Tag Archives: Paris

What a difference a few days makes…

Arc de Triomphe / Champs-Élysées
Arc de Triomphe / Champs-Élysées

Selecting travel dates did not come easy on account of the busy work schedule of the friend with whom I trekked to Paris, Belgium and Amsterdam this past fall as well as that of my own. However, the ultimate timing of my relatively recent visit  to Paris turned out to be quite fortuitous.

La Défense
La Défense
La Défense
La Défense
La Défense
La Défense

We ended up traveling toward the latter part of October (2015), which turned out to be between the Thalys train attack that was foiled by some attentive American Marines (Ooo Rah!) and the following coordinated terror attacks at various locales throughout Paris in November. We were actually supposed to be in Paris over the dates of the November attacks, but we decided to move the travel dates a bit earlier to allow me to attend Halloween festivities upon my return. While I’m not a big celebrant of Halloween, I’m so happy that my friend Suzy planned a party that night, which evoked the travel date change… (Thanks, Suz!!!) While the odds are against us having been in any of the exact locations  of the mass shootings, one never knows, does one? The horrific events that took place does give one pause about congregating in a public place, or being in any shooting-fish-in-a-barrel type of situation. We did also ride the Thalys, albeit in the opposite direction and pondered the unlikelihood of a second shooting taking place after the first failed attempt to wreak havoc. Never did we imagine that a larger scale attack would take place  just a couple of weeks after our visit to Paris.

Winged Victory
Winged Victory

All that being said, our short stay in  the City of Light allowed us opportunity to see and experience many things, yet still  merely a glimpse of what Paris has to offer. Some of what we did was a repeat of activities from previous visits  to Paris – Tour Eiffel, The Louvre, The Pantheon, Notre Dame, Montmartre, Arc de Triomphe, just to name a few; but, so very many things in Paris are worth experiencing more than just once.  Seeing the modern architecture of La Défense  was a novelty to me this visit, and quite an interesting departure from the nostalgic beauty of most of the city.

Arc de Triomphe
Arc de Triomphe

While a visit to the Tuileries outside The Louvre wasn’t my first time in the Garden, it did happen to be the first time I was locked in a park. After a stop at Angelina to pick up (the world’s most delicious) hot chocolate and a spectacular dessert to enjoy al fresco, we ended up resting our weary feet just a bit too much. By the time we got up to head back to our hotel near La Madeleine,  we discovered that the park’s main gate is locked at night. After a short panic attack and contemplating the possibility of having to spend the night on a park bench, we realized there were other park visitors also on the wrong side of the fence and decided to shadow them to see if they were privy to an escape route. While it was a bit of a hike toward Place de la Concorde, we found an open gate and freedom from overnight park incarceration.

Tuileries Garden
The long way out of the Tuileries Garden
Locked in the Tuileries Garden
Locked in the Tuileries Garden

 

 

 

 

My friend’s Fitbit proved that we racked on the miles, but despite the wear and tear on our feet, we had some pleasant moments …. soaking in the city, visiting slightly less-touristy places (Parc de Bercy)  with a close friend of my friend, grabbing a bite to eat in an American diner in Paris (really!), and taking in some of the ‘typical” sights of Paris.

Paris Catacombs
Dem Bones in the Paris Catacombs

While Paris may not have been at the top of my priorities travel-wise, since I’d visited previously on more than on occasion, I’m so glad that I rescinded my “swearing-off” of Paris prior to my last visit.  One cannot and should not hold this city accountable for the preconceived notions one may have embraced without having had the opportunity to personally formulate firsthand opinions about the City of Light. And in this case, sometimes timing (of a visit) truly is everything.

 

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“A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of life.” ~ Thomas Jefferson

I had not been a Francophile for many years, since Parisians in particular had been well-known for their supposed rude treatment of American visitors to their fine city. However, I have to agree with Thomas Jefferson in his assessment of Paris’ many virtues, and for this reason, I felt my son needed to experience the city firsthand. So, after our short three day visit to Normandy (summarized in my post And What A Plan!), my son and I headed our rental car back south toward the City of Light. While the drive back toward Paris was tranquil and pleasant and I’m a very confident driver, after having to maneuver through the eight or so chaotic lanes – if you can call those haphazard things “lanes” –  of the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile Roundabout upon our return to Parisian city limits, I was thrilled to bits to return the rental car in favor of Paris’s convenient (and much less frightening) public transit system.

