France and England: Part 4

The next day, we flew to Paris for Christmas Eve. We got there early enough so it was still fairly busy but all the shops would close early. Our first stop was the little Christmas market at St. Germain de Pres. It’s a staple of our Christmas visits. Several little booths sell various goods including Russian boxes and pins, cheeses, and jewelry. There, I got my Nutella crepe from a little stand. It was everything I could have hoped for. I’ve mentioned this time and time again, nothing tastes as good as a Nutella crepe from a hole in the wall in the streets of Paris.

I also stopped by my favorite tea shop in Paris, called Lupicia. I believe it is a Japanese company but they have very few locations. THere’s one in San Francisco. So this Paris location is one of the few I can make it too outside of the Japan itself. The tea is really good – especially some of their holiday tea. But you can also buy a teapot for 800 euros. So yeah.

We spent a few hours just wandering the streets of Paris, my favorite activity. We walked on level with the Seine, something I don’t do very often when we visit. It was neat to see the house boats up close but also to see the bridges from below. We could see all the different faces on the Pont Neuf. What wonderful grotesque faces! We also saw marks indicating how high the river got at various points in Parisian history.

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Next to the Seine

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A Face on Pont Neuf

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Marking River Heights

We found ourselves at Notre Dame. However, due to the elevated security, we actually had to be searched twice before we could get into the Cathedral. But once in, it was magnificent as always. It’s one of my favorite places in the city (I really love medieval architecture). Beautiful stained glass, amazing wood carvings. The creche this year was a giant Kraków szopka, which was really cool. They also had a place where you could write notes for peace and slip them into a giant glass/plastic cube.

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Notre Dame at Night

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Kraków szopka

On our way back to the hotel, we stopped by the Shakespeare & Company bookstore nearby Notre Dame. Now that I know more of the history, I’ve really grown to love the place. It reminds me of the old Seminary Co-op, windy rooms with nooks and crannies overflowing with books. Upstairs, there is a reading room where you can use the books on the shelves. There’s a piano and a typewriter. Very picturesque.

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Staircase at Shakespeare & Co.

That’s all for now!

France and England: Part 3

Then it was our last day in Nice! We spent the morning in Nice, wandering around the city. We tried to go to the Chagall Museum, which I remember being quiet good. (I don’t have good memories of the Matisse Museum). However, when we got there, we discovered that it was closed the entire we were in France. So boo.

We decided that we were not going to be deterred from enjoying the sights of the city. We decided to walk to the St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral. It was such a lovely day; I even took off my jacket. The Cathedral is simply magnificent. Inside, it is beautifully decorated as well. We walked around the grounds, enjoying the sun and the architecture.

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St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral

We wandered back to the hotel, making a short detour at a chocolate shop. The chocolate shops throughout France are truly special. There’s the incredible displays, especially for Christmas. I’ve seen displays of life size chocolate gorillas, or small wondrous creatures made of chocolate and other goods. But then the actual items for sale are simply magical. This place in Nice had a giant wall of different kinds of chocolate bars. I ended up choosing one with sugared violet in dark chocolate and another with sesame seeds in dark chocolate. Also, I bought marron glace or sugared chestnut for my husband and I. Almost so sweet that it made my teeth hurt! So good!

We had a very informal lunch of some sandwiches from a nearby shop in my parent’s room. We had a wonderful view of the beach and the Mediterranean. It was a simple sandwich of ham, cheese and butter.

We spent our afternoon in another perched village named Eze. It’s on the way to Monaco and was apparently frequented by Nietzsche (he had a special path). Also, it was a town captured by the Moors back in the day. We’ve only recently found it but it’s quiet charming. It has a decent number of art galleries, jewelry shops and tourist shops but much of it was closed for the holiday. St. Paul de Vence is much much more established and bigger. But Eze has a certain charm. So much easier to get lost in its windy stone streets. There’s a little cemetery too but smaller and more constrained than the one in St. Paul. There’s a botanical garden at the very top that we’ve never managed to get to. This time it was closed. But we did get to see a storm coming in the distance. It was neat to see the fog rolling down the hills from a distance.

