Friday, December 9, 2016

Gorgeous textiles for your home and you from Istanbul

Tulu Textiles is one of my favorite shops in Istanbul.  The multi-level small building is packed with beautiful textiles for the home and for wearing (beautiful scarves, bags) and the upper floors have magnificent rugs, kilims and other textiles from Turkey and around Central Asia.  Tulu designs cottons and linens with contemporary designs that have their inspiration in traditional Ottoman patterns.  They are lovely and unusual.  Tulu now offers online ordering in the US, so, if you aren't going to Istanbul any time soon you can still treat yourself to these lovely products.  Check them out.
        binbirdirek mah. peykane sk.
        no:38 ersoy han kat:3 d:7 sultanahmet 34122
        istanbul- turkey

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

More fabulous chocolate... and cakes in the Marais

The 'haut' Marais (upper Marais) just keeps getting better.  While you browse the alluring shops along rue Charlot and surrounding streets, be sure to indulge your sweets-loving-self at a new chocolates and patisserie shop,  Chocolats Matthieu Bijou.

Matthieu is a fine chocolates maker with a good selection of irresistible chocolate confections.  He also makes 'sweets for children' including beautiful fruit guimauves (marshmallows) and yummy paté de fruits.  Also known for exquisite lemon cakes and other small cakes, this shop at 28 rue Charlot is worth a detour, or a beeline to go right there!

Open Tuesday through Sundays.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Icons of Modern Art at the Vuitton Museum

The Gehry-designed Louis Vuitton museum is hosting a remarkable show of 130 masterpieces from the Shchukin Collection in Russia.  Collaborating with the Hermitage and the Pushkin museums, and celebrating a year of Franco-Russian collaborations, this show is packed with works rarely seen outside of Russia.  This is an important show and one that won't be replicated any time soon.  So go!

Through February 20.  Works by artists including Monet, Matisse, Picasso, Derain, Rousseau, Cezane, Sisley, Gaugin and numerous other noted artists are included.  The Vuitton museum is located in the Bois de Boulogne on the west side of Paris.  The museum is a work of art in itself.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Black Sea Cusine and Culture in Istanbul

I am an advocate for exploring the communities on the Asian side of the Bosphorus in Istanbul... Kadikoy, Uskudar, Beyerbeli , Kuzguncuk and more.   Culinary Backstreets, that estimable collection of culinary bloggers obsessed with authentic food and dining experiences (to all of our beneftis) has just written up a cultural center and restaurant in Uskudar that highlighting the Black Sea area and its distinctive culture and cuisine (and Butter!!).  Here is the link.

If you are in Istanbul and want to go, best bet is to take the Marmaray or the ferry over to Uskudar and then take a taxi to this wonderful sounding place.  Unless you are fluent in Turkish and can figure out the local buses, a taxi is probably the best and would not be terribly expensive at all.

Read and enjoy!

Friday, October 7, 2016

Dine like a French King and Queen at ORE, new at Versailles

Famed chef Alain Ducasse created a dinner in honor of Princess Diana and former French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing in 1994 and since then he has been on a mission to tell the history of the Château de Versailles via the table.

Set in a space overlooking a magnificent courtyard this is Ducasse’s riff on a chic gastronomic café by day (estimate 35 E plus drinks per person.) At night, the space is booked for  private“dîners d’exception” when guests can dine like a King (from the kingly starting sum of 500€).  So if you have a group of gourmands with a budget, this is an unforgettable option.
Ducasse and Executive chef Stéphane Duchiron delved into Versailles’ archives and, inspired by the past and the bounty of today, created dishes such as hot and cold starters, amuse bouches such as snail croquettes, foie gras cromesquis, beignets of frogs legs,  main courses such as sole with shrimp, turbot au champagne and quail pâte en croute – followed by regional cheeses and a multitude of incredible desserts including, Les Délices de Marie-Antoinette, seasonal soufflés and Ducasse's famous baba au rhum.
There’s also authentic Croque Monsieur de jambon de Paris et Comté (14€) or roast chicken sandwiches with courgette, aubergine and basil – paired with a glass of Cider or a bottle of Champagne BRUT Alain Ducasse available at any time of day for a royal snack.
Château de Versailles, Pavillon Dufour, Place d’Armes, 78000, Versailles. Tel: 01 30 84 12 97
Jaïs restaurant

Thursday, September 29, 2016

New cafe in Kadikoy. Tea and Ferries...

