Category Archives: travel

Living (too) large

You know how they say “travel is broadening?” Well, when it comes to the size of my ass, I’d definitely have to agree. Seriously, I’ve taken to referring to my hips as “croissant” and “pain au chocolat.” Whatever. I don’t regret eating a single slab of pâté or hunk of Camembert. It was vacation.

Now that I’m home, though, I’m actually feeling the need to downsize a bit. And I’m not just talking about the size of my hips. You see, one of the things that struck me during my travels was the simplicity of how Europeans live. Both apartments where we stayed, one modern and one in a more aged building, were built on a much small-scale than their American counterparts. Honestly, it made our American tendency to accumulate seem downright vulgar.

Let me give you a couple of examples…

The bedroom closets are really compact to accommodate much smaller wardrobes than those of the typical American. I’m talking maybe 2 ½ feet of hanging rod space and a handful of drawers. Coming home to my walk-in step-in closet and double-sided rolling clothing rack embarrassed me. Why do I have so much frigging clothing?

Both flats had lovely, updated kitchens. If these kitchens are any indication, Ikea seems to dominate the market and I am definitely going to consider going that route myself when I address my tired kitchen cabinets. Both kitchens were well laid out and contained more than adequate storage for the limited number of necessary items. That being said, neither kitchen had extraneous space, merely enough cupboards for cookware, dishes, glassware and some pantry items. Why do American kitchens require so much space?

One of the apartments we rented had 3 bedrooms, 2 baths and a combined kitchen, dining and living room. The other had 2 bedrooms, a large loft sleeping area, kitchen and combined living/dining room. There was one bathroom. I don’t think either of these apartments exceeded 800 or 900 square feet. Why do new American homes need to be nearly three times that size? Who convinced us that we should aspire to maintain, heat and clean such large residences?

Time for me to minimize.

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Filed under Europe, house, musings, Observations, travel, vacation

Getting around – Paris

When I’m in a new city, I like to walk as much as possible. In my mind, it makes it easier for me get my bearings and it helps me to see as much as possible of a new place. That being said, our Paris accommodations weren’t as central as they might have been and we needed to rely upon public transportation to get where we wanted to be. Fortunately, Paris has some excellent options.

We arrived in the early afternoon after traveling for nearly 14 hours. I was a bit foggy from the Valium I had taken and I simply wanted to get to our Airbandb* in the Boulogne- Billancourt neighborhood. Prior to flying, I had downloaded the Uber app and gotten a 50 euro (about $54) estimate for the ride. It was a bit of an indulgence, but ultimately was a good value for the nearly one-hour, door to door ride. After collecting our luggage, I opened the app and let Uber know we were ready to be picked up.  Within minutes our car had arrived and we were on our way. It was my first Uber experience and it was positive.

For our remaining days in Paris we relied upon the excellent Metro. We (read Liam, my remarkable adept subway map reader) quickly figured out the system – locate your starting and your ultimate destination. Determine the direction you need to take the train by looking at the last stop in both directions on a particular line, i.e our line, the 9, has end points of Pont de Sevre and Mairie de Montreuil. To go into the city center we went to the platform labeled the latter. There are maps posted and readily available in the stations and, once on the train, all of the cars had maps of the line. The newer train cars have maps with lights to indicate which stop will be next. Easy – and cheap. Tickets are euro 1.80 individually or sold in packs of 10 for about 14 euro. Two of the days we intended to do a lot of exploring so we bought a 2-day pass for less than $10 a person per day.

When it came to time to leave Paris and return to the airport, we were departing from a different, more central location, the Montparnasse neighborhood. We were  much more experienced with getting around, so, instead of a cab ride we went with a combination of Metro and RER trains. While the Metro covers zones 1 and 2 of the city, the RER includes all five zones and it is the way to go if you’re heading to more suburban areas or to either of the airports. We had a couple of extra Metro tickets on hand, so we elected to take the 6 from Gare Montparnasse a couple of stops to Denfert Rochereau where we bought  tickets to Charles de Gaulle at a price of $10 euro each (approximately $11). It was super simple and maybe one day traveling to JFK will be as seamless.

A couple of additional points – the trains are clean and run frequently. I don’t think we ever waited more than 4 minutes on any platform. There are clocks indicating when the next train is expected to arrive and they are amazingly accurate. Also, some of the stations are absolutely beautiful with tile mosaics and other eye appealing design features. I was more than a little obsessed with the street level light and sign indicators. A couple of my favorites are below.

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*More about my Airbandb (excellent!) in a future post

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Filed under Europe, France, Recommendations, travel

Bijoux

🎶 I love Paris, that’s the song (Ella Fitzgerald version) that has been playingimage incessantly in my head for nearly the last week. Such a cliché, right? Limiting my love to merely Paris, though, would be unfair to the rest of the country. There’s so much to love!

In previous visits, I’ve been smitten by Alsace where the blend of French and German cultures has created a region of friendly residents who enjoy terrific wines and a hearty cuisine, all in setting of rolling hills fragrant with lavender.

This trip to Normandy, my first, has been a wonderful experience. I don’t know if I’ve ever been so proud to be an American while traveling abroad as I’ve been these past few days. The appreciation for the accomplishments of previous generations of our armed forces remains tangible in this region. Our flag is flown alongside those of France and Normandy and honored. God bless, America, incarnate.

imageMy favorite moments have been small, tiny little jewels which will continue to sparkle when I take them out to remember. Savoring the local cuisine – the cheese, pate foie gras, apple tart, kir Normand and oysters. Laughing with my son when I couldn’t recall the phrase to request our check (l’addition, s’il vous plait) in the bistro after indulging in my first ever calvados. A late afternoon soaking in the sun on our little patio, accompanied by a book and a bottle of cider.  All gems of France to be treasured.

