Retrovalogue: France and Italy

Retro Travelogue from 2004 trip to France and Italy full of broken links and missing pix. Embarrassing jokes, juvenile observations, outdated references, and ridiculous quotes retained for posterity’s sake.


I was flying into Chicago at night
Watching the lake turn the sky into blue-green smoke
The sun was setting to the left of the plane
And the cabin was filled with an unearthly glow
In 27-D, I was behind the wing
Watching landscape roll out
Like credits on a screen
The earth looked like it was lit from within
Like a poorly assembled electrical ball as we moved
Out of the farmlands into the grid
The plan of the city was all that you saw
And all of these people sitting totally still
As the ground raced beneath them thirty thousand feet down

Well, replace “Chicago” with “Paris” and you’ve got the beginnings of the Honeymoon Hullabaloo (not to be confused with a Brouhaha, HB). I would love to write up a full-blown travelogue of the three weeks we spent in Europe, but I have neither the time nor the creativity to do so. Instead, I’ll offer you bite-sized reports. Well, make that nibble-sized. Mouse-nibbles at that.

So. We arrived in Paris on a Monday and in order to stay awake and adjust to our new time zone, we spent the day promenading around the Saint Germain neighborhood on the left bank of the Seine River, staggering around the grounds of Notre Dame Cathedral, and limping to have a sushi dinner at Orient Extreme (the “Extreme” stands for “extremely high prices”). The rest of the evening was a blur but I have some hazy recollection of chowing down on some decadently rich Berthillon ice cream (undisputed champ of the best ice cream in Paris) before passing out. This is the view from our room:

[remind me to find that pix]

9/15 Nibblet: Jardin du Luxembourg is so much prettier in the fresh, lush late summer than it is in the chilly, dormant late winter. The spiky, purple-topped artichokes, the rows of straight and strong chestnut trees (which we don’t have in the US), the anemones, the dahlias, the . . . uh . . . something or other pretty flowers! KA-BLOOM!


And the prize for the best deep, dark, rich, hot chocolate in Paris at a reasonable price goes to (drumroll, please) Cacao et Chocolate! Sorry, Cafe de Flore; I love ya, but my wallet does not. I mean, seriously. Who pays $10 for a hot chocolate? In other news, anyone else hear Bush say “internets” last night? That guy . . .

Nibblet 9/16:

These boots were made for walkin’
And that’s just what they’ll do
One of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you.
(“you” being the streets of Paris)

After a shot of caffeine (cafe con creme) and bite of pan con chocolate (where a thin layer of chocolate was painted on top of the pastry; LAME), we headed up to Montmartre (pronounced “Moan-mart” and no wonder after we hiked up the eleventy-hundred steps leading to Basilica de Sacre Coeur) the highest point in Paris. We could have taken the funicular up the steep hill, but where’s the pain in that? Here’s a pix I took of the Basilica when we reached the top and I cleverly covered up the extreme need to catch my breath and rest my aching legs by insisting on stopping, focusing the camera, fiddling around with the buttons, and taking a picture.

We walked from a house of God to a house of sin: the infamous (“infamous is when you’re more than famous!”) Moulin Rouge. We walked from there to the house of the dead: the rather serene cemetery of Montmartre (“A dreaded sunny day, So I meet you at the cemetery gates”). Upon our return to the Left Bank, we walked from Saint Germain to the Pantheon in the Latin Quarter and then to a house of God again: the Paris Mosque and its lovely courtyard. We walked to the Jardin des Plantes for some more ka-BLOOM action, walked along the Seine (number of dead cats along the way: one. number of injured old men in a bike accident: one. number of stunning cathedrals: one.), and finally, to collect some mezze to eat at home, walked to Au Bon Marche (the city’s largest food market; at 2,700 square meters, you can imagine the time it took to find the hummus). Whole lotta walkin’ that day. My poor Abibbas will never be the same.

In other news, how is it that finally getting poor, busticated Cressie washed (Ultimate Deluxe Wash, that is) makes me think that she goes faster now?

9/17 Nibblet: Centre Pompidou looks like a huge hamster cage turned inside out. Here is someone else’s pix of this wacky complex. Marais has a tiny shop that sells the self-proclaimed “best falafel in the world” (although it could have stood a little more tahini, IMHO). Cafe viennois and crepes at bustling Bastille where the huge column not only commemorates the storming of the prison and the end of the monarchy but also TP’s and Najm’s birthday. Les Halles was once a thriving marketplace for 700 years but has been replaced by shabby 1970s mall-type stores. The only cool thing in that area now is this guy, “The Listener”:

Dinner was had at the restaurant “Paris” at Hotel Lutetia where, during WWII, the Nazis camped out to enjoy the art deco and posh surroundings and where, during the height of dinner-time, our hosts’ three-year old, strong-willed, strong-legged boy ran roughshod over said surroundings. Note to self: do not feed children multiple scoops of chocolate ice-cream at 10 o’clock at night. In other news, apparently I have become the proud new owner of a machete.

Live: 9.17.2004 bon jour, mon petite bloggeuers! i’m attempting to write on an incredibly busticated, teeny tiny (isn’t every thing in france?) sony vaio right now whilst balancing the laptop on my knees and sitting on a balcony that overlooks saint germain and a buncha parisians smokin’ they ciggies, tossin’ back they cafe cremes, and not scoopin’ up after they puppies’ poops. all’s well here. great weather, great walking tours, and great location. off to italy tomorrow! miss youze guyz!!!

