Pardon me, do you have any Dijon?

There was lots of Dijon in Dijon, but that was about the only thing that went as planned.  Lots of rain and the fact that everything closes on Mondays and Tuesdays provided a creative vacation in this Burgundian town.

Our AirBnB hosts actually picked us up from the train station and filled us in on all of the great things to do in the area.  This was good, because our Frommer’s France guidebook was rendered useless given that every single thing in ti that we wanted to do was either closed or no longer existed.  It was the first full moon of the Fall and we headed to Place Emile Zola to have a wonderful dinner under the clear sky.

The next day we headed to Lac Kir, a man-made lake on the outskirts of town named after and created by the city’s mayor Felix Kir.  In case you are wondering, the Kir (white wine mixed with cassis) is also named after him.  We had a picnic by the lake and walked all the way around!  Ducks were out and about and there were nice autumn leaves beginning to fall.

Our second day in Dijon was showered with rain.  We needed to find some indoor activities so we went to the Musee Des Beaux Arts.  This is one of France’s oldest museums and actually is really boring.  I mean, really boring.  Medieval paintings and sculptures abound, and if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ’em all.  But I will say, that past the medieval farm tools and the 700th Jesus painting, there is an extremely ugly addition to the museum that houses some amazing modern art!  Monets, Manets, Renoirs, and Picassos are appallingly hung on what looks to be the kind of walls that are carpeted that are used for cubicles in office buildings interspersed with wood paneling.  Tres Bizarre!

One of the coolest things about Dijon is the Rue de la Chouette.  This is a route, marked by a little owl, and it directs you to all of the site of historical significance.  We just became obsessed with finding the owls and not necessarily with the places.  Popular legend has it that the owl (la chouette) carved on the side of the Church of the Notre Dame is a good luck charm: visitors to the church touch the owl with their left hands to make a wish.

One the last day, we did one of our favorite things, which is to stock up on things we can’t get as cheaply in London.  Our shopping trip included:

12 bottles of wine from the Monoprix (local grocery store)

2 local salamis from the central indoor market (featured in the rainbow gallery)

little mustards

olive oil

sunflower oil

special cheese Citeaux made by local monks from Cremerie Porcheret

Above are some other pictures we took on the trip that don’t really fit into the rainbow, but are worth mentioning.  We probably won’t go back to Dijon, but it was another region of France that we had not been to and we’re glad we went.

We have now been to Paris, Bourgogne, La Loire, Bretegne, and Provence.  Where should be go next?

Reims-ing and Raving

Reims (rhymes with prance) is only a 45 minute TGV ride from Paris.  Situated in Champagne country, it is the perfect side trip. We stayed at an AirBnB for one night in this really beautiful apartment with a very nice lady and explored the city for about 24 hours. Here are some of the highlights:

Pink  Red Biscuits de Reims:  These rose flavoured treats are a great thing to bring back.  The problem is, you can really buy them anywhere in the world, even the specialty cookie shop in your home town.  But, they are made here!  Reims is really proud of their specialities, as are all regions of France, so it’s good to celebrate them while you’re in the area, even if globalization has ruined the specialness of it.

Champagne: Yes, you are only allowed to call this champagne because it comes from champagne.  There are many caves to visit near Reims, but the one we chose was Pommery, given that they had a tour in English and no pre-booking was necessary.  We walked about a mile out of town to get there.  Unfortunately, we missed the English tour and took the French one.  We’s sad to say we didn’t understand a single word, but you do get a coupe of champagne at the end of the tour.  Travel tip:  don’t buy directly from the winery in this case.  Go to a grocery store and get it even cheaper.  In Reims they have a wine warehouse where you can get bottles for reasonable prices.

Cathedral:  It is the pride and joy of this small french town and it is really amazing.  When I was in Greece last September with my students and we were climbing up to a fort, one of the students said, “Not another f-ing fort to climb!”  He said that every time his family goes to a european city, they always climb up a fort.  I was thinking I feel the same way about cathedrals.  I couldn’t identify which is which in a line up, but it’s nice to go in while you’re there.  Actually, I think this is probably the most memorable one I’ve been after Notre Dame and Chartres.

