Parisian Signs of the Times

Parisian Signs of the Times
Changing of the subway posters

Paris is a captivating city, particularly magical at Christmas time. Amongst the standard French city sights (mopeds zipping around narrow side streets and wide chaotic boulevards; a customer waiting for her highlights to set around midnight while a couple of hair dressers smoke cigarettes and drink champagne in the salon; a shopper crossing the street in a fur coat over her shorts and patterned stockings; newly engaged couples kissing along the Seine…), this time it was the signs that stood out at me the most.

As people flock from all over the world to join Paris’s two million or so inhabitants, there are some messages that just need to be put out there for all to read. Sometimes I couldn’t tell what was crazier – the signs or what I saw some few nutty people doing.

We started off in the Catacombs, the world’s largest collection of human remains, arranged below Paris’s sewers and Metro system:

Don’t touch the bones?!

Beforehand we had read online that Catacomb staff check bags when visitors exit, to be sure that no bones have been smuggled out. (!!) I guess this isn’t a high enough tourist season for that now, as we fortunately didn’t have this grisly but apparently necessary experience. We did, however, hear many tourists asking questions that were all answered on the audio guide that was included with admission: Whose bones are these? (Parisians that had been originally buried in cemeteries – all labeled – prior to the late 1700s.) I wonder what bones these are exactly? (Skulls and femurs.) Why are they here? (The city was short on burial space in the late 1700s and had previously built an extensive tunnel system while quarrying out limestone. Two birds with one stone, so to speak.)

What are you doing here? I’d like to have asked.

As we continued on to the world famous Louvre Museum, as for any museum, it should go without saying not to touch the art:

Don’t touch the art or eat (baguettes)!

Thankfully we didn’t see anyone breaking this rule here with any of the masterpieces, some of which were larger than our ever so cozy 12’x12’ Air BnB apartment. However, at the nearby Museum d’Orsay I saw a lady brushing her hand along one of the many sculptures that line the inner walkways. I guess she just had to know how it felt!

Museum d’Orsay: Look out, free standing statues!
Don’t step into the exhibit!

Liberty Leading the People may be one of the most famous paintings in Paris, allegorizing the French Revolution, but Panda Leading the People on this subway ad calls us to arms in the fight for the environment:

As expected, security was heightened for Midnight Mass at Notre Dame. The square before the cathedral was closed off and police officers performed a round of bag checks and metal detector swipes on visitors entering the area. Cathedral security performed a second bag search at the entrance. It was well worth the wait for organ and choir music inside the stunning Notre Dame, even standing all the way at the back.

Midnight Mass at Notre Dame

There was a little bit of a scare at the end of communion, when a small political protest against the Vatican broke out on the altar. Difficult to see or know what was going on at the front of such a large space, many people started heading toward the exit as three protesters waved flags and shouted in French. Well prepared, police swiftly handled the disturbance in an orderly way and immediately brought the three out. Mass concluded as planned.

Here, Charlie Hebdo’s commentary on the current state of security in the wake of the recent Berlin Christmas Market terror attack:

Celebration of Christmas: Extended 12 months

Fyi Paris’s Christmas Markets – which seem less of a French tradition than a borrowed German one – sell vin chaud (French Glühwein or hot mulled wine), as well as French delicacies like escargot, frog legs, and oysters.

We spent Christmas Day touring the Seine River on a fancy lunch cruise. Every step from meal preparation to service is, in France, carefully and elegantly carried out regardless of venue. Except maybe here:


There were no signs on our Christmas cruise ship but maybe there should have been, because we saw an American family walking off with a glass of wine and a poinsettia table decoration after we had docked. What?!

Christmas cruise on the Seine

Paris, I hope people treat you right in 2017! Joyeaux Noël!

Recycle your wine bottles here!

(Love Paris? Here’s my Paris Tribute from my first trip last year.)


Sounds of Silence

Silence comes from many sources, as darkness comes in many shades. Silence from those whose lives were taken or voices silenced. Silence through technology that brings people together by keeping them apart. Silence from commercialism that values things more than people. Silence from fear that has sparked new life to nationalism all over the world. Our world becomes ever smaller and ever darker.

And so on the darkest day of the year, listening to the sounds of silence, let’s remember that when all the evils from Pandora’s box were released, all that remained was hope. People may be the cause of these problems, but people are also surely the solution.


The Sound Of Silence
by Paul Simon

(Click here for my new favorite version of this song by Disturbed.)

