Thursday, June 17, 2010

Happy Campers

The year we lived in Provence, we had a silly little expression every morning, when we would open our shutters to clear blue sky, bright sun and the scent of lavender oozing from every corner: “Oh just another boring beautiful day in Provence,” yawn, yawn.

Provence So that’s how I feel about the trip that we just completed at Les Murets with six fabulous, dynamic and beautiful women, mostly from Baltimore: “Oh just another wonderful week with a sensational group of incredibly fun women,” yawn yawn.

Lovely Ladies I never doubted for a second that this would be a great trip but I don’t think I ever suspected it to be THIS much fun. Looking back on my emails from the group’s ring-leader, Ann from Baltimore, it’s pretty clear that it had all the right ingredients from the start. Then when you add six women who not only travel well and get along, but are all equally fun and interested in new experiences, and you throw in some delicious long lunches, some exquisite shopping and lots of exploring by a chauffeur driven van, followed by long dinners with a “sampling” (in case my insurance broker reads this) of delicious, sulfite-free wine, you’ve got the makings of a pretty wonderful week and the essentials for lifelong friends.

I’d like to introduce you to my new found friends:

May 2010 012

Je m’appelle Laurie, with a wonderful contagious laugh.

Sandra Sandra, who embraced every experience with a sparkling joie de vivre.

Cheryl Cheryl, whose dry wit had us all bursting at the seams.

Karen Karen, whose quiet dignity certainly belied her ability to attract men with onions.

Denise Denise, whose dramatic storytelling had us on the edge of our seats.

Mme Ann And of course Ann, the ringleader and culprit, who knew just what she was doing when she brought us all together.


Like all of our trips, this one had a bit of culture, a lot of shopping, a ton of dining, and a sampling of exercise (and wine!).

Here we are in some of our favorite Provence haunts:

May 2010 016 Laurie, in the garden of Bonnieux where they filmed one of her favorite movies, “A Year in Provence.”

Laurie & Karen, Cassis Laurie and Karen in Cassis, overlooking one of the Calanques.

Hiking The group, minus Karen (whose leg is being tended to by two well-meaning would-be doctors using half an onion on her open bite wound), hiking up to the church in Oppede.

Karen & the drs Karen, with her would-be doctors (who are plotting her cure).

Laurie, Denise, Sandra

Laurie, Denise and Sandra, windswept in Cassis.

Ann, Karen, Cheryl

Ann, Karen and Cheryl, windswept in Cassis.

Laura a la bistro

Laurie, at the Bistrot du Paradou, who is smiling because of …

Cheese! … the cheese platter! (OK, there was another reason too, but we’ll keep that private).

Ann, La Mirande Ann, in the gorgeous garden at La Mirande, following the tour of the Palais des Papes in Avignon.


These were my commentaries. Now let’s hear what they had to say …

“I loved being with women who were intelligent and whose sole purpose was to embrace a new place …and I also liked dancing! However, I could have used not being locked in the toilet – twice!”

May 2010 147 “As much as I liked all the villages, I loved the dinners, sitting outside, getting to know people and looking at everyone’s finds ….”

Sandra La Mirande “I’m a planner and a researcher and this is the first time that I said this is it, I’m not doing it this. I’m so happy that I didn’t do any research because everything you did was what I would have picked it. I couldn’t have done it no matter how much research I’d done. It was perfect. “

May 2010 525 “I’m not a planner when I travel and that’s what I wanted to do. I really wanted to do it this way, and not plan a thing. Also, I feel like I’ve been living inside a painting. The light and this house and all the little villages and markets and cafes, I’d read about and kind of pictured. But when you go and see it in real life, it’s like Oh wow, they really captured it. It hasn’t even changed. Oh, and I loved the long dinners and lunches too!”

May 2010 422 “I have to say that it is your heart and soul that has made this trip so comfortable.”


“My whole goal on this trip was to have no preconceived notions. I loved that I was able to recognize where we were, after spending so much time looking at the topography and picking out landmarks. And I loved just being present and opening up my senses. For me, it was all about the experience of the walls, and the smells, and look, and being open to it. It really made the trip so multi dimensional and comfortable. I loved it.”


