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…
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!

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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!

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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.

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#galerieslafayette #glasswalk #underthedome
A Review of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, NYC

A Review of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, NYC

On our most recent trip to New York, we had a few hours to kill while my daughter and her friend went to see Dear Evan Hansen. There were any number of fun things we could have done – Gulliver’s Gate, Spyscape, Madame Tussaud’s, the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty… I could go on and on. But rather than do something fun, we decided to do something important instead: The 9/11 Memorial & Museum.

I’ve wanted (and simultaneously not wanted) to visit the 9/11 Memorial & Museum ever since it opened in 2014. However, our trips to NYC usually left us with not enough time to fit it in. This time, we made it a priority.

Entering the 9/11 Memorial Plaza

As we approached the World Trade Center site, the first thing we saw was the new building – One World Trade Center. It was beautiful, not just in its appearance but also in what it represented: the determination to persevere after tragedy.

9/11 Memorial & Museum in NYC - One World Trade Center

Impressive, isn’t it? It stands (including the spire) at 1776 feet tall,
the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere and sixth tallest in the world. The height is not a coincidence; it was chosen to symbolize the independent spirit of America.

The new building is located on the site of the former 6 World Trade Center, heavily damaged in the 2001 attacks.

A one acre pool with the largest man-made waterfalls in the United States now stands on each footprint of the Twin Towers. Known collectively as Reflecting Absence, they symbolize both the loss of life and the physical void left by the attacks. The waterfalls drown out the sounds of the city, making this an ideal space for contemplation. A bronze ledge surrounding each pool bears the names of 2983 people – those who died in the September 11, 2001 attacks and the previous World Trade Center bombing of 1993.

9/11 Memorial & Museum in NYC - the names of those who lost their lives surround the pools where the towers once stood.

The museum is housed in a strange looking building meant to resemble a partially collapsed building. Mostly glass, both clear and reflective, configured at odd angles.

9/11 Memorial & Museum in NYC - the pavilion over the museum was meant to resemble a partially collapsed building.

Inside the 9/11 Museum

Once you enter the museum and pass through security, you start to get an inkling of (or remember) the enormity of the events that day. One of the first things we saw was the flag that was raised at Ground Zero.

On the day of the attacks, a firefighter saw the flag flying on a yacht in the nearby Hudson River basin. He cut the yardarm off the boat and took it to an evacuation site at Ground Zero. There, he and two other firefighters raised it over the rubble. A reporter captured the moment and from that point forward, it became an iconic and enduring image.

To so many people, the three firefighters raising this flag on September 11, 2001, symbolized the resilience of our nation. It also seemed an act of defiance to our attackers – telling them, in effect, “You cannot break us.”

After viewing the flag, we proceeded downstairs into the dark exhibit halls. The farther down we went, the quieter it got. We came upon a map of the mid-Atlantic region, or home, to me. It showed the location of the four terrorist-hijacked airplanes at the time of their crashes. The following two-paragraph summary accompanied the map, with September 11, 2001 spelled out in big letters overhead.

It struck me as odd that such large scale destruction and loss of life could be so easily summed up.

We also saw the rough slurry wall:

A section of the slurry wall left exposed at the 9/11 memorial and museum in NYC.

If, like me, you have no idea what a slurry wall is, or why it would be significant in this place, allow me to share what I have since learned. A slurry wall is a reinforced concrete wall in areas of soft earth that are close to open water.  Its purpose is to keep water out and support the building from beneath. The building above the slurry wall (one of the Twin Towers) collapsed like a house of cards. When it did, the slurry wall could have caved in, resulting in a flooded lower Manhattan. But, thankfully, the wall held.

Of Tears and Twisted Metal

As we wandered through the space, we saw huge pieces of twisted metal hanging against the concrete walls. In a different setting, they could have been works of modern art. But here, they were a grim reminder of the force of destruction and lives lost. When destruction twists a steel beam into a grotesque shape, how could something as fragile as a human body possibly survive?

A twisted piece of metal from the Twin Towers on display at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum

Looking at these items in person put me in a contemplative, somber mood. It wasn’t until I emerged on a balcony overlooking the lower level, however, that I began to tear up and cry.

