Tag Archives: eiffel tower

holiday travel, and the trade offs

happy christmahannukwanzikaa everyone.  people lately have been asking me how i can travel during the holidays?  don’t i miss my family?  what about all the fun christmas parties?  and the christmas feasts?  what do they eat where you are?  do they even celebrate christmas?  what do they call santa claus?  don’t you miss the presents?

it’s weird for me sometimes, and difficult to explain.  it’s not that i don’t miss all these things, and it’s not that i don’t care about them.  and i would be lying if i said i didn’t want a christmas feast tomorrow, especially after traveling abroad for the last 4 months and missing our other american celebration of gorging yourself, thanksgiving.   god i miss pumpkin pie.  i miss sweet potatoes.  and roasted turkey and cranberry sauce.  and gravy.  oh god, gravy.

but there are certain trade-offs you accept when you decide to leave on an extended trip, especially one during the world’s most sacred of times of the year.  the trade-offs vary for each person, and they can be both insignificant and meaningful, depending on the person and their situation in life.  for me, it’s a bit of both.

for the insignificant, it’s the simple things.  the desire to do something different, the need to use up vacation hours before they expire at the new year, the wish to escape the in-laws.  or the unruly children of relatives.  these are all easy things to think of that push somebody over the pond to the great wide open.

but then there’s the meaningful the things.  the obvious and most glaring trade-off is the search for the new.  the hope and the dream that something exciting and different is waiting beyond the next horizon, that new incredible experiences lay like buried treasure, waiting to be discovered, and that a whole new world might unfold before your very eyes, unlocking the truths of the universe.  or at least the meaning of your own life.  this indeed is the allure of travel in general, but making these decisions is more difficult during the holidays, so the wandering soul is tested with a decision that weighs harder than it normally might, and must prove just how badly the desire to explore truly is.

for others, maybe they run away from things.  maybe they don’t have a family, or maybe their family is broken.  no judgment here, i’d say there are minor elements of both those things at play within my own trip.  or maybe they just want to see how they decorate the eiffel tower at christmas.  whatever the reason, it’s not really the business of anyone else.  if the reason is meaningful enough to you, you do it and don’t look back.

but then there is inevitably a moment or two that you feel the weight on other end of that decision, and you might wish you were home instead of wherever it is that you are.  it’s never the big moments that come back to you, it’s always the little ones.  like watching home alone with your siblings like you’ve done almost every year since you were a kid and laughing inexplicably hard at the moment when kevin is walking home from the grocery store and the bags break, dropping all his items onto the sidewalk.  you’ve seen it a million times, but for some reason just now its the funniest thing ever. or decorating that damn tree & finding that one hideous ornament that somebody gave you one year when you were 9 that always gave you the creeps, but now after all these years you just look at it and smirk.  or having a glass of wine (or three) and sitting back and watching the complete chaos of your large extended family losing its mind between the food, the conversation, the presents, everything.  and the sheer exhaustion that eventually descends on you  after about 30 minutes of enduring this.

but it’s these things that really don’t mean anything that suddenly mean everything when you put them all together and see that these are the things that make up the whole picture of your life.  like standing up close to a van gogh and seeing all the dots, not really sure what you’re looking at.  but then you take a few steps back and see the greater beauty. and just when you’re starting to wonder whether or not you made the correct decision to leave what you know during the most valued time of the year for a land far away where you don’t speak the language and you don’t recognize anything they’re eating, you realize that this trip is not a mistake, nor is it even a trade-off.  it is merely another dot (or ten) on the canvas.  and hopefully, as you walk the foreign streets of whatever far-off land you might be in, you can enjoy the moment you are currently in without any pause or hesitation or confusion that you might not be where you’re supposed to be.  instead, you can take some small pleasure that you are indeed experiencing everything you had hoped to on your trip, and next year, just maybe, you’ll have an even deeper and more intense appreciation for all those little things that you never noticed before.

happy holidays to anyone in the cosmos that stumbles upon this blog, and hopefully something resonates with you.  if it does, i raise my glass (of woodford reserve) to you as i sit here on the couch in a cheap airbnb apartment in croatia, watching a likely illegal version of home alone on an ipad.   trust me, wherever you are right now, you’re where you’re supposed to be.

merry christmas.  stay thirsty my friends.
merry christmas. stay thirsty my friends.

