new advertising campaign for SNCF

The SNCF (Société nationale des chemins de fer) is France’s national train network. I love train travel. As you know, I recently took the SNCF from Paris to Barcelona, a seven hour journey. In 2019, the year before COVID, I travelled from Rome down to Lecce (Puglia) and back up again to Bologna on Italy’s excellent train network. From Bologna I travelled up to Milan, changed trains and journeyed onwards to Nice where I stayed for 3 days. From Nice, back up to Paris. All by train. A great and memorable trip that I’d do all over again in a flash.

Back in the 1990s, I travelled from New York City to New Mexico on AMTRAK. The first leg was NYC to Chicago whereupon I boarded the Southwest Chief and settled into my sleeping cabin. After crossing Iowa, Missouri, Kansas and Colorado, I arrived in Santa Fe two days later where my friend, Lori, and another friend were waiting for me. I remember seeing beautiful sunsets and coyotes on the Kansas plains.

Taking the train is the most environmentally-friendly way of traveling. I’m a seasoned train traveller, and I approve this message –


a crisp, chic seersucker blazer

Who doesn’t like seersucker? Last year in the June sales I went everywhere trying to find a seersucker blazer. I found one in a Gérard Darel boutique in Lille, but it wasn’t my size. So I gave up looking. And then this morning, my colleague blithely strolled into the office and I gasped.

“J’adore!” I exclaimed.

“What?” she replied, surprised and looking around her.

“Your blazer. Seersucker!”

And guess what? The French actually say “seersucker”, but with a cute accent. I asked if I could take a photo.

Le seersucker est un tissu gaufré en coton d’origine indienne. Seersucker is a cotton waffle fabric of Indian origin.

But it wasn’t just the blazer, it was the whole look. This, ladies and gents, is the quintessential Parisian look, known as BCBG (bon chic, bon genre). But not anywhere Paris. From the chic districts: the 6th, 7th, 16th arrondissements. Maybe the 12th. Or further out in the western burbs: Neuilly-sur-Seine or Saint-Germain-en-Laye. The silk scarf artfully wrapped and tied around the neck. The upturned sleeve cuffs. The jeans always worn with a belt. The open blazer – if you must button, NEVER close the bottom button!

Here’s the three-button rule: top button, sometimes. Middle button, always. Bottom button, never.

Vanessa Paradis

This was the song at the top of the charts when I arrived in France. Vanessa was 14 here. She became an overnight sensation and France’s darling. Eleven years later she’d meet Johnny Depp and have a relationship (and two children) with him. She’s had a super-interesting life.


adiós, Valencia. I’ll be back!

Another beautiful flight back to Paris on an early Saturday evening. Thank you again, Air France, for transporting me safely back to my home destination. The crowds arrived (in Valencia) on the Saturday morning. For that reason alone, I was glad to be leaving. As mentioned previously, the day before (Good Friday) was very quiet and I practically had the streets and squares of that beautiful city to myself. Many shops and sites were closed. So when I went to the famous covered market, re-opened on the Saturday morning, there was an explosion of people, both locals and tourists.

Easter buns for the kids.

I’m in paradise. a sunny paradise.

It’s the start of the long Easter weekend, and I’m so glad I’m here and far from the cooler clime and political unrest of France. Today was a perfect day, and it’s not yet over. I spent a few hours at the Silk Museum and it was super interesting (more on that below). I just wanted to say again, because I’ve said it before: sunshine makes all the difference. I no longer want to live in a gray, drizzly climate. There are multiple health benefits of sunlight.

As for air-conditioning, this compact and powerful AC unit is to be found in every hotel room, restaurant, apartment and shop in the country. I’ve never seen them in France, or anywhere else. Why not?

I snacked all day and tried some local foods.

Churros dipped into thick warm chocolate.

O.J. and spinach empanada

The city is very quiet, I don’t know where everyone is on this long Easter weekend. I made my way to the Silk Museum and spent an enjoyable two hours learning about the 15th-century silk trade originating with Arab and Jewish merchants and spreading west through Genoa, Florence, Spain and France. I also learned about silk worms, mulberry leaves and the making (and dying) of silk thread from cocoons. France, it turned out, was the pre-eminent leader of the silk industry. King Louis XI set up a national silk trade in Lyon, consisting largely of Italian workers from the region of Calabria, known for its master silk weavers. By the 16th-century, Lyon was the capital of the European silk trade, and by the middle of the 17th-century, over 14,000 looms were operating in that city.

