Design Hotel in Paris’ 15th

Sublim Eiffel

If you’re looking to stay in a place with good rates and some design flair, without a lot of the usual scenesters and tourist sprawl that accompanies those things, check out the Hotel Sublim Eiffel in Paris’ very residential 15th arrondissement. Should you stay out well past your bedtime as often happens in Paris, the rooms are wonderfully dark and quiet for some good do-do action. (NB: “Do-do” is French for “sleep” and is not related to the American “doo-doo,” which does, admittedly, happen in hotel rooms, but let’s not discuss that here.) 

On my recommendation, some friends of mine recently stayed at the Sublim. They also loved it, attesting to the hotel’s excellence and value. Of course, immediately after that, the hotel appeared in a major newspaper’s write-up of “hidden gems” among Paris hotels. Hopefully, this won’t ruin the vibe or the value.

The Metro stop SEVRES-LECOURBE is right in front of the hotel making it easy to get around Paris. However, the hotel is also an easy walk from the Eiffel Tower, the wonderful market at Motte-Picquet, rue Cler,  Invalides, and the Musee Rodin.

Address: 94 Blvd. Garibaldi (15eme)
URL: http://www.sublimeiffel.com/

A Few Places for Getting “Lost”

Fitzroy Island Beach, Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Pretty darn close to paradise

My husband and I had watched “Lost” for all 5 seasons, and then, for the last, the one that answered all the questions, we took off on a trip around the world. (Fortunately, the quest for real doing still trumps the pleasure of good viewing.)

As we traveled in a few spots across the Pacific, more than a few locations reminded us of the gorgeous, paradise-with-secrets landscapes common to “Lost.” If you’re already missing it after the finale, and seek to enhance a real escape with memories of your more virtual pleasures, here are a few places where you may be able to convince yourself that the Smoke Monster lurks just around the next palm tree.

1) The Island: Fitzroy, Great Barrier Reef, Australia
The Great Barrier Reef is one of nature’s most amazing productions. With countless atolls and islands stretching along the reef, it’s easy to play castaway for one day or several. Fitzroy Island has just the right “Lost” ambiance: abundant natural beauty with a sprinkling of spooky abandoned buildings, some reminiscent of the Others’ compound.

After a gorgeous 45-minute trip from Cairns in Far North Queensland via Fitzroy Ferries, you land at the boat dock, at the foot of a nearly finished yet vacant luxury hotel. (The hotel project was begun a few years ago, and is always rumored to open soon, but the economy seems to create constant setbacks for that launch schedule. Whenever it opens, it will be an amazing place to stay.) 

Once on the island, you’re free to spend the day as you like–lazing on the beach, hiking trails that criss-cross the wooded island (a national park), and/or spending time underwater snorkeling in the island’s clear waters. We decided to embark on the guided sea kayaking and snorkeling adventure for the morning, which took us on a nicely-paced kayak trip to a clear, shallow lagoon off Little Fitzroy Island for a snorkeling break where we saw some exceptional soft corals. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable and good-humored, even when temporary possession by the Smoke Monster caused me to crush his thumb with my kayak paddle.

After our kayak trip, for the afternoon, we left the group to hike alone to the lush jungle of the “Secret Garden” and down to the postcard-perfect Nudey Beach, where we ate our picnic lunch and snorkeled some more. (NB: There are no supplies or stores on the island, so bring your own water. If you don’t pre-order a picnic lunch from the Fitzroy Ferry folks, bring your own food. There are no Dharma stockpiles on the island.) We saw no one for hours, until a group of seemingly friendly people disembarked from a small motorboat on to Nudey Beach. Friend or foe? Could they be the Others?

Scuttling back up the heavy stone steps on the trail, the Fitzroy Ferry that would take us back to Cairns was a welcome sight. We had time for a bit more snorkeling, and hopped in the beach just off the dock. Some lovely sand-colored stingrays floated along the white sandy ocean bottom, delicate and sinuous like apparitions in a dream.

You can get more info about the Fitzroy excursions and/or other Cairns activities offered by the outfitters who run Fitzroy ferries at:
http://www.ragingthunder.com.au/

2. The Looking Glass: Quicksilver Platform, Outer Great Barrier Reef, Australia
When Charlie died in the watery lair of the undersea platform, it was one of the most memorable scenes in the entire series of “Lost.” If you’re making a once-in-a-lifetime visit to the Great Barrier Reef, you don’t want the most memorable part of your trip to be seasickness.