Frankfurt Holocaust Memorial Wall
Jewish Holocaust Memorial Wall in Frankfurt

Hello darkness, my old friend,
I’ve come to talk with you again,
Because a vision softly creeping,
Left its seeds while I was sleeping,
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence

Brussels cobblestone street

In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone,
‘Neath the halo of a street lamp,
I turned my collar to the cold and damp

Dublin pub
Church behind McD’s and money exchange in Vienna

When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound of silence

Watching the light show through camera phones in Frankfurt (German Reunification Day)
Paris subway station

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking,
People hearing without listening,
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence

Downtown Dresden
“Welcome culture” for Syrian refugees caricature in Frankfurt

“Fools,” said I, “You do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you”
But my words like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells of silence

Frankfurt Red Light District
Red Light District in Amsterdam
Tourist season in Amsterdam

And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming

Panier district of Marseille
Revolution mural in Leipzig
Graffitti-allowed wall in Prague

And the sign said, “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls

Signs of globalization in Bucharest
Political palindromes in a London underground station
Political palindromes in a London underground station

And tenement halls

Housing in Bucharest

And whispered in the sounds of silence”

European Feast

European Feast

In honor of not cooking this Thanksgiving, here are some of my all-time favorite food and drink pictures from all over Europe over the last three years. Guten Appetit & Happy Thanksgiving!

Note: I wasn’t too big on taking food pictures until recently. A few not pictured favorites include mussels in Belgium, Indonesian food in the Netherlands, Sacher torte (a kind of chocolate cake) in Austria, stuffed peppers in Romania, Scotch and shortbread in Scotland; Guinness in Ireland, fondue and Raclette in Switzerland, pasta-sauerkraut-cheese stir fry in the Czech Republic, smoked salmon in Sweden and Norway, and gelato, coffee, pizza, etc., etc. in Italy.

Pretzels + Baguettes = Alsace


Colmar   Colmar

German shepherds walk alongside French poodles. Mugs of beer sit next to glasses of wine. Order and rules mix with a love of liberty and that ever so laissez-faire way of life.

Alsatians seem to have taken the best of both German and French cultures and mixed them into a charming region just on the border, full of half-timbered houses where artfully prepared food is served. Currently Alsace is a French region but its nationality has changed back and forth between France and Germany at least four times in the past hundred years, giving it a uniquely blended culture both tidy and elegant.

French poodle   Hearty but elegant food

Confectionery shop   Traditional dress and dancing at the Marché Couvert

Colmar   Dominican Church

Moped in Colmar   Colmar  

Over Labor Day weekend we visited the city of Colmar, about an hour south of Alsace’s largest city – Strasbourg. Colmar’s smaller size makes it all the more quaint and charming. Walking around the city itself was definitely a highlight, particularly with a visit to the Marché Couvert (covered market). For only a few euros, we even toured the canals of the Lauch River by boat.

Outside the Marché Couvert

Marché Couvert   Inside the Marché Couvert  

Pretzels   Marché Couvert at night

Colmar boat ride   Colmar canals

And while Colmar may be a relatively lesser-known French town, at least one of its former residents is certainly widely known, particularly to Americans. Among many other works, sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi designed the Statue of Liberty. We found a mini version of the famous statue in a traffic circle on the outskirts of town.

Mini Statue of Liberty

I didn’t love the Bartholdi Museum in Colmar, as it was a bit old-fashioned in its gallery design. But I did enjoy seeing plans and photographs of the Statue of Liberty’s construction as well as the design process of the Lion of Belfort, a similarly famous and larger-than-life sculpture dedicated to heroes of the French Resistance against Prussia in 1870. Also of interest is that the museum is actually located in Bartholdi’s former home.

Bartholdi with the Statue of Liberty and the Lion of Belfort       Certificate of Presentation of the Statue of Liberty

Naturally, we also spent an afternoon tasting Alsatian wine. The Alsace wine route is lined with vineyards and makes up part of a pilgrimage trail to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain. Most of the wine styles in Alsace have German names (many that we see in the Rhein region in Germany) and are classified as AOC according to French quality control regulations.

Alsatian wine cask

What else is there to see in Alsace? Our visit wouldn’t have been complete without a stork sighting, as this is the very symbol of this region and can be found all over building decorations and souvenirs. We spotted several and heard their clickety-clack chatter while walking around among the narrow cobblestone streets of Eguisheim, near Colmar.

Storks nesting on rooptops
Storks nesting on rooftops

Eguisheim   Eguisheim

En route home, we stopped to visit the medieval Castle Haut-Koenigsbourg, still in Alsace but at one time restored by Wilhelm II to define the western-most boundary of the German Empire. There is plenty to read about the castle’s many centuries of history along a self-guided tour. And really a visit here would be worth it for the beautiful mountainous views alone.

Castle Haut-Koenigsbourg

View from Haut-Koenigsbourg

Dining room of Haut-Koenigsbourg

A pretzel from the castle shop completed our trip to Alsace. Au Revoir & Aufwiedersehen until next time, Alsace!

