Thursday, April 24

The Secret to a Great Trip in Paris France

My HouseTrip apartment was a tight squeeze up 5 flights of stairs. I huffed and puffed as I dragged my suitcase to the room, cursing my lack of upper-body strength. The floor was unevenly paved, and the kitchen was just big enough for the fridge door to open. Outside of the window, I could spot grey tiled rooftops through the gaps in the scaffolding outside the neighbor’s window. Down below, the art galleries and artists of the 6th arrondissements were starting to wake up. Tourists will soon pour in.

The June weather was a cool 15C and high of 20C. It was perfect for me - warm enough for this Canadian girl to absorb some vitamin D but breezy enough to still wear fashionable layers while marching down Champs Elysee.

Welcome to Paris France.

Long time readers of Just-In-Time know that I spent 3 months studying in Paris. During this time, I met great friends, ventured all throughout France and Europe, and consumed more bread than I had in my entire life until that point. It was also this time that I discovered THE secret to loving and staying sane in Paris.

Underneath the lust from the city of lights, Paris will exhaust you with museums, lines, stairs, dog poop on sidewalks, and sweaty metros. The secret to a great trip in Paris - the kind that you imagine your friends are having when they post pictures of the French capital on their Facebook - is to spend only 50% of your time being a tourist, and the other 50% of your time just being present.

To be precise, you should spend 30% of your time seeing the touristy places, 20% of your time on foot because you are in transit, and 50% of your time taking long meals, people watching on the Seine, or reading books at a hole in the wall coffee shop.

See only the few museums and cathedrals that your brain will accommodate. Stay in an art student’s Parisian apartment if you want to. Walk everywhere and waste time because that’s what locals do. Eat oysters 3 times a day, and spend the rest of the day finding the next best oyster restaurant. Sleep in, do nothing, and the next day, repeat but this time with 3 meals of crepes.

My rental apartment was within walking distance of prominent sights such as the Notre Dame, Louvre, and Musee D’Orsay. In the early mornings, aided by jetlag, I would avoid the tourists and wonder these historic gems alone. In the afternoons, I would escape to cafes and galleries famous only to the locals. My days were planned  around avoiding crowds - probably not dissimilar to the mentality of Parisians. In a city as large as this one, I loved going unspotted. I could visit whatever shop that I read about in some small time blog and waste time watching lovers at Pont Des Artes.

After a long day wasted sipping coffees, I decided to climb up the Notre Dame. I was at the top of the city, and Paris spread out at my feet.

Monday, April 21

Lush Greens of Douro Valley - Porto, Portugal

Whilst at my favorite used bookstore in San Francisco, I happened across Sloane Crosley’s book of essays “How did you get this number”. Sloane’s first short story took me back to Porto, Portugal.  Like the author, I had set upon Porto on a solo trip not  long ago...

June was blazing hot in the Douro region and I was being baked in the oven created by the tented restaurant rooftop. I had forgotten to bring sunscreen, in fact I couldn’t even recall if I owned any having just emerged from the Canadian winter. My shoulders were already burnt from the previous week spent in Cannes Frances.

At the lookout over Douro Valley, I had a private view of the layered vineyards. Wine was not exactly in my field of expertise but I was in the Douro Valley, home of the port wine. So when in Rome, you piece together tidbits of memory recollected from the wine tour you went on in Napa California, that time when you and your college friend rode the bus for 45 mins to see a family winery in the middle of nowhere in Bordeaux France, and you embark on the wine region of northern Portugal.

All is quiet in the Douro after lunch. It must be time for an afternoon siesta. The Douro River sits undisturbed and I’m thankful for a moment of peace. The lush greens of the Douro vineyards  in front of me reminded me of the rice fields so popular throughout Asia.

This was my Portuguese dragon’s scale.

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