Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Last day in Paris, then Berlin, Vienna and Amsterdam:

It's all been a blur. We have now been in five different cities in three weeks. Languages are spinning around in my head as if I were a translator at the United Nations.  Although I have learned "thank you" in all these countries, I still mix them up and go back to my safety: ENGLISH.  Thankfully, these bright people speak multiple languages and shockingly they do not see Americans as dumb and ignorant.  They say that there is no need for us to speak other languages when everyone in the world speaks OUR language.  No wonder we are an arrogant people.  We have met taxi drivers that speak more than five different languages.  I feel stupid.

Our last days in Paris: We decided to have out last lunch at the The Grand Palais des Champs-Elysées, a large historic landmark that holds museums and exhibitions.  It is a beautiful piece of architecture that also houses a wonderful restaurant in one of its buildings.

We had a lovely lunch of scallops, salmon and my favorite: foie gras.

We passed on dessert because a trip to Paris is not complete without a visit to Angelina!

 There was never a lull in the pastry eating.  I could not leave without making this trip to Angelina, which is on the Rue de Rivoli.  Angelina is an institution having delighted tourists and residents with their pastries and hot chocolate since 1903.  My parents and I first went there in 1962 and I went again with my sister and cousins about ten years ago.  Their hot chocolate is so thick that a spoon can easily stand up in it.  Perhaps it is the mountains of fresh whipped cream they serve alongside this heavenly drink.  The hot chocolate is ORGASMIC!!  Years ago I brought bags of this cocoa back with me to the states.  My sister asked me to bring a few bags home for her on this visit.  SORRY Patti...they now sell it for $25 a bag.

Of course we did not split a dessert

I have been to most all the museums during my European travels so I am a little burned out on art.  I do, however, like to find other museums of interest.  We went in to this one and loved it....despite all the dead animals.  It was interesting to see all the weaponry and the cute "stuffed" animals :)

 We then headed off to the Shoah Museum in Paris.  You are first greeted by the Wall of Names which symbolizes the 76,00 Jews deported from France to the Nazi concentration camps.  Only 2,500 of those people survived.  France only officially acknowledged the Vichy government's role in this horror in 1995.  I found the museum fascinating, complete, and of course extrememly sad.  They have a beautiful memorial of a Jewish Star honoring all those lost during that time in history.  Worth a visit!


We arrived early Saturday evening..hungry.  We had a recommendation for a restaurant named Plachuttas, which has been named one of the top 50 best restaurants in the world.  Everyone that's anyone has been there: movie stars, rock stars, Bill Clinton and now, The Doigs.  Everyone goes there for the tafelspitz which is a soup with boiled beef, marrow,  and vegetables.  They also bring sides of spinach and potatoes.  It doesn't sound so great, but believe me,   it is a dining experience. I urge you to click on the link and read about it.  There is a process to eating the meal which will be explained in the link.

our dessert


Let's continue on with the pastries...naturally.  Vienna has this competition with Paris as to who has the best pastries.  Hopefully my Viennese friends won't read this, but Paris wins by a landslide in taste, although they both make exquisite looking sweets.  Vienna invented the Sacher Torte.  Has anyone ever eaten the Sacher Torte at Costco?? (yes, I really asked that).  Well, honestly, I think it beats out this highly recommended pastry shop in Vienna. 

a pastry chef making the famous sacher tortes

Although I rarely mention it, we are actually in Europe because Steve is lecturing on DATA JOURNALISM  . zzzzzzzz <WAKE UP!!!>

Okay, so our wonderful and brilliant host in Vienna was Martin Kotynek,  who is an investigative editor for Die Zeit, a weekly newspaper much like the Economist.   He is from Vienna but works in Berlin.  He was nice enough to arrange lectures for Steve in both places as well as being our tour guide in Vienna.  He did a fabulous job.  But there is my Martin story:

