Historic Normandy: D-Day and Medieval Churches

There’s a lot more to France than just Paris (but don’t be fooled, I love Paris and could easily spend a week there exploring and still miss things). When given a limited amount of time, I recommend splitting your trip into two parts—Paris, and to one of the other regions of France. Where to go exactly, is up to you—if you’re looking for classic French countryside filled with beautiful castles, head to the Loire Valley. If it’s swanky beaches and ornate hotels, go to the Riviera. And for the history buffs, head north to one of my favorite regions: Normandy.

Some travelers may prefer to rent a car to hop from town to town (benefits of this include not having to lug your bags around with you when you make stops, and you have the ease of traveling on your time without worrying about train or tour itineraries), it’s actually more economic for solo travelers to go by public transportation. Train travel across France is easy and provides you with an opportunity to enjoy the scenery and take a rest between towns without worrying over navigation or high rental costs.

 

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Urban hiking is a great way to explore Bayeux.

Bayeux

By train, it takes under three hours to travel from Paris to Bayeux, a small village right off the coast and starting point for many D-Day history tours. I recommend booking your hotel here (or, alternately, in Caen if you are eager to see the D-Day Museum), and using this as a base while you explore. The village’s town center offers charming streets to wander with shops and restaurants, and be sure to set aside some time to wander the cathedral and visit Bayeux’s famed tapestry, which tells the story of the Norman conquest against William, Duke of Normandy and the battle of Hastings.

PIT STOP: The route between Paris and Normandy has plenty of worthy stops along the way—research will help determine your exact route, but I recommend stopping in Rouenfor a few hours. Here, you can visit the Church of St. Joan of Arc (yes, that Joan of Arc), a modern tribute to the saint. The city has three other cathedrals worth visiting, as well as medieval timber-framed houses dating back to the middle ages.

 

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The crater fields of Ponte Du Hoc are remnants from bombings on D-Day.

D-Day Beaches

Using Bayeux as a base, there are plenty of half-day and full-day tour options (I recommend using Bayeux Shuttle, which picks you up right in the center of town and has knowledgeable tour guides that really make the experience special) to visit the beaches and historical points of D-Day. On June 6, 1944, Allied troops stormed the beaches of Normandy as part of Operation Overlord, with the goal to liberate then-occupied France. This aggressive attack paved the way for the eventual victory against the Nazis in. 1945, but came at steep cost of life. While today, most of the sites of these violent battles have returned to a state of leisure and relaxation, memorials scattered heavily throughout the region remind us of the sacrifice of soldiers on D-Day.

When visiting Normandy, whether you decide to rent a car and tour the region on your own, or if you opt for a tour, you should be sure to stop at the following:

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    The Church of Angoville-au-Plain

    Angoville-au-Plain Church: The town was the landing location for the U.S. 101stAirborne Division on D-Day, where they were to destroy a part of the German’s route to aid other troops storming the nearby Utah Beach. Two U.S. Army medics, Bob Wright and Ken Moore, turned the small church into a medical station, and provided care for both Allied and German soldiers. You can still see blood stains on the pews of the church.

  • Utah Beach: A now quiet and restful beach, you have an opportunity to visit the memorial on the dunes and walk into a replica of the boats Allied troops used to storm the beach in 1944.
  • Sainte Mere Eglise: The town center was made famous by the film ‘The Longest Day,’ which featured the true story of Allied parachuter John Steele, who survived the brutal battle when he was stuck atop the church bell tower, forced to watch his companions fight the Germans. A dummy of Steele hangs from the tower now, and look for bullet holes and marks on nearby fences and stone walls.
  • Ponte Du Hoc: Unlike the sandy beaches, this cliffside post was the location of German anti-aircraft guns, and a target for Allied troops. You can still wander the remnants of bunkers built by German soldiers, and observe how the countryside around it has deep craters throughout the fields—those were created by the bombings that occurred on D-Day, now overgrown by green grass and flowers.
  • Omaha Beach: The backdrop of the battle reimagined by the haunting opening scene to ‘Saving Private Ryan,’ this quiet beach is popular among French vacationers in the summer months. Some may argue that the beach should remain a memorial, however I believe by being a vacation destination again honors the mission of Allied troops—through their sacrifice, Normandy was restored to a place of relaxation, leisure, and most importantly, freedom.
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    White crosses memorializing the soldiers of D-Day

    American Cemetery: If possible, save this as your last stop, with a plan to catch the lowering of the flag at 5 p.m. It’s an emotional and reflective way to end your day as you explore the thousands of white crosses and stars marking the graves of so many lost on D-Day.

