Hermione & the Spirit of Lafayette Back in the US


Nope, I’m not talking about a Hermione Granger, the Harry Potter character, but Hermione, the Frigate of Freedom, a ship. The replica of the ship that brought the Marquis de Lafayette to the United State some 235 years ago to carry the message from King Louis XVI that France was going to aid the colonies. In 1997, a group of people came up with the idea of reconstructing the frigate using the same building methods applied in the original. Some 17 years later, on April 18, 2015, she left Rochefort in France to set sail for Virginia and retrace a journey through American history. For the past month, L’Hermione plied across the Atlantic, retracing Lafayette’s journey. She’s set to arrive in Yorktown, Virginia, this week and then sail up the Coast to 11 additional ports. If you’re hoping to catch the ship, here’s her schedule:

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  • Yorktown, Virginia (June 5-7)
  • Mount Vernon, Virginia (June 9 – not docking)
  • Alexandria, Virginia (June 10-12)
  • Annapolis, Maryland (June 16-17)
  • Baltimore, Maryland (June 19-21)
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (June 25-28)
  • New York, New York (July 1-4)
  • Greenport, New York (July 6-7)
  • Newport, Rhode Island (July 8-9)
  • Boston, Massachusetts (July 11-12)
  • Castine, Maine (July 14-15)
  • Lunenburg, Nova Scotia (July 18)

At each stops, there will be a traveling photography exhibit covering the 17 years of the ship’s reconstruction and visitors will be able to tour the ship and enjoy other pier-side cultural activities. As always, New York gets the best stop of all, the one on July 4th, with a whole parade of boats that will accompany the Hermione as she sails from the Verrazano Bridge to the Statue of Liberty. Then of course, there’ll be fireworks, but I think those would have happened regardless 😉 I wish I could make it to that, but I’m hoping to catch the ship in Philadelphia since I’ll be out of town on a work trip pretty much the entire time it’s going to be in the DC-area. 

For more information on L’Hermione and her transatlantic trip, check out the website Hermione Voyage or follow her journey on instagram and twitter. The photograph used in this post was courtesy of L’Hermione.

Discover the Wines of the Languedoc Region

Is it August yet? I’ll be traveling to Montpellier, Bezier and Carcassonne in the Languedoc-Roussillon region in a few weeks and I can’t wait!! The Languedoc isn’t as famous when it comes to wine as say Burgundy or Champagne, but the Southwestern French region is one of the largest and oldest wine-producing area in France. Two wines that I personally love from the Languedoc are Corbière reds and rosés. The Languedoc, which spans the Mediterranean coastline from Provence to the France’s border with Spain, enjoys a warm and sunny weather, with 320 days of sunshine Languedoc Day infographica year, and produces some wonderful rosés. 

Since today is #LanguedocDay, an occasion for wine lovers around the world to celebrate and share their appreciation for the AOPs from the regions on social media event, here are the wines that Languedoc is famous for: 

LIMOUX

The sparkling wines from the region around the town of Limoux, south of the Medieval walled city of Carcassonne, claim to be the bubbly with the oldest mention in official records. Take that Champagne 😉 

Picpoul de pinetPICPOUL DE PINET

The production of the world famous Picpoul de Pinet white wine is centered around a few small villages close to the Bassin de Thau, a large saltwater lake that also produces some of the country’s best oysters. This very affordable wine is the south of France’s answer to northern French Muscadet, with a similar lemony zing but sometimes also with a subtle floral whiff.

 

IMG_8411CORBIERES AOC

Corbières is the largest appelation in Languedoc, and one of the better known. You’ll easily spot a bottle of Corbières in most wine stores in town. 95% of the wines produced in that part of the Languedoc are herb scented reds made from Carignan, Syrah, Mourvedre and Grenache, but you can also find a few rosés. All are typically reasonably priced too, though there are more expensive “grande cuvée.   

 

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ROSÉ

Right now, I cannot get enough rosés and the Languedoc produces beautiful pale pink wines that pair especially well with a hot summer day! Try the Chateau de Lascaux rosé cuvée Garrigue 2014 (available at Eye Street Cellars for $12.99,) Domaines Paul Mas (found at Cork & Fork on 14th street,) or a Corbières rosés like Domaine Sainte Eugenie (from Continental Wines).

