Thursday, December 31, 2009

Green Travel Bags for the New Year


It is getting easier all the time to make environmental choices when purchasing items as companies get increasingly creative with incorporating recycled materials into their products. If you are in the market for green luggage and packs, you are in luck. Heys and Osprey are two such companies specializing in travel gear.

Heys, a Toronto based company, has been making innovative luggage for over twenty years. They have two green choices in their luggage line. The sturdy EcoOrbis rolling suitcases are made from 100% recycled ABS plastic. These come in four colors (red, black, lilac and beige) in three standard sizes and have 360º wheels and an aluminum handle. Their EcoTex line is made from recycled water bottles and includes duffle-style and accessory bags.

Heys International ships only in Canada. Heys USA ships to customers in the U.S. At Heys USA you can search by state to find stores that carry the Heys bags. In the U.S. EcoOrbis luggage is called EcoCase. The EcoCase is available in more colors and has a different embossed design on the exterior, but the bags like their Canadian counterparts are made out of 100% recycled ABS plastic.

Osprey packs, makers of excellent backpacks in all shapes and sizes, make a line of day-pack and accessory bags out of 100% recycled PET plastic. Their ReSource line uses recycled content in the mesh pockets, binding tape, webbing, buckles and zipper pulls in addition to the overall bag fabric with a commitment to using at least 70% recycled materials in the bags. This means that while the fabric is 100% recycled material, other components of the bags like the spacer mesh may only be 55% recycled material.

These bags made from recycled materials provide great options for the eco-traveler. We can hope that the future will bring  even more options for  ecological products and conscientious travel. Happy New Year.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Dinner in Paris, Breakfast in Barcelona


I have very fond memories of traveling by train as a child, especially overnight trains. White linen tablecloths with china and glassware in the dining cars, and “club cars” where I invariably met other children to play cards with or I-Spy as we stared out of the windows. My memories do not include gross bathrooms splattered with urine, nor miniscule compartments too small for luggage. Since I was smaller then it may be that indeed the compartments were tiny and I just didn’t notice, but I do believe the bathrooms were much cleaner. 

Train travel is still my preferred form of transport, although I will admit to being disappointed on many trains since I hold a high standard from my youth. Certainly a pet peeve of mine is the condition and lack of toilets, especially on overnight trains. Why are they gross now and not forty years ago? People frequented them just as much I am sure.

That said I am happy to report that the overnight train between Paris and Barcelona (and Madrid) is still alive and busy even with dirt-cheap flights available on low-cost airlines. I suspect that if you can afford to travel in Grand Class or First class that the compartment size and toilet facilities are better than those in tourist class.

A word of warning, if you are traveling in tourist class you will be four people to a “room”, which is the size of a large closet. Whoever designed these train cars forgot that people traveling twelve hours or more between major cities might be accompanied with large luggage. There is no luggage storage in the “rooms” or on the train car, so the four people must navigate around the luggage that takes up what limited space there is between the fold-down beds. The toilets are abysmal and inevitably at least one ends up unusable - flooded or plugged.

You might think that these complaints would make it so that I would never travel by overnight train. Not so. I still love the train the best, but simply pine for a slightly more comfortable experience. 

The Paris Barcelona route (there is a separate Paris-Madrid route) runs every night, and the timing of it is such that you can have dinner in Paris, albeit a not too late dinner, and breakfast in Barcelona. I did just that, having gone to Paris for the weekend. I had an early dinner at a favorite organic foods restaurant in the St. Germain area of Paris consisting of a wonderful salad, and then rosemary roasted organic chicken leg with vegetables. Fortunately the Phtyo-Bar is open every day from noon to 11:30 pm so it doesn’t matter what day you are traveling. My meal was followed by a lovely stroll along the Seine and by Notre Dame, then onto the Metro to take me to Gare Paris-Austerlitz for the 8:30 pm (20:30) train to Barcelona. Gare Austerlitz is not far from the Paris Grand Mosque and that is a wonderful place to have tea.

For novices to overnight train travel, you may be surprised when the steward asks you to hand over not only your ticket but also your passport or residence card - this is to avoid having to wake everyone up at 5 am for the border check. As unnerving as it is to hand over your most significant form of identification, everyone does it and there never seems to be a problem.

The train arrives at Barcelona Estacio de Franca at 8:24 am - or close to then. If Barcelona is merely a layover you will likely have to make your way to the other train station in Barcelona, Estacio Sants -- this can be done by train or metro (metro stop is the yellow line Barceloneta around the corner from the train station -take one stop to Jaume 1 for the old part).

In any case, if you are eager for breakfast you can walk or take the metro to the old part of Barcelona - El Raval and Barri Gotic areas. Stroll through La Boqueria market and pick up some delicious fresh pressed fruit juice - there is a wide variety to choose from: Kiwi, Coconut, Mango (my favorite), orange, strawberry, and more.

There are any number of cafes and restaurants to eat at near or along Las Ramblas. A fun and airy restaurant with outdoor seating just one block west of Las Ramblas, north of La Boqueria is Bar Lobo. Here you can order organic coffee or tea, fresh fruit, juices and  smoothies, as well as the “Jane Fonda” breakfast (yogurt, muesli, fruit and organic tea), the “Churchill” (bacon, eggs & café con leche (coffee with milk)), or little sandwiches made on baguette bread. The restaurant has the feel of a loft and much of the food prep is done in the center so visible to all patrons. Bar Lobo, c/ Xucla 8 (on the corner of c/ Pintor Fortuny), Barcelona; open Monday to Saturday from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm.

If you are not in the mood for a full on breakfast you can walk three blocks west on Pintor Fortuny and then up the street Doctor Dou to the Reykjavik Bakery - see Searching for Good Breads post. If you want non-bakery goods you can cross the street and find one of the Veritas natural food stores with produce and other groceries. Barcelona Reykjavik Bakery, Doctor Dou, 12 (Raval), open Monday to Saturday 10:00 am to 9:30 pm.

