Friday, March 31, 2017

Back to Paris for My Birthday

It's spring and time to head back to Paris to celebrate life and my birthday.  The daily non-stop flight to Paris from San Francisco on United is no more and we fly to London to start the trip, creating a new adventure.  Arriving at Heathrow in the morning, we hop on the London Underground for just under an hour to St. Pancras train station in central London and catch the EuroStar train for the 2.5 hour trip to Paris. St. Pancras is beautiful, we see truly tempting restaurants and shops and people grabbing good-looking food before their train, and we stop for a quick sandwich and Diet Coke before getting on the EuroStar.  The statues in the station emphasize that St. Pancras is about adventure, life, and love!

The EuroStar heads straight to the English Channel and ducks 75 meters (246 feet) below sea level for the 50.45 km (31.3 mile) run through the Channel Tunnel ("Chunnel") to France at the Strait of Dover.  Our train reaches a peak speed of 294 km/hour (183 miles/hour), with a note that the highest speed ever achieved on the journey was 334.7 km/hour (208 miles/hour).

St. Pancras station

Arriving in Paris at Gare du Nord around 6pm, we weave our way through the heavy crowds to the Metro and are soon at our hotel near the Arc de Triomphe at Place de l'Etoile (also known as Place Charles de Gaule) on the Champs Élysées.  Place de l'Etoile (Etoile is "Star" in English) is formed by the intersection of 12 roads that flow into the square and driving around it, with 12 exits and entrances, is always quite an adventure.

Arc de Triomphe

After checking in at our hotel, we head out and look for dinner near our hotel as it starts to rain (spring showers).  We spot some good prospects about two blocks away and study the menus.   It's hard to choose, but I see that one of them, La Mascotte, has octopus, the first time I've seen it on a menu in Paris and I have to have it (the restaurant next door has duck, but I want to try octopus in Paris).  We take a seat outside, order some wine, and watch the rain fall.

Wine in the rain

To start, we share a plate of Serrano ham and a plate of smoked mozzarella.  They both go incredibly with the wine.

 Smoked mozzarella and serrano ham

We follow that with dinner of chicken with rigatoni and chestnuts in a small pot and grilled octopus with potatoes, olive oil, and spices.

Chicken with rigatoni and octopus with potatoes

Ok, we are starting to settle into Paris and end with a lemon tart and two cognacs.  The long journey is over and we now remember why we keep coming back.

Lemon tart, cognac

But, we're not done yet!  We stop at an inviting restaurant on our walk back and have a little more Bordeaux at their bar, before calling it a day.  We sit in the window at L'Etoile 1903, named in honor of the car race from Paris to Madrid in 1903, and share a 50 cl pitcher.  The room is quiet as it gets late (near midnight) and diners finish their meals and a few of us enjoy our nightcaps.

L'Etoile 1903 view inside from our table in the window

Our first few hours in Paris are over and we feel like we belong, but it is time to sleep and prepare to enjoy the city for a few days.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Sculpture and Gardens at the Bangkok Airport

Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi International Airport has incredible candy for the eye:  great gardens and sculptures looming over everything as walk around.  Both at the check-in area and inside the departure area, more treats show up around ever corner.  I hope you enjoy the pictures.

 Check-in area gardens

 At the check-in counters

 Just after security screening

 At the gate - orchids and a temple

I've truly enjoyed my stay in Bangkok and will be back someday soon, to visit the city again and to head out and explore the fabulous beaches.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Dining in Bangkok

I have great meals in Thailand!  I'd go back just for the food!

My first day's lunch is at a restaurant in a mall  (yes, there are shops, but also at least one floor of restaurants and food stalls, ranging from simple cuisine to incredible high-end restaurants).  I'm on a floor of nothing but restaurants and wander, reading the menus and looking at the pictures.  I pick the Love Eat Bistro and sit down to a great meal of chicken in green curry.  It's spicy and delicious.

Green curry chicken

Another day, I have lunch at food court in a adjacent mall and and enjoy squid seafood salad (90 baht or $2.65).

Squid seafood salad

For a special dinner, I Google where to eat duck in Bangkok and come across the Four Seasons (not the hotel), in the Siam Paragon Mall, famous for their duck.  The Siam Paragon Mall food court is an experience itself, filling 1/2 of the ground floor of the mall with a Food Hall, Food Gallery, Take Home Section, Gourmet Hall, and Gourmet Market.  There are small stalls and large, high-end restaurants, one of which is the Four Seasons.  Four Seasons claims to have the best roast duck in the world, using a secret recipe that involves stuffing the ducks with herbs and spices and marinating them in vinegar and maltose syrup prior to roasting.  The result is a complex, sweet flavor, with moist flesh and crispy skin.  It's wonderful!

Four Seasons

Duck on the Menu

I order 1/2 roasted duck and assorted vegetables.  Accompanied by a Thai beer, I savor every taste and dine incredibly!

Half a roast duck

Vegetable assortment

Wow, what a great meal,  I recommend it highly, when you're in a city where one of the four branches of the restaurant are located.

Outside the malls, food courts, and restaurants, all along the streets are food carts and stalls, many with little plastic tables and chairs to sit and enjoy the fresh food.

 Food on the street

Wander, explore, and eat what looks and smells good.  Not a bad way to spend a few days!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Continuing on to the Grand Palace in Bangkok

Wow, I stumble onto a huge gathering of people at the Grand Palace.  As I approach, I see large crowds, all dressed in black, heading in the same direction.  It turns out that the body of King Bhumibol  Adulyadej, who ruled Thailand for over 70 years and died in October at age 88, is lying in state in the Grand Palace and the Thai people are coming to pay their respects.  Thailand is in a year of mourning for the deceased monarch.  As I pass through the metal detector, 1/2 mile from the palace, the security guard asks for my passport and I admit I left it in the hotel room.  He tells me to hold an ID to the camera and I show my California driver's license as they let me in.

Grand Palace grounds and crowds

It is about a mile walk to the palace from the entrance and it is hot and humid.  I take a quick spin through, note the long lines for everything, and decide to return on a different trip.

As I leave the palace, a Thai policeman hands me a bottle of water, the Ministry of Justice is providing free drinking water and snacks at the palace.

Leaving the palace and walking along the outside of the palace grounds, I see more of great Bangkok canals and life on the canals.

 Bangkok canals

The streets are full of markets, particularly fruit and vegetable.

 Street markets

And, scattered among the neighborhoods, like a little oasis, are more great temples.  I enter a few. I'm looking for Chinatown and I stumble across more temples, wonderful!  What a treat!

 Wat Rajabopitsathitmahasimaram (under renovation)

 Wat Traimit Witthayaram Wora Wiharn

 Wat Kaewjamfa

 And, I finally find Chinatown, a small maze of alleyways branching of a ceremonial gate.

 Bangkok Chinatown

As I walk, I pass memorials to the former king and see that buildings and fences are draped in white and black of mourning.

 In memory

Soon, I am back at Lumphini Park, a short distance from my hotel and it is time to think about my next meal.