Saturday, July 28, 2012

Welcome to PhotoViaggio

Introducing PhotoViaggio: a new way to keep up with my travels and help you plan your own! It's the new and improved Notes from a broad. Happy travels!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Wayfare Magazine: Love!

My word it's been a long time since I last posted! Where has the time gone? Hoping to post a couple of nice juicy pieces on last year's travels to Liguria and the French Riviera. While you wait, take a look at Wayfare Magazine. If you love armchair travel and are a fan of Afar, I think Wayfare will blow you away. I'm an Afar subscriber and supporter, but to me Wayfare is Afar on travel steroids. It's the perfect experiential travel publication! Check it out.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

All Aboard: Let's Go to Liguria

I've had a few questions via private message on Trip Advisor about how I planned my day trips in Liguria using Genoa (Genova) as my home base and I thought that others might benefit from my answers. Thus, this post.

To start, yes. I think Genova is an excellent home base for the region, all four provinces of Liguria (Genova, Imperia, La Spezia, Savona). Most of the places that tourists want to visit are along the coast and are well serviced by train, bus, boat, or some combination thereof, either from Genova or using other towns in the region as your starting point.

As a travel photographer, much of my day trip planning from any home base begins at my computer. Guidebooks, photo tomes, travel shows and mags or movies are a nice resource, but I find that simply spending some time online with Google Maps, Flickr, and other sites is a great source of information and discovery when it comes to deciding where I want to go. Beaten path destinations are easy enough to research, but it's the un- or lesser touristed towns that I'm more interested in identifying and visiting, and to find them I have to get a little more creative than Rick Steves' Europe and the like.

Using the method described above, I generally start on Google Maps at my home base (e.g., Genova) and surf down or around the map for interesting-sounding city names. I pick a city and look it up on Google Images and Flickr or elsewhere and if it looks like a place I might enjoy spending a few hours, I delve deeper, searching for train, bus, or boat schedules to determine if it's a feasible day trip.

This approach works for me, and works for pretty much anywhere you'd like to go and trip by day from. Especially in Europe where public transportation is generally pretty fantastic.

For Liguria specifically, I settled on the following towns as my day trip destinations from Genova: Alassio, Albenga, Albisola, Boccadasse, Bogliasco, Bonassola, Camogli, Campo Ligure, Celle Ligure, Cervo, Cinque Terre, Cogoleto, Finalborgo, Laiguelia, Lerici, Nervi, Noli, Pieve Ligure, Portofino, Portovenere, San Terenzo, Santa Margherita Ligure, Sarzana, Sestri Levante, Sori, Tellaro, and Varazze.

Once I had a list of places I wanted to visit, I organized them into manageable chunks. I listed them out in order of their distance from Genova and worked backwards with train, bus, and boat schedules to figure out how many I could reasonably and leisurely enjoy in a day. The furthest I was willing to travel was three hours, so I figured out which far-lying cities fit within that max, chose a few, and worked backwards. The daily plan was to go from Genova to the furthest point, and make stops along the route home. That makes the most sense to me because who wants to have a three-hour schlep home at the end of a long day when you're tired and just want to be in bed already?

After I'd sorted those details I looked at how many travel days I had total, and began cutting. The list of cities two paragraphs above comprises my final cut. In the end, I didn't make it to all because I fell wildly ill with a lovely cold on the second week of my two-week trip. But had I been healthy all 13 travel days, I likely would have made it to every stop on the list.

In the olden days before my iPod touch, I would use MS Word to type up all my custom travel details. These days, I create a document in Google Docs and access it on the fly - sans WiFi, even - with the gogo Docs app. Couldn't be more convenient. I also rely on my iPod touch to make changes to my plans on the fly by going online with Safari to check bus, train, and boat schedules (with WiFi access). Because I was staying at a B&B where WiFi was included, it was always available in the mornings or afternoons before I wanted to head out. It was perfect. Further, I could also make changes to my plans on the fly, on the fly (sans WiFi). For example, if I thought I might like to stay for a longer or shorter duration of time somewhere, I could simply pull out my iPod and take a quick pic of bus, train, or boat schedules and consult them as I needed. Awesome, right?