The Forum:  These are roman ruins in the city and they are actually fairly useful today.  There are a few good restaurants around it (we went to the Bistrot de Forum, which was excellent) and you can just kind of wander in and play around on the steps.  At lunch, people eat their picnics on the old steps.

We are thinking about going back to a different city in the region in November.  We would choose to rent bikes and ride to some of the more outlying vineyards.  No rainbow sightings at all!  However, we’ll keep our eyes peeled next time.

Holm Sweet Holm

Well done, Scandanavia…Again!  All of our best travel experiences have been to Scandanavia and this is the best one yet!  The island of Bornholm is a small island in the Baltic sea, about 1.5 hours by ferry from Sweden and Germany.  So it’s really in the middle there.  There’s something so special about these island communities that are not easily accessed (think Vancouver Island).  Just far enough to have its own identity and just large enough to have a culture and flourishing community, Bornholm is full of wonderful people, sweeping vistas, white sandy beaches, dense forests, and plenty of smoked meats and fish to go around.  What’s even better is that it’s probably not on your list of places to go, which means a more affordable and non-touristy vacation for us.  In fact, when we were waiting out a rainstorm at a hot dog kiosk this guy said, “Are you American?!  I think we had Americans here before…How did you even find this place?” Yes, it was awesome.

Bornholm in rainbow order:

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Red bikes.  We rented bikes for the entire week and spent every day biking for hours and hours.  We pedaled through rolling hills overlooking the sea, through old growth forests with hidden deer, along the coast, past windmills and round churches, and through quaint towns.  Even though we were barely able to walk every night, there was something really satisfying about knowing we had spent the whole day getting around without a car.  Plus, coasting down those hills at sunset was breath taking!

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Orange fire.  We rented a small cabin in the forest at Balka Beach from an AirB&B host.  Each morning I was the first to wake up and I would go out on the porch and sit in the sun with my tea journaling.  White/pied wagtails and a willow warbler visited me every morning.  Don’t be deceived by the pictures though:  it was cold!  At night we had roaring fires, so hot we needed to open the windows!  Andrew and Scott played chess by the fire and it was super Hygge.

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Yellow rocks.  One of the days we went to Svaneke, a little harbor town with beautiful coastline that you can walk along.  After a nice meal at the Rogeri, we climbed on the rocks, basked in the sun, and dreamed of opening a commune on this island!

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Green hillsides.  The whole island of Bornholm was lush and green, providing rolling green hillsides.  When you’re on a bike, it seems like everything is uphill, but with the surrounding scenery, it was magical!  The best day on bikes was this day (pictured here).  We rode for hours through an ancient forest to the center of the island where there is a farmhouse.  There is a restaurant where you can order, you guessed it, smoked meats.  While we were eating, the owner came out to talk to us and explained his process of meat smoking.  What an amazing place, you can read about it here.

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Blue sea.  This was not at all what I was expecting.  I thought the Baltic Sea  would look grey and foreboding.  However, it looks clear, blue, and tropical.  The beaches have white sand.  In fact, if you have an hour glass, chances are the sand inside of it comes from Bornholm.  It’s so soft and clean.  We biked to Dueodde beach (we just went with “dude” beach) and found a sand dune to lie in to protect us from the wind.

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Purple skies.  One of the coolest places to watch birds was along the bike path leading into town from our cabin.  There were always at least three cormorants drying their wings on the rocks offshore.  We always happened to be biking by near twilight when the sky was purply and the water was calm, reflecting the light.  I know, it doesn’t look purple in this picture.

In case you’re not convinced yet, click on the gallery below to see more pictures of our amazing trip.  Note:  if the photos seem better quality to you this time it’s because there were all taken by Scott Hardingham.  Andrew and I need to get a better camera!

Summer in Sweden

After spending five of the best vacation days ever in Sweden, we’re finally ready to reflect on our experiences.  Our trip was full of sun, good food, and water.  Here’s how we spent two days in Stockholm.

Let me start by saying that we spent 300 Kroner, which is $54 (that’s £32) on a slice of pizza and a cookie in Stockholm.  I am not exaggerating.  This is what we spent at a small café in the touristy area of Gamla Stan: The old town that every guidebook will tell you to visit.  Don’t go here.  I’m serious.  You’ll think you should go here, but don’t.  You can have a much better time experiencing Stockholm for its natural beauty and local flavor.  That said, Stockholm is expensive, period.  But it doesn’t have to be that expensive.  See our suggestions below for a fabulous and moderately priced trip to Stockholm.

