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Market Shopping with a pro, Montmartre wander – Paris

Our expert shopper was Alissa, who guided us through a Sunday green market just outside Paris, ear La Defense, a short walk from our Airbnb but a world away. Lovely to see all sorts of fresh fruit and veg this time of year, plus fabulous French cheese, charcuterie, Italian and middle eastern food too. I bought delicious goodies for our last dinner together in Paris – foie Gras, brie, braesola, rotisserie chicken and roasted potatoes, cherry tomatoes, and little ravioli. Stuffed with mushrooms.I also bought a sweater for 20 E and some housewares/gifts.

In the afternoon we gave our thighs a workout with a walk up and down and around Montmartre, high above the city with glorious views on a cold but clear day. This area still feels like a French village with narrow winding hilly streets and even a small vineyard. We managed to find a relatively untouristed place for coffee and carrot cake – at Les Cinq Marches. The place was packed with strollers which makes me wonder what it is like during peak travel season. “Insane” is what our friends who live here said about the peek-season crowds. I’d recommend Paris in January. We have gotten lucky with the weather…only a few days of rain and colder weather (high 30s). Mostly it’s been in high 40s, low 50s, a bit overcast. It has proved a good time to visit.

Sacre coeur

Dinner was with our thoughtful friends alissa and husband James at Breizh Bistro in the 17th arrondissement (this is the chain’s latest location) serving hearty Breton food: galettes and crepes but also fresh oysters and shrimp.

Montmartre scenes

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Alice Neel at the Pompidou, Shakespeare and company cafe, Canal Saint Martin, St.Germain/ Odeon, La Coupole – Paris

My mom took me to the Pompidou museum many years ago, soon after it opened and I remember how excited we were to be there. Visiting decades later, I thought its exposed pipes/industrial vibe might feel dated, but the building was still engaging and vibrant, packed with people inside and outside on the big plaza.

Pompidou view

I forgot how cool it is to ride up several floors on an escalator inside a see-through plastic tube along the outside of the building. Stupendous views of the city, with Sacre coeur off in the distance to the north, the Eiffel Tower to the west.

We caught the terrific Alice Neel show, a fascinating American painter (communist, feminist, Andy Warhol-ist). It included a cool video of Neel painting a portrait of a very pregnant woman. The portrait hung near by.

We also did the greatest hits (Anselm Keifer! Delanay! Chagall!) of the main collection on the 4th and 5th floor which a museum brochure helpfully led us too. And did some shopping in the design store, which reminded me of MOMA.

Another day we wandered with surprise visitor Francine around Canal Saint Martin, walking up and over the cool metal bridges along the canal, peeking in a few shops, and having hot chocolate the texture of pudding. And we wandered around the Left Bank, not only buying a book at Shakespeare and company but having an excellent hearty split pea soup and toasted sandwich at the store’s rustic cafe. Also wandered around the snazzy Odeon area, stopping at a cafe near saint germaine.

La coupole scene

Dinner was at old favorite La Coupole, a famous art Deco brasserie in montparnesse that was even livelier than usual on a Saturday night. We happened to hit the once a month floor show, of sorts, with dancers in exotic costumes and a Marilyn Monroe look -alike winding through the cavernous building followed by a brass band. Totally fun. I was tempted to have the steak tartare, in honor of my dad, but went with the mussels and frites instead. Lots of French groups celebrating birthdays but lily begged us not to make a similar fuss for her so we didn’t.

La coupole

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Monet/Mitchell show and Yayoi Kusama at Louis Vuitton foundation/store – Paris

Thanks to my cousin Erica who recommended a visit to the Louis Vuitton Foundation, located in a dramatic Frank Gehry building (are there any Gehry buildings that aren’t dramatic? But this was the first one I’ve visited where you could walk outside on the terraces of its various unconventional levels. Maybe his Bilbao museum has this?

The building wasn’t the only draw. There is a gorgeous retrospective of Joan Mitchel’s work and a particularly wonderful show of Mitchell’s work placed beside the work of Monet, who died the year Mitchell was born but whose work inspired her. It’s amazing to see their canvases beside each other. The guards were also, particularly dapper, in well- tailored dark suits. Louis Vutton perhaps?

King Kong Kusama-style

Strolling along the Champs Elysee on a drizzly (but not cold or unwalkable ) day, we found a Yayoi Kusama installation that captured in a hug the Louis Vuitton store, ala King Kong but far less menacing, more playful.