"No Day Shall Erase You from the Memory of Time" wall at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in NYC

Amid tiles in various shades of blue, Virgil’s quote from The Aeneid overwhelmed me with emotion. “No day shall erase you from the memory of time.” Not only is it a beautiful promise to remember the victims of the attacks, it is a memorial in itself. The letters were made from World Trade Center steel. The sign describing the display said:

“Originally trained as a blacksmith, [New Mexico artist Tom] Joyce was invited to harness the transformative process that occurs when iron is touched by fire. He took wounded, remnant steel – made of iron and carbon – and forged it, by heating and folding, into letters of beauty. The result reminds us that Virgil’s words are not just a statement; they are a promise.”

The Exhibition and Education Level

We went down to the lower level and saw, among other things, a portion of the “Survivors’ Staircase,” which came from an evacuation route used by many people on the day of the attacks. In the months and years following September 11, the staircase was the last remaining structure above ground level.

We also saw the remains of the box columns that provided structural support for the World Trade Center buildings. We saw part of a radio/TV antenna and a crumpled piece of shiny metal bearing an inscription from the World Trade Center Dedication Day in 1973. But it wasn’t until we turned and I saw the fire truck from Ladder Company 3 that I gasped.

The twisted metal of a fire truck from Ladder Company 3 at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in NYC

Fire trucks, as any preschooler can tell you, are big, magnificent machines. They are red and shiny, loud and fast. They are strong, just like the men who ride in them. In a word, they are invincible.

Yet the fire truck before me had none of those characteristics. Its ladder more closely resembled the plastic-coated wire tie that you find on a loaf of bread. Bent doors on the side of the truck hung at odd angles, like an injured athlete’s broken arm.

A volunteer stood nearby to tell us the story of the truck and its captain. The truck, she explained, carried eleven responders, some of whom had just gone off duty after completing overnight shifts, to the WTC site. It was 8:46 when American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower. By 9:21, the members of Ladder Company 3 had reached the 35th floor.

In his last recorded transmission, Ladder Company 3 Captain Patrick “Paddy” Brown stated, “We are still heading up”. When the building collapsed a little over an hour later, all eleven members of the company perished.

The Historical Exhibition

The guide finished by telling us that we could see the historical exhibit across from the fire engine. No photos are allowed in that part of the museum, so I have none to share. But I will do my best to tell you about it because it was the most thorough and interesting part of the museum.

The exhibit made use of video clips that looped on continuous playback on monitors. There we saw Matt Lauer reporting on the attacks from the Today Show set. We saw footage of the plane hitting the building. We saw footage of the towers collapsing. And hidden away in an alcove so sensitive visitors would not have to see it if they did not want to, we even saw the clips of people jumping to their deaths from the Twin Towers to avoid the slow and inevitable death they were facing inside the building.

It was almost too much to bear. Because instead of sitting in my office watching the events of the day unfold real time with my coworkers as I did on 9/11, this time I was immersed in it. I was a spectator, surrounded by the chaos and confusion and the fear and the overwhelming sadness of it all. And rather than having time to slowly let it all sink in, I was witnessing it all at once, as if time had somehow sped up. It was brutal.

The historical exhibit also examined what happened before the attacks. I saw redacted copies of government correspondence suggesting that an attack was imminent, and urging action in response. It made me angry. Why didn’t anyone take it seriously?

And I saw exhibits on what happened after the attack. The clean up, the search for people who were missing, the nation coming together united as it has never done since. And, eventually, the re-building, and the hope for the future.

In Memoriam

Moving on from the historical exhibit to a quiet, somber, and dimly lit room, you can see portraits of all of the people who lost their lives on September 11, 2001 and in the 1993 World Trade Center attack: men and women. Latino and African-American, Asian and White. Young and old and middle aged. People who earned six figures and those who earned minimum wage. Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist. Death is the great equalizer.

I looked for Juan Garcia’s photo. I never knew him, but I wrote about him on my old mommy blog as part of a 5 year anniversary blogger project. Seeing his picture on the wall made me feel sad. I can only imagine what it must be like for those who lost someone they knew personally.

In Conclusion

If you have an opportunity to visit the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, you should. It is important to remind ourselves of how good this country can be when we stand united. It is equally important to remind ourselves of the ripple effect that senseless acts of violence can have on society. So go. And when you do, please come back here and tell me how it affected you. I’d love to hear about your experience. Maybe the more we talk about, the more we can do to prevent a tragedy like this from ever happening again.

