So, it’s been a while since we have updated our blog and we have traveled along several different rivers stopping along the way at Maastricht (where we didn’t get off to join the walking tour of the town);
Antwerp and finally Brussels. Along the way we watched the world go by on our riverboat and enjoyed beautiful weather the entire time.
While most passengers toured Maastricht ,we chose to pass and stayed on the boat for a day of leisure (well, we did do a load of laundry) and relaxation. Once everyone was back on board we motored on to Antwerp.
Antwerp is a major port city in Belgium on the River Scheldt with history dating back to the Middle Ages.
Best know for the centuries old Diamond District where thousands of traders, cutters and polishers work on virtually ALL the worlds’ diamonds. Unfortunately they don’t give out free samples. In addition to Diamonds, the City is a major shipping center and was the home of the Flemish Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens.
Our walking tour included the sights, sounds, and smells and yes, even the tastes of Belgium.
On our walking tour we sampled some grey shrimp, a unique Flemish sea product described as the ‘queen of seafood’ .They are less than an inch long when peeled, have a greyish-pink color and a more pronounced taste than the traditional pink shrimps.
We followed this with an Elixir d’Anvers herbal liquor that has been produced since 1863 – this was known for its good digestive and beneficial properties and was used on horses to prevent colic!
After this, on to waffles, whipped cream and coffee – yum is all I can say here.
Of course, along the way we saw lovely sights including several Rubens paintings in the
Cathedral of Our Lady – actually four different paintings are on display in the church.
The Central Square is lined with Guild Buildings (recreated after all the bombing from WWII) very lovely with their ornamentation and gilding.
After Antwerp it was on to Brussels (again) where there was another tour (we skipped) and the final day on the ship. Our goal, when back in Brussels was to take the shuttle bus into town to get CHOCOLATE (and a special box for K.B.) at the Neuhaus store.
After the final cruise dinner, the next morning we took a taxi to the train station and boarded the 9:52 train to Amsterdam.
One of the joys of visiting in Paris for an extended time is the ability to go to the local markets to stock the apartment with food. The Paris Bastille Market comes alive with brightly colored stalls and enticing food displays. This Marché (Market) has been around for a very long time – taking over the Boulevard Richard Lenoir twice a week – Sundays and Thursdays.
There are three pathways through the market where vendors are engaging with shoppers and calling out their specials for the day. We spent the better part of several hours doing our shopping for the next several days but it’s hard to not be amazed with the stuff that are being sold. We arrived via the metro coming up at one end of the market – a booth of hats, gloves and lots of fresh shellfish. As we walked down the way there were booths of organic eggs, flowers, cheese, bread and piping hot ready to eat meals.
Ryan had a menu he was working on for our Christmas dinner – chicken, fresh vegetables, green apples and other ingredients to make our traditional Rice and Curry. We also picked up cheese, some marinated olives, some nuts and lots of other delicious treats.
Paris, the City of Lights, and Museums! We have visited several museums during our various visits to this lovely city – The Louvre, Carnavalet Museum, Musée Rodin, Musée de Cluny and the Musée d’Orsay.
All of these museums are wonderful and have a different focus or approach. Janeen particularly likes Carnavalet Museum as it represented the History of Paris through the years but unfortunately it is under renovation until 2020. A visit to the Louvre is certainly an enjoyable time but it is HUGE and crowded particularly when you want to see the Mona Lisa (I can pass on that, been there done that) and we decided a repeat visit to Musée d’Orsay would be on our list of places this trip.
The Musée d’Orsay is located on the Left Bank of the Seine and is housed in the former Gare d’Orsay – a Beaux-Arts railway station built between 1898 and 1900. The museum holds mainly French art dating from 1848 to 1914 including paintings, sculptures, furniture and photography.
The museum houses the largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist masterpieces in the world. Paintings by Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Cézanne, Gauguin and Van Gogh provide a fantastic snapshot of this style of painting.