Madame Baji
directly above the metro mabillon
saint germain, paris

9/18 Nibblet: We flew from Paris to Naples on some no-name airline (ok, fine, it had a name, but you had to ask the crew for permission to use your portable device: “Can I use my Rio?” “No.”) and after spotting our driver (hint: he held a big, white sign with our names emblazoned on it), we zipped in and out of the crazy Napoli traffic (LB! I saw a Fiat Panda!), arrived in Sorrento, and checked into our no-name hotel (ok, fine, it had a name, but it was located directly on the busy highway on the cusp of town; this meant that despite the beautiful view it afforded of the coastline and Mt. Vesuvius, we had to risk our lives every time we stepped out onto the World’s Narrowest Sidewalk).

Eager to sample some of the famous Napoli pizza, we stopped at what we thought was the main square to eat at the first restaurant we saw : “Restaurant Number Two”. Worst. Pizza. Ever. Pasty, doughy, limp . . . how can this be? Upon further investigation (i.e. 2 minute walk away) we found the proper Piazza Tasso which was packed with much better restaurants, excellent people-watching perches, and Brits as far as the eye could see (in fact, we heard more people speaking English than we did Italian). We consoled ourselves on our bad lunch with gelato (pistachio gets a B; watermelon gets a B-) and returned to the hotel and tried to take a nap (where the pillows made out of either (1) wadded up towels jammed into thin cases or (2) a huge brick of foam). In the evening, we flirted with death and returned to the Piazza where we were rewarded for our bravery with dinner at Donna Vittoria, an excellent restaurant (good service, delicious meals, inexpensive bill, and the waiter will behead and fillet your fish for you). We celebrated our reversal of culinary fortune with some more gelato (strawberry gets an A; chocolate gets an A+). On our walk along the coast of the Bay of Naples, TP was overwhelmed by the beauty of the cliffs and the sea and was subsequently inspired to eat his third helping of two scoops ™ of gelato (sicilliana gets an A; egg nog gets a D).

In other news, TP and I were browsing around for a new bed (futon days are nearly over) and whilst doing some research, I came across this article. Anyone wanna drop $20,000 for a comfy night’s rest? And, in yet other news, today LB and I met Yasmine’s and PPP’s friend today!


9/19 Nibblet: Woke up early thanks to an insane rooster who could not tell time. Tried to get TP’s hair cut (he was sporting some molto bushy noggins) but the barbershops were closed on Sundays. Learned the difference between an Italian’s version of cafe latte (“white coffee” because it’s basically milk with just a teaspoon of coffee) and cafe con panna (espresso topped with whipped cream), both of which are preferable over the hotel’s caffe orzo (a coffee substitute made with barley and tasting of burnt towels). Many, many more choices. Can’t go wrong with cappuccino though:

Got a Fodor’s guide (lame), two mosquito bites (drat), and dinner at the marina with accompanying festivities, frolicking, and fireworks (holiday). Gelato report card:
vanilla cherry, C-
coconut, B
profumi di sorrento (citrusy), A
vanilla, B
plays well with others. listens carefully. completes homework assignments.

In other news, Ramadan Mubarak, y’all!



9/20 Nibblet: During breakfast, I swear I think I saw one of the 200 Brits staying at the hotel butter their ham and dunk it into their burnt tea. We spent the morning traversing Sorrento and hanging out at the marina where all of the ships were docked. We picked our way down a steep, stone staircase to watch the Mediterranean blue waters lapping at the sides of the ferries, hydrofoils, and sailboats bobbing at the port: loverly.

After chillaxing by the pool for a few hours, we caught the Circumvesuviana train to Pompeii. Our timing was perfect because by late afternoon, the tourists had disappeared and the slanting sun gave everything a warm glow (I believe photographers call it “sweet light”).

Considering the city was devastated by earthquakes, a tsunami, and exploding Mt. Vesuvius’ whose lava buried the city and whose cloud of ash blocked out the sun, the Forum, the villas, the uh thing with the things, the gargoyles, and the tiles were incredibly well-preserved and restored. To learn more, clickety click right hyah. TP even made a couple of friends, one of whom was thoughtful enough to demonstrate how the ancient residents died of carbon dioxide asphyxiation. For more gruesome pix, check it. We gave ourselves a self-guided tour of the grounds, pointing out the fig trees, trying not to trip over the ruts in the cobbled streets, and contemplating what the frescos were attempting to depict. If we had had more time, we would liked to have visited Herculaneum (the lesser-known but equally destroyed neighbor; kinda like Brian) but the trip to Pompeii was very edutaining.

We had dinner at Il Lanterna which, besides the refreshing insalata caprese with ripe tomatoes and fresh basil, creamy risotto with perfectly cooked asparagus tips, and hearty, belly-warming gnocchi ala Sorrento (sorry, fellow fasters), boasts original Roman mosaics illuminated under the floor on the way to the self-cleaning, self-flushing toilets. A leisurely stroll along the calm streets (traffic was mild on this Monday night) was followed by . . . you guessed it.

Gelato report:
Peach, A+
Cannoli, A-
Walnut, B
Fig, A
Zuppa de Ingles, A- but with some extra credit homework, a potential A.

In other news, for you South Park fans, the Motion Picture Association of America has given Team America: World Police an R rating. Yeah, that movie with the puppets. Rated R.


9/21 Nibblet: By now, we were used to the slamming doors (7:00 a.m. so as not to miss the free breakfast), the cannon explosions (8:30 a.m. sharp, again at noon, and once more for good measure at 8:30 p.m.), and the insane rooster (5:00 a.m. until he darn well pleases). After a decent breakfast at Fauno’s at Piazza Tasso, we wandered down to the docks on the off chance that we could catch a hydrofoil (like a ferry but faster) to Capri. Success! Make that expensive success. 19 euros and 30 minutes later, we arrived on the shores of Capri. Luckily, our captain was not seduced by the Sirens who hung out and rocked their tunes thereabouts. But the sheer, white cliffs, the deep, mesmerizing waters, and the warm, drugging weather were enough to lull anyone into a dreamy, beatific state.

