Barcelona, day four: …or from the coast of barcelona

01

Monday, December 31st 2012:

Waking up on New Year’s Eve in Barcelona.  I’ve always wanted to celebrate a new year in a foreign country, check that off the list.  Again, downstairs for breakfast at the hotel.  We then went up to the roof to take some photos and take in the view.  Time to go out into the city and see as much as possible on our final day in Spain.  Way too much to see.  This was a really good day.

bar pinoxto

We started off at Mercat de la Boqueria and bought some more fresh fruit juice.  All the vendors sell it and it’s really worth trying, just €1.  I wanted to check out Bar Pinoxto, I had heard only amazing things and I was hoping we could swing by later for some tapas.  We then cut across La Rambla and headed towards the waterfront through the Gothic Quarter.  Taking our time wandering the narrow streets, maps left back in the room.  Finally at the coast, I wish we had checked out this part of the city earlier, it’s really beautiful.  Bright daylight coming up, sailboats, blue water, the sun in our eyes.

circuswaterfront

We walked north along the harbor, wanting to check out El Born.  We passed by a circus seemingly forgotten by time.  Freakshow banners, faded tents, ancient train cars waiting for a few Euros from passer-bys with a penchant for nostalgia.  Walking west back into the shade of buildings and alleyways, we wandered through La Ribera.  A much more upscale Barcelona, high-end stores and design shops.  We spent an hour or so getting lost, turning back every time we found ourselves amongst the souvenir shops.  Finally stopped into a cool little cafe for some coffee and wi-fi, Elsa y Fred.

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Next we walked over to the Arc de Triomf to follow that road back towards the center of town.  It was a beautiful day, sunny and 70 degrees.  We walked through a park and found ourselves at the Barcelona Zoo.   We had nothing to do so we decided to check it out.  Definitely worth it.  It’s easily one of the best zoos I’ve ever been to.  Every animal you could possibly imagine.  The geography makes it pretty special, giraffes and elephants with ancient buildings and mountains far in the distance.  We spent a couple hours wandering around and then it was time for lunch.

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I picked up a map and saw that we were pretty close to 7 Portes, the restaurant we tried to go to a couple days ago.  Again, the roads in Barcelona can be confusing.  What looked like a straight road back to the waterfront took us out to the middle of nowhere.  After about an hour I found an ATM and hailed a taxi.  There’s no way I would have found it by just walking.  We had to wait about 30 minutes and then we were seated.  It’s upscale, seems to attract mostly tourists and wealthy locals.  Bread, olives, mixed salad with mustard vinagrette, monkfish soup (one of their specialities), seafood paella, a bottle of Rioja wine.  All amazing.  Little placques above the booths show you were some famous guests have sat.  Lauran Bacall, Che Guevara, Salvador Dali.

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We then followed the street back to La Rambla, walking again past the boats and waterfront, sun setting.  We went down into a Metro station to see if they had a photobooth.  They did, simple souvenirs.  Earlier in the day I read about the Spanish tradition of eating 12 grapes on New Year’s Eve when the clock strikes midnight.  You eat one grape on each of the church bell’s rings for good luck.  We went back to the market and most of the stalls were selling them seperated into little bags or plastic Cava flutes covered in cellophane, we bought two bags, moving on.  Stopped at a party supply store to buy noise makers and a plastic gold crown.  Back to the hotel for a nap.

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Wake up.  We went out and spent about an hour wandering around and shopping.  Then it was back to the hotel to get ready for the night.  The hotel put a bunch of free bottles of Cava on ice in the lobby, so I went down and grabbed two glasses.  We drank them on the roof and then went out to find something to eat.  I had three places I was dying to try, all closed.  It seemed like the night was going to be a bust but then we found Artisa, just a little cafe in the Gothic Quarter.  We ordered two sandwiches and a bottle of Cava to go.  We decided to just bring them back to the hotel and drink and eat in our room.

craziness

At about 15 minutes to midnight we went outside to walk to La Rambla.  Things were already starting to get pretty crazy.  About a block from the hotel some drunk teenagers rounded the corner and threw something at Marissa that hit her face.  Deep breath.  We pressed on, grapes in hand.  The streets and the park were shoulder to shoulder with people.  Everyone seemingly already black-out drunk.  Bottles of Cava ready to be sprayed, older tourists uncomfortablly huddled in store fronts.  After taking a few photos, we decided to just go back and celebrate by ourselves on the hotel roof.  I hate crowds like that.  We drank the rest of the Cava on our balcony and watched everyone stumble home.  Then it was time to for a very brief sleep.  We had to be downstairs to grab a taxi to the airport at 4:30AM.

home

Long flight home.  Barcelona was amazing.

