Pacific NW 2017: Introduction & where we stayed

For the past two years we’ve had a Southwest Companion Pass that lets us buy one ticket, get one free. With only a few months to go before the pass expires we made it a priority to get back out to the Pacific Northwest, home to many friends and many of our favorite wineries. As luck would have it, prices for the weekend before Halloween were quite good, so we made plans to largely revisit our Oct 2015 trip.

Originally we considered exploring the Columbia River Valley in Eastern Washington for part of our time, but after checking drive times realized we could just as easily return to the Willamette Valley in Oregon where we are already club members of two wineries. So we did just that, driving the 3.5 hours from Seattle to Dundee, OR on Thursday, then returning on Saturday, leaving Sunday and Monday for wine tasting in Woodinville, WA. We experienced fantastic weather and fall color, caught up with a half dozen friends, tried some great wine, and may have come home with more bottles than our wine fridge can actually store. As usual, Washington and Oregon left us planning future return trips…

our wine haul!

La Bastide B&B – the Provence Room

Our room was large and spacious with the sink open to the main room, and the shower and toilet in a separate room. Two luggage racks and plenty of windows for natural light.

La Bastide B&B

our room @ La Bastide B&B

A refrigerator in the main dining room is available for guests, which we took advantage of for a bottle of wine. Leandra also tried out the coffee machine in the evening.

Given the nice weather we grabbed some of the backyard chairs and enjoyed the sunset one night.

enjoying a drink on the back lawn

Breakfast was rather fancy, and quite delicious, with a set menu each morning:

  • Friday:  Fresh fruit with coconut cream followed by egg custard with chanterelle mushrooms, salad and toast. Local roasted coffee and orange juice.
  • Saturday: Broiled grapefruit with toasted coconut to start, followed by french toast stuffed with brie and marionberry puree topper with rosemary toasted pecans.

We would definitely consider returning given their convenient location, friendly staff, comfortable rooms, and great breakfasts.

Hyatt House Redmond

We stayed here in 2015, so we knew the location was convenient for wine tasting in Woodinville. As with our last trip, our room was quite spacious with a large bed and wall of windows looking out over the trees.

our room @ Hyatt House Seattle/Redmond

our room @ Hyatt House Seattle/Redmond

Breakfast is quite good here, with an omelet station, several hot buffet items, breads, cereal, etc. This stay was as good as our previous stay, so we would definitely return in the future.

Paris 2017: food & drink


Lunch @ Le Petit Marche –  Having just landed and dropped off our bags we needed lunch, quickly! Even at 1:30p this restaurant was packed, but they managed to squeeze us into a small table. Unfortunately they were out of the Ravioles de Royan, so I ordered the Salade China, a chopped salad with lots of soy/sesame chicken, carrots and lots of Asian-inspired ingredients that was quite good. Meanwhile Leandra ordered a strange take on steak tartare with asian-influenced spices that was lightly grilled on the top and bottom. She enjoyed it as well.

lunch @ Le Petit Marché

Dinner @ Bistrot L’Oulette – After wandering through d’Orsay we were quite ready for dinner. My red wine braised beef stew was amazing, as was Leandra’s cassoulet (although it took about 10 minutes for hers to cool down enough so she could eat it). We split a bottle of red wine that went great with our meals but the most memorable part was the chocolate tart. Flaky and light, absolutely delicious.

chocolate tart @  Bistrot de l’Oulette

Cocktails @ Little Red Door – on the advice of our friends Anna and Loren, we walked the .7 mile to this hidden cocktail bar. On arrival the doorman had us wait until seats were ready before letting us in, probably 10ish minutes. Once seated we perused the suggested cocktail list which were each inspired by architecture styles. I choose the Functionalism, tequila with citrus cordial and functional oils floating on top. Leandra went with the Brutalism, mixing mezcal, St.Germain and other flavors with a sprig of fried baby’s breath flowers!

Little Red Door Eric @ Little Red Door


Breakfast @ Pauls – Pain de chocolate and hot chocolate to go? Yes please.

