March 23rd, 2011

Well we are back now, after 25 plus hours in transit from Israel to Los Angeles. Our flight was uneventful (luckily), except that I got to catch up on all of my Instapaper articles. Before I left, there was over 150 of them, all of which are now read, and whose writers are comp.

As our trip is ending, I wanted to note all of the things that in one way or another did not make it into the previous journal entries. They are presented below, without substantial explanation and in no particular order.

  • The search for “weefee” in both France & Israel – a constant struggle
  • The resemblance between streets of Paris and SF Market St.
  • “Foo, please”
  • There’s no way to get out of Caesarea after 4pm on Fridays
  • The change of pace between Paris & Yokneam
  • Turtles have more pickup than a Chevy Cruze
  • Mitz Gezer and my apparent love for it
  • “Maytal, that’s right”
  • Blankets are a must for the open top bus in Paris in March
  • The Paris technological strip-search vs. The Israeli apathy for belts
  • This is a Man’s World, in French, over and over on the open bus tours
  • Residential cattle grazing by Susan’s house
  • The hefty lady at the front desk makes poor restaurant recommendations
  • The all-American, all-Rick Steves restaurant
  • Dina’s hate of public Rick Steves displays
  • Regretting not purchasing a local sim card for the iPhone
  • “Sushilka”
  • The hairy Chinese restaurant
  • Learning new vocabulary from Polina
  • Yearning for a hot shower
  • “Barbarians”
  • The Parisian search for a glass of milk
  • Ace Hardware flourishing in Israel
  • The lost gifts
  • “Izminenye marshruta”
  • Not knowing that we were even on a double decker (747) on the flight from Israel, the first time since coming to America
  • The little Dina-obsessed boy at LAX & the stress of her leaving
  • The Russian people everywhere
  • Coffee & Cigarettes is the apparent Parisian locals dietv
  • iPhone photos taken in airplane mode without surrounding wifi networks don’t have geolocation data
  • Updating apps while on the road leads to unexpected consequences (that’s why photo uploads stopped on day 11)
  • “Oh you didn’t know? That will be 25 euros.”
  • The square of malcontents in Paris became our square of malcontent-ment
  • The greet Israeli outdoor gyms everywhere
  • The nine dot game & thinking outside the box
  • “Georgia is a great investment” (as are section 8 housing projects in the South)
  • The Japanese Earthquake and the 3rd US War starting all while we were gone
  • The iPad restaurant at JFK where you can place your entire order in the most technological of ways, but you can’t pay that way.
  • The baggage claim puzzle game at LAX

So there it ends, our 13 day adventure to two different countries, filled with beautiful sights, wonderful people, and great experiences. It was challenging at times to write these entries, as usually I just write what comes to mind, but each time I sat down on this trip, only sleep came to mind. In the end though, I am glad to have these entries, as looking back on the past trips I’ve made is always greatly enhanced with the thoughts and experiences these pages. Here’s to hoping the next trip isn’t too far from now. See you next time.


March 22nd, 2011

It is 7:30am in Israel right now, over seven hours since we took off, but I honestly don’t remember anything since we sat down. With all of the driving and sightseeing we did today, I fell asleep moments after finding our seats on the plane. In reality, the only reason that I’m even up right now (Dina’s still sleeping), is that the pilot somehow found a patch of Atlantic clouds at 35,000 feet thick enough to literally shake me awake.

Our last day in Israel began with goodbyes with the Israeli Paikins as each of them headed out to their respective places of business. The only Israeli Paikin left was Nika, who had the day off from school because of Purim, a Halloween-type holiday that seemed to go on forever. We finished packing, woke up Nika, and headed to Jerusalem to stop by the places where Theodore Hertzl and Tuvia Bielski are buried.

