Category Archives: Foreign

Paris

Our Weekend in Paris

We traveled to Paris on the Eurostar, a high-speed train that took us from London to Paris and back again in what seemed like no time at all. We chose the Marais neighborhood (one of the most historic areas of Paris) and stayed in a small and charming old hotel, the Hotel CastexRue Castex Paris, that felt very Parisian to us, complete with wrought iron headboards and a French casement window that opened onto Rue Castex, a narrow side street with charming cafes, shops and picturesque street lamps—another plus, the Hotel Castex takes the security of its guests very seriously.

Paris Highlights

The Arc De Triomphe

Arc Du Triomphe ParisThe Arc de Triomphe is looming and immense—and absolutely resplendent. I’d seen pictures, and still, I was awestruck by the towering magnitude of it. It was early when we arrived and the sky was cloudy with a damp feel in the breeze, but already, a daunting queue was forming for tickets to climb the stairs to the top of the Arc. We presented our Paris Museum Pass (for the first time) and it sent us right to the head of the line and inside to a steep and seemingly never ending spiral of stairs— steps and steps—and more steps. (Oh, how I wished I’d remembered to bring my pedometer.) At the top, I was gasping for breath and the muscles in my legs felt like they were on fire but wow, the views of Paris shining white (even on a day with scarce sunshine), with its avenues radiating away from the Arc like the spokes of a giant wheel made the climb up worth every scintilla of effort. We took our time exploring the historical exhibits reading the commentary on the construction of the Arc (it was begun by Napoleon and took 30 years to complete) and now also serves as The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier with Europe’s first “eternal flame” burning at the base of the monument. We were dazzled by the monument itself with its Arc de Triomphe Relief Image Parisexquisite relief work, the views of the city, and the gravity of its history.

 

A stroll down the Champs Elysees

We left the Arc to stroll down the Champs Elysees, getting a sense of the city and stopping along the way at the Arcades des Champs Elysees for very expensive Starbucks lattes (coffee for me and chai for Chris, and yes, we have a Starbucks addiction). We continued our stroll, cups in hand, gaping at the French boutiques and bakeries—and the Gap and Banana Republic and McDonalds’ McCafé Restaurants, the same storefronts I see in every mall in Oregon and California and Maine and New York, all those franchises (choking out the unique and local, a kind of economic invasive species taking root where they shouldn’t belong). I sipped my Starbucks latte and felt a stab of guilt.

The Museum Orsay

Orsay ParisThe Museum Orsay, a stunning 19th century marvel, was originally built as a railway station. The building is ornate, lavish, and expansive, and a perfect home for an extensive and priceless collection of art. We used our Paris Museum pass, and (again) it sent us right to the front of a very long queue. Inside, we gawked and got our bearings. The museum was crowded, and everywhere, people had their cell phones or cameras in front of their faces taking photographs—pictures of pictures, and, to be honest, I might have looked more through my camera lens but I wasn’t sure I knew how to keep the flash from firing. Anyway, with any eye—but especially the naked appreciative eye—the Orsay’s collection of impressionist work is world class. I’m a huge fan of Impressionism and there were so many–by Mary Cassette, Cézanne, Degas, van Gogh, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec and Monet (to name a few) that I had never seen, even in illustrations. One painting, The Magpie by Claude Monet (all light and cool blue shadow on freshly fallen snow) was so perfectly rendered, I could almost feel the chill and sense the silence. We wandered the museum until the posted closing time. My feet were tired, but I was sorry to leave.

The Place de Vosges

The Place de Vosges was a short walk from our hotel in the Marias section of the city. We got our first sight of it through picturesque brick and stone arches at the end of a narrow cobbled street—a rigidly landscaped, perfectly square, city park planted with blocks of trees and hedges, really a huge courtyard crowded with people obviously enjoying themselves. The park is surrounded by royal apartments built by King Henry IV in 1605. The apartments are an elegant amalgam of stone and brick topped with a steeply pitched slate roof made interesting with clever dormers and tall chimneys. Supporting arches at groundPlace de Vosage Paris level create a covered promenade that fronts specialty shops and restaurants. Many of them were closed or just opening that morning and we were unnerved by a very visible and unexpected military presence (10 or 15 soldiers in uniform were loitering the promenade poised with rifles). Whatever was going on felt so ominous and out of place that we hurried to find Victor Hugo’s House/Museum in one of the apartments of the Place de Vosges and ducked inside.

