Author: Julie

Hi, I’m Julie, and ever since I went on my first family vacation trip as a kid, I've been a little obsessed with seeing new places. I’ve found that there is something interesting about every place, no matter how boring it may seem at first glance. Travel is the most exciting adventure we can have! I live in a college town on Maryland’s Eastern Shore but like to escape whenever possible to see new things, eat new foods, take more pictures, and make new acquaintances. I am married with two children (only one still at home). Also living with us are a contrary tabby cat, and an goofy little dog who is part Corgi. (We’re not sure what the other part is!) When I am not traveling, or writing about my travels, you will find me planning my next trip, daydreaming about returning to one of my favorite places, reading a good book, or working on a craft project. I hope you enjoy reading about and seeing the places I’ve been. Remember, travel is the only thing you can buy that makes you richer…
Paris’ Church of Saint Sulpice

Paris’ Church of Saint Sulpice

When I went to Paris earlier this year, I stayed in the most amazing Airbnb. It was super small and stuck up on the top floor of a large building with an open courtyard. Normally, it was not a place I would have chosen. But when I discovered that the tiny little apartment had a view of the Eiffel Tower, I booked it almost immediately. Because, my friends, if you are going to Paris, you might as well stay someplace that reminds you you’re in Paris every time you glance toward the window.

View of the Church of Saint Sulpice and the Eiffel Tower from my Airbnb in Paris

*sigh*

Okay, back to business. When I gazed out the window at the Eiffel Tower, I couldn’t help but notice the church off to the right with the two round towers. I consulted the map, determined that I had a great view of the Church of Saint Sulpice, and decided to check it out. I was glad I did, and I’ll tell you why you should visit the church when you’re in Paris.

The History

A church has existed on the site since the 13th century, and construction began on the present building in 1646. If you’re into architecture, the Church of Saint Sulpice has a lot to offer: concave walls, Corinthian columns, pilasters, balustrades, double colonnade, loggia, Ionic order, and a bunch of other features about which, sadly, I have no clue.

At one time, there was a solid-silver statue by Edmé Bouchardon. Cast from silverware donated by parishioners, it was known as “Our Lady of the Old Tableware”. Sadly, it disappeared during the French Revolution. However, a breathtaking white marble sculpture of Mary by Jean-Baptiste Pigalle replaced it:

By Selbymay – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

During the French Revolution (1789-1799), Robespierre established the Cult of the Supreme Being during the Revolution as the new state religion, replacing Catholicism. At that time, the Church of Saint Sulpice became a place of worship for The Supreme Being. A sign at the church entrance said “Le Peuple Français Reconnoit L’Etre Suprême Et L’Immortalité de L’Âme”’ (“The French people recognize the Supreme Being and the immortality of the soul”).

The Art

Churches contain some of the most beautiful art in the world, and Saint Sulpice is no exception. It proudly displays not one, but three original murals by Eugene Delacroix.

A mural by French Romantic artist Eugene Delacroix at the Church of Saint Sulpice.

Eugene Delacroix, widely regarded as the leader of the French Romantic school of art, has three paintings in the Church of Saint Sulpice: The Expulsion of Heliodorus, Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, and Saint Michael Vanquishing the Demon. The first two are murals that are over 23 feet high, and the third is a ceiling mural that stretches 16 feet across.

The thing that struck me most about Delacroix’s paintings was that they were full of movement. This was especially the case with The Expulsion of Heliodorus:

The Expulsion of Heliodorus by Eugene Delacroix, one of three murals by the artist at the Church of Saint Sulpice.
The Expulsion of Heliodorus by Eugene Delacroix

Figures tumble down toward the bottom of the frame. Others are caught with a weapon in their hand mid-swing. An urn is toppling over, and the horse is rearing back on his hind legs. Chaos erupts from every brushstroke. The story depicted here comes from the Catholic Bible, in the book of 2 Maccabees. In reading it, you can see how vividly Delacroix captured the action:

But Heliodorus carried on with what had been decided. When he and his spearmen approached the treasury, however, the ruler of all spirits and all authority made an awesome display, so that all those daring to come with Heliodorus fainted, terrified and awestruck by God’s power. A horse appeared to them with a fearsome rider and decked out with a beautiful saddle. While running furiously, the horse attacked Heliodorus with its front hooves. The rider appeared to be clothed in full body armor made of gold. Two young men also appeared before him—unmatched in bodily strength, of superb beauty, and with magnificent robes. They stood on either side of Heliodorus and beat him continuously with many blows.

2 Maccabees 3: 23-26, CEB

The other mural, directly across from the Heliodorus mural, depicts a semi-violent scene from Genesis, wherein Jacob wrestles with an angel.

Jacob Wrestling with an angel, a mural by Eugene Delacroix inside the Church of Saint Sulpice.
Jacob Wrestling with the Angel by Eugene Delacroix.
Note the French flag in the lower right corner.

This painting captures the pivotal moment in the Book of Genesis when Jacob’s receives a new name. No longer known as Jacob, from that moment forward he is Israel, which means “God contends”.

I loved the detail of the beautiful sculpture atop the tomb of Jean-Baptiste Languet de Gergy:

The tomb of Jean-Baptiste Languet de Gergy, a priest at the Church of Saint Sulpice in Paris.

It was under Languet de Gergy’s tenure as priest at the Church of Saint Sulpice that the gnomon (see below) was built. He is the central figure of the sculpture, with death behind him and an angel before him.

The Gnomon

By definition, a gnomon is the part of a sundial that casts a shadow. The gnomon of Saint Sulpice was constructed to establish the exact astronomical time. Why? In order to ring the bells at the most appropriate time of day. This astronomical device consists of three parts that work together. The first: a brass line set in the marble floor of the church, oriented along the north-south axis.

Second: a small round opening in the southern stained-glass window of the transept. The opening is about 75 feet up from the floor. Sunlight shines through that opening and creates a circle of light on the floor. At noon each day, that circle of light crosses the brass meridian line in the floor.

Third: an obelisk, illuminated near its top when the sun is at its lowest at midday.

The obelisk at the church of Saint Sulpice

If the obelisk did not exist, the sunlight would hit an area about 60 feet beyond the wall of the church.

As an aside, you may notice in the photo above that there is a large rectangular area on the right side of the obelisk’s inscription that appears damaged. It originally made reference to the King and his ministers. The revolutionaries removed that part of the inscription during the French Revoluton.

Claims to Fame

Some random bits of trivia about the Church of Saint Sulpice:

  • It is the second-largest church in all of Paris. Only Notre Dame Cathedral is bigger.
  • The two towers of the church do not match. The north tower was replaced in 1780 but due to the French Revolution, the south tower was never replaced.
  • The Marquis de Sade (from whom we get the word sadism) was baptized in the Church of Saint Sulpice.
  • Author Victor Hugo (Les Miserables) married his wife in the church.
  • The church’s Great Organ is legendary. It has 102 stops. I gather that this is a big deal; however, I know as much about organs as I do about architecture.
  • Then there’s that bestseller…

The Da Vinci Code Connection

The church of Saint Sulpice was featured in Dan Brown's bestselling novel, The DaVinci Code.

In Dan Brown’s best-selling novel, The DaVinci Code, the Church of Saint Sulpice was one of the key plot locations. In the novel, Brown refers to the gnomon of Saint Sulpice as “a vestige of the pagan temple that had once stood on this very spot,” although there is no evidence to support this. He also indicates that the meridian line running through Saint Sulpice is the Paris Meridian (which is actually about 2 kilometers away, at the Paris Observatory).

The novel misrepresented the Church of Saint Sulpice to such an extent that when Ron Howard wanted to use the church as a filming location for The DaVinci Code movie, the Archdiocese refused to allow it. Further, the church has had to serve as fact checker for fans of the book who have come to see the church in person. They display the following note:

Contrary to fanciful allegations in a recent best-selling novel, this [the line in the floor] is not a vestige of a pagan temple. No such temple ever existed in this place. It was never called a “Rose-Line”. It does not coincide with the meridian traced through the middle of the Paris Observatory, which serves as a reference for maps…. Please also note that the letters P and S in the small round windows at both ends of the transept refer to Peter and Sulpice, the patron saints of the church, and not an imaginary “Priory of Sion”.

— sign posted at the Church of Saint Sulpice

In the News

Oddly enough, while the Cathedral of Notre Dame caught fire a week after I left Paris, the Church of Saint Sulpice caught fire two weeks before I arrived. Some of the areas were not accessible to me, but at the time I did not know why. Other than some items oddly placed, like the chairs up against the gnomon in the photo above, I saw no evidence of a fire when I visited.

