On the Road Again – Part Three

Greetings from the Concorde Room at JFK, which is the 1st class lounge for British Airways passengers. The great thing about this lounge is that you can have a lovely dinner on the ground before you board your flight. We’ve just finished a 3-course meal and have about an hour before we board our flight to London Heathrow (which you probably already know).

Before we got to the airport, though, here’s our intrepid AAC, CPA with the baggage (no, not me), whilst waiting for our car to arrive:

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AAC, CPA with the bags

CONCORDE ROOM ENTRANCE
The dapper (and hungry) AAC, CPA arrives at the Concorde Room

The meal was quite delicious:

Artichoke
A grilled artichoke and frisee salad for AAC, CPA

Gravlax
A delicious gravlax with pickled fennel and lemon Greek yogurt for me

Sirloin
We both had the Szechuan Crusted NY Sirloin with Sauteed Baby Bok Choy

Mille Feuille
And we each had the Raspberry Mille Feuille with White Chocolate Ice Cream

Each course came with the appropriate wine pairings and we are both now very relaxed and satisfied. Can’t wait to board the plane and climb under the covers!

Getting back to business:

Now that I’ve told you about how we’re getting to Dubai and also about Seabourn Encore, I thought you might like to know our cruise itinerary. Although there are 9 sea days – the entire cruise is 19 days! – it is, especially for us, port intensive. And all of them are new to us, so it’s a good thing that we’ve done our homework and brought along sensible shoes!

We will sail from Dubai next Monday at approximately 5:00 PM. Here’s a look at our cruise itinerary:

Cruise Itinerary
Map courtesy of Seabourn

As you can see, our first stop will be Doha, Qatar. One of the things we were most looking forward to seeing was to visit the Museum of Islamic Art, designed by the renowned architect, I.M. Pei. As luck would have it, the museum is closed on Tuesdays which is, of course, the day we’ll be in port. (Grrrrr.) We will, however, most likely visit the famous Souq Waqif, the central market, which has served the city for many centuries. If falconry is your thing, the Falcon Souq is just next door!

Doha - Museum of Islamic Art - IM Pei
I.M. Pei designed the Museum of Islamic Art – closed on Tuesdays!

Doha - Souq Waqif
The Souq Waqif – centuries old

Following our depature from Doha, we’ll enjoy our first day at sea (my fave!)

Our next port is Muscat, Oman, the “Pearl of Mystic Arabia”. Muscat is a city of untold riches, as personified by such sites as the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque and the recently built Muscat Royal Opera House, which attracts many of the world’s finest singers. Unfortunately, there will be no performances while we’re in town, but we hope to take a tour and see the opera house for ourselves.

Muscat - Sultan Taymoor Grand Mosque
The fantastic Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque

Muscat - Royal Opera House
The Muscat Royal Opera House

Muscat - Royal Opera House Interior
Interior of the Opera House

Following another sea day, we land in Salalah, Oman’s ancient incense capital and an oasis of lush vegetation, unlike the otherwise arid landscapes of the Arabian peninsula. One of the excursions offered will include a visit to Job’s tomb: a sacred site of pilgrimage for Muslims, Christians, and Jews alike.

Salalah
Salalah, Oman

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A sacred biblical site: Job’s tomb

Once we depart from Salalah, we will then have 5 full sea days, giving us a chance to become really well acquainted with Encore and its passengers and crew. Hopefully, we’ll have good internet service during those seas days so that I can keep you up to date with all of our on board adventures.

Our next port – and the highlight of the trip for us – is Aqaba, Jordan which, for those of you who are Lawrence of Arabia fans, played a major role in the Arab revolt during World War I. Nowadays, the port serves as Jordan’s only deep water port and, as important, is the place from which you can get to Petra, the country’s most important historical attraction.

Because we are in port for only 11 hours, it was necessary for us to book a private car and guide, as we wanted to visit not only Petra but, also, Wadi Rum, which was also one of the primary locations in Lawrence of Arabia. This excursion will be very intensive, but also very exciting.

Long considered the Lost City, Petra is one of the most spectacular sights in all antiquity, a city carved out of solid sandstone, and lost to all but the most intrepid Bedouins until 1812, and excavation of the site didn’t begin until more than a full century later. To get to the main city, you walk on foot (or via a horse-drawn carriage for hire) through a narrow gorge, a mile-long siq. We’re told that a vist to Petra is an experience that you will not easily forget.

Petra Souq
You walk through the extremely narrow siq to get to Petra

Petra Treasury
Petra’s most famous landmark – the Treasury, carved out of sandstone

Once we’ve visited Petra, we’ll return through the gorge to our waiting car. As time is so short, we’ll have a box lunch en route to our next site, the majestic Wadi Rum, about an hour away. Indeed, we’ll be transported back to the time of T.E. Lawrence, Auda Abu Tayi, Prince Faisal and the fearless Bedouins who particpated in the Arab Revolt.

Wadi Rum
The majestic Wadi Rum

Wadi Rum - TE Lawrence
Memorial Carving of T.E. Lawrence at Wadi Rum

Following our visit to Wadi Rum, it’s back to the ship. I believe that this excursion will be one of the most memorable we’ve ever experienced.

Another sea day and, then, the ship will transit the Suez Canal. Having already been through the Panama Canal a few years ago, it will be very interesting to compare and contrast the experience. 

Suez Canal opening
The Suez Canal opened to traffic in 1869Suez Canal Modern
A more modern look at the Suez Canal

The following day, we land at Ashdod, the largest port in Israel and the main gateway to Jerusalem. From the port, it’s about a 75-minute drive (in good traffic!) to this sacred city. Again, because time is short, we’ve elected to hire a car and guide/driver to take us from the ship through the Judean Hills to Jerusalem. I visited Israel many years ago (let’s just say not in this millennium) but AAC, CPA has never been. So I’ve chosen what I believe to be the most important sites for us to see: the Old City (in quadrants for the many faiths who live and worship there), the Wailing Wall (the holiest Jewish site in the World) and the Dome of the Rock (the holiest of all Muslim shrines). 

