Home Again

After an uneventful return to London on the Eurostar train, I went down to The Mitre pub and had a lovely pint of Wells Bombadier. Now that is some good ale! Then I explored a bit of the Bayswater area that I’d not been through before and discovered quite a few shops and restaurants I’ll have to investigate further on my next trip.
It’s fun to stand on the balcony landing inside Paddington Train station and watch the masses come and go. Paddington is the west London travel nexus, with Great Western trains from all over Britain arriving, trains from Heathrow disgorging airline travelers, and six Underground lines in the basement. Everyone crowds around watching the large overhead GW track assignment boards and then zooms off when their track is posted. Naturally, there’s a mini-mall of sorts there, too, with my traditional hotel (the Paddington Hilton) sitting on top of it all. Very convenient, I think. The station’s retail offerings include a pub, a Starbucks, and a Krispy Kreme donut shop, so I’m set.
Turned in early Friday night and Saturday packed up my stuff, hopped on the Heathrow Express and headed out to the airport and into the arms of the Virgin Atlantic Upper Class experience. Man, oh man, the dedicated check-in and security line are very nice. Then it was off to the Virgin Clubhouse for breakfast and some very relaxed waiting around for my flight. It ain’t cheap, but it sure is nice.
After a comfortable and posh flight home, just in time to hand out Halloween candy, I’m thinking back about how small the world has become and how wonderful it is to be able to explore it so relatively easily. I felt really good being back in my old haunts in Reading, and London and Paris seem so familiar now. My under-practiced French even worked out suprisingly well and I don’t think I’ve ever felt so relaxed speaking it. Having friends in these places make the experience all the better. I look forward to my next adventure and hope you will join me then.

Louvre: Liberty Leads the People


I went to the Louvre today and visited my favorite large-format 19th century paintings (Delacroix, David, Ingres, Gericault), which were inspiring as usual. I was amazed at the number of idiots taking flash photos of the paintings. I guess that virtually everyone has a camera these days and that the museum staff simply can’t stop everyone, so they post a few signs and give up. The flash, of course, is bad for the paintings. If it were up to me, I’d put one of those idiots in a cage on the wall for an hour with a large warning sign about camera flash. They even ignored the "No Photo" signs on the easel of the real painter painting a copy of one of the works. Sheesh! Cultural note: extreme rudeness is not, as often advertised, solely the province of American tourists. We’re all apparently "One World" when it comes to that.

The French are a bit riled up right now because it’s been announced that a McDonald’s will be joining the restaurant line-up in the Carousel du Louvre, the underground shoppng area beneath the museum.

Then, after a quick stop at nearby Angelina, advertised as a Tea Room but serving the world’s best hot chocolate since 1880-something, I strolled up thru Place Vendome, past all the high-high-high-end designer clothing and jewelry joints, to the decidedly more pedestrian Printemps department store. Like its neighbor, Galleries Lafayette, these are the definition of stores like this. Both massive buildings are built around inner cores topped by huge art-deco stained glass domes, and Printemps went the extra step of flooring in its 6th floor and opening a restaurant there. So, after surveying all the cool men’s clothes I couldn’t afford, fit into, or look sharp in, I had a lovely lunch beneath their fantastic glass dome. The meal began with cream of mushroom soup, which was jaw-droppingly good, and followed with a penne dish with gorgonzoloa cheese sause, with diced ham, white raisins, and walnuts. A lovely Bordeau was the perfect compliment. Absolutely tasty!

By the way, French clothing sizes (and also British sizes) do not necessarly match those in the U.S. and forget finding BIG stuff like size 13 shoes.

Then I hoofed about a bit more and spent time daydreaming while sitting in the Tuileries Gardens, which extend out from the Louvre. Many folks were out today, just enjoying the nice Fall weather. As in many French parks, there are long gravel and dirt paths which surround large areas of grass so perfect that any U.S. homeowner would kill for it. And yet, these perfect grassy areas are usually off limits to anyone! They’re bordered by flower beds and are clearly just eye-candy, and they sure look inviting.

Wound up the day back in my hotel neighborhood at the Soufflot Cafe. It’s quite fun to people-watch and also waiter-watch. Being a cafe waiter in France is an actual career, not just a temp job, and they take it seriously and perform it with style. They wear a standard uniform of black pants, white shirt, black vest, and white apron, and when not serving they patrol in front of their sidewalk seating and troll for customers. It’s really entertaining to observe them at work.

