Ah, to Live Parisian!

Do you have a Bucket List? I do, and one of the items on that list was to spend two months in Paris, France, “living like a Parisian.” I was able to cross this off my list as reflected in an article previously published by JetSet Extra. And while the article wasn’t about me and my time in Paris, it showed common Parisian life as I saw it.

A view of the Seine River and the Eiffel Tower, while commonplace for Parisians, is an unforgettable draw for visitors to the City of Light.
A view of the Seine River and the Eiffel Tower, while commonplace for Parisians, is an unforgettable draw for visitors to the City of Light.

The allure of Parisian life has had a strong pull on writers, artists, musicians and many others since the 19th Century. You can’t understand that attraction when you’re on a whirlwind tour through Europe or even on your first week-long visit to Paris. No; to feel what it’s like to “be Parisian,” you have to have been here before (so you don’t feel obliged to visit the main tourist spots), and you have to stay for at least two months. That’s exactly what I did – I rented an apartment mid-May to mid-July in the 10th Arrondisement near Canal St. Martin, a tributary the feeds into the Seine River.

Just like Hemingway and others who frequented Parisian cafés, so did this author with his daughter who looks like the movie star from a bygone era.
Just like Hemingway and others who frequented Parisian cafés, so did this author with his daughter who looks like the movie star from a bygone era.

One stereotypical view of Parisians is that they sip coffee in sidewalk cafés all day long and then they party and drink wine all night. I have seen some bits of both, but that statement’s as unfair as thinking everyone in Southern California surfs all day, has blond hair, and wears tie-dyed shirts. I used to live in San Diego, and I know that’s not the case! And it’s not the case here in Paris, either. For some introductory information on Paris, I recommend an initial visit to the Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau – here is their website (http://en.parisinfo.com/).

A beautiful day beckoned these people to pack a picnic lunch and enjoy a peaceful outing along the Seine River.
A beautiful day beckoned these people to pack a picnic lunch and enjoy a peaceful outing along the Seine River.

One thing that’s consistent, and not just in Paris, is the attraction to water on a beautiful day. Whether it’s along the mighty Seine River or the neighborhood-friendly Canal St. Martin, friends make the best of a nice day. For some, it’s just to sit around and talk; for others, it could be a drink possibly accompanied by an impromptu meal.

Three friends gather along Canal St. Martin to chat and discuss their weekend plans.
Three friends gather along Canal St. Martin to chat and discuss their weekend plans.

The baguette is as much a part of everyday life here in Paris as a cup of coffee from Starbucks is to New Yorkers. It seems that there is a boulangerie (bakery) on every Paris corner, but maybe it’s actually on one out of two street corners. I read some interesting history of the baguette; don’t worry, it’s a quick read. I spoke with the staff at the corner boulangerie closest to my apartment. After the customary exchange of bonsoir greetings (good evening), I asked the young lady behind the counter if she spoke English. She did. I continued with, “How many baguettes do you make and sell every day?” The young lady said she didn’t know, but she asked Emmanuelle, the owner, whose French reply was “five hundred to six hundred.” About one hundred of those go to restaurants, but that means that four to five hundred baguettes are sold (for €1.10 each) to walk-in customers every day! And that’s just from the bakery right next to my apartment. That’s a lot of bread!

Freshly made throughout the day, the baguettes stand like obedient soldiers as they wait to see who’s going to come in and take them home.
Freshly made throughout the day, the baguettes stand like obedient soldiers as they wait to see who’s going to come in and take them home.

The local bars, bistros, cafés, and restaurants definitely get their fair share of business. Whether it’s a drop-in on the way home from work, or even ordering take-out food, the typically small establishments seem to cater to a particular clientele. And even though there’s not much sense of privacy, everyone minds their own conversations as they sit, eat, drink, and enjoy each other’s company.

Outdoor cafés aren’t just for having a meal; they’re also for conversation and camaraderie.
Outdoor cafés aren’t just for having a meal; they’re also for conversation and camaraderie.

