A Few Photos from My Travels

I love to travel. It is a big passion of mine. Whenever I can go anywhere out of town I become excited. I prefer to leave the state of California, but with the kids being so young it is hard to hop on a plane to Europe, especially when you need $6,000 just to begin your journey in the summertime. With that being said California has a lot to offer too! I still have not seen all of the central and eastern parts of the state. One day I hope to travel more outside of the state- but for now I plan on going to visit that last “local” California mission (San Gabriel) before the year ends.

Below are a few photos from my two favorite cities – Paris and San Francisco and a country that I have grown to love and appreciate even more since meeting and marrying Max- Italy. I am proud to say that that I have been to 38 states and 19 countries at the age of 41. I hope that by the age of 61 that I can raise these numbers including visiting another continent or two with Max and the kids who also love to travel!

Monet

Notre Dame

Tour Montparnasse

Paris

Chinatown

North Beach

Golden Gate Bridge

Fisherman's Wharf

San Francisco

the beach

Tribunale Ordinario di Firenze

Lucchetti dell’amore

Ponte Vecchio

Italy

(day 364)

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Photographs of the Past and Present (Paris)

Preface: This is a short story that I wrote many years ago while I was living in Europe. My time living abroad was incredible with many adventures… but they all started with time spent in Paris with a close girlfriend of mine. Enjoy…


I felt a drop in my stomach as the plane fought with the wind. The turbulence had everyone grabbing onto their seats and loved ones. VROOM… another smooth landing; I was only in doubt temporarily. Landing in Philadelphia I was only one flight away from Paris. Now all I had to do was find Lisa who had flown to Philadelphia from Los Angeles. Lisa is a good friend who had vacation time and loved to travel. I had left Los Angeles a month before heading to my parents’ house to pack and relax before the voyage to France where I would be an “au pair” (mother’s helper).

Frantically searching the arrivals screen I saw that Lisa’s flight was about to land. Gliding past others on the horizontal escalator I made my way to her gate. I began jumping up and down when I saw her. After a quick hug we decided to pass the layover time in a restaurant. Sitting at the bar we began drinking beer and eating hot dogs going over our carefully planned itinerary. We had spent hours on the phone and computer checking various train schedules to use with our Europass; we thought we knew it all. I rambled on about how excited I was to return to Paris after being away for a year. I was so excited to show her my favorite European city.

Taking off an hour later we toasted once again with free booze and spent time in our guidebooks, people watching and talking. The realization that we were in Paris finally hit us as our plane landed at Charles de Gaulle Airport. Clearing customs we headed to the RER, the suburban high-speed rapid transit (subway), that runs through Paris. This was the beginning of my struggle with my bags. Attempting to reach our hotel in the cheapest manner possible we opted not to take a taxi or shuttle bus; subways were the only way to go. Besides I was experienced taking this route – why not do it again?

Looking around us I saw that I was the only one struggling with too much stuff. Attached to my body were two suitcases, a backpack, and a shoulder bag. Almost tumbling down the escalator a stranger offered to help me. I said no about three times before he took my two suitcases, not taking “no” for an answer. Talking on the way to the city we discovered our new friend’s name was Gilbert and that he lived in the outskirts of Paris. Going out of his way he escorted us to our stop and helped me up the escalator to the bustling Boulevard Port Royal above.

The walk to the hotel was hell on earth. Having been in this very spot, just a year ago I knew the way with my eyes closed, but one thing was different on this trip versus the previous one. On the last trip I did not have half of my life neatly packed into four bags. Imagine this scene, dripping with sweat, attempting to lug bags from almost every limb, limping down the street. That was me! To complicate matters I discovered moments after departing the subway that the wheel of my suitcase had broken; we were not even half way to the hotel! A dark black streak from the wheel was left on the sidewalk to mark our path.

As we walked down the street a woman stopped me and pointed at the sidewalk. Knowing what she was going to say I shook my head in agreement that there were indeed markings on the sidewalk from my suitcase, but there was nothing I could do to fix it short of stopping and walking to the hotel by lifting the suitcase for half a mile. I apologized and we continued on. You can not imagine how happy I was the day I threw that suitcase out for a shiny red Parisian one!! Eventually we arrived to our street and hotel. Shelter is just what we needed after our long journey to Paris from the States.

