Tim Foolery

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Monthly Archives: December 2014

Abbaye de Maizieres

We used the Abbaye as our home base for three days in Beaune. We had a hard time finding the entrance (FYI: The large window looking into the restaurant is the door).

The lobby, which houses the restaurant, is beautiful. It is one of those places that if it had a fireplace you could see yourself spending hours there with a good book and a great glass of local wine. Check-in was a breeze and we were helped with our luggage to the third floor room (we protested, asking to take our own bags, but they declined). The woman from reception, helping us with bags, also commented how they hate that Americans always think the hotel staff are too weak to carry the bags (she said this in French to her colleague, thinking we wouldn’t understand).

Very steep stairs leading up to the guestrooms at the Abbaye de Maizieres

Very steep stairs leading up to the guestrooms at the Abbaye de Maizieres

The stairs are steep and narrow, which is only an issue when hefting the luggage. We reached our room (La Tache) on the 3rd floor. Our room was split across 2 floors: the washroom and a small sitting area (two chairs tucked in a tight corner) on the first floor; and the bedroom on the second.

The stairs leading to the bedroom were closer to a ladder than a staircase: Very Steep and the Rungs were very narrow- so narrow, in fact, you had to walk down sideways. God forbid you need to use the washroom at night – it is a harrowing feat. Luckily we only had one fall down these stairs on our stay.

Two twin beds in the Abbaye de Maizieres

Two twin beds in the Abbaye de Maizieres

Bedroom writing area in Abbaye de Maizieres

Bedroom writing area in Abbaye de Maizieres

The room and linens were very clean and the bath was outfitted with Clairns products.

Abbaye de Maizieres monogrammed hand towl

Abbaye de Maizieres monogrammed hand towel

Bathroom sink in Abbaye de Maizieres

Bathroom sink in Abbaye de Maizieres

Shower in Abbaye de Maizieres

Shower in Abbaye de Maizieres

The restaurant had a great dinner. We ate here one night and had one of our best meals in Beaune. The menu changes weekly, so if you have an opportunity – eat here twice. Authentic regional cuisine with an amazing cheese cart. Epuisses is a must.

The restaurants main dining area at Abbaye de Maizieres

The restaurants main dining area at Abbaye de Maizieres

Amazing cheese cart at the restaurant in Abbaye de Maizieres

Amazing cheese cart at the restaurant in Abbaye de Maizieres

My limited cheese selections at dinner at Abbaye de Maizieres

My limited cheese selections at dinner at Abbaye de Maizieres

 

The location is perfect – within walking distance of all the City attractions. There is free parking at the Ring Road as well – a 3 minute walk to the hotel.

I would never stay here again, if I had to have one of the two story rooms. Guaranteeing a room on a single floor may encourage my return, but I would probably skip it.

I should note that when we stayed at this property we were 35 years old in good shape without mobility issues. If you have trouble with stairs steer clear of this hotel.

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The Art of Letter Writing

I do not write postcards when traveling. I tried for a while. Mostly to my parents ad equally often to myself – to start a collection, perhaps I planned on putting them in a book or framing them.  I don’t know what my end-game was, but I do know that I sent myself a handful of postcards and have no clue where they are now.

I don’t write post cards, but I do write a handful of letters while traveling.  When staying in a nice hotel, with nice branded stationary, I’ll often write a double sided letter to a couple of friends who are also old souls like me – people who appreciate the written word and the uniqueness of the stationary.

In these letters I will talk about the hotel mostly, the travels a bit but more often than not, I include a little travel quirk that I’ve come across.  These letters don’t tell the full tale of my travels, but a free flowing stream of consciousness from the moment in time – the moment in which I am writing.

I’ve written letters from such hotels as the St. Regis in Bangkok, The Le Meridien Mexico City, the King Alfonso XIII in Seville, the Prince de Galles in Paris.  I know people who send dozens of postcards – to family, friends, co-workers, exes, friends of friends, acquaintances, etc.  For me, I feel I get more bang for my buck with a handwritten letter from a fun hotel to a select few people.  To be honest, once I write the initial letter, the rest follow pretty close to it – mostly the same details.  I may add more focus on food vs. wine vs. hotel, vs. craziness depending on the recipient.

