North America, Europe · 5 Days · 58 Moments · December 2016

My first......Round the World adventure!!

23 December 2016

Exploring the shops of Soho and Convent Garden. I found the "official" TinTin store and a coffee shop with a line outside as long as Blue Bottle.
Stomach is growling and I come across Pulpo off of Carnaby Street. Ate here last year and loved it so much, featured a shot of their arancini as a screen saver for some time - just to remind me. Knew I was in for a good meal.
After another fitful night still trying to adjust to the time zone, I muster out about noon where Carnaby St. is celebrating a groovy Christmas. Not steering far from its status as a 60's icon, Carnaby brings back love for the holidays.
I guess my clumsiness is never too far behind me. Seems I broke another toe slamming into some furniture last night - and my trip isn't even half over. This one doesn't hurt as much as last month's debacle, but I did hear a crack this time. I can easily walk on it, but I'll be slower around the streets of London.

23 December 2016

Second best dinner of the trip. Simon Rogan's one star farm (wild) to table concept at Claridge's. Somehow they lost my reservation, but the hostess did not miss a beat. Checked my new fur-lined Kooples jacket and headed to the bar before seating. The 4-course tasting menu was inspired and artistic. The agneau - as promised by my waiter - was mind blowing. Also ordered the wine pairing - all French. Wonderful, deep, rich Malbec that came with the lamb made me change my mind about staying exclusively with California reds. Service was impeccable. Friendly and helpful. Since I was alone, think they made every effort to keep me comfortable. Only downside were the three Aussie's sitting next to me - a family - who fought during the dessert course until the daughter stormed off and didn't return. At least they provided a bit of entertainment.
Second best dinner of the trip. Simon Rogan's one star at Claridge's - a farm (wild) to table concept. Somehow they lost my reservation, but the hostess didn't miss a beat. Checked my new fur-lined Kooples jacket and headed to the bar before seating. The 4-course tasting menu was inspired and artistic. The agneau was - as promised by my waiter - mind blowing. Also ordered the wine pairing - all French. Wonderful, deep, rich Malbec that arrived with the lamb made me change my mind about staying exclusively with California reds. Service was impeccable. Friendly, conversational. Since I was alone, think the entire staff wanted to keep my comfortable. Only downside were the three Aussie's next to me...clearly money...who couldn't stop talking about their world travels, yet somehow found every opportunity to insult every country and its people. And then they fought through the dessert course until the daughter stormed off in tears. At least it provided a bit of entertainment.
After a long day of travel and getting settled I was ready for bed - but first a light nibble. This one at a local tapas restaurant around the corner.
Love the London food scene - more eclectic than anywhere else in the world. These gyoza were perfect - £2 for six!
With an Airbnb rental, a trip to the grocery market to stock the fridge is a necessity...and where else does one go for staples but an M&S! I indulged on the local delicacies....British pork sausage and sage stuffing, black cow vodka (made from milk!), English skimmed milk (for my M&S brand ground coffee), British cox juice (not sure what that is) and M&S Fiery Ginger Beer. I did throw in some healthy tangerines - for £4.50!
All unpacked, a walk around the neighborhood is warranted.
I head back to the rental office to hear my flat is now ready. I collect my few bags and walk two blocks to Dean street, where David - one of the managers - greets me. Loving the flat. I'm a bit concerned of possible noise because it is literally 10 feet off of Shaftesbury - the heart of the London theatre district. But couldn't ask for a better location. Fears aside, the double panes windows came the fast majority of ruckus outside.
Unfortunately, my room is not ready yet - the cleaner is still in South London - so I drop off my luggage and head out for a stroll around Soho. I discover a local street food festival and market that covers a few city blocks and alleys. As I can't resist street food, I surveyed the vendors and decided on a duck roll with plum sauce. Chowed down on this delicious lunch while chatting up a nice bloke from Sydney who was there to visit his children who live in London. He was taking his family out to the Cotswolds for the holidays. Then a brisk stroll around Leicester Square and Piccadilly before heading back to check on the flat.
My Eurostar arrives at St. Pancras station right on time. I hop into a black cab with a wonderful, kind and talkative cabbie. He's retired and spends 4 months in the states with his son and daughter-in-law in Orlando. He warns me that there may be some problems getting back to Heathrow after the holidays (and potentially very expensive). I'll need to check this out. He drops me off at the office for my Airbnb rental and I step out into the heart of bustling Soho.
A change of color. Where France was dark and gloomy, Britain is bright and light!
It figures. My trip back to London was comfortable, but one of the French unions was on strike, so breakfast was non-existent. Suppose it wouldn't be France without a strike.
I leave Paris with a heavy heart. For the first time, I felt welcome here. I felt Parisian, and most importantly, I looked the part. So many people came up to me asking for directions, it made me comfortable in city that is so different from my own. All things must end, but I'll always have Paris.