 

The wines of Languedoc

I hope I’ve inspired you to pick up a bottle of wine from Languedoc today and join the conversation. Follow @languedocwines and use the hashtag #LanguedocDay to chime in!! And, if you want to take it a step further, Bistro d’Oc near metro center is an adorable little restaurant (it’s easy to spot with its purple facade!) that specializes in the food of the Languedoc region. Happy #LanguedocDay! 

 

 

A Taste of Burgundy: Jambon à la Chablisienne

Making Jambon à la Chablisienne is very simple and allows you to bring together two ingredients that are abundant in Burgundy: wine and ham. In this case, the wine in question is Chablis, one of the better chardonnays produced in the region. The original dish as it was created in the first half of the 20th century called for a whole ham cooked on the boned in Chablis with added flavouring and served over spinach or fresh noodles . Today, the recipe has been simplified: thick slices of ham are baked with a sauce made of tomatoes, wine and shallots and served over rice. Here’s how to make it at home…

INGREDIENTS

1 lb. cooked ham, sliced 1⁄4" thick; 1 3/4 cups chicken stock; 1 cup chablis; 2 tbsp red wine vinegar;  4 sprigs tarragon, plus 1 tbsp chopped for garnish; 2 large shallots, minced; ! small can of tomato paste; 1 1/2 sour cream; salt and pepper

1 pound cooked ham, cut into 6-8 1⁄4″ thick sliced ; 1 3/4 cups chicken stock; 1 cup chablis; 2 tablespoon red wine vinegar; 4 sprigs tarragon + 1 tablespoon chopped for garnish; 3 shallots, minced; 1 small can of tomato paste; 1 1/2 cups sour cream; salt and pepper

 

PREPARATION

Start by heating up the oven to 400° and preparing your ingredients. You’ll want to slice the ham (rolling it is optional, I didn’t, but most people do) and chopping the shallots into small dices. Measure all your other ingredients. The 1 cup of chablis is basically one hefty glass. Pour yourself a smaller one to enjoy as you cook!  

Before the oven is fully heated, you can start cooking the shallots and tarragon sprigs in the chablis in a dutch oven or ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Once it has started to reduce, you’ll want to add the 2 tablespoon of red wine vinegar and the chicken stock and reduce it all further until there’s only about half a cup left. At that point, you’ll want to blend the sauce in a mixer before returning to the pot and add the tomato paste. Once that has cooked a little (let’s say 3-5 minutes) add the sour cream, salt and pepper and simmer until the sauce thickens.

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Arrange the ham slices in an oven-proof dish (it’s ok if they overlap!) and strain the sauce over them through a fine-mesh sleeve. Shake the dish to make sure all of the ham slices gets coated with the sauce and bake for 30 minutes. Towards the end, you can add gruyere on top of the ham and sauce to make the dish into more of a gratin, but you don’t have to.

Once you remove the dish from the oven, sprinkle with one tablespoon of chopped tarragon and/or parsley and serve over 1 cup of white rice to absorb the sauce, as well as the rest of the chablis bottle you used for cooking! In the case of the recipe, a chablis (not petit, not 1er or grand cru) is best, as long is it about 3 years old. I chose a 2012 Chablis from Domaine Long-Depaquit that had been sent to me by Pure Chablis and it worked beautifully! 

 

 

Postcard from France: Marseille

Last Christmas, my uncle invited us to spend the holidays at his house in Goult, a lovely village in the Luberon, located halfway between Aix-en-Provence and Avignon. My uncle is my mother’s brother and they both grew up in Marseille, France’s second largest city. Rather than take the train to Avignon and get picked up by my uncle there, we decided to spend a day and a half in Marseille and rent a car to drive to Goult. I have very little childhood memories of Marseille, and my husband had never been so I was excited to discover the city, especially with my favourite Marseillaise – my mom – as our guide!

FIRST THINGS FIRST: LUNCH AT CHEZ ETIENNE 

IMG_1482The trip from Paris Gare-de-Lyon to Marseille-Saint-Charles is just over 3 hours. After dropping our bags at our hotel near the vieux port, we quickly headed off to lunch at Chez Etienne, a no-thrills pizzaria in Le Panier. My mom used to go there when she visited friends and family back in the city, so it’s been around for a while, and other than adding a second room across the street from the original location to accommodate demand, very little has changed over the years. Service and ambiance are not the reason to go to Chez Etienne. You go there for the best pizza in Marseille, which here is served as a starter, not a main course, and only comes with two options, cheese or no cheese. The anchovies and olives come automatically as toppings 😉 You also go there for the pavé de boeuf, which is excellent, and the supions, small squids lightly pan-fried with garlic and parsley. Warning: there’s no phone to make reservations and it gets very crowded so if go, you might have to wait (in the street) for a table to become available. They also only accept cash and as I mentioned, service is, well, let’s say it’s very French.

