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I Love Paris…and a room with a view

August 10, 2009 by · Comments Off on I Love Paris…and a room with a view 

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Debi in Paris, 2009

I love Paris and have the urge to sing that famous song while there. But, truthfully I stifle myself. Anyone who knows me can attest, I have the worse voice in the universe.

So here I was, strolling down the streets of Paris humming until my daughter protested, “Stop, Mom.”

But I continued; I was the child, the one filled with glee. Chock it up to lack of sleep from the flight, my joy of actually being in Europe or simply the magic that is Paris?

Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais

Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais

We arrived via an overnight plane from Boston, connecting to Paris through Heathrow. A taxi took us to our little boutique hotel, Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais, in the afternoon.

We stepped in the hotel’s small lobby dominated by (what I learned later) a rare 1792 piano-forte. Candles and chandeliers created the charm of a private home, circa Mozart. The English speaking staff welcomed and assisted us with luggage. And “yes,” they assured us, the hotel offers free WiFi.

Our hotel room

Our hotel room

We took the elevator up to our room on the third floor- twin beds draped in white spreads, a desk or make-up area and by European standards a large, shiny, modern bathroom with a shower/tub and decorative tile. White hand towels were fresh and emblazed with the hotel logo.

Room with a View

The View from my room in Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais

Best part of our room was the window with a view, which I immediately popped open, stuck my head out and took this snapshot. I saw shops and a multitude of restaurants and cafes, including many ethnic varieties. Mmm. Was that croissants I smelled?

After a short rest and we took off, happy to discover Caron de Beaumarchais was only two blocks from the Seine. The city sizzled, not from the heat but with activity. A Sunday afternoon crowd included couples smooching, tourists checking guide books, booksellers standing by their wares and artists at work. Numerous roller skaters zoomed by, not many joggers; perhaps they are more abundant in the early morning hours. How romantic I thought; even if your spouse or love is missing, this city is enchanting.

The sidewalks along the river felt comfortable because they looked familiar; I’ve experienced Paris so often through movies, TV shows and books. I pinched myself; the sights, sounds and smells were everything I wanted them to be.

Laura and I crossed a bridge heading for Notre Dame. We entered through the arched doorway framed by statuesque columns of saints and found the unexpected—a prayer service in progress. To think a historic cathedral over 850 years old was still in use. I liked that.

Mass Celebration in Notre Dame

Mass Celebration in Notre Dame

Notre Dame Saints

Notre Dame Saints

We spied a little diorama showing the medieval construction methods used to build the church. The exhibit of tiny workers, oxen, ropes and pulleys should not be missed if you’re traveling with children.

Sunlight poked through the famous Rose window (stained glass) and outside,the gargoyles kept watch as they have for centuries. We didn’t have time to wait in the queue of tourists snaking round the corner. They were ready to climb to the top of belltower, however, Laura and I moved along feeling the city under our feet.

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Laura loves Paris, 2009

We crossed back over the river on a different bridge and were astounded by the hundreds, and I do mean hundreds, of policemen dressed in SWAT gear. What in the world was happening? A major demonstration planned?

No. Later it was explained that the date, June 21st, is the longest day of the year and is celebrated as a city-wide Music Fete.

Lisa, an American friend who lives in Paris met us at our hotel. She navigated the subway, getting off at the Louvre. We dined with abandon at the fashionable Le Cafe Marley overlooking the Louve’s Pyramid and courtyard. (See my restaurant review at my food blog: www.bylanderseafood.blogspot.com .)

View of the Louvre Pyramid

Glass Pyramid in the Louvre Courtyard--Paris

To start, we tasted a traditional French appertif- Kir Royale (champagne and cream de cassis.) I was so taken with the location I cannot remember what type of fish I ate. However, I can remember dessert. Laura and I indulged in a chocolate lava cake- oozing a molten center and Lisa chose a raspberry macaroon.

Carr0usel Triumphal Arch

Carr0usel Triumphal Arch

We strolled past the Pyramid, through the gardens, an arch and into Place de la Concorde. We continued up the Champs Elysees all the way to the Arch de Triumph to catch a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. On the stroke of 11:00 PM, it light up like a huge sparkler, a burst of energy in the distance. We oohed and aahed but feeling totally exhausted, caught a cab.

However, the taxi couldn’t get us close to our hotel because of the massive street party. Fortunately, I recognized the shops we passed on our ride from the airport and maneuvered through the fete back to our hotel. We squeezed through crowds like New Orleans during Mardi Gras. I hugged Laura and my camera close, but the Parisians were a happy crowd.

