Ghosts in the Garden in Aix

Ghosts in the Garden in Aix

September 2014

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you! How about an unforgettable holiday with us at  New Years’ Jazz in Italy?

Goodbye Paris, from yesterday’s summer sunshine, you’ve returned to Gray Paree, but we’re heading south to the sun!

A quick three hours plus, and we’re back in Aix, with an afternoon full of southern French heritage to enjoy. Each year the local government produces a beautiful book detailing the treasures of the area open for visitors on this special weekend.
We quickly drop our luggage at the apartment and get to Thermes Sextiux, the thermal waters that drew the Roman legions to Aix, where there’s a concert in the gardens.

A flute quartet, their sweet melodies wafting through the gardens and ancient stones,

accompanied by that legendary water,

plays a wonderful welcome back to Aix, our much-loved  ville d’eau, ville d’art (town of water, town of art).
Crossing the Cours Mirabeau, where vintage cars round the fountains, chugging up and down the boulevard,

we’re now in the Mazarin Quartier, with its beautiful seventeenth and eighteenth century mansions backed by spacious gardens.We’ll return this evening to see the interior of the Hôtel d’Olivary, and this afternoon will see the garden.

As do all who stroll through this elegant quarter, we’ve snatched glimpses of some gardens through the doors and gates, but this walled garden has stayed hidden until now.
“We are the phantomes de la jardin,” the ghosts of the garden, the gracious ladies introduce themselves. A charming touch…

Some places that are open this weekend are too far to access without a car, but Pavilion de Trimond, east of town, is reachable on foot. Tucked between modern buildings on a main axis out of town, it’s hidden behind a simple garden door. Walk under a long pergola, and through an ivy-twined entry,

and this peaceful oasis awaits.

Built in the beginning of the 18th century for a parliamentary family of Aix (which was the capitol of Provence at the time),

the petite home has kept its accompanying grounds intact, with several pretty fountains,

an old swimming pool (doesn’t look like it’s had much use this summer)

and lots of benches and tables for friends and family to enjoy the greenery. The current owners, chatting with friends,

have kindly opened their home for a few hours on Saturday and Sunday, and even the inside, cozy and lived in, both upstairs or down through the ivy draped entry, is open to view.

Back home to Ambiance d’Aix, our own little piece of French heritage,

where we unpack and eat dinner, then back to the Mazarin Quartier for a candlelight tour of the Hôtel d’Olivary, no photos allowed. Filled with treasures, furniture, ceramics, painting and decor gathered by the family through the centuries, we walk, desperately trying to keep up with the VERY fast-talking young guide. Our French is definitely not up to this!!

We finish our weekend of French heritage in the garden before strolling home through the Sunday-night quiet of the streets.


The Glories of Paris

The Glories of Paris

September 2014

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!  How about an unforgettable holiday with us at  New Years’ Jazz in Italy

Journees de Patrimoine, Heritage Days, takes place every September, and after traveling back and forth to France for decades, we’re finally HERE on the weekend when historic properties, homes, gardens and more are open to the public for a few hours! We’ve planned our visits carefully before an important afternoon appointment, beginning in the 6th arrondissement (Paris is divided into 20 arrondissements, spiraling out from number 1 in the old center), where we’re staying, with a return to the Luxembourg Gardens –

but INSIDE this time, as the Senat is open to visitors. An elegant marble staircase sweeps us up to the reception rooms for dignitaries, draped with priceless tapestries,

and through a resplendent dining salon, Baccarat chandelier glittering above a sample table. The floral arrangements throughout are provided by the extensive gardens and greenhouses surrounding the Palais Luxembourg.

A winter garden fills an interior courtyard,

and beyond are chambers of the senate, and their fabulous library,

looking out over those gardens right where we sat last night for our aperitif.

We’ve passed huge photos of the senate chamber in one office and hall after another, making us more and more eager to see the real thing…. and finally, here we are! As we gaze around the famed chamber we listen to senate proceedings broadcast through the room, reminding us of the important decisions made here through the centuries.

