Dashing thru the snow on the TGV (fast train Lyon to Paris) after visit to Paul Bocuse food hall

Fortunately we had only a little snow and rain this morning because thanks to the one-day rail strike, we had to walk with our suitcases to the Gare Part-dieu in Lyon. No taxis available. And hey, our train is operating so we are feeling fortunate. Our helpful Lyon hotel staffer also checked and the #1 metro in Paris appears to be working so we can get at least part way from the Paris train station to our hotel. Too much fun. (Update: The #1 Metro WAS working when we arrived in Paris on strike day but it didn’t make all its usual stops and whizzed right through our stop to get to our hotel so we had another 25 minute walk with our suitcases. Fortunately the weather cooperated.)

Paul Bocuse food hall

Another stroke of luck, the food hall named after a famous Lyonnaise chef (les Halles de Paul Bocuse) was on the way to the train station (sort of) so we stopped to shop for lunch and to gawk at the gorgeous food displays lining each aisle that we wheeled our suitcases along. Some items we recognized from our meal at Le Musee. We ended up getting a baguette and a soft super creamy mild local cheese, Saint-Marcellin that we just ate on the train. Superb!

Train lunch

We’ve had a few mishaps with the trains. On our way from Paris to the small country town, Amberieu-en-Bugey (where I visited France’s diary archives, for my book) we managed to make our connecting train fine but then got off the train one stop too early. We stood outside the closed train station in mixed precipitation trying to figure out what to do and ended up going into a nearby restaurant where a diner tried to help us out (when my phone wouldn’t work due to crap internet service) until the restaurant proprietor shooed us out of the restaurant. I got the impression she thought we were disrupting her meal service.

We figured out that there were no taxis but there was a bus which, once we learned where/how to buy the ticket (in a machine new the closed rail station), got us to our destination. No taxis there either but the people I was interviewing kindly arranged for transport. (Our return driver was a local innkeeper from the countryside whose car trunk was lined with dirt and perhaps straw.)

Today, we managed to find our platform for the TGV and the place we were supposed to stand for our car (#17) but when the train pulled in, only #18 was marked. So we rushed to the next open car, which turned out to be #8. There wasn’t time to go back to 18 so we stayed put. There are plenty of open seats and the conductor was cool with it. (He explained that this train is actually two trains combined, one with cars 1-8 the other with cars 9-18 or some such but there’s no getting from one train to the second.) Whatever. We are chugging through rolling green fields, some dusted with snow, past the occasional grazing cattle, wind turbines, and village of white stucco homes with mansard roofs that remind me of my childhood home in Michigan.

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Christine! Vieux Lyon, Court Bouillon, Funicular/Basilica, botanical paintings, Mojgan Iranian restaurant – Lyon

Our friend Christine, who we met four years ago in Norway, took the train up from Provence, where she lives with her French husband (Christine is from China) to meet us for the day in Lyon, which was a treat. On a cold day that began with rain and snow and then cleared, with shocking blue sky and a bracing wind, we wandered through lovely Vieux Lyon, the old city with narrow cobble stoned lanes, pretty old stucco buildings, occasional alluring shops, bakeries and cafes. Lyon reportedly has the most Renaissance-era buildings of any city in France.

I bought some bright pink pralines (a Lyon speciality) at Pralus Pastry Shop (27 rue Saint Jean), recommended by the woman we say next to at dinner at Le Musee. The special bread dotted with pink pralines looked too sweet to eat. At a shop specializing in botanical drawings, Vincent Jeannerot’s Aquarelles Botaniques, we bought elegant linen tea towels (as gifts) and a print.

With Christine in Vieux Lyon

Lunch was at Court Bouillon, recommended by our hotel owner Laurent and it was excellent, (although Christine seemed less impressed…she’s truly French now.😂). Later we took the funicular up to see the dramatic white Basilica that towers over the city high on a hill, not unlike Paris’s Sacre Coeur. It was stunning up close, set against the blue sky, and crazy ornate inside. The view from on high looking down at the city and confluence of the two rivers was very dramatic. It was also very cold thanks to the wind. We got a coffee and hot chocolate at an elegant cafe next door.

Dinner was Iranian food, for a change, but similarly elegant to the French meals we’ve had. The chef at Mojgan is female and came out to chat. Very lovely. She has three school age kids and didn’t start cooking until after they were born. She studied with Paul Bocuse, has won a big chef award and is the rare female chef in France, let alone Iranian-born female chef cooking French-inspired Iranian food. (pomegranate juice with sparkling wine; eggplant with some exotic spices, duck with Fois gras sauce etc.)

