Friday, December 26, 2008

Peace out... for now

Hi everyone!
Forgive the silence....

It seems that my trip has come to an end (for now).
The next few days I will be visiting with old friends, and soon I will be relocating to my new life in LA.  I will have a pause in my posting for a while, but stay tuned, because I will continue this blog when I next travel.

Thanks for all of your support through this journey.
Happy Holidays to you all!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Photo Game is Closed

Ok all.
I am sure that you are dying to know the answers to the photo game.
I have posted the answers in the comment section of the posts. Check it out and see if you were right!

Paris, Take Two

Ok. Here I am in the world's most popular tourist destination.
I still love it.
Just as much as I did my first visit back in Nov of 2002.
There is a confidence to this city; it knows it's the shit. I'm ok with that. I agree. This city is dope, but really expensive!

Luckily, though, I am fortunate enough to be staying with an old college friend of mine, Jen, who has a lovely little one bedroom in the east of Paris. It brings me back to my college days when you fall asleep talking with your roommate, and tip-toe around in the morning if you are the first one up. I kinda like it!

I spend my days here in Paris in much the same way. I wake up early--at my standard 7:00 wake-up time--and watch old episodes of Sex and the City on Jen's laptop. (Such indulgences are much appreciated after 4 months on the road). When Jen is up and at 'em we usually share a light French breakfast of toast or coffee cake and hot chocolate.

After a slow morning, I leave the house with all the layers I have: a warm hat, a thick scarf, two polar fleece jackets, fingerless gloves, mittens, and often leggings under my jeans. Armed with my Paris map (now well tattered) in my pocket, I set off in the general direction of something I wish to see. The first day it was Notre Dame, the second day Sacre Coeur and the third day it was the Eiffel Tower.

I walk (just fast enough to stay warm), all the while observing the activity around me... the shops, the people, the signs, the streets... my own little anthropological journey. I really like Paris, and so far I have nothing but good experiences with the French. Who are the people that say the French are rude? I would like to hear it directly from them. Even with my 5 words in French, I manage ok, and have encountered little anti-US sentiment. Amazingly I am even starting to be able to understand very basic French, probably due to its similarities to Spanish and English.

Oh, so back to my average daily schedule. So I walk around, enjoying the visual feast of buildings, people, etc, for several hours until I find something that interests me. When something catches my eye I circle it until I find the spot that most appeals to me. I look for the perfect place with interesting angles, nice lines and good colors, and I settle in to draw.

To set up my little work station, first I need to sit on my notebook, because at this time of year the concrete is verrrrry cold. I perch cross legged with an extra scarf draped over my legs for warmth. I pull out my sketchbook and my bag of pens, then I take the mitten from my right had and add it to my left, so now my right hand just has one fingerless glove, but my left has a fingerless glove and two mittens. Taking out my pencils and eraser, I get down to business, framing my latest drawing.

In this way I pass about 3 hours or so (more when it is warmer). The past few days have been really cold and rainy, so I haven't been out there. Too bad, but I am happy with what I've got; three new additions to my sketchbook; days 1, 2 and 3. The only interruptions to my work are the occasional stretch breaks to get the blood flowing again if I get too cold.

When I finish, I pack up all of my goodies and start the long walk home. By now it is usually getting dark, so I get to enjoy the Christmas lights all the way home. Dinner has varied every night, sometimes Jen and I make omelettes and salad at home, once I got yummy Chinese take out, once we went out for fondue... there is no pattern there. But rest assured that meals always include fresh, flaky french bread and cheese. Yum.

Evenings, like dinner, have varied. At times including a movie on the laptop, an evening out, making Christmas decorations or just sitting and talking. Either way, I like it. France suits me, except for the whole not-speaking-French thing, but I can learn. To my surprise I think the French lifestyle suits me better than Spain. I think I can atually pinpoint some reasons why.

