Tag Archives: travel

Oh, Paris – You Stole My Heart

I didn’t know it was possible to fall in love with a city. I mean, a city is crowded, smelly, full of strangers, polluted, confusing, and complicated. Who can you trust? Every time I take the Metro, disembodied voices over the PA system remind me to beware of pick-pockets. Over the past couple of weeks, those same multi-lingual announcements also reminded me to drink lots of water and not get too excited as we are having a heat wave and getting too excited could prove dangerous. The other day, the pollution was so bad here they offered discount transit tickets to try to encourage anyone who didn’t need to drive to leave their cars at home. It’s no wonder I don’t like big cities. I’m a farmer, remember? The kid whose dream it was to find herself a quarter section in the Peace River District so she never had to talk to her neighbours.

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#2 I added a little virtual graffiti of my own to this one…

What happened??? We came to Paris to spend some time with family here and our stay wound up stretching to a full three months. Now that our time is coming to an end (we head back to the Rockies in a few days), I’m feeling like someone about to experience a terrible break-up.

Which made me wonder, what the hell? Why on earth would I have become so infatuated with this place? Here’s my best attempt at explaining the impossible.

Why Nikki Fell in Love with Paris (in no particular order)

  1. The emergency vehicle sirens sound like musicians tuning up for a performance
  2. I love the graffiti – which is everywhere – which is simultaneously awful and cool. OK, I’m a bit conflicted on this one. The graffiti is like the strange habits one’s sweetheart has that simultaneously drive you crazy and yet are somehow endearing.
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  3. Tomatoes
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    Not just tomatoes. Fresh produce of all kinds in the many, many markets all over the city. For that matter, salami, fresh fish, olives (OMG – the olive vendors!), cheese, bread, dates… all manner of delectable edibles. It’s a drool-inducing pleasure just to walk among the rows of stalls, ogling, sniffing, and tasting. I could go on and on and on about those markets. (Note to self: the markets are worth a post all their own)
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  4. Flea markets
    Close cousins of the farmer’s markets, you don’t have to look too hard to find a flea market in Paris. I used to have a favourite – the Marché aux Puces de St-Ouen -mostly because it is so huge – it’s said to cover seven hectares and on any given weekend you’ll find about 3,000 vendors and over 150,000 other flea market fanatics in search of a good deal) but now that I’ve been to several others scattered about the city, it’s hard to say which one I like best.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  5. Musicians are everywhere – and, I mean everywhere. The other day we were treated to a series of marching bands banging and tooting their way around our neighbourhood (they were taking part in some sort of band festival). Individual musicians play in the Metro, in parks, on street corners. One afternoon I stumbled across a fabulous Dixieland jazz band playing away for tips (and CD sales). Not a day goes by where I’m not serenaded by someone singing or playing an instrument (sometimes both at the same time). I’ve heard some world-class performers and some wannabes, but they are all passionate about their music and all those tunes provide a soundtrack for Paris that I will miss after I get home.
  6. For that matter, artists are everywhere. Shooting videos or taking photographs, drawing or painting, they prove I am not the only one who finds Paris to be an inspiring place to create. One group of avant garde dancers even painted each other in a performance piece executed in the shadow of Lady Liberty on the Ile des Cignes not far from our apartment.
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  7. The gardens are everywhere and they are spectacular. They are also where you will find Parisians enjoying the fine art of the pique-nique (see also #9). Gardens are also home to so many pieces of sculpture I finally gave up trying to photograph them all (that was a thought, early on). Sculptures actually warrant a blog post all their own as well. Such a great mix of ancient and avant-garde and all sculptural styles in between.
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  8. Even the door knockers and door handles are cool.
  9. Pique-niques. I have never been anywhere where people took their picnics so seriously. These are lengthy affairs with gourmet selections of cheese and exquisite charcuterie, olives to die for, fresh fruit, pastries, fresh bread, salads, and, of course, wine. Nobody seems to drink to excess, but just about everyone enjoys a sip of nice wine. These picnics go on for hours – in the summer, until well after dark. Musical instruments come out, or people provide amplified music of various kinds, all of which inspire dancing and singing.
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  10. Museums. Of course, some of the world’s great museums are to be found here – too many to pick from. I’m not sure that you’d call the Catacombs a museum, exactly, but I can tell you the cool, dark crypt that holds the bones of millions of dead Parians is worth a visit. Located waaaaaay below the city, the maze of tunnels and hollows and nooks and crannies is one of the most humbling places I’ve ever been to. Nothing like spending a bit of time with crumbling bones to make you keenly aware of your own mortality.
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  11. Ancient bones are one thing, but generally speaking, there are just a ton of old things – buildings, parks, monuments, scraps of ancient Roman walls – you know, really OLD stuff EVERYWHERE.
  12. Most of all though, there is always something going on (concerts, exhibitions, films, sporting events, tours, festivals, markets, conferences… happenings of all kinds). The city streets are alive with people until long after old folks like us collapse into bed, which can be a bit of a problem when the temperatures rise and you have to leave the windows open as there isn’t any air conditioning (though, nothing that a fan and decent earplugs can’t fix…).
  13. Where there is stuff going on, there are people. Yes, things like festivals and concerts happen on a grand scale, but what perhaps shocked and delighted me most of all about my time in Paris was how many cool people I met at writing salons, literary events, spoken word open mics, film screenings, and freelance writing get-togethers. And those people introduced me to other people and told me about other things going on (tango lessons, board game gatherings, walking groups, climbing groups, sketching groups, photography groups) – so many ways to connect and converse and share passions that I ran out of time before I was even able to scratch the surface! I had so much fun meeting people that I can’t wait until I am able to return… I have conversations to finish!
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    With Hazel Manuel at a book signing at WH Smith in Paris

