To travel again. My long awaited return to Europe.

How I psyched myself against travelling in these times.  Doubted, fretted, convinced that I would be caught up, caught out and banished before boarding.  Less than three weeks ago, I ventured towards the check in counter as if ready to go to court, ready to defend with enough documents and test results tucked under my arm, yet the nerves were more prickly than they usually are on a flying day.

Despite the extra expense of PCR tests, my trip to France went smoothly, flying out late with KLM to Schipol airport and onto Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris.  In terms of documentation, South African Border Control asked for my Health Questionnaire and if I had done the PCR. Schipol Border Control wanted to know why I was going to Paris and to check I had a Vaccine app, and Paris said ‘Bonjour!’ – no security, no border control, and no suitcase.

This arrived two days later.

At no point in France was I grilled about being there.  The bateaux were thrilled with sightseers, parks filled with picnic baskets and students, camera clicking tourists all the way.  Hearing all the different accents, the smooth, romance of the french dialect.  Masks, as is the new fashion, gets hoiked up your arm above the elbow and only used to enter shops, places to eat and public galleries and museums. Walking around Versailles gardens for five hours, a reasonable distance from others, I thought it fine not to wear it and all those around seemed to agree. The rule seems to be keep your distance, be comfortable and use your common sense.  In no way did any of these rules detract from the experience of being there – heavenly, at one with the kings and queens, statues and turning leaves in the Tuilleries.

The difficult part lies squarely at the foot of the UK Border Control.  For months, the British government have employed rules and regulations befitting a psychedelic rave.  Draconian rules of which countries are Red, Amber and Green, which can change as quickly as the sucked colours of Smarties.  This leaves business and family travel (I hesitate to say leisure for fear of the ‘stay at home mate, this is a pandemic’ participants crawling onto the platform).  Family travel and business travel then – members of families who have been separated for too long, business travel that makes the world go around. More noteworthy, and I am flummoxed on this score – it seems as if there is more afoot that the sudden raising or lowering of country colours than meets the eye. Pressure maybe, politics sir, or just a little bit of profit involved methinks?

Your vaccine and my vaccine are the same vaccines but no, doesn’t count here.  Isolation required and again, some pretty serious money for all the tests, but this was something I knew and did willingly to return to my children.

Though I resent some of the rules, exempting the wealthy, sports events and such, I am delighted to be travelling again.  Invigorated by change, different destinations and cultures, different tastes – to stand before great art and light candles in a vast cathedral is deeply satisfying. Loved my quirky, yet charming hotel on the left bank, great dinner with friends and family and crossing France, and under the sea on the Eurostar was brilliant.  Wafting through the gardens of Giverny, the vast landscape of Versailles, deeply moving.

The nerves, the longing, the waiting is over.  The last of summer greets me in the morning, the red buses, cheery old friends.  Taking George for a walk in the park, chats face to face rather than zooming  and planning more.  Sadly any return to France would mean another session of isolation if returning to the UK, but I can wait … have been waiting for months now, and a few more will only make the journey more delicious again.

An autumn walk through the Jardin du Luxembourg.

‘It was a fine morning. The horse-chestnuts trees in the Luxembourg gardens were in bloom. There was the pleasant early morning feeling of a hot day. I read the papers with the coffee and then smoked a cigarette.  The flower-women were arranging their daily stock.  Students went by going up to the law school, or down to the Sorbonne.’  Ernest Hemingway

Must have begun with the purchase of ‘A movable feast’ at the Shakespeare and Company bookshop, but since that moment, Paris has become synonymous with Hemingway, particularly on the left bank in the 5th and 6th.  This is the place of writers for as long as writers met and wrote in Paris.

Small cafés smell of cigarettes and controversial ideas. A certain intimacy of bodies too close, prattling in the rolling sounds of their local language. The coffee is strong, papers crunch and smoke always hovering above. And I pass these on my way to the gardens, or the ‘luco’ as the locals call it. I cannot visit Paris and not spend time there, gorgeous, quirky, traditional and possibly the sexiest park in the world.

The oversized teddy bear is the lasting relic of a pandemic that locked the world in for over a year. Now children want to take it home, others simply pass it to the waiter and sit down. The world is opening again.

Entering the park, the men are planting, preparing for the winter, and possibly, next spring. I like to see workers in the parks, in this garden, it makes it real, all the planting, the mowing of grass and raking of pathways. One sees the work behind the perfect finish and often we forget the long term planting for the ideal display of colour, of compatible plants, of seasons.