Screenshots from portions of my Genoa 2011 Google Docs custom guide:

With a little work (or a lot, in the end) I had a document that best prepared me to focus on enjoying the trip and not scrambling each day to figure out where I should begin, end, what the timing of transportation between towns was like, how many towns I could reasonably see in a day, etc. I did not, I repeat - I did (and do not) - plan my trip down to the minute. I just got the minutia out of the way so that I could get from A to B smoothly and get to enjoying B already before moving on to C, carefree. See? Much more enjoyable vacationing, that way. It's easy to get flustered in a foreign country and planning like this puts me at ease and minimizes that sort of stress.

I used the following sites and apps for this trip, both in pre-travel planning and in Genova:

il Borgo di Genova
I can't recommend this place highly enough. Alessandra and Giovanni are the best. And I don't say that lightly. They truly tops!

ATC La Spezia
Province of La Spezia bus information.

Commissione di Garanzia e Sciopero
Commission of Strikes.

Consorzio Marittimo Turistico 5 Terre
Golf of Poets and Cinque Terre boats.

Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane
Italian State Railways' official site.

Google Translate
Both the website and the iPod app.

Italy Strikes
One of several sources to track strikes.

Rail Europe
Gives some idea of schedules and prices, but not exhaustive.

Regione Liguria Transport Timetable
Bookmark this site. It will be your best friend in planning and on the once you're on the ground in Liguria. An invaluable source for train and bus timetables and options between all towns throughout the region of Liguria, in all four provinces (Genova, Imperia, La Spezia, Savona).

Strikes in Italy
One of several sources to track strikes.

The Italian railway system's official site.

Another helpful Trenitalia site.

Better maps for Europe than Google.

An idea of ticket prices:

Bus tickets were from 1,50 to 3,00 each way from various towns. I took the bus from the train station at La Spezia to Lerici (and back), from Lerici to Tellaro, from Genova to Nervi, and from Sarzana to La Spezia (to the train station).

Corsa Semplice train tickets were 6,60 for 90km; 3,00 for 30 km; and 2,40 for 20km rides.

Genova Brignole to Camogli was 20km and 2,40 for a Classe 2 treno ordinario seat.

Genova Brignole to Campo Ligure was 33km and 3,50 for a Classe 2
treno ordinario seat.

Genova Brignole to Sori was 15km and 2,10 for a Classe 2
treno ordinario seat.

Genova Brignole to La Spezia Centrale was 13,50 for a Classe 2 Eurostar seat.

Genova Brignole to La Spezia Central was 87km and 6,60 for a Classe 2
treno ordinario seat.

Genova Brignole to Manarola (one of the Cinque Terre towns) was 79km and 6,00 for a Classe 2
treno ordinario seat.

La Spezia Centrale to Sarzana was 16km and 2,40 for a Classe 2 treno ordinario seat.

Monterosso to Genova Brignole was 71km and 6,00 for a Classe 2
treno ordinario seat.

Riomaggiore to Genova Brignole was 80 and also 6,00 for a Classe 2
treno ordinario seat.

Note that you have six - yes, 6 - hours from the time of validation (you must validate your train ticket before boarding the train, otherwise you face a fine if caught) to get from A (partenza) to B (arrivo) as printed on your ticket. If you plan well, you can see several towns on a single one-way train ticket, en route from A to B. This is where all that pre-travel planning can really pay off to save you precious time and money.

Do you have any questions for me? If not, how about a question for you: What are some of your favorite day trips from Genoa or elsewhere in Liguria by train, bus, or boat?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Get off the Couch [or the Computer] and Go!

Question: Why are some people happy to venture afar sans a fellow traveler in tow, while other would-be adventurers pass precious time at home (when they could be away) waiting for family, friends, or partners to find either the time, money, desire, or some combination thereof, to get out and about abroad?

Answer: Sheer fear. Of the unknown. Of potential loneliness. Of who knows what. I can't tell you the number of times a friend has said something like, "Oh, you're so brave to travel by yourself." Or, "I've always wanted to go to _______. But I don't like traveling alone and can't find anyone to go with me." And when I ask if they've ever actually tried solo travel, the answer is invariably, "No."

