Bonjour Madame

I love to travel. I love talking to people about travel. I love daydreaming about travel. I love reading books about travel, watching travel shows, and hearing about other people’s travel. I love meeting new people when I travel, exploring new places, and soaking in the culture of a new city. Travel really is a great passion that I have, so I am grateful that I am back on the road and/or plane again and have so many stories to share. I want to start with my most recent adventure to my favorite destination, Paris.

Not many people travel to Paris in January, which meant I could explore the city without the distraction of other tourists, the delays of crowds, or the high cost of travel usually associated with Paris. This was also a birthday present I gave myself so I did indulge a little.

Every time I come here; I find more to fall in love with. The excitement begins on my ride from the airport. At first you can’t see the city, at least nothing that stands out that makes it different from any other major city. There are new construction projects along the highway both residential and commercial. The traffic is backed up because it is rush hour and it is a dreary, rainy morning. I lean against the window, tired from the overnight flight in which I did not sleep, hoping that I will get a glimpse of something that will spark that excitement of being in Paris. As we make our way off the freeway, we turn on to streets lined with limestone buildings, cafes, and shops…there it is!

Suddenly I am not so tired, and I can’t wait to get out and start roaming around the 9th arrondissement to find coffee and a buttery warm croissant. I am surprised by how many cafes have outdoor seating in January. It’s not warm, maybe 40 degrees. I am not sure if I am ready to sit outside but will keep the option open. I make a quick stop at the hotel to drop off my luggage and then I start walking.

I am nervous, it is the first time I have been in Paris on my own. My French, or lack of command of the French language is pretty pathetic, I am horrible at reading maps, and I haven’t figured out how to use my phone yet as I start to walk. I glance around trying to remember landmarks so I can find my way back. The jet lag doesn’t help as I have been up for more than 24 hours. I decide to be brave, worst-case scenario, I have to hail a cab to get me back to the hotel.

I travel through the small narrow streets in an upward direction until I stumble upon this little treasure..Le Grenier a Pain Abbessess. “Bonjour Madame!” is the greeting in the very sing songy way the French speak. I can’t hold back the smile and I nervously begin to speak “Bonjour, un crossiant et un cafe americano s’il vous plait”. My cover is blown, and she knows I am an American but smiles nicely and hands me my food and drink. A gentleman next to me strikes up a conversation with me, in English thankfully, and begins to share the store of the bakery. They have recently won the honor of best baguette in Paris, for the second time. This honor comes with the contract to supply the current President of France with baguettes for the next year- up to 300 a day to accommodate all the visitors, dignitaries, and staff that work in the Elysees Palace. The gentlemen says proudly ” we are very particular about our bread, it must meet very high standards, all natural, and not have all the chemicals that American’s put in their food.” This won’t be the first time I will be judged as an American. I am often brought ketchup, which I really don’t like and also asked about guns -most Europeans think every American carries a gun, like it is the wild west. I don’t mind it. We make our assumptions about different cultures, so I just smile and say ” and this is why I come to Paris! To experience the best”. I make sure I thank him and also purchase a baguette. I wish the bakery staff and the gentleman a “bonne journee” and feeling very “French” with a baguette tucked under my arm, I head back out. I laugh a little. Proud that I stumbled into such a prestigious place by chance.

The coffee isn’t really helping. The carbs from the croissant have kicked in and I am feeling lethargic. It isn’t even noon yet and my room won’t be ready until 1pm. I don’t really know where I am so I decide to try and retrace my steps and head back towards Rue Saint-Lazare. It’s all downhill now which is great for my weary body. I perk up when I see a sign that points to the direction of the Palais Garnier which triggers a memory of that being close to Galleries Lafayette. Nothing like a little shopping to get the adrenaline going.

Now don’t judge me. I am a product of the 80’s. We grew up with malls. I worked in the mall, I hung out at the mall, so this is my happy place. Galleries Lafayette is the ultimate place for Gen Xer’s like me. There are 3 separate buildings for me to explore while waiting for my room to be ready. I breeze through most of it but find my attention captivated by the basement level of the Home store. There is a market place/ grocery store that would fulfill any foodie’s fantasy.