Day One Afternoon

For our first afternoon in Stockholm, we headed straight to Sodermalm.   It’s where people live and work and it’s full of great shops (record, book, and vintage clothes of good quality).  We walked around for a little bit and found ourselves at Mosebacke Terrass for a glass of wine and a pint of beer with a great international crowd.  This helped us wind down after our voyage and gave us a good perspective of Stockholm.  Afterward, we wished we would have stopped by the grocery store to buy lox, bread, cheese and wine, and walked up the hill to Vita Bergen, a beautiful park overlooking the city.  We did make it to the beautiful park after we ate at the Pelican, a historical restaurant that was overpriced and not that great.

Day 2 Morning

For our first morning in Stockholm, we ate breakfast at our hotel and went straight to Djurgården on the ferry.  We rented a canoe and paddled toward the nature side of the canal as far as we could in a half hour, allowing the time to get back for the hour rental fee.   The water was calm and the trip was beautiful.  It didn’t seem the rental shop was over-concerned with safety or skill.  After our canoe trip, we walked across the bridge to Ostermalm Saluhall for lunch.  We ate a delicious meal at one of the cafes in there and gawked at all of the food.

Day 2 Afternoon

We love to try to take public transport while in new cities, so we went back to Djurgården via public transport.  When we disembarked at the Vasamuseet station we began to circumnavigate the island, heading toward the mini island of Beckholmen.  Just check out this cute little place, and perhaps make reservations at Oaxmen for the outdoor patio for later in the evening.  We continued the walk around Djurgården to come across the Italian Embassy and then to the Prins Eugens Waldemarsudde.  This is a beautiful estate which is worth paying the entrance fee to visit.  Imagine what it would be like to live here on the best piece of property in Stockholm!  Learn a little about the art in a country not much known for its art.

After this house, you might be ready for a coffee and cake.  Slice up the center of the island, following the signs to Rosendals Slott.  You will reach the coolest area of the island:  a mini farm with vegetables and fruits and in the center, a café in a greenhouse where you can purchase teas, coffee, and desserts.  I had the best cookie of my life here!  It looked like it was going to be dry and crumbly, but it was actually moist and chewy.  I am still thinking about it.

Day 2 Evening

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Langholmen Swimming

Head next to  your hotel for a shower and rest or if you’re feeling like you want to do more, take public transport to HORNSTULL and walk to the tiny island of Langholmen.  Walk through the center of  the island to the northern shore, past the prison and through the school to a sandy cove where you can sunbathe and swim.  You’re on your own for dinner tonight, we struggled to find a restaurant that wasn’t overpriced and touristy.  You could always do another picnic, or you could have bought more food from the Saluhall earlier in the day to eat this evening.  There are many great restaurants in Stockholm, so do some research before you go, eat there, and then let us know.

 Now…Travelling outside of Stockholm…

We caught the train to Orebro just in time and arrived in this beautiful city of Fanthyttan where our friend’s relatives live.  I am not even joking, this was one of the best days of my life.  You might be wondering, “What is a perfect day?”  Well, here you go!  Start with a great Swedish breakfast…

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walk for hours in the forest…

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…visit a Quarry…

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..bathe in the lake, literally…

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…go fishing…

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… sing traditional Swedish drinking songs with Schnapps, even if you don’t speak Swedish…

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…take a midnight canoe trip up the lake to observe a beaver dam…

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…and fall asleep with your mind empty and your heart full, under the full moon.  We love our new Swedish friends and are so grateful to them for giving us one of the best days ever!

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Left My Heart in Edinburgh

20150502_071720Andrew and I decided it would be fun to take the Caledonian Sleeper train to Edinburgh.  Basically, you get on the train at bedtime in Euston, London and arrive in Edinburgh at 7:30am.  This was a bad idea for the following reasons:

1.  The average journey time from London to Edinburgh is four hours.  Why force it to take 8 hours?  We’re still trying to figure that out.

2.  “It is like trying to fall asleep on the Titanic…as it is sinking.”

