Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Rafael Vincente Correa Delgado

Monday, October 24, 2011

My goal yesterday was to find a nice warm sweater or a poncho I could take with me up to Cotopaxi when I head up there today. I ended up with two pretty scarfs, but no sweater. But I had a legitimate excuse for why I failed! I got to shake hands with the President of Ecuador. I think that trumps shopping. :)

First of all, I want you to see the view I have been waking up to since last Wednesday:

I literally open my eyes and that's what I see. Most awesome view ever!

Yesterday morning I decided to head into the Old Town, hoping to run into a market somewhere or someone selling sweaters or ponchos. Added bonus of getting to see pretty pretty buildings on a stunningly perfect day.

UNESCO declared Quito one of the first World Cultural Heritage Sites back in 1978. It has one of the best preserved and least altered historic centers in the Americas. The area is filled with churches and museums, the government palace and plenty of shops to keep you busy.

Historic center
Originally uploaded by theloriest

I wandered into the Museo Nacional De Arte Colonial, but didn't see any displays. I did, however, find a library! With roof access that led to some amazing views.

I wandered down the street and found a number of fabric shops, but decided to hold off buying anything quite yet. I want to see what Otavalo has to offer first. One of the most amazing buildings I saw was La Compañia, a church that unfortunately was closed and I couldn't go inside. I've heard that seven tons of gold supposedly ended up on the ceiling, walls, and altars... but the outside was ornate enough and I took a shit ton of pictures.

Still searching for that sweater I continued wandering, until I stumbled upon a large group of men in military uniforms, all carrying musical instruments! "Ohhh, this could be neat!" I said to myself. So I found a place I could wait until they went on the move, and then I followed them.

We found ourselves back in the main plaza, and to my surprise a huge event appeared to be gearing to start soon! I had no idea what was going on, just that there were kids with flags, kids with various instruments, a military honor guard, and my friends the military band I had followed to get there. I found a good vantage point for photographs and though I didn't understand a word of what was said I enjoyed the performances quite a lot.

As you can see, I had a good view of the VIPs. And to my surprise, one of those VIPs was Rafael Correa, the President of Ecuador! And I was standing right where he passed by on his way out of the plaza. He was shaking hands with people as he passed, and he shook my hand too! :) Coolest random thing to happen to me yet!

Turns out the President of Turkey was visiting Ecuador, so my guess is that this huge event was staged to show off a bit. At 11 the President and a host of other dignitaries (later found out they were all the heads of government for various cities around Ecuador... the woman standing next to the President was I think in charge of the Galapagos) came out on the balcony of the Government Palace and then a band started up and there were performances by a group with flags, and another group on horseback. A huge crowd had gathered in the plaza... waving and cheering for their President... and when the band played songs they knew every person began to sing along. It was completely amazing to witness.

The rest of my day was not nearly as cool. I never managed to find the sweater or poncho, but I'll be fine. I did wander down to the Chinese restaurant down the street for lunch, and was hugely surprised at how delicious the food was. Spent some time hanging out with people in the hostel. I'm heading up to Cotopaxi, where there is no internet. So I soaked up my need for internet and got all caught up before I am to leave.

Managed to succeed to not falling down any more stairs. Last night I played more cards before coming down to my room to pack for the next few days. I'm leaving my suitcase here in Quito and am only bringing my backpack with me for the next few days.

The plan is to grab the transport up to the Secret Garden Cotopaxi at 10. It's about a 2.5 hour drive. I'm staying there tonight and tomorrow night. I don't plan on climbing the volcano, which is one of the world's highest active volcanos, but I do plan on relaxing and enjoying being away from everything. I'll go horseback riding across the Andean plains. And if I feel up to it I will go hiking a bit up to the waterfalls I've been told about, where you can jump off one of them! I've always wanted to jump off a waterfall.

Anyway, I am off to locate food, and to then check out of my room. I will talk to you again from Baños, which is where I plan to head after my visit to Cotopaxi.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Slowly picking things back up - a Sunday in Quito

Sunday, October 23, 2011

So we're on day two of "taking it easy so my body can heal." Sunday is a very quiet day around here. Most everything is closed, and people take their families out for walks or bike rides or to play in the park. Quite a few of the streets near my hostel were closed off to vehicles and there were cyclists everywhere of all ages, shapes and sizes. Temporary bike mechanics were set up on a round about and there are bikes for hire. The Secret Garden rents them out as well, but I chose to walk.

You see... I decided this morning that I would test out my body by going for a short walk. My destination was a park down the road a ways that I've gone by several times that looked like a pretty place to sit and people watch. One thing I have to say for being sore all over... it's causing me to slow down and pay more attention to the way I move my body. Including my breathing. So that's good!

One of the things I discovered today is the Quito Observatory. It is set up in the middle of the park that I chose to explore today. A beautiful building, and I regret not bringing my camera on my walk. Today was observation only, though. The observatory was not open yet when I walked by, so I made a mental note to revisit another day. Quito is so high that I'm sure the views will be astounding.

Setting up on the other side of the park near the pond were some food stalls that smelled divine! I'd already eaten breakfast, though, and I don't tend to think of Mystery Meat as breakfast food anyway. So I found a bench and sat and just enjoyed watching people moving around, playing, and enjoying their Sunday morning.

I eventually got up and began the walk back to my hostel. I decided to take a different route back, to figure out the lay of the land. And along the way I found a little bookstore! This was the most difficult time I had trying to express what I wanted, as the woman trying to help me just could not understand that I did not want a book in English, nor did I want an English book that had been translated into Spanish. I wanted a book for children written by an Ecuadorian author! After so many misunderstandings we *FINALLY* got things worked out and I ended up with a little book called Todo el Mundo en un Solo Lugar by Ricardo Martínez Cantú. It appears to be fairy tale-ish in nature. A nice addition to my collection of childrens books from around the world!

