stay in Paris, our journey really begins in England because of how our Virgin Atlantic flight and the dates we booked our apartment. We had four extra nights which we divided between friends near Oxford and at The Rectory Hotel in Wiltshire.
Before we left home we checked and re-checked the weather forecast for our destinations only to see rain, rain, and occasional rain. To our pleasant surprise our days in England turned out to be sunny and mild which I took as an omen of good things to come. The omen did not extend, however, to driving on the left side of the road in a car with a manual transmission!
We arrived at Heathrow and went to pick up our rental car but it had space for only one suitcase (in the back seat, not the trunk…) we had three suitcases. We were offered a larger car with an automatic transmission (as if it was a gift to us even though it was going to cost $60.00 more a day). We eventually drove out of the lot without having to spend more money, and me behind the wheel. Over the next four days the combination of roundabouts, left hand drive, narrow roads, sent us over the edge….a test to the best of relationships! At one point after three attempts at actually getting around a roundabout Tom was stamping both feet and wailing “NO! NO! NO!”. I thought he was going to cry. Fortunately the drivers we shared the road with were all very courteous …. perhaps they were keeping their distance if they actually could see what was playing out inside our little car!
We made it to Baldon House, the home of our friends, Suzy and David.
Suzy was there to greet us along with a peacock standing at their back door peeking through the glass pane into the house!
Turns out the peacock just appeared one day.
There had been some at the Nature Conservancy next to our friend’s property, but one day a decision was made not to have them anymore. After that one or two popped up at the surrounding farms! He walked right up to me, just short of touching me with his beak and just stared, then sauntered off with his glorious tail feathers dragging after him.
Their home is a grade II category for an historic property. We had seen a picture but actually standing in front of it was the “worth a thousand words” moment….
After a bowl of soup, a cup,of hot tea, and a nap, we were refreshed and David took us on a wonderful tour of Oxford where he graduated from Queen’s College and ultimately founded Oxford Analytica. We went to see his offices in the center of Oxford. On the corner is The Bear Pub established in 1300!
We saw Oxford through his eyes, got into places we could not have gone on our own and learned much about the history.
He showed us Christ Church, the dining hall featured in the Harry Potter films, and Queen’s College where he was a student when he attended Oxford….
Also Queens College library and chapel where we just missed Evensong.
Later we all went to dinner at the Seven Stars Pub up the street from Baldon House. The next day began with fresh farm eggs and toast grilled on the Aga. What an invention! It is hugely complicated and operates nothing like what you and I know a stove to be. It is always on. It keeps the kitchen warm. There are several doors on the front of it, which I have always wondered about. You don’t set an oven temperature, you merely move your food from one oven to the next because each one is a different temperature….you have to be in the kitchen, on alert, whenever you’re cooking, you can’t leave the kitchen! Suzy tells us that it turns out incredibly delicious stews cooked slowly for hours. Part of their house dates back to the 1600s. Originally the kitchen was very different. The Aga was in one room. Another room, the scullery, was where the washing up was done, and there was a huge walk-in safe with a thick door that only the head housekeeper had the key to. All the silver, crystal, china were kept there and inventoried every day. The butler held the keys to the wine room. Nothing must go missing!
We visited Blenheim Palace, the home of Winston Churchill.
Amazing to be standing in a place with such history and be reminded of the relationship between our two countries. The history is too much to go into so I leave it to you to explore. “Downstairs” at Blenheim there are a huge number of bells the staff had to respond to. There were front stairs and back stairs. Servants had to get food to the dining room in minutes while still warm…..it looks impossible given the flights of narrow stairs they had to climb with heavy silver serving trays. On each floor, at the top of the stairs, there was a large wooden box that held the wood, kindling and paper used to set the fireplaces in each room so one didn’t have to go all the way downstairs to set or feed a fire. Blenheim Palace is enormous – the staff and groundskeepers do a fine job keeping the place in tip top shape. We had lunch in the cafe topped off by the best scone we’ve ever tasted. There are acres of gardens but the day was cool and damp so we kept to the palace and walked a bit
Our second night Tom and I had dinner on our own at The Mole Inn and on our last day we borrowed Wellies and got a tour of the farm….pigs, chicken, and sheep – a sheep shearing party was to take place on the weekend.
We could not get over the fence to get inside. There are lots of “pigeon holes” where each bird would nest/sleep….. Hence the term! It is where pigeons and doves were kept. The servants ate the pigeons, the gentry ate the doves! David had urged us to visit the bluebells in their woods by a small lake. We had to find the entrance and climb over a fence but we made it, as you can see.
We drove a very old and narrow one lane road (narrow meaning the width of our car!) lined with old stone walls and houses with roof tops covered with lichen. We had a delicious lunch at The Lamb in Burford. In Lechlade we were to visit a church to see the stained glass windows but it was closed, so we walked the cemetery with markers so old the words not legible. Dinner at The Potting Shed across the street from our hotel. The next day a visit to the Abbey gardens in Malmesbury. The tulips were blooming in profusion and in every color you can conjure up.
Off to Tetbury for lunch. We chose the cafe at The Ormond Hotel and it was spot on. Lovely and very good food. Unfortunately special arrangements must be made to see Highgrove, home of Prince Charles and Camilla, so we missed it.
Bucolic countryside with cream sauce is how I describe it! Surprisingly cream sauces regularly show up on menus. No calories viewing the countryside but calories galore at mealtime!
Time to bid farewell to England and fly to Paris. Off we go, the GPS voice (English female) was unruffled, but as we took each turn and appeared to be headed for a fox hunt instead of the M4 Tom came undone…..but she was right and we were on schedule and almost reached the rental car return when all of a sudden the directions we had did not match the location we were in…..we were certainly not at the airport. We asked “her” to go to Hertz car Rental but Miss All England led us to a very dicey area and announced we had arrived at our destination….Tom sorted it out but not for a good while. I was so thankful to finally get out of that car and head to the airline terminal.
We hadn’t originally planned a one-off to England but that’s how things worked out. A short and pleasant adventure.