France

The dream trip

A dream trip…8 countries in 8 days screamed an advertisement of a popular tourist agency. Another countered saying they would do 10 countries in 8 days and all travel arrangements taken care of including hotel stays, travel and a wonderful chef who would accompany the group. Now that is a dream vacation for some.

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And I was wondering, would that ever be my dream trip? But again, I probably have had several dream trips now, none of which involved 10 countries in 8 days! I doubt if I could travel that fast even in a dream. Not to say, it isn’t a great idea to cover/checkmark more in less, but would that be a vacation? I would need a vacation from a vacation after doing 10 countries in 8 days.

Coming back my idea for a dream vacation, I would do 1 country, or maybe 2 locations in 8 days. Absorb each place for what it is worth and take back memories that are not a blur of travel! Well, I recently did just that…at Paris where I spent an entire week at Paris alone! Of course, I got plenty of weird looks after I answered ‘Just Paris?’ twice over to their question ‘Just Paris’, ‘Nowhere else?’.

Now planning is the part that takes up a chunk of time which I dread. Given that we Indians have to go through quite a rigmarole to get a visa stamped, it is important to get all sorts of documents well in time. Thankfully, sites like Yatra have made this easy to slice and dice data and use all sorts of filters to arrive at the cheapest and the best options for International Flights and hotels. The fewer the places, the less the time spent in planning, booking, researching and merely travelling! I preferred staying in hostels, so I looked up hostel booking sites for this. All done in a jiffy and money saved through miles, redeemable points on Yatra and booking hostels over hotels!

It always is fun to steep yourself into the place even before you get there. So, I ended up reading plenty of Paris based books that made it all the more enjoyable when I found so much of the place familiar (at least the names!).

When you plan fewer places, it is easier to research as well. And you know quite a lot about a place rather than know nothing of many places. And you get to sit in the garden and have a picnic lunch infront of the Eiffel tower and admiring it instead of having to go right away after the photo-op! And you can devote a whole day to one museum and to shopping!

I had an absolute ball soaking (in the rain and the sun and the cold), in the Parisian atmosphere. The museums were absolutely amazing as were the gardens and merely commuting in the subway and walking around was a joy in itself! But again, the best part indeed was taking each day as it came, and not having to rush from one place to another. Again, I met people who were seeing 4 museums in one day and I certainly am glad I didn’t have to rush through and just checkbox all the ‘must-do’s’.

Do let me know what you would enjoy…seeing more and taking back several GBs of photos or seeing less and taking back a bucket of memories!

Categories: Europe, France, Other Travel Blah | Tags: , | 5 Comments

Paris for Art lovers

Well, where do I even start on this topic. Paris has been the stronghold of art and culture and is the ultimate destination for art lovers. It is unfortunate, but the Indian education curriculum has no place for teaching anything about art, or patronizing it. Yes, we learn about a few monuments here and there, and a little bit about the Renaissance period but that is about it. I have learned about whatever little I know from books I have read, particularly Somerset Maugham who has written many a story based on the life of writers, Parisian society, authors, parties and soirees’, and many of his protagonists spent considerable time in Paris. Particularly notable was the Moon and the Six Pence based on the life of Paul Gauguin, the French painter who gave up his ‘corporate slavery’ job (yes even back then) to become a painter who eventually moved to Tahiti. This apart, other research and visiting some museums in the US and Italy, made me appreciate the scale of the artist movements and how important they were in Europe.

Although Paris has so many museums, big and small, I will cover just some of the larger ones here that are well worth a visit. Infact, every church, cathedral and palace – big or small, is a museum in its own right too! I wouldn’t bore you with details on all the museums.

I started by visiting the Orsay museum, the bastion of the Impressionism and some famous modern artists. Monet, Manet, Renoir, Picasso, Gauguin,..you name the artist and he was there if he had created any ‘impression’ back then! The Orsay Museum has a massive collection of Impressionist, classical and paintings of several genres..I won’t bore you with the details, but I spent 4 hours at this museum alone! The Orsay museum is also interesting for the construct of its building. Infact the Orsay museum was originally a train station! You can still see the large clock and the linear structure of the station when you see the museum from the outside as well as from inside.image

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If you like Impressionism, you could also consider visiting the smaller Orangerie museum across Orsay across the river Seine popular for its Claude Monet’s water lilies, certainly well worth a visit. I had seen smaller paintings of Monet’s water lilies, but the huge canvases here, certainly were not to be missed!  In addition to Monet, the museum also covered works of art by Picasso, Henry Matisse, Paul Cezanne, Andre Derain and so many others. You can also buy the combined Orsay-Orangerie museum ticket for a cheaper price from either of the places.

imageThe grandest of them all, was ofcourse the Louvre. The world famous glass pyramids made more famous by the Da Vinci code, amongst the masses, beckoned.  This was among the last destinations I saw while at Paris..I guess I was saving the best for the last..And I wasn’t disappointed. One word to describe the Louvre is Huge. One just cannot see everything in a day here! With an amazing building and architecture, the Louvre takes enough time while on the outside as you take photos! The famous lines aren’t really that long, in off-peak season and there is no need to buy tickets in advance. Infact, there are enough automatic vending machines once you are past the security lines (that one has to go through anyway). The other trick to avoid the lines is to use the lesser known Carousel shopping mall entrance which has barely any line.

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Inside the Louvre

Once inside, you can either head straight to the Mona Lisa like most people do or keep it for as you amble along! However, planning in advance would be good so that you don’t miss any of the paintings you do want to see. It is also worthwhile to pick up an audio guide or a guide-book before you head into the museum for a more knowledgeable experience rather than being lost in the sea of paintings well known and lesser known.

