Paris - Oysters & Churches

Find the Church of Saint-Sulpice in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood in the 6th arrondissement.
An epic platter of fresh oysters and shrimp at Huîtrerie Régis in Paris.

I spent a few days wandering in and around the Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood in Paris. I had two fantastic meals plus some extraordinary sweets. Oysters were at the top of my Paris eats wishlist and, after some research, I chose Huîtrerie Régis to make it happen.

Afternoon drinks and games on the streets of Paris.

A close up of the fantastics oysters you'll find at Huitrerie Régis.
The oysters at Huitrerie Régis are delivered fresh from the famous oyster fields of Marennes-Oléron

It's a tiny spot, six tables inside and a few more on the street. I arrived right after opening, around noon, and the restaurant was almost empty, just one table of three. Reviews indicate it fills up fast during prime time, so definitely come early. The menu is an exercise in minimalism, all oysters, fresh as can be. Sometimes shrimp and sea urchin are available as well, but they're essentially garnish. According to Paris by Mouth, the oysters are shipped in daily from Marennes-Oléron, a famous oyster cultivation region on the Western coast of France.

Oysters at Huitrerie Régisare don't need much, but they're served with plenty of lemon and a vinegar mignonette.

It  was my first meal of the day and my eyes were certainly bigger than my stomach. I ordered a tasting platter of six Fines de Claires and six Spéciale de Claires, plus six enormous pink shrimp. I wanted to try everything! The oysters were truly the very best I have tasted, though, admittedly, my oyster oeuvre is sadly limited. I slightly preferred the Spéciale de Claires, which were plumper and sweeter than the briny, more mineral Fines. But both were excellent. I took mine plain or with a spritz of lemon, forgoing the classic mignonette.

Unnecessary, but also delicious was the sesame studded bread with salted butter. And shrimp, too. On any other day the shrimp would have been the star of the show but in my refusal to waste any food, they left me overstuffed.

The Church of Saint-Sulpice with its mis-matched towers.

Huîtrerie Régis is tucked away on a small side street off of Boulevard Saint-Germain, just a few blocks from my next destination, the Church of Saint-Sulpice. The church provided the perfect respite for my overextended stomach. Though cool, dark, and peaceful, it is very much a working church with a staff and active worshipers. It's a crumbly old building, much in need of renovations, but with an intriguing, tangible sense of history. An interesting contrast to the bustling square outside. Full of tourists, students, nannies and their charges, business people on their lunch breaks-- a great spot for people watching.

Inside the Church of Saint-Sulpice, located in the heart of the Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood.
'Jacob Wrestling with the Angel' a mural by Delacroix fills one of the chapels at the Church of Saint-Sulpice in Paris.
Lots and lots of history below your feet.
The candles of worshippers are ever present at the Church of Saint-Sulpice.
The courtyard outside of the Church of Saint-Sulpice is perfect for picnicking and people watching.


Amsterdam - A Day at the Rijksmuseum

On the way to the Museumplein, Amsterdam's museum campus where you can find the Rijksmuseum. as well as the Stedelijk and Van Gogh Museums.

There are lots of reasons to visit Amsterdam and I chose probably the nerdiest one-- the art. There dozens of world class museums within the compact city and most of them are covered by the Museumkaart, Amsterdam's Museum Card. I bought my pass at the big one - The Rijksmuseum, the first stop on my self-directed museum crawl. I spent a good four or five hours exploring the museum before taking a late lunch and continuing on to the Stedelijk and Van Gogh museums.

Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum is a must see attraction in a city full of excellent museums.
You can bike right through the Rijksmuseum, one of several big museums on Amsterdam's Museumplein, or Museum Square,
I had been eager to tour Amsterdam ever since I took a course on Netherlandish Art for my Art History Major. I focused my Rijksmuseum visit on the 17th century Dutch Golden Age collection where many of the paintings I once studied are held. Including priceless masterpieces by Vermeer and Rembrandt like 'The Night Watch,' one of the most famous paintings in the world. It draws quite the crowd (I preferred the Vermeers, which are almost like miniatures in comparison.) I also made sure to track down the gorgeous Cuypers Library. You can't browse the stacks or study without prior permission, but the view from the balcony on the 2nd floor is a pretty great consolation. Another highlight was the gallery of beautiful and intricate Doll Houses.

Do not miss the stunning Cuypers Library.
The marriage of William II, Prince of Orange, age 14 and his bride, Mary Stuart, just nine years old.

I love to visit museums when I travel solo. I can really take my time viewing the art, without worrying about keeping pace with a companion. And if I want to skip a piece, or even a whole wing of a museum, it's totally cool. Though traveling alone can be stressful, especially when things go wrong, at museums I never feel self conscious when I'm on my own. I really appreciate it when cities offer passes that make it easy to visit multiple museums or attractions. But they're an investment. You really have to do your homework to make sure the pass covers the right length of time and attractions you actually want to visit. I chose the Museumkart, but Amsterdam also offers the Iamsterdam city pass which includes public transportation and a canal boat ride, but not quite enough museums for my liking (no Rijksmuseum or Anne Frank House.)

