There is a very cool hotel in the delightful neighborhood of the 6th arrondissement. It’s called La Belle Juliette. I have stayed there several times and always recommend it to friends. It’s reasonable and one of those places that immediately immerse you into the feel and touch of a Parisian neighborhood. It’s on the Rue du Cherche-Midi. A favorite street of mine. So called because a sundial was at the top of the street and was used as the clock for Paris for centuries. There’s even a French phrase that references the name. Chercher-Midi a quatorze heures. To find midday at 2 pm. To over complicate things.
It’s the home of several monasteries, a now defunct prison, and several very cool restaurants. A fantastic bar and café are on the corner of the Rue St. Placide and the Rue du Cherche-Midi. The 6th is where I would choose to be. A bit encompasses Notre Dame, St. Germain, the Jardin Luxembourg’s, and all along the river on the left bank. The bookstores and overpriced antique stores and the delightful Rue du Bac. It stretches all the way to Montparnasse.
And of course, the famous Hotel Lutetia, recently renovated and offering rooms at 1300 EUROS A NIGHT. YEAH RIGHT. A beautifully designed building, with its past a rich and checkered tapestry brilliance and blemishes. Jazz found its home here and the jazz bar still plays on. It was a part of the Belle Époque. Splashes of Art Nouveau stretching all the way to Deco. It sits opposite a tiny park and the busy Boulevard Raspail. I have stayed there many times when the Hotel Lutetia was a tad shabbier and afforded more affordable rates. It’s still worth a visit for the restaurant and the jazz bar. The rooms. Dunno. Too expensive, but I recall great views on the upper floors of the Eiffel tower! I’ll just have to do with the memories for now.
Sometimes a city just has it. Paris is one of those places. Our office is in a small and quaint space nestled inside a residential building along the Rue de Babylon. It’s a stone‘s throw from the swish Conran’s store and the Belle Époque style Bon Marche, Paris’ super chic department store. It’s also the home to the Épicerie. Paris’ version of Harrods food halls and one of the greatest food halls in the world. And strangely enough there is a Chapel opposite the Department store. The Chapel of the Miraculous Medal that attracts 2 million visitors a year.
According to the story, the Virgin Mary visited a 23-year-old novitiate in 1832 with a request for medallions to be made to facilitate miracles. Catherine Laboure thus became the facilitator of miracles. And…there were miracles. A cholera epidemic was halted once medallions were distributed to the sick, a fire was halted that threatened to spread from the Bon Marche department store to the church and lastly, when they exhumed her body to place her inside the church, her body was identical to the day she passed away. A miracle indeed! As a skeptical miracle believer, it all makes a pretty decent story and more important the extraordinary site is jammed between the two trendy stores and a épicerie all on the beautiful Rue du Bac. So called because the ferry (The Bac) would moor at the bottom of the street and was used to transport the stone that was used for the construction of the Palais des Tuileries. A wonder of wonders. Our little and humble office is right in the middle of all these amazing non touristy apparitions!
Notre Dame Cathedral with Paris cityscape panorama at dusk, France
Arrived very early at St. Pancras station. It was organized but you need more time than I recalled. More time for vaccine card. Proof of a negative Covid test. And everything takes three times longer. But, at some point you get through. They give you a tiny card at French customs on the UK side and as long as you don’t lose the card you are good. The breathtaking journey to Paris.
Whoever remembers those awful journeys with flights from Heathrow or the ferries from Dover. I was musing about the absolute brilliance of bringing Europe together the other day. Brexit? Never going to happen. Boris Johnson. A joke. A clown. No way! Here we are. It’s all happened. Agghh!! But at least we have the train under the channel!!
Built over 5 years and opened in 1994 it has transformed access to Europe. Imagine. Two hours and 15 minutes. Thirty-eight minutes under the channel. 250′ feet under the bottom of the chalk seabed. The longest underwater tunnel in the world. Napoleon. Hitler. Nobody since 1066 has ever managed to breakthrough. Except the Chunnel. Even the EU got rejected. It’s a shame but at least we have the champagne bar to send us off as we go into the unknown. At least we have Europe. Well, hang on. They don’t want the Brits. The Chunnel was it. Brexit was the end! Oh well!