The Victor Hugo Museum

The first floor of the Victor Hugo House/Museum that comprised the gallery was open, but Victor Hugo’s living quarters up a broad ornate staircase was closed for renovation but we paid our money anyway. The galleries on the first floor were hung with drawings, sketches and paintings done by Victor Hugo. I had read Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame and I have always admired him as a writer, but to learn that Victor Hugo was an artist was a revelation to me—and what an artist! His ink washes, sketches and paintings are evocative, distinctive, often eerie, and in my opinion, comparable to those of the revered artists of the impressionist era. We spent time pondering the gallery, looking, and looking again, at his sketches, ink washes and even the “doodles” at the edges of his journals. We might have stayed longer but this was our last full day in Paris and we had a list—Picasso was next.

The Musée National PicassoPicasso Museum Paris

The Musée National Picasso is also in the Marais, and an easy walk from the Place de Vosges and the Victor Hugo House. It’s located in a beautiful mansion repurposed to house a collection of over 400 original paintings, sculptures and sketches of his work. Picasso was infinitely creative and unbelievably prolific! Chris and I both came away disturbed and haunted by the same powerful and devastating painting, Picasso’s Massacre in Corée (1951)—a cubist oil painting depicting a group of naked pregnant women and children who stand in the foreground of a mass grave bracing for death in the gun sights of a pitiless military firing squad (the soldiers’ bodies are naked except for warped medieval-looking helmets and hodgepodge pieces of armor). The painting is palpable with the children’s fear and the women’s anguish and resignation. The soldiers face them down with a malicious yet almost automaton intent. The effect is chilling.

The Centre Pompidou

The Centre Pompidou  is a vast exoskeleton of metal struts, pipes and industrial-looking tubes fronted by stepped concrete with barely a tree or plant in sight—a stunning contrastPompidou Center Paris to the Place de Vosges and the organic and historic city of Paris. Our Museum pass got us into the museum but the Corbusier exhibit we had in mind was expensive and it was already past 2:00 so we decided to find lunch inside, and then check out the Centre itself with its permanent collection. We found a place to buy lunch. I don’t know if the museum has a real café, this eating area had more in common with a food kiosk at a mall or airport and offered a refrigerated case filled with a small selection of salads and sandwiches packaged in plastic.  After we ate, we wandered the museum hoping to see modern abstract art—a celebration of textures, line, and color—by the likes of Jackson Pollack, Wassily Kandinsky, Helen Frankenthaler, Piet Mondrian, Paul Klee. I’m a fan, but those exhibits were closed and we were left with mostly Readymades, Found Art and Shock Art, many works dependent on external commentary to render them comprehensible. So much of this modern collection could be called “snark art”, sometimes profound, but more often just a clever one-off or a swipe at something taboo with one dazzling exception—an exhibition focused on style with a looped video in the background that featured the astonishingly powerful and beautiful supermodel, Grace Jones. It was mesmerizing and we watched it over and over.

As we left the Centre Pompidou, people had gathered to see a street performer doing acrobatics on the vast concrete “community” space fronting the entrance to the building. While we watched, he accomplished flips and spins and coaxed two and then three people from the audience to act as props and foils for his quips and jokes. He finished his routine, took a bow and solicited tips from the audience.Stravinsky Fountain Paris

We wandered around to the Pompidou Courtyard to get a look at the Stravinsky fountain and the giant mural called Chuuutt!. The fountain is a delightful whimsy of metal and brightly painted sculptures ( among them: huge scarlet lips, a woman’s head and torso with bulls eye painted breasts that gush streams of water, and spinning vertical spirals of steel)—and overlooking it all, Chuuutt!, a mural featuring the huge profile of an iconic French mime-faced man playfully shushing us with a finger to his lips—and there were Chuuutt! Paristrees and shade and welcoming spaces for people to congregate—some “new” modern art I could feel good about!

The Musée de l’Orangerie

We arrived at l”Orangerie right after the doors opened. It was a Monday morning and there were only a few visitors—a huge gift because we were able to take our time, to study and move through the exhibits at our own pace. Monet’s Water Lilies (Les Nymphéas) are floor Tuileries Statue Paristo ceiling murals that cover the walls of two large elliptical rooms especially constructed to display these impressionistic studies of light and shadow. We let ourselves experience this vision of Monet’s gardens at Giverny for a long time and then, as more and more people began to appear, we moved on to see the museum’s other offerings. The Guillaume collection includes works by Renoir, Sisley, Cezanne and a host of other luminaries of the period. It is extensive but not overwhelming. The selections, the way they are curated, and the fact that the museum was not crowded that morning, gave the experience a sense of space and intimacy. The l’Orangerie, and especially my memories of my time there pondering the paintings of Monet, Sisley and Renoir almost shimmer.

