25
Sep 16

Paris 2016: Food and drink

Neck and neck with my obsession with museums when I travel is that with food. Maybe especially food at museums.

Museum cafes

It all started with my best high school buddy. We had traveled together in China, but it was in Amsterdam that we started hitting the museum cafe before the actual museum. I remember waiting in line for the Rijksmuseum to open, dying for coffee, and making a beeline for the cafeteria. Soon it became a tradition.

Nowadays the museum cafe isn’t always first, but I usually end up there at some point.

During our first visit to Palais de Tokyo, we just had some drinks. I was craving an apple juice, and struggled with asking for one. Luckily the girl behind the counter spoke a little English and was able to explain that the drink was almond and apple, as well as carbonated.

“Carbonated,” she should have said. It was extremely subtle. The almond was less so but it was delicious all the same.

We returned to Palais de Tokyo because we were in the area and to partake of their photo booth. This time we had lunch. I was looking forward to a jambon beurre (not that I hadn’t had a few already). But they didn’t have any so I settled for tuna.

Which was really good. That and British salt and vinegar chips, and a fantastic vanilla panna cotta made for a quick yet yummy meal.

Next, the Musee D’Orsay. Last time when we went, I didn’t enjoy my sandwich. The bread sucked, surprisingly. This time we had already eaten so I just got a chocolate-caramel brownie. Holy cow. It was almost like flourless chocolate cake. Delicious.

The only museums I didn’t eat at were the Cartier Foundation (I wasn’t hungry for a change) and the  Musée Jacquemart-André. The restaurant was more upscale than I wanted. So instead we went to…

Random places

this place. We had passed it on the way to the museum, and we figured since we might not be getting a lot of fresh vegetables during our stay, it would be a good choice.

And it was! It was a bit like Chop’t only without the chopping. I got an Asian type salad with tuna, which was tasty and filling. My only disappointment was my “dessert.” I got a fromage blanc, which was definitely not dessert-like, at least not to me.

Another sort of random place we ate at was a cafe not far from the Catacombs. A couple of my friend’s friends happened to be in town, and after a visit to the boney undergrounds, we stopped for an impromptu, al fresco lunch.

I had a little arugula salad and the “hamburger,” which came without a bun and lots of fries. So good. Complimentary were little glasses of red wine mixed with soda (at least I think that’s what it was). Delicious all around and lovely to eat outside and enjoy the day.

Soya

One of the few vegetarian places in Paris, Soya is one of our favorite haunts. Vegetarian, you might be thinking? But I’m a total carnivore. That’s true, but my friend isn’t, and the food at Soya is really good.

We were introduced to it by a friend of a friend during our first visit. At that time we had a very angry waitress who practically threw a water bottle at us. Since then the waitstaff has been very nice.

This time I think I might have gotten the same dish as last time. A vegetable masala curry. The sauce was amazing and the vegetables very fresh. it was quite filling. For dessert we got lemon and fig tarts. I wasn’t in the mood for fig, but the lemon was delicious.

Eating our way through the 2nd arrondissement

I had two things I wanted to get: a Paris Starbucks mug (which I got on our first day) and nonnettes au miel. Last year I randomly bought a package, needing a gift for my parents, and they turned out to be amazing. The ones I got were orange flavored, and that combined with the gingery, delicate cake made me want more. The thing is they’re so French you can’t even get them off Amazon.

I thought during my walks I’d discover some little shop with my beloved nonnettes. No such luck. I didn’t think we’d ever find the original store, but of course my friend had noted the name during our last visit. It’s actually a wine and liquor shop with a limited selection of foods. They didn’t have any nonnettes unfortunately, but I picked up some hazelnut and chocolate wafers.

The block was full of little food and beverage stores. While my friend paid for his purchases (all sorts of interesting flavors of tonic waters), I popped into a coffee shop next door — and guess what, they had the nonnettes! I bought two packages, one for my parents and one for myself, along with a pound of Cuban coffee.

For lunch we at at Kapunka, a Thai place. I had a beef curry dish. While the sauce was really good, the meat was a bit tough. Probably should have gone with the chicken.

After that it was dessert at L’Eclair de Genie, which we had seen earlier.

Éclair selfie obligatoire. #éclair #LÉclairDeGenie #selfie #aGaymericanInParis #cremeCenter

A photo posted by yonkey (@yonkey) on

They were smaller than eclairs in America — in other words, the perfect size. I got a super-chocolately one, and it was super-good.

After a bit more walking around, we popped into this cookie shop, Jean Hwang Carrant Simply Extraordinary Cookies. And guess what, Jean Hwang was there and she turned out to be a Chinese American from Kansas! We had a nice little chat with her. I got the last of their best-seller, black sesame, which was very subtly sweet, just the way I like it.

Grand Train

The one Saturday I was there, we had the chance to go with my friend’s friend to this place called Grand Train.

Grand Train is a former railway station with a variety food and drink kiosks and counters. It’s also a place where people, including families with little kids, hang out, talk, and, because this is France, smoke.

It’s very popular and there was a huge line when we got there. Luckily my friend’s friend was already there so we didn’t have to wait long. I didn’t try any food although we did get a bottle of white wine. It was sweet, the way I like it, and I drank too much too quickly. While tipsy, I felt perfectly fine — that is until we were standing in line for my friend’s pizza. Suddenly I felt, let’s just say, unwell. But with some deep breathing and a fruity lozenge, I was okay.

Next up: random sights!


19
Sep 16

Paris 2016: Museums! Museums! Museums!

