This autumn marks two anniversaries: my 15 years living in Paris and the three years of my blog. These both deserved their own celebration, the former, with applying for French citizenship which is in progress, and the latter, with the re-design of my blog, thanks to the help of creative Emilia Farrace of Simple Elaborate (and a big merci to Patricia Parisienne for connecting us!). However, in addition, these two topics are coming together in this first post on the new site.
While I’ve had my official site for just three years, I’ve been writing for much longer and, in fact, this anniversary got me reflecting on how both these travel adventures, and writing about them, begun at least 15 years ago, if not even further back when I caught the travel bug at 17 leading to my life in Europe (though I’ve been writing funny stories since I was a kid). This all hit last week when I was trying to track down a specific photo. No, not on my computer, on my bookshelf, as I sifted through the stacks of photo albums which pre-date the digital camera, the iPhone … and the selfie-stick.
I didn’t even find the photo I’d been looking for, instead I got distracted gathering together this fun series of travel photos from my early years. It was in this rummaging, that I remembered back to when I’d first moved to France. To stay in touch and share my European travel tales, I used to send email updates to my friends and family, much before blogs and facebook had materialized as better means of spreading news. Little did I know then where my travels … and my writing… would take me. Since I’m such a packrat, I have 15 years of emails as well, and I managed to dig up some of my first “travel writing” which I’ve interspersed below.
I hope you enjoy this entertaining little co-celebration in the tales and photos below… and may your own travel and life adventures be far, wide and exciting! The sky is not the limit.
At the end of August 2000 I moved to France, first as a guide at the Canadian WWI Memorial at Vimy Ridge, then I embarked on Paris early the following year. The whole guide-core traveled like mad that fall, we grouped together our days off so we could go even further afield, I mostly took off with Princess Jessica (more on her and the other various characters below in my book). One of our favorite trips was to San Sebastian in the Spanish Basque country, we also spent a day at the then newly opened Guggenheim in Bilbao, pictured here. In fact, Spain wasn’t at all our planned destination as I recounted in this email as our initial travel plans were thwarted by the weather and instead led us to one of my Spanish pals, Ignazio (or Iggi since we couldn’t pronounce his name) from my days studying abroad in Paris:
I hadn’t wanted to go to the southwest of France because I was going to try to get in touch with Iggi before hand to go and see him in San Sebastian. But we wanted sunshine and Jess had been to the Cote d’Azur so we went west regardless. Biarritz really sucked, so off we went to San Seb. After checking into our hotel. I searched in the phone book in an attempt to track him down. There was one number at a similar address to what I had for him. So I called it and spoke to his mom, who luckily spoke french as well. He met Jess and I later on. We had a Calimocho, fitting for old times sake and we caught up with what each of us have been up to.
Our little night out having tapas with the locals in San Sebastian was good fun… and I can’t believe we had Calimocho – the horrible mix of bad wine and coke we used to drink as exchange students stretching their budgets in Paris. Another time we took the night bus down to Munich for Oktoberfest, however, one of our most memorable was up to Amsterdam. Jess had an English boyfriend living there and she’d pawned me off to his charismatic French friend who I think must be the author of the second photo in the North Sea where we went on a day trip. Spain and Amsterdam reappear below!
My first job in Paris, as I was awaiting my VISA arranged by the Scientologist English School (yikes! I only found out about their connection to the sect afterwards), was as a tour director for student tours. I did three tours with them in the spring; two to the Loire and Normandy, and then one which went down to the South of France, and I came across this little summary of our trip from one of my newsletters:
We did two days in Paris, before doing the Loire Valley, which I now know well enough, but the rest was new to me… despite my lacking of energy I made it through fine. We visited Vichy and drank the bubbly water, Avignon, the ancient stronghold of the Popes, crossing beautiful provence, we stopped in Orange, and Nime to see to remains of the Romans including the famous Pont du Gard. Next we went to the French Riviera. We based ourselves near Cannes and went to Nice and Monaco as well. I really liked Nice and would like to go back sometime soon. This part of France, though very touristy, is beautiful and all I need to find is a hidden corner and it would be perfect.
All in all, a pretty good description, in fact the one thing I recalled before finding the email was that I spent several days pretending I knew all about the various sites and towns we visited. I managed a well-needed break from my charade at the Pont du Gard, one of the most impressive Roman structures in France, where I could admire the amazing aqueduct away from the kids, something that stood out in my email too.
