Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Novelty Sight-Seeing and Souvenir-ing

I've never been very into conventional souvenirs (the impersonal, mass produced kind that say the name of the place you've visited - think Niagara Falls ashtrays, and tiny decorative spoons), but it occurred to me that I already have begun a small collection of large, latte mugs with the names of cities I've visited such as Denver, CO, West Palm Beach, FL, and Vancouver BC. The thing is that these mugs happen to be found at Starbuck's. They ARE functional after all, so I hope it's not quite the same as the mini spoons, and certainly more healthy than the ashtrays.

With this in mind, I wondered if there even were Starbuck's stores in Paris. I mean, they're everywhere, right? So why not Paris too? I couldn't quite imagine it, so I looked on the Starbucks website and found that Paris contains a total of 10 Starbucks, Vienna - 10, Munich - 7, Brussels - 2, Salzburg and Luxembourg - zero.

I can't quite fathom going out of my way to find these mugs, but since many seem to be located either in airports or near major sights I'll probably end up adding at least a few more to my collection.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

I Heart Rick Steves and Google Maps

To find my Paris lodging I searched Hotels.com, recommendations from friends, and finally chose a place that I found on Rick Steves budget hotel list on the "Sleeping In Paris" page. My small room in the Port-Royal Hotel (on Porte-Royal Blvd) will be for one person, will have one washbasin (sink), no toilet, and no shower (the last two are down the hall), all for 48 euros per night (coming to under $250 for 4 nights)! I'm perfectly happy with an inexpensive, bare-bones room (provided it's clean) because I don't plan to be there all that much. The time I will be there I mostly plan on looking at the back of my eyelids, in the dark, not at how the room is decorated, or at a stunning view out of my window, or (god forbid) anything on television. (Really - I'm not traveling from one side of the planet to the other to see what's on my hotel room's fancy, flat-screen TV!) The money I save can be used for experiencing everything outside of my hotel room. As for a deposit on my reservation, none is needed, and they don't accept credit cards. I suppose we'll see if there is actually a room waiting for me when I arrive. ha!

Thanks to the nice people at Google Maps, and because of the genius of the "street view" of their maps, I was able to see the neighborhoods of each of the Paris hotels that I considered staying in. I feel so comfortable with the neighborhood I'll be staying in, and have "virtually" walked it so many times that I know where the Poste office is, and where the nearest metro entrance is located. It feels strangely familiar to me now,... as if it were my neighborhood. I just wonder what it will be like when I'm actually there. Because of this map view, I also know that my hotel is located on a wide, tree lined street (vs. a narrow back-alley looking street), there is a pharmacie 2 doors down, a movie theater nearby, and, in fact, a McDonald's just down the block. I'm interested in that last item only for the sake of novelty. It will be on my Paris to-do list to have the Royal Cheese on the Port-Royal blvd. More on that later....

Trip Skeleton

View Larger Map
Over the last few weeks I've managed to construct the skeleton of my trip, spending hour upon hour on the internet (for which I was teased by Craig who said "just go and figure it out when you get there") and then on the phone with some of the people I'll be visiting. My trip will now consist of 4 days in Paris, 4 days in Luxembourg, a train ride to Brussels where I'll catch a plane to Munich where I'll likely only stay a day. My cousin kindly will be driving 2.5 hrs to Munich to retrieve me, at which point I'll spend 5 days in Austria with her and her family. My fifth day in Austria we'll go to Vienna, see a few sights and I'll board a plane to Paris. I'll spend one last night in Paris and fly home the next day. I won't bore you with the (clever to me, but boring to you) details of how I'll get around quickly and cheaply, but suffice to say that my weekend of internet research will have been worth it. I've managed to avoid two 8hour, $300+, train rides, giving me more time and money to enjoy being there.

Saturday, November 1, 2008


Friday, October 31, 2008

Fuji Love

I like the camera I have, but it's bulky. I bought it in 2003, so I think it may be time for an upgrade.

I want THIS camera!!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Webcams

Paris, France

Luxembourg City, Luxembourg

Munich, Germany

Wels, Austria

Cesky Krumlov, Czech

110km North of Austria

As I was looking at the map of Austria, I noticed how close my cousin lives to the border of the Czech Republic. Being of Czechoslovakian decent(on my mother's side) , I've also wanted for years to see where my foremothers and father's came from. If you recall in my earlier post I had chosen Eastern Europe as my ill-fated Peace Corps destination, although Bulgaria would have more likely been where they would have sent me. It might sound crazy but I've always wondered if I would look like anyone that lived in Czechoslovakia, since I look so much like my mother, and a little more ethnic than your average white girl in America.

On 8/18/2004 (I used the receipt as a bookmark) I purchased the book "1,000 Places To See Before You Die" - one of many books I've purchased over the years regarding travel. When I met Craig, he told me about a place in Czech that he'd visited with his sister that sounded very familiar. Sure enough it was listed in this book. That place is Cesky Krumlov, and according to Google Maps, it happens to be 110 km or roughly an hour and 45 minutes drive from my cousin's house.

