Still on Santorini

My yoga studio

After a day of hiking up and down and down and up, our calves were achy. So sore that we were both walking like primates, our knees, hips and ankles all bent to 45°. Its not an attractive look. Yoga seemed a great way try and ease the pain, so I spread out the mat  in the churchyard of the little chapel that was in front of our room, and got busy sun saluting the Aegean seas at dawn, feeling very thankful to those Greek gods for having created such a unique place.

A chapel at the edge of the world

Being in all that pain from walking inspired more hiking. Crazy, but true. We’d loved the previous day’s walk so much, we decided to hike the down the cliff that was outside our front door to visit an isolated chapel that dangles there, just above the sea.

We then had a 40 minutes hike to Fira, the island’s capital and the departure point of our afternoon sailing trip. Before getting all the way to town I needed lunch. Mr French kept trying to encourage me on, but Madame was hungry. It was either feed her, or risk loosing his head. An elderly Greek lady, wearing all black and worrying away at her prayer beads saw me looking at a menu. “This place is good,” she noded, “very good.” Looking up, I realized it was a windmill. The design-y, trend-y interior didn’t inspire much confidence, but But Kiria (Greek for Madame) knew her stuff and the food was excellent.

Fira, like Oia, is on a cliff, with the habour below, and like Oia, donkeys are an option for getting down. But Mr French hadn’t changed his mind from the previous evening. It was not an option. There is also a cable car, but we were feeling adventurous. So we headed down, slipping on donkey crap, gagging from the stench and dodging the beasts as they charged us, under the blistering sun.

A stunning vessel, with a great crew, welcomed us below. We were soon aboard the Thalassa, a replice of a 19th century schooner that we shared with about 50 other tourists from across globe. It wasn’t a big group given the size of the boat and there was shade for everyone. First stop an active volcano and a one hour hike to feel the heat of its the rocks, smell its sulfur and learn its history. At this point my legs were, as the French say, gone (je n’ai plus de jambe).

Next stop a small bay with warm water springs and iron ore that stains your swimsuit red. We jumped from the ship directly into the sea. It was delicious after the heat of the day and exactly what the doctor ordered for my missing legs. We were soon back on board headed for Thirassia for another swim on the crystal clear waters. If I ever come back to Santorini, I’ll be visiting this island. NOTE TO SELF; If I ever return, spend a day here to photographing the local color and try a local tarverna.

A simple dinner was served, then as the sky turned to a golden amber, a sailor took out his saxophone and serenaded us into the sunset…



Chicago with Dad…

Here are some of my Chicago notes for my Moleskin…. because this was about moving a college student, our trip included a lot of practical stuff that you will want to skip… stuff like renting a car and driving out to Bolling-something-or-other to purchase a bed at the local IKEA. Or spending a day at the nearest Target. Not the downtown Target with gorgeously ornate, iron-work doors that are probably on all the architectural tours the city is famous for, but the one nearest the University of Chicago, in the southern part of the city where people get shot. And killed. I’d say skip that part.

If you do rent a car, which is not a horrible idea for a day or two, because there is a lot to see beyond downtown, and if you decide to visit, say, a certain university campus in South Chicago, take Lakefront Boulevard. I know that it is marked as a highway, and that may be intimidating, especially to someone with jetlag, who has not driven for months and who thinks taking Martin Luther King Drive to the campus looks much less daunting. This is a BAD idea. Things may go your way. You may not notice that your shiny bright rental car sticks out like a diamond in a coal mine, but after 5 days of taking this alternative route, I read in the papers that someone was car jacked, shot and killed. Again, I’d skip that part.

Now for the good stuff. The University Campus. It is gorgeous, has a cathedral (that is not really a cathedral, but looks like one), two museums, the most gorgeous modern library I have ever seen, a house you can visit that was built by Frank Lloyd Wright and a print-perfumed, labyrinthine independent book store I would have liked to pack into my suitcase and bring home with me. And if you get hungry, some of the best bbq in the Midwest can be found at Ribs ‘n’ Bibs on Dorchester and 53rd. I’ve been told that this is where a certain President Obama heads when he is home for the holidays.

