Our nearly-annual trip to the beach will soon be upon us, and I can’t wait! Our visits and the cast of characters have morphed through the years, and we have started to come pretty close to what we consider the perfect beach vacation. For us, we have distilled the 7 days into sand, wine, and food.
I’ve learned a lot of lessons along the way. Living with other people for a week really taught me about what I like and what I can learn from how others do things. Years ago we went with my husband’s extended family and they wanted everyone to cook at once, and then the families would just heat up a plate of the various main dishes and sides. Very efficient and you did not have to coordinate dinner time, but I like the camaraderie of everyone visiting in the kitchen while I cook and sitting around a table with nothing but time begets the best stories. I also learned that there is a secret circle of hell that resides at any oceanside grocery store on a Saturday, the traditional day of east coast rental turnover. On our first visit to Hilton Head Island, I froze a baked ziti and brought it and enough groceries to get through the weekend. When we arrived at our rental house, I popped it into the oven and by the time we unpacked and had taken the kids to dip their toes, it was ready. Bringing the groceries requires a lot of forethought and planning, but it was so worth it to stroll into the Publix on Monday afternoon and not have stand in a checkout line that stretched to the back of the store.
I’ve also learned to bring my own spices. Even if I plan to buy the meat for a main meal at the beach, I bring a Ziploc bag with the various spices for that dish with me. Again, a few minutes of planning at home saves a lot of money at the grocery and your cupboards are not full of barely used jars of thyme. My favorite homemade mixes to bring are Mexican seasoning for ground beef, thyme and salt for oven-roasted skin-on chicken breast halves, and ingredients for the brine for skinless, boneless chicken breast. I also bring my own salt and pepper grinders and my good knife. I hate using a dull knife and sometimes the cutlery at a beach house is dull or missing altogether. Also, bring a Sharpie. With so many people running around, it’s imperative to label bottles of water, and my kids would tell you, the last packages of snacks that you are claiming.
We also bring our own wine. We might pick up a few bottles at Publix, especially of Rose´, but we bring the good stuff from home. For us, it is worth the hassle because we get to choose what we’d like to drink and not settle for some overpriced mediocre bottle. Hilton Head Island is a 10-hour drive down the most congested, spirit-testing stretch of I 95. To keep our wine cool, if not our heads in the traffic, we use gel-filled freezer packs between the bottles and keep them covered, away from direct sunlight. And drive like hell.
All the stress of the drive melts away at the sight of the bridge to the Island—except I’m still pissed at the guy who was tailgating me so closely that I couldn’t see his headlights while I’ve got a string of cars barely a car-length in front of me and we’re driving, well, let’s just say I’m keeping up with traffic. Dude, there is nowhere to go, the traffic is bumper-to-bumper to the Keys! Sorry, I had to get that off my chest.
The march of time has changed our group—expanding families and conflicting schedules caused the trips with my husband’s extended family to peter out and our family became the locus for a new group. Our first visit to Hilton Head was just my family of six and my mother-in-law. My mother-in-law has gotten remarried and her husband now joins us, my nephew started joining us with his wife and daughter, had two more children and then has gotten divorced and remarried with the addition of a step-son, my dad has passed away, but my mother still comes, and we worried that my oldest would be unable to join us this summer after college graduation because of work, but she can! I think that is a hidden beauty of annual vacations. Because they are discrete points of time in a whirlwind life, I can look back at each vacation and remember what my family was like with crystal-clear clarity because it wasn’t muddled by errands, appointments, practices and the muck of life.
Mornings are spent walking on the beach, drinking coffee by the pool, and giving warnings about putting on enough sunscreen. Depending on the day’s tide, we might boogie board on the incoming surf or start the sandcastle of the day. Since we tend to get up with the sun at the beach, it doesn’t seem odd to crack a beer before lunch and then eat lunch with a rose´ to fuel a full afternoon of swimming and chasing the badminton birdie down the beach since we never seem to be able to return it to the server. As evening approaches, I head back to the house to shower and begin dinner prep. I love to have theme nights for dinner and a lot of times there’s a specialty cocktail to match our upcoming meal. Margaritas, of course, for Mexican night and Aperol Spritzes for Italian night. For the kids, we make slushies out of the sour mix and bring San Pellegrino flavored sodas for some Italian flair. Dinners are long and leisurely, when they were small the kids watched a video after dinner while the adults lingered and now most of the kids are old enough to drift in and out to catch a story and then go back to their phones. Like the wine, the reminiscences flow and a great counterpoint is that my parents and mother-in-law did not see each other (except for our wedding day) until we started going to the beach together and obviously, we didn’t know her husband until about 10 years ago, so the older generation is sharing backstories with each other that we had never heard before.