Barcelona, day three: correcting mistakes, appreciating everything

parc guell

Sunday, December 30th 2012:

Today started quiet.  Breakfast downstairs at the hotel.  Eggs, bacon, fruit, coffee.  We decided to just wander around and get lost for a while, bought some fresh juice from the market.  I had heard you could buy advance tickets to La Sagrada Familia from certain ATMs at Caixa Catalunya banks.  We tried a few but there was no English language option.  A couple we couldn’t even enter because of homeless people setting up camp in the lobby.  Back to the hotel to get ready for the day.

la sagrada familiala sagrada familia

“For the first time since I had been in Barcelona I went to have a look at the cathedral–a modern cathedral, and one of the most hideous buildings in the world. It has four crenellated spires exactly the shape of hock bottles. Unlike most of the churches in Barcelona it was not damaged during the revolution–it was spared because of its ‘artistic value’, people said. I think the Anarchists showed bad taste in not blowing it up when they had the chance, though they did hang a red and black banner between its spires.”
- George Orwell on La Sagrada Familia, Homage to Catalonia, 1938

I used the hotel’s computer station to finally buy advance tickets for the church and print them out.  I can’t stress this point enough:  buy tickets before you go!  We then walked back to Plaça de Catalunya to get on the Bus Turistic.  I would have rather taken the Metro or a taxi but we bought the two-day pass and I didn’t want to waste it.  We got off on the third stop, La Sagrada Familia.  It’s amazing.  George was wrong.

This time we walked right up to the front and got in immediately.  I’m not sure what to write about it.  You really just need to see it for yourself.  If you think the exterior is impressive, the interior will blow you away.  Impossibly tall ceilings, columns reaching up and breaking into tree branches near the roof.  Abstract expressionist stained glass, dizzying spiral staircases.  We spent a couple hours just standing around staring up.  Walked out a doorway to get a good look at the nativity facade.  From far away it looks like melting rock, up close expertly carved figures and angles.  Just go.  It’s the work of an obsessive genius and I can’t wait to go back in 20 or so years when it’s finally completed.

04

Before getting back on the bus we walked around to try to find somewhere to eat.  There are lots of touristy restaurants around the perimeter of the church, but I liked the looks of this little hole in the wall right across the street.  Walk down a few steps, order a sandwich from the stacks in the glass box, grab a beer from the cooler, take a seat.  It was just nice to sit for a while and talk about what we’ve seen, what to do next.  Super cheap, perfectly decent food, free wi-fi, just what we needed.  Back to the bus to give Park Güell another shot.

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We got off at our stop and totally walked in the wrong direction.  We could’ve walked five minutes up the next street, but I mistakenly took us on a forty minute detour up some very steep streets.  Not that big of a deal.  Right before we both lost our minds we saw the back entrance to Park Güell.  Sweaty, thirsty, tired.  The park is amazing and I’m sort of glad we walked in the way we did.  When we finally made it to the iconic front steps it was completely overrun with busloads of tourists.  I’m guessing it would be best to go first thing in the morning to avoid the crowds.  The park is beautiful though, definitely one of the highlights of the trip for me.  We sat and grabbed a couple glasses of wine from the cafe near the front.  Walked up one of Gaudi’s twisting towers to check out the ubiquitous gift shop.  The sun was about to go down so we just hopped in a taxi and went back to the hotel.

07

Things just got lazy and relaxing at this point.  The previous day was so stressful, and Gaudi is a lot to take in.  We spent some time just bumming around our hotel room, still too early to go out to dinner.  We went back to La Central and spent an hour looking over every book on the shelves.  Just wandering aimlessly, getting lost, turning down narrow alleyways, taking stupid photos in front of graffiti.  That’s the best way to spend time in Barcelona.

08

For dinner we went back to Julivert Meu.  Normally I would try to avoid repeating restaurants on a trip, but we were tired and hungry, and it’s a very comforting place to eat.  We ordered the tuna with piquillo peppers again.  The Spanish are masters at canned seafood.  Don’t be surprised when the tuna you order at a tapas restaurant comes from a can, it’s amazing and unlike anything you’ve had at home.  This time we also ordered some sort of potato tapas and anchovies along with another bottle of cheap Rioja wine.  That’s it.  Time to pass out.  Tomorrow we’ll finally check out the waterfront, something we should have done days ago.

Barcelona, day two: a series of beautiful mistakes

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Saturday, December 29th 2012:

I’m in no way a seasoned traveler, still a greenhorn.  But I do know that certain things come with traveling: one is you’ll probably get a stomach ache (pack some Pepto), the other is that things don’t always go smoothly. You get stressed out, overwhelmed, there are ups and downs, it comes with the territory.  This was that sort of day.  Looking back through photos now, it was a great fucking day, but that’s exactly what it was: just one day.  We backtracked and re-did everything I screwed up this day on days three and four.  Okay, we’re all on the same page?  Let’s get into it.