The original railway station, Gare d’Orsay, was constructed in time to be part of the 1900 Exposition and provided rail service throughout southwestern France until 1939. At that time, the short platforms had become unsuitable for the longer trains and the station stopped long distance service but continued with more suburban services. It has been used in several films over the years and was set to be demolished starting in 1970 but nothing happened and eventually the Directorate of the Museums of France had the idea of turning it into a museum that would bridge the gap between the Louvre and other museums of Paris. After much work and renovation the new museum was ready to receive art in 1986 where it has continued to provide a wonderful place to view art in Paris.
The interior of the building is huge with exhibits on several levels. After purchasing our tickets we entered on the main floor that overlooks the entire space. The main floor has early 19th century art: Conservative on the right, Realism on the left.
Wandering among the main floor’s gallery of gleaming white statues is a joy. At the end of the first floor is a scale model of the Garnier Opéra House – this cross section lets you see the complexities of all the stage areas and gives you a good idea of the size of the place.
Upstairs is where the impressionist and post-impressionist – well presented and amazing. I could certainly have one or more of these on the wall in my house!
All in all David was in the d’Orsay about 4 hours while Janeen and Beth had previously spent a few hours it was not nearly enough time to really see everything – David missed all the furniture, photography and the special Picasso exhibits. Most likely we will back during this trip.
Paris, the City of Light is the world’s most visited capital. The city is proud of its many monuments from the iconic Eiffel Tower to the lofty Notre-Dame cathedral and the majestic Arc de Triomphe. No doubt this is Europe’s most enchanting capital!
Here is our list of the top 10 Things to Do and Must-Sees in Paris
Go to the top of the Eiffel Tower.
Take a riverboat cruise on the Seine
Enjoy a Hop-On Hop-Off bus ride around Paris
Paris by Night: Spend an exceptional evening at the Moulin Rouge.
Visit the Notre-Dame Cathedral of Paris.
Take a stroll around Montmartre and visit the Sacré Coeur Basilica.
Visit the Louve Museum
Enjoy a romantic dinner on the Seine River
Take a stroll in the heart of Paris
Visit the Garnier Opera House.
Yes, there are lots of historic neighborhoods to explore; bistros to sit and have a coffee and all those monuments are spectacular. However, there is another side of Paris that tourists don’t normally visit and they include outdoor markets (literally hundreds held every week) and a Flea Market that goes back over two centuries!
The most famous flea market in Paris is the one at Porte de Clignancourt, officially called Les Puces de Saint-Ouen, but known to everyone as Les Puces (The Fleas). It covers seven hectares and is the largest antique market in the world, receiving between 120,000 to 180,000 visitors each weekend. This market is about a 10-minute walk from our apartment.
The history of the flea market dates back over two centuries, when rag and bone men scoured through the garbage of Paris at night to find valuable junk to sell on. They were called ‘crocheteurs’ or pickers. The romantic term was ‘pêcheurs de lune’ or ‘fishermen for the moon’. Many set up their temporary stalls within the Paris walls in sleazy neighborhoods, but because these districts were full of pickpockets and thieves, they were chased out of the city walls to Clignancourt, Montreuil, Vanves, etc. The largest of these flea markets is the one at Clignancourt, but the other two continue to this day.
The rag and bone men gathered outside the walls of Paris at the Porte de Clignancourt and set up temporary stalls where they hawked their wares. Eventually, they formed groups of stalls to attract more customers. The more enterprising traders began to ‘trade up’ in terms of goods and eventually it became popular for Parisian collectors and antique dealers to shop there for bargains.
Today, when we arrived, it was almost overwhelming to take it all in. Up one walkway, turn down another and round and round we went. Sometime hitting the same spot before realizing we were walking in a circle. If we had been trying to furnish or decorate an apartment it would have been a snap!
There were stalls with rugs, lamps, furniture, nautical items, clocks, lamps and lots of decorative items. Other shops had stacks of books,
piles and piles of them others with stuff you would have considered trash and tossed out to the garbage but here it was ready for someone to see a need and pick something up from the pile.
We left without buying anything but had enjoyable walkabout and will most likely wander back later during our visit. After all, if we bought something, where would we put it and gosh we don’t even have a home to put anything anyway. We might be back, who knows, and pick up the cow sofa.
