Monthly Archives: November 2011

Giving Thanks in Georgia…

The morning after Thanksgiving and I still can hardly move. A small beached Orca… Will’s mom Sharon spent all day in the kitchen cooking up an AMAZING southern feast and what a feast it was! We’re all going to make sure she doesn’t lift a finger today – but – good luck with that. I believe seafood gumbo is on the menu today. I just want to pop her tiny little self in my carry on and take her home with me. Murray, Chuck and Sweet Pea might have something to say about that though. We’ll just have to bring them along in a checked bag…. LOL

This morning we were gifted with a partial solar eclipse as I found out from my lovely english friend Amy. All about ending one journey and starting another. Doors closing – doors opening. Hope, opportunity, potential, optimism…. Having spent the last four days in the company of some of the nicest, heart centered and real people I’ve had the pleasure to meet in quite some time – I am once again steeped in a huge teabag of gratitude. My faith in the basic goodness of human beings is restored. Will is one very lucky man to have such a wonderful and generous clan to call his own. We were sitting around a big bonfire last night and as I was watching the fire and listening to the conversations, the laughter and the stories I was feeling pretty lucky my own self.

Blessed Be indeed……

What a Way to Say “I’m happy to Help”…..

photo courtesy of FreeFoto.com

Will and I are taking off tomorrow AM for Georgia to celebrate Thanksgiving with his family.  Yesterday we realized we’d made no plans for transport to the airport.  Hmmmm….. who’s fault is that??  Anyway – ever the clever one – here is my brother Dan’s response to my plea for a ride: 

A Little bird

Did I heard

spread the word

that you need a ride

 I can be the one

To wake with the sun

That aids you on your way

To having some far off holiday fun

 You are

By far

Blessed to be

In the company of

The great and awesome me

 This for sure I knows

At 730 on the nose

To the port of air we goes!

 If you’re not ready then

You’ll miss your flight at 10

And I will leave your ass on the curb

Laying eggs and cursing like a hen

No…No…That would not be very Zen…

 Remember this

On the way to traveling bliss

The limo driver will not accept

Any fools hugs or kiss

Because his generosity is plenty

Please don’t ever forget

To tip your driver a twenty…

I’m still laughing out loud – really grateful and giving Thanks.    We’ll get him some smoked alligator….

“Did You Learn Anything?” continued…..

 It was weird at first to pay for most everything in cash – we just don’t carry much of it at home – if at all.  Just whip out that debit card – and don’t forget to write it down in the check register at some point. Getting 18 coins pound sterling in change for a 20GBP  note weighed heavy in my pocket.  After awhile I started thinking that it was pretty cool.  I could feel the weight of abundance right there in my wallet.  It felt more real than the plastic.  Back home now I get strange looks when I pay in cash.  Counting out $2.40 in quarters for a latte yesterday had the barrista thinking I was somehow on the dole or something with the look she gave me. It gave me an appreciation for the small things – like pennies – they count too….

In the US when you meet someone it seems the first question asked is “what do you do?”.  Frankly – in all of my travels I never got asked that question – and thank god.  What would I tell them?  Unemployed ’cause I decided to chunk it all as a PMP and take a year sabbatical???  What I found is that folks were more interested in who I was, what were my values (cleverly rooted for by baiting me with slamming comments on current America affairs or politics), what was my favorite music, place, color, food, etc…. In short – they were more interested in who I was rather than what I did.  I found that refreshing and am determined to practice that lesson here.  I never knew that slant of the perpective and what it offers in really learning about someone until I was away from it and just how ingrained my inculturation was that it never occurred to me prior.  I think it’s a much better way to engage with a new person. What we do for a living comes and goes – just look at me.  But who we are is rather constant over time. We hope…

I’ve never been a clothes horse but I always wanted to look my best and have the attendant plethora of hair and skin products crowding my bathroom as well as the “3 size” closet of clothes to prove it.  Oh, and let’s not forget at least 50 pairs of shoes – mostly black – mostly high heeled – lining the special shelf in my closet.  Nothing strips a woman down to knowing her essence faster than traveling for months on end with no blow dryer, 4 changes of clothes and one pair of shoes – flat soled at that. Hard to create an image to hide behind when your mascara drys up and you realize the only decent outfit you have is trashed and you have to show up to said function anyway.  I realized that the high heels, the makeup and the perfect hair were a veneer all carefully worn and applied to disguise my latent insecurities and admittedly – on occasion -self loathing.  Somehow I learned that if I just managed to look good no one would notice – including myself.  Well – that got unlearned in a hurry however uncomfortably.  To my surprise – people I met on my journey didn’t care one whit.  Who knew?  What a delight to be appreciated simply for who I was – bare faced, short and mouthy – with bad hair.  The bigger revelation was I got really comfortable with  ‘just Me’ in the process.  Not getting rid of my high heels though…

I’ve said this before in prior posts but truly – there are angels everywhere.  I can’t tell you how many people stepped in and saved me from myself.  Raised by circumstance and parenting to be an extremely independent person – it  was always pulling teeth to get me to ask for help.  Growing up I was always told to “figure it out” or “look it up” so I did – what choice did I have?  Subsequently I got really good at figuring out everything in my life for myself – or so I thought.  While I am not suggesting that a person shouldn’t strive to access their own resourcefulness whenever possible – I know how wonderful I feel when someone comes to me for a solution and I am able to provide one. By absolute neccessity I learned to let people do that for me and I only hope they got the same warm fuzzy feeling.  Maybe not all of them – but some.  The power of two is an amazing force…

Even at 5’3” I can make myself really big when threatened or I percieve I’m in a shaky situation. A confident posture and direct eye kept numerous situations from becoming ugly.  The pants hid the jello knees….

