It is a testament to the trip and my friends that I didn’t bother to write once after landing in Paris. It is only now as I wait to board the flight from Amsterdam to SF that I’m finally ready to reflect on what was a most glorious bucket filling trip.
Sarah and I tore ourselves from the Amalfi coast. Barfing out the window of the taxi on the curvy road took a little of the bloom off the rose! But all in, it was difficult to say farewell to those breathtaking views and to the lovely mellow pace of that special coastline. Naples airport was easy and pleasant with olive trees and pale wood. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that my blood pressure went up when we arrived at CDG and I found myself bristling at the crowds. The metro into Paris proved cheap and easy, and as we alighted at the St Michel station by Notre Dame my smile stretched from ear to ear. I was so excited to show Sarah th beautiful city where I had spent a summer and much of a school year 1993-1994. We giggled like schoolgirls when we caught sight of Ria and Micaela trotting towards us to help with bags. They had settled in the apartment with wine, cheese, fruit and bread from the local market. Thanks to the generosity of some very special friends, we were lucky enough to call a lovely apartment on the Quai Montebello home for 5 nights. This meant that when I opened my eyes each morning the first thing I saw was the top of Notre Dame, and each day I would notice another feature of the intricate and elaborate architecture, my favorite being the cover people ascending to the sky.
We quickly unpacked and set off for the Luxembourg Gardens. Bustling but still a green and well manicured haven with pools and sculptures and all knowing trees. I still know the names of so many streets in the inner arrondissements but needed a map occasionally to keep on track, although it is fun to get off course and see all the more. My heart swelled to be with four of my dearest friends on this adventure. I missed Creighton and my babies everyday, but time expands during travels, I think, and 2 weeks of adventure felt like a month of experiences and long late night chats. I’m fascinated to see to,or row if my platelets held up with joy and no schedule as inputs.
As many know, if you are in the center of Paris all you have to do is step out the front door to delight in a stunning historical view. The city oozes history and good taste, and new and old mix comfortably. Dinner was at Allard, an ancient restaurant preserved by Alain Ducasse. The name automatically overpriced the food, but the setting, service, and food were excellent. Several tiny rooms with cozy tables welcome you. We enjoyed Plump asparagus, rich pate en croute, delicate sole meunière, hearty steak, and luscious profiteroles.
I slept like a baby each night. We rolled out of bed to a light breakfast before heading out to Musee D’Orsay, a pleasant walk away along the Seine. The special exhibits of Rousseau and Charles Gleyare (spelling?) were fantastic. I particularly enjoyed the last room of Rousseau, all large scale panels exploding in vibrant greens. Surprisingly, Rousseau never set foot outside of France. He conferred with friends who had fought in Mexico and Africa, visited the Jardin des Plantes in Paris, and consulted tomes on botanicals and animals. Coupled with his tremendous imagination this created his lush and exotic scenes. Charles it turns out was highly influential for the impressionists. The top floor, with its dramatic views over the Tuileries out to Sacre Coeur and masterpieces from Monet to Pissaro, was as magnificent as ever. I always marvel at the views through the giant clock.
We thought we had lunch (AMEX messed up and apologized profusely) at Tour d’Argent, but we were all dressed up and greeted with closed doors for Sunday lunch. I was embarrassed and annoyed, but after a quick regroup, a lucky online booking for Tuesday which was even better as it would include Katherine, we instead changed into comfortable clothes and headed to the delicious Breizh Cafe for gorgeous crepes. Even at 2:30 the line was around the corner. The food was worth the wait. Light as air buckwheat crepes filled with ham and Gruyere and mushrooms followed. Y a sweet crepe with vanilla ice cream, and stewed rhubarb. YUM!!!!!!!!!!! For better or worse this powered us for a serious dose of shopping along Rue du Vielle de Temple in the Marais. Sometimes I wish we could move through life with a soundtrack, and that afternoon I was granted my wish. Old school jazz filled the air as we made our way past beautifully renovated homes and gardens. I loved the Atelier Parfumerie which boasted a tiny greenhouse in the middle of the store, all the scents taken straight from nature. I found my match in Mon Numero 9, all herby and citrus. There were finds at (clothes), Gardianne (fabulous suede and leather boots from the south of France), and more. Micaela and I split off to savor some Berthillon ice cream on Ile St. Louis. Yes, I find it totally normal to have ice cream several times a day, especially as French servings are delicate. Roasted pineapple with basil……sorbet heaven enhanced by the Seine sparkling below Notre Dame. My back was crying for a rest so I crashed for a few hours before we strolled down to La Rotisserie a few blocks down. This turned out to be one of the highlight meals of the trip due its warmth and delicious simplicity. I got my terrine de foie gras fix for the trip (smooth served with perfectly toasted baguette and chutney), enjoyed a moist roast chicken with some of the best mashed potatoes I’ve ever had (no butter spared I imagine), and discovered the fabulousness that is l’Ile Flottante (a giant, light as air meringue floating in a vanilla soup).