When we were in Australia in March, a storm’s approach made for rough seas, so we took the advice of numerous travel experts in the area and tried the Quicksilver company’s trip to the Outer Great Barrier Reef. With a big boat and a secure platform from which to snorkel, Quicksilver’s the best way to experience the reef when the water’s a bit rough and your travel companions want to avoid the ghastly experience of throwing up for hours with others who are throwing up for hours on a boat.   

Though waves were quite high the day we went, the snorkel area had convenient ropes and floating rest stops, making it easy to stay in the water and enjoy the wildlife. Some colorful giant clams were a highlight. We also sighted more large-sized fish than at other reef locations (due to some strategic feedings and the proximity of the open ocean). 

After a buffet lunch, before getting back into the water, we ventured down to a viewing area, designed for those who might not be able to enjoy the reef first-hand. Gazing at the aquatic life through the thick plexiglass, fish looking at me as if I were the object of interest, a human face suddenly pressed into the glass. Desmond? Charlie? No. Just a happy snorkeler.  

More info on Quicksilver’s version of the Looking Glass (with the hope that it ends better for you than it did for Charlie) is found at http://www.quicksilver-cruises.com   

3. The Ancient Civilizations: Maori Carvings, Lake Taupo, New Zealand
Elements of ancient cultures frequently popped into the familiar, modern world on “Lost,” jarring your understanding of where or when the story was taking place. 

When visiting Lake Taupo, on New Zealand’s North Island, you will find all the signs of our post-industrial civilization– a lakeside roadway, modern power boats, fabulous homes, even a driving range right on the lake.  However, unlike lakes in many other parts of the world, there’s no over-crowding. It’s very easy to feel solitary on this massive, blue, stream-fed lake. 

Cruising around Lake Taupo, after we fished for some trout, we came upon magestic, 10-meter-high Maori carvings. Though the carvings look as if they had always been there, master carver Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell created this monumental work in the 1970s. The carvings are a tribute to Ngatoroirangi, the legendary navigator who guided the first tribes to New Zealand over a millennia ago.

These beautiful carvings remind that you are a guest of the cultural descendents of the great Polynesians, one of the world’s most fascinating and epic civilizations. Resourceful survivors, the earliest Polynesians settled the vast Pacific on the smallest of boats with the most meager of rations, an extraordinary accomplishment in an age when the rest of the world’s seafarers were merely playing it safe and sailing along the various continents’ coasts.   

Ancient survival lessons you could still learn from today. Particularly if you are ever stuck on the Island.  

You can practice your fishing and get awestruck by the Maori carvings when you explore Lake Taupo on the White Striker. Our guide, Dan, showed us the carvings, taught us a lot about the whole Taupo area, and hooked us up with some fine trout when others were leaving empty-handed. The Maori carvings and Lake Taupo’s majesty mean you will never leave truly empty-handed, however.

To learn more about experiencing Lake Taupo with Dan, check out: http://www.troutcatching.com  (Note for non-fishermen: many other boat operators do tours of Lake Taupo leaving from Taupo’s marina so you can see the carvings without casting a line.)

4. Abandoned Dharma Initiative Station: Sweeney Ridge, San Bruno/Pacifica, California
There’s something exciting and slightly hair-raising about discovering abandoned buildings in the middle of nowhere. If the buildings have some whiff of military about them, all the better.  Indeed, one of the most intriguing things about “Lost” was the initial discovery of the Dharma Project’s endless hatches and complexes.

About 25 minutes south of San Francisco lies Sweeney Ridge, where you can take a moderately strenuous hike to the top of a crest where the great explorer, Portola, discovered San Francisco Bay. (There’s even a plaque here to commemorate the occasion.) With sweeping wildflower-strewn views of the Bay and the Pacific, it’s a very lovely and rare vantage point of the Bay Area.

Walking along the crest, after enjoying the natural beauty of the spot, we were surprised to find a block-shaped, whitish building, whose excessively bland, non-descript style could only have been made by the military in the 1960s or 1970s.

Adding to the spook  factor: it appears the occupants left in a hurry. Wires hang down from the ceiling where light fixtures were ripped off. Hinges strain from the stress of having doors yanked off.

As we peeked around, it occured to us that, perhaps, we should not be walking around this place. It could be dangerous. Since the entire Bay Area coast was fringed with Nike missiles not too long ago, we assumed this institutional ruin was somehow related to that.

Then, we remembered Dharma, the bomb, and all the “Lost” craziness. And then, truly spooked, we hightailed it back to our conveyance away from the beautiful yet potentially atomic spot where we had just hiked for hours.  
 
