For expat Keith Digby, the tragedy of the French terrorist attacks turned unexpectedly personal during a visit to Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris' best-known resting place.
Writer Dorty Nowak has lived in Paris, on and off, for ten years. When friends planning a trip to the City of Lights for the first time ask her what museums they should visit, her number one choice, the Carnavalet, rarely makes the guidebook "must visit" lists. Get the inside scoop on what makes it so special.
by Renee King
The chatter of tourists surrounded me and invaded my ears. I tried to block it out, but, truth be told, even my own travel companions were taking up space in my head. I closed my eyes, took slow deliberate breaths, and cleared my mind. When I opened my eyes, a vast white valley spread itself out before me – inviting me to take in its pristine beauty. Towering majestic mountains on either side bookended the sea of ice before me. Awestruck and breathless, I tried to comprehend that I was seeing was nature – raw, unforgiving, awesome for all my senses. As I heard questions from either side of me, I was able to deflect that unwanted noise. I breathed deeply and found something just for me on the Mer de Glace in Chamonix, France.
by Dorty Nowak After growing up in a family where dinner was eaten off trays in front of the TV, I wanted to create a gracious dining atmosphere in my own home. Lit candles and cloth napkins were the norm, and I combed Good Housekeeping for tips to better the ambience for my family and guests. However, it wasn’t until I moved to Paris that I discovered how little I knew about what truly makes a pleasurable dining experience.
Nervously, I edged into traffic and was, within a few minutes of breath-holding, relieved by the minor miracle of finding a free parking space in front of a cafe. I sat down with my iPhone to map a plan for the week.
In search of sun and warmth, my idea was to head for the Mediterranean beaches but was told it would be very crowded in July, and the distance seemed too far – 8 hours on expensive autoroutes. So I convinced myself to keep it simple on the first day and headed to Beaune, the "wine capital of Burgundy," less than two hours away by toll road.
I felt like a decathlon athlete as I stepped off the train from Nice to Marseille. I had my most comfortable walking shoes on, a checklist of all the important sites to visit in my hand, and I was ready to tackle France’s second largest city. I looked around me. The port city was hectic with buses and cars whizzing past me and hundreds of people crowded onto the sidewalks. Still, I was primed to dive right in. I perused my inventory of important landmarks once more. I stretched my calf muscles, adjusted my backpack, and took a quick swig from my water bottle. I had eight hours to conquer Marseille and no time to waste.
According to guide books I had read, there were eight places I needed to visit in Marseille. I had them arranged in order from closest to farthest from my train depot: the old port, the fortress of Chateau d’If, the Cathedral de la Major, Saint Victor’s abbey, Notre Dame de la Garde, Borély Park, Palais Longchamp, and the Museum of Beaux Arts. I had a return ticket for the evening so whatever I didn’t finish would remain unseen, but I was convinced I could match the frenetic pace of this seaport and emerge a winner in my tourist marathon.
I speed walked my way to the Old Port, where fishing boats and svelte yachts were crammed together like so many sardines in a watery can. I heard various shouts coming from the sellers as I passed the rickety ice tables packed with strange looking sea creatures, but I couldn’t stop until I saw the ferry boat for Chateau d’If: a famous prison and the subject of Alexander Dumas’ novel, The Count of Monte Cristo. The crowds were almost impassable on the island penitentiary, but they were no match for my fierce determination. I managed to squeeze my way past as I ran to see an empty cell, the communal cistern, and the rooftop view. Time was ticking and I had to catch the next ferry back so that I could head towards the Marseille Cathedral.
by Elyn Aviva
Join me on a journey into the unknown, where what you think you know melts away and is replaced by something something bigger.
For decades I have been drawn to sacred sites and powerful places, drawn to go on pilgrimage across France and Spain, drawn to place my feet in the footsteps of if not my ancestors then of the ancestors of spirit who have traveled these paths before me. Like iron pulled toward a magnet, I have sought out well- and little-known places of power ancient stone circles, half-buried dolmens, ruined Romanesque chapels, spire-topped inspiring cathedrals, thick forests, hidden holy wells, dark sacred caves. Seeking I knew not what, going I knew not why, except that I was driven by a simple but all-consuming question: What are these places? I think I hoped that, by going to enough of them, I would find the answer.
The first time I knew I was in a very powerful place was when I saw the alignments at Carnac in Brittany, France. My husband, Gary, and I had driven through the flat Breton maritime pine forest toward the coast. The nearly straight road reached a crossroad and there, behind green metal fencing, were rows of large, upright stones, some as tall as a person, stretching in rows as far as the eye can see. Brakes screeching, we pulled over. I jumped out and ran across the lane, twining my fingers through the barrier to get as close as I could. What were they? Who put them here? What purpose did they serve?
by Elyn Aviva
Join me on a journey into the unknown, where what you think you know melts away and is replaced by something—something “bigger.”
