The Eiffel Tower in the Rain


We last went to the top of the Eiffel Tower in 1993 with Kate who was then 14.  We decided during our fall 2015 trip that it was time to revisit it.  I booked tickets three months in advance when they become available and felt clever for having obtained two tickets to the top for October 5.  The tickets go within minutes of becoming available.  Of course, one of the  down sides of having advance tickets for an outdoor site is the weather.  October 5th was the only day in October that it poured all day and well into the night.  But we had the blasted tickets and we were going.

There were no lines for tickets; the only people going up that day were those hardy (stubborn) souls like us who had bought tickets ahead and were not to be thwarted.


We took the elevator to the second floor bypassing the first level.

DSC02887The second floor has a number of amenities including rest rooms, the Jules Verne restaurant, snack bars and a souvenir shop.  The souvenir shop includes signs warning people not to buy the shoddy and inferior souvenirs being sold by hawkers in the square below.  Many immigrants make their living selling small blinking Eiffel Towers and key chains and such.  We bought a small tower from one of them for our granddaughter Vivian.


DSC02944I stepped out onto the observation deck and quickly took a snapshot upward of the tower.  It is just beautiful up close and from everywhere in the city.

DSC02896Even with the rain the views of the city were terrific from the second level.  Here you can see the glass roof of the Grand Palais as well as Sacre Coeur on the hill of Montmartre.DSC02893

From another direction you can spot Notre Dame and the Pantheon.


And here we have the Seine below and the Arc du Triomphe.DSC02946

For the trip to the top we lined up again; during crowded period this can take awhile but we only had to wait for one car load before us on this rainy day.  If you have only purchased tickets to the second level or have walked up, you can buy tickets to the top here before lining up.DSC02903

It is a bit of a thrill to climb up through the skinny top of the tower to the observation deck at the top.  Designing the elevators to move people from the ground to the top was complex and the process has changed several times over the decades.   Now the elevators to the top from the second floor involve one smooth voyage up; originally you had to disembark and cross over a narrow gangway to a second elevator before reaching the top.

There is plenty of room to walk around the top and observe although the cloud bank we were in made it a bit eerie.


Gustave Eiffel, the head of the company that built the tower in 1889, was allowed to keep a small apartment to entertain guests on the top level.  This apartment is glassed in so visitors can get a peek today.   When the Tour Eiffel was built there was considerable opposition by the artistic community that felt it would be a blot on the city and it was originally expected to be a temporary structure and demolished after 20 years; part of the design required that it be easy to disassemble.   By that time it had already become an icon of Paris.

DSC02924 (1)Here we are at the top of the Tower.  Over our shoulder you can see the warning signs; of course it would seem obvious that no one should be throwing things but the interesting sign is the one warning about putting padlocks on the fencing.  This is a blight all over Paris, but of course trying it here and accidentally dropping it from the Eiffel Tower could have terrible consequences.  The ridiculous ‘love locks’  have turned several Paris bridges into garbage dumps and actually damaged the railings on one bridge which had to be replaced.  There were none visible on the tower.


The view from the top is spectacular even through the fog and rain;  this is similar to the view of the Pantheon and Notre Dame shown earlier from the second level.DSC02941

The Island below is the Ile aux Cygnes (Island of the Swans) shown in an earlier post of a walk from Parc Citroen to the Eiffel Tower; you can see the  quarter size model of the Statue of Liberty placed near the Pont de Grenelle in 1889 near the top center of this picture.


There is a ‘champagne bar’ at the top of the tower, but don’t get your hopes up.  Basically it is a closet where a waiter will dispense   a plastic coupe de champagne for a stiff price.  You can stand around in the fog and rain sipping it.DSC02916

After heading down from the top we walked across the Seine to Trocadero which offers the best view of the Eiffel Tower; we wanted that great view for the top of the hour sparkling of the Tower.



Although the rain had let up the fog amplified the search lights on the tower; it is an amazing sight.


You can’t really capture the sparkle well with a still camera; my husband got a great short video on his phone, but here as you can see rather than a sparkle you capture the individual lights as they come on.


This remains my favorite view of the Tower.  Years ago returning from a dinner party nearby we arrived here to take the Trocadero metro just as the tower sparkled at midnight.  So beautiful.  I always like to get a look at the tower at night from this vantage point when we are in town.  Going to the top twice in 30 years has been plenty, but seeing it from all over Paris is always a thrill.



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Anniversary Lunch at La Tour d’Argent


Our 43rd wedding anniversary was Oct 13 2015 while we were in Paris and our son’s inlaws were also in town on business.  We thought it would be a great opportunity to splurge on a Michelin star lunch and we had heard great things about La Tour d’Argent.  So I started trying to make reservations. Finally 90 days out the reservations opened for our date and I made a booking for 4 for lunch indicating it was an anniversary celebration.

I had assumed being nobody in particular that we would be seated somewhere between the restroom and the waiter station, so I was delighted when we were ushered to the best table in the house.  We sat  in the curved window with a view out onto the most beautiful side of Notre Dame.

As you can see from this snapshot further back in the house, all tables have a view of sorts, but that seat in the corner curved window was choice.


This was the view from my seat.tourview

And this was my view to the side; I love the way the sun bounced off the windows and reflected off the Seine.


To start there was a lovely little pate en croute with foie gras and we shared a champagne toast — to our anniversary and the soon to come 44th anniversary of Anne and Scott our son’s inlaws. (Note those glasses of champagne are pricey so don’t say yes when they ask if you want a glass of champagne unless you are prepared to fork out.)


In addition to the pate we had a small amuse of tapenade.touramuse

Scott chose the wine with the usual elaborate ritual.


And the sommelier then decanted it in front of a candle.


For appetizers the men chose a fish soup; here is Ed with the pieces of fish arranged in his soup plate.



And here is the soup with the hot broth poured over the fish.toursoupclose

I had quenelles which I ordered because I had never heard of them before. They are fluffy fish dumplings over a mushroom duxelle and then broiled in a mornay sauce.  Before food processors they involved grinding fish in a mortar and pestle.  This may be the best thing I have eaten in Paris; they were just spectacularly good.


When I got back to Chicago I looked up recipes and then researched how they made them at La Tour d’Argent (the mushroom duxelle is their thing) and replicated them for an appetizer for Thanksgiving dinner.  Mine didn’t come out as beautiful or quite as tasty — but actually pretty close. I started with a Julia child recipe and pulverized a bunch of fish and folded it into a choux paste.  Next time  I’ll do a better job on the fish — this was frozen and it affected the texture. DSC04221


I also made some mushroom duxelle based on other recipes found on line since that was the way La Tour d’Argent presented it. DSC04223

I then poached spoon fulls of the fish/choux paste in a seafood broth, placed them on the duxelles and covered them with mornay sauce made with emmentaler cheese.  Here they are ready to go under the broiler.que

While mine were not as pretty as those at La Tour, they were actually quite tasty and the left over poached quennelles were good the next day.  Mornay sauce is easy to whip up and I just made that and put them under the broiler to heat.

