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.

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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.

National Parks Week: April 21-29

Imagine for a moment that you are an explorer. It’s 1805 and you’re heading out into the unknown territories west of the Mississippi River. Already, you are aware of the changing landscapes of the country—the sand dunes of Massachusetts’ coastline quickly transition to rolling green hills, to flattened farm lands. You’re not exactly sure what the west will offer, but it’s doubtful that you’d expect to stumble upon the snowcapped peaks of the Rocky Mountains rising high above the plains, or the red-yellow sands of the southwest. I think about this every time I travel to one of the 60 National Parks across the United States. It’s hard to not be amazed by these parks, and how they have remained *mostly* untouched since the days of our explorers, and how the National Parks Service has preserved these places for generations to come.

It wasn’t until August 25, 1916 that President Woodrow Wilson established the United States National Parks Service, but these parks have existed far before. This week, the National Parks Service is celebrating National Parks Week, with free admission on Saturday, April 21, and special events across the country.

For me, this week is a great moment to reflect—as a hiker and traveler, I’ve always felt a natural pull to visit these 60 parks. In my travels, I’ve realized that the role of the National Parks Service doesn’t stop at these parks though, with National Monuments, historic sites, cemeteries, memorials, and more, you see their distinct logo everywhere you go, preserving the history and culture of this country.

To celebrate the week, I’ve highlighted stories from parks that have made a mark on my own life. It’s a little different from my usual urban hiking guides, but I hope it inspires your travels just as much. Each day, I will add a section—feel free to comment, share your own story, and ask questions. Enjoy!

 

April 28: Looking to the Future

For over 100 years, the National Parks Service has protected our countries wilderness, and provided fun and safe opportunities for families and adventurers alike. But while we continue to celebrate all the good that these parks offer, we also must be aware of the threats that our National Parks face today.

Climate Change: This is a very real, growing concern across the world. Researchers in our National Parks are seeing rapid melting of glaciers high in the mountains, while worsening storms are threatening the historic and natural coastlines across the country. Photos of our parks at their establishment look very different compared to now, and it is up to us to help slow this process. While there are ways to help out on your visits, the best way to slow climate change starts at home—use renewable energy, recycle, shop local—all these methods and more help lower your carbon footprint.

Administration Changes: Since Donald Trump took office in 2017, his administration has rapidly fought to lower sanctions to preserving National Monuments across the country. As more proposals surface that threaten the future of these monuments, it is up to us as advocates to pressure the government to reconsider. Do your research, sign petitions, talk to your local and state officials about your concerns. Together we can help save these important landmarks for our future!

Want to support the U.S. National Parks Service? We suggest starting here.

 

April 27: North Cascades National Park

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FUN FACT: This October, the North Cascades turns 50!

Today we’re heading back to Washington State, this time to explore the mainland. With hiking, camping, backpacking, and plenty of educational programs, this is a great option for visitors traveling to Seattle and looking for an alternative to the city for a few days. When passing through, a must-see spot is Diablo Lake, with its greenish-blue glacial water. Here, you can book a campsite and stay overnight, or make a pit stop and hike up to one of many look out points. Just passing by? The overlook point off the main road is perfect for a bathroom break and some selfies!

 

April 26: Historical Sites

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Boston’s Freedom Trail is the best urban hike–an entire walking tour of the history of the city and its involvement in the Revolutionary War!

The National Parks Service is all about history, and where better to look than in your own hometown! The thought struck me a few years ago when I moved back to Boston and met an employee of the National Park Service—at first I was confused, I thought the closest National Park was in Maine. With a little explanation to my naive assumptions, I learned that the National Parks Service actually protects historical sites all over the country.

Here in Boston, the entire city is considered a historic thanks to its Freedom Trail. Spend the day learning about how Boston played a role in the American Revolution, and stop by the Boston Tea Party Museum to toss tea in harbor. An hour south of Boston is New Bedford, famous for its whaling community. Today, you can visit the National Historic Site, which includes the New Bedford Whaling Museum.

Want to find a National Historic Park in your state? The National Parks Service has a nifty Find a Park feature where you can search by state—it couldn’t be easier!

