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Our 3rd Blogiversary – in 3 Takes, Take II

In the Take I on InsideJourneys’ 3rd blogiversary, we looked back at the trip to South Africa, Zimbabwe and Lesotho, that inspired me to start blogging. The year following that momentous trip, I visited London, Paris and Toronto.

Here are some of the photos I took:

3rd Blogiversary in 3 Takes
London Eye

Usually, I stay clear of tourist traps but on this, my third trip to London, I decided to do some touristy things, like stand on line to see the London Eye. It had been calling out to me all during the week and that first weekend, I stopped ignoring its pull.

The lines were long but moved pretty quickly – about 45 minutes from the time I joined to the time I climbed aboard one of the pods. The ride took less time, about 30 minutes, but unparalleled views like this makes the wait definitely worthwhile.

3rd Blogiversary
Parliament from the London Eye

The other touristy thing I did in London  during this visit was seek out fish and chips. Okay, so it wasn’t wrapped in newspaper but it still counts. My opinion: do it once and you’re done.

3rd Blogiversary in 3 Takes
Fish and Chips
3rd Blogiversary in 3 Takes
The Circus

As soon as I booked my ticket to London, I bought a ticket to visit Stonehenge. Besides meeting my new nephew, it was to be the highlight of my trip — and all I could think about for weeks before I left.

Bath Houses, Bath
Houses, Bath

I wanted to have a good view of the English countryside so I was one of the first to get on the bus when it arrived and took the seat behind the driver. Our first stop was the historic town of Bath where I got these photos.

The Circus as well as these apartments in the second photo were designed by John Wood, the Elder (to distinguish him from his son). The Circus is actually three buildings, which all together form a circle.

For anyone interested in architecture, especially Georgian architecture, a trip to Bath is a must.

3rd Blogiversity in 3 Takes
Avon River, Bath

After leaving Bath, we had time to walk around the town. I was taking photos one after the other without really looking to see how well they turned out. I was pleasantly surprised when I downloaded them and saw how beautiful this shot is.

3rd Blogiversity in 3 Takes
King Johns Hunting Lodge

We stopped for steak and kidney at the George Inn in Lacock where this bicycle caught my eye.

I must admit, I was a little disappointed when I saw Stonehenge. Over the years, I’d built up such a huge mythology from my readings and the documentaries I had watched on television that I felt a bit let down when I got there. I mean, it’s just a bunch of stones, right? And at first, they looked smaller than I had imagined. But if you look at the second photo, you’ll see that they’re not.

3rd Blogiversity in 3 Takes

There’s certainly nothing small about moving these gigantic rocks and setting them into place. And I’m still awed by them. Now that I’ve been, I’d like to go back for one of the solstice festivals. I’d also like to visit Avebury, which our tour guide recommended, but I didn’t have time because I was heading home the following day.

The lines at the Louvre almost made me turn around. But I’m an art lover and any art lover worth their salt cannot pass up an opportunity to visit the Mecca of art in Paris. I could visit this museum everyday for a year and still not see it all.

3rd Blogiversary
The Pyramid at the entrance to the Louvre
The Louvre escalator
The escalator to the underground lobby

I did the usual touristy things in Paris, including climbing the Eiffel Tower. Now, that’s an amazing piece of architecture and huge! Definitely larger than I expected. I was impressed.

Eiffel Tower from bus
Eiffel Tower


3rd Blogiversary in 3 Takes
Eiffel Tower
3rd Blogiversary
View from the Eiffel Tower

I don’t visit Toronto nearly as often as I should and maybe because of that, I’m continually surprised by how rich and diverse the city is.

Toronto building
Toronto building

On this particular visit, I remembered what I love – the public art – on buildings, on sidewalks, in unexpected places. It was like visiting a museum, I felt soothed.

3rd Blogiversity in 3 Takes
Public art from Toronto’s streets
3rd Blogiversary in 3 Takes
Toronto street art
3rd Blogiversity in 3 Takes
Toronto Street art

That’s it for Take II of my 3rd Blogiversary. Hope you’ll stop by for Take III, which will be all about Jamaica.







Weekly Photo Challenge: Down

It’s hard to think of down without thinking of its opposite: up. As a matter of fact, we use the expression up and down quite often. We anticipate that what goes up, must eventually, go down.

Down can also describe our moods. No one wants to feel down, on the other hand, people who are down to earth put everyone else at ease.

Here are my pick of photos that express down. It wasn’t difficult to find examples, I have quite a few. What was more difficult was deciding which ones to include. Let me know which you like.