In an adjacent room is a wall-sized painting of Napoleon, beside a marble plaque, also wall-sized, with his decree to the senate. And beyond, a gilded jewel box of a reception room,

which just cries out for a double senate selfie 😉

What a stunner of a palace….after walking through the gardens for years, it’s a privilege to finally see the inside!
A favorite fountain, the Medici (this palace and gardens were designed to the specifications of Catherine de Medici when she married the king of France), doesn’t let us pass without a photo.

We’ve taken so long to see these marvelous rooms that we haven’t left time for the second planned visit to an historic property, and just have time for lunch before heading across the Seine to our afternoon appointment. Our neighbor in Aix, Jean Gabriel, is the President of the Syndicat des Antiquaires in France, and when we were together in Aix last month, he invited us to the Antiques Biennale in Paris – our main reason for coming here before going to Aix. It’s always in the Grand Palais… oh no, not this little gem, it’s just the PETIT Palais 😉

THIS is the GRAND Palais... tres grande, no?

Our invitations await at the entry, and J Gabriel says hi and gets us a map, marking the best dealers to visit, before getting a call to meet the Minister of Justice to show her around. 

The theme of this Biennale is the Gardens of Versailles,

with greenery and fountains leading to exquisite booths filled with treasures.

Top dealers have constructed entire rooms for the ten-day event,

where even the antique carved wooden walls are for sale!

Lines snake around the corner by Dior, Cartier, Graff and other big names. and hefty guards stand silently keeping watch over the glittering jewels. Recognize this gorgeous necklace? Part of Bulgari’s Heritage Collection, it formerly graced the throat of Elizabeth Taylor.

Eyes glazed with all the wonders we’ve seen, we walk out into the sunlight of a summery Paris day,

and across our favorite bridge, the Pont Alexandre III.

Obviously not just OUR favorite, it’s the perfect spot for wedding photos, the Eiffel Tower beyond… we see at least three bridal couples posing this afternoon.

Merci, Paris, for sharing your treasures, inside and out, with us!

Park-hopping, Brussels and Paris

Park-hopping, Brussels and Paris

September 2014

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!  How about an unforgettable holiday with us at  New Years’ Jazz in Italy

From Washington Dulles to Brussels, then on to Paris, we’ve been traveling by car, jet, bus and train since Thursday. We took a few morning hours in Brussels to stroll through a favorite park,

Petite Sablon,

and then through the Grand Place, counting the chocolatiers,

admiring a sky as brilliantly blue as in Aix.

In around 80 minutes we’ve sped through Belgium and northern France, and find a cute café. complete with quintessential Paris reflections across the way, to sit and wait for Stephen and Joy to arrive.

What fun it’s been to see these long-time friends so often in the last couple of months. They stayed with us in Virginia, then we connected again in Provence a few weeks ago, and now we’re staying with them in Paris.  We love their new St. Germaine area apartment – with another typical Paris view from our window.

Are we too tired for an aperitif in the gardens? Not at all – what a wonderful idea! So with a basketful of goodies,

we walk through Luxembourg Gardens,

spread out our nibbles and sips on a bench-with-a-view,

and chat and relax

until the whistle-blowing guards move everyone out for the night.  Paris, you’re as lovely as ever!

Back to the South

Back to the South

Aix en Provence, France
Weekend of 8 February, 2014
Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!  We’re looking ahead to Spring – May in Venice, Barcelona, or Prague, and our newest  – Aix en Provence for the Easter Festival.

Our literary journey will continue, but in the south of France, so we say adieu to Paris, hop on the TGV (fast train) at Gare de Lyon, and before we know it we’re back in Aix.

