Saturday, 30 April 2016

Edinburgh miscellany - meals and shops


As I am nearing the last of my posts about our trip to Edinburgh and Paris, I bring you a post about some of the meals we had at home and an esoteric selection of food shopping.

Above is perhaps my favourite food shop in Edinburgh: Cranachan and Crowdie.  It really stood out among all the tartan tat food shops on Royal Mile that sold the same old fudge, rock and teas.  Cranachan and Crowdie had a fantastic selection of really good Scottish food from small producers.  Sylvia loved the "Puffin Poo" from the Shetland Fudge Company.  I was tempted by the Haggis oatcakes and some of the liqueurs.  I ended up buying excellent Shortbread House shortbread, a tartan baking dish, Orkney smoked cheese and Stag seaweed crackers.  I could have bought so much more if I had the money and space in my suitacase.

Those who have followed my blog for some time will know I love nut roasts.  I didn't have the wherewithal to make one from scratch on our trip but I was pretty excited to find a packet one in Holland and Barratt. It was a simple matter of tipping the dried mixture into a cardboard "loaf tin", adding water and baking.  How I wish I could buy these locally.

Though we had fantastic bread in Paris, the bread in Edinburgh was hit and miss.  It was made even more challenging in our second holiday apartment where we didn't have decent bread knives (and only had a chopping board because e found one when clearing out his dad's house).  I fell in love with the bread from the Wee Boulangerie (67 Clerk Street).  Not cheap but it was worth paying extra for the excellent dense crusty bread.

Here is a meal we had one night with bread from the Wee Boulangerie, some seaweed crackers, Pringles crisps, smoked cheese and a container of green vegies with mint butter from Sainsburys.  It probably was on one of those evenings with little energy but a need for some greens.

I bought some vegan bacon at the Sgaia's vegan stall at Stockbridge market.  It was just the think for a fry up at our apartment.  Potato scones, beans with vegie sausages and vegan bacon.  I probably cooked the vegan bacon a bit much but loved it.  I've sampled a few vegan bacons since going vegetarian but loved the streaks in the bacon.

In Australia, Bakers Delight Bakeries are everywhere.  In the UK there seems to be a Greggs Bakery everywhere you look.  I am quite partial to the cheese and onion pasties.  I tried to introduce Sylvia to them.  She just liked eating the pastry from around the edges.  Which was ok once I found out how much extra they charged to eat instore!

After one long day we stopped at Yum Yums fish and chip shop at the top of Fleshmarket Close in Cockburn Street.  I was too tired to face getting dinner so a box of chips was a quick option.  And as if this wasn't unhealthy enough we finished by sharing a deep fried Mars Bar.  They are ugly and such a weird idea.  Yet they are really good in a disturbing sort of way that means one is enough to last a long long time.

And just in case you are crazy enough to want to make your own deep fried Mars Bar at home, you can buy the tea towel in Victoria Street.  We were more amused by the "You'll have had your tea" tea towel.  It is a phrase that E and his dad both loved to use in jest but apparently was used more seriously to greet guests by other Edinburghers in the past.  This is one of the tea towels I wish I had bought.

I was really impressed with Dee's vegan sausages that I bought from Holland and Barratt.  I bought the traditional sausages spiced with coriander, pepper, ginger and Irish dulse seaweed.  I think it is the first time I have had vegetarian sausages with good skins on them that remind me of meat sausages.  Sadly I don't think they are available in Australia.  They were excellent with chutney, mash and green vegies

Another very simple meal was this excellent sandwich on Wee Boulangerie bread and filled with swiss cheese, the Sgaia bacon, kale and chutney.

E and Sylvia are very keen on fudge.  I am less enthusiastic about it.  However I did like the chocolate salted fudge from the Fudge Kitchen.  The guy behind the counter was entertaining as he chatted to us and gave us fudge to taste.  I also watched them make it for a short time and was told that they mix it to stop the sugar crystalising and keep the consistency creamy.  Indeed it was far superior to a lot of fudge I have tasted.

In the past we have visited the Marks and Spencer cafe in Princes Street a few times.  I am very partial to the cheese scones but there is quite a range of sandwiches, cakes, soup, salads etc.  It is quite cosy with little booths in an area walled off from the food hall.  On this visit all I could see was a brightly lit space with a few plastic chairs and very little on offer. 

