Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Carrousel du Louvre

What can one do on a rain filled day in Paris?
Since our plans for going to the Louvre fell through the minute we saw the ticket line, we needed to come up with a plan B. It was our last day in Paris, so the time to purchase a museum pass was long gone, otherwise we could have purchased one in the Carrousel  du Louvre shopping mall under the Louvre courtyard. In retrospect perhaps the pass at 2 1/2 times the price of admission to the Louvre itself would have been worth the time wasted trying to decide what else to do. C'est la vie! If all else fails, go shopping.
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Even though we go to Europe each year, this was the first time I saw Kiko. As this trip progressed, it seemed that these stores were popping up everywhere. After buying several eye shadows and mascara here, finding the store again, after having actually used the products was especially nice.  Kiko manufactures a quality line of makeup at very reasonable prices. By the end of the trip, my shopping enabler and I were pulling each other away from Kiko thresholds to assure ourselves that there would be no additional baggage fees at the airport.
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Zany cow sculptures can be found in kitsch shops all over Europe. They are amusing in all their mutations, but I have not succumbed to buying one. The name of this shop that sells them eludes me, but it was bright and colorful with an eye on the contemporary. Besides these sculptures, they also had some interesting jewelry made of non precious materials. Most items were well designed, even those things stocked specifically to appeal to tourists.
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Shops offering food related souvenirs or gifts abounded, and there was a Mc Cafe, as well as a Starbuck's. The best course of action when traveling is to patronize locally owned businesses, because they are unfamiliar, therefore,  they will likely be more interesting. Doing that is a nice component of travel. Behemoth, predictable, American, corporate outposts are not on my radar, even at home, however, being flexible can sometimes be a good idea. This was one of those times. When my niece looked wistfully at the Starbuck's window I broke down. This was her first time in Europe and a "little bit of home" was going to be a small comfort we could well afford.
Yes, predictable as far as the coffee was concerned, but it was certainly nice to sit for a few moments, to compose our thoughts. We needed to  decide on how to fill up the rest of our afternoon. We would be leaving for Italy at 7:30 p.m. and still had a few hours to kill before heading for dinner, and Gare De Lyon. If it were not raining above ground, this little tete-a-tete would not have been so necessary.
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Laduree had a small shop in the mall and this was our opportunity to compare their macarons to those we had tried a day earlier at Christophe Roussel near Rue Cler. They compared favorably, although the Roussel macarons seemed more inventive. Since Laduree is such an institution, they can afford to be a bit more conservative. Below are a few photos of their stock and trade.
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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Another Venice of the North


Amsterdam, move over, it seems St. Petersburg is also claiming the title of "Venice of the North". Being farther north, they just may have more credibility, or better global positioning for the title.

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Of all the canals, my favorite was the small offshoot of the Moyka that ran alongside the Church of the Spilled Blood. It's narrower width was more reminiscent of Venice. In general, the canals of St. Petersburg were wider than the Grand Canal itself and bore little resemblance to Venice by virtue of their scale.

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The most prominent difference between St. Petersburg and Venice has to be the parks along the canal banks. They create bucolic imagery that would be nearly impossible to find in Venice on all but the island of Torcello. 

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Monday, May 21, 2012

Piroshki, Pelmeni, and Borscht, Oh My!

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Living in San Francisco with its large Russian population gave us a distinct advantage when it came to Russian food. There were few surprises and we already had a list of things we wanted to try in the "old country", in order to compare them with what we had tasted at home. First on our list were piroshki, the small fried dough buns filled with meat, mushrooms or potatoes. They were easy to find and as my traveling companion commented on more than one occasion, "I've never met a piroshki I didn't like". Pelmeni were easily number 2 on our list and these meat filled dumplings, served with sour cream, were available just about everywhere. Borscht, the Russian beet soup was also readily available, and served with sour cream. As good as it was, I found myself ordering cream of mushroom soup more often.
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It hadn't occurred to me that it would be impossible to write a restaurant review of Russian restaurants. Since most signs were written in cyrillic with no English translation, and because my keyboard uses Roman letters, I find myself at a loss for words, or at least for names. No matter, there are hundreds of restaurants to choose from and showing you the food should work well enough. The meat as well as mushroom piroshki and porcini mushroom soup were available from a restaurant on Nevsky Prospect that looks like this:
Even though I can't name them, we did find some good Russian beer along with some imports. The Kozel pictured below is actually a Czech beer that I remember trying in Prague. It completely changed my opinion of beer, from something negative to something very positive.
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As you might expect, blini were on the food scene, the one below served with salmon roe and sour cream. The rye bread was impressive and the Russian Salad was a real treat, since I seldom see it at home. The surprise for me was buckwheat groats. Served with butter and mushrooms, they became a filling, vegetarian lunch course, but I also tried them for breakfast at the hotel. I'm not certain that they are normally a breakfast item, because to add to the confusion, our hotel also served macaroni and hot dogs for breakfast.
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Another restaurant on Nevsky Prospect turned out to be our favorite, because the food was so good and unpredictable. It turned out to be a Georgian restaurant and they have earned their reputation for serving the best Russian food available. Here are photos of it and its sign:
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We found it on our last evening in St. Petersburg and it provided a perfect last meal in Russia. First we started with piroshki, then an onion and mushroom salad. Next we ordered a "Russian Pizza" that was remarkable. There was a raw egg on top that our waitress nimbly mixed into the melted cheese with a fork. It was a real production and provided great entertainment along with the best food item of the evening. Lastly we ordered a pork and potato dish similar to a goulash and a lamb "shislak". Russian vodka rounded out the meal. Well, you can't go to Russia and not try the vodka, can you?
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