Rouen National Education Museum and Seafood Cioppino

Rouen National Education Museum and Seafood Cioppino

On Saturday, July 2nd, the end of our first week in Rouen, France last summer, we had a rather quiet day, but we did manage to get out and visit a museum.  We had a quiet morning, eating breakfast in our apartment, doing some laundry (love having a clothes washer in our travel lodgings!), uploading and editing photos, and generally relaxing.  But eventually we did get out into the world, having lunch outside and seeing Rouen’s National Education Museum.  Then we did some grocery shopping and I made a scrumptious dinner for us (more on that later – love having a working kitchen in our travel lodgings, too!).

We did play fast and loose when it came to eating lunch out.  You see, many restaurants in Rouen don’t open for lunch, and the ones that do usually have pretty limited hours – like, say, 11am to 2pm.  And when we left the apartment, it was already a little past 2.  Sure enough, as we walked past restaurants on Rue Eau de Robec, they were all done serving lunch.

Therese said, “what about L’Espiguette?”  Well, Restaurant l’Espiguette is where we had our first meal in Rouen when we visited the city together in 2014, so it has a special place in our hearts.  I didn’t know if they would be open still, but they were not far from us, so it was worth checking.

As we approached, it was hard to tell if they were still serving – what told us they probably were was the fact that they still had their hand-written chalkboard menu on display outside.  Therese asked a waiter in French, and he told us that the kitchen was still open for lunch.  They may have been flexible because it was Saturday.  We also asked if we could sit outside – it was a borderline chilly day, but the sun was out – and the waiter set us up with two tables right outside, with the sun pouring down on us.

He started us off with a snack of peanuts in the shell and we ordered drinks.  Their menu doesn’t usually have too many things I can order – I went for the same dish this time around that I ordered the first time, namely, beef tartare.  With the raw egg on top of the freshly ground beef, and the assorted sides (chopped onion and cornichons, etc.), it is a hearty and very pleasing (and filling) lunch.

Our museum chosen for the day was actually back on Rue Eau de Robec – namely, the National Education Museum.

National Education Museum Exterior

Rue Eau de Robec has many ancient-looking half-timbered houses on the north side of the street, but not that many on the south.  One of the few that does stand on that side of the street houses this museum.  It is one of the city’s free museums.

This is a very charming museum, full of rooms decorated to resemble classrooms from different periods and artworks depicting interactions between students and teachers and the like.  There were numerous displays giving information about various aspects of learning as well – for example, the first floor addressed the subject of the use of animals in didactic systems (for example, teaching the abc’s with picture books of animals).

My favorite exhibition was called “Lumineuses Projections” (literally, light projections) and dealt with what we always used to call “audio-visual” – using projected slide shows, films, etc., as a way to bring history and culture to life.  The museum’s collection of histoirc magic lanterns really captured my imagination – they even had one set up with a variety of slides for visitors to have some fun with (as you can see, I particularly enjoyed looking at the classic Grimms’ fairy tale, Little Red Riding Hood).

After spending a couple of easy fun hours in the museum, it was time to move on to doing some grocery shopping for dinner.  On our first day in Rouen, our host Patrice had driven us down Rue Armand Carrel, a street not far from our apartment that is filled with restaurant and food stores.  I had an idea about making a real classic seafood cioppino, that tomato-y pasta dish that features a rich almost soupy broth, and thought I could get some first class ingredients to make this dish on Rue Armand Carrel.

The first place we stopped was a seafood store, Le Chalut, where I picked up some tiger shrimp (heads on, of course) and scallops (with coral/roe).

Further up the street, we stopped in at Pijama (called a convenience store but really more of a fruits and vegetables store – it is also known as an “alimentation” or what we would call a delicatessen, a bit closer to what it is in my view).  There we got some mushrooms (for another day) and herbs – cilantro and basil.