Got back to the hostel only a little stiff from the walk, so I settled in with my computer in one of the common rooms and chatted with folks back home online while hanging out and relaxing with folks here in the hostel as well. I decided about mid-afternoon though that I wanted to head back to the park to see if any additional booths had been set up. You see, I am heading up to Cotopaxi on Tuesday, and I am still in need of a nice warm sweater to bring with me. So I walked back down to the same park, where unfortunately, there were no sweaters for sale. I did get some mystery meat on a stick, though. It really hit the spot about then. I'm guessing it was chicken, but I'm not going to make assumptions!

I wanted to test another way of getting around, so even though it was only about a 15-20 minute walk back to the hostel I decided to take a bus! 25 cents, and got packed into a blue bus tight as a sardine. Am used to that, though, living in Boston. I still have no idea how I'd get on or off at the little stops, so tomorrow will expand my bus taking experiences as I continue my quest for a warm sweater before Tuesday.

The rest of the day was spent hanging out with folks here in the hostel. Met Ryan from Ireland, and two girls from Belgium. I taught them how to play Shithead and much fun was had playing cards. :) I was also propositioned by a guy from Australia. It was quite nearly "g'day! dyawannashag?" I declined. But it was very amusing.

My entire room of dormmates left this morning to head out to the Galapagos. Tonight I have three new dormmates. Haven't met one of them, but the other two are an elderly couple... having the time of their lives. This is their first experience staying in a hostel and Jim said they are loving it! We got shushed by the mysterious third before our conversation could continue, so I am looking forward to talking to him and his wife more in the morning.

And there we go! No pictures of Quito today, so I will leave you with a picture of my poor injured finger.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Taking a day to do nothing at all

Saturday, October 22, 2011

I was going to go up to Otavalo for the big market today but when I woke up and started trying to move I was just in too much pain. So I called today a rest day and spent it hiding out in my dorm room, on the computer or listening to music and reading a book. I'm still going up on November 5, so it's not like I am missing the market entirely.

One of the other guests here is a nurse, and she is glad that I prescribed a few days of rest for myself. My plan is to go for a test walk tomorrow to see how I am feeling. I want to find a good warm sweater for myself before I head up to Cotopaxi on Tuesday. So tomorrow and Monday is going to just quietly explore the city a bit. Nothing too strenuous. I'll rest, and then on Tuesday I'll pick back up and start adventuring again.

I'm feeling rather homesick right now. It's just being so far from home and people I know when I am hurting. I'll be fine soon. Talked to my parents and to one of my best friends this morning.

Oh, I did do one very important thing today. Finally managed to confirm my reservation for the hostel in Canoa for 10/31-11/4. So that's good.

Ok. I'm tired, so I'm going to lay down and go to bed early tonight. Not even 9pm. *laughs* Tomorrow will be a better day. I know it.

Journey to the Middle of the World

Friday, October 21, 2011

Thursday evening some of us in my room were talking and it turns out there was to be an outing to La Mitad del Mundo. The hostel's tour agency had a tour that takes us to the cheesy museum, to the actual equatorial monument, and to Crater Town... a farming community built up right inside an old volcanic crater.

So yesterday morning the group of us gathered downstairs, waiting for the van that would be our transportation for the morning. Originally 5 people, the group grew to 9. Five Brits, an Irish woman, a German, a guy from Iceland, and me. The drive up to only took about half an hour or so, and we were chatting away with each other and talking about our various adventures. The day looked and felt cold and dreary, so I layered up before we left and made sure my poncho was attached to my camera case.

The museum was definitely for tourists, but it was still a lot of fun! We had a guide take us around and saw a bunch of very cool things. My favorite was the mural depicting the recipe for a shrunken head! After that he showed us a couple of actual real shrunken heads. They were creepy as fuck! He requested we refrain from taking photos, so I don't have pictures of the heads themselves. But dude, if anybody ever asks me in the future if I've ever seen a shrunken head I can say yes!

One of the draws of this museum is when they take you to the equator "line" and show you all sorts of tricks. Balancing an egg on its end was one that I managed to accomplish. There are also various resistance tricks, and water going down the drain. We laughed a lot and had a great time.

From there we piled back into the van and our driver took us up to what we called Crater Town. The official name, though, is La Reserva Geobotánica del Cráter del Pululahua. It's a geobotanical community built into a volcanic crater. SO pretty, as you can see by the picture! Our driver only gave us 10 minutes here, and I wish I'd had more time.

I didn't realize at this point that we were supposed to have three stops, and our driver only took us to two of them. Later that evening the girl from Carpe Diem found me and refunded me half my money, since we missed out on part of the tour. I like unexpected money!

After we got back to the hostel, Egill (guy from Iceland) and I took off in search of lunch and futbol shirts. We found a little place for lunch, and I couldn't tell you what I ate, just that it was OH SO DELICIOUS and so filling and there was too much for me to eat it all. And it was only $1.75. When buying the shirt though I learned that they only come in one size. Which was a bit too small for me. I got one anyway, because when else am I going to have a chance to buy an Ecuador national futbol team shirt? (I picked that over Liga because it was prettier). And also, I am losing weight like crazy! The pants I bought last week are already slipping off my hips. So the shirt will fit me eventually.

Tom and Helen, a British couple I'd made friends with, warned us that the area we were walking in is where Tom got shit dumped on him the other day. It's a tactic used to rob you of your belongings. Someone above dumps a pail of shit on you, and when you stop to clean yourself you get "helped" by "nice passerbys"> who proceed to rob you while you are distracted. Tom said he'd heard of this, but never expected it to actually happen to him. So when it did they just kept walking, aware that they were being followed, and came straight to the hostel. So I was extra vigilant while on my walk, and Egill and I ran into no problems at all.

I wish I had brought my camera with me on the walk, though. We saw the most hilariously ugly paint job on a building we've ever seen, and words can't describe it. I also saw a music theater with beautiful architecture. So once I am feeling better I'll return and get some photographs. Maybe even bring my sketchbook!

