March 31, 2016

My "Sex-in-the-city" girls

A group Whatsapp is all it took. I was to arrive in Madrid for the Easter weekend. In good Spanish style I sent a message out only two days ahead inviting my girl friends to brunch on Saturday. My hubby had organized to see his friend and the kids had made their own plans as well.

Answers came dripping in during the evening: some were looking forward to a good "pow wow" others were away for the long weekend. Videos, pictures and greetings were exchanged and a few good giggles had us all on the same page again despite the distance that separates us. Thank goodness for Whatsapp.

Had I tried organizing a brunch in Paris or Lugano it would have taken weeks of notice but Madrid has a different vibe.

I remember, a few years back, having to change my flight and leaving to see my in-laws on my birthday when I had planed a party with my friends in Madrid. A few days late, but finally on the flight to Madrid feeling very frustrated, I Whatsapped the group telling the gang I needed a drink when I landed the other end.

Three hours later we were eight girls sipping cocktails on a terrasse enjoying the summer sunshine. How is that for improvisation?

The great news is, it works every time. I can count on my friends and they can count on me. No complications, no forced appearances, no long term planning. We are there for each other, we make an effort to keep in touch and sometimes travel across the globe to see eachother. We immediately settle into our comfy zone and let the conversation flow. At times the tone is serious, even sad depending on the phase we are going through other times the mood is lighthearted and gay. Hearty laughs as well as tears are guaranteed.

We constitute a priceless support network for each other which none of us take for granted. We are well aware of the uniqueness our eclectic group of International women represents and proud of the fact that we have stayed connected for more than a decade even though half of us no longer live in Madrid. When we reunite we all enjoy each other's presence and with a glass of Cava in hand, united, we'd like to believe ourselves invincible.

We are more than just friends, we are a sisterhood... for better and for worse!

March 29, 2016

Easyjet is late again...

It seems we are reliving the good old times. A few years back easyjet was chronically late... and by late I mean hours not minutes. I still have visions of us hanging around airports at midnight after waiting at over crowded gates for three or four hours. Until one day easyjet was told they'd be fined if they continued this policy of tardiness. They actually got their act together and started to be pretty reliable ... until yesterday!

It must have been Karma because our journey from Paris to Madrid was the smoothest, fastest one ever. The flight back, however, began with an hour's delay. We arrived at the airport after a lovely long weekend full of R&R and lots of good laughs with friends. One hour's delay turned into two then three. The family bet was on: were we or weren't we gonna take-off at midnight?!?

Checking between the easyjet app and the airport's billboard to figure out which one  gave more accurate info, we finally received confirmation that the flight was cancelled.

Most passengers were French seeking to return home for the next day was a working day. Naturally confrontational, they were in uproar, shouting at the poor stewardess to provide information in French not Spanish. The easyjet employee tried English which just made things worse.

At this point, trying to save what was left of the situation, I reopened my easyjet app and to my surprise was able to check-in online for the rescheduled flight the next morning.

For once, technology was playing in our favour! Tap, click and enter. Four new boarding passes were confirmed while the Parisians were still arguing with the stewardess.

With a big grin on my face, I turned around to my family and announced: "Guys, we are going out to dinner!" My dear friend La mamita Cubana hoped in her car to pick us up as soon as she had heard the news and we all enjoyed a late night treat (Spanish dinner time) of Jamón Iberico, croquetas and cava.

We were just really lucky we had a place to stay in Madrid... a place we still ... after all these years ... call home!

March 26, 2016

My own "Jour du Macaron"

Oh no, I missed it. Last weekend was macaron day. The official spring date of Sunday unveiled the 11th annual Jour du Macaron in Paris. Initiated by the Picasso of Pastry, Pierre Hermé, Macaron Day is a charitable event which is followed by the high-end pastry chefs of French pâtisserie throughout France.

Well, instead of fretting over spilt milk, I thought I'd share my own private Macaron tour which my Flaneuses friends and I came up with a few years back. The goal was to discover the best Chocolate macaron in town.