Seafood and Herbs for Cioppino

The lion’s share of preparation time for the dish was in preparing the stock – chopping onions and garlic, taking off the shrimp heads and shells, putting that all in a pot with lots of water and letting it cook down for a while.  I added more water at one point and let it cook for a bit longer, and when it had the right smell and look to it, I strained away the liquid from the scum and shells and whatnot, and then I made some pasta (I only had one big pot, so I had to clean that one and then boil the pasta in it), cooked up the seafood, put the seafood aside to rest, added onions and garlic and eventually tomatoes to that dish, then added some of the incredible broth (wow, so much flavor, and as Therese always says, so much depth).

Seafood Stock

When the vegetables and broth were looking pretty much ready, I added back in the seafood, heated it all together to let the flavors marry, and that was it.  Then it was just a matter of pouring some of the cioppino over the pasta (angel hair or cappellini was what we used) in a bowl, and dinner was served.

And oh, I did finish my dish by grating some of that excellent Violife cheese I had brought with me from Bulgaria.  A truly stellar dish, with some of the most amazing seafood I have eaten in my life (when they say that the food in France is excellent in part because of the quality of the ingredients that are available there, they are absolutely spot on).

Violife Vegan Cheese

Posted in Countries, Dairy Free, Dinner, Food, France, French Food, Italian food, Lunch, Markets, Museums, Recipes, Restaurants, Rouen, Seafood, Travel | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Café Le Metropole and Rouen Musee des Beaux-arts

Café Le Metropole and Rouen Musee des Beaux-arts

Therese and I were already approaching the end of our first week in France as we made our way over to Rouen’s major art museum, the Musee des Beaux-arts, on Friday, July 1st.  We had a couple things to do on our itinerary for the day; for example, we needed to pay a visit to the car rental office in the train station to make sure they would have a car with automatic transmission for us to rent the following Wednesday for a road trip into the countryside.

To start things off, I delved into one of the cookbooks I brought with us to France, the Norman Table by Claude Germont, for a breakfast of apple pancakes.

We set out right after breakfast, trying to make the most of the day.  We had an errand to run before our day’s sightseeing, namely to pick up an sd chip for photo storage (my old phone was saying that the chip I had in it was corrupted).  Therese had researched and found an IT store not far from us, on the colorfully-named Quartier Croix-de-Pierre, with its wonderful Fontaine de la Croix-de-Pierre.

Fontaine de la Croix-de-Pierre

Walking down the street to the bus stop, we passed by the Church of St-Vivien, which actually was just next door to our apartment in Rouen.

Church of St-Vivien

From there, we took the bus straight to the train station.  We waited in line and then had the typical European experience.  You see, when we got to the head of the line and began speaking to the rental car agent, he listened to our request, and then very politely explained that he would be glad to help us, but his lunch break was about to begin (it was noon), so he would be happy to meet us in one hour and continue our conversation.

We tried to make the best of staying nearby, going to have some lunch ourselves at the nearby Cafe Le Metropole.  I ordered a salmon salad which as I recall may have been the one item on the rather limited menu that was definitely dairy free.  In any case, it was very filling.

Salmon Salad at Cafe Le Metropole

There was one other item on the menu that sounded wonderful, and inspired me in my cooking – a white sausage and potato tart.  I resolved to find the ingredients to create just such a dish in our Rouen kitchen.

After lunch we finished our business with the car rental agent, and then rode the bus back to the Beaux-arts museum.  To explain what happened next, I need to go back to our first visit to Rouen, and the museum, in 2014.  You see, on that occasion, we only had time to see the special exhibit on display (an excellent exhibit on France’s cathedrals called, appropriately enough, Cathedrales).  Now, we were planning on seeing the museum’s current special exhibit, on Impressionism, when our friend Faith visited Rouen during our last week there.  As a result, on this occasion, we decided to pursue the unorthodox strategy of only seeing the museum’s permanent collection.