Spent the rest of the day hanging out in the hostel. Learned a new card game that in English is called "Shit head." At one point after dinner we had 9 people playing, and were using three decks of cards. It's one of those social games where you have to play a card higher than the card on top, and if you can't you have to take the pile. We played for a couple of hours and then the group separated to go off and do various things, and I ended up playing rummy with a pair of American guys who had just arrived.

I took a very bad tumble down the stairs when heading down to bed after we finished our card game. I suspect falling down the stairs was due to a variety of things. I'd had a couple of drinks. I was carrying my journal in one hand, and was dealing with keeping my shawl on with the other. And that particular staircase is just not an easy one. I am very lucky I didn't injure myself more seriously. Just battered and bruised.

One of the girls who volunteers here helped me in my room in getting undressed and into my PJs and up into my top bunk. She also wrapped my pinkie for me (I suspect it is sprained) and made sure I had an ibuprofen and my bottle of water.

Man, what a day, right?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Reaching the heavens and placing bets

Thursday October 20, 2011

This morning I joined my new friends Conor and Emer for a ride up the Teleferico, the tram that takes you up to a point of 4050 meters with amazing views of the city. From there we climbed another even higher. At times I felt I was going to keel over and die, the air was so thin and my legs hurt so much. But Conor and Emer were amazing and kept me going til I was just done. They kept going, and when I finally turned around to head back down, the clouds parted and sun beamed down on Quito below us.

I am pretty sure that no matter what, I am going to return home in better shape than I left! But at the same time, today's adventure wiped me out for the entire day. I felt sick for the entire afternoon and the exhaustion was hard to deal with. I've been exhausted before, but nothing like this. But I am so proud of myself for what I have done so far in only two days. I am so glad that I gave myself time, so that on these days where my mornings wipe me out for the afternoon I don't feel like I am behind schedule. I have no schedule. And it's marvelous.

I've been having a blast practicing my Spanish with the various taxi drivers I have encountered. Today I conversed the entire ride back to my hostel from the Teleferico! Granted, most of it was asking him to slow down or repeat what he asked and then trying to remember the correct vocabulary to express what I wanted to say in reply... but it was great! And he was grinning ear to ear the entire time.

I ate dinner with friends here at the hostel, and afterwards the four of us pulled out what change we had in our pockets and decided a game of poker was in order! Five cent minimum bid, game was Texas Hold Em. We played for a couple of hours, and I claimed victory at the end because I was the only one of us to end up with a dollar coin from the pot. :)

A group of us decided we wanted to head up to La Mitad del Mundo tomorrow. So we've got transportation arranged for the five of us, and we're heading out at 9:30. The equator is a tourist trap, but who cares? It'll be fun. And the people I am heading up with are a riot. I'll write more later about some of the people I have been spending time with down here. But for now it is bedtime. Good night!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Random adventures are the best kind

Wednesday October 19, 2011

Ahhhh... my lovely friends! Day two of my trip is about to begin. I just need to pull myself out of bed and crawl upstairs to where there is coffee. But first I wanted to write about my adventures so far!

This picture of Quito's Basilica was taken from the roof of The Secret Garden, my home here in Quito. This hostel is quite wonderful, and lives up to the praise that led me to book 10 nights here. The people are friendly and helpful. The bed is comfortable. There is plenty of hot water for showers. And it's just a lot of fun hanging out meeting and talking to people! I'm on the 4th floor (walkup... and dear GOD this is either going to kill me or make me stronger, I am not yet sure which) and the view out of the window directly opposite my bed is a wonderful thing to go to sleep to and wake up to. There are a bunch of places inside where you can chill outside of your room. There is a lounge area around the corner from my dorm room. But the best spot is the roof. It's where their restaurant and bar is located. And it's where I have spent a lot of my time here so far. *smiles*

Ok... so adventures! Yesterday was a glorious day. Not a rain cloud in sight. I have lots of time to explore, so I didn't want to push myself too much my first day here, so I decided my first adventure would be a short walk up to the Basilica. I learned that while the altitude isn't giving me a great deal of trouble, walking up and up and up was quite painful. But I pushed on, and I made it! Paid $1 to go inside, and another $2 to head up into one of the towers.

This Roman Catholic church is I believe the largest neo-gothic Basilica in the Americas. I'm particularly interested after my experience in Europe last winter with the gothic churches I saw there. When I have more time I want to pull out all of my pictures and do side by side comparisons. Construction began in the late 1800s, and it is still unfinished. According to Wikipedia, local legend says that when the Basilica is complete it will signal the end of the world.

First day here and I forgot my hat and sunblock. So my face is sunburned, but it just serves as a reminder not to forget again! I noticed a few interesting things while out and about. a) Loose dogs are everywhere! It's sad to see so many of them with obviously broken legs or hips. b) While up in the tower I noticed a distinct difference in architecture and roofs in particular throughout sections of the city where the poor live vs the probably more affluent. And c) OMG the cheap! I picked up a bottle of water and a breakfast roll for 55 cents on my way back to my hostel.

I spent a good two or three hours exploring. I have no sense of time down here. It's both nice and maddening. But I am trying to learn to deal. Got back to the hostel happy, but tired. I had arrived around midnight, woke up around 7, and wandered around hatless in the sun and decided to just take it easy for the rest of the day. I finished a book. I got a financial hiccup smoothed out. (Calling from my gmail account meant that being on hold for 45 minutes was, while annoying, was not costly! Was able to make the call for free). And I talked to people.

After an afternoon nap I went back up to the roof to hang out until dinner. And while eavesdropping on a conversation a few others were having I heard them talking about fútbol. Since getting a chance to see a fútbol match while down here was high on my list of things I hoped to do, I opened my mouth and found myself asking them if there was a chance I might be able to see a match while here.

"ACTUALLY..." drawled Remy. "We were going to a game tonight. Want to come with us?"

