Contemplate death and feel a stronger sense of life: an afternoon spent in Auvers-sur-Oise

 

23155069_871606823017429_4593886330190828831_o

I’ve always had a great interest in tortured artists. I’m not entirely sure why, but I feel that it has something to do with the fact that there’s a part of me that feels understood by them, the part of me that feels a little lost and always pondering life’s deepest and darkest questions. I find beauty in the way that they bring light to pain, beauty because it’s a natural part of being human and living life. Tortured artists help us to remember that our pain can be used to create beauty.

I’ve always felt intrigued by the works of Vincent Van Gogh, most notably his Starry Night (Yes, I know. I’m completely cliché) and his works displaying the everyday life, painting those everyday moments the way they actually appear, sometimes dreary and sad, the reality of how life can be. It’s not all sunshine and butterflies all of the time (though I like it equally when it is).

That’s why when I learned not only about the beauty of the small village of Auvers-sur-Oise but also about Vincent Van Gogh’s small stay there before his untimely death, I was immediately intrigued and put it on my list of places to go during my Toussaint break.

Continue reading “Contemplate death and feel a stronger sense of life: an afternoon spent in Auvers-sur-Oise”

Enchanted by the Medieval wonderments of Provins, France

When we think of Europe, we most often think of glorious and romantic cities like that of Paris, or our minds are brought to charming little villages that leave much wonderment to behold. The everyday living in Paris is not all sunshine and romances my friends. Yes, there are beautiful parts and beautiful things in and about Paris. However, living an everyday life here is just that. It’s an everyday life. I spend more time underground, underneath the streets of the city than I do actually walking the streets of the city.

For my Toussaint break (France’s version of a Fall break), my friend Catherine and I decided to take full advantage of our Navigo Passes, our transportation passes that allow us to get anywhere in the Île-de-France region using buses, metros, trams, and commuter trains. Both of us finding ourselves in a financial bind and not being able to support large and extensive travels, we decided to go on mini day-ventures, trying to still make the most of our time here in France.

Continue reading “Enchanted by the Medieval wonderments of Provins, France”

New Year’s Eve in the City of Lights: the magic of equality amongst diversity

Oh Paris….

The most romantic city, this city of lights. The most enchanting city, for some.

For some, Paris is a magical land where dreams come true. For some, Paris is only just a dream that they will never achieve.

This is not what Paris is for me anymore. I’ve had my fill. Paris seems just like any other city for me now. I’ve gazed in wonderment at the Notre Dame, le Sacré Coeur, the Arc de Triomphe, at le Louvre, but little did I know that there was still a little bit of magic left in this grandiose city to behold.

I got a little taste of this magic by spending my New Year’s Eve in Paris. Unfortunately, the fireworks for the evening had been canceled, due to the still occurring state of emergency under which France has been put, but that did not ruin the evening for Joshua and myself.

For dinner, we stumbled upon this up class of sorts restaurant just a few minutes walk off of the Champs-Elysées, and we decided to treat ourselves. After all, we were in Paris, near the Champs-Elysées and the Arc de Triomphe, and it was New Year’s Eve. We are also young with nothing but opportunity to experience life to the fullest. So, why not? Though this was the most fancy dinner I’ve ever had the chance to eat, I would never eat like this any given day. Thus, it was made even more special by this fact in addition to devouring it with my favorite travel companion.

Appetizer, or what the French call entrée: fresh salmon with butter and fresh lemon on toasted bread

Main dish, or plat principal: a truffle pizza. One of the most delicious pizzas that I’ve ever had in my life. Being as this had been the first time that I’d ever tried truffles, being able to have such an experience in France, where they are of high esteem, made it more delicious, if that were even possible.

Dessert: the most delicious tiramisu that I’ve ever tasted in my entire life, topped with crême anglaise, a light, custard cream poured over desserts, usually flavored with vanilla.

To drink, du vin bien sûr: A 2010 red Bordeaux: Saint-Estephe from Château Beau-Site Haute Vignoble. I don’t usually like red wines very much, but I would have a bottle of this red at my dinner table always.

If this magical dinner wasn’t enough for one night, being within a block of the Arc de Triomphe on New Year’s Eve surrounded by thousands of people from various countries and France alike definitely made the evening more magical.

I’ve seen the Arc de Triomphe multiple times. It is an amazing piece of architecture and an important monument in French history and culture. However, it has become old news for me, but this night, this particular New Year’s Eve, brought back some of its wonderment for me.

