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Monthly Archives: December 2012

This year we are having Christmas dinner at home by ourselves and outsourced most of the preparations. Simple!

Starters:  smoked salmon, foie gras & lentils, salade noël (really just mixed greens with star-shaped cut carrots).


Lobster ravioli in squid ink pasta, champagne cream sauce


Roasted veal tenderloin (rosemary, shallot), gratin dauphinois, carrots in maple-syrup, saute mushroom.


Gratin dauphinois au four.


Christmas log: dark chocolate mousse with raspberry filling


Many of the items have been purchased from Globus’s deli section.


We do not have a real Christmas tree this year as we will be going away soon. Instead, we found a home fragrance spray which provides that fresh light Christmas tree smell without any of the typical heavy cinnamon note.


This was our tree in 2010.


Past Christmas-related post: Christmas dinner 2009,  Nor’easter 2009.

Lyon is well known for food. On our visit during the weekend of the Fête des Lumière, Sue booked for the four of us a table for lunch at Les Trois Dômes in the Sofitel Bellecour.

This restaurant received one michelin star – according to viamichelin Very comfortable and pleasant restaurant A very good restaurant in its category


This is how the hotel describes itself online.

“Drift into the fluid modernity of Sofitel Lyon Bellecour, whose rooftop panoramas take in the majestic Rhône and this UNESCO-listed city where art de vivre was invented. Sleek design by Patrick Norguet recalls the stars and silk of Lyon’s rich heritage.”

The dining room is located at the top floor of the Sofitel, just round the corner from Place Bellecour. The name of the restaurant presumably comes from the view of these three domes.


The dining room has a black, white and silver themed decor.



First, amuse bouche.


Orge Perlée Crémeuse aux Cèpes, Façon Risotto – (Creamy Pearl Barley with Boletus, Risotto Style)

The English translations are taken from their website and some of the descriptions sound a bit odd.


Escargots Coquins Aux Légumes d’Antan (Mischievous Snails, with Yesteryears Vegetables)




Pavé de sandre en Ecaille de Pomme de Terre, Crème de Topinambour et son Jus Grassouillet (Zander Pave in Potato Flakes, Cream of Jerusalem Artichoke its Thick Juice)


Poitrine de Cochon Fermier Caramélisé, Palet de Choux et embeurré de Foie gras (Caramelized Breast of Free Range Pork, Cabbage Puck Simmered with Foie Gras)  This is my(Chris) main dish, the puck was really amazing, much better than the flavorful but slightly dried pork.


Pomme Reinette Dans Tous Ses Etats, Emulsion Chocolat Dulcey, Spéculoos aux Epices Douces (Reinette Apple in Different Ways, Dulce Chocolate Emulsion, Speculoos Flavoured with Light Spices)


Omelette Norvégienne Tradition, Parfum Grand Marnier (Traditional Baked Alaska flavoured with Grand Marnier)

How was Norwegian omelette translated into baked alaska ? or was it the other way around?


The panoramic windows afforded a view of the Fourvière hill with the “metallic” tower and the basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière.


Across the river Rhône is the swimming pool complex built in the mid 60’s, Piscine du Rhône.


A Ferris wheel was set up in Place Bellecour which we went on …  see our later post.


It was a nice long lunch. And then we went to do some Christmas shopping.

Over the weekend of Dec 8-9, we went to Lyon for the annual Fête des Lumières. The Festival of Lights is a uniquely Lyonnaise tradition which requires that every house place candles along the outsides of all the windows.  Dating from 1643, it was meant to be a tribute to Mary if Lyon was spared of the plague.

The light show at Place des Terreaux was one of the main event of the festival and it has got to be the most crowded place.  The atmosphere in the square reminded me of new year’s eve in Times Square, NYC. Hope you enjoy the video – I(Chris) stood in the cold, raised my arm up for 6 minutes to make this.

The Place des Terreaux is located in the centre of Lyon on the Presqu’île between the river Rhône and the river Saône. Although it was cold, it was not snowing or raining on Saturday night.


Much of the show was built on having giant dancers interacting with architectural elements on the facade of the buildings and the idea of light being something tangible that can be handled by the dancers.


The square is bordered on the east by the Lyon City Hall (below).

On the south of the square is the Palais Saint-Pierre and the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon. This building has the largest facade which served as the main space for the show.


The last time we came to Lyon, we had a leisurely sunday brunch on the patio of this museum – see this post: Les Terrasses Saint-Pierre.