We ended up being Remy, who works here at the hostel and was the instigator of this little adventure. Allen, a young guy from London who has traveled all over the world following his favorite fútbol teams. Tom and Helen, a young couple from England who have the twin room right next door to me. And me. The five of us piled into a taxi and got dropped off in La Mariscal, the more modern hip section of Quito. We dropped into a pub called Finn McCool's for a few beers and a bite to eat before continuing on to the stadium. I had considered whether I want to stay in this area at some point during my visit, but I looked around me and it is full of bars and clubs and I'm just not the bar or club kind of person. So I think I will stick to the Old City.

I was really feeling the beers I'd been drinking, so made the decision to cut myself off. Finally, Remy said it was time to go, so we walked to the main square and managed to hail another taxi and piled in. The stadium is at the edge of the city, and fútbol is HUGE here. So traffic was absolutely wretched. Remy was saying that this stadium officially holds about 40,000 people... and unofficially holds about 60,000. Liga is also one of the best teams around, and it was a home game. So things were going to be crazy.

I swear it took us an hour to get to the stadium. And I had to pee the entire time. That sucked! We grabbed tickets from a scalper for $8 each and with Remy leading the way we hurried into the stadium. Found the bathrooms and then found a place to sit. We had to sit in the lower stands, so the view wasn't great. But who cares? OMG it was crazy. Huge, powerful drums. Singing. Shouting profanities at players and the ref. I got to show off my cussing in Spanish skills! :D There is a massive police presence at fútbol matches here. Apparently things have a tendency to get quite rough. $1 cervezas (which I declined). Here are a few pictures from the game!

Liga won, 1-0. It was quite the thrilling game. Both teams played exceptionally well. The crowd was insanely boisterous as we tried to leave. Didn't want to get separated, so Tom and Helen and I held hands as we followed Remy and Allen up and away from the Stadium to where we could find a cab that would bring us back to the hostel.

Dudes... cab drivers here are NUTS! This guy drove in the opposite lane to get around lines of traffic. He drove in bus lanes. He ignored lights. I'm sure if he'd wanted to he would have ignored any one way signs, too. He just didn't need to last night. We got back in record speed, and tipped the driver well. All five of us were grinning hugely as we told him awesome driving and buenas noches.

A glass of wine up on the roof with a bunch of people talking and laughing til they closed the roof at 11. Then I read for a bit and futzed around online before passing out. Plans for today are supposed to include a walking tour of the city. I should get up now and get ready and go get coffee and breakfast.


Monday, October 17, 2011

Money problems are not welcome!

Argh! Financial difficulties the day before I am due to leave is not conducive to relaxing! I have to make a phone call on Wednesday from Quito to see if I can work things out. If not, my trip is going to be a much different experience than I had hoped for. But I am determined to make the most of things no matter how things turn out.

I've rearranged a few things, hoping for the best. Instead of heading up to Otavalo this weekend, I pushed it back to the end of my trip. Not going to have the full two and a half days up there, but I'll make do. And will hopefully still be able to buy pretty things!

Without a lot of spending money to go out and DO THINGS I'll likely spend more time focused on my photography and journal/sketchbook instead. Different memories. And hopefully the same end result of having a great visit.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Packing - random thoughts right before a big trip

I leave on Tuesday, but I am packing today. It's a damn good thing I'd already made a list, because I am so scatterbrained today that I am sure I would forget everything!

Right now I have everything spread out on my bed. I have my bags open. Trying to decide where to put things. I have one smaller bag that gets stuffed into the larger bag to be used at the end of my trip to carry new items home with me.

Don't forget sunblock! I'll need sunblock.

Ah! I found my sketchbook! Good.

In my first aid kit one of those "just in case" things I am bringing is a supply of non-latex gloves. I have no idea if I'll need medical care while I'm down there. And I have no idea just how non-latex friendly it is down there. They hardly take up any room, so why not? I have plenty of non-latex band-aids, too.

OMG! I leave in two days!!!


A few things I have learned recently:

* Ecuador uses American plugs. So I don't need to bring an adapter.

* Taking the train from Quito to Cotopaxi is only $4.50. DUDE! I must ride on the train! You can ride on the roof. I want to ride on the roof of a train.

* My sandals rub my pinkie toe just enough to be irritating. Band-aids will cure this.

I still have a million questions and things on my mind. Packing helps take my mind off those things.

Tomorrow I need to go to the bank. And then change my voicemail saying I'm going out of the country and will be back on November 8.

Anybody who matters knows I'll still be reachable by email.

Anything I'm not thinking about? Or am I thinking too much? I do that sometimes.

Friday, October 7, 2011

A new trip - Ecuador FAQ!

Ahhh.... Here we are, back to present day. I am in the middle of preparing for my next big adventure. Leaving in 11 days for a three-week trip to Ecuador.

Why Ecuador?
  • It's in South America. So I will get to cross that continent off the list that is a part of my larger travel goal (make it to every continent by the time I am 40).

  • Diversity. I'll get to experience the Andes and the Coast all in one trip. Not the Galapagos though, unfortunately. Don't quite have the available funds to add that to my itinerary.

  • Otavalo - South America's largest indigenous market.

  • Language - I've read that Ecuador is one of the best places to learn Spanish. I already have a lot of basic Spanish from taking classes through high school and college. I am hoping that three weeks of immersion will help me improve my skills.

  • Cheap! I'm unemployed, so I definitely wanted a place where the US Dollar would go far. And since Ecuador uses the USD as their official form of currency I won't even have to worry about conversion rates.

Why now? And why for three weeks?

Well, I am unemployed. Which means I have time on my hands. Once I get a job (which hopefully I'll have when I get back!) I will be stuck with only being able to take long weekends off for my various trips... with maybe an opportunity here and again to take a week off. Being able to go for three weeks means I'll have TIME. Time to go on adventures. Time to just kick back in a hammock with a book or open up my laptop if that's what I want to do. It means I'll have time to explore and branch out and see more than just a single location.

