On our homeward-bound trip from Santa Fe to Scottsdale we decided to make a fifteen mile detour to Sedona for lunch. It would be a brief visit, but we knew it would be worth the extra mileage.
As we entered the area just outside the city the famous red rocks of Sedona came into view. It is a magnificent sight. We stopped at one of the panoramic viewing spots to take pictures.
It is difficult not to stop at every vantage point along the way to gaze at the panorama. The pictures speak for themselves.
We headed to the Wildflower Bread Company for a quick bite before heading home to Scottsdale. It’s a relaxed, casual eatery with a wide selection of sandwiches, soups and salads, and wonderful, crusty bread. An inviting patio outside overlooks the red rocks— a perfect location for lunch.
We’ll have to return to Sedona when we have more time to fully appreciate the natural beauty of the area by hiking some of the trails and visiting the many art galleries and boutiques. Our brief visit whetted our appetite for more. It will have to wait until our next trip to the Southwest.
Our itinerary included a seven hour drive to Santa Fe from Scottsdale. It was a particularly windy day and tumbleweed and errant weeds blew across the highway. At times it was difficult to see the road as the dust and sand struck the windshield in waves. Dust storms must have been one of many hardships encountered by wagon trains on their westward trek in the 1800’s.
Along the way as elevations changed, we passed through forests of evergreens near Flagstaff to the desert landscape of scrub and cacti closer to Albuquerque. Sheer cliffs and outcroppings of multi-colored rock formations followed us to Santa Fe. It was clear this route was used to transport commercial goods via truck and train. We watched multiple trains following one another ambling across the terrain some with four locomotives and over 150 freight cars. The numerous trucks were difficult to pass on the 2-lane highway particularly when one truck driver decided to pass another truck blocking the roadway. It made the trip more time-consuming than we had anticipated.
We traveled through Navaho, Hopi and Pueblo Indian reservations. Huge billboards advertised trading posts, gas stations, casinos, and Native American souvenir shops. We noted that the homes on the reservations were small ranch houses and shacks, many in serious disrepair leaving a general impression of impoverishment. Sadly, The Heard Museum had given us an historical perspective on the travails of the Native American Indian population over the years.
The hotel reservations were at the Governors Inn on West Alameda in the downtown area. We wanted to be able to walk to all points of interest and the Inn was centrally located. The hotel was once a motel and it is worth mentioning when making a reservation to ask for a room in the main building if you value privacy. Otherwise you may get a room that is in the section with a long, open corridor; anyone walking by can see directly into the rooms.
Our room had a corner fireplace and a southwestern flair accessorized with Navaho artwork and heavy, wooden Spanish Colonial style furniture. It was quite charming. We enjoyed a log fire every night we were there. It is something I miss since moving from New England to Florida.
Breakfast was included in the room rate and it was good and plentiful with many choices hot and cold. Each dining area had a welcoming fire in the fireplace making it very pleasant to linger over your morning coffee.
We watched snow falling from the windows one morning. The temperature dropped from the 70’s in Scottsdale to the 20’s and 30’s in Santa Fe which is 7200 feet high. My flimsy gloves and scarves were put to good use, but when the temperature dipped to 17 degrees one night, I decided to buy a Nepalese cashmere shawl at the museum shop. It kept me delightfully toasty!
Santa Fe has been a destination on my bucket list for years. I always wanted to go to the Georgia O’Keefe Museum, visit the Canyon Road art galleries and Native American jewelry artisans that make Santa Fe so special. The vibrant art scene continues to draw thousands of visitors every year.
The New Mexico History Museum provides excellent exhibits chronicling New Mexico’s turbulent history of military skirmishes and lawlessness finally culminating in statehood in 1912 to become the 47th state. It also includes the entire history of the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos during World War II, the scientists who participated in it, descriptions of their secretive daily lives, and the spy who stole critical atomic secrets for the Russians.
Another amazing museum is The International Folk Art Museum. It houses a remarkable collection of miniature figures representing 150 countries donated by Alexander Girard, an American interior designer. It is the world’s largest folk art collection consisting of 150,000 artifacts and is a must see for anyone visiting Santa Fe.
The low profile adobe building blends seamlessly into the southwestern landscape and it is worth sitting outside to fully appreciate its beauty. The adobe architecture of the buildings and homes is striking for its unusual uniformity. There are no high-rises to interfere with the vistas of sky and surrounding mountains.
A museum highlight was the Georgia O’Keefe Museum however, the exhibit did not seem extensive enough and I left yearning for more.
The receptionist in the hotel suggested we make a visit to the New Mexico State House to see their interesting art collection. We immensely enjoyed the eclectic exhibit and thought it was a very good suggestion.
Santa Fe is also known for exceptional restaurants. I was told the low fall season would not necessitate restaurant reservations, however that was not our experience. We arrived on a Thursday night tired and hungry and were turned away at several busy restaurants. We finally wound up at the San Francisco Street Bar. It was virtually empty and we entered with trepidation. It turned out to be one of the best meals we had during our four night stay. The service was exemplary, it was refreshingly quiet, and the food and presentation were topnotch. The ahi tuna was outstanding.
After full days of visiting art galleries and museums we stopped for late afternoon hot chocolate and pastry. I can heartily recommend two spots, Henry and the Fish and the Kakawa Chocolate House. Prepare to be overloaded on rich, thick hot chocolate decadently topped with mounds of whipped cream. It tasted much like European hot chocolate.
We had dinner one night at the highly popular Cafe Pasqual, a five minute walk from our hotel. The adobe building has an inviting interior with southwestern character, high ceilings, exposed wooden beams and decorative chandeliers. The service and presentation were very good, but the food did not measure up to a price tag of $364 with wine and tip. Perhaps it is a better choice for breakfast or brunch.
La Boca was one of our favorites for Spanish tapas and live guitar music. Everything we ordered from the pear and reggianito salad to the gambas al ajillo was delicious. It’s a small, intimate restaurant ten minutes from the hotel and it tends to get loud but manageable. A reservation is highly recommended.
For our farewell meal we opted for French food at Bouche Bistro. It was the night that temperatures dropped to 17 degrees with a wind chill even lower. The bitter cold walk recalled visions of Arctic explorers trudging through the wintry wilderness. I was experiencing high altitude breathing issues made worse by the piercing wind and my mobility ground to a snail’s pace. Instead of a warm, cozy restaurant, we were greeted by an open door emitting a smoky haze; the extractor fan in the kitchen was malfunctioning. The patrons in the restaurant ate dinner wearing their coats as the wind and cold air billowed through the dining area. It did not leave a good impression, and in fact I was so cold I could not enjoy my dinner of three plump scallops on a bed of risotto.
I would certainly like to return to Santa Fe again to attend the outdoor opera, browse more galleries and sample more restaurants and of course enjoy another delightful hot chocolate with extra whipped cream. But next time I’ll try to get there before winter.
I was slightly uncertain about leaving for Arizona in late October to visit family when I heard the weather report—possible snow in Santa Fe (which was one of our destinations) with freezing temperatures. After living in Florida for six years, I was not looking forward to donning layers of clothes which I had happily shed and discarded at the local Good Will store. I packed my suitcase and reluctantly inserted a thin pair of gloves, a hat, and a few silk scarves as a precaution.