What’s a trip to Paris without a lot of museums? This year I revisited two favorites, and checked out a few new ones.

Musée Jacquemart-André

I had read online that the Musée Jacquemart-André is a lot like the Frick here in New York, and that it was: a beautiful former home filled with eclectic art. The only thing missing was an indoor garden.

One painting that caught my eye was “Saint Georges and the Dragon” by Paolo Uccello.

saint-georges-terrassant-le-dragon-uccello-c-c-recoura_1

Something new I learned was that Christians took the legend of dragons from the Chinese “to symbolise the deliverance of the church, oppressed by Paganism.” In other words, slaying dragons was about slaying Paganism.

Cartier Foundation

Last year I really enjoyed the Louis Vuitton Foundation so I thought I’d have the same experience with the Cartier Foundation. Not so, I’m afraid. It’s quite small, and all there was when I went was an animal sounds exhibit. Maybe good for kids, but it didn’t interest me. The nicest thing is their outdoor space with lots of trees and plants.

Musee D’Orsay and Musée de l’Orangerie

The Musee D’Orsay is our favorite museum so of course we had to visit it again. For some reason this time there was zero line. We couldn’t believe it. And it wasn’t too crowded.

Then we realized that might have been because one whole wing was closed. But there was still a lot to see. I got my art nouveau fix, and for the first time we went out to the roof.

My friend’s photo turned out way better than any of mine.

Another day we checked out Musée de l’Orangerie, my second time, my friend’s first. It’s very small but I love it. And if you like impressionist art, you’ll love it too.

Les Arts Decoratifs

This was a first-time visit for the both of us to Les Arts Decoratifs, mainly to see the Barbie exhibit.

It was fun although some of the displays weren’t well-lit. Plus it was really warm. We noticed that about a couple of museums. I’m used to the ones in New York that are freezing.

The exhibit traced the history of Barbie, which has had many variations. Here’s the French Barbie, in honor of our trip:

Oh lala! French Barbie at the Barbie exhibit #barbie #france #paris #museeartsdecoratifs #museum

A photo posted by actung9 (@actung9) on

Palais de Tokyo

At first I didn’t know what to make of this contemporary art space. The upper floors had some kooky stuff.

Enthusiastic #paris #france #palaisdetokyo #museum #art

A photo posted by actung9 (@actung9) on

Plus it was too warm AGAIN. Then my friend pointed out their more interesting collection on the bottom floors. That stuff reminded me of the Whitney. Unfortunately I was a bit lazy about taking pictures. But my friend took some great photos and videos.

Next up, my second favorite thing about traveling: food.


13
Sep 16

Paris 2016: Getting there and where we stayed

eiffel_tower_2016

Like last year, I ended the summer with a visit to the City of Lights.

Unlike other trips, my travel buddy and I were flying out together. He had already upgraded to “comfort zone,” and when I checked in, I decided to too since it was a red eye and just $90. It was totally worth it. More leg room, lots of free movies, and, coincidentally, the same row as my bud with no one in the middle. Score!

As is my M.O. I couldn’t really sleep.  Instead I watched Mad Max: Fury Road, which was awesome but for some reason on a higher speed so that the action scenes looked cartoonish, and Spotlight, which I’ll have to watch again since I kept falling asleep.

We landed at about 8:30 in the morning. It took forever to get through customs. In front of us was this batshit lady. I had noticed her at JFK: maybe in her 70s, tons of plastic surgery, too-tight clothes. She kept commenting randomly to people, “This is ridiculous!” Her speech was quite slurred. I don’t know if she had a neurological disorder or was on a lot of drugs, or both. Either way, I tried my damndest to avoid eye contact, and was relieved when she cut into another line.

To get the apartment, we took the RER to the subway. The RER is never speedy, but this time it was ridiculously slow. Apparently there was some “incident.” We were supposed to pick up the keys by noon and were worried that we wouldn’t make it. Luckily we did, with 30 minutes to spare.

As with past trips, my very enterprising friend had arranged a (free) apartment swap. This year we stayed  in the 14th arrondissement, close to Parc Montsouris. The apartment was just lovely. The bedroom and living room each had a door, and the kitchen and bathroom were off a hallway so no going through the living room to get to either. So that meant lots of privacy for both of us.

Next up, what else? Museums!


29
Jan 16

How to Enjoy a Cruise in 6 Easy Steps

Little lighthouse, Nassau, Bahamas

Little lighthouse, Nassau, Bahamas

Until a couple of weeks ago, I would have never called myself a cruise person.

The only one I’ve been on was many years ago with my family when my grandmother treated us to a three-day sail down the Baja coast. Parts of it were fun, like climbing the rock climbing wall, playing Pictionary, and telling funny family stories over dinner, but parts were awful, like the gluttonous buffet, the tiny windowless room my mom and I shared, and the noisy, hard-partying college kids on spring break.

The cruise I went on earlier this month with a group of girlfriends was nothing like that. In fact, I’d say it turned me into a cruise person.

Here’s how non-cruise people can better enjoy cruises.

Splurge on your room

If you’re going on a cruise, it may well be worth it to spend a little more. The room my friend and I shared was really nice with enough space for two small beds (yoga mat-sized, some of the girls called them), a loveseat, coffee table, and desk. It also had a veranda, and let me tell you, being step outside your room and see the ocean makes a huge difference.

Of course the bathroom was teeny-tiny, and the shower didn’t drain so well, but it wasn’t a big deal.

