Bayeux Day Trip During Three Week Rouen Residency

Bayeux Day Trip During Three Week Rouen Residency

Bayeux Day Trip During Three Week Rouen Residency

After two days in Rouen, we were already getting bored.  Just kidding.  But to change things up a bit, we planned out the first of two day trips, this one by train to Bayeux.  Wow, what a change from just a few days earlier in Bulgaria.  Remember how it was sweltering in Bulgaria?  Well, while it was pleasantly cool in Rouen (high 60s and low 70s), it was rainy and frigid in Bayeux – I don’t think it hit 60 the day were were there.

But we soldiered on, with our jackets and umbrellas.  The train station is a short walk from the historic center of the city, and in just a few minutes we stood outside our first stop of Bayeux sightseeing, the Bayeux Tapestry Museum.

If you don’t know what the Bayeux Tapestry is, remember that this part of the world, 950-some years ago, was the scene to one of the seminal events in history, the Battle of Hastings.  The leader who would be the winner of that battle, hereafter known to history as William the Conqueror, was the Duke of Normandy, and the events leading up to him crossing the English Channel and taking on the English took place in Normandy.  All of that, plus the battle of course, are woven into a long cloth picture book, the Tapestry.

To view the tapestry nowadays, you walk through a curved room, and it is displayed laid out on the inside wall.  There is an audio guide with period music that describes what is happening in the scenes on the tapestry, which is numbered for easy reference.  What surprised me is how brutal and bloody the whole thing is.  There are parts where chopped up bodies are in the margins.  The tapestry and the museum are marketed, it appears to me, as student-friendly – and while the average person nowadays sees people murdered and even chopped up on television all the time, this tapestry is not for young eyes.

Be that as it may, beyond the tapestry in its curved room, there is another floor with displays giving it some context.  Included in that are some suppositions about how it was created, and how people originally saw it. There is an illustration showing it hung in the cathedral on feast days.  I hope they gave up on that pretty quickly, since, again, would you want to bring your small child to church to see images of people being butchered?  Plus, it doesn’t give the impression that it’s terribly durable – it is made out of cloth after all – and exposing it to the air, even one day a year, over the centuries, would’ve doomed it.

After that great start to our day, we were feeling hungry.  Unfortunately, our long train ride coupled with our museum visit left us just a bit beyond the lunch service time.  Most restaurants were closing to prepare for dinner or only offering beverages, so we had to hunt for someone who might be still serving lunch.  We thought a hotel might be a good bet, and walking along the street behind the cathedral, we found Le Garde Manger, a hotel restaurant that was open.

Not only was this open, but they served very good food.  The club sandwich I ordered, with hard boiled egg, bacon, slices of chicken breast, lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise on white toast, was great (mmmm, I could go for one of those right now).

After lunch, the next thing I had in mind was visiting the Cathedral.  But Therese had found another place for us to visit, which was not far from there.  Maison Lecornu has a great reputation for making some of the best cider and Calvados in a region that is already well-known for those things (after all, this region gave its name to the famous apple brandy).

We did tastings of pretty much everything they offered – they were very nice to show us pretty much their whole line of cider and brandies – and wow, we loved it.  If there had been a way, we would’ve bought many bottles of everything.  As it was, we bought a bottle of Calvados Hors d’Age, or 6 year old brandy.  We also bought two small bottles of the same, thinking we could put these in our checked luggage where we could best protect them.  Then we bought some cider and apple juice (the most delicate dry but flavorful apple juice I have ever tasted), which we planned to drink while we were in France.

Bayeux Cathedral

Bayeux Cathedral

Then it was off to the Cathedral!  I was so thrilled to see this cathedral, since it includes a mix of Romanesque and Gothic architectural styles in its design.  Oh sure, like most cathedrals and churches, as the centuries passed, and things started to show wear, the repairs and additions were done in succeeding styles (Renaissance, Baroque, etc.).  But the bones of this cathedral are so obviously Romanesque in the west end and nave and then Gothic in the choir and east end.  So cool to see that transition from one to the other.

I also enjoyed seeing the crypt.  Sometimes crypts are just stone pillars and capitals, but this one has a painted ceiling and painted decorations above several of the capitals.  And I always love seeing Medieval depictions of musicians.

