Tag: Europe

Sainte-Chapelle: A Symphony of Light & Color

Sainte-Chapelle: A Symphony of Light & Color

If we could hear light and colors instead of seeing them, Paris’ Saint-Chapelle would be a full blown symphony. It has the most beautiful medieval stained glass, some of which is over 750 years old!

Some of the medieval stained glass at Sainte-Chapelle is over 750 years old.

The History

Sainte-Chapelle was part of Palais de la Cité, the residence of the Kings of France from the sixth century until the 14th century. In this old illustration, you can see Sainte-Chapelle on the right, surrounded by other buildings in the royal palace compound:

By Limbourg brothers – R.M.N. / R.-G. Ojéda, Public Domain

Sainte-Chapelle means “holy chapel,” which is only fitting. You see, the primary purpose of the chapel was to house a collection of Christian relics. Those relics included the crown of thorns worn by Jesus at his crucifixion. The crown remains in Paris to this day, housed at the Cathedral of Notre Dame until the 2019 fire made it necessary to move it.

King Louis IX (later canonized and made Saint Louis) purchased the relics in an effort to gain religious and political influence. When the relics arrived in France, King Louis hosted a week-long celebration. For the final stage of their journey to Paris, the King himself carried the relics while barefoot and dressed as a penitent.

From the 14th century until the French Revolution, Sainte-Chapelle was headquarters of the French treasury, judicial system, and the Parlement of Paris. Today, the site primarily houses the Palais de Justice.

According to the Sainte-Chapelle web site, it took a mere seven years to build the chapel. (By comparison, it took 200 years to build Notre Dame. In Barcelona, Sagrada Familia’s construction began in 1882, and has yet to be completed.) Construction of Sainte-Chapelle began sometime after 1238, and consecration of the chapel took place in 1248.

The Architecture

Experts consider the chapel a prime example of Gothic Rayonnant architecture, characterized by an intense focus on illumination and the appearance of structural lightness. They say that King Henry III of England, after attending the consecration of Sainte-Chapelle, had Westminster Abbey rebuilt with key elements of the Rayonnant style.

Inside the church, it seems as if the building is nothing more than a framework to support the medieval stained glass windows. It provides a stunning contrast to most churches of that era, where stained glass windows served as more of an accessory than the main attraction.

There are two distinct areas of the Sainte-Chapelle building: an upper chapel and a lower chapel. The lower chapel was the parish church for those who lived at the palace. Visitors today enter the lower chapel first, where they see a statue of Saint Louis, surrounded by gilt-painted columns.

Statue of King Louis IX aka Saint Louis at Sainte-Chapelle, home of beautiful medieval stained glass.
By PHGCOM – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

The upper chapel earned Sainte-Chapelle’s reputation for having the most significant and stunning collection of medieval stained glass.

The Medieval Stained Glass

Stepping into the upper chapel of Sainte-Chapelle is like watching that scene in “The Wizard of Oz” when Dorothy transitions from life in dull, black-and-white Kansas to an explosion of technicolor in the land of Oz. It is breathtaking, overwhelming, and awe-inspiring.

The medieval stained glass windows of Sainte-Chapelle in Paris.

There are 15 windows, each about 45 feet high, depicting 1,113 scenes in colorful glass panes. Added together, the medieval stained glass covers 6652 square feet! Although some of the windows received heavy damage during the French Revolution and underwent restoration in the 19th century, nearly two-thirds of them are authentic and original.

Three of the windows feature the New Testament. They show scenes of The Passion, the Infancy of Christ, and the Life of John the Evangelist. One heavily restored window features scenes from the Book of Genesis, and ten other windows depict scenes from other portions of the Old Testament. The fifteenth window shows the rediscovery of Christ’s relics, the miracles they performed, and their relocation to Paris by King Louis.

In addition to the fifteen tall stained glass windows, a rose window was added to the church around 1490.

Medieval stained glass: the rose window at Sainte-Chapelle in Paris
By Didier B (Sam67fr) – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5

Damage & Restoration

While nearly two thirds of the windows are authentic, much of the chapel that visitors see today is a re-creation of what once stood there. Sainte-Chapelle suffered a great deal of damage during the French Revolution. At that time, the steeple was removed, the relics dispersed, and various reliquaries were melted down.