Our first pit stop was at the restrooms near the docks where a grizzled old woman with yellowing white hair clipped her dog’s toenails with one hand and snatched up 50 cents each with the other. I suppose it was worth it since this place at least had tissues whereas the Pompeii PeePee Facilities did not. We spent a fair amount of time thereafter waiting for the bus at the Marina, taking the bus up the incredibly precarious, hairpin turns up the mountain to touristy Anacapri, and waiting for another bus (whose fearless driver shrugged off ear-piercing shrieks when his bus scraped another bus taking the same curve) to the Blue Grotto. With limited time on the island, we chose lunch over seeing the famed blue waters of the Grotto. I will spare you the mouth-watering description of my meal, but I will share with you my own personal shock and awe when I got the bill: 44 Euros! Oh, my poor poor wallet.

Back at Piazza Vittoria, we poked around the villa before we decided to work off our decadent lunch by hiking down Scala Fenicia: the “Phoenician Stairway” that is cut into the rocks and connects Anacapri’s Villa San Michele with the Marina Grande far below. Far, far below. Like, 900 steps below (yes, I counted each and every one of them). The walk only took about 20 minutes which means that the stairs (good exercise, some shady and cool spots, and 20 minutes) wins out over the bus (nauseating, jam-packed, and 30 minutes). One caveat: the stairs win for the downhill trip only.

Back in Sorrento, we made up for our extravagant lunch by going grocery shopping and making our own dinner at ‘home’: a little of this and a little of that and we were sated for a mere 6 euros. Gelato report:

Lemon, A+ valedictorian
Tiramisu, C-
Mint, C+ but can make up grade during summer school
Chocolate, I think you know the grade for this one

In other news, apparently I bring harmony to the cosmos, I am popular in the northern parts of China and Taiwan, and you do NOT want to mess with me or I will go Shaolin on your ass. Also, I make one mean veggie lasagna.


it has come to my attention (courtesy of myself) that these nibblets are turning into huge, jaw-unhinged, only-an-anaconda-could-swallow bites. so, back to mouse nibblet sizes we go.

9/22 Nibblet: After purchasing our all-day, all-zone, all-modes-of-public-transportation (bus, train, funicular, metro) pass for 6.40 euros, we boarded the “direct” (meaning direct to each and every stop along the way) train to Naples. We arrived in the (rather crummy and run-down) Stazione Garibaldi and made our way through the (usually unmarked) streets until we found the arch-rival “best” pizzarias in Naples. When Trianon’s gates slammed shut in our faces just as we were within a foot of entering it, we spun on our heels and decided to grace the (some say) more popular, less expensive, and equally famous da Michele’s. Although also famed for long lines, da Michele’s at 4:00 p.m. on a September Wednesday was not so crowded that we couldn’t quickly find a seat and be served fresh Vera Pizza D.O.C. rated pizza (of which this 19th century establishment always has and presumably always will offer only two kinds: marinara and margherita. Don’t believe me? Check out the menu).

After lunch, we took the metro to the posh Chiaia district, got turned around no thanks to Fodor’s map (a plague on Fodor’s houses!), and ended up far away from the sea-level “Riviera” but with great aerial views of Naples below.

Train. Donna Vittoria’s. Davide “Il” Gelato (speaking of which, why did no one tell me about this?!?!?!(triple interrobang!)). Report:

Amaretto, B (given by TP although almond-flavored anything (except actual almonds) makes me want to vomit through my nose and so I would have given it an F-)
Chestnut, B
Tutti Frutti, F
Perfumo di Sorrento, A

In other news, I came to realize that I sorely need to update my playlists on my mp3 player as this weekend’s seemingly unending road-trip to and from North Carolina proved. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Le Tigre and my Ramones and my Fugazi (I think I saw one of the guys the other day) HuskerDuSleaterKinneyArchersofLoafYeahYeahYeahsSleaterKinneyLizPhair (classic, not the new stuff)PavementFetchinBonesRadioheadCafeTacubaNinaSimoneCarborundum (sigh) TheSmithsShellacMuleDeerhoofPizzacatoFiveEnonPJHarveyHelium (wish they were still together) WeenFolkImplosionInterpolLiarsDr.DreTheShins, etc. as I ever did. But I gotta get some new tunes. Any suggestions?


9/23 Nibblet: Decided to have an adventure and see if we could visit and stay the night in Ravello with no reservation, no notice, and no map. Packed a few things in a small bag and hung out at Bar Tasso while waiting for the tourist office to open so we could book a room for that evening. Boarded the 11:35 a.m. bus at 12:00 p.m. and made our ascent along the tortuously twisty roads up and along the mountain. The coastal view was not only breath-taking, it was also breakfast-taking. Note to TP: do not down four shots of dopio espresso macchiato before venturing on a veritable roller-coaster ride without a plastic bag.

Upon our arrival at Amalfi, where we had to switch to another bus to get to Ravello, we stopped for a light lunch, hiked up to San Andre Dome Amalfi, took some pix of the cathedral that brought to mind the Mezquita (mosque/cathedral) in Cordoba, and hiked back down to the marina. After some confusion and some jostling around, we boarded the bus Italian-style (all elbows and no quarter given) and wove our way up the cloud-piercing mountaintop to Ravello.

