Manifesting Paris in Spite of Les Manifestations

After a week in the warmth of Faro we headed to Paris planning to spend a couple days there before catching our train to Flers on Monday. There were moments of trepidation as we anticipated being in Paris. The unrest in France over the legislation to change the retirement age from 62 to 64 is still strong, and the accompanying les manifestations are happening every day or so, some turning violent. Paris being the largest city and the capital experiences the most frequent of them. When we were in Paris 11 days ago there were huge piles of uncollected garbage on the sidewalks, since the sanitation workers are still on strike we knew they would only have grown. So the thought of just flying to CDG and pretty much heading to the train station instead of spending the weekend was discussed a few times.

We decided to wait until we arrived in Paris and had a chance to assess the situation firsthand before determining our next move. We arrived in Paris and the next morning we went to Le Musée Rodin just as planned – aside from the garbage piles Paris was pretty much normal. Tricia took this beautiful photo.

The years I spent traveling for work taught me that most travel situations are worse on the news than in real life. I have had my share of delayed and cancelled flights, hotels that lost my reservation, etc. but as far as actual nightmares I don’t really have any stories to tell. My practice was always to take as many precautions as I could, like always getting to the airport at least two hours early, and think of alternative plans should there be a problem, more often than not everything would go according to plan, or with just a change in flight time or something.

Years ago I traveled to Jakarta to do a seminar, during a time of major political upheaval in the country. Some acquaintances insinuated I was nuts to go there; I went any way. I landed, took a taxi to the hotel, checked in, then took a taxi to Planet Hollywood. BTW the bar there was so cool, it was built around a volcano that erupted and shook the place every 30 minutes. Not a rioter in sight, but I did get cool t-shirts for my nieces.

In the morning, before we left for Le Musée, I did what I always do on a Paris morning, I went to le cafê for un café and a sketch. Le Maine Café on Avenu du Maine was just a couple of blocks away. This morning I had company from the friendly café kitty. Other than the garbage merrily flying up the street thanks to the brisk wind, it was normal Paris. (Please though do read my note at the end of the blog)

Walking back from the Rodin we were on the alert for lunch, a passion that we share wholeheartedly with the French. We rarely search the internet as the adventure of exploration is part of the pleasure and internet comments are usually written by tourists, we like looking for where the locals go. We came upon Le Standard Rive Gauche, and what a find. At the moment it is our new favorite in Paris.

Another photo by Tricia

My entree, Le Tigre Qui Pleure – I have no idea why it is called “the crying tiger” – was one of the best beef preparations I have ever had, the sharp knife they provided was not at all needed. The sauce was amazing with just a whisper of soy and spice. Chef Paul Bocuse would be proud, though I am sure it was not found in his strictly traditional cookbook.

I actually took this photo

So the moral of the story is that people and the news tend to focus on the negatives and exaggerate them – something I fear I do as well, but must strive to avoid. So my advice as theTravelsketcher is to plan well, but not over plan, allow plenty of time, and above all be flexible – more often than not the worst case will never happen, and if it does, well embrace it as part of the adventure.

Travel as much and as far as you can, even if the longest trip you can take is just around the block, don’t let the fear win.

Note: I do understand the issues that the protesters are upset about, we try to see it through French eyes not our American eyes. So my thoughts on being able to travel to Paris without the strikes affecting us are not meant at all to trivialize the importance of the issues, nor the inconveniences they are causing, it is as Dickens said “The best of times, the worst of times” and I hope suitable resolutions are reached soon. Today as I write this it is another planned general strike day, and already there have been disruptions to the plans many folks, many will not be able to see the Louvre as planned, I do hope they will explore and make the best of the day, Paris on its worst day is still an amazing place.

Faro’s Food – Fluctuating Finery

Food is about anticipation, expectations, and enjoyment. At times they all come together at the same time, often they offer us the chance to chuckle a bit and enjoy the experience as it is.

The first time I ever had Portuguese food was many years ago when I was in Hong Kong to do a couple of seminars, piri-piri chicken as I remember. Then when I would travel to Darwin in Australia, as I often did, I frequented a fast food placed called Ogalo, which featured Portuguese grill, and of course piri-piri.