AShdod
The port city of Ashdod, Israel

Dome of the Rock and the Temple Mount
Jerusalem

Thanks to our good friend, Yaniv, who has been so generous in suggesting things to do while we’re in Israel, we’ve also scored a reservation for lunch at one of the city’s finest restaurants, Machneyuda, adjacent to the world-famous Mahane Yehuda Market. It seems that Israel has become a place for foodies!

Machneyuda
Machneyuda for lunch!

Mahane Yehuda Market
The Mahane Yehuda Market next door

After our return to the ship, Encore will reposition over to Haifa, Israel’s primary port and located about an hour away (by train) from Tel Aviv. AAC CPA and I have decided that we’ll venture out on our own, starting with a train ride and then visiting Yafo (Jaffa), the Old City, much of which has become a cultural enclave and also has wonderful cafes and restaurants. 

Tel Aviv - Yaffo
Yafo

So we’ll spend our day in Tel Aviv strolling around the city and taking in the sights. Then we’ll get back on the train to Haifa and return to the ship.

Another sea day and then we’ll travel to the Greek Islands. We’ll visit two ports: Rhodes and Santorini, both of which have rich histories and are extremely picturesque. Although excursions are available, I think we’ll opt for “independent activities”, checking out the sites, taking in the cafes, and just soaking up the atmosphere.

Rhodes
Rhodes

Santorini
The magical island of Santorini

We’ll depart Santorini late in the afternoon – it’s our last port and we’ll sail over to Piraeus (Athens), where we’ll disembark after our 19-day adventure aboard the beautiful Seabourn Encore and transfer to Athens International for our flights home – and to reality – and to getting on the scale to see how much damage we’ve done. 🙂

How lucky are we that we get to travel to these fabulous places? Stay tuned for my reports as we experience them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the Road Again – Part Two

Greetings from a fabulously warm and sunny day in New York City. The last time I checked, the Fahrenheit was sitting at a sumptuous and dreamy 78. At least for now, Spring has sprung.

Our countdown clock now stands at about T-28 hours, which marks our departure for JFK, where we’ll catch our overnight chariot to LHR. As you already know, we’ll have a 22-hour layover and then catch a flight to Abu Dhabi and then we transfer to Dubai for a long weekend.

The reason that we’re jumping through all of these lovely hoops is that, on April 17th, we’re boarding the almost brand new Seabourn Encore, which launched this past January. AAC CPA and I are Seabourn newbies, but we’ve been told that it’s a superior line with excellent service and attention to detail.

The newest addition to the Seabourn fleet , Encore introduces a new class of ship (indeed, the “Encore-class”), and is about 26% larger than the three “Odyssey-class” vessels. Built in Italy at the famed Fincantieri shipyard, Encore carries just 600 passengers in 300 suites.

While the vessel has many of the familiar features and venues of past Seabourn ships, Encore has been totally rethought by famed designer Adam D. Tihany and, from what we’ve heard, the ship operates more like an elegant yacht than a more formal vessel. 

So far, all of our dealings with the line have been terrific. One funny thing that happened was that, the day after we booked the cruise, we heard from our travel agents that Seabourn had added an extra day to our cruise at no extra cost to us, which was quite lovely. This cruise – from beginning to end – will last 19 days (9 of which will be sea days), making it the longest time we’ve ever been on a ship. (We’ve already packed some trousers with elasticized waistlines, just in case.)

An important benefit of the Seabourn line is that it is all-inclusive (although excursions are an add-on) and, unlike Crystal or Cunard, every night is a casual night. We’ve heard that the ship will have 1 or 2 optional formal nights, but that will just be in the main restaurant. We’ve been able to eliminate one piece of luggage simply from not having to schlep the formalwear. 

Another innovation on Encore – which will be extended to the other Seabourn ships is the new partnership with famed California chef, Thomas Keller (of French Laundry fame, as well as many other establishments). The Grill by Thomas Keller can be booked online one time prior to boarding and, as I understand it, there is no surcharge to dine there, unless you want to order from the premium wine list. We’re already set and will dine there the 3rd night of our voyage. 

One unfortunate and truly bizarre situation occurred in February when Encore was docked in Timaru, New Zealand. A sudden change in weather – high winds – caused the ship to lose its moorings, and the ship started to drift away (almost in slow motion) from its berth. Take a look at the following youtube video to see what happened next.

Seabourn Encore gets a boo-boo

We were all relieved to hear that, following a thorough inspection, Encore was cleared to depart on schedule and continued to its next scheduled port. The extremely minor damage was repaired very soon thereafter.

As this is just a preview and, since we don’t embark until next Monday, that’s all I have to say about the ship right now. 

In the meantime, I thought you might like to see some photos and renderings of the ship. It looks quite gorgeous and, rest assured, I’ll have more to share with you once we’re on board.

Seabourn Encore
The beautiful new Seabourn Encore

Atrium
The ship’s atrium – are we dizzy yet?

Observation Bar
The Observation Bar – high up on deck 11

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The pool deck – there’s also a bar around there somewhere, as well as a casual restaurant

The Colonnade
The Colonnade serves up tasty buffets for breakfast and lunch

The Colonnade
The Colonnade also provides dining al fresco

Seabourn Square
Seabourn Square – the center of the ship

The Restuarant
Encore’s main restaurant – all open seating

The Retreat
One of the few add-ons: the Retreat – private cabañas rented by the day

Sushi
A new Seabourn dining venue: Sushi, open for lunch and dinner

Thomas Keller Lounge
Before dining at the Grill, stop by the adjacent watering hole for a cocktail

The Grill by Thomas Keller
After whetting your whistle, enjoy your dinner at the Grill by Thomas Keller

So now you have a bit of an overview for our home starting next Monday.

