Eating well on Ile St. Louis

Paris

Tales from three short but fabulous days in a city I’d gladly stay in for three years and more.

Pomerol a Paris

Fine wine at a fine restaurant.

In a fortuitous synchronicity (lots of big words…) our trip to Paris overlapped with the birthday celebration of Michael, Jeff’s dear childhood friend. So we made a brief stop at our apartment in Paris (second time ever doing Airbnb, worked out well, was great to do laundry even if French washing machines take over an hour per load…), then nearly ran across town to meet Michael and several of his devoted friends. Enjoyed a delicious and entertaining dinner at Les Bouquinistes, complete with great conversation and lots of laughs.

Next day we could barely make it down those same streets, Rue Oberkampf and Filles du Calvaire, as I stopped every other door giving entry to yet another beautiful shop filled with great clothes, housewares, jewelry, etc. Here were a few of my favorites:

Kate Mack (Kate Mack, her Facebook page is also worth seeing) – Made-to-measure clothes in rich colors and textures. A tagline from one of her cards is “Don’t Take Yourself too Seriously… Have a Chic and Funky Attitude!” A jewel box of a store with clothes that reflect that saying. Elegant, fun, daring but wearable. The owner/designer was working in the store that day and seemed as vibrant as her creations.

onze. A seemingly small and intimate store that continues to wind around and around in a very pleasant and open maze of shoes, clothes and accessories. Beautiful prints and colors. Was especially tempted by scarves made in Normandy, different colors/patterns stitched together with embroidery thread.

Nils Avril. Delicate jewelry with a range of colors, almost like pulling open a drawer of pastel crayons in an art store. Especially loved the pieces for hair.

Looked for boots up and down those streets unfortunately without success. Later in the Sixth Arrondisement found “Coup 2 Cour” when we were trying to find a restaurant we’d eaten in years ago (sadly gone). Jeff was fortunately distracted by the resident cat. I found fashionable yet comfortable small black boots to take on the rest of the travels (the larger ones from the garage sale will sadly need to stay here, too big and not the best for walking all day). No website but found at 4 rue Clément, 75006 Paris.

The greatest disappointment in Paris… Years ago I read a novel about Émilie du Châtelet, full name Gabrielle Émilie Le Tonnelier de Breteuil, marquise du Châtelet. Sadly if she is known at all it is as Voltaire’s lover. She was an 18th Century physicist and mathematician who translated Newton’s Principia Mathematica (not only from Latin, but apparently from Newton’s purposely obtuse original) and researched the properties of light, among other subjects. She owned a home at the tip of Île Saint-Louis, which I tried to visit in 2006. It was then under restoration, to be completed in 2014. Got there towards the end of 2015 to find this sign… Guess I’ll need to return to Paris in 2018.

Hotel Lambert Paris

Parisian home of Émilie du Châtelet

Hotel Lamber hidden away

Construction clearly not complete

Public works in Paris

Will have to return in 2018… or later

Consolation is that we did find our favorite “tarte au citron” (lemon tart). Mmm.

Best Tarte au Citron in Paris

Tarte au Citron, perfection

Tarte au Citron on Ile St. Louis

Jeff enjoying our tarte

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plus a beautiful stroll through Jardin du Luxembourg.

Romance abounds in Paris

Romance at Jardin du Luxembourg

Photo of the photographer

Behind my beautiful Fuji XT10

Les fleurs au Jardin du Luxembourg

Fabulous fall flowers at Jardin du Luxembourg

The best part of Paris… connecting with friends. Sunday we had a long, delicious and enjoyable lunch with a family I’ve known for nearly 25 years. Everything was tasty, and they always spoil me with a great plate of cheeses and superb wine. The Canal St. Martin is one of the most trendy parts of Paris now, and we walked there in the afternoon with the kids biking on closed-to-car streets. Interesting to see it so lively as I used to come here to meet this friend 25 years ago (she worked nearby), and I think she might have been one of about 10 Parisians to ever walk there.

Also had a fantastic time reconnecting with Josep and Geoffrey. Josep’s black patent leather bag that I bought in 2009 (?) in Brussels may well have inspired this venture I’m undertaking (this site, the concept of Art as Artifat). There will be an entire post about him, his store with Geoffrey, and the intersection of crafting beautiful objects without being subsumed by commerce. For now, some pictures of their new Paris store, Amen, his latest creations and their smiling faces.

