Barcelona is AWESOME… Paris is great because, hey- it’s Paris! But Barcelona I didn’t have a lot of expectations for, and am just blown away by how great it is. A few examples:
Gaudi: I have a new hero: Antonio Gaudi, whose work is omnipresent in Barcelona. He combines beautiful colors, nature, public development, and Christian faith to make some of the most beautiful and inspiring work I’ve ever seen. You probably have seen it too- many people think of Spain and think of bright colored mosaics (see picture, below). That’s almost entirely Gaudi’s influence. He not only painted and sculpted, but he built parks, housing developments, and public art that improved the lives and imaginations of Barcelonans to this day. Finally, I cannot state enough how much I loved his Sagrada Familia, a church still under development, 100 years after his death. I think it is the most beautiful piece of art I’ve ever seen.
Food: food here is awesome. Everyone says this when they visit Barcelona, so I won’t belabor it… but it’s true. Tapas, churros, and iberian ham!
Fun: like Parisians, Barcelonans know how to enjoy life. They are out late quite regularly (many restaurants don’t open until 8pm), enjoy beauty & dance (see pictures below of the Flamenco Dance performance Cyn & I went to at the Palau Musica Orfeo Catalan) and seem to know how to put people/relationships ahead of expediency & efficiency. It’s hard to put into writing how obvious that lesson seems to be, but it’s something we were reminded of a lot, here.
2) Marciac/St. Josephine: the French Countryside: we stayed at an incredible bed & breakfast, hosted by the lovely Brits Bruce & Jennifer in the beautiful French farming area. I don’t know if these pictures will do, but it was even more beautiful than we hoped. I feel like the word “bucolic” was invented to describe this area.
3) Pyrenees Mountains: we drove through a pretty daunting Pass to cross the border. It reminded me a lot of Snoqualmie Pass (near Seattle)- the elevation of the pass is a little higher (1489m to 925m).
Now, a few days in Barcelona, and then up the Riviera and back to Paris!
Today is our fifth day in France and we are slowing down a bit so thought it might be a good day for a blog post. To give a general sense of our itinerary – we arrived at Charles de Gaulle on the morning of Thursday, April 5th, spent the next four days in Paris, and have spent most of today (the 9th) driving towards Barcelona.
So first, Paris. We purposely rented a private room in a Parisian couple’s apartment about 20 minutes (by Metro) outside the center of the city so that we could get a sense of how “regular” French people live. And we have definitely enjoyed experiences like eating at several neighborhood pubs where we were the only foreigners and having breakfast with our hosts and comparing differences between American and French culture.
The biggest thing that sticks out to me (Cynthia) is how common the human experience is, at least in the Western world. When I came to Paris nearly 20 years ago, everything seemed different and exotic and romantic. This time, I have found myself noticing things that are very much a part of life in the States – grandparents spending time with their grandkids, teachers and students on a field trip to a museum, long haul truckers taking a break at a rest stop, broken down cars in yards in rural areas, people zoning out on their phones on public transit, construction workers on a job site, etc. In addition to these common human experiences, the advance of globalization has no doubt changed the world in the last 20 years – the first thing to greet us when we stepped off the plane in Paris was a Starbucks!
But, there are also plenty of cultural differences, many of which we have come to (or continued to) appreciate. The biggest one is the balance that the French seem to have struck between work and play. As our host, Rob, put it this morning, “In France we are not defined by our work. It is not the way we introduce ourselves, it is a way to bring home a salary.” To be clear, he is an entrepreneur, about to enter a start up competition, so he’s not lazy or unmotivated by any means. But the whole system supports a healthier balance between work and “life.” (Five weeks of paid vacation, minimum!) It is difficult to find a to-go cup anywhere besides rest stops – the expectation is that you sit and enjoy your cup of coffee rather than grabbing it on the run.
