Saturday, October 29, 2016

A slightly colorful update from Grand Rapids

The weather has turned colder, with on-again, off-again rain and the leaves are starting to drop, as they do about this time of year. But a few days ago things in western Michigan were more summer-like, Indian Summer anyway.

Oh, and yes I finished my presentation on Paris Cemeteries at Aquinas College this past Wednesday -- I had an absolutely grand time, a real blast I might've said in 1972, and they’ve asked me to come back for a Part 2 (and 3 if I’m up for it).

Susie will be partnering with Patricia Christopher and now has a temporary license to work out of Patricia's Chocolates in Grand Haven, Michigan. It's a 30-40 minute drive from home to the lakeshore and we only have one car but we're going to give it a go. . . Anyway, she'll probably be out there for a few hours 1-2 days a week working primarily on shortbread cookies and Palmiers to sell in the shop and for special orders.

There's also another venue in Grand Haven that has expressed serious interest in her caramel nut tarts and financier almond cakes. The girl is in demand, but what else is new, eh? (working on my Canadianisms in case we have to leave the country November 8).

Anyway, with the weather being quite nice, last Sunday I grabbed my camera and walked over to Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park. Along the way I was able to catch just a glimpse of some wonderful color change in our neighborhood -- plus the mums at Meijer Gardens were spectacular.

our condo, sort of (hidden behind the garages)

just at the entrance to our complex are these gorgeous trees that seem to go on and on

the entrance to the Gardens

part of an indoors exhibition at Meijer Gardens featuring some 11 local artists and their creative views of living in Grand Rapids -- yep, you'll need a program to grasp what they're getting at. . . 

a fascinating untitled bit of metal by Joel Shapiro -- I would have called it ballet dancer but then. . . 

at the entrance to the children's garden

Friday, October 28, 2016

3rd Michigan soldiers in Ottawa County - update 10/28/2016

Since Susie had to be in Grand Haven, Michigan for a meeting I took the opportunity to rephotograph graves of 3rd Michigan Infantry soldiers buried in nearby Spring Lake and Nunica cemeteries.

 The sky was overcast and the ground still soaked from the previous day's rain but it was a perfect time to shoot -- no shadows or harsh light -- and I made the most of it.

In Spring Lake Cemetery (east side):

Thomas Somerset and his family

Orange McClure buried with his brother Jay's family

notice the uncertain spelling of the family name here: McClure or McCluer?
In Nunica cemetery:

Lemuel Ward

Edward P. Davidson

John Nelthorpe

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

TRAVEL TIP: Renting an apartment in Paris

Over our years of traveling to Paris we've almost always relied on renting apartments as opposed to hotel rooms. The reason is simple: an apartment gives you the flexibility of cooking at home, especially if you're staying for a week or longer. It also has the added benefit of (usually) being the less expensive way to spend your money on lodging, especially in Paris.

My first inclination when looking for accommodations this past winer for our trip in September was to turn to the latest craze: Air BnB. While their website certainly offered plenty of options, in all price ranges, the one thing that put me off was they required all the rental charges to be paid up front. Yet the owner would only get their money once we actually showed up. Sooooo, Air BnB would be able to play with our money for five months. And I can just imagine the hassle of canceling. . . That nasty airline business model rearing it's head. No thank you.

Beginning in 2006 and until the end of 2010 we rented from the same person, both when we were living in Paris as well as when we returned for extended stays (such as two or three months at a time). We found her through the excellent local resource FUSAC (French USA Connection) and appreciated being able to meet with the owner in person. Unfortunately, that changed in 2013 and we found ourselves looking elsewhere. Friends from Providence, Rhode Island, had been very happy using the Parissharing website and so in 2013 we followed their lead. When we returned earlier this year to perhaps use the site again, we learned that prices had gone way UP so we thought to look elsewhere.

I recalled in years past a wonderful set of accommodation guides by Alistair Sawday called Special Places To Stay in France (or Ireland or Italy, etc.). I went to their website and before long had found just the place. It was very reasonably priced, quite spacious and a 10-minute walk to Père-Lachaise Cemetery in the 20th arrondissement! We were sold. I emailed the owner, she called me, I called her back and we shook hands on it, in a manner of speaking.

As it turned out our hostess was a lovely British woman who had spent the better part of her adult life in France. After we arrived in Paris and made our way through the Metro to the 20th arr. we quickly found the apartment. Anne was waiting for us when we arrived at the apartment and this was one instance of when first impressions -- even those made by internet and phone -- proved spot on. She was charming, engaging and full of life.

