Thursday, October 21, 2010

Back to My Favorite Time

Well, it's that time of year again: Fall. I love this time. We have great foliage here in Madison. I try very hard not to let it pass too quickly.

After missing the beggining of autumn, I am happy to be back in my town. I am literally thrilled.

So, for those of you who don't know, after the whirlwind ten days of traveling to Europe, I was home for about seventy-two(?) hours. I wasn't feeling well and I have no idea how the president does it. I was exhausted.

Back on a plane and headed to Cali, I was standing up in my dear friend's wedding. I was honored to be asked and it was a great time. Actually, a changing time for me. I have mixed feelings about weddings - but that's for another post.

(*NOTE - I am hitting my limit of wedding parties. I will do two more in the next ten years - so I may say "no" to you..., take it as a compliment)

And so, after seeing one of the most beautiful parts of the country,it was time to take my very first red eye. I thought I was a rockstar when I told everyone I was going to work as soon as I drove home from my redeye. As I sat in my claustrophobic seat on the plane, I contemplated squeezing a run in before I hit the office (I am so anal about my running).

And as I started to feel sick and lightheaded, I decided to slowly get up to ask the flight attendant for a gingerale. But I never made it there. Because I fainted in the aisle. And that, ladies and gentleman, was my first experience fainting.

It's not so scary and I actually felt better after I came to. Do you know that feeling before you throw up? And then after, you feel better? That's how I felt after fainting.

Needless to say, even though I still wanted to go to work, I hadn't slept in over twenty-four hours, for the third night in two weeks and was awake for about three hours the rest of that day. Oh well. I tried.

I read three books while traveling. They were all good. The laugh-out-loud book was Wally Lamb's (She's Come Undone, I Know this Much is True), latest little fiction, "Wishin' and Hopin'. It's a page turner (my favorite kind).

I also was convinced to read Twilight and I must say - it's good.

And now, I am "wishin' and hopin'" to stay put in Madison for a long, long time.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Having a Ball in Paris

After spending nine days in Paris with a brief stop in Madison, I am trying to bang out everything (you know, packing, unpacking, laundry, getting in a normal time zone, finding a dog sitter, you get the hint)..... including a posting on my travels to Paris. This is going to be a long one.

My favorite part of going on a vacation is taking a vacation away from all technology. Phones. Text. Internet, etc.

Paris is a wonderfully beautiful city, rich with architecture. There is a lot to fit in in nine days. Somehow, I did it all.

When you think about all of your classroom experiences, from elementary and beyond, you actually get to see all those photos up close and personal in Paris.

Here is what I did:

Jardin de Luxembourg (Famous Garden)
Notre Dame (You know)
Left Bank Walk (A nice stroll on the left bank, including a stop at a lovely old bookstore).
D'orsay (Lots of impressionism, fabulous building)
Rodin (The Thinker)
The Louvre (Mona Lisa)
Arc de Triomphe (The arch you see when you picture the giant rotary)
River Cruise on the Siene
Galleries Lafyette Department Store Rooftop (Has great city views)
Place Des Vosges
Pompidou (Modern Art Museum)
Giverny (Monet's house/gardens)
Sacre-Coeur (Beautiful Catholic Church on a hill)
Cluny (Renaissance/Tapestry)
Deportation Memorial (Where the Jewish people were lead when the Germans invaded)
Victor Hugo's Apartment
Le Cordon Bleu (Julia Child)
Eiffel Tour (The star of Paris)
I am sure I am forgetting something here, but I am slightly overwhelmed with where to start.

If you are planning a trip to Paris, I highly recommend Rick Steves' guidebook. It is extremely helpful.

Having been to the french country as a teenager, this was my first time in the big city. Like any big city, it is overcrowded, loud and busy. Everything in Paris is smaller. They can easily cram six bistro tables with chairs into what we would consider the size of a small closet. Us Americans - we have too much stuff.