Where will you be going?

My home base will be a hostel called The Secret Garden in Quito, the capital of Ecuador. From there I intend to head up to spend a few days in Otavalo. Then back to Quito. Then several days in Baños, then back to Quito. Then five days in the coastal town of Canoa before going back to Quito to prepare for my trip back home.

What do you have planned for while you're there?

Zip lining! Canyoning! Horseback riding! Surfing! Visiting the Equator. Going shopping in Otavalo. Taking the Teleferico in Quito that will take me higher than I'll probably ever go in my life.

You seem to have it all planned out!

Well, I love to plan. I have always felt that a trip can be experienced multiple times. First is when you plan it. The preparation and planning allows you the chance to experience everything before you're even there. It builds your excitement and it gives you an idea of what there is to do or see so you have at least a good starting point before you arrive. The plan can go all to hell once you arrive! But that's where the title of this blog comes into play. When something unexpected comes up, just roll with it. Rigidity gets you nowhere. Traveling solo also helps with this.

You're going alone?

I love solo travel. It means I get to go where I want to go, when I want to go. I get to do the things that intrigue and excite me. If I change my mind about something I don't have to consult with a partner I can just change directions mid-step.

Aren't you afraid?

My parents raised me to be independent and to trust myself. When I travel I listen to my instincts and my common sense. I know better than to walk around alone at night. I know better than to leave my belongings out of my sight. I pay attention to what's going on around me and let mistakes teach me a lesson for the future.

Besides... I may be afraid of certain things, but I try not to let fear get the better of me. I know that if I mess up, it won't be the end of the world. If I fall I can always get back on my feet and call it an experience. Also, since I'm kind of an adrenaline junkie... I am able to turn fear into adrenaline. So I actually enjoy doing things that scare me!

What have you done so far to prepare?
  • So far I've read as many blogs as I can find. Reading about the various places I plan to visit. I've read stuff from other solo female travelers in particular to get an idea of what to expect.
  • I've been practicing my Spanish. To the point where I have now been dreaming in Spanish for the last several months! It's kind of hilarious because my dreams have English subtitles. I have been working specifically on practicing both sides of a conversation for various situations. I also have an English/Spanish dictionary to help me out once I'm there. But I am feeling pretty confident about the basics.
  • Got myself a good pair of hiking boots (Merrell Moab Mid Waterproof) and a pair of sturdy, close toed sandals (Venice style Keens). I'll let you know how these work out after I get back!
  • Decided to invest in rechargeable batteries for my camera. After the debacle in Paris with the batteries I picked up in Dresden I am never going to let myself be in that situation again! So I have four sets of Duracell AA rechargeables.
  • Since I'll be gone for so long, I want to make sure I am reachable. So I talked to AT&T about my iPhone. Made the decision it will be cheaper to pick up a local phone once I get to Quito. E-mailed the folks at the Secret Garden and their advice was very helpful and they'll direct me to where I can do this once I arrive.

Sounds like you're pretty excited!

Oh gods, you have no idea! *laughs* Well, you might. The adrenaline pumping through me is more intoxicating than anything else I can imagine. I've never done anything like this before. I can't wait for the 18th to get here!

Hello 2011 - a trip to the cemetery

1 January, 2011

Apparently I never finished writing up my trip after I got back! This is now more than 10 months ago, so my memory isn't as fresh as it had been. But we'll see what I can remember. :)

New Years Day was my last day in Paris. But I was tired from my exertions of the past several days and felt like taking it relatively easy. The Montmarte cemetery was within an easy walk from my hostel and you know me... I'm never one to pass up the chance to visit cemeteries!

This particular cemetery is the resting place of one Alexandre Dumas Fils. (The son of the more famous Dumas). The second Dumas here wrote the novel that my favorite opera, La Traviata, is based on. I felt bad for his poor bare feet. If I had been wearing socks I probably would have taken them off to put on the statute (I wore my ballet flats that day vs. my boots).

There were several other notable graves, though it is no Père Lachaise. I am sad I didn't get a chance to make it there, but it does give me another thing to visit the next time I make it to Paris.

The day got progressively colder, windier, and wetter. Since I was notably not dressed properly for that turn of events I decided to make my way back to the hostel (stopping at a cafe for lunch) and took the rest of the day to pack and get ready for my trip home the next morning.

Happy New Year!

31 December... continued

The Grande Roue provided me with a spectacular view of Paris... but the plexiglas windows were so smudged and nasty that I had to fight with the cracks in the door to get any decent pictures. I know now why Paris is called the City of Lights, and on New Year's Eve... it was lit up in a truly spectacular fashion. The Eiffel Tower. The Champs-Élysées. All of it glittered below as I rose higher and higher over it all.

I have always known I am not a great judge of time or distance, and my experiences in Paris proved that in so many ways. Looking at the picture above I figured the Eiffel Tower couldn't be THAT far from where I was at the Concorde. Map says it's 1.5 miles. I walk that regularly.

But for some reason as I made my way from point A to point B I found myself frustrated. I could SEE the damn tower right there... why wasn't I there yet?? I hadn't realized quite how enormous it was. And how deceiving the size made the distance seem. It wasn't until I came to see the tower that the impact of its size finally hit me.

I'd seen the Eiffel Tower in movies. In pictures. I've read descriptions of it in books and on the internet. But never did I imagine it could be that enormous. The engineering of it was just incredible. The way it glowed in the dark through the clouds.

I walked around and took pictures from every angle, just amazed by its beauty. And then, out of the blue the tower began glittering and sparkling... a light show that went on for 10 minutes. I stopped everything and just watched from the bridge, awestruck that I was actually here... in Paris... seeing all of this for myself.

When finally I made the decision to leave, I still didn't know what I wanted to do to "celebrate" New Year's Eve at midnight. I did know though that I needed to find dinner. But yeah... New Year's Eve... restaurants near the tower were jam packed. If I had thought about it before, I would have made reservations at a really nice restaurant... treating myself to something extraordinary. But I ended up wanting something familiar.