After the tours I had a little free time before a trip back to Canada to pick up my VISA. So I took my last few hundred “francs” and headed back to Spain, here is what I wrote in my little email “newsletter” prior to departing:
I’m going on a whirlwind tour of Spain à la Lily. That involves not spending too much money, but still seeing a lot and visiting friends!! I leave on Monday, by bus… I know, I know, I probably vowed not to take it ever again after Munich last fall, but it’s the cheapest way to go!! I’m starting in Barcelona, three days to check out the city of Gaudi, then another big ride to Malaga, where I will stay with a friend for about a week. Malaga is on the ‘Sun Coast’ in Southern Spain, as in… on the BEACH! So I plan to come back not so pale!! On my way back north I will be stopping in Granada, Cordoba and Seville (maybe for a haircut…?) and finally top things off with Madrid. I hope to see some old friends there too. It should be a good three weeks.
A good three weeks?? Well they were at least eventful. In the those three weeks I spent 60 hours on buses going down and back, night journeys between the cities, never again! It all started well with a lovely time in Barcelona hanging with a girl I’d wander the Gothic Quarter, us both trying to find the hostel. Malaga was nice at the beginning… then the “friend” I was visiting turned a little crazy and I was so eager to leave after 10 days that I taped up my backpack when the zipper broke the morning I was supposed to head to Seville. No I didn’t see any barbers there… but I did meet these three Argentinians in Madrid who tried to get me to have a four-some with them (note: tried) and was dying to get back to Paris, even with the dreaded last night bus, alas I wasn’t riding off into the sunset on the sexy horseman who’d posed with me in the photo at the top in Malaga (very La Tigresse!). An adventure, that’s for sure… and I’ve learnt to pack lighter… but not to avoid those Argentinians.
My travels away from Paris often involved a trip down to Bella Italia, even as far back as 2002 from this old message:
Life has been quite busy for me. Summer in Paris was alright, though I saw the sun only about once a week! To combat this, I escaped to Italy for 5 days for my birthday. I went to stay with my Italian sister Mara and her family near the city of Pescara, on the Adriatic coast. It was a well deserve break, which involved going to the beach (gorgeous weather!), taking drives through the olive grooved hills of the area, and of course eating lots of pasta, pizza and gelato. Ahhhh, Italia….
And so was an almost bi-annual summer tradition, illustrated in the photos above, first three are from the beach there, where we’d spend our days under one of those endless umbrellas, much different than the wild lake beaches I was used to growing up in the Canadian countryside (though we did find the little straw-hut on a stroll one day). Before low-cost airlines I used to take the night train down. Once I splurged on a first class carriage thinking I’d have a quiet atmosphere to get some sleep as I’d be going straight to work upon arriving at the station, but instead was put with this sweet Filipino family. I didn’t get the tranquil ambience I’d been seeking, but I did get this photo with them, showing off my lovely “tan” … or rather burn, not enough time spent under my yellow umbrella. I was a little more careful in the years to come, like in the last photo taken a few summers later at a historic villa in the area.
I am going to London this weekend, first to see my good friend Paul before he moves to Australia and my sister Corianna is going to be in Dover with her cruise ship. I would have rather done the trip another weekend but that is the only time cori is going to be there. Crazy busy, plus I moved this week. I am back in my old place but I haven’t had time to unpack!!
For a time, several of my trips revolved around my sister’s travels. She was working as a photographer on a cruiseship and, as luck would have it, she docked twice in Europe. One year she was doing a Nordic cruise and would have one day off in Dover on the South coast of England, famous for its white cliffs. Yes, that’s where we are in the first two photos. Notice the second one (with her first taste for South Africans), the wind wildly blowing my hair… during our little amble on the cliffs a huge stormed brewed, catching us off guard. Moments later the first cracks of thundered roared. We were scurrying back to the visitors center when a lightning bolt landed nearby… Cori’s South African beau, a doctor, panicked, forced us to huddle near a bush, threw my bag with my phone, saying it could attract the lightning, about 10 meters away and finally gave us instructions on what to do if one of us was actually struck. We survived the incidence unscathered, yet more than completely drenched.
Another time I met Corianna in Barcelona where she was docked the next year, one of my favorite cities, though as you can see, I hadn’t yet learnt how to track down the fantastic tapas and cava yet. On one of her leaves, my sister stopped in Paris on her way back to Canada from Thailand. We decided to do a little road trip with Special Kay and Cori’s travel buddy. Our jaunt up to Amsterdam and Groningen to visit my university roommate Wilma, led to a good deal of shenanigans, most importantly, me meeting Wilma’s new roommate… who became my occasional Dutch sweetie. The black and white photo is of us when we returned the rental car, the attendant checking it over:
– “Boy, you guys really put on some mileage!”
– “We went to Holland!” we enthusiastically replied
– “But you weren’t supposed to leave the country …”
– “Ummm we mean… we went to… Marseilles?”