Late September in Istanbul was eerily tourist-free.  You can walk up to the Hagia Sophia or Topkapi Palace and get in with short waits.  You don't hear European or American accents in the streets of the Old City or other major tourist venues.  Too bad this... Istanbul is arguably no more dangerous than any major world capital these days.  And the the lira is so low that a trip is incredibly inexpensive. Hotels are offering nice rooms at great prices.  How about a four star opposite the Hagia Sophia for $47 per night?  In normal times, $175.

One of the delightful finds from my trip was a new café on the top floor of the Kadikoy ferry pier.  The city of Kadikoy has developed this lovely cafe with stunning views over the Bosphorus to the Old City with the Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace and Blue Mosque on the skyline.  The ferries which go back and forth constantly provide endless visual entertainment.

The cafe is a fabulous place to hang out.  There is no alcohol, but very good tea, coffees and light snacks are served. Glorious at sunset.  A big cup of tea is 2 lira or about 66 cents.  And no one rushes you!

Magic slippers, antique kilims and more

On my flight back from Istanbul I had the good fortune to sit next to Millicent Armstrong, of Artemis Design Co.  Millicent works with high quality artisanal specialists in Turkey to craft gorgeous, one of a kind shoes made from antique kilims.  She also imports kilim bags and some stunning Moroccan rugs made by women in small cooperatives in Morroco.

Check out Millicent's website.  Her products are gorgeous, unique and well worth a look!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Making croissants from scratch with a baker in Paris...

One of my favorite culinary colleagues in Paris is now offering a private croissant making class with a professional boulanger.  Making croissants from scratch is time consuming and requires lots of folding and layering the buttery dough, but, the results are absolutely worth it!

These folks also offer private market walks in various atmospheric markets and talk with you about how Parisians shop and eat.  They offer cooking sessions as well, with all that bounty from the markets.  And, another popular possibility are family baking classes where kids, parents and grandparents can bake Parisian classics like madeleines in a lovely Parisian apartment with a big kitchen.

Email Sally if you would like a referral.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Musée Carnavalet to close for major renovation in October

The beautiful and beloved Carnavalet museum of the history of Paris has started undergoing a major renovation and many galleries are closed at present. In October the Carnavalet is scheduled to close until 2020 for a major renovation of its heating, cooling and lighting systems, along with other efforts to stabilize this Renaissance era mansion and to enhance the visitor experience of the various collections.

The Carnavalet is a major draw in the Marais.  Fortunately the Picasso has re-opened after its renovation and the Cognac Jay are open.  The Center for European Photography, the Jewish Museum remain open, as is the Museum of the 'Chasse' or the Hunt.

And that is just in the Marais.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Andalucia. Taste. Explore.Experience.

Well, its not Turkey or France, but I am planning another intimately sized tour in magical Andalucia next spring.  From April 22 to May 1, starting in romantic Seville and ending in Granada, this is your chance to enjoy the culinary, cultural and architectural treasures of this fabled region of Spain. 

We are partnering once again with our Seville-based Andalucia expert colleague to offer this tour and it will be a terrific experience.  Highlights included visits to food artisans (the best jamon, olive oil, local cheese, vintage sherry wine in Jerez and a fine winemaker in Ronda), a 'fighting bull' farm, the Royal Andalucian Equestrian Stables, and dining ranging from a Sevillan tapas crawl to bodegas and restaurants of note for delicious local cuisine. 

We will, of course, enjoy guided tours of Seville's ancient juderia, the glorious Alcazar and the old city,  spend a day in Cordoba and visit the great mezquita and Medina Al Zahara, and, the Alhambra in Granada.  Flamenco?  Yes, we will have a private performance and chat with an up and coming young flamenco guitarist and enjoy a flamenco performance in an intimate venue in Seville.  And there's more.... a visit to luminous Cadiz, to romantic mountain side Ronda and other 'white towns', a visit to a private palace in Seville.  Lot's of great and unique experiences are guaranteed, on and off the beaten track!

