Europe

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.

All the nieces and nephews on my side of the family — Nico, Ava, Lydia, Leigh, Jasmine, Jamal, and Molly

Summer in New York gets hot and muggy. So it was nice that we had planned a 3-week summer “vacation” in Greece nearly a year ago. We planned the trip around a week-long family get together for my immediate family — my parents, their four kids, their spouses, and all seven grandchildren. Jim and I added a week onto each end on our own.

For many years we’ve said that our favorite country to travel in is Italy. But during this sojourn in Greece, we seriously discussed whether Greece has overtaken Italy as our favorite. Greek islands are about as close to heaven as it gets. Who needs anything more than a perfect taverna on a bright blue stretch of Mediterranean beach?

And every Greek island has its own personality. We made it to four islands in the Cyclades on this trip, and we loved every one of them.

Paros

Our first stop was the island of Paros, where we stayed in the lovely town of Naoussa at the northern tip of the island. The town just reeked with charm. We’d easily get lost in the narrow streets full of great restaurants, elegant outdoor bars, and appealing shops.

One of many amazing bars in the charming town of Naoussa

From Naoussa, you could hop a water taxi to a handful of beaches across the bay

Arriving at a beach by water taxi. Oh that water!

Did I mention the water?

I am very happy in Greece

Approaching the town again by water ferry after a morning at the beach

A seaside lunch spot on Naoussa town

Mykonos

Mykonos (and Santorini) are different from the other Cycladic islands. Each is incredible in its own way, but they are both considerably more touristy, crowded, and expensive than all the other islands. But it was a good choice for our family get together for a few reasons.

First, it’s hard to find a really nice rental house that can accommodate 17 people without anybody being stuck in a crappy room. I scored by finding a pair of houses with common outdoor spaces and two beautiful pools in a very nice part of Mykonos. Second, Mykonos is relatively easy to get to, with direct flights coming from various parts of Europe. And finally, there are so many beaches to visit for all flavors of tourists. Nobody is going to be bored here.

The place worked out well, and I’m confident everyone had a great week here. It’s the second year in a row that we got all 17 of us together (Tuscany last summer). And I consider myself quite fortunate because I really like every one of these wonderful people. I know that Jim and I had a great time this week, and I’m pretty confident we all did.

Me and the glorious views from our villa

There was lots of fun to be had on the day we discovered that you could sip Metaxa in the pool.

With my fabulous sisters-in-law, Jenny and Alma

Lunch with my parents at a taverna on a beautiful beach in a remote corner of Mykonos

With my sister Jeanne

The Ann Arbor Sullivans — Molly, Jenny, Pat, and Lydia

One day most of us drove to a beach a half hour away. But Jim and Jenny decided to hike there. It was apparently somewhat treacherous.

Nico and I and our very Greeky shirts

Dinner at the villa was a fine affair every evening

Our chef displays the evening’s catch

Leigh and I trying to lure a sweet little kitten onto our patio

Lydia at an elegant lunch spot over the beach close to our villa

The San Francisco Sullivans — Nico, Jasmine, John, Alma, and Ava

A hug from my mother!

Tinos

A short ferry hop from Mykonos took us to the island of Tinos. Here we stayed at hotel up in the mountains near a tiny little town called Triantaros. The town only had a couple restaurants, but they were truly gems. During the day, we hiked about an hour to get from the town down to a beach. It was a really beautiful hike, if you can overlook the part where Jim got stung by a wasp.

At a charming, but unassuming little restaurant in little Triantaros village…

…where we were amazed by the quality of the food.

And this was my seat mate at that place!

The view from the restaurant out toward the sea

Charming decor

Oh. My. God.

Syros

Yet another short ferry ride took us to the glorious island of Syros. Here we stayed in the main port town called Ermoupoli. This elegant town serves as the capital of the Cyclades, and perhaps for that reason seemed less touristy and more like a real city than most Greek island cities.

On our first full day here we decided to take a taxi to a particular beach a half hour away. We rode out of town and up, up, up a mountain, with beautiful views, and then descended down, down, down to a tiny beach town. The beach was calm and lovely. And nearby was a restaurant with great reviews — though some reviewers criticized the place as awfully expensive. With some reluctance we decided to try it anyway.