Although we got to Jerusalem in good time (it took about an hour and a half), our offline-iPhone Google Maps directions (to the cemetery itself, instead of to an address which was no where to be found), combined with our slightly outdated GPS maps, completely confusing roadsigns and street names, and Sarah Palin’s poorly timed visit to the city center, only let us get as far as Theodore Hertzl’s military memorial to those Jewish soldiers who had died in the line of duty. Knowing that it would be impossible to get further into (and back out of) the city, I left the pebbles that I had brought from Newport Beach on the Hertzl memorial for Soviet Jews who died in World War II.
From there we drove to Tel Aviv where we had lunch, walked along the beautiful seashore, and met with Sasha’s cousin who hadn’t seen Dina in a long while. Afterwards, we drove to a small city called Holon on the outskirts of Tel Aviv, where we visited Vera and Arkady, old Paikin family friends whose daughter Dana grew up with Dina first in St. Petersburg and then in Israel. Before our visit, Sasha and Dina warned me that Vera and Arkady have a large dog, but Assya turned out to be very friendly, despite her almost 90lb frame (just slightly more than Pinkie’s).

With our flight times coming up, we drove from Holon to Ben Gurion airport, where security, despite being about 7 layers thick, was a relative breeze. In all honesty, sitting there at Ben Gurion, I was grateful for such an amazing trip, but was definitely looking forward to my shower, bed, and the comforts of home.

Songs We Sing

March 20th, 2011

So here we are, the last full day of our trip, and we resumed our site seeing in the morning at the top of Mt. Carmel, where a monastery is built in the 19th century. The monastery has an almost 360 degree view of the surrounding landscape, and although it was a bit hazy yesterday, you could see for miles. 

From there we drove through a mountain town filled mostly with the Druze, a people who I did not know about before my visit here. In addition to their secretive religion, the men of their faith traditionally wear a unique type of baggy pants, in apparent preparation of the coming of the Messiah. As strange as it sounds, after Misha described this to us, we drove through their town in search of a glimpse of these pants, and indeed, they look like parachute pants with a kangaroo pouch. 

On our way down from Mount Carmel, we stopped at the Haifa University, located on the other side of the mountain. There, across a valley, were two steel rope bridges that we had been trying to visit for a few days. I don’t remember when the last time that I was on a rope bridge, but I likely had the same impulse to walk to the middle of it and try to get it to sway a bit to see how stable it was (the bridge was actually secured with additional steel cable to the ground, particularly to deal with people like me). I don’t think Dina appreciated my efforts, so I kept the swaying to a minimum.

Once in Haifa, we parked near the bottom of the Bahai Gardens (currently undergoing renovation), and had lunch at what was known to be the best Shwarma place in town. My goal was to compare it to the French shwarma that I had in the Jewish Quarter in Paris, and I have to admit that the Parisian shwarma was as good if not better. Two data points are clearly not enough to fully judge though. 

We walked around Haifa a bit more after lunch, along the water of the Mediterranean Sea, and then headed to Zihron Yakkov. This was the same town where we had dinner with Polina and Ariel the night before, but this time we were with Misha who gave us a thorough tour and historical background. Misha is a wealth of information about history, politics, science, and everything in between, and having him as our makeshift tour guide has been a great experience.

We spent the night hanging out with the family, singing old songs and playing the guitar. I actually “played” a few songs, which to my surprise I had only partially forgotten the chords to after many months of not playing. Dalia and Nika both have great voices, and Nika even played the guitar for us (Avril Lavigne of all artists haha). As Nika listed through her guitar tab sheets, she even came upon Jason Mraz’s I’m Yours, to which Dina and I tried to recreate our wedding dance while Nika played the guitar and Dalia sang. It was entertaining and a very memorable night, as we all tried to recall songs from our childhood.

Today we fly back home to the states, but not before visiting Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and a few more friends and family on our way to the airport. See you on the plane!

Change of Pace

March 19th, 2011

It occurs to me that there are basically two types of vacations. First there’s the type where you run around learning, exploring, and photographing to learn the most about where you’re visiting. Then there’s the type when you do your best to simply relax. Personally, or recently rather, Dina and I have taken part in the latter type of vacation moreso than the former, enjoying the warm sandy beaches of Kauai and Miami. This vacation however, has been mostly the former type, filled with beautiful sites, history, and photographs.