I can understand the hesitation. The idea of roaming alone used to freak me out, too. And I still can't cotton to the idea of things like remote solo hikes or driving across the country by my lonesome. Too many real life horror stories spring to mind! But anyway. It wasn't until a friend invited me along on a trip to Europe that I finally got to Europe. Had I not had someone to hold my hand on that maiden voyage, I may well still be sitting at home dreaming of gondola rides down the Grand Canal, staring up at the actual Eiffel Tower (rather than that half-pint knockoff in Vegas), partaking of bona fide French pastries - hot out of a French oven, in France, and a million other priceless, cherished experiences, nuanced and not.

Europe in particular - I can say having been now, many times alone - is a joy to navigate without crutches. I mean, travel companions. There's so much to see and do, whether for a fee or for free, getting bored is hardly an option. And though the big, looming-L (loneliness) is a constant possibility, it's not to be feared. Feeling lonely is just a natural facet of being, after all. It's a mood that can strike anyone, anywhere, and at any time. Whether one is actually alone or not.

How often have we felt lonely at a party or among friends and family or with a romantic partner? It happens. C'est la vie, from time to time. And we get through it somehow, don't we? So don't let something lame like the mere possibility of a little loneliness, so commonplace and insignificant - in the grand scheme of things - stop you from taking a trip by yourself. Plus, when you're traveling alone, it's nearly impossible to avoid striking up a conversation of some kind with strangers. You'll meet people. Really, you will. Unless you go out of your way not to interact with anyone, that is! And yes, you can meet people and have a conversation, even if all you speak is English. How do you suppose someone from say, China and someone from Portugal are going to communicate with each other, beyond gestures? Why in English, of course.

Whether it's asking for directions, shop hours, how to find the nearest metro, or any number of queries one might expect from an out-of-towner, you're going to have myriad opportunities to make a buddy. Even if it's just a temporary connection.

And speaking of connections, have you not seen Before Sunrise or Before Sunset? What about Bread and Tulips? Lost in Translation? L'Auberge Espagnole? Surely you got sucked into the Eat, Pray, Love blitz or were at least vaguely aware of the basic storyline.

Where ever it is you've always dreamed of going, chances are it's a trip that you can safely take alone (provided you use common sense). If the destination is a bit more daring, you may have to organize a spot with a tour group or take a class of some kind, but hey - instant travel companions, right? You have only to be open to a different kind of trip, when traveling alone. Take the plunge without expectations and just enjoy it. You never know who you might meet or the kind of time you may have. Essentially, if you have the means and the free time, it boils down to Nike and De Niro - Just do it (Nike). If you don't go, you'll never know (Robert De Niro). And that - not going, never knowing - would truly be a senseless tragedy.

8/24/2011: Celebrate senior solo travel! Solo travel sites and tips for the mature traveler

What is holding you back from a solo adventure afar? If you used to be afraid or hesitant to travel alone, what finally got you to go? How did the trip turn out? For those who love solo travel as I do, what movies, books, blogs, or other media would you recommend to those who are still a bit timid when it comes to this kind of travel?

Monday, January 31, 2011

Woulda Coulda Shoulda

I gotta study abroad. It's never too late, methinks. Even if it's à la Christine on an extended work/stay/study afar, après college (or well after, in my case). Thanks for the inspiration, Anne.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Giving Thanks on [and for] America's Riviera

I had the pleasure of spending an extended Thanksgiving holiday this year with family (you're the host with the most, Dames) and a friend (you're a trooper for driving up and hanging out, Kurt) in Santa Barbara - the coastal California town that bills itself as The American Riviera.

Having been to both the French and Italian versions, I was skeptical about the comparison. Though I'd been to S.B. once before on a quick day trip up from L.A., I couldn't recall being struck by anything resembling a riviera vibe. But then, there's not much that I can recall from that early visit; I think it comprised a quick lunch downtown, and that's it. Maybe it was on a drive up to San Fran along Hwy 1? I can't be sure (early onset Alzheimer's, what can I say).

Anyway ... in addition to spending a little cherished quality time with family, I had a lot of free time to amble about town. And amble I did. Left to my own devices in a new place, I can while away the hours in no time, accomplishing a lot or a little. It's all the same to me (fun). This trip was pretty low-key in terms of accomplishments. But the one thing I did go buck wild with and really tackle in satisfying fashion was the Spanish tile situation. Santa Barbara is crawling with the critters. My favorite application was adorning the city's many steps and staircases. With eyes were on permanent peel, I was amply rewarded for the effort. Check it out.

Gorgeous, right?