How much I don’t really need in this life.  Sure there are a lot of things I want but – need?  Sure I salivated over many things in my travels – but at the end of the day I reminded myself that I would have to carry that additional weight on my back in my carry on for the rest of the trip.  That made me become very choosy especially after I discovered how expensive shipping anything home would be.  Over time I likened it to personal baggage. How much was I willing to take on in my heart or head that I would end up having to pack around or drag behind me?  I think this was the seminal lesson learned.   I plan to expand on that at some point.

A sense of humor is absolutely critical as is not taking myself or my plans to seriously. 

In the movie “Out of Africa” – Karyn comments on the fact the earth is round so you don’t see to far down your path or horizon” (I’m paraphrasing)  Had I known what I was going to encounter on occasion I may not have gone.  At the same time – if I thought the experience could only afford me XY & Z and not kept an open mind, open eyes  – the innumerable magic moments would have passed me by completely.  I learned to lose the expectations and simply Be where I was at any given time.  And that made all the difference….

To be continued….

Travel Post-mortem…..”Did you learn anything?”…..

Henry Golden’s favorite question to any of his 7 children after we either accomplished something or fell flat on our faces was – “Did you learn anything?”  Needless to say I personally heard it a lot and more often than not – it was after doing something incredibly stupid rather than anything exceptionally brilliant.  I am hearing it daily in my head these days following my travels as I piece together the myriad of  experiences into some integrated whole and root out the take away, the lesson, the gift, the whole ‘what does this mean?’ – if anything….

When I travel – my intent is to be open and learn about the country and culture I’m experiencing.  A by product – whether bidden or not – is that I also tend to learn a lot about myself.  Like traveling a kind of interior landscape. Some of the discoveries are delightful, some are validations that I’ve progressed beyond some personal limitiation and many others are reminders that I have miles and miles to go before transcending some awkward piece of my personality or perspective.  The following are a few of the random thoughts that come to mind as I sort out the answer to Henry’s question.  I just wish it wasn’t also in His Voice – in my ears – in stereo…. 

I am good for about 5 hours on a train at any one stretch.  After that the restless leg syndrome as well as the ADD and bored 5 year old in me kicks in and we both start the “are we there yet” whining.  Most of the time – the adult in me manages to keep it to myself and suffer in silence.  After 11 and a half hours on the night train from San Sebastion to Lisbon Will was ready to move me body and bag to another car.  It’s a testament to his inordinate amount of patience that we survived that trip intact!

I have a cast iron stomach.  I can eat almost anything.  I may not try it a second time but that sense of gastronomic adventure came in handy when I wasn’t quite sure what was in front of me and the manners my Grandmother drilled into me didn’t allow me to say “no thanks” as a guest.

I have a keen internal clock.  I have no idea where I got it from but I always knew what time it was without benefit of a watch or phone.  I carried neither on this trip and never missed a bus, train, plane or anything else that required me to be some place at some specific time.  This may also have been due to the fact that I am pathologically punctual.  I have tried many times in the past to be fashionably late to some function in an effort to appear cool or something equally as ridiculous and just manage to be …. on time.

I can make myself pretty comfortable just about anywhere with very little.  While the princess in me enjoys luxurious surroundings, 4000 thread count sheets, prompt service and generally everything to go MY way – it’s not a requirement to be happy in the moment.  I wasn’t raised in the lap of luxury and the silver spoon bypassed our house growing up.  Subsequently I believe that – while me and all my siblings have an appreciation for the best – we have an uncanny ability to make a silk purse out of a sows ear.  This was probably the one trait that served me best.  Besides, there just isn’t that much enthusiasm or toloerance for pitching an American Princess fit abroad these days. 

To be continued……. 

As a friend used to say – ‘have all the fun you’re willing to have’

Namaste

Travel Gear Review…

I wanted to share a Gear Review for those who may be thinking of traveling long and light in the distant or not too distant future.  Just a note:  these are not paid or endorsed advertisements – just my personal experience and opinions.

