Archive forMay, 2012

Wildlife of Holland and France

At the end of my last post I said my next one would be about Nice, but I’ve decided to do the animal post next. I’m indecisive like that. There are a lot of pictures, so there will be little gabbing!

A sparrow outside the Paris catacombs.

While walking along the Seine, I spied these three adorable ducklings curling up to take a nap.

Nearby, their mother had her back to them and watched the river. It’s interesting she was more concerned about trouble coming from the water than from pedestrians; she must be pretty trustful of humans. Or maybe she was just admiring the big mud puddle called the Seine. She had no problem with me getting within six feet of her babies.

I realized I take a LOT of pictures of ducks. My first word was “duck” and I probably still sound like a 2-year-old when I shriek, “oooooh, duck!” whenever I see one, grabbing for my camera. This one was at the Rodin Museum. He was lined up with two other ducks and a group of Americans spent 10 minutes laughing about “getting their ducks in a row”, which they found to be a jolly good joke. Despite their repeated urging, I failed to get a picture of the ducks in a row.

One thing we noticed is there aren’t many bugs – at least flying insects – in France. I saw nary a screened window and you can bet I kept those gorgeous floor-to-ceiling windows open at all times, yet there were no bugs in either of our hotel rooms. This is reason alone to move to France. I currently sport about 30 mosquito bites on my legs following about an hour of yardwork. Anyway, there ARE, of course, bees in France, pollinating all the beautiful flowers we saw. (Spring is a lovely time to travel!)

One of our favorite parts of the trip had nothing to do with where we were. The first time we approached Notre Dame, I was snapping pictures wildly when I noticed a figure ahead of us covered in pigeons. It was peculiar; I couldn’t imagine why this person had pigeons all over herself. I even wondered briefly if she needed help as at one point we saw her waving her arm as if to shoo them away. As we approached and passed her, though, we saw she had dried rice that she was feeding them, and Mark and I simultaneously said, “Ohhhh!”. She overheard us and motioned for us to come over. She didn’t utter a single word for the entire 10 minutes or so we spent with her, but she gestured for me to come forward and Mark to take my camera, then she plopped some rice on my head. And soon I was covered in pigeons myself! WHICH WAS AWESOME.

Then it was Mark’s turn and he loved it even more than I did.

This made a huge impression on Mark.

So then Mark decided he wanted to become a crazy pigeon person himself and bought a bag of rice. (By the way, eating dried rice does NOT cause birds to explode; I know someone is going to ask me.) After that we had to stop in every park and other pigeon-gathering area. (After that we also had a lot of rice all over our hotel room floors.)

So we saw a lot of this:

And this:

This little guy was hoping for his share of rice as well.

Now, this is not a good picture by any means, but I’m including it for the variety because it’s the only picture of a European lizard I have. It’s also another example of me stealing lighting from another photographer. We were making the long trek back to our hotel in Nice after an exhausting (but amazing) day; we were fatigued, poor Brad had just hiked a million rocky miles with a bad knee, and we’d just killed a few bottles of wine at dinner, so we were slowly but surely trudging back to the hotel to crash before heading back to Amsterdam the next day, when I saw another photographer examining a stone wall very closely. So I walked up next to him to examine it as well and found this lizard. The lighting in this picture came from his flash….I barely know how to turn my flash on. Also, I must be the most annoying person to go on vacation and/or hikes with. I stop every six seconds to take a picture; I’m sure it is very irritating, although I constantly tell people not to stop for me as I will catch up. I don’t think anyone bothered stopping this time!

This is another picture taken walking back to the hotel after dinner in Nice, on a different night. This gull suddenly swooped down and started fussing a bit at this window. I could hear him impatiently thinking, “KNOCK KNOCK! Anyone home?”

Back in Amsterdam, Brad and April set themselves up for another “walk” that would more properly be termed a “wait for Renae”. Although they live just a block from a metro and tram station in the suburb of Amstelveen and are close enough to bike into the city proper, they also live just a couple of blocks from a cow and sheep pasture, with a creek to boot. The best of both worlds! Because I see a heron every time I’m out, of course that’s the first thing I saw, and although this looks a lot like a great blue heron (which is what we have at home), Brad informed me it is actually a grey heron. They also have purple herons, but I didn’t see one. April said she sometimes sees grey herons sitting on cars. That must be a strange sight.