And that in a nutshell was Paris. Left saying I wish we had had one more day, probably something I’ll say for just about every place we go.

Oh, one final comment. Couldn’t help but notice all the cigarettes, and the butts just thrown everywhere. Talked to our friend about it who said the city has just started a new campaign, fining people who toss out their butts. Not an hour later we see this sign on a dump truck. 350 tons, that is a lot.

Cleaning up Paris

350 tons of butts, that’s a lot

OK, a final, final comment. Best almond croissant in Paris. Perhaps ever. On Rue de Saintonge. Better final image…

Rue de Saintonge

Best almond croissant in Paris?

Belle du Nordet, the best oysters

En fin, les huîtres…

After two nights in Brittany it was time to move on to our next destination, Normandy.

On the way, we stopped at the most-visited spot in France, Mont Saint-Michel. I was there over 20 years ago, but don’t particularly recall the visit. I do know that this approach was not possible then. When it’s not raining or blowing to hard, this has to be the best approach (that is if approach at night on a horse in a cloak is not possible…). Made it past the tourist hoards at the bottom and gave up a bit of money to the Church to tour the (amazing) abbey atop the island. Building this on top of a rock out in the ocean, hard to comprehend. Loved the green hue of the windows. Beyond being the most visited, this must be among the most-photographed spots in the world, so will leave with a few photos to add to the abundance you can find online.

But back to the oysters. Last post was confusing on that point, maybe reflecting the regret I still carried about missing that spot. First, I meant to link to this page, which describes the oyster journey I wished to have had. Second, although it was “only” 250 or so kilometers from our Normandy hotel to Cancale, it had been a somewhat stressful drive over and even for the oysters I wasn’t willing to dedicate a whole day to driving back and forth. Plus Jeff might have mutinied at that point. Finally, I guess I really had, back in the subconscious, a preference for Normandy oysters. Many years ago I had a plate of Normandy oysters in a Parisian restaurant that were the best of my life. Went back a second time, and just as good. On very rare occasion I’ve had oysters from Normandy in the US, and have always considered them to be the best. But, sadly, we apparently weren’t even in the best spot in Normandy for oysters. This I learned from the smart and helpful hotel manager at L’Auberge de la Source (very nice hotel, probably the only 4 star one of our trip, recommended by a friend in Paris). The hotel manager did direct me to a town with oyster potential and suggested I look for the local fish market. This, it turned out, was very good advice.

So our first full day in Normandy, we set off first for Bayeux, to see the Bayeux Tapestry. Frankly astounding to stand in front of this 230(ish) feet long tapestry, made somewhere around 1070. For a piece of embroidered cloth that’s nearly 1000 years old, it’s in remarkably good condition. Basically, it was made/used as a propaganda piece. Most people were illiterate at the time so this tapestry depicted the Norman conquest of England. Wikipedia tells it better, but basically the tapestry starts with King Edward sending Harold (Earl of Essex) to tell William he will be king on Edward’s death, Harold is kidnapped (landed in the wrong place, even farther from oyster heaven), ransomed, goes back to England and claims the throne despite swearing not to do so (on holy relics). So of course William heads over with lots of boats and men and horses and wine, displaces many locals (turning out of a mother and child depicted in tapestry, this kind of thing goes way, way back), and eventually beats Harold. Lots of dead bodies, some being pillaged, at the bottom of the tapestry. Voila, Norman conquest of England.

All this was made even more interesting given Jeff’s heritage. As opposed to me, more or less peasant stock as far back as anyone can tell, Jeff has kings, queens, knights and more in his lineage. This starts with the “Vaux’s” in Normandy. Robert de Vaux (his 26th great-grandfather) and his two brothers from near Falaise, Calvados, lower Normandy, sailed to England with William in 1066 as part of the conquest and were subsequently rewarded with large land holdings in the borderlands (Scotland/England). Sadly no direct relations in castles we can visit today.