 

April 25: Joshua Tree National Park

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Joshua Tree’s unique desert landscape allows you to hike out to far distances and still see the road. 

We’ve written a lot about this park in the past—it’s one of our favorites! Unlike the towering mountains of the northwest, Joshua Tree provides a perfect setting for climbers. Located just a few hours east of LA and San Diego, you can explore Joshua Tree’s desert landscape in a day, or opt to camp overnight and experience the night sky (a popular activity is night photography, you can try it out yourself or sign up for a workshop).

The park offers hiking trails, horseback riding, and rock climbing, depending on your preference, so be sure to plan ahead. And don’t forget to pack plenty of water!

 

April 24: National Memorials

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TIP: Get up early to explore the National Memorials in Washington D.C. You’ll beat the crowds, and get some beautiful shots.

The National Parks Service doesn’t just cover the preservation of nature. In fact, the role of the organization goes far beyond that, preserving the history and culture of our country as well. Such is the case with the 29 National Memorials around the country, each dedicated to honor a historic person or event in the United States’ history.

Probably the most well-known (and most visited) circuit of National Memorials reside in the nation’s capital of Washington D.C. In just one afternoon, you can hit all of the significant memorials along the National Mall (we wrote a full urban hiking guide about this, with details on what not to miss).

Fortunately, there are other memorials scattered across the country, so if you are planning a visit somewhere be sure to do your research and see what you might find. A few of our favorites:

  • Hamilton Grange: For those still obsessing over the Broadway musical ‘Hamilton,’ you can visit the Founding Father’s home in New York City. It’s a perfect pairing if you manage to score tickets to the show!
  • Mount Rushmore: South Dakota’s claim to fame, this memorial honors four former U.S. Presidents: Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln. It’ a perfect stop on a road trip across the country.
  • Flight 93 Memorial: A more somber spot, this memorial honors the lives and bravery of the passengers of United Airlines Flight 93, who on September 11, 2001, stopped their hijackers from reaching the intended target, and crashed the plane into a field in Pennsylvania.

 

April 23: Acadia National Park

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Jordan Pond is a must-see when visiting Acadia. Take a hike around the pond or head up to the North and South Bubbles for more of a challenge.

Another New England vacation staple, Acadia National Park is located in Maine and is perfect for a long weekend or a full week, providing families with ample options for all outdoorsy types. And, the adjacent town of Bar Harbor provides visitors with a change of pace, with shopping, restaurants, and excursions for those who prefer a more leisurely visit.

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TIP: For first time visitors, we highly recommend getting up early to catch the sunrise at the top of Cadillac Mountain. You can either drive, or, for those willing to get up at 2 a.m., hike to the peak and watch the sun poke up over the horizon.

Like Olympic National Park, Acadia offers travelers both ocean and mountain views. Hiking trails are available for all levels—the Jordan Pond loop is an easy hike (and includes a stop at the Jordan Pond House for lunch!), or if you are looking for more of a challenge, we recommend climbing up the North and South Bubbles, or braving the rocky Beehive. In the warmest of months, the ocean is still cold, but you will see a few brave souls swimming at Echo Lake Beach or Sand Beach. Or, if you love biking, the Carriage Road trails are a fun way to experience the park, with plenty of covered bridges and archways to pass through (bring your camera!). There’s also scenic roads around the park, so take a drive and explore with the whole family!

 

April 22: Olympic National Park

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Whether you are doing a day hike or an overnight trek, hiking in the Olympics is a popular activity in the summer months. Be sure to secure your permit early if you plan to camp!

My first visit to this park happened by accident. The short version of the story is that while our original plan was to backpack in the North Cascades, the horrible string of wildfires that summer caused us to make last minute changes. In the end, I’m glad that was the case because this National Park quickly climbed up on my list of all-time favorites.

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Early morning sunrise by Deer Lake.