    As I have been writing this list (while packing and getting ready to go back to the mountains in Canada) each point in this short list made me think of several other points that I could have made. Perhaps I should just switch gears entirely, move back to Paris and just blog about that. Yep, I am in love with a city and her name is Paris.

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    I couldn’t really finish a whole post about why I love Paris so much without including at least one Eiffel Tower portrait…

Meanwhile, Over in Paris

About a month ago I landed in Paris, where I’ve been hanging out and writing ever since.

 

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True confession: I spend way more time than I’d like to admit in more or less this position, watching the goings on down in the plaza below our apartment. Endlessly fascinating. And besides, isn’t that what you are supposed to do when in Paris? People-watch? It’s a national pastime here. 

 

On my author blog I’ve been posting a bit about being here…

P is for Pleading Paris

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Q is for Query Letters (in Paris)

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R is for Reading in Paris

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S is for Shut Up and Write (in Paris)

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T is for Taking Time to Write (in Paris)

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I’m off to do my daily ‘pop my head out of a new subway station and see what’s there’ mission. After I get back later tonight, I’ll post something on this poor, neglected blog about what I discover on my journey…

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First Steps on the Road to the Camino

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It’s safe to say I have never felt quite this way about a trip before. When Dani first mentioned that she was thinking of taking Dad on the last 120 or so kilometres of the Camino de Santiago, I thought it was both the best and the worst idea she has ever had. I mean, Dad isn’t exactly striding around on long hikes the way he used to. He’s on the hunt for his 82nd birthday this year, but it’s kind of a slow motion, huffing and puffing kind of hunt.

That said, he’s still on his feet, sharp as ever, and busy creating new art projects. But recently, he has seemed a bit less enthusiastic about life. An aching hip and wheezy lungs have dampened his enthusiasm for vigorous exercise. Of course, taking it too easy can lead to a general feeling of blah, setting up a bit of a vicious cycle. Dani’s solution for this situation? A long hike across the Spanish countryside with her grandfather.