We saw the light show twice at two different locations in the square, once in front of the entrance to the Musée des Beaux-Arts (where the video was shot) and then at the northwest corner in the direction of our apartment.


All the hotels were booked for the weekend but our friend F went to school in Lyon and has local friends who found us an apartment within 5 minutes walk from the Place des Terreaux. How convenient!


The effect of bouncing light around and between the buildings worked well.


Night and day. This is what the Place looked like the next morning. Shot from the same position as the night photos.


You cannot see clearly the spectators in the photos, but there were 1000’s of heads in the square.


When one show was finished, the crowd moved towards one corner of the square to exit, and the next group enters the square via another corner. To direct traffic, the exit (sortie) signs were projected onto the buildings next to it.


Sue: There was a bottle neck at one point (see photo below).  Chris was holding me back from moving forward because he was afraid of stampede.  He kept on saying “Sue come back here!  Don’t move.  It can be dangerous.  There is no place for the people in the front to move.”  Of course, there was pushing and shoving.  There was this group of people (about 6 or 7 of them) that was pushing their way forward and I was being shoved sideways.  Chris grabs my coat to steady me and says “those people are fu*kers”  OUT LOUD.  LOL.  You should have seen my face.  Now, I don’t care that it’s in France.  People will understand that word.  I was annoyed enough to say “fu*k it, I’m going home”, but when Chris said that, I just started to crack up.  Later on when I was telling this to our friends, Chris had no recollection of ever saying it.  That was funnier.


We passed the same street on Sunday morning less than 12 hours after the photo above was taken.


More Lyon pictures to come in our next few posts.

The word “Bouchon” in French has several popular meanings. Looking it up in Larousse, the word bouchon means, among other things, a “plug” (1. Objet qui, réalisé en diverses matières (bois, liège, plastique, métal, caoutchouc, etc.), sert à clore un contenant), and a “traffic jam” (2. Accumulation de véhicules qui gêne la circulation ; embouteillage), etc.; and according to Wikipedia, “A bouchon is a type of restaurant found in Lyon, France, that serves traditional Lyonnaise cuisine, such as sausages, duck pâté or roast pork”. In one recent weekend, we managed to appreciate almost all these meanings.

bouchon weekend-7

It all started when we decided to see the annual Fête des Lumières (the Festival of Lights) in Lyon (see next posts for more pictures). Leaving after work on Friday night, our friend F drove four of us to Lyon. It is normally a drive that is about two and a half hours from Lausanne. But snow started falling around Friday noon and did not stop. After some hesitation and studying the live traffic information on Google Map, we decided to take a chance.

bouchon weekend-2

And – we were punished, it took us three hours to reach Annecy which is only about one third of the way. The traffic radio kept saying there is a bouchon here and there… everywhere… essentially start and stop traffic as soon as we crossed the border. We stopped for dinner in Annecy hoping the volume of traffic would thin out. The roads were empty by midnight so we continued to Champery, eventually reaching Lyon at about 130 AM.

We were in a bouchon (#1) for more than three hours.

bouchon weekend-1

After we parked the car, we decided to celebrate our belated but safe arrival in Lyon with a bottle of wine from the corner grocery store (which was the only thing open at 2 am – remember this is not NYC, buying something at this time is rarely possible). While there were a variety of wines to choose from, we knew it was a bad idea …

bouchon weekend-3

Back at the apartment (which we had for the weekend), we discovered that the cork was so dry that it was impossible to remove it. Using a corkscrew and a knife, F struggled with the bouchon (#2) for a good ten minutes before giving up. In the end, we had to break  it. There were bits of bouchon in F’s glass – see the floating bits ?

bouchon weekend-4

On Saturday, we walked around the city to see the lights and wandered into the touristy district where the bouchon-style restaurants can be found. Many of the restaurants put a table outside selling hot food and warm wine, and blocking half the street. The food and wine attracted crowds who stood there sipping the alcohol, effectively plugging up the narrowed streets.

bouchon weekend-5

Sue:  Many of the four million tourists on that day had the same idea and the narrow streets in the area were packed.  So, there was a lot of pushing and shoving going on.  One dude was playing the “guard” by having his back to the people and literally shoving people out of the way for his group to move forward.  When he got to me, I (Sue) elbowed him.  Sorta hard and pushed back really hard.  He actually turned to look at me.  I was this close to saying “WHAT?  I’M FROM NY, WANNA MAKE SOMETHING OF IT?”  Maybe it showed on my face?  He turned back and walked away.  From that moment on, I was seconds away from F-bombs flying left, right and center – Lol.