Looking down, Cape Point, South Africa
Looking down, Cape Point, South Africa

I like looking down, seeing how everyday things get smaller, the higher up you are. These houses, for example, look as small as matchboxes. Imagine how large those rocks above are even at a distance.

Looking down, Table Mountain
Looking down, Table Mountain
Looking down, Eiffel Tower
Looking down, Eiffel Tower

Visitors on line waiting to climb the Eiffel Tower look tiny, a little higher up and they’d look as small as ants.

Walking down, Paris metro
Walking down, Paris metro

This is my entry to this week’s Weekly Photo Challenge organized by WordPress.

Soulful Sundays: Carla Bruni-Sarkozy

Without a doubt, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy’s current role as the first lady of France has dwarfed her singing career. Until she married and her name became known internationally, few of us knew anything about her.

I confess, I didn’t put much stock in her singing ability. But a few weeks ago, I watched a documentary on Ms. Bruni-Sarkozy (Somebody Told Me About…Carla Bruni) and was forced to change my tune. I was taken by her voice, and impressed by the lyrics she’s written for herself and others.

Born Carla Gilberta Bruni Tedeschi on December 23, 1967 in Turin, Italy, Ms. Bruni-Sarkozy is an heiress to the fortune created by the CEAT tires company. According to Wikipedia, the family moved to France in the 1970s when Ms. Bruni-Sarkozy was 7 to escape the threat of kidnapping by terrorist groups who targeted the wealthy.

Following a successful career in modeling, Ms. Bruni-Sarkozy quit in 1997 to devote herself to her music. She has recorded three albums, Quelqu’un m’a dit (2003), No Promises (2007) which comprises poems by Yeats, Dickinson, Auden, Dorothy Parker, de la Mare, and Christina Rossetti set to music, and Comme si de rien n’était (2008). She’s recorded with Harry Connick, Jr., and in 2009 sang for Nelson Mandela’s birthday party at Radio City Music Hall.

Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, image from the Internet
Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, image from the Internet

Ms. Bruni-Sarkozy’s been married to Nicholas Sarkozy since 2008. Last October, she gave birth to her second child, Giulia, in Paris.

In addition to her musical career, Ms. Bruni-Sarkozy’s also been involved in the movies — she played the museum guide in Woodie Allen’s film, Midnight in Paris – and humanitarian efforts. Her foundation, launched in 2009, promotes access to culture and knowledge for everyone.

Take a listen to Deranger les pierres.

Best of Travel 2011

Thanks to Michaela at Awe Inclusive for including me in Budget Travel Adventure’s Best of Travel 2011 and giving me an opportunity to look back on the best of my 2011 travel adventures.

Last year was another fabulous travel year for me. I visited London for the third time and Paris for the first time, though it was my second trip to France. So here’s my Best of Travel 2011 roundup —

Best Domestic Travel Destination: To me, Washington, DC is the best domestic travel destination because it has so much to offer. The National Mall, the White House, galleries and (free!) museums, theater (not as many as NYC but still good and good bargains), restaurants, festivals like the Folk Life Festival, the National Book Festival, etc. Whether you’re looking for history or entertainment, Washington DC is the best place to be and the best part? It’s compact – you can cover a lot of territory over a few days.

Jefferson Memorial, Washington DC
Jefferson Memorial, Washington DC

Best Travel Experience: I’ve been fascinated by Stonehenge since I saw a documentary about it several years ago and added it to my Must See List. As soon as I decided on the dates for my UK trip, I booked a tour. The best part was that the group was small enough so that we weren’t tripping over each other. We could go into the circle and get up close (but not touch) the monument. The tour also took us through the bucolic English countryside and Bath, a very historical and picturesque town.

Inside the circle, Stonehenge
Inside the circle at Stonehenge

Best International Destination: My best international destination for 2011 was, without question, Paris.  I love Paris – it’s all of the things we’ve heard, and more — romantic, picturesque, fashionable, etc., and though I felt a bit intimidated by the stories I’ve heard about Parisians looking down their noses at people dressed in jeans, I never felt out of place or slighted. In fact, I met quite a number of friendly Parisians. One night, I got talking to a waiter and when he found out where I was staying and that I was traveling alone — it was nearly 10 p.m. when I finished dinner — he called one of the waitresses who was taking the same train and told me to wait for her so we could travel together. Although I could have found my way back to the hotel on my own, I was very touched by his kindness.

