Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Brooklyn, Brooklyn take me in...

Ah Brooklyn Brooklyn take me in
Are you aware the shape I'm in
My hands they shake my head it spins
Ah Brooklyn Brooklyn take me in
 - The Avett Brothers

It feels good to be back home in New York and to be lucky enough to spend the rest of the summer with some of my favorite people...

Hot town, summer in the city . . . 


Sunday, July 18, 2010

Au revoir Paris!

Today is my last full day in Paris.  I'm not sure exactly how I feel about that, but I know that I want to take advantage of this beautiful, sunny day and eat Berthillon ice cream on Ile Saint-Louis, see the Eiffel Tower at least in the distance once more, sit on the banks of the Seine and take peak at Sacre Coeur . . . I want to drink wine and indulge in some of the best cheese and baguettes I've ever had in my life!

No time for great big declarations or longingly mushy posts.  I'm happy, maybe happier than I've ever been and that's enough for today.  Now if you'll excuse me I have some pastries to eat...


Saturday, July 17, 2010

And now, the end is here

I thought I'd share some song lyrics that some up how I feel about my experience in Paris these days.  Enjoy!

The riders on the chan de lise
We are the tourists in the cafes
We drank our wine along the river
Not believing where we were at all

It's alright, the camera's talking
And even though I can't be sure
Memory tells me that these times are worth working for...

I knew this would be the part
My plane's arrival catches me off guard
We'll all be leaving with a broken heart
Wallets empty and we're back at start

-Camera Talk by Local Natives


Bastille Day!

On Wednesday, July 14th France celebrated Bastille Day (commemorating the storming of the Bastille prison in 1789) or as the French call it La Fête Nationale.  In true French style, the holiday is actually celebrated on the 13th and 14th of July and the whole city joins in the celebration.  It's really quite fun and since it takes place so close to our 4th of July it makes it very easy to join in the celebration of national pride, even though I'm not French.

On Tuesday night I went to a free concert at la marie du 3e arrondissement de la Ville de Paris (the town hall in the 3rd district) with the Frenchie.  It was a lot of fun!  The band that played while we were there was fantastic and they sang a lot of Motown and other older American songs, then they sang a Spanish song and finally after half a dozen other songs, they sang an old French song by Edith Piaf.  It was funny to see the Frenchies singing along to the American songs and dancing and clapping along, even though it was a celebration for France.  I thought to myself how funny it would be if we played and danced along to French music on the 4th of July- that would never fly!

The next night, the 14th, was the big fireworks display.  I met up with some friends in front of the École Militaire (military school) near the end of the Champs de Mars with a great view of the Eiffel Tower and the beautiful fireworks display.  The was a really large crowd of spectators and lots of celebrating (large groups were singing and setting off smaller fireworks all around).  The fireworks display was really good.  It had an International theme and music was played during the display to enhance the show.

It was great to get to see fireworks over the Eiffel Tower and to have been a part of a national holiday in France while I was here.  Viva la France!!!


The phantom of the opera

The other night I finally visited Opera Garnier (famed Paris Opera House and suspected home to the mysterious Phantom of the Opera character from the eponymous musical).  It was gorgeous! 

The theater is a beautiful, old world opera house decked out in gilt and red velvet, with gold and crystal everywhere.  There is an enormous and amazingly beautiful chandelier that is also said to be a part of the Phantom of the Opera story (it fell on the audience in said piece) and the ceiling of the theater was painted by Chagall.  The place literally took my breath away!

Then to top it all off I saw a ballet based on Degas paintings of dancers.  The entire piece centered on the famous sculpture by Degas of the Little Dancer, said to be a ballet student at the Paris Opera, and the fictional story pieced together using Degas paintings.  It was amazing to see all of my favorite Degas paintings coming to life with real dancers!  I was in heaven and didn't mind one bit that my seat was at the back of the theater and that everyone there was dripping in sweat because of the heat and lack of air conditioning.  I would gladly sweat buckets again anytime!

A true dream come true, 20 years in the making, I only wish I could have shared the experience with you Gram!