I spent some months prior to the trip researching and trying out all manner of carry-on bags, shoulder bags, packing cubes, alternatives to minimize the liquids limit, shoes, outerwear, etc.  The shoes and shoulder bag search in particular was extensive but – overall – I am happy I spent as much time as I did finding the perfect solutions for my travel needs.  Know that I am a recovering Type A  Analyst Perfectionist so no stone was left unturned in this pursuit.  If you can use my reviews to assist and/or minimize your time spent in this endeavor – all the better! 

eBag’s Mother Lode TLS Convertible Carry-on –

eBag Mother Lode TLS new

eBag after 3 mos travel

I truly can’t say enough about this bag!  In the side by side comparison photos you see what it was like brand new and what it’s like today after being thrown in boat holds, trashed around buses, trains and stations, drug occasionally, rained on a lot, tossed in trunks of cars and generally treated like Cinderella way before Prince Charming showed up.  I could pack an amazing amount of stuff in it and the internal straps kept the load balanced rather than compressing to the bottom with gravity.  This helped immensely when I had to walk miles with about 25lbs on my back. I found it comfortable for extended periods and the shoulder straps distributed the weight evenly.  I did notice that my shoulders were sore if I had to carry all that weight for more than about 2 hours but I think I can attribute that to an aging kinda out of shape body. The chest strap helped as well.  The expandable zipout came in handy and – with the external compression straps – I could still reef it down tight enough to pass all the myriad airport’s carry-on dimension regs.  The design is top notch for organization and access.  I was in and out of many places and being able to pack this bag well (packing cubes employed) in about 10 minutes was a godsend.  The only wear I’ve noticed is a very tiny pull on the stitching of the left shoulder strap but not separating.  This I can probably attribute to slinging just one strap on my shoulder – again – fully loaded.  The three well placed external handles came in very handy for getting it easily in and out of overhead compartments, trunks, etc.  The rear compartment was handy for stuffing my empty shoulder bag in for those flights that allowed only one bag.  Will was so impressed – he bought one as well and is of the same opinion after his ‘sea trials’.  All this and – at $99 – the price was incredibly reasonable for the value.  In retrospect it allows me to feel better about the 13 euro/ea. French coffees in Paris… I doubt I will ever use my wheeled bag again.  http://www.ebags.com/product/ebags/mother-lode-tls-weekender-convertible/143101?productid=1370034

Bagallini Big Sydney Shoulder Bag –

Big Sydney after 3 mos travel

The search for the perfect shoulder bag took me everywhere on the web and all over Seattle and Portland.   I had so many very sepecific  requirements.  Not the least of which was I did NOT want a daypack that screamed ‘tourist’ – a bit for safety and mostly about vanity.  My iPad2 had to fit easily into some accessible pocket as well as convenient places for other travel paraphernalia.  It had to lend itself to easy organization, have only one shoulder strap that could be lengthened to allow carrying cross-body, the design had to make pickpocketing near impossible, the zips and pulls had to be heavy duty, it had to be big enough to carry a sweater, scarf, water bottle and other incidentals for a day of meandering (but it had to be small enough not to feel like I was carrying a suitcase).  It had to be light but of durable fabric and be able to flatten to fit into my carry-on for flights that allowed only one bag.  Oh, and it absolutely had to be stylish – very important.  The Bagallini Big Sydney was perfect – no complaints and no drawbacks for me.  It held up well even after being stuffed in the rear compartment of the carry-on for extended periods.  http://www.baggallini.com/product1.asp?collection=’intl’&product=’BSYS498′

 
Exofficio Urban Travel Jacket-
 

Exoffcio urban travel jacket

Very lightweight, stylish and pockets everywhere!  The deep inner ones were perfect for stuffing most of the contents of the shoulderbag when it I couldn’t carry it on a flight.  I liked that it came down mid thigh for warmth.  Virtually wrinkle free even after being packed tightly for long periods of time. Dust and dirt cleaned up easily by just wiping the area.  My only complaint is that it is not wind resistant at all.  It’s not water resistant either but unless I was in a complete downpour – it was sufficient.  Will bought their travel slacks and was impressed.  http://www.exofficio.com/

 
Naots Footwear – the Believe Sandal –
 

Naots Believe after 3 mos travel

Because I was committed to one carry-on bag

Naots Believe new

– I had to have one pair of shoes that could to it all.  They had to be comfortable walking all day on varied surfaces, work in different climate zones  and be sturdy enough to take a beating and last the entire 3 months and beyond.  Oh, and dress up and dress down as situations dictated.  The Naots Believe sandal was selected because it has ample toe room and could double as shoes or sandals depending on where I found myself.  The cork footbed molded to my foot well.  They got thoroughly soaked on numerous occasions and never swelled – even when I removed them to dry out.  I walked 6 to 8 hours for days on end and my only complaint was – due to my long stride and heavy heel strike – I had sore heels.  The elastic on the heel strap got a bit stretched over time and the leather stretched due to my feet swelling in the hotter climates.  I would not recommend these shoes for women with narrow feet or a high arch.  I have neither so they were perfect.  Overall – other than a bit of color fade – they held up really well considering all I put them through.  In my opinion they were worth the considerable expense.

 
eBag Packing Cubes –

Rick Steves and eBag Packing Cube comparison

In all my previous traveling I never used packing cubes.  I will always use them now.  They were so handy for organization and very quick unpacking and re-packing.  If customs had to see something – I didn’t have to unload everything in the bag to satisfy their curiosity.  I bought both Rick Steves and eBag cubes.  Having used both  – I prefer the eBag model.  They have handles which I found convenient if I wanted to use the cube for toting stuff to a shower or laundry.  They are of sturdier mesh and material and the zipper and pulls were of better quality. The medium sized cube’s capacity was on par with the Rick Steves model.  They are similarly prices so I feel the eBag packing cubes are a better value.   www.ebags.com

 
Misc. Gear –
 
Solid Shampoo and Conditioner – Nice idea in theory to cut down on the population in the liquids bag.  In practice they basically dissolved after only two uses even though their containers had drainage. 
 