There is however an argument to be made that the best vacations combine elements of both types in various proportions (it’s no wonder cruises are so popular). Looking back on yesterday’s activities, it becomes clear that we added a more relaxed day to our vacation without really realizing it at the time. 

In the morning we visited Susan, who taught Dina English before the Paikins moved to America. Susan lives with her husband and three children in a house on a large hill. The view from her balcony showcases a beautiful green valley with a small road along it, at the bottom of a massive mountain covered with sprawling grass and plants. The view is quite similar to Kauai, except that in the next few months all of the greenness will fade to yellow as summer heat dries everything in sight. 

Susan is a freelance technical writer, and her husband Doron owns his own IT services company. Doron told us about his life, his journey from dairy farmer to tech consultant, and the intricacies of starting a successful business here in Israel. Unfortunately I did not get to talk to Susan as much, because she was running around preparing what was one of the most delicious meals that we’ve had on our trip, with cauliflower and mushroom quiches, salads, and pastries. It was great to meet their family, and it was clear how helpful Susan must have been to Dina who, at the time, could not appreciate the magnitude of how her life was about to change.

The rest of the day we spent in Yokeam, hanging out with Dina’s cousins and family. At night Polina and Ariel picked us up and we drove to nearby Zihron L’Yakkov, where we had dinner at a Chinese restaurant along a cute little street lined with shops. For a country without many Chinese people, the food was surprisingly decent (Dina and I only had wanton soup, tea, and dessert), but you couldn’t quite call the place sanitary which took much away from the experience. Either way, it is always great to catch up with old friends, and we are now ready for some more sightseeing in our last two days here!

Child’s Play

March 18th, 2011

Yesterday morning was different than our previous ones here in Israel, as all at the Israeli Paikins were still home when we woke up. Usually Yana and Misha are already at work, Nika’s at school, and Dalia is at her army-assigned post. With the approaching weekend and holiday (Purim), the family set aside their days to do some site seeing with us. 

We awoke to the smell of fresh pancakes that Dalia had been preparing for breakfast – a great way to start the morning and I couldn’t exactly recall the last time that I had actually had pancakes. While Misha and Sasha ran some morning errands, we drove with Yana and the girls to see the daycare that Yana runs. Located in a large house, the daycare has about 18 kids currently, and provides parents a Russian-language alternative to the other Israeli centers. Sitting there and playing with the kids, it reminded me most of Omar’s old house in Irvine, where Omar’s mom Carmen ran a similar daycare and I would come there after school and play with the kids. It takes a very unique person to run these types of businesses, and Carmen was great with the kids she looked after (now that I think about it, I haven’t recalled those memories in a very long time either). 

Once we regrouped, the seven of us caravanned to the national park at Caesarea, where the beautiful Mediterranean sea city underwent eight different periods of construction, flourishing, and demise.  The ruins at the site include a well preserved amphitheater (4,000 spectators), Hippodrome (30,000 spectators), palaces, and bathhouses dating as far back as 568 BCE. We spent most of the day there, walking through the different outdoor exhibits and having lunch along the beautiful Mediterranean. 

With each historical site that we visit, I can’t help but look in wonder at the fusion of antiquity with present-day life. The breakwater that extends into the Mediterranean at Caesarea for example, includes Herod’s palace, a Roman customs building, and a sushi place. Only adding to the wonder is the fact that the entire site is a half hour drive from Misha’s house, and includes Roman aqueducts and ruins at every turn along the way. I struggled to make each step carefully, so as to not harm any historical artifacts, but I can’t imagine how difficult that is to do so while being surrounded on all sides by all of it. What a great problem to have!

Exhausted from being out in the sun all day, we returned to Misha’s house for an amazing nap. At night we celebrated Yana’s sister-in-law Rimma’s birthday with a barbecue dinner and games with the family, including almost an hour of riddles with which everyone tried to stump each other. In that spirit, and to wrap up this post the way we wrapped up our day, here’s one of them:

A prisoner is put in a completely dark room with no light, given two white pills and two black pills, and told that he must take exactly one white pill and one black pill to live, and that eating two pills of the same color will kill him – how can he live?

