June 24, 2019

Celebrating Dr.L in Dundee

Dundee was the destination for this week...perfect considering it is mid-summer night on June 21st.

First off I needed to check on the map how to get there, next a google map zoom-in to inspect the huge medical university center. Yep, that is where my Godson spent the past five years studying and training night and day... literally... and had passed all his exams.

My childhood friend had sent me an invitation for her son’s graduation ceremony over nine months ago and I had been looking forward to this day all year.

My little English-Swiss Godson whom I held in my arms many moons ago was now a young man and picking me up at Edinburgh airport to drive me to Dundee. That was a first: having one of our kids driving me rather than the other way around.

My best friend and souls sister had found a rather nice Airbnb in the center of town and her charming husband was ready to welcome me with glass of bubbly as I walked through the door... he always does. Such the English gentlemen! A quick gossip with my bestie before her mum and brother join the crowd flown straight in from Switzerland.

Our jolly group enjoyed a delicious pub dinner of fish and chips (much to my delight) and returned back to base for some tea, chocolate and a good catching up!

The next day Godson’s gorgeous girlfriend joined the happy bunch and off we went to check out the new V&A museum and explore the history of the famous Scots who ventured all the way to the Antarctic with their ship “Discovery” at the turn of the century which was docked next to the museum. The mind boggles...

In the afternoon we all turned up at Dundee’s town square dressed to the nines to find hundreds of smiling graduates in their black robes and red sashes. A good number of them were wearing kilts with their family’s tartan and boy did they look dashing!

It was very heartening and rewarding to see the students graduating in Dundee’s magnificent Caird Hall having successfully completed their respective degrees.

A beautiful - slightly long - ceremony where my Godson received a tap on the head with the Dundee bonnet (go figure.... they say it’s tradition) and the boy is officially a Doctor! Dr. L. well done!!! We are all so proud of you.

More bubbly, more celebration, more food, more laughs, more stories from the past, more giggles, a little embarrassment of the youngsters while they realize the older generation actually was pretty cool way back then and have some pretty good stories to tell!

This eclectic group has been like family to me ever since I was a little girl and I am so grateful to be part of their colorful quilt called life. For my bestie and I started hanging out at the age of four which means we have quiet a few stories to tell...

A very suave looking V&A Museum at the seafront of Dundee

The less-inviting back allies of Dundee

The "Discovery" in all its restored glory

I have always wanted to see the inside of an ancient three-master!

A very special invitation to Caird Hall

Congrats to all of 2019 Graduates

So proud of Dr. L

A quick tour around St.Andrew's Castle...

... before we indulge in some seriously scrumptious doughnuts!

June 16, 2019

Happy Father's Day

Father's Day is defiantly a challenge when you are an expat family. Which one do you celebrate? The Italian, the Swiss, or the French one? They all fall on different days!

It's Father's Day in France today and Expat Girl likes to create rather than buy gifts for her Papi.

Always busy with a schedule that hardly lets her breath she sat down last night after dinner and crafted this year's present. Just goes to show it is the idea that counts, the execution can be done with weeks of preparation or at midnight the night before.

With an empty jam jar and some coloured felt pens her creation came to life. What are all the reasons your kids love their Daddy for? My favourite one: Perché hai un'accento "beautiful".

June 15, 2019

An invitation to celebrate the Queen

It was an unexpected invitation and therefore all the more appreciated. A garden party at the British embassy in Paris to celebrate the Queen’s birthday.

In the eight years I have been living in Paris, my curious self had always wished to take a peek inside what is regarded as the most splendid British embassy building anywhere.

They tell me the Hôtel de Charost (named after the family who built it in 1725) once belonged to Pauline, Napoleon Bonaparte’s sister... now, that says it all!

It was she who sold it to the 1st Duke of Wellington in August 1814, for 861,500 francs (about £40,000) throwing in all her sumptuous Empire furniture, which included a luxurious bed, a series of monumental clocks and splendid ormolu firedogs.

Jumping out of the taxi in front of the beautiful portal, the commotion of guests mixed with armed police, embassy security guards and beeping screen doors was a usual Parisian sight.

Unfortunately so was the queue! As I started walking down the avenue in the opposite sense of the line my heart sank... turns out 3000 persons had received the same invitation! The queue seemed to wind endlessly around the block.

On the verge of turning around to head back home, I realized people were moving along speedily. Bravo to the British embassy security staff, I have never been in a queue this long but also this fast!

Ten minutes later I am standing in the spacious cobble-stoned courtyard with century-old reliefs on the walls to find a fish&chip food truck parked inside with yet another line.

Heading straight for the building’s entrance I am greeted by two bag-pipers in their Scottish attire alongside a huge Union Jack.

Walking through the glorious reception rooms I discover the enormous garden for which the British embassy is so famous for.

