Seven view of Bucharest, Romania.

Bucharest, Romania is an ancient city that combines a rich history, communist era urban renewal, and 21st century capitalism. It is a city of many faces and most definitely a city in transition.

Centuries of religious architecture are embedded within the 20th century city.

However, much of the city was rebuilt with rather stark communist era apartment blocks.

With the arrival of capitalism an overlay of sometimes exuberant advertising adorns the city.

Parliament Palace (formerly known as the People’s Palace) is the world’s second largest building and dominates the Bucharest landscape. Dictator Nicolae Ceausescu demolished a large sector of the old city for this 1980s era modernist-rococo mash-up, it’s grounds, and sprawling parking lots.

Bucharest’s surviving 19th century buildings are getting a make-over as hip cafes and shops move into the neighborhood.

With limited public transit and an explosion of traffic, taxi drivers get around with a little help from their friends—the Saints.


Notre Dame de Paris. 2005.

As promised in the entry earlier today, here’s a picture of Notre Dame all cleaned up. This was taken by Clay Doyle in 2005 during Paris’s bid for the 2012 Olympic Games.

Note the bit of scaffolding in exactly the same location as 1954. 

Île de la Cité, Notre Dame de Paris, 2005.

White Asparagus and Springtime

I’ve been recently reminded that it will soon be white asparagus season in Europe. Living again in Los Angeles, I truly miss not only the changing seasons, but the various foods and flowers and activities that accompany the seasons. White asparagus was something that I truly looked forward to each year. Not only did it mean that springtime was fully upon us after the cold and dreary winter, but it is uniquely delicious. With the first, very expensive, arrivals in the markets I would buy a bunch and have a dinner party with a first course of the steamed stalks doused in clarified butter. Soon the asparagus would be everywhere, on restaurant menus and in all the markets, growing cheaper as it became more abundant. It’s extraordinarily popular in the Netherlands, Germany and France. I’d eat it often, because I knew that, as spring dissolved into summer, the white asparagus would one day disappear. It would vanish completely, as suddenly as it arrived.

I can get white asparagus in Los Angeles, sporadically, all year round. It’s flown in from around the world, from hot houses and South America. The northern European asparagus is grown locally, and there’s a difference, not only in preparation, but in the stalk itself, between the Dutch, the German, and the French sorts.

It’s hard to get excited about our imported white asparagus, partly because it doesn’t taste the same, and partly, yes, because of it’s ubiquity. Like the tulips, which would arrive in Amsterdam even before the asparagus, often when it was still quite wintry, the seasonality was central. For several months, I could buy 50 tulips, enough to fill the apartment, for a pittance. Every week would bring different varieties and colors to the flower market on the Singel. And then one day they’d be gone, replaced by other flowers. I still think of them when I see the expensive bunches of eight or ten here, already tired from their long flight across the ocean and continent. And I long for bunches of tulips and for asparagus season. —Clay

Culture clash at Bofinger


Sometimes the whole concept is just wrong.

I snapped this picture at Bofinger, the classic French brasserie, on my last visit to Paris, where this brochure seemed starkly out of place.

Bofinger is more than a century old, with leather banquettes, polished brass, white linen, well-used silver, and a stunning stained-glass dome. The menu is limited and classic, the service precise, perfect and very accommodating. Part of the pleasure of Bofinger, and places like it, is the feeling that you have stepped back in time—into a romanticized, literary or cinematic Parisian fantasy.

All this is prelude to my dismay at finding this glossy, 4-color promotional brochure dominating our otherwise impeccably set table. This photo-adorned shiny brochure—so very aggressive, so very American,  so expected at your local chain eatery—gave the impression of a very loud, uninvited guest.

I suppose the corporation that owns Bofinger (along with numerous other well-known Paris brasseries) would like you to know they have some special “value meals” as well as, apparently, a marketing arrangement with Guinness—but isn’t there a way to do it in a manner more in keeping with the Bofinger atmosphere, or I could even say, brand?

Of course there is: the decidedly old fashioned menus, when presented, contain a decidedly old fashioned card providing the same information as on the glossy brochure. Neither made me want to order a Guinness, but the card did not offend.