Collapsible Water Bottle – It worked, weighed nothing and – when empty – took up very little space.  I probably wouldn’t buy another one simply because it was way too hard to clean and sanitize.
 
3 oz. Liquids Containers –  Tried the Go Toobs and was very disappointed.  The lids popped off and they leaked.  The plastic seemed to be porous depending on the liquid/gel inside so I found they also ‘bled’ contents occasionally.  The best containers  I found were old sample size hotel containers with screw down lids.

San Sebastian – a bit of Basque Country….

photo courtesy of inguide travel & bing images

You’ll not see signs in English and Spanish in San Sebastian. The population in this small seaside town on the NE corner of Spain has a hard time being lumped into the generalized conception of what is ‘spanish’. They are Basque, inordinately proud of that distinction and while they may exist inside the borders of the country – San Sebastian feels like a tiny country all its own. The street signs are in Basque and Spanish – which did Will and I little good since our spanish is ‘muy limitada’. Our basque? I looked up a language translator on the web and found a site listing what are considered useful Basque phrases. Hello, good bye, where’s the toilet, my name is…… and – get this – “my hovercraft is full of eels” which translated to “Nire aerolabangailua aingirez beteta dago. As you can see if you check out the link – being fluent in french, italian or spanish will help you not. So remember that key phrase if your hovercraft is indeed full of eels when you find yourself in the best kept secret in Northern Spain.

This lovely view greeted us when we exited the station after about 6 hours on the various trains from Paris. Interestingly enough – The platform canopy of Estacion del Norte was designed by the same Gustave Eiffel who also designed the Eiffel Tower.

The walk along the river to our pensione was beautiful and just kept getting better as we rounded the corner and took in the expanse of the bay. It got even more wonderful when we got to our room, shrugged off our backpacks and stepped out onto the balcony. Right on the water – our view was stunning. Over the next five days we got to hear the surf pounding the breakwater and witness the huge wave plumes when they hit, watch the sunrises in the morning, sunsets at night and a couple of incredible lightening shows in the wee hours. When the night sky was clear – the stars were absolutely amazing. It was hard to conceive that this was it – the last week of my journey. Warm, sunny and languid – it was the perfect spot with even more perfect company to wrap up these months of travel.

As I have done in previous posts – the following are some highlights, thoughts and observations in no particular order of significance. Just what comes to mind…

Before I launch in – here’s a general observation. I find it incredibly unfair – when recording those precious moments on a journey – that men have the advantage of being able to suck in their stomachs before the ominous ‘click’. We women can’t exactly suck in our thighs now can we?? Noooooo. I have become an expert in figuring out poses that either removed all evidence that I am NOT fashionably thin or created the illusion that I was just a little less of the total me. Either insisting on ‘shoulder and up only’ and when that wasn’t possible – an artfully drapped coat or scarf. Trees, statuary, railings, etc. have all been employed these last few months in an effort to disguise. As I write this all I can think in retrospect is “Good god – get over yourself!” As if I’m not going to know the truth when I take a wander down memory lane. I used to delight in waiting for my five brothers to breathe before snapping. Ok, maybe not fair but it felt like a tiny bit of retribution. My Beloved came up with the perfect solution after hearing that story – see above. All you guys reading this – take heed. Ladies – we all know their memories can be like goldfish some times – once around the bowl and poof… so wait for the breath and snap away.

Will and I found the concept of the evening promenade wonderful. After dinner – usually around 9 or 10 – it seemed the whole town turned out to walk the square or the tree lined central avenue. Lovers – old and young – were arm in arm. Elderly gents in basque berets puncuated their thoughts with with a carefully timed cane wave. Families shared gelato. We noticed – much like a traffic circle – there was a natural flow with the outside moving in one direction and the inside meandering in the opposite. What a great way to check out the babes over and over again without appearing too obvious. What a great way to mingle with your community rather than holing up in your house in front of the TV or computer as is the fashion where I come from.

Kids. I have never seen this many kids in one town – ever. I don’t think it’s because San Sebastian is small. I’ve been in plenty of little towns and cities these last few months. I have no idea if these folks are just into progeny generation – it is a catholic country – or an inevitable result of warm sultry nights most of the year. We enjoyed watching the antics and listening to all the ‘little kid’ giggling – not so much the restaurant fits….