If you are indeed continuing on to Estacio Sants you can pick up the green line metro at Liceu (no switching) on Las Ramblas or the red line at Plaza Catalunya (you will need to switch at Espanya for the green line).

And enjoy being able to have dinner in Paris and breakfast in Barcelona!
Bon appetit, ¡buen apetito!


A Las Ramblas note: If you take pictures of any of the Living Statues along Las Ramblas please leave money in their containers - this is how they earn their living and some will chase you down if you don’t.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas Time and Local Artisans in Valencia Spain


The Christmas markets of Germany and France are not to be found in Spain, but every city in Spain has its own versions of holiday lights, markets and celebrations. Valencia is a beautiful city and one that is particularly so when lit up at night. In addition to the regular bustling markets held throughout the city on any given day, Valencia hosts an artisan market during December in Plaza de la Reina next to the cathedral. Here you can find a variety of beautiful handcrafted goods made in the Valencia region.

Los Oliveros makes a range of items from native olive wood – a golden and brown hardwood. You can find ornaments, kitchen utensils, bowls, rings, and more made from this beautiful wood by self-taught artisans who have been creating these olive wood goods for almost twenty years. 

Mandala Shoes uses vegetable–tanned leather to make a line of shoes and accessories.The shoes are made with natural leather, cork, and some natural rubber on the soles. Leather workers since 1900, the La Mano family now handcrafts these goods including offering custom-sized shoes. They also sell a natural leather care product containing lanolin, beeswax and jojoba oil. In keeping with their environmental commitment, their production waste materials are used as natural fertilizer.

La Casa de la Luna Media is a cooperative making herbal body care products and natural medicinals from organic herbs in the Castellon area of Spain about one hour north of Valencia city.

You will also find silversmiths, leatherworkers, ceramicists, fan-makers, and much more in the artisan market. This is a fantastic place to find locally made products at excellent prices.

If you are not in Valencia during December you can find local craftspeople year round through the Centro de Artesania Comunitat Valencia, Calle del Hospital, 7, 46001 Valencia.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Natural Remedies in Valencia - Farmacia Ribera


If you are in Valencia and find yourself in need of natural medicines, the Farmacia Ribera is a full service pharmacy specializing in natural medicines right in the heart of Valencia two blocks from the train station. They stock many well known European brands of homeopathic and natural medicines including HEEL, Weleda, Schussler, Bach, and many more. 

Farmacia Ribera has knowledgeable staff (but if you don’t speak Spanish have your request written down), eager to help you. If they don’t have something in stock they can order it and have it within one to three days. Open every day this is a gold mine for the traveler needing natural remedies. Farmacia Ribera, c/ Ribera 12, 46002 Valencia; Tel: 963 511 358; Email: farmaciaribera@gmail.com; Web: www.farmaciaribera.com; open 9:00 am to 10:00 pm Monday to Sunday!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Toilets and Traveling





I consider myself relatively easy going about toilets and bathroom facilities. That is I have gone backwoods camping and once lived with nothing more than an outhouse for almost four years. So it is not that I require luxury. However, when traveling I am amazed at the state of some toilettes.

I have gotten used to traveling with a package of tissues as I often come upon toilets without any toilet paper – and for that matter sometimes with no seat or even toilet! In some Italian, French and Spanish public toilets you will find the toilet paper in a common hallway, not in the stalls, and mere holes in the floor as toilets. These are not so bad as long as you have your squatting muscles in shape and have remembered to gather your toilet paper prior to entering your stall.

It is the urine saturated sticky floors, with used paper and towels stuck in various places, and unflushed toilets full of merde that send me in to winces and shivers. No one is caring for these bathrooms. 

So when I come upon toilets where you have to pay, and others are grumbling about the audacity of charging for urination, I am delighted to find clean, well-tended bathrooms. I would rather piss on the grass or by a tree anytime than go into the gross, urine and feces saturated cesspools that are often available.

In Spain most toilets are free, or free to customers. Do not be surprised, especially in southern areas, if you see people (admittedly usually men) peeing in the street, or by a dumpster or park tree. I would not recommend this since it only adds to the eau-de-pee often wafting from certain side streets.

I am told that in Paris this will get you a hefty fine. Fortunately in France you have a selection of toilettes - both free and fee. Many of the train station bathrooms charge .50 to 1 euro for entry. You can pay more for a shower if you are in need.

In London, many train stations charge for toilet use, but free ones can be found at most department stores and at the Covent Garden Market. 

Not surprisingly, Swiss bathrooms are notoriously clean. At the Zurich main train station you pay 2 Swiss francs for the toilets, but let me tell you it is worth it – you could perform surgery in those restrooms of gleaming marble. In Germany toilets also are generally very clean.

I am afraid that Italy does not share the same reputation as Switzerland and Germany, in fact quite the opposite. But look for fee-to-pee toilets at train stations, and also make sure you make use of the facilities at any cafe or museum you are patronizing.

In most European countries you can get by with asking for the toilette or WC. In Spain you will also see signs for Aseo. 

There are many helpful and funny links in cyberspace about bathrooms. A very comprehensive site is the Bathroom Diaries where you can search over 120 countries for bathroom locations and commentary - WOW! 

Visitors to Paris may want to part with 3 euros and download the Paris Pause Pipi Guide offering a useful guide to the public Sanisettes in Paris.There are also numerous links to Paris specific toilets with two especially good ones at Slow Travel and Colleen's Paris.

And for those who want to be prepared no matter what, you can try the new German invention Roadbag pocket urinal for men or the Ladybag  for women.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

New Second-Hand English Bookstore in Valencia


A great new used book store has opened in Valencia a block behind the Plaza de la Reina. KandA Books is named for its friendly owners Kelly and Andy, world travelers who wanted to live in a climate warmer than their native Scotland, and run a business that was helpful not hurtful to the environment.

KandA Books is a small store offering a good selection of mostly English language second-hand books (they also have a small selection of French, Spanish and German titles). They sell outright, but also offer a book exchange program, further encouraging recycling, where they will give you a book credit of 40% of what they think they can sell your book(s) for to be used towards your next purchase.