Lest you think I’m being over sensitive, the very correct waiters at Bofinger made no attempt to hide their contempt for these intruders on their “theater” of the table. They set each vacant table with the offending brochure and then—immediately upon seating the guests and handing out the menus—whisked them away, never to be seen again.

If only the waiters ran the company.


In the main room at Bofinger, Paris: it’s not Au Courant, it’s not trendy, it’s certainly not undiscovered, but I love it. As do many Parisians and visitors alike.

Lent in Venice: Basilica San Marco

Visit the Basilica San Marco at 9:30 in the morning, about a half hour before the tour groups arrive. We climbed the steep stairs to the balcony, and had the outdoor roof terrace, overlooking the piazza, almost completely to ourselves. They charge three euros to access the balcony now, and inside they have created a little museum with mosaics and marble fragments, and models, and of course the originals of the four bronze horses which have been replaced on the façade with copies. But the best part of the balcony is still the view of the piazza from the outside, and the view of the interior of the church and its mosaics from the inside. And having it not mobbed with people is great. Afterwards walk through the church again—the vastness of the space and the richness of decoration and the detail of the mosaics are almost overwhelming.

Lent in Venice: Hotel Villa Igea

view from the Villa Igea terrace


The Hotel Villa Igea, right on the Campo San Zaccaria, was a real find: comfortable, quiet, conveniently located. It had two lovely terraces overlooking the largely unvisited campo (despite being a steps from the main vaporetto stop as well as a short walk to Piazza San Marco.) We were fortunate too in having the very kind and helpful Tomasso, a native Venetian, at the front desk. He steered us to what was our best meal in Venice, as well as providing constant advice and assistance. The hotel has two nice terraces that overlook the campo—perfect for enjoying a bottle of wine from a neighborhood shop; and the daily breakfast buffet is excellent. While the room Eric and I shared was small and comfortable, nonna and Mr Logan were upgraded to a grand two bedroom suite, very spacious, and 50 euros per night less than the two single rooms we had booked.


Lent in Venice: Torcello


Perhaps nowhere has as many beautiful sites to see as Venice, so it can be quite a challenge to tear yourself away from the city’s main sestieri. Still, Venice comprises many far flung islands, each with its own character. If you have more than a few days to explore the area, trips to the outlying islands can be most rewarding.

Torcello is a largely uninhabited island, boasting only a few canals from its long-ago era as an urban center, a small luxury hotel, a couple of impressive churches and two first-rate restaurants to lure visitors. Surprisingly, as sparsely populated as it is today, Torcello was once a thriving city, way back in the 12th century and it’s now-larger neighbor Venice was the undeveloped outpost. Those days are long gone, but an afternoon on Torcello can provide a swell few hours of quiet bliss.
Torcello is served by vaporetto from Venice, via either Murano Island or the Lido. The trip will take from 1 to 2 1/2 hours, depending on the route, but provides a wonderfully scenic tour of the Lagoon. Disembark at the island’s small wooden dock. Follow your fellow passengers up the lone sidewalk bordering a pretty little canal into the heart of the island. Pass the first restaurant on your left, but as you make it to the next establishment, the Ostaria Ponte del Diavolo, you definitely want to stop and have a big, delightful (if pricey) lunch. On one of the restaurant’s patios, you’ll enjoy course after course of brilliant, delicious Venetian cuisine amidst a vista of flowers, trees and pastures. Make sure you enjoy a Bellini or Americano cocktail as an aperitif, and try to save room for the stunning, rich deserts.
After lunch, enjoy a much-needed stroll to the island’s beautifully preserved Romanesque Cathedral. And don’t fail to stop in the dark and lovely adjacent chapel, built on a Greek cross plan. There is also a small museum, although you may find a further walk in the open air more compelling.
Ostaria Ponte del Diavolo
Torcello (Venice)
tel. 39 041 730 401
fax 39 041 730 240
Closed Thursday, and all evenings except Saturday.
Reservations recommended.

Lent in Venice: Eating Well


The only restaurant guide worth having is Venice Osterie, a slim volume available in English, and on sale in Venice (and perhaps nowhere else). Even this requires some reading between the lines, and won’t include the obscure, bargainy places seemingly known only to locals. For some dining suggestions, see my previous post:

Venice Restaurant picks