Monthly Archives: October 2011

12 Days in Paris: Day 6

Paris Boutique. Photo by Barbara J. Rosen

Monday was Charles’ last day in Paris, so we had a decidedly un-cultural day, spent walking around and shopping for gifts for his friends and family.  Our first stop was Le Bon Marché, which is my favorite department store.  Contrary to its name (“the good deal”), the store is anything but cheap.  It reminds me a lot of Barneys, which also started out as a discount store and features similarly trendy items.  We perused the clothes and then visited the beautiful gourmet store across the street (Le Bon Marché’s Grand Épicerie).  It makes Whole Foods look dumpy!  We bought a variety of foods (cheese, bread, raw cut vegetables) and had a picnic in a nearby park.

Le Bon Marché

Le Bon Marche's restaurant has a cool interior, but I remembered from my last trip that I liked the decor more than the food, so we didn't eat there.

After lunch, we stopped at A la Mère de Famille, which is the oldest candy store in Paris and has a charming old-fashioned interior.  We also visited the original Ladurée location, where Charles bought a box of macaroons for  his family (this was the week before Ladurée opened in NYC).

A la Mère de Famille

The oldest Ladurée in Paris has pretty frescoes. Not a high quality photo, but you get the idea.

We walked to Galeries Lafayette, which is the most famous department store in Paris and also my least favorite.  It is like a zoo!  The store is expensive and packed with people, which does not make for a pleasant shopping experience.  However, I thought Charles should see it because it is super famous and the large stained glass ceiling in the main building is beautiful.  I told Charles that the stained glass reminded me of a church and he remarked that it was like a church to capitalism.

Stained glass ceiling at Galeries Lafayette

Galeries Lafayette reminds me a little of an opera house.

The cosmetics floor at Galeries Lafayette

Cosmetics floor of GL

Our next stop was the Passage Jouffroy, which is one of my favorite sites in Paris.  The passages are 19th century shopping arcades, located throughout Paris (esp. near the Grand Boulevards), that were the forerunners to malls.  I am curious to know how the stores inside the passages manage to stay in business because they are not in the direct way of pedestrian traffic.  We visited a very cute doll house/minature store (my idea).  The Passage Jouffrey also houses the Musee Grevin, which is a historic wax museum that was one of my favorite places in Paris when I was a child.

Entrance to the Passage Jouffrey

Entering the passage is like stepping back in time! Photo by Barbara J. Rosen

Empty passage. Photo by Barbara J. Rosen

We headed back to the 10th arrondismont, continuing along the Grand Boulevards and then walking up the Rue du Faubourg St. Dennis, where we passed through an African neighborhood.  It was interesting to see how the neighborhood had changed and become more diverse since I was last there in ’05.  We also passed Passage Brady, which is a passage with all Indian restaurants that was around when I was in Paris.

Passage Brady (old photo, but I assure you it hasn't changed...my hair color on the other hand....)

For Charles’ last night we went with my friends to a Kosher Tunisian couscous restaurant in Belleville.  I didn’t take photos, but the food was great and it especially fun to try because there are no Kosher Tunisian restaurants in NYC…at least not that I know of.

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Japan on the Hudson

The Japanese Mall

After my family trip to the Hudson River Valley, we stopped at the Japanese Mall in Edgewater, NJ on the way home.  We used to go to the Japanese Mall a lot when I was younger and would always have dinner at the beautiful Japanese steakhouse overlooking the Hudson.  Unfortunately, the steakhouse is out of business, but the mall is still worth a visit.

Stores at the Japanese Mall

Food court at the mall

When we arrived at the mall, our first stop was the supermarket, where we were overwhelmed by the large variety of Japanese products.

Rice milling machine

Who knew there are so many varieties of miso?

Tofu?

Half an aisle devoted to panko (breadcrumbs)

There were also some products with funny packaging and terms that didn’t translate so well.

