Day 1 and 2 – The Ascent

Hello!

I only have a moment to give you an update on my progress. Yesterday I left St Jean Pied de Port for Orisson which is only 8km away but is the steepest part of my entire month journey. It was a tough ascent and took a good 4 hours. Upon arriving I met a wonderful Irish girl, Eimer, who became my tent buddy for the night and walking buddy today.

The place that I stayed in last night in Orisson was a chalet style building with a sort of stepped backyard that had 5 or 6 tents in it on platforms. Each tent had 2 mattresses in it with big wooly blankets. It was really lucky that Eimer and I got along so well because it turned out to be a great time. The rest of the people at the stop were mostly from quebec, a few from France and the odd other country, however Canada was the dominant nationality.

We had a delicious group dinner of soup, pasta and meat and then Basque cake, which I had never had but is a very light cake with a delicious warm almond paste inside. It was just what we needed after our big day of climbing.

Today, we woke up at 6 30 and got our bags packed up. I have I think the smalled bag I have seen yet, and I am very thankful. We had a quick breakfast of toast and hot chocolate and then began to climb again. Today was 20km of gradual and some steep climbing in rocks and uneven grass. We were truly climbing the Pyrenees today and it felt like it.

The fog was so thick that we couldn´t see the people walking 10 feet  in front of us. Often we could hear voices or the jangle of a cowbell but see nothing. It was a bit eery and I was glad I was with someone. The mountains are breaktaking, despite the rain we had most of the day and all the fog.

Coming down the mountain into Roncesvalles, Spain, during the last hour was  tough because my legs were getting wobbly like Jello. As it got more gradual and flat it got better and finally we arrived in the teeny town we are staying in tonight.

The albergue/hostel is in a giant old monastery that they have converted into a brand new hostel. It is lovely and clean and has big comfertable mattresses. We are having the pilgrims menu for dinner as most people are and plan t0 be in bed early to get a very early start tomorrow.

(Pictures will be to come as I can´t upload at these computers)

Tomorrow is 27km on almost flat ground. My legs are ready and I can´t wait!!!

Je n’ai que quelques instants pour vous donner une mise à jour de mes progrès. Hier, j’ai quitté St Jean Pied de Port pour Orisson qui est à seulement 8 km, mais est la partie la plus dure de mon voyage d’un mois entier. C’était une ascension difficile et a pris un bon 4 heures. Dès mon arrivée, j’ai rencontré une fille merveilleuse irlandais, Eimer, qui est devenu ma copine de tente pour la nuit et  ma copine de marche aujourd’hui.

Le lieu que je suis resté la nuit dernière dans Orisson était un bâtiment de style chalet avec une sorte de cour en gradins qui avait 5 ou 6 tentes en sur des quais. Chaque tente avait 2 matelas avec de grandes couvertures laineux. C’était vraiment de la chance que Eimer et moi s’entendais si bien. Le reste des gens à l’arrêt ont été majoritairement du Québec, un peu de la France et deux ou trois autres de tous partout, mais le Canada etait la nationalité dominante.

Nous avons manger un dîner en groupe délicieuse de soupe, des pâtes et la viande et du gâteau basque, que je n’avais jamais eu, mais est un gâteau très léger avec une pâte d’amande chaude à l’intérieur. C’était exactement ce que nous avions besoin de après notre grosse journée d’escalade.

Aujourd’hui, nous nous sommes réveillés à 6 30 pour preparer les sacs. Je pense que mon sac  est le plus petit que j’ai encore vu, et je suis très contente pour ca. Nous avons eu un petit déjeuner rapide de pain grillé et de chocolat chaud, puis a recommencé sur le chemin grimpant. Aujourd’hui a été une journee de 20 km de montée dans des roches et l’herbe inégale. Nous faisons vraiment l´escalade des Pyrénées aujourd’hui.

Le brouillard était si épais qu’on ne pouvait pas voir les gens marcher 10 pieds en devant de nous. Souvent, nous avons pu entendre des voix ou le bruit d’une cloche de vache, mais ne voyez rien. C’était un peu étrange et je suis heureuse que j’étais avec quelqu’un. Les montagnes sont genial, malgré la pluie nous avons eu la plupart de la journée et toute la brume.

