Secrets de Table and La Marseillaise Conclude First Strasbourg Day

Secrets de Table and La Marseillaise Conclude First Strasbourg Day

I have already told you about my visit to Strasbourg Cathedral and the Musee de l’Oeuvre Notre Dame with Therese.  In this post, I will tell you the rest of what happened on that day, our first in Strasbourg, including meals at Secrets de Table and La Marseillaise and some other adventures.

So for lunch, we let our eyes direct us, and just off the main street back from the cathedral, we spied a terrace restaurant with some potential, Secrets de Table.

Secrets de Table

While Therese went inside to get in line to order, I found us a table outside.  She brought me back a dish that was perfect: a warm quinoa salad with roasted vegetables and chicken (and of course, no butter or other offending dairy ingredients).  That was perfect.

After our lunch, I sadly had to walk Therese to the Sofitel hotel, where her workshop would begin, and say goodbye for now.  After I left her, I decided to wander a bit – perhaps to scout out possible dinner restaurants for us for later in the week, or just to see something interesting that wouldn’t necessarily make it into a guidebook.

I found the utterly charming street, the Rue Sainte-Helene.

On the one hand, this street had the kind of ancient looking, beautifully decorated houses one expects to find in such a historic city.  On the other hand, at one end of it (it is only like 2 blocks long) lies one of the city’s movie theaters, housed in what looks like a pop-art 1960s building.  Totally kitschy and fun.

From the end of Rue Sainte-Helene, I made my way back to the Musee de l’Oeuvre Notre Dame and spent a few more hours exploring what turned out to be an extensive collection (as I have described previously).  When I was done there, I was feeling like it was time for some refreshment.  Luckily not far away was Place Gutenberg, named after the man who pioneered the printing press (yep, he was from Strasbourg).

In the middle of the square is an old-fashioned merry-go-round, and on one side are a couple of restaurants with outdoor seating.  I picked the one that had more attractive table cloths, Aux Armes de Strasbourg, and ordered my favorite French beverage, Diabolo de Menthe (mint syrup and club soda/seltzer), and some strawberry sorbet (these two items were actually on the menu together as an option).  The sorbet tasted like the strawberries had just been picked from the vine (and indeed, in France strawberries are still in season in July – tell me again why I don’t live there?).  An utterly perfect refreshment.

By then, it was nearly time to pick up Therese from her workshop, so I walked back to the Sofitel.  Since I was a few minutes early, I decided to visit the church across the street (when I tell you that everywhere you turn on Strasbourg’s Grand Ile, there is another historic church, I am not kidding).  St-Pierre-le-Jeune is one of Strasbourg’s Protestant churches (although you have to be careful, because they also have a similarly named church which is a Catholic church – the city was definitely the front lines for the religious wars).

Lovely cloister, incredible altar painting, a touch of original frescos on the wall, and an ancient iron staircase – lots to love in this church.

So I had made a dinner reservation that night at La Marseillaise, a restaurant just one tram stop from where we were.  But unfortunately, Therese had to work that evening (poor Therese), preparing a report on her computer before the next day’s meetings.  So we asked the waiter at the restaurant if we could get food for takeaway.  He thought for a minute and said yes.  You know what they did?  They found a couple of dinner plates that had chips in them (which they probably were going to throw away anyway), put our orders on them, and covered them with aluminum foil and put them in a sack for us to take back to the hotel.  A bit unusual, but it worked.

Choucroute Garnie from La Marseillaise Restaurant

So we concluded our first lovely day in Strasbourg with dinner in our hotel room, with a beautiful sunset taking place just outside our window.  Life is good, my friends.

Sunset from our Hotel in Strasbourg

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Our Daytrip to Colmar, France on Fête Nationale 2017

Our Daytrip to Colmar, France on Fête Nationale 2017

During most of our week in Strasbourg, Therese was in workshops with her company and its client, while I was free to roam about and explore.  Toward the end of the week, though, her workshop finished and we had the better part of two days to explore together before we headed back to Paris, and from there, back to Charleston.  We decided to use one of those days, which also happened to be France’s independence day or Fête Nationale, to do a daytrip.  And while there are a number of storybook Alsatian villages not far from Strasbourg, we settled on visiting Colmar for two reasons.  One, it was a place that Therese had heard about but never yet visited (I always love to travel with her to places in Europe where she’s never been), and two, I heard that Colmar was home to the Unterlinden Museum and its famous Isenheim Altarpiece.