 

Mont Saint Michel

IMG_6196Bayeux can also serve as a starting point for tour busses heading to Mont Saint Michel. This rocky island was once only accessible during low tide, when the mud flats were exposed enough for travelers to walk to it. Atop the island is a Romanesque-style abbey and church, towering over the spiral streets of the small town. This was once a place of pilgrimage, but now serves as a popular tourist destination, with a similar feature of plenty of tacky trinkets available for purchase in the gift shops (pilgrims would purchase small icons an prayer beads, while today you can buy t-shirts, salt shakers, cookie tins, and more). If possible, try to spend the night on the Mont, but if time is tight, a day is all you need to explore. And be sure to make time for some galettes at La Mere Poulard before heading back to your hotel.

 

Cinque Terre: The Ultimate Urban Hike

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Sunset between Corniglia and Vernazza

As a college student, I visited the Cinque Terre in the heat of the late summer in 2008 for a two-day trek over the coastline cliffs, visiting each city and taking in the spectacular views. We were on a tight budget, opting to camp for free along the trail versus finding a last-minute hotel option, and carrying all of our own food (minus the bottle of wine we picked up in Vernazza) it was a relatively cheap weekend trip. I was young, unprepared (my pack barely carried enough supplies for one night and we lacked a tent and sleeping bags, thus causing us to sleep under the stars), but it was in that trip that my love for the urban trails really came to be. It was a time when all I could do was say yes, and take in every moment on the journey.

After that initial trip, I swore I would return, this time with more money and more planning, and would spend my days hiking and writing from my Vernazza villa in the cliffs. Ten years later, I wouldn’t say I’ve achieved that level of awesomeness (yet!), but I was able to return to the region in 2011 to introduce good friends to a place I loved.

I wouldn’t advise travelers to take the same loose precautions as I did when planning a trip to the Cinque Terre, located on the northwestern coastline of Italy. Aptly named to represent the five fishing towns within this national park, the Cinque Terre is an UNESCO World Heritage Site and provides visitors of all ages and abilities to explore. For the avid hikers looking for a challenge, there are plenty of spur trails off the main route that bring you up into the cliffs, or, down to hidden beaches tucked along the craggy coast. For the more leisurely hiker, there are flat paths between some of the towns, passing through gardens and scenic overlooks. And for those of you who are not too much into the hiking part, but still looking to enjoy the Cinque Terre, there is a train that stops at each town, giving you chance to explore without climbing a mountain.

The journey starts by train in La Spezia, a coastline hub just south of the Cinque Terre. From there, buy your park and train passes from the ticket counter and take the 20-minute ride to Riomaggiore, the first town and the starting point for the 6.2-mile urban hike.

 

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‘Via dell’Amore’ or ‘Lovers Lane’ includes sculptures and murals dedicated to that wonderful feeling we call love.

1. Riomaggiore

As you ride the train from La Spezia to Riomaggiore, you pass into a dark tunnel through the cliffs—encased in darkness for a few moments, your eyes adjust long enough to make the glimpse of the crashing waves down below seem like a dream—in a moment, you see a sight that takes your breath away, only to return to darkness, craving more of the scenery you are about to encounter. Once you arrive, you are greeted by the pastel homes that trademark the five towns, with colorful boats docked along the inlet, waiting to head out in to the Liguarian Sea. The trail connecting Riomaggiore and the next town is also the region’s most famous, called ‘Via dell’Amore’ (‘Lover’s Lane’). The walk is paved for the most part, and features sculptures and lookout points, and is perfect for hikers of all levels. Take a stroll for 1.2 miles, admiring the kissing statue and the murals dedicated to love.