Next time, I’ll tell you more about the fascinating itinerary and the many unique places we’ll be visiting over the next few weeks.

To be continued!!

On the Road Again – Part One

Greetings from a slightly sunny and cool Sunday morning in New York City. Spring is trying to arrive in fits and starts. I suppose one must be patient.

I know we’ve been away a long time. We’ve missed you, but we’ve had a very productive winter, attending lots of theatre and opera and the like, dining out at establishments both new and familiar.

But now it’s time to get out of town and our upcoming trip will take us to some fabulous places and, perhaps, just a bit out of our comfort zones. 

The main event of this trip will be a 19-day cruise from Dubai to Piraeus (Athens). We’ll sail through the Middle East and the Suez Canal, to Israel and through the Greek Islands. It’s going to be quite the big deal, I think.

Our ship will be the 3 months old Seabourn Encore. As you know, we’re very loyal to Crystal Cruises, and this will be our first time aboard a Seabourn vessel, but everything we’ve heard augers well and we’re looking forward to trying something new. 

Seabourn Encore
The beautiful new Seabourn Encore

Spoiler Alert: If you look at the 2nd deck up from the jacuzzi at the front of the ship, the outdoor area on the right is the balcony for our cabin. We’re literally under the bridge.

More about the cruise later.

But first, we must get to Dubai to board the ship. And therein lies a tale and a bit of an adventure. 

It’ll be no surprise to you that we like to travel well and, most importantly, we like to get the best bargains wherever we find them.

We also like to tick off our “bucket list” items, one of which is to fly on Etihad Airways in the first class Apartments.

Oh – and we want to do it on miles, ie., for cheap!

So, for the past year, I’ve been looking to score 2 award flights from JFK to AUH (a/k/a Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates). There are 2 flights daily but, in order to fly in the Apartments, you must fly the A-380, which service is currently offered only on 1 flight daily. Awards in first class on this aircraft are impossible to obtain. The other daily flight is on a smaller aircraft and, therefore, doesn’t offer the Apartment. It’s always something, right?

(Wouldn’t you know – starting on June 1st, Etihad will offer A380 service on both daily flights from New York and, at that point, it’s possible to find award availability if you can book about 3 months in advance. Sigh!)

To cover ourselves, we booked flights on British Airways through Heathrow (London) with a connecting flight to Dubai. We were able to do it all on miles, but BA charges hefty taxes on awards flights. Even so, for a few hundred dollars each, we booked first class for both segments. These flights were booked last May and, ever since, I checked and rechecked award availability on Etihad, just in case.

BA 1st - 777
Our British Airways chariot from New York to London

BTW, we love taking the BA overnight flights to London Heathrow. If you’re lucky enough to be flying in first class, you’ll have access to the Concorde Room at JFK, which features a proper restaurant, so you can have dinner there (no charge for food and/or drinks) and, then, once your flight has taken off, you can climb under the covers and sleep for most of the light. Delovely!

Concorde Room JFK - 01
The Concorde Room at JFK

Concorde Room JFK - 02
You can enjoy a proper meal in the Concorde Room before your flight.

After months of frustration being unable to get that elusive Etihad award, I had – what Dorothy Kilgallen on What’s My Line used to call – a wienie! I remembered that Etihad has service to Abu Dhabi from London Heathrow. Would it be possible to find an award on that route?

The Etihad website has a very useful tool that allows you to find available awards and I hit the jackpot in finding exactly what I needed! Now, I wondered, would American Airlines allow me to rebook the 2nd segment (London – Dubai) over to Etihad (London – Abu Dhabi)? Only one way to find out.

The American AAdvantage rep couldn’t have been nicer: Not only was it possible, but we ended up saving several hundreds of dollars on the 2nd segment, because there were virtually no taxes! The whole thing took about 15 minutes and we were done! Woo-Hoo!

Etihad 380
The Etihad A380 – a beautiful piece of engineering

Etihad Apartment 3A and 4A
Our Etihad “Apartments”: mine on the left and AAC CPA’s on the right

Etihad Bar
If you want to be social, drop by the bar at 36,000 feet!

There was one small glitch, however: Because the Etihad flight departs London at 9:30 AM, we will end up having a 22-hour layover in London. Well, folks, I certainly know how to put a layover to good use!

Within 30 minutes of booking the Etihad flight, I’d arranged for matinee tickets to see Edward Albee’s The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? at Theatre Royal Haymarket, and made an early dinner reservation at one of our favorite London restaurants, Hawksmoor in Air Street. In between, we’ll swan over to one of our favorite hotels, The Corinthia in Whitehall Place, where we’ll enjoy a cocktail at the lovely Bassoon Bar.

Theatre Royal Haymarket
The historic Theatre Royal Haymarket

The Goat
Hey – recognize the guy on the left? He was Brody on Homeland!

Bassoon Bar - 02
The trendy Bassoon Bar at the Corinthia

Hawksmoor Air Street
Great steakhouse and more: Hawksmoor in Air Street

Oh, and as we needed a place for the night, I booked accommodations at the Hilton London Heathrow. It was recommended to us by friends who know. And get this: the hotel is a 10-minute walk to Terminal 4/Heathrow, from which our Etihad flight will depart the next morning.