Go beyond the buffet

Another great thing about our packages was they included restaurants beyond the buffet. The one we went to every night for dinner was called Blue. I think the food was supposed to be healthier — either way, it was very good.

My favorites were a risotto (I forgot what was in it), a chicken and pasta, the filet mignon, the short-ribs, all the soups I tried (a corn veloute, a tomato one, and a parsnip one), a blue cheese souffle, the tiramisu, and the chocolate mousse birthday cake we had for the birthday girl. The only thing I didn’t like was the “sugar-free” cannoli which had absolutely no flavor, although I really shouldn’t have been surprised.

Our waiters were also very nice albeit somewhat corny. One apparently resembled the soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo.

Our package also included unlimited drinks that were under $13. Most of us could barely make a dent in our daily beverage allowance. It was especially a waste on an alcohol flush reactioner like me. There were also healthy options at poolside, namely this yummy Greek yogurt chicken salad and these quinoa and lentil salads.

Also, don’t get me wrong: the food at the buffet was good, and we ate there a lot. I gorged myself on full English breakfasts — including blood sausage for the first time — until my body begged me to stop, and then I switched to muesli, which was delish.

Embrace the touristy-ness

One of our port stops was Key West. It was totally touristy, but we were all in an accepting mind-set so it was pretty fun, even with the intermittent rain.

While the girls shopped for various tchotchkes, I didn’t buy much except for some coconut chocolate patties (which totally hit the spot) and a Florida Starbucks mug. I’ve recently started collecting them and have three so far: New York, Montreal, and now Florida.

We stopped for lunch at what seemed like a random hole in the wall. But the food was very good. I had the New England clam chowder, which was chock full of clam and potatoes.

We walked to what we thought was the southernmost point in the U.S. but was actually the southernmost beach. The waves were absolutely insane.

While I was down with Key West, by the time we got to Nassau in the Bahamas, I was less so. My roommate felt the same way, and after stepping off the boat for two seconds, we turned around and got back on. What did we do instead? Lounged by the pool, ate, and hit the sauna and steam room, a pretty nice alternative.

Get moving

A cruise doesn’t have to be all about lounging by the pool and stuffing your face. The one we were on also had a good gym and quite a few fitness classes.

I had big plans to hit the treadmill at least twice, but didn’t at all. Luckily, the enterprising birthday girl signed everyone up for Zumba class while my roommate signed us up for Pilates. I had mentioned wanting to try the bootcamp class, and when we were at the gym, my roomie made sure to point out the sign up list. No backing out now!

Zumba was fun but difficult. I’m not a natural dancer so I had a hard time keeping up with most of the steps. I got a few, but by the time I did, the instructor had moved onto a new routine. But like I said, we all had a good time and got pretty sweaty. The Pilates class was also good although maybe it could have been more difficult.

The bootcamp class however kicked my butt. Squats, burpees, jumping jackets, weights, ab work, and other stuff I can’t even remember. My muscles were burning and I was drenched in sweat by the end, exactly the results I wanted. My hearty breakfast and massage afterwards felt well-deserved.

And it was the class that kept on giving. I took the class on Sunday and I was sore all the way until Wednesday. Like barely-able-to-walk sore, but in a good way. I need to take more classes like that.

Treat yo self

On my last cruise I didn’t even consider trying out the hot tubs or pools. They were totally inundated either with horny 20-somethings or annoying kids. This time was another story.

Because we were traveling at an off time, there weren’t many kids. Plus there was an adults-only section, which had whirlpools and, my absolutel favorite, a thalassotherapy pool — that is, very warm seawater.

Late in 2015 I hurt my back. It was so bad in the beginning, I couldn’t sit at all. Just riding the bus was torture. A few months later it was better, and I haven’t had any other problems — until my plane ride to Ft. Lauderdale. I bent down to touch my toes, and felt that familiar, horrible spasm in my lower back. I was worried my vacation was ruined.

But after a couple of dips in the thalassotherapy pool, it was better. It was probably a combination of that, stretching, trying not to sit too much, and walking more. But I do think the saltwater helped. Plus it felt great on my skin.

We also took advantage of the spa. We all got massages and then another treatment. The massage was SO GOOD. My lady had a firm touch but not painful (although a little pain is good sometimes). The only time I winced was when she went at the balls of my feet. (I had no idea they were so sensitive, and she was surprised too. Guess I need to do something about that.) I wanted the massage to go on forever.

My facial was another story. I had signed up for a deep cleanse, but the woman convinced me to get the “vitamin infusion,” which involved putting a million different things on my face. At the end she showed me my reflection.

“See?” she said. “Isn’t it brighter?”

I saw absolutely no difference. “Sure,” I said. “Nice.”

The sauna and steam rooms — aka the Persian Gardens — were delightful. My friend and I would stay in a room until one of us, usually me, couldn’t stand it anymore, douse ourselves with cold water, and move onto the next one. Hanging out there also gave us lots of time to chat and catch up.

YOLO

If the cruise had a theme, this was it. It encouraged one of the girls to try blood sausage (she didn’t like it, unlike me), and most of the group to stay out martini-ing and dancing the night away (I abstained). I did however practice my own little YOLOs. I stopped and watched the sun set — and saw a pod of dolphins! — and the sun rise.

cruise_sunrise_Jan2016

I stepped out on the deck at night to look at the moon. I lost $20 at the casino. I had two appetizers and dessert every night. I tried the aforementioned blood sausage. I went on this cruise in the first place.