A video was projected on the screen near midnight, displaying the French flag across the Arc de Triomphe, allowing all of us, us thousands of people, of different nationalities and ethnical backgrounds, to come together and appreciate the beauty that this one night held. Though most of these thousands of people were most likely probably not French, here we all were in France, celebrating yet another year together and appreciating the beautiful country of France together.

945878_10207186045943441_6642323964947332091_n.jpg

New Year’s Eve not only brings magic because we celebrate yet another year and look forward to another one, but it brings a different sort of magic. For this one night, not race, nor ethnicity, nor nationality, nor sexual orientation, nor gender orientation, nor religious orientation can separate us. We are all celebrating the same thing on this night. We are all screaming for joy at the opportunity to live for yet another year. This, for me, is where the true magic on New Year’s Eve lies. It was truly this that I was celebrating with Joshua as the clocks turned to midnight and pushed us into the New Year, along with the thousands of others squeezed in around us.

For this night, I am truly thankful. I was able to experience something that was one of a kind and that many people dream of. Sometimes, I feel that my life is a fairy tale. I constantly ask myself, is this really my life?

Why, yes, yes it is, and I have to remind myself daily to be thankful for such amazing opportunities.

Where do you find magic?

Something to ponder about.

A plus mes amis…

She’s a traveler, reading a book of maps.

I had grown very weary of the ugly, plain white walls that I have come to call my home these past three and a half months. I have to continue to call these ugly, plain white walls home for the next four months.

It is my way to collect maps in each city to which I travel, not only to navigate the cities but also to collect as mementos to allow myself to remember the exact places that I have visited, the things I have seen, and the people that I have met. Thus far, since being in Europe this second time around, I’ve collected eleven maps. These lovely treasures of mine were just sitting on my desk, taking up space, collecting dust. As I was cleaning my desk, making room for even more books (my collection has doubled in the past three and a half months. It’s a good thing that I didn’t bring more than I did), I stumbled upon my little treasures. Throwing them away is not an option. Putting them in a scrapbook, that I can’t yet do, but letting them just sit there collecting dust? Why, I could not bring myself to allow that to occur either. So, one question remained, what to do with them?

These plain, white walls scream at me every time I come home: “Cover me with your spirit! Leave your mark here before it’s too late and May is already here! Make this place your home!” So, up they went on those ugly, plain white walls, my paper treasures, my mementos.

Some may find it silly. I find it glorious. Up they went, all eleven of them, along with some postcards and other things that I had collected from each city. This is my expression of myself, my longing to travel and see this world, to meet its people, to discover its mysteries.

For my second week of my Christmas vacation, travel of course I did, continuing on my lifelong journey of traveling as far and wide as possible. I received a glorious visit from an amazing, dear friend of mine, my now boyfriend Joshua Alexander. Though he had seen Paris before, this time around was his first time truly seeing France, learning about its culture and its people, so we had a little adventure of our own throughout this beautiful country.

Joshua first came to this quaint city of Laval that I’ve come to call my home. I live here. I have come to familiarize myself with its places, its quirks, its own sub-culture. However, exploring throughout this small city with him made me realize again how truly beautiful and comforting it is. He had a fresh pair of eyes, basking in the wonderment of medieval architecture and European culture, to show me yet again how amazing of a place my current home is. His fresh pair of eyes also made me realize that no matter how well you know a place, I find you can never stop discovering it. Things will always change. New things will come along. Old things will go away. Some people will come in. Some people will leave. There are streets where I don’t normally trek that I still have yet to see. There are buildings that I have yet to look at. Being an adamant traveler, always aching to discover something new, his fresh pair of eyes made me realize that I will always be a traveler, a new way of defining what it truly means to be a traveler being someone always discovering something new in different places. The places themselves don’t necessarily have to be new. Being a traveler is something that you feel in your heart, the ache to understand a place, its people, and its stories. This is the kind of traveler that I want to be. This is the kind of traveler that I am becoming.

His fresh pair of eyes also served me well in Nantes, my original French home. Having talked about it multiple times with him, his heart ached to see this place that I’ve grown to love so much, to see what I see, to understand France the way that I had learned to understand it. The castle, the cathedral, its streets, its people, the cafés where I would eat all the time while I was studying, etc. were all made new with his fresh pair of eyes, and I became a renewed traveler in my French home. Not only were the places renewed in my mind but also the culture itself. Different nuances of the French culture have normalized in my mind, and I forget how different they can be to someone who is not use to them. Seeing these differences yet again due to his fresh perspective made me yet again the traveler that I aim to be.