Former President Jimmy Carter may have a somewhat mixed record, with a Nobel Peace Prize on the one hand and a lost 1980 reelection bid on the other. However, it is thanks to Jimmy Carter that there is craft brewing – and more importantly home brewing! In 1978 Carter signed into law the ability for home brewers making less then 50 gallons for personal use to make beer legally and without the need to pay any taxes! Prior to that time home brewing was hidden behind closed doors and illegal.
Since that time, craft brewers have exploded resulting in hundreds if not thousands of small producers starting in their garage and turning it into a real business (yes, at that point they have to start paying taxes). Jason, our eldest son, has been home brewing for several years and we have tasted the results often. (He has no intention of turning this into a business.)
While we were visiting recently Jason decided to make a batch of what he calls G’Nu Castle Brown Ale, a “clone” of New Castle Brown Ale.
Following the spirit of the original New Castle, this brew requires two separate fermentation tanks (buckets). One batch is prepared to an Original Gravity (O.G.) of 1.050, while the second is prepared to 1.035 OG.
Gravity is a measurement of the wert’s density, and in home brewing is a measure how much malt (sugar) is dissolved into the water.
Distilled water has a Specific Gravity (S.G.) of 1.000. The first batch, which is denser and has a higher Gravity, will end up with a higher Alcohol by Volume (abv). The second batch will have a lower abv because it has less malt to convert to alcohol.
The unique qualities of these two batches help give this New Castle clone it’s distinctive taste. The higher Gravity means the yeast converts the malt faster (more food to eat, so it eats faster) and the product has a “fruitier” flavor to its alcohol. The lower Gravity batch converts slower and will end up with a more “malty” flavor. These two batches are combined after fermentation into a single batch, and mixed thoroughly.
After about two weeks, the two batches are each transferred to a new (sanitized) fermentation tank. This accomplishes two objectives; first the “debris” that has settled on the bottom of the primary fermentation tank (which is called “trub”) is unwanted and gives poor flavor and clarity to final beer, the second is the transfer re-originates the beer and reinvigorates the yeast to convert more malt to alcohol. During this transfer an additional Gravity reading is taken.
At this point the Gravity was approximately 1.035 for the first batch and 1.018, which is about half of the fermentation that is expected. The yeast will continue to convert malt to alcohol for the next few weeks.
Once no further malt conversion is occurring, which can be judged by taking several Gravity readings over several days until there is no change in the reading (or just letting it sit for a long time and then arbitrarily deciding “it’s done!”), it’s time to prep for bottling.
Final gravity readings are taken (1.021 for batch 1, and 1.008 for batch 2) it’s time to combine the batches and add bottling sugar. The bottling sugar is a relatively small amount of sugar that re-vitalizes the yeast and causes them to convert just a little more alcohol. The by-product of this is carbonation; which gives the beer that nice mouth feel. Because the beer has been sealed behind a bottle-cap, the CO2 has no place to escape to and becomes “dissolved” in the beer until the bottle is opened.
Using a special bottling wand, which only allows the beer to flow from the bottling bucket when it’s depressed inside the each bottle (which have all been very well cleaned and sanitized), the beer is transferred from a bucket where everything has been re-mixed into the bottles.
After bottling, the beer is left to sit for two to three weeks, during which time the yeast converts the small amount of sugar into both alcohol and carbonation.
This batch turned out very well, with an estimated final abv of 4.5%, and a flavor that is very much like New Castle. We used a little too much sugar for bottling, so it’s a little over-carbonated, which is why we had one bottle explode during bottle fermentation.
Because this is a home brew, the yeast remains “alive” because there’s no pasteurization process to kill off the yeast. So, as the beer continues to rest the flavor may change subtly over the ensuing weeks and months.
This adds a new element to home brewing as you could have something that’s pretty terrible after the first two weeks, but is actually really great after two months!
After the New Year, we relaxed and just enjoyed being together. On Tuesday, the 2nd, Claudia left to return to Morro Bay and we continued to enjoy the apartment. While there are LOTS of things left to do in Paris, we took in only a few more sites during our last week.
One morning, we decided to take in The Pantheon.
