In Part I, the Strawbridge’s,Tom and Patty Gavin and Patti Baron went to Europe to celebrate 60th birthdays, starting with London. We took the Chunnel from London to Paris, where our Right Bank hotel was on the Champs Elysees, famous for its cinemas, outdoor cafes and luxury shopping. In order to introduce the group to this glorious city, the five of us climbed what seemed 1,000 steps to the top of the Arc de Triomphe. It is one of the best places to see all of Paris end to end. The City of Light is at your feet.
France was also in a celebratory mood with the election of a new President and V-E Day. An enormous French flag was draped in the monument’s arch. The Champs Elysees was closed to traffic so outgoing President Nicolas Sarkozy and newly elected President Francois Hollande could lay a wreath at the Grave of the Unknown Soldier. In 1945, my Uncle Joseph Concannon, a young Air Force pilot, photographed V-E Day from the top of the Arc de Triomphe, capturing the triumph of France's liberation from Nazi Germany and the Parisians that lined the streets in celebration.
Since this was the first time for most of the group, each of our five days in Paris was spent in a different area. The Metro took us to the Left Bank and the Musée D'Orsay. The Orsay nearly brought Patty Gavin to tears as she stood before the original Renoir painting, Moulin de la Galette. Coincidently, we dined two nights later at the same spot in Montmartre that inspired the artist in 1876. Pass the Kleenex!
I shared the fashion districts with the group, including the couture design houses that line Avenue Montaigne. Chanel had the best windows, featuring iconic black, white and cream, but with a twist: shorter hemlines and short socks with sandals. Other trends included cropped, narrow pant legs that hit just below the calf, smaller handbags, lower heeled shoes, and ropes of pearls and beads. I wore a gold trench coat from the early 1990's while we maneuvered our way through haute couture. After a few stops I noticed I was leaving a trail of gold behind me as my coat was shedding. I figured this was a unique way of leaving my mark on our adventure.
A new find was a vintage store called Renaissance, which had an amazing assortment of Yves Saint Laurent, Dior, Balenciaga and others, dating back to the 1930's. Patti found a pair of Jimmy Choo gold boots that fit her size 6 feet perfectly. We believed that Carrie Bradshaw wore the same boots in season 4 of Sex and the City, and that she must have them. Besides "Choo" shopping, we visited tiny stores near St. Germaine, including Marie Mercie, the Parisiene hat designer. This store is a "must see" every time I go to Paris. Keeping with the gold theme, I purchased a canary yellow chapeau made of straw with a big bow worn to the front. This is my 9th hat from this famed millinery designer who collaborates with Hermes, John Galliano, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Kenzo and Agnes B.
Timing is everything, as we were able to bid farewell to the famed Paris Ritz with an aperitif in the Vendome Bar before this high profile hotel closes for a two-year refurbishment. My favorite place to impress is the powder room off the lobby. The octagon shape with hidden mirrored doors, mural-painted ceiling and gold leaf trim recalls the opulence of a forgotten era.
We also squeezed in visits to five churches, the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower. We got lost in the wholesale shopping district, spent the evening in Montmartre, took the train to Versailles and on our last evening in Paris, had a birthday celebration at L'Avenue. Jean and Robert Higgs, our friends from London who had joined us for part of the week offered a toast to great friends, to turning 60 and a trip that will serve as a fabulous memory for decades of birthdays to come!