Pro-Tips from Paris

Returning from a wonderful few days in NYC, followed by my family coming into town for the My 2nd Act reading and the final day of my writing workshop, it seemed like I only had a few hours to get everything in order to leave for 6 weeks.

I’ve impressed myself with the logistics of this trip.

First, packing was a challenge. Simplicity is they key to the El Camino, but I would also be spending three weeks in France and Switzerland where perhaps something nicer than hiking pants and a t-shirt would be in order. But I didn’t want to bring anything too nice since once I get to Spain, I’ll be sending my “fancy” clothes forward to Santiago. I’m still a little skeptical of the postal system and whether my stuff will actually arrive. I also didn’t want to trust the airline with the Camino gear I’ve spent months planning and buying. So, I carried on a backpack with my un-loseable Camino supplies and checked an old small suitcase that will be shipped forward in Spain.

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Here’s the pin I used

Pro-tip #1 (for the ladies): check out Pinterest for pins that illustrate weeks worth of outfits with a few basic clothing items. 

I finished packing with a whole ten minutes to spare before I had to leave for the airport. Other than being on the world’s coldest plane to Paris, the flight was uneventful. Upon landing, I was unsure I took the correct plane because the sky was blue and I saw the sun. Strange because every time I come to Paris it’s cold and gray. Fortunately, when I exited the airport, the old Paris I know and love appeared. It was freezing. Don’t they know it’s almost May here?!?!?

After I collected my bag (yippee, it arrived), I bought my metro tickets (in French) and got on the train to the city. I had to switch trains at my Parisian nemesis, Gare du Nord. I only got lost five times, instead of ten. Then I got to Les Chatlets, which is the evil sister of Gare du Nord. I think I went in circles five more times.

Pro-tip #2: Just plan on getting lost and adding 15 minutes to your trip if you have to travel through Gare du Nord.

Four hours after my plane landed, I met my friend JB at his office to get the keys to his apartment. He gave me great directions and other than not being able to open the door for about ten minutes, that journey was uneventful.

I just wanted a shower and a little rest at this point. But, my dreamy, steamy, long hot shower was cut short by the little hot water heaters in Parisian apartments. Rookie move. Of course, this occurred when I was just about to rinse. I jumped out, layered up and then curled up on the couch for a glorious hour-long nap.

Pro-tip #3: When traveling to a foreign country, don’t count on unlimited hot water (or sometimes, hot water at all). This is an American luxury.

I woke up when JB arrived home and we went for a nice dinner. Hot camembert, duck, potatoes. I might need to walk to Spain to burn all the calories from this meal. With a full belly and jetlag in full effecy, it took me negative 30 seconds to fall asleep.

Pro-tip #4: When traveling to Europe try to select a flight arriving as late as possible. Most arrive early in the morning. Try to stay up all day and you’ll fail miserably (or just be completely miserable). I landed at 2:00 p.m., where I only had to stay up a few hours, before I crashed.  A couple days here and my sleep schedule is completely onboard with Europe.

Friday, JB and I spent the day walking around his typical Parisian neighborhood (Montmartre) and Parc Monceau, having lunch with some of his friends, going to Musee d’Orsay and then going to a show I’ve been wanting to see for years, How to Become Parisian in One Hour. Definitely check it out if you’re in the city:

Then today, I went to the George Pompidou Musee, had a nice vegetarian lunch and visited with one of my favorite friends, who happened to live just a couple blocks from the Eiffel Tour, where I stopped by on my way home to snap a quick pic.

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From Paru du Champs de Mars

Walking back to the apartment, I was thinking about this post and feeling so grateful for how far I’ve come – health- and life-wise. The first time I ever came to Paris, my suitcase was stolen out of the car and I was scared to go shopping for replacement clothes alone while Fabien was at work. Now here I am, walking around with city like an old pro, speaking french and everything.  I also thought about how different both Paris and I are since my last visit here, nearly two years ago. Most definitely, we are forever changed.  Both of us a bit traumatized, but still here, stronger, wiser and beautiful.

 

 

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Montreal: Canadians are Hard Core

My husband has been pining to go to Quebec for years, but because I am the travel planner, it has always gotten overruled by a more exotic destination. So, when he was asked to attend a two-week training in Montreal, I decided to ride his coat tails, once again, and take advantage of the company paid, downtown hotel room. Plus, it was Valentine’s weekend and what better place to spend it than in a city that is a perfect mélange of our two cultures and languages.

I know what your thinking. Who goes to Montreal in February? I spent 31 years in Detroit and could handle a weekend in Montreal. BUT I didn’t expect it to be the coldest damn winter in 20 years. Let this Buzzfeed article put things in perspective: 25 Truly Terrifying Photos of the Snow in Eastern Canada.