The train from Strasbourg to Colmar is very easy to navigate.  Since there are many trains a day (I think there is one about every half hour to hour), it was possible to buy them from the train station just a couple days ahead.  And it is a short ride, only about a half an hour.  The Colmar train station is small but functional – probably the most noteworthy thing I noticed was its machine that dispenses pharmaceuticals (I have never seen that before anywhere, and I have traveled on five continents!).

The train station is not far from the center of town, but to save our energy for traipsing about the museum and the town center, we took a short taxi ride to the Musee Unterlinden.  It is directly across the street from the town’s Tourist office (which we stopped in to get a city map, all the better to navigate our way through the town’s highlights), and both opened around the same time, I believe it was 10am.

This was the second year in a row that we were in France on their Fête nationale, and we were curious to see how much would be open on the holiday.  The previous year, we had discovered that not much was open in Rouen on that date.  And in this case, we had chosen to travel on the holiday because my research showed that there was not much to do in Strasbourg on the holiday.  Well, to make a long story less long, it turned out that nearly everything was open and operating on the holiday in Colmar, starting with its famous museum.

The museum is housed in a former convent (more on that later), and after buying your tickets, the first thing you do is pass through the cloister of the convent.  Then you pass in to a series of galleries – I’m not sure if this was a permanent installation, but it highlighted the work of local Renaissance-period artist Martin Schongauer.

We found Schongauer’s attention to detail exquisite and his portrayal of the characters’ features to be very personal – you could really imagine what these people would be like if they stepped off the canvas and came to life.

There were other period works mixed in with Hongauer’s works.  The most intriguing one for me was an anonymous depiction of St. James and the Miracle of the Roast Chickens.  The story goes that a father whose son was unjustly hanged goes to Compostella (the Medieval religious center that honors St. James the brother of Jesus) and prays for his son, and when he returns, he is told that his son is alive.  Being at dinner, the man says “my son is no more alive than these chickens!”  Immediately, the roast chickens jump off the plate and dance around the room.  To us, this may sound ridiculous, but if you study medieval stories of miracles, so many of them are a lot like this.

At the end of this series of galleries is an entrance into what must have formerly been the convent’s chapel.  It is now home to the Isenheim Altarpiece.

The altarpiece is many layered, with a sculptured carved altar created by an artist named Niklaus Hagenhauer at its base.  Attached to this altar are several paintings created by Matthias Grunewald depicting different religious scenes on hinges, so that depending on which of these wings were opened or closed, the penitents attending mass might see one or more of these scenes, including the Crucifixion, the Nativity, a concert of angels, or the trials of St. Anthony.

For the sake of viewing the entirety of this masterpiece, the many layered paintings of the altarpiece are displayed separated, hanging in sequence down the middle of the room, so that you can see both sides of every canvas (since the paintings are double-sided).  On the wall next to the paintings, a small wooden model shows how it all fit together, and you can open and close the various wings to see what scenes are mixed with which.

Calling this collection of religious art a masterpiece doesn’t do it.  The serenity on the face of the Virgin Mary holding the Christ child, contrasted with the disturbing beasts tormenting St. Anthony, show an artist of supreme talents working at the pinnacle of his art.  I’m sure that many people come to Colmar just to see this artwork, and I am also sure that they walk away completed satisfied.  It’s magnificent.

Displayed around the former chapel were also some representative art of the period, and some details of the chapel itself that have survived, such as a fresco of the Crucifixion.

After seeing that, the question was, does this museum contain anything else?  Well, they did have a temporary exhibit on cast and wrought iron – one of our favorite things since seeing the Musee Secq des Tournelles in Rouen last summer.  Much of the pieces were signs used to identify shops during the Renaissance.  Lots of fun stuff!

Also there were a couple small rooms that contained various artworks.  I enjoyed seeing the mold of Strasbourgeoise, the woman in typical Renaissance Strasbourg clothing, with the incredibly wide hat.  I had seen a woman depicted in similar clothing in Strasbourg’s Beaux Arts Museum earlier in the week, so I knew exactly what this was.

3 Sausages with Fries and Salad

The time was passing quickly, and it was already time for lunch.  Just a few blocks away, in the middle of the city, were several restaurants with outdoor seating.  We sat down at the Brasserie des Domicains.  I ordered a dish of three sausages with fries, pretty simple stuff, but good.  It was only after I began eating that I realized that one of the sausages was stuffed with cheese!  Well, the truth was, two sausages and lots of fries (and a green salad) was plenty to fill me up.

