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Category: Inspired Travel

Celebrating Bastille Day in Paris

Posted on July 14, 2011 at 10:35 PM

July 14th is an incredible day to be in Paris. The city is alive, vibrant and bursting with energy as it celebrates Bastille Day, the nation’s independence day, also known as La Fête de la Bastille or La Fête Nationale. Much like Canada Day, and Independence Day in the United States, the festivities revolve around demonstrating national pride and allegiance throughout the day with various types of celebrations.

French flags line every finely manicured tree along the Avenue des Champs-Élysées as it up to the majestic Arc de Triomphe. Pomp and circumstance commence with a military parade featuring a visit from the President of the Republic, Nicolas Sarkozy, and a grand spectacle of marching units down the grand boulevard. The lengthy production features soldiers of all ranks and honors, rolling military tanks, pods of motorcycle brigades, and military jets flying over Bois de Vincennes, the expansive forested park west of the city.

The night before the holiday, a huge dance party is held at the Place de la Bastille on July 13thto celebrate the storming of the Bastille Prison that occurred on July 14th, 1789. Local fire stations around the city traditionally open to the public on July 13th and 14th as each station hosts a neighborhood gala. Citoyens are invited to stop by to dance, eat and celebrate the national holiday. Donations are asked for at the door to support the local firehouses.

Just outside Paris city limits, the town of Versailles hosts an annual white picnic on the lush green lawns of the Chateau du Versailles. Visitors are encouraged to arrive in exuberant white outfits to celebrate and dine in style along the Grand Canal. Admission is free for this grand affair that begins at 11 a.m. Later in the evening, Les Grandes Eaux de Versailles, the beautiful fountains of the Palace, run a spectacular show of dancing water, lights and music.

As night falls across the City of Lights, the expansive Champs de Mars (the lawn in front of the Eiffel Tower) is packed tight with thousands of people dancing to live music. Live concerts from over 26 artists entertain the masses beginning at 5 p.m. The performances end around 10:40 p.m. as the Eiffel Tower takes center stage with a musical firework production starting around 11 p.m. The theme for 2011 is “From Broadway to Paris”, highlighting the creative world of musicals with an incredible selection of popular songs from notable plays.

After the storming of the Eiffel Tower, the crowds continue the party throughout the streets of Paris until midnight and beyond – or at least until the last metro ride or taxi can be found.


Article first published as Celebrating Bastille Day in Paris on Technorati.

Hello Kitty: Japan's Cat Cafes

Posted on May 17, 2011 at 8:39 AM

Photo image credit: sprklg

Visitors to this café won’t find laptops, phones or a bustling environment of socializing. Instead they must scrub their hands, remove shoes (common for Japanese homes but not public spaces), and slip into light slippers as they enter a space of climbing walls, scratching posts, furry mice, and sticks with feathers. Everything is set up and readily available to entertain the main attraction: cats.

Felines of all breeds live in cat cafés, a popular concept in cities across Japan. Many apartment residents aren’t allowed to have pets in their small spaces, or they work too much to take care of an animal. These cafés offer an opportunity for animal attention and relaxation in bustling urban environments. Patrons stop by on their way home from work during the week. Some spend a few hours on the weekend enjoying companionship with their favorite feline.

Cat cafés started opening in Japan in 2004, and now there are nearly 100 across the country. Patrons pay an hourly rate of $8 to $12 to enjoy the calm atmosphere and escape from daily stress. Some locations offer unlimited daily time for ahigher rate, drink (and additional cat attention) included. Beverages are available for purchase and ample reading material is found around the room.

Cat cafés offer a respite from work pressure and provide furry companionship to occasional lonesomeness. Regular visitors love the ability to relax, interact, and play with their favorite animals. The growth of cat cafés in recent years demonstrates the concept provides something valuable to Japanese culture. Other rental animal services found throughout the country include dog, bunny, bird and goat cafés.

What about all that cat hair? As a country known for cleanliness, there is no shortage of hand sanitizers, vacuums, brushes and sinks available. Litter boxes are well-maintained and air fresheners are abundant. All animals are vaccinated and well-fed since this type of business is strictly regulated by Japanese law. Every café is odorless and well-maintained with pristine care.

And of course it’s important to know the rules: Sleeping cats must be left alone. Don’t chase. Always wash your hands. Cats can sit on your lap if they want, but don’t pick them up. Children are not permitted in some cafés due to unwanted tail pulling. If a cat is finished playing with you, maybe another one will stop by and say hello. There is no shortage of fur to pet or toys to entertain any of the residents with.

