Chartres Blue

IMG_6338The sun had just started to reach it peak when they opened the doors. It’s amazing to see the lines of modern-day pilgrims line up outside the cathedral, waiting patiently for visiting hours to start. Some were there to pray, others to marvel at the architecture, and some because a guidebook made a compelling enough case to spend a day outside of Paris.

I first heard about the cathedral in Chartres from a professor at my university. It was the way she described the stained glass that caught my attention, how the design of the structure allowed space for larger than usual windows, how the deep sapphire blue of its windows compliment the white interior. It’s a marvel to see on a slide show, so in person you’ll be left awe struck.

My hope was to arrive early to beat the crowds, unfortunately I arrived a little too early—doors were closed to the public until 11 a.m., leaving me plenty of time to wander ahead of time. Chartres is a perfect place to experience that small French town charm, without having to travel too far outside of Paris (it’s only about an hour by train, and trains run so frequently that you can easily make this a half day trip and return to Paris for more sight-seeing later in the day). Once you arrive, it’s easy to spot the cathedral towering over the other buildings, so use this as a marker if you find yourself getting lost.

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Wandering the streets of Chartres

From the train station, follow signs to the cathedral, passing a town square that celebrates its name in the same fashion as Amsterdam (perfect for Instagram!). Rounding the street corners, you’ll come to a small green park in front of the cathedral façade, with its contrasting Gothic and Romanesque spires casting a shadow over visitors. The square is surrounded only by a few shops and cafes, all of which remain closed until late morning. Since my particular trip was so early, I headed left of the cathedral, taking in the detail of the structure. Behind the cathedral lies the entrance to the Museum of Fine Arts and the Jardins de l’Eveche, a small green space that includes foot labyrinths and overlooks the L’Eure River. This area offered ample seating in the sun, but still eager to explore, I headed back towards the Stained Glass Museum and back to the cathedral.

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Mythologeny, seen in Chartres

To the right of the cathedral is the more vibrant areas of the town, with businesses, shops, and cafes. As I wandered, it felt in part like I was taking a step back in time, until by chance I encountered some exquisite graffiti art. It’s fairly obvious that Europe’s embrace of graffiti in certain cities has resulted in some amazing and thought provoking works. In Chartres, I particularly loved Noty Aroz’s Mythologeny series, which depicts modern comic book heroes and sci-fi characters in the form of mythological gods, similar to the traditions in Mexico, Greece, etc.

Of course, the highlight of a visit to Chartres lies in the cathedral itself. Even for the non-religious, this landmark is a wonder worth seeing. It is an UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the best depictions of French Gothic architecture at its prime. No natural light enters the building, only through the 176 stained glass windows. As you walk through, take time to gaze up at these windows, as the trademark ‘Chartres Blue’ illuminates the white walls around the nave.

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Chartres Cathedral is famous for its blue rose windows.

For travelers heading to Paris, this is a great way to escape the city for a few hours without having to brave the crowds at Versailles. I recommend arriving between 10 and 11 a.m., taking time to wander the cathedral first, then stopping for lunch before exploring the city. If it’s warm out, enjoy a leisurely lunch at Le café serpent, with a perfect view of the cathedral.

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Sun, Sand, and Seals: The Best of San Diego

A cold day in San Diego is any temperature below 65 degrees. This nearly perfect location on the southwest coast of the United States doesn’t always garner as much attention as California’s other metropolitan giants (LA and San Francisco), but it does offer an adventure for all types of vacationers. For art lovers, San Diego’s Balboa Park has a complex of modern and classic museums, while the pristine coastline beaches give the more relaxed traveler a perfect view. And for the urban hikers, San Diego’s diverse neighborhoods offers us a challenge of fitting as much as we can into one trip.

 

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Balboa Park is a must-see when visiting San Diego.

Balboa Park: When you fly into San Diego’s airport, try to catch a glimpse of the iconic California Tower, a Spanish-style spire that marks the entrance to one of San Diego’s main attractions. Travelers can easily spend a full day exploring Balboa Park, visiting museums including the Museum of Man, the San Diego Museum of Art, or the Museum of Natural History. For the nature lovers, take a stroll through the Botanical Gardens, or pack a picnic lunch and find a shaded spot in the Japanese Friendship Garden.