Being from the east coast, you don’t really get to see mountains like the ones out west. I think at every twist and turn of driving and hiking through this park, I was amazed by the landscape around me, to the point that ‘Wow’ became my most-used phrase of 2017. We were able to secure backpacking permits to spend some time hiking and camping deep in the park, and encountered a few pairs of mom and cub black bears (aww) and had a family of deer decide it would be fun to hang out with us while we cooked dinner each night. A good tip for backpackers—our trip was in early September, a perfect time to camp (it’s warm during the days, and manageable at night, as long as you bring layers), and with less crowds we were able to get last-minute passes to some of the better camping spots. Don’t bank on that tough, try to secure your permits early so you have a guaranteed spot to stay while you visit.

Olympic National Park isn’t just for die-hard hikers though, with beaches, mountains, and rain forests all within a few hours of each other, it’s a park perfect for all ages. Be sure to take the road up to Hurricane Ridge and stop by the visitor’s center, or spend some time looking at the Pacific tide pools.

 

April 21: Cape Cod National Seashore

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The early crowd at Cape Cod National Seashore.

I grew up in Massachusetts. For me, a beach vacation out to Cape Cod was just something everyone did—it was within driving distance and fairly affordable, and a great way to cool off on those hot summer days. What I didn’t realize though was that the Cape Cod National Seashore, which extends along the eastern coast of Cape Cod’s ‘arm,’ is one of the best-preserved coastlines this country has.

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TIP: There are multiple beaches you can visit along the Cape Cod National Seashore, each with its own charms. My favorite is Race Point, located at the tip of Cape Cod near Provincetown. It’s a perfect trip to pair beach time with exploring Provincetown after, but be sure to leave some time to catch the sunset—Cape Cod sunsets will always be my favorite.

We can thank President John F. Kennedy for that. Free of development (including a lack of snack shacks, so be sure to pack in and out all of your food), Cape Cod’s National Seashore is perfect for beachgoers who prefer the quiet. Sand dunes tower over you as you walk along the beaches and if you are lucky, you may even catch a glimpse of a whale out on the horizon! It’s a bit of a hike from the parking lots, but always worth the trek.

Unfortunately, due to the dreadful winter we had this year, the National Seashore has taken a beating from high winds and waves. That doesn’t mean that the Parks Service isn’t working to restore the beaches, but for the regular visitors you may notice some significant changes in the coastline this year, and in years to come—erosion like this has become more and more common each year thanks to the effects of climate change around the world.

 

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.

Day Trip: Joshua Tree National Park

By mid- to late- February those of us who live in the northern hemisphere tend to get a little antsy. Cold, frigid temperatures combined with regular and unpredictable snow and sleet tend to force us indoors for most of the season. While yes, there are winter adventures we can participate in, those tend to rely heavily on the weather for safety reasons. As such, us outdoorsy-types tend to go a little crazy this time of year.

Winter, however, can be an ideal time for day trips (and some overnights) if you head south. A favorite spot is Joshua Tree National Park, a desert haven for hikers, climbers, and bikers. While during usual tourist season this park can reach temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, the winter months can be quite pleasant (we do always advise that before heading out to these parks, you check the weather and other important information on the NPS website).

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For views like this, be sure to make time for a longer hike (and note the ruins of a former house to the left).

For this particular guide, you can hit most of the major spots in the park in a day trip by car. It’s a three-hour drive to Joshua Tree from San Diego or LA, so plan for a long day if you are returning to one of those cities afterwards, pack food and lots of water, and be sure your gas tank is full. We start our tour at the West Entrance Station, heading southeast into the heart of the National Park.

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Reminds us of Breaking Bad…

1. Viewpoints. Before you read on, a warning: BE SURE YOU CAN SEE YOUR CAR AT ALL TIMES. As you drive through the park, you’ll notice that coming in from the west entrance the desert is filled with the towering trees that give the park its name. Many visitors will pull over at designated picnic spots and small parking lots, where you can access shorter trails, hike, and take a few photos. This is a great way to get acquainted with the park, but be sure to not wander too far. While yes, the terrain is fairly flat and open, it’s important to be safe when you explore.

