Another one bites the dust

I was inconsolable in 2010 when I discovered that Takashimaya had closed its Fifth Avenue store in Manhattan. I must have stood for a good 10 minutes checking that I was at the correct spot – 693 Fifth Avenue. This had been a beautifully curated collection of men’s, children’s and women’s fashions, and homewares spread over a number of floors with a great restaurant in its basement. I had spent untold hours (and dollars) here and it was always my first stop on any trip to New York. I immediately contacted my American friend who had introduced me to this wondrous emporium. She too was shocked and saddened. Trips to New York haven’t been the same since and I always go back to the shop’s location  in the hope that it will have miraculously re-opened.

I was similarly distressed on my first visit to Japan in 2007 when I visited Takashimaya’s main store in Tokyo. It was nothing like its Manhattan outpost. Stuffed full of European designer goods, redeemed only by its wondrous displays and fascinating basement food hall. I was shocked to find departments with clothes for cleaning the house, particularly as the Japanese live in small houses, and don’t get me started on the nightwear department. There in a nutshell was the reason for Japan’s low birthrate. Forget about importing French patisseries, import French underwear!

News reached me this week, that another concept store I hold dear, Colette’s in Paris, is to close in December. This is another store I’ve enjoyed browsing around and it was often the high point of any window-shopping stroll along the pricey rue Saint-Honore. The owner Colette has decided to retire although her daughter will continue to run the company’s webshop. The place is a mecca for all things fashionable and on trend. The three-storey emporium always has an eclectic collection of goodies, the latest designer clothing and a brilliant bookshop which carries all the major fashion and design magazines, and let’s not forget the basement water bar with over 100 brands of bottled water. Now, I’m a big fan of internet shopping but sometimes you just need to see and feel the goods.

It’s not just major shops in meccas such as New York and Paris that are closing, one of my favourite bread shops has closed. The shop had opened in the mid-forties and black and white pictures of the current owner’s grand-parents decorated the walls. I assume the owner wanted to retire and her kids no longer wish to pursue the family tradition. So the supplier of some of the best croissants and brioches in the area has closed. Unlike many bread shops, it also sold coffee and cakes and, aside from being a breakfast favourite, we also liked to pop in for afternoon coffee and cakes. It’s always sad when shops such as these close. No one has yet taken over the shop which occupies a large corner plot on a major shopping street.

Of course, since we’ve been living here, any number of shops have closed though many more have changed hands, often for the better. A rather run-of-the-mill bread shop in the centre of town, after three changes of ownership, now sells the most fabulous cakes, pastries and bread. My beloved needs no excuse to visit. Meanwhile, over the road the purveyor of the very best donuts we’d ever eaten, full of crème patissiere, changed hands and stopped selling donuts. It was probably a blessing for my waistline and now such wonders fall under the category of strictly forbidden. Luckily, in the same period, the shops closest to us have all prospered and expanded their range of produce. The only disappointment was the fish shop which opened and closed within a month. It had a brilliant selection of fresh fish but we’re already well-served by other fish shops (and the port) and clearly demand was insufficient. It’s hard to argue against market forces though I shall continue to support my local shops.

Things my beloved says: I could do that!

We were watching the magnificent Classical Concert from the Eiffel Tour on Bastille Day,  Le Concert de Paris, featuring the great and the good from the world of classical music playing and singing a selection of Greatest Hits Arias. This is the world’s largest outdoor concert, held during the world’s largest annual sporting event, the Tour de France. During an early number, my beloved spotted the person playing the triangle. I suppose it was one of the many percussionists. Immediately my beloved said: “I could do that!”

I replied that he’d probably get distracted, miss his cue and fail to strike the triangle when necessary. I said an ear for music and an ability to concentrate for long periods of time were probably two of the minimum requirements. Plus, you probably needed to play other instruments. Frankly, it’s doubtful my beloved would cut the mustard. I sensed he was about to argue but thought better of it and decided to agree with me. Yep, he’s definitely getting wiser in his old age!

