Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Tuesday in Paris--and what better way to start our day than with dessert?  We didn't eat our "Monday dessert" last night, we were just too tired and still full from our delicious mussel dinner.  So we had dessert for breakfast!

The big chocolate "haystack"was very good-it was actually two meringues stacked and covered with chocolate mousse, and dusted with chocolate sprinkles. Pretty darn good!  The berry tart was great as usual, each berry was perfect and tasted as good as they look.  Not to worry, though--we couldn't quite eat all our dessert, sadly we threw away the leftovers.  We'll have more tonight!

 After our crazy breakfast of scrambled eggs and desert, we hopped on the Metro to go to one of my favorite cathedrals-Notre Dame of Paris.  We were very early, so we did a quick tour of the interior (we'll be back on Sunday for a Gregorian Chant Mass), then we sat in a cafe across the street and enjoyed an espresso.  Soon it was time to join the line and wait for our turn to climb the bell tower.  Dave and I did this last year and really enjoyed it.  We knew Matt would love getting so close to those amazing gargoyles.

Here are a few of our favorites:

This lovely guy is eating a rabbit.  Notice how his eyes are rolled back, he must really be enjoying that rabbit!

David and Matt entering the bell tower:

Beautiful view of the Eiffel Tower with Invalides (gold dome) and St. Chapelle

David and Matt walking down those 300 steps:

I love this pic of David!

After leaving Notre Dame we crossed back over the Seine and wandered around the Latin Quarter.  I love those narrow winding streets.  We had lunch at a small cafe serving Turkish food, which was delicious.  I guess David and I are "in training" for trip to Turkey next week!

Next stop--my very favorite church in Paris, St. Severin.  I love it's ancient beauty and serenity.  Here's the view toward the altar:

A close up on one of the windows:

 St. Severin has an huge pipe organ.  I'd love to hear it!

A view of the vault behind the alter:

After St. Severin we walked over to St. Chapelle.  Just as I expected, there was a loooong line, and it wasn't moving too fast.  But we toughed it out, and soon we went through security (again, just like an airport).  While we stood in line we visited with a nice couple from Florida, which helped pass the time.

St Chapelle is a beautiful cathedral, it's stained glass is considered to be some of the most beautiful in the world.  It IS amazing!  The interior is gothic like Notre Dame and St. Severin, but every surface is decorated with beautiful and vibrant painted finishes.

Some examples of the painted finishes:

  The vaulted ceiling over the altar:

Detail of the top of a column:

Vault detail:

And the spectacular stained glass windows!  It's hard to tell from these pictures, but these windows are HUGE!  David estimated they are 35-40 feet tall.  They are amazing works of art; very detailed and the colors are still vibrant and lovely.  

The windows behind the altar:

One of the huge side windows:

This is just one panel of the large window above:

 And detail from that panel:

 Rose window opposite the altar.  Note the missing pieces--they are being restored:

As soon as we finished at St. Chapelle we Metro'd back to our apartment.  We had work to do---even on vacation laundry needs to be done!  Doesn't Matt look thrilled?  That nice lady you see in the background was so kind and helpful.  We must have looked a little perplexed as she asked if we needed help.  We sure did need help!  She so graciously walked us through each step--even giving us advice  on what temperature water to use!   As soon as we loaded our wash into the washer, we walked to our neighborhood bakery to pick up a couple of baguettes and choose our "desert of the day".  We picked up an extra one to give to her for a thank you, she was so pleased.  I told her it was a Tarte Framboise (raspberry tart) and she told me that her name was Francoise and she loves framboise, and that we had spoiled her!   What a nice lady.  We have found the French to be lovely, helpful and kind, and have enjoyed our interactions with them.

I left Matt and David to finish the laundry, and I walked the short 1 1/2 blocks to our apartment to get dinner ready.  We had our old Paris standby--baguette, cheese, sausage and a nice crisp green apple. 

Last night we visited a small fromagerie  (cheese shop) right around the corner from our apartment. We had quite a time choosing cheese, but the nice gentlemen tried his best to help us.  It was very interesting that he asked us when we were going to eat the cheese, and then carefully checked several pieces to select one that would be just the correct "ripeness" tomorrow.   He sure knows his cheese, because they were absolutely delicious today!  The triangular cheese is a triple cream brie, and the 1/2 round is Camembert.  The small slices are a nice Gouda that Matt chose, and of course that lovely yellow chunk is some of the great French butter with sea salt flakes.  Dad, I ate some for you, too!

Yummy baguette:

And of course--"Dessert of the Day"  A nice raspberry tart--flaky layers of pastry with a really good custard in the middle.  Matt has been seeing macarons in the pastry shop windows, and was intrigued.  He chose a pistachio, a banana with chocolate filling, and a raspberry!  We all thought the raspberry was the best, but agreed that macarons are kind of overrated--way too sweet!