A stop at the Church of Saint Sulpice is a quick and easy addition to any itinerary, and it’s definitely worth a stop in between other destinations. When you’ve finished exploring the inside of the Church, be sure to take in the wonderful view and the gorgeous fountain in the plaza just outside.

Header image source: By Mbzt – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0
Church-of-Saint-Sulpice-Pinterest-graphic
Can’t visit Notre Dame while it undergoes repairs? Check out the Church of Saint Sulpice, Paris’ second largest cathedral.
A Murder Mystery Train Ride in Lancaster County PA

A Murder Mystery Train Ride in Lancaster County PA

On a recent trip to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, we booked tickets for a Murder Mystery dinner. On a train. Because who can resist having dinner on a train? My companions for this murder mystery train ride were my daughter, the other girls in her Girl Scouts troop, and five or six Girl Scout moms. We had a blast!

But First, the History (of course!)

We arrived early enough that we got to look around a bit and learn about the place. I discovered that the Strasburg Railroad is the oldest continuously operating railroad in the western hemisphere! It opened in 1832, and today it is considered a heritage railroad. It has the United States’ only operational wooden dining car on which visitors may dine while riding. 

Back in the 1820s, canals were becoming the most efficient and popular method of land transportation. And southeastern Pennsylvania was on the verge of being shut out of the pipeline as most goods were moved through Baltimore instead of Philadelphia via the Susquehanna Canal. The few goods that did go to Philadelphia traveled via wagon through the small town of Strasburg.

In 1831, Philadelphia tried to reclaim its status as a transportation hub by opening the Philadelphia and Columbia railroad. Unfortunately for Strasburg, the new railroad would have bypassed their town completely and, as a result, harmed them financially. A group of businessmen decided to petition the state for the opportunity to build a connecting railroad from Strasburg to the Philadelphia and Columbia.

And thus, the Strasburg Railroad was born. The railroad only measures 4.5 miles long. Typically, you can travel round trip on the railroad in about 45 minutes for special excursions, like the one we went on.

The Setting

From the moment you leave the parking lot and step onto the platform at the Strasburg Railroad, it feels as though you have gone back in time.

Going back in time on a murder mystery train ride

What’s really interesting is that the Strasburg Rail Road is a real, operating steam railroad. Steam locomotives pull the Strasburg Rail Road trains, and passengers ride in authentically restored, turn-of-the-century wooden rail cars.

The Meal

In all honesty, I tend to expect the worst when it comes to doing something that includes a meal. In my experience, dinner included experiences tend to be less than mediocre. Happily, that was not the case on Strasburg’s Murder Mystery Train Ride. It was both palatable and substantial. Their menu:

  • Salad
  • Choice of entrée – Chicken Marsala, Broiled Cajun Tilapia Filet, Prime Rib, or Vegetarian Chef’s Choice
  • Seasoned potatoes
  • Vegetable of the day
  • Dessert – Choice of Cheesecake, Shoo Fly Pie, Apple Pie or Chocolate Cake
  • Lemonade or water (additional beverage options available for purchase)

The Drama

The murder mystery play was “The Choir Sang Murder!” by Act I Productions. The plot: Strasburg Rail Road is hosting a concert for its dinner guests, featuring The Strasburg Choir. The menu looks wonderful, but it was never meant to include murder! When the choir’s heavy-handed director is bumped off during the ride – in front of the guests – someone has hit a sour note! From the twisted mind of Debi Irene Wahl, this fun murder mystery sings madness, harmonizes murder, and serves up some serious discord!

Salad and program from The Choir Sang Murder, a murder mystery train ride at the Strasburg Rail Road.

No one in our group had ever been on an experience like this. We had no idea what to expect. So when three young ladies clad in choir robes came pushing and shoving their way into the dining car, arguing loudly, we were a bit surprised.

The first was Max, the choir treasurer who has a tendency to get in financial trouble. Then there was Carol, the Choir Director’s sister-in-law, who may have had some self-serving motives. And the third was George, a surly goth girl who had begrudgingly joined the choir as part of her court-ordered community service.

The girls squabbled among themselves for a few minutes, and during that time we learned of their suspicious pasts. Most of their character faults seemed to center around mishandling of finances. It almost seemed that this would be a mystery regarding a theft, not a murder.

Then Tillie, the Choir Director, entered our car. She was everything you might expect from a choir director – loud, theatrical, and in charge. She brought the protestations of the three singers to a halt. Dialogue ensued, there was a bit of a scuffle, and the next thing we knew, Tillie was dead. Oh, Tillie, we hardly knew ya!

Who was to blame for Tillie’s sudden demise? Thankfully, the conductor was on the case. He came to investigate, asking us passengers what we saw, and providing us with some background information as well.

The conductor, who led the investigation on the murder mystery train ride in Lancaster County PA

The End (No Spoilers!)

You would think that a bunch of middle and high school girls would be too cool to get into a small scale dramatic production like the murder mystery train ride.

But you’d be wrong.

When it came time to declare who we thought the murderer was, these girls were soooo into it! They compared theories and argued with each other (sometimes vehemently). I couldn’t believe how much they enjoyed themselves! My daughter nearly wrote an entire thesis when she was filling out her “whodunit” form.

Some guests get carried away when casting  their vote for who the murderer is.
(potential spoilers concealed)

As a bonus, everyone who guessed the correct answer was entered in a drawing for a prize.

Recommendation

This was a really fun outing with the girls! I don’t know if I would have enjoyed it as much if I had been riding with just adults. But for family fun that’s not your usual activity, I highly recommend the murder mystery train ride and dinner at Strasburg Rail Road!

(pinnable image) Murder Mystery Train Ride at Strasburg Rail Road in Lancaster County PA
The Paris Deportation Memorial: Dark Side of the City’s History

The Paris Deportation Memorial: Dark Side of the City’s History

At the eastern tip of Ile de la Cite, just behind Notre Dame Cathedral, the overlooked Paris Deportation Memorial honors some 200,000 of France’s victims from World War II. This memorial is not for the soldiers, however, but other casualties of that war. It honors the men, women and children who were arrested, rounded up like cattle, and sent out of Paris to Nazi death camps.

The History

France’s role in WWII was a complicated one. What follows is undoubtedly an over-simplification. My goal is not to bore you with too many details, but provide some basic background information.

In 1939, France had invaded Germany, but by May/June of 1940, Germany had defeated France and its Benelux neighbors (Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg). To make matters worse, Italy had also invaded France from the south. The French had little choice but to seek peace.

Hitler carried a grudge over the way WWI had ended so poorly for Germany. If the French wanted peace, it would be only on his terms. He wanted to have an armistice (truce) signing with the French in the same exact place where his country conceded defeat to the Allies at the end of WWI. Needless to say, he wasn’t feeling particularly generous toward the French. One witness on that day reportedly said of Hitler, “I have seen that face many times at the great moments of his life. But today! It is afire with scorn, anger, hate, revenge, triumph.”

Among the terms of the Armistice of 1940: the Germans would occupy almost two-thirds of France (at France’s expense). Any German national who had sought asylum in France would be turned over for deportation to a concentration camp. And no French soldiers who were prisoners of war would be released under the armistice. As a result, one million of them spent the next five years in German POW camps.

The Deporation

Beginning in 1942, Jews in France faced deportation. Tragically, the French police actually aided in the effort to take these families out of their homes and turn them over to Nazi authorities. (Hard to imagine? I highly recommend a novel set in Paris during this time period: Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay.)

In all, around 200,000 people were deported from France and sent to 15 different Nazi death camps. I learned that the term “death camp” covers different places: concentration camps, special camps of the SS, killing centers, internment camps, regroupment camps for deportation, retaliation camps for prisoners of war, etc.

I also learned that it wasn’t just Jews who were deported – of the 200,000 roughly 76,000 were Jews. Sadly, 11,000 of those were children. Each prisoner sent to a death camp wore a blue and white striped uniform with a special insignia – a colored triangle patch – to indicate his offense. Political prisoners wore a red triangle, Gypsies brown, homosexuals pink, Jehovah’s Witnesses purple, and criminals green. Jews were additionally identified by a yellow triangle, sometimes combined with another one.

Explanation of prisoners' insignia at the Paris Deportation Memorial.