At Louis Vuitton foundation

Our dear friend Francine took the Eurostar over for a quick overnight visit from London and joined us at the foundation and later adventures, most having to do with food.

Monet and Mitchell

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Fine Dining, with the help of friends – Paris

I arrived in Paris with several carefully considered restaurant reservations, which are necessary even now, during the off season. But then came an incredible list of restaurant recommendations from American friends who have lived here for many years. I made a few additions and replacements.

So far, one of my picks (after copious research) is a favorite: Mokonuts, a tiny place in the Bastille neighborhood that doesn’t serve dinner. So glad I decided to book a lunch there. We watched a steady stream of people enter without reservations and get turned away. It only serves Lunch but with dinner-like offerings and prices. There were only two mains swordfish and veal, both excellently cooked, seasoned, sauced and presented. The ‘clam chowder” was more of a clam stew, with a thin broth, small pieces of ham, little clams in their shells. The food was served on rough hewn ceramics, not the typical bistrot white plates. But just as meticulous in its care and delivery of food.

Comme chez Maman sur Rue DesMoines

We have also eaten at 3 bistrots our friends suggested, all excellent and Comme Chez Maman turned out to be on rue Des Moines , which the host confirms means “the monks” not “the mounds” as some think. He seemed more confused than impressed that we were from Des Moines, Iowa (or used to be.) Dinner, especially the meat mains (steak, duck) and pork belly appetizer, was excellent at Le Pantruche in the Pigalle. We also enjoyed Bistrot D’Yves near us in the 17th arrondissement where the filet mignonette was pork not beef and delicious.

Outside Mokonuts

11th arrondissment Comme Chez Maman – this is a bistro with a Belgian chef; it was also awarded a Michelin “little red man” and is very popular and is open throughout the weekend. …a very warm welcome and lively ambience.

Mokonuts with Francine

9th A Le Pantruche – Small, old-fashioned Paris décor, simply wonderful food, great service. It is very popular. (has a wonderful Soufflé Grand Marnier and you should definitely order it–you just have to request it at the beginning of meal.

Here are three special occasion places our friends described :

(1) Restaurant H. 13 Rue Jean Beausire, 75004 Paris; 01 43 48 80 96. more expensive than the Bistros listed…had the five course meal this week and the chef did more things with root vegetables than I would have thought possible…recommend the 7 course one mostly for the sheer adventure of it. …The five course meal (they are small courses) was 60 euros

(2) Petrelle: It is a really romantic restaurant and has a fixed menu, …food is light, but since you have five courses, you leave feeling you have had enough but not too much.

(3 if you like Japanese food) is Enyaa.37 Rue de Montpensier, 75001 Paris . +33-.(0) 1 40 26 78 25 It’s on an oddly empty alley just in back of the Palais Royale but you step inside and it seems very Japanese. The waiters and waitresses do not speak much if any French. They speak Japanese and a bit of English.

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16th/17 Arrondissement Airbnb, Bistrot D’Yves – Paris

We feel especially fortunate to have all made it to Paris, given that there was a major aviation mess-up in the states that began just hours after Lily and Noah took to the air. Almost 7,000 flights delayed. But by midday we were all here and acclimating to our charming bohemian/classy Airbnb in the 16th arrondissement near the arc de triumph, off elegant Avenue Foch (where the likes of Aristotle Onassis lived. Now there are several embassies.)

Birthday girl

We are on narrow Rue le sueur (reminds me of the name of canned baby peas) on the fourth floor of one of the many famous Hausmanian buildings in this part of the city, lining the grand boulevards and backstreets. Hausman was sort of the Robert Moses of Paris, clearing old narrow twisty streets and creating wide boulevards lined with elegant crème-colored mansions. Our Airbnb has lovely faded-elegance touches — a curving staircase with wood banister (and a tiny lift, handy for suitcases), decorative ceiling moldings and plasterwork around the fireplace, tall narrow French windows, heavy doors with giant brass nobs and ancient keys, creaky parquet floors, a narrow creaky wood planked hallway with doors leading to bedrooms and bathrooms (two are sans toilet, avec tub/shower; one tiny one with toilet, no tub/shower). And there are bohemian touches – lots of African and Caribbean textiles and art (a little colonial era whiff).