Most Americans are spoiled when it comes to grocery shopping. We go perhaps once a week and fill the refrigerator with food items from around the world. The freezer gets stocked with specials and broken down packages of large quantities of meats, fish, and other frozen items. The Parisian refrigerator is about half the size of an American one, and the freezer space is almost non-existent.

The small IKEA refrigerator holds enough groceries for a couple days along with other essentials.
The small IKEA refrigerator holds enough groceries for a couple days along with other essentials.

So what do they do? They shop almost daily for the fresh items, and there are neighborhood grocery stores all over. Most of them carry some meats and seafood, but there are specialty butcher shops (boucherie) close to most areas, and most Parisians have their favorite. We tried three different ones before we decided on our favorite. As you notice in the picture of the refrigerator above, not only is it small, but see if you can read the brand embossed on the egg cover – it’s IKEA!


Happy Travels!
Stuart



Stuart Gustafson is America’s International Travel Expert® who speaks on cruise ships, writes novels, sends out an infrequent newsletter (almost every month!), is an avid TripAdvisor reviewer, and loves everything about travel. Visit his website at www.stuartgustafson.com. You can also connect with him and other travelers on his International Travel Expert page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/International-Travel-Expert-147321228683651/


All information and images copyright © 2017 by Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC. America’s International Travel Expert is a U.S. Registered Trademark of Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC.




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La Rambla—One Street That Deserves a Whole Day

The wavy, almost watery, textured lines in the pavement evoke images of what the road used to be—a waterway from the city walls to the Mediterranean Sea
The wavy, almost watery, textured lines in the pavement evoke images of what the road used to be—a waterway from the city walls to the Mediterranean Sea

There aren’t many roads as special as La Rambla in Barcelona, Spain. You might have been on some that have special designations, or there’s some historical significance, or they seem to have some magic about them. La Rambla really doesn’t have any of that going for it; yet it’s worthy of an entire day of your visit to the capital of this Catalonian people. Take a stroll with me, and you’ll see what I mean.

Technically a series of five connected streets, it’s considered to be just one street because there are no crossing streets. You might hear it referred to as Las Ramblas (for the five sections), but the singular is just fine. The main part of La Rambla is the rather wide tree-lined pedestrian walkway, with narrow driving lanes separating the walkway from the restaurants, shops, hotels, and other businesses. Rambla in Spanish means dry riverbed, and this is where the water ran from outside the city walls down to the Mediterranean Sea. Not a very glamorous beginning, was it?

Legend has it that one drink from the black and gold ornate Fountain of Canaletes ensures that one day you’ll return to Barcelona
Legend has it that one drink from the black and gold ornate Fountain of Canaletes ensures that one day you’ll return to Barcelona

Starting at the Plaça de Catalunya, which is where the non-stop bus from the international airport deposits you, look for the widest street that branches off this huge pedestrian-friendly square. Ignore the Hard Rock Café that you see off to your left, watch out for the whizzing cars that don’t care that you’re a friendly tourist, and make your way across the street to being your journey down La Rambla. The wavy pattern in the walkway that you’re admiring is designed to evoke the feeling of the water that used to flow down this area a long time ago. Speaking of water, just a short way down La Rambla is the Fountain of Canaletes, and legend has it that drinking from this fountain ensures that you will someday return to Barcelona. Thirsty? Give it a try, then get ready to book your return trip.

Yes, those are birds you hear as you continue your journey. The menagerie of birds, turtles, fish, and other small animals on the left side is where children would bring their parents and then beg them to buy a pet. Since those living in apartments couldn’t have dogs or cats, these animals were the perfect pets; they were small, they were easy to care for, and they didn’t make much noise. If you go by at night, you’ll hear the plaintive chirps of the birds who really would like a new home.

This Roman Necropolis is over 2,000 years old, and it was uncovered as workers were preparing to build the foundation for a new set of apartments
This Roman Necropolis is over 2,000 years old, and it was uncovered as workers were preparing to build the foundation for a new set of apartments

As you continue down on the left side, go through the hotel passageway at #122 and set your sights on some 2,000 year old Roman ruins. These graves and other markings were uncovered as contractors were digging to lay the foundation for some new buildings. The ruins might have been completely destroyed except for the noble act of some local residents who notified the authorities. You can look at them from above, or pay a small fee and enter the grounds and the museum; they’re worth the time and the money.