We quickly drop our luggage at Ambiance d’Aix and make it in time for our 1:00 table (that’s as late a reservation as they’ll take) at Le Formal, where Karen is treating us to lunch. Wow – twice in one week at this fabulous place! Karen’s impressed too, and we chat with chef Jean Luc and remind him we’ll be back with our Music and Markets Easter Festival group in April.
Saturday’s a bit damp, but we can’t miss strolling the markets – and look at this line just beyond our little lane! It’s opening day for in-store sales of the summer  Aix Festival tickets, and all wait patiently to get the best tickets possible for this stellar festival. Thoughtful staff pass out coffee to the lineup, some who arrived as early as 5 to wait in line.

We have quite a few things on our list as we’ve invited our favorite Aixoise mystery writer for lunch today. We take Karen by our favorite little egg lady, and through the bustle of the produce stalls, bright with citrus, piled with a plethora of mushrooms, fragrant with those inimitable French cheeses. Just nothing like it – and we have the pleasure EVERY day here in Aix!

Remember Ken and Mary Lou? We had a wonderful lunch in their new countryside home in August, and really enjoy catching up, and hearing about Mary Lou’s newest mystery (#4 in the Verlaque and Bonnet series), which will be released in a few months.

How about some jazz with your Sunday morning coffee? A little combo entertains those hearty enough to sit outside on the Place de l’Hôtel de Ville.

It’s a lovely day to show off some of our favorite corners of the city. Karen, who owned a home in Provence for decades, has of course been in Aix before, but enjoys the pretty spots as much as we do,

and some, like our much-loved Pavilion Vendome, are new to her.

Lunch today is at Bistroquet, on a tiny square, Place Ramus – delicious all the way to the apple-fig crumble with which I finish.
As we’re standing on the Place de l’Archveché, I notice a playful graffiti high on a roof, and it’s a fitting goodbye  (we’re flying to Italy on Monday) – Aix, we love you!

Literary Paris

Literary Paris

Paris, France
Thursday, 6 February, 2014
Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!  We’re looking ahead to Spring – May in Venice, Barcelona, or Prague, and our newest  – Aix en Provence for the Easter Festival.

We could hear the rain Tuesday night as we lay in bed… and it’s continued, heavy, into Wednesday. Quite a change from those usual gorgeous Aixoise blue skies! As we train to Paris for this evening’s event at the

American Library, the weather gets BETTER – now that’s unusual too! But we’re happy to arrive to a dry Gare de Lyon, bus to Karen Fawcett’s apartment once again – happy that she’s in town (and best of all, we’ve convinced her to come back to Aix with us!), and settle in before heading for the Author’s Evening at the library.

Patricia Wells (whose newest, The French Kitchen Cookbook, sounds terrific, as all the others have been) and Anne Mah (whose latest book, Mastering the Art of French Eating, was such a delicious and delightful read that when I began it, I stopped, knowing that it was one that Kirk and I just had to enjoy together – now we’re savoring it à deux) are answering questions about food writing, their history in France, and changes in French cuisine and writing through the years.

It’s not far to our friend Mariana’s apartment, and as we walk, the Eiffel Tower begins its hourly twinkle – magical!

“Just a drink” has morphed into a yummy sit-down meal, and Karen, Anne, Mariana, Kirk and I enjoy catching up with news of family, friends and life.

A few errands begin our day on Thursday, and the rain has caught up with us, so we duck into an interesting-looking café to warm up with a coffee before returning to the
apartment. And as we enter Café de la Place it strikes me – “Could this be anywhere else but Paris?!”

Such a quint- essential vintage Parisian café, old tin signs on the walls, a row of pastis pitchers lined up above the windows, well-worn wood floors, tables and chairs – love it!

And guess what’s on the menu? My favorite – Café Gourmand! Gotta try that!

As the rain continues, we’re comforted with one of Karen’s delicious soups for lunch, then relax a bit, enjoying the view from safe and dry inside – isn’t Paris beautiful even when rainy and gray?