Not exactly motivating to get out of bed and "Carpe Diem".

Not exactly motivating to get out of bed and Carpe Diem.

We arrived late Friday night and quickly jumped in a warm taxi to our hotel. Saturday, we set out to have a hardy breakfast and do our normal marathon sightseeing. Within a block of the hotel, we realized our hats, gloves and shoes were not going to cut it if we wanted to keep our extremities. A few more blocks and the husband got desperate. I spotted a shop with more appropriate gear and we were like moths to a flame. $80 was spent on warmer hats, mittens and socks. A minor investment to protect this blogger’s typing fingers.

With a 20 degree increase in our core body temperature, we popped into a great little diner for breakfast and reevaluated our strategy for the day. I didn’t want to lose any toes so I suggested we throw in some indoor activities. The wait staff overheard us and chimed in with a couple great suggestions and detailed instructions on which bus to take. It’s true, Canadians really are so nice.

Normally, we are not museum people and would rather spend our time in a city walking around parks, districts and ports, but Montreal is the exception to the general rule. So off the Biodome and Planetarium we went.  The rest of Montreal had the same idea because the place was packed with other smart people who wanted to avoid hypothermia. Both venues were really well done, warm, indoors and worth every penny. Did I mention they were warm and indoors? We spent a few hours there and decided it would be a shame to let the jacuzzi at our hotel go to waste at a time like this. I can promise you, never has a hot tub been more appreciated.

Bundled up in Old Montreal

Bundled up in Old Montreal

We didn’t stay long because it was Valentine’s Day and we had dinner reservations at a 5-star Yelp reviewed restaurant called Santa Barbara. It did not disappoint. Situated in a quaint little residential neighborhood, the cozy restaurant had unique dishes that accommodated me (the plant eater) and my husband (the meat lover). Warm, happy and stuffed we must have forgotten the meteorological situation when we decided to take a walk through Old Montreal after dinner. The tiny streets and walkways were adorable and made us feel like we were in Europe. In about 30 seconds we were near frozen and stopped in a creperie for dessert. The price of the crepe was worth the heat, but let’s just say Montreal chefs should stick to poutine. Officially in a food coma and sick of not being able to feel my toes, we headed back to the hotel. It was one of the coldest walks of my life….until Sunday…and Monday, for that matter.

Prior to arriving in Montreal, we had read about the underground city and Sunday we set out in search of this elusive area. After several wrong turns and asking a few locals, we found what was a ginormous underground shopping mall. I was picturing Parisian catacombs and not the Mall of America, but whatever – it was indoors and warm, which was our only requirement at this time.

It was too cold to take pictures, but this one from Google captures Parc du Mont Royal perfectly.

It was too cold to take pictures, but this one from Google captures Parc du Mont Royal perfectly.

By lunch, the sun was deceiving shining and we decided when in Rome, do as the Romans do. So, cross-country skiing we went. Oh! My! Gawd! I have never been so cold in all my life. I nearly cried because the wind was so fierce and frigid. Normally, I break a nice sweat during cross-country, but I stayed frozen the whole time. However, what was most shocking was the all Canadians soaking up the snow. They were running, walking, playing, ice-skating, cross-country skiing and snow shoeing without so much as batting an eye. I will admit that the scenery was beautiful. On top of Parc du Mont Royal, we were surrounded with snow-covered trees, blue sky and views of the city below.  After a couple of hours, I had enough and wanted to teleport to the jacuzzi. Waiting for the bus was treacherous. My feet where officially white and my lips purple when we finally made it to the hotel.

Hey Girl, It's cold outside.

Hey Girl, It’s cold outside.

It’s hard to believe that Monday was supposed to be coldest day after the events of Sunday, but it was true. Preemptively, I decided we should go to the Warhol exhibit at the Fine Arts Museum. So, we waited for the bus, only to arrive and find it closed because it was a Monday. Therefore, we went to the more touristic Grevin Wax Museum. While less culturally stimulating, it was probably more fun than Warhol. With nothing indoor left to do on our list, we surrendered and spent the afternoon in the hotel jacuzzi. I was done with the cold and have no regrets.

I was ready to go home, but my Monday night flight back to Nashville was cancelled due to an ice storm in the south. One would think a travel warrior like myself might take advantage of the extra day and take in that Warhol exhibit. Nope. Slept in and went to the jacuzzi instead.

