Rainy Day Entertainment in Los Feliz

Shakespeare Bridge in the Rain

A recent rainy day forced us inside at the Alcove, where seating is quite limited. As a result, we were privileged to sit very close to a birthday celebration consisting of four women and one very gay boy in Ugg boots.

After breakfast, my friend Eric transcribed this approximation of their conversation, in the manner of an online chat.

Gayboi: “My friend saw Christina Aguilera pole dancing at a club. So. He took her picture. Then he sold it for $22,000.”
Birthdaygurll: “I could never, like, do that. I mean follow people around just to take their, like, picture.”
Gayboi: “Oh no. he was just AT the club. And then took her picture.”
Birthdaygurll: “Oh well that’s different. OHMIGOD! Did I tell you my boyfriend loves my naked feet?”
MatronLady:“Like he has a foot fetish?”
Birthdaygurll: “Well I donknow. I mean he likes to see my feet like naked and is always, like, asking me to take of my shoes. He just loves them”
MatronLady: “Oh”
Birthdaygurll: “He is always wanting me to paint my nails. He asked me to, like, paint them white”
Gayboi: “So you couldn’t tell you had toenails or something?”
Birthdaygurll: “I guess. Like I asked him if he wanted me to paint them with white out and make them that color. He said I guess. And then I was like no way, ohmygod. Then I asked him if he wanted me to paint them pearly-shiny white. He was, like, YESSSS!”
Gayboi: “oh my was he really like a puppy like that. Did his eyes really get that big”
Birthdaygurll: “They did. I haven’t done it yet cuz I can’t figure out what color to paint my fingernails to match. I mean, like, when I go to yoga people are going to see what color they are and I don’t want them to look like totally different”
Gayboi: “you should just do them French.”
Birthdaygurll: “THAT WOULD LIKE LOOK TOTALLY CUTE!”

MatronLady: “I wanted to ask Jeanne if she was being paid by the word. All her jokes were so long and bad”
Gayboi: “Oh, I know, right?…I still haven’t been paid on that. That jewelry making was so hard the other night. I spent like hours and I was using my teeth and feet and hands and mouth and then like she just took it from me and it was done. In like two seconds. I was so jealous. Like do you do that all the time”
MatronLady: “My hands hurt the next day. I don’t usually make that much jewelry. It was a total workout. Those are cute shoes”
Quietgirl: “They’re new. I didn’t want to wear them in the weather but they are just so cute”
Gayboi: “Oh by the way these are edible too”
Birthdaygurll: “My birthday flowers? Maybe I’ll get hungry later. I have to go to the bathroom. Then we should go.

Birthdaygurll: “Sorry that took so long.”
Gayboi “Would you stop saying sorry already?”

Dresden: 800 Years New

Dresden

When Dresden celebrates its 800th anniversary with a year-long party in 2006, it won’t just be a celebration of centuries of history and culture. It will also be a birthday party for the new Dresden—a city that has, in a frenzy of reconstruction and renovation, recreated in a mere 15 years the historic city that was almost entirely lost, overnight, some 60 years ago…

Possibly Europe’s greatest Baroque city, the 18th century imperial seat of Augustus the Strong, capital of Saxony, Dresden had become a nearly mythical symbol of loss and of the destructive power of modern warfare. The city stood intact, virtually untouched by WWII—officially recognized as an open city—and filled with refugees from the collapsing Third Reich, when its historic center, the Altstadt, was completely destroyed in a single night of Allied bombing, February 13-14, 1945. With its splendid monuments then reduced to rubble, Dresden became most famous for its destruction—an event immortalized in Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s celebrated novel Slaughterhouse Five. The sense of loss can still be felt, as large tracts of central Dresden are only now being redeveloped. Locked behind the Iron Curtain, forces that wanted to rebuild the ruins and those which wanted them replaced with a modern Socialist utopia collided in stalemate. However, with reunification came both the desire for reconstruction and a huge influx of public and private funding.

Today, most of the historic buildings fronting the Elbe have been rebuilt to give a breathtaking glimpse of what the city once was. The resurrected Frauenkirche—one of Dresden’s most famous monuments, largely completed and reopening on October 30th, is only the most visible symbol of a city of splendors finally rising from the ashes. With the Schloss to be fully reconstructed in time for the anniversary, and previously rebuilt monuments newly renovated, the baroque city of 18th century seems reborn. Dresden is now arguably Europe’s newest historical monument.

River front

Simultaneously, across the Elbe, a different sort of rebirth has taken place. Without the benefit of EU funds or massive financing, local Dresdeners, with gays and artists leading the charge, have reclaimed and restored the city’s Neustadt. This neighborhood of 19th century apartment blocks was just outside the area of firebombing—with the consequence that its buildings are now among Dresden’s oldest. Under the communist regime, this was an undesirable area of crumbling buildings and cold-water flats. Now squats and crumbling buildings have largely given way to lovingly restored courtyard apartments with restaurants, bars, coffee houses, and hip, interesting shops—making the Neustadt Dresden’s liveliest neighborhood. Still, it’s far from gentrified; a Bohemian, even slacker, air prevails. The creation of the Kunsthof Passage (Alaunstrasse 70, Görlitzerstrasse 21, 23, 25), a renovation by local artists of a series of interlocking courtyards is typical Neustadt—a triumph of creativity and imagination over limited funds.

Zwinger

The Sights

Despite the wholesale destruction of the second world war, the main attraction is the city itself. The Schlossplatz, at the foot of the Augustus Bridge, surrounded by the reconstructed riverfront monuments, is perhaps one of the most beautiful squares in Europe. Likewise, the baroque folly of the Zwinger complex, perhaps Dresden’s most photographed monument, is a riot of sculpture and elaborate decoration surrounding an immense but perfectly proportioned courtyard. A number of rebuilt churches are likewise impressive, and with the reconstruction of the monumental Frauenkirche, and the completion of the reconstruction of the Schloss by 2006, all of the major monuments of the baroque city will be in place. It is worth the 8 euro fee to climb to the cupola of the Frauenkirche (be advised, the elevator only takes you halfway) for a magnificent view from the highest point in the city. Already the riverfront skyline is largely returned to its appearance in Canaletto’s famous 18th century paintings. These paintings occupy pride of place in Dresden’s Old Masters Picture Gallery—while his celebrated views of Venice are confined to a small side gallery. This is perhaps as much a testament to the impressive quality of the museum’s collection as it is to local pride—the collection is large and positively stuffed with Dutch and Italian old master paintings. The galleries are remarkable too for the lack of crowds; you can really enjoy the artworks. All of Dresden’s famous museums will be open again by 2006, following various major and minor refurbishments. Well worth a visit is the Abertinum, for its New Masters Gallery—a comprehensive collection of German art from the 19th and 20th centuries. Newly reopened is the first phase of the famous Grünes Gewölbe or Green Vault, in new high-tech rooms in the reconstructed Schloss. The second half of the collection opens in 2006 in adjacent, restored baroque rooms. It is a vast—truly vast—collection of jewelry, precious metals, and fanciful curios elaborately constructed of gold filigree and gemstones assembled by the fabulously wealthy Saxon Electoral Princes. This is the only collection in Dresden where you’ll find a crowd—it’s on the top of the list for coach tours—and whether you find it to be a magnificent display of artistry and craftsmanship or a shocking excess of jewel-encrusted wealth, you will be impressed. Don’t miss it. And there are plenty more museums; depending on your interests you can explore Meissen porcelain, mathematics, transport, folk art, hygiene, history, Trabant autos and more!

The Semper Opera is famous both for its architecture and the quality of its productions. All of Dresden turns out for opera, ballet and the orchestral performances, so tickets can be hard to come by. In summer, outdoor concerts abound, with choices ranging from classical to contemporary—many with free admission. If you speak German, you may want to visit the very popular river-front open-air cinema. Do take some time to visit the Grosser Garten, Dresden’s expansive and lovely urban park. There’s a palace at the center and a charming miniature railroad to take you back when you’re tired of walking. Beyond the Altstadt, a walk through the Blasewitz district is worth it to see the elaborate 19th century villas built by wealthy Dresden bourgeoisie. The neighborhood escaped destruction in 1945 and the villas are now being lovingly restored. Though most tourists rarely venture to the Neustadt, you will definitely want to spend time there, with its lively cafes, gay scene, fun shops and bohemian atmosphere.

Elbe

Don’t miss a walk along the banks of the Elbe. This wide, marshy river is unique among urban waterways in bringing nature right through the city center. The banks of the Elbe are excellent as well for bicycling—whether you take a leisurely ride through the city or a longer trip to a picturesque nearby town, the scenery is beautiful, the terrain flat, and you’re protected from cars. Indeed, bicycle paths extend the entire length of the Elbe, from the Czech border to the port of Hamburg! Even in the city, traffic is light and the drivers polite, making a bike a convenient and pleasant option for getting around the city. Rent a comfortable, modern bike from the pleasant folks at Engel Reisen (Wiesontorstrasse 3, somewhat hidden at the Neustadt end of the Augustus bridge; +49 351/281 9206; 8 euros/day) and they will even provide maps with suggested city and out-of-town routes. They also organize longer group bike tours in the region—enquire for tours in English. If all that sounds too strenuous, you can tour the Elbe in a vintage paddlewheel steamboat—you can’t miss the ships docked near Augustus bridge.

It is worth purchasing a Dresden City-Card (widely available at hotels, stations and tourist offices; 19 euros for 48 hours) upon arrival. Not only does the card get you free admission to almost all Dresden museums, it allows you unlimited use of the city’s public transit (love those yellow trams!)—allowing you to bypass the expense and hassle of individual tickets.

The Gay Scene

You’ll see plenty of gays in Dresden: in shops, cafes, walking the streets— looking handsome, and even cruising. You’ll find them rather less often in Dresden’s handful of gay bars. Gay people were so central to the revival of the Neustadt area (buying the old buildings as the post-communist government disposed of them; renovating them, moving in, and opening business) that the gay community is a more than integral part of area. Dresden my be a model for the “post-gay” city. Because they regard the whole of the Neustadt as their own (while happily sharing it with young straight couples and wide range of slacker youth types—the median age in the Neustadt is ten years younger than the city as a whole) there is not a strong tendency to congregate in exclusively gay venues. As one Dresdener told me, “We usually go where ever the nightly drink special is—and the gay bars never have specials!” That said, BOYS (Alaunstrasse 80; 8pm—5am; www.boys-dresden.de) with its front windows open to one of the Neustadt’s main streets, draws a lively crowd most evenings—it’s your best bet. The smaller, campier Queens (Görlitzer Strasse 3; from 8pm; +49 49 351 810 8108; www.queens-dresden.de), sometimes draws a younger crowd for its various theme parties. For the leather and fetish crowd, Bunker (Priessnitzstrasse 51; +49 351/441 2345; www.lederclub-dresden.de) is open Friday and Saturday nights only (and on Saturday dares to limit attendance with a strict dress code!) It has a friendly bar and a large darkroom, but I suspect many Dresdeners prefer the infinite variety of the Berlin cruising scene, only two hours away. The other “cruise” venues are barely worth mentioning. The relatively new Pick Up (Jordanstrasse 10) is a darkroom bar that has yet to find a clientele, and across the street stands Duplexx (Förstereistrasse 10; +49 351 65 88 999; 9 euro entry!), a branch of the Berlin sex shop, comprising a cavernous warren of deserted video cabins. The Showboxx (Leipzigerstrasse 31; www.showboxx-dresden.de), while no longer featuring exclusively gay nights, is one of several mixed discos popular with gays for dancing. In addition, the open-air “beer gardens” than pop up on vacant lots in the summer months are also popular. Lesbians can enjoy the aptly named frauen café and bar Sappho (Hechtstrasse 23; +49 351 4045136; www.sappho-dresden.de) open nightly for drinks and dinner and on Sunday for brunch.