I only wish I'd been maybe a hair more productive on the photographic front and taken a few shots of the drop-dead lush 'n lovely hills - the drive we took up there through Montecito and beyond was fairytale-caliber beautiful - or at least one of the amazing technicolor sunsets (with a full moon, to boot). Oh well. Next time. There was plenty I didn't get around to. So I shall return soon (prepare your bowling arm, Damon) and hopefully it'll be a tad warmer; particularly after dark so I won't have to brave the elements to break out the camera - the 33F nights were a bit crispy for my comfort, though inside by the fire was quite cozy.

Despite the chilly and very un-Riviera-like nights, what a fitting trip to kick off my 2011 travel plans - fresh off my visit to America's Riviera (which is exactly what it looks and feels like), I've got my sights set on a spring stint in the Italian Riviera and a fall fling on the French. Even though I've been to both regions in years past, those trips weren't well captured because, at the time, I had only a crappy little point-and-shoot. So I've got high hopes for the photos this time around.

Oh là là! It's going to be magnifique.

In the meantime, keep your eyes peeled for more pretty pictures from Santa Barbara in my Flickr stream, on Etsy, and via iStock and elsewhere. The post-processing fun has only just begun (but first I have to clear out a backlog of far more pressing photographic work, so please be patient).

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Fall into the Gap

The gap year, that is. The gap what, you say? Are you an American? That's probably the problem then. A sabbatical or gap year away from one's career is not uncommon in Australia or the UK (or elsewhere in Europe and perhaps Canada), but it's largely a completely foreign concept to the typical overworked and under-traveled American.

There's also the gap year after high school and before college that is commonplace in Europe, when kids travel to immerse themselves in another culture, explore specific interests, work, and/or volunteer. But that's not the year I'm talking about. I'm talking about walking away from one's career for a year. At least.

Though I don't like its touting of Elizabeth Gilbert's best-selling piece of BS (how nice to get a $200,000 advance to go and travel the world and write about it) - "Eat Pray Love" - I do like what Meet, Plan, Go is about - helping people make their gap-year dreams a reality.

I only just learned about the group, having stumbled upon a blurb announcing an upcoming event (for which I am now on the waiting list; guess I'm not the only American hankering for a career break). At any rate, hope the spirit of the gap year catches on Stateside. We Americans could definitely use a real vacation from our workaday lives - the three-day weekend a few times a year just doesn't cut it. Neither does a two-week trip, once in a blue moon!

While I wish it would transpire sooner rather than later, I'm just beginning to gear up for my gap year - five years in advance of when I'm aiming to take it. And, in truth, I'm hoping it'll extend well beyond a single year and transition into a new full-time "career" altogether.


Meet, Plan, Go: Seeking to teach Americans about the benefits of extended travel via a gap year or career break. The group helps to motivate prospective travelers, help them build contacts and resources necessary to planning their year off, and get them on their way to making concrete steps forward toward a sabbatical.

Transitions Abroad: Portal for work abroad, study abroad, cultural travel overseas, and international living. While the site looks a tad janky, it's recommended or referenced all over the place. For instance, Yale. Ivy League approval says to me it's kosher and worth delving into without hesitation.

Interim Programs: The first - founded in 1980 - and longest-running gap-year counseling organization in the United States. The group has designed creative gap-year opportunities for thousands of people of all ages. It has an extensive database of program options.

Projects Abroad: The leading volunteer projects abroad organization, offering a diverse range of projects internationally. Promises that your experience will be far more worthwhile and genuine than that of the average tourist.


8/23/2011: Career break travel myths - Lonely Planet

10/12/2010: Tips for making that dream trip - dropping everything to roam the globe for a year - a reality. From The New York Times' Practical Traveler.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

15 Days

So many places to see, so little paid leave.

A certain day in December 2010 marks year three with my present employer. How do I know this? Because I've been counting down the days since the day I started to maxing out my paid-leave accrual - 15 days. Add on a paid personal day and a handful of paid holidays, and as it goes for working Americans, I actually have it pretty good. I take my time off seriously. Seriously! Though when I get instant messages from my European friends on one of their two (or even three!) three-week paid vacations, I must tell you. I feel pretty, well, not good about my pretty good American time off.

Why don't Americans have longer vacations?

Why, indeed.

