Sunday, August 21, 2016

Paris - Part One and it's mostly about food...

Bruce was in Paris for about a month in his early twenties, he’s enjoying seeing the changes in the City after forty years and since he knows her pretty well, he is my tour guide. Last time we were here, we didn't see anything due to this...

Looking SOOO innocent now... maybe not, plotting the next adventure, read on, never boring this one!

Skip this if you are not into aerobatic cats, or have read enough about a cat in Paris. There is an entire wall of books in this flat in the living room which has a ladder across a rail which I’ve only seen in movies, but here it is. So Lexi, being the curious cat she is, started climbing the ladder, she went up high, stretched one leg, seriously out, three legs on the shelf, then decided it was safer to withdraw, pulled herself back and climbed down the ladder. She’s never been on a ladder before, but to her it’s just another exploration point. Incredible for me watching her! Enough about her...

Second day in Paris and we lunch at a charming bistro called La Belle Equipe, where we asked about grocery stores. There is a Monpoprix down the road, quite far down, but what a store! It’s a large chain in France and while shopping at the smaller mom and pop stores are nicer, sometimes you just have to stock up. Thinking we’d either missed it or got lost I stopped in at a cafe to ask. Here, as everywhere, if you want English spoken you must ask politely first, not assume. I was yelled at by a German bloke for doing just that and justly so. I’m finding many people here speak English, at least in this neighbourhood. I’m still a bit confused as to what it is called, know it’s in the eleventh. It’s called Roquette.

More walking the neighbourhoods and many places are closed until earliest August 23, some August 31st. I would say if you come in September you would have more choice in just about everything, August not so much, many leave the city for vacation. We’ve known that, Vienna and Brussels were the same, but not to the extent it is here. Well there are still enough shops and restaurants open we won’t starve, just less choice.

A small note about recycling, it doesn’t seem to exist here! What? In Freiburg we have the recycle Police! They are that serious about it and have shown positive results, although I can’t name them at the moment, but here in Paris there doesn’t seem to be anything. Strange for me, in Belgium everything but glass and kitchen waste went into separate bags. After Germany where they are so picky this is new to me. I don’t understand why a city as large as Paris would not recycle. Maybe I just haven’t read the memo. Read the net and it does happen, just no obvious way to do it in this flat. Update, found the bins, still not as rigorous as in Freiburg but they are there, yeah! Felt bad, it’s become such a habit, one of my few good ones.

Another large shop since tomorrow is Sunday and Monday is Assumption of Mary Day, or Feast of Assumption, also a holiday. We’ve learned our lessons on holidays but still get caught occasionally. We haven’t even been out of the neighbourhood yet and the City from our perspective is beautiful. People say it is the City of Light and I would agree. I also read that people dress nicely here. Well some do and some do not but I am enjoying the fashion parade that does go by when sitting in a cafe. I think only very young women and tourists wear shorts, most women wear dresses and some are really pretty. Guess I’m touted as a tourist for wearing shorts at my age, but hey, they are comfortable and since I don’t enjoy shopping where to find a nice dress? or two… perhaps one pretty dress wouldn’t do me any harm, flip, flop… 

There are many black people here, I only mention them because of their dress, men wear tunics to their ankles, women wear brightly coloured and patterned dresses, many are very beautiful! The designs are created in a method of batik, which I’ve done a bit of, means using wax and dyes. I don’t know where they are from or any history but am enjoying seeing them or their garments rather. They are from North and West Africa, here is a clothing designer doing a modern twist with the fabric, skip if not interested. Bruce tells me the people are from Ghana, traditional dress there.

Went to the Sunday Market at the Bastille Plaza. The market was a “scream” according to Bruce, the vendors yelled out their wares and a woman sat in the middle playing an instrument that screamed as well, dreadful sound and made on purpose, and for money! I was not paying her I can tell you! Maybe to stop playing, now that would be worth it. The market is quite large with it’s share of junk, decent clothing seemed mostly from Italy, handbags and food, the wasps loved the fish, didn’t go near that one. It was crowded, very crowded, but a fun to see everything. Almost bought a pink Eiffel Tower for friends in Burnaby, you know who you are, but it was worse that ketch, guys truly! (Didn’t see any snow globes either although I’m sure they have them.)