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STROLLING THROUGH THE PANIER

IMG_1504The core of Marseille, the old port, is surrounded by hills and starting our tour through the city at Chez Etienne was a smart move because we then weaved our way down to the Vieux Port through the neighbourhood known as Le Panier. If La Canebière, Marseille’s main boulevard in the old quarters, is the city’s answer to the Champs Elysées, Le Panier is its Montmartre. The neighbourhood, once rather dodgy and filled with sailors from across the globe looking for a good time, has become quite trendy recently.  With its hilly narrow cobbled streets and pastel coloured houses covered in street art, it’s in the midst of a bit of gentrification and there’s been quite the influx of hipsters and artists lately (as well as public funds from the city.) From Le Panier, we made our way to the Maison Diamantée, one of the oldest house in town, and the 17th century City Hall, where my parents got married, before landing on the Quai du Port. 

OH MARIUS! THE OLD PORT OF MARSEILLE

IMG_1737Life in Marseille has revolved around the vieux port ever since the trading post of Massalia was founded by Phocaean greeks in 600 BC. In the 1840s (after Algeria became a French department) the commercial docks were transferred to La Joliette but the colourful Old Port remained the emotional heart of the city, crammed with fishing boats, pleasure yachts and visitors. You can get from the quai du port to the Quai de Rive Neuve on the other side by foot (or even those public bikes, known as Le Velo in Marseille)… or you can take the free ferry boat like we did! It’ll probably take you just as long, but if you only have one opportunity to get on the water in Marseille, you should seize it! For me, it was extra fun because I’ve read and re-read Marcel Pagnol’s Triologie Marseillaise, and I couldn’t help but think of Felix Escartefigue, capitaine of the ferry boite, as we made a quick pastis stop on the other side of the port at Le Bar de la Marine, where the author/director filmed the famous “tu me fends le coeur” scene from Marius. If you have NO idea what I’m referring to, may I recommend watching Daniel Auteuil’s version of Marius and Fanny, which are currently streaming on Netflix

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There’s lots of great stuff on that side of the port… a block away from the Bar de Marine, you’ll notice La Criée, a former fish market and now one of France’s edgiest theaters. We continued on quai de rive neuve until rue Robert on our way to the Musée du Santon (also known as Les Ateliers Carbonel) before making our way to Le Four des Navettes, THE place in Marseille to get the city’s iconic boat-shaped, orange-flower flavoured navette biscuits. I’ll warn you if you’re going to try them (which you should!): their nickname is casse-dent (teethbreaker) so don’t bite too hard into them 😉 We actually grabbed about 4 kilos worth for everyone to enjoy at the Christmas table… A few streets away from the bakery is the stunning Abbaye Saint Victor. We didn’t linger too much there because our ultimate goal for the end of the day was catching the sunset at another famous Marseille church, Notre Dame de la Garde, which was a quick but steep 20 minutes walk climb away. 

STUNNING VIEWS FROM NOTRE DAME DE LA GARDE

IMG_1608The Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde, or La Bonne Mère (the good mother) as it is familiarly known towers over Marseille and offers amazing 360 views of the city below, which are particularly striking at sunset. Topped by a massive golden statue of the Virgin Mary and Child, the Byzantine-style interior features anchor and sailing ship motifs. Since around the Mediterranean there’s a religious tradition of ex-votos to express gratitude for a wish granted, you’ll also see boat models hanging from the ceiling or displayed in glass cases to express thanks for a loved one having returned from the sea.  There’s also an Olympique de Marseille flag which was brought by the team after a victory so it’s not all sailing related (though l’OM is quite the religion in Marseille too…)

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DINNER TIME !