Piri-piri is spicy hot and I loved it in both places, as a result I was looking forward to eating it in Portugal. When we were in Lisbon in January I never saw it on the menu, so I was hoping for better luck in Faro. Sure enough we saw a rather nice restaurant that had piri-piri on its blackboard, we went there for lunch. The wait was a nice comfortable European wait (way too slow for most Americans) but I figured it was well worth it for my long awaited reconnection with piri-piri.

Finally it came. First off it was not near as hot as what I had in Darwin where they cooked your order by the degree of heat you wanted, but the flavor was quite good, yet it was also quite dry. Actually it proved my father’s advice that “anticipation is greater than realization.”

The food here in Faro has been some of the best ever, more on that in a moment. Yet some things do get lost in translation even food. We stopped at a sports bar for a quick late afternoon snack. Futebol was on one screen and Formula 1 was on the other. The menu was quite like something you would find at a sports bar in the US, it even had hot dogs, which I resisted. I went for the nachos, other than when we make them at home it has been a long time. Here is what I got… not exactly what I had in mind.

Yet while in Faro I have had two of the best meals ever. The first was at Ostraria Lodo, just a short walk from our hotel. Thanks to the warm weather we could eat outside and received some amazing service, along with the totally enjoyable food.

For the entree I had a croquette trilogy of razor clams, prawns, and cockles.

Thanks to Tricia for many of these photos, check her blog out at Travels Through My Lens

Photo by Tricia

Tricia’s main was a fried shrimp salad, mine was grilled razor clams.

Then we could not resist trying Eton Mess for desert, oh my.

Photo by Tricia

Ostraria Lodo was a meal to remember. Yet there was more good food to come. We were wandering about yesterday looking for a place to eat and stumbled upon Resturante Dois Irmãos. Oh my! I did not think the Lodo could be outdone but this place was amazing, it is hard to say which is the best.

Tricia had a shrimp risotto. Let me be clear that for very good reason she is quite discerning with risotto, frankly because she makes about the best risotto either one of us have ever had, and since we both love it we have it often, so for her to say that this risotto was as good or better than hers says a lot. I begged for a taste, and must say she was 100% correct in her assessment.

Lamb is one of those things that I rarely ignore when on a menue, so lamb stew done Portuguese style was the obvious choice. Like Tricia’s Risotto it was le meilleur.

We have a couple other places marked for today. One thing we don’t do a lot of is read reviews, something that I learned from using Yelp when I traveled for business. Often a place with a few bad reviews would be so good, and often the reverse was true. And we enjoy finding the less popular spots. We prefer to wander the streets and see what we stumble on, it is a central part of why we travel, and so far Faro has not let us down.

I need to post this as there are food adventures awaiting us today… I think I saw Portuguese sausages stewed posted someplace, hmm…

Best Memories Our First Year in France I

Just a year ago today we were in Cynthia’s (Tricia’s sister) basement putting the finishing touches on packing for our move to France, our friend Dave was set to pick us up on the 14th to take the three of us, Tricia, Neville, and me, to the airport. This was an endeavor that began in earnest at the end of 2021 – already two years behind schedule thanks to COVID.

Moving to a different country is always a challenge so we had a lot to do just to satisfy the French thirst for documents. Dave, who has himself worked and lived abroad in the Middle East and South Africa reminded me that the large companies he worked for took care of most of the details. We hired a consultant for advice but the dossier gathering was on us. And of course after arriving we have had plenty of situations to try our patience, but as they say here, C’est France!

Now lest anyone think that the French bureaucracy or the French culture (i.e. frequent strikes that cancel trains, etc.) has dampened our affection for this country I felt I needed to relate some of the highlights of living here. My plan was to do a blog titled “The Five Best Memories From Our First Year.” But… I came up with a list that I could not pare down to five so will just pass on some good memories now and then.

This is a photo of one of my favorite moments since arriving here, it was on 14 April, 2022 – the first time Neville went outside since we kept him inside for the first month. Tricia’s comment was that he must be thinking, “Is this heaven?” There is quite a backstory to this moment.

Photo by Tricia – Travels Through My Lens

Neville was an outdoor cat before we moved into our Martha’s Vineyard condo in Mukilteo where he became an indoor cat with only his catio for going outside, and it was quite small. So if cats have emotions I would think all this space to roam felt great, like “heaven.”