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View of the Fog from Eze

When we got back to Nice, we went to the Museum of Massena, close to the hotel. The museum is largely about the history of Nice in a beautiful palace. Andre Massena, the namesake of the museum, was a pretty awesome general during the Napoleonic wars. Napoleon nicknamed him “The Dear Child of Victory.” Throughout the museum, you can see his admiration for Napoleon including frescoes (or something akin) of various victories. There’s also a lot of neat artifacts including items from both Napoleon and Josephine. There’s a room of old advertisements in poster and playbill form that made me really happy. There’s even a fantastic picture of Queen Victoria…I think she liked vacationing in Nice.

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Inside Massena Museum

That night we tried to find a place that served Bouillabaisse, the French fish stew. It was actually harder than we expected given that we were in the South of France next to the sea. The Koudoo restaurant had a version of it, a sort of Bouillabaisse for beginners. It was much smaller and less soupy. The broth wasn’t nearly as flavorful as I would have hoped. Oh well! (Those mussels that I had the other night were amazing).

That’s all for now. Next time, I’ll talk about our time in Paris on Christmas Eve.

France and England: Part 2

The second day of the trip was dedicated to exploration. One of the reasons that we like to stay in Nice is that we can rent a car and travel to areas around it. We are close to the mountains and many artistic hotspots. A lot of artists spent time in the French Riviera and have little museums scattered across. Nice has both a Chagall museum (worthwhile) and a Matisse museum (not worthwhile).

So our first stop on our trip was the seaside town of Antibes. On a really clear day, you can see the snow covered Alps in the distance. In the mornings, there’s a produce market where you can get your vegetables, cheeses, even spices for the day. We always spend time wandering around looking at the cornucopia. Also, I always try to use my scant French to ask for the strongest cheese from a cheese vendor. I was not disappointed. It was a washed rind cheese, though the name is lost to me. When it was room temperature, it was practically liquid. So very good. My husband bought some olives, which we worked our way through as we wandered the town.

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Cheese!

We wandered around the town. We checked out the Cathedral Notre Dame of the Immaculate. It’s a lovely little church with a wonderful creche that included a lighthouse. The nearby square had these giant anthropomorphized instruments along with other Christmas divertissements including some rides and games. There’s a Picasso museum here but I’m not so keen on it. Some of these little museums are worth it and others aren’t. There’s also a Leger museum but I’m not a huge fan of his work.

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View from Antibes

Then it was time for our favorite museum in the region: Fondation Maeght in St. Paul de Vence.  It’s a museum in the forest in the mountains. We always go there when we go to Nice. It’s mostly modern and contemporary art with the most spectacular sculpture gardens. ONe part of the gardens are called the Miro Labyrinth; it twists and turns around Miro’s wondrous sculptural creations. The permanent collection is rather nice; many really great Miro statues! Also, there are beautiful stained glass windows designed by Miro and a mosaic underneath a pond by Braques. There’s usually some kind of special exhibition, which can be hit or miss. This time it was a series of three sculptors but it didn’t really interest me too much.

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Miro’s Labyrinth at Fondation Maeght

Once over a decade ago, we were here when the region got snow, a rarity. There’s nothing like being in the mountains with palm trees and snow gently falling from the sky. It was magnificent at Fondation Maeght to see it lightly snow around the sculptures with the views of the valley through the pine trees.

We decided to take a little detour to the perched village of St. Paul de Vence, a short drive from the Fondation. It’s a little stone town on top of a mountain but completely filled with art galleries. Like any perched village, it’s fun to wander around in. We discovered on this trip that Marc Chagall, one of my favorite painters, was buried here. So I made a beeline for his tomb to find a cemetery with the best view I’ve ever seen. His tomb is fairly simple, though ringed with stones and other trinkets from admirers. I can see why he was buried here (with one of his wives). What a view!

