I have heard wonderful things about Spain, so I was not particularly surprised when Madrid turned out to be a beautiful, friendly, fun city. (Although, Barcelona was usually the city being mentioned, so that city must really be something.) I think there’s something about the combination of the wine or beer at every meal, the long siesta in the middle of the day, and I swear there is something to greeting everyone with “hola!” That final vowel just opens up the mouth and face and makes people instantly more relaxed and welcoming than, for example “bonjour”, ending in a closed, reserved mouth position (are my acting roots showing?) Whatever the reason, we had a wonderful time eating so much ham, drinking so much wine, and seeing amazing art and architecture. I’ll speak more about the food, including where and what we ate and enjoyed in later posts (tapas are a brilliant idea, aren’t they? Who ever just wants to eat one thing and just be done with it? I certainly don’t.) These are the sites and wanderings we particularly enjoyed in Madrid.

Prado Museum (Museo Nacional del Prado) One of the largest art collections in Europe, this beautiful museum, of a manageable size, houses a lot of religious art, including not just Spanish artists like El Greco, but lots of Dutch painters as well. Also there, many Goya paintings including The Second of May and the Third of May 1808, and the famous triptych by Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthy Delights.

Paseo del Prado A narrow, tree-lined park between two roads on the east side of the city, near the Prado museum. A nice walk. DSC02823

Plaza Mayor We found ourselves walking through this central square nearly every day, as we were staying nearby. Quite touristy and filled with lots of costumed characters (including an amusing fat spiderman) and probably avoidable restaurants and cafes, but with some nice architecture, statues and murals, it’s worth a look.

Rastro Flea Market This market, held on Sundays in a huge area of the Embajadores neighborhood. Large, and with an eclectic mixture of the new (art, t-shirts, leather bags, clothing, espadrilles, fabrics, souvenirs, underwear) and old (antiques of all sorts, mostly along the side streets). A little bit of everything, very enjoyable, even if we didn’t buy anything.

Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia We visited this modern art museum mostly for Picasso’s Guernica, but really enjoyed all the art, as well as the setting.

Palacio Real de Madrid We didn’t go in the royal palace, but the outside, and the surrounding Plaza de Oriente (with several cafés for a coffee or glass of wine) and Sabatini Gardens were very beautiful.DSC03021

Almudena Cathedral This large cathedral, beside the palace, is a nice example of a newer cathedral, as it opened in 1993 (but took 100 years to build).

Other sites:


the old uncles

Cathedral St. Pierre et St. Paul

Nantes, France is about as packed full of churches as you would expect a thousand-year-old city to be. There seems to be one around every corner, including out the window of our rental apartment. They rest their ancient bones around the corner from a café, a boutique, a sushi restaurant, folded into a young city which is constantly changing and growing. Streams of people flow by, not even glancing up at the building towering above-the old uncle at the party, they’ve heard the stories he has to tell before. But for a traveler, during a heat wave in a city with very little air conditioning, a cool, dark, quiet cathedral is a welcome respite, admiring the vaulted ceilings and painted frescoes, a pleasure.

The cathedral, the church of the Bishop of Nantes, is called Saint-Pierre et Saint-Paul (St. Peter and St. Paul’s Cathedral). Building began in 1434, and was completely finished in 1891. In all that time, and since, it has been damaged many times, including during the French revolution, and when the city was bombed in 1943, and finally in a fire in 1972 when it was almost completely destroyed. Some of these various lives are evident if you look closely, but overall, it is completely harmonious and you would never know that it took so long to complete, or that it has been almost entirely restored from the original. It is built in the style of Flamboyant Gothic. One gentleman on TripAdvisor gave the cathedral a “Poor” rating, with two stars out of five. I’m not sure what he was expecting; a floor show with dancing nuns? A higher ceiling? Sandwiches maybe? Ratings sites are ridiculous. Also sometimes useful. It’s a total love/hate thing.

Below is Église Saint-Louis, more commonly knows as Notre-Dame de Bon-Port. Begun in 1843, and located near where the port used to be, it is beautifully visible from the river. Saint Louis is the patron of sailors going off to sea. The dome was inspired by St. Peter’s in Rome.

Basilica of St. Louis

The Basilica of Saint Nicholas, with the tall spire reaching up to the sky, was built in 1854 in the Neo-Gothic style and its bells make a beautiful cacophony.