My favorite part of the Cathedral was the Romanesque decorations in the creases above the archways on both sides of the nave.  The faces and creatures carved in stone there, and the various Romanesque ornaments, are just wonderful.  I could spend days there with binoculars and a sketch pad trying to draw all these extraordinary figures.

Leaving the Cathedral, we were at a bit of a loss as to what to do next.  We hadn’t really seen that much of the town as of yet, and we had read about a walking tour that left from in front of the Tourist Information Office, so we started walking in that direction.  However, when we arrived, we found out the tour costs, I think it was 20 Euros a person, and took a couple of hours.

So we thought we would conclude the afternoon instead by going to have some refreshment in a cafe, and Patisserie Ordioni was not far, so we stopped in there, found a table, and had a sit.  As is often the case with bakeries, there weren’t any pastries that were dairy free – but they did have dairy free dark chocolate available, so I bought one of those bars to go with my cold drink, and it was scrumptious.

We originally had bought a rather late return ticket that left around 8pm, transferred through Paris, and wouldn’t get us back to Rouen until around midnight.  But we felt like we had already had our fill of Bayeux, so we walked back to the train station and exchanged our tickets for a train leaving around 6.  That one transferred at Caen, just as the one to Bayeux had done, and returned us to Rouen at a decent time.  That sounded like a good deal to us.  Just a couple hours later, we were warm and cozy in our apartment back in Rouen.  All in all, a very successful and enjoyable day in Bayeux.

Posted in Bayeux, Churches, Countries, Dairy Free, Food, France, Lunch, Museums, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rouen Antiquities Museum and Ho Lamian Noodles

Rouen Antiquities Museum and Ho Lamian Noodles

Rouen Antiquities Museum and Ho Lamian Noodles

Tuesday of our first week in Rouen I had planned to see the Historial Jeanne d’Arc, a new exhibit set up in Rouen’s Archbishop’s palace that we had not seen in 2014.  We also got to visit the city’s Museum of Antiquities that day, and eat at a couple of new restaurants, La P’tite Jeanne and Ho Lamian.

We would visit Historial Jeanne d’Arc twice, and if you want to hear a complete description of it, check out when we went there with our friend Faith.  For now, I will treat you to some photos of things to be seen at the exhibit, especially some of the sculptures and paintings that have been made of Joan of Arc down through time.

One thing we got to see on this first visit that I particularly enjoyed was the Chapelle d’Aubigne.  From the eighteenth century, it is actually the newest part of the palace.  Its gold on white decoration is quite elegant and lovely.

After our visit to the Historial, we went for lunch at a cafe across from the cathedral (just next door to Brasserie Paul, and near the Tourist Information Office as well), La P’tite Jeanne.

It was not an incredible lunch experience, but the noodles I had with chicken and an Asian-style sauce (soy sauce, ginger) were quite enjoyable.  The thing I find most interesting about this restaurant is that currently they have no Internet presence at all – no website, no Facebook page, nothing (it’s not even on Google Maps!).  I tried to open a page for them on TripAdvisor to get them started, but of course, without anything to go on other than my photos, they rejected my request.

Purchases from Natural Food Store - Almond Milk and Soy Chocolate Pudding

Purchases from Natural Food Store – Almond Milk and Soy Chocolate Pudding

While we were in the neighborhood, we made a stop at the Natural food store, where I picked up some almond milk and soy chocolate pudding.  I enjoyed the latter for the odd snack, and the milk got used with breakfast and also for cooking.

At this point we were somewhat at a loss of how to fill in the rest of our afternoon.  So we asked at the Tourist Information Office (just opposite the Cathedral, again), and the fellow there suggested the Museum of Antiquities, which is part of the Museum of Rouen (and thus, has free admission).

We made a wrong turn or two, which meant that it turned out to be a long walk up Rue Beauvoisine to the museum (we would later learn that one of the buses that stopped near our apartment has a stop on Rue Beauvoisine).  But along the way, Therese saw a beautiful print of a typical Rouen scene in an antique store window (we would go back later and buy it), so the walk was not completely fruitless.