Just as we finished lunch, it began to drizzle.  As we walked a block to our next destination, the Dominican Church, the drizzle turned into a deluge.  We scampered into the church, along with a bunch of other folks escaping the rain.  When the docents inside the church announced that there was a small fee (I think like 2 Euros) to see the church, most of the people left, braving the rain.  But of course we remained.

Happily, this rain shower was short-lived, and when we left the church a little while later, the sun was already coming out.  So rather than visit more churches and such, we decided to make the most of the sunshine and good weather by walking to the area of Colmar known as “Little Venice” for a boat ride.  While it doesn’t look much like Venice to us, there is a canal here, bordered by old houses and some forested sections.  It reminded me more of taking a boat ride in Bruges, Belgium.

Anyway, we found a tavern (called Wistub La Krutenau) that sold tickets for the boat ride, and not long after, with the sun now blazing away, we went for the half-hour ride.  Ducking under the low bridges was fun, and the few minutes in the woodsy part of the ride were a respite from the urban feeling of the town.

Now, nothing to me goes so well with a hot afternoon as a nice bowl of cold ice cream (or sorbet for me).  And sure enough, about halfway back towards the middle of town, we found a nice place to get both, the Sorbetiere d’Isabelle.  They had many varieties of sorbet for me to choose from, and lots of intriguing ice cream desserts for Therese.  Indeed, I don’t usually include pictures of food that isn’t dairy free in my posts, but I thought her dessert was so attractive looking that some would enjoy seeing it.

With our bellies happily full of dessert, we walked through more of the fairytale streets of Colmar (especially Rue des Marchands).  Some of it seems a bit overdone for the sake of the tourists, but there are streets that give an authentic feeling of Medieval urban living.  And of course, you can find houses with the typical shutters with heart-shaped openings.  The story goes that houses with those shutters have eligible young ladies inside who are waiting for men to come and sweep them off their feet.  But I doubt the shutters are changed frequently enough to keep up with the love affairs of those houses’ residents!

The afternoon was passing by, but we had a little more time to kill before we had to steer in the direction of the train station.  I thought it would be fun to see their Covered Market, about which I had heard good things.

Ah, but what do you know?  This was the first thing we found that was closed for the holiday!  Oh well – it was nice seeing it from the outside.

My Colmar map showed several other noteworthy places to stop along our walk back to the train station.  So we headed that way, and took note of what we saw – mainly statues of local celebrities, created by Auguste Bartholdi, a resident of Colmar who we Americans know for having been the designer of our Statue of Liberty.  We also saw a large fountain in the middle of a lovely park whose sculptures we found less attractive than those made by Monsieur Bartholdi.

Not long after, we were on the train and back to Strasbourg.  We took the tram back to our hotel, and arrived there just in time to enjoy the “happy hour” snacks and drinks in our Hilton Hotel Strasbourg‘s executive lounge.  Ah, what a successful and lovely day!

Strasbourg Hilton Executive Lounge

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Strasbourg’s Musée de l’Œuvre Notre-Dame is Extraordinary

Strasbourg’s Musée de l’Œuvre Notre-Dame is Extraordinary

Yes indeed, the Musée de l’Œuvre Notre-Dame in Strasbourg is extraordinary.  Normally, I wouldn’t give it all away in the title.  In the course on blog writing that I took at NYU years ago that led me to start this blog, we were taught to create titles that inferred things, but drew the reader in to find out more.  I am sure that the instructor, if he saw this title, would shake his head with disapproval.  But what can I say?  I will expand on this them, but without a doubt, this is the best museum I saw in Strasbourg, and maybe one of the best I’ve ever seen.

Medieval Capitol

Therese had a half day to sightsee with me before going to her afternoon workshop.  So we had begun the day by visiting the Strasbourg Notre Dame Cathedral (I will tell you all about that in a separate post).  And since the museum is just across the plaza from the side of the cathedral, I had planned that this would be our first museum in Strasbourg.

The museum’s premise is that to save some of the most precious (and most fragile/vulnerable) parts of the cathedral building from the ravages of wars, religious and otherwise, these things were stored away.  Originally, it is possible that the intention was to return these valuables to their positions in the cathedral after the fighting was over.  But instead, what happened was that copies were made to take the place of the originals in and around the cathedral, and this museum was opened instead to house these jewels.  And I say jewels because, well, take a look at stained glass above this paragraph.  The richest colors I have ever seen, some of the most incredible stained glass I have ever seen, and from the twelfth century, no less.  The surviving original windows in the cathedral may be just as impressive, but some are dirty, and all are positioned so far from the human’s eye view, that it is hard to get a good look at them.  But here are some of those panels, just stupendously gorgeous, and just a foot from you.  Wow.

