Europe

Spectacular view of Paris from the roof deck outside our breakfast area

I went back and looked and we wrote 11 blog posts from Paris during the nearly six years we were nomads, and then I added a 12th in 2019 when I came here with Mark’s dad. I guess that tells you something about how we feel about the City of Light. In fact, as I was walking (and walking and walking) around the city the last few days I realized that to a significant degree Paris really is my Happy Place, the place I feel most comfortable, most complete. I just love the feel of the city, the scale, the climate, and of course the food.

We had four full days after a late afternoon arrival from Saint-Tropez. The train ride was uneventful (that’s good) but we were surprised at how God-awful the food choices were on a four-hour-plus trip. We made the journey on Mark’s birthday, checked into our hotel, explored just a little, then went to a fabulous meal at a Michelin-starred restaurant. To be honest we’re both sort of tired of the Michelin experience: the first few courses are exciting but then they just keep coming and coming and coming. At some point your mind just glazes over whatever fabulousness you’ve just experienced. Now, to be certain, it was a great meal. After that, though, we were really eager to have our future meals at more relaxed Parisian bistros.

Jim with a glass of rosé and classic bowtie for Mark’s birthday

The one specific agenda items we had on our itinerary was the Pompidou Center, the city’s modern art museum. In part that’s because it’s a great museum, but the particular attraction was an exhibit of Shirley Jaffe’s work, an American who moved to Paris around 1950 and spent most of the next 65 years there. What was notable about that change is that she started as an abstract expressionist and just as the whole art world was moving from Paris to New York, she moved from New York (where she got her degree from the Cooper Union, just across the street from us!) to Paris. And what made it even more interesting for us is that we actually have one of her pieces on the wall in our dining room. I have to say, it was a great opportunity to see the amazing body of work she left as well as the transition from abstract expressionism (that everyone was doing) to a decidedly idiosyncratic geometric style and to see just where our piece fit into her life.

Three of Shirley Jaffe’s paintings. The one we have is from this exact period, though I have to admit I like these better…

Otherwise? A lot of it was about food where breakfasts continued to be simply overwhelming, as we were staying at the sister property of the place we stayed at Saint-Tropez. Beyond that every single meal was just this amazing collection of great restaurants. I don’t know if I’d forgotten how amazing the food is here or if I’d somehow started to take it for granted but after something approaching four years since our last visit, we were impressed.

A crazy-good dish at GrandCoeur, practically bursting with spring flavors

And otherwise our four days were spent walking, walking, and more walking as I tried to experience all the parks I love and the neighborhoods we enjoy. It was sort of a Greatest Hits visit but that took a lot of energy. In fact, over the four full days I averaged over 14 miles a day around the city. And just for the record even that level of activity doesn’t begin to compensate for the croissants and deserts and breads and Negronis. We both have a bit of work to do when we get back to New York to work those pounds off.

Every morning there were these to tempt us. And then more breads and more sweets and waffles and pancakes if you wanted them!

Oh, and one final note: France is over COVID. Down in Saint-Tropez we essentially saw no masks. On the train ride up to Paris Mark estimated that maybe one person in 20 was masked and around the city it was measurably less than that. Every now and then you’d see someone in an indoor space wearing a mask but it was pretty rare. The good news is that we both tested negative the day before returning to the states – a negative test is required for flying into the U.S. – so we made it home.

And one even final-er note. We have a fair amount of travel queued up for the rest of the summer. Eight weeks from late June to late August in Slovenia, Croatia, Norway, and Sweden and then two weeks in Bavaria for Oktoberfest and general sight-seeing. So as we settle into four weeks in NYC there’s all that to look forward to!