This visit fell on Father’s Day, so my Dad hopped on a plane and came to join us, claiming, “I haven’t spent Father’s Day with my daughter in over a decade.” Ouch! Its one of the downsides to moving abroad, geography can force you to disappoint those you love. Since he’d come so far, and this meant so much to him, we took Dad/Grandpa to that sunless, parallel Swedish universe known as IKEA for the day. Aren’t we adorable? It actually was a lovely day, because of the company, but E and I felt honor bound to make up for it the next day. Only the next day was IKEA delivery day, so poor grandpa was stuck with us, waiting in a flat that had been lived in by 5 college boys for the last three years. He was so charmed that he insisted on cleaning the bathroom (did I mention 5 boys, 3 years?).

At the grocery store that afternoon, there was a mix-up at the checkout counter and I ended up a few customers between E and my Dad. As I stood, there E waved me over, saying, “Come on, Grandpa took care of it.” The lady in line behind me, exclaimed, “Woah you’re lucky to have a Dad like that!” Lady, I thought, you’ve got no idea. Simply no idea.

We made it up to good ol’ Dad by taking him to the Chicago Art Institute. It was fam-tabulous! We got to see American Gothic, and spent way to long taking pictures of ourselves looking like the two yankees in Grant Wood’s masterpiece. We paid homage to Vincent Van Gogh’s yellow bedroom, the third version of a painting that is also in Amsterdam and Paris. And we had a delicious lunch with a stunning view at Terzo Piano, the museum’s restaurant.

As lovely as the museum was, Dad loves somethings more than he loves art. Dad loves deli food. He probably knows every decent deli between SF and NYC, so he was chomping at the bagel to try Eleven City Diner. It was excellent, and not just because our table was overflowing with all the American food I can’t get in Paris, Grandpa was thrilled with his lox, and we were all thrilled to be together discovering the everyone’s kind of town…

Restaurants – Ribs ‘n’ Bibs, Terzo Piano, Eleven City Diner

Must Sees – University of Chicago campus, Target on State St (seriously!), Chicago Art Institute


I am back from what may very well be the most under-rated city in the United States and I am already looking forward to our next trip. What makes Chicago so great? Like Paris, it is a gorgeous city. We were ooh-ing and aah-ing at the turn of nearly every corner. There is the lake, the river and the stunning architecture with streets wide enough to actually appreciate what is going on up above.

There is science, history and industry and even more profoundly, industry that has played a major role in the making of America. There are two major university attracting some of the brightest minds in the country and important monuments, like the desk where Jake and Elwood made their deposit in the Blues Brothers. There is an amazing art scene, with major works by names like Calder, Picasso and Kapoor literally crowding the sidewalks.

We were walking along one day and saw a colorful monumental sculpture nestled near an office building entrance. “That looks like an Agam.” my Dad pondered. And it was. Just standing there nonchalantly on the street. There there is the Crowd Fountain in Millennium park. A work of art that provides an interactive place for water play.

Millennium Park also hosts outdoor concerts and a movie night. We had the opportunity to see the film Chicago under the stars, in the city of Chicago, projected at the Pritzker Pavillion, designed by Frank Gerhy. WOW.

If you’re less cultural and more sporty, there is kayaking in the river (the little dots in the water in the photo to the right of this column. I swear, they’re there) and several beaches for swimming in the lake. The lake front is also a great place for your morning run. It is not just Frank Sinatra’s Kind of Town, but a city with something for everyone.

Go Blackhawks.


Ancient Egyptians were hobbling around on high heels, so it is hardly a new thing. Monsieur Ramses was strapping on his heels to avoiding getting his feet dirty with blood as he worked in his butcher shop, so things have evolved considerably in the last 5000 years.  We can thank the Italians for several phases of this evolution, as they wore heels on stage in Ancient Rome and then, in the 15th century, took the Turkish platform chopines and raised them to vertiginous heights. Particularly the Venetians, who have left samples with heels as high as 30cm. It was an evil plot, with the Republic’s patriarchs convinced that this was a sure way to keep their women at home, or at the very least, under escort, as they required servants to hold them steady to teeter from Palazzo to gondola and home again. It’s no wonder we use the Italian term to describe the most daring, most vertiginous heels today.

And the fact that the term defines the shape of a sharp, pointy weapon doesn’t seem to be an accident… they can be instruments of torture. And yet, we love them, covet them and spend excessive amounts of money acquiring them. Even when they may be just a half size too small (but they were on sale, I saved a fortune!).