9/11 Memorial and Museum - pinnable image
The Down Side of Solo Travel

The Down Side of Solo Travel

Last month, I took my first ever solo trip. I flew to Paris by myself, stayed in an Airbnb by myself, saw the sights by myself, and flew home by myself. In some ways it was an ideal trip. After all, I only saw the things that I wanted to see, spent as much time in each location as I wanted to, and made 100% of the decisions 100% my way. However, there were a few things that I didn’t like about traveling alone. And it doesn’t seem like anyone ever talks about the down side of solo travel. So here’s the ugly truth. Or at least, my ugly truth. Your mileage may vary.

1. You may spend a lot of time feeling self-conscious.

1a. Selfies

I have posted a selfie on the TravelAsMuch Instagram account exactly three times in as many years. There are several reasons for that, not the least of which is I feel very conspicuous when I’m trying to take a selfie.

For millennials and those who are even younger, sticking that phone/camera up in the air as far as your arm will stretch is almost second nature. For me… not so much. I want to hurry up and get it over with before anyone catches me doing it. I hover somewhere between embarrassment that someone will think I’m vain and worry about inconveniencing others who want a photo without me in it.

1b. Restaurants

If you cringe at the thought of having to sit in a restaurant at a table for one, welcome to my world. Guess who ended up not eating a fabulous meal in a city known as one of the best in the world for great cuisine? This girl!

I just couldn’t bear the thought of eating a sit down meal by myself. I went to two restaurants to get dinner by myself on that trip, and while I managed to survive the ordeal, I definitely did not enjoy it. For the remainder of my meals in Paris, I went to Chez McDonalds (Lame, I know!) or bought groceries and fixed my own meals.

1c. Romantic Places

I went to the top of the Eiffel Tower by myself. Everywhere I turned, couples were kissing and taking their own pictures from that oh-so-romantic vantage point above the city. They even had a poster proclaiming it as the “Place to Kiss” with a special hashtag, #eiffellove.

And there was I, without Hubs, missing him dearly, and unable to express my love. I did, however, take a selfie and sent it to him later when I had access to Wifi.

The down side of solo travel: taking a selfie in a romantic place can be daunting.
Selfies in romantic places are just one reason why solo travel can be less than glamorous.

2. If you are an introvert, you will struggle.

I am an introvert. Which is not to say that I can’t talk to people I don’t know… just that it doesn’t come naturally. When I host women’s activities at my church, I think I do a god job of greeting everyone and being a good mistress of ceremonies. But being outgoing & friendly without an agenda takes so much energy out of me and causes me so much anxiety that I tend to avoid it if possible. If you are the type of person who never met a stranger, please know that I am in absolute awe of you. How I wish I could just strike up a casual conversation without feeling like a total dork!

So if, like me, you’re an introvert (with or without shyness), solo travel might be really hard for you. And doubly so if you go to a destination where you don’t speak the language well enough to have a conversation. As a non-French speaking introvert, I felt incredibly isolated on my Paris trip.

Sure, the first few days alone in Paris were great (well, once I finally got my luggage and recovered from the jet lag!), but after that… I didn’t feel like an independent woman on a spectacular journey of self-discovery and adventure. I just felt… dare I say it?… lonely.

I’ve considered whether I might have met more people if I had stayed at a hotel rather than in an Airbnb. Probably, but I absolutely loved the place I stayed. It offered amazing sunset views of the Eiffel Tower and Saint Sulpice church:

(Click here for a link that will get you up to $55 off when booking on Airbnb!)

3. If you’re indecisive, you will struggle.

I didn’t realize until I went on this trip how much I rely on the preferences, advice, and opinions of others. From the mundane to the monumental, I find it difficult to make a decision without consulting someone else.

The down side of solo travel includes not having someone to help you make up your mind.
Decisions, decisions…

Traveling alone means you have to make all of the decisions yourself. Without help or feedback from anyone.