Todd & Susan are friends from New York, though I originally met Todd in Minneapolis in the 1970s. Here we are celebrating Susan’s birthday – just three days after Mark’s – at the rooftop bar at our hotel.
You can never have too many pictures of the bridges of Paris, right?
Part of the Greatest Hits tour included Parc Monceau, always one of my favorites. This colonnade was added in the late 18th century to make it look ancient and classical.
Mark at Rimal, a favorite Lebanese restaurant near Parc Monceau where we pretty much always have lunch when we’re in Paris
Another morning another park, this one Garden of the Palais Royale. With little green men.
The Garden of the Palais Royale. The morning was surprisingly grey and cold but later that day the weather turned perfect.
No trip to Paris would be complete without at least one afternoon in the Luxembourg Garden
Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, way up in the 19th arrondissement, is another must-see on the Greatest Hits tour. While a large and beautiful park today, it has something of a colorful past. For some 500 years it was the place where the bodies of hanged criminals were displayed. Later it was the place where horse carcasses were dumped, making it one of the most malodorous places in the city. Today, though, I love it.
The Place des Vosges, yet another must-visit park
This is me being artistic. It’s the dome from the Bourse de Commerce, once the Paris stock exchange and now an art museum.
The primary exhibit at the Bourse was of Charles Ray, an American sculptor. His work runs a gamut from this ethereal Jesus to … pornographic.
Mark with another of Charles Ray’s sculptures
An octopus and potato appetizer at Mumi, a tiny little restaurant that wasn’t available for dinner, so we had lunch there
The birthday people drinking some of the best Negronis ever made. Note that while it’s bright outside it was about 9:00 PM at this point.
Mark at Parcelles, one of an unbelievable number of great restaurants in Paris. The meal was great but there was one down side: a really, really loud American woman who you can see just over Mark’s left shoulder. When she and her partner left the entire restaurant just felt calm. Finally.
The view up the Pont Neuf and across the Seine from our room
We booked our flight home for the early afternoon so we could enjoy one last morning in Paris. Then a couple weeks before the trip the airline canceled that flight and put us on a morning flight, so we would have to leave the hotel by 7:00 AM. I got up at 6:15 to shower and pack and saw an email that due to mechanical issues the outbound flight from Newark had been delayed and so our departure was delayed by about three hours. Suddenly we had that last morning, which I leapt at to do one last early walk along the Seine.
Our first lunch in Saint-Tropez was heaven

And just like that – we’re traveling and (maybe) writing again. Our first year in New York – 2019 – was all about getting the condo project started and settling in. Then that COVID thing hit and we didn’t do a lot of traveling. We did some, though – three trips to Mexico, one to Greece – and we feel as though the memories are mostly lost. And since to this day we love looking at the blog to remind ourselves of places we’ve been and things we’ve done (and food we’ve eaten) we thought “Maybe we should revive the blog for our new travels.” So we’ll see.

OK then, here we are in France, sitting on a very comfortable train from St. Raphael to Paris. We spent five days in Saint-Tropez, on the French Riviera. Once upon a time of course Saint-Tropez was perhaps the number one jet-set destination in the world. Though I was here on a day trip from Toulon in 1975 when I was in the Navy, Mark had never been here. And after a 47-year hiatus I figured it was time for me to try it again.


This is what we loved in Saint-Tropez, and the Mediterranean in general: the restaurant-filled cobblestoned streets in a perfect climate. (Empty) churches always nearby, everybody relaxed and happy. Or at least they sure seem happy; we always are!

It’s worth noting that Saint-Tropez is not easy to get to. The closest airport is Nice, a three-hour drive away and the closest train station was in St. Raphael, nearly and hour-and-a-half away. Now, some people make the commute from Nice easier by hiring a helicopter but that just seemed a little too much for us.

Once you’re in Saint-Tropez what is there? Most important is that the famous beaches aren’t in the town; they’re a few miles outside town, so not something you just hop off to too easily when you don’t have your own car. And in fact we only went there once and the experience was pretty dismal. The beach itself was nothing special – we’ve experienced vastly better Mediterranean beaches in Greece, Croatia, Italy … lots of places. And the water was just full of what seemed like tons of seaweed washing up on shore. Not something you wanted to wade through to get to open swimming. So the beach was disappointing.

