Yesterday Priscilla and I decided to take in the Vivian Maier photography exhibit at the Musée de Luxembourg. We are both great admirers of her photography. The exhibit is quite extensive and the quality of the prints is exceptional.
Afterward, on a whim, we decided to take a walk through the Luxembourg Gardens. This was our first time there. We had no idea how amazing this place is.
We entered the park right at the beginning of the golden hour. The late day fall sunlight gave an otherworldly glow to everyone and everything it touched. It seemed that all of Paris was in the Luxembourg Gardens this day, perhaps playing chess, or engaging in a tennis match, or simply soaking up the sun.
As a photographer who loves photographing people, I was like a kid in a candy shop. I had great light and fantastic subjects who weren’t paying any attention to me. I’m guessing we’re about a week or two away from peak fall color here, so we will definitely be back to the Luxembourg Gardens. Today we are off on the train to Nantes to visit Anna for the weekend. More on that later.
After seeing our travelers off to their various destinations, yesterday was supposed to be an R&R day for Priscilla and me, but if you know me well you'll know that I don't sit well. So, on a whim, I decided to check out the massive Bois de Vincennes (woods of Vincennes) park that is close to the eastern terminus of the #1 Metro line, the Chateau de Vincennes stop.
As I told Priscilla when I set out, I didn't have high expectations for this park, since you don't tend to read of it in any of the guidebooks, and the reference I found in Wikipedia said the park was known for prostitution after dark. But since I had nothing else planned for the day and was eager to see some fall color in this huge wooded park not too far from us, I set out after lunch. After getting off the #1 Metro at the Chateau de Vincennes station, I walked about half a mile or so through a not so promising looking area that was bounded by the long-of-tooth and walled-off Chateau de Vincennes on one side and the forbidding looking Fort Neuf military base on the other. Eventually I came upon the large Parc Floral de Paris sign at the entrance. The Parc Floral de Paris is located within the Bois de Vincennes. At this point, my expectations were still measured.
Well, I'll get straight to the punch line. My expectations were utterly and completely blown out of the water by the Parc Floral de Paris. Once I got further into the park, I realized that this was not your garden variety floral park (pun intended). Initially I came upon a large wooded area filled with all manner of playground equipment with children playing on them. It seemed around every corner in the woods you'd come upon another set of playground equipment, for all different age groups. Then I found an extensive high-ropes course where a group of young adults were zip-lining across the forest canopy and stair-stepping through the forest in midair. As if that weren't enough, there is a beautiful, glass-walled art gallery on the grounds.
But nothing prepared me for the dahlia gardens. I followed a sign pointing me in that direction, knowing that Priscilla would want reports, I soon came to learn how this park got its name. I entered into one of the largest flower gardens I've ever seen, dedicated strictly to dahlias. Actually there were multiple gardens strung together. The dahlias were in full bloom, with a riot of color everywhere you looked. I knew in an instant that Priscilla and I had to come back while these dahlias are still in bloom.
Originally I went to the Bois de Vincennes in search of fall color. Yes, I saw some fall color, but I was treated to a whole lot more than that in the Parc Floral de Paris. This park is like a giant wooded playground for young and old alike. It just goes to show that you can make the most amazing discoveries when you get off the well-worn tourist path.
P.S. Later in the day, our friend Claudia told us that there is a special area in the Bois de Vincennes where people walk around in the nude. The signage directing you to that area refers to "Naturists". It's a good thing I didn't come upon that sign, because I surely would have followed it, thinking of myself as one who enjoys nature.
We've had a busy few days here since we last checked in. On Saturday, while Roberta and Maddie were off and about, we spent time with Anna just bumming around our neighborhood and lazing at the flat. She got to meet our friend Claudia at her food stall. We also introduced Anna to the Coulée Verte, which she loved. Later that night, Anna and Maddie attended a 70s/80s themed costume birthday party at Maddie's friend's flat in the 11th, not too far from here. We oldsters didn't wait up for them.
Sunday was a lazy day for the Northenscolds. Roberta and Maddie meanwhile went to see Saint Chapelle, which they came back from with glowing reports. I helped get Anna and Maddie off to the Montparnasse rail station for their train to Nantes. Roberta took in the Louvre in the morning and then met Priscilla and me at the Pompidou Centre for the fabulous Georgia O'Keefe special exhibit.