Corfu is an island well known by ferry travelers enroute to Athens. In the summer, ferries push straight on from Brindisi in Italy to Athens but off peak, Corfu is a stopover. It has one off the most charming towns in all of Greece. Corfu Town. The influence of Venetians is everywhere. Four centuries of influence. A castle and beautiful pastel-colored buildings with medieval cobbled marbled streets that house the usual souvenir stuff that I confess I’m attracted to! There is a cool bar and restaurant scene, lots of nighttime activity and several narrow passageways that offer mystery tours through the old town. It is probably the most beautiful town of the Greek Islands. Small enough to boast and show off its history and lively enough not to dampen the vacation spirits. And if course, in every plaza there is ample time to catch up on Greek salad, grilled octopus and moussaka. Whatever your fancy.
I had not been back for a long time. It was nice to get back into the travel groove again. Especially if you have been watching the gorgeously told TV series on the Durrell’s who lived on the island during the 1930’s before the start of the Second World War.
How to get there….I traveled from Rome to Corfu on Ryan Air. BA flies daily from London. There are several flights from Athens each day. Hotel Cavaliers Hotel is right in center of town and convenient to everything.
Check out the Hotel Cavaliers here: https://cavalierihotel.gr/
I confess I have never taken Ryan Air before. It’s something I have avoided up till now. But with the collapse of Alitalia, Italy’s national carrier, the shorter flights in and around Italy that were once covered by the National carrier have disappeared. And so, in came Ryan Air. We were flying into Corfu, Greece from Rome. There was no other option but Ryan Air. And off we went out to Rome’s other airport, Ciampino, for my Ryan Air flight to Corfu. It was strange to be in Ciampino. The ride out along the Via Aurelia is stacked with Columns and ancient discards. There are the catacombs and scattered treasures. In the distance are the Alban hills and there was Rome’s other airport, Ciampino. About 8 miles from the city center. And there was Ryan Air. A hub airport for this carrier. I heard the stories of jammed seats, toilets you must pay to use, rude staff and nonexistent service onboard. Bags you must pay for, etc. What a pleasant surprise! We paid for extra leg room and the flight was pleasant. Staff were nice. Bags checked and arrived intact and on time. Maybe it was the luck of the Irish but honestly, it seems better than Alitalia. Which is not saying much but…
I have a walk I always used to take in Rome in the evening. My first evening back for a year and a half prompts me to walk that route once more as an introduction to Rome. Start at the Pantheon. At the Piazza della Rotonda. Take an aperitive and say hi to the waiters who I have known for 30 years. The Pantheon is always a fabulous start to any walk in Rome. It begins at the start of it all. A perfectly preserved dome. Built in 125 AD and never replicated until Brunelleschi built the Duomo in Florence in 1296! Amidst this huge structure in the middle of old cobbled streets is Bernini’s elephant in the Piazza Minerva. And the gentle color on the sandstone buildings starts the evening walk. Ahead Bernini fountains and Borromini churches. The superstars of Baroque. Ronaldo and Messi of their day! Piazza Navona and the Campo di Fiori and Piazza Farnese. History jammed into three squares. Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque and Ancient. And in between ice cream, espresso and an aperitivo. Not necessarily in that order.
It’s the sunset that so attracted me to Rome all those years ago. I usually start at the Temple of Cats and make my way to the Campidoglio via the Piazza Venezia. The colors of a Roman evening are quite extraordinary. There is the Vittorio Manuel monument. Awkward and towering with its white marble uncomfortable in between the Baroque Domes and Medieval Church of the Aracoeli but it’s a vital landmark for those unfamiliar with Rome. The Cordonata provides a gracious entrance to the Piazza Campidoglio with Marcus Aurelius equestrian statue, a copy, marking the center of Michelangelo’s square. The Capitoline Museum, a treasure trove of Ancient Rome on the right but beyond and around the corner lies the real treasure. And I had forgotten how impactful that first sight of ancient times is. Breathtaking. The Palatine on the right. Oleander, Cyprus and umbrella pine all around and there is the Forum. The columns and arches, the Senate, and the path to the Coliseum. I first brought my parents here 30 years ago. I think of them and the memories of Rome and everything in between. At sunset.