The apartment was nearly perfect with a 10-minute walk to the nearest Metro stop, a grocery store (Franprix) right up the street, an open-air market just 10 minutes away by foot and the neighborhood quiet. We spent 11 wonderful days in Anne's home.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

TRAVEL TIP: Suggestions for dining out in Paris

La Factorie: one of their specialités is chou farci or cabbage roll with a side of mashed potatoes, a bit of rich beef juice and a lovely simply salad with radishes - I can't begin to tell you how delicious this was!
Eating out in Paris can be expensive, but it doesn't have to be. This last trip in September of 2016 we were lucky to find quite a few places that worked just fine for our appetites and budget. And we didn't use a guidebook, just our sense of a place. If we can do it you certainly can.

(We did return to two places: Noodle and Cuisine de Bar. Cuisine was the only bad apple in the barrel and I didn't include it in our list.)

I've listed all the places we ate either lunch or dinner while in Paris. Any of these are a good bet, with reasonable prices and pleasant food.

Sapporo - 37 Rue Sainte-Anne, 75001 - Ramen noodle
Noodle - 54 Rue Sainte-Anne, 75002 - Ramen noodle
Bistrot des Vosges - 31 Boulevard Beaumarchais, 75004 - cuisine from Aveyron
Cafe a la Contrescarpe - 57 Rue Lacépède, 75005
La Billebaude - 29 Rue de l'Exposition, 75007
Le Lithographe - 234 Boulevard Raspail, 75014
Le Bistrot de la Galette - 102ter Rue Lepic, 75018 - Puffed pastry plays a huge role here
La Factorie - 42 Boulevard de Ménilmontant 75020
Royal Fata - 237 Rue des Pyrénées, 75020 - Asian

Monday, October 10, 2016

TRAVEL TIP: Transportation in and out of Paris

Paris is an incredibly accessible city; easy to get around and you can see nearly everything or everyplace right on the ground, that is by walking.

If you have to cross the city for whatever reason, meeting a friend or having dinner in a distant arrondissement from where you're staying, using the Metro is a blessing. And if you're staying in the city for any length of time, say longer than a week or ten days, you might want to consider picking up a Navigo Pass.

The Navigo allows you to just swipe and go through the turnstiles; and you can use any of the buses as well as the RER and trams that run around the inner periphery of Paris. You will need a photo (notice all those Photomation machines in the larger Metro stations?) and you’ll have to have a passable grasp of French to speak with one of the service reps. But once you have the Navigo, off you go! We've had our passes for quite a few years now and just top it off when we return.

The other Metro option is to purchase the “Carnet” or 10-pack of tickets. There’s also a 1-day pass but we didn’t find that as cost effective as the 10-pack. Still the 1-day might work for you so check it out before you buy.

Whichever way you opt to go, you’ll probably only need to buy tickets for zones 1-3; zones 1-5 will get you all the way out to the airports, Versailles and Fontainebleau, way out of the city in other words. . . Again check your needs before you buy. (The Navigo pass is good for all 5 zones.)

The official Metro site can be found right here: Another very user-friendly site in English in Paris by Train:

As for travel out of the city -- like we took to Giverny and to Lille --  you might find a small challenge in purchasing tickets. The official French railway company, SNCF, makes it very easy to purchase tickets online BUT if your credit card has a magnetic strip, which most American cards have, you won't be able to use the self-serve kiosks at the train station. That's right folks, you'll have to stand in line to get your tickets. Go figure but go prepared.

Finally, for getting to and from any of the airports -- we usually go in and out of Charles de Gaulle -- we used Paris Bleu Van shuttle this time. We’ve used them in the past and never had a complaint, although if you opt for the (cheaper) shared service you might find yourself in the dark early hours driving around and around Paris picking up other passengers. A 35-minute trip then becomes 60- or 90-minutes. . . You get the point. You can find Bleu Van online at

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Our final 48 hours in Paris

We’re back in Michigan where the colors are starting to change, the nights are quite cool (in the high 40s F.) and the days sunny.

We miss Paris but it is good to be home again.

Our last 48 hours in Paris were wonderful: the days were sunny and warm but not hot, the evenings pleasant and slightly cool. We had no real objective in mind other than to wander the streets, soaking up the feel of the city, and just savoring being there.