Less than 20 years later, Sainte-Chapelle was requisitioned as an archival depository in 1803. As a result, six feet of the medieval stained glass was removed to facilitate working light. It was either destroyed or put on the market.

Then there’s damage caused by the best of intentions. Fearing damage from World War II bombing, authorities applied a layer of varnish to protect the medieval stained glass. As time passed, the varnish darkened, which made it more difficult to see the images. In 2008, a €10 million, seven year program to restore the windows began. The restoration included the application of a thermoformed glass layer for added (clear) protection.

Restoration seems to be an ongoing operation. When I visited, I noticed several architectural elements up against the side of the building in a fenced off area.

Visiting Sainte-Chapelle

Sainte-Chapelle is a worthy destination when visiting Paris. It stunning medieval stained glass makes it unlike most other historic churches in Europe, and it is simply amazing to behold. Here’s what you need to know if you are planning a visit:

HOURS: Sainte-Chapelle opens at 9:00 am daily. October 1 thru March 31, it closes at 5:00 pm. April 1 thru September 20, it closes at 7:00 pm. It is closed January 1, May 1, and December 25 each year.

COST: Admission is €11.50 for adults. Admission is free for children under 18 if visiting with their family.

METRO: The closest Metro stop is Cité on Line 4.

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The medieval stained glass of Sainte-Chapelle in Paris - pinterest graphic by travelasmuch
One of the Most Unusual Things to Do in Madrid

One of the Most Unusual Things to Do in Madrid

As strange as it may seem, one of the most unusual things to do in Madrid is to buy cookies at a local convent. Now, that may not sound unusual in and of itself, but trust me, it’s definitely one of the odder experiences I’ve had while traveling!

On our first night in Madrid, after we ate dinner at the Mercado San Miguel, we decided to explore the area. When we came upon the Monasterio del Corpus Christi, I remembered reading in a travel book that the nuns there sell cookies. But they do it in a top secret manner because they are not supposed to have contact with outsiders.

Getting In

When you arrive at the monastery, you will need to press a special doorbell to gain admittance. It’s fairly easy to miss the doorbell. For that matter, the whole monastery is pretty nondescript… you really have to be looking for it in order to find it.

Unusual things to do in Madrid - the doorbell that gives you access to the Monasterio del Corpus Christi

Once admitted into the monastery, you travel down a winding path to a small dark room.

The Transaction

A sign posted on the wall tells you what types of cookies you can buy:

Unusual Things to Do in Madrid - Buying Cookies at the Monasterio del Corpus Christi

Next to the sign you’ll see a little cubbyhole in the wall that houses a divided turntable. You have to tell the nuns what type of cookies you want and whether you want a kilo or a half kilo. (Note: not all of the varieties listed will be available.) Then place your money on the turntable and watch as it moves to the other side of the wall where you cannot see it.

A few minutes later, the turntable moves back to your side of the wall and voila! A box of cookies now sits where you placed your money.

Unusual Things to Do in Madrid - Tea Cookies from Monasterio del Corpus Christi

I ordered the tea cookies. They were kind of bland, and very expensive but pretty, and very fun to buy.

Unusual Things to Do in Madrid - Tea Cookies baked by the nuns at Monasterio del Corpus Christi

The Experience

It doesn’t always happen, but this time I actually had the forethought to record the experience for you! Take a look:

My Recommendation

It’s not about the cookies as much as it is about having a unique experience that very few places can offer. So, if you’re looking for unusual things to do in Madrid, this clandestine cookie shop should definitely be on your list!

The Monasterio del Corpus Christi sells cookies from 9:30-1:00 and 4:30-6:30 each day. It is located close to the Mercado de San Miguel, at Plaza del Conde de Miranda, 3. If you go, let me know what you thought of the experience!

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The Best Place to Eat in Madrid

The Best Place to Eat in Madrid

Hello! I am just back from a ten day visit to Madrid, Toledo, Avila and Segovia, Spain. My friend and I spent several days exploring the capital city, and we found ourselves going back to the Mercado San Miguel to eat over and over. So I thought I would share a little about it with you, and what makes it the best place to eat in Madrid.

