All fine travelling alone, but bloody frustrating at times.

Am all good with the travelling solo thing, really I am.  I do it all the time.

The thing is, I do it to familiar places, places I know well.  Get on the train, or the plane and find myself in surroundings of before.  Got it down pat.

The problem is, and you may find this, is when I want to go somewhere and have never been before. If it is in a city, that’s fine, can just Google and deal with the itinerary – cities are friendly places.  Today I thought, maybe I should go to Lisbon and I have no problem with this.  There are many itineraries and bits of advice about Lisbon.

About to go to South Africa again.  Really have my heart set on a few days in the Cederberg mountains, a place I have never been before.  Turns out, this was no easy feat in the planning of it.  No-one seems to have any idea of a woman travelling alone to the area.  The hotels, the hikes, the road maps – nothing seemed conducive to a woman travelling alone.

For sure, if I had won the Lotto, would go straight to Bushmanskloof.  This amazing, five star haven would solve it all.  Game drives, gorgeous accommodation, luxury spa – who would want for more?  But expensive. A little too much for me, so what else I thought was on offer?

There are a few places in the accommodation field, but I know nothing of them.  Would I be safe?  Would I be able to travel on my own? Would my little hired car get me around to the wonderful sights?  I just could not work it out. There are tours, a guided tour with a guide for three days, just me and the guide in a chalet which did not, quite appeal. Oh dear. Am I just being a softy, scaredy cat or should I blow caution to the wind on this one?  If I had someone else, somehow it seemed a better deal.  But I don’t.

So what am I saying here?  Travelling solo is possible.  It’s invigorating and life changing and I have seen the most incredible places, I knew, would be ok to do on my own.  But the unknown destinations still worry me a bit. Am I seeking for another sole traveller’s notes on this? Should I just go and do it? I don’t know.

For some, and I know many women who have travelled to India, Australia, America and the more unknown places, I salute them. Europe has been my solo travelling space to date. I know her well, she is friendly and accessible.  I could go to Croatia, Lisbon, Rome, Paris and anywhere else with total abandon, but when it comes to Africa … my birthplace … my desire to have a road trip of note … is a little worrying. Have I read too many stories, am I just being paranoid? And it not Africa, or South Africa, would I do it to other destinations I have not travelled before? Does it make me feel whatever? Have not done these trips before on my own, now recently on my own.

So I google forever for advice on travelling solo to places I have not been before.  I am the master of European travel and can advise you on most of it – but I want to do something else now, and find myself questioning the solo travel thing.  Like Namibia – would love to go there but on my own? Help me if you know.

In the meantime I am still going to South Africa. I still want to do a road trip to the Cederberg Mountains, through the Karoo and down to Durban – am I going to do it, who knows?  Why do I hesitate to travel, on my own to places unknown?

It is not about being alone. And travelling.  And spending nights in different places.  It is about my safety, and who will help me along the way. New territory for me – and then again, if I have to wait for someone to travel with, it could be me with cobwebs growing from my scalp – so let’s just say, scary or not, I am up for it, maybe I am the one to be the pioneer in this.

If you are a solo traveller, tell me about it. When you plan a trip – do you go for it, or plan it carefully, being alone, being a solo traveller? And if so, how brave are you in doing this? Would love to know.

Image Pintrest

The Chelsea Physic Garden – sanctuary in the city.

 

‘Learn from those whose generosity is given to you.’

In 1673 The Chelsea Physic Garden was established on four acres of land, beside the River Thames, by the Apothecaries in order to gather, propagate and study medicinal plants. In 1712, Sir Hans Sloane, physician, naturalist, collector and founder of the British Museum, bought and offered the Manor of Chelsea to the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries for the grand total of £5.00.  This is still paid to his dependents today. Best £5.00 pounds rental ever!

I always knew about this chap from the famous, and often found in Sloane Square, but little of just how much of a legacy this gentleman has left for us to enjoy.  And it was yesterday, admittedly, that I first entered the secret garden that is The Chelsea Physic garden.  Done nearly all the gardens in London, and England, but this little gem somehow escaped me. Guess I was always turning into the The Chelsea Flower Show gates and never really explored this offering. Until yesterday.