IMG_1750Since it was before right before Christmas, a marché de Noel and the Foire Aux Santons were in full swing at the old port and nearby Place Saint Charles respectively and we spent a little bit of time shopping at both before heading to diner at La Kahena, one of Marseille’s best Tunisian restaurant. I don’t get to eat a lot of North African food here in DC and Marseille happens to have very large Algerian, Moroccan and Tunisien communities, both muslims and jewish like my mother’s maternal side of the family. The fish couscous was excellent, as well as my brik au thon, and since we didn’t get a chance to swing by Les Delices Patisserie d’Aix, a famed oriental pastry shop, during the day we took full advantage of the dessert buffet to indulge our sweet tooth with some cornes de gazelles and makroud

 DAY TWO: MIXING THE OLD WITH THE NEW

IMG_2014Marseille is known as the gateway to the Mediterranean, so it was time for us to set sail! Well, or at least take a small boat trip 😉 First, we got up early to enjoy the small fish market that still takes place on the Quai des Belges around 8AM every morning. From there, we grabbed the Frioul If Express to the island fortress of If, where Alexandre Dumas imprisoned his fictional count of Monte Christo. Had it been summer or even spring, we may have extended the journey to the Frioul Island but instead we headed back to shore to explore the NEW Marseille. We didn’t realize how far the new Docks at La Joliette were so we only made it as far as la Cathédrale La Major before heading back to the brand new MuCEM where we had plans to meet my DC-based friend Laure, who was in town for the holidays visiting her family in Marseille. Inaugurated in 2013, the MuCEM offers perspective on mediterranean civilizations and mixes the old with the new by adding a modern building designed by Rudy Ricciotti to the 12th century Fort St. Jean. The two buildings are linked by a footbridge known as J4 (for Joliette 4.)

Lunch at the MuCEM

We didn’t actually visit the museum, focusing instead on exploring its architecture and enjoyed a sun soaked lunch with stunning views of the turquoise sea at Le Môlé Passédat, a restaurant on the top floor of the museum from Michelin-starred chef Gerard Passédat. The meal was amazing, but not cheap, so if you’re looking for a more affordable option, La Cuisine (Le Mole’s sister restaurant) offers a great lunch as well, minus the view.  Following lunch, we headed back to the vieux port to pick up a bottle of pastis at La Maison du Pastis, a shop that allows you to try any pastis from a selection of 75 different ones before you purchase the one of your choice. We also stopped at the brand new Galerie Lafayette Gourmet to do some last minute Christmas food shopping and then set out. On our way out of the city, we drove through an old industrial neighbourhood called la Belle de Mai. The area grew from the arrival of the railway and a former tobacco factory there has now become a thriving cultural center called La Friche la Belle de Mai, with lots of awesome street art nearby. We didn’t get to stop in this time but it was the perfect send-off to a quick stay at the once gritty, now thriving Marseille. Besides, I have a feeling I’ll be back soon enough! 

 

 

 

Ici Urban Bistro Joins Thousands of Restaurants Across the World to Celebrate Goût de France

Gout de France

This Thursday, March 19, some 1,300 chefs will cook up special dinners at restaurants and embassies in 150 countries across all five continents for a worldwide celebration of French cuisine and gastronomy. Under the patronage of France’s foreign minister Laurent Fabius and famed Michelin-starred chef Alain Ducasse, “Goût de France / Good France” was inspired by Auguste Escoffier’s Dîners d’Épicure (Epicurean Diners), in which one menu was served to as many guests as possible worldwide in one day.  This time, however, the chefs have some creative freedom to come up with their own menus, though they must adhere to a strict traditional degustation format and serve, in this order, a French apéritif, a cold starter, a hot starter, a fish or shellfish, meat or poultry, a French cheese (or cheeseboard), a chocolate dessert, French wine and digestif. The menus will also be priced at the restaurant’s discretion, but participating establishments are encouraged to donate 5% of proceeds to local organizations.

In the District, there’s only one restaurant participating: the Sofitel Hotel’s own Ici Urban Bistro. Executive Chef Franck Loquet has crafted a wonderful menu for the occasion.

Gout de France menu at Ici Urban Bistro

The special March 19th dinner will be presided by Olivier Serot-Almeras, French General Consul, and is priced at $150 (you can purchase tickets here). 5% of the proceeds from this dinner will be donated to the local NGO Petits Frères des Pauvres (American Fund of the Little Brothers of the Poor.)