The Best Place to Eat in Madrid is Convenient

The Mercado San Miguel is located just outside Madrid’s Plaza Mayor. This made it very convenient to get to, centrally located near so many other attractions. Especially convenient for us, since we were staying at an Airbnb on Plaza Mayor. Jet lag can be especially brutal when flying to Europe from the US, and we crashed hard after checking in. A few hours later, we woke up semi-rested and absolutely starving. The Mercado San Miguel was the first place we went.

But even if you aren’t staying at Plaza Mayor, the Mercado is conveniently located – just a five minute walk from the Ópera Metro station (Lines 2 & 5) or a ten minute walk from the Sol Metro station (Lines 1, 2, & 3). Its location is one major reason why it’s the best place to eat in Madrid.

The hours are convenient as well. Most days the Mercado San Miguel is open from 10:00 am until midnight (until 1:00 am Friday and Saturday nights). So during the afternoon dead zone when many stores are closed (roughly 2-5 pm), you can take a break and pop in to the Mercado for a quick bite or a leisurely couple of drinks.

The Best Place to Eat in Madrid Offers a Variety of Food & Drink

At first glance, the Mercado San Miguel is a big food court like you would see at an American shopping mall. Multiple vendors, each selling a different type of food, and a central seating area.

But it’s so much more than that.

From the mundane to the exotic, there is something for everyone at the Mercado San Miguel: Sangria. Italian. Vegetarian. Beer. Pastries. Seafood. Wine. Spanish. Vermouth. Mexican.

Whatever you want, you can find it at Mercado San Miguel!

The Best Place to Eat in Madrid is Affordable

The best place to eat in Madrid is affordable

Whether you’re in the mood for a snack, or you want a full meal, you can eat at Mercado San Miguel without breaking the bank. Sample a few things until you find what you like, or just dive right in and order what you want… it won’t cost a lot either way. Here are a few sample prices from my recent visit:

  • Croquetas/Croquettes – yummy, gooey fried cheese with or without bits of meat mixed in – €1.50 each.
  • Empanadas in all sorts of varieties, savory and sweet – €3.25 each.
  • Subs made with famous Iberian jamon (ham, but not like we think of it) – €6.

The Best Place to Eat in Madrid is a Great Place to Meet People

Best Place to Eat in Madrid is a Great Place to Meet People

I visited the Mercado San Miguel several times while I was in Madrid, and at all different times of day. Not once was it anything but packed with people. I shared a table with a group of German tourists enjoying tapas, met a fellow Baltimore Ravens fan who was looking for the taco stand, and talked with a trio of Italian ladies who had really enjoyed their sangria. 😉

Appreciation of good food is a common denominator that transcends language or culture. So there really is no better place in Madrid to meet people than the Mercado San Miguel. And no better circumstances than to do so while enjoying delicious food. And maybe a sangria.

Croquettes and Sangria at the Mercado San Miguel in Madrid

One Other Thing You Should Know

When you order food at Mercado San Miguel, keep your receipt! If you use the rest room while you’re there and you don’t have your receipt, you will need to pay for access to the toilets.

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The Medieval French Town of Dinan

The Medieval French Town of Dinan

There are six Celtic nations* – areas in which a Celtic language are still spoken to some extent today. Five of the six Celtic nations are in the UK. The sixth is in France; specifically, the northwestern region of Brittany. Because of my deep and abiding love of Cornwall, another Celtic nation, I knew that when I went to Paris, a day trip to Brittany was a must. I found a guided, one day tour of Brittany that included the fairy tale village of Dinan. The other two stops on the tour were St. Malo and Mont St. Michel. Adding a third stop seemed over-ambitious to me for a one day trip. I was skeptical as to the value of going there, so I looked Dinan up online. Once I saw what it was like, I couldn’t have been happier. It is the most beautiful medieval French town!

* In addition to Brittany and Cornwall, the other Celtic Nations are Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and the Isle of Man.

About Dinan

The town of Dinan is built up on a hillside, overlooking the River Rance. We drove up to through the town straight to St. Sauveur Basilica, a Gothic-Romanesque church.

We arrived in this charming, medieval French town fairly late in the day but the cathedral doors were open, so we stepped inside to explore. There were lovely stained glass windows depicting the saints of the Roman Catholic Church.

We also saw a couple of stone sarcophagi (I think that’s the right name for them).

