Tag Archives: travel
July 4, 2011

Paris in July

Paris American AcademyYou’d think as much as I’ve traveled, a month in Paris as a writing student would come easy. OK. Maybe not the student or writing parts; that still has me worried. But a seasoned traveler morphing into Parisian life for a month, I should be able to do that, right?

Three days into it, here’s what I’ve discovered.

(By the way, sorry. Having sworn I’d never do top ten lists when I started this blog, I’m breaking that oath.)

  • Despite my initial impression, “Solde” is not a group of St Germaine boutiques  offering beautiful and diverse Parisian goods. The deals and bargains, however, are amazing.
  • The Metro stop Jussieu is only convenient if, after 45 minutes of purposeful wandering from the exit, you find yourself somewhere other than the opposing exit.
  • Bonjour, merci, si vous plait, and au revoir, if used strategically, can be sufficient vocabulary to successfully negotiate a rudimentary retail transaction.  Until the sales clerk tells you the price. In French.
  • There is no quantity of French vocabulary to successfully negotiate an early morning croissant transaction when your smallest currency is a 50 euro. Just deal with it; you will be admonished. In perfect English.
  • My hips are too wide for most tiny cafe chairs. The croissants are not likely to help.
  • No matter how hard I try to pronounce street names and Metro stops, I’m wrong. And there’s typically someone nearby to point that out.
  • Wine really does go with everything, even eggs. (So do frites, but they are like crack. Not even once.)
  • Okay. Maybe once.
  • When people stop me on the street and ask for directions, in French, I can’t offer a whit of assistance. But I’m thrilled they think I can.

But most of all,

  • There is no greater privilege than to study writing in Paris in July.

 

I’m already scheming to figure out how to get back next year. Maybe by then, I can speak a bit of French.

 

 

May 30, 2010

HEADING HOME . . . And Not Wanting it to End.

Munich airport, terminal one.  It’s early, cold, and pouring rain under an overcast and bleary sky.  Somehow fitting, it seems.  After two glorious months galavanting across Europe, we’re headed home.  Dusseldorf.  LA. And finally,  Honolulu.

No one’s saying much.  Rather quiet bunch.  All thinking the same – yet different — thoughts.  For me, it’s a time to reflect, ponder.  What are the “take-aways” from the experience?  After all the trains, cabs, buses, museums, ferries, funiculars, sights and subways,  how’ve we changed?  What goes home with us, becomes part of our fabric?

We’re travelers.  Unique, marching to the beat we’ve found to fit.  I marvel at the confident gait and stride these young vagabonders have cultivated.  Ipods, passports, paperbacks slung over their shoulder, they find their corner of the terminal the way their friends settle into their living room.

For Columbus and me, the business beckons. Payables, receivables, clients, marketing problem-solving.  We’ve been plugged in from afar – technology is an amazing thing – but it’s time to be back “in the office” actually touching it up close and personal.   And it’s summer – paddle season, sleep-away camps, hanging out with friends, summer programs . . . a whole sub culture to potentially get the kids plugged into, bringing order, purpose, and over-scheduling to the time traditionally reserved (at least in my day) for doing nothing at all.   We’ll find our way, I’m sure, but in our own time.  At the moment, all that activity feels like organized chaos (or “cha-chos” as Sacagawea calls it).  We’ll ease back in, one day at a time, until we find our step.  Reconnect with friends.  Weave the fibers of the experiences into our own fabrics.  Unpack.  Pay some bills. Do some writing.  It’s a clean slate, summer, and a chance to fill the palate as we want.  Don’t rush.  Get it right.

Then we’ll be off again to another part of the globe, our little family exploring the planet one place at a time.

May 7, 2010

HALF A WORLD AWAY — LOST IN VENICE

“Let yourself get lost in Venice,” everyone suggests.  “Walk. Wander. Discover.” Sailing past St. Marks and up the Giudecca by cruise ship is like taking a hot air balloon ride over the city.  It unfolds from above,  the Grand Canal giving way to back canals teeming with gondolas, vaparettos, and water taxis.; grand decaying palaces, small markets, church towers rising from the water.  Like falling down the rabbit hole with Alice, it’s a step back in time.