Yes, the cold was unbearable, but we still enjoyed the weekend. I loved speaking French with the Québécois and loved that when I got stuck, I could bounce back to English without missing a beat. Montreal is a beautiful North American city, but I don’t feel like I experienced it in all its glory, so I hope to return one day, preferably in July. Until then, Canadians, I salute you and your ability to endure these extreme conditions. You are hard core!

A Mexican Bender

Yes, it’s August and that can only mean one thing for the wife of a french man. The in-laws (and 5 other family members and friends) are here. I love them all dearly, but because I didn’t want them all in my house for the whole month, it was decided that we would spend a week Playa del Carmen, Mexico.  The vacation can only be described in one word – binge.

Our group of ten arrived at the hotel hungry and exhausted after leaving for the airport at 3am. Fabien and I were a little more refreshed after a nap in the first class cabin (a new perk that’s been occurring rather frequently due to the miles we’ve been racking up with Delta). We immediately stormed the all-inclusive buffet. After I ate a few cups of guacamole, I repeated the following process continued for the next two days: beach, bar, buffet, books. I laid under a palm tree and finished Tiny Beautiful Things by one of my new favorite authors, who I got to meet this year, Cheryl Strayed.

“Like if you think you want to have a baby, you probably should.  I say this in spite of the fact that children are giant endless suck machines. They don’t give a whit if you need to sleep or eat or pee or get your work done or got out to a party naked and oiled up in a homemade Alice B. Toklas mask.  They will take everything. They will bring you to the furthest edge of your personality and abso-fucking-lutely to your knees.
They will also give you everything back. Not just all they take, but many of the things you lost before they came along as well.”
-Cheryl Strayed, Tiny Beautiful Things

Side note: read her book Wild and prepare to fall in love.

One of the highlights of 2013, meeting Cheryl Strayed

One of the highlights of 2013, meeting Cheryl Strayed

After two days, it was time to remove myself from the lounge where eight of us would head to Chichen Itza, a beautiful lagoon and the adorable little Mayan city of Valladolid. I certify all of these places amazing and give props to the Mayans for building a sweet little city, which is no easy feat considering what tiny people they were. For example, our guide, a Mayan named Irvine, stood a generous 4’9.  It took every ounce of restraint to not pinch his cheeks and put him in my pocket. We returned from the day, exhausted and satisfied. The tour company, Xperience Xcaret, was so well organized and worth every penny. If you’re considering any visits to Mexico, I’d totally recommend them.

Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza

The cathedral in Valladolid

The cathedral in Valladolid

Zaci Cenote was formed from a meteor that dropped 65 million years ago

Zaci Cenote was formed from a meteor that dropped 65 million years ago

Enough activity. I returned to my regularly scheduled plans – bingeing on books.

For the next three days, I parallel parked myself between the pool and bar with my Kindle. It was glorious. I started & finished the highly acclaimed Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg and the much loved My Year with Eleanor which was written by friend of a friend of a friend, Noelle Hancock.

“I’m not presumptuous enough to think I’ll ever be as fearless as Eleanor [Roosevelt]. But she taught me that courage is a muscle. It needs to be exercised often or it’ll weaken.”
-Noelle Hancock, My Year With Eleanor

Then rainy season granted us with its presence for two full days, so I justified starting another book. I was on a serious bender and I’m pretty sure Fabien was planning an intervention. Fortunately, there were others to keep him entertained.

On the last full day, me & my nine French crew would spend the morning in a monsoon at the ruins of Tulum. I went in college, but was still awed by the city. Eventually, mother nature gave us a pass and even a little sun when we visited Xel-ha, a natural water park . Another fun, exhausting day courtesy of Xperience Xcaret.

Tulum under a monsoon

Tulum under a monsoon

For the final hours in Mexico, the Murphy’s Law of vacations was in effect which meant it was the most beautiful. I’m happy to have awaken at 7:30 to spend the last few hours playing in the huge blue waves and finishing my absolute favorite read of the week, Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott.  She has officially become my new drug of choice.

“I guess he’ll have to figure out someday that he is supposed to have this dark side, that it is part of what it means to be human, to have the darkness just as much as the light- that in fact the dark parts make the light visible; without them, the light would disappear. But I guess he has to figure other stuff out first, like how to keep his neck from flopping all over the place and how to sit up.”

-Anne Lamott, Operating Instructions

The last bittersweet hours

The last bittersweet hours

So, thanks to the inspiration of the beautiful writings from Cheryl Strayed, Sheryl Sandberg, Noelle Hancock and Anne Lamott, I haven gotten my writers groove back. I hereby solemnly swear to update my travel blog without further ado. Stay tuned for stories that include bears in the wilderness, being in close proximity to the latest celebrity death and a complete recap of my weekend on a hippie commune.