Call 781 391 6183 or email me for a tour flyer and the daily itinerary.  Price is $4,650 double occupancy.  Minimum 8, maximum 12 persons.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Creativity, Inventiveness, Contemporary Art: SALT Istanbul

Salt Beyoglu, #11 Istiklal Cd. is one of my favorite contemporary art venues in Istanbul. This multi-floored building hosts several exhibitions at any one time and is always 'out there' in the most honest, exploratory sense of contemporary art and inventiveness.  There is also a theater which screen films and other media.  Free admission. Make it a point to stop in.   Artistic freedom is increasingly important to pro-actively support in Turkey.

Just about right across the street is one of KOC University's buildings.  There is a small gallery in the rear left side of the ground floor (free admission) that always seems to have a thought provoking photography exhibition exploring Turkey's cultural heritage.  Having this and the edgier SALT so close by is wonderful.

Note that SALT Galata is a second SALT exhibition and research center in Karakoy, closer to the Bosphorus shores.  11 Bankalar Cd.   This SALT, in a restored Ottoman Bank building also has beautiful views over to the old city.

Enter this link in your browser for an interesting article on the SALT galleries.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Kumkapi. A World of Tastes in Istanbul

One of the many great pleasures of Istanbul is enjoying the vast range of flavors and tastes.  As the city rockets forward many of the atmospheric older neighborhoods are modernizing in ways that aren't all wonderful.  Character is lost, small shops close, food carts disappear, authentic tastes get watered down.  Kumkapi, a densely jumbled quarter in the Old City near the Bosphorus shores is a great little neighborhood to loose yourself in for a few hours. 

Culinary Backstreets just posted an excellent piece on Kumkapi. Check this out, and you might also want to book a foodie walk in Istanbul or buy their app on delicious 'real' places to eat all over Istanbul.

Andalucia. One More Time With Sally & Sam

If you have always wanted to explore the glorious south of Spain, sunny Andalucia, consider a ten day very small group tour with me and my Seville-based colleague, Sam Lister of Tailormade Andalucia, in late April of 2017.  Travelers remain deeply interested in Spain and Andalucia is a top destination with its superb flamenco tradition, delicious food, wine and tapas, exquisite buildings remaining from Spain's Golden Age such as the Alhambra & the great Mezquita in Cordoba.

Andalucia is home to beguiling small cities like Seville, Granada, Cadiz, Jerez de la Frontera (home of Sherry wines), Cordoba, Carmona.... and to beautiful 'white towns' like Ronda.  And the food artisans, wine makers and olive oil producers are non-pareil.  We will be experiencing all of this and more...  the details of the tour will be announced by early July.  Ten people maximum.

Take this opportunity.  It will be a delightful immersion in a wonderfully beguiling part of Spain.

Call or email me if you have any questions please.  781 391 6183 or

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Greece and the Netherlands

I've spent most of April and early May traveling, personally, not with a small group, in the Netherlands and in Greece.  In the Netherlands I reacquainted myself with Amsterdam and its world-class museums.  I loved the multi-cultural Albert Cuypmarkt market area and its affordable restaurants, including Albina, a Surinamese find.  I agree that the best Appeltarte is served a the convivial Cafe Winkel just off the Nordmarkt square.  We were able to get tickets for the landmark Hieronymous Bosch exhibition in Den Bosch and it was stunning.  Loved Haarlem and the zillions of tulips at the Keukenhof gardens. 

The main purpose of our trip was to explore the Peloponnese penninsula in Greece for 12 days.  This is an area of Greece that seems to be mostly visited by Greeks, other than the occasional tours coming to see Epidaurous or Mycenae, two outstanding ancient sites.  We loved those but also loved ancient Corinth, the 'Cyclopean' walls of Tiryns and various other smaller ancient sites we discovered along the way.  Hill top Mystras is a wonderland of Byzantine Churches (near Sparta) and as you work down to the isolated, rocky Mani penninsula at the very bottom of the Peloponnese the scenery is rugged, wild and absolutely beautiful.  Napflio is a lovely small Renaissance era city with a big harbor and nice nearby beaches. 