I find myself longing for an apartment in Paris instead of a hotel so I can make a gourmet meal and enjoy a bottle of Bordeaux. How very French that would be! I must tuck that thought away and make sure my next visit to Paris includes a stay in an apartment so I can experience life as a Parisian. I have to use every bit of self-control to walk out of the there with just a few things…jam, chocolate, and a torte make it into the bag. A bag that I purchased because it said “Galleries Lafayette”- very much a tourist thing to do but I can’t help it. I make a mental note to come back and pick up a few more things before my trip is over. I glance at my phone and see that it is 1:30, I can go to the hotel now (if I can find it).

I am so proud of myself as I walk up the steps to the Hilton Opera. I found my way there without the help of a cab, map, or phone. I am sure it is pure luck but I will take it. They have upgraded my room to a suite, one of the perks of being in the hospitality business. I have a wonderful view of Rue Saint -Lazare that allows for me to hear the sounds of the city and watch the hustle and bustle of Parisan life. After unpacking, making a few phone calls and sending some texts back to my loved ones at home, I head down to the restaurant in the hotel for un petit diner made up of a wonderful Bordeaux paired with steak & frites. It is only 7:30 but it now has been 36 hours that I have been awake. I collapse into my white Feathertop bed and fall asleep dreaming of my adventures awaiting me tomorrow. Bonne Nuit.

Some links to share :

Travel IS My Passion

It has been way too long! I have dusted off my passport, brushed up on my French, and packed a bag. First stop, Paris, to celebrate my birthday and to fan my passion for travel & writing. I am so glad you have decided to join me for my Parisian Adventure. I have so many fun things planned; a trip to the Louvre, a photography tour of Montmartre, a cooking class and trip to the market with a Chef, and lots of exploring the unique neighborhoods of this great city. Que l’adventure commence (let the adventure begin)!

Sweet Escape

It’s time to dream again. Imagine yourself traveling by boat to your own private island. The turquoise waters are calm, the 2 dolphins on the port side of The Truman, playfully zig zag around the wake . The sun has warmed your skin and is so bright you have to squint to see the approaching white sand beach and thatched huts that await you on Little Palm Island.

In a short 20 minute boat ride, you are transported from Key West to this exclusive private island. The escape for the rich and famous is finally open after the damage of Hurricane Irma in 2017 and a multi- million dollar renovation. Grab your S.O. and let’s go ashore.

We are greeted by one of the friendly staff members and ushered into the Welcome Station. A tropical looking drink is placed in our hands- the island signature cocktail- known as the Gumby Slumber. Julie, the helpful concierge, shares all the possible activities and pampering we can enjoy during our stay. There will be some tough decisions to be made; snorkeling, deep sea fishing, or shall we take some sailing lessons? Of course, the spa, which we must schedule a massage and facial before we leave. It might be the rum, or the calypso music, not sure which but there is a huge smile on your face and I think you are humming along.

On the way to our bungalows, we stroll through the resort, pausing to stop by the pool. There are a few other couples there, laughing and enjoying the light breeze coming off the ocean. One of them looks like a little like George Clooney….and could that be Matt Damon that he is enjoying a drink and cigar with at the Palapa Bar? It wouldn’t be the first time that a Hollywood celebrity was spotted here. Famous past guests includes Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, and even a past President and VP.

I have reserved the Island Romance Suite (bungalow). There is a view of the ocean from the the private verandah covered in bright pink bougainvillea, reminding me of the time I spent in Barbados. The white sheer curtains wrapped around the deck, add a bit privacy for the outdoor shower ( there is an indoor one too!). On the beach below, there is a fire pit for a quiet evening on this secluded part of the beach. The bungalow is tastefully decorated with a British colonial feel. A bottle of champagne is on ice with a fresh fruit plate to tide me over until dinner.