Scottsdale is a burgeoning suburban community outside Phoenix. It draws young, professional families and retirees for a less hectic life with a more affordable cost of living. Driving around the area I missed seeing water and wildlife. However, I did see a few birds and the elusive roadrunner—memories of Looney Tunes Wile E. Coyote came to mind. My sister-in-law told me they found two scorpions in their house and a rattlesnake on the walkway. I’m not sure if that beats iguanas and alligators in Florida.
Scottsdale has intensely blue skies and an extremely dry climate. It was a mixed blessing coming from the almost constant year-round humidity of Delray Beach. It felt divine at first, until the wind started to blow and my lungs filled with dust particles and my eyes began to tear. I kept reminding myself that crystal-clear skies and lower temperatures in the 70’s were worth it in the short run. In summer temperatures soar well over 100 degrees. Every upside has an eventual downside.
The landscape was equally intriguing. Giant saguaros replaced trees; brush and assorted varieties of cacti and tumbleweed dotted the countryside as far as the eye could see. There were very few flowers during the fall season to perk up the sandy, muted green desert scenery, but it was beautiful in its own right. Desert flowers appear in the spring and must bring a sparkle of vibrancy to the sandy terrain.
My brother-in-law and sister-in-law live in a large, upscale community with single family homes and townhouses, multiple swimming pools and a spectacular golf course. There are many hiking trails throughout the area and experienced hikers can go up into the mountains which must afford extraordinary views of Scottsdale and Phoenix. We noted there were caution signs in strategic spots near gullies and culverts warning of flash floods. I doubt that happens very often with an average rainfall of seven inches a year.
The complex is located within a five minute walk to the perpetual twinkling lights of the neighborhood Marketplace with all manner of restaurants, storefronts, grocery stores, banks, and a shaded park with benches and rocking chairs. A developer put a lot of planning into creating an attractive, convenient way of life for its residents.
The museums in Phoenix are noteworthy. The Heard Museum provides an historical account of American Indian tribes in the southwest and how they were exploited and deprived of their heritage and land when they encountered white settlers. It was a missing chapter from my American history courses.
The Musical Instrument Museum is another excellent museum. When you enter, visitors are given headsets to hear and see the 7000 instruments on display from approximately 200 countries worldwide. Listening stations and accompanying videos demonstrate how they are made and played. What a fascinating education! I could have spent the entire week in just this one museum.
We also went to The Desert Botanical Garden which gave me a fuller understanding and appreciation for the local vegetation and how Sonoran desert plants manage to survive on such little rainfall per year. I highly recommend a guided tour by an experienced docent and a stroll through the butterfly garden.
The people we encountered were disarmingly friendly and affable, a welcoming tribute to Arizonans and resident transplants. It made our first visit most satisfying.
Today we took a non-stop flight from Ft. Lauderdale to New Orleans on Southwest Airlines. It was an early morning flight, so we arrived in New Orleans at 8:30am. We were staying at the Dauphine Orleans Hotel on Dauphine Street in the French Quarter and grabbed a taxi for the 20 minute ride to the hotel for a fixed price of $36.00. When we arrived at the hotel the taxi was unable to drive down Dauphine since there was a firetruck and two EMT units sitting in front. There was obviously a medical emergency at the hotel. Our timing was off.
We exited the taxi and rolled our suitcases down the block. It was clear the receptionist was totally overwhelmed when we entered the lobby along with a crowd of people. She had a panicked look on her face and told me our room would not be ready until 3pm and we could not check in early. It was 9:30am. After not getting much sleep the night before I was not looking forward to the long day ahead of us without being able to unpack and rest beforehand. She directed us to a hotel employee in the adjacent garage who safeguarded our luggage until check-in.
We now had to decide what to do until 3:00pm. We started walking down Dauphine to Conti and slowly made our way over to the mighty Mississippi. Wherever we travel, the first destination is to seek-out the water, be it river, lake or ocean. It has become a tradition. The muddy Mississippi offered a wonderful breeze as we walked along. There were joggers, walkers and a band or two on the Riverwalk. The street near the river was filled with souvenir shops, clothing stores, praline shops, bars, restaurants, etc.
New Orleans still hasn’t fully recovered since Hurricane Katrina in 2005. We were surprised by the number of homeless people and panhandlers in the streets. There were also many buildings waiting for restoration and streets to be cleared of litter, but even those things did not deter from New Orleans vibe, its friendly people, excellent food, and music on every corner.
After a few hours of walking it was time to locate a place to sit down, relax, and have brunch. It was only 10:30am. Luckily we stumbled upon“Tableau” at 616 St. Peter Street. It looked inviting through the windows, and we discovered a lovely inner courtyard with the soothing sounds of a fountain, ivy-covered, columned facade, and wrought iron furniture—a perfect retreat from the cacophony of noise coming from street side. The menu had many delicious choices. We opted for the Eggs Tableau—two poached eggs on a homemade biscuit with honey, ham, and hollandaise sauce. What a wonderful combination! I definitely recommend this restaurant.
After brunch we continued our walk until my feet felt numb. Back at the hotel, the receptionist had calmed down after the 911 emergency and explained she was the only one on duty at the time of the incident. She apologized and said our room still wasn’t ready, so we decided to sit by the pool. By 2:00pm we were happily ensconced in our room.
The hotel is in the process of renovation. Unfortunately our section had not been completed, but it was quiet since we had requested a room away from bustling Dauphine Street. The staff was friendly and helpful and once renovations are completed, I would not hesitate to recommend it. The boutique hotel had character, was centrally located, had a parking garage, and a small swimming pool.
Before going to dinner we walked through the Quarter again admiring the architecture and wrought iron balconies. After consulting a map we found the William Faulkner House and Tennessee Williams House.
The dinner at Café Sbisa at 1011 Decatur Street was delightful. The exterior was unimpressive, however the moment we entered we were welcomed by the sound of live jazz, dim lighting, beamed ceilings and a long, inviting bar with over-sized murals above the bar. We had reserved balcony seating and proceeded up the flight of stairs to the balcony. It was an open balcony forming a U with a view of the murals and downstairs bar as a focal point. It was a peaceful spot to enjoy dinner compared to the hustle and bustle we observed on the main floor.
The service was very attentive. The fresh fish of the day was grilled or blackened redfish with jumbo asparagus. Claude had the Courtbouillon which was similar to a gumbo with a spicy tomato base filled with mussels, crab, shrimp, and fish. We started with the house salad of mixed greens, feta, and toasted pine nuts and a $30 bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc—a perfect light and refreshing compliment. For dessert we shared an apple bread pudding with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce. The bill with tip came to $108. Listening to live jazz downstairs completed an exceptional Saturday night out.
We had $75 single day tickets to the Jazz Fest which started at 11:00 a.m. and ended at 7:00 p.m. It was held at the fairgrounds and we bought 24-hour transit tickets for $3.00 which was a real bargain compared to other cities we have visited.
We walked to Canal Street and took Trolley #48 for a 20-minute ride—standing room only. We followed the crowds and reached the fairgrounds in another 10 minutes. The course was well laid out with several entrances. There was seating in multiple tents and standing only in open theater stages. The roster of musicians was displayed at central locations, so it was easy to find the time slots and venues where groups were performing.