"Good Good Eat" ramen noodles

Cute Kewpie mayo in a bag

Curry that is perfect for the Jewish New Year

"Fruity salad" juice made me smile

Pretty Sake bottles

We bought some sashimi to have for dinner later and then visited the food court for a snack.  There were lots of Japanese restaurants and one misplaced Italian restaurant.  I was excited to see that the Japanese restaurants had plastic food displays, which I first learned is popular in Japan from the Sesame Street special, “Big Bird Goes to Japan” (now, THAT was quality children’s programming!).

Plastic food display

Another plastic food display

Plastic food close-up

I bought an iced green tea latte, which I had never had before.  I wouldn’t get it again, but it was interesting to try.

Tea and ice cream menu. My green tea latte is on the right.

Before leaving we stopped to admire the beautifully packaged jellied treats at the bakery.  Some of the packaging was more appealing than the pastries, but I would be curious to try one on our next trip.

Japanese bakery

Pastries in packaging that reminded me of soap

Cute bunnies on the left

Cake and mochi

I had a really fun time at the Japanese mall and I would love to go back to the food court for a meal.  It looked like a few of the store fronts were empty, but I did see a Shiseido make up store and a bookstore.  There was also a sign for a free shuttle from NYC, although it says on the website that the shuttle is $3 dollars.  Either way, it’s a good deal and a great mini-trip from NYC for Japanese culture immersion.

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12 Days in Paris: Day 5

Sundays in Paris are very different from NYC.  Everything is closed!  Well, not exactly everything (some shops in the Marais are open), but elsewhere the supermarkets, department stores, and small shops are all shut.  In light of the rest day, Charles and I slept very late and then headed to the Catacombs.  I read about the Catacombs online and thought it would be cool to visit.

The tunnels reminded me of the border crossing scene in the movie "El Norte," but at least there were no rats.

The Catacombs are a series of underground tunnels, which house the bones of six million dead people, who were transferred in the late 1700’s, when the city’s public burial grounds became overcrowded.  My cousin tried to visit a few weeks earlier and said the line was over two hours.  Luckily, the line was only about an hour and fifteen minutes.  Before entering, a sign warned that the Catacombs are not for people with claustrophobia or nervous conditions.  We descended down the long twisting staircase and began the self-guided tour.

Monument in the Catacombs

Another monument

For the first 20 minutes of the tour, we walked through generic tunnels and saw a couple monuments to workers who died during the construction of the tunnel system.  Then we reached the ossuary.

Bones and skulls arranged in decorative patterns. Some of the skulls still had teeth!

Bones, bones, and more bones!

The ossuary was the creepiest thing I have ever seen.  You can’t tell from my photos, but the rows of bones go back hundreds, if not thousands of feet and there are rooms, after rooms of bones.  I have never visited a concentration camp, but the vast number of bones and the seemingly never ending rows reminded me of the Holocaust.  I found it particularly strange that the bones were arranged in patterns.  Although the tour was supposed to take forty-five minutes, we rushed through the oussary and finished ten minutes early.  A security guard at the exit checked our bags and I saw that he was sitting with three confiscated skulls.  I was completely disgusted that people would steal bones and skulls!  Across the street was a gift store with related memorabilia.

Skull and bones themed gift shop

The original plan was to make a picnic for lunch, but due to our late start and the fact that the supermarkets were all closed, we ended up buying cheese sandwiches from a truck and eating in a small park near the Catacombs.  After lunch we visited Saint-Germain-des-Prés, which is a lovely neighborhood with lots of upscale shops and famous cafes, formerly frequented by existentialist philosophers.  I was surprised to read in my guide book that the revered bakery, Pierre Herme was open on Sundays.  I tried to visit on my last stay, but the line was ridiculous.  Fortunately, this time it wasn’t too bad.  Charles and I bought rose, lemon, chocolate, and carmel macaroons.  We liked them all, but we both agreed that they weren’t better than Ladurée (and I prefer the interiors of the Ladurée salons).

Macaroons!

We walked around Saint-Germain-des-Prés, but almost all of the shops were closed.  We did visit an impressive historic church and saw the cafe La Palette, where Ernest Hemingway, Jim Morrison, and Picasso used to drink (Charles made the very astute observation that it seemed like Ernest Hemingway drank in every bar in Paris).  I forgot to take a photo of the cafe, but I photographed the gorgeous mosaic facade of the fish restaurant, La Boissonnerie, which we passed along the way.