Pintxos (pronounced ‘pinchos’) is a delightful basque tradition much like tapas. You belly up to a bar lined with little sandwiches and other morsels like marinated beans on a skewer with olives. The tavern keep would finally acknowledge your existance and hand you a plate. You made your selections and he/she would keep a running tally. Locals ate standing up at the bar which had handy waste bins bolted right onto the front. Another delicacy was the shaved boar shank – their version of prosciutto but oh so much better – in my opinion.

There was an unusually high number of people who were either walking with a single cuffed cane or – more frequently – two. The average age seemed to be in the 60s to 70s. Polio back in the day? Also a rather large amount of wheelchairs.

We decided to be big kids ourselves and head to the aquarium. It was a combination maritime museum showcasing the rich sea going history of the area and aquarium. The seahorses were a personal favorite of mine. Will enjoyed the sharks especially watching them glide over the tops of our heads while walking through the plexiglass tunnel that ran through this enormous tank. It housed all manner of animals and we spent a fair amount of time just sitting and watching. One poor little tyke about had a heart attack when a shark swam right past him at his own two foot eye level. We didn’t dine at the Cousteau cafe. Pity.

Having seen my fair share of castles and attendant history, lengends, etc. – I found it refreshing that San Sebastian houses the Queen’s Palace. No man bashing here just appreciating something out of the ordinary…

Edifaces honoring god were as plentiful here as elsewhere in Europe – sigh… Enterprising homeless or jobless greeted us at the entrances with cup or hand outstretched. By the third time I was just not in the mood however much I wanted to see the interior. I do regret not going back when I felt more open minded. In this worldwide economic situation the global community finds itself immersed in – it seemed – in retrospect – a harmless way to make a few euros for pintxos.

It seems a blog post of mine on this journey wouldn’t be complete without a hill of some kind to climb and San Sebastian did not fail to provide the opportunity. Kind of like Rio, Santaigo and other bastions of christianity ( I’m just sure) – You’d find atop the highest hill was – at least – a ridiculously tall statue of Christ or that statue plus a castle or fort. This town opted for both and – ever curious – Will set out. I followed. He was fresh – I’d been climbing hills for months. I would have been happy with just a picture but he was into the vista so – ever the grumbler – I followed. Urban switchbacks – seemingly hundreds of them – and I look up. Yippie Skip! Half the way there. Lo and behold – a cat! Hanging out in a cleft in the side of the cliff and saying – to me – “act like you’re just taking my picture and I’ll give you the gift of rest in return”. I’m snappin’ – let me tell you…

At the top – as always – it was worth the trip, the breath, the screaming quads. Who’d have thought this little sleepy idyllic spot on the planet was once such a hotbed of political intrigue, agenda and ploy. The views were unsurpassed. I hear a voice in my head saying… “of course they were! They were picked centuries earlier because of the ‘view’ – what are you…New? – Though not for quite the same agenda…” We hung out – I caught my breath (again) and headed downhill – yeah! It’s so unfair – Will was hardly breaking a sweat. Well, he is from the South…..enough said.

One of our favorite things to do after a hard morning’s sightseeing was to find a table at one of the numerous outdoor cafes lining the beach – order cocktails or sangria – and just people watch. It’s a European beach so – yes – topless women were plentiful. Will is too much the gentleman to oogle but he was polite enough to point out his sightings perhaps thinking I might enjoy them too. I was just jealous. I don’t belong to the buxom crowd in this lifetime and I know if I were to go topless there would be no need to employ props to hide any generous configurations in this regard. Sigh – again….. I have other attributes… And I digress. Surfers, duck dodges with boats tipping over in a strong wind while rounding a bouy marker, happy dogs chasing balls, kayakers and crewing practices were some of the other entertainment we enjoyed while kicking back in the sun. I managed one afternoon to leave my camera on the table. Ok, so it was AFTER cocktails. I was able to retrieve it after freaking out that it may have been stolen – of course it couldn’t have been My fault…. When going through the day’s pics later I noticed several I didn’t recognize as taking. The waitstaff had actually taken pictures of themselves. Too funny – I have a record of my camera’s rescuers.

If we were to pick out our most favorite of all the sights and experiences we enjoyed in San Sebastian it would have to be the Combs of the Winds. Most sites like Trip Advisor will give you the low down and plenty of visitor commentary which parallels our own. Suffice to say – the sound that came from the blow holes was the most primal either of us have ever heard. We spent what seemed hours just listening – transfixed. I was able to capture some of it on video but unfortunately it was competing with the high wind above ground. While the sculpture is worth the walk – it was the possibility of hearing that haunting sound again that drew us to do the walk a second time. We weren’t so fortunate since the tide and winds weren’t quite right but we at least have the first time anchored in our memories.

As always – there are so many more stories, experiences, pictures. Some funny, some poignant, some boring, some not so pleasant – and – all part of the journey. I am an incredibly happy woman sitting here by the sea. I am living the dream – finally. I don’t plan on waking up any time soon…..

11.11.11…….