If you can’t get to the store easily, you can search through all their titles to see if they have what piques your interest at the KandA Web site. When shopping, take note, they only take cash. KandA Books, c/ Tapineria 18, Valencia; Tel: 639 740 746; open every day from 10:00 am to 10:00 pm. 

For other stores in Valencia selling English books see the earlier Traveling Naturally post, Bookstores in Valencia.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Salt Caves For Natural Health


I find myself quite intrigued with the therapeutic qualities of salt caves. A simple, low-tech therapy (especially when done in natural caves), salt caves have been used in Eastern Europe and Russia for hundred of years for treating lung and nasal illnesses, particularly asthma and allergies., with antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and immune system modulating properties.  Research has found that sodium chloride (salt) especially when delivered with negative ions is beneficial for lungs and sinuses, dissolving thick mucus

Called Speleotherapy, cave therapy involves spending an hour or more in an underground natural salt or karst (limestone) cave where the combination of minerals and electronegative charge are particularly conducive to treating chronic and allergic respiratory conditions. People suffering from such ailments are recommended to have cave sessions every day for two to three weeks as part of a whole treatment plan.


Halotherapy does not involve angels as the name might imply, but is rather therapy in fabricated caves, using special technology that aerosolizes salt, mimicking natural salt caves. Halotherapy is becoming increasingly popular in the United States and Europe, where spas and clinics are installing fabricated salt caves to be used for allergy and asthma sufferers, as well as for relaxation and preventative care. 

Natural Caves include the Bystrianska cave in Banská Bystrica, Slovakia; Tel: +421-48-413 53 12; Email: sdluholucky@nspbb.sk AND vrajcanova@dfnbb.sk; Web: http://www.speleoterapia.sk/indexe.htm; AND http://www.visitslovakia.com/bystrianska-cave


The Underground Rehabilitation and Treatment Centre is an independent healthcare facility that is part of the Wieliczka Salt Mine Tourist Route (Kopalnia Soli Wieliczka – Trasa Tusrystyczna) in Poland. Quite an impressive facility, the salt mines have been used for therapeutic purposes for hundreds of years. Today the Treatment Centre is a full on treatment and research facility, providing respiratory rehabilitation 440 feet below ground. 


There are overnight treatments as well as day treatments with nearby hotels for day users. Medical consults and diagnostic tests are part of the program as are exercises and other activities. Daily sessions last six and a half hours in the mine, and fourteen-day stays are standard, with seven-day health packages offered as well. The Wieliczka Salt Mine Underground Rehabilitation and Treatment Centre, 32-020 Wieliczka, Park Kingi 6; Tel. +48 12 278 73 68; Email: sanatorium@kopalnia.pl; Web: www.sanatorium.kopalnia.pl


Fabricated Salt Therapy “Caves”: 


You can find Halotherapy salt caves in Rutland, VT, Williamsburg, VA, Illinois, Florida, and other locations in the United States, as well as in London and Lincolnshire, UK. Dr. Margaret Smiechowski, a native of Poland, has brought her knowledge of salt caves to the United States where she is considered an expert in salt therapy installations. For more information about her work see http://www.saltcavevt.com or visit the website of the Pyramid Holistic Wellness Center in Rutland Vermont.


In London, a newly fabricated salt cave has opened in a renovated church. Allergy & Asthma Ltd opened the cave to offer natural treatments for allergies and maladies of the lungs. Salt cave sessions are available by appointment only. Allergy & Asthma Ltd., 320B, Earlsfield Road, United Reformed Church, London, SW18 3EJ; Tel: 020 8870 6006; E-mail: info@saltcave.co.uk; Web: http://www.saltcave.co.uk; open Monday to Friday from 8:30am to 8:00 pm, Saturday from 9:00am to 5:30 pm.


Indium is a company in Estonia that manufactures salt rooms and individual salt “cocoons” – sort of like saunas but rather than heat you are getting aerosolized salt therapy. Indium Top LLC, Paldiski Road 68, Tallinn, 10617 Estonia; Tel: +372 6715 774; Email: iiris@salt-therapy.eu; Web: http://www.salt-therapy.eu 

Friday, December 11, 2009

Stargazing in Scotland



For those of us that have joy-filled memories of lying on our backs in a meadow gazing up at the heavens being amazed and overwhelmed by the vastness of the universe and the infinite number of stars shining down on us, you will appreciate the efforts of the International Dark Sky Association.

The Association has a program where it approves Dark Sky Parks - places where visitors can see the vast starlit night without interference from the copious light pollution that limits stargazing in densely populated parts of the world. Currently there are only four such parks in the world. There are of course plenty of wilderness areas and huge tracks of sparsely inhabited parts of the world where stargazing is possible. The Dark Sky Association is recognizing national parks or areas that make huge efforts to create a dark sky area.

The International Dark Sky Association not only promotes observing the night sky, but also works as an advocacy organization to raise awareness about the hazards of over-lighting, and working to reduce light pollution around the world. At the Dark Sky website you can find information about the best stargazing destinations as well as practical information about lighting fixtures that minimize light pollution – information you will hopefully share with your town and city officials.

For stargazing travelers, you can find three official Dark Sky Parks in the United States in Utah, and somewhat surprisingly in Pennsylvania and Ohio. 

The latest approved Dark Sky Park is in the southwest corner of Scotland, the first of its kind in Britain, located in the Galloway Forest Park. The park covers almost 200,000 acres with special roads for stargazers - most access is by foot, bikes and horses. Galloway claims there are 7000 visible stars as well as the Milky Way so on a clear night you will have plenty to observe. You can view specific information about the park’s dark sky program at their Web site. Based in Edinburgh, Scotland's own dark sky organization, Dark Sky Scotland, offers astronomy events,  a free downloadable beginners guide to astronomy, and community workshops.

Galloway Forest Park's general Web site offers downloadable guides to their events and twenty-seven walking trails, as well as information about canoeing, biking, and other activities. To reach the park, you can use the VERY useful Traveline Scotland Web site where you can plan your trip throughout Scotland using public transportation. I wish every country had such a service! 