During our stay in Paris, the Hilton Arc de Triomphe (which is apparently no longer a Hilton brand hotel) was our base camp. I typically prefer boutique hotels which convey the flavor of my surroundings, but I’ll opt for a Hilton chain hotel on occasion when my reward points warrant use. While the Hilton didn’t have the same cozy ambiance of some of the small private hotels I’ve visited, the location was stellar and the hotel did provide comfortable, well-appointed lodging for Devan and me, along with an expansive breakfast buffet which Devan devoured daily to fuel up for our full days exploring the city.

The Unknown Soldier At The Base Of The Arc De Triomphe
The Unknown Soldier  Memorial At The Base Of The Arc De Triomphe
Avenue des Champs-Élysées
Avenue des Champs-Élysées

Devan and I wandered and traversed the city to take in many of the fantastic museums Paris has to offer including Musée de l’Orangerie, Musée Rodin, Musée de l’Armée, Cité de la Musique, Musée des égoûts de Paris and of course Musée du Louvre. There was not nearly enough time in our week long stay to spend enough time in any of the museums we visited or to visit many of the museums that would also have been enjoyable. We spent a good portion of one day exclusively in the Louvre, and, being exhausted from our hike around the many galleries, I suggested to my son that we head out. At 16 years old, he was enjoying the exhibits so much that he asked to stay longer to visit the Napoleon Apartments which we hadn’t yet seen.

Thinkers at Musée Rodin Paris
A couple of Thinkers at Musée Rodin Paris
La tour Eiffel, Paris
La tour Eiffel (obviously)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We broke up some of the standard sites with some diversions such as a night time Segway tour of the city, which offered a different perspective of Paris at night and was knowledgeably led by a French history major who was able to expound upon historic details regarding each of the stops along the tour.  Another day during our stay in Paris, we took a break from hoofing it around and about the city on a Seine River cruise; touristic river cruises in many cities provide such an amazing vantage point that is often missed on terrestrial only sightseeing itineraries. A couple of the museums on our agenda, Cité de la Musique and Musée des égoûts de Paris, were two of what I’d guess would be some of the lesser known or visited museums in Paris. My son, being a talented musician had an interest in the music museum (located toward the northeast outskirts of the city), and my son and I, both enjoying seeing some unusual points of interest, found the the sewer museum to be a nice (if not the best smelling) departure from the typical sightseeing stops.

Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris
Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris

Of course, we were obligated to take in the incredible architecture of the numerous churches and cathedrals lacing the city. Notre Dame was spectacular as expected, inside and out, as was the Basilique Sacré-Coeur of Montmartre, along with too many other churches and cathedrals to mention or even remember by name after the passing of more than four years. We happened to be in Paris for Easter since our visit was during my son’s spring break from high school, and as such we found our way to the American Cathedral in Paris for a memorable and meaningful Easter Day service. We of course managed our way to see the usual suspects – the Eiffel Tour, The Arc de Triomphe, Palais Garnier – Opera National de Paris, the Panthéon and the like; but we also just ambled our way through the city to soak up the atmosphere via the city squares, parks, bridges, districts, gardens and streets themselves. We did manage to squeeze a day trip via train to Versailles, since the palace and gardens were not to be missed. While it was cold and rainy on the day of our trip to Versailles, the weather didn’t detract from Versailles’ splendor.