And now back to the oyster story. From Bayeux we went to Port-en-Bassin-Huppain. Wandering around we stumbled across its fish market, and very fortunately found one solitary vendor there. One was not many in a space built for at least six, but his array of products and his casual kindness were all we needed. Sadly I didn’t get his name, but I will remember him as the fastest oyster shucker I’ve ever seen. Here we had 25 oysters, on the docks. If only we’d brought a bottle of wine with us, it would have been perfect. Twelve of them were very salty. I asked several times where the oysteres were from and basically got gestures of ‘over there’ (to the right) and ‘over there’ (to the left). The salty ones, which after four or so created a bit of a sensation of being caught in a wave, were from the right. The ones from the left: sweet and meaty and perfect. Number 25 came when Jeff took a picture of me eating an oyster and our vendor decided I needed a “pretty” one. A much happier, if saltier, me left the docks in search of more adventure.

We wandered that day back along the coast, visiting some of the D-Day beaches, trying to visit a cookie factory (no tour as it was closed, but at least we could buy the cookies at a nearby store).

Les Sables D'Asnelles

Closed cookie factory

Then back to a delicious gourmet dinner at our hotel. And this artsy shot of the tile floor…

French tiles

Tile floor, from the floor

Perhaps the best part of our hotel was this amazing breakfast. And the best part of it, a bowl full of the most buttery, delicious caramel sauce. How is this breakfast? How have I never had it on my breakfast table?

And note how well Jeff fits into his environment…

Merging with art

Jeff blends into his new habitat

Our final day in Normandy we visited Honfleur. Known to have a charming and photogenic port. Can’t argue. Plus loved the chairs.

Honfleur harbor

Harbor shot of Honfleur

Honfleur cafe

Great chairs in Honfleur

 

 

 

 

 

 

And as it was so much fun, another fish market. This time it was in full swing, and we had a full “plateau de fruit de mer”. This was my other big desire in Normandy. In Trouville-sur-Mer had our choice of stalls and concocted a satisfyiling delicious one.

From there a bit of adventure taking wrong exits and such to return the car in Rouen, but got there eventually, and in time for the train we wanted to Paris. So next up… the weekend in Paris. À bientôt.

Dinan ramparts

In Which Jeff and Sasha Steal a Sandwich in St. Malo

No, my excuse for not posting is nothing so exciting as being put away for said stolen sandwich (that was put to right). Just go figure, there’s not nearly as much time for all this as I’d thought. Who knew travel would be so time consuming (OK, guess I did know that). Now on the train from Paris to Avignon, so a quiet moment to put down a few words.

Some basics, Jeff arrived on time Sunday the 4th at Charles de Gaulles in Paris. As he arrived in the afternoon, this gave me time to comb through the mile-long garage sale on the street outside our hotel. Found boots for 10 euros and two scarves for three euros. Like garage sales everywhere, lots of junk, some great finds, and lots and lots of people (this photo was from early in the morning, before everything was set up).

To keep Jeff awake, we spent the afternoon and evening walking around town (btw, boots were a great find, but not the best for an eight mile trek through Paris…). Visited with some friends from Belgium (more on them later) and ate, at their suggestion, at a sweet little restaurant, Le Colimaçon on the rue Vieille du Temple. Typical French meal with duck breast, rabbit and plenty of wine. Had two seats at a little bench in the window, perfect for people watching (Jeff, traveling with a thin down-style jacket, was happy to see it is in style in Paris).

Then we were off to Brittany/Normandy. High-speed train travel on the TGV, not a bad way to go…

By the way, my idea of the right amount of luggage would be several steamer trunks and a number of hatboxes. But as our porters backed out last minute, we decided to keep it to an international carry-on piece and backpack/messenger bag each. Here’s our Briggs and Riley carry on’s enjoying their train travel…

Briggs & Riley carry on

Carry on bags traveling to Rennes

Highlights from Brittany:
Mont Dol: Stayed at Le Jardin Des Simples a fantastic “maison d’hotes” (basically a B&B) in the teeny tiny town of Mont Dol in Brittany. Yannick and Corrine could not have been more helpful or fun. Corrine took a special interest in Jeff and did her best to elevate his French in the two days we were there. The property has a small chateau at one end and a house at the other (we were in the house) separated by a beautiful garden. Apparently the house, built in the 1770s, was a run-down wreck several years ago and Yannick renovated it beautifully. Ate dinner there one night and all products (save the fish) came from the garden. Delicious.