When we disembarked at the town’s square, I spotted a bus with the name Hotel Marmorata, Best Western on it; our hotel! I ran up to the driver and asked if there was room for two more people on the already completely filled bus. He shook his head and said, “only one, not two.” I tried negotiating at little more, explaining it had to be two until the woman next to the driver spoke to him, spoke to the passengers, got a vote, and spoke to him again. He nodded his head and let us sit on the edge of the raised platform that separates the driver from the passengers. Backwards. All the way back down the mountain. Turns out we had caught the only shuttle to the hotel (which was actually at the base of Ravello rather than at the top) which was dedicated solely for the comfort of the entire busload of American senior citizens on a package tour of the Amalfi Coast. The elderly tour group applauded us when they heard we were on our honeymoon and then began a game to see which couple in the shuttle had the most years of marital bliss under their belts (45 years was the winner). Lucky we were that we caught this shuttle as it turns out our belief that the hotel would be within walking distance from the square was completely wrong. After a little showdown (our lengthy hotel bus vs. a towering tourist bus both trying to negotiate a tight curve with several cars lined up behind each; we won), we arrived at the hotel. The location and view here was pretty amazing and you could walk down the staircase from the pool directly into the Med. Our balcony opened up to a wonderful view from which we could see the sea churning, crashing, and foaming only a few feet away.

After a dip in the pool and the Med, we washed up and got some recommendations for a nice restaurant in the nearby coastal village of Minori. It was only a 10 minute walk, but we had to share the same skinny highway with buses, motorcycles, and cars with the cliff on one side and sheer drop to the sea on the other. We found a hidden staircase that was a shortcut to the square, hung out and watched the locals promenade up and down the marina, wandered around yet more Roman ruins, and had dinner at Gardinera. Best pastry shop in the entire coastal region hands down: La Pasticceria Salvatore De Riso. I think I had about three cannoli and several scoops of limone gelato that night. A+ all around. No joke, this poem, written by an anonymous 17th century poet, could well have been talking about the kind of cannoli served here.

Beautiful are the Cannoli of Carnevale,
No tastier morsel in the world,
Blessed is the money used to buy them;
Cannoli are the scepters of all Kings.
Women even desist [from pregnancy]
For the cannolo, which is Moses’s Staff,
He who won’t eat them should let himself be killed;
He who doesn’t like them is a cuckold, Olè!

In other news, LB, TP, and I met up with Najm (who gave me a very thoughtful, very slayerific birthday present that combines both of our joys in one book; thanks, maign!) and LR (with whom I am going to be tres nerdy and hit the lib’ary today) for dinner last night. And Cybermom, those aloo prathas are wonderful! Ithna muzidaar!

 live: 9.23.2004 buon giorno, bambino bloggerinos! writing to you from sunny sorrento on the amalfi coast. gorgeous weather, spectacular views, but crappy pizza. naples is where pizza supposedly originated but this is no good. the pizza in rome was much better. you will be happy to hear that we have been enjoying anywhere from two scoops (trademark) to seven scoops of gelato per day. profumo di sorrento gets an A. tutti frutti gets a D. hope you are all well! ciao!

9/24 Nibblet: Woke up to the soothing sounds of the sea lapping at the shores early in the morning (luckily before Bruce “friends call me ‘Slammy'” Slammerson began his morning ritual of testing the strength and integrity of the hotel’s doors). At breakfast, we were warmly greeted by our senior citizen pals from the day before (“Hey! It’s the honeymooners! How ya doin’, honeymooners?”). Seated at the balcony, we watched the waves below continue to get darker and more choppy. Our hopes of taking the friendly ferry rather than the breakneck bus back to Sorrento dimmed and sputtered out as I spotted a black flag upon the water.

We caught the SITA bus back to Amalfi even though the bus was completely full and we ended up spending the next 10 minutes as far in the front of the bus as one could get and still be inside it: me, standing next to the driver and trying not to jostle his elbow as he drove; TP on the steps of the bus trying not to bang his head on the windshield or fall out of the door. We arrived in Amalfi in one piece (yay!) but the inclement weather had stopped all of the ferry travel that day (boo!). Luckily, the combination of front seats, 4 ‘forte’ motion-sickness pills from the farmecia, and no espresso helped make the ride a smooth one.

Savvy locals us, we jumped off at the Piazza rather than the train station and had an excellent lunch at The Garden. Back at Hotel Girasole, the chilly wind bringing in smoke from one of the ubiquitous fires in the hills drove us from the pool and forced us to take a nap inside. In the evening, we spent our wild Friday night touring the grocery store with as much attention to the displays as we would any museum. Later, I prepared a lavish grocery store dinner while TP tweezed out the glochids embedded in his fingers that he got after trying to wash a prickly pear by hand. Ah me. So ended our trip to the Amalfi Coast. Buona Sera, Sorrento; Bon Jour, Paris.

In other news, apparently in honor of Halloween, we spent much of this weekend watching terrifying, nightmare-inducing, disturbing, creepy movies including one romantic comedy with zombies flick (where, during one particularly gruesome scene, two patrons leapt from their seats and ran out of the theater). Plus, holy role-reversal, Batman! I spent yesterday painting the bathroom while TP fixed an amazing dish of Iraqi Lentil Soup with Meatballs. Yum.


9/25 Nibblet: Happy Birthday to me! With the chill and rain keeping people indoors, we spent most of the morning watching “Robin Hood” (the good version, not the cheesy version) in Italian but with the dubbers using the same voices and cadences as the original actors.

Sibilo : E voi. Chi ha potuto voi essere, signore?
John Piccolo : Sono sir Reginald, duca di chutney. E non attacchi la vostra linguetta fuori me, capretto.

(Hiss: And you. Who might you be, sir?
Little John: I am Sir Reginald, Duke of Chutney. And don’t stick your tongue out at me, kid.)

When the rain abated, we hit the Snacketeria, meandered through the streets, and sat by the pool soaking up the humidity and heat before our return to Paris. We packed up our belongings and waited for the car to take us to the airport (the driver was late by an hour which, I suppose, in Italian timing, was right on time). At the Naples Airport, we checked in, grabbed a bite to eat, and waited for our plane to arrive. Number of cents extra they charge for ketchup: ten; number of open head-wounds caused from falling on the slippery floor: one; number of people gathered around aforementioned head-wound victim: twenty-five.

