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After my trip to Marseille, I learned to find a place for dinner that required as little walking as possible. Osteria dal 1931 was literally one block away from where I was staying. I walked past it and did a double take as I passed; the blackboard said they have a special menu at lunch for 10 Euros, or $12 US, which includes two dishes, a side and a drink!

I was the first diner in the place at 8 pm, eating with the staff as they got ready for the Roman dinner rush which started as I was leaving at 9pm.

When I first ordered I learned that although their menu is extensive, very few of the items listed are actually available, for example the rabbit, the spinach, and most of the soups were not offered any of the three times I went. One of the specials was a sliced beef dish with arugula and tomatoes that was both tender and savory for 8 Euros or $9 US.

On a cold rainy night, I chose the one soup available, a pasta and lentil, that had a rich soup base of vegetables and which arrived in a huge bowl. Thankfully it was all I ordered because I couldn’t finish the copious serving even though it was a perfect meal for a dreary wet night.

My favorite side dish were the Roman artichokes in lemon, olive oil, and garlic:) They were so good that I ordered them twice and immediately ate them before my main course both times. Depending on how many they have in the kitchen that day, they are either 3 or 4 euros, or $4-5 US which gives you either one or two. If you go to Osteria dal 1931 and order nothing else, order the artichokes!

Their chicory side was very simply steamed and needed something to liven it up, but if you just want plain greens, they will fit your bill.

On my first visit, the owner served me and offered me this purée of tomatoes, potatoes, and garlic, so addictive that I’m glad I didn’t taste it until I had eaten my artichokes and pasta because I would have filled up on it alone. It was a very warm welcoming place, and even though they don’t speak English, anyone could feel comfortable here using the international language of pointing and smiling. One evening there was a surprise birthday party for a little girl and all the adults hid so when she arrived she was jumping up and down with joy. It’s the kind of place that locals go when they don’t want to cook at home.

My favorite pasta dish in Rome was Pasta Alla Gricia here for 8 Euros or $9 US, a local version of a bacon and cheese pasta. An Italian friend insisted that if I was going to Rome it should be the one pasta I order, and I am so glad I did! The cured pork jowl was the closest thing I’ve tasted in Europe to US thick cut smoked bacon! This very generous bowl was easily enough for two, but it was so good I did my best to make a dent in it.

It was a delightful surprise to discover more bacony goodness as I ate about halfway through the bowl, because I realized that most of the guanciale was hidden underneath the pasta, like buried pork treasure!

A quarter liter (about 2 glasses) of decent red wine here is only 3 Euros or $4 US, but after coming for a few days, they filled my carafe up well past the quarter line mark! Water only comes in a huge bottle for 2 Euros or $3 flat or sparkling, and they charge a 1 Euro or $1.15 cover charge per guest here (normal in many restaurants in Italy). I never spent more than 16 Euros or $18 here for a very generous meal including wine, water, and a main and a side dish at dinner. If you would like to eat at a small family run local Roman place during your stay, get away from the touristy places and hop on the 44 Bus from Teatro Marcello which drops you off literally across the street at the Abate/Ugone/Donna Olimpia stop.

Fortified with food, I headed out to the Colosseo or Colosseum. We call things “colossal” for a reason and this is it!

Save some energy after your visit for the trek back on ancient cobblestones,

the Romans wore flat sandales for a reason 🙂

Rich Parisians have always had week-end “country” getaway homes. Josephine Bonaparte’s Chateau de Malmaison only about 30 minutes by RER and bus from Paris and well worth the trip and the modest 8.50 Euros ($10 USD) entry with free audio guide. The use of the house as the French government headquarters from 1800-1802, and Josephine’s love of flowers and her feminine touches are evident in both the gardens and the interior.

The front gate entry.

The front garden is full of flowers and roses.

A walking path from the front of the house to the front gate.

One side of the front garden includes a small vegetable patch.

The back yard is more natural with intentionally unmowed grass for animals.

The back entrance is as stately as the front

with Egyptian style decor.

Inside the foyer.

Even the doors are decorated

 as well as the ceilings.

Her husband Napoleon had a few mementos on display like his grooming set,

a few swords,

and of course his hat.

The billard room showed she enjoyed games,

 entertaining guests,

 playing music,

 and dining.

 The library,

 Josephine’s salon,

 and receiving rooms,

 showed details like swan chairs.

 Josephine’s bedchamber was like a sumptuous tent,

with incredible details like a sky painted ceiling

 and flower painting on every panel of the wall.

This was her jewelry box which held all the diamonds, emeralds, and rubies she owned:)

A small country home only about 12 miles from Paris 🙂

Any day with blue skies in Paris is a good day to go an explore the Châteaux nearby, especially on a holiday weekend when most Parisians were out of town. The town of Maisons-Laffitte is only about 35 minutes away from the Champs-Elysées by the RER A train, and the Château de Maisons is a small and unusual chateau. Regular entry is 7.5 Euros or about $9 USD and includes a 2 hour guided tour during certain times (in French). The entrance looks perfectly symmetrical because it was built a bit like a Hollywood facade, with the outside built first and the inside built around the outside. This meant that some rooms have half a window, and walls are not where they might seem to be on the inside.

The exterior symmetry applies to the back also.

The original entrance was built to receive royalty on the chance that they might come visit (which they did on occasion) so the marble sculptures in the portico

and on the columns were carved to impress.

Even the trompe d’oeil staircase gives the illusion of several stories even though the entire chateau is only two stories. The “third” story was hidden quarters for the servants under the “roof”, which gave them a view of the royals entering and leaving the royal chambers on the second floor.