They aren't rude. They didn't "force" me to speak their language. Although, enough french came back to me to get by without a problem. They don't ever serve water unless you ask for it and once your glass is empty, you're done. Bring lots of water with you when you are out for the day.

And speaking of being "out" for the day, you need to be in excellent physical shape for a trip to Paris. In order to really experience all of the sites, you walk about five miles a day. This includes a ton of stairs.

I am not just talking about stairs. I am talking you are at the bottom and you cannot see the top. At all. March to the top of the Arc de Triomphe (284 steps) or the Notre Dame (402 steps) or the apartment I stayed in (five flights). You will know who is American there because they are the ones who stop in between steps, huffing and puffing. These are shallow steps. Narrow, sometimes claustrophobic and winding.

I did my research on running in Paris. I came to the conclusion based on my studies that they don't run. This is false. There are more runners in Paris than in other cities I have visited, but there aren't a ton, like Madison. The best thing to do is to find a nearby park and do loops in there. Running on their streets is difficult because of the people who have absolutely no desire to get out of your way which leads to lots of "Pardon!"

Now - for the sites, I recommend all of them. I would say the Cluny was my least favorite, yet still interesting. The tapestries were nice and it lacks the popularity of some of the others which is nice, when you want to do something a little quieter.

I loved the river cruise. Bundle up because it is cold on a fall night on the Siene River. You have great views of a lot of their historical buildings and the tour guide was informative. Go after dark.

Notre Dame was a grand church. What blew me away when I walked through there was that it has held up remarkably well. As you climb the 400+ stairs, crowded with people behind and in front, you wonder how it is possible that this structure is still standing and how it is possible that the stairs don't just crumble from under. I felt that way running up to the Arc de Triomphe as well. (By the way, there really were hunchbacks and you will know why...)

From afar, Socre Coeur looks so close. But it is so far away. The Eiffel Tower has the same effect.

The first time I saw the Eiffel Tower, I was blown away. I get star struck and the Tower is the celebrity of this city. It has an overbearing, empowered presence. It is surreal until you get close. Take the metro stop to the Trocadero and you will have the best view of it. When you are close enough, you can actually see camera flashes from the second floor and the top. The rickety sounding elevator can be intimidating and I insisted on going to the top. People will tell you it is scary. The elevator ride is slightly worry some. You feel like you are dangling and can free fall at any moment. The top is amazing. And there is a small apartment at the top with a recreation of Mr. Eiffel, his daughter and Ben Franklin. (I believe it was his office).

I was glad to have seen the art exhibit at the Cleveland Art Museum a few months ago, which featured some of the history of the tower.

The D'orsay is great, too. The building was an old train station. Currently under construction, I think some of the paintings are moved around. There is a ton of Degas, Monet, Van Gogh, etc.

The Rodin has the great garden with the famous Thinker. The Louvre is completely gigantic and overwhelming. There are a zillion people there and poor Mona Lisa has a million cameras in her face all the live long day (guilty!)

The highlight of the trip was taking a day to go to Giverny. It was about an hour away from the big city. It was a lovely day. Sunny. Beautiful. Peaceful. And you could actually hear the birds chirping. I was pleased. Go to lunch at the restaurant on his property. The food was good and it reminded me of a "ladies lunch" kind of place.

There is something so mystical about being in his garden. My photos of the lily pads and the weeping willows look like his paintings to me. It is magic. I will always look at his paintings in a different and special way now.

His house is incredible, as well. I loved the room he used to paint in. If you get to Paris, definitely take a trip to Giverny. (I had no interest in Versailles).

As for the food - it was all delicious. I recommend a Creperie place called Creperie Suzette. And I loved Angelina's for a nice cup of hot chocolate. They are famous for it and the line is worth it. It is like drinking a candy bar.

I even got to sit in on a class at Le Cordon Bleu. Yes, there are some pictures of Julia, Giada, Meryl Streep and more. My understanding is that Parisians don't really know much about the school. A lot of Americans go there. It appears that a lot of Asians do, as well.

Up next: Carmel-by-the-Sea!

A Bientot!