On the road

IMG_4290I’ve been rather quiet on the blog lately. Please accept my sincere apologies. I have discovered that it is very difficult to just sit down and write all day. The mind grows numb after 5 hours. At least, my mind does. And I have been writing a lot lately because I was recently selected by AFAR magazine to create a guide to Monaco for their website. I was so flattered! They hire real writers, like Susan Orleans, and they were selecting me. I didn’t hesitate in replying with a loud YES! Typing as loudly as one can through the liquid crystal filter of a computer screen.

IMG_4269 P1080192 P1080179Before the writing, I needed to do some researching. I started immediately, reaching out to the tourist office and the Societe des Bains de Mer, the country’s largest employer that seems to be involved in every aspect of Monaco tourism. Days later, I found myself invited to the inauguration of the Pavillons Monte Carlo, a temporary luxury shopping center that was built as a centerpiece of sustainability. Even more incredible than an invitation to write for AFAR, and the opportunity to visit Monaco, I would be attending an event with SAS Prince Albert II. Totally ridiculous, but I was feeling pretty chuffed about the whole thing.

Then I started to panic about hat to wear. Thanks to the discerning eye of Mr French, I have a great wardrobe, but I was going to be hanging with the rich and famous of the world. I called a friend and she invited me to her new company the ELSS Collection, a company that rents the season’s latest designer fashion to women in my situation. Or women who have packed too lightly for the extravagant meal they have reserved in Paris, or women who are just curious what it feels like to wear high fashion on a low budget. This is starting to sound like a plug for her business, but Susan really is a friend and I genuinely had a great time trying on all the fun fashion at ELSS. I even pick up a dress for the big event and another for dinner later. Fun pieces by Kenzo that I would never buy, because they may be out of fashion in a year, but was thrilled to wear for an evening.

Dress ready, I was on my way. I had a busy day In Monaco, visiting insider haunts, exploring local favorites and doing the tourist thing. Suddenly, it was time to dress. In a moment of extreme anti-climax, it took me two minutes and I was ready to go.

IMG_4271The weather was gorgeous.  It had rained the weekend before, it would rain again in 48 hours, but tonight, the weather gods were in total cooperation with Princely desires for this outdoor event. The fountain was bubbling along joyfully with the British brass band, women were handed a whimsical posey as we arrived. I was thrilled to see that I fit right in with the ritzy crowd. I was a lone, but not at all lonely, there was just too much to see, gorging myself on this internationally flavoured eye candy.

The Prince arrived and it was a fun feeling being on the other side of the red rope, tourists clamouring for a photo op. On our side of the rope, blasé regulars were also shooting away, the man next to me raising his sleeve, the secret spy camera on his watch making that “pshut, pshut” sound, just like in the movies. A surreal moment with James Bond’s Casino de Monte Carlo as a back drop.

There were speeches. Mercifully short and to the point, boasting about the 90 species of trees that had been carefully cultivated to fill this commercial space with oxygen, the LED lights that would be beautiful, but also reduce light pollution and energy consumption. This was my kind of crowd after all! The prince cut the floral (compostable!) ribbon and a cloud of butterflies was released into the air. Breath taking.

Champagne corks popped and I was interested to note that the Monegasque were serving Perrier Jouet. Shockingly, I was not drinking, as I had a full schedule of decadent meals for the weekend and was saving myself. I was not the only teetotaler. Many of us were competing the few glasses of water available on each tray and the house had anticipated we’d be there, serving a delicious cocktail of kiwi, green apple and ginger.

As the evening progressed, we were invited to explore the shops that would fill the space over the next four years. Everything we find in Paris; Saint Laurent, Miu Miu, Balenciaga. Some stunning diamonds caught my eye. Not that I am in the market for diamonds, but I had remembered these diamonds from a Cartier show I had seen at the Grand Palais earlier this year. WOW! It is not every day I see a tiara for sale.

Slowly, my feet came back to earth, landing on the soft ground and carrying me happily back to my hotel for a dinner with a view.





Strawberries and cream

Screen shot 2014-07-03 at 10.51.59 AMLast weekend Mr French and I ran away to London for what the British call a Dirty Weekend, which ended up being the perfect name for our trip. We were going for a cocktail of business with pleasure, as his presence had been requested for a match at Wimbledon.