Before leaving the kitty sanctuary, visitors are encouraged to write about their experience in a guest book. Goodbye waves and last little touches are met with purring and long body stretches. Fortunately saying goodbye today means returning to say hello kitty all over again.

Written by Molly McCord. Article first published as The Popular New Way to Say Hello Kitty: Japan's Cat Cafes on Technorati.

Incredible Hats, Paris Style!

Posted on May 3, 2011 at 3:36 PM

This week's Travel Tuesday post is inspired by the grand hats seen at the Royal Wedding last Friday. Weren't they fun to observe? These are some of my own pictures from an annual horseracing event in Paris called Le Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. The horseracing was exciting (especially watching with a champagne glass in hand), but the true spectacle were the multiple fabulous hats adorning many ladies' heads.

Check out these incredible creations! I'm going to refrain from a long narrative for this post because I think the images say it all. :)

Feeling inspired? Hats could be the "It" accessory for the next few seasons after the display we saw from guests at the Royal Wedding. Can't wait to see how this fashion trend unfolds!

The Day The Russian President Came to Town

Posted on April 26, 2011 at 8:15 AM

This week's Travel Tuesday post is from Trisha Garvida, an American living in Belgrade with her Serbian fiance. Trisha has traveled the world extensively, and has kindly offered some anecdotal stories to share about her daily life and worldwide experiences! Check out one of her recent days in Belgrade when the Russian President came to town...

"Yesterday was my first day of work, and a special visitor was in Belgrade: Russian Prime Minister Putin. There is an unwritten rule that if top level personalities are visiting, employees who live in the old city, far away from the center of town, do not have to go to work. But guess who lives in the center of the center where all of the action was? My co-workers warned me to leave work early so I wouldn’t be stuck in Putin traffic. I had no choice but to brave the chaos and try to make it home.

The minute I stepped outside the office, I was overwhelmed by how many cops covered every direction and view for miles. The best transportation choice was a cab, but we noticed the taxis kept driving without stopping for passengers. The only moving option was a small, beat up, green car with a radio that did not even have a tape player, just those hard to push black buttons. The stick shift was attached to the engine and was so small that I felt like I was rolling on the ground instead of driving in a car. The driver took roads that I did not know existed, and even drove over street dividers.

Then, when those options ran out, I had to go by foot because no traffic was moving and every street corner was at a stand still. All four corners at every intersection were full of people waiting for something - anything - to happen. 

Suddenly, a 10 car delegation with the Russian Prime Minister flew by. A couple of meters behind, Serbian President Tadic’s entourage followed.  Interestingly, I do not remember this fanfare when the Croatian President was in town; I guess Serbia gets to pick who “high level personalities” are.

Finally, civilian cars were allowed to move.  The policemen walked like soldiers into the police bus they came from.  People swarmed into the streets to avoid the sidewalk crowds. My strategy was to walk behind someone else, to catch their wake and lead me home. Life started to return to normal after a full day of being at a standstill. I hope these high level visits are not a regular occurence, but I will be ready with a camera – and a plan - from now on."

Walk Down A Parisian Market

Posted on April 19, 2011 at 7:21 AM



I loved entering the vibrancy of Rue Saint Charles’ farmer’s market every Tuesday and Friday morning. As I left the calm shelter of my Parisian apartment building, I transitioned immediately into an intense world for the senses: bargaining gestures, all-consuming perfumes and aromas, bursts of seasonal fruit, brushes of arms and shoulders, numerous echoes of “excusez-moi” and “s’ils vous plait.” A simple walk to my favorite corner brasserie for un cafe became an indulgentstroll twice a week.


Some of the best vendors were located within the first block. One family sold their traditional paella dish as it simmered slowly in a huge pan the size of a manhole cover; the aroma floated along in the breeze. The next stall over offered dozens of cheese varietals in all sizes, shapes and colors of yellow, each lined up in protective plastic displays. Colorful bunches of fresh berries, oranges and peppers from a family farm were proudly displayed alongside eggplants, apricots and cauliflowers. A few stalls down, spices from all over the world added vibrancy to the grey sidewalk and created an intoxicating blend of passing perfume. The meat vendors’ stalls displayed rooster combs, pigs’ feet and whole dead ducks stared back at me; I instinctually averted my eyes onward to the next stall of table linens and handmade place settings.