 ……..11.11.11    There’s been an amazing amount of hype leading up to this day.  Some call it auspicious, some satanic, some a blessing, some an opportunity and on and on and on.  Me?  I admit to a certain level of anticipation since I’ve been attracted to 11s for the last eight years.  If I looked at the clock, the odometer, the mile marker on the highway, a street number – it always seemed to be 11. Or 11.11  Key events have had 11 somehow wrapped up in the equation.   It happens so frequently now that I just laugh, shake my head and say – of course it’s 11.

Frankly I have no idea what it means.  And that’s not for lack of trying.  I guess if I want to assign some level of importance to today of all days – I can – or not.  And I can assign that same importance to any other day of the year.  What I suppose – at this moment – is that the draw to 11 gives me an opportunity to snap back to the here and now.  Get out of the “habitrail” of everyday thought patterns – typically about the past and future – and simply ‘see’ what is directly in front of me.  A very dear friend of mine recently taught me the importance of setting intent on a daily basis and then checking in occasionally throughout the day to see if a) I’m still on track with that intention and b) does that intention still make sense in light of the events that have unfolded.  Rather than being judgemental or angsty over that conclusion – adopting a sense of curiosity and play regarding what’s been realized, sensed, uncovered….   If need be – then assign an updated intention and move forward with gratitude for the guidance received. 

This suggestion of mindfulness in the minute by minute – hour by hour experience of my day is what I’ve decided to practice today.  While the little kid in me wants some kind of flash of lightning or fireworks or instant miracle in some big splashy way – I am looking out my window at an amazing sunrise after being kissed very thoroughly by a man who absolutely loves and adores me (and let’s me know in a million ways every day).   Looking forward to an evening spent with my brother and his family following an afternoon of connecting with friends from all over the globe.  That’s pretty a damn splashy day all on its own.  An unbelievably cliche and a tired turn of phrase but – I am truly steeped in gratitude in this particular now moment for all the abundance I have in my life.  The more I see this abundance the more that seems to come to me effortlessly as a result…

11.11.11 adds up to 33 which in numerology is one of the key master numbers – some call it the Christ Consciousness number.  I’m not christian but I do have a respect for the message of Christ through his myth/legend.  Do unto others as you would unto yourself and love through love in action is the distilled take away for myself.  While in my mindfulness today  I am going to be looking for opportunities for love in action so I can be part of someone else’s sense and experience of abundance.  Being a pleasure seeker – I am already feeling the buzz of bliss in making another person’s day. 

This day make be significant beyond others – or not – I’ll only know that in retrospect.  What I do appreciate about the hype is that it provides yet another opportunity to stop and get in synch with my highest self and that attendant potential. To get aligned again with universal energy, set intention and let go….. 

I am reminded that at the end of the day – any day – we are infinite beings with infinite potential and capacity to love or not – our choice.

If you’ve had an insight or your own splashy experience today – I would love to hear about it.

Photo courtesy of photobucket.com

Champagne in Epernay…..

Any of my friends will tell you that I am a champagne princess – or slut depending on who you’re talking too…..  Love the stuff.  Love it so much I’ve spent over $250 on a bottle of Roederer Cristal twice in my life – so far.  Will and I had a choice of the Normandy War Memorial or the Champagne Region for a day trip.  Well – bubbles won out over war.  I’m sure that walking Ohamha Beach would have been inspiring and thought provoking but we decided the beach wasn’t going anywhere and selfishly we simply wanted to be happy all day.  Somehow being blissfully happy at a site of so much personal sacrifice seemed a bit sacrilegious.  Frankly neither one of us wanted to feel bad about feeling so good.   So, Off to Epernay – home of Mercier and other famous champagne houses.

Did you know that  Moët & Chandon is owned by the giant L.V.M.H. (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy) which also owns Pommery and Veuve Clicquot. Combined, these four houses represent almost 50% of the export market – according to http://www.intowine.com.  So LV isn’t just about outrageously expensive handbags and luggage that people are willing to line up outside the store for – at least in Paris.

We opted to forgo Moet Chandon as being too big and commercial for its britches.  Their cheesy train car that  squired the other champagne tourists around didn’t help so we headed down Avenue De Champagne to the Mercier House.  A much more intimate setting.  The best part of this tour was learning about the colorful life of the visionary founder – Eugene  Mercier.           Some of his antics included road rallys in the wine tunnels.  His mass media tactics in the late 1800s were quite ahead of his time.  The story of the giant cask of champagne he hauled to the 1899 Exposition Universelle is worth a trip to the website.  Apparently his only rival for top billing was the Eiffel Tower and legend has it he won. Check out his story at http://www.champagnemercier.fr/en/#/the-mercier-storyl’

The tour took us underground 110+ feet into the tunnels which had been dug by hand – all 18 kilometers!   The tram ride with an automated “guide” was a little disappointing  but since we signed up for the luxury tour – we had three glasses waiting for us at the end.  We had a fantastic steward who described the vintage  differences  in great detail.  Will was paying attention – he’s the wine connoisseur – or snob depending on who you’re talking to….  Me?  I was just enjoying drinking my favorite beverage at 10 o’clock in the morning!

