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Tag Archives: travel

We’ll Always Have Paris

Fountain at Place de la Concorde

The husband and I were deep into planning an anniversary trip when friends informed us they would be in Paris for a few days in late August. We looked at each other and decided that we would be there too. After all, a friend turns 50 once and it is a cause for celebration, particularly if you haven’t seen them in well over a year. The timing was perfect – we could add a few days and make a l-o-n-g weekend of it. I adore Paris. I really had forgotten how much since we were last there three years ago. I thought that maybe part of the magic was that it was a reunion trip during a deployment. Nope. Paris has a special charm that doesn’t disappear just because you’ve experienced it once.

We had been told by a number of people that August is a terrific time to see Paris. Apparently, there are fewer crowds there than at other times, since many Parisians close up shop for much of the month and head off on vacation. Museum schedules don’t seem to be affected, so unless you are only there for the shopping, the line-ups are shorter to get into most attractions. We expected it to be warm, but weren’t really prepared for the hot, steamy 37-39°C that it hit most days (98.5-102°F for my American friends). Our intended trip to Versailles was cut for this reason….by the third day, we just couldn’t face the idea. Much nicer to stay in the city and pop into air conditioning when necessary. We stayed for six days in total, two of which were spent with our friends.

We walked. And walked. Even though we bought passes for the transit system (which I highly recommend), we still seemed to walk an awful lot. But we did take the metro, unlike our last visit. It really is a convenient way to get around the city, especially when your friends are staying at the other end of it. Our hotel was in St-Germain de Prés, within a few minutes’ walk of two different metro lines. One of the things I love about Paris is the neighbourhood feel everywhere….it just doesn’t feel like a huge city. On the first morning, we encountered a farmers’ market around the corner from our hotel, set up on the park-like boulevard between the two lanes of traffic. Wow! The produce is unbelievable in freshness and variety, reasonably priced, and artistically arranged. I can honestly say that if I was a resident, I would do most of my food shopping at these markets. There was even a booth with lovely handwoven scarves and shawls. The only thing stopping me from buying was that we’d only just arrived and I didn’t want to be too hasty. Fool. What was I thinking???

So what did we see? The Pompidou Centre, the site of the largest collection of modern art in Europe, captivated us for several hours. Following a particular love of mine, we attended an exhibition at the newly opened Les Docks design centre hosted by Cité de la Mode et du Design. It was in two parts, one entitled “Cristóbal Balenciaga: Collectionneur de Modes”, a 65 piece retrospective of the designer’s work. In contrast to the largely black Balenciaga garments, the other exhibit displayed only pure white pieces from the Spring 2012 collection of Comme des Garçon. I hadn’t expected to like this and was pleasantly surprised.

White Drama

Each display corresponded to a stage of life: birth, marriage, death and transcendence. I was most disturbed by the wedding dresses that resembled straightjackets….most thought-provoking indeed, resembling more avant-garde art than fashion. The Louvre was the setting for yet another presentation in the fashion arena: Louis Vuitton-Marc Jacobs at Les Arts Decoratif. Absolutely amazing. I found the history of the company particularly interesting….all those steamer trunks invoke an age where travel was so totally different from what it is today. While at the Louvre, we also toured the sculpture displays. Not my usual choice, but I enjoyed it very much and took a fair number of photos.

Mercure monté sur Pégase, Antoine Coysevox

Following this theme, we also stumbled upon the most interesting place. As we waited to cross a street, we noticed that the building opposite was unlike anything we had ever seen before. Wildly painted and decorated, there was a large sign indicating that the premises were devoted to artists’ workshops and the public was welcome to enter. Well, how could we not? The place was astonishing, amazing, inspiring….and colourful. Unfortunately, I am unable to grab any photos and didn’t think to take one myself, but there is a website that is well worth checking out: http://59rivoli-eng.org/main.html. We spent quite some time exploring the studios and chatting with the artists, who seemed to come from a variety of locations around the world. We even purchased a couple of prints.
I think I’ll stop there…for now anyway. I’m still sifting through photos….