Once you enter the spacious La Boquería marketplace, you’ll fall in the love with the delicious sights and smells, giving you one more reason to return to Barcelona

Returning to La Rambla, continue downhill and go past the red metro stop on the right until you see the wide walkway that is filled with people going in both directions. As you enter La Boquería market, you just might discover that you’re hungry, and there are plenty of stalls in here to quench your appetite and your thirst. If you’re staying in town for a few days, this is a great place to buy olives, vegetables, cheeses, fruits, and fresh meats. You can find any flavor of smoothie that suits your taste. Caution: don’t come in here if you’re hungry and you’re in a hurry!

A cold glass of refreshing beer while sitting at an outside café along La Rambla is the perfect way to relax and reflect on the beauty of this marvelous city
A cold glass of refreshing beer while sitting at an outside café along La Rambla is the perfect way to relax and reflect on the beauty of this marvelous city

If you don’t find the right refreshment for you in La Boquiería, you can always stop at any one of the outside cafés along La Rambla and have a refreshing beer or Sangría, a favorite drink made with red wine. If the waiter asks you if you want yours “grandé,” be careful because he doesn’t mean just “big”; he means “very big.”

Continuing your walk, as you pass the flower stalls, be sure to look down for an original piece of art by the famous Spanish artist Joan Miró. The mosaic is of an anchor, which is a strong reminder of Barcelona’s linkage to the sea. Once you reach this point, you are essentially halfway down La Rambla. Fortunately, the rest of it continues downhill.

The colorful helmeted lampposts in Plaça Reial are functional and they’re Antoni Gaudí’s first public works”
The colorful helmeted lampposts in Plaça Reial are functional and they’re Antoni Gaudí’s first public works”

A few steps past the Liceu metro stop (your stop if you were going to the opera), you’ll find the entrance to neoclassical square Plaça Reial. Here is another marvelous place to take a short rest. There are taverns and bars, souvenir shops, palm trees, herbs, and — drumroll please — Antoni Gaudí’s first public works, two helmeted lampposts.

As you head back out of the square, go straight across La Rambla for the street Nou de La Rambla. Situated at # 3 is Palau Güell, the stately mansion built by Gaudí for a very wealthy family. If you have time, pay the small entrance fee and tour the inside and be totally amazed. One of the hidden gems of this palatial estate is the collection of whimsically decorated smokestacks that are accessible on the roof.

Returning to La Rambla, turn right and you’re near the end. You’re also getting close to Barcelona’s Chinatown, but don’t be surprised when you see nothing Chinese about the area. The Columbus Monument that marks the official end of La Rambla, and the Maritime Museum on the right side of La Rambla are worth checking out, however.

Now that you’re at the bottom of La Rambla, you can see why you wanted to start your journey at the top. And since you already took a sip of the water from the Fountain of Canaletes, you’ll be returning to Barcelona one day, and then you can do the walk in reverse order!


Happy Travels!
Stuart



Stuart Gustafson is America’s International Travel Expert® who speaks on cruise ships, writes novels, sends out an infrequent newsletter (almost every month!), is an avid TripAdvisor reviewer, and loves everything about travel. Visit his website at www.stuartgustafson.com. You can also connect with him and other travelers on his International Travel Expert page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/International-Travel-Expert-147321228683651/


All information and images copyright © 2016 by Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC. America’s International Travel Expert is a U.S. Registered Trademark of Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC.




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The Lady at the Sushi Restaurant

September 19, 2016
I’m sitting in an airline lounge at Narita International Airport outside Tokyo, and I was reflecting on my recent stops here in Japan. I just disembarked from a 15-day trans-Pacific cruise that started in Vancouver, B.C., Canada, and ten of those days were sea days. Our five days in port were in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, USA, and then our four ports in Japan — Otaru and Hakodate on the northern island of Hokkaido, and then Tokyo (proper) and Tokyo (Yokohama) where the cruise ended. I was one of the guest speakers on this cruise (you can visit my cruise speaking page by clicking here), and that is a pleasure that is still as exciting as the first time.