Friday, July 16, 2010

And away we go part deux

More quickly then I expected, it was time to leave the Costa Brava and head to the French Riviera or as the French call it, the Côte d'Azur.  But not before one little travel hiccup...

I was supposed to take a bus from Figueres to Montpellier, but when I showed up at the bus station for my 2:45 bus and noticed that the bus company's office was closed I was a little confused.  I went to the information desk for help and that's when I was told that the company I booked through would reopen their office at 4pm and also, that my bus ticket was for a bus that departed already (at 2:45 AM).  I felt like a stupid American or a stupid girl or just plain stupid.  I should have known better because I've been living on a 24 hour clock for the better part of 3 months now, but for some reason it just didn't register in my brain- who takes buses at 3 o'clock in the morning anyways?!? 

Once the bus company ticket window opened I tried to exchange my ticket to no avail and found out there wouldn't be another bus to my destination until a day and a half later.  At that point I need to take control of the situation and find an alternative transportation option, so I went to the nearest internet cafe and did some research.  I quickly found out there was actually a train leaving for my destination shortly, so I made my way to the train station and, after a few delays and 55 Euros lighter, I was finally on my way!

While in the south of France I stayed in Nice and really enjoyed my time there.  Nice is nicknamed Nice la Belle- Nice the beautiful.  It is such a lovely city and even more beautiful when the setting sun baths the town in its glorious glow at the magic hour right before sunset.  The whole town is a pretty palette of sun drenched pastels, especially oranges and yellows, and it feels very Italian.  The beaches here, like in Cadaques, are made up of stones but not too uncomfortable.  One of my favorite things in Nice was the Cours Saleya Flower Market, a long and sunny plaza full of ripe produce, sidewalk cafés, souvenir shops and, yes, flowers too.  I visited the market both mornings I was in town, one day for cherries and bread to take to the beach and the other to look for buried treasure at the flea/antiques market which is only held on Mondays.

One of my favorite meals in Nice was at a sweet little cafe I stumbled upon after leaving the market one day.  Cafe Marche (or market cafe) where I had a pancetta and parmesan sandwich with salad and for dessert the most divine affogato this side of Italy (Ben & Jerry's ice cream drowned in espresso with whipped cream, sprinkles and chocolate syrup- my kinda sundae!).  I sat at one of the outdoor tables in a quiet side street/alleyway and just relaxed soaking the city in and people watching.  It also didn't hurt that I had the cutest and most friendly waiter (who I'm blaming for the yummy sprinkles on my affogato).  The picture above is of the cafe and the picture below is of the most famous ice cream shop in Nice.  Fenocchio has over 70 flavors!  I only tried 3 or 4 but they were delicious!!!  My favorite?  The Rocher chocolate flavor, it really tasted like the famous chocolates melted down in ice cream form (it even had the chopped hazelnuts!).  Yumm...

The weirdest thing happened to me on my last afternoon in Nice.  I had gone back to my hotel to relax and use the internet before heading to the airport.  I sat out in the back garden and after a little while decided I wanted a drink, so I went inside to order and when I went to pay (with the only cash I had left) the women at the reception desk said my money was no good.  What?!?  I had a 50 Euro bill and this particular bill was one that I had gotten out of an atm so there was no way it was fake.  She tried to explain to me that the paper was wrong, too thick or too thin, I can't remember exactly and even had her coworker come over to verify.  I was frustrated and upset and not sure what to do.  I needed change to take the bus to the airport and I tried telling this to the woman.  I also told her that I had gotten this money from the bank.  She offered to put my drink on a credit card and I said no thank you since now I didn't really have time to relax and have a drink- I had to deal with this unfortunate situation.

Finally she suggested I go to the grocery store around the corner to try to break the bill, something about them not paying attention to details as much there.  What?!?  I tried telling her that I didn't want to pass along my problem to someone else, which she sort of took as my apology to her and said it was ok and that she didn't think I was trying to give her a bad bill knowingly.  Ugh!  I gave up reasoning with her and went to try my luck at the grocery store, all the while thinking how embarrassing it would be if they told me the same thing the hotel did, except they didn't.  They took the bill and all was well.  I still think there was something fishy going on with my hotel reception desk.