Basilica of St. Nicholas

Église Sainte-Croix is a surprise in the middle of the Bouffay district, a mixture of styles, including Baroque, Flamboyant and Neo-Gothic. Originally built in 1685 it was the site of the chapel of the nearby Chateau of the Dukes of Brittany. The church seems to have changed along with the city. It was damaged, along with almost everything else, during the bombardments of 1943.

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Berthillon Glacier

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When I began researching, prior to coming last year, where to go and what to do in Paris, there were certain names and places that kept coming up. Among them was Berthillon, a glacier, or ice cream and sorbet maker with a store on Île Saint-Louis. At that point I didn’t put it on the priority list because, although I like ice cream, it’s never quite a must-have. I feel that there is a time and a place for ice cream. That place is your backyard and the time is on a summer evening when the sun is going down and the mosquitos are alllmost, but not quite out yet. That place is your couch, and that time is when you feel emotional and weird and it is accompanied by Aretha Franklin and a friend and/or cat. I had read so many amazing things about this particular ice cream, articles, blogs, guide books, proclaiming that it was the best ice cream in the world! or at least, Paris. If something is THE BEST, I will try it. I feel like  life is too short to not eat (and see, and hear and experience) the best that is out there, particularly if it is right under your nose. It’s also fun because the best is so subjective and it’s fun to compare. I may even have to eat several best ice creams. Hello, Italy. So, I decided that the place to eat ice cream was Paris, and the time was the 4th of July, a day that crept up to quite warm here finally, after going to visit Musée de l’Orangerie. Well, l’Orangerie was closed due to “exceptional circumstances”. So instead we strolled through the Tuileries and along the Seine to Île Saint-Louis, one of the islands in the Seine. 

I had done my research, knowing that the few minutes standing in line is never enough time to decide which one or two (or three or four) flavors you would like on your cone. I went to the website where I found lists of all of the glacees and sorbets in French. Some of these I could read, but in looking for a translation for Agenaise (prune and armagnac), I actually found that someone had translated the entire list of flavors into English. Lavender caught my eye right away, as did Earl Grey. I will always try the thing that seems unusual, different and interesting. Getting vanilla, even if it is the best vanilla in the world, just isn’t an option for me. Wild strawberry sorbet also caught my eye for that reason, and the fact that it had been called out as one of Berthillon’s specialties. And then I thought Pistache (pistachio) would go brilliantly with the strawberry. So it was just about which other flavor might compliment those other two. Salted butter caramel is always a good choice. But, when we got there, three of the five flavors that caught my eye weren’t on the list. I suppose they rotate between the flavors, as well as adding a few seasonal ones (Basil Pineapple Sorbet anyone)? This is not your American ice cream full of chunks and swirls and brownies, (although a few do have chips). Each type is one distinct flavor, or maybe two, distilled to its essence. Berthillon is famous for the intensity and boldness of its flavors, the ice cream or sorbet capturing the true quintessence of chocolate, or coconut, or cinnamon.

I ended up with wild strawberry sorbet and caramel au beurre salé ice cream. And it was good. You know it’s good when begin thinking about the next time while you’re still there.  The salted caramel had the perfect mix of salty and sweet, with a lovely deep caramel flavor. The texture of the ice cream was excellent, utterly creamy without a hint of the icy or cloying nature that other ice creams can have. The sorbet was full of fresh strawberry flavor and even a few of the tiny specimens themselves, pure summer in a cone.
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So Tiny!

I love things that are tiny. Specifically things that are tiny versions of something bigger. Like dollhouse furniture, baby shoes, or those tiny little cocottes that hold, like, one egg. I do not think I am alone in this. So when I saw this mango in a Parisian fruit and vegetable market, I did a double take. Look how small it is! And when the smell coming from these little babies was sweeter, more delicious and more mango-tastic than any I have ever smelled, I knew one had to come home with me. I would like to carry it around in my pocket every day, but I had to eat it. It was the best mango I’ve ever had, although I’m certainly not a connoisseur, not living where mangos particularly like to grow. It was hard to cut into pieces and produced very little fruit, but boy was it good.


I also found this little stowaway ladybug too, in this beautiful lettuce in the same market.

This bread from the boulangerie caught my eye because it was shaped like a regular loaf, only miniature. But I bought it because it was bread and chocolate. Yes, please! There were also versions with nuts or raisins. I am definitely going to attempt this at home, although needless to say I won’t be able to replicate the wonderful flavor and texture of the bread. The size, beyond being adorable, is perfect for this kind of flavored bread. The perfect snack while standing in front of the Hôtel de Ville de Vincennes.