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For the wanderers

Off the beaten Parisian path…

Friends heading to Europe for Xmas recently asked, ‘Jane, how long should we spend in Paris and what’s to do?’ ‘Why at least two weeks, ideally six months, a year, forever; so much to see in this fine city!’ Pondering my frankly unhelpful Francophillian response, I actually gave the query serious thought:

Three days?

Big red bus city highlights recon to get the bearings. The Eiffel Tower’s pretty sparkles viewed from the Trocadero. The Arc de Triumph. The Champs Élysées for fabulous Xmas fairy lights, Laudree Macarons, Louis Vuitton Flagship store, Ferrari, Mont Blanc, Sephora. Oh! And the beautifully buffed semi naked eye candy guarding Abercrombie & Finch on the other side of those magnificent gold tipped black gates.

The Grand and the Petite Palais for palace awesomeness. Palace Opera’s ornate mirrored glitz and bodaciously luxe tassles. The Louvre – Mona’s wing. Notre Dame point zero and those pretty stained glass windows. Sacre Coeur up there on the hill. Galleries la Fayette for that stunning dome ceiling. Fueled with plenty of fortification while seated on those cute little red wicker chairs on the Bistro footpaths of course.

Five days?

Add a day trip to Chateau de Versailles for an even bigger palace fix. Napoleon’s Tomb, Place de Voges, the Musee de Orsay, L’Orangerie and Pompidou for extra hits of visual culture. A wander in the Jardins des Tuileries and Jardins des Luxembourg to park your green chair wherever takes your fancy amidst the lush gardens, ponds, statues and Sunday boules players. The Latin Quarter. Bon Marche for the pure pleasure of feeling your credit card’s sphincter muscle contract. Fueled by still more French fare and people watching over a wine or five.

 Already ticked these boxes? Time to dig a little deeper into the less touristy fare. My top 10 suggestions:

1) Rue de l’Abreuvoir –  it would be remiss to neglect this picturesque road as you wander around Montmartre, followed by Avenue Junot, very chic and along here you will find ‘Pass-muraille’ – the man who could walk through walls.

2) The Je t’aime wall – while still in the region, wander Place des Abbesses, find the small public garden (Square Johan Rictus) and admire ‘Le mur des Je t’aime’  where you’ll find ‘I love you’ written in 311 languages…tres romantic in the city of…well um…romance? For more detail: Jacques and Jane discover the Je T’aime wall

3) Le Moulin de la Gallete – while still in the Montmartre region you’ll find this elegant sister to the Moulin Rouge. One of only two other windmills left in Paris, this one houses a rather elegant restaurant.

4) Space invaders – always, always look up as you traverse the more densely populated Arrondissement for high on the walls you will find pixel art mosaic space invaders. Over 1,182 in Paris alone, brainchild of an anonymous French artist known only as Invader. A tiny buzz each time you find one and a lot less embarrassing than chasing Pokemon. A previous post: Who loves Space Invaders?

5) Porte Saint-Denis and Porte Saint-Martin. Aside from the well known arches on the ‘Triumphal Way’  (Arc de Triomphe Carrousel, Arc de Triomphe, La Defense), these lesser known arches are slap dab in the middle of densely populated streets and worth checking out just for their sheer audaciousness.


6) The Louis Vuitton Foundation – oh yes, architect Frank Gehry stretching our minds yet again with one of his most magnificent pieces to date. Right up there with the late great Zaha Hadid.

7) Rue des Rosiers for the Falafels – in Le Marais, my fave Arrondissement where the effortlessly minimalist chic Parisian hangs, particularly cool on a Sunday when the closed streets fill with said chic as they wander the many wine bars and boutiques.

8) Rue Montorgueil on a Friday eve – closed to cars, the street filled with French food open market specialties, from rare fromage to giant meringues, rare chocolate to escargot. Speaking of; check out L’Escargot Bistro for the delicious molluscs for which the restaurant is named.