That tower, there, it's a church! Not too ordinary in shape but boring inside, from what I saw.
The Plaza used to hold a fortress/gaol used for years by French kings but has been torn down after the French Revolution. You and certainly Bruce know more about the history, look it up if interested, I’m not a historian, can’t you tell? There is a gold coloured winged man on top of a statue in the middle. The statue is under construction, although the top can be seen. Here's a link with better pictures than I could take.

It’s a lively, touristy neighbourhood fraught with pickpockets, tourists and locals. Many restaurants abound from all nationalities and we did dine on the main square, just to get a feel for it.

I’ve enjoyed fresh pressed lemon drinks, they come with a bottle of water and the sugar container, in our neighbourhood they are about five Euro, here they were seven! We also split a Croque-Monsieur which is a common dish here of bread, ham and cheese, broiled to crispness. I’ve only had one before, Bruce said it was one of the best he’d eaten. It is considered a snack, relatively cheap, a staple for young tourists, as Bruce was. 

We stopped at a bagel shop - yes! a bagel shop, can’t get those in Germany or Spain unless they are packaged and old, so we bought two but while deciding I looked down to find a tiny mouse, or mole/vole on the ledge, wasn’t quick enough with the camera again but it was really cute. Of course then it gets you wondering… Where there is one there are likely many.

The walk there and back was along a very interesting street full of cafes and shops and we found out that there are fresh food markets along the way on a Sunday, aside from the large one at the Bastille. 

It has warmed up here over the last few days, high 20’s now but still not oppressive and the flat we are in is naturally cool, on the ground floor with the garden (which has a really good collection of spiders!).

We walked several, several blocks to a restaurant Bruce had found for onion soup, they leave out the word French here, obviously. But they were out of it! Darn, restaurant was nice though. (Cafe d’Albert) Stopped off at Rue Voltaire, another large square we hadn’t been to and had a drink before heading home (L’ingenu). 

More traditional church, didn't go in, but liked the exterior

There are so many grocery shops here, mostly parts of larger chains but handy to have, and so many bakeries! It’s a good thing I don’t have a sweet tooth but they are lovely to see, so pretty in design. 

Went to another Monoprix, same chain I mentioned before but different site. Downstairs is nice with clothing etc, food is next floor up and what a dump! Holes in the ceiling, patched floors, just yuck, felt like I needed to wash after being there. 

Then we’ve been staying out to enjoy the ambiance of Paris and have a drink at a cafe. Bruce ordered a Margherita, came faux strawberry flavoured bleck, should stick with beer or wine or lemon presses. 

A postal truck went by and Bruce said posted on it was a saying it “Smile there may be a love letter for you on this truck” Good one!

Restaurants here mostly serve, without asking, a cold bottle of tap water, one even put cucumber and mint in theirs. It’s been a long time since I’ve been served water unasked, as just a formality, that practise stopped in Canada - when?

We both had haircuts, pretty good ones too. I am picky, you’ve heard it before and look into a studio to decide if it is the right place. Something I can’t really finger, certainly cleanliness, but it’s more than that. Anyway always a bit scary to go to a new stylist but at least hair grows out. Next up a pedicure, there I have to be even more careful. Here and in Brussels they have what is called pedicure/podiatrist practices and that seems the safest route. 

Found a meat and cheese shop with bakery next door, and a few fresh veggies to help make your sandwich. Lots of those around but this one has a selection of wines, syrups and exotic spices, no website but it’s called E & A, Epicurie & Associes, Charcuterie - Epicure - Fromagerie. Basically an upscale deli.

Sunday and I had vague plans to take a bus somewhere, but we walked more streets in, a new to us, area. Found a cafe called “Beans on Fire” because they roast their coffee on site, good name. It rained and got windy so we hurried home.

Bye for now, we're still here for a few weeks so more news to come.

Cheers, Bx2 and climbing Lexi Cat

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Back to Brussels for a moment

Hello all,

Disclosure, this is not my photograph, it is from the website listed below.