In situations that are not clear cut, I can seldom make a decision without verbalizing the pros and cons of each side, running through possible scenarios, and checking in with others to make sure I’m not the only one who has considered these things. I like to use other people as a sounding board because:

  • Sometimes I overlook important details (like the fact that the subway will be closed when we get out of a particular venue and we will have to get an Uber instead)
  • I unwittingly let external factors influence my mood & decisions (hungry, angry, frustrated, tired – I make all of my worst decisions when I am in one of these states)
  • Sometimes I don’t think things all the way through to the end (yes, Julie, that wall mirror that’s 3.5 feet across is a perfect gift for Aunt Marjorie… but how are you going to get it home?)
  • And then there are occasions when I just don’t have a preference. I can’t decide because there isn’t any factor to sway me one way or the other. In those instances, I really just want someone else to choose for me.

So, while calling all the shots has a certain appeal, you might find it a little unsettling after a while. I really missed being able to get other people’s opinions.

4. You may worry about your safety.

I want to start off by saying that I did not once feel like I was in imminent danger when I went to Paris.

However! I do believe that the only reason I didn’t feel like I was in danger was because I was almost constantly fretting over it. As a woman traveling alone in a city with which I am not at all familiar, I had to think about my personal safety in all sorts of situations. Situations that, if I had been with other people, would not have given me a moment’s hesitation. Some of the precautions I took included:

  • Taking Uber instead of the subway at night. I didn’t think it would be in my best interest to be walking home alone from the subway station after dark, no matter how well-lit the streets were.
  • Making sure the Uber car’s license plate matched what the app said it would be. And even then, still asking the driver who he was there to pick up.
  • Not looking like a clueless tourist. In all honesty, I probably didn’t nail this one, but I did at least try. Rather than constantly referring to a map, I used my phone’s Google Maps app for directions.
  • Not using headphones in both ears. When I was using my earbuds, I only inserted one so that I could still hear what was going on around me. I did not want to be caught off guard or otherwise endanger myself.

So, Is Solo Travel Worth It?

There is a definite down side of solo travel, as I’ve outlined here. But as with most experiences, you are more apt to enjoy it if you don’t have unrealistically high expectations from the outset. Regardless of whether you travel by yourself or with others, you will maximize your satisfaction with the experience by doing adequate planning and preparation before hand.

Header Image by rawpixel.com

My Notre Dame Cathedral Tour: 11 Days Before the Fire

My Notre Dame Cathedral Tour: 11 Days Before the Fire

On Monday, April 15, I returned to work after taking nearly two weeks off for my first solo trip – to Paris. I emailed my co-workers to let them know that I had brought a box of Parisian chocolates and some other souvenir trinkets for them.

Around mid-day, one co-worker emailed me back. He wasn’t in the office but had checked his work email from home. Did you hear about what is happening in Paris? he wanted to know.

I had no idea what was going on in Paris, so I Googled it. And my mouth fell open when I saw the news that Notre Dame Cathedral was on fire. Nothing could have prepared me to see the iconic church set ablaze while millions watched, helpless. Especially since I had been there just eleven days earlier.

But that wasn’t my first time visiting Notre Dame cathedral…

1984: My First Notre Dame Cathedral Tour

Notre Dame Cathedral Tour 1984 - I thought I was heading to the toilet and ended up atop the cathedral.

This photo was taken in April 1984, when I took a trip to Paris with our high school’s French Club. Now, I wasn’t studying French… I was taking Spanish. But they needed extra people to go on the trip, and because my Spanish teacher considered me “gifted” with foreign languages, I got to go. Even though the only French I knew was basically “oui” and “non.”

Part of the pre-departure lecture my parents gave me was to make sure that I got lots of pictures of me in front of “French things”. At the time I rolled my eyes and thought that was just silly. However, I’m glad I followed their instructions. This picture alone is worth it. Here’s why:

It was our first day in Paris and we attended mass at Notre Dame cathedral. Jet lagged and confused by all the French (or maybe it was Latin – I couldn’t tell), I nearly fell asleep during the service. When it ended, the teacher ushered us outside and began speaking to us in French. I’d venture to guess that everyone knew what she was saying except for me. I assumed by the vigorous head nodding and enthusiastic responses of “oui!” that she had asked if anyone needed to go to the bathroom. I certainly did! So I too nodded my head and said “oui” like everyone else.

Off we marched, back inside the cathedral, up a stone staircase that twisted and turned. Up, up, up. Imagine my surprise when we emerged not near a public bathroom, but at the top of the cathedral!