9) The Passages – some quaint, many architecturally magnificent, a few in states of disrepair and all really quite special. Check out Passages du Grand Cerf, Galerie Vivienne, Passage Jouffroy and Passages des Panoramas for starters. See more here:   Coffee, cats and more Passages and Loving Parisian Passages


And for a very special kind of bliss:

10) A concert in Sainte-Chapelle – within the Palais de la Cite, on the Ill de la Cite and in the heart of Paris. Lazy afternoon light filtering through the most magnificent stained glass windows suffuses an atmosphere that, combined with the pure acoustics of the Chapel itself, may just bring a tear to your eyes. Pure joy.


Enjoy my friends, enjoy. And come back safe.xx

P.S. If you’d like to take in the most magnificent view that actually includes the Eiffel Tower, head to the Montparnasse Tower Panoramic Observation Deck, spectacular!

‘O Sole Mio’…or not?

Venice. How can one visit this mystical city without stepping into one of those sleek black Gondolas at least once? Quietly gliding beneath one or two of the 409 bridges that span the 150 plus channels, linking the 117 small islands that constitute Venice while enjoying the soothing baritone of your Gondolier’s narration. Admiring the softly decaying brick facades with petticoats of lush green moss while trailing fingers in the clear aqua marine waters as your Gondolier croons a sweet ballad. Sigh! While standing atop one of the bridges watching the many Gondolas gliding deftly beneath, I became a tad curious. Why are they all black? What does that pointy thing on the stern symbolize, and why are the Gondoliers male?

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A spot of sleuthing later and here’s the low down:

Although always black (six coats) – the result of a 17th century law a doge enacted to eliminate competition between nobles for the fanciest machine – each Gondola has unique upholstery, trim and detailing but with just three flourishes – a curly tail, a pair of seahorses and a multi pronged prow. The six horizontal lines and curved top of the prow represent Venice’s six districts and the doge’s funny cap. Each one weighs 700g, has 280 components and uses eight types of wood. Interestingly they are slightly lopsided and bow out on the left, this asymmetry causing the Gondola to resist the tendency to turn toward the left at the forward stroke and compensates for the weight of the gondolier who stands in the stern and rows only on the right side.

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Just as the Gondola is an iconic symbol of Venice, so too the Gondoliere, or the traditional oarsman, each one sporting a jaunty black and white striped shirt and straw boater. Whereas once a male dominated industry, in 2010, Venice finally appointed its first ever female gondolier Giorgia Boscolo. Go girl! Jostling amongst the chunky Vaporettos (water bus), sleek timber speed boats, produce movers, the odd cruise ship and 400 fellow Gondoliere is not for the faint of heart but the Gondoliers nail it. After all they’ve had extensive periods of training and apprenticeship, six months including 400 hours of instruction in using the distinctive single oar that is used to propel the gondola, to be exact, plus an exam which tests knowledge of Venetian history and landmarks, foreign language skills and the practicalities of manoeuvring the Gondola through narrow canals. Interestingly, when a Gondolier dies, the licence passes to his widow.

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Now that you’ve popped a Gondola ride on your Venetian agenda, here’s a few things to consider before you blindly take that Gondolier’s hand and settle into his sleek machine. Some might offer narration or conversation and if this is important to you, it pays to conduct a little interview with your potential Gondolier to see how you relate and whether you can understand him, at the same time reviewing the map to discuss the route for some are crowded and chaotic; the duration of the trip and the price. The latter is usually fixed however there’s room to haggle when it’s quiet or in off season.

Oh! And despite depictions in the movies, not all gondoliers sing. If you are hankering for a serenade, ask first. If you’ve had the good fortune to hire a musician and are yearning for a spot of ‘O Sole Mio’ (which comes from Naples), well that’s like asking a Jazz singer to sing Waltzing Matilda. Instead try requesting  ‘Un canto Veneziano? (sing a Venetian song?) – ‘Venezia La Luna e Tu?’ (a Venetian song), and you may just be rewarded. Enjoy!

Sailing the Adriatic – a blogger’s pit stop diary

Dear Blog Diary…about this Athens – Venice cruise. How are we to share the excitement of seven days aboard a snazzy ship with Greek Island and Croatian pit stops when on board wifi is so damn satellite exy? FB snapshots backed up with a spot of diary musings for later free wifi gratuitous blog over-sharing natch! A good thing lovely readers for I suspect excessive complementary cocktails may just compromise a girl’s writing skills (sorry – not sorry). For the curious, here are the outcomes:

Tuesday: Throw the ropes off, good bye Athens, 4.30pm, 235 fellow passengers, heading for the Corinth Canal. Rather spech boat the Le Lyrical, brushing up on French, the ship’s first language. View the ship being gently guided through the canal by the ‘tiny tugboat that could’ on top deck. Accompanied by a Violinist. And French champagne. And a great deal of oh la la! Hit the cabin doona 11pm a little bit tipsy on excitement and exhaustion…and champers…and that nightcap in the piano bar.

