This month’s travel link up is all about those once in a lifetime experiences. My intrepid exploration list includes navigating the underbelly of Paris, watching Pink Floyd in the world’s most beautiful palace, listening to the thunderous roar of waterfalls, having lunch in the Côte d’Azur rain (twice) and treading the boards of La Scala and the National Theatre. Thanks to Tanja for inviting me to write this. It was fun!
Exploring the (unofficial) catacombs of Paris
Although you can visit the Catacombs of Paris anytime, it’s the unofficial catacombs, or Mines of Paris, which I visited back in 1984 when I was in high school. Aged 17, my future husband was what they called a Cataphile, a seasoned catacomb explorer, and he was my tour guide. After a two-minute descent in pitch darkness, we spent hours trawling around the dark spaces of the city’s dusty and damp underbelly. I visited an underground cinema, lakes, World War II bunkers, mines and entrances into municipal buildings and museums.
Stonemasons quarried underground for limestone, and over time, this created a labyrinth of empty vaults, often referred to as a gruyère cheese. There are now 180 miles of tunnels and galleries under Paris. From 1785, these vaults would be used as the repository for the bones of six million Parisians in order to solve the problem of overflowing bodies from the cemeteries.
I’m not going to suggest you go down the unofficial route, but if you would like to tour the ossuary, click here for more details. This is not recommended if you suffer from claustrophobia!
A Lapse of Reason at the Palais de Versailles
I am not a pop or a rock concert girl, and I wasn’t even a Pink Floyd girl until I went to see them in concert on the 22 June 1988, during the Momentary Lapse of Reason tour at the Palais de Versailles. As it turns out, this was to be the last concert of its kind there, as some of the palace windows shattered due to the vibrations from the loud music. This was the night my then boyfriend and I got back together. We are now married with three girls – all thanks to a momentary lapse of reason!
These days, I go to the Palais de Versailles for concerts of the classical variety. I went to see Cecilia Bartoli sing in the spectacular Hall of Mirrors a few years ago, and I’m hankering to do one of their annual baroque masked balls. For a full listing of opera, classical music, fireworks and balls, click here. Pink Floyd not included, I am afraid.
The Wonder of Iguazú
I think it’s the thunderous rumbling that gets to you first when you visit the Iguazú Falls (or Big Water). This is to see nature at its mightiest and at its most sublime. Wedged between Brazil and Argentina and bordering Paraguay, Iguazú is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, and for good reason. It’s twice as tall and three times larger than Niagara with a mind-boggling network of 275 falls. The Brazilian side has the most drama, but Argentina has paths you can walk along and from which you can get close to the misty falls. We visited Devil’s Throat (the largest area with 14 waterfalls).
Swooning (and sobbing) in front of the Taj Mahal.
I know it’s a bit of a cliché but what can I say? I wept when I first saw the shimmering Taj Mahal in Agra. We stayed at the Oberoi Amarvilas, and this was the view from my window. It takes the prize for being the best room with a view – ever.
Having lunch in the rain at Chèvre d’Or in Eze
There has never been a more memorable lunch than this one. And I think the reason for that is the simplicity of the meal coupled with the sumptuousness of the view. Chèvre d’Or is perched on the top of the medieval village of Eze, and it’s got to be one of the most romantic spots in the world. When we arrived the restaurant was closed, but they were kind enough to make us a platter of smoked salmon and a salade de concombre au yaourt (cucmber salad in a yoghurt dressing).
It was a balmy September day, but it suddenly started to rain. We sat under the parasols in quiet contemplation, savouring every mouthful and sipping a beautiful Chassagne Montrachet wine. It was a lunch in a million.
Having dinner in the rain at Colombe d’Or in St-Paul-de-Vence
More rain, I hear you say? Yes, I did have another rain-infused dinner under the parasols of La Colombe d’Or patio restaurant with my husband and our late friend and landscape designer, Jack deLashmet (below right, with moi).
Once a favourite of Yves Montand, Roger Moore, Sophia Loren and Pablo Picasso, Jack had wanted to come to the Colombe d’Or all his life. I can’t exactly remember what I ate, but it was a truly enchanting evening in a mythical hotel, full of beautiful ghosts.
St-Paul-de-Vence is one of the oldest medieval towns on the Côte d’Azur, a mecca for art lovers and pétanque players. Mark and I like to stay at the St Paul.
Celebrating the millennium in St Tropez
You know what they say – the happiest day of your life is when you buy a boat, and the second happiest day is when you sell it. I’ve only ever owned a boat once, and I won’t be doing it again!
We celebrated New Year’s Eve 1999 with friends on our floating home in the swankiest, most show-offy destination in the world: St Tropez or St Trop as the French refer to it. Our boat was then moored in picturesque St Jean Cap Ferrat, so we had to zoom over the St Tropez marina on the 31 December in time for dinner and fireworks. As we waited for the entire world to crash, perhaps come to an end, did we care? No, we did not. It was a heck of a party!
Walking in Maria Callas’s footsteps on La Scala stage (and sleeping in Verdi’s bed)
Paolo Gavazzeni, grandson of the great conductor Gianandrea Gavazzeni, gave us a private backstage tour of La Scala opera house in Milan a few years ago. He was the Orchestral Director then, and he was full of fascinating insights into the inner workings of the grand opera house. He had organised for us to stay in the suite in which Giuseppe Verdi had taken his last breath and where he spent his last Christmas.
Dinner on-stage at the National Theatre
I’ve been to a lot of theatre in my life, but this has to be the most memorable. You can read all about it here.
Visiting the Villa Cimbrone in Ravello
What can I say? Ravello is truly ravishing, the view from the Terrace of Infinity at the Villa Cimbrone does feel infinite, and I’m dying to return. You can read about my visit to Ravello here.
Mark Rylance at the Globe
Those who know me will be rolling their eyeballs now. Not Mark Rylance again! Sorry friends.
I was lucky enough to catch the stage god twice when he took on the role of Olivia in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. He was then Artistic Director of Shakespeare’s Globe, treading the boards on several occasions during his tenure. And how excited am I that he’s coming back to the Globe! This summer, Rylance takes on the role of the Bard’s favourite baddie, Iago, in Othello. Theatre lovers: you won’t want to miss this. Beg, borrow, steal for a ticket. Stand in the pit if you have to (which by the way, is where the best “seats” in the house are). I might just see you there!
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