On the last weekend before our departure, exactly one hour before stores closed for the weekend, Mr French dragged me out of the kitchen where I’d been preparing the meals for the week and steered me towards the posh rue de Grenelle, despite the distinct odor of onion emanating from my hands. The rue de Grenelle is an 8 minute walk from our front door and it just happens to be shoe lover’s mecca.

Chloé, Stuart Weitzman, Giuseppe Zanotti, Fratelli Rosetti, Marc Jacobs, Michael Kors, Prada, Sergio Rossi and Michel Perry can all be found along the 75 meters of street that run from the Carrefour de la Croix Rouge and the boul Raspail. Oh, and Christian. Yes, Louboutin is there, too.

The saleswoman for the dress had suggested silver shoes, but I had settled for a pair of black silk mules, with a reasonable 2 inch heel that I already had in my closet. Mr French wanted us to follow the saleswoman’s advice, but I didn’t want shiny silver, so we had one hour to find a pair of matte silver shoes. I was feeling confident that I’m be wearing my mules.

First stop; Sergio Rossi, where they had a perfectly acceptable pair of matte silver heels. They were lovely and I could use them for everyday wear at the office after the event. I was sold. As we walked towards the register, Mr French stopped in his tracks. He had spotted a pair of black and grey satin stilettos. He was intrigued. I tried them on. He feel hook, line and sinker. 5 minutes later I was stumbling out of the boutique with my first-ever pair of stiletto heels.

I have to admit, the extra inch made a world of difference to the whole outfit. As I walked into the Palazzo in Venice, eyes were drawn to the sparkly tips of my toes. Women looked at them admiringly and a few even asked for a closer look. Not that I plan on making stilettos a regular addition to my wardrobe, but it was fun to feel like an It Girl for the evening.

Maastricht, the town

Maastricht, of course, is more than just an Art Fair. Its an industrial city and university town at the tip of Holland, just a few miles from the both the Germany and Belgium border. When driving from France, you know you’ve arrived when the amber toned lamp posts that are the backbone of the Belgium highway system, suddenly disappear.

There are 11 museums and several churches to visit in Maastricht, but we were a bit too burned out on art to even consider more. What I did want to see was the Selexyz bookstore. Built inside a Dominican church, with metal frame catwalks creating see-thru floors below the stone vaults, it is often considered one of the coolest bookstores in the world. I wish I could agree, but there was a freak snow storm on our last day, so we had to rush home to avoid getting stuck in the snow!

This trip had been my Christmas present to Mr French, and the fact that I had organised everything down to the most minute last detail, up to and including a serious dusting of snow to ensure that it would be feeling a lot like Christmas, well he was in awe!

We stayed near the train station. Originally I was concerned that it may be a seedier neighborhood than we were used to, but there were not alot of options left, almost everything fully booked when I called shortly before Christmas. Seeing an Hermes boutique as we drove up “our” street made me laugh at my worries, but I was particularly intrigued by the tart displays at the all too tempting Patisserie Royale.

We stayed at the Beaumont Hotel, a very basic design hotel that had shuttles to the show. I stumbled across the hotel when looking for a fantastic dinner to book. Their restaurant is one of the best in town, with carefully sourced, fresh organic ingredients. I had a truffle risotto, grilled turbot and a divine lemon tart with champagne sorbet. It looked so good at the table next to us, that I asked the waiter to put one aside for me before we’d even ordered our meal!

Having a good restaurant coincidentally meant an exceptional hotel breakfast. I don’t normally go in for hotel breakfasts, but that snow storm kept us from heading out the door in search of a café. How exceptional was the breakfast? They had farm fresh yogurt with an entire selection of nuts, seeds and meusli to add to it. There were country jams and a man serving eggs to order. Even Mr French commented on the delicious honey and there was no doubt that the orange juice was freshly squeezed because they had a machine, letting you throw the whole oranges in yourself as they were sliced and pressed directly into your glass.

They also had Hagelslag. When I was a student in Paris a Dutch classmate heard I was going to Amsterdam and told me I absolutely HAD to get Hagelslag. I was thrilled to try a local specialty and when I learned that it involved chocolate, I made it a point to discover this local delicacy. Hagelslag, it turns out, is Dutch for Chocolate Jimmies and the Dutch use them rather liberally on their warm, buttered morning toast, smearing them as they melt into the nooks and crannies. Yum!

