Whelks, Winkles, Macarons, and Falafel

Judging by what draws a lot of comments, food seems to be a very popular topic, so I am devoting this post to three interesting foods we have tried. The first was an appetizer we had at a local seafood restaurant called fruits de mer. It consists of various raw and cooked shellfish served on ice on a platter. The raw oysters were from Normandy and were simply devine. They had a wine vinegar concoction you could put on them, but they were delicious with or without it. Our platter was heavy on whelks and winkles (periwinkles), which are two types of sea snails. The waiter showed us how to use our skinny forks to spear them and gently twist them out of their shells. The whelks were larger and were pretty chewy. The winkles were very small, were often empty, but were much more tender. The rest of the plate included shrimp and langostino. It was an interesting experience, but the next time we will just get the oysters. I failed to take a picture of our plate, so this one is from the internet.

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In Rouen, we discovered the wonder of Macarons. The macaron is like a big Oreo cookie, where the cookie part is a colorful meringue based confection and the filling is a yummy cream or jam. So good! It is very hard to understand how the French stay slim.

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Falafel is not a French food, but is a popular middle eastern food. The Marais area (the Jewish area) of Paris has a famous falafel restaurant that is in all the guidebooks and was recommended to us by a number of people. The first time we went by was a beautiful Sunday and the line for takeout and sit down was too long.

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Yesterday, we went early on a rainy Tuesday and had no trouble getting in. The falafel was much lighter than some we have had and was delicious. We were very glad we went back on a week day.

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Last night we went down to the Eiffel Tower to see the lights come on. The lights twinkle for about five minutes on the hour. I was dreaming of a post called Winkles and Twinkles. Fortunately for you, the first twinkles were at 11 PM, and we decided not to stay that late; so you dodged a bullet.

20,597 Steps

Saturday we went by train to Chateau Versailles. We picked that date because the weather forecast was favorable and it was one of the days that the fountains were running. It must be very expensive to operate the fountains as they are only on for a few hours on the three days a week that they operate at all.

The Versailles visit consists of a tour of the chateau, the gardens, and several auxiliary buildings (In most locations, these auxiliary buildings would be mansions, but here they are summer homes to escape the crowds at the palace). To give you an idea of the size of the estate; at its peak,10,000 people lived there.

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We had both been to Versailles previously, but in my case the hall of mirrors had been under renovation. While I was excited to finally see the hall, the chateau was packed with people, so my pictures are mostly of other people taking pictures.

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The gardens are massive enough to absorb the crowds. The gardens include planted beds, statues, lakes, a large canal (big enough to accommodate numerous row boats) in the shape of a plus sign, forests, fountains in the open, and over a dozen groves (each the size of a large city block) with a fountain or something else hidden in the center. Clicking the link will take you to a one minute video of the fountains. They play classical music while the fountains are running.

The Grand Trianon was the recreational residence of Louis XIV. The picture only includes a wing of the building.

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The Petit Trianon was the domain of Marie-Antoinette.

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We put a pedometer app on our phone. If you can believe it, we took 20,597 steps that day and walked 9.75 miles. Does that look about right?

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Lunch with the Martins and Biking in the Park

As most of you know, we became interested in living like a local when a friend sent us a copy of an article in the Wall Street Journal by Lynne Martin on living home free. We both read the article independently and both reached the conclusion without consulting each other that this sounded like something we would like to do. Lynne went on to establish a web site on home free living and write a best selling travel book called Home Sweet Anywhere.. While we couldn’t bring ourselves to go homeless, we have downsized and adopted their philosophy of living like a local for extended periods in one place.

We have been friends with Lynne and Tim on Facebook and are happy to report that we are now real friends after meeting them for lunch today. It was fun to exchange experiences and to discuss future plans.