Lunch @ La Galerie des Pains – quick takeaway ham sandwich on a crusty baguette (of course!) from a cozy bakery in Fontainebleau, eaten in Jardin de Diane.

Snack @ Boulangerie Martin – with a late dinner planned we needed a snack, so stopped for take-away pastries. I choose the eclair with raspberries and Leandra a cheese tartlet, and both were quickly consumed in a small park by Notre Dame.

Dinner @ Au Bourguignon du Marais – our table wasn’t quite ready for our 9pm reservation, so we were asked to sit at a side table and given menus and a light appetizer while we waited. A few minutes later we were shown to our table and introduced to our waiter who was quite warm and personable. I went straight for the Boeuf Bourguignon, Leandra the Tartare traditionnel, and neither of us regretted our choice! To top it off we split the Crème brûlée with bourbon sauce. OMG.

  creme brulee!


Lunch @ Creperie Beaubourg – Crepes! I tried their house cider to go with my ham and cheese crepe, while Leandra stuck to wine with her  mushroom and roquefort crepe. Both were fine, but not great. We sat outside under the awning enjoying the people watching around Stravinsky square.

buckwheat crepes @ Crêperie Beaubourg

Dinner @ Al Caratello – reservations got us a window seat at this busy little Italian restaurant in Montmartre. Leandra ordered the gnocchi bolognese while I ordered the mushroom and ham pasta. Everything was excellent. All tables were full during our meal and there were rotating groups of diners taking smoke breaks in the street out front. The owners also have a place across the street so one waiter was frequently shuttling cocktails to the other location. After we paid our bill we were offered a small glass of limoncello to end our meal. Lovely.

Ristorante al Caratello

my date enjoying a limoncello  pasta and my glowing gnocchi @ Ristorante al Caratello  


Lunch – picnic in the Luxembourg Gardens.

Dinner @ Les Philosophes – another busy restaurant, even at 9pm on Sunday. I went for the wild cod fillet in coconut milk curry sauce, while Leandra choose the French Onion soup and pork pâté (Thierry Schweitzer).  Service was a bit harried here, it was definitely more difficult to get a server’s attention than at other restaurants. I did like the fact that you could get varying sizes of several wines by the glass (25cl, 50cl, bottle).

Paris 2017: museums

Musée d’Orsay

Wow. Just – wow. The Orsay covers mid-19th century to early 20th century, and simply has so many masterpieces. We visited on Thursday evening when they are open late until 9:45p, and thoroughly enjoyed the 2.5h hours we spent wandering the halls here. The upper floor filled with Monets, Van Goghs, Degas and so many others was awesome. Some highlights:

Musée d'Orsay

"In a Cafe" by Degas  "The Church in Auvers-sur-Oise, View from the Chevet" by Van Gogh

"La Lecture" by Manet

Van Gogh @ Musée d'Orsay

Musée d'Orsay exterior

Musée de l’Orangerie

We bought the combined Orsay / Orangerie ticket, but we didn’t visit the Orangerie until our last day. A much smaller space, the ground floor consists of two large oval rooms filled with massive Monet waterlily paintings as part of his Nymphéas series.

Monet water lilies @ Musée de l'Orangerie

Monet water lilies @ Musée de l'Orangerie  Monet water lilies @ Musée de l'Orangerie

Downstairs is the Guillaume collection, with a number of interesting pieces from Modigliani, Picasso, and Matisse and others.

Cezanne @ Musée de l'Orangerie

Musée de l'Orangerie  Renoir @ Musée de l'Orangerie

Monet @ Musée de l'Orangerie

Musée du Louvre

The Louvre is seriously enormous. We arrived a few minutes after 9am (when they open) and were through security and the ticket desk within 15 minutes… we left at 2:30pm, and still had plenty of rooms we hadn’t yet seen. Thankfully, we were able to see all the sections that we were most interested in, as well as a few pleasant surprises. Some of the highlights:

upside down pyramid

Mona Lisa  portrait of fruit by Arcimboldo


Venus di Milo  Three Graces @ Louvre

Lamassus (713 BC), Mesopotamia

Law Code of Hammurabi  Louvre sculpture

Paris 2017: Château de Fontainebleau

We decided to skip the uber-famous Versailles in favor of Fontainebleau in the hopes of much smaller crowds, and it worked out well for us.