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Eiffel Tower at night

Needless to say our little room with a view no longer remained a quiet retreat. All those cafes were now rowdy with revelers. We were so tired we fell asleep despite the boisterous noise out the window. Funny, but when the crowd dispersed around twoin the morning, I woke up to the silence. Oh, how I love Paris.

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I chose Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais on the recommendation of The Provence Post (a wonderful blog) and paid for my own room.

Do Leave Home and Travel in 2009

January 8, 2009 by · Comments Off on Do Leave Home and Travel in 2009 

A while back, I hung a magazine ad in my office that read: "Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer."

I believe it's true, and the advertisement would still be posted had it not faded and crumpled off the wall.

Whether you choose to go to a local museum or take an international tour, travel opens our eyes, our hearts and minds. You gain an understanding of the past and an appreciation for different cultures. Perhaps you will connect with someone and create a lasting friendship or take on a new cause because you realize the urgent need.

The US dollar has strengthened and gas prices are at their lowest levels in four years. Yet, the Travel Industry Association predicts a 1.3 percent drop in 2009 leisure travel. If you can afford a vacation, 2009 will likely be a year of travel deals. Take advantage of this opportunity.

Last April, when I traveled in Italy, a euro cost about $1.60-$1.75. Currently a euro is valued at $1.36, meaning the dollar goes farther. (Universal Currency Converter: http://www.xe.com/ucc)

According to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, travel to Europe by Americans was down 4.8 percent in the first eight months of 2008 compared to the same period in 2007. If prices fall and the dollar continues to gain, this may be the right time to plan a European trip.

The dollar is also doing better elsewhere. An Australian dollar costs just 67 cents in U.S. currency, down from nearly $1 this past summer, and Canadian dollars are worth just 80 (U.S.) cents now. Earlier in 2008, the Canadian dollar was worth more than a U.S. dollar.

If the recession is hitting you and your travel budget, look for free offerings. Most museums and some zoos open their doors a few hours every week. Visit the library to borrow guidebooks instead of buying them. Ask at the tourist information center for free walking tours; some are provided as printed handouts and others are guided.

Consider home exchange programs (www.homeexchange.com). If you are staying a few days or longer, investigate the possibility of renting an apartment. I almost did this in Rome (www.realrome.com) but decided too late. You must plan far ahead to snag the best locations and rates.
Vacation home rentals usually save over hotels or look for lodging with a kitchen or kitchenette because cooking in costs less. Use consumer reviewed websites like www.travelocity.com to get the honest scoop on what other travelers thought of their stays in bargain hotels.

In the past few years something called couch surfing has taken off. The website www.couchsurfing.com defines themselves as volunteer-based worldwide network connecting travelers with members of local communities, who offer free accommodation and/or advice. I worry about the safety issues, so have not participated and don't know anyone who has, but feel free to comment.

Drop down a notch, skip the taxi and try local restaurants or street food, i.e., the hot dog vendor. While I'm no longer up for youth hostels, my 2-star hotel in Rome was quite adequate for 5 days. Arthur Frommer (remember his book Europe on $5 a Day) recalled his best travel experiences happened when he spent the least. I recommend his current magazine: www.budgettravel.com.

A new slogan hanging on my wall reads: "There are places you leave. And places that never leave you." Get out there and travel in 2009.

Italy – Weekend in Assisi

May 5, 2008 by · Comments Off on Italy – Weekend in Assisi 

Hillside town of Assisi

ASSISI is the beloved city of God; birthplace of St. Francis and St. Clare. The location radiates an atmosphere that touches the mind, body and spirit in heavenly ways.

Kathy, Cory and I arrive at the Umbrian train station and view an oatmeal-colored medieval town, sprawled over Mount Subasio.

We take the taxi up the hill and check into our room at San Crispino Historic Mansion, divine lodging nearly hidden from the road. The Sister Moon and Stars Suite is, in fact, below street level. Our two rooms feature stone floors, a wooden table and chairs, a fresco of St. Francis, and blue vaulted ceilings adorned with a starry skies. I find the snack filled armoire–including a cappuccino machine and best of all- we walk out into our own private walled garden. As I said- heavenly.

Standing in the garden I’m in awe gazing out on the expansive valley. What a sight–we can see the façade of the Basilica of St.Clare on our left, the apse of St. Maria Maggiore on your right, and the domes of Chiesa Nuova and San Rufino Cathedral in front.

Kathy feels God's warmth on her face in the garden

The afternoon is fading so we step up pebble-lined stairways, along crooked paths, to the mid-town square. Italian men cluster around benches discussing world problems or is it their grandchildren? Local women carry groceries in open-weave bags.

Tourists sit in café's and restaurants, browse the shops and visit numerous religious buildings. There are two basilicas and countless monasteries, convents, chapels and holy shrines in this tiny town of 25,000.