So at 10pm I caught the metro and went back to Montmartre. I went back to the restaurant I had discovered that first day in Paris.

Le Relais Gascon
13, rue Joseph de Maistre

I very slowly relished the onion soup. The leg of lamb. And oh god... the crème brulée! Every part of the meal was perfect. And not once did I feel alone or lonely that I was spending New Year's Eve by myself in a strange city. I decided to indulge and ordered a bottle of wine. A delicious chardonnay that complemented my meal perfectly.

The staff at the restaurant were friendly. I had a great and lively conversation of mixed bad English and bad French with the table of old people sitting near me. And just before midnight, the manager handed out glasses of champagne to everyone there, and when the clock turned to midnight we all cheered and called out "BONNE ANNEE!" We wandered from table to table, mingling and kissing cheeks and clinking glasses.

Smiling broadly, I felt like a part of something. I didn't need crowds. I didn't need parties or clubs or anything loud or crazy. This was a Paris experience I hadn't planned on, but that felt exactly right.

I finally wandered back to my hostel at around 1:30 in the morning. Pleasantly drunk. Full of wonderful food. And content with life. 2011 was here, and I was starting it out just right.

A Parisian Romance

New Year's Eve

After leaving the opera house and some time getting lost, I eventually found myself sitting on a park bench in the Place de la Concorde with the Eiffel Tower not too far away and the big ferris wheel directly to my left. I decided the ferris wheel would be an ideal place to situate myself in order to take photos of sunset. So I pulled out my journal and settled down to write down my thoughts and experiences and just relax.

I don't know when exactly I noticed him... but when I saw the same guy pass by me a second time I took a better look. Attractive. Very well dressed. Biting his lip. And trying to not look at me. I asked myself, is this poor guy trying to get up the courage to come talk to me? I smiled when he passed by a third time.

His name was Jamel.

We sat and talked in the park for a good hour, the conversation weaving in and out and taking on a life of its own. He got his PhD in physics here in the states and then taught in England for several years before moving back to Paris, so he spoke very good English. And he was completely charmed by my accent. (I had an accent! *squee*) We talked about what I was doing in Paris, and the places we've visited in our various travels.

After a while, when the temperature began to drop, Jamel asked if I wanted to go get some coffee in order to get out of the cold. Since I figured an experience like this one took precedence over sunset I said yes. He offered me his arm, and we walked through to the other side of the park and wandered in and out of cafes until we found one that we liked.

We laughed as I tried to read the menu and Jamel taught me how to properly pronounce café au lait when I decided that is what I wanted to drink.

Our conversation this entire time never stopped. It was intoxicating. We lost track of the time as we were so intent on each other.

But it was New Year's Eve. And Jamel had somewhere to be that was about an hour south of Paris. We thought about either me joining him or him canceling on them, but neither would really work out all that well. So we walked back to the Concorde, with the intent of saying goodbye and going our separate ways. But then he pulled me toward him and we kissed with the lights of the Grande Roue sparkling above us.

We made tentative plans to meet again the next day, but alas, things just didn't work out that way for us. But we are staying in touch.

Maybe we'll see each other again the next time I am in Paris.

The Paris Opera House

31 December, 2010

So much happened on New Year's Eve that I am going to break it up into three posts. First of all, I have to show you The Palais Garnier, otherwise known as the Paris Opéra. It was my first stop of the day, and the only place in Paris I paid money to go inside and see for myself. I really wasn't prepared for how stunning this place was. They had blocked off a great deal of it in order to prepare for a big New Year's Eve event, but I saw enough that it completely boggled my mind.

Like the Semperoper in Dresden, this opera house was build in the mid-late 1800s. Construction began in 1861 and the opera house opened in 1875. The opulence and lavish attention to detail was in evidence in every corner I found myself able to poke my nose into.

There was one section of hallway that I discovered wasn't as overwhelming as the rest. I saw a lot of posters of previous performances and various busts of famous composers and actors that made their names here in Paris.

I don't remember how long I spent in the opera house. Enough time that by the time I was ready to leave, they had blocked off the grand staircase and I needed to figure out another way to get out! It was like a labyrinth in there, and I could easily imagine why Gaston Leroux found it so inspirational. This was another place I could have spent an entire day visiting.

The joy of traveling alone

30 December, 2010

My plan for Thursday involved me visiting three major spots. I would take the metro and begin my day at Notre Dame, then walk to the d'Orsay and then over to the Rodin museum.

My day started out according to schedule.

I decided to skip going inside the cathedral, because I was really just too busy enjoying the beautiful day and was more fascinated with the details of the building than filled with a burning desire to wait in any lines. I circled and circled Notre Dame, taking pictures of it from a distance, then coming back in and taking photos of small details. Like I had discovered up at Sacre-Coeur, I didn't have the ability to capture any of it in my sketchbook... so I left that in my bag and stuck to the photography.

As I left the masses and crowds around the Notre Dame I decided to walk along the Seine on my way to my next destination... and I couldn't help but remember the lyrics to ABBA's "Our Last Summer" and softly sang it to myself as I walked.

The summer air was soft and warm
The feeling right, the Paris night
Did its best to please us
And strolling down the Elysee
We had a drink in each cafe
And you
You talked of politics, philosophy and I
Smiled like Mona Lisa
We had our chance
It was a fine and true romance

I can still recall our last summer
I still see it all
Walks along the Seine, laughing in the rain
Our last summer
Memories that remain

We made our way along the river
And we sat down in the grass
By the Eiffel tower
I was so happy we had met
It was the age of no regret
Oh yes
Those crazy years, that was the time
Of the flower-power
But underneath we had a fear of flying
Of getting old, a fear of slowly dying
We took the chance
Like we were dancing our last dance

I can still recall our last summer
I still see it all
In the tourist jam, round the Notre Dame
Our last summer
Walking hand in hand

Paris restaurants
Our last summer
Morning croissants
Living for the day, worries far away
Our last summer
We would laugh and play

And now you're working in a bank
The family man, a football fan
And your name is Harry
How dull it seems
Yet you're the hero of my dreams?