Then we arrived at the museum.  Once again, for a small museum – one floor and maybe a dozen galleries – this turned out to be full of delights.  My favorite was the Medieval and Renaissance part of the collection, with numerous stained glass examples, carved ivories and carved stone capitals.  And of course the Deruta plates were magnificent as well.

We spent a couple of hours exploring the museum’s collection and absolutely loving it.  And we were pretty much the only people in the museum – I guess it is far enough off the beaten path that most tourists don’t go there.  But I am very glad we did.

When we had finished with the Antiquities Museum, we were thirsty.  So we made a slight detour on our way back home to the In Situ Cafe, which sits right across the street from the Beaux-arts Museum.  We enjoyed some beverages, and the decorative ceiling of the cafe.

Then we walked back to Au P’tit Robec, our apartment in Rouen.  I offered to pick us up some take out for dinner, and so later on, I walked over to Ho Lamian (about a block away) to get some Chinese food for us.  The restaurant specializes in dishes with hand-pulled noodles, and every time we walk past there in the late afternoon, I would see the chef pounding the noodles on the counter, preparing for the evening’s meals.  As you know, Asian food is usually safe territory for us dairy free folks, so I thought, for a change, it would be nice to not have to cook OR worry about where the butter might be hiding in restaurant offerings.

Anyway, we were happy with what we brought away from Ho Lamian.  The noodles had a good bit of chew to them, the sauce had that “umami” thing going on, and it turned out to be more than we could finish in one setting (yay, leftovers!).  And it was a nice relaxed ending to a full and fun day in Rouen.

Posted in Cafes, Countries, Dairy Free, Dinner, Food, France, Lunch, Museums, Rouen | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Musee Le Secq des Tournelles Visits Frame Rouen Residency

Musee Le Secq Des Tournelles Visits Frame Rouen Residency

Musee Le Secq Des Tournelles Visits Frame Rouen Residency

It was strictly a coincidence that we ended up visiting Rouen‘s Musee Le Secq Des Tournelles on our first and last days in the city, but in my view, it was entirely appropriate that we did.  After seeing the museum for the first time, Therese and I agreed that it was so delightful, and there was enough to see in their permanent collection to definitely warrant a second visit.  And as the last day in Rouen approached and the question of what we should do on that day, the idea of seeing the museum again came up, and without hesitation we knew that would be the best way to finish up our exploration of the city with a bang.

Why do we love this museum so much?  I’m sure you could trace our burgeoning fascination with wrought iron and cast iron to our trips to Charleston, South Carolina over the last few years.  We have spent quite a bit of time enjoying the many wrought iron gates and fences there (and cast iron pieces as well).  So while we skipped this museum of cast and wrought iron art the first time we visited Rouen in 2014, for this time it was at the top of my list.  And sure enough, as I said, from the moment we walked in, we were thrilled.

On that first day, we had had a rather busy introductory day in Rouen.  We had spent a good deal of the day stocking our kitchen, buying not just food (and spices) but also some utensils (and napkins), and getting some things for the apartment as a whole as well (like plastic clothes hangers).  So the afternoon was already on the wane when we decided to salvage the day sightseeing-wise with a quick bus ride over to Musee Le Secq Des Tournelles.

The museum’s collection of cast and wrought iron was the personal collection of one of France’s pioneering photographers, Jean-Louis-Henri Le Secq Des Tournelles (1818-1882).  His son, Henri-Jean Le Secq Des Tournelles (1854-1925), continued the collection, and ultimately donated it to the city of Rouen (in 1921) to serve as a museum collection.  The museum is contained within the fifteenth century former Church of Saint-Laurent.  The church had fallen into disrepair, but was renovated in the early 20th century and is now the permanent home to the museum.  Admission to the museum is free, as it is one of several “small” collections/museums that make up the Museum of Rouen.

The collection includes numerous categories of articles.  Some of the obvious things we would expect to find in wrought iron and cast iron, like gates and signs, are very much in evidence.  And many other practical items such as keys and locks are to be found in abundance as well.  There are also cases filled with household items made out of iron as well, such as scissors, cutlery and incense holders.

That first day we were like kids in a candy store, trying to cover every part of the collection and taking photos of many of our favorite things.  But if we had stopped to read the identifying cards for each item, we would’ve been there long after the museum’s closing time.  So having seen a lot, and promising ourselves that we would be back, we left just before closing.