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After lunch, we decided to do what many Parisians do, spend the afternoon in the park. We went to a huge park on the west side of Paris that had numerous facilities including a lake, horse racing, horseback riding, rugby field, and numerous other facilities. We decided it was way too big to walk, so we rented bikes and rode around the park. We were concerned we would never find our way back since we were on numerous paths in the woods that went every which way. The concern was heightened by the fact that they had my drivers license for security. However, with the help of a park map, the occasional road sign, and some friendly Parisians, we found our way back without too much difficulty.

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It was another wonderful day in Paris.

Susan’s Happy Birthday

Yesterday was the BIG DAY! Susan’s birthday in the City of Lights. As mentioned previously, President Obama was indeed in town for the big event. Unfortunately, he made the choice to have dinner with Hollande and the Queen of England rather than with our birthday girl. He had some lame excuse about diplomatic protocol!
However, we soldiered on and had a wonderful dinner at a small restaurant we found on Tripadvisor. The restaurant had five tables on the lower level and six on the upper level. When I made the reservation, I let them know we were celebrating Susan’s birthday. They greeted us warmly, and wished Susan a Happy Birthday. We were seated next to a mother and her college age daughter from Switzerland who spoke excellent English. The tables are very close together in Paris to cram as many in as possible, so it is very easy to talk to the neighboring table. We probably enjoyed their company more than we would have enjoyed Obama’s company
We had a wonderful French dinner that was the best meal we had since leaving home. A French meal consists of an appetizer which they refer to as an entree, an entree which they call a plat, and a desert. You can have any two for one price or all three for a higher price. Every table in the restaurant was getting two different things for each course and switching plates when they were half finished. It worked great, and allowed us to try different things.
Everyone got a cup of delicious cold asparagus soup to start. I had foie gras and Susan had a sausage and onion dish for the appetizer. It was the first time I have eaten foie gras, and it was absolutely delicious. I know it is not a sound choice from an animal rights standpoint and I will not do it again, but I had to try it. For the main course Susan had lamb saddle, and I had cod. Both delicious and both accompanied by a wonderful assortment of fresh vegetables. For the all important desert, Susan had a molten lava cake and I had French toast with chocolate. While the cake was outstanding, the toast was a clear winner.
When the cake came out with a candle, a Japanese couple at a nearby table joined in the birthday celebration. They were from Kobe, Japan and were very excited to learn that I used to work for a company owned by Kobelco in Kobe, as the woman works for Kobelco. Again, it’s a small world and we both thoroughly enjoyed the evening.

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Street Entertainment

There is plenty of street entertainment available in Paris. The night we left Boogie Phil we ran into a three piece band in the Metro singing Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. If you have been paying attention to these posts, you know that is one of my favorite songs. They had attracted such a large crowd, that the entrance to the Metro was nearly blocked. I was so busy singing “hallelujah” with the crowd, I forgot to take a picture.

The next day we ran into this band on a street corner playing jazz music.

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A little further along we saw this band playing New Orleans jazz. They could easily have been playing in the Treme! But the best part was the two senior women who were dancing and having a good old time.

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The most surprising street entertainers were these two sopranos who were singing opera arias. They had drawn a large and appreciative crowd.

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Metro entertainment is common also. The entertainer will get on a car, play a few songs, pass the hat, and then get off the train to repeat the performance on the next train. You can see the sax player near the door.

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Last night we ran into this wind band playing music as part of a D-Day celebration in front of the city hall for the 15th arrondissement.

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It is certainly easy to find musical entertainment on the streets of Paris.

Playing Bridge in Paris

It was raining this morning, so we decided to try our hand at duplicate bridge at the local bridge club. On our very first day exploring our neighborhood, we discovered there was a bridge club only about three blocks from our apartment. On that earlier visit they told us we were welcome to play, and gave us a convention card to complete. The card was much shorter than the one we use in the States, but it focused on a lot of conventions we don’t use and don’t know.

We soon learned that the cards are not exactly like ours. The ace is a one, which was pretty straight forward. The king had a little bigger crown than the jack and was labeled “R”. The queen was a “D”, presumably for Dame and the jack was labeled “V”. Until we got the hang of the R,D,V, it was difficult counting our points as we had to study the pictures.