Neustradt

Finally, what could be gayer, and at the same time more mainstream, than a drag show? Carte Blanche (Priessnitzstrasse 10/12; +49 351 20 4720; www.carte-blanche.de; 25 euros, reservations essential) is a relatively new basement cabaret hosting a very professional troupe of drag queens. Shows feature a mix of comedy, lip-synch, live performance, audience humiliation—and costumes worthy of a Las Vegas production. If drag is your thing, the show is a scream; though without a command of the language you are likely to miss a lot. And while the performers and cute waiters may be gay, the audience tends toward straight middle-aged German tourists.

Sleeping it off

The ultimate place to stay in Dresden is the Hotel Bülow Residenz (Rähnitzgasse 19; +49 351/800 30; fax +49 351/8003100; www.buelow-residenz.de ; 180—220 euros), a 30 room ultra-luxury boutique hotel in a restored 18th century palace. This place has everything: an historic building, luxurious rooms, and great location in the charmingly restored inner Neustadt—a short walk to the historic attractions and convenient to the to the gay area. It even features complementary mini-bars! The service is friendly and efficient, and it’s really a bargain for this level of luxury.

All the major international chains are represented in the old center of Dresden, from the modern yet inexpensive Mercure Hotel Newa (St. Petersburger Strasse 34; +49 351/48140; from 69 euros; www.mercure.com) to the ultra luxurious Kempinski Taschenbergpalais (Taschenberg 3; +49 351/491 2636; fax +49 351/491 2812; www.kempinski-dresden.de; 340—700 euros). Housed in a reconstructed Baroque palace adjacent the historic schloss, the Kempinski is arguably Dresden’s most beautiful—and most expensive—hotel. The Holiday Inn (Stauffenberallee 25 a; +49 351/81510; fax: +49 351/815 1333; www.holiday-inn-dresden.de; 100-150 euros), of all places, gets points for actively courting a gay clientele—though most of its guests are businessmen and women. It’s a generic, but perfectly pleasant property, and though its location at first seems somewhat remote, it’s actually very convenient to the Neustadt, and a nearby tram line offers a speedy connection to the city’s attractions.

For the independent-minded traveler, the best option may be the City Cottage Dresden (Louisenstrasse 11; +49 179/5228241; fax +49 351/442 4584; www.city-cottage-dresden.de; 41-62 euros), a gay owned rental apartment that sits inside a quiet, enchanted garden in the very heart of the Neustadt. It can be rented with one or two bedrooms and accommodates from one to four persons. Currently there is only one apartment available (so book early) although several more are being renovated.

Eating Well

Eating in the historic center of Dresden is far more pleasant than one would expect from an area frequented mostly by tourists. The cafés and restaurants offer good quality and surprisingly reasonable prices—along with some truly gorgeous locations. You can try traditional Saxon specialties like wurst and beer (do try the local Radeberger Pilsner) at Radeberger Spezialausschank (Terrassenufer 1; +49 351/484 8660; fax +49 351/484 8631; $3-12), which offers an unbeatable location with a umbrella shaded terrace overlooking the Elbe and the Augustus bridge. The terrace café at the Kempinski Hotel Taschenbergpalais (Taschenberg 3; +49 351/496 0174) offers both traditional and lighter, international fare in a convenient and charming setting (and at non-luxury hotel prices). Likewise, Café Alte Meister (Theatreplatz 1a; +49 351/ 481 0426; www.altemeister.net) with a terrace nestled in the shade of the Zwinger complex, is a nice option for either lunch or the German tradition of afternoon coffee and cake.

For the best selection of restaurants though, head over to the lively, untoursisty Neustadt. Here the streets are lined with local eateries, offering an array of international cuisines and everything from inexpensive cafés to moderately priced upscale restaurants. Here you can find just about anything: French, Italian, Indian, and salads and sandwiches in charming cafes, many with outdoor terraces. As a local resident remarked, “Only the tourists eat Saxon food!” which may be only a slight exaggeration. To start your exploration, try the local favorite Tiki Ice Cafe (Gorlitzer Strasse 21; inexpensive) in the charming Kunsthof passage. Or make for the nearby bar-restaurant Cigales (Aluanstrasse 68; inexpensive) on the bustling Aluanstrasse. For a more elaborate dinner, try the delicious, Mediterranean influenced Villandry (Jordanstrasse 8; +49 351/ 899 6724; www.villandry.de; dinner mon-sat; main courses 9—15 euros.)

For the dedicated gourmand, Dresden offers one Michelin-starred restaurant, the elegant Caroussel (in the Hotel Bülow Residenz; Rähnitzgasse 19; +49 351/80030; fax +49 351/8003100). As you might expect, you’ll find top ingredients exquisitely prepared, flawless service and a formal setting. It’s still rather a bargain for the Michelin star experience, with four course menus about 60 euros.

Shopping the Neustadt

A number of gleaming new shopping complexes have sprung up around the main train station (currently being rennovated in high-style by London architect Sir Norman Foster), offering the usual cornucopia of European and American brand names. But for the truly interesting shopping opportunities one must head across the river to the Neustadt. Check out the club-kid fashions at Men Only (Alaunstrasse 18; +49 351/821 0836), a fun, über-gay clothes shop where the friendly staff are also well informed about the local nightlife scene. You’ll find shops here selling everything from second hand clothing to expensive designer jeans; from skateboards to hand-made paper. The Alaunstrasse and the adjoining side-streets, and especially the Kunsthof passage, are filled with trendy and unusual shops. You can even check it all out online at the stylish website www.gappy.de.

Grossergarten

More Information

As in most German cities, the Dresden Tourist office (in the neo-classical Schinkelwache, on the Theaterplatz; +49 351/ 491920) is a terrific resource. As well as providing maps, schedules of events, and guides to the museums and sights, they can also find you a hotel room or get you tickets to the Semper Opera. Scope it out in advance at www.dresden-tourist.de , where they also have an online hotel reservation service. Gegenpol is Dresden’s own free local monthly gay magazine, which can be scored at the bars and shops throughout the neustadt. They have comprehensive listings with addresses, which are also conveniently available on their website at www.gegenpol.net.

Story and Photographs by Clay Doyle

I had the pleasure of revisiting Dresden in August of 2005. This is an expanded version of an article written for gay.com Travel. You can find the short version at gay.com Travel at http://www.gay.com/travel/article.html?sernum=9544 .

—Clay Doyle

Amsterdam Insider Tips

I’m often asked to recommend a “gay” hotel in Amsterdam — my usual response is to suggest booking any hotel you like; all hotels in Amsterdam are entirely gay friendly. A gay hotel here (and there are more than a few) has always seemed a bit unnecessary — unless one requires the specialized atmosphere and bondage-equipped rooms of the Black Tulip Hotel.

Though there a number of specialized gay hotels in Amsterdam, they — regretfully — mostly offer a lesser standard of comfort and style than many of the charming Canal House hotels that are merely “gay friendly.”

While my favorite hotels fall in this category — particularly the Ambassade and the smaller Seven Bridges — there is now a self-identified “straight-friendly” gay-owned and -run hotel that is equal in style and amenities to the best of the city’s mid-priced hotels. The Hotel New Amsterdam, located in one of the prettiest spots in the city center — the intersection of the Herengracht and Brouwersgracht — comprises three historic canal houses. Completely renovated by the new gay owners before opening last year, the hotel offers stylish rooms, modern baths, Rituals bath amenities, complimentary breakfast, canal views (from many rooms) and the unbeatable location. It’s not just picturesque, it is also quiet — and yet a short walk to Central Station and in fact any spot in the city.

Virtually next door is the romantic gay-owned restaurant De Belhamel, as well as the friendly Frederic Rent-a-Bike. Replacing and expanding the former gay hotel New York, the New Amsterdam is a worthy match for its “gay friendly” competition.

Amsterdam has finally joined the ranks of cities like London and New York in offering an half-price ticket service. Now you can buy available seats for a wide variety of events — classical music, pop concerts, theater, dance, jazz and even movies at the film museum — on the day of the performance for half price. It’s a great deal for visitors, who may not have made plans in advance, as well as for anyone with a free evening. The tickets are for sale in the Amsterdam Uitburo Ticket office (noon to 5:30 p.m.) on the Leidseplien — where you can also purchase advance tickets (at full price) for events anywhere in the city. You can see what is available each day online at www.lastminuteticketshop.nl, but you must purchase the tickets in person.

by Clay Doyle

for gay.com Travel http://www.gay.com/travel/article.html?sernum=9485

In Love with the Loire

In Love with the Loire

Fall in love with magnificently restored renaissance châteaux; with a beautiful countryside of rivers, farms vineyards and forests; with postcard-perfect towns; with comfortable inns and luxurious manor houses, and great food and wine. For a gay couple, there may be few more romantic places to spend a week than the beautiful and historic Loire Valley.

It’s a great getaway too for a group of friends, and an emerging and vibrant (if small) gay scene offers the possibility of meeting the locals. For the single traveler, an organized tour is a great way to see the region. Some of the best tours are by bicycle, as there is an extensive network of dedicated bike paths following the Loire River, and the gentle terrain makes for easy cycling. Alyson Adventures offers all-inclusive cycle trips in the Loire with a focus on singles, relaxed itineraries, extremely knowledgeable guides and a van to pick you up if you get tired of biking!

Certainly the main attractions of the Loire are romance and history. The renaissance châteaux built by Charles VIII, Francois I, Catherine de Medici and other royals during the hundred years that the French court relocated from Paris give the Loire its distinctive storybook charm. The region is light on industry and heavy on forests, vineyards, farms and placid, shallow rivers. A few larger, still-quaint cities provide amenities like shopping and nightlife.

Must-see sights are really too numerous to mention: the Chateaux of Chaumont-sur-Loire,ChenonceauxChambord and Azay-le-Rideau; charming villages; historic cities such asAmboiseChinon and Orléans; the bustling and ancient university town of Tours; the gardens of Villandry and the Parc Floral de la Source; plus small wineries and the unique and unusual troglodyte (limestone cave) houses. And the Loire region is home to a growing gay population.

Conveniently for both residents and visitors, it’s a mere hour’s train ride from central Paris. Its closest cities, Tours and Orléans, are attracting increasing numbers of openly gay residents, and with them bars, saunas, restaurants and discos.