I am not disappointed as I find a perfectly cured lawn framed by flowers and hedges all in full bloom.... but wait there is a little passage way to the left... and... another second garden the same size as the first.

I feel like Alice in Wonderland. I am surrounded by a beautiful English garden hearing my mother tongue spoken with the proper accent, the lawn is still damp from the last rainfall 30 minutes ago and the sun has decided to come through just in time for the party. A large band is playing traditional bagpipe music in the other garden and a theatre group is performing Shakespeare at the end of “our” garden.

I bump into a friend and we find ourselves a Pimms and munch on watercress sandwich while we tour the grounds basking in the warm sunny breeze. Much to my delight there is also a stand offering Pimms Jelly! I'll have two of those please, actually three.

Whatever the budget of this enormous well-coordinated delightful event, Lord and Lady Llewellyn (the British Ambassador and his wife, which he incidentally gave lovely credit to during his speech) certainly pulled off a brilliant party that had us all forget Brexit at least for an evening.

Long live the Queen!

Make Britain great again!

A welcome that made me smile

A typical Parisian embassy interior decoration

The ball room looks very similar to the US embassy...

... but this is unique to the British embassy!

A romantic view onto the garden

My favourite corner of the British embassy

Looking onto Hôtel de Charost from the garden

A Pimms to ring in the summer...

... followed by Pimms jelly cups!

The"other" garden with a music stage at the very end

Catching a taxi home to get back to reality 

June 9, 2019

The iconic La Samaritaine

With hardly any time to touch down in Paris, we are ready for yet another long weekend. Did I tell you that France hits the top list of long weekend breaks?

Well, I can hardly blame them given the current weather situation. June 5th and it is pouring with a temperature of 13°C. Roland Garros has been rained out today so I invited a new friend to uncover the latest LVMH project: the relaunch of Paris' iconic Le Samaritaine.

1870 marked the birth of a legend. Ernest Cognacq and his wife opened their first shop at the corner of Rue du Pont Neuf and Rue de la Monnaie. Ably supported by his wife Marie-Louis Jaÿ, formerly the first female sales assistant at Bon Marché, Ernest Cognacq is the tireless and tenacious creator of the Samaritaine “empire”. As early as 1883, business grows, comprising several adjoining buildings which were gradually converted into retail space as they were purchased.

While some people may think that the La Samaritaine department store is still open, it actually closed in 2005 on the orders of the Préfecture de Police, citing fire safety reasons. The entire project stalled in 2013 due to an appeal against the two building permits that had been submitted in 2011.
In 2015 construction started, and is estimated to last until 2020.

A much-loved destination for Parisians for over a century, today La Samaritaine is being reinvented and brought up to date as a contemporary lifestyle destination, combining the modernity of curving glass façade with the heritage of the completely renovated riverside listed building.

With its unique history, eclectic architecture and iconic position on the banks of the Seine, La Samaritan will feature a department store, a palace hotel, 96 social housing units, an 80-place creche and lots of office space...

... and I can't wait to discover it all next year after the grand opening... but in the meantime just let me dash off to Madrid for the weekend in search of some sun!

Getting a good look from above at La Samaritaine under reconstruction on a very rainy day.

The one hour tour allowed us to look under the hood thanks to some fascinating mock-ups.
5-star hotel, department store and office building all in a row. At the centre of the site is an art nouveau building, topped with an impressive glass roof, which was completed by Frantz Jourdain in the early 1900s.

Love the little detail in the office building mock-up.

A beautiful model of the neighbourhood architectural project brought to life with a 3D printer. Stretching from the Rue de Rivoli to the Pont-Neuf, three linked courtyards, each generously lit by natural daylight via glass roofs, will line the promenade in a unique setting – a mix of heritage and contemporary creation.

Half an hour later we were accompanied around the block to take a look at the "real thing". To the left the future palace hotel, an art deco extension realised by Henri Sausage in 1928. To the right the department store.
Frescoes, friezes, handrails, enamelled tiles, crests, doors, wooden window frames – every separate piece has been taken down and stored in workshops outside Paris for restoration.

When old meets new... and the importance of calculations!

The most eye-catching addition to the site is a rippling glass façade - that bookends "La Samaritaine" restoration - led by Japanese firm SANAA.

June 8, 2019

Enough of French

London, Napoli, Rougemont, Ibiza, Lugano, Madrid, Lugano again, Madrid again... scrolling through my blog posts of 2019 I realize how little time I have spent in Paris these past five months...

... and I am starting to wonder... has the enchantment with life in Paris really come to an end?

Has fighting the Parisian routine along with its bureaucracy, daily frustration, aggressive traffic, rude attitude, unfriendly touch - all big city traits - taken its toll?

