Manifestations and Menu du Jour

Menu Blackboards, about A4 size (8.5×11.5 inches), for setting on a table, or 2×3 feet for leaning up on the floor next to a chair, or as an a-frame next to the entry of the restaurant are the ubiquitous icons of French dining, as is the Menu du Jour which is chalk-written on them each morning. With a reputation for the best food France is obsessed with normalcy.

Photos courtesy of Tricia and Travels Through My Lens

A Menu du Jour has three courses: entree, main, and dessert. There may be a choice in each course of two or three items, but the menu is pretty well fixed. Many restaurants will have other menu offerings, but if you observe the locals they tend to order the Menu du Jour, or the Plat du Jour which is simply one of the mains. Why? Because the French are obsessed with normalcy, deviation can result in manifestations – or protest. The stability must not be threatened.

French food is most always done well regardless of the price. We have had quite good meals at obscure, mundane establishments. However there is always predictability. Fridays will have fish, though the country is officially secular according to the constitution, the centuries of Catholicism still are considered normal, even for the majority who never enter a church. The menu will have mostly meat mains, except for Friday, as the French are carnivores, some think fish counts as a vegetarian meal. For dessert you can almost bet there will be chocolate mousse, even if other more creative offerings share the blackboard.

There is good, even great, food to be found and it is worth the search. One such place was Chez Dumonet, an old resturant in Paris where we ate in December – yet even they had a prix fix menu – because the three courses are expected – normalcy.

Lunch is sacred, it is a long and slow affair, even in rural areas with a clientele of farm or construction workers; no sandwich in the cab of a pick-up truck here. Normalcy. There is even a law, though relaxed during COVID, forbidding eating lunch at your desk. Lunch is sacred, normalcy, don’t rock the boat.

Yet even a cursory glance at the history of France makes it clear that it has never been a stable country. For much of its history France was really just Paris, the rest of the country was run by dukes and such who ignored the king and spent their time fighting with each other while taxing their subjects. The famous French Revolution was not some break from tyranny resulting in a government by the people; just a short time later Napoleon was a dictatorial emperor. It was not until the 1900’s that the France we see today began to emerge, and even that was disrupted with occupation by neighboring Germany.

Today the French cling to stability, protecting established practices and institutions. When these are threatened by new laws or programs manifestations are soon to follow. Street closures are even posted on days when a protest is expected, and the Parisian response is “C’est France.”

Tricia took this photo of a protest when we were in Paris in January – Healthcare workers.

As I write, protests are happening in major cities, for the second week in a row, with another “General Strike” planned for Saturday, because the government wants to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64. The railways and Metro are shut down, a million people marched along the Champs-Élysées, some turned violent resulting in teargas and broken shop windows. Don’t mess with the normalcy of the earliest retirement of any industrial country.

Yet you can be sure that the restaurants not on the parade route have their blackboards set up, even protesters need a sense of normalcy and where better to find it than over a predictable meal and a glass of wine, ok maybe two glasses, but it is also true that over drinking at lunch is not a French thing. Normalcy.

Though France can be quite tolerant, there is also an undercurrent of selfishness. Shutting down the transportation system does make a statement to the government, but it totally disrupts the lives of millions.

Twice we have had to make major travel changes due to the railway strikes. And with our daughter coming to visit us next week we are concerned about another strike since they are taking the train from Paris Montparnasse, which seems to be protest central, to Flers in Normandy. If the train is shut down we will have no stability and even the best blackboard menu will not make it normal.


Cruise Ship Food – a Bellcurve

Cruise ship overeating is legendary, even Rick Steves suggests using the stairs as much as possible to burn off the calories, but what is the food really like? In general, on land or on the sea, a restaurant’s food quality fits a perfect bell curve – the more people they try to serve and/or the more locations they operate, the more they approach the mediocrity-of-average, not bad, just not great.

Disclaimer: we have only been on two cruises, both operated by Norwegian Cruise Line, so my observations are limited to the two ships we were on. One ship was the Epic, a huge ship, the second cruise was on the Sun, which carries half as many people, there are however a lot of similarities between the two.