And that was all we saw of Maastricht; a pastry shop, a restaurant and a breakfast bar. Who you calling a little piggy? Me?

Just to keep with the theme of our weekend, as soon as we left Holland Mr French went into “quest” mode. He was on the look out for a Baraque à Frites. The Belgians are famous in France for their French Fry stands (love the irony, non?) and Mr French was bent on trying a few with one of their “disgusting” (his exact word) sauces.  The first stand had wonderfully large, bight yellow sign of a cone of fries waving us over. Unfortunately, in true Belgian fashion, the sign came about 15 meters AFTER the off ramp for the stand! The second stand, we missed as we were in a heated debate about the spending of those million dollars that we don’t have and the third time was the charm!

les frites belges avec sauces dégeulasse !



Skiing in the Alps – A How NOT to

Last week, while posting about food and fun in London, I was actually in the French Alps skiing. I spent the first few days up there complaining to friends, family and anyone who would listen via Facebook or Twitter, until a good friend sent me text reminding me that week in the Alps is not exactly a punishment.

The reason I was complaining is because I had a sick teen (check out the video here) AND I am terrified of skiing. I was never a confident skier, but four years ago I had a little incident while taking lessons at Val Thorens. It had been the fourth day of a beginner class and a young, cheerful girl skied up, introducing herself as our substitute for the weather worn, cowboy grandfather we’d been with all week. The first few hills were a dream. The sky was clear, the snow perfect. We were doing so well she felt inspired to take our group of beginners into an extreme sports snow park. She led us to the top of the slope that had a series of four bumps, one after the other. She explained that we needed to keep our knees bent and loose to absorb our landings, and she was off. I was perhaps the fifth or sixth person in line. While petrified, I trusted our instructor to know our skill level. One bump, two bumps, I was doing fine. As I rose into the air on the fourth bump I saw that there were another dozen bumps to go. Bumps that I hadn’t seen from the top and that I was not prepared for. My body went rigid, I took flight and I landed on my head.

I don’t know what happened next. I was unconscious. I know that they took me down the mountain and that someone very carefully removed my garments over my head, without cutting anything and folded it all neatly into a bag that I received several days later. I had an MRI and at some point they called Mr French.

His phone rang just as he skied up to our rental apartment for lunch. He plugged Em and her BFF into a DVD of The OC (the anacronym generation) and rushed down to find a still unconscious me and hear the debate over sending me to the hi-tech hospital in Grenoble via helicopter or to the adequate local hospital via ambulance. It was decided that there would be no need for surgery, so I was sent down the winding roads of the mountain, Mr French in the front seat of the ambulance as I violently gained consciousness, projectile vomiting up all over myself and the EMT.

I spent a week in that hospital. Mr French had to drive back to Paris, my place in the passenger side vacant. It was another month before I was able to climb up the stairs to my bedroom in our Paris flat.

For this trip, my friend had a point about all my complaining so I shut up and things did get better. A good time was had by all.

Well, almost all. Since the accident, I now get a private instructor. On our first day skiing, my instructor was not having such a good time, totally frustrated with my snail’s pace on the slopes and how often I’d revert to the snow plow. He got so annoyed that he made a sarcastic comment or four, loosing his head. Almost literally. Just metres from the end of our last run, he went somersaulting violently through the air, his skis flying in two different directions and landing flat on his back, where he stayed for a good five minutes before getting up, claiming he was alright. 10 metres further down the slope, he wasn’t looking so good. The color had left his face, his body started to sway and he stopped an instant before passing out. Other instructors noticed his distress and came to help out, skiing him down the slope as he passed out one more time before getting to the medical clinic.

I was ready to stop skiing right then and there. The director of the ski school called to tell us that the instructor would be fine in a week or so and that he’d found us a substitute. I told him that I wasn’t sure that would be necessary and he told me to stop being silly.

“It was a collection of unfortunate events. He was trying to avoid a class of skiers, so he went off the run. And, well that slalom pole should not have been hidden in the snow like that. That is what sent him flying. It was just bad luck. It could have happened just as easily on a sidewalk.”