 

2. Manarola

Manarola’s church San Lorenzo dates back to 1338 and is the focal point of the village. Here, you can stroll down to the water to shop (look for the trademark painted potteryof the region) and try out some local cuisine (be sure to try Cinque Terre’s wine, as well as their white anchovies) before heading back onto the trail. While not as easy, the path between Manarola and Corniglia is a relatively flat 1.2 miles, and the last of the accessible trails before hikers have to head into the cliffs.

 

215610_1742002589979_4581932_n3. Corniglia

Unlike the other towns in Cinque Terre, Corniglia is set high into the mountain overlooking the sea, versus sitting on the coast. From the train station, you must climb over 300 steps to reach the town, so for the leisurely hikers, I recommend skipping this (if you are determined to see all five towns, but do not want to do the steps, there is an auto road with buses that will take you to the top. The hiking trail follows these steps up to the town, and brings you to the highest point in the park before you head back down a long, gradual descent to the fourth town (total mileage about 2 miles).

 

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Vernazza is the most photogenic of the five towns. 

4. Vernazza

My favorite town in Cinque Terre and one of the most picturesque, Vernazza features a stone fort and lookout tower you can climb, as well as a sleepy harbor perfect for lunch by the sea. I recommend setting aside some extra time to enjoy the town before continuing on your hike, or, even better, book a room in the town and spend the night. The final part of the trail leaving Vernazza is the most difficult, taking you high into the cliffs again, but at 1.8 miles, it gives you plenty of views to enjoy along the way.

 

5. Monterosso al Mare

Celebrate your accomplishment with a meal and some gelato, all while sitting along the beaches. With more flat terrain than the other towns, Monterosso has become more of a vacation spot than its sisters. Be sure to pack a swimsuit and grab a towel, because after a long hike you will need to cool off in the water!

 

‘Selfie’ Tourism and How to Hike Wisely in the White Mountains

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New Hampshire offers plenty of awesome photo opps, but be sure you are ready to tackle the big ones first.

Recently, I came across the term ‘Selfie Tourism,’ a phenomenon that has immensely affected travel industry in both a positive and negative way. It was used in a video on social media, where loggers in Costa Rica chopped down a tree to capture a sleeping sloth and sell it into the tourism trade for ignorant travelers to snuggle up with in front of the camera. Not only was it horrifying to watch this poor creature fall hundreds of feet from the trees, but knowing that sloths, with a slower heart rate than most mammals, could die if startled by too much commotion in an environment where they are issued out for photographs.

 

Not only has this ‘Selfie Tourism’ threatened wildlife, but it is also inviting a new group of ignorant travelers to visit the more out-of-reach places without proper research. In the outdoor recreation community, whether you are hiking, backpacking, boating, climbing, or other, it is understood that these activities require some experience and skill. Instead, for those travelers who show up ‘for the photo,’ we’re seeing first time hikers attempting advanced trails, resulting in more emergency rescues than we’ve seen in previous years.

Let’s consider the White Mountains of New Hampshire, a popular vacation destination for New Englanders in both the summer and winter. Over the past few years, hiking trails in the region have seen double and even triple the number of visitors. Local forest rangers are working overtime to manage traffic and parking, and the once quiet summits are starting to see some bigger crowds. Many trails can be hiked in a day—the Franconia Ridge, possibly the most popular loop hike in the Whites, is a long but rewarding hike that can still have intermediate to advanced hikers home by dinner. But for those looking for specific locations, such as the coveted Bondcliff summit (which offers an awesome photo opportunity) or Mount Washington (New England’s highest peak), most amateur hikers don’t realize how strenuous the trails are, and realize while on the trail that they may be in trouble. That is the perfect recipe to call in the rescue crews.

By no means do I discourage travelers to head out into the wilderness for the lofty photo goals (I myself love sharing pictures from my adventures, just look at our Instagram page!). Instead, I urge you to prepare ahead of time—with simple training, safety checks, and consulting a professional, you can avoid disaster and get the most out of your trip. While we can adjust the following to various parts of the world, let’s instead focus on how to best prepare for a hike in New Hampshire so you can have that amazing experience safely.

 

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The AMC has high huts where hikers can stay overnight an break up their hike into two or more days. Reservations include a bed, dinner and breakfast, plus some incredible views!