Paris Takeaways

• Finding gluten-free food in Paris was certainly possible but not always easy, and sometimes stressful. I was glad I researched the options in advance.
• The Paris Museum Pass and Visite (a very tiny subway pass) were great values. We used them constantly. They were like keys to the city.
• Paris air quality was a problem for me but Chris didn’t notice it. There was the constant taint of exhaust in the air (and sometimes a visible pall) and though we walked and used the subway everywhere we went, traffic congestion was noticeable and constant.
Batobus Paris• We never felt unsafe but we avoided the Eiffel Tour because of public warning announcements on the Batobus (the city riverboat system) that pickpockets were a special problem there on the days we were in Paris.

 

You can see more photos in an album on my Facebook page.

Bath

Bath

When Chris and I started planning our trip to England, friends who had been there before us urged us to consider taking a day or two in Bath (officially called Bath Spa). We heard testimonials about the Roman baths, the charm of the city streets, and the Jane Austen Museum—with assurances that it was a scenic and pleasant train ride from London. They promised we’d find Bath walkable, picturesque, and brimming with history—all true!

Some Highlights of Bath:

Paradise House BathOne of our most scenic and memorable discoveries in Bath turned out to be the bed and breakfast where we stayed. Getting to it from the train station required a walk along the river and through the “underground” (a well-lit tunnel for pedestrians beneath a busy highway), then a 10 minute slog pulling our suitcases behind us up a very steep sidewalk. Our reward—Paradise House (paradise indeed) was waiting for us at the crest of a hill overlooking the city. Paradise House is a re-purposed 17th century mansion fronted by stone pillars and fenced by stately scallops of wrought iron. It is constructed of the same ancient honey-colored stone as the city of Bath. Inside, we found a gracious sitting room with a fireplace, traditional furniture, comfortable couches and chairs upholstered in soft colors, paintings of the property and the iconic city of Bath (all of them done by the same artist whose perspective was pleasingly askew), vases profuse with flowers, and a wall of arched widowWisteria Paradise House Baths that looked out over a lawn that stepped down to an English garden landscaped with masses of colorful plants, pots of tulips and a trellised walkway covered with purple-blue wisteria blossoms—beyond that, and best of all, a breathtaking view of Bath with its spired abbey and burnished stone in shades of umber and gold that change depending on the position of the sun and the time of day.

One of our first destinations was The Circus, a sweeping example of Georgian architecture designed by John Wood, the Elder, inspired by prehistoric stone circles and the Roman Coliseum. The Circus is designed to be experienced from inside the circle rather than from the outside like the Coliseum. The first stone was laid in 1754, three months before Wood, the Elder died. It was completed by his son, John Wood, the Younger in 1768.

The Royal Crescent was designed and built by John Wood, the Younger between 1767 and 1775 – a crescent of 30 terrace houses. We stood back in awe and tried to capture the curving sweep and the disciplined elegance of its “uniform Palladian design” with our cameras. Each original purchaser of those 30 homes acquired a length of the façade and hired their own architect to build a house designed to match their individual needs and The Royal Crescent Bathtastes, thus, the result was an elegant and symmetrical building façade with a contrasting backside that is idiosyncratic, variable, and comparatively undisciplined (creating an architecture referred to as having “Queen Anne fronts and Mary-Anne backs”).

The day we were there was bright but gusty, with a bitter edge to the wind, and we were happy to slip inside the Museum at No 1 Royal Crescent, lovingly restored to reflect its early history when it was occupied first by its architect, John Wood, the Younger and later by Mr. Henry Sandford, a wealthy landowner who rented the house 1777-1796. We moved from room to room through the house. Living conditions, implements and whatnots that surprised, amazed, and amused us included the wig scratcher (a clawed implement on a handle used for scratching the itch caused by head lice beneath the carefully coiffed wigs ladies wore every day, the jib door in the lady’s bedroom (a hidden door from the servants quarters that allowed the maid to enter via a back stairway—the assigned servant would often sleep on the floor on the other side of the door to be available in the event her mistress had need of her), the medicine cabinet in the gentleman’s bedroom (an intricate wooden box designed to house and transport an assortment of bottles and containers filled with potions, medicines, even poisons, he used to support his health and well being), eyebrows made of mouse hair for ladies of fashion when their own eyebrows fell out—a result of lead in the make-up they used. (Lead poisoning also contributed to their early death, and it’s not a stretch to imagine that the attendant physical symptoms and lack of mental clarity caused by lead poisoning also contributed to the perception of time that characterized women as the “weaker sex”). We also got a kick out of the wheel suspended from the kitchen ceiling (really a treadmill) that employed a dog to turn the roasting spit in the fireplace.