Beach Time!

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The week was supposed to be one of relaxation and enjoyment of time at the beach. Here, on the plane journey back home, I’m wound up so tightly that I can’t sit still. I’m uncomfortable and fidgety. I’ve barely relaxed since we sat down on the three hour flight, half of which still lies ahead.

It seemed to start out okay. The trip to Malaga was uneventful, if a tad early for my natural body clock, and we arrived to brilliant sunshine. The apartment was ready for our early arrival and we dumped the suitcases, heading out to explore the resort grounds. Oh my, but it was gorgeous! Two freeform swimming pools with loungers and umbrellas awaited, as did an inviting sand beach. The gardens were amazing. A nice selection of restaurants and cafes were only a short walk away and there was a snack bar beside one of the swimming pools. We eagerly changed and headed for the water. Paradise!

Unfortunately, the accommodations didn’t live up to their promise. We woke after our first night with some sort of bites on both of us, though mine were worse than the husband’s. We hadn’t realized just how uncomfortable the bed in the master was until the next night, due to exhaustion…..that first night was the only decent sleep I had for the week. With each successive morning, the number of bites on my body multiplied, but we couldn’t locate a source. Was it possible that there were bedbugs? Maybe. The photos on the Internet looked just like mine. So the management were notified and arrangements made for an exterminator to investigate. He discovered nothing. However, my complete enjoyment of the holiday was pretty much ruined. I tried to get past it, but every time I even contemplated sleep, all I could think about were insects on my body. Ick.

We did do some exploring in the area. Marbella is so beautiful, particularly the old section of the town where we spent a full day. The food was excellent. These seafood-deprived Canadians gobbled fish like we might never see it again. We also investigated a time-share resort on the beach that we would love to invest in, should we ever have the opportunity. It operates world-wide, so we haven’t totally lost our minds, in case you were wondering. Maybe one day.

So now we head home to attack the mountain of dirty clothes in the suitcases and prepare for yet another trip, departing tomorrow. We are going to visit our Canadian headquarters, located in Germany. Apparently, the weather isn’t anything like it was on the Costa Del Sol. All I want is to be able to sleep. Without itching.

Barcelona, Revisited

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I adore Barcelona. So much so that I convinced the husband a return trip was warranted so soon after our October visit. Well, how could we not? American friends would be there during the third week of March and we had the week off….so the trip to Barcelona and Lisbon became reality.

What I didn’t tell you about our Lisbon adventures is that, somewhere along the line, George picked up a nasty bug that put him to bed with a fever the evening before we left. Poor fellow slept until we departed for the airport, during our flight, and went back to bed as soon as we checked into our hotel. And for much of the following two days. When you only have four days, that really cuts into your tourist time. Fortunately, our friends arrived on Tuesday afternoon and I hung out with them. We walked, ate tapas until we felt like bursting and got caught up with each other’s lives. On Wednesday, we walked all over the place, but most of our time seemed to have been spent in La Boqueria, the most amazing market I’ve ever seen. They sell everything, from unbelievably fresh fish and seafood, meats, eggs, and produce….I think the only thing I didn’t see for sale was milk. Just look at this bounty:

Produce

Mushrooms

Seafood

And this place is enormous! You could easily wander around in there for hours….and we did! There are many food counters where you could order something wonderful to eat and/or drink. We found it a little odd when the vendors began packing up around 1:30 in the afternoon though. Apparently, they close for siesta. They reopened a couple of hours later and were open well into the evening. This seems to be the typical custom here.