I know I am excited to open my mailbox and see a letter from a friend from a far off place. What about you?  Do you prefer to write postcards? Letters? Or just update your status on Facebook or Twitter?  I think the art of letter writing is dying and I intend to keep it up at least while on my travels.  What about you?

Le Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen

A couple years ago, I went to a book lecture at l’Alliance Française de Chicago about Modern French Interior Design. The author, a New York Based designer, spoke of how she often visited the various flea markets in Paris when designing client spaces. Her favorite market is Le Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen – aslo known as the Puces (or Fleas). This open air market is just outside the north gate of the City. You take the Metro Line 4 to Porte de Clignancourt and walk about a 5-7 minutes. Be warned, this isn’t the best neighborhood in Paris and once you get off the Metro you walk past two open air markets that sell knock-off Nikes (or “fallen off the truck Nikes”) and other sportswear plus African Art and other crap that you can get in just about any City on Earth. Walk through this area to find the true Puces.

I loved this area. We walked around the maze of shops for about two hours looking at the antique silver, beautiful furniture, furs and glassware. I had my eyes open for three things: Antique Cuff links (Christmas is coming up, you know), an antique Louis Vuitton trunk – to turn into a coffee table and a Presse de canard (Duck Press), but that didn’t stop us from looking at dozens of furniture and art shops along the way. If you are looking for beautiful antique picture frames this is where you need to go.

Unfortunately, I didn’t find any cuff links that I wanted. The Louis Vuitton trunks were either in need of more repair than I wanted to give or if they were in good order more than I wanted to pay. We did find a duck press though, but it was well used and was quite rusty. We debated the purchase, but decided that the cost of giving our dinner guests tetnus shots would outweigh the benefits of the Presse itself.

We walked away from les Puces empty handed, but we really enjoyed the experience, wandering in the beautiful weather, loving the history and the vibe of it all. While I don’t think I’ll visit the Puces each time I go to Paris it will make my frequent revisit list. Remember, there is more than one Puces in Paris – this is just the one that the author I met spoke of. Hit up Google or your hotel concierge for more info.

You can also take guided walking tours of les Puces, but I don’t know if that means you are guided to certain stalls that have an arrangement with the tour guide or of it is fully independent where the guide may be able to help you negotiate.

If you do go to Puces, be sure you haggle and haggle hard. We were given “a really good price off the marked price” on a few things that we were looking at. For example a Christofle Silver Tea Rest was marked at 175€ and when I picked it up, the guy gave me a “good discount” down to 100€. It was really cool as a gift to someone who loves tea, but honestly, it was a novelty and I would have paid 20€, no more. I’m sure it was worth more than that – maybe in Silver alone, but it wasn’t worth it to me. Remember, you are buying it, what is it worth to you? You might be getting a good deal off the marked price, but if it is still more than you initially wanted to pay, is it a good deal?

Almost everyone we ran into at the Puces spoke English – at least well enough to conduct the transactions – so don’t let your limited French language skills keep you from the Puces. If you speak perfect French, I’m sure you’ll get a better deal, but don’t let that stop you. If you aren’t good with French numbers (c’mon, it’s perfectly logical for 97 to be said as “four twenties and ten and seven, right?), bring a small calculator (or use your mobile phone’s calculator app) to display the number you want to pay, then let the vendor punch in his counter offer. I’ve done this in Italy before (when I was 17) and it worked perfectly.

Go to the Puces. Enjoy the experience. Take the Metro out there (it takes about 30 minutes from the center). Watch your wallet and camera (as you should everywhere in Paris and every City for that matter), but go. You may just find that perfect little object d’art you’ve been wanting to get your friend who watched your cat while you were in Paris!

Tell me about your experiences at les Puces. What did you get? Do you speak the language? Did you buy an antique fur to keep you warm on those chilly winter evenings?