 

San Diego Zoo: Just north of Balboa Park is the world-famous San Diego Zoo, which is home to over 3,500 animals. If you are traveling with kids, this is a must-see destination.

Coronado Island: Half military base, half vacation destination, this island is famous for its red-roofed luxury hotel. While prices may be steep, this is a great destination to visit for a drink or meal, followed by a sunset stroll along the beach.

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Be sure to stop at the marina to view a larger than life statue of the famed WW2 kiss.

Gaslamp District/ Downtown San Diego: If you are looking for evening plans, look no further than the Gaslamp District in San Diego’s downtown. Located across from the Marina and Convention Center, this strip has shops, restaurants, and bars, perfect for a casual dinner, a stop before catching a baseball game at Petco Park, or a rowdy night of bar hopping (you’ll see plenty of bachelor/bachelorette parties in the area). Start your walk at the marina, stopping in to the USS Midway Museum and wander through the Seaport Village. Here, you’ll get stunning views of Coronado Island and the Naval base, and then head on over to the Gaslamp District (looked for the arched entryway over the street).

Pacific Beach: If you’re looking for a 1970s surfing vibe, look no farther than Pacific Beach. While a little modernized, the boardwalk still gives you an authentic Californian coastline, with fishing piers, surf shops, and plenty of people watching. Take a stroll along the board walk, or venture onto the sand and put your feet in the Pacific Ocean.

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Are those rocks? Nope, just very lazy seal pups.

La Jolla: North of San Diego city is the posh neighborhood of La Jolla (for those of you like me who love to point out places you’ve visited when watching TV, this is where ‘Grace and Frankie’ takes place). Here, you’ll find yoga studios, swanky shops, glorious vacation homes, and seaside restaurants, but the best part is of course taking some time to visit the seals and sea lions. Start at La Jolla Cove, you’ll know you’re close to the action because you can smell the sea lions as soon as you exit your car. (A note—keep your distance from all animals. While you can walk onto the rocks, these creatures will bite if provoked, and can carry some nasty bacteria with them.) Head south along the pathway until you reach Children’s Pool. Once a swimming spot for San Diego’s children, this man-made cove was quickly overrun by seals (Amazingly, the seals and sea lions have their own designated areas, but rarely mix). The best time to visit is in the spring, as starting in March the seals and sea lions start to have babies, so you can spend your time watching the moms teach their pups how to swim! When you’ve had your fill of adorable animals, take a stroll up to the La Jolla Village for lunch.

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Gliderport daredevils.

Torrey Pines Gliderport: Feeling adventurous? Right by UCSD’s campus (and the architectural wonder that is the Salk Institute), you can take a leap off the cliffs and slowly glide down to safety. Or, if you’re like me, just grab a coffee and watch these daredevils soar to the Pacific. There are hiking trails along the cliffs that will bring you down to the beach (WARNING: Bring proper shoes as the path is steep, and be aware that the beach below is a legal nude beach), or you can walk into the university campus (be sure to visit the library!).

Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial: Touring San Diego, you come to realize one important thing very quickly—it’s big. So, to get your bearings and to see a great view of the entire city, take a drive up to the Mt. Soledad Veteran Memorial, high above the coastline. It’s worth the quick stop.

Let’s Go to the (National) Mall: 24 Hours in Washington DC

Washington D.C. typically requires a long weekend to visit properly. However, when given a time constraint, it’s helpful to have a plan in place. Luckily, most of my trips to D.C. occur over a short period, giving me a maximum of about 24 hours to fit as much as I can into the day. So, if you’re looking for a classic walk through D.C., here’s what I recommend:

19424494_10209769113404660_4999474512496128198_nCapitol Building: If you have enough time, start the day with a guided tour of the United States Capitol Building, but be sure to book ahead. D.C. in the early hours is wonderful, especially before the crowds hit the major sites, and since this building functions as both a tourist attraction and government hub it’s best to make this your first stop. Many Congressional offices offer their own guided tour, so you can either book through your Representative, Senator, or on your own. You can find more information through the U.S. Capitol Building’s visitor center.

