day two in Amsterdam, Rembrandt and the Golden Age masterpieces


The primary reason for my trip was to visit the Rembrandt exhibition at the Rijksmuseum. Weeks earlier I had purchased my ticket online, so I was all set to go.

Rembrandt lived and painted in Amsterdam for most of his life, and the city’s Rijksmuseum, renowned for its collection of Golden Age masterpieces, plans two extraordinary shows for 2019. ALL THE REMBRANDTS (15 February–10 June) will exhibit its entire collection of works by artist – over 20 paintings, including The Jewish Bride, circa 1667 and The Night Watch, 1642, the latter being widely considered Rembrandt’s masterwork; 60 drawings; and several hundred of the artist’s 1,300 prints.

Sunday morning was glorious. While church bells pealed across the city, I strolled the near-empty streets in search of a place for breakfast. Compared to Paris which was, and still is, in the grips of a pollution alert, the air was fresh, cold and clean. The cawing of gulls overhead reminded me that the sea is not far away. Like Venice, Amsterdam is a watery city comprising a river, a major seaport, and over 100 kilometres of canals. It connects to the North Sea via the North Sea Canal.


by Janwillemvanaalst

The Cold Pressed Juicery makes the tastiest and healthiest raw food, cold pressed juices and superfood smoothies. I grabbed a protein bar and a banana smoothie made with coconut, dates, tahini, brazil nuts, cacao, bee pollen, maca, chia seeds, vanilla, cinnamon and cashew milk. Yummy (and filling.)





Then I walked northwards to spend the entire afternoon at the Rijksmuseum.

For Art Nouveau and Art Deco fans, there are fabulous examples all over Europe. Walking tours are popular, and one day I will partake in one, probably in Belgium; Brussels is an important Art Nouveau center. Here’s the Gunters & Meuser building, constructed in 1917 in the Amsterdam School style of architecture (1915-1940).


The characteristics of the Amsterdam School style

The School of Amsterdam style was largely influenced by expressionism. The buildings were often built in round and expressive forms, with towers, ornamental spires and decorative windows and doors. Wrought iron elements, usually painted black or very dark green (so called Amsterdam green), were used as simple decorative or functional elements. Elaborate but sober in its expression, carpentry, usually painted white or again dark green, completes the buildings.


Here are two random examples of Art Nouveau glass art (above and below), inspired by natural forms and structures, as well as the curved lines of plants and flowers. It amazes me that this prized example below is unprotected and accessible to all right out in the street, as if it were a trivial door, an inconsequential gate.


Art Nouveau is a total art style. Most popular between 1890 and 1910, it embraces a wide range of fine and decorative arts, including architecture, painting, graphic art, interior design, jewelry, furniture, textiles, ceramics, glass art, and metal work.

The art movement had its roots in Britain, in the floral designs of William Morris, and in the Arts and Crafts movement founded by the pupils of Morris.


By 1910, Art Nouveau was already out of style. It was replaced as the dominant European architectural and decorative style, first by Art Deco and then by Modernism.

If large museums are not to your liking, here’s a list of five small museums worth visiting in the lovely city of Amsterdam. There’s also a link to Art Nouveau walking tours in Brussels.



back from Amsterdam, part 1


So so lucky with the weather. After a 4-hour train ride crossing the north of France, all of Belgium and the bottom half of Holland, my train arrived at Amsterdam Centraal at 2:30 pm on Saturday. The train trip back was only three hours. I returned to Paris at 7 pm this Monday evening.


Dragging my small suitcase across cobblestones, alongside canals and over bridges, I walked to my hotel located in the Jordaan district. I quickly checked in, then headed back out again. Everyone was out enjoying the beautiful weather.


I walked for 4 hours doing what I love best: wandering, taking photographs and popping into candy and cosmetic shops while enjoying the sunshine and vibe of this small city.


I don’t know what Jordaan district I ended up in, but towards 5:30 I spied a pizzeria called La Perla. Famished, I walked straight on in.


From my seat at the window ledge, I watched the street scene, drank ginger beer and ate my delicious pie.