Dinner and Shoes – Paris

I am not ashamed to admit that the three things I was looking forward to most while in Paris were:

• Eating in great little bistros and cafés;
• Practicing the French that I’ve studied at l’Alliance Française de Chicago; and
• Going to Rudy’s to buy shoes

I will start with Dinner. Since we had only a single night in Paris, I asked the Concierge at the Prince de Galles for a restaurant recommendation. I told her I didn’t want her to pull out her restaurant book (do they still have those or is it all online now?) – I wanted to know where SHE and HER FRIENDS eat. What about the other staffers at the hotel? I don’t want to hear about how great the restaurant in the hotel is (great, it’s got a Michelin Star – while in Paris for a night, I want a great casual meal). She recommended three places, most within walking distance of the hotel (which means near the Champs-Elysee and thousands of tourists). We selected a restaurant on her list that was in the 5th– called Le Petit Pontoise. This was a quick 7 minute walk from the St. Paul Metro Stop (Line 1), across the river in the Latin Quarter.

We were surprised at how many things were closed on Sunday night, but had no problem finding this place and were quickly seated. The restaurant was about three quarters full. I was taken aback a bit when we walked in and I heard a loud American voice. Ugh, where did she send us? Luckily it was just one table, with American students studying in France. I looked at their plates and they were eating the beef cheeks – OK, at least they didn’t coax the chef into making an American style hamburger. I had to let my Anti-American-In-Paris feelings vanquish.

Our waiter’s English was better than my French (not hard), but he wasn’t fluent. Our conversation back and forth lapsed from English to French – especially as he was describing some of the desserts that I was unfamiliar with.

The menu was simple and had some French staples, but some great unexpected items, which we ordered. I started off with a crab and basil salad, which was light and refreshing. The mild saltiness of the crab paired unexpectedly well with the strong basil. I think this would have been better in the summer or spring, but tasted great in the fall. Mike had an artichoke and tomato tart that was absolutely amazing. We decided that we need to use artichokes (even canned artichokes) more and that we could replicate this tart pretty easily – tomatoes, eggplant, artichoke and cheese in a pastry shell. Let’s do it.

For an entrée I had the duck with some pears and apples. It had a really great fall flavor to it, but my duck breast was a little under cooked. The meat was so tender, but in certain bites the sinewy tissues weren’t melted enough – so cooking for another 2-3 minutes would have made it perfect. Although, I’ll be the first to admit, I’d rather have it slightly under done than slightly over done (at least for duck). Mike ordered the pig cheeks, which was served in a cast iron pot and was the best thing I had eaten in weeks. The cheeks melted in your mouth and the accompanying vegetables had a bright crunch in one bite and a beautiful creaminess in the next. I am not ashamed to admit that I did dip several pieces of bread into that pot of sauce throughout the meal.

For dessert I had a simple Chocolate Molten Lava Cake – or, as I learned is called an Amadeus (the waiter and I used our French and English skills to describe this “under cooked chocolate cake that makes a mess on your plate when you cut it”.  I love the dance of language confusion.

If dinner were a competition, Mike won with his selections. I was happy, but I would have been ecstatic if I had made his selections. We paired our meal with a bottle of Burgundian wine that was going for 24€. This restaurant didnt have wines by the carafe, which seemed quite unusual – I remember getting une carafe de vin rouge everywhere last time we were in Paris).

Ok, that was dinner. The final thing that I was really looking forward to was visiting Rudy’s Chausseure. A shoe store on the Rue de Rivoli in the 4th Arrondissement (Le Marais) just a couple blocks from the St. Paul (Metro Line 1) Stop. We stumbled across this tiny shoe store on our last visit and fell in love. There are several Rudy’s around the City, but this is the only one I’ve visited. They have about 2-3 dozen shoes on display: everything from oxfords, to loafers to boots. Just one guy works at the store we go to – and he helps just enough to get you the right size. You are left to your own devices after that – which I dig.

The brand of shoes I love is John Mac Grey – and I can’t find them anywhere else.  A good search brings up: Rudy’s; eBay and my old blog. I’ve even emailed Rudy’s and asked if they could ship to me and unfortunately they can’t.

The shoes I bought in September of 2011 are still in active rotation. I’ve had them resoled a couple times, but they are starting to show their age. I bought two pairs in 2011 and wear these two pairs 4 of 7 days each week – so they are holding up very well.