Last Friday, I got to taste some of the dishes that will be served (as well the delightful champagne) and diners are in for a treat! Check out the mouth-watering pictures below. You can also check out Gout de France’s website to view a complete listing of all the restaurants participating throughout the world. Since there are diners in 150 restaurants, there’s bound to be one near you! In New York? Ladurée is one of the restaurants participating (check out the menu here)!! Just saying…

Fine Woodland Mushroom Tart at Ici Urban Bistro for Gout de FranceBranzino Tartare at Ici Urban Bistro for Gout de France
Atlantic Salmon Mit Cuit

Herb Crusted Lamb Loin

Cremeux aux Trois Chocolats for Ici Urban Bistro's Gout de France diner

Francophonie Festival, 2015 Edition

The largest celebration of French culture and language in the world—the Francophonie Cultural Festival—is returning to the US capital March 5 to April 1, 2015. Organized by the D.C. Francophonie Committee in association with l’Alliance Française and Smithsonian Associates, the festival engages over 40 embassies for a month of cultural events ranging from lectures to concerts and movie screenings, culminating as usual with la Grande Fête de la Francophonie, a huge foodie bash at la Maison Française at the French Embassy.

What I’ve loved about the partnership with Smithsonian Associates this year is how active Smithsonian at 8 (the 21+  after-hours event planning art of the Smithsonian) has been about shinning a light on all the different countries that belong to the francophone world. Check out their facebook page, for example. Over the past few years, they’ve posted a recipe for Belgian waffles and the essentials of Senegalese cuisine, highlighted 10 of the most confusing words in the French language, gave us a crash course of playing the African drums and got me dreaming of jetting off to Guinea!

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Of course, Smithsonian at 8 has also been promoting the Grande Fête which will cap off the festival on March 27, 2015, and doing a Caption That contest to help you win free tickets. I’ve been to the Grande Fête many times, and here are a few tips to enjoy the party at the French Embassy:

  • la grande fete de la francophonieBuy your tickets early. The event will sell out, it always does.
  • Get to the party early. Even though the Grande Fête takes place on the expansive grounds of La Maison Francaise at the French Embassy, it gets very crowded, very fast. If you’re attending with a large group of people, agree on a meeting point because you’ll probably loose each other.
  • Don’t bring a big bag! They’ll be checking IDs and bags at the entrance so you’ll go through faster if you don’t have too much on you.
  • Uber to and back from the Embassy. There’s no parking available at the Embassy and not many spots in the streets nearby. The D6 bus does stop and pick up really close if you want to take public transportation.
  • Be prepared for long lines as you sample food and drink from more than 30 embassies as diverse as Ukraine, Cape Verde, Haiti, Tunisia and Belgium.
  • Stay for the concert! DJ Princess Slaya will spin music from Africa, the Caribbean, Europe, and plenty of destinations in between. The concert is when you stop spending all your time in a line and when the party really gets moving!
  • Bring cash. You’ll get food/drink samples from 7-9PM but it’s cash bar afterwards.

This year’s schedule seems a little more limited than in previous years, but besides the Grande Fête, there are a few interesting events like the Swiss Art Night at Hillyer Art Space, March 26 (6:30-9:00PM – free), Laissez les Bons Temps Rouler, a celebration of Louisiana at l’Alliance Française, March 20 (7PM – $20-$30) or Annecy in DC: a Selection of French Animated Shorts at the French Embassy, March 11 (7PM – free but reservations required.)

Make sure to visit FrancophonieDC.org for more info, including ticket costs, the description of the events and films, and times and locations.

Postcard from France: Cour Bérard in Paris

Cour Bérard is a small street in the 4eme arrondissement in Paris. It’s the home of the Moretti & Moretti, an art galerie which focuses on street art, digital art and installations.

Cour Bérard, Paris

I headed to the galerie to check out its Konny Stedin exhibit. If you’ve been to Paris recently, I’m sure you spotted some of the German street artist’s work. Her signature black and white portraits, with the red paint tears, can be seen throughout Paris, like this one below which I snapped a few years ago outside of BeaubourgStreet art by Konny outside of Beaubourg

But the best street art wasn’t inside the gallery. It was actually outside, in the street, which was lined with graffiti black cats.IMG_1300

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Cour Bérard is a small street, but it’s definitely a street art lover’s dream street.  And a black cat lover’s dream street too!