Unorthodox, because the museum is set up with the idea that you will see the special exhibit first, and then proceed from there to the permanent collection, passing through the museum in a sort of counterclockwise fashion.  Since we decided not to do that, we went the other way, starting basically at the end and going through the museum backwards.  We confused at least one museum docent, but in the end, it worked out just fine for us.

This museum has a wealth of nineteenth century paintings, and passing through the permanent collection introduced me to many artists I’ve never heard of before (for example, Theodore Gericault).  There is, for example, an entire gallery of paintings about Joan of Arc (appropriate since Rouen is her city).

As we passed through the galleries, we saw many great paintings.  Some of the ones that stood out for me were a painting of the Jumieges Abbey (a Medieval ruin that we would be visiting the following week), a sumptuous painting of Niagara Falls, and probably my most favorite one of all was a painting by Flemish Primitive painter Gerard David of the Virgin Mary in a room full of virgins.

There was one other gallery in the museum that really caught our attention.  Earlier in 2016, Therese and I (and our friend Faith) had visited the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia for the first time, seeing the rooms curated by the collector Albert C. Barnes himself.  We found some of them rather too crowded, with walls filled with a mixture of late-nineteenth/early-twentieth century paintings, wrought iron work and other artifacts.  Well, when we walked into this gallery in the Rouen Beaux-arts Museum, we immediately thought of Barnes.

And sure enough, we read a description on one of the walls saying that this gallery was indeed donated, and curated, by Barnes.  Little did we know that there was a connection between Rouen and Barnes!

To finish off the day, I worked on another recipe from the collection of Norman food I had put together.  In this case, it was a Veal Scallopine with Apples (and Calvados and cream, the usual Norman accompaniments to nearly every dish), from Chef Jacques Pepin.  I’d never cooked veal before, and the scallops of it I bought from the Monoprix were nice and tender.  Once again, I used a mix of soy and coconut milks for my “cream” part of the recipe – and while that probably didn’t thicken and adhere to the veal and apples quite as much (or produce as brown a color) as dairy cream would, it produced a very satisfying dish nevertheless.

Veal Scallopine with Cream, Calvados and Apples

Posted in Breakfast, Countries, Dairy Free, Dinner, Food, France, French Food, Museums, Rouen, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Red Hook Lobster Pound Headlines Urbanspace Vanderbilt

Red Hook Lobster Pound Headlines Urbanspace Vanderbilt

Red Hook Lobster Pound Headlines Urbanspace Vanderbilt

Weeknights in New York City can be a challenge.  Of course, we can always rely on whatever happens to be in our refrigerator, and I love to cook.  But we get bored with eating the usual seven favorite recipes, and some dishes can be involved and I don’t always have the time.  Of course, we can eat out, but that can be expensive, so for a weeknight we look for something both adventurous (hopefully new to us) but also not too pricey.

Our most recent exploration in this direction was to the Urbanspace Vanderbilt, a food hall just north of Grand Central Train Station that reminds me of a mini Reading Terminal Market (the latter, in Philadelphia, is like 20 times the size of this new Manhattan spot).

We made our dinner foray into a little more of an adventure by walking across town to the Grand Central area.  First we passed through Broadway in the Garment District where the Fancy Animal Carnival is currently on display, a bunch of delightful humongous animal sculptures created by Taiwan artist Hung Yi.

Next, we walked through Bryant Park, at that time being worked on in preparation for the holiday season Winter Village of shops (by now the village is open I believe).

Finally, just a few minutes later, we arrived at Urbanspace Vanderbilt.  I will say that we originally went there intending to visit a different food vendor – since they were out of food at 6 in the evening (the hall closes at 9), which we think is pretty bad planning, I will not tell you who that was.  When plan A crashed and burned, we picked Red Hook Lobster Pound as our plan B.