So, dutiful to my parents’ instructions, I had a friend snap this picture. I don’t know if you can tell, but I’m sneering a little because (a) I still needed to go pee, (b) I’m afraid of heights, and (c) the gargoyles were really quite creepy. For the rest of my time in Paris, I made sure that I understood the question before I said, “oui.”

35 Years Later…

On this trip to Paris, I flew from Newark NJ to Zurich and then from Zurich to Paris. Unfortunately, my luggage stopped in Zurich and didn’t accompany me to the City of Lights.

I usually travel with only a carry on – a practice to which I will now return! – and I was at a loss as to how to proceed without all of my stuff. The way I saw it, I had two options. I could hole up in my Airbnb and stay there until the courier brought my luggage. Or I could get over the jet lag, then go ahead and see the sights as I had originally planned.

After a two hour nap and a bit of a meltdown with an emotional call to Hubs at home, I decided upon the second option. After all, I had a plan for every day of my trip and missing one day would throw all of my other plans off kilter.

The next morning, I awoke rested and determined to not let a thing like missing luggage derail my vacation. After getting a call that my luggage would arrive around 2:00 in the afternoon, I headed off to see Sainte Chapelle, Notre Dame, and the Deportation Memorial. All were located on Île de la Cité, one of two islands in the Seine River in Paris.

I’ll cover Sainte Chapelle and the Deportation Memorial in separate blog posts. Today, in light of the devastating fire that recently took place, I want to focus on Notre Dame Cathedral.

2019: My Second Notre Dame Cathedral Tour

Almost as soon as I arrived, the bells of Notre Dame started ringing:

As you can see, it was a beautiful day – all blue skies and sunshine. I stood outside the cathedral and took in all of the amazing architectural details.

Thought to be on the former site of a Roman temple to Jupiter, Notre Dame Cathedral has stood in Paris for over 850 years. Until the completion of the Eiffel Tower in 1889, the massive towers of Notre Dame were the tallest structure in the city of Paris (226 feet high).

I wish I could find a statistic for how many figures are carved into the stone facade of this amazing piece of Gothic architecture. Let’s just say a lot. But there’s a good reason for that. The cathedral is an example of a liber pauperum, or a “poor people’s book”, covered with sculptures that vividly illustrate biblical stories. During the era in which the cathedral was built, the vast majority of parishioners were illiterate. The only way they could learn about biblical stories was by looking at the figures carved into the church building.

For instance, if you face the towers of the cathedral, you will find above the middle doorway a vivid portrayal of the Final Judgment:

Notre Dame Cathedral Tour - the iconography of the central portal shows a vivid depiction of the Final Judgment.

Jesus sits on his throne in Heaven. Beneath his feet there are two figures holding scales. On the left is the archangel Michael; on the right, Satan. Each side of the scale holds a person whose life is being judged. Those who have been condemned are being led away by a demon on the right hand side.

The stained glass windows at Notre Dame are just beautiful. There are three circular “rose” windows, and the one on the west facade over the Final Judgment scene is the smallest. That said, the window still measures over 31 feet in diameter. From the outside of the church, you can see three figures in front of the rose window: the Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus, and an angel on either side of her.

My Notre Dame Cathedral Tour - The Virgin Mary and two angels stand in front of the cathedral's smallest rose window on the western facade.

Below the window you will find statues of the 28 kings of Judah in “The Gallery of Kings”. During the French Revolution, rebels thought that the statues represented the kings of France. As a result, the angry French citizens lobbed off the heads of the statues. Fortunately, the statues have been restored, and you can see some of the old heads at the Cluny Museum in Paris.

While I stood there admiring the cathedral’s exterior, I started to notice some odd details that I might have overlooked if I hadn’t paused to take it all in. For instance, this poor fellow:

When taking a Notre Dame Cathedral tour, be sure to study the figures carved on the outside of the building.
I’m not sure who this king is, but a much larger man is standing on him!

Inside the Cathedral

As stunning as the outside of Notre Dame is, though, its real beauty lies within.

As with most Gothic cathedrals, Notre Dame has chapels on each side of the building. These alcoves, dedicated to saints, can hold some of the most beautiful artwork found inside the church building. For instance, a memorial to the 14th century heroine, Joan of Arc:

Notre Dame Cathedral tour - statue of Joan of Arc (Jeanne d'Arc)
Statue of Joan of Arc

I especially liked this memorial, dedicated to Denis Auguste Affre, the Archbishop of Paris from 1840 to 1848. The phrase inscribed above his head translates to “May my blood be the last shed”.