On our last day, having visited so many of Rouen’s delights – the Cathedral, the Gros-Horloge, many other branches of the Museum of Rouen such as the Ceramics Museum – the one thing we had not done that we had meant to, was go back to Le Secq des Tournelles.  Our friend Faith who was visiting us at that point was amenable to whatever we planned for that last day, but I think she had a fabulous time seeing it as well.  We got a chance to revisit some things we had loved on our first time there, and to get a closer look at things we had had to skip over previously.  And with more time, we were able to take our time and really drink it all in.

This is really a splendid museum, and I am so glad we had a chance to see it twice!  Whenever we get back to Rouen, I’m sure that is one of the first places we will want to see again!

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Free Veliko Turnovo Walking Tour and Samovodska Charshia

Free Veliko Turnovo Walking Tour and Samovodska Charshia

Free Veliko Turnovo Walking Tour and Samovodska Charshia

If there was a better way to wrap up our three days in the Veliko Turnovo area than with a guided tour from Free Veliko Turnovo Walking Tours, I cannot imagine what that would be.  Our guide Plami was absolutely delightful – knowledgeable, humorous, and somehow able to stand in blazing sunshine on a blistering day for minutes at a time, imparting wisdom to us on Veliko Turnovo history while we tourists cowered in the shade.

Mother of Bulgaria Memorial

Mother of Bulgaria Memorial

We met Plami in front of the Tourist Information Center, and our tour began across the street in front of the Mother of Bulgaria Memorial.  She started out by giving us some of the basics on Bulgaria history and that of the city as well.

Then we headed to the old town, and after a couple of blocks we were in the middle of the oldest part of Veliko Turnovo.  Our first stop was across the street from the House with the Monkey, a nineteenth century residence designed by Kolyo Ficheto, the most famous architect of Veliko Turnovo (this would not be the last of his designs we would see).  The building gets its name from a sculpture of an enigmatic figure that is attached to the center of the facade – some think it is a monkey, while others think it might be a person.

House with the Monkey

House with the Monkey

From there we made our way to another Ficheto design, the city’s most colorful hotel/restaurant, the Hadji Nikoli Inn.

Not far from there was a popular street for shopping, Samovodska Charshia.  Therese and I knew we would come back here later in the day with Teddy, so I will skip over that for now and tell you about it when I talk about our shopping excursion.

Next we came up to an overlook (more on that in a moment), from which we had a great view of the city’s two most historic hills.  On the right was Tsaravets Hill, with the castle and cathedral atop it, where Turnovo’s kings once lived and worshiped (Therese and I had seen this hill the previous day, but this view was from a slightly different angle).

Tsaravets Hill

Tsaravets Hill

On the left (or the middle, depending on how you are looking at it) was Trapezitsa.  To tourists like us, Trapezitsa is less exciting than Tsaravets simply because it has not been preserved as an attraction, so there is no reason to go there.  Apparently, of late it has been developed and fancy condos are being built there.  There is a bit of an old fortress on the front edge of it, but otherwise it’s not too exciting to look at.

Trapezitsa Hill

Trapezitsa Hill

So yes, we were looking from right in front of another Kolyo Ficheto design, the Cathedral of the Birth of the Theotokos.

Cathedral of the Birth of the Theotokos

Cathedral of the Birth of the Theotokos

For some reason, this church gets less attention than other area churches – if you Google it, not much comes up other than photos of it.  I think it’s because of the long unwieldy name.  And what the heck is the Theotokos, anyway?  Well, that is the Orthodox Christian name for Mary – the Mother of God (in Greek).  It’s very mystical, but nowadays, that kind of stuff is a bit too obscure for the average tourist, I guess.

Constitution Hall

Constitution Hall

We looped around the cathedral and emerged on another street, from which we soon arrived at what I am calling Constitution Hall (the Internet calls it something else, but I am pretty sure that’s what folks in Turnovo call it).  This is, you guessed it, another building designed by Ficheto.  This is where, after the end of Ottoman rule, the modern Bulgarian constitution was written.  Now it is a museum.

And in front of Constitution Hall is a bit of landscaping, with some sculpture and stonework.  In the middle of it is another guy who looks like he could be a monkey or a gnarly man, just like the one on the outside of the House with the Monkey.

