Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Salon du Chocolat

This morning I walked over to our neighborhood bakery to buy a croissant and found they were offering a bread they called Le Rabelais.  It's a brioche style bread with walnuts, and it's delicious.

I've been looking forward to this day for several weeks.  The Salon du Chocolat is a huge trade show featuring chocolate vendors and vendors offering a variety of other sweets.  We arrived there at about noon and spent several hours looking at the displays and sampling the wares.  There was a huge cake decorated with candies.

There was a chocolate guitar, which I believe was a tribute to the singer Johnny Holliday.

There was a pyramid of cream puffs.

There was chocolate shaped to look like sausage.

There was chocolate clothing.

There was even a chocolate boy urinating a stream of chocolate.

It was actually a bit overwhelming.

We tasted so many samples at the show that we skipped lunch and kept dinner simple by just going up to the pizza place on our corner.  I had a Margherita pizza and Bill had an antipasto plate.  We were both happy with our meals.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Corsican Lunch and Portuguese Dessert

We left the apartment a little earlier than usual today and were able to visit the Holocaust Memorial before heading for lunch.  While walking through the Marais we came across an organ grinder - the second one I've seen in my lifetime.  Both of them were in Paris.

 We had planned to go to a Corsican restaurant when we were in Avignon, but  forgot to do it.  So today we went to a Corsican restaurant in Paris instead.  I had beef in a chestnut sauce served with polenta and Bill had roast goat with roasted potatoes.  Positive reviews from both of us.

We went up to Montmartre for a little shopping and when we returned home we decided to stop at a Métro stop about a mile from our apartment and walk home from there.  The Colonel Fabien stop happens to be near the Communist Party headquarters, and next door to that is a sign saying that foreigners who wanted to volunteer to fight against Franco in the Spanish Civil War had signed up for it at that location.

Earlier, while we were in the Marais, we saw a tiny store called Comme à Lisbonne.  They were selling  a few Portuguese food products, but what was flying out the door were small custard tarts called pastéis (also called pastel) de nata.  The sales lady said it was the national dessert of Portugal and had been developed by monks in a monastery in Lisbon as a method of using up extra egg yolks.  One of our pasteis got a little crushed while we were carrying it around.  In fact, it looks like the cow stepped on it.  But they tasted very fresh and good - better than they look.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Le Musée des Arts et Métiers

Le Musée des Arts et Métiers is an industrial design museum.  My friend Rachel thought I might enjoy it and she was right.  The Métro stop (on Line 11 only)  is in a steampunk  style designed to make you feel like you're inside a machine.

The museum displays scientific instruments, shows how industrialization changed work processes, and demonstrates construction techniques.  I was particularly interested in the display of spinning wheels and looms.

We managed to get out of the house early enough to see the museum before lunch.  Lunch was at a restaurant in the very pretty Place du Marché-Sainte-Catherine in the Marais.  However, because it was quite cool we ate inside.  I ordered a salad that came with smoked salmon, shrimp, and crab.  Bill was very brave.   He wasn't really sure what the two things he ordered were.  His appetizer was oeuf cocotte au bleu.  It turned out to be an egg poached in a bleu cheese sauce.  He and I both liked it very much.  Sorry the picture's a little blurry.  It was quite dark in this restaurant.

His main course was piece de boucher.  From what I can figure out from the Internet, it's supposedly the cut of meat the butcher puts aside for himself.  It can vary from day to day.  It came with fries and was quite tasty.

After lunch we did a little shopping and walked over to the Luxembourg Gardens.

Monday, October 28, 2013

A Walk Along Canal St. Martin

Today we went to Montmartre for lunch.  In the restaurant guidebook provided by our landlord there was a recommendation for Wepler, a brasserie that has been in Place de Clichy for many years.  I had seared scallops with tagliatelle and Bill had choucroute - sauerkraut loaded up with an obscene variety and amount of pork.  You can catch a peek at some of the sausage on his plate in the photo.We were very happy with our meals.

We didn't really have a plan for today, so decided to walk back home from the restaurant.  The area between Place de Clichy and Canal St. Martin isn't the most savory neighborhood in Paris.  However, once we got to Canal St. Martin we enjoyed the views and had a very nice walk back to our apartment.