Do Your Research

 

This seems redundant, but it is so important if you plan to hike the White Mountains. When looking at a peak you would like to conquer, consider the following: mileage, elevation gain (this is not the elevation of the summit, but instead the total elevation you will have to climb on the hike), terrain, and weather. Be sure to pack a map of the trail, as well as a compass (and learn how to use them!). You can pick up a White Mountain Guide through the Appalachian Mountain Club, which provides all of this information, and can give you a better idea of what to expect. Another great resource is through New England Waterfalls, which gives a chart comparing difficulty to how great the view is—perfect for beginners to choose their first 4,000-footer! Mountain Forecasts is a great resource as well for checking temperature, wind, and precipitation at the summit of each mountain, which you will need to know before you set out on the trail.

Know Your Limits and Build Up to the Big Summit

This relates to tip number one—once you research the hike you plan to do, you can then decide if you are ready. If you are beginner and you want to hike a difficult hike, I suggest trying a few easier hikes first and work your way up to the big one (like running, you can’t just start at a marathon, you need time to train). There are numerous clubs and meetups that bring beginner hikers together and help instruct you through the basics of hiking, so when the time comes to attempt your goal you are confident and ready for it. And, when looking at the mileage, if it seems like a lot for one day, look for campsites or huts to stay overnight and turn it into a backpacking trip!

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View of the Franconia Ridge from the summit of Mount Garfield

Pack with an Attitude of Caution

A word of advice: Always pack essentials for any scenario you might encounter. At minimum, make sure you have plenty of water (two liters for a day hike, three if it’s in the summer), food, warm layers (it gets cold at the top, even in July and August), and a first aid kit. I always go with the attitude that if you have to ask, the answer is probably ‘yes.’ And if you are backpacking, be sure to make sure you pack enough water (or have opportunities to refill), and have an option for bear protection (provided bear boxes, bring your bear bag, stay in a cozy hut). A don’t forget your lucky hat!

 

Know When to Turn Back

 

Sometimes things don’t go as planned. You might be more tired than expected (which can be a recipe for injury), or the weather may change quickly, or maybe you are running out of daylight and can’t make the peak. Whatever the case, don’t ever be ashamed if you have to turn back—safety come first when hiking, and if you can’t make your goal that day, don’t worry, the mountains aren’t going anywhere and you can try again when you are ready.

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They look cute, but these gray jays will steal your food!

Leave No Trace

Crowded trails means more wear and tear on the environment. For the case of preservation, hikers should practice the art of “Leave No Trace.” This includes everything from staying on the marked trails, to carrying out all the trash you bring in (including apple cores or banana peels, as those are not native to the White Mountains and could harm the ecosystem). And please, as tempting as it may be, do not feed the animals (especially those pesky gray jays!).

Consult an Expert

When in doubt, ask. You can consult with White Mountains National Forest rangers, or stop by the White Mountain National Forest Visitor Center to chat with some local experts about what you need to do ahead of your hike.

Have Fun

Clearly the most important part of hiking. At no point should the experience be bad—sure, you might be sore after a day on the trail, but you trade that with the feeling of accomplishment and plenty of memories. And of course, a nice photo that you can be proud to show off. 😀

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Sometimes hiking requires a team.

 

 

 

 

 

Seattle: An Urban Hiker’s Paradise

Seattle, the home of 90’s grunge, Starbucks Coffee, ‘flying’ fish and plenty of rain, has become a booming metropolis that hits the top of travelers lists year after year. And how can you blame them? Seattle offers a bit of everything—from high end seafood to museums, breweries and easy access to some of the country’s highest peaks, travelers can create an itinerary guaranteed for a trip of a lifetime.

So where do you start when planning a visit to Seattle? For hikers, I advise splitting your time between the city and the nearby national parks, but make sure to hit the following spots in the city.

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Pike’s Market Inventory

Pike’s Place Market

You’ve seen the videos of fishmongers tossing large fish across their booth in front of large crowds, but seeing the spectacle first hand is wildly different. Even for the travelers who try to avoid big tourist traps, it’s hard to find an excuse to skip Pike’s. With fruit stands selling Rainier cherries and fish markets wafting that amazing ‘freshly caught’ scent, you don’t have to buy anything to get the full experience (although we recommend saving Pike’s for a lunch stop, just to buy up some of the pre-made goodies). Head to the far end towards the docks for gift shopping, with handmade jewelry and t-shirts for everyone on your list. And don’t forget to visit the original Starbucks location across the street.