This photo would be prettier minus the cars.

We finished the day at the Luxembourg Gardens, which is one of the largest and most beautiful parks in Paris.  Marie de’ Medici built a palace there in the style of the Pitti Palace and it is now an art museum.  I just realized that we forgot to visit the Medici fountain, but I highly recommend it.  Definitely one of the most romantic places in Paris!

In front of the Luxembourg Palace

Luxembourg Gardens

Please stay tuned for day six!

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Empire State of Mind

Last week my family and I ventured outside of NYC for fall themed day trip.  We drove a little over an hour before arriving at our primary destination.

One of many flags along the Hudson River Valley

Pumpkins galore!

Our first stop was for apple picking at Stuart’s Farm in Granite Springs, NY, which is the oldest apple orchard in Westchester County.  The farm has been run by the Stuart family for six generations.  Stuarts sells empty bags for $10. or $25. and you can rent sticks for a refundable $20., which is necessary to get the best (large) apples.

Silo

My cousin Shula is the tallest and strongest person in our family, so she did most of the picking, while I took photos.

Shula in action

My mother and I with our apple bag

We bought the $25. bag, which we were told could hold up to 55 apples.  I didn’t count, but that’s probably not far off from what we collected.  I foresee some apple baking experimentation in the future!  We brought lunch from home and ate on picnic tables next to the fields.  We also stopped at Stuart’s bakery and bought apple cider donuts, which were delicious!

The nice man who ran the bakery took this photo for me of the donut machine behind the counter

the finished product

After lunch, we visited the farm store, which sold beautiful, brightly colored produce.

Jacko and the star attraction, apples!

Jacko eyeing the nectarines.

Carnival squash

Signs of fall

We also admired the old machinery on Stuart’s grounds:

An antique gas filling station

A vintage tractor

After Stuarts, we proceeded up the Hudson River  to Cold Spring, NY (not to be confused with Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island).  Cold Spring is a small, quaint town with lots of 19th century architecture.  The town is known for antique shops, which line Main Street.  We visited one and found it rather overpriced.  I think they know their clientele (ahemm…tourists from NYC).

Flags are very popular in the Hudson River Valley

Colorful leaves

Nice architecture in Cold Spring

We walked to the lookout point at the end of Main Street, which has STUNNING views of the Hudson River Valley.  This concluded our time upstate, but on the way home we stopped at the Japanese mall in New Jersey, which was so interesting it merits its own post (coming soon!).

Lookout from Cold Spring (Storm King Mountain)

Note – for those who do not have access to a car, Cold Spring is about an hour and a half by Metro-North train from NYC.

ADDENDUM – Shula baked us this lovely apple galette!

Apple galette

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12 Days in Paris: Day 4

Charles and I started our fourth day at the Marche aux Puces de St-Ouen, which is Paris’ largest flea market.  The walk from the subway to the flea market reminded me of Chinatown, with street vendors aggressively pushing designer copies at pedestrians.  When we arrived at what we thought was the market, we saw stands selling fake American college t-shirts, Converse sneakers, and other products that you wouldn’t go to France to buy.  Unfortunately, we didn’t know that the main antique market lay beyond the junk market.

Junk market at Clignancort

We left quickly and headed to the Marais, which is my favorite neighborhood.  The Marais is Paris’ historically Jewish quarter and has lots of mansions, many of which are now museums.  While there is still a strong Jewish presence, the area has become very trendy, with hip boutiques and bars replacing the traditional Jewish stores.  It is also considered the epicenter of the city’s gay community.

Remaining signs of Jewish life in the Marais. Photo by Barbara J. Rosen

Jewish stores in the Marais

the new Marais. Photo by Barbara J. Rosen

The Rue de Rosiers is home to the neighborhood’s remaining Jewish stores and many falafel restaurants, the most famous of which is L’As du Falafel.  I thought the falafel restaurants were more cultural than religious, but apparently I was wrong because all but two were closed for Shabbat.  After a forty-five minute wait, we got take out at Chez Marianne.  Despite not being one of the recommended restaurants, the falafel was delicious!

