Following the Trails of Van Gogh and the Impressionists

Bottle Train StationVan Gogh seems to pop up in many of my journeys.  I saw him down in Provence last spring.  Then we met up in Amsterdam so he could show me some of his work.  He even stays in Chicago at the Art Institute.  This time I acted like an Impressionist myself by taking the train out to visit him in the countryside.

Auvers-Sur-Oise is a little over a half an hour train ride from the city on weekends (it takes longer during the week because there is no direct route).  There is one train that goes in, and one train that comes back directly.  Although I felt 10:08 was a bit late to start the day, I later appreciated the extra time since my metro line was down.  With about seven hours to explore the countryside, I was ready with my map and camera.

I would be tempted to visit this village even if there were no famous sights thanks to Van Gogh, Cezanne, Renoir, or Daubigny.  After stepping down from the train, I felt that we had arrived in a different time period.  I expected to see steam rising from the tracks and hear a horn bellowing as it left, but I guess we didn’t actually travel back in time.  There were gobs of people going to see the sights.  My plan was to go in the opposite direction they were going.  When you get off the train, you basically have two options.  Go east, or go west.  They went east, so I went west.

Let’s take a look at what there is to see in Auvers-Sur-Oise:

-Auberge Ravoux (Maison de Van Gogh): This hotel/restaurant contains the room that Van Gogh stayed in and ended his life.  On the 27th of July, Van Gogh shot himself, but he died two days later in the petite attic room with a cloudy skylight.

-Chateau: This chateau appears typical on the outside, but on the inside is a high tech journey through the age of impressionism, can-can, and trains.  This is an audio guide tour that takes about an hour, but really provides the context for time time period.  You don’t even push any buttons, the device picks up a signal based on the room you are in.

-Park Van Gogh: A nice place to wait for the train if you arrive a little early.  Gaze at the sculpture of Van Gogh who looks a bit like a vagabond.

-Colombieres Manor (Tourist Office): I stopped here first to equip myself with a map.  I appreciated this a few times during my stay.

-Doctor Gachet’s House: Dr. Gachet was like a brother to Van Gogh and watched over his health while he was in Auvers Sur Oise.  This is probably my favorite sight other than the trails.  Van Gogh painted a few scenes from his home, and it is understandable why.  The compact space is filled with lush landscaping and vibrant colors.  Roses seem to be quite popular in this town.

-Trails: Walking the trails is like walking with Van Gogh by your side.  He painted many canvases during his seventy-day stay in the town.  The trails guide you past some of the same places he set up to paint his impression.  My favorite locations were the wheat fields and his tombstone.  In one of my pictures below you can see the cemetery gate opened a little.  I like to think they leave it open at night so Van Gogh can escape to paint a starry scene.  I’ve really developed an empathy for Van Gogh, and look forward to following his trail on future adventures.

Places you can visit, but I did not:

-Daubigny’s Studio

-Absinthe Museum

Being Van Gogh

Imagine you are 37 years old, and the world is too much to control.  You’ve tried escaping the noise of Paris, but your mind is just too powerful.  You don’t want another episode like what happened with the earlobe removal, but there are so many stresses in life.  Money is tight, Theo is not doing well at his job, your godson’s health is deteriorating.  Just keep working to stay busy.  You step out into the wheat fields and feel isolation take over.  The black crows fly over ominously and life seems hopeless.

It is heavy to think that someone so skilled could be so vulnerable, but I suppose it happens often.  Some say he didn’t actually cut off his earlobe, but Gauguin did in a fencing match.  There are also others that say he didn’t shoot himself, but a couple young men did on accident with a faulty gun.  It is hard to say what the truth is, but reading his letters seems to indicate an uneasy mind.

Writers of the Left Bank in Paris

PuppyWell, I’m on my third walk with the company, Paris Walks, and this was another fun tour.  I love the idea of being a writer, and imagining the 1920s in Paris as a writer, so I had to go on the Writers of the Left Bank tour.  I appreciated seeing new and familiar sights, but with a different perspective.  Our guide balanced knowledge with humor, which is always appreciated.