Your bungalow, is one of the Island Grand Suites- over 1000 square feet of luxury with beautiful tile floors, French doors, his and her bathrooms, and the casual elegance of the Caribbean. The large bedroom with its giant four posted king-size bed has magnificent views pf the beach. The private deck with your own little hot tub to enjoy has a day bed perfect for relaxing or meditating. For an even more memorable experience, arrangements can be made to enjoy a private dinner prepared by the Executive Chef Alex Rosados in your large dining room. There is no TV in the living room but who needs TV when you have your own little piece of paradise?!

Reservations for dinner are all set for 7pm. The Dining Room, once described as “extraordinary to perfection” in every category – food, decor, and service is lively tonight. A table in the center of the room is the perfect place to observe the festive atmosphere. If you are hungry for some seafood, The Dining Room offers an excellent Yellow Tail Snapper or Lobster Stracci. The patio doors remain open giving the feel of outdoor dining and a great view of the sunset. As the night plays on, the music and laughter grows. Conversations between tables ignite new friendships. Time passes quickly and soon dessert is being offered. The Key Lime pie is the specialty of course , although the Chocolate Frangelico Mousse sounds delicious as well. It is with great satisfaction that we leave the dining room for a stroll on the beach.

Has morning come already? A good night rest for an eventful day ahead. A little deep sea fishing brings success with the snagging of a large Marlin like a scene out of Hemingway’s , The Old Man & the Sea. We are exhausted after the outing so a visit to the spa is needed. After a relaxing spa treatment, some time by the pool to read and nap. Tonight is dinner at the Chef’s table.

The dinner is prepared and hosted by Chef Luis Pous. We are dining in a busy resort kitchen but somehow the experience is elegant and undistrubed. The Chef’s menu has our taste buds bursting with pleasure from course 1 to the final 7th course. Each course is carefully paired by a wine chosen by him to perfectly compliment the flavor. I think this is what dining must be like in heaven.

It is close to midnight but I am not ready for bed. A walk along the beach is a great way to wrap up a fabulous day and night on Little Palm Island. The night sky lit with the bright constellations fill in the darkness. The moonlight offers a path back to our bungalows. The soothing sound of the ocean is the perfect lullaby as you sink into a deep sleep.

Eventually we must leave and head back to the mainland. This will be an experience that we will never forget. We bid farewell to new friends and with much gratitude we leave a note of thanks behind to all the wonderful people at Little Palm Island that made our stay so delightful.

What’s in a name?

In 1919 on 12 rue de l’Odéon, an American in Paris, named Sylvia Beach decided to open a bookstore. I can’t imagine that she knew at the time, the lasting impact she would have on thousands of writers for more than a century later. Le Mistral became a home away from home for struggling writers and a hangout for famous Americans like Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein and F Scott Fitzgerald (sound like a familiar scene from Midnight in Paris?). She offered writers a place to stay, the occasional loan and provided inspiration to many. Ernest Hemingway referred to her in “ A Moveable Feast”, noting her kindness and generosity to strangers. The bookstore thrived until the Nazi’s occupied Paris. She was taken away in 1941 to an internment camp in in Vittel, passing away in 1962, in Paris. Sylvia would never open the store again but the story of Le Mistral does not end here.

In 1951, an old Algerian grocery store became the new home for Le Mistral . Another American, George Whitman, who had moved to Paris after serving in the US Army and attending the Sorbonne, decided to carry on in Sylvia’s footsteps. The new location on rue de la Bûcherie, along the famous left bank of the Seine, became a haven for a new generation of writers He opened his doors to starving artist, writers, actors, and poets. The agreement with George was in exchange for an overnight stay, each guest was expected to read at least 1 book a day, help stock bookshelves, and write their own autobiography. In 1964 on William Shakespeare’s 400th birthday, he renamed the store to Shakespeare and Company.

Today it is estimated over 30,000 people have overnighted here including well known actors; Geoffrey Rush and Ethan Hawke. There are thousands of autobiographies of those who have passed through the doors. In 2006, George’s only daughter, Sylvia Whitman took over the daily operations of the store. He passed a few years later at the age of 98, leaving behind a legacy that will carry on for decades to come.  