The scenery gradually changed from food to house wares, purses, bags, wallets, scarves, and sparkly jewelry. I perused by each quickly, trying to stay on target for my necessary morning caffeine. The last stall arrived after four blocks and I felt slightly triumphant for keeping my wallet in mypurse. The market lasted until 3pm each day, but by then the best products had been picked over and very little selection remained. Cardboard boxes sat on the sidewalk with bruised and battered fruit for whomever – or whichever dog –found them first.


The second act of the show arrived promptly at 3pm. City workers started to remove the steel rods holding the stalls together and dismantled the coverings, tables and connecting fixtures. All of the parts were loaded upon trucks. The travelling show moved on for assembly to another neighborhood for the next morning’s opening act. And it all began again with fresh fruit, bright cheeses and a new pan of paella.

Come Visit Marie Antoinette's Hameau

Posted on April 12, 2011 at 1:16 PM

One of my favorite places in Paris is not actually in Paris proper. It is a few miles west of the city on the grounds of Chateau du Versailles. And from the back of the Sun King’s Palace, if you stroll out beyond the Grand Canal, through the green expanse of trees, gardens and grass, and further on to a secret corner of the property, you will eventually come upon a charming little hamlet that was Marie Antoinette’s own personal paradise: Hameau de la Reine.


The hamlet was a self-contained village originally composed of 12 separate buildings, and complete with a central lake and Fishing Tower. Five buildings were the Queen’s own space, including the main house, and seven buildings had working functions, including two dairies, the mill, a kitchen, a warming room, dove and pigeon coops, and a barn. After numerous storms, the property experienced destruction and changes, but it has been restored to resemble its original existence. The gardens and grounds are covered with blooming calla lilies and wildflowers; vegetable gardens of rhubarb and artichokes; berry patches; goats, cows & sheep roaming freely; and immaculate landscaping is maintained by an on-site gardener.  

Marie Antoinette came to the Hameau de la Reine to escape the restrictions and formality of Court life. She raised her children on the working farm as often as possible so they would know a daily life outside of Royal demands. The property was a secluded getaway that only permitted visitors by invitation – including the King. She held private luncheons and entertained freely in the Maison de la Reine et billard, dining on the fresh products from the working farm. One can smell the laughter, freedom and enjoyment in the fresh air!


Depending on the season, visitors to the Hameau will see wild flowers trickling along paths, bright lavender waving in the wind, giant pumpkins popping up, and vineyards bursting with ripe grapes. Ducks waddle past the koi pond and potted plants stretch up to the sun.The village is a quiet haven that feels miles away from city life, and is endlessly interesting with more to discover around the back of each small house. The attention to detail is exquisite.

If you make it to Versailles, take time to escape the crowded lines and gabbing audio tours to visit Marie Antoinette's Hameau. Few visitors actually make it out to this part of the Palace grounds, and it is certainly worth the extra exploration. Bring a baguette sandwich and enjoy a leisurely lunch on one of the empty park benches.

I'll be sharing a few more interesting places to discover on the Versailles property in the next few Travel Tuesday posts. Or email me if you're planning a trip and I'll be happy to divulge the details sooner. :)

Goodbye Books, and Goodbye to So Much More

Posted on March 29, 2011 at 11:41 AM

Remember that box of 30 books that was just returned to me? It was kept in loving care by my dear friend Trisha who lives in Europe. We were close friends when we both lived in Paris, and since these books couldn't fit into my 5 suitcases upon return to the States, she offered to keep them for a bit (which turned into longer than either of us anticipated).

In the interim, she has been moving between living residences in Germany, Switzerland, Paris and Serbia... and each time she's moved, that box of books went with her. Long story why it wasn't sent back to me earlier... so we'll just say the timing when it did finally arrive on my continent was divine for both of us. And we recognized that there was some big symbolism in this box for both of us.

Here is Trisha's take on what that traveling box meant to her:

"Yes, the books returned to you have a huge symbolic meaning. This box has travelled and been stored in many places... Paris, Germany, Switzerland, and Serbia. During that time, my life was chaotic, unclear, unfulfilling. I felt like those books at times - I was everywhere and anywhere, waiting for movement and waiting to be returned to a "rightful owner." By "rightful owner," I mean my soul. I was waiting for that connection to be truly felt. I was waiting to "be somewhere," like a book on a shelf.

