Sunday, June 11, 2023

Paris For Free

Trip date: September 2022

Since Covid, I had only been back to Paris for a quick 24 hours in Dec 2021. This time I was looking forward to spending a full week in the city before venturing off to other French destinations. 

But France being obsessed with strikes, did not make it easy for me to get there! They were having a one-day air traffic control strike; guess which day! Originally I had booked a business class flight on Cordor which connected in Frankfurt on Lufthansa to CDG. Cancelled. 

I was automatically rebooked in business on Delta transferring in Amsterdam. Cancelled.

I am not exaggerating when I say I spent HOURS (6 to be exact) on the phone with all three airlines trying to get a flight. Each of course said only the other could do it. I ended up having to find my own flight (it had to be in air to CDG the day before to get around the strike rules) and finally got Delta to book it. 

Seattle to Minneapolis in a middle economy seat (grrr), then MSP to CDG in DeltaOne Business, which sounds great but it was an older plane and the layout was not very good. The tvs in each "pod" face almost face each other and there is no privacy partition. Oh well, any lie flat bed is better than no lie flat and the food and service were better than expected. And the Delta Lounge at SeaTac is huge and fantastic!

This new flight got in at 7am, much earlier than my planned arrival at my friend Forest's, so another friend invited me to come over for breakfast and to take a nap and a shower. Very nice of her and a great little visit with one of her daughters and her hubby. 

Forest had a lot planned for us and luckily much of it was going to be free because I was there during Les Journées Du Patrimoine. The 3rd weekend of each September is Paris' "Heritage Days" where the city gives access to buildings and monuments that are usually closed to the public; mark your calendars! Additionally many sites and museums grant free access during this time. And of course, Paris has a lot of museums and interesting sites that are always free. Here are all the places we were able to hit up:

Institute Giacometti- The artist's studio was relocated from its original location into this stunning art deco apartment in Montparnasse. The intimate space houses some of Giacometti's work including sculpture, sketches, and books. It's a lovely spot!

Fondation Cartier- Also in Montparnasse, but in a large modern building, we explored the works of Australian contemporary artist Sally Gabori. Neither of us were familiar with her but were wowed by the colorful, large format paintings. I found it fascinating that she only started painting in 2005, at the age of eighty, and passed away in 2015 having achieved international attention and respect for her artistic ability! 

Musee Zadkine- This was the home and workshop of Russian sculpture Ossip Zadkine until he passed away in 1967. It's near the Jardin du Luxembourg, tucked back off the main street. There are about 400 pieces of his work, both inside and out in the garden. This was also an artist I wasn't familiar with and it was really nice to explore his work.

Saint Sulpice Church- We joined a free lecture on the gnomon. Built in the early 1700s, this obelisk works like a sundial and indicates the date of Easter. There is a small hole in one of the stained glass windows that the sun streams through, a line of light is cast on the meridian running along the floor and then up to the brass ball on top. It's pretty interesting! And the church itself is lovely to stroll through. 

Museum of Pixie- In Saint-Germain-des-pres there is an adorable shop called Pixie & Cie. I had read about the "toy store" years ago in Vanity Fair but had never had a chance to check it out. Upstairs is a museum of thousands of hand-made toy figurines living their best lives. Tiny apartment windows give you glimpses of their home life, others are performing in the symphony, some in the circus. There is a whole wall of figures dressed in haute couture from YSL, Jean Paul Gaultier, Sonia Rykiel, etc. Other vignettes display beloved Parisian character Tintin as well as Asterix, Babar, and the Smurfs. The figurines range in price from $60-1000 and are intended for collectors vs children. It's all charming!
While in this area we also stumbled upon Minima Gallery which had some incredible miniature books and artwork and also Gallery Seine 55 which just happened to have a Klee, which when we asked about the owner told us the story on how he came to acquire it. You never know what you'll see while wandering in the 6th; it's a gem!

Jardin du Luxembourg Greenhouses- We arrived quite early in the morning for this rare opportunity to explore the greenhouses of the city's famed park. So early in fact that it was hard to figure out where the line was as there were only a few other people queued. But that would change as the morning went on so we were very happy to be some of the first inside.