  • The French like fresh bread and cheese... good cheese. That's reason enough, but there is more....
  • The schedule isn't wonky here, in fact dinner is eaten at the respectable hour of 7 or 8
  • Smoking is banned in all public buildings. Yay!
  • Ham is only the sidenote to a meal and not the central component of everything.
  • While good fashion is appreciated here, women aren't "done up" all the time with the same intensity as Spanish women. There's less pressure to be a Barbizon.
  • Chocolate and pastry making are common arts, I mean... hello? Perfect for me!
  • Eating is considered somewhat of a hobby here; meals extend for hours as the meal leads to cheeses, which then of course has to end in dessert. Fabulous. If I lived here I would gain a million pounds.

Christmas in France

It is strange to try and get in the holiday spirit when you are away from the ones you love, but fortunately I have been lucky enough to know some fellow travelers and old friends, with whom I have been spending time this December.

While there are no hanging stockings, no Christmas cards, no snow, no Muppets, Bing Crosby or the Chipmunks to sing Christmas carols, there is a lot of Christmas spirit. All over France there are colorful reminders of the impending holiday. Doorways are laced with garland and bright lights, sidewalks are punctuated with colorful trees, alleyways are strewn with ribbons and lights.... Christmas is undeniably on its way. Red and white colors are everywhere, garland and christmas lights visible from every window and Christmas trees are sold on every corner.

It is definitely Christmas..... French style.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Photo Game Closing

By the way, time is running out on your guesses on the photos.
I think I will post the answers in a week.

So soon.....

It's official.
The trip of a lifetime is taking a hiatus.
Well, not really a hiatus, but it is changing continents.

On December 31 I will be flying from Dublin to Los Angeles.
There I will try my hand at west coast living.

My time away has been fantastic, but it will be nice to have somewhere to call home for a while. I will continue to post, so you know the latest on my progress. Don't be a stranger!

Sunday, December 7, 2008


I have been in France for about a week now.
First I was in Montpellier along the southern coast and now I am in Grenoble.

I didn't know much about France when I came here; my experience in french limited to a 2 month sampler course in 6th grade, and my time in France limited to a week I spent in Paris in the fall of 2002.

Funny story about that, by the way.
I never wanted to go to Paris.

I was sick of everyone saying how beautiful it was, how great it was, the city of love, blah blah blah. It was overrated, overdone, overly processed, post-consumer waste to me (sorry guys). Everyone had gone, or was planning on going. I had less than zero interest.

But there I was studying in London for the fall with a week vacation mid-term and a seriously greedy travel itch. SO, my friend and I scavenged what little money we could (and I really I mean a little) and found our way to a student travel agency. We had big dreams of Rome, Athens, Geneva... But to our dismay all were out of our budget. The only thing we could afford was a train ticket to Paris and a few nights in a hostel.

And so it was that I begrudgingly found myself on the way to Paris. I was not looking forward to the trip. I had myself all prepared for a miserable time in a land of cliches. Fortunately, the trip proved to be far better than I had expected.

It was cloudy and rainy every day of the week we were there (In fact, I still have not seen the top of the Eiffel Tower)...

We were so broke that every meal consisted of the same cheap local foods: cheese, bread and wine...

We never went out to eat or for drinks once...

but I still look back on that time as one of the best trips ever. The city is just so lovely and pedestrian friendly. The people were friendly and helpful, and didn't seem to mind that I knew little more than: Bonjour, Merci, Au revoir, S'il Vous PlaƮt...

It really held all of the magic that I had heard about.

Now I am back, 6 years later, and to my further surprise, this experience is equally positive. I find France to have a soothing relaxed pace to life. This has been the first area that I have visited which felt persistently relaxing. So far so good.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Name that picture: Photo #1

Ok. For weeks now I have been writing and writing, posting and posting.... Sometimes someone responds to a post or a picture, but in general, the posts fall into the dark unknown of the net. So now, I want you to get invovled. Here is a little game.