Really? Just as easily on a sidewalk? I spend a lot of timing hoofing it on streets of Paris and I don’t recall ever having seen someone go flying spontaneously through the air. Slalom poles buried deep into the cement and asphalt of a city street are as rare as yeti sightings at the beach.

Despite the director’s obvious lack of anything resembling logic, I did get back up on my skis and spent the rest of the trip wondering what the heck is wrong with me and why I insist on skiing. I’ll get back to you if I ever figure it out!!!

The moral of this story is do NOT going skiing in the Alps, or anywhere else on earth, without a helmet. Like they say at Nike, Just Do It!!!

Skiing the Alps – A How To

To a girl from California it sounds so exotic and intriguingly “In Her Majesty’s Secret Service”, but to the French skiing the French Alps, is kind of like Chinese food in China; just skiing. And there are a few things they take for granted that those from abroad should know.

First of all, you have to consider the where. Mr French is convinced that the 3 Vallées is the best skiing area in France, because it includes Val Thorens, the highest ski station in the country which means great snow. Others love the über chic towns of Courcheval and Méribel, which attract the James Bond crowd; European jetsetters, Arab sheiks and Russian oligarchs.

To give an idea of how close one village is to the next; several chairlifts in the town of Menuires will take you to the top of mountains with slopes that lead you down to Val Thorens or Méribel. The entire excursion, including the lift lines, the ride up and the trip down, including the time for the serious spill you may possibly take, even if your skis are in snow plow, takes less 40 minutes.

Then you need to consider the when. The Minister of Education has divided the country into three zones, each zone getting two weeks of holiday one week from another, so that anywhere from 1/3  – 2/3 of the country may be on ski holidays at once, which means the holiday period lasts an entire month. To find out the exact dates for all of the holidays visit the Minister’s site.

Another important detail is that the majority of holiday rentals and reservations in France run from Saturday to Saturday. Wanting to arrive on a Monday can pose something of a challenge when looking for lodgings.

Which is how we discovered the Chalet Hotel Kaya in Menuires. It was over the Christmas holidays and we wanted a short break without missing New Years in Paris. A quick Google searched turned up Le Kaya. A very chic, design hotel perched discreetly at the top of the village, directly on the slopes with a restaurant, a bar, a pool, a spa and a scrumptious tea time.

Which is another point about French holidays, the who will be hosting you. Hotels like the Kaya offer what is called “demi-pension”, is a meal plan that includes breakfast, dinner, and in the case of Le Kaya, that delicious tea that is served like a dangling carrot, keeping you going down those last runs as the chair lifts close and ski schools end. Demi pension is great if you’re traveling with your family, particularly kids, and do not want to have to think about who is eating where each meal. It gives you the freedom to have lunch on the slopes (or at the beach, or exploring whatever region you may be visiting).

But for a girl who likes to explore her surroundings, it can feel somewhat restrictive, so when its just us gr’ups we opt out and treat ourselves to a gourmet dinner at the hotel’s excellent restaurant, Le K for a night or two during our stay.
How to get around is somewhat limited. We’ve driven once, but because everyone leaves and arrives on a Saturday, the traffic jams can be horrendous. Then there is the minor detail of being in Alps with the intent to ski, which can mean severe weather and nasty road conditions. We now take the TGV to Moutiers. From there we can either take a bus up to Menuires, or hire a cab. Either way, its best to reserve in advance and for the bus they require that it be done at least 7 days prior to travel.

L'Après Ski is key, and a bit ironic as we drink Monocos!

As you get off the ski lift on runs like Mont de la Chambre you’ll have a spectacular view of Mont Blanc. You’ll also notice a lot of folks wearing red ski suits with the letters ESF on the back. That’s the Ecole de Ski de France and the red clad sportsmen (and women) are ski instructors. France is very organized when it comes to sports. Kids are rarely thrown on to the slopes and expected to ski. They are put into ski school where they earn their “Flakes” (this is true for swimming, horse back riding, surfing and tennis, among others, having an official rating is really important in France), or Flocon. These classes continue until the kids are ready to compete professionally, not because the parents think Jr is destined for the Olympics, but because ski school is built in baby sitting, giving Mom and Dad time to themselves on the slopes (or in the spa).