The Design

Built in the location of a former morgue, the Paris Deportation Memorial is, fittingly, underground. I found it cold, impersonal, cramped, and dark. Which is exactly as it should be, given what it represents. Quite the contrast after strolling past Notre Dame Cathedral and taking in views of the Seine River.

Approaching the memorial from the outside, you can’t help but notice that the lettering declaring its purpose is crude and harsh, all straight lines. It almost looks as if the detainees had carved the letters and numbers into the stone themselves.

Entering through a narrow stone walkway that leads down below the ground, you approach one of the memorial’s few open spaces.

The Paris Deportation Memorial - with a window to the Seine.

Overall, the memorial is shaped like the prow of a ship. Gazing out at the Seine River through the barred window, you can easily feel like a prisoner. Just imagine having to leave all that you know behind for such a grim future.

The Paris Deportation Memorial

From the open area shown above, you pass through a narrow, almost claustrophobia-inducing passage to explore the inner, underground areas of the memorial.

A plaque on the floor of the underground chamber bears the inscription: “They descended into the mouth of the earth and they did not return.”

Inside the memorial crypt lies the Tomb of the Unknown Deportee. The remains placed in the tomb are those of an individual who died in the Neustadt concentration camp. Pebbles line a long corridor known as the Hall of Remembrance to represent the Jewish tradition of placing a stone on the grave of a loved one.

One area had a concrete wall with fifteen triangular niches cut into it. Each triangle bore the name of a death camp to which French citizens had been deported.

triangular markers with the Nazi death camp names at the Paris Deportation Memorial.

Each triangle contains soil and the ashes of the victims from the corresponding camp. Elsewhere, a map of France showed the total number of people deported from each region:

A map of France shows the numbers of people sent to Nazi death camps in each region - Paris Deportation Memorial.

In conclusion

I have often written about places that are not enjoyable to see, but that I feel should be seen, such as the 9/11 Museum & Memorial in New York City. As a history geek, I have a keen appreciation for the adage “Those who fail to study history are doomed to repeat it.” I encourage you, if you are in Paris, to take an hour or so to visit this stunning memorial.

Paris Deportation Memorial pinnable image

A Local’s Guide to Salisbury Maryland, Home of the National Folk Festival 

A Local’s Guide to Salisbury Maryland, Home of the National Folk Festival 

A Local’s Guide to Salisbury Maryland

The National Folk Festival will once again be held in my home town of Salisbury Maryland the weekend of September 6-8, 2019. What’s more, it will be held here next year as well! So here’s your guide to Salisbury, Maryland, written by someone who has lived here for nearly 25 years.

Locals Guide to Salisbury Maryland (vintage postcard)
By Tichnor Brothers, Publisher [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

About Salisbury

With a population of some 30,000, it’s the largest city on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and the No. 1 fastest growing city in the state, according to city officials. Founded in 1732 and incorporated in 1854, it also is the county seat for Wicomico. The area offers the ideal mix of an urban center, nestled within a scenic rural region, centrally located to three major metropolitan areas (Baltimore, Washington DC, and Philadelphia). I’ve lived here since 1995, and I can’t imagine ever leaving to live someplace else.

The National Folk Festival

Free events are great, and the National Folk Festival is no exception. If you’re like me, you might think that a “folk” festival will be geared toward aging hippies who want to sit around and listen to mellow music. Not so! Folk does not mean folk music! The National Folk Festival is a celebration of the roots, richness and variety of American culture.

The three day event will feature musical performances and dancing by over 350 performers from all over the world. To name just a few:

The Sea Gull Century

Every year in early October, Salisbury University holds a nationally acclaimed bicycling event, beginning and ending on its campus. The event takes bicycle riders on a tour of the Eastern Shore and offers two routes (100 kilometers or 100 miles).

Guide to Salisbury Maryland - Sea Gull Century is a 100 mile bicycle ride held in October.

Riders will enjoy highlights such as live music, food and the National Seashore of Assateague Island where they will see wild ponies, sandy beaches, coastal marshes and maritime forest. All riders returning from the ride are welcomed back with a lively lawn party!

Whether you’re here for the National Folk Festival, the Sea Gull Century, or for some other reason, there is plenty to see and do in Salisbury. Here are my recommendations for visitors…

Where to Eat

For some of the best thin crust pizza in town, head to Lombardis (315 Civic Ave; 410-749-0522). The decor isn’t much, but the wait staff are friendly and if you have kids with you, they will love the giant mural of cartoon characters and superheroes in the back dining room.

If you like your pizza to be a little more gourmet, then Mojos (213 E Main St., 443-944-9507) is the place to go. Their brick oven pizzas are amazingly tasty, and they offer some interesting topping combinations for their specials. They even have a pickle pizza! Their totally yummy cheese pizza is just $5 on Monday evenings – the same night that they have an entertaining live trivia game starting at 8:00 pm.

Who doesn’t love ice cream? A Chincoteague Virginia favorite, Island Creamery, recently opened a shop in Salisbury (306 Dogwood Dr, 410-831-3103). With all of the traditional favorites and unusual flavors like Cantaloupe and Wallops Rocket Fuel (chocolate with cinnamon and chili pepper), there’s something for everyone.

Back Street Grill (401 Snow Hill Road, 410-548-1588) offers a build-your-own sandwich menu and some of the tastiest salads in town. My favorite sandwich is the Back Street Deluxe: turkey and ham with cheddar and pineapple on a croissant, heated. So yummy! They also offer great specials on weeknights, like tacos for $1.25 each on Mondays and $5 burgers on Wednesdays.

Market Street Inn (130 W Market St, 410-742-4145) is an upscale restaurant located on the Wicomico (pronounced why-COMic-oh) River.

Local's Guide to Salisbury Maryland: Market Street Inn offers guests riverside dining and drinks.

I’ve never had a dish here that was anything less than spectacular. In addition to gourmet fare, they have outdoor seating, which offers a great view of the riverfront. If you’re lucky, you might even see a Great Blue Heron while you’re there.

Brew River (502 W Main St, 410-677-6757) is a popular restaurant located on the Wicomico River. They have great dinner specials, with half price prime rib on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and 2-for-1 crab cakes on Thursdays. The restaurant also features an outside dock bar that is one of the most happening nightlife spots in town. If you go, be sure to grab a coconut muffin from the bread basket – they’re delicious!

Rise Up Coffee Roasters is a local favorite. Go to their College Avenue location (105 East College Ave., 443-358-5248) to get breakfast or lunch, or just hang out for a while. Alternatively, you can hit their drive through location (529 Rivderside Drive, 410-202-2500) if you’re on the go. They only roast certified organic and fair trade coffee, so you can feel good about caffeinating here. But even if you’re not a coffee person, it’s worth a stop: the frozen hot chocolate is A-MAZ-ING!

Local's Guide to Salisbury Maryland: Bordeleau Vineyard & Winery features a beautiful estate with a well-stocked tasting room.
Bordeleau Vineyard & Winery

Bordeleau Vineyard & Winery in the neighboring village of Eden (3155 Noble Farm Rd, Eden, 410-677-3334) offers both white and red wines on a beautiful estate (above) that often serves as a wedding venue. The Bordeleau tasting room is open Wednesday through Sunday and is a comfy, welcoming place to sample their vino.

The Brick Room (116 N Division St, 443-358-5092) is a quaint little bar with a comfy outdoor seating area.

Salisbury MD local's guide - enjoy a drink on The Brick Room's patio

For a real treat, go up to the bar and order an old fashioned. Watching them make it, you will be impressed by how much art goes into making the classic cocktail.

Acorn Market (150 W Market St, 410-334-2222) offers breakfast and lunch in a relaxed atmosphere. They offer a selection of freshly made to order sandwiches and salads, and some of the most scrumptious baked goods you will find. I especially love their sweet potato biscuits.  You won’t be able to get dinner here, though, as they close at 3:00 pm each day.

Classic Cakes (1305 S Division St #8, 410-860-5300) makes Smith Island cakes. If you’ve never heard of such a thing, you are in for a treat! Maryland’s official state dessert is a nine-layer (yes, NINE!) yellow cake with chocolate ganache type frosting.

Local's Guide to Salisbury Maryland: Try the official state dessert. a nine-layer Smith Island Cake.

That’s the traditional version. But Classic Cakes has taken it up a few notches and made many delicious varieties: cookies and cream, Reese’s cup, coconut pineapple, banana, red velvet, and many more. I like the classic and the banana best. They also sell cupcakes but don’t let that tempt you… the cake is way better, and they even sell it by the slice.