Hilton Exterior
The Hilton is a 10-minute covered walk to Terminal 4 at Heathrow

Hilton Room
Cool accommodations at the Hilton

Walkway LHR - Hilton
Hotel to airport – quick walk – how great is that?

So, our layover will be filled with fun things to do: culture, liquid refreshment, grub.

Oh, and from Terminal 4/Heathrow to Piccadilly Circus in Central London, we can take the Piccadilly line in just about an hour. How great is that?

Tube Map to London
How to get from here to there.

The flight from London to Abu Dhabi take about 7½ hours (wish it were LONGER!), so we’ll arrive in Abu Dhabi at about 8:00 PM local time. For the transfer to Dubai (about a 90 minute drive), we’ve arranged for our hotel – Raffles Dubai – to pick us up at the airport.

Dubai
Iconic Image – Dubai

Raffles Dubai
Our digs in Dubai – cute, right?

We’ll have 3 nights and 2 full days in Dubai before boarding Encore on Monday, the 17th.

There, in a nutshell, is the first 5 days of our trip. Another preview on the cruise will follow in a couple of days.

Enjoy!

Au revoir, Paris: Our Photo Album

Bon soir, mes amis! This will be my last entry on our holiday trip to Paris and, instead of a lot of gabbing, it’s just going to be photos taken while we were there. Some you may have seen in earlier entries but there are some new ones here, too.

Enjoy!

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Friday evening: British Airways offers on-the-ground-buffet dining for some overnight flights

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AAC, CPA taking advantage of same

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Our Open Skies cabin

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Saturday morning: Checking into the fabulous Peninsula Paris

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Saturday afternoon: AAC, CPA arrives at the Arch de Triomphe: Bon jour, Paris!

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And then grabs lunch at Ladurée just down the Champs Elysses

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Classic Club Ladurée

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The hotel provides us with our own stockings

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Saturday evening: Negronis at Bar Kléber at the Peninsula

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Followed by Christmas Eve dinner at Bistrot de L’Oulette

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Sunday morning: Christmas continental breakfast at Le Lobby

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Sunday afternoon: checking out the competition – Four Seasons George V

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Sunday evening: Pre-opera dinner at L’Opera

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Followed by AAC, CPA at the Palais Garnier

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The grand foyer and Christmas tree at the Palais Garnier

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Iphigénie en Tauride curtain call

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Christmas Night: the Champs Elysses all gussied up

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Monday morning: Irina, of Paris Muse, shows us the Louvre

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And we get to see the Mona Lisa. Wait, what???

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Monday evening: AAC, CPA arrives at Le Grand Véfour

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The jewel-box dining room at Le Grand Véfour

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Sensational duck liver ravioli – one of their “Classics”

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Post-dinner view from our Uber on the way back to the hotel

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Tuesday morning: AAC, CPA takes Le Metro to our next Paris Muse tour

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AAC, CPA outside of Notre Dame Cathedral

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And with our terrific Paris Muse guide, Jason

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Tuesday evening: Cocktails and dinner at Monsieur Bleu

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Cool light fixtures at Monsieur Bleu

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View from the best tables at Monsieur Bleu

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Wednesday afternoon: Lunch at Caviar Kaspia

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You always get pickles with your caviar – a Russian thing?

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2nd course of “The Rasputin Set” – caviar with a baked potato

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Famous sites on the way back to the hotel: the Madeline

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Place de la Concorde – late afternoon

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Wednesday evening: 42nd Street at Théâtre du Châtelet

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AAC, CPA at Théâtre du Châtelet

Forty Second Street - UK Productions
42nd Street onstage at Théâtre du Châtelet

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Thursday morning: Paying a visit to Jeu de Paume

conflicts
Seeing the exhibit “Uprisings”

biblioteque
Thursday afternoon: And now over to Bibliothèque nationale de France

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AAC, CPA pays homage to Richard Avedon and Audrey Hepburn

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Part of the Avedon exhibit at Bibliothèque nationale de France

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Thursday evening: Gala farewell dinner at L’Oiseau Blanc atop the Peninsula Paris

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The view from our table at L’Oiseau Blanc

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AAC, CPA takes a picture at L’Oiseau Blanc

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A replica of the actual L’Oiseau Blanc (The White Bird)

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Friday morning: AAC, CPA heads back to reality and New York City

That’s all, folks!!

Thursday in Paris: Two Exhibits

So: AAC, CPA and I are still in the afterglow of our magical week in Paris. I’ve shared a lot of it with you already, but I wanted to tell you about two exhibits we saw last Thursday – our last day in Paris – which were as different as night and day, but equally valid and important.

You probably already know that, back in the day, the Jeu de Paume housed the impressionists before the Musée D’Orsay was restored over 30 years ago, at which point the art was moved there. Between 1947 and 1986, Jeu de Paume was arguably the most notable museum of impressionist painting in the world. While the D’Orsay restoration was under way, AAC, CPA and I made our first visit to Paris and visited the Jeu de Paume specifically to see the art that was then on display. It was breathtaking. But, once the Musée D’Orsay opened its doors, we never returned to the Jeu de Paume.

jeu-de-paume-thursday
Jeu de Paume at the edge of the Tuileries at the Place de la Concorde

Until last Thursday, that is, when we went to see an exhibition entitled Soulévements (Uprisings). Georges Didi-Huberman, curator of the exhibition, says:

“What makes us rise up? It is forces: mental, physical, and social forces. Through these forces we transform immobility into movement, burden into energy, submission into revolt, renunciation into expansive joy. Uprisings occur as gestures: arms rise up, hearts beat more strongly, bodies unfold, mouths are unbound. Uprisings are never without thoughts, which become sentences: we think, express ourselves, discuss, sing, scribble a message, create a poster, distribute a tract, or write a work of resistance.

