Summer in the City: Montpellier, Languedoc, Provence

Last night we went to see George Romero’s Diary of the Dead (in English) at the Diagonal. I had to close my eyes several times – not because it was scary, but because it was shot with a handheld camera. It was a highly entertaining, socially heavy-handed zombie flick that delivered.

While we were waiting for the salle to open – there were 12 of us milling around, waiting to sit in air conditioning for a while – Cal perused the racks of publicity materials and brought over to me quite a gem: For the first time in Europe, Weegee‘s photographs are being exhibited – for free! – at Le Pavillon Populaire on the esplanade Charles-de-Gaulle.

It starts today and goes through September, so anyone who is going to be here – STACY, I’m looking at you! – should definitely head over to see the New York photographer’s work.

Cal’s parents are in town for a few days next week, so we’ll start off the summer right with some touristy things. They’ve rented a barge and have been drifting down the Canal du Midi, gliding through the various locks and will arrive here on Monday afternoon.

We’ve compiled a “to-do” list for them, which includes:

  • The Camargues National Park, to see the white horses (and pink flamingoes!) of the Camargues. It’s haunting and rugged and utterly beautiful. And, there’s a vineyard in the middle of it!
  • Aigues Mortes. A walled town on the Mediterranean, it’s a great place to stroll around and have a lunch outside in one of its many squares.
  • Arles. I didn’t love Arles, because I’d already been to about 778 other towns that look just like it down here; but, it certainly does put van Gogh’s work into perspective.
  • Avignon. We have to be careful that the fete isn’t still on, as a million drunk Frenchmen really isn’t fun for the whole family.
  • Lavender. Fields of it. This is the one thing I have always wanted to see in France, so I’m excited to grab my camera and head out to see these famous crops.
  • Beaches. We’ll probably take them to Carnon or Palavas-les-Flots – family places with enough moules-frites on hand to sink a ship. We’ll avoid Cap D’Agde, which is so incredibly nudist, people wear their birthday suits to go to the bank!

That should be a busy couple of days. I also would like to see the water-jousting competitions in nearby Sète.

And lastly, I think I am ready for a bullfight, a popular event down here in the South (and so close to Spain). The closest I have come to it was when we took Sheila’s kids ice skating this winter in the arena outside town. If anything, I’d like to at least be in a town that is hosting one – probably Nimes, I’d think.

Wherever you live, make sure to get out and about this summer. Too many people wake up one day and it’s September, and they kick themselves for not having enjoyed the season.


Weekend in Paris: Executive Summary

The legendary Girls’ Weekend in Paris went swimmingly!

Some stats:

Combined miles traveled: 8,330

Meals eaten: 8

Dishes cooked, served, taken away and cleaned by someone else: 19

Scarves lost: 1

Scarves found, swung above head as entire bar cheered: 1

Nutella crepes consumed with great gusto by MK: 4

Topics discussed: 5,621

Miles walked: approx. 147

Bottles of wine drunk, paid for: 3

Bottles of wine drunk, stolen from next table: .5

Carafes of wine drunk: 3

Glasses of champagne drunk: 2

American diner breakfasts savored by me: 1

Times my French was corrected: 0

Celebrities in Us, People magazines that were unknown to either MK or myself: 23

Times hotel clerk swiped MK’s card, to no avail, because he wouldn’t listen to me: 442

Amount of money currently in my bank account: 0

Regrets: 0

Weekend in Paris – What to Do, If You’re Me

I was musing further on the fact that I’m having a girls’ weekend in Paris next month, and it got me to thinking about my favorite haunts. I’d thought I’d share some with you – and I want to hear what you like, as well!

Berthillon is always on my agenda. Ice cream shops in the middle of a river should always be on everyone’s agenda. So creamy, so rich, and you can walk around the tiny Île Saint-Louis and feel like a wistful princess as you eat your heavenly treat.

Sushi in Paris is constantly a joy. I don’t know the name of the place I love to go to, but I can get there well enough. It’s on rue Berger, right behind Les Halles. Add sushi to your list of foods to eat in Paris.

Because I am a Eurotrash expat, I always must stop by Breakfast in America and load up on yummy diner goodness. I’m thinking of going here after MK flies out on Monday morning, and read the paper and have a good old American calorie bomb of a breakfast.

Last summer, I tagged along to Paris with my friend Vik, who had a much-envied ticket to see Madonna. We stayed at her friend’s house on rue Montorgueil and it was like the Paris that you always want to find but you always wind up not finding. It’s absolutely lovely – well, lovely enough for Monet to paint a picture of it. It’s a must on any walking agenda.

I also love walking from the back courtyards of the Louvre, through to the Pei pyramid, across the street and through the length of the Tuileries, up the Champs Elysees, and then make a left and GASP! – the Eiffel Tower steals my breath every time. I like to go up and touch it, but I don’t think you can do that anymore.

I still haven’t found the perfect thing to do/walk to/eat/drink after this walk, but I think with the girls at my side we’ll find something. Hee hee.

The view from Sacré-Cœur is one of my favorite of anywhere I’ve been. The first time I visited the church I took the funicular up, and when the doors opened an enormous brass band struck up the Marseillaise and a parade started. It was the day the French celebrate the grape harvest, but I chose to believe it was just for me, and Montmartre has been magical for me ever since.

And the church is pretty, too.

Girls’ Weekend in Paris

I am just a princess.

The Queen Mum of travel addiction is my dear friend and gentlest reader MK. I got a fevered email from her just the other evening:

Just home from Costa Rica, let’s talk Paris baby.