Opening the door to the hotel we were greeted by the scent of fresh baked bread. The hotel’s restaurant was calling us to sit down and eat, but there was no time for that now! We had plans to meet our new friend Gilbert that evening. Storming up five flights of stairs our pace slowed down. By flight three I wanted to be carried the rest of the way. I settled for moving everything to the room in two trips.

After a short break we headed out again and hopped on the metro towards the Champs de Mars. As the Eiffel Tower came into view my eyes welled up with tears. I was very happy to see my beacon of hope. A smile crossed my face as I took a moment to let it sink in that I was really here. I glanced at Lisa and she smiled. Crossing from the Trocadéro walking down a set of stairs and past the fountains we made our way to the base of the Eiffel Tower. I watched people buying ice cream and crepes while others followed tourists attempting to sell them everything from gold plated Eiffel Tower key chains to purses. Lisa spotted Gilbert as he walked towards us with a bag. Inside was a bottle of wine that he brought for us to enjoy at the top of the monument.

Following his lead we went towards the West Pillar, which had the shortest line. Making our way up the first set of elevators we took in a great view of the city below. While they talked I zoned out and daydreamed about my future. Next we made our way to a second elevator that took us to the top. Exiting the elevator Paris was at our feet. The city lights glistened and I could feel the magic. We toasted to friendship as the wind ripped around us. Walking around we skipped and laughed like school children enjoying the moment. After arriving to the bottom we walked to the nearby metro. We said our goodbyes and made plans to see each other the next morning.

Glancing around the metro’s entrance we saw no one. The ticket window was closed. We did not have return tickets and the automatic ticket machine was broken. Taking the first of many chances during our European adventure we crawled under the turn-style and hoped the video cameras were not on us. Thirty minutes later we arrived safely to our station. We stopped for snacks and beer and continued the short walk back to our hotel. After the long voyage sleep was first the first thing on our agenda now.

I woke up to car horns on the busy street below. Looking around I remembered that I was no longer home. I was in Paris. I began thinking of what a busy day we had planned. Gilbert and I wanted to give Lisa a taste of the city and had planned on showing her some of our favorite highlights around town: including the Champs-Elysees and the ever so famous Arc de Triomphe. I have always enjoyed visiting this landmark, and this visit was going to be extra special.

Back during World War II (sometime between 1943-1945) Lisa’s grandfather had spent time in Paris. Spending holidays with her family I had loved sitting at her grandparents’ kitchen table hearing him tell stories about riding a bike with a baguette in tow around the French streets of a small village not speaking a word of French, yet having everyone smile and give a friendly wave to him. At Gabriel and Mary Ellen’s house there was a black and white photograph in the hallway with him and two friends in front of the Arc de Triomphe after the war. Every time I had viewed that picture I was mesmerized thinking about what Paris must have been like back then.

Lisa was determined to take a photo with two people in front of that very monument one day. When she had first mentioned it to me I saw no difficulty in doing just that, even though we needed to seek out a third individual to join us. Having met Gilbert the day before we knew he would be glad to join us for this ever so important photo.

To say the least the highlight of the afternoon was taking that photo in the same spot that her grandfather had stood in so many decades before. Lisa had realized a dream and would have that picture to share with her grandparents. That day I enjoyed showing her many of the famous landmarks around Paris – but we had time to stop along the Champs-Elysee too for an ice cream. There is always time to relax and people watch. We spent the rest of the afternoon unwinding in the Jardin du Luxembourg and exploring the neighborhood stores before having a home cooked meal at another friend’s apartment.

The next day we awoke knowing it was time to pack up and continue on. Our time in Paris was short, but nice. We would return a month later and see more of the city so we were not sad to go. I would also continue to stay in Paris after Lisa’s departure until I had a work assignment as an “au pair” somewhere in Europe. In less than two days we had accomplished so much. We met a new friend, visited with an old one, and saw a few of Paris’ famous landmarks. I learned that the Eiffel Tower still brought tears to my eyes, and that the Arc de Triomphe’s history continues to live on in photos linking the past with the present.