His comment got me thinking. Why is it we always assume we can do things which look easy on the television! Making something look easy usually takes that oft quoted 10,000 hours of practice, the right attitude and plenty of application. We are after all talking about a man whose mother forced him to endure hours of piano lessons – delusions of grandeur on her part – and who can now only remember how to play Chopsticks, a tune I too can play without having received any piano lessons, let alone passing a couple of piano exams.

The truth is that I can read music and still play the descant recorder but that’s where any musical ability starts and finishes. Neither of us can hold a note which is why whenever we’re obliged to sing, out of consideration, I mime. Not so my beloved who’ll attempt (and fail) to belt out a tune.

Anyway, back to the concert, the audience estimated at around 400,000 was no doubt enjoying the world’s largest picnic on the grass as the sun gradually set. Before darkness fell, we were treated to magnificent views of the City of Light which always looks fabulous from the sky as you can clearly see its urban master plan. The concert was followed by a truly wonderful fireworks’ display, a fitting end to a special day and (thankfully) so very different from last year.

Of course, cycling fans would probably argue that with Warren Barguil winning stage 13 on Bastille Day, we’d already had plenty of fireworks. This was the fourth French victory after those of Romain Bardet, Arnaud Demare and Liliane Calmejane with the exciting  prospect of maybe more to come.

Two-day trip to Paris

Yes, it’s finally time for my beloved to get back to work full-time. He has mastered the crutches and can even walk without them for about 20 metres, so it was time to venture forth and meet one of our long-term clients, based in Paris. We opted to travel by train, less stressful, and I agreed to accompany him. He’s not yet ready to fly solo.

The train journey passes along the coast before heading inland. It’s delightful scenery even though it rained for most of the trip. The countryside at this time of year is verdant and lush. New bright green leaves contrast with bursts of bright yellow, pale pink, dark pink and purple blossoms against a backdrop of dark green evergreens, and lush soil every shade of ombre and ochre. April’s mix of sunshine and showers has made everything grow in abundance, from foliage to crops to vines.

There still isn’t a fast route from the Niçois coast to Paris, Marseilles has already bagged it. We’ll get one eventually, most probably via Grenoble. The train slowly winds its way along the coast until it turns inland after Marseilles and heads to Avignon – a place I keep meaning to visit – where it really picks up velocity. In no time at all we’re in Paris, a place that is irredeemably romantic. Just saying the name conjours up the Seine winding its way past Haussmanian buildings under stone bridges with majestic wrought iron lighting catching glimpses of famous sights and monuments.

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There’s something very restful about train journeys in Europe. The trains are invariably on time, you know exactly where to wait on the platform for your carriage. Trains are not overbooked, all tickets get a reserved seat. That’s right, there’s NO standing. The cost is very reasonable, particularly if you book in advance. We generally travel first-class and enjoy a late lunch in le Train Bleu restaurant at the Gare de Lyon. I just love all than fin de siecle splendour and the food’s pretty good too.

This time we were arriving late afternoon, far too late for even a late lunch. We had decided to stay in a hotel close to the station, within walking distance of Le Marais, and a short taxi ride to my beloved’s client. It was a charming bijou hotel, ideal for an overnight stop after feasting on oysters, lobster and champagne, always our favourite Parisian treat. And fitting, given it was the evening before my beloved’s birthday.

The following morning, after breakfast in a nearby brasserie, my beloved set off for his appointment, which was bound to include lunch, leaving me with a few precious hours to wander around Paris on my own – sheer bliss.

It was cold and damp to start with and I needed to walk briskly just to keep warm. I was wearing a layer too few. At one point I thought it was going to start raining but the moment passed and, thankfully, the sun came out. I just love wandering around Paris, so many independent specialist shops, many dating back hundreds of years. Of course, I particularly love all the food shops.

As I wander the streets, there’s always something to look at be it a wrought iron balcony, a beautiful street lamp, colourful  window boxes crammed with flowering plants, secret alleyways leading who knows where and wrought iron gates protecting someone’s heritage.

I also spotted some recent graffiti!

