Playa – oh Playa del Carmen, MX

Surprises always come in travel packages! A colleague and I planned a trip to Cancun and the Rivera Maya. She had a friend who lives in Playa del Carmen, and I had never been to this part of Mexico, so I was really excited to do some Maya temple exploring and some snorkeling and beach dwelling. Of course, those of you who have followed me through Europe know that culinary adventures were not far behind and I LOVE Southwestern and Mexican cuisine.

Playa del Carmen SunriseSo many plans for this wonderful trip – Xel Ha, XCaret, Mayan Ruins, Swimming with Dolphins – all came true, plus I broke out of a couple of ‘travel comfort zones’, which I didn’t expect!

Madrid – where if you speak Spanish, you understand it here

Whether it was the language or navigation, I found in Barcelona at a disadvantage in both. I consider myself a fairly good navigator. In Barcelona, I could not get the directions right. I was backtracking all the time. Whereas Madrid is easier both linguistically and navigation wise. Perhaps it was my energy levels as well. I was exhausted when I arrived from Paris. I spent too much time and energy dealing with a difficult situation and my tolerance was at its lowest. On the train to Madrid, I had a breakdown- through about John. I just keep on grieving his absence in my life. It’s hard to put into words the bond we shared for so long. I miss him every day.

So back to Madrid. I am more comfortable here although my body is having a bit of a breakdown. My ankles are swollen and I am trying to reduce the sodium I am consuming as well as the amount of cigarettes I smoke. This is a habit that will be broken yet again upon my return back to the States.

The best thing about Madrid is that I am understood. So much so that people are speaking to me in Spanish even after I greet them or ask for something. Barcelona was NOT like this. In fact, all I would utter was, “Buenos Dias or Hola’ and they would say,”English” or just hand me an English menu. 

Barcelona, Gaudi, and Modernisma

I decided as my trip wound down, I would skip some museums in Barcelona proper. I made it out to the Dalí museo in Figueres, but I have been hitting the pavement hard with my itinerary in regards to museums. Therefore, along with the Barcelona card that was pre-purchased, I opted to  get a ‘hop on hop off’ bus pass here. This really solidified my decision to not go to the museums. I have a couple of big ones in Madrid, so I want to be rested for those. I spent some time in Barcelona getting lost – the streets are not so small, it’s a big city, so like Paris, I was navigating poorly (and I’ve been to Paris before). I didn’t even attempt the subway or bus system as I didn’t want to backtrack the way I had in Paris. Plus – I was staying out of the center in L’Eixample neighborhood at the Sunotel Club Hotel.

I never went down to the beach, but had an amazing experience with a Flamenco Event at Flamenco Cordobes. Incredible and authentic dining and dancing experience I will forever remember.

Girona and Figueres

If you don’t know about these Catalonian towns north of Barcelona, you should. Most Roman settlements in Spain start here and contain some of the original Roman roads through them.  

Girona sports a Roman wall with several medieval churches. It leads a tour through many centuries of architecture and cultures.

  

Figueres is where Dalí grew up, in a wealthy family. This town is one of the places Dalí built a casa for his beloved Gala. Our tour guide was very informative about Dalí’s work and life. I can’t express my excitement to discover many of this artist’s previously unknown works. Works such as his rocks in historical figurative compositions, his jewelry designs, and of course, the sculptures. He was the Renaissance man to Surrealism – I have a greater appreciation for his work and life.


                

Both of these towns reminded me of living in Italy – the small cobblestone streets, surprises at every turn, and the quiet, reserved nature they convey.

Necessaries in Paris

To really get a sense of eating habits in Paris, it is necessary to eat with locals (if you know them, great, if not – here’s a few tips):

1. Have a Parisienne staple (foie gras, escargot, steak tartar, steak au poivre, fromage fromage fromage)

2. Don’t stack plates or clean up when you are done (OCD-ers will hate this)

3. Know your wines, know your food – eat the bread.

I was lucky enough to do all of these PLUS attended the ‘Taste of Paris‘ – a culinary must do if you get the chance. My advice – get the Premiere Pass – it is really worth it. The Grand Palais was amazing, the food by world renown chefs was sublime.

 

Madrid Departure – Rough Trip Back

Mercury in retrograde assured of some delays and issues with scheduling. I had been pretty lucky with schedules, reservations and the sort. But now it was time for MR in full effect – flight from Madrid was delayed 30 minutes not knowing if I was going to make my flight from London to Phoenix.

Of course my arrival at Heathrow was late, therefore was booked by British Airways on another flight (American Airlines – grrr) in, get this – an aisle exit seat with 3 screaming, kicking children behind me. I was close to the loo, at least there was that.

Once you hit the States, it is necessary to claim your baggage in customs, then re-check it for any other destinations – at Chicago O’Hare, this is not an easy task. The connecting flight BA had booked from Chicago back to Phoenix was in a different terminal as well, plus the arrival departure screens were blacked out when you come through security – overall ensuring that I was to miss that flight as well. Ugggh – back again to another terminal with all my bags to the American Airlines desk to get a room for the night (By the way, $50 food allowance only covers – barely – one meal, and everything, including water and a side of ranch costs $5). My flight home was over 24 hours later than I left from Madrid, and my bags made it before I did. What a trip home.