For main courses, two of our group chose a lamb dish and two of us duck breast.  There is a tradition at la Tour of numbering the ducks served; their piece de resistance is a pressed duck made with an ancient pressing devise at the table and served in a sauce of its own blood.  Ours were just a standard and very tasty duck maigret but we did get our duck number. This is my duck without the sauce because I have an onion sensitivity; they brought me the sauce on the side.  The veggies were a pleasant construction of squash and berries.tourduck

Anne and I shared duck # 1146167;  well maybe.tourduckcard2

The lamb was also scrumptious.


The only other Michelin restaurant we have been to was the three star Alinea in Chicago which is a very expensive evening of cuisine as performance art.  Fun and tasty but more like going to a molecular gastronomy food concert than a meal.  La Tour d’Argent is classic French food preparation.

Scott and I had a chocolate brulee for dessert.tourchocolateEd and Anne had a pear cake.

tourpearBut French desserts never seem to stop with the dessert course; there is also the mignardises or petit four course and this one was enormous.  Although the portions of each course were modest, by the time we got to the mignardises we were too full to take full advantage of the tartlets, macarons, chocolates and caramels.    tour mign

Yes there is bacon on some of those little cakes.   And as we contemplated this largesse, a heavenly slab of chocolate mousse like substance arrived  complete with candle  for our anniversary.


I was lamenting not having brought a large purse into which I could stuff all those lovely chocolates going to waste when the waiter brought Anne and me each a small bag of house made caramels and nougats to take along.  Hated to leave the chocolates, but the caramels were lovely and we served the nougats as part of our own mignardises at a dinner party later in the week.

This was a lovely lunch and the setting was perfect;  this has always been my favorite view of Notre dame.  After lunch we wandered over to the Cathedral.

tourndjetourjpIIAnd then we showed Anne and Scott the hidden garden near Notre Dame within the Hotel Diu (hospital).  They had a public piano and Scott serenaded us for the end of a perfect afternoon.


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Fountains of Versailles: A Little Chaos


Not long ago we saw a little movie by Alan Rickman called ‘A Little Chaos’ which is the entirely fictional story of  a female garden designer who worked with Andre le Notre and designed the Ballroom Fountain.  And there was a little romance involved.  (In reality Le Notre would have been elderly during the time frame, not the dashing young misunderstood husband he is in the movie.)  Rickman played a delightful Louis XIV and Kate Winslet the fictitious female architect.  Seeing the fountain under construction in the movie made us want to see the real thing.  We had last been to Versailles nearly 30 years ago and while the fountains were running, I didn’t remember seeing the many and various fountains tucked away in little copses through the garden.

So one Sunday in late October we headed for Versailles to see the gardens.  It was lucky we didn’t plan on the chateau that day as we missed the train and so didn’t arrive till a bit after 10 by which time the lines snaked for many blocks for chateau entry.


The lines for the garden were virtually non-existent and so we walked right in.  The tickets for entrance during fountain shows are 9 Euros and at least in late October the fountains run from 10 to 11 and then again from 4 to 5:30.  The Neptune Fountain goes off once at about 5:20.  With the garden entrance ticket you are free to leave the gardens and wander about the estate or go to the restaurants just outside the garden gates and then re-enter that day.

From the back of the chateau is a sweeping view of the gardens and the Grand Canal in the distance just outside the gardens and on the estate.  The Estate including the canal with its boat rentals is open without charge every day. This what the vista looked like to an artist in the early 18th century.  DSC03182  And here is what it looked like to us.  DSC03118

Here is a closer look at the Latona fountain at the end of the path down to the canal. DSC03119

Because  the Ballroom Fountain was our object, we first headed to the left in the direction of the trees enclosing the fountain.  On the way, it was hard to miss some modern installations by Kapoor.  With the exception of the whirlpool fountain, they are remarkably awkward and ugly.  This mirror/reflector mars the view from the Chateau. DSC03117

Kapoor’s enormous construction running down the center of the garden has been vandalized several times;  it is hard not to sympathize with the vandals.  The gold patches cover obscene graffiti suggesting  what this blot on the landscape looks like.DSC03246

Here is another shot of the hideous thing which consists of a pile of boulders surmounted by  a large metal horn like object and some phalic looking tubular structures.  Really ugly and out of place in this setting.


The Ballroom Fountain, like many of the fountains,  is in a glade of trees and well screened from casual view until you actually find the pathway in to observe it.


The garden once contained a marble island for dancing and the green banks are designed as seats for participants (woe betide any tourist who attempts to sit on them today however.)  This is a painting of the fountain that is hung in the Trianon elsewhere on the Versailles estate.


There are lovely cascades, with large conch shells from Africa set in the stone steps through which the waterfalls run.  Originally a small orchestra was hidden by screens above the fountains; today music is piped in during the fountain shows.   A very pretty fountain.

There are so many fountains in the gardens that some of them are not even identified and named on the map you receive when you buy your tickets.  This is the Fontaine du Point du Jour which is a charming little fountain on the edge of the glade that contains the Ballroom Fountain.


We didn’t visit every fountain because they only ran for an hour in the morning and an hour and a half in late afternoon and we arrived a bit late.  But we glimpsed many down tree lined paths as we looked for the route into see our favorites.  This fountain in the distance is the Saturn Fountain.


Our goal at this point however was the Colonnade Grove which is shown here in another painting from the Trianon.  The design replaced an earlier grove designed by le Notre; this one was redesigned in the  late 1600s.


The grove looks much as it did 300 years ago; it  is ringed by an arched colonnade and each arch contains a small fountain.



The statue in the center was done in 1699 by  Girardon and shows Pluto ravishing Proserpine.

This is a lovely grove and a good place to take a break and just enjoy the beauty of the place.  There are few spots to sit in the gardens but the stairs here do afford that opportunity.

foncoledWhen we left the Colonnade Grove we came to the last major traditional fountain in the garden, the stunning Fountain of Apollo’s Chariot.  Somewhere in cardboard box in our storage is a negative of a gorgeous photo I took of this fountain with the chateau looming in the background 30 years ago.  But for now here are two snapshots from this trip.

DSC03146 (1)

DSC03143 (2).jpgIn the lawn between Apollo and the Grand Canal is another Kapoor installation and IMHO the only one in the gardens that really fits.  It is a mesmerizing whirlpool, a sort of reverse fountain.


We crossed the Royal Walk, the pathway from the Chateau down to the Grand Canal, and started back up the other side.   One of the first fountains we sought out here was the Enceladus fountain; Enceladus, god of the giants, is erupting from the earth and throwing rocks.  Alas the water was not running here by the time we reached this fountain which like many others is hidden away in a grove with limited access and surrounded by trellised fencing.


Nearby is the Flora Fountain sculpted by Truby and representing the first season, Spring.  She is surrounded by children and wears a crown of flowers.