Cancale: Shared (only) six delicious oysters, cider and crêpes and got away without paying parking as our ticket was corrupted.

oysters and cider in Cancale

Our six oysters in Cancale

St Malo: Ate a so-so sandwich (the one we stole, realized we never paid and went back; store was closed but one of the workers came out from the bar down the street, refused at first to take our four euros but finally relented, couldn’t have that on our conscious the whole trip!). Avoided being trampled by hordes of students. And even in this late season, hordes of tourists. Ate a fantastic chocolate crêpe. Found a store, Lostmarc’h, with beautifully fragranced body products, produced with local ingredients. Apparently all fragrances inspired by walks the owner takes along the sea. If we had more luggage space, would have bought the soap that looks just like a stone, Savon Galet.

Cap Frehil: Quintessential seaside cliffs, made more quintessential by strong winds and gusting rains.

Cap Frehil Bretagne

Cliffs at the Brittany coast

Brittany coast

Blowing away at Cap Frehil

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dinan: Absolutely charming town dating from way, way back. Many half-timbered houses, stone buildings, winding streets… And a town filled with and proud of artists and artisans. Found Les Sacs de Constance. It’s good we have only a small bag and not the stack of steamer trunks as I wanted just about everything here. Michel Gasnier worked at Christian Lacroix and with custom bridal gowns, before coming back to the area where he grew up. The store and his creations are named for his muse, Constance. About her I need to learn more… Every bag in the store was unique, with a mix of old and new fabrics. I want a bedroom stacked with these pillows in every corner, so many colors and patterns but all coordinated somehow. But best of all were these little capes with ties/scarves, whimsical and perfect.

 

Lowlights from Brittany:
French mobile phone companies… As we’re in France for a month, wanted to get a local SIM card to have Internet and phone access without paying AT&T a fortune. On arrival in France looked at Orly airport, and again at Charles De Gaulle when Jeff arrived. No obvious spots for cards. It seems you have to go to one of the mobile phone stores, and wait in enormous lines with everyone who is buying phones, arguing about their bills, getting their phones fixed, etc. Tried at Gare Montparnasse in Paris, but huge line and impending train departure. Tried at a small mobile phone store in Dol de Bretagne; fresh out of pre-paid cards. On to “La Madeline” in the newer section of St Malo. A shopping mall connected to the big grocery store. Spent well over an hour bouncing around stores in this mall. First place was fast but the card didn’t fit. So on to “Orange” where we stood in line to get our names in the queue. Had to be at least twelve people ahead of us, and everyone seemed to be taking forever. Adding to the joy of the experience was a small toddler screaming in a shopping cart while his mother ignored him. Getting dangerously close to meltdown stage myself, after 30 minutes or so, went to a counter and basically said it was ridiculous to wait hours for such a simple transaction and for whatever reason, Francois took pity on me and within 10 minutes we were out of there. As Jeff pointed out, we’re not here just as tourists but to have a ‘local’ experience, and this was certainly one. Everyone we’ve talked to about it after has sighed in commiseration. Seems stereotypes of French bureaucracy are not all incorrect.

Oysters…. I love oysters. I’ve been dreaming about sitting on the docks and slurping fresh oysters in Brittany and Normandy for years. Apparently, ground zero for oysters in Brittany, and some would say all of northern France, is Cancale. No problem right, we were there. Oh no, we were there at night and ate crepescrêpe. Yes we had a half dozen expensive (and tasty) oysters in that restaurant. But we did not return during the day for the apparently amazing oysters from the shacks on the docks. Nor did we go to the restaurant famed for them. You can read about that experience here in this blog, but sadly not from me. For all the planning, guess that even some of the key experiences will be tantalizingly within reach, but not attained. Thankfully (especially for Jeff who had to put up with me kicking myself) this situation was somewhat redeemed in Normandy. That post next!

Tenerife Coffee Life

Leche leche

Tenerife. Made it. Completely on time, perhaps even early. However my advice for anyone entering or transiting Ireland: print out the onward boarding pass. Don’t know why but passed customs in Dublin not Frankfurt. Spent some time with the border guard explaining that I did have a ticket out, I just couldn’t print it (didn’t mention that until hours ago I wasn’t even sure that ticket really existed). He ultimately let me through with a strict warning not to leave the airport, and an “I.T.” (in transit) above my entry stamp. Then, rather than moving straight through to departures, I spent about 20 minutes trying to pull up a boarding pass on the slow and cumbersome free WIFI so I could get through security. Nothing doing. So out through customs (hoping my border guard would not consider this exiting the airport…). Always good to stretch the legs and ultimately going to the Aer Lingus check in counter meant a seat in aisle 3 rather than whatever back-of-the-craft seat I had originally (no business class on this plane, all economy and packed to the absolute gills with assuredly the least possible space between rows that they could legally maneuver).