It’s the crunching of fine gravel underfoot.  Puffs of stone and sand rising, covering my shoes. The last smell of summer lingers through the early, decaying leaves of the trees.  Lined trees, limed trees, clipped and straight, like soldiers guarding the Palace.  The Luxembourg Palace, once the Florentine inspired home of Maria Medici, wife of Henry IV, mother of King Louis XIII, was first commissioned by her in 1612.  She was tired of the Louvre and wanted a palace built in the fashion of the Pitti Palace in Florence, her childhood home.  It took five years to complete.  The initial garden was smaller, until extra land was bought to extend the gardens, designed by Jaques Boyceau de la Barauderie. Grand designs left to neglect by subsequent royalty and during the French Revolution the palace was used as a prison. The Germans turned the palace into a barracks during WWII. Fortunately now, all restored.

The grandeur is intoxicating.  Wide paths, the long basin to stroll around, children floating boats on the water.  Statues are dotted throughout the walkways, legendary characters mute and silent witnesses to passing love, war and betrayal, history and decades of weather. A few notable figures are Maria Medici and other French queens, Beethoven, Delacroix, Chopin and a smaller copy of the statue of Liberty. Like the language, I may not know them all, but this does not detract from gazing upon each one and wondering the life they must have led. They will be there when I return, I hope.

The Luxembourg gardens are not just for a casual flâneur or impromptu picnic but a modern. living space.  Tennis courts, chess games, very serious chess games if you judge by the concentration of players and spectators,  are played here.  Children from the local school run laps around the symmetrical green space to the whistle of their teacher. They run past us a few times as we feast, sitting on the grass in dappled sunlight. They leave clouds of dust in their wake.   Some of the trees are covered with a fine grey silt, washed away in the next rain storm. Though the gardens are large, each space feels quiet and secluded, reached via a winding path, through an alley of trees.

Before leaving, my favourite place in the gardens.  The Medici fountain, built in 1620.  It has changed over the many years, added too, moved about, but the gorgeousness and classical elegance is still there.  A grotto, a whimsical folly, watching the Giant Polyphemus spying on Acis and Galatea.  Many come just to sit by the water’s edge, watch the reflections in the liquid or meet up with friends.  A little taste of heaven in the heart of Paris.

This is one of my places of love, of nostalgia, a little melancholy, but also a sanctuary, a quiet space, a thing of beauty in a mixed up world.  For a garden lover, there are many splendid parks and gardens in Paris, and this one is unforgettable.  And yes, I see Hemingway here too …

 

 

 

 

Planning for Paris 2020 – a special birthday.

It’s what I adore about a New Year.  All the plans and details and filling the diary with ideals and wishes you want the year to bring. Paris is of course, always uppermost.  Paris has been my ‘other love’ for over a decade, since I moved to London and found the ease of visiting Paris a secret loveliness, all of my own.

When the great re-location to London became more of an early coping in a new world, and nothing like I ever dreamed of, Paris offered me the sanctuary I desperately needed.  The London of tourists experience was nothing to the actual landing with the bump kind of experience my family endured.  Life reduced from the beautiful South Africa existence. We managed, failed on some levels, grew, and changed. In the midst of letting go and embracing a small and often daunting different situation, I discovered the great, and achievable passport, via the Eurostar, to Paris.  We have been in love ever since.

This year, the diary is poised for the return. The love affair has not diminished. With my family, friends or on my own, I have grown to know her small streets and captivating nuances. We know each other well.  In the past years, at least two or three trips a year, it has been Paris in the Spring, the Summer, magnificent Autumn, and always in the Winter ( I think I prefer the latter, just before Christmas when the tourists are gone and the bones of this lovely city still has me in awe.) Love the gardens, the parks, the shopping and side walk stopping for coffee – with Hemingway in mind – and the romance of Paris that still exists.

But, it is a New Year!  And a trip with a special person to celebrate her 60th birthday. The brief is such: Four days in Paris, guided by me, and a hotel with a garden or courtyard to return to in the evenings. A very special occasion.  We have done Paris before, my lovely friend and I, many times, only this time it’s going to be even more memorable.