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Mistake #1: Skipping Breakfast

We woke up and decided to skip breakfast.  We walked down to Plaça de Catalunya to find the Bus Turistic.  Okay, this is something I would have never normally done.  I hate being herded along with the tourists. But Marissa’s friend said it was worth checking out, so we did.  We decided to buy a two-day pass.  Basically you hop on the bus and it takes you to all the spots you’d want to check out in Barcelona.  You get off, take your time, see the sights, and another bus will be at that spot in 5 minutes.  I hesitate to say this but…I recommend it.  It’s a bargain and super convenient, but just get a one day pass.  It’s definitely worth spending one day in barcelona being a super tourist this way.  You can take what you learned and build on it the following days.

We got on the bus and climbed up to the open roof.  Off on the second stop to see Gaudi’s Casa Mila.  First things first, cross the street to grab a coffee at Starbucks.  We took some photos of Casa Mila, Marissa bought a couple postcards at the gift shop.  We decided not to go into the building just yet, too much to see.  While waiting for the bus we checked out Vincon, this really amazing sprawling design store.

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Mistake #2:  Not Buying Tickets In Advance

I couldn’t wait to get back on the bus.  It was getting more crowded at this point, around 10:30am.  I knew the next stop was La Sagrada Familia.  A building I first learned about in an introduction to architecture course in college.  A building I’ve always dreamed of seeing.  We got off and took a hundred photos, just dumbstruck by the scale and beauty of Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece.  The line to get inside was wrapped around multiple blocks and we didn’t buy advance tickets.  Decided to move and try again the next day.  Don’t worry, I’ll get back to it.

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Mistake #3:  Not Paying Attention

Back on the bus.  When you buy your ticket they give you a pair of headphones, you plug them in and the narrator gives you a little history lesson about what to expect at the next stop.  I didn’t plug mine in.  We got off on a stop that i thought was for Parc Guell.  I was wrong. We walked up a steep hill and couldn’t figure out where it was, miles away.  It was still a really beautiful walk.  At this point not eating breakfast was catching up with us.  We decided to just get back on the bus and go back to the hotel.  Waiting through about ten more stops.

Back near our hotel, hungry and fed up.  We walked into a little falafel restaurant on La Rambla.  I could call this a mistake but it wasn’t so bad.  Sometimes you just need to eat.

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No Mistake:

We went back to the hotel for an hour to rest and take showers.  Then it was back to the street to explore.  We spent a couple hours wandering aimlessly through the Gothic Quarter.  One minute on a busy street filled with souvenir shops, the next a quiet alley strung up with drying laundry, the next a towering church appearing from nowhere.  There were a bunch of street markets set up and I spent some time flipping through old records and antiques.  We stopped in to a small cafe and had some gelato.  Just taking it easy.  On the way back to the hotel we finally walked through Mercat de la Boqueria.  This is something we’d repeat at least four more times.  You have to visit the market, right off La Rambla, it’s amazing.

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Mistake #4:  I have no idea where I am

It was about time for dinner and I decided to try and check out a couple places I had heard about in La Raval.  Again, the streets in Barcelona are really confusing.  The maps I had didn’t help much at all.  We wandered down through the dark abandoned streets, gangs of kids skateboarding, shady characters trying to sell me drugs, prostitutes eating falafel while trying to look sexy.  We walked into a couple of cool looking cafes but both didn’t seem to be serving food.  Sometimes trying to be a local just doesn’t work out.  We found an upscale tapas joint and ordered some wine and cheese, sat with two older British ladies, tried to shake it off.  Back to the hotel.

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Mistake #5:  Not knowing when it’s time to go to sleep

We asked the guy at the front desk where to get some good seafood paella.  He wrote down a couple options and we decided to grab a taxi and head to 7 Portes.  We should’ve walked.  There was a long queue and the weight of the day was really starting to catch up with us.  We decided to just call another taxi and go back to the hotel.  Again, we’ll be back to correct this mistake.  But now, time.  to.  sleep.

Barcelona, day one: welcome to catalonia

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Friday, December 28th 2012:

Wide awake early at the Hotel des Grandes Hommes, still in France.  Downstairs to check out and pay some unexpected breakfast fees.  I had called down the previous night for a taxi back to the airport and it was there waiting for us out front.  Goodbye Paris.  I loved you more than I thought I would, I’ll definitely be seeing you again.  Security and passport control with Air France was a breeze, we were in our terminal reading the International Herald Tribune after about ten minutes of fumbling over passports and luggage.  ”New York Herald Tribuuune!” Some early morning daydreams of Jean Seberg, excited to be moving on, really high spirits at this point.  We grabbed a couple sandwiches from Paul, amazing as far as airport food goes, and boarded the plane for the short flight to Barcelona.  Heading to Spain for the first time.