BONUS STOP: If you’re an art nerd like us, be sure to visit the Seattle Art Museum. With a vast collection of Pacific Northwest totems and other sculptures, it’s a brilliant way to escape the inevitable rain of the city and learn a little about the culture of the area. If the sun is shining, take a detour over to the art museum’s satellite Olympic Sculpture Park for a more modern experience.

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Despite Seattle’s reputation as a rainy city, July through October is a perfect time to catch blue skies.

Space Needle

Another bucket list item that travelers shouldn’t miss when visiting Seattle, this iconic and extraterrestrial looking tower has become a symbol of the city (Although, first timers may expect a much larger and more prominent structure that can be seen from every point of the city. That is actually more true to Mt. Rainier in the distance.). For photographers, skip the long and expensive line up to the top of the Space Needle and instead head up to the Sky View Observatory. Or, experience the landmark from the ground, walking through the Space Needle Park complex, which includes stops at the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum, the Museum of Pop Culture (which includes memorabilia from Nirvana and other Seattle musicians) and the Seattle Children’s Museum.

 

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Gas Works Park looking east.

Gas Works Park

 

If it’s parks with great views you’re looking for, be sure to add the Gas Works Park to your list. Located across Lake Union, this former site of the Seattle Gas Light Company offers spectacular views of the city with a steampunk-esque gas plant in the foreground. It’s a great spot for a picnic or some wandering, and lets you enjoy the city without stress of crowded streets.

Capitol Hill

Like many cities, Seattle boasts an array of neighborhoods surrounding the city center, each with their own charm. One of the more popular neighborhoods is Capitol Hill, east of downtown, at the tip of Lake Union. This area is perfect for those looking for some nightlife entertainment, with plenty of restaurants, bars, and a vibrant LGBTQ scene. Make a stop over to Volunteer Park and climb the historic water tower for more breathtaking views of the city.

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The Fremont Troll is a must-see when visiting Seattle

Fremont

Seattle is a bit quirky, and there’s no better example of such quirks than in the northern neighborhood of Fremont. Here you can see popular public art like the controversial sculpture of Vladimir Lenin, or take a photo with the Fremont Troll, an 18-foot tall sculpture of a troll under the bridge. Enjoy shopping and dining in the neighborhood center, or watch the ships go by on the canal.

Ballard

Northwest of Fremont is another quirky section of Seattle. Ballard, a fishing community, boasts its Scandinavian roots at the Nordic Heritage Museum, which tells the story of the community. And if you’re looking for some beach time, head down to the coast and relax at the Golden Gardens Park.

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Ballard Docks

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Hikers break in Olympic National Park

Get Outside

While you can easily spend a week exploring everything that Seattle has to offer, we recommend taking some time to rent a car and drive out to one of the many National Parks. Whether you’re looking for a day hike, or a multi-day backpacking trek, you’ll easily be able to find everything you need in a few hours drive. From the city, you can see the snowcapped peaks of Mt. Rainier to the south, or Mt. Baker to the north, which can both be easily reached in a day trip. Or, take a drive east to explore the North Cascades, or take the ferry west to the Olympic peninsula and spend a few days at Olympic National Park. We guarantee by the time your vacation is up, you’ll be eagerly planning another visit.

A Perfect Walk Through Paris

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Sunrise over Marais.

John Baxer’s ‘The Most Beautiful Walk in the World’ paints a gorgeous visual of some of his favorite neighborhoods in Paris. In each chapter, mixed with snapshot tales of his life living on the Left Bank, he captures the true wonder of experiencing this city—on foot. As an urban hiker, I’m no stranger to street wandering in new cities, but when considering my most beautiful walk, it was hard to pick just one.

A more recent favorite walk though took place on a Saturday, and finally adjusted to the time zone, I was up early and feeling refreshed from a week of heavy train travel. Unlike most of my trip so far, this day was set aside simply for wandering—I had no tours booked, just a list of must-sees and a plan to knock off as many as I could in one day.

