Tag Archives: France

Chronicles of an Island Girl’s First European Adventure: Conclusion

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Getting Back Home
I was restless on my transatlantic flight back to the US. I had missed my family and was nervous about my cousin’s health. I also felt bad about leaving the trip early, even though it was only one day early. Everyone was sleeping when I left and only my boyfriend had known of my last-minute decision to leave. On the airplane the remote control for my inflight entertainment was broken. I couldn’t scroll through and the only thing I could watch was a children’s channel or Life of Pi. I had spent an enormous amount of time trying to fix the control. I had even had a flight attendant reset my screen. Unable to settle my mind, I decided to watch Life of Pi. It was one of the best movies I have ever seen! Everything happens for a reason. There was a reason that was the only movie I could see. The most important theme I got from the movie is that no matter what we may face in life, once we have the insatiable desire to overcome, we will. Praise God. In that moment, I knew that my cousin would be fine – that she would fight for her healing.

Landing back on US soil felt so good. That was an unexpected emotion for me. Back in Atlanta’s Hartsfield Airport around noon I was disappointed to find only two US Customs agents to receive US passport holders. Now this is the type of service that, unfortunately, I have come to expect in the Virgin Islands. But I was quite surprised to meet a long line of international travelers returning home and having to wait so long to go through customs because so few agents were available. Nevertheless it felt good to be in familiar territory.

When my cousin finally picked me up, she had some good news. Our cousin was recovering rapidly! I had a layover in Atlanta and cherished the opportunity to spend time with family. It just so happened that my uncle and his family from Chicago and other family from Bermuda were visiting Atlanta. It was a mini reunion of sorts. I was tired bad! But the night in Atlanta was filled with family and fun. I left out for St. Thomas the next day.

I hadn’t even arranged for someone to pick me up from the airport. But hey, I was home. I should be able to find a ride one way or another. I was glad when my dependable cousin was able to pick me up. I can’t explain how good it felt to see my children and mom, even though I had been gone for only eight days. My oldest had baked a welcome home cake for me! Home sweet home!

Conclusion
Travel, travel and travel some more! I like seeing and experiencing new places and cultures. Still, my fear of long flights and limited financial resources made traveling a challenge for me. But like anything else, we can come up with a million excuses of why we “can’t,” or we can simply do it. Now international travel won’t happen instantaneously for most people. It will take planning and saving. But it’s worth it. On my travels through Europe I saw older couples – some looked to be in their 80’s, younger couples – some toting babies in their arms, entire families – with three generations traveling. There were travelers who were wheelchair bound. There is no excuse not to travel and expand your world view. Even though I live on an island, I promised to never limit myself to an island. So get those passports. Renew them if you must, but make it a point to see and experience something new.

Accommodations
Having heard of hotels in France with no air conditioning, no irons or other amenities that we are accustomed to, I was a bit concerned about what to expect. We stayed at Marriott properties throughout our visit and each had met or exceeded our expectations. The Marriott London Arch was the best. Service was great – the concierge spent almost an hour helping us to get the best cab deal on our 4 am departure from London.

Food
There were bakeries everywhere in Europe! I love sweets, and tried out quite a few desserts, but surprised myself with the restraint I used to not eat all desserts in sight. I didn’t notice too many obese people, perhaps because portion sizes in Europe were smaller than those in the US. And in Amsterdam just about everyone rode bikes. I wasn’t totally impressed with the food. Like anywhere else, there were good restaurants, and there were not-too-good restaurants. My best foods were a ravioli dish and the Josephine Baker drink in France, and the waffle and ice cream dessert in Amsterdam. I’m pretty easy to please and like learning about new cultures, so I had an easier time with food than some in the group.

Random
• The Charles de Gaulle Airport in France had, by far, the most sophisticated public bathroom that I’ve ever seen.
• We traveled within Europe on Easy Jet. It was easy and economical.
• Plan for the money conversion. The Euro and Great Britain Pound are stronger than the US Dollar. Do the math early for good budgeting.
• Check the weather of your destination before you arrive. And be sure to pack more than a denim jacket – even though it’s summer!

Now go get those passports and book some travel!
This island girl’s firs European adventure was awesome! Love and blessings!