For decades I have been drawn to sacred sites and powerful places, drawn to go on pilgrimage across France and Spain, drawn to place my feet in the footsteps of if not my ancestors then of the ancestors of spirit who have traveled these paths before me. Like iron pulled toward a magnet, I have sought out well- and little-known places of power—ancient stone circles, half-buried dolmens, ruined Romanesque chapels, spire-topped inspiring cathedrals, thick forests, hidden holy wells, dark sacred caves. Seeking I knew not what, going I knew not why, except that I was driven by a simple but all-consuming question: “What are these places?” I think I hoped that, by going to enough of them, I would find the answer.
The first time I knew I was in a very powerful place was when I saw the alignments at Carnac in Brittany, France. My husband, Gary, and I had driven through the flat Breton maritime pine forest toward the coast. The nearly straight road reached a crossroad—and there, behind green metal fencing, were rows of large, upright stones, some as tall as a person, stretching in rows as far as the eye can see. Brakes screeching, we pulled over. I jumped out and ran across the lane, twining my fingers through the barrier to get as close as I could. What were they? Who put them here? What purpose did they serve?
Ahh, la baguette, quintessentially French. Biting into your favourite baguette is a soothing affair that will bring a smile of contentment to your face. When you find a good one, all others pale in comparison. Every time my feet land on French soil, I start anticipating my first tasty baguette that will welcome me back to my second home. But it has to be the right baguette. Just as not all French wine is worth drinking, not all baguettes are worth consuming.
Crusty on the outside and hole-y on the inside, the perfect baguette is not too chewy, but rather soft with small bits of bread that ball up in your mouth as you chew. It can be slightly tangy and definitely has a distinct aroma. And baguettes are serious business in France with the average person consuming half a loaf per day. Precise laws protect this French institution with strict regulations concerning the ingredients; any kind of additives are an absolute faux pas. Flour, yeast, water and salt are all that is needed. A light dusting of flour on the outside, and 20 minutes later, voilà, your baguette is ready to devour.
As serious baguette lovers, I knew my daughters and I would have our work cut out for us when we moved to Paris. With over 1800 boulangeries in the capital and 12 within a 10-minute walking distance of our new apartment, some taste-testing would definitely be involved. As soon as we dropped our suitcases in our new Parisian flat, we happily took on this challenge. I felt like Goldilocks of the three bears fame—I knew it would take several attempts until we got it "just right."
by Dorty Nowak
Over the past nine years that I have lived in Paris, I’ve acquired a passable knowledge of the language and can navigate the city’s interconnected web of metros and busses with ease. Ask me the name of a good restaurant in the Marais, or the best time to go to the Louvre (Wednesday evenings) and I have a ready answer.
However please don’t ask me for change – I have a problem with centimes.
Climbing up the wide circular stone staircase to our hotel room in the Chateau des Ducs de Joyeuse on the first night, I knew this would be a very different trip. I could just as easily be entering a medieval castle as a lodging facility -- and then I found out I was, though I suspect our modernized room was a lot less drafty than those of the lords and ladies who preceded us.
The experience, near Les Oliviers south of Toulouse, certainly set the tone for our Southern France Walking Through History tour—conducted, ironically, by a company called New England Hiking. As we hiked through, around, up and over one medieval village after another, traversing castles and countryside and learning about the Middle Ages of the 11th-14th centuries, we were immersed in history.
Our time in Paris had ended and saying goodbye proved difficult. I would miss the poetic rain and inspiring architecture, the grooved and powdered cobblestones beneath building walls that spewed graffiti, and the cloaked alleyways with bottles of cheap wine dangling from our fingers. It was everything I hoped it would be, which meant it wasn’t a postcard or hopeful imagination. Beauty mixed with the tangible. Drug dealers peddled underneath the illuminated Eiffel Tower at night, angry drivers swore at each other as they circled the Arc de Triomphe, and the Place de la Concorde was covered in bird shit.
Adventures were on the horizon, Spain awaited with sangrias, tapas, sunlight, and white-walled promenades. The only obstacle was getting to the Eurostar terminal somewhere off Fayette. When traveling, I’m not the type of person that likes to know what the day will bring. Wandering and last minute decisions have always yielded more memorable experiences than schedules or crowded attractions. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the ideal personality trait when we needed to catch a specific train and had no directions or general sense of where we were going. It also didn’t help that I drank three grand crèmes at a sidewalk bistro before leaving and had to stop every two blocks and find a washroom.
The three of us stumbled into a train station with the aid of blind luck and selective stupidity. Late and irritated, we hurried downstairs, rushing so we could blankly stare at the French metro lines for thirty minutes. Best bet memorized, we followed the crowd to the ticket kiosks.
Standing near the waiting commuters was a Parisian shouting about a deal in broken English. Naturally, being the thrifty travelers we were (beer money>comfort), we decided to investigate the bargain.
by Roy Stevenson
The view from the top of the high, soft, sand dunes next to the American Military Cemetery at Colleville, Normandy, is great today. It’s a bright clear blue sky and I can see for miles. French fishing trawlers churn through the choppy, deep blue water, miles out to sea, leaving wide foaming wakes behind them. Gazing down across the long, deserted flat white expanse of Omaha Beach, I can see where the olive uniformed American soldiers debarked their landing craft, to shelter behind steel tetrahedrons, or sprint up the beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
Descending the sand dunes, I walk the long 500 meters down the gently sloping beach to the water’s edge. It’s dead low tide. I turn around, looking back up towards the dunes. I’m amazed at how far away they are. They would seem like they were miles away, especially to a young soldier armed to the teeth and heavily weighed down with equipment.