En descendant la montagne dans Roncevaux, en Espagne, au cours de la dernière heure a été difficile parce que mes jambes devenaient moue comme du Jello. Comme ça devenait de plus progressive et plat, il s’est amélioré et finalement nous sommes arrivés dans la ville minuscule on reste ce soir.

L’albergue / auberge se trouve dans un monastère vieux géant qu’ils ont converti en auberge toute neuve. Il est beau et propre et a de grands matelas comfortable. Nous alons manger le menu pèlerins pour le dîner que la plupart des gens vont faire et le plan c´est d´être au lit tôt pour pouvoir commencer très tôt demain .

(Les photos seront à venir comme je ne peux pas télécharger à ces ordinateurs)

Demain, c’est 27 km sur un terrain presque plat. Mes jambes sont prêts et j´ai hate!

 A bientot

The Last Day…

Today was my last day in Paris and despite being a little busy what with moving my bags to their homes for the next month it was nice all the same. The weather was lovely and it felt like a nice sendoff.  For those of you who don’t know, I am heading to the town of St Jean Pied de Port to begin the pilgrimage to Santiago – also known as he way of St James (or the El Camino de Santiago). I start tomorrow and will be walking about 800 km over the next month through Spain. I will be keeping you all updated on my progress whenever I have a chance to use the Internet so check back when you have time. Thank you to everyone who has supported me up till now, I appreciate it more than I can say and am thanking you in advance for keeping me going during the next month. Feel free to send  an e-mail or leave a comment, I look forward to hearing from everyone!

See you all in a month!!!

Aujourd’hui, c’était mon dernier jour à Paris et en dépit d’être un peu occupé avec le demenagement de mes sacs, il était bien tout de même. Il faisait beau et je me sentais bien. Pour ceux d’entre vous qui ne savent pas, je me dirige vers la ville de St Jean Pied de Port pour commencer le pèlerinage de St Jacques de Compostel. Je pars demain et je vais faire environ 800 km au cours du mois prochain en Espagne en marchant. Je vais vous donner toutes les mises à jour de mes progrès chaque fois que j’ai la chance d’utiliser l’Internet. Merci à tous qui m’ont soutenu jusqu’à présent, je l’apprécie plus que je peux dire et je vous remercie d’avance pour me maintenir en allant au cours du mois prochain. N’hésitez pas à envoyer un e-mail ou laisser un commentaire!

A  bientot!

A little Paris panoramic as a goodbye!

Winter in Paris…

As I sit in my office, the one at work and not at home (evidently), I am watching snowflakes fall and catch on the wirey branches of the trees down on Avenue Montaigne. Dior, Louis Vuitton and Harry Winston look  a touch more magical with a little snow on the ground outside. I know what Paris looks like in the winter from postcards, actually, I know what the Eiffel Tower looks like with snow on it – now I know what it looks like for real.  Of course it is blustry and wet like any city, just because it`s the city of love doesn’t mean it gets any less slush and cold than the shoulder of the I195 passing through Buffalo – winter is winter plain and simple. Regardless, from a window atop the 5th floor, the city does have a certain je ne sais quoi…

So far, it has mostly been chilly out, with the odd miniature snow squal, if we can call it that.  The things that make Paris magical in the winter are the markets and the traditions you can see unfolding all over the city. I visited the winter market on the Champs-Elysées, where I drank “vin chaud” (hot red wine – mulled like a cider) and saw the official lighting of les champs for the season. I was honestly hoping it would be more moving than it was, but nevertheless it was beautiful.

At Concorde, there is a giant ferris wheel, almost like a mini London Eye, that you can ride and see the entire city from the top – it is on my list of things to do before I come back to Toronto mid-December. It looks amazing from where I walk most days – so I took a picture for all of you to see.

I think most of us would agree that with Christmas comes famimly and this year I am far from mine for the moment. Just when I needed a little break from the city and the commotion,  I went to visit my friend Thibaut’s family, who always take me in like their own and make me feel at home.