02
Jan 16

A Canadian Christmas

montreal_snowyangel_1215

Christmas isn’t that big of a deal for my parents so for the past several, I’ve had untraditional ones. Last year I went down to Los Angeles to hang out with my brother and his girlfriend, which was great fun, and this year I had the chance to visit Mont Tremblant and Montreal.

Mont Tremblant

A friend from college was kind enough to invite me along on a family ski trip. At first I was hesitant since I don’t ski, but then I saw on the website that there were lots of other activities — hiking, ice climbing, snowshoeing, dogsledding — and though what the heck.

No snow

Unfortunately for all those non-skiing activities you need snow, and when we got up there, there was zero. They did make fake snow for skiing and sledding, but not for anything else.

monttremblant_nosnow_1215

Of course I could have gotten out of my comfort zone and gone skiing, but I wasn’t feeling it. However, I did find other stuff to do.

Hiking

Actually, it was more like a walk since it was a paved road. Either way it was lovely.

monttremblant_hike_1215

I ended up walking up to the casino (I peeked in though didn’t gamble), which felt like a trek but was less than two miles. It probably felt long because I wasn’t sure where I was going and there were few landmarks. It’s not like city walking where suddenly you realize you’ve walked five miles.

Saint-Jovite

From the ski resort there’s a city bus that goes into the little towns between there and Montreal. A nice young woman at the information center recommended either the Old Village, although she said in the winter it was very quiet, or Saint-Jovite, which was more happening. I chose Saint-Jovite.

“Happening” is a relevant term. The town was cute and picturesque, but very small. I stopped in a few shops and walked back and forth a few times, basically killing time until the next bus. Unfortunately I wasn’t hungry, otherwise I would have eaten. The restaurants did look pretty good. But it was nice way to pass the time.

Star sighting

While I was waiting to meet my friend for lunch, I saw this African American woman having her picture taken. She had brightly colored hair — which was what caught my eye — and was just stunning. I thought, That looks like that actress from Law & Order who’s married to Garret Dillahunt. (Don’t ask me how I know this. Okay, I’ll tell you. I have a crush Garret Dillahunt.)

Then I realized it was the actress from Law & Order (and many other things) and I thought, Is Garret here too? As she passed me, I saw that he was (almost unrecognizable in all his ski gear) and like an idiot fan girl, I gave a little gasp. But of course I was too chicken to actually go up to them.

By the way, Garret was also disappointed about the lack of snow.

Getting down to Montreal

I had figured out that I needed take the same city bus I took to Saint-Jovite down to the stop where the Montreal bus picked up. But then my friend was kind enough to give me a ride.

Before we left, we had a chance to grab breakfast with her son, after which he and I pretended to stomp on a miniature village.

monttremblant_nickyandme_1215

It had started snowing that morning (finally) so I was extra glad to have a ride. We got to the bus stop, which was at a Shell Station, in plenty of time for me to buy my ticket, for everyone to pee, and to get random snacks.

The bus was one of those big comfy ones, and it was packed. I got the very last seat, which was at first occupied by this guy’s giant duffel bag, but then I went to the driver, who asked the guy to move the bag.

While my seatmate came off as jerky at first, he was actually okay. Behind us were two of his friends, and after one got off, he sat with his friend so that for much of the ride I had a row all to myself. Except for the last 45 minutes that is. At that point, this large French Canadian man sat next to me, and was all insulted that I didn’t want to talk to him and wanted to listen to podcasts instead. Tough merde.

It took two and a half hours but felt very quick. Yay for podcasts!

Montreal

In addition to having fun on this trip, I realized that I’m a total city girl and not big on physical activities (unless those activities involve running, hiking, or punching and kicking things). So Montreal was more up my alley.

The hotel

A high school friend and I stayed at the Hotel Omni Mont-Royal. I picked it sort of randomly. The price was right and the ratings were good. Plus it was right in downtown Montreal.

I loved everything about the place and would recommend it. Our room was huge and everything seemed new and clean. Plus the customer service was excellent, from the front desk (who printed my train ticket at no charge) to the concierge to the guy who brought my room service.

Museums

We hit two museums during our stay. On Sunday we visited the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, which was free for the holidays. It’s freaking enormous and confusing. I kept getting lost trying to get to the cafeteria to meet my pal.

I saw a few random things, including stuff about Napoleon, a couple of contemporary exhibits, some Dutch still lifes (which I’m a sucker for), and Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works. I would definitely go back to get a better handle on the place.

The food wasn’t bad either. I had a turkey sandwich, which was basic but hit the spot, and a panna cotta with caramel which was SO GOOD.

The other museum we went to was the Pointe-A-Calliere, also known as the Montreal Museum of Archaeology and History. It was pretty good although I liked it less than the art museum. I had read articles touting the underground ruins, but those were just okay. They were no catacombs.

I liked better the Agatha Christie exhibit. While I know Christie for her mysteries, I didn’t know much else about her or that she had such a fascinating life. I think I had heard about her 10-day disappearance, which turned out to be the result of her husband leaving her for a woman named Nancy Neele (Christie checked into a hotel under the name Mrs. Teresa Neele).

But I didn’t know she was an amateur archaeologist (hence, her exhibit at that particular museum), and that during a dig, she met the man who would be her second husband. Max Mallowan was an archaeologist and 14 years her junior. When they married, he was 28 to her 42, which to me is pretty awesome.