Oh dear, you have missed something special, I though to myself as I turned into Swan Street.  Lotto loving maybe one day street.  The houses are elegant, peeps into the gardens alluring, and running my hand along the secret wall that protects the garden, I almost walked right by. The entrance is unassuming, the anticipation like a bride before she enters the chapel. God lives there.

Perhaps she has found her spiritual home in London.  No photographs in 30 degree heat will do justice to the magic, only the gnarled and mighty trees a canopy of cool beneath the beating sky.  The garden is divided into four quadrants, living libraries of medicinal, woodland, edible and historical favours. I took the tour, as I always, do for learning is never wasted. Of course my heart spiked at the sight of atlantic blue aggies, the vivid cannas so often planted as borders to free state farm houses with familiar friends I planted in my own gardens.

Summer colour is everywhere: plump oranges and grapefruits swollen on branches.  Bella Donna, deadly belle that she is, like glass marbles on the bush.  And it does not matter if the latin genus names escapes, a daisy is as pretty called a daisy as any distinguished label.  Edging of Yew and buxus leads one gently from place to place.

A place of peace, and teaching.  Calm reigns. I wished I could bring my friends, and in particular those who struggle with illness, and life to this sanctuary.  Is a garden not the epitome of spirituality then? Plopped sun worshippers with flimsy clothes and broad hats dotted the lawn, rested on benches and conversed in the shady niches. There is a shop and tea room and I instead imagined an evening party to celebrate love here.

In the fading hours of the afternoon, it was to a quiet corner of repose. Softness around, I wished so much that I was an artist able to capture the moment.  I will bring my children here.

 

Let them see coconuts bloom, deserts create.  Let them meander and muse about the power of plants in a garden.  And it has always been my wistful wish to have a garden again, to be part of the seasons and the soil, but that is for another time.  This is a garden in the heart of London that has a heart of curing all stress and replace with sublime sensitivity for life. For breathing in and breathing out easily: to rest and watch butterflies and bees, hear the birds high above and remind oneself of the power of nature in a pretty place.

If I were to have the space again one day, I would plant a garden that tells a story, of healing, of history, of woodland walks and edible fare.  With the sound of water. I would plant a garden just like this one.

Image: The Chelsea Physic Garden.

Romance runs deep in the waters of Lake Como

‘Leave me here with a glass of pink blush, a deep plate of pasta and the view of perfection.’

If hiding were an option from the busy world, it is the lakes that will wrap their mist softly about you, till the ferry horns and feint lights in the distance, are your only companions.  Until you are ready to be found again. Only when the mist rises, the view will have have you spellbound forever.

I return again and again.  Have stayed in Bellagio, Lenno and this time, in Varenna.  The latter is where to alight from when you train from Milan, only long before the quaint station comes into view, your eyes have feasted on the lake, the train curling along her edge for some distance.  It’s intoxicating.

Like most of the towns along the mid-lake, Varenna is carved from cliff, smartie coloured houses clinging till they reach the bluest waters below. She is one of the more known towns, cradling beside and opposite Mennagio, Tremezzo, Lenno and Bellagio. Staying at the Hotel Olivedo could not have been more fitting.  More perfect.  Family run, I felt as if I were staying in a grand home, stylish, grand, my corner room with windows flung open to views of the Lake, I was on a film set about The Grand Tour. Hard to drag myself away in the mornings and delighted to return.  In repose I was, sipping coffee in the morning, watching the ferry arrive, and repose again at night, sipping wine and watching the ferry leave.  In repose I was, in repose.

Time stands still in Como.  Days are passed by wistfully with slow boat rides from town to town, Villa to Villa, Garden to Garden and of course, pasta to pasta. You submerge yourself in the tranquility of Como.  Steep the walks may be, these are taken with gentle walking.  A past era of golden money, lavish parties, unsurpassed views.  Bellagio is the largest of these towns, complete with couture shops and distinct deli’s.  Also in Bellagio, my haunting The Grand Hotel Bretagne.  This is a novel waiting to happen, abandoned majesty that cries of a bygone era.