Certain areas are what I call “feel-good” places. This district was one of them. If you could see the cute little houses with wooden benches out front, tulips adorning the windowboxes, and the general conviviality of the residents, you’d feel good too. I know I did. And then suddenly it got dark around 6:30 pm and the temperature dropped dramatically.

I scurried back to the hotel for a cocktail (in reverse order, as I had already eaten.) The bar at the hotel was warm and welcoming. I perused the cocktail list and chose a concoction of cognac, crème de framboise and champagne.


A nightcap on the house: espresso and Grand Marnier generously topped with thick fresh cream, not a jot of sugar. Yum.


And then upstairs to lie on my bed in front of the television.



My hotel room on the top floor was completely silent. Sometimes I wonder if one of the reasons I travel is to seek quietude.

More photos to come.

off to Amsterdam plus a great website for train travel in Europe

The other day I stumbled across a website for train travel within Europe. It opened up a plethora of possibilities. As I’m planning my May-June trip to Italy, I was wondering how to get from the Puglia region down south back up to northern Italy without taking a plane. And then I discovered Trainline. Italy has a high-speed train network (similar to France’s TGV (train à grande vitesse)) called Frecciarossa (“Red Arrow”), Frecciargento (“Silver Arrow”), and Frecciabianca (“White Arrow”). Frecciarossa trains are the fastest, reaching speeds of up to 190 MPH (300 km/h).

train italy

This means that from Bari or Brindisi down south (in the heel of Italy where I’ll be spending 7 days) I can jump on one of these shiny babies and head to any major city I want: Bologna, Genoa, Florence, Milan, Torino … before making my way back up to Paris. I’ve been to Bologna, Genoa, Milan and Florence but not Torino, so maybe I’ll go there. On the other hand, Florence is so beautiful and brimming with Art … Bologna was lovely … and Genoa is fascinating with its frescoes, palazzos, labyrinthine streets and medieval quarter … I can’t decide.

Called or, it connects to each country’s national railway system and facilitates ticket purchase.

I love travelling by train, it’s so relaxing and stress-free as opposed to airports and plane travel.

glorious weather, a weekend in Lille




After weeks and weeks of gloom, we’ve been enjoying glorious weather for the past week: cold in the morning, warmer throughout the day, and dry with brilliant sunshine. Friday after work I took the train up to Lille. The kids are on school vacation for two weeks.

The French word, “luge“, means sledding or toboganning. Despite the absence of snow, the city of Lille constructed this sled run for kids. My 6 year-old companion (soon to be 7) and I spent Saturday and Sunday at the Gare Saint Sauveur, a former train station (freight) converted into an exhibition center and recreational space. I’ve been taking the kids there for over a decade.


Inside there’s lots more to do: a giant chess game …


Le trampoline …


Le karting …


I have no idea what this is called, in French or in English …



Halfway across and treading on a single rope (like an acrobat) while holding onto another rope above, Soso stopped and said with a little trembling voice, “Tata, j’ai peur,” (Auntie, I’m afraid). What could I do, climb up and pluck him off the rope? With the help of a monitor while reassuring him that he couldn’t fall because he was attached by his safety belt, we talked him through it.



Le curling and le mini-golf …



All entirely free and paid for from the coffers (and taxpayers) of the city of Lille. Traditionally socialist, this northern city has had the same mayor since 2001. Martine Aubry is her name and the people of Lille are fond of her. Her father, Jacques Delors, was Minister of Finance under President François Mitterrand and also President of the European Commission.


Socialist mayor of Lille, Martine Aubry

She’s a no-nonsense woman and extremely efficient. Lille is a well-organized city and ideal for families. There are lots of activities for children and adults alike. After all his sporting activities, Soso announced that he was hungry and wanting lunch. So off we went to the on-site bistro, one of my favorite lunch spots, for a tasty, inexpensive meal. This is butternut squash risotto (delicious!). Soso had fish and chips.