Steve and Martin at one of the many stops we made on our cold day
We got to Vienna on Saturday night and it was snowing and freezing.  Martin had agreed to tour us around the city on Sunday.  Have I mentioned how much I hate the cold?  Saturday night as the snow fell HARD and the wind blew...HARD...I mentioned that perhaps I should stay at the apartment while he toured with Martin. Steve ASSURED me we would be going by car around town.  How could we possibly walk in this weather?  Sunday morning arrived.  When we met Martin outside the apartment in this heavy snowfall, I asked where his car was.  He said he left his car at the train station and we would be WALKING!!!!! IN THE FREEZING SNOW!!!! AND THE WIND!!!! Pulling my scarf and hat and gloes and hood tightly around we, we started out on our 4 hour trek around windy, cold Vienna.  Surprisingly, it was lovely tour although I could not feel my legs or feet.  Some interesting things we saw:

The library

beautiful interior

Pestsaule: Finished  in 1693 as a promise to God if God ended the plague. God did.

Saint Stephen's Cathedral completed in 1160.

inside  Saint Stephens
 I put this in there as an honor to Steve. Exterior is made of porous limestone so every 5 years they are cleaning and replacing pieces.  Mozart was married here and they also held his funeral service here.

I was numb at this point and finally talked the boys into stopping for lunch.  Martin took us to Gasthaus zur Oper, a restaurant owned by the son of the chef and owner of Plachutas.  Steve was determined to eat weiner schnitzel.  I was expecting or WANTING something smothered in gravy.  No gravy, but it was good, albeit a little dry.  The soup was yummy!


The soup and the big guy next to me kept me warm!

Berlin: There is nothing to say about Berlin except YUCK! I don't care what anyone is dreary and depressing and I never wanted to leave the apartment. So..I didn't leave the apartment.  Well, I did leave twice.  I walked to the grocery store. (I couldn't live without wine)...and there was a cute cafe directly across the street. I got soup. Ok, to be fair, I really didn't give it much of a chance, but we weren't in the most vibrant of areas. (are there any?)  Stephen spent hours lecturing and I spent my 2 1/2 days.....relaxing...reading 3 books....consuming 3 bottles of wine. I'm got outta there!!!!  It NEVER stopped snowing!!

This was in our backyard where we were suppose to relax and drink our morning coffee. Right!


Yes, we have arrived in this beautiful city and we will be here for 8 days.  The apartment is INCREDIBLE and is situated right at Nieuwmarkt which is spitting distance from the red light district and surrounded by "coffee" bars (a.k.a.hash bars.)

Too much to write about and this has gone on wayyyyyy too long, so I will be back in a few to talk more of our adventures in Amsterdam.  To date, we have not entered a hookah bar (but plan to) and we have both been invited to join a beautiful blonde hooker who was beckoning us from her window. We declined.

More later.....I am going to make soup for Steve..who is sick, all "liquidy" and yuck..because it continues to be THE COLDEST WEATHER EVER RECORDED IN EUROPE'S HISTORY!!!
The very last time he will be kissed by me until he recovers!!!

p.s. two cool newspaper pictures:
Miami Herald (Steve's old employer) found at the Berlin airport

found at an antique news store in Paris

Friday, March 22, 2013

Second Stop: Paris, France

I am not going to bore anyone with a travelogue about Paris.  You need only to put your cursor over my underlined words to get the link to these famous places.  You have either seen all the highlights in person, in books, or in movies. But I will tell you our story of how we arrived at these sights on our second cold and rainy day in Paris.

Notre Dame Cathedral
This is my fourth visit to Paris, Steve's first.  We decided this day in Paris would be spent visiting all the tourist sights: Notre Dame Cathedral, Arc de Triomphe, Avenue des Champs-Élysées and the Eiffel Tower.  The Cathedral was our first stop. There were hundreds of people waiting to get in so I convinced Steve that looking at the architecture and picturing the Hunchback up in the bell tower was all he needed to see. He agreed.  We both hate waiting in lines.

We continued our six mile trek and headed toward the Eiffel Tower.  If you head straight down the left bank on the Seine you will have no trouble running into this.

 As we were walking down the Seine, a well dressed, good-looking man walking towards us bent down and picked up a "gold" ring. He asked if we had dropped it and I said that we had not. He took my hand, kissed it and handed me the ring saying it was good luck and he wanted me to have it.  I repeatedly refused, but he kept insisting.  After another kiss on the hand he sauntered off, but within seconds was back asking us if we had some euros to spare. It was then we realized we had been scammed.  He was so cute we gave him a couple of euros.