A travel tip—if you are an early riser (or more so, become and early riser!), plan to visit one of your must-see spots first, right when it opens. Not only will this give you ample time to see everything, but because you are there first you are gifted with smaller crowds, and many times, especially in museums, you get to experience parts all by yourself.

img_6435.jpgSuch was the case on this perfect walk, where I arrived in Paris’ Marais district just as the morning sun was rising over the buildings. Most stores were still closed, leaving me to wander the pastel streets alone, arriving at the Musee Picasso in time for opening. Here, you can view thousands of paintings, sculptures, drawings, and photographs from the Spanish artist’s life. The building itself is a work of art as well, providing brilliant curves and corners that frame the galleries, offering a glimpse into the life of its former owners.

Leaving the museum, life on the streets of Marais had started to emerge—storefronts were opening for the day, cafes were bustling with patrons, families heading out for the day’s activities. It was October, and while still warm in the sun, I was desperate for a thicker sweater as I passed in and out of cooler buildings. Luckily, Marais offers adorable boutiques for the more shopping-centric travelers, and I was able to find exactly what I was looking for—chic, warm, but not too overpriced.

I’ve written before about the different characters the Right and Left Banks of Paris have. My morning was spent mostly along the Right Bank, starting with the more traditional Marais, then quickly turning to modern as I came upon the Pompidou Centre. The lively square is open to the public, but on this day was also playing home to the long line of tourists trying to get into the Modern Art museum inside. While intrigued by the architecture of Renzo Piano, the museum itself wasn’t high on my list and with such a long line (even with my Museum Pass), it was not worth my time. This is the beauty of solo travel, and one of my favorite things—you can change your list regularly, and make decisions on where to go and what to see easily, without compromise.

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It is difficult to fit the whole Pompidou Centre in one shot!

From the Pompidou Centre, I turned towards Rue de Rivoli, which as a former New Yorker, I could only compare to Herald Square. The streets are grungy, with modern superstores and chains like H&M and pop up stands selling sunglasses and scarves lining the sidewalks. It’s a fun experience, but unless you are there to shop, it doesn’t offer too much for travelers. Realizing this, I opened my trusty map and found that just a block over was the bank of the Seine, and headed that way, onto the Jardins des Touleries and Musee de Orangerie.

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One of eight full length Water Lily paintings by Monet at the Musee de Orangerie. 

It was my love of the film ‘Midnight in Paris’ that drew me to the Musee de Orangerie. Smaller than the Louvre or Orsay just down the street, this museum really has one (very) big highlight—Monet’s Water Lilies. While Monet was known for painting the same landscapes over and over (at different points of the day to capture light, atmosphere, etc.) it is his many series of water lilies that he is most known for. The eight canvasses housed at the Orangerie span two rooms, and are some of Monet’s largest. A fun fact—Monet painted these later in life when he was nearly blind, yet still captures the impressionist portrayal of the subject as he has done time and again. You experience the paintings at two perspectives—first, standing up close, where you can marvel at the intricacies of Monet’s brushstrokes, of the layers of blues and greens and yellows that swirl together to create a seemingly abstract picture, then, stepping back, you watch the colors merge together to create the landscape. Once you take your time to explore these paintings, head to the other rooms for glimpses at works by Cezanne, Matisse, Modigliani, Picasso and more.

My walk continued through the National Assembly, where I desperately tried to find an open café for lunch. This area, which I am sure is busy on weekdays, was a near ghost town on a Saturday. It reminds me now, of my advice to plan your urban hikes around neighborhoods and times of day, so when you are ready to eat, you don’t find yourself in an area with minimal options (on weekends, look for popular shopping areas where lunch spots will more likely be open).

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Rodin’s Le Cathedral

Once I managed to grab a bite to eat, I headed to the Musee Rodin, located in the 7th arrondissement. This museum was created in a former home of Rodin, with his authentic sculptures displayed within the house, and replicas placed throughout the property gardens. Here, you can see his famous The Thinker, The Kiss, as well as many studies for his Gates of Hell. Of the thousands of pieces on display (including some works by other artists, ie. Van Gogh), my favorite was Le Cathedral, two hands twisted together to create a pointed arch, mirroring the design of many of Paris’ gothic cathedrals.