This is located in the Latin Quarter and was originally built as a church dedicated to St. Genevieve (patron saint of Paris) but later became a tribute to the secular as well as religious leaders of Paris after the Revolution.
In the Crypt are the remains of Voltaire, Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Marie Curie, Louis Braille and a number of other significant people. It is a very large marble building and COLD inside. No heat to the place (big surprise) and it retained the cold long after it started to warm up outside. A lot of interesting French history depicted in murals on the walls and in the various displays throughout the building. French schoolchildren encounter these murals in their history books.
After the Pantheon, we headed out to visit the Arènes de Lutèce. This is the most important ruin from the Gallo-Roman era in Paris. Lying in what is now the Latin Quarter, this amphitheater originally could seat 15,000 people and was used to present gladiatorial combats. Constructed in the 1st century AD, much of the original structure has been destroyed with the exception of some of the terraces, cubbyholes situated beneath the lower terraces and some other structures remain.
For lunch Ryan took us to a Fondue spot not far away where we enjoyed a lovely lunch. I don’t recall when I have had fondue and it was a neat way to enjoy some mushrooms with cheese and a trio of meats (chicken, beef and duck we cooked in the boiling oil).
During last couple of days, we ventured out to the cheese shop of Laurent Dubois – considered to be one of the best chesemongers in Paris. He holds the highest designation for a cheesemonger and affineur in France. The shop had a strong selection of aged cheeses and small producers from around the country. Below the shop, in caves, he ages a few cheeses well beyond what others might but seems to have the ability to know when to release them. We picked up a few nice selections including a Mont D’ Or. This is only produced during the months between October and February and I have learned to bake it with garlic and wine ; delicious on a fresh baguette. When I said I was taking it with me on my flight the next day the vacuum sealed it! Wish I had done that with several other cheeses to bring back.
We also visited the music box store (again) – Avanti la Musica is a small shop jammed to the rafters and beyond with music boxes, interesting toys and fine gifts.
On Monday we four trekked out to Charles de Gaulle airports and Janeen and I boarded our flight back to the US of A .
We landed safely in Virginia and are now settled in with our son, Jason, daughter-in-law, Terri and grand daughter for a while. Not sure when the next post will happen so check back every so often to find out as we have a LOT more travelling to do before we settle down.
The decision on what to do for New Years Eve was actually quite difficult and easy at the same time. Paris – lots of different places we could have gone, parities, fancy dining, and restaurants with fantastic views abound. However, we decided to return to Le Réminet and booked a table for the 7:30. This place, which we have already been to on this trip and reported earlier, is only a few steps from Norte-Dame and Ile Saint Louis. This place is a semi-gastromic bistro with chic seating serving gourmet meals in a candlelit-vaulted room.
Just a few steps away from the restaurant is a cute music box store we stopped into prior to going into the restaurant. Avanti la Musica was filled with different music boxes and beautiful toys. Claudia picked out a lovely little gift for herself and we all enjoyed the place.
Chris and Claudia in a little shop by the Restaurant that had LOTS of music boxes and interesting toys.
Now for the main event of the evening.
Le Réminet is really a small place with maybe 30 seats and we had the table of honor (being the biggest party) at the round table in the corner of the place. Over the course of the next FIVE HOURS we were served a delightful dinner of maybe 8 courses. I did get a little carried away and ordered four bottles of wines during the evening.
At midnight we all rang in the New Year with Bonne Année and had a moment with the Chef to thank him for a lovely evening.
December 28th – three days after Christmas and 3 days before the New Year starts and we found ourselves taking a tour of the Paris Opera House.
The Palais Garnier is a 1,979-seat opera house, which was built from 1861 to 1875 for the Paris Opera. It’s called Palais Garnier in recognition of the opulence created by the architect, Charles Garnier. Historically known as the Opéra de Paris or simply the Opéra it is the primary home of the Paris Opera and it’s associated ballet until the Opera moved into a new building Opéra Bastille in 1989. The Palais Garnier has been called one of the most famous opera houses in the world and is the setting for the novel The Phantom of the Opera and the subsequent plan by the same name.
