Family Week – April 19, 2016


Ahh, Paris in the spring.  Paris, period!  For my first visit to this magical city, my family and I were lucky enough to have three, consecutive days of hazy sunshine and mild temperatures.  Before enjoying this rare, Parisian treat, however, we had to get there.

If you’ve been keeping up with my travels, you know that for me, cheap airfare is the name of the game— find the least expensive way to get where you want to go so you can spend your money on fun things once you reach your destination.  Flying to Paris with my mom and aunts was no exception.

On the morning of our departure, at the gate for our EasyJet flight from Madrid to Charles de Gaulle Airport, we sat waiting to board, laughing at the passengers lining up for the process early.  We all have assigned seats, there’s no reason to waste time in line, right?

Wrong.  Carry on space, I knew, was one reason to want to board a plane sooner rather than later.  Still, we couldn’t understand the crowd.  But then it began: “Only one carry on bag allowed per passenger.  No hand luggage.  All carry on bags must fit the dimensions of the bucket up front.”

So this was why everyone lined up.  The EasyJet veterans knew that space really was an issue.  My family and I, EasyJet newbies, carried stuffed backpacks and an extra personal bag each.  With the luggage requirements, we did what any respectful traveler would do— sling our backpacks onto our backs and hide our personal bags under our jackets and scarves to look as least suspicious as possible.  Naturally, we not only looked suspicious, but ridiculous too.  To top it all off, there was plenty of overhead storage room on the flight.  Aside from the boarding process, though, flying EasyJet was painless.

Once we landed, we took the train into the city, speeding by Parisian suburbs that looked just as I had always imagined them (plus some graffiti).  After studying French, and consequently learning about France, for so long, I had many expectations and visions of what I thought Paris to be.  With these specific ideas, it was extremely satisfying to see the cream colored buildings with their navy rooves, and Parisian teens lounging along the banks of the Seine, dangling their feet above the river.  My visit to Paris was already a success, and we had hardly even begun.

Our tiny but pleasant Airbnb sat in the city’s Jewish neighborhood in the fourth arrondissement.  Because of our proximity to the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris, we made it our first destination.

Though I have seen many places of worship while abroad, each one has a unique design and history.  Inside, the Cathédrale Notre-Dame boasted impressively intricate stained glass windows that framed beautiful altars.  Outside, from the top of one of the church’s bell towers, we appreciated the panoramic views of Paris, as well as an up close look at the famous gargoyles that adorn the church.



On the way to our next destination, we passed the center of Paris, located in the parvis just in front of the cathedral.  This point is used to determine the distance other places are located from Paris.  With both feet firmly planted on this literal mark, it became symbolic, too, as I was overcome with excitement, gratitude, and relief; I was really, finally, in Paris.


My first disappointment of the trip, however, came while crossing the Seine.  Still in denial that last year’s announcement to remove the locks from the Pont des Arts, or the famous love lock bridge, had been carried out, I went on a knowingly unproductive search for the iconic spot.  Arrival at the lock-covered Pont Neuf, a sturdier, nearby bridge, confirmed the end of the Pont des Arts era.  Though the aesthetic impact of the thousands of linked locks was the same, I was still upset to have missed out on this special piece of Paris.  While my family and I stood amongst this new normal, my mom pointed out that yes, I did miss the original, but that I was present for a fresh beginning.

After a short trip on the metro, we reached our second French church of the day, the Sacré Coeur.  Located north of the city’s center, the Sacré Coeur is also north in altitude.  Climbing a the steps to the entrance of the church delivers great views of the city as well.  More interesting to me than the church itself, however, were the Parisians.

Hundreds of people sat on the steps of the Sacré Coeur, mainly young, French teens, spending the evening in the progressing shadow of the church’s steeples.  Contrary to the stoic stereotype, these people of Paris were relaxed, talking and laughing together.  The building, the views, and the company made my experience at the Sacré Coeur perfectly Parisian.  Travelers be warned, though: there were many pickpockets and scammers littering the steps of this pleasant place, and they weren’t afraid to get physical.  Caution is strongly advised.



Informed from previous trips to Paris, my aunt led us to Place du Tertre, a creative cove located behind the church.  Talented craftsmen scattered the street with their work, stimulating an imaginative buzz.  Though the restaurants seemed very tourist-oriented, the artists, in contrast, appeared to be authentic.