This week, we’d wake early and enjoy the buffet breakfast at Le Kaya before sending the girls off to ski school, starting our days with whole grain breads, fresh juices, yogurts and spice marinated fruits before hitting the slopes. After a couple of hours, we’d be hungry again, and start looking out for one of the many restaurants on the slopes that offer outstanding food, particularly those serving local specialties like raclette, fondue or tartiflette (more on these later in the week). In Val Thorens there is the Michelin starred Loxalys and this past week we stopped twice at La Ferme Riberty, enjoying the lively crowd, as well as their tartiflette, an omelette that was generously studded with girolle mushrooms and house made berry pie from their wooden deck.

After lunch there would be more skiing this time with my ski instructor, then eventually that lovely tea time I keep mentioning, followed by a few laps in the pool and a well earned hammam before it was time to eat, yet again. The chef at Le K provides a light, healthy cuisine, with lots of regional ingredients and plenty of heirloom vegetables. Every meal was a treat, which we’d savour before sinking into the comfy couches in front of the fireplace at the bar.

Important details
WHO Kaya Chalet Hotel
WHEN Minsitre de l’Education
WHERE Loxalys, La Ferme Riberty, Le K
HOW SNCF,the Bus
WHAT ESF (I strongly recommend the instructor Laurent Rivière)

WHY??? Don’t ask me!!! Skiing is an insane sport and I really have no idea why anyone goes to all the trouble, except, well it is drop dead gorgeous up there and 7 days of skiing has sent my metabolism into over-drive, allowing me to eat anything and everything that comes across my path, virtually guilt-free!!!!

London Art

Despite a previous post, Mr French and I are not big shoppers, spending most of our free time enjoying sports and visiting galleries. This trip was no exception. After our indulgences of Saturday morning, Mr French headed to a 6 Nations rugby match and watched France try (unsuccessfully) to defend its honor against England while I headed to the Tate Modern, one of the greatest art spaces on earth.

Why so great? Because it is free and open to everyone, and everyone comes; men who look like they’ve just left a construction zone, single moms with their broods, large groups of teens hanging out in the large halls and young women dressed for night clubs are all there, surrounded by art.

On my way to the museum, I caught my first glimpse of London’s newest skyscraper, the Shard. Then it was off to the show “A Bigger Splash” about performance art and painting. I wasn’t enthusiastic about the show, but was immediately fascinated by the video of Jackson Pollack painting a painting, with the original masterpiece displayed on the floor of the Tate, just as it was on the floor in the video. Then came a canvas of Yves Klein blue which never fails to dram in until I feel I may drown. There was an intriguing room of hanging mirrors by the Polish artist, Edward Krasinski, a blue line running across the glass, reflecting back and hypnotising visitors. There were also rooms that only enforced my prejudice against performance art, and then show ends with a room of trompe l’oeil stage sets by artist Lucy McKenzie, who then photographs herself in situ. I felt I was collaborating with the artists as I composed shots of visitors in situ in the sets, as well.




I was really at the Tate for the Lichtenstein show, just a few floors up. Organised in collaboration with the Chicago Art Institute, this in-depth retrospective show Lichtenstein’s art in a new light, focusing well beyond his iconic paintings of distraught women in comic book scenarios. We see how he developed his voice, inspired by the Disney books he read his children, and evolved from there, through his work as pop artist and eventually creating lesser known landscapes and abstract work, always using his signature dots and big graphic strokes.


The next morning we were both thrilled to head to the National Portrait Gallery to see the photography of Man Ray. Before heading into the exhibit, we stopped by the controversial portrait of Kate Middleton by 65 year old realist painter Paul Emsley. Critics say the painting makes her look old and haggard and a quick peek online confirms what you read. But the artist himself was completely shocked by the negative reviews, responding that perhaps his painting just isn’t photographing well, and he suggests you visit it in the U.K.’s National Portrait Gallery before knocking his work. He has a point, and I recommend you do the same, because in person its ethereally beautiful and undeniably real.