Wimbledon! Even for a tennis newbie like myself, the name is simply mythic. Even before my google search I knew that Wimbledon means grass courts and white tennis outfits. What I found out doing more research was that it also means strawberries and cream, which seems to be a very important tradition at the matches. A sporting event with sugar and fat? I was very, very excited about the trip. Actually, since I am usually excited to travel, I was over the moon for this adventure.

Screen shot 2014-07-03 at 11.33.49 AMGetting to Wimbledon couldn’t be easier. The town is a terminus, so its a direct trip on the District Line to Wimbledon, then you step out on to a enthusiastically decorated platform and follow the crowds. Formally clad “Honorary Stewards” guide you along the way while helmet topped Bobbies direct traffic. Ticket holders are directed to one sidewalk, non-ticket holders to the other. There are taxi that can be shared and I suppose we could have hired a driver, but why sit in traffic when one can be walking with the fans!

And there are lots of non-ticket holders because at Wimbledon they have the Queue, which is a long line of people waiting for Premium tickets that the tennis association does not sell in advance, reserving them for ardent fans who are willing to stand for hours for same day seats. When we arrived at the tube station they were announcing a 5 hour wait, with rain predicted later in the day. This didn’t seem to deter anyone!

Being a business event, we were in our most corporate casual, which meant I was trotting by the Queue, past several parking lots, up a hill and along the entire stadium in three inch heels. I was very pleased Screen shot 2014-07-03 at 11.35.10 AMwhen we arrived and were greeted by a polished waitress offering us a Pimm’s. I had first heard of a Pimm’s a week ago while reading a piece of British chick lit. In the novel, the heroine, a simple girl from the wrong side of the tracks (or in the case of this book, castle) had been invited to a society wedding and had gotten dangerously drunk because she hadn’t realized it was a cocktail, not a soda. Pimm’s is a gin inspired drink that is served with soda on ice, with a fresh fruit and herb garnish. It was a delicious welcome to the match.

We mingled in the marquee, meeting business people from across Europe before sitting down to a traditional British buffet, which included lamb with mint sauce and roast beef with horseradish and a curry. It was delightfully foreign, yet reassuringly familiar. And I needed the reassurance because I had no idea what to say to a team of complete strangers wearing suits for a tennis match. I jumped in, mentioning a recent article I’d read (not mentioning that it had been in a fashion trade paper!) about the blossoming African market. Were they seeing the same interest in their industry? What regions looked the most promising? What did they see as the greatest obstacles? Suddenly I was relaxed, enjoying myself, and learning a thing or two.

Screen shot 2014-07-03 at 10.53.20 AMFinally, it was game time! We headed out on to the grounds where there is a center court, another large stadium and a dozen open courts with nothing more than a few park benched around them. The benches were swarmed with fans, sitting, leaning, climbing to see the games, as rackets arched into the air and the yellow streaks of balls cluttered our peripheral vision. Tennis was happening all around us!

The stadium itself is beautiful, which you don’t expect from a sporting venue. It has been painted green, frosted with ivy and iced with baskets of flowing purple flowers. Inside, the roof was open, allowing a halo of sunlight to focus on the French Alize Cornet and the Canadian (Québecoise!) Eugénie Bouchard.

Screen shot 2014-07-03 at 10.52.49 AMWhen the French player lost, our English hosts cheered us with an invitation to return to the marquee for a consolation afternoon tea, and at last, strawberries and cream.

We had just started watching the English Murray trounce the S African Anderson when the heavens opened and it started to pour. The timing was perfect, as we had the opportunity to see the famous closing roof in action before grabbing our, uh, wait! We hadn’t brought along our coats. Or our umbrellas. So we ran out into the pouring rain, in a hurry to get back into London to catch the last Eurostar of the evening.

Fortunately, our hosts were used to foreign guest unfamiliar with local weather habits. They pushed an umbrella into our hand as we headed down the road, so that only my calves were covered in mud as we boarded our train home for Paris, the perfect souvenir of our  Dirty Weekend!

Beyond the classics in Chicago

Screen shot 2014-04-30 at 9.48.20 AMI have already lauded the wealth of art and culture in Chicago. I love this city and have yet to understand why it is known across the globe, yet so few people have actually been there on holiday. I say this without ever having visited when the weather was nice enough to enjoy the classic architectural tour along the Chicago river.