Hm. There are a lot of ways this could go terribly wrong. But at the same time, what an opportunity to take part in a venerable pilgrimage tradition with someone you care about deeply. When Dani first mentioned the idea, I desperately wanted to come, but it was Dani’s project and I could think of nobody better to walk with Dad on what was surely going to be a memorable journey. I nodded and tried to be gracious. 

When she asked me if I wanted to come along, you can imagine how long it took me to consider my answer. Hell, yes! (Sorry. Maybe that isn’t an appropriate expression of glee, given the nature of the expedition.)

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Dani, Dad and I each have our official Camino passports, which we will get stamped at hostels along the way. We’ll stitch the Canadian patches somewhere on our packs.

Which is how it has come to pass that in the middle of moving, and getting ready to go sailing, and working on various writing projects that I now also find myself thinking about a trip that will be like no other I’ve ever undertaken. For one thing, I won’t be able to march at my usual crazy fast pace. I will be forced to smell the proverbial roses every step of the way. We’re planning to take 25 days, which also means we’ll be spending lots of time together in some challenging circumstances. What better way to bond with (or want to murder) your nearest and dearest?

Am I looking forward to this? Yes, of course. What an opportunity. Am I a tad concerned how this might go down? Yes, of course. I mean, what could possibly go wrong when three generations set off down a long and dusty (or muddy) road across Spain together?

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Why Fly?

Spotted this seagull at Sombrio Beach today, determined to get to the other side in his own, special way… A seagull walks over a bridge...

Home is Where the Travel Books Live (Photo 101)

Way back when I was a regular blogger I took up various ‘one a day’ challenges and found the discipline of coming up with a daily post both fun and useful. This month I am busy with a ton of writing assignments, so I thought it might be cool to participate in the WordPress Photography 101 course as, in theory, it might be faster to let those photos speak a thousand words on my behalf. The challenge today is to capture the idea of “Home” in an image.

Books - the cheapest travel tickets around...

Books – the cheapest travel tickets around…

Of course, the minute I started thinking about this theme I realized the answer wasn’t going to be quite as simple as photographing my front door. I currently call Vancouver Island my home, but for many, many years as I was growing up my family was constantly on the move. At some point when I was in  my early 20s Dad and I sat down to try to count up all the addresses where I had lived and we came up with 53. Our homes ranged from a tiny cabin in Banff where a grizzly sow and her cubs went through our garbage every morning to an apartment above a Chinese restaurant in Ontario (by then I had left home and was working as a dog catcher). From England to Australia, Fort McMurray to Vancouver, Fort Lauderdale to Guelph my homes ranged from simple to fancy, in great neighbourhoods and not so great neighbourhoods, on islands, in cities, or in the countryside.

Though the view outside our front door changed on a regular basis (as an artist and a photographer, Dad and Mom were pretty free to live wherever they fancied), some things remained constant. One was our family (we were a remarkably stable lot, considering our wandering ways) and another was our dedication to schlepping boxes of books all over the world.

Whenever we moved into a new place I would feel somewhat ungrounded until I started to unpack my books. I still have one of the very first books I was ever given, the Daily Mail’s Pictorial Animal Book. 

This one still has pride of place on the shelf, though it shares real estate with several thousand other titles...

This one still has pride of place on the shelf, though it shares real estate with several thousand other titles…

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The idea of home and what it is and what it isn’t has long fascinated me and sooner or later, themes like this eventually find their way into my writing. Not long ago my daughter and I wrote a book called Take Shelter about the many different kinds of dwellings people live in all over the world. In the introduction I talk about my books and the way that unpacking them always made me feel at home.

Take Shelter

Ironically, some of my favourite books are those with travel themes because even though a good chunk of my life was somewhat unsettled, I have always loved to be on the move. A well-packed suitcase is a kind of home away from home, the essentials of life neatly organized in a way my life in my actual home rarely is.