Personally I think I enjoyed the Orsay museum even more than the Louvre as it was just a bit more intimate unlike the intimidating Louvre and its sea of paintings that in the end brought in some fatigue.  Go see the Mona Lisa, but be prepared to wonder what the hype is about when Leonardo da Vinci has seemingly so many better works of art, but well, what do I know!

The other museum I liked was the Chateau of Versailles, the home of the French royalty including the (in)famous Marie Antoinette who liked cake (more than bread J). The palace was splendid and well, to cut a long story short, had an amazing museum gallery. Amazing gardens, pictures and a grandiose building in itself.image

And then there are other museums too worth a visit…the Picasso museum, the Dali museum, the Pompidou center and other smaller galleries..all superb places to explore.

You can also consider taking an art walk through the art district of Montmartre. This is where all the artists lived back in the day. See where Van Gogh lived and the haunts of Picasso. A scenic tour through the hilly Montmartre later you, I will guarantee happiness!

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imageAll in all, if you are a museum fan, Paris is a fantastic destination to be at, although I would say I loved the city of Florence and Rome in that order as well for this reason. If you are a first time museum visitor, do grab some literature before you head into the museum, and that’s the only way to enjoy the priceless artefacts on display!

Categories: Europe, France | Tags: , , | 8 Comments

10 steps to a solo trip for the Indian woman traveller

After the last post I had written about women and independence, where I solemnly decided to undertake a solo trip, I did go on one! It probably isn’t a big deal, it was also not about ‘self-discovery’ and it wasn’t because I wanted to be a tad adventurous. It was a trip of pure pleasure to do what I wanted, eat as many chocolates as I wanted to with no one watching, go where I pleased for as long as I wanted and also not have to change the baby’s diapers and manage the trip between her eating, sleeping and pooping times!

While the trend is catching up in India, there are still a lot of inhibitions, some warranted for and some unwarranted for. Although there isn’t much that hasn’t been unsaid about solo travel, here are some of my experiences and tips from this trip.

 

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Cycling at Brugge, Belgium

 

My 10 tips to having a great international solo trip for an Indian woman traveler –

  1. Choose the right destination – For a first trip I wouldn’t choose a city in Afganistan or a Naxal ridden city or a solo hike to a crocodile infested place in Australia somewhere. I would rather choose a girly destination that would allow me for luxurious travel without hardship! After all, it is the toil of home I m taking a vacation from! Paris ticked off all the girly boxes for me – security, shopping, slickness and simplicity of public transport!
  2. Manage the family – If you have kids, see that they can be well taken care of in your absence. Plan around a long weekend when the hubby will be home, plan around when in-laws or parents are visiting (especially ;)), or just leave your kids at your really nice parents/inlaws! Your kids really can survive a week without you. Mind you, don’t tell them immediately as you start planning! After you have booked the airplane tickets and done the visa, break the news to your parents, in laws, husband/boyfriend etc in order of heavy opposition and convince them it is not unsafe, bad, you are not having a break up or have gone crazy etc. Once the tickets are booked no ones gonna stop you! I had quite the mix of reactions when I announced my trip (which weren’t unsurprising!)
  3. imageResearch or no-research – The easiest strategy is to go to the tourism office at the airport or station and pick up all the brochures and maps and ask them how to get wherever!  But for all those deals and cheap prices (and cheap thrills like seeing where a Bollywood movie was shot), toil a little and read up before you go! I even watched a you-tube video to check out how to take the train from the airport to the hostel and re-read a Somerset Maugham to be able to go to the places his protagonists frequented. But that apart, research  to find the right places to stay or visit, read safest areas. Reviews are a plenty on all sorts of websites now. I stayed in a hostel so I barely felt alone with a lively atmosphere wherever I stayed with plenty of young travellers all around. And I or anyone else didn’t have to be worried about ‘staying alone’ at night in a strange place.
  4. Do everything you haven’t – like packing really light because you are gonna have to lug that bag yourself, wander around at wherever you want to go, do fun stuff like cycling, and spend as much time as you want without having to push a pram or pull a husband along at the museum they find really boring, shop for an entire day (or till your money runs out)..but don’t get get carried away and do anything you will regret!
  5. Use Technology – Offline google maps is a boon, there is wifi everywhere at coffee shops, restaurants…will all let you have more fun and let you stay connected, read up on stuff you are visiting, looking for directions, posting photos etc.
  6. Be narcissistic for a change! – Take lots of selfies. Oh well, one won’t be young forever! You will always look better today without make up than in 5 years with make up! And please buy a selfie stick or else like my photos, you will be in the ‘face’ with the same grinning expression for each photo! I had a selfie stick too when I started out – the first day the stick did not work, the second day the phone did not, the third day I lost it! So maybe keep a spare!
  7. Dine alone – I never felt this strange, but really, it is not weird to be dining alone or sitting by yourself in a coffee shop. Shed those inhibitions and soak in the atmosphere at a lively place by the street. Some creepy Russian tourists (who may not be Russian or tourists) may approach you but hold tight to your purse and passport always whatever you say!
  8. Being by yourself may get a trifle boring maybe. So a way out may be planning some group activities like walking tours, a cooking class, etc. There are all sorts of group tours organized which are really nice and you could meet some interesting people on those. I did a couple of walking tours which were really nice.
  9. Don’t follow the advice given to little Red Riding Hood in its entirety. Talk to strangers, but really, not on the road and streets. Maybe at the hostel. Be safe. Be wary. Be conscious and keep that purse and passport safe. Always!
  10. Very importantly, stay in touch with your family every day and let them know you are safe…or they won’t let you do this again!

If my visit inspires any of the women who know me, I will certainly be delighted! All I can say is, there is never gonna be a good time to take a solo trip. If you like the idea of having one, just start planning even if it is for next year!

Categories: France, Other Travel Blah | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

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