(day 363)

Alligators, a Lighthouse, and the Warm Atlantic: Thanksgiving in Miami

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The following post is by guest blogger Lisa (lisabay), an old friend that I met in college and fellow WordPress blogger. I asked here if she would do another guest post for me since I am finishing this blog in a few days. This is her 3rd posting on Jardin Luxembourg.


True story:  We got the idea to go to Miami for Thanksgiving, because a three year old accidentally texted me…  Let’s back up.  My husband was itching to take a vacation, since he had some temporary help with his job.   He hadn’t taken off more than five days in almost ten years.  He had his eye on Maui.  But Maui wasn’t meant to be, with the astronomical ticket price.  We had talked about going to Miami before.  Alex had been there for work on a few occasions.  But I had never been to Florida.  We had dinner with our neighbors one night who are from North and South Florida.  “You should really see Miami someday.” they said.  Yeah, someday.

Then just when we were about to book a trip to a more local West Coast spot, our neighbor’s son accidentally sent me a video text of himself.  He was playing with his mom’s phone.  He somehow made me think of Miami.  Hey, I thought, Florida is the same distance as Maui, warm, and has a much better ticket price.  And I’ve never been there.  Of course this is what excited me most.  I absolutely love to visit new places.  I believe we are only on this planet once, and you might as well see as much as you can of it.    So we took the plunge and booked the trip.  “Do you have family there?” people would ask.  “None whatsoever.”  It was probably the most random thing our family has ever done.

Now the only thing I knew about Miami before this was from CSI Miami and the movie Scarface. (I wasn’t really allowed to watch Miami Vice as a kid, though I hear it was good.)  I set out to do some research.  Along with scouring the internet, I read novels set in South Florida.  I think if you really want to get a feel for a place, find an author who loves where they live and writes about it.  Even though it might be fiction, you can get a sense of a place.  I read a couple of books by Carl Hiaasen.  He has been writing about South Florida since the 80’s.  Many of his books are funny over-the-top crime novels.  He has a line of children’s books as well.  I also read part of Stiltsville, by Susanna Daniel.  Stiltsville is a real place, which I will get to later.

After all this research, I had big plans.  I wanted to see the Everglades, go to the Florida Keys, see the lighthouse at Cape Florida, eat some good Cuban food, and go on an Art Deco tour in South Beach.  And oh yeah, spend some time on the beach and pool.  (I’m not really a lay-out, sit-by-the-pool kind of person, so eventually, I have to move around.)  With a family of four, which includes a young child, we didn’t do it all, but we did have fun.  Miami is an exciting city.  It’s also very big and spread out, with lots of traffic.  The reality was, once we got to our hotel, we really didn’t take our car out that much.  Dinner was always somewhere local, because there were so many options nearby.  We were fortunate enough to be within walking distance to Lincoln Road, which reminds me of Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, with shops and restaurants, and closed to traffic.  I can tell you where the most highly recommended Cuban spots are, but we didn’t end up going there.  We did eat some Cuban food though.  It is pretty much everywhere.  If you like pickles and mustard, that’s a good thing, because it’s in the sandwiches.  My kids and I also love black beans and tostones, which are twice fried plantain chips, marinated in garlic and lime.

P1000325One day we decided to take an airboat tour of the Everglades.  It was a perfect day, not too hot, without rain.  My Florida friend recommended Buffalo Tiger Airboat Tours on the Miccosukee Indian Reservation.  This was a great choice.  It was very informative and exciting.  I knew what to expect, since I saw some You-Tube videos, but my family weren’t expecting to get so close to the alligators like we did.  This place had an interesting story.  Buffalo Tiger was once the chief of the Miccosukee.  Back in the 60’s, the US government wouldn’t recognize his tribe, so he went to Fidel Castro, and somehow got the government’s attention.  He then created casinos to raise money and help his people.  Later he retired and wanted to educate visitors about his land and people, so he started the airboat tours.  They can go out much farther than the other tour companies, because they don’t have to worry about running into national park land.

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photo (2)After our drive out to the Everglades, which was a bit tough with traffic, and the kids in the back seat, I realized I had to sacrifice the trip to the Florida Keys.  Even though, I am fascinated by them, we would be driving all day where I wanted to go.  That would not be pleasant for my husband or kids.  Instead, I suggested University of Miami.  This is only because I wanted to get out and see a different part of the city, but I knew there would be space for the kids to run around, and it would peak my husband’s interest since he is a long time college football fan.  We had a very pleasant time there.  It’s a beautiful and unique campus.  I’ve never seen so much water at a college before.  But there’s tons of water all over Florida.  It rains so much, the ground is squishy.

