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avignon bridge picture
Pont Saint-Bénézet, the Pont d’Avignon, built between 1177 and 1185.

Avignon is an important town in Provence and a UNESCO world heritage site. The Palace of the Popes is the centerpiece of a town inhabited since the Neolithic, but which didn’t come into its own until the Popes settled here in the 14th century.

The other UNESCO site is the bridge you see in the picture. Pont Saint-Bénézet, also known as the Pont d’Avignon, is a famous medieval bridge first assembled between 1177 and 1185. The 12th century Chapel of Saint Nicholas sits on the second pier of the bridge. You can see it in the picture above.

The enormous Palace of the Popes, the attraction everyone comes to see, was built in a mere 20 years. You can visit it in considerably less time than that. Get yourself an Avignon Pass (free at the tourist office) and pay full price for your first Avignon museum, then get a discount at each subsequent museum you visit. An audio tour will animate the now empty palace for you.

A perfect day in Avignon? Skip the hotel breakfast except for the coffee, head over to the area near les halles (the covered market) and get a slab of Pizza Provencal and wander around the city with the essential elements of Provence in your hand: bread, olive oil, herbs and tomatoes. Shop or visit smaller museums in the cool of the morning, like the little archaeological museum, leaving the Palace of the Popes for the afternoon. When lunchtime comes, head off the beaten tourist track—maybe to Le Chandelier, 29 rue Sarailleire, where you’ll have the special lunch menu. I enjoyed a wonderful salmon surrounded by grapefruit slices and everything that could be bought fresh at the vegetable market, including grilled asparagus, brussel sprouts, tomatoes, green beens, peas, and carrots. Yum.

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So, here it is Sunday night and, if you are like me, you are wishing you were in France. And perhaps you are reading books on Mediterranean islands, articles on packing, websites with travel gear and toys, and blogs on travel tips. Everyone has something to offer, but here at Wandering France, we take a skewed view of travel tips, i.e., these are tips that contradict the CW (Collective Wisdom).

1. Forget being unique, unusual, innovative and different. There are times when the herd mentality is the right mentality. Those times include crossing the street in Paris, Rome, or Nice. Do not be first or last – stick with the herd. They can’t get all of you in one pass.

2. Similarly, if you see a herd (pack? intrusion? whatever the collective noun is for papparazzi), stay with them. They are professionals, they actually pay people to tip them off to celebrity appearances. Go where they go, look where they look, and get your camera in focus. Later, you can figure out who is actually in your pictures.

3. The same tip applies to bird watching. Find the guy or group with the big binos, the spotting scopes, the craned-neck posture – stop and look where they’re looking. It could be something really rare. When you hear the cry, “Birders!”, stop and check it out. Quietly, please.

4. Those plastic bags you get at stores – little nuisances, they are. Not. Keep them. Here’s a tip from the San Salvador airport. When you return to the US from San Salvador (major stop for TACA from Costa Rica to the US), they will search your carry-ons. By which, I mean, they will go right to the bottom of your smelly, dirty, wet, messy pack and your tragically over-stuffed “personal item”. Make it easy for them. Collect the make up, the dirty socks, the metal objects, the gifts, the bits and pieces and put the collections in those little bags. They lift out the bags, sift through them, and put them back! You will make your flight and, for bonus points, you will know where everything is and you will have made the agent’s day a little easier. The next traveler will benefit, too.

And now back to the blogs, books, newsletters, picture books, maps, and dreams of France.

5. In Rome, look for a nun to cross the street and stay with her.

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If you can’t go to Egypt, go to Paris! The first stop of the new, long-awaited exhibit of underwater Egyptian archaeology is Paris, at the World Arab Institute (Institut du Monde Arabe) in the Latin Quarter. For the past couple of decades, archaeologists and treasure hunters have been exploring the Nile delta and the Egyptian coast. They have found relics from Cleopatra’s Alexandria, from much earlier Pharaonic times, and even from Napoleon’s invasion and defeat at Aboukir Bay. The exhibit includes 250 relics from many eras and sites (Canopus, Heraklion, Aboukir), some of which have never left Egypt. There will be audioguides, movies, travelogues, and the wonder that is and remains Egypt.
The exhibit follows the processional path of the annual Osiris ritual, with its secret rites and sacred temples. (Osiris – dismembered and tossed into the Nile by his red-headed brother Set; saved and reconstructed by Isis (wife/sister), and resurrected to sit in judgment on the dead.) It will be amazing.