My Roman friend has a system for crossing the road. I thought of this while trying to cross along the busy road opposite the Campidoglio. There is no zebra crossing. No traffic lights. Just a steady stream of unrelenting traffic both ways. There is no gap. No opportunity to cross. So, I did what he had suggested. I just walked out into the road slowly but confidently and amazingly the traffic simply parted. He always told me never to hesitate. Keep a straight line and keep walking. I must confess it took some adjustments. And of course, I always wave to the cars and scooters as a thanks as they slow down or maneuver to avoid me. They think I’m mad. Not to cross under their noses but to thank them! Very, very unItalian. It’s been a while. Feels good to be back.
There is a name in Roman for the guy who stands in the middle of the traffic intersection at the Piazza Venezia. I had not seen him for a while but this time, as if to greet us all back, there he was. The Pizzardone. It’s an art. He is a conductor. His white gloves holding the craziness of motorists, busses, and cars. It is dramatic. He has this immense power. A rotary like the Piazza Venezia and four streams of congested moving anxious Romans on bikes, scooters and in cars would seem no match for the Pizzardone. But Romans become extraordinarily compliant. Obedient. Nobody moves without his assent. The hands are all drama. His whistle ready to pounce on anyone who breaks the rules. And fantastically nobody does. It is a play. A performance. There is a special school that trains Pizzardones. It requires incredible organizational skills, judgement and flexibility. It is knowing how to work on the fly. In the moment. Moving traffic along and avoiding bottlenecks. His orchestra is the sea of traffic. His baton is his hands. It is quintessentially Italian and more importantly its timeless. Traditions are held sacred in this ancient crazy city. Green lights. Red lights. Sophisticated computer algorithms. Not in the main piazza. Not in the center of Rome. The show must go on!
Travel life between countries is a series of Covid tests and passenger locator forms. The rapid types. Antigen. Results in 15 minutes. The journey from Mallorca to Rome was fairly smooth. Two flights, masked up, and the usual endless wait at Fiumicino for the bags to land on the carousel. I have a theory about Rome airport waiting. The baggage handlers clearly wait and then give the carousel a whirl to get everyone’s hopes up. And then the great “nothing.” More waiting and an occasional sporadic whirl again. This goes on for half an hour. At some point the bags did arrive. And then we were out and into the night air of Fiumicino, Italy. A year and a half. And then it came back.
The drive into the city. There is no skyline to illuminate the skies. Simply an expectation and a longing for the familiar that has been part of my life for 40 years. The Aventine with its views across its neighbor hill the Palatine. The breathtaking ancient villas that sit above the Circus Maximus. The crazy traffic as we wind around by Teatro Marcello that sits on the outskirts of the ghetto. And then the Campidoglio with castor and Pollux atop the beautiful and graceful staircase of the Cordonata Capitolina and we are in the city. And I disappear into Rome.
Riding around on a red Vespa in the center of Rome is a way to see the city. Not necessarily the safest, but a way. So, I had the pleasure of riding on the back of my friends scooter so I could take in the sights and film the chaos while he focused on the road. Rome makes its claim on being built on seven hills but ironically the two hills that afford the most spectacular views of the city are not on the coveted list of the magnificent seven! So, off we went!
The Pincio is the hill that sits high above the Spanish steps. It backs onto the Borghese Gardens and always in my mind belongs to Sundays. Sunday walks, Sunday picnics and strolls from the Piazza del Popolo through the chic and glitzy streets that lead to Keats house and the Babington’s Tea Rooms. One of my favorite cafes is on the via Condotti, the Main Street that showcases the Spanish Steps. Antico Caffe Greco. The oldest bar in Rome and second oldest in Italy. Cafe Florian in Venice has that title. The tiny sandwiches at cafe Greco are simply like no other!