These days my suitcase is usually a little lighter than in the past. I no longer have to pack half a dozen books just to be sure I have something on hand to suit my reading mood – the miracle of the modern e-reader means I can travel with a veritable library. But I always pack a paperback of some sort anyway – batteries die, devices get dropped overboard, electronic devices get stolen. Books, in all their clunky, heavy, awkward, prone-to-sogginess-when-read-in-the-bathiness are solid between the fingers. Maybe that’s why I’m so fond of them.

If this post seems a little, um… illogical – that’s perhaps because these two sides of my life and personality are fundamentally incompatible. On the one hand I love, love, love my books – putting them on shelves, reorganizing them, adding to the collection, culling the collection – stacking, dipping, flipping, browsing, reading, delving, devouring those books which are also some of my longtime companions… On the other hand, there are few things I like more than turning my back on my bookshelves, and checking that my passport, my plane ticket, and my comfortable shoes are packed in my bag. And that paperback, of course. Can’t leave home without that…

H is for Hula Hoop

There has been a lot of coming and going around here over the past few days and this has made me think about the odd things we take, leave behind, and bring back when we travel. Dad has just spent three weeks in Provence and England and the coolest thing he brought back was several jars of pigments. He plans to add these warm, earthy tones to linseed oil and paint a series of landscapes (he travelled from hill town to hill town, collecting a gazillion images and ideas…) using the actual colours of the place. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with. He has only been back a couple of days and is already at work in his studio. It shouldn’t be long before I can post something inspired by his recent travels.

Provence

Dad returned hugely inspired (and a bit out of breath from all the hiking he did).

Several of the Germans will be leaving by car tomorrow, heading for the USA. They will be leaving behind all manner of fruits and vegetables, which is rather bizarre when you consider most of the produce one buys around here these days originated south of the border. How is it logical that you can’t take an apple fifty miles south of here?? Because MC arrived during a snowstorm and is now heading for California, he is also leaving behind his winter coat and mucky farm clothes. Later this summer he will return to reclaim his [temporarily] abandoned clothing and help out again on the farm. Perhaps he will enjoy himself enough that he will stay through another change of season and will need his heavy coat once again… [H is also for hope… and I am hopeful this might come to pass…]

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[Photo by Rob Campbell Photography]

Yesterday I had a quick chat with my friend Sylvia Olsen, the author of quite a few books and an expert knitter (among her books are Working with Wool: A Coast Salish Legacy and the Cowichan Sweater and Yetsa’s Sweater). She is heading off to a writing retreat in Ireland and we were chatting about how she will divide her time writing, knitting, and hula hooping. Hula hooping? Yep. Sylvia has a collapsible hula hoop with which she travels. Which is way more interesting than the fact I always travel with my personal pillow (it’s thin and all the hotels insist on HUGE fluffy pillows that make my neck ache).

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My daughter never leaves home without her Rescue Remedy (she travels a lot but hates to fly and swears by putting a few drops under her tongue to get her through takeoffs and landings). When I mentioned Sylvia’s hula hoop, Dani reminded me that she used to travel with her juggling sticks and this, in turn, made me think of several trips I took years ago with a pink ballet tutu stuffed in my backpack. This was long after I stopped dancing, but I had this idea that I would write a collection of travel essays called Travels with Tutu. I did wind up with a handful of odd photos of a pink tutu placed artfully in unusual places (atop a mountain in Japan, on a huge log on a beach somewhere along the West Coast Trail), but somehow the concept failed to hold my attention long enough to collect enough essays to make a book. Part of the problem, I think, was that the pink tutu on its own was not that photogenic (or, I was not a good enough photographer to make the images work well enough to warrant inclusion in a book). This was long before the selfie became a thing, so it never even occurred to me to wear the tutu myself.

The idea of Sylvia hula hooping on the edge of some windblown Irish cliff makes me smile. I really hope she has someone take a photo of her and her hoop in some cool Irish locale so I can vicariously enjoy her trip!

All this made me wonder, what is the essential item you cannot leave home without when you travel? Have you ever left something behind on a journey, intentionally or not? What’s the most unusual thing you’ve ever brought back with you after a trip?