Sleep like a king (no, literally!)

The châteaux of the Loire are not just for visiting. Many have opened their doors to paying guests, offering luxurious private bedrooms and grand and romantic salons and gardens. Though no chateau or hotel in the Loire is exclusively gay, a number are gay owned. The Château des Ormeaux (112-150 euros), a 10-minute drive from Amboise, offers secluded luxury in a 19th-century villa recently restored and run by three fun-spirited gay men. Rooms in the main house are roomy and deluxe, while one room occupies a (well-outfitted) traditional troglodyte cave dwelling. Communal dinners are offered several nights a week, adding to the homey atmosphere.

In central Amboise, you could hardly ask for a more luxurious setting than the Manoir Les Minimes (95-170 euros). Enjoy an aperitif in the grand public rooms with the owners, a charming gay couple, and their friendly dog Olga, then retire to your lavishly appointed bedroom and bath with views of Amboise and the Loire. Many such chateau accommodations can be found through Bienvenue au Château (www.bienvenueauchateau.com) — an association of owner-occupied châteaux with the charm of a private home and the amenities of a good hotel.

If you prefer something simpler, the Loire is peppered with charming, inexpensive inns. In the center of Orléans, the gay-friendly Hotel d’Abeille (64 rue Alsace Lorraine ; +33 2/3853-5487; 47-69 euros) has spacious rooms, quirky charm, a super-friendly staff, very reasonable rates — and even free WiFi Internet. Always a good bet is the Logis de France (www.logis-de-france.fr) association-inns, which range from simple to quite elegant. Most have excellent restaurants, and all offer great value. And even in the most out-of-the-way places, a same-sex couple sharing a bed should not raise an eyebrow.

Food and wine: oh la la!

The Loire is a region of excellent wines — perhaps not as well known as Burgundy or Bordeaux, but also not nearly as expensive. In fact, wine may be one of the last great values in France, given the depressed state of the dollar. Try the Vouvray Petillant, the local take on champagne. Coteau du Layon is like a bargain sauternes, and is perfect with foie gras. Touraine and Sancerre are crisp, excellent whites, and reds range from light and refreshing Touraine to full-bodied vintage Chinons. Visit local wineries, or simply enjoy them at meals. Terrific restaurants abound in the region, with prices half what you’d pay in Paris.

Le Pavillon Des Lys in Amboise, for example, is one of the best in the region. Charming Chef-owner Sébastien Bégouin (you may start to feel that everyone in the picturesque town of Amboise is gay) serves an amazing eight-course gourmet extravaganza (at the bargain price of 38 euros) to a handful of tables in a beautiful manor house in the heart of Amboise. For food lovers, this is not to be missed.

Le 4 Saisons (351 rue de la Reine Blanche +33 2/3866-1430), a Logis de France in Olivet just outside Orléans, serves delicious regional specialties in a romantic setting on the tiny river Loiret. Great little traditional restaurants abound, and there are also newer, more urban restaurants, like the hip Next Door (as in next door to and run by Philippe Bardau’s haute Les antiquaries; 6 rue au lin; +33 2/3862-4000) in Orléans and the tasty wine bar L’Hédoniste (16 rue Lavoisier +33 2/4705-2040) in Tours, which attract a trendy gay/straight crowd.

Meet des locales

Gay venues are multiplying throughout the region as homosexuality becomes more visible and accepted. Orléans and student-filled Tours have small but friendly gay scenes — though most all establishments are mixed, attracting gay men, lesbians and stylish heterosexuals. They tend to be small as well, so it’s no surprise that the most popular bars in both Tours (La P’tite Chose 32 rue de la Grosse Tour +33 2 4776-0009) and Orléans (Le P’tit Café 255 rue de Bourgogne +31 2/3862-5886) have the abbreviation for petite in their names.

“Trendy” bars, like Orléans’ Bel Air, (44 rue du Poirier +33 2/3877-080) featuring elaborate cocktails and modern, “urban” design are also popular with local gays. Discos, such as the venerable Le Gi (13 rue Lavoisier +33 2/4766-2996) in the heart of Tours, are strictly late-night weekend-only affairs. As they are small (by urban standards) and attract an almost exclusively local crowd, the atmosphere can be quite friendly. Male-only hard-core cruising options are limited to a handful of local saunas, such as the newly opened and very popular Savon (rue des Grand Champs at rue d’Illier +33 2/3868-1198) in the center of Orléans (saunas tend to be popular quite early, always call ahead for closing times) and the two-year-old cruising/darkroom bar Le Stud (84 rue Colbert +33 2/4766-6570) in Tours, which is named and modeled after the San Francisco Stud in its leather bar incarnation of 20 years ago.

Alons-y!

The best way to get to the Loire is by train, with fast, frequent service to Orléans and Tours from central Paris. There is even a high-speed TGV train direct from Charles de Gaulle airport to Tours. You can arrange a rental car pickup at the train stations from any of the usual agencies. Driving is fairly effortless; the country roads are picturesque, well maintained and well marked — though a good road map is essential.

Resources

France has for years now devoted itself to becoming one of the most gay friendly travel destinations — not only Paris, with its gay neighborhoods, gay mayor and diverse and teeming gay cafés, clubs and discos — but also smaller cities, towns and the countryside have become very gay-friendly.

The French government tourist office offers a wealth of information — both gay-specific (www.franceguide.com/us/gay) and more general regional information (us.franceguide.com and westernfrancetouristboard.com). More gay information is available on the Web (www.gayvox.com and www.leguidegay.com) or the national gay magazine Têtu (available at any French news stand) and free regional gay publications distributed in local clubs.

by Clay Doyle

for gay.com Travel http://www.gay.com/travel/article.html?sernum=9480

and PlanetOut.com http://www.planetout.com/travel/article.html?sernum=9480

Anecdotes from a French Spring

“It would be easier,” I remark, “To have lunch with Jacques Chirac.” We are standing outside the Pilier Sud, at the entrance to private elevator to Restaurant Jules Verne. Our way is blocked by a pleasant but stern young man, clad in all black, with a radio headset. It is a near impossibility to make a reservation at Jules Verne, the luxury restaurant on the second tier of the Tour Eiffel.

Madelines

“Three months in advance” is their standard reply…and even then…I finally had a friend who works for the French Tourist Office in LA make the reservation…to her slight annoyance, as even for her it required multiple phone calls and faxes. It’s somewhat ridiculous…Le Grand Véfour, Le Cinq—great, three star restaurants—booked with a simple fax on our last trip to Paris. Anyway, even after going to such great lengths to extract a reservation, and a fax from the restaurant confirming such reservation, the Jules Verne insists that you reconfirm the reservation the day before. OK, slightly annoying, but not unheard of. Except that they never answer their telephone. Call, call, and call again, and all you get is a multi-lingual message telling you that all lines are busy and please try again in a few minutes. At the prices they charge, you’d think they could hire someone to answer the phones…or outsource it to a call center in India or something. Finally we sent them a fax. But, of course something has gone astray…our table has been canceled (and given to who I wonder, considering the difficulty of making a reservation and the impossibility of reaching them by phone. Have they a list of stand-ins at the ready?) Calls are made from the elevator desk to the restaurant upstairs; someone comes to confer with us…I wave my confirmation fax (bearing the imprint of the French Tourist Office) and Logan explains the multiple unanswered phone calls. Still the young man in black bars our entry to the private elevator lobby, snicker though he did at my comment about lunch with Jacques Chirac. Clearly this is a commonplace occurrence. Someone in authority explains that they had tried to call our hotel, unsuccessfully, that morning, and then—finally behaving in the manner one expects from such a restaurant—says, but of course we will take care of everything, please come up…

From that point on, all is pleasant. A sweet boy lifts us to the second étage in one of the tower’s uniquely slanted elevators; we can see the young and the vigorous clambering up and down the stairs as views of Paris flash in and out of sight between the steel girders. We are offered an aperitif in the bar, but already they have a table ready for us. It’s a small table…too small really for the theater of food the restaurant requires, but it is right at the window, on the best side of restaurant. All of Paris is below our table: Sacre-Coeur on its hill, the Place de la Concorde, the Arc de Triomphe, the roofs of the Madeleine and the Opera, the expanse of the Louvre, and, in the distance, the distinctive towers of Notre Dame and the brightly colored tubes of the Pompidou Center. Directly under us, on the platform below the restaurant, tourists admire the view. It is spectacular, as promised. Inside, the restaurant is all black and grey and leather—very eighties. It seems a bit, well, too eighties, though in mint condition. Logan admires the china, white with black geometric accents, eighties too, but handsome. I find the black stemmed wineglasses less successful. We have glasses of Veuve Cliquot vintage rose (€29 a glass!) Logan promptly knocks his over—25 euros spilling into my plate and lap—fortunately protected by my napkin. Fortunately our only mishap. Service is efficient, professional, but no better than most Paris restaurants. Food is fairly excellent. The à la carte menu is shockingly expensive—50 starters, €90 entrees, and up. But there is a very nice “businessman’s” lunch menu for 55 (the only thing not translated into English—Logan finds this very cunning). He and I have a starter of haddock prepared three ways: a soup that is almost entirely fish flavored air—really good; haddock tartare, and a little spinach and haddock tartlet. Abbie has a terrine of foie gras and oxtail—terrific. They have lamb for the main course—they proclaim it excellent. I have quail—deboned for the most part, and stuffed with foie gras. It is excellent. We drink two bottles of wine, a white and a Bordeaux, neither particularly expensive. Dessert is a sablé with strawberries, with custard and ice cream; and a lemon thing that Abbie had. Various little candies and cookies and truffles are brought to the table, of course. The wine waiter is cute. After lunch, we wander downstairs and out amid the milling crowds for the view of Paris from the open platform. Logan buys another cheap souvenir Tour Eiffel to add to his odd little collection. We make a waiter open the back door to the Jules Verne for us, so we can take the private elevator down. We are about the last lunch guests to leave the restaurant. The crowd was largely American; a few French people. What can I say? The view: extraordinary. The decor: fair. The service: good but not outstanding. The food: very good. The price: the prix fix lunch is a good value. Otherwise for the money, I’d go to Le Cinq, hands down.

After lunch we caught a taxi to the Louvre. I felt such a tourist, taxi-ing from monument to monument. Everyone was over-tired in the Louvre…but we saw the remounted La Gioconda—or rather the crowds around it. It is better located and better lit. They have moved the Veronese wedding feast to the other end of the room. All and all, the room looks better. They have also finished refurbishing the rooms containing the grand format paintings. These galleries look quite good. We escaped the crowds though, for the Richelieu wing and the Mesopotamian art, the French sculptures in the sunlit courts, and the medieval objects tucked away on the floor above. These galleries are essentially deserted.