And then make trips up to Amsterdam almost once a year. This one time I had an old high school friend visiting. We took the train up to Lille to see a friend of his, then carried on to Holland where we stayed in a cheap place near Edam, where they make the cheese. We did take the bus into the city, but it wasn’t one of our wild trips up to the city of canals (I think this photo must pre-date the road trip with the girls!).
Special Kay and I had a few other travel adventures together, pictured here. One year she wasn’t going back to California for Christmas so I took her down to Italy where we had this little travel tale:
I went to my home away from home, Milano, Italy. I spent christmas with Mara and her family. I still can’t accept eating pasta for christmas dinner, so strange. I visited my old friends and went to some art exhibits. Then my friend from Paris, Katrin, came down and we went to Florence together. Florence is probably my favourite Italian city. For those of you who have been, you’ll most definitely understand! It’s gorgeous!!! We ended up staying in a 14th century villa at the foot of a monastery just outside the city. So it was quite characteristic. We could see rolling olive groves from our window. And since we had both been there before, it didn’t seem necessary to stay in the centre, until we realized that the bus system was terrible! Oh well!
The 31st we went to Arezzo, to the south and we passed thru some gorgeous Tuscan scenery. We toured around to city and saw the various places where ‘Life is Beautiful’ was filmed, but boy was it ever chilly, it almost snowed!!! It was fun wandering around the old medieval streets. We bought some fresh gnocchi and headed back to Florence. The plan was to cook a nice dinner and then go to the centre, but the last bus was at 9:00 and it took us ages to get back to our place so we didn’t have much time. Once back in the centre, we strolled around before going into a pub to warm up. It was okay. After a bit this guy started talking to us and then invited us to go with them to celebrate in the mail square. We went along. What was going on was a chaotic though! There was a big space in the square, with all the people surrounding it. So people would take turns, well only sort of, run inside, lit a fire work and take off back out. So this was happening simultaneously all around the square. It was kind of neat, but really insane too, why the city didn’t organize their own thing is beyond me!!! Fireworks were even hitting the historic buildings! Then at midnight everyone started singing and spraying champagne in the air and on their friends! (alcohol in public is legal here). Then to top things off, people started whipping their bottles into the square too! Crazy crazy!! Certainly a night to remember!
No further commentary necessary! Another trip together took us to Istanbul. A truly fabulous city, however, our trip had a few … problems. It was back in the day when I was organizing events for the Canadian Club and I’d been suckered into picking up the pieces of the half-organized annual “hiking trip.” Kay and I were only going to sightsee, the others could hike all they wanted, or at least, that’s what they planned on doing. We’d booked a group rate through a shady tour operator and to make up for putting us in a horrible hotel (our room didn’t have proper running water), they gave us a free tour guide and itinerary for the three days. So Kay and I got to do all our sightseeing, including a free cruise on the Bosphorus. The last photo was taken a few hours before we left, I was standing precariously on the curb of the street leading up to the Hagia Sofia, seconds later on took a near fatal step backwards and slid into the street. Luckily there weren’t any cars coming. I’m still just as clumsy.
I found this cute photo in the bunch. Back in the days when Naughty was still living in Paris we took a road trip with a group of friends to the Alsace region in Eastern France, home to the first “wine route” in the country, which we aimed to discover. A good advantage of having girl friends with French boyfriends was their cars. Naughty and I didn’t have to drive so we made the most of our many wine-tastings. A little too much so for Naughty who needed a little help home by the end of the night which included some tasty local flammekueche, “Alsatian style pizzas”, … and certainly more local wine.
The last of my photos before the digital era seem to be from my first trip to South Africa (well, I might have had a digital camera by then, but I still was in the archaic age of printing photos). My Italian sister came down to meet us and we had a fun “sisters” trip, with a new brother, my soon to be brother-in-law, my sister’s future husband (not the doctor from the photo, but he’d obviously sparked her taste in the sexy Afrikaners). Here we are at Cango Caves. The caves have a main “cathedral” with impressive stalactite geological icicles formed on the ceiling. The “adventurous” or semi-adventurous types like us can also opt for a tour through the tunnels.
As we approached the stairs leading up to the start, the previous group was coming down, the last was a middle-aged man with quite the beer belly, we mightn’t have noticed or cared, however, his t-shirt was all ripped up and muddy. “Watch out in there!” He cheered on his way to safety. Oh boy… We made it out in one piece and kept our little tour going to other places in the Southern Cape. Once back at their home in the wine country, we heard on the news that a someone had gotten stuck in one of the passages and a whole group was trapped behind him, all having to endure 12 hours down there while they de-lodged the person.
What luck that it wasn’t the day we were there! Nevertheless, what is life without a few risks and what is life without adventure! I’m saddled up ready for the next ones.