Tourists eating falafel in front of Chez Marianne. I forgot to take a photo of mine, so this will have to do, but it didn't look much different than falafel in NYC anyway.

We bought dessert at Sacha Finkelsztajn across the street, which is a third generation run Jewish bakery.  In general, the pastries at the traditional Jewish bakeries in Paris fascinated me because the specialties were so different from traditional Jewish bakeries in the U.S.  The Jewish bakeries in Marais all had square cake slices in their windows, which came in the following flavors: cheesecake, apple cake, poppy seed cake, and date cake.

Famous Jewish Bakery

Chocolate banana cake and traditional date cake

After lunch we walked to Place des Vosges, which is the oldest planned square in Paris and stood as the model for planned squares all over the world (it inspired Covent Gardens and Bloomsbury Square in London, which in turn inspired Gramercy Square, Stuyvesant Square, Union Square, and Madison Square in NYC).  Victor Hugo had an apartment on the square and DSK currently resides there (more about that in later posts!).  If I could live anywhere in Paris, this would be it:

Place de Vosges

We walked through the park in the center of the square and then visited Musée Carnavelet, which is a free museum dedicated to the history of the Paris.  The museum is definitely one of the best free cultural sites in Paris.  The museum is housed in two neighboring mansions and has a lovely courtyard.  The main attractions at the museum are the painting collection and the fabulous period rooms, which include an art nouveau bar and Marcel Proust’s bedroom.

Musée Carnavalet

We covered the museum and then walked two blocks to the Musée Cognac-Jay, another interesting free museum.  The Cognac-Jay is also housed in a former mansion and features the eighteenth century art collection of the owners of the now closed Samaritaine department store.  The paintings are nice and the price is right, but I would more strongly recommend the Musée Nissim de Camondo if you are an affectionado of the eighteenth century (the Camondo home is better furnished).  The Cognac-Jay has a cute garden, but it was raining, so we skipped it.  I wanted to show Charles the free Atelier Brancusi at the Pompidou Center (the modern art museum AKA Beaubourg), but unfortunately it started pouring and was closed by the time we arrived.  We got tea in a café while waiting for the rain to subside and then headed home to change for dinner.

The exterior of the Pompidou Center is cool, but kind of ugly (the building's functional elements are on the outside). This is an old photo, taken on a day with less inclement weather.

Charles wanted to have a fancy night out, so we decided upon Brasserie Bofinger, which is one of my favorite restaurants in Paris.  Brasserie Bofinger specializes in seafood and has a historic art nouveau interior.  I ordered two appetizers instead of an entrée, escargot and salmon tartare.  I also got a kir (crème de cassis + white wine), which became the official drink of the trip, because “when in Rome, do as the Romans do.”  Everything was excellent and I felt very lucky that we were able to sit under the famous glass doomed ceiling in the central dining room, without even having a reservation.

Brasserie Bofinger

Escargot

Salmon tartare

Please check back Friday for the next installment in my Paris series, which includes a tour of the super creepy catacombs and a visit to the beautiful Luxembourg Gardens.

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“Let Them Eat Cake!” – Day Trip to Versailles

For our third day in France, we ventured outside Paris to a destination a mere 35 minutes away: VERSAILLES!  This was my fourth time visiting Versailles, but it was still one of my favorite days of the trip and I saw several sites I hadn’t seen before.  We took the RER train and then walked about fifteen minutes through the cute town of Versailles to reach the chateau.  After waiting on a long line, we bought “passport” tickets, which gave us access to all of the buildings on the property for 18 Euros.

Versailles (notice the well camouflaged construction on the right)

We started at the main chateau.  The king and queen’s private apartments are only accessible by guided tour, but the passport ticket allowed us to walk through numerous staterooms and the king and queen’s magnificent bedrooms.  We opted against the guided tour because we wanted to visit other properties on the estate.

the King's Bedroom

the Queen's Bedroom

gold gilding galore!

the Hall of Mirrors

After touring the chateau, we had a nondescript lunch in the cafeteria and then bought tickets for the trolley to tour the rest of the estate.  It would have been nice to walk from building to building and enjoy the gardens, but the weather was rainy and cold at that point.