Where to Stay

Salisbury isn’t different from other cities in this regard. There’s a selection of hotels from 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 stars. If location is important to you, then you can’t do much better than LaQuinta, which is right next to the city’s Riverwalk Park and newly constructed amphitheater. Downtown bars, restaurants and shopping are a quick 10-15 minute walk, and a bank next door to the hotel has an ATM, should you need one.

If Airbnb is more your thing, there are quite a few properties to choose from in Salisbury, from single rooms to riverfront lofts. Just make sure before booking that the property is in Salisbury and not a nearby town like Crisfield or Pocomoke. Those towns, while technically nearby, would add 30-45 minutes of driving to your outings, and would provide you with fewer things to do/places to eat. Book an Airbnb through this link and you will receive a discount on your stay!

Finally, if you’re a camping kind of family, I’m sorry to say that there aren’t any campgrounds in Salisbury. The town of Berlin has several camping options, however, and is about 30 minutes away by car.

Where to Shop

If you’re into country decor, Salisbury is your Mecca, as it is home to The Country House (805 E Main St, 410-749-1959). Set aside at least half a day to look through their items, as the store is huge – 48,000 square feet – and no space is wasted.  They carry all sorts of wonderful items, from curtains to floral to apparel and seasonal items too.

Angello’s Unique Gifts (100 E Main St, 443-358-5152) is a great spot to browse. This is the perfect place to pick up a souvenir of your visit, or a gift for someone who is hard to shop for. They even do embroidery to personalize your purchase.

Local's Guide to Salisbury Maryland: Dana Simson offers whimsical ceramic creations at Chesapeake East.
Some of Dana Simson’s ceramics.

If you’re into quirky and colorful handmade ceramic pieces, you must go to Chesapeake East (501 W Main St, 410-546-1534). From dinnerware to decorative items, artist Dana Simson creates whimsical pieces that will make you smile. In addition, she also sells stationery, paintings, and prints.

What to Do

If you’re coming to Salisbury for a special event like the National Folk Festival or the 100 mile Seagull Century bike race, you might want to stay an extra day or two and check out some of the other things our little city has to offer. For instance:

The Salisbury Zoo (755 S Park Dr, open daily 9:00 to 4:30) is a 12-acre zoological park that has offered free admission ever since it first opened in 1954. The zoo is home to 100 animals, most of which are native to North and South America. The zoo is an absolute gem and one of the things that make Salisbury a great place to live and visit.

Local's Guide to Salisbury Maryland: The Salisbury Zoo is a great place to visit... and it's free!
The alligator at the Salisbury Zoo is all smiles.

At one end of the zoo, children will absolutely love the playground known as Ben’s Red Swings. The playground was created to honor the memory of Ben Layton, a local boy who died of leukemia at age 4. Ben wished that when he got to heaven he would get red wings because red was his favorite color, and that was the inspiration for the name of the playground. The playground was largely funded, built, and maintained by community volunteers, and it is a real treasure to the children who live here. If you’re visiting with your family, be sure to let the little ones burn off some energy at Ben’s Red Swings.

Another way to let the kids (and adventurous adults) burn off some energy is to take them to Altitude Trampoline Park (30174 Foskey Ln, 410-896-2219) in the neighboring town of Delmar, Maryland. In addition to over 24,000 square feet of indoor trampolines, there is also a Foam Pit, Dodgeball Arena, Kid’s Arena, Aeroball and Laser Maze. Hours of fun! Rates range from $15-$20 for one to two hours of jumping fun.

Salisbury is home to a minor league baseball team, the Delmarva Shorebirds. The season will have ended before the National Folk Festival takes place, but if you’re visiting April thru August, consider spending an evening at the ballpark. Many games conclude with a great fireworks show, and there are often special events and giveaways as well. Tickets range from $2 to $13.

Local's Guide to Salisbury Maryland: Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art

The Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art (909 S Schumaker Dr, 410-742-4988) has been recognized by USA Today as one of the 10 best places in the U.S. to view American folk art. Operated by Salisbury University, it showcases the contributions of artists who have carved birds both as tools for the hunt and as objects of artistic enjoyment. The museum regularly offers children’s programs and hosts community events at its beautiful waterfront location.

Finally, for garden enthusiasts, the campus of Salisbury University was recognized by the American Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta as an arboretum in 1988. The campus features over 2,000 species of plant life, including magnolia, rhododendron, viburnum, Japanese maple, bald cypress, and Crape myrtle. Notable areas of interest – and great Instagram spots – on campus include the pergola near the University Commons, the Holloway Hall courtyard garden, the Bellavance Honors Center’s Japanese garden, the Link of Nations, and the Miller Alumni Garden.

Beaches

There are at least a half dozen beaches within an hour’s drive of Salisbury. They each have their own distinct vibe, and their own pros and cons. I’ll outline the three closest ones below.

The Cove (Cove Rd, Bivalve MD – about 30 minutes from Salisbury) is the perfect beach for families with young children. It is a sheltered cove off of the Chesapeake Bay. The water is shallow, warm, and has very little current, so it’s great for toddlers and preschoolers. Older kids and childless adults, on the other hand, will probably be pretty bored at this beach.

Assateague has two sections – the Assateague Island National Seashore (7206 National Seashore Lane, Berlin, 410-641-1441), and Maryland’s Assateague State Park (6915 Stephen Decatur Highway, Berlin, 410-641-2120).  It takes about 45 minutes from Salisbury to reach either of them. Both charge a small entrance fee. You will be able to see the famous wild Assateague ponies at both.

Local's Guide to Salisbury Maryland: The beach at nearby Assateague Island offers visitors a look at the wild ponies who have lived there for centuries.

Both offer ocean and bayfront beaches. Both allow pets in designated areas. You can camp at both, and both have bike trails. The biggest difference is that the state side has a restaurant/concession stand and gift shop, whereas the federal side does not provide any opportunities for you to spend money once you pay for admission. I prefer the federal side as it tends to be less crowded, and I almost always see the ponies when we go there.

Ocean City (paid parking at the Hugh T Cropper inlet parking lot – 809 S Atlantic Ave, Ocean City – about 45 minutes from Salisbury). Quite the opposite of Assateague, Ocean City has plenty of places for you to part with your cash.  In addition to a stunning oceanfront beach with crashing waves, there is a 2.5 mile long boardwalk lined with restaurants, souvenir shops, hotels, and arcades. Be sure to get Thrasher’s fries while you’re there. It’s a must!

A Local's Guide to Salisbury Maryland

In Conclusion

I hope you will find this guide to Salisbury Maryland useful. I love this town, and I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. If you visit, I’m sure you will agree!  Do you have any other suggestions to add? Did you try any of the places I recommended here? If so, leave a comment and tell me about it!

Happy traveling!

A Local's Guide to Salisbury Maryland - Home of the National Folk Festival
Art, Transformed

Art, Transformed

I was only two weeks away from my first solo trip to Paris when I stumbled across an online mention of an immersive art experience called Atelier des Lumieres (Workshop of Lights). From what I could gather, it was some sort of show featuring the art of Vincent Van Gogh.

I’m not a huge fan of Van Gogh, but I appreciate his “Starry Night” and “Sunflowers” as much as the next person. I’ve even seen a couple of his works in person. So I really didn’t get too excited about this art thing. After all, I had set aside an entire day for the Louvre… how could this possibly compare?

But then I kept seeing rave reviews about Atelier des Lumieres and FOMO kicked in. If that many people liked it, I reasoned, then surely I should go see it. You know, for the blog. So I ponied up the $16 or so and made my reservation. (As an aside, I’d like to remind you that I pay for all of my own travels. In the event that I am offered a complimentary admission/lodging/meal when traveling, I will disclose that up front.)

So… what is this art thingy, anyway?

In all of the rave reviews that I saw, not once did I find someone who could really explain what the Atelier des Lumieres experience was, exactly. And, believe me, I looked! So now I find myself in the same unenviable position as those who have reviewed it… trying to put into words something that, for the most part, defies description.

My goal here is to give you a realistic expectation of what the experience is like and to encourage you to check it out if you are in Paris. It truly is a phenomenal, unique experience.

The Immersive Art Experience

Upon arrival, you enter the lobby of the building, which is bustling with activity. You may have to wait a few moments, as they only allow guests to enter in between shows. Then, when the time is right, you will pass through a doorway into a very large, open, and dark space.

