Paris: Uninhibited, but not romantic

I’ve been to Paris twice now and I just have to ask, why does everyone find this city so damn romantic? I have to say, I don’t get it. Now don’t get me wrong, both times I definitely enjoyed myself (July 2010 and June 2017); Paris is an incredibly fun city. It just doesn’t make me swoon.

And I can even say that I’ve experienced it in very different ways: the first time I went, I was studying abroad in Rome and I went to spend an extended weekend with a friend who happened to be studying abroad in Paris at the time.

I was in college, I was single, and I was poor. We ate crepes and spent hours at Notre Dame. I ate the one vegetarian option at each restaurant we went to, because in 2010, Paris wasn’t exactly vegetarian friendly. We walked through the red-light district for the required Moulin Rouge pic. I went to the Opera House and the Louvre while she was in class and I was skipping my own. I slept in her dorm room because I couldn’t afford my own place. We went dancing at clubs until hours I can no longer stay up for. I made the trek up to Sacre Coeur and got to behold the most romantic city in the world a metropolitan city.

Skip ahead seven years. My husband and I have well-paying international jobs with a seven-week summer vacation to fill. We wanted to visit friends in London and then take the train to Leysin where we’d spend the bulk of our summer. Who wouldn’t want to stop in Paris on the way for a few days of baguettes, wine, cheese, and, of course, shopping? Especially now that I could afford to see Paris with a different bank account!

Ever the Millenials, we ignored the high prices of hotels and opted for an Airbnb. Late to the game, this was the first Airbnb we’d stayed in just the two of us – our actual first Airbnb was in São Tomé this spring when we rented a place with two coworkers and some family.

There was some pretty hilarious confusion (or at least we thought so) during check-in. Our host had left the building fob for us to find and as I was in the lobby looking for it, a couple asked us if we were staying at the Airbnb on the fourth floor. Well guess what? We were. So they handed us the key fob for the building and a key. We got to our room and found our separate key hidden where expected and assumed the one on the fob was also for the front of the building.

We went out for lunch (Chipotle, Chandler’s last chance at it), a wine shop, and I experienced my first Parisian shopping moment (having been way too poor to buy clothes the first time I was there!).

We got back to our Airbnb, showered off (because Paris was experiencing an excruciating heat wave) and while Chandler was still in his towel, we got a knock on our door. It was our neighbor, frantically asking if we by chance happened to know where his key was.

Turns out, there was an Airbnb next door to ours and since the apartments don’t have numbers on them, all the renters could ask us was floor number. They had given us the wrong keys! We handed them over to a furious apartment owner – sorry, dude. Not our fault! I then went back down to the lobby and within about 30 seconds more of searching, found our fob still waiting for us. Whoops.

But our cranky neighbor aside, we were seriously enjoying our apartment and the view it provided. We were about three blocks from the Louvre.

DSCF5832FullSizeRender

If you want to be a tourist, it was a wonderful part of town to be staying in. If you want a few quiet, relaxing days, I don’t especially recommend it. We loved it. We spent our first afternoon wandering around the neighborhood, eating our London cheese, and drinking our Parisian wine. FYI, if you’re nearby, I heartily recommend stopping by La Derniere Goutte for a nice conversation and a couple great bottles of wine.

DSCF5837DSCF5839

The next day found us up bright and early, grabbing breakfast on the go at the boulangerie around the corner – one of the only things open.

Our plans for the day started with the Sainte-Chapelle cathedral. It’s not too far from Notre Dame, but I hadn’t made my way over on my last visit. At 10 euros it’s a pretty steep price (for only 7 more you have access to all of the Louvre), but the stained glass windows are more than worth it.

DSCF5846DSCF5851

There are 1,113 scenes from the New and Old Testaments depicted across the cathedral’s 15 windows, each of which are 15 meters high.

Continue reading

When You’ve Seen the Sites, You Shop

After our time in the countryside, we came back to London well-rested and ready for our final two days. We started the day with a stroll through Kensington Gardens (for real – London puts all other cities to shame when it comes to green spaces).

We made our way to the Peter Pan Statue – because what child (or adult!) doesn’t love the story about never having to grow up. The statue was commissioned by JM Barrie himself and apparently if you scan the plaque with your smartphone, you get a call from Peter Pan. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn that odd fact until after we left – so I can’t tell you what the call is like!

DSCF5796DSCF5795

After we left the gardens we made our way to the National Gallery. This time, we paid attention to opening times and didn’t have to kill time with a second breakfast! The National Gallery is much smaller than the British Museum, so we spent probably an hour to hour-and-a-half inside.