This is the brief and the gift I can give. Four days in June to remember forever as being a milestone and, enchanting. My usual little hotel in the Opera district does not have a courtyard.  But no matter, the research has begun. Should it be on the right bank, close to the Opera for easy access to the Madeleine and Rue Saint Honoré for shopping, Paris style, or closer to the Place des Voges and the Marais?  Then there is the Left bank and all her gifts, the Café du Flore and Les Deux Margots to people watch? Always have to do the custom people watching from the illustrious vantage points. So important n’cest pas?

A visit to Deyrolle. Must be done for it is the ultimate scene in ‘Midnight in Paris’. Hidden gem, though a little disconcerting.

Any suggestions about the perfect hotel? With a courtyard or garden room?

A day to Giverney maybe?  A day to Versailles – most definitely. Got that covered. Restaurants, sorted.

Want this to be amazing!  Memorable.

What a good excuse to go over earlier – to sort of recce the city again. The deals on the Eurostar in February and March are enticing, so perhaps that is a good reason to visit before we go and celebrate.

This photograph was taken when I was in Paris for my 60th with my family. Captured a perfect moment on the bridge.  Paris is all about the bridges over the Seine – the not there anymore lovelock bridge, the Pont Alexandre 111, the Point Neuf bridge, so many to cross. And the parks – the Rodin Museum, the D’Orsay and the Orangerie. Perhaps a trip on the Bateaux in the evening? So many possibilities.

Last time I was there with my lovely friend, we spent hours in Montmatre. Years ago, my mother had my portrait drawn there, on the Place du Tertre – I took my daughters there to have theirs done and finally, on my 60th, the drawings of my son and son in law – all framed and up on the wall in my home. I think we should do this, to make it official, to commemorate her birthday. Sixty years of being there for each other.

So it is a trip to plan for sure, but a trip that will mean so much more. Sixty decades of having each other’s backs, listening to each others dreams, as life happened and has blessed us both. So you can imagine how important this trip is – it is my birthday present to her.

In Paris.

The dairy looks exceptional this year. This is one of those entries. Let’s see what else 2020 brings – keep you posted!

 

What I loved this week.

It’s been two weeks since I left the cold and Christmas love of London, bound for a ten day break in the gorgeous Mauritius.

I would not have planned a trip for myself to Mauritius per say – not the sort of place I would have thought to visit on my own, but it was a ‘good morning Kari’ on my 60th birthday from my dear friend Bev, with an airline ticket to the island.  Her present.  Bev is a present to me every day, and this was overwhelming. Landed in Cape Town at 11.40 in the evening, just time to toss the winter clothes, throw in the bikini and off the next day.

A quick thanks to the brilliance of Air France and Air Mauritius for amazing service and getting me halfway around the world in two days!  From four degrees to forty degrees and darlings, the body crisped up in a matter of minutes in the sun. I am now the shade of tomato, from lobster to tomato.  Learning to do absolutely nothing everyday was a bit of a strain in the beginning but swimming again, that was pure magic.

It is paradise indeed. Being with friends who knew me when I still believed I was going to marry Robert Redford and had stayed throughout the highs and lows of my life is something few have in their lives and I do know how blessed I am. I only hope I am as good a friend to them, as they are to me.  With the liberty of taking time out, a slow wi fi and literally just chilling, what were some of the things I loved this week? – other than the gorgeous holiday of course!

Finally got stuck into ‘The Fingersmith‘ by Susan Waters. If there is one book I can recommend or begin reading almost immediately again, it would be this epic novel.  Pulsating, thrilling and brilliantly executed.  Details and imagery of London and the Borough in the 1860’s, just up my street.

Since the arrival of George, I am so aware of dog friendly places to visit.  Sawdays has a great guide to Dog friendly hotels in the UK. This would make a fabulous gift for fellow dog lovers.

 

Watercolour of George by Madison de Villiers

For those fortunate enough to find themselves in Paris over Christmas (I do envy you), Paris Insider has some wonderful tips of things to do.  Still on the subject of Paris, I do try, and never really get it right, but this is a great guide to learning the different bridges spanning the Seine in Paris.  Which is your favourite? Cannot wait to see these early next year when I return. Still on the subject of Paris, good news for all – a face lift for the Champs-Èlysées

Cannot wait too see the results, and Paris again.

Something else I cannot wait to try again, and discover a few more venues for Brunch, is this article I found of the best places to have brunch in London.  Am constantly finding ‘the perfect coffee shop’ or the perfect spot for lunch in the different boroughs of London (St Clements being my favourite, of course) and now I have a handy guide for brunch.