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Chagall’s Grave

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St. Paul de Vence

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Matisse Chapel (exterior)

And then we decided to make a final stop to the Matisse Chapel in Vence. We managed to get very turned around and ended up across the city from it. After some slightly harrowing steep hills, we managed to make it there before it closed. It’s my one of my favorite chapels. It’s not very big but it’s worth a visit. The walls are bright white and the stained glass is made from vibrant greens, yellows and blues. Even the holy water basins are beautiful designed. Matisse also designed the vestments, but they weren’t on view this time. It’s a wonderful holy place. It was his last work before he died. (Sadly, no photos of the interior)

The route home took a while since we managed to get on a road that was windy and did not allow for turning around. But when we finally got back to Nice, we had a lovely dinner where I partook of a seafood spaghetti, which was tops.

That’s all for now!

France and England: Part 1

Now I’m going to catch up to our trip over Christmas in France and England. For the next couple of weeks, I’ll discuss our many adventures with castles, art, and food.

Our first stop on the trip was to Nice, France. It’s a lovely city on the Mediterranean so it has much more temperate weather than Chicago (especially this time of year). However, it’s the off season for Nice so there’s not a lot of tourists and cheaper. It would be a nightmare if we were there in a summer. We had a hotel with a view of the beach and the sea, which was really a lovely thing to wake up to every morning. Palm trees line the boulevards. SInce it was near Christmas, some of them even had holiday lights!

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Christmas Palms!

The first day we arrived, we got into the city in time for dinner. We found a restaurant called Koudoo with African animal sculptures around. I decided that I wanted to eat as much seafood as I could whilst there. So that night, I dined on mussels in a tomato sauce that was incredible! Few things in life like fresh mussels!

The following day was spent wandering around Nice itself. We wandered up a walking street to the main square, passing the windows setup for Christmas. I love looking in the candy/chocolate shops in France because they have the best set ups. One candy shop had marzipan hot dogs, hamburgers, and even an iPhone! So much deliciousness!

We then wandered over to the Historic section of Nice, where there was an antique faire going on. Rows of vendors has all sorts of antique furniture, paintings, sculptures, etc. lined up for people to buy. Beautiful objects! Nearby, we found a very troubled Santa Claus. Looks like he might have indigestion!

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Santa with Indigestion

On the way back to the hotel, we saw a group offering pony rides to kids on the boardwalk. I was super jealous since I wanted a pony ride. But I sort of aged out a while ago.

Later on, we ended up back at the Christmas market. Most French cities and towns have some kind of Christmas market and faire. Nice did not disappoint. The main square had some rides including a ferris wheel, and a little Christmas market. One ride was a giant Christmas trees where you sat in the ornaments as it turned. We actually went on it; I’m fairly certain we were the only adults without kids who went on it. The ride itself was rather underwhelming but it was hard to pass up being part of a Christmas tree! I had my first Nutella crepe there, which was delicious! WHile it wasn’t quite the same as having it in Paris where it is colder, it was still nice to get it from a booth and wander around with it.

Afterwards, we decided to go on a bit of a tour. We hopped on one of the train lines that runs in the middle of streets to see what to see. On the train, we passed by what looked like a temporary petting zoo, another activity for the season. We also passed another carnival with rides and prizes. We also passed the statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi, who is known for unifying Italy, who was actually born in Nice.

That evening, we decided to dine at the Hotel Negresco. This is a really fancy place. They actually have signs up asking tourists not to go in the lobby since it is reserved for their guests.  Also, in front of the hotel, Isadora Duncan, dancer and instructor, infamously strangled herself with her scarf when it got caught in the wheels of her car.

