By last minute decision, I joined Paul for a trip to Europe. Two years ago, I considered making a bike tour in Europe, and although that would have been an amazing journey, my decision led to a good compromise- traveling Latin America with Europeans. So it turns out, two years later, I go to Europe to visit Paul’s family in France. Well, here is the small Eurotrip dream that came true.
Oh-la-la… Paris – An international leading center for business and culture for more than two millennia. Yet, after all this time, Paris retains her character of class and historical preservation. Antique apartment that still bear the Gaz & Eau advertizements, which during late 19th century, they featured “modern” services that today’s city dwellers would take for granted. Streets are lined with sidewalk cafes, haute couture boutiques, luxury pastry shops, and entertainment for all between Old World music halls to today’s Parisian hipster club. And of course the internationally recognized monuments. By purchasing a Velib bike rental ticket, we could comfortable cruise though the fascinating world of Paris.
We were in Dijon for the film festival weekend. Its architecture, like Paris, but smaller town feel. Began as a roman settlement, the province was home to the Dukes of Burgundy. The special products recognized on a worldwide scale are the Burgundy wine (located in the wine growing region) and the Dijon mustard. Although, most Dijon mustards are not exactly locally produced. “It’s produced industrially and over 90% of mustard seed used in local production is imported, mainly from Canada”, says Wikipedia.
Abertville, a town back-dropped by the beautiful snowy Alps. The town got a boost in development when it became the host of the 1992 Winter Olympics. And since then, the town infrastructure has hosted festivals, like the Biouvac festival. Nearby is the medieval village of Conflans, where we stayed for a night with the Batook group. And nearby, it the Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, famous for the pioneering of climbers and mountaineering (and I learn was the first winter Olympics in 1924). Unfortunately, we couldn’t make it to Chamonix, but there could be another chance in the future.
Grenoble is the city where Paul’s brother, François, lives. It’s a very pleasant city. A major city for science and technology. Surrounded by the mountains, it offers activities for the outdoorsy types. Paul and I went climbing at a park featuring some fantastic walls, which I don’t have any photos to share. Just above those walls, there is a great view from the Bastille, a fortress located high above the city of Grenoble, accessible by “the bubbles”.
And a friend, who I met by hosting him via Couchsurfing, was born here in the city. His name is Dimitri and he came to Detroit in 2011 while touring for one of his bands. Didn’t get to meet in Grenoble, but we managed to meet up for coffee in Paris, where he lives and works now. Great that we had a chance to catch up on life! 🙂
There is a little paradise that escapes the urban world, just south of Paris. It’s name is Fontainbleau. It’s a forest littered with limestone rock. A prime spot for the sport of climbing and bouldering, and the biggest developed bouldering area in the world. Many of the boulders are marked with a climb grading system invented there. This time of the year the forest was turning colors of Autumn. Getting lost we discovered the magical forest of tall golden ferns and mushrooms.
I love food. And French food had raised the bars of my gastronomic taste. It’s food of quality ingredients and simply prepared.
I learned there were some rules and customs at the French table:
Breakfast (in French: déjeuner) is lighter compared to US plates: A buttery crisp croissant, or two, with jelly or butter, milk with Ricoré, a small cup of juice or coffee. No savories. I appreciate a simple meal that’s not piles of greasy bacon and eggs.
Breads sit on the table. I was reminded that bread does not need to take up plate space, so the breads can lay next to the plate on the table. Of course the tablecloth is clean.
And bread is meant to clean off the plate. The meal is not complete, if there still is all that delicious sauce spread all over your plate. So take what is left of the baguette, wipe off and eat. When the plate is completely cleared, then you have finished your meal.
Cheese is served last – I asked why this, and not as an appetizer? The simple answer; is because the guest would not be tempted to eat all the cheese to satisfy their appetites. Rather, cheese is enjoyed for a few bites, as the very last dish, usually with fruit or the remaining baguette. The order of tasting is from lightest cheese to the strongest and robust (let’s be honest- stinkiest).
No, you are not “full”. In the States, they might say after a big meal “I am full or stuffed”. If you say this at the French table, you might disturb the others, as “being full” makes them think your like a canister filled with food that you might spill over if someone bumps you. If they ask, a polite “je suis rassasié” (I’m satisfied) is a pleasant answer.