Very convivial, pretty town to spend a few days in.  Gytheio, further down the penninsula is a cute small town on the water with multi-coloured buildings and some nice small hotels and good fish restaurants.  Unpretentious and welcoming.  One of the finds of the trip was the Eumelia Farm and Agriturismo where the young owners are endeavoring to build a completely environmentally sustainable farm and also a locavore network of high quality artisanal food producers.  They have olive and fruit trees at Eumelia and the setting, in a plateau of ancient olive trees ringed by mountains, is simply glorious.  Eumelia also hosts yoga retreats and can host small groups so if you want a tranquil get away with superb local uber-fresh food check this place out.

Medieval Monemvasia on the eastern coast of the Peloponnese is a magical walled town set on a huge rock... the Gibraltar of Greece.  Good wineries nearby too.

Then, four days in Athens and four days on lovely, unspoiled Milos in the Cyclades chain of islands. Lots of sun, too much good food and wine.  And many good conversations about Greece's political issues and the European Union.  A great trip all in all.

Coffee and perfect 'Chou' on the Ile St. Louis

La Maison du Chou, a gem of a specialist bakery on the Place du Furstemburg in the 6th has opened a second branch on the Ile de la Cité.  Specializing in chou, or puff pastry 'cream puffs' this beautiful little shop is well worth a stop.  They fill the cream puffs when ordered to assure maximum freshness. The cream is made with fromage blanc, vanilla and other goodies keeping sugar to a minimum and flavor to a maximum.  The shop offers a full range of quality coffees to accompany that delicious pastry.

Perfect for a spring stroll!

La Maison du Chou – Saint Louis
5 Rue Jean du Bellay, 75004 Paris
Metro Pont Marie (line 7) or Cité (line 4)

Friday, April 1, 2016

Ephemeral cooking classes with Alain Ducasse

Bonjour Paris, an excellent free weekly e-news posting about Paris just published a story about several one of a kind and one time only cooking classes at concept shop L'Eclaireur in partnership with Alain Ducasse.  These will surely sell out very quickly.  Here is the link... price is 240 E per class, they are in early April on various dates, and you must call to register.  Attendance is limited.

Trip Advisor Picks Istanbul #2 Destination in the WORLD for 2016

Trip Advisor has released its list of top ten destinations for 2016.  London is #1, Istanbul is #2.  Istanbul's tourism has taken a massive hit from the slow down in tourists from Russia and from the west due to concerns about safety.  While there are never guarantees of safety in our chaotic world, Istanbul is, at present, a city without lines for the major sites and the entire guiding and hospitality industry is more than available to be of help in crafting a magical experience.  Talk with me about guides, activity clusters, foodie walks, cooking classes, shopping and more.

While I would not travel to the southeast and to the cities along the Syrian border now, certainly the Istanbul area, the Aegean coast with its world class archaeological sites, Cappadocia and the Mediterranean coast with its blue cruises and splendid beach towns are all pretty good bets for a terrific vacation in a hospitable country with excellent food to boot!

Watch Turkish Airlines for fare sales.  They offer very competitive rates.  I'm a big fan of their nonstop to Istanbul from Boston.  Just in case you are curious, here are TripAdvisor's top 10.

Top 2016 Travelers' Choice Destinations
1. London
3. Marrakech, Morocco
4. Paris
7. Rome
10. Ubud, Indonesia

Monday, March 21, 2016

Our hearts go out to the people of Istanbul (and Ankara)

Once again violence has struck innocent civilians in Turkey.  Our hearts go out to the people of Istanbul and Ankara, and to visitors to Turkey, who have been victims of cynical and vile terrorist attacks designed to kill, harm and sow fear and uncertainty. 

Poetry in the Palais Royal

Only in Paris.  Montreal-based sculptor and artist Michel Goulet has taken discarded green iron French park chairs and turned them into poetry-points, gracing the beautiful gardens of the Palais Royal.

Goulet redesigned the classic chairs and made them into 10 love seats. The back of each chair is engraved with a quote or short verse  from a world-famous poet with their name below. And to complete the experience there is a portal to plug your headset into and listen to the poems in their entirety.  Goulet's objective was to make poetry more accessible to the public.