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We arrived at Barcelona El Prat Airport around 2:35PM.  Picked up our bags and walked outside, no security, no passport control.  Got in one of the cool yellow and black taxis you see all over the city for the short ride to the hotel.  The streets are super confusing in Barcelona, the driver had to type the address into his GPS, look at an old paper map, and make a phone call before he knew where to go.  We checked into our hotel, Casa Camper, highly recommended.  It’s located in the El Raval area, just about a block from La Rambla.  A little about the hotel:  Each guestroom is divided by the hallway into two seperate areas.  The bedroom is in the back of the building to cut down on street noise and the sitting area overlooks the street below.  The bedroom has a window with an automatic garage door you can close at the push of the button.  The sitting room has a hammock for afternoon naps.  Oh, and in the lobby there is a self-serve snack bar open 24 hours, everything totally free.  Really cool hotel.

central

We then went to McDonald’s.  Again, a strange choice for our first meal in Barcelona, but like I talked about in Paris Day One, it was really good.  It might turn into a sort of arrival ritual for every new country.  We ate our food on La Rambla across from Plaça de Catalunya, feeling like an Amish couple dropped into New York City for the first time.  I knew very little about the city’s layout when I booked the hotel, but I had read plenty about La Rambla.  I knew I wanted to see it, but I had no interest in spending a lot of time there.  So super cool hotel, but if I ever go back I think I’d stay in El Born or the Gothic Quarter, just somewhere a little more removed from the craziness and crowds.  We went back to our room to regroup and make some plans for the next few days.  Stopping first at La Central, a pretty amazing bookstore across the street.

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Time for an early dinner.  Our jetlag was starting to fade away, but still not enough to match up with traditional Catalan meal times.  Everyone in Barcelona eats dinner around 9:00PM.  Earlier in the day we saw a cool looking tapas restaurant just a short walk from the hotel and luckily it was already open, Julivert Meu.  This was a good find.  It wasn’t recommended by anyone and I didn’t see it in my Lonely Planet guidebook.  Really traditional, rustic-style tapas.  We sat down and ordered a bottle of Rioja wine for €9.  My favorite thing about Spain, you can get an excellent bottle of wine in a restaurant for cheaper than a glass back in the states.  Tuna with piquillo peppers, Catalan tomato bread, three kinds of omelettes, chick peas with ham, assorted cheese plate.  The waitress  gave us a little demonstration on how to make the classic tomato bread.  Take a grilled piece of crusty bread, rub on a whole garlic clove, crush on half a tomato, add some salt, a little olive oil.  So simple, so addictive.  She brought us some complimentary Crema Catalana for dessert.  We happily accepted as we poured out the last sips of wine.

barcastells

We were feeling pretty good at this point, buzzed wandering out into the street.  Walked around and looked in some shops.  If you like shopping, you’ll love Barcelona.  It was only about 10:30PM but we were getting pretty tired.  I wanted to sit outside at a cafe and drink a beer, not yet ready to go to sleep.  We went into Bar Castells, again just down the block from our hotel.  This was my first experience with the Catalan language.  People in Barcelona speak either Spanish or Catalan, sometimes both in the same sentence.  I could not understand the bartender at all.  Finally with some gestures and pointing I was poured a beer and I enjoyed it out in the alley.

last

Back to the hotel to check out the view from the rooftop terrace.  A good first day in Barcelona.  Towards a slower pace.

 

Paris, day four: tropic of cancer

tropic

Thursday, December 27th 2012:

“It is now the fall of my second year in Paris. I was sent here for a reason I have not yet been able to fathom. I have no money, no resources, no hope. I am the happiest man alive.” - Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer

The last full day in Paris means breakfast in bed.  Our same waitress from the previous two mornings knocked on our door while I was still in the shower.  A tray stacked with croissants and much-needed coffee placed on the edge of the bed.  A grey morning outside.  I wanted to see the catacombs.  We walked down to Montparnasse but the line was already far too long, the weather not looking great.  I was really dissapointed, but I knew we would have another chance later in the day.  Time to move on.

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“Paris is like a whore. From a distance she seems ravishing, you can’t wait until you have her in your arms. And five minutes later you feel empty, disgusted with yourself. You feel tricked.”Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer

We walked back up to Saint-Germain.  Marissa wanted to buy some macarons from Laduree.  We chose six flavors and took them out into the street.  We planned on eating them on a bench down by the Seine, but the first daylight rain of the trip started trickling down.  We made it into a cafe near Notre Dame just before it got bad, ordered some coffee and waited it out.  I can’t remember the name of the cafe, wasn’t worth remembering.  Just a place to get out of the rain for twenty minutes.

l'avant comptoir

“I made up my mind that I would hold onto nothing, that I would expect nothing.”Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer

We were just about to go back to the hotel to wait for the weather clear up but I knew we were pretty close to a lunch spot I wanted to try.  I got us lost for a minute right before the rain really started coming down, turn to the right, L’Avant Comptoir.  My favorite meal of the trip.  It’s basically the waiting area for the much more formal Le Comptoir next door.  You jockey your way up to the bar, order a sandwich, some French tapas, a glass of wine.  1965 Bob Dylan playing loud on the stereo.  Ham and cheese on the most perfect bread, spicy mustard.  So simple.  I wish I had found this place earlier in the trip, I would’ve eaten there every day.