It must have been terrifying trying to sprint up the beach into the teeth of a hailstorm of machine gun, rifle, and mortar fire. Of the soldiers in the first few D-Day landing craft, 90% didn’t even make it up the beach. In my mind’s eye I fleetingly see chaos, patches of red blood-drenched sand, and a flickering image of a young soldier in a soaked green uniform. “I must have seen “Saving Private Ryan” once too many times”, I think self-consciously.
Deep in thought, I trudge back up the steep, uneven sand dunes to the American Military Cemetery and walk along row upon row of perfectly aligned white crosses, on the vast 172-acre, smooth, emerald green-grassed plateau. The 9,387 crosses are a stupefying sight. They radiate outwards in perfectly straight lines no matter what angle they are viewed from.
by Dorty Nowak
I skipped dessert today, which is not easy to do in Paris, where patisseries flaunt their delicacies on almost every street corner. I was on my way to my favorite bistro when I passed a store whose name caught my eye, “Plus Madame.” Since I’ve never seen anything “plus” relating to women’s clothes advertised in Paris, I stopped to look. A sign in the window informed me that the store specialized in sizes 42. 42! That’s a size 8 in the U.S. and a size 10 in the U.K., but in France, it’s a “plus.” Suddenly, so was I.
by Dorty Nowak
Hot and frustrated, I stared at the pieces of the supposedly easy-to-assemble electric fan that came with nine parts instead of the required ten. My apartment, like most buildings in Paris, has no air conditioning and, after several days of unremitting heat, I was desperate. I picked up the instruction sheet, ignoring the number for the help center that was probably located in China, and folded it into a fan. My makeshift fan worked surprisingly well, reminding me of a museum that I had been meaning to visit ever since I read several years ago that it might have to close.
words + photos by Elyn Aviva
We drove around a corner and encountered an astounding sight: row after row of standing stones, stretching to the horizon. “Pull over!” I demanded. Barely waiting for Gary, my husband, to stop the car, I opened the door, jumped out, and ran over to the green metal fence that separated the stones from me. I shook my head in disbelief, in awe. So many stones, lined up and going—where? Why? They fit no category I knew: they were an enormous puzzle of countless granite megaliths pointing to the sky, rooted in the earth. Hundreds, thousands of stones lined up in slightly wavering rows that went on for kilometers, as if the stones were frozen in the act of marching—somewhere. What was the point? What did they mean? What were they for? The stones made no response.
Nowhere in the world has as many megalithic sites as Brittany, and Carnac is in the center of them. The amazing profusion of ancient remains includes isolated standing stones, rows of alignments, earth-covered tumuli, quadrilateral and oval enclosures, and table-like dolmens, each with its own energy and story.
The dolmens with their elaborately engraved interior walls are intriguing, but the 6000-year-old alignments fascinate me. Many of the original stones have been hauled off for re-use in nearby farmhouses and fences, but nearly 3000 menhirs (Breton for standing stones) remain. They are lined up in three sets of slightly undulating rows facing approximately northeast/southwest and extending for kilometers. Starting in the northeast are the Kerlescan alignments, followed by the Kermario alignments, and ending in the southwest with the Le Ménec alignments. The different sets contain from eleven to thirteen rows, and include from approximately 600 to nearly 1200 standing stones. Each set ends in the southwest with an ovoid or quadrilateral stone enclosure (or what remains of one). The cumulative effect of so many stones, so many alignments, extending for such a distance, is awesome.
words + photos by Elyn Aviva
It was a place you couldn’t find unless you’d already been there—or unless you found someone to take you there, someone with permission to cross from here to there….
While my husband, Gary, and I spent the day in Paimpont, our traveling companions visited a holy well in the nearby village of Tréhorenteuc. By chance, they had met someone in a bookstore who told them about it and led them to it. They had dangled their feet in the water and meditated, one by one. It was a lovely place.
Eager to visit it, I asked them where it was. Just up the road from the bookstore—easy to find, they assured us.
The next day Gary and I drove to Tréhorenteuc and followed the road out of town. Soon the pavement ended and the road narrowed. We nearly high-centered the car as we crept over humps on the farm lane that led to the top of a hill. We were sure that at any moment we’d see a sign announcing “Ste Onenn’s Well.” After all, our friends had walked there from town. How far could it be? Maybe it was over to the right, in that clump of trees. Or just over the horizon.
Half an hour later, defeated, we carefully turned the car around and drove back into town. We parked and walked back up the hill. And down, and up again. I followed a trail into the woods. No luck.
We walked over to the tourist office and asked for help.
Claudine looked at us uncertainly. “It’s on private land, not open to the public.”