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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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.’

 

48 Hours in Milan

Milan is a very livable city. While it may not be as packed with landmarks as Italy’s Florence or Rome, it provides travelers with a nice getaway filled with Italian charm, while also catering to the day to day lives of locals. With ample shopping and charming streets, Milan is perfect for urban hikers who love to people watch. On our last visit, we had 48 hours to take in as much of the city as possible, making time for some must-see attractions, and plenty of gelato.

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Milan’s Duomo lights up the streets at night.

Duomo di Milano

Dedicated to St. Mary of the Nativity, this breathtaking cathedral is a must-see when you visit. As you wander into the heart of Milan’s old city, you will catch glimpses of the Duomo’s pinnacles and spires, typical to Gothic style. The best view of the cathedral itself is from the piazza that surrounds it, but to really get a full experience, we recommend heading straight up to the roof, where you can walk among the spires and gaze out at the surrounding city. Tickets cost 9 euros to walk, or 13 euros to take the lift (NOTE: It is actually faster to wait in line for the lift instead of climbing the stairs) and you have to purchase tickets ahead of time either online or at the ticket center to the right of the cathedral’s façade. You can also buy tickets to enter the cathedral and visit the museum.

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View of Milan from the Duomo Rooftop.

 

The Last Supper

Art history lovers flock to Milan for this painting. Located in the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, this 15th century painting by Leonardo da Vinci shows the story of Jesus and his Disciples breaking bread the night before Jesus’ crucifixion. It is da Vinci’s second most famous painting, only behind the Mona Lisa, and is slowly deteriorating due to the painter’s methods and environmental factors. Only a small number of people are allowed to view the painting daily, so you need to book tickets far in advance, or book through a tour group (we recommend booking through Walks of Italy, which includes a guided tour and tickets to the Duomo roof).

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Take a break at Sempione Park, located just behind the Castello Sforzeco. In the distance you can view one of Napoleon’s many triumphal arches. 

Castello Sforzesco

This former castle for the Duke of Milan is now home to a complex of Milan’s best museums. The highlight is of course a visit to see Michelangelo’s Rondanini Pieta, but you can also explore museums dedicated to Ancient Art, Musical Instruments, Archaeology, and more. Entry to the castle is free, but you will need to pay to visit the museums. If it’s a nice day out, we recommend also walking through the castle and into Sempione Park (and be sure to grab some gelato on your trek!)

Urban Hiking

Milan’s layout stretches far beyond the old city’s walls, but when planning your trip, try to book a hotel close to the center. This way, you can spend your evenings eating in one of Milan’s many charming pizzas and people watch in front of the Duomo. If you’re an early riser like me, take some time in the morning to wander Milan’s narrow Italian streets, where you will encounter pockets of old world Italy molded into the modern feel.

If shopping is your thing, Milan offers plenty of opportunity to pop into stores on your walk. Visit the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II (with its famous gold and glass roof) and browse top designer stores, or wander outside of the city center for more affordable fashions, food, and more. And if it’s food you’re looking for, keep an eye out for cheese and charcuterie shops to sample some of the best in the region!

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Even on a rainy day, Como has plenty to offer for travelers. 

Day Trip out to Lake Como

If you are in Milan for a weekend and want a change of scenery for day two, you can easily venture to one of the many towns surrounding the picturesque Lake Como. Como, the village at the southwest corner of the wishbone-shaped lake, is only an hour by train from Milan and has plenty to see in one afternoon. On a sunny day, take a ferry tour out onto the lake or rent a paddleboat, and even if it is raining, be sure to take the funicular up into the hills for a view of the Lake and its surrounding villages. On a clear day, you may even be able to see the Italian Alps in the distance. If it’s glitz and glamour you’re looking for, head a little farther by train to Bellagio, which has played as a backdrop for films including Casino Royale and Star Wars.