Just a little curious about the Corinth Canal? Well the canal connects the Gulf of Corinth with the Saronic Gulf in the Aegean Sea. Cutting through the narrow Isthmus of Corinth, it separates the Peloponnesian peninsula from the Greek mainland, thus effectively making the former an island.

The canal is 6.4 kilometers in length, only 21.3 meters wide at its base, earth cliffs flanking either side reach up to 63 meters in height. A dream that dates back over 2000 years, finally accomplished 1893.  Ironically, aside from a few modest sized cruise ships like the Le Lyrial, the Corinth Canal is unserviceable to most modern ships. Damn fine place for bungy jumping though! There you go.

Wednesday: Anchor off Zakinthos, Greece. Leisurely breakfast on pool deck, board the shore excursion boat, wander around with vague intent on buying a hat, nope, shops closed, it’s siesta time. Substitute with a G&T or three, free wifi in a hip little cafe and a snap shot or two.

The interesting stuff: Inhabited from the Neolithic age. Homer, the famous Greek poet mentioned Zakynthos in his masterpieces the Iliad and the Odyssey. Lots of conquering along the way.

Tolmides, the Athenian military commander concluded an alliance with the Island between 446 and 459 BC during the First Peloponnesian War to source tar from the island’s lakes to protect the planking on their shipping fleet. Better than pitch which is made from pine trees.

And did you know that during Nazi occupation of Greece, the Mayor and Bishop at the time refused Nazi orders to turn in the town’s Jewish community for deportation to the death camps, instead hiding all 275 of them in rural villages. All survived.

Also prime nesting area for loggerhead sea turtles. Also known for the beautiful Navagio beach and limestone caves. We’ll be checking out similar tomorrow.

Finish day with cocktail of the day (Apple-Tizer), Captain’s own welcome cocktail (free for all – choices, choices!), Gala dinner in posh restaurant, check out the pianist (stardust memories), crash.

Thursday: Paxos ‘n Antipaxos smallest group of Ionian Islands, brilliant azure blue waters, pretty villages, wall to wall yachts, sunburnt snouts. 

First up fresh juice, bespoke omelette, coffee then grab ship provided Palms (fins) face-masks and snorkels, towels and water, slap on sunscreen and swim-suits and jump aboard a smaller boat to explore Paxos and Antipaxos. Limestone caves, startlingly clear aqua waters, beach pebbles that tickle underfoot, bombs straight off the back of the boat and a bunch of sun crazed water lovers making for a fun, pleasantly exhaustive day.

According to Greek mythology, Poseidon created the island by striking Corfu with his trident, so that he and wife Amphitrite could have some peace and quiet. Peaceful. Quiet. Poseidon nailed it.

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Dodge dancing classes, dine a la carte, hit top deck where the place is going off like a frog in a sock (pardon pun, boat is full of French folk after all), fall sleep in Albania, wake up in Montenegro. The water a millpond.

Friday: Squeezed into Montenegro’s Bay of Kotor (or ‘the Bokor’ as known by the locals) to the strings of Tchaikovsky; greeted by the monastery’s delicate bells in response to three brash honks from the ship’s horn, as is customary. Held my breath, what if the bell ringer neglects his duty and blows this age old tradition? He didn’t, phew! Next stop Dubrovnik. 

Croatia! First up – Dubrovnik.

Sooo…really did climb all over Dubrovnik – my new favourite European city for quaintness, and cats, and Game of Thrones déjà vu moments, and that drawbridge, and, and…

Another UNESCO and no surprises for this distinctive medieval city is surrounded by 2klm of massive stone ramparts built between the 11th and 17th centuries. Well-preserved buildings ranging from the baroque St. Blaise Church to Renaissance Sponza Palace and Gothic Rector’s Palace, now a history museum, the Stradun (or Placa) paved with limestone and lined with shops and restaurants. And tourists. Must. Walk. Wall. Backdrop for G.o.T ‘King’s Landing’ and many, many movies.