The everyday exclamations you hear when catching the bus, squeezing into the metro, crossing the road, shopping at the supermarket or simply walking on the pavement (while slaloming around the dog poop) are the same ones over and over again... and sometimes are directed towards you coming from total strangers!

Ce n'est pas mon problème!
J'ai le droit!
J'en ai rien à f.....!
Mais vous êtes folle?
En quoi cela vous regarde?
J'en ai ras le bol!
Bougez votre c...!
Laissez-moi tranquille!
Oh la la la laaaaa!
C'est pas vrai!!!

Whatever happened to the "vie en rose"?

June 7, 2019

A picture perfect weekend in Lugano

What can I say? We are heading home for yet another long weekend...

France is world champion when it comes to weekend breaks in May. When French holiday dates fall on a Tuesday or Thursday, employees in France commonly make a ‘bridge’ holiday (faire le pont), creating a very long weekend. France observes 11 French public holidays each year, it’s a great reason/excuse to travel.

Lugano here we come... home, sweet home!

The best flight in Europe ... across the Swiss Alps

Feeling at home already

No flight I'd rather be on right now

The most romantic place: Villa Helios in Castagnola built in 1901-1902 

In tune with nature

A sports complex with a view

A Ticinese grotto, nothing is more typical for life in Ticino than the grotto, a simple tavern in quiet hideaway places serving authentic and traditional cuisine.

Homemade is good too!

June 5, 2019

Swiss sophistication mixed with Italian passion

Feeling rather adventurous Expat hubby decided to make the most of a spectacularly sunny day and rent a boat on the lake of Lugano. Lake Lugano is one of the three large lakes (Como and Maggiore are the other two) that hug the Swiss-Italian border, lining up in neat and handsome parallels.

The water drifts between the sheer granite walls of two mighty triangles, Mount Bre and Mount San Salvatore. Together they form the stunning frame through which you look south from the town of Lugano.

As we chugged along the shoreline heading for the Italian border, we admired La Villa Favorita and the little village of Gandria, both places of enchanting charm. 

And as the whole family basks in the sun trying to find space on the tiny boat, I can't help but smile at my splendid surroundings infused with a mix of Swiss sophistication and Italian passion. 

My American Dad would have called it "Ahhh, la dolce vita!"

San Salvatore one of the many hills framing Lugano's landscape 

Heading towards Porlezza in Italy

There is not much flat soil, which allows for some fantastic hiking.
Spot the Lido San Domenico at the bottom, a perfect place to chill on a warm, sunny day

Gandria has no ledge along the shore, the houses seem to tumble down onto the water. From the tiny dock, a few minutes' climb will take you away from the postcard and pottery trade lining the waterfront and will reveal how the village fits together like Lego pieces, houses, alleys and stairs all interconnected and carved from the granite of Mount Bre, to which the village clings.

Villa Favorita was the scene of one of the most extraordinary art transfers in peacetime, when in 1991, Baron Hans Heinrich von Thyssen-Bornemisza, a Swiss industrialist (of German and Hungarian decent), and his family sent 800 paintings and other works of art to Madrid. 

Lugano was first mentioned by Gregory of Tours in 590 AD, who referred to the body of water as Ceresio. It is thought that the original name came from the many cherry trees that once dotted the shores of the lake. In 804 the lake was renamed as Luanasco.

Lugano's latest addition the LAC (Lugano Arte e Cultura) a new cultural centre dedicated to the visual arts, music and the performing arts.

When you get to fly back on a clear day and you just cannot get enough of the view!

May 30, 2019

A much needed breath of fresh air

Never the one to stay in Paris when the opportunity of "a pont" presents itself... Ascension allows our family to make the most of a long weekend. This time the Weather Gods were with us. After passing through torrential rain in Zurich airport last night, this morning the thermometer in Lugano claims 26°C and the sun is out. What a brilliant wake-up call!

The skies are as blue as the lake, the rolling hills covered in deep green foliage, birds are chirping and the air is fresh...but where has everyone gone? My hubby had to pop into Italy for a work commitment, Expat boy also skipped across the border with his friend for some Italian food, Expat girl has a lunch appointment with her bestie ... which leaves me all by myself?!?

The day is spectacular and just too beautiful to spend at home, so I take myself off to the nearest mountain, park the car and head for the woods. Breathtaking views, overgrown trails, an invigorating pace and a need to clear my lungs as well as my head has me charging up, up and further into the thick of Ticino's nature paths.

Until all of a sudden I find myself on top of the world and I am at peace again!

View from Cademario carpark

Cademario village church

An enchanted path...

... leading to a secret spot...

... with a breathtaking view

Reaching Monte Cervello after a 90-minute hike

At peace with nature

THIS is what I miss when I'm in Paris!
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