This was our first time to the Pompidou. We both loved it...the permanent exhibits and the special O'Keefe exhibit. As usual, we didn't have enough time to take it all in. But what we saw we were impressed with. We will definitely come back. I'd like to see the photography exhibits. Plus, the view of Paris from the sixth level is stunning. We made it back from the Pompidou in time for some late afternoon snacks and a dinner cooked up by Priscilla that we lovingly call garbage pail pasta. Ask Priscilla to explain it to you sometime.
Today we started with a visit to the amazing Jacques Genin chocolate shop in the Marais so Roberta could pick up some treats to bring home. Next we made our way to our favorite Paris restaurant, Mokonuts, for a wonderful and relaxing lunch at Roberta's treating. Mokonuts is less than half a mile from our flat, so it's an easy walk. After our leisurely lunch, Roberta and Priscilla headed back over to Place des Vosges in the Marais to visit Priscilla's favorite scarf shop, Sous Le Sable.
Later tonight I'll be meeting Maddie at her train at Montparnasse, as she returns from her trek to western France. She heads off to Switzerland tomorrow to visit another good friend from her study abroad. We will also bid a fond farewell to Roberta, who makes her return flight to Minnesota tomorrow. It has been so much fun having guests this week. It will sure seem mighty quiet around here after everyone leaves.
We've got a full house here at 2 Rue Charles Baudelaire this week. On Thursday, my sister-in-law, Roberta, and our niece, Maddie, arrived from Minnesota, and then on Friday Anna arrived by train from Nantes. Roberta and Maddie's first day was a laid back affair, giving them time to rest and work through their jet lag. We did manage to get over to the Marché Aligre though.
On Friday it was all about museums and walking. I helped get Roberta and Maddie to D'Orsay and then once I got back to our flat I turned around and made my way to the massive Montparnasse train station to meet Anna. After a bit of fumbling around to connect in that huge place, Anna and I met up and then made our way back to our flat to pick up Priscilla and make our way to the Picasso Museum, where we were to meet Roberta and Maddie. Whew! Even writing that all out it sounds exhausting.
After the Picasso Museum we took a walking tour of the 3rd and 4th arrondissements, making our way through the Jewish Quarter and the Marais and then crossing over onto Île Saint-Louis and then Île Citie and Notre Dame. There is a display documenting the restoration efforts on the barriers that wall off access. It is an incredible undertaking. There are also reproductions of drawings of Notre Dame from school children around the country.
After Notre Dame continued on to the famous Shakespeare & Company bookstore. Priscilla and I waited outside while the other three shoppers had a wonderful shopping experience inside. We enjoyed the buskers, Matthew and Paul. Priscilla chatted them up (surprise, surprise!) and found out Matthew was originally from New York and Paul was from Kentucky. They live in Paris now. I have to wonder how people make that happen. After all, one doesn't just up and move to Paris. The French government has more than a few rules about such matters.
We finished out the evening with a wonderful dinner at a favorite neighborhood bistro in the Marais, Chez Mademoiselle. Initially we were told that they were all full up, but once we said we'd be fine sitting outside they were happy to seat us. I suppose only us crazy Minnesotans would sit outside on a cool fall night. We must have started something though, because by the time we left at around 9:30, the entire sidewalk patio was filled. The owner, Felix, was a fabulous host for our group. Being a handsome Frenchman, with long wavy hair, didn't hurt his popularity with our group.
All in all, it was a full-fledged Parisian day, with a lot of miles worth of wear on shoes. My iPhone told me I'd walked just over 10 miles by the time we got back to our flat. Toward the end of our tour we supplemented our walking by taking the Metro a couple times. We all needed to rest our feet and joints.
Today, Roberta, Maddie, and Anna took a Giverny tour, returning with rave reviews. The gift shop there rang up record sales I expect from these three. Later today, Roberta and Maddie are planning to visit Sacré Coeur. And finally, this evening Maddie and Anna are planning to attend a 70s and 80s themed costume birthday party for a friend of Maddie's that she met on her study abroad in Italy. We oldsters are definitely not waiting up for them.