Some of the groups we decided on included Maurice “Mobetta” Brown, who was a Grammy award winner for his extraordinary trumpet playing, Walter Wolfman Washington and the Roadmasters, Irma Thomas, and Luther Kent & Trickbag. It was impossible to see every big name performer since Van Morrison, Al Green and the O’Jays conflicted with Bonnie Raitt and the Ellis Marsalis family which were our main priorities. There had to be 90,000-100,000 people there—a veritable mass of people colorfully decked out in tropical shirts, outlandish dresses and fanciful hats.
An array of food vendors were there, offering their specialties to the eagerly awaiting fans. Apparently the annual Jazz Fest provides the opportunity to sample the best New Orleans food in one location. There were long lines everywhere during lunch time. We opted out of eating since we had a 9:00pm dinner reservation at the “Upperline,” an uptown restaurant. We should have cancelled dinner but we would have forfeited a $100 deposit—an unusual dinner reservation requirement. For future reference, skip dinner and eat at the Jazz Fest!
We started the day at the Gospel Tent to hear the Zulu Gospel Male Ensemble followed up by the NOCCA Jazz Ensemble in the Jazz Tent, and then on to the Acura Stage to hear Bonnie Raitt who gave a spectacular performance in front of an estimated 50,000 spectators standing in the blazing sun. It was a wonder that people weren’t passing out from heat stroke. We also got to hear a once in a lifetime performance of the entire Marsalis family consisting of Ellis who is 84 years old and his four sons all on one stage. They were amazing. Their performance concluded an exhilarating day of exceptional music.
The traffic leaving the fairgrounds was gridlock with thousands of people and cars exiting the Jazz Fest simultaneously, but what a day it had been.
Exhausted and sweaty, we showered, jumped into fresh clothes, and grabbed a cab to make our dinner reservation at 9:00. The “Upperline” abuts the Garden District known for its vintage homes and immaculate streets, but we were unable to see the district in all its splendor since it was dark by the time we got there. The restaurant was in a small, antique house that had been added onto over the years. We sat in a quiet, intimate middle room lined with the owner’s art collection and a wall of windows. It was a welcoming respite after the frenetic day at the Jazz Fest.
The menu had a 7-course meal, a 3-course meal and an a la carte menu. We chose the $40 3-course dinner. I had their tangy signature appetizer of green tomatoes filled with shrimp remoulade followed by drum fish meuniere. A crème brulee topped with crumbled pralines ended the delicious meal.
The owner, an older woman who had been running the restaurant for at least 30 years came over to our table to explain the menu, answer questions and engage in conversation. She made sure we were receiving exceptional service and appeared to run the operation like a drill sergeant from observing her interactions with her staff. It had the feel of an old school restaurant with seasoned waitstaff. The decor and ambience were charming. The bill came to $123 with wine. We took the trolley home instead of a cab since the stop was only a block away from the restaurant and after a heavy meal we needed a walk.
The World War II Museum was a 30-minute walk from our hotel. For any history buff I would strongly recommend a visit. It has the most extensive collection of World War II memorabilia in the United States. The iMax movie “Beyond All Boundaries” was a good introduction to the exhibits and provided a concise overview to what the country was like leading up to the war.
On our walk back we popped into the “Peche” for a light lunch. I had one of the best, fresh seafood salads. It was an informal restaurant with a lively lunch crowd of young professionals. We didn’t have a reservation so we sat at the bar and thoroughly enjoyed a quick, beautifully presented lunch. If we had had an extra night for dinner we would have returned. It was conveniently located down the block from the museum.
We walked back to the hotel to rest up before our last dinner at GW Fins at 808 Bienville Street, a short walk from the hotel. It had been highly recommended and we were looking forward to another exemplary New Orleans meal.
At 7:45pm we entered the very busy and noisy restaurant and were asked to be seated until our table was ready. We noted that the clientele was a mix of business people and tourists. After a few minutes we were taken into a large dining room. It reminded me of an upscale, Parisian brasserie with a high, coffered ceiling supported by columns. A waitress immediately approached the table with menus and returned a few minutes later for our order. We hadn’t even had a chance to relax or look at the menus. She clearly wanted us to at least order drinks and we told her to come back. Sure enough she came back within a few minutes to ask us again and waited while we picked out a wine. I felt rushed as though the waitstaff had been instructed to move customers in and out quickly.
I ordered the yellowfin tuna tartare with avocado, wasabi and pine nuts as an appetizer, New Bedford sea scallops with wild mushroom risotto, porcini butter and crispy leeks. Claude ordered scalibut which was a GW Fin original combination of halibut, sea scallops, risotto, snow peas and pea shoot butter. Before the entrees arrived, we feasted on the most delectable homemade biscuits. I could have eaten a dozen or more. We shared a divine salty malty ice cream pie with pretzel crust and caramel whipped cream for dessert.
We selected a Simonnet Febvre Chablis from Bourgogne mainly because Simonet was Claude’s mother’s last name. When I tried to take a picture of the name of the wine the waitress approached and said she would get me a signed menu by the executive chef. It was a very nice gesture. Even though we were in and out of the restaurant in only one hour, it was a superlative dinner. In fact, it was the best meal we had in our 3 nights in New Orleans and the most expensive at $166.
We ended the evening with a walk down Bourbon Street, the quintessential New Orleans destination.
We checked out of the hotel at 11:00am and took our last walk around the French Quarter before having brunch at the Cafe Conti, a small cafe inside The Prince Conti Hotel and only a block away from the hotel. It was empty but proved to be a good choice. I had a daily French toast special made with herbs and feta cheese. Claude had poached eggs and grits.
We left the French Quarter with our last memory of why we had been compelled to make a second trip to the “Big Easy”—the music.
We found a magnificent cheese store. The smell of pungent cheeses overwhelmed us the moment we walked through the door. I can’t imagine working there all day long in such a confined space, but the cheeses were wonderful, particularly the St. Felicien which is a soft, round, velvety cheese somewhat like a Brie or Camembert but much more delicate in flavor. It’s now my favorite cheese and unfortunately, we cannot get it in the States.
One night we had dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant around the corner from Claude’s cousin’s office on Rue Cambon. . . Au Coin des Gourmets – Indochine. It was excellent. We started with champagne with delicious food to follow.
The following day we had lunch on the terrace of Jeu de Paume. It was a quiet, uncrowded, lovely, sunny afternoon. Again, we had an Asian lunch with rice and marinated chicken and eggplant.
We spent an afternoon at Bois de Vincennes. It’s a beautiful park with the Chateau de Vincennes in the distance. There was a gorgeous dahlia garden, bonsai displays and a curious mushroom exhibit with hundreds of toxic and deadly mushrooms laid out on display tables.
My thought was that anyone who wanted to commit a crime like murdering an unsuspecting spouse could easily have swiped one from the table and no one would have been wiser. It seemed like an accident waiting to happen. There were also wonderful play areas for children with high wire walks through the trees and jungle gyms made out of cord. They would never pass a safety test in the US although I noticed all the kids on the high wires and dangling steps were wearing harnesses and were hooked on to the line.
