Saturday, March 26, 2016

The World We Live In (a brief aside)

Lots more I want to get down for my own benefit but I wanted to include some of the after effects of the latest attack in Brussels. I guess maybe we are getting used to it. Didn't see any "Je suis Bruxellois" images on Facebook or any flags superimposed over photos. But, at least the Hotel de Ville had Belgian flags draped under the windows and the Ferris Wheel at La Place de la Concorde had a large Belgian flag on the wheel.

And in keeping with the spirit of the day... we were on the main metro line that runs up the Champs Elysees today when a voice came over the PA telling the passengers that everyone had to get off the metro at the Arc de Triomphe due to a possible security issue between a few metro stations. Everyone got off and made their way above ground to the Champs Elysees and started looking for a bus to take them to their ultimate destination. We were all in a fairly good  mood even as we crammed into a bus until it became worse than the images of the subway in Japan and we were not really able to close the doors. At our stop, a guy behind us who had been in a good humor finally said, "OK, that's enough. It was fun for a while, but I need to get off" and proceeded to push everyone ahead of  him out the door. I pushed him from behind too until we were all off the bus.

It was probably just a precautionary measure as we heard no more about why we had to exit the metro, but everyone took it in stride.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Day One of Cooking Class

We met our tour guide for the week, Christina,  and after a tour of historical Lucca she accompanied us to our first cooking lesson with Chef Gianluca Pardini at the Scuola di Cuicina Italiana. As you can see it is NOT a school for Electricians.

He lives in a villa on a hillside outside the walls of Lucca.  Our van could only take us partway up the windy road because it couldn't fit through the ancient gate leading up to the cooking school. 

Our first meal consisted of many courses.  We cooked trout, cuttlefish, asparagus risotto, and pear pana cotta. To name just a few elements of our meal. 

Christina had asked Gianluca to include something from the region in our first meal. He was a little disappointed that we were not all wild about the typical Lucca meal of cuttlefish. I still stick by my decision to not eat anything I would use for bait... But I did manage to chew my way through a number of small pieces including the tentacles.


Trout, Asparagus and artichokes appetizer
Pana Cotta with pear sauce

We did lots of chopping and stirring.  All eleven of us began to loosen up and become acquainted with each other. 

We sat at the chef's dining room table under a very colorful chandelier and enjoyed the fruits of our labor.

To be cont'd...

Arrival In Lucca

After a couple of days in Venice it was time to head to Lucca for  our Italian Cooking School. We checked out of the hotel, paid the local visitor tax, lugged our almost overweight suitcase onto the vaporetto and headed to the Venice train station. Our rental car was at the Venice Mestre train station which is not the same as the Venice train station on the Grand Canal. So, we bought two tickets in a machine for Venice Mestre, found the track and boarded the train for our 10 minute ride to Venice Mestre. We rented a car to get from Venice to Lucca because it seemed to be cheaper than taking the train and it gave us more flexibility to see a bit more of the country side. Well, it turned about to be about twice what was estimated (I'll have to look into that) and it rained most of the way so not much site-seeing. We did, however, stumble into an AgriTourist restaurant called Tuscana Fair that was a  nice surprise.  An agritourist restaurant uses only organic locally grown food. That includes wine and meat.  The place was packed with local business men.  It was a very good and healthy lunch.

This is our first time in Lucca. It is not a place that is easy to drive into. Even with the gps, it was a challenge. "take a right on via something (no sign) which becomes via something (no sign) then left on via something (no sign) to find hotel. After what seemed to be a few wrong turns, we stopped at a corner of a narrow street and an even narrower street. I looked out the window of the car and saw the name of our hotel on the window of the building. I turned the corner and we were there. The owner quickly got our luggage and he and I  drove to a special parking place.  No cars are allowed in the walled city of Lucca unless you are a resident. Even delivery vehicles get only a couple of hours midday to do their rounds. 

The proprietor and all the help at the Palazzo Alexander have been very friendly, accommodating and helpful. The hotel itself is old but that is to be expected. It is in an old city. The first and second floor date from the 1500's.

The room is spacious with a nice bathroom and very hot shower. Breakfast is included and has home made cakes, fruit salads along with eggs, meat and cheese. I have nothing to complain about.

The owner recommended Guilio's Restaurant in what was once the leather district (as in making leather...). I had pasta with a wild boar meat sauce and Judy had raviolis in a white herb, cream sauce. Delicious.

The next morning, Judy and I went to our special "resident" parking place as we had to take the car to Pisa to drop it off at the airport, then get a ride back to the  hotel with a shuttle from Road Scholar. I filled up the tank and then realized that the rental contract was back in the hotel. So, we had to drive back to the hotel (see second paragraph). Once again, everything went smoothly as we dropped off the car and found the shuttle driver waiting in the Arrival area for the other Road Scholars.

After an orientation meeting with Christina, our guide, we all went out for dinner at Stella Pelore. There are 11 of us, and, as I anticipated, I am the only male.

Cooking starts tomorrow...

More Venice

There are very few spots in Venice where you can actually walk along the Grand Canal. One spot, near the Rialto Bridge is loaded with restaurants where the waiters are practically accosting people to get them to sit at one of their tables. It is a bit annoying but not a bad spot to sit and watch the world go by on the canal.

Otherwise, it is fun to just roam the "back streets" and cross over the many bridges that get you from place to place.

 And we are always wondering how they do their laundry.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Au Revoir, Paris - Buon Giorno, Venezia

Next step in our stay in France was a trip to Italy. We would go to Venice for a couple of days, then head to Lucca for the Tuscany Cooking Class that Judy signed us up for.