As I had decided to have lunch at Marks and Sparks, I bought this Nutty Super Wholefood Salad with cannelini bean and sesame tahini dip.  It was packed with quinoa, edamame, green beans, grated carrots, black eyed beans and nuts.  Unfortunately Sylvia could not taste any as it had peanuts.  She had a less satisfying meal of chips and juice and I can't remember the rest.  Then on my last day in Edinburgh I discovered that I had overlooked the cafe earlier.  So I dropped in for a cheese scone and a cup of regret!

On a chilly afternoon E spied an interesting coffee shop called Procaffeination in St Mary's Street just South of the Royal Mile.  We managed to go back one morning a few days later.  The waitress was not very interested in helping us, it was cold and deserted with no music playing.  The place had a nice design with little trains about but it was souless.  I enjoyed my fizzed cloudy apple juice and currant bun but Sylvia's hot chocolate was too big for her. 

As we were ready to leave, a guy arrived who put on music, gave us a friendly greeting when he passed us and other people started to arrive.  The ambience changed and we were sorry to have been there in the graveyard shift.

Just down from Procaffeination was The Shortbread Shop.  On the window it says "where butter makes everything better".  This was a shop with excellent shortbread, cosy ambience and a sense of humour.

So I leave you with a photo of an amusing flowchart in the Shortbread Shop.  I particularly love the result if you choose a bag of shortbread: "pretend you'll take it home to share and then eat it walking down the street".  We've all been there!  We did not buy shortbread there.  We did have a wee taste and it was indeed excellent shortbread.  I suspect it was not long after we had visited the Fudge Kitchen.  There are only so many sweet treats one can buy.  Even on holiday!

Friday, 29 April 2016

Ombre pink cake, IT challenges and a 9th blog anniversary

It is 9 years ago today that I started my blog was a birthday cake I made for E.  Hence my tradition of celebrating my blog anniversary with E's birthday cakes.  You might notice that they get simpler as life gets busier but I am still here blogging after 1763 posts and still love to bake birthday cakes.

I kept things simple for his birthday this year.  For dinner I made nachos.  He would have liked vegetarian haggis on it.  I would have liked the time and energy to make it.  But life is busy and he had plenty of haggis in Scotland.  Instead I made refried beans and guacamole.  I layered tortilla chips, cheese and refried beans.  Baked it for 10 - 15 minutes at 180 C and then topped it with salsa, guacamole and plain yoghurt.  It was delicious.  Sylvia got her own little plate of plainer chips with cheese.

E asked for a sponge cake with buttercream.  It was Sylvia who suggested I make an ombre cake.  She does not know the word ombre but she was obviously impressed with the green ombre cake I made some time ago.  I made this into a simpler version.  Firstly spread buttercream frosting and jam inside the cake like this one.  My preference would have been to stop there.  But I am always up for a challenge.

I spread on a crumb coating first.  Rather than piping rows of dots, I used a ziplock bag to pipe a length of icing around the top (trying to stop the piped icing falling to the ground) and flattened it with a spreader (like a palette knife).  I repeated this with the next two layers and neatened up the bottom.  In retrospect I might have made the top layer a light pink rather than white but generally I was pleased with the result.  Sylvia liked the idea but didn't have time to help me and then she decided it had too much frosting and would not eat any of the cake!  Fickle!

As I reflect on the blog every new year's eve, I will leave the lists of bests and stats til then.  I will remark that it always amazes and pleases me that I find time for blogging in my life, continue to meet lovely people through blogging and cook all the better for it.  An anniversary seems a good time to get my (metaphorical) house in order.  (As you will see above, Sylvia is quite into keeping her dolls house in order lately.  I wish I could say that my house is so neat and minimal.)