While probably everyone knows that Man Ray was part of the Dada and surrealist art movements, very few realise that he was an American and a frustrated artist who took portraits for magazines and publications to support himself. He did not want to be a photographer, it was simply what he did best. Becoming friends with Marcel Duchamp in New York, he had the perfect introduction to the Paris art world when he arrived in 1921, with access to the lives of Picasso, Gertrude Stein, Dali and his muse, Kiki de Montparnasse. Always curious, he experimented with different techniques, inventing the solarization process with his model, muse and lover Lee Miller. The photos would be impressive enough if each one did not have an intrigue tale and a bit of history attached, but they do, and I spent hours studying each piece, reveling in each story. An art and a history lesson all in one.

London Eating

As much as I love French cuisine, one of the highlights of every trip to London is the food. This wasn’t much of a draw 20 years ago, but today, with fresh ingredients and heirloom vegetables getting pride of place, things have changed considerably.

For years now, I’ve been curious about the Wolseley on Piccadilly. The posh looking establishment simply oozes old world elegance, greatly enriched by its location just steps  from the Ritz. The windows are covered with bistro curtains, and every time I’d pass, I’d look longingly into the italian inspired decor where a chicer-than-thou crowd seemed to be having the time of their lives at the bar.

Fortified by my new umbrella, and Mr French’s company, this trip I felt chic enough to breach the entrance. A formally clad valet met us on the sidewalk and guided us inside. Inside I quickly observed that the bar was merely a tiny box in a very large, opulently Italianate, art deco restaurant. The Wolseley had been a car for the rich who were not quite rich enough to afford a Rolls, and this had been the showroom. A very handsome and charming host showed us to the bar, informing us that the dining room was fully booked, but they did have tables for walk-ins, if we were interested. “Yes, please!” I replied, completely seduced by this place.

It was only noon and the bar was hopping. One of three very professional barmen put his everything into mixing the perfect martini for Mr French, while I was thrilled to find that they had hot lemon juice on the menu. I got to have something that felt infinitely more grown up than Perrier, while staying fit.

We were soon seated in a small dining room and a funny thing happened. The waiter spoke to us in French. He had heard us speaking, and being French himself, it did not occur to him to address us in English. The menu was French as well, with dishes like coq au vin and croque monsieur. But there was also roast beef with yorkshire pudding and wild Scottish salmon. The food was good, but nothing I’d run back for. The scene however, simply fun, as we sat next to two Sloane rangers and a very wealthy local Indian family. I think next time I’ll come back for tea time, or perhaps  I’ll try for something more wild at the bar…

For dinner, I had done some research, ie I sent a tweet to @jeffreyinmotion a professional in the UK hospitality industry. He gave me the name of a few places and the Harwood Arms was the first on the list to have availability. The menu looked good, and that was good enough for me, so good, I never bothered to looked at where the Harwood Arms is on a map.

Its in Fulham. You’ve heard of it, non? Well, me neither. Mostly because it is a bit remote and far from the tourist path. In Paris that would not be a big deal; have metro, will travel. In London, it’s a deal. We got off at a station to change trains and learned over the loudspeakers that our train would not be stopping at that station over the weekend. Back on the train we tried to connect at another station, but there were five different terminus possible and I got us on the wrong train. We went one stop and got back on to go back where we’d come from. A one stop error cost us 40 minutes of our time and I was very happy we’d planned on arriving early to enjoy a drink at the bar.

Getting out of the tube at Fulham we were in London, but had the impression that we’d stumbled into a sleepy little suburb. Mr French looked at me skeptically, teasing, “I hope you know what you’re doing.” I had no clue, but I wasn’t going to tell him!!

Following the street maps that were helpfully posted every 100 meters, we soon found ourselves on a quiet residential street. I started to panic, but Mr French noticed some bright lights ahead. As we got closer and closer, he became confident that we were in the right place. And we were, in so many ways.

A light, airy restaurant that simply oozes with a relaxed, friendly vibe. The decor is quaint, with wild flowers on the tables, a deer’s head mounted on the wall and black and white photography of ammunition. It was the British version of Brooklyn Hipster. After a weekend of good behaviour, I was ready for a truly London cocktail. I was at the wrong bar for that and instead I had a lovely glass of white wine. A really large glass, because it turns out that a British “glass” is 1/3 more generous than a Parisian “verre”! Behind us burned a cheery fire, with guests nestled into leather couches. They were snacking on outstanding bar food; a venison scotch egg, honey roasted nuts with rosemary, cauliflower croquettes with picallili and garlic potatoes that made me melt with hunger from tables away.