I’ve eaten (and enjoyed) Red Hook’s lobster rolls before – at their food truck, which is sometimes parked at the north end of the High Line.  This time I had their Lobster BLT, basically adding bacon and chipotle mayo to a typical lobster roll.  I know that lobster roll makers tend to toast their rolls with butter, and invariably, when I mention my allergy, they will tell me that the only way to avoid butter is not to toast the roll, and I always say that’s fine with me.  That was the case here, and I don’t feel that I suffered for having an un-toasted roll.  There was so much fresh lobster on this that I didn’t mind the $21 price tag, and the crisp rich bacon goes very nicely with the soft luscious lobster.  An artisanal soda, a Maine Root Beer, rounded out my meal.

As we wandered home, intending to make a bit of detour to stop at our local pharmacy, I turned to take a picture of Grand Central with the Chrysler Building.  Soon there is a nasty skyscraper that will be built to the west of the train station that will hem it in, and you won’t be able to see it until you are almost right on top of it.  So, for one last time, I enjoyed the view.

Grand Central Train Station and the Chrysler Building

Grand Central Train Station and the Chrysler Building

Posted in Dairy Free, Dinner, Food, Manhattan, Markets, New York, New York City, NYC Food Destinations, NYC Restaurants, Seafood | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Saint Sofia Crypt and Sofia Archeology Museum Highlight Last Bulgaria Day

Saint Sofia Crypt and Sofia Archeology Museum Highlight Last Bulgaria Day

Saint Sofia Crypt and Sofia Archeology Museum Highlight Last Bulgaria Day

We returned to Sofia Bulgaria for one day before leaving the country to head to France for the next few weeks.  On our first day in Bulgaria, a week earlier, during the walking tour given by our friend Teddy, we had picked out a few things that we wanted to explore in greater depth.  So this day we went back to see more of St. Sofia’s Church (and its incredible ancient crypt) and the National Archaeology Museum.

We started it all off by taking a taxi to Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.  When we arrived there, I discovered we were early for St. Sofia (just across the plaza from the cathedral), which wasn’t set to open for another half hour.  So I took advantage of the beautiful weather (with a lovely blue sky) to take some pictures of the cathedral.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral reminds me a lot of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, with all its domes piled seemingly one on top of the other.  So I was happy to have the chance to snap some photos.  I also took the opportunity to take another look at the Monument to the Unknown Soldier, right across the street and in fact right up against the side of St. Sofia Church.

There was a woman selling handmade linens nearby as well, and Therese spent a couple minutes looking through her offerings and chatting with the woman, before selecting a lovely piece (I believe it was a tablecloth).

Finally, the church was open, and so we walked over to see it.

Saint Sofia Church

Saint Sofia Church

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral may look like the Hagia Sophia, but this building is actually as old as that Istanbul monument, dating from the middle of the 6th century.  At one time, its interior was decorated with murals, but unfortunately, those murals were removed when the Ottoman Empire overran Bulgaria in the 16th century (at which time the church was converted to a mosque).  As a result, the interior is rather plain; nevertheless, I think you will agree that the ancient stonework, while austere, is breathtaking.

Considering the building’s antiquity, it is remarkable how much of it has survived.  There are spots where white plaster has been used to fill in areas where the stonework has been lost, and there are metal posts holding the sides of the buildings together (or keeping them from collapsing inward?); nevertheless, there is much of the original building to admire.

More wonders have been preserved below the street level, in the church’s crypt.  There are the treasures discovered during archaeological excavations, of the several buildings that were erected on the site before the present church, sacred spaces dating back to the second century.  Numerous early Christian burial chambers (including one that was ornately frescoed) and gorgeous mosaics floors are on display, making a trip downstairs a must.

Our next stop was not far away, at the National Archaeology Museum.  From the outside, this building is rather unassuming, a squarish former mosque.

National Archaeology Museum

National Archaeology Museum

But the wealth of treasures filling the wide open interior made this a very worthwhile visit for us – we spent a couple of hours there, and could’ve easily stayed longer, there was so much to see!