So tomorrow, I’m back on the Eurostar train at midday for London. There I’ll get one last crack at my favorite traditional ales before winging home on Saturday. 

Camus, Sartre, and Hemingway


This morning I was up and out in time to catch the #27 bus and get to the Orsay Museum just before it opened. My nice Museum Pass let me skip to the front of a very long line and I was one of the first to get in. However, things do change, and that was proven when I discovered that my very favorite rooms, which house the Degas pastels, was closed for renovation! Nonetheless, I spent a few wonderful hours among the other Impressionist works and got to see some of my favorite sculptures again. The Orsay really has a fine collection. Don’t miss it when you come to Paris.

Then I hoofed it south to the Delacroix Museum, which is in his last home and studio. Got to stand in the bedroom where he died. The studio has a delightful little garden out back and the entire museum is very charming. This is what can happen when a concerned private group works hard to save the legacy of one of France’s leading artists. It doesn’t take long to see everything but it was cool seeing his paint palette, easel, and brushes.

I lunched on bread and goat cheese at nearby Le Deux Magots, a very famous (some say too touristy, but I didn’t find it so) cafe where various members of the 20th century literary and intellectual elite used to hang, including Simone de Beauvoir, Sartre, Camus, Picasso, and Hemingway. By the way, the name has nothing to do with "maggots" as we know them; translated, it means "The Two Chinamen" and refers to two wooden statues in the place.

My next stop was the Pantheon, a huge cathedral-like structure dedicated to the heroes of the French Republic. Big, interesting, quiet, and includes Foucalt’s pendulum (proving the Earth turns) in the middle.

Ended the day with a stroll through Luxembourg Gardens (my fave) and a few glasses of Brouilly at Soufflot Cafe. Marvelous!

Tomorrow, the Louvre and Galleries Lafayette!


A Great Evening with Marti and Phil


Yesterday was a fun day! After taking care of business and whatnot in the morning, I took the Metro over to the Bastille area and attempted to take a tour of the Bastille Opera House. Sadly, tours were not being offered. So I spent my afternoon strolling through the nearby Marais district, which includes some very old but nice palaces and gardens and the Jewish quarter. I saw a lot of very interesting architecture and had trouble resisting the wide variety of foods on offer.

About 1600h (4 pm) I went out to the Museum of Music and joined my friend Phil Demetrion for the "We Want Miles" exhibition, which covered the career of Miles Davis. French exhibition curators are, as Phil pointed out, very, very thorough. The career of Miles Davis is long and amazing and the exhibit didn’t skip a minute of it. Phil is a retired music journalist and we first met when he was my guest backstage at a Frank Zappa concert back in the 70s, hence the connection.

After a cocktail, Phil and I took the Metro down to the 5th Arrondissement and met up with his lovely wife Marti who, like me, is a UVA Theatre School alumni from the early 70s. We were good friends back in the day when she was a costumer and I a techie. She made the wise switch to business after graduating and now has 27 years in with British Telecom, which landed her and Phil here in Paris 18 years ago.

They introduced me to Louis Vins, a terrific traditional French restaurant not far from my hotel. My meal started off with Profiterole d’ Escargo (mushrooms and snails in a little bread cradle) then progressed to Blanquette de Veau Ancien, a very traditional French stew of veges and veal. All accompanied by a lovely bottle of Burgundy Savigny-les-Beaune. The finisher was some kind of chocolate ecstacy with vanilla sauce. Absolute gastronic Heaven and only 44 Euros each! I can still taste the garlic from the snails this morning – wonderful – and the veal was outstanding. Easily the best meal I’ve ever had in Paris. After a leisurely 3 hours at the table, I was sorry to say goodnight to my friends. Many thanks to them for expanding my horizons.

All in all, a really nice day and the fabulous Fall weather (sunny and mid-60s) continues.

Paris in the Fall

Paris in late October is delightful: the hordes of tourists are gone and the colors of Fall make the city lovely. Daytime temperatures are in the comfortable low 60’s and dip 10 degrees at night and the air is clean and crisp. There’s something instantly recognizable about being in Paris: the cafes, the style of the pedestrians (always very put-together, a profusion of scarves, and very exuberant), and the architecture. My beloved Luxembourg Gardens is strewn with bright leaves and dappled with shifting sunlight, the Parisians still in their green chairs studying, kissing, or just getting some sun.

I’ve made my first visit to Soufflot Cafe near the Pantheon and enjoyed their wine, as usual. The owner and bartender put up with my French and even gave me a free refill. Soufflot is where a now-retired waiter named Guy was so very kind to my daughters when we visited Paris nine years ago, earning the cafe a place in my heart.

