It’s that time of year when people tend to go all reflective and pensive and (maybe) make a resolution or two. With this year being the tenth anniversary of the Boxing Day Tsunami, my pensivity has turned to Ko Samet, an island in the Gulf of Thailand where my sister and I spent New Year’s Eve 2000.
Ko Samet was not directly affected by the tsunami, but the time we spent there made it just a tiny bit possible for me to imagine what it must have been like to witness such a horrific event.
As far as Thai islands go, Ko Samet is a quiet one, and my sister and I rented a bungalow on the beach at its quieter end. As far as New Year’s Eves go, it was probably one of the most relaxing ones I’ve ever had.
We had a spectacular view of the beach from our verandah ― a beach with the whitest sand and bluest water I have ever seen ― and we spent most of our days lying on that beach.
I also spent a lot of time reading or writing on our verandah.
Every time I looked up, there was something to see. Which, naturally, made me start playing with my camera.
What we didn’t know until we arrived on Ko Samet is that the island is equally, if not more so, as popular with Thai holiday-goers as it is with foreign tourists. That made for a much more authentic Thai island holiday than I could ever have hoped for.
I have no idea how much Ko Samet has changed in the decade and a half since we were there, but I hope not too much.
Because it was perfect.
Just in case I am giving you the impression that only Europe knows how to dress for Christmas, here is a photo I took yesterday. This apartment building was built in 1912 and is a lovely piece of the West End’s historic past.
Just in case I am giving you the impression that only Paris knows how to dress for Christmas, here is a photo I took in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol in November 2010. This is the famous Tio Pepe neon sign framed by a towering Christmas tree of lights.
One thing the spectacular Parisian department stores do spectacularly well are its Christmas windows. They are so popular that the crowds in front of them extend from window to curb.
Which means it takes a great deal of patience to see them properly. After rather a lot of waiting and a little bit of clever maneuvering, I was able to get in close enough to take these photos of the Printemps department store windows on Boulevard Haussmann during the 2010 Christmas season.
Often the Parisian department store windows have holiday themes related to Broadway musicals or animated films. (Yes, Disney has taken hold of Paris, too. I hear the windows of Galeries Lafayette are filled with, um, monsters this year.)
But these Printemps windows, not so much. I liked them especially because they were so quintessentially French. Created in collaboration with the Lanvin fashion house, the theme was Noël au Château (Christmas at the castle). Each window represented a different room in the château, lavishly decorated in that way the French do best and transporting me back to another century.
Which century? Why, the eighteenth, of course. When fashion was at its most opulent and France’s Ancien Régime was in its dying days.
Un noël XVIIIe siècle. Now there’s a theme I can get into.
I hate shopping.
I especially hate shopping this time of year. I’m sure I’m not the only one.
But … there’s one place on this planet where I love to go shopping.
Do I need to say it?
Paris has some spectacular department stores. This one, Galeries Lafayette, opened its doors in 1912. When you get there (because, really, everyone should go shopping in Paris at least once in a lifetime), be sure to check out the atrium with its glass dome.
And the food hall. Don’t forget to visit the food hall.