Monkey-man Decoration Outside Constitution Hall

Monkey-man Decoration Outside Constitution Hall

Our tour was nearing its end at this point.  We walked down General Gurko Street, with some lovely old buildings along both sides of the street.

Sarafkina House

Sarafkina House

Plami stopped at a couple points and gave us details about some of the buildings here, but I don’t remember anything.  No, none of them were designed by Kolyo Ficheto.

General Gurko Street

General Gurko Street

This street did have great views of Asen’s Monument in the middle of the city.

Asen's Monument

Asen’s Monument

Teddy had arranged with Plami that she would direct us at the end of the tour to a good local restaurant, where Teddy would meet us for lunch.  It took Plami a couple beats to recall what restaurant this was, but then she said, “oh yes, it’s right over here.”

We had a very lovely lunch at Mehana Gurko (what else would you call a restaurant on Gurko Street?).  I had baked trout again – boring, I know, but it was so good the day before in Tryavna that I was happy to eat it again.  A little lemon juice, careful not to get any bones, good lunch.

The restaurant was very rustic – lots of dark wood and stone – and with a floor fan, it was just that much cooler than the blistering heat of the day to make it a refreshing break.

When we had eaten, it was time to do some shopping.  We went back to the beginning of Samovodska Charshia, and made our way down the street, looking at handmade rugs, a sea of ceramic plates and bowls, antique lapel pins (my thing) and hand-hammered copper Turkish coffee pots.  We were choosy, and found much of good quality at good prices.

If the shopping was the icing on the cake, then I don’t know what the dessert at Shtastliveca Restaurant was – I am at a loss as to what food-related metaphor to use for, well, a food-related experience.  Anyway, you’ll have to wait until next time to hear about that.

Posted in Bulgaria, Bulgarian Food, Churches, Countries, Dairy Free, Food, Guided Tours, Lunch, Monuments, Restaurants, Travel, Veliko Tarnovo, Walking tours | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dairy Free Diet Transitioning Tip One – Experimenting

Dairy Free Diet Transitioning Tip One - Experimenting

Dairy Free Diet Transitioning Tip One – Experimenting

It has come to my attention recently that, in my excitement about sharing my recent travels to Bulgaria and France, I have been ignoring the main part of my mission.  After all, this blog is not called “Traveling with the occasional dairy free food mention”, but that is kind of what it has turned into.  And in a way, that is just how things should proceed, in my vision – if high quality interesting dairy free food is readily available for travelers, then it doesn’t take much time to describe that, and then we can move on to talking about the other aspects of traveling.  But, for those of you who are new to the dairy free diet, for whom it is not as easy to find sustaining, enjoyable dairy free food as it is for me, you need a little more attention paid to the DF side of the aisle.

Though I have been eating dairy free food for decades – buying dairy free products and cooking dairy free at home – rest assured, I remember what it is like when you first start out eating this way.  So I would like to pay some attention to the issues that come up in making the transition from eating all that “regular” food to eating dairy free.  And I promise to write at least one such post every month – and possibly, over time, I may increase the frequency of these posts.  If you find these helpful, please let me know, either here or on my Facebook page, and I will make sure to cover whatever aspects of making the transition that you are finding particularly difficult.

My first tip is that it is important to experiment when you making this transition.  I think a lot of people think formulaically – that is, it makes the best sense to replace what you are cutting out in an exact one for one manner.  Find a margarine to eat instead of butter, drink almond milk instead of cow’s milk, use vegan cheese to make your mac and cheese, etc.  But trust me, it is not as simple as that.

Because when you make the transition, you are going to miss what you are leaving behind (no, not the bloating and head colds and dry skin), and the new things you might choose as substitutes are not going to satisfy your cravings for those old favorites, at least not at first.

So, you have to play around, to experiment, with various strategies to eat things you will emjoy, and maybe sort of fool yourself into believing these are equivalent to what you gave up.

Let me give you an example.  You will often hear me, when I get on this subject, lament about how much harder it was for me to make this transition thirty years ago, when dairy free products were so scarce.  Well, this story gives you a taste of what it was like back then.