Earlier, I mentioned the Paris Museum Pass. If you plan to spend more than two days exploring the museums and monuments in Paris, this is a wonderful steal. It does require a bit of planning, as once you activate your pass you can use it only for consecutive days—two, four or six. I purchased the two-day pass, so tried to cram in as many museums as possible, which proves easy when the pass gets you free admission to over 50 of Paris’ best spots. And, it gives you a chance to see museums you may have not considered. It was thanks to this museum pass that I was able to stop over to the Hotel des Invalids, a lavish church and former veteran’s hospital that now towers over the tomb of Napoleon—even in death he is over the top with décor.

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Even in death, Napoleon loves to make a statement.

 

According to my cell phone’s tracker, I walked about 12 miles this day. By 4 p.m. or so, I had hit most of this already, and while too early for dinner, I was in need of a place to sit and rest. My Rick Steves guidebook mentioned visiting the Rue Cler, a small, pedestrian-only street famous for its markets. Here, you can see shellfish, fruits, cheeses and meats, all on display for residents and tourists alike, looking for some of the most delicious samples Paris has to offer. While I didn’t buy anything, I sampled a few slices of cheese before a rainstorm started. Not bothered by the raindrops, the cafes along this street activated their awnings over the outdoor seats, beckoning me inside for a glass of wine, providing me with the perfect ending to my most beautiful walk in Paris.

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Seafood for sale on Rue Cler.

Rainy Day Guide to Boston’s Museums

Some days, we get rain. It’s a natural cycle, but for travelers looking to get the most out of their trip, a rainy day can thwart their plans. There are some ways to plan ahead, of course—keeping an eye on the forecast is always an obvious option—but sometimes a quick storm rolls through and forces you off the urban trail for a few hours. I try to save my shopping or museum browsing for such days when I know the weather won’t be ideal, so to at least get the most out of my trip.

The same goes for rainy days in my own home city of Boston. While I love to use my weekends for exploring, rainy days are a perfect excuse to get my miles indoors with an added dash of culture. Boston offers a variety of museums for all interests, but I’ve rounded up some of my favorites to help plan your trip:

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Van Gogh at the MFA

The Museum of Fine Arts Boston is a favorite to explore. Classically curated to offer a variety of permanent exhibits from the arts of Africa, Asia and Oceana, to ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian wings, American painting and sculpture, and European works spanning the Middle Ages, to the Renaissance, to French Impressionism. Travelers can easily spend a full day wandering this museum, but be sure to catch some of the highlights—the Sargent Galleries on the second floor; Monet, Degas and Van Gogh; mummies; Georgia O’Keefe; Buddhist Temples; the bust of Augustus; and so much more.

If it’s Contemporary Art you are looking for, head down to the booming Seaport District to explore the Institute of Contemporary Art. While the views of Boston Harbor are reason enough to stop here, the museum’s rotating exhibits offer commentary on some of today’s biggest issues, from environmental to social justice—it’s always an eye-opening experience!

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The empty frame of where Rembrandt’s work once hung, stolen from the Gardner Museum in 1990.

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum tells two stories—first, it is a story of a wealthy Boston socialite and her collection of art, and second, a story of one of the most famous (and unsolved) art thefts in the world. The Gardner Museum is located just down the street from the MFA, in the former home of Isabela Stewart Gardner. Here, you can browse her own personal collection of art, which includes some of Europe’s greatest artists, along with furniture, gardens and more. Of course, the most famous room is the Dutch Room, where on March 18, 1990, two men dressed as police officers broke in and stole priceless works including Rembrandt’s ‘Sea of Galilee’ and Vermeer’s ‘The Concert.’ And because of Gardner’s strict instructions, the empty frames of these stolen works still hang in the room, a constant reminder of the search.

If art isn’t your thing, head over to Boston’s popular Museum of Science, which offers fun, interactive exhibits for all ages. Whether it’s space exploration, animals and ecosystems, or electric currents, this museum will offer you and your kids a perfect solution to any rainy day. (I highly recommend catching the Lightning show).