I am going to post a series of pictures.
Your job is to figure out where each photo was taken.
If you have a guess, just click the little button that says "COMMENT" after each picture, and you can leave an anonymous message or leave your name.

No cheeating: No looking back on past posts. Just use your reasoning. Plus, if you were with me there, or you live there, etc, please don't say!
Ok. Here is your first one

Where do you think I took this photo?

Photo #2

What do you think? Where is this one from?

Photo #3

Where was I when I took this one?

Photo #4

How about this one?

Photo #5

Where was this taken?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Traveling Heart: A list of longing

I pride myself on really learning about the places I visit.  As much as possible I immerse myself in the language, food, culture and people of that place.  This has served me really well.  Especially when I am living in one place for a while, because I find my niche--my favorite places to go, my friends and my favorite foods, etc...  
But moving around this much, constantly changing my setting, it's a little harder to carve out my own slice.  All this means, then, is that while I do enjoy the local experience and I find all the newness exciting, I am constantly adjusting and readjusting.  As a result, in this trip more than any other, I find there are more things that I miss.  I was thinking about this the other day and all the things that I want from home, thinking to myself, what will I do with my first day back home?  I made a list.  Just for entertainment value, here are the sorts of things that a wandering soul craves.  

(This of course does not include the obvious things of my friends and family.  That is a given)

  • mashed potatoes:  this has been my most persistant craving.  It's accompaniment changes.  Sometimes it's turkey with gravy, sometimes meatloaf, what matters is the creamy, buttery taters, just like Grammie used to make.
  • blue cheese dressing:  (Ken's, to be exact)  It is hard enough to find salad in Iberia, but if you do find some it is served either with a thick mayonaise sauce or the occasional tasty balsamic.  What I would do for a big salad--loaded with different veggies--dressed with blue cheese... mmmmm
  • biore pore strips: ok, I know, incredibly girlie and all, but I don't care.  You just feel so clean and refreshed after using them.  I have felt really clean only once on this trip, and that was after an intense scrubbing at a traditional hammam in Morocco.
  • dressing nice:  Nothing against comfy travel clothes.  I am by no means a dressy gal, but every once in a while it is nice to look like I didn't just roll out of my laundry basket.
  • a varied diet:  All three countries which I have spent my time in so far have very repetetive diets.  The same food is available everywhere, and the "local specialties" are constantly consumed. In Portugal I got sick of hamburgers and fries, in Spain, I was sick of ham sandwiches on a baguette, and in Morocco I could eat no more couscous or Tagine.  In the US, in a week's time I can have pad thai, pizza, a burrito, sushi, chinese take out, clam chowder and then pupusas.  I am salivating just thinking of it!
  • oil-free food:  Portugal, Spain and Morocco all use olive oil for everything.  It is cooked with, poured on bread, and drizzled on food.  In fact, I was sick from it for a while.  I OD'd on olive oil.  You may think this sounds crazy, until you have been burping up olive oil for 5 days.  I want eggs with butter, bread with peanut butter, fish with lemon, and a salad with blue cheese dressing!!!  No more olive oil for  a while.
  • cooking:  I know it must sound like needless complaining, but I miss just being able to open the fridge and prepare my own food.  Cafes are nice, but after a whilethey grow tiresome.  Now, whenever possible, I make use of the kitchens of friends or hostels.  The other day I was in heaven eating pasta with sauce and parmasean, even though I never make it at home.  It was just predictable and comfortable food.
  • familiarty:  Every so often I get that pang.  I want to know where the things are that I need; I want to know how to get where I need to go; I want to understand the conversations around me; I want to lounge on the couch in my pj's and channel surf, chatting on the phone and joking with friends.  Being somewhere new, learning new social expectations, working in an unfamiliar language all just makes your brain tired.  Funny how it is always like this.  When you are somewhere familiar, you crave new, but after you have had enough new, you crave the familiar.  Murphy's law.
As I drafted this list, I realized it was dominated by food relateds items.  After friends and family, the next thing I think about is food.  I wonder what that says about me...