The Secret Garden

Then we ventured outside the church, and I wandered around to the back of the building. Here I found “Le Jardin Anglais” or The English Garden. Tucked away behind the imposing church, it was a place of beauty and peace. It was also a place of solitude, as I had the entire area to myself! I thought the name was quite appropriate, as it did remind me quite a bit of the gardens I’ve seen on my trips to England.

Wandering around the back of the church also gave me an opportunity to look over the town’s ramparts. The view of the town and the river below was excellent, and I highly recommend taking in the view from this spot if you visit Dinan.

The Town Center

I left the church and walked toward the historic center of this medieval French town. Because it was late afternoon/early evening, and a gloomy, rainy day to boot, there were very few people in the streets. Combined with the cobblestone streets and historic half-timbered buildings, the lack of pedestrians made me fantasize for a moment that I had stepped back though time to a different era. (One can always hope!)

There were creperies and small shops, but we were on a tight schedule with very little time to explore properly. I did not venture inside, but instead just walked around and took in all the beautiful details.

I saw half-timbered buildings in several different colors – dark red, light blue, and even a grayish green color. It seemed garish and artificial compared to the strictly black or brown Tudor style buildings I’ve seen in the UK. I asked our bus driver about this and he assured me that the colors were historically accurate for that region. (I remain skeptical, but not bothered enough by it to do the research and determine if this is the case.)

When to Go

The weather was less than ideal when I visited Dinan, and it was still stunningly beautiful. I’m fairly confident in saying that there may not be a bad time to visit. However, if you are traveling to France in an even numbered year, I encourage you to visit Dinan in mid-July for the town’s Festival of the Ramparts (Fête des Remparts). The town is transformed with decoration and many locals dress up in medieval garb for this two-day festival held on the third weekend in July every other year.

Disneyland Paris without Kids: A Review

Disneyland Paris without Kids: A Review

When I booked my solo trip to France, I couldn’t decide if I wanted to go to Disneyland Paris or not. I last set foot on any Disney property over ten years ago, and going to Disneyland Paris without kids seemed weird.

Okay, that’s an understatement. It actually seemed a little sad/pathetic. But since the trip was intended to help me figure out if solo travel was right for me, I decided to go anyway.

Getting There

Fortunately, taking the train from the heart of Paris to the Disney properties couldn’t be easier.

Line A of the RER system of express trains ends at Marne-la-Vallee station, right next to the front gates of Disneyland Paris. Not staying near an RER station? Just hop on the Metro and transfer at the most convenient stop. From most locations in Paris, the journey to Euro Disney will take about 40 minutes.

I should note that the Marne-la-Vallee station is in Zone 5, whereas most central Paris Metro locations are in zones 1 and 2. Make sure your rail pass ticket will cover transportation to Zone 5. The cost should only be about 8 Euros.

Bienvenue!

Upon entering Disneyland Paris, I got that giddy, like-a-child-again feeling. Because Disneyland Paris without kids is still Disneyland, right? So much to do, so much to see… so many wonderful details to take in!

Unfortunately, my enthusiasm was short lived. Now, I don’t know if the standards at Disneyland Paris are different than they are at other Disney parks… and maybe I only noticed because I didn’t have children with me to focus on… but when I saw this, it disappointed me more than it would have someplace else:

Disneyland Paris without kids - not watching kids means you're free to notice some rather disappointing characteristics of the park.

Chipped paint and damaged wood. Anyplace else, not that big a deal, but Disney has a reputation for keeping its parks pristine. From daily after-hours power washing of Main Street to placing trash cans every 30 feet, their attention to the physical appearance of their properties is near legendary. Walking in, visitors should feel like it’s a brand new place, open for the first time. Disney’s US parks, I later learned, have paint touch ups done every day.

Every.

Day.

Apparently that’s not the case with Disneyland Paris.

(DISCLAIMER: I fully realize that I sound like a whiny, first world, privileged brat. I hate it as much as you do. But as I said, if this was anyplace other than a Disney park, I wouldn’t have thought anything of it. Disneyworld in Orlando has set the bar very, very high!)

The Castle

As with most Disney parks, the castle – in this case, Sleeping Beauty’s castle – was front and center, dominating the park landscape once you enter.