We’ve taken the Metro frequently on this trip. The Metro stop we used was at Saint Paul, about a five minute walk from the apartment on Quai de Bethune.
We went to the Miro exhibit at the Grand Palais. Since we didn’t have reserved tickets (something to remember for future events) we waited outside in line for almost an hour. It was the largest collection of Miro paintings and sculptures I had ever seen in one location.
In the evening we returned to the Auberge de Notre Dame for another meal. The weather was so mild that we sat outside again. This time I had fish soup and salad. Claude had a salad topped with sauteed chicken livers which he said was particularly good and a crème brulee for dessert. After having a quiche for lunch that made me queasy I opted for a soup and a simple salad.
The following day we walked through Ile de la Cite past Notre Dame and the hoards of tourists to a neighborhood known as the Ancien Cloitre Quartier which had narrow, Medieval streets once traversed by monks. We walked down Rue des Ursins, Rue Chanoinesse and Rue de la Colombe and found one of the oldest restaurants in Paris dating back to 1512. The streets were devoid of tourists. After living in Paris and countless return trips, I had never ventured into this neighborhood. It was a most enjoyable discovery.
Another leisurely walk through the Marais took us over to the Place des Vosges, possibly the most exquisite square in all of Paris built in the 17th century by King Henri IV.
Cardinal Richelieu and Victor Hugo were two of the celebrated figures who lived there in one of the brick townhouses surrounding the square. The arcades are now filled with boutiques, cafes and restaurants. At the end of the arcade is the entrance to the National Office for Historical Monuments. It is easy to miss. The Hotel de Bethune-Sully mansion was once owned by Maximilien de Bethune. The beautiful garden is a quiet reprieve from the hustle and bustle of the Place des Vosges.
Every time we visit the Marais, we discover new streets we’ve never walked down before. We sat down in the Parc Royal watching workmen eat their lunches and students spending a Thursday afternoon after early release from school. We then walked down rue Elzevir past the Musee Cognacq-Jay and peeked into the garden courtyard.
We decided to enjoy the sunny stroll instead of going into the museum to see the collection of 18th and 19th century art and furniture amassed by Ernest Cognacq and his wife, Marie-Louise Jay, the founders of the Samartaine department store.
A walk through the Jewish quarter and Rue des Rosiers is a must lined with specialty shops, bakeries and falafel eateries.
We briefly sat in the garden of the Gothic Hotel de Sens along the way which houses a library of historical posters and other paraphernalia. It was home to archbishops in the 16th century. We were pleasantly surprised to see a procession of the Garde Republicaine, the honorary horse guard on our way to our apartment.
For dinner we hunted for pret-a-porter (ready to eat) places in the Saint Paul neighborhood and decided on Asian food. The spicy shrimp, pork, green beens and fried rice dinner was a reasonable 30 Euros.
Visiting Paris was not complete without a night cruise on the Seine. We walked to the Ile de la Cite to take the 14 Euro one-hour cruise with Vedette du Pont Neuf. It goes as far as the Eiffel Tower for a spectacular view of the lighted tower from the water and then returns going around the Ile Saint Louis and the Ile de la Cite.
We passed the Louvre, the d’Orsay, the Academy Francaise, the French National Assembly the Alexander III bridge and other notable buildings. The night cruise should be on everyone’s bucket list. We went under the Pont Neuf, the oldest bridge in Paris and the Pont Marie, where lovers make a wish and share a kiss. We did both!
The Louis Vuitton Fondation had an exposition of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Egon Schiele’s paintings. We had already seen several exhibits of Schiele in Vienna which we greatly enjoyed.
The Vuitton had an extensive collection of his drawings as well as paintings. Basquiat was enlightening with his disturbing, bold depictions of Black America during the 1980s. The insecurity and aggression Blacks felt about police brutality and cultural isolation were evident throughout his paintings. Basquiat started as a graffiti street artist in New York City and was a contemporary of Andy Warhol’s.
The 2014 Vuitton Fondation built by Frank Gehry is still a soaring example of one of his more recent architectural wonders. It resembles a ship with billowing, massive, curved glass windows simulating sails.
We had dinner with our cousins at Les Flottes on Rue Cambon.
It used to be one of our favorites but seems to have gone decidedly downhill with a change of ownership. I had a nice frisee salad with lardons and sea bass with mashed potatoes. Claude had calves liver. We shared a French toast with caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream for dessert. Although the meal wasn’t the finest, the company was. It was family night!
Our last foray into the art world was the Musee Jacquemart-Andre, a 19th century Second Empire mansion where we saw a magnificent exhibit of paintings by the Italian painter Caravaggio who lived in the 16th century.
The mansion was once owned by Edouard Andre and his wife Nelie Jacquemart who were art collectors. They furnished their mansion with extraordinary art, furniture and tapestries. The exquisite interior marble staircase, ornately furnished rooms and garden are well worth a trip to the museum. Our 12 days in Paris definitely ended on a high note.
We arrived in Paris on the 9th of October on Austrian Airlines Airbus 320 from Vienna. We noted that the seats in Business Class looked the same as Economy. . . definitely not worth the extra money.
Our apartment on Quai Bethune Ile Saint Louis turned out to be a disappointment for $270 daily. It was regrettable that the loft on Rue des Archives had fallen through. The Guest Apartment Services agency could not be faulted since they were most responsive to all complaints.
The apartment was called TULIP. It was supposed to be about 550 square feet but seemed smaller. It was a first floor walk up through a quiet inner courtyard filled with plants. The apartment was in an old, traditional building with crossed-hatched sloped creaking floors and three large windows opening on the inner courtyard. It was furnished with some antique pieces and a black leather 2-seater love seat and a matching armchair, a coffee table and an alcove with a double bed probably used for children. There was a good sized bathroom with a tub and shower combination and large pedestal sink. It definitely needed updating. The toilet was in a separate tiny space the size of an airplane bathroom with a minuscule corner sink with a cold water faucet. The toilet seat was chipped. It had to be at least 50 years old.
The bedroom was an adequate size with an ancient armoire, comfortable king size bed, decorative fireplace, two night tables and small desk and chair. Since it faced the courtyard it was extremely quiet at night.
Our first showers resulted in calling the agency to inform them that the tub was not draining and the shower knob was leaking profusely. We went out for the afternoon and returned to find that someone had been in the apartment to fix the drain. We were told not to use the shower until later that evening. Fortunately, French Drano worked like a charm.
We also discovered the oven didn’t work when we tried to heat up our lunch. It was reported to the agency. Clearly the owner had not been maintaining the apartment as you would expect for the price. Even the agency noted that the owner did not want to spend the necessary money to update the apartment. We were paying for location, plain and simple. Ile St. Louis is probably one of the most expensive areas in Paris. I have to admit it was pleasant coming back to the apartment over the bridge after a full day of walking leaving the traffic behind. Ile Saint Louis was a quiet oasis in the middle of the Seine which passed it on either side of the island. Crossing over Pont de la Tournelle each day with a distant view of the Eiffel Tower was always an exhilarating moment.