P1000382On Thanksgiving Day, we went to the lighthouse on Key Biscayne, about 40 minutes from South Beach.  It is in a state park, and very picturesque and peaceful.  The lighthouse is the oldest standing structure in Dade County.  Most things around it were destroyed in 1992 with Hurricane Andrew.  After that, they fixed it up for tours, and painted it white.  (Scenes from Miami Vice show the lighthouse with brown bricks.)  From the lighthouse, you can see Stiltsville, a group of seven houses on stilts, about a mile off the coast.  Stiltsville used to be a thriving party/ vacation community.  Back in the 50’s there were casinos and clubs with mob ties.  Ted Kennedy had his bachelor party out there.  As the years went by, hurricanes destroyed most of it.  Now there are only seven structures left, and are part of a preservation trust.  I think you can rent the houses for events, or be invited by a member of the trust.  You can also take boat tours out there to get a closer look.

Stiltsville

Stiltsville

On our last day in Miami, we opted for no car excursions, just beach and pool for the kids.  My husband played tennis in the morning at a local park, then we switched off with the kids, and I walked to the Art Deco walking tour, and learned about some of the old hotels in South Beach.  The next day it was time to go to the airport and take the 6 hour flight home.

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Oh what a trip!  It was definitely something we don’t usually do, and led us somewhere very different from home.  Almost every night, we went out on the beach, ran around in the sand, and touched the water.  We were the only ones out there, by the way.  Those crazy Northern Californians couldn’t get over the warmth of the Atlantic.  Will we go back?  Maybe someday.  I still have to see those Florida Keys.

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(day 362) Guest blog by lisabay. Lisa, thank you for your contribution to my blog and I look forward to you writing on my new blog too!


The City of Nîmes

Having visited France so many times I have to admit that I have spent the majority of my time in Paris. I have traveled through the country by train seeing many other cities- but have only had overnight stays in three other towns – one of which is Nîmes. This town is located in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of Southern France.

My first trip here was not planned to say the least. At the time I was visiting Paris for the first time alone and ended up taking a side trip here with a friend who was visiting family for the weekend. It was a very sporadic decision to hop on a train to a town that I knew nothing about. To be truthful I had no clue of the geography of France at the time and went on a complete whim not knowing exactly where I was going. I only knew that I had to be back in Paris in two days to meet up with another friend who was visiting me from Germany.

It was a bit of a surprise to see how far Nîmes was from Paris as I glanced at a map on the train (I was on one of those slow regional trains) – but I must tell you I loved this town from my first moments there. My friend showed me around his hometown, and by chance there was a big fête (festival) going on that weekend. People were everywhere, there were floats all around, and it was a very festive atmosphere. Although I would have loved to stay longer I had to return to Paris and left a day later. That train ride back to Paris was the one where I overslept, missed my transfer, and ended up at the border of Germany before I realized exactly where I was. Don’t worry– I made it back to Paris in time to shower and meet my friend at the train station.

Having had a taste of Nîmes I was excited to return a few years later with another friend. Highlights of that trip included visiting the famous Roman amphitheater that is still nearly perfectly intact, relaxing in cafes and restaurants eating excellent French cuisine, and meeting new friends. It would be great to return here again – I can’t say that it will happen – but it would be nice to see this wonderful city again.

the fete

a float

The great fête of Nimes!

the roman amphitheater

inside the amphitheater

The Roman amphitheater

(day 356)

A Few Photos of Paris

la tour eiffel

I have been to Paris quite a few times – long trips, weekend trips, with my parents, with my husband and kids, and I can never forget that first trip with my tour group which introduced me to this beautiful city. I can’t actually recall how many times I have been here, but I fell in love with Paris that first trip and have enjoyed returning here for 20 years now- oh my I am slowly aging– but having been able to visit here in my younger years I have only learned to appreciate Paris even more as I become older.