After that whole ordeal at my hotel I was ready to head to the airport.  When I got there, with some time to spare, I checked in and was told that my flight would be 3 hours late.  They gave me a couple of vouchers for food (pringles and an orangina basically) and I settled in for a long night.  We didn't end up leaving until 4 hours after our original departure time and I got into Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris at around 3:30 am.  I was so happy for this madcap adventure to be over and to be back in Paris and asleep in bed by the time the sun was rising that morning.  What a trip!


And away we go...

Fair warning: this post might read a bit like a rambling diary entry (that's because it is).  It would take ages for me to recap every little thing from my past week and a half adventure, so I'll just give you the highlights and some great pics.  I am back in Paris and attempting to see and do everything I can before I leave on Monday so time is of the essence. Let's get started!

Traveling is hard, on anyone, but especially on solo travelers.  When I planned this trip I was excited at the opportunity of seeing so many places, but traveling for that long and moving around so much was hard on me.  I am now even more happy that I decided to spend the majority of my time in Paris- I wouldn't have it any other way!  I keep hearing myself refer to returning to Paris as going home- slip of the unconscious tongue?  Or maybe the extraneous traveling is just making me long for home (NY or otherwise).  I am excited to return to New York.  It look a long time for me to get to a place where thoughts of home and summer made me exceptionally happy and I take that as a sign that my trip was the perfect length and I am leaving on a high note.  But I digress, let me tell you about my adventures...

First stop, northern France, where I promptly arrived sick and had to spend a day in bed and terribly nauseous.  I'm still not sure what brought that on but I felt awful for hours.  The next day I got up early and went to visit Mont Saint Michel, a place I've been dying to see, it was completely magical.  I don't normally use words like that so you know this place was beyond beautiful and awe inspiring.  It was amazing!  The reason to visit this small village is to see the abbey at the top and when you reach it you have views of all of the surrounding land and water (its on the sea) and luckily for me I also experienced getting to the top while a choir was singing in the chapel.  Now that was a religious experience!

Then while I was waiting for the bus back to my hotel I saw a gang of horseback riders and a marching band!  What a wonderful and random place this was to visit...

Next it was off to Barcelona and to an apartment I will always wish I actually lived in...Seriously, this place was straight out of a home decor magazine and I wanted to move in from the start!  The neighborhood (El Borne) is a small area between Barceloneta (the beach) and the Old City and it is not only beautiful but full of creative young people and lots of expats.  It would definitely be the neighborhood I would chose if I ever lived here.

Barcelona...what can I say?  It wasn't exactly the beautiful, old world Spanish city I was imagining.  It was grittier than I had expected, but parts of it were incredibly majestic looking.  I guess I just didn't warm to it as quickly as I would have liked.  It took me a few days, but by the end of my time there I was coming around and started to enjoy the city more.  Maybe you just become accustomed to the heat or maybe its just a city that takes a little longer, a little more exploration to get to know and really appreciate.  Funky tapas bars, Mercado Boqueria, Santa Maria del Mar, Barceloneta beach, Parc Guell, Sagrada Familia...These pictures show the Barcelona I began to fall for towards the end of my trip.

The beach was calling though, and after a few days in the city I left for a getaway in Cadaques, Spain.  It is only a 2 1/2 hour bus ride from Barcelona, which isn't too bad, except for the last 30 minutes of winding mountain roads where gorgeous scenery and death defying curves put your stomach in knots.  After a few minutes I really started to feel sick and just prayed that I wouldn't hurl on the bus- what a lovely experience that would be ha!

This small, sleepy fishing village is where Salvador Dali spent much of his time (there is even a statue in the middle of town), along with many other artists and it is still where artists like to come spend time today.  In the summer its a bit touristy, but I really enjoyed my time there.  The town's quiet beauty is idyllic; the sea, the whitewashed buildings and a rocky beach that locals and tourists alike all gather on during the hot summer days.  The atmosphere is easy and laid back and everyone seems very relaxed.  It was the perfect ending to my time in Spain.

Next follow me back to France in part deux of my trip diary...