Skip mariner swim off the back of the boat, snuggle into bathrobes, pour G&T, dine in with a movie.

Saturday: Quick coffee, jump on board shore excursion boat, quick hike to Mjlet’s crystal clear lakes, more coffee, back on board and on to Korkula.

Korcula equals brilliant medieval town planners! Curved streets one side, straight the other in a fishbone zigzag to capture best breezes and all leading to bell tower at the top. Bit of a story about Marco Polo. Impossible to get lost, here’s proof we didn’t:

We have the port to ourselves and it’s no mean feat swinging the ship into her station but of course the captain nails it! Straight on shore for a quick explore followed by a soothing G&T before wandering back to our floating home.

Did you know that during the First World War, the island (among other territorial gains) was promised to the Kingdom of Italy in the 1915 Treaty of London in return for Italy joining the war on the side of Great Britain and France? Just one of the many takeovers Korcula and her counterparts have experienced over the centuries.

Skip every kind of class back on board, throw back a ‘Le Fruit Defendu’ cocktail of the day, dine posh, sup a particularly pleasant Merlot, check out dancers, wind down with a soothing tea (yes! On the odd occasion we drank non alcoholic beverages, very odd indeed)

Sunday: Hvar! Small medieval fortification, big reputation, three UNESCO heritage listings – greedy huh? (more on blog when free wifi kicks back in). Crisp green waters against a backdrop of dusky Olive and rich purple Lavender, and just a spot of foliage persistence.

But first up and at ’em with Birchers muesli, fresh baguette smothered in lurpac, coffee; followed by liberal sunscreen and sensible shoes (no, that’s a fib, sneakers don’t work with my silk numbers) and off to explore. This place:

Consistently listed in Conde Naste’s top 10 islands, the most popular tourist destination in the Croatian Islands thanks to excellent marketing in its early days – ‘come for seven days and if it rains or snows on one of them, you’ll get your money back’. Given it’s the sunniest of them all, temps rarely below 13 degrees, a pretty sure bet! What’s more, a harbour of brilliant aqua makes you want to dive in boots and all.

A quaint Franciscan monastery, it’s walled sanctuary centering on a Renaissance cloister, with a 900 year old pine tree in the courtyard. The museum is home to a magnificent 17th-century painting of the Last Supper. A large limestone paved public square (St Stephen’s) that’s anchored by a Renaissance-era cathedral and open to the sea. Oh! And a port filled with Yachts. Big ones!

Back on board in time to watch a serious ‘I demand to speak to the manager’ scrabble for Laduree Macarons, attempt a quiz with our swelling bunch of friends (mostly Australian – you know – the noisy ones) and lose most in translation, casual dinner on deck, check out dancers and sneak off to bed.

Monday: Opatija…try saying that with a mouth full of cracker! The city feels like Cannes, like the riviera of Croatia, the place where the Russian Oligarch spend their vacations. Pretty.

A sleep-in, breakfast of kings, then off to explore ‘the pearl of the Adriatic’, renowned for its beautiful architecture, quality hotels, well tended botanical park that protects over 160 species. Particularly enamoured with Vila Angiolina built in 1844 by Iginio Scarpa, once hosting a myriad of famous guests ranging from Albert Einstein to James Joyce, now a museum.

Snapshots of the ‘Maiden with the seagull’, a statue by Zvonko Car (1956) positioned on a promontory by the Juraj Šporer art pavilion, a wander along the promenade to view the luxurious hotels, a G&T and toast to this our last excursion. 

Tonight our grand captain’s farewell dinner, a chance to swap FB and email addresses with our new friends Pascale and Brigette, Debbie and Peter, Jenny and Ann and our lovely US friend Marjorie, now in her late 70’s, a party reveller hell bent on spending her kid’s inheritance by inviting them along, effectively guaranteeing their attention. Couldn’t think of a better way to do so than take a cruise along the Dalmatian coast, could you?

Tuesday: Venice, a perfect opportunity to say farewell to the Le Lyrial via the bow as we make our way into port…

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