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“I’ve lived out my melancholy youth. I don’t give a fuck anymore what’s behind me, or what’s ahead of me. I’m healthy. Incurably healthy. No sorrows, no regrets. No past, no future. The present is enough for me. Day by day. Today!” - Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer

We headed back in the direction of our hotel.  Stopped into Gibert Joseph, a huge sort of Parisian Borders.  About six floors of books, records, toys, ephemera, and writing supplies.  We spent an hour looking over every shelf.  Marissa bought presents to send back home for Christmas, then asked if there was anything I wanted.  I picked out a French mass-market paperback edition of Tropic of Cancer, one of my favorite books.  I first read it in 1999 or 2000.  I was about 17 years old, about to graduate high school.  It made me want to be an artist.  It made me want to get lost overseas and travel.  It probably made me think about Paris for the first time.  Okay, let’s get back into it…

We continued back towards the hotel, shopping bags in hand.  The sun was finally coming out from the behind the clouds as we passed Jardin du Luxembourg.  We decided to walk through again, a perfect time to sit on a bench and break open those macarons.  We hated them.  Took a bite of each flavor and shoved them back in the bag.  Back to the hotel to dry off, change socks.

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“Twilight hour.  Indian blue, water of glass, trees glistening and liquescent.” - Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer

It was around 3:00PM.  I wanted to give the catacombs another shot.  With my newfound expertise of the Paris Metro I figured we could get there in less than 10 minutes.  We got off at our stop and could not figure out how to exit the station, completely frustrating at the time, hilarious when I think back on it.  We finally got in line just in time for them to shut it down, too late.  Oh well, next time.  We hopped back on the train and headed to the West Bank to do some window shopping.  Walked through an area west of the Lourve, all extremely high end shops, nothing I could afford.  Went in Bookmarc where I saw a copy of my friend RJ‘s latest book laying on a shelf.

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“The sun is setting.  I feel this river flowing through me -its past; its ancient soil, the changing climate.  The hills gently girdle it about: its course is fixed.” - Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer

The Metro back to Le Marais.  We were starving at this point.  We walked into a couple second-hand shops, an Israel-themed store specializing in exotic condiments.  After passing it twice we went in to La Perla, a Mexican bar.  Classic French food would maybe have made more sense for a last night in Paris, but this turned out to be one of my favorite places we went, perfect for this night.  Really good margaritas, dark red lights.  Chips, salsa, guacamole, another round of margaritas.

Stumbling through the streets back to the hotel.  Sat and watched the ice skaters outside the Hôtel de Ville for a while.  One last cup of vin chaud from a Christmas stand, some over-cooked churros we barely touched.  And that’s it.  Tommorow is Barcelona.

Paris, day three: sous les pavés, la plage

montmarte

Wednesday, December 26th 2012:

Okay, day 3.  Again we took the elevator down to the basement for breakfast.  By this time Marissa had already perfected her impression of our waitress, “BOOOONJOOOOUR!”  The three cups of coffee I drank helped in no way at all.  We went right back up to the room for a nap.  Jet lag, it’s no joke.

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Out of bed again, this time dressed and ready for the day.  Walk to the end of the street to the Metro.  The plan for the day was to check out Montmartre.  The 10 from Cluny-La Sorbonne, change to the 12 at Sevres-Babylone, exit at Saint-Georges.  If you’re going to Paris for the first time download the Paris Metro iPhone app, super helpful.  This stop let us out right around Pigalle, next to Moulin Rouge, just down the hill from Montmartre.  Marissa is a big fan of the film Amelie, so I picked this stop so she could see the cafe where it was filmed, Cafe des Deux Moulins.  We didn’t eat there, just took a few photos and wandered up the hill.

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I wanted to find Sacré-Cœur Basilica.  I wasn’t concerned how.  We would just get lost, look in some shops, and eventually it would appear.  Walking up the hill to Montmartre is really beautiful.  Little cobble-stoned streets filled with bakeries, sweet shops, design stores, tiny cafes.  We found ourselves in the main square, local painters everywhere, tourists filling in all the empty space.  Next was another Christmas market, my favorite of the trip.  We bought some frites and a Coca-Cola Light and ate them overlooking the most amazing view of Paris.

sacre coeur paris

At the end of the market was Sacré-Cœur.  A church I knew nothing about.  Pictures don’t really do it justice.  We went inside and took a look, photos not allowed.  Just out front we encountered an incredible amount of con-artists, tourist vultures, the most I saw on this trip.  More than a few times I saw foreigners being pulled aside, only a minute later getting pulled back by some local strolling by.  Definitely check out this part of Paris if you’re planning a trip, but be prepared to ignore just about everyone that approaches you.  We dodged our way through over-acting gypsies and stopped in a little cafe to have a drink, to use their free wi-fi, Cafe Choppe.