“I really liked having different one-on-ones with people and being a part of such a wonderfully dynamic and independent group.”


I think these three photographs pretty much sum up our trip:

May 2010 021 Christophe, our fearless driver, struggling with all the cameras, after a delightful lunch in Lourmarin.

May 2010 020 …preparing for the final beauty shot …

May 2010 005 … and Ta Dah! “Happy Campers” says it all!



Thursday, June 10, 2010

Hunting for an Apartment, I

Postcards from Paris


I haven’t always loved Paris. In fact, when I was growing up in Geneva, Switzerland, where everything was pristine and perfect and remarkably clean, I used to think we were slumming it a little each time we drove in to France.

Geneva Geneva, Switzerland

The first time we visited Paris, when I was quite young and it had still not gone through its many renovations and clean ups, I thought it was a big, crowded and unkempt city, not unlike my unfortunate view of the rest of France. So when my friend Muffy invited me to spend a week with their family in a hotel in Paris, at age fourteen, I didn’t exactly jump with joy. I had heard the Swiss “jokes” about France, about how things didn’t work properly, or nobody was ever on time, and people in France certainly didn’t have pristine houses like ours in Switzerland. I couldn’t understand the attraction to Paris, but I was willing to give it a try.

Paris France

I remember being so pleasantly surprised when we settled into our comfortable rooms at the Hotel de St. Simon, where the walls were padded with silk toile, the courtyard was beautiful, the rooms were elegant and spotless, and the geraniums in every window were as healthy and happy as their Swiss counterparts.

Paris Geraniums

Soon we were navigating the metro, visiting the newly opened “ Drugstore” on the Champs Elysees (where you could listen to your favorite music with headphones), and sampling a few wonderful restaurants and stores in our neighborhood. I tasted Croque Monsieurs for the first time, and ate so many croissants that a part of me turned to butter.


We walked through the Tuileries gardens, were introduced to the Louvre and “Jeu de Paume” museums, and were mesmerized by the Bateaux Mouches on the Seine and their miniature counterparts in the pond of the Luxembourg Gardens.

Tuileries Gardens

Tuileries Gardens 2

Un bateau mouche on the Seine

Bateau Mouche, Point St. Michel

Luxembourg Gardens

Luxembourg Gardens

Luxenbourg Gardens fountain

I loved the long, wide tree lined boulevards, like St. Germain, Raspail and St. Michel.

paris-saint-germain-des-pre St. Germain

St. Raspail MarketSt. Raspail Market

I loved the magnificent stone buildings and began to discern the differences between the old medieval Paris and the more recent 18th and 19th century city, with its Haussmann influences.

Hausmann Style Haussmann architecture in Paris

I was fascinated by the beauty of the architecture, the scroll work on the balconies, the massive doors and the intricate gates that led to enchanting cobblestoned courtyards.

Paris Balcony

The perfect spot to enjoy your morning cafe & croissant

Parisian stone house

Paris Gates

Parisian CourtyardA secret garden within the city

I remember feeling safe and grown up and independent, where Muffy and I could maneuver the metro on our own, visit Montmartre and have our portraits sketched, run to Notre Dame to catch the end of an organ concert and sample our first decadent chocolate macaroons, at Dalloyau on the rue de Grenelle.

Dalloyau Shop

Chocolate MacaroonsChocolate macaroons…trés delicieux!

I learned to become a café regular, sitting on the terraces of the big wide boulevards, mastering the delicate art of flirting with the waiter and doing my best to look older and sophisticated. I remember slowly falling in love with the city of Light and thinking that someday, some time, I’d want to live there.

The Latin Quarter, Paris, France

That dream has never died, and to this day, I have been doggedly pursuing it, with somewhat more ambition and urgency than ever before. Fortunately, with the wonderful job I have (and very understanding business partner), along with my incredibly supportive and adventurous family, this dream may be slowly turning in to a reality.

Parist at Sunset

This is the beginning of a series of blogs on finding an apartment in Paris, an adventure which has taken me back to my favorite city dozens of times in the last few years, with more adventures in love and heart break than I could ever imagine. Despite all the ups and downs and all arounds, I think this one may just have a happy ending.

Stay tuned …