The promised cows.

Just before “charging” April’s toy poodle…


Why is it I always feel like sheep want to steal my soul? I don’t trust these two.

Brad and April are so lucky. Gorgeous apartment, a stone’s throw from Amsterdam, and THIS is their backyard:

Oooooh, ducks!!!!

Baby ducks!

I really wanted to steal this one.

So many ducks.

This isn’t the greatest picture, but I think it’s funny because I think they are gossiping. Silly gossiping ducks. One headless duck.

I learned that this is a coot.

Look how so-ugly-it’s-cute their babies are!


White swan.

Black swan!

The next day, Brad rustled up four bikes and I tried to remember how to ride a bike with pedal brakes (and promptly fell off the bike onto the handlebar, crushed beneath the weight of my backpack full of camera equipment, and bruised a rib – which I’m still dealing with…Brad thought it better after that incident if he carried my camera stuff while we biked), and we biked to Amstelpark, which boasts among other attractions a petting zoo. I’m opposed to zoos for ethical reasons, but I have to say, I was completely baffled by the petting zoo in the otherwise beautiful Amstelpark. It seemed to consist of three animals: a white peafowl, a wooly mammoth (or some other very wooly beast) standing in a bucket, and an albino kangaroo. Does that strike anyone else as completely bizarre? I think the albino kangaroo is praying, “please send me home to Australia!” in this picture.

A male peacock was perched on a nearby roof, looking into the petting zoo area, feeling “cocky”, no doubt, that he is able to fly and thus escape the fenced-in area containing the wooly beast in a bucket and the incongruous albino kangaroo.

I admit I stood and stared at the spectacle of the albino kangaroo for quite a while, dumbfounded, but finally the others were able to draw me away. We wandered along a path with Brad in the lead, when he suddenly stopped and whispered for me – I was, as usual, bringing up the rear – to quietly come up to where he was standing because there was a peahen sunbathing around the corner. She was magnificent, I tell you!

Then we arrived at a pond where I was completely overwhelmed by waterfowl, including the black swan above. I think I felt something akin to what an infant feels when they get sensory overload. I don’t even know what this is. (Do you? Let me know!)


Not all the animals I encountered were wildlife. This picture was taken in Nice and is titled “I miss Gomez”.

After Amstelpark we biked into the city. The restaurant we wanted to eat in (Ethiopian, yay!!!) wasn’t open yet so we stopped in a bar for a snack and some beers. I was super happy because the bar was playing nothing but the Rolling Stones and there was a very sleepy cat next to our table!

I missed Torticia too!

My favorite animal of the trip, though, was our faithful companion Carrie, who went everywhere with us in Nice and Amsterdam. Here she’s smoking a Cuban. (Mark insisted on buying a Cuban cigar “because he could” and ended up smoking it for about 30 seconds before deciding it was disgusting. Mark doesn’t like cigars. He just doesn’t like the government telling him he can’t BUY cigars. Carrie didn’t think much more of the Cuban than Mark did.)

Whew! Okay that is ENOUGH pictures for one post. There won’t be nearly as many next time, and there will even be FOOD. I even took pictures of dinner tonight – which involves purple cauliflower and garlic scapes – so I’m not lying about that.