Road trip

March 17th, 2011

Yesterday was our first full day of Israeli site seeing, with Misha as our knowledgeable tour guide. We started the day in Tveria, which is a little town on the southern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Our drive there consisted of roads surrounded on all sides by green mountains, widespread pastures, and blue skies. Each time we drive somewhere in Israel, I am taken aback by the seeming vastness of the landscape, entirely contradictory to the physical size of the State of Israel. The landscape is also not as flat as I remember it, with beautiful mountains and hills that, when you arrive at their peak, grant stunning views along each subsequent descent. 

The beauty of the Sea of Galilee is haunted by the major drop in water level, which is currently on the order of about 8 meters. The piers stand like flamingos along the shore where we walked, marked with the darkened stains of the normal water level far above the current one.

We followed the banks of the Sea of Galilee to the River Jordan, and stopped at a holy baptismal site called Yardenit, which apparently is an important site for religions other than Judaism. Yardenit consists of a building along the dark green river of Jordan, where stairs descend into the water and religious leaders conduct baptisms while surrounded by whispered fish and other animals swimming in the river. While to me the idea seemed particularly peculiar, the swarms of tourists were quite enthralled with the magic of it all. 

From Yardenit we left the water and headed inland to an amazing Arab restaurant that served us small portions of about 15 different dishes, along with hummus and fresh pita bread, all followed by grilled chicken skewers. The meal was delicious, filling, and nicely topped off with a tiny cup of espresso that contained some of the strongest coffee that I’ve tasted in a while. I guess they know that after a meal like that, nothing sounds better than a nap in the warm sun. 

Wide awake and ready for more, Misha drove us to the ancient city of Maggido, atop a hill and at a major crossroad of several historical trading routes. The city is famous for it’s incredible underground water system, which involved a major feat of ancient engineering: a 36 meter deep shaft leading to a 70 meter long tunnel that lead to a spring which existed outside of the fortified walls of the old city. We arrived just as the park was closing, but were able to walk through the shaft and tunnel (even Dinochka went!). 

We then returned to Yokneam, and spent the rest of the day with Dina’s family, first at the park with Nika, then joined there by Dalia on her way home from the army, and then by Yana after she got home from work. After dinner, Yana and I ended up finishing an interesting conversation that Misha and Sasha had actually started, as Misha described how easy it was here in Israel for people to become more religious (understandably). I asked Yana if she considered that a bad or good thing, which lead our conversation into the merits of Judaism (and religion in general), as well as our own personal understanding of how Judaism has shaped our lives in various (and not always obvious) ways. It was a really interesting discussion, and I went to sleep last night still thinking about it all and trying to process how truly different it must be to live here than in America. Reflection on all of the different experiences on this trip will be an invaluable exercise, and I can only hope that this journal will serve as a reminder for me to do so upon our return.

History Revisited

March 16th, 2011

It has come to my attention that writing these posts at the end of each day may not be the best idea, since I end up writing at the exact time that my eyes can no longer stay open. That’s why I have decided that I will from now on try to post at some other time of the day, shooting for a bit more energy and dedication to writing. That said, I’ll try to write today’s entry as always. 

This morning we drove to Kiriat Yam, on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea, to visit Dina’s childhood friend Polina, who recently got engaged. A relatively short drive away from Yokneam (where Misha lives), Kiriat Yam is home to the dance studio that Polina and her fiancé Ariel started on their own (they are both amazing dancers, with more than a few medals to their names). Polina showed us the dance studio, which they use to teach different types of dancing to both kids and adults. Dina and Polina got to catch up, and I got to learn more about (one person’s) everyday life here in Israel for someone my own age…

I realize now that I will not be able to finish this post right now, as I am plainly falling asleep as I type. Therefore, I will stop here for now and pick back up in the morning. Stay tuned…

…and I’m back, much more refreshed (no pun intended).