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The Metro back to Le Marais.  I think we got off at Hotel de Ville, I can’t remember.  One of Marissa’s friends told us we needed to eat at L’As du Fallefel.  It did not disappoint.  Probably ruined falafel for me from here on out.  We placed our order and waited in line for about 30 minutes, cars passing through the narrow street, scraping winter coats.  We ate it standing up in the alley, taking turns holding them, snapping photos.  We then spent about an hour shopping around the area.  Le Marais is pretty amazing, maybe the Williamsburg Brooklyn to Paris’ Left Bank.  Cool stores, cool bars, cool restaurants.

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The Metro again.  This time to the Louvre.  I heard Wednesday night was the best time to go, not too crowded.  We took some photos in front of I.M. Pei’s brilliant glass pyramid.  I know it was super controversial when it was built in 1989, but it holds up, worth the trip alone.  We waited in line for all of 15 minutes and rode the escalator down into the museum.  We spent about 2 hours looking around.  I know that’s not enough time to even see a small portion of the collection, but we were tired and it was enough for the first trip.  I’ll be back again, map in hand, ready to spend some serious time there.  We saw the Mona Lisa, bigger than I thought.  People always say it’s so small, I think I was expecting something postcard sized.  I liked taking photos of the people taking photos of it.  We went to the gift shop and I bought an English guide to the museum.  Books are really the best souvenirs.

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We took the train back to our stop near La Sorbonne.  The clouds were moving in fast so we decided to go back to the hotel for a nap, to wait out the rain.  Sleepy early in a Parisian hotel in the December rain.  We woke up and wanted to grab dinner somewhere nearby, Le Comptoir du Pantheon, just a block from our hotel.  More steak frites and wine.  I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to eat there, but it served it’s purpose on this night.  Warm, the Eiffel Tower sparkling through foggy Christmas light filled windows.  Let’s go to sleep.

Paris, day two: down on darkened meetings on the Champs-Élysées

Champs-Élysées

Tuesday, December 25th 2012:

Eleven hours of sleep.  We woke up and took the elevator down to the basement for petit dejeuner, continental breakfast for the layman.  A breakfast we ate every morning because I thought it was included with the room due to some miscommunication.  Not that big of a deal.  Croissants, bread, butter, orange juice, coffee.  The non-plan was to walk up to the Seine and find Le Marais.  A couple of friends recommended that area and I was excited to check it out.  Okay, so, remember:  It was Christmas day.  Just about everything was closed.

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I should have touched on this point in my last post, that with photos of Marissa in her bright pink tights.  People in Paris dress mainly in a brilliant array of shades ranging from dark grey to dark black.  My kind of city.  On one of the bridges over the Seine an American woman approached us as I unfurled one of my many maps, asking if we needed some direction.  She pointed us towards to Le Marais, just a couple blocks away.  We walked by the Pompidou, closed.  A beautiful ice skating rink we’d visit again a few days later.  Now was time to make some plans, I bought tickets for the lift on the Eiffel Tower a month ago, time to find it.  Walking was a bad idea.  It wasn’t close.

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Paris is a relatively easy city to get around.  The Seine cuts the main part of the city in half, so as long as you know where it is you can situate yourself.  I knew we had to walk north.  About an hour later we were close to our goal, tired and hungry.  We stopped in a little tourist trap cafe, Brasserie de la Tour Eiffel.  It ended up being pretty decent, anything at this point would have been perfect.  Steak frites and wine, a crepe for Marissa.

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We finally got to the Eiffel Tower and spent about an hour walking around and taking photos of each other.  It’s a beautiful structure, much larger than I imagined.  The wind was really kicking up so the lift to the top was closed.  I wasn’t too disappointed.  It was enough to see it, I don’t feel the need to get near it again.  After an overly long morning, it was time to grab a taxi and head back to the hotel.  Still jet-lagged.  Time for a nap.

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When I was planning this trip, doing my research, the forums I read seemed to agree that you definitely need a reservation for dinner on Christmas day in Paris.  I planned on making one, but then decided against it.  I got on our hotel’s wi-fi and found La Cloiserie des Lilas.  Just about a ten minute walk to Montparnasse, famously frequented by Hemingway and Henry Miller.  Marissa had some beautiful poached fish, I had some scary looking fish in tube-form.  It was a perfect Christmas dinner.  Walking back to the hotel in the cold, stone statues in the park vandalized with parking cones and clown noses for the holidays.

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Back to the hotel, buzzed from a couple glasses of wine, buzzed from the excitement of being in this amazing city on Christmas night.  I told Marissa to put her jacket back on, we were going to do some exploring.  We walked down to the end of the street for our first trip on the Paris Metro.  I bought a pack of ten tickets from the kiosk and fell in love with riding the trains there.  The 10 from Cluny-La Sorbonne, change to the 12 at Sevres-Babylone, get off at Concorde.  We walked out of the station and immediately saw the Roue de Paris, the towering Ferris wheel overlooking the Champs-Élysées.  I bought a cup of vin chaud for €3 and we got in line.  I’m terrified of Ferris wheels, but it was a really cool experience.  We sat in our little gondola with two over-excited 20-somethings from Mexico City.  I recommend it.  Especially at night.  Especially after cheap, hot wine.