There’s a couple of restaurants, including a very fancy one. We went to the Carousel themed one, which is a lighter affair. There are actual carousel horses decorating the room. The last time we were in Nice, the horses could be turned on to sway gently. Sadly, that is a thing of the past. I had a seafood dish, which was okay. The real memorable part of the dinner was dessert. I was overruled… when we ordered a swiss chard pie. Yes, the leafy vegetable. It was strange. Like sugary spinach. It wasn’t terribly but I won’t order it again.

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Carousel Restaurant at Hotel Negresco

Since we were at the restaurant, it gave us an excuse to check out the lobby filled with contemporary art. Very cool. The bathrooms were also neat, themed like an English garden and a Circus tent. What an amazing place!

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Men’s Room at the Negresco

 

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Women’s Room at the Negresco (doesn’t quite do it justice but the figure kinda makes it)

We finished off the night with a ferris wheel ride back at the faire. It was wonderful to see the city laid out before us as we rose into the air. What a pretty place!

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Nice from Above

That’s all for now!

 

Christmas in NYC: Part 2

The next day began with a stroll down 5th avenue to see all the Christmas lights. We started at our favorite place for Christmas windows: Bergdorf Goodman. The way I describe the fancy department store is that it will be the first place destroyed when the revolution comes. It’s where you can find handbags for sale for $65,000.

But they have the best and most imaginative windows in my opinion.  Last year, each window was a tribute to a different artform. So magnificent! This year, each window seemed centered around adjectives dealing with gems like “Crown Jewels” or “Glitterati.” The Crown Jewels window had a Elizabeth I in a chartreuse Elizabethan gown flanked by gold lions in crowns and two shiny nights. Another window “Brilliant” featured a fortuneteller and a giant spinning wheel of fate. “Treasured” featured a mermaid covered in sequins with Poseidon riding a shiny dolphin or fish.  These weren’t my favorite of their windows but they were still neat.

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Berdorf Goodman Window

Then we wandered up to see Rockefeller Center with its amazing tree. We’ve never actually been to NYC when it has been lit up. It’s neat nonetheless to see the giant tree imposing over the ice skating rink with skaters twirling around it. Also it’s always a nice view with the angels and other golden lit figures line the way to the ice skating rink.

Afterwards, we decided to go to my other favorite museum in NYC: the Museum of Modern Art. There was a Picasso sculpture exhibition going on. I don’t love Picasso as a rule but I really liked his sculpture. It was rather comprehensive, moving from his earliest sculptures, the more traditional ones to his metal plate sculptures (like Chicago’s very own Picasso sculpture). I loved his still life sculptures using actual 3d objects in them! It was neat to see how he’d move from medium to medium, first clay and other traditional substances, then wire and other metals, pottery, and then mixed media sculptures. Or how he’d make use of found objects to make impressive sculptures like this bicycle seat turned deer.

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Picasso’s Deer

One room was filled with photos by Hungarian photographer Brassi of his sculpture, which was worth checking out too. It was neat to see the real sculptures next to these photos that were able to reveal new vistas and meanings for the pieces.

What I really fell for was his animal sculptures. A beautiful ceramic owl, a plump bull, a metal baboon, or even a found wood goose!

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Picasso’s Bull

There was another exhibition at the museum that I was keen to see was “Transmissions: Art in Eastern Europe and Latin America, 1960 to 1980.” This was the time period that I studied both for my Chilean comic book propaganda and Cuban poster propaganda. So I was really keen to see it. What made the exhibition for me was a wall of feminist artists from Latin America and Eastern Europe. There was an Ana Mendieta piece, a Cuban painter, that made me happy. I always am keen to see more of her work. This work was a series of self portrait photos where she is pressed against glass. She does amazing things about the body and nature. I saw my first VALIE EXPORT in real life. I have read and researched about her but never seen anything of hers in real life. (I’ve seen video of works). There was a still image from her piece “Action Pants: Genital Panic,” which was really freaking sweet. And they had a sculpture and photo of the cigarette brand VALIE that inspired her new name. Sooo coool!

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VALIE EXPORT!