These books were returned to you when I was ready to leave Germany (again) and come back to Serbia.  I put those books in the mail to you as I packed up my last few bags, and a few short weeks later I was in my new in Serbia again with my fiance...starting a new job...feeling completely fresh. I had so much fear around flying, as I always have, but the minute the plane landed, I released all those fears and suddenly felt guided, courageous and light. YES, my fear of flight has been lifted! Like this new start is really a release of the past few years.

And now here I am. My body is reconnected to my soul. I have returned to a new part of my soul. I feel like my life is going somewhere meaningful and stable now. I feel the release of the last few years. I am starting a new chapter in my life book, sitting on a beautiful shelf, grateful for all I have endured to get to this point."


Based on her years abroad and extensive world travels, Trisha will be contributing more posts for Travel Tuesdays! It will be exciting to see what she shares as she settles into life in Serbia and travels around the Balkans. She has an M.A. in International Relations and Diplomacy and works at the Commisseriat for Refugees.

Hello, Book Friends!

Posted on March 27, 2011 at 1:34 PM

Hellllo, book friends!

I am sooo happy to see you again! It has been a long time, but we are finally reunited. I've missed you. (Although I have forgotten I owned some of you...) You have so much to many secrets to reveal... so many insights to offer. I can't wait to get to know you again... the memories of each locale are already flooding back so quickly...

Venice: A foggy trip entering canals at dusk. A cappucinno in St. Mark's Square. The endless maze of narrow streets. Seafood on every menu and vegetables being sold on boats. Grand piazzas with water level entry doors.

Rome: Flowing fountains, ongoing plazas, unexpected sculptures around each corner. Grand structures wider than my eyes can open. And oh, the seafood... pizza... handsome men... high heels on cobblestone walkways.

Corsica: Warm beach lagoons. Walking, hiking, ascending rocky trails. Cliff-dwelling fortress cities. Independent, fighting spirit coupled with friendly, welcoming smiles. 

Florence: Open air plaza sculptures. Gold, jewelry, leather gloves, scarves, paper. Medici palaces with endless gardens. Small cars, big museums, long roads. Crowded morning cafes. 

Barcelona: Gaudi architecture, color, whimsy. Bright colors, vibrant tapas plates, warm beach strolls. Street performers and animated characters. Soft afternoons for the daily siesta. Lively evenings with taxi rides and smokey smells.

Amsterdam: Passing bike bells and open bike baskets. Streetside stalls selling fish and pastries. Dark coffee shops and loud music. Endless canals reflecting daily life. Umbrellas and sunglasses on hand.

Prague: Bright, tall, impressive buildings. Walking through neighborhoods filled with distinct personalities and characters. Czech beer signs lit up against the backdrop of a strong fighting spirit. Endless walking tours as the sun changes to the moon on the Karlov Bridge.

Paris: Flowing Seine through the changing seasons. Warm soft croissants and baskets of fresh baguettes. Views from atop Notre Dame, l' Arc de Triomphe, Montmartre. Metro pass easily on hand. Walking with the pace of the city during rush hour, Sunday morning and on the Champs Elysees.

Loire Valley Castles: Fields of wide flowers. Flags from battles won and lost. Open windows scouring the nearby landscape. Hollow corridors echoing tourist feet, laughs, whispers. Hints of lavendar and blooms.

South of France: Stretches of soft sand and expansive views. Long, flowing dresses of bright fabrics. Sidewalk ice cream stalls and open boutique doors. Long sunsets and big moon light.

And these three books each carry a distinct special memory:

Paris Circulation: The city map and metro guide kept in my purse for instant reference almost daily.

The Cat Who Walked Across France: I flew both of my cats over to Paris from Seattle. That was an adventure just in itself, as one ran away and then returned 3 weeks later.

Drinkology Wine : The handy guide regularly used to understand what each wine varietal is, and how to select the best one from the overwhelming amount of quality wines on every store shelf.

Yes, book friends, I am so happy for this literary reunion with you. You have been dearly missed, but I know your arrival is perfectly timed. And I can't wait to discover each story again in the upcoming months...thank you for helping to create Travel Tuesdays!

Love At First Sight

Posted on March 15, 2011 at 12:37 PM


Love at First Sight

Prague.Praaaaa-gue. Prah-hgue. Praha.