2. Hidden Valley. One of my favorite parts about Joshua Tree is that as you travel along, there are moments when you look out to the horizon and focus on a steep rock formation, and upon a closer look realize that there is a person at the top. It’s no surprise that Joshua Tree has become a mecca of sorts for rock climbers, and winter is prime season for groups to camp out and spend a few days challenging their skills. Hidden Valley, which is a part campground, part hiking trail loop through former cattle rustler hideouts, is a great spot to stop and watch the climbers (or try it out yourself!). For those who aren’t into climbing, the one-mile loop hike is fairly easy, and lets you explore inside some of the rock formations without having to strap on a harness.

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Keep an eye out for climbers in high places.

3. Barker Dam. Continuing past Hidden Valley, this hike is friendly for all levels. It takes you on a one-mile loop past an old dam, which was once used for cattle and now acts as reservoir for wildlife within the park. You’ll also have a chance to see a few etchings in the rock from past inhabitants before this park became a park.

4. Ryan Mountain. With the summit at 5,458 ft overlooking the Lost Horse and Pleasant Valleys, this three-mile out-and-back hike is ideal for the hiker looking for more of a challenge. Be sure to bring lots of water for this trek, as even in the winter you’ll feel that desert dryness.

5. Skull Rock. Park Boulevard eventually splits to a north-south intersection. For our day trip, we turned north to head back to Route 62, which created a nice loop for our drive and had us back in San Diego by dinner time. On the way, you’ll notice sections where tourists have pulled over to crowd into certain spots for photos. One such location is Skull Rock, which at certain angles appears to be pulled right from a Pirates of the Caribbean movie. It’s worth checking out, even for just a few minutes before you head back into civilization.

6. Star Gazing. Ok, so a day trip wouldn’t include this part, but if you have the chance, book a campsite and spend the night in the park. Joshua Tree National Park is famous for its night sky views. Don’t believe us? A quick image search will convince you.

 

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Dead men tell no tale…

Five Tips for the Solo Traveler

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Coffee: The solo traveler’s best friend.

I was sitting in a restaurant one evening in Paris—the dining room was snug, with tables packed in to fit as many people as possible. I was alone, jotting down details of my day in my journal and slowly sipping a glass of red wine. In the time it took me to go through my meal, I conversed briefly with three couples who came and went from the tables to either side of me. And with each conversation, there was one comment that all three made about my travels.

“You are traveling by yourself? How brave!”

Traveling by yourself isn’t that scary though, especially when in a big city. To me, solo travel offers me a chance to unwind and catch up on thing I love, all on my own time. Paris was a place that was high on my list, and to be able to experience it in a way that was perfectly catered to me, it made my experience that much more memorable.

Of course, there are times that traveling alone gets tough—eating on your own can get lonely, but you can also push yourself to be more outgoing (something I often struggle to do in my day to day routine) and make friends with other travelers. Solo travel gives you a chance to make an experience that is all your own, but it helps to have a few tips before you head out there.

1. Take Some Extra Time to Plan

When traveling alone, especially as a woman, I find it gives my family some peace of mind if I put together an itinerary so they know where I will be on my travels. This means including any hotel addresses and phone numbers, tour company information (if you plan to do a tour), and any train/plane information as you move from one place to another. Beyond that, when traveling solo you have a chance to see and do exactly what you want so researching your destination ahead of time and making plans makes the anticipation that much more fun.

2. Learn to Read a Map

I still travel like it’s 2008 (pre-iPhone, reliant on paper maps and the occasional Internet café). Technology has definitely made traveling easier, especially since now you can buy temporary international plans to use maps, text, post to Instagram, etc., and WiFi access in most hotels makes it easier to keep in touch with friends and family at home, but I still find it so appealing to switch my phone to airplane mode and use a paper map and guidebook to travel around a new city. This does require a moment of letting go—once you switch that phone over to ‘might as well be dead’ mode, you have to rely on your skills to navigate the old-fashioned way. Same goes if your phone dies while out for the day—it’s important to always know where you are, so learn the basics.

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Solo trips take you places you never expected. I fell in love with Bayeux on my last trip to France. 

3. Make New Friends

You’re traveling solo, but you don’t have to be alone. For younger travelers, hostels are a great way to make new friends and meet fellow solo travelers. Taking a day tour is another great way to interact with people. For me, in my day to day life I tend to be more introverted, but when traveling alone I have to force myself to be more social. Surprisingly, that little push has led to some lifelong friendships, and it makes my travel experiences so rewarding.