I’ve been to Japan many times, initially while I was working for a major Fortune 25 company, and then many times after taking the early retirement so I could travel and write and have fun! While I’ve been to many exciting places and seen so many wonderful sights in the 55 countries and over 125 cruise ports I’ve been to, it’s the people who are memorable and who make the trips so enjoyable.
There was the tour guide on our 21-day journey through six countries in Europe; we heard her speak the five languages (Dutch, German, Italian, French, English) fluently and with ease every place we went. And then on that tour we met many nice couples, including one with whom we’ve since cruised a couple times as well as vacationed together. There was the chap in the pub in Glasgow who told us about the “contest” with the Germans on who could make the strongest beer. (Who won? It wasn’t the Germans.) And there was a whole group of Australians that we had a great time with on a six-week cruise from New York to Sydney (they were finishing a 100+ day world cruise).
And there have been so many more.

And then on this recent trip, there was a lady at the sushi restaurant in Hakodate. I don’t know her name; I don’t know where she lives, or if she’s married or single, or if she has any children or grandchildren — I really know nothing about her. Except. Except I do know that she made such an impression on me because she wanted me to feel comfortable where I was in a situation that could have been very UNcomfortable.
You see, I purposely went in to a sushi place that didn’t cater to tourists. Why? I eat with tourists all the time; I wanted to eat with locals. And when you’re in another country and you’re not fluent in their language, it can get tricky. I was given a place at “the bar” right next to her; sushi plates were coming by on a conveyor belt, but there was also a menu from which you could order. I wrote down a couple items (the hostess gave me a menu with English), and then I sat there waiting for them to arrive. The lady had instincts (as do most women) and I’m sure she knew that I didn’t know what to do.
She took a new tea glass and gently pushed it my way. Then she opened a nearby container, scooped two small helpings of green tea powder into the glass (ceramic actually), and then showed me how to operate the hot water faucet to make tea. She handed me the tea and smiled. ‘Arigato,’ I said as I smiled back at her. I now had some hot tea (and it was HOT!) and I had something to do while waiting for my food to arrive.
I ate the sushi that I’d ordered, but I wanted more. Nothing on that conveyor belt appealed to me, nor did anything else in the menu. But I did see something that I thought I’d like that was on a banner hanging from the ceiling. One problem — it was only in Japanese. At least in France or Italy I can write down the words even if I don’t know what they mean. But there is no way that I can write Kanji without unintentionally insulting someone or ordering 50 pounds of broiled sea cucumber! I took a piece of paper and a pen; looked over at her, and pointed to the banner. “Ah,” she said as she smiled again. She took the pen and paper and wrote down the item that I wanted. She handed the paper to the waiter, and my new plate was soon on its way to me. Once again I said ‘Arigato’; one of the ten words (okay, maybe seven or eight) in Japanese that I know.
She smiled; finished her lunch, and left.

Her kindness was special; special to me. I’ve always felt comfortable in Asia, even when I can’t speak, read, or understand the language. The locals are such warm and caring people who want visitors to feel welcomed in a land where many might feel intimidated or scared. But I don’t feel that way.

The lady at the sushi restaurant didn’t go out of her way to make me feel comfortable; she offered me the assistance and kindness that I’m sure she shares with everyone, and it’s that kindness that I see in everyone in Asia. I can’t wait for my next trip — eight weeks of Southeast Asia in early 2017!

Syonara!


Happy Travels!
Stuart



Stuart Gustafson is America’s International Travel Expert® who speaks on cruise ships, writes novels, sends out a monthly newsletter (almost every month!), is an avid TripAdvisor reviewer, and loves everything about travel. Visit his website at www.stuartgustafson.com. You can also connect with him and other travelers on his International Travel Expert page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/International-Travel-Expert-147321228683651/

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All information and images copyright © 2016 by Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC. America’s International Travel Expert is a U.S. Registered Trademark of Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC.




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