The trickiest part may have been figuring out the trains in Gare de Lyon – there are a lot of options, and we wandered through several sections before we found an information booth that could help. Once we confirmed the correct train the rest was easy, including the bus at the Fontainebleau Avon train stop that took us straight into town (and was included on our Visite ticket, in addition to a 2 discount for the entrance tickets).

The outside is quite imposing and impressive…

Château de Fontainebleau

The palace has parts dating back to the 1100s, with many additions and renovations through the 1800s. Once inside, the opulence is rather staggering. Tapestries, carvings, and paintings adorn nearly every surface.

Château de Fontainebleau

Bedchamber for Anne of Austria @ Château de Fontainebleau  Château de Fontainebleau

Château de Fontainebleau

Château de Fontainebleau  throne room @ Château de Fontainebleau

taking photos of the gardens

Château de Fontainebleau panorama

Altogether, we spent about 3 hours wandering the palace, and 30 minutes the flower gardens and fountains – a nice half-day trip away from the bustle of the city.

Paris 2017: introduction

In February 2017 I had an important decision to make – should I share a good deal ($385) on flights from Raleigh to Paris with Leandra? If I did, it would mean returning, and while it was nice enough, Paris hadn’t been high on my list of interests for a return visit. However, we hadn’t seen the museums or several other sights on our first trip, so with that in mind, we scheduled a 4-day trip for October.

Since we had quite a few parts of Paris we wanted to see, we decided to get 5-day tourist pass which provided unlimited rides in any of the 5 paris zones, including the airport. Given the number of metro rides we took it certainly worked to our advantage. However, we will likely look into the Navigo Découverte pass for a future trip, as it was significantly cheaper. Something to remember for next time.

Although I was less excited about this particular trip than Leandra, in the end, we both enjoyed absorbing the art, the wine and food, and we’d return for a less touristy trip if the price was good in the future.

Where We Stayed

Grand Hotel Malher

We spent our first two nights in this cozy little hotel in Le Marais, well located two blocks from the Saint-Paul metro stop and surrounded by shops and cafes. Check-in was speedy, and we just barely fit our two bags into the elevator with us for the ride to the fourth floor. Our room faced the street, and a good amount of street noise came through the windows, so earplugs are recommended. Leandra was also annoyed by the lack of a coffee maker / electric kettle. Otherwise the room was comfortable, and the bathroom was spacious and clean.

our room @ Grand Hôtel Malher

Hilton Paris Opera

For nights three and four we switched to the Hilton since we had a free weekend pass to use up. Check-in was easy, and elevators large enough for us and bags. Our room was a little bigger than at Malher, and did have a coffee maker. The bed was rather firm, too much for us, and the pillows were very soft.

our room @ Hilton Opera

Breakfast on the second floor was quite nice, with a good assortment of baked goods, meats, and cheeses. Notably they had a very nice fresh orange juice, not that common in our Europe experiences.

The Hilton is next to Gare Saint-Lazare, so there are several metro and train options available, as well as a large shopping mall, but we didn’t find any interesting restaurants in the immediate area.

A warm weekend in Minneapolis / St. Paul

In late September we flew to Minneapolis to visit friends and explore the area, and lucky us, it was warmer there than back home in NC! The heat made us a little lazier than we might have planned, but we had a good time ping-ponging across Minneapolis & St. Paul nonetheless.

Much of our time was spent being entertained by these two pups…

play time!  such a good boy!

Saturday highlights

Como Park Conservatory – walkable from our friend’s house, we enjoyed the various plants they have on exhibit. The bonsai collection and beautiful water lilies were especially notable.

water lily pads @ Como Park Conservatory

Muffaletta – a leisurely brunch, the baked French toast was quickly devoured. Leandra’s Benedict was big enough for a football player. She finished about half – putting in a good showing.