Lovely shoes from Rudy's

Lovely shoes from Rudy’s

I decided this year that I’d pick up a few extra pair and keep a couple pairs on deck, in case something happened to the ones on active duty (a few years ago, a United Stew ran over my shoe with a drink cart and deeply scratched the leather, but a good polish helps hide this defect).

I settled on buying four pairs of shoes –two brown and two black. They are beautiful. They are in a style that you can’t find in the US – a little more pointed, with a European flare. They are also all leather – and try as I might, I can’t find nice leather soled dress shoes in the US at a reasonable price. I paid between 59€ and 89€ for each pair at Rudy’s. For this price in the US, you are likely getting a pair of shoes with big rubber soles and/or a plastic heal. John Mac Grey’s are all leather with a little wooden heal – the way a proper dress shoe should be.

As I packed up my shoes and started to head out, the young sales associate ran after me and suggested that I take the 10 minutes and he’ll complete the tax return form for me – allowing me to get 50€ back when I leave the country! Score! Unfortunately, there was no one manning the Swiss border crossing and since Switzerland isn’t part of the EU I couldn’t get the money refunded. C’est la vie, eh?

Next time I am in Paris, I can guarantee that I’ll be paying Rudy’s a visit and if you like quality men’s dress shoes at an unreasonably low price then you best be hopping on Line 1 to St. Paul straight away yourself.

Yes, I know this was a post about food and shoes, but what else do you need in life, right?

Do you have a favorite shopping haunt in Paris when you visit? Where do you get your fabulous dress shoes in the US and what do you like about them?

Prince de Galles Hotel – Paris

Last time in Paris, we stayed at a tiny little boutique hotel in the 4th Arrondissement called Hotel Jeanne d’Arc. It was great. Small, crazy inexpensive and right in a cute little non-touristy neighborhood, Le Marais. This year, I wanted to try something a bit more luxurious. Again, since I’m cheap, I didn’t want to pay for luxury. We decided to cash in 30,000 StarPoints for a single night at this Starwood Luxury Collection Hotel – the Prince de Galles Hotel.

This property reopened after a complete renovation in early 2013. The standard rooms were going for 590€/night. I cannot imagine any circumstances where I would pay that for a hotel room. I thought 30,000 points was a good trade off though.

Hotels in Paris, to me, are like hotels in New York and Las Vegas – I won’t be spending any time in the rooms, so I just need a safe, clean place with a nice hot shower. That being said, from time to time, I do like to lead a bit more of the luxe life.

As a Starwood Platinum member I get 10 Suite Night Upgrades a year. Since my luck throughout the year has been pretty poor on the upgrades themselves, I still had several unused. Surprisingly, my upgrade cleared and we were moved up to the Macassar Suite (3 levels above the room I booked). Five days before arrival I received the email confirming our upgrade had cleared – so I emailed the hotel informing them of our expected arrival time to which they responded that they couldn’t guarantee our room would be available, but would guarantee the availability of a shower upon our arrival, which is really all I need at that point.

Check-in was quick and efficient. The front desk team seemed to be very happy to be there – unlike so many people at US hotels who are doing YOU a favor just to check you in. We were escorted to our room and given the grand tour. The suite was beautiful. It was 73 square meters (786 square feet) and was located on the third floor. The front room had two seating areas flanking a decorative fireplace. The TV was behind a mirror above the fire place. I was surprised that the room had so many electrical outlets – even though it had just recently been redone, I was expecting to be on a hunt for outlets, not so.

Prince de Gaulles Macassar Suite - Living Room

Prince de Galles Macassar Suite – Living Room

Prince de Gaulles Macassar Suite - Living Room Fire Place and TV

Prince de Galles Macassar Suite – Living Room Fire Place and TV

Two double sliding doors lead to the large bedroom, which had a nice sized desk and another seating area. While this room also had plenty of outlets, most were controlled by a single light switch, which meant if you wanted to charge your devises the lights had to be on too. A bit frustrating, but we figured it out.

