It's been a while and a lot has been happening at casa IamKnitGuy. For starters, we're back from Joe's European Adventure! I had the good fortune this Summer to be invited by old friends to their amazing palazzo in Tuscany. With about 10 seconds of decision making time, I decided to go and add on a week in Paris for fun!
My hosts couldn't be more wonderful! I haven't seen these friends in about 17-18 years and when I emailed them via StupidFace (I suppose it has its merits) and said we should have dinner in NY over Christmas, they were elated. In ten additional seconds, they had made reservations at an amazing french bistro in Greenwich Village and from there, the plan to join them in August in Italy was laid over several bottles of wine!
Honestly, I didn't think it was a bonafide offer but when the email came in June with all the details, I knew an adventure awaited. I arrived exhausted in Rome in the early morning and set off for Tuscany via taxi, rail and donkey.
To say these friends have done well for themselves would be an understatement -- I hate them. LOL. The house is spectacular and with the bounty of a stocked garden, we ate like kings in that simple, Tuscan style. Who knew tomatoes had so much flavor? I devoured pizza and drank coffee like a guy on death row! The view from the patio, overlooking the Tuscan countryside greeted me every morning!
At every meal, I was overwhelmed by the simple beauty in every detail.
While I was in Tuscany, I was fortunate to attend the Palio in Siena. It was an incredible parade of medieval couture and crescendo'd with a 2 minute barbaric, high-speed horse race around the square for 10 bareback riders! It was absolutely exhilarating! I have never seen the running of the bulls but it had that same quality! These medieval "games" were celebrated all over Tuscany with the locales flying their "contras" flags in support of the their "parish's" local boy in whatever race was happening in that town. You can't tell from these photos but 10,000 people were in the square and what erupted at the end of the race was something else!
This was in Chuisi and the boys were jousting in the town square!
They even "threw the flag" like in Under the Tuscan Sun with Diane Lane!
No photo can do it justice, so here's a video shot at the Palio just this year. If you look into the distance, you can see me sitting in the stands. I heard someone say that one year, they want to be on the "floor" of the square. I thought, "yeah, and New Year's Eve at Times Square always sounds like a good idea until you're there". It's worth the watch - it's only 3 minutes! And the mayhem at the end of the video is not to be missed!
One night, our hosts had dinner engagements, and we were left to our own devices.
Fran: We should have wine.
Fran: Where is the wine?
ME: In the little "cellar" off the kitchen.
[in the cellar]
Fran: OMG, this bottle is 450 Euros
ME: Put that one down.
Fran: This one is 500 Euros
ME: Don't break that.
Fran: This one has a note attached to the neck of the bottle. "To my darling, on the year of your birth".
ME: Step away from the wine and let's just have gin and tonics.
As chance would have it, I happened on a box of wine on the floor. We knew we'd be safe with that one and starting filling pitchers. In the morning, with the half empty box of wine on the kitchen counter, we were questioned why we would drink boxed wine when there were so many other choices. We laughingly told him of our predicament and repeatedly said things like "my darling, from the year of your birth" in our most aristocratic accents but he just laughed telling us he didn't even know who gave him that bottle of wine. We stopped laughing at that point but made a plan to have one of the other bottles later that night. But in the end, I didn't get a hangover from the cheap stuff so it was a win/win!
I swam away the afternoons, wrote in my journal, read my tawdry gay romance novel with the two hunky FBI agents while my pals read the history of the Arch Duke Ferdinand. Pish.
Like every sunset throughout my stay, a week of amazing food and great company came to an end far quicker than expected. Travel day to Paris was a complete race. We left late for the station, barely had time to figure out how to buy a ticket at the kiosk ... in Italian. I had 4 minutes to make my connection in Florence due to a late arrival. There were only about 16 tracks in the entire station but of course with 4 minutes to spare, I arrived at track 15 and my connection was on track 1A. Really? Scrambled to make the train and I arrived at the Pisa airport exhausted for the worst flight ever with RyanAir -- a commuter airline in and around Europe. No seat assignments and when the masses boarded, I could only think I was back at the Palio! I had paid the best $10 Euros ever and was lucky to have an actual seat so I avoided the horrible bunch of pushing people. They actually charge something like $40 Euros for every kilo over 15 kilos your suitcase weighed. What? My suitcase was 16 kilos but I just smiled at the agent and a hand was waived and my bag went right through. Hey, I still got it, what can I say?