Susie showed me the new Les Halles development project (they’re at it again apparently) and it certainly looks impressive. Whether the city will ever get this space right remains to be seen. Perhaps it’s all those ghosts from those bodies that rested deep on the same land for so many centuries in Saint-Innocents cemetery that won’t let go or maybe it’s just been poor planning that has prevented the space from being truly useful and enjoyable.

October 2 was a Sunday but not just any Sunday - it was museum day. The third Sunday of every month is when all state museums are open free to any and all. And believe me, I think pretty much everyone within 100 miles of Paris was in line at the Louvre. I had such hopes to see Théodore Géricault’s Raft of the Medusa but that wasn’t going to happen this trip. I also wanted to see the French Sculpture Room which houses, among many other things, tombstones from the late Middle Ages. You know me and Paris Cemeteries — that’s on the list for next time as well.

So we strolled through the Tuileries, browsed through W. H. Smith bookstore and made our way home. That night we dined at the Royal Fata restaurant in our neighborhood near the Place Gambetta. Good food and quirky but friendly service.

Monday, our penultimate day in Paris, we both headed out mid-morning - Susan to visit the new Le Cordon Bleu school where she enjoyed a brief tour of the facility and me to the old cemetery Neuilly-sur-Seine--- right off of the Metro line 1 -- to do a bit of grave sleuthing. I had been emailing back-and-forth with a fellow in California who was looking for a particular family that he believed to be buried somewhere in Paris. So far I had not been able to find them at any of the major cemeteries (Père-Lachaise, Montparnasse or Montmartre) and thought I would try Neuilly since the family had apparently lived there. (No luck there either.)

Susie and I met up early afternoon and after a disappointing lunch at an old favorite Cuisine de Bar we made our way to the Jardin du Luxembourg one last time. It's such a wonderful place to walk, or just hang out. We watched several large groups of petanque players in one part of the garden before settling down to soak up the shade while many others opted for the sun.

That night, our last in Paris for 2016 we returned to rue Sainte-Anne and ate supper at Sapporro. The street is home to quite a large number of Asian restaurants, many of them noodle bars or sushi joints and almost all of them packed.

After our last meal we scrambled to get to the Trocadero just in time to see the lights twinkle on at the Eiffel Tower. We noticed that the city has cut back the twinkle session, though, from 10 minutes every hour to just five minutes.

As we neared the end of our stay I had arranged for a Paris Blue Van shuttle to pick us up and take us to CDG airport. Apparently my mind was elsewhere when I scheduled the pickup online because early Monday morning I received an email from our shuttle service saying the driver had waited as long as he could and was now gone. A day before we were to leave!

I called them straightaway. Within a few minutes we straightened out the mixup — we were leaving the next morning, Tuesday not Monday. But since it was client error we would have to pay an additional fee, of course. That was close.

Before we knew it our time in Paris had run out.

Our shuttle picked us up, we breezed through security (we pretty much breezed through security everywhere except London, going out and coming back), and now all we had to do was wait. Our flights were on time, uneventful and after spending the night in Boston right near the airport, we finished our final legs of the journey. Susie’s mom picked us up at the airport and before long we were home.

Librairie Gourmande: one of Susie's favorite spots, a bookstore devoted just to cooking and baking

open air market near Saint-Eustache in the Les Halles neighborhood

The planned jardin at Les Halles (will they get it right this time?) - a work in progress

the huge new shopping concourse

Lines for free museum day were waaaay too long for us

oh and here's our apartment

The Hungarian Institute of Paris on rue Bonaparte

boules playing in the Jardin du Luxembourg

Jardin du Luxembourg

A bientôt, Paris! Wish you were there. . . life is short.

Saturday, October 01, 2016

To Giverny 30 September

(photos follow below)

Today was our long-awaited day trip to Giverny. Susan had been there some years ago when she got caught in Paris after the volcano erupted in Iceland and had a few extra days to kill. She has been saying ever since that we needed to go there together — and with the exhibition of works by the Spanish impressionist Sorolla at the Impressionist Museum in Giverny - there was no time like the present.

Using the SNCF (French railway) website we purchased our train tickets online and were eager to see if we would be able to use the automatic kiosks at the railway station to print them out.