I wanted just to send you a quick note to show you an event that happens in Brussels that we missed, because it's on this weekend. It happens every two years, probably to give the begonias time to grow. We, and you, probably get a better view over the net anyway, rather than us beating back crowds of people. An organization turns the entire Grand Palace plaza into a flower carpet depicting different countries designs depending on the year. Take a look!

Looks fabulous! Takes four hours to construct by a team of many. 

Friends of ours have been to see it, here is her blog post.

That's all for now folks!

Cheers, Bev, Bruce and Lexi Cat

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Brussels - Part 2

Update on the coffee fiasco, they charged me for a kilo and gave me enough to make it up, odd they couldn't just give me the cash back, oh well.

“We don’t make fast food but we make good food as fast as we can!” is the saying on the menu at Le Schievelavabo (say that a few times fast!) a restaurant we like close by. The name means wonky sink, huh? Belgian slang for a person who has a face not symmetrical and who thinks they are more handsome/pretty than what they are. Anyway wonky or not the food is worth waiting for, one waiter in particular is friendly, others not so much. 

We took Linda there for lunch, had to sit inside since it was raining and windy. This time we tried their ribs, shared, huge plate including baked potato. Ribs were good but truly it is hard to beat the ones we make at home thanks to our friend Lorene, a high standard to beat for sure. Then we walked a bit to find some unique homes along the park. 


I’ve been trying to get my head around the styles of architecture here, between Art Nouveaux and Art Deco and Arts and Crafts. 

Tile work and windows

Since Victor Horta was here in Brussels and did much of his work here it is mostly Nouveaux. 

Almost looks like a ship, but many buildings have rounded edges to them.

Look it up if you are interested, won’t bore you with it but all the styles are favourites of mine. In amongst the beautiful buildings are ones not so pretty, slabs of concrete that have nothing but function about them, same in every city.

We walked past trees that had huge, read massive nests in them, Linda said they were built by the green parakeets we see here and in Sevilla although we’ve never seen the nests in Spain. These nests are extremely large and one wonders what affect they have on the trees. Must be multi-generations in them, too big for just a mom and dad and kids. They squeak and fly over the apartments here and it was good to see where they roost. Tried for a picture but it wouldn’t have shown them properly.

There is a bulldog in the neighbourhood we see strutting along, he is remarkable because he carries with him a very mushy soccer ball and every day we see him that poor ball looks worse. The owner kicks at it while walking and it’s still in his mouth and he loves that. 

One evening/morning we locked ourselves in the apartment and it took some time and a flashlight to figure out how to get out. Good thing we had time and it wasn’t an emergency. The flashlight illuminated the door crack to find the locks. There is a panel with a key in it where we would normally put a key hole for seeing who is on the other side. Here it is an extra lock from the inside. Another new thing learned with no dire consequences. The elevator works, although it is a wooden box with no interior door and holds max three people. We are liking the uniqueness of this flat, it’s spaciousness, good natural light and Linda’s furnishings. 

To those in Madeira Park, I was sad to read of Penny Lang’s passing away, for many people in her music community as well of course. It was nice to read that she had a family celebration of her 74th birthday a couple of weeks before and died peacefully at home. She was a lovely and interesting lady, full of curiosity and joie de vivre. I am glad to have known her and Nancy for the short while I did, very much enjoyed the conversations at the Copper Sky or in the village. 

A treat day, the rain stopped so we planned to head downtown to see some famous sites and then I thought, what do we really like to do? You know it, outdoor food markets! So Bruce sourced a huge one for Sunday. That’s the thing about food markets, sometimes they have special hours and days. 

Instead of going downtown we stayed in the, oh, so, too comfortable neighbourhood and had lunch at an Italian restaurant. Now this place advertises itself as a pizzeria and it does pizzas but the Italian food we’ve had (been twice) is exceptional! Now why wouldn’t they market themselves that way? Perhaps to capture the more casual crowd, bigger market. Anyway, the fellow who has been our waiter, suspect is the owner, of the restaurant looks Fierce! Until he smiles and then all fears go away and we enjoy ourselves and the food. Not quite ready to go home yet and we stop off at the other favourite restaurant which advertises special coffees. Well it has been many, many moons that we’ve both had one so decided to order, Irish for me and Normandy for Bruce, yummy! The Normandy has Calvados in it, what is that anyway? Here you go well I guess we could call that dessert.