And so the days repeat. We rent bikes and we will bike to lunch one afternoon and then at least one other time, we will bike to get ice cream. We’ll take a few leisurely bike rides down the beach or around the lagoons looking for alligators (we always find them!), and there is always one misadventure, like the time a rainstorm caught us unawares. But no mini golf or arcades, no eating out every night, and definitely no shopping at outlets—in all seriousness, why is outlet shopping on vacation a thing? We play games at night, Tripoli, Hearts, Spades, and the kids’ favorite—the fishbowl game. Sometimes I plan crafts, like everyone gets a small canvas and paints a beach scene or one year we collected our corks and made pirate faces with Sharpies on some and tied others with kitchen twine to float them as a pirate raft in a little pool left during low tide.
At the end of the week, we finish packing and get ready to return to Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Alabama, (and now New York), but we are connected, both my nuclear family and our extended family. Shared stories and experiences will carry us through until the next time, and as our parents age and my kids start their own lives, there is always the bittersweet feeling that things will never be the same. But I hope that these weeks at the beach with nothing more than sand and family time will be the mortar that builds the foundation for the kind of tradition that keeps our family, however it changes, together throughout the years.
A is for Apothic wine that you should never, ever drink, unless you like your Swiss Miss spiked with rubbing alcohol.
B is for bottles of wine that you should save to help commemorate good times.
C is for corked, which you don’t want your wine to be-unless your into wet cardboard aromas
D is for Del DottoWinery that I want to make fun of for their pretentious, imported Italian cave, but their wine is soooo good.
E is for Extra-Dry, the champagne preference of the under-aged and your mother-in-law.
F is for full-bodied wine and how Napa Cabs roll.
G is for Gallo wine, most likely where we all started.
H is for half-bottle foolishness, when is 375ml ever enough?
I is for indecently priced wine lists—really, $39 for Cupcake?!?
J is for JohnFucking Caldwell and his Prometheus-like smuggling clone gift to us all.
K is for Kalon–where you go To for some of the best Cabs in Napa.
L is for LeftBank Bordeaux that have power and elegance and cost a lot.
M is for Muga, a great Spanish wine with lots of cedar notes.
N is for Napa, of course!
O is for Oenophilia, which while harder to spell, sounds nicer than borderline alcoholism.
P is for phylloxera, an evil aphid that eats the souls of wine lovers and the roots of grape vines.
Q is for OnQ which makes great wines in Coombsville.
R is for refrigeration and is the secret ingredient to enjoying grocery store wine.
S is for sommelier who should be an expert in wine, and not an asshole
T is for terroir which is important for understanding that where a grape grows affects its taste and the wine that is created, but when I have to say it, still makes me feel like the priest in A Princess Bride
U is for ullagewhich is where the wine used to be at.
V is for vineyards that are as beautiful to look at as they are necessary to our survival
W is for wax seals that you drill though with a corkscrew, not send yourself to the emergency room with a stab wound to the palm while trying to cut through the wax.
X is for the xs formed in wooden crossbars of crates to store wine.
Y is for yeast which makes grape juice so happy and pretty.
Z is for Zinfandel and why that pizza tastes so damn good.
The last month has been one of those mile markers in life that kind of sneak up on you. Obviously, I had known my daughter’s college graduation was coming this past May for the last 4 years (Thank you, child, for gettin’ ‘er done in four!) and the kids’ birthday always come one after another in a dizzying six weeks’ time, but I was still surprised to find myself with an adulty adult, a nineteen year-old who already has a year of college under her belt, a seventeen year-old who has to start seriously looking at colleges, and a fifteen year-old who can get her driving permit in six months. After years devoted to helping (pushing, prodding, nagging) the kids meet concrete goals: learning to walk, talk, read, tie their shoes, put laundry in the hamper (I’m still working on that one),drive a car, fill out a college application, how do I help them learn to live?
The shocking suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain as bookends of a terrible week made me think about what is a good life? Is there anything I could do, say, or show my kids that could possibly light their way back if they ever find themselves in a dark place? And I have no answers.