On the weekend, when I visited, I spent a good part of the day doing little things with Thibaut’s mum. She made us all a delicious lunch, and then took me to see this famous Russian cemetary in Sainte-Geneviève-des Bois. It was beautiful, with all of the Orthodox crosses, flowers and religious momentos , like coloured eggs and miniature crosses in little windows built into the graves. There are princes and princesses buried in this cemetary as well as many Russian writers. More notably, Noreeve, the famous dancer is buried there, and the grave is magnificient. A tapestry created from mosaic tiles covers the grave, fresh flowers and even a pair of worn out ballet shoes from a  fan lay all around the grave. This cemetary, unlike others that I have visited,  had a very peaceful ambiance, almost welcoming.

To continue with the religion themed visits, we made a quick stop the La Grotte de Sainte-Genevieve. I had no idea what a grotte was, but was very happy to have found out.  For those of you like me prior to my visit, a grotte is like an underground space where people go to pray, light candles and thank  god or a sainte for example.  We walked in through a dark tunnel, and at the end, was a corner filled with candles lit in rows and circles, religious icons, thank you letters and flowers. A park bench sat in front of an enormous tree, a tree that has grown so tall and old that it has busted through the roof, forcing them to remove it.  I can understand why someone would come here to think or pray, it is, despite being just off a busy street, a very peaceful and beautiful space.

Once back at the house, I sat by the fireplace to warm up, and to my surprise, Thibaut’s mum and dad brought out a bowl of chestnuts they had picked a couple of weeks prior. We prepared the iron pan and for the first time ever, I roasted chestnuts. It was a day of firsts. I then tasted roasted chestnuts for the first time, and am in love with them. They are so delicious and smooth to eat. It is a bit of a process to get to the step of eating but definately worth it. We never see this in Toronto, or Halifax for that matter, but in Paris, roasted chestnuts can be found all over the city, sold by guys on the street with shopping carts padded with embers and pans atop the embers with chestnuts roasting slowly. It certainly makes Paris smell delicious, which I can assure you is a welcome change.

An Interactive Feature! Hooray!

So as promised, I am back with a little treat. You can set aside your reading spectacles and put on your listening caps! I wanted to give you a little taste of what the Paris metro is like on a really good day. Don’t worry, you wont be mugged, so you can keep your phones out in the open and relax, I promise it will be a good experience. 🙂

Imagine yourself in an old metro car, where you yourself have to unhook the latch for the doors to open, people all around you speaking French. It smells of cigarette, a mix of perfumes, and let’s be honest a slight whiff of urine. You are seated facing someone you don’t know and a gentleman with a speaker and a clarinet steps onto the train. Here is what happens next (please make sure your speakers are on before pressing play) :

 

For those of you who are interested, I took a little recording using my trusty iphone as I usually do and all the surroundings described are 100% accurate. Would I lie to you!?

xo

Spec.

 

When Mum came to visit…

Despite talking to my mum very regularly on the phone, it’s just not the same as having her with me. A couple of weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to have her come and visit me in Paris. Now I think when she arrived, she may have thought my apartment was small based on webcam shots, but didn’t REALLY know how small it was. I like to call it quaint. We only had a week together, and thankfully, having been to Paris before, my mumsy wasn’t too upset about not seeing all the touristy sites. I just wanted to spend time with her, and it didn’t really matter what we did.

On the first evening, we made a dinner of fresh cheeses, warm baguette and sat and talked. We had spent the afternoon walking down in the St Michel neighbourhood and the Marais, but alas with jet lag, and me having worked part of the day, we settled in to bed early. Now, if you know my mum and I, you know that it is difficult for us to sleep in the same room as one another as we giggle and chat too much into the wee hours of the morning. This is precisely what happened.

Let me share with you the topic of the evening. How the Chunnel built? Brought on, no doubt by the fact that we were set to go through it in a couple of days, to London. Popular questions included: Does it really go through the water? How did they get the tubes in the water? me – Can you see the fish as you go through? etc etc. This took a serious Wikipedia session to solve before we could rest in peace.

