Washington DC is a city built to serve government and tourism. On a recent trip with a group of French executives, the conversation flowed on the bus as we traversed the city. Designed by a Frenchman, the Mall reminded them of the Tuileries, the Washington Monument of Place de la Concorde. We were to do DC in two days, and although the Smithsonian alone could fill a week or more, I do feel like I got a great flavor for Inside the Beltway.
A visit to Mount Vernon on a stormy day launched the dizzying schedule. I opted for a breath of fresh air with a view of the Potomac, a tour of the house and a walk to the farm. George Washington was quite green (which I learned is a term in French that means an older, quite virile man, not ecologically minded) and in his own way farmed and recycled with an eye on the future, employing crop rotation and mulching much of his waste. A lover of rivers, he situated his house so the view from the porch is masterful and remains unmarred. Continue reading »
As the snowmelt begins to pour off the Alps and wildflowers emerge in the meadows, I find it hard to banish thoughts of hiking in Switzerland. My plans for this year will focus on California’s Sierra Nevada and Washington’s Cascades, but my heart will be in Switzerland.
A few years ago I tromped around the Jungfrau region with friends, basing ourselves in the tidy village of Mürren that clings to a ridge above the Lauterbrunnen Valley with a front-row view of the legendary peaks the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau. A year before that, with young children in tow, my father-in-law, wife, and I trekked the trails out of Grindelwald in the shadow of the Eiger. Both experiences left me wondering if it could get any better.
As everyone knows, it can always get better. These days I’m dreaming of hiking through the terraced vineyards above Lake Geneva in the Lavaux region between Lausanne and Vevey. No, this isn’t alpine hiking, and the trail I have in mind will take only half a day to complete, but the area is near the top of my list of the world’s most astoundingly beautiful places. 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 »
Spud Hilton reported in the San Francisco Chronicle the other day a new spin on the top 10 lists we always see at this time of year. Not the best beaches or golf courses or hot cities for the new year, but the Developing World’s 10 Best Ethical Destinations.
The list was compiled by Jeff Greenwald and Christy Hoover at EthicalTraveler.org, a nonprofit organization (part of the Earth Island Institute) that urges travelers to spend their travel dollars in ways that protect human rights and minimize impacts on the environment. They acknowledge that no country on the list is perfect (what country off the list is?) but they found lots of hope and inspiration in many places. 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.
I am sort of an Olympics geek. I love the games, both the summer and the winter. My mom actually took my sister and me and two friends to the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Games. We had tickets for the Women’s Downhill Skiing event, but if you remember, the Games were a bit of a mess and transportation to the venues was a fiasco. We never made it to the mountain and got Compulsory Ice Dancing tickets as compensation; still it was an amazing experience.
Tomorrow the host city of the 2016 Summer Games will be announced in Copenhagen, Denmark. The front-running candidates are Chicago, Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo and Madrid. President and Michelle Obama will be there to forward the Chicago bid, which because of their star power is leading Rio as the top pick. Continue reading »
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 talk to a French person and say you lived in Lille… most say “I’m sorry”. That was the reputation this gritty Northern manufacturing city had years ago. It is the fourth largest metropolis in France and sits at the crossroads between Belgium, Britain and France. My ex-husband was from a small town outside the city, and we lived there for a few years while I taught English (or American) to top execs from Renault, Auchan, Peugeot and various other big French companies. He had to work through his military service scenario and I thought why not—I spoke French, loved the culture and was ready for an adventure. There was tremendous charm to Lille, a great mix of Flemish and French culture. We often went to Bruges and Brussels, the North Sea and England. I was in love and didn’t realize how provincial France, outside of Paris, could be. Continue reading »
About six months ago I got a note in the mail about some long forgotten frequent flyer program miles expiring and I ordered Cookie Magazine – a newish glossy for ‘stylish’ moms. Sounded pretentious and I barely have time to read my mail, but I ordered it (it was free) and occasionally I find good or fun information. Yesterday, I read a brief article about Baby Moons; a pre- baby vacation for expectant parents. It is a tad irritating that there is a name for it, but I think all parents at least think about a last hurrah travel plan before baby changes your life. I know one couple who climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, another who backpacked around India and yet another who opted for an all-inclusive pampering holiday in the Caribbean. It’s hard for me to think back that far, before my boys and their travel companionship, but I think my husband and I took a killer backpacking trip in the Sierras with 3 other couples. Whatever your fancy, the three destinations highlighted interested me… Iceland, Bermuda and Napa, California. I’ve been to Iceland and Napa and love both. For a true getaway, despite the fact that the country is in financial ruin, Iceland has an otherworldly quality. You feel utterly cleansed after a few days there; perhaps ready to be a parent.
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.