To discover the abandoned building and more sites in hikes around Sweeney Ridge: http://www.parksconservancy.org/visit/park-sites/sweeney-ridge.html

5. The Banyan Tree: Kawela Bay, Oahu’s North Shore
Soon, the state of Hawaii’s motto will be “Where ‘Lost’ was filmed.” Indeed, the series was rather notoriously filmed there, so seeing elements of “Lost” in Hawaii is akin to saying the Empire State Building reminds you of King Kong.

However, if you’re a “Lost” fan, seeing the actual “Lost” Banyan Tree on Kawela Bay is pretty exceptional. Lots of things happened in the show involving the spooky, gigantic tree. The capacious chamber formed by the tree’s boughs is impressive from a natural point of view well beyond the banyan tree’s brushes with TV fame.

Because all Hawaiian beaches are public, you can get to the banyan tree at Kawela Bay on your own. Or, you can take the excellent eco-tour offered by Shaka Kayaks, as we did in April.

Shaka Kayaks equipped us with a kayak that has a little window, so the bay’s aquatic life is visible from below and above on the easy, fun paddle around Kawela Bay. Most notably, the area is full of green sea turtles, a particularly adorable one of which is named, “Charlie.” We were also lucky enough to see an endangered monk seal lolling on the beach.

Along with the kayaking on the eco-tour, we took a pleasant walk to a World War II bunker and, of course, to the “Lost” Banyan Tree. With the amount we learned from the informative, friendly guides about the amazing ecosystem that is Kawela Bay, it was rather easy to forget the TV show that was an international obsession for 6 years. 

To take a paddle on Shaka Kayaks’ eco-tour and pay a visit to the Banyan Tree, see: http://www.shakakayaks.com/

The Native Sons – A Few Dublin Pubs

Pints in a Dublin Pub
Guinness is good for you.

Back in October of 2009, President Obama had just been surprised to find that he won the Nobel Peace Prize right before I left the States to visit the beautiful country of Ireland. In predictable fashion, rather than celebrate this recognition, the right wing commentators commenced their fantasist ravings about the vast global conspiracy behind the President’s honor and, somewhat surprisingly, the left wing gasbags began tutting over whether the timing was right for the President to receive the honor. (No, I did not leave the States to avoid listening to all this kvetching, but that would have been a good reason for a wee break, to be sure.) 

Landing in Dublin, in a cab to the hotel, the Irish taxi driver (a man from Meath), instantly and genuinely congratulated my husband and me for our President’s honor. Our taxi driver also quickly pointed out that President Obama was “a native son,” being part Irish on his mother’s side a few generations back. Indeed, fast-forwarding to 2011, President Obama tipped a pint of Guinness in the village of his ancestors, aptly observing that they keep the best Guinness in Ireland. In every village he visited and in Dublin’s fair city, the throngs who came to cheer on the President definitely showcased Ireland’s love for President Obama.

To think that President Obama is so proudly embraced by normal Irish folks– when a vocal weirdo contingent in the President’s own country absurdly believe he’s not even born there, and when the President’s own American supporters couldn’t even congratulate the man for receiving an amazing honor– well, that’s why I love Ireland. You don’t have to win the Nobel Prize or be the Leader of the Free World to experience Ireland’s embrace, however. You just need to spend as much time as possible in pubs. Listen to music. Talk to folks. Swap stories. And, of course, drink pints. Lots and lots of pints.

In Dublin, perhaps the best pub city in the world, it’s tough not to overdo the Irish hospitality. There are just too many great places to enjoy a pint while chatting with locals and/or listening to music. To avoid your getting overwhelmed, definitely visit a few favorites (listed below). They meet my criteria for a proper Dublin pub: 

  1. There should be some history or story attached to the pub, one that the barmen and regulars like telling.
  2. There should be regulars who frequent the pub, not just tourists.  There should be at least one regular who had his/her first drink at the pub, or who has been drinking there for over a decade.
  3. There should be woodwork. Real wood bars, floors, wall panels, etc. All contribute to an atmosphere of requisite coziness.
  4. The pub should not be brightly lit, and should definitely not have those halogen lights that blind you when you look at them and burn your head and/or ears if you’re too tall.
  5. If the pub does food, it should not be the pub’s focal point. Rather, the menu should list a few tasty items (soup and brown bread, stew, etc.) to help absorb the pints you’ll have. 
  6. There should be a minimum of those annoying game machines that light up and cling-clang constantly. Not a one is vastly preferable, however.
  7. Last, but certainly not least, the Guinness should be poured well. The other tap libations should taste like the lines are clean.