The following day, I had to go to work, so mum went on a bike tour of Paris, which I hadn’t heard of anyone doing until she told me about it. Mum’s internet travel research for the win! From the  sounds of it, you really get to see all the good parts of Paris, with little tidbits of the obvious tourist stuff.

That evening we had a lovely little dinner at a French bistro called Chez Janou, in the Bastille area. I love Bastille because it is so vibrant and fun and the food was delicious. We also had wine which felt very French… throw in the cigarette smoke and warm baguette from the tables next to us and it’s about as French as it gets! hon hi hon hi hon! (French laugh)

It was so nice to come home after work and have my dearest Mumsy waiting for me. We did quite a bit of walking around downtown but had to prepare for our trip to London for the weekend!

The following day, Mum came to visit the embassy to see where I work just before we were leaving for the Eurostar to London. I felt very important as I am currently using an enormous office of a lady who just recently retired. ( They are fixing up my actual office where I will share a space with another person) For now however, I am livin’ it large in an office 3-4 times bigger than my apartment.

We headed back to the apartment to gather out things to go to London. Now the last time I went to London I was mugged on my way home in the train so this time I was being super vigilante and to my surprise actually saw pickpockets lurking around the metro at the train station this time. It pays to be alert here, that’s all I can say. Anyways, I am happy to inform you all that neither Mum nor I got mugged or had a bad experience, unless you count the metro workers strike which caused a rather gross, hot and packed metro ride to the train station… but that’s just Paris.

The train was great as per usual and I think Mum finally got had a good nap,while I studied for my UK citizenship test. We whizzed through the Chunnel and all of our newfound knowledge of it disappeared as neither of us was paying attention while we went through. We emerged into London and hopped on the tube, shockingly, it was raining. We arrived at Paddington station and walked to our hotel. Our hotel looked like a row of houses on a quiet street and was quiet nice. The staff didn’t know what tissues were and brought us napkins, as well as when told that the room was extremely cold, put the heating on to 35 degrees, and provided beds that compete with rocks in a comfort competition, but we weren’t there for hotel, we were there for the city!  On our first day, I made mum have a real English breakfast because I like that sort of thing. We then made our way down to Oxford street so I could see a new clothing line that I had been dying to see.

We spent the day roaming around the shops and enjoying our little vacation. Thanks to mum’s savvy research we found a couple amazing restaurants where we sat, chatted and enjoyed some good English food. We also went to Portobello market, one of my most favourite places in London, saw my beloved bed-knobs and broomsticks characters, and I introduced Mum to whoopie pies, which I hear are catching on back home in Canada. Clearly I have contributed to this newfound discovery in some way!

 

On Sunday, we went to the Orangery, which is a tea house inside the Kensington Gardens and next to the Palace. It was so charming as they brought little tea sandwiches on white napkins and deliciously orange smelling tea. It was exactly how I would imagine an English tea house, that perhaps the Queen would have her tea in. Here is a photo of me by the strange silo shaped bushes.

 

This man was feeding the squirrels, and they would come right up to him, sit on his hand and eat the nuts they were given, it was really neat.

After our little tea break, we went to see this really fun exhibit at the Kensington Palace. They had turned the palace into a sort of fairy tale where each room represents a different fairy tale or story, and the princesses from each story are real princesses from the English monarchy. It was very regally decorated and the lights were low with all sorts of mysterious montages and exhibits. There was even a game that required us to find all the names of the princesses as we went through the exhibit.  I really loved the exhibit and thought the Kensington Palace was quite lovely. I was expecting it to be a lot less beautiful inside, and was pleasantly surprised.

The weekend was really fun and went by way too fast. I still am completely in love with London, and wish I could go every weekend. Because of tube work, a lot of lines on the tube were not running from many stations while we were there, so we took the regular double-decker city buses everywhere and it was nice to just put around the city and see it from above ground, it really gives you an idea of how the city is connected.

Sadly, on Sunday evening, we headed back through the Chunnel to Paris. We were greeted by the usual sketchy crowd at Gare du Nord, and hopped as fast as we could into a taxi home. Home sweet apartment!

