Monday, May 31, 2010

Tour de Paris

I love to walk.    One of the joys of this two month travel experience has been the freedom to throw on a pair of shoes each morning and just head out to wherever I end up.  I usually plot out a general plan of attack, but then just go and see what happens.   

I struggle with maps.   Always have.   I bring a semi decent map along with me when I head out, but it is usually the kind that has the major attractions and streets noted and blank spots where all the small streets are.    This has gotten me in trouble a couple of times, but generally I figure it out.  And really, I have nothing else to do, so getting lost in say Paris, or Rome, really isn’t all that bad. 

For the past two years, I have participated in the Susan G. Komen 3 Day Event benefiting the fight against breast cancer.   The walk takes place on various weekends in different cities throughout the United States.    We walk for a total of 60 miles, 20 miles each day, until we reach our final destination.   The past two years, I have walked with my father in San Francisco and San Diego.   I think this year I have talked my fiancé into joining me in some undetermined location to be announced.   It is an incredibly amazing experience that I will share more about later, but for now, I’ll connect the dots back to my current travel experience.

Walking 60 miles over 3 days requires a little bit of training.   Well, okay, a lot.    Anyone who thinks they are in decent shape and can head out in the morning with the pack is in for a big surprise.     Silly things are really important to ensuring you can complete the event.   Like making sure you’ve logged enough time to sufficiently harden your feet to prevent blisters.   I walk throughout the year to train.   For those of you that just met me in the past two months, this will explain my marathon walks on the deck of the Eurodam!

Friday was the perfect day for a ‘training’ walk in Paris.   Sandwiched between several days of really crappy weather.   Cold, raining, windy.   This day was a gift that came out of nowhere.   Perfectly sunny, bright blue skies, fluffy white clouds and crisp air.   Not too hot, not too warm.   Perfect.

Over the past two weeks, I have been exploring bits and pieces of Paris in depth.     It was now time to bring it all back together.  I did a smaller version of this walk when I first arrived in order to get acclimated.   Thought the longer version would be a nice way to end my visit. 

Here’s the quick verbal description of what is displayed in today's photographic journey:

I started off from my apartment in Le Marais, walked through Les Halles, Madeline, Fauborg St. Honore, through a small patch of the gardens, up Champs Elysees, over to the Eiffel Tower, a stop at the Rodin Museum, a stroll through St. Germain Des Pres, down the Seine, over bridges and back through my neighborhood, up my winding staircase and collapse on couch.  

My marathon walk through Paris proved to be an amazing day that I will always remember.   Don’t worry, I didn’t have my blinders on.  I stopped just about everywhere that looked somewhat appealing.    I have no idea how far I walked, but it doesn’t really matter, it was just another great day in a incredibly beautiful city.    

My trip is quickly coming to an end.   I leave for North Carolina tomorrow afternoon.    It is unbelievable how fast time went.   I will treasure this forever.   I think back to the day I left home and can’t believe the transformation I have gone through.   I’ll be sharing more deep thoughts on the whole experience over time.   For now, thanks for following along with me on this initial part of the journey.   Stick around as I continue to recap, provide more focused updates on some of my favorite things on this journey and figure out how to incorporate all of this back into the life awaiting me at home!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Rest in Peace

I have a newly acquired love for cemeteries.   European cemeteries to be precise.

When thinking about things to do back at home, I don’t think it has ever crossed my mind to visit a cemetery other than perhaps for the obvious reasons. 

It all started with the wonderful visit to the non-catholic (or protestant) cemetery in Rome.   So when I was thinking about how to spend some time following the incredibly hot, dusty and crowded walk through central Paris on Sunday, I decided to visit Pere-Lachaise Cemetery.

I usually try and do a little research before I visit something.   I have a ton of guide books piled up here in the apartment, thankfully left by prior visitors.   That coupled with access to the internet supplies me with a ton of information.    Every single thing I read gave instructions to take the metro out to the cemetery.   Which is fine, but I like to walk.    All of the maps here make everything look really far apart, but I know from the last week or so that this city is very walkable, even the things that are further out.   I map out my path (love Google maps walking directions) and hit the trail. 

Since I am staying in Le Marais, I am not too far off track to begin with.  As I head out, the weather is still cool but sun is out.   Perfect for walking.    My directions take me through some new areas of the city.  I enjoy seeing a little more of the nitty gritty when I travel.  I find if you stick to the perfectly manicured things that they want you to see, you never really get the full picture.   My walk took me back through Belleville, the area I had spent some time at photographing street art last week.   

I have to say, I have never once felt nervous being in Paris, either later at night or in the outskirts.    Have always felt very safe, other than probably the first hour or so I arrived and had no idea where I was.    Felt this way in Rome as well.   The only difference there being I had to hang on to my bag a little tighter  in crowded areas.   But really, traveling solo has been quite easy.  I know this probably sounds a little naïve, but as I had never traveled alone before, I wasn’t sure what to expect.   Now that I know… I feel I can go anywhere.   Already thinking about my next trip, but that’s a topic for another day. 

Arrived at the gates of the cemetery and was immediately blown away at just how incredibly beautiful it was.   Right from the very first tomb with statues of two women standing over a grave, there was a feeling of peace.    The cemetery feels a little English and a little French at the same time.   A free flowing and yet planned garden of monuments to those that have passed.     

I thought to myself that when I depart, it would be lovely to be holed up in one of those moss covered stone houses with your family and loved ones for eternity.   I have no idea what those houses or monuments are actually called, but they are quite beautiful.    If you look inside, many have gorgeous stained glass windows that catch the sun perfectly.   A blast of color from within the grey and white exteriors.    Like little mini churches.   My other observation, in contrast to the Rome cemetery, is that in the older parts, the tombs were simply noted with the name of the family.    No flowery poetry or life statement reflecting on one’s contributions.   Communal and simple vs. individual and flowery.  Note: this comparison doesn't apply to the structures which are in some cases quite ornate and I did notice that   the newer parts of the cemetery do seem to trend more towards the individual.    

