from sunny and 20 degrees to gray and 7 degrees

Well, that was a major downer. I reluctantly left Valencia this morning and flew back to Paris. It was a beautiful flight. Thank you, Air France. Sunshine and smooth sailing all the way. (1 hour and 50 minutes.) To give us a better view, the pilot tilted the plane to the left as we flew over the Pyrenees mountains, snowcapped and sparkling in the sun. I couldn’t get to my tablet-camera in the overhead bin because the drinks trolley was blocking the aisle. Upon arrival in Paris, it became overcast and we flew through dense cloud before landing. The temperature is 7 degrees.

I HIGHLY recommend this Valencian hotel. When I return, I’ll stay there again. I like a hotel with a nice bar, a restaurant, friendly staff and super-comfy rooms with a TV screen and multi-international channels. This place didn’t disappoint. Plus, it’s perfectly located in the center of the Old Town within walking distance to everywhere. I’ll mention its name and post more pics in my next post.

The hotel bar and restaurant. Burrata pesto salad.

awestruck in Valencia

Well, awestruck might be a tad OTT (over the top), but I was instantly seduced upon arriving here. Since then, I’ve been walking around the historical quarter of this city with my mouth open, agog. And the question I asked myself at day’s end while sitting on a barstool in the hotel lounge quaffing a glass of wine (merlot) was this: have I been living in the wrong country for over two decades?

I LOVE this city. I should’ve come earlier. The architecture is drop dead gorgeous, the people are seriously sympathique and laidback, the food and drink is high quality and the overall vibe is cosmopolitan, authentic and relaxed. I left my camera at home and am obliged to take photos with my tablet. Not the best quality, but there you have it. These pics were taken at 7 pm as I roamed the streets of the Old Quarter before retiring to the hotel for food and drink.

The giraffe and the cat. See the marmalade cat slinking along the wall.

considering Spain

I don’t feel qualified to assess the ins and outs, ups and downs and overall living prospects of this country because I barely know it. I don’t speak the language either. In my view, if a person doesn’t know the language of a country and has never lived there, then he or she is ill-equipped to judge or evaluate it in any in-depth way. (So I’m going to do it superficially, based on initial observations.)

Surprisingly, many Spaniards, young and old, don’t speak any other language than their own … even in the tourist office! And so I muddle along, in a fusion of French, English and Italian, and try to make myself understood. But it’s frustrating. I have never encountered this language barrier in Italy or Portugal … ever. The Spanish are known to be chauvinistic … of their culture, language, identity, etc. and believe they don’t need to learn another language. Fair enough. But if you work in the tourism-hospitality-service industry, it seems to me a good idea to learn a second language.

I make an effort to speak their language. But who knew that red wine was “vino tinto”? I had been ordering a glass of “vino rosso” (Italian) before learning that “rojo” is red in Spanish, but “tinto” is used for red wine.

Here are some random observations on my 7th day in the Valencia region of Spain:

Sunshine makes all the difference. The weather’s gorgeous here: today it’s 18°C and sunny. Many apartments have no heating. A/C is essential, heating optional.

Spaniards love their ham. In supermarkets, butchers and restaurants you see gigantic hind legs of pigs, hoof attached, and a man or woman cutting off thin slices to be eaten as tapas, in a sandwich or on a plate. Accompanied with a glass of wine (Rioja) and a salad, you’ve got yourself a delicious snack or meal.

Jamón – The Artisanal Ham Of Spain. Jamón is at the heart of Spanish culture and cuisine. While Spain’s regions vary in their local food traditions, cured Serrano and Ibérico hams are treasured from coast to coast, from the markets of Barcelona to the bars of Galicia and everywhere in between.

Exuberant, loud and happy – everything the French aren’t. The Spanish people I’ve met so far are helpful and friendly, despite the language barrier.

Feminine solidarity. As I walk around, I see large groups of older women out enjoying a meal or a drink together. You don’t see this in France; younger age groups, yes, but not women in their 50s and upwards.

Cost of living is definitely cheaper in Spain than in France. But the quality of life is just as good, even better on some levels. Marvelous, modern infrastructure (gleaming highways and fast-speed trains.) Clean! Low crime. I feel perfectly safe walking around at night.