I’m meeting a friend this afternoon to see the Miles Davis exhibition at the Museum of Music, then we’ll meet his wife (a college classmate of mine) for dinner. In the meantime, I’m off to nose around the Marais neighborhood and check out the Bastille Opera House.

Like a Speeding Bullet

For the Romans, it was a horrible sea crossing. The Spanish navy never ruled it. Hitler was thwarted in his desired to cross it. Having just ridden in comfort underneath the English Channel on the Eurostar train in about 25 minutes, I am reminded of the history of the fields of Northern France. We do truly live in an amazing age. The Eurostar experience, by the way, is quite nice: security screening and boarding is more civilized than the usual airport routine, the seating is nicer, and the food and wine slightly better. You handle your own luggage getting on and off your coach, and the walk through the stations is far shorter than getting to that far distant gate at the airport. At the London end, St. Pancras International station, in the heart of the city, is clean, easily-accessible, and new. In Paris, you arrive at the Gare du Nord train station and have easy access to the Metro and RER trains. Door-to-door, for me, was about 3 hours; an excellent journey.

Even the Brits Think Snyder Needs to Go


I’m spending this Sunday just kicking around London and immensely enjoying people-watching. Between the Brits, the large immigrant population, and the tourists, there’s a lot of variety to see. 

I did a dry-run this morning on the tube over to St. Pancras station to check out the Eurostar facility. This is where I’ll be checking-in tomorrow morning to take the train under the English Channel to Paris. I was looking out for the number of stairs that I’ll have to lug my bags up, as many English tube stops lack escalators. In addition, I was gauging the travel time, which could increase greatly for morning rush hour. And, I wanted to have an unhurried look at St. Pancras, which has been recently rebuilt, without concentrating on making my train. All in all, I think I may take a taxi.

After that, I jumped on the Picaddilly tube line and rode down to the National Portrait Gallery to see a great exhibit of publicity and album art photos shot in the late 60’s of bands like the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Who, Kinks, etc. Amazing to see them all so young, and it was quite nostalgic.

I then knocked around Trafalgar Square a while and walked up Wardour Street, through the gay neighborhood, to the Horse & Coach, a favorite pub near Oxford Circus. I spent an hour there over a very tasty pint of St. Edmond’s ale and took in the scenery. On the tube ride back to my hotel at Paddington a fellow got on the same car wearing a Redskins ball cap. I asked him if he was a "real" Redskins fan and he said "the way this season’s gone, I’d have to be to wear this hat in public"! We chatted a bit and he said the entire problem was Dan Snyder, that Snyder had to go!! So even the Brits know Snyder stinks as an owner!

By the way, the New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are playing an regular season game here at Wembley Stadium in about an hour and there were a lot of jersey-wearing fans to be seen on the tube. A sell-out crowd of 85,000 is expected and, as this is the 3rd year in a row they’ve done this, there’s a lot of speculation about the future of the NFL’s British experiment.

I’m looking forward to getting back to Paris tomorrow!

All’s Well After Adventurous Start

My trip this time began with an unusual event, which was the cancellation due to "equipment trouble" of my Virgin Atlantic flight from Dulles to London-Heathrow. I guess it’s a good thing not to fly on a plane with equipment problems. Twenty-four hours later I took off on a United flight to Paris, then connected with an Air France flight to Heathrow. The United flight was quite good and Air France fine and, miraculously, my luggage arrived when I did. Having a day shaved off my itinerary was not too bad but compressed things a bit: I landed at Heathrow at 11 am Friday and by 2 pm was at the British Museum for the Moctezuma (we call him "Montezuma") exhibition, which was very good. By 7 pm I was at the Apollo Victoria Theatre to see "Wicked", which is a spectacular show. Even this old jaded theatre dude was impressed with the production! See it if you get a chance. 

Today, Saturday, after sleeping for almost 10 hours, I took the train to Reading and visited my old 2008 home. Not much has changed, it was very pleasant to be back. After walking about and seeing a few Reading acquaintances, I met up with two fellows from our UK office for lunch at O’Neill’s pub (ahh, the Guinness Red) and then we went out to the stadium to see our London-Irish rugby team beat the Leciester Tigers in a well-played match. After a cloudy, wet start, the day turned out quite nice, with temps in the mid 60’s. I have thoroughly enjoyed myself today. On the itinerary tomorrow… nothing!