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Feeling artistic in Paris

Today I’m going to show you some of the pictures I took in Paris that I felt were kind of artistic. But first a quick story. Of the two of us, Mark is far and away the more creative and artistic. I would never label myself an artist of any sort, whereas Mark actually considered a career in art before becoming an internet hacker. He goes through phases; sometimes he’ll draw for hours a day and sometimes he doesn’t pick up a pencil or brush for weeks or months. He seems to be especially inspired by travel, though, because whenever we go on a trip he draws with every second of downtime he has. He was especially prolific on this trip. I have a picture of him in Nice literally sketching while crossing a street. He never plans ahead well enough to pack drawing supplies, though, so whenever we are in a new city, we have to find an art supply store so he can buy a sketchpad and other supplies. So when we were walking along the Quai Voltaire in Paris and he saw an art store, we had to go in. Although it had two stories, it was small and crammed with stuff and the employees were running back and forth locating items for customers, and I felt completely in the way with my backpack and camera, but I refused to wait outside because I was charmed by how old the place seemed to be and how completely different it was from any place in the States. Finally Mark purchased everything he needed (EXCEPT AN ERASER, which was to haunt us later), we went on our way, and I kind of forgot about it. Until today when I was reading Anna Gavalda’s Hunting and Gathering (at the recommendation of a commenter!) and some of the characters went to an art store on Quai Voltaire called Sennelier. I figured it was the same shop we’d been in because I didn’t recall seeing any other art supply stores, so I googled it and apparently it’s famous for serving Cezanne, Degas, and even inventing products for Picasso. Which is what I love about Paris. You can’t AVOID history or art there. You’re trotting along and hey, there’s Notre Dame. You walk into a store and ask for a bottle of India ink and the great-grandson of the guy who mixed paints for Degas and Picasso retrieves it for you.

Moving on to my sorry excuses for art…. This isn’t a particularly great photo, but something about it reminds me of very early photographs. I think it’s the guy in the middle – his coat looks like he could be from almost any time period, and something about his pose just makes it look old-fashioned. Taken with my infrared camera, as were all the B&W pictures in this post.

As I mentioned, Notre Dame crept up on me.

It’s an enormous building. It’s hiding in this picture.

Another very famous church, Sacre Coeur. This one I had specifically gone looking for.

Sacre Coeur is worth climbing the stairs of Montmartre for just in its own right, but being located on the highest ground in Paris, it’s also a great vantage point from which to see the city.

If you don’t want to climb the stairs you can apparently cheat.

But the stairs really aren’t bad at all and you can stop as many times as you’d like to take in views like this one:

Another place we visited was the Rodin Museum. We only saw the gardens, which are open late on Wednesday nights during the spring and summer, only cost a euro, and contain many of his statues.

The flowers were all very pretty as well.

As were the flowers at the Jardin du Luxembourg.

The Seine was super muddy during our trip; I don’t know why. Brad and April reported it hadn’t been very muddy when they were there a few weeks before us.

It was so muddy I almost prefer it in false color, even though I don’t usually like false color.

At sunset, though, the muddiness was downplayed quite a bit.

No post about art in Paris would be complete without a pseudo-artistic picture of the Eiffel Tower, right?

I am ready to move on to Nice now. (I am also ready to move TO Nice now; it was splendid.) I have a lot of animal pictures I wanted to share, but maybe I can cram all of the animals from the entire trip into a single post. I’m not sure – there ARE two weeks worth of animals… We’ll see. It looks like tomorrow we’ll be spending the third day in a row sitting in a hot house waiting for the air conditioning repair people to make an appearance, so if I don’t die of heat stroke before then, I may post again then. If not, Happy Memorial Day to those of you in America….tomorrow Mark and I will have managed to celebrate (or in the case of France, endure) three different national holidays in three different countries over the course of three weeks!

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Further adventures in Paris

My original plan for organizing my Paris posts is getting harder to implement now that the easily-categorized food post is done. Which are “artistic” shots (I pompously decided I’d devote an entire post to photos I thought were artistic) and which are depictions of things we did? Some of the animal pictures (how did I even amass so many pictures of wildlife in a city?) even overlap with “activities”. Basically the problem is I just want to gush about everything all at once. But I think that’s an indicator that I had a really wonderful time, so I suppose it’s a good problem to have. I hate to tell you, though, that there’s a whole other leg to this journey AFTER Paris and if anything there are even more pictures from Nice, so this dilemma is going to repeat itself and you guys are going to be looking at my vacation pictures for weeks!

Right, so, I’ll try to pull my thoughts together and today talk about some of the important – to me – places we went and things we did. In my last post I mentioned I went to Paris with dreams of doing three things:

1) Order and drink grapefruit juice.
2) See the catacombs.
3) Visit Shakespeare & Company bookstore.