DSC03123 (1)

Our next stop was to be the Water Theater Grove which we anticipated looking like this. Designed by André Le Nôtre between 1671 and 1674, the grove  located in the gardens, between the Star grove and the Three Fountains grove, was originally one of the most elaborate and complex in the gardens.DSC03179

But here we found another modern installation that recently replaced the older fountains in the grove.   An international competition was held to restore the Water Theater Grove.  Louis Benech and Jean-Michel Othoniel were chosen and installed a contemporary design.  The winning project created a robust set of fountains less fragile than the original designs and quite odd in the context of these antique gardens.  The fountains  are beautiful when the sun shines through the beads.


On our way to the Three Fountains we discovered the Dragon Fountain which represents a myth of Apollo killing a dragon/snake.  When it is working, it shoots a column 90 feet into the air but not for us this day.


The Three Fountains complex was one of our favorites.  These fountains were designed by Le Notre with considerable input from Louis XIV himself.   This is the depiction of the Three Fountains shown in a painting at the Trianon.  We entered at the top of this picture and walked down towards the fountain seen in the foreground here.


While it is called Three Fountains and there are three main fountain areas, there are really more like six separate water features involved.  It was a great way to end as it is interesting and elaborate.  The first fountains near the entry at the top looks like this.


This leads to the middle section with elaborate sculpted waterfalls and then cascades.



DSC03276These are followed by a square pool with tall jets and then additional waterfalls on either side of the path down.


And finally there is a fountain shooting fine jets in many directions.


We decided to end our day with the Three Fountains .  We had had a long day, had a long trip back to Paris and had spent a few hours traipsing around the rest of the estate between fountain shows.  We decided to forego waiting for the Neptune Fountain show at 5:20 and head back.


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Lafayette: We are Here.


People often attribute the words ‘Layfayette, we are here’ to General Pershing on his arrival in France during WWI.  In fact, the words were spoken by General Stanton in 1917 at the grave of Lafayette during a ceremony honoring his contributions to the American revolution.  We had long wanted to visit the tomb of Lafayette and finally managed it this trip.  It is not an easy place to find and it has very limited hours, so visitors have to be motivated to manage it.  During winter it is usually open between 2 and 4 Tuesday through Sunday.  In summer the hours may extend from 2-6.   The door is at 35 Rue Picpus (not Picpus Boulevard) and is not entirely easy to spot and is not signed; you do have to know where you are going.


The cemetery is located in a not particularly picturesque part of the 12th arrondissement near many hospitals.


Once through the main gate, you enter a courtyard with a small church and buildings for staff.  To enter the cemetery and its park, you need access to the blue gate ahead and to the left; this is obtained from the caretaker who will pop out when you enter and offer you  admission and a flyer about the site in English for two Euro.  This is a private cemetery and thus not continuously open to the public as are most Parisian cemeteries.



An ordinary church, Notre Dame de la Paix, it is made interesting with the lists of the 1306 people guillotined in the terror of June 1794 and their occupations.


Entering one walks by buildings used by staff and an old house currently used as a parsonage.




Once inside the outer gates  there is a large park.


The park is pretty and there are benches where one could sit and read or eat lunch.  The stone gate pictured below is left from a chapel that existed here at the time of the revolution. Prayers were said here for those being delivered through the nearby gate to the mass graves.

On the far left wall of the park as you enter, there is an old wooden gate and a rutted track of cobblestone where the wagons brought corpses from the nearby guillotine  for burial in mass graves.


Only people who are descendants of those executed in the terror after the French Revolution may be buried here and so while many of these graves date back to the post revolutionary period, there are some very recent burials as well.



We visited in late October and yet the wall to the left as we entered was still covered in colorful vines and roses.  It is a pretty little cemetery filled with interesting tombs.

On the wall to the right as you enter the small enclosed cemetery, there are memorial plaques for those entitled to burial here here who were murdered in the holocaust.  I always have mixed feelings when I see ‘died for France’ on these memorials since they were delivered up by the French to die.



Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette was a member of the nobility and married into the noble Noailles family.  Like most of the people buried here in 1794, the Noailles fell to the terror.   While Lafayettes own family avoided execution most of his inlaws went to the guillotine.  Lafayette and his wife were entitled to burial here because of her family’s deaths.



The DAR of Paris maintains the tomb of Lafayette and an American flag is positioned over the gravesite making it easy to find.


Lafayette’s tomb is at the back of the cemetery along the wall.  On the other side of this wall is the area where mass graves of those executed by the guillotine in 1794 are laid to rest.  On the wall to the left in this picture you can see a memorial to Andre Chenier the poet who was one of those guillotined during  June 1794 and who lies in one of the mass graves.lafayette


In June of 1794, 16 Carmelite nuns were executed by the Revolution.  They were sent to the guillotine for refusing to renounce their vocation and sang Salve Regina as they marched one at a time up the stairs to their death.  Poulenc wrote an opera, Dialogues of the Carmelites, based on these events which are credited with causing such revulsion that the terror soon came to an end.  They along with the other victims of the terror are buried here in mass graves in a gated off area at the end of the cemetery.


The graveled areas mark several mass graves for 1306 people slain in 42 days of terror in 1794.  This area is not open to the public and may be viewed through a gate in the wall next to Lafayette’s tomb..


Picpus Cemetery is a set in a lovely park and makes for an interesting Paris excursion.  When we visited there was only one other visitor.  We definitely recommend it as an interesting way to see a less touristed neighborhood and to touch a little bit of our own history.





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An Easy Trip to the Catherine Palace


St. Petersburg is not an easy place for an independent traveler who doesn’t read Cyrillic text or know more than a few words of Russian to manage.  Public transport is a tad arduous.  The  excellent subways are not designed for tourists and don’t serve the center well although they are excellent for suburban commuters.  The trolleys are jammed like sardine tins and walking is almost always easier and more pleasant.

We wanted to visit the summer palace of Catherine the Great, but we are  old and were tired after busy first visits to Vienna and Prague and negotiating apartment life in St. Petersburg, so we decided a tour was the right idea.  When I tried to find an English tour, perhaps catching onto one designed for cruise ships, the price quoted was $250 for the two of us and required us to make our way to a hotel and then be herded with a group.  So instead I contacted a group called ‘Tours by locals‘ and booked a private guide for this trip for $170.  It turned out to be a wonderful idea.  Nikolai, a graphic designer with excellent English skills who does this to supplement his income, arrived on the dot, and provided door to door service as well as expert guiding, total avoidance of a line at the Palace and found a good place for lunch after we toured the gardens.  Made it easy for us without the downside of being rushed along at the pace of those with the shortest attention span.  My husband really likes to look at things, so being able to go at our own pace is always important to us and why we do most things independently.

cpnicolaiThe Catherine Palace like so many pre-revolutionary Tsarist or religious sites is heavily restored.  Most of the statuary is reconstructed and left in  the natural beige of the casting material.

