Thursday, January 28, 2010

A birthday and a jet plane

I celebrated my 51st birthday in Paris with a trip to the Eiffel Tower. This is me in my sweet new red coat that I got at the "soldes" (sales) for 70% off. The scarf is from my stay in Berlin.
I timed my visit to go up at dusk, so that I could see the sunset, and the city of lights at night! I was rewarded with quite a spectacular sunset, that my camera skills can't really do justice to.
Twice while I was up there, the bright lights began popping. This happens for 10 minutes every hour. It's spectacular from the ground, but really quite amazing when you are standing among them.
It was CCCOOOOLLLLLDDDD up there, so much so that by the time I saw they had gloves and hats in the souvenier shop, I didn't care what they cost or what they looked like. Fortunately, they were pretty reasonable, in both cost and appearance.
I finally warmed up with a glass of champagne in one of the chi chi restaurants up the tower. My birthday splurge including a bowl of pumpkin soup. The soup arrived as an almost empty bowl with some veggies (pumpkin and ?') in the bottom, a huge dollop of thick cream, and a teensy Romain lettuce leaf in it... the soup was then poured around it. Unusual and very tasty. Good thing, as these 2 precious bits cost me 27E!
I began celebrating my birthday the day before with my friend Bill who lives in Boston, but has a flat in Paris, and just happened to be here at the same time as me. He took me out to lunch in a very French wine bar, then for a long walk in the city topped off with tarts and macaroons (my treat) and champagne (his treat - and very good!)
One of the stops on our walk was the Jardin de Palais Royale where Bill's favourite piece of public art has just been restored at a cost of 6 million Euros. I confess the piece of paper that Bill wrote the artists name down for me is packed (more on that in a minute), so I'll leave it at this for now: it's made up of tons of black and white striped columns and is very cool. This is Bill leaning on one of the columns.
This is me, of course, sitting on a column and swinging my legs. Made me feel like a kid (heh, my last day at age 50!), as I'm so tall my feet almost always touch the ground. There was swinging room!
Here are our feet, looking down to the water part of the piece down below the grill...
This is what the whole thing looks like in a wide shot. As I say, very cool.
Now back to the Eiffel Tower for a moment.... this is what it looks like when the bright lights start popping while you are up the tower....
video
OK, now to the bit about the jet plane... I am flying home to Canada tomorrow. Not a recent decision, but haven't said much about it until now. For the curious, here is how I decided to come home at this time... The below began as a journal entry this morning, then evolved into a story I could share.
Happy reading... and for those of you I know in Vancouver, will see you soon, I am sure....
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I lie here in bed in Paris, the morning of my last full day here. In Paris. And in Europe. And I am a little surprised to feel sad. Sad, I suppose, because this has been such an awesome experience, but all things must come to an end. Well, sort of. This trip is coming to an end, but not my life ad a traveller.

I made the decision to come home two months ago, then slept on it for a month before altering my plans. But it felt right and it still feels right. Just wasn't expecting the sadness, it snuck up on me. But it's ok. I expect I will feel a range of emotions over the next few days and weeks. And months.

Speaking if months, I have been gone seven. Coincidentally, to the day. At least on this continent. I arrived on July 29 last year, and will list off tomorrow - homeward bound - on January 29.

So, why am I coming home so soon? Each time I have been asked that question, I burst out laughing. Seven months is a looooooonnng time!!! :-) heh.

I only attract this question from people at home who hear I am coming home, as when I left I said I was going for a year.

Why did I say a year? I don't know, but I learned quickly that "I'm taking off for Europe!" would evoke "For how long?". Even if by fluke, or by design, I managed to just talk about the trip and not give a firm response, I would invariably get "How long will you stay?". So I said a year.
I said a year, but truth be told, I really didn't know. My focus was on going. Going, going, going! I am going to Europe! Whoopieee! Heh. So it was an answer that left me a lot of time to figure out what I really wanted to do.

So.... The idea to return when I am came from a period in Rhodes, Greece in November (my 1st trip to the island), when I was unwinding in the sun, not caring if I ever saw another museum (a clear symptom of museum burn-out, also referred to as one being "museum 'd out), and thought back over my trip....

I had had SUCH amazing experiences by that point (only about 1/3 made it onto this blog). I cherished each one.

As I rolled each mmemory over in my head, I had this satisfying sense of richness and satisfaction. My cup was full. My cup runneth over. I was full, and I needed time to digest.
I found myself trying to write a list of my top 10 experiences - not as easy as it sounds, when you have so many. And it struck me as the kind of thing one might do to mark closure. Ah, oh, so.... maybe it's time to head home?

As I said, I didn't rush my return, as that was two months ago. But I realized I was ready. There were other factors as well.

One was the Olympics. The only thing that had dissapointed me about the timing of my trip was it appeared that I would miss them :-(.... unlike those who can't wait to get out of town, I crave to be there, in the buzz of the excitement, enjoying all the free stuff. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity I didn't want to miss.

Plus.... I felt like I'd had enough idleness, enough aimlessness, I needed something for my mind to wrap itself around again. Plus.... I want to see my sweet mom, who let me go with such grace, but for whom I know in-person visits would be such a joy (I am giving her my presence as her birthday present next month :-).... Plus, there was one more reason.... let me think.... Oh yeah. I'm broke !!!! Or, better said, I'm B.R.O.K.E. Heh. So earning some money again would be useful. Now there's an understatement! :-)

So.... it's just time to return to the "real world".

I have no doubt that I will travel again. This will be a time to reflect on this trip, and to begin planning the next one.