So, early mornings, post breakfast and a chat to the friendly staff, a Mid-lake ferry ticket and nothing in particular planned.  Get off where you wish, board again when done.  Lenno holds a special place in my heart, a wedding it was that could not have transpired in a more romantic setting.  The Villa Bulbiano, now famous as a film location for ‘Casino Royale’ presents a wedding venue we all dreamed of as little girls. The walk along the water’s edge has one dreaming of lotto’s and estate agents.

The Grand Tremezzo Hotel is a short walk from the Villa Carlotta.  Looking up is the beginning, to look down over views and garden designs, classical and magnificent.  Love and loss story.  An afternoon of cultural beauty.  Of course I am going to create a garden just like this back home.

Swear I could hear the music playing in another room.

Another must see is the Villa Monastero in Varenna.  If you are a garden lover, the tiered walkways and spectacular views into the deepest water, hidden statues and lyrical swathes of flowers will not disappoint. Once a convent, a villa for a wealthy German entrepreneur pre the 1st World War and confiscated, as were many of the villas along these shores, seem frozen in time.  And time is what you need when you explore them, and time is what you have when you visit Lake Como.

Each characteristically infused town leads to a square, and of course, a church.  I light my candles there and read the notifications to young folk who went to war, and never returned.  What peace must have turned to such loss then, how to understand the futility of it all?  I light my candles and one for them too.

Dining on the edge of Lake Como. Perhaps I should have tried the many options, each worthy and enticing, but I found this little place, right beside the hotel, and for me, I was in no hurry to go anywhere else. End of the day repose again. Tranquil setting, deep conversations, life and love and all that happens in between bowls of piping hot spaghetti and chilled wine. Where they know you name kind of place. The Cavallino Ristorante was my chapter place.

 

 

On my last morning, feeling really tearful in the leaving, I waked once more along the edge of the lake.  The painter was there again, as was the man who plays the accordion, and the lady who sits everyday in the shade, right beside the water, knitting. And I also wonder: do they think of it as another day, another opportunity to make a little money from the tourists, or do they realise just how fortunate they are to live there?  It must be difficult during the winter months, when all is shut against the cold and the lake falls silent.  I do not live there but I think they are blessed, they must think I am and I guess, we all are for having touched this piece of heaven on earth.

Oh, and if you have booked into The Hotel du Lac, make sure you know which one … they have one in every town. Love it.

The lustrous beauty of Ville Franche Sur Mer, Cote d’Azur

There are a few places that have captured my heart over the years. Destinations that call me to return, over and over again. In my Silver Street now, I am not so much for discovering new places, but returning to the familiar locations of beauty.

One such is Ville Franche Sur Mer, a town that dips into one of the deepest, natural bays on the Mediterranean and climbs up the cliffs to the Upper Corniche. The three Corniches that pass through the town are roads that travel to Italy, but ideal for cheap bus trips to Monaco, ten miles away, St. Jean de Cap Ferrat, Eze Village and many of the stunning towns that pepper the coastline. Around the corner is Nice, larger, fun to discover and your main entry into the Cote’d Azur.

You will not find sandy beaches here. Hardly anywhere in fact, but the fine pebbled beach that nestles in the bay, is heaven for me. Think the bluest colours of water, swirls of aqua and turquoise – stunning clarity and happiest of lapping waves – all very gentle and my kind of beach experience. This is our summer holiday of getting a tan experience. Without burning. Without funfairs and candy floss, just quaint cafés and inviting restaurants on the edge of the water to while away the hours at sunset with the bottle of Cote de Provence Rosé (summer requirement) and festive fare. Gentle is the operative word, even if your hotel is a mile up the cliff, gentle is the way to get there.