Paris was cold and rainy, so we made haste in gathering our luggage, catching the RER back to the city center, and running in between the drops back to the apartment where friends, presents, and chocolate raspberry cake awaited me. *contented sigh*

In other news, only one week left until Election Day. And for the laziest of D.C. voters, we . . . I mean someone can elect to vote “curbside”! Sweet! Check out this insult to chimps everywhere: Ook, ook.

9/26 Nibblet: Back in the land of the croissant, we spent some time doing Sunday morning chores around the house (it’s amazing how many crumbs trail behind a three-year old boy) before we took a walk along the Seine and lingered at the used book stalls. Taking advantage of the Musee d’Orsay’s half-price Sundays, we thoroughly explored the train-station-turned-hotel-turned-museum (psst – that mystery pix in the previous post was the view from the inside of one of the museum’s clocks which, if you get closer to the glass, affords this view). I made a special stop to visit my and LB’s room before wandering up and down and up and down the complex. One particularly eye-catching exhibit was the art nouveau furniture. The style of the pieces appeared to be influenced by Hector Guimard’s famous script of the Parisian Metro sign.

We spent several hours inside, on top of, underneath, and then back inside the musuem and then headed outside for some fresh air. We caught some sun and did a fair share of people-watching at the Jardin des Tuileries. As the children pushed their rented wooden boats around the fountain and shrieked with glee when their boats made it safely to the other side without crashing into other boats or ducks, a lively band played some marching music (I can’t call them a marching band because they were pretty much standing still) under the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel (not to be confused with its much larger sister, the Arc de Triomphe at Etoile).

The combination of sunshine, sitting, and sweet crepes (of which we had several which makes crepes our new gelato) took its toll and after packing for our trip to Lyon, we snoozed the rest of the late-afternoon, evening, and night away. Crepe report card:
Sugar and lemon, A+
Nutella, A
Cheese, A

9/27 & 28 Nibblet: Thanks to Monsieur I-don’t-like-to-read , all you get today are pix. Well, ok, a little text. TGV to Lyon. Lyon to Chateau Gaillard. Tour of Chateau des Allymes and Tour de St. Denis. Three hour hike through the Alps. Delicious, familiar, safe, mouth-watering, missed-you-so-much-Pakistani-cuisine. 12th century farm house with cable tv.

Mont Blanc

Mer de Glace

Bustling Rest Stop

Crossing Swiss Border

Championeire Water Pump

In other news, Gojira and I totally have to apply for this position! Because we arrre the best and everyone else is the worrrrst.

9/29 Nibblet: After our daily alarm clock went off, we found out that our little pink farmhouse in La Championniere was still sans hot water. My cousin, Riz, picked us up, took us to her house, and there, I tried to take a hot shower. I say “tried” because I managed to shampoo my hair, rinse, and soap up before the water cut off. Not just the hot water; all of the water. So with a thin film of soap rapidly drying on my skin, I bellowed for help. Apparently, there was a notice from the construction crew nearby that they were doing some work that morning and that the neighborhood’s water would be shut off for a few hours. Alas, in this sleepy little village, no one really checks the mail on a daily basis and so the notice went unread. Riz came to my rescue by heating up half a bucket of bottled mineral water for me and 10 minutes later, I got to rinse off. The only highlight from that little incident is that I can now say “why, yes, I have bathed in Evian water!”

Since TP needed to wash up as well, we zipped over to Riz’s sister-in-law’s house which, despite being nine centuries old, had both hot and running water. Alack, we zipped too quickly and Riz kinda crunched up the car against the wall. Oops. Now running even later than we were, we scarfed down our breakfast and drove into Lyon to meet Gojira’s mere and chien. The second largest city in France, Lyon is a sprawling metropolis located between Fourviere, ‘the hill that prays’ and Croix-Rousse, ‘the hill that works’ and is split in the middle by two rivers, the Rhone and the Saone. Mrs. Gojira’s apartment was in a very lovely neighborhood that bore a striking resemblence to Saint Germain with its chic shops, bustling cafes, and spotless boulevards. Mrs. Gojira welcomed us warmly and immediately fed us a wonderful leek pie, fresh and healthy tomato and avacado salads, and all sorts of cheeses. We shared some stories about Gojira (heh heh), saw some family pictures (ha ha!), and eventually bid her and MacDuff adieu.

We drove up to Fourviere hill and worked our way down from the Roman Ampitheater (where TP stole a bunch of grapes) to the Notre-Dame de Fourviere Basilica to the St. John Cathedral. We had a clear view of the city below at each stop.

9/30 Nibblet: Travel Day, so not much happened. We took an early morning walk through the fog around our little village and came across a whole patch of grapes, blue berries, and figs. Free food! Walked a bit more, bid bon jour to our neighbors, scurried past the homes with wildly barking dogs, and took some pix of the cornfields, the houses, and the animals.

Riz picked us up so that we could have breakfast at her house before heading out to Lyon to catch our 11 a.m. TGV back to Paris. Unfortunately, her husband was operating on D.S.T. (Desi Standard Time) and didn’t arrive until quite late. We reached the Part Dieu train station at 10:59 a.m., just in time to watch our train (and our reserved seats) slide out of the station. We were assured that we could board the 12 p.m. train (there is one every hour to and from Paris) so long as there was room enough. We found two seats together, tried to look as inconspicuous as possible, and when the conductor came by to check our tickets, we meekly handed them over. He glanced at the ticket, glanced at us, shook his head and said something in French of which I only caught “un probleme.” We asked if he spoke English. He looked at us again, took the ticket of the passenger next to us, reviewed it thoroughly, and apparently found un grande probleme with that guy’s ticket because he passed our tickets back to us with a curt “c’est bon” and focused his attention and glower on our neighbor instead. Whew.