I didn’t indulge in as much window shopping as I usually do, probably because I had a destination in mind. I wanted to check out the summer collection of a German brand that I generally have to buy over the internet because it has limited availability in France and no outlets closer to me than Lyon. While its website is excellent it’s sometimes difficult to exactly discern the colour. Is is grey, beige or greige? Of course, I love all three but there were a couple of trouser styles, jackets and tops I wanted to check out.

On my early stroll I had spotted that rare beast in France, a vegan restaurant, which I wanted to try for lunch. It was excellent and I’ve made a note of its location, along with a couple of other restaurants, for us to try on our September anniversary trip. Of course, we’ll also be revisiting the site of our oyster fest.

After my enjoyable few hours, I met up with my be loved in Le Train Bleu bar where we took full advantage of the free WiFi, facilities and excellent tea. In no time at all, it was all abord for the return trip and a gentle snooze as the train purred all the way to Antibes. I have that fortunate knack of being able to power-nap anywhere at anytime.

The sun shone brighter as the train reached the south, stopping in Marseille after three or so hours before resuming its snail’s pace progression along the Med. Christophe, our uberfriendly and uberreliable local taxi driver, picked us up and whisked us back home. It had been a lovely trip, now I had to get everything ready for our maiden trip to Sardinia and 100th

Postcard from 36 hours in Paris

I’m back from a flying visit to Paris, a city I really should visit more often. I found a great deal on a delightful hotel in the 6th arrondissement, a stone’s throw from Notre Dame and Quai d’Orsay, one of my husband’s favourite museums in Paris. We arrived in time for lunch at a neighbourhood restaurant, part of Guy Savoy’s stable. My beloved had the set lunch menu while I went a la carte with carpaccio of octopus followed by salmon. It was delicious and we walked off the calories strolling walking briskly along the Seine.
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My beloved was taking a few precious hours away from work to do a spot of sightseeing. While I’ve visited at least once Paris’s major attractions, my beloved has not. He wanted to see inside Notre Dame but swiftly changed his mind when he saw the 300 metre long queue – maybe next time. Instead we admired its intricate exterior Gothic carvings before continuing our walk.
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Instead, we visited his favourite museum and enjoyed a fabulous exhibit of treasures from the Second French Empire, a time of tremendous wealth in France where it was de rigeur to flaunt said riches. The other was of the works of Frederic Bazille, an impressionist who hob nobbed with the likes of Monet, Renoir and Sisley but tragically died too young leaving a small but beautiful body of work.
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After our dose of culture we strolled back to the hotel to enjoy a reviving cuppa. The hotel had already endeared itself to me by giving us a room upgrade. It then exceeded my expectations with a complimentary bottle of my favourite beverage. It will be deservedly receiving a glowing report. We spent the evening in the hotel bar enjoying a jazz concert before retiring for a great night’s sleep.
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The following morning my beloved had a packed itinerary starting with an early business meeting over breakfast leaving me to enjoy a lie in followed by a busy day pounding the Parisian pavements. I started by walking around the St Germain area which is full of interesting shops and galleries before straying across the river into an old favourite, the Marais.
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I walked the streets of Paris for over six hours before meeting my beloved back at the hotel for an early dinner in a typical French brasserie where we both tucked enthusiastically into a plate of oysters before heading home. Next stop New York!

Postcards from Paris and New York

It was chilly, damp even, in Paris but finally the sun broke through to shine on Black Friday, though arguably that event was two weeks before. At Les Invalides, the French President led a memorial service for the 130 victims. Accordingly, Paris was a sombre place with many buildings flying the tricolour at half-mast or on posters plastered in their shop or apartment windows.

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When friends learned I was going to Paris they were aghast but I said that if I cancelled my trip it would be a victory for IS. I’ve lived through the IRA’s campaign of terror, admittedly much less sinister than that of IS, I wasn’t about to cave now.

It was originally meant to be a long romantic week-end with my beloved with plans (as always) made well in advance. We typically go to Paris at this time every year, ostensibly to attend the major French dental exhibition at the Palais des Congres. Our plans changed a couple of weeks ago when my beloved decided he needed to attend the Greater New York Dental Meeting which follows swiftly on its heels.