” . . . . whenever a wall is erected, there will always be “people arisen” to “jump the wall”, that is, to cross over borders. If only by imagining.”

Presented in five sections: “With Elements (Unleashed)”, “With Gestures (Intense)”, “With Words (Exclaimed”), “With Conflicts (Flared Up”), and “With Desires (Indestructable)”, the exhibit spans over 200 years. It is challenging, provocative, sometimes difficult to view, but, also, inspiring and extremely timely.

elements
“With Elements”: The Whims, Francisco de Goya, 1799

gestures
“With Gestures”: Anti-Catholic demonstrations in Londerry, Gilles Caron, 1969

words
“With Words”: Dada raises everything, Philippe Soupault, 1921

conflicts
“With Conflicts”: The Charge, Félix Vallotton, 1893

desires
“With Desires”: Preparatory Drawing for “The Hope of the Dead Man I, II and III”, Joan Miró, 1973

Unfortunately, the exhibit is ending on January 15th but, if you’re in Paris and want to spend a couple of hours seeing an extraordinary array of images, Soulévements is for you.

CULTURE TIP: Jeu de Paume: Soulèvements

After that extremely intense experience, it was time to hop back onto the Metro and head across town to the Bibliothèque nationale de France to see a fabulous exhibit entitled “Avedon’s France: Old World, New Look”. We’re speaking now of Richard Avedon (1923-2004), one of the most significant and influential photographers of the mid-to-late 20th century.

avedon
Richard Avedon

A prolific artist, Avedon worked in many media but he is, perhaps, best remembered in the United States for his fashion photography, celebrity portraiture and, most especially, for the 1957 film, Funny Face, in which Fred Astaire plays a photographer named Dick Avery (get it?) who plays Pygmalion to Audrey Hepburn’s Galatea.

It’s a marvelous MGM musical (check the film’s credits to see all the creatives from that studio) but which, for contractual reasons, was actually produced by Paramount (which wouldn’t release Hepburn to MGM, so everyone schlepped over to Paramount). Mostly set in Paris, Avedon was the visual consultant and created some sensational images that are as astonishing now as they were 60 years ago. In fact, the first thing you see at the exhibit is a large circular room dedicated to Funny Face.

MOVIE TIP: Funny Face Montage, Photography by Richard Avedon

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AAC, CPA channels Audrey Hepburn in his homage to Avedon

Here are some of Avedon’s remarkable images from Funny Face:

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This image became the logo for the film.

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Suzy Parker in the opening of the film: “Think Pink!”

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Dorothy Virginia Margaret Juba, a/k/a Dovima

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Audrey Hepburn with an assist from The Winged Victory of Samothrace

The Avedon exhibit runs through February 26th, and I encourage you to make the trek. You’ll have a great time.

CULTURE TIP: Bibliothèque national de France: Avedon’s France: Old World, New Look

All in all, a day well spent by AAC, CPA and me.

The Peninsula Paris – Unparalleled Luxury and Pampering

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Avenue Kléber entrance to the Peninsula Paris

When traveling, there are those who use their hotels and hotel rooms as a convenience where they can drop off their luggage, take a shower and sleep. There are others, like AAC, CPA and me, who like to hang around the hotel, to enjoy our accommodation and to be well taken care of and, perhaps, to be pampered – just a little bit.

Welcome to the Peninsula Paris – one of the most luxurious and beautiful hotels it’s been our pleasure to visit. Originally opened in 1908 as the Hotel Majestic and conveniently located on the Avenue Kléber within a 5-minute walk to the Arc de Triomphe, the building was sold by the French government in 2008 for a reported $460 million; it reopened as the Peninsula Paris on August 1, 2014. The extensive rebuilding cost €338 million. 

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The lobby entrance to the hotel – town cars at the wait

We first stayed at the Peninsula Paris in 2015 for a too-quick 36 hours, and were dazzled by the experience. It immediately became one of our top-5 favorite hotels of all time. When AAC, CPA’s hip thing forced us to juggle our travel schedule (see my earlier entry “Hips and Ships” for details), we decided to spend Christmas in Paris. 

Although I generally book all of my hotel reservations through the sensational Veronica at AmEx FHR, on this occasion the hotel was offering a deal that was too good to pass up and which, unfortunately, AmEx was unable to match: stay 2 nights and get the 3rd free. As we were staying a total of 6 nights, we ended up getting 2 nights for free. Additionally, when we booked the trip in August (sometimes it definitely pays to plan ahead), the rates at the hotel were as low as I’ve ever seen them, literally hundreds of Euros lower. Perhaps it was a flash sale, and we got lucky.

In the months leading up to our arrival, I must commend the superb concierge team, who assisted us in making dinner reservations and dealt with an assortment of requests. Because we were in Paris over Christmas week, we decided that we wanted to send our holiday cards from the hotel and, sure enough, our intrepid hotel concierges were happy to oblige. Always prompt, always cheerful, armed with lots of useful information, each of them was a joy.

A great feature of the Peninsula hotels and that they basically have 24-hour check-in; that is, you let them know what time you plan to arrive and, in most cases, your room will be waiting for you. As we flew overnight from New York to Paris, we were at the hotel before 10:00 AM and, yes, we were immediately escorted up to our room, a junior suite. 

The guest rooms in this hotel are gorgeous, and I thought you might enjoy seeing where we stayed.

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Our bedroom area

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iPads on both sides of the bed – they did everything. We had dueling remote controls!

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The living area (printer included at the desk)

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We got goodies.

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As we arrived on Christmas Eve, we were given these for Santa to fill.

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This is our dressing room – loads of room for all our stuff.

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Perhaps the pièce de résistance: our bathroom

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We each had our own sink.