DSC02331The cost of regilding all of the previously  external details is prohibitive but they have provided some gold paint on some of the detail to give a sense of what it was like in its day.  Here is a section of the exterior contrasting a gilded/restored section with one left in natural color.

cpgolddomes2 Indoors there has been lavish restoration of the halls on the tour.  Because we were there in September, still the end of the tourist season, we could not visit the imperial apartments which are only opened off season when there are few visitors.  There were plenty of shiny gold rooms for us to see.


We had a pleasant cool day and parked a couple of blocks from the palace.   The building is an imposing blue and white set in a pretty park which we planned to visit at the end of the tour.


Once inside we were able to check our coats and go with our guide up the main staircase.  cpstairs2Like most old palaces the rooms are linear and you walk through one to get to the next.  The first major stop was the main reception hall known as the Gallery of Lights in its day.  It is jaw dropping.  It was finished in the mid 18th century and has a gorgeous parquet floor of 8800 square feet.  The mirrors, gilding and then at night hundreds of candles must have made it a sight to rival Versailles (Perhaps that should have been a message to the Tsars.)



As with the art of most monarchies, the royals appear in the classic murals that adorn these great halls.  The paintings were destroyed in fires when the palace was torched by the Germans during the WWII — but not before they stole the Amber Room and anything else not nailed down.  They have been recreated from original sketches and copies as well as fragments that were saved after the fires.


Near the Bright Gallery or Gallery of Lights the anteroom has been set for a banquet.cpchristmastable2

The ‘cake’ in fancy winding shapes is a facsimile of the kind of treat that was served and some of the china from the palace is displayed.
cpxmastableLovely porcelain china and objects d’art made in Russia are displayed throughout the palace.    In addition to several sets of porcelain china as well as ingenious butter dishes in the shape of fruits and vegetables were elegant display pieces like this.


The Green Pilaster Room was used as a pantry during the time of Catherine the Great and partitioned.  When the restoration was done to repair the damage of the fire, it was restored to its original appearance as designed by palace architect Rastrelli.  The original 18th century ceiling painting by Torelli titled A Resting Military Commander Harkens to the Call of the Muses was lost in the fire and is replaced by a similarly themed painting by Lednev created based on pre-war photos.

The Arabesque room created in the 18th century was used by Catherine for balls and for social evenings of cards and chess.  The ceiling medallions depict virtues such as generosity, compassion, friendship and peace  and they surround a ‘Judgment of Paris.’

cpcabroomThere is a corridor down the side of the main rooms to allow passage from one great room to another.   They rooms are joined by elaborate gilt doorways.
cphallcorridorThis is a photo posted at the site that shows what these doorways looked like after the destructive fires lit by the Nazis when they looted the palace.

And this is the same stretch of doorways today after the extensive restorations.

Much of the restoration work was possible because of fragments of paintings and wall decor that survived the fire and because there were photos taken of these rooms in the 1930s.  This is an old photo of the Green Dining Room which was part of the private apartments before the destruction.
Here is part of the restored room today.  It was designed in the late 18th century and used as a private dining room by Grand Duchess Maria Fiodorovna,  the wife of Catherine’s son, the future Tzar Paul I.

The Picture Room is a state room next to the famous Amber Room.  The large delft ceramic object here is one of many similar stoves throughout the house to provide heat to the palace.  The pictures include portraits and classic themes as well as military adventures.DSC02427

DSC02426The Amber Room is the most famous room in the Catherine Palace.  What exists now is a recreation of a room paneled in Amber Mosaics that was stolen by the Nazis.  The original room was a smaller study given to Peter the Great by Frederick Wilhelm I of Prussia at the start of their alliance.  It was apparently installed in several spots before being incorporated into the Catherine Palace by Rastrelli in 1755.  The room was larger than the study in its previous location and so originally the amber panels were eked out with mirrors and painted canvas.  Later new panels were created so that the walls were almost entirely made of amber mosaics.

Many of the art works were hidden prior to the invasion by Germany but it was felt the Amber Room was too fragile and so it was covered in canvas.  The Germans sent art experts into palaces and museums to identify the art worth stealing.  They crated up the Amber Room and sent it to Germany where it was displayed in Koenigsberg. It disappeared in the final days of WWII and its whereabouts it unknown.  There was recent speculation that it might be on the missing Nazi gold train that treasure hunters claimed to have found hidden in a tunnel in Poland, but apparently that claim was false as no train has been discovered.

Prior to its loss, the Amber Room, amber panels backed by gilt and offset with mirrors, was considered the 8th wonder of the world.   Perhaps my expectations were too high as a result, but I was somewhat underwhelmed by the sight.  Although in retrospect, it makes no sense given the nature of amber, I had imagined the amber to be in larger more impressive slabs and the mosaics while interesting are far less beautiful than I anticipated. They sort of reminded me of the panels of mosaic wall treatment or inexpensive vinyl flooring one might find at Home Depot.   Judge for yourself.DSC02413


This is a study used by the Tzar Alexander I as a working office and place to receive important visitors.  It is spartan compared to the opulence of the gilded state rooms although there are a number of fine antiques.

This was a room also used by Alexander I with his camp bed and modest decor.

While many of the state rooms have been fully restored, some of the palace is still in poor shape and those rooms are used to display objects from the time when the Tzars reigned.   One thing notable in the portraits of the Tzars and their children is that they are always shown in military garb even as small children; continuous warfare seems to have been the occupation of the noble classes. cpuniforms

Here is a portrait of Tzar Alexander II the tzar assassinated by revolutionaries although he had taken modernizing steps including freeing the serfs.  He is the tzar whose death is memorialized at the Church on Spilled Blood in St. Petersburg. Here he is with the uniform he is seen wearing in the portrait.

This dress of Catherine the Great is made of paper and illustrates the style of the time.DSC02466

And this sad horse belonged the the Tsesarevich Alexei who suffered from hemophilia and was murdered after the Revolution.cpalexeihorse

After walking through the palace we spent some time in the outbuildings and gardens which are extensive and include a nice lake.  This loggia provides nice views to the gardens.

Here is the old bathhouse and series of pools in the gardens.cpgarden2

This picture is taken from the steps of the Grotto Pavilion on the lake with views across to the Turkish pavilion the other side.DSC02485

The Hermitage was used as a retreat from the public hustle and bustle of the palace; it was designed so that food was lifted by a movable table from the kitchen to the dining area without the need for servants to be present to serve.  This allowed the Tzar and his family an area of privacy.   We spotted a bride and groom leaving the Hermitage.  I don’t know if the wedding took place here or if this is just a photo shoot for the bride.  We find beautiful spots like this all over Europe busy with bridal photo shoots.DSC02488

This is the walk from the Hermitage up towards the main part of the palace.