And then the next gallery was magnificent. It was a wall of posters from Cuba, Chile and Eastern Europe. Some were political posters; others were movie posters. For those of you new to the blog, I wrote my master’s thesis on Cuban poster propaganda. I get to see a poster or two periodically (though it might all have been at the MOMA) so a wall was astonishing. There was the poster of Nixon’s face on bombs falling on Vietnam..So cool. And all the other posters! I also have the dream of one day writing a book comparing other communist/socialist propaganda posters…One day…

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Wall of Cuban, Chilean, and other Eastern European posters

And to top it off, there was a wonderful Botero in the next room. This was Lisa heaven!

Afterwards, my husband and I decided to take a detour by wandering through Central Park. It was November but decent enough weather in comparison. Fall was still around; the trees were still dressed in yellow and red leaves. We had fun wandering up and down the various hills (What are these things?!), the lakes of Central Park.

For dinner we met with close friends at Arlington Club NYC, a tasty seafood and meat place. We shared a seafood platter that was fantastic. I had steak for my entree, which was good too.

Later that day, we checked out the windows at Saks Fifth Avenue. The main attraction is this giant light display that is tuned to music every few minutes. It was rather quite lovely light show!  As for the windows, I’ve been very disappointed with their windows in the past decade or so. This time, I was really surprised how much I liked them!  The windows showcased different monuments of the world like the Pyramids of Giza, Eiffel Tower, the Taj Mahal, and more. They were well-crafted and imaginative. Plus the side windows to the main attraction had interesting vistas of wood lawn creatures dressed to the nines in pearls, spectacles, bowties and more. Very fun.

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Light Display at Saks

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Saks’ Rabbit in Pearls

That’s all for now! Next week, I’ll start talking about trip to France and England for Christmas-time.

Christmas in NYC: Part 1

Back in November, we had a lovely brief trip to NYC. We spent about two days there enjoying NYC in Christmas time and its many cultural offerings. In the next few posts, I’ll talk about our adventures.

NYC is wonderful during Christmas time. There’s so many over the top Christmas decorations on Fifth Avenue and there’s even a Christmas market at Union Square. So our first stop when we arrived (after throwing down our bags) was a trip to the Christmas market in Union Square. It’s a fun market with lots of artisanal wares. My favorite dessert place Momofuku had a booth there and I ended up buying a dozen birthday cake truffles, which we consumed half of by the end of the two days. (Shame on us! Mmm…so tasty).

For lunch, we found a gourmet crepe place. Why was it gourmet? It used brie and goat’s cheese and other fancy ingredients in their crepes. In my experience, such crepe places can be very hit or miss; nothing is as good as a simple Nutella crepe from a hole in the wall in Paris. But this place in Union Square was rather tasty. I had brie with ham and some leafy greens, which was a tasty combination.

Then it was time for our visit to the Metropolitan Museum. It’s up there with the British Museums for all times favorites. It’s a bit overwhelming. I’ve definitely spent visits there only visiting the Greek/Roman rooms and nothing else. But I love the diversity of exhibitions. We first made our trek to the Temple of Dendur, which is still one of the best displays in any museum anywhere. For those of you who have never been, Egypt gave the Met a temple (for services rendered) and it is housed in a giant room with a pond and windows out to Central Park. It is so magnificent. Also, they hold concerts there, which I am keen to go to someday.

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Temple of Dendur

After that, we wandered through The Kongo: Power and Majesty exhibition. We accidentally went through it backwards. It talked about the use of power both by Congolese elites and Europeans.  The highlights of the exhibition were these 15 wooden carved statues, possibly called Mangaaka, at the end, each housed in it’s own display. But what struck me was how the placards said that parts of these sculptures were removed by the people who used them for religious worship as if to hide or remove the power of them. A stark reminder of the consequence of “collecting”in the West. That these artifacts meant something very real to their creators and worshipers while we in the museum regard them as history and art. There were also these magnificent carved elephant tusks that somehow made it into the Medici collection. Beautiful but loot. Very interesting and worthwhile exhibition.