12th Century Virgin Mary

Take this stained glass of the Virgin Mary, for example.  Without question one of the most beautiful pieces of art I have ever seen.  All those visitors to France who want to clamor around Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa in the Louvre can have it – just let me stare at this for hours.  And again, my friends, this was created in the 12th century.  Pretty incredible if you ask me.

Therese Listening to Audio Guide

Therese was as impressed as I was by the first few rooms within this museum.  And free with our admission fee was an audio guide in English that gave lots of colorful description of the pieces collected in the museum.

In a small passage were collected these delightful dob statues – again, pieces that were removed from the facade of the cathedral.

The Church and Synagogue

The next large room contained many very interesting pieces of sculpture.  The first that caught my eye were these two statues that go together of “the Church” and “the Synagogue.”  Of course, in a time when only a few people could read, the statuary and stained glass windows in a cathedral were teaching tools.  Here, for example, was an attempt to reinforce how Christianity was a redemption of Judaism, its predecessor.  Synagogue is troubled with a veil literally over her face, and a posture of despair.  Church looks at her with an attitude of triumph.  I leave you with that – I do not share the lesson conveyed here, obviously, but I find it very interesting.

Next was a very curious group of virtuous and unvirtuous maids and the tempter who is trying to corrupt them.  The virtuous maids hold a cup right side up, while the corrupted hold their cups upside down.  The tempter looks attractive and wears a big smile, but when you look at his back, you see he is covered with serpents and toads, a vile disgusting creature.

The far end of the room was dominated by a large triangular piece of stone figures, which was lifted (or at least what remained of it was lifted after a good deal of damage had already been done) from the facade of the cathedral.  Above you see what has been saved in the museum, including the many curious gargoyles and monsters adoring its many crevices.  Here is the section of the western front of the cathedral with the triangles many figures reconstructed:

Western Tympanum and Triangle

So you get an idea from this of how much damage was done by war over the centuries in Strasbourg.

Therese accompanied me this far in the museum, but it was now time for her to head to her workshop, which was taking place at the Strasbourg Sofitel.  We left the museum (the attendant at the desk assured me I could return later in the day if I wished) and had some lunch in the middle of the city, and then I walked her to the hotel, and decided I would return to the museum to see how much more the collection entailed.  And in short, it entailed a great deal more than I expected.

First, I spent more time in the rooms we had already seen.  For example, while I have already shared with you some of the stained glass on display, I had to take more photos and share them with you.  I am crazy for the medieval ornament, and to see these many examples, so close up and in such vivid bright colors, was such a privilege.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

Then there were other details, such as a trefoil, on display, as well was a sorrowful crucifixion scene and a panel of the Archangel Gabriel (I have given you a close up of the delicated piece of glass depicting his face).

After passing once again through the large room with the triangle from the cathedral face, there was the opportunity to go in one of two directions.  To the right was the museum garden, so I decided to go there first.  Strasbourg’s weather is a bit cooler than, say, Paris, but in mid-July it was still pretty warm (and sticky), and this museum like the vast majority of buildings in Europe was un-air-conditioned.  So it was nice to leave behind the warm museum for some cool fresh air in the garden.  And I enjoyed getting to see the outside of one of the sections of the museum that resembles a half-tempered house.

Returning to the museum, the other direction took me to a staircase to a passage upstairs.  From this point onwards, most of the collection is no longer pieces saved from the cathedral – rather, it consists of art (much but not all of a religious nature) precious to the region.  First, I saw a room filled with ceramics that were made in or near Strasbourg – for example, apparently for some reason it was popular at one time to make glasses in the shape of a pineapple.

Next was perhaps the second most precious collection of artworks in the museum (after the twelfth-century stained glass saved from the cathedral I had seen downstairs).  This was several stained glass windows saved from Strasbourg’s Sainte-Madeleine Church.  The church was completed in the fifteenth century, but sadly was burned to the ground in 1904.  A meticulous effort was undertaken to rescue individual pieces of glass after the fire and painstakingly reconstruct them into full windows.  As you can see, the artwork, by a famous stained glass artist of the time named Peter Hemmel, is superb.  In a completely different style from the earlier stained glass in the museum’s collection, these windows nevertheless contain once again the most vivid colors, enlivening scenes such as that of Christ washing the disciples feet, seen here and at the beginning of this post.

