st peterTalk about finding hidden treasures wide open in Paris, my last post about missing a lantern or an alley way pales in comparison to missing an entire church right next to the most visited Basilica in Paris. Saint-Pierre de Montmartre or Saint Peter Church of Montmartre as we call it, sits in the shadows of The Basilica of Sacre Coeur, unassuming and humble. It was on my Context Travel tour of Montmartre that we learned of the significance of this church and its historical value to Catholics worldwide. Peaceful and serene are the words that come to mind when describing the inside of this understated chapel.

Paris alley behind le procopeThe best of Paris is hidden in the wide open. Her beauty is in her history; the architecture, the windows, the doors and the colors that represent the differing sides of conflicts that shaped the city, as it is known today. The city of Paris is like a Parisian woman, she is aging gracefully with little need for cosmetic intervention. Paris has good bone structure (architecture) and a few accessories that enhance her beauty more (ornamental lanterns, colorful doors, classic gates), but how many times do tourists miss these in the rushed commute to the main attractions?

Cave de l'originale interiorWhen I asked Elénor, the concierge at the Palais de la Méditerranée, for a recommendation for a local restaurant that cooked dishes of the region with fresh ingredients, she did not hesitate for a second. She responded, "Where to eat in Nice? Why of course, Cave de l’Origine is the best for local cuisine" so Gal Pal Elizabeth and I made prompt reservations for a casual and excellent dinner that did not disappoint. The cuisine in southern France differs quite a bit from its northern counterparts. Heavily influenced by its Italian neighbors and Greek descendants, Nice’s local dishes contain fresh ingredients from the soil. Olives, tomatoes, shallots and garlic play heavily into the makeup of the famous local favorite “Niçoise stew.”

[caption id="attachment_7303" align="alignleft" width="300"]luxembourg gardens Summer in the gardens[/caption] Some tourist attractions and areas of cities can get stale. The "been there, done that" thought can creep up when I am in Paris and someone asks to see the Mona Lisa, but never will I say that about Luxembourg Gardens (Jardins du Luxembourg). It never gets old strolling through the vast landscape even in the winter time when the tropical plants and trees disappear behind the bundling bags that keep them warm during the harsh cold and  dark months. There is life year 'round in this park with school children taking their mandatory walkabout at lunchtime, folks jogging, tennis players serving things up, and chess champions queueing up for a match. The ducks remain all year poodeling around in the various fountains and pond. They seem to validate that life in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris in the winter is better than summer in other places.

[caption id="attachment_7278" align="alignleft" width="300"]pastries for kids Bouchee's for the kids[/caption] Of all the pastry shops in Paris, La Pâtisserie des Rêves (the pastry of my dreams) is definitely one of my favorites! Some women dream about shoes, purses or the perfect home. Me? I dream about chocolate éclairs (and champagne) in Paris. I am an éclair connoisseur of sorts. Heck, what I really am is a bona fide, certified, raging éclairoholic. I have been off the wagon several times but thought I had finally kicked the habit for good until I took the Baguette to Bistro tour with Context Travel and relapsed big time.

photo-12The Texans might razz France about many things, but not about champagne! They love champagne just as much as the rest of the world. Thank God the locals put down their guns (well maybe they were just concealed) for one night and picked up a glass of bubbly! Personally, part of my obsession about France has to do with loving wine and especially brut champagne. I was in heaven last night at the 10th Anniversary party for The Tasting Room in Houston, TX courtesy of fellow travel blogger Leah Walker of Leah Travels who was invited as part of the VIP crowd. Leah is a Houston City Editor for The Daily Meal and an Expert and Correspondent for Forbes Travel Guide.

[caption id="attachment_7210" align="alignleft" width="300"]l'Occitane goodies at Hotel Montalembert, Paris l'Occitane goodies at Hotel Montalembert, Paris[/caption] A large part of my job as a travel writer is reviewing hotels. The quality of the bed linens is crucial to my rating, but what will make or break you in my book are the bathrooms. Part of the evaluation I do is examining the hotel toiletries and sometimes the lack there of.  It is annoying, at best, to try to fit “needed” toiletry items into the TSA approved gallon-sized zip lock baggy.  Mine is usually full because I hate to be caught off-guard. I am a “just in case” traveler who despises over-packing, but find it difficult to avoid. I don’t like to waste precious time shopping for forgotten essentials when visiting someplace spectacular.  Wouldn’t it be super to have a definite answer, before packing, as to what amenities will be in your hotel bathroom?

DSCN0347Green space is at a premium in the City of Light so it is always a pleasant surprise when you turn a corner and find a little pocket park on a town square (or triangle since the city is infamous for trisecting streets) with lovely shaded benches in the summer months and areas in the sun for winter warmth perfect for a picnic in Paris.  One lovely summer morning I encountered a woman playing an Australian didjeridoo, a petit French cowboy, a merry-go-round and some lovely gardens in the Square Boucicaut across from the fabulous Hotel Lutetia and in front of the famous Le Bon Marché shopping mall.

[caption id="attachment_7138" align="alignleft" width="300"]July 2013 Gal Pals July 2013 Gal Pals[/caption] On this second to last day of summer, I am remembering Monet's Gardens and the warm sunshine heating up the luscious green earth outside Paris in Giverny, France. The only ones more sad than me to see the flowers fade from the landscape are the busy bees who kept the pollination process going and now must accept that winter is fast approaching. As the leaves fall and wool coats are dusted off, I am reminiscing about my visit to the vibrant gardens of the most masterful painter of water lilies in history. To see the lilies from the same vantage points as Monet was a dream come true.