We ended up spending about five hours there, two and a half of which was lunch. Service was, shall we say, leisurely. But the food was very good: a nice salad, pasta in a cream sauce with Spanish ham, and for dessert this delicious kind of fruit and nut loaf as well as pannacotta, although this one wasn’t as good as the one at the art museum. All in all, an excellent way to spend a freezing cold day.

Chinatown

While Montreal Chinatown is nothing compared to New York or San Francisco, I still liked it. We didn’t have a sit down meal, but we did have steamed pork buns from Patisserie Harmonie. We had no idea the place was so popular. All we saw that it was cute and on the corner, and the wares in the window looked good.

So good in fact that the next morning, we stopped in again, this time for roast pork buns. Those were tasty too.

And if you’re ever in that area and need a place to pee (and thaw), stop in the pagoda-topped Holiday Inn. There’s a very welcoming lobby on the second floor with a restaurant and fish pond. After using the ladies’, we had our buns in warmth and comfort.

Luminothérapie

Montreal seesaw

Need I say more?

Notre Dame Basilica and Old Montreal

We were lucky in that we got to see the Notre Dame Basilica at night and during the day. Unfortunately, the cold killed my phone battery so I wasn’t able to take any pictures of the beautiful blue-lighted angels. I did get plenty of inside shots however.

montreal_seesaw_angela_1215

Walking around Old Montreal was fun although it was so damned cold. And it always somehow ended up being dark by the time we hit that part of town — although that’s not difficult when sunset starts at 4:30.

Poutine, bagels, and maple syrup

A trip to Montreal wouldn’t be complete without trying poutine, their bagels, and maple syrup.

The place we got the poutine was a random bar in Old Montreal. We’re guessing the poutine was good — we got it with cut up hot dogs — but we have nothing to compare it to. It wasn’t bad, that’s for sure.

After a whole day out and about in frigid temperatures, my friend was brave enough to go back out one evening for bagels. (I, on the other hand, stayed in and ordered room service.) She was also kind enough to give me one. It was good although sweeter than a New York bagel. Her theory was that they make them with less salt. It was also less dense.

Finally, we both tried something maple syrupy. She had the famed maple taffy, and I had a maple syrup candy. It didn’t suck.

The trip back

Monday night the city was hit with more snow, which got my bud and me both worried about our bus and train, respectively. However, we made it out in time, even if our trips took longer than they were supposed to.

I had gotten to the station pretty early so I managed to get a window seat, which while annoying for peeing, is good for phone charging. The first third of the trip was okay, even though we sat on the tracks for a good 45 minutes waiting for a freight train to pass. I had my podcasts, worked on my writing a little, and ate bad food from the cafe car (another hot dog!).

We got to the border pretty quickly. My seatmate had said that on the way up, they sat at the border for two and a half hours. I was glad she told me so my expectations were set.

While driving through the border was fast, being on a train took longer. The border police came on and checked every single person’s passport and asked a few questions.

Most went off without a hitch — that is, except for a woman in my car. I didn’t know anything was going on until the police made her get up and go either into the next car or the vestibule. She was protesting a lot in French, saying, “Non!” and “Pourquoi?!” At one point she was screaming. Her kids got very upset, crying and such.

Eventually it seemed like the whole family was getting up to leave, but then I think the dad told the kids to stay with the other adult relative who was with them. The kids cried some more, but eventually they calmed down. A border policeman said, “It’ll be okay. Your mom’s just going back to Canada.” They probably thought she was being sent to jail.

I still don’t know why she was kicked off. Maybe her passport was expired or maybe she overstayed her last visit. But Canadians generally don’t need a visa to visit the U.S. Whatever the reason, soon after that we got moving again.

In all we were about an hour and a half late. We were supposed to get in at 8:50 but got in at 10:30. I was going to be frugal and take the subway, but between my luggage and being exhausted, I splurged on a cab and was home before 11.

The verdict?

While I might not go to a ski resort again (since I don’t ski), I would definitely pay another visit to Montreal, especially after the weather warms up.


11
Sep 15

‘Kate & Allie’ go to Paris

Kate-and-AllieMy travel buddy Yiannis and I are both TV junkies so it was pretty much imperative that we had something to watch while we were in Paris. Because we were outside the U.S., we were limited in terms of what we could watch on the interwebs. Netflix (to my joy) was available although with different content.

For some reason I mentioned Double Trouble, that ‘80s show about teenage twins. It was absolutely awful (we watched one episode; it doesn’t hold up) but we sixth grade girls were obsessed with it. A few in my class even put on a “play” that was just an abbreviated version of the dance contest episode (you know the one, don’t pretend you don’t).

Anyway, I was describing it to Yiannis, who had somehow never watched it: “It was about twins named Kate and Allison…not to be confused with Kate & Allie,” which inspired Yiannis to look for it on YouTube and set us up for several nights of binge-watching.

I loved the show when I was younger, and maybe it, along with Madeleine L’Engle’s Vicky Austin series, made me want to go to college in New York. As for how it holds up, it’s way cheesier than I remember (and soooo ‘80s) although still enjoyable.

Something we kept noticing, aside from Kate’s insane outfits, were all the pre-famous famous guest stars. Here are five of the most memorable.

  1. Kelsey Grammer

The very first episode! Kelsey Grammer plays someone Kate goes on a date with, only to find that she’s not into him. Turns out he’s not into her either and prefers former Connecticut housewife Allie.

  1. Ben Stiller

In the one with the sit-in, Stiller plays a rebellious college student.