Spade and Bourdain were both wildly successful by every yardstick imaginable. I had a Kate Spade diaper bag and those kids grew up to have Kate Spade handbags. The persona of insouciant New Yorker translated into fashion, a desirable home décor line as well as well as books. Anthony Bourdain was famously cool and hip with TV shows and got to live a life traveling and eating that seems like a dream— a job where I get paid to travel and chow down? Undeniably, their success came from deep reserves of talent and hard work. So when I tell my kids to persevere through school and work and good things will come to them, while not a lie, it is no guarantee that it will be enough. With success came fame and money. I never think of fame as a prerequisite to a good life, and I can easily see that as a stressor. But money, that is supposed to be the elixir that cures all. Once basic needs are met—food and housing—money can be transformative–education, philanthropy, travel, Frette sheets, Romane´-Conti, and someone to clean your toilets. Still not enough. And medical care. In a time of uninsured and under-insured, money gives you access to the best doctors and facilities. Didn’t matter.
Please believe me, I’m not criticizing Kate Spade or Anthony Bourdain for not being happy or thinking them selfish for not appreciating the lives they led. My heart breaks to think of the pain they suffered to make the choice they did, but that pain terrifies me because they left behind people they LOVED. So they had love, in addition to the success, but the torment blinded them and I want to know, could anything have made them grope back to the light?
I don’t know. And, I think every parent agrees, that is the scariest part of the journey.
If you or anyone you know needs help, reach out.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
You’re not alone. Confidential help is available for free.
Formulaic comedy about 4 older women (divorced, widowed, never married, and married) trying to get their groove back after reading the “Fifty Shades” trilogy. Jane Fonda’s character Vivian, out of all the stereotypes, is the most tiresome. Vivian is a successful businesswoman who has stayed as sharp in business as her plastic surgeon’s scalpel, and feasts upon an array of one night-stands instead of eating carbs. Alas, her playgirl attitude is not because Vivian finds relationships draining and chooses to spend her emotional energy on her life work and girlfriends, but she’s just a girl afraid of getting her heart broken. Why can’t a successful woman choose not to be in a long-term relationship (or relationships) because it’s a rational choice not based on fear?
Francis Coppola Director’s Cut Cabernet–the BIG pour
Harrison Ford was not in it.
For people who love the Star Wars universe, it’s a fun movie. I’m lying. Star Wars fanatics will only go see it for ammunition to destroy whoever directs the next installment of the saga and deviates from sacred canon. I’m particularly thinking of you—girl dressed like Chewbacca on a 90 degree day–and one of my kids. For anyone else, I’d say it’s worth a rent on On-demand, but not the right kidney cost of a typical night at the local Cineplex.
Goes well with Joel Gott Cab
Avengers: Infinity War
No real spoilers, but was I the only person who didn’t realize this was a two-part movie?!?
I changed it up with a Moscow Mule
Still raunchy as hell, but maybe a kinder, gentler Deadpool in this one? Or it could be that any movie watched after the unrestricted trailer of The Happytime Murders would seem like a benign afternoon in Mr. Roger’s neighborhood, if you know, Ryan Reynolds was there dropping F-bombs.
Another Joel Gott Cab, movie theaters need to step up their wine list game
This spring has been cold and heart-numbingly rainy in the DMV–so many spring Lacrosse and field hockey games spent huddled in blankets and/or under umbrellas–that a glorious Memorial Day weekend seemed to pop out of nowhere. Doesn’t matter, I’m still ready—I think I’m more excited about school almost being over than the kids. I do dread the multitude of texts that I’ll get for the next couple of weeks— “watching ANOTHER movie, please pick me up 🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻” Seriously, if they’re done teaching after the SOLs and AP exams, why do they have to go to school to watch movies for the rest of the year? The anticipation of summer vacation will keep me going.
I love to channel my inner Lilly Pulitzer-palm beach vibe and fill my deck and pool patio with tropical plants. I’ve gotten better with over-wintering some of the larger ones in the house. I have banana palms that are seeing their third summer and of course, my snake plants don’t seem to care if they are indoors or out, they just stand there. The bougainvillea and mandevilla vines need to be replaced every year, but I think they are worth it. Watering them in the morning while I have my cup of coffee is a great way to start the day. And if the morning got away from me, watering them with a glass of rose´ in hand is a great way to end my day.