After Nantes, we moved onward to Bordeaux, a city that I have been longing to see for quite some time. Bordeaux was a first for both of us, making its discovery that much more special, being able to discover it for the first time together.

Bordeaux was discovered to be a very touristy city but also a very beautiful city. Unfortunately, we were only there for a day, but in that one day we were able to venture into a wine house, tasting both whites and reds from the Bordeaux region, some of the best wine I’ve ever tasted, if I do say so myself.

12401676_10207164420722824_7960401137665350294_o

We were able to venture into yet another beautiful cathedral. No matter how many places I have been nor how many cathedrals I’ve seen, my breath is always taken away at the beauty of such architecture. Architecture tells many stories, in addition to being absolutely beautiful, and I adore gazing among its details to listen to the stories it has to tell, the hundreds of years of stories that it has to share. Joshua can hear its stories too. He never failed to see the beauty that I see as well, understanding the amazement that I find in discovering the many stories and many subtleties in the different parts of any given culture or sub-culture, for this he is an amazing travel companion.

Our other adventures in Bordeaux included playtime in the Miroir d’eau, a reflecting pool across from Place de la Bourse. Our playtime occurred at dusk. Watching the reflection of the beautiful architecture in the pool while the sun was setting was an extremely magical moment, one that I enjoyed sharing with my favorite travel companion.

946411_10103158696578738_3607209485334162230_n

1914495_10103158696503888_2622458030285272005_n

Our last grand adventure of the day was searching for a beer, as one must always do, and discovering and quenching such a thirst at an English pub, called The Houses of Parliament, in the heart of Bordeaux. The beer, usually always being quite a delight, was made better by the constant entertainment of a rather offensive (in the best way possible, in the way that is acceptable and quite fun) British bartender. It’s the characters that make a simple visit into a traveling adventure.

The next day, our adventures in France pushed us towards Grenoble, but not without first traveling by train for most of the day down and around to the other side of France. The unfortunate side of this day was that we were only able to spend half of the day in Grenoble. The beautiful side of this day was that we were able to catch a glimpse of the south of France from the windows of trains, and the view of the most breathtaking and only mountains that I’ve ever seen in my life hugging around the beautiful city of Grenoble was well worth the 7 hours of train rides that we had that day.

Our first step of adventure in Grenoble was taking the cable car to the top of one of the smaller mountains, affording us the most delightfully amazing and glorious view of the city nestled in the heart of the mountains. I really don’t feel as though words can fully capture the view and the feelings that rushed through me in the crisp, mountain air while I gazed upon the entire city with my favorite travel companion. It is a view that is forever burned into my mind and one that I am sure I will never, ever forget. It is views such as these that show me how beautiful and glorious the Creator and greatest Inventor is. Though my body was freezing, that view and the companionship of Joshua by my side enjoying it with me helped me to remember and to feel the warmth of His sweet, sweet love for me.

12401655_10207173496909723_3354172245428728577_o

I would return to this place in a heart beat absolutely any day.

Our Grenoble adventure was a subtle one, but a walk around the city center in the crisp, cold mountain air with a view of the mountains from almost every angle as the sun was setting was more than sufficient. It truly felt magical, and no cares have I for such a cliché notion, for it’s true. Call me a romantic, and I won’t say that you are wrong. I have no shame in this.

Dinner passed at a café of sorts not unlike ones I’ve seen, but it was especially fantastic because our server was from the Caribbean, working in France while his girlfriend completed her studies. This I find quite lovely, the thought of knowing that everyone has their own story, their own personal journey. You can take a guess at where they are from and what they are doing with their lives just by looking at them, but you will never be 100% correct. People are such surprises. People are fascinating creatures. People are what make travel so important. As much as I enjoy seeing the different places, my joy and love for travel is solidified by the people that I meet and the different stories that I encounter. Alas, traveling is not really traveling without it.

So, the first half of my past week was a blessing, filled with complete joy and an abundance of new travel experiences.

These maps on my ugly, plain white walls may just be maps to some, but for me, they are a book, a book of experiences and stories that I will never forget. They are a book that reminds me why I travel far and wide. They are a book that reminds me that every day in my life I can be a traveler, for it’s not just about seeing places, but it’s about knowing places and the people that come with them.

This is what travel is for me. This is how I have come to understand it and know it.

What is travel for you?  How would you define what being a true traveler is?

In my next post, I will account how I spent my New Years Eve and even more travel adventures, but until then…

A plus mes amis….