Dangerous Man Brewing – quite busy and loud, we were underwhelmed by the beer, as most everything we tasted was rather thin. The logo was awesome and well represented by the clientele.

Indeed Brewing – has two bars, and you aren’t supposed to carry drinks between them. We went for the quieter inside bar, where I tried the Heliotropic Dry Hopped, which was quite good. Leandra had a seasonal tripel.

Minnehaha Regional Park – easy view of the of the famous Minnehaha Falls at twilight. Afterwards, we walked down to the Mississippi River and back.

Minnehaha Falls  Minnehaha Falls

The Sample Room – nice spot for dinner. My cuban was perhaps the messiest sandwich I’ve ever had, definitely knife and fork material, and very tasty. Leandra’s steak tartare was good but the egg yolk was way too large for the portion size. The fries were AMAZING.

tartare @ The Sample Room

Sunday highlights

We started the day at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Smaller than expected, but with a fun range of sculptures (including the famous cherry) and an unbeatable price (free!).

'Spoonbridge and Cherry' @ Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

'Hahn/Cock' @ Minneapolis Sculpture Garden  'Woodrow' @ Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

'Wind Chime' @ Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

Next we tried the Midtown Global Market, which was disappointingly only half open on Sunday morning. Instead, we decided on brunch at the Happy Gnome. Leandra’s poutine had a sticker in it; thankfully the restaurant staff took it back with apologies and quickly got her a replacement dish. Everyone else enjoyed their choices here, and the beer list is quite extensive.

After brunch we headed out of town to Vermillion Falls, situated next to an old mill. We may have been traveling with some excited canines as well….

peek-a-boo  Vermillion Falls

Old Mill ruins

tired pups in the back

peek-a-boo 2

After dropping said canines back at home and recharging both our phones and our energy levels, we headed for another brewery on our list, Surly. As with Indeed, they asked for ID for all patrons, which is rather laughable at our age. They have an enormous facility, with a large indoor beer hall complete with picnic tables, and an equally large outdoor patio. Since we weren’t eating we went outside and enjoyed the cooler twilight air. I definitely enjoyed their sour beer collection, best of the trip.

Our final stop was back in St. Paul at W.A Frost, a restaurant with a lovely tree filled outdoor patio and food to match. We didn’t get a chance to enjoy the basement bar area but it looked very inviting, especially if the weather is cooler (i.e. most of the time).

Monday morning

On our way to the airport we had breakfast at Tiny Diner with a woman Leandra met during her dumpling class in Beijing two years ago!

Scotland 2017: layover in London

What to do with a half day in London? How about enjoying art, beer, and a show?

We started at one of our favorite museums, the National Gallery. Leandra hadn’t seen Cagnacci’s Repentant Magdalene (a special exhibit) so I insisted we start there. After that we explored several of our favorite rooms for the Monet, Van Gogh, and many other masterpieces, then made our way to the Reubens and Rembrandt exhibition.

mural @ National Gallery

admiring art at National Gallery

As we left a brief rain cleared out the sidewalk in front of the museum.

rainy London afternoon

The Whiskey exchange is only a few blocks away, so we headed there to pick up a bottle of Kilchoman Sanaig which we hadn’t purchased in Scotland.

Since it was May Day, restaurant hours were a bit off – Gordon’s Wine Bar cellar was packed inside when we arrived, and our second choice, Terroirs, was closed. Instead, we walked up to Craft, where we managed to get a table from a departing group. I went with the Partizan lemongrass saison, a beer I’ve had in London before – a nice mild tartness, quite refreshing, good with food – and then a Calypso Siren. Leandra went for the Pig&Porter dance first stout – quite lite but serviceable. With a 7:30p show we also needed to eat early, so we ordered the oak smoked brisket and the applewood smoked pork. Both were really nice, a great snack!

Around 7p we got the theater to pick up our tickets and find our seats for a show we’ve wanted to see for a while, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. As usual, we found a good deal on some last minute tickets just a few days earlier. We both enjoyed the staging and production, and we’re quite glad we experienced it before they closed their London run in June.

All in all, another great day in London.