The true professional could try visiting these pubs in the order I list them on foot. It’s a great walk if you’re up to it, starting over near Christ Church Cathedral and working your way to St. Stephen’s Green. (Don’t worry. Having to walk will help keep you out of trouble. And, if worse comes to worse, you can always have a full Irish breakfast the next day to sort yourself out.)

  • The Brazen Head, 20 Lower Bridge St.  
    You’d be remiss not visiting the pub that claims to be Ireland’s oldest (purported to have been established in 1198). Lots of music, great soup, and a really fine Guinness in a city of fine Guinnesses. See their Web site for what’s on: http://www.brazenhead.com/
  • The Long Hall Bar, 31 S. Great George’s St.
    A Victorian treasure, this pub will take you back to a time when gents drank their pints while wearing top hats. With a beautiful long bar and lots of gleaming brass, this may be the classiest historic place to down a few.
  • O’Donaghue’s, 15 Merrion Row
    With live music 7 nights a week, O’Donaghue’s is true to its place in Irish music history. Catch some traditional Irish music, or “trad,” as it’s known, while enjoying a pint or several. The pub’s Web site has great info to help you brush up on your Irish music education: http://www.odonoghues.ie/
  • Toner’s, 2 Upper Baggot St.
    This is a fantastic traditional pub, which Yeats reportedly frequented. The poetry continues; I was taught to hurl the very poetic “toe-rag” as an epithet by a very funny man named Sean late one evening.

Should you ever find yourself leading the free world and winning a Nobel Prize without getting any appreciation from your countrymen for it, take solace. Someone in Ireland claims you as Irish and toasts your success, embracing you as a native son. If your life’s pursuits are less lofty, the welcome you’ll receive in a Dublin pub (after a few shared pints, of course) will be no less.

A Great Reef, but No Snorkeling

Rainbow Vista from the Best of the Westerns
Rainbow Vista from the Best of the Westerns

Though there is no snorkeling in Utah’s Capitol Reef, it is one of the best places for an introduction to the geology lesson that the Great American West provides from the Western edge of Colorado to the chasm of the Grand Canyon. Along with impressive insights into the natural forces that made the 100-mile long monocline known as the Waterpocket Fold, Capitol Reef National Park also provides a glimpse into the people who have left more temporary traces on the area’s landscape, including the First Nations, pioneer settlers, the likes of Butch Cassidy, and the modern ranchers whose cattle are the most dominant life-form in the area.

One of the best and most “western” hotels in the Best Western chain, The Capitol Reef Resort, can be found right at the gate of Capitol Reef National Park. A great base camp for park exploration, the hotel even has a hot tub where you can contemplate how the changing light alters canyon hues while soaking hike-weary bones.

To wash down the trail dust and fuel up for back country exploration, a bar/restaurant across the street from the hotel, The Rim Rock Patio/Spaghetti Western Cafe offers some of Utah’s finest beers and a very satisfying pizza. The outdoor dining area has some of the nicest dart set-ups I’ve seen in any bar, and, if you’re able to extend your arms after a full day’s hike, it’s a fun way to spend the evening. The night we visited, the very kind-hearted woman proprietor showed us where we were on her groovy, vintage topographical wall map on which decades of rubbing fingers from all over the world had lovingly erased our location.  

Before and/or after getting beered, hot-tubbed, and generally satiated, you will, of course, want to visit the main attraction, Capitol Reef National Park. You could spend one or several days hiking, biking, and off-roading in this geologic marvel.

One of the best ways to get oriented to the park is the self-guided drive. A map of the self-guided drive stops (along with fabulous fun facts) are available at the park’s visitor center for a nominal fee. At the end of the self-guided drive’s car-based route, a 4-mile round-trip hike takes you through Capitol Reef Gorge, where you can see some of the park’s odd sandstone formations up close, along with the signposts of people who came before.  

The most visible of the earliest human traces in the park are amazing

Fremont Petroglyph on Capitol Reef Gorge Trail
Fremont Petroglyph on Capitol Reef Gorge Trail

petroglyphs, left by the Fremont people, some of the area’s earliest inhabitants. On the Capitol Reef Gorge hike, you can get right up close to a few of these rock carvings, and ponder whether they were made for religious and/or informational purposes. It’s hard not to ge excited when standing inches away from something carved by human hands thousands of years before. Elsewhere in the park, on a large canyon wall, giant Fremont petroglyphs are visible from hundreds of feet away. Gigantic shaman, bighorn sheep, and other animals carved into the red rocks leap off the rocks.