We had a special treat on this visit, being able to share a meal with Joseph the Butler. Ok, not just a meal, but crab cakes by the fire place in the cosy, wood paneled bar at Ralph Lauren on The Miracle Mile. Leave it to a butler to get you the best table in the house. Not only is it a pleasure to be with Joseph, but he shared some great local tips. Like, sending us to the Richard Grey Art Gallery on the 29th floor of the John Hancock Tower, turning me on to the insanely expensive, but eye candy-licious Ikram store/art gallery/restaurant, giving us a heads up about the regular, dependable programming at the Blue Chicago Jazz Club on Clark Street and reminding me to take Mr French to the Chagall wall. He also recommended taking the water taxi to Chinatown and cycling along the water. We didn’t get to see it all on this visit, but his ideas are at the top of my list for the next time we head west.

Screen shot 2014-04-30 at 9.47.49 AMWe felt super cool when we found ourselves in the hipstery hip Wicker Park neighborhood with its used record stores, haute couture bike bags and peanut flavored cappucinos. After not buying any albums in that part of town, Mr French went into some serious lp withdrawal, forcing us to hike through the (FREE and fantastic!!!) LIncoln Park zoo to Dave’s Records on Clark Street, where we also dove into a total dive called Frances’ that has been serving locals since 1938! When we whined that there were no desserts on the menu, the very charming girl next to us leaned over and and whispered, “Molly’s Cupcakes”, its next door. And so it was! Featuring très français inspired cakes like an eclair cup and a crème brûlée cake.

Screen shot 2014-04-30 at 9.51.34 AMThe one tour that has been on the top of my list since our first visit a year ago, is Frank Lloyd Wright’s The Robie house on the University of Chicago campus. This time we made it and I really recommend making the trip to Hyde Park for a visits. I then made a point of showing Mr French the gothic Rockefeller Memorial Chapel and the modern Mansueto Library. The library looks like a crystal Easter Egg buried in a luscious lawn, light streams into the reading reading room, enlightening the space as the books stacked below enlighten the mind. After the visit, we made a bee line for Obama’s favorite rib joint, Ribs N’ Bibs on S Dorchester.

On the morning before his flight, we took Mr French downtown to see the Chagall Wall Joseph had mentioned. Taking a Chicago classic (the downtown monumental art tour) Mr French made it an original by walking into random buildings, leading us to the reverent interior of the Chicago Tribune and the astonishing mosaics of the Marquette building.

The more we visit Chicago the longer the list becomes for our next visit; The Girl and Goat, Tru (another Joseph recommendation), and A10 in Hyde Park for restaurants, a visit to Frank Lloyd Wright’s studio in the ‘burbs, an afternoon at the beach with skyscrapers soaring above, and more spontaneous incursions into the lobbies of downtown’s architectural gems, as well as the art gallery district and the Pilsen neighborhood (and yes, those are my personal notes I am posting so it will be easy for me to look up the next time we are in Chicago, because there is sure to be a next time!)





Hitting the beach…

I haven’t written in nearly a week, and I wasn’t even on holiday! I have been busy, busy getting ready for a press trip to the Côte d’Azur. I am so excited… this is going to be my first solo trip in ages. Does anyone have any pointers for me? Either your favorite solo travel tips, or your secret addresses on the French Riviera? Advice, suggestions, recommendations are welcome!!!

I will be down there preparing a mini guide on the region. I know it fairly well, especially the incredible wealth of art museums; Picasso, Matisse, Chagall, Cocteau…. SO mostly I need to research the timely stuff, like the restaurants and the festivals. It will be the Lemon Festival in Menton, and you know how I love my citrus fruit! But with all that, there is one place I am particularly excited to visit.

Before starting my junior year as an exchange student at the Sorbonne, I spent a summer in a language program in Antibes. I do not remember a single thing about that program. I can not tell you where the classes were held, what the building looked like, or the slightest detail about my professor. What I do remember was the Madame who hosted myself and two other American students. An exuberant platinum blond with a teen daughter and two young sons who was getting a divorce. I remember the flavor of her vinagrette, laced with the post delicious olive oils. And I remember her taking us to the beach one Saturday. Antibes beaches in the month of August tend to get crowded and sun worshippers were at their prayers, pretty much elbow to elbow when we arrived. Madame was not pleased and stomped over to the biggest available space she could find, uncomfortably near an uptight Parisian and his family. Monsieur was none to pleased with our proximity and started yelling at her to move.” Over there,” he gesticulated condescendingly to the other end of the beach.
Madame was having none of that and started laying out the towels for all of us, while screaming at the man, as the American students and I stood a few feet away, totally in awe at the exchange. Set up and ready to sun bath, Madame continued screaming as she threw her basket to the ground and started to strip before the Parisian, completely unabashed as her rather large boobs bounced a little to the left, then a lot to the right yelling her head off the entire time at this presumptuous man who was on her beach, in her town.