  1. Stephen Baldwin

The youngest Baldwin brother is a high school student in The Trouble with Jason, which introduces later soap star Ricky Paull Goldin as a guy who has a (rather stalkerish) crush on Emma only later — spoiler alert! — to date Jenny.

  1. Ricki Lake

Lake and her pal think they have a problem with Emma in Send Me No Flowers, but it’s actually a different Emma they have a problem with. I hate it when that happens.

  1. William H. Macy

What do you know, Kate has hurt her back and is in the hospital (really, the actress, Susan Saint James, was pregnant, which the show was trying to hide). Allie also checks in — in her case, to have a mole removed — gets doped up and runs away. Hilarity ensues! Trying to catch her are two orderlies, one of whom is a pre-Oscar nom William H. Macy.

And those are just the episodes I watched. Who knows how many more there are?

This concludes my 2015 series on Paris. Got time to kill? Read them all!


10
Sep 15

Paris 2015: Locks and luck

Kanal svetog Martina u Parizu / Canal Saint Martin in Paris

I’ve talked about French word nerdery, museums, amusement parks, and regular parks — and now, locks and luck.

Lotsa locks

Where we stayed wasn’t far from Canal Saint-Martin, which I didn’t even know existed before this trip. What’s especially cool about the canal are the series of locks used to transport les bateaux over parts that aren’t level. Basically, the water drains and the boat is lowered level by level. Yiannis said it looked neat so we thought a boat tour on the canal would be even more so.

The boat ride was nice (when is one not, given good weather), but who knew going down the locks would take so long and that there’d be so damned many of them. We thought the whole thing would take about 90 minutes, but I think it was more like three hours.

The best part was when we went under this mile-long tunnel, and not just because we were out of the hot sun.

Unlucky but lucky

Before we went on our boat tour, we had another (mis)adventure. The canal boat website said that tours were given at 10:30 and 2:30. We went with the earlier option so that we’d have time to hit the Musee D’Orsay, which was the tour’s terminus.

However, when we got where the tour was supposed to begin, we saw no one. No boat, no people, nothing. We asked a restaurant worker what the deal was (luckily he spoke English and was very nice) and he said as far he knew, tours were only at 2:30.

You should really update your site, Paris Canal.

So unfortunately we had a lot of time to kill — but that turned out to be a good thing because soon Yiannis realized one of his phones was missing. (Yes, he had two phones. I won’t get into why.) On the way, we had sat down on a bench to get our bearings. The bench was pretty far away, but Yiannis had no choice but to jog back there (did I mention it was warm and sunny?) while I waited with his stuff. Luckily I had a book.

When he returned, he was unfortunately empty-handed but, to his credit, remained calm. All we could do was wait for someone to call. Until then, we decided to check out the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie, Europe’s largest science museum, which happened to be right nearby.

But! The museum was closed. A worker told us it was for “safety reasons” but didn’t elaborate. Safety reasons? What did that mean? A terrorist threat? A bomb scare? Murder? Turns out it was a fire. I’m not sure why she just didn’t say.

We headed back and got some food at the restaurant where we had asked originally about the tour. It was a beautiful day so we had a very leisurely lunch outside (burger and fries, yum! French hamburgers are really good). At one point Yiannis asked our waiter if anyone had turned in a phone, but no one had.

It was so lovely and relaxing sitting there, we decided just to hang out until it was time for the tour. Luckily we did because as we were finishing, one of the restaurant workers came up to us.

“I have a surprise for you,” he said to Yiannis in English.

Turned out security had found his phone right outside the restaurant, and for some reason not only didn’t call the emergency contact (which was me) but had turned the phone off completely. However, we were extremely grateful to both security and the folks at the restaurant.

Needless to say, for the rest of our trip, we made sure Yiannis always had both his phones.

Okay I lied, I have one more post after this one, although it has only the most tenuous connection to Paris.


09
Sep 15

Paris 2015: Not always a walk in le parc

Parc des Buttes Chaumont

In my last post I wrote about Parisian amusement parks. In this one I’ll discuss the regular parks we visited.

Parcs, jardins, et bois — oh my!

So what’s the difference between a parc, jardin, and bois, you might be wondering? We visited all three types and they all appeared to be what we’d call a park in English. However, there is indeed a difference, and that difference is size.

According to the Paris Insiders Guide, places, or squares, are the smallest; parks are medium-sized; gardens are bigger (I’d assume gardens were smaller but I’m imagining people’s personal gardens); and bois, or woods, are the biggest, which would have been great to know before we ventured on foot in Bois de Boulogne.

But anyhoo, on with the show.

Parc des Buttes-Chaumont (and Belleville)

Yiannis went running in this park during our last trip and told me about the cool rock formations so I thought it worth a visit.

The rock formations were cool, and the park seems like a nice place to hang out, but since the terrain was unfamiliar, I didn’t feel comfortable exploring it too much. What was interesting, as well as disturbing, was the part of town I walked through to get there.

Called Belleville, it has has a large Chinese population — and a lot of Chinese prostitutes. The first woman I saw, I wasn’t sure if she was. She had an a short skirt and was standing on the corner, but she was right across from a restaurant that looked to be about to open so I thought maybe she worked there.

But then on the next block I saw a few who were obviously sex workers, and then I felt both weird and awful. They were speaking Mandarin, which I associate with family and childhood, and except for their skimpy outfits, they looked like regular women. In the movies, prostitutes seem to be always played by models, but these women didn’t look like models. They looked any Chinese woman you’d see on the subway.

On my way home, I didn’t want to walk through that part of town again, and found an alternate route.