Nine years is a long time in the world of technology.  I have seen a lot of change, in particular the rise of social media.  I expect the IT fairies to take care of everything.  Mostly they do.  Some days, though, I think they are lying beside the pool sipping fairy cocktails and laughing at my bemusement.  So here are a few of the odd things happening on my computer lately:
  • First and foremost I take too many photos and they take over my computer.  External hard drives help but it is driving me a little batty right now.
  • Delicious is going through some growing pains right now.  I really really love Delicious for keeping track of recipes I want to make and have over 4000 bookmarks.  I was really freaking out when I thought I had lost access to my account recently.  While in Scotland last month I could not use my Save-on-Delicious button and then when I got home I was asked for my password but could not get a new one sent to my email.  I finally worked out my old password but it worries me that I am not able to generate a new one.  However I did finally read that Delicious had changed ownership and the new managers were making lots of changes which might explain it.  I hope so as I could not get in today!  [Meanwhile my mum recently lost all her bookmarks on her computer when it died.  Trying to keep track of online bookmarks is hard.]
  • Pinterest has also changed.  I am using Pinterest less due to limited time.  Rather than just browsing Pinterest I sometimes visit boards with interesting names when emails alert me to others pinning to them.  Then Pinterest changed from Pins to Saves and for a while were not naming the boards others were saving to.  Then it changed again and now I can see the names of boards.  Hurrah!
  • My love hate relationship with Facebook continues.  It is a great way to keep in touch with some people but Facebook annoys me with their badgering ways.  If I am not on for a while they email me snippets to draw me in.  Even worse recently after I had a conversation with someone who had sent a message and finally after to and fro there was nothing more to say.  Facebook painted me as the bad guy for not replying.  They suggested I should turn off messages and told the public I take longer to reply to messages.  It is a bit like dealing with the playground bully sometimes.  Just walk away! 
  • Something odd has happened with emails and comments recently.  Since I have been in Scotland, if I comment on a blog I often get an email on Delivery Status Notification (Failure) from Google.  I suspect I need to go and change some settings but it is just annoying at the moment.
  • As if this isn't enough, the photo book service I have been using since Sylvia was born has now changed hands.  I find that I have old technology and need to uninstall my photo books software and upload a new one and set it up to prompt me to do regular updates.  I really dislike the constant reminders to install updates! 
  • On a more positive note, I really enjoy using Zomato (formerly Urban Spoon) restaurant listings.  So while in Edinburgh I uploaded some reviews to Zomato.  I was amazed at how little it is used compared to Melbourne.  After about a month, I was number 5 blogger in Edinburgh.  (After over 2 years posting in Melbourne I am number 110 blogger).  Seriously I am glad it is used so much in Melbourne as this makes it a much more useful service than in Edinburgh.

While it sounds like a list of complaints, it is a tribute to how useful I find these systems that when they don't work it niggles.  If you have any illumination on the IT challenges I am facing, I would be glad to hear your thoughts.  Meanwhile I have a few more Edinburgh and Paris posts and then I will be done with holiday posts.  You see, the joy of putting holiday snaps on a blog is that sometimes I look back at them and can show others.  It is so much easier than digging out dusty photo albums.

So soon I shall be back to more regular blog posts.  That means that I expect to spend a bit less time on writing blog posts and a bit more time on responding to comments again.  And I will be back soon with E's second birthday cake.  Stay tuned ....

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Paris shops, cafes, and Marché des Enfants Rouges

Shopping for food in Paris was a joy.  Walking along the streets of the Marais near our accommodation was a joy.  So much beauty and history.  From the boulangerie with its beautiful bread to the patisserie with rows of pretty pastries to discussing cheeses in the fromagerie.  So here is a run down of some of the shops I visited in Paris.

Most of the shops in this post are food shops but I can't resist a photo of the souvenir shops along the Seine.  We also spent some time in Le BHV department store in the Marais where they would check our bags upon entering.

The above boulangerie patisserie on Rue de Vieille du Temple was a favourite of ours because it was the one we had breakfast on our first morning.  (Notable for a customer telling me how rude the staff were as they struggled with my lack of French.)  We bought quite a few baguettes and pain au chocolats here. 

Later we found that Korcarz a few doors from our apartment in Rue des Rosiers also sold croissants and pain au chocolate.  We made a few morning trips here too.

La Droguerie on Rue des Rosiers made crepes at the window.  We walked down one evening after dinner to buy a nutella crepe.  The next day the man who worked there said hello as we passed.

I loved the look of the challah in the window of the Finkesztajn bakery again on Rue des Rosiers.  Sadly I had one of those bad vegetarian experiences.  The pierogi was baked (not steamed) and looked really good.  I bought a pierogi fromage (cheese).  It was warm and looked delicious but when I took it back to our apartment and bit in, it was cheese and meat so I threw it out.  Quel dommage!