Without school sports practices, our summer afternoon and evenings are our own. We can swim every day and do crazy things, like go to a movie on Tuesday night. We’ve hooked up a monitor to our cable box (actually, I have no idea what my husband does!) and dragged it outside to the outdoor fireplace to watch the Stanley Cup Playoffs or the summer Olympics. Twilight rounds of gin-and-tonics, I mean 9 holes of golf, are enough to remind me why I stick to wine. The days that my kids love best are the days that only require pajamas and swimsuits. I think it’s the possibility of what we could do when every night is free that is so enticing. Much of the year, our time is not our own and these hours of freedom are so very sweet. Minus the hours spent washing all those beach towels, of course.
And this summer will be the biggest change of all. My oldest graduated college and is moving to New York. I’m not sure what that adjustment will be like for us as a family. I never really want to go back in time, but I’m always a little shocked at how fast the time went. She just signed a lease on an apartment and, I swear, it was yesterday that I was trying to corral her class to sign an end-of-year card for their teacher. But, much like opportunities of summer are stretching before us at home, her future, and all its wondrous potential, is right there for her.
This Memorial Day weekend, all 4 chicks are home and we’re spending it as a family with pool time, games, good food, and rose´for those who are old enough. The kids who can drive will complain about multiple trips to Whole Foods or Wegman’s, but secretly, I think they love not only getting whatever I forgot on my list, but whatever treat caught their eye and they want to share with their sisters. Everyone will complain about the dishes, but they’ll end up collaborating on a playlist and my husband and I get to sit in the gazebo and savor the last glass of wine. And I want to enjoy this season, for all of us, and celebrate what is good for us right now. I’m excited and proud to have my first chick launched, and want to relish the time I spend with the younger girls at home. Summer is a great reminder that while fleeting–after all, fall tryouts begin August 1–it’s the respite that we all need.
As Mother’s Day approaches, I thought I’d share the best things I’ve learned—mostly the hard way–on this journey.
When you are making the baby’s crib, layer it with a waterproof mattress pad, a crib sheet, another waterproof mattress pad and a crib sheet. If the diaper leaks (and it will and it will be in the middle of the night), all you need to do is rip off the top crib sheet and waterproof mattress cover and, voila! A fresh sheet for baby and you didn’t even need to turn on the lights.
Until they are school-age, keep a set of clothes along with a diaper or underwear in the car. Not only for potty accidents, but for tumbles into creeks, mud puddles, and those “splash” areas that keep popping up and soaking kids in every new town center. And don’t forget a towel. Of course a towel can be used for drying off wet kids, but if someone pukes in the car, a towel can help clean it up or be used as a dry layer between the vomit-soaked seat and the vomiter.
Always keep an extra poster board or two in the house. It’s amazingly difficult to find poster board at 10pm for the project due tomorrow. I kept our extra taped to the back of a bookcase to keep the paper from curling.
Daughters wearing similar sizes? Never buy them the same character underwear! To avoid spending forever checking the size tags, make sure one gets Disney princess and the other gets Hello Kitty.
Keep a pack of pre-sharpened #2 pencils hidden. That way when someone needs one on their way to an 8 am AP exam, no one has to desperately search for a school supply aisle at the gas station convenience store at 7:45 am.
Sending someone to camp or college? Make sure they take a photo of the insurance cards with their phone—we know they will always have their phones handy!
Before your kids goes off to college, make them a medicine cabinet in a box. Include bandages, anti-bacterial ointment, hydrocortisone cream, Benadryl (oral and topical), pain reliever, anti-diarrheal, Pepto-Bismol, cold and flu remedies, and a digital thermometer.
Back to what wine pairs well with motherhood? Whatever the hell you want to open, because one of your kids just told you she promised her French teacher she could bring in crème brulee for 30 tomorrow morning (True story.)
The world is filled with books and blogs built to pay homage perfect French (or Parisian) lifestyles, homes, capsule wardrobes, and/or waistlines. I can be a curmudgeonly sort and on occasion point out that the wardrobes and waistlines are the product of a lack of closets and an abundance of ashtrays, not moral superiority. But, I too get sucked into the fantasy and have enjoyed the reading about life in France in three books I picked up recently: Dinner chez Moi by Elizabeth Bard, Home Sweet Maison: The French Art of Making a Home by Danielle Post-Vinay and L’Appart:The Delights and Disasters of Making Paris My Home by David Lebovitz.