Happy stargazing wherever you are, but certainly if you find yourself in this corner of Scotland - I wish for you many shooting stars.


Photo from NASA archive








Thursday, December 10, 2009

Natural Health & Beauty in the City of Lights & Love


Paris is awash with sources of natural health and beauty products. Health food stores large and small carry various lines of personal care products made in France and other European countries. In the Green Earth Guide to France you can find Web sites for all the major health food stores in Paris and search for locations near to your accommodations. Some appealing specialty shops and salons are listed here for your next Parisian beauty excursion.

Anthyllide carries a wide range of natural health and beauty products including high quality essential oils, homeopathic and herbal remedies, Hildegard de Bingen medicinals, and natural body care such as Dr. Hauschka, Lavera, Sante and other natural brands. Anthyllide, 28, rue du Pont Louis Philippe, 75004 Paris; Tel: 140 299 126; Web: www.anthyllide.com; Metro: Hotel de Ville or St. Paul; Open Monday 2:00pm to 7:00, Tuesday to Saturday from 10:00 am to 7:00 pm.

Couleur Caramel is dedicated to one hundred percent natural make-up and cosmetics. They use natural ingredients as well as design their packaging with recycled materials. Their organic skin care line comes in refillable! containers! available in 50 and 15 ml bottles. Couleur Caramel is striving for Ecocert and Cosmebio certifications on all, not just some, of their products by the end of 2009. Sold in health food stores and specialty stores throughout Paris and France, as well as in their two “Maquillage Caffès” (make-up café’s) in Paris: Couleur Caramel, 8, rue Nicolas Flamel, 75004; Tel: 148 040 294; Metro: Chatelet; and, 10, rue Jean Du Bellay, 75004; Tel: 140 460 574; Metro: Pont-Marie; Web: http://www.couleur-caramel.com

On rue des Rosiers amidst the Jewish baked goods you will find one of three Paris Florame boutiques filled with their signature essential oils and body care products. Florame, 15 rue des Rosiers, 75004 Paris; Web: http://www.florame.com/nosboutiques-i-33.html. Open every day, Sunday and Monday from 12:00 to 2:30 pm/ 3:00 to 7:00 pm, and Tuesday to Saturday from 10:00 am to 2:30 pm/ 3:00 to 7:00 pm.

And for those looking to color their hair au naturel, L’Atelier des Elfes offers hair coloring using 100% plant-based colorants. They also do Ayurvedic hair and head massages. L’Atelier is dedicated to honoring your hair and the environment – how refreshing! L’Atelier des Elfes, 3 rue Alphonse Daudet, 75014 Paris; Tel: 130 882 254 or 681 638 275; Web: www.latelierdeselfes.fr; Metro: Alesia.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Noshing (and more) in Paris - The Jewish Neighborhood in Marais


If you are wondering what to do on a Sunday in Paris and are in the mood for food, plenty of people, and shopping (some upscale), make your way to the Jewish section of the 4th arrondissement between the metro stops St. Paul and Hotel de Ville. If you have purchased the indispensable red Paris Classique par Arrondissements at a newsstand (about 10 Euros and HIGHLY recommended) you will find the rue des Rosiers and some nearby streets marked by blue Stars of David on the maps flagging the one hundred plus year old Jewish neighborhood. For historical information about this neighborhood you can find interesting information by Toni Kamins, author of The Complete Jewish Guide to France, at the link for the Marais neighborhood in Paris.

I stumbled upon this bustling neighborhood when I took a wrong turn for the Mémorial de la Shoah, a museum and memorial dedicated to the Jewish genocide of World War II. Shoah means catastrophe in Hebrew and is the term used in France for the Holocaust. The memorial is powerful and devastating, with a remembering wall containing 76,000 names of Jews deported from France, extensive archives from the period including the yellow stars that Jews were forced to sew onto their clothes, and the crypt, a symbolic tomb for the six million Jews killed. The crypt contains the ashes of victims from eight concentration camps and ghettos mixed with soil imported from Israel. When I entered the crypt tears welled up in my eyes before I even had read what lay there. The Mémorial de la Shoah is about learning, remembering and honoring. It is a good idea to visit the Memorial with a before or after walk through the lively and flourishing Jewish neighborhood a few blocks away to see that in spite of such horrors and persecution, people, traditions and beliefs can persevere.

I have not seen so many Jewish establishments since I was a kid growing up in New York City. Rue des Rosiers is a wonderful site with long lines out of bakeries and delis filled with challah, rugelah, hamentaschen, bagels and much more “gastronomie Yiddish.” Definitely arrive hungry if you like this kind of fare as it will be a never-ending feast from one store to the next.

Bon Appetit, Es gezunterheyt! עס געזונטערהײט

Friday, December 4, 2009

Good Bread Trails in Paris



Paris and bread - well what can I say? While I struggle to search out the truly artisan and specialty breads in Spain, France, particularly Paris, is teeming with divine breads.

I surveyed some of the notable boulangeries (bakeries) on my last trip to Paris, seeking out breads made on site in local bakeries with slow leavening which enhances the enzymes, aroma, and taste of bread. Listed here are just a few of the numerous possibilities in Paris -- all are delicious. You can do a taste testing tour and decide which are your personal favorites.

Housed in a bakery from 1889 with original furniture and fixtures, fashion executive turned baker, Christophe Vasseur produces original and traditional breads and pastries at Du Pain et Des Idees. From slowly prepared sourdough baguettes to more exotic orange blossom brioche and chocolate-pistaschio rolls, Du Pain et Des Idees is full of delectable treats. Du Pain et Des Idees, 34 rue Yves Toudic, 75010 Paris; Tel: 142 404 452; Web: www.dupainetdesidees.com; Metro: Jacques Bonsergent. Bikers take note: There are four Velib bike stations close by. Open Monday to Friday from 6:45 am to 8:00 pm.

La Moulin de la Vierge uses stone-ground organic flours and traditional leavening for their bread in their four stores in Paris in the 7th, 14th, 15th, and 17th arrondissements; open 7:30 am to 8:00pm, see web site www.lemoulindelavierge.com for store locations.