Part of the gorgeous offerings by Coutours is The History of London in Four Drinks, which includes the history of Gin.  We also offer Gin tasting evenings which a so much fun for friends and family to share.  This article gives a great view of the History of Gin and it may just tempt you to join us for a more in-depth exploration of the History of Gin and a fabulous tasting to boot. Everyday I am so enthused by all that is still possible to explore in this silly world of ours.  Not only can we show you a unique part of London in a fun and informative way, we can also help you plan your days when you visit.  Herewith a list from the Londonist, of some of the superb exhibitions we can see in 2020, so get that itinerary on track!

The mind brims with all the ideas of these places to visit, what next year holds in store for me, travel wise and every way otherwise and I do believe it will be a fascinating year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

One day in Paris and the colours of Spring.

Elle Paris Wisteria

There is no special time to visit Paris.  Every time is special – in Spring, Summer, Autumn and I have a particular love for Paris in the winter. Times I go for a few days, and times, such as last week, for the day.  My devotion to Paris is fixéd and unwavering.

And I do love the Eurostar.  Love the gentle, elegant way of travel under the sea.  So, it was up and ready for the taxi at 4.30 am to St. Pancras.  London, still dark, so lovely in the quiet drive, the view from Waterloo Bridge, already magical and they day had barely begun.

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In Spring, there are some cherry trees beside the Notre Dame that I head for first, for they never fail to take my breath away.  Children play in the sandpit, oblivious to the sight through the flowers, the history, the Gargolyes looming towards the Seine.  It is a cloudless sky, the wind is crisp and the blossoms tutu pink and dancing.

I am not a tourist anymore, having been here so many times, so rather than the million photo opportunities of the cathedral and waiting in line to enter, I simply sit for a while and watch the blossoms here.  Today was no different.

When one only has a few hours in Paris, like I did, choosing your route is important.  Walking is the way to go, for it is too lovely to spend time underground.  I chose to meander along the lesser known streets to make my way to the Le Jardin du Luxembourg, a favourite part of my Paris.  Through the streets surrounding the Sorbonne, past Shakespeare and Company, and up into the park, where the tulips were hanging onto their last petals in the breeze. If the cherry blossoms were delicate shades of pink, the tulips were vivid hues of cerise, peach and coral, dark burgundy and deep, velvet reds.

IMG_4357 If time allowed, another visit to the museum, but it was onward, to church.  The churches in Paris know me well:  I breathe in their majesty and love the silence, the reverence of walking about, tippy toe, for the echoes are strong.  There are a few favourites, and today it was to Saint-Sulpice to light my candles.  Found another on the way, so those I love were burning brightly in my heart on my beautiful walk.

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Love the way the light filters through the cracks onto the chairs, the same chairs in all the churches – little havens from the world outside.  Faith still lives there, and in particular during Easter.  Another reason I love Saint-Sulpice so much is Eugene Delacroix – his murals, painted between 1855 and 1862 in The Chapel of the Angels, are exquisite.  Who can but not be in awe of ‘Jacob wrestling with the Angel’ when one can feel the torment and anguish of man’s struggle with God.  Art is meant to be evocative, to stir response. ‘ “In truth, painting taunts and torments me in a thousand ways, like the most demanding of mistresses,” as he confided in his journal on January 1, 1861.

 

IMG_4336 Another favourite is Delacroix’s ‘Liberty leading the people.’

Just outside the Saint-Sulpice, is a great little bistro/café where I choose to sit and watch the fountain, the church and all the passers-by. Don’t look for super food salads or main meals of the day here, it’s baguettes or sandwiches with the famous Poilané bread. Just Monsieur Croque and me.  Heavenly.

Time to go.  I know a little Ladurée shop few tourists know along the way.  There are a few items I would rather buy in Paris, for they are Paris, and pure delight in choosing my six flavours, which include Pistachio, Noisette, Citron, Rose, Morello cherry and Pistachio again. Also stop at Caudalie to stock up before a quick stop to the shops below the Louvre.  The Louvre is not somewhere you want to be over Easter, with hoards of school children and throngs of tourists, so I veer to the right to say ‘hello’ to the girls looking down on the scene. The Louvre is best seen in the Winter, as she opens.

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They may be a little tattered, like me in Silver Street, but I love them.  Earned my respect.

Once final browse through Delfonics to drool over the stationery and it’s back to the Gare Du Nord for my trip back to London. It has been a day of beauty, of culture, a day of dreaming and feeling romantic, in great company and I cannot wait to do it again.