My mum recommended the Marché des Enfants Rouges (market of red children).  The name comes from the 16th century orphanage and the colour of the children's clothes to mark them as recipients of charity.  It was a short walk from our apartment.  I really liked the murals at the entrance, all the colourful flowers and had I been seeking lunch I might have stopped to buy a meal at some of the stalls.

Instead I stopped and browsed at the undercover fruit and veg stall.  I didn't purchase much because we didn't have many meals left to eat at the apartment.  We ate quite a few raspberries while on holiday because they are so easy to eat.

I will confess I didn't fall in love with the market.  It is because I have an idealised Parisian market in my mind and this wasn't it.  When I first visited Paris I wandered the streets in a fog of dreamy enchantment and came across a market in the street selling amazingly good fruit and veg.  I had no idea where I was and still don't know where it was to this day but I have such wonderful memories of it that I keep hoping I might find it again.

I really loved the fromagerie (cheese shop) at the entrance to the market.  One of the men behind the counter chatted with me about what I would like and made some recommendations.  When I said I needed plain for Sylvia, he recommended Comte.  I also got her some emmental which she loves.  And he recommended a goats cheese for me.  It was so superb and creamy that I regret just buying a small round of it.  I now can claim that the best goats cheese I have ever tried was in Paris.

We also visited some more modern grocery store.  Franprix was more like a Sainsbury's Local or Coles Express.  Yet it delighted us with so many new brands.  It seemed strange that a bottle of Perrier water was so cheap.  (French tap water was less impressive.)  I much preferred the Bien L'Epicerie with its gourmet organic groceries.  It had some really interesting vegan products too.

And I loved the patisseries.  So different from our bakeries.  I was particularly fond of the chocolate eclairs.

And because I love the shops and cafes of Paris, I leave you with a collage of some shop front photos.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Milo weetbix slice

I baked this slice on Sylvia's first day back at school after our Scottish trip.  Weetbix slice is an Aussie slice that my mum made me when I was a kid.  I loved it but this one was a modern version with less sugar and the addition of milo while the icing was more ganache with leftover condensed milk the the usual plainer mixture of icing sugar, cocoa and water.

I would have liked to have gone to the ANZAC Day dawn service with my family today but I just don't have the energy after our holiday.  Instead I thought that sharing a classic Aussie slice would imbue the spirit of national pride and mateship that is part of the ANZAC spirit.  I am not sure this slice would have made it on the sea voyage to the Gallipoli Cove like the famous ANZAC biscuits.  But I think a lot of Australians would remember this slice from their childhood.

It was good to bake after being away from my kitchen so long.  And this was an easy one to ease back into it with.  Getting back into the rhythm of life is hard after a month away.  We have landed home in the middle of Autumn.  This has meant getting used to wearing warmer clothes, the evenings drawing in so much earlier, and different fruit and vegetables in season.  It is taking a while to get back into the swing of school lunches, feeding my sourdough and watering the garden.

Oh yes, and I apologise to regular readers that I haven't quite got back into finding time to reply to comments.  By the way, Kate asked why we had to turn the clocks back forward this year.  It is because we were in the UK in Spring and will be in Australia in Spring in September.  This year we will not have the joy of that extra hour when the clocks go back in Autumn.  I could really do with any extra time in my life!

Sylvia had a lovely time crushing the weetbix though she lost count so I was a bit unsure if it was 4 or 5 in the bowl.  It was a bit crumbly and I wondered if that was because there were 5 in it.  She also loved measuring and mixing the mixture - and tasting it.  Yet once baked she decided she didn't like it.  And there I was thinking this would make a great lunchbox snack!  Kids are so fickle.

She was very fond of the weetbix and milo leftover after we made the slice.  Weetbix, which I had for cereal often as kid, has been great for breakfasts, albeit not great for the floor when she eats them without milk.  Milo, Australia's chocolate malted milk powder, is even messier and I have emphasised that it is a sometimes food not an everyday food.  Meanwhile, E and I really enjoyed the slice.  It wasn't very sweet so was not too moreish but was a delicious snack.

I am sending this slice to Tea Time Treats, No Waste Food Challenge (it used up condensed milk, chocolate buttons and butter that had been in the kitchen when we left for holidays) and Treat Petite.