So take a seat and immerse yourself poetry, within a public space that is amongst the most beautiful in Europe.  The image is from David Leibowitz's Eye Prefer Paris newsletter.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Istanbul is open for business, great time to visit!

My guiding colleagues in Turkey tell me that Istanbul is exceptionally tranquil and line-free these days.  This city of 17 plus million people is, statistically, one of the safest cities in the world.  If you have an interest in traveling to Istanbul or elsewhere in Turkey (except perhaps the south east, near the Syrian border) this is a very good time to go.

September Camino de Santiago Walk

A good colleague of mine who is a specialist in Spain is leading a small group walk along 100 carefully selected miles of the Camino de Santiago in mid-September.  The tour will start in Bilbao, in the Pays Basque.  Given the leader's broad expertise and love of Spanish food and culture, this Camino walk will combine the mindful walking with lots of good meals, wine and conversation.  Email or call me if you would like further details.  The leader has walked the entire Camino in Spain and has chosen her route to include stretches on three different Spanish caminos which will add much to the experience.

Tickets for the French Open avail after March 23

If you plan to attend the French Open at Roland Garros stadium this spring, be aware than online tickets will be available starting on March 23.  They sell out quite quickly.

Women in the Resistance At the Shoah Memorial

The Shoah Memorial, located in the Marais, hosts an active program of lectures and programs year round.  From March 8 to September 30 there will be an exhibition on women in the Resistance exploring how women of various faiths actively worked against the Nazis, at their personal peril.

Free admission.  17 rue Geoffroy l'Asnier.  Nearest metro: St. Paul.  The Shoah Memorial is closed on Saturdays and National Holidays.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Yet Another Stellar Cheese Shop in Paris

Taka and Vermo is a lovely, high quality cheese shop newly opened on the rue du Faubourg St. Denis.  Laure Taka and Matthieu Vermo are the owners and affineurs.  They left other careers three years ago to seriously study cheese and the world of the affineur in France. They worked at top Paris cheese shops and spent months traveling in France and Italy to refine their knowledge and to research small scale artisanal cheese makers.

Laure is Japanese, so she has incorporated Japanese flavors into some of the cheeses. One pungent cheese is flavored with sansho pepper, another is a Saint Nectare topped with candied Yuzu.  Another beautifully decorated cheese was encased in edible flowers. They specialize in classic Roqueforts.

Taka & Vermo work closely with their cheese making colleagues and mature their cheese in the shop's cheese cellar.

The shop also sells a curated selection of wines, all bio dynamic, and organic beer.  There are other traditional fromagerie staples such as eggs, butter, and yogurt.

This shop is a great addition to this stretch of Faubourg St. Denis which remains a little gritty, but, which offers more and more enticing food shops.  All success to Taka and Vermo! Pay them a visit when you are in Paris.

Taka &Vermo
61 rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis, 75010
Metro: Strasbourg-Saint-Denis

Open Tuesday- Friday 9:30AM-1: 30PM, 4PM-8: 30PM
Saturday- 9:30AM-8: 30PM, Sunday 9:30AM-2PM

Yes. Go to Turkey!

Here is a link to an excellent blog entry on ten top things to do in Turkey for expat visitors.  Now and this year! As the article points out Turkey is a big country, really almost a subcontinent. Yes there are political issues and challenges, but, sadly that state of affairs is all too widespread in Europe, in the US and elsewhere.  And any writer who notes that Turkey is a 'magical' country has my vote... not perfect but endlessly fascinating, hospitable and yes, magical.  And, it is eminently affordable these days.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Hearts, Prayers and Healing Wishes go out to Istanbul Following the Murders in Sultanahmet

Once again there has been a horrific suicide bombing sowing destruction and murder, deliberately set in the heart of a great city.  Istanbul's historic Sultanahmet Square, with its centuries of history has seen its share of triumph and tragedies. This latest tragic attack is infuriating in its cowardice and outright evil. 