Siesta takes getting used to, in fact, it baffles me. What do they do? Everything shuts down from 1 or 2 pm onwards then opens up again at 5. In between, the towns and cities are ghost towns.

Shop hours are dubious or completely unmarked. I must’ve gone to this roast chicken place at least four times to buy myself half a roast chicken (take-out.) But every time I showed up, the place was closed. I never did buy the damned chicken … and I’ve been hankering for some every since.

Fresh and delicious orange juice! The regional coastline is covered in orange groves and Valencia oranges are the sweetest. Spain is the biggest orange producer in Europe. In supermarkets there are machines that squeeze the oranges and the juice goes into a plastic bottle (small, medium or large) that you place under the spigot.

Loving and affectionate relations between parents and their (small) children. I see much intergenerational action: grandparents taking their grandkids to the park; parents, children and grandparents all going out together on a weekend outing. The elderly are not excluded, but valued members of society. Children appear to be cherished here, like in Italy. It’s nice to see.

Many Spaniards are kind and put themselves out for you. I walked into a restaurant, early, around 6:30 pm. People don’t eat until 8 or 9 pm here, later in the summer. They weren’t ready yet, but rushed around setting up a table for me and translating the menu the best they could in English. I ordered steak (entrecote) and a glass of Rioja. The meat was served to me seared and smoking, à la plancha, with grilled mushrooms, potatoes and eggplant on the side.

The chef came out of the kitchen. “¿Bueno?

Bueno“, I replied nodding, my mouth full of juicy tender steak. It was a simple meal – no bread, no condiments other than a small dish of sea salt … and darn good. So good I went back the next night and had the exact same meal.

Tomorrow – onwards to the third largest city in Spain after Madrid and Barcelona: Valencia, or rather, Valenthia (the “c” is pronounced “th”).

is Paris overrated?

I so enjoy watching and listening to Nate as he reflects, ponders and evaluates his existence on this earth (and his place in it.) I guess you could call him a modern day existentialist. An American, he moved to Paris a few years ago. In this video, he talks about the good and bad of living in Paris. I agree with everything he says.

In October I posted a similar video of his parents who sold their home in Portland, Oregon and temporarily moved to Portugal with the idea of eventually settling there. After viewing the video of Nate below, click on October 2022 and select “the shocking reality of moving to Europe” to hear his parents’ story. As someone who has lived and worked in three different countries (and has three different nationalities), I find people’s stories about choosing where to live very interesting. If lucky, we do have choices. The challenge is to make the best choice. I am writing this from Spain where I am at this moment pondering the feasibility of me living here in the near future. More on that in my next blog post.


the joys of winter. hot chocolate.

What is one thing in particular I like about winter? Hot chocolate! I recently investigated two places in the Marais district. The first is an Italian gelateria called Pozzetto located at 39 rue du Roi de Sicile near the St Paul metro station. It’s a cute, homey place; welcoming and warm. I sat at a little round table and the woman who works there brought me this:


Now this was the real deal: Italian cioccolata calda, and as I sipped I was instantly transported to Florence on a cold and sunny winter’s day where I had gone over Christmas many years before. Glossy, unctuous, not sweet and deeply joyous. I savored every mouthful while uttering murmurs of satisfaction. Then I scraped the bottom of the cup with the spoon to get every last drop. I swear, if the woman wasn’t looking I would’ve shamelessly licked the cup clean with my tongue.

“Splendido!”, I said to the woman who had told me she was from Rome.  “Grazie”, she replied.

I will return to that place. Not only for the chocolate, but because it’s a friendly, down to earth kind of place. Back outside, I discovered an adorable Portuguese pastry shop right next door called Comme A Lisbonne. Tiny and immaculate, it serves only espresso and perfect, freshly-made custard tarts called pasteis de nata.  I had one, and as I nibbled I was instantly transported to a Lisbon sidewalk where I had stood eating the same kind of custard tart one warm, sunny day in June 2018.