Travel Highlights from 2014

2014 was a great year for me travel-wise. I made it home to France not once, but twice. I made the most out of a few work trips in New York, Chicago, Raleigh, Boca Raton and Austin, Texas. I even tested out Icelandair’s “the best part of a trip to Paris is Iceland” advertisement by doing a stop-over in Reyjkavik on my way back from Paris. The highlight of last year, though, was traveling to Brazil to cheer on my beloved Bleus during the World Cup, a trip I had been planning for and looking forward to for the past 3 years.

MAKING THE MOST OUT OF WORK TRIPS 

Chicago (and New York before that) happened in the dead of winter. For Chicago, I think I got to go because none of my colleagues were crazy enough to go there for a frozen 36-hour trip. But I really like Chicago and I can’t wait to go back. In the summer.

Chicago

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I couldn’t justify renting a car in Austin since the event I was there for was at the hotel where I was staying, and unfortunately that hotel was not in the center of the city. As a result I didn’t get to see much of Austin as I would have to, but I did get to have some great BBQ and some fun food like Texas shaped waffles and Texas wine, at the Vino Volo at the airport of course.

Texas shape waffle

Texas wine flight

For Raleigh, it was really a combination fun and work since we have quite a few DC friends that somehow ended up there and we actually ended up going on 2 separate occasions. Since I’ve never owned a car (and didn’t have a car growing up in Paris either) I’m absolutely OBSESSED with road trips. It’s weird, I know. But my favourite part of the trips to Raleigh was driving down, through Richmond, VA, with my husband. I really would like to do more road trips in 2015. You know, with my imaginary car 😉

Welcome to North Carolina

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had been to Charlotte, of course, in 2014 for the Democratic National Convention, but Raleigh is quite different. I loved touring Duke University, especially the Sarah P. Duke gardens and fell in love with the North Carolina Art Museum. Also with LaFarm’s white chocolate chip baguette. SO good!

Rodin Gardens

Duke University

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I didn’t love Boca Raton as much, but it was still nice to spend a whole week in Florida. Even if I spent most of it indoor for our annual conference (helped that it was at the gorgeous Boca Raton Resort), I did spend a few hours on a beach before my flight, and checked out Whale’s Ribs of Drives-and-Dives-In fame. The oysters were cheap… but also tasteless. The bloody marys on the other end…

BRAZIL 2014 

Raleigh, Austin, Boca… those were nice trips. But of course, the one trip I was really (really really really) looking forward to was heading to Brazil for the World Cup. That trip was expensive, it required a lot of advance planning, entering of lotteries etc. Was it worth it? YES! Absolutely. For me. My husband probably thinks differently (maybe I should have tried to squeeze in one US game in there…) It certainly wasn’t an easy trip for us as a couple and we learned a lot about traveling together. We both disliked our stay in Belo Horizonte, though we adored the smaller town of Ouro Preto. We loved Rio, though I wish we’d stayed closer to Ipanema or Copacabana, instead of downtown.

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One of the highlights of the trip, for me, (I mean, not that watching France NOT score a single goal for 180 minutes wasn’t thrilling) was Iguazu Falls and crossing the border into Argentina for a quick day trip to see the falls on the other side. There’s a triple-border spot formed naturally by the convergence of the Parana River and the Iguazu River. Right there, you can literally stand between Brazil and Argentina, with Paraguay in the backdrop. I absolutely loved that spot!

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And while the whole idea behind going to Brazil was that we wouldn’t be making it to Russia or Qatar, I learned so much in my first World Cup experience that I think the next one can only be better. Privyet Russia 2018?

HOME SWEET HOME 

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I feel very lucky that I got to go to Paris not once but twice last year. I caught up with family, and my ever changing hometown. I went to the ballet at the stunning Opera Garnier with my dad and showed my husband some of my old haunts. I fell in love with Paris’ newest monument, la Fondation Louis Vuitton, and discovered the new offspring of its most famous museum (that would be the Louvre Lens, you can read more about it here). I had some great coffee at adorable new spots in the Marais and the Canal Saint Martin area and ate WAY too many pastries 😉

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I even got to show my husband a little bit of the country outside of France when we traveled to the South of France to spend Christmas at my uncle’s house in Goult and visited many cute small villages along the way (as well as the not-so-small “villages” of Avignon, Marseille and Nice.)

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THE BEST PART OF A TRIP TO PARIS IS ICELAND?