Then it was time for my mission. I had read Strapless, a book about the scandal about a painting by John Singer Sargent where he had painted Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau) with a failing strap. Fascinating look at the world of portrait painting and high society. The painting is in the Met. So we set off to find; we passed a gallery filled with incredible musical instruments, among others. We found the painting in the American Galleries with the corrected strap. It’s a magnificent painting. Hard to imagine that it nearly destroyed Sargent’s career and the reputation of Madame Gautreau.

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The painting (with the strap painted on)

How magnificent that we could wandered from Ancient Egypt to Kongo and then to 19th century France in such a short period of time!

That evening, we went to the Metropolitan Opera to see La Boheme. What a beautiful theater!It has these Chagall murals that are incredible. As for the opera, I didn’t love it. I’ve talked before about my attempts at appreciating opera. To sum it up, I love the symphony but I can’t seem to abide the opera. I keep trying; I felt that I had to see the classics including La Boheme and Carmen. The production was well done; I love how they had 100 people on stage for the crowded scenes and how it snowed in another. But sadly, the plot didn’t move me and I didn’t particularly like the songs. Not to say that the music wasn’t good, it just didn’t hold me. Alas.

 

That’s all for now!

Honeymoon: Part 11

Then it was the last day of our honeymoon. But we made the best of it!

We started the morning at the British Library, another beloved institution, to check out their free exhibition on animals in literature. The show talked about the various books and other paper artifacts that featured animals, such as Aesop’s Fables and other animal-centric texts. They also had a series of recordings where you could hear T.S. Eliot recite one of his poems from Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, which was simply delightful.

Afterwards, we ventured to other side of the Thames to meet a friend of the family for lunch. The trip over there made me realize how little I know the Southbank. With the exception of the Globe, I hadn’t been on the Southbank in years. It was amazing to see the amount of building over there. We wandered into a small covered mall with this incredible boat sculpture fountain in the middle. The boat had a wonderful steampunk vibe to it. In addition to this self-rowing boat, there were some humorous pokes at public sculpture. There were bronze plaques on the sides but the wording was rubbed out. It’s so new that it was clearly intentional. Here was a sculpture with a story but not one that the artist wanted to share with the audience.

 

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Crazy Living Boat Sculpture

We wandered over the Tower Bridge, which was fairly neat. Again, it’s something we so rarely do! We found ourselves in a part of London that I really wasn’t familiar with. There were various canals with boats. One of them was the gilded boat of Queen Elizabeth for her Jubilee. It’s really impressive! Clearly, next time we need to spend more time exploring new parts of London.

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As another treat for our honeymoon, we ventured to the Savoy Hotel for high tea. Again, this was a result of my speech on the Savoy in the prior year. I was keen to try it out in the hallowed halls of the Savoy. I even brought a special hat for our tea. Of course. The setting was astonishingly beautiful. There was a pianist (of course). The wait staff couldn’t have been nicer and obliging. That made a lot of sense since the Savoy really helped to define luxury service in hospitality in its history. The food and tea service itself was okay. I was hoping for more given the decor and level of service. But the scones were rock solid. So boo. I’m glad that we did it but I don’t think I need to do it again. In comparison with Fortnum & Mason’s tea, I think Fortnum has better food even if the service and decor isn’t as good as the Savoy;s. But at the end of the day, food is king.

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The Savoy Tea Room

We spent several hours wandering around Barnaby street trying to walk off the immense amount of food and tea we had consumed at tea. It used to be the site of rebel culture but now you’ll find an American Apparel there. It does have some interesting places still but the edge is now blunted. Finally, we ended up at an Indian restaurant for our final meal. It was pretty good, a nice change from pub food!

So thus ended our honeymoon.

But not our travels! Next up will be our trip to NYC in Thanksgiving. Fun with Christmas decorations and museum exhibitions!