More Aussie slices on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
Apple slice 
Chocolate caramel slice (v)
Coconut ice (gf)
Hedgehog
Lemon slice 
Marshmallow weetbix slice

Milo Weetbix Slice
Adapted from Planning with Kids

4 Weet-Bix, crushed
1 cup plain wholemeal flour
1/2 cup desiccated coconut
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup milo
2 tablespoon cocoa
100g butter
1/4 cup of milk

Icing:
110g milk chocolate
3 tbsp condensed milk
1 tbsp milo
1 tbsp milk

extra coconut, for sprinkling

Place dry ingredients in a mixing bowl.  Melt butter and milk together and pour into dry ingredients.  Press into a lined slice tin.  Bake at 180 c for 15 minutes or until slightly browned.  Cool slightly in tray.

Melt all icing ingredients together until just melted.  Spread on the slice in the tray.  Sprinkle with coconut.  Once cooled cut into squares.

On the stereo: 
Paris rive droit: Various Artists

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Shakespeare and Company Bookstore, Paris

Imagine the excitement of finding an English speaking bookstore in a country where they don't speak your language.  This explains part of the allure of the enchanting Shakespeare and Company bookstore in the heart of Paris.  However I also love it for its history that has become part of my story.

The original Shakespeare and Company bookshop was initially set up in 1919 by American ex-pat, Sylvia Beach at 8 rue Dupuytren.  In 1921 it moved to 12 rue de l'Odeon where it was a hub for American ex-pats until it closed during the German occupation in 1941.  Sylvia Beach was a great supporter of writers, most notably publishing James Joyce's Ulysses when it was banned in the USA and UK as an obscene book.

 I stumbled upon Sylvia Beach when looking for an honours thesis topic.  I ended up writing about literary relationships between men and women, including Sylvia Beach and James Joyce.  Hence my interest in the bookshop when I first got to Paris some years later.  I first sought out the 12 rue de l'Odeon building.  The grey one above with this plaque in memory of Sylvia Beach.  (These two photos and the one just below are quite old ones from travels before digital photography.)

After paying my respects at rue de l'Odeon, I then went to 37 rue de la Bûcherie where George Whitman set up a bookstore in 1951 that in 1964 he renamed Shakespeare and Company in tribute to Sylvia Beach's store.  I asked about the history of the place.  A young man asked if I wanted to sleep there.  I thought he was joking and told him I had a hostel room.  Years later I discovered that artists did stay there and I had passed up my chance to do so.  So sad.  I loved the old monastery turned bookstore with all its cluttered nooks, low doorways, and signs such as "be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise."

In 2011 George Whitman died and I hoped that Shakespeare and Company would continue.  As you can see by the sign above that is outside the shop, it has continued to thrive.  Her name is Sylvia Beach Whitman.  It seems George and I both have daughters called Sylvia.

I am very pleased his daughter is keep the flame alive.  The shop continues to feel like an old fashioned bookstore that welcomes artists and bohemians.  There are still many older books crammed into the shelves.  You know the ones that have a plain blue or red hardback binding rather than the more modern shiny attention-grabbing paperbacks.  Upstairs and writers group seemed to be in session and in another room someone was playing a piano.

However the store also feels like it is keeping up with the times too.  Next door is now a cafe and at the front of the shop is a small selection of Shakespeare and Company merchandise.  And of course there are modern books for those who want to buy them.  Outside on a warm Paris spring evening, it was busy with tourists including what looked like a busload.

Returning to the bookstore this visit with my daughter Sylvia, I felt like this bookstore was a little part of her story too.  I used to know Sylvia Beach's story so well but now I can tell my Sylvie that she was a generous and brave woman who encouraged and supported some amazing writers of the 1920s in Paris.  As a 7 year old Sylvie was interested in the story and very pleased to read some English books in the children's area.  Maybe one day she will read more about her and return to Shakespeare and Company.

Notes: I am not posting photos of the inside of the store (which is just so charming) because there were signs asking visitors not to take photos.  I did buy a tote bag and a notebook.  For those who are interested in visiting, it is on the left bank of the Seine, just across from the Notre Dame.

No coincidence that I am posting about this magical bookshop on the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare's death.  I am sure he would be proud to lend his name to the store that continues to foster a love of books in our digital age.