So there you go. I began to write this as a journal entry (on my iTouch in bed), but then realized it could become the blog entry I wasted to make today. I wanted my "I'm heading home" post to tell the story, so I won't have to tell it over and over again..... If someone asks I can point them to the answer.

Now, time to get up, get some coffee, and plan my lady day in this fair city and this fair country. And continent.
btw, the sadness lasted as long as it took for me to write that. I'm cool, though still a bit surprised that the day has come....

Monday, January 25, 2010

A week in Paris

I am in Paris for the second time this trip. While not as warm as it was in July (I'm just glad it isn't snowing this week), Paris has this ability to warm my heart and make me feel instantly at home. I. Adore. Paris.

Yesterday I went out for a bite to eat late afternoon and found myself amidst the Sunday afternoon brunch crowd at Cafe Charlot. I tried to be sneaky with this pic... Look at the 2 guys at the low table by the door.... yes, that's a puppy looking up at them. Adorable, and so French!
Today I was in the area of Gare St. Lazare train station and was taken by the interesting clock sculpture just outside.
There were men hawking goods on the corner, two selling flowers - and a third one sadly out of my shot, selling avacados.

The clock theme was picked up in the chairs of the cafe where I had a late lunch. Here is the view looking over my crepe fromage to the street beyond...
... then a sight more commonly seen elsewhere, there were strange people wearing strange clown wigs walking down the street. Hardly Paris high fashion, but spotted in Paris nonetheless:
I am in Paris for a week and am staying in Marais (the 3rd) only 3 blocks from the flat where I stayed in August. Again I have a flat, very cute, and very teensy. Perfect for one! It is nice to be in a familiar area... had a beer after shopping today and was recognized by the waiter, which was a nice feeling (for the benefit of my niece, that was the spot where we would watch the motorcycles flying by!).
I am laying low, recovering my energy after my intense but fabulously enriching week at Pueblo Ingles in La Alberca last week. Tomorrow I have lunch with a friend and Wednesday I celebrate my birthday. A birthday in Paris, what a fabulous idea... I am having fun thinking about what I will do that day...

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Consulting My Pillow in La Alberca

I am currently just outside of a small village in Spain called La Alberca volunteering with a program called Pueblo Ingles. Pictured below is the venue -- I am living in a little villa like the one in the background, sharing with a Spaniard.
The reason I say I am ¨consulting my pillow¨is that this is one of the Spanish idioms I have learned... it is the equivalent of ¨sleeping on it¨ in English. I do not know how to say this in Spanish though, as Spanish is forbidden here! These amazing Spanish students have signed up to spend a full week in total immersion in the English language, from dawn to dusk, and more (they even have to speak English in the bar at night!). Gutsy folk, and I admire them. My role is to have conversations in English. Period.
This is the town of Avila that we stopped at for a bio break along the way (we are a 4 hour bus ride north of Madrid).... note the old town wall! Below is a roadside monument of some sort by the town.
These last two pics are of the flamenco demonstration we had in Madrid at Casa Patas, the day before getting on our bus, after a welcome reception. Awesome!!!!
That´s all for now, as there is one computer here shared by all, and time for me to give someone else here a turn....

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Calvalcade of the Magi

Last night I went to see Barcelona's wonderful Three Kings Parade, or the Calvalcade of the Magi. The route went within a few blocks of where I am staying and you could feel the excitement as everyone gathered. For the Catalan children, this is their Christmas, so the energy was wonderful.

This first picture shows the police horses, I think their costumes are just rainjackets. Heh. The rest is fantastic. From the music and lights, to the camels and coal (for the naughty children) it was truly magical. Now, I shall let the pictures speak for themselves....



















This last picture, above, is of one of the kings, I suppose.
What an amazing and magical parade. And what a privilege to witness it. Cool and groovy. Awesome too....

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Back in Barcelona

I have been in 3 countries so far this year! On January 1st I flew from Athens, Greece to Barcelona, Spain - via Milan, Italy ;-)
I have arrived safely in Barcelona late last night. Staying with the same person as before (Mabel - now an old friend!), but in a new flat, with the cat population doubled from my last stay. I'm here for 10 days. Today I slept in, then went out to have a "bikini" and picked up some food. Now I am out to explore the new area I am in. More soon...

Friday, January 01, 2010

Happy New Year from Athens!

It is already 2010 here in Greece, and I'm lovin' it!

This is me back in 2009, on Areopagus Rock on Mars Hill, next to the Acropolis....
OK, the rest of the pics in this post are from New Year's Eve.... This is the view from my flat at the stroke of midnight.... my sofa, my candles, my Acropolis... You can barely see it, but there is a pomegranate on the windowsill. If I was a true Greek I would smash it on my doorstep for good luck. Me, I'm not so keen on the clean up job... :-)
Nearby fireworks....
Lousy pic of fireworks, cool pic of coloured lights in the fireworks....
Ah, groovy....
My view earlier in the evening at dinner: me and my baked lamb, yum...
My dining companion (my sister is somewhere over the Atlantic as I write this, on her way home...)... even the cats miss her here....
Seriously, these were people walking little horses the size of donkeys past the restaurant.
A little doodle I made at dinner. Over her head it says Happy New Year in Greek:
The necklace I am wearning this evening. it symbolizes the 12 months of the year, with an apple for each month for good luck. The Greeks are head over heels in love with New Years', and everyone buys little trinkets.

I will have visited 2 countries by the time the year is a day old here. I am off to Barcelona later today, but have a connection in Milan... heh.