Selfies through Europe

My mom gave me the idea to post the ‘selfies’ I have taken through my Travels – here are some of the greatest hits: from Spain to France to Belgium to where I began this journey in London.

   
                                                                                   

Updates to Blog

I have been taking so much time to tour and take pictures and get settled in each place I have traveled, I have been lax in posting ‘up to date’ posts – my apologies. I decided since I have been journaling and haven’t had time to go through all of the wonderful photos I am taking, that I would delay posting photos and other stories until after I get back – not to worry though, I am keeping up with some missives through the actual travel through Europe. Thanks for understanding, those of you who are following! By the way – I love Barcelona!! Girona and Figueres were amazing today!!

Paris – Arriveé

my first full day was packed! I had so much fun navigating the Metro and dealing with gypsies/pickpockets, planning my day with consideration to another friend’s ‘plans’. More about that later. My first goal was to go to the Grand Palais And the “Taste of Paris” 2015, which hosted a slew of renowned chefs as well as some up-and-comers. Those of you who aren’t serious ‘foodies may not identify with this part of the post – I will be updating and expanding later….

The Taste of Paris: I saw this event was taking place when I was planning my trip and decided it would be an opportunity of a lifetime- so I purchased a premiere pass. This got me so much more than I imagined. 3-star Michelin chefs like Joel Roubouchon and Alain Ducasse were present and schmoozing the crowd.

Some Paris Experiences: Paris was rather a whirlwind – I purchased a ‘Museum Pass’ with a 3-day travel card good for the metro, RER, and buses around Paris. To navigate these, I highly recommend you download an app on your smartphone. I used “Paris Metro” for my iPhone and iPad – proved to be invaluable.

Also purchased with this pass was a ‘Hop On/Hop Off’ one day Bus Tour and a Parisienne Batteaux Pass (which is the boat tour). This is something I had not tried before, so I decided to jump on this opportunity. I also purchased a guided tour for Versailles, which included the fountains and the gardens and a self guided tour after the rooms of the palace. Worth it as well. Although we still had crowds to navigate, it was a group of us, so we held priority when entering each room, plus the guide, Julien, was very informative and pleasantly engaging. I told him I was an art history teacher and he asked if I wanted to lead the tour, to which I replied, “I’m on vacation.”

Ok so back to the good bits… Just as in Italy, the city’s poorest are running rampant through train stations, and other popular public sites. Gypsies and panhandlers try to distract, beg and pickpocket those that give them the time of day. My first episode of this distract/pickpocket scheme while traveling happened in Paris this time, across the street from the Museé d’Orsay. My friend, who had never been to Europe, and I were separated by these these 3 young teenage girls looking to get us to sign something in one hand and trying to unzip our bags with the other. They did not succeed with mine because I have a really secure travel bag, however they did unzip my friend’s fanny pack and a jogger yelled, “she just unzipped your bag!” as she ran past.

My friend realized this and began chasing after them and flipping them off and cursing, where I just turned around and started snapping photos. They are quite shy when you do this – and so my friend did the same, albeit more aggressively. Now, I understand my friend being upset, but this is something that I have learned while traveling in many countries in seedy situations, and not so seedy – do not acknowledge these people, be aware of your surroundings, and get a secure over the shoulder bag like the one seen here: Travelon anti theft bags I found on ebags.com best fit my needs. It’s an interesting thing that later that day as we walked to the Eiffel Tower that all the kiosks were closed. We later heard on the news (and through Facebook) that they had closed the site because of the prevalence of pickpockets. Hmmmm

I decided to have a picnic by the Siene with some wine and a nice rabbit terrine I bought at the ‘Taste’ the night before. So I bought some vin rouge, some cherry tomatoes, a petite pain, some mustard, some olives, and a nice small wheel of muenster cheese. After the Museé d’Orsay experience, which the museum was amazing, and I thoroughly had a brief conversation in my head with John. This took place in front of his favorite painting, “Olympia” by Edouard Manet. (Insert story)

I told my friend I would catch up and took some moments to really connect with some memories of John and how much he would appreciate this experience. I know you are traveling with me and I miss you terribly.

Bruges – Ghent – Brussels

I want to start off by saying that Ghent reminds me of Italy – perhaps it’s the Catholic influences in Flanders through the centuries, the churches and Gothic buildings, the cobblestone streets (straats) – perhaps it is the love of food and good company that provides the warmth I remember of Italia. Whatever the reasons, I feel more at home and in my element in Belgium than in London.

Maybe it was those tall ceilings in the Faja Lobi B&B possibly the unique terrace views, whatever it was, Ghent has my heart. I will definitely be back.

   

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

 My first night was awesome! It started with the taxi from Gint-St. Pieters. My taxi driver was named Mari (pronounced Mar-ee).

   

  

 Bruxelles Midi Train Station has lockers! This means I could store my luggage while I explored. I dared not go out of the terminal, however, because I had to take some time for a café and a croissant and to update my blog. I also did not have the energy or time to explore Brussels as I felt, so I will put this city on hold for another trip.

You can’t sit long before someone comes up to panhandle. I thought giving a few coins would dismiss her, but she proceeded to sit right next to me and she wreaked of urine. Thinking she may move on after counting her bounty, I was dismayed that she called over a fellow panhandler to commence in a drawn-out conversation. I could not stand the smell any longer and moved outside for some fresh air.

Bruxelles Midi Station
Bruxelles Midi Station