These girls were making Russian hats by stringing together fall leaves; I had never seen this done before and it was quite charming.  cpgirlsleaves

The Catherine Palace of Tsarskoe Selo in the little town of Pushkin is a wonderful day trip from St. Petersburg.  We didn’t get to the Peterhof Palace and gardens on this trip and so hope to do that on our next trip.  If you plan to make the trip we can recommend Nicolai from;  he made it a great day for us and an easy trip from Petersburg.


Posted in Russia | 3 Comments

Church on Spilled Blood — Dazzling Sight on the Griboyedov Canal

spblood1When we walked outside our apartment to the edge of the Griboyedov Canal in central St. Petersburg and saw the onion domes of the Church on Spilled Blood about a kilometer in the distance, we knew we were in Russia.   It is a stunning sight in a lovely old city.  We were about 2 blocks off Nevsky Prospect on the Griboyedov and the church is about 3 or 4 blocks on the opposite side of this main street.  Our visit was at the end of September and we had lovely cool but often sunny weather.

The church was built on the site of the assassination of Tsar Alexander II. Because of the need to preserve the precise spot where Alexander fell and situate the church exactly, the canal was narrowed at this point and the platform of the church extends over the canal which can be seen in the picture at the head of this post.

Americans know Alexander II as the Russian Tsar who sold Alaska to the US.  Alexander II was probably the most significant reformer of Russia during the period of the Tsars, his most notable accomplishment being the freeing of the serfs. He also created more democratic institutions, abolished capital punishment and reformed the judiciary.   Apparently too little too late however and throughout his reign he was threatened by assassins.   In 1881 they succeeded and he was assassinated with bombs on the streets of St. Petersburg.  This led to a backlash that may have aided the revolution that was to overthrow his grandson  and the imperial house a few decades later.

The church was built by Alexander III to memorialize his father.  The exterior is stunning with a variety of finishes, icons of saints and interesting crosses and domes.  The style is classic medieval Russian architecture; it harkens back to the image of St. Basils in Red Square in Moscow completed 300 years beforehand.

soext spsaintsext

The canal is on one side of the church and there is a large park next to it on the opposite side which is a good place in summer for a stroll and a picnic.  The wonderful Russian Museum is nearby so a nice day would combine a visit to the Church on Spilled Blood, with a stroll in the park and a visit to the museum.

Near the door where we entered  the church, there  is a jeweled canopy that marks the exact spot where the Tsar fell; the canopy is covered in precious and semi-precious stones, but the floor below it is the original cobblestones on which Alexander fell mortally wounded.  The first bomb missed injuring him, but he got out of his carriage to confront the assailant allowing a second assailant to succeed with another bomb.

The church has never been a regular parish church but was used for memorial services; after the revolution it was used for vegetable storage, as a morgue during the Siege of Leningrad and generally abused.  Over the last 30 years the mosaics have been restored and it now serves as a museum.  There are 7500 square meters of mosaics. When you walk through the doors you are stunned by the ornate grandeur.
spilmos2spilint2The mosaics cover nearly every inch of ceiling and walls.
spilchandThere are charming little ‘Easter Eggs’ everywhere you look, like the faces of Christ and of a saint looking down at us from side domes.
spidome spilpeeky

The bejeweled holy gate which provides entrance to the altar beyond was heavily damaged during the Soviet period and all the enameled icons were lost; they have been recreated and replaced and were re-consecrated in 2012.
spilaltarscr2Here is a closer look at the gate set with jewels and carvings from semi-precious stones.

This is the mosaic of Christ that rises above the altar at the front of the church.

One of my favorite mosaics is this annunciation; here we see Mary receiving the news.

On a pillar to the left of the altar and across from the Madonna is the angel delivering the news.

The mosaics were heavily damaged after the revolution and up through the second world war; they have been beautifully restored.

These screens to the left and right of the Holy Gate were also heavily damaged during the Soviet Period and the enameled saint portraits lost.  There are facsimiles as placeholders now while new panels are being created.

There are a lot of churches in St. Petersburg, but if you have time for only one, this is it.  It is a stunning experience and perhaps the most impressive collection of mosaics anywhere.



Posted in Russia | 9 Comments

Conflans-Sainte-Honorine — Easy day trip from Paris with big payoff.

DSC03919 (1)This charming barge port on the Seine is a quick train ride from St. Lazare station.  Unlike many great Paris day trips there are no train changes or bus connections; this trip offers an easy and dramatic change of pace from Paris with little effort.    We had a Navigo Decouverte and so we didn’t even have to worry about getting tickets but just showed up at St. Lazare to catch one of the frequent trains.

From the train station we walked down  the hill towards the center.  Immediately at the bottom of the hill there were some stairs that lead up to a park and museum overlooking the Seine.  If we were to make the trip again we would go ahead and climb these stairs for some great views of the town, the barges, the river and the lovely twisted old streets.conarriveWe turned right here and walked into the center of town.constreet

There is a charming old Hotel de Ville condeville and plenty of shops and restaurants and bakeries for those looking to put together a picnic.  From this point, instead of proceeding to the waterfront. we back tracked and walked up some back streets to the path above the town.constpink

At the top of the hill was an old chateau which is now the Barge Museum.conmuseumWe weren’t that interested in the history of barges, but appreciated the viewpoint over the river and town.conviewpoint

Near this view point is the old church.  conchurchwall

It has a rather plain interior but a beautiful crossconchurchconcross

and some nice traditional and modern stain glass.conmodglass conglass

From the Church there are some lovely old lanes into the heart of the town constquaintas well as a  path along the edge of the hill that leads to the ruins of the old donjon. conabovetowerThe donjon is not open but there is a nice little garden with benches next to it which would be a great place for a picnic lunch.contowered

The donjon is not very impressive inside coninsidetowerBut it remains an imposing sight on the skyline and along the paths to the river. contowerberriesFrom there you can wander down to the waterfront and walk along the row of barges and small restaurants.const5

Even in late October there were lots of flowers along the paths.conflueflower

On the waterfront you can wander along the barge docks.  Once the capital of France’s inland waterways with vibrant barge commerce, Conflans is now mostly a bedroom community for Paris and most barges are now used as houseboats although there are still a few working barges.


There is also a church in a barge that serves the local community.conchurchboat

Conflans is a good jumping off place for local hikes along the river.  It is about 3 miles to Herblay which we didn’t do.  We chose instead to walk down river towards Andresy.  It was beautiful on this fall day and on Sundays much of the drive along the river is restricted to pedestrians.  As with much of the Seine, there is a continuous walking path along the river here.  At the foot of the town before reaching the confluence with the Oise there is a foot and bicycle bridge which is a great spot for pictures; the snapshot that introduces this piece was taken there.  A dozen swans were congregating and a cormorant stood guard on a piling in the river.conswansconcormor

As we continued towards Andresy we came to the confluence  of the Seine with the Oise.conoiseconfluenceWe crossed the Oise on a bridge to continue the walk on the Seine; this is a shot up the Oise from the bridge. DSC03929 It was a bit tricky to get back under the bridge and onto the path along the Seine because of construction, but once we figured that out it was a smooth stroll to Andresy.conpath2

There is a free ferry in Andresy that takes people across to the nature preserve on the island; we were hoping to make lunch at a restaurant on the river and it was already 1 pm so we didn’t do this trip.  In France, lunch hour at small restaurants is generally from about noon to 3 or so and we wanted to make sure we could get in.   We also missed the Sunday morning market in Andresy where there is a covered marketplace called ‘les Halles’; these markets close up by noon.andresyhalles

Our restaurant goal, La Goelette is on an island in the Seine.  Diners ring a bell on the dock and a boat from the restaurant comes across to pick them up. conboat We were in luck and were the last diners for lunch that day.  Even without a window table we had a nice view.conrestview

The food was lovely.  I had an entree of snails with lentils in a broth, rack of lamb and fresh raspberry and strawberry gratinee. Here are the entree and dessert.