Paris

Meanwhile, I had a day and a half pounding the Parisian pavements. My beloved always says I’ve gone shopping. But, I haven’t, I’ve gone walking. Most people enjoy walking in the countryside but I love exploring the architecture of urban spaces and they don’t get much finer than those in central Paris.

I think the city has a timeless and elegant feel unified by its stylish buildings which sprang up only around 150 years ago under the aegis of Baron Georges-Eugene Haussmann, Prefect of the Seine district. Unbelievable now ,but his sweeping changes did not make him a popular man and his opponents accused him of imposing a coldly regimented style.

Today he’s (rightly) viewed as a visionary who sketched Paris’s great vistas  and imposed the characteristic style of the five-floor, honey-coloured, stone apartment block. Personally I adore these buildings with their symmetrical carved reliefs, beautiful wrought iron balconies, porticoes, front doors and lights – my idea of property porn heaven.

Understandably there was a heavy and visible armed presence at major transport hubs, all around French government buildings, and increased security in every doorway. None of which spoilt the enjoyment of my perambulations. Having made an early start, well before any shops were open, I enjoyed frequent pit-stops to warm up at some of my favourite Parisian watering holes.

In no time at all, I was flying back to Nice for a following day turn-around for our flight to New York. I amused myself on the way over by watching the new Minions movie. I’m now a firm fan. I dined Saturday evening with my beloved, and one of his work colleagues, and that was pretty much all I saw of him. Again, I was left to enjoy myself in New York on foot.

New York is full of building with interesting features and I’m not talking about The Empire State Building. No, if you zigzag up and down the cross-streets, gazing upwards, you spot some interesting details. The state of New York side-walks demands that you take care and wear comfortable shoes.

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I had two bright, sunny but very cold days where I walked all over Manhattan followed by two wet days where I meandered around MOMA and The Witney Museum. On my return my two shopaholic sisters were aghast to learn I had only bought two cookery books. What can I say? I’m not a shopper, I’m only a window shopper at best but mostly I’m a walker. New York, Paris, London, indeed any of the world’s great cities, need to be experienced on foot.

Valentine’s gift

My beloved has inadvertently given me the perfect present – a whole day’s peace and quiet. Yes, he’s flown off to business meetings in Paris and won’t be back until late. Of course, I could have accompanied him and spent many a happy hour wandering around Paris on my own. It’s one of my favourite cities.

However, duty calls, we have back-to-back meetings at the club this evening. It’s difficult enough finding convenient times for us all to meet and I generally favour meetings just before our regular weekly one. Since none of us on the core management team live in the same town as the club, we try not to schedule multiple meetings on consecutive days. It’s not far but, with traffic, a round trip can take anywhere between 45 minutes and an hour.

I’m not getting off entirely scott-free. I still had to make him breakfast, press his jacket, take him to the airport and will have to rustle up a light snack for a latish dinner and collect him from the airport. The club’s close to the airport but I’ll have about an hour to kill between the end of my meetings and his anticipated return. I’ll pop round to my sister’s holiday apartment to check that everything’s in order for her arrival on Sunday. The shops will be closed and I know she’ll be desperate for a cup of tea and a light dinner after she’s landed. I shall leave her emergency supplies in the fridge.

My beloved has made a quick recovery from his chill which I think he picked up cross-country skiing on Saturday. I know he’s keen to go again – maybe later in the week. However, I don’t want him becoming ill as he’s off on a business trip next week and I don’t want anything to interfere with those plans.

As he’s in Paris, the City of Love, you might be wondering whether he’ll be tempted to buy me a little something for Valentine’s Day. The answer is unequivocably “No”.  He’s been excused all present buying duties following my recently introduced dictate. And let’s face it, it’s not something he enjoys doing, or is one of his [few] competencies –  unlike say, opening a bottle of wine. I’m saving him the angst and me the disappointment. Surely a win:win situation.