The greenhouses have many gorgeous plants from around the world but the piece des les resistance is a house just for the collection of over 13,000 orchid plants! The gardeners are known for their ancient hybrids that they have been growing for years; the oldest plant being from 1885. It's a 137 year old orchid! This plant has survived since before WWI! It's crazy!!

The greenhouses are also the site of a conservatory orchard of 100's of varieties of apples and pears, again some of them created 100+ years ago. 

Musee Carnavalet- The Museum of the History of Paris, originally opened in 1880, use to be only in French, no subtitles of any kind. Unfortunately my French is near nonexistent so I had never been. Then the city closed the museum for 5 years giving it a major overhaul and just reopened in May of 2021. It now has not only multiple language options on almost all the pieces, but modern digital displays as well. It's an incredible collection that takes you on a chronological tour of the artifacts, sculptures, paintings, and design of Paris from 9600 BCE to the 21st century. 

The two connected mansions that house the museum also have an absolutely charming terrace where we sat after with a glass of wine and discussed the collections. I'd add this to your do-not-miss list!

Maison de Victor Hugo- In a corner of the beautiful Place de Vosges, the French writer Victor Hugo lived for about 10 years. It was in this mansion where he wrote Les Misérables. It's a beautiful home, and an interesting peek around at the writer's furnishings. I just love touring through the old haunts of famous people. Especially when it's free!

That's a lot of free stuff to see in my opinion! And this is just a taste of what Paris has to offer gratuit, there are literally hundreds of things you can explore. The city website has some excellent information even if you aren't there during Heritage Days.

All Paris photos here.

Saturday, June 3, 2023

Dallas Y'all

Trip date: March 2023

I hadn't been to Dallas since the early aughts, and that was was for an overnight work trip when I use to pitch potential clients for a startup tech company I worked for. So when the bestie said she would be heading to East Texas to visit her family, and we realized Amtrak runs between Mineola (where her parents live) and Dallas, I suggested a quick weekend/meet up.

I had a direct SEA->DFW Alaska Air flight and got to check out the newly opened American Express Centurion Lounge in SeaTac. It is so spacious and lovely; you can read a good review here. You can see it if you look up when in the central terminal as they built a 2nd story and it is perched like a loft! Excellent addition to the local airport lounges!

Because of flight schedules I flew down a day early and spent my first night at the Hilton Arts Hotel. It's a beautiful hotel and even without getting an upgrade based on my Gold status, I had a huge and very pretty corner room.

I was feeling lazy and tired so I decided to have drinks and dinner in the hotel restaurant Ellie's. I can say the martinis and tacos were both great!

The next morning I checked into The Joule Hotel, where Forest and I also had a big beautiful corner room. Before she arrived I walked to the Sixth Floor Museum since she'd already been in the past. It was an easy walk since Dallas is flat as a pancake! 

The museum is located on the 6th floor of what was the Texas School Book Depository, the location from where Lee Harvey Oswald shot and killed President Kennedy from one of the windows. It does a great job of laying out the history of the Kennedy presidency, the political worries of the time, and of course how the tragic day of November 22, 1963 unfolded.

It was very odd to me to look out the same window, and down onto the road running through Dealey Plaza where Kennedy was killed. Thousands of people drive past the exact spot daily as it is a major thoroughfare in Dallas.  

I spent some time walking around the plaza afterwards, and to the JFK cenotaph which is just a few blocks away. Nearby is also the oldest remaining log cabin in this area, built in the 1840s by settlers to Dallas. 

I walked back to the Joule and met Forest at their casual restaurant, CBD. We had a great lunch here, so much so that we ate there twice in our 4 days! After lunch (the first time) one of the front desk people offered to take us across the street to see the sculpture Eye up close. The Joule owns the piece and it was fun to be given access to the grass right in front (closed to the public even though we saw folks squeeze through the fence).

During our stay we also visited the Dallas Museum of Art. They have some impressive collections from all over the world, especially Latin American, but I think my favorites were the Design and Decorative Art collections and the Postwar Art collections. 

