The Paris spreadsheet

by Michael Alderete on 1/2/2005

Mentioned in the lead paragraph of that NYTimes article is the spreadsheet which Rochelle put together prior to our trip to France in 2002. Since publication we’ve actually had people inquire about getting access to it, so I thought I’d put it online. If you’re impatient, you can find a download link toward the end of this story. But some background will help you make the most of it.

Rochelle created the spreadsheet in an attempt to duplicate the really amazing experience she had using Vindigo on her Palm handheld when visiting New York City in May 2002. She did a lot of pre-trip research, and entered addresses and venues of interest into Vindigo. Then, while in NYC, she was able to tell Vindigo where she was, and get a list of places within walking distance, along with step-by-step directions for getting there. It made her touring the city (while I was locked in business meetings) efficient and fun, while still allowing for serendipity to influence where she went.

However, there is no Vindigo for Paris, or for any city in France. So we set out to try to duplicate the most essential features, by tying every location of interest to the nearest Metro stop and its arrondissement. We thought that this would let us figure out where we were, and then find interesting places nearby. In the end, it was only partially successful for us.

We had the most fun when we used it at the beginning and middle of the day, during breakfast and lunch, to plan where we would spend the rest of the morning or afternoon. When we tried to use it to follow whim after whim, which Vindigo had done successfully, we ended up pretty frustrated.

The other thing that didn’t work out the way we envisioned was the Palm version of the spreadsheet. We managed to download the data into Rochelle’s Palm, and use a micro database called JFile to be able to search and sort it, etc. But without a lot of additional development, having just the table of data was simply too hard to use on a Palm screen, it’s just not wide enough. With a search engine, hand-crafted results and detail pages, cross references, etc., the electronic version could have been pretty good…but even if I had put 20 hours into it, it would still have been nowhere near as good as Vindigo.

In the end, the printout of the spreadsheet was a tremendously valuable tool for us, and we’d never have seen as many cool places without it. And even if Vindigo had covered Paris, we’d still have wanted to pore through all the guidebooks and websites that Rochelle found. We would never have depended on Vindigo’s content. But having Vindigo to organize our own content by precise location, instead of rough chunks, would have been pretty darn cool.

Anyway, the spreadsheet was put together prior to our trip to France in October 2002; some things are now surely out of date. We’ve made no attempt to clean up Rochelle’s unique annotations and categorizations (Rochelle is an information organization specialist), which will likely be meaningless to you. And you don’t get our copies of the guidebooks, where were marked up and bookmarked with color-coded flags, and cross-referenced in the spreadsheet; we used those constantly, too. But if you still think it might be useful to you, here’s the spreadsheet.

Last note: this only covers half our trip, the time we spent in Paris. We also spent a lot of time in the Champagne region. We didn’t make a spreadsheet for that part of the trip, which (except for our first hotel and one meal) was entirely unscripted. Instead some photos and some weblog entries may give you some useful information about that.

Enjoy France!

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The soul of champagne

by Michael Alderete on 11/13/2003

Almost two years ago, Rochelle and I attended a champagne tasting held at Absinthe, and hosted by Terry Theise, a specialty wine importer. We had gone to a couple other champagne tasting events, but this was a smaller setting, and Theise had a different agenda.

He introduced us to “grower producers,” or, champagnes made by the same people who grow the grapes, in very small quantities. It was eye opening, and we immediately decided our next big vacation would be to the Champagne region of France. That trip was in September of 2002, and will probably remain our best vacation for many years.

Yesterday’s New York Times has an excellent article about champagne grower producers, and also provides a fine introduction to some of the subtleties of champagne. I’ve been meaning to write up my own introduction, but for now, I’ll just point you at the Times.

I will add one thing to the NYT article, that Rochelle and I thought was the key lesson we learned at our tasting with Theise. Grower producers don’t have any money for marketing, and don’t make enough product where marketing would actually help them. So when you buy a bottle of their wine, you’re paying for the wine, not the marketing budget.

By contrast, the largest champagne houses spend zillions on marketing and distribution. That’s what puts them on supermarket shelves across the US, and what drives people to buy them off those shelves. A substantial piece of the price tag for that wine is the marketing and other costs which are not reflected in the quality of the wine.

So, if you’re drinking a well-made $40 champagne from a grower producer, it compares favorably to a $80-100 champagne from, say, Moët & Chandon. Dom Perignon, the premium label of Moët, is $80 at Costco. While in France we paid 30€ for bottles we liked better.

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C’est fromage

by Michael Alderete on 3/4/2003

We just ate cheese for dinner. Four really fucking good cheeses, air shipped to us from France. Rochelle read about in the New York Times, and talked Hilda into splitting a shipment with us. So they ordered a selection of nine cheeses, which arrived this morning.

It’s a really cool service. You tell them on what day you want the cheeses to arrive, and they will ship it overnight the day prior, for delivery the day you select. So if you’re taking the cheeses to a party, or throwing your own, it’s easy to schedule it so they’ll be at the peak of ripeness when you get them.

We ate a lot of phenomenal cheeses while we were in France last year. Yes, there’s great cheese available right here in the Bay Area, but there’s really nothing like the cheeses we enjoyed overseas. So, while it’s a little expensive, it’s worth doing from time to time.

It also seems like a great way to thank France for their courageous stand against the pressure of the US to launch an attack on Iraq. We’ll be eating French cheese, and drinking as much French champagne as we can in the coming weeks.

That’ll be a hardship.

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The cathedral

by Michael Alderete on 10/1/2002

A quick update that the photos of our trip to France are starting to come online. I’ll try to upload them in sync with the weblog postings. The first ones are of the Cathedral of Reims.

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