My husband had a scallop entree, a cod with foie gras and a cheese plate for dessert.concod

It was definitely worth the hike.  In summer diners can eat on the terrace; in winter it is a cozy indoor space.  We might have gone on to Poissy another 3 miles or so along the river, but we decided to head for the train station at Andresy.  The stroll along the water was just stunning.
DSC03960We even spotted blackberries on vines along the river.conberries

Andresy  serves as a bedroom community for Paris and there are a lot of impressive mansions along the river. DSC03969We enjoyed the quaint doors to secret gardens and picturesque streets.condoorcontremblay2Unfortunately the train station was all up hill, but it was easy to find and we were back in Paris in half an hour after it arrived.contrain.jpgThis is a terrific day trip from Paris.  It is quick and easy and the towns are a lovely contrast to the big city.  We will do this again, starting earlier and walking to more of the small towns along the river.   And we will look forward to taking the ferry across to the island nature preserve next time.conbargesabove

Posted in Day trips from Paris | 8 Comments

I Love the Tops of Paris Buildings

topsorbonnemalesherbesOne of my favorite times in Paris is the early morning run for breakfast bread.  The fall we rented the apartment on Malesherbes, I would climb down four flights of stairs and then head for one of the 6 bakeries near our apartment.  Often I chose one near Square Batignolles several blocks away rather than the one just across the street, because the walk was just so glorious.    These are snapshots along Jouffroy d’Abbas on just one morning stroll for bread.


topsjoffroytopstoquevillefacetopstoquevilleduskI just love the tops of Parisian buildings.  Some are incredibly ornate especially the Haussmann buildings in the poncy parts of town.  Because Haussmann established a standard, these buildings have a wonderful continuity their horizontal lines, balconies and roofs flowing from building to building.

topscornertopscatroux P1050893 Moving furniture into these old buildings is a trick.  The narrow winding stairways and the tiny elevators don’t accommodate a move and so there is a busy industry of delivery and removal through the ‘french doors’ that make up the windows of these apartments.  topsfurnitureYou expect the ornate beauty in monumental buildings and of course they don’t disappoint like the Louvre palace

topslouvreSitting in the Tuilleries by the fountain on one of the hundreds of movable chairs with your feet on the fountain edge and book in your lap is one of life’s great pleasures.  The Louvre has stunning art, but the building itself it a masterpiece.topslouvre1 topslouvre3This is a shot of the Louvre courtyard taken from inside the Pyramid coming up the escalator at night.  We usually enter the Louvre through a less crowded entrance but usually exit through the Pyramid to this stunning view.

topslouvrenightAnd on the outskirts of Paris there are little neighborhoods sometimes called villas where buildings are quite different from the ornate Haussmann styles of the center.  Here is a narrow street near  Bastille.
P1080489Some buildings especially further out from the center, look like the construction proceeded oddly and haphazardly.  topscanalweirdcollectiontopsbrickwallcanaltopsstucco2I also love looking at the arrays of chimneys and chimney pots and oddly connected pipes.


topsjoffroyonepipetopsnearcanalmuralWhen Baron Haussmann renovated the city to create long diagonal boulevards and cleared away most of the medieval squalor of twisted alleys and inadequate sewers, emphasis was placed on aesthetic standards of conformity.  When you look out over the rooftops of Paris today, virtually all of them are grey either worked in slate or in lead.  This is a view from the Pantheon dome which closed for several years renovation on November 1 2011; I took these pictures on October 31.

topspanthrowThe tethered balloon in the distance hovers over Parc Citroen; tourists can ride up in it for a view of the city.citballoonfrompanthThis is the roof of the Sorbonne Music College on Malesherbes in the 17th.topsmonceauroundwindowsWalking in a city with your eyes up you can’t help but wonder what is going on in the rooms behind these lovely windows.


topswagrom2topswindowromeWe were run off by security guards taking the pictures here of what is probably an Embassy over on George V.  We were on a public sidewalk.

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And while we are observing windows, sometimes windows are observing us.  This odd creature is hanging from the Louvre.topslouvreballoonThis cell phoner is observing us from a building across from Parc Monceau; that is its entrance gate tower to the left where I believe a park guardian still has his apartment.topsmanwindowmonceauWhile there is a good deal of sameness because of the classic Haussmann plan, there are some dazzing one offs as well.  This is a banking building near Malesherbes metro.

topsbankmalesherbesAnd in the 19th and 20th in particular there is a dazzling display of street art.  This is probably the most famous piece.  You can see others on the graffiti walk post here 


Another ornate and stunning site is the Hotel de Ville, the seat of government for Paris.  Each of the 20 arrondissements has it own town hall and some of those are quite magnificent as well.  We go out of our way to walk by here in all types of light and weather; it fill our hearts with joy.topshoteldevillesunset And finally  you can’t help see this odd sight when looking up from almost anywhere in Paris.  This was the view from an apartment we rented in the 17th; an Eiffel Tower view was not even mentioned in its description and the agent was surprised when we pointed it out.  Paris is a city that rewards you for looking up.topseiffelfromwindow

Posted in Paris | 8 Comments

Kona Coast to Volcano National Park – Driving the West Coast

westsunsetWe had four wonderful nights on the Kona Coast in Kailua where we stayed in the Hale Kona Kai Condos.    This snapshot was of the sunset from our lanai the night we arrived after our trip around the north end of the island from Hilo.   We were a little apprehensive about the place because we had booked at the last minute and so got the worst condo i.e. the ONLY one not booked for our four nights and it was not ocean front, but on the side.   Here are a couple of shots from the pool deck.   There are rocks and tidal pools accessible from this area.westpoolviewcruise

westpoolviewThis turtle was feeding in the shallow water below the pool.

It turned out that our condo on the side of the building was fine — we had a great view out to the ocean and of the lagoon next to the building.  The place was not gorgeous, but it was comfortable, had an excellent kitchen and a great view of the ocean from the lanai.  And the location was perfect.