Our gracious host left us cheeses, a baguette and wine. Then my amazing old friend from our 1980s Wichita newspaper days Alissa, who lives nearby, insisted on bringing bags of her favorite foods – quiches, fresh orange juice, yoghurt in glass bottles, a big chunk of butter, clementines, cheese. Why does everything taste better here? (Ingredients, freshness, care of preparation, the water?)

Noah in the living room

She also showed around this neighborhood, which doesn’t have the enchanting narrow streets of the left bank, where we usually stay, more grand big boulevards, but no complaints. Alissa sent us to a great little neighborhood bistrot d’Yves last night, a 20 minute walk away. Yves knows what he’s doing: clever but not overly fussy food (we didn’t know fillet mignon could be pork, not beef) , thoughtful attentive service, all tables occupied on a Wednesday in January. We are supposed to get rain at some point but good temps, high 40s, low 50#, and even sun when we arrived.


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Exploring Chueca neighborhood in Madrid

Another 21,000-steps day, according to our iPhone. And another beautiful weather day, high 40s/low 50s, sun, blue skies. The whole city of Madrid seemed to be out strolling. This time we walked west a little further north, along Vias Goya and Acacala, stopping for coffee and fresh squeezed orange juice (my energy booster of choice) at Viena capellanes Goya. It took a few hours to get to Chueca because the route is not exactly clear. But who cares? Lots of interesting scenery and sights, grand plazas and busy traffic circles and monumental buildings with statues and other striking architectural details.

Paella at last.

We landed in Chueca at 2 pm just as the shops were closing for siesta so it seemed the day for a traditional restaurant serving paella. Restaurant Las meigas fit the bill, with tables filled with Spanish people. We appeared to be the only tourists and stuck out a bit. We had to wait 45 minutes for the paella to cook, which seemed a good sign and it was. It was delicious, packed with seafood and chicken and vegetables. We could eat only half of it (it was for two people supposedly) so lugged the rest back to give to our friends/hosts.

Lots of sales in shops this time of year and dirck picked up two really nice buttoned down shirts (60 percent off, but still not cheap) from Loreak mendian, which is based in San Sebastián.

We ended up wandering some more in Malasana, since it is right next to Chueca and on our trek back, we stopped for more coffee and oj at Cafeteria dcandel in the Letras neighborhood, served by a young hipster guy wearing a Red Wings hockey shirt. He seemed impressed that I was from Detroit. By the time we made it back to our friends’ place, with another walk through lovely Retiro Park, we felt like we kind of knew our way around this lovely city that I hope to visit again some time.

A Malasana street shot, with blinding sunlight.

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Exploring Retiro Park and Letras and Malasana neighborhoods — Madrid

Amazing day. The sky cleared, going from gray to blue. the fog lifted, the sun came out, all of which we witnessed from on high through the windows of our friends’ 13th floor apartment. Suddenly we could see the mountains in the distance beyond the brick, stucco, concrete and tile building rooftops.

Best tapas bar

Our day of wandering around Madrid was greatly enhanced by the kindness of strangers, one of whom insisted on paying for our lunch. Our friends too were a huge help. Merida and one of her two big white dogs walked us through Retiro Park, through formal gardens, along dirt paths lined with large trees, past the shimmering glass of the Crystal Palace, grand plaza with sculpture and a big pond where the ducks stole bread bits that merida was throwing to the huge carp. People were out and about enjoying the 50 degree temps on a Monday at the end of a holiday weekend.

Inside best tapas bar. The two women in the top photo, right side, are the Noels who insisted on paying our tab.

Merida pointed us the direction of the Prado Museum and we were off, stopping first at Vincens, a candy maker since 1775, (where we picked up gifts for friends after sampling several cut up soft chunks of what tasted like nougat, fudgy bits, toffee.

San Antonio de Los Alemanes and the storybook facade of a bookstore/printer

And then we dove into the old Letras neighborhood narrow lanes lined with elegant apartment buildings, cafes, tapas bars and the occasional fun little boutiques. We found a cheerful shop called Santacana that has made gloves (1 de las Huertas) since 1896. We bought gorgeous handcrafted knit, leather and felt gloves as gifts. I then asked the stylish shopkeeper if she knew of a good place for lunch.

