Last weekend, in the quiet of an autumn afternoon, my husband and I went for a drive into the mountains, searching for our own private Provencal home. The rain was light and drizzled, as if not rain at all but condensation hung in the air, tiny transparent pearls of water. Just enough to moisten your skin were you to venture outside.
We had been entertaining the idea of moving to the country for some time when we stumbled across an advertisement for a beautiful, hand-built stone house. The pictures made it look like it was taken straight out of an Enid Blyton fairytale; it was dusk, and the lit windows made it feel warm and homely, a safe haven from the dark forest outside. In person, it lived up to our expectations. The property was in the middle of Watagan Forest, the only entry via a narrow mountain road, curving in and out of the treescape. It was built on acres of land – so well outside of our price range – but it made for a pretty Sunday drive.
It was also the moment we realised how much we are “mountain people” — and how much we craved to be back in Provence.
What I remember most about Provence was the thin, crisp mountain air, like the cool comfort which slivers of after-dinner mints bring to a heavy belly. The sun on my shoulders that warmed but never burned. The way each and every home looked as inviting as my own, regardless of how aged or weathered the stone exterior. The sense of open space and freedom one doesn’t find within the city limits. The simple pleasures. Fields of lavender, lakes to swim in, friendly locals.
It’s April in Sydney, and Autumn is upon us. The trees outside my window bend and bow in the terror of the great north wind, as he bellows and shakes them to and fro. There are heavy clouds as far as the eye can see, their pregnant bellies bursting with a haze of downpour, shrouding the world outside with a vaporous fog. Shadows grow across the land. Dusk falls quicker these days.
My mind wanders to an identical scene, on the other side of the world, exactly a year ago today. It was springtime in Paris, and everything was wet. We were treated to highs of 12 degrees by day, and close to freezing by night. My toes were wrinkled and damp inside my three layers of sock and boots. My nose wept constantly, even when wrapped night-rider style under a scarf. My jeans were sticky and cold against my bum and legs from sitting on the rain-drenched seat of our scooter. It was wet, wet, wet… a typical Parisian Spring.
“What do you do when you’re caught in the middle of a springtime downpour”, you ask? These are my top tips to surviving Paris in the Rain.
The pretty, Mediterranean town of Nice, with its pebbled shore and brilliant blue waters, may not be known for a famous landmark or a world-class attraction akin to Paris’ Eiffel Tower, or even nearby Monaco’s grand casino, but it does make a great base if you intend to explore the region. It’s close enough for day trips to Cannes, Monaco, Saint-Tropez, Eze, Menton, and more. But it also has it’s own little personality, which makes it the perfect place to stop along the coast for a couple of days, if you can afford the time. (If you’re the sort of person to travel for long stints of time, like I am, you’ll know how important a well-planned rest stop is!) I’ll stick to Nice in this article, but please check back soon for more on the rest of the Cote d’Azur!
Before we arrived in Europe, I spent hours reading up on the best shopping in Paris. I scoured the internet and my favourite reference books, and wrote down the addresses of a dozen bookshops, stationary shops, and of course, shoe shops. Inevitably, we didn’t get to them all. But here are my top 4 in the 4th; a few of my favourites that were mere minutes (via scooter) from our apartment in the Marais.
Boutique shops selling everything from designer olive oil to designer ballet shoes are hidden in the maze of 4th Arrondisement backstreets.
Sleepy Paris, still dark as we creep out of our building in the dim hours just after dawn, not wanting to miss our (very early) bus… a second time.
Our attempt to find the Tour Offices the previous morning failed miserably – the maze of foreign streets in combination with a flimsy tourist map left us frustrated and helplessly lost. After asking a nearby hotel’s concierge for directions, we managed to find our coach just as it trucked off loudly past us, the driver paying no attention to our flailing arms – a desperate and futile attempt to redeem our disastrous morning.
With that in mind, I suggest you find your Tour Office before your departure date. This is one of the lessons I learned early on – scout departure points the day before a trip; a warning I myself didn’t heed on this occasion! Luckily, we were able to pay a small fee and reschedule our booking.
Our destination today is Mont St Michel, the iconic floating fortress off the Western shore of France. I have always had a fascination with Brittany and Normandy – a seemingly misplaced piece of mother England in one of her long-time rivals – so I wait with nervous anticipation on the giant coach that is ferrying us there. It’s a four hour drive, so if you’re planning on doing the same, I suggest you take a good book!