21 December 2016

My last dinner in Paris. One of the few places left open on this rainy night. I've passed this place many times before on previous trips - a little too ordinary. Still I was hungry. The Champagne terrine was decent and the duck confit unexpectedly inviting. Still, tossed and turned all night. Too late to eat for me.
I love Paris in the summer, when it sizzles. I love Paris in the winter
So my hotel has a bit of history. Once a bathhouse, then a world class nightclub. When they decided to redo the place into a boutique hotel, they called in all the Parisian artists to create works of art on the deconstructed ruins. Many of the works apparently are now buried beneath the remodeled digs. This book chronicles the whole demo and remodel.
The moment has arrived - my champagne and wine tasting. The sommelier was actually quite good, entertaining and informative. I can't say I liked the wines any better than their California brethren , but I understood them better - and they are cheaper. The tasting was pleasant, all around me were Americans (NY, Miami and LA) and a gaggle of Brits (a couple from Manchester across from me - whose accents gave them away immediately). The only downside was the 20 something twink from Dallas who was sitting next to me. His uncle had given him a book on wine 6 months ago and it caught his fancy. He could not stop talking about his just completed visit to Chateau Lafitte Rothschild. I think he mentioned it oh - 26 times.
Can't help myself. Everyone in Paris is wearing fur lined jackets - and I mean everyone. So I succumbed. Stopped at my favorite Paris fashion house and got me one. Now the challenge is this jacket throws me beyond the boundaries of my current luggage. I'll have to start checking now, which clearly means there is more shopping to come. Have to fill up the new case.
A random walk through Paris. Just love the Marais. Did not wander beyond on this trip.
With a few hours to kill before my - now confirmed - 5 pm champagne tasting, I decided to have lunch. Natasha, my market guide from yesterday, was kind enough to email a list of top, new restaurants in town. She's a food journalist, so trusted her recommendations. All looked outstanding. Her choices unfortunately required reservations, and as someone who typically used OpenTable, that option was not available. I tried to download the French version - The Forchette - but that was little help. So I took a chance and walked over to one - the hotel restaurant at Hotel Panache. It did not disappoint. The egg yolk on my salad was sublime. The watercress foam with the fish, just amazing. I want to eat like this everyday!
Day two begins in a startle as I realize I've overslept. Was so tired last night after a fitful first night, decided to take a sleeping pill to ensure a good night sleep. Well that worked too well. I checked my watch to see it was already 11:15 am and I had a wine tasting session at 12:15. I panicked. Jumped out of bed, showered quickly and tried to hurriedly discover where I was actually going. Relieved to see it was only an 8 minute walk away. Paris has been dark and damp, but I still love walking the streets I found the wine bar just in time - only to discover I'd booked the 5 pm champagne tasting instead. At least I slept well.

20 December 2016

I wandered the streets of Paris as I tried to figure my way back to the hotel. I discovered a plaque on the side of Les Bains that marked its history as a former bathhouse. It was once the hottest nightclub (so I'm told), the Studio 54 of Paris, with the likes of the Jaggers, Elton John, and every French film star - only a handful of which I recognized. It still rocks on the weekends, apparently. My room was completely quiet and dry.
A late dinner closed out the night at Mixnon. A place Gavin and I discovered last year, just a few steps from our Airbnb rental in the Marais. I think all the fresh vegetables in the window first attracted is. I ordered some broccoli as a side and an entire head showed up. Loved the lam kebab and pita. Then I headed off to bed, as I was exhausted.
My headphones started to show some static and with hours ahead of me, I figured I needed a new pair. As I headed to an Apple Store, I figured this would be as close I'd get to the Louvre this trip. As it turned out, the Apple Store is right below the pyramid.
As I wandered the Marais, ogling the shops and admiring the sites, I stumbled across one of my old stomping grounds, so I stopped for a drink. Open Cafe isn't the best of places, but it's always open and a bit of a comfort stop in Paris. Drinks are terrible, but cheap.
The shopping has begun! Came across this watch shop called Charlie, all locally made and fell in love. When asked if they had any other stores in Paris, the young man (at least half my age) replied...No Monsieur, this is one one in the world! I'm trying to shop small, since I don't have much room in my luggage and anything larger will force me to check a bag, which I am trying to avoid, what with 4 more stops. Here, you pick the watch separate and then marry it with a variety of bands. I choose a rather tame variety, but an attractive one that will go well for work.
So i since come to discover that the wine bar visited was Le Baron Rouge, or The Red Baron. As one site mentions..."The Red Baron is a wine bar in a genre all of its own, with a cheerfully anarchic touch, a fanatically loyal bunch of regulars, and occasional art shows by local artists and friends. Wines are listed on a jumble of small blackboards behind the bar, tempting you to sample them all, especially wines from small producers in the Côtes du Rhône, Loire and Beaujolais areas. You can accompany the drinks with plates of cheese or charcuterie, and occasionally more unusual snacks (I've had fried insects here) produced by the barman. On summer evenings, the crowd overflows onto the pavement."
With a full belly, we wander over to the oldest wine bar in all Paris. Much of the wine is served right out of barrels, but the bottle selection is superb - and affordable. No California wines here. While the place is much older, apparently nothing has been touched since the war - and it shows its character.
Our last stop before wine - the best charcuterie in all of Paris. Won the top award the last three years running. Madame Brunson, herself, welcomed us and prepared our samples - the best pate I have ever tasted, and accompanied by a lovely rillette (so?). Her daughter, seen the picture, asked if if was the actor from Fifty Shades of Grey. When I politely responded no, she wanted to know if I was, at least, as kinky as him in bed. It sounded so sexy in French! As the market closed and the vendors began to close up their shops for the day, we took a short walk over to visit the oldest win bar in Paris.
Natasha takes us to what she calls the best cheese shop in town. Won many awards. We sample a few of the harder bleus and the one said to be the favorite of all France.
A bit of dessert followed. As most know, not really into sweets, but the chandelier was to die for. Natasha tells us that macaroons are so 2012, and these are the hot new thing on Paris. Wish I could remember what they were called!
As we wandered through the market we sampled much of the fresh vegetables, fruit and mushrooms. Natasha let us know know that law requires the origin of everything be listed, so you knew what was local and French, versus imported. She reiterated that Parisians shop most every other day and are the original Locavores. Came across a "vegetarian butchery". Not sure that is, but loved the name.
A charcuterie tasting was next. At this point I was starting to get full, but then heard we were only half over!
Had the privilege of stopping in this lovely little shop celebrating all things Alsace. Thankfully my little bit of German came in handy here. The proprietor made us her father's favorite (a family secret) - some sort of flatbread made of filo (though told it is not usually round), topped with creme fraiche, bacon and onion. Natasha, our guide, found us some white wine to enjoy.
Stopped by this amazing fresh seafood store on the tour. Was packed. Everything fresh and they prepare it for you (skinning, boning and shucking) on the spot. These scallops with their roe were so tempting.
For our first stop, Natasha takes us to one of her favorite cheese shops where we sample a bit of the local cheeses, none of which are pasteurized. Natasha claims this is less fattening than that in the states, one of the reasons Parisians nosh on it all day.
Market tour with Natasha starts. Eventually found my way to the meeting place just as they were about to leave. Two young women from San Jose, of all students, and a college student from Texas A&M rounded out the group.
Lost on the Metro! The 4 line was down this morning, so had to scramble to find another line. My downloaded instructions were from my original departure station, but think I am on the right route now.
Not a big breakfast fan, but it's included. And Natasha, my guide for this afternoon's French Market stroll recommended a nosh would be good before the walk.