If it’s history that’s your thing (and you’ve already walked the Freedom Trail), I recommend the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. Here, you’ll see permanent exhibits highlighting the life and work of the former president, plus objects from his tenure in the White House, Robert Kennedy’s time as Attorney General, and highlights from Jacqueline Kennedy’s life. The library also hosts special exhibits related to JFK, the Kennedy family, and other significant leaders from Massachusetts.

Maybe this one is just for the Instagram shot, but the three-story stained glass globe at the Mapparium at the Mary Baker Eddy Library is fun pit stop on your trip to Boston. Take some time to explore the room and stick around for the presentation, ‘A World of Ideas.’

 

Montmartre: In the Footsteps of the Artists

It was my sister who first introduced me to Vincent Van Gogh. I forget if it was from her art class, or something at school that first lit that spark of interest, but the result became a fascination with this man and his famed stylistic works. It was his story that drew me to Montmartre, although I’m not sure I realized it right away. See, as an art history student, obsessed with the works of great impressionists, the Parisian art scene was something I was familiar with, but had never fully experienced. Montmartre, with its history of outdoor cafes that welcomed the heroes of my studies, was a point of pilgrimage I desperately needed to see.

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Montmartre is perfect for wandering, with its adorable side streets and staircases scattered throughout. 

As Paris’ 18th arrondissement, Montmartre lies at the top of the city’s northern hills. Today, it is a popular tourist destination, haunted by the memories of the city’s most famed artists. It was the first stop on my trip to Paris in 2017. Jetlagged but energized, I emerged from the Pigalle Metro station, passing under the iconic Art Deco sign, and onto the street. The refurbished Moulin Rouge greeted me with its glowing windmill while neighborhood merchants, with their fruit and cheeses on display, opened their doors to greet the day’s customers. It was a fairytale come true, of modern daily life meshing with the history of the stone streets.

What appealed to the artists that called Montmartre home was the outdoor café scene, where they could argue art and literature over a cheap bottle of wine late into the evening. Combine that with the cheap rent, and suddenly this northern arrondissement becomes a hub for struggling artists. At the turn of the 20th century, Montmartre became the center of the bohemian and cabaret club scenes, which today still attracts tourists to the windmill landmarks scattered around the neighborhood. Some famed cabarets are long gone—Rodolphe Salis’ Le Chat Noir may no longer stand, but its famed poster by Theophile Steinlen is seen everywhere, on cups, platters, towels, postcards, whatever a tourist may want to bring home.

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La Bonne Franquette and the adjacent Le Consulat were popular destinations for artists to stay late and talk art over wine.

You can still see the famous Moulin de la Galette, a café immortalized now by Renoir in his panting Bal du moulin de la Galette. Van Gogh’s apartment during the brief time he lived in Paris is marked with a plaque (although Van Gogh famously hated his time in Paris, the city loves to boast his residency with informational displays scattered around the center of the neighborhood). Restaurants Le Bonne Franquette and Le Consulat, set across the alley from each other, claim their role as regular haunts of artists and writers including Pablo Picasso, Toulouse-Lautrec, Claude Monet, Ernest Hemingway, and more.

The most picturesque of the café scene in Montmartre though is the little pink La Maison Rose, at the corner of Rue de l’Abreuvoir and Rue des Salues. It’s a perfect stop as you wander the streets of the arrondissement for a snack or cup of coffee.

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Possibly the most famous cafe in Montmartre, La Maison Rose stands out on the stone streets of city.

Montmartre’s biggest lure for tourists is the Sacre Coeur, rising high above the city. From most vantage points in Paris, whether you are climbing the stairs of the Eiffel Tower or walking along the Seine, you can look to the north and see the ovular dome of this church. The easiest way to get to the church from the Abbesses Metro stop is to take the funicular, but for the urban hikers, I recommend walking the steep staircases up the hill, where you are rewarded with a perfect view of Paris’ skyline.

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The landmark of Montmartre, you can see the domes of Sacre Coeur all over Paris.

Montmartre can be as extreme or relaxing as you want it to be, but with any trip to Paris, it is a stop you must make. Be sure to take the time to wander along the small side streets, take in the lifestyle of the merchants and the café owners, stop to talk to the artists selling paintings in the Place du Tertre, but most important, take some time to sit at a café and watch the world go by—may it inspire your next creative project.