Each week, Shakespeare and Company hosts at least 1 free literary event and has also launched a publishing company. There is an online shop where you can order rare books, best sellers, children’s books and of course, merchandise toting the famous name. If your travels take you to Paris in 2021, be sure to stop in. The Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris continues to welcome people to come for the day or spend the night as long as you promise to read 1 book a day


I Miss Broadway

Have you ever had one of those days?  There was nothing really wrong, but yet it felt like there was something missing or off about the day?  Today was that day for me, it took me awhile but then it realized what was bothering me….

If 2020 had not turned into the year of Covid, I would be in New York right now. I would be sitting in the Hudson Theatre, watching Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick in Plaza Suite. I would be dressed up. I would be surrounded by other people. I would be laughing at the Neil Simon comedy and things would be “normal”

I think about the toll that Covid has taken on so many. All the actors (actresses) on Broadway that are without jobs. I am sure Sarah and Matthew are fine but what about the set designers, costume designers, the supporting cast and all the men and women that are an intricate part of the production?

My hope is by late Spring of 2021, life will start to normalize. We will be able to; gather with friends and family, eat in restaurants, go to concerts, and sit in legendary theatres in New York, Chicago, Detroit and many other great cities and watch our favorite musicals and plays.

In the meantime, Broadway has kept the lights on via your favorite streaming networks. Enjoy some of your favorite musicals via Disney Plus, Amazon, or Netflix.

My Secret Love Affair

I dream. I long. I count the days until we are together again. The attention, the gifts, the catering to my every need. The romantic dinners with exquisite wines and desserts. I miss you and hope to be reunited soon.

The love I speak of is not for a person, but for my favorite place to stay when I am in Chicago. Away from the hustle and bustle of the touristy areas , nestled in the exclusive Gold Coast neighborhood of Chicago, you will find The Waldorf Astoria.

I discovered this little gem when I was living in Chicago a few years ago. It was a beautiful fall day in Chicago and I was out wandering around, in search of a new place for coffee. A place that I could sit undisturbed while I worked or wrote. Enter, Petit Margeaux.

As you enter into the courtyard of the Waldorf, you are immediately transported to a quaint boutique hotel off Boulevard Saint-Germain in Paris. Through the main lobby you can enter into the cafe. The options are plentiful and delectable – croissants, macarons, madeleines, and palmiers. A simple choice of cappuccino and au pain chocolat is my indulgence and I settle into a table in the corner. I can sit undisturbed yet have a perfect view to watch early morning unfold for guests, residents, and the locals that stop in each morning.

My relationship with the hotel grew as I then dined in Margeaux, the French Brasserie by Michael Mina ,located inside the Waldorf. I love to sit at the bar. The conversations are lively, the bartenders are attentive, and it is the same great food that you would receive in the dining room. The Sommelier , Nicole stops by to see what wine I would like. We chat about one of my favorite topics, France. She begins to share her knowledge of wine from the Bordeaux region and I learn the difference between left and right bank wine. The night transitions into a fabulous meal that includes a filet finished with herb butter and béarnaise and a side of haricot verts almondine. At this point, a dessert is needed to top off a perfect evening. They bring me my favorite- Affogato- the perfect pairing of a scoop of vanilla gelato and a shot of expresso poured over.

I reached a pinnacle in the relationship when I traveled back a year later. I had moved back to Michigan and I was in Chicago for a long weekend. I finally was going to stay and be a guest at the luxurious Waldorf Astoria.

I was not disappointed. Every moment in the hotel was perfect. The room with a view of Lake Michigan that also had a cozy fireplace. A bottle of wine with a cheese plate was waiting for me, sent from a dear friend that made all the arrangements. The marble bath was perfectly appointed and I was definitely geeked about the TV that was in projected onto the bathroom mirror. The bed was covered in white linens and engulfs you in comfort and luxury the moment lay down. I promise you; you will never want to leave.

The Waldorf Astoria in Chicago will always hold a special spot in my heart as it was there I decided to write my travel blog. I sat in Petit Margeaux and wrote my first post. It took several cappuccinos to build up the nerve to hit the publish button but I am so glad I did.

What are some of your favorite family vacations?