Memorial to Denis Auguste Affre

Affre was led to believe that his personal involvement in the June Days uprising of 1848 could lead to peace between the French military and the insurgents. Mounting the military’s barricade, he waved a branch as a symbol of peace and began to speak. Insurgents heard some shots and suspected a betrayal, so they opened fire upon the National Guard. A stray bullet hit Affre, and he died two days later.

In another spot, there was a model depicting the construction of Notre Dame Cathedral.

Notre Dame cathedral tour - model of cathedral's construction

The 14th century wall separating the choir from the main walkway of Notre Dame was decorated with stunning detail.

This scene shows Jesus with the apostles. the inscription, in Latin, says “Christ appears to the Apostles near Lake Tiberias” (Lake Tiberias = the Sea of Galilee). This scene constituted only a small portion of the scenes depicting the life of Jesus.

One massive piece of statuary that caught my eye was the mausoleum of the Earl of Harcourt:

Cancre [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

Note that there are four figure here. An angel carelessly holding a torch, a woman kneeling as if pleading to someone, a man who appears to be coming out of a coffin, and a hooded skeleton holding an hourglass in his bony hand.

I read that this memorial’s name/theme was Conjugal Meeting. The angel has lifted the lid on the Count’s sarcophagus, and he has risen. The skeleton, AKA Death, is holding an hourglass to symbolize that the Countess’ time has come. The Countess is reaching out toward her husband and Death as if she is ready to join them. (She outlived her husband by ten and a half years.) It was beautiful and tragic all at the same time.

On a Notre Dame Cathedral tour, be sure to look for the three rose windows of stained glass.
The South Rose Window, one of three in Notre Dame Cathedral.

The south rose window was constructed in 1260, and most of the original thirteenth century stained glass is still intact, even after last week’s tragic fire. Larger than the west rose window that I wrote about earlier, this one measures more than 42 feet across. Unlike the north rose window, which features Old Testament prophets and kings, this one is dedicated to the New Testament.

The center medallion features Jesus reigning as King in Heaven. The sixteen panels beneath the south rose window feature the prophets of the Bible. The four center panels depict the great Old Testament prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel) carrying the four New Testament evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) on their shoulders.

From outside the cathedral, the south rose window looks like this:

A Notre Dame Cathedral tour offers glimpses of the church's three rose windows - from inside and outside the building.
The south end of Notre Dame’s transept, featuring the south rose window.

You can see the church spire sticking up above the roof in this photo. Sadly, the spire was completely destroyed by the fire.

At the very back of the Cathedral, I found a small area with the most venerated holy relic in France: the Crown of Thorns.

The Crown of Thorns display, as seen on my Notre Dame Cathedral Tour

The crown of thorns, worn by Jesus at the time of his crucifixion, has been in the possession of the French since 1238, when the Emperor of Constantinople gave it to King Louis IX.

King Louis IX had the cathedral of Sainte Chapelle built to receive and hold the crown of thorns and other holy relics. The crown stayed at Sainte Chapelle until the French Revolution, at which point authorities hid it at a different location. From 1806 until the fire, it was located in Notre Dame cathedral.

The reliquary holding the crown of thorns is in the case that you see between the candles in the above picture. A semi-translucent sheet of bright red material (resembling a cascade of blood) hangs over it. Through it, you can just make out the circular outline of the reliquary.

Inside the reliquary, the crown of thorns is actually thorn-less. Some 70 thorns were removed and distributed to holy sites across the world over the centuries, leaving just a band of rushes for this reliquary. One of the thorns was inside the rooster that sat atop the Notre Dame spire. The day after the fire, someone found the rooster in the rubble … dented but intact.

On the first Friday of every month at 3:00 p.m., the time of Jesus’ death, the faithful attend a special “veneration of the crown” church service.

Conclusion

The fire at Notre Dame Cathedral was certainly tragic, but it could have been much worse. I am so thankfully that I was able to see the beautiful building and all of its treasures before the fire took place. I am looking forward to the day when I hear that the cathedral has been fully restored and rebuilt. Until then, I will cherish the memories of my Notre Dame Cathedral Tour!