There are three categories of onboard dining experiences. Included in your basic cost are the buffets, and a couple of table-service restaurants. The third category is the a la carte restaurants. Each of these are quite different.

On Norwegian (NCL) The Garden Cafe, along with a couple of smaller buffets usually near the pool area, is standard. These are open from early in the morning until well into the evening, changing the offerings from breakfast, to lunch, to dinner. I think a majority of the folks onboard eat most of their meals here.

On the plus side is that there are a lot of choices, from grab-and-go, to prime rib. But the quality is always mediocre, and at breakfast a crowd of people, often pretty aggressive people, jam the place; no relaxed morning coffee and croissant here – though the croissants are quite good. For folks in a hurry, or those who tend to eat because it is required to live and quantity is more important than quality, these buffets are fine. Again, they are not bad, but as with most buffets, just not memorable.

On our most recent cruise aboard the Norwegian Sun there were two table service restaurants that were included with our basic booking: The Seven Seas and The Four Seasons. Both have the same menus which change every day. They are white tablecloth, there is a sommelier, and great servers – nothing fast-food about them at all.

These restaurants are quite a few notches above the Garden Cafe, being the food-motivated-travelers we are, this is where we ate most often. They are not open for lunch so if we were onboard our only choice was the Buffett. Tricia had some good soups: spinach, cauliflower. The entrees (appetizers for non-European readers) were quite nice, and the mains (entrees for non-European readers) were varied and done well. They definitely move the quality of food and dining experience to the right of average on the bell curve.

The third option is the a la carte places, we bought a package in advance that gave us two visits, you can buy packages with more visits, or you can just go and pay as in any restaurant. On both ships Le Bistro was the top restaurant, a bill there for two including wine would be about $150, similar to what we would experience in Seattle. On this ship there were a couple of steak houses, a Mexican cantina, teppanyaki, and sushi.

These restaurants do give a fine dining experience, though they will push your budget significantly above the initial cost of the cruise. The service is always well above average, and if you get there early you can usually score a table by a window to watch the water go by as you dine.

My desert at Le Bistro on the Norwegian Sun just a week ago, quite nice.

Here are photos Tricia took of some of the dishes we enjoyed. (Be sure to visit her blog for more photos)

We ate well, avoided the Garden Cafe when we could, which should come as no surprise to those who know me since I am not a fan of any buffet, on land or sea. On NCL you can have average meals, good meals, and really good meals, but you will pay for the really good ones. In the end I don’t think I would go on this type of cruise for the food. If food is one of your prime reasons to travel, as it is for Tricia and me, other options for travel are a better choice than cruising – though I have heard of gourmet cruises, hmmmm?

Perth, Peace in Western Australia

Sunday 3 April 2011. First a two hour flight from Seattle to Los Angeles, a layover that was usually a couple of hours, then a 14 hour flight to Brisbane, Australia. I lost a day in the process, thanks to time zones and the International Date Line, so it was now Tuesday, 5 April. After another layover a five hour flight to Perth on the western side of Australia. It was late afternoon when I landed, over 21 hours in the air, plus a few hours of layover. Note: Many folks don’t realize that Australia is about the same size as the United States, it’s really big. 

A taxi ride took me to the Four Points by Sheraton Hotel on Wellington Street, by 2011 I had already stayed at this hotel multiple times, and held a number of seminars in their meeting rooms. Thankfully my room was ready so I dropped off my things, changed my shirt, and headed out for Murray Street, the part of Perth that I am most familiar with. 

Walking east On Murray Street the familiarity of Perth did its magic and the effect of the long plane rides faded away. In Perth the first landmark I look for is the Belgian Beer Garden, as Belgian as any pub you will find in Brugge with a nice selection of Belgian beers. I was in Perth for a few days so mussels and frites would have to wait. Right now I had another pub in mind, a few blocks down Murray street, in the area where Murray becomes a walking mall.

The name escapes me, but I have been there many times. It is a comfortable place, with outside tables, and I remember a large tree trunk wrapped in lights. I was in the mood for a pint.

When I landed in Brisbane I called home, from a pay phone using a calling card. (Hard to believe just nine years ago international calls on cellphones were rare.) Tricia answered, confirmed quickly that my flights went well, then told me to brace myself. My mind raced, was something wrong with the house, something financial; our minds go through a checklist of possibilities. 