How much annual paid leave do you get? How about unpaid leave? How much vacation time do you actually take off, at one time? Three days? One week? Two weeks? More? Is the amount of time you take at a go dependent on what you can afford or how long your company culture or official policy allows, no matter how much time you have banked?


11/09/2010 - Oh, to be born a Brit.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Aid for Ash Cloud Affected Travelers

In light of my own recent experience, I thought it might be handy to dedicate a post to enlightening links and info for those affected by the ongoing volcanic eruption in Iceland and the resulting clouds of ash that hinder, or otherwise hamper, air travel. It's probably even more beneficial to be up on some of this stuff before your trip is even booked.

★ On what to know before you go:

List o' lessons from the Practical Traveler at The New York Times.

★ On affordable accommodations (i.e., free):

★ On European airspace (the latest):

★ On reimbursement from the airlines:

"Today thousands of consumers affected by flight disruptions are still rightly clamoring for their rights to be respected in practice," said EU Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner John Dalli.

"My message to them is: do not hesitate to claim what is yours. If an airline or a tour operator continues to ignore your rights, a European Consumer Centre near you can be your next port of call," he added. Source.

On 4 May 2010, the network of European Consumer Centres (ECC-Net) published a practical complaint package, which is designed to help consumers affected by recent flight disruptions to exercise their consumer rights guaranteed under EU laws. The package includes a standard complaint letter, contact details of all airlines and other practical advice. Source.

Your rights as an air passenger apply to flight cancellations or delays caused by the volcanic ash cloud. They include (see source).

If the canceled flight has been purchased as part of a package holiday, you have more extended rights. If you have not yet started your trip you have the right to obtain a refund for the entire package (including e.g. the flight and the hotel) and if you are stranded you have the right to assistance on the spot.

You can find more information here (see source).

If you are affected by the situation, you should contact your airlines or travel agents first. If you booked a package holiday you can download a complaint form here (see source).

If you only booked an airline ticket, you can find a similar complaint form here (see source).

You should first send your complaint to your airline or your travel agent. You can search for the contact details of your airline's head office in the membership directory of these airline associations (see source).

If you are experiencing problems having your consumer rights respected, you are advised to contact a European Consumer Centre, a national consumer organization or a national enforcement body.

A European Consumer Centre (ECC) supported by the European Commission exists in every EU country as well as in Iceland and Norway. All the ECCs are working together to ensure a coordinated response to the crisis. Your local ECC can help and advise you. Find a European Consumer Centre near you.

If you do not reach an agreement with your airline or your travel agent and the value of your claim is less than 2000 €, you can under some conditions use the small claims procedure to resolve the dispute. Your local European Consumer Centre can give you more information and advice on this procedure. Source.

★ On being stuck in Paris (yay and yikes, both):

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Paris is for Survivors

In celebration of my (gasp) 35th birthday, I'd planned (over a year ago!) to spend four splendid spring days in Paris and another 12 on the French Riviera, using Nice as a home base from which to flit from one picturesque hill- or seaside town to the next, with a final night in Paris before flying back home the following afternoon. Sounded dreamy to me, too. Well, what was to be a dream trip come true morphed into a nightmare of sorts at 2AM on the dot, the day I was to depart.

Having been fully packed nearly a week before, I was looking forward to an easy-breezy crack-of-dawn departure. Wake up at 2AM with an hour to shower and dress before rolling out the door and catching my 3AM shuttle to the airport. Instead, I woke up at 2AM to a voicemail that my landlord had not received my April rent check (14 days into the month, at that point). The last time that happened, I got a notice on my door to "pay rent in 3 days or quit" (eviction proceedings would begin). So, as you might imagine, this is the last news I wanted to hear at 2AM the day I'm leaving the country for two+ weeks.

I frantically spent the next 50 minutes trying in vain (half because I was only half awake and the other half because online banking isn't what it should be and 24-hour customer support by phone isn't an offering where I bank) to get the matter sorted. The remaining 10 minutes I spent brushing my teeth, washing my face, and throwing on my clothes, sans shower. Sans shower before a 6AM flight, followed by a 5-hour layover (in Toronto), followed by (finally) the flight to Paris. That is many, many hours to be without a shower and in transit via the close-quarters airborne nastiness that is economy-class modern commercial aviation. Yuck! (I'm not the camping type, can you tell?)

