For the past week or two, I’ve been putting some heroic efforts toward recounting our journeys in early June with our friend Lele, but I’m giving that up for the moment to write a little about the past two days, because they were very special. France is made up of a lot of famous and romantic things, like the Louvre, love locks on the bridges of the Seine, and Roman aqueducts, but it has smaller, more intimate things too. My college classmate Sarah and her boyfriend Sam live and study in Cambridge, England, but they invited us to experience some of those smaller things this weekend. Sam’s family is French, from Haute-Savoie near the Swiss border, and his grandparents still live in the same town where his mother grew up, in Montchanin-les-Mines, or more commonly just called Monchanin.
On Friday morning, we took the TGV an hour north of Lyon, into the heart of Bourgogne (better known as Burgandy) excited about a short excursion into the French countryside, but unsure of what to expect. At the Le Creusot-Montceau TGV station, the train made a short stop before it proceeded on to Paris, and we got picked up by Sam and Sarah in the old blue Peugeot. Ten minutes away, we turned into a street in Montchanin by the impressive name of Impasse de Chateau d’Eau, and were welcomed by Sam’s grandparents. Continue reading Montchanin and the Chateau d’Eau.→
We now resume our interrupted broadcast of our travels from Spain. It was just two weeks ago that our three brave heroes found themselves in the capital of Catalonia…
The road to Barcelona is well-trodden, and every tour of the city includes its iconic monuments to Antoni Gaudi, the well-known Spanish Catalan architect. This might as well be the city of Gaudi, we had to conclude after three days of wandering around. Our first stop was Park Guell, on a hill in the north of Barcelona that affords a picturesque view of the city. Gaudi designed and built the park in 1914, and it has come to be known for his signature touch of modernist and naturalist architecture, built of strange, organic shapes and encrusted with mosaics. The winding park terrace which is also covered with mosaics are well-known to me, and recall to me the films like L’auberge espagnole and Vicky Cristina Barcelona where I first saw them.
Steve and I arrived back in Lyon this afternoon, and were more than grateful to climb back into our apartment, open all the windows, and let in the wonderful summer breezes. It’ll be a day or two before I recover sufficiently to start writing about our time in Barcelona and Paris, though, so here’s something of our time in Paris to keep you occupied until more stories and photos go up!
On Sunday, we hung out with our friend Dan from Chicago and Olivia, who is one of my longtime high school friends. The four of us had dinner at Père Louis, a great restaurant close to the Panthéon. It also happened to show a World Cup game with France, which we were able to watch parts of, and then stayed to see the end after we had finished our delicious meal. The World Cup generates of course much more excitement than it does in the US, because soccer (or rather, football) is pretty much the biggest sport in all of these countries here. The enthusiasm is truly infectious! That evening, we watched France vs. Honduras, which was so overwhelmingly one-sided that the crowd felt inclined to cheer Honduras’s futile attempts. The French were victorious, 3-0, amidst excited cheers. I took a quick video of the French singing their national anthem, the Marseillaise, so enjoy! Allez les bleus!
I’m writing a very quick post from the magical land of Paris before I blast off for one more day here. Why is it magical? It must be because there is a roosting pigeon not one meter away from me. Outside the tiny balcony of my friend Dan’s apartment in the north of Paris, in the small sheltered space formed by the corner of the wall and the opened shutters of the balcony doors, a pigeon whom Dan has nicknamed Madame Verdurin is currently roosting with her two (or more) white eggs. Madame Verdurin herself is a character from Proust’s A La Recherche du Temps Perdu, a doorstopper of a novel which I’ve not had the honor to read yet, and this avian namesake of hers is one of the small things about Paris that is charming.
Magical it is in other realms as well — I have liked this city much better than I thought I was going to. Many nations’ capitals are busy, dirty, frustrating, expensive, and too big for comfort. Paris is quite a few of those things, and most definitely expensive, but at the same time, it is really quite beautiful too. We have been roaming, walking, eating, and seeing things non-stop. Steve and I are practically asleep on our poor feet these days, and fatigue sets in so easily. If I lived in a novel of the late 1800s, my acquaintances would say that I had a run-down constitution and needed to go out to the countryside for a few weeks’ rest and recuperation. Luckily, neither of us have gotten sick, but we are certainly heading back to Lyon tomorrow with a sense of relief. Continue reading A roosting pigeon.→
Sit down, pour yourself some cold sangria, and put on some Counting Crows. I’ll tell you about what we’ve been doing in the seaside city of Barcelona. When I started writing this entry this afternoon, Steve and I were sitting in our Airbnb apartment watching the sun set on the city. Our large window opens up onto a giant city-block sized courtyard space dotted with countless balconies, terraces, and laundry racks. Beyond that, the city of Barcelona slowly fades north into green hills and mountains. The air is a little dry but it has attained the perfect balance of being a warm and comfortable breeze.
