Thursday, August 27, 2009

The End of Summer....

Photo taken of a corner on my back deck.

Last night after we finished eating supper, I was sitting at the dining room table looking at the view out of our new sliding patio door. This little vignette caught my eye so I grabbed my camera and took a picture of it.

The black-eyed susans are a tell-tale sign that summer is on its way out. School starts on Monday and if that doesn't scream 'summer is over', what does?

I have had a MARVELOUS summer. But I'm still sad to see it go.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

An Uplifting Experience

Before the fun began at Carmelle's Lingerie Boutique.'s a really fun thing to do with your BFF. Go bra shopping. Trust me. You'll have a blast. Mind you, it's best to go to a lingerie shop with a certified bra-fitter. She will measure you perfectly and find the bras that will not only make you look great, but feel FANTASTIC!

Such was my day yesterday when I went with the BFF and her sister to Carmelle's Lingerie Boutique. After we were measured for the correct fit (even that made us laugh out loud) Carmelle brought us bra after bra to try on. We pranced around the shop half-naked proudly modelling our bras for each others approval. Such silliness! Such laughter!

Several photos were taken, but were all too risque and incriminating to post here. (Or anywhere for that matter.)

All three of us came out of Carmelle's Lingerie Boutique smiling and carrying bright pink bags full of our purchases.

If you need a lift, either physically or emotionally, bra shopping with your girlfriends is where it's at.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

This Is Where I Live

The view of Howe Sound from the rock quarry high above Britannia Beach.

Ever since moving to 'Sea-to-Sky Country' sixteen years ago, I have driven my kids nuts by always forcing (I mean encouraging) them to look up at the natural beauty that surrounded us. "This is where we live!" I'd exclaim. "MOM," they'd groan. "WE KNOW!" Well, I didn't think they did know, so I was like a dog with a bone constantly pointing out amazing views and vistas. I got so insufferable that my two daughters moved to Vancouver and haven't looked at a tree since.

That feeling of awe came over me this morning after I hiked straight up 'The Britannia Grind' and came out at the rock quarry high above Britannia Beach. The hike to the quarry was pretty much vertical on a dry, dusty forest floor. I even felt like I had vertigo a few times. But the panorama view over Howe Sound was the reward for such an arduous walk.

I just wish my kids had been with me to experience it.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Travelling and the Garden

A thicket of weeds under my John Cabot rose bush.

I am slowly coming to the realization that travelling and gardening don't mix. Unless one is retired, I am at a loss as to how both can be done well.

I have been abroad the past three summers out of four and I am totally overwhelmed by the depth, breadth and thickness of the weeds in my flowerbeds! I cannot keep up.

And the last thing I want to do with my jet-lagged body is get on my hands and knees to pull weeds the day after my plane touches down. Or even four days later.

I must admit my passion for gardening a big piece of property is waning. When we moved to this house 16 years ago, the yard was a blank canvas. With Joe's muscle power, I created large garden beds full of trees, shrubs and flowers both in the front and back of the house.

It took me a few years to do it, but I was (and still am) pleased with the result. I do love to sit under my gazebo and gaze out at my creation on a summer afternoon. Or snooze in the hammock under a tree. Or pick a bouquet of flowers to bring in the house or give to friends. That part I love. The toil/sweat/back-breaking labour part? Uh, no. I have definitely lost the lovin' feelin' for that.

So my plan is to down-size my garden this fall. I'm going to dig most everything up and push back the beds to a more manageable size. I'll have fewer flowers and a bigger lawn, but that's okay. It's easier to mow the grass than it is to pull weeds.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Going Home

Waiting for the shuttle van to pick us up and take us to the airport.

I don't know what it is about going home after I've been travelling. I just never want to do it. Don't get me wrong. I love the home I've created with Joe for ourselves and our children. There's no other place I'd rather be. Except when I'm travelling.

I guess it's because I have no worries when I'm away. No responsibilities. I don't have to work. I can just play and play and play. And learn new things. And see new sights. And appreciate new ways of doing things.

Our flight home from Paris didn't leave until 8:30pm on Monday night. I thought, "This is GREAT! It's like having another whole day!" Joe asked me how I'd like to spend the time. I thought about it a moment and said, "Let's go to Luxembourg Gardens. That is my favourite place in this city."

I wish I could report that our last day in Paris was spent romantically walking hand in hand through the streets, taking one last look at that marvelous city.

Uh, nope.....

We walked to the gardens and I immediately fell quiet. I looked around at the flower beds, fountains, trees, and statues, and all I felt was sorry for myself. I could feel a lump growing in my throat. Tears were burning at the backs of my eyes. Pathetic, I know.

We sat on a pair of the metal green chairs that dot the garden. I looked around at the other visitors with their maps and guide books clutched in their hands and felt jealous of them. I looked down at my feet and said to Joe, "Let's go."

So back we walked to our apartment. Actually, I didn't walk. It was more like a trudge. I laid down on the couch with my book while Joe took on the task of strategically packing the suitcases with our clothes and his loot. I put myself out of my misery by falling asleep.

The shuttle van picked us up at 5:00pm, our flight home was uneventful, and we drove into our driveway at 12:30am Pacific Time. We hauled our gear in the house and promptly went to bed.