Twisting and turning paths.   Stone dappled with sun and shade.   Peacefully green.    Old.  This may sound weird, but the cemetery was also very romantic.   Like the kind of place you’d want to spend the day at with your loved one.   Maybe a little picnic and wine.    Probably inappropriate, but the place just makes you want to hang out for awhile.

I spent the entire afternoon walking up and down the paths exploring.   The details, like everywhere else in Paris, are amazing.   You’ll recognize some famous names that are buried here.    Chopin, Delacroix, Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde.    

If you find yourself in Paris with some time after taking in the big sites, I highly recommend making a trip out here.   It would definitely make my Paris top ten.  You can take the metro, or if you are so inclined, I’ve tested it now and it is really not that far of a walk through some interesting parts of town.  A beautiful spot and peaceful way to spend the afternoon.  

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Memories of Sacre Couer

I can clearly remember the first time I saw Sacre Couer.   Late March evening.  I was traveling for the first time overseas with friends.   Maybe ten years ago or so.   One of my friends and I decided to split off from the rest of the group and do some exploring on our own in Montmartre.    The details getting there are fuzzy, but I do remember rounding the corner and standing in awe at the entirely lit up enormous cathedral standing before us and then seeing the lights of Paris at our feet.    I will never forget that moment.

I will also never successfully recreate that moment.   Nor do I want to.  Some events are meant to happen only once in our lives so that they can stay perfect in our memories.   

My goal for today was a somewhat leisurely stroll through the areas around the Opera and Saint Honore Faubourg and ultimately end up at Montmartre and Sacre Couer before heading back home.   Another gorgeous summer like day in Paris.   A Saturday.   Everyone is out and about.  

I head down to the craziness of Place de la Concorde and walk up Rue Royale to the Madeline.   This was a new church for me.  I was struck by how huge and greek it appeared with its strong columns and dark exterior.    I was also distracted by all of the cute little gourmet shops lining the streets around the church.   Very tempting.    I climb the stairs and head inside.     This church, to me, feels more Italian than other churches I have been visiting in France.   More gold maybe.  This is balanced by my favorite part, the chandeliers with creamy white lights.  I love how these look with the ornate surroundings.  

I leave the church, make a note to come back and do some shopping before I leave Paris and head down Rue St. Honore.  On my way to the Opera, I stop by several more churches, the polish church Eglise de l’Assomption and St. Roch with its interesting metal sculpture behind the alter.   I make a pit stop at Place Vendome with its column duplicating the one in Rome and its fancy shops.    Favorite part of this walk was not the sights, but the window shopping.   Fun fantasizing about taking home lots of new beautiful dresses, shoes and jewelry.    Make another mental note to return.

I arrive at the Opera.   Another imposing and ornate structure on the outside.   I was eager to get inside and take a tour so I could see the Chagall ceiling.   Also disappointed to see the area was surrounded by tour buses and tour groups.   I hold out hope that maybe I can get in.    Another disappointment when I realize the area with ceiling is closed due to rehearsal.    If you decide to go here, definitely look into this in advance.  

On to Montmartre.   I have a general path outlined.  I love how the streets begin to get narrower as you approach the neighborhood.    Everything shrinks and becomes more of what you envision Paris to be.   Less big fancy city, more traditional neighborhood.    Reach Pigalle.   Take the same Moulin Rouge picture I take on every single visit to Paris.    

From here, I lose my map and just start following people.   Recognize the street Rue Lepic.   Love this street filled with little markets and cafes and also people.    I envision living here and stopping by to pick up fruits and vegetables on the way home.  

In my fantasy, I get lost again and wind up walking a large and quiet street around the back heading up to Sacre Couer.   Sometimes getting lost is the best gift.   Shade, quiet, little shops.    Very nice if not long walk up the hill.    Purchased a little olive baguette at one of the many boulangerie with a vision of having my afternoon picnic on the steps of the church. 

Up a huge staircase, past the vineyard and thrown right into the mix of the Place du Tetre.    If you come here maybe first thing in the morning or some off season time, I would imagine you can actually see the artists working their canvases, shop in the little (somewhat tacky) gift shops and perhaps stop for a drink and watch the world walk by.    On a late Saturday afternoon, on a gorgeous summer like day, it is not a fun place to be.   I push my way through the crowds.   Realize that there is also a mini event occurring here today.  In hindsight, know now that this is also tied to Biodiversity Days as there are lots of small vendors selling organic products.  I purchase a tiny cup of fresh strawberries for my picnic and push on through. 

The area surrounding Sacre Couer is also full of people.  Incredibly crowded.  I decide not to visit the inside and spend my time on the steps listening to the guy playing guitar and enjoying my picnic.    With all of the craziness, it was actually a nice little rest and great for people watching.   I also decided to get a little creative with my photography here.

And this was my day.    I can’t remember what else I did that night, but I do know heading home, I got trapped for a couple of blocks in a very seedy area of Montmartre, the kind that a girl traveling alone probably wouldn’t want to spend too much time in at night.   Was a fun little adventure.   Once I left here, stopped by the market and patisserie for a few more yummy things for dinner.   I was on a strawberry kick. 

A great Saturday.   It will never replicate the original feeling I had when I saw Sacre Couer for the first time all lit up that night, but I now have a new memory to put along side of it.  

PS – Thanks everyone for your support in the trials and tribulations of laundry day yesterday!   Another memory, slightly different in nature, but a memory all the same.