Boulanger de Monge makes fourteen different breads using organic flour and grains including outstanding sourdough loaves. They also make fifteen traditional French breads (not organic), as well as fine pastries. Boulanger de Monge, 123 rue Monge, 75005 Paris; Tel: 143 375 420; open Tuesday to Sunday from 7:00 am to 8:30 pm; Metro: Place Monge.

The Poilane bakeries use wood-fired ovens making breads with sourdough starter and French sea salt since 1932. There are two bakeries in Paris in the 6th and 15th arrondissements. Poilane, 8 rue du Cherche-Midi, 75006 Paris; Tel: 145 484 259; Web: www.poilane.fr; open Monday to Saturday from 7:15 am to 8:15 pm; Metro: Vaneau or Saint-Placide

Philippe Gosselin has won prestigious awards for his baguettes, and makes unusual pastries including rose and pistachio éclairs. With three stores in Paris you can find at least one open on any day of the week. Philippe Gosselin, 125 rue St-Honore, 75001 Paris; Tel: 145 080 359; open Sunday to Friday (closed Saturday) from 7:00 am to 8:00pm; Metro: Louvre-Rivoli. Also a location a few blocks from the Musee D’Orsay at 258 Blvd St. Germain, 75007 Paris; Metro: Solferino; Open: Monday to Friday from 7:00 am to 8:00 pm, Saturday from 7:30 am to 7:30 pm. And one at 28 rue Caumartin, 75009 Paris; open Monday to Friday (closed weekends) from 7:00 am to 8:00 pm; Metro: Havre-Caumartin.

In 2006 Cohier’s baguette was voted the best in Paris, and many still believe it is the best in the city. In addition to the award winning baguettes, you can find pastries and delights at this forty-year-old bakery. Jean-Pierre Cohier, 270 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, 75008 Paris, Metro: Ternes.

Breakfasts at Coquelicot start at 3.90 euros up to full on brunch for almost 20 euros with fresh baked goods, freshly squeezed orange juice, Le Bol de Café Noir or au Lait, and other divine things. Indoor and outdoor seating available at this delightful bakery and restaurant. Coquelicot, 24 rue des Abbesses, 75018 Paris; Tel: 146 061 877; Web: www.coquelicot-montmartre.com/intro.htm; Metro: Absesses

Eric Kayser, a third-generation Parisian baker, is the brains behind the Mayson Kaiser bakeries, making bread from natural leavening using a special machine designed by Kayser to keep the leavening in a perfect state. In addition to amazing breads, you can also buy quiches, tarts and sandwiches at the fourteen stores in Paris (with other stores in Japan, Russia and the Ukraine). You can find Maison Kayser bakeries in most arrondissements. To avoid disappointment, check store location and hours on the website as some are closed on Mondays and others on Sundays. Mayson Kaiser Web site: www.maison-kayser.com

La Boulangerie de Papa is a bakery and tea-salon offering delicious breads, sandwiches, and beverages to warm you close to Notre Dame a few blocks from the Shakespeare & Co. bookstore and near the Saint Michel metro stop. Twenty-two special breads made fresh daily on site including delicious sourdough baguette. La Boulangerie de Papa, 1 rue de la Harpe, 75005 Paris; Tel: 143 546 616; Web: http://www.groupe-bertrand.com/boulangerie.php; open every day from 6:30 am to midnight

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Paris Second Hand with a Heart


Emmaus International is a non-profit organization started by a French man, Abbe Pierre, sixty years ago to defend what he considered to be fundamental human rights and to fight against the causes of poverty. Emmaus now boasts 306 groups in 36 countries around the world working to “serve those that suffer most.”

To help fund their array of programs, the French organization has five stores throughout Paris selling second hand goods, the proceeds of which go to support Emmaus’s work around the world. You can find fabulous items in the stores at prices that will not break the bank and are down right cheap for Paris.

I am still kicking myself for not purchasing a fantastic 5-Euro belt for my daughter as a Christmas present. The store was not open yet and I had places to go. I thought I would return, but my wanderings led me elsewhere. Oh well, I can only hope someone else found it and is enjoying it, as well as feeling good about supporting desperately needed global humanitarian work.

Next time you are in Paris and feel the urge to shop find an Emmaus Boutique and shop guilt-free with heart.
See specific store locations and hours in the picture at left.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Tis the Season: More Christmas Markets in France and Germany


A bit back in time, the low-key city of Metz in the Lorraine region of France, east of Paris, is a great place to take in the Christmas Market feel without the bus loads of tourists and jam-packed stalls that are more common in the larger Christmas market cities like Strasbourg, France and Nuremberg, Germany - although those too can be magical to visit as long as you have booked ahead for an in-town hotel.

Metz’s Christmas market is spread out over a few large squares that dot the old part of the city. While you can find crafts and trinkets to buy, the emphasis is far more on delicious holiday treats to eat. Chocolate is big here as well as special pastries and candies honoring Saint Nicolas, and Christmas in general. My favorites were the fresh fruit cups or kabobs coated in fresh chocolate, with your choice of dark chocolate, milk chocolate or white chocolate. All I can say is these are not to be missed. Mulled cider and roasted chestnuts are also plentiful and warming, as well as made-to-order crepes- all delicious.

The region of Lorraine is full of beautiful green farmland producing glorious local foods. Mirabelle plums, dark yellow fruit that is a specialty of the region, can be found in everything from jams to liquors. These are proudly on sale throughout Metz and can be found, along with organic items at La Ferme Lorraine, 2 place Raymond Mondon, 57000 Metz; Tel : 387 630 909; Web: www.la-ferme-lorraine.com; open Monday 3:30 to 7:00 pm, Tuesday through Thursday from 9:00 am to 1:00pm/2:30 to 7:00, Friday from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm, and Saturday from 8:30 am to 6:00 pm located just a few blocks from the train station. 

The Metz Christmas Market, as well as its larger counterparts, are all magical affairs filled with lights, wonderful food, and good cheer, reminding us of the Christmas spirit past rather than the shopping spirit of the present.