I’ve learned some very interesting facts that I will share on here, but I advise you to go on the tour if this is a topic that interests you because you will probably be able to remember much more information than I can.  I hope you enjoy the photos.  I had a great time taking and editing them.

Interesting Facts Learned:

-This one may be difficult for some people to swallow…  The Shakespeare and Company we visit near Notre Dame is not the original.  It is actually the third, and was never owned by Sylvia Beach.  Hemingway and Joyce never frequented this spot.  She opened one store from 1919-1921, but needed more space, so went to Rue l’Odeon for the shop that was open for around 20 years.  This is the famous Shakespeare and Company that loaned books and money to famous writers.  The current Shakespeare and Company name was purchased by Walt Whitman’s son, George, and is now run by Sylvia Beach Whitman.  You can still appreciate the values set up by Sylvia’s original store.

-Many Jazz musicians from America came to Paris to avoid discrimination and play in clubs.

-Some authors from the beat generation didn’t bathe for over a week, or possibly longer if they stayed in the Beat Hotel.

-There is a theatre that has played the same two shows for over 50 years.

-Sylvia Beach met her companion while visiting the French woman’s bookstore.  Syvlia’s hat blew away and the shop owner picked it up and looked at her.  They were for over 30 years after that.

-During the second world war, a German soldier came to purchase the last copy of Finnegan’s Wake, but she refused to sell it to him.  He replied with threats of shutting down her store and taking all of her books.  She packed up her store in nearly four hours and never reopened after that.  Fortunately her stock was saved, but she was not.  She was sent to an internment camp shortly after.  Hemingway “liberated” Shakespeare and Company, but it never reopened under her name.  Supposedly he “liberated” the bookstore after “liberating” the Ritz Hotel for a drink.

-Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald had a somewhat tragic life.  Scott died at 44 from alcoholism, and Zelda died in a fire at a psychiatric hospital.

-Hemingway used to write about his struggles financially, but he married two fairly wealthy women who lived with him in Paris during different times in his life.  If he was poor, it was probably because of drinking or gambling too much.

-Gertrude Stein was not the only Stein to purchase paintings and open her home to the public for viewing.  Her brother and his wife did the same just down the block.

-And more randomly, Thomas Paine escaped death based on a fluke.  Death came to those with a chalk mark outside their cell, and his cell was open, so the mark was made on the inside, and he escaped death.

*If you’d like to know more about the photos, please hover over them to read the captions.

Bastille Arts and Crafts Market in Paris

Place des Vosges in the MorningMy title for this post is a bit misleading because my intentions were to post about a wonderful Marche in the Bastille with many artisans.  Unfortunately, the market was a bit of a bust.  The book said it began at 9, but it began at 10.  I didn’t mind the wait as I grabbed un cafe.  When I returned after 10, there were still only a small handful of stalls open.  C’est la vie.  I’ll try again later on a Saturday to see if it is any better another time.

What originally began as a walk to the market turned out to be a walk of discovery.  I strolled past the Place des Vosges, which is not even a block away.  To my fortune, I uncovered the running path of the nearby firemen.  Not a bad start to my walk.  The Bastille is just a couple blocks away from where I am staying, so I felt like I was exploring a new area in my neighborhood.

I found some treasures.  First, I saw a boulangerie that was posted on Facebook to be the best.  C’est magnifique!  I purchased a baguette (which may be gone before the end of the night) and some macaroons (which are already gone).  As I continued, I found a restaurant that I have heard about over and over: Frenchie.  This will have to be a treat to myself for dinner one night so I can share what is so fantastic about it.  The responsibilities of writing a travel blog are heavy.  Then, I found a wonderful shopping street with many famous stores, but not near the congestion of Rue de Rivoli.

Besides my general voyage around the area, I found my inner photographer voice screaming out at me.  The weather was blah, but the streets were beautiful.  I realized I need to spend some more time in my own vicinity to better understand my home in Paris.  Please tell me what you think of the photos.  I have recently discovered Adobe Lightroom and I’d like to know what you think about the images I am creating.  Merci beaucoup!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Companionable

kendra2I am going to start with the obvious companion in my life: Kendra.  I adopted her back in 2009 from a pug rescue.  They found her on the streets after she’d been dumped by the puppy mill.  She was a fragile little girl with attitude if another dog got too close.  I call her the queen, the ham, but she is my girl through and through.  She is there in the nights when I can’t stand to be alone, and the days when I just need someone to want me around.  I’m almost getting teary-eyed thinking about my companion because she is over 4,000 miles away.  Don’t worry, the grandparents are taking good care of her.