After the First Nations, pioneers traversed the area to head Westward, and on the Capitol Reef Gorge hike, you can also see their names lining the walls, some dating back from the 1840s and 1850s. Butch Cassidy didn’t sign any rock walls, but he allegedly hid out in the area. (Butch Cassidy connections are touted a lot in this particular neck of the woods.)

Later in the 1800s, Mormon settlers recognized that the valley’s ample water supply would be good for farming, particularly fruit trees. Orchards of apples and other fruit trees planted by these intrepid settlers still line Capitol Reef’s valley.

Apple Tree in Capitol Reef
Apple Tree in Capitol Reef

The National Park Service still maintains these fruit trees, and, when the trees are bearing fruit, you can eat an apple, pear, or other fruit for free when you’re in the orchard. If you’d like to take any fruit with you, bags and picking equipment are available, along with a box to leave payment.

If DIY fruit picking’s not up your alley, or if you visit out of fruit-bearing season, you can always enjoy the valley’s fruits at the Gifford Homestead. Located in the old Mormon settlement in the valley, the historic home sells pies made from fruit grown in the area, along with other baked items and preserved goods– great for a pre or post-hike picnic.  (The pie made from apples grown in one of the orchards was particularly tasty after hiking the Capitol Reef Gorge trail.)

Though the apple trees and the settlement and the pioneer grafitti and the Fremont petroglyphs all seem to point to the permanence of man’s hand in the landscape, Capitol Reef leaves you with the feeling that we humans are newcomers and short-timers on the planet. The greater permanence of nature, as evidenced by Capitol Reef’s 100-mile long sandstone monocline, endless canyons of every color, harshly dry landscapes that suddenly swell with water– all formed over eons– dwarves our feeble human efforts to leave a mark. In short, we should enjoy the apples, and the apple pie, while we can.  

Do:
http://www.nps.gov/care/index.htm

Eat:
Rim Rock Patio/Spaghetti Western Cafe, Right across from Best Western

Stay:
Best Western Capitol Reef Resort, 2600 East Highway 24
http://www.bestwesternutah.com/torrey-hotels/ 

In the Land of Giants

Grant's Tree in Parts, Sequoia National Park
Grant's Tree in Parts, Sequoia National Park

When you hear words like “the largest living thing,” or “the widest,” you know you have to see them, though you’re also slightly afraid that the object(s) in question may not live up to the hype.

The sequoias at Sequoia National Park do not disappoint. The fact that they adjoin a valley, Kings Canyon, that rivals Yosemite (and may actually be superior due to lack of crowds), makes this location all the better. (Warning: if you’re driving from SF, you will most likely take Highway 198 to get to the park. On Highway 198, you will encounter a series of bad smells until you reach the town of Three Rivers. These smells include, but are not limited to: the massive stench of industrial stockyards, an overwhelming aroma of pressed garlic, an acrid sulfuric chemical odor,  and more oppressive odors emanating from super-sized stockyards. However, in spite of these perils, Sequoia & Kings Canyon are well worth the trip down the Road of Bad Smells.)

The Sequoia visitor center provides a lot of interesting background about the world’s largest trees, along with a good orientation to help you plan your visit.  Though there are several hikes to take through the various groves, you shouldn’t miss the two most notable walks: the Sherman and the Grant. The Sherman Tree walk takes you on a descent to the base of the world’s largest living thing by volume. The walk through the lovely grove around Grant’s Tree (the widest of the giant Sequoias) has some of the prettiest tree specimens and a lot of amazing sites, including an old, dead sequoia, “The Monarch,” you can walk through that was once a miner’s refuge and a bar.

When you’re peckish in Sequoia and in need of a food/wine stop, Wuksachi Lodge has a nice restaurant with a lovely mountainside view. (Thankfully, food has come a long way in our national parks since the days of foil-wrapped cheeseburgers.) The wine list has a good variety and is surprisingly reasonable given the relative remoteness of the location.

Don’t miss a good hike or two in Kings Canyon, even though it’s a bit off the beaten path. The majestic peaks frame a verdant valley with a babbling river running through it, culminating in lively falls rolling over large boulders. Camping spots seem a lot sweeter in Kings Canyon than in Sequoia, so if you’re up for a few nights in a tent,  do the Kings thing.