Disneyland Paris without kids - who doesn't love a fanciful  castle?

It was so pretty! And I loved that the trees are trimmed to match the trees in the 1959 animated feature film, Sleeping Beauty. After snapping far more pictures than I actually needed, I entered the castle to look around. Displays, tapestries, and stained glass told the story of the ill-fated princess cursed to sleep until she received a kiss from her prince.

Disneyland Paris without kids - Sleeping Beauty's castle knight
Remember, the entire castle was placed under Maleficient’s sleeping curse. This sleeping knight stood guard in one of the castle’s displays.
Disneyland Paris without kids - take in the story of Sleeping Beauty in the castle

The “Secret” of the Castle

Friends, I could have written this entire article about the following feature of the castle. I could have billed it as “The Secret Attraction at Disneyland Paris that You MUST See!” like so many other bloggers have done. But the truth remains that, while it’s a really cool feature, it is not a secret and there is far more at the park to see than just this one thing. That being said, it is pretty amazing.

Are you ready for it?

Yes, there is a huge animatronic dragon lurking in the shadows beneath Sleeping Beauty’s castle at Disneyland Paris! By far the coolest part of the whole park, IMHO.

Disneyland Paris without Kids - grown ups will surely love the dragon beneath the castle!

The largest animatronic figure ever built when the park opened in April 1992, this dragon measures a whopping 89 feet long from head to tail.

To find the dragon when you visit, just go off to the left hand side of the ramp leading to the castle entrance. You will see a sign with Maleficent-style horns that says “La Tanière du Dragon.” Enter the dark cave and you will soon see this ferocious creature, growling and puffing smoke.

Pirates of the Caribbean

High on my list of must-see attractions at Disneyland Paris was Pirates of the Caribbean. I love pirates, I love the Disney movies that stemmed from the popular ride, and I love the ride at Disneyworld in Orlando.

The exterior of this attraction at Disneyland Paris was nothing less than stunning:

Disneyland Paris without kids - Pirates of the Caribbean

The line for this ride was surprisingly short, although I was there on a Friday in early April, so it was not at the height of the busy season. It was pretty much the same as the one in Florida, with one notable exception:

Jack Sparrow was singing in French! I could make out an occasional “yo ho,” but I had no idea what the rest of it was.

Aladdin’s Enchanted Passage

After the pirates, I explored Le Passage Enchanté d’Aladdin, which was unbelievably disappointing. Essentially, it consisted of shop windows (minus the shops) with dioramas depicting scenes from the animated Aladdin movie.

Disneyland Paris without kids - the Aladdin attraction is decidedly unremarkable.

Star Tours

As I made my way to Discoveryland, there was one attraction that I knew I had to check out. It was Star Tours: The Adventure Continues. I got giddy as soon as I saw the X-wing fighter.

The queuing area simulates a bustling spaceport. Eventually you see C-3PO tinkering away on a Starspeeder 1000, projection screens and scanners all around him. When we boarded the ride, we received strict instructions to buckle up and stow any loose items in the compartment beneath our seats. The storyline for the ride is that as you prepare for lift-off, a series of mishaps unwittingly causes your starship to launch and C-3PO to take control.

It was pretty exciting! But before we could get to the point where the transport is intercepted by Imperial forces, the ride stopped abruptly and we were told to disembark. There had been a real life malfunction that required us to wait for the next round of boarding. At which point we started over. This time, instead of stopping the ride, C-3PO entered hyperspace and propelled us on “an unpredictable, frantic adventure to the farthest reaches of the galaxy and back.”

The ride was essentially like a 4D movie. The seats move as you go hurtling through space. You feel every movement and sensation that you would feel if it were happening in reality. It was fun. (And honestly, kind of a bonus that I got to do it one and a half times but only had to queue once!)

Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast

I had so much fun with my family on the Toy Story Midway Mania ride in Disneyworld Orlando! I couldn’t wait to see how the Disneyland Paris version compared.

Disneyland Paris without Kids - Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast

The queueing area was not as fun as the one in Orlando (which actually makes you feel like you’re a toy, surrounded by other toys). It was definitely more focused on Buzz Lightyear/space and less on the entire Toy Story cast of characters. Once I got through the line and got seated, I picked up my laser blaster, and prepared to zap some stuff.