We’ve come up to Paris for a couple of author events, and stroll down Boulevard Montparnasse, with its legendary eateries Le Dome and Le Select, across the street from one another, to tonight’s,

a Champagne and  Francophile Book Signing party given by Robin and John Katsaros at their apartment, Vue Eiffel – yes, once more a view of the twinkling tower.

Robin introduces Ann Mah, whose book, Mastering the Art of French Eating, has become a new favorite, and our lovely friend Kristin Espinasse, whose latest book, First French Essais, includes a selection of her French Word a Day blogs about writing, marriage and, of course, France.

With a few responses to Robin’s questions, Ann,
and then Kristin, grant us insight to the balancing act of writing, caring for family, traveling and crafting a life in one place after another…very interesting.
Robin has invited such an interesting group of people, many of whom we’ve met previously, and one we’ve always wanted to meet (and often look for as we stroll the lanes of her Marais neighborhood, where we’ve frequently stayed), the property doyenne, Adrian Leeds. We tell her how her writings were such a help and encouragement in our French house hunts. We’ve also enjoyed watching her help people find their Paris dream home on House Hunters International.
What fun to sit and chat with these interesting ladies, from left to right, Marjorie Williams, author of the wonderful book (which Karen gave to us years ago, a prized reference and dream book), Markets of Paris, now in its second edition, yours truly, Robin- our hostess, Adrian, and Karen.
 The evening’s completed with a stop at Le Gymnase, another vintage treasure which Karen found on her way home from the dentist earlier today…. my salad Perigourdine (with duck breast and foie gras – decadent!) is filling and delicious,

and as the place is about to close, we watch the owner carefully polishing his beautiful copper bar. So glad places like this still exist in Paris!

Adieu 2013 in Paris

Adieu 2013 in Paris

Holidays in France, 2013
Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!  We’re looking ahead to Spring – May in Venice, Barcelona, or Prague, and our newest  – Aix en Provence for the Easter Festival.

This rooftop view never fails to delight, and is especially lovely at sunrise. 

 On these last days of the year, we continue to wander the city, taking in the piles of seafood at the Montparnasse restaurants, renowned for their share-able Plateau des Fruits de Mer.

We have an errand or two to take care of on the Right Bank,  and since the Grands Magasins (department stores) are not too far from us, decide to get a glimpse of this years’ holiday windows. Galleries Lafayette’s frolic to the theme of time, and Prada takes center stage at Printemps.

As always, Galleries Lafayette’s towering tree is surrounded by snapping cameras and smartphones.

New Year’s Eve Day found us in another area we enjoy, the Marais… where Kirk found a super Christmas gift in a great vintage and new boutique that we like to check out whenever we’re in the area.

More lovely Christmas windows wherever we looked,

skaters on the ice in front of the Hôtel de Ville,

and a towering tree glittering in front of Notre Dame kept the holiday spirit going as we walked.
Chef Kirk gets busy in the kitchen, crafting his own “Kirk’s Famous Pasta” for our New Years Eve dinner….with Anne G sous- chef- ing for him, and taking careful notes so she can make this yummy dish herself. A final drizzle of olive oil and the plates are ready – delicious, and fortifying for our year end trip to the Eiffel Tower.
 We made it to our Right Bank destination in time for the countdown, bringing in the New Year with a bottle of Haton champagne which Anne G. had been saving (sorry for the dim photo – nearby revelers were not the best photographers!). We have such great memories of visiting the Haton Vineyard in Champagne with her a few years ago… what fun to share
this delicious bubbly again! 
Anticipating a super fireworks display, such as those in other cities around the world, we and the thousands crowding the streets were VERY disappointed when all we got was the normal hourly twinkle of the Eiffel Tower – quite a let-down! Guess the rain earlier in the evening had cancelled the fireworks, although nothing was officially announced.
Getting home was not at all as easy as getting there… with metro stations and bridges closed, causing us to have to walk for miles and hours…. but who can complain when you’re in Paris, with friends, for New Years?!