Monday our crew was completed when the wonderful Katherine Calvert arrived from NY. Game as ever, she came straight off the plane and was ready with a smile to venture out to Vaux le Vicompte. This magnificent palace was built for The ambitious Nicholas Fouquet, Louis IV’s head of finance, and the first true collaboration of landscape artist Andre le Notre, artist Charles le Brun, and architect (Chemo brain!) using math and perspective to create a seamless masterpiece. Even on a grey day the gardens were peaceful and splendid, designed to please from every window I. The chateau. Apparently it was too beautiful and the opening bash so lavish that soon Fouquet was arrested and out of power. Ah well!
Buisson d’Ardent is in an old carriage house with beautiful green trimmed painted panels and run by a young chef, not far from the Jardin des Plantes (which to our dismay closed 20 minutes earlier than the website claimed so we missed it). He gave us a beautiful and well priced dinner, artistic and delicious.
Tuesday began with a well crafted flaky croissant from Eric Keysar and a stop by the fun market on boulevard st germain behind the apartment. Cheeses, pates, jams. We split forces (I know now my speed walking is not always everyone’s cup of tea) and Micaela, Katherine and I walked to Musee Rodin with some strategic pop ins to boutiques that caught our eye. We earmarked Bon Marche for the walk back. It was a bright sunny, blue sky day. No better setting for the gardens filled with Rodin sculptures backed by the golden crusted dome. I just adore that little pocket of Paris. It was a lovely, healing haven when I was lonely and homesick at 20. Hard to stay too sad in the face of such beauty. The fragrant wisteria were in full bloom and roses of every color lined the beds. Bon Marche is a cultural experience in itself. It smells delicious and is less hectic than the US upscale stores. Ba&SH, Athe, and the shoe department proved most fruitful! And we laughed when we turned a corner to find Ri and Sarah. We had allowed just enough time to get elegant for our lunch at Tour d’Argent.
500 years old and on the Seine Tour d’Argent is a temple for food and is elegant from the first moment. We had a big round table with a head on view of Notre Dame and the Seine, and a distant view of Sacre Coeur. A Kir Royale, a pain as cereal with sunshine shaded butter that tasted like mild cheese. A taste of spring with every amuse bouche honoring asparagus, rhubarb, beets, fine herbs. We toasted to the good fortune of being there, of close to 30 years of friendship, of a trip of a lifetime. Why stray from my asparagus trend? It works, and this time of course as a soup followed by exquisite and simple fish and an absurdly good chocolate creation. The service was flawless and we made friends with a charming man who was the head of a very fancy restaurant in Houston who was working at Tour d’Argent for 2 weeks. Because of this we managed to get him to get us a tour of La Cave holding 350,000 bottles of wine. After our 2 hour lunch we descended to the cold wine cellar, dark, damp, mysterious, and old, old, old.. It was marvelous. Homer (oh-Mayr) was the caviste and took his job very seriously. Heads fabulous. The experience surpassed all my expectations.