3.  A giant, loud Scottish man enters your berth at 6:30am to bring you instant coffee and says “YOU’RE WELCOME” louder than any human has ever said those words.

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The plus side is that you arrive really early in Edinburgh on an empty stomach before any food places are open, so you have time to climb King Arthur’s Seat, a lovely 45 minute climb to a very high peak in the middle of town in Hollyrood Park.  We didn’t quite make it to the top, but this is our own version of King Arthur’s Seat.

I would recommend doing this on a full stomach with plenty of water and proper shoes.  The views are gorgeous to the Firth of Forth and to the Edinburgh Castle.  We felt at home instantly!

9:30am – We make it to Leo’s Beanery on Howe Street in Stockbridge.  What a great place!  Smoked Salmon on a bagel or a veggie breakfast, complete with 20150502_130639vegetarian haggis, great coffee and friendly wait staff.  This is a local spot, off the beaten tourist path.  Highly recommended!

Seeing old friends is the best part about travelling, so we were happy to be introduced to Cuckoo’s Bakery by my Scottish friend, Sarah.  They have won the Scottish Bakery of the year award. A perfect place to catch up.

Despite our efforts to avoid tourist areas at all costs, it is worth it to explore a town with those who know it well.  Following our cupcake, we were able to climb a mound called Calton Hill, which is home to some interesting things, none of which I remember, because Sarah and I were reminiscing the whole time.

20150503_141044A surprising treat was going to two of the Scottish National Galleries.  Over the past few years here, we have learned quite a bit about British Art.  We even challenged ourselves to name 20 British artists, and we could do it!  We started at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art which was home to some great pieces by Hockney, Freud, Bacon, Nicholsons, and currently a Lichtenstein exhibit.  The Scottish National Gallery houses lots of the Dutch painters, French impressionists, Italian Renaissance works, and much more.  It is much cosier and manageable than the National Gallery in London, and we never had to battle crowds to see a particular painting.

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Shout out to our B&B: The Dene Guest House!  What an ideal place to stay:  Free breakfast, clean rooms, great temperature and staff.  We would stay there again!  A major plus was that it was around the corner from the Royal Botanical Gardens.  It was a drizzly day and we weren’t sure what to do, but we went out with our umbrellas and paid the 5 pounds to get into the greenhouses.  This is a nice, warm place to go on a cold day.  Also, the surrounding grounds are lovely as well.  They’ve got sculptures by Andy Goldsworthy, Barbara Hepworth, and plants from all over the world.  A major plus: it’s not under any type of flight path like Kew Gardens in London.

Our friephoto (1)nd Andrew told us about a great walkway near our guest house called the Leith Water Walk.  We decided to walk along it one day and it was pleasant and not at all scary like some of these canal walks in cities can be.  We took it into the heart of Stockbridge, a neighborhood that we loved.  We ended up there many times to eat and drink.

Finally, it is worth mentioning the bar scene in Edinburgh.  Eight years ago when I went to see my friends here, we were hitting the pubs and even nightclubs. Now, in our thirties, it is nice to be able to go sit at a civilised place and be able to hear each other talk.  This under ground gin bar, simply named “Edinburgh Gin Distillery” is an unmarked establishment that has sort of the speakeasy vibe, but not in the annoying way.  edinburgh-gin-distilleryAll of the drinks were fancy, but simple, and the music was quiet and mostly Paul Simon.  Yes!

Overall:  Edinburgh is a great place to visit and reminds us a lot of PDX.  It was sad to leave there, but there’s a lot more of Scotland to explore.

Tours to Bretagne in 8 days.

The most special thing about France is the uniqueness of each region and the dramatic differences from one area to the next.  We decided to travel to two different regions on an eight day adventure.

If you arrive in paris via the Eurostar, the easiest thing to do is rent a car from Gare du Nord and hit the highway immediately.  Driving to Tours takes approximately 2.5 hours and costs about 25 Euros for the tolls.  Tours is a mid-size town that offers great food and therefore a great place to base yourself if you’re going chateaux hopping and wine tasting.  There were two restaurants we tried in Tours that we think you’ll like too!