Eiffel Tower
Eiffel Tower at night

Worst Travel Experience: My worst travel experience in 2011 happened before I even left my destination. I turned up at the airport to board my flight on Spirit Airlines and got a huge surprise. I owed $93 in baggage fees! I was so furious at myself for not paying attention to the fine print — I know better (or should) — that I forgot that I wanted to buy a few gifts in the duty free shop. The worst part is that on the return leg, I couldn’t figure out how to pre-pay and ended up paying again. Suddenly, the deal that I thought I had worked out to be one of the most expensive New York/Montego Bay tickets I’ve ever bought.

Most Embarrassing Travel Experience: Last year, my travel was embarrassment-free but 2010 wasn’t. I started to feel sick the day I was scheduled to return to the US from Johannesburg, South Africa. My body felt weak and I began to sweat. I didn’t know what was wrong – I didn’t think it was a cold but by the time I got on the flight, I was sneezing. I was so petrified of coughing that before I finished a cough drop, I’d pop another one. I felt awful. I still think of the people I know I passed my cold on to. Thanks goodness, it was a night flight so (hopefully) my no one remembers my face! The best part was, I was traveling with two friends who were also coming down with colds so I didn’t infect the people on either side of me. The worst part is, our row probably passed our colds on to everyone in coach.

Best Local Destination: Since I relocated from New York City to Jamaica last year, I’m going to take the liberty to name two best local destinations. In New York, the best location destination is Coney Island. It’s a place where you’ll find everyone – toddlers, young adults, couples, singles, grandparents – and there’s a variety of activities for everyone, from the hot dog eating contest over the July 4th weekend to summertime fireworks displays to roller coaster rides.

My best travel location in Jamaica is Treasure Beach. It’s laid back, it’s funky, it’s fun. It’s just a charming location that I’ve written about several times.

Treasure Beach boats
Treasure Beach boats

Best Travel Lesson: When I visited Paris last year, it was the first time that I traveled on my own to a place to a place where I didn’t know a soul and no one was meeting me when I arrived. Thank goodness, I know some French so I didn’t feel completely at sea. Interestingly enough, I was very excited the morning I left for Paris — it’s probably the most excited I’d been in a while about a trip. It turned out to be a very liberating experience and surprisingly, made me feel very grown up.

Now, I get the pleasure of inviting the following 5 bloggers to write about their Best of Travel 2011.

Set in Paris

Since the release of the new Woodie Allen movie, Midnight in Paris, I’ve been thinking of the movies I’ve seen that were set there.

Eiffel Tower

Here’s my list:

  • The Day of the Jackal (Edward Fox) 1973
  • A View to a Kill (Roger Moore, Christopher Walken) 1985
  • Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (Michael Caine, Steve Martin) 1988
  • Frantic (Harrison Ford) 1988
  • Dangerous Liaisons (Glenn Close, Michelle Pfeiffer, John Malcovich) 1988
  • Valmont (Colin Firth, Annette Benning) 1989
  • The Bourne Identity (Matt Damon) 2000
  • Chocolat (Johnny Depp and Juliette Binoche) 2000
  • Amélie (Audrey Tautou) 2001
  • Le Divorce (Kate Hudson, Naomi Watts) 2003
  • The Truth About Charlie (Mark Wahlberg, Thandie Newton) 2003
  • Something’s Gotta Give (Jack Nicholson, Diane Keaton, Kneau Reeves) 2003
  • The Devil Wears Prada (Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway) 2006

Watching some of these movies – Valmont, Dangerous Liaisons, Chocolat and Something’s Gotta Give come to mind, really gives you a good feel for Paris. It’s also great to see a scene in a place you been to, like Roger Moore’s James Bond at the Eiffel Tower or at the Pont Alexandre.

I can’t wait to see how Midnight in Paris compares or what places I recognize.


Is a Tour Bus Right for You?

A tour bus gives visitors the option to disembark and re-embark at designated

Is a tour bus right for you?
London tour bus

points, makes it easy to cover a lot of territory while on vacation.  With knowledgeable guides and pre-recorded information available in several different languages, taking a tour bus also offers a quick overview of points of interest along the way.

But is a tour bus tour right for you? It depends.

If walking around a new city makes you nervous or uncomfortable, if a semi-structured tour is more your speed or if you don’t have much time, then a tour bus tour is your best option.

If you’re like me, however, and you like to be on your own schedule, wander around, stop, take photos, talk to people, don’t mind getting lost, etc., then a tour bus tour might not be your cup of tea.

I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve taken a tour bus tour. When I’m in a new place, I want to explore, preferably on foot. So a tour bus, for me, is like an expensive cab ride.