———-

sorry folks, i don’t do christmas music.  i’ve been told for years that makes me a scrooge, and so be it. but nevertheless, i’ve got a harmless easygoing jam for you today on the day before christmas (some of you may need it once you get surrounded by your families and the political convos start flying around).  the topic of the blog today was about all those little things you can get nostalgic about, and this song is completely rooted in it.  anybody too young will likely not have quite the appreciation for this, but the opening notes of this song kick-started my time machine to back in the day (i’ve always driven old cars.  i don’t believe in buying new) and just builds and builds.  it takes something that used to cause me to pull my hair out and transforms it into an infectious, head nodding gem that i never saw coming.   enjoy…

and the playlist on spotify…

Advertisements

paris, pt 3: ego-tourism, notre dame, and vinyl nerds

it was time to leave paris.  i had a few hours that i could kill before i needed to catch an overnight bus up to northern germany. luckily, before i had left the US, a friend of mine named kristen had tried to  connect me with some friends of hers in paris.  she had lived in the city for 2 years before eventually returning to the US last year.  the last minute nature of my arrival had not done me any favors in meeting up with these folks, as they were busy with work and their lives, but luckily for me, one of these contacts had made a little bit of time for me on my last day to grab some lunch. 

i met david right as i exited the corvisart metro train stop in the 13th arrondissement.  i stepped out of the doorway and looked at my surroundings. it felt nothing like the rest of paris that i had been to.  this neighborhood was quiet, and almost hidden, except it was up on a hill.  i got the feeling that this sort of an enclave off the beaten track, and david confirmed this for me.  i was immediately engaged.

we parked on a steep hill and walked up to a crowded little café called gladines.  there was no seating except a small 4-seat table that was already occupied by 2 women. david humorously and conspicuously hovered over one of the seats and said something to one of the girls in french and charmed his way into getting permission for us to share the table.

david is one of those guys you want to have on speed-dial in a pinch, in case you need something cool to do next weekend, or you have a girl you want to really impress and want to take her somewhere really cool, because he always has the lowdown on everything.  if it’s a cool underground concert or an off-the-beaten-path coffee shop, or some badass burger joint (harder to find in europe than one might think) that people don’t know about yet, david knows about it. coming from chinese descent, he has a self-deprecating sense of humor but not without a sharp wit and a confident sense of his own style.  david has a deep love for vinyl (another thing he can help you find a hotspot for), and he has a fashion style that hints “casual hip-hop,” which enables him to always wear a hat without looking like a douche.  think less like pharrell and more like mos def.  to put it coolly:  david is cool without being “too” cool.

we talked a bit about my experience in paris, but eventually the conversation started straying more into where i was headed next, since i was bound for germany in only a few hours.  david lit up like a christmas tree when i mentioned berlin, stating that it very well might be his favorite city in europe.  about a year ago, david had been considering a move to amsterdam (obviously we connected on this topic as well, since we both love that city), as he was ready for a new location, ready for a change, etc.    as he was starting to prepare for this relocation, he took a quick trip to berlin to check out the scene and almost overnight he fell in love.  i’ll spare the details for now because berlin will be a future topic for this blog, but for david it appeared that he now had a bigger decision to make:  amsterdam or berlin? 

unfortunately, that decision is still up in the air, as some opportunities presented themselves to his consulting business in paris and they have prevented him from leaving.  but someday, it sounds as though berlin may be the city that steals david away from paris.

david enthusiastically gave me about 10 places to go check out, including burger joints, coffee shops, vinyl shops (even though i don’t have the capacity to take records with me right now), cool unknown bars, and lastly he awakened me to the gloriously delicious doner kebap.  i’ll explain what that is in later posts, but trust me, it’s a cheap street eat that is worth every cent you spend on it.

eventually david had a meeting to get to and I had a bus to catch.  but first, i decided to try and squeeze one final sight in before i left paris. david volunteered to drop me off at the cathedral at notre dame.  i thanked him graciously for everything and promised we’d keep in touch, especially if it was possible for me to pass through paris again.