We have only been in the country for 2 hours, but already I am completely mesmerized by everything around me. I can’t stop saying the city name, or staring up at the gorgeous buildings, or anticipating with excitement what will be revealed around the next corner. Is this place for real? How can it be so truly beautiful? Why didn’t I learn to speak Czech when I was younger? Why did I buy a return plane ticket? Why do I not own a home here yet?

It is not surprising to understand why Prague was “discovered” as a top tourist destination in recent years. Almost every direction is a postcard view. Every vista offers something a little unexpected and intriguing. Every building has a story and each street leads to another area of exploration. Colorful buildings rise up in a subtle array of pinks, greens, yellows and earth tones. Ornate edifices have elaborate sculptural details. Various styles of architecture dominate the wandering neighborhoods and hint at the country’s various phases of rulers and reconstruction. The roving river provides motionand movement, allowing the sun to further reflect onto buildings, windows, spires and sunglasses. This city will wear out my camera.

The City of a Hundred Spires is beyond description in some ways, so it is difficult to answer the common question: “What is Prague like?” It’s like… nothing you’ve ever seen. It compares to Rome (geographical significance, architecture,history), it compares to Paris (fashion, cosmopolitan, stunning lights at night), it compares to London (city walks, metro, commerce) and yet… it compares to nothing. Prague is its own. Its own complexities, history and importance. In between being the center of the Holy Roman Empire in the 14th century and the heart of communist revolution in 1989, the country has been shaped and guided by many notable events, rulers and developments.


Prague developed considerably thanks to Emperor Charles IV of Luxembourg. He put resources towards rebuilding the Prague Castle (which had fallen apart since it’s inception in 890) and built the Charles Bridge (Karlov) over the River Vltava in 1357 after floods swept away the original stone bridge. Up to the 19th century, this was actually the only bridge connecting the left and right banks of Prague until 16 other bridges were gradually built over the River Vltava. 


The 16th century saw Prague flourish under the reign of the Habsburg dynasty. But as a result of being the center of the ruler ship, the city was subjected to wars, attacks and changing rulers who each had different ideals of what Prague should be. Throughout the changes, Prague Castle grew considerably to accommodate each ruler’s vision. The “castle” is now an expansive collection of buildings on the left bank of the River Vltava that is more a village than a single living quarter. Interestingly, the official opening of the Castle’s St.Vitus’ Cathedral took place (recently) in 1929 – over 600 years after building it began! Prague Castle is still an important place of power today, as the Czech Republic president officiates from an office near the prominent entrance.


It’s easy to see how stunning the city is, but it may not be easy to understand why there are so many different styles of architecture represented. The short answer? Due to all of the art movements Prague has survived, the city’s architecture is a continual story of movement and contradiction. Historically speaking, new art movements typically spring up as a reaction to a previous movement. Think impressionism (suggestions, blots, ease, soft color) after the strict requirements of human portraits and religious interpretations (harsh,darker lighting, severe and exacting lines.) Think art nouveau (curves,freedom, flow, asymmetry) after a period of minimalism (straight lines,deliberate, cautious, balance).

With this understanding, it’s easy to see how Prague is a city that twisted and turned for and against itself through many art periods. Inspired initially by ancient Roman and Greek style (but what city wasn’t), the architecture represents every movement and major idea found in other European countries: Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, Neo-Gothic. The most notable sign of Roman architecture is the dome of Saint Franciscus Seraphicus – an exact replica of Saint Peter’s in the Vatican.


Despite the continual display of changing forms, it is ultimately art nouveau that dominates the style of Prague. Alfonse Mucca was the mild, colorful, gentle, founding father of this flourishing style that represented Czech traditions andvalues. Interwoven among the history of the buildings is a strong focus on the nationalistic contribution to the art world. Art nouveau is the gentle curves, soft colors and unexpected flourishes that decorate almost every block.


Prague is also known for its many incredible music halls with concerts performed everyday of the week. Mozart was a regular attraction at the Opera, so expect a certain standard of performance if you take in a show. Playing “Chopsticks” on a keyboard won’t cut it for a Czech audience.


Another interesting observation (which is notable in many developing European cities) is the city’s need to attract and maintain a level of tourism that supports the budding economy, yet does not interfere with the ideology of the culture. Foreigners are relied upon to visit, but not to impart their cultural history. Please leave cultural baggage at home! Dramatic cultural change begins to occur when enough visitors arrive, decide to stay in an area, and new international companies and enterprises eventually follow. How does a city navigate this power of culture influence? What tension is created in the push-pull that must be diffused? It is fascinating to observe these interactions unfold as a country begins to come into its own on the world stage.