It was an enjoyable and enlightening two hours. Afterwards, thirsty and hungry from all that learning, I sauntered into the museum’s garden courtyard (near empty) for a glass of wine and lunch.

Like I said, I’m in paradise.

a delicious dinner

I’ve just returned to my rental apartment (it’s 9:45 pm) after eating a delicious dinner at a nearby brasserie. Simple food, but darn good. As I walked home in the dark (two short blocks), I was grateful to be in a country with a low crime rate. One feels relaxed in Spain. As I type this, I can hear shouts and yells from the street. There’s a soccer match on, not sure who is playing. (Barcelona and Real Madrid, I think.)

I ordered this delicious bottle of Rioja because I knew I was going to eat two nights in a row in the same brasserie. Truly excellent. Followed by a simple steak and roasted vegetables.

When I had finished, I asked if they had any cheese (and bread) with which to finish off the wine. This is what we do in France. The smiling waitress brought me this cheesecake. Did I say “cheese with bread” wrong?? Queso con pan? Lost in translation, I guess. Anyway, it was delicious.

no hablo espanol (I don’t speak Spanish)

You would think that a fluent French speaker would be able to pick up Spanish easily. But that’s not my case. I recognize many (similar) words, but stringing them together into a coherent sentence is a challenge. And when they speak to me in rapid-fire Spanish, my face goes funny with an expression that says, “Huh?”

But the kindness of the people compensates for my linguistic lapses. Invariably, at some point, you will come across a person who speaks English or French (less so in smaller cities and towns).

Sunshine makes all the difference. And freshly-squeezed orange juice. This is my most favorite machine in the supermarket. Oranges are everywhere here. Valencia’s coastline is covered in groves, and the orange is regarded as a symbol of the city.

a few photos of the train ride south

Well, I made it with no delays or problems whatsoever. It was a very comfortable and relaxing trip from Paris to Barcelona. The weather in Paris was pissy (cold, windy, drizzle). I was happy to leave.

Here’s what it was like in the south, near Perpignan not far from the Spanish border. Those are the Pyrenees mountains in the background.

I recommend that you book yourself a First Class seat: roomier, more leg space and plush seats. If you book your tickets in advance, you’ll pay less.

If I do this trip again, I’ll break it up and spend the night and half a day (or a full day or two) in Barcelona. It was too long to do the first leg and then the second leg (Barcelona to Valencia) on the same day. All in all, it was 10 and a half hours of train travel. Pulled into Valencia train station at 11 pm and I crossed the road to a nice hotel called the Zenit Valencia. Normally, I’d stay at the fab hotel I stayed in last November: the Helen Berger Hotel in the Old City. But this one was more convenient, location-wise, for just one night.

Photos taken with my Redmi phone.

taking the train to Spain … will I get there?

“Why are you taking the train?” friends and colleagues asked. “The flight from Paris to Valencia is under two hours.”

“I love train travel,” I replied, “And I’m curious to do this trip, I’ve never train-traveled to Spain before.” Believe it or not, the train is actually more expensive than air travel. But it’s so much more relaxing! The stress of getting to Roissy (Paris Charles de Gaulle airport), arriving at Roissy, standing in long lines like herds of cattle, doing your own ticketing and baggage check-in, going through security and then waiting-waiting-waiting in the departures area … I hate it all. Whereas the train: I hop onto the metro (the number 1 central line) which whisks me directly to Gare de Lyon train station. I get off, head leisurely to the departure hall, find the right track, climb aboard the fast-speed train and settle into my comfortable seat. Easy-peasy. Unless there’s a train strike.

A big strike is planned for Thursday April 6. All transportation, nation-wide, will be disrupted. But smaller disruptions can occur at any time.

It takes 7 hours to train travel from Paris to Barcelona. Time to read, watch a movie, nap, look out the window, study my Spanish lessons, walk to the bar car, eat lunch and look out the window (again) as the passing landscape changes from the drizzly north to the sunny south. A three-hour layover in Barcelona – ample time to stroll the boulevards of that fine city and sip an early evening cocktail in a sidewalk café – before climbing aboard the next train, destination Valencia.

April 8 to 10 is Easter weekend and many people will be heading south. Sunshine. Smiling faces (I do believe that Spaniards are happier than the grumpy French.) Beaches and the Mediterranean.

The purple-flowered Jacaranda tree.