The second place I went to (not on the same day!) is at the top end of the Marais. Jacques Genin can be found at number 133 rue de Turenne. The hot chocolate came to me on a tray in a white porcelain pitcher. Accompanying the pitcher was a large, white porcelain cup and saucer, a glass of water and a sugar bowl. This is hot chocolate for grown-ups. The space itself, like the hot chocolate, is minimalistic. I wouldn’t bring kids here. And a good thing, too, because when I filled the cup only halfway and drank, I burned my tongue and the inside of my mouth. It was scalding hot. It lacked the unctuosity that I like, but was not overly sweet which is a good thing. If you desire a sweeter taste, plop in a sugar cube or two. I paid 7 euros for the burnt tongue.

This photo isn’t mine and uncredited.

There’s a newer, second Pozzetto! Here’s a post I wrote several years ago entitled “the Marais, hot chocolate, a new shoe store and two wine bar bistros” –

the Marais, hot chocolate, a new shoe store, and two wine bar bistros

Remembrance Day – November 11

nov 11 one

To honor the veterans who fought for France in both world wars, today is a statutory holiday in this country. Small French flags, attached to city buses, flutter in the breeze. Large French flags, lining both sides of the Champs Elysées, snap in the chill November air. And the question I ask every year is the same….where are the British flags? The American flags? The Canadian flags?

Because as far as World War II is concerned, I think that French memories need refreshing. To honor the Allied forces – those who died on the D-Day landing beaches and those who liberated Paris from four years of Nazi occupation – I’d like to see British and American and Canadian flags flapping in the breeze alongside the French ones every year on November 11 on the Champs Elysées.

nov 11 two

A brief recap. On June 6, 1944, better known as the D-Day Invasion of Normandy, American, British and Canadian forces landed on the beaches of Normandy. Two months later and with the aid of the U.S. 4th Infantry Divisionthe French 2nd Armored Division entered Paris. On August 26th, 1944, General Charles de Gaulle led a celebratory march down the Champs d’Elysees. He then delivered his famous speech at City Hall that attributed the liberation of Paris entirely to the French.


“Paris!” he declared, “An outraged Paris! A broken Paris! A martyred Paris! But…a liberated Paris!  Liberated by itself, liberated by its people with the help of the armies of France, with the support and the help of all of France, of the fighting France, of the only France, the real France, the eternal France!”


Within 24 hours Charles de Gaulle had conveniently forgotten who had done what. Since he was orating in French, I suppose he figured none of the Allies would understand. (It’s also true that he was treated despicably by Roosevelt and Churchill, so the speech was probably his commuppance.) Today, while aggrandizing the valor of Charles de Gaulle to monumental proportions, the role of the Allies is downplayed to the point of erasure. Ah well, every country needs its hero.

I strongly recommend that visitors to France go to Normandy to view the Allied war cemeteries. I went years ago. It’s a deeply moving experience. In fact, I should return for a new visit because the subject would make an excellent blog post. Do they transport busloads of French teenagers to visit the Normandy war cemeteries as part of the school History curriculum? If not, they should.

Years ago, I drove with friends to Vierville-sur-Mer. We stayed at the Hotel Casino located on the shores of Omaha Beach. The D-Day museum is there. Nearby are the impressive and well-tended American, British and Canadian cemeteries. Worth visiting! Take your handkerchiefs because the inscriptions on the modest gravestones (primarily in the British cemeteries where the gravestones are made from English limestone) will make you weep. The next day we moved on to Bayeux, a jewel of a town. I must say that Normandy, aside from its tragic history, is a lovely region, one of my favorites of France.

US cemetary Francebritish cememtary

For info, the British war cemetery in the town of Bayeux records around 4,648 burials, the largest known British war cemetery. The other two cemeteries are the Canadian soldiers’ cemetery in Cinthaux and the cemetery in Ranville. Ranville is known to be the first French village to be liberated from German occupation during the Second World War.