On Thursday, we took a little train ride to the town of Figures, about 1.5 hours from Barcelona towards France. The attraction, you ask? The Dalí Museum, of course! This is one of the most amazing museums/galleries I have ever had the pleasure to visit. Designed by Salvadore Dalí himself, the entire building is a surrealist piece of art. It was mind-blowing. Visitors are permitted to take photographs without flash and I did, liberally. Unfortunately, I did so on my phone and hadn’t downloaded them when it was stolen the following day. So I cannot share them with you. The works that I found the most fascinating were Dalí’s ink drawings, though the large sculptures were also stunning. This link http://www.salvador-dali.org/dali/coleccio/en_50obres.html will take you to part of the museum’s site where you can see some of his work, if you are interested. As part of the museum, there is a separate exhibition of Dalí’s jewellery designs, something I had been unaware of. Unbelievable! So creative! My favourite piece had to be the heart of rubies and gold – yes, it actually was beating!

Friday turned out to be an absolutely gorgeous day, after several very wet ones, perfect for our visit to La Sagrada Família. This was the one attraction we had missed on our first trip to Barcelona and I was determined to see it this time. Though I had seen television programmes about this architectural masterpiece, they did not prepare me for the real thing. Not in the least. Under construction since 1882, the church is still a work in progress. Not only did we visit the church itself, but we also took the elevator up into one of the spires and the stairs back down. The views of both the church and the city were simply incredible.

Gaudí’s work in other parts of Barcelona is awe-inspiring, but this truly was the work of his lifetime. If you ever have a chance to see it, do so. You won’t regret it.

The remainder of our last day in Barcelona was spent having a lovely tapas meal, doing a little shopping and packing up our cluttered hotel room. The evening turned out to be a bit of a downer after I was pick-pocketed, so we just went for a walk and had a meal in the hotel dining room. An unfortunate way to end what had been a lovely holiday.

First stop: Lisbon

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We’ve been home from our March vacation for three weeks. Almost long enough to have forgotten we had a vacation. So it is high time I sit down and write about it, and in so doing, relive it a bit. Unfortunately, some of my photos didn’t come home with me, so I can’t share them. I used my phone instead of my camera on a number of occasions and got some outstanding shots. But it was stolen the night before we flew back to Budapest. I’d rather not relive that particular experience.

First stop, Lisbon. We were met at the airport by our friends Shelley and Gord, who are also posted overseas with the Canadian military. It was wonderful to be able to visit them in their new home in Cascais, about 30 km west of the city of Lisbon. I have to admit that I am quite jealous of the lovely house they found – it backs onto a golf course, has a swimming pool, and you can see and hear the ocean from the window. My idea of heaven! Cascais is a gorgeous seaside resort community, dating back to the 12th century. The historic centre of the town is absolutely charming, with many old buildings and the ruins of a castle and cobbled streets. The main square at the waterfront is cobbled in two colours in an undulating pattern that resembles waves. From one angle, there is an optical illusion of ridges, which can be quite disconcerting when you are walking on it. This photo comes from Wikipedia, since my pic was on the phone.

Cascais Town Centre

On day two, we headed into Lisbon proper. Fortified with yummy custard tarts called pastéis de Belém from the original bakery (1837), we made our way into the city and explored away the day. And ate. Oh, how we ate. I hadn’t realized just how much I’ve been missing fish until a plate of mackerel was set down before me. Yum. Lisbon is a beautiful city with a long history and I’ve been searching my photos to try to find a representative image. There just isn’t one. So I’ll post a couple.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We also visited Sintra, noted for its 8th-9th century Moorish Castle. Wow, what a place! Hilly doesn’t even begin to describe it. There are many buildings from the 15th to 19th centuries and it has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The husband and I climbed up the hill and did the tour of the fortress. Amazing! The location was brilliant, as you can see any possible approaching vessel on both the river and the Atlantic ocean.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fortunately, my interest in history far outweighs my squeamishness about heights, though I have to admit that there were a few tense moments as we walked along the ramparts of the fortress. There are no safety railings. Enough said.

Monday was a travel day, so we only had time to head to the beach for a walk. Guincho Beach is a short distance from our friends’ home and was made famous in a scene from “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” a James Bond film. It was breezy but sunny and I had my friend take a shot for posterity.

Too bad it wasn’t a tad warmer.

Shortly after, we were on our way to the airport and headed to Barcelona.