But most of the time in Dallas was spent catching up with my friend over lots of food and drinks. Here's the report...


We read that the views of Dallas were great from the rooftop bar of Hide in Knox Park. Not only was there nothing to get excited about as far as the view goes, but my cocktail was so bad I actually couldn't drink it. We left and went next door to HG Sply Co and had some very good margaritas and delicious nachos. A much better rooftop and views of the Dallas skyline in the distance.

The best rooftop bar by far was Waterproof at the Statler Hotel. WOW! It is a stunning location, right in the middle of the city, with a cool Miami vibe. To be honest we just had a couple of margaritas served in plastic cups but I loved the surroundings here so much!

The French Room Bar at the Adolphus Hotel was a wonderful surprise. I just wanted to check out the hotel as it is quite historic and a real beauty! But then I saw the cocktail bar so we went in and had a couple. Gorgeous modern glassware, very interesting ingredients, fancy atmosphere... basically an A+ for me.

Casablanca is absolutely beautiful, but I thought the drinks were just ok. We didn't eat here but they have a full menu and the neighborhood of Bishop Arts seems very cute.

Midnight Rambler gets the most press of Dallas' cocktail bars, and as it is located in the Joule we had no problem finding it! Best to make reservations as it is very popular. When you check in you will be led downstairs where there are some good tunes and cocktails waiting. 

We were seated at the bar and had a great time with the bartender who walked us through the very fun menu of creative cocktails and also shared a lot of info about the different areas of Dallas and other places to check out. 

Las Almas Rotas was high on my list and did not disappoint. Except, be warned, it is a bit of a haul to get to. This self-described shrine to the spirits of Mexico carries smaller, lesser known agave spirits. We had a few cocktails, I had a wonderful flight, and we also had some tasty bites. Fantastic spot!!

I was also very excited to try out Neon Kitten for some Japanese inspired drinks and bites. This bar is in the Deep Ellum neighborhood which many people told us not to go to on account of being dangerous. It was busy with barhoppers and cruisers, but we didn't feel unsafe at all. Not sure if this area is just getting a bad rap or if it was warranted, YMMV.

We ordered some Japanese tater tots and fried chicken bites and paired them with some pretty good Japanese spirit forward cocktails. 

In the back of Neon Kitten is Blackbird Society, their Japanese inspired speakeasy. It's very tiny and very cute. You should definitely reserve if you want to check it out.


We had a fun and delicious brunch at Ellen's in Dallas' downtown. This is the place to go to for old school southern comfort food. Almost all the tables seat 8-10 as the spot attracts a lot of families. And it's busy but they turn the tables pretty quick; we waited on the patio with drinks until our table was ready. 

Our pimento cheese was excellent and I loved my chicken fried steak with sides!

As previously mentioned, we ate at CBD in the Joule twice! The first time I had a delicious fried chicken salad and the second time I really enjoyed their burger. Great spot even if you aren't staying at the hotel.

We also had tacos for lunch at Salsa Limon one afternoon. This is fast and cheap and delicious! It was pretty much all locals on their lunch break when we were there. Also my margarita was the size of my head. Good stuff!

James Beard nominated Restaurant Beatrice is a little piece of Louisiana over in the Bishops Arts area. It's small and super pretty with linen tablecloths and fleur-de-lys wallpaper. Everything on the menu sounded amazing, I wish we could have ordered more to try! But my duck confit with truffled potato cracklins and housemade Luxardo cherry gastric was fantastic. Highly recommend.

The Joule hosted us for dinner one evening at Sassetta, which is their modern Italian restaurant. We had lovely cocktails to start and salads that were probably better to share than take solo as they were huge! My main of lobster spaghetti with pistachio and herbs was very luxurious!

Before leaving Texas, I took Amtrak down to visit Forest's parents in Mineola. Amtrak seems to consider schedules optional down here, the train was quite late both going and returning to Dallas, so keep that in mind if you have other things planned. But it was relaxing and cheap and the station in Mineola has a super cute museum on the history of the railroad in Texas. 

*Although we were hosted by The Joule Hotel, all opinions are my own*

All photos of Dallas here.

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