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Tails From the Vienna Woods

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France

Provence, the iPhone photos.

There’s some fun stuff here!
Never far from home. In the Verona parking garage, advertisements for the other garages managed by APCOA. (Only Döbling friends will appreciate this photo.)

We were so BORED driving through Switzerland that the local Swiss folk music actually entertained us.

 Alas, we missed the running of the bulls in our Provence village by one day. Perhaps next year.

 Meringues in the window of the village boulangerie.  Only €2,50 for all that sweet, airy goodness.

 Our street.

 Jack struggled with the French version of “coffee.”

An old French Monopoly game kept Jack and Anna Grace amused on pool breaks. Spending 50.000 French Francs on a hotel was fun!

 Downtime in the yard.

 Interesting journal in one of the paper and book shops we browsed.

 Ours is not, but the sign was cute nonetheless.

A few scenes from Avignon, home to the Catholic Church before the smack down Pope-Off with Rome.

Way too many of these signs everywhere we traveled. At least the Austrians have a sense of humor about road construction.

A point of commentary. One day, in one of the markets, Tony and I overheard a slovenly, overweight and obnoxious American husband speaking to his friend on the sidelines: “I bring her to France and all she does is effing shop.” Okay, then. 
The following day, in a different market, we overheard Mr. Evolved again offering this theory to his friend. 
“We haven’t evolved too far from our hunter-gatherer time. Look at the women. Just like in the days when men hunted for food and women gathered nuts and seeds, our wives are just picking through the linens.” 

Tony recognized Mr. Evolved, too, and grabbed my elbow to steer me away before I could respond to the asshat’s statement. 
Finally, Clayton Theodore’s sad face on the evening we had begun to repack the car, sensing that his days of napping on the terrace and chasing lizards in the yard were coming to an end.
To Provence. Until we meet again.

Switzerland and the Tirol. Homeward Bound.

So, a 13 hour drive in one direction means a 13 hour drive in the return direction. By design we routed northernly through Switzerland into Austria rather than back through Italy. I am sad to write that Switzerland was BORING. We were stopped at the French/Swiss border and questioned as to where we were coming from and as to why we were transiting through the country. Really? And, we were made to purchase an annual vignette (€40) for the cross country driving pleasure.  Sorry, Switzerland, your lame driving maximum speed of 120 km/hr and your BORING, BORING, autobahn (where did you hide the Alps?) did not inspire us to return. Ever.
Four miserable hours across Switzerland (and some terrible, no good, and horrible rest station sandwiches) later we crossed into the Principality of  Liechtenstein, and then into Austria where we all enjoyed the views that Switzerland had hidden from us.
Obsteig, Austria, and our Landhaus for the evening. The food and the scenery were unparalleled. Be jealous.

Later in the evening the storm clouds moved in.

 The morning journey home through the Tirol and Salzburgland.

We paused in Salzburg for petrol. Abbey Road, Auf Deutsch?

 Homeward bound and a beautiful finish to one of our favorite European holidays ever.

Provence. We came for the food.

The Provencal market days were special. Medieval villages sprinkled like the lavender fields across the south of France erupt once or twice a week to showcase the French’s occupation with food. I already believe that I am secretly French given my own preoccupations; more affirmation came this week, when even the children did not complain about waking early to drive an hour across the Vaucluse for a market.
Seasonal products were the headliners, along with so. many. aged. cheeses. At each of the markets I ordered a small wedge or a round or two of whatever a French grandmere was requesting. We learned quickly that French grandmeres know their cheese. 
The charcuterie, terrine, and fresh meat and seafood selections were dizzying. 
Anna Grace said, “Non!” to fresh bun-bun on the grill, but watched eagerly as the Poissonerie cleaned and prepared our squid tubes fresh from Marseille for dinner one night. 
But whatever we brought home from the market, my guy was always ready to grill.
One vendor thoughtfully provided a decoder sheet for his vast and aromatic display. No donkey sausage for us; the wild boar and two rounds of cheese made for perfect pool break nibblies instead.
Provence is proud of its Mediterranean heritage, evidenced in small part by the paella available at just about every market. The paella was on par with that we’ve enjoyed at Spanish restaurants, too; and we tussled like unruly children over the fresh steamed langoustines in each take-away portion.
I have this piece of Le Crueset in my kitchen, and can only hope that someday it bears such beautiful scars.
This sign at a restaurant in one village market caught my eye.  Only the French would refer to their best chefs as “disciples” of Auguste Escoffier.
The markets offered more than food, of course. There was brocante and bric-a-brac to be had for all tastes…