Parc de Bercy

This park in the 12 arrondissement was absolutely lovely and probably my favorite. Smaller and therefore easier to navigate, Parc de Bercy has several little ponds with plenty of water fowl and nice grassy areas where you can lie back and look at the trees swaying in the wind.

Plus it was right near a sort of outdoor mall so it was easy afterwards to get something to eat and catch a movie (American Ultra, if you’re curious, which was absolutely delightful).

Bois de Boulogne

This bois is described as being more than twice as big as Central Park. As a result, we, or at least I, imagined it being like Central Park. It wasn’t.

We did eventually find a nice lake, but until then we just sort of wandered around, which was no easy feat. There weren’t any paved walkways like in Central Park, just the road for cars and a sandy path that definitely required hiking boots, or at least sneakers, and not the sandals that I was wearing.

Traveling on foot seemed to be taking forever so I suggested getting bikes although the idea of it made me nervous. I haven’t ridden in a long time so I’m out of practice, and also I was wearing a dress. It turned out to be fine although wearing better shoes and pants or shorts would have made it easier.

Next up, the final Paris post: miscellaneous! I know you can’t wait.


08
Sep 15

Paris 2015: Amusement parks, or causing vertigo and bodily injury for all ages

disney_discoverylandBonjour! If you haven’t noticed, I’ve been yakking a lot about Paris. First it was word nerdery, then museums. Today it’s amusement parks, of which three — count ‘em, three — we somehow managed to visit.

La Fête à Neu-Neu

Unfortunately everything about this fête seems to be in French so I can’t give you much background except that maybe it’s named for Neilly-sur-Seine, which is a Parisian suburb, but we definitely didn’t go to a suburb so I don’t know what the deal is. Maybe it started there and now is traveling.

Whatever its origins, La Fête à Neu-Neu is a typical small-time carnival, except that all of the English is slightly off. For instance, there was a ride called Crazy Mouse, which may have to do with Mickey Mouse, but we weren’t sure. Also, the carnies didn’t seem too concerned about rules. You want to stand with your kid in the middle of a spinning ride holding onto nothing? Sure, go ahead!

First we rode the ferris wheel. The height made me more nervous than I expected, but otherwise it felt safe. The log flume was another story. You know how on most American rides, there’s a bar or harness that locks and holds you in? Not so on the Neu-Neu flume. As we settled in, the carny (roughly) adjusted my leg so that my foot was bracing on the tread. That’s when I realized that, as well as holding onto the railings for dear life, was all that was holding us in.

The first hill wasn’t bad, but then I saw the second one. “I changed my mind!” I cried, but of course it was too late. “This is really dangerous!” I yelled as we went down.

neuneu_logflumeOf course Yiannis, that thrill-seeker, had a grand old time. I, on the other hand, had a sore neck from tensing up so much going down the hills.

Jardin d’Acclimatation

The Foundation Louis Vuitton is right on the edge of the Jardin D’Acclimatation so of course we had to take a turn.

For the life of us, we couldn’t figure out why the jardin had such a name. It used to be a zoo so our best guess is that a zoo is a place for animals — and at one point, people — to get acclimated to the local environment. In Australia apparently, there used to be a distinction between zoos and places for acclimatization, but then the Melbourne Zoological and Acclimatization societies were consolidated in 1861. Maybe other countries followed suit.

Anyway, the Jardin d’Acclimatation isn’t a zoo anymore but a small, you guessed it, amusement park. It’s described as a children’s park despite a potentially dangerous zipline, which of course Yiannis had to try.

Everything went smoothly although at one point the girl who went before Yiannis had trouble detaching her hook so that she could get out of the way for his, um, impact. There was a bit of panic since for some reason there was no one on that side to help her, but eventually she got unhooked and out of the way.

The food at Jardin d’Acclimatation was more upscale than at Neu-Neu (typical carnival food, including barbe à papa). There were a few eateries to choose from and went with Angelina’s Tea Salon. My go-to sandwich, jambon beurre, was good, as was my chocolate macaroon. I had wanted the chestnut, but the quality wasn’t satisfactory to the counter guy so he suggested a different flavor. Now that’s service.

Paris Disneyland

La mère of all French amusement parks. Since we had dinner plans that evening, I was little worried about getting in Disneyland and making it back in time. However, we quickly discovered my concerns were unnecessary.

While the park is typical Disney (i.e., well-run and clean), it’s much smaller than the one in Orlando. Their version of Tomorrowland, which they call Discoveryland, is very cool in a steampunk way, but has far fewer rides. Ditto the other “lands.”

On top of that, we both got nauseous from Space Mountain, our very first ride. The one in Orlando has hills and drops, but nothing spinny, at least not that I remember. The Paris Space Mountain has hills, drops, spins, loops, and at one point we swear we were upside down — none of it good for our vertigo (yes, we’re both prone to vertigo).

Afterward I was afraid that a) the vertigo would return, or at least b) that I’d feel sick for the rest of the day. However, after a couple of calm rides and some fried food and soda, we both felt much better.

Besides Space Mountain, we rode the Pinocchio ride and perennial favorites, Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted House, and made it back to the city in plenty of time for dinner.

Next! Regular parks.


06
Sep 15

Paris 2015: Museums are my crack

As you may know, I had the opportunity recently to spend almost 10 days in Paris. While I’ve recounted some French word nerdery, I’ve yet to write a lot about what we saw and did. I was going to write one giant post, but have decided to divide it into more bite-sized parts. This part: museums.