I’ll start with #3 because it happened first. So, I was an English major and one of my favorite books is Ulysses, which Shakespeare & Company is tangentially related to because it was named after the Shakespeare & Company that was owned by Sylvia Beach, who first published Ulysses. (That’s not confusing at all, right?) Both stores were (and the current one remains) hangouts for hordes of important writers. It follows therefore that I needed to go there even more badly than I needed to go to City Lights before I’d ever been to City Lights (which I’ve now been to many times).

I arrive on the scene.

I go in.

I browse. (I know Lisa G/K is going to ask me what I bought, so I’ll beat her to the punch: Michel Houellebecq’s The Possibility of an Island, which I liked, but not as much as the two books I bought in Amsterdam’s American Book Center.)

I go upstairs and take pictures I’m not supposed to be taking (because Sylvia Beach Whitman, the daughter of the original store owner, who was named after Sylvia Beach (not confusing, right?) still allows writers to live upstairs in the “library” section of the store, photography is not allowed up there). BUT I COULDN’T STOP MYSELF. I AM A TERRIBLE PERSON.

There are several painfully adorable little writer alcoves.

Finally I dragged myself back out of the store, where Mark was waiting for me and drawing. (Mark had a sketchpad permanently attached to his hand in France.)

If I ever move to Paris, I’ll be spending many a rainy afternoon in Shakespeare & Company…it’s just my kind of place.

Moving on to #2 on my list above, Mark and I returned to the catacombs, which had been closed for VE Day the first time we went, and after standing in line for over an hour in some drizzle, we finally got in. Some things you might want to know about the catacombs before visiting:

  • They are not open on public holidays (see my prior post).
  • They are not handicapped accessible. This attraction would never be allowed in the United States. The only way down is 130 stairs, and the only way up is 83 stairs in a very tight, very small spiral staircase.
  • The tunnel is over a mile long, extremely darkly lit, slippery in some spots, and ends in some random location nowhere near where you began. Basically, you’ll be lost when you emerge.
  • There are lots and lots and lots of bones. The bones of 6 million people. Many, many bones. Really, more bones than I imagined. Lots of bones.

The first part of the tunnel is an old quarry, which is where this picture was taken. I’ve been puzzling over this picture for the last couple of days, though. At first I didn’t think anything of it; it was clearly a picture of my shadow taking a picture of Mark’s shadow. Mark’s making the animal shape with his hand and you can see the shadow of me taking the picture. Except I’m NOT taking his picture. The picture was taken with my Canon 60D and I always use the viewfinder to take pictures, that is, I always hold it up to my eye. Even if I HAD used the LCD to take the picture and had held it away from my face (which I didn’t), it’s a dSLR – you’d be able to see the shadow of it in my hands because it is very much larger than my hands. And my arms don’t even seem to be properly attached to my body. It’s not the shadow of someone else because I know that Mark and I were alone in the room because we wouldn’t have been acting goofy or disrespectful if anyone else had been there, and besides, that’s the outline of my hair and I specifically recall lining up the shot so both of our shadows were in the picture. So I had no idea why I’m dismembered and don’t seem to have a camera…which seems impossible considering I HAVE A PICTURE.

If you go to the catacombs and you are interested in taking pictures, take a camera that is very good in low light levels. I had to use ISO 6400 and switch to my 50mm f/1.8 lens just for the extra sensitivity. Neither flash nor tripods are allowed. After getting through the quarry part, one of the first sets of skulls you come to are three skulls lined up to the right of a fairly bright light. Take a picture of these skulls because that’s the best light you’re going to get in the whole tunnel.

These are two of the same three:

Same location, further back:

I didn’t see anyone disrespect the “no flash” rule, but what people were doing was illuminating the bones with flashlights in order to be able to take pictures. Mark, who was sketching the whole time we were there, was annoyed by this because it kept messing with his lighting, and he thought it was the same as using a flash and therefore not allowed. However, I think possibly the “no flash” rule is more for the sake of ambiance than the typical museum reason of being damaging to artwork (and certainly not the typical theatre reason of being distracting to the performers!) and that therefore flashlights may be allowed. And what I did was wait for someone to come through and shine a flashlight on a location for their own photo and I’d steal their illumination for my own. Just go prepared for the far-from-ideal situation as far as photography is concerned, if it matters to you.