Our time with Polina was quite interesting for me, as she is living an entirely different life in an entirely different world. Most of the underlying goals/desires/needs/etc remain the same, which makes her vision for her future, and her decisions in the present, a fascinating subject for me to learn more about.

My only regret about our time together is that I could not carry on a conversation with Ariel, who understands but does not speak Russian. Our time with Polina and Ariel was quite the linguistic adventure, with Dina and Polina speaking 95% Russian, 5% Hebrew to each other, me speaking Russian, Ariel listening to everything and responding in only Hebrew, while Polina lamented not knowing English better. Ariel knows English – regularly enjoys Family Guy apparently – but only spoke a word in English once or twice. Ariel’s parents came to Israel from Russia when they were very young, and despite them speaking Russian to each other, neither Ariel nor his siblings (as far as I know) speak Russian. This scenario is eerily close to that which Olya and I find ourselves in with our respective families, and further reinforces the necessity of actively using and improving our own Russian in order to be able to (fully!) pass it on.

From Kireat Yam we drove back through the beautiful, mountainous, and sprawling Israeli landscape to Kireat Tivon, where Dina’s grandparents are buried. Dina’s last two visits to Israel have followed the passing of each of her grandparents on her father’s side, and our visit to the cemetery (built into the side of a hill overlooking the vast countryside) was paramount.

So far Sasha had been driving us around, but from there we switched and I drove us through Magdal Hemek, the town where Dina’s family lived here before leaving 12 years ago. The town is relatively small, populated with houses and schools as well as a portion of high tech companies. The time I get to spend with Sasha, in the car as well as here in general, has provided me with an immensely valuable opportunity to not only get to know him better, but also to better understand his outlook on Israel and living in America after leaving here.

Once back in Yokneam, and after taking in some of the beautiful and warm weather we have been blessed with, I somehow was able to convince Dina’s little cousin Nicole to let me help her with her math homework. So we sat, at their kitchen table, solving geometry and algebra problems. I have to admit that I provided very little help, as Nika (as she is called) has a solid grasp on the concepts. Her only issues were that she tried to do too many math operations in her head at once, which caused her to lose track and make mistakes. Therefore, my only contribution was helping her slow down and make explicit each individual step she made in solving each problem, which is fitting since that is exactly the kind of issue that I had when doing my math homework at her age. I couldn’t help but think back to my tear-inducing math tutoring sessions with Anya Rakhlin, who was able to overwhelmingly improve my math skills, giving me the confidence to succeed in high school and college-level mathematics courses. Gratitude isn’t the right word, for Anya for her help, for my parents for their constant pushing, and to Nika for letting me pay it forward, if only a little bit. 

For dinner we were joined by Misha’s wife Yana’s father Vila, who I was able to talk to for an extended amount of time and learn about his life and outlook after living most of his life in the Soviet Union and moving to Israel in his later life. Needless to say that the experience made me miss my grandfather even more, and I have to admit that each time I type the word Israel, I actually type it twice, first like my grandfather’s name, and then like the country. My thoughts turn to memories of him often, and my conversations with Vila brought a smile to my face that I couldn’t quite explain at the moment. I was glad to be here, glad to talk to him, and thankful that my own grandpa was in a better place, knowing that he was missed, loved, and regularly thought about by all who had the opportunity to sit with him like I sat with Vila. 

Back After 14 Years

March 15th, 2011

In the living room of Dina’s Uncle Misha, we currently sit, I typing away while Dina and her cousins watch the apparent Israeli version of Beauty and the Geek. Sasha and Misha are in the room too, but regularly switch between looking at the television and looking at the girls in disbelief. For a minute, the world is much smaller than previously thought, the people basically the same, and the most valuable American export is a terrible reality show that shouldn’t have lasted in America, never mind abroad. Misha’s great commentary, along with Sasha’s quick turn to the iPhone in his pocket, pretty much sums up my thoughts on the matter. 