***

This spring, without really planning to, I ended up spending 24 days in France—nine in Paris and the remainder touring the towns and countryside in a wide arc around Paris from Reims in the Northwest to Chinon in the southeast. I made two separate trips to France; the first a last-minute press trip organized by the French tourist office to promote the “Gay Friendly” Loire valley followed by a long-planned trip with my business partner (Mr. Logan) and my mother (Abbie), AKA Nonna, which took us to Paris, Chablis, Berry, and again the Loire valley. The press trip focused on the cities of Orleans, Tours and Amboise, so the only real overlap was Amboise, which I visited on both trips. A detailed and chronological account of the trip would be lengthy and unnecessary, therefore I will recount only some of the more entertaining anecdotes, such as the one above.

***

Our first press visit was to the Parc Floral de la Source—a large garden of a former Château that now houses offices for the university. It was chilly, and just slightly too early in the season for most of the flowers, except the tulips. The most remarkable thing a about it is that it is the source of the river Loiret—hence the name. I don’t think I’d ever actually seen the source of a river before; so somehow I always imagined something rather grand—melting glaciers or something. Here the water bubbles up out of little hole in the ground and forms a small decorative stream that runs through the rather formal garden. It looks quite artificial really. When we dined a few nights later at Les Quatre Saisons, a beautiful inn and restaurant (with very good food) which sits picturesquely on the banks of the Loiret a dozen kilometers or so outside of Orleans, the decorative little stream had become a wide and rather impressive river. I still have trouble believing all that water comes out of a little hole in the Château grounds, but I’m assured by those with a more thorough knowledge of earth sciences that this is just the way these things work.

***

Our guided tour of Orleans took us to the old city hall, and the rather nice Cathedral of Sainte-Croix, and of course numerous statues of Jeanne d’Arc—patron and liberator of the city in 1429. The city was preparing for the annual festival in her honor on the 8th of May, taking place a few days after we depart. Apparently, each year a local girl—a virgin of course—is chosen to play the role of Joan, and she rides into the city on a horse and then much feasting and drinking ensues. Orleans is a pleasant and compact city of (newly) cobble stoned streets and quaint buildings. It’s easily explored on your own. Except for one thing you won’t see—and this is what I love about these guided press tours—the secret entrance to the excavated medieval gate and drawbridge. We were assembled on the main square, in front of the large equestrian statue of Jeanne d’ Arc when our guide from the Orleans tourist office takes out her keyring and presses something that looks like the little device that unlocks the doors on a car. She presses a button and a three meter square of cobblestone(!) in the place du Martroi, slowly, silently, and electrically opens like a huge trap door, and out of the ground rises a steel spiral staircase. Descending the staircase to some depth, we explore the foundations of the city wall, and drawbridge gate, and medieval moat. Rather impressive. It seems it was unearthed while constructing an underground parking garage. When we exit, the whole thing is closed up at another push of a button and the massive cobblestone trapdoor disappears seamlessly into the surface of the square.

***

Another guided tour—this of the privately-owned Clos Lucé, the final home of Leonardo da Vinci, in Amboise. Our guide is a completely charming young man with an endearing shyness and beautiful blue eyes. I would mention his name, but he seemed so shy that I think it might embarrass him. He keeps apologizing that he only gives tours to children—perhaps afraid that a group of fully adult homosexuals may be bored with his presentation. Actually I think he was an inspired choice. They run us from place to place on these press tours, so our (or at least my) attention span often grows rather childlike; plus the Clos Lucé is the perfect place for children. It is filled with reconstructions and models of Leonardo’s inventions that you can actually play with, and has lots of interactive exhibits, all of which seem more ideally suited to children, who may become bored with the don’t touch aspects of the Châteaux and Cathedrals. Again we got an insider treat—our guide unlocked the gate in the basement of the house that provides entry into the underground tunnel that once connected the Clos Lucé with the nearby Château d’Amboise. (So that Leonardo could be visited by his patron François I without the king having to go outside.) The tunnel has mostly collapsed but a hundred meters or so of dark, damp, off-limits passageway remain. It’s rather fun to explore, in a creepy way. Fortunately, I have learned a few things while traveling, and have a flashlight in my bag!

We meet up with our guide again, unexpectedly, at the bar La P’tite Chose in Tours, at a meeting of the local gay social group. Here we have a chance to chat with him and his friends over drinks. We discover that badminton is the group’s most popular sporting activity.

***

I’ve decided I really like the quirky Hotel de L’Abeille—the group is split, and this is the hotel I’m not staying at. The staff is gay, and friendly, and a few of them rather cute. The rates are really cheap, around 50-70 euros per room. The lobby is comfortable and has free wifi. (Why is it that the most inexpensive hotels are likely to provide free internet, while a in a room that costs several hundred euros, they will add an additional, sometimes absurdly high, charge?) The whole decor may be aggressively over the top, but the place has character and charm. The clientele is mixed. Gay and straight couples as well as one really attractive young man on his own! Breakfast looked good. My hotel, across the street (Hotel d’Arc) is just comfortably bland. And none of the other lodging in town seems very special at all.

***

Andrew, one of the writers, tells us a story about the gay sauna in Orleans—the brand new Savon—which I had declined to visit on a Monday night. He said he was in the steam room with a cute French boy—apparently there was a decent crowd of two dozen or so—and he started chatting him up—fluency in French, which I definitely lack, can be an advantage. Anyway he tells us, admitting it was a totally corny pick up line—he asks the boy if he has ever had sex with an American. The boy says no. So Andrew asks “Would you like too?” To which the French boy replies, “Yes…with a young American.” A hysterical story as he told it, and that he would tell it with such relish and amusement is a good example of his personality. You should also know that besides being charming, Andrew is extremely handsome, rendering it even more amusing.

***

Amboise, a small, almost too cute town straddling the Loire, is a real discovery. Two beautiful, luxurious manor house hotels, at very reasonable rates for such unrestrained luxury—the Manoir des Minimes and Le Clos d’ Amboise, and a restaurant that is so fantastic—and such a bargain—as to be almost beyond belief.

The amazing dinner was at the recently opened Pavillon des Lys—8 courses for €38 euros. I have no idea how they do it. Each course was amazing. The chef/owner, Sébastien, a gay guy (which is why they put it on the itinerary, I suppose), does all the cooking alone. There are two waiters. It is a small restaurant, about nine tables (with four lavish bedrooms as well.) Dinner consisted of…

Champagne and little snacks in the garden

Then dinner…

1. a beet and parsley cappuccino

2. foie gras and potato tart with Coteau du Layon wine

3. smoked salmon with a local Sauvignon wine

4. roasted sea bass

5. medallion of beef with (Chinon wine, I think)

6. chariot of local cheese

7. pre-desert course of little parfait and cookies

8. a chocolate mouse thing

9. a green apple clafouti with calvados ice-cream

and a glass of poire William in the salon.

hmm…seems like more that 8 courses. It was fantastic! They serve only two multi-course set menus (one vegetarian, rather a rarity) which change daily.

I immediately made reservations for my return trip with Logan and Abbie, as we would be staying nearby. Our encore dinner was equally impressive. Logan and my mother loved it. It was a warm evening, so all the tables were set up outside in the walled gravel courtyard. The indoor tables with lamps and stuff…all as formal as if in the dining room. The weather was perfect for it. We were the first to arrive (at 7:40) and the second to last to leave (at just before midnight.) Well, we spent an hour on the upstairs terrace having our coffee (or verbena) with a tiny chocolate pot de crème and waiting for the check. From the terrace there we had a postcard view of the illuminated St. Hubertus chapel, with the Château behind, as dusk turned into night. Amazing. We were the only ones invited to have our coffee up there, so didn’t we feel special? Same waiter as before (and Sebastien said hello briefly at the end of the meal). Only nine tables, but all were full. And this time only 33 euros! So it went like this:

Aperitif: Kir Vouvray pettilant with little bites: a shrimp, a tapanade, a spoon of beet, and a little glass of melon.

Then

1: a goblet of almost pureed vegetables and herbs; a parmesan cracker

2: Foie Gras with sel gris and a tiny lettuce salad

3: Crabmeat, tomato and avocado mille fiule with a crispy pastry

4: A small filet of fish on a bed of baby peas

5: A half quail with some mushrooms and tiny root vegetables

6: Cheese from the cheese board—a long plank that it took both waiters to carry to the table (actually the cheese is a supplement to the menu, but they comped us on it.)

7: rhubarb clafouti with strawberry ice-cream

8: a glass of fresh sliced strawberries with a glass of vanilla ice cream

9: a mango parfait, a little raspberry on a cookie, a tulle cookie

Then the delicious pot de crème with coffee on the upstairs terrace

We did not drink too much, just two bottles of wine and our aperitifs. We had a light red Menetou-Salon with the first 4 courses, and a Chinon with the quail and cheese.

Oh, the Manoir Les Minimes is fabulous. It’s a grand manor house; my room is extravagant—my bathroom even has a view of the Chateau. Owned by two charming gay guys (in matching pin-striped suits!) Everything in Amboise seems to be owned by homosexuals. Even the director of the Château d’Amboise, I’m told, is gay!

***

At the first dinner at Pavillon des Lys, after everyone had made their selections from the enormous Chariot du Fromage, one of the writers remarked that he had selected an particularly pungent (I believe his descriptions was stinky) cheese. Christophe remarked casually, not really as an explanation, that the cheese in question was from Alsace. Except that in giving a correct French pronunciation to that region of Eastern France, it sounded like “It comes from Al’s ass.” That got everyone’s attention, and much merriment ensued. It took Christophe a few seconds to understand what all the laughter was about.

***

A nice tour of Tours—excuse the obvious pun. It’s one of the larger cities of the Loire, and a big university town. Lots and lots of students. A cute half-timbered medieval quarter with lots of crowded sidewalk bar/cafes. The ruins of the enormous Basilica of St. Martin of Tours—now the city streets run right through the footprint of the giant church; only a couple towers remain. A new, much smaller, 19th century basilica was built during the religious revival to house the relics. I was the only member of the group who wanted to see his relics—so our guide took me to the reliquary under the alter while the rest of the group had coffee. Two interesting stops on the tour that I would have never discovered on my own: We visited a traditional silk weaving factory where they still weave fabric by hand on 18th century looms. For historical restorations I presume, as it is a tremendously expensive process. Apparently it is the only surviving weaver from the time when Tours was the Royal silk weaving city. The fabrics are beautiful—but even the spools of thread were astonishingly beautiful—they glowed with an almost internal light. We also visited an artisanal baker, where all the bread is made by hand and baked in a traditional, pre-WWII brick oven—one of the few surviving in France. Really good bread—in a country of good bread—but a dying artform in an age of more modern, mass production techniques. Anyway the brick oven is essential to the perfect texture of the soft interior and crisp crust of the breads at Veiux Four.

***

Christophe (our host from the LA office of the Maison de France) wore his “Sophie” (The Doyle/Logan Company logo and mascot) T-shirt to dinner last night. It was sweet. I had been wearing mine occasionally during the trip—I brought both, as they are black (I travel in black, it’s just one less decision to make.) The business card, I realize from this, is very successful—everyone remembers the dog logo “Oh I have your card, I remember the dog!”