On these upper floors were displayed several examples of local highly esteemed artists who worked in Strasbourg or were born there.  For example, one room celebrated the famous Renaissance sculptor Nikolaus Gerhaert van Leyden.

Alongside his masterpiece “Man Meditating” (which some have said is a self-portrait) are other splendid late-15th century small sculptures, such as one of an elderly man that I really loved.

Some unattributed works in the collection were equally impressive, such as the painting of the Virgin in a Garden and a series on the popular Medieval/Renaissance subject of St. Ursula and her Companions.

On a number of occasions, I was reminded that the building that contained this museum was as impressive, as worthy of my attention, as the artworks displayed in its rooms.  The bare wooden rafters, ancient and simple, were lovely to see, and the spiral staircases that offered the most speedy way in and out of the museum were also lots of fun (if a bit tricky to negotiated).

Portrait of a Young Man, or Self-Portrait, by Hans Baldung Grien

A second celebrated artist of local repute represented on these upper floors is Hans Baldung Grien.  His Portrait of a Young Man is (just as with the Gerhaert sculpture) considered to be a self-portrait.

Paneled Room

The paneled room pictured above was not the only room in the museum similarly decorated in a period manner.  It looked like it would be a wonderful place to pass an afternoon with a good book and a cup of hot (or iced) tea.

I would not have been so crass, however, as to consider pouring my beverage into one of the lovely glasses I saw on display in the next room.  The one that fascinated me the most was the cobalt blue blown glass of some sort of fanciful mythic creature which I gather is something you pour your wine into to then put ice into the second opening for cooling your drink.

Finally, at the end of an incredibly fruitful afternoon’s exploration, I arrived at the last, quite large room, one filled with furniture, whose windows were decorated with a number of later stained glass pieces saved from the cathedral.  I was so satisfied to have seen such an extraordinary collection of art, grateful that there were those who had had the foresight to save this art from the destruction of war, and happy that others had the generosity of spirit to allow these works to be displayed for our enrichment.

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Hanging Out in Gare de l’Est Train Station in Paris

Hanging Out in Gare de l’Est Train Station in Paris

Normally, I would not want to hang out in a train station for long.  And truth be told, we wouldn’t have stayed in Gare de l’Est for even an hour if things had gone our way (more on that later).  But circumstances dictated that our wisest cause of action was to stay there for a few hours before boarding our train to Strasbourg, where our trip was meant to take place (for the most part – we did have some Paris time planned, but that was on the back end of the trip).

So yes, here is how it all went.  We arrived in Paris early in the morning, and even after spending a couple hours going through customs (man, the line for non-Europeans moves slowly…), and a long taxi ride from the airport to the train station through the most intense rainstorm I have ever seen in France (if this had been Charleston, that storm would have been average), we still had a chance to maybe take an earlier train to Strasbourg.  You see, I had made a reservation for a 12:30ish train, but there was also a 9:30ish train.

So as soon as we got our bearings in Gare de l’Est, I made my way to a self-service machine to print out our tickets.  These are usually yellow, but for some reason, the new machines are white – they thought they could confuse me by changing the color, but I managed to find the machine anyway!  Haha!

SNCF Self-service Machines

To now exchange our tickets for an earlier train, we would have to speak to a human being, and here is where Therese’s firm grasp of the French language came in handy.  It took talking to a couple people, but we finally found the train ticket office, and once there, we were directed to the line where we could do exchanges.  But sorry to say, the man listened to our request, and told us the earlier train was sold out.  Quel dommage!

Now that we had a few hours to kill, the first thing we thought of was having a proper breakfast.  I was willing to settle for some cold cuts on a baguette, but Therese insisted we find the station’s restaurant.  Which we did, and for sure, it was a good thing to really sit and eat something substantial.

Breakfast at Brasserie Flo Gare de l’Est in Paris

Once again, after eating my lovely breakfast of a plain omelet with ham (what I would call prosciutto but the French call “bacon”) and a simple salad of greens with dressing.  Man, how is it possible that something so simple could be so delicious and satisfying?  That is French cooking for you in a nutshell.

