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.
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
I was about three years old when I saw my first train depot. I remember staring in wonder at the vapor clouds spewing off those gigantic locomotives in the Minnesota winter while a couple, seemingly oblivious to the outside world and acutely aware that their parting may be for a long, long, time, hugged and kissed and hugged and kissed.
But for me the awe was for that giant shed of ironwork and glass, the silver rails, the growling iron beasts waiting for departure from the Milwaukee Road Depot on Washington Avenue in Minneapolis.
Looking back, I can see that the place was pretty mundane compared to the grand railway stations of the world. Even by American standards it wasn’t much, but I would only learn that later. At the time I thought traveling by train was the greatest adventure imaginable, and part of that wonder was due to the grand spaces where trains began and ended their journeys, where passengers boarded and disembarked. Continue reading »
One of the benefits (if there are such things) to the current economic implosion is the sudden affordability of services or destinations that were once out of reach for many. Iceland went figuratively bankrupt this fall when the banking crisis pulled the rug out from under the country’s economy, and Icelanders needed to scramble to find ways to make ends meet.
One way was to push tourism up the scale of importance and hope to draw visitors to pump needed foreign currency into the ailing system. According to Madeline Drexler in the Los Angeles Times, this produced a clever promotion from the tourism industry: Halfpriceland, the new affordable Iceland. And it turns out to be true. The U.S. dollar trades for almost twice the number of krona it did a year ago, making prices comparable with those in the U.S. Continue reading »
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 »