It all started with the Figaroscope's top ten chocolate macaron list which four friends drooled over, before they decided to put France's speciality to the test themselves.

Therefore, Ms Organized came up with a list of her own that made me giggle and impressed Ms Communication to no end. Ms Task-Oriented could not wait to start and get through the list within the morning.

We met at Café Carette which was full of chic French business people (not one single tourist in sight at 9am!) and I promptly got told off for taking fotos. The waitress couldn't resist a smile when we ordered two macarons each along with our coffee. Why two? Well, being slightly over-ambitious, we had decided to try a chocolate and a second flavour in each store.

We headed down Champs Elysée to hit world-renowned LaDurée. I will reveal that LaDurée is way over-rated but it's presentation, decoration, packaging and branding are extraordinary. How DID they get the entire world to remember their French name as well as the product itself? A charming salesman asked if we'd like fraise coquelicot (strawberry poppy) or fraise guimauve (strawberry marshmallow), chocolat ganache or chocolat classic. Doesn't he want to ask if I prefer pink cherry with white polka dots?

Striding down the Champs Elysée to Lenôtre we got diverted by two handsome young Abercrombie boys with whom we had our picture taken. No, I will NOT publish it! We (the girls), in return, distracted an enchanting chef at Lenôtre who promptly burnt his madeleines during the patisserie class he was giving.

We were - again - slightly sidetracked by Maille's window display of violet&blueberry flavoured mustard in pink jars which of course we had to taste! I know, I know the combination sounds terrible but hey, we're in France!

The only positive point Fauchon got in our books was for their fuchsia coloured box, tables and chairs. The macarons tasted stale. I will say no more.

By now we had gone from tasting two macarons each to sharing one between the four of us - I actually hate admitting to this fact. We therefore decided to stop for lunch at the Cinema du Pantheon which following to a review is a Parisian utopia: hidden beneath an art house cinema, a sophisticated café frequented only by beautiful, intellectual people… Delicious snacks, light meals and glasses of pouilly-fuissé. 

After four glasses of Sancerre we were ready to hit the macarons from Hugo et Victor, Pierre Hermé and Aoki which we had bought before lunch. We spread them out on our table much to the waiter's surprise and continued our dégustation.

In conclusion, my absolute personal favourite of all macarons came from Aoki. Not only are their flavours extremely delicate, the packaging and the presentation is refined in a way only the Japanese know how to craft.

Following closely were the macarons by Lenôtre and Carette. Ms Communication tends to agree with me while Ms Organized and Ms Task-Oriented concluded that Pierre Hermé was their favourite macaron source followed by Carette.

We did not manage to get through all ten macaron shops in one day but we found a definite consensus that Carette (as runner-up) was appreciated by all of us including Figaro's critic. And you'll never guess what my hubby bought home as a surprise today! Yum!!!

March 24, 2016

A sweet tooth in Zürich

A recent survey has shown that nine out of every ten people love chocolate. The tenth is lying. 

Confiserie Sprüngli, one of Switzerland’s most famous family businesses, was founded in 1836, and is now a household name for people from all over the world, synonymous with the finest Swiss chocolate, truffles, pralines and confectionery.

Need I specify that it is my absolute favourite spot in Zürich? Every time I head back "home" I stop at their shop on Paradeplatz to indulge in a Luxemburgerli, a praline, a chocolate truffle or their scrumptious Birchermüesli. For the past decades Sprüngli has never ever disappointed me since - true to their Swissness - they make absolutely no compromise on quality!

So just let me indulge a bit more by daydreaming over the photos I took last time I visited my personal chocolate heaven.

I remember my very first white box of Sprüngli chocolates my mother received as a gift when my little brother was born!

Now, my favourite are champagne and raspberry Luxemburgeli

The Swiss version of a macaron but ohh so much tastier!

A Sprüngli classic: Truffes du jour

Endless supplies

Sprüngli's petit four are also worth tasting. Yum!