19 December 2016

I'm exhausted after a day of travel but the bar in my hotel is just to die for, so it's one cocktail and then to bed! This one is Don't Mess with Bacchus (the hotel's muse): Tito's Vodka, espagne, Citrons Vert, angostura and Fever Tree ginger beer.
All checked it, and this brilliant hotel: does not disappoint. Has some history, as I guess almost every place in Paris portends to have. This one was on the best new hotel list in 2015.
Even at 9pm, there is a line to check they direct me to the "Chinese Room", a special lounge only for hotel guests. Who can complain of a private room with liquor standing by after a long day of travel? What a welcome!
Got on the Metro - with the 3 day card I purchased at the Eurostar station in St Pancras. Very cold stroll from the St. Sebastian metro stop, and only bothered by a couple of people on the short walk to the hotel. My complete lack of understanding any French whatsoever can be beneficial in situations like those.
You would think that food on a train would be far superior than that on a plane. I mean don't they have a complete car dedicated to food and alcohol? I wouldn't say this "salmon" strip was particularly filling - and the salad is just sad. At least, the Cote Du Rhone was decent.
Right on time, we leave for the Continent. A little tired, but can't complain much about the mode of transport so far. Though I do think I'm bound to get a bit irritated lugging these two bags between airports, subways and metro stops. Will be spending the Chunnel trip figuring out how I get to my hotel tonight from Gare du Nord - I don't speak a lick of French. Don't worry my fellow Brits - I'll be back in a few days - and looking so forward to my Christmas Eve dinner at Joel Robuchon.
Working my way through the London subway in a hurry to make my Eurostar connection into Paris. Heathrow Express to Paddington station (no bears to be seen, except those of the human sort), to Kings Cross and up to the Eurostar platform. Flew through customs at Heathrow thanks to the great Fast Start pass they give First and Business Class passengers on United.
Not much to see as we cross Britain towards our landing in Heathrow.
More food as I woke up to the smell of eggs on the galley. Breakfast arrived just as we headed towards the Emerald Isle.

18 December 2016

After an hour delay for "aircraft preparation", we're finally on our way! Still no champagne though.
First stop - the requisite visit to the AMEX Centurion Club. Eating light as there is still dinner to be had on the flight to London. Still the Don Julio is nice.
One can't leave on an extended holiday looking ragged, so a mani pedi was in order.
Dinner is a well cooked turbot, though I did envy the Asian noodle salad ordered by the lady sitting next to me in 8J!
Finally the champagne has arrived! Delivered on an old school bar cart!
I didn't think I could make it work, but it all fit into two carry on bags. Europe and Asia are enjoying the same temperate weather this time of year, so it will be all about layering