Gardens at Versailles

Gardens and ominous clouds

Our first stop was the Grand Trianon, which is a smaller chateau on the estate that was built by Louis XIV for his mistress.  This was one of my favorite stops, since there was a fashion exhibit in the space, co-sponsored by Versailles and the Musée Galliera (a fashion museum in Paris).  Throughout the beautifully decorated palace, mannequins wearing clothes by avant garde designers like Vivienne Westwood and Alexander McQueen were juxtaposed next to the 18th century wears that inspired them.  Unfortunately no photography was allowed inside, so I couldn’t capture the cool exhibit.

the (pink) Grand Trianon

After the Grand Trianon, we took the trolley to the Petit Trianon, which is another chateau on the property.  Louis XV built the Petit Trianon for his mistress, Madame de Pompadour.  Louis XVI later gave the Petit Trianon to Marie Antoinette, who went there to escape the “pressures” of court life.  The house was less ornate than the main chateau, but closer to how I would personally want to decorate my home.  We were excited to see an outpost of Angelina’s tea house and ordered two cups of the famous hot chocolate (there were also outposts of Laduree and Angelina’s at the main chateau, which I don’t remember seeing on past visits).  By that point it had stopped raining so we enjoyed the hot chocolate on the terrace outside.  It was a nice pick-me-up, but was a little too pudding-like to get my vote for best French hot chocolate.

Temple of Venus in the Petit Trianon's gardens

Following Angelina’s, we walked through the gardens adjacent to the Petit Trianon and reached the Hameau de la Reine (Queen’s Hamlet).  Despite having been to Versailles multiple times, I had never been to the Hameau before because it only opened to the public in the early 2000s and it’s a bit of a walk from the main chateau.  The Hameau is now my favorite part of the estate!  The Hameau consists of twelve farmhouses that were built for Marie Antoinette, who enjoyed dressing up and pretending to be a farmer in her leisure time (though a real farmer’s family maintained the working farm at that time).  Today the Hameau is an animal refuge and petting zoo.  It’s also the most bucolic and serene place I’ve ever seen!  The only thing that disappointed me was that the buildings weren’t open to the public.

Hameau de la Reine (the bell tower is so picturesque, it looks Disneyfied!)

One of many cute little farmhouses

the Queen's House

Animals!

More animals and charming buildings

The last trolley stop was the canal, but we didn’t get off because we were tired and it was late.  When we arrived back in Paris, we selected Bistrot Victoires for dinner, aptly described in my Time Out guide as a traditional French brasserie with budget prices.  I ordered steak tartar, which came with the traditional accompaniment of French fries.  I don’t order fries a lot for health reasons, but they were delicious!

Steak tartare and condiments

After dinner we went for a nightcap at the Café de la Paix, which is a historic café (c. 1862) located across from the famous Palais Garnier Opera House.  I ordered kir, a traditional French aperitif consisting of crème de cassis(blackcurrant liqueur) and white wine.  The prices at Café de la Paix were dear, but well worth it for the opulent atmosphere (and one drink never broke the bank!).

Sitting outside the Palais Garnier Opera House, one of the most beautiful buildings in Paris!

Café de la Paix

Frescoes, stucco, and gold gilding decorate the interior of Café de la Paix

Please check back on Friday for day 4 of my Paris series, in which I visit my favorite neighborhood, the Marais!

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Seven Brides, a Carousel, and a Protest: My Saturday in Brooklyn

I am interrupting my regularly scheduled Paris series to write about something timelier, what I did yesterday.  My original plan for Saturday was to walk over the Brooklyn Bridge and check out the recently opened Jane’s Carousel in Brooklyn Bridge Park.  As I passed One Police Plaza, I knew something big was going on when I saw a group of police officers on horses, surrounded by more officers on foot.  Based on the cardboard signs in the distance, I correctly guessed that the Occupy Wall Street protesters had mobilized and were crossing the bridge.  I was determined to walk over the bridge, so I decided to follow them and document the event.