On a more creative vibe, here are some other “companions” I could not live without.  I interpret companion to mean something/someone that is there in the good times and bad.  Obviously my family is a form of companion, but let’s stick with symbolic representations for now.  Check out the captions to see my interpretation.

Place Monge Market and a Meal

Place-Monge-Marche-1The mist that hung in the air did not deter me from opening the door, and setting out to the market.  I shuffled down to Ile St. Louis, past Hemingway’s home, and through Rue Mouffetard to Place Monge where the market can be found.  Markets look so inviting in the rain with their covered roofs and warm lights.  The smell of roasted chicken permeates the little enclosures until you walk past a cheese stand. Then, a new odor takes over.

A young woman assisted me with the necessary produce for the day.  I asked her what was fresh, and she replied that the apricots were sweet as she offered a hand-sliced piece.  I showed my approval with a purchase to bring home.  We then had a language lesson on garlic.  I taught her the English pronunciation, and she taught me the French word: ail.  I knew that this was the French word for garlic, but I’m so afraid to butcher the language when I speak.  She was kind enough to let me photograph some of her produce.  Be careful with photography at markets.  Some will have signs prohibiting it.  Support the local farmers by purchasing something, even if it is small, and kindly ask to take photos.  Otherwise, be discreet, and try not to get in the way of their business.

I brought my goodies home to place in the refrigerator.  Just as my apartment door was closing, I opened it again to go to my next destination.  I was very fortunate to have good company for lunch.  My tour guide from last year is finishing a tour, so we met up for a bite to eat.  It was such a refreshment to talk with someone I know, in a language I understand.  She is a kind, supportive person, and I enjoyed catching up.

There was a question she asked me about what future I see with travel, writing, and photography.  As I write this post I can’t help but be excited about the prospect of having a future in one of these areas.  I believe in the very cliche statement that everything happens for a reason.  It is interesting to think of the steps that have led me to where I am, and how future steps will lead me further.  How electrifying to think of the possible path ahead.

Does anyone else get excited thinking about the possible future?

Photography Portfolio

PortfolioI’ve been trying to decide whether or not I want to pay for a professional service to print my photos for customers, and I have decided the investment will be worth it.  I have seen the quality in the prints and shipping methods to know that if people like my photos and want to purchase them, then this company is the way to go.

I am only able to upload recent photos for now, but if you like my photos, please check out my portfolio.  I will be uploading past photos when I return home.  I receive a small profit from the company (just a few dollars), but it excites me to think that people like my photos enough to bring them into their homes.  I appreciate any support, and hope you will take a peek.

Thank you to all of you that read, like, and comment on my posts.  This teacher feels at home in her global-reaching classroom.  I hope you are traveling soon.

Cook’n With Class in Paris Part 2

The-ChefI think I was suffering from the tryptophan of the amazing meal we prepared last night because all I wanted to do when I got home was go to sleep.  Now that I have recovered from the food trance, I’m ready to talk about what an amazing experience I had.  There were several classes offered, but I knew the Evening Market Class was right for me.

First, let’s start with who should sign up for a class.  I know it may be a little scary to look at the price, but this class will be worthwhile for you if at least one of the following is true. You:

-Like food

-Like wine

-Like dessert

-Like cheese

-Like markets

-Like going on field trips

-Like spending time with small groups

-Like learning from an expert

-Like practicing what you learn

-Like kind teachers that are patient

-Like experimenting with food

-Like the French culture

-Or you just want to improve your skill

So, basically if you are a human, this class is for you.  Now that we know who this is for, let’s get to the good parts.  What do we do?

Part 1: Shopping

The trip begins with shopping for dinner’s ingredients.  The menu evolves as we browse the selection and get to know each other.  Patrick did not skimp on quality or quantity.

We began at the boulangerie where we picked up the necessary baguettes.  We even saw the man baking as we walked by the window.