We've told most of our guests to take the airport shuttle from CDG to our apartment so we decided to take it ourselves. We set a pick up for 7:15 for a 10:00 flight as we were not sure how long it would take to get to the airport in morning traffic. At 6:15, we got a call from the driver that he was at the corner by Les Philosophes. He was early, so no rush.

The trip was totally flawless. Shuttle, flight, bus, vaporetto to the hotel doorstep. (I had emailed the hotel to ask for directions from the airport. They said to take the public bus from the airport to Venice, then Vaporetto #1 to the Ca' D'Oro stop and the hotel "will be right in front of your eyes!"). It was right on the canal and we had a tremendous view.

The room was relatively luxurious with up and down the canal. Here are some more photos...

Our bed

Looking out on the canal

View of Rialto Market across the canal.

 The Ca D'Oro outside our window.

Venice is so fascinating. Everything must be accomplished with a boat. For example,

Construction work...

Private transportation...

Private taxis...

Traffic jams...
  Public transport...


Even ambulances...

And you get this classic view of Piazza San Marco from Vaporetto #1 on its return back to the hotel.

To be cont'd.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Solemn Visit

One thing we felt we had to do during our stay in Paris was to pay a visit to the site of the latest, horrific terrorist attack. This was at the Bat-a-Clan concert venue on a night in November. The attack at the club was one of several around Paris that killed more than 100 people. It was just one of many attacks that have taken place in the U.S., Europe, and France in particular.

The club is closed now but plans to reopen for concerts before the end of 2016. Seeing it in real life brought back the memories of the frightening videos of people trying to escape the carnage.

I assume there were lots of memorials around the club itself but they have been moved across the street. There was a make-shift memorial at a small public park. Judy and our friend Jo put together a bouquet of roses and laid them along the fence with the other flowers, candles and photos. Pretty moving.

The main memorial is still at La Place de la Republic. The names of many if not all the victims are on typed pieces of paper with many of their photos. Along with the names, there are lots of signs promoting peace and tolerance as well as a few anti-government and anti-oil industry signs.

Of course, the Place is still a vibrant public area with tons of skate-boarders practicing their moves, a rapper drawing an energetic audience with her political rap, along with families out for a stroll. One young man approached me and started talking. I immediately suspected it was a decoy for a pick pocket but no one else was around me. I felt for sure it was some sort of scam but he just kept talking. He said he was 33 years old, didn't know much about politics, but knew a little bit, had his own view of things but didn't mind if people had other views, said, if you want to join the military, then that was fine by him and Yadda, Yadda, Yadda he just walked away. I was still wondering what had just happened as he disappeared into the crowd. Oh well.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Around Town

Some things I want to remember when I look back on this blog (which I do fairly often).

We went to the Marche Enfants Rouges the other day. It is one of the oldest covered markets in Paris and one of the most eclectic. Besides typical markets like a flower, fruit, fish and meat markets there are many ethnic food stands with lots of people lined up for a quick, tasty meal.

Judy bought a nice bouquet of roses and thistles which she put on display in the apartment. They look gre
When Henry and Gigi were here, we took a tour of the original Opera House of Paris, the Opera Garnier. Garnier was the architect of this glorious public opera house. Between this one and the new Opera Bastille, there is opera or ballet almost every day. Make sure if you take an after hours tour that there is no performance that night as most of the venue will be closed. Anyway, it is a beautiful setting.

 According to the guide, most people not only wanted to "see" the Opera, but, more importantly, they wanted to be "seen" at the Opera. Therefore there were many mirrors and terrific vantage points so opera buffs could do their people watching.
Grand Staircase

 Judy and I went for lunch at Le Select café on Blvd Montparnasse. This is a celebrated  café that became well known to Americans when many of the ex-Pats like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Man Ray held court there on a nightly basis during the 20's and 30's. I was hoping to have a brush with greatness, but no such luck. Just a good meal and a pleasant time. Walking to catch the bus back to the Marais, we got caught in a brief snow storm.

I went for a walk to do some sketching and stopped to take a few pictures too. Here is a classic view of Notre Dame

Here is a young couple taking advantage of the great scenery for some pre-wedding photos. A little different than people taking photos on the boardwalk in Sandwich.

The book sellers are beginning to open up their stalls even if there are not too many customers. It is March 8th and still a bit cool. But when things change here they change quickly.

Speaking of sketching, here are couple I've done. I joined Pauline Fraisse' Travel and Writing workshop for a day when we first arrived. It gave me what I needed to get up the courage to go out and sit down somewhere in public and get out the sketch pad and my little travel water color kit. After the workshop I went out on my own and started some sketches and finished them at home.

View of the Patheon beyond Ile St Louis

Velib St Paul (bike rental station)

 Paris is beautiful any time of the day but especially at night. There is always something lit up in even the smallest neighborhood. Yesterday, Jo Schafer, who will take over the apartment when we leave, arrived to overlap with us for a couple of days. We had a very enjoyable dinner at Restaurant Trumilou along the river.

Here are couple of photos I took last night after dinner.

Interesting façade of a hotel on Rue de Vielle Temple
St Gervais, behind Hotel De Ville

Today, Jacques and Claire came in for lunch. Claire had made endive, wrapped in ham with a béchamel sauce for us. It is one of Judy's favorites which we remember from the first time Claire's mother made it for us in Brussels 40+ years ago.

 To top it off, we had home made macarons that Judy and Claire made in a cooking class at La Cuisine de Paris. They had a lot of fun and did some pretty fine work. This is all that was left after dinner.

I could go on forever....