Roman Bath Angled ViewWe spent most of an afternoon taking a tour of The Roman Baths, a well preserved Roman structure used for public bathing that draws water from a geothermal hot spring. An audio-guide was provided (one version of the audio-guide with commentary by Bill Bryson was outstanding, and helped make the experience more meaningful). The actual Roman structure is below street level and is now housed in a building designed by the same architects that created the Circus and the Royal Crescent, John Wood, the Elder and John Wood, the Younger. The upper portions of the building, including the Roman-looking statuary on the terrace, were designed and erected in the late 19th century. Many artifacts and portions of the Roman building are on display, including a beautiful and well preserved hippocampus (seahorse) mosaic, a temple pediment with a huge and magnificent gorgon’s head at its center, and items thrown into the pool asking favors of the gods including Roman coins and about 130 curse tablets (small sheets of lead inscribed with messages, often vitriolic, to curse someone for an offense, many related to thefts of a bather’s clothing.) And yes, we tasted the water—it was warm and had a decidedly slick and mineral taste that we both found repellent.

For our one authentic English tea we chose Sally Lunn’s Historic Eating House and Tea Room Sally Lunn Sign Bath(purported to be the oldest house in Bath—1483). We ordered a pot of English Breakfast Tea and Chris had half of a Sally Lunn bun (sadly, the bottom half) that she described as a rich sweet hamburger bun, and I had a gluten-free scone that was more like a sweet some-what cake-textured English muffin. We both slathered on the clotted-cream (a delicacy that reminded us of creamy unsalted butter) and lots of strawberry jam. We were hungry; we ate fast and more than we should have, and then took a tour of the house (free if you order food in the restaurant). I’m sure there was a lot there for me to appreciate, after all, this was the oldest house in Bath with a small cellar full of excavated Roman ruins and artifacts, but after seeing No 1 Royal Crescent, and the Roman Baths it seemed a little anti-climactic.

If Paradise House has a flaw – it’s that you can’t stay; in fact, you have to leave early—very early. Check out time is an eye-popping 9:30 am! We’d planned to spend the morning exploring more of Bath, but it didn’t take us long to come to grips with the reality that we’d be lugging our bags all over town with us, so we decided to enjoy a last leisurely Paradise House breakfast, head to the train station, and jump start our stay in Salisbury.

You can see more photos in an album on my Facebook page.

Stonehenge

Our Tour of Stonehenge and Salisbury

Salisbury StonehengeUnlike Bath, which seems to be made entirely of honey-colored stone, the homes and shops in Salisbury are largely constructed of various colors of brick. The one notable and virtually gleaming exception is Salisbury Cathedral, an immense fairytale edifice at the center of town made of pale gray stone that shines almost white in the sunlight. Salisbury Cathedral is a perfect example of Early English Gothic architecture, perhaps because it was built in its entirety in a (relatively) short period of time—a mere 38 years (begun in 1220 and completed in 1258), it has no mismatched or ungainly additions to compromise its design and grandeur. The cathedral is so magnificant and has so much history, that it could be a travel destination all bSalisbury Brick Housey itself (its spire is the tallest in the United Kingdom (404 feet), it contains the oldest working clock (from AD 1386) and it is home to one of the four original copies of the Magna Carta. But even if you just stand back and appreciate it, it is simply awe inspiring. In hindsight, I wish we had taken an afternoon or a whole day to explore it in detail. I’m sorry I didn’t step inside to celebrate Holy Communion or attend an Evensong service while we were there, but at the time, it seemed enough just to marvel at its exterior and walk the grounds around it.

 