We were in a human bouchon (#3) while looking for a bouchon-style dinner (#4).

bouchon weekend-6

In the end, we went to one of a chain of kaiten-zushi restaurants (回転寿司, restaurant that serves sushi on conveyor belt or restaurant japonais de type comptoir tournant) – Matsuri Presqu’île (7 rue de la fromagerie) – in addition to the usual fare, they put macarons on the conveyor.

Conveyor in Lyon-1

As it was so cold walking around in the wind and with snow on the ground, the plates of sushi were not enough and got us thinking about noodles which were not available in Matsuri. When we finished, we crossed the street, turned a couple of corners and totally by chance stumbled across a fast food-takeout noodle joint on 12 rue Neuve – Goramen! We stepped in and had our second dinner of miso ramen and tempura udon.

bouchon weekend-10 Here’s the menu – goes from shio ramen, tantan mien to kimchi ramen, etc. while the place looks like a McDonald, the service was anything but “fast”.

bouchon weekend-11

There will be many more pictures of food and the light shows to come, come back in a few days time.

While we were in transit at Lisbon airport from Madeira, we ducked out for 2 hours to do a quick tour of the Oceanario do Lisboa. This is the second of two videos I(Chris) shot at the Oceanario in Lisbon.

Penguin Carousel is a three minute video shot while I was standing on a viewing platform above a pool, which was full of penguins, swimming in circles … some disappearing under the platform on the left and then reappearing moments later on the right.

At 1:28, watch them all vanished under water.

It would be really mesmerizing if I could pair this sequence with some Philip Glass’s minimal repetitive music.

The other video I shot is Otter Foot Massage. Click link to see it.


On top of the main tank are several habitats for birds and marine mammals. There are about 20-30 penguins in total, each named and tagged for recognition, and many belonging to the same family.

The aquarium had two exhibits: a permanent exhibit – the 5 main tanks, and a temporary exhibit which contains giant turtles. Due to the shortness of time, we decided to skip the turtle exhibits.

Close-ups of the tiles that made up the mosaic sealife graphics.

Beside the main tank, there were many smaller tanks which housed a variety of animals.






After a frentic 1.5 hours running through the aquarium, we got back to the same spot where the taxi dropped us off earlier (see photo below). But now, there is hardly any traffic, let alone a taxi. We panicked a bit … what if we cannot get back to the airport … 10 minutes passed, a taxi came from the other side, so I(Chris) ran across the street to hail it – a sport that I had plenty of practice in NYC.  In the end, we made the flight home even with a bit of time for duty-free shopping.


On our way home after A and F’s wedding in Madeira, we had to change plane in Lisbon but the wait was four and a half long hours! We asked our friends about the possibility of seeing the center of Lisbon – but the trip is 30-45 minutes each way, so it was not quite long enough to do a city tour (plus we had been to Lisbon before).

Our friends told us to visit the city’s aquarium which is located not far from the airport.  So as soon as we stored our luggage at a deposit service in the airport, we hopped onto a taxi and went to the Oceanário de Lisboa. This is one of two videos I shot at the Oceanario, named “Otter Foot Massage”, the other is “Penguin Carousel” which will be in our next post.

There were three otters, just lying on their backs, floating around the pool. One kept massaging its foot  and the other two wagged their tails occasionally to keep themselves rotating slowly, while looking up at the spectators nonchalantly. This type of otters are known to have the thickest fur of marine mammals and can use tools (rocks) to crack open shellfish.

This aquarium is the largest indoor Aquarium in Europe and second largest in the world.

It was built for the World Expo in 1998 and is located in the Parque das Nações next to a cluster of high tech office buildings.

The main tank is in fact 5 tanks cleverly designed to look like one vast mass of  oceanic water. The tanks contains all kinds of sharks, sting rays, tuna, barracudas, eels and groupers, plus many others. The tanks have a total surface area of 11,000 square feet and are each 23 feet deep.

Also kept in here is a school of fish that is shimmering under the sunlight in the middle of the tank. Both bottom dwelling and surface fishes coexist in this tank.

This is a sun fish which is massive but slow moving, a rare species for aquariums apparently.



A grouper ?

Some of these fishes were fed by hand with bits of squids.