For nights with a roof over your head, a good base camp outside the park can be found in the town of Three Rivers. The affordable Comfort Inn has shuttles into the Park (shuttles are mandatory at certain times of year), along with a swimming pool and hot tub. 

Two great places to spend your post-hike evenings can also be found in Three Rivers. The Cider Mill Restaurant stays open later and has outdoor seating. Many of the selections are grilled by a nice guy tending the BBQ out front. The wood-grilled Carne Asada (along with several ice cold Tecates) was the dining highlight.

The River View Restaurant & Lounge has a nice perch above a perky river run, where you can sit outside and listen to the river race by. There’s often live music here, and if there’s not, the kind folks at the River View were playing some awesome live concert Grateful Dead tracks the night I visited. Even better, the beer was ice cold, and the onion rings were some of the best you’ll ever have.

Cold beers. Big trees. Bigger canyons. Fewer crowds. Sequoia/Kings Canyon are definitely worth a visit.   

Do:
National Park Info, http://www.nps.gov/seki/index.htm

Eat:
Cider Mill, 40311 Sierra Dr. (Highway 198)
River View Restaurant & Lounge, 42323 Sierra Dr. (Highway 198)

Sleep:
Comfort Inn, 40820 Sierra Dr. (Highway 198), http://www.comfortinn.com/hotel-three_rivers-california-CAA26

Stroll in the 7th Heaven

Paris’ 7th arrondissement is home to impressive government buildings and embassies, loads of iconic and lesser known monuments, some great museums, really nice architecture, good shopping, and lovely garden spaces. In spite of its hauteur and occasional pretense, the 7th is, in general, a condensed version of all that is wonderful in Paris all in one quarter. If you do all of the following, this will take you an entire day long into a very pleasant evening.

(1) Start your day at Cafe Roussillon, on the corner of rue de Grenelle and rue Cler. Have a coffee and a tartine (bread with some butter and jam) while standing up at the bar, where you’ll pay less than if you sit down. (A rule at all cafes, not just this one.) Sometimes, they’ll have other pastries, depending on what’s available, but a tartine and coffee is a very typical way to start the day.

Next, (2) proceed down the rue de Grenelle toward the gold-domed Invalides, and walk partially around the structure to your left, checking out the buidling’s impressive exterior, passing by the looming cannons, lovely stretches of green grass, and sweet garden areas. Long a military hospital for injured soldiers, Invalides is now better known for one of France’s more famous warriors: Napoleon. 

You can visit the inside of Invalides a bit later after you stop and smell the roses (if they’re in bloom), at the (3) Musee Rodin, 79 rue de Varenne.  The Musee Rodin has one of the most beautiful gardens in Paris, and even features its own rose variety, the Rodin Rose. Of course, in addition to flowers, the Musee Rodin is a showcase for a sculptor who changed the art form, Auguste Rodin. It only takes an hour or two to visit, and you can get tickets online in advance through the helpful Web site:  http://www.musee-rodin.fr/welcome.htm  

You won’t be able to miss the French government buildings on (4) rue de Varenne near the Musee Rodin, such as the Hotel Matignon (the official residence of France’s Prime Minister) and France’s Ministry of Agriculture. Occasionally, security will be a bit of a hassle on the rue de Varenne because of the profusion of government offices and embassies in the area. If there are any protests involving angry farmers from the French countryside, you should definitely try to take in the action that will transpirin front of the Ministry of Agriculture– particularly if you get to see the Ministry entrance blockaded with potatoes or manure.

Walking back toward rue Cler around the side of the Invalides you didn’t see on your way over to the Musee Rodin, take in more vantages of the impressive, gold-domed structure. Even if you’re only mildly interested in the military and/or megalomania, (5) Invalides is worth a look inside for its fascinating military museum, and, of course, Napoleon’s tomb. The military musem has an impressive array of weapons from the Middle Ages and a very robust set of archives relating to the Second World War. Different themed exhibits also appear throughout the year. More info in French (with some in English) is available online at:  http://www.invalides.org/

After viewing government power, military history, and loveliness for the morning, head back to (6) rue Cler for your lunch. Rue Cler is an amazing market street, with several wonderful shops for buying picnic items. There’s an array of small shops from which to select your perfect picnic lunch: cheeses, fruits and vegetables, breads, sausages, and more are there for the buying. For wine for a picnic (or for any reason), be sure to visit Le Repaire Bacchus, at 29 rue Cler. In addition to a diverse selection of regional French wines, the staff are very helpful, and they give great advice about good wines at every price point. If you don’t travel with a cork screw, they’ll open your picnic bottle for you.