It took me a half an hour to brush the sand off my jaw after it had fallen to the ground and another half an hour before the Americans and I felt brave enough to take our tops off as well. That was my introduction to topless sunbathing. I took to it like a duck takes to water and found it by far the most comfortable way to stay at the beach. The Americans and I got so used to it that we’d just rip them off every time we were at the beach.

One day, the other students and I went for a wander. A train ride followed by a long hike along the beach. Eventually, the beach ended and there was a jetty of rocks and we were ready for some sun bathing. We sprawled out on those rocks and dozed off for a short while, feeling incredible chic and sophisticated in all our topless glory. A man started coming our way. I could hear him speaking loudly, but squinting through the sun, I saw that he was alone. That was odd. Even odder, he was wearing pants, and a blazer. We sat up and covered ourselves demurely just as he got to our little outcropping. “Ahem… excuse me ladies, but, well, you’re not in France anymore. This, is, um, Monaco, and well, the topless sunbathing at the private yacht club, where you’re clearly not members, well, I must ask you to leave.” The three of us were hoping a wave would come and swallow us up, we were so mortified.

That was my introduction to the Principality Monaco. We left and I have never been back, far too intimidated by the prospect. But now, I am going there for work, invited to stay at the Hotel de Paris and I have one mission in mind; Stroll into the casino, order myself a martini, shaken, not stirred and wait for a little adventure to come my way! Here’s hoping I have lots of fun stories to share! Cheers! Prost! Salute!

Amsterdam for dinner

Screen shot 2014-01-08 at 12.32.03 PMAs much as we enjoyed our lunches in Amsterdam, dinners were the real treat. On our first night we had no plans. The girls nearly fell over from the shock of it. Being somewhat obsessed with food, I tend to make reservations when we travel. But, I had no idea where our wanderings were going to take us that first night, so I had left it up to kismet. The word kismet comes from the Turkish language and the first fantastic looking place we passed that night was from the Bosphorus. I had forgotten that Amsterdam is full of some excellent Turkish places, and started getting excited when Mr French reminded me we’d just had some pannekoeken, those traditional Dutch pancakes (if you want to try some, the best come from the Pannekoekenpavijoen de Carrosel).

Screen shot 2014-01-08 at 12.33.09 PM5 minutes later we were in front of Balti House Indian restaurant. E and Em wanted to go in. I wanted to go in. Mr French decided we’d had enough time to digest and a split second later, we were going in. The place was full of friendly chatter from neighbors enjoying piping hot dishes. Em nearly swooned from all the tempting aromas passing by our table as we waited for our meal. When it arrived, each dish was light and flavorful and the best Indian we’d had in ages.

The second night was my big night, my reason d’être for this trip. Decades ago friends from Montréal had given us this address and it was one of my all time favorite meals, ever. Now, I hadn’t been back in nearly a decade, and had a serious craving for the spicy, flavorful dishes at Indonesian Tempo Doeloe. I was so excited I emailed my friend from Montréal. “Watch out,” she replied back, “Anthony Bourdain featured it on his show.” Having been warned, I wasn’t entirely shocked to see that they had added a few extra tables since my last visit and the place was overcrowded. Almost, but not quite, uncomfortably so.

The place was quite literally packed, and it was a marvel to watch the staff negotiate their way through the narrow maze as they served guests, patiently explaining how the rice plate system works. Rice plates are the Indonesian equivalent of an Indian Thali platter, and very much like asian tapas. At Tempo Doeloe, a large bowl of white rice and a second bowl of yellow, coconut flavored yellow rice are served with collection of 6 ramekins on a hot plate. We chose the most elaborate rice plate, which came with 3 hot plates for the 3 of us who were sharing a meal. Each hot plate has different dishes, a mix of meats (including goat) and vegetables and the dishes get spicier and spicier as the hot plates arrive, until the final dish is too spicy even for me (I sprinkle thai bird chili peppers on my salads). I don’t remember that last ramekin being too hot to eat on our last visit. I don’t know if this is a new habit, trying to impress the likes of Anthony Bourdain.

A very happy me...