The other hill is the Gianicolo. This is the hill that winds its way out of St. Peters and descends back again past the Spanish Embassy into Trastevere. Most notable for Punch and Judy shows on Sundays and the classic view of Rome stretching from the wedding cake building far beyond to St. John’s in Lateran. It’s Garibaldi’s hill. His statue dominates the top of the hill. The revolutionary who became the catalyst that united Italy and ended Vatican and French dominance. The Gianicolo was a battleground, and now is probably the most peaceful place on earth to take in this magnificent city.
A tale of two hills. Neither on the list of seven, but both significant and meaningful to the tourist for the classic view of Rome.
Oh, and I survived the Vespa experience too!
Watch the video tour here: RomeVespaTour2021
I have always loved Spain. I first went there during the Franco era in a very beaten-up car that barely made it across the border. It was all beaches and Paella. But my favorite memory is a trip I took to the White villages (Pueblos Blancos) a few years ago. The white villages are a necklace of hilltop villages strategically spread along the Andalusian interior. The road that connects the villages is breathtaking. Arcos de la frontera tips the clue that these places were built along the border between the Moors and the Catholics. Painted white because of the heat in the summer and breathtaking because like good border defenses the towns were nestled in the mountains and hills of southern Andalusia.
When we visit Granada, Seville, and Cordoba we get a fully sculpted picture of the influence of the Moorish occupation. Cathedrals and churches converted from mosques but still retaining are some of most stunning interior architectures.
One of the bigger towns, Ronda, that boasts a fabulous gorge, has a bridge that connects the old town to the new town. There’s a beautiful bullring and some fun tapas bars for the evening paseo; I had a travel moment. In the back streets we came across a young boy being tutored by an older man in the art of bullfighting. The boy had a cape. He was practicing quietly under the guidance of the older man to move the cape and kneel and turn as if he were in the arena. It was so unreal. Just the two of them. He didn’t see us. He was super focused on the old man who was maybe once a bullfighter. It seemed so out of time. So bizarre but strangely beautiful…there it was. A passing of the baton. A generational lesson. Under a hot afternoon sun not far from the old bullring and a million miles away from everywhere.
When I think of London, I think Pubs, the Royal family, and theatre. And I think of rain and summers that fly by without a summer day in sight. But, ironically I think of open-air theatre. London houses two of the most famous open-air theatres in the world.
Let’s start with my favorite. The Regents Park open-air theatre. Founded in 1932, its located on the inner circle by Queen Mary’s Garden. By the rose garden. Its season is the summer.
I have seen Midsummer Night’s Dream there so many times and it never tires. The clouds come in, the rain starts, the planes boom overhead, and the birds fly from tree to tree. It’s part of the set. Puck delivers his closing line and then the mad dash across the park, in total darkness and often pouring rain as the audience run for the last tube, a late restaurant in Soho or a taxi home. When I lived in London, I was always at the park. Sometimes at the Zoo, sometimes at the open-air pool but never got to the theater.
Shakespeare is a tale of two cities. Stratford and London. In London, if you ever have the chance, go book a seat (better a seat) at the Globe Theatre. A rebuild of an original theatre built in 1599, burned and rebuilt in the 1600’s only to be shut down by Puritans in the mid 1600’s. Damn Puritans! Spoiling all the fun! Eventually torn down to make way for housing and then rebuilt again in 1997! It is a beautiful reconstruction of Tudor architecture. Situated close to its original site in Southwark by London Bridge and famous Borough Market along the ancient Thames. This is where Shakespeare wrote and performed his works. Julius Caesar was probably the first play performed at the original Globe. The new theatre serves winter as well with the Sam Wanamaker Theatre. Using only candles as lighting it recreates a theatre experience like no other. Art isn’t easy but you get to travel to a time when it was more difficult than you could ever imagine!! Go travel and visit the Globe Theatre on a high school trip. You won’t be disappointed!