Take a moment for your eyes to adjust, and (if you want) look for a place to sit. There aren’t a lot of seating options, and if you really want to sit during the show, you may have to just find a spot on the floor. However, don’t despair if you can’t snag a seat right away. Most people will move around during the show, vacating their seats at some point.

As the show begins, you will see works of art displayed on the walls and floors while music plays. You won’t see dust particles swirling in a beam of light from a projector. You won’t see shadows cast by objects that have come between the image source and the wall. But thankfully, you will be too mesmerized to think about where the images are coming from, or how they are displayed so seamlessly. That’s something that you will ponder afterward.

Act 1: Van Gogh, Starry Night

Rather than keep the big name artist until the end, Atelier des Lumieres starts their show with the works of Vincent Van Gogh.

It begins with music, loud enough to keep you from being distracted by the sounds of others’ conversation, but not uncomfortably loud. The songs are about as varied as you can imagine. Some were fast-paced, some slow; some in English, some in (I assume) French; some relatively modern and others from decades past.

The pictures begin to appear, larger than life, on the walls and the floors. One of the first images I saw was this haunting self-portrait of Van Gogh, painted in 1889. Seeing it in a gallery is one thing. Seeing it larger than life in front of you, eyes fixed on you, is quite another.

There are a couple of things I’d like to point out about this picture. First, notice the scale of the space in comparison to the two people who walked into the frame. Second, as previously mentioned, the art was projected not just on the walls, but also on the floor. Third, the round-ish wall on the right of the picture has a completely different image, which is why it’s best if you don’t stay in just one spot to enjoy this immersive art experience.

As I mentioned, I appreciate Van Gogh’s works, like his Sunflowers, which I saw at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. And while I tend to be the old school purist who says things like, ” Nothing can compare to standing in front of it and seeing it with your own eyes,” I would have been unequivocally wrong in this case. I saw an Gogh’s sunflowers in a while new light:

Sunflowers by Van Gogh at Atelier des Lumieres in Paris

Or perhaps you prefer irises to sunflowers?

The colors are intense. Music heightens the mood. The size and scale of the art is nearly overwhelming. Put all that together and you have a completely immersive art experience like no other. But as if that weren’t enough, Atelier des Lumieres adds animation to the mix:

The pictures come to life before your eyes! Birds fly, waves move, raindrops fall. It feels as though you are not looking at a painting, but rather standing inside it!

The Van Gogh portion of the experience ends with the soulful sounds of the 1965 hit, “Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” by the Animals. It couldn’t have been more appropriate for a man who struggled with mental illness for most of his life. The final image of Act 1 was simply the artist’s signature.

Vincent Van Gogh's signature, the final image of the Starry Night portion of Atelier des Lumieres' immersive art experience.

Act 2: Dreamed Japan, Images of the Floating World

The next act took us from 19th century Europe to ancient Japan. It started with images of nighttime in a forest, with fireflies illuminating the space. Then kimono-clad figures appeared, gradually dissolving into the night.

We left the forest and traveled underwater, entertained by all sorts of aquatic life. They floated and swam past us, and seemed to watch us every bit as intently as we were watching them.

The scene transformed, and suddenly we were standing inside a shoji – a Japanese structure with paper walls. Two women were there, a teapot and cups on the floor by their feet.

Ancient Japanese warriors also appeared on the walls. Their facial expressions cracked me up, because in some cases it seemed as though they were scowling at the spectators.

Two of Japan’s most iconic cultural symbols came to life through the magical animation of Atelier des Lumieres. First, the ornately decorated hand fans, opening and closing in graceful sweeps of motion:

Second, the beautifully illuminated paper lanterns that float up into the night sky at a lantern festival.

Act 3: Verse

“Verse,” presumably short for Universe, is a piece created specifically for the Atelier des Lumieres. Bursts of light against a black background make you feel like you’re floating through space.

In all honesty, I didn’t like this segment of the immersive art experience as much as I did the other two. I didn’t even take any pictures. For me, the appeal of the Atelier des Lumieres is primarily seeing familiar things in a brand new way. The art showcased in Verse was not familiar to me, and seemed to be more of a movie than an experience. Which is not to say that it wasn’t well done or beautiful to look at. It simply lacked the excitement that the other two possessed.

Bottom Line

By all means, if you are in Paris, go see the Atelier des Lumieres. It’s an amazing, completely immersive art experience like nothing else. I highly recommend it for anyone!

Pin this article for future reference!
Inside Père Lachaise: The Most Interesting Cemetery in Paris

Inside Père Lachaise: The Most Interesting Cemetery in Paris

If you’ve been a Travel As Much reader for any length of time at all, you know I have a long-standing fascination with and love of old cemeteries. So when I booked my trip to Paris, I knew visiting an old cemetery would definitely be one of my stops. I did a little research and discovered three big cemeteries from which to choose: Montmartre, Montparnasse, and Père Lachaise. Reading up on all three, it seemed that Père Lachaise was the biggest and the most interesting cemetery in Paris.

How Big Is It?

Rick Steves devotes several pages, a map, and a guided walking tour of Père Lachaise in his 2019 Paris Guidebook. I followed the walking tour dutifully for the first ten minutes or so, then managed to get lost. That was no fault of Rick’s – I am directionally challenged, not very good at reading maps, and often struggle with losing my bearings. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t find my way back to his neatly planned route. I decided to throw caution to the wind and just wing it.

Whether I’d been able to stay on the Rick Steves route or not, there is no possible way I could have seen everything in Père Lachaise in just one day. The cemetery covers 110 acres, and contains 70,000 burial plots with over 1 million bodies. That means there are roughly twice as many dead people in this cemetery than there are living people in Miami, Florida!

I tried to take some photos that accurately depict just how massive this cemetery is. The best I managed was this shot:

If you zoom in on the angel’s feet and look at the graves behind her, you will see that they stretch back at least 10 rows! This one photograph probably has about 75 graves in it, perhaps even more.

As the biggest, most interesting cemetery in Paris, Père Lachaise sees about 3.5 million visitors every year. It is the most visited cemetery in the world.

The History

According to Wikipedia, when Père Lachaise opened in 1804 it was not a very popular place to bury your loved ones. Roman Catholics did not wish to bury their dead at Père Lachaise because the site had not received an official blessing by their church. Others felt that it was too far away from the center of the city. In fact, it was such an unpopular choice that in its first year of operation, only 13 people were buried there.

The powers that be came up with a marketing plan to make burial at Père Lachaise seem more desirable. They had the remains of the popular poet Jean de la Fontaine and playwright/actor Molière transferred to the cemetery. That year, the burial numbers rose from 13 to 44.

Business continued to increase over the years and, in 1817, they tried a similar marketing stunt. This time they moved the 12th century philosopher Pierre Abélard and also Héloïse, the nun with whom he allegedly had an affair. Once again, the status of having one’s final resting place in the same cemetery as someone famous held great allure for Parisians. By 1830, the cemetery contained more than 33,000 graves and needed to be expanded. Today, the cemetery restricts who may be buried there (you must have either lived or died in Paris) and they even have a waiting list.

What Makes it the Most Interesting Cemetery in Paris?

The Graves of Famous People

One of the reasons Père Lachaise gets so many visitors is that some notable people are buried there. For Americans, the most famous is probably Jim Morrison, lead singer of the iconic 1960s/1970s band, The Doors. I’m not a fan, and as I’ve mentioned, I was hopelessly lost, so it wasn’t on my must-see list. I did, however, manage to find the grave of Marcel Proust, French author from the early 29th century. (Confession: I only found this because I saw someone else taking a photo and I was nosy enough to go see why they were taking a picture of an otherwise unremarkable grave.)

Other famous people buried at Père Lachaise include: playwright Oscar Wilde, composer Chopin, singer Edith Piaf, and the world’s most (only?) famous mime, Marcel Marceau. However, the casual visitor would overlook most of these. Like Marcel Proust’s grave, they are not overly ornate. I preferred to wander and look for more unusual and/or impressive gravesites rather than focusing on the people who occupied them.

Unusual Graves

Père Lachaise is full of unique graves and funerary art the likes of which I have never seen before. For instance:

Theodore Gericault’s grave was a fitting tribute for an artist. He lounges above a depiction of his best painting, The Raft of the Medusa, a paintbrush in one hand and a palette in the other.

I don’t know who this person was in life, nor do I know why he has a little man standing on the palm of his hand. If you know, please leave a comment and solve the mystery for me!