À bientôt xxx

Image of Wisteria, Elle.

 

Silver Train Glamour under the sea.

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Guilty of ritual governance in my life.  Never been on the Orient Express or Rovos  (oh please one day!), mais have indulged in my halcyon imaginings on the Eurostar that takes me from London to Paris.   Repeat, London to Paris … 

Not going to muddy the fantasy with past tales of stuck the the tunnel.  Not going there.  It is a gorgeous experience, now upgraded and wi-fi, movie and music options.  Indulging time.

IMG_1681 Sleek.  Why the love dream with the Eurostar?   First, the leaving from St. Pancras.  Architectural stage set, one already feels special when you step into this building.  They should give five minute tours on the history of St. Pancras.  Confession that for years before corrected, I did call it St. Pancreas. Then there is the, for me, the tradition of always meeting up with my travelling companions at Le Pain …..  LPQ if one wants less flowery mispronunciation.  To get into the French way of doing, going to Paris, France you understand.  Seduced by Croissants and bread we should not eat, cups without handles and ze french accent in the air.

Secondly, there are these two magnificent cities – Eurostar is the Fixer, bringing the two together without the humdrum and dishevelling of airport security and stress, stress, stress.  Things move rather rapidly depending on the choice of bank holiday, group tour, time of train option you carefully avoid.

Thirdly, you are sitting in a decent seat.  The ‘not plaiting your knees into your hair’ sort of seat – morph seat.  All you need then, is diary, music, coffee (or wine), the dreamy expression and let the Silver Tube take you under.

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The upgraded Silver Eurofish has a few other plus points.  Let’s talk toilets with simple how to for idiots like me who fears the touching of anything in toilets on public transport – take easier reading of coach numbers (I was the one you saw with her nose against the side of the train unable to read the coach number and the same goes for inside) – take more luggage space for those who make a weekend in Paris a removal of their house excursion (hate, hate those coffin carriers) and a few other simple things I forget but enjoyed at the time.

Not so good yet?  One attendant for the dining (spot the ‘dining’) carriage and a snake of people who just look silly.  We lined up against the wall, then had to sort of decide where to stand next and ended up like a group of toddlers hanging onto an imaginary rope reading for an outing.  Not good.

The Internet is unpredictable but she is a novice in this exercise and I am a patient person, for now anyway.

Hell I love that bursting upon French soil with light affirmity.

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Silver Style.  Silver Star – now to wish an upgrade at Gare du Nord please.  Then all is Silver lining.

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Early Sunday morning in Paris

IMG_1689 Early right?  Chances of getting her on her own like this again is slim.  Waiting for Starbucks to open it’s me and the odd, horizontal with the pavement avec last night.  I have become immune to this side of Paris, step over and take my first picture, the light is breathing life – into me if not horizontal person.

My first trip back as an orphan.  The past week has been controversial with expectations for me to fly back and deal.  They do not know my conversations with my mum –  now in spirit with me in her second favourite city.  Amsterdam is first, being Dutch, but Paris is the place she introduced two young teenagers to all those years ago, with so much passion and it was this passion ardante transfusion that has lasted, and transfused into my daughters.  When mum was ready to slip away, and knew I had booked for a weekend in Paris, it was her wish we keep to the plan.  Spirit Nita, eternal Edith, I am here. We are here.  And happy to believe you are too, free of body, free of pain – ethereal – and I do believe we are headed for Mont St. Micheal soon …

While children sleep, I am walking the empty streets of Paris.  After the rain … (yes this is why I love Laura Mercer’s ‘After the Rain’ collection of eye colours) with blue open sky, stone and the briefest of spring leaves on the London Planes.

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There was been too much sadness of late.  This light is energising and I am happy to walk alone (as I mentioned the others are not exactly walking.)  Shops are dead, as the cigarette stubs in washed out corners of the shade, but up, and up, there is nothing but promise. Love her or hate her Madame Eiffel is a setting point for me – she has seen life I will never and be here long after me.

IMG_1696 (1) The beauty of design, for me to see, in the quiet. No-one about this time of the morning and I love it. There are closed restaurant I have eating in, walks at midnight, flowers on display in the foyers of the greatest hotels … I have seen Paris in all her splendour … and now, when she is quiet and fresh again.

IMG_1697  Before the day begins.  I have time to think and remember .. and all is good .. to a new day.