Saturday, last before we leave Brussels for Paris and we go for Greek food this time at Les Enfants du Piree, down the hill several blocks. We are located pretty much on top of a hill here but the slope is gentle so it’s okay, walking slowly we get to glance at all the architecture and doors. 

And this pretty alley

Now that may not sound too exciting to some of you but for me it’s a wonder, the ironwork and stained glass is beautiful. 

People feed the pigeons here with their sugar packets from their coffee! No wonder they seem more hyperactive than in other cities. Leftover bread which will be thrown out anyway is more common, probably not good for them either.

Linda took us by bus to the flea market called or at Place du jeu de balle, Marolles District. I was thinking we are more interested in food markets, was I wrong to "dis" or pre-conceive about this market! Yes, there was the usual junk but there were some very fine pieces of china, jewelry, and many other things. It was a wonder to behold really! After we went for a light lunch at a restaurant that bordered the market, pumpkin soup, sounds not so appetizing but it was good.

Flowers are pretty but not real

Linda then said we HAVE to see the Grand Palace, well so she walked us there, another long walk but, the stores on the streets were interesting to peer into, many antique shops and furniture stores. 

Town Hall 

The Grand Palace is actually a Grand square full of centuries old buildings, ornately trimmed in gold leaf with many statues and spires. Look it up if you are interested. Well, we’ve seen it anyway… 

The buses here have automatic ramps! Driver hits a button and the ramp eases it’s way out to the curb. You’ll think I’m “loco” finding the bus ramps more exciting than the Grand Palace but there you go.

Famous Painter, can't remember who, but liked the monkey!

August 9th and we’re on the road or rather rails again. Get on the train and we are fed! Airline type meal but it was good and much appreciated. We’ve found that the spots for wheelchairs are usually in first class which means better or at least some air conditioning but we’ve never been fed before complete with linen napkins. Arrive in Paris and a fellow has a signboard with Beverley written on it. Find the flat and Anne Marie welcomes us in. There is a courtyard garden that all the flats look down to. Flat itself is smaller than expected mainly because we won’t use the loft bedroom which is a child’s room. It has large wood beams framing the kitchen and two whole walls covered in books. Anyway Anne Marie showed me the closest local market, we settled in a bit and then went for a walk, found a restaurant for dinner and that was the day.

Paris, I've only been here overnight, remember the Lexi incident going into the bathroom plumbing? So now we've got a month to explore the city properly. 

Cheers, Bx2 and Lexi Cat

Monday, August 1, 2016

Brussels - Part One

Street art in Ghent - Laurel and Hardy

Arrival at the flat and our host Linda welcomes us warmly. She stays about an hour showing us around the flat and common areas. The flat is gorgeous! Old fashioned with wood floors, lots of windows, two balconies, one full bath, a shower with sink, toilet with sink, two bedrooms. There is a park across the street and grocery and cafes around, she will take us on a tour of the neighbourhood tomorrow. I think we’ll be happy here for the next 20 days. Did I say the flat is beautiful? Yes, I know, it has an old fashioned worldliness but comfortable. She lives here when it isn’t rented so there are a lifetime of keepsakes from the countries she’s been to. The ceiling lights are each beautiful, like we’ve done in Sevilla. 

Art Deco and Lexi who isn't

The neighbourhood is somewhat condo alley but building types mix between quite old and new, this building is 1953, she has lovingly maintained the ambiance of the era and furnishings reflect that. The space is bright and breezy once we open the doors to the two balconies. The windows do have a ledge so we keep them closed. Temperatures have been mid to low 20’s so heat for Bruce is not a problem.  We were so lucky to have found this flat and host.

Our host Linda takes Bruce around the neighbourhood and YES there are cafes and shops within a short distance, exactly what we need. Tram and buses stop close by too so we can get into the old town. As usual it takes a couple of days to stock the fridge and get used to the neighbourhood, then we'll venture out to sightsee. 