…and in the case of these gorgeous seltzer bottles, I discovered my taste was “expensive.”
Savon de Marseille. “Au Lait” is my and Anna Grace’s favorite scent, and many, many blocks were tucked into the luggage home.
No surprise that the majority of my souvenirs were èpicerie. And, no surprise that I eschewed the traditional Provencal mass-produced patterns for embroidered linen from a small vendor. My only indulgence? New Laguiole to join my old Laguiole.
As for my secret French heritage? Well, I do think the lavender complements the Czech crystal and Polish ceramics nicely…

Yes, Provence is beautiful.

As the OCD travel planner for member of the family, I researched and researched and researched the “best” lavender driving routes for this holiday. A Provence tour has been on my proverbial list for an inordinate amount of time, and by gosh, I was not leaving the south of France without seeing lavender.
Well, plans be damned. The insolent lavender across Provence does not all flower at the same time (as in the “postcard” photo at Abbaye Senanque that we’ve all seen a million times). We quickly learned to be happy about this minor detail. Given the gross number of tour buses streaming about, being a week or so ahead of the summer crush was good.
Sometimes, to our delight, though, the fragrant buds presently themselves perfectly. Can you hear the bees buzzing about?
As we learned on our day drive, there is no true “lavender route.” We discovered fields of lavender here, there, and everywhere; up close and in the distance as we motored around the Luberon. Wherever we paused, though, the heady aroma of warm lavender welcomed us.
We exchanged pleasantries with fellow lavender lovers from all over Europe along our drive, too, taking turns snapping family photos. Lavender lovers are a friendly bunch!
Baby lavender!  The plants should be in full bloom next summer, and we may just have to visit beautiful Provence again.

A Grand Canyon, Ochre Cliffs, and a Tour de France Summit Point

In planning our Provence holiday, more attention was relegated to the quintessential Provence tour of lavender, quaint villages, and driving distances (returning to the villa to spend the afternoon at the pool being a high priority, as well). Little did we know, then, that our drive through the lavender fields would astound us with stunning topography…
Driving through Gorge de la Nesque. 

 Mont Ventoux in the distance, a summit point along the Tour de France route.

One of at least four rock tunnels we passed through on harrowingly narrow cliff-hugging roads. We approached this particular tunnel at the same time as a Belgian driver in a camper van, and in order that we all safely passed, mirrors were tucked in and breaths were held. One more spray of clear coat on the Volvo and we would have been in trouble. Quite the Fahrvergnügen.

How the Belgian camper van cleared these tunnels we do not know. We do suspect there were words between the Mr. and Mrs. when all was said and done, though.
And later, just before these cave cliffs we nearly collided with a tour bus. I had to reverse our vehicle a good distance back along the winding roads in order to find a space for the bus to pass without scraping our car, and came within millimeters of scratching against a rock cliff. Scary driving. We think the bus was not supposed to be on the road, as it would have been impossible for two buses to pass anywhere along the route.

Toward the end of our afternoon we spied the ochre cliffs near the village of Rousillion, spectacular against the afternoon light.

None of us could find the words to describe our day in this part of France. The photos are merely reminders; the memories will be forever. 

Shakespeare would agree: it’s a tragedy

School broke for the summer last week so the pace at home naturally slowed, as well. The children and I played tourists, watched a bit of the anti-Erdogan demonstrations across the city, and otherwise lazed around. Not quite the routine we desired for the entire summer (we were bored by Tuesday), but we knew the scene would soon improve.
By Friday, viola!  We were on the road to Provence, a last-hurrah of sorts family holiday before Jack heads to the US. ViaMichelin insisted the drive from Vienna to “only” be 13 hours, but we have experienced enough of the 8-turned-12 hour drives to Cape Cod to know that we had to parcel the travel into two days. Plus, with an almost 13-year old daughter in the house who liked the movie, Letters from Juliet, Verona seemed the perfect overnight.
The scenery changes against the blue summer sky made for an exquisite travel companion, and in good order we arrived in Verona.