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After that we walked across the street to check out the Champs-Élysées.  There was a pretty elaborate Christmas market set up on the far end of the street opposite the Arc de Triomphe.  We bought some candy from a stall and walked the entire street.  I’m glad we decided to see the street this way, late at night.  It’s sort of the Times Square of Paris and I had no interest in seeing it during the day.  It was beautiful.  John Cale songs running through my mind, feeling the luckiest.

Paris, day one: vivre sans temps mort

paris flight

Sunday, December 23rd 2012 & Monday, December 24th 2012:

Sunday was a long day.  When I have a flight in the evening I still find myself setting an alarm the night before, waking up early, pacing around my suitcase, making sure I packed enough socks.  Marissa and I flew out of Miami International Airport around 6:00 PM on an Air France Boeing 777.  I love big planes.  Eight hours of flight and six hours of time travel later we found ourselves in Paris on Christmas Eve morning.  Paris for the first time.

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We arrived at Charles de Gaulle Airport early in the morning.  Exhausted from only getting about an hour of sleep on the plane.  I was excited to get outside, to breathe some fresh air, but first there was passport control to deal with.  We waited in line for well over an hour in a room with seemingly no air conditioning before we could collect our bags and find the taxi line.  Finally outside.  A taxi to Hotel des Grands Hommes, right next to the Pantheon.  I was surprised at the amount of graffiti along the highway into the city, mostly semi-elaborate tags.  The hotel was perfect.  On a quiet street, Christmas trees out front, an impossibly tiny elevator.  Previously the home of the surrealist writer and poet Andre Breton.  Rococo wallpaper and furniture covering every inch of our room with barely enough space for the queen-size bed.  The servants quarters at Versailles.  Everything you’d want from a Parisian hotel room.  Open the door, throw my suitcase down, check out the bathroom, bury myself under the blankets.  Post-flight nap time.

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Woke up jet-lagged and hungry.  We put on our jackets and headed into the Decemeber cold.  We wandered around the Latin Quarter, staring at cafes, puzzling over French menus under glass, none of my college French classes helping at all.  We finally decided to just go to McDonald’s.  I know that seems like a strange choice for our first meal in Paris, but we had planned on going to one in every country we visit, and it was right there.  Don’t judge me.  It was good.  After this we did some getting lost, things get sort of hazy from here on.  Walked through the Jardin du Luxembourg (right across the street), found ourselves in the Christmas market in Saint-Germain, down the Seine to Notre Dame.  Took some photos of the locks on Lover’s Bridge.  Thousands of padlocks that couples write their names on, attach to the bridge, and then throw the key into the Seine.

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This day was mostly just wandering around, trying to get a sense of where we were.  We walked around Shakespeare and Company, then sat down and grabbed a beer in a cafe next door, Le Petit Pont.  Back to the hotel for another nap.  Walked around and ate some weird pizza on a touristy street near Notre Dame, drank some cheap French wine.  Checking our watches, it was Christmas Eve and we were planning on midnight mass at Notre Dame.

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I’m in no way religious, but midnight mass at Notre Dame seemed like too cool of an experience to pass up.  They were celebrating their 850th anniversary, try to wrap your mind around that amount of time.  I read on some Lonely Planet forums that you need to arrive really early if you want to get a seat.  We got in line around 10:00 PM and were inside just about 10 minutes later.  The earlier mass was already in progress so we walked around to the front and watched the remainder of it.  Afterwards, pushing our way through the crowd, we found two great seats right in the center of the church.  After waiting patiently for about an hour we both started nodding off.  We saw it, we were there, it counts.  Back to the hotel for an epic amount of sleeping.  The pace set for an exhausting, whirlwind crash course in Europe.

Paris & Barcelona: a sort of disclaimer

So I just got back from 10 days in Paris and Barcelona for Christmas and New Year’s.  I originally planned to write about my trips to Peru and Mexico first, but those will have to wait.  I want to get this trip down while it’s still fresh in my mind.  I’ll have the first post up tomorrow, but for now here’s a little disclaimer I typed into my iPhone a few weeks before this last trip began:

Okay, so I assume most of you reading this have been to Paris.  It seems to be one of the first places Americans travel to abroad, a jumping off point.  Well I’m going for the first time and I’m going to be seeing just about everything on the tourist trail.  I know most travelers scoff at anything touristy, but these are things that need to be seen.  If you moved to NYC after college and haven’t been to the Empire State Building or Coney Island, you’re doing it wrong.  The side streets, the dive bars, the small cafes with no signs, they’re all great but you’re still not seeing the whole picture.  You’re isolating yourself.  So my first trip to Europe.  I’m going to the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, The Louvre.  I’ll be in Paris again one day and maybe then I’ll scoff and complain about tourists, making sure to only do things off the beaten path.  But first things first.  Let’s see the big sights with cameras slung around our necks, fanny packs full of maps, travel guides in our hands.  Right now my mind is full of Henry Miller, Hemingway, Gainsbourg, Gaudi, and Guy Debord.  teenage dreams, everything is romantic.