Just getting Neville to France was quite an effort. The EU is quite demanding on their pet requirements, and of course France adds more just because C’est France. Between vet visits, Fedex payments to the USDA in Olympia, and some stressful moments because of narrow time requirements, we had a complete dossier on Neville and had spent over $800, not counting the extra that Delta would be charging us to take him in the cabin with us. We were doing all this while we were packing to move and shipping household items to France, I am sure Neville had no idea what these boxes represented in his life.

Adding to our stress was the vet’s diagnosis in January that Neville had a serious kidney failure in progress, he talked about needing regular IV’s of fluids etc., just to survive, quite serious. I doubted that he would actually live to make the trip to France. Well make it to Normandie he did, after 21 hours in a carrier – checking in at the airport, waiting for the flight, ten hours under the seat at my feet, then a four hour car ride to where we live in Normandie. Neville did quite well. Oh! And never an IV.

It was spring and warm, Neville loved his rural yard. The old picnic table is good for sharpening claws, sleeping in the sun, and helping me sketch.

We did have some cool days that made a fire necessary, our main source of heat. Neville exchanged the gas fireplace at the condo for a place in front of the wood stove.

It did not take him long to make our 230 year old cottage his own, settling into his bedroom, where he allows us to join him at night.

So here we are one year later and Neville is as healthy as can be expected for a 13+ year old. He doesn’t go out as often nor for as long, so he is slowing down a bit, but that is what all us senior folks do.

Thankfully he has not lost his touch when it comes to hunting, he is our mighty hunter. I am pretty sure of the count, though Tricia might come with a different number, but I think this is close: 1 in the house while we were gone, the neighbor found it when she came to feed him. 1 or 2 outside, 3 more inside. He always brings them to us for approval, looking quite proud don’t you think? We do live in a rural farm setting so there are mice, but with Neville on the job we sleep well – except of course when he catches one in the night and brings it upstairs while we are sleeping.

Neville has his own Instagram @Nevilleofnormandie and he would love it if you followed him there. He is often featured on Tricia’s blog, Travels Through My Lens and her photos are far better than mine.

One of my fondest memories is that Neville is getting to spend his senior years in this wonderful place that he loves. As I write this he is sleeping in the sun in a basket we found at one of the many brocantes in the area. It warms my heart.

French Eating – Apéro Time

Apéro or Apéritif. In France apéro is just short for apéritif. In the USA an apéritif is an alcoholic beverage enjoyed before a meal, in France it is an event and one of the most enjoyable components of the meal, at home or out.

The closest concept in the USA to the French apéro would be a happy hour. In the USA happy hour translates to reduced prices on snacks and beverages, along with a gathering of friends. In France apéro is a time to relax with friends before a meal, or as in the USA, gather with friends for a chat. You do not see “apéro” signs in front of restaurants here, though you do see “Happy Hour” signs in a few places that cater to tourists. Why would you advertise something that is just considered the norm?

You order a beverage, the food is a surprise. Whole blogs have been more knowledgeably written by others on common apéritifs in France. Beer, wine, and Champagne are frequent, though our personal favorite is a kirkir pétillant is sparking wine flavored with something like cassis or peach, kir normand is cider similarly flavored, both are quite enjoyable. A kir with Champagne is quite good, but the price goes up a lot.

When they bring the beverages they also bring a snack of some kind, also called an apéro. This could be as simple as a few nuts or pretzels, or as elaborate as this apéro that we had last week at Auberge de la Source, one of our favorite places just 20 minutes away in the tiny village of Saint-Cyr-du-Bailleul.

You are not charged extra for the tasty treat, it is expected. This had a mini-quiche Lorrain, a savory mousse that must have had a bit of smoked paprika, and a small puff pastry with a light coating of cheese. The chef here is international, and one of the best.

The apéro tradition is quite as prevalent at home. La supermarché has whole sections, both fresh and frozen, of small bites suitable for apéro. For us this is so perfect. Our main meal of the day is lunch, which in itself is quite French, I have written before regarding how lunch is a sacred time here. We rarely have a traditional evening meal, it is just too much food. So we have an apéro at home: store bought, made ourselves, or a bit of cheese and baguette.

Apéro is just one of the ways we have learned the wonderful custom of slowing down when it comes to food. In larger cities you do find crepes and sandwiches to take away and eat on the go, but slowing down to enjoy a meal is most desired, and we have adapted quite well. C’est la France!