i didn’t have much time so I was in “hurry up” mode while i systematically made my way around the historic cathedral.  The structure is magnificent. construction began on the building in 1163 and has been in all sorts of conditions, as one can imagine after nearly 900 years (its hard for an american to even fathom this, as my country has been in existence for roughly 28% of the time the cathedral has), but today it stands brightly and majestically above the senne river, nestled neatly in the 4th arrondisement of paris.  

i didn’t have much time, so i hastily made my way around the grounds, snapping photos at anything that caught my eye.  out back behind the cathedral is a quiet and quaint garden that i recommend anyone whom is looking for a break from the city check out.  i would have enjoyed drinking a glass of wine and sitting on the lawn for a few hours.  very relaxing.

 

the side of the cathedral at notre dame smiles back on a sunny day
the side of the cathedral at notre dame smiles back on a sunny day

 

no man, the cathedral is over there. idiot.
no man, the cathedral is over there. idiot.
flowers behind notre dame resist the autumn weather urge to wilt
flowers behind notre dame resist the autumn weather urge to wilt

an hour later i was on my bus, bound for bremen, germany.  it was going to a long ride, 11 hours, but it was an overnight journey and i was saving money by not renting a hostel bed for the night.  as the bus pulled out of the station, i began thinking of my travels so far, and my experience in paris.

paris had been a little difficult for me.  it was the first time i had been truly tested with a real language gap.  on most of my travels, even before europe, i have been able to get by with broken spanish, or other locals have spoken enough broken english for us to communicate.  but whether by spite or by apathy, paris had not embraced me as a traveler the way other places have.  and why should it?  i’m just a tourist,i am gifting nothing to it other than my visitor money, and for a short period of time at that.  i am only traveling on a selfish errand, to take in the sights and experience things for myself.  at worst, i add to the congestion of the city, i am taking someone’s place on the metro who uses the train every day for commuter purposes, i am sitting in someone’s seat at a café, i am clogging the beautiful gardens all around the city and subtracting from their attractiveness simply by being there and snapping photos. and i do all this without speaking a word of their language, forcing their everyday lives to be interrupted and making them go out of their way to accommodate me.  it is a very selfish thing that i do.  my good friend, micah, has a term for this that he coined.  it’s sort of a tongue-in-cheek witticism, but it fits:  ego-tourism.   when you are an “eco-tourist,” it means that you are staying in environmentally friendly sleeping arrangements, your activities all do their best to minimize their impact on the environment around, and you are conscious of the footprint you leave behind.  but when you are an “ego-tourist,” you are going about your trip in a mindless consumer fashion, where everything you do is about your experience and what you can take back with you.  to be clear, an ego-tourist is not the opposite of an eco-tourist, as the two are not mutually exclusive, but these two terms focus on different things.

nevertheless, i am aware that i was an ego-tourist while in paris, and therefore, it makes sense that i should feel a little lonely about my time there.  luckily in my last 24 hours, i had two parisians in david and anaelle who helped me feel a little more comfortable and understanding of the culture, for if not for them, i would have no desire to come back.  but they awakened my eyes to the layers that paris has, layers which cannot be peeled back in such a short time.  and were it not for the lack of time that i have, i certainly would have allowed myself to try and give back to paris in some way, that i might connect with it on a deeper level like i had with amsterdam and iceland.

i will return to paris someday and i will do things very differently.  i will rent a flat in canal st. martin, i will sit on a sidewalk café, i will drink white wine and eat bread and cheese, i will watch carelessly as people walk this way and that, and i won’t have a damn thing to do.  And it will be perfect.