Most of this morning is a bit of a blur, as we woke up early to catch our airport shuttle and headed out to Charles de Gaulle airport while the rising sun backlit the clouds with a burgundy shade of early daylight. Our flight was uneventful, with Dina studying part of the time, sleeping a bit, and getting caught up in some French movie, while I did some strange combination of reading, sleeping, and blowing my nose. Apparently I left Paris with a little more than memories. Just the sniffles though – not to worry.

Upon our arrival into Tel Aviv, Dina and I split up at passport check, her to the Israeli citizen line and me to the one for foreigners. With all of my trip information ready and memorized, ready for the famous Israili security grilling that my sister went through, I approached the passport window only to have it be glanced at and stamped almost immediately. A risk to the State of Israel I am not. 

We met Sasha at baggage claim, and after a three hour traffic-infused car ride, we arrived at Misha’s house and met the family. The Israeli Paikins were pretty much how I imagined them to be, kind and welcoming people who made me feel comfortable sitting with them at the dining room table. After dinner Misha, Sasha, and I discussed the current state of affairs in the world, which let me get to know Misha a bit better (I found myself nodding quite often) and to learn more about political attitudes here in Israel. 

Tomorrow we are meeting up with Dina’s childhood friend Polina and her fiancé, and venturing out in this beautiful country that stands for the freedom of all Jewish people everywhere. I can’t wait.

Les Criminels

March 14th, 2011

I’ll just come right out and say it – today was my favorite day in Paris. It was a bit different than our other days here, and, to be honest, I’ve looked forward to reflecting on it in these pages since it started.  In fact, I’ve been looking forward to getting to Israel not only because of all that’s in store for us there, but also to gain a bit of perspective on our trip so far. 

I woke up today before the sun did, around 5:30am, and simply could not fall back asleep. I was not tired however, and took full fledged advantage of that time to catch up with my dad, check in for our flight tomorrow, look up new restaurants to patron here in Paris, and enjoy some of the over 150+ Instapaper articles that I’ve saved up in the last three months. 

With all of the main attractions visited and checked off our list, we began the morning with a casual stroll through Paris, taking our time on our way to the Notre Dame to pick up the Marais hop-on, hop-off bus line. Next door to the Musée Rodin, quite literally next to The Thinker, we sat in a small cafe and enjoyed a few cups of tea, a couple of croissants, and a raspberry tart for good measure, watching discontent Parisians stumble to work at the tail end of the nine o’clock hour.  

Once on the Marais bus, we hopped off at the Place de la Bastille (more of a Paris requirement than attraction) and followed Rick Steves into the Jewish Quarter. Walking past the synagogue, door after door to Jewish stores, and all of the French Jews in the neighborhood meant more to me than a fitting foreshadow of the next phase of our trip – it felt like a small bit of familiarity in a foreign land, despite my never being there before and having little to do with the day-to-day life of the orthodox Jews that walked busily past us in that charming little neighborhood. With hunger approaching, we took Rick’s (first name basis now) advice and ordered for lunch a falafel and shwarma which was prepared before our eyes, as our mouths watered from the delicious smell pouring into the tiny alley (should be fun to compare that to the real thing in Israel). 

From the Jewish quarter we headed back to the Arc de Triomphe, this time finding the underground passage to view it up close – indeed, it was much larger than I imagined it, and the eternal flame for the unknown soldier was yet another impressive display of the French gratitude for those that gave their lives to defend their country (Les Invalides is the other good example).

Already well-versed in the Paris metro (we’d been on it at least twice!), we strolled down the stairs to the station, bought our usual ticket, and boarded a conveniently approaching train to La Defence, “le petite Manhattan” of Paris. Upon arriving to the Le Defence station (literally the next station although it would have been quite a trek by foot), we stuck our ticket in the exit machine, only to have it beep and not let us through. Luckily for us, a seemingly helpful gentleman in a uniform was standing nearby, looked at our tickets, and guided us over to another uniformed man who served as translator. The conversation went something like this:

1st guy: French French something in French French French
Translator: You purchased the incorrect ticket and he has decided to fine you. 
Me: wait what? Really?
1st guy, deadpan, nodding: French French something else in French
Translator: the usual fine is €25 per person but since you are tourists, he wants to only charge you €25 total. 
Me: Uhmmm…
Translator: you can pay with cash or credit card, and you will be issued a receipt. 
Dina: ok…but how will we get out of here?
Translator: oh once you pay we will let you out. 