Here we are just below our little terrace,  kitted out to go snorkeling in our Lands End rashguards.  The last time I was in Hawaii was in Honolulu 50 years ago with my family; I got fried to a crisp the first day (this was before spf ratings and good sun screen) and I was determined not to let that happen again.
westsnorkelgearWe got gear from Snorkel Bobs about a block from our condo.  First rate gear; you can even get a mask with a prescription faceplate if needed.  And it was not particularly expensive.

This is  Kahalu’u  beach which is a popular site about 5 miles south of Kailua.  The water is shallow and thus the reef is trashed here from people standing on it.  Advantage of the site are real ease of entry for newbies (last time we snorkeled was about 10 years ago in St. John, Virgin Islands) and lots of support services like lockers for valuables, food, picnic areas and beach.  There is also a huge variety of fish; we saw almost every fish on the card we were given by Snorkel Bob’s.  There were also volunteers helping people who were new to snorkeling.


After our swim, I got one of the standard Hawaiian summer treats, shaved ice with flavoring.  You can also get it with a scoop of mango ice cream in the bottom.  Once was enough.

The next day we headed for Honaunau Bay where the water is deep directly off the entry point on the lava and thus the coral is not damaged.  This is the snorkel site called ‘Two Step’ because of the entry off of two steps of lava.  It makes getting into the water easy;  getting out is a little trickier as you have to wait for the water to wash up and sort of grab the ledge and turn with the surge and plant your butt on the step.  Oh and avoid the sea urchins in holes on the rocks while you do this.

Here Ed is poised to enter the water.  We enjoyed the beauty of this undersea spot so much, we came here again the following day.

The snorkeling at both sites was excellent.  This is a raccoon butterfly fish.  There were several different gorgeous types of butterfly fish at both snorkel sites where we swam.
twostepraccoonYellow tangs are perhaps the most common fish; the striped angel fish looking things are Moorish Idols.


The black durgeon has these wonderful electric blue stripes near the tail.

This is a yellow trumpet fish; the fish is about two feet long.

We loved the location of the condo; after an evening drink on the lanai watching a spectacular sunset every night we headed out to find dinner.


This was a restaurant not far from the apartment.  I was a little concerned when they rolled out the hula dancers; a little of that goes a very long way for me.   But they were very good and the little girl student hula dancers were cute and this part of the program was mercifully short.

The dancers were followed by a really very fine local folk singer singing his own songs in Hawaiian; we stayed until he was done; it was a lovely evening.

There are loads of beach bars with decent food and excellent drinks; here we are the next night further down the beach.  The location was perfect for a relaxed vacation.

As we left this restaurant we spotted this little guy in the glass between the stair steps to the exit.

After four relaxed wonderful nights in Kona we headed south around the tip of the island to Volcano National Park where we planned to spend 4 nights.  (if we had to do it again, we would have done 5 on Kona and 3 on the volcano; we liked both, but we would really have loved another day of snorkeling)

Our first stop on this trip was Honaunau Bay again where we visited the ‘Place of Refuge’ or  Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Park.  This was a spot where native Hawaiians who had broken tribal rules could find refuge from capital punishment.  There are remains of old stone structures as well as recreated wooden buildings as well as instructional video available.

Here I am standing in the park looking across to the area where we snorkeled the day before.  The Two Step launch for snorkeling in Honaunau Bay is across from the park and at one point Ed got hung up in the rocks and ended up on the shore of the refuge.


Here is a traditional game played with pits and rocks.

There are of course coconut palms throughout the island with many signs warning that a falling coconut can do a lot of damage.


Carved totems near an old lodge.

Effigy on the shore of Honaunau Bay; Ed’s reef in the background.

There is a lot of very interesting lava flow here; this stuff looks like ropes and is called pahoehoe lava; a lot of it looks like brownies but some of it is in interesting ropey twists.  The other form of lava is called a’a and looks like plowed up dark dirt.

Old walls enclosing ceremonial areas and encampments.

Traditional outrigger canoes.

On our way out we spotted these orchids near the parking lot.

Our next stop was the Greenwell Farms coffee plantation.  Ed loves coffee and really wanted to stop at a coffee farm and several people recommended this one. There was a casual but professional tour here and the opportunity to pick up some coffee.  Unfortunately they were out of bags of green beans as we wanted to buy some for Zach who roasts his own.   Here we are in front of a coffee tree.

Coffee plants are cut back every so often; here you can see those that were cut back after harvest last fall and are just coming back.  The trees to the left are larger coffee bushes.


Ripe coffee has red berries; you can see signs advertising ‘cherry for sale’  or ‘wanted cherry pickers’  or ‘we buy cherry’.  They are talking about coffee which looks like cherries when ripe.  This time of year there are green beans and blossoms; these are often on the same stem of a plant so that harvesting is very labor intensive as the ripe berries are plucked leaving the green berries undisturbed till their time.

They ship green beans all over the world where they are roasted and sold under a variety of brand names.

These are the green houses where new plants are being nurtured before they are transplanted to the fields.

The Kona Coast has the right climate for growing coffee but the rain makes drying it difficult.  The beans dry in the sun and these red roofs are retractable so they can be drawn back for morning sun and  then shelter the beans from the late afternoon rain.westcoffeedryingsheds

This was one of the original plants set over 70 years ago by the matriarch of the family who decided to build a coffee farm here.

In addition to coffee there are a number of other fruit and nut trees on the farm.  Here is one of the ubiquitous apple banana trees.  The small sweet bananas on the island are sold at stands along the roads and are extremely tasty.

Here is a papaya.

The farm is also home to a number of horned chameleons; like all of the island lizards, it is an import;  the Jackson chameleons were introduced into Hawaii in the 1970s; they were originally African.    One of the guides on the farm wrote a book for kids starring this chameleon.   The chameleons really do blend into the background.  This green guy is in the green foliage.  The second chameleon is doing a good job of imitating the tree trunk.
westchameleonwestchameleon2After our visit to the farm, we headed to one of the many small independent cafes we found in Hawaii for another nice meal.  This little guy is a red billed cardinal, a type of bird we had not seen before.  He was on the patio hoping for some lunch.

The special was ono — every special we saw was either Mahi or Ono.  This is about half the daily special — we shared one.  As always there is a big scoop of rice.

After lunch  we had one more stop before the volcano.  We had heard of a black sand beach where sea turtles were reliably found resting in the sun.  The beach, Punaluu, is on the south end of the island and is a beautiful spot.

westblacksandsAnd indeed there were turtles in the water near shore and resting on the black sands;  these critters really look extremely awkward as soon as they get near land.  They are so graceful when you encounter them in deep water snorkeling, but they are not designed for shore.


After a quick stop at Punaluu, we headed for Volcano, the little town near the National Park.  We stayed at the Bamboo Orchid Cottages B&B.   We had a lovely little studio room with a fireplace and a heated waterbed which turned out to be welcome in the chilly nights.   Our room was over a garage and so a bit separate from the main building and private.  This is the view from our balcony into the rain forest.

