Thursday, September 22, 2016

You had Me at Bonjour + Paris Cap Giveaway

It was mid-March when I received an email from the founder of Utopia, Janet Wallace, inviting me to a private writer’s retreat in Paris. Three seconds after I read the email, I was certain I wanted to accept the invitation. I mean, who says no to Paris? Not this gal!

The Next Chapter Writers Retreat was a three-day event, beginning on Friday and ending on Sunday, but I scheduled my trip to arrive four days early to tour the sites. And since France is world-renowned for its fine cuisine (and it’s no secret I’m a foodie), I had to have time to savor the food. ALL THE FOOD.

After a long five and a half months of waiting, I boarded a plane on a Sunday morning, itinerary and tickets in my backpack. Sixteen hours later, on Monday morning, I met up with my goddaughter/book blogger/violinist, Bianca, at Charles de Gaulle airport, and that’s where our adventure began—with her lost luggage. She received it at the hotel two days later. Thankfully.

That Monday, with no sleep and after our first delicious meal at a café near the hotel we hopped on a taxi, eating Pierre Hermé macarons on the way to the Eiffel Tower. Even with the thick fog surrounding us, the view from the second level of the tower was spectacular. I marveled at the city that was to be my home for the next week. It was getting late and we were both tired, so we decided to take a cab to the hotel. Only, we couldn’t find the elevator to go down, so we took the stairs. Had we known it would be about fifteen flights down to the first level, we would’ve looked harder for the elevator. Weary from the Eiffel Tower tour, the long day of travel, and longing for a shower and a pillow under our heads, our day came to an end around nine in the evening. I’m pretty sure I fainted from exhaustion as soon as I climbed into bed.

Bianca and I at Angelina's
Tuesday, we woke somewhat rested, but excited to start the day with a walking tour of Paris. We met Joanna, our personal tour guide, in front of Maison Chanel on Rue Cambon, located right next door to our hotel. Joanna a journalist, historian, and blogger, guided us through the streets of Paris, pointing out historical places and recounting stories of the city’s past. I had the most delicious hot chocolate I’d ever tasted at Angelina’s, Coco Chanel’s favorite café. Here, we saw the exact spot where Coco Chanel sat when she pulled herself away from her work. Even Coco needed coffee breaks!
Shakespeare & Co.

As we continued our tour, we walked past Voltaire’s old home and visited Shakespeare and Company, the bookstore where Ernest Hemmingway lived in his earlier years. As I entered the store, the sweet vanilla scent of vintage pages and old wood was like a call to bookworms from all corners of the world. The place was packed! The interior of this old store is lined from floor to ceiling with books. Once we were done browsing and made a few purchases, we headed to the street once again. 

Saint Joan of Arc at Notre Dame Cathedral
Further into our tour, we lit candles at Notre Damn Cathedral and paid our respects to St. Joan of Arc and of course Notre Dame de Paris. Our next stop was Luxembourg Gardens where we took a break. We ate a delicious crepe and sipped on champagne while we pondered the meaning of life with Joanna. Who knew drinking champagne could make us so philosophical, huh? Our break was over and it was time to walk again...

Luxembourg Gardens
The sidewalks by the rivers were lined with boathouses and antique booksellers. We stopped briefly to peruse the lithographs and aged fashion magazine covers, which is where I found a French copy of the New Testament from the year 1771. Being an antique lover, of course I had to buy it. Our stroll continued while the soft winds filled our nostrils with the nutty scent of freshly brewed espressos and the comforting aroma of baked pastries. An interesting thing I noticed is the lingering scent of cigarette smoke that seemed to accompany us everywhere we went. We reached the metro which we rode to another section of the city⎯a neighborhood called Montemartre.

A street in Montermartre

Now, I loved all of Paris, but there was something about the winding, rock-paved streets and the brightly painted mortar homes with vines carpeting the walls that captivated me in the neighborhood of Montermartre. The center of the neighborhood is filled with cafés, shops, and artists displaying their works. I knew I had to return to this old-worldly neighborhood before I left Paris (and I did). That’s when Joanna pointed out the tavern where Pablo Picasso spent much time with his best friend, Casagemas. She told the story of how Casagemas, having been refused by a girl he loved, committed suicide, his death hence igniting Picasso’s depression, which is evident in the paintings of his blue period from 1901-1904. It was at this very moment, standing in front of Picasso’s favorite meeting place where the epiphany struck me: an artist is a creature of such profound emotion, that he falls genuinely into it. It’s this pit of emotion where artists of all walks of life enter into the worlds of their creativity.  At least, that’s how I see it.

Café in Montermartre
Bianca, Joanna, and I finished off the evening dining on a delectable plate of duck at a café bistro at the center of Montemartre. Bianca blew out her belated 18th birthday candle, we bid Joanna a good night, and then we went back to the hotel to retire for the night.
The Gardens at Giverny

Very early on Wednesday morning, we embarked on a tour to Giverny, Claude Monet’s former estate. The lush gardens were filled with flowers I’d only seen in magazines and pictures on the Internet. Lavender, one of my favorite flowers, bloomed everywhere. When the breeze blew, the fresh scent of the silver-lilac flourishes swirled around me.  I’ve often wondered what heaven smells like, and I believe I now know—it smells like this, like every flower in the world.

Claude Monet's Studio

I passed through each of the rooms in the home, all smelling of old wood and mildew. Monet’s studio featured replicas of his works, but the furniture was original. As I walked into the blue and yellow kitchen, which quickly became my favorite room in the house, I noticed the copper pots hanging from the wall. Along with the black antique stove and the blue tiled walls, these pots gave a lot of personality to the room. Monet, in my opinion, had great taste. Then, as I stood there, from somewhere outside I heard a rooster crowing. I wondered if Monet, while sitting at the long table in his kitchen ever paid attention to the roosters’ crows, as I imagined living in the country, he too must’ve owned a rooster or two. 
Monet's Kitchen

The room began to crowd with tourists, so I headed out the door and onto another path where the famous Lily pad pond from Monet’s paintings was said to be. The path to the pond took me through more winding walkways, each displaying trees with mossy trunks and branches. I believe moss is underappreciated. Am I the only one who loves admiring moss, smelling it, touching it?