Our Fabulous Stonehenge Tour  

We were to meet our tour group at the coach park, really a bus depot with a spacious parking lot. We arrived about 20 minutes early, met our tour guide, a large broad shouldered man named Patrick Shelley with a thick shock of gray hair, and a very proper-sounding English accent who might have been the big brother of the actor Stephen Frye. StonehengeHe checked our names off a list on his clipboard, introduced us to the bus driver, and told us we could find seats in the bus or just leave our things inside until we were ready to depart. By 3:00 pm all riders but one had taken seats, still we waited almost another ten minutes for a late arrival, an American woman in her sixties with smooth-coifed hair dressed in expensive-looking hiking gear. She blustered onto the bus insisting that someone on the right side and toward the front of the bus must give up their seat for her since she was nearly deaf in one ear and wouldn’t be able to hear the guide’s commentary otherwise. The family on the continuous seat at the back row scooted together to make room for her, not at all what she had in mind, and she hesitated, but the guide firmly assured her she would be sitting next to the speakers at the back of the bus. He then tested the sound system and asked her if she could hear. She said she could, and she took her seat.
StonehengeAs the bus left the coach park, Mr. Shelley began to frame the experience we were about to have, mentioning significant monuments and geographical features as we passed them. The tour took 5 ¼ hours (from shortly after 3 pm until we were dropped off in town at 8:15) and closely followed the itinerary that had been e-mailed to us before the trip. We spent most of our time out of the bus walking the fields and pastures (some with sheep), getting close to the landscape and hearing facts and theories about the builders of Stonehenge and their ancestors—and imagining what it must have been like for them. The experience was designed to give an overview of the most current archeological information, a conceptual framework about Stonehenge, and a glimpse of the history that preceded it along with highlights of selected geological features of the countryside that shaped the way the environment was perceived and developed by the people who lived there. Some discoveries that were most impactful for me—the young girl’s grave at the center of Woodhenge (a timber circle monument not far from Stonehenge), imagining the bordered avenues of white chalk that led to Stonehenge, the huge burial mounds (barrows) and the singular clumps of trees in that vast grassland that grow near them, the fact that the highway was knowingly built over a significant archeological find, that Stonehenge is not a true henge (henge refers to a particular type of earthwork of the Neolithic period, that typically consists of a circular or oval-shaped bank with an internal ditch surrounding a central flat area of more than 20 meters in diameter. Woodhenge meets the criteria of a henge, but the ditch at Stonehenge occurs outside the main earthwork bank.) The earth, the river, the moon and the sun were all considered and revered in the design of Stonehenge and the complex that occurs in the area around it. But the moment I’ll always remember was walking uphill through pastureland in the place where those avenues of chalk once led to a rise, and suddenly, a view of Stonehenge, stark and majestic in the blue evening light—a revelation!

You can see more photos in an album on my Facebook page.

London

My London Sampler

I can’t remember when I didn’t fantasize about going to London. There’s the opulence and pomp of Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abby, the infamous history and intrigue that haunt the Tower of London. There are formal gardens, ivy covered walls, British High Tea and Cozy Mysteries, and British luminaries (like Chaucer and Shakespeare and Dickens, the Thespian Sculpture LondonRossetti’s and Bronte’s, and J. M. W. Turner, and Sir Lawrence Olivier, Dame Judy Dench and J. R. R. Tolkien) of literature and art –centuries worth, too many to ponder. So when my daughter suggested that maybe the two of us should go to London (and Bath and Salisbury and Paris) together, I was ready to pack my bags. We left the middle of May and spent 11 days across the pond, five of them in in London, and I came back loving London and excited about what I’d seen but excited too about all the possibilities still to explore—because that means, of course, I’ll have to go back.London Bridge Tower

Some London Highlights:

The Courtauld Institute Gallery is located in Somerset House, a large neoclassical building situated on the south side of the Strand overlooking the River Thames. Once the site of a Tudor palace, the building has a rich history (Queen Elizabeth I lived there before she was queen and Oliver Cromwell’s body lay in state there after his death in 1658). Now it’s a thriving cultural center with the Courtauld Institute Gallery at its heart. The gallery itself is small by museum standards but the collection is outstanding and we were lucky to arrive at a time when the museum was not crowded. The collection ranges from early Renaissance to the 20th century but its signature works are Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings by Monet, Manet, van Gogh, Gauguin, Degas, Seurat, Turner and Cézanne. We meandered and pondered—perfect!

Trafalgar Square is a large public space with statues and fountains. At its center is Nelson’s Column built to commemorate Admiral Horatio Nelson, who died at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.Nelson's Column Trafalgar Square London It is guarded by four lion statues at its base. Trafalgar Square fronts the National Gallery, so we meandered through the National Gallery and focused, again, on the Impressionists. I was particularly struck by Monet’s Snow Scene at Argenteuil, the Gallery’s collection of Gauguin still life paintings, and the sense of askew continuity in works by van Gogh – everything van Gogh painted has his signature off-kilter perspective and vibrant energy. But the surprise of the day was discovering an artist that was brand new to me—Peder Balke, a Norwegian painter who lived from 1804 to 1887; his impressionistic landscapes are full of depth and light and the most haunting translucent colors. We were disappointed that, while we were there, the museum’s collection of Turner paintings was not on display.

