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January 2012

December 2011

'Panache' joins the European Waterways barge fleet

European Waterways hotel barge PANACHE

ABOVE: The hotel barge Panache on a French canal.

European Waterways Ltd. offers luxury barge vacation in France, Italy, Scotland, Ireland, England, Germany, and the Benelux countries. In 2012, the company will be operating a new vessel: Panache, a 12-passenger barge of classic Dutch design. The barge has six air-conditioned junior suites, a small heated pool, bicycles for use by passengers, and a crew of five (including a master chef).

Panache will begin its inaugural season with spring "Tulip cruises" in Holland, featuring shore excursions to Keukenhof Gardens and the city of Delft. (The cruises will include optional side trips to Floriade 2012, the once-in-a-decade World Horticultural Expo in the Venlo region of the Netherlands.)

Later in the season, Panache will move to Alsace-Lorrane for a series of cruises on scenic waterways between Nancy and Strasbourg.

We haven't seen Panache (except in the photograph above), but we did spend an enjoyable week aboard another European Waterways luxury barge, La Renaissance, in 2008. See our in-depth review, "A Barge Cruise in France," at

For more information on the new barge, go to the Panache pages at the European Waterways Ltd. Web site.

Note: Panache and other European Waterways barges are available for whole-boat charters, with discounts for whole-boat bookings before January 6, 2012.

Photo: European Waterways Ltd.

Autolib' car sharing electrifies driving in Paris

Autolib' station in Paris

ABOVE: An "Espace Autolib'" in Paris. (Some stations have sidewalk kiosks like the one in the photo; others are more basic.)

Autolib' logoAt Paris for Visitors, we've described the Vélib' bike-rental program, which was the model for many bike-sharing programs around the world. Now Paris and its surrounding communities have something for people who prefer four wheels to two: the Autolib' car-rental program, which has been tested in Paris for several months and had its full public launch on December 1, 2011.

The program currently has 250 stations. By June, 2012, the network will grow to some 1,000 stations in and around Paris, with 3,000 self-service vehicles for rent at 700 Paris stations and another 300 cars for hire outside the city limits. The Autolib' cars are 100% electric and have GPS navigation systems to keep drivers from getting lost.

Here's the program works:

Step 1: You sign up for a membership by the day, week, or year. You can register at any Autolib' station or at the Autolib' Welcome Center at 5 rue Edouard VII in the 9th arrondissement. You'll need a driver's license, a passport or national identity card, and a credit card. (Agents are on duty at Autolib' stations from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily; the Welcome Center is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.)

Step 2: Once you've registered, you can reserve a car in advance at an Autolib' station, online, or by phone. If you need to keep the car longer than the 90-minute maximum, you can add more time (and electricity) by visiting a "recharge space" at any station. On average, each station has six parking spots, and you can return your rental car to any Autolib' location.

Here's what the French Government Tourist Office has to say about membership options:

Daily subscription: 10 euros registration fee plus 7 euros for the first half-hour, 6 euros for the second half-hour, and 8 euros for reach additional half-hour when you rent a car.

Weekly subscription: 15 euros registration fee, plus the same prices per half-hour as above.

Yearly subscription (something to consider if you're planning to become an expat or visiting Paris on a sabbatical): 144 euros per year or 12 euros per month registration fee, plus 5 euros for the first half-hour, 4 euros for the second half-hour, and 6 euros for each additional half-hour of car use.

Families get a 10% discount on all subscriptions, so drive in convoy and save!

For more information in French, visit Or see a Google Translate version of the site in English by clicking here.

BELOW: An Autolib' electric car, and a map of communities in and around Paris that are participating in Autolib'.

Autolib' electric car

Autolib' map

IMAGES: Syndicat Mixte Autolib'

Horchateria de Santa Catalina, Valencia

Horchateria de Santa Catalina Valencia

ABOVE: The entrance to the Horchateria Chocolateria Santa Catalina is on the Plaza de Santa Catalina in Valencia's historic center.

by Durant Imboden

Horchata de chufa (in Catalan, "orxata de xufa") is Catalonia's most celebrated drink. The non-carbonated beverage is made from tiger nuts, looks like milk, has a faintly chalky sweetness, and is especially refreshing on hot days. Ignore knock-offs made from rice, almonds, or other products: Instead, head for Valencia, Spain--where orxata was invented--and order a glass at the Horchateria Chocolateria Santa Catalina, which has been making its own horchata for more than a hundred years.

The Horchateria de Santa Catalina (to use the original name from the street sign out front) is an attractive café that's decorated in traditional ceramic tile. Walk through the tile-lined entryway to the main room on the ground floor, where you'll find a long bar with a pastry case and a dozen or more marble-topped tables with wooden chairs. A tiled staircase leads to another dining room upstairs, where the toilets are to your right.

During our visit, we had the "liquid horchata," which cost €2,60 and was well worth the price. (I couldn't resist ordering a cream-filled pastry on the side, and it was superb.)

The Horchateria Chocolateria Santa Caterina also serves snacks, sandwiches, salads, and other meal items, but whatever you order, be sure to include a glass of horchata or orxata: It's the café's main draw, and failing to try it during a trip to Valencia would be like failing to sample wine during a visit to Burgundy or Bordeaux.

You'll find the Horchateria Chocolateria Santa Caterina on the Plaza de Santa Catalina, directly across from the Santa Catalina (or, in Catalan, the Santa Caterina) church. It's just to the east of Valencia's celebrated Mercat or indoor public market.

Here are some more pictures to whet your appetite:

Horchateria Chocolateria Santa Catalina entrance

ABOVE: Entering the Horchateria Chocolateria Santa Catalina.

Horchateria Santa Catalina commemorative tile plaque

ABOVE: A decorative tile and a metal plaque (not shown) commemorate royal visits from 1907 to 1919.

Horchateria Chocolateria Santa Catalilna Valencia - counter

ABOVE: You can purchase take-out horchata at the counter. Otherwise, find a table and order from the waitress.

Horchata or orxata and pastry

ABOVE: Have a pastry with your horchata or orxata. (You won't regret the caloric splurge.)

Chufa or xufa (tiger nuts)

ABOVE: Horchata or orxata is made from chufa nuts, a.k.a. tiger nuts. You can see a container of xufa nuts (to use the Catalan spelling) on top of the pastry case.

Horchateria de Santa Catalina upstairs dining room

ABOVE: The upstairs dining room was closed during our late-morning visit, but we went upstairs anyway to use the toilets.

Tiled staircase in Valencia

ABOVE: The staircase is decorated with ceramic tiles.

Ceramic tiles in Valencia

ABOVE: During your visit, take a few minutes to admire the tilework throughout the historic café.