The kitchen (and I’m being polite to call it that) was minimal. It had an average size refrigerator by French standards with the door opening the wrong way, a chipped white porcelain top stove with 4 burners, a sink, microwave and toaster sitting on top of the washing machine. There was virtually no counter space. A minute 2-person table was used to provide a surface for preparing food. The kicker was the dishwasher which was located in the area under the stove in place of the pan drawer. It was a feat in ingenuity to install it there and back breaking attempting to use it. We doubt anyone had ever tried. The kitchen needed to be completely gutted.
Our first dinner was at a charming restaurant on Quai de la Tournelle called Auberge Notre Dame.
The restaurant was a fixed 20 Euro menu. Claude had onion soup, lamb chops and a chocolate mousse. I had a very nice prawn and avocado salad, chicken in a cream sauce and a tarte tatin for dessert. With wine and water it was 60 Euros and we thought it was good value for what we had and very tasty.
The evening was mild so we sat outside next to two American couples from Queens… Jill, Jim, Jim and Ina. They were very funny and we had a good time talking to them and ended up going home with them to see their apartment which was around the corner. It was a delightful ground level two bedroom 2 bathroom for $524 a night on VRBO with an updated kitchen, separate washer and dryer and a large patio. The only issue was the second bedroom and bathroom which were up a flight of steep stairs. The living area was open and charming with a curved ceiling. The bedrooms and bathrooms quite small.
The following day we tried to find a place to buy prepared foods since there was no way we could cook in the kitchen. We had a tough time finding anything nearby. Claude remembered a market area we had gone to when we rented in the Marais. We ended up with oeufs en gelee one with ham and one with salmon, half a roasted chicken fermier, a macedoine salad (cut up fresh vegetables in a mayonnaise sauce), a ficelle bread and 2 pastries. The chicken was dried out and the macedoine tasteless. It was a disappointing meal.
We went to the d’Orsay Museum to see a special Picasso exhibit from the Blue and Rose periods, my favorite periods. It was crowded as we expected, but we thoroughly enjoyed the exhibit.
We also purchased tickets online to the l’Atelier des Lumieres for the light and sound show of Gustav Klimt and the Vienna Secession movement. We were well acquainted with Klimt’s paintings from having seen his exposition in Vienna. It was an amazing technological accomplishment animating his paintings in a darkened exhibition hall.
One of our best meals was at Les Papilles at 30 rue Gay Lussac. It was a fixed price of 36 Euros for the day’s menu (no choice). A reservation was necessary for the tiny restaurant which handled 60-80 meals per sitting. We went to the 7:00pm seating. The meal started with a covered tureen of delicious potato soup. The bowls were prepared with lardons, croutons and crème fraiche with a bouquet of thyme on top. We ladled the soup on top. It was the best potato soup I’ve ever had. We then had chicken with cream sauce similar to what I had at the Auberge the first night but with an added elegance and refinement. It was served in a copper pot and we helped ourselves. It was tasty and filling. The chocolate mousse dessert was a disappointment. It was more like a thick pudding with a crumble on top and really needed cream or whipped cream to cut the density. I regretted not asking for some cream. We selected our own bottle of wine which was laid out in a wine case along the wall with prices visible. There was a 7 Euro corkage surcharge which was very reasonable. We had a delicious Sancerre and drank the entire bottle!
The Maillol Museum was also on the schedule which was having an exhibition of Alberto Giacometti’s sculptures. He’s one of my favorite sculptors. The museum had Maillol’s paintings and sculptures with a few sculptures by Rodin, Brancusi and Lipschitz. It was a day filled with art appreciation.
We packed our suitcases and went to our last breakfast at Cafe Mozart and took another stroll around Salzburg to the Domplatz at noon to hear the 35 bells toll in the Carillon Tower. Unfortunately we waited in vain since they never tolled. I found out later that we had missed the 11:00 am tolling. The bells were purchased in Antwerp by Archbishop Thun in the 1700s and assembled in Salzburg by a resident clockmaker.
We went to the train station at 1:00 for our 2:10 train to Vienna. A note about the train. Above many of the seats there was a lit “Reserved” sign. At first we thought we couldn’t sit there and tried to find seats without the signs but every seat in our carriage had them. As we came to understand, the seats “may” be reserved but it doesn’t mean they are reserved. In other words you take your chances sitting there and could get booted out of the seat if someone buys a reserved seat. The trip from Zurich to Salzburg was 5 hours and the trip to Vienna was 3 hours and no one ever came to claim the seats. It’s good to know how the system works for future reference and it’s probably safer to pay for reserved seats, particularly if you are traveling during a holiday period.
We called the owner of the apartment on Gonzagagasse to let her know we were at the train station in Vienna and would make our way to the apartment via the metro. It was a beautiful day and the crowds were manageable even though it was the 5:00 rush hour. We even made a transfer that was only one stop to get us closer to the apartment. We encountered no problems.
The owner met us at the front door of the building and showed us to the 2-person elevator which took us up to the 3rd floor apartment. She explained the general function of the appliances, circuit breaker box, washing machine, internet, etc.
It had at least 12-14 foot ceilings and large windows decorated in a contemporary, minimalist style with a black and white area rug, a studio couch, comfortable chair, and a dining table for four. It was immaculately clean. The modern kitchen was small but adequate with a Nespresso machine, dishwasher, stove but no microwave. The bedroom was long, deep and narrow with a king size bed (no room for night tables), an expansive wall of closets and drawers, and a computer table across from the closets. The marble bathroom was large by European standards and had a good size shower with a curved, glass door, a step up to the toilet with a tall, narrow shelved closet, a sink and the washer/dryer unit. There was plenty of room for all our personal items. The towels were thick and fluffy.
We found a large collapsible drying rack in the closet which we used since the drying cycle on the dryer was 3 hours long and could not be reduced in time! European washers and dryers are a far cry from American appliances and detailed operating instructions are a must.
Vienna was voted the #1 most livable city in the world. It was clean, had environmentally friendly bike paths winding throughout the city, good social services, excellent public transportation system and was visibly prosperous. They have the youngest prime minister in the EU at 32 years old and the oldest president at 78.
The buildings were elegant, decorative and distinctive like Paris. The main pedestrian ways in District 1, the old city were wide and easy to navigate around the throngs of tourists.
Vienna has its coffee culture dating back centuries and coffee houses were numerous with locals lingering over a cup of coffee, newspaper or iPhone without interruption. When entering a cafe customers seated themselves unlike restaurants where you are met by a hostess. Eventually, an Herr Ober traditionally dressed in black with a bowtie approached to provide a menu. We were told that the Herr Ober was responsible for keeping an eye out for new customers who walked through the door. The classic coffee houses had the most interesting interior furnishings and the most extensive pastry displays. We went to Schwarzenberger Cafe established in 1818 lined with leather chairs and crystal chandeliers. I doubt it had changed much from the 1800s. There was a long list of Viennese coffees and pastries to indulge in as well as a lunch/dinner menu. The coffee houses are an institution in Vienna.