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Le Musee (bouchon), soul brothers (bar), Hotel Des celestins – Lyon

We had one of our best and most fun meals at Le Musee, a famous traditional bouchon — sort of the lyonnaise version of a Bistro. When we walked past the small humble looking dining room with its old plaster and wood walls, red and white checkered table cloths, and scuffed wooden chairs at 7:15, it was empty. Uh oh.

We’d reserved weeks ago, and were promised it would be packed even on a Tuesday night. So it was when we arrived again at 8 pm, with diners sitting elbow to elbow at long tables. We sat with a nice young couple from Normandy (the woman grew up in Lyon) and had a lively conversation about food, France, the US. (We later learned that no self-respecting French person books dinner before 8 pm…good to know. I made several reservations for 7:30.)

Inside Lyon Bouchon

I don’t know exactly what we ate but it was delicious and the warm, welcoming atmosphere added to the specialness of the meal. All the servers looked happy, a good sign. The gregarious owner went around to every table with a handwritten menu, formed a huddle with diners and explained the entrees and plats de jour, in our case, in halting English (with help from our neighbors). He ended up picking several things for us (in halting French, I mentioned no blood sausage etc). We started with long mushrooms in a creamy sauce topped with greens in a mustardy dressing and a slice of cakey bread with a chunk of sausage in it (akin to pigs in a blanket).

For our mains, we each got a plate with creamy scalloped potatoes and a tasty sliced carrot concoction, then a dish to share of tender pork cheek in a savory brown sauce and an oval shaped dumpling coating white fish, served in a cream sauce. Dessert was a scoop of chocolate mousse beside a bright red/pink slab of what looked like a fruit pie/tart, but was not made with fruit. Instead it was with a lyonnaise specialty – – pink pralines, which are nubby, bright pink, very sweet, sugar-coated almonds. No-name wine was served by the bottle and half bottle, followed by a killer local liquor aperitif (that I couldn’t drink) served on the house. The food sounds weird and heavy but somehow it wasn’t.

Traboule tour

Toward the end of the meal, before anyone had paid, the owner stood in the middle of the dining room and invited diners to join him in the alleyway behind the restaurant for a brief tour of one of Lyon’s famous covered passageways (traboules) so we all got up and moved out into an adjoining courtyard surrounded by high towering walls. My French is lacking so we couldn’t pick up most of what he said (apparently there was mention of prostitutes) but it was fun to see this raconteur entertaining the crowd, with people laughing and smoking. Then we all dutifully returned to the warm restaurant and lined up to pay our bills. (Ours was a remarkably reasonable 89 euros .)

Hotel des Celestians is well-located (in a fancy shopping area of presqu’ile, a peninsula between two rivers, an easy and scenic walk to the old city/vieux Lyon) and a small, affordable place to stay, with very helpful staff who booked restaurants for us and an outgoing owner who went to Cornell’s famous hotel school (at the same time I was there, in the liberal arts college). Fun talking to him about Ithaca and greatly appreciated his restaurant recommendations.

We stopped for a drink at a chic but welcoming bar, Soul Brothers, near Le Musee that had nice looking charcuterie boards.

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Hidden passages/ Italian food in the Bastille, “village” scenes near Montparnesse – Paris

Fun day wandering around the nether regions of the Bastille, following a Lonely Plant map that took us through a variety of near-hidden cobblestone passages dotted with shops of craftspeople, from chair makers to architects. The weather vacillated between drizzle, mist, rain and sudden sunshine, adding drama to the day.

The kids ended up going to the Pompidou, which thankfully was open on Monday (as was the Louvre, but not the Musee d’Orsay), and then on a ghost tour that began at Shakespeare and Company and moved into the Isle de citie.

Bastille passageway

We ended up at East Mama (rue de Faubourg St.Antoine) having a delicious lunch of Italian food – pizza Naples style and a carbonara pasta with grilled threads of artichoke. No wonder the place was packed, which is why we chose it and ended up sitting at the bar overlooking the chefs in action.

Viennese pastry shop in the Bastille

The second Lonely Planet tour – of “secret villages” hidden in urban Paris south of Montparnesse, in the 14 and 13 arrondissements, was interesting but I’m not sure worth all the walking. Live and learn. Starting at the Pernety metro, We did walk through what felt like very non-touristy parts of Paris, which was a nice change from the more famous bits. We walked 35 minutes to the citie florale, five winding streets named after flowers, lined with little cottage-like rowhouses that apparently are well endowed with gardens, but not in January. It is remarkable that this little area is surrounded by urbanhigh rises and busy city shopping drags. I’d return to better explore the nearby butte aux Cailles, a hilly cobblestoned area with interesting looking cafes and restaurants (near Place D’italie metro)

Citie florale

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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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