We first read of the Royaumont Abbey in the book by Annabel Simms entitled, "An Hour From Paris". The abbey was originally founded in the 13th century by King Louis IX and served as a Cistercian abbey until it was declared national property during the French Revolution and eventually sold. After going through a few different incarnations, it returned to its original purpose as an abbey in the 19th century. In the early 20th century it was sold to private owners. During World War I it served as a hospital. In the 1930s the owners turned the abbey into a residence for artists to work and rest. In 1964 the Royaumont Abbey Foundation was established, and since then the estate has served as an important center for the arts.
It was our good fortune that the Royaumont Festival was taking place through October 3. This is a major music and dance festival with performances by the artists in residence. The concert scheduled for Saturday evening was by a small baroque string ensemble, Le Consort, along with soprano and bass soloists. The abbey has an offering called A Weekend at the Abbey, which includes dinner, a room in the abbey, and breakfast. Since our concert wouldn't let out until close to 11 p.m., we decided to make a weekend of it.
Getting there from Paris involved taking the Metro from the Bastille Metro station to the large Gare du Nord train station, where we caught a regional train (RER H), taking it to the terminus at Luzarches. A shuttle bus picked us up there for the 15 minute ride to the abbey. In her book, Simms wrote of a 4.5km walk to the abbey from an earlier train stop, but since it was raining hard all weekend, we are happy that we took the shuttle bus.
A three-course meal started off our weekend. We were seated in a beautiful ancient room with a vaulted ceiling. The first course was a wonderful roasted chestnut & mushroom soup, with chestnuts coming from the many chestnut trees on the grounds of the estate. The main course was fish and the dessert was a baked pear tartlet. This was a fixed menu, so you had to be willing to eat what the chef had prepared, which we definitely were. Everything was delicious.
After dinner we made our way to the Monk's Refectory for the concert. The photo above is from a rehearsal the next day being held in this space. The hall has high vaulted ceilings and lively acoustics. The pillars made finding a seat with good sight lines a bit tricky, but eventually we found seats that provided us an unobstructed view of all the performers.
The title of the concert was D'un coeur charmé, which translates to "of a charmed heart". The pieces performed were by 18th century French baroque composers–Francoeur, de Montgaultier, Bernier, Travenol, and Lefebvre. Neither of us had heard of any of these composers. Everything was sung in French, of course, but the language of love is universal, so we could figure out just when someone was being jilted or when they had just fallen head over heals in love. The soprano soloist was Gwendoline Blondeel and the bass soloist was Edwin Fardini. Along with the fabulous string ensemble, Le Consort, I'd have to say the performances were world class, from top to bottom. When you're only paying 20 Euros for tickets, you don't go in with sky-high expectations. But from the moment the first chord was struck, we knew we'd hit solid gold. The performers looked all of 25 years old, but they played and sang well beyond their years.
Our favorite place to relax at Royaumont was the cosy nooks in the cloister hallway with its vaulted ceilings. It was a rainy and blustery weekend, but in our little hideout we were as comfy as could be. The French probably figured we were crazy for sitting in such cold conditions. To us Minnesotans, it was simply perfect. We had no competition for spots.
Sunday morning, after our breakfast, we ventured out for a walk, but soon were drawn to the ethereal sounds of voices coming from the Monk's Refectory, the site of the previous night's concert. There was a rehearsal in progress of a chorale from the Normandy region. Priscilla asked about and was able to gain us entrance to the hall for five minutes to listen to the rehearsal. The sounds of the singing in that hall were absolutely gorgeous.
Although it was still raining, we decided to get out to walk the grounds and check out the gardens. The photographer in me was actually happy to be out shooting on a rainy day. Priscilla was in her element. The gardens are working gardens, not show gardens. That is exactly the type of garden we both appreciate. Priscilla especially fell in love with the marvelous fig tree in the garden of nine squares, with its beautiful lattice-work raised beds.
Our weekend at the Royaumont Abbey is a perfect example of the type of travel experience we love...something off the beaten path and distinctly unique and memorable. We're pretty sure we were the only Americans at the abbey that weekend. It was evident that the Royaumont Abbey is largely enjoyed by the French.