The landlord’s specialty was a papaya boat at breakfast; rarely have I had an actually ripe and tasty papayas here at home.  These were excellent.

Our first night we drove up to the end of the road nearest the active volcanic Kilauea crater.  One can’t get close enough to see in and there is no lava flowing at present that is visible to visitors, but at night the glow of the molten lava lights up the sky.  It is an impressive sight and we were glad we went to see it that first night as we planned our hikes for the coming days.

Posted in Hawaii -- Big Island | Leave a comment

Driving the East Side of the Big Island

akakalizard-2This wonderful little lizard is an Hawaiian gecko; we found him scurrying about the sidewalk picnic tables of a small cafe where we stopped for lunch on our way to Akaka Falls north of Hilo Hawaii.

We were in Hilo so I could give a speech and then we spent 8 additional nights on the island.  Our hotel in Hilo was on Banyan Drive near a park called Coconut Island.  The banyan trees and monkeypod trees in this area were stunning.  The banyans were named after various entertainment celebrities from decades ago.

We stayed at the Hilo Hawaiian hotel with a wonderful view from our room balcony across to Coconut Island with Mauna Loa in the distance.

northhilohotelview2northhilohotelviewHilo is a small town with a fairly low tourist presence.  A colleague recommended a local restaurant called Hawaiian Style Cafe and we went there on a Friday night after my speech.  It was jam packed so we had a half hours wait for a table, which was totally worth it.  We were the only obvious tourists in the place which was full of local families enjoying a Friday night out.  It felt a little bit like stepping back to the 50s all over the Island; lots of cafes with the old chrome dinette tables or old fashioned padded booths and homey menus.

Here Ed has a special that night that combined Hawaiian favorites like poke (raw marinated ahi tuna chunks, a fabulous smoked pulled pork, another pork dish steamed in taro leaves, a raw salmon ceviche like dish, a stew (they were out of a chicken dish that was called for on the platter) and the  very Hawaiian poi which is an entirely acquired taste.  Wallpaper paste pretty much sums it up; the waitress suggested putting sugar in it.

I had grilled lamb ribs; I love lamb and these were really very good.  Note the ubiquitous servings of white rice and macaroni salad.  This was standard everywhere we ate in Hawaii.  The macaroni salads vary quite a bit but were always full of fat/mayonnaise and often had tuna or rice or egg in them.  They were very tasty.


Hawaiians take environmental concerns seriously; we found these little signs in the cement near storm drains throughout Hilo.

The morning after our last day in Hilo we drove around the island to the north to arrive in Kailua Kona where we were renting a condo for 4 nights.  Before leaving town we stopped in Hilo at Rainbow Falls.  Because it had been raining for several days before we arrived, the falls were pretty impressive.
akakarainbowNorth of Hilo on the route along the Ocean is the entrance to another great spot to view waterfalls:  Akaka Falls and Kahuna Falls.  We actually did this as a sidetrip from  Hilo on Thursday and so bypassed it as we headed  up the coast on Saturday for our trip to Kona, but we will take a little detour here to visit it.

At the car park for the falls which costs $5 for a carload of visitors ($1 a visitor to use the trail if you park outside and walk in) there is a display describing the life cycle of an interesting fish the O’opui which climbs these steep falls improbably but effectively to spawn.

The half mile trail loop took us through a lovely tropical forest, first to Kahuna Falls and then around to Akaka Falls.akakaredplant2

This lovely flower is a torch ginger; various gingers are found all over the island.

Much of the trail is through lush columns of greenery.

Kahuna Falls is enormous but the viewpoint is at a great distance so it is the less impressive of the two falls in this park.

From Kahuna viewpoint, we walked back though the forrest;  here we are beside one of the many banyans along the trail.

A very pleasant stroll through tropical greenery.

Akaka Falls.  The falls drop 442 feet.  The second snapshot is a closeup of the head of the falls.  Imagine those little Oopui fish making the climb up these falls or as larvae, the trip down the falls and out to the sea.


More lush vegetation including this banana plant and small stream and falls as we climbed back up to the parking lot.  There are lots of bananas growing on the island and they include several varieties smaller and much more flavorful than the monoculture bananas available in mainland grocery stores.  We stopped by roadside stands and picked up bunches of the bananas several times during our stay.
akakabananaakakasmallfallsOn the day we drove around the island we passed by Akaka Falls and headed north to the Hawaaian Tropical Botanical Gardens.  This was a dazzling site filled with tropical plants from around the world.  Here Ed stands by a  heliconium.  I will do a separate entry on the plants in the garden.  In making this stop plan at least a couple of hours to make the visit and come with water and insect repellant.  Both can be purchased at the visitor’s center if forgotten.


After the visit to the gardens we headed up the coast further catching occasional glimpses of the sea.botanreef

For lunch we took a slight detour off the main road to the little town of Honokaa which has an old timey western town sort of look.

We ate at Grandma’s Kitchen which turned out to be a great choice.  A nice local place with a jovial owner who likes to introduce the tourists by the town they are from.  We had fish and chips and loco moco and the one order of fish and chips made with local ono would have been quite enough for the two of us.  One thing we have found in Hawaii is lots of little mom and pop restaurants with very tasty local food at a very reasonable price.  We had heard that food was crazy expensive in Hawaii because of the transport costs involved, but we did not find it so particularly in small local cafes like this.botanhonakaa

We had seen loco moco several times, usually on enormous platters big enough to serve a family but being devoured by one young man.  Loco moco is a layer of rice, topped with a couple of hamburger patties and then by fried eggs with the whole thing smothered in gravy.  It is sort of Hawaiian poutine. I wanted to try it and so ordered a small bowl for $6.50.  As you can see it was still enormous.  The beef on the island is very good; the entire north half is pretty much all cattle ranch.  A very tasty comfort food dish but way more than I could begin to eat for lunch.northlocomocco

The land at the north of the island is beautiful.  Rolling hills dotted with cattle predominate.northfieldsbotanhillsidetree

Once you round the head of the island and head down the Kohala coast to the west, the landscape is fairly hideous.  It looks like miles and miles of bulldozed dark earth although it is in fact lava of the type called A’a.  This snapshot is eerily beautiful as O’hia and other trees try to make a comeback in the barren waste; most of this stretch is simply ugly.  The beaches, many of them artificially constructed are supposed to be among the only sandy classic beaches on the big island but we did not drive to any of the Kohala resorts since we had rented a condo on the Kona Coast.  To get to the Kohala beach towns you drive through miles of this plowed earth looking desolation (most of it without trees, unlike this strip from a bit further south.)

We were really glad we decided to drive around the island to Kona; it was a relaxing day with many interesting stops along the way.  We had thought to try a zip line adventure, but didn’t feel we had the time on this day.  Since we just read in the paper of another woman plunging 150 feet to rocks on one of these apparently not well regulated attractions, it is probably just as well.  Hawaii is a beautiful island with a variety of landscapes and we loved taking the time to enjoy it.akakajaneted


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