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.

Alissa!

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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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Madrid, Escorial, and Segovia

Very nice of our old friends M & C to up and move from New York to Madrid, where they first met as young children living here with their respective families. Decades later, they are living for several months in the lovely Retiro neighborhood in a 1970’s-era apartment building on the 13th floor with superb views of the city.

Escorial, with dogs, mountains and rainbow

We had an uneventful trip here on Aer Lingus with a brief layover in Dublin, delayed slightly by fog that has hung over the city. Yesterday we had time to stroll along a ramblas, of sorts, a brick pedestrian strip lined with a street with cars on either side. Families, couples, singles, young, old people all strolling on a Saturday afternoon. Very civilized. m &C eat one big meal a day, a late lunch at around 3 p.m. Yesterday we went to a traditional local place, La Hoja (La Fueya) aka The Leaf that was packed with families. We shared big plates of sliced jamon, sliced cheese, grilled artichokes, and then entrees that were big plates of meat, game or fish (wild boar, pork) and then cider served through some ceramic contraption.

Segovia

Today we packed up the two white dogs (one who looks like our lab mix Millie ) and hit the road for a scenic drive to the lovely town of Escorial, famous for its 17th century monastery/palace, an imposing pile of stone at the edge of a wide plaza. IN the distance the fog rose from the mountains and the sun finally appeared, along with a rainbow lining the mountains like a dandy’s scarf. We strolled into the old city, with narrow lanes lined with lovely old buildings and small plazas, past whimsical Christmas decorations – large paper mache animals, including a cow giving birth and a donkey perched on a stone staircase , as if in mid step. We stopped at a little cafe for tapas – little plates of marinated anchovies, olives, cheese, sausage, an omelette/hash browns concoction.

Cider-serving contraption at La Hoya restaurant in Madrid, sucking cider out of the bottle and carbonizing it.

On to Segovia, a hilltop town with a spectacular Roman aqueduct, cathedral and castle. Isabella, the queen of Castille, was crowned in the cathedral in the 1400s. She dispatched Columbus on his expedition to the new world.) Lunch was at a famous old world place called mason de Candido, around since 1884, in a rambling old building with lots of carved wood, casement windows, painted murals and photos of local and world dignitaries. I didn’t realize until we finished lunch that I was sitting under a photo featuring Jimmy Carter. This seemed like the right place for sangria, grilled baby lamb (crispy on outside, succulent inside), potatoes.

Lunch in Madrid
Segovia

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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 journeyman.com/lodging).

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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Hopper’s NY at the Whitney, Simo Pizzeria, Oyster Bar – New York City at its best

What a fantastic show at The Whitney: Edward Hopper’s decades of work when he lived in New York City during the first half of the 20th century. Among the paintings is an old friend, his famous Automat, which belongs to the Des Moines Art Center. As a docent at the art center, I loved showing and discussing Automat with visitors, especially the many fourth-graders I guided though the museum.

Seeing it in New York was like spotting an old friend at a crowded party. And seeing it surrounded by other evocative, melancholy New York landscapes and portraits by Hopper made me see it in a new way.

The Oyster Bar
An old friend from DSM in NYC

Leaving the museum at 2:30 and very hungry, we found an excellent late lunch of Naples-style thin crust pizza and a salad of fresh greens at Simo, well-positioned across the street from The Whitney. (I gather we weren’t the first famished museum goers to chance upon the place.) Prompt cheerful service, casual dining room, delicious food. Another one is opening soon at Columbus Circle.

Lots of Hoppers

After walking up the High Line to 29th Street and then over to the annual holiday market at Union Square, we returned with our friend Myra to Grand Central Station where she took the train to and fro from Fairfield County. The Oyster Bar, a wonderful old gem in the bowels of the station, turned out to be another perfect dining spot for a light dinner of delicious fried oysters, fries, beer and a Manhattan. I hadn’t been there since about 1986 and hope to visit again …much sooner, next time.

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An unexpected medical visit (we are fine!) — CityMD in NYC

Stuff happens and so it did when D unexpectedly injured his finger while trying to open an apartment window. Fortunately we found quick and excellent care on NYC’s upper east side from CityMD Urgent Care on 3rd Avenue and 67th St.

We arrived when the small storefront office opened at 8 a.m. and were third in line and seen promptly by about 8:07 a.m.

The patient post-medical care, carries on

Rather than an impersonal doc in a box, we found the staff, from the front desk folks to the PA to the MD, caring, professional, even fun to talk to. We talked Ukraine with the PA who, at age 14, left his native Crimea (formerly Ukraine, stolen by Russia in 2014). I talked Broadway musicals with the MD, who offered a mixed review of the latest cast of Funny Girl.

All this while they were examining, cleaning, X-raying, numbing, stitching up (just a few) and bandaging D’s finger. This is our fifth visit to a doctor while on vacation, over the past 30 years or so. Previous visits: In Estes Park, Colorado when our daughter had swimmers ear; Ireland when our other daughter had strep; Norway when I broke my arm and Vietnam, when I had swimmers ear. Not sure what our bill will be this time but the care was good…

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High dollar, high design – Sag Harbor, NY

Sag Harbor used to be the low-key outlier of Hamptons shopping. Or so I recall from the many thanksgivings past out here on the southeastern tip of Long Island.

Not anymore.

On the Saturday after turkey day, the shops on Sag Harbor’s small Main Street were packed with well heeled shoppers browsing in beautiful (and very expensive) home goods stores with suede furniture, exquisite ceramics, delicate linens, clever gizmos and knickknacks. Fun to browse. Not affordable to purchase.

Among the ones we liked: Modern General (where I did buy a $13 mug for my son that reads: Text your mother. This is the third store with that name I’ve been to this year. The first in Albuquerque; the second in Milwaukee.) the 1818 store (inside a lovely old home we are guessing was built circa 1818) and Comerford.

1818 shop

Gwyneth Paltrow’s “Goop” store is also somewhere near, but we didn’t chance upon it.

Modern general

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