Barcelona is at once what I’ve expected from all those movies (I loved L’Auberge Espagnole but rather hated VCB) but also not quite. The subway felt warmer and stickier, at once more gritty and real of a place, but more earthy than grungy. The Eixample district we are staying in is fairly upscale, the neatly gridded streets meeting at diamond-shaped intersections that allow for parking in each corner. Spanish is not everywhere — this is the capital of Catalonia, and feels like a natural continuation from our time in Perpignan. Catalan is the language of choice and the language of state, from subway signs to top billing on restaurant menus. Thankfully, between the Catalan term for something, its Spanish (or Castellano) translation, and the French equivalent, we can almost always make out what items are on the menu. Continue reading Holiday in Spain.→
Written on the TGV Narbonne, France to Barcelona, Spain Saturday, June 7, 20h00
I am writing from the train once more. At the underground station where we are stopped temporarily, “Benvenidos a Girona/Benvinguts a Girona/ Welcome to Girona/ Bienvenue a Girona” scrolls across the display screens. We have crossed into Catalonia, the region of Spain at its northwest which some would say overlaps with French territory as well. I haven’t seen “Salida” on an exit sign since we left Chicago, and the signs in Spanish simultaneously convey that we are in a new country, but somehow echo memories of walking around Pilsen or Little Village in Chicago, where the Mexican community is the majority.
Outside, at first glance, the landscape does not look different. Our train has tunneled through the Pyrenees that divide the two countries, but it is still hilly and mountainous, with small villages and towns. Our train is full of English speaking visitors, some young college-age girls and some older English retirees. Steve and Lele both look tuckered out by our travels, and doze a little despite the bright evening sun. It is 8 pm, but of course, because we are traveling further west in the same time zone, we can look forward to more and more hours of sunlight in the evening. Tonight, I predict the sun will set around 10 pm. Continue reading Crossing the Pyrenees.→
I felt like I have barely slowed down in the last three days. Our days have been filled with hiking, making food, driving around the south of France, talking, debating, and listening to music, punctuated by brief stretches of silence gazing into the endless mountains or the blue, blue surf of the Mediterranean sea. But here is a bit of free time, before we check out for the night, so I will try my best to recount our trip thus far.
Two days ago, we drove out of Lyon as a party of three, joined by our friend Lele, who is a friend from college and from Chicago. We’ve been planning this trip in France for a while to coincide with his vacation, and thus far, it has been quite memorable! We met him at Part-Dieu, which is Lyon’s main TGV station, and breezed on south for a few hours, exchanging stories and updates from Chicago, until we came to the Pont du Gard.
I had been researching this Roman-age aqueduct since I realized it lay on the road between Lyon and our first destination of Perpignan. It was an absolutely thrilling experience to see in person this kind of historical monument, which is so austere in its beauty but simple in its function – it was built as a part of a 50 kilometer aqueduct carrying water to the city of Nîmes, and bridges a wide gap over a river, and has survived first as a toll bridge and now as a UNESCO world heritage site. Some of the things we have seen in the world improve with intimacy – the closer you get, the more you are awed and moved by the structure you see before your eyes and feel under your fingers. Others, most notably for us like the Taj Mahal, are almost better seen from afar, like a scene out of a storybook or a dream. The Pont du Gard is one of those former structures, and walking across the bridge that was built parallel to it, dipping our feet in the river beneath it, and climbing the hillside paths on either side that bring you so close you can touch the stones of the arches truly makes you realize that you are standing in the presence of something that has been here for nearly a thousand years and will perhaps be here for a thousand more. Continue reading Between the mountains and the ocean.→
Well I woke up in mid afternoon cause that’s when it all hurts the most I dream I never know anyone at the party and I’m always the host If dreams are like movies then memories are films about ghosts You can never escape, you can only move south down the coast
– “Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby” by Counting Crows
Counting Crows is one of my favorite bands from the ’90s, which is also to say one of my favorite bands ever. I thought of this song because tomorrow, we’re moving south down to the coast of the Mediterranean. Tomorrow, we’re picking up our friend Lele from Chicago at the train station in a nifty little Renault Clio or whatever the Europcar office sees fit to bestow upon us, and Steve will get to try out his manual transmission driving skills which have been rusting for about a decade. And we will be on our way to the Pont du Gard and eventually to Rivesaltes, a little town right outside of Perpignan, the biggest city in the very southwestern corner of France, within sight of the Pyrenees and Spain. Continue reading you can never escape/ you can only move south down the coast→