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Generous walk-in-shower

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Excusez-moi, but here’s our Japanese toilet (with heated seat)

Perhaps now you understand why we didn’t mind spending time in our room after a day of sightseeing or museum-going. It was the perfect place to hang out and relax.

The rest of the hotel is equally gorgeous. Allow me to give you a quick tour of some of the public spaces:

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The lobby

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Side entrance to the hotel

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The grand staircase

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AAC, CPA under the Christmas tree

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Le Lobby, the main restaurant, where we had breakfast each morning.

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AAC, CPA’s Continental Breakfast – enough to share

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On Christmas morning, we were treated to a floorshow with breakfast!

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The intimate Bar Kléber – great for a pre-dinner cocktail

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Negronis, anyone?

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L’Oiseau Blanc, the hotel’s rooftop gourmet restaurant, view included

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The view from our table at L’Oiseau Blanc on our last night in Paris

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A replica of the real L’Oiseau Blanc (The White Bird), which gave the restaurant its name

Just a final word about the hotel staff: from the front desk, to the doormen, to the maids, to all of the restaurant personnel, everyone was pitch-perfect. It’s the mark of a truly great hotel where everyone makes you feel welcome and always greets you with a smile.

There are Peninsula hotels all over the world. We’ve been extremely fortunate to visit the ones in Beverly Hills, Chicago and Paris. They are each in their own ways superior properties, but the Paris hotel is the absolute top. If you have the means to splurge for a special occasion, by all means you must stay. At the very least, drop by and take a walk through the lobby and, perhaps, have a cocktail at the Bar Kléber or afternoon tea at Le Lobby. You won’t regret it.

LODGING TIP: The Peninsula Paris

CUISINE TIP: Le Lobby

CUISINE TIP: L’Oiseau Blanc

IMBIBING TIP: Le Bar Kléber

Paris Muse: The Best Way to See Paris

Happy New Year! AAC, CPA and I returned from the City of Light on Friday afternoon. Over the next few days, I’ll be telling you more about our Rainbow High week in one of our favorite places on the planet.

Today’s topic is seeing Paris. Although we’ve been there over a dozen times, there are a few things we haven’t yet done. For instance, some years ago we made a quick visit to Musée du Louvre, but only to see the “Big 3”. Even your faithful correspondent, TheCulturedTraveler, was at a loss at how to see the most famous museum on the planet.

Enter Paris Muse, which is in the business of providing private tours to the discerning traveler (cultured or not). I happened to stumble upon them when doing some research a couple of months ago. They offer all kinds of tour options from the great museums, to walking tours around Paris, themed tours, family-oriented tours for kids aged 6 and up. There’s even a “Cracking the DaVinci Code at the Louvre”, which is much more interesting than you might expect. Or how about “The French Revolution: A Murder Mystery Tour”, which is also very family friendly? 

When you decide to book a tour (or tours) on their website, it’s incredibly easy. You’ll have an option of being in a group of no more than 4 people but, for a total of an additional 20 Euros, it’s just you and your guide. Should you want to book a tour for your family or friends, I believe it’s up to a maximum of 6 people. It’s such a great deal. 

What makes Paris Muse so superior are two basic things: 

First, I had questions prior to booking a couple of tours online and sent an e-mail inquiry. I kid you not but, within 15 minutes, I had a reply from the intrepid Tricia, who runs the office and seemed to be available 24/7, and she answered all of my questions. She was amazing. We had wanted a tour of Notre Dame Cathedral on a particular day, but their website indicated that nothing was available. One more e-mail to Tricia and, voila!, the perfect time slot on the day we wanted materialized. Paris Muse absolutely runs a first-class organization.

Next and, perhaps, most importantly, the guides are incomparable. They are knowledgeable, accessible, friendly and totally passionate about their subject matter. They also make it very personal. It’s like having a good friend showing you something they love.

We elected to take two tours: Introduction to the Treasures of the Louvre (a 2½ hour tour) on Monday and Notre Dame Cathedral (a 90 minute tour) on Tuesday. When you book a tour online, you receive an almost immediate confirmation, along with the name of your guide and an assigned rendezvous point (photographs attached). When you arrive at the assigned spot, your guide will be waiting with your name on a placard.

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AAC, CPA outside Musée du Louvre with the Tour Eiffel in the background

Our Musée du Louvre guide was Irina, originally from Russia, but living in Paris for the past decade. She has two Master’s degrees – in French literature and journalism. She was marvelous in squiring us around the massive Louvre and showing us things we’d never seen there before.

We started over 3,700 years ago in ancient Mesopotamia. Irina led us right up to the Code of Hammurabi, which features the first laws ever put down in writing. The text is written in cuneiform script and the Akkadian language. In fact, it predates biblical law by centuries. If we had seen nothing else at the Louvre that day, seeing this work of art, history and literature would have been more than enough. And we were just starting.

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The Code of Hammurabi

I could take up a lot of space telling you what we saw that day but, instead, I’ll concentrate on a few photos. You’ll get the idea.

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One of the entries into the Palace of Darius, built over 2,500 years ago.

Of course, the “Big 3”:

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The beautiful Aphrodite, a/k/a the Venus de Milo

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The Winged Victory of Samothrace

We couldn’t even get close to the Mona Lisa – there were literally hundreds of people crowding in to see La Gioconda. Fortunately, we discovered another, earlier version of the painting in an adjacent gallery, which we went to see. If you look closely, the model bears an uncanny resemblance to someone we all know and love.

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The alternate Mona Lisa

Finally, here’s a picture of Irina with AAC, CPA at the conclusion of our tour:

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Irina showed us a great time.