Spring blossoms everywhere: bright geraniums in pots, cascading greenery drips from balconies, red poppies bloom in the grassy valley below. You sense that residents care about beauty and nature.

Wandering around we lose our way in the labyrinth of tiny alleys. No problem. Life-long resident, Grandma Pat comes to the rescue. She wears the standard outfit of older Italian women—a black dress.

The dear lady speaks nothing but Italian as she hobbles along with her cane. She escorts us back to our hotel and says, "Statci Uniti–Papi?" Yes, the Pope is visiting the US.

Dinner turns into a bountiful party — wine, antipasti, wine with pasta, and a seafood entrée. Coffee please, but we must split dessert.

Falling into bed, I gaze at the celestial ceiling reciting prayers of gratitude. I am most fortunate to be here with my daughter-in-law and her mother. Sleep comes easy, exhausted from our flight and less than 24 hour blitz through Florence.

Sunrise and birdsong awaken us and we sip coffee in our garden, munching pastries fresh from the bakery. Am I really here? A little pigeon makes his home in a hole in the wall. What sublime tranquility. I envy the lady who tells us she is staying a month.

Our guide arrives to lead a tour of the famous monuments and help us understand their history. We hear of cloistered nuns, called Poor Clares, visit the pink limestone Basilica of St Clare and gaze into the original crucifix of San Damiano- the one which inspired St. Francis to convert in 1205.

Roman ruins are found at Minerva's ancient temple, now converted to a church. I'm stunned at the altar Madonna, crowned with an electrified halo.

A funeral leaves the Church of St. Rufino, and then we enter, finding St Francis' baptismal font, over 800 years old. We learn Francis was the son of a cloth merchant and is known to have been a party boy in his early years.

Time for a stop at the café. I find it hard to refuse tempting confections, oozing a buttery mix of nuts, sugar and cinnamon. Instead, I take a photo and then taste perfection in a frothy latte.

Maria Sculpture

Together we climb steep walkways to the upper town, arriving at Via Santa Maria delle Rose. This building holds a permanent sculpture exhibit by artist Guido Dettoni della Grazi. He created the most extraordinary Virgin Mary. In fact there are 33 Marias, each made from a different wood, one for each year of Christ's life.

Viewed from different angles, the piece gently morphs into the kneeling Virgin receiving the Annunciation, a woman carrying the pitcher to the well, an expectant mother, and the Blessed Mother holding the Child (my favorite). If turned horizontally, she becomes the Dove of Peace.

We purchase a small copy, grasping it within our fist and thumb. It fits snugly, feels sleek and soothing, like a polished stone. But a sensation of security extends beyond my hand, as if I am being held.

Finally, we descend into the immense Basilica of St. Francis. The structure is really two churches constructed over the Saint's tomb. Pope Gregory IX laid the foundation stone in 1228 and consecration occurred in 1253. What a short time to build such an enormous shrine.

Basilica of St. Francis

Highlights are the colorful frescoes by Giotto, simple, quaint and expressive. They depict the life of St. Francis in pictorial art, bringing the Middle ages to life. Many artists worked over 130 years creating the masterpieces for these hallowed halls; the most famous: Martini, Cimabue and Giotto.

I feel comfortable here and could sit in the sacred setting for hours and meditate. But we must hurry, another relaxing option waits. We get a ride downhill through the green fields of Assisi. The added bonus–a chance to photograph the town from afar.

An afternoon of pampering at San Crispino Spa includes a steam bath, Jacuzzi, and an olive oil massage. Aaah. We are rejuvenated at the idyllic retreat, and the only non-Italians on the property.

Back up the road and an evening stroll. We indulge in another fantastic repast- glad we had reservations. Meandering back, a full moon rises over St. Clare's Basilica. What could possibly top the natural phenomenon?

Full Moon over Assisi

Mass the next morning; an intimate moving experience in a big Basilica. One just seems closer to God here. The air is pure, no Byzantine gold or Renaissance glam. A mood of simplicity, piety and peace prevails, yet the village is alive. Little boys kick big rubber balls on the church steps. Men gather at the fountain. Tour buses start to roll up the hill.

I could stay here, learn Italian, and study art. Kathy puts it this way, "This is a place to let go, let God." I like that.

But it is time to leave, take the train to Bella Roma. I hesitate, wanting to linger. Instead, I leave my heart and lug my suitcase full of heavenly memories.

**************

If you go:

San Crispino Hotel http://www.directa.net/umbria/assisi/hotels/crispino.html

Maira Sculpture Art http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/CU0204/S00042.htm

E-mail for private guide–alexgulloguidedtours@yahoo.it

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