as these thoughts did laps around the inside of my mind, i had a sudden desire to have one last look at the city of lights.  to glimpse the man-made wonder of paris, but alas, this bus had been rolling for at least 20 minutes, and had already departed from the outskirts of the city.  i franticly looked out the window, searching for anything recognizable off in the distance, a structure, an arc, a tower, anything.  but i couldn’t see anything.  i settled back into my window seat and settled for the streetlights along the highway, minorly depressed that this was how my parisian holiday was ending.  i sat in disappointment for a few minutes when suddenly the bus changed trajectories, following the road as it winded to the side and climbed up a small hill.  i was still dejectedly staring out the window at the large wall and lights lining it unexpectedly dropped away and revealed a long, lazy view of the urban sprawl of paris.  Surprised, I refocused my eyes and gazed out into the twinkling expanse in the twilight.  and there it was.  among the darkening sky rose one monolithic bastion of the romance of the city, finally extending a tiny grace to me in a way that only i could hope for:  the eiffel tower stood glowing and shimmering far off in the distance, barely perceptible among all the other illuminated structures, but still standing firmly as if to simultaneously bid me adieu and tease me at the same time.  What a perfect farewell from paris.

———————–

 today’s track is a little late to be appropriate for it’s namesake, but it’s a fun little jam to throw on before you venture out for some fun.  priory hails from portland, oregon and boasts a fun electronic sound with a folksy base for songwriting.  enjoy…

paris, part 1: changing the gameplan

i hadn’t spent enough time preparing for paris, so unfortunately i paid for it a little.  i had been having so much fun with my new friends in amsterdam that i hadn’t bothered to do any recon on where i was going next.  i had originally planned to go straight to germany after, but last minute i had decided on a quick jaunt of paris.  i simply booked a place run by Hosteling International (an organization i’m a member of which had treated me well in Iceland, and which gives me a discount when i stay at their hostels) and then i hopped on a train.  as soon as i arrived, i realized that this was going to be one of the more difficult places for me to travel, and I really should have done more on the front end to make my life easier.

The first problem was that I had chosen a hostel in the near the main train station at the north side of paris, gar du nord.  I had chosen it because I wanted to be somewhere with easy access and that was easily walkable from my arrival point.

word of advice:  this is not a good way to travel.  don’t choose your headquarters simply based off it’s proximity to a travel point.  surely, this will be a factor, but if you are staying somewhere longer than 2 days, this won’t be as important, especially if you are using public transit like subways and trains which are more than adequate and safe in europe.  better to pick a neighborhood that will inspire you and will be near all the things that you want to partake of or experience while you are there.  that way you won’t have as many factors that take you out of the moments that are building your memories.

the problem with my hostel is that it was basically located in a fairly run down part of paris.  Somewhere in the 18th arrondissement (paris is broken up by 20 districts that start in the middle and spiral outward like a snail shell around the city), i was staying right in the middle of little algeria and little india.

okay, it does kinda look cool at night though..
okay, it does kinda look cool at night though..

i have nothing against algerians or indians, and i’m sure there are plenty of cool local cultural experiences that one can partake of in this area, but that’s not what i came to paris for, and i can get indian food anywhere in the world when i want it. i came to paris to experience brilliant architecture, amazing art, good music, good wine, and sidewalk cafes filled with snobby french people smoking cigarettes throwing baguettes at each other (okay so i think the french are too apathetic about everything to ever throw a baguette at someone else.  plus they’d never waste a good baguette).  this neighborhood didn’t really have any of that going on (at least that i could find).

after doing a few laps around my neighborhood for a couple hours and failing to be allured by anything nearby, and also silently cursing myself for not being more diligent in my prepwork, I decided to change the gameplan.

literally, all i had wanted to do in paris was find a café with some local live music and hang out there, drink wine, meet some locals, maybe meet a french girl, eat a ton of pastries and gain at least 10 pounds, etc.  and if i didn’t go to

the eiffel tower at dusk
cars speed by the eiffel tower at dusk

a single museum or protected structure, i probably would have been fine with it.  i wanted to try and just become part of a neighborhood, but that wasn’t going to happen here, so instead i decided to go into super-tourist mode.  i was going to “checklist travel.”

right away i found a bicycle tour of the city i could jump on and get the lay of the land.  charl and kim from amsterdam had strenuously recommended “fat tire bike tours” as a must-do, so i located their office and went straight there.  it was a fantastic tour.  our guide, a pocket-sized belgian girl named “rabine” was a little ball of commanding energy that safely and comically guided a group of over 20 through the maniacally busy streets of paris, viewing a number of key landmarks like the eiffel tower, the louvre, the jardines de tuleries, and a number of important historical buildings originating from french kings louis the 14th – 16th, and some points of interest related to napoleon bonaparte.  It was a great way to spend 4 hours of your 1st day and figure out where everything in paris is at.