Prince de Gaulles Macassar Suite - Bedroom

Prince de Galles Macassar Suite – Bedroom

Prince de Gaulles Macassar Suite - Bedroom

Prince de Galles Macassar Suite – Bedroom

Speaking of the lights switches – look at how fun these are! If I didn’t think they’d drive me nuts (by running into them and ripping my skin open) at home, I’d install them throughout the entire house in Chicago.

Prince de Gaulles Macassar Suite - Fabulous Light Switches

Prince de Galles Macassar Suite – Fabulous Light Switches

The bathroom, was large and beautiful with a nice sized walk in shower, separate tub and a glass enclosed WC. I don’t know why hotel designers think putting a glass door on the WC is a good idea – if you are traveling alone who needs a door? If traveling with someone, I don’t care who, you need more privacy than that. Am I right? We saw this same issue at the Park Hyatt in Zurich. Maybe I’m just old fashioned that way – I don’t want to see anyone on the toilet.

Prince de Gaulles Macassar Suite - WC and Vanity

Prince de Galles Macassar Suite – WC and Vanity

Prince de Gaulles Macassar Suite - Bathtub

Prince de Galles Macassar Suite – Bathtub

Prince de Gaulles Macassar Suite - Shower

Prince de Galles Macassar Suite – Shower

The shower had amazing water pressure and temperature control – love a blazing hot shower after a long day and flight. I even took a bath the night we were there – filled the tub with water and bath salts and read my book.

Not all was perfect at the hotel though. Other than the glass doored WC and the switch controlled outlets (which only caused a problem because of my travel companion’s snoring issue – we often use a white noise app to help drown out the sound and we wanted to use the Bose iDock to amplify the sound, but couldn’t if we wanted to sleep with the lights off) the sink and tub drains were very slow. So slow in fact, I couldn’t even get the tub to drain at all – my heartfelt sorries to the housekeeping staff who had to drain the tub (who wants to stick their hand in cold bath water to drain the tub?? I had a hard time shaving as well since the sink wouldn’t properly drain. My gut is that this isn’t a pipe issue, but a sink / tub stopper issue.

After dinner in Paris, we stopped by the hotel bar and sat outside (under a tented courtyard area) and had a glass of champagne. It was very warm in Paris when we were there – about 13C during the day. It was lovely sitting outside around 23h00 enjoying some bubbles – the only complaint is this area is also the designated smoking area, so it had a stale cigarette smell. Lovely anyway.

Champagne on le Patio at  Prince de Gaulles Hotel - Paris

Champagne on le Patio at Prince de Galles Hotel – Paris

We opted to take breakfast in the hotel (as part of my Platinum Welcome Gift). It was a standard continental breakfast with a basket of pastries, some juice and jams. It was perfectly fine as a complimentary gift. Although if I had paid 35€/person for this, I would have been livid. I don’t know how hotels can get away with charging these prices for something like that (actually, I do know, they do it because people pay for it). We could have gotten the same thing at a boulongerie or 5€ each.

About an hour after we checked-in, an additional Welcome Gift was provided.  It was a lovely boxed chocolate with the imprint of the hotel on it.  You should consider yourself lucky — I almost didn’t get this picture taken before I ate this whole thing in a matter of minutes.

Prince de Gaulles Hotel - Welcome Gift

Prince de Galles Hotel – Welcome Gift

I really enjoyed this hotel. It was by far the most expensive hotel I have ever stayed (going rate, not my rate). It was absolutely beautiful and the service was really top notch. I believe it was probably the second best hotel I have ever stayed in my life – the best being earlier this year in Seville Spain – the Alfonso XIII – another Starwood Luxury Collection Property (review coming soon, I promise). I would definitely stay at this property again and would highly recommend it to anyone who wants a bit of old world luxury with all the modern amenities. It is located just a minute walk from the Champs-Élysées (usually a negative in my mind – I don’t want to stay in tourist central), but it’s far enough off the Champs-Élysées (on George V) that you don’t feel like you are being trampled by tourists.

Have you stayed at this property before? How was your elite status recognized? Did your upgrade clear? How are the standard rooms? What issues did you run into? Would you return?