After a rest our bodies begged for a walk, and Isabel Marant proved a fine destination to cap off shopping. I love her clothes and shoes. And her store happens to be on my favorite Rue deSeine and near Rue de Buci. We soon found out it was also near our wonderful Exeter friend, Ashley Maddox’s house. A spontaneous visit to Ashley capped off our day. We loved seeing her adorable kids move fluently from French to English and back. Ashley is beyond beautiful and larger than life. She has made a god life in Paris, but we are all hoping to get her to the Bay Area. She has made a successful business renovating and the Renting Parisian apartments. Smart as a whip, disarmingly pretty, and knows how to get things done.
We couldn’t face another restaurant so we ended our Paris stay with a cozy apartment night nibbling on leftover chicken, cheeses, bread from my favorite Cosi, and red wine.
Sarah, Ria, and Micael headed back to SF, and Katherine and I were gifted one extra day in Paris. It started out rainy, but soon cleared. We wound our way through Louvre and Tuileries to Place Vendome and Rue Faubourg St Honore. Katherine had read about Astier de la Villatte which defined charming situated in a 500 year old store packed to the brim with exquisite and light as air pottery. I wanted to buy the whole.store!!! Beautifully painted platters, delicate little bowls and refined tea cups. Pale white or accented with colorful paintings. All set against pale blue shelves. We Felt as if we had walked into a fairytale. In the end I settled on a bowl with three birds perched around the rim that will grace the dining room table.
Katherine said Hermes was calling her. Hermes, too, is an experience. Another temple but this time to fashion and timeless good taste. It was full of every nationality of shopper, most of whom focused on the famous scarves. I, you may have guessed by now, was drawn to the shoes and they did not disappoint. Many pairs were stunning but not titanium cancer spine friendly, but unfortunately for my AMEX there were some most fabulous platform sandals that would make any platform hater a lover. Shoes are always a good idea. They fit no matter what, and they instantly brighten the day.
We ventured to the Clown Bar in the 11th only to find they had closed for lunch, so we cabbed back to Rue St Andre des Arts and Creperie des Arts, one of the cozy staples of my student days in Paris with cheap but delicious crepes. There was a very funny cat who not only refused to move but who insisted on sitting on my lap and trying to climb into my bags. As rain poured outside we devoured our warm lunch. After a luscious nap, we made our way to what turned out to be my favorite Paris meal besides Tour d’Argent, at Verjus on Rue de Richelieu. It is a simple, small, but airy interior and again run by a young chef, surprisingly an American. The Bells had recommended this from their recent trip and we were thrilled. It is a eur68 prix fixe 7 course menu, and each plate is better than the last. Portions are perfect so you don’t leave stuffed, and it is all the freshest local, seasonal produce. Simple and sensational.
We decided to walk home through the Louvre and were lucky enough to find the sculpture galleries lit up and visible through floor to ceiling Windows. We also were delighted to see Rita Wilson and Tom Hanks (I’m sure they felt exactly the same way about seeing us!!) And then the sky opened up. Balloon size raindrops. No escape. As we crossed the Seine a bolt of lightening hit the pavement 5ft ahead of us. I am not exaggerating. We laughed from shock as the thunder struck at the same moment. I hope that was a once in a lifetime experience. Does titanium channel lightening?!!
In the morning we were off for Amsterdam, and Paris was everything I need it would be. Of course we only touched the surface on the sights, but we will always find more reasons to return. And so, until next time.
A quick cab to the Gare du Nord, a pleasant ride on the Thalys train, and we arrived in Amsterdam. Outside the train station, 9500 bikes of commuters. It was a sight to see, and I quickly learned to look left and right when crossing. Immediately we sensed that the Dutch were healthy, fit, organized, and efficient. We found a corner of paradise in the newly opened Waldorf Astoria which is the result of 6 gorgeous townhouses being combined on the Herengracht. We were greeted with hot towels, lemon mint water, and a charming staff. It was the best service I have experienced outside of Asia. Our top floor corner room was light filled and serene, overlooking the immaculate gardens. They let you pick 1 of 4 relaxing scents that they will puff into your room in the evening. Really! We relaxed until my old family friend Wiet Pot arrived. He gives a good name to the Dutch, dashing, charming, and kind. It was a treat to see him after so many years, and he picked a wonderful new restaurant which we wouldn’t have found on our own. I enjoyed white asparagus, a gorgeous little roast poussin, and possibly my favorite dessert of the trip…..a meringue with lemon mousse and stewed rhubarb (you see the seasonal trend). Fantastic meal, fabulous company, and we forgot to take a picture!!!