This picture doesn’t do justice to the tons of seaweed that lined the beach. You can see, though, the color of the water; hardly the Mediterranean blue we love in other places.

Of course, you’re reminded that these aren’t American beaches. At one point I walked up the beach to see if there was anything nicer, less seaweed-infested than the section we were on. The answer was yes, sort of, but even then there was more than you’d want. To get there, though, I walked through one section where I was probably the youngest person on the beach and definitely the only one wearing a stitch of clothing. Oh my. Don’t worry though: no photos!. Oh, and one more reminder that you’re not in Kansas? We had lunch at a really nice beach restaurant/club recommended by a friend – definitely the best experience at the beach. And as we waited for our Uber to bring us back to the hotel another couple was getting dropped off. In a Rolls Royce. Yikes!

Mark at Club 55. The beach sucked but the lunch almost made up for it.

So the beach was disappointing. The village itself, though, was charming. Beautiful old narrow, cobblestoned streets. Great little restaurants spilling out onto those beautiful streets. Pretty much every high-end fashion store imaginable and many more not-so-high-end. The town was surprisingly quiet; our guess was that late May is still pre-season. For us it was perfect: not too crowded, not too hot.

Absent a fabulous beach, then, our hotel had a small private “beach” on the Gulf of Saint-Tropez where we could read and nap. And where I could get expert medical care. You see, on Day 3 I went for a morning run and managed to trip on the pavement and scrape the hell out of my knee. Nothing serious, just bloody. When the beach attendant saw hit he sprang to action cleaning it and bandaging it and all that. Very nice really.

Our humble resort in Saint-Tropez. It was on the Gulf of Saint-Tropez, a few miles from the world-famous beaches.

Other than that our Saint-Tropez experience was largely about the food, and that was a big success. The day would start with an almost insane breakfast at the hotel: more breads and croissants and pain au chocolates than you’ve ever imagined, and that’s before you get to any eggs and sausage and all that. Really fabulous. And fattening.

The bread cart at breakfast was not exactly conducive to a low-carb diet. And that didn’t include the croissants and pain au chocolat that they brought automatically every day.

And then – with just about perfect weather and the smell of jasmine everywhere – we would walk into town for lunch, stop at some amazing street-side restaurant, go back to the hotel, nap and read, walk back into town for another perfect little French restaurant. It was all really quite civilized. And, totally worth noting, Saint-Tropez at least (I won’t speak for the rest of France yet) is totally over COVID. Not until our last dinner did we see a single person wearing a mask, and that was just a single person. Now admittedly, except for inside our room I’m sure that 95 percent of the time we were outdoors, since all the restaurants serve outdoors. But now, here on the train, same thing: not a mask to be seen. I’ll admit, I’m OK with that.

We did have one day that constituted real tourism. After breakfast we walked into town and went to the local art museum to see an exhibit of Paul Signac’s work, a post-impressionist who spent many summers in Saint-Tropez. Then we took an Uber up to an old hill town outside Saint-Tropez, and finally walked down to a Michelin-recommended (though not Michelin-starred) restaurant where we sat at the edge of a vineyard having a perfect lunch. So great to be back in Europe!

The view from Gassin down to the Gulf of Saint-Tropez

Except for Greece last summer – which is really it’s own thing, particularly on the islands – this was our first experience in Europe since 2018 and it felt sooo good to be back. The narrow streets, the old buildings, the local churches. Watching the waitress shoo away German tourists who wanted to just sit and have a drink at a restaurant (restaurants are for food; bars are for drinking). Seeing lots of people sitting at their lunch and dinner tables smoking. There’s lots to love in Europe.

Now, a few more hours on the train and then into Paris. Yay!

There are yachts in Saint-Tropez. LOTS of yachts in Saint-Tropez!