I’ve been rambling on about practical concerns, but what did I think of the catacombs? They were even better than I’d hoped, actually. I’d become a little worried when I realized they were more popular than I’d thought they were (before arriving, I didn’t realize the lines were always an hour or longer to get in) that they might be too touristy or commercialized. They are emphatically not. They were actually much closer to what a younger, more naive Renae thought they were be like than the older, jaded Renae, who was going to kick something if she saw one more goddamn McDonalds or Starbucks in Paris or Amsterdam. They are very real. You don’t get much more real than walking through a dark tunnel lined with the bones of 6 million people. You’re not supposed to touch them, and you don’t want to touch them, out of respect, but if you are like me, you’ll be backing up trying to line up a shot and you’ll back right into the other side of the tunnel and you’ll realize, “oh, I’m casually leaning against A WALL OF HUMAN BONES”. It’s a moving experience, even if at the end of the two kilometers you’re a little tired of looking at bones. And I like bones.

So we’ve gone through two of my three goals, right? What about le jus de pamplemousse? D’accord, d’accord. I don’t WANT to show you this picture because no one looks very attractive drinking a beverage while photographed from below. One day I’m going to show Mark how to compose a portrait photograph. This is what NOT to do, but it’s also moi, bois du jus de pamplemousse! And DAMN did it taste good!

I’d said that other than my three goals, all I wanted to do was just be in Paris. What else did we do? Most of it I’ll save for a later entry with my artsy pictures, but here are a few other things we did, almost all of them discovered just by walking around.

Walked by the Moulin Rouge…that red moulin being the first windmill seen on my trip despite having come straight from Holland!

Climbed the stairs of Montmartre.

Walked around aimlessly and turned around to find myself in the shadow of one of the most famous pieces of architecture in the world. (Quelle surprise!)

Walked around aimlessly and found the “love locks” I’d first read about on David Lebovitz’s blog, then saw on Jes’s blog a few weeks ago. (I think Jes and I managed to have practically the same Paris vacation. 🙂 )

Went to the garden of the Rodin Museum.

I love this picture of Mark sketching the Thinker.

I told you he was permanently attached to his sketchpad on this trip, like all trips. In fact, some of our best memories are just sitting outside a cafe, sipping wine, me watching Mark sketch or ink.

Or walking along the Seine at night, holding hands.

Whew, okay, that’s enough for one post! More Paris to come, like it or not.

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Vegan food I ate in Paris, and some rambling on my feelings about the city

After a weekend in Amsterdam, we left Brad and April and boarded a train for Paris.

Man, the Seine was muddy while we were there!

For most of my life, there have been three things I’ve wanted to do in Paris:

1) Order and drink grapefruit juice.
2) See the catacombs.
3) Visit Shakespeare & Company bookstore.

If #1 seems odd, consider the translation of “grapefruit juice” and tell me it’s not the greatest phrase in the world, in any language: le jus de pamplemousse. Don’t think that my rather unassuming list means I haven’t been yearning to visit Paris; in fact, I took several years of French in high school and college and have always been fascinated by the Parisian art and literary scenes from the turn of the 20th century. I didn’t have a huge list of things I wanted to do because I’m not into most traditionally touristy things and what I’ve always wanted to do was simply be in Paris.

Well, I took hundreds of pictures while being in Paris, far too many for a single post. I’ve been trying to decide how to divide them up and I think I’m going to do three posts on Paris: 1) food + attractions, 2) animals, 3) art/photography. They will each probably be ridiculously long. The first may well be the longest, so let’s get on with it.

My very first impression of Paris was highly favorable – despite getting lost trying to get from the metro to our hotel. In fact, although I think Mark wanted to murder me if I walked up and down the block one more time, that was part of my good impression, because not one but two different people stopped to ask me if I needed directions. And people say the French are rude! They are not; they are kind! The second individual didn’t speak English and I have to email my French tutor to tell her our lesson on directions helped because I was able to follow her French well enough to finally find the hotel!