A very happy me…

Because the food is exotic, and spicy, the staff gives excellent advice as guests place their orders. Em was given her own rice plate, with less dishes and a lot less heat. When Mr French selected a Gewurztraminer to accompany our meal, our waitress warned him that it was an extremely sweet vintage and suggested a drier one that was on the menu. A French man taking wine suggestions from a woman. An Indonesian woman who lived in Holland, no less. It was a wonder to behold, and a good thing, because the wine was absolutely perfect with our meal.

Having traveled 4.5 hours just to get there, you’ll understand that despite the filling meal, I insisted on having dessert. I had memories of eating my first jack fruit at Tempo Doeloe. Just a simple fruit, sliced and served. And that is when I discovered the second change they’ve made in the last decade; the dessert. Normally, you mess with my dessert, and I get grumpy, but here, the changes were for the better. Fresh, tropical fruit sorbets were added to the plain fruit, for refreshing, cool end to a hot meal.

ps you’ll have to forgive for the lack of photos… I was too busy eating…

Feeling like Will and Kate…

Trianon Palace HotelWe drove up the pale gravel driveway in the pouring rain. I was apprehensive, to say the least. This trip was a birthday present for Mr French, who travels so much for work that I usually organize more local celebrations. Then, there had been a series of complications with our reservations, my bank card had gone MIA so the birthday boy was going to have to pay, and now, the rain.

A valet opened the car door and I headed to reception where my heart sank worried Mr French was going to feel like this was more business than pleasure when I saw the long line of other guests. The line went quickly and soon the receptionist was giving us a huge smile. A REALLY huge smile that had me feeling like we were on Candid Camera. She handed us the key card telling us we’d received an upgrade to a suite. With a view. I shrugged nonchalantly and made our way to the elevator, pushing number 6. It didn’t work. The second elevator didn’t go to the 6th floor and the staircase ended at the 5th floor. I looked for the hidden camera, feeling like a clown in a comedy of errors.

The manager had to explain how to get to our room. We climbed the stairs, opened the door and our jaws dropped. The mood changed from a SNL skit to a fairy tale in an instant and I started looking for pumpkins, mice or a glass slipper. We were at the Trianon Palace Hotel, so its not that strange that I felt like a princess, but this suite was truly royal with three rooms, a private balcony and a view of the Chateau de Versailles. Happy Birthday, my deserving prince!

As lovely as it was, we could not spend all day in our room(s). We had to get out and Versailles has an interesting antiques quartier that Mr French likes to explore. First, we stopped at Les Halles, Notre Dame indoor market to admire the lovely fall harvest along the way. It looked so tempting that Mr French almost wished we had access to a kitchen. Almost..

Trianon Palace poolThe rain was still coming down, so we clung to each other under our umbrella throughout the afternoon. It was terribly romantic until even the umbrella was saturated, our British rain coats soaked through and our shoes sopping wet. We returned to the hotel cold and damp, anxious to warm up in their gym. But then we got to the room and there were snacks waiting for us with house made marshmallows, and the mosaic tiled bathroom floor was heated and everything was so cozy, we just curled up to enjoy the moment; the sound of the rain beating the zinc roof above our heads, sheets of water rolling down the oeil de boeuf windows, the château in the background.

Its was delicious knowing that we were safe from the elements, and that we wouldn’t be needing our (very wet) coats until the next morning. Eventually we made our way down to the gym, then the pool where we planned to simply relax, but at nearly 20 meters long, this was almost a lap pool and we were off, burning calories in anticipation of the night’s dinner at the two star Gordon Ramsay restaurant (article coming Friday).

petiti Dej Trianon Palace hotelHours later,I headed out of our room dressed to the nines, a package of silk, leather and wool wrapped in pearls absolutely thrilled to leave behind my coat and handbag. I returned much later than night padding along the carpeted corridors, those 3″ heels comfortably in hand.

The night was a dream. The morning even more so, as we opened our eyes to blue skies, the offspring of Marie Antoinette’s livestock in the fields below, munching away on dew-dressed blades of grass. Sumptuous.

Petiti Dej Trianon Palace hotelAwake and ready to go, we ran around the Grand Canal (8km) as the sun drew mist from the trees, before heading back to our suite for a picture perfect breakfast in the sunshine on our private balcony over looking the chateau. We sat there for hours, “lizarding” in the autumn sunshine, thanking our fairy godmother (and the management of the Trianon Palace Hotel) for this truly regal get away.