I would recommend the Lola Spanish tapas restaurant at 14 Gonzagagasse as a good dinner choice if you find yourself nearby. Coincidentally it was located adjacent to our building. It was a small, popular restaurant that was full to capacity every night. Reservations are recommended. We ate there twice. The owner was especially friendly and hospitable and waved when he saw us walking past his window. The food was fresh and portions were perfect for sharing. Everything we had was delicious. I particularly liked the fried anchovies, garlic shrimp, Spanish omelette and crème brulee. We also ate at Elissar, an elegantly decorated Lebanese restaurant on a side street near the Grand Hotel. It had good food, especially the chicken dishes and curried lentil soup.
We had tickets to the Muth Theater for a Vienna Boys Choir concert. It is their official home. I made reservations online. From my research I determined that going to the Muth Theater was preferable to going to the Imperial Hofburg Chapel during a Sunday Mass. At the Mass they sing for a limited time but you never see them in the loft in their charming sailor boy outfits. The performance was two hours long and had a live orchestra. The enthusiastic conductor reminded me of an animated Leonard Bernstein swinging his hair and body to the music. I was afraid he might fall off the podium. It was a lively performance and I was very glad we had gotten tickets in advance since it was a full house. It was a twenty minute walk from the apartment.
We decided to go to a Sunday concert at the Kursalon Wien in Stadt Park. The program was Strauss and Mozart with two opera singers and two ballet dancers. It was well done and the performance was sold out. Here’s another tip . . . everyone was required to check their coats. We decided to hurry down the three flights of stairs at the end of the concert to beat the mob scene with everyone waiting in line for their coats. It was a sound decision and we were the first ones to exit the building.
My best recommendation for sightseeing would definitely be the Big Bus tours. We bought a 48 hour pass and took three tours of Vienna, a guided walk and a night tour all for the price of 30 Euros per person. One of the routes was to Schonbrunn Palace and the Upper Belvedere Palace. Another tip: Don’t buy the more expensive tour at the Schonbrunn which included the labyrinth and 40 palace rooms. The least expensive package included the gardens minus the labyrinth and 22 rooms which was more than adequate since the palace interior was over crowded with tourists.
The Upper Belvedere Museum was much more manageable except for Gustav Klimt’s “The Kiss.” Every tourist thought it was necessary to pose for selfies in front of the painting. It was exasperating! The gardens at both palaces were not nearly as beautiful or manicured as French gardens at the Tuileries or Luxembourg Garden in Paris.
One of the most enjoyable museums we visited was the Leopold to admire their collections of Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele’s paintings.
Another interesting museum was the Sisi Museum where we learned about Empress Elizabeth (Sisi) and Emperor Franz Joseph I. We visited royal apartments and saw the sumptuous gold, silver and porcelain dinner settings and artifacts that were used for state dinners. The incredible bounty of riches the Habsburg Empire accumulated while they reigned may explain why the dynasty came to an end in bankruptcy in 1918. The Sisi Museum gave us a better understanding of the royal Habsburg family and Sisi in particular who was an independent spirit and rejected much of the royal protocol and pageantry.
We also spent an entire day of poignant reflection at the Jewish museums at Judenplatz. Austria has a dark history when it comes to the Jews dating back to the Middle Ages. In 1420-21 the Jews were banished from Vienna, forced to convert to Christianity or burned alive at the stake. Up to 300 Jews committed a collective suicide to avoid forced baptism. The original synagogue that stood on Judenplatz was demolished. On the third floor of the museum there was a shocking walking stick collection from the 18th century with handles depicting the age old stereotypical caricature of long Jewish noses, beady eyes and beards rife with Antisemitic sentiment.
Over the centuries the Jews were driven out of Vienna yet repeatedly returned after banishment. By the mid 1800s they were prospering and many had become respected members of the arts and literary circles as well as financial pillars of the community.
During the late 1800s and early 1900s the Vienna Salon movement was in vogue hosted by the wealthy Jewish families of Berta Zuckerkandl, Sophie von Todesco and others. They provided intimate venues for promoting artists like Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka and Otto Wagner the architect while creating an atmosphere where politics and issues of the time could be freely discussed. Among the renowned guests were Johann Strauss and Gustav Mahler. This creative, inclusive patronage to Modern Art came to an end with the annexation of Austria by Germany in 1938.
In November 1938 the devastating pogrom known as Kristallnacht (The Night of Broken Glass) occurred. The Nazis destroyed more than 80 synagogues, Jewish businesses and murdered Jews in the streets with abandon. During the Nazi regime 65,000 Austrian Jews were exterminated. Jewish population in Vienna never recovered.
In 1995 an excavation of Judenplatz miraculously uncovered the walls of the original Medieval temple. It has since become part of the permanent exhibit in the museum. An unadorned tunnel in the basement leads to the dramatically darkened, elevated room. The remnants of the walls are illuminated in light. It is a moving experience to stand in the presence of the original walls of the synagogue with the full knowledge of what transpired there.
After years of controversy, a Holocaust memorial by the British sculptress Rachel Whiteread was unveiled in 2000. It commemorates the 65,000 Austrian Jews who perished in concentration camps. It has become known as the “Nameless Library.” We walked by it several times without realizing it was a memorial. The sculpture is a concrete box resembling a bunker with shelves of books facing inward; the doors sealed. It is a symbolic reference to all the souls whose stories will never be heard. . . the books that will never be read. It is starkly austere and occupies a space on sacred ground in the middle of Judenplatz. It is not a pretty structure but it makes a strong, silent statement.
We got up at 5:30 am to catch the train to Salzburg. Instead of calling a taxi we rolled our suitcases to the station in about 10 minutes. The train was on time and made 11 stops before reaching Salzburg. It was a scenic ride through the alps.
We were sitting in second class and had failed to reserve seats. The fare was 63 Euros ($70) for a 5 hour ride. We met a charming Austrian student onboard who was in the pharmaceutical program at the University of Zurich. She was going to Vienna to see her parents for a few days.
From the train station we took a taxi costing 10 Euros to the ArtHotel Bleue Gans on Getreidegasse 41-43, the central pedestrian tourist street in Salzburg. The receptionist showed us the room on the 4th floor overlooking the street but told us it wouldn’t be ready until check-in at 3:00. The cheery, bright room was decorated with bright colors and windows overlooking the street.
She suggested we go for a walk to Cafe Tomaselli, a well known spot in Salzburg. It was down the street from the hotel. We sat inside since outside seating was full. Everyone was enjoying the brilliant sunshine. We had hot chocolate with whipped cream, chocolate cake and the best plum strudel ever!
Our first night we had an 8:00 reservation at Pasta e Vino. We got there early at 7:30 and went into the bustling restaurant to reconfirm our 8:00 reservation. It was an extremely small restaurant resembling a casual deli. A young waitress said they were full. An older woman, probably one of the owners seemed unwilling to listen to me when I asked if we could reconfirm since I had made the reservation online. She dismissed me waving her arms and stating loudly that they were full and there weren’t any tables. I spotted a table for two marked reserved as we were hustled out the door. We were in disbelief being treated so rudely and lingered near the door until a waitress approached us and we told her again that we had an 8:00 reservation. She asked us to wait outside for 10 minutes.
After 10 minutes the waitress waved to us to come in and we were seated at the table we had seen beforehand. We sat for at least 15 minutes or more before a waitress came over to the table. She was pleasant and explained there were no menus. They offered three different pastas (fish, meat and vegetable) and an antipasto for a starter. We opted for the antipasto, a fish pasta with carrots and flat beans and a meat pasta with pork, chestnuts and prosciutto in a cream sauce.