——————————–

the next day i arose early and went straight to the palace of versailles, the residence of louis the 14th’ located outside the city.  i wasn’t expecting much more than a bunch of overrated touristy french history, but actually this place is worth a stop on your trip.  versailles is a 30 minute train ride outside paris and once you see it, it magnificently grabs your attention (plus, if you’re like me, i can only be in a city for so long before i need an escape. this is an easy escape from the city).    louis kinda had a complex and he wanted the entire world to know of his legacy, so he commissioned building after building in his own honor throughout paris, but for his house, a simple castle wouldn’t do;  he built himself a small town.  the entire residence is seriously bigger than some of the towns i’ve been thru in europe now (honestly it’s so big that i don’t have any photos to really share of the property because they just don’t capture how grandiose this place is.  imagine ceasar’s palace in las vegas and then multiply it by like 100 and then use the rest of the vegas strip as a backyard.  now you have versailles).  it’s ridiculous, but the best part is easily the expansive gardens out back from the chateaux.  after a quick run through the palace, i had to get away from the crowds so i rented a bicycle and tried to get as far into the gardens as possible.

i rode for 30 minutes around the canals before finally finding a quiet spot to sit down and enjoy my own little picnic.  okay, if i’m totally honest, i also tried to take this crappy little mountain bike rental off the road and down a small trail into the trees.  I was doing well until I pulled my gopro camera out to try and record it and then hit a pothole and flew over the handlebars.  luckily the only thing bruised was my pride.  i’m a dumbass.

a bee mid-flight looking for pollen paydirt
a bee mid-flight looking for pollen paydirt

all in all, the gardens at versailles are a great place to spend a lazy afternoon if the weather is right.  i can see why the megalomaniac louis had the place built (mainly to hunt, actually), because i would spend all my time there too if I was a king and didn’t have to actually work all day.  he  also had a lot of cool side gardens built that you can just get lost in, like some beautiful labyrinth full of botanical splendor and random sculptures spread throughout.

that afternoon i headed back into the city to try and find a cool neighborhood to wander around.  i got off at the bastille metro exit and started walking.  eventually i found a small café with a sidewalk and snobby french people with tattoos and trendy haircuts smoking cigarettes out front.  i walked by the place at least 4 times, trying to muster up the courage to just go in and sit down.  i don’t think anyone was paying attention, but if they had been, i’m pretty sure this is exactly what they would have thought of:

eventually i walked in and grabbed a table and ordered a beer.  I stayed there for 4 hours, just people watching.  At least I had been able to capture a small window into my previous ambitions of just absorbing the parisian lifestyle.  content, I found my way back to the metro and wandered back to my poorly located hostel and slept soundly.

important info:
hostel not to stay at:  hostel yves robert.
to get to versailles:  take the RER C line (or yellow line) on the subway/metro in the direction of versailles-rive gauche, and take it to the end of the line.  it’ll cost less than 10 euros if you don’t have an unlimited tourist pass (if you have an unlimited ticket, make sure it’s good for 5 ZONES.  i saw people getting ticketed because they didn’t know about the zones)
fat tire bicycle tours:  https://paris.fattirebiketours.com 

——————-

today’s tune is a slow burner from the new album from caribou, “our love.”  if you’re not familiar with caribou, this album is a very easy entry into founder daniel snaith’s brand of spacy electronic dream pop, as every track stays low to the ground and easy on the ear (read as:  “our love” doesn’t try to go crazy and blow the roof off any house parties. it’s something you put on if you want to relax on your back porch with a bottle of wine and a book, or if you’ve been blogging on a bus for 10 hours straight trying to catch up on your travelogue).  today’s song is the 2nd track off the album, “silver.”  it’s a slow, brooding track that goes to a place for those that have gone without.  dripping with unrequite and angst-filled sadness, if you’ve ever loved and lost, you’ll love this song.  enjoy…