La Souris Gourmande.  Tartine? Fondue?  With hundreds of cheeses on the menu, this was a very welcoming place!  The thing most likely to make us quarrel on vacation is by far where to eat dinner.  We have these horribly long discussions about where we should eat and neither of us ever says what we want.  So it’s not that we’re fighting about where to eat, it’s that we can’t even decide at all.  In order to avoid this in Tours, we set out on a scouting mission to find a place to eat dinner, as our guidebook offered slim pickings.  As we ducked down an alley feeling as if we would never make a decision, the owner of a restaurant we were passing by began to chat us up about his passion for cheese.  I would like to say it was an easy decision and we returned without hesitation that evening, but the bottom line is that we discussed it for another two hours.  But we didn’t regret it!  This was one of the best meals I have had in France and it was off of the main tourist drag of Tours so it felt very cosy and authentic!

Zinc.  Classic french Bistrot at an affordable price, nestled down a side street off the main square.

Chateaux hopping in the Loire

Chateaux hopping in the Loire

From Tours, you can access many different Chateaux in less than an hour.  In my life I have been to Chenonceaux, Chambord, Blois, and Amboise.  To be very honest, the only one I can ever remember is Chenonceaux, and it is the only one I have returned to.  Built over the river, it is impossible to visit and not imagine what life would have been like on this exquisite piece of property.  And on a spring day, it is actually very peaceful, as tourists slow down a bit and saunter the manicured grounds and well preserved interior.  I can still remember posing for a picture out front with my high school French class and thinking about how I never thought I would get to see a real castle!

It wouldn’t be a trip to the Loire withoIMG_2955ut a bit of wine.  On our way out of Tours we stopped in a very small little town called Chinon.  This was a wine we had been drinking for most of the trip and we were immediately in love with it.  We decided we had to go visit a Cave there and buy from the source.  So early on a Sunday morning, when you’d never expect anything to be open, we pulled in to the cellars Caves Plouzeau and low and behold they were closed.  Even though they said they’d be open.  But we persevered, walked around the town, and when we came back, a woman was pulling up her truck to open the Caves!  I highly recommend visiting this very deep, dark, cave and picking out a ton of wine.

IMG_2984After staying two nights in Tours we hit the road for Angers, where we spotted out first rainbow of the trip on the side of a bus!  Ahh France and its outdated design esthetics.  After listening to Andrew downplay the city, I had low expectations.  I don’t know if it was the weather, or what, but I thought Angers was very impressive with a massive castle looming over the town the the clean open outdoor spaces for recreation.  We had a nice lunch in the town center before leaving the Loire Valley and entering Bretagne.

The town of St Malo is a real gem on the Northern coast.  Andrew has been talking about it for years.  Stay there for one night and enjoy Gallettes (buckwheat crepes, a speciality of the region), a walk around the entire city on the fortress walls, stunning views of the blue sea, and at low tide climbing out on the rocks and on the little islands that have many secrets to be discovered.

Paris, France

This was our second time together in Paris although both of us have been to the French capital many times before when we studied here in college.  When we go on vacation together, we like to just BE together, however Paris pressures us to feel we need to DO a ton of things.  Although each time we travel we end up making a few mistakes that involve touristing around until we keel over in exhaustion or avoid eating proper meals in order to force ourselves to see that last museum, we are constantly working on how to make the most of our adventures.  Here are some ways we found to just chill in Paris:

Really long French dinners 

We’re talking apéritifs et digestifs every time! Here are some great places to settle in for the night:

IMG_2212Swann et Vincent.  An Italian restaurant but with a French vibe.  Order a Martini (a Martini in France is actually just vermouth with a twist of lemon) and the Soissons (HUGE white beans) or Carpaccio to start. For your meal we recommend the Agneau (lamb) and a bottle of wine recommended by your waiter.  Don’t forget to round it off with an espresso.  This is a relaxed place that feels friendly and cosy.

Metro-M.svg Paris_m_4_jms.svg Paris_m_6_jms.svg RER.svg Paris_rer_B_jms.svg Denfert-Rochereau  Nearby:  Les Catacombes

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Chez Janou.  I know it has been written up in all of the tourist guides and I know that if you go there you will find beaucoup Americains, but it is really really good.  Don’t let your pride keep you from this Provencal restaurant with over 80 types of Pastis on the menu!  Definitely start with pastis and an appetizer, possibly raw tuna or the special.  For dinner, I’ve had the escargot pasta, the gambas, duck confit and ratatouille (on different visits!) and have thoroughly enjoyed all of them.  Save room for dessert: Chocolate mousse that comes in a serve-yourself-as-much-as-you-want huge ceramic bowl! You can even get more when you’ve cleaned your plate.