I have so many great memories from family vacations that my kids and I have done over the years.

There was the one time that our dog locked us out of the car at a gas station at the Florida Georgia Line.

Or the time that my mom got into the wrong car when we made a stop at a rest area coming back from Washington DC.

Seeing the happiness in my children’s eyes when we found the Hard Rock Cafe in Paris and they could have chicken tenders and a hamburger.

Sitting around the bonfire at the The Inn at Bay Harbor singing songs and roasting marshmallows

The hours spent on road trips playing games, listening to the radio, and laughing so hard we couldn’t catch our breath.

I would love to see your family photos and hear your stories. Please feel free to post on my Facebook page, Instagram, or in the comment section of this blog.

Peace be with you

I have everything I need-sunblock, sunglasses, and a cute hat.   It’s is just a little after 7am on the gulf coast of Florida and it is already 75 degrees. I have the top down on my little white convertible and I am heading to my favorite spot, the beach. I can’t think of a better way to start the day than a walk on Vanderbilt beach in Naples, Florida. I arrive and discover I have the beach to myself. I slide off my sandals and wander down to the water’s edge. The soothing sound of the waves rolling in and the warmth of sun has a calming effect on me. I take a deep breath and a peace comes over me.  Gone is any anxiety of my new job, the angst of the global pandemic, and the challenges of every day life. 

After a long walk, I decide to make my way over to the Ritz Carlton to grab a coffee and croissant. I am still comforted by the lobby of a hotel after years of working in the industry. It is like a second home for me. I am not ready to leave, so I find a little cove to sit in that overlooks the ocean and enjoy my breakfast.

I leave tomorrow for home and a return to my normal routine.  I close my eyes and breathe in deep; I want to savor this moment hoping that it will hold me until I can return.

Under the Tuscan Sky

There is a villa, about 1 hour south of Florence, Italy that sits a top a hill overlooking the Tuscan countryside with spectacular views of vineyards and olive groves. The Apennines mountains are off in the distance and the town of Figline Valdarno is just down the road. For years it sat in ruins until a couple from England decided to buy it and restore to its original grandeur. This is the story of Il Palagio.

Il Palagio dates back to the early 1500 when it belonged to the Martelli Family. In the early 1800’s they sold it to the widow of the Duke of San Clemente. The estate remained in the family for over 150 year as a working oil mill and grain store. By the late 80’s /early 90’s the estate and fields were left unattended and is disrepair. It was in a very “Fragile” state and in desperate need of love and restoration. A lovely Englishman and his wife purchased the home in 1993. They began the painstaking and costly process of restoring it. This became their summer home to enjoy with friends and family for many years to come.

Today there is the main villa and 3 other homes; Casa Colonica, The Red House, and The Chalet on the estate. The homes can accommodate up to 49 guests overnight and 400 guest to celebrate a wedding, birthday, or other milestone event. The working vineyards produce six blends of wine: four Sangiovese-forward reds, one Vermentino white, and Beppe Rosato, the estate’s first rosé. You may have heard of some them: Roxanne, Message in a Bottle, Sister Moon, and When We Dance.

There are 80 beehive colonies, producing 8 varieties of honey, and fields of olive trees harvesting cold-pressed organic oil each season. When you are not wine tasting, wandering through the olive gardens, or enjoying the chestnut honey, you are invited to go for a swim in the pool at the main villa or take a dip in the lake on the premises. Arrangements can be made for cooking lessons or a private meal with the resident Chef. Perhaps in such a serene setting your prefer sunrise yoga? A walk in the traditional English gardens surrounding the villa may inspire a poem or song in your head. Thank goodness for the state-of-the-art recording studio on site if that is the case!

As you may have determined on your own , this is no ordinary villa and these are no ordinary hosts. This is the home of Sting and his wife Trudie. They opened their private home in Tuscany back in 2013 for 3 months a year for visitors to enjoy. Since that time it has become a popular wedding destination and retreat for Sting fans and wine lovers alike. It is quite easy to get to from Florence (1 hour away) or Rome (3 hours) and the perfect spot to celebrate life’s important moments.