I love anything centered around food and home. And sometimes I spend so much time reading about cooking and recipes that we have to eat out because I never got to the grocery store or made dinner. I am, however, well-prepared to think about what I could make for the next meal. All the recipes in Dinner Chez Moi sounded delicious, and, more importantly, accessible to a home cook. Reading through the recipes (a favorite pastime second only to scrolling through Pinterest for cleaning tips), I was reminded that side dishes do not have to be complicated and vegetables with olive oil are not only good enough for the dinner table, but to be included in a cookbook!
The recipes that conclude each of the chapters of renovation misadventures in David Levovitz’s L’Appart are a bit more involved and sound to me more like projects than dinner, but the if you’ve ever had any work done, you’ll commiserate with David. His dealings with contractors, plumbers, neighbors, and hardware store salespeople are fraught with laughter and foreboding–as a home reno survivor there were many times in the retelling that I wanted to scream, “No! Don’t do it! Don’t believe him!”–and give great insight about real life in France.
Home Sweet Maison by Postel-Vinay, an American who married a Frenchman, shares her stories about what makes a French home special and everything she has had to learn to implement the best parts of French life in her own homes. She outlines the dedicated purpose of French rooms and how each room having its own purpose is not only historical, but how French culture survives today. Like Danielle, I believe in eating dinner in the dining room most of the time. With four kids who wouldn’t quit touching and poking each other during meals, we began eating in the dining room because I could spread the kids out enough so no one could touch anyone else. Amazingly, we could hold conversations if I wasn’t scolding anyone to keep her hands to herself every two minutes, and we started going around the table to share the best thing that happened that day. Thankfully, sister-poking has ended (and I think the battle royales over who gets the purple velvet chair have died down to skirmishes), but we still eat in the dining room and spend time talking.
I thoroughly enjoyed each of the books, but I’m still searching for that elusive je ne’ais se qui. For me the French fantasy that I’m trying to unravel is how they find the time: the time to shop every day, prepare and cook a three -course meal, dine leisurely, and clean up afterward. Something as simple as how do you serve (and eat) the first course if the second course is not something that can sit on the stove? I get that a cassoulet is fine simmering in the oven or on the stove, but what about a sole meuniere? Does the cook get up from the table and go cook the fish while everyone waits? This is what keeps me up at night.
Instead of souvenirs, I’ve started bringing back one thing I really liked about the place I visited. We’ve been very fortunate to have traveled to some great places and stayed in amazing hotels and I try to figure out what I could do at home that would remind me of how a place felt.
One of my favorite places in the world is the Malibu Beach Inn–I love the waves crashing under my balcony and eating dinner over the water. The vibe is luxurious, but so laid-back. Alas, the only natural water feature at my house is the short-lived river that runs through the swale in my yard after a hard rain, so I can’t mimic the relaxing pound of the surf. One of the treats at MBI is the fluffy white robe in the bathrooms, and I ordered myself one. It’s the best thing ever and I’m transported back to the mornings of having my coffee on the balcony in the hotel’s robe and watching the sunrise (thanks to my east coast internal clock) as the surf churns below.
Last March we visited the Dorado Beach Resort and we had personal Nespresso espresso machines with Demi-tase china cups in our suite. The delight of the small cup of espresso with just a touch of cream changed this latte-for-life afficianado and I packed away my 12-cup coffee maker and unpacked my espresso maker. Now, in the morning, I enjoy two cups of espresso with a splash of cream that I need to savor and finish before they get cold instead of drinking a pot of coffee and cups of creamer, mindlessly warming it up with the coffee left in the carafe.
L’Eau in Palm Beach reminded me how nice is to have turn-down service with chilled water on the nightstand. Since our current home lacks staff, I’m the one who has to either take the extra pillows off the bed or (shhh…don’t tell the housekeeping police) make the bed for turning in. There are days when I’m up and out before my husband ever gets out of bed and then I don’t go back to our room until evening. It makes a huge difference if I fluff the duvet, straighten out the sheets and blankets and fluff the pillows and then turn down the sheets. I’ve made it a habit to fill my insulated S’well bottle with chilled water and what I don’t drink before bed, I finish first thing in the morning.
Paris, Paris, Paris. There’s a lot to love there. Two things that I try to incorporate more is serving a meal in courses and not walking around looking like a schlump. At cafes, every glass is given a coaster and your bowl of salty snacks is placed when your drinks arrive and whisked away before your dinner is served. I’m trying to stop myself from the mindless nibbling on cheese and olives from beginning (I’m still very American and mostly serve the cheese before dinner) until well after the meal is over.