The Czech Republic became a member of the European Union in 2004 after an extensiveand lengthy approval process (standard for EU membership applications). As a new EU member, the country is in the process of changing from the national currency, the Czech koruna, to the euro. The Czech Republic won’t officially enter the euro currency zone until 2012, so there are plenty of money exchange booths around the city to turn dollars or euros into the Czech koruna. But be forewarned – nothing is “free” and the offer of 0% commission is used as bait to lure in unsuspecting tourists. The best way to find korunas is from an ATM. But check (I mean, Czech) with your bank about fees for foreign cash withdrawals first. The exchange from dollars/euros to korunas is not easy to compute, so just assume you are NOT coming out on top. Expect to pay more than you’d think, or at least have a calculator handy.  English is easy to find in the tourist-rich areas, but knowing a few local words or phrases will certainly pay off.


After wandering around for only a few short days, I decided this is definitely a city that requires more time and exploration. I can understand why it is a popular place bursting with too many tourists. It’s easy to see why Prague has generated excitement and curiosity in the last 10 years. And it’s understandable why the city is a top destination for Bachelor and Bachelorette parties: good beer, great nightlife, and a feeling that everything that happens in Prague doesn’t just stay in Prague – it creates a part of the city’s story.

Travel Tuesdays - Coming Soon!

Posted on March 13, 2011 at 9:33 PM

I left Paris with a heavy heart and even heavier bags of luggage. Over two years of life was crammed into five bags; I can't even summarize what was in each bag because the list of possessions wasn't brief at all. I was travelling with Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter (times two). It had been a full Parisian life, a full European adventure, and now a complete ending. It was hard to wave goodbye to the Eiffel Tower, not knowing when we would meet again. But it promised to be there for me.

During those two years of Paris living I had travelled throughout Europe. Made incredible friendships. Had life-changing experiences. Attended (and graduated from) graduate school. Discovered the secret parts of the city. Found hidden secrets and treasures of Parisian history. Fulfilled a lifetime dream. And ate incredible cheese. (Ohhh, yes. The cheese.)

As that chapter closed, a new chapter opened up and blossomed right in front of my high heels. New, bigger dreams. New, different experiences. New, deeper lessons. New, bigger love. I kept moving forward (as one does in life) but always had an ear and an eye on the Seine, connecting to that time in my life when I was open to everything. I still consider myself open to everything, but being open to everything takes on a new meaning when you are a foreigner in a foreign town. Everything is colored slightly different, slightly skewed, slightly idealized. And that adds to the memories.

As new dreams are now unfolding, I fondly look back at all of the places that touched my heart. Prague. Amsterdam. London. Corsica. Venice. Rome. Barcelona. Saint Tropez. Florence. Geneva. And oh yes (although never at the bottom of any list), Paris.

So will you voyage with me as we travel on Tuesdays to places far away? Will you join me as we visit the feelings, energy and sights of incredible cities? Will you come along? Because it would be grand to share these places with you. It would be grand to re-visit beautiful experiences. It would be more than grand to not allow them to slip away.

Even better, one of my dear heart-friends, Trisha, will be contributing her travel impressions and experiences as well. In the past four years she has lived in Paris, Germany, Switzerland and now Serbia, so her heart is on the pulse of city events, evolutions, and pleasure. She has the connection and intuition to know more than any guidebook could decipher. Together, we will all have a ball and enjoy more than a day traveller could discover.

So come along every Tuesday as we explore some lovely and lively places. It will be an incredible ride of the spirit, senses and eyes! Look forward to having you (and your passport) in tow. Luckily we can leave the heavy bags behind.


An Evening Meal in the 4th Arrondissement

Posted on March 8, 2011 at 12:17 PM

Camera zooms in:

Dark green panels surround the interior of a small Parisian restaurant. Chalkboard menus with daily specials hang in a few corners. Outdoor tables are filled to capacity with heating lamps and heavy awnings to keep diners dry and warm. Indoor tables are crowded, lively and filled with a medley of smells from the plats du jours. Waiters amble easily from table to bar to kitchen with a collection of wine bottles, hot plates and menus rotating through their hands.