So, the English made it all the way to the final of the Euro championships and then…heartbreak…again. How strange sports combat is. Almost unwatchable at the end. This gladiatorial battle spent over 2 hours of tactical maneuvering with two breaks in between and it came down to 12 yards. The distance between a penalty spot and the goal. And there it was. 60,000 fanatical fans, all cheering England on against the enemy Italians. A penalty shoot out. 12 yards. A towering goalkeeper in the Italian net who was 6ft 7, moving along the goal line intimidating the penalty shooters. It all came down to the this. 32 teams, all reduced to two teams on an English summer night, and certainty that one team would win and one would lose. The penalty shoot out. As glorious an event as sports can provide. A shooter, a goalkeeper and a referee with a whistle. And the sounds of the masses resonating around the stadium and anguish and nerves and breathtaking tension filling the evening air. Inevitably England’s long torturous journey from the distant 1966 England victory against the dreaded Germans, would come back to Wembley for redemption. This time. The team was better. The Italians weaker. The English scored after 2 minutes. England would be assured of victory and an end to the curse that showed no mercy for 55 years! Ignominy against Iceland, heartache against Spain. Prince William, Boris Johnston, David Beckham all there to celebrate the victory that was assured. The Queen sending a message of good luck. The Queen. Even she had become interested! She likes horse racing and ascot and maybe rugby but not this sport of the common man. Surely, we were assured now! This was England. The cup was coming home. Brexit was worth it, we didn’t need those dastardly Europeans. We had survived Covid. We would walk once more with dignity down Wembley Way as champions, if not of the world, of Europe. Teach those Europeans a thing or two about decency.
And then. It happened. The equalizer.
And then the penalty shoot out. Last minute substitutions were made to put our best foot forward. But the goalkeeper had a reach unimaginably long. The guy was from Naples. How did they breed them so tall there! And in one second, the hopes and dreams of a nation were gone. 55 years would no longer be the number of lost opportunities. We had lost the moment. Just at the very end. 12 yards. Indecision. Nerves. And suddenly it was gone. Rome celebrated. The Italians were the winners. 12 yards. Fans barely able to watch. Torment, tears, a long journey home on the Underground.
The World Cup will come around shortly and we will try once more but never will that cup feel so close as it did on that fateful evening at Wembley. 12 yards.
I knew the pandemic was nearly over because my local bakery in Boston, in Seaport called Flour, finally opened its doors fully after a year and several months of operating at 10 per cent. I can recall the early pandemic days when none of us were quite used to the world that was about to hit us. Numbers were pitching badly, the pandemic was crippling everything from restaurants, bars, schools, flights, trains…everything closed…..and somehow Flour had limped through. As had we.
I used to go there pretty much every week at least twice. Orders had to be made online, sandwiches and stuff left in between the glass doors, no contact, just a wave to familiar faces that worked there. And then slowly it became easier. Not perfect, but accessible. Still nothing inside but a few more people and some lovely conversations with the always lovely staff there. And then it happened. There was a crowd. A queue and it was busy, and I had to wait a little longer and there were people hanging inside and eating outside and then I realized, that the weathervane had changed.
The pandemic was moving on. People in the streets, at ball games, less masks and smiles you could see again. And then I knew we would be back traveling soon. So, maybe not the French café in my favorite neighborhood by the office on the Rue Cherche Midi, maybe not my hangout in London in Soho or the Piazza Della Rotunda by the Pantheon in Rome. Not yet, but getting there.
Imagining a world less remote, less tied to zoom. The sounds of flights overhead filling the sky a little more each day. I can feel the pull of travel as countries start to open shop . Travel is what we do. What we all need to do. Out of the backyard and into the neighbor’s yard. A jump once more into another place.
And there was Flour. Busy and bustling and looking half normal.
I loved my sandwich today! Always have, but today felt super good.