Date Night // Arzak

ArzakEvery summer we head to Hossegor, a quaint town on the Atlantic coast, just a few minutes north of the Basque region. And every year, in what feels like a moment of insane decadence, we cross the border into Spain. For a meal. To a Californian the idea of going to another country for a meal, well, its mind boggling. But its only a 45 minute drive to San Sebastien, the Michelin star capital of the world.

This year, as a surprise for Mr French, I booked a table for two at Arzak, one of the best known restaurants in the city. I had a hunch we’d appreciate a romantic escape from a family holiday.

We spent the morning body boarding, then I threw on something casual for an afternoon savouring Spain. We visited the beach, did some shopping, and had a bracing jolt of caffeine before heading back to the car which I used as a dressing room. Trying to keep my knees from hitting the gear shift, my elbows flying in every direction, I guided Mr French with the iPhone gps while getting myself gussied up. Miraculously we got there without an incident.

“There” being a unassuming building that looked like it had been a road side inn for local truckers (later research reveals that is exactly what it had been). Walking through the doors we entered another world, both warm and modern. “Hello,” I chirped to the lovely lady at the bar, “we have reservations.” I gave our name. She couldn’t find us on the list. I gave our reservation number. She couldn’t find that, either. I handed her the confirmation email I’d printed out. “Oh, you’ve got the wrong day” she observed.

I was about to be sick, right there on the designer carpet. We’d been looking forward to this evening for weeks and the logistics with a group of ten in Hossegor had been nothing short of Herculean. Fortunately, at that very moment a manager appeared and pointed out that I had the right date, their agenda was simply on the wrong page. Disaster averted. Our name was there and all was right with the world.

Automatic sliding glass doors led us to a contemporary dining room, full of diners and a bustling staff. The sommelier was hugging a client at the table next to us, the maître d’ warmly greeting a group of regulars from Madrid.

A glass of the local white for Mr French, the (most excellent) house cocktail for me. The amuse bouches soonstarted to arrive… unexpected blends of fruit and fish and an exciting play on textures served on unique dishes, like a crushed beer can. The party had begun!

The maitre d’ guided us patiently through the menu, informing us that all the main dishes were available in half portions so guests could try alot of different flavours without over doing it. I loved the idea.

Screen shot 2013-09-07 at 10.03.32 AMMoments later a waitress swooped by our table serving me a plate of ocean waves. I am not being poetic. My plate was a computer tablet with a video of ocean waves, the sound of them crashing against the shore flavouring my lobster dish.

This could sound incredibly tacky and over wrought, but it wasn’t. The chef, Elena Arzak Espina, is a true Basque; she works hard but loves to play. This is evident throughout the meal, and it took what was some very serious tasting and made it fun. Every now and again Elena would come out of the kitchen to greet guests and ensure a good time was had by all. She was kind to everyone, giving the same attention to her Spanish regulars as she gave to the neon-clad, name-dropping tourists who clearly knew nothing about food. She even spent several moments with the awkward French couple in the corner who never have any idea what to say to the chef (that would be us).

ArzakOf course, you don’t go to a restaurant like this for the scene. You go for the food and it was excellent. My taste buds are craving the crab starter as I write this and I almost asked for more of the pigeon and the lamb. The desserts were so delicious I regretted we’d agree to share only two of them.

A three star restaurant in Paris is theater. There is an entire performance that surrounds what is served and when and how. At Arzak its not theater, its a party, with the guests an important part of the mix. It was fun, and refreshing, and of course, delicious. As we left, Elena was there to say good bye, recommending other restaurants in the area and offering us a bottle of the house wine as a souvenir to enjoy in Paris. Let the party go on!

Mykonos, la suite

While the town was not necessarily our thing, we spent two absolute dream days at Mykonos, three if you count our Date Day.

The First Adventure was with Sunfos Alessia Yachting, aboard a two cabin boat with Alessia and her captain on a private excursion to sail to a deserted beach on an uninhabited island. It was the calmest day locals had seen in weeks with mild 43 mph winds. Which means we were doing an exhilirating 8-9 knots throughout the day.

After a brief conversation the crew realized that not only did Mr French love sailing but he is actually something of an experienced sailor, so they gave him the helm. 2 metre high waves crashing behind him. Thrilling!!!