Shakespeare and Company Bookstore
37 rue de la Bûcherie
5th Arrondissement, Paris
https://shakespeareandcompany.com/

Friday, 22 April 2016

Paris sightseeing: Catacombes, Eiffel Tower, The Louvre, the Marais etc

Paris has some of the most famous monuments in the world.  We see them everywhere in popular culture and yet it is still amazing to see them close up and remember just why they are so beloved.  All Sylvia wanted to do while in Edinburgh and Paris was ride the open top bus.  It is a great way to see some of the iconic sights.  We also spent hours queuing to see the Catacombes and I had a day sightseeing in the Marais. 

Catacombes
www.catacombes.paris.fr/

The one thing E was really keen to do in Paris was see the Catacombes.  These underground passages have the bones of 6 million Parisians moved there when church graveyards became overflowing and a health hazard.  I went there on my first visit to Paris and found them fascinating, disturbing and sad.  We decided that an underground attraction was the thing to do on a rainy day.  I read online that there could be long queues but unfortunately I had to see them to believe them.

The queues were long when we arrived.  And it was raining.  But I insisted we were there and should queue.  So Sylvia and E went off to MacDonalds and brought me back a macaron.  Meanwhile I talked to an American and a Londoner as the queue so slowly moved along.  Somehow I ended up under Sylvia's Minion umbrella.  She had mine and E only had an Akubra hat to battle the rain.  They went off for a hot chocolate to warm them.  We waited ages.  Then I got myself a hot chocolate.

We waited and waited and waited.  We were so wet.  We had conversations with the Londoner about the irony of going to the Catacombes because it was wet and yet spending so much time in the rain.  We talked about the strikes going on that day and whether they affected the other tourist attractions.  (See what I think is a strike poster above.)  We joked that the bones underground were of those who had waited too long.  After almost 3 hours were finally were ushered inside.

We walked along a long tunnel with the occasional date chiseled into stone, past the entrance with the words Arrête! C'est ici l'empire de la Mort ("Stop! This is the Empire of the Dead"), and then we walked along rows and rows of human bones and skulls.  Most of them neatly stacked, some in patterns and others stewn at the top of the piles.  Cemeteries and graves are quite common while travelling around Europe but it is less usual to see the bare bones and so many of them.  It is humbling and disturbing to be confronted by so much death.

After the huge queue, I was surprised that there weren't lots of people underground.  Sylvia refused to look at any of the bones.  I told her they were just people like us and now this is our way to remember them.  To no avail.  We walked the 2 kilometres and then had the final 83 steps up into the fresh air and rain.  I found the steps hard going.  I think I was so tired from queuing.  It is an interesting place but I was glad to get out.

Open top bus tour
www.paris.opentour.com/en/

Sylvia's heart's desire was to go on an open top bus tour.  I refused in Edinburgh where we had seen all the main attractions.  In the larger city of Paris it seemed a good way to get around to see the sights with a small child.  It wasn't cheap at 33 Euros for E and me and 17 Euros for Sylvia (for the Green Line).  E decided to spend an extra 4 Euros each for him and me to have a 2 day pass.  It turned out to be good value.

We boarded at the Notre Dame, headed up the Left Bank of the Seine past the Musee D'Orsay and across the river to the Place de la Concorde (above).  The traffic there is so crazy that it is amazing no one has ever run into the obelisk.

Arc de Triomphe and the Avenue des Champs-Élysées

Then we turned into the Avenue des Champs-Élysées.  I see people strolling along the generous footpaths and part of me wishes to be down among them while another part loves being up so high (we sat at the front of the upstairs).  It is a romantic street but is full of high street brands rather than quirky individual shops.  The traffic is incredibly busy and we can see the Arc de Triomphe (Arch of Triumph) in the distance.

Up close the Arc de Triomphe surprises with so much grandeur and details.  Look how small the people are in the photo.  I had a yen to climb to the top but I suspect Sylvia and E would not have wanted to accompany me.  Besides the traffic is so crazy around the arch that I was relieved to get out of there.