I can still recall our last summer
I still see it all
Walks along the Seine, laughing in the rain
Our last summer
Memories that remain
I can still recall our last summer
I still see it all
In the tourist jam, round the Notre Dame
Our last summer
Walking hand in hand
Paris restaurants
Our last summer
Morning croissants
We were living for the day, worries far away

In addition to stopping by to say hello to the statue of Saint Michel, I took pictures of everything that caught my eye. A pretty window, light glancing off the cobblestones in the sidewalk, balconies, a neat bit of architecture...

I looked at my map and realized that if I crossed the Seine at Pont Neuf, I could cross back at Pont des Arts, then from there the d'Orsay. A slight detour, but a lovely one. I easily could have stopped and gone to Louvre instead, as I was so close. But I had a plan and I was going to stick to it!

But when I finally reached the museum, I stopped. I looked at the lines. I looked back to where I had just been, and remembered how lovely the view was from Pont des Arts. I knew I would have enjoyed the museum. I knew that if I went in, I would find the experience worthwhile and I would have come out with a new appreciation for whatever it is people appreciate in museums.

But it was a really beautiful day. It was warm enough that I had to take off my heavier coat, and made me wish I had on shoes other than my winter boots. The sun glinted off the river, and the sky was blue. I didn't want to be inside. And I didn't have to be. So I walked back to Pont des Arts. I found a bench, and I pulled out my sketchbook to draw Pont Neuf and Paris behind it.

The rest of my day involved yet more wandering fairly aimlessly. I had no plans, and I wasn't even sure anymore what I would do the next day. Every day of my trip had brought me something unexpected, and I was perfectly okay with that. I no longer felt even a little bit lonely seeing people together in pairs or groups. Traveling by myself, eating by myself, talking to myself... all of that was fine by me.

Getting lost in Paris

29 December... continued

After leaving Sacre-Coeur I had three immediate problems facing me. 1) I needed more cash. So an ATM had to be found. 2) I needed to find batteries for my camera. 3) I don't speak French, so asking random people for help was going to be difficult.

I knew how to ask for help, though. "Pouvez-vous m'aider, s'il vous plaît?" This and a smile got me all the help I needed. Not once did I meet somebody who was unwilling to point me in the right direction or give me the name of a store I could go into to find what I was looking for. In fact, the only rude person I encountered throughout my entire stay in Paris was at the airport on my way home. But that is another story.

Ok... so here I am, on the streets of Paris. I've reached the point where in my quest for an ATM and batteries I no longer know exactly where I am. And I am completely okay with that. I choose a direction and start walking. I worship at the alter of Parisian fashion every time I walk by an awesome window display.

Eventually I found myself approaching rue Saint-Denis. I didn't know anything about this street when I made the decision to turn and wander my way down its entire length. But it was certainly a fun and vastly interesting little discovery.

From Wikipedia:
The neighborhood around the rue Saint-Denis is now above all made up of sex shops, with the part situated between rue Réaumur and boulevard Saint-Denis notorious as a place of prostitution. Nevertheless, the street does also contain some clothes shops, bars and restaurants, as well as the church of Saint-Leu-Saint-Gilles, a bank, and the Chambre des notaires building.

The prostitutes were fascinating to look at as I meandered my way down the street. I thought to myself, "how can I sneak a photograph of them to show folks at home?" But then my sense of self-preservation kicked in and I decided it would probably be better to not take pictures of the hookers. I really can't describe what made these hookers any different from the ones here or anywhere else I have been. But there really was a distinctly different feel and look to them. I guess my thoughts on that will have to remain in my head, where only the inner recesses of my brain can process what I saw.

This is the Porte Saint-Denis. Naturally, I didn't know that when I was taking its picture, but it was really damn impressive.

I eventually found myself in Les Halles, a really neat area that used to be a large wholesale marketplace but has been replaced with a garden above the underground shopping mall. I find malls to be a very neat place to go people watching, and this one was no exception. I also wandered into quite a few shoe stores, but did not find anything that screamed "TAKE ME HOME."

There was a metro stop underneath the mall, so I said I would call it a day and make my way back to Montmartre. I had walked a TON that day and my body had decided it was done.

Change of plans

29 December, 2010

My original plans involved going to either Chartres or Versailles. But thanks to a big honking migraine that hit me Wednesday morning I managed to wake up early and drag myself downstairs to get the very basic breakfast provided by the hostel, and then promptly drag myself back up to my bed where I slept til about 11:30, pretty much wiping out half my day.

I reevaluated my plans for what I wanted to see and do while in Paris, and decided to head up the hill and check out Sacre-Coeur and from there I'd figure out what to do next.

So I began my trip by figuring out where the Basilica was in relation to where I was staying, and then took off. I took a whole bunch of the extra batteries I had picked up Dresden, because I figured I would be taking a LOT of photos up at the church and didn't want to run out of juice.

Along the way I found a mini little holiday market set up in front of Saint Jean de Montmartre Church. I wandered through to see what was available and availed myself to a crepe and cup of coffee before making my way to the church itself. It was the first European church I found myself with the opportunity to explore, so I went in and was just floored by the elegance and simplicity.

While in the church I was accosted by a young man wanting donations to something or another. I later found that these assholes were preying on tourists everywhere. I didn't really understand what was going on at this point, so I decided I'd go ahead and donate 10€ to get him to shut up and leave me alone. I had looked at the paper he was shoving in my face and saw that was what everyone else had written, so I figured what the hell.