Verona is an ancient city that UNESCO has on its heritage list because of its architecture, which did not disappoint. The city is compact, making it relatively easy to see the major architectural highlights in a few hours.
Did you know there are over 200 Roman amphitheaters of varying architectural integrity across Europe? This is Verona’s contribution to the tally.

Verona, some will note, is also home to a certain 14th century brownstone tucked into a courtyard with a famous balcony. Not any of these balconies, lovely to look at as they were…

…but this one at Casa di Guilietta. Though entirely a Shakespearean creation, it is believed that he was inspired by Verona to compose his tragedy, Romeo and Juliet.  Lovers and tourists flock to Juliet’s balcony; some even pay to relive the famous scene.
Truth be told, our visit to this “mecca” horrified us. The beautiful covered archway into the courtyard has been terribly defaced with “messages” to Juliet.
Railings put in place along the courtyard are dedicated to lovelocks, but of course.

For some, to our disgust, their eternal love is better expressed by a wad of chewing gum stuck to another of the courtyard walls. Ewww. The “security” people in the courtyard seem unable to stop this, for some reason.

Band-aids for the betrothed? We were incredibly disappointed in our visit, Anna Grace especially. 
Overall Verona was a charming Italian city worth our overnight stop. We found a garden pizzeria for dinner and settled in with the other restaurant goers to cheer on Italy in their World Cup match against Costa Rica. Things did not go well for Italy, though, and soon one could hear a pin drop in the garden.
Between the awful state of Juliet’s balcony and the Italian football loss, even Shakespeare would have to agree: it’s a tragedy.

Paris is always a good idea. Especially if you like to eat.

And eat we did. Sucre crepes from the street vendors?  Check. The simple perfection of a ham and salted butter baguette sandwich while on the go? Probably one too many to count. Our sit-down meals were no less pleasurable. The beauty of Paris, as with Vienna, is that between the walking and the second hand smoke, I likely lost weight while on my short holiday. 
As with most casual French restaurants we dropped into, the plat du jour at a bistro in Saint Germain was inexpensive.  €10 bought a plate of pate de campagne (with my favorite tiny French cornichon), chicken paillard in a Norman-style mushroom creme sauce, and just the right sized wedge of apple tartin for me. For Tony, the French onion soup, Boeuf Bourguignon, and a chocolate pot de créme.  With a small carafe vin rouge, lunch was but €28. 
I have already spoken about the steak at our Sunday evening brasserie supper, unadorned so as to allow the dinner guest not to be distracted with sauces or condiments. Just as steak should be. But the dessert cheese!  This is the oozy, ripe, round of creamy and just a wee bit tart Saint Marcellin, expertly paired with a warm cherry sauce and simple salad. The waiter who brought the cheese was as excited as I that I loved it so. Our cost for the plat du jour supper? With carafe vin rouge, of course, a mere €42.
On our last evening we snagged a table at a brasserie that had been rather busy the previous night, and with two couples milling about outside waiting for an open table. We took that as a sign that we should eat at this most unpretentious restaurant, tucked down a side lane and having only ten tables.
From the warm and welcoming maître d’hotel to the chefs who obviously delighted in the culinary works of art served to their guests, to the new friends we made (the tables were very close!), our evening ranks among the top ten dinners we have experienced.  
To start I was immediately drawn to the novelty of angel hair wrapped prawns with homemade guacamole. An unusual combination I am now anxious to recreate at home. 
Tony selected the sautéed gizzards with bacon. I suspect it was the bacon that captured his attention. This poultry food-grinding organ, gently tossed with crisp bacon, was so heavenly that I have added this, as well, to my list of dishes I am anxious to recreate at home. 
Then came the main entrée. Do you see that impeccably roasted duck on my plate? Each morsel, paired with a small bite of the cabbage mousse (Oh, yes! The chef went there!) was its own experience, for which Tony gave me my culinary privacy.  (For the record, I did not lift the plate and lick the remaining sauce.) 
Once again, my darling husband honed in on the Alsatian beef roll with bacon. The chef, as we learned, is from the Alsace region and likes to influence Parisian cooking with recipes from his mother. 
Our long evening, including lovely conversation with the group seated next to us and not one, but two small carafe vin rouge, lightened the pocketbook by only €65. 
I am not of the habit to discuss the cost of my culinary outings; however, while taking the long walk back to the apartment that evening, Tony and I commented together that on the previous weekend the four of us had enjoyed an ordinary Austrian lunch, with neither starter nor dessert and but one glass of wine each, that was not much less than the sum of the three extraordinary meals we experienced in Paris, and we wondered why that was the case.
Once back in the apartment, I just happened to search the restaurant on the Internet to see if it was known in Paris. Imagine our surprise to learn that we had just left a restaurant ranked by several travel sites as a “Top Ten Dining Experience in Paris!”