But I'm okay now. I've talked to all of our kids, looked at my 1,496 photos eleventy-million times, have fielded calls from friends asking about our trip. I know how blessed I am to have a husband who will take me on surprise trips like these. I am grateful for every minute I spent in Paris this summer.

Lucky me......

Monday, August 17, 2009

"We'll Always Have Paris"

Sunset on the Seine. (Self-portrait taken on the Pont des Arts.)

When we were signing the apartment papers at the end of July with the rental agent, he asked us how long we were staying in Paris. When we told him, he said, "Is there enough to do in Paris for three weeks?"

My stomach did a little lurch when he said that. What if 3 weeks was too much time in one place? What if we got bored? What if there wasn't enough to do?

Well, I am here to tell you that I could stay in Paris for 3 years, never mind 3 weeks. We were on the move the entire time and there are still things on our 'to do' list. We ate, we drank, we walked. We soaked up the art, the architecture, the music, the fashion, the history. We laughed, we were moved to tears, we met new people, saw old friends.

We'll always have Paris.

We leave for home this evening. I'm hoping to get to my beloved 'Luxembourg Gardens' one more time this afternoon before we have to bid adieu to this amazing city.

I can hardly wait to come back.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Gallows Humour

A plaque commemorating Oscar Wilde at L'Hotel, 13 Rue des Beaux-Arts.

On one of our many walks around Paris, we came across the hotel where Oscar Wilde died. Wilde was a broken man when he died in a scuzzy hotel over 100 years ago. (The hotel is very up-scale now.)

On his death bed he remarked, "Either that wallpaper goes, or I do."

Door Fetish

The door to Gertrude Stein's apartment building where she lived from 1903-1938 at 27 Rue des Fleurus.

I think I may be developing a door fetish over here in Paris. I cannot stop taking pictures of them! And there are thousands of incredible doors in this city. I can't seem to walk down one single, solitary street without taking at least one photo of a door.

Pillars Of The Earth

The Gothic ceiling of St. Eustache Church near Les Halles. It took 100 years to build from 1532 to 1632.

Ever since reading Ken Follett's 'Pillars of the Earth', I have been fascinated with the architecture of medieval churches and cathedrals. Especially the ceilings and roofs. How they built these structures in the Middle Ages is quite beyond me. It boggles my mind.

I Heart Paris #5

Boulangerie Poilane on Rue du Cherche-Midi is one of the most famous Parisian bakeries.

More reasons to love Paris....
  • Boulangeries that sell their big, heavy, rustic loaves of bread by the kilogram.

Overheard In The Street

Cobblestones on Rue Bernard-Palissy; a street unchanged since the 1600s.

This morning Joe and I were walking to Saint Sulpice church to attend the 10:30am mass. We were keeping our voices low because many of the apartment windows were wide open and it was early Sunday morning. We passed a man chaining up his bike and he said to us as we passed, "Why are you whispering? Don't be ashamed because you don't speak French."

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The French Think Of Everything

When we were at Le Bon Marche Grand Epicerie last week, we saw this roll of what I thought was paper towel. It was bubble gum pink. And cost 12 euros. "Hmmmm," I thought. "I know things are very expensive in Paris, but that doesn't sound quite right."

Upon closer inspection, I discovered that it wasn't paper towel at all! It was a roll of 100% cotton serviettes. Complete with perforations between the napkins! How adorable is that?

Of course we just HAD to buy a roll of it.

And how would you like that served sir?

"Raw, please. Very raw." How else?

Apparently, not a silly question. An alternative on the menu includes tartare slightly cooked on each side. Who would do that to steak tartare? You might as well ask for ketchup.

Take the sauce, a mixture of raw egg (of course), capers, cornichons, onion, dijon, salt, pepper and a variety of other bit players, and incorporate the sauce into the raw steak mixture, to your liking. Eat, and pray the restaurant serves a lot of steak tartare.

Our lunch guests eat here frequently so could vouch for the quality of the food. It's 8 hours later and I am not suffering any ill effects. However, I wouldn't try this in Canada.

Now, on to fugu in Tokyo. What's a little crippling salmonella when you can stare down neurotoxins in improperly prepared sushi.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Safety Last

Joe is standing in front of a knee-high wooden barricade that runs the length of the bluffs at Gold Beach in Normandy. Beyond the narrow patch of grass there is a very steep 400 foot drop to the ocean. The family beside Joe are returning from standing at the edge of the grass and were even leaning over to see how far down the sand was. Safety last!

In Canada, we are extremely safety conscious. We have tall barricades, and helmet laws, and signage, and caged overpass walkways, and battery-operated flameless candles. Compared to North American standards, France is one big accident waiting to happen.

Our family jokes that one of France's mottos should be "Safety Last"!

Here are a few 'safety last' things I've seen lately....