Delicate lamb falls off the bone. Potatoes mashed and creamed sit obediently until touched. Fresh veggies from the daily market add color and texture, while the sauce quietly slides off the meat and onto the entire plate. Diners lean in close to exchange conversation between bites. Hands run through hair; eyes wander to the door, to the kitchen, to nearby tables. The room ebb and flows with the sounds of a meal.


Holly and I converse quickly and easily about our current lives. Her private tours at Musee d'Orsay and the Louvre have been enjoyable and fun; she loves doing the research on art pieces and periods that she's not very familiar with. Many interesting people have come through, and some have offered to stay in touch until their next voyage to Paris. She updates me on the political scene and local Parisian events of importance. I love hearing every tidbit, as the memories and moments of calling this city home flood back quicker than a sip of my Cote du Rhone. This was my home, my routine, my evenings, my lifestyle. Two and a half years passed so quickly, but it feels like a century ago.


We chat about all the changes and situations one experiences moving between cultures and lives. The many lives we have and shed along our personal journey. The back and forth, yin and yang of living in one country while your family and friends are in another. The high of returning home to only find yourself missing the life you came you to know and love. She gets it. She knows. My kindred twin spirit in Paris.   


Camera zooms out:

Grand window panes protect and shelter the life that is mingling, laughing and breathing inside. The rain pounds the pavement with no awareness of the simple pleasures occurring inside. It's an ideal evening in Paris: delicious food, lively atmosphere, good friend, great conversation. All is in simple harmony. No microwave or remote control required.

Volcano Erupting! So Beautiful and Magnificient...

Posted on March 5, 2011 at 1:19 PM Comments comments (0)

Two weeks ago, I was standing on the ridge of the Kailua Volcano crater. And today it is erupting with glorious flows of lava! Have you seen the video of the eruptions? It's really something incredible to witness... one of the most beautiful sites to see the bright reds and oranges of the lava contrasting with the dark blackness of the earth.

Above are two pictures I took while visiting the park. The top one shows the active crater as it continuously releases steam and hot air. I *think* the eruption happened on the other side of that hole. It's hard to tell from the images but the crater is miles wide and hundreds of feet deep.

The second picture is a tree of gifts being offered to Pele, the Hawaiian Goddess of Volcanos. Many cultures have legeneds and myths about the rulers of great mountains and volcanos, so it was especially interesting to read about Pele's legendary powers and the stories associated with her. I bought this fabulous book (cover is below) and highly recommend it if you are interested in Pele's powers, tales and influence on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Sex, Drugs & Bike n' Roll

Posted on March 1, 2011 at 1:02 PM


Sex, Drugs & Bike n' Roll

A tiny cube room with a twin bed, mirrors on the walls, a tableside fan and a giant window curtain tomask the action for 15 minutes each time. White tops and outfits are preferred against the intensity of the red lights shining into each room. Loud music can be heard rumbling down the streets and inside individual rooms. The external lighting is focused on all dancing and jiving windows, making parts of thestreets densely dark. In these quiet shadows, men stand watching the passing strollers to ensure no photos are taken, no loitering occurs unnecessarily long and no customers give the women a hard time. As a pedestrian, there is a constant sense of being observed.

Most women employed in this area of town are between 18 and 24 years of age, typically students, and most certainly from other distant countries. They are all shapes and sizes, heights and weights, colors and complexions. We stroll by buildings of different window sizes, trying to watch a dance routine without staring like the tourists we are. After blocks of walking and following the crowds through the known alleys, we turn a corner and leave the red lights reflecting in the canal behind us. It's easy not to look back.

Our apartment on Voetboogstraat is centrally located (good), well furnished (good) and a comfortable size (in European terms). But those are the only desirable qualities because unfortunately it is also near the loudest and most disruptive feature ever: an after-hours club is right across the street. Instead of closing at, say, 2am, the club stays open until 6am with pulsing music and kids hanging out in the alley, sitting on our front steps and leaving beer cans as morning gifts. The noise is so loud in the early morning hours that we have to sleep with earplugs every night, and luckily we had earplugs in the firstplace. I do like my 8+ hours of nightly sleep, after all.

Five of us rented bicycles for two days to tour the city via its natural mode of pedaling transportation.We ride down to Vondel Park and up to another park on the northwest corner ofthe city, stopping a few times in between for beverages and interesting shops.We find some charming restaurants and a yummy little wine bar along the way. Riding next to the canals, up and down and all around the mini streets, and blending in as a local is the best way to see the city's water and street views. The weather brings blue skies, warm sunshine and 74 degrees. Perfect.