Disneyland Paris without kids - Buzz Lightyear laser blast

And then we took off. Here’s the beginning of the ride, before the action really started.

As you can see, the ride included plenty of black light effects. I was zap-zap-zapping away when all of a sudden, Emperor Zurg showed up to attack!

Disneyland Paris without kids - Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast

He actually startled me a little – and he’s quite a big figure! All in all, the ride was fun, even for someone who was traveling solo and visiting Disneyland Paris without kids.

After that, I thought about going on It’s a Small World. But there was a line. A loooong line. And ultimately I decided that I didn’t want to wait that long for a ride that was more or less the same as one I’d already been on at least twice.

Bottom line: Is it a good use of time & money to visit Disneyland Paris without kids?

By this point in the day, I’d had enough of being at Disneyland Paris without kids. A big part of the fun in going to a Disney park is sharing the experience with other people. Being there by myself just felt kind of wrong. Now, if Hubs or a friend had been with me, I’m certain I would have enjoyed it more.

But, as with most things, your mileage may vary.

Disneyland Paris without kids - pinterest graphic
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.
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

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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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?
My Travel Planning Process

My Travel Planning Process

How to Plan for an Amazing Trip (My Way)

I recently found a great airfare deal and booked myself a ticket to Paris. Just me. No one else. This is my first ever solo trip, and I’m a little nervous but also very excited. Okay, considering that I don’t really speak French, I’ma lot nervous. But in the words of Dr. Sheldon Cooper, “If there were a list of things that make me more comfortable, lists would be on the top of that list.” So I’m making a lot of lists in preparation for my trip.

Travel Planning Process: How I'm planning my first ever solo trip to Paris.

As I dive into doing this trip 100% my way for 100% me, I thought it might be helpful to show you what my travel planning process looks like.  But first, a disclaimer: I am a highly structured, type A, over-planning kind of person, even on vacation. If you prefer to be a little less organized more spontaneous than me, you might want to follow this guide loosely and omit anything that seems like it might be too much effort.

Step 1: Have No Destination or Date in Mind

travel planning process - if possible, and to save money, start out being flexible on destination or dates

Yes, you heard it here first. The best plan starts by having no plan. Amazing vacations often present themselves as unanticipated opportunities in the form of cheap airfare. When you choose your destination or dates first, you lose a lot of flexibility in how much you will need to spend. My family and I have flown from Baltimore to both Peru and Iceland for around $200 per person round trip. It can be done. And since we want to travel as much as we can, it only follows that we need to do it as cheaply as we can.  After all, money saved on this trip means more money for the next trip!

Step 2: Start Putting Together a Destination List

travel planning process - make lists of where you want to go

One of the first places I look once I’ve booked my tickets is Pinterest, which I have written about before. Pinterest is great because not only is it a place to find destination ideas, it’s also a place to keep destination ideas. As soon as I’ve booked a trip, I create a board for my new destination and start pinning away. At first I pin everything that looks even vaguely interesting. For instance, my trip is to Paris but I’m pretty much pinning everything in France that I find of interest. I’ll be able to go through later and scale down, but if I find 3+ points of interest relatively close together outside of the city, that might make for a good day trip.

Depending on how anal organized I want to be, I might then set up a different board for each day of the trip with the activities for that day. I realize that it sounds over the top, but when you’re in an unfamiliar place, it actually makes sense to plan a day’s activities according to where they are located. Less time in transit between points makes for more time to see the sights.

The only caution I have to offer about using Pinterest as part of your travel planning process is to not allow your board to become oversaturated with images. You only need one pin with helpful information about visiting, for example, the Eiffel Tower. You do not need eight to twelve pins about the Eiffel Tower because they all have stunning images to go with them. The more you look at pictures, the less impressed you will be when you stand before it in person.

Other sites I like to peruse for things to see at a particular destination are Roadside America (US travel only) and Atlas Obscura. Both of these sites offer tips for seeing things that are off the beaten path and not likely to be on every tourist’s must-see list. They also usually have some history attached to them, which you know I love.

Corollary to Step 2: Accept That You Can’t See it All

travel planning process: to stay sane, set limits as to what you can reasonably hope to see/do on your trip

Unless you are visiting your destination for a very long time, you will have to prioritize what things you want to see and do on your trip. You cannot realistically expect to see every great architectural wonder, museum, monument, cathedral, park, and restaurant in one week’s time.

