Sunday, August 19, 2012

Chicago and Paris

Willis (Sears) Tower 103 Floors Up
After John's trip to London during the Olympics, Camille had her turn by going with me to Paris. This was going to be a short trip (3 days total, with one day in Paris). Our first stop on the way to Paris was Chicago. We did normal tourists things - going to the top of the Willis (Sears) Tower, a walk down Michigan Ave., dinner at Carmine's. The weather was great and we did a lot of walking.

The next day, it was off to Paris. After a short nap at the hotel, we went straight to the Louvre and may have set a world's record for quickest walk through. Mona Lisa (check), Venus de Milo (check), Winged Victory, John the Baptist by Michelangelo, 100's of masterpieces in 1 hour (check). We'll go back with more time some day.

At the Louvre
Next, it was off to the Trocadero for an Eiffel Tower photo op. It was hot in Paris, Dallas hot, reminding me of the line in the song, "I love Paris in the summer, when it sizzles." The lines waiting to go to the top were long (and sizzling in the sun) and our time in Paris short, so we opted to keep moving.

Then, a walk through the Tuileries, Notre Dame, dinner in St. Germain des Pres, a sunset ferris wheel ride back at the Tuileries, and a Metro ride to the hotel, exhausted. Paris in a day is never easy, but we had a great time!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

London Cheese Shops

Neil's Yard Creamery
John and I made it by two specialty cheese shops which sell mostly British artisanal cheeses. Our first stop was Neil's Yard Creamery in Covent Garden. Neil's Yard Creamery opened in 1979 and actually faces Shorts Garden (Rd.) to the south of Neil's Yard. The Neil's Yard Creamery gained some notoriety after opening when former Neil's Yard resident, John Cleese of Monty Python, tried to buy cheese there and they had none.

Montgomery's Cheddar
We tasted many very good farmhouse cheeses, including a Montgomery's Cheddar, but left with a quarter Colston Bassett Stilton. I've been shopping at Neil's Yard for the better part of 10 years of traveling to London and their service and the quality of cheeses is always exceptional. During a visit on a slow day several years ago, the shop manager took about 20 minutes and extracted core samples from a half dozen wheels of stilton sitting on the shelf to show me how each one, even from the same dairy at the same time, had a unique flavor. I didn't put them through this trouble on our visit and just tasted and bought what was already out and sliced. Our stilton happened to be made in February (most stilton selections were from February and March, about 5 months old). It's all very good, but I've gotten picky over the years and prefer cheese made during the late spring and summer months.

We didn't buy any cheese at the next shop, Paxton and Whitfield, on this trip, but I've probably bought most of my cheese here over the years. Paxton is located on Jermyn St. in central London, was founded in 1797, and currently holds a Royal Warrant from the Prince of Whales. Paxton's atmosphere is a little more formal than the farmhouse feel of Neil's Yard, but the friendly and helpful service of the staff is truly exceptional.  Paxton will always hold a special place in my heart when about 12 years ago, after a conversation with the shop manager about labrador retrievers (and my lab who was then dying of lymphoma), the manager went to the back of the shop and returned with a large slice of cheddar. He told me it was for my dog and had come from Prince Charles' private stash. "Cowboy" enjoyed it as one of his last meals.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

London during the Olympics

John at the controls
I got a short notice work trip to London last week - too short notice to get tickets to any Olympic venues. I did bring John along with me. It was his first time to travel with me on a work trip. It was also his first trip to London and we had a great time.

Despite there being many empty seats visible when watching events on TV, there were none available online on the several sources. Also, if you had found tickets available online, you could only pay with a VISA card (official sponsor). There was also a crackdown on ticket scalpers, who appeared early during the games outside various venues with both legit and bogus tickets. We decided not to spend our time tracking down tickets and, instead, play tourist for our two day visit.

Obligatory Tower Bridge photo!
On the first day, we went walking through the heart of London - Buckingham Palace, Green Park, Parliament, and took a tour of Westminster Abbey. On day two, we started with a tour of the Tower of London, then went to the Olympic Stadium, and finally back to he center of London for more walking.