We arrived in sunny, balmy Paris and immediately hit up La Croissanterie for their wonderful croissants, flan, and cafe creme. TP bought me a cool, orange messenger bag from Mandarina Duck for my birthday. We strolled around the neighborhood, did some window-shopping, and finally returned to the apartment to take full, uninterrupted showers. Stink waves be gone!

In other news, thx to Abez for the great gingerbread punjabis (I got the @-man and the pirate), thx to Najm for the moist brownies (excellent sehri material), thx to Literaunty for the spicy haleem and southern peanut salad (TP had haleem for sehri this morning!), and thx to Chai and HBiddy for the laughs (and not killing me for leading you in a complete circle downtown).

10/1 Nibblet: We spent Friday morning taking the metro up to the Arc de Triomph and promenading down the Elysian Fields. Along the way, we passed by the Louis Vuitton shop that was oh-so-stylishly under construction:

We stopped at Pizza Pino for lunch where we shared a pizza with beef, two kinds of cheese, and an egg (whaaa?). The pizza was humongous and could possibly rival our neighborhood’s jumbo pizza that made the cover of the City Paper this week. We walked along the chestnut tree-lined boulevard and stopped for some crepes. We continued on to Place de Concorde and stopped for Belgian waffles liberally dusted with powdered sugar. We strolled through the Tuileries, crossed the bridge, and finally made it back to the apartment by late afternoon (just in time for a nap).

Upon waking up from the nap, we learned that several Tunisian guests would be arriving soon for a house-warming party (i.e. excuse to shop in Paris) and were asked if we could help out with the dishes, ironing, dusting, distract the toddler, move the chairs, put out the plates, and greet the guests. The old crew from Hammamet (see Tunisian Travelogue for details) showed up with their finery wrapped around their necks, brand names wrapped around their bodies, and high-falutin ‘tudes wrapped around their heads. TP and I escaped onto the balcony for some fresh air and to give the guests some privacy in which to discuss and eye each other’s clothes, shoes, and latest acquisitions. The “fabulous set” decided to go to a “fabulous restaurant” and our only amusement came when they could not identify any of the dishes (upon the advice of a friend, one guy ate a whole scoop of wasabi before dashing off to the bathroom to wash out his mouth) or operate the eating utensils. After getting our fill of fakeness, we passed on joining the group for dessert and, in full anti-social mode, took off on our own before calling it a night. Seriously, I chose getting away from those people over getting some Bertillon ice cream. *shudder*

In other news, despite the near freezing temps that are predicted tonight, I’m going out to see Interpol! For free! I heart free.

Last Weekend in Paris Nibblet: We decided to start our early Saturday morning with a jaunt through the neighborhoods and ended up climbing down 85 steps down a circular, stone staircase into the depths of the Parisian sewer system and mass grave known as the Catacombs. We wove our way through the dark, wet tunnels decorated with skulls and bones and tried not to imagine that the dust on our shoes was bone grit and the drips on our heads were not blood. Since it was our honeymoon after all, my favorite design was of the skulls artfully arranged into a heart:

Awww, how romantic!

We spent the afternoon perusing through the open-air market where we were dazzled by the [radio edit] and the delicious [radio edit] and the scrumptious [radio edit] which we picked up for our picnic lunch at Luxembourg Gardens. After a brief sit-down at Cafe de Flore, we watched a battle of the bands take place when a chanting, finger-cymbal-wielding Hare Krishna parade marched through a lively brass band (complete with crazy dancing lady) playing in front of the Saint Germain church.

It turns out that throughout this particular Saturday night, Paris was celebrating its Second Annual Nuit Blance (“White Night” or “Sleepless Night”), a city-wide contemporary arts and culture festival where you can visit a theater, enter a number of museums, or see exhibits at an art gallery from dusk to dawn. We walked to the riverbanks to experience the “Foghorn Concert” performed by 15 barges sailing down the Seine (recall the honking notes of the spaceship in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”). People filled the streets either as performers (tiny local bands set up their sets at almost every corner) or audience members (did I mention how much I love free?). Some artists displayed their talents with vegetables. Some artists left their marks directly onto the streets of Paris:

The night was very surreal, made doubly so when hordes of rollerbladers took over the streets for several long moments. We spent the rest of Sleepless Night wandering around the city, taking a nap (but it was artistic sleeping, so it was ok), and by Sunday morning, touring the Louvre for free (FYI, free rules!). Actually, Nuit Blanche aside, the Louvre would have been free anyway because the first Sunday of every month is free. After touring the Islamic Art Exhibit (portions of which were on loan from the NY Met), we walked to Place de Concorde, hung a left, and met our touristy obligation to visit the Eiffel Tower (which had been closed due to a worker’s strike earlier). We capped off our last day with ice cream directly from the one, the only, actual Bertillon shop on Ile St. Louis. Final gelatoish report:

Coffee: A
Earl Gray Tea: B+
Grapefruit: B
Extra Dark Chocolate: A+++ valedictorian, best in show, undisputed champion of the world.