That was also the first decent food we had had in many hours (I will talk about the dinner on the plane the previous night elsewhere).  With that in my belly, in spite of the fact that I had not slept in nearly 24 hours, I felt pretty stable.

How to kill the rest of our 3 free hours?  We explored, took a nap, explored some more.  There is a lovely huge painting commemorating World War One – supposedly the only such painting in France (I guess all the other WWI commemorations are statues and the like).

Le Départ des Poilus by Albert Herter

We also thought about getting lunch for the train.  I found some sort of sandwich, while Therese was thrilled to discover that Marks & Spencer, her favorite chain of English delis, has a branch in Gare de l’Est.  She found meat pies in the refrigerator section, an English specialty that can be eaten cold (and whaddaya know, those things were dairy free!  Cool, huh?  But I never did try one…)

Main Entrance to Gare de l’Est from the Interior

After that, we killed some more time by finding a place to sit and taking another nap, and then before you know it, our train was in the station, and we validated our tickets, and boarded the train for Strasbourg.  I would be lying if I said I didn’t take another nap on the train, but before long we would have the chance to get ourselves oriented to France-time.

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Overview of Week in Strasbourg and Colmar France

Overview of Week in Strasbourg and Colmar France

While Therese and I continue to work on our new house in our new home in Charleston, South Carolina, there are the occasional respites from all that hard work.  For example, Therese had to go to Strasbourg, France for business for a few days, and she invited me to come along.  We extended the trip a couple of days so that we could enjoy some of it together, and over all, it was a great week.  Yes, I did feel a little guilty about having so much fun without her, but I took lots of pictures (many of which I will share with you as well), and I made it up to her by taking her to great dinners on the days she had to work, and planning some fun days for the time she didn’t.

Not sure how often I will have time to write, since we are still in the midst of getting the house in shape (unpacking still, painting our bedroom, etc.).  But come back here from time to time and I will insert hyperlinks to the adventures of Strasbourg that I manage to get written.

1. Sunday and Monday, July 9 and 10.  Traveling to France and Training from Paris to Strasbourg – whew what a long day!

2. Tuesday, July 11.  The Cathedral and Its Museum.

3. Wednesday, July 12.  Musee des Beaux Arts of Strasbourg, Lots of Walking, and Schnockeloch Restaurant.

4. Thursday, July 13.  The “Petite France” district of Strasbourg, Dinner at Tante Liesel Cafe.

5. Friday, July 14.  A Day in Colmar – the Unterlinden Museum and Its Famous Isenheim Altarpiece, a Boat Ride, Afternoon Ice Cream and Exploring the Town.

6. Saturday, July 15.  A Day in Paris – the Church of Saint-Germain des Prez, Jardin du Luxembourg, Lunch at Deux Magots, Shopping, and the Paris Opera Hilton Hotel.

7. Sunday, July 16.  Morning Visit to the Marche aux Puces.

So again, check back often.  Whenever I can steal an hour away from house-work, I will capture another of our fun French adventures.  I miss sharing our adventures with you, so trust me, I will slip in some more posts very soon!

Posted in Airplane flights, Airplane food, Airports, Cafes, Churches, Colmar, Countries, Dairy Free, Dessert, Dinner, Food, France, French Food, Lunch, Museums, Paris, Restaurants, Strasbourg, Strasbourg Hilton Hotel, Train & Train Station Food, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Chihuly Nights Show at New York Botanical Garden

Chihuly Nights Show at New York Botanical Garden

The first day of our anniversary celebration weekend was taken up with an evening visit to the New York Botanical Garden, to see the first exhibit of Dale Chihuly’s glass extravaganza in ten years.  We thought it would be especially fun to attend one of the Chihuly Nights, the after-dark show where all the glass is lit up.  And wow, was it ever fantastic!

Metro North Track at Grand Central

If you are going to the Botanical Garden from Manhattan, I recommend taking the Metro North from Grand Central Station.  It lets you off literally across the street from the entrances to the gardens.  There is a subway stop that supposedly goes to the gardens, but after you leave the train, you have to walk about a mile to get to the gardens.  No bueno.

Sapphire Star

The first Chihuly we encountered after entering the park was the brilliant Sapphire Star.  As you can see, the sun had not yet set – but that didn’t really matter – it is so brilliant that even in the late afternoon sun, it still sparkled.

Red Reeds on Logs

We headed to the visitor center to have a bite to eat (killing time while we waited for it to get dark), and along the way, we encountered the Red Reeds on Logs.  We would pass by these again after dark (stay tuned).