 Palais de Versailles
Gloomy day at Palais de Versailles

Per common knowledge and living up to its reputation, Parisian fare is worth a trip to France just for dining’s sake. During our wanderings through Paris, Devan and I sampled crepes (leading to my son’s Nutella addiction), fresh breads, rich cheeses, light macarons, delectable pastries and too many exquisite French cuisine delights for our own good. All of our meals and snacks in Paris were notable as were the historical and beautiful sites we visited, but one of my favorite memories of the trip is of the kind treatment bestowed upon us by so many of the locals. While studying our map of Père Lachaise Cemetery in our quest to find the graves of Jim Morrison and Chopin, an elderly gentleman approached Devan and me asking if he could help us find something. We told him which graves we wanted to visit, but that we had a map to lead our way. He insisted on accompanying us to each, saying we’d have a difficult time even with the map. Other travelers have managed unguided, so I was wondering if he thought Devan and I didn’t look to be all that bright. 🙂 BUT, we accepted his gracious offer to guide us to visit Morrison and Chopin and were regaled with his vast knowledge of the cemetery and Paris in general. He also asked if we had anything else on our itinerary that he could help us find. After he led us to Jim Morrison’s and Chopin’s resting places, the kind gentleman pointed us in the direction of the music museum. This encounter was not our sole experience with unsolicited kindness of locals in Paris. Another day while consulting our handy dandy attraction maps, we were again approached by a Parisian offering to help direct us to our destination of the catacombs. Devan and I actually enjoy the opportunity to roam and take a few wrong turns (time permitting, of course) as we explore our vacation destinations, but we also have been extremely fortunate to be confronted with kindness, rather than the hostility we so often hear about during others’ travel escapades. I can only hope that we’ll be lucky enough to have these same types of positive experiences during our upcoming venture to Prague, Vienna and Budapest!

Palais Royal Columns, Paris
Interesting monument topper at Palais Royal

 

The Buddy System

VW bus in Europe
Just found this photo and was surprised since I have no recollection of my brother and me getting along well enough on trips for us to share one of the bench seats in the VW buses my dad used to rent in Europe (so that we’d have a whole row of seating to ourselves)

Looking back at my early travels, I never realized how important a decision it is to pick the “right” travel mates. As children, my brother and I were by default part of our parents’ little travel posse, which provided an amazing introduction to the world of travel and adventure.  When I was engaged in my younger years, I traveled a bit with my now ex-fiance, which was a mixed bag, since parts of our travel experience were enjoyable; others, not so much, for a variety of reasons.

Juneau, Alaska
With my son in Juneau, Alaska, during a port stop on an Alaskan cruise (2010)
Tour Eiffel, Paris, France
Devan and me, obviously, at Tour Eiffel in Paris, France (2010)
Templo de Debod, Madrid, Spain
My son and me at Templo de Debod in Madrid, Spain (2009)
Seattle, Washington
Devan and me visiting my friend David in Seattle, Washington (2010)
Diamond Head, Honolulu, Hawaii
Atop Diamond Head with Devan (2013)
Waiʻanapanapa State Park, Maui, Hawaii
Devan and me at Waiʻanapanapa State Park, Maui (2007)
Air Force Academy Chapel, Colorado Springs, Colorado
With Devan at the Air Force Academy Chapel in Colorado, Springs, CO (2006)
Füssen, Bavaria, Germany
Devan’s first trip to Europe – Füssen, Germany (2005)
Las Vegas, Nevada
Las Vegas, Nevada, with my Grandma (2004)
Fort Myers, Florida
Mini-vacation in Fort Myers, Florida, for Devan’s karate tournament (2004)

In more recent history, my main travel companion was my son Devan who accompanied me on a variety of domestic and international vacations. Devan spoiled me, as he was a travel buddy extraordinaire (which shouldn’t have been surprising, since he’s a son extraordinaire). After some recent travels with friends who (I learned) were not of the same travel mindset as me, I had to ask myself, “What made my son the perfect travel buddy for me?” What makes Devan such a wonderful travel companion is a conglomeration of factors. Firstly, Devan is incredibly intelligent, and, as such, his natural curiosity about the world, even from a very early age, made him interested in culture, new sights and discovering what else existed beyond the suburban microcosm of our every day lives. He loves learning, so participating as navigator and map reader was not a chore for him, since he relished the opportunity to utilize his deductive reasoning and critical thinking skills. As an example, he would often grab the transit map we were using to muddle our way through a city and make it his responsibility to determine which line, platform, etc. we needed to get to our next destination. But overall, he was always open to exploring and was never intimidated to forge ahead into the unknown on our way to our next destination or experience.