Happy holidays!

Strasbourg Christmas Market – see info on earlier post

Metz Christmas Market - more information on earlier post 

Colmar France Christmas Market is from  November 25 to December 31

Nuremberg Germany Christmas Market has 180 booths with traditional Christmas fare from November 27 to December 24, 2009. Open every day from 9:30 am to 8:00 pm (10:00 pm on weekends).

Munich Germany Christmas Market has a 100-foot tall Christmas tree glittering with 2500 candles from November 27 to December 24, 2009. Open every day from 10:00 am to 8:30 pm (9:00 am to 8:30 on Saturdays, 10:00 to 7:30 on Sundays).

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

London Holiday Eco Fair


In London this weekend and looking for something Green to do?

Try the Christmas Eco Fair at the Royal Geographic Society in South Kensington. It should really be named the Holiday Eco Fair to be more accurate, since countries and people from around the world are being represented from Tibetan refugees to Africans and Peruvians, but the official name is the Christmas Eco Fair. The Eco Fair is highlighting organic, handmade, and fair trade goods from around the world as well as workshops such as making puppets from recycled materials. Many of the vendors are businesses that support humanitarian work like The Pin Project, which helps support children orphaned by AIDs in Africa by providing income through beadwork made by over sixty grandparents of the children. See the Web link to learn more about the special vendors at this Christmas Fair.

Christmas Eco Fair, Royal Geographical Society, 1 Kensington Gore, London, SW7 2AR. The main entrance is on Exhibition Road, at the Kensington Gore end and the nearest tube station is South Kensington. Open Saturday December 5th from 9:30 to 5:00 pm and Sunday December 6th from 10:00 am to 4:00pm

Organic Eats in Paris and a Little Extra


Last weekend I was in Paris for a couple of days and made a ritual visit to the wonderful Shakespeare & Co landmark English bookstore near the Notre Dame Cathedral. Packed full of books and shoppers on a blustery Saturday afternoon, I was overjoyed to find they had multiple copies of Green Earth Guide: Traveling Naturally In France amidst their France-focused travel section, buried to the right of the door. This was not completely altruistic on their part as I do mention them in the book in text and with a photo, but exciting none-the-less to have the book being sold in Paris! Ooh la la.


Paris was awash with people strolling, shopping and eating. I went to some favorite organic places and found a few new ones. A favorite of mine is the Phyto-Bar restaurant on Boulevard Saint-Germain, considered to be the first organic restaurant in Paris. I had dinner here with refreshing fresh juice, a splendid salad, as well as a roasted organic chicken leg with rosemary potatoes....yum. Full information is listed in the Green Earth Guide.
The rest of my stops were for samplings as I cannot eat five full meals a day no matter how delicious and tempting they may be. For organic crepes try the Breizh Café in the lovely quartier Marais. Breizh serves a variety of crepes made from organic flour and other specialties from the Brittany region. Breizh Cafe, 109 rue Vielle du Temple, 75003 Paris; Tel: 01 42 72 1377; www.breizhcafe.com. The best metro stop is St Sebastien Froissard.


Down the street from the Breizh, you will find the Pink Flamingo, serving fresh pizza made daily with organic flour, sea salt from France, and toppings from local markets. The Pink Flamingo is open every day - lucky you! Monday to Friday from 12:00 to 3:00pm/7:00 to 11:30pm, Saturday and Sunday from 12:00 to 4:00pm/7:00 to 11:30pm. The Pink Flamingo has two locations in Paris, this one is at 105 rue Vielle du Temple, 75003 Paris; Web: www.pinkflamingopizza.com



For flower fans, you will enjoy the creative L’Artisan Fleuriste, also on the same street, offering unusual and special plants and arrangements - and you have to love their company car! L’Artisan Fleuriste, 95 rue Vielle du Temple, 75003 Paris; Web: www.artisanfleuriste.fr

Monday, November 23, 2009

Cheap Bike Renting In Nice



The beautiful and fun city of Nice France has started a public biking program called VeloBleu. It has 90 bike stations housing 900 bicycles accessible 24/7. As with its counterparts in Paris (Velib), Montpellier (VeloMagg), Lyon (Velo V), and Nantes (Bicloo), rental prices are somewhat unbelievably cheap, and the first thirty minutes of any bike use is included in the cheap rental fees, which are: One Day= 1 Euro; One Week = 5 Euros; One Month = 10 Euros; and One Year = 25 Euros. Bikes used for over thirty minutes are subject to a 1 to 2 Euro per hour additional charge.

You must be over fourteen years old to use the service, and use also need a cell phone, as the phone is used to lock and unlock the bicycles. Click here to access the downloadable PDF flyer with information in both French and English on how to use Velo Bleu with a map showing all the bike stations.

Enjoy bicycling on the Promenade Anglais along the magnificent turquoise water!

Biodynamic Farm and Farmstand in Appenzell Switzerland


If you are in Switzerland, a visit to the Appenzell canton of Northeast Switzerland, a region known for its beautiful farm land, progressive health laws, and rural traditions, is highly recommended. There are countless farms and fabulous “Wanderweg” hiking trails throughout. A favorite farm and farm store is in Gais, but if you don't know it's there, you wouldn't be likely to find it.

From the city of St. Gallen, you take the Appenzeller Bahnen, a small, red train which, as its name implies, travels through the Appenzell canton with trains running about every 30 minutes. Take this train for about half an hour to the town of Gais. (If you are in Teufen, Gais is about half-way to Appenzell on the train.) Once off the train, you will walk about 1 mile. Cross Schulhausstrasse and walk along Zung St., then cross Stossstrasse and slightly to the right of where you have been walking will be Kehr St. Walk on Kehr for about one-quarter to one-third of a mile and take a right onto Bommes Road – looks more like a driveway - within 20 yards or so you will walk into the yard of the Biodynamic Hofladen Farm where there is a little farm store. Biodynamic Hofladen Farm, Bommes 3, Gais, Tel: 71 793 37 85; www.hof-bommes.ch

The store’s entry-way has fresh organic produce delivered on Fridays. Further inside you will find a mini-health food store with organic and free-trade food and treats, including farm fresh, biodynamic dairy products from the Hofladen Farm. There is nothing quite like farm fresh yogurt in a glass container – seems from a lost world - perfect and delicious (my apologies to non-dairy eaters.) Fresh, organic spelt bread, made from spelt grown a few towns over (a bakery that makes their own spelt pasta, pastries, and bread - directions on their Web site), is delivered Tuesday, Fridays and Saturdays. On those days the Hofladen store is open from 9:00 to 11:30 am and then again from 3:00 to 7:00pm. Every other day it is open from just 6:00 to 7:00pm.