Also, some of the proceeds will benefit the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities, which desperately needs funding to restore the buildings blasted by terrorist attacks, conserve damaged artifacts, protect sites, and continue its work. The loss of tourist revenue has weakened the Ministry at a time when its work is more essential than ever.

exposition osiris picturephoto: imarabeThe Institut du Monde Arabe and the Exhibit have produced several images, one of which is shown on the right:

I’m guessing this will be a very popular and crowded exhibit, but they are scheduling access in half-hour blocks to reduce crowding.
Dates: September 8, 2015 through January 30, 2016
Cost: 17,30 euros
Go on-line, select your day and time, and reserve now at:

http://www.imarabe.org

And while you are at the IMA, explore the whole building. It’s 9 stories tall and is a magnificent collection of information and artifacts from throughout the long history of the Arab world. It also showcases plays, music, dance, recitals, lectures, and such, for example: “Hip Hop: From the Bronx to the Arab Streets”, the Arab World Literature Prize, and so on. The building itself is located on the Seine. The river side is curved, while the city-side is a strict, sharp-edged rectangle with a spectacular glass curtain wall. Behind the glass wall, there is a metallic screen with moving geometric motifs that resemble the designs of the Alhambra and of the many window screens and ornamental facades featured in Arab architecture world-wide. These motifs are 240 photo-sensitive motor-controlled apertures, or shutters. They automatically open and close to control the amount of light and heat entering the building from the sun. The mechanism creates beautiful filtered light, modernizing traditional Islamic architecture which was designed to cope with blazing sun and heat. I loved it. BTW, the building received the Aga Khan Award for Architecture.

And, of course, no visit to any museum or cultural center is complete without food. The IMA has 3 restaurants, from the quick and tasty to the expensive and sublime. The cuisine is Lebanese, an ideal choice, as it fuses Middle Eastern with French. One of my favorite restaurants from years ago was Le Petit Liban, in Marin County. Before it was wounded by sectarian violence, Lebanon was a multi-cultural, cosmopolitan paradise. Thanks to IMA and Noura, however, we can enjoy its food and hope for peace and a return to prosperity and joy. The 3 options are:

1. Café Litteraire: One can either grab a quick bite or relax over a nice meal, including wine, at this lovely retreat.
2. Self: This restaurant offers a menu of small plates and pieces, rather like a Middle-Eastern sushi bar from the description. It includes desserts! Self closes around 3:30.
3. And, finally, the sublime: Le Zyriab, located on the 9th floor with a panoramic view of Paris and beautiful settings. Le Zyriab is costly (about 65 E for a prix fix dinner), but it looks amazing. It is open for lunch, tea, and dinner, except for Mondays. Dinner service runs from 7:30 to (I think) midnight, except for Sunday.

The view from the 9th floor terrace is astonishing and access to the terrace is free, so if you cannot afford a fancy lunch or tea, you can still enjoy the view and go to the various tea houses in the Latin Quarter instead.

The IMA is located at 1 rue des Fosses Saint Bernard 75005 Paris.
Metro 7: Jussieu, Sully-Morland
Metro 10: Cardinal Lemoine
Hours: Tues –Thursday: 10 am to 7 pm; Friday: 10 – 9:30 pm; Saturday & Sunday: 10 – 8 pm

There’s always something wonderful in Paris.

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The Absinthe Bar in Antibes, of course. Where else on a Saturday night, surrounded by singing, laughing people drinking all kinds of absinthe, from the classic green fairy to white absinthe and some very strong, very nihilist brews. Believe it or not, not all absinthe is alike. Some is delicate, with a bouquet of flowers and complex flavors. Others will paralyze your palate. Guess which category applies to Absinthe Apocalypse?

Sometimes truth or dare is a dangerous game.