For me, lying on a beach all day, is a little much. I know the places I want to visit again, and first on the list is the magnificent Villa et Jardins Euphressi de Rothschild. I think I must have been part of ‘The Grand Tour’ in a previous life, for the Villas and Gardens of Europe and the United Kingdom are my joy. This impressive Villa and her becoming gardens weaves a story for me. Easily accessible on the 100 bus, for a Euro or two, an afternoon of vistas and glamour is just the thing.

Also on the agenda, of course, is a trip to Monaco and Eze. Monaco for the glamour and glitz of faded days, super yachts and film locations, to view the Pink Palace and remind yourself that the world has super millionaires but not care too much, and Eze, well Eze is where this young girl fell in love with the Cote ‘d Azur. Where this young girl finally realised what her mother had been trying to teach her of places she never dreamed of, this Medieval village that turns and tucks itself away so that each turn is a magical surprise. And the candles are lit in her ethereal church.

‘Upon entering Eze I felt transported back to the Medieval period while walking up the uneven stone streets through narrow passages and under low archways. Such feelings of being in a museum village quickly subsided as an expensive art gallery, gift shop or cafe could be found around every corner.’

Craig O’Sullivan, Huffington Post.

On the other side of Ville Franche Sur Mer, past Nice and a little trickier to get to if using public transport, lies the Artists delight of St. Paul de Vence.

Make a turn at Juan Les Pins and say hello to Scott F. Fitzgerald’s ghost, or Antibes and Cannes. There is so much to do, on the exploring days, and so little you need to do on the languid days. It is a holiday after all.

July and August can be hot, and I would normally recommend early or late Summer, but my flat was let out for Wimbledon and thought, what better to go and swim in the sea, meander through colourful streets and dine with the best company on the edge of the sea – and I did, and I shall return again, which for me, is being happy.

If you would like any assistance with planning a trip to Ville Franche Sur Mer, or the French Riviera, please contact our sister company on www.londongreenafrica.com

We specialise in travel to Africa, South Africa, Italy, France and the United Kingdom. Happy Travelling, be it solo or with loved ones.

Images: Own and pinterest

The Winter is over. Hello Summer in South Africa.

  It’s a funny thing in life.  For me anyway.  When I am in London, I hear nothing but negativity about South Africa.  And I buy into it, for some if it exists, and some are reasons that we re-located to London all those years ago.  No future, everything going pear shaped, crime, high living costs … a little like all the other countries in the world – I mean have you ever sat and thought ‘Where is the perfect place to live?’ and every one you think of has its problems. Politics and headlines have that effect.

But I do find myself a little schizo when it comes to South Africa.  Love London, tell my children to stay and make their lives there … and then I come back, like now, for a holiday and whoosh … my heart just bangs like a thunderstorm with the joy of being here. Other than the familiar, it has to begin with the African landscape that just gets the blood flowing after a long and grey winter.

Truth is it is the end of summer here.  I wear sundresses and sandals and the sun is high and I have this overwhelming urge to be outside and healthy. To drive on open roads, walk on the beach – touch wheat and swim.  Stare at the mountains.  Buy wine from the vineyards and not in an Orange supermarket. It’s nature and landscape enveloping me – and as they say, when life gets tough, nature is what you want.  Here I find her in abundance.

Rather than wake to the view of the garages behind my flat, I wake to Guinea fowl chatting in the garden.  The light is different here.  Can’t explain it, but it is and I see myself in a different way.

The people of South Africa are happy people.  Despite all, and some living in abject poverty, they are always chatting, and smiling and it is infectious. Right down to the street sellers working for a plate of food, they always seem to be positive. Need that after the longest winter yet endured.

So I rose early and went for a walk.  Drove into Cape Town to meet a friend and we drove back to Franschoek to spend a beautiful lunch under the trees – he said ‘you look different’, ‘you look happy’ and I just smiled, again … and again … for I am.

My winter is over. As much as I love London, and I do with her charm and quirks and traditions, I am now rather for a few weeks, for nature, beach and berg, outside living and grateful to be here.  South Africa, you have your problems, but your offerings are greater and I cannot tell you how happy I am to be here for a while. Down to the painted toes and all for now they are on display!