We were starving once we settled in, so I consulted the Vegan in Paris e-book I had purchased before the trip for a vegan-friendly restaurant in our arrondissement and found that Tien Hiang (14, rue Bichat; 10th arrondissement; Goncourt or République metro) was a mere 3 blocks away.

I ordered the “chicken” in spicy sauce:

Mark ordered the sweet & sour “fish”:

Both were soooo good! If we lived in Paris, we’d be at this place all the time! In fact, we returned later for our last lunch in the city and I ordered the caramelized “chicken” clay pot:

… and Mark ordered the stuffed tofu clay pot:

Again, absolutely delicious! It can get a little loud in the restaurant when it’s crowded, but I can’t tell you how happy I was despite the din at 10:30 on Monday night when we strolled in for dinner…especially when the food was scrumptious.

Malheursement, my SECOND impression of Paris was NOT favorable. In fact, there were tears and an “I hate Paris!”. How can that be? Who in the hell hates Paris? Well, here is the best foreign travel advice I can give you: check for any public/national/bank holidays in your destination country BEFORE your trip – ideally when planning it. ESPECIALLY if you are a) vegan, b) prone to headaches and illness when your blood sugar drops, and/or c) not staying in an apartment with a kitchen.

Tuesday, May 8 was our first full day in Paris and little did I know it was VE (Victory in Europe) Day, a public holiday celebrating Europe’s exit from WWII. The first bad surprise was arriving at the Catacombs to find a handwritten note on the door stating they were closed for the day. Lord I wish they had explained further! Had I only known what was going on, we could have avoided a breakdown. Instead, we walked around looking for other things to do and eventually got hungry, which led to a very long and terrible succession of walking into restaurants and finding them closed. The weird thing is many of them were unlocked and occupied by the proprietor, but fermé nonetheless. The ones that were open had no vegan food. The hungrier I got, the more personally I began taking these rejections. You might think I am stupid for not suspecting earlier that there was some other explanation than “Paris hates me”, but you must understand that I’ve heard that it is not all that unusual for French businesses to randomly close for the day. I had just never thought the trend was that widespread. And also, once my blood sugar dips to a certain level, I can’t think straight and it’s a horrible downward spiral. Finally we gave up on dinner and I found a literally life-saving baguette (I was ready to throw myself under an autobus) and began to feel a bit better…until Mark discovered thon (tuna) in the packaged salads we’d bought in the 8 à Huit…which was listed in the ingredients, which I’d read at least 10 times and managed to miss (again, I can’t think, at least in French, when hungry). Breakdown ensued. It wasn’t until the next day when properly fed that I started wondering if the prior day had been a holiday. LEARN FROM MY MISTAKE. (Interestingly, we managed to hit a different public holiday – Ascension Day – our first full day back in the Netherlands, but it was far less traumatic as we knew about it in advance AND were staying in an apartment with a kitchen.)

After the miracle baguette had worked to calm me down a bit, I was determined to salvage something from the day and decided there was no way Paris would be able to prevent me from looking at the Eiffel Tower. So that’s what we did, and I felt a million times better afterwards. Je t’aime, la Tour Eiffel.

After that horrible day and once I figured out the explanation for my sorrows, my opinion of Paris again swung way back to the favorable side. We were very well-fed for the rest of our stay there and had a great time.

I don’t know the name of the Moroccan place we found in the Latin Quarter one lunchtime, which is a shame because the service was great. They gave us free kir, and even gave us a third one when we spilled one. But the BEST part was when we saw a cat stroll by the door and I did my customary shrieking of “kitty!” and the waiter went and retrieved the cat and handed him to us to cuddle while we waited for our food. Now THAT is the kind of service I like! Possibly not the type of service some people appreciate, but we thought it was the greatest thing ever. The veggie couscous we ordered was tasty too!

I didn’t have enough hands to take a picture of my WAY overloaded falafel – I couldn’t put it down once I loaded it up – but another meal near the Latin Quarter was at Maoz, and it was awesome. I put sauerkraut on my falafel! And beets! It was fantastic. I also put so much other stuff on it I had a hard time finding the falafels when I went to eat it!