She had just returned from a week-long vacation with three other adults and four children under the age of four. The airline lost her luggage, they almost missed their flight home due to a parade featuring horses, tequila and gunfire, and she was still finding sand in her kids’ ears, fingernails and butt cracks.

And now, she was planning a girls’ weekend in Paris with me and a few close girlfriends.

A woman after my own heart, my MK. I immediately rang.

“Nobody better get pregnant before then, because it’s going to be all about the wine. I haven’t been able to have a drink with you in five years!”

My liver groaned.  I giggled.  We started talking hotels.

How to Leave Amsterdam – Step Away From the Brownie

Miss Expatria received a request yesterday from gentlest reader and dear cousin, Mr. Fab. He’s headed off to Amsterdam in a few weeks, and wanted to know if I knew of any places that were easy to get to from there, for a day or overnight trip.

Why, yes. Yes I do.

First, I’d like to clear something up, right here, right now, that really annoys me when people get it wrong: Holland and the Netherlands are two different names for the same country. The language they speak in this country, as well as the people who speak it: Dutch. Dutch people call their own country Nederland. Amsterdam is a city in Holland, and in fact, it’s the capital.

Are we all set? OK.

(Oh, except I just want to say that The Hague has always captured my fascination. How cool is The Hague?)

OK, here we go with the advice.

Within Holland, there are many interesting places that are a short train ride away from Amsterdam, and are very, very…Dutch. I mean, we’re talking windmills here. Utrecht, Volendam, Zaanse Schans. So step away from the brownie and go see some stuff! This site has excellent information on these trips.

Berlin is a bit of a haul, but with a bit of creative scheduling is totally doable. This site teaches you, step by step, the very Googleable task of How to Book Train Travel From Amsterdam To Berlin. Brilliant!

Ryanair flies out of Eindhoven airport, approximately 120 km from Amsterdam, and flies to Rome, London, Madrid, Milan, other places.

Easyjet flies out of Amsterdam airport, which is definitely not 120 km from Amsterdam, and goes to Milan, London, Geneva, and a lot of not-London cities in the UK.

My personal favorite trip, which wouldn’t really be to GET TO anywhere but just to take it, is the combination train and ferry to London. They even have overnight voyages! Love it.

Mr. Fab is going for just a few days, but I know now he’s reading this and calculating how feasible it would be to stay longer.

Decadent Hotel Weekends

Choosing a hotel for a vacation is fun, and an important decision – it will be your home away from home for a length of time, and it will influence how you experience that city.

However, as attentive readers will know, Miss Expatria has another use for hotels – getaway weekends for no reason whatsoever. And for this purpose, gentle reader, there is an entirely different set of criteria that is taken into account.

The first thing one must realize when planning a hotel getaway weekend is that the destination is of little importance. You are going to spend almost all of your time in the hotel, not traipsing around the city. You might head out for a meal, or for a walk, or for vital supplies like cigarettes and Sunday newspapers. But the point of a weekend like this is to hole away from the world and interact with as few people as possible.

The destination should only be a consideration if it is at all possible to get a hotel room with an unobstructed view of the sea. Sea trumps all!

The other factor regarding the destination should be that it’s easy to get to – you want the weekend to be about the hotel, not the long and arduous voyage to the hotel. If you have a car, great – I don’t drive, so I consult transportation schedules and routes constantly during my search for the getaway hotel.

Normally, for vacations, I like little hotels that aim to please and are attentive to my comings and goings. But for getaway weekends, I prefer the larger hotel chains – the rooms are usually bigger, and they have all the whistles, horns and bells that hotel rooms should have.

Which brings me to hotel amenities: Does it have a decent pool? Does it have 24-hour room service? Check out the menu online, if you can. I’ve chosen one hotel over another because there was something on the menu that I just had to have.

Bathrooms are a big factor in my choosing a getaway hotel – you want a big, deep tub for soaking, and good lighting for taking care of all the things you can’t see in your bathroom light at home.

While I love staying in bed all day during these getaway weekends and bringing everything into bed with me and having everything set up around me like a princess, an extra bonus is a room that has another, comfortable area to sit in when you feel like you might be getting bed sores.

In terms of searching for the actual hotel online, I use opposing tactics than my normal routine – I sort by number of stars, start at the five-stars, and work my way down. For a vacation, I try to see how close to a hundred bucks a night I can get, and never spend more than $150. But for getaway weekends, I go to $200 for a truly spectacular hotel – although I rarely need to spend that much, because the deals are so great.

This is also where consulting the hotel’s actual website comes in handy – you would not believe how many large hotels, for whom business travelers and conferences are their bread and butter, practically give away their rooms for weekend stays. And don’t be put off by staying in the hotel on Sunday night, especially if it’s part of a great deal. For one, it RUINS the idea of a decadent hotel weekend if you have to get out of there by noon on Sunday. Who the heck wants to break up their Sundays like that? Also, it merely increases the decadent factor when you glide into work an hour late on a Monday after having a long bath and room service omelets. (Not that I’ve ever done that. Ahem.)

The most important thing to remember when planning a hotel weekend is that it’s going to cost you some money. You’ve got to fork over the bucks if you really want the weekend to be a mini-vacation. I know plenty of New Yorkers who think nothing of dropping $600 for a weekend at a friend’s summer share in the Hamptons – complete with nasty traffic, ignorant rich people, and lumpy sofa beds. Why not stay in town over that weekend, or book the nicest room at a hotel in the opposite direction, order the entire room service menu, have someone else pick up after you, and have unlimited use of a pool and gym, which are hardly ever used?

Try a decadent hotel weekend. You’ll be glad you did. Tell them Miss Expatria sent you!