We headed to the De Castellane House for comparative purposes – read excuse to continue imbibing!  This ended up being a walking tour.  I don’t think anyone noticed my slight weaving – it was dark…  Anyway, we found this experience much more interesting from the champagne production standpoint because we had an actual guide and a very small group.  The tunnel ‘streets’ are lined with literally millions of bottles in varying degrees of fermentation.  It wasn’t too very long ago that all of them had to be turned by hand – a quarter turn each over months.  Can you imagine?   This is the history cellar where several bottles from each vintage are stored.  I believe they have bottles from as far back as the founding.  We enjoyed our tastings and then decided to climb the tower – all 236 steps to the top.  A gorgeous view of the town and valley.  Each landing had something interesting to see – vintage posters on one – vintage bottles on another.  All in all – this was the better tour but Mercier was definately the better champagne.  At least I thought so.

It was only mid afternoon at this point.  What to do, what to do?  Well  – more champagne of course!   The meander around town first helped clear our heads. Will and I gapped through a shop window at a chocolate horse – only 137 euros. The head was a mere 35E.  We walked on….  Epernay is very small and it was apparent that champagne and tourism is the lifeblood – there wasn’t much to do beyond that – and I am not  complaining.  Quaint but still very french if the quintessential ‘rudish’ waiter is any indication.  Do they go to school for that? 

We finished off the day sitting outside an adorable cafe enjoying a bottle of Roederer – not Cristal but very lovely none the less.  We headed back to the train station not quite as sure footed as when we arrived – but  blissfully happy and feeling damn good about it. 

I think I love champagne so much because – to me – it represents celebration, joy, bliss….  All those bubbles dancing in the glass – breaking the surface like so many happy little thoughts that can’t quite be contained.  That may sound incredibly trite to some but I believe we all need a reminder that ultimately life is simply about being happy.  If not then really -what’s the point?  Champagne is a gorgeous reminder of my life’s pleasures – sometimes simple, sometimes sinful, sometimes awe inspiring – always wonderful…

Paris……Third Time’s a Charm….

They say that the third time’s a charm. After toodling around Paris alone the prior two trips I told myself that I wouldn’t go back unless it was with someone to share the City of Light with – it’s just way too romantic a place – a least to me. I know it is unbelievably cliche but I love Paris. I am on a train heading down to Spain with my Beloved after a lovely week in Paris. Suffice to say – there just wasn’t much time to blog given I haven’t seen this man for a couple of months. Priorities, priorities…. So, having torn myself away for a bit – here are a few experiences and observations that come to mind to share.

Ok, I may not have seen every con game there is but I’m pretty savvy when it comes to people attempting to take advantage of me. Thus far into this trip – other than the occasional aggressive beggar – I haven’t had anyone try to pick my pockets, grab my bag or snatch my computer out of my lap (this did happen to a friend while in Barcelona. Yep, right out of her lap by a guy on a motorcycle. Insult to injury – it was brand new as well). Well….first day in Paris…. I got taken TWICE. I am wondering – can I heap some of the shame on my Darling since he was there too? Really only one and a half times – I managed to get out the first one without loss of euros having caught on that the woman who was collecting signatures for a “charity of some kind” was really collecting for herself. Beware of that one!

All I can say about the second encounter is that we are still laughing and shaking our heads a week later. It was good – we give them that. Stop reading if you’ve experienced this yourself…. Ok, we are strolling down the Seine after a wonderful day – chatting about what next, how nice the day was, what’s for dinner, wow I can’t believe you’re really here, etc, etc. – and Suddenly a woman is bending down in front of us picking up a gold band. She held it up – exclaimed “WOW!” and asked us if we thought it was real gold and held it out to us. We squinted at the inside of the band and it seemed to say 18c – told her as much and handed it back to her. Now at this point I should have gotten a little suspicious – she shrugged and gave it back to us saying “you should keep it as a gift from Paris.” And she walked away. Now she looked perfectly normal, nicely dressed (I’m trying to make myself feel better – can you tell?) As Will and I are looking at each other – smiling and thinking we just had a happy little accident  and how great the universe is blah blah blah – the woman came back to us (ok, should have really been suspicious but hey – we were in a little bubble – as we were expected to be in this little confidence game…) She asked for money – just a little bit to help out. Well of course, she just gave us a gift (God, this is painful to write – I can see all the places we should have seen what was coming) I gave her a fiver and she looked like I was the biggest cheapskate on the planet but off she went. We looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders and headed to Musee D’Orsay.

Will and I are pretty smart people and we were playing this little interlude over between us and getting suspicious….finally. Even though the ring was heavy and had the carat stamp on the inside – we were coming to the conclusion that we may have indeed been rooked. As we were pretty much deciding that it was a distinct possibility – another woman was bending down in front of us picking up the carbon copy twin of our ring and holding it out to us with the EXACT script her crime twin used on us not a half hour earlier. We looked at each other – looked at her – and I held out my ring and said “already been there”. She pointed at a me with two fingers and headed in the opposite direction – quickly! I’m sure everyone else is going to be way too smart to fall for this one – just have a good laugh at our expense! Consider it our gift to you – from Paris.