There are enough books about how to dress Parisian, that I won’t go into it here, but you’d be hard-pressed to find one who looks like they just rolled out of bed from a 3-day Netflix binge. I’ve got plantar fasciitis so I can’t wear most flats for a lot of walking and I fell into the trap of wearing sneakers and workout pants everywhere. Europe is less casual than the States. I wanted to be respectful of the culture and follow the dress code for the places we visited, but I didn’t want to ruin my trip with a flare up that would render me unable to walk very far. Out of the 5 or 6 pairs of causal sneakers I ordered, I kept two pairs (one black and one blush from a French designer) and wore them with black pants or cropped jeans, a sweater, and a a necklace and earrings. We walked for miles everyday, my feet didn’t hurt, and while I didn’t fool anyone into thinking I was French, I felt confident enough about how I looked that I wasn’t hesitant about going into any establishment during the day. I switched to a black low-heeled loafers for evening dinners, but we kept the walking distance short. My point being, it was really no more effort to put on a pair of pants and a sweater than it was to pull on a pair of yoga pants and sweatshirt, but it changed a lot about how I interact with others and felt about myself all day. And I was just as comfortable!
Barcelona is more ephemeral, while I loved the food, (especially the tapas!)I haven’t figured out how to incorporate that into my life yet. Mostly because while I enjoy cooking, I’m ungodly lazy and I don’t want to wash all those dishes! While in Barcelona, we stayed at the Hotel Arts and upon arrival, the lobby smells amazing. After a long day of touring, the scent of the hotel became a signal to relax, slow down, and enjoy our evenings. Now at home, I’m trying to work on a signature scent for our home. I’ve invested in Dyptique home scents, I burn the lavender and the bois candles together and use the St. Germaine scent in a diffuser in our foyer. After a stay several years ago at the Chateau Marmont, I found the same scented candles that are burning in your room when you check in. The luxurious scent transports me back to the state of mind of a relaxing, hedonistic weekend and I can forget for a while that I have to get up before 6am to take my kids to a tournament or early practice.
Our visits to Napa are all about the food and wine with friends, and we certainly bring enough wine home with us to remind us of visits! Opening a bottle from a winery we visited really is different than one I’ve bought at the store because of a recommendation, or more likely, an interesting label. We’re reminded of the land, the winemaker, and the anecdotes we shared with our friends. The sharing of a meal and good wine is the part of Napa I remember at home—it’s a blend of food that’s in season and simply prepared and the chance to catch up and reconnect.
At the heart of it all, I’m trying to make the life I live every day more enjoyable and re-create the feelings I get on vacation. So much of it is reminding myself to take time to do the little things every day that make life brighter. By borrowing lifestyle tips and not bringing back souvenirs from vacation, I don’t have to dust any tchotchkes, which is a reward in and of itself!
In the days leading up to our trip to Barcelona, every time I mentioned our destination, people who had visited promised us we would love the city. From family to the ticket agent at airport, everyone wanted to tell us their favorite sight and thing to do–and eating topped the list of things people wanted us to do!
One of the best part about Barcelona is the food–especially the tapas! Our favorite at Vinutus was the french fries with fried Iberian jamon, and a fried egg.
The bar at the hotel Arts Barcelona had the best non-traditional interpretation of patatas Brava with paper thin rectangular slices that were stacked in layers with the traditional sauces. Their riff on Iberian ham was unbelievable—slices of ham wrapped around a bit of puff pastry and topped with olive oil “caviar.”
We had our best dinner at Boca Grande and next time we are planning to go back to have drinks at Boca Chica—the unbelievably cool bar upstairs from the restaurant. The tapas at Boca Grande were adventurous, the service was outstanding, and the wine recommended to us was spot on.
The vibe of the restaurant was definitely hip and cool, and while very busy, welcoming. And, trust me on this one, you’ve got to make a trip to the restroom when you visit.
We tried the Michelin-starred restaurant Enoteca, we couldn’t try the degustation menu because one of the girls would not have eaten any of the courses except the beef. We compromised and did the appetizer, bread service, and petit four add-on and ordered several dishes. That plan gave us some of the courses of the degustation menu
and we were able to get the meat dishes the girls liked (and my selective eater got bread until the beef course.) The best thing that night was the Catalyan peas.