Police on horses are not an everyday sight

The protest was very visually interesting.  The crowd was energetic and there was a lot of chanting (“This is what democracy looks like,”  “Goldman Sachs get off our backs,” “We are the 99%”), with the chants constantly changed by whoever could shout the loudest.  Many tourists and photographers gathered on the sides of the bridge to watch and photograph the crowd.  I thought it was nice that cars on the lower level of the bridge honked in solidarity and drivers held out their fingers, making peace symbols.

Occupy Wall Street protesters on the Brooklyn Bridge

More interesting signs at the Occupy Wall Street protest

A wedding party on the bridge…note the groomsman is carrying the “Occupy Wall Street Journal”

There were also A TON of police officers, most of who looked miserable and not pleased to be there.  Things went awry when the police started arresting people on the lower level of the bridge.  I should explain that I was on the pedestrian walking level, but there are traffic lanes on the lower level of the bridge.  Apparently protesters on that level had blocked traffic and the police arrested over seven hundred people.  I do not support people blocking traffic, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the police led the mass there, as has been suggested by several media sources.  When the arrests started the group stopped moving and people shouted at the police below.  I took photos and then tried to make my way through the crowd.  Eventually the group started moving again.  I got off the bridge at the DUMBO exit, as originally planned.  I don’t know how long I spent on the bridge, but it was definitely the longest crossing ever.

Who knew there are so many varieties of police wear?

One of more than 700 arrests on the lower level of the Brooklyn Bridge

As I walked through DUMBO, I could still hear the protesters chanting for several blocks.  I stopped on Water Street at Jacques Torres’ Ice Cream Parlor, where I got a single scoop of the special “wicked” flavor.  For $3.30, it was quite the NYC bargain!  “Wicked” is chocolate ice cream with chili peppers (I once tried the famous “wicked” hot chocolate and it was too spicy, but the ice cream was slightly less intense).

The adorable Jacques Torres Ice Cream Parlor…I loved the chandelier!

Jacque Torres’ famous chocolate chip cookies (and my ice cream on the ledge)

I walked a block and finally arrived at Jane’s Carousel in Brooklyn Bridge Park.  I have been excited about the carousel opening since I first passed it in DUMBO, back when it sat immobile in a storefront window.

View of the Manhattan Bridge from Brooklyn Bridge Park

Jane’s Carousel is a restored historic carousel from 1922, which now sits in a Jean Nouvel designed glass pavilion overlooking the East River, between the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges.  The carousel and the pavilion were a gift from the Walentas family (real estate moguls) to the city of New York.  The pavilion didn’t strike me as anything special, but the carousel was stunning and the setting was equally spectacular.  Rides are $2. a piece and while the ride felt short, it may have been because I was having so much fun (note though that the horses on the exterior of the carousel are immobile, but more bejeweled than the rest).

Jane’s Carousel inside Jean Nouvel’s glass pavilion

Jane’s Carousel…look at the newly weds in the chariot

I was excited to see lots of wedding parties in Brooklyn Bridge Park, and particularly at the carousel.  I titled this post “Seven Brides” because of the movie “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” and also because I lost count at seven brides, but there were probably closer to ten wedding parties in the park.  Eventually I walked back to the bridge, but the entrance was blocked by three police officers who told me that the bridge was closed due to the protest.  I was annoyed and headed towards the subway, but it was just as well because it started pouring as I entered the station.

One of many wedding parties at Jane’s Carousel

Another wedding party on the carousel

View of the Brooklyn Bridge from Brooklyn Bridge Park

Since it was the weekend, the closest subway line to my house was closed for construction, so I took another line and transferred at 14th street and 8th avenue.  Despite my strong dislike of the subway, I love the 14th and 8th avenue station because of the Tom Otterness “Life Underground” installation that is scattered throughout.  Seeing the installation was rather timely, since many of the adorable little sculptures actually have political undertones criticizing capitalism.  Observing the sculptures was a very appropriate way to end the day.  I wish every subway station had art installations like W. 14th street!

A police officer and a homeless person

A police officer catching a businessman skipping the toll

Cute little people

A businessman giving charity?

A bloated looking businessman

Lots of little people!

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