In this Silver street of our lives, we could live anywhere and make the most of it.  Materialism fades but being in a beautiful place, where you are at peace and optimism thrives … that is good enough for me.  Hello Summer, in every way.

Giverny – where I find Monet

‘Always looking for mist and transparencies, Monet would dedicate himself less to flowers than to reflections in water, a kind of inverted world transfigured by the liquid element.’

In 1883 Monet and his family began their lives at Giverny.  So began his obsession to create a landscape of form and flowers to paint.  Ten years later he bought a neighbouring plot, over the railway line to create the pond now forever captured in his painting of lilies and light. Inspired by Japanese art, Monet landscaped nature, his garden at Giverny, his legacy.

I have been to Giverny a number of times.  Early morning train from Gare Saint-Lazare in Paris to the garden my mother spoke of so often in her life, yet never saw herself.  I guess I go for her in a way, to whisper whilst walking – you would love it Mom, just as you told me Mom, wish you were here with me Mom.

It is all about the light.  French vintage home, pebbled walks, spilling of colour. Pink on walls, fuchsia on trellis, hot colour walks, cool water stillness – even the wooden boat moored as if someone may just recline with a good book on a hot summer’s day.  Blues and Greens and purples and lilac and vermilion and yellow and sky.

I grew up with the Impressionists.  Name them all, their works, their histories, but only when in Europe did I see the works before me. The National Gallery, The Orangery, D’Orsay – I find them and stand there, just stand there and know there is passion in life. When life is small, they are immense and I think about their struggles, heartache and joyous fervour when life is at the end of their paintbrushes. Bow down to genius I do.  Monet is different. Monet seemed happy though at times lost for the muse, the vision, but able to find God in flowers and domestic in his family life.  He found his garden and in doing do, he found his art. Though well travelled and documented, it is here that contentment lives.

Sadly, the time I took my children there, the world came too.

 It was August and August in France is not for the weak. As much as I tried to capture the ambiance of the water lilies, others were pushing for a spot along the walk. The lines are awful, the mystery shattered.  I hope they will return when it is calmer and the ghost of Monet walks with them one day. They love the Impressionists, love Art, love gardens and I know they will return to find the magic that lies there.  It touched a little, next time, to drown in the beauty of it all.

For me, once, I was alone and took my time to find the angles, the paintbrush poised before the eyes to find perspective, the lilies bopping gently on water. It was years before that took me back, to the man who rose with the early morning to capture the mist. A short walk away is the Hotel Baudy, more French, more characteristic I could not find.  For lunch, a table beneath the trees on the edge of the meadow.  Looking at the Baudy, I could imagine someone shaking sheets outside the windows, soldiers walking towards anger and away from those they loved.  I revelled in the quaintness of simple cheese and wine at noon, laundry on the line, cows in the pasture and I immersed myself in history, in art and in rural France, on my own, notebook on the table and it is a feeling I remember and love.  

If you love Art, The Impressionists and Monet, make Giverny a place to be. Not visit, but be. Once you have, the Water Lilies at the Orangery in the Tulleries will make so much more sense.  Add more depth to your understanding of the artist and his subject. A day trip out of Paris. Reason enough to understand. A reason to realise that life is beautiful indeed.

Images Paris Vision, Victoria mag and Pintrest. Quote from Giverney

A special Thank you to Peter Mayle – always ‘A Good Year.’

“Look at those vines,’ he said. ‘Nature is wearing her prettiest clothes.’
The effect of this unexpectedly poetic observation was slight spoiled when Massot cleared his throat nosily and spat, but he was right;”
– Peter Mayle – A year in Provence

It’s difficult to think of a time when Peter Mayle was not in my life.  Always in the background of my romance with France, my discovery of Provence, my blankie of comfort when the world was too rough and people too mean, it would be me and my go to movie, ‘A Good Year.’

His words were friends of mine.

Treasure hunting film locations in the Luberon.

Reminders that the quiet, the silence, the simplest things in life are golden gifts.

 

His words made my world so pretty.

