This year marks the Centenary of the start of World War One, often called the “Great War” or the “War to End all Wars.” It’s a sobering occasion in Europe, where so many lives were lost and where so many enmities still exist or have been rekindled of late. With tensions ratcheting up in Ukraine and Eastern Europe once again, perhaps lessons learned from WWI can help de-escalate the situation.
The last surviving WWI veterans have passed, and a number of wars have come and gone in the wake of what was, at the time, just called “The World War.” Europe is gearing up to commemorate the deadly conflict, a tightrope walk for sure, without opening up new wounds. Lessons from such a devastating global event reverberate today.
I remember being a student in Paris and having to wash my hair after a night out because of the ever-present smell of cigarette smoke. I got used to the constant odor and began to associate the particular smell of French tobacco with my splendid time as a student abroad. That has changed, as France has reduced smoking and banned it from many public spaces.
There is something quintessentially French, however, about lighting up in a cafe, and even though I haven’t smoked in years, I have to admit I’m tempted the minute I land in the country. Part of the reason smoking is mildly appealing in Paris is also the fact that cigarettes are inexpensive compared to the U.S.
In Russia, another European country with a strong smoking tradition, nearly 40% of the population has a nicotine habit, fueled in part by the less than $2.00 a pack cost. President Putin, a fitness freak and cheerleader for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, has just signed a law that bans smoking in all public places beginning in June of this year. Continue reading »
The summer travel season is almost here and if you’re gearing up for a foreign adventure you must read this hilarious essay by Seth Stevenson on How to be Invisible in the April 19th issue of Newsweek. He focuses on the stereotypical American tourist ensemble, and highlights the ever-present tube socks and sneakers. Jokes aside, maybe look for comfortable walking shoes if headed to Europe and keep the workout shoes for that…working out.
The message is, to really discover the joy of travel one must blend in, not stand out. Wearing American flags or even favorite team jerseys and caps is a tip off that one is not from the country one is visiting. Although humorous, the advice is simple: Why not pack light and buy a few items as you travel? That way you have great souvenirs as well as shedding the distinct American imprint. Continue reading »
Every year around this time we hear railing against the commercialization of Christmas, and the exhortations to shop and buy and give do get tiring, but they’re nothing new. In fact, they’ve been around a long time, since the Middle Ages, as the many Christmas markets across Europe attest.
The oldest, in the French city of Strasbourg in Alsace on the German border, has been active since 1570. Georgia Hesse, in the San Francisco Chronicle, ably describes the appeal of such markets and the particular draw of Strasbourg, where visitors stroll the lanes where Goethe, Gutenberg, and Albert Schweitzer once wandered.
Many markets last through New Year’s Day and some even run through the Epiphany on January 6, but others close up shop on Christmas Eve, so hurry, time’s running out.
Bastille Day is next week. This is a special day for me, not because I passionately studied French History or married a Frog, in a previous life, or even because I count being at the Bi-Centennial Celebration in Paris in 1989 as a peak life moment, but because my eldest son was ironically born on July 14th, 1999. I have so much baggage and history with France and French Culture. The love/ hate relationship still teeters more towards love but I can’t deny I get a bit gleeful when there is bad press, the French are exposed as hypocritical or in some way there is de-mythologization of some aspect of the coveted culture. I get a lot of mileage out of my stories of living in France; much like the New Yorker’s Adam Gopnick, I always found humor in the little things. The hilarious scene at Disneyland Paris buffet where diners swarmed a waiter delivering a bowl of bread to the buffet before he could even reach it. The fact that my friend was served mussels and spicy merguez sausage as the first post-operative meal in the hospital or the fact that before my marriage I had to get a ‘Carte de Concubinage’; a card stating that I was his concubine… I could go on. So today I open up to the Yahoo Page with the lead story: “French Tourists Seen as World’s Worst: Survey”. So apparently, according to this survey, done by Expedia, the French, despite their rumored savoir faire, were declared the most arrogant, cheap and worst at foreign languages of all global travelers. Continue reading »
If you only have a few days in Paris and have never been there, why spend all your time with hordes of other tourists trying to get your moment in front of the Mona Lisa? There is so much to see and do in Paris, it is truly impossible to decide a “Must See” from a “Save for Next Time.”
I do understand why a first time visitor would want that photo in front of the Eiffel Tower or to say they had been to the Louvre. However, if you sprinkle in a few smaller, lesser known museums you will get a flavor of a neighborhood and a taste of Paris that you won’t find at the famous hotspots.
Who wouldn’t want to hike a trail with such a reputation? Where might this place be? Favorite hikes of mine include Nepal’s Mt. Everest Base Camp and Kala Patthar trek via Namche Bazaar; the network of trails around Switzerland’s Lauterbrunnen Valley and Grindelwald; backpacking trails in California’s Marble Mountain Wilderness, the Sierra Nevada, and Yosemite.
I’ve been tempted by the Overland Track in Tasmania. But Robert D. Hershey Jr. extols the virtues of the Milford Track in New Zealand in a recent story in The New York Times. As far back as 1908 this 33.5-mile trail was called the finest walk in the world and many hikers feel it’s true today.
After reading Hershey’s story I’m ready to start planning a trip south. How about you?
2 Comments | Filed Under Adventure Travel, Asia, Australia, California, Camping, England, Europe, Feature, France, Hike/Backpack, Nepal, New Zealand, Northern California, Peru, South America, Spain, Switzerland, Tasmania, United Kingdom, United States
Studying Abroad is one of the most expansive experiences a young student can have, not only living and studying in a country, but being able to travel widely while away from home. I was lucky when I studied in France many moons ago because the dollar was strong and a semester abroad was actually less expensive than a semester on campus in Connecticut.
Nearly every weekend I took off for London, Belgium, Germany, Spain, Holland or Italy. I remember sewing a Canadian patch on my backpack before a foray through Europe because of the palpable dislike for Reaganomics and small acts of terrorism against Americans: small potatoes compared to travelers’ fears today. Continue reading »
2 Comments | Filed Under Africa & Middle East, Argentina, Budget Travel, Ecuador, Europe, Feature, France, Hike/Backpack, Netherlands, Rome, South America, Spain, Student Travel, Travel, United Kingdom
Without running a Google search or checking a current almanac, most of us probably wouldn’t know that our Earth contains 757 countries, territories, autonomous regions, enclaves, geographically separated island groups, and major states and provinces. Certainly most of us wouldn’t consider it possible to visit them all. Most of us would be wowed if we made it to 100 countries. Even 50 is pretty darn good. But all of them?
The place most people think of when hearing about a taste of France in Canada is Quebec, the French-speaking province with cosmopolitan Montreal and the walled old town of Quebec City. But San Francisco Chronicle Deputy Travel Editor Spud Hilton has a different take and a different place in mind: Saint-Pierre et Miquelon, an archipelago of eight tiny islands (only three are inhabited) off the coast of Newfoundland that not only offer a taste of France, they are France. Continue reading »