In other news, that concludes the travelogue so now what should I blog about? Any suggestions?


bon jour, mon petite bloggeuers! thank you all for the lovely birthday greetings! and special props to LB for managing to update me blog whilst i am away. i’m back in paris now after a little sojourn to lyon (love that 2 hour super fast, super sleek TGV train ride) to visit one of my eleventy hundred cousins. on our visit to mont blanc, we ended up hiking for three hours from mer de glace to the town at the foot of the mountain. hey, a hike downhill all the way is STILL a hike. we stayed in a charming little farm house (not quite 12th century, but close!) and ate tons of fantastic desi food for the first time in a month. we only have a few more days left in paris and then it’s back to DC. hope you all have been well! perhaps each of you can be kind enough to recap a month’s worth of your blog posts for me? that would be great. thanks!
Madame Baji
directly above the metro mabillon
saint germain, paris


*sings* “Back in the US, back in the US, back in the US of Aaaaaaa”

Ahem. Ok, I’ve finished butchering the Beatles’ tune now; you can unplug your ears. Flew in to DC yesterday evening and boy are my arms tired. *rimshot* But seriously, my arms are tired, my neck is sore, my back is aching. Why, oh, why did I pack my suitcase full of heavy candles and shampoos and perfumes and glassware and shoes and rocks? And why were most of the pillows I slept on for three weeks apparently made out of wadded up towels crammed into thin pillowcases? And why is the euro so darn healthy and the stupid dollar so lame? And why can’t I get a cafe creme or a cafe con panna or dopio espresso macchiato when I step outside the front door anymore?!

So, blurb version until I get my thoughts together: wonderful time, great weather, lots of pix, rich food, plenty of fresh air and exercise, swimming in the Mediterranean one day and hiking down the Alps another day. Now. Excuse me while I go lay down for a while. I have a mild case of lag of jet. *thunk*

Good Eats 5.0

In anticipation of guests (visitor season runs preeeetty much all year), I bequeath unto you, version 5.0. Note, this is not in order of rating or preference.

Good Eats 1.0

Good Eats 2.0

Good Eats 3.0

Good Eats 4.0

Baji’s Top Eateries Around Town:

  • Best Brunch: SS: Eggspectation has usurped the throne from Le Madeline. A chain, yes, but only 6 restaurants in the area and a few elsewhere. Anyway, not only is it around the corner from us, but the menu is wide and varied with enough selections to please anyone. The Brioche Beauty has mysteriously disappeared (victim to Le Mad’s revenge?) but other dishes support Egg’s coup d’etat.
  • Best 24-hour:  SS: Tastee Diner. It’s actually terrible. But it is open all the time. Nowhere near as amazing as DC’s The Diner  or Open City but it is around the corner from us and the milk shakes are amazing, especially when coupled with hot, crispy fries. Plus, they don’t mind you using their free wi-fi and a/c or heat when the power goes out which, as we found, is about once a season. Also very kid-friendly.
  • Best Burger: BurgerFi. You’d think I’d say Urban Butcher but I actually prefer their ahi tuna and ginger ceviche than I did their unhinge-your-jaw, hope-you-like-it-raw burger.
  • Best Steak: The Classics (formerly known as Ray’s The Classics). Downside: only open for dinner and kind of kid-unfriendly.
  • Best Greek: SS: Big Greek Cafe.
  • Best Sushi: SS: reluctantly vote Ikko sushi for this category. It’s fine and all but it’s no Kotobuki. DC: Kotobuki. Bite-sized morsels that melt in your mouth and at a great price.
  • Best Ethiopian: SS: Abol. Although I suspect they stole my credit card info and now only use cash, I still go here because the food is good and the lunch special is a deal. If in DC, Meskerem – NO!  RIP. Dukem only because it’s the only other one I’ve been to and it’s still in business!
  • Best Indian: SS: Toss up between Ghar-E-Kebab and Jewel of India. Both are close by although Ghar is closer to our ghar than Jewel is. Don’t listen to tp who always insists that the tandoori chicken is the way to go. Get the butter chicken and thank me later (i.e. while I’m helping you eat it off your plate). DC: Rasika. Seriously amazing stuff including their famous Palak Chaat (crispy spinach).
  • Best South Indian: SS(ish): Udupi Palace. Woodlands. No longer a hike to get there and the all-you-can eat brunch with free dosas makes it worth it. Discovered that the non-buffet sit-down-and-eat-properly fare is even better. The grocery store next door is nicely stocked as well. And if you want meat dishes, visit Jewel of India (see above).
  • Best Spanish tapas: SS: La Malinche. Great food for high prices. Maybe just go there for lunch. DC: Goodbye Jaleo and your stupid new tricks [food in a shoe, indeed]. We’ll choose DC’s Oyamel for now with its absolutely lovely waitstaff and wonderful table-side guacamole show.
  • Best Vietnamese: SS: Lotus Cafe. Appropriately run down and reminds us very much of St. Louis. Runner up: the new but too trendy (and acc’ to tp, the pho doesn’t have enough subtle layers of flavor) Pho Hiep Hoa. DC: Nam Viet. Haven’t had a bad meal there yet.
  • Best Thai: SS(ish) Nava Thai   Ruan Thai. Beware, this place is wildly popular on the weekends. One larb-gai-craving evening, we called to place an order to pick up and we were told there was over a two-hour wait.  TO PICK UP! Worth it.
  • Best Middle Eastern: Lebanese Taverna. Another crowd-pleaser that we often visit when money-bags parents are in town. There is a cafe version in DTSS which offers tasty falafel and hummus but nothing beats the newly-renovated DTDC one. DC: Rosemary’s Thyme. Pide is divine. Go on the weekend and they’ll throw an egg or two on it for you!
  • Best Pizza: SS: Pete’s Pizza. Pete’s offers New Haven-type pizza and delivers AND a opened just around the corner from us! DC: Two Amys offers Neapolitan style pizza and requires driving and I haven’t been there in years but have fond memories of it. MD and DC: Vace. Salty goodness.
  • Best Bagels: SS: Goldberg’s New York Bagels. Goldberg’s is closed on Saturday for the shabbat so you KNOW they are good. DC: So’s Your Mom.
  • Best Afghan: VA: Afghan Restaurant. What the name lacks in cleverness, the cuisine makes up for in taste. Way far away in Crystal City.
    Best Turkish: VA: Kazan. Our go-to place when visiting Grandpa in McLean which is lousy with conservatives but that’s the price you pay for visiting this lovely eatery.
  • Best Kebabs: MD: Tie between our beloved and mild but tasty and juicy Moby Dick (Bethesda and also in DC) and Kabob N Karahi (spicy and quite a hike; worth it). VA: Food Factory. Kabob Palace. Also way far away in Crystal City but since LB works right there, easy enough to place an order through her and have it delivered.  Through her.  Tip well!
  • Best Mexican: MD/DC: Mi Cocina. only the good die young! I miss you, tacos de brisket!  [tbd] DC: Mixtec.Super Tacos. Just click on the link and turn up the volume to get your first taste. Mi Rancho is much much closer but does not even compare. Pity Taqueria Distrito Federal didn’t stay in business. Why can’t Silver Spring keep its Mexican restaurants?
  • Best Latkes, Pastrami Sandwiches, Matzoh Ball Soup, and French Toast: Open City. SS: Parkway Deli. Don’t let the cranky old people dissuade you from standing in a sluggish line to get seated elbow-to-elbow with them.
  • Best Seafood: DC: Grillfish. Wide selection and since they specialize in fish, you can’t be steered too wrongly as, say, if you visited one of those mix of cuisine joints.
  • Best Italian: SS: Santucci‘s. Mean subs: DC: La Tomate. The other dishes are great too but I love their ps’ghetti. VA: Italian Store. Does exactly what it says on the tin.
  • Best Lasagna: SS: Olazzo. Veggie and meat.
  • Best Gelato: DC: Dolcezza. Pitango Gelato. *dies*.
  • Best Ice Cream: SS: Tropical Ice Cream. Update: they closed. Update: they are open again but I’ve not been to the new rendition so will reserve judgment.
  • Best Spring Rolls: DC: Thaiphoon. Crunchy and veggie.
  • Best Tea: DC: Teaism. Lovely wares and calming atmosphere.
  • Best Coffee: Our house. Seriously, nothing much comes close to our Nespresso. MD: Kaldi‘s. Ridiculously uncomfortable chairs, pretty decent cup o’ joe. DC: Illy. Always.
  • Best Bakery: SS: Kaldi’s again!  House-made buttery, flaky goodness. For cakes: Woodmoor. DC: Le Caprice (will fess up to slight nepotism here as my friend’s family owns it).
  • Best Cuban: Cubano’s. If all you want are arepas, then visit Arepas Pues. If you want all other Cuban dishes done right (and hot and in a timely fashion), go to Cubano’s. Viva ropa vieja!
  • Best Cupcakes: DC: Baked & Wired. Who knows how long this ridiculous cupcake fad will last but while it does, this is the place to go.
  • Best Fancy Nearby: GP: Black Market Bistro. SS: 8407 Kitchen Bar. Last time I was there, I got the “8407 Lamb Bolognaise with House Made Tagliatelle” and was well-pleased but ownership has changed hands since then so I’m not sure if I can vouch for them any more. I could have chosen Mrs. K’s Tollhouse but unless you are a 70 year old woman and/or just coming back from church on Sunday morning, you should stick with Kitchen Bar. DC: Komi. Haven’t had the pleasure or luxury of hitting up Rose’s luxury but they’d have a high bar to jump to beat Komi.
  • Best Burmese: SS: Mandalay. Gives me tummy rumblin’s every time but I keep going back.
  • Best French: MD: Mon Ami Gabi. Our go-to place for exquisite steaks, mouth-watering seafood, and artery-clogging fries and dessert. DC: Le Diplomate. Perhaps all the fame has died down and you can get a seat here but hedge your bets and go for lunch instead of putting all your money on a weekend night.
  • Best Laotian: DC: Thip Khao. Not much competition but even if there were, this would win for the sticky mango rice alone.
  • Best Jamaican: SS: Negril. Not much competition but even if there were, this would win for the patties alone.