I join the legions of people of good will who send caring and supportive thoughts, and healing wishes, to the families of the victims, to the people of Istanbul, and to the greater community around the world that loves and cherishes this richly layered city.  This, as with the attacks in Paris, will surely dissuade visitors to Turkey who fear for safety in public spaces. That is of course exactly what the attackers would like to have happen.  I, for one, am planning to head to Istanbul as soon as I can.

Mariage Freres comes to the Rue Cler

The rue Cler in the 7th, hard by the Eiffel Tower, is one of the loveliest market streets in Paris.  The well-heeled neighborhood expects high quality to be de rigeur in their local artisans shops and restaurants.  This is a perfect neighborhood for a lovely new Mariage Freres shop and tea salon. Even if you have the slightest interest in tea Mariage Freres is a mecca for pure, blended, flavored and herbal teas from just about every tea growing nation on our globe.  While their Darjeelings and blends like British or French Breakfast are wonderful, peruse the little booklet of roughly 500 teas and surely you will find one (or several) that fit your tastes.  I, and about half the tea drinking world, love the classic Marco Polo black tea blend.  On recent trips I've purchased Bolero, Imperatrice, Fils de France and other blends, all superb.  There are choices you've likely never dreamed of such as a delicate green tea that has the subtle flavor of cherry blossoms.  Or the heartiest Assam's or Pu Ehr teas.  It is a trove.  Mariage Freres also sells gorgeous tea pots and tea accessories, plus, tea flavored jams and cookies.  There are other shops in the Marais, in the 6th, in the shopping mall underground adjacent to the Louvre and in the 9th.  Definitely a must-visit and fabulous for gifts.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Notable Opera at the Paris Opera

Werther:  A Soul’s Tragedy

From 20 January to 04 February 2016 at the Opera Bastille.  More than a century separates the publication of the novel  from the creation of Massenet’s operatic drama.  The composer remains faithful to Goethe’s personal literary model capturing palpable signs of nascent romanticism. Piotr Beczala, Stéphane Degout and Elīna Garanča perform in this forceful dramatic masterpiece.
(Adapted from the Paris Opera description.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Pera Museum Hosts "Bare, Naked, Nude: A Story of Modernization in Turkish Painting"

The Pera Museum, a gem of a small private museum in Beyoglu, is hosting an exhibition that is garnering critical acclaim and support (since many feel it is a brave, even provocative show in the face of the conservative government's grappling with the approved parameters of freedom of expression).

"Bare, Naked, Nude: A Story of Modernization in Turkish Painting" might not seem bold, even radical, in the context of European or Asian art over the centuries where drawing from the nude human figure was a key aspect of learning anatomy and creating art.

 But, for this secular, majority Muslim country the exhibition is bold.  Nude artworks, largely painted since the era of Ataturk's transformation of Turkey into a modern, secular, western-looking state, have been largely held in private collections.  There was not a history of painting nudes... men or women... in the Ottoman era or until the early 1920's.  The show catalyzes the gulf between Turkish traditionalism and 'modern' Turkey in interesting ways.  The artists who painted from the nude figure wanted to show that they were artistically able to capture the form and beauty, that they were in step with the Western World.  But conservative culture does not deem public images of the nude body to  be appropriate.

While at the Pera Museum be sure to see the famed 'Tortoise Trainer' by Osman Hamdi Bey, a cornerstone of the permanent collection. It is quite magical.  There is also a rather extraordinary collection of Ottoman-era weights and measures.  And a lovely very classy café.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Winter Sales in Paris

January is the month (as well as July) for the major sales in the grands magasins and the boutiques.  The Euro is low and sale prices will only further help you to score some memorable fashion and accessories.  Shop on!  Be in touch will Your Great Days in Paris if you would like to arrange a private guide for shopping in January or anytime.  We also have a great source for fashion atelier tours that visits young French designers, and, a fashion tour (small group) focused for teenagers.

Bonne Année!

Useful Travel Apps from The Guardian Travel Section

People who love travel are likely aware of the Guardian's Travel Section.  This British newspaper is a good read (it also runs a culinary column by Yotam Ottolenghi) and the news coverage is tops.

This link to a recent article on Travel Apps that are actually useful and proven to be top choices for travelers may be of use to you.  Seems to me to be a well curated list.