Not much English is spoken, but everything seems to get across just fine. Two tips: In Switzerland (and many other places in Europe), when buying fresh produce you are responsible for weighing and pricing it. There is a number by the name of the item – e.g. Red Cabbage #62 – take your red cabbage over to the scale (somewhere in the produce area) and weigh it – you will need to punch in that number. A sticker will spit out with the weight and price that you apply to the bag or item. In lower-tech establishments, you may have to write it on the bag.

Also, remember to bring your own bags – many stores either do not have bags or charge for them, and often they are flimsy – so just get used to having a stash of canvas bags rolled up in your daypack.

The farm belongs to the Langenegger family. The grandmother, Lilly Langenegger, is a local famous artist who writes children’s books with beautiful illustrations of traditional Swiss rural images and Appenzeller farm life. The books are available in German, English and French. Pictures and purchasing information are available at the publisher Web site (in German, but translatable).
Enjoy.

More Bread Searching in Spain - Madrid Now



 As I mentioned in my posts about searching for really good and artisanal bread in Barcelona, finding made-from-scratch, quality bread in Spain is harder than you might think. In Madrid you can go to one of the six locations for the Cosmen and Keiless bakeries. They offer a variety of bread and pastries, priding themselves on making their bread using traditional methods and with ingredients from  “clean crops”. Find baguettes, as well as spelt, multi-seed, multi-grain and olive oil breads, with a host of pastries. To find the locations for all six of the Cosmen and Keiless bakeries in Madrid click on “Tiendas” at the Web site. The La Salesas store is between the metros Colon y Chueca and the Principe location is between the Goya and Velzquez metro stops.There are no gluten-free options at this time, but if you can tolerate spelt you are in luck.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Magical Christmas: Markets in France


If you are thinking about a different Christmas experience and want to travel, both literally, as well as figuratively back in time, I would suggest going to one or more of the traditional Christmas markets that are held in Europe from the end of November to the end of December. France, Germany, Austria and the United Kingdom have the greatest number of markets.

These markets conjure the images I remember from holiday books I used to read to my children -- The Gift by Aliana Brodmann, and The Story of Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden – both wonderful tales and with old fashioned Christmas markets featured in the stories.

France boasts over eighty Christmas Markets, or Marché de Noel as they are called in French. Some towns and villages have one Sunday in November or December dedicated to a Christmas market, but the large markets last for around four weeks and are usually open every day and all day.

Strasbourg, in the Alsace region of northeastern France, is home to the oldest Christmas Market in France - over four hundred years old. The Strasbourg market is today much like it was when it started in 1570, filled with musicians, craftspeople, food, and special events. There are special areas like the “Sharing Village” where sixty charity and humanitarian organizations have information about their work and where on December 14th a Flame of Peace from Bethlehem will be lit. You will find beautiful light displays amidst the stalls and historical buildings.

This year the Strasbourg market is held from November 28 to December 31, and is open from 10:00 am to 7:00 pm daily, until 8:00 pm on Friday and Saturday nights. The market is such a tradition that the city has a Web page dedicated to it called Strasbourg Capitale de Noel. On the  “Practical Information” page you can download a PDF map of the practical aspects of the Market from tram routes to market stand locations most of which are located within the pedestrian zone of the city marked in yellow. At the “Editorial” page you can download a fourteen-page program guide listing musical and other performances and exhibits throughout the five-week market.

For green travelers you will be happy to know that Strasbourg is a very biker friendly city with over three hundred miles of bike paths and 18,000 bike racks for parking. Velolocation is a not for profit bike rental program with low cost bike rentals.

Metz, in the Lorraine region of northeast France, is under an hour and a half on the TGV high speed train from Paris with many daily round trips. Known as a Garden City (Ville Jardin), Metz has eleven parks and gardens covering four hundred and seventy acres. It also has one of the largest pedestrian areas in France so walkers rejoice!

Metz hosts a glorious and magical Christmas Market in the old city centre in and around the Place Saint Jacques, Place de General De Gaulle, Place Saint Louis, and the Esplanade. This quintessential Christmas Market with around one hundred stalls and filled with lights, roasted chestnuts, carolers, street musicians and dancers will be held this year from November 21 to December 27, open from 10:00 am to 8:00 pm, 9:00pm on Saturday night.

These are just two of the beautiful Christmas markets in France – I will cover more in subsequent posts – stay tuned.

Photo from the Metz Christmas Market Web site

Another Delicious Bread Source in Barcelona


Another bakery “heard” from – that is from fans – so we add Crusto to our list of delicious Barcelona breads and baked goods.  Open for just over a year, Crusto has been delighting bread oficianados in Barcelona with their fifteen yummy bread choices. Their Web page is new and minimal, but if you use Facebook you can find their fan page at Crusto.

You will find the Crusto bakery one block up from the major street of C/ Arago, about equidistant from the metro stops Diagonal and Passeig de Gracia. Crusto, c/ Valencia, 246, 08007 Barcelona: Tel: 934 870 551; Email: clients@crusto.es; Web: http://www.crusto.es; open Monday to Saturday from 8:00 am to 9:00 pm, Sunday from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Searching for Good Bread in Barcelona


I have two high school friends living in Barcelona – one has lived there for years, the other is spending a sabbatical year there. On a recent visit we were discussing the abundance of wonderful food in Spain. My friend on sabbatical, who regularly lives in the United States in a region rich with artisanal breads, commented on how while so much of the food in Spain was fantastic, how disappointed he was with the bread in Spain. Given that I have had to regrettably give up gluten, I was not aware of the dearth of truly hand-made delicious bread in Spain. By appearances it would seem that Spain was rich in fresh-baked goods. This is true to the unsuspecting eye and traveler, but apparently much of what one sees as fresh baked local bread (and other baked goods) are in fact pre-prepared in industrial lots either partially baked and frozen, or as dough to be fully baked on site, made with industrial fast-rising yeasts and additives in factories to be distributed around the country.