We walked up to Place Gambetta and took Metro line 3 to Saint-Lazare train station. Once inside the station we were confronted by a three levels of (mostly) shops and various train offices. Although caught up in half the population of Paris rushing every which way we eventually found our way to the “Grand lignes” ticket office where we learned much to our chagrin that we could NOT access our tickets using the kiosks. (The same problem was experienced by the MacDs in Lille when all of us went to Bruges.) While I stood in line for a ticket agent Susie buttonholed one of the information agents standing close by and even he couldn’t figure out why our chip-card wouldn’t work.

(The fine print on our ticket pointed out that credit cards with the magnetic stripe would NOT work at the kiosks. Go figure.)

After getting our tickets we had a short wait for the train to Vernon; Giverny is a few kilometers away and can only be accessed by bus, car, on foot or, as we were to experience, the “little train.”

It was a quick SNCF train ride from Paris, about 50 minutes or so, and we were in Vernon. Although we knew there was a bus to Giverny every 15 or 20 minutes, the only buses we saw once outside the station were a half block away and appeared to be city buses (in fact these were the buses we wanted but no matter). What we were faced with right outside the station entrance was one of those little tourist trains that meander all over creation before ending up at one place or another. We asked the man hawking the train — he would also be the driver — about the bus and he pointed out that the train was cheaper (6 versus 8 euros for the bus).

So we opted for the tourist train. It was a bit chilly — naturally I was unprepared — and after a few minutes the tiny train was wending its way through the warren of streets with a recorded guided tour of the high points of Vernon.  A bit hokey to se sure but frankly we did get to see some pretty interesting sights of the city, half-timbered homes, medieval structures and the like, things we probably would not have seen had we taken the bus I suppose.

Before long we made our way to the lovely village of Giverny where we spent the next two hours or so connecting the present with an incredible past. Our first stop was the Impressionist Museum to see an exhibition of work by the Spanish impressionist Joaquin Sorolla (1863-1923); that alone was worth the trip. Fantastic whites, striking seaside scenes and a wonderful portraitist, especially where his family was concerned.

From the exhibition to the cafe was simply a matter of a few steps and, it being time for lunch, we opted for the closest venue for food. I ate little of mine since a pair of bees seemed to relish the sweetish red sauce that accompanied my fish so I focused primarily on wine, not a bad tradeoff, this being France.

Anyway, after lunch we made our way into the village of Giverny and to the grave of Claude Monet and his family. Also buried in the tiny church cemetery are the seven crewman of a British Lancaster shot down by a German fighter the night of June 7-8, 1944. Their plane exploded into a ball of flames on hitting an open field just outside Giverny. In the 1990s large parts of the wreckage were unearthed and an intact propellor blade was found, serving as part of a separate memorial to those seven men — the memorial is located near Claude’s grave.

Leaving the cemetery we retraced our steps and made our way to Monet’s house, taking a turn around the wonderful water features that lie next to his home. The gardens are pretty much everything I expected and more — striking colors to be sure but all was lush and the growth thick, almost wild. Truly a wonderful thing to see.

His house is equally wonderful: the rooms quite small, which makes me wonder how big a man Monet actually was. His atelier was a joy to see, that space where he created so many beautifully moving works of art, the dining room so very yellow and the kitchen with a long row of copper pans of varying sizes strung along the long wall, all truly impressive.

Upon leaving the house we took our time making our way back to the rendezvous with our little train and we were soon chugging along the backroads toward the town of Vernon and the train station. The train ride back was uneventful although once back at Saint-Lazare it seemed that the other half of the population of Paris was determined to thwart our attempts to get to the Metro. Their efforts were to no avail, though, and before long we were on our way on the number 3 in the direction of eastern Paris.

Once back in our cozy apartment we decided to stay put for the evening and I fixed dinner. Another wonderful day in France — wish you were there. . .

Giverny train station

the little train

Sorolla exhibition

Cousant la Voile 1896

Pècheuses valenciennes 1903

Pècheuses valenciennes 1903, detail

Retour de la peche 1894

Mère 1895-1900

Instantané: Biarritz 1906

cafe at the museum

Claude's grave

grave of seven British airmen shot down near Giverny

memorial to the airmen, using a propellor salvaged from the wreckage

French memorial to the men from the village who died during WW1 next to a dolmen

a prehistoric tomb (dolmen) found nearby during routine excavations

the Giverny church

road through the village

water features at Monet's home

gardens in front of the house

original main entrance to the house

Monet's atelier or work room
dining room
kitchen -- what a selection of copper!