Lunch at La Verdoyante, the vineyard-adjacent restaurant down the hill from Gassin. You can’t see it but on my right shoulder is the stain of bird shit on my very nice, new white shirt…

The perfect steak tartare

Another dinner, another glass of rosé

Lunch in Saint-Tropez. The steak tartare was distinctly sub-par, but the setting made up for it.

Jim has a Negroni and a new colorful shirt. Both make him happy!

Charming street scene in Saint-Tropez

Rosés at Club 55

The wine bucket from Club 55 – our fabulous lunch spot at the far-less-than-fabulous Saint-Tropez beach – shows that the club was founded in 1955. Same as me!

A quiet street at sunset in Saint-Tropez

OK, this isn’t actually from France. The night before we left, though, we saw La Boheme at the Metropolitan Opera. Quite the sendoff for our first trip to France in almost four years!

A selfie in front of City Hall, raincoat keeping me dry

A few weeks ago a friend was visiting and Mark was explaining to her how obsessed he is with our condo project. His dad wanted Mark to go to Paris with him, even if for just a few days, but Mark just didn’t want to be away. I looked at Mark and said “I’ll go to Paris with your dad.” I emailed him the next day and within about 24 hours we had flights booked and hotel rooms reserved.

I had a great time and did not miss daily visits to the construction site one bit. Mark and I have been to Paris at least once a year for probably the last eight or 10 years, and I’d thought I would break my streak this year but that was not meant to be.

The Luxembourg Gardens is always one of my favorite places. I walked down there on Sunday during a brief respite in the weather and found it locked up. Closed. There was a HUGE rally close by – some 70,000 freaks I later read – protesting a new French law that would give single women and lesbians the right to use in vitro fertilization to get pregnant. Obviously a communistic attack on the family. These were, I later learned, the same idiots who held massive protests against marriage equality a few years ago. How pathetic that they would waste a beautiful Sunday to try to interfere with other people’s happiness.

It was a reasonably short visit – out on a Friday night, back the following Thursday – but it was just about perfect. The weather was drizzly as you would expect for October, but it was Paris, right? I was so amused the first couple days: temperature in the upper 50s, drizzling on and off, and the outdoor cafés were packed. Who’s going to let a little damp weather interrupt the espressos, wines, and cigarettes that you’re supposed to enjoy on the weekends.

And visiting with Mark’s dad was great fun. We were both sleeping in a bit due to jet lag, but we’d have breakfast, go our separate ways for a few hours, meet for lunch some days, or just make plans to meet for drinks and dinner. Otherwise it was just walking, exploring all the beautiful neighborhoods that I know so well. Here are the photos.

I wasn’t thinking about the awful fire at Notre Dame when I came around the corner and saw this. Not that I’d forgotten, I just wasn’t thinking of it. My heart sank as I quickly saw that pieces were missing.

Food of course is a big deal in Paris. Here is Lidd at Balzar’s, a Left Bank bistro open on Sundays, with a plate of choucroute.

Lidd was in charge of making dinner reservations, but there was one place I wanted to suggest, a place where I had a great lunch when he just wasn’t hungry. I never got a chance to suggest it because that very night it was the restaurant he’d chosen for dinner. Great minds and all that.

Salad Niçoise the way it’s supposed to be made

An amazing fish dish

The Saturday market at Place Monge

After the awful anti-women protest was over the Luxembourg Gardens eventually opened

More from the Luxembourg Gardens

Parc Monceau, another of my favorites

The entrance to the Promenade Planteé, an old railway bed converted to a beautiful park. The precursor to New York’s Highline.

On a drizzly afternoon I had the gardens along the Champs-Élysées to myself

Rain adds a sheen of beauty to the Petit Palais

And one of the most amazing rainbows ever

The construction site of Notre Dame

Mark & I, along with much of his family, have been staying at the Agora St. Germain on the Left Bank for over 25 years. When I tried to make a reservation this time, though, it was closed – their last night of availability was the night I flew out of New York. We discovered that it was closed for renovation and here they are putting up the scaffolding to start what is supposed to be a six- or seven-month project.