My son is also incredibly cool, calm and collected, so very little rattles him; such composure is an invaluable trait, since travel-by-fire frequently leads you to unexpected places. If things didn’t go the way we planned, he would roll with the punches and would patiently and pragmatically help me decide how to optimize whatever situation we found ourselves in. Devan, like me , is also adventurous (probably more so), so he was always game to find a new activity to try, whether it was zip lining in Ketchikan, going horseback riding down a precarious mountainside outside Las Vegas, snowmobiling along the Continental Divide, learning to ski in the Austrian Alps or sky diving to take in the view of Oahu from an altitude 12,000 feet.   Devan is also multifaceted, so he not only enjoys action packed activities, he also could appreciate meandering through cities to take in the architecture, visiting the Louvre, the Prado or Accademia to experience the work of The Masters or just sitting in a public square to people watch and absorb the energy of a city, while sampling a snack from one of the local proprietors. My son is also not shy, so he was never hesitant to try out his limited German (or other language indigenous to our destination) to ask someone where the train station was or how much something cost. Devan was also ready to offer his input about what he would enjoy doing, but was also accommodating to allow me to enjoy shopping in a few more stores than he would have liked.

At risk of this post turning into an homage to my son, of which he is most certainly worthy both as son and travel buddy….. It bears stating that Devan exemplifies the epitome of what makes for in ideal travel companion, at least for me, but likely in any case. Not every travel buddy needs to be as “perfect” a fit, but there has to be a level of symbiosis to your travel styles and objectives. Thus, many considerations should be pondered in selecting travel companions, as the company you keep can profoundly affect your experience. Here are a few things that might be prudent to ponder and discuss prior to embarking with a new travel mate for the first time.

  1. Outline the objectives of the trip. Do you have the same goals? (e.g. seeing as many sights as possible, having plenty of time to linger and relax, trying new activities, sampling local cuisine)
  2. Discuss modes of transport. Do you each like to hoof it to stay active and to allow ability to roam and wander? Are you OK with various modes of public transport, such as bus, subway or train to save money and/or have the local experience, or do you prefer to take taxis for convenience?
  3. Define your schedules. Are you an early riser so you can maximize your exploration time? Or do you like to sleep in after a late night on the town? Do you have lots of energy to keep going from sun up until late night, or do you need to take a siesta and nap to gear up for late day sight seeing?
  4. Review in detail what your destination entails. Will there be tons of crowds? Is the location known for being rife with gypsies or locals who badger and bully tourists into paying for unsolicited goods or services? Does special caution need to be taken to avert the attention of pickpockets? Will you have to amble along cobblestone roads, ascend staircases or lug suitcases if transport can’t drop you at your hotel doorstep?
  5. Discuss interest sets. Does one of you like to visit as many churches and cathedrals as possible to see the ornate details? Is shopping and souvenir gathering top on your list? Do you love art and plan to spend as much time in museums of all varieties while you’re trekking the globe? Does it matter to you whether you take time for fine dining or do you prefer to grab a meal from a sidewalk cafe or bakery and eat on the run as you head to your next point on interest? Are sports venues a priority to work into your schedule, or are you more interested in seeing the wonders of nature?
  6. Set expectations. Does one of you have something specific in mind to do or as a way of doing things? Or, does one of the travel group have something specific in mind NOT to do or as a way of doing things?
Venice, Italy
Jen and me in Venice (2009)
New York City, New York
Traveling in a group presents its own set of challenges, but can be fun (DBGB Kitchen, New York, NY, 2012)
Austin, Texas
My friend Suzanne and me in Austin, Texas (2013)
Carnival Liberty, Western Caribbean Cruise
Exotic Western Caribbean Cruise with my friend Sandy (2013)

Surely, there are many considerations to take into account prior to hitting the road with a friend whose travel preferences are a wild card. Sometimes, you won’t find out that your travel styles don’t mesh well until your’re a country or two into your journey. All you can do at that point is suck it up and hope your travel buddy has a willingness to compromise, or if that isn’t possible, sometimes it’s best to part ways and enjoy some wandering travels solo for a little while…..

Keep It Movin’!