Metro-M.svg Paris_m_8_jms.svg Chemin Vert  Nearby:  Place des Vosges, Maison de Victor Hugo

IMG_3608Breizh Cafe.  An amazing lunch spot with branches in Paris, Cancale (Brittany), and Tokyo, this place serves up tasty Breton gallettes (like crepes, but savory and made with buckwheat flour).  “Breizh” means Breton in their regional language, and the cafe also sells a variety of products from the region in Northwest France, including various types of sea salt, sardines, and a great variety of ciders.  Breton cider is really good and different from English cider – less alcoholic and a bit sweeter, it’s traditionally served in a stone bowl called a bolée.  The gallettes are very filling and in addition to the delicious traditional ones (ham, eggs, cheese in various combinations), they serve a bunch of innovative takes on the genre, including one with brie, honey, and almonds which is really exciting. Very colorful decor and a modern but homey atmosphere combine to make it a perfect spot for a leisurely lunch.

Metro-M.svg Paris_m_8_jms.svg St Sebastien-Froissart. Nearby: Musée Carnavalet

Strolling in Les Jardins

One of the most amazing things about Paris is the free access to the gardens and parks, which can feel like museums in and of themselves.  You may have been to the Tuileries and been bombarded by canvassers, con artists, and vendors, but take some time to explore some of the less overrun parks and enjoy a false sense of privacy.

IMG_3049Jardin des Plantes.  Yes, it means “garden of plants!”  It’s a pleasant garden, seemingly popular with runners, with long maincured beds and other areas cultivating vegetables and obscure varieties from around the world.  There are also huge old-fashioned conservatories but they cost a few Euros to enter.  A chill place for a stroll or picnic, especially if you are taking a train in or out of Gare d’Austerlitz, right next door.

Metro-M.svgParis_m_5_jms.svgParis_m_10_jms.svg  RER.svgParis_rer_C_jms.svg Gare d’Austerlitz  Nearby: Quartier Latin, Panthéon

10582814_10100168999221205_3082564478931810624_oJardin du Luxembourg. Nice fountains, gravel that gets all over your shoes, pleasant green open spaces, and a model boating lake create the quintessential Parisian park.  Afterward, you can wander around the streets north of the park, filled with antique and jewlery stores and interesting bookshops (though mostly in French).  The cafe outside the Odeon theatre is also very pleasant.

RER.svgParis_rer_B_jms.svg Luxembourg Metro-M.svgParis_m_4_jms.svgParis_m_10_jms.svg Odeon  Nearby: St-Germain-des-Prés, Saint-Sulpice

IMG_3594Canal St. Martin and Parc de la Villette.  Take the Metro to Stalingrad and walk the canal north, finishing at Parc de la Villette, Paris’s largest park.  You will see some characters along the way and even cross over the “petite ceinture,” an interesting old abandoned railroad track encircling the city.  The park itself is very modern and is famous for its 26 red follies, modern-day gazebos.  There’s also some play areas, a little carnival, and a large convention center.  Altogether a slightly strange place but with nice aerial walkways and green spaces mixed in.

Metro-M.svgParis_m_2_jms.svgParis_m_5_jms.svgParis_m_7_jms.svg Stalingrad  Nearby: Cité de sciences et de l’industrie, Père Lachaise

Slightly obscure museum 

IMG_3543Musee Carnavalet – Histoire de Paris.  Located in the marais, a former palace is now devoted to displaying a weird collection of artifacts from the history of the city.  Although the upstairs painting collection can be a bore, the downstairs contains amazing signage from before the advent of address numbers (“Where’s your shoe repair shop?” “Four streets down, the one with the huge iron ox above it!”).  If anything else, it’s a nice cool place to go on a hot or rainy day with free admission.  Also, the gardens are very nice.

Metro-M.svg Paris_m_1_jms.svg St. Paul Nearby: Places des Vosges, Picasso Museum

à bientôt!