This massive chimney-like structure standing so much taller than all of the graves & vaults had me thinking it was the Crematorium, but it’s actually a grave marker, believe it or not. It belongs to one Felix de Beaujour. He was the French diplomat to the United States in the early nineteenth century.

Creepy Graves

I don’t know who she was in life, but she was definitely the creepiest thing I saw in Père Lachaise. The mystery here is whether her eyes are supposed to stare through the living, or if it’s just a coincidental streak in the patina. Either way, I almost didn’t want to turn my back on her.

Georges Rodenbach’s grave wins runner up for creepiest bit of funerary art in Père Lachaise. It reminds me just a little too much of a vampire coming out of his coffin once the sun has set. Yikes.

Graves Depicting Grief

Occasionally when touring a cemetery, I find gravesites that just overwhelm me with a sense of profound grief. For instance:

The person depicted by this statue slumps forward, face buried in her hands. I could almost see her shoulders shaking as she sobbed over her loss.

This statue atop a family grave touched me as well. A mourner leans over the body of the deceased, preparing (I suppose) to lay a wreath of flowers on her head.

And, at other times, a grave can be a symbol of the deceased’s grief for the ones they left behind.

Neglected/Overgrown Graves

As with any old cemetery, there are graves belonging to families who are no longer around. These graves eventually fall into disrepair and nature tries to reclaim them. I think they’re interesting because they show that, no matter how much you want the world to remember you, you may end up forgotten after all. (Is that too morbid?)

Thankfully, though, some people dedicate themselves to maintaining lovely old cemeteries like Père Lachaise. I stumbled upon one such group, spending their Saturday tidying up a plot.

The Most Interesting Cemetery in Paris

In summary, Père Lachaise is a fascinating place with amazing art, peaceful walkways, and just a touch of creepiness thrown in for good measure. If you enjoy touring old cemeteries, you should definitely check it out the next time you’re in Paris.

Great Prime Day Deals for Travelers!

Great Prime Day Deals for Travelers!

Every year it’s bigger and better than it was before. With so many deals, how do you even know where to start looking? Have no fear, intrepid travelers! I have scouted out the site (starting at 4:30 this morning… yawn) and have curated this list of Prime Day deals for travelers. Remember, Prime Day is July 15 & 16 – so you get two days of shopping fun!

If you don’t have an Amazon Prime membership, why on earth not? It is seriously the best thing going! Not only do you get free two day shipping (and in some cases, it’s even free overnight shipping!), you also get free streaming services (movies, TV shows, music) and 5 GB of free photo storage/backup!

Additionally, you can keep that Prime Day feeling all year round if you own an Echo (Alexa). Just ask, “Alexa, what are your deals?” and she will give you a list of special deals available exclusively for Prime members.

Best of all, you can try Prime FREE for the first thirty days. Click here to sign up!

1. Passport/Document Holder for the One in Charge

Are you the family pack horse and/or organizer? I know I am! Which inevitably means I am not just responsible for my passport, I’m responsible for everyone else’s too. This nifty organizer not only holds all of your important papers/documents and cards, it also protects them from RFID thieves. It can hold up to four passports and five credit cards. Also features a large pocket for cash and a pen slot as well as a removable keychain. 

Regular price: $17.99 Prime day price: $11.69

2. Universal Travel Adapter

This all-in-one universal power adapter makes world travel so much easier! You don’t have to change out pieces on this one. It truly is all in one! The adapter covers over 200 countries with its US/UK/EU/AUS plugs and four USB ports. Just slide out whichever one you need and slide it back in when done.

Regular price: $19.98 Prime day price: $14.98

3. Mini Travel Umbrella

Like it or not, bad weather happens. But the last t hing you want to do when you’re traveling is use up a lot of space in your luggage for wet weather gear. And you certainly don’t want to carry an umbrella with you everywhere you go. But with this tiny umbrella, you can easily take it everywhere with minimal extra weight or space. It’s in the top five products on Amazon’s list of the best folding umbrellas, and it comes in over 20 different colors/patterns!

Regular price: $16.99 Prime day price: $13.59

4. A Neck Pillow That Actually Keeps Your Head Up

There are few things more aggravating than falling asleep and constantly being awaken by the feeling of your head lolling forward… except maybe the stiff neck you have afterwards. In the “What took y’all so long to invent this?” category of travel accessories, we have this chin supporting travel pillow. Because there is also cushioning under the chin, your head stays fairly upright no matter how hard you’re sleeping. It’s about time!

5. Wrinkle Releaser, Stain Remover, and Fabric Refresher

Three TSA-approved bottles of fashion emergency-averting sprays. The stain remover will get rid of most stains, ever stubborn ones that are hard to clean. The fabric refresher will make your clothes smell great and remove any unwanted musty odors. And the wrinkle releaser? Friends, if you have never tried a wrinkle releaser, do yourself a favor and get some. All you do is spray it on your wrinkled garments, give the fabric a good snap, and the wrinkles literally fall right out. No ironing!

Best of all, the sprays are blended with biodegradable, natural ingredients, making them products safe choices for kids and adults with sensitive skin.

Regular price: $20.00 Prime day price: $16.00

6. Packing Cubes

I bought this set of packing cubes last year on Prime Day, and tried them out on my recent trip to Paris. I was very skeptical because I just didn’t understand how packing shirts inside a pouch that went into the suitcase was more efficient than packing them in the suitcase. Oddly enough, though, it is! I had all of my tops in one cube, my bottoms in another, my underwear and pajamas in a third, etc. Any time I was looking for something, I was able to find it quickly and without messing up my other belongings. Highly recommend!

And as an additional Prime Day promotion, you may be eligible for additional discounts from Gonex when you spend $29 or more. See listing for details.

Regular price: $18.99 Prime day price: $15.19

7. Travel Journal with Writing Prompts

If you love the idea of keeping a travel journal but just don’t know how to start, this is the travel journal for you! Not only is it beautiful, but it includes writing prompts that will get you started writing about your experiences. Perfect for scrapbookers, travel bloggers (ahem) or anyone who wants to capture their travel experiences real time to re,liven remember them later.

Regular price: $22.99 Prime day price: $18.39

8. Backpacker Magazine Subscription

At 87% off the cover price, you should get this subscription for yourself and as a gift for anyone you know who enjoys backpacking travel! For just $7.00, you get a year’s worth of issues that cover the best places, gear and information for all kinds of hiking and camping trips with fold-out maps and stunning color photography. 

Cover price: $53.91 Prime day price: $7.00

9. Scratch Off World Map

This scratch off world map is such a fun idea! Scratch off the places you have visited. Then it’s time to start dreaming. Where will your next adventure take you? The Bucket List at the bottom of your travel poster gives you exciting goals. This world map comes with everything you’ll need to easily track your travels: scratch tool, push pins, stickers & more.

Regular price: $29.97 Prime day price: $19.78

10. Hard Sided Spinner Luggage 20″ Carry On Size

This compact, 20 inch carry-on offers secure, reliable storage with a spacious dual-chamber interior and multiple compartments.  The luggage features 360-degree spinner wheels that pivot effortlessly and a rugged, hard shell exterior with a center section that’s expandable. And as I’ve already stated, carry on is definitely the best way to travel! Bon voyage!

Regular price: $69.99 Prime day price: $48.99

So, what are you waiting for? Go get those deals!!

Getting Down & Dirty with a Wild Guy

Getting Down & Dirty with a Wild Guy

Normally, I don’t write about experiences unless they’re my own. But when Hubs returned from his annual Memorial Day weekend motorcycle trip with the guys, he asked me to do a post about something they did on their trip. So here it is: how to have a muddy good time going caving in West Virginia with the help of Lester Zook of WILD GUYde Adventures.

Hubs’ Adventure

Planning for Hubs’ motorcycle trip starts months in advance. They look for a route that will provide them with lots of good riding (the curvier the roads, the better) and a round trip total of about four days. One guy has to get a tee shirt at every Harley Davidson store on earth, so they look for those. A couple of the guys like to visit relatives along the way, and stay with them to cut down on lodging costs. And once they have a route tentatively planned out, they look for things to do.

Ready to roll!

When they they started looking for things to do in or near Franklin WV, one of the guys suggested going on a caving adventure with Wild Guyde Lester. As it turned out, he had gone on a similar trip before and liked it enough to go again.