Alice Farley Dance Theater

Just past the Red Reeds, we encountered some of the evening’s entertainment, the Alice Farley Dance Theater – two costumed dancers walking on stilts and generally perplexing and delighting everyone nearby.

At the visitors center, three of Chihuly’s works, the Chandeliers, were positioned overhead.  I love these kinds of pieces – they look like rainbow candy and flowers and some sort of snakes all at the same time.

The food available was the one disappointment of the event.  I had a hot dog and Therese waited in a very long line to get a couple of tacos that were ok.  Actually there were long lines to get anything, and early in the evening, many of the things listed on the menus were already sold out – but you didn’t know that until you got to the cashier to place your order.  Poorly planned.

The Mandingo Ambassadors

Luckily, while you were waiting in line to order your food, the Mandingo Ambassadors were playing nearby, entertaining the crowd with their energetic African-tinged jazz.

Red Reeds on Logs at Night

By the time we finished eating, darkness had begun to fall.  As you can see, the Red Reeds were much more magical after dark.  We passed by them on our way to the Float Boat.  This boat full of colorful huge glass balls was part of the exhibit ten years ago, but then it was on display near the conservatory.  This time it had a lake and section of the park pretty much all to itself.  Definitely one of the highlights of the collection for me.

After the Float Boat, we headed to the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, which is the heart of the garden, and the center of the greatest number of pieces in this exhibit.

Out in front of the conservatory, it all started in splendid fashion with the Citron Sun.  Wow!

Just inside the conservatory lay the Persian Pond and Fiori.  The blue and white ‘fiori’ reminded me so much of flamingos.

Next were the White Belugas, which reminded me of large Japanese daikon radishes.

White Belugas

A whole room of the conservatory was dedicated to the Macchia Forest.  I would love to have one of these incredible ‘macchia’ (shrubs) to put on a coffee table.  Not that I could afford it…

From there we stepped into the courtyard-like outdoor area near the conservatory.  Here were several incredible pieces.  First was the Scarlet and Yellow Icicle Tower.

Next was another highlight of the exhibit for me, the Neon 206.  It was next to one of the conservatory buildings and a lake, so its many colors were reflected in the lake, where some ducks were swimming.

Back inside the conservastory, in the next building we encountered the White Tower, to me a more subtle (or humble) relative to the spectacular Yellow and Scarlet tower.

White Tower

Finally, there was another long slender building with ‘Fiori’ (flowers) along each side of its walkway.  These were not my favorite pieces, but I do admit that they are probably the most successful in terms of blending in with the conservatory’s plants.

We loved the conservatory so much that we went through its buildings a second time.  I had to pause and take another long look at the Neon 206 one more time.  We left the Botanical Gardens that evening with our minds ablaze, so thankful to have once again experienced Mr. Chihuly’s artistry in the incomparable setting of the gardens!

Neon 206 Reflected in the Windows of the Conservatory

Posted in Art Exhibits, Botanical Gardens, Countries, New York, New York City, United States | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Saturday Culinary Village Charleston Wine & Food Festival

Saturday Culinary Village Charleston Wine & Food Festival

Saturday in our Wine & Food Festival week in Charleston was devoted to that feast of all feast, that sampler of all samplers, the Culinary Village, held in Charleston’s Marion Square.

We started off our day with a very light breakfast (Therese skipped breakfast – I had a little oatmeal).  We wanted to save as much space in our bellies as humanly possible for noshing!

Surprisingly, when we checked in at the admission gate, we only got a wine glass – no lanyard to hang the glass around our necks, no shopping bag to carry that and all the other goodies in.  Luckily, our new friend Joann Susser, who we met earlier in the week at the Dockside Dinner, had gone to the Culinary Village the day before, and she told us: first thing, go to the Le Creuset booth – they are giving out nice sturdy shopping bags.  So we did, and lo and behold, you had to ask for the shopping bag (they had them hiding under a table), so good thing we knew about them.

Le Creuset Deviled Egg Platter in new Marine Color

I am glad we went to the Le Creuset display, because they were showing off one of their newest products, a Deviled Egg Platter, and I instantly fell in love (fast forward to now: Therese bought it for me for my birthday).  Not only is it great for serving deviled eggs and other sorts of things, but it can also go in the oven – we think it will be the perfect dish for baking bacon wrapped dates, one of my favorite Spanish tapas, in.