After Paris is Barcelona.  Yeah, expect a photo of me smiling in front of La Sagrada Familia.

Antigua Guatemala: wanderlust begins

Friday, May 13th 2011 – Monday, May 16th 2011:

Okay, so let’s back pedal a bit. I just finished writing about my trip to Cuba. That was a big deal for me. I had been anticipating it way before I even got my passport, not sure I’d ever actually get to go.

But I got my passport just about two years ago. Since then I’ve been to Guatemala, Peru, the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, and Cuba. Before the year is out I’ll have been to France and Spain as well. I think six foreign countries in two years is a pretty good start. I hope to at least match (or double) that in 2013.

But first, let’s go back.  Machu Picchu was always at the top of the list.  I had been planning trips with friends for years, all of which fell through.  When I finally convinced an old friend from high school to come along with me I was no less anxious, of it actually happening and of traveling far from home.  One late night after a few glasses of wine I found a cheap plane ticket to Guatemala online, bought it on a whim, I was going.  A sort of trial run.  The next morning I was terrified reading all the US State Deparment travel warnings about Guatemala City.  I had never been that far out of my comfort zone.  After a bit of nervous morning research I knew what I was going to do.  Antigua.  It seemed perfect.  This amazing, out-of-the-way anomaly in Central America, about an hour’s drive from the airport. Here is where my new life-long wanderlust begins.

It’s hard writing about a place a year later, so instead here is the notepad stream I typed into my iPhone over the first couple nights.  Antigua is beautiful.  I definitely need to go back one day.

I’m sitting here at a french bistro drinking a glass of wine.  I have to keep looking out the window to remind myself that I’m in Guatemala.  I’ve been here for about five hours and I already feel pretty comfortable.  The initial culture shock is wearing off.  It was an hour drive from the airport in Guatemala City to Antigua.  I can’t even describe it. The most beautiful, dirty, terrifying drive of my life.  They definitely don’t have exhaust emissions here.  I feel light-headed but that could be because I haven’t eaten in nine hours.

After checking in to the hotel, Meson Panza Verde, I took a walk around and stopped in for a beer to cool off at the same restaurant I’m in right now, Bistrot Cinq.  Bartender was cool.  Talked about Miami and girls in Antigua. Just had the best chicken noodle soup I’ve ever had.  Steak frites up next.  Then I’m going to try to make it back to the hotel without getting mugged.  Damn, that was a little decadent.  I’m not going to do the fine dining thing alone again. Except the last night at the hotel.  About to drink my first cup of Guatemalan coffee. Then I’m burning this city to the ground.  Actually that was totally cheap for one of the best meals ever.  About $37.  On the way back to the hotel there were police escorts blocking the road for some sort of marathon.  Now I’m sitting on the roof drinking another glass of wine.  I should separate these notes but I’m just going to make it one crazy stream of consciousness ramble.  It’s only 9:28PM.  I’m just so worn out and tired.  I love that I actually came and did this by myself.  Makes me feel stronger.  It would be nice to have someone else here though.  Tomorrow will be great, but when it gets dark I know I’ll want to talk about the amazing insanity of what’s happening, what I’ve seen.  I’ll definitely travel alone again, but now Peru with a friend is looking better and better.  I don’t need a friend here though, this is a city where you need a girl.

One of the more surreal things I’ve seen just happened.  I was sitting on a bench in the park in front of the fountain, just drinking a cup of coffee.  A procession of nuns walks by, about 40 of them, they stand in front of the fountain.  Next I see a mime/clown running through the park screaming “policia!”.  Then two cops, one with a machine gun, follow him to the corner.  Not sure what happened but there were a ton of people crowded around trying to get a look.  Back to coffee.  So the second night in Guatemala is coming to a close.

Today started rough, no sleep, hard to breathe. But once I relaxed I saw the ruins of three amazing churches.  Had a margarita at a place called Fridas.  Ate an insanely good dinner at a Belgian restaurant, Como Como.  Eating alone in a nice restaurant is shit but the food was amazing. Then I walked to a bar called Monoloco.  The bartender was American, raised in Maine. He’s been here for about a year off and on.  Asked me if I was just passing through. Good music. Guatemalan teenagers singing along to Weezer.  Drank a bunch of beers.  Too shy to talk to anyone even though I overheard three local girls talking about how they thought I was cute.  It’s only 10 but I’m not sure what else to do.  I’m a bit tired and I feel this odd constant heartbeat.  Tomorrow should be good.  

Just brunch, visit a huge monastery and some museums, check out the market, buy some souvenirs.  Then home.  I’m not sure what that’s going to feel like.