From there, we headed to the butcher.  Fish would be the main course, but we agreed on veal for the entree (which is an appetizer in France).

Next, it was time for cheese.  I think I probably learned the most in this store.  I’m even acquiring an appreciation for the stinkiness of a fromagerie.  Patrick selected five cheeses with us.

Then, we walked to the fishmonger.  Patrick took the opportunity to teach us about farm raised vs. ocean fish.  He also shared techniques for how to determine fish freshness.  He was originally going to pick out one fish, but the fishmonger told us that a different one would be the best because it was caught today.  I think he was right because it was phenomenal (and I don’t care for fish much).

Finally, we needed the produce to tie all of the ingredients together.  A local market housed some of the freshest fruits and veggies that we would later chow down on.

Main Lessons Learned:

-Some boulangeries don’t make the dough there, try to find one where they make the dough and bake the bread.

-Cheeses are grouped together by kind.

-They put the stinkiest cheeses by the door to help with ventilation.

-Cheeses have signs with a wealth of information (pasteurized, not pasteurized,animal it came from, and seals).

-Typically not pasteurized cheese is the best, except with Roquefort.

-Common brie in America is not brie.

-Comte cheese is the most famous in France right now (and my favorite of what we tasted).

-Some rinds of the cheese is eaten by mites, but that is okay.

-Some mold is good (especially for digestion).

-When you go to a fish stand, typically the outermost part is either the fish they are trying to get rid of or it is farm raised.  The best fish is usually inside.

-If you see a small portion of tuna left, don’t buy any.  Tuna is a huge fish and if there is only a little left, it is probably not as fresh.

-Milkiness on the scales of the fish indicates freshness.

-Looking under the gills for a deep red also indicates freshness.

-Fish is expensive and you only get a percentage of the fish close to half of what you pay for.

-Celery root can be substituted with potatoes.

-Look for light green and yellow in the center when buying celery.

Part 2: Cooking

Now that we have the ingredients, it is time to start putting the masterpiece together.  I’m not going to list every detail of how we made our dishes because that is the joy of taking the class.  Here is the menu though:

Entree (Appetizer)

Veal on top of a celery salad with Dijon and Roquefort blue cheese vinaigrette.  Garnish: Candied orange peel


Fish with celery root gratin, haricot verts, red onions in wine, and tomato/butter sauce.  Garnish: basil and julienne tomato peel


Goat, Brie, Roquefort, a stinky one, and one that was my favorite (and the favorite of France, similar to Swiss), but the name is escaping me


Cherry cake with improvised sauce

Main Lessons Learned:

-Candied fruits are easy and great as a garnish or addition to dishes.

-Celery makes a great salad with orange and vinaigrette.

-Add cold butter to make sauces to avoid oily sauce.

-To remove the smell of garlic on your hands, rub them on something made of stainless steel.

-I really need to stop touching my meat so much when it is the pan.  Cook, flip, cook.  That is it.

-Celery root is awesome and will now be added to my grocery lists.

-I think I am a fish person after all.

-Blanching vegetables stops the cooking and preserves vitamins.

Part 3: Eating

After slaving away in the kitchen (yeah right), we put together our plates.  We spend some time on garnishing and presentation.  When I looked at my plates, I thought about the couple of extra minutes it took to take a meal from just delicious to beautiful and delicious.  Each dish was a fusion of sweet, savory, crunch, smoothness, and every wonderful combination imaginable.  I will make these dishes again.  In fact, I am eating candied cherries on bread with goat cheese right now.  Not only can I reproduce what we did, but also incorporate twists based on the foundation of skills taught.

Part 4: Rolling Home

After the abundance of wine and food, it was time to roll down to the metro.  This night will probably be the highlight of my trip because of the people I met, food I ate, and experiences I had.  If you are considering a cooking class in Paris, I highly recommend Cook’n with Class.

I’ve shared these pictures in a previous post, but I’d like to throw them up here again now that there is more context behind them.