As he was packing up his stuff to go on the trip, Hubs mentioned that he was told to take clothes that could get dirty/ruined. I’ve been to Luray Caverns before and couldn’t figure out how they would get that dirty in a cave. But this was his trip to plan and pack for so I didn’t ask. (Lest we forget, I am a bit prissy, so the thought of people squeezing through dirty, confined spaces for fun never even occurred to me.)

The Wild Guyde Philosophy

I asked Lester about his background and how he came to be a Wild GUYde. He said, “I  started backpacking and climbing in high school, and worked at summer camps as a counselor and outdoor trip leader all through college.  I have been an educator for over 30 years, first in elementary and junior high school, and then 27 years as a university professor.  I started the guiding business 15 years ago, to go alongside my teaching career.  Then I resigned from formal teaching four years ago, so now the outdoor business is my sole career.  I view guiding simply as an extension of my role as a teacher, using the outdoor environment as a classroom.”

Lester Zook of Wild Guyde Adventures, who offers (among other things) caving in West Virginia.
Lester on the South Summit of Seneca Rocks, WV

I love Lester’s approach to outdoor adventures! From his website: “First, we believe that our lives are best lived as an adventure:

  • Facing into challenges and obstacles,
  • Taking a risk and walking into the unknown,
  • Ready to exert ourselves to the utmost, and then trust beyond ourselves and lean on others when our personal limits are reached.”

“Second, we believe that the outdoor world is wild and powerful; it is not sentimental or sympathetic, and it doesn’t suffer fools, it is unpolluted and undiluted, beautiful but not tame. It can teach us both mastery and humility.”

Safety First!

Hubs and his friends met Lester in town just after lunch, then followed him to a rest stop. Once there, Lester issued them each a whistle and a helmet with a lamp. (Hubs was very thankful for the helmet as they all bumped their heads often while moving through the cave.) Lester also advised them to leave behind anything that they didn’t want to become wet or dirty.**

Lester let them know what safety measures were in place. They were entering the cave at a specific time, and were expected to exit at a specific time. If Lester did not check in with his wife shortly after the expected exit time, she had instructions to call rescue personnel and provide them with the details (exact location of cave, how many were in the party, when they entered the cave, etc.).

Lester tied a guideline to the guard rail and they began to go down the slope. There were two openings into the cave. One was small enough to require that you bend over to enter. To go in via the second, smaller hole, you would have had to crawl.

** This means most of them left their cell phones in their motorcycle’s storage while they went caving. The one who didn’t leave his phone behind had it inside a plastic bag. That’s why I have not-the-greatest pictures to accompany this post. My apologies!

The “before” picture – about to enter the cave

Caving in West Virginia: Hubs’ Account

Hubs said he could feel cool air coming out of the cave. Once inside, it was as you might expect: damp and shady. The interior of the cave consisted of jagged angles made by rectangular shaped rocks. In some areas, there were drops of several feet. According to Lester, every cave has a “basement”. And while that may sound strange, Hubs said that every now and then he could see through a hole in the floor of the cave, about 15 to 20 feet down.

Lester taught the guys about caving techniques and safety along the way. For instance, how would they get out if they got lost? All you need is a compass and a map of cave (which, of course, Lester had). The cave map showed the elevation, shape of the passages, intersections, clearance height, etc. Cavers must point their compass north, then align the map with the compass. This would enable you to figure out where you were. Along the way, Lester shared the map and compass with different people so they all could learn how to do it and lead the group.

Another thing Lester taught the guys was how to navigate tight spaces by wiggling their bodies through it. The technique is to place your left hand forward/up and your right hand back/down to make your shoulders less of an obstruction in a narrow passage. As they approached the end of their adventure, knowing this technique proved useful. They had to crawl on their hands and knees 20 feet through a passage where rocks had fallen. Hubs said it was like poking your head up out of the floor underneath a bed and having to pull yourself up onto the floor, then crawl out from under the bed. All this in a space two feet high!

Having managed to successfully navigate that tight passage, they reached their final destination. Local tradition holds that cavers make little figures out of the mud and leave them as their mark. Because of these ‘sculptures”, this area of the cave is known as the art room.

Q: What’s the difference between a cave and a cavern?

A: None. (Although Hubs says a cavern is bigger by two letters.)

Actually, Lester said that for an area to be considered a cave, it must meet three criteria:

  • It must be big enough for a man to get in.
  • It must be naturally formed, not man made.
  • There must be areas that sunlight does not penetrate.
The “after” picture – just out of the cave

What did he think of it?

Hubs said he had fun thinking about his real life experience caving in West Virginia, comparing it to Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn running through their fictional cave with torches and no map. As a former role-playing gamer, he also enjoyed thinking about scenarios in a similar setting to the WV cave. This also led him to realize how unrealistic RPG scenarios often are – most RPG caves have plenty of room to stand up, swing a sword, and walk around comfortably!

Oh, and did he really need to take clothing that wouldn’t be ruined by a little mud? Well, take a look at his (formerly blue) jeans and shoes:

It’s a wonder there was any mud left in the cave!

More about Wild Guyde Adventures

Lester offers a wide variety of expeditions within 90 minutes of their base of operations in Harrisonburg, Virginia. That includes:

  • Day hiking to peaks and waterfalls in the George Washington National Forest / Appalachia.
  • Rock climbing and rappelling in the North River or Lee Ranger Districts, along Virginia’s beautiful Blue Ridge, or at spectacular Seneca Rocks, West Virginia.
  • Wild caving at locations in West Virginia. (Did you know there are over 5000 caves in the state of West Virginia?)
  • Canoe paddling on the south fork of the Shenandoah River, or on the Potomac in West Virginia.

When I asked Lester about his most memorable client, he said, “I love to see parents exposing their kids to the outdoors, and creating meaningful shared family memories.  I love to see folks challenging their weaknesses and fears.  Last summer I took my oldest (I think) caving client through a river cave in West Virginia with his grandkids – he was 78 years old.”

If You are Reluctant to Try This…

I asked Lester what he might say to someone who was perhaps scared to try an underground adventure. His response:

“Mark Twain said, ‘I’ve worried about a lot of things in my life, and most of them never happened!’  Fear is like a fog that you cannot seem to see through, but when you reach out and push your hand against the fear, your hand goes right through it – there is nothing there!  When you push against a fear, you discover that it has no power over you.  But if you turn and run from a fear, the next time you face it, it becomes bigger.  So my trips give folks a chance to learn a way to respond to fears in their lives. Our purpose is to create and lead authentic adventures that invite folks to learn grow, and celebrate.”

So if you’re interested in exploring someplace dark and quiet, and you don’t mind getting a little (!) dirty, give Lester a call. He comes highly recommended!

Pinterest Image for Caving in West Virginia
Where to Get the Best View of Paris

Where to Get the Best View of Paris

Ah, Paris… The city of lights, love, and the iconic Eiffel Tower. Seven million people visit the Eiffel Tower each year to enjoy what they believe is the best view of Paris. But is it really? Or could they get a better view somewhere else?

The Iconic Tower

The Eiffel Tower is almost synonymous with Paris. Tell someone that you went to Paris and their first question will not be about the Louvre, or about Versailles, or the Arc de Triomphe. It will undoubtedly be, “Did you go to the top of the Eiffel Tower?”

This iconic landmark was constructed in 1889 and was the tallest building in the world for over forty years. (It lost the title to New York’s Chrysler Building in 1930.)

Controversy surrounded the structure almost from the beginning. Parisians banded together and sent a petition to the Minister of Works calling for and end to the Tower’s construction. The petition referred to the Eiffel Tower as called useless, monstrous, ridiculous, and barbaric (to name just a few undesirable adjectives). Such drama!

Gustave Eiffel, who apparently also had a flair for the dramatic, responded by comparing his tower to the Pyramids of Egypt. In part, he said, “My tower will be the tallest edifice ever erected by man. Will it not also be grandiose in its way? And why would something admirable in Egypt become hideous and ridiculous in Paris?”

Fortunately for Monsieur Eiffel (and us), the petition had no effect on the tower construction, which had already begun. By completion of the Tower, some of those who had fought against it came around to appreciating it. Others, like author Guy de Maupassant, remained opposed to the structure. Legend has it that de Maupassant ate lunch in the Eiffel Tower every day because it was the only place in Paris where the Tower was not visible.

Facts & Figures

I found these factoids very interesting. You never know when you might need this info for a trivia game!