In addition to the wealth of material on the main floor, there are also several rooms rimming the structure on the second floor, filled with display cases covering specific aspects of the museum collection, like treasures made out of gold.  One of the most impressive pieces I saw there was a Peytral, or piece of armor that is strapped to the chest of a horse to protect it when riding into a battle (although this Peytral is so beautiful that it can only have been ceremonial).

After a few hours of serious intense culture, we were ready for some lunch.  Teddy had taken us through Vitosha Boulevard on our first day in Sofia, which is the city’s most celebrated pedestrian-only street.  Later in the week, when we were in Veliko Turnovo, we had eaten at Shtastliveca, a fantastic restaurant.  So when Teddy told us there was another Shtastliveca on Vitosha Boulevard, we immediately decided to make that our lunch destination for that last day in Sofia.

Shtastliveca Sign

Shtastliveca Sign

Now I must apologize that I don’t remember what the dish was that I ate for lunch that day.  I do remember that it came with a garnish of scallions and red peppers, and that it was a stew (of pork I think).  It was definitely quite delicious and completely dairy free (made that way special for me, thanks to our waiter’s – and the chef’s – good work).  Though we sat at the outside terrace, this restaurant showed many of the same signs as its sister in Veliko Turnovo – great food, great sense of style (just look at the tablecloth below).  A fabulous final meal in Bulgaria!

And thankfully, while it was still hot that day, it wasn’t quite as blisteringly scorching as it had been for most of the week – now that we were leaving, Bulgaria’s weather was finally starting to settle down.  While we looked forward to our time in France, we had enjoyed our time in Bulgaria, maybe even more than we thought we would – and so we were a bit sad to leave.

Posted in Bulgaria, Bulgarian Food, Churches, Countries, Dairy Free, Food, Lunch, Museums, Restaurants, Sofia, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lasagna with Miyoko Schinner VeganMozz for pre-Thanksgiving Munching

Lasagna with Miyoko Schinner VeganMozz for Pre-Thanksgiving Munching

Lasagna with Miyoko Schinner VeganMozz for Pre-Thanksgiving Munching

People who have read my blog for a while will know that one of the challenges for me is figuring out what to eat in the days leading up to Thanksgiving.  I do most of my cooking the two days before the holiday, and I don’t want to have to worry too much about moving away from Thanksgiving cooking to attend to daily food needs.  This year, my solution is to make a big dish of lasagna that we can eat for lunch and dinner over the days until Thanksgiving.

Part of what inspired me is that, when I was most recently in Riverdel Cheese Shop in Brooklyn, they had lots of Miyoko Schinner‘s vegan mozzarella, which she calls VeganMozz.  Right away I thought: lasagna.  Of course, mozzarella alone does not lasagna make.  When I went to my local supermarket, Brooklyn Fare (which is in Midtown Manhattan, btw), I picked out some lasagna sheets made by Barilla, so I thought, why not make it easy on myself and get some jars of Barilla chunky marinara sauce as well?  I squared it all by picking out a straightforward recipe off the Internet by, you guessed it, Barilla – three layer lasagna.

I had already gotten some ground beef and Italian sausages (sorry, vegans) on that same trip to Brooklyn Fare.  But then I realized, I need more in the cheese way to really make the dish work.  So I scouted out possibilities at Whole Foods Supermarket, and settled on grated vegan parmesan made by Follow Your Heart.  For a ricotta substitute, I chose Follow Your Heart sour cream (I know, much more liquid-y than ricotta, but it worked pretty well).

Last night, I put it all together – browned the meat while the pasta was cooking, sprayed my glass pyrex casserole, layered noodle/meat sauce/cheese mix until finished, saved some grated VeganMozz to sprinkle over the top, and with my oven on convection mode, it came out great.  One tip on using the VeganMozz: if you want to grate it, do so right after you remove it from the refrigerator.  If you let it warm up, it gets too soft, making grating a mushy mess.