Like many Americans, I grew up eating packaged cookies, often sold by Nabisco.  When I decided to go dairy free to protect my health, I read my ingredients, and discovered that many mainstream packaged cookies, including (at that time) the entire Nabisco line, included whey as an ingredient.  Whey is a by-product of the dairy industry, and over time the dairy industry convinced cookie companies to add this to your cookies, that it would improve the cookies’ texture and maybe add something to the flavor.

How sad I was when I realized I would have to give up Oreos and Nutter Butters and all those other Nabisco cookies I loved!  But a vegan friend of mine, Ed, told me that another cookie brand, Sunshine Biscuits, did not put whey in their cookies.  In fact, I think they were the only name brand that didn’t put whey in their cookies.  And Sunshine made a cookie similar to Oreos, called Hydrox.  A chocolate sandwich cookie with white icing between the layers.  Perfect!

The only problem was that when I tried Hydrox for the first time, I didn’t much like them (true is, I wasn’t at that time much of an Oreos fan either, but I would eat them when they were available, usually with a nice tall glass of milk).  The chocolate cookie part of Hydrox is very different than that of Oreos – it has a crisper texture, and it is not quite as sweet.  And there is less white icing, and again, it doesn’t taste like Oreos icing filling.

What did I do?  Well, honestly, I never became a big fan of Hydrox.  But now and then, when I wanted to have an inexpensive box of cookies to nosh on while watching a movie, I would look for the Sunshine section of the supermarket (some stores would only carry Nabisco brand, so I quickly became an expert on who carried Sunshine), and get myself a box.

In the meantime, I started thinking about looking for other cookies, maybe a cookie that would taste a little more like a homemade cookie.  Once again, Ed brought to my attention that there was such a cookie sold in lots of New York City delis, called Barbara’s Cookies.  These were vegan cookies, with no dairy or eggs, that came in packages of about a dozen small cookies for a couple dollars.

Ed and I worked in a bookstore together, and in the afternoon, when lunch was a memory and closing time was still hours away, we would pool our loose change and one of us would sneak out to pick up some Barbara’s Cookies, and we would nosh and be happy with our lovely sweet snack.

So trying new things, with the understanding that (a) they are not going to take the place of what you are giving up, and (b) it will take a while (weeks, months, perhaps even longer than a year) to get used to eating the new products and no longer negatively comparing them to what you gave up, is crucial in my view.

Nowadays, the options are much more plentiful, so the experimentation is going to take a while, and may even be an ongoing process that you do pretty much forever.  When I was going through this process in a big way, one thing that helped me was to work for a health food store for a while.  I was in my twenties at the time, struggling, but learning about ways to eat simply and cheaply AND dairy free (even vegan, which I was for some of that time) made the whole process go that much more smoothly.

I will devote an entire post to this later on, but for me, a big part of the experimenting process is cooking for myself.  As wonderful as the products are that are available these days, making your favorite dishes using these products (rather than, say, dairy products) can be a real challenge.  I have spoken before about some of the commercially-available products that are my favorites, and I will do more of that (there have been some new products appearing on the market of late, so I need to do some updating).

So my advice to those of you starting out is: be patient, be creative, and most of all, the more open to trying new things you can be, the more smoothly this transition will go for you.  It’s not going to happen overnight, but there is hope that one day soon you can be enjoying a healthy, enjoyable dairy free lifestyle like those of us who have come before you.

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Paul Klee Exhibit Irony at Work Centre Pompidou Paris

Paul Klee Exhibit Irony at Work Centre Pompidou-paris

Paul Klee Exhibit Irony at Work Centre Pompidou Paris

Over three days at the end of June, Therese and I traveled a great distance: first from Veliko Turnovo to Sofia, Bulgaria by bus; then from Sofia to Paris, France by plane; and then finally, by train from Paris to Rouen.  After the second stage of that journey, we stayed overnight in Paris (our first time at the Hotel Astor St Honore in Paris’s 8th arrondisement), and before we left the next evening for Rouen, we spent a few hours enjoying the Paul Klee exhibit at Paris’s Centre Pompidou.

We took the Metro from our hotel to the Centre Pompidou, changing at the Republique stop to the 11 line, and then emerging at the Rambuteau stop, on the edge of the Marais district.  There were a couple of options for exits, and we chose the one marked “Centre Pompidou” and sure enough, when we emerged from the Metro, there was the museum right in front of us!