  • The long, ground floor corridor between our apartment building and the carriage doors to the street is quite dark. Even in the daytime. There are a couple of light switches that turn on some dim lights, but they are in very inconvenient places. Hence my groping of the walls to feel my way along so that I don't trip. Again.
  • No one wears a helmet while riding their bikes. The other day I saw a father (no helmet) riding a bike with his baby (no helmet) in a seat on the back. AND THE DAD RAN A RED LIGHT IN BUSY TRAFFIC! That one took my breath away.
  • Cars do stop when the crossing light turns green for pedestrians. But please pay attention. The drivers will take advantage of your inattentiveness and drive through the cross-walk if you are looking the other way.
  • I swear the hot water in this apartment is only 1 or 2 degrees below the boiling point. You only have to turn the tap to the cold setting to get really hot water.
  • The sink tap in the bathroom is plumbed backwards. (Hot is cold; and vice versa.) I keep forgetting this fact and have almost scalded my tongue a few times while brushing my teeth!

Les Bouquinistes

'Les Bouquinistes' (used book sellers) are a Parisian fixture along the Seine. They have been in operation since the 1500s. As I walk past their stalls each day, I gaze longingly at their wares because I am a used book FREAK!

Man, I wish I could read French......


Waiting for the Vivaldi concert to begin at La Sainte-Chapelle. Joe got us front row seats.

Not only is Paris noted for its art, history, fashion, architecture and food. There is music EVERYWHERE in this city. Posters advertising all manner of concerts are plastered on walls of the streets and the metro. Buskers play in the streets and the metro. Whatever genre of music you love, it is here in Paris.

On Wednesday night, Joe took me to a jazz club in 'Le Marais', a funky district of Paris. The venue was about 10 square metres with low ceilings and brick walls. Over 100 people were squished into this tiny room. Thank God the indoor smoking ban was implemented 2 years ago! The musicians were fabulous. We could only stay for 2 sets though, and had to leave at 12:30am or else the metro would have been shut down and we would have had a lonnnnnng walk home. It was a highly entertaining evening.

The next night was my choice. I chose a classical concert at La Sainte-Chapelle. I chose it for two reasons. One: I love Vivaldi's 'Four Seasons'. Two: I love Sainte-Chapelle. And any music played in the sanctuary of that cathedral is alright by me.

Sainte-Chapelle is a triumph of Gothic church architecture and its stained glass windows are second to none. To think it was built in 1248 for King Louis IX (the only French king who is now a saint) in only 5 years is incredible. To put it in perspective, Notre Dame took 200 years to build.

What a setting for the musicians to play their violins, harpsichord, cello and bass! Again, another highly enjoyable evening.

Paris.....I love you.

I Heart Paris #4

The heated towel rack in our apartment.

More reasons to love Paris....

  • The heated towel racks. So that when you wrap the warm bath towel around yourself after getting out of the shower it feels cozy on your wet skin.
  • In the larger grocery stores there is an employee who sits at a desk in the middle of the produce area whose job it is to weigh your fruits and vegetables for you.
  • You can buy the freshest fruits and vegetables from a vendor deep in the bowels of the metro. We bought some of the tastiest strawberries from such a place yesterday.

Two Metro Stories

Story #1

Even though the metro trains come and go every few minutes, people still hurry if they enter the platform area and see the train sitting there. This was the situation I found myself in last week.

We were walking down the stairs to the metro platform when Joe said, "Hurry! Our train is here and it's about to leave!" So I hurried. I ran down the stairs and got into a car just as the doors were closing. "Whew! That was close!" I said to myself. And since I had just squeezed my buttocks through the doors milliseconds before they closed, I wasn't yet holding on to any pole.

The train lurched, I stumbled forward, and as I went to catch myself I inadvertently hit a young man's face with the back of my hand. Not a hard hit, mind you. But my hand definitely grazed his cheek. I whispered in my best French accent, "Pardon, monsieur. Pardon!" And then in English, "I am SO sorry!"

His facial expression did not change, but I could read the horrification in his eyes since I had a very good view from 1 inch away.

I straightened myself up and walked to a seat.

Shit happens.

Story #2

This morning Joe and I were taking the metro to a street market on Rue Monge. When we're not walking we take the metro EVERYWHERE. At least twice, if not three times a day. We like to sit in the flip-down seats near the doors as it allows us easy entrance (well, except for the incident described in story #1) and exit.

I sat down on one of the seats and just as I was in the middle of crossing my legs (with only one foot on the floor), the train lurched and I toppled into the aisle. With great grace and agility I was able to prevent a full pratfall and easily regained my upright position. As I started to laugh, I looked around at the Parisian faces and saw that they were not amused. The man closest to me was disgusted by my antics. I'm sure he thought, "For the love of God woman, have some dignity and stay in your seat!"

It just made me laugh harder.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

No Singing

Some birthday euros (thanks Chrissy!) were burning a hole in my pocket, so once again Joe and I hit the flea market. I have bought old French signs from the Paris flea markets in the past, so I purchased another one to add to my growing collection.

At first I thought this sign said something about not being able to sing in public. I had the vendor tell me what it said. It says and I quote: "This building site is off-limits to the public."

I like my translation better.

Chronicles of Narnia

When we are in our apartment, life is a very mundane affair. We cook, we eat, we do the dishes, we sleep.

But after we walk downstairs and go through the dark courtyard, something happens to me when I push on those huge, heavy carriage doors. When I step out onto Rue du Bac there is a feeling in my chest that I can't describe. But I'll try. The feeling is big and happy and excited and full of wonder. I think, "This is how the Penvensie children must have felt when they entered Narnia through the back of the wardrobe!"