At any rate, I finally got to Paris. But only by the grace of god, or rather, France, which had yet to close its air space due to the volcanic eruption in Iceland. In preparation for landing, our pilot announced that we'd taken a 1-hour and 300+ kilometer detour around "a cloud of volcanic ash" and that it hadn't been noted in the flight-tracking info that we could follow along with on our personal TV monitors, and he was sorry. We all just looked at each other like, whatever. So you cleared a cloud. Who cares? Just land the freaking plane already.

It wasn't until the following day when I began to receive wild emails from family and friends -- Did you make it? Are you stuck in Toronto? Why haven't you contacted us to let us know you're okay?!! -- that I realized the gravity of the situation; I hadn't seen the news or read the papers, as I was just trying to get over my jet lag and directly into vacation mode.

Mon dieu. What a Debbie Downer the impact of Iceland was, once I started tuning into the latest via TV and the Internet. It freaked me out. It killed vacation mode (which was already suffering due to the stress of my missing rent check). It jiggered with my travel plans.

Come day five, the day I was to fly to Nice, I'd come to find out my flight was canceled. Which, at that point, I was expecting. I'd spent several hours the day before at a train station to inquire about riding the rails down to Nice if air travel was not to be an option. In short, I came up short here as well because there was a train strike in the south of France in addition to train tickets being outlandishly expensive and in short supply per the strike and the airport closures across much of Europe.

And so, I embraced the reality that I would be stuck in Paris for the duration of my vacation. At which point I promptly got sick with a wicked cold (of course), requiring that I spend much of my first week at the hotel and in bed. And when it wasn't the jet lag or the cold or the stress of not knowing if my rent check would ever arrive or if the volcano would keep me in Paris indefinitely (how long should I wait before lining up a job?), it was problems with my back-up bank (a huge international bank with no listed number for Americans travelING (hint hint) overseas to call should their card be lost or stolen or whatever), suffering a semi-severe burn to my gums from a piping hot falafel, or other bodily ailments that would be TMI to detail here (even for open-book me).

In brief, I find it something of a miracle that I managed to enjoy myself at all. But then, I was in Paris. And Paris is, even under the worst of circumstances or annoyances, a pretty damn enjoyable place.

While the point of Nice was to experience something that is renown to be so very nice, it was also (and moreso) to see something new. Although I do love to return to favorite cities, I find that I take fewer and fewer photos upon my return trips because as I get to know a place more intimately, the familiarity does little to inspire fresh photography. Unfortunately, that's just the way it seems to work, for me. The more a place becomes home, the fewer images I make (just like at home). Which is why I had only planned to be in Paris for four days. Having gone to Venice the year before (where I've also been multiple times and twice for one month at a time), I was really (really) looking forward to the newness of Nice. It was going to be oh so nice, and would result in a glut of colorful and inspired new pictures. Something that I was in urgent need of, both professionally and personally.

But Nice was not to be. So I made a point in Paris to venture into corners of the city that I'd not seen before and to hit a few of the touristy spots or things-to-do that I'd always avoided like the proverbial plague. In desperate need of inspiration, I was now open to braving an evening (never a morning or an afternoon, per the hordes) at the Louvre. But although I even made it to Versailles (finally), I didn't get around to (finally) going up in the Eiffel Tower. And I must say, thank god I've already been to Paris on a number of occasions and wasn't looking forward to seeing or photographing the Eiffel Tower, or the Arch de Triomphe, or a handful of other monuments that scream "Paris" because it seemed as though they are all currently undergoing major restoration or maintenance work that detracts (and majorly) from the expected aesthetic awe.

In the end, I discovered a passion for the city's pretty portals. Of which Paris has no shortage. There are delicious doors in a rainbow of paints and patinas around every corner. And I have the pictures to prove it!

And while I would love to regale you with stories, I don't actually have that many. This trip was far from exciting, I think per the non-newness of Paris (for me). I did serendipitously meet more than my fair share of interesting or (purely) entertaining people, but those moments aren't nearly so worth recounting as the half-day spent with an old friend who just happened to be in town at the end of my trip.

After a leisurely lunch at La Grande Mosquée of Paris (wonderful Algerian food in an amazing setting that makes you feel a million miles away from France and transported directly to North Africa; can't recommend it highly enough, even just for mint tea in the garden), window shopping, treats-come-true from La Pâtisserie des Rèves, and just doing whatever, my friend and I decided to have dinner at Angelina's before taking advantage of the reduced crowds and fare offered up by the Louvre every Wednesday and Friday (the only way to see the Louvre, in my opinion; it's 6 Euros after 6PM and stays open until 10PM on these evenings).