Just a few minutes walk from the Sacré Coeur, the Moulin Rouge shone bright against the dusk sky, casting a red glow on the sidewalk below.  The iconic cabaret, full of sparkling lights and passionate life, embodies the adventurous side of the city.

My first day in Paris was packed, full of must-sees and have-to-dos, but Day 2 would bring special surprises amongst the usual tourist destinations, to make for a Parisian experience all my own.

Destination Locations


Paix, Amour, Paris



Family Week – April 15, 2016


From a short-notice additional week off, and a last minute change of plans, I found myself standing at the large, frosted glass doors of the airport’s arrivals.  I watched others receive their loved ones and smiled at their reunions, but I leaned against the railing impatiently, waiting to surprise my own visitors. Almost an hour after expected, it was finally my turn to overwhelm my weary travelers with hugs and happiness— my mom and aunt had arrived!

After spending three months with strangers (many whom I’ve come to adore), I was at once comforted with familiarity and love that only a family can provide.  I could not wait to begin this week in Europe that my mother, my two aunts, and I would always treasure.

Excited but exhausted, we agreed to rest the first day of their visit. Fortunately, this in itself was a pleasant experience at the Airbnb we stayed in for the week.  The apartment was centrally located, clean, spacious, and safe.  Aside from the poignant, grape-scented diffuser that made the room smell “purple,” we had no complaints.


Day 1

Madrid greeted my family with a rainy day unlike any that I had experienced here before.  It poured.  I had to adjust my plans to show them the city.  My aunt suggested that we take a Madrid City Tour bus to shield ourselves from the weather while still touring town.  The poor-quality headphones made the audio guide difficult to understand, but I did my best to make up for the guide by informing my family with the facts that I knew.  Between the two bus tour routes offered by Madrid City Tour, we were able to see the city’s highlights, and even visited areas of Madrid where I had never been before.

After drying off and regrouping at our Airbnb, we took a short walk to Cardamomo for a traditional Flamenco show. The only flamenco tablao in Madrid to have been reviewed by the New York Times, we decided that proximity and quality made Cardamomo a great choice.  With tickets for the 8 p.m. show, the four of us squeezed into a tight row for four, ordered included drinks, and prepared for the performance.


Two guitarists and two vocalists, all male, took to the perimeter of the stage.  The musicians seemed to pluck at the guitar strings as they wished, producing coherent but disorderly staccato tunes.  I could also appreciate the talent of the singers, who had to almost yell for their raspy voices to be heard above the guitars. Though at times their vocals resembled those of Middle Eastern songs, I could feel antique, Spanish authenticity in their voices.  Soon after the musical opening, a first dancer appeared on stage.  His body was slim and his movements were graceful.  Relieving the first man, a second dancer took the floor.  With a muscular build and a long, curly, black ponytail, this dancer better fit the my idea of a fiery Flamenco dancer.  You could tell, though, that he was a younger dancer, less mature than the first man.  Finally, a woman performed, mesmerizing the crowd with powerful steps and spins in her traditional, Flamenco dress and scarves.

Without any knowledge of the various forms of Flamenco, I did not know what to expect from this show.  The dancers did not use props like flowers, fans, or castanets, as I had anticipated.  For this performance, it seemed as though the musicians had a better chemistry with the male dancers than they did with the female dancer.  It was more entertaining to watch the men on stage because of the strength in the connection between the performers.  Where there should have been a passionate admiration and appreciation for the woman, I did not feel these emotions conveyed by the men during the show.  Despite not knowing much about Flamenco, the show was the perfect evening activity for my aunts, mom, and me.


Day 2

Clear, blue skies and sunshine determined our day’s agenda.  We strolled around Retiro Park, one of my favorite places in Madrid, where I showed my family park highlights, such as the peacocks in Jardines de Cecilio Rodríguez, the Crystal Palace, which was in between exhibits, and the boat pond.

Where last night’s Flamenco show was light entertainment, tonight’s event would be less pleasant.  Interested in seeing, but not in support of, traditional Spanish bullfighting, my family and I went to watch this cultural event that has such a strong presence in Spanish history.


Destination Locations


Paz, Amor, Madrid