I'm sure my mouth hangs open every time I enter onto the street. I am so grateful to be here.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Late Lunch

A bowl of pho at Dong Huong restaurant in Belleville

The monsieur and I were at a low ebb the other day. We slept in, dawdled during breakfast, showered, read our books, washed the dishes and I think Joe may even have taken a morning nap. We FINALLY got our act together and headed out the door to go and have lunch.

Our destination was Belleville for some Vietnamese food. As we were walking up onto the street from the metro, Joe laughed as he looked at his watch. He said, "You won't believe this, but it's 5 o'clock!"

I love late lunches.

Musee Rodin

The statue of 'Le Penseur' (The Thinker) in the Rodin Museum gardens.

The best thing about the Rodin Museum, besides the amazing sculptures, is that most of it is outside in a garden in the middle of the city. This is one of Joe's favourite stops on the art history trail. It only costs 1 euro to enter the gardens, and many Parisians take advantage of this incredible deal.

Musee D'Orsay

Of all the art museums I've been to in my life, I must say the Musee D'Orsay is my absolute favourite. Its home is the old Gare D'Orsay train station and is full of French art of the 1800s. It houses the best collection of Manet, Monet, Renoir, Degas, van Gogh, Cezanne, and Gauguin. If you like Impressionism, go to this museum. If you don't like Impressionism, go to this museum.

I'd take the Orsay over the Louvre any day.

Window Licking

It seems that every window display of every shop on every street in Paris is a work of art. I could wander the streets for years just window shopping. The French term for this pastime is faire du leche-vitrines which literally translated means 'window licking'.

American and Canadian Foods

The other day, Joe and I went to Le Bon Marche Grand Epicerie. The Bon Marche is Paris' oldest department store. It opened in 1852 and was the first large-scale store to offer fixed prices. No more bargaining. They have one department store for clothing, perfume and furniture; and another separate Bon Marche (Le Grand Epicerie) devoted entirely to food. Can you guess which one Joe dragged me into?

This food store was like no other I've ever seen. It was high class and HUGE! Every foodstuff known to man was for sale. Fresh fish, fowl, meats of every description. Fruits and veg. Prepared foods. Frozen foods. Condiments. A deli section. A dairy section. A bakery. A butcher. We were agog with the quality and selection of the food. And the prices!

But the section that stopped us dead in our tracks was the 'Etats-Unis et Canada' aisle. There in front of us stood shelf upon shelf of Lay's potato chips, Duncan Hines cake mixes, M&Ms, Jack Daniels barbecue sauce, Paul Newman's salad dressings, French's mustard (now there's a joke), canned pumpkin pie filling, and many other North American foods.

It was embarrassing, really. "Is this the kind of food we're known for in the world?" I asked Joe. "I guess it is," he replied.

So if you find yourself in Paris with a craving for 'marshmallow fluff', you'll know exactly where to go. Le Bon Marche Grand Epicerie on Rue de Sevres. Tell them Nancy sent you.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Spending Spree

Since Joe has nearly squandered the kids' inheritance on cookware, clothing, booze and duck fat, I thought I had better get shopping before the money has run dry.

As most of you know, my favourite places on earth are junk stores and antique shops (with junk in the lead by a mile). So that's where we could be found on the world famous 'Marche aux Puces' on the outskirts of Paris.

Unfortunately many of the shops were closed, it being August and all. But that did not deter me.

I am currently reading 'A Moveable Feast' by Ernest Hemingway and I learned that in the 1920s and 1930s drinks in Parisian bars were served on small saucers with the price of the drink stamped onto the edge of the saucer. You can imagine my pleasure when I found a dusty stack of these little plates under a table.

My purchase came to a whopping 10 euros.

I am such a cheap date.

Brunch With Friends

On Sunday, Joe and I hosted the Bradfords at our apartment for brunch. I met Tara two years ago through her blog "Paris Parfait". (To check out her fabulous blog click here.) When we were in Paris in 2007, she and her husband kindly invited us for lunch and we wanted to repay the favour this year.

Joe was anxious to try out his new crepe pan that he bought at E. Dehellerin a couple of weeks ago. Brunch was a simple meal of crepes, fresh fruit, yogurt, and lots of strong coffee. Our conversation swirled around our families, American and French politics, books we were reading, and retirement plans.

It is comforting to have new friends when you're on the other side of the world.

I'll be meeting Tara again for lunch later on in the week. I am looking forward to it.

Monday, August 10, 2009

A Moveable Feast

In the early 1920s, Ernest Hemingway wrote, "If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast."

I Heart Paris #3

Another few reasons I love Paris...

  • There are over 20 different kinds and styles of butter in the grocery stores.
  • Young people under the age of 25 get into museums free.
  • Even the ticket stubs have works of art on them.
  • Entire shops here are devoted to mustard. At 'Maille' people bring in their own containers to fill from the vats of mustard on tap. Joe bought a little jar of dried apricot and curry mustard to take home with us.