The Absinthe Bar in Antibes is down a steep, twisting flight of stairs, into a stone-walled cave, with rough unhewn bricks in various stages of mortar. In the back, a collection of water drippers and historic bottles. On the floor, tiny tables and chairs, each waiting for its vessel of ice water, four tiny spigots, and sugar cubes. They bring the classic glasses, with your brew of choice and absinthe spoons. You control the amount of water, dripping slowly through a sugar cube. The absinthe clouds and blooms with flavor as the water touches its surface.

In the back, the bar is light with green lights. The TV over the bar is always on. But, this is France: we’re not watching soccer, tennis, horse races, or any sports. We’re tuned to Fashion TV, watching Fashion Week recaps, lingerie shows, model profiles.

Everyone is singing along to the live piano player, who sings in English and plays show tunes, older pop songs, and “New York, New York” (Anybody else remember Gremlins 2?), exchanging hats, and even trying to dance.

Here’s a tip no one else will share with you: If it’s just the two of you, find one of the small tables at the back, next to the wall. Instead of trying to talk across the table, lean in and talk to the wall. Your voice will bounce of the wall and to your partner. I learned this from watching George the lion at the old SF zoo bounce his roar off the cement floor, amplifying it and creating leonine surround-sound.

Another tip: drinks that come in bottles that look like this are probably not in your best interest:

And one final tip: The current word on the street is that absinthe is now safe. But in tiny print on the drinks menus, we are warned there is a 3-drink limit.

In the spirit of adventure,

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The Marais (Le Marais) is one of the most well-loved neighborhoods in Paris and deservedly so. It includes both the 3rd and 4th arrondissements on the Right Bank. Le Marais is the old Jewish Quarter, now the haunt of hipsters, gays, young people, artists, musicians, and the boho set, although apparently it is becoming gentrified. As wanderers, however, we are free to enjoy it as is. It’s an easy place to explore; even a short stroll is a wonderful experience. No maps or plans are needed. We started at the Hotel de Nice on the rue de Rivoli and just wandered down the streets. We discovered a multi-media modern art exhibit in a medieval stone building with gothic arches and an open atrium, free! A few doors down from the Hotel de Nice is an underground jazz club, which was featuring a Brazilian jazz concert. Etincelles next door had a 5 euro happy hour, which featured fresh raspberry mojitos, delicious, gorgeous, in frosted glasses, and served by an androgene. A work of art. The wander continues, with bookstores, second-hand stores, parks, statutes, tiny restaurants in leafy parks.

One of the historic sites is the rue des Rosiers, a pedestrian-only avenue. Our original goal was chocolate babka at Finkelsztajn’s bakery, aka La Boutique Jaune Sacha Finkelsztajn. Babka is a yeast bread, buttery, rich, flaky, and with threads of chocolate woven into the crumb. It is absolutely delicious and a real pain to make. Turns out, alas, that is only made on holidays or to order (“au command”). Although they were busy, the staff were very kind, offered me tastes of leke (a very light pound cake), and a good time was had by all.

Check it out at:

http://www.laboutiquejaune.fr

We got hungry and I got to realize a dream: to have tea at Le Loir dans le Theiere (the Dormouse in the Teapot). In fact, we had breakfast. Le Loir dans le Theiere is known as a “salon de the sympa”, i.e., a friendly tea house. It actually serves breakfast, brunch, and desserts until 7 pm. We elected a simple breakfast, with toasts, scrambled eggs, fruit, and the house blend tea. The eggs were perfect and the tea was delicate, floral, and complex. The café is covered in posters, playbills, and photos, old enough to be retro, not quite old enough to be vintage. The furniture is a charming mish-mosh of old school desks, chairs, a couple of soft sofas, and so on. Be careful what you choose: that school desk is very hard.
Turns out what we should have had was the lemon meringue pie. One of our fellow customers actually reserved a piece when she walked in. They make an assortment of desserts every day, in-house. The picture below barely conveys the beauty of the pie and the height of the meringue. Next time, I am going to sample a lot more of their offerings. I also snapped a picture of the well-worn door way.

entrance mosaic pictureLe Loir dans le Theiere - Entrance Mosaic

There were chocolate shops, Fragonard around the corner, and much more.
Dreaming of babka . . . .

Le Loir dans le Theiere - Lemon Meringue

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