Sadly the only word that adequately describes dinner is ‘ridiculous.’ Yes, you can have a bad meal in Paris—even an expensive bad meal. It was good that we were, by then, tired of eating. Christophe was a bit sad, because it was our last dinner, and it was a disaster; but really, the place was so absurd as to be amusing. It is a “trendy” restaurant. Well just that word is enough to set off alarm bells for me, and for Andrew too. Christophe says that some “trendy” restaurants in Paris are quite good, and fun, and I have no reason to doubt him. He’d never been here before. I’m rather sure he won’t be back. It was the Cantine du Faubourg…a very big place, in the basement of a building in the fashionable eighth arrondissement. Well, already it was trying too hard to be trendy. Orange plastic T-rex’s on the stairs going down. Gauzy curtains. Cool, modern, straight edged furniture and goofy lamps. Actually it was kind of pretty, in a sort of LA, sort of just past being trendy, way. And the clientele was not trendy—pretentious, plastic surgeried, breast enhanced, yes—but trendy, no. I thought they might all be people who made a lot of money in illegal activities. Mixed with just plain rich people from the neighborhood. Anyway, all this is forgivable…but as a restaurant, the place was a disaster. We were seated….early, 8pm, there was only one, maybe two other tables occupied in this huge space. We ordered drinks. They never came. We waited and waited. Finally the waitress came and told Cristophe that they couldn’t do drinks because “the computer was down” but we could have wine instead. We said “fine”…but got a good laugh out of that. Then, mysteriously and without explanation, our drink order (just slightly wrong) arrived. We were offered a very limited menu. Some kind of shrimp starter and chicken skewers or tuna steak for a main course. The little filo wrapped shrimp things were fine—they were served for no reason on long tiles, which didn’t really fit on the table. The mains they mixed up…I got chicken instead of tuna, but both were said to be equally insipid, so I didn’t miss much. The chicken on a stick was just that…coated with some kind of spice and served with noodles that Christophe aptly described as “bland”. The tuna came over-cooked (not very trendy!) and with a pyramid of instant rice! The harried, clearly unskilled waitress had to bring all the dishes to the table, two at time, unassisted, while dozens of staff did nothing but glide elegantly around the room, looking beautifully detached. Honestly, the place had an enormous staff—all very pretty, dressed in all black or all white outfits—but they did absolutely nothing but swan around the room, looking pretty. Dessert was decent; red fruits and lemon sorbet. The PR director—a fabulously dressed black woman, came over to greet us and deliver an obviously insincere “anything you need just ask” speech. The highlights of the restaurant it seems, are that they change the interior decoration twice a year, and that they will send a car to pick you up and bring you to the restaurant! It is probably the only way they can get anyone in the door. Yet it was quite full when we left at eleven. We had a good laugh about it, and as I said, as we were still full from our very nice lunch, it hardly mattered. Perhaps it was even better at that point to have an amusing story.

(That really good lunch, by the way, was at L’Ecluse St. Honoré, one of a small chain of wine bars featuring Bordeaux wine and simple, excellent food. As it was a very hot day, we were served two cold courses, both excellent, and a dessert. All the while we were entertained with amusing stories by Patricia Deckmyn, the exceedingly charming and witty ‘Ambassadress’—public relations director—of the restaurant.)

***

We sit in a café on the Rue de Rivoli, because my mother wanted a croque monsieur. It’s an inexpensive neighborhood café and tabac—The Jean-Bart—with nothing to call attention to it and consequently devoid of tourists. I’d been here before; the food is good and it is remarkably cheap for Paris. It’s pretty busy on a Friday night, and we’ve snagged a sidewalk table at the very end. Service is slow, but the atmosphere is festive. At the table next to us, separated only by the space of the doorway, are three French boys. They are drinking a bottle of rose from coca-cola glasses, smoking, talking on their mobile phones. They are dressed in the international style of youth: baggy jeans, an expanse of boxer shorts showing, one expensive designer accessory each, casually worn. The prettiest one—though it’s a close contest, sports a Gucci belt. One is rather hyperactive, always leaping up, leaving the table, going off for extended periods. The other two are far more languid. They slouch in their wicker chairs, opposing sides of the tiny cafe table, legs entwined. They might be gay. They might not. Clearly they are no older than 17, probably younger. Clearly they are enjoying their evening on the town; the wine, the cigarettes, the casual interaction with the waiter, the calls to friends on the mobile phones. It’s a scene I can’t imagine in America, and I can’t but feel that the lack of such casual, and innocent, adult fun is somehow detrimental to developing responsible, well-rounded adult personalities. The waiter, himself about 20, faux-hawked and cute mainly because he tries so hard, is friendly and funny despite the crowd and the frantic pace it demands. A young man stops at my table and asks for a cigarette—not for him, but for his girlfriend, who laughs and remains shyly in the background, clearly embarrassed. Her boyfriend is gregarious and clearly unembarrassed, or if he is conceals it completely with bluster and good cheer. I proffer her one of my Galois and light it and he kisses me on the cheek and she, laughing, says “merci, merci.” The boys, two now, abandoned again by their manic friend, stare languidly into each others’ eyes, whisper secrets, smoke their own cigarettes.

***

Logan, always the culinary adventurer, ate a pigs foot (deep fried and admittedly tasty, if bony) at Brasserie Flo in Reims, and a plate of horse tartar (which I declined to try, but which he declared the best tartare ever) at a sidewalk bistro in Bourges. I’ll refrain from the “I’m so hungry…” jokes.

***

Open ateliers in Belleville (an artsy Paris neighborhood). Very crowded. Too many children—not really the children I mind so much as the attendant strollers, chariots, etc. which consume so much space. Followed about the same route as we did two years ago. Saw perhaps ten percent of the open studios. A few very good artists…nice etchings, a few nice painters. I had the idea that it would be great to do an annual Belleville/LA show…bring the works of the ten best artists to LA for a group show. The work is cheap…the artists almost all unknown. Much of it would be hugely popular in LA. Some of the work is really good…and we saw only a fraction. Belleville is fascinating. Deteriorating buildings opening into magical, spacious courtyards. Wonderful restorations hidden here and there. A fascinating neighborhood of terrific, ungentrified, raw spaces. Dilapidated, but not at all dangerous (at least it seems so). Is there any place like it in LA, I wonder, or even in Amsterdam. Lively too, as there are shops and cafes; Chinese and Jewish restaurants. Ugly sixties high-rise housing too, but not so much as to be overwhelming. Hilly, unusual for Paris; an ancient aqueduct; an abandoned rail line. Secret courtyards and amazing raw space.

***

Renting the car in Paris (from Avis—the best choice I think in France) was more trouble and time consuming than renting at a provincial train station. The girl that helped us was obviously new, and took forever. She wanted to see out plane tickets! Said it was an Avis requirement…I had never heard that one before—the rental agency was at a train station, and I had arrived in Paris, as often, by train, I’m not sure what I would have produced! Fortunately I had my itinerary and my e-ticket computer printout with me, as they were in my passport case. I thought they might want to see my passport…but she didn’t ask for that. Rented many Avis cars in France and it always takes like five minutes…in Dijon or Orleans…but at Paris Gare de Lyon it was a big production. The staff not even bilingual…good thing Logan was along to help me with all their questions. Really, I have always just shown them my reservation and they’ve tossed me the keys! Surprisingly, driving in Paris was the easiest part. Drove back to the hotel, then out of town, with no problem, no getting lost, no real traffic. But I’d take the train out of town just to avoid the Paris rent-a-car location.

***

The Hotel Crystal, in Reims, is unchanged, and Madame Jentet seemed younger than ever. Surprised, when I greeted her by name…but quickly recovered and didn’t let on that she didn’t have a clue who I was…but I would not expect her to remember me from our brief meeting seven years ago! We visited the Cathedral, of course. Had dinner at the Brasserie Flo. The restaurant we had planned, and had been to before, Au Petit Comptoir, was closed on Monday. After dinner Logan and I had a walk and visited the tiny Lesbigay Bar! It was predictably dead at midnight on Monday, but kind of cute. A silly boy bartender sang along with the CD’s. I had gone into the tourist office in Reims earlier as a kind of test (are regional tourist offices gay friendly even if you are not on a gay tour?) and asked the girl at the desk about gay clubs. She didn’t bat an eye, tried to find some information and marked this place on the map. Turns out it is listed in the general tourist guide as well. She said from there I could find information on everything else. I guess there is a disco, but I didn’t bother asking about that for a Monday night!

***

The Hostellerie des Clos, in tiny Chablis, hadn’t changed much either. Comfy cheap rooms combined with fancy expensive dinners. Had a walk around the town, to the church that is always closed, then dinner in the hotel restaurant. Set menu for €52 euros…white and green asperges, salmon-trout, veal liver, cheese, strawberry and chocolate dessert. Two bottles of Chablis and one bottle of Banyuls with dessert and after. Quite drunk on the Banyuls; it has a very high alcohol content; delicious with chocolate though. Ate at the hotel restaurant the second night too…a la carte, so it cost twice as much! Oyster and crayfish terrine and then a pigeon. Logan had morels stuffed with foie gras and sweetbreads. Abbie had green asparagus with truffles and then scallops. I have no idea how much money we spent there…I don’t want to know…but the set menu is a much better deal; of course it always is. We were going to eat the second night in the restaurant in the village of St. Bris that we discovered on out previous trip, but found it is both closed on Wednesdays and under a new owner—so who know if it is still good…it couldn’t be as unique and special as before, anyway. A strange note though…everything in the Yonne region seems to be closed on Wednesdays! Both restaurants we wanted to go to, the market across from the hotel—it just seems a very strange day for everything to close. Also in the Yonne, the churches are never open…where as in the rest of France they just leave the doors open all day so you can wander in and have a look about. Anyway, spent our second day in Chablis driving around on tiny roads and stopping in cute tiny towns. Visited the Abbaye church at Pontigny…I didn’t remember it until we got inside; it is really beautiful in its starkness. I remembered it then, and recalled my photos of it. Ended the day in Auxerre, visiting the Abbaye there, St. Germain, a quite beautiful church and cloister done up with very high tech lighting and museum installations. Tour of the crypt with (9th? 10th?) century frescos…anyway, supposedly the oldest in France. Also visited the Cathedral of St. Etienne; strangely more impressive on the outside than in, even though the exterior was extensively scaffolded. They do have a reliquary with some bones of St. Steven (he of the stoning) behind the altar.

The Hostelerie des Clos is very comfortable with reasonably priced rooms. No-hassle, free wifi internet. Very beautiful public areas and courtyard. The whole town of Chablis seemed to be getting a makeover—restored streets of medieval buildings and a new fancy hotel and new fancy restaurant being prepared to open. It seems it has become something of a real tourist destination since our last visit. Logan theorizes that the magazine article in “Saveur” which led us there three years ago started a trend.

***

Drove today on very tiny roads from Chablis to Briare, to see the pont-canal. It is very impressive. A beautiful piece of very elegant 19th century engineering. Very, very long too, as it crosses an extremely wide section of the Loire as well as the 16th century shipping canal that runs alongside it. It’s very strange to see this long bridge of water crossing a river. Funny too, to think that when it was built, in the late 19th century, it was already obsolete. Canal shipping, so vital for centuries, had already been replaced by the railroads. Strangely, no one was at the canal itself, except a group of Dutch students.