On Monday, I had taken the day off and was determined to show mum a couple of places that I love in Paris. The first, was Sacre Coeur. I love the view and the amazing old architecture. It really is amazing to see. It also gives you a real feel for what Paris is like, and how old and beautiful it is.

We spent our last day together again walking the streets, we went back to the Marais, visited Le Bon Marche, saw the Moulin Rouge and then had a little farewell drink with my friend Thibaut at The Great Canadian Bar, which I will point out, had an Australian server.

I was so sad to see my dear mumsy go on Tuesday morning. The shuttle picked her up so early and I wanted her to stay forever! But alas, all good things must come to and end. Now we are back to our regular Skype chats where we discuss the inner working of train tunnels, whether Paul McCartney and Angela Lansbury are the same person or any other ridiculous random subject that may come up.

One night a Paris…

After spending a wild weekend in London, meeting new people and seeing the city, I was back to where I now call home, Paris. Despite having a little less than pleasant run in on the metro with some thieves who stole my phone on my way back from the train station, I made it back in one piece. I spent the following week feeling a tad mopey about my phone being gone, and my roommate moving out, but started to feel better as I started my new job and had a super Friday night planned. My first week at the new job proved to be interesting and came with the bonus of no stress! I was excited to finally have a normal schedule where I too could participate in the ritual of Saturday Sunday weekends.

For my first real weekend, I didn’t have much planned for the days but I did know that my new friend Colin, who I met in London at the hostel, was coming into Paris on a layover for 1 night and that I had promised him a tour of Paris. On Friday night, Colin arrived just before 11 30pm and we rushed to get the evening started. We began by taking the metro, a must have experience, to the Eiffel tower, so as not to miss the flickering lights that go on at midnight for only 3 short minutes. We arrived just in time and watch the twinkling lights from below the tower on the Champs de Mars. After seeing the Eiffel Tower, we started to walk towards the Champs Elysees.

I think the Champs Elysees at night is one of the coolest places in Paris, because no matter the hour, there are always people out and about, little places open and lights on. It was so neat to be walking Paris at night with someone who I didn’t know well, because as we discovered the city we chatted and got to know each other. I can confirm to you all that Colin is a pretty cool guy as I had previously predicted. ☺ Once on the Champs Elysees we stopped to have a bite to eat. We had cheese crepes with wine followed by a decadent little chocolate mouielleux for dessert. We stayed on the patio and talked until the waiters in blue and white striped marine shirts gently asked us to leave, as the restaurant was closing. Rejuvenated, we moved along up to the Arc de Triumph, which we learned rather abruptly that you cannot approach in the middle of the night. It was about 2 am by this time, and the Arc de Triumph still has lights on it and the flame going in the middle underneath, so Colin and I crossed the deadly roundabout to get over to it and see. Once close up and taking photos and admiring how interesting it is, a police car pulls up and rolls down the window. They tell us that we are not allowed to be over in the middle of the roundabout, and that the Arc de Triumph is closed. We have to leave immediately because being over here is an “offense” that we could be fined for, if I understood correctly.

So we began to try and cross back over to the other side of the roundabout, where it was legal to stand and look at the Arc. I thought to myself, my goodness, Colin is here for less than one day and I have already found a way to get us in trouble. We walked plenty more, before stopping for a break and prepping for our last big visit to Sacre Coeur. So far, I was surprised to see how much had been accessible to us in the middle of the night and how many people, not a lot, but some, were still out with us. Once the metro restarted again, we made our way to Sacre Coeur, one of the, or maybe the oldest (I’m a little rusty on my history) cathedrals in Paris. As much as I knew that the cathedral itself was lovely, what I wanted to see was the view. Poised at the top of Montmartre, one of the highest points in Paris, you can see almost the entire city from just outside the cathedral.

So at 5 30 am, there we were, standing at the top of Montmartre, watching the fog clear, the clouds appear and the sun come up. Off in the distance, the tin and copper roves appeared and Paris was waking up. By 7 30, it was time for Colin to head back to the airport to catch his flight back home. So I left him at the RER train station and headed home myself. As my head bobbed back in forth, in and out of sleep on the metro home, all I could think was that my love for Paris had been restored, that I had re-found the twinkle that I had somehow lost since arriving in May and that things were looking up.