Postcard from the Big Apple

Another day, another town – the same procedure as before. Yes, I’m now pounding the pavements of Manhattan. We had a great flight over on one of the new Air France 380 super jumbos. Arriving at JFK we queued for over 45 minutes to get into the immigration queue only to be greeted by the message that US Customs welcomed us to New York. Well boys, that’s not my idea of a welcome. It took almost 3 hours for us to emerge from the airport. I felt hugely sorry for anyone travelling with small children or anyone of advanced years.

While my beloved has been busy working from dawn until late, I have been enjoying myself. Even if you don’t know New York like I do, it’d be difficult to get lost within its grid system. My most pressing problem, with only two days at my disposal, what was I going to see?

It’ll be no surprise to my reader(s) that I spent almost all of yesterday morning in Barnes & Noble perusing first the Cookery and then the Sports sections. As usual, I found far too many must have volumes and had to ration myself to just a few tomes to slip in my luggage.

The weather’s incredibly mild and conducive to just wandering around, as is my want. Yesterday, I quickly exited the busy Midtown section and headed south to SoHo, the Meatpacking District and Union Sq to avoid the holiday shoppers in search of bargains.

I have had no luck in my search for some trousers. It’s oh so skinny legs over here too. I know US sizes are seriously out of whack but I derived huge enjoyment from discarding a pair of size 10 trousers for being too large. Despite the amazing bargains on offer, I have not been persuaded to part with any money. It looks as if running amok in the book shops is going to be my only extravagance.

Despite my short stay, there’s still time to fit in some of my favourite things: a quick trip to The Frick, breakfast at The Four Seasons, meals at two of my long time preferred New York eateries for some typical Mexican and South Western US fare, catching up with my French friend who now works in NY and with whom I ate lunch at a recently opened, hot location. My choice, not hers.

It’s been a fun trip but I’m now ready to head back to where my heart is: home. This evening, I shall follow my usual red-eye flight procedure: glass of champagne, eye mask, cashmere shawl and sleep. I am lucky that I can slip into the land of nod pretty much anywhere. We’re flying back via Paris and should be home late afternoon.

Postscript: I skipped the glass of bubbly and was asleep before the plane left the gate.

Postcard from Paris

I have spent the past three days pounding the pavements of Paris, the world’s most visited city. Like all great cities, you see far more if you religiously navigate its various quarters on foot. Although I always have a small map, just in case, it’s hard to get lost as the wide boulevards give you glimpses of major landmarks at every turn, plus the Seine, which neatly bisects the city, is a great navigational tool.

Over the years, I’ve spent a significant amount of time here and have visited all (yes, really) of the galleries, museums and buildings of significant historical interest. Of course, if the weather’s bad, I’ll happily revisit one of these. But, if it’s not, I just enjoy wandering around gazing at the impressive architecture and pressing my nose to the windows of all the food shops.

My favourites are the patisseries and chocolatiers. But lest you fear for my regime, I only window shop. If I do enter, it’s only to get a closer look. I don’t buy anything, not even for my beloved because this is the food of gods. Wondrous pastries, delicate cakes and delicious dark, crisp chocolate with subtle aromas. While a couple of squares of chocolate will do no harm, it’s hard to resist the rest. So, I enter, inhale and exit.

Of course, I had to pay homage at Pierre Herme’s temple of delicious comestibles. IMHO he’s perfected the art of the macaroon, as ubiquitous in France as the cup cake is in America. Pierre’s melt in the mouth with an intense burst of flavour which lingers on the palate.  Okay, I’ll come clean, I just had to have one, or two.

My window gazing extends to butchers, bakers, delicatessens and cheese shops, plus I love visiting the street markets. Where else would you find stalls dedicated to just one product such as the humble potato. The stall owner who patiently explained to me about which spuds were best for which dish had over 20 different varieties. Another was dedicated to Pinky and Perky. Again the stall owner, who had raised and slaughtered the pigs, was happy to spend time answering my questions about his sausages, charcuterie, porchetta, pate and other porky products. We even exchanged a couple of recipes as I imparted my special rub for what my sister calls “the best roast pork ever”.  

No visit to Paris would be complete without a rummage around the many antiques shops and art galleries. Typically, I found some things I would have liked to purchase but it would have been wholly impractical given our next destination is New York.