I have always enjoyed visiting Paris with others too – showing them around my favorite spots and always finding new places along the way. It has been particularly fun visiting Paris with Max as we both visited here separately in our 20’s and have fun showing each other some of our favorite spots around town. But when we visit here now it is all about the kids so we spend more time in parks than anywhere else. The kids know I love Paris and they too are fans of the city.. I could so see Malina living here one day when she is older. As my blogging year slowly comes to a close I had to go back in my archives one last time to revisit my favorite city.

visiting the eiffel tower

le jardin du luxembourg

le sacre coeur (church)

pizza hut!

le pont alex III (bridge)

le pere lachaise (cemetery)

les bateaux mouches

(day 355)

A Day in Photos- Italy (part 2)

It was fun putting together this post on Italy- soo many photos to chose from! You can view part one of this series here. I live by the Pacific Ocean and am a big beach fan- so visiting the cities of Castiglione Della Pescaia and Porto San Stefano along the Mediterranean Sea reminded me a bit of home with totally different landscaping! In the south of Italy I truly enjoyed Naples and Sorrento, two cities also on the coast.

Milan is the only Italian city that I have visited by myself. It is a very sophisticated city – big business, well dressed people, fashion, and lots of shopping. I had a great time here. For me visiting Italy and not seeing Rome is a shame. Yes, there are tourists everywhere, but you just have to see all the famous landmarks here- even if it is just once…. and me, I was able to visit here twice!

Enjoy the photos…..

the Colosseum

the forum

the forum 2

Rome. The Colesseum and the Forum in black & white. I can only imagine how it would have been like to live here way, way back….

boats at sea

on the vespa

the coast-sorrento

I have posted on Naples and Sorrento before- so here are a few more shots from the cities that I accidently ended up visiting – and enjoyed soo much. There is something to be said about straying from your itinerary. I thought that the little girl on the Vespa was adorable. I took her photo while we sat outside eating lunch at a restaurant in Sorrento– the restaurant where I first ate “carbonara style” pasta (yum.. with eggs, bacon, cheese).

il duomo

men at work statue

arcade-shopping

cimitero storico di milano

I took the train to Milan for a weekend getaway when I live in St. Maurice, Switzerland. After the 3 hour train ride I made my way to the Duomo and found a pensione (hotel) where they spoke French since at the time I spoke no Italian. I talked with the hotel attendant and we came up with a rate for a two night stay that I agreed upon. I really enjoyed my time here- I met a few locals- wandered around… almost got locked in the cemetery.. it can be a lot of fun to travel on your own sometimes!

the beach

beach time

the tuscan coast

The Tuscan Coast is amazing. Visiting here twice in the summer with Max’s family was so much fun! His mom is such a nice person, and the rest of his family is great too. Nothing beats a morning swim in the sea, hanging out with family, eating great food, spending the day at the beach, taking naps after lunch, and just relaxing. These shots are in Castiglione Della Pescaia and Porto San Stefano.

(day 346)

Trying to Ski

me

Winter is somewhat upon us now – as a matter of fact half of yesterday the sun was hiding where I live (near the beach). The other half of the day the sun was out. I will admit that I have not found my coat yet, or the kids for that matter. One thing that you might need a coat for is to go skiing.

Guess what? I do not know how to ski! Growing up in Indiana we had plenty of snow, but no mountains. Then I moved to Southern California and there were plenty of mountains and three ski resort areas with the closest only 2.5 hours- Big Bear/Arrowhead. There are local mountains as well, less than an hour from where I live- Mount Baldy- but I have never been there. I would like to visit Mammoth in the winter and was lucky enough to see Lake Tahoe once in the winter (but that was not for skiing purposes).

I can cross country ski- it is really not that hard. I had the opportunity to try that out in Yosemite and it was an amazing experience. Fast forward 5 years and I finally tried downhill skiing. I will admit it was good to try it out, but I could not do it well. I was actually quite horrible at it. I tried twice – maybe it was two years in a row- but neither trip was successful. Whenever I landed on the ground I had the hardest time getting up. I have not tried skiing again and probably never will. I enjoy the atmosphere at the lodge and want the kids to eventually see snow and try skiing themselves, but for now I will enjoy the beach and the sun instead of the snow!

down again

Lisa & I

(day 343)