Sunday was an equally beautiful day. Too nice to stay indoors. So off we went again, first to the park which was packed with kids, babies, parents and some grandparents.


boy on a bike (Soso)



After Ireland, France has the highest birth-rates in Europe. France’s family allowances for all (exempt from income tax) – what we used to call “baby bonuses” in Canada – are a contributing factor to this baby boom. Women are awarded a “birth bonus” for giving birth. The 2019 amount, for each baby born, is 941,67 euros. There are also September back-to-school allowances (example: 401,46 euros for a child from 15 to 18 years old), a moving allowance and other subsidies (chart below.)


Spring comes early here; the miniature daisies (marguerites) and crocuses (crocus) are out.



Next weekend I’m off to Amsterdam.

Here’s the French Social Security Family Benefits chart, in French, English and other languages.

my niece, Chiara: melody maker

She’s beautiful, she’s talented, and she’s performing as special guest this Friday night at Toronto’s Sony Centre for the Performing Arts.

Best wishes to you from Paris.

Rising from Toronto’s bustling music scene is 26 year old upcoming pop sensation, Chiara Young. Comprised of a masterful lyricist, talented pianist and soulful vocalist, Chiara brings an electrifying new approach to pop music. Debuting her new single ‘Fallout’ from her upcoming EP, Chiara continues to build on the success of previous single ‘Look At You Now’, bringing her flourishing supporters a colourful combination of heart, soul and inspiration while delivering a memorable journey for all.

(extract taken from the Toronto Guardian’s “Five Minutes With Toronto Alt-Pop musician Chiara Young”, written by Joel Levy, October 9, 2018.)

beautiful music

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What better place to listen to 17th century music than in a 17th century church. 

The other night a friend and I went to the Church of Notre-Dame-des-Blancs-Manteaux in the Marais to listen to a concert organized by the Venetian Centre for Baroque Music.

I love baroque music. And I love old churches. To combine the two was sheer delight. And the old church (built between 1685-1690) – full of atmosphere and lit only by candles – was an acoustic marvel.

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I tried to videotape a segment of the concert, but there was not enough light. Fortunately I found the same group of soloists on Youtube so that you too can listen to this sumptuous soothing music. Marc-Antoine Charpentier is the name of the 17th-century composer whose concerto they are singing. Enjoy.

Ensemble Correspondances, choir and orchestra – Sébastien Daucé, harpsichord, organ & direction

so I returned to Brussels in the Spring…

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In the end I didn’t get the job in Brussels. But a few weeks later I secured myself a pretty good job in Paris (located, literally, at the end of my street), so all’s well that ends well.

But I felt that I could easily live in Brussels. As I walked the streets, the words that popped into my head to describe the city’s vibe were “relaxed and loose” as opposed to “tense and high strung” that is Paris. There’s an appealing quirkiness to the place and it’s cheaper than France. Oh, and did I mention that Belgian beer is awesome?

So in the Spring I returned and stayed at the same B&B, The Sweet Brussels. Here’s my room, the bathroom and the building’s exterior:

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I wandered over to the nearby Marolles district to check out the flea market and the vintage furniture shops on the rue Blaes:

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The weather forecast predicted rain all weekend. It was the exact opposite.

The best fries!

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Belgian fries are awesome. Crisp, non-greasy and piping hot for 2 euros. I bought these from a food truck, called a fritkot, located on the Place de la Chapelle at the foot of a white cathedral. Belgians eat their fries with mayonnaise. I asked for malt vinegar but they didn’t have any, so I ate them plain, sprinkled with salt. Sit on a park bench, wash ’em down with a bottle of beer and life is good! It doesn’t take much to please this girl.


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From the Place de la Chapelle I walked straight down the boulevard de l’Empereur to the Place Albertine where I went in January. I wanted to see the park again. Look at the contrast between winter and spring:

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What a difference sunshine and warm weather makes. As the day drew to a close, I headed back to the B&B. A few doors up is a Moroccan pastry shop that makes pastilla: phyllo-pastry pie filled with shredded chicken, ground almonds, cinnamon and sugar. They also make Moroccan breads and pastries. I purchased some small fragrant cakes (flavored with anise and orange flower water) then retired to my room to sip herbal tea and watch a DVD.

It should be known that this neighborhood near the train station is kind of gritty (but relatively safe.) The advantage is that it’s within walking distance to everywhere.