My mother loved his books and I told her all about the places there.

The quill lies quiet, characters immortalised but none new will take us through the scraggy paths of Menerbes, of Gorde and Bonnieux –  into the shops and alleyways and back doors of people who are living there.  

Didn’t want to write more today, just to say … I shall miss you in my life.  I have you in my life.

“We had been here often before as tourists, desperate for our annual ration of two or three weeks of true heat and sharp light. Always when we left, with peeling noses and regret, we promised ourselves that one day we would live here. We had talked about it during the long gray winters and the damp green summers, looked with an addict’s longing at photographs of village markets and vineyards, dreamed of being woken up by the sun slanting through the bedroom window.” – A year in Provence.

You got to live a little of the dream, for all of us.  Thank you.

Images Pintrest

Let’s go on an adventure! Beginning with Paris …

In my Silver Street time, looking back, I have travelled most of the world, and grateful for it.  And then we sort of settle on those places we find so enchanting, so alluring, so a little of ourselves, and return again and again.

Not sure about your love of places like these, but for me, there are three in particular.  I live in London and so this city has my heart. I know every inch of her and my passion is shared by those I take around to discover her in more detail. There are the unusual places, the non tourist places that I have discovered and take my clients too, to show them that there is more to this gorgeous place, her people and history that continues to enthralled me every day.  

Then there is Paris.  What can I say?  I return again and again, sometimes alone, times to show my clients the nuances of this special place that breathes love, architecture, shopping and a history rich in all her folds. Times I take my clients for a single day, times for a few days, including Pére La Chaise, Versailles and Giverney.  Indulging in art, history and the city.  At present planning a trip for a group who have never been to Versailles. No-one leaves Paris untouched. I never do.

Staying overnight in Versailles is an incredible experience. We are of the illustrious days of the Sun King, the Marie Antoinette, wealth and treason – human beings caught up in a time of change.  Cannot wait to share this with my group.

And then, and then.  There is South Africa. My homeland, my birthplace and the retuning is always my heart place.  Safari’s, beaches, wine lands of beauty that still takes my breath away. Most of my clients are repeat clients, having lost their hearts to South Africa and every trip is a different experience.

So diverse, I know.  But these are the places I choose to share with my clients. Single travellers, groups, couples and people who want to experience the beauty of these places that I have invested my time, my research, and my love in.  How lucky am I?  It has taken many years for me to discover that these three places have all that inspires me, that I adore and want to share with others. 

This is my business.  Planning events and travel to these three amazing destinations, each so different, so exceptional and for me, the consummate experience of my life.

So where ever you are, before the year closes, choose to go on an adventure – break away from the norm and challenge yourself.  You may be reticent to travel alone, or to a new destination, but I can tell you, it is all good.  It is all possible, and if you want to discover London, Paris or the plains and perfection of South Africa, I am here to tell you, it’s possible!

If you have one resolution for 2018, let it be to push the boundaries, discover the new, take the leap, be it on your own or with someone else, but go for it.  Choose adventure, life changing adventure and never second guess yourself. 

These destinations? The best, the bravest and the most interesting in life. This is why I have travelled and chosen – London for the greatest city, Paris for love and meaning, South Africa for layers of self discovery.  All will change you.  And excite you.  And I am with you all the way if you want the most exciting time of your life.

Sunset at Sacré Couer. Cocktails on the South bank or a fire around a boma in the Kruger Park, this is the temptation and the invitation to travel, and find adventure in the New Year with me. Travel, travel and be whole in 2018.

I shall be doing all of it – and would love you to come along…

Images And beyond, etsy and paris info

Christmas winter in Paris.

Thank heaven, for little girls … they grow up in the most delightful way.’  Maurice Chevalier

I have two delightful little girls whom have grown up into the most remarkable women.  My eldest is enjoying the sunshine of the Southern Hemisphere, so it was to Paris with my youngest for four days, to take in the love we both share for Paris. My son loves her too.