They also kept birds around in the aquarium but it is not clear how they prevent these birds from catching some of the smaller fishes  in the tank.


More animals in the next post.

After A and F’s wedding, we had a day to look around Funchal, the main city of Madeira. Our hotel is on the western side of the city. The Workers’ market is situated on the east end of the town center in the area of Santa Maria. The market was built in the 1930’s in the style of Art Deco with a hint of modernism.


It has several levels: the higher level sells fruits and flowers, and the lower level sells meat and fishes. There was a wide range of exotic fruits on offer, some of which I have never seen before – e.g., those that look like a cob of green corn.

We have been to Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market several years ago and there were lots to see. So I (Chris) went to explore Funchal’s fish market, after all this market is located in the middle of the Atlantic.

Warning:  Graphic images of dead fishes below.


As it was around midday when we visited, the market was winding down with most of the stalls emptied or closed. They kept the old scales on display and put an electronic one in the middle.


The market sells both dried and fresh fishes.



They seemed like the same species of fish but some displayed a rich orange coloration – I wonder if the grey varieties and orange varieties taste differently.


The most recognizable fish is the black scabbardfish which is an economically important species for Madeira’s fishermen. It is on all the menus and we had it for lunch while touring the island. As shown, some had been skinned to remove that ink black exterior which was not appetizing.
According  to Wikipedia,

The black scabbardfish, Aphanopus carbo, is a bathypelagic cutlassfish of the family Trichiuridae found in the Atlantic Ocean between latitudes 69° N and 27° N at depths of between 180 and 1,700 m. Its length is up to 110 cm, but reaches maturity around 80 to 85 cm. The black scabbardfish is a fish with a body that is extremely elongated, with body depth 10.8 to 13.4 times in SL. The snout is large with strong fang-like teeth. Pelvic fins represented by a single spine in juveniles but entirely absent in adults. Color is coppery black with iridescent tint. The inside of the mouth and gill cavities are black.

My apologies in case the image of this pile of fish heads and guts startled you. The black scabbardfish  has to be the ugliest fish I have seen – downright nightmarish.


The big eyes suggest that these fishes live in a very dark environment (i.e., deep ocean). I imagine there are few organisms living near the bottom of the ocean, therefore when the black scabbardfish encounters a prey, it needs sharp teeth to pierce and capture the prey with one bite. It has a dainty tail fin but given the ribbon-shaped body, the tail fin is redundant.

I think these are tunas – rather small. We have seen much bigger bluefin tuna – see our earlier posts here and here.


Never saw a moray eel in a market before. This one was more than 3 feet long!


Local limpets (a general name for any shellfish whose shell is not spirally coiled) are on many menus and I had a few in a dish. While they looked attractive, particularly the iridescent interior, the taste was unremarkable.


Portugese bacalhau!


Well, I visited the Funchal market as if I was on a zoology field trip. But if I had a kitchen and time, this place has many interesting ingredients for cooking experiments.

Funchal is the largest city and the municipal seat of Madeira. After A and F’s wedding, we stayed on for 2 days and had an evening to explore the city.

Zona Velha is a small urban area in Funchal around Rua de Santa Maria – the oldest street of the city.

Rua de Santa Maria was first laid out in 1430. It is a part of the old town that is being revitalized by a project called Art of the Open Doors (Arte de Portas Abertas).

The project started in August 2010 and after two years, there are at least 30 or more doors that have been treated by an artist.

Check out the project’s website which shows the facades of the houses and a map of the street.

The scope of the treatment includes a range of audiovisual arts.

Prior to the project, the area was full of old and forgotten houses, shops and spaces that had deteriorated and were abandoned. This project aims to be the seed of continued future artistic performances on different elements of this part of the old city.

There were many restaurants and bars along the street. The area was not crowded – probably because the island is not at its peak season.


I can imagine the place becoming really crowded and lively. While the quality of the art is uneven, there is always something for everyone.

We went to a multi-floor art exhibition space housed in a big house.

There are still many homes that remain unoccupied.

We hope this project can continue and bring more visitors to revive this end of Funchal.

We and Fr had a drink at one of the bars while waiting for L and T to join us for dinner. See the list of caipirinha variations – Caipinegra, Caipirão, Capirosca!

Poncha is the predecessor of cachaça that is used to make caipirinha, both are liquor based on sugar cane – in the early days when Portugal was expanding its empire, sugar cane production expanded from Madeira to Brazil.

We headed back to mainland Europe the next morning.