Stopping for directions, expensive directions

Be careful where you stop and ask for help, especially when it's a Producteur de Foie Gras. The picture to the right shows the result - directions that cost me $120. I bought cassoulet au confit de canard, foie gras, two types of rillette de canard, confiture cassis et pomme, and my prized catch - Graisse de Canard (pure duck fat).

Editor's Note:
I have two questions for you Joe....
1. How the heck are we going to fit all the cookware, booze and food into our suitcases?
2. Aren't you at all concerned that we're going to be waaaaaaay over our weight allotment?

Mont Saint Michel

We left the D-Day beaches and headed west toward Mont Saint Michel, a popular pilgrimage centre since 708 AD. (You can see it in the background of the photo.) We booked ourselves into another 'chambres d'hotes' and started exploring. We went to Mont Saint Michel just as the sun was dipping below the horizon, which was a perfect time to visit the island and abbey as most of the tourists were leaving.

As we wound our way through the abbey working our way to the top, musicians were performing at various spots. It was so relaxing to sit and listen to them play their instruments in such an incredible setting.

We left for Paris the next morning and just as we were pulling out onto the narrow road I heard some sheep bleating. A shepherd was taking his flock across the road to graze in the fields beyond. I hopped out of the car, camera in hand, and shot the above photo. Sheep that feed on the salt marsh grasses that surround Mont Saint Michel are prized for their taste. Who knew?

Thank you, Normandy. We had a great time.

Le Grand Abbaye

Oh sure. 'Monsieur Guest Blogger' is too tired to write a post about our morning at Le Grand Abbaye. (Sheesh! I have to do everything around here.)

Now, where was I in this long-winded story? Oh yes, it's all coming back to me now......

We followed Monsieur et Madame's car over hill and through dale for 45 minutes until we came to 'Le Grand Abbaye'. We drove through an ancient gate in a stone wall and parked. The Remarquiers introduced us to their friend Monsieur Letouze. We bid adieu to our B&B hosts with heartfelt bisous (double cheek kisses) all around.

'Le Grand Abbaye' was once an abbey in the 1200s, but was converted to a farm in the 1600s. Monsieur Letouze was born on this farm.

We thought (wrongly) that we'd do a little tasting of M. Letouze's products, buy some bottles and be on our way. Mais non, mes amies! Because we were introduced by the Remarquiers, Monsieur Letouze gave us a 2 hour tour of his property.

Now remember, this tour was conducted entirely in French. M. Letouze was kind enough to speak very slowly with us and (bless his soul) he also used his hands a lot. He showed us everything. His orchard with 2,000 apple trees. His acreage where people camped. His apple press. The 800 year old granary. The medieval stone house where bread is baked once a week. The storage rooms full of ancient oak barrels full of cider, pommeau and calvados. (Side note: whenever we were in the rooms with barrels or vats, we all had to sample his wares. Not that I'm complaining mind you.)

M. Letouze kept asking me, "Are you interested in medieval architecture?" When my answer was a resounding "Oui!" off we'd go to another area of his farm to show me where the chapel once stood or the abbey altar which is now housed in a stable.

Once we were given a proper tour of the farm, we were ushered into monsieur's 800 year old home to taste his products. It was at this point I mentioned (en francais) to his wife that our house in Canada was a whopping 30 years old. She sweetly smiled and shrugged.

We first started with cider. It was very good. (We bought 2 bottles.) Then we tasted some 'pommeau'. It was really good. (We bought 4 bottles.) Then we tried his calvados. Super good! (We bought 2 bottles of that to take home with us.) How the hell we're going to drink all of that booze before we fly home is beyond me. But like the saying goes: Where there's a will, there's a way.

It was a very special morning for us.

I love French people.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

French Happy Hour

Joe and I had a wonderful day visiting all of the D-Day beaches. We both learned so much!

After a long day, we returned to Monsieur et Madame Remarquier's B&B very tired and hungry. Just as we were heading up the stairs to have a wee nap and a shower, Madame poked her head around the corner and invited us to have an aperitif with her and the monsieur later on. We gladly accepted their offer and were looking forward to practicing our 'parlez vous' with our generous hosts.

We spent a highly enjoyable hour with the Remarquiers. Our conversation was entirely in French. We could understand most of what they said, but I don't know if they knew what the hell we were talking about. We laughed a lot, Madame called me a 'bon vivante' and our French/English dictionary was passed between Joe and I the entire time.

Monsieur served 'pommeau', a traditional fermented apple wine of Normandy. It was delicious.

Just as we were leaving for dinner, Monsieur insisted that we have a digestif with them when we returned after supper. I inwardly groaned because I knew that I'd be cross-eyed by that time. I almost fell over when I heard Joe say, "Oui! A quel heure?" As everyone knows I am a very social person and am not one to pass up a drink, but I was so fatigued from our hour long conversation with the Remarquiers. It is exhausting to listen, speak and follow the conversation in a language you barely understand.

But I digress.

We hadn't even pulled into their driveway from dinner and Monsieur was opening the door welcoming us back in. This time he served us 'calvados', a strong apple liqueur. And of course we loved it. Joe remarked that he'd like to buy some before we left Normandy. Did monsieur know any 'producteurs'? Well, yes he did as a matter of fact.....