Most people avoid Paris in the winter. I love Paris throughout the year, but it is in winter when I return to end the year in the heart of this magical, enchanting city of lights, and love.  Paris in the Spring, the summer and Autumn have my heart, but when the clouds hang close and the starkness of architecture and nature are at her height, I love her most.  It is quieter, more solemn and poetic for me.  Her buildings melt into the grey, her love for the linear in planting comes to the fore. We walk for miles, huddle in her cafés and brasseries, character abounds, the ghosts of writers and revolution with tips of gold on her statues, all impact when the crispness of winter envelopes.

Rather than stay in my usual hotel, we were invited to stay in a flat in Pigalle.

Dubious I was.  Pigalle is the place of the Sexodrome, of the many sleezy nightclubs and the once, or is it still, famous Moulin Rouge?  I am of the Opera, the left bank sort of gal, but we were grateful of the opportunity to explore – and loved the experience. The apartment was tucked away in a side street, just up from the falafel and ‘private viewing’ offers, but it gave us an insight into the living of Parisians behind the many doors you see.  Courtyards and apartments that are quiet and filled with character.  

By night, the lights of hedonistic living are everywhere, by day, the tarnished remnants of a bygone era greets me. The streets are wet from the winter drizzle, rubbish on the pavements, leftovers of people who frequent and go about their lives in this city.  Every city has her ‘other side’ and yet, people are living here, they thrive here.  Waking and longing for coffee, I experienced Paris in a different light, a good light, a city that has history but continues to build upon itself. Within the realm of what she is.  London does this too.

  The Moulin Rouge in the stark light of day. Still a landmark.

It had been some time since I visited the D’Orsay museum and it has been too long.  The Impressionists are a favourite, so, and so, hello to Van Gogh, to Pissarro, Monet and Manet. To all those who dared to defy the norm, reach for the different and make that happen.  Go early, the tourists are still there with their damned selfie sticks and loud voices.  I detest standing before a portrait to hear the uninformed comment and move on after a hundred or so photographs of them just being there. Is it my age that makes me grumpy with the ignorant who confuse all and this is most more irking when we visit ‘Shakespeare and Company.’  Over the years I have loved entering this little shop that offered a haven to writers so poor they needed the comfort of Sylvia Beach?  Hemingway would pop in to collect his mail, to borrow a few francs and hope his books would make it onto her shelves.  Nowadays, one bustles and breathes deeply in the hope of some reprieve to find the book. As I always do. 


As the light slips away, the candles lit at Saint Sulpice for my loved ones, time for stocktaking of the day. People watching, a bierre blanche with a view. Dinner at a brasserie. Deep conversations about life and where we are going in this interesting time.

I love the rain. We chose shelter in the company of the Luxembourg Gardens in the rain, leaves dripping and statues soaked in their frozen marble forms.  Pools of light on the pavements in their wetness. Escaping to the passages of Belle Epoque – children’s toyshops and miniature furniture stores.  Gift shops and ballet shops where point shoes and tutus take us to another place. I follow a number of Parisian bloggers and one in particular, Paris Breakfast, was doing exactly the same thing at the Gallerie Vivienne, so I knew I was in good company. Love her watercolours.

Dined at our favourite place on St. Louis, our favourite film locations from ‘Midnight in Paris’. tasted fruit and visited our favourite florists. Chocolate Chaud at Café de la Paix, where my family tradition in Paris is manifest. Brunch at Buvette, mandatory hello to Deyrolle, Claudelie, Les Deux Margot. Prayers and candles at the La Madeleine as is custom with every visit.

A creature of habit, the final day before returning to the Gare du Nord is Galleries Lafayette. She is Christmas Paris for me, besides the gorgeous Lindt chocolate close by, but her display is magnificent. Her view the same.  In the winter of Paris, the walking, the rain, the greyness of her beauty, I must to the rooftop of this place, with a view of the Opera, I am of the Phantom, the rooftops, the unique character that is Paris.  

Because I go to Paris so often, many have asked me if I have a lover there.  Of course I do.  It is she. Someone once introduced me to her loveliness and I return over and over again, for the inspiration, the history, the hidden promise of love that this city holds close.  