“Jay died.”

I am rarely speechless, but this did it. Jay was a good friend from church, he was the contractor that had remodeled our kitchen into a beautiful place to cook and eat. Big E Brewery was our meeting point to discuss the world, challenges, and food, which Jay loved as much as we do. Jay was in his 50’s, too young to die, but heart problems do not always check in with birthdays.

I needed to get to a place that Jay and I would have frequented if we lived in Perth. Picking a table in a corner with a view of the street traffic I ordered a pint of James Bogle and a bag of Salt and Vinegar Crisps. When it arrived I made a toast to my friend, “Jay, this ones for you. Will miss you but see you in glory.” Then I did a sketch.

Perth is one of my favorite places in OZ. It is a major city, yet is isolated from the rest of the country by four or five hour flights, with thousands of miles of outback in between. Yet with all of that it is one of the most fashionable of the cities, it is noticeable in how people dress. The buildings and parks are clean and well maintained. It is expensive, over the years I would pay about 2ASD more for a pint in Perth than I would in Darwin, which is one of the less expensive places.

On my trips to Australia I always looked forward to Perth, the seminars were good, as Australian audiences are great. And my rambles along Murray street and Hay street are still vivid in my mind.

I do believe that it was on this trip that I met a friend, Miranda. She had recently arrived from South Africa and helped with registration and organization at the seminars. We had a couple of wonderful chats after the seminars about the state of things in the world and in South Africa, another place that has a soft spot in my heart. We have stayed in touch thanks to Facebook and emails, with all of my complaints about social media it does help us keep in contact with distant friends.

Reality says I will most likely never get back to Perth, nor take the train out to Fremantle where the Americas Cup was held so many years ago. I will probably have to settle on mussels and Frites in Belgium instead of at the pub on Murray street. But I will always remember the many pleasant times I had in Perth, they bring back smiles every time.

Meandering – Darwin, Australia


All this time in Le Confinement has me thinking back to all the years I spent traveling the world as a seminar speaker, I am passing on some of those memories.

If I ever just wanted to disappear you just might find me in Darwin, Australia. Darwin holds some kind of attraction I have never been able to explain. In the list of Australian tourist destinations I imagine it is pretty low on the list, yet for me it is one of my favorite places in OZ for no definable reason.

Thanks to the heat and incredibly high humidity you don’t see people in long pants much, shorts are the de rigueur.It is so hot that the pubs serve cans of beer in insulated sleeves.

Darwin is the kind of place where people don’t ask a lot of questions, seems most everyone is pretty much left alone. Thanks to the lower prices of everything it attracts backpackers, the main drag of Mitchell street is lined with hostels. Athletic young folks and shaggy gray beards seem to coexist quite comfortably.

It does cost less. On one of my many Australian trips my first stop was Perth, another of my favorite places down under, my second stop was Darwin. More on Perth another time, but it is everything Darwin is not, Perth is expensive and stylish. A pint in Perth was about 6A$ (about US$8 at the time). After checking in to the Darwin  Hotel, just off of Mitchell,  I walked the two blocks to Monsoons, my favorite place in Darwin, ordered a pint, it was 3A$, nice.

Of course I did a sketch, sitting on the deck with a view of the street and the people. Inside the air conditioning had it down to Antarctic temperatures, me, I love the heat and humidity; rugby or cricket on the TV – life is good. Monsoons at night is quit different, it is a party bar, big time – not my kind of place at all. In the evening I would often wander down to the other end of Mitchell Street to a restaurant on the bottom floor of an office building with a huge deck wrapped around a banyan tree. 


The Hog’s Breath Pub, down Mittchel street a few blocks, was always a good place to drop in – more of a sports bar.  Just around the corner from Monsoons there is a Turkish restaurant, outside seating under a banyan tree eating lamb is pretty hard to beat.

A lesser know fact about Darwin is that it was the only place attacked by the Japanese during WW2. Not long after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the same air squadron bombed Darwin, on the bluff overlooking the ocean there are informative memorials that tell the story.