Columbus was right there, on cue, waiting on the pier as planned.   I know it’s the 21st century and all, but I still find it rather amazing – and terribly romantic – to rendezvous half a word from home, on a tiny sliver of dock.   Us on the ship’s high observation deck, him waving from the guard post at the dock, very cool indeed.

Sacagawea and Dundee were thrilled to show him the ropes, introducing him to our many new sailing buddies and sharing stories of our adventures.  Alan and Noemi, the delightful couple who make marital bickering a conversational art form (think Archie & Edith); Colleen, who’s been homeschooling her kids for 25 years, and her mom, Betty, who clearly planted the adventurous seed years ago; Don, the WWII vet who saw action around the globe – the guy Tom Brokaw wrote about in The Greatest Generation – and now holds a crowd with that mischievous  twinkle in his eye.  Tom, the ship’s destination guru, who’d spent the past 72 hours patiently repeating directions to Piazzale de Roma to worried and confused travelers (forget about the Doge’s Palace, St. Marks, or Peggy Geggenheim’s collection; it’s all about the luggage.)   And so many more…all our new posse from our trek across the sea.  Thanks to the great crew aboard our ship, Columbus got to spend the last night with us onboard, docked in Venice, just a quick glance at the world we’d called home for the past three weeks.

VENICE ITALYBack on terra firma and away from the ship, we settled into the Venetian beat.  From the tiny terrace of our creaky old hotel room , strategically located halfway between St. Marks and the Rialto Bridge, we watched gondolas glide and jostle through the canal sliver below.  Diners lingered over wine in the flower bedecked terraces of the trattoria across the canal, while visitors jammed the footbridges to capture photos of the magic. It’s just as we imagined, yet nothing like we expected.

Chatting up gondoliers until we found just the right one – seasoned (not too old and not too young), promising song, history, and stories – we became part of the scene.  He delivered brilliantly, gliding us under impossibly low bridges at high tide, telling tales of Casanova, Marco Polo and old Venetian families.  Down the Grand Canal at sunset, this old, creaky, smelly decaying city – no bigger than New York’s Central Park – simply shimmered as it’s done for hundreds of years.  The stories from its past — Carnivals of yesteryear, wealthy shipping magnates and scandalous explorers, Peggy Guggenheim and her dogs, Ezra Pound, his wife, mistress and the whole lot – all seem to whisper secrets from the waters lapping the boat’s edge.

We joined the Venetian scene, sidling up to the bar with the locals in a crowded osteria, ordering cichettia and prosecco  as the throngs of day-tourists give way to locals and die-hards here for the night.   We scored that flower bedecked table in the trattoria window, savoring our over-priced pasta and waving to the gondoliers as they glided by.

By day, we discovered the secrets of Doge’s Palace, wandering behind the locked doors and gilded halls into the prisons and torture chambers of another era.  We ducked down to pass through the tiny doorways into Casanova’s cell, peered through the windows high above the canal, and walked the path across the Bridge of Sighs.  Having walked the prisoners’ death path above, we carefully navigated around the two pillars in the Square, heeding the Venetian belief that it’s bad luck to walk between them, the spot of so many executions long ago.  (Ironic, we thought, that it’s between those pillars that the most entrepreneurial souvenir vendors choose to hawk their wares.)

Half a world away, a magical, decaying, delightful place.  It spoke to me, one of those spots a notch above all the other magical, wonderful places we’re lucky enough to visit.   In a crazy, chaotic world – one currently struggling with bomb plots in Times Square, volcanic ash spreading across Europe, and economic collapse around the globe – Venice holds fast.  Carnival masks, Murano’s blown glass, gondolier families, secrets from the past all woven together in a tiny little city confidently shimmering in its own demise.   Perhaps they know something we don’t.