 When we got home we researched and found the ring scam that is all over Europe.  Oh, and my "gold" ring is 100% brass.  Quelle surprise! By the way, this attempt at scamming us occurred three more times in a half hour.  I wondered why we looked like such tourists.  We carried no map or fanny belt and didn't have that lost look on our faces.  I told Steve it was all about the shoes.  We had on comfortable walking shoes.  The French wear FABULOUS shoes and boots!  That's just my guess.

I had no breakfast and was now feeling the need to "take a coffee' with a little brioche. We veered off our path and not only couldn't find just the right cafe, we lost sight of the Eiffel Tower. There were times we saw just the very top of it, but it kept eluding us.  We were determined  to get there because we promised our granddaughter Lexie that I would touch the tower and indeed, I did. Finally!

from underneath the Eiffel Tower

We made it, Lexie!!!!

By now I was getting VERY tired. We walked more than I remember ever walking before. I kept hearing the voice of my very dear friend Karen, who is an OBSESSIVE walker (10 miles a day or more...but she's a little crazy about exercise) urging me on. I wasn't complaining until Steve mentioned "what a trouper I was being". Mistake..that was my cue to STOP being a trouper and complain.
We finally stopped for a bite to eat at a wonderful Belgium place called Leon de Bruxelles that served only mussels and great Belgium beer.   How could we go wrong? They served mussels at least 20 ways. We opted for these:
mussels with a cream and wine sauce
mussels with roquefort cheese....go figure.

Being fully sated, we started our hike once again towards the Arc de Triomphe.  At this point, I was truly looking for any excuse to stop. I think we were about at mile 8 or 9 at this point. A taxi perhaps? Still not quite ready to complain out loud I spotted a hair salon (one of many) on the Champs D'Elysees. Why not? It had been all of two weeks since my last haircut and don't they have those comfy chairs to lay on while you get your hair washed? I decided to get my hair cut shorter. 

Jamal, my hairdresser, gave me a french style

 Jamal was quite incredible with the way he cuts hair.  He reminded me of Edward Scissorshands, cutting with  frenetic motions never seen before.  Hair was flying everywhere and I was nervous. I tried not to worry thinking my hair grows fast enough to overlook any mistakes.  When it came to drying, he used two high powered hairdryers, one in each hand for my new look.  Voila!  I loved it!

Ok, no more excuses...we were off to the Arc!

Finally, we made it back to the apartment, exhausted, with all our muscles aching. Perhaps we walked off our pastries. Or perhaps, we could have just one more taste treat before we settled in for the night. hard to choose!

 A few observations and comments:
  • Everyone in France smokes. As an ex-smoker I inhale deeply in memory of a time when smokers were not considered pariahs of society.
  • The French are no longer rude to Americans. Everywhere we go, people are warm and inviting even though Steve mixes up languages and says things like "Merci, Senor." <sigh>.  I have begged him not to make attempts at speaking french.
  • Our tiny apartment (check out the link) in the 4th arrondisment, 430 square feet (near the Cathedral) is perfect.  However, if I keep eating pastries, I will no longer fit in the TINY bathroom.
our street with many bakeries and cafes
  • Although told it was quiet in this apartment building, a woman above us practices on the piano ten hours a day. At times, this is pleasant. At times, I want to scream. I yearn to tell her she has her scales down perfectly. Now, move on and play something recognizable like Fur Elise!
  • The French make THE BEST pastries on the planet. (Consider me in expert!)  My favorite is a pastachio raspberry custard clafouti or a chocolat-pistache, a snail-shaped pastry filled with chocolate and pistachio.  They will shatter the will of any dieter and have!  ORGASMIC! 
  • Soldiers with Uzis are in many parts of the city.  I am not sure if this is a common event or some terrorist is close by. 
  • Motorcyclists think nothing of driving on the sidewalk.  We saw this happen many times.  We are not sure if this is against the law, but it occurs. 
Until tomorrow......Bon Soir

Friday, March 15, 2013

First Stop: Tonsberg, Norway

March 13th:
Steve and I flew to London, walked miles through Heathrow airport carrying our luggage that we needed for this two month trek through Europe. Yes, we are off again thanks to Steve's sabbatical and his lecturing in 13 different European cities. I continue to be a fortunate woman who is lucky enough to be married to a man who is an expert at marketing his skills. Yay for me!