As always, I visited a lot. While I didn’t see as many as I did in Spain — if only because I was in France for a shorter amount of time — I still saw quite a few.

Centre Pompidou

Despite this being my third visit to Paris, this was the first time I was seeing Centre Pompidou, also known as Beaubourg because of its location, and named for Georges Pompidou, who was president of France from 1969 to 1977 and commissioned the building.

A friend we met during our last visit told us to be sure to take in the view, which we did:

view_pompidouAs for the rest of the museum, it was fun and modern.

pompidou_world pompidou_discoball pompidou_chineseguyPlus the mini chocolate beignets in the cafeteria were to die for.

Arab World Institute

I never would have thought to visit the Arab World Institute, aka Institut de Monde Arabe, but Yiannis had read about it and I agreed it sounded interesting.

Originally built in 1987, the newly redone building was unveiled in February 2012 — and what a very cool redone building it is.

arab_exteriorApparently the metal shutters act as a “sophisticated” brise soleil, an architectural feature that controls heat and sun. The museum was indeed quite cool.

The artifacts themselves were lovely and fascinating, from paintings, to ancient scrolls, to traditional clothing for religious ceremonies. Of course before we went into the museum, as per tradition, I had to get something to eat at the cafe:

arab_foodI thought I had overdone it, but I ended up eating everything save for the chickpea ball, which was a little dry for my taste. Everything else, however, was delicious, especially one with a kind of tangy cheese and mint. Yum!

Foundation Louis Vuitton

I had read that the Foundation Louis Vuitton was a new museum that’s a must-visit. Construction started in 2006 and the building opened in October 2014. The architecture, by Frank Gehry, is very cool —

louisvuitton_exterior
louisvuitton_water— but the art was mostly head-scratchingly bizarre. A lot of weird videos, although I did enjoy the one installment of young British people dancing by themselves. I watched one of a white dude who was very enthusiastic and, as Yiannis said, bordered on actual dancing sometimes, but was mostly spastic, and another of a black girl who was extremely shy at first and barely moved, but then suddenly got comfortable and broke into a big smile as she danced.

The Foundation also has a couple of cool outdoor areas but no cafeteria, only an upscale restaurant. There was a long line so we didn’t even bother.

Musee de l’Orangerie

I’ve already written about the origins of the Orange Museum but not the museum itself. I loved it, although not necessarily because it’s all Impressionist and post-Impressionist art. It was on the small side compared to other Paris museums and therefore totally doable in terms of listening to most of the audio guide.

Plus the line wasn’t too long — I did happen to get there shortly after it opened — and it wasn’t too crowded even though most of the other museums in the city were closed that Monday.

And the jambon-beurre at the cafe was good too.

The Louvre

The last time I went to the Louvre was during my first trip to Paris 11 years ago. I didn’t go with Yiannis two years ago as I still remembered the crowds and couldn’t bear the idea of dealing with them again.

I didn’t expect to go this time either. Thinking the museum was closed, I planned on simply walking the perimeter of the courtyard. Then I saw some people go in a side entrance and thought, What the heck, and followed them.

Turned out the place was open and that particular entrance had almost no line, maybe because it was out of the way or because it was only machines. Either way, after not too long, I had my ticket.

It was a crowded as I remember, perhaps even more so because of the plethora of smartphone cameras and (barf) selfie sticks. (That was something new this trip: goddamned selfie sticks.)

I also don’t understand the purpose of taking a picture of every single piece of art. I just want to ask these people, What’re you going to do with all those photos? Have a slide show party? Frame them? I guarantee there are better photos that yours on the internet of these famous pieces of art.

Only worse is having one’s picture taken in front of artwork. Unless you’re doing something hilarious, don’t do it.

At the Mona Lisa, of course, it was a complete fucking madhouse.

louvre_monalisaEventually I had to escape to the basement with the Middle Eastern art that no one was looking at.

Versailles

This was my second visit to Versailles — palatial home to the likes of Louis XIV, Louis XVI, and Marie Antoinette — and it was lovely.

versailles_chandelierThe chateau itself was crowded, especially with idiots who bunched up at the entryways, leaving vast open spaces elsewhere in the rooms, but the surrounding park were peaceful. Despite the intermittent rain, we took a rowboat out on the Grand Canal.

versailles_rowboatMusee D’Orsay

Yiannis and I agree that this is our favorite museum in Paris. We went on a chilly, rainy day, and every other tourist must have had the same idea because the line was hella long. Like through the museum courtyard, down the block, almost to the Metro long. But of course it was worth it.

This time I left the main floors for last, starting at the top and making my way down. On the fifth floor was a special exhibit, Dolce Vita, Italian design in the early 20th century. I really enjoyed it. Because it was a single exhibit, I was able to absorb a lot and to listen to all the audio guide entries. (I was going to get a guide for the whole museum, but the girl behind the counter was so rude, I said forget it. On the other hand, the Dolce Vita audio guide guy was cute and charming. Take my five euros, please!) The other floors had a similar vibe: art deco interior design but from other countries.

Another thing I love about the D’Orsay is that everywhere is beautiful, even the cafe —

dorsay_cafeThe only negative about the museum is that the food at the basement cafeteria (not the above pictured) sucks. The bread of my baguette was dry and chewy, and the chocolate muffin left much to be desired. It didn’t even compare to chocolate muffins from NYC delis, not to mention that one from the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya in Barcelona that I still dream about.

Next up, amusement parks! (That’s right, amusement parks plural).