I forgot to take a photo of the menu, but I think the peas were like 38 euros and, as crazy as it sounds, they were worth it! If someone really loves raw seafood and has some room on the old AmEx, Enoteca is a great place. Overall, however, the dinner was very expensive and my personal recommendation would be to eat at Boca Grande a few times for the same cost. We ordered bottles of wine and my husband’s first glass had a white chunk on the outside of his glass that he didn’t notice until after his glass had been poured. He pointed it out to the waiter who gave him a new glass and he apologized, but we lost a glass of wine out of our bottle and nothing was said about it. And I hate wasting wine.
I channeled my inner Jackie-O at lunch on the Costa Brava. We had a beachside table, waiters in striped sailor shirts, and 3 euro wine. If I go missing, look here first.We enjoyed amazingly fresh seafood (mussels, then cod) for lunch and a million dollar view.
Saturday–the Catacombs, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, and the wheel-Roue of Paris
We met back up with Cedrik on Saturday morning and he had pre-purchased tickets for us to tour the catacombs. Without advance tickets, be prepared to come early and wait in a line that can stretch around the block. Despite knowing that the catacombs were full of bones, it was quite jarring to see the remains of six million people stacked in the walls. We descended a surprisingly long spiral staircase into the catacombs where the passages are narrow and the ceiling is low. At 5’5″ and under, we weren’t hitting our heads, but our taller guide had to duck at points throughout the tour. Parts of the path were quite slippery from water leaking in and some tiny stalactites were growing from the ceiling. I was glad I took the tour because it was fascinating works project, but I’m not sure I’d want to do it again–and never in the dark, or on Halloween… The return to the street is via spiral staircase as well, but while steep, it’s not herculean.
After a quick coffee and late breakfast, we headed back to the Louvre for our guided tour.
In my admittedly limited experience, knowledgeable tour guides can add so much depth of history and understanding to viewing art and historical sites like the Louvre and Versailles that they are worth every euro. In addition to the descriptions of the paintings and their place in art history, our guide pointed out features in the Louvre that showed its past purpose as the palace of the king and its evolution throughout history right up to the leftover catwalks from Fashion Week in one of the courtyards. Not to mention, a good guide will put you in a position to see the Mona Lisa clearly, without having to wade through the sea of humanity and selfie sticks to get to the front of the line. Hint, it’s a magic spot diagonally on the Mona Lisa’s left.
For our final afternoon, we said farewell to Cedrik and decided to walk to the Eiffel Tower. From our hotel, we walked through the Place de la Concorde and headed along the Seine river. The falling snow made what is always a picturesque walk even more magical, at least until our feet got wet on the way home. The top of the tower was closed because of snow and we did not pay to enter the monument, but it’s still a fun visit to walk around the outside for our Eiffel Tower photos. On previous visits we bought tickets to enter the base and definitely recommend entering the park at least once.
On our way home, we finally rode the Big Wheel at the Place de la Concorde. While the epitome of touristy kitsch, the Wheel has great views and was a fun way to wrap up our trip.
We returned home to the U.S. on Sunday morning and I had checked many of the boxes for what I wanted out of this trip: I had gotten to see some of the French wine country, toured Versailles, explored different parts of the city, visited the Musee d’Orsay, and I was coming home with the same number of kids that I had brought with me.
We took a taxi to Versailles, it should have taken about 40 minutes and cost (based on my internet sleuthing before we embarked) about 45-50 euros. Just outside of Paris, traffic ground to a halt for at least thirty minutes before our driver was instructed by the police to put his car in reverse and join the slow-moving train of cars carefully backing down the motorway to the previous exit. A terrible accident ahead had blocked the road and we had to basically return to Paris and go to Versailles via longer, alternate routes. It took us over two hours to get to Versailles and the between the fare and tip, about 100 euros.