My time in Paris wouldn’t be complete with out a day in the museum. And a visit in Paris would not be complete without a visit to the Louvre. The Louvre is a world renown museum. A palace as old as late 12th century, home to François I and, later, Louis XIV. It’s huge. It holds thousands of timeless collections of paintings and artifacts which I read somewhere it would take about 9 months to glance at all of them! For 4 hours, we did well touring the departments of great works from Egyptian, Greek, Roman. We saw the famous masterpieces of Raphael, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, and da Vinci. We were lucky to visit Mona with out a huge crowd. Paul warned me that it could be too crowded.. but I had to get the glimpse of Mona Lisa. I was intrigued since the Carmen Sandiego episode of the stolen smile. But the glory lasted all about 25 seconds until I was bumped out by the following cues. I think the attention to the high secured portrait is almost more impressive then the star herself!
The buzzkiller of enjoying Paris, is jumping into the masses to have a turn, or get right up, and into, the famous icons. But hey, I just had to stand on the Eiffel tower to have that postcard experience of Paris…
Hands down- the best way to enjoy Paris, is cycling at night. Cycling the bicycle paths along the riverbank and on the bridges looking over the Seine. Whilst sophisticated party boats passed under our feet, we savored the luxury of a panoramic view of Paris, in a misty night, the city lights danced on the river.
My flight was scheduled 2 weeks before Paul’s departure, from the Madrid airport. Paul invited me to Barcelona so that I could know his second home; where he went to university and worked for 5 years. We arrived by plane on a sunny day and the weather was excellent- T-shirt and no need for a rain jacket again!! Upon arrival, we were in need of a snack, so Paul took me to one of his favorite cafes to try A very Spanish, thick chocolate drink. Then we went to another spot, liked by Paul. I ordered tapas Vermouth, a sweet, automatized alcohol with herbs, roots and spices (and it might be Italian?) We arrived to the apartment of Paul’s good friend, Matilde. The following day, Paul gave me the cycling tour of Barcelona. My first impression was the climate and the colorful buildings, contrast to Paris. It was familiar, in a way, being already familiar with the Spanish cultural influence in Latin America. Although what I truly first noticed, was the accent, as soon as I boarded the plane. If you don’t know the difference of Spanish accents, the Spaniards sound like they talk with a flamboyant lisp when coming from the west (I know- it’s their language origin.. but I couldn’t hold back my amusement!) And in Barcelona, it’s more Catalan, than Spanish, it’s hardly comprehensible just to know Spanish. There seemed to be more gothic-style buildings and cathedrals (Catalunya> Gothia> “Land of the Goths”) but I learned that the architecture was “Modernisme” having roots in the expression for Catalan independence. The architecture works of Gaudí was amazing to see- his style was most elaborate in the industry. I love mosaic and organic inspired design. I think the Earthship designs took much inspiration from Gaudi. Cycling by the beach, it was my first view of the Atlantic from the eastern land. There were many surfers out, there were many folks out enjoying the beach day- it reminded me of life on the Californian coast. In the evening we joined a few more of Paul’s friends for a full tapas dinner.
A short stay, but I was so glad to have a taste of the Barcelona life. The following day, I hugged Paul good-bye, and flew from Barcelona to Madrid. Thanks to Pepe, who answered to my last-minute couch request, I had an inflatable bed to sleep on for the night, and not a bench in the Madrid airport. There were other travelers sharing the room; a Polish couple; and an American woman from Chicago. My stay in downtown Madrid lasted for 12 hours, then I was back on the underground train with the Polish couple to catch my last flight. It was so short, but a nice experience to meet Pepe and his guest. (Thanks Pepe!) Madrid has a huge airport, and the underground train has two stops; Airport T1-T2-T3 and Airport T4. I stepped off at the wrong airport! And I had less than 30 minutes to get to T4. I got on the next bus, and on arrival, I dashed for my terminal. It is not easy to navigate this behemoth airport, not to mention, having the main passage to the terminals via high-end make-up department, is silly. I was ten minutes late after the boarding time. I thought I lost the flight. But to my surprise- passengers were still waiting on board. Turns out, there were 6 wheelchairs that need special accommodation for our flight. Thank the wheelchairs! We departed half hour after schedule.
Again, I thank everyone who made this trip possible, Paul, his friends and family, Pepe, and of course, my Mom.
Back to South America.. a few weeks until Paul’s return.. what would I do in the meantime? Are we still going to complete the thousands ans thousands of kilometers to Patagonia??
Find out next…