The afterglow from our Weekend at the Abbey has left us with wonderfully warm feelings about the experience. This was definitely one of those "pinch yourself to see if it's real" type of experiences. We will definitely be back at the Royaumont Abbey.
One of the areas of France we have wanted to visit is Provence. We love the wines from the region, plus we've wanted to take a French cooking class while here, so we combined both interests into a Provence getaway this week in Avignon, the capital of the Rhone region.
First up was a cooking class at Jean-Mark Villard's French Cuisine school. Jean-Marc, the chef, and his lovely wife Alice, the business manager, run this school out of their beautiful home in the village of Maubec, located 30km (18 miles) east of Avignon. Priscilla is going to take over the writing duties to tell you about Jean-Marc's class.
Jean-Marc Villard's School of French Cuisine
I asked Tom if I might write a bit in the blog about our cooking class as I thought it might be one of the highlights of our time here. I was right! Many years ago, I served on the board of Kantorei, a Twin Cities based choral ensemble. One of the singers/board members had a serious side gig teaching cooking classes in Provence. Occasionally he teaches in Julia Child's former home. Since hearing of his classes, I've always wanted to take a cooking class in Provence. While Jean-Marc and Alice's home is not Julie Child's, it is a dream of a home. I could live the rest of my life there...Hah!
The home is set in the countryside, with small vineyards, horses grazing and beautiful homes dotting the land. You enter the home through the garden and up onto a stone patio, where a table sits in the middle. Two large trees, planted close together, have been pruned and trained to grown up onto a pergola and provide enough shade for any hot day. Jean-Marc said it is now too cold to take their morning coffee out there. As Minnesotans we thought 60 degrees sounded perfect. Our taxi arrived 20 minutes late so we arrived late to our class. But thankfully everyone was very kind about our delayed arrival. Next time we will take more photos of the outside of the house.
Jean-Marc and Alice are such welcoming people. Alice took note of my caffeine habit and served me an espresso at every opportunity. As soon as I had finished my second espresso and a couple of lovely shortbread cookies, we headed off to the local co-op to do our shopping for our class. This co-op is such an amazing place. It is owned and run by the farmers that provide everything that is sold. From the vegetables and fruit to meat and fish, everything is produced by the farmers. Each farmer is required to also devote time to working in the co-op during the week. During Covid, the co-op was able to remain open and the community was able to eat and still support the farmers. Jean-Marc only shops at this co-op as everything is fresh and he knows every farmer. Nothing is wasted in the co-op. If any of the fresh food is aging, farmers will put is in a jar. Fruit is turned into jam, meat into a terrine or pâté. I couldn't help thinking of my Grandma Halsted during the war. She and my Grandpa Halsted owned a grocery store, and when the food was on the "edge", she would can it. Even if it was just a half a pint.
Alice runs the back of the house and Jean-Marc, the front end. Alice's brother, who lives on the property, assists with clean-up while cooking is going on, bussing dishes out of sight quick as a flash and returning them to duty minutes later. It is quite the operation. Jean-Marc has a lot of experience teaching in culinary schools, serving as a chef in several restaurants, and in his own cooking school which we experienced. Jean-Marc also had a stint in St. Louis, MO in the USA where he perfected his command of English. All of this to say that we had wonderful instruction. I learned so much and plan to use all of Jean-Marc's tricks to enhance my own cooking and baking. I think you get the idea that I loved this experience and plan to make a repeat visit. I'll let the photos speak for the rest.
On the second day of our time in Avignon we took in a Chateauneuf du Pape wine tour. The reds of the Chateauneuf du Pape region happen to be Priscilla's favorite. In fact, they were her entrée to red wines in general. Our tour was put on by Provence Panorama. We were in a small group of eight...a couple from Sweden, a couple from Poland and Switzerland, a couple from Tennessee (soon to be North Carolina), and us. We were amazed at how incredibly rocky the soil is in the Chateuneuf du Pape area. The harvesting is done by hand. I can imagine the field workers have to be careful not to turn an ankle on those rocks.