Top 15 Books 2015

Until I have the time and energy to devote to reshaping my Top 100 list, I’ll take baby steps with the books I’ve read this year. Note: these are not necessarily in order and not necessarily published this year, just read this year. By me. And possibly you. This is always a difficult task but my usual means of deciding which ones make the cut is asking myself “would I actually purchase a second copy and/or re-read this book and/or foist this book on others?” The winners are:

  1. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
  2. The Martian by Andy Weir
  3. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
  4. Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
  5. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
  6. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #1 (The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, #1) by Ryan North
  7. Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson
  8. Fool’s Quest (The Fitz and The Fool, #2) by Robin Hobb
  9. Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling
  10. The Butterfly Mosque: A Young American Woman’s Journey to Love and Islam by G. Willow Wilson
  11. Changes (The Dresden Files, #12) by Jim Butcher
  12. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
  13. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
  14. Not My Father’s Son: A Memoir by Alan Cumming
  15. Back Story (Paperback) by David Mitchell

Friday Afternoon Music Jam: Stereo Total

Friday Afternoon Music Jam: Bettie Serveet

Did I mention I was going to Aruba? In honor of our upcoming Netherlandy vacation, let’s take a trip back in time to the ’90s and hear some Bettie Serveet which I first learned about via the soundtrack for Amateur. Awww, remember when I used to go see movies?

Friday Afternoon Music Jam: Stereo Nation

On a road trip from middle Georgia to Amelia Island, FL, I was introduced to this song by my cousin.

Top Ten Books 2014

Until I have the time and energy to devote to reshaping my Top 100 list, I’ll take baby steps with the books I’ve read this year. Note: these are not necessarily in order and not necessarily published this year, just read this year. By me. And possibly you. This is always a difficult task but my usual means of deciding which ones make the cut is asking myself “would I actually purchase a second copy and/or re-read this book and/or foist this book on others?” The winners are:

Be advised: the only reason David Mitchell’s Back Story didn’t make it on this year’s list is because I haven’t finished it yet. I’m savoring it. I love it. Note to self: make this #1 on next year’s list.