Memorials: The highlight of any visit to Washington D.C. Whether you are new to the history of America, or a seasoned fun-fact nerd, it’s essential to take some time to visit these iconic memorials. And for us urban hikers, this is the ideal city walk, complete with shaded parks, water features, and plenty of stairs. In total the loop is about five miles if you start at the Capitol Building and head west towards the Washington Monument. The full loop includes stops at the World War II Memorial, walking along the Reflecting Pool to the Vietnam Memorial, up to the Lincoln Memorial, over to the Korean War Memorial and across the street (be careful of cars, this is a busy crossing!) to the MLK, FDR and Jefferson Memorials, all bordering the Tidal Basin.

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Quiet mornings on the National Mall. 

This loop is by far one of my favorites to do either first thing in the morning, or at sunset when the crowds are low. Most of the monuments are open 24/7 (minus the gift shops), so you can enjoy them at your leisure.

 

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Look Up: The National Museum of African American History and Culture has stunning detail outside the building.

Museums: The other highlight of this area is of course the array of museums lining the National Mall. I tend to visit DC in the summer months when by 10 a.m. the sun has already warmed the city sidewalks to unbearable temperatures, which makes walking during the daytime difficult. So, a perfect escape from the heat is to pop into any one of these museums (all National museums are free), where you can learn more about America’s history from the comfort of an air-conditioned space. While it’s nearly impossible to see everything in a day, here’s some of our favorites:

 

  • National Gallery of Art. An underground corridor connects the more traditional West Building to the modern East Building, with highlights from Van Gogh, Degas, David, Vermeer, and Da Vinci. It’s a wonderful museum for art history lovers, as well as for architecture fans looking to explore the space.
  • National Air and Space Museum. This one is perfect for travelers with kids (or kids at heart!). Here you can explore the wonders of aviation and space travel, and see how this has evolved over the years and helped us learn more about the world outside our own.
  • National Museum of American History. Explore Julia Child’s kitchen, U.S. President memorabilia, First Lady dresses and more in this museum dedicated to the life and innovation of Americans. If you want to feel proud of all we’ve accomplished, this is the place to go.
  • National Museum of African American History and Culture. Opened in September 2016, this is the newest museum added to the National Mall. Getting tickets is difficult the day of (unless you arrive and wait in line), so we recommend booking tickets ahead of time. If you can’t get in, we at least suggest taking some time to observe the detail on the building (it is one of the most intricate and beautiful).

Around the Corner: If you haven’t gotten your share of museums yet, you can stray a few blocks outside the National Mall to tour some of the *other* museums in the country. There seems to be theme to each, but here are our favorites:

  • National Archives Museum. The main attraction here is of course the original copies of the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution. You’ll have to wait in line to get up there since they only allow a certain number of people in each day, but if historical documents are your thing then this is worth the visit.
  • United States Holocaust Museum. I’ve visited this museum many times, and each time I am brought to tears. A well-curated museum, you are transported through the history of the Holocaust, from the start of World War II through the aftermath. You will read stories about survivors, heroes, and those lost, and leave with a reminder of why we must never let something like this happen again. Be sure to take a moment of silence in the room of shoes as well.
  • Newseum. Another favorite for me, this museum chronicles the history of journalism, with special exhibits for different beats, as well as permanent exhibits about 9/11 news coverage, photo galleries, and the outdoor terrace overlooking Washing D.C. (ok not exactly an exhibit, but on a nice day this is a great view!).

Honorable Mention: Arlington Cemetery: Just across the Potomac is the Arlington Cemetery, which welcomes tourists during the day to pay respects at the final resting place of many of America’s military men and women, as well as John F. Kennedy and his family. If you have family buried here, use the cemetery’s website to locate a grave, or reach out to their customer service for help. And remember, this is a burial ground, so be respectful when walking through.