The bridge players were unfailingly polite welcoming you to the table with “Bon jour, Madame. Bon jour, Monsieur.”, to which we responded in kind. By the way, it is always insufficient to just say “Bon jour”. The proper title of respect should be added. At the end of the round when you moved to the next table, everyone said “Merci” to the opponent.

Our game got off to a rocky start when Susan knocked her bidding box onto the floor. This is always a disaster, as it is very time consuming to put the bidding cards back in order. The bidding and playing of the game was identical to the States. They played a lot of conventions we don’t play, so we didn’t understand a lot of their bidding, and I don’t think they understood ours. I don’t think the man running the game spoke any English, and most of the players didn’t speak significant English. We came in at 42% which is the lower quartile, but we had a good time and a good experience. We were pleased that we didn’t embarrass ourselves or mar the reputation of USA bridge!

The following is probably only of interest if you play duplicate bridge. We never heard a director call. There were two we could have made. One player made a lead out of turn, took it back, and their partner then led the same suit. Another time, a woman passed, I passed, and then she took back her bid. We figured we were there for the experience and had little hope of carrying the day with the language difference.

The scoring was done on a piece of paper slipped in a pocket under the board. The paper contained the way the hand should have been bid, what the final bid should be, and what the result should be. It also included a paragraph explanation – presumably how the hand should have been played or why it should have been bid as they recommended. Since all the final bids, results, and scores were on this paper, you got a feel as to how you were doing. There was a lot shushing if you made any noise.

Big Event in France this Week

You have probably heard the news that President Obama and many other dignitaries are coming to France this week to celebrate the 70th anniversary of D-Day. In reality, this is only a cover story to conceal the real reason for their trip. As you probably know, there are two kinds of people in the world: those like me who don’t like to be fussed over and prefer a quiet birthday with family, and those like Susan who don’t understand why their birthday isn’t a national holiday – especially when it is a significant birthday ending in a zero. So now it can be revealed that after extensive lobbying, President Obama was unable to declare June 5 as a national holiday; but did decide to come to France to wish her a Happy Birthday. And while I would never reveal a lady’s age, I can give you the hint that she was born the day before D-Day. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions as to the significance of this.

This of course has put me under tremendous pressure to find a suitable present. Every woman likes shoes and there are plenty of nice shoes to be found in Paris. The picture shows a sampling from one store.

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In case you can’t read the price, the lovely pair in the lower left corner could have been Susan’s for only 2895€ (that would be $3995 in real money!). Despite the bargain price, I didn’t think they were quite right for her. When I saw the window of the following shop, I thought they would surely have the perfect gift.

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When I went in the store, I was surprised to learn that it was a men’s store.

Alas, I am still wondering the streets looking for that perfect present. Just in case President Obama gets sidetracked with Putin, G7 summits, and D-day, your birthday wishes to Susan will make it seem like the national holiday it should be!

Rouen: Joan, Monet, and Half Timber Houses

As we mentioned previously, we made a day trip to Rouen on Saturday. Our train ride there and back was uneventful. Rouen is a bigger city than Fountainbleu and had clear electronic signs for the return trip.
Rouen is known for three things: the place where Joan of Arc was imprisoned and executed, the cathedral that Monet painted more than 20 times to capture all the light conditions, and the many half timber houses in town.

Joan was held prisoner in the tower shown in the following picture and was executed at the site where the guillotine was located in town.

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The cathedral is built in the gothic style and was the world’s tallest structure from 1876 – 1880.

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But the best part of Rouen was the numerous half-timber houses. As you can see from the first picture, these houses are not always straight and square.

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Even though nobody asked, we did enjoy Boogie Phil and the Wise Guys. Phil is from Belgium and plays boogie-woodie music on the piano. They played in the basement/cave of a small bar with a small dance floor on the left bank. We both enjoyed the music and the experience. Bruce particularly enjoyed the fact that Susan didn’t force him to show off his lack of boogie-woogie dance skills.