Plans were quickly made for the Remarquiers to take us out to the countryside the next morning to their friend's farm 'Le Grand Abbaye' to sample some apple cider, pommeau and calvados. Needless to say it was an amazing experience.

My 'guest blogger' (aka my husband) wants to write about it. So I'll let him tell you all about our wonderful morning at 'Le Grand Abbaye'.

Omaha Beach

This sculpture, 'Les Braves', sits on the sand at Omaha Beach.

D-Day Beaches

Sculpture in front of the Juno Beach Canadian War Museum.

The Normandy beaches stretch for about 75 miles along the Atlantic coastline, many of them still bearing the remains and reminders of World War II. This place is a history buff's dream come true. Especially a war history buff.

Joe and I spent a full day visiting each of the D-Day (Jour J in French) beaches and were moved to tears many times. It is truly humbling to be in the place where so many young men lost their lives for our freedom. Their sacrifices really hit home when you are standing in the exact place where so many thousands of Canadians died.

We also visited the Canadian Cemetery. I picked a small bouquet of wildflowers at the side of the road and Joe laid them at the base of a monument in the centre of the cemetery. As we walked around the grounds reading the names and ages of the fallen soldiers, we were so touched to see many of the gravestones bearing Canadian coins. Joe quickly rummaged through his pockets to see if he had any Canadian coins to lay on the gravestones, but unfortunately he had left them all back at our apartment in Paris.

It is heartening to see the beaches 65 years later now full of families sun-bathing, swimming and having picnics. Just the way it should be. Thanks to the brave men and women of WWII.

Saturday, August 8, 2009


Everywhere we went in Normandy we saw welcome signs. And lots of Canadian flags. It's nice to have such a warm welcome in a foreign land.

Chambres D'hotes

There must be thousands, if not tens of thousands, of 'chambres d'hotes' dotted throughout the countryside. Chambres d'hotes are the French version of a B&B. Joe and I were a getting a little worried when we first drove into the many seaside villages that line the coast of Normandy because all of the hotels and motels were completely booked. This is where many Parisians flock for their summer holidays.

We decided to try our luck with a chambre d'hote. THAT was even looking grim for a while. Every place we stopped at was already full! We were thinking that our little Fiat 500 just may be our abode for the night.

After being turned down several times, we finally hit pay dirt in Sommervieu. Monsieur et Madame Remarquier welcomed us into their home (photo) and showed us up to our room beneath the roof. It was as cute as it was quaint. Madame and Monsieur did not speak a word of English, but with our mangled French we managed to make a little small talk and confirm a time for breakfast the next morning.

The Remarquiers were more than helpful in giving us a few restaurant recommendations for dinner. After eating an incredible meal in the shadow of the Bayeux Cathedral, we headed back to their place only to get lost due to a GPS malfunction. IT WAS PITCH BLACK AND WE COULD SEE NOTHING! We drove around and around for over an hour looking for their house. When we finally pulled into their driveway at 1:00am, we felt like school kids out past curfew. We discovered the next morning that Madame couldn't sleep until she heard our key in the latch.

Such a good maman!

Auto Route Rest Area Washrooms

I hate them. 'Nuff said.


We left Paris on Wednesday morning headed for Normandy in our adorable rental car. A little pale blue Fiat 500. The weather was beautiful and it felt good to be out in the gorgeous French countryside. Our first stop was Claude Monet's home and garden in Giverny, about an hour's drive east of Paris.

Monet's pink, vine-covered house sits at the top of his large sloping garden. The top half of his garden is a big jumble (just how I like it) of perennials, roses, shrubs and trees set in formal rows.

The bottom half of his garden is his water lily pond, made famous by his paintings. Chatty tourists (including me) quietened to a hush as soon as they entered this part of the garden. It felt like we were in a church rather than a garden. It really is spectacular. I took lots of photos, but none do the lily pond and weeping willow trees justice. It has to be seen to be appreciated.

I'd love to return to the Marmottan Museum to see Monet's paintings again, now that I've seen the place of his inspiration.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


Sunbathers in the Tuilleries Garden of the Louvre.

We've rented a car and will be leaving for Normandy in the next few hours. We'll be gone for 4 days and I'm so excited! The heat is supposed to hit Paris today, so I'm grateful we'll be on the ocean.

Claude Monet's garden at Giverny is on the way out of town, so maybe we'll be able to stop there for a bit this afternoon on our way to the north coast.

I'll be bringing my (Will's) laptop with me, so I hope there is a WiFi connection somewhere. If not, I'll write all about Normandy when we get back to Paris on Saturday.

Here's a PS to yesterday's post:

While we were on our tour with Richard Nahem, he asked us where we were from. When we told him, he remarked that we were living near the 2010 Winter Olympic sites. He then mentioned that he was lucky enough to go to the 2006 games in Turin, Italy. And loved it. Joe, ever the consummate host, said, "Then you must come to the 2010 Winter Games and stay with us!" I thought Richard would just smile and say something non-committal. I mean really, who is going to accept an invitation to stay with complete strangers?

Last night we got an e-mail from Richard saying he was supposed to visit his mother in Florida in February, but he was seriously considering taking us up on his offer. I'm keeping my fingers crossed he does.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Non, Merci

It's funny how things work out sometimes......