What is it about the French Catholics that they want to preserve the bones – literally – of their religious MVPs?? It was truly creepy to look into a highly decorated glass fronted box and see bones, pieces of bones, even decorated. There were statues that had tiny lockets in their chests that displayed some piece of the honoree. I’m clear I don’t want to know what kind of pieces…

Here’s an interesting statue that was in the crypt of Sacre Cour- what do you think the symbolism means with a bishop carrying his own head?? Apparently it’s a saint who just simply refused to die when his head was chopped off. Legend has it he carried all the way back to his home town.

If you put together all the claimed relics of the Crucifixion you could build at least 500 crosses, numerous crowns of thorns and countless shrouds. Paris has its own claim as well. Saint Chappelle originally held them – the trade from some European big wig to Louis the 15th for cash – their version of a bailout funding. Now housed in the Notre Dame treasury – we paid the extra 4 euros but I’m not sure we actually saw them. You’d think they’d be clearly marked as a point of pride but they’re probably squirreled away somewhere to keep them safe. The other relics are worth a view – even more ‘saint parts’.

Did you know that the bell in Notre Dame was actually baptized and named “Emmanuel”. That’ll give you a leg up in your next Trivial Pursuit game.

Why all the gargoyles? And why decorate a religious edifice- that is supposed to make people feel good, safe in the arms of god – with ugly, menacing and evil looking creatures? Fire and brimstone?  Strike the fear of god in the parishioners as another means of controlling the masses?  Plain downspouts are boring?   Did I mention I was a recovering catholic?

Some things never change – men with their backs to the public while urinating in… public. Smoking may be forbidden inside an establishment – it doesn’t seem to have made a dent in the number of people that smoke.  Nor does there seem to be any encouragement to pick up your dog’s doodoo. So, a stroll in Paris still means spending some amount of time watching your step, averting your eyes and holding your breath…

A word that describes Paris? Fashion… It’s hard for me to be here at the tail end of three months of traveling having worn the same clothes over and over and over. Same sensible shoes. I’m a fairly self confident person that doesn’t feel the need to keep up with the Jones but it only took a few hours in Paris to make me feel like the White Trash Spinster Second Cousin. All those perfectly coiffed, starved to perfection, fashion forward Parisienne women gliding effortlessly across uneven cobblestone streets in impossibly high heels while I am turning my ankles in my sensible flat soled Naots. In fact – the only real purchase I made was in Paris was a fabulous coat. I noticed I even matched a tree – wonderful.

Because we rented an apartment and food in Paris is so expensive – I headed out our first day in search of a grocery store in the neighborhood to stock up. Can’t be too hard, right? OMG – I must have walked for at least an hour not finding a single store that sold anything other than high end chocolate and bread. Muttering to myself that I now know why the women of Paris are so thin – who wouldn’t be after a marathon – I soldiered on. Of course, AFTER finally finding a fruit stand and a 7-11 equivalent at what seemed a million miles from our place – I discovered that the French version of a supermarket was only about 2 blocks away. Another little ethnocentric slam – just because there are stores and Starbucks on every street corner at home….. And worse – I’ve been here before!

Speaking of shopping – a line outside Louis Vuitton complete with a rope gate and bouncer facsimile ……really? We kept looking back shaking our heads in disbelief. That takes the term ‘shopaholic’ to a whole new level.

Ladies – if you’ve drug your guy to the Champs Elysees – have a heart and give them equal time in the fancy car showrooms and the other ‘go fast’ big boy toy stores. They might even spring for a Louis V clutch – but don’t expect them to wait in the line….

 

 

I didn’t know that Rodin’s Thinking Man really started out as a little guy who was contemplating Dante’s hell below in the fabulous “Gates of Hell” sculpture. What an incredible piece! The Three Shades was an interesting take on the idea of perspective. Then there was the serene lovely pond with the statue of the man about to eat his children resting in the center. Interesting juxaposition – I thought he was playing with them at first…..

 

 

 

We spent a lot of time in the Armory which houses a progression of materials and tools of war over 500+ years. It was a little disconcerting to note that all the amazingly beautiful detail, artistry and craftsmanship were focused on pieces who’s sole purpose was to kill someone or protect from being killed. One interesting comparison was the steel used for European weapons was rough and seemed appropriately ancient while the Japanese swords displayed looked absolutely brand new and they were about 300 years old.  They were ahead of us even then….

26 euros for two french coffees? Really?????     …….Really.

I could go on and on with the stories and there are plenty but as I have said before – a blog post by definition isn’t a book. That being said – I finally had my wish and it only took 11 years. To stroll the streets of Paris arm in arm with my Beloved and share my most favorite city. Being a lone traveler does have it’s advantages at times but when it comes to romance – in my humble opinion – you just can’t possibly enjoy that solo…….