My wife and my daughter, who came over to have dinner with us, both proclaimed it some of the best lasagna they have ever eaten.  So thanks to Miyoko’s Kitchen and Barilla, and everybody else who had a hand in feeding us while we make ready for the big food day on Thursday!

 

Posted in Cooking, Dairy Free, Dinner, Food, Products, Recipes, Vegan cheeses | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rouen Ceramics Museum and Palais des Thes and Dame Cakes

Rouen Ceramics Museum and Palais des Thes and Dame Cakes

Rouen Ceramics Museum and Palais des Thes and Dame Cakes

Having spent a full day in Bayeux the day before, we got an early start on our fourth day in Rouen, a Thursday.  In the afternoon, we took a bus over to the Musee des Beaux-arts stop, and walked past that august museum (which we would visit the next day), to approach one of the museums on our list that we had not seen in 2014 – the Ceramics Museum.

The entrance to the museum is actually in the back, so first you see the front of the building, but you walk up the stairs to its right –

Ceramics Museum at the Street Level

Ceramics Museum at the Street Level

then you turn left and walk through one door into the museum’s courtyard –

Ceramics Museum Entrance to the Courtyard

Ceramics Museum Entrance to the Courtyard

then finally, you enter through a set of double doors into the museum.

Ceramics Museum Entrance Door

Ceramics Museum Entrance Door

The Ceramics Museum is another branch of Rouen’s City Museum, with hours only in the afternoon, and free admission.  Housed in the former Hotel d’Hocqueville, a modest mansion with several floors of manageably-sized rooms, visiting this museum is the perfect way to pass an afternoon.

First Plate You See When You Walk in the Door

First Plate You See When You Walk in the Door

From the first plate displayed behind glass not far from the admission desk, I was thrilled.  And while I can’t tell you a lot about the different sorts of ceramics, I have made note of some details that may be instructive.  Rest assured that what I make note of is a tiny fraction of what we saw that day.

The first room is noteworthy as a room all by itself – the walls are covered with the decorations original to the house from before it was a museum.  Nevertheless, the display in this room stole the show – among the pieces exhibited was a Deruta plate from the 16th century that was just splendid.

Deruta Original Plate

Deruta Original Plate

The next room we entered was dedicated to the works of Masseot Abaquesne, mainly floor tiles created by his studio.

Another room contained earthenware sculptures such as these two entertaining ones of Cleopatra and Mark Antony.

Earthenware Sculptures of Cleopatra and Marc Antony

Earthenware Sculptures of Cleopatra and Marc Antony

One piece on display that I found extremely intriguing was a violin covered in Delft ceramic.  I wonder if this piece was made to honor a particular musician, or if it in fact could ever be played.  It doesn’t show any signs of ever having been strung, but it could have been.  I am sure one of my string player friends could tell me whether you would be able to get any good sound out of an instrument with a ceramic body.

Delft Violin

Delft Violin

Probably my favorite piece of the entire collection was also contained in the display cases in that first room – a plate ringed with rabbits and hunting dogs with a pair of lovers in the center, from the Renaissance as I recall.

My Favorite Piece in the Entire Collection

My Favorite Piece in the Entire Collection

When we left the museum, we walked southward into the center of Rouen, first passing through the Allee Eugene Delacroix and its awesome gate.

Gate at Southern End of Allee Eugene Delacroix

Gate at Southern End of Allee Eugene Delacroix

Our destination was the Palais des Thes.  We had brought some teabags with us from our stay at Astor St-Honore Hotel in Paris, but those only lasted us a couple of days.  So we were hoping to get enough tea – in bags or loose – to last us for the rest of our stay in France.

The shop sells mostly loose tea.  We indicated our preference for mint tea, and they let us sniff two kinds, one that was a sort of Moroccan mint with green tea, and a second that was a very intense perfumy mint.  We decided on the former, and left very happy with a container of first class tea.

Half-timbered Houses Near Palais des Thes

Half-timbered Houses Near Palais des Thes

As on many occasions in Rouen, we turned and looked up and there was a breathtaking vista of the city’s ancient looking architecture.