The next morning, we had our tour of Notre Dame Cathedral with Jason, a Harvard PhD candidate specializing in the history of architecture. He’s wrapping up his dissertation this year. Like Irina, he’s very personable, highly knowledgeable and has a great passion for architecture.

We spend most of our tour studying the exterior of Notre Dame, which took well over 100 years to complete and is one of the first buildings to use flying buttresses, which support the extremely high exterior walls. The structure was erected in stages and underwent a controversial restoration in the mid-19th century, led by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. Due to his expertise, Jason was able to explain the intricacies of the architectural history of the cathedral over the past 800-plus years.

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AAC, CPA anticipates our Tuesday morning tour.

Various shots of the cathedral:

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And, finally, here’s a shot of AAC, CPA and Jason at the conclusion of our tour:

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So, if you’re planning a trip to Paris and would like to experience a terrific private tour that is immersive and entertaining and educational, contact Paris Muse. You’ll have a wonderful time.

Culture Tip: Paris Muse

 

Dinner at Le Grand Véfour

There are many astonishing and multi-Michelin starred restaurants at which one may dine in Paris – Taillevant, Guy Savoy, Arpege, Tour D’Argent, Le Cinq and a few others  – but there is one that, for us, tops them all: Le Grand Véfour.

Taken from a brochure that this restaurant places on each table:

“In 1784, with development work at the Palais-Royal complete, Mr. Aubertot, a café-owner by trade, opened the fashionable Café de Chartres on the site currently occupied by Le Grand Véfour. This hotbed of political chatter soon became the place to be seen, as the Palais-Royal was the ideological center of the movement that led to the French Revolution on 1789.

“During the Revolution, the Café de Chartres became a luxurious restaurant and future headquarters for the post-Jacobin extremists who came to power in July, 1794. Napoléon Bonaparte and Joséphine dined there.

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Napoléon Bonaparte and Joséphine Beauharnais

“The reputation of Café de Chartres reached its zenith during the Restoration, with the arrival of Jean Véfour, who gave his name to the café and oversaw its transformation into a sumptuous restaurant that had all of fashionable Paris clamoring to get into.

“On February 25, 1830, Victor Hugo and his friends dined at Le Grand Véfour to celebrate the opening night of “The Battle of Hernani”, one of the poet’s plays being staged for the first time at the Comédie Francaise.

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Victor Hugo

“During the Belle Époque, the elite rubbed shoulders with the demimonde at Le Grand Véfour, where La Belle Otéro pirouetted on the pink marble tables under the adoring gaze of her royal lovers.

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La Belle Otéro

“Between 1914 – 1945, the restaurant faded from the limelight. After the Liberation of Paris in 1945, the owner of Maxim’s, Louis Vaudable, purchased Le Grand Véfour and handed it on, in 1948, to Raymond Oliver who reigned there for 36 years and restored the restaurant to its former splendor. Colette and Jean Cocteau made the establishment their restaurant of choice and celebrities from the world of art and literature streamed into Le Grand Véfour including Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.

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Colette

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Jean Cocteau

“Jean Taittinger acquired this temple of French gastronomy from Raymond Oliver in 1984 and, after a meticulous renovation, restored the luminous decoration.

“Today, Guy Martin has taken on the task of reversing the ravages of time to fully restore Le Grand Véfour – an establishment that has been at the epicenter of Parisian life for over two hundred years.”

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Guy Martin

On Monday evening, AAC and I dined at Le Grand Véfour – for the 4th time. It is the only restaurant in Paris at which we have eaten more than twice. It’s a culinary and sensory experience that deserves to be repeated.

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AAC, CPA arrives at Le Grand Véfour – let the games begin!

The first thing you notice upon entering the restaurant is the jewel-box splendor of the dining room, the sense of history, and the adventure upon which you are about to embark. The service, from the maitre ‘d who escorts you to your table to the men and women who serve you, is understated, classy, casually correct and almost invisible. It all just somehow happens.

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The dining room as seen from the entrance. Our banquette is at the upper right corner.

You are already aware of some of the luminaries who have dined there over the past two centuries. Some of them have been honored by having banquettes named for them: Napoleon, Joséphine, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Colette, at whose banquette we have sat each of the 4 times we have dined at Le Grand Véfour. 

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Colette’s plaque at our banquette.

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The beautiful place setting 

Once seated, we were offered an aperitif to enjoy while perusing the menu, and it seemed appropriate to commence our evening with a glass of Ruinart Rose Champagne.

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Whetting the appetite, as it were.

The menu, while not large, is extremely diverse and offers a mouth-watering selection of entrees and plats.

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The menu cover

In addition to the current menu, there are a few “all-star” choices, referred to as the “classics”. One of our faves is the duck liver ravioli with truffle emulsion cream: exquisitely thin and delicate dumplings filled with the tenderest duck liver and topped with a light truffle cream. It’s not unlike popping a little heaven into your mouth.

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Duck liver ravioli with truffle emulsion cream

To accompany the ravioli, our sommelier recommended a split of Blagny Meursault 2011 produced by Louis Latour, which beautifully supported the delicacy of the pasta and the bite of the duck liver.

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I love the white Burgundies!

To follow the ravioli, AAC, CPA and I went our own and separate ways: he to have the braised filet of sole with crunchy skin, which was beautifully and lovingly prepared to maintain the delicacy of the fish, and I to have the filet of lamb with parsley root in fine puree, accompanied by butternut gnocchi, with Jamaican pepper juice which was, to put it mildly, a taste sensation, verging on sensory overload. Each of our plats were accompanied by a potato puree au jus – creamy, buttery, and substantial.

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AAC, CPA’s braised filet of sole

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And my lamb with butternut gnocchi

For this course, we switched to a Chateau Peyrat Fourthon 2008, which was a delicious counterpart to both the sole and the lamb.