I am convinced Sting would personally want to host a milestone birthday I have coming up in a few years (hint,hint). And a private concert…..This gives my family and friends ample time to plan,

Provence 2022

It’s 1970 and you find yourself in the South of France, gathering around a table for dinner with James Beard, M.F.K. Fisher, Richard Olney, Simone Beck, Judith Jones, and Julia Child. Perhaps you are feeling intimidated? A bit out of place? Yet extremely lucky to be part of a moment that will forever be known as the meal that changed the way we eat and experience food today. After reading Luke Barr’s account of that historical meeting and all the events leading up to it , in Provence 1970, I felt inspired to do a little more research. I am really glad I did as I came across- The Courageous Cooking School, hosted in Julia Child’s summer home in a little French provincial village in the South of France. Grab your apron and Chef’s knife and let’s go.

Fast forward to the summer of 2021. You have jetted across the Atlantic and landed in Paris. After some time in Paris, you board the TGV at Gare de Lyon station for the 5 hour journey. From your window seat on the train, you watch beauty of the countryside of France unfold before you. The train travels along rivers, over rolling hills, through fields of lavender, and past small picturesque villages. The terrain begins to change as mountains appear and you spot the terra cotta tile rooftops from the seaside villages of the Mediterranean. The train pulls into the station, you must change trains in Cannes. With the few moments you have there, you step out into the city. The sun is so bright that you pull out the black Jackie O glasses that you brought with you and wrap an elegant silk scarf around your hair to keep it from blowing in your face. There are street cafes, designer and boutique stores around every corner. If only you had more time. You don’t want to miss the train so you hurry back to the station, making a mental note to return here one day.

Approaching La Pitchoune, Julia’s summer home in Provence ( or “La Peetch” as you will come to know it ), awakens the hopeless romantic in you. ” How do you find yourself to be in such a magical spot?!” You pause for a minute to soak in magnitude of the moment. Imagine if you will; all the conversations that Julia and her husband Paul had here as she worked on her cookbooks and built her empire, the guests that have dined here, the recipes that were created and perfected here. I bet if you listen closely, you hear laughter coming from the kitchen, it must be Julia herself! Behind you are a group of women from California , all filled with that same sense of amazement and excitement.

The week begins with introductions and overviews of what to expect. At the Courageous Cooking School, no recipes are used. You are cooking with inspiration and intuition while guided by accomplished Chefs and the culinary director. A new way to cook that seems rather risky..but you are in France, and you are standing in the legendary kitchen of Julia Child so just go with it! As you sip your Rosé , you notice the pegboards on the kitchen wall. There are copper pots and pans, cooking utensils, and things you don’t even recognize but hope to use this week.

Each day is more exciting than the previous as you learn new techniques with your favorite dishes and explore new flavors from meals created in class. You begin to rely on your instincts, becoming an expert at blending herbs to create that perfect flavor. The meal preparation is like a performance. You are gliding from one step to the next with the ease of an artist or dancer. The grand finale– a masterpiece of sense, sight, and taste. You are proud of your work; your creation , you join fellow students at the table in the courtyard to enjoy the feast that you created together. What is even more glorious is that you get to wake up and do this again tomorrow!

When you are not perfecting your culinary skills, you can enjoy the beautiful gardens or relax and catch up on your correspondence (sounds better than email) in the courtyard of La Peetch. It can get quite warm during the days so perhaps a dip in the pool may be just what you need? If you are feeling adventuresome, a trip to the “fragrance capital of the world” , Grasse is just a short drive away.

This charming town, nestled along the French Rivera can keep you busy for hours. Explore the perfumeries, the 18th Century Costume museum or wander through the lavender and olive farms that are sprawled out over the hills and valleys of Provence.

The week has come to an end. It is sad yet a part of you is excited to come home and share the stories of the week with your friends and family, You, have joined a community that is rather exclusive and will impact how you cook and entertain for the rest of your life.

If you would like more information on the 2021 and 2022 trips available, please let me know. I am thinking of going in the summer of 2022. I think it would be the perfect girlfriend’s getaway, don’t you?