We had bought our tickets on-line and printed out the voucher, but nevertheless we had to join the line of people waiting for the museum to open (all of us had been smart enough to buy our tickets ahead of time!).  But waiting wasn’t so bad – it was a cool damp morning, rather pleasant for the end of June, and we got to see the impressive poster for the Klee Exhibit, entitled “L’Ironie A L’Oeuvre” or “Irony at Work”.  And not far from that large displayed poster was an attractive Alexander Calder sculpture with a mobile aspect to it.

When we were allowed in, it only took a couple minutes for us to get through the line and enter the museum.  Since we only had a couple of hours to spare, we decided to forego seeing the museum’s permanent collection, and instead focus exclusively on the Klee exhibit.  This turned out to work perfectly.

I have been a fan of Paul Klee’s work nearly my whole life.  His color palette, full of rich bright colors, is very appealing to me, but I think it is the way he so consciously assigns particular colors to his paintings, in complete accord with the mood or message of the work, that is so remarkable to me.  And his use of angular lines, so full of humor and spirit, but also so very sensual, never ceases to delight me.  I am so thankful that I saw this exhibit; for there were so many of Klee’s works that I saw there for the first time, that absolutely floored me.

The exhibit also included lots of biographical information, following his career through its various phases, from his time as a member of the der Blaue Reiter group, to his time working at the Bauhaus studio, to the end of his life when he made numerous works ridiculing Adolph Hitler and the Nazis.  It was very sad to hear about the rare condition he contracted, Scleroderma, which sapped his energy and made it very hard for him to work at the end of his life, and eventually claimed his life.

Ultimately, it was so thrilling to become acquainted with so many works of genius that I had previously not known.  While the work used for the exhibit poster, Insula Dulcamara, is certainly one of Klee’s most impressive works, for its sheer size, there were others that were my favorites.  For example, I love Dame Demon with its one line meandering over the canvas to create the entire figure depicted, and Rose Garden with its tangle of teetering buildings (or are they terraces in the garden?).

Having had such a rich experience during those few hours, I was ready to make the final step of our journey, transitioning from Bulgaria to our home for the next few weeks in Rouen!

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Fete Nationale Fireworks Cap Off Thrilling Rouen July 14

Fete Nationale Fireworks Cap Off Thrilling Rouen July 14

Fete Nationale Fireworks Cap Off Thrilling Rouen July 14

Faith’s week with us in Rouen included July 14th, France’s national independence day, which we in the U.S. tend to call Bastille Day, but they just call it “Fete Nationale.”  We wanted to make sure that her Fete Nationale experience was a memorable one, but of course not just for her sake – it was a chance for us to immerse ourselves in the country’s holiday as well.

After breakfast in our apartment, we took the bus to the Musee Beaux-arts, where we got to see the museum’s incredible exhibit of Impressionist Portraits.

I have to say, while I loved the entire exhibit, it was the paintings of Edouard Manet, Berthe Morisot, and some others that really thrilled me the most.  Having already been a huge Claude Monet fan, I never knew what to make of this “other guy whose name sounds similar.”  Well, starting with Manet’s portrait of artist Berthe Morisot, which has been used on all the literature and covers advertising the exhibit, I really enjoyed getting to know more about him and his work.  I had never heard of Morisot, and from the portrait of her, you can see she is quite a person of character, and her paintings are also well worth tracking down.

We weren’t so sure of where to have lunch – by the time we wandered into the museum’s cafe, they were already pretty much out of food – but a woman in the museum suggested we walk down a pedestrian-only street called Allee Eugene Delacroix just south of the museum – there are several restaurants along the street that might be open on the holiday.

Sure enough, there was one called Coccina that looked very promising.  I ordered a salad covered with a selection of meats – chicken wings, ham, etc. – and except for the day-glow colored mashed potatoes (which I did not eat), it was all good.

We continued further south, snaking our way to our next destination, an organ concert at the Eglise Saint-Maclou.  Luckily, that took us past the northern side of the Palais de Justice, where I was able to get photos of some of my favorite gargoyles.