***

Lovely here at the Château de la Verrerie, as always. Arrived in the early afternoon and walked around the grounds—it was quite hot today. Logan and I borrowed bikes (in rather poor repair) and cycled around the grounds a bit. Visited the chapel—which is more beautiful inside than I remembered, with lovely paintings on the wooden ceiling. I love it here, because it is like staying in a private home—albeit a very, very grand private home. They have wifi here now, too…the only problem is that it doesn’t penetrate the thick stone walls…so you basically have to go down to the office to connect. Also they charge 10 euro for the password to the network (good forever we are told…although how much time does one spend at La Verrerie!) which I think is just silly. Nice dinner at the restaurant on the grounds, La Maison d’Helene. More white asparagus, as it is the season. And strawberries, which are uniformly outstanding. Logan ordered the most expensive Sancerre on the menu (57 euros) justifying it by saying it would cost three times as much in LA. We had a red Fixin (burgundy) too. The wine bill for this trip is going to be huge…I don’t even want to know about it. The Chablis was very good of course. We played several games of Cluedo in the lounge after!

***

A Saturday morning visit to the pretty village of St-Aignan. It was very busy, and it turned out that Saturday was market day. A fun market in the center of town with meat, vegetables, cheese, etc. Really cool Romanesque church with a crypt full of medieval frescoes. Impressive hilltop (private) chateau. We drove from there to Civrey, to the pleasant Hostelerie du Château de l’Isle and settled in early. We switched Abbie’s upstairs room for the one she had before in the little woodshed annex. She likes it; no stairs and a stall shower. It’s the cheapest room they have, and only used, I think, for overflow. There is a nice new glass pavilion where they serve dinner. They only have one menu per night…I can’t say I remember exactly what it was…though I do remember enjoying it. I got a kick out of Logan asking our teen waiter for advice on which of the old Vouvray wines was best. (He had a definite opinion though.) We had a Vouvray and, I think a Touraine red. We were the last diners in the dining room—a sudden rainstorm had blown in during dinner, and the rain was drumming down on the roof.

***

Discovered Loches, a pretty little town with an impressive castle-like chateau (small manor house, interesting church, donjon, intact walls with only one gate) and saw the sights. Interesting in that there were basically no tourists. Churches were busy in the morning (surprisingly so, until we realized it was mother’s day in France). But it seems no one visits Loches. What a contrast to Chenonceau! An amusing sight: two carefully marked handicapped parking spaces closest to the foot of a long staircase leading up to the Château gate! We also visited a ruined Abbeye on the opposite side of the river. Then I drove to Montresor, just because it was nearby and Logan loves it so. We sat in that same café (Café de la Ville) and had a little wine and shared a gigantic salad of meat (it was just after lunchtime). Then Logan and I went for a walk…he saw an empty house for sale, right on the little river that runs along the village, so we noted the phone number! It is all very pretty. Visited the little gothic church that was built as a funerary chapel! Talk about a nice tomb!

***

No trouble finding our hotel in tiny Chinon, and got lucky with a legal parking place just across the narrow street. The Hotel Gargantua—after the character by Rabelais; it’s not that it’s so large. In fact it’s a rather quirky, family run hotel, in an old (16th century) renaissance house. Pretty cool actually. Right in the center of town. Great view of the Château de Chinon. Nice big room and very low prices. The other nice, inexpensive hotel in town, the Diderot, seems a bit swankier and a bit more professional; it’s bigger and in a 19th century building with a cute garden. A toss up perhaps. Dinner was good, we ate in the dining room because of the variable weather, though it had stopped raining and was warming up again. (The next night they were serving dinner on their terrace, which seemed really pleasant.) That night though, we ate at Au Plaisir Gourmand, for our gourmet meal. We got the best table. Abbie had a lobster salad which was great. Logan had veal sweetbreads and kidneys. I had a menu—crab terrine, lotte in verbena, duck breast, strawberries. It was good, as always, but not as good as Pavillon des Lys—where both the food and the setting (outdoors in the courtyard, with coffee on the upstairs terrace) were magical—and cheaper!

***

We drove to Candes St-Martin to see the old, partially fortified church. It’s been fixed up a bit. We just went for a drive after that…up the Loire to Saumur, and past, to a little town that Logan remembered—where we visited another church. Took a much quicker road, on the other side of the river, back to Chinon. Good luck in finding our same parking space. We spent the afternoon shopping in Chinon (shoes, pastries—langues des femmes, pates de fruits—an extra duffel bag!) We sat in the pretty square and had some coffee and water.

***

Last night in France, back in Paris. We did a bit of last minute shopping in the Marais—somehow the thought of leaving brings out the desire to buy things. We had dinner at C’Amelot on the rue Amelot in the nearby 11th. They have the one menu per night. It was a cold pea soup with mint (delicious); monkfish; and pigeon with polenta. Abbie wouldn’t eat the pigeon, though she declared the polenta excellent. I’m sure she had enough to eat, and Logan and I split her pigeon. The one choice you have there is dessert: she had the best, a strawberry granita with strawberries and cream; Logan’s was second-best, a warm chocolate cake with vanilla ice-cream. And mine was good: warm cherries with a (fennel? very subtle) ice cream. We walked back to the hotel, the convenient and very inexpensive Sevigné, across from the St-Paul metro station. It’s actually a short walk. Logan was tired, but I wanted to visit the bar Andy Wahloo, where I had been taken once by my Parisian friend Mafoud, so I walked over there and had a glass of wine. I’m glad I saw it again. I really like it….fun atmosphere, comfortable, cute waiters. A nice end to the trip, as we won’t count the Aéroport Charles de Gaulle!—Clay Doyle

FIN

It’s Nice to be Wanted

France has a long history of tolerance for alternative sexuality. It’s been a refuge for homosexuals from Oscar Wilde to James Baldwin to Gertrude Stein, and a live and let live attitude regarding love and sex seems to prevail. Recently though, France has been moving beyond tolerance to a genuinely enthusiastic embrace of gay residents and visitors. The mayor of Paris is openly gay. Recent legislation extends domestic partner (essentially marriage rights) benefits to same sex couples–and this approved under a conservative national government. Gay bars, bed and breakfasts, shops, restaurants, gay organizations, saunas and discos are proliferating–not only in Paris, but in smaller cities throughout France. The national and regional tourist offices, businesses, mainstream hotels and restaurants, and individual city governments are all enthusiastically welcoming gay travelers. It’s nice to be wanted!

Pride in Gay Paree

You’ll feel especially welcome during the last weekend in June, when Paris’ puts on it’s huge annual gay pride celebration. Watch the festive, chaotic and very long parade from any point along its considerable route from Place d’ Italie to Nation (Bastille is a convenient location) or join in and march with a favorite group–every one is welcome to participate as well as watch. Afterwards, the Marais becomes a huge street party for the remainder of the evening. Naturally there are disco parties and special events the whole weekend long. And while Paris Pride is the ultimate, cities throughout France now have gay parades and events–you could spend all of June celebrating gay pride, French style.

Even on a normal day, Paris is the center of gay life in France, with a huge gay community, bars and clubs of every description, trendy gay restaurants, stores selling trendy clothes and campy doodads, and an excellent gay bookstore (Les Mots a La Bouche). Begin your exploration of Gay Paris at the Open Cafe. It seems like every gay boy in Paris eventually strolls by these sidewalk table, and you can happily linger over a coffee, beer or cocktail. Pick up free copies of the several weekly gay agendas for detailed listings of the many other bars and events. The Marais, the lively and traditionally gay quarter of Paris is so popular now that gays have begun colonizing adjacent areas as well–Rue Oberkampf, Canal St. Martin, and the slightly seedy Second Arrondissement are all worth a look. Of course you will see gay people everywhere in Paris and you should feel at home wherever you go.

Racing to embrace gays

Many visitors–and many Parisians themselves–have the impression that that gay life in France begins and ends in Paris. Now a number of regions and cities throughout the country are taking various initiatives to prove that they are just as gay friendly as the capitol. Leading the pack in the this regard is Le Mans, a Loire Valley town best known for the exciting (but not at all gay)Circuit Des 24 Heures du Mans auto race. Yet the city also boasts an organization of gay friendly businesses—Charte d’accueil et de bienvenue Lesbian and Gay Friendly—which now includes most of the hospitality industry in Le Mans. For instance, the grand old belle époqueHotel Concorde, traditional and charmingly old-fashioned, proudly displays its gay friendly charter at the front door. Restaurants are also gay friendly; try traditional cuisine of the Loire atLe Grangeraie in the center of town, or venture out to the nearby nature reserve L’ Arche de la Nature, for a simple but delicious buffet on a farm.

For something more exciting, you can practice your own racing skills on a gas powered go-cart at the very butch Circuits “Alain Prost”. The hunky staff won’t care if you are gay or even if you send your cart crashing at high-speed through the track-side barricade! Auto racing is a theme running through the town, and for aficionados there is great collection of historic vehicles in theMusée de l’Automobile. Historic Le Mans—dating back to the 13th century–is really the highlight of the city however. Vieux Le Mans, the medieval core, boasts the largest concentration of half-timbered buildings in France. And not to be missed–not that you could–is the immense Cathedral St. Julien which spans the entire range of medieval church architecture from fortress-like Romanesque to flamboyant high gothic. The gay “scene” is small town, but in addition to the gay friendly bars and cafes, you will also find a gay disco (La Limite), cabaret (Palace Cafe) and sauna (Le Nil), should you find yourself craving company.

Life in a Student Town

In Montpellier, in what is thought of as the more conservative south, perhaps it is the presence of so many students that lends a gay friendly atmosphere. Of the city’s 240,000 residents, 60,000 are students, creating an overwhelmingly youthful vibe. Add to this the relentless sunshine, and the plentiful terrace cafes that surround every square and you have one of the best cities for people watching in France! The Cafe de la Mer is the gay cafe, with tables spilling out into a popular square, and ultra-cute waiters. Grab a table and a pernod and watch the boys (and girls) go by. The nearby Rue des Teissiers is a narrow passage lined with small gay and gay friendly cafes, their sidewalk tables creating a sort of nonstop block party. For late night partying, Le Heaven and Le New THT offer boys, drinks and small dance floors once you have buzzed your way in. For sun and swimming, the Mediterranean beaches are a short drive from town and the surrounding country side is dotted with ancient villages, Languedoc wineries and ruined Templar castles.

Back in the city, the best way to see the city’s rather hidden historic sites is with the excellent three hour guided tour offered by the Office du Tourisme Montpellier. You’ll get a look into the courtyards of private renaissance houses and the 12th century Jewish ritual bath–rediscovered after seven centuries! Montpelier is home as well to some really great food; for an incredible meal don’t miss La Compagnie des Comptoirs—or their (much less expensive) sister restaurant on the beach at nearby La Grande Motte. The latter is a tent which sits directly on the beach affording incredible views of the Mediterranean and the option of a post lunch swim; the entire restaurant is dismantled in the autumn, and re-erected each spring.

