" On the way to Tilcara and Humahuaca, the landscape is unreal, the color tones of the earth, and the huge mountains, are all overwhelming"

Aperitif on the beach at sunset, in Grand Cayman, is priceless

Weekend getaway, close by, Miami Beach. Just pack a bathing suit and go.

View from our Dorado Beach Hotel terrace.

Quechua ladies of Peru

I ticked off another destination on my bucket list and, in retrospect, am finding it hard to determine which vacation I loved more: the South African Safari http://singita.com/ or a recent trip to the Galapagos Islands.

Paris July 2001

L'Astrance was an easy and obvious choice for dinner. First, Patricia Wells wrote "a star is born" in her International Herald Tribune review of the restaurant. Then Bénédict Beaugé cited the opening of L'Astrance as "the most important gastronomic event of the last few months in Paris" in The Art of Eating, Spring 2001. By the time we set about making reservations for the trip, friends were starting to rave about the food. L'Astrance did not disappoint and I haven't stopped talking about the 8 or 9 course surprise tasting menu with accompanying wines, which--with sparkling water and coffee--came to an even 2,000F for four. It was an outstanding bargain for such elegant and inventive cuisine.

The food was creative--yet under control--and very sophisticated. Pascal Barbot's cooking is personal and open to many influences, but doesn't come off as fusion cooking. Instead, the influences coalesce in his pots and pans and the resulting dishes do not remind you of other cuisines or those of other chefs. Only one of us could detect the flavor of maple in a cold zucchini and feta cheese tart, which was surprisingly successful for a dish of fairly common ingredients. In fact, one way costs are kept down at L'Astrance is by focusing on seasonal ingredients rather than rare or expensive foie gras, caviar and truffles. Barbot uses the leaves of the tomato plant to make a green sauce which he serves alongside one made from the tomatoes and their skins. The result is sublime, not frugal.

Christophe Rohat, who worked with Barbot at Arpege, takes care of the front of the house admirably and kept us guessing as to the provenance and cépage of each wine and the mystery ingredients in each dish. A soup that left us almost dumbfounded, relied on toasted rye bread for its principle flavor. We left feeling fortunate to be one of the early patrons of a team destined to go far. Open only since October 2000, L'Astrance has already been rewarded with a Michelin star. As the restaurant is quite small, reservations are essential.

We had dinner with friends at Chez Michel, a bistro near the Gare du Nord. It's a neighborhood where rents will not add to your bill. My copious portion of rillettes was an excellent starter and perhaps enough by itself to bring me back again. Equally generous was the huge bowl of French rice pudding served with fresh black cherries. All in all, it's the essence of a bistro and the 185 franc three course menu is a very good buy.

With few places open on Sunday, we fell back on a brasserie, but decided we'd reserve a table at the Flo group's contemporary version, Les Grandes Marches, adjacent to the Bastille Opera. Lunch turned out to be well worth recommending. We were directed upstairs (the ground floor was undergoing renovation) to a bright and contemporary space. We all had fish and seafood. Most of it was simply prepared, and all of it was excellent. Neither the food nor the décor should come as a surprise if you know that Christian Constant, whose restaurant Le Violon d'Ingres has two Michelin stars, is the consulting chef and Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate Christian de Portzamparc and his wife, Elizabeth, are the designers. There's a decent menu for 200 francs and a good à la carte selection for a bit more.

We stayed at the Hôtel Lutétia, an imposing Belle Epoque building with art deco interiors. The salon off the reception area is one of the few hotel spaces I've actually looked forward to returning to for a drink. We also enjoy the extensive buffet breakfast served in a bright and airy room with large windows.

The front desk is both friendly and efficient, which we have learned to expect from Concorde Hotels. Jean-Luc Jean, the head concierge always comes through for clients with challenging requests. Of course he assures us it is all in a day's work.

The Lutétia is continuously refurbishing. Current renovations include the addition of a business center and a fully equiped fitness facility. In another effort to cater to international tourists, separate stall showers are replacing bidets alongside the bathtubs. We love the Annick Goutal Eau d'Hadrien soaps and toiletries and were impressed with the housekeeping staff who frequently come through to replace towels and freshen up the rooms.

We had a quick and light lunch at a little spot we know and like around the corner from the Lutétia. Cuisine de Bar a small place that serves excellent tartines, or open faced sandwiches, on grilled pain Poilâne, as well as salads and desserts. This is a good location for a quick and tasty bite at lunch.

Le Nemrod, not far in the other direction on Cherche-Midi, offers a good selection of cru Beaujolais and other wines by the glass and serves café fare. It is a reliable place for an excellent sausage, perhaps some pommes aligoté and a glass of wine.

We did some window shopping near the hotel and noticed lots of summer sales. I enhanced my wardrobe with tangerine and raspberry knit polo shirts. My daughter subsequently referred to me as Mr. Sorbet. Esilda saw Mephisto shoes for prices far below those in New York and took advantage of the sales to buy a pair of walking shoes.

Artist friends had recently spoken enthusiastically about Parc Citroën, so we checked it out one sunny day. A very contemporary rendition of a formal French garden, it

has a geometrically strong axial design whose two halves are balanced rather than symetrical. Secluded areas of great charm serve to counterpoint the broad vista running the length of the park .

If you're lucky, you may also catch children running and playing amid the choreographed fountains between the two large glass pavillons. Paris has treasures dating back to the Romans, including the well visited Cathedral of Notre Dame and the often missed gem Sainte Chapelle, but sometimes it's nice to see what's being added today to make Paris an even more charming city.

Another park worth an hour of your time on a nice day is the Promenade Plantée that runs over the Viaduct des Arts. It's truly a linear park running along the old railway abandoned in the sixties. It's a long, but interesting walk, with periodic stairways allowing access and escape. In the arcades below you will find shops mostly dedicated to crafts along with a few bars and cafés.