Sunday, April 26, 2015

Maison de Couscous

On one of the many gray rainy days in Paris, I sought out the warmth and comfort of sun. Morocco was too far away to go for lunch, but Maison de Couscous is in the 14th, only a metro ride away. I found it a bit funny to see a roaring fire on the tv screen facing the dining room; it was as if everyone was pretending we were someplace warmer, using any means possible. The restaurant is a bit off the main road Alésia, so it's easy access by metro Alésia, and the servers are welcoming and friendly. They had a big sign in front saying that all the couscous dishes included all you could eat couscous and vegetables, so the very reasonable under 15 Euro menu is an even better bargain if you are a big eater.
Since I love lamb, I tried their lamb, but found it a bit bland and dry, even though the serving of meat was quite large for Paris. The vegetables and broth were resonant with aromatics, but I longed for more depth, complexity, and salt.
I found my perfect couscous with their Merguez sausage couscous, savory, spicy, and absolutely addictive. The sausage added the depth and complexity I longed for in the lamb version and as large as this portion was, I managed to finish the entire plate. Their merguez was the best I've ever eaten, and I've eaten many many links of merguez!
I only ate about half the large plate of couscous because I was so enamored by the merguez and vegetables.
By the time my dessert pastry came I was glad it was a tiny morsel of sweet date in a honey soaked sesame topped crust.
The also offer ice cream, but I think the little bite of date or in this case, pistachio in honey soaked filo, are far more satisfying.
Finding a small neighborhood spot with nice people and excellent merguez couscous is like finding a ray of sunshine among the rain clouds; head towards it and enjoy it.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Sainte Chapelle Stained Glass Magic

The only time I go to a church on Sunday is when I'm visiting one as a tourist. Even though I've visited Paris too many times to count, and lived here now for over a year, I had never gone to Sainte Chapelle until one rainy gray cold morning last month. It is next to the Hall of Justice, so the side by side juxtaposition means entry is strictly controlled by the gendarmes; be prepared for TSA level screening because the entry allows access to both depending on the day of the week. 

The Hall of Justice
The entry to Sainte Chapelle is under renovation and has only a small gift shop and this small section open to the public.
Even in the stained glass, the the proximity of "church" and "state" is a theme is played out in both the history of France and in the art in Sainte Chapelle. The stained glass comprises more of the structure than the stone in the building which was finished in a record breaking 6 years time in 1248. 

The exterior does not convey the magical light the stained glass gives from within, especially on a gray rainy day.
The breathtaking 15 panels are one level above the entry, so after climbing the steps (the pic was taken looking down from the top),
you reach the main part of the church which looks like this on the outside

but the inside is magically different
with sculptures of each of the apostles in between the glass panels which depict various scenes from the bible.


Spending time inside this "colorful lantern" has a wonderful magical effect of making the gray skies outside disappear:)

Monday, April 6, 2015

Fountain of Montjuïc Barcelona

On my last day in Barcelona, I went to the Fountain of Montjuïc. Originally I was going to go up to see the light show that night, but with a transportation problem, dinner plans, and club hopping all vying for my time, I opted for the afternoon. Everything works out in the end, and twilight ended up being a perfect time to enjoy the fountains with no crowds :)









Barcelona was a beautiful break from the gray rainy cold of Paris, and I'm sure I will have another rendez-vous soon with this delightful town :)

Monday, March 30, 2015

Barcelona Bites, Sights, and Bars

There are many ways to get around Barcelona, from the old fashioned horse and carriage,
to the modern electric car, but my favorite was simply to walk.
The modes of transportation are the only things that offer both old and new; construction of modern buildings around historical monuments abounds.
Before starting my day, I tried a second cafe
that had the nicest service
with good coffee, excellent freshly squeezed orange juice, and mediocre croissants
but a good apple pastry (according to the person who ate it and let me take a picture).
A few metro stops away, I saw this bakery, which looked fantastic, but there was no way I was going to start my day on the metro without breakfast.

I had a cone of Iberico in La Boqueria from Mas, but I saw that they also have stand alone stores.

Walking can lead to unexpected discoveries, like this shrine near Park Güell,
or these passageways

some leading into courtyards.
As dusk fell, it was time for dinner. Gilda has great reviews in the Gothic Quarter, and since it was a few blocks from where I was staying, I made a reservation through The Fork, which gives diners a discount on two tapas and a main course. The welcome and ambiance are warm, and the artwork is for sale, making it a showcase for artists.
I chose the ham croquetas for one of my tapas and was surprised at how big they were, there was definitely enough to share. As for the croquetas, they used quality ham and I would certainly order these again.
The garlic prawns were my favorite bite of all, lightly cooked and slightly spicy, I wanted to make a meal of them!
The steak and fries were a disappointment after the rock star prawns. I ordered the steak very rare and it came out pink, but not red. It came with a peppercorn sauce, but it lacked flavor and I was glad there was salt and pepper on the table. The Belgians are known for great fries, and they did not disappoint on this plate. Service was a bit hit and miss the night I was there; they had a problem in the kitchen and it affected the wait staff who forgot to bring me a steak knife, added a charge for bottled water I did not order, and neglected my discount from The Fork*. All remedied in the end, but a reminder to always check your bill before paying it. My total with a glass of wine and the discount came to 20 Euros or about $23 for quality food in a nice atmosphere. 
The strolling the Ramblas after dinner
I passed the Gran Teatre del Liceu where they were getting ready to open for an evening of Opera.
I was about to turn in for the night when my host invited another house guest and me to a Couchsurfing event at Polaroid Bar, literally next to our place. I'm glad I accepted the invitation because I met people from all over the world, including Latvia, Germany, Italy, France, and of course the US. It was a Couchsurfing event, so we got discounted draft beer, and even though I don't usually drink beer, it was better than the wine and the sweet mixed drinks, so I had my first beer in years here for the incredible price of 1.50 Euros (less than $2) for a pint!
On another night we went to Juanita Lalà, which had much better wine, and very loud music, but a great patio and enough space for some South Americans to strut their dance moves. We left when the place emptied at 3 AM, and headed to the Placa Reial to go clubbing but all three places we tried to get into were full or had monster lines!
After getting some snacks at the local market, we headed back around 4AM, but we weren't the only ones out. I felt perfectly safe out that late with other people, but if I had been alone, I would definitely stick to the main streets and take a taxi if I was coming back from or to the Gothic quarter.

*Note : They had a problem with my US credit card, so bring cash or an EU credit card. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Beautiful Buildings in Barcelona

Barcelona rivals Paris for the sheer beauty of its buildings. 

This is a hotel near Diagonal and Casa Mila

that resembles a castle.
A post office in the Gothic Quarter
whose interior
is as mesmerizing as a museum.
The justice building is less ornate, but still stately.
Everywhere I walked, there were intriguing styles,
sometimes right next to famous landmarks like the Casa Batlló,

or along the Ramblas.
The street lights
and street tiles in the Eixample district, both had rich details.
Now apartments and offices, many buildings are meticulously maintained 



and you never know what may be beyond an open door
or behind an ancient window.
Residents are proud of their culture and their language Catalan
and their rights to use natural substances
even as ingredients in ice cream:)
Some signs are meant for the tourists, but that doesn't make them any less true!