Because photos of the Eiffel Tower are too obvious.

Galeries Lafayette has a map for their shoe department. Any further questions about why I love Paris?

They also have a pretty Christmas tree is their stained glass-domed atrium. (And strategically placed coffee bars for the husbands to relax in while their wives shop.) Reminds me of the old Marshall Field’s in Chicago.

Paris Metro seating is chic, be it the purple plastic at Opera (I think?) or minimalist acrylic at Louvre-Rivoli.

Paris is the perfect place to make new friends…

 …and keep the old, even if the friend is on an extended midday pause.  Whenever I am in Paris I seek the tonic that is the hallowed, creaky, wooden floors of Julia Child’s favorite kitchen store. But not this time.

 Paris without an agenda means there is time to appreciate beautiful scenes.

 Place des Vosges

Saint Germain

No introduction necessary for this cathedral celebrating its 850th year

 A modest man in the Musee Cluny

 Along Boulevard Saint Germain

 Time spent making a decision is time well spent in Paris, be it for wine or tea.

 Eventually, though, one has to make their way home each evening…

Sheep on the Tarmac, Beer Halls and Ad Hoc Massage Parlors. We’re in Paris!

This is my fifth visit to my favorite city in the world, and with each visit I never cease to be amazed at what the City of Lights has in store for me. (Yes, poor spoiled me, tagging along on Darling Husband’s work trip again.) 
Walking through the Habitrail that is Charles de Gaulle airport I commented to Tony, “That looks like an animal shed.” 
And it was. Just outside Terminal 2F the sheep may safely graze?
For this visit we’re in Le Marais, Paris’ 4eme on Rive Droit (Right Bank). (I strategically positioned us myself to be near to the list of stores on my Christmas shopping list. Smart, no?)

 Classic restored 18th century building, steps from the Pompidou Center. Literally.

After settling in, checking with the children, and a most amazing Italian lunch at a place nearby, we wasted two hours on my least favorite Parisian sport: grocery shopping on a Sunday. Though I am loathe to criticize my favorite city in any way, c’mon Paris!  Even Vienna doesn’t shut travelers out of milk, coffee, and bath tissue on Sunday!

The afternoon light fading, what better way to spend a December evening in Paris than with the half-million other visitors at the Paris Village de Nöel, along the famed L’avenue des Champs- Élysées.

Oh. My. Goodness. If ever Munich’s Oktoberfest, America’s Infomercial Channel, and the Wiener Kristkindlmarkt were to have a love child, it would be the Paris Village de Nöel.

Our walk through the lighted and loud 200+ stalls began pleasantly enough…

We rather enjoyed some of the international offerings, too. Canadian sweets and treats?
 
Norwegian salmon or Catalunyan sausage?
Or how about a Santa Claus Matruschka? Ponder that, if you will.
In the mood for some bratwurst or German beer (we weren’t), the Paris Village de Nöel has you covered.
Rockin’ around the Ice Rink and Psychedelic jumbo slide with pop music on the Jumbotron!
A “zoo” along the boulevard was big with the villagegoers. Because animated mountain lions and coyotes in a desert scene oozes holiday cheer. 
The Jolly Old Elf himself could be found with a little effort, mixed in with Infomercial booths for “Scarves that double as hats!”, “Singing Bowls–Amaze your Friends”! and other useless tchotchke.
Tucked high up in the corner of a furry hat stall was a Nativity, the only one we found.
Tired from all that walking?  These ad hoc masseuse were at the ready to sooth those aching muscles. 
Sadly, all of the pretty photos of Le Tour Eiffel that we took from Pont des Invalides were a little blurry. I can not be certain, but perhaps our glasses of holiday cheer had something to do with that. 
We escaped the Village safely and made our way back to Le Marais and a cozy brasserie window seat by which to enjoy the plat du jour, perfectly grilled steak with peppercorn sauce.

 As well as a dessert cheese (Saint Marcellin) so luscious I brought one home for breakfast in the morning.

I love Paris.

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