Traitors Gate LondonOur London Pass finally came in handy at The Tower of London, it paid our way and let us go right to the front of the line. We walked the ramparts and climbed the very steep and numerous stairs to the tower then walked the grounds, saw the infamous ravens in a cage on the lawn (superstition says that if the ravens are ever lost or fly away, the crown will fall and Britain with it), the life-size wire sculptures of exotic animals standing in for the flesh and blood counterparts that were once kept there as part of the royal menagerie, and the infamous Traitors’ Gate. We took pictures of armor and implements of war for my grandsons, ogled the crown jewels, and watched the changing of the guard. What an amazing afternoon.

St. Pancras Train Station Exterior LondonWe came to St. Pancras Station on our way to somewhere else (Paris). It wasn’t even a place on our “wish we could see” radar, but this soaring example of Victorian Gothic Architecture was beyond impressive. We spent most of a morning wandering around it and then through it, appreciating its lofty clock tower, arched doorways and windows. In addition to an international railway station, the complex is home to a 5 star hotel, restaurants, a shopping mall, and an underground passage connecting St. Pancras with Kings Cross tube station. And, at the south end of the upper level, we happened on Paul Day’s sculpture, The Meeting Place—a huge (29.5 feet high and 20 tons) bronze sculpture of a man and woman kissing. We stood in awe and took photographs of each other standing at the base of it, trying to capture how truly massive it is.

But Sir John Soane’s House was the place that I loved best. Chris and I stood across the street from it and gazed up at its tall arched windows, then we went to stand behind a queue of 5 or 6 people. Admissions were calibrated, two or three visitors at a time. A very English-looking man in a trench coat who was a volunteer from the museum, walked along the line of visitors reminding us that no photography would be permitted once inside, and that all cameras and purses, anything with straps, must be stowed and carried in a plastic handled bag provided to prevent snags and possible breakage of display items. The rules seemed excessive until we got inside and discovered that Sir John Sloan’s collecting habits could be characterized as obsessive. His home was packed, literally, to the brim with irreplaceable art, countless statuary, fine furniture, curiosities and foreign treasures of all kinds. In fact, it’s hard to imagine any physically large person navigating some of the cramped pathways to get from room to room. But if Sloan was a pack-rat (of sublime and rare things), and he was, he was also a master of display, and his focus appears to have been as much about the arrangement of his acquisitions as the acquisitions themselves. His home, with its domed skylight and mirrored surfaces (designed to magnify space and reflect light), and its ingenious storage and art display systems, is one of his signature achievements. And the collection itself is a stunning, eclectic, and sometimes macabre assemblage including: the actual sarcophagus of the Egyptian King Seti I (which rests in a sort of mausoleum amid a “garden” of statuary in a crypt space Soane designed to be illuminated by candlelight for a series of gala parties to celebrate this archeological coup straight from the Nile Valley in Egypt). Add to this fragments and busts of Greek and Roman statues, Chinese ceramics, priceless paintings and drawings (a few examples are works by Hogarth, Turner and Sir Joshua Reynolds). And every work and artifact has been carefully preserved and curated to be exactly as he left it at the end of his life. For the curious and imaginative visitor, there’s evidence of Sir John Soane in every nook and cranny, not just a glimpse of his history and accomplishments, but of his obsessions, his thoughts, his passions—and in his letters and writings, even a ghost of his regrets. Our visit to his house was one my most memorable experiences in London.

My take-aways:

Next time I visit London I will:

• Buy an Oyster Card (London Subway Pass). It will take you just about everywhere in London, and the subways are safe, clean and efficient. I thought it was worth its weight in gold.
• Won’t bother with a London Pass (museum pass). Most major museums in London are free. The London Pass may get you to the front of some queues and save you some hassle and time, but for the money, I didn’t think it was worth it.
• Have fun researching what’s playing in London before I go. The theater offerings in London are as eclectic, numerous and artistically honed as those available in New York —the theater scenes in both cities have electricity, quality, and variety, but London has a historical pedigree that’s almost impossible too match. England produced Upper Thames Bldg Sculpture LondonShakespeare—in my mind, nothing can top that. We saw two musicals and one Opera in the short time we were there, and we left regretting the ones that got away.
• Take more time to ogle scenic nuances that make London—well, London: those iconic red phone booths, the double decker busses, the ornate architecture, signs that say way out instead of exit, give way instead of yield, w. c. instead of restrooms, and places names like Piccadilly, Cock Fosters, and Charring Cross.