The interior of the building is filled with gold leaf, statues, decorative ceilings, huge entrance stairs and lots of other stuff that will impress the visitor. Our audio guide tour was well worth the cost and very informative.
We have been in several opera houses during our various adventures (Budapest, Venice and Prague over the last few years) and this is one of the most impressive ones we have seen.
After our tour it was time for lunch and we went to the Dome at the Galeries Lafayette.
Of course, while we were there, we did stop and look at the decorations on the inside of the building and particularly the fancy ceiling. Always an treat to visit and take a gander at beautiful art.
The Dome Restaurant is exactly that – plastic domes on the roof of the building. While there we of course had to take several pictures of the buildings around us. Lunch was actually quite good – given there really isn’t a kitchen on the roof and the hot stuff came from down stairs – a lovely way to spend the afternoon as the rain passed by.
After lunch we headed back to the apartment to rest up for the next adventure.
We have been in a lot of churches over the course of our travels but nothing equals Sainte Chapelle with its stain glass displays of Biblical stories. Built at the direction of King Louis IX over the course of seven years, it was and completed then consecrated on April 26, 1248. Built to hold the King’s collection of holy relics from the Crusades, it has become a must see destination for anyone visiting Paris. The Crown of Thorns, however, is now at Notre-Dame.
Located not far from the Cathedral of Notre-Dame it was originally part of the King’s Palace, it was originally intended to house the relics acquired by King Louis IX he acquired including fragments of the True Cross, the Holy Lance and the Crown of Thorns. The Church is divided into two levels –
a lower level was a place of worship for the Palace Staff and others while the
upper level that is truly monumental and sumptuously decorated with stain glass was for the King and Regent Queen. Around the upper level are among the finest of their type in the world, are the great stained glass windows.
When you first walk in, on the lower level, you see the structure of the building, some stain glass above the lower walls and a statue of Saint Louis. Along one side are souvenir stands and some commentary but nothing really dramatic. However, after navigating the spiral stairs (that were originally for the servants as the King entered at the upper level) you get to the main event. Fifteen huge mid-13th century windows fill the nave and apse while a large rose window with flamboyant tracery dominates the western wall. There are 1,113 stained glass windows! Much of the chapel, as it appears today, is a re-creation, although nearly two-thirds of the windows are authentic.
The Audio guide takes you though most of the windows, the sculpture and other features of the room. We spent the better part of a couple of hours going over the place – listening to the audio guide, reading the information and generally taking it all in. Each stain glass widow tells a story – most from the bible but a couple about King Louis and his life. All in all it is really an impressive place – almost overwhelming with the beauty.
After we finished up with Saint-Chapelle we went next door to the Conciergerie.
Formally part of the palace it became a prison, a revolutionary court and Marie Antoinette’s prison until her trial and execution. The upper floors of the building now house various courtrooms and government offices while the basement has representative rooms showing the cells that were used and information about the revolution and the Reign of Terror.
After finishing up here we headed out for lunch across the Seine river at L’Epi Dupin. This was a recommendation from a friend in LA, Randy, and it was not a disappointment at all.
Ryan acquired the chef’s cookbook. We chose to have the tasting menu and three bottles of wine!
After enjoying our lunch, we took the bus to the Eiffel Tower arriving early evening (6ish or so).
Janeen and I headed back to the apartment while Ryan, Chris and Claudia waited in line for tickets to go up the tower to the second level of observation.
Christmas in Paris – yes, we have been able to stay long enough that it is actually Christmas in Paris. Gift giving was limited as you might imagine – what with our flying back to the US in a couple of weeks and Ryan and Chris not in their final apartment yet it didn’t make sense to buy a lot of stuff now.
And it wouldn’t be really Christmas with out Rice and Curry as the main meal of the day. So, Ryan and Chris have put together a lovely lunch with all the various side dishes and tasty things to go with it for our late lunch.
After relaxing and getting everything cleaned up we headed out for an evening bus tour of Christmas Lights. There are lots of lights and the double deck bus with an open top was the way to go. An hour and a half trip around some of the neighborhoods and shopping areas was a nice way to take in the sites.
Of course we went by this place a couple of times.
Of course we went by this place a couple of times.