We then flew from London to Oslo. So far stress free if you don't count countless hours of travel breathing in fetid airplane air, being seated next to the plane's bathroom (light on, light off, door slams) and constantly rewinding a scene in my head with Elaine from a Seinfeld episode.  We survived and still smiled.

In Oslo we had to get a train to Tonsberg, Norway where Steve will present at a journalism conference. We loaded our 4+ bags and  settled in for our two hour train ride when the conductor came on and rattled off something in Norwegian.  We thought he was just announcing a stop, but everyone got up and started to get off the train. We sat.  A sweet Norwegian woman told us that we ALL had to get off the train and get on buses because there was a problem on the tracks. Clearly this happened often because no one complained. (okay...Steve and I sighed a bit.) We hauled our baggage outside and waited for the bus. Did I mention it was 18 degrees. Oh yes...and it was snowing. This is Norway. Brrrrrrr. (I heard it was 92 degrees today in Phoenix, but a dry heat!)

 The bus traveled for close to 30 minutes only to take us to a waiting train that would finally take us to our destination. When we reached our stop in Tonsberg,  the conductor announced over the loud speaker that he hoped his American passengers (the Doigs) enjoyed Norway...and to be sure to get off on the right side of the train. Everyone laughed. The Norwegian people are wonderfully nice to Americans.

 We arrived at the conference hotel looking quite frightful after 36 hours of travel. We got there in time to join 50 plus people for dinner in a small room with very loud people. We had an incredible dinner (slices of rare roast beef with cherry tomatoes for an appetizer, cod over a pumpkin puree for our main course, and a creme brulee for dessert, and of course, copious wine) and great conversation, although I was afraid at any moment my head would fall in my plate from sheer exhaustion. I dreamed of my bed!

I slept for 12 glorious hours and woke to find a steaming cup of kaffee creme beside the bed. (oh, thank you Steve!).  I quickly (okay...slowly) got dressed and Steve and I headed out for the snowy covered streets. He was careful to tell me every five minutes to hold on tight so I wouldn't slip on ice patches. Hmmm, it was Steve that managed to slip twice. Good he was holding on to me :) The weather was brisk and beautiful and Tonsberg, although not the most picturesque town in Norway, is very nice.

the town square

Among the few sights is a whaling museum and a fortress close to the hotel. The ruins of the old fortress lies on a hill in the middle of the town. You can get a marvelous panoramic view of Tønsberg and its surroundings, and walk among ruins from the Viking era.

Tonsberg Fortress 
 However, the purpose of our walk was to find the local bakery and coffee shop. We succeeded! There was no way I would leave without sampling a Norwegian pastry!



Steve chose something that looked like a lemon doughnut frosted with a dusting of coconut flakes and powdered sugar.  I opted for a hazelnut, raisin wheat roll with my kaffee.  Both were yummy!

Of course, there is ALWAYS a MacDonalds to be found wherever in the world we go. I am only posting this picture for my wonderful friend Bonnie, who can never travel anywhere in the world without eating at this establishment!

Tonight we a nice dinner with Jim Steele (from Barlett and Steele), who is an extremely accomplished investigative journalist and author and David Smallman (attorney for Investigative reporters and editors, attorney for Valerie Plame from the CIA, writer and producer of documentaries) They were on a fascinating panel tonight speaking about the government's mistakes, manipulations and lies leading up to our involvement in the Iraq War. Everyone should check out the link!

Our dinner and conversation was spectacular. We ate at a restaurant called Becks and ate some orgasmic seafood dinner with fabulous wine.

our restaurant

Three of us had this incredible seafood feast in a creamy sauce

a wonderful Chardonnay, pinot grigio blend from Italy

David Smallman, Ellyn, Steve, Jim Steele
All in all, a fantastic evening!

Tomorrow Steve does two talks and then we are off to the Oslo airport and on to Paris!!!!!!!