If you compile a massive list of all the places you want to see, and add to it all the places someone (friends/family/blogger/travel guidebook) recommended that you see, you are going to end up with a very long list. And when you find that you only have time to do about 20% of the things on that list, you will probably be disappointed and/or feel like your trip has been a failure.

I prioritize my destinations into three distinct lists:  Must See (I will not forgive myself if I don’t do this), Should See (important in order for me to consider the trip a success), and If There’s Time (everything else). The Must See List should be reserved only for iconic sights and experiences – things that, if you don’t do them, you won’t feel like you really even went to that location. In the case of Paris, it would be visiting the Eiffel Tower and seeing the Mona Lisa in the Louvre. The Should See list will have a reasonable amount of attractions/activities – between one and four per day. The If There’s Time list, if you’ve kept track of all those recommendations, should be the largest list.

Step 3: Finding Lodging

Travel Planning Process: Things to consider when booking lodging on your trip

A lot goes into finding the perfect place to stay. Here are just a few of the things you must consider:

  • Expense – How much can you afford for this portion of your trip?
  • Area – What sort of neighborhood do you want to stay in? Hip and trendy, or residential and quiet? How safe is the neighborhood you’re considering? Do you want to have a room with a view?
  • Type of accommodations – Do you want complete privacy? Do you want to be able to fix some of your own meals? Do you want to stay someplace that provides you with breakfast each day? Will you need local staff to provide you with recommendations on where to go?
  • Convenience to public transport – If you aren’t renting a vehicle, you may want to make sure that you are within walking distance of a subway station or bus route

As for when to book, I’ve found that you want to do it far enough in advance that you have plenty of options (particularly if you plan to stay in an Airbnb or private home), but not too far in advance in case your itinerary changes. There is nothing worse than booking a place for an entire week, only to decide later that you want to spend part of the time elsewhere. I’d say three months ahead is probably a good window, but you can go with less advance booking if you’re staying in a hotel.

Step 4: Buying Tickets in Advance

travel planning process: consider buying tickets for attractions in advance online so you won't have to wait in line when you arrive

I will admit, this step is riskier than the others. The potential benefits of buying your admission tickets in advance are:

  • Little to no time spent waiting in line when you arrive at the attraction.
  • Allows you to start paying for your vacation expenses before you go
  • No need to worry about an event being sold out; your admission is guaranteed
  • Some venues offer a cheaper admission rate when booking online.

The potential drawbacks of buying your tickets in advance are:

  • Your plans change and you cannot go on the day for which you purchased admission
  • You forget to take your tickets with you when you go (or lose them, or they get stolen, etc.)

Now, as you can see, there are more pros than cons here. Also, in many cases, venues who offer online admission sales either are not date specific or will honor your ticket on a different date if you cannot use it on the date you originally booked. These days, you will most likely have an email or other electronic record of your ticket, which should suffice if the printed version got lost.

Step 5: Keep it Together, Girl!

travel planning process: keep your information color coded and organized in a binder or folder

This is where my type A super-efficient personality makes most people roll their eyes and groan. I color code all of the information I’ve assembled (green for financial, blue for nighttime activities, orange for daytime, hot pink for anything in the Must See category, etc). Then I make a folder or three ring binder with all of the information I will need for my trip.

I keep everything that I need together and sort it by day. Typically, each day’s packet will include:

  • a list of activities for the day
  • maps and/or directions on how to get from A to B
  • printed admission tickets if purchased online
  • brochures or other information about what I will be doing (opening and closing times, special significance, etc.)

It might be important to note that I do not carry the entire binder around with me – just that day’s pertinent documents. Apps are great, but I’m old school enough that I like paper. Using paper doesn’t have me at the mercy of finding a wifi connection.

YMMV

I cannot stress enough that this is the process that works for me. Following these steps is what gives me peace of mind so that I can relax and enjoy my trip. If you prefer to be impetuous and plan as you go, that’s great. You do you! The point is to be prepared for your trip, know what you want, and not spend valuable vacation time under stress.  Bon Voyage!

The travel planning process - practical tips to get the most out of your trip.