I love Paris. That you know.  The wintertime is particularly magical.  

‘That I love Paris in the spring time
I love Paris in the fall
I love Paris in the winter when it drizzles
I love Paris in the summer when it sizzles

I love Paris every moment
Every moment of the year
I love Paris, why oh, why do I love Paris?
Because my love is near’

Till one day soon …

 

 

A few days in December in Paris.

Moliére – French playwright of comedies, in particular ‘The Misanthrope.’

Bon Nuit from Paris. For the past few years I have always tried to visit this city, this lady of lights in early December.  A special time, when the tourists thin, the Christmas scene unfurls and she appears, a little more naked, and more beautiful. The city of lovers, the city of lights, the city that has had a harsh time of late crazy people wanting to hurt, but for me, she remains the city of love.  And contrasts.

If you are planning to visit, be aware of these contrasts.  Global problems are in her midst.  This does not mean she does not remain enchanting, beguiling, beautiful.  This will not change.  From the time I arrive at Gard du Nord, I am in Paris romantic mode.  And I walk.  And I walk.  Yesterday I walked from the station to my hotel near the Luxembourg gardens – a considerable distance, but for me, Paris is the city of walking for true discovery. Stumble into streets, this is how you find the true nature of the city. I know the city well, but as I always advise my clients, be street smart.

The Winter Garden at the Palais-Royale

At the heart of it all, the greyness of winter mingles in water, in architecture, in cobbled streets.  Luxembourg gardens were almost desolate, yet this too, is a passion for me, to sit in the weak winter sun and tuck into the only baguette I allow myself on my trips.  You will spot me, the lady with the jambon and fromage baguette on a bench in the midst of statues and landscape. Like my customary beer I always have in Paris, at the end of the day, outside at a brasserie when the night comes early. I like traditions and Paris has many for me. Baguette, beer and hot chocolate at the Café de la Paix. 

 Cafe de la Paix

If you think you have ever experienced a true, hot lava of chocolate in its purist form, you would have been at the Café de la Paix. My mother brought me here, as her mother did her, and I my own children, so stopping for a moment in my day in this Belle Epoque delight is a family tradition. I am in the spirit of the ghosts of Marlene Dietrich, war heroes, politicians and writers and it  is humbling.

Another mandatory stop is Lindt chocolates near the Opera.  Christmas presents added.  Sadly, the multitude of homeless lined on the sidewalks are a tangible reminder of those who suffer in the winter. Who suffer. There are many here, often with sadder looking animals clinging to their masters.  This is our world now and in Paris I see them more than in London.  

Was meant to focus on my research of the churches I most love in Paris, but somehow got sidelined by the Christmas story.  For this I must wander on the Champs-Èlysées, Rue St. Honoré, along the Seine and of course, the big Department Stores of Printemps and Galleries Lafayette. 

Childlike wonder.  Mesmerising to this easily wonderlike child. 

At Christmas time, Paris is like this.  In the spring and summer I prefer to wander along the river and take in the blossoms around the Notre Dame and on the Isle St. Louis.  Meeting Monet at the Orangerie, going to Giverney and losing myself at the Pére LaChaise cemetery. 

So, this woman is travelling alone and in Paris. So easy to do.  I don’t tend to go out at night but before I retire to my hotel or apartment, always a little stop for that quiet beer and taking in the scene of those who call Paris home.  Young exuberant people who chat away in French, single women stopping by before going home, tourists with maps spread out on tables and practising my terrible French on sweet waiters who indulge my whim.

You can travel to Paris on your own.  Find the peace, indulge in her history, live her books, art, culture and daily life with great satisfaction. Paris is for lovers, lovers of romance, of life and of beauty.  

When I sit on that bench in the Jardin du Luxembourg with all that life has dealt me, eating that one allowed baguette, I know that I am in the Paris that embraces, the Hemingway that entices, the lights that flicker, the river of dreams and history, the city that allows for the Renaissance of all.

More than anything she is the city of love – and I am in love.

And I shall be back soon x