I arrived at Hotel du Louvre and was astonished. I saw this hotel, meer steps from the Louvre museum on my trip in 2011 but didn't realize it was the one I was going to be staying at this year. The location is amazing and the view from my room was directly up the road to the Opera House in the distance. Floor to ceiling french doors overlooking the street and I sat there in the window every morning with my morning coffee, wearing my plush hotel robe and watched people making their way around the city.
I'm just going to say it. Bread is a religious experience in France. There's no way to get around it, it's consistency is just something else! I indulged quite a bit ... at every single meal!
Since I was there in 2011, I didn't have too many touristy things on my list. I had a handful of fountain pen stores that I had to see as well as some yarn shops. A paper store that I was told was amazing and plans to wander the Marais in search of the perfect jeans. The Musee d'Orsay and Beef Bourguignon rounded out the week.
This was the paper store everyone said I had to see. It was right out of a period film and the owner was as nice as can be. I wanted to live upstairs but they told me ... well, no.
I found the jeans, struck out on the pens and had my Beef Bourguignon and a couple of surprises along the way. I was feeling pretty awesome in the new jeans until I saw 1) the price tag and 2) practically EVERY guy in Paris looks like this guy. And yes, I took a photo of a stranger's ass. Hey, I'm the tacky American. No one seemed to notice, I think it happens a lot!
Rented a bike one day to tool around the city. They should put up a sign...death machines, ride at your own risk. I can not tell you how many times, I almost got run over. I took a trip down the Seine, went to see the Eifel tower do its nightly, disco light thing and went out quite a bit for cocktails!
And of course, there was dessert every night.
And got some great shots of the Louvre when I visited Musee d'Orsay. These giant clocks pepper the perimeter of the museum and once to the top of the building you can look out these clock images and onto the Seine and Louvre. I was feeling artsy this day!
Once I got to the next destination, that was a bit outside the center of town, I didn't really mind because the view was spectacular and the metro got me right into town in 10 minutes!
And yes, I tried to crop out the air conditioning vents and banquet space rooftops but hey, look out there ... you can't beat that view!
And this hotel had a dessert bar, as much as you want!
I didn't really mean to hit places like Notre Dame and the Louvre but you can't help yourself when the noon bells at Notre Dame start tolling and street performers are on every corner, you just seem drawn to it!
I went off in search of the gay district of Paris and totally got lost the first day. Yes, I went back. But I wandered around and happened upon a bunch of fun things and it was the day I used the giant public toilet that self cleaned itself between every user. I was pretty happy since I have the weakest bladder in the free world!
This homeless guy was feeding pigeons and singing on the top of his lungs across from this family moving out of their apartment. The moving guy told me that the doors are too small so they use the french windows and the hydraulic lifting machine thingy brings the furniture down to the street to be loaded right onto the truck. I said to the moving guy "well, necessity is the mother of all invention" He told me, "we have that phrase in french ... La nécessité est la mère de toute invention." I didn't remember it, I looked up for the post. ;-) He was really nice to me and chatted with me like he had nothing else to do but I did have the new jeans on. joking...price tag, remember...1 euro = 75 cents!
In the end, an amazing time all around. I can't remember if I ever took 2.5 weeks off from work and really disconnected from the world. No email, no phone .... no nothing. Everyone should do it!
I promised myself I wouldn't go back to France again unless I learned enough French to get around. Well I'm certainly not staying away from that bread, so when I got home I immediately enrolled in a conversational French class at the local college. Step 1...check!
I'll leave you with some random shots ... and a hearty Bonne Nuit!
And yes, no trick ...it's Dr. Who in French!