Eiffel Tower

When we returned to Melbourne after our trip, one of the first questions I was asked about Paris was, did you climb the Eiffel Tower.  We didn't.  I have before but as I have already said, I prefer the views from the Notre Dame (or even the Pompidou) in the very oldest part of the city.  Sylvia really wanted to climb the Eiffel Tower.  I considered it until we saw the queues.  They were long and we had been in enough queues.

I do think it is worth going up close to look at the Eiffel Tower and perhaps that is the charm of climbing it; to have a closer inspection of the beautiful ironwork.  It really is a work of art that gets lost in the silhouette of the icon that we see so often in popular culture.  (Sylvia was quite interested in the Eiffel Tower because she had seen Snoopy flying around it and a Minion climbing it.)

The Louvre
www.louvre.fr/en

After a day that started with climbing the towers of the Notre Dame Cathedral, riding around Paris on an open top bus and dinner at Brasserie Lola, I left E and Sylvia to go home and I went to the Louvre Museum.  I think I might have only visited once before when I first went to Paris.  It was a Friday night so there were no queues and I had a museum pass.  The hardest bit was trying to work out where to start in this immense museum.

Well I guess the first moment is to sigh in awe at the magnificent building.  Especially when there is a busker playing atmospheric music on the violin.  The Louvre Palace was originally built as a fortress in the 12th Century, used as a royal palace for centuries and in 1793 it was first opened as museum.  It is absolutely huge.

I asked at the information desk for guidance.  Where do you want to go, she asked.  I shrugged and said Medieval.  It is a beautiful section and includes the Mona Lisa, which is a wonderful painting it is so small and distant behind its bulletproof glass and crowds that it is hard to warm to it.  I also decided to go and look at Napoleon III's apartments.  It took a good 10-15 minutes to walk there and a sharp intake of breath as the sumptuous glitzy decor.

Musee de Carnavalet
http://www.carnavalet.paris.fr/en/museum-carnavalet

When my mum heard that we were staying in the Marais she recommended we visit the Musee de Carnavalet.  I decided to go there on the day after we had been on the open top bus.  Sylvia had loved it so much she and E went on it again.  And again.  While I had a day in the Marais.

The building of the Musee de Carnavalet was impressive.  However inside I made the mistake of not getting a headset tour.  Most of the signs were in French and it was hard to get a sense of the place.  Finally I found that there was some information at the back of my map brochure and when I arrived at the section on the French Revolution, I was delighted to discover that the storyboards were in both French and English.

I studied the French Revolution at university and was delighted to be able to read about the details of the background, paintings and memorabilia.  Top right in the above collage is the chair that the royal family had used while imprisoned after the revolution.  I also enjoyed the paintings of Paris, seeing the humble bedroom of Proust and the models of Medieval Paris.

One of the interesting aspects of the museum is the recreated rooms from demolished houses in Paris.  Furniture and furnishings have been brought here so that we can still see what these rooms were like.  I would have been able to find out more about them with a headset tour but I still enjoyed looking at these gorgeous rooms.

Victor Hugo House
http://maisonsvictorhugo.paris.fr/en

When I first went to Paris with my list of places to visit, it included Place de Vosges and Victor Hugo's House.  It took me another 20 years to get there.  When I first visited Paris, I had done heaps of research, but this time I had barely looked at anything about Paris until a few days before we flew there.  Hence my mistake in buying a sightseeing pass that I thought would take me to Victor Hugo's House and Musee de Carnavalet, not realising that these museums were free to enter.

And was it worth the wait?  Yes.  Place de Vosges were incredibly grand.  I had learnt from Musee de Carnavalet that I needed a headset tour.  Though I had read Les Miserables many years ago, I didn't know a lot about Victor Hugo and it was interesting to hear about his life.  I was saddened by the early deaths of many of his children and in admiration of his flair for home decor.  Place de Vosges was very grand and elegant.  It would have been nice if Sylvia had been with me to enjoy the little playground.  Around the edges under the arches were lots of interesting galleries.

And I will end with the Notre Dame Cathedral at night.  You can read more about our visits to Notre Dame.  Some other favourite Paris sights we saw on this trip are the Pompidou Centre and Shakespeare and Co Bookstore.  On previous visits, I have enjoyed visiting Musee D'Orsay, Sacre Coeur Basilica in Montmatre, Pere Lachaise and the Palace of Versailles.  If only I had had more time in Paris....  Sigh!  Je t'aime Paris!