With 19 Euro big salads (with the tangy mustard dressing, you can't go wrong; worth each and every Euro) and its world famous hot chocolate, Angelina's is an old (founded in 1903) and swanky joint on the ritzy Rue de Rivoli in the heart of Paris.

Wrapping up our meal and in mid-chat, my friend suddenly let loose a blood-curdling scream. I turned to look in the general direction where the horror seemed to be sourced, and witnessed a small mouse weaving its way frantically toward the wall and into a hole one table over from ours.

Lucky for Angelina's, they were closing in under 20 minutes and the palatially proportioned dining area wasn't overflowing as it is nearly every afternoon. Even still, there were plenty of people and after the scream, you could hear a pin drop. Several ladies at table near us asked what had so upset my companion, and they were visibly upset to learn it was rodent-related.

The best part was, perhaps, the manager's cool estimation of events (we're doing some renovation and construction work, and so there are mice, and you've already finished your meal, so why not just leave) and suggestion that we not mention it to anyone.

They say there's no such thing as a free lunch. Perhaps we noshed on mouse droppings and that's what made the salad so good, though I'm hoping not. I'm just glad the bill was forgiven, and get the feeling ours wasn't the first waived with regard to a Remy sighting. And while he did suggest we not recount our experience, we didn't shake on it or anything, so I can't feel too bad about going public with it here. Plus, there's no such thing as a free lunch (or dinner). For either party!

In closing I am happy to report that my rent check was finally received toward the tail end of my time in Paris. I had three whole days to enjoy without that hanging over my head, and with things looking pretty quiet on the volcano front. So that was nice.

What was not nice was the trek home. At the airport in Paris, I was asked to remove each and every item from my camera bag and place it in a plastic bin. Two DSLR bodies. Four lenses. Six external hard drives. And I don't know how many batteries and cords and memory cards. It was total bull merde, if you ask me. I thought that'd be the worst of it, but I had to empty my camera bag all over again in Montreal. Took nearly 40 minutes and if I hadn't sprinted to the gate directly after, I would have missed my connection to Toronto. As it was I got there right as they were announcing the final boarding call.

Toronto should have been a breeze. I had 2 hours to kill before my flight on to San Francisco. Sadly though, most of it was killed in customs. Air Canada flights had been delayed all day due to a reduced number of customs agents. The line was unreal. All said an done, the customs affair took a good hour and 20 minutes. Then there was security. I was starting to freak that I'd miss my flight home and be stuck in Canada for the night, but -- praise the lord -- the security agent I got was an angel. I simply said to him that I was a photographer and that my backpack was full of camera and camera-related gear and could he please allow it to go through the scanner without unpacking the contents. Whether because he was just a nice guy or because he could perhaps sense that I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown, he chipperly said sure. No problem.


That time-saver bought me just enough on the clock to buy a drink and a snack before boarding began. And it got even better. So many people were delayed or otherwise detained in the customs debacle that the flight was only half full, if that. I got an aisle seat, and between me and the nice man seated by the window (a fellow shutterbug with whom I shared a lovely conversation about travel and travel photography) was luxurious emptiness. Hassle-free security screening, awesome. But no middle-seat travel companion on the last long leg home? Priceless.

As for Nice, I hope it's still as nice as they say when I mange to (finally) get there. One day.

Update, Saturday, May 8, 2010: "The eruption of the glacier-capped volcano has shown no signs of stopping since it began belching ash April 13. It last erupted from 1821 to 1823." So, with no end to the eruption in sight, it appears that ash cloud related airport closures and flight delays, cancellations, or rerouting will continue. Indefinitely. Therefore, it's handy (if not of the utmost importance) to know your rights when your European travel plans fall through. And, ideally, know before you go!

Update, Sunday, May 9, 2010: I have an all ash cloud post now, which I will try to keep updated with fresh and relevant info; so long as the Icelandic volcano remains an issue to air travel.

Questions? Ask away! Please use the comments feature to ask questions rather than contacting Marisa directly. That way everyone can learn a thing or two, too.


Related Posts with Thumbnails