But after walking for what seemed like hours in both London and Paris, I decided to hop on a bus so I could cover a bit more territory. In London, the tour bus tour I selected was led by a pleasant and knowledgeable guide who had us laughing at his sometimes corny anecdotes. However, not even that kept me on longer than the first leg. The same thing happened in Paris.

What I learned from my brief tour bus experiences

  1. Get on the bus early. Typically, tickets for tour buses are valid for 48 hours from time of purchase – they are time-stamped. The earlier you start, the more you’ll get to see. (It’d be interesting to find out how many people do take advantage of the full 48 hours.)
  2. Plan your route carefully. You don’t want to have to loop back.
  3. Pick a seat on the top deck. Weather permitting and if you don’t mind heights, select a bus with an upper level. It’s a whole different experience seeing a city from one story up.
  4. If you want photos (and who doesn’t?), choose a seat at the front of the upper level or take a tour bus with few people on top. That way, you’ll (hopefully) avoid other people’s heads when you go for that all important shot. Unfortunately, if you’re sitting in any other seat and you’re not quick, by the time you get into position and line up the shot, the bus has moved on or someone or something else is in your way.
  5. If you decide to leave the tour bus early, pick a spot that has a lot of different attractions or is well-populated.
  6. Know when and where the last tour for the bus you’re on finishes and avoid being stuck too far away from anyplace you’re familiar with.
  7. Consider taking a tour bus to get a general orientation of a place, then explore on foot the following day.

A tour bus is a great way to get the lay of the land. But walking allows you more freedom to see the sights, interact with people and adds new layers to the memories you’re creating.

A few of my missed tour bus shots.

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I Didn’t Even Get a Croissant! Ten Things I Wish I’d Done in Paris

Okay, so eating a croissant wasn’t really on my list of things to do in Paris. But I had envisioned a much different trip than the one I actually had.

In the trip I imagined, I’d spend a week in Paris, visit a few friends and all the must-see spots, the Champs-Élysées, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, etc., then make my way to Bordeaux, the wine region, and Saint-Émilion in search of the Château Grand Mayne. (About 10 years ago, I discovered a Bordeaux with my name on it. I was so excited, I bought a case! Visiting a place that had my name was high on my list.)

At some point, I’d travel to Lons le Saunier, to visit ma petite soeur, Murielle, and her family. I was looking forward so much to seeing the French countryside that I’d sit at my desk when I was supposed to be working and daydream about it.

But life (aka work) intervened. Instead of spending two weeks in France and two in London, I had two weeks between London and Paris. I could manage only three days in Paris. It wouldn’t be enough — I like to spend my time, slowly peeling back layers and discovering a new place — but it’d have to do.

Lines outside the Musée d'Orsay

Don’t get me wrong, I loved every minute of my three days but it went by so fast, if I didn’t have photos, I’d think it had been a dream.

I’ve been reflecting on the dream and all the things I didn’t get a chance to see or do in Paris, and I made a list:

  1. Sunset Cruise on the Seine Bateaux Parisiens offers dinner, nighttime and private cruises on the Seine that leave from the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame.
  2. La Sainte-Chapelle – I don’t consider myself a very religious person but looking at cathedrals always humbles me. Located at Île de la Cité, this Gothic Cathedral was consecrated in 1248. It has been a national historic monument since 1862.
  3. Église Saint-Suplice – The second largest church in Paris.
  4. Moulin Rouge – Home of the can-can, the Moulin Rouge has been around since the late 1800s. Artists from Edith Piaf to Josephine Baker have performed there.
  5. Montmartre – The bohemian place that played host to artists like Picasso, Dali, Modgiliani, Monet and others.
  6. La Basilique du Sacré-Cœur de Montmartre – The Basilica is located in Montmartre, the highest point of the city.
  7. Musée d’Orsay – I wanted to visit this elegant former train station turned gallery for Western art but after standing in line at the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower, I couldn’t muster up the energy for another line.
  8. Montparnasse – I have created my own (highly romanticized) narrative about what living in Montparnasse must have been like for artists such as Jean Rhys, Madox Ford, Henry Miller, Salvador Dali, Jean Miró, Diego Rivera and many others who made it their home. I wanted to walk in their footsteps.
  9. Château de Versailles – One of the largest palaces in the world, it is the location where the Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919.
  10. Luxembourg Palace and Luxembourg Gardens – Built between 1615 and 1627 for Marie de Medici, the widow of Henry IV, the Luxembourg Palace is home of the French Senate. Wonder how difficult it must be to have to work there? I’ll never know!

The trip I took was an appetizer. I’m ready now for a more leisurely and elaborate feast with ten (or more) reasons to return to Paris.