A quick history lesson of the Normandy beaches (“We shall fight on the beaches …” Winston Churchill, June 4, 1940) – The Allied invasion of Normandy, code-named Operation Neptune, was the first stage of the larger Operation Overlord, intended to liberate Western Europe after nearly four years of German occupation. The start of Operation Neptune, known a D-Day, was made on June 6, 1944.  More than 5,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft carried 160,000 Allied troops across the English Channel to a 50-mile stretch of Normandy beaches, code-named Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha and Utah. The first air attack was launched under a nearly full moon shortly after midnight. The British and Canadian forces were successful in seizing Gold, Juno and Sword beaches, as were the Americans at Utah beach. However, at Omaha beach, where the German defense was strongest, American forces suffered heavy losses. Air assaults missed their mark and landing crafts were unable reached the intended destinations near the beach, leaving invading soldiers with little protection.Though they suffered an estimated 2,500 casualties, the Americans were able to establish themselves on Omaha beach by the end of the day. In all, more than 100,000 Allied troops had reached Normandy, forcing German forces inland and opening a new theater of war in Western Europe.

new tea salon and Mariage Frères


Meeting up for tea or hot chocolate, and maybe a cake or two, on a Sunday afternoon is a Parisian thing to do. Under the arcades of the rue de Rivoli and across the road from the Tuileries Gardens, Monique and I came across a newish tea salon called Sébastien Gaudard.


Does the photo below look odd to you? The woman standing makes me think of Alice in Wonderland who ate the cake with EAT ME written on it. She looks unusually large as she towers over the young Asian woman.


There are two small tables on the ground floor and several tables upstairs. We both had hot chocolate at 7 euros a cup (!) Although I had my eye on the rum baba, I managed to resist. 


What a pleasure to see someone, especially a young person, reading an old-fashioned book. The day I learned that some people read books off of their telephones, I shuddered.


From the tea salon, we walked 5 minutes down the rue de Rivoli towards the Louvre, past the Musée des Arts Décoratifs until we reached Le Carrousel du Louvre. The Carrousel du Louvre is a shopping mall located underneath the Louvre. There’s a separate entrance so you don’t have to go through the Louvre to get there. It’s a beautiful space filled with beautiful boutiques. There’s also an Au Printemps department store as well as a restaurant and snack area (including a controversial McDonald’s and Starbucks that Parisians did not want there.)


Spend! Spend! Spend! Governments want consumers to spend; money circulating keeps the economy buoyant.

I love Fragonard for their soaps and perfumes. But I love Mariage Frères even more. Walk inside for a sensual tea experience. Stick your head into one of the large black canisters filled with fragrant tea leaves and breathe in deep. Below the salesperson is measuring my two packets of tea – Russian Breakfast and Darjeeling Rose Himalaya. The most popular blend is Marco Polo.


All the boutiques also sell teapots, cakes, chocolate and tea accoutrements. There are also tea salons on the premises but be forewarned, they’re expensive. There are 13 Mariage Frères boutiques scattered around Paris.


a Sunday afternoon in Belgium

I wanted to walk in a forest, my friend wanted to return to a favorite restaurant in Brussels and his kids wanted to eat Belgian chocolate, so we drove northwards into France’s neighboring country. Lille is located only ten miles from the French-Belgian border.

Into the woods

I was a little disappointed because there were no autumn colors. I described the vibrant reds, yellows, oranges and russet browns of an autumnal Canadian forest to my companions, but unless you’re actually there I guess it’s hard to imagine. I miss the majestic maple trees with their large lobed leaves and crimson red hue. 🍁

After our walk, we drove north to Brussels and had a meal in a Lebanese restaurant before heading to the main square of the city called the Grand-Place. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, The Grand-Place is the central square of the city of Brussels. It is surrounded by opulent Baroque guildhalls of the former Guilds of Brussels and two larger edifices; the flamboyant Town Hall and the neo-Gothic King’s House. Construction of the Grand-Place began in the 11th century and was largely complete by the 17th century.

No visit to Belgium is complete without buying chocolate, there are chocolate shops on every street corner, some quite opulent. In 2021, the country exported over 2.5 billion dollars worth of chocolate worldwide. Yes, it’s that good! (and reasonably priced)

The take-out hot chocolate was delicious. We drank it in the car driving back to Lille. If you’re interested in reading more blog posts about Brussels and other Belgian cities I’ve visited in the past, click on BELGIUM up top.