The ground floor was where the actual owners lived and although the columns here look like marble, they are actually painted wood because the original ones were sold to pay off debts long ago.

Even though the owners lived below the royals, their rooms were well appointed.

The most ornate part of the chateau is of course where the royals ate and slept

and even the original parquet floors show the work put into pleasing them.

The dining area had a middle entrance reserved for the King, while the side entrances were for everyone else; any pushing or shoving was punishable by fines.

The King’s bedroom was only used by the king on a handful of occasions but had the rare modern convenience of its own private entry with an adjacent bathroom.

A wardrobe fit for a king.

The women’s quarters on the other side had a distinctly more feminine style.

Even the ceilings,

fireplaces,

and walls, had feminine details.

The kitchens underground showcased the copper pots and pans

all over the walls,

and there was a display of the china.

Most of the grounds were parceled off and sold to rich Parisians for weekend homes in the “country”, but the bit that remains looks out towards Paris and the Seine as a reminder that a few minutes away is a place where you can leave the noise and intensity of city life behind.

Chinon was the last, largest, and most historically well known Chateau I visited. Even if you know nothing of French history, I’m sure you’ve heard of Joan of Arc or Jeanne d’Arc. She came here to ask for her army, and this chateau was a fortress more than than a luxurious home. The old town is still preserved with its meandering cobblestone streets just as it was in medieval times.

The road where Joan rode her horse up to the castle has remained unchanged except for the handrails constructed for the many tourists.

Looking down from the top of the climb, you can see the medieval town looks as unchanged as the path leading away from it.

The fortress is meant to be imposing and cold, and it retains that ambiance even in this century.

As with every other fortress, it had several modes of protection, like a deep moat.

Only a small part of the fortress is restored, and it takes about 10 years to complete even a small section because artisans who specialize in doing things as they did hundreds of years ago do the work and it takes almost as long as it did 800 years ago.

This is how most of the site looked after all the battles.

You can see here where they restored the top part of this section.

There are models of what was originally built at various times.

Some towers are partially restored

but you can’t climb some of the stairs yet.

Some parts are restored but still scary

as you descend into what used to hold prisoners four floors below ground!

Other towers held pigeons, more for food than correspondence!

The best part of the climb up

is the view

in every direction.

A modern elevator can take you to a nice view from the public parking lot.

Since this is a major attraction, they have videos in every room in English and French, explaining the history in fine cinematic form equivalent to a PBS show. The high tech self guided tour includes audio in whatever language you speak at certain points merely by passing your brochure over the black and white symbols. Admission is also discounted by 2 Euros if you’ve visited a neighboring chateau and retain the ticket stub, making it under $10 USD for entry.

There’s a nice park like sitting area in the middle of the fortress.

Heading back down the road where Joan of Arc rode

I was reminded that no matter how many wars people fight for land, there are always flowers which manage to fight through the stone and want nothing more than sunlight.

The gardens are of the Chateau Villandry supply fruit, vegetables, and flowers, not only for the chateau, but for the neighborhood and visitors. During the months when they harvest the vegetables, guest are invited to take what is grown in return for a contribution for the grounds; a beautiful and practical way of maintaining the grounds and benefitting the community.

The view from the chateau.

The view in the gardens.

Some of the trees are still bare

as were some of the bushes

and the trellis

but signs of spring peeked out in the peach blossoms and a few flower beds.

The swans seemed to enjoy the cool weather.

The natural beauty of the gardens makes the artwork in the chateau pale by comparison 🙂

If you think only royalty lived in places like Chateau Villandry, it’s worth noting that one of the original owners was an American, Anne Coleman!

The entrance is actually via the back of the gardens

and of course there is a moat to cross

which also provides a scenic division between sections of the garden.

Inside the chateau even the ceilings are beautiful

like this splendid Mudejar ceiling in one of the drawing rooms,

not to mention the staircases.

Portraits of some of the ancestors hang on the restored rooms along with fresh flowers from the garden.

The nursery

had an adjoining play area, complete with a miniature puppet stage.

These flowers looked so perfect that we thought they were fake, but they were grown on the estate!

Next post will be on the grounds where these flowers were grown:)

Coming from Los Angeles, I have lived in smog, but it was so thick here that it was equal to Bejing, i.e., dangerous. I’ve had a headache and people have been coughing all week:( The air pollution in Paris was so bad over the week-end that all public transportation was free, including rentals of all Velib bikes and Autolib electric cars from Friday until midnight tonight.

Thanks to good timing, my friends and I planned to leave for Chateau country on Friday to visit friends near Tours, so even though the air was not clear three hours away, it was still better than it was in Paris. It was safe enough in the countryside to actually be outside, so we went on a tour of Chateau Azay-le-Rideau (8.50 € or about $12 per adult).

This chateau is on an island which made a natural moat of protection around it.

The entries and stairs were all sculpted out of marble

including the handrails.

One of the bedrooms, but

of course there was more than one bedroom.

Since the only heat was with fireplaces, every room had one.

One of their lounging areas for card games or conversation.

These are the windows in the previous shot that the sun was shining through.

Their billard table for times when the weather made staying indoors more fun.

This is the attic where they kept the grain; it takes a huge amount of food to feed a chateau full of people!

There was a place to pray in between rooms (maybe for luck before playing cards).

This is one of the smallest chateau, but it is so picturesque and well maintained that you can almost imagine living here:)

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