Day 2 in London

I woke up early on Friday morning and prepared myself to go to the V&A museum. I had a quick breakfast of toast and bland orange juice in the hostel kitchen and then hopped on the tube. I arrived, like a nerdy art student, at the museum early. A small group of us waited until they opened the doors at 10am. I have been waiting to go to this museum ever since I took the History of Craft and Design at NSCAD and it was well worth the wait. I had this dream that began at the V&A museum a couple nights after, and I imagined that the guards on the other side of those big metal museum doors were waiting for 10AM to open the doors for me to a song and dance about crafts through history… further proof of my dorkdum.

I wandered through the museum for a couple of hours. I think my absolute favourite part about the entire place is that it looks unfinished, despite being finished. There is something about the big halls and rooms that give the impression that someone is going to add something. I think I like this because it holds onto the idea that history continues and will continue to be documented and put into museums, and no matter how crazy the decorative arts get, the V&A will have space to house the proof, good or bad.

When I was done wandering through the museum I stopped in their enormous café area for breakfast. The café is a new part of the museum but the room with tables and chairs is a melting pot of lavishly decorated walls with modern balloon like light fixtures. I sat with my hot chocolate in one hand and a book in the other, reading and looking up ever so often to take in the magnificence of the space.

After my visit at the museum I wandered up the street, heading for nowhere in particular. To my surprise I ended up smack dab in front of Harrods, the giant ancient department store that sells anything and everything. I had not actually made plans to go to Harrods but figured since I was outside, that it was clearly meant to be. At the front door stood a doorman/security guard/potential member of the high-class fashion police, and my plaid shirt and little loafers weren’t cutting it: I felt underdressed. Nevertheless he let me pass and I sauntered into the foyer, and through a large shiny room of outrageously priced leather handbags being cared for by the eternally smiley well dressed staff. I tiptoed through the bags, men’s whose its and what’s its, and perfume departments only stopping to snag a bright piece of pink ribbon spritzed with lovely smelling perfume to use as a bookmark later. I ended up in the food hall next to a teacart that had such beautiful tins, all black and gold and arranged in the shape of a pyramid. In the next room was a gelato and sweets shop where kids were all asking their parents for this and that, and every parents was replying, ‘only one honey, pick just one.’ I thought to myself, how cruel! Just one, how could they possible choose just one?! I left without buying anything, apart from a can of tea, which I will only look at. I wandered up and down the stairs of Harrods admiring the strange architecture that in some places reminded me of an Egyptian exhibit at the ROM back in Toronto, until I found an exit back onto the street. I thought over and over about how crazy it was that a store like this had this almost magical quality to it. It made me feel like a child on Christmas day, and when leaving I half expected to see a fresh dust of snow on the pavement outside. All my morals about our world being overly materialistic disappeared like a balloon in the wind and it felt nice.

When I came back to Earth, I found the nearest tube station and hopped on, this time with a plan. I went back to Piccadilly Circus to search out a cheap ticket to a Broadway show. Despite my efforts to see Sister Act with Whoopie Goldberg, the only tickets available that weren’t out of my price range, were for Grease, and I was super excited, after all Grease IS the word. The show wasn’t until 5:30 so with the little pocket of time that I had, I hopped back on the tube and went to see Abbey Road, the famous Beatles crossing and recording studio. I have already told you a bit about this and further down on the blog you can see the shots of me actually walking on the crossing.

After Abbey Road, I rushed back up to the theatre and found my seat in the highest farthest back row that I think has ever existed in a theatre. From there I sat wide-eyed and sang along quietly, despite my childish excitement, through the entire show. I thought back to all those wonderful evenings that Sarah and I rehearsed and performed Grease songs for our mothers on the front porch of my house. I always had to be Danny because I had short hair and a pleather jacket that I had begged my mum for from Winners when I started public school. The day wound down quickly and after doing so much, I headed back to the hostel to relax and prepare for the next day, where a free tour and new friends were on the horizon.