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Our red for the evening

While we were taking a break after our plats, we stopped to appreciate, yet again, the beautiful dining room:

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It truly is like being inside a beautiful jewel box.

Although we had each ordered a dessert, Le Grand Véfour must have a true sugar addiction, because desserts here are served as a multi-course affair. First came a duet of a block of dark chocolate and a cauliflower mousse (I’m not kidding):

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The dessert marathon begins.

These were accompanied by plates of petits-four for each of us:

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A little something to accompany our chocolate and our cauliflower mousse

Oh, and there was a multi-layer citrus-type cream with a meringue topping that showed up as well:

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Kinda tart, but kinda sweet

Also presented at this point were delicious and very fresh grape and orange gelatin candies:

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So sweet and fresh

At this point, I want you to understand that we hadn’t yet received the desserts that we had actually ordered!!

At one of our earlier visits to Le Grand Véfour, we were astonished and delighted to discover that one of the dessert options was an artichoke crème brûlée, with candied vegetables and a bitter almond sherbet. Fortunately, that’s still one of Guy Martin’s classic creations and it was, once again, on the menu:

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The astonishing artichoke crème brûlée

AAC, CPA chose another classics – the Cube “Manjari”, with orange pepper infusion, which I must share with you in the following photographs:

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The Cube “Manjari”, as presented

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Peeking inside the cube

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The cube reveals all of the goodies inside.

You’d think that would be it, right? Not quite so fast, please.

Once these amazing desserts had been consumed, our waiter is back, first with a large platter bearing a variety of chocolate truffles and fresh caramels (you may have as many as you like) and, also, with the traditional yellow angel food cake, which concludes every meal at Le Grand Véfour:

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The end.

You would think that you’d be ready to explode at this point but, in reality, we were beautifully satisfied. Our three-hour dining experience had come to an end, but the evening was a combination of great food and great theatre, memorably served up for our culinary pleasure. 

Your final thought is that, one day, you will return again to sample the magic that is Le Grand Véfour.

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A last peek from the sidewalk

And, speaking of magic, here’s a last image from our Uber ride back to the hotel as we raced past Place Concorde:

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Paris at about 11:30 PM

 

 

Christmas in Paris

Bon jour, mes amis! I hope that Santa was good to each and every one of you. I, myself, felt very blessed today. I woke up next to AAC, CPA and am in the beautiful city of Paris. As Ira once lyricized, who can ask for anything more?

When last I left you, we were about to prepare for our Christmas Eve festivities, starting with a cocktail downstairs at Le Bar Kléber, which was doing a brisk business when we arrived at about 7:00 PM. The barman was very talented and delivered our cocktails with great flourish and enthusiasm.

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The view from our barstools

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Christmas Eve Negronis, mais sur.

IMBIBING TIP: Le Bar Kléber

From Le Bar Kléber, we Uber’ed over to Bistro de L’Oulette, a charming restaurant on the Rue des Tournelles near the Place des Vosges. We’d eaten there a few years ago and have always wanted to return. It’s a tiny little place, probably no more than 12 tables, and has a very friendly and welcoming staff.

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Once we were seated, the maitre ‘d approached with a plate of amuse bouche and offered us an aperitif, and we each opted for a glass of champagne. All were delicious.

As it was a holiday, the restaurant was featuring a 3-course pri-fixe for a very reasonable 52 EUR. The restaurant also has a delightful wine list at excellent prices and a wonderful variety of choices.

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Our table was decorated for the holiday.

Four our mains, AAC CPA had medallions of monkfish with a shrimp risotto, and I had medallions of lamp with a parsley crust, accompanied by crisp sauteed potatoes and mushrooms. Both were mouth-wateringly delicious.

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AAC CPA’s monkfish

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My lamb

Oh, and did i mention that we split a split of Joseph Drouhin Aloxe-Corton 2013 which perfectly complimented our entrees. Every bite was a taste sensation.

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A beautiful pairing for our entrees, AAC CPA hides behind the wine.

CUISINE TIP: Bistro de L’Oulette

Following dinner, it was back into the Uber and a quick return to the hotel. By that point, we were pretty tired. We struggled to stay up for awhile and finally gave up the ghost around midnight.

And then we blissfully slept for over 9 hours. It was heaven.

This morning, we went down to Le Lobby, for breakfast. It’s a beautiful room, with a beautiful staff, providing beautiful service.

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The entrance to Le Lobby

AAC CPA went for the 45 EUR continental breakfast which could, in fact, feed us both. I opted for eggs and then I poached some of his goodies.

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A very happy AAC CPA checking out his continental breakfast

While we were eating, we noticed that a guitarist and vocalist were setting up shop right next to our table. We were at first concerned, because we noticed the amplification that accompanied them. However, once they started to perform, it was totally delightful. Their repertoire was a combination of holiday music and American Songbook. It was a really nice touch to provide live entertainment for us.

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Live music 6 feet away from us!

CUISINE TIP: Le Lobby

After breakfast, we decided to take a little constitutional, as the weather is mild today. We decided to check out the competition’s holiday decorations at the nearby Four Seasons Hotel George V. We’ve stayed there on occasion and have always been wowed by the floral arrangements in their lobby. Here’s what we saw today:

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Meanwhile, out in their courtyard:

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Ice blue penguins!!!

LODGING TIP: Four Seasons Hotel George V

‘Tis the season to be jolly, indeed!

And now, it’s time to great ready, once again, to prepare for our 2nd evening out in this enchanted city. The bill of fare: dinner at L’Opera, the restaurant adjacent to the historic Palais Garnier, home of the Paris Opera, where we have tickets to see Iphigénie en Tauride.

More to follow!