Finally, I took my husband on a bit of his dream trip, which meant meeting up in Reyjkavik for Thanksgiving. I have a feeling we’ll be back and explore more of Iceland in the future (I mean, I’m going to keep visiting Paris… so as long as Icelandair keeps offering that awesome stop-over deal… Iceland trips are going to be in our future.).

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Unlike Brazil, that trip was just easy. We booked some guided excursions, which I never do and despite some of my friends advising me to just rent a car and do it ourself. If there’s anything I learned in Brazil, it’s that it’s ok, occasionally, and it did prove to be the right travel choice for us at that particular time. I’m not saying we’ll always go with organized tours, but that it can be worth it to save yourself the hassle of doing it all yourself sometimes…

When I first started writing this post, I didn’t have a lot to look forward to travel-wise for 2015. I had such an amazing travel year in 2014 that it seems greedy to expect even half of that for 2015. And yet, I want more! So far, outside of a quick work trip to New York in early February (I already have reservations for Meow Parlor!) and another to Vegas for our national conference, I don’t really have anything concrete.  But here are some of my travel thoughts. I used to live in Montreal and I haven’t been back in ages. And Canada happens to be hosting the Women Football World Cup next summer so I’d love to make that happen (bonus: NO lottery to get tickets to games!!) I also have friends getting married in France and Finland in August and September, and while the 2 weddings are too close together to make both happen, I’d like to make at least one happen (if it’s Finland, I’m making it to Saint Petersburg this time!) Also, last week I won a 4 nights stay at a brand new hotel in Cancun through Expedia’s #TravelChat, so it looks like as soon as we can figure out flights, we’ll be headed to the dream relaxing beach vacation my husband has always wanted… and maybe we’ll rent a car and take a road trip to a new US destination as well…

What were your 2014 travel highlights? Any exciting plans already for 2015?

Postcard from Paris: a Paws Café at Café des Chats

Cafe des chats, rue sedainePaws Café… Pause café… get it? OK, that was a bad pun, but I couldn’t help it. Just like I couldn’t help visiting both of Paris’ cat cafés during my last stay in the city. In my defense, one of them is just a few blocks away from my parents’ apartment. When did rue Sedaine become so hip?

The original Café des Chats, located in the haut Marais close to Beaubourg, opened back in the fall of 2013 and turned out to be so popular that a second location near Bastille was added. Margaux Gandelon, the young entrepreneuse who launched the “café chat” concept in Paris after a successful crowd-funding campaign, was directly inspired by the “neko” cafés in Japan. She describes her project as ronronthérapie, or purr therapy, arguing for the potential health benefits of stroking a purring kitty. However, it’s the health of the cats that’s truly at the center of the projects, and all visitors must abide by a few rules:don’t force the cats to do anything they don’t want to do,do not wake up the cats  if they’re sleeping and do not feed the cats.

Humans shouldn’t feed the cats, but café des chats feeds its humans pretty well, and the kitchen is the only area where cats are not allowed. I hear the brunch is quite popular though when we visited, around goûter time, we simple settled for coffee, tea and cheesecakes. If you have a choice to visit one over the other location, I would recommend visiting the one in the Marais, which is a beautiful and cozy bi-level space with a faux-library and a 15th century vaulted ceiling (downstairs.) The Bastille location is more modern, but also easier to get into as it doesn’t require reservations. Both feature a group of twelve-ish resident cats, which, unlike in other cat cafés, notably in the United States, are not up for adoption. All of them, though, were previously stray or abandoned cats that were given a permanent home rues Sedaine or Michel Le Comte. and a portion of the proceeds from the cafés though is donated to animal protection organizations.

Cafe des chats

Cafe des chats, Paris

Cafe des chats paris

I can’t wait for DC to open its own cat café! If you too are excited about this prospect, visit Crumbs and Whiskers’ website for updates on their kickstarter’s campaign [update: here’s my post on my first visit to Crumbs & Whiskers.] Until then, I’m glad I have not one, but two places to go when I need my kitty fix in Paris!

 Café des Chats: 16 Rue Michel le Comte (3ème) | Bastille: 9 Rue Sedaine (11ème)

Postcard from France: Visiting the Louvre-Lens

Lens, a small town in northern France, boasts a football stadium with a capacity larger than its population, but doesn’t have a movie theater.  A former mining strong hold, its main touristic and cultural attractions used to be world war I cemeteries and Europe’s tallest slag heaps (known by their formal French name of base et terrils jumeaux du 11/19.) That all changed in 2012. That year, one of the world’s most famous museums, the Louvre, opened an outpost in Lens, attracting some 900,000 visitors its first year of operation. While that’s barely anything compared to the 8 million visitors that go through the Parisian museum each year, that’s still very impressive.