4. Reach Out to Old Friends

Even if you haven’t spoken in years, when traveling to a city where you know someone, take the moment to reach out. I guarantee 95 percent of the time they will be thrilled to meet up. Whether they live there, or in some cases, happen to be traveling there at the same time as you, it gives you a chance to catch up and get some good advice for when you are exploring the city later on.

5. Enjoy Your Time Alone

Solo travel isn’t for everyone, but if you decide to take a trip on your own, you will learn more about yourself than you ever thought possible. Take advantage of the time alone to see and do what you love—this trip is just for you, so make the most of it.

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A rare photo of the author, jet lagged but excited to be here 😀

Bergen Weekend: Winter Edition

As someone who thrives on the healing powers that hiking and nature can provide, it was no surprise to me that Norway was high on my list. Did I plan to make my first visit in the dead of winter? No, but then again life loves to throw unpredictable curve balls (and very cheap flights!) my way, so my first taste of Norway was a chilly one.

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Our hike up to Fløyen quickly became snowy and icy–could have used some microspikes for this trek!

I stayed in Bergen, which is a hiker’s dream paradise. With the peaks of Ulriken and Fløyen towering over the homes built into the cliffsides overlooking the harbor, residents and visitors can be on a hiking trail in a short amount of time. (NOTE: For those travelers who don’t enjoy long and steep walks in new cities, Bergen can be pretty rough. But then again, you are reading a blog about urban hiking, so you have to expect that our featured destinations will involve some uphill climbs.). It’s also important to mention that for residents, the work-life balance was based more on the weather versus the hours of the day. If, for example, the weather on a Tuesday provides perfect ski conditions, it is acceptable to slip out early, especially if the rest of the week looks dreary (my kind of lifestyle!). And on the weekends? Forget seeing people in the town, everyone will be out in the mountains.

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View of Bergen from the top of Fløyen.

On this particular visit, I managed to knock a few big wanderings off the list. Day one we climbed to the top of Fløyen and rode the cable car down. This was my first adventure after landing in the morning, so it not only gave me a chance to explore the city, but it also got my blood pumping as I fought jet lag fatigue. The hike took a few hours, with minimal stops except to veer off the trail to certain lookout points for a bird’s eye view of the city below. One difficulty we faced was as we got higher above the city, the trails became quite icy. In January, weather can be unpredictable—while I was visiting, Bergen temperatures remained just above freezing, so it made for wet and icy hiking. A few days after I left, the city was hit with a few strong snow storms, making any hikes up the mountain into a snow shoe excursion. So be prepared for all types of weather if you plan to still hike in the winter.

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Bryggen is a great starting point for any walk through Bergen, and you can easily spot it once you get into the mountains.

For a little less stress on our knees, we took advantage of some free time to wander the streets of Bergen, which is a great afternoon trek for urban hikers. Start at Bryggen, an UNESCO World Heritage site dating as far back as the 14th century. You’ve probably seen photos of these pointed, colorful houses that during the week offer tourists pricey shopping and plenty of Instagram opportunities. From here, head southwest, circling the harbor and popping into the Fjellskål fish market to get a glimpse of the local catches of the day. From there, head northeast up to the aquarium, stopping finally at the Nordnesparken to take in the spectacular views of the fjords.

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Bergen has so many cute little side streets that take you back in time. Be sure to pause for moment like this. 

If you’re into creepy, abandoned old towns (like me), then visiting the Old Bergen Museum in the winter is perfect for you. Located in the northern coastal hills of Bergen, this area is designed to look like the city’s original fishing homes centuries ago. In peak tourism season, these little homes provide tourists with shops, restaurants and historical exhibits they can explore, but in the winter, it is nothing more than closed doors and empty streets.

While visiting Bergen in the winter does mean that some of the main city attractions will be closed, it’s important to take that opportunity to ‘do as the locals do’ and get out of the city. Even without a car, you can easily take a bus to skiing out in Kvamskogen or horse riding in the mountains, making the most of your snowy visit.