The antipasto was served with bread and there was an assortment of prosciutto, cheeses (fontina and romano), spinach, zucchini and fava beans. The platter was fresh and very good. Then it got interesting. We were barely finished with the antipasto when my pasta arrived with nowhere to place it since the table had not yet been cleared. Claude’s pasta was nowhere in sight. I’ve never experienced anything like that in a restaurant except maybe in a takeout joint. I was flabbergasted. Claude thought it was the folklore of the place. The waitress quickly removed our plates. Claude still did not have his pasta but I started to eat my pasta while it was hot. It was delicious! It was as good as any pasta we’ve had in Italy. The waitresses and owners were Italian and Italian was the spoken language not German. Five minutes later Claude’s pasta arrived. Again it was outstanding in flavor and the pasta cooked perfectly. The house wine was equally good. We didn’t have room for dessert.
The conclusion about the restaurant is to go for the pasta and try to overlook the boorish and rude behavior of the owner. She turned multiple people away as we sat watching the entrance. It was also a Sunday night and clearly the staff wanted us to leave. No one else entered the restaurant after we arrived. It seemed early to close the kitchen after 8:00, but that’s exactly what they did.
Salzburg Day 2 – 3
We had a proper breakfast at Mozart Cafe a few doors down from our hotel. We were the only ones there. It was raining out and Getreidegasse was empty until we saw a massive group of tourists approaching down the street. We immediately ducked into the doorway of the Mozart thinking it would be overrun, but the group continued down the street. Tourist groups were everywhere! An 8.60 Euro breakfast consisted of 2 rolls, butter, honey, jam, hot chocolate or coffee and one soft boiled egg with a piece of chocolate for a sweet ending – a good price for a very complete breakfast..
At noon we retraced our steps to make sure we hadn’t missed anything in Old Town. Even though it was raining hard we didn’t let it deter us from what we hoped to see with only three days in Salzburg. We walked to St. Blaise’s Gothic Church which was closed. We continued on to the Horse Pond where horses were watered during the Middle Ages and then to St. Peter’s Abbey, a Romanesque Hall to find it closed for renovations. St. Sebastian’s Church was also closed so we never got to Mozart’s family tomb. It’s worth mentioning that many museums and tourist attractions are closed on Mondays. We were not discouraged and hurried to Cafe Habakuk (no pun intended) to have a divine apple strudel with whipped cream swimming in a Creme Anglaise sauce. Claude had a piece of Sacher cake with whipped cream and we washed both desserts down with a thick, delicious hot chocolate with even more whipped cream! That was lunch!
Our second dinner was at Zum fidelen Affen on Priesterhausgasse 8. The restaurant was housed in an ancient building with arched ceilings, wooden support beams and wooden wainscoting, typical of the period.
The waiter was energetic, friendly and running around like crazy. There were only two waiters and a bartender handling two dining rooms filled to capacity. We both got the typical Austrian goulash and regretted it. It had a distinct aftertaste that neither of us liked.
The following day we bought a 24-hour Salzburg Card for 28 Euros each which gave us free entry to a long list of museums and free public transportation including the funicular. We went to the Salzburg Museum and the Panoramic Museum which had a fascinating 360 degree view of Salzburg in the 1800s. We then visited Mozart’s birth place on Getreidegasse and the house Mozart lived in which was much more interesting. There were two musicians there (a piano player and violin player) giving a free concert. They were obviously using the time as a practice session for a concert much to our enjoyment. The museum had display cases filled with letters written by Mozart and his family as well as family treasures.
We headed to the fortress opting for the funicular rather than walking up the steep incline to the top. It was crowded with tourists. We decided that it might have been better to have gone to the fortress first thing in the morning to avoid the crowds. The views over Salzburg were stunning.
We had breakfast at the Mozart Cafe every morning since the location was convenient and the price very affordable. We were usually the only ones there at 8:00 am when it opened. It was an old fashioned cafe up a flight of stairs from the street frequented mainly by locals.
Our last dinner was at Das Restaurant Wasserfall at Linzergasse 10. It was a more formal restaurant than the others and actually had a stream of water running through it which gave it a soothing, refreshing atmosphere. We had an early reservation at 5:00 pm since we had tickets for an 8:00 concert – a quintet playing Mozart, Giuliani and Vivaldi in the Marble Room at Mirabell Palace. The dinner was expensive and nicely presented, but not memorable. I had fish soup and salmon and Claude had the sea bass. We split a molten chocolate cake with whipped cream for dessert, which of course was the best part.
We arrived early at the concert just before sunset so we could walk around the palace gardens. The gardens were not as extensive as we thought they would be and there were few flower beds and fountains. However, the elegant Marble Room and concert more than made up for it. There were three violinists, a cello player, bass player and a Mexican guest guitarist who was excellent. We thoroughly enjoyed it.
We finalized our trip and made airline reservations, hotel and apartment reservations. We’re flying Swiss Air again to Zurich where we’re spending three nights at the Helvetia Hotel. Then we’re taking a five hour train ride to Salzburg spending three nights at the Arthotel Blaue Gans (The Blue Goose).
So far we have tickets to a Mozart-Vivaldi-Giuliani concert at the Mirabell Palace in Salzburg. After Salzburg we’ll take a two hour train ride to Vienna where we rented an apartment through Airbnb. We have tickets to the Vienna Boys Choir one night and will try to get to another concert during our six nights there. We should be able to walk to the old town and all attractions from the apartment. On October 9 we head to Paris to 96 rue Archives where we’ll stay until October 21. We found the apartment through VRBO. We decided to cut Prague from the itinerary after reading some travel alerts for Americans on the US Government website. It would have been a lot of schlepping around so maybe it’s just as well. This way we’ll spend an extra four nights in Paris which is fine with us.
I picked up a tip to share. From all reviews the Salzburg Card is worth the price for 24-48-72 hours depending on your length of stay. It will get you into museums free and allow you to use public transportation free including the funicular up to the Salzburg Fortress plus a river boat ride. Keep in mind when buying the card that many museums are closed on Mondays. We are planning to buy the card at the main train station in Salzburg so we can get to our hotel on the public bus from the station. In addition, if you plan on a Mozart concert at Mirabell Palace or other concerts, email the ticket websites directly to tell them you have a Salzburg Card (firstname.lastname@example.org) and you will get a 10% discount on tickets. You will be required to show your card at the concert. It seems like a good deal.
Our plans in Salzburg are to have breakfasts at the Cafe Mozart on Getreidegasse 22, Cafe Bazar at Schwarzstrasse 3, or Cafe Tomaselli at Alter Markt 9 instead of spending 25 Euros per person at the hotel for breakfast. Besides, going to a different cafe every morning will give us a better chance to review different breakfast places.
I made dinner reservations just to be on the safe side. On September 30 we’re eating at Pasta e Vino on Wolf Dietrichstrasse 31, October 1 at Zum fidelen Affen on Priesterhausgasse 8, and on October 2 at Das Restaurant Wasserfall, Linzergasse, 10. Reviews will follow.