Another wonderful day in Paris has come to an end, and we enjoyed every minute of it.  Matt really enjoys exploring the great cathedrals--guess he comes by that naturally!

Tomorrow:  The Palace of Versailles!


Our morning in Rome started early with a 6:45 pickup for our ride to the airport.  Security and check-in was easy, and we had a quick cup of coffee and a pastry for breakfast.

Our flight was delayed by about 40 minutes, but otherwise it was a great flight.  I love Europe's low cost air carriers--our flight from Rome to Paris was only $80.00 (USD) each!

It was a quick 1/2 hour taxi ride to our apartment.  It's about 3 blocks away from our "usual" apartment on St. Dominique, and the location is perfect.  I was smarter with this apartment choice--only 1 flight of stairs!  The apartment is small, and would be just right for two, but it's a little cozy for three but we are managing fine.  The wireless connection is good--and that's important!

After we unpacked and got organized we hit the streets to have some lunch and buy a few groceries for the week.  We chose a small restaurant right in our neighborhood.  We had a great lunch!

Matt ordered a caesar salad with chicken.  The greens were interesting (in a good way!) and he said the dressing was just right.  The big pieces of shaved cheese on top were amazing--they had a nutty flavor, almost like hazelnuts.

I enjoyed a bowl of soup--I wanted something hot to warm me up!  The menu didn't call in "French Onion Soup", but instead named it "Home Onion Soup".  It was amazing! The broth was obviously not from a mix; it had a deep rich flavor and wasn't at all salty.

David chose a duck confit salad with a warm goat cheese toast on top and small pieces of smoky ham in the salad.  Again, just wonderful!  The duck was tender and flavorful, and that goat cheese toast was to die for!  He ate every last bite!  Well--except he shared his goat cheese toast with me

We explored our small neighborhood for a few minutes, and I noticed this small bit of stenciled street art.  Here you go, Pat:

Before we left home, I'd had this great idea for a surprise for Matt on our first afternoon in Paris.  I thought we'd walk over to a museum and garden just a few blocks from our apartment.  So after lunch we strolled over  (with only a minor navigational error) to the Musee  Rodin.  I really wanted to surprise him with Rodin's "The Thinker", which is set in a beautiful garden. Unfortunately, I hadn't planned well enough--they were closed on Mondays!  Oh, well, we just changed up our plans a bit, hopped on the Metro (Matt's first Metro ride!) and rode back to our neighborhood.

We went to the supermarket near our apartment and stocked up on a few groceries.  Dave and Matt took them back to the apartment while I went to another market to get our favorite French butter, and then on the the patisserie to choose our "desert of the day".  

As soon as we got our groceries put away, we headed out for our first dinner in Paris--moules y frites at our favorite mussel place, Leon de Bruxelles.  It was a quick Metro ride, and soon we were seated at a cozy table.

David and I ordered our usual big pot of mussels and fries, but Matt wasn't too sure about the mussels.  He was sure they would be slimy, but he did taste one and admitted that it wasn't as bad as he thought it would be!

Here's our big, yummy pot of mussels:

Matt chose a Flemish carbonnade, and it was melt-in-your-mouth delicious!

And here we are, enjoying our dinner at Leon's.  We are very happy to be in Paris, and really looking forward to showing Matt all our favorite places!

Tomorrow in Paris:  Climbing the Bell Tower of Notre Dame, exploring the Latin Quarter, and a visit to St. Chapelle to admire the amazing stained glass windows.

Monday, October 29, 2012


Good evening from lovely Rome..... 

Our last day in Rome was wonderful!  We had a leisurely start to our day, and Matt fixed us a great breakfast of scrambled eggs with some of that wonderful smoke cheese from dinner last night.

We took a taxi to the Vatican, our plan was to climb the dome early in the morning, and then go to St. Peters Square to see the Pope bless the crowd (and us!)

Our taxi driver dropped us off a few blocks from the Vatican, as the streets were blocked for some reason.  As we got closer to the Vatican, we noticed a large crowd in the streets.  We weren't quite sure what the occasion was, but it was a procession of some sort.  Eventually we found out it was a delegation from Guatemala and Peru on a pilgrimage to the Vatican.  It was quite a treat to watch them, especially the beautiful Peruvian people.

The procession:

Women in the procession were wearing lace mantillas, and were carrying incense burners--the fragrance was quite strong:

Another picture of the procession.  There was singing and a band marching along behind.  Strangely, the marching band was wearing Tyrolean looking hats with feathers--maybe German?

A beautiful Peruvian woman marching alongside the "float"

A sweet little boy marching with his mother, he was fidgeting with his robe sash, and his mom kept trying to settle him down.  He was adorable!

We enjoyed the procession for a while, then continued our walk to the Vatican.  We passed this wonderful water fountain.  I love the dragon motif:

We walked into St.Peter's Square, and the security line for the Basillica was l-o-n-g!  We would have to  go thru security to climb the Dome of St. Peter's, so we gave up on that idea!  Instead we went to have a cappuccino, and then explore the area around the Vatican until it was time for the Pope to appear.