Fountain Across from Dame Cakes

Fountain Across from Dame Cakes

Our next stop was at Dame Cakes for some afternoon refreshment.  Situated right across the street from the old Archbishop’s Palace, Dame Cakes has quite an auspicious location.

On this occasion, we decided to get a table and have some refreshment in the cafe itself.  None of their cakes are dairy free, sadly (they sound fantastic).  But, as had happened the first time we visited here during our stay in 2014, when I told the waitress about my allergy, she steered me toward the front counter and its display of dark chocolates.  I selected one that was made with dried fruit and nuts.  Coupled with a Diabolo Menthe, a typical French soft drink made with spring water and mint syrup served over ice, I was very very happy.

Typical Rouen Walkway

Typical Rouen Walkway

Posted in Cafes, Candy, Chocolate, Countries, Food, France, Museums, Rouen, Tea, Travel | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Dairy Free Weekend in Providence Rhode Island

Dairy Free Weekend in Providence Rhode Island

Dairy Free Weekend in Providence Rhode Island

We were very thrilled to spend Veterans Day weekend in Providence, Rhode Island.  I don’t remember what originally compelled us to want to visit Providence – perhaps the fact that whenever we ride Amtrak to Boston, we go through it, and once upon a time I had some friends who lived there.  In any case, there is a Hilton “curio” hotel there, the Providence Biltmore, and months ago we reserved a room there.  And it turned out to be an awesome weekend.  Providence, a small walk-able city, for its size really packs in lots to do.

After arriving on Friday on the morning North East Regional train from New York City, we walked to the Biltmore hotel (about 10 minutes away), left our luggage (too early to check in), and walked to the Providence Arcade.

The Providence Arcade

The Providence Arcade

The Arcade is billed as the nation’s first indoor shopping mall, having been built in 1828.  Nowadays, only the bottom floor is a shopping mall – the upper levels have been turned into apartments.  We took a look around Carmen & Ginger, a crafts store, and ate some lunch at Livi’s Pockets (I had a chicken and falafel wrap, which was good but packed a bit loosely, making it messy – I got tahini sauce everywhere).

From there, we walked south on Westminster Street, passing some of the wonderful old buildings in Downcity, which is Providentians call their downtown area.  For example, we saw the Union Trust Building with its incredible lobby and famous sculpture by Daniel Chester French, who also designed the statue of Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial (there is also a very attractive restaurant called the Dorrance which occupies the street-level corner of the building, which we unfortunately did not have the chance to visit for dinner).

Daniel Chester French's Pilgrim and the Indian Sculpture, Union Trust Building

Daniel Chester French’s Pilgrim and the Indian Sculpture, Union Trust Building

We continued down the street, doing some excellent shopping at Craftland and Homestyle, two wonderful stores.  I can’t tell what we bought, since most of it was Christmas gifts and some of those being gifted might be reading!  We did a great job though, and came away with lots of goodies!

By now our room was ready, and so we checked in and dropped off our shopping bags, and figured out our next move.  Therese had come up with the idea of going to see a movie, and so we headed to Providence Place, Providence’s big modern indoor shopping mall, to visit their Cinemas 16 Theater.  Once again, this was within easy walking distance of our hotel, which we loved, since it was a cold and windy day.  We watched Arrival, a fascinating science fiction movie about the Earth being visited by aliens, with a good cast headlined by Amy Adams.

After our movie, Therese noticed a store called Torrid in the mall that had lots of great clothes for her.  While she tried some things on, I explored, and when she was done (she found some nice t-shirts and other things, a real find this store was), we walked from there to Ken’s Ramen, where we ate an awesome ramen dinner.  Therese, who has been to Japan, remarked that the style of this restaurant reminded her a lot of Japan – the efficiency and organization, I guess.  The food was really really good, and fairly inexpensive for such a filling dinner.  We were quite satisfied with our day, and surprised at pooped we were when we got back to our hotel room.