The concert at Saint-Maclou was wonderful.  It was for Baritone singer and organ, and while the wide variety of periods and styles was at some points a bit jarring, over all, it was a wonderful concert (and of course there was a splendid version of the national anthem, La Marseillaise, to get us all in the holiday mood).

Eglise Saint-Maclou Organ

Eglise Saint-Maclou Organ

At this point, the schedule was rather wide open, and I wasn’t quite sure how to fill it.  We needed to get to the bus stop to take the bus to the quai where our cruise ship on the Seine, from which we view the holiday fireworks later, would leave.  But my best research told us that while there are sports bars near the cruise ship quai, the quality of the food there is universally considered appalling.

To kill some time, we wandered over to the Place du Vieux Marche and sat at a terrace and had a cold beverage.  We saw a band setting up for a pop music concert, and thought that was the last thing we wanted to see/hear.  I remembered that not far from this square is another with a Renaissance hotel that is supposed to be worth seeing.  So I did some appraisal of the situation, wandering down to this other square (Place de la Pucelle), to see if going there would be worth our time.

Hotel de Bourgtheroulde

Hotel de Bourgtheroulde

The hotel I was thinking of was the Hotel de Bourgtheroulde, and it looked quite beautiful, so I went back and told Therese and Faith that we should explore this other square.

What people often talk about in regard to the Renaissance-period stone carving covering the building is the courtyard, with its elaborate panels, for example, those illustrating the Triumphs of Petrarch.  While I enjoyed seeing the courtyard, the exterior of the building was my favorite.

For example, the panels of crests held by cherubs that are under each of the windows on the outside are wonderful.  And the various expressions on the faces of the cherubs are hilarious.

Then there are the various animals depicted on the exterior, like dogs, monkeys and squirrels.  And of course, my favorite of all, the crest of a porcupine with a gold crown over it.  I don’t know what royal family that may have represented, but it is remarkable.

Place de la Pucelle Rouen

Place de la Pucelle Rouen

Besides the hotel, the Place de la Pucelle is definitely a nice alternative place to spend some time.  While it is surrounded by restaurants with their tables spilling into the square, it is not quite as busy and loud as the more well-known Place du Vieux Marche.  For us, that was a very good thing.

While we were there, we saw that the hotel, which has been taken over by a mordern luxury spa hotel, has a restaurant connected to it (actually I guess there is more than one restaurant, but we only concerned ourselves with the one).  So we got a table outside at the Brasserie les 2 Rois.  Faith and I ordered the special, duck breast with some sort of sweet glaze.  It came with mashed potatoes, but since the waiter’s English was really minimal, I didn’t want to get into trying to get him to replace the mashed potatoes with something else that might be dairy free.  So I just ate the duck, which was quite scrumptious.  I used the complimentary bread we were given to sop up the tangy glaze.

By the time we finished eating, it was getting to be time for us to get to the boat.  So we walked a couple blocks south to the bus stop, and not long after the bus came.  The bus ride was short, and it so happened that we were quite early for our fireworks cruise, organized by Normandy Croisieres.  No worries, we wandered around the quai a bit and got our bearings.

When our cruise ship, the Lutece, left the dock, it started by going west, away from where the fireworks would be – more time killing I suppose, since it was not quite dark yet (in July in Rouen, sunset is around 10:30pm).  We went underneath the nearby Pont Gustave-Flaubert, and saw a bit of the countryside along the Seine.

Therese used our free beverage tickets to get us some cold drinks (I didn’t realize that in France, “soft” drinks includes beer and wine – but as it was, soda was good enough for me).  Eventually, our boat turned around, and we headed back downstream toward the bridge where the fireworks would be set off from.

Then the fireworks started, and it was a mad dash to get into position to see them the best.  There was an outside area at each end of the boat, and as the boat floated in the water, spinning slowly around, people squeezed into the end closest to the fireworks (there was a top deck that was completely outside, but we had elected to hang out on the lower deck, where we would be mostly protected from the chilly evening temperatures – it was in the 60s at best – and have a table and chairs to ourselves).

The fireworks were lovely.  Afterward, we walked to a nearby hotel and had the receptionist there call us a cab.  It took forever for the cab to come, but eventually it did, and we got back to our apartment very late, after a very full fun holiday in France.

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