  • The bolts that hold the four bases of the tower to the ground measured 4 inches in diameter and were 25 feet long.
  • Horse drawn carriages delivered finished parts of the structure from the factory to the building site.
  • The tower is comprised of 18,038 pieces that are joined together with 2.5 million rivets.
  • The planning office produced 1,700 general drawings and 3,629 detailed drawings of the structure’s 18,000+ parts.
  • During the construction, French tabloids printed articles with headlines such as “Eiffel Suicide!” and “Gustave Eiffel Has Gone Mad: He Has Been Confined in an Asylum!”
  • If you have a fear of elevators, you will need to climb 1,710 steps to reach the top of the Tower.
  • The guest book for the Tower includes a note signed by Thomas Edison.
  • The permit to build the Tower stated that it would only stand for 20 years. It was supposed to be torn down in 1909. Thankfully, the plan changed!
  • A scientist discovered the phenomenon of cosmic rays at the Eiffel Tower in 1910.
  • In 1914 (World War I), the Tower contained a radio transmitter used to jam German radio signals
  • When German forces occupied Paris in the 1940s (World War II), the elevator cables were cut and the Tower was closed to the public. That did not, however, keep German forces from flying a swastika-emblazoned flag from the top of the Tower.
  • In August 1944, Hitler ordered the German governor of Paris to demolish the Tower, as well as the rest of the city. (He disobeyed the order, thank goodness!)
  • The elevators that run between the second and third levels were replaced in 1982 after running for 97 years!
  • The iron parts of the tower weigh 7300 tons (that’s 14.6 million pounds)!
  • To recognize their contributions and achievements, Gustave Eiffel had the names of 72 French scientists, engineers, and mathematicians engraved on the Tower.
  • Painting the Tower to prevent rust takes place every seven years. It takes 60 tons of paint to cover it.

Inside the Eiffel Tower

Visitors to the Eiffel Tower can go to three different levels. The first level is primarily retail, with multiple souvenir shops and restaurants.

The second level offers more souvenir shops and another restaurant. But rather than spend time in those establishments, I was drawn to the view of the sprawling French capital and the Seine River. Boats, cars, people were all going about their business, heading from place A to place B… and I was watching them from my bird’s eye view of the city.

A beautiful view of the Palais de Chaillot, Seine River, and the Place du Trocadero from the second level of the Eiffel Tower.

After I had taken everything in, I headed up to the top floor, also called the summit. There the view was pretty much the same, just smaller due to the added height. Below is the same view as the one above, but taken from the summit.

The summit of the Eiffel Tower offers visitors one of the best views of Paris.

The third level of the Eiffel Tower contains two areas. The lower area, where the elevator drops you off, is fully enclosed and protected from the elements. But you can also climb a flight of stairs to the area above, which is open.

The view from the highest accessible point on the Eiffel Tower.

The Other Tower

Montparnasse Tower, in stark contrast to the graceful lines of Tour Eiffel, is a more modern structure. From a distance it looks like someone modeled the building after a darkly painted rectangular building block. In the photo above, taken from the open air summit of the Eiffel Tower, the large dark rectangle centered in the photo is Montparnasse.

As you can see, the Montparnasse Tower sticks out like a proverbial sore thumb. Designed and built in the late 1960s/early 1970s, Montparnasse was such a controversial building that within two years the city had new zoning regulations. From that point forward, no new construction in the city center could exceed seven storeys in height.

So why bother going to this out-of-place modern office building? For the same reason Guy de Maupassant supposedly ate lunch in the building he detested. If you’re looking out at the city from the building you consider an eyesore, you don’t have to look at it.

The best part of the view from Montparnasse is that it lines up perfectly with the Eiffel Tower. Yes, it’s a great experience to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower and look out at the city. But isn’t it just as exciting to see the cityscape with the Eiffel Tower in it? I thought it was, particularly since I was there as the sun began to set.

Because I was closer to the ground than at Tour Eiffel, I was able to pick out the landmarks more easily. I spotted Luxembourg Gardens and Notre Dame Cathedral, to name just a few.

Best view of Paris: From the Montparnasse Tower, you can see Notre Dame Cathedral, the Church of Saint Sulpice, and the Jardins Luxembourg.

And when I saw several blocks of what appeared to be very small buildings, I realized that it was the Montparnasse Cemetery.

Best view of Paris: From the Montparnasse Tower, you can see all of Montparnasse Cemetery.
Sorry for the crazy camera tilt. I was trying to make sure I got all of it in the frame.

Comparing Pommes to Pommes

So, how do these two buildings compare to each other? Here’s what you need to know.

Height: Eiffel is 1063 feet; Montparnasse is 689 feet.

Admission Cost: Eiffel is 25.5 Euro; Montparnasse is 18 Euro. (That’s a difference of about $8.50 in US currency.)

Convenience: You can only use Eiffel Tower tickets on the specified date at the pre-selected entry time. Montparnasse Tower tickets can be used on any day/time and are good for one year. (Please note, however, that for special events and holidays, you will need to purchase a special admission ticket.) Additionally, if you are traveling by subway, the Montparnasse Tower has a station basically right underneath it. In contrast, to visit the Eiffel Tower you will have to walk a ways from the closest station to reach it.

Weather: Both towers have enclosed and open air decks for viewing the city. Inclement weather may affect your view, but you will at least be able to stay dry/warm.

Security: Needless to say, the Eiffel Tower is a very popular spot with tourists. As a result, it is also very popular with scam artists and pickpockets. Montparnasse, on the other hand, is an office building and less likely to be crowded with people trying to relieve you of your wallet.

My Take

Therefore, in my opinion, the best view of Paris is at Montparnasse. Now, I’m not saying that you should forego the Eiffel Tower. After all, it pretty much represents the entire city. But if you would like a majestic view of that iconic tower, by all means make the trip to Montparnasse as well. You won’t regret it.

where you can get the best view of Paris
Everyone thinks the Eiffel Tower has the best view of Paris.
Sacre bleu! Could they be wrong?
The Galeries Lafayette Glasswalk

The Galeries Lafayette Glasswalk

When poring through the 2019 edition of Rick Steves’ Paris guide book in preparation for my trip, I came across the mention of a shopping center called Galeries Lafayette. He said that Galeries Lafayette’s stained glass dome ceiling was a must-see. I’ve seen stained glass ceilings before, but never a dome. So I made it a point to go to Galeries Lafayette in my free time.

Upon entering the store from the street, I immediately realized I was out of my depth as far as the shopping was concerned. Luxury brands like Chanel and Yves St Laurent surrounded me. And I was only in the cosmetics section of the store! So I decided to head up to the Starbucks on the third floor, where Rick Steves promised I would find seats with a view. I ordered a Frappuccino to help me energize and cool off. Alas, all of the seats were taken, but I had snapped some photos while in line, so I was good.

But wait, there’s more…

Then I noticed a small flurry of activity and went to investigate. What Rick didn’t tell me was that there was a sign (and, of course, a queue) for something called Glasswalk. Like so many other places that offer you the opportunity to look at something from above with a transparent floor, the Galeries Lafayette Glasswalk offers visitors the chance to walk out under the dome… three floors up.

Galeries Lafayette's stained glass dome ceiling can best be viewed from the end of the Glasswalk platform.

I got in the line and waited for my turn. Remarkably, when I got to the front of the line, I discovered that there was no charge to go out on the Glasswalk. I pink-puffy-heart love free things! I sashayed out on the glass like I owned the joint.

A quick picture of my feet (and the glass beneath them) was a must. How else could I prove to my family that I actually had done this? (When they’re with me, I usually leave anything height-related to them while staying on terra firma to photograph them. I guess having to conquer my fear of heights is another down side of solo travel.)

(Yes, I wear flip flops even when walking all over a city like Paris. Believe it or not, they have arch supports built in and are the most comfortable shoes I own!)

Then, I took it all in. and all I can say is WOW…

Beyond the Galeries Lafayette Glasswalk

Reluctantly, I left the Glasswalk proceded to go up to the sixth floor, where Rick suggested they would have good Paris souvenirs. After a lot of deliberation and checking my list more than Santa does, I bought macarons to bring home as well as a few to enjoy there.

All in all, I really enjoyed my trip to Galeries Lafayette (even though I couldn’t do any serious shopping there). The Glasswalk was an amazing (free!) experience, and I highly recommend that you check it out when you visit Paris. It really is the best way to see and photograph Galeries Lafayette’s stained glass dome ceiling.

Pin this article!

#galerieslafayette #glasswalk #underthedome