Yes, for some reason I do like Darwin. The white hat that I wear while sketching in the summer came from a hat shop just a block from Monsoons. Reflecting on Darwin brings back good memories. As always I am so gratful for the opportunities the being a seminar speaker afforded me.

3 Reasons Why I Like to Travel

“Why do you like to travel?” Tricia is writing a post for her blog Travels Through My Lens about why people like to travel, and pondering why some don’t have any desire to travel; she wanted a quote from me. It got me thinking. My initial response was:

“What I like about travel is feeling immersed, if only for a moment, in the culture and ambience of a place I’ve never been before.”

That does encapsulate the essence of why I may get tired while traveling, yet never tire of traveling. Her question got me thinking about what attracts me most to other places. It all comes down to three things:

1. Cafes

2. Cathedrals

3. Sketching


Mornings are my favorite time of day, the best part of the evening is going to bed so I can get up in the morning. When I travel, alone or with Tricia, most mornings I either quietly have tea in the room while she sleeps, or, more frequently I head out to a cafe. One of the first things I do when we get to a hotel, or a BnB, is to scope out a coffee shop. Before going to bed I lay out my clothes, reading materials, and sketching kit so I can quietly get dressed and leave, hopefully without waking Tricia.

At the cafe I feel like a local, most tourists take vacation as an opportunity to sleep-in, I don’t begrudge them that for a moment, it just keeps my morning less crowded; if I sleep in until 0800, even 0700, I feel like I have missed the best part of the day.

In the cafe there is time to read some news, the Morning Office, a book. I might explore a map planning the day’s adventures, specifically focusing on a good place to eat lunch, which is usually the high point of our day. Cafes, bistros, and restaurants are a priority for us, and an important part of why I travel.

Then, settled in, it is time for a sketch. In Robion, a couple of years ago I went to the same cafe every morning, did four sketches, one each morning. Each was from the same table, just facing a different direction.


The cathedrals and temples in the world are worth visiting. Of course the magnificent ones – Notre Dame in Paris, the Duomo in Florence, Bath Abbey in England – are awe inspiring, but they are too crowded for my taste. (Visit early or late to avoid crowds – Friday Prayers at Bath Abbey is my recommendation)

Gordes is one of those places in France I love to visit, sadly so does every other tourist who goes Provence, so I am faced with the crowds. Just off the circle at the center of town is Eglise Saint-Firmin, a small and in need of sprucing up cathedral. Never crowded, a bit dark, always quiet. A few minutes sitting spent on the old and warn pews, considering the icons and flickering red candles, triggers all kinds of reflections on what is important in life.

Grand gardens and parks are just variations on cathedrals, as are mountains and vistas. My mind is freed up to be creative, for introspection, peace and meditation. Next to morning cafes and midday restaurants Cathedrals of stone or nature are the best part of travel.


Pretty obvious that this is a priority for me. Sketching allows me to connect with the place, it forces me to slow down and really observe – the colors of the building, the shapes, the people and what they wear. In the time I am sketching I am completely immersed in the terroir of where I am. Later, when I flip through a sketchbook, a bit of the feeling comes back, it is like being there all over again. Those sketches of Robion renew those wonderful morning cafes.

Tricia’s Quote Expanded

I think I need to give Tricia a more complete quote:

What I like about travel is immersion, if only for a moment, in the culture and ambience of a place I’ve never been before. I may get tired while traveling, yet never tire of traveling. It all comes down to three things: Cafes, where I connect with the locals, cathedrals, where I am inspired, and sketching, where I capture the moment while creating a memory.

Ramble at Gold Creek Pond — Travels Through My Lens

I had intended to write more about San Diego this week, but life has a way of interrupting our plans and intentions, c’est la vie. Instead, I will post a short blog about a recent stroll we took around Gold Creek Pond, and next week I’ll continue writing about San Diego. Gold Creek Pond is […]

via Ramble at Gold Creek Pond — Travels Through My Lens

Instagramable Selfies? Really?