When most people hear details about my vacation escapades, they typically tell me that they’re exhausted just hearing about all of the ground I covered during my “vacation” and that my vacation hardly sounds relaxing to them. Personally, in general, I don’t take vacations for the purpose of rest and relaxation; when I hit the road, my goal is to engage in a new adventure of some fashion and experience something new. If I wanted to lie around at the beach, I wouldn’t have to do much more than hop in my car, head about 20 minutes to the east, park my car at the beach and park myself on the sand. I’m certainly not disparaging the virtues of a mellow beach vacation, and I’ve on occasion been known to enjoy some time here and there while in a tropical location to sit under an umbrella sipping a Mai Tai or caipirinha, enjoying the view and the soothing ocean sounds.

Boutique del Gelato, Venice, Italy
Why active vacations are necessary

However, there are so many things to do and see that sitting or lying around for too long makes me feel like I’m missing out on something. What’s great about an active vacation is also the fact that it helps compensate for lax eating habits while away from the daily routine. When traveling, I love sampling local fare…oftentimes, much more of it than I should. But, it’s difficult to pass up an amazing bakery in Paris, a renowned gelato shop in Florence, a neighborhood tapas and sangria stop in Madrid or the opportunity to sample all of the desserts on the menu du jour on a cruise ship, just because you can. Despite previous shave ice tours throughout the Hawaiian Islands and the like, I never gain weight on vacation (or at least to date, I have not packed on the pounds) on account of my calorie burning endeavors, and believe me, some serious calories need to be burned to compensate.

Matsumoto, shave ice, north shore, Hawaii
Matsumoto shave ice is worth the wait in line (2010)

I’ve been ambitious at times and packed along workout clothes on trips, having good intentions to work out in a cruise ship or hotel gym or catch a short morning run. On occasion, I’ve even put said workout wardrobe to use when schedules have allowed. Other times, I’ve realized in advance that time and/or logistics would not allow for dedicated exercise time; and in some situations, suitcase space just hasn’t been available for superfluous wardrobe changes.

While I’ve not always had the delusion that I’d take the time to engage in a real workout, I have always managed to figure out ways to keep myself moving and the calories burning. The first rule of thumb is the simplest: walk as much as possible. Most cultures, other than that of the U.S., involve lots and lots of walking. In part, it’s because Americans can be lazy, but, in defense of my countrymen, the United States is just so sprawling that if you don’t work in a downtown area, walking in between modes of public transport is simply not a realistic option. Pounding the pavement while on vacation not only allows you to work off some of your vacation caloric intake, it also offers opportunity to mosey in and out of buildings you come across, down a side alley and just otherwise be exposed to sights, stores and such that you’d miss if in a train, bus, subway, car or other vehicle.

Tiramisu, Hyde Park, Harrod's, London
Taking a break from strolling through Hyde Park to enjoy tiramisu from Harrod’s

On cruise vacations, shipboard time is often spent in competitive eating activities; at least, it more often than not seems that way. Since food is omnipresent and far too accessible on board, to me, it’s even more imperative to ensure that something is done to counteract the effects of food-in-the-face syndrome. Much to the chagrin of my son and other travel mates, my self-imposed shipboard rule is never to take an elevator, unless absolutely necessary, which typically is defined as when I’m hauling a gargantuan suitcase which is impractical (or impossible) to lug up multiple staircases. I’ve always informed my travel mates of this tenet up front and let them know they are under no obligation to adhere to my personally imposed commandment; though, they frequently seem to feel under duress to climb stairwells with me. My cruise ship elevator rule not only serves to provide a form of exercise, but also keeps me from getting frustrated watching fellow cruisers utilize the elevators to go one floor up or one floor down, such that the elevator frequently stops on each and every floor from top to bottom. No wonder there are so many obese people in the world….well, that and the midnight chocolate buffet, amongst other things…. But, I digress….

Skiing Breckenridge, Colorado
My son, aka The Mad Bomber, taking on Breckenridge (January 2008)
San Francisco Bay
Bay view after marching up the streets of San Francisco

And yes, there is always the option for the mundane to keep up the exercise routine. It’s simple to do a few calisthenics…sit ups, pushups, squats and the like while in your hotel room. But, how much more interesting and FUN is it to climb 768 steps to the steeple top of Ulm Minster, hike just under a mile to the peak of Diamond Head at Waikiki, ascend 1350 steps to catch the spectacular view from Sveti Ivan Fortress overlooking Kotor’s harbor or even the measly 284 steps to the top of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris?