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Chronicles of an Island Girl’s First European Adventure: Paris Part 2

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The Day of Awe
We had three big locations planned for our second day in Paris. It was Saturday and we decided to plan our stops more carefully as to not tire ourselves as we had done the day before. We planned on heading out around noon. But no one woke up until about 1:30 pm. We met up at 3 p.m. to head out. The first stop was Notre Dame. We had been using the Metro for getting around – a system I have yet to figure out. Living on a small island with no metros, it’s hard enough trying to figure out the system in New York or DC, but Paris was a whole other beast. Not to mention, I’m “directionally challenged,” as my boyfriend says. Praise God for the Metro riders in our group who took the lead.
I immediately liked Ile De La Cite, where the Notre Dame is located. There was something about the area that felt familiar and welcoming.

We stopped for lunch at an open air outdoor restaurant before making our way to the cathedral. I was in awe upon seeing the Notre Dame. It looked so huge and powerful. The architecture and attention to detail were magnificent. Within the walls of the Notre Dame were hundreds of intricately carved faces. The inside of the Notre Dame was dark and a live mass was in session when we entered. As we walked deeper into the building there were dozens and dozens of small lit candles. Along the walls were spaces dedicated to saints. As we passed to the far right of the pulpit, the scent of Frankincense and myrrh was overwhelming. I felt like I was transported to a few centuries in the past. My boyfriend was creeped out by the Notre Dame. While I reveled in the history, he wanted to leave. We left the inside of the Cathedral and headed to the side so that we could go to the top of the massive church, but the line was too long.

We headed for the next stop on our list – the Luxembourg Garden and Palace. I am used to seeing street performers in train stations. In Paris we saw a whole band! In one metro car there was a violinist with a moveable amplifier and taped accompaniment. We got up, started dancing and began a cha-cha line on the train! Before I knew it, strangers had taken out their cell phones to capture us. I just hope we don’t end up somewhere on the internet!

The Luxembourg Garden was beautiful. I immediately envisioned lavish outdoor weddings being held there. When we reached the middle of the garden, a few people in our group stopped for crepes. We saw the wrap for the crepes made to perfection right in front our faces. We rested for a bit while our friends enjoyed their warm snack. For the entire day we were careful to take our time. We wanted to be fresh for our most anticipated stop.

A good friend suggested that we visit the Eiffel Tower later in the day so that we could have the experience of seeing it in the day and the night. That was the best advice.
As we headed toward the revered monument our pace picked up the closer we got. We had a new sense of urgency and a new burst of energy. Then there we were, a few hundred feet away from the Eiffel Tower. It was surreal. And like all good tourists, we stopped to take pictures. When we reached to the bottom of the tower, all heads pointed to the sky staring at the structure. It was gigantic. I gained a new respect for 19th century engineers. As with all other structures in Paris, it was intricately artistic. I just kept staring at it. We soon got in line to go into the tower. It was a long line and the estimated wait time was two hours. Honestly, I wanted to wait to go inside of the tower. The group decided to head to the Seine River for a river cruise. The sun was setting and the Eiffel Tower was lit. It was beautiful. It was dark by the time we got on the boat. And without warning, the Eiffel Tower started to dazzle with sparkling white lights. It was magnificent! Us on the water and a dazzling Eiffel Tower! The night had cooled down considerably and I was chilly. Our boat trip was romantic. I was intrigued with the detailed carvings on the bottom of the bridges and the rich history of the city.

When we got off the river cruise everyone was hungry. Or group had various diets. I am vegetarian. Three of the group were pescetarian (they eat fish but no meat or poultry). Two in the group ate anything. It was almost midnight and we needed a restaurant that could satisfy everyone. After reading the menus from a few restaurants, we settled on this one spot not far from the Eiffel Tower. I wish I could remember the name, because there I had the best meal of my entire trip – a goat cheese ravioli. The server was friendly and worked hard to meet the needs of my pescetarian friends – who insisted that their “smoked salmon” be cooked. By this time, the men in our group were hungry and borderline “angry.” They knew what they wanted and they wanted it done correctly. Most of us had not been impressed with the food in Paris so far. But tonight everyone enjoyed their meals. It was the bill that surprised us after we had filled our bellies. A glass of Coke was €9. That’s almost $12 for something we easily buy back home for $2 at the maximum. The guys also decided to get extra plates to go, since it was their best meal so far. I won’t tell you about the rest of the bill. Let’s just say the owner of the restaurant would be happy.

We left the restaurant in a walk/run mode to catch the train back to La Defense. We were told that the last train left at 1 a.m.

Last Day in Paris
On our last day in Paris we decided to head out to the Lafayette Mall, buy souvenirs and explore the surrounding La Defense. It was Sunday an I was totally disappointed that the Lafayette Mall was closed. I was so disappointed that I wanted to go down to see for myself. Instead we headed to the nearby Les Quartes Temps Mall. It was there, in the food court that I had the best drink ever – the Josephine Baker. It was a frozen smoothie-like drink made from passion fruit, coconut and mango. The drink surely did justice to our ultra sexy icon.

Later we hit the Charles De Gulle Place for souvenirs. That evening we had some packing to do. Our next stop was London!

Stay tuned for more on my European adventure.

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Chronicles of an Island Girl’s First European Adventure: Paris Part 1

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Too Much to Do; Too Tired to Do It

When we landed in Paris it was dawn. It was about 8:30 am when we got to the Renaissance Hotel in La Defense. My body was on the 2:30 am time that it was back home. I was tired. The first thing I was interested in doing was sleeping.

I got about 4 hours of sleep. The group decided to meet at 1:15 pm to set out. We left from La Defense and headed out by foot, not quite sure where we were going. Right outside of our hotel was the Grande Arche De La Defense, that we decided to bypass since it was so easily accessible. The day was hot. But a cool breeze made it nice. Our first stop was Arc de Triomphe – a huge arch of whom history I still don’t know.

From there we did plenty walking downtown at Charles de Gaulle. High-end stores, open air baristas and souvenir shops lined the streets. We spotted some Ferraris and Maserati’s cruising down the street. Then we noticed some parked at the side of the road, offering anyone with a driver’s license a 20-minute drive for a fee. It was €89 to drive the Ferrari. The men in my group were tempted, but reasoned that they’d like to blow out a Ferrari on the open road, not creep on crowded city streets.

We stopped for lunch at Leon de Bruxelles, whose specialty is mussels. The place wasn’t too vegetarian friendly – I made do with a small salad and cheese croquette – but those in the group who had mussels said it was the best. Service was a bit slow. But in the end when we tabulated our bill we included a 15 percent tip. One guy in the group gave an extra €10 for good measure. Needless to say, we got the most enthusiastic farewell from a waitress ever. Later a waiter at another restaurant told us that tipping is not mandatory in France and there is no pressure on customers to tip unless they had excellent service.

On the walk from the Arch downward, the further away we walked from Charles de Gaulle Place, the more we noticed Paris’ amazing structures and landmarks. There were lots of intricately carved structures and monuments. Unfortunately the city was not as tourist friendly as expected. While everything was written in French, we had hoped to meet some informational guides who could explain some of the awesome things we were seeing. Trust me, we were armed with maps and guides, but they were not enough. The language barrier didn’t help. Most Parisians didn’t seem approachable.

We kept walking in search of the Louvre Museum, then low and behold, shooting up to the sky from behind a canal, we saw the Eiffel Tower in the background. Cameras came out in an instant. We posed and posed some more. This was the epiphany of Paris. It was the ultimate must-see thing for the group – we were so excited. The day was really hot. So we stopped by a mobile vendor, at first to buy some water, but ended up buying homemade ice cream too. “Not that powered Haagen Das they try to fool you with,” the owner told us. He “used the real vanilla beans” in his product, he said. His gelatos were perfected over four generations of gelato making, he said. And he was right. They were excellent. He had a mango gelato that tasted like the freshly picked fruit. By far the friendliest Parisian we had met, he went on to tell us he grew up with black people and had black friends. He even gave us a raised closed fist salute while saying “fight the power.” We all looked at each other and smiled. He was the first person in Paris to make us feel genuinely welcomed. The sighting of the Eiffel Tower and our new-found friend really made me feel good as we headed to the Louvre Gardens and Museum.

By the time we reached to Louvre Gardens we were all tired. We rested for a bit under some trees and had to really convince ourselves to continue the journey, for after the Louvre, we planned on going to the Eiffel Tower. We reached the Louvre hoping for some cold A/C to revive us. The air conditioner could barely be felt. I had observed a pattern in Paris. The A/C in the hotel was at a minimum, the air on the metro was almost non-existent, now here in this museum we were sweating. Is this Paris’ way of saving energy and lowering its carbon footprint? We didn’t get the reprieve we had hoped for and were too tired to even walk around. It was a long day. We plotted out way back to the hotel, and saved the Eiffel tower for a next day. When we got back to the hotel it was around 8 pm. I needed to sleep badly. By 1 am I was wide awake. Go figure. My body was still on Atlantic Standard Time.

Stay tuned for more on my European adventure.

If you missed the first episode, read it here: Chronicles of an Island Girl’s First European Adventure: Getting There

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