We love Greek food in general, but the food here was extraordinary — way beyond what you expect at a seaside taverna in a little town. And not that expensive really — cheaper than anything in Mykonos!

What did we do on days two, three, four, and five here in Syros? Made the same drive over the mountain, to the same postcard-perfect little beach, and ate at the same incredible restaurant. When you find perfection, why mess with it?

For some reason we have very few photos from Syros, but this shot of a calamari dish we ordered at our lunch spot pretty well sums it up

And let’s close out with one more shot of that kitten from Tinos

Vic & Karen enjoying Venice

We like Italy. I’ve liked it since I first experienced it in 1973 and we spent more time there than any other country during our five-plus-year round the world adventure. So when we had a chance to take my brother and sister-in-law to Europe we weren’t surprised at all that they chose Italy.

Vic & Karen had a tough 2018. That was the year their little grandson Dex lost a nearly four-year battle with cancer. A couple months later we took Dex’s surviving brother Mat to Europe and this time it was their turn. Karen had never been across the Atlantic and Vic’s only experience was when he was in the Army in the 1970s, so this was going to be new for both of them. I’m pretty sure they had a good time, and even more certain we did.

First stop was Venice. And then you have to do a gondola ride, right?

Their choice – as it would be for most people – was to see Venice, Florence, and Rome. I mean, who wouldn’t? Since Mark and I have been to all three places lots of time there wasn’t a lot new for us to see or much to say about it here, for that matter. They are all beautiful cities with stunning art and history, but they also all suffer from massive tourist crowds. It just seems worse and worse every time we go and, to be honest, I don’t think Mark & I will go back to Venice or Florence again. Rome is big enough to handle the hordes, but Venice and Florence are just swamped. Both are incredible and beautiful, places you need to see, but there may be a limit as to how many times you need to go.

Along with those three must-see cities, we added a couple brief stops in central Italy. After Florence we drove to Casole d’Elsa, a tiny town in the province of Siena. No real reason except to experience a little of rural Italy in a beautiful hotel. And it gave us the opportunity to take day trips to Siena (beautiful, as always) and San Gimignano. We hadn’t been to the latter in over 20 years and while you’d like to say that these old Italian towns with histories going back many centuries don’t change, they do. A little more upscale than we remember, certainly more tourists.

The towers of San Gimignano

Speaking of day trips, from Casole d’Elsa we were heading to Assisi in Umbria. En route we stopped to visit old friends and former classmates Sarah & Eric. They both joined the foreign service after graduate school and after their careers in various spots around the world they’ve settled on an olive farm in the tiny, tiny town of Paciano. They made us lunch, gave us a tour of their 200-plus olive trees, and, before bidding us adieu, gave us a little can of their homemade olive oil. Fabulous!

The view from Sarah & Eric’s olive orchard

Assisi was another of those “haven’t been there in over 20 years” places. Beautiful, peaceful, historic, slightly off the standard tourist route, and needless to say great food. Then it was off to Rome and more of the tourist hordes.

The beautiful medieval streets of Assisi

And thus we spent two weeks with my brother and his wife. To our surprise, we found ourselves eager to get back to New York; that whole nesting thing seems to have taken hold. And of course the prospect of returning to the city where we had finally closed on our dream loft the day before leaving was exciting. I mean, now that we had closed we should be able to start construction pretty quickly, right?

Hahahaha!

Karen and the Grand Canal

Venice

Artsy Venice

Who says we don’t know how to be good tourists?

Mark documenting our gondola ride

Vic & Karen enjoying Florence

We might be a little jaded about Florence but I never tire of this view of the Ponte Vecchio and the Arno River

Mark in Florence

The fabulous Mary Magdalene could be reason enough to return to Florence some day

The Arno River

A nice little walk outside Casole d’Elsa … and a rainbow!

On the way to Assisi we stopped for lunch with old friends Sarah & Eric. Great fun!

With Sarah

For a couple years we would come to Rome and the Trevi Fountain was closed off for renovations. Now it’s clean, beautiful, and unbelievably crowded.