We passed an island, rounded a corner and paradise was before our eyes. A lone beach just for us. We set anchor, dove in and swam to shore while Alessia nd the captain prepared our lunch. Greek salad, spaghetti and fresh melon. I’m not sure what it is, but throughout our travels in Greece, we came across nearly as many Italian restaurants as Greek ones. Mr French was thrilled for the change in diet and I’ll admit that the pasta was cooked to perfection, but, well, when in Greece….

After lunch we returned to the water for some snorkeling while the captain headed out spear fishing for his supper, spear. He was proud of the assortment of fish he caught and they were both thrilled with the seashell he brought up. We think its called a pinha… looks like a ginormous mussel painted amber and it is enjoyed raw for its sweet, nutty flavored meat, that they generously to share with us.

Heading home, the boat seemed to sit 45* to the sea, for a thrilling ride back to land.

During this adventure Alessia recommended a visit to Delos. Thus began Adventure Day Two, a tourist excursion to Europe’s largest archeological site. Had I’d planned this bit on my own, I’d have probably just purchased boat tickets and tried to see the island on our own. Instead, we asked our hotel to take care of it and they made sure we had a guided tour, which was fantastic, bringing the visit to life. It was amazing as we stood there imagining the 30,000 people who had lived there nearly 3000 years ago, or the 20,000 deaths that occurred when the city was invaded by Mithrades. Wine vessels that had been buried in the ashes of the attack lay against abandoned was. Greek columns stood in solitude under the baking sun while lions stood guard. Archeologists have identified the homes of local aristocracy and fish mongers, temples and wells. An Egyptian temple to Isis marks the way to the summit of what was once a holy mountain while below mosaics of masked men, tigers and dolphins decorate homes that have not provided shelter in centuries. Nature is slowly reclaiming her land from man and the result is astounding. So amazing, in fact, that after several hours of hiking under the brutal sun, we were sad to hear the arrival of our boat on the last departure of the day, wishing we could have stayed to explore more….


After 4 days on Santorini, it was time to head to Mykonos. There are flights, but we took the ferry. A friend had told the ride was long, which I didn’t really get because its only 2 1/2 hours. Among the longest 2 1/2 of my life. Even in the height of summer the Cyclades are windy, which creates a natural air conditioning and can be lovely. It is less lovely at sea, especially while on a speeding catamaran ferry. The crew spent much of the trip passing out barf bags, an American woman screamed in desperation, asking them to slow the boat down. I recommend flying.

We arrived at the Mykonos town port, very happy to be on terra firma, and thanking our driver profusely for the cold face towels he handed us as we jumped into the van. As is our style, we stayed off the beaten path, slightly out of town. It suits us and we were thrilled with Stephanos, the beach just below our hotel.

The beaches of Mykonos each have their own personality. There is the “wild” beach of Sostis and party beaches with names like Paradise and Super Paradise. Stephanos is a family beach that fills up with locals on the weekend and has three very good restaurants, each more simple, yet delicious than the next. It was a great base for our trip.

After a relaxing swim and a late lunch at the beach, we were ready to hit the town. I don’t do well with hoards of tourists, which is pretty ironic for someone living in the most visited city on earth, so I was rather apprehensive about Mykonos. In the end, its like every where, it only takes a right (or left) turn to get off the beaten path. Which is what we did, by sticking to side streets and keeping our hours slightly earlier than everyone else.

The town strikes me as a very charming, high-end shopping mall. There were jewelry stores selling gems the size of my fist, art galleries asking 5 figures for a piece, and basically anything a jetsetter would need in an emergency (Alaïa dresses, Louboutins, LV bags, Patek Phillip…). Not exactly my scene (except for the sandals. I was very tempted by the hand-made in Mykonos sandal shops, even if I did walk away empty footed).

I loved seeing the windmills and strolling the white washed alley ways with Mr French. I was thrilled that the chapels welcomed visitors, and their cameras, and we got excited each time we saw see traditional women chatting away in their kitchens, or a group of local men hanging out at the kebab joint by the bus stop. Even the large group of millionaires dining at the table behind one evening was authentic; they were Greek millionaires enjoying a night out with their age appropriate wives. While not really my style, the place quickly grew on me, and we even ended up taking advantage of their infamous nightclub scene, enjoying exotic cocktails with a sunset view before the maddening crowds flooded in.