Our Paris rental fell through at the last minute and we appear to have lost our deposit. The manager stopped responding to my emails before we made our final payment. We initially made a 100 Euro deposit to reserve the apartment and our balance was due two weeks before arrival. Since the deposit was made directly to the manager via Pay Pal instead of through the VRBO site I thought it likely we would never get our deposit back. I then had to quickly find an alternative before we left for Europe. There were many trade shows going on in Paris during our dates there and everything was already booked. Fortunately, there was a last minute cancellation for one apartment that met our needs. It was double the price of the first one. It was $270/per day but in a prime location on Ile St. Louis at Quai de Bethune. We made the reservation through Guest Services. We had never used this agency before but it seemed legit and professional with a bonafide contract.
We left for the Miami International Airport around 4:00 pm for a 7:40 pm flight on Swiss Air. If there is anything to be said for the airline, it is definitely punctual but is sorely lacking in comfort for economy passengers. The seats were extremely narrow and uncomfortable. When the passengers in front of us reclined their seats we were trapped. The dinner they served was overcooked mush masquerading as pasta. The breakfast consisted of yogurt, a croissant and a piece of cheese. By the time we arrived in Zurich we couldn’t wait to get off the plane.
The Zurich airport was modern and well designed. The signage was easy to follow and we had no trouble retrieving our luggage quickly and proceeding to the train ticket machine. Claude had prepared himself well before leaving on our trip by watching videos of the airport and he knew exactly where to go and what to expect. Everything was well marked and easy to find. The only screw-up was using the ATM machine to get Swiss Francs and inadvertently getting 50 Franc notes instead of smaller denominations. Note that Switzerland is not part of the EU and Euros are not their currency. It meant having to find somewhere to get change since the ticket machine only took smaller bills. Claude asked someone at the duty free shop for change only to be turned away unless he bought something . . . not nice.
Once we had the tickets it was smooth sailing. The one-way second class tickets were 6.80 Swiss Francs per person for a 10 minute ride to the main train station in Zurich. If we had taken a taxi it would have cost 60-80 Francs. On the train platform we tried to validate our tickets as we had read, but our tickets were too large for the machine. We asked someone standing on the platform who told us validation wasn’t necessary since we had just bought the tickets and a time was already stamped on them.
The train was spotless and uncrowded. An Austrian tax lawyer living in Lichtenstein sat across from us and chatted about Switzerland and gave us some valuable tips on Zurich.
Zurich is a very livable city. The electric trams are quiet, there aren’t any trucks or motorcycles in the center, the streets are clean and the buildings free of graffiti unlike many other European cities. The city is expensive and upscale. Bahnhofstrasse, the main commercial street was lined with designer stores and pricey coffee houses.
I had chosen Hotel Helvetia for its central location walking distance to the old historical section of town. The room was fairly basic and minimalist in style . . . no carpeting, tiny computer table, a good sized closet with shelves and a contemporary bathroom with a nice shower and plenty of hot water. The beds were extremely comfortable and were made up with double duvets instead of cover sheets. The Swiss are famous for preparing beds with duvets for utmost comfort. We were on the 4th floor with a view of a canal and casino. The windows were well insulated and the room was very quiet. There was a library on the first floor with an espresso machine and an abundance of reading material for hotel guests.
We walked around the old town for the first afternoon and walked past the Grossmunster and Fraumunster churches, the guild houses on the Limmat River and continued down to the dock to review boat schedules. We decided to stop in a cafe along the Limmat for drinks before dinner.
Our dinner reservations at the Zeughauskeller at 28 Bahnhofstrasse was at 7:30. It was a traditional beer hall dating back to the Middle Ages. We walked in early since we were exhausted from our flight and wanted to eat and go to sleep instead of waiting until 7:30. It was fairly empty when we arrived and we were seated promptly. We shared a butter lettuce salad with hard boiled egg gratineed. We agreed it was a nice touch from a standard salad. I had a traditional Swiss dish with pork shank and potato salad. Claude had another traditional dish of sauteed veal in a mushroom cream sauce with rosti (hash brown potatoes). The portions were HUGE and we were only able to finish half our dinners. The potato salad was vinegary unlike a normal mayonnaise base potato salad, but it was good. It was a hearty meal, not gourmet and not cheap. It cost about 84 Swiss Francs with a glass of wine and no dessert. The interior was particularly atmospheric with historic artifacts hanging on the walls, large chandeliers and long wooden tables.
The following morning we had breakfast at Babu Cafe rather than spending 25 Francs per person at the hotel. The cafe was bustling and crowded. We were lucky to get a table without a reservation. I ordered oatmeal with cranberries and a latte macchiado. The oatmeal was thick like porridge and tasty with the addition of sweet, dried cranberries. I’ll have to remember that when I make it at home. Claude had a hot chocolate and a croissant. It came to 22 Francs.
We took a 1 ½ hour boat ride around the lake. The weather was wonderful. . . sunny and in the 70s. . . a perfect day for a ferry ride. The boat was a commuter ferry so we were able to see the local architecture in the towns along the lake shore. It was an inexpensive way to get a boat ride on the lake. We walked around the old town and stopped into the Schwarzenbach confectionary to check out their wide selection of dried fruits, nuts, preserves and chocolates and walked out with a spicy bag of nuts for snacking.
We sat outside at a cafe for lunch and had a delicious red lentil curry soup with potatoes and coconut milk. For dessert we picked up truffles from the famous Teucher chocolatier which were positively decadent. They send their chocolates and truffles all over the world. The narrow streets and pedestrian ways were lined with intriguing specialty shops to explore, restaurants and cafes. For dinner we had reservations at Mere Catherine, a French restaurant which was located at the end of a narrow walkway. We had read it was difficult to find and we walked around in circles for awhile until we found it. It was a mild evening and the outside patio was a perfect spot to relax and watch the world go by.
Claude had moule frites and I had sauteed guinea fowl with a curious combination of peppers, tomatoes, olives, onions, anchovies, beans and an over abundance of capers. The dessert was the best part . . . we shared a homemade mille feuille with currents and figs.
On our last day we climbed the steps to Linzerhof Platz which had a stupendous view of Zurich and the Limmat River. Afterward we had hot chocolate, a leek tart, nut scone and a chocolate cookie at the Delish Cafe located in the Marktgasse Hotel. The cafe was cozy and casual with young professionals enjoying their lunch break while working on their computers. We decided the pastries were disappointing. The prepared salads looked good and might have been a better choice.
Our last dinner was at Nagasui, a Chinese restaurant a few blocks from the hotel. We both agreed it was our best dinner. It reminded us of Barnard’s, our favorite Chinese restaurant in the Boston area. We had vegetable spring rolls and a spicy chicken dish with peppers, onions and scallions. It was excellent.
From our brief three days in Zurich we decided it was certainly as expensive as we had expected, but surprisingly picturesque and charming. The Old Town felt like a small, walkable city within the larger commercial, financial center of Zurich. We spent much of our time sampling the food and chocolates and came to the conclusion that we preferred the international restaurants to the Swiss traditional restaurants which had a heavy emphasis on meat and potatoes. The chocolates were definitely the highlight!