Relaxing in Provence

Provence is probably the most popular holiday region in France after Paris. It’s a perfect spot for sun, scenery, wine, and lazily whiling away the days at an outdoor restaurant or a hotel swimming pool. For a real treat, L’Hotel Les Ateliers de L’Image is the sort of hotel you actually hate to leave to go sightseeing. The rooms are simple, cool and comfortable; The public areas are fashion magazine chic; but it is the large, stunningly beautiful pool and the extensive grounds that make the hotel a destination in itself. Though located in the heart of little St. Remy, the pool overlooks the open countryside–perfect for cooling off midday, or for a midnight swim. As there are only 24 rooms, it feels very exclusive, and very private. The highlight of St. Remy are the excavations of the Roman city of Glanum. You can see the foundations of the ancient buildings and the Roman street grid, yet two thirds of this sizable city remains buried. There is a short walking trail to take you there. This entire region of course was an important part of the Roman empire, and reminders of this ancient heritage are everywhere. In Arles, the Roman arena is still used for bullfights and the local variant, bull racing. In bull racing, unarmed (and apparently reckless) young men compete with bulls–the bulls are never harmed, and they, not the boys, achieve fame and status! Again, for the best look at Arles’ many Roman ruins and Medieval buildings, the Arles Office de Tourisme offers excellent guided visits in English. TheMusée de L’Arles Antique features extensive ancient artifacts from the region. Fascinating and beautifully presented, this relatively new museum should not be missed. Avignon is home to the monumental Palais du Papes, the temporary residence of the popes during the 14th century. It’s an impressive example of religious fortress architecture. The town itself is charming, retaining its old city wall and filled with sunny squares and outdoor restaurants. And with six Michelin star restaurants, Avignon offers some pretty impressive Provençal cuisine. Avignon is also the center of gay life in the region. It’s handful of gay bars (Le Cid CafeLMCafe), clubs (Le EsclaveThe Cage) and sauna (H Club) draw gays from throughout the region. Mostly though, province is more about relaxing than a pulsing nightlife–and you may be surprised to find that there are huge number of gay and specifically gay friendly hotels, bed and breakfast properties, country houses and villas–many quite luxurious–scattered throughout the region. The organization Gay Provence is an excellent source for Provence accommodation, restaurants, and information; they are very eager to offer advice and assistance and maintain an comprehensive and informative website. Spring, early summer and Autumn are the best times to visit Provence–it is warm but not so crowded. If you want to see the world famous Avignon Arts Festival though, you will have to brave the July heat and crowds–and book everything well in advance.

A Quick Jaunt from Paris

Only an hour northwest of Paris, and easily accessible by train, the charming city of Rouen is perfectly located for a weekend trip from Paris. This medieval town, where Jeanne d’Arc was burned at the stake, has much to offer–historic architecture, an impressive cathedral, a good art museum, great Norman food, and pleasant inexpensive hotels. And Rouen also boasts a lively and friendly gay scene, including two very busy lesbian bars. Reserve a room at the the gay-owned La Vieux Carre, which also has a very pleasnt restaurant. It’s very reasonably priced, centrally located and oozing with half-timbered charm. Exploring this small city is effort free–you can easily visit all the main sites on foot. While the Cathedral Notre Dame–made even more famous by Monet’s paintings–is the most impressive building in town, other nearby monuments worth seeing are the flamboyantly Gothic Palais du Justice, The Eglise St.-Ouen, the Horloge medieval clock tower, and the streets of ancient half-timbered houses. A visit to the pleasant Musée des Beaux-Arts makes a restful change from the crowds at the Paris museums. Too much culture? Rouen offers an astonishing range of shopping for its size–from incredible chocolates and pastries to handmade luxury items, and branches of the famous Paris design houses such as Hermes. In the evening, gay life beckons. The XXL has a bar on the ground floor, a small disco below, and frequent theme parties–often a decidedly sexual theme. A casual, friendly atmosphere pervades, thanks to the efforts of gregarious owner Stephane. Just down the street, Blues offers a huge cocktail menu, and a laid-back lounge atmosphere. The lesbian scene is particularly lively (because of the link to gender bending heroine Jeanne d’ Arc?) with two busy bars. Le Miss Marple–named for the famous fictional detective–andL’Insolite are both filled with friendly and attractive women.

sidebar: A Luxury Weekend in Paris

The Marais is funky, fun, and tres gay, but perhaps you dream of that chic, ultra-luxurious, and very romantic Paris you’ve seen in so many movies. Could it get any more glamorous than a weekend at the Four Seasons George V Hotel? This historic property, with huge rooms, stunning decor, staff rushing to accommodate your every whim, and every amenity you can think of, is one of the world’s great hotels. See Robbie Williams check out as the Rolling Stones check in—the hotel routinely caters to celebrities and presidents—yet Director of Marketing Jean-Pierre Soutric is enthusiastic about welcoming and accommodating gay guests. The concierge can even direct you to the current gay hotspots. It couldn’t be more luxurious and romantic, but of course all this comes at quite a price (do inquire about the many discounts and packages on offer). Still, you’ll be the envy of your friends back home. The Hyatt Regency Paris Madeleine is smaller luxury hotel, with a cool, contemporary look, stylishly comfortable rooms, friendly staff, and a relaxed atmosphere. It will appeal to artistic types (it’s Pavarotti’s hotel of choice) and again, gay guests are enthusiastically welcomed. Now, put on your best Paris suit (or pick up a stylish yet reasonably priced new one from local menswear designer Melchior) and head out for a deluxe meal at one of Paris’ famed restaurants. Try the chic, contemporaryMaison Blanche, with its stunning city views or the George V’s own 3 star Le Cinq. However, whether you opt for luxury hotels or a pension in the Marais, Michelin star restaurants or cozy bistros, an evening stroll through Paris with a special friend is as romantic as any movie, and costs nothing at all.

The List: Stay/Eat/Play/Do

PARIS

Hotel Ambassador Concorde 16 Blvd Haussmann, +33 1/4483-4040 fax +33 01/4296-1984,www.hotelambassador-paris.com, 200-500 Euros)

Hotel Four Seasons George V 31 Avenue George V, +33 1/4952-7001 fax +33 01/4952-7011,www.fourseasons.com, 565-2250 euros,

Hotel Hyatt Regency Madeleine 24 Boulevard Malesherbes, + 33 1/5527-1207 fax 33 1/5527-1210, www.paris-hyatt.com, 355-600 euros

Paris Tourist Office and Convention Bureau 127 Avenue des Champs Elysees, 33 01/49.52.53.27 Fax +33 1/4952-5330 www.paris-touristoffice.com

Open Cafe 17 rue des Archives, +33 1/4887-8025

Melchior various locations around Paris

Maison Blanche 15 avenue Montaigne, 33/1 4723-5599 fax 33/1 4720-0956

LE MANS

Hotel Concorde 16 Avenue Général Leclerc. +33 2/4324-1230, fax +33 2/4324-8574,www.concordelemans.com, 88-140 euros

Le Grangeraie 23 place de l’éperon, +33 2/4323-9306, 14-20 euros

Le Mans Tourist Office Rue de l’Etoile, +33 2/4328-1722 Fax : +33 2/4328-1214, www.ville-lemans.fr

La Limite 7 rue Saint-Honoré, +33 2/ 4324-8554

Palace Cafe 101 avenue du Général-Leclerc, +33 2/4387-0936

Le Nil 36 rue de Fluerus, +33 2/4323-2681

MONTPELLIER

La Compagnie des Comptoirs La Grand Travers, La Grande Motte, +33 4/6756-4342 fax +33 4/6756-4342, www.lacompagnedescomptoirs.com, 20-25 euros

Languedoc Roussillon Regional Tourist Board 417 rue Samuel Morse Montpellier,+33 04/6722-81.00 Fax +33 04/6722-8027,www.tourisme-languedoc-roussillon.com

Cafe de la Mer 5 place du Marché-aux-Fluers, +33/4 6760-7965

Le Heaven 1 rue Delpech, +33/4 6760-4418

Le New THT 12 rue Saint-Firmin, +33/4 6766-1252

PROVENCE

L’Hotel Les Ateliers de L’Image 36 boulevard Victor Hugo Saint Rémy de Provence, +33 4/9092-5150 fax +33 4/9092-5150, email info@hotelphoto.com

Arles Office de Tourisme 43 Bd de Craponne, +33/4 9018-4124, www.ville-arles.fr

Provence Regional Touist Board www.crt-paca.fr

Le Cid Cafe 11 pace de l’Horloge, +33/4 9082-3038

LMCafe 40 rue des Lices, +33/4 9086-1967

Le Esclave 12 rue du Limas, +33/49085-1491

The Cage Gare Routière, +33/4 9027-0084

H Club 20 rue de Paul-Manivet, +33/4 9085-0039

ROUEN

La Vieux Carre 34 rue de la Ganterie, +33/2 3571-6770 fax +33 2/3571-1917, vieux-carre@mcom.frwww.vieux-carre.fr, 60 euros

Rouen Tourist Office

25 place de la Cathédrale, +32 2/3208-3242 fax +33/2 3208-3656,

www.rouentourisme.com

XXL 25 rue de la Savonnerie, 15:00-4:00, +33/2 3588-8400

Blues 15 rue Saint Etienne des Tonneliers, +33/2 3588-8400

Le Miss Marple 35 rue de la Tour de beurre, 18:00-2:00, +33/2 3588-4732

L’Insolite 58 rue d’Amiens, 19:00-2:00, +33/2 3588-8400

RESOURCES

Maison de la France (www.franceguide.com) The French tourist offices are an invaluable resources. Before you go, make use of the website to explore options and request information. Upon arrival, local offices can provide information, maps, assistance and often excellent walking tours.

Gay Provence (www.gay-provence.org) Providing booking for gay friendly accommodation throughout Provence as well as information on bars, clubs and restaurants.

By Clay Doyle {Published in a slightly different form in Out & About, June 2004}

Amsterdam A to Zed OR 26 reasons to visit Amsterdam

Clay Doyle moved from Los Angeles to Amsterdam in 1998, intending to stay a year. He is still there. Here are some of the reasons why..

Red Tulips

A is for Ambassade

The worst thing about living in Amsterdam is that I have no longer have a reason to stay at the Ambassade—one of my favorite small hotels anywhere. It’s made up of a row of 17th century canal houses and fairly oozes with charm. If the Ambassade is booked, try one of the many other small canal house hotels that dot the city center–a more romantic choice than the ubiquitous chains.

B is for Bicycle

You just have to ride a bicycle—it’s by far the quickest, easiest way around the city. It may look intimidating at first, but once on a bike you have the advantage as bicycles have the right-of-way. Rent one from Frederic Rent-a-Bike—their bikes don’t have any annoying logos that label you as a tourist.

Bicycle Reflections

C is for Canal

It’s all about the canals—they are the city’s greatest monument. Canals embody the history, planning, and character of Amsterdam—and they are beautiful. Rent a motorboat and see the city from the water; a cheesy rondvaart tour can be fun too, but choose a boat with an open-air deck.