For me, the math on the Museumkaart just made sense. Because I was spending a week in Amsterdam, I made a list of the museums I wanted to visit and researched their admission prices. Once I added the entrance fees up, I knew the €65 Museumkaart would be more than worth it. I would have spent €106 if I had bought each ticket individually. The card also encouraged me to visit smaller, less well known churches and museums like Oude Kerk (The Old Church,) Ons' Lieve Heer op Solder (Our Dear Lord in the Attic Museum,) Museum Van Loon, and FOAM Photography Museum. The Museumkaart is geared towards Dutch residents so there's no English website, but I found the Amsterdam.info site to be a great resource for information about the card. It's good for a full month and gets you into museums all over Holland, nice if you're touring outside of just Amsterdam. The card must be purchased in person at one of the participating museums. If you're an art lover, history fanatic, or just spending an extended period of time in Amsterdam, then the card is an excellent value.

Copying the masters
Art and artifacts on display in the 17th Century Gallery of Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum.
The Night Watch Gallery will be busy no matter what time you visit the Rijksmuseum.
Fishing for Souls by Adriaen Pietersz. van de Venne, 1614
The Great Hall, or Voorhal, connects wings of the Rijksmuseum.
A book lover's dream - the Cuypers Library at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
After viewing Rembrandt's massive "Night Watch,"  Vermeer's intricate, intimate interior paintings feel downright miniature.
A foggy day in Amsterdam, perfect for a visit to one of the city's many world class museums.
The Iamsterdam sign at the Rijksmuseum has become an iconic image of from the city.


Amsterdam - Spui Book Market

The Molenaa Boeken, aka Book Market, in Amsterdam.
After a rainy morning where I made good use of my Amsterdam Museum Pass, I headed across town to check out the Spui Book Market (Vereniging De Boekenmarkt op het Spui). Even on a drippy autumn day the market was quite busy. No wonder, it's a short and scenic walk from Amsterdam's Dam Square.  Book lovers will find plenty to browse. And if you're just looking to pickup an atypical souvenir it's a nice place for that as well. I enjoyed looking through the vintage maps, records, and postcards, I'm kicking myself now for not buying a tote bag while I had the chance. Open Fridays, rain or shine, from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. After your shopping is complete, make sure to stop for a stroopwaffel and coffee at Lanskroon.

Vintage Madonna vogues on a postcard
Book shopping at the Spui market.
Piles of Postcards
Perusing the record selection.
Bikes, bikes, everywhere.
A rainy day at the Spui Book Market in Amsterdam.
A houseboat parked along an Amsterdam canal.
Love locks on a canal bridge near Amsterdam's Spui Book Market.


Just Paris Things - Pierre Herme & Arc de Triumphe

The view of the Eiffel Tower from the top of the Arc de Triomphe is gorgeous.
Quick - what are the first two things that come to mind when you think of Paris? The Eiffel Tower most likely. And, for me at least, the most Parisian of pastries, the French macaron. It's the perfect portable dessert to savor wherever your wanderings take you. May I suggest a picnic with a view? You can see the Eiffel Tower from all over the city but my favorite vantage point is from the top of the Arc de Triomphe. And once you reach the top there's no rush. Take your time, enjoy the view and your macarons.

A bag of delicious sweets from Pierre Hermé.
A massive Mogador macaron, passion fruit and milk chocolate flavor, from Pierre Hermé.

I picked up my cookies at the Pierre Hermé shop in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood. The elegant little macarons are made from two almond meringue like cookies which sandwich a creamy ganache or icing layer. I chose three, the Infiniment Vanille and the shimmering Pistache et Griottine, an amazing flavor combination of pistachio, ceylon cinnamon and griottine cherry. Plus an oversized mogador macaron, tart passion fruit cookies filled with decadent milk chocolate. So good. I visited twice during my trip and didn't even bother with Ladurée (Paris' other famous macaron emporium) until I got to the airport for the flight home.

I was also eager to try another famous French pastry, the Canelé. While not a Parisian thing, Canelé are a Bordeaux specialty, one of my favorite food blogs recommended the Pierre Hermé version. And it was delightful. Edges crisp with burnt sugar with a light, vanilla scented spongy-custard interior.

A beautiful canelé from the famous Parisian bakery, Pierre Hermé.
You must try a canelé from Pierre Hermé, the world famous bakery in Paris.
Two Pierre Hermé macarons, the Infiniment Vanille and the shimmering Pistache et Griottine, an amazing flavor combination of pistachio, ceylon cinnamon and griottine cherry

The only thing more French than the Eiffel Tower is the Arc de Triomphe. The traffic around Paris' second favorite monument is intense. A dozen boulevards, including shopping mecca, the Champs-Elysées, converge in a roundabout from hell. To get to the Arch, pedestrians take an underground tunnel that bypasses the mess at ground level. I visited in the early evening and there was no real line to speak of, but I did use my Paris Museum Pass to get faster access. There's no elevator and the dark, seemingly endless, spiral staircases are a bit daunting.

The view is totally worth it. There's the hustle and bustle of the Champs-Elysées to the east. Then, to the north, the hills of Montmarte and the glowing white dome of Sacré-Cœur Basilica. Looking west you'll see the metropolitan business district of La Défense with it's own Grande Arche, a modern counterpart to the Arch de Triumphe. And of course, to the south, you can't miss the Eiffel Tower. I recommend visiting an hour or two before sunset, when the city takes on a golden glow and and the trees cast long shadows over the wide boulevards and architecture.

The Arc de Triomphe casts long shadows over the hectic intersection of Champs-Élysées in Paris.
Underneath the massive Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
There's room to relax at the top of one of Paris' most famous monuments, the Arc de Triomphe.
Looking west, you get a fantastic view of the La Défense region of Paris from the top of the Arc de Triomphe.
A view to remember, the Eiffel Tower from the top of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
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