Marmottan and Marches

Eiffel Tower 2I took a trip to the west side of Paris for a little culture and market shopping.  My morning began at the Marmottan Monet Museum.  I hopped on the metro to La Muette and walked through a refreshing park to reach the museum.  The Marmottan houses several Monets along with other impressionists’ work and a variety of art.  The former townhouse is a remarkable setting for the bequeathed paintings.  If you can’t get enough of Monet’s water lilies, then you will love this place.  If you are short on time, I recommend the D’Orsay and Orangerie before visiting this museum.  I enjoyed the Monet’s and other Impressionists’ work more in those locations.  (Sorry, no pictures inside, so I can’t share the artwork with you).

After seeing the beautiful color and light of the impressionist style, I was ready to get outside and see some of my own.  I took a walk from the museum up to the Trocodero.  One of my favorite moments in Paris happens when you turn a corner and all of a sudden the Eiffel Tower is peaking through.  Sometimes you turn a corner and it screams at you because you are a lot closer than you realized.  I walked down through the Champ de Mars past the Ecole de Militaire to a market called Saxe-Breteuil.

The open air market has a variety of products, but I went to stock up on my produce.  After taking the cooking class last night, I am ready to do some cooking at home.  A lovely French woman helped me select the freshest foods.  She did not speak English, so we mumbled our way through figuring out what I wanted.  I was going to get peaches, but she said the nectarines were much sweeter.  She helped me select the perfect tomatoes and “bella” lettuce.  I grabbed some cherries that I will candy and put on ice cream, goat cheese, or maybe some pork…  I feel so adventurous!

At this point I was getting pretty hungry, so I walked up to Rue Cler for lunch.  This may be one of the best places to eat lunch simply for the abundance of people-watching opportunities.  It was finally time I ordered a croque monsieur, so I did.  I opted to save a little money and have my cafe and dessert at home.  What a beautiful day to get out and wander.

Cook’n With Class in Paris

AppetizerTaking a cooking class in Paris is a good idea.  Taking a market cooking class in Paris is a great idea.  I browsed the different selections for cooking classes, and Cook’n with Class seemed to fit my personality best.  Hands on learning, “field trips,” eating, drinking, and good company.  We went with the chef to select the freshest food for the day.  From there, he creates a four course menu: appetizer, main dish, cheese plate, and dessert.  I learned so much about food and cooking that will have to be shared in a separate post, later.  They are very generous with their wine, and the hour is late, so I am going to keep this post short because sleep is calling.


Entree (Appetizer)

Veal on top of a celery salad with Dijon and Roquefort blue cheese vinaigrette.  Garnish: Candied orange peel


Fish with celery root gratin, haricot verts, red onions in wine, and tomato/butter sauce.  Garnish: basil and julienne tomato peel


Goat, Brie, Roquefort, a stinky one, and one that was my favorite (and the favorite of France, similar to Swiss), but the name is escaping me


Cherry cake with improvised sauce

The chef will e-mail the recipes within a week.  I think I may have to take another class…  Let the pictures do the talking for tonight.

Let the Sales Begin!

Soldes-1The next five weeks in France is the equivalent to Black Friday in the states.  Today marks the beginning of the soldes (sales in English).  Everyone is out spending money and waiting in queues.  This sale happens only twice a year (now and in January/February), so you better get out and shop!

Warning #1: Although the price may be right, don’t forget to really look at the quality.  I took clothing each year in high school, so I know cheap fabric and sewing when I see it.  For some reason, thin material is in.  Ask yourself if the quality is what you want, or if you are willing to pay a small fee for a short-term outfit.

Warning #2: Lines are insane.  If you don’t like crowds, you may want to opt out of this.  I found two belts I really liked, but after seeing the lines, I realized it was not worth it.  I’ll return during off hours to avoid the crowd.

Looks like he found some goodies.
Even the dog is searching for bargains.
Even the dog is searching for bargains.
I can't resist a sale.  I bought the jacket, but Couldn't convince myself of the quality of the dress.  P.S. I wouldn't wear jeans with it (the lines were just crazy, so I tried to hurry).
I can’t resist a sale. I bought the jacket, but couldn’t convince myself the quality of the dress was worth it even though it would look really cute with a belt. P.S. I wouldn’t wear jeans with it (the lines were just crazy, so I tried to hurry).
They teach them young here in France.
They teach them young here in France.