The dinner menu changes with the seasons. Now here is the sad part. I forgot to take a photo of the menu and I was somewhat tipsy from the wine so, I don’t exactly remember everything we ate. Mr French had deer, I had fish then we shared a light rhubarb desert and there was a lot of ooh-ing and aah-ing. It as all truly delicious. Mr French (who was completely sober) assures me we’ll be going back!

London Shopping

Looking back on the past year’s posts, its pretty clear that Mr French and I spend most of our holidays in fairly remote places. Places like the Magkadigkadi salt pans or the beaches of Hossegor, where we go for the adventure or the food, and sometimes the adventure AND the food. But this trip to London, we also did a bit of shopping, and while I can think of nothing tackier than doing a haul post of all our purchases, we visited some pretty exceptional shops.

The first was Liberty & Co, a department store founded in 1875, just 25 years after the the world’s first department store, the Bon Marché opened in Paris. Liberty is housed in a faux Tudor building, featuring timber from the very non-faux battleships HMS Hindustan and HMS Impregnable and it is world famous for the colorful


A leaded glass window, the panes dated 1570!

cotton indian print fabrics. Fabrics that I happen to love, so I was thrilled to visit the mothership. I was even more thrilled to discover their fabric department, as well as their Eastern bazaar furniture section full of all kinds of treasures, including Arts and Crafts antiques and hundreds of rolled oriental carpets overflowing into the wood framed gallery walkways and spilling over the rails, looking very much like Ali Baba’s cavern.
The next day, it was Mr French’s turn and I had booked him a gentleman’s shave at Truefitt & Hill, just blocks from St James Square and a short stroll from Buckingham Palace, which is convenient since they are the official barber for His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburg. Mr French was quite pleased with his shave, and while I’d like to believe it was because of the luxuriously warm face clothes, or the intensive triple shave with a straight edge razor, I suspect it was because of his charming barber and the way her pencil skirt clung seductively to her rear end (which he gallantly claims not to have noticed)!

We then ran directly across the street to Lock & Co, a hatter that started covering the heads of Londoners in 1676, exactly 100 years before the United States of America even existed. Nearly two centuries later, in 1849, a disgruntled hat wearer who was tired of constantly loosing his top hats to low hung branches, commissioned the hatter to build a better hat. They came up with the iconic bowler which they call a coke hat. Today, the 8th generation of the family still runs the business, selling tweed caps, beaver fur top hats, and the original bowler, as well as more modern designs with their Lock & Roll collection. Upstairs there is a lady’s milliner, where, oh yeah, they sell bowlers for us girls, too.

That afternoon we headed off for Mr French’s final treat, which is kind of hypocritical for me to say, as I was having the time of my life. But, we really were going for Monsieur who had lost his umbrella a few months earlier, and desperately needed a replacement. I guided

A golden horseshoe ensures you can open the brollies, without tempting fate

him slightly north, to New Oxford Street, where James Smith & Sons was established in 1830. Set in Hazelwood House, this family run, Victorian boutique is yet another treasure trove of history and finer living. The men’s umbrellas are custom cut to match each purchaser’s height, so that the entirely wooden shafts double as walking sticks. Mr French chose one made from hazelwood, like the name of the house and our salesman was so honored he let me take a few photos, although they are generally forbidden. The ladies’ umbrellas come with leather handles and dainty silk wrist bands so that you have a better grip. There were also canes with fantastical handles and a display of antique walking sticks with secret dice cups, drinking vials, and other illicit goodies…

The gentleman’s shops we visited all enjoy a royal warrant, which does not mean they are under arrest, but rather, they are official suppliers to the Queen’s household. While writing this article I stumbled upon the official website of the Royal Warrant and discovered a page that lets you see who is supplying what to the Queen’s household. I think its hysterical knowing that Charles’ toothpaste comes from Glaxo Kline Smith, or the Queen wears Clarins face cream. I couldn’t bring myself to look at the cleaning supplies, but I did notice from their list of hobby supplies that, be it photos or wild animals, the royals like to shoot. And since today was all about Mr French maybe next time I’ll download the address to the Queen’s jeweler.

Liberty & Co / Regent Street
Truefitt & Hill and Lock & Co / St James St
James Smith & Sons / New Oxford St

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