As I looked around, there was actually an entire troop of these uniformed officers, each talking to a different tourist and issuing each one a similar fine. So we paid, and were, as promised, issued our receipt and let out. If you were to ask us what exactly we did wrong, we couldn’t tell you. Nor could we tell you how to avoid the fine later (as we found out later, Le Petite Manhattan de Paris is not actually in the same “zone” as Paris, and therefore requires €0.30 more per ticket). So that’s how we became Parisian criminals, and were quite grateful that the Bastille was torn down in the Revolution (it also made it quite clear why Parisians are so prone to revolt). The whole experience – slightly surreal, slightly hilarious, and slightly reminiscent of my Moscow bribe story – did absolutely nothing to make this day any worse, as we stepped out onto La Defence and were warmed by the bright sun that had been hibernating behind the thick clouds of the French winter. 

The rest the day was less eventful, and a delicious (Rick recommended) dinner was followed by not one but two(!) apple sauce and cinnamon crepes for me and a nutella and banana one for Dina. Now it’s time to pack our bags, get to sleep, and catch our morning flight to the State of Israel.

Hop-On, Hop-Off

March 13th, 2011

Apparently, we were more tired than we thought last night, as we woke up this morning around 9am. It felt amazing.

We headed out to the Eiffel tower (croissant in hand) to catch the hop-on, hop-off open bus tour (a great idea!) The first route we went on took us around some major sights – Hotel des Invalides, Place de la Conchorde, Opera Garnier – and let us switch bus lines to visit the Place du Tretre, a small artisan square in the hills of Montmartre. Our path to the place was through a small alley lined with people enticing tourists to play the game where they shuffle three coaster-type things around and you try (for money) to guess which one has a white dot under it. Not sure what that game is called, but it took me back to my role in our 7th grade Renaissance faire, where I played a similar street vendor, except with three cups and a ball. 

It was like a scene out of a movie, with people standing around gambling and watching all of it but the alley was just a bit too crowded and chaotic for our liking. Once we reached the Place du Tretre, we greatly enjoyed walking around the tiny square, admiring all of the beautiful paintings for sale and watching the artists themselves paint new ones right in front of us. There is something mystical about watching an artist paint – I see the individual brush strokes and wonder about their purpose, and only later see how that line seems to portray a bit more of the painted scene. 

After a delicious crepe lunch at a restaurant in front of the square, we caught a bus to finish our tour of the Monmartre. While we wanted to head out to see the Place de la Bastille, apparently there was a large protest going on there (fitting), so we finished sightseeing at the Champs-Élysées. We walked up the street toward the Arc de Triomphe, through a movie premier filled with movie stars, paparazzi, and star-struck girls competing for autographs and photos. The street itself struck me as a large outdoor shopping mall, as wide as it was crowded. The Arc de Triomphe was much larger than I had imagined it, though we didn’t get to observe it up close (we are going back tomorrow). 

Our evening consisted of an amazing nap and a overpriced, underwheming dinner near our hotel. Luckily we stopped by a little crepe stand on our way back and bought a crepe filled with apple sauce, sugar, and cinnamon – much better and exactly what I was craving all day! We’re finishing the night with a movie in our hotel room, excited to make the most of our last full day here in Paris!

travel journal

although it's rare, when I do go on trips, I will sometimes keep a little travel journal for myself, friends, and family. this is that.

I'm still in the process of (considering) migrating my old blog entries into this section, but in the mean time, below are my past trip journals that are available:

Paris & Israel (Spring 2011)
The Northeast (Fall 2009)