You may think we never left the Latin Quarter by now, which is not true, although it did become our go-to location for finding safe food. While wandering around one day we found Le Grenier de Notre Dame, Paris’ “oldest vegetarian restaurant”, but it was before their opening time. We decided to return for our last night in Paris, though, for a romantic dinner. We were seated upstairs and the ambiance was nice:

I’d read somewhere the service was spotty in this place, but we didn’t have a problem at all. We were there quite early, though, before they got busy. I thought it was charming and enjoyed being there. The food was good, although I’m not sure I would say it was great. I felt like both of our dishes were things I could have made at home, which is what prevents me from saying it was great. (Or maybe I’m just a great cook!) I did enjoy the meal and would return. Vegan items were clearly marked on the menu.

Mark had the “assiette berbere” (assiette is plate), which from the name I thought would be a bit spicier, but it was pretty tasty if not exactly what I was expecting.

I had the cassoulet – probably the closest I got to traditional French cuisine at any point. It was served extremely hot and of course I loved the dish it came in. It was pretty tasty, although again, I think I could have made it at home pretty easily. Now you are probably going to think I’m crazy, but my favorite part about it was how the edges, where the tomato sauce had dried out a bit from baking, tasted like the edges in some frozen meals. I eat frozen meals fairly rarely these days, but my mom used to buy me a lot of them when I was in college and the best part was always the edges where the tomato sauce (if involved) got all dark and chewy. I don’t mean to insult Le Grenier by saying the best part of my meal was it tasted like a frozen meal…other than that tiny characteristic it had nothing in common with a frozen meal, I swear! The cassoulet included veggies, beans, tofu, and seitan. I also particularly liked the seitan.

This is getting very long. I think I’m going to break it up into four parts instead of three. I’ll write up a post on my #2 and #3 above, as well as a small pictorial musing on just “being” in Paris, in the next day or two, and for now just conclude with another reason you’ll think I’m crazy. (Yes, I did #1 as well and there is even a picture, but it’s not very attractive.) The catacombs and Shakespeare & Company and the Eiffel Tower were all they were cracked up to be and more (though that Seine was awfully muddy), but do you know what was thing that surprised me by being what made me fall hard for Paris? The métro. Not travelling on it, really, which was generally very crowded, but the idea of it. I have a slight obsession with underground tunnels (hence the catacomb obsession, see #2 above), and I LOVE that very unlike the DC metro system, EVERYTHING in Paris is near one, two, or three metro stops. But what I really, really, really love about the Paris métro – the surprising bit – are the signs. If I could marry a métro sign it would be this one (St Michel):

Or its twin (Blanche):

Anvers even has a marvelous map outside!

They don’t all have the art deco flowers, but the variety just makes me love them all the more. The industrial-looking Pigalle:

I forgot to record which one this is (if you know, please leave a comment!).

Goncourt has an extra-special place in my heart for being the one right by our hotel.

Seriously, when I think of Paris now, I think of those metro signs and I know that I love Paris because Paris loves beauty. Look at the typical DC metro sign (and they ALL look like this):

Now, which city do you think I belong in? Well, most of you don’t know me outside the blog, but I assure you, it’s the city with the metro signs that are works of art.

Oh, Paris. We had a rocky start but a beautiful finish. I love you and your lights and your metro signs.

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I am in Amsterdam! I made some lentils! I will give you the recipe!

Goedemorgen! Mark and I are in Amsterdam! We’ve just returned to our friends’ place here after 10 days in France and we’ll be here a few more days before reluctantly heading back to the States (it was very difficult to leave Nice). Last night I made dinner for Brad and April to help thank them for their hospitality…and all the pancakes Brad’s been making us every morning. I’m always a bit out of my element in kitchens other than my own, but I managed to make an edible meal. It has a long name:

Lentils with Roasted Vegetables Seasoned with Various Flavored Salts Found in Provence
This made way too much food for 4 people because I can’t control myself

3 cups brown lentils
1 large or 3 small onions, sliced
1 enormous carrot, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
red wine, for deglazing
1 yellow bell pepper, sliced
8 small-medium tomatoes on the vine, quartered
1 huge bay leaf
about 2-3 Tbsp of tomato paste (Holland has these tiny little cans half the size of a small can at home; I used all of one)
thyme or Italian seasoning
freshly-ground black pepper
flavored chunky salt(s): I used a large smoked variety, tomato & basil, and herbes de provence

First of all, I don’t know how common a practice this is, but the grocery store we went to in Amsterdam shrink-wrapped everything; they were worse than Trader Joe’s. So first I had to free all of the legumes – I mean vegetables; I’m still thinking in French.