We had two meals in town. An extraordinary traditional dinner at the quaint To Maereio taverna. The room was cool and dark, just like a Greek home and our dinner included zucchini fritters, a pork stew with feta and sautéed mushrooms. It was so good I didn’t have to look at my notes to remember what we ate. The second meal was at Interni, an über-chic, jetset address, in a gorgeous cactus-scaped courtyard that included a chapel and two bars with surprisingly reasonable prices and excellent cocktails for some really fun people watching. It may be your scene, it may not, but one thing is for sure, you’re not in Kansas, Dorothy. This could very well be the land of Oz.


On the third day she rested…

Not that I’m comparing myself to the Great Creator, but s/he created the world in 6 days before taking a break, where as on holiday in Santorini, Greece last week, I only made it to three before needing a holiday from our holidays.

When I told a friend our destination she gave me a rather dry look, adding, “You know, you can’t wear heels.” The map of the nearest big city had a “No Heels” logo on its legend.  What wasn’t explained, and what I didn’t ask, is why. I had no idea that everything, absolutely everywhere in Santorini involves a steep slope. We didn’t stop going up and down. To give you an idea of just how extreme things can be; from the breakfast deck to our room, there were 80 stairs. The same 80 for the pool and at least double that to leave the hotel. After two days of steps and long (yet glorious) hikes, I needed a day off! So, Mr French and I set ourselves up with faux-jitos to spend the morning by the infinity pool, above the sapphire tinted Aegean Sea, while I wrote this post;

Our first day we were eager to hike the 2.5 hours from our hotel in the village of Imerovigli to Oia (pronouced Ee-a). It was a long, glorious walk, the sea to our right and our left, blue domed chapels spotting the way. There were rustic, open air cafés where locals gathered to chat and escape the heat of the day, there were remote hotels and a satisfying series of photo ops. Drying wild flowers perfumed the air.

We arrived at pristine, sparkling white Oia ready for some hydration, some shade and a bite of lunch. The first fairly decent looking place we came to was Thalami, which claimed to serve local specialties. I was skeptical; with its prime tourist location, wind-kissed terasse and seductive shade, it seemed too perfect to be true, but I needed a break from the relentless sun and was too hungry to start looking for something “better”. What a stroke of luck that was! Everything was seasoned with local herbs making for exciting flavors in all the dishes we tried; tomato fritters (was that a bit of tarragon they put in the batter?), fava bean puree, Santorini salad with caper leaves and grilled octopus.

We were soon back on the street, exploring Oia, a charming town with lots of hotels, plenty of souvenir shops, a school, an active church and more scenery than you can shake a donkey stick at. They also have the most magical bookshop I have ever wandered across. Atlantis Books was founded by a group of young people who used to work at Shakespeare & Company here in Paris, so they are definitely kindred spirits! Volunteers come from across the globe to work in this little piece of heaven, surrounded by books, amazing friends, and the shining sea (you’ll hear more about this shop soon…)

A tote bag full of booklets later, we left Atlantis and returned to Oia. That donkey stick that was shaking at the scenery? It was for all the donkeys that were lined up to take people down the cliff to Ammoudi harbour. Mr French has a moral objection to using these beasts of burden for tourist traffic, so we walked down. 45 minutes, with even more stunning views under the afternoon sun. Mr French had heard there was a beach down here and after 18 hours on an island, the man was itching to swim. A brief hike on what was no longer a trail and we’d arrived. It was more a small outcropping of rocks than a beach, but the water was perfect and it was the ideal place for a well deserved, refreshing swim, well off the beaten path.

This is a working fisherman’s bay, with a small collection of restaurants that grill the catch of the day, inviting clients to select their own fish before cooking them to perfect. Mr French was getting hungry, so he asked for a table at the first fish place we came across. We later found out that this fish place, Dimitiris is one of the most famous in all of Santorini, but in the moment, we didn’t realize how lucky we were that they had had a cancellation and that we were enjoying a table with a sunset view.

When our waitress invited us into the kitchen to select our catch, I asked Mr French to select a fish for the two of us. The man does not like being told what to do and rarely follows directions, so I shouldn’t have been surprised when I started to smell the aroma of grilled lobster wafting our way.  Caviar… Foie gras…. not my thing, but a good lobster makes me go weak at the knees and this one must have been touched by the Greek gods, because it was divine.

Walking by our table a woman exclaimed, “Someone’s not shy…” A few minutes later another walked past exclaiming, “OMG!!!” And finally a third, “Wow! You’re SO lucky!”

“Lady,” I thought, “you’ve got no idea…”

Atlantis Books

Dimitris – Ammoudi, tel. 22860 71606

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