DSCF5801

After spending way too much time in the religious artwork areas, we made our way to what we were actually interested in: the Impressionists. The museum has a good number of Degas paintings, including this one I hadn’t seen before:

DSCF5802

It ended up being one of my favorite viewings. Much more interesting than this horse that always captures everyone’s attention:

DSCF5807

I’d really love for someone to share the appeal with me…I’d rather see a live horse – something I’ve gotten to do a lot of since arriving in Leysin, but I’ll save that for a later post.

Continue reading

Surprises Outside of London

Even though I could probably spend the rest of my life living happily in London, we left the city to spend a few days in the countryside. Our home base was Cathy’s family home near Dorset.

DSCF5677

We thought we’d spend our weekend relaxing in countryside gardens (which we did) – but there were a lot of surprises in store for us as well! First, did you know Dorset has its very own castle? Corfe Castle. Its seen better days, but as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I usually prefer ruins to majesty.

DSCF5684DSCF5711

It doesn’t take long to tour the grounds, we were there for maybe an hour, but Corfe Castle has some fascinating history.

978 – King Edward the Martyr was murdered by his stepmother Elfrida at the site of the Old Hall
1086 – William the Conqueror swapped a church for the land where he began to build Corfe Castle
1106 – Henry I imprisoned his brother, Robert of Normandy, in the King’s Tower
1199-1214 – King John imprisoned his French niece, Princess Eleanor of Brittany, at Corfe Castle (this is really not a great castle for families!)
1572 – Queen Elizabeth I sold the Corfe Castle to one of her favorites
1643-1646 – Under the command of Lady Mary Bankes, Corfe Castle twice held off sieges during the Civil War. It was finally captured due to treachery from within its walls

Plus, being on a hill (security reasons, of course), meant it has lovely views of the town. And Chandler, like always, found his shady respite while I roamed and explored.

DSCF5710DSCF5715

After that we bought some honey mead (so sweet!). It was nearly our one-year anniversary and it turns out that a full moon’s supply of honey mead was traditionally given to the bride and groom after their wedding. And from that we get, “honeymoon,” which I suppose this trip sort of is for us, since we had a whirlwind move to Accra after our wedding.

Next up was a stroll through the city Cathy grew up in and a stop at the beach, and since Europe was experiencing a massive heat wave, it was packed. We lunched on cheese sandwiches at the Salty Pig. As vegetarians, we always have exciting meal escapades.

DSCF5726DSCF5730DSCF5736

We could have called it a successful day after that, but instead, Grace and Cathy led us on a two-mile walk to a pub that very much felt like it was in the middle of nowhere. That, however, couldn’t have been further from the truth, given the packed outdoor space and the 20-minute wait to order.

I’ve learned that you can’t judge a place by how many cows and sheep you have to walk by to get there!

Continue reading

George Harrison & Judith Viorst in London

Can you believe my last post only recounted the events of our first two days in London? Sometimes it still baffles me the number of things we got to experience there. Day three was no exception.

We decided to start our day early, knowing there would always be so much to do and see in London. However, we failed to take into account that things in London do not like to start their days early. So even though we arrived at the British Museum at 8:30, it didn’t open until 10:00. Luckily, we found a cafe around the corner, Chandler had a second breakfast, and we returned at 9:30 to discover that the main gates had opened. Because while the exhibitions and galleries aren’t available until 10:00, the entryway and gift shops open earlier.

We spent about four hours wandering through the museum, thoroughly enjoying the ancient Egyptian pieces, the modern Japanese works, the clocks and watches, statues, and so much more. We would have happily attended either special exhibit: “Hokusai beyond the Great Wave” and “The American Dream pop to present,” but we’d heard London could get quite expensive, so we were touring the free museums, and we also just didn’t have time!

DSCF5607DSCF5632

After the museum, I had to rush a very hungry husband to a restaurant he’s been missing since we left the US nine months ago: Chipotle. We’d thought about grabbing the food to go and picnicking in the Regent’s Park, but luckily we were too hungry to wait, because fate had other plans for us : )

After our meal we decided to take a side street to make it to the bus that would take us to Regent’s Park, and we passed a pop-up exhibition up for that weekend only to promote the re-release of George Harrison’s book I, Me, Mine. We walked inside to find the original hand-written song lyrics to “I, Me, Mine” as well as other famous songs like “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “All Things Pass,” and “Behind That Locked Door.”

george

Continue reading

London Calling

I can’t believe I’ve been to three countries since the last time I had a chance to blog. It’s been a whirlwind beginning to our summer, but things are finally calming down now that we’ve settled in for our month in Leysin.