Although teenage boys and college students may disagree, the great hey-day of the Netherlands isn't "today" with the drugs and nudie girls, but actually the 17th century when the Dutch were the top traders and explorers in the world. After being invaded by foreign powers and under the jurisdiction of various rulers for years (from France to Austria to Spain), Dutch resources were consistently put towards developing international trade routes and importing foreign goods in the name of global political power. Spices, silk, food and all kinds of goodies arrived in Europe thanks to the Dutch seafaring efforts called the Indian Trade Company.

Thanks to these explorations, the Netherlands grew significantly in wealth, prestige and power as they established an impressive network of colonies around the (discovered) world. But unfortunately, their hard work was eventually eclipsed by bigger European countries that slowly and forcefully took over Dutch trade and power: Britain, France & Germany. Darnit. After all that time and effort...

Arriving in Amsterdam today, there are three notable sites to visit: the Anne Frank House, the Van Gogh Museum and the Rikjsmuseum.

The Anne Frank House is an (obvious) main attraction so the lines get long quickly. Arrive on a weekday morning just before it opens at 9am and you should be fine. The tour takes about an hour and is completely worth it, even if you do have to wait in a longer line. The  museum is interactive and nicely incorporates technology within the historical walls that held the Frank family together during theHolocaust. The exhibit does a beautiful job of educating visitors about Anne and her family's life, and most of the hidden rooms are open to stroll through.There are a few moments during the tour where I looked around and tried to imagine how it would be to live in these small spaces with eight other peopleand very little sunlight. Among other insights, the museum certainly reiterates the strength of the human spirit in times of captivity. Upon exiting, visitors are invited to send an email to a loved one from the museum's gift shop area. Anne would have loved that.

The Van Gogh Museum is in a beautiful building near Vondel Park. Obviously, it houses the work of Vincent and his large collection of talent. The exhibition smartly takes you through Van Gogh's life and the different phases of his artistic development based on where he lived. The museum also incorporates other artists who were inspired by Van Gogh, including Gauguin, Manet, Pissarro, Monet and the others who lived in their shadows. One of the best things about this museum is that because so many works are familiar, you instantly feel like you know something even if the period, date and place escapes memory. The lines get pretty long, but it's worth it as this is the only Van Gogh Museum in the world. Be sure to leave with both ears!

Visiting the Rijksmuseum brings the era of Dutch power to life. The walls are covered with great artists that explored the use of light in paintings. Tabletops showcase exquisite vases, platters and house wares that were inspired (or possibly "borrowed") from far-off travels. Swords, armory and sailing compasses that were used on the wild seas adorn walls and bookshelves. And numerous other valuables may make you think, "Hey, I didn't know that was from the Netherlands!" But yes, it is in fact a Dutch creation, and no, you may not touch it.

The Rijksmuseum is manageable and interesting, and provides an enjoyable understanding of the Netherlands through the centuries.The rotating and permanent exhibits both deserve attention. And the gift shop offers everything you didn't know you wanted. This museum is a great place to spend an hour or so upon arrival in the city to better appreciate Dutch history and life.

Drugs in coffee shops. Bikes ruling the roads. Women in the Red Light District. The obvious observations about Amsterdam are sex, drugs and bike n' roll. After hitting the main attractions, an enjoyable part of walking down the streets is taking little peeks into the lace-trimmed windows of private Dutch homes. And although this sounds creepy, the Dutch actually EXPECT peering eyes into their homes - they view it as a compliment. Seriously! Unlike other places where one may walk around at dusk, peering into neighbors home out of curiosity that borders on snooping (just a warning if I'm in your area...), the Dutch are known for being proud of their homes and therefore take pride in decorating, arranging and demonstrating how they live. It's okay to look in windows and peer in on a lovely room, but fair warning: don't leave any fingerprints on the glass.That's rude.

Amsterdam was my home base for nearly two weeks as I traveled to other European destinations, so I spent about five days total in the city limits. But I feel like I figured the place out in the first three days. Definitely worth hitting the highlights of the city and to cross it off the list of places to visit in the world. But compared to Barcelona, Rome, Florence, Paris and Corsica... it's not a city I need to comeback to regularly. Unless I get a new European bike!

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