Any kind of chocolate under the sun, just make your choice!

Not contempt, I also opted for some Ragusa served with my coffee after lunch ...

...and if you can still feel that sweet tooth of yours.. there are always the cupcakes left to try!

March 22, 2016

Tourist trap or Dealer's heaven?

What do you do on a cold, grey Sunday afternoon in Paris? Well, the good news is, it is not raining, the even better news our friends are in town. The "bad" news is the tourists are starting to flock back to Paris (slowly but surely) and therefore the queues to museums, attractions and events drastically increase during the weekend.

Given that we live here, why would we want to force ourselves to stand in line when Monday morning the same venue is deserted. Thursday nights, for example, are great to visit museums since most of them adhere to late night opening and the tourists usually crash after 6pm given their strenuous day running around Paris.

Well, this Sunday we decided to check out the Marché de Puces. Covering seven hectares, 3,000 traders and up to 180,000 visitors each weekend, St-Ouen is generally thought to be the biggest flea market in the world.

What started as a rag-and-bone shantytown outside the city limits in 1885, has been organised into a series of enclosed villages, some entirely covered and others with open-air streets and covered boutiques for the antiques dealers.

Lots of vintage to spot, even more to photograph and a trendy lunch to top it all off. Sounds good to me...

A little patriotism always helps 

Ready to move in...

Interesting presentation

A bit of New Orleans at St.Ouen

Would need a palace to place these

Travel companions are always welcome

Lots of fashion vintage to be spotted

Spot the teddy bear?

I'll take the pink chairs...


I could work with these as well

Not many customers on this cold day

Pit stop?

Now, what could you use these for? Any ideas? 

A quirky sense of humour

Childhood memories flooding back

If I had a big kitchen I could really put these boxes to use

Hey, he's smiling!!!

Eerie looking couple

L'éclaireur looks enticing

Philippe Starck's contribution to the Paris' flea market: ma cocotte!

March 15, 2016

Une agréable rencontre après tout

It is Wednesday night, pouring with rain and I am heading over the Pont d'Iena to pick up Expat girl from her acting classes the other side of the river. There are roadworks on the bridge and cars are streaming from all side, crossing the Place de Varsovie aiming to squeeze into one lane which leads towards the overpowering Eiffel Tower.

A little shove and a push and it seems I've hit a Mini with the side of my car. Not thinking much I carry on at snail's pace following the traffic flow when I notice through my rear mirror the lady behind the steering wheel taking note of my number plate. I move forward crossing the bridge in order not to produce a complete melt-down of the traffic and stop right below the Tour Eiffel.

The tower lights start sparkling which means it is seven o'clock sharp and I am now officially running late. It is the first time I am looking down rather than up.

I am checking the fenders and bumpers of my car which seem to be in tact. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the Mini which has come to a halt behind me. It looks to me as if this lady has had quite a few run-ins. I prepare myself for a downpour of insults and am ready to shoot back. This is the way things work in Paris... you attack first, no matter what.

Instead a French lady steps up to me and says politely: "I think you hit my car." We walk around the vehicles evaluating the damage and seeing that I am late in picking up my daughter, she suggest we telephone later to meet over the weekend.

Well, to cut a long story short, we met on another rainy afternoon in a little bistro in the 15th arrondissement over a cup of coffee and had a pleasant exchange of information while filling in the accident report. Turns out she has a son who's in his last year of school just like mine and from what I could tell her priorities seem to be very similar to mine.

Nobody got hurt, the damage is done and the insurances will cover it. However, there were two ways to go about such an incident: aggressively or with a civilised conversation.

We said our goodbyes and as she was crossing the road with her bright red umbrella, I thought to myself: "I like this mum, we could have potentially even become friends."

Little does this lady know but she has done a great deal in restoring my faith in the Parisian people's ability to show empathy for others.

Je vous adresse tous mes remerciements, Chère Madame, pour cet agréable rencontre qui aurait pu être très énervante.

March 13, 2016

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