The Purple Trufflehttp://www.purpletruffle.com had obtained reservations for us at Ore, the restaurant recently opened by Alain Ducasse at Versailles for one o’clock. We called the restaurant twice on our prolonged journey to let them know we were running late, and then very, very late, and they were able to hold our table for over an hour. You do not need a ticket to Versailles to eat at the restaurant-the entrance is to the left of the ticket queue. Because we were meeting our guide Cedrik, who had already purchased us tickets for a 3:00 entry to Versailles, our lunch was very hurried, but so delicious. A bowl of pasta –Coquillettes with jambon, comte, and black truffle was the best thing I had to eat in Paris. We ordered a nice half-bottle of Margaux to go with it. My oldest daughter and I basically had to cannonball the 75 euro bordeaux (and remember, it was only 375 ml) because somehow our food came out before the wine and our guide was at the table waiting for us to finish. Still worth it. I would have loved to have tried more on the menu, but entry times are strictly enforced.
The sheer size of Versailles boggles the mind and then the elaborate decoration and art on the walls and ceilings add to its awe-inspiring grandeur. Cedrik explained the various stages of waiting to see the king that the rooms served and even pointed out some centuries-old tags on the window frames.
We were lucky enough to rent the last golf cart to tour the grounds and visit Marie Antoinette’s “little” mansion where she could play milk maid. The gardens, even in the last days of winter, were so beautiful.
The fountains were still turned off and much of the smaller statuary was covered (we were told the end of March is when the outside gardens start to come out of hibernation), but I really enjoyed our tour. Since it was a beautiful sunny day in the fifties, many locals were on the grounds biking and running.
Unable to find us a taxi at any of the taxi stands right outside the palace, our guide bought us tickets (which we reimbursed him for) and we rode the RER C train from Versailles to the Musee d’Orsay. Having done it and despite a little anxiety when our guide changed his mind from getting off with us at his regular stop at the Musee d’Orsay to getting off at an earlier stop to run errands, I can say it wasn’t difficult to take the train. The upcoming stops scroll on the message board in the train and the station to which you are arriving is plainly displayed on the walls of the station as you roll up to the platform. And, there is a decent interval from when the train arrives to its departure. I was glad that I had noticed that the train doors do not open automatically, but need to be opened by the first person leaving the train car. The ride took about 40 minutes (we were very lucky and were able to walk onto a departing train) and it was literally just a few blocks from the palace grounds to the train station and, for us, we just had to cross the Seine to our hotel from the Musee d’Orsay station—and WAY cheaper than 100 euros!
New post tomorrow!
Thursday at Musee’ D’Orsay
On previous visits to Paris, we were unable to get tickets for the Museum D’Orsay, but had no problem on this visit. With proof of age, visitors under age 26 can get a discounted ticket and the museum accepts U.S. driver’s licenses as proof. The museum also has a coat check, free of charge, They only accept coats, no hats or scarves. My daughter tried to check a pullover as well, but the coat check personnel declined because whatever is checked has to be put on a hanger.
The museum is housed in a former railway station and the building is notable from the street by the huge clocks that I’m sure were useful for the early twentieth century commuters running late for their trains. You can get some spectacular views of Paris through the clock, be patient (it was field trip day and we had to wade through an ocean of French high schoolers) and you can get next to the clock face.
Their collection of Impressionists is like a who’s who of 19th-century art and they have many of the masterpieces of Monet, Manet, Gaughin, Rodin, Pisarro, Degas, Cezanne, Renoir, and VanGogh. For me, the collection of Monet’s winter landscapes was a revelation. The collection of sculpture is also very impressive. Unfortunately for us, the museum’s two floors of Art Nouveau were closed.
We ate a light lunch at the Cafe Campana. The setting is marvelous and is a nice break from touring. It has sit-down service and, especially by Parisian standards, our soup and salads came out very quickly. Alas, they forgot our bread basket–sacre bleu!–but they did have Lillet by the glass, so I still give it two thumbs up. The museum has a quick-bite food counter and what looks like a more formal restaurant on the first floor as well.
The Purple Truffle had recommended and made reservations for us at Semilla in St.-Germain-des-Pres for Thursday evening. It was a nice walk across the Seine from the Westin through a neighborhood of art galleries and restaurants and wine bars. The menus are only in French, but we used our phones to look up the foods we weren’t familiar with. The kitchen is mostly open, and if you have a table against the wall, there are hooks for your coats on the wall behind you! I decided on what was basically a deconstructed lamb tangine followed by a cheese course and a pear and gingerbread dessert. As I vacillated between two bottles of wine, the waiter recommended I go with the much less expensive bottle. So points for that. He may have given up on us when my daughter ordered a glass of dessert wine from the “Stickie” section of the wine list for dinner. One of my daughters ordered the sole and said it was the best thing she ate in Paris. New post tomorrow!