Here's Matt in St. Peter's square, filling his water bottle in yet another fountain:

We explored the streets just outside the Vatican walls, stopping in a few gift shops to look for a certain religious medal for Jeanne's mom.  The guys decided this was a really cool car.  As you can see, Matt was thrilled to have his picture take next to it!

I liked this small stenciled street art on a nearby building: (hi Pat!)

We kind of let the time get away from us, and had to practically RUN to get to the square in time!  Along the way Dave and I got separated from Matt, but weren't too worried about it, as we had set up a meeting point just in case.

This is just part of the crowd in St. Peter's Square.  David and I were perched up on the base of one of the columns around the outside.  It was a precarious perch, but we weren't too worried about falling off--we couldn't have fallen to the ground if we'd tried, it was solid people!

I did manage to see the Pope, by leaning waaaay over while David held on to my belt!  Here he is--the Pope!

After the Pope was finished blessing the crowd, we hurried to meet Matt at a small cafe. We sat for a while sipping our cappuccinos, talking about how much we all enjoyed seeing the Pope.  It was a neat experience.  Matt was able to have a few rosaries blessed, as well as a St. Catharines medal for Jeanne's mom.  He also had with him a fridge magnet that he had just bought for his Grandma--so we are pretty sure that it was blessed by the Pope, too!  How about that, Grandma!

We decided to walk back towards our apartment, just taking our time to enjoy our last day in Rome.
We crossed the pretty Ponte Victorio Emmanuelle (bridge).  Here is one of the many statues on the bridge:

We found a nice little trattoria for lunch.  I think we might have been the only American's there, although I did hear some French.

Matt chose an interesting dish of rabbit with roasted cauliflower and herbs.  It was really good!

I had spaghetti with a simple sauce of olive oil, fresh parsley,  garlic and chili peppers.  It was spicy and delicious!

David ordered his usual pizza, here he is eating it like a true Italian--with fork and knife!  He said it was the best pizza he'd had in Rome:

We continued our lazy stroll through Rome, and came to the Column of Marcus Aurelius.  The carvings depict his victory over the Germans in about 160 A.D.  The statue on the top is of St. Paul.

The detail is amazing, and I wish I'd had time to study it all:

By now it was gelato time--it's against the rules to NOT have a gelato every day while in Rome!  Flavors of the day:  mango and Frutti di Bosco (fruits of the forest) for me, and banana and strawberry for Matt.  Pretty good stuff!

And here is David's choice.  I think he just broke the rule--cheater!

We just kept wandering--eventually walking up hill to the Galleria Barberini, the National Gallery of Ancient Art.  We decided we didn't have time to go inside, but the palace and grounds were very pretty.  This fence surrounded the grounds:

The palace:

An old fountain with spouting faces:

As we were leaving I spotted this old capitol-just sitting in the grass.  I love the bee motif:

Soon we found ourselves back in our neighborhood, and this lovely church was open so we went inside to look around.

The interior was as stunning as the outside, very baroque.  The ceilings were wonderful:

This is probably the most ornate pipe organ I've ever seen:

We went into the Sacristy, it was lined with these beautiful cabinets:

We were right around the corner from our apartment, so we decided to go back and tidy up the apartment and pack our bags for our early flight to Paris tomorrow.  Our ride to the airport is picking us up at 6:45, so we'd better be all ready to go tonight.  It really didn't take us too long, and we walked around a few blocks to choose a restaurant for our last meal in Rome.  We ended up right back where we started, the same one we'd chosen the first night.  We had the same waiter, and he remembered us.

Matt ordered spaghetti with veal meatballs.  He said it was just delicious.  I asked for a little taste--do you think I got one?

My ravioli with wild mushrooms.  I was surprised that it was in a cream sauce, my Italian must be rusty!  It was quite good, but very rich.

Guess who ordered pizza again?

We were having such a great time, relaxing and chatting about our experiences in Rome.  It was interesting to hear Matt's thoughts on Rome--his expectations versus his actual experience.  He said Paris will have to be pretty amazing to compare to Rome! 

We didn't really want the night to end, so we ordered desert!  (is that a good enough excuse?)
We shared a Panna Cotta in  Caramel Sauce.  It was silky smooth,  delicious but not too sweet.  The caramel sauce had an ever so slight burnt taste that was great.

A Baba Napolitan--really good, soaked in some kind of liquor, but not rum.  It was very sweet and rich.

Our delightful waiter brought us each a small glass of limoncello--as if we needed another bite or drop!  But of course we drank it.

It was a short walk back to our apartment, and one last climb up those tortuous stairs.  Thank goodness our apartment in Paris is only up one flight!

It's been a perfectly wonderful time in Rome, and a very special family time for us.  I have sure enjoyed Matt's company--he's a great traveling partner just like his dad!

Stay tuned for our adventures in Paris!