The Avenue des Champs-Élysées
The Avenue des Champs-Élysées from atop the Arc de Triomphe
Sveti Ivan Fortress, Kotor, Montenegro
1350 steps to the top leads to an amazing view of Kotor

Vacation destinations offer endless options for active things to do beyond the usual walking, climbing stairs and hiking. Why not rent a kayak, go horseback riding (even though the horse does the majority of the work), surf (just paddling out to catch a wave can be a workout in and of itself!), paddle board, ski, snorkel or take a traditional dance class with the locals (OK, I’ve not actually tried that one yet)? Trying one new activity can be an amazing supplement to hitting the pavement (or cobblestones) between points of interest. It’s so easy to rack up the mileage wandering the streets of vacation towns, and it affords endless opportunity to randomly encounter nuances of each destination that quick and expedient modes of transport would have caused you to otherwise miss. So…..wander, roam, explore and burn enough calories that you can justify that extra scoop of gelato!

Americans Really CAN Be Ugly

On a literal level, I suppose the title of this post merely states the obvious. However, I’ve witnessed firsthand too many times the reason why the pejorative terminology “ugly American” came into being. It boggles my mind and sensibilities as to how visitors to a country and culture foreign to their own arrive with expectations that their destination should closely resemble that of their place of comfort back home and that the residents of said destination should speak their language or readily understand customs of the visitor’s place of origin. With that expectation, it belies common rationale for undertaking a trip to a foreign destination in the first place.

Have you ever heard a fellow traveler overseas exclaim with indignation, “Nobody here speaks English!” My goodness, what a shock, given that you’re in Spain or Estonia! It irritates me to no end when visitors to South Florida (or worse yet, long time residents of SFL, but that’s an entirely different issue!) ramble to or at me rapid fire en español on account of the fact that I have a light tan and dark hair. While I may very well understand 91.5% of the gist of what they are saying, I tend to return a vacant gaze and a response formulated in my remedial German. When they return my glazed stare as if I have three heads, I calmly explain that I thought it was “Pick A Language Day” wherein they chose Spanish and I chose (grammatically incorrect) German.

Since I become quickly annoyed at such rude, presumptive behavior, I would readily expect inhabitants of non-English speaking countries to possess a similar attitude when Americans wrongfully presume that everyone should speak English. How many times have the French, or Parisians in particular, gotten a bum rap as being arrogant and rude? Well, frequently those who label the Parisian locals as being impolite approached them with a question or statement in English (oftentimes with an arrogant air), without so much as prefacing their inquiry with, “I’m sorry I don’t speak French….” Whether that introduction be in English or French, at least one is not making the automatic assumption that a Parisian ought to speak English just because the American traveler does.

Horseback riding in Germany
We managed to make riding reservations in German!

When traveling to foreign locales, part of my pre-trip preparation is to ensure that I either learn in advance or bring along with me a few handy phrases in the tongue indigenous to my destination country(ies). Practically universally, I’ve encountered nothing but polite treatment by locals, oftentimes with a smile and reply to my poorly pronounced attempt at pleasantries in the native language ensuring me that I don’t need to butcher their language further since he or she speaks English quite well. When locals don’t speak English, they typically will play along with my pantomime and my limited knowledge of their language with a helpful willingness to answer my question or accomplish my purchase.

My dad led by example during travels of my youth. Even though he didn’t speak any language besides English, he never failed to make friends while traveling in Europe or elsewhere and somehow managed to communicate with locals, even if he had to play a game of charades or draw pictures on a paper place mat in a restaurant.

Skateboarding with locals in Barcelona
My son made friends in Barcelona with a simple “hola.”

Of course, in America or points beyond, grumpy, unfriendly people exist everywhere, and at some juncture we are all going to encounter them.

 

But, just like in life in general, The Golden Rule applies to travel. Give it a try. It works.