With our Le Creuset bags over our shoulders, we began the marathon process of visiting every section of the village and sampling all the food (to cut to the chase, I don’t think we sampled every single food, but we came close).  Here’s the map of the village, to help you orient yourself as I describe our adventure:

Culinary Village Map

The first area we visited was the “Third Space”, a large tent you can see in the upper middle of the map.  This tent was divided into four sections, with stations offering samples related to four what I am calling elements: Earth, Land, Sea and Air.  We only visited the Earth and Land sections.  The Earth one as I recall had a vegetarian offering (very nice), while the Land one gave me a chance for my first dairy free moment.

Chef John Ondo from Kairos Mediterranean Kitchen was offering a pita with chicken salad – however, I could see from its description that it featured tzatziki, which usually has yogurt in it.  I asked if I could have one with no tzatziki, and after making a quasi-humorous show of being annoyed that I wanted to something special, he made me one.  It wasn’t bad – it was early, so just tasting our way into things was what we were all about.

From there, we moved to the beer garden area (or if you prefer the German, Biergarten).  We were eager to get some free beer glasses, try the beer and maybe sample some good food.  We were successful in all three of those endeavors.

Baystreet Biergarten Sign

We also visited the “corkyard” which was an area filled with wine offerings.  Therese encountered a new favorite wine, Whispering Angel Rosé, offered by the owner of the winery himself.

From there, we proceeded one quarter turn counter-clockwise, to the area called “The Hub” where most of the food stations were.  I cannot recall every single thing we ate, but I will give you some highlights.

For example, Cuisine Solutions was there, showing off their sous-vide skills.  Their sampler was a brisket that had been “sous-vided” with some au jus over grits.  Yes, grits are everywhere in Charleston, and sometimes, in situations like this, I just have to do my best to eat around them (or go without), since they always have butter and cheese in them.  I did pretty well, and the beef was tender and juicy.

Brisket Over Grits from Cuisine Solutions

I know that for many people, duck is a luxury item.  But my attitude is, if you would spend some bucks to get steaks or what have you, why not spend the same and eat duck every so often?  Anyway, the Tasty Duck folks had a booth, where they were giving away slices of maybe the best duck breast I ever tasted.  Other than seasoning it well, I don’t think they did anything special in cooking it.  That’s the thing about duck – as long as you get a quality duck, it is going to taste good.

Eat More Duck Sign

Among all the beef and pork products, at this Culinary Village, there were lots of very delicious vegetable offerings.  The broccoli over sweet potato puree pictured here was one of my favorite bites of the day.  Regrettably, I don’t remember who was offering that.   But it was not the only memorable vegetable dish of the day!

Broccoli Over Sweet Potato Puree with Pistachios

After we had worked our way around most of the Hub area, it was time to find a spot to sit down and relax.  Therese went to the Rosé Garden, way off in the northwest corner of the park (to sample some more Whispering Angel), while I went to check out who was doing a demo at the Main Stage, which was between the Biergarten and Corkyard.  It was none other than Vivian Howard, whose show on PBS, A Chef’s Life, we have watched many times.

At this point, there were just two areas we had not visited: the Fire Pit, next to the Third Space where we had started our day, and the Artisan Market, where people are offering things for sale (including things like ice cream and jarred sauces and that sort of thing).  The lines in the Fire Pit were long, but we waited patiently – I think one of the things there was a rib eye or something.  All the eating was starting to dull my senses, including my mind, by that point.

We did get some ice cream (by which I mean sorbet, of course) in the Artisan Market.  I also found about a line of vegan (really allergy free) snack bars that are sold in the area that I will definitely try out once we move down in June (yes, we will soon be Charleston residents).  The other thing we were interested to explore was Bulls Bay Sea Salt.  These folks make salt the old fashioned way, from the bay’s salt water, retaining the more mineral-rich profile that we usually associate with kosher salt.  Another vendor we will definitely frequent when we are neighbors (actually we took a sample back to New York with us, and ordered more on line which I have happily been using in my cooking).

Culinary Village Wristband Sign

What a day!  And what a week!  We still had one more day to go (if we could manage to manufacture any appetite after all the eating we had already done).  But for that day at least, we were done.  We settled into our hotel room for the evening, enjoying the sunset and eventually suppering on some leftovers from our hotel room refrigerator.

Susnset from the HIlton Garden Inn

Posted in Charleston, Countries, Dairy Free, Food, Food festivals, South Carolina, Tasting, Travel, United States | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment