Tag Archives: Paris

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

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The “Red Light District” is Real

If I thought London was cold, I was in for a surprise – Amsterdam was colder! When we finally made our way out of Schiphol Airport I wanted so badly to get into a vehicle to escape the cold. My denim jacket wasn’t helping me at all. But the group proceeded to spend the next 20 or so minutes in front of the IAMSTERDAM sign. Then we missed our first bus to the hotel. We decided to take public transportation because the bus took us right in front of the Amsterdam Marriott where we were staying. We were lucky this time to be joined by my boyfriend’s sister who lives in Amsterdam. In addition to being such a warm and fun person, she also spoke the native language.

After checking-in and dropping off our luggage, we decided to head out for something to eat. For me the temperature was so cold that I considered staying in. To make matters worse it started to rain just as we left the hotel. We went to a nearby Hard Rock Cafe for lunch. The wait for a table was long and the food was expensive. But the food was good and we got so comfortable that we didn’t want to leave. Our 3:45 am wakeup call earlier that day probably also had something to do with our sluggish mood.

We finally left to explore the area. A member of our group had been patiently waiting for this leg of our trip to experience the “cafes.” From since we were in Paris he had been waiting for his “medicine.” As we walked around I was startled by the electric trams which seemed to appear out of nowhere and drove through what I thought were pedestrian walkways. We walked in and out of stores in the drizzle. The day was wet, cold and dreary. Four of us headed back to the hotel, while two set out to find the cafes.

I crashed when I hit the bed. After about two hours I woke up and called around to see what the group was doing. They were asleep. Grateful, I went back to sleep again. We woke up a few hours later and headed out. It was night by then. And I wanted to see the Red Light District.

The hotel’s surrounding area had blocks and blocks of stores, which were all closed. The city looked like it was asleep. The further away from the hotel we walked, the more the nightlife came alive. There were lots of bakeries and other eateries, which I had grown accustomed to seeing in Europe. Out of the blue our friend who had gotten his “medicine” earlier walked into this eatery. This move was new to us because he was not a fan of sweets like the rest of us were. He ordered a waffle with ice cream and began raving about how good it was. He offered everyone some and they all decided it was great. It was already cold, and the thought of ice cream made me feel even colder, so I passed. But when he went back and purchased a second one, I decided to try it. It was the best dessert I tasted in the whole of Europe! And I had been eating a whole lot of dessert since I landed in France. The waffle was nice and warm – slightly crunchy on the outside, nice and soft on the inside – lightly sprinkled with powdered sugar. The ice cream had a smooth caramel, butter pecan, vanilla flavor. It also had a few candied nuts. It was awesome! It was one of those things that you just want to eat slowly, to savor each bite. And I’m not a foodie. But that dessert did it for me. I could have gone back to the hotel and called it a night.

I guess I wanted to see the Red Light District, because in my mind it couldn’t be real – legal prostitution where women are displayed in window fronts selling their bodies! From afar we saw the red lights. We got closer, and I was still in disbelief. The women on display looked like Victoria Secrets’ models. They were slim, beautiful, fully made up and wearing some of the sexiest lingerie. The fact that they were selling their bodies still didn’t seem real to me. The guys in my group asked their price. It was €50.

Then we walked by a set of stairs and saw a man leaving a room zipping up his pants. Wow! It is real. How did these model-type ladies make it seem so easy? Was it easy to have a career as a sex worker? Continuing to walk around we saw more red lights on than off. I guessed that it was a slow night. But for each window where the lights were off and the curtain was drawn, I got this weird feeling.

Beside the sex for sale, the nearby area offered strip joints, live sex shows and the cafes. The night was beautiful. But watching groups of young men stroll the area deciding their pick of women had me thinking conflicting thoughts. First – this is true freedom, when a woman can choose the career that she wants. Second – this is truly sad when a woman must sell something so precious to make a living.

The further away we walked from the main area the women in the windows changed. They were no longer Victoria Secrets’ models look alikes. They looked like the girl next door – panties and bras, cheap wigs and in some cases cellulite. We decided to head back to the hotel. The walk back was especially cold.

At the hotel I used my Magic Jack app to call home. My mom sound worried. One of her nieces had suffered a stroke a few days earlier. While the whole family was praying for her and her recovery seemed miraculous, my mom wasn’t dealing with the situation too well. Mom herself had undergone surgery two weeks ago. I decided to fly back home the next day.

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Chronicles of an Island Girl’s First European Adventure: London Part I

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The Eye and the Rain

I never cared to visit London until the 2012 Olympics. Of course after the country was put it in an international spotlight, I wasn’t the only one interested in going. (Now I can’t wait to go to Brazil! But Brazil has always been on my travel wish list.) My first impression after landing in London was “why is it so cold.” We traveled from France to London via Easy Jet to London Luton Airport. It felt like 60 degrees when we got off the plane. London Luton is like the airports in the Virgin Islands. We walked off the plane, down the stairs, unto apron, then into the airport. When the cold morning air hit my face, for a second I wondered if it was summer in this part of the world. Then I remembered that France was a hot 90 something degrees. Putting the chill aside, it felt good being in an English-speaking country. We were able to negotiate our cab fares! (The little things we usually take for granted.) After reaching to the hotel we set out to find something to eat.

On our first stroll through the Marble Arch area in Westminster, England we were startled by the loud horn blowing on a delivery truck as we crossed the road. The group hurried across the street but the horn blowing continued. We looked back to see a Dominica flag in the truck, driven by two men – one wearing a visible Gucci chain. For those who may not know, a gold puffed Gucci chain is a trademark piece of Caribbean people, specifically Virgin Islanders. It’s a surefire way to identify a Caribbean person; it’s right up there with the hibiscus earrings. We started waving and shouting “ehhhhyyy” at the guys. It turns out that we were not being run out of the London street, but instead given a real island-styled “hail up” – and it felt really good. The truck kept on its way, and we kept on ours – wondering if and how the drivers recognized us as island people.

The guys in our group wanted to go to Brixton in southern London, where we were told has a large Caribbean population, for some island food. But we were too hungry to venture all the way down there at the time. We ate at Giraffe’s then headed out to sightsee.

While we had found many historical marvels in Paris, I found the Eye of London to be a modern marvel. It’s described as a revolving observatory. In essence, it looks like a gigantic ferris wheel. A misunderstanding with my boyfriend had dampened my spirit a bit as I rode on the Eye. But the 360 degree views of London from aboard the eye were a must see. I had been looking forward to seeing Big Ben. But after I did, the Eye stole all of Ben’s glory.

As we were leaving the Eye it started to rain. And I was unprepared. One couple in the group was equipped with a complimentary umbrella provided by the Marriott Marble Arch where we were staying. As she said, “If a hotel offers a complimentary umbrella, that mean it rains a lot.” We waited out the rain a bit, then decided to go ahead with the rest of our sightseeing. Passing by several double decked sightseeing busses, we came across the iconic London phone booths, then headed for Buckingham Palace.

It started to rain on the way to the palace. Then it started to pour. The group had to decide if it made sense to continue or to head back to the hotel. Since we were nearly there we continued. The experience was pretty cool, as my boyfriend and I walked and talked – in the rain. The palace wasn’t too much fun in the rain. We plotted our way back to the hotel.

Luckily for us, the wifi at the Marble Arch Marriott Hotel was pretty good. We used our extra time to check in with family and friends back home.

For the first time in days, I got a full night’s rest!

Stay tuned for more on my European Adventure.

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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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