On a picnic weather day, the (7) Champ de Mars is very close by– a perfect grassy spot for a picnic and a nap in the sun between the Eiffel Tower and the Ecole Militaire. “Champ de Mars” means “Field of Mars.” Named for the God of War, military drills were once practiced here. Now, rather than war exercises, you’re now likely to see a free concert put on by Paris’ local government in the summer, or some folks from the neighborhood playing petanque or card games among the gravel alleyways under the trees. (Petanque, or boules, is similar to bocce, except the balls are metal and there are different rules of scoring according to the region in France you’re from.) It’s great fun to watch experienced players play petanque, particularly if they’re older and they’re playing for money– which helps you learn more colorful French phrases than you were probably taught in high school French class. 

Eiffel Tower in Autumn
The “Grotesque” Eiffel Tower

Of course, if you haven’t done it yet (or, if it has been a while since you did), you should go to the top of the (8) Eiffel Tower once you’re finished with your picnic and nap. Though touristy for sure, it’s popular because it’s a beautiful marvel of engineering with stunning views over Paris.

This opinion wasn’t always shared, however, and the Eiffel Tower was often decried as a monstrosity after it was first constructed for the Universal Exposition (a world’s fair of sorts) by Gustave Eiffel in 1889. (In other parts of Paris, you can also admire Gustave Eiffel’s work at the Bon Marche department store and Credit Lyonnais bank, where he built the metal structures. Across the Pond, he was responsible for the internal structure of the Statue of Liberty.) Only built to last 20 years, the Eiffel Tower proved useful as a radio tower during the war years of the early 20th century so the Eiffel Tower was able to defy its critics to become the landmark we all know and love today. The evening lights are a treat to see from other vantage points all over Paris. For history and visitor info in just about every language of the planet (along with some interactive items for children), take a look at: http://www.tour-eiffel.fr/

By now, you should have worked up a bit of a thirst, so stroll back to rue Cler and head to (9) Cafe du Marche  to sit on the terrace  (or stand at the bar for a lower price) and enjoy an “apero,” or “aperitif.” This pre-dinner cocktail time is essential in France, and usually consists of ordering a kir or two, along with some nibbly snacks–typically nuts, some sausage, or small cubes of cheese.  At Cafe du Marche, this wine accompaniment generally takes the guise of some zesty sausage. (If you’d like to split up your apero time at more than one place, the Roussillon, where you started your day, has some really good apero-snacks as well. Last time I visited the Rousillon, there were some very good, reasonably priced cod fritters which at least 3-4 people could share.)

Should you feel like classic, easy cafe food for dinner, then be sure to stay and dine at the Cafe du Marche, especially if it’s a warm evening and there are abundant people-watching opportunities from the terrace. However, there are numerous options for good fare in the 7th, all within very easy walking distance from rue Cler. A few of my favourites are:

  • Restaurant Samo – a Korean restaurant that is one of the best places in Paris, or anywhere, to eat
  • Thoumieux – a traditional French brasserie, at 79 rue St.-Dominique, online at: http://www.thoumieux.com/

 

A Guide to the Outerlands

Ocean Beach Sunset, San Francisco, California
Sunset in the Outer Sunset

Having lived out in the Avenues for a decade, I always enjoyed it when the rest of SF came out to our neck of the woods for events like Outsidelands and the Bay to Breakers. There’s something amusing about drunk people asking how far away Haight-Ashbury or the Ferry Building is, when most of them have just walked from there.

But you shouldn’t wait for a special event to bring you out where the streets have numbers and alphabetically sequenced names. The Outer Sunset (also indicated on old maps as the Outerlands when it was a somewhat barren terrain of rolling sand dunes) is one of San Francisco’s most original, authentic neighborhoods– a groovy mix of surfers, artists, folks starting cool local businesses, and just plain ordinary people (if anyone residing in San Francisco can ever be described as merely ordinary).  Here’s a few things to do before or after a good walk in Golden Gate Park or on the beach, or anytime you’re lucky enough to find yourself out in OB (Ocean Beach).

Community Coffee Klatsch
If you head down in the morning to enjoy the beach, you may need some caffeine. For some of the best espresso in the city, head to Trouble Coffee, on Judah between 45th & 46th Avenues. You can also recharge with the excellent toast and the refreshing juice from freshly cracked coconuts.