Well, I pulled out the money I had and handed him the 10€ bill, and he promptly snapped the rest of my money out of my other hand, blew me a kiss and tried to walk off with all of my money! Just that morning I had looked to see how much cash I had left, so I knew that he had just taken 40€ of my money. I would have none of that, so I really let him have it. I made a scene and a fuss until I got every euro back that he had taken, including the 10€ that I would have donated willingly if he hadn't been a jackass thief. I was shaking with anger when the situation was over and I found myself outside again, alone in my own personal space. I knew that I had been careless, so I promised myself I wouldn't let that happen to me again.

I continued walking up the hill, and walking, and walking. My god that hill was steep! I finally came across the big hill with Sacre-Coeur at the top. And dear lord... MORE STAIRS!

I could have taken the tram that went up and down the hill, but I wanted to out-stubborn those goddamn steps. So I climbed. And climbed. And climbed some more. Took the occasional break to step aside and take photos as I grew closer and closer to the top of the hill.

Finally, I reached the base of the Basilica... and all of that work was worth the view.

It was a grey, drizzly day, so the view of Paris wasn't as great as I had hoped it would be. I took some photos, but none of them really wowed me. I was actually more interested in the church itself. I was stunned by the magnificence, and just completely overwhelmed at how beautiful it was. I tried to draw part of it, but just couldn't capture what I was looking at. I would need more time, a bigger sketch pad, and a great deal more practice drawing things of that magnitude before I go after that church again with pen and paper.

So I focused on the architecture, and began photographing every detail I could... big or small. My batteries soon died and I swapped them out for a new pair. I took two pictures and then.... black. "Please change batteries." WHAT? Changed batteries again. Took two pictures and again fade to black. "Please change batteries." Of the 12 extra batteries I brought with me that day, I managed all of 6 pictures. :( I was devastated. I could have taken hundreds of pictures of Sacre-Coeur, but all I ended up with were 28.

Since I had no more opportunities to continue taking pictures of the building itself, I followed the crowd to go inside. I don't really know how to describe what I felt.

I'm an atheist. I secretly find really ostentatious churches to be offensive and it kinda pisses me off that groups with so much money spend their money to make pretty pictures in a building rather than helping the people who need help.

But then I sat inside the Basilica of Sacre-Coeur, and for the first time in my life I recognized the power that is in a place like that. I understand now what some people mean when they reference a holy space, or a sacred space. Sacre-Coeur was so magnificent there was no way I could not be affected by it. I had nobody with me telling me we had other places in Paris to see or that they were bored and wanted to get out of there... so I was able to sit inside for several hours, just me and my thoughts. Almost meditating, if you want to call it that.

I finally left the church and went back outside. I had to find a place nearby that sold batteries, because I was desperate to get my camera working again. But before I got far I was accosted by another type of Parisian out to get money. One of the artists of Montmartre. He wanted to draw my picture. I was really at peace with myself, and in a damn good mood... so I decided, Why not? The artist introduced himself as Dino, and he offered me his arm as we walked from the steps down to a nearby park with benches so we could sit for the portrait.


That was fun. We talked the whole time, we laughed, he flirted and I laughed some more. I felt kinda bad, though, because I only had 40€ and I suspected that the final cost would be much more than that. But Dino was having fun, and so was I. So what the hell, right?

Oh wow... the final result of that caricature was so wonderful! I looked at it, and I just felt like he had completely captured how happy I was. So I braced myself, and asked how much.



I explained that I could not afford that much. So he said, since he had so much fun, he would give me the student price of 60€. I pull out the 40€ I had and told him that was all I had. So we negotiated. Final price for the caricature portrait of me ended up being 40€ and 2 kisses. :D My kisses are worth 25€ each. How bout that, eh?

With my lovely keepsake in hand, safely rolled up and tucked into my bag, I said goodbye to Sacre-Couer and began the trip back down the hill to continue on my day's adventure.

From one place to another

28 December, 2010

Waking up at 4am for a day of travel is not fun. Particularly not when you were up quite late the night before and were kinda hung over from all the beer and wine consumed with and after dinner. :)

But that's what happened the day I had to leave Dresden to catch my flight to Paris. The car again had to get dug out and pushed out of its spot due to yet more snow, but we made it to the airport and (as I had been reassured would happen) I got checked in and through security with no fuss and in no time at all.

I had a ten hour layover in Düsseldorf, which I had originally thought would give me plenty of time to catch the train to Köln and admire the cathedral there.

However, I was exceptionally tired, feeling mostly blah, and my leg was still hurting from the day before. So I found a quiet corner in the Düsseldorf airport and slept for most of my layover. I found that the sleep really helped make me feel better, because when I woke up I was much more alert and able to figure out a plan of attack for Paris. :)

I arrived in Paris on time, around 8pm. Here I finally faced my fears of being alone in a foreign country where I didn't speak the language.

I managed to acquire my bag and find my way to the metro information desk where I bought a ticket to the stop closest to my hostel. In Paris the cost of the metro is based on how far you are going. So to get from Orly to Montmartre, the cost was over 10€. Eeeep! Wasn't expecting that, but I handed over my money and boarded the metro.

Two transfers, SO MANY STAIRS, and about an hour later I found myself at Blanche Station in Montmartre. It was dark, I was turned around, and I was distracted by all the neon lights. So naturally I turned the wrong way and went off in the opposite direction from where I was supposed to go.

It wasn't long before I realized that I was going the wrong way, but I was kinda mesmerized by a major street lined with sex shops and strip clubs and fetish gear in the window displays. So I kept walking until I reached the next metro stop (Pigalli) when I finally decided it was time to turn around and go back to where I had started.

Eventually found the right street that would take me up to my hostel... it was right by the Moulin Rouge... so I straightened my shoulders and began climbing the hill. There is a cafe on rue Lepic that I missed on my way up. It was made famous by the film, Amelie. I told myself I would stop in the next day to have coffee before starting my day.

Finding the hostel was easy enough once I going in the right direction. I got checked in, looked at the time, and decided, since I wanted to start early the next day I should probably call it a night and go to bed.

My plans for Wednesday involved going to either Chartres or Versailles. I would decide when I woke up.