Paris Tribute

"Liberty Leading the People" by Eugène Delacroix
“Liberty Leading the People” by Eugène Delacroix

It’s hard to believe that three weeks ago I was sipping wine in cafés, touring museums overflowing with masterpieces, and wandering around the streets of Paris with a group of très chics ladies that I grew up with.

Life is ever unpredictable. Yesterday a coordinated series of unspeakable terrorist attacks has turned the world’s attention on Paris like never before.

I wasn’t quite sure how I wanted to organize this post originally, and am even less sure now. In the end, I’ve decided to present Paris in pictures, captioned with some of the lyrics from “In Paris” by Elton John to celebrate the city, its culture and people. May safer times lie ahead.

Van Gogh


Listen to me, let me speak of
Wondrous works of art
That dwell within that fabled city
Its architecture fills my heart


Comic stand

Let me tell you I have seen
Where great ideas are born
Illuminating all the darkness
In the corners of the world



…And walk in wonder through the Louvre
Across the Seine to the Sorbonne



In cafés we will feed our heads
With absinthe and philosophy
Engage the students of Voltaire
And damn the aristocracy


Notre Dame

Notre Dame
In Paris the bells of Notre Dame ring out
In Paris we’ll trade our soft voices for shout
I’ll not rest until the ramparts of that city
Stand before us bright and clear
Penniless in Paris is better than the life we’re leading here


Paris subway platform

I’ve heard that there’s infernal noise
The stench and cut-throats out to rob
The hungry crowds that fill the street
Where anarchy consumes the mob…



We’ll rent a room above the din
Somewhere along the Boulevard…


Eiffel Tower

Old World Charming: J’Adore Marseille

Vieux Port Marseille (the old port)
Vieux Port de Marseille (the old port)
Fishing nets
Fishing nets
Fish market
Fish market
View from the hotel balcony
View from the hotel balcony

Visiting Marseille on the French Riviera reminded me of why I fell in love with Mediterranean Europe many years ago: for its simple but delightful old world charm. Laundry hanging out to dry from lines on city balconies, modern businesses housed in crumbling old buildings, the smell of the fish market along the harbor, wandering narrow streets through cobblestone squares of relaxed outdoor cafés, yanking open the heavy metal door of the dingy subway car, and figuring out how to communicate everywhere without a common language. In short, it was a lovely place to spend our second anniversary.

James and I were tossed into the oldest and second largest city in France on one of its violent Mistral (“master”) winds. Known for driving away clouds and drying up rain to give this area its friendly blue skies, the wind is no joke for a flight. I’ve literally never seen so many people throw up on an airplane. Fortunately, after this treacherous entrance the rest of our long weekend was smooth sailing.

As you would imagine for a coastal city, Marseille is made up of a clearly international population as it has been throughout its history. A thriving port city since around 400 BC, it was originally founded by Phoenicians from Asia Minor (then Greece, now Turkey) who arrived there to encounter the people of Gaul (once of Northern Europe). In the Marseille History Museum, on whose site many historic artifacts were uncovered when a parking lot project for the shopping center began there, we learned about many interesting changes in the history of this city at the crossroads of the trading world.

Bouillabaisse painting
Bouillabaisse painting

In addition to many international cuisines, seafood is, of course, a specialty in this area. Bouillabaisse, being the most famous Marseille dish, is a seafood stew made with rockfish and, in its origins, anything else the fisherman was unable to sell at the market. We had an excellent version of this provincial dish-turned modern delicacy at a restaurant called Alcyone, in a dining room lined with glossy wooden bookcases. I have to say, true to my preconceptions, every meal we had on this trip was served with what can only be described as a flourish. Even in the most casual cafés, the correct presentation of artfully prepared food is held to a high standard.

One of the Calanques
Dolphin sighting
Dolphin sighting

Amid the culture and general ambience of Marseille, the highlight of this trip for me was our visit to the Frioul Archipelago. We had first passed it during a boat tour of the beautiful Calanques, or rocky inlets (the French version of fjords). Our plans to take another small boat later to visit Château d’If, the castle fortress setting of Dumas’s Count of Monte Cristo, turned out to be impossible due to wind. We were able, however, to visit the nearby Frioul islands with the idea that we would hike for an hour or so and then return to the port. Instead we spent the entire day there – hiking trails that wound up and down the hilly landscape and along the turquoise sea, surrounded by warm sun and windy sea air, taking pictures of seagulls and the ridiculous sun hat I bought on one of the islands, eating ice cream, and eventually having a late dinner (normal in France is at least 8 p.m.) outside of a seaside café before taking a boat back around 10. Au revoir Marseille et bon anniversaire à nous!