At the end of Judah where the street car turns around is Java Beach, which offers coffee, some light fare, and beer when the time’s right. The outdoor patio and garden across the street are perfect places to sip a beverage and watch the neighborhood go by if it’s a sunny day. (Some nights, Java Beach also has music, and you can check out the calendar here: http://www.javabeachcafe.com/)

Picnic Items
The Outer Sunset is a zone of independence against the tyranny of encroaching chain stores. So much so that the neighborhood’s residents successfully got chain stores banned from the neighborhood when the mermaid-logo people from Seattle tried to muscle in.

The epicenter of this independent, up-with-people movement in the Outer Sunset is Other Avenues (http://www.otheravenues.coop/),  a worker-owned co-op offering natural and organic foods and merchandise since the 1970s. Other Avenues is located on Judah between 44th and 45th Avenues, and you should pick-up a kombucha drink, micro-brews, or organic vino along with cheeses, fresh breads, and great organic produce for a beach and park picnics here.

Surfer Gear
If you left your board at home and want to catch some sets at OB, swing by Mollusk Surf Shop at 45th and Irving (one block toward Golden Gate Park from Judah). The apparel’s also great here, particularly the brilliantly designed t-shirts with sea/surf motifs. Year-round, Mollusk hosts a lot of fun events, from yoga classes to art shows to movie screenings. You can find out more here: http://www.mollusksurfshop.com/

Eat Your Veggies (It’s a Treat)
For organic, contemporary fare, Outerlands, at 4401 Judah (on the corner of 45th), offers a menu that changes with the seasons, with a real focus on vegetables that will make you forget they’re not the main dish. (I had brussel sprouts here once that would have changed any sprout-haters mind!) The soups and fresh bread are super-stars on an already tremendous menu, and the wine list offers several interesting options, along with a beer menu that changes daily.  Take a look at what’s on offfer at Outerlands here: http://outerlandssf.com/

Currying Favor
Good, solid Indian food can be found at Golden Gate Indian & Pizza, in a little strip mall on Judah, right off 46th. The veggie samosas are some excellent fried goodness, and you can get your chicken tikka as spicy as you like, if you ask. The Indian pizza is also a novel combination of two awesome foods: pizza and tandoori chicken. Mmm. When worlds collide.

The Locals Local
If you’re out in the avenues for a special event or on a banner weather day, don’t try to fight the crowds and claw your way back downtown. There’s a place for you called Pittsburgh’s. One of the only places that’s open until 2 a.m. in the area, Pittsburgh’s attracts an eclectic crowd: surfers, sports fans watching a game or two, locals shooting pool, and professional drinkers who could give Bukowski a run for his money. The bartenders are always friendly, and never bat an eyelash if you walk in wearing cowboy hats or other costumes. As long as you’ve got the green to pay for your ice cold PBR, it’s all good.  Cruise over to 4207 Judah, at 47th Avenue for a solid, old-school American local.

Festivals that Find You in the Outer Sunset
If you’re an SF resident who’s skeptical of the Avenues, you’ll already know about these festivals. If you’re a tourist, here’s some things you should definitely take part in when you come to SF for a visit.

  • Bay to Breakers – Third Sunday in May traditionally. People walking, running, and drinking from the SF Bay to, you guessed it, the “Breakers” of Ocean Beach. Wear a costume. Mexican wrestling masks count as a costime. The Beach/Park Chalet is a hot spot on the finish line. I’d give you the link, but every year, they annoyingly/intelligently change the URL to include a corporate sponsor’s name. Google will show you the way if you’re game.
  • Outsidelands – Mid to late August, this music festival combines top name acts with the best up-and-coming artists. For the festival’s first year, I saw Radiohead play at night when the fog rolled in, and I’ll never forget it. I’ll also never forget the deep-fried fancy macaroni and cheese sticks with a side of spicy tomato sauce. It’s like all the other festivals…without the crappy camping! Get details on the upcoming hoo-ha at: http://www.sfoutsidelands.com/
  • Hardly Strictly Bluegrass – Mid to late September/Early October, the park plays host to multiple FREE venues where you can hear acts like Joan Baez sing “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall.” It’s free because a very nice man made a lot of money in Silicon Valley/investment banking and decided to put on a music party for his favorite kind of folk/bluegrass tunes. I have never heard of a better expenditure of cash, which probably makes Warren Hellman (the funder of said festival) the smartest money human on the planet. Bravo, Mr. Hellman. Bravo.