Paris: Restaurants and bars to visit pre- or post-Louvre
The self-proclaimed largest museum in the world, the Louvre packs more than 380,000 objects into a sprawling space of 650,000-square-feet, and it simply cannot be seen in a day. That doesn't stop people from trying, of course. You can easily spot the overexerted: They're the ones yelling at their spouses, sprawling glass-eyed on the benches, and crying to themselves behind the statues.
It doesn't have to be this way. My advice for not losing your head at the Louvre: Bite off a reasonable chunk—only one major department per day—and pad your belly with plenty of great food and drink. Here are some favorite places to stop before and after your visit:
Coffee or Hot Chocolate
Le Fumoir On the east side of the Louvre, this café has an old wooden bar that was salvaged from a Chicago speakeasy. Leather sofas and polished bookshelves add to the gentlemen's club vibe, but girls—and dogs—are also welcome. Their "late breakfast" menu of fresh juice, toast, and a hot beverage is available until noon for €7.60 ($9.50). 6 rue de l'Amiral de Coligny, 1st arrondissement, 011-33/1- 42-92-00-24.
Angelina's In the covered arcades on the north side of the Louvre, this gilded belle époque teahouse serves the best hot chocolate in town. Angelina's chocolat chaud l'Africain is thick and rich, served in a porcelain pitcher with unsweetened whipped cream on the side. With a cup of that and a dessert (the Mont Blanc has a devoted following) you may have enough sugar to make it through the Denon wing. 226 rue Rivoli, 1st arrondissement, 011-33/1-42-96-47-10.
Wine and Nibbles
Café Very The same gardens that once hosted the guillotine are now home to strolling couples, laughing children, and great spots to relax. Public drinking is allowed in France, so many people bring their own wine to enjoy in the outdoor chairs. But those who don't want to lug a bottle through the Botticellis can grab a spot at Café Very. The outdoor café serves drinks and light meals created by chef Gilles Choukroun. Jardin des Tuileries, 1st arrondissement, 011-33/1-47-03-94-84.
La Garde Robe Delightfully informal, this is one of the few wine bars in Paris where you can stand at the counter, chat up the bartender, and simply enjoy a glass. Table service is also available if you need to rest your feet. Every drop here is organic, untreated vin naturel, and there are delicious snacks that include a sharable board of cheese and charcuterie. 41 rue Arbre Sec, 1st arrondissement, 011-33/1-49-26-90-60.
An Affordable Meal
Juvéniles A wine bar like la Garde Robe, but the sort where you can (and must) settle in for some real cooking. Juvéniles is owned by an outlandish Scotsman who dares to mix New World wines in with his French selections. The food is hearty and delicious, costing between €20-30 ($25-38). Reservations are a good idea. 47 rue de Richelieu, 1st arrondissement, 011-33/1-42-97-46-49.
L'Ardoise On a quiet street behind the rue Rivoli, this traditional French bistro is one of my fallback recommendations for visitors. Their €33 ($42) menu allows you to choose three courses from a long list of options. There's grilled steak for those who are taking baby steps with French cuisine, and roast pigeon for the more adventurous. They also serve dinner from 6:30pm: that's seriously early by French standards, but it's often the time by which famished foreigners are ready to eat. 28 rue Mont Thabor, 1st arrondissement, 011-33/01-42-96-28-18.
New York City: Ride in a vintage subway car this December
If you happen to be in New York City this holiday season, consider a ride on a vintage subway car as part of your experience. Every Sunday in December, the MTA, New York's transportation authority, busts out a subway car from yesteryear—the cars are pre-WWII, usually from the 1930s—and runs it along the V line, which goes from Manhattan's Lower East Side neighborhood to the borough of Queens. The trains have vintage ads, rattan seats, and porcelain-covered hand straps. A ride back in the 30s would have set you back a nickel. This nostalgia-fueled trip is $2 per ride (the regular fare for a single ride on the subway). Not planning a trip? You can see subway cars from all eras at the New York Transit Museum, open year-round. In addition to the old cars, some highlights are the token machines and turnstiles from the past 100 years. There's one turnstile, meant to inhibit fare jumpers, that looks like some kind of large, Iron-Maidenlike bird-cage (locals used to get stuck in them). The museum used to be a working subway station, and it's neat to see how the space is repurposed—the old subway cars are on real track. There are also exhibits on the construction of the subway and the city's bridges and tunnels; this is an ideal stop for the transportation gurus out there. See the schedule for the nostalgia train rides. Admission to the Transit Museum is $5.
Houston airport now a hotbed of karaoke
Belting out "Jingle Bells" or "I Think We're Alone Now" may or may not be your idea of appropriate airline behavior, but if it is, then Houston's Bush Intercontinental has you covered, according to the Houston Chronicle. Today the airport set up the first of some karaoke booths, ushering in entertainment that will likely range from the profoundly irritating to the transcendent. I'd love to find out what songs become karaoke hits for the Texas travelers….
This weekend: Colonial Williamsburg kicks off the holiday season
Colonial Williamsburg will celebrate its Grand Illumination this Sunday, with the Fifes and Drums Corps celebrating its 50th anniversary. The Fifes and Drums Corps is a throwback to the early days of American history—traditionally, musicians belonged to the military and traveled with the troops playing flute-like instruments (called fifes), drums, and occasionally other instruments. Nowadays, the Fifes and Drums Corps is made up of kids between the ages of 10 and 18. The group performs nearly 500 times a year at Colonial Williamsburg. The Grand Illumination event, in addition to showcasing the corps, also signals the beginning of Colonial Williamsburg's holiday season—candles are lit in public buildings, shops, and homes, and then fireworks are shot into the sky at three locations. There's also live entertainment on four stages. And in case you were wondering, the use of fireworks is completely appropriate for a historical reenactment. "Illuminations" (or fireworks displays) are as old as our nation. It might be hard to believe, but before professional sporting events, fireworks were used to celebrate war victories and other official holidays. There are lots of events in December at Colonial Williamsburg, including more Fifes and Drums marches, family events, and a Thomas Jefferson Wine Dinner. The colonial capital also offers hotel packages. 113 Visitor Center Dr. The Grand Illumination begins at 4:45 p.m. this Sunday (fireworks are around 6:15 p.m.) and is free to the public. See history.org for more info. PREVIOUSLY George Washington's boyhood home uncovered A new way to explore Jamestown MORE Read Thomas Jefferson's "blog" at history.org For more travel blogs, visit Alltop.com
D.C.: The Capitol gets a new visitor center
The old treasure of the Capitol building has been rejuvenated with a new visitor center. The most practical improvement is the center's enormous size. The public area is nearly half the size of the Capitol's dimensions—made possible by the fact that the structure is underground. Under the old system, visitors stood in long lines outdoors. Now citizens can stand indoors in a temperature-controlled climate. The center's 530-seat cafeteria is also a welcome addition because the National Mall is notoriously short on affordable places for families to eat. Additional security is another plus. Visitors are screened at a safe remove from the center itself. The process for getting tickets for a Capitol tour should also become more straightforward. Starting tomorrow, a new online reservations system is supposed to allow visitors to obtain free tickets. You no longer have to contact the office of your member of Congress, though that method will still work. A tip from the Washington Post: A small number of same-day passes will be handed out on what seems like a first-come, first-served basis at the information desk on the lower level of the center. It's free to visit the Capitol Visitor Center or to take a 45-minute Capitol tour. Located on the side of the Capitol facing away from the National Mall, the center has its public entrance on First Street, roughly between the Union Station and Capitol subway stops. It's open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.. Monday through Saturday, except for major holidays. Tours can be reserved via visitthecapitol.gov.