Several months ago, I began to read about a fabulous new store that opened in Paris called 'Merci'. From the photos I saw on the internet, it looked right up my alley. But the thing that made my heart sing was their "Used Bookstore Cafe". Now how perfect is that for me? I dreamed of sitting in that cafe one day, sipping a cafe creme and perusing their shelves of used books.

Well, who was to know that I'd be doing that very thing a few months later? Sooner than was ever expected?

Joe and I went to Merci yesterday to browse in the shop and to see the cafe. The store is as beautiful as the photos had portrayed. Their wares are like none I've ever seen before. After we shopped (Joe bought me a pink polka-dotted cafe au lait bowl) we headed to the cafe. I could hardly wait! "THIS IS GOING TO BE GREAT!" I said to myself.

It wasn't. The waiter ignored us for a good 12-15 minutes as he bustled to and fro not glancing our way once. We got up and left.

It's funny how things work out sometimes.

I Prefer Paris

A few years ago I began reading a blog called 'I Prefer Paris'. The author, Richard Nahem, is a former New Yorker who ran his own catering company in Manhattan for 21 years. He was also a pastry chef and chocolate maker. He has called Paris home now for the past 4 years and has created a new venture where he takes people on walking tours of this incredible city. I e-mailed Richard and asked him to take us on a tour of Paris with a "food and cooking" theme. He was more than happy to oblige and took Joe and I to some amazing cook's stores and food shops. We spent a wonderful day with Richard. I highly recommend him. If you'd like to check out his blog and learn about some really cool places in Paris, click here.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Saint Anthony's Temptation

Sheesh....everybody now wants in on this act. Joe is my first guest blogger. Take it away, Joe!

Nancy and I proceeded to a great culinary adventure tonight at Au Pied de Cochon. In fact, I think it was more my adventure than hers.

First, a little background to this restaurant: Les Halles was the great clearinghouse for fresh fish, beef, and pig cuts and carcasses until it was moved to the suburbs in the 70s to make way for a hideous indoor mall. The tradesmen used to work throughout the night and end their shift at 'Au Pied de Cochon' in the early hours, drinking beer and enjoying the cheapest parts of the animal. Les Halles is gone; Au Pied has remained. And gone quite upscale.

Back to the meal. My choice was between Tete de Monsieur Cassoulette, Stuffed Pig's Trotter, or St. Anthony's Temptation. Hmmmmm, saints never steer you wrong. So I went with Saint Anthony's Temptation, pictured above. Yes, that's a pig's ear, trotter, tail, and belly. I said to Nancy, "I am glad these pig parts are so scrawny!" Fat, cartilage, gristle, tendons, knuckles and more fat. But as I say to my kids, "Where there's fat, there's flavour."

I am choosing to believe this dish is in homage to Saint Anthony Bourdain.

Mmmmmm...chewing on a pig's ear. I gained a new appreciation for cartilage, skin, and fat. I didn't really understand how the bearnaise sauce brought the whole meal together, but that was the sauce accompaniment.

I should have chosen the onion soup.

Market Day

Yesterday was market day for us (and a cemetery, but I'll get to that later). Another amazing thing about this city is that farmer's markets happen every day in different neighbourhoods, and it's been going on for centuries. There's nothing better for a cook than to shop for fresh ingredients and buy directly from the person who grew them. At least that's what Joe tells me. I wouldn't know a blessed thing about it.

We went to the market on Boulevard Grenelle which is held under the train tracks every Sunday morning. Joe bought a roasted chicken from a cheeky vendor who barked, "C'est gros et c'est chaud!" (It's big and it's hot!); some fruit and vegetables (you tell the seller what you'd like and he picks it out for you); some sea salt; a baguette; and some cheese. Now that is what I call a meal!

The next two markets were Les Marche aux Puces. The Flea Markets. Now that is MY territory! Joe may know food, but I know junk! Each time we've been in Paris, I have bought an old street number plate at a Marche aux Puces. I guess 2 constitutes a collection because now I'm on the hunt for number three. Sadly I came up empty-handed. I'll have to go to the huge flea market next weekend to see if I can score another street sign.

Since we were already in the neighbourhood, we decided to pay a visit to the Pere Lachaise Cemetery. We were last there in 2006 when we paid our respects to Oscar Wilde. Wilde's tomb was COVERED in eleventy-million lipstick kisses from ardent admirers. Notes, candles and bouquets were left at its base. It seemed as if he died yesterday, not over 100 years ago.

Anyhoo. When I wrote about this experience in 2006, my friend Robin said at the time, "Oh please tell me you kissed his tomb." I stopped short. I didn't even THINK to do this! Sheesh! And I call myself a fan.

So armed with a tube of lipstick, Joe and I wound our way throughout the graves and tombs of Pere Lachaise until we came to Oscar. There were lots of people milling about so I felt kinda awkward about applying the lipstick and then kissing the tomb in front of strangers. Especially when there was a little sign on the bottom of the grave saying 'please do not desecrate'. Well, heck, it's been kissed on for decades now and Joe was not about to be deterred by some measly little sign. Besides, it was in French and we would plead ignorant if caught. And he wasn't going to allow a few onlookers get in the way of us doing what we came to the cemetery to do.