My book refers to Cesky Krumlov as a "pristine, fairy-tale river town" with medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo buildings, and the Schwarzenberg Castle. I'm not so interested in fairy-tales (especially these days), but I am interested in a historic bohemian village and the sort of buildings you won't find anywhere in America. This castle is especially interesting because they say that it is haunted, it contains a theater, and has a Bear Moat. (As a side note, while looking at the castle and then the cellar photos, I'm reminded of a dream I had that involved going into a cellar of a large, old European, stone building with my mother and step-father and drinking either beer or wine - I don't recall exactly).

I'll see if my cousin is interested in a day trip to Czech. It would be a wonderful opportunity since it is so close. Leaving me, I'm sure, with beautiful memories, photographs and perhaps sketches, as well as a fifth stamp on my passport.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Extending The European Tour?

View Larger Map
It's not surprising that now that I'm planning on going to Europe, that the idea of visiting other nearby places has come up. I have a friend that I knew in Seattle now in Munich, and a cousin in Austria whose been after me to visit for some time. The more I think about it, the more I think that I really should do it. I could extend my trip by a week and get a total of FOUR stamps in my passport, traveling from Paris, to Luxembourg, spend the next weekend in Munich, and finish the week in Austria before taking the train back to Paris to catch my flight home. It makes sense really, and besides, it really wouldn't cost me much more to stay longer (since hotels won't be involved for the added week) and I'm sure that once I get there I won't want to leave.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A Flavor To Transport You

Many years ago I had a friend and former boyfriend that had lived in Lyon and well after breaking up we maintained a friendship from separate cities. For Valentine's Day he kindly sent me a small brown box, the contents of which would create an as yet unbreakable bond between myself and what I consider to be the best chocolate in the world. This box contained the best truffles I'd had in my life. Until then I'd thought the best chocolate came from Godiva (having been introduced to it as a teenager by my grandmother). Godiva's chocolate is good, but has more of a hazelnut flavor. The truffles of La Maison du Chocolat were not too sweet, dusted with cocoa powder and tasted as though they were infused with red wine. Subtle and complex, and absolute perfection!

There are exactly seven La Maison du Chocolat locations in Paris, and I've already researched the addresses and located them on my maps. One is located near the Louvre, which I suspect will also be a mandatory itinerary item on our list of things to do, so I'm certain that I won't have trouble arranging a truffle pick up. You can have them sent to you from France, but at $42-$50 for .42 lbs. who wants to pay another $50 for international overnight shipping? I've had friends pick them up for me while in London or Paris, and now I can not only retrieve them myself, but sample the cakes and pastries that you canNOT have shipped (even if you could afford it).

In true French form, the website for La Maison du Chocolat even suggests a wine that pairs well with your chocolate. In the section called A Flavor To Transport You, they describe a cinnamon infused ganache that pairs well with "the Sardinian wine Contini Vernaccia di Oristiano 1992." I think I might have to try the Yoko, a ganache flavored with tea, and the Bresilien Pastry, along with so many others. I'm sure that no matter what I get I'll be in heaven, and will likely eat way more of all of it than I should.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Obsessive Research - Part 1

I'm now obsessively researching Paris (and to a lesser degree Luxembourg), have bought two small map books, one deck of Paris walking tour cards, and have dug out several of my french phrase books. I've been pretty well consumed and overwhelmed by the things I've found on the internet, and am starting to memorize/remember what is located where in this compact and historic metropolis.

One of the fun slide shows and articles that I found recently is from the New York Times, coincidentally titled "A Weekend In Paris" and "36 hours In Paris".

Going to Europe

I've never been to Europe before, but have dreamt of going for as long as I can remember. My grandmother wanted to send me to Europe, or was it Ireland specifically, when I graduated from college back in 1994 but at that point could not afford it. A year or so later I looked at joining the Peace Corp (I chose teaching English in Eastern Europe), but found that I couldn't go because I would still need to pay a private student loan $400/month and the basically $5/month I would make in Eastern European currency would not exactly cover it. Greatly disappointed, I continued to practice english with my new Bosnian refugee friend Belma. After moving to Seattle 1999 I talked to my cousin in Austria about visiting for years, but as much as I wanted to I just couldn't scrape together the funds to go.

Five years ago I acquired a passport which I knew was the first step if I would ever be traveling to Europe. (Who knew that soon after getting my passport I would need it to go just to Canada, where a drivers license was all that was required before). So here I am with 5 years left on my passport, with friends Martin and Kelly from Seattle now living in Luxembourg, and a friend willing to loan me money to go, I will be going in January 2009. Martin will turn 40 on January 6th and on his most recent visit to Seattle announced that he wanted to celebrate in Paris and invited people to join him. Fares are low for that time of year, and somehow I'm finally making it happen. The plan is to spend 3 days in Paris and then stay with Martin and Kelly in Luxembourg for 4 more, flying into and out of Paris. Yes, it's only a week, and if I did it "right" I'd stay longer, travel to more places, use more PTO from work, need to save/spend more money.... and would end up never going.
Thank you, I'll take the week I'm getting. :^)