Our trip began in London and I can’t believe I haven’t been to that city sooner. The ease, the food, the culture, the activities…I guess it’s easy to say I fell in love. We only spent seven days there, but I’m already itching to go back – there’s just so much more to do!

We didn’t stay in city center, but to the west in Chiswick with some friends. They helped us with the ins and outs of using the tube and buses and the app Citymapper made our lives so much easier. Our first day was spent wandering through Chiswick with them and stopping by the Tabard for a pint (mango cider, mmm).

IMG_2379IMG_2380

The next day, we hit the streets ready to tour London on our own. We wandered around and past all the touristy things, wanting to see everything we’d heard of, but not necessarily needing to go inside all of it (we only had seven days after all!). Our walk took us through (royal) Hyde Park, walking past Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Westminster Palace & Abbey. We worked up quite an appetite and made our way over to the Borough Market – where we apparently missed Prince Harry by 10 minutes…si triste.

DSCF5501DSCF5525DSCF5532

However, not all was lost as we wondered through the charming market, sampling cheeses, fruits, sweets, and olive oils. After nine months in Accra, it was shocking to see so much food and at such good prices. We decided to stay for lunch, Chandler opting for a mouth-watering veggie burger and me being unable to turn down pumpkin-stuffed tortellini!

DSCF5539DSCF5540DSCF5544DSCF5545

The day was already off to an incredible start and it wasn’t even noon! I was keeping a close eye on the time, because at 12:30 we had a tour of Shakespeare’s Globe before our viewing of Twelfth Night at 2:00.

Normally, I’m not one for tours, but I love (love) theaters. And this one has a fascinatingly short history – the modern reconstruction (built only 750 feet from where the original stood in 1599) didn’t open until 1997. And the theatre was founded by an American actor and director named Sam Wanamaker.

I, mistakenly, thought the shows performed here were all done traditionally, but after my initial surprise, I was thrilled with the 1970s reinterpretation involving some great music, a fabulous drag singer, and a lot of laughs. It won’t be easily forgotten or confused with other shows I’ve seen.

Continue reading

Art Shows In Accra

As the school year comes to a close, we find ourselves getting out and about more in Accra. This past month alone we went to three art shows: one for a student group, another a hotel display, and the third, a friend of ours.

Our school has a Right To Be Free club, and the student members invited the community to their art exhibition “Growing In Ghana” that was held at Alliance Francaise. Students, parents, and teachers worked with professional artists to create works of art. All of the artwork was for sale and all proceeds went to support the rescue and rehabilitation of victims of child trafficking.

We now have to decide where to hang this incredible screen print we bought, made by one of our third graders : )

FullSizeRender 2

Shortly after that we found ourselves at the Kempinski Hotel for a relaxing pool day and made our way into their Standing Ovation exhibit. In it, Gerald Chukwauma utilizes painting, sculpture, and collage to explore migration as a constant process of transformation.

All of his work was affixed to pieces of wood. It was an incredibly unique experience.

IMG_4795IMG_2045IMG_2049

Our third and final art show also took place at Alliance Francais. This time, our friend Tjasa Rener’s work was on display. She used recycled phone cards, screenprinting, and painting to make these absolutely incredible works of art.

IMG_2091IMG_2090IMG_2092

I’m hoping, next school year, there will be many more art shows to come!

Five Minutes in Tafi Abuife Kente Village

To be fair, I once again didn’t quite do all my homework. I knew that the Tafi Abuife Kente Village was in the Volta region and I already knew we’d be in the area because of the location of the Wli Falls.

However, I didn’t take into account just how far the village was from our location: about a two-hour round trip. Which, isn’t really a big deal for a full outing, but in retrospect, was a bit far for the five minutes we spent there.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself…

My last post ended with the bruised and battered return of our friends from the four-hour hike to the upper falls. After a round of showers, we set off for the kente village around noon.

About an hour later we arrived at a small warehouse. While our driver talked to some men who, up until our arrival, had been sleeping inside, I walked around and snapped some pictures.

DSCF5479DSCF5480DSCF5481DSCF5483

It was interesting to see how much space was needed for these looms. Also, while the second and fourth photo show what I’ve come to consider as “typical” Ghanaian kente cloth designs, I had never seen the first design before.

We had assumed we’d arrive, see how the production of the cloth happened, and then browse through a store or market for the finished product. Wrong.

It was clear that Saturday is not a typical day to observe…given that the only people inside the facility were napping. We were told that in order to receive a tour, we needed to go to the head office down the road, pay, and then return. We were escorted out.

Continue reading