Canal

D is for Darkrooms

Admit it, you want a little tryst with a local on your holiday, and what darkrooms lack in romance, they make up in efficiency. The Eagle has the nicest space, and the Web is the friendliest, but there are plenty to explore. Make sure you buy a drink upon entering a bar with a darkroom though–it’s considered the price of admission.

E is for English

A foreign country where everyone speaks English–It’s almost as if it were a holiday spot designed for Americans. And we’re not talking basics here–your new Dutch acquaintances will eagerly engage you in discussions of politics, culture, and travel. And they are far easier to understand than the English!

F is for Film Museum

Catch a great film in one of the three small, comfortable screening rooms at the Nederlands Film Museum. Every day brings something different—from American classics to French new wave to communist-era East European musicals. Many programs are in English. Located in the Vondelpark, the museum has a lively café as well.

G is for Gay Capital of Europe

Paris has more men, London more clubs, and Berlin has more sex, so why is Amsterdam Europe’s gay capitol? Perhaps it is the lack of ghettoization—you’ll find plenty of gays anywhere you go. And the compact city center makes bar-and-club hopping effortless—nothing is more than a 15 minute stroll away.

H is for homomonument (and gay rights)

The netherlands was the first country to erect a monument to gay victims of the holocaust and homosexual oppression. I like the monument, but I like even more The Netherlands commitment to respect and equal rights for gays, including most recently, full marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Homomonument

I is for Itinerary

The charm of Amsterdam is that there’s enough in the way of culture to keep you busy, but not so many sights that you feel compelled to run from place to place all day long. The Van Gogh museum and Rijksmuseum are must-see destinations; the Stadelijk (modern art) and the Amsterdam Historical Museum often have interesting temporary shows. Check out the Royal Palace and the several canal house museums–the Van Loon, the Willetholthuysen and the Amstelkring. Go to the Anne Frank house late in the day to miss the crowds. Feeling energetic? Climb to the top of the Westertoren for a superb view of the city.

Rode Klompen

J is for De Jaren

De Jaren is everybody’s favorite grand café and why not—the terrace on the Amstel River is one of the prettiest spots in town. The tomato soup is fantastic, and though the service can be chaotic, the waiters are cute. Second best canal side cafe: Spanjer and van Twist.

Cafe de Jaren

K is for Keukenhof

It’s not hip or trendy, but what could be more Dutch than tulips, and the Keukenhof is THE place to see them. It is one of the most beautiful gardens anywhere. A short train ride from the city, the Keukenhof is open March through May only.

Tulips

L is for the light in summer

The summer days are amazing. Daylight lasts late into the evening, ensuring plenty of time for exploring, strolling, and sitting in cafes. Then watch the sun set as you enjoy a magical late dinner outdoors. The canal side tables at the Belhamel are too romantic.

Light in the Summer

M is for marijuana (of course!)

Contrary to it’s well-publicized image as a drug mecca, there are probably more stoners in San Francisco than Amsterdam. But there’s something about getting high in a pleasant sidewalk café—it’s just so civilized. The Belmondo on the Nieuwmarkt, the Kandinsky and Dutch Flowers in the Negen Straatjes and the gay coffeeshop The Other Side are laid back and friendly choices. Best to avoid the tourist traps around central station and the Leidseplien.

N is for Negen Straatjes

This is my neighborhood, the “nine little streets” between the Singel and the Prinsengracht. This 17th century district is home to numerous interesting and unique shops and pleasant cafes. Treat yourself to a stylish wallet from designer Hester van Eigen, an erotic woodcut from local artist Eddy Varekamp or a new outfit from the gay boutique Nieuwe Kledding van de Keizer.

Negen Straatjes

O is for Out all night

Dance with the circuit boys at Salvation or the revamped IT. Alternative boys flock to de Trut and locals love the COC and the Montmartre. Trendy boys pose at the Arc, the Soho and the Exit. Sleazy bars can be found on Warmoesstraat, and neighborhood places along the Amstel. Everyone seems to end up at the Cockring eventually and before you know it, it’s 5 am.

P is for the pace of life

New Yorkers may pride themselves on how busy they are, but Amsterdammers make time to enjoy life, and you should do the same—linger over a coffee, spend three hours at dinner, sit in the sun. Once the work day is over, the pace of life is leisurely and relaxed. Enjoy it—and don’t expect speedy service in shops or restaurants, it just doesn’t happen.

Q is for Queen’s Day

It’s Amsterdam’s most festive holiday—a 24 hour celebration in honor of the Queen’s birthday. The party starts the night of 29 April as revelers pack the bars (gay and straight) until the early morning hours. On Queensday, the 30th, the city becomes a giant flea market, a stage for myriad performances, and a citywide street party—cars, taxis and even trams are banned from the city center. The Vondelpark is devoted to children selling toys and performing; it’s charming and worth a morning visit. There are plenty of Gay parties too—gays throng the Westermarkt, the Amstel, and the Reguliersdwaarstraat, for performances, cruising, and of course, beer.

Egg Boy - by Patrik Noome

R is for Romance

Avoiding Amsterdam because you aren’t interested in a sex holiday? You’ve got the man of your dreams? Amsterdam is a great place to be in love. Stroll hand in hand down romantic canals, have a long, delicious dinner at Borderwijk, paddle through the canals together in a canal bike, give your significant other a kiss on a bridge—no one will mind.

S is for Schipol

Bright and calm, well designed and well organized, Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport takes some of the pain out of flying in these trying times. Plus, the a train station inside the airport makes getting to the center of town quick, effortless and cheap!

Schipol

T is for Tourists

With a population of only 750,000 (even if well over ten percent are gay) visitors to the city make up a sizable portion of those out on the town, providing an interesting, international mix. Tourists are vital to the gay scene in Amsterdam, so do your part and visit!

U is for Utrechtsedwarstafel

This is one of my favorite restaurants for a splurge–owners Hans and Igor always dazzle my guests with some fabulous new creation. It’s one of a number of small uniquely Dutch restaurants where chef decides what you will eat, based on the availability of the market. More moderately priced versions of this concept can be enjoyed at my other favorites Balthazar’s Keuken and Helder.

V is for Vondelpark

What’s not to love? This beautiful and expansive city park is also Amsterdam’s favorite people watching spot. Rent some rollerblades or have a drink at the 30’s moderne Blauw Teehuis, or join the shirtless gayboys for an afternoon of sun on the lawn at the rose garden.

Vondelpark

W is for the Weather

Nobody comes to Amsterdam for the weather—but really it’s not that bad. Spring and Fall are beautiful, the Summer is never too hot, and Winter’s not as cold as new york. Yes it’s rainy—it’s the locals’ number one topic of complaint–but the sunny days are glorious.

X is for x-rated

Amsterdam’s century old red-light district is the Disneyland of sleaze. Gaudy but totally non-threatening, lingerie-clad ladies sit in the red-lit windows of cute 16th century houses on some of the city’s oldest canals. The real show is watching the crowds of stoned and gawking tourists; grab a seat in in the window of the popular gay bar Casa Maria for a ringside view.

IJ is for IJ

IJ (say eye) is a letter unique to the Dutch language. A brief review of Dutch pronunciation (all those funny double vowels are easier than they look) will help in reading street signs, and your slight effort will endear you to the locals. Plus, you’ll be able to order a delicious rijstafel at Kantjil en de Tijger.

Boat

Z is for Zeedijk

One of the oldest streets in Amsterdam, the Zeedijk is the city’s newest “gay” street. Sometimes very low-key, sometimes very festive, the bars here–the Cock and Feathers, the Barderij, and especially the Queenshead are worth checking out. Finally, the Nieuwmarkt square, at the southern end of the Zeedijk, is a favorite for its outdoor cafes.

Article by Clay Doyle,

Photos by Clay Doyle and Michael Logan (except Queensday Photo by Patrik Noome)

{Published in Next Magazine, New York City, April 11, 2003}

The List

Favorite Hotels


Ambassade

Herengracht 341;

+31-20/626-2333;

fax +31-20/624-5321;

E-mail info@ambassade-hotel.nl;

www.ambassade-hotel.nl

Seven Bridges

Reguliersgracht 31

+31-20/623-1329

Cafes


Café Nielsen

Berenstraat 19;

+31-20/330-6006

Café De Jaren

Nieuwe Doelenstraat 20

+31-20/625-5771

www.cafe-de-jaren.nl

Spanjer & Van Twist

Leliegracht 60

+31-20/639-0109

Le Soleil

Best place in town for Dutch pancakes!

Nieuwe Spiegelstraat 56

(31 20) 622-7147

Restaurants


De Belhamel

Brouwersgracht 60

+31-20/622-1095

Hemelse Modder

Gay owned, stylish, good food!

Oude Waal 9

+31-20/624-3203

Bordewijk

Noordermarkt 8;

+31-20/624-3899;

Utrechtsedwarstafel

Utrechtsedwarsstraat 107-109;

+31-20/625-4189

Helder

Taksteeg 7

+31 20 320 41 32

Fax +31 20 320 41 32


Balthazar’s keuken

Elandsgracht 108, Amsterdam

+31 20 420 21 14


Kantjil en de Tijger

Spuistraat 291/293

+31 20  620 09 94

Fax (020) 623 21 6

Drinks

ARC

Reguliersdwarsstraat 44

+31-20/689-7070)

April

Reguliersdwarsstraat 37

+31-20/625-9572

Soho

Reguliersdwarsstraat 36

+31-20/330-4400

Montmartre

Halvemaansteeg 17

+31-20/624-9216

Amstel Taveerne Amstel 54

+31-20/623-4254


Casa Maria

Warmoesstraat 60

+31-20/627-6848

DANCING


COC Friday Night Disco (

Rozenstraat 14

+31-20/623-4079

Fri 11pm-4am

www.cocamsterdam.com

de Trut

Bilderdijkstraat 165

+31-20/612-3524 S

Sun 11pm-4am, doors open at 11pm

Cockring

Warmoesstraat 96

+31-20/623-9604

IT

Amstelstraat 24

+31 20 489-7285

Sat 11am-6 am

www.it.nl


DARKROOMS


The Web

From 4pm til Midnight!

Sint Jacobsteeg 6

+31-20/623-6758

The Eagle

From midnight to 4 am

Warmoesstraat 90

+31-20/627-8634


Smoking

The Other Side

Reguliersdwarsstraat 6

+31-20/625-5141;

Kandinsky

Rosmarijnsteeg 9

+31-20/624-7023;

And…

A Bigger Splash

The city’s gayest gym is also clean, well staffed and well equiped.

Looiersgracht 26-30;

+31-20/638-9703

day passes available

Thermos Day Sauna

For a different sort of work out!

Raamstraat 33

+31-20/623-9158

www.thermos.nl

Eddy Varekamp

30 Hartenstraat

1016 CC Amsterdam

tel. 31 20 6.25.77.66

Open Saturdays 1-6pm

Frédéric Bike Rentals

Brouwersgracht 78

+31-20/624-5509

Friday, April 11, 2003