Maybe it’s the time of year, but Paris is overrun with Asians, and not just Japanese. No doubt the stores and French economy are duly grateful as the ones I’ve seen have been heavily laden with shopping bags from their favourite stores: LVMH, Gucci, Hermes and so on.  The love affair is reciprocated as Paris has an astounding number of great Asian restaurants, particularly Japanese, which are just the job for my regime, along with my favourite mollusc, oysters.

With my beloved working, and being entertained by clients in the evening, I’ve been left pretty much to my own devices, a wholly desirable state of affaires. Meaning I can do what I want, when I want. I am however taking him out for a relaxing dinner a deux this evening at a little gem of a place I have found on my meanderings: just the one Michelin star.

The weather’s been a bit cold, damp and foggy. In fact you can’t see the top of the Eiffel Tower.  The Xmas decorations are up and there’s a festive buzz in the air. Only a month or so to go until the big day. Of course, the decorations are restrained but classy and stylish as befits the capital of fashion. We’re off to New York tomorrow morning where the decorations will be larger than life, really full on and totally appropriate for the Big Apple.

Parisian diary

I took the train from Antibes to Paris: just over 5 hours door-to-door and a bargain at Euros 80 for a first-class return. I passed the journey lost in the pages of Sir Chris Hoy’s biography a very readable adjunct to “Heroes, Villains and Velodromes.

On my arrival in Paris, the skies cleared and the rain stopped so I decided to walk to our hotel on the Left Bank, near the Sorbonne. Each time we go to Paris we endeavour to stay in a different quarter as I enjoy traversing the streets looking at the magnificent architecture and window shopping – by far the safest type of shopping! In addition, I love browsing the art galleries, antiques and book shops.

I also adore finding us great restaurants for lunch and/or dinner. Now, of course, I could just fish out a guide book and book one of their many suggestions, but where would be the fun in that? No, I like to walk around, sizing up the restaurants and their menus before making my choice.

Over the years I’ve had many pleasurable trips to Paris. My first came courtesy of my French pen-friend who, while she lived in Grenoble, had a large family living in Paris. I spent a week with her aunt in an impressive apartment just off Boulevard Haussmann and traipsed to my heart’s content around all the sights of Paris and Versailles. Since then, I’ve been fortunate to visit it on a regular basis.

When I told my Dad we were off to Paris, he reminded me of the trip we had taken with them some years ago, at about the same time of year, where we had eaten “our most expensive meal”. He still has a copy of the bill from the now-defunct “Lucas Carton” near Place de la Madeleine.

I have to say it was a truly memorable meal but, at the time, I had no idea how much it had cost as neither my Mum nor I had menus with prices. I started with polenta and truffles, while everyone else had scallop tartar. Dad and my beloved followed that with lamb while Mum and I had lobster, at my Dad’s urging, as it’s my Mum’s favourite. We elected to have the wines chosen by the chef to accompany the meal, but didn’t have room for a dessert or coffee, although we did manage to demolish all of the mouth-watering, petit fours.

My Dad picked up the bill, which was not what I had intended. It was some months later that he asked me what I thought it had cost. The tilt of his eyebrows indicated that my initial bid was way off the mark. But he did concede it had been well worth the money.

My first job in Paris was to interview 20 French dentists about their periodontology regimes. After speaking to a couple, it was clear that a 4-page questionnaire was several pages too many despite the inducement of a free gift. I decided an alternative strategy was required and based myself outside of the exhibition, close to one of the many lunch-time venues. Sure enough, by 11:30am, there was a long queue of people waiting to be served and what better way to while away the time answering my questionnaire. By the time lunch was over, I had filled my quota.

After a delicious meal in a small family-run restaurant on Wednesday evening, we invited a business colleague to share some champagne and oysters with us on Thursday evening at a restaurant close to the Palais des Congrès where we have previously enjoyed many similar evenings. Like me, he’s a recent convert to cycling and we are considering organising a cycling trip next year for his readership, to coincide with the club’s “ Brevet Kivilev”.