Ahh, we had a mission! To find truly fresh local bread, made on site in local bakeries with slow leavening which enhances the enzymes, aroma, and taste of bread. We focused our sights on Barcelona since that is where two out of three of us are living. Happily we found that there are indeed numerous bakeries still churning out baked goods hand crafted on their premises. Listed here are just a few of the many with four of the six listed here using organic ingredients in some or all of their products.  All are delicious – you can do a taste testing tour and decide which are your personal favorites.

The Barcelona Reykjavik Bakery uses old variety grains such as spelt and kamut, as well as rice, corn, rye and oats – all organic, and all grown in Spain. The spelt flour comes from Asturias. They make a variety of breads and pastries – some plain, some unusually flavored. They also offer vegan and “low-gluten” and gluten-free options. Barcelona Reykjavik also does not use industrial yeast, but rather a starter as their leavening made from corn, peas, spelt and honey. Barcelona Reykjavik has two store locations both lined with gleaming white tiles. The store in the Raval area is four blocks west of La Rambla, and a couple of blocks north of La Boqueria market. The Gracia store is easily reached, one block from the Metro Fontana. Be prepared to pay for this delicious well made bread –some loaves are 8 euros. Both stores are open from Monday to Saturday 10:00 am to 9:30 pm. Barcelona Reykjavik Bakery, Doctor Dou, 12 (Raval), and Asturies 20, (Gracia), Barcelona; Tel: 933 020 921; E-mail: bcnrvk@bcnrvk.cat; Web: http://www.barcelonareykjavik.com (in Spanish, Catalan and English)

The Mistral Bakery has been housed by the University Plaza since 1879 and makes a range of breads and pastries in its wood-fired oven including certified organic breads. Mistral Bakery (Forn Mistral), Ronda Sant Antoni, 96 and around the corner at c/ Torres i Amat 7, Barcelona; Tel.: 93 301 80 37; Email: info@fornmistral.com; Web: http://www.fornmistral.com; Metro: Universitat; open Monday to Saturday from 7:30 am to 9:00 pm.

The one hundred year old bakery, Forn Fortino, uses their original wood-fired oven to bake their wide variety of breads by third generation family bakers. They make traditional breads and pastries as well as options with organic flour, and some without wheat or sugar. The closest metro stop is Fontana about seven blocks away. Forn Fortino, Travessera de Gracia 145, Barcelona; Tel: 932 373 873; Email: forn@fornfortino.com; Web: http://fornfortino.com; open Monday to Friday from 6:30 am to 2:00pm/5:00 to 8:45 pm, Saturday from 6:30 am to 2:30 pm.

Born into a family of bakers, Xavier Barriga has been baking since he was fourteen and wanted to perfect his art making artisanal breads using natural leavening and quality ingredients. He founded Turris, rated as the best bakery in Barcelona by Barcelona Time-Out Magazine. Be prepared to wait in line for ten to twenty minutes to buy your baked goods, and expect to pay for quality -- do not go in with just a euro or two to spend – have at least ten euros in your pocket. Turris is four blocks from the Diagonal Metro stop. Turris, c/ Aribau 158, 08036 Barcelona; Tel: 932 179 606; Email: turris@turris.es; Web: http://www.turris.es (in Spanish and Catalan)

Founded in 1953, the third-generation bakers at Forn d’en Pere make reasonably priced (2 euro/loaf) artisan bread with their own recipes offering fifty varieties of breads many with whole grains and seeds. Forn d’en Pere, Saints 326, 08028 Barcelona; Tel: 934 401 436; open Monday to Saturday from 6:00 am to 2:30 pm/ 5:00 to 8:30 pm.

Baluard is a bakery in the Barceloneta section of Barcelona making bread and pastries in the French-style with fresh baguettes, croissants, and whole grain varieties. Located a few blocks from the Barceloneta metro stop, by the beach and the Mercat Barceloneta (Market). Baluard, Calle Baluard, 38, Barceloneta, Barcelona; Tel: 932 211 208; open Monday to Saturday from 8:00 am to 9:00 pm.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

More Green Eats, Drink and Sleep Around France


La Vie Saine is a full service natural foods store chain in France. The Montpellier store is a Green Earth Guide Favorite, and not to be missed if you find yourself in Montpellier. If you are traveling in the regions of Burgundy, Savoie, Bordeaux or Languedoc Roussillon, you will be happy to know that La Vie Saine has ten stores in these regions. See the La Vie Saine Web site for all of their store locations. Remember when you see Magasins Bio that it means Organic Stores, not magazines☺

Chez Teresa is a two-bedroom bed & breakfast almost due east of Nantes in picturesque Fontevraud in the Pays de la Loire region of France. They serve vegetarian meals by reservation only, and have a little shop selling some vegetarian items plus conventional foods from the UK. They also offer writing workshops. Room range from 49-55 euros/night. Fontevraud is about equal distance from the sea and the mountains. Chez Teresa, 6, Avenue Rochechouart, right by the ancient and impressive abbey of Fontevraud; http://www.chezteresa.fr

Thirteen kilometers from Fontevraud you will find the town of Saumur where, among other sites, there is a great Saturday market and the museum of mushrooms, Musee du Champignon.

About one hour west from Fontevraud is the organic and biodynamic vineyard Domaine de Juchepie, Les Quarts, 49380 Faye D’Anjou; Tel: 02 4154 3347; Email: contact@juchepie.com; Web: www.juchepie.com. See the Traveling Naturally Ecological Wine Guide for more information about this vineyard.