Lexi likes it here, lots of windows to see birds from and she can join us outside after we held her (tightly) over the balcony to show her there was a deep drop and nothing to jump to. She reacted strongly by drawing back into our arms, good! She is such a jumper, almost flyer, analyses her landing point carefully and decides if safe or not. To get down she almost walks the wall like a spider and when landing says a soft whooft. 

French is the main language here but almost everyone speaks English also. I can use a bit of my high school French, admittedly a small amount but at least I can be polite. 

We went to a Bio store today, Bio meaning organic, the fruit and veg were wonderfully fresh. They had large containers filled with every type of liquid imaginable, even tamari (distilled soy) sauce, which I promptly spilled on the floor. So I asked for paper towel to clean it up which they seemed to appreciate although sounds like it happens often. There is also a Carrefour in the area, major European grocery store, definitely without the charm of the Bio but handy.

Linda came by to drop off a key to the “maid’s room” where there is a power point to plug Bruce’s wheels into, the chair is a bit big for the elevator, elevator is another story, you see the floors as you are rising, no cage as such. She put me in touch with a woman in the building who knows someone who gives her a good pedicure. The woman is of Russian background and a Princess, there we go! I met a Princess. Anyway her English was quite good and she told us a story of connecting with an uncle in Moscow after the war. 

Got a pedicure, found a printer for a document we need to sign and scan but no scanner, actually I think the fellow just didn’t know how to use it. Bought cards and postage for birthdays coming up. Bought Lexi food. So we accomplished a lot but not all the errands.

Weather goes from cloudy to sunny every few minutes but it is in the low 20’s so is comfortable without a coat, very much appreciated!  

Linda had taken Bruce into the big park next door so we packed up some sandwiches and drinks for a picnic, which we haven’t done in a while, but is always lovely. 

Park keeper's house

This is Park Duden and there is a summer program happening this year called Wandered through the park to find the bandstand which operates as a club at night, - amendment - the pavilion is part of the program, has an information booth, a distillation laboratory and they host workshops there. 

Admittedly not my best picture but this area holds 30 different species of plants.

There is a small cafe over looking the garden planted with plants the Society distills from. There is much talk in the brochure of how people interact with nature etc. Anyway, go to the website, there is an English button if interested.

There was a very large furry dog that resides at the cafe, the waitress was trying to train it to jump over a stick between two chairs, well it tried a couple of times, but really the stick was much more fun to play with!

King Leopold, patron to the park

Then trying to make it back to the flat we got lost and saw a lot more of the park than intended for sure and some more interesting streets, uphill slog for most of it. Bruce had to plug in his chair on return and I wished for a plug in for my legs. The park is actually gigantic and has trees in it from all over the world.

Another shop day and we have lunch at a boulangerie, French for a bakery, so I decided since waffles are big here why not try some? When in Rome and all that, well they are terribly sweet and not to my taste at all. Bruce bought chocolate from the bio store, it’s located on a table complete with hammer and you have to hit hard to get a piece of the slab, good, not sweet, real cocoa flavour and with red wine, yummy! 

So now we’ve bought two of the many staple foods here in Belgium, (three if you remember the chips, four the mussels) as we do in countries visited. Food tours would be lovely as many bloggers write about but with Bruce’s chair, not sure how practical. We’ve been munching on cherries but the season seems to be pretty much over now, as it is in Canada. Well you win some and lose some but trying is important because we learn something about the country we are in by doing so. 

A few of the restaurants and businesses are closed in this area for summer holidays. As we will likely find in Paris, people flee the cities in the summer, well everywhere really. 

Yikes, wondering why our bill was quite large at the bio store today and found that we paid 19+ Euro for two hundred grams of coffee! The last time we bought coffee there it came in a tin and I’m sure didn’t cost that much. However this is ground on site with an ancient machine and I suppose they are charging for the allure of it, yikes again, save me the allure please, won’t be doing that again unless it tastes like nectar. Talk to you tomorrow and let you know, because you can bet I’m using up every bit of it. Tastes good but not That good!

Cheers, Bx2 and Lexi Cat