In all we visited five wineries, tasting wines from the Gigondas, Lirac, and Chateauneuf du Pape appellations. We stopped for an excellent three-course meal at a restaurant on site at one of the wineries. One of the happy surprises of these tastings was the white wines of the region. Because the production of white wines only comprises about 5% of the total production from the region, all of it stays in France. As our tour guide, Gilles, said, we keep the best for us. Priscilla, who tends to prefer red wines, especially enjoyed the whites from the region. We ended up buying bottles from each winery. We had no intentions of bringing any of this back to the states with us. It will all be consumed or gifted in France. I'd say our favorite red was actually a Gigondas–the 2019 Domaine Grand Romane from Pierre Amadieu. We bought two bottles of that wine.
Schlepping ten bottles of wine back on the train was not for the weak of heart, but we made it no worse for the wear. We have a short outing this weekend to the Royaumont Abbey which we will write about in an upcoming post. Then we will prepare for the Thursday arrival of guests from Minnesota, Priscilla's sister Roberta and our niece Maddie. And then on Friday our daughter Anna arrives on the train from Nantes, where she has her study abroad. She will spend the weekend with us all before heading back on Sunday.
In these "Our Neighborhood" posts I will give you an introduction to some of the notable attractions of our neighborhood here in the 12th arrondissement. First up is the Coulée Verte (green course in French). It's pronounced something like this: coo-lay vairt.
The Coulée Verte is a raised greenway that was created on the top of an old railroad viaduct. It runs for about three miles, from just east of the Bastille toward the Bois de Vincennes park. On top Parisians enjoy walking, running, exercising, and simply relaxing amidst beautiful green space in the middle of the city. In the arched spaces under Coulée Verte reside all sorts of amazing artisan shops. Priscilla's favorite is the Confiture Parisienne, a shop where they make their own jams and Madeleines.
My goal this trip is to walk the entire Coulée Verte. My family likes to tease me about my Coulée Verte obsession, mimicking the way I say it, in an annoyingly exaggerated manner. As I like to say, I am a walking fool, and in my mind there's no better place in Paris to get in a good long walk than the Coulée Verte. Our flat is only a few blocks away from one of the entrances. The last photo in the slideshow below shows the elevated view of the street that our building is on. Ours is the building on the right with the angled front.
Late day yesterday I got out for a walk on the Coulée Verte during the golden hour. On my return leg I walked by what I thought was a figurine of a pigeon that had been placed on one of the bushes, as it was completely still. When I walked right next to the pigeon, no more than two feet away, it moved! That sure gave me a start. After collecting myself, I then slowly walked back toward the gutsy pigeon with camera in hand to see if I could get a good photo. This was as close as I got. I was about three feet away when I made this photo. Immediately after I pressed the shutter button the pigeon flew away.
So this is the Coulée Verte, one of my favorite spaces in Paris. I don't recall where I first read of it. The Coulée Verte is the type of place that tends not to make it into most guidebooks. Maybe that's why I don't tend to use them anymore.
I think for my next "Our Neighborhood" post I will cover the Aligre Market, another place that is a bit off the beaten path, but well worth a visit if you want to see authentic Paris.
It's been a whirlwind of a few days for us here in Paris. We arrived on Wednesday, September 22 and got to our flat at midday where we were met by Natasza, the agent for our flat. Her abundance of energy more than compensated for our jet-lagged persons. She gave us the rundown on our flat and the area around us. I suppose I should now give you the overview of our flat.
The flat at 2 rue Charles Baudelaire is large by Parisian standards. We have two bedrooms, a living room and dining room, an excellent kitchen, and one bathroom. The view out our balcony is beautiful. We get wonderful late day light on that side of our flat. The street directly in front of our building is pedestrian only, so this flat is nice and quiet.
Our building is right around the corner from our favorite market in Paris, the Aligre Market. There are food stalls in the covered market and then every day there is a street market that runs for a few blocks. Our friend, Claudia Cabri, has a food stall in the covered market. That's where we first met her two years ago. We enjoyed having a little catch up with Claudia. I picked up her vegetarian lasagna and a couple pieces of polenta cake for our first dinner in Paris. It was all delicious! Everything at the market is incredibly fresh. For our first breakfast, I stopped at a favorite bakery, Blé Sucré, for pain chocolat and a baguette, and then I picked up some fresh melon, mango, and strawberries at the street market.