I took a photo of the direction signs for bicyclists to illustrate how bicycle friendly a city can be.  There are several reasons I didn't ride while I've been here, but if I had chosen to ride, it would have been easy to rent one of the public-use bikes available in every neighborhood.  Many streets have bike lanes, and the drivers seem to be accustomed to sharing the road.  In fact, I think there may be a bike lane in this photo.

In addition, there are charging stations for electric cars readily available.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Return to Paris

Today is a low blog content day because we spent our time packing to return to Paris and traveling back to Paris.  But first, since we enjoyed yesterday's meal at L'Epicerie so much, we returned there for lunch today.  Bill had an appetizer of thinly sliced eggplant filled with goat cheese and rolled up.  It was served with a tomato sauce and some salad.

We both got the filet which came with french fries (our first fries since we've been here) and ratatouille. It was delicious!

For dessert I got panna cotta and Bill got the café gourmand.  It's a tiny cup of expresso with three small servings of dessert - in this case panna cotta, the chocolate cake we had yesterday, and ice cream.

After lunch we checked out of our apartment and went to the train station.  At the train station there was an area where people could recharge their laptop batteries by pedaling a bicycle.  Great idea!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Villeneuve Lez Avignon

Today is our last full day in Provence, so we tried to keep things simple.  Bill suggested we try out a restaurant in Place St. Pierre.  It was a little difficult to find, but I'm glad we made the effort.  It was in a very pretty location, a tiny cobblestoned plaza in front of the church.  Bill had an appetizer of grilled sardines which came with salad.

His main course was lamb tagine, while I had duck breast in a fruit sauce.  I also got potatoes au gratin and ratatouille with my dish.

We shared a chocolate moelleux (liquid center chocolate cake) which came with a salted caramel sauce.  During the meal we could hear the organ playing in the church, and near the end of the meal people began gathering for a wedding.

Here's a photo of the altar boys and priest getting ready to proceed into the church.  We waited around to see the bride and then got on with the rest of our day.

We took a bus to Villeneuve lez Avignon which is just across the river from Avignon.  I climbed the Philippe le Bel Tower and we took a look at an old church, a monastery, and a fort. We also saw a spot above the town where the hermit Pierre Crouzet-Lacombe had lived and dug his own grave. Unfortunately his wishes were not honored and he was buried in the town cemetery.  I can't remember when this happened and can't find the information on the Internet.  Needless to say, it was a long time ago.

I'd had low expectations of this town, but found it much more interesting and charming than expected.  It's much quieter and calmer than Avignon.  It's hilly though, and a demanding place to walk in.  Here's a photo of a fountain I found while we were climbing the street up to the fort.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Aix en Provence, Part 2

We returned to Aix en Provence today because we had neglected Cezanne when we were there a couple of days ago.  Since we arrived just after 1:00 p.m., we had to get lunch before the restaurants stopped serving it.  We were very pleased with our lunch.  Bill got the 15€ three-course formule.  His appetizer was delicious - a timbale of mussels and spinach.  It came with a saffron sauce.

Neither of us was familiar with the name of the type of fish he chose.  It came in a dill sauce with risotto and he was quite happy with it.  I ordered only a main dish and it was delicious - risotto with scallops.

Bill chose crème brûlée for dessert and generously shared it with me.

Now here's the disappointing part.  I had misread a map and thought that Cezanne's studio was within walking distance of the town center.  However, it's north of the town and requires a shuttle bus ride and possibly reservations.  If we were going to get back to Avignon at a reasonable hour we really didn't have time to visit the studio since the bus ride to Avignon takes an hour and a half.  So instead, we did part of the Cezanne walking tour, including a visit to the art museum which has several of his paintings. We saw the house where he was born (unimpressive) and the cafe where he hung out with friends.

Here's what they call the mossy fountain in Aix.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

L'Isle Sur La Sorgue

L'Isle Sur La Sorgue is a small town about 22 kilometers from Avignon on the Sorgue River.  The bus ride takes about a half an hour and is well worth the 2€ cost.  It's a very charming small town with 14 non-functioning but picturesque water wheels.  We did the walking tour suggested by the tourist office which passes a number of the water wheels.  These wheels were once used to power silk, paper, oil, grain and leather mills.  Now L'Ile Sur La Sorgue is primarily known for its antique markets.  There are lots of pedestrian streets lined with interesting shops.

