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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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?
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!