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Aer Lingus packed like sardines

And yes, I enjoyed a Guinness in the airport.
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Makes a great lunch.

So arrival Tenerife. Dry, this island is dry. First saw Lagomera, which is much greener.

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Then turned and saw the sands of Africa blown to this volcanic land. Also, clearly a tourist destination, and one that seems to be in growth mode.
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Tenerife, a destination for northern Europeans who want the beach, cheap cigarettes, and plenty of
inexpensive alcohol. Concentrated in the south of the island, where my friends live, of course as most of the jobs are there. For me, that’s the not-so-great part. But far from complaining. Warm, not too hot. Numerous beaches with water so saline it’s possible to float with absolutely no effort. Nothing quite like being fully held by the ocean, really by anything come to think of it (sorry, no pictures, no type of camera went to the beach with me…). And I had the best hotel of all, with Doña Carmen and Don Raphael, who truly did everything and anything to make my stay a great one. And as Carmen is a tour guide and Raphael operates the best boutique in Los Christianos, I was in very good hands. But more importantly, these are two people I’ve been so randomly fortunate to meet. Interesting, smart, deeply decent. Over the course of four days, we found differences in opinions, especially cosmology, which led not to discord, but to edge-pushing debates. Nothing like someone who doesn’t see the world exactly as you do to help you better understand your own perspective.

Doña Carmen y Don Raphael

Doña Carmen y Don Raphael

Discoveries from Tenerife? The best of all, leche leche.

Tenerife Coffee Life

Coffee with sweetened condensed milk and frothed milk, mmm.

About one, one and a half euros at any café, this tasty concoction starts with a layer of sweetened condensed milk, then espresso, topped with frothed milk. Sweetened condensed milk represents the ultimate in decadence. Used to eat it directly as a kid. Mmmmmm. It’s a very good thing I was only in Tenerife for five days.

To balance the leche leche, the waterfront in Los Christianos makes a great running path (and yes, I did run, once…). Then there’s the wonderfully mountainous interior (says the girl from Colorado). Truth be told, most of that was done in car and by tram, but it’s there for the walking. On a future visit, will plan some hikes to El Tiede and a day trip to the neighboring island of Lagomera. RealTenerife has some great itineraries.

Other highlights: First day, Wednesday, visited San Cristóbal de La Laguna, known as La Laguna in the northern part of the island. It’s the oldest town on the island with buildings dating to the mid 1500s. Perfect for wandering, with tourist presence but not overwhelmingly so. Peeked in the front door of multiple buildings to see beautiful tiles.

La Laguna Tiles

La Laguna Tiles

La Laguna tiled entry

La Laguna tiled entry

Apparently doors were left open at night to these entryways so the homeless could sleep there. A gesture to help the very wealthy feel beneficent. The corners of some even have a stone urinal (sorry, no photo, and yes, apparently only for the male homeless population). Found a little shop with my name

Look, it's my own store in La Laguna.

Look, it’s my own store in La Laguna.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And one, Carla G, with elegant Italian clothes that seemed to perfectly reflect the color scheme of the town’s buildings.

Carla G. boutique in La Laguna

Carla G. boutique in La Laguna

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also found a small art gallery with birds made of vertebrae and an ocean in a ball.

Estudio Artizar exhibit

Estudio Artizar exhibit

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Thursday spent the day wandering around Los Christianos. Running in the morning, then passing most of the day deep in philosophical discussions with Rapahel. And learning all about his casual, elegant, boutique, from which I want at least one of just about everything… I’ll post a full interview/description soon. Here’s a quick image for the moment.

Comme Si, best boutique in Tenerife

Comme Si, best boutique in Tenerife

Did a sunset swim with Carmen to close out the day. Sadly no images from there, but nothing quite like floating in the ocean with the sun right at the horizon. A deep slate color rippling through salmon/orange/pink….