I kissed the tomb first and Joe took a picture. Then Joe puckered up and I smeared on some lipstick (I got a funny photo of that) and he gave the tomb a smooch. We laughed ourselves silly all the way home. So, thank you Robin, for the prompt. Photos to follow soon on facebook folks.

Later last night, we went for an after-supper stroll around the block. You know you're in a special place when a walk through the neighbourhood takes you past the Musee D'Orsay, across the Seine, along the Louvre, through the Tuileries Gardens, back over the river, and then home.

I Heart Paris #2

More reasons why I love Paris...

  • Say you walk into a shop that sells wine, and you buy a bottle. And then you decide you'd like to enjoy it with your picnic lunch in the park or on the riverbank. But you sadly realize you don't have a corkscrew with you. Not a problem! The wine merchant will gladly open your bottle of wine for you so that you can drink it with your lunch. In public.
  • Even the eggs you buy in a grocery store might still have feathers on them.
  • Every Metro train on every track runs every 5-8 minutes all week long. (Unlike in Squamish where there are no transit buses on Sundays.) It is great to go down into the metro station and know that your train will be coming by in just a few minutes.
  • People brings their pooches on the metro.
  • Smoking inside restaurants, bars and cafes has been banned. (Although people can still smoke outside while sitting at the sidewalk tables.)
  • Two-in-One appliances. You can wash AND dry your clothes in the same machine! And the microwave can also be switched into a convection oven. So smart.....
  • You don't have to join a gym to get fit in Paris. Walking 10 miles a day and going up and down the endless stairs in the metro tunnels will have you looking like Charles Atlas in no time!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Another Enjoyable Day!

We spent another enjoyable day in Gay Paree!

Our first stop was Laduree, a shop famous for its 'macarons'. Joe and the saleslady had a 'lost in translation' moment.....he wanted a 12 euro box of macarons but she gave him a box of 12 macarons. Not that it was a problem except that 12 macarons cost 24 euro! That's almost $36.00 (Cdn) for 12 small little cookies! I did the math and almost fainted when I realized they cost $3.00 each! We've since eaten a couple with our tea and I must say they are like eating a cloud. They are delicate, sweet, soft and YUMMY! Not bad for something that is only one and a half inches across.

After blowing most of our day's budget at Laduree, we pressed on and went to Debauve et Gallais, Paris' oldest chocolate shop. Open since 1800, they made chocolates for Napolean and France's kings. Now they just sell them to commoners like us. ( And they weren't all THAT great.)

As we were walking back to our apartment for lunch, we stopped in at a store on our street called Deyrolle. From the window displays it looked like a gardening shop. It was....on the first floor. We went up to the second floor only to find it to be a taxidermy shop! Every animal you can imagine was stuffed and mounted. Not to mention insects and butterflies. There was a giraffe on sale for 25,600 euros! A stuffed rat went for 150 euros. I mean seriously. Who buys this stuff?

After a nap and a soak in the tub, we packed up a picnic supper and headed over to Le Tour Eiffel to watch the sun set and to see the lights come on the tower.

Another enjoyable day indeed!

Musee Marmottan Monet

Yesterday afternoon, Joe and I visited the Musee Marmottan to see the paintings of Claude Monet. It is a small museum housed in an old mansion in a rich district of Paris. There were very few people in the museum, so we got to get up close to all of Monet's works. To make the experience even more special, a pianist played a grand piano in the middle of the room while we walked about admiring Monet's genius. The paintings are so beautiful. I didn't realize that he suffered from severe cataracts on his eyes later in his life, and that he kept painting his beloved flowers all the same. Joe and I are planning to take a day trip out to Giverny where Monet spent the greater part of his life painting beloved garden.

Vive Les Vacances!

As anyone will tell you, I love holidays. And I am especially enjoying this holiday in Paris. But the French are champions when it comes to vacations. On average they receive 38 days of paid vacation time. That is twice what the average Canadian gets. The French take every vacation day that is owed to them and they don't feel guilty about it. (And why would they? Why would anyone?) Apparently, Canadians wasted 41 million vacation days last year alone. What is that all about? Come on people! Go on holidays for Pete's sake! You'll live longer and have more fun while you're at it!

The minute the calendar flipped over to August two days ago, many shops put out a 'Gone Fishing' sign. They closed down completely. I admire that. To the French it is more important to rest and relax than it is to make money.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

I Heart Paris #1

There are many reasons to love Paris. There are the obvious ones....the art, the food, the architecture, the history and the fashion. But there are smaller reasons as well to love it. And make no mistake. I love it!

Here is the beginning of my list of why I love Paris:
  • The pharmacists can dispense medical advice and medications. When we first arrived, Joe realized he had not brought enough of his diabetes meds. He brought the package into a pharmacy and within minutes was out the door....medicine in hand. Beautiful!
  • All the parks and gardens have free WiFi for laptop computers.
  • People kiss their friends when they meet them. I especially find it moving when I see men kissing each other on both cheeks. Bisous!
  • Men in Armani suits on motorcycles weaving in and out of the traffic.
  • Bottles of rose wine that cost 2 euros and actually taste good.
  • Men's dress shoes that cost 1,000 euros and you see many men wearing them.