James and I sat back in our chairs both pushing away our breakfast plates with a silent cry of “uncle!” The food in Italy is amazing but after last evening’s extravaganza at the Palazzo Colonna, even my bottomless pit of an appetite had been thoroughly fortified and my stomach was in need of (at the very least) a rest. Coffee was more the call of the morning as we still had to finish packing up the last of the boxes with everything that would be returning to the States now that our work in Rome was completed.
The various members of our “work family” were going their separate ways today each with their own agenda of things they wanted to see and do. As for James and me; we were headed to the airport to catch a flight to Paris where we had arranged to stay with one of our dearest friends, Maria Newman.
Thanks to the wonders of modern-flight, a mere two hours later had us landing in Paris, France! We got off of the plane and after a short walk through Charles DeGaulle airport, with (regretfully) no passport stamping, which is not necessary within the European Schengen Zone, we picked-up our luggage and as we did so, we could see the smiling face of our hostess, waiting patiently for us just outside the door.
Maria was happy to have us in France at last. We had planned on this trip for at least three years and for one reason or another, it had to be either canceled or postponed time and time again. As Maria whisked us away through the streets of Paris, she decided to give us a quick driving-tour of the city, as it was already late in the afternoon and we had dinner plans to meet up with other dear friends. Still, she wanted to give us a feel for her beautiful and romantic home town before our true tour started tomorrow morning.
It was almost surreal to drive past the Eiffel Tower, the Parisian sky on this afternoon, lit in a lovely misty mauve color, created the perfect backdrop! To our right; the Seine River and to our left rose the towering structure of the Louvre; originally built as a fortress in the late 12th century, the huge museum seemed to go on forever.
As we rode down the Champs-Élysées, we were treated to a Christmas surprise; both sides of the street were lined with cute little white chalets. These adorable but temporary structures housed a multitude of holiday shops with an endless array of gifts to choose from… not to mention countless opportunities for chilly shoppers to grab a cup of hot wine! Dead ahead down the Champs-Élysées like a gateway to paradise stood the famous (and beautiful) Arc de Triomphe! As if that were not enough, as part of the holiday celebration, a huge Ferris wheel had been erected directly behind the Arc, what’s more; it had been lit to look like a gigantic snowflake. It may have taken us a long time to get to Paris but it was certainly well worth the wait. Seeing Paris at this time of year could only be compared to the thrill of New York’s, Fifth Avenue at Christmas time. There was an added energy and beauty that had both James and myself (and I believe Maria too) feeling as though we were kids again!
Before we knew it, it was time to head off to Maria’s apartment to meet up with our friends, Hilary and William and their boys Maximilien and Victor. The Batallie clan has been the very dearest of friends of ours for many years now and we had not seen them since last Christmas (2013), when they came to Florida for a holiday visit. I couldn’t believe how much the boys had grown in a year but I guess they’re at that age now where a year takes them from little boys to little men! True to form, they arrived at Maria’s baring gifts for James and me; our all-time favorite chocolates, French of course, “Suchard’s L’original Lait” to be exact! These creamy chocolate delights defy description suffice it to say, that to the day of this writing, we are still carefully rationing pieces, hoping to see this supply through to New Year’s Eve!
As fate would have it, after spending a week in Italy our first night in Paris brought us to, you guessed it…. An Italian restaurant! It may seem an odd choice but “Livio” is a local favorite and it not only was a fun place to gather and celebrate our first night in Paris but the food was darn good too! Victor checked in with me to see what my favorite pasta might be and I confessed that I had quite a hankering for alla carbonara, as it turns out, it’s Victor’s fav too and I do believe that on this night, four out of seven entrees served our table were non-other than spaghetti all carbonara.
The next day found James, Maria and moi doing a lovely walking tour of “la Ville Lumière” or “The City of Lights.” Yes I know that nowadays it may seem a name more suited for a city like, Las Vegas but did you know that Paris was one of the first cites in the world to become lighted via electricity? Who knew?