I used to view oysters with great suspicion. After all, they look like large blobs of snot. Well, they do don’t they? However, I decided that millions of French people can’t be wrong and took the plunge. Now, they’re one of my favourite foods and I regret all those wasted oyster eating opportunities. So, if you’ve never tried them, go-ahead, just do it. I promise you won’t regret it.

I bought my beloved an oyster opening kit for last Xmas (among other things) so we can enjoy them at home. I like them best with a squeeze of lemon juice and a glass (or two) of champagne. As I’m fond of saying “I’m a woman of simple tastes, all of them expensive”.

Friday morning I rose early for a run along the Seine. I can’t totally abandon my new regime. Although my husband had promised to keep Friday clear, I truly did not anticipate seeing him at all. However, we shared lunch at a delightful Corsican restaurant I found in the Marais before he returned to the exhibition for a further round of business meetings.

Bike friendly Paris!

We rose on Saturday to find leaden skies. It rained from time to time but fortunately, not heavily. My beloved decided he wanted to look around the Louvre. I knew once he saw the queue, he would decide otherwise, and was proved correct. He hates to wait for even 5 minutes: strange behaviour from a guy who generally keeps everyone else waiting!

However, we happily whiled away the morning wandering around the area and I found a fabulous restaurant for lunch a few doors down from Le Grand Verfour, which, sadly, was not open for Saturday lunch – maybe, next time.

While from time to time, I enjoy a few days away, equally I enjoy getting back home. I’m already looking forward to tomorrow morning’s ride, weather permitting, to Roquebrune Cap Martin. It’s a 90km round trip for us and I still recall how equally exhausted and elated I was the first time I did it, two years ago. How time has flown!

So, what do you think?

My better half was in Paris yesterday morning for a meeting at the Palais des congrès. No, he wasn’t at the 2010 Tour de France Presentation but, if he had been, I’m sure this is what he’d have said.

This is a Tour for climbers and, with no team time-trial, and only one individual time-trial, the main protagonists will be Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck.  The lack of a team time-trial will also have been music to the ears of other podium contenders, such as Evans, Sastre and Menchov.  Given how the Pyrenees completely boss the last week of the Tour, Bert can be excused that big smile punctuating his face. Or was he grinning at the thought that Lance is going to find that last week really, really tough?

The 2009 Podium
The 2009 Podium

However, the skinny climbers will need to be on their guard in the first week when they’ll be well outside their comfort zone as cobbles and windy stretches abound. Classics specialists like Boonen, Cancellara and Hushovd will be hopeful of wearing yellow, or at least green, in those early days. Stages four (Reims), five (Montargis) and six (Gueugnon) look like sprint stages, but thereafter that race for the green jersey is probably going to favour Thor as there are fewer opportunities for the sprinters and they’ve got to get over all those hills.

Next year, the Alps are playing a supporting role to the Pyrenees which are the headline act, marking the 100th anniversary of their first Tour appearance. However, the four days in the northern Alps should not be under-estimated and they are succeeded by some  toughish transition stages which may, or may not, end in bunch sprints.

Clearly the intention on the 2010 Tour is to showcase the Pyrenees, starting with the stage 14 summit finish at Ax-3-Domaines. This acts as an amuse bouche to a grand tasting menu. First course, three difficult cols en route to Luchon: Portet d’Aspet, Ares and Balès. Main course: they cross the Peyresourde, Aspin, Tourmalet, Soulor and Aubisque to finish in Pau. Dessert, and final course in the Pyrenees, is a stage from Pau to the top of the Tourmalet, via the western approach over the Marie-Blanque and Soulor. Climbing the Tourmalet twice, once in each direction, will really celebrate the Tour’s most majestic mountain.

If the mountains don’t prove decisive then there’s the 51km time-trial from Bordeaux to Pauillac before the final day procession into Paris. I expect to see Contador, riding for Astana, in the yellow jersey.

Sadly, there was no mention of any festivities planned for the other Tour fixture also celebrating its centenary next year: the broom wagon!

Broom wagon
Broom wagon