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Some Differences between Paris and Pawleys Island

Sure there are the obvious differences in size and language; and, yes, Paris has a few more museums. But we have noticed there are some more subtle differences that are worth discussing.

Merry-Go-Rounds
Paris really likes merry-go-rounds and has one in many of their parks (including our neighborhood park) and even in the square of our metro stop. However, my favorite is this one in a rather large park which is powered by two adult men pushing it around. The children all have sticks and are trying to snare one of two brass rings.

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Beggars
Pawleys Island: Never have seen one.
Paris: Quite a few, though not as prevalent as some large cities. Many of the women beggars have children with them, which is not too unusual. However, many of the men have pets with them to improve the emotional appeal. The most popular pets are dogs, with rabbits in second place and cats a distant third. The most poignant scene is a man sleeping on the street under a blanket next to a large dog. We see the same man every day on the way to the Metro and he always smiles and says Bon Jour to us. We finally contributed to our new friend’s cause today.

Garbage Collection
Garbage is collected seven days a week in our neighborhood of Paris. When we commented about this to a man in the three person elevator in our building, he was shocked that it was only collected once a week at home. I think the difference is that these old buildings don’t have sufficient room to store more than a day’s worth of garbage.

Moving
We mentioned the beams and hooks in Amsterdam for moving furniture to the upper floors. Paris doesn’t have this, but they have extension ladders with motorized platforms to accomplish the same thing as shown in the following picture.

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Smoking
Smoking is a lot more common here than in Pawleys Island. Since smoking is prohibited inside cafés here, the smokers all sit outside in the cold and rain. This makes it difficult for a nonsmoker to sit outside without being surrounded by smokers. Furthermore, since meals are leisurely two hour affairs, many smokers stand in the doorway smoking between courses.

Cleaning Monuments
Since Pawleys Island has no monuments that I know of, it is difficult to say how they would clean them. However, I seriously doubt that it would be as carefully as these men are cleaning this war memorial in front of the city hall for the 15th arrondissement. They are using small brushes like I would use at home, and the monument looked really clean before they started!

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We are going to see Boogie Phil & The Wise Guys tonight (our cultural tastes are indeed broad) and to take a day trip to Rouen tomorrow. The weather has been decent the last two days and is looking pretty good for the next few days.

Eating in Paris

It is hard to believe we have been in Paris for 12 days and I have yet to write anything about food; and as most of you know, I really like to eat. Perhaps this is because our first dinner in Paris was sushi and yakitori at a local Japanese restaurant. We followed this up with pizza our second night. Not much of a start in gourmet French food! We improved after that and are trying hard to find good, affordable French restaurants. Last night we had mussels at a chain restaurant that had been recommended to us. They were excellent and I have learned to eat them the European way of using an empty hinged shell as pinchers to grab the mussels. I had a waffle with chocolate syrup for desert. I neglected to talk about the waffles in Belgium. The ones I liked were not crisp like our breakfast waffles, but are sweeter and have more body. I had mine with whipped cream and strawberries. I counted it as one of my fruit group dishes and it was delicious!

Of course living in an apartment, we eat a lot of our meals at home. Shopping for the meal is a multistep process. We go to the supermarket for canned goods and staples. We then go to our local street market for fruits, vegetables, and sometimes meat or fish. The market is three times a week and is just two blocks from our apartment. In addition to food, they sell clothes, housewares, and even furniture.

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Next we stop at Picards for the main course (if we don’t get meat at the market). Picards sells frozen foods almost exclusively. Many are gourmet main and side dishes. They are affordable and good. Several people recommended we try them. The picture shows the store is essentially all chest freezers.

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Finally, we go to the local Patisserie for the all important bread and desert. So many choices, so little time! Yes, eating in Paris is good.

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The Travel Blog of Susan and Bruce