You can see some more photos in an album on my Facebook page.

Gluten-free

Gluten-Free Travel in England & Paris

For all the years I’ve needed to steer clear of gluten, my husband and I have managed travel by vacationing in accommodations with kitchens, scoping out local markets and grocery stores, and preparing most of our own meals in our rented suite or apartment. It keeps us away from foods we know we shouldn’t eat and helps us manage our travel budget—both very good things. But that doesn’t mean we don’t sometimes long for the days when we could really immerse ourselves in a destination’s culinary delights and not risk feeling sick and having our vacation ruined.
Well, I have great news for all you trepid travelers who haven’t been able to enjoy the adventure and pleasures of fine or even casual dining in a restaurant for fear of ingesting something sure to make you swell, bloat or barf. There is a place, actually a whole country, across the pond that’s a virtual culinary paradise, where restaurant dining and avoiding allergens peacefully coexist, where it is possible to order something from a restaurant menu and know with confidence what’s actually in it.

My daughter and I visited England this May, with stays in London, Bath and Salisbury (We went to Paris too, but you’ll still need to ferret out your allergens there.) and discovered, quite by accident, that in the UK, starting on December 13th, 2014, new food allergen rules and protocols became the law of the land. Since then, every item on a food establishment’s menu must clearly state in an obvious place, such as a menu, chalkboard, or information pack, whether it contains any of the 14 most common allergens (gluten, crustaceans, eggs, celery, milk, fish, tree nuts, sulphites, soya, sesame, peanuts, mustard, lupine, or mollusks).
Granted, I had done my due diligence, scoured internet blogs and travel sites like Yelp and Trip Advisor for restaurants that are openly friendly to the gluten afflicted crowd, so I already had a list of dining possibilities I was enthusiastic about trying. And even with the new law in effect, I would do that again. I love an adventure, but I would much rather start out with a flexible plan. I hate flailing around when I’m tired and hungry, wasting precious time being unnecessarily indecisive. So if you are bound for London, or Bath, or Salisbury–or Paris, here are some fabulous places to eat that we tried and loved.

Gluten-free England

London

Thai Square: a wonderful little Thai restaurant on Shaftesbury Avenue in the London theater district. My daughter and I both had the Massaman curry, sweet smelling and delicious, made with lemongrass and rich mild coconut milk (yum!). Selections with gluten and other allergens were clearly marked on the menu.
Thai Square Covent Garden
166-170 Shaftesbury Av, London, WC2H 8JB
Tel: 020 7836 7600 Fax: 020 7836 7622
Email: thaisqcoventgarden@btconnect.com
Website: www.thaisq.com/restaurants/covent-garden/

The Real Greek Bankside: located on the bank of the Thames just a short walk fromo the Globe Theater, the Real Greek turned out to be one of our favorite restaurants in London. We ordered the Peloponnese for two to share, with the Crudités, Hummus, Dolmades, Chicken Skewers, Falafel, Watermelon & Feta Salad, and New Potatoes. The menu had lots of gluten-free selections and every bite was interesting and delicious.
The Real Greek Bankside
Units 1&2 Riverside House,
2A Southwark Bridge Road
London SE1 9HA
Tel: 020 7620 0162
Email: bankside@therealgreek.com
Website: www.therealgreek.com/
Nearest tube:London Bridge

Vinoteca: On the mall in front of King’s Cross Station we found a posh-looking restaurant called Vinoteca with a promising breakfast menu and went inside. We’d arrived at the tail-end of the breakfast shift and only a few tables were occupied. We already knew what we wanted—for Chris, the homemade granola with poached rhubarb, and for me, the porridge with raisins soaked in ginger wine (really oatmeal cooked in very rich milk), and we shared a huge dish of seasonal fruit (grapefruit, grapes, chunks of melon and strawberries). Everything tasted amazing.
Vinoteca King’s Cross
3 King’s Boulevard
N1C 4BU
Tel: 020 3793 7210
Website: www.vinoteca.co.uk/kingscross/

The Polenteria: – small restaurant where the specialty is all things polenta and everything is gluten free. The prices are super reasonable. I ordered the Vegetables spiedino (grilled polenta cubes, onions, cherry tomatoes, mushrooms dressed with la polenteria sauce). Friendly service, good tasting food, but not great.
la Polenteria
64 Old Compton Street
London W1d 4UQ
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7434 3617 / +44 (0) 77 601 02240
Email: info@lapolenteria.com
Website: www.lapolenteria.com/