In the afternoon we met our friends Ellen and Jean-Pierre at the Galerie Miranda, a gallery specializing in photography. A friend of theirs, Gerard Dalla Santa, had an exhibit of his landscape photographs showing there. I enjoyed his work. As I told him, his photographs from the Burgundy region and Pennsylvania were honest.
After enjoying a coffee with Ellen and Jean-Pierre, we headed back to our flat to get ready for our evening plans, the Jamie Cullum concert at the Salle Playel. Priscilla's eagle eye allowed us to score a pair of tickets to this sold-out concert. Jamie is one of our favorite performers. He is a pianist and singer whose work is a bit hard to categorize, but if forced to I'd say his work is a fusion between jazz and rock. Jamie's Paris dates are his first concerts since before COVID hit. We made it to the concert hall area early enough to grab a delicious light dinner at Bencco, an Italian deli. The concert was outstanding. I'm sure it will go down as one of the highlights of our time here.
Today is a lazier day for us, after getting in several miles of walking yesterday and taking the Metro a number of times. Since we arrived on Wednesday, I've been out a few times in our neighborhood with my camera. I'll close out this post with a slideshow of photos from our neighborhood.
This is a short post to let you know that we are on our way. Next up, Paris! I expect the next post I make will be on our first day in Paris. We will acquaint you with our flat and the neighborhood.
We are less than two weeks from our departure, so that means we're in the list checking phase of travel. You can imagine that travel during COVID has led to the addition of many items on our to-do list. Each country has its own travel requirements, even within the EU. The requirements I will reference are only for France and are as of the date I am writing this.
The EU has implemented a digital COVID certificate. You need to show this certificate to get into most public places and to take public transportation. In France they call this the Pass Sanitaire. With a CDC vaccination card, plus a passport and confirmed return travel itinerary, you can apply online for the French version of the COVID certificate. Priscilla and I have both received our certificates. The process was easy and the turnaround quick. The COVID certificate comes in the form of a QR code that you can scan into a smartphone app that the French government has published entitled Tous Anti COVID. While we've heard that your CDC card will work to get you into most places, technically, it is not sufficient according to the French government guidelines. It costs nothing to get the certificate, so we went ahead and did it.
If you are fully vaccinated, what you need to get into France besides your passport are the CDC card or the COVID certificate along with a sworn affidavit that basically states that you don't have COVID and haven't been around anyone who has it. At this time, if you are vaccinated, France is not requiring a negative COVID test.
The other thing we've learned is that masking requirements vary by airline. Our flight over to Paris is a Delta flight, in partnership with Air France. Air France has a requirement that masks be either the surgical variety or N95, not cloth. We have a good supply of the surgical masks, so we will bring those. Our cloth masks fit well, so I think we will start there and if they request it we will switch to the surgical masks.
The interesting thing is that the U.S. State Department has a travel warning out for France given the state of COVID there, but when you look at the worldwide COVID heat map published on the NY Times website, you see that the U.S. is much hotter than France. Overall, the rate of new infections in the U.S. on a per capita basis is running 3x that of France (45/100k vs. 16/100k). I've included a chart of new COVID cases for France below. The trend is definitely headed in the right direction.
One last thing we're doing, in a "belt and suspenders" approach, is that we will get a COVID test the Sunday before we leave. That way if a COVID test requirement gets added at the last minute we will be covered. Most of the COVID test requirements state that the test has to have been taken within the last 72 hours. We are using the State of Minnesota test center in Brooklyn Park, which costs nothing and in the past has given one-day turnaround. The test there is the saliva test which you self-administer. The results are delivered via email and also to a smartphone app.
As far as getting back into the U.S., right now the requirement is that you present a negative COVID test. These are available at all pharmacies in France, so I expect that's where we will take care of that. In future posts I don't plan on dwelling on COVID, but I thought some of you might be wondering what we are doing to be prepared for travel during COVID. My hope is that COVID fades into the background on this trip and we have a wonderful time in one of our favorite places in the world.