Château d’If
Château d’If
Frioul Islands
Frioul Archipelago
More from Frioul
Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde
Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde
Inside Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde
Inside Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde
Abbaye Saint VIctor
Abbaye Saint Victor
Inside the abbey
Inside the abbey
Cathedrale de la Major
Cathedrale de la Major
The funky Panier district
The funky Panier district
Panier street art in action
Panier street art in action


Bandol vineyard
Bandol vineyard
Another Provence vineyard

Twelve Days of Christmas Markets

Christmas pyramid with the Weihnachtsmann
Christmas pyramid with the Weihnachtsmann in Munich
Christmas Market in Prague
Christmas Market in Prague

Days have been short and cold in Germany, but fortunately the tradition of Christmas markets seems to have everything you need to warm the body and soul: fried foods, hot mulled wine, and camaraderie. Over the past month, we’ve visited markets in Mainz, Wiesbaden, Frankfurt, Rüdesheim, Köln, Würzburg, Munich, Nürnberg, and Bamberg. Not far beyond the borders of Germany we also visited Strasbourg, France; Prague, Czech Republic; and Valkenburg, Holland. While the markets are similar, they’re great fun to visit again and again. Here are a few of my favorite things from the Weihnachtsmärkte (sing to the tune of “The Twelve Days of Christmas”):

On the twelfth day of Christmas, the markets gave to me…

12 Chestnuts roasting

As if out of the Christmas song itself, you can smell Heiβe Maronen even before you see them. In my opinion, this is the best part. The chewy texture mixed with a smoky, meaty taste is a little too strange for me.

Roasted chestnuts
Roasted chestnuts

11 Skaters skating

Mainz, Munich, Köln, and a few other markets have small ice skating rinks and skate rentals available. Köln even has additional curling lanes.

10 Bratwursts grilling

While Bratwursts are a staple at any festival, there are many other choices from the grill or oven: steaks, mushrooms, Spätzle (noodles), and Flammkuchen (pizza-like flatbread).

Bratwursts on the grill
Bratwursts on the grill

9 Toys a-clacking

Traditional toys and other crafts at the Christmas Markets are hand-carved works of art. In addition to wooden toys, you can find blown glass ornaments, beeswax candles, and knit sweaters and hats.

Wooden toys and decorations stand
Wooden toys and decorations stand

8 Kartoffeln puffing

Kartoffelpuffer, also known as Reibekuchen = potato pancakes. This is my favorite Christmas Market food made in the greasy deep fryer and served with applesauce.

Potato pancake stand
Potato pancake stand

7 Hearts a-baking

The smell of Lebkuchen (gingerbread) hearts mixes with the equally sweet candied nuts that they usually share a stand with. The hearts are frosted with “Ich liebe dich” (“I love you”) and sappier messages, or holiday greetings.

Lebkuchen hearts and other treats
Lebkuchen hearts and other treats

6 Krampuses prowling

In Munich and Prague, we encountered this Santa Claus counterpart who is a tradition in parts of Bavaria, Austria, and the Czech Republic. Krampus travels with St. Nick and takes the bad children away in a sack (or at least scares the hell out of them).

Krampus Run in Munich
Krampus Run in Munich


Glühwein (hot mulled wine) is undoubtedly the highlight of the Christmas Markets. Each market or, in some cases, each area or stand in the market has its own mug that you pay a deposit for. And you don’t have to buy wine to get a mug. You can also order a hot chocolate, coffee, or rum punch in a festive mug.

Goblet from the Munich medieval market, 25th anniversary of Germany unity mug from Frankfurt, boot from the Munich Chriskindl market, light blue mug from Rüdesheim, and gnome mug from Köln
Goblet from the Munich medieval market, 25th anniversary of Germany unity mug from Frankfurt, boot from the Munich Chriskindl market, light blue mug from Rüdesheim, and gnome mug from Köln

4 Chocolate fruits

Apples, bananas, pineapple, grapes… if it’s a fruit, you can buy it covered in chocolate. Usually the fruit is sold in kebab form for easy festival eating, but sometimes it’s arranged in the shape of an animal.

Chocolate covered fruits on a stick
Chocolate covered fruits on a stick

3 French crêpes

Crêpes are usually served with your choice of Nutella, chocolate, or cinnamon and sugar. This year we also discovered Baumstriezel, which are rings of fried dough also available with these toppings.

A fresh crêpe
A fresh crêpe

2 Christmas caves

In addition to a regular Christmas Market, Valkenburg in Holland has two other markets in caves. Besides a slightly muggy atmosphere and a more commercial feel to many of the stands, this was amazing to experience.

Christmas Market in a cave
Christmas Market in a cave

And mistletoe straight from a tree

‘Tis the season for mistletoe to grow like floating orbs in nearly every tree you pass here, and to be found for sale in every market. While mistletoe has a romantic use at Christmas time, it’s actually a parasitic plant that attaches to its host tree. Think about that next you kiss someone under the mistletoe.



Frohes Fest aus dem Weihnachtsmarkt!/Happy Holidays from the Christmas Market!