Next up was a trip literally around the island with Carmen and Raphael. Some crazy crazy roads. Very glad Carmen was driving, not me. Basically one lane snaking down a mountainside, but with two-way traffic. Not engineering you see in the US. Here you can make out just a part of it.

That's the road dropping off the middle of the picture.

That’s the road dropping off the middle of the picture.

Visited Masca (via one of the crazy roads), Guarachico (my favorite town), and Icod de los Vinos. Tasted several wines made from grapes obliterated in the rest of Europe in the 19th century due to the phylloxera epidemic. Saw a centuries old tree, El Drago Milenario, that’s actually a plant not a tree and is filled with cement to keep it vertical, but it made a good photo backdrop.

Me by the Dragon tree.

Me by the Dragon tree.

Guarachico is down another of those crazy roads. The town, formerly an important port, was mostly destroyed in the 1706 by lava flow. The local population survived by swimming out to a rock in the ocean. Now there are a number of pools built along the coast, filling with the tide, and some from heated volcanic water. Public and clearly popular. Then found the town square as the sun started setting. Perfectly lit the yellows and reds of the buildings. Daredevil kid on a red bike added to the photographic experience.

Guarachico at sunset

Guarachico at sunset

Guarachico with photogenic boy on bike

Guarachico with photogenic boy on bike

Perhaps the best part of the day? Finding that very casual and oh-so-good seaside restaurant. Seated on a terrace atop an old building right next to the ocean at the Medano beach. All the tables around us were doing it, and looked good to us, so we ordered the fish with my last name (charnai, any idea what fish that is??). Left the nice camera in the car, so these iPhone photos will have to suffice (photo to come, need to sync my phone!).

And then it was Saturday and time to leave for Paris. The complete opposite of the arrival flight, this was a throwback to air travel from years ago. Don’t think the plane was even half full. Had a full row to myself. First time on Iberia, and know not all flights would be so spacious, but I’d certainly fly them again. Nice flight attendants and a pilot who doesn’t put on the fasten seat belt sign at the slightest bump in the air.

Next up, stories from France. But now it’s time to explore the blocks long garage sale that happens to be taking place on the street outside the hotel!

ps. again with the photo placement! I will figure this out and improve, but this post is late enough!

And Next, Canary Islands (I hope…)

After a perfect New England fall weekend visiting with my brother and family, the international part of this journey has begun. Departed what still feels like tonight but is now last night (or so say the bright blue skies of nearly 9 am Frankfurt), despite an ominous warning on my screenDSCF0354 copy:

 

 

 

Splurging this trip with mostly business (and one first) class flights. As United almost never upgrades internationally anymore (got very lucky a few times in the distant past), this was my first time with the flat seats and generally snazzier business class ‘experience’. In addition, the flight was on Lufthansa, with very kind and professional staff. So even more to make it better than my typical United flight.

Snazzy business class, Lufthansa 747-800

Snazzy business class, Lufthansa 747-800

 

 

 

 

Eating wasn’t bad either with plates like this:

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The first time in perhaps forever that I didn’t want to dash off the plane as soon as we landed. However, now time to leave this and go see why Aer Lingus seems to not recognize my reservation. Hopefully avoid being stranded in Dublin while Tenerife awaits!

 

ps: I promise to figure out image placement!

Beautiful Portland Departure

So the Sojourn Has Begun

The round the world and then some journey has begun. Currently sitting in Washington Dulles with at least 5 flights being announced, my flight delayed, but no, not rethinking the wisdom of the trip. Oh, this trip, realize now I haven’t yet written about it. Will post a full description of it soon, but not while being buffeted by United flight announcements.

Despite the best of intentions, my bags are too heavy… But I do have just a wheelie carry on and a messenger bag for the 3+ months ahead. First stop (once/if I get out of Dulles) is Marblehead Mass and my ‘little’ brother and his family. Connect with my fabulous fantastic, but most unfortunately sick, niece and nephew. Eat seafood and drink great white wine with my gorgeous sister-in-law. And get a crash course on my new Fuji x10 from said brother, professional photographer, here’s his great photography site.

So come on United, let’s go to Boston!

Coming soon

Tales of travels, discoveries, and the memories we bring home.