Next I heated the oven to 200 degrees Celsius, or 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Or rather had Brad heat the oven because I couldn’t figure out how to work the crazy Dutch oven. And by Dutch oven here I mean an oven located in Holland, not what I usually mean by Dutch oven. Then I prepared the vegetables I wanted to roast. I quartered the tomatoes and tossed then with olive oil. Not shown, I also sliced the bell pepper and put them in this pan.

I chopped the eggplant into large-ish chunks and also tossed them with olive oil:

Both of these pans then went into the oven to roast. They were each probably in there for about half an hour.

Then I sliced the onions and diced the carrot:

I pressed some garlic:

I put some olive oil and a little regular salt in a large saute pan and heated them up, then added the onion slices:

I let them brown then added the garlic:

I added the carrots:

Deglaze with red wine as necessary and cook until the carrots begin to get soft.

I added the lentils – which in English are the real legumes of this meal – tomato sauce, and bay leaf, then covered with water. At home, I’d have used veggie broth. I let them come to a boil then lowered the heat, covered, and simmered.

Meanwhile I checked the roasting veggies. Here are the peppers and tomatoes.

I removed the tomatoes to a bowl, reserving their juices.

Then I dumped the juices and peppers into the lentils. I also seasoned them at this time with Italian seasoning (I’d probably have grabbed the thyme at home) and freshly-ground black pepper.

Here is some salt I picked up in a small store in Vieux Nice.

I sprinkled some of the tomato & basil salt on the tomatoes and set aside.

I put some of the smoked salt on the eggplant:

Meanwhile the lentils had finished cooking. (By the way, you’ll want to check them periodically and add more water or broth if necessary.) Remove the bay leaf.

I also boiled some haricots verts, which I salted with the herbes de provence sel. Not shown, I had cooked some basmati rice as well, and heated up some ciabatta I’d bought in the store.

And this was everything:

At the risk of making an over-long post, I’ll share a few other Amsterdam pictures as well. One of our first nights here, before we went on to Paris, Brad made us a delicious dinner of pasta with homemade tomato sauce, with perfectly breaded croquettes of eggplant and zucchini:

Brad and April moved to Amsterdam just before the New Year, leaving a succession of really nice houses in the States. I was jealous of them for being able to make the move (which was for a job), and even more jealous when I saw the very cool apartment they managed to get just outside the city. I especially love their kitchen:

Thanks to the kid sitting behind me, I didn’t sleep on our overnight flight here. Shortly after dropping my stuff off at their place, Brad and April whisked me to the daily Amsterdam market. One of the best stalls was the fresh hot nuts:

I also liked the spices, although I’m afraid they were later surpassed in awesomeness by the bulk spices in the Nice market.

I was shocked to find fresh tempeh in the market!

After later collecting Mark, who had stayed back to take a nap, we went to the American Book Center, an English-language bookstore I had read about earlier and which Brad and April recommended. I probably spent too much time in here and of course bought a couple of books. I highly recommend this place, and it’s quite large. This is part of the SF and fantasy sections on the second floor (or rather first floor, since we’re in Europe), while the non-genre literature section takes up the entire third (second) floor.

Just around the corner from ABC is an Indonesian restaurant Brad recommended, Kantjil & de Tijger, where I got this enormous plate of vegetarian food. The server was very friendly about making sure I got only individual dishes that didn’t have eggs.

Later we walked around the city at dusk:

The next day we did some more walking around this charming city. This shot is infrared:

If you love bikes, this is the city for you. The bridge over this canal, like all of the many bridges and all the streets, is completely lined with parked bikes. This is probably the most bike-friendly city in the world.


And the first of several pictures of me and Pig I’ll undoubtedly be posting…

Up next: Paris!

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