After working up an appetite we stopped at a restaurant on one of the canals for a very nice meal from the formule menu.  Bill's appetizer was goat cheese in a phyllo pastry, while I had the butternut squash soup.

For our main dishes, I had a stew and Bill had salmon with potatoes and vegetables.

After lunch we had just enough time to take a look at the church which has both a clock and a moon dial on its front.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


Today we finally had a good bus experience.  Aix-en-Provence is about an hour and a half ride from Avignon.  Cezanne is from Aix and the city doesn't let you forget that.  We arrived there at lunchtime and found a restaurant that served regional food family style.  I had roast lamb and Bill had roast pork.  Both meats were served together in a ceramic dish with lots of delicious roasted vegetables beneath them.  I'm not particularly satisfied with the picture of the meal because it looks like all we ate was huge hunks of meat.

We did most of a walking tour suggested by our Fodor's guidebook.  It's a very picturesque town with lots of narrow winding cobblestone streets.  We saw this fountain with four dolphins.  It's located about a block away from the Eglise St-Jean-du-Malte, one of the earliest Gothic structures in France.

We also saw the Ancienne Halle aux Graines which has an allegorical frieze of the rivers Rhône and Durance.

Unfortunately we ran out of steam before visiting the Cezanne studio.  We're considering returning to Aix within the next few days and focusing primarily on that.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Sur le Pont d'Avignon (On the Avignon Bridge)

Today was rather frustrating.  We had planned to go to L'Isle Sur La Sorgue, a small town a few miles away from Avignon that is known for its antique shops.  However, we couldn't find the bus station.  It turns out that the bus station has temporarily re-located due to construction.  By the time we found it, we had missed our bus.  We decided to just stay in Avignon today and finish seeing what we had not yet seen.

First we went to a store that specializes in Provençal fabrics and bought some place mats and napkins.  Then we stopped for lunch.  I'm not posting a photo because it was pretty ordinary - roast pork for Bill and pizza for me.  We walked out on the Avignon Bridge and I did the obligatory dance.  

It doesn't sound like it, but we'd done lots of walking today.  I think there's a certain amount of cobblestone crabbiness in effect, too.  We were happy to return home at around 5:00 p.m.  Sorry for such a short post.

Monday, October 21, 2013

A Day Trip to Arles

This morning we took the train to Arles, a 15-minute ride away.  As usual, the first thing we had to do was find a spot for lunch.  We found a small restaurant across the street from the Roman arena.  I ordered the prawns Provençale and when my food arrived I was a bit taken aback by the huge prawns with their heads still on.  I tried to avoid their eyes while eating them.  Bill got duck breast which was much less daunting to eat.

Here's a photo of the Roman arena.  There's also a Roman theater built in the first century B.C. as well as other buildings erected by the Romans.

We toured the cloister of St. Trophime with its Romanesque and Gothic galleries from the 12th and 14th centuries.

The other thing Arles is famous for is that Van Gogh lived and worked there for a short time.  The Espace Van Gogh is the former hospital where Van Gogh stayed after that unfortunate ear incident.  I had seen beautiful photographs of its gardens in our guide book, but today they had torn out almost all of the plants for the season.  There were inexpensive souvenir shops galore. Nevertheless, it's not difficult to find beauty in this old town.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Exploring Avignon

Avignon is impressively old.  When I was out exploring this morning I found this remnant of Roman ruins from the first century.

While the papacy was located in Avignon there was lots of construction.  As in Paris and other smaller towns in France it's amazing how many churches there can be.

Here's what the town looks like from the garden above the pope's palace.

And here's what the famous bridge looks like.  Since the 17th century only half of the bridge remains.

We had a very nice lunch in the large plaza near the pope's palace.  I had an appetizer of sauteed eggplant with tomato sauce while Bill's appetizer was salade Nicoise.  He had steak and I had cod served with aioli (a garlicy mayonnaisse) and steamed vegetables.   I had marriage de mousse for dessert - a combination of chocolate and caramel mousse.  Bill's dessert was similar, but featured pineapple.

In French restaurants you always know where the meat came from.  I'm not exactly sure what to do with this information.