She sent us to Bodega il Ardoso, in the bohemian Malasana neighborhood, around since the late 1800s. It turned out to be a somewhat famous local secret, a small dark tapas bar, lined with old bottles, photos, paintings. It was filled with people at 2 pm, the start of siesta when shops close and people eat, but the waiter rather brusquely nodded at us and said something in rapid Spanish that seemed to mean “See this opening underneath the bar counter? Duck under it.” And so we did, finding ourselves in a smaller room, slightly less packed with people. We found a spot to stand along a narrow wood counter and got to talking with two women who were eating a gorgeous plate of grilled artichoke. They recommended this and another tapa, the famous potato tortilla, which turned out to be a delicous omelette with egg and potatoes. I later learned the place is famous for Czech beer, which dirck drank.

The women turned out to be mother and daughter locals, both named Noel. They spoke English well, were well-traveled art lovers who knew Chicago and Detroit and even Rochester Minnesota, and operate Airbnbs in Madrid and Pamplona. They were astonished we’d found the bar, which is off the tourist track. We shared a table after another party left and the elder Noel insisted first on buying us drinks and then paying for our meal, which included another delicious dish they recommended, a bowl of crispy curlicues of potato topped with fried eggs. We exchanged email addresses and Airbnb links and they recommended several places to go nearby. Their kindness made our day!

We tried to visit a nearby church with art treasures (San Antonio de Los Alemanes) and cafe (cafe Ruiz) that they recommended but both were closed. The good part was the cool neighborhood around them, with shops like El Moderno concept store on and near corredera Baja de San Pablo. We had coffee at an outdoor cafe in a sunny little plaza. Our new friends also recommended visiting San Antonio de le Florida church for more art.

Dinner in our friends’ Retiro neighborhood was at Taberna La castela, which also turned out to be superb (thank you WaPo for your travel story I chanced upon). We had delicious seafood…grilled sole, tuna, a risotto of sorts with black squid ink, calamari/octopus. Grilled tiny sardine-like fish called whitebait arrived as a free appetizer along with excellent bread. The croquettes had a delicious fishy flavor inside.

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The stray Dog – New Buffalo,Mi

Early January (at almost 2 pm) proved an easy time to get a table for lunch at The Stray Dog, which is usually packed during peak summer tourist season here in southwest Michigan. Cute place, decorated with dog pictures and dog commands (SIT, STAY), good service and well cooked burger.

Many restaurants are closed in early-to-mid January in these parts, including froelichs in Three Oaks. Viola’s was open but not at 2 pm. Fair enough.

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Mazet Antiques, Bella Amici, Alapash, Journeyman Distillery, Froelich’s and Acorn Theater – return to Three Oaks, MI – and cheap gas in NW Indiana off I-94, exit 16.

We continue to enjoy visiting southwest Michigan and shopping/dining in the little village of Three Oaks. This time, we went to a concert in the intimate little Acorn Theater, next to the Journeyman whiskey distillery, which has also offers some rentals in town (see

In the shopping department, we visited some new places including Bella Amici, which has fun Michigan stuff, and Mazet Antiques, which has gorgeous, one-of-a-kind and very pricey rugs from foreign lands (the kind you hand on your wall, not throw on your floor). We also visited old favorites including Alapash (where we did buy a less-expensive rug to throw on the floor) and had a good brunch at Froelich’s.

For future reference: The gas prices in southwest Michigan are significantly lower than in Chicago but our best bet was in northwest Indiana, off I-94, at exit 16, where we found gas for $2.99 ($1.50 less than in Chicago.)

Mazet Antiques

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Wu’s Wonton King, the new LaGuardia — NYC

When we heard (from our favorite private chef) that Wu’s Wonton King is the place professional chefs eat, we were there! We found it on an unglamorous corner in Chinatown/the Lower East Side on East Broadway and were not disappointed, although we probably should have asked what the house speciality, fried crab, cost ($84) before ordering it. Then again, if we had asked, we wouldn’t have ordered it and it was delicious. This will sound familiar to members of the $317 Club. (Inside joke explanation: years ago we got a surprise dinner bill of $317 after eating with friends at another Chinatown restaurant post-Thanksgiving.)

Our other entrees were in the $18 ballpark (which suddenly seemed like a bargain) and also excellent including the #1 wonton soup, stir fried chicken with veg, and pork dumplings. All very fresh, quality ingredients and well seasoned.

On to LaGuardia where we were delighted (not something I’ve ever written about LaGuardia) by the spanking new terminal C, all white walls, wide white corridors, clean modern design, appealing restaurants. And our delta flights were on what felt like new planes with well-upholstered seats and screens to watch TV and movies.

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