Edinburgh Castle is the icon of the city. The thick walled fortress, perched high on a rocky hill, houses the history of a proud nation, the crown jewels of Scotland, and the blood of brave fighters that defended their country. Just outside the gate stood a solitary piper, proudly dressed in kilt. Surrounded by a crowd of tourists jostling to take a selfie with the piper, most ignoring the courtesy of dropping a coin or two into the bowl on the ground, few, most likely, even aware of the rich history of the Scots. The selfies taken that day, all along the crowded Royal Mile, will appear on Instagram, for it is truly an “Instagramable” place. 

The Independent, a British newspaper, found that 40.1% of millennials chose their travel destinations based on how well the photos would look on Instagram (Independent March 2017). A google search of “Instagramable” returns 3,630,000 links. 

These days any travel destination is overrun with folks taking selfies, selfie-sticks are standard travel gear for many, for posts that will end up on Instagram, feeding hopes of “likes” and “followers.”

I get it, for I too post on Instagram, and I too crave the likes and followers. (Feel free to take break from reading this and follow my feed.) So I am not anti-Instagram, and in the end not anti-selfie. Photos of travelers in foreign lands have been with us since the invention of the camera, they become treasured memories.

Travel should be more than selfies, likes, and followers. The joy of travel is to get away from the “must see” places crowded with groups on tours, rushed from site to site, with only time enough to snap an Instagramable Selfie. These folks may correctly claim to have “seen” a place, but they missed out on experiencing the people, the culture, the beauty of the place. 

The late Anthony Bourdain said that if your trip to Paris is filled only stops at the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower  then you have not seen Paris – I totally agree. We were on our 5th trip to Paris before we ever went up the Eiffel Tower, thanks to the crowds it was a complete disappointment. When I think of Paris it is the quiet places and cafes, like La Table du Luxembourg in the Luxembourg  Gardens. I sat there one sunny day sketching the park, while sipping un verre de vin blanc.   Paris 2005 (20)

This is why I sketch, it takes longer than a selfie. To sketch you have to really see, study, think about where you are. In the process you take in the place, see the people, hear the sounds, smell the flowers. 

If you are not a sketcher, give it a try. If you are a photographer, please keep taking the kind of photos my wife takes and posts at Travels Through My Lens. But take more of the places and less selfies. And above all slow down, it is not a race. Sit in the cafe, have the glass of wine, then when you get a real feel for the place capture it with your camera. I guarantee the pictures will be far more Instagramable. Both photographers and sketchers are artists, our goal is to capture the moment, to be true to what we experience in a place. That genuineness will come through when you post it for us all to enjoy. I want to see the place, an occasional view of your charming person in the frame is fine, but show me the place, and what makes it special.

Keep travel sketching, and photographing travel, then share it for us all to see.

Changes in the works

January 1994 at the Holiday Inn in Racine, Wisconsin to May 2, 2019 at this Best Western in Silverdale, Washington – 26 years, five continents and over 3,000 seminars. The seminars are over, they pretty much ended 6 months ago, only did 4 in all of 2019.

So far this year I have only flown three times, 5,912 miles. By June of most years I was already MVP with Alaska Airlines, on my way to Gold Status, with 30 to 40 flight segments already logged. What a change. I will hit my Million Mile status with a couple of flights planned for this year.

So, this is a year of change. Coffee shops, beaches, and arboretums have replaced the Alaska Boardroom Lounges. A shoulder bag and pochade boxes have replaced my roller-bag. Blue jeans, paintbrushes, and pens are the attire and tools of the day. And the closest thing to a seminar are the sketching workshops I lead. I love it and don’t miss the travel as I feared I would.

There are trips planned, but for pleasure. Off to Oregon for the 4th of July to visit friends and family. A day trip to Port Townsend in August for my birthday. September we head to San Diego for a wedding and time with friends. Then off to Tokyo for another wedding in November, with a side trip to Seoul.

When we get back from Japan it will be time to kick the France planning into a higher gear. If we are to move there in April/May there is a lot to do. The visa process takes about three months, lots of documents to secure, dossiers to create for us and for our cat, as well as a trip to San Francisco to appear at the French Consulate office.

Though, as many before me have observed, I am so busy now I don’t know when I ever found time to work, still there is more time to reflect on food we cook and eat, places we visit, and tips for both. So time to get this blog back into action.