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Edith Piaf lives (in cimetiere du Pere-Lachaise

imageWhen I was 15, I went through my hardcore Doors’ days. Didn’t you? Although not their most commercial album,  An American Prayer became my definition of poetry. I eagerly awaited my turn to read the dog-eared copy of No One Here Gets Out Alive, a Morrison biography, which was circulating through my town and I promised myself that one day I would pay my respects at Jim Morrison’s grave in Paris. Assuming, of course, that he didn’t return from wherever he had fled to escape the fame which had made his life unlivable in the U.S.,* before I got there.

While my son was committed to visiting Napoleon’s tomb while in Paris, a trip to the cimetiere du Pere-Lachaise was on my must do list. On Easter Sunday we took a long Metro ride to make our my pilgrimage. The cemetery is quite large, walled in and covering a hillside in northeastern Paris. Despite our map, we became a little disoriented and missed Morrison’s grave on our initial climb up the hill. Maybe it was the encounter with the fairly fresh grave of one of the victims of the January Je Suis Charlie attacks that caused our confusion. Regardless, we found ourselves in close proximity to Edith Piaf’s grave.

I talked to Liam about who she was and described her rendition of La Vie en Rose, explaining that her version was the definitive one of that classic French song. We paused, paid our respects and then headed down the hill to find Jim Morrison’s grave, inaccessible due to the metal barricades designed to discourage the enthusiastic and devout vandals who have persisted in leaving their mark on his tombstone for more than four decades. It was completely cool and satisfying nonetheless.

Later, we went to Montmartre to view the artists and their work, along with Sacre Coeur. As we walked, from a distance, I heard someone melodically whistling a tune – La Vie en Rose. Perfect.

*if you’re near my age you probably remember the theory that Jim would come back a decade after his “death.”

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Filed under Europe, France, Music, travel, Uncategorized, vacation

Love in Ernest

As an undergraduate, I fell in love with Ernest Hemingway. My major in English trumped my minor in Women’s Studies when it came to his mysogynistic ways. After reading a number of biographical works about him I forgave him. He was damaged goods.

imageHis writing impressed me and I have repeatedly heard his voice in my head when I struggle to express myself. “All you have to do is write one true sentence,” he said. Seems simple enough in theory, right? In practice it can be more challenging than you’d expect, but it is a good place to start.

Last year, I reread A Moveable Feast for the first time in many years. I was so taken by his voice and the stories he told of his time in Paris, and other parts of Europe, during the years between the two wars. His love for life – his Hadley, his child, his adopted home, his friends and his writing, radiated from the pages.

There was something else present though, a current of sadness and dissatisfaction. All that he loved was not enough and he took risks and sought out new experiences and stimulations. He was not content.

In many ways Ernest and I are alike. He and I each needed to write. We both loved to be in Europe, to sit in a cafe with a bottle of wine and observe all around us. Perhaps if I had written a book such as A Moveable Feast during my marriage, I would have revealed a discontent similar to Ernest’s.

I picked up a new copy of my favorite Hemingway book the other afternoon from the store where he would go for a drink and a few francs when he was in need.  The book of my life I’m writing right now has a much happier ending than Ernest ever could have imagined for himself.

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Avoir de la chance

imageFriday evening I was tempted to leap in the air and shout with excitement “I’m in Paris!” (Kind of Mary Tyler Moore-ish, if you’re struggling for the visual.) It was just so remarkable to me that a day that began at 5:00 a.m. Thursday in upstate New York could conclude more than 30 hours later with me walking from the metro to the wonderful Airbandb flat we had booked in Paris’ southwest end. Isn’t air travel amazing?

Despite not having taken my Frye’s off in more than 24 hours, I felt miraculously light on my feet. Liam and I had already climbed the Eiffel Tower and taken in the view, impressive even in the persist drizzle. I had eaten duck confit with roasted potatoes, washed down with a couple of glasses of Cote du Rhone. There had even been creme brûlée. I was indeed in Paris.

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By no means is this my first trip abroad; I’ve even visited Paris briefly once before. Yet, this trip seems particularly magical. Gazing around and seeing sights that are quintessentially Parisian – Notre Dame, the Arch de Triomphe, the Place de la Concorde, the Seine, feels a little unbelievable. How did I ever get to be so lucky?

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April in Paris

imageDoesn’t April in Paris sound magical?  I’m imagining a gentle rain, lots of shades of lavender and soft yellow and frequent bon jours. Happy sigh.  As my trip gets closer, I’m spending a little time thinking about what to pack (going with a navy/grey palette) and wondering how much of my high school French will come back to me.  Un  peu, I hope.

I don’t like to travel with a firm itinerary in hand, but there are a few things I want to do in Paris.  If I were traveling solo I probably wouldn’t plan anything, but since this may be the only time I go to Paris with my son, we’ve got to hit some of the sights. Please feel free to add suggestions to the list below!

  • The top of the Eiffel Tower.  I bought tickets in advance, but wish I had thought to do it sooner since all that was left was 5pm.  Do you know if we can just kill time up there until dark or will the tickets be timed?
  • Jim Morrison’s grave (my choice) and Napoleon’s tomb (Liam’s pick).
  • Notre Dame.  I hear it’s free on the first Sunday of the month.  Think this is true even if it is Easter?
  • Sacré-Cœur
  • The Mona Lisa at the Louvre – I think we’ll buy a two-day museum pass at the airport when we land.  Do you think it is a good deal?
  • Arc de Triomphe
  • Eat & drink
  • Sit in an outdoor cafe and enjoy a bottle of wine in the sun.
  • Walk and take pictures to my heart’s content.
  • Enjoy my son and family who will be joining us from Germany

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