May 1, 2010

SELF SUFFICIENCY – AND REMEMBERING TO KEEP MY MOUTH SHUT

Seems that along with passport proficiency and multi-lingual communications, extended travel – particularly when traveling with all your stuff in one small bag on your back — creates some other basic life skills.  Sacagawea and Dundee cut a deal at lunch a few days ago.

“Ugh!  Stains on my favorite shirt again.  I gotta get ‘em out,” Dundee whined, exasperated, since laundry day wasn’t even on the horizon.

“Well.   My favorite shirt needs fixing,” Sacagawea retorted, “the one that’s ripped and I haven’t been able to wear for weeks.” (An exaggeration, I’m pretty sure, but she had to make a point.)  I figured that was my cue, the point where Mom parachutes in with the solution and all’s well.  Fortunately, I was chewing, so my parachute jump would have to wait  just a few more seconds.

“Tell you what,” she said.  “I’ll spot treat your shirt if you’ll sew up mine.”

“Deal!”  he replied. Seems we’ve developed specialties – niche skills for which we’re appreciated.  His, sewing  repairs.  Hers, laundry and spot treating.  Not bad.

Issue resolved. Smiles all around.   And I had absolutely nothing to do with it.  Note to self:  Remember to keep my mouth shut more often.

November 19, 2009

THE PANAMA CANAL — UNLEASHING NEW POTENTIAL

Dundee and I were up at 4:30AM to make sure we caught it all.  It’s part of the adventure, seeing every moment of it, and we wanted to be sure we didn’t miss a thing.  We were the first on-deck, stars still twinkling overhead, to watch the pilot boat offload the 22 pilots to navigate our ship safely through the Panama Canal.

We’d done our homework, and knew the best seat in the house was at the bow, front & center, so we took our post and settled in, searching for planets & constellations to pass the time.  In the darkness, the channel path came into view, green and red buoys marking the runway-like path through the water.  We slowly set course, taking our place in line among cargo ships from points all around the globe.  Gliding beneath the Bridge of the Americas just as the sun’s glow warmed the morning sky, Dundee excitedly narrated each moment, recalling everything he’d read and studied in preparation for this day.   He got it; the connections were firing at full force, and as teacher/mom, I was simply ecstatic.

We were soon joined at the bow by another gentleman, also a bit giddy for the day.  Turns out he’d been through the canal before . . . some 57 years ago as a young naval officer.  He could recall every moment, and relived it with us – play by play – as we made our journey.  History, technology, ingenuity, and American culture all rolled into one early morning:  it couldn’t have been more perfect.

Entering Miraflores Locks, Panama Canal

Entering Miraflores Locks, Panama Canal

Everything about the experience fascinated and amazed us.  Lining up for the first locks, a tiny 2-man row boat meeting us to grab our line and deliver it to the locomotive guide into the lock, watching the gates close, the waters fill, then feel the lift as we moved into position for the next step…then doing it again.  Sacagawea watched the first locks from our cabin, and eagerly joined us on deck to report how she’d watch the lock walls overtake our windows, then watched as we lifted above it and were delivered back to open waters.

A canal passage is an all-day affair:  three sets of locks connected by river-like waterways amidst the jungles of Panama.  We made sure to see it all — the lock operations from the bow, then quickly running to the stern to catch the locks closing behind us and the next ships moving into position; the locomotive operations along side the ship, guiding us along the narrow passage and keeping us in position; the natural beauty of the waterway jungles, islands and habitat.

A message home

A message home

In the educational world, they call it a “teachable moment.”  For us, it’s way more than that.  These are experiences shaping a lifetime – moments that will forever loom in their collective memories – shaping their understanding of the world around them, kindling the notions of what’s possible, and igniting a passion of potential.   As we recalled the best moments of the day over dinner, Dundee started talking about where our next adventures might take us…maybe Africa, or deeper into South America he suggested.  When Sacagawea suggested he slow down, and simply enjoy this adventure, he quickly countered.  “I’m seeing places I never thought I’d get to see.  That means I can do even more, go even further, do things I never knew I’d get to do.”

Yep.  It’s working.