It was a positively perfect Sunday morning and our first stop was the famous, Notre-Dame de Paris (Our Lady of Paris) or simply “Notre Dame” as it is more commonly called these days. As we entered through the Gothic doors into the majestic church, our little threesome couldn’t help feeling a bit overcome by the sweet sounds of the Sunday Mass being chanted, Gregorian-style, echoing throughout the cathedral walls. The majesty of this exquisite testimony to French-Gothic architecture could be overwhelming all on its own but teamed with the beauty of Sunday mass and the love shared between our little group, it had us bonding closer than ever.
After a brief stroll about town, we came to rest at a small café for a bite of lunch. As we re-fueled our bodies, we had great fun watching the people of Paris go by on this busy afternoon.
The final cap-off to this glorious day; a four hour dinner cruise up the Seine River to see the great architectures of Paris, lit-up as though it had been professionally done by a Hollywood set designer. We boarded our glass enclosed ship as the sun was setting and sailed along the river’s left bank. With the bright Parisian lights shimmering across the water, we enjoyed panoramic views of the city’s greatest attractions such as Notre Dame Cathedral, the Musée d’Orsay, the Louvre, and Place de la Concorde. As we glided by The Eiffel Tower, it became alive with a show of twinkling lights from top to bottom! This was indeed Paris at its very best and we have to thank our gracious hostess, Maria Newman, for the gift of this most extraordinary experience.
The following morning (Monday) we headed to yet another famous cathedral; Basilique du Sacré Coeur de Montmartre. This gorgeous church sits high atop a hill overlooking all of Paris and is in an incredibly picturesque part of town that looks very much like a storybook; something straight out of the opening to Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. I couldn’t help but call out, “Marie, bring the baguettes!” The cobblestone streets are lined with centuries-old shoppes, restaurants, and cafés. On this chilly afternoon, a piping hot crock of French Onion Soup Au Gratin was unquestionably in order! We cozied up to a table in the window of a wonderful little café and enjoyed the view and a plate of crispy fries along with our savory soup!
All too soon it was time to head back to the apartment. We were leaving for Deauville this afternoon and were hoping to arrive before sundown.
You may know Deauville as a quaint little sea-side village close to Normandy, famous for its expansive boardwalk and international equestrian community, but it should also be renowned for its beautiful outdoor marketplace too. Maria’s home here in Deauville is as beautiful as her Paris flat. To our great pleasure , on this day her daughter Jessica (another of our dear friends), happened to be in Daueville in her own apartment across the courtyard from Maria’s place. Jessica had recently adopted an adorable little puppy, she very aptly named, Xena. You may remember Xena, the warrior princess as the heroine character developed by John Schulianone in 1995 for producer, Robert Tapert’s spin-off franchise of the Hercules series. Whether the name was intentional or not, it surly fits! Our little Xena is just as feisty and most certainly has even more stamina than the character played so well by Lucy Lawless. In no time at all, Lil’ Xena, the black and white ball of energy that she is, completely stole my heart, while making me miss my own two pups back home all the more. James and I were using this time away from our dogs, Buddy and Theo to an advantage, sending them off to a specialized doggy boot-camp to become certified service dogs.
The following morning we were to go into town so we could shop at the amazing aforementioned market. Maria would be returning to Rome with us on Wednesday morning so she could be part of our grand European celebration for Thanksgiving. When she found out that our Italian hosts were excited about us bringing back French cheeses to be part of the banquet, she was thrilled. Up to this point Maria knew that she wanted to do something special on her own for the Thanksgiving feast and now as fate would have it, she could put her expertise to good use so that she could supply the party with the grandest selection of fine French cheeses imaginable. And supply she did; Camembert, Brie, Roquefort, Boursin, Comté, hard, soft, semi-soft, and everything in between. Maria literally bought hundreds of dollars’ worth of the finest cheese money can buy and she was most excited to bring it to our very pregnant hostess back in Aprile, just outside of Rome. But for now it was time to get moving again. After picking up a roasted chicken and some farm fresh vegetables, it was time to head back to the apartment, prepare lunch and pack up once again so we could hit the road back to Paris. We would be leaving very early tomorrow morning from Charles De Gaulle airport so it made far more sense to stay in Paris overnight again.
Although our time in France was brief, it was a whirlwind of wonder and a dream come true. We can hardly wait for our next visit!
Coming up in my next blog, the most amazing Thanksgiving of my life.