We slept in Saturday morning and got a late start – Therese went and got her nails done at a salon in Providence Place while I showered and made plans for the day.  Our first stop was the John Brown House (to get there, we took a taxi – while I had heard that taxis are not a reliable way to get around Providence, that was not our experience, as there was a queue not far from our hotel which made finding a taxi very easy).

John Brown House

John Brown House

An audio guide comes free with your ticket to the Brown house, and that’s all you need to explore in an informed manner.  I will say that with some entries, they don’t explain exactly where the thing is that they are describing.  But you can go back once you have located the item.  And there are enough intriguing items in each room that they could add many more entries; but as it is, there is enough to keep you busy for 90 minutes to two hours.

Since we had started late, when we finished at the Brown House, it was more like early dinner time than late lunch time.  So we gave in to it, and after exploring some shops catty-cornered to the Brown House on South Main Street (we spent the most time in Touched by Green, where the proprietor was very friendly), we walked west to Hemenway’s, a restaurant I had originally planned for Sunday lunch.

Since we had given in to the fact that this was going to be our dinner, rather than a hasty late lunch, we relaxed and enjoyed ourselves.  Our server, Nancy, was great in giving advice about accommodating my allergy, and giving us great insights into the menu in general.  We both ordered the same thing, what Nancy called “lazy man’s lobster” where the meat is removed from the claws and stuffed into the body of the lobster with scallops and shrimps and bread crumbs and then the whole thing is roasted in the oven.  My bread crumbs were probably a little more basic, because they usually toss them with butter and seasonings, but whatever they conjured for me worked very well.  The side I ordered, roasted cauliflower, also had bread crumbs and seasonings, once again more simply prepared for my case to avoid the butter.

Unfortunately, I did not get a picture of the oysters we ate as our starter before the lobsters.  They were local – I did not make note of the name – nicely sized, just a bit briny and with lots of liquor, easily some of the best oysters I have ever had.  The wine Nancy recommended we drink to go with our oysters and lobster, a Ferrari-Carano “Fume Blanc” Sauvignon Blanc, was great too – a light minerally/citrussy white wine.

That was it for us on Saturday – we walked back to our hotel through the quiet downtown, oops, sorry – Downcity, and had a relaxing evening in our hotel room.  Just what the doctor ordered.

After breakfast on Sunday, we got a bit of an earlier start, walking back to the east side of Providence to visit the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD, or to the locals, “Rizdee”) Art Museum.  While part of the museum is under renovation, there was still plenty to see – a great Impressionist exhibit, intriguing Japanese (and Japanese-style) prints, a collection of ceramics, and students works.

For our lunch, we found a cafe nearby (XO Cafe) which was right at the end of its brunch service.  Some eggs and chicken sausages later, we wandered down Benefit Street, taking in some of the historic old buildings, like the First Baptist Church.

First Baptist Church of Providence

First Baptist Church of Providence

I will warn you that as you walk west from the river, the streets go steeply upward.  We walked parallel to the river for the most part to avoid getting out of breath.  It was a more leisurely experience we were after.  At the end of our jaunt, before heading back once more to our hotel, we stopped in at the Providence Athenaeum, a historic private library that is quite beautiful.

The Providence Athenaeum

The Providence Athenaeum

Once inside, we found a nice comfy couch and Therese selected a book and read for a while.  Me?  I snoozed a bit.  You see, my sinuses were giving me trouble that day, and I had taken Benadryl, which usually works for me, but on this occasion, it mainly made me very drowsy.  Embarrassing, but luckily, I managed to enjoy the day (and the weekend) in spite of my nose problems.

And what a fantastic weekend we had!  For such a compact city, there is lots to do in Providence – we hardly scratched the surface during our weekend.  The people we ran into were all very friendly, and we ate lots of great food.  We will have to find an occasion to go back – next time, maybe during the spring or summer when it hopefully won’t be so cold.

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