Lens is easily accessible from Belgium, the Netherlands and England. It’s also just an hour away from Paris by train, so during my last visit home, we hopped on the TGV to check it out. We rented a car to do a little more sight-seeing beyond the museum but you can also easily do without. Free shuttles bring visitors directly from the art deco train station to the Louvre-Lens and back. Starting in January, the shuttle will also stop boulevard Basly, the main commercial street in the city lined with a few art-deco reconstructed houses, on its way back from the museum.

Gare de Lens

Gare de Lens

Downtown Lens

Downtown Lens

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But let’s get back to the main attraction: Louvre-Lens. The sleek, minimalist building, designed by Japanese architect firm Sanaa (they also designed the New Museum in New York City,) is a steel and glass structure on a 20 hectare wasteland that was originally used as a coal mine before the ’60s. On a clear day, visitors can spot the giant through the museum’s  floor to ceiling glass windows.

Can you spot the twin giant slag heaps at Loos-en-Gohelle?

Can you spot the twin giant slag heaps at Loos-en-Gohelle through the windows?

The Louvre-Lens creators have said they want the museum to be a Louvre in its own right, and not just an annex of the Parisian Museum. That being said, the Louvre-Lens doesn’t have its own collection and relies instead on long-term loans from the mother-ship. Since the Louvre has some 460,000 works of art in its collection but only has space to display 35,000 of them, this is actually a mutually beneficial relationship. The first 250 pieces that were loaned to Louvre-Lens have been curated in a rather novel way to give visitors a brand new perspective on some pretty classic art pieces and artifacts. While other museums, the Louvre-Paris included, typically separate artworks by style or era (Egyptian pieces together, renaissance painting separately,) the art at Louvre-Lens is displayed in chronological order in one long, light-filled gallery called the Galerie du Temps (time gallery.)

The "permanent" collection at Louvre-Lens is housed in the Galerie du temps

The “permanent” collection at Louvre-Lens is housed in the Galerie du Temps

We spent two hours going through the collection like we would have reading through an art book, starting with Egyptian antiquities (statues, sarcophagus, etc.,) a statue of Alexander the great, roman mosaics, greek vases and a celestial globe from Iran going all the way to a portrait of Louis XIV, a statue of Napoleon, a virgin and child by Botticelli and yes, a Goya and a Rembrandt too… While we were there, the museum was busy preparing for the opening of a new temporary exhibit, “Des animaux et des pharaons,” focusing on Egypt’s fascination with animals. Every year, the museum will offer 2 different temporary exhibits while changing up some of the pieces in the “permanent” collection, giving residents of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region plenty of reasons to keep going back to their new local attraction.

Chez Cathy, across from the Louvre-Lens

Chez Cathy, across from the Louvre-Lens

Le Centre Historique Minier Lewarde

Le Centre Historique Minier Lewarde

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whether the museum will provide a long-term economic boost to the depressed town remains to be seen but it certainly cannot hurt. I was glad to visit. While we were in the area, we had some traditional northern-France food at nearby Chez Cathy (the museum also offers its own more elegant restaurant, l’Atelier de Marc Meurin,) visited the excellent Centre Historique Minier Lewarde before grabbing dinner at Aux Vieux de la Vieille, a traditional estraminet in Lille.There’s plenty more we could have done if we had opted to do an overnight trip instead of the day one, like visiting the historical town center in Arras or even going as far as Roubaix to visit Le Musee de La Piscine de Roubaix, a former art-deco swimming pool turned, you may have guessed it, museum. And I might have an opportunity to in the next few years, actually. In 2016, Lens will be one of the host cities for the Euro Cup, which will be held in France between June 10 and July 19, 2016 and which I am totally planning on attending! Its Stade Bollaert-Delelis, which previously hosted some world cup matches back in 1998, will see 3 group-stages matches and one round of 16 match (so if you’re planning on seeing a match there, maybe double down and see the museum too!). Before that, though, the Louvre will further spread its collection, going outside of France this time with the opening of the Louvre-Abu Dhabi scheduled for December 2015.