We slept like babies in that room, especially after a bath in the deep tub. Pure luxury. We walked all over the city both days. It is very manageable. The Museum Loon is an old mansion which gives a good sense of how the rich families lived in the mid-late 1600s……well!!! I fell in love with yet another garden. The recently reopened Rijksmuseum is filled with magnificent large scale Rembrandts, a bit of Van Gogh, loads of blue and white delftware, a mindblowingly detailed dollhouse, and antiques. We did a 180 at the MoCo viewing Banksy street art, and then the Van Gogh. As prolific as he was, many of his great works are actually at the Met, the d’Orsay, and the National Gallery. But my favorite blossom tree was there, and we learned how painstakingly he had worked to improve and refine his art. Art was his language an clearly he felt an intense need to speak it in his short 28 years. How remarkable that we would never have known if it weren’t for his ingenious sister in law who after his and his brother’s death ensured that his work was seen and marketed. We loved seeing Amsterdam from the canal boat. The hop on/off boat made it a breeze. We jumped off to see the market and the Jordaan neighborhood as well as the Anne Frank house. That was intense and moving and heartbreaking. She was a gifted writer, and it is hard in our coddled life to comprehend that such hideous atrocities existed and how sadly still exist in the world. I don’t understand. They did a wonderful job mixing the letters and videos in with the rooms. Very powerful. The Foodhallen gave us a welcome, lighthearted, music filled, people watching vibe after this. Katherine bravely tried a sampling of the Bitterballen and beer while I had an excellent Vietnamese spring roll and a small waffle with powdered sugar. Our 90s soundtrack was playing with George Michael Freedom, the Hansen brothers Mmm Bop ( for real, and yes we liked it), the Beach, etc. Hazy light streamed in through skylights. It was a great scene.
After a good nap, we went to the chic and bustling Cafe Panache. The front is an old pharmacy, the interior a mix of colorful tiles, wooden walls, vibrant orange wrought iron lanterns, and tall handsome and beautiful Dutch. I felt short! Katerina found her people! The cocktails were creative and refreshing, and bbq shellfish, lobster, and of course another rhubarb dessert fit the bill. It was the perfect way to wrap up the trip. I forgot to mention our superb Friday night dinner at Restaurant C. My favorite starter of the trip: tuna tartar with tiny cubes of tuna, mango, spring onion, and curry icecream. Absurd! Also the good and very fun company of Kath’s friends Christian and Megan Giannini who were fantastic.
I’m so grateful to Creighton and the kids for letting me have the time, and to my doctors for letting me have the freedom. And while I wrote about our shopping excursions, clearly the high points of the trip at every turn were the precious moments, laughs, and chats with my dear friends. For that is what makes the world go round. My spine didn’t let me forget entirely about the cancer, but when I think about how much we did, walked, explored, I sometimes find it hard to believe that I have a crazy disease inside of me. I learned that I’m still unnecessarily uptight sometimes when things don’t go perfectly. I’d like to continue to become more zen. I learned that it is important to have enough of a plan to see what you want but also blissful to leave plenty of room for accidental discoveries and detours. I cannot wait to hug Creighton and the kids and the dogs. SF happens to be one of the easiest cities in the world to return to! My travel bug is satiated for a bit, but I will continue to chip away at the bucket list while my health allows.
Today 4am jet lagged I cried hard. Europe allowed me to forget I was sick for awhile. At home the fear of dying caught up to me again. I try for zen, but it is hard to be zen about a likely early death. That said, the day is looking up as my platelets were up to 120 from 94! My tumor markers continue to march down—this is huge and essentially tells us that for the moment the cancer has quieted a bit. There are still holes, but I’m stable. So….back to being very much alive.