Lovely moss

At last, I reached a wooden bridge that looked like something out of a fairytale. I didn’t see any frogs or toads; otherwise, I might’ve kissed one. I reached the center of the bridge and before me there lay the pond. As I looked at it, I realized why Monet painted scenes of it so many times. It’s breathtaking! 

The Lily Pad Pond

And then I got hungry and my breath returned, so we went back to wait for the tour guide to lead us to the motor coach.

Moulin de Fourges
We stopped for lunch at Moulin de Fourges, a 350 year-old mill that now operates as a restaurant. My breath was again taken away when I made my way up the walkway and saw the structure sitting on the side of a lake surrounded by greenery, the millwheel spinning in a flaunting fashion, as if it were aware of its own beauty. Our lunch was relaxing and the food was good, but the scenery was by far better. The large hydrangea bushes blooming around the main entrance of the restaurant awed me. I’d never seen these types of plants in person. Bianca and I were lucky to be seated at a table all our own, apart from the rest of the tour group, so I could see the hydrangea bushes peeking up through the window, swaying with the breeze as I enjoyed my lunch. Hydrangeas, delicate and dainty, yet somehow flamboyant flowers, are another of my favorites.

All the lavishness of Versailles

Gardens at Versailles Palace

Our next stop was the Palace of Versailles. OH MY ROYAL FRENCHNESS! Versailles is lavish. There is no other word to describe it. The palace has intricate designs in every corner, crack, nook, and cranny. Chandeliers, statues, velvet, gold, and anything you could possibly envision when you think of royalty is overly prominent in Versailles. While there, I texted a picture of one of the rooms to my husband and told him I needed to immediately remodel our house. His response: “It’s cheaper if you just move there.” Sadly, Versailles doesn’t rent out rooms. Bianca suggested we buy the place, but I reminded her we were both starving artist. We toured the gardens too quickly, because it was time for out tour group to depart. We left the palace sighing from all the beauty we’d seen on our tour. We both agreed it was a most perfect day.

Macarons Class
Bianca and I took a macaron class with a French chef on Thursday morning. We had fun making macarons with two other ladies in the class. When the class ended, we took our lemon and vanilla macarons and ate some in the cab all the way to Louvre, which was our next scheduled tour with Joanna.

Polish Chocolate

Joanna was waiting for us, sitting by a statue of a horseman next to the Louvre pyramid. She’d brought us gifts: A beautiful Polish chocolate (we immediately devoured it) and a mug. We passed the security points and after a quick check of our bags, we were let through. Joanna led us to the exhibits, while I marveled at the architecture. As we walked, I recognized several pieces of artwork from my many years of Googling artists. One of the statues I was most overjoyed to see was Eros and Psyche. I have loved this statue from the first time I saw it. I was able to see a copy of it at another museum, and I knew someday I’d see the original.

Guiding us through the halls, Joanna picked out the most important pieces to show us, since it would take a full three months or more to go through every piece of art in the Louvre. But you know, I might just challenge myself to do it in this lifetime.

MMLMS (Mandatory
Mona Lisa and Me Selfie)
Before we reached the room where the Mona Lisa was displayed, Joanna warned us that there would be a crowd and that the painting itself was small, so we may not get a good view. Being an inch short of five feet tall, I’m used to darting and squeezing my way through crowds, so I did what I do best—I used my elbows and my “excuse me’s” until I got to the rail separating the crowd from the famous lady in the painting. I observed her semi-curved lips, but couldn't decide if she was smiling or glaring. The embroidery on the low neckline of her velvet dress seemed to be made of loops of gold. I examined the loose single threads of hair beside her smooth, round face. And then I looked at her eyes. They seemed to be looking straight at me. Or were they looking straight into me? I forced my way through the many tourists taking selfies, trying to capture their own moment in front of the art piece. I held Mona Lisa’s stare as I made my way from end to end of the rounded rail. I suppose to some it would be creepy for a portrait of person to stare you down as you move across the room, but I for one was fascinated. And if anyone ever tells you they weren’t impressed by Da Vinci’s most coveted work of art, that person hasn’t truly looked into the eyes of the Mona Lisa. Or perhaps doesn’t appreciate art for what it is—art.

Joanna blogs on her site
Postcards from Paris
Our tour was a brief two hours long, but I felt we’d covered the most important pieces of the museum. I didn’t bid the Louvre farewell, but rather told myself I’d be back one day to see the rest of the treasures held inside its walls. From there Joanna led the way to our four hour shopping tour through very French shops, a very lovely mall where I bought goodies to bring to my family, and my all time favorite type of place, a perfumeur (perfume shop) called Fragonard. Fragonard also has a museum in the city, but with our time being so short, we weren’t able to visit it. Maybe, next time...

After our much too quick shopping excursion, Bianca and I bid adieu to Joanna, and we thanked her for putting up with us for so many hours on both days she guided us through the city. I gifted Joanna a copy of my books before she left us that evening. I hope she’ll remember me as I’ll remember her. She is without a doubt one the loveliest and most talented women I’ve met.

After a brief break at the hotel room, Bianca and I headed off to meet the New Chapter Writers Retreat group at the conference hotel. To read about the retreat and to enter the giveaway, please visit my publisher’s website here:

Nely Cab’s Paris Book Signing Experience + A Paris Inspired Giveaway!


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