The other is the simpler and less consumptive lifestyle. We noticed that our hosts’ kitchen had about one-quarter of the utensils and kitchen tools that ours does and although the towels we were given were totally functional, we probably would have used them as rags by now. Obviously, one’s stage in life and varying needs explain some of this but it did make us rethink how much we need. And speaking of that cup of coffee (from the last paragraph), Starbucks is about the only place where you can find a “grande,” much less a “venti” drink here. How much coffee does one need, really, if she is living a more balanced life?
For those of you more interested in our itinerary, we spent Thursday walking around the Marais district. Friday, we bought a Museum Pass and visited the Louvre, the d’Orsay, the Arch de Triumph and the Eiffel Tower. (One example of how much our world has changed – my last Paris trip, my mom got her first email address so that she could read the email updates my sister and I sent periodically when we could find an internet cafe. This time, we Facetimed with our girls while the light show was going on at the Eiffel Tower so that they could experience it with us!) On Saturday, we visited Notre Dame, Sainte Chapelle, the Rodin Museum and the Hospital de Invalides, which houses museums devoted to World War I and II, the Resistance Movement during WWII, and Napoleon’s Tomb, among other things. On Sunday, we went to mass at Sainte Sulpice, where we also enjoyed the amazing pipe organ, and then headed up to the Montmarte District, where we walked through the Sacre-Coure and took in the view from the highest point in Paris. Of course, sprinkled among all of these destinations have been many stops for cafe sidewalk sitting and wandering through neighborhoods. We have averaged 20,000 steps a day and suffice it to say, my feet were happy for the break today!
Currently we are at a bed and breakfast in the tiny medieval village of Saint Justin – about 120 people currently live here. We’ve just enjoyed a nice chat with Bruce and Jenny Lawson, our very British hosts, who have been here for 25 years and have made France their home. He was a high-ranking officer in the British army and was a diplomatic attache for the last years of his career so they have lived all over the world. It was a treat to hear their perspective on European and North American politics and share our own views!
Tomorrow morning we will continue on to Barcelona and hope to write another update there! (P.S. Pictures to be added later.)
Today was our 7th time skiing at crystal Mountain this year. Combined with the few times we went skiing with the girls last year, I believe the girls have had a total of 10 ski days.
We are definitely improving. Today is the first day that I could let the girls go down the bunny slope by themselves and just watch. I was actually challenging them to go faster because they display a lot of control.
The key, I’ve learned, is not to make “improving” the goal, but rather fun. Fun is a good way to learn.
So, this was pretty cool. We actually started reading Narnia a few years ago, and we got through 3 books. I knew Abbey was into it, but I wasn’t sure how much. And I was confident that the concepts were only vaguely interesting. So, at some point, it seemed like a good point to “put the books on the shelf” for a little.
This time going through them, we had no such problems. The girls were like sponges, catching all the adventures and characters, and even being able to make predictions about where the stories were headed. I would ask them before we read each night what happened the night before for comprehension, and they were often quite good at it. As far as interest level goes, I suppose the fact that we finished demonstrates interest. But, in Tello you, it was really cool to see how long the girls could pay attention to the stories. One non school night, we read 4 chapters in almost 2 hours. The girls still were asking for more, but I thought it was too late.
Finally, their ability to absorb what the story’s multiple levels of meaning was high. I didn’t just ask them what happened in a story, but also what meanings/lessons/allusions were being referenced. While there was plenty they didn’t get, I was really pleased to see them show insight as to some less-obvious elements of the story.
It’s a special time knowing that their capacity for story and thinking is st a certain level. Now, it’s on to “what stories are next???” I’ve got a lot of ideas!…
I asked Abbey what she wanted to do for the afternoon, and she suggested we go to a coffee shop and read together. Hearing that she wanted to do this, and realizing that she was old enough to do so gave me a big smile.
What it all combined to, though, is nothing short of magical. Going to a special place and taking an hour or two to read and people watch is one of my very favorite things on earth to do. The fact that my daughter would want to do it with me, as a way of passing the time, is really special.