Mildred’s: — in Soho is an outstanding vegetarian restaurant. If you go, be sure to come early or expect to wait in line. It’s very popular and they don’t take reservations. The menu offered several gluten free selections that were clearly marked. My daughter and I both ordered the Sri Lankan sweet potato curry with roasted lime cashews, pea basmati rice and coconut tomato sambal. The presentation was beautiful. It smelled amazing and tasted as good as it smelled. We had tickets for a show, but if we could have stayed longer, we would have ordered dessert.
Mildred’s
45 Lexington Street
Soho, London w1f 9an
Tel: 0207 494 1634
e-mail: info@mildreds.co.uk
Website: www.mildreds.co.uk/

Bath Spa

The Acorn Vegetarian Kitchen: –is an attractive cozy restaurant. We were there on a Monday evening and it was crowded, so it’s best to make reservations in advance. The dinner menu was set and changes from day to day. We chose two courses for 24.50 pounds each. For starters, Chris had the carrot and cashew pate and I had the new potato soup, and we both ordered the cauliflower fritters for our main dishes. Each dish was beautifully presented and, to our taste, absolutely perfect.
The Acorn Vegetarian Kitchen
2 North Parade Passage (just off Abbey Green),
Bath BA1 1NX, ( a short walk from Bath Abbey and the Roman Baths)
Tel: (01225) 446 059
Website: www.acornvegetariankitchen.co.uk

Salisbury

Greengages Café: –is a pleasant small restaurant and bakery with lots of gluten free selections. It was late in the afternoon when we arrived, about 3:30, and they close at 4:30, so many of the items on their menu were not available, but the waitress said we could order sandwiches or jacket potatoes which was fine with us. Chris decided on the blue cheese and apple baguette (definitely not gluten free) and I had the lentil and vegetable goulash jacket potato, and we shared a pot of tea. We were very hungry and all the food combinations were inventive. Everything tasted delicious and we came back the next day and ordered exactly the same things.
Greengages Café
31 Catherine St, Salisbury, Wiltshire SP1 2DQ
Tel: 01722 349934
Email:info@greengagessalisbury.co.uk
Website: www.greengagessalisbury.co.uk/

Gluten-free Paris

Finding restaurants that accommodate diners with food allergies in Paris was more challenging—probably no different than scoping out gluten free options in New York or San Francisco but with the added complication of a language barrier. I had done my research ahead of time (thank you all you gluten-averse savvy traveling bloggers!), and I had my list. But the list came with headaches: there were only a handful of eateries to choose from, many were expensive, and most of them were nowhere near the Marais where we were staying. All that said, we found two restaurants that helped make our Paris experience practically perfect.

Noglu: —a 100% gluten free restaurant and bakery located in the Passage des Panoramas, the oldest of several covered passages of Paris, a charming covered promenade of boutiques, small specialty shops and restaurants. We showed up at 6:30 on a busy Friday night and we didn’t have reservations We practically begged to get on the list, and the staff were kind and sympathetic and said they could squeeze the two of us in at 8:30, but only if we didn’t mind sitting at the bar. By 8:30 we were hungry and irritable and truly, we got the worst seats in the house (at the bar right by the door and facing the cash register). But our waiter was friendly and solicitous, he translated the menu for us, took our order and brought us a complimentary plate of cheese puffs fresh out of the oven, each one an airy divine little mouthful. Chris’s main course was the chicken burger, actually a sliced broiled chicken breast on a gluten-free bun served with frites. I had the vegetable plate (eggplant, white asparagus, sundried tomatoes (the sweetest), and tiny steamed potatoes. We had been so hungry, the food was so good and the staff were so friendly, we left happy and wanting to go back. Noglu is worth a special trip.
Noglu Restaurant & Épicure
16, Passage Des Panoramas
75002 Paris
Tel: 01 40 26 41 24
Website: www.noglu.fr/

Café du Ginger: —is vegan, artisan, and small, with room—maybe—for 20 diners squeezed in tight. It was staffed by two very charming busy and eager to accommodate young women who were as amused and challenged by our English as we were by their French. After being seated we were treated to a complimentary plate of hummus with crudités and crispy gluten-free crackers . The menu changes daily and we ordered from the specials, empanadas for Chris (not gluten free) and I had a vegetable roll in a rice wrapper). Both came with